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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 38592 times)
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« Reply #225 on: Jan 14, 2013, 08:49 AM »

First world atlas on renewable energy launched

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, January 13, 2013 15:24 EST

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) on Sunday launched the world’s first atlas on clean energy which will offer open-access information on countries’ renewable energy potential.

“The Global Atlas is the largest ever initiative to help countries assess their renewable energy potential, and companies bringing together data and maps from leading technical institutes and private companies worldwide,” IRENA said.

“It currently charts solar and wind resources, and will expand to other forms of renewable energy over 2013 and 2014,” the agency announced as it began its two-day annual general assembly in Abu Dhabi.

The online atlas is available on www.irena.org/GlobalAtlas

IRENA said the atlas will also help companies looking to invest in new markets.

“Over the next decade, we expect an enormous increase in investment in the field of renewable energy. Global Atlas will help us make the right decisions,” said Danish Climate and Energy Minister Martin Lidegaard, who chaired a session at the gathering.

IRENA director Adnan Amin said that by 2014 the atlas will include information on bio-energy, geothermal energy and marine energy.

“The Global Atlas provides a powerful new tool in international efforts to double the world?s share of renewable energy by 2030″ to around 30 percent of the global energy mix, he said.

Thirty-seven countries, including Israel which has no diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates, have so far contributed information on their renewable energy potentials to the atlas.

Established in 2011, Abu Dhabi-based IRENA is mandated by 159 countries and the European Union to promote the sustainable use of all forms of renewable energy.

Its meeting comes as part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week which includes the Future Energy Summit, the International Water Summit and the International Renewable Energy Conference.
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« Reply #226 on: Jan 14, 2013, 04:44 PM »


January 14, 2013 01:00 PM

Protests as Energy Giants Seek to Exploit Australia's Coal Seam Gas

By Diane Sweet
Video via Al Jazeera

Some of the world's largest energy giants are moving into eastern Australia and investing billions of dollars to exploit coal seam gas reserves so vast they could rewrite the world's energy map. Despite generating massive amounts of revenue and creating thousands of new jobs, they are being met by a groundswell of public protest and a rising chorus of concern about the long-term impacts of coal seam gas extraction on the nation's health, environment and land. Coal seam gas has the potential to make Australia an energy superpower, but at what price?

12 protesters were arrested this week during a demonstration of about 150 people at a coal seam gas drilling site. Activists had locked themselves to trees and trucks.

Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham criticized police for being forceful:

    "It's a sad reflection on the coal seam gas industry that police have to arrest local residents and force their way through a community blockade so that they can drill for gas," he said in a statement.

    "There is no future for coal seam gas in NSW if each drill rig needs to have a police guard to force its way into communities."

The protesters have been keeping a blockade of the drilling site going for nearly two months now, but police seem determined to break any protest that interferes with drilling.

Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=amyJVu34G3w
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« Reply #227 on: Jan 15, 2013, 08:15 AM »

Conservationists ask Thailand to stop poachers from trading in elephant tusks

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, January 15, 2013 7:05 EST

Conservationists on Tuesday urged Thailand to end its legal trade in ivory to help curb the slaughter of African elephants by poachers cashing in on their highly-prized tusks.

While it is illegal to sell tusks from African elephants in Thailand, ivory from their Thai cousins can be traded — a loophole allowing criminal networks to launder their wares through the kingdom, according to the WWF.

“The only way to prevent Thailand from contributing to elephant poaching is to ban all ivory sales,” said Janpai Ongsiriwittaya, of WWF-Thailand.

“Today the biggest victims are African elephants, but Thailand’s elephants could be next,” Janpai added, urging Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to ban the ivory trade to protect the “iconic animals”.

Demand for ivory is high in Thailand, where some wealthy people hang tusks on their walls as status symbols and the tradition of ivory carving is popular with tourists and collectors.

WWF says black marketeers routinely smuggle ivory from African elephants — considered a “vulnerable” species — into the kingdom and pass it off as coming from the Asian pachyderm, fuelling the poaching crisis.

“Many foreign tourists would be horrified to learn that ivory trinkets on display next to silks in Thai shops may come from elephants massacred in Africa,” said Elisabeth McLellan, manager of WWF’s Global Species Programme.

“It is illegal to bring ivory back home and it should no longer be on sale in Thailand.”

The international trade in elephant ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989 after elephant populations in Africa dropped from millions in the mid-20th century to some 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.

But poaching is at record levels in Africa, prompting Kenya’s prime minister last week to appeal for international help to handle the escalating problem.

The appeal came after a family of 11 elephants were slaughtered in a national park in southeast Kenya — which says it lost at least 360 elephants last year, an increase from the 289 killed in 2011.

A haul of more than a tonne of ivory worth about $1.4 million was found in Hong Kong two weeks ago in a shipment from Kenya.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #228 on: Jan 15, 2013, 08:16 AM »

EU releases all data used to clear genetically modified corn’s link to cancer

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, January 14, 2013 10:50 EST

The EU’s food safety agency challenged its doubters on Monday, making available all the scientific information used to clear a genetically modified corn which a French researcher had linked to cancer.

The European Food Safety Authority said that “given the level of public interest … (it would) make all data on genetically modified (GM) maize NK603 publicly available on its website.”

While EFSA had previously provided such information on request, “any member of the public or scientific community will now be able to examine and utilise the full data sets used in this risk assessment,” it said in a statement.

EFSA, which reviews the use and authorisation of such crops and foodstuffs, in November rejected outright a report by Gilles-Eric Seralini of the University of Caen which had linked NK603 to cancer found in laboratory rats.

It said at the time that Seralini’s work failed to meet “acceptable scientific standards” and accordingly it had no reason to review its assessment of NK603, made by US agri-food giant Monsanto.

The EU also demanded that Seralini release more details of his work but he responded in kind, calling on EFSA to open up its data first.

The EFSA said on Monday that the NK603 data was being made available as part of an initiative to make its overall workings more transparent.

“Risk assessment is an evolving science and EFSA is always willing to review its past work should new robust science bring a new perspective to any of the (its) previous findings,” EFSA Executive Director Catherine Geslain-Laneelle said in a statement.

Monday’s move “aims to make data used in risk assessment publicly available,” Geslain-Laneelle said, by promoting research and working with scientists.

“This will make the conclusions of risk assessments even stronger when ensuring public health protection and further build confidence in EFSA?s work.”

Environmental groups have been very critical of the EFSA, saying it was not doing enough on its own to test GM foods and gave Monday’s announcement a guarded welcome.

“This sounds like a positive initiative to shine some light on the secretive world of EU GM crop authorisations,” said Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero.

“So far, EFSA has only published information on one specific GM product. We expect that the same level of transparency will apply to all GM products that have been and will be submitted for EU approval,” Contiero said in a statement.

“Confidential business information will continue to be kept secret, so it will be crucial to see how wide a definition EFSA will choose to use.”
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« Reply #229 on: Jan 15, 2013, 08:18 AM »


UK seeks to water down Arctic oil drilling proposals

Leaked documents reveal the government has sought to change proposals that could prevent deepsea drilling operations

Fiona Harvey, environment correspondent
The Guardian, Tuesday 15 January 2013   

The government is seeking to water down planned EU regulations on deepsea oil drilling, even while insisting to MPs that it wants "robust environmental protection" for oil drilling in the Arctic.

In leaked EU documents seen by the Guardian, the UK has sought to change proposals that could prevent oil and gas drilling operations that would leave fragile areas vulnerable. The UK is insisting that this clause be removed, because "oil spills may be effectively dispersed by wind and wave action and this is in itself one form of effective response".

This has outraged green campaigners, who are concerned that the "Arctic oil rush" several companies are engaged on could lead to irreparable damage to one of the Earth's last pristine wildernesses.

Ministers have also ruled out any moratorium on oil drilling in the Arctic, despite calls for such a move by an influential committee of MPs, and despite the grounding of Shell's Kulluk drilling rig off Alaska on the last day of 2012. That incident, though it did not result in a dangerous oil spill, heightened safety fears over offshore drilling in far northern seas, where any response to a serious spill would be difficult or even impossible.

That difficulty creates an "oil spill response gap", in which spills could have to be left for weeks or months if adverse weather conditions make it impossible to clean them up using mechanical or chemical means, such as those deployed in BP's Gulf of Mexico oil spill. That would increase the potential for damage to vulnerable areas such as Greenland and the Arctic.

Several EU member states wanted this "response gap" to be recognised, so that it would have to be taken into account in any decision on whether to allow a drilling site to go ahead. If the "response gap" was too great, companies could be prevented from drilling. These regulations would also apply to countries such as Norway, which may have large potential for Arctic drilling. But the UK has insisted this language be removed in the Brussels negotiations.

Instead, the government appeared to suggest that leaving oil spills in deep Arctic oceans could be an adequate response.

Answering the call by the environmental audit committee for tighter regulation of Arctic and similarly dangerous oil drilling, the government told MPs: "[We are] acutely aware of the potential environmental impacts of an oil spill in the Arctic and recognises the risks of drilling for hydrocarbons. We therefore fully support the use of the highest environmental and drilling standards in the Arctic."

Ben Stewart of Greenpeace said: "The British government has been caught talking out of both sides of its mouth. It tells parliament it's committed to the highest safety standards for the oil industry, but in Brussels it's working to gut regulations designed to prevent a Deepwater Horizon disaster off our own coast. Our ministers might consider, just for once, not acting as the lobbying arm of Shell."

The UK has also sought to water down EU proposals to force drilling operators to lodge their "emergency response plans" with governments, which would ensure they satisfied government regulations and would allow campaigners to see the plans under freedom of information rules and judge them. If the UK's alternative is accepted, governments will only see "descriptions" of the plans, which campaigners are concerned will be inadequate.

Joan Walley, chair of the environmental audit committee of MPs, which called for a moratorium on Arctic drilling until safety fears were allayed and better response methods in place in case of any accidents, criticised David Cameron over his response on Arctic oil drilling. She said: "A few years ago the prime minister rode with huskies in the Arctic to demonstrate his commitment on environmental issues, but now he is being asked to protect that pristine wilderness for real he has refused to take a lead on the issue."

Shell is to be hauled back in front of the MPs to explain the Kulluk incident. Walley said: "The grounding of the Kulluk rig raises serious questions about the safety of Shell's operations in the Arctic and we will be calling them back to give further evidence."

Shell said, however, that it could not appear before the committee until reviews under way in the US were complete. The company added that its operations were safe, saying in a statement: "Shell understands the uniqueness and importance of the Arctic, but gas and oil production from the Arctic is not new. Our record throughout 50 years' experience of operating in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions demonstrates that we have the technical expertise to explore for and produce oil and gas in challenging locations."

The Department of Energy and Climate Change did not respond to a request for comment.
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« Reply #230 on: Jan 15, 2013, 08:20 AM »


Beijing smog continues as Chinese state media urge more action

Unusually frank discussions of pollution come as Beijing implements new emergency response plan in response to smog

Tania Branigan and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Monday 14 January 2013 14.45 GMT   

China's state media have called for environmental improvements in unusually frank discussions of the country's pollution problem, as thick smog continues to shroud Beijing and other cities.

Stores sold out of masks and the capital implemented its new pollution emergency response plan for the first time after visibility plummeted at the weekend. Several construction sites were ordered to halt work, factories slowed production and authorities ordered a curb on the use of government cars. Schools cancelled outside activities and authorities advised residents to stay inside.

Hospitals reported increases of up to 30% in the number of patients reporting breathing problems as officials warned that the conditions were likely to last until Wednesday – a day longer than previously predicted – when winds should help to disperse the pollution.

Outside the capital there were mass flight delays and highway closures on Sunday. Visibility in Changsha, the capital of Hunan, reportedly dropped to 50m.

Beijing's levels are by far the worst recorded since the government began early last year releasing figures on PM2.5 particles – tiny particulate matter thought particularly damaging to health because it can penetrate deep into the lungs – and the US embassy began issuing its own measurements four years ago.

According to an official monitoring centre in Beijing, levels of PM2.5 were well above 600 micrograms per cubic metre in several places on Saturday, and may even have hit 900. Though Monday's level dropped to around 350, that is still far above the safe level of 25 designated by the World Health Organisation.

Pan Xiaochuan, the deputy director of the department of occupational and environmental health at Peking university, said the problem was caused by weather conditions rather than increased emissions, although some have suggested more people are burning coal due to a particularly cold winter.

He said stricter regulations on emissions were needed in areas around Beijing, but added: "The government responded quickly this time. CCTV [the state broadcaster] news has reported the pollution. It shows the transparency of the government's work has been enhanced. It is a new phenomenon."

State newspapers have run highly critical articles saying more needed to be done to tackle the problem at its source.

"How can we get out of this suffocating siege of pollution?" the People's Daily, the official Communist party newspaper, asked in a front-page editorial.

"Let us clearly view managing environmental pollution with a sense of urgency."

It said around half of more than 70 Chinese cities monitored for air quality showed severe pollution over the weekend.

The populist state-run Global Times newspaper said the problem had triggered public calls to shift development "away from the previous fixation on economic growth", while the China Youth Daily titled a front-page commentary: "More suffocating than the haze is the weakness in response."

Well-known environmentalist Ma Jun said: "Given the public's ability to spread this information, especially on social media, the government itself has to make adjustments."

While Chinese environmental regulations have become far more stringent, environmentalists have complained that officials are often reluctant to enforce standards for fear of holding back economic growth.

But John Cai, the director of the centre for healthcare management and policy at Beijing's China Europe International Business School, warned: "The increased disease burden [due to poor air quality] has caused a serious financial burden on government and individuals.

"The recent serious pollution will send a serious warning to the government and will have an important impact in making the government speed up its regulation and enforcement."

Shops have been unable to keep up with the surge in demand for masks and air purifiers, with many running out.

"[Our] masks were not specially designed to prevent PM 2.5, but they all sold out anyway. We are trying to purchase more," said an assistant at the Fujitang drug store in Beijing.

An employee at the White Pagoda drugstore added: "People didn't come here to buy one or two, but ordered a lot for their friends and family, and companies came here to buy for their staff, too. "

At a Sundan appliances store in central Beijing, sales assistant Ms Jiang said sales of air purifiers had increased roughly tenfold. The Yuanda Group said it had upped production of the machines because sales had risen recently due to poor air quality throughout China.


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« Reply #231 on: Jan 15, 2013, 08:24 AM »


How the stink of a waterbuck could prevent sleeping sickness in Kenya

A collar worn by livestock containing animal odour repellent to the tsetse fly could transform the lives of farmers in Kenya

Laila Ali in Mombasa
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 15 January 2013 11.12 GMT   
       
The tsetse fly, found in 37 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, can be a curse for smallholder farmers and their families. The flies carry the trypanosome parasite that can cause sleeping sickness in humans and nagana in livestock. But a group of scientists in Nairobi is developing a powerful insect repellent using the stench of waterbucks, a type of large antelope.

About two-thirds of Africa's population depend on small-scale agriculture, many of whom are livestock farmers. For these farmers, tsetse flies are a serious threat to economic development and food security. The economic loss in Africa's cattle production as a result of nagana is an estimated $4bn (£2.5bn) each year, according to the Stamp out sleeping sickness campaign.

With funding from the European Commission, ICIPE (International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology), a pan-African research organisation that investigates tropical insect science for development, has produced groundbreaking collars for livestock that contain the waterbuck smell, which tsetse flies do not like.

"Every year we lose three million cows because of the disease; 60 million cows are also affected. The flies are one of the main reasons why 80% of the land in Africa is tilled by hand – simply because we don't have enough animal power," says Dr Rajinder Saini, head of ICIPE's animal health division and principal scientist. "Fewer livestock also leads to less manure that could be used as organic fertiliser, which leads to lower yields of crop and fodder plant.

"Our approach has been to look at the ecology, biology and behaviour of the fly in detail, to look at the interaction between the parasite and the host, trying to develop a simple technology that farmers can use themselves instead of the top-down approach where everybody is dependent on foreign aid."

ICIPE is carrying out a two-year trial with farmers in Mombasa. They are 16 months into the trial, which includes 15,000 cows and 300 pastoralists.

"The first solution we came up with was NGU traps, which attract and trap the flies," says Saini. "But while working with the Masai, we found they needed more of a mobile technology; traps are stuck in the ground, these people move with their animal, so we started thinking of repellents. We looked at repellent from two different sources: synthetic sources and from animals that the fly does not like to feed upon, such as waterbucks."

ICIPE scientists studied why these animals are not attacked and have isolated powerful fly repellents from waterbuck skin, which reduce tsetse bites by up to 90%.

"Waterbucks stink; lions leave them alone because of the smell and flies leave them alone because of the sweat. We identified the pertinent odour of waterbucks and brought it down to a handful of chemical components that are responsible for keeping the flies at bay. We put the chemical into a dispenser tube that can be tied into the neck of a cow," says Professor Christian Borgemeister, director general at ICIPE. "The collar puts a coat of a waterbuck over a cow; as the herd moves along, the flies sense the cow as a waterbuck and stay away."

For the farmers in the trial, just outside of the Shimba Hills game reserve in Mombasa, the collars are a big hit. Farmers can graze their animals early in the morning and late in the evening when flies are most active, and no longer need to light fires to keep away the flies.

"One of my farms is near the national park where there are a lot of flies. A lot of my animals were infected. I might have been forced to sell my farm and move, but these collars have helped me a lot. Right now, they are free. After the trial ends we have been told they could be sold for 400 Kenyan shillings ($3, £1.90), but even if they sell them for 5,000 shillings, I am happy to pay for them because they work," says Joshua Wambua.

Another farmer, Jhapat Mwongela, says the collars have not only increased the productivity of his animals but improved his family's quality of life. "I am now able to plant different things – cassava, corn, sweet potatoes – which require the land to be tilled quite a bit. Because my cows were not sick this year, I have made significant profit. I am able to pay for my children's school and medical fees. Even their diet has been diversified because whatever I am not growing, I can now afford to buy."

Pharmaceutical companies have been slow in developing drugs to tackle diseases carried by tsetse flies because of the perception that it is not a profitable market. According to Saini, most of the drugs in the market are 60-70 years old, and humans and cattle are becoming resistant.

As a not-for-profit organisation, ICIPE hopes that producing collars on a larger scale would makeprices even lower, meaning the technology would be available to a higher number of beneficiaries. However, as this is beyond their scope of work they are seeking public-private partnerships to develop the technology.

Borgemeister is not surprised by farmers' willingness to pay for the collars. He urges pharmaceutical companies to reassess their outlook and recognise a viable market in developing drugs and technology to tackle tsetse flies.

"At the end of the day, farmers buy drugs. If this is your only source of livelihood, you're going to spare [cut back] even from your food [budget] to make this [sick] cow better. Billions of dollars are lost in the African livestock industry due to trypanosomiasis ever year; there is a market for a superior technology if we can provide it at a competitive price."


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« Reply #232 on: Jan 15, 2013, 08:26 AM »


Turkana pastoralists encouraged to innovate to build resilience to drought

Trading their animals instead of holding on to large flocks and using their land in different ways may help herders in northern Kenya survive when drought and hunger strike

Peter Guest in Turkana, Kenya   
guardian.co.uk, Monday 22 October 2012 07.00 BST   

By 7.30am, the livestock market in Lodwar is packed with goats, traders and men in traditional dress. Lodwar is the economic centre of Kenya's northern county of Turkana, which, despite the apparent health of its animal stocks, is still struggling to recover from a drought in 2011 that left many dead and the majority of the region's people surviving on food aid. This year has been kinder, with just enough rainfall. Next year, though, another drought is forecast.

Turkana's near economic isolation from the rest of Kenya, coupled with conflict between neighbouring tribes of pastoralists and the degradation of pasture, means the region has little resilience to drought, according to Beatrice Teya, who heads the UN Development Programme's (UNDP) disaster risk reduction and recovery team.

"Whenever you have drought it interacts with all these factors and the impact becomes huge," she says. "Last year, when we had one of the severest droughts in about 60 years, we found one of the reasons it was so bad was that people have been unable to recover from previous droughts."

With fears that climate change increases the frequency of droughts, the priority is to find ways of helping the Turkana use their livestock and land to build economically sustainable activities that will enable them to move away from aid dependency.

"If they could get the business component, poverty is not a word you could use in Turkana," says Desterius Mulama, financial officer for Cezam and Associates, a Kenyan firm working with the US African Development Foundation (USADF) to improve food security.

Mulama moved to Turkana a year ago to work on the project. He is amazed at the scale of the herds in the region. "There is one old man who has 3,000 camels and 10,000 goats, but he walks barefoot," Mulama says. "If he sold just half of them, he would be a millionaire."

A government census put the number of goats in the county at around 5 million, with 1.5 million cattle. All across Turkana, herders carrying crooks pick their way through acacia trees, guiding huge flocks.

In many cases pastoralists still view animals as wealth and, even when the pasture dries up and there is no water, they will not sell them. The animals die and people starve. Building sustainable trading structures and introducing pastoralists to the cash economy should, Mulama hopes, ease them out of cycles of drought and food insecurity. "For pastoralists, our biggest challenge is to educate them on holding capacity," Mulama says. "Why should I hold 1,000 goats when I can only feed 100?"

Traders from Nairobi are starting to visit the markets in Turkana. Under Mulama's guidance, and with seed funding from USADF, the district livestock marketing council now has offices and computer equipment, and its staff have been trained in bookkeeping and other management disciplines so they will be able to build better commercial links with the rest of the country. A recent sale of 1,000 head of goats for export has raised hopes that the model may work.

An hour's drive out of Lodwar, a group of 10 men and women stand over two shovels and a hoe, digging into the sucking mud on the bed of the Lodwell River and piling it on to sandbags. Charles Lomari, in his 60s, explains that the water level is very low once again, and the group, from the Napak irrigation scheme, is digging an emergency channel to ensure that they have water for their maize crops.

The scheme, and another, larger one in neighbouring Napeika, are co-ordinated by a local community-based organisation, Apad, which, with USADF support, has successfully formed former pastoralists into co-operatives to manage water resources and build capacity in farming techniques. This has included taking groups of Turkana out of the county to see successful irrigation projects elsewhere in the country – places, Lomari says, they had never thought they would see. In the south, he says, people are so healthy. That is what he wants for his community.

Residents here say the road south goes "to Kenya". Turkana is a world away from Nairobi, and the government is not a visible presence. Privately, this is a concern for those working in development, who echo the views expressed by locals that the central government has never cared about them. That is why the infrastructure is sorely neglected and local institutions under-resourced, which has made durable development incredibly difficult.

There are many NGOs in Turkana, but USADF – and, to an extent, the UNDP – are attempting a new approach, supporting the private sector to build more sustainable production of food, whether through traditional livestock breeding or alternative livelihoods in arable farming. USADF gives small grants to producers, training them to run their concerns as businesses. The projects are owned by the local organisations who run them on a for-profit basis, with additional funding available for expansion, such as vehicles to improve market access, better irrigation systems or modern fishing boats.

Benjamin Kakuta, a Turkana and the USADF's programme assistant in Lodwar, is adamant that this approach is what his people need and want – to take ownership of their programmes and break the dependency on handouts. "You know," he says defiantly, "we could feed the whole of Kenya."


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« Reply #233 on: Jan 15, 2013, 08:27 AM »

Volcano lava flows worry Italian island

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, January 14, 2013 19:49 EST

Spectacular lava flows and smoke from an active volcano on the Italian island of Stromboli on Monday sparked fear among inhabitants but geophysicists said the situation was under control.

Stromboli is part of the seven-island Eolian Archipelago just off Sicily in southern Italy.

The volcano is active but on Monday there was a particularly powerful eruption and sustained lava flows following four days of heightened activity.

Stromboli mayor Marco Giorgianni told the island’s 500 inhabitants that they were not at risk and experts from Italy’s civil protection agency are due on the island for further controls shortly.

“We are afraid,” one resident, Pier Paolo Cincotta, was quoted by the ANSA news agency as saying.

“No-one has really explained to us what the situation is and what we should do,” he said.

Italy’s National Geophysics Institute is monitoring the situation.

[Stromboli via Shutterstock]


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« Reply #234 on: Jan 16, 2013, 09:00 AM »

Kenyan officials impound 600 pieces of ivory

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, January 15, 2013 15:13 EST

Officials in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa have impounded more than 600 pieces of ivory, weighing two tonnes, officials told AFP Tuesday.

“They were labelled as decorating stones and were headed to Indonesia from Tanzania,” a police source based at the port told AFP on condition of anonymity.

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« Reply #235 on: Jan 16, 2013, 09:01 AM »

Former USGS scientist: Coastal cities are ‘sitting ducks’ for next big storm

By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Tuesday, January 15, 2013 15:48 EST

Marcia McNutt, who resigned as director of the US Geological Survey, says Hurricane Sandy has left communities exposed.

Cities on the United States east coast are “sitting ducks” for the next big storm because of the destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy, one of Barack Obama’s top scientists warned on Tuesday.

Marcia McNutt, who last week announced her resignation as director of the US Geological Survey, told a conference that Sandy had left coastal communities dangerously exposed to future storms of any size.

“Superstorm Sandy was a threshold for the north-east and we have already crossed it,” McNutt told the National Council for Science and the Environment conference in Washington. “For the next storm, not even a super storm, even a run-of-the-mill nor’easter, the amount of breaches and the amount of coastal flooding will be widespread.”

McNutt, a professor of marine geophysics, was careful to preface her public remarks by saying she spoke as a scientist and not an Obama Administration official. But the unusually stark warning from a departing Obama official indicates the challenges ahead in protecting American population centres from the extreme storms of a changing climate.

“Before Sandy, someone asked me what my climate change nightmare was. Before Sandy, I said it was that with the extra energy in the atmosphere-ocean system it feeds super storms that intersect mega-cities left rendered defenceless by rising seas,” McNutt said in a brief interview following her public remarks. “That is where we now are.”

Half of America’s population lives within 50 miles of a coast, and those numbers are growing. However, scientists and urban planners have warned repeatedly that those coastal communities – as well as important infrastructure – are increasingly vulnerable. In the coming decades, a combination of extreme weather and storm surges, on top of rising seas, will put a growing share of the population at risk. Natural defences, such as sand dunes and barrier islands along the Atlantic, have been destroyed or weakened through decades of development, McNutt said.

“We have left our coasts sitting ducks, and Sandy destroyed these natural protections,” she said.

In the space of a few hours, Sandy blew through the sand dunes that had served as natural protections for communities up and down the Atlantic coast.

“Basically these dunes build up over geologic time, and yet the superstorm wore them down over a couple of days, and it is going to take geologic time again to build them back up,” McNutt said. “It is possible with bulldozers and engineering and millions of dollars to do with engineering what Mother Nature used to do for free.”

However, McNutt conceded that this was a daunting prospect given existing fiscal constraints. Republicans in the house have already balked at the $50m in immediate relief for Sandy that went to the house on Tuesday.

“There are some cities and towns that actually spent multi-millions of dollars to rebuild eroded dunes, and some of them actually fared better than cities and towns that hadn’t rebuilt their dunes. So it is possible by spending millions and millions and millions of dollars to rebuild them, but where are those resources going to be?” McNutt said.

In the case of New Jersey, post-Sandy flight surveys by the USGS showed substantial damage to the dunes, barrier islands and other geographic features that had shielded coastal communities from the full fury of the storm. In some areas, the coastline lost up to six metres in elevation, the USGS said on its website.

USGS scientists monitoring coastal systems had been tracking the loss of wetlands and sand dunes, and were able to accurately predict in advance of Sandy where the storm would do the worst damage.

Those areas were even more vulnerable now, McNutt said.

© Guardian News and Media 2013
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« Reply #236 on: Jan 17, 2013, 09:11 AM »


Ecuadorian tribe gets reprieve from oil intrusion

Residents of Sani Isla have built up an arsenal of weapons to fend of Petroamazonas, in a confrontation which did not take place as expected

Jonathan Watts, Latin American correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 17 January 2013 13.23 GMT      

An indigenous community in the Ecuadorian Amazon has won a reprieve after building up an arsenal of spears, blowpipes, machetes and guns to fend off an expected intrusion by the army and a state-run oil company.

The residents of Sani Isla expressed relief that a confrontation with Petroamazonas did not take place on Tuesday as anticipated, but said the firm is still trying to secure exploration rights in their area of pristine rainforest.

"We have won a victory in our community. We're united," said the community president, Leonardo Tapuy. "But the government and the oil company won't leave us alone. "

The Kichwa tribe on Sani Isla, had said they were ready to fight to the death to protect their territory, which covers 70,000 hectares. More than a quarter of their land is in Yasuni national park, the most biodiverse place on earth.

Petroamazonas had earlier told them it would begin prospecting on their land on 15 January, backed by public security forces.

Before the expected confrontation,the shaman, Patricio Jipa said people were making blowpipes and spears, trying to borrow guns and preparing to use sticks stones and any other weapons they could lay their hands on.

"Our intention was not to hurt or kill anyone, but to stop them from entering our land," he said.

It is unclear why Petroamazonas hesitated. The company has yet to respond to the Guardian's request for a comment.

Locals speculated that it was due to a reaffirmation of opposition to the oil company at a marathon community meeting on Sunday.

"They've heard that we are united against the exploration so they have backed off," said Fredy Gualinga, manager of the Sani Lodge. "We're happy they haven't come. Life is going on as normal."

The relief may not last for long given the huge fossil fuel resources that are thought to lie below the forest.

"It was a close thing, but we're not out of the water. The oil company has not given up. They will continue to hound us and to try to divide the community. But at least we have a few days respite," said Mari Muench, a British woman who is married to the village shaman.

The elected leaders of Sani Isla have pledged to resist offers from Petroamazonas for the duration of their term.

"This policy will remain in place during our period in office. We're committed to that and we will do what we can to make it more permanent," said Abdon Grefa, the speaker of the community.

The battle has now moved to the judicial system and the court of public opinion. Their appeal for an injunction went before a judge on Wednesday and they are calling on supporters to help them build a long-term economic alternative to fossil fuels.

"We hope people will write protest letters to Petroamazonas, come and visit our lodge, promote Sani, donate money to our school and projects, volunteer as teachers or provide funds to students to travel overseas so they can learn what we need to survive in the future," said the community secretary, Klider Gualinga.

*******

Farming project tackles cloud forest deforestation – in pictures

A new technique known as layer farming is giving thousands of poor farmers in the Chinchipe river basin vital training in sustainable farming that could ensure the long-term survival of the pristine cloud forest
 
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 17 January 2013 12.13 GMT   

Click to watch: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/gallery/2013/jan/17/farming-project-cloud-forest-deforestation-in-pictures


* Family-by-Napo-River-Amaz-008.jpg (37.12 KB, 460x276 - viewed 70 times.)
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« Reply #237 on: Jan 18, 2013, 09:08 AM »

Russia plans national park for joint U.S.-Russia nature reserve

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, January 17, 2013 15:59 EST

Russia on Thursday decreed a national park in its remote Far Eastern Chukotka region, paving the way for a joint US-Russian nature reserve spanning the Bering Strait, an idea first proposed by the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed the decree to create the new national park called Beringia, Russia’s World Wildlife Fund said. The park will eventually be part of the first US-Russian nature reserve spanning the Bering Strait area, it said.

The 86-kilometre-wide strait separates Russia and Alaska but an earlier land bridge is believed to have once served as one of the earliest migration routes between the two continents.

The plan to create a US-Russian national park originally came from Gorbachev, WWF Arctic expert Mikhail Stishov told AFP.

Gorbachev was the Soviet Union’s last leader, presiding over the breakup of an empire, abandoned Cold War rhetoric and sought to promote cooperation with the United States.

On the US side, the Bering Land Bridge national reserve in Alaska, one of America’s most remote protected areas, has existed since the 1970s.

The bilateral park project has taken this long because Chukotka needed to upgrade an existing nature reserve to national park status.

By the time Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shook hands last September and agreed to “bridge” the parklands on either side of the Bering Strait, relations were at one of their lowest points since the Gorbachev years.

But for the migrating polar bears, huge bird colonies and walruses of the Bering strait, political issues are not a priority, Stishov said.

“We just wanted the national park,” he said.

Linking the two parks will facilitate conservation, preserve ties between indigenous peoples and allow tighter cooperation on environmental monitoring, according to the US-Russia agreement signed in September.

Russia’s Beringia national park will directly touch the US border, although it does not include some of Russia’s marine waters in the strait nor the small Ratmanov island, which is a base for a Russian border control station.

Chukotka, where billionaire Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich served as governor from 2000-2008, is a vast, sparsely inhabited region bordered by the Arctic and the Pacific. The new national park will only be accessible via air or sea.

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« Reply #238 on: Jan 18, 2013, 09:31 AM »

Toshiba creating nuclear reactor for mining Canada Tar Sands

By David Edwards
RawStory
Thursday, January 17, 2013 14:13 EST

Toshiba Corp. has reportedly designed a nuclear reactor and intends to market it to natural resource developers for mining Tar Sands in Canada and other places.

Nikkei reported this week that the company had completed design of a small 10,000kw reactor and had asked the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for approval to begin construction in the United States, but the process had been delayed in connection with a meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011. The company also planned to seek approval from Canadian authorities.

Sources told The Daily Yomiruri that one natural resource developer had hopes of using the reactor in Alberta by 2020.

“To ensure the reactor’s safety, Toshiba reportedly plans to construct a nuclear reactor building underground, while the building itself will be equipped with an earthquake-absorbing structure,” according to the paper.

The reactor would be used to inject steam about 300 meters underground into the oil sands. A separate pipe would then extract the sand as slurry.

Toshiba’s planned reactor would not need to be refueled for up to 30 years. Additional uses could included turning saltwater into freshwater and powering small communities in frontier areas like northern Alaska.

Ploughshares Fund Program Director Paul Carroll told Raw Story that environmental disasters were still a concern with small nuclear reactors – even one that was 1 percent the size of a 1 million kilowatt power plant — but “the individual accident scenarios are probably orders of magnitude less.”

“I don’t want to say you could have Fukushima in Canada, but I think Fukushima is a really fascinating example because it’s not so much that things failed there, but nature bats last,” he explained. “Here you had an earthquake and then a tsunami, and while some of those safety features worked initially, it basically was overwhelming.”

“What can you imagine might happen up there? When I think Canada, I think, it’s cold. Suppose you had a really long winter and it’s hard to get at this place. Suppose you did have an earthquake, what might that mean?”

Carroll also questioned the logic of using greener technologies like nuclear power to mine tar sands and produce oil that would eventually result in massive amounts of greenhouse gasses being released into the air.

“It’s a little odd,” he admitted.


* tar_sands_shutterstock_93324481-615x345.jpg (64.63 KB, 615x345 - viewed 76 times.)
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« Reply #239 on: Jan 18, 2013, 09:33 AM »

Temperature hits all-time record in Sydney

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, January 18, 2013 7:45 EST

Temperatures in Sydney hit their highest level on record on Friday, with the mercury in Australia’s biggest city reaching 45.8 degrees Celsius (114.4 Fahrenheit) in the mid-afternoon.

Sydney’s previous hottest recorded temperature was 45.3 degrees set in 1939.

“It’s a historic day for Sydney today,” Weather Channel meteorologist Dick Whitaker said.

“We haven’t seen a day like this in Sydney’s recorded history.”

It is the latest record to fall as Australia swelters under a heatwave that has affected some 70 percent of the vast country and has created what some experts have called a “dome of heat” over the nation’s outback centre.

The extreme weather, which has exacerbated bushfires, last week saw the government’s weather bureau upgrade its temperature scale by introducing new colours to cover projected forecast highs.

At one point last week, central Australia was shown with a purple area on the bureau’s forecast map, a new colour code suggesting temperatures were set to soar above 50 degrees (122 Fahrenheit).

The new scale also features a pink code for even higher temperatures.

Australia’s all-time record temperature is 50.7 degrees, set in January 1960 at Oodnadatta in South Australia state.

The record weather comes as firefighters battle blazes in New South Wales and Victoria, and almost two weeks after a dangerous fire in the southern island state of Tasmania razed more than 100 homes.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, at commemorations for bushfires in Canberra that killed four people and destroyed close to 500 homes in the national capital a decade ago, urged people to take precautions.

“Everyone should ensure they take the appropriate precautions to stay safe and monitor information from local emergency services as they work to protect lives and property,” she said.

Bushfires are a common feature of the Australian summer, and climate experts have said that they may become more intense due to global warming.

In 2009, the so-called Black Saturday firestorm destroyed more than 2,000 homes and killed 173 people in Australia’s deadliest natural disaster of modern times.
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