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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 146432 times)
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« Reply #285 on: Feb 15, 2013, 09:25 AM »

EU urged to revive flagging emissions trading scheme

More than 30 large companies sign up to call for reforms ahead of key vote in European parliament next week

Fiona Harvey, Friday 15 February 2013 11.39 GMT   

Investors and a group of large businesses have urged the EU to revive its flagging emissions trading scheme (ETS), ahead of a key vote in the European parliament next week.

Shell, General Electric, Kingfisher, Unilever and EDF were among more than 30 large companies signing up to call for reforms that would raise carbon prices and restore confidence in the scheme, which is meant to cut the EU's carbon output. The Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC), which represents investors and asset managers worth €7.5 trillion, also joined the call for reform.

But the suggested way of improving the scheme – a short-term fix of holding back some carbon permits from sale – is complex and it is uncertain whether MEPs will pass the proposal when it comes before the environment committee next Tuesday.

The emissions trading scheme has been on life support for months, as prices of carbon permits have plummeted, to trade at barely €5, down from average prices topping €30 in recent years. Under the scheme, heavy industries and power generators need permits to cover each tonne of carbon dioxide they produce. At such low prices, the permits provide little or no incentive to companies to cut their emissions or invest in cleaner technologies.

The price plunge was the result of an over-allocation of free permits to industries, the recession which depressed production in the sectors involved, and the ability to import even cheaper carbon credits from abroad to substitute for EU permits.

As a short-term fix, the European commission has suggested "backloading" some of the allocations of permits by member states to their industries. At present, auctions of permits take place on a regular basis, in which companies bid for any they need above the free allocation that some receive. But as the market is already swamped, thanks in part to companies carrying over unused permits from previous years, if the auctions were to take place as usual the price could fall even further. Under the commission's proposal, some of those auctions will be postponed until later in the current phase of the scheme, which runs to 2020.

In a Twitter chat with the Guardian, the EU commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, said: "No plan B - to stop overflooding an already overflooded market cannot be THAT difficult."

Rob Elsworth, policy officer at the campaign group Sandbag, said many MEPs did not seem to understand the proposal, which did not bode well for its passage. One of the leading members of the environment committee, the "shadow rapporteur" Eija-Riitta Korhola of Finland, is a climate sceptic.

Stephanie Pfeifer, executive director of the IIGCC, urged MEPs to back the reform. "The collapse of the carbon price and the direction of EU energy policy are creating uncertainty amongst investors concerned by climate change and weakening the case for investment in Europe's low-carbon sector. A yes vote would send a positive signal about the European parliament's commitment to its flagship emissions reduction scheme and begin to restore investor confidence in the EU's energy policy."

In a letter to MEPs, the group of more than 30 companies wrote: "The effectiveness of the EU ETS has been undermined by a surplus of allowances. The current carbon price will not stimulate low-carbon investments or innovation. Without agreement on the backloading proposal the price will fall further thus threatening the long term survival of the ETS. A failure of the EU ETS would distort the internal market with the emergence of a patchwork of 27 different energy and climate measures ranging from regulations to taxation."

Last year, an influential committee assembled by the United Nations warned that carbon trading around the world was "close to collapse" and that urgent steps were needed to revive it, as one of the few means of stimulating emissions cuts on the scale needed to avoid dangerous levels of climate change.

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« Reply #286 on: Feb 15, 2013, 09:27 AM »

Media campaign against windfarms funded by anonymous conservatives

Secretive funding network channelled millions to stop state governments moving towards renewable energy

Suzanne Goldenberg US environment correspondent, Friday 15 February 2013 12.12 GMT   

Conservatives used a pair of secretive trusts to fund a media campaign against windfarms and solar projects, and to block state agencies from planning for future sea-level rise, the Guardian has learned.

The trusts, Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, served as the bankers of the conservative movement over the past decade. Promising anonymity to their conservative billionaire patrons, the trusts between them channelled nearly $120m to contrarian thinktanks and activists, wrecking the chances of getting Congress to act on climate change.

Now the Guardian can reveal the latest project of the secretive funding network: a campaign to stop state governments moving towards renewable energy.

The campaign against wind and solar power was led by a relatively new entity, the Franklin Centre for Government and Public Integrity. The Franklin Centre did not exist before 2009, but it has quickly become a protege of Donors Trust.

The Franklin Centre, headquarters barely 1/10th of a mile away from the nondescript Alexandria, Virginia town home of its funders, received $6.3m from the two funds in 2011. It was the second largest disbursement to any entity by the Donors that year, according to tax records.

The largesse to the Franklin Centre signals a shift in priorities for the conservative billionaires who are funding the anti-climate cause towards local and state-level organising.

The backers of the anti-climate cause have eased off in their support of DC-centric thinktanks, said Whitney Ball, the chief executive and president of Donors Trust. "They are not as prominent any more."

Instead, it appears the donors are banking on an aggressive anti-climate media strategy, led by the Franklin Centre, to push back against climate action.

In 2011, Donors Trust helped the Franklin Centre expand its media operations to Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia, the Centre for Public Integrity reported in an investigation on conservative funding networks.

The Franklin Centre purports to be a hub for a network of "citizen journalists" and "watchdog" groups reporting from state capitals. It claims on its website to provide 10% of all daily reporting from state capitals across the country. It says it is on a mission to uphold a media culture of "transparency, accountability, and fiscal responsibility at the grassroots level".

But the Pew Research Centre's Project for Excellence in Journalism has ranked Franklin's affiliates as "highly ideological". Many of the media organisations listed on Franklin's website as affiliates are ultra-conservative groups.

Among them are several that have been active in the past year or two to stop the expansion of solar power and wind farms.

In North Carolina, the two Franklin affiliates, the John Locke Foundation and the John W Pope Civitas Institute, also led effort for a ban on the term "sea-level rise". The state legislature eventually voted in June last year to bar state agencies from taking into account future sea-level rise in development planning.

The groups have also led opposition to offshore wind development in North Carolina, organising workshops against windfarms.

Another Franklin affiliate, the New Jersey Watchdog, pushed for the state to drop out of a regional emissions cutting programme.

Other Watchdog affiliates have cast doubt on the link between extreme weather and climate change.

CPI found multiple ties between the Franklin Centre and groups such as Americans for Prosperity, which has been funded by Donors Trust as well as the conservative oil billionaire Koch brothers. Some of the Franklin Centre's blogs have received funds from AFP. There was also cross-over of board members in the two groups.

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« Reply #287 on: Feb 15, 2013, 09:29 AM »

02/14/2013 06:24 PM

Un-Natural Gas: Fracking Set to Shake Up German Campaign

By Lazar Backovic, Michael Kröger and Annett Meiritz

Germans are wary of fracking, but that hasn't stopped Berlin from moving ahead to create legal guidelines for the controversial natural gas extraction method. The opposition is up in arms and the issue could dog Chancellor Merkel as she campaigns for re-election.

The fear among opposition organizations is palpable. "No chemicals in our earth", one group, called "Gegen Gasbohren" -- or "Against Gas Drilling" -- states on its web page. Another activist faction warns against an "attack on our drinking water supply." They are among a dozen or so citizen initiatives aimed at "fracking," a method for extracting natural gas from previously inaccessible stone deposits through the injection of pressurized fluids containing chemical agents. Most of those initiatives have illustrated their web pages with stop signs, gas masks and even skulls and crossbones.

For the moment, the various anti-fracking groups in Germany operate on their own, primarily taking action on the local level. Municipalities that could be affected if fracking were to be allowed in the country see it as a threat, with many worried about the impact the method could have on the environment.

And this week, that worry has been amplified. SPIEGEL revealed over the weekend that the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to jump-start the extraction of shale gas deposits in the country, essentially ending a hold on the practice due to public concern and safety worries. Legal guidelines for fracking, SPIEGEL has learned, are to be introduced before the general election this autumn, filling an extended legislative silence on the subject.

German Environment Minister Peter Altmaier was quick to react, insisting that the government is merely interested in creating legal clarity. "We want to restrict fracking, we aren't trying to promote it," he told a German public radio station. He says he can't imagine that "fracking will or will be allowed to take place somewhere in Germany in the foreseeable future."

Deceptive Appeasement

The message from Merkel's coalition partners within the Free Democratic Party, however, has been different. The party's environmental spokesperson in German parliament, Michael Kauch, told SPIEGEL that "we can't afford an ideological ban, because fracking can be part of supplying energy."

Indeed, the opposition this week has accused Atlmaier of deceptive appeasement, saying that the very act of creating a law to regulate fracking would make the practice possible. "Those who believe that we can simply carry out experiments on our earth with such activities have not learned the lessons of Fukushima," Thorsten Albig, governor of the state of Schleswig-Holstein, told SPIEGEL ONLINE this week. Green Party floor leader Jürgen Tritten joined the criticism. "This is a law to legalize fracking," he said. "We will stop it in the Bundesrat (Germany's upper legislative chamber)."

For the moment, to be sure, Germany is far away from allowing large-scale fracking. It is currently being tested at only a single site. But the legal environment in Germany is far from clear, and there is plenty of room for interest groups to interpret the law to their own benefit.

The temptation is clear. Fracking in the US has triggered a modern-day oil and natural-gas boom, the size of which has the potential to alter the global energy landscape. Not surprisingly, there are those in Germany who feel that a similar gas rush could be had here. Germany's Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources estimates that there is between 0.7 and 2.3 trillion cubic meters of natural gas to be found in the country, enough to cover German demand for up to 13 years. Exxon Mobil and the German natural gas company Wintershall are both hoping to undertake test drillings as soon as possible.

Harmful Chemicals

Fracking involves blasting a high pressure stream of fluid into underground stone, essentially fracturing the rock and releasing the natural gas it contains. A mixture of water, sand and different chemicals are used in the process. The technology has developed to such a degree that previously inaccessible deposits can now be profitably exploited.

Activists, however, are concerned that the harmful chemicals used in the process could find their way into the groundwater -- or even trigger landslides by fracturing underground rock. Environmental groups have demanded a complete ban on the method. "Even the best tests aren't enough to accurately evaluate the risks," Rüdiger Rosenthal of Friends of the Earth Germany told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

Even among the general population, fracking is seen as being deeply suspect and there are a rising number of petitions and initiatives targeting the practice. Indeed, the issue could ultimately play a role in federal elections this autumn. In the run-up to state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia last year and in Lower Saxony in January -- the two states that are home to Germany's largest natural gas reserves -- citizens groups mobilized against fracking. Though plenty of other issues played roles in the campaigns, candidates skeptical of fracking won out in both cases.

To back up their skepticism, fracking opponents are quick to point to a study released last year by the Federal Environment Agency which highlighted the risks associated with the practice. But even experts are divided. Claudia Kemfert, an energy expert with the German Institute for Economic Research, has issued a plea for at least exploring the possibilities presented by the technology should strict environmental guidelines be adhered to.

Myriad Drillings

Still, even if fracking is allowed, Kemfert doesn't believe that Germany would host a boom comparable to the one in the US. "As far as one has been able to tell thus far, the fields in Germany are smaller and the amount extracted per drilling smaller," she told SPIEGEL ONLINE. Furthermore, additional research must be performed on how much natural gas is hiding below the surface.

The US has shown that it might be less than originally estimated. The myriad drillings thus far performed have, in addition to natural gas, also delivered the realization that the reserves were likely much less productive than originally thought. The US Energy Information Administration recently lowered their initial estimates by 42 percent.

Geologists in Europe too have been forced to revise their forecasts. Indeed, Exxon cancelled its involvement in Poland altogether after initial test drillings. The results were less than promising, indicating that shale gas reserves there could not be profitably exploited for some time to come.

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« Reply #288 on: Feb 17, 2013, 09:54 AM »

February 16, 2013 05:00 PM

New Ad Highlights Efforts of Corporate Polluters to Weaken Clean Air Act

By Diane Sweet

The American Lung Association released this Red Carriage television advertisement to highlight the efforts of big corporate polluters who are working to block clean air protections. Children, seniors and millions of others with chronic lung disease need to be protected from air pollution.

The ad highlights what's at stake if Washington weakens clean air protections, and drives home the implications of the choice we face as a nation -- a dirty coal fired future, or one powered by clean, renewable energy.

The Clean Air Act reduces our exposure to the harmful effects listed above by regulating emissions of ozone, particle pollution, and other pollutants. Nationally in 2010, the Clean Air Act prevented:

160,000 premature deaths;

1.7 million instances of asthma attacks;

41,000 respiratory hospital admissions; and

45,000 cardiovascular hospital admissions.

For additional information, check out the following:

Healthy Air Resources

American Lung Association

click to watch:
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« Reply #289 on: Feb 17, 2013, 09:57 AM »

Fracking is the only way to achieve Obama climate change goals, says senior administration scientist

By Robin McKie, The Observer
Saturday, February 16, 2013 10:19 EST

Boosting natural gas production could provide a ‘bridge fuel’ and cut carbon emissions

America will only achieve the ambitious climate change goals outlined by President Barack Obama last week by encouraging wide-scale fracking for natural gas over the next few years. That is the advice of one of the nation’s senior scientists, Professor William Press, a member of the president’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

Fracking – known officially as hydraulic fracturing – involves pumping high-pressure water through underground rocks to release natural gas trapped deep underground. It is believed that there are vast reserves of these subterranean gas fields across the US.

Thousands of wells have already been drilled in Texas, leading to a substantial rise in the use of natural gas in the US and a major decline in the burning of coal, a far more serious cause of carbon pollution. However, fracking is also controversial. Environmentalists say it can lead to the contamination of underground water reservoirs and the pollution of the surface with chemicals used to help to release subterranean gas stores. They also point out that burning natural gas releases carbon dioxide.

However Press, who is president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science , said last week that natural gas obtained through fracking had potential to help mitigate climate change. “Coal is burnt to provide the US with almost half its electricity. This is done in huge central power plants and the process is very dirty. By contrast, the burning of natural gas is clean and can be done in smaller, local, more efficient power station,” said Press.

“For the amount of heat you produce, coal is, effectively, three times more powerful an emitter of carbon dioxide than natural gas. Relying on gas will therefore cut our carbon emissions substantially.”

An astrophysicist by training, Press has turned to biology to use his talents at dealing with astronomical data in order to help researchers cope with the vast information sets generated by genome sequencing machines and other devices. He was speaking in Boston, where more than 8,000 delegates and 1,000 journalists have gathered for the association’s annual meeting this weekend.

His opening address focused on the need to provide proper funding for basic research – “the cornerstone of science”, as he put it. However, his remarks on climate change – made in a separate interview with the Observer – provided the most intriguing part of his message. In his state of the union address on Tuesday, Obama said he intended to be resolute in curbing emissions of carbon dioxide in the US – something that he had failed to do in his first term.

“For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change,” Obama said. “The fact is the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heatwaves, droughts, wildfires and floods – all are now more frequent and intense.” And the culprit, he made clear, was the amount of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere by cars, power plants and factories.

Emissions would have to be cut back drastically, though Obama was not clear how this would be done. Republican intransigence makes it unlikely he will get congressional approval for cutbacks, as he acknowledged. “If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will,” he said. “I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future.”

The exact nature of that executive action was not defined. However, Press is convinced that encouraging fracking and boosting natural gas production would provide the US with “a bridge fuel” that would allow it to slash carbon emissions in the short term and give the nation time to build wind and other renewable energy sources. “The gas industry is straining to develop underground natural gas reserves across the nation and would love to know the exact rules and constraints by which it can carry out fracking in different states. Once they know that, they can get on with it.”

The president could use executive orders to outline those rules in the very near future and so initiate widespread gas fracking in the US, added Press. By ensuring there were powerful regulations to protect the environment from such drilling, he would also be able to reassure campaigners that it would not cause widespread damage. Fracking would become widespread as a result.

“Rising use of natural gas in the US has already produced a major effect,” said Press. “Our carbon emissions have been cut back to their 1994 level because gas is already taking over from coal as a fuel for generating electricity.” With more drilling for underground natural gas, deeper cuts in carbon emissions would give the US more time to introduce longer-term renewable energy sources.

The idea of using natural gas to remove coal as a power source has gone down badly with mining companies. But Press said: “In the past, when coal seemed cheap, they complained free market forces should allow them to expand. But those forces are turning on them. So they should have no complaints,” he said.

However, the claim that natural gas is helping to cut back on US greenhouse gas emissions is questioned by some environmentalists. Greenpeace says no proper analysis has been done on gas leakage from fracking sites. In particular, there is a fear that methane – which is a far more dangerous greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide – may be escaping from wells and adding to the warming of the atmosphere. Campaigners also claim that there have been more than 1,000 cases of groundwater contamination in the US because of fracking and have urged a moratorium on underground drilling.

© Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #290 on: Feb 18, 2013, 07:44 AM »

February 17, 2013

Obama Faces Risks in Pipeline Decision


President Obama faces a knotty decision in whether to approve the much-delayed Keystone oil pipeline: a choice between alienating environmental advocates who overwhelmingly supported his candidacy or causing a deep and perhaps lasting rift with Canada.

Canada, the United States’ most important trading partner and a close ally on Iran and Afghanistan, is counting on the pipeline to propel more growth in its oil patch, a vital engine for its economy. Its leaders have made it clear that an American rejection would be viewed as an unneighborly act and could bring retaliation.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s first meeting with a foreign leader was with Canada’s foreign minister, John Baird, on Feb. 8. They discussed the Keystone pipeline project, among other subjects, and Mr. Kerry promised a fair, transparent and prompt decision. He did not indicate what recommendation he would make to the president.

But this is also a decisive moment for the United States environmental movement, which backed Mr. Obama strongly in the last two elections. For groups like the Sierra Club, permitting a pipeline carrying more than 700,000 barrels a day of Canadian crude into the country would be viewed as a betrayal, and as a contradiction of the president’s promises in his second inaugural and State of the Union addresses to make controlling climate change a top priority for his second term.

On Sunday, thousands rallied near the Washington Monument to protest the pipeline and call for firmer steps to fight emissions of climate-changing gases. Groups opposing coal production, nuclear power and hydraulic fracturing for natural gas were prominent; separate groups of Baptists and Catholics, as well as an interfaith coalition, and groups from Colorado, Toronto and Minneapolis joined the throng.

One speaker, the Rev. Lennox Yearwood, compared the rally to Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington for civil rights, but, he said, “while they were fighting for equality, we are fighting for existence.” In front of the stage was a mock-up of a pipeline, looking a bit like the dragon in a Chinese new year parade, with the motto, “separate oil and state.”

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, predicted that Mr. Obama would veto the $7 billion project because of the adverse effects development of the Canadian oil sands would have on the global climate.

“It’s rare that a president has such a singular voice on such a major policy decision,” Mr. Brune said. “Whatever damage approving the pipeline would do to the environmental movement pales in comparison to the damage it could do to his own legacy.”

Mr. Brune was one of about four dozen pipeline protesters arrested at the White House on Wednesday, in an act of civil disobedience that was a first for the 120-year-old Sierra Club.

So far, Mr. Obama has been able to balance his promises to promote both energy independence and environmental protection, by allowing more oil and gas drilling on public lands and offshore while also pushing auto companies to make their vehicles more efficient. But the Keystone decision, which is technically a State Department prerogative but will be decided by the president himself, defies easy compromise.

“This is a tricky political challenge for the president,” said Michael A. Levi, an energy fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The reality is everyone has defined the stakes on Keystone in such absolute terms that it is borderline impossible to see a compromise that will satisfy all the players.”

The proposed northern extension of the nearly 2,000-mile Keystone XL pipeline would connect Canada’s oil sands to refineries around Houston and the Gulf of Mexico, replacing Venezuelan heavy crude with similar Canadian grades.

Proponents say its approval would be an important step toward reducing reliance on the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries for energy. Opponents say that the expansion of oil production in shale fields across the country has already reduced the need for imports. Environmentalists have singled out the pipeline because it would carry oil derived from tar sands, in a process that is dirtier than other forms of oil production and that releases more carbon dioxide.

The State Department appeared poised to approve the pipeline in 2011, but Mr. Obama delayed a decision based on concerns about its route through vulnerable grasslands in Nebraska. The pipeline company, TransCanada, submitted a revised route, and the governor of Nebraska approved the plan last month, sending the final decision to Washington.

The Keystone pipeline is treated mainly as a domestic issue in Washington. But for Canada’s Conservative government, which has its power base in the oil-rich province of Alberta, it represents a crucial moment in Canada’s relationship with its most vital foreign partner even if the oil sands are also a divisive issue within Canada.  Mr. Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are not close, and the two make a portrait of contrasts in style and substance. While Mr. Obama comes from the liberal wing of his party and is known for stirring speeches, Mr. Harper is conservative even by the standards of his own Conservative Party and can be stiff in public. His political base, the province of Alberta, is the heart of the Canadian oil patch.

Mr. Obama’s recent expressions of concern about climate change contrast starkly with Mr. Harper’s stated priorities. Under Mr. Harper, Canada formally withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, which was agreed to by a previous Liberal government. (The United States never ratified the protocol.)

Still, the amount of Canadian oil that the United States imports daily — 2.4 million barrels, roughly twice what it imports from Saudi Arabia — points up a cornerstone of Mr. Obama’s goal to decrease dependence on oil from the unstable Middle East and unreliable sources like Venezuela. The Keystone pipeline would increase Canadian oil imports by more than 700,000 barrels a day, the equivalent of roughly two-thirds of Venezuelan imports.

Canadian leaders are cautious not to threaten the Obama administration directly, but they suggest that if the pipeline is not permitted, the close relationship between the countries will be damaged and Canada forced to look elsewhere, particularly to China, for new energy markets.

“The signal of a rejection of a permit by the president would be a significant change in the Canada-U.S. relationship,” said Greg Stringham, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers’ vice president for oil sands and markets. “Canada, right now, with our potential growth in energy, is looking for security of demand wherever that might be throughout the world.”

Choosing his words carefully, Gary Doer, the Canadian ambassador to the United States, said the two countries had come to expect each other’s support on critical issues.

“Sometimes the call comes from a U.S. president to a Canadian prime minister, and sometimes it comes the other way,” he said. “So the decision has to be made on merit and not noise. And if people in Canada perceive that the decision is made on noise, there will be extreme disappointment.”

Experts who follow United States-Canada relations say that they do not expect Ottawa to retaliate overtly if the Keystone project is not approved, but that a rejection could influence future decisions on purchases of American F-35 fighter jets and other trade and border matters.

Canada has powerful allies in the United States labor movement, which is pushing for the pipeline because proponents say it would generate tens of thousands of jobs, and in big oil companies like Exxon Mobil and Chevron that are heavily invested in the oil sands fields.

The rapid expansion of oil sands production has made oil critical to the Canadian economy. Canada has invested more than $100 billion in the oil sands over the last 10 years, shifting economic and political power westward to Alberta. Production is tied to 75,000 jobs nationwide, a number that is expected to multiply over the next 25 years, and nearly all of the country’s oil exports go to the United States.

The shortage of pipeline capacity has produced localized supply gluts, forcing the price of Canadian crude well below American and international benchmarks. If the Keystone pipeline is not completed, energy experts say, weak prices will make the economics of future oil sands projects questionable.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers estimates that the country’s current production of 3.2 million barrels of oil a day will reach 6.2 million barrels a day by 2030, with oil sands representing an overwhelming share of the increase.

The producers and Canadian officials insist that more Canadian oil will reach United States markets one way or another, even if the Keystone project is not approved — most likely through a combination of rail, barges, trucks and pipelines once used to transport natural gas.

“We hope Keystone will go through,” said Lorraine Mitchelmore, president of Shell Canada, “but it’s not the only option.”

Matthew L. Wald contributed reporting.

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« Reply #291 on: Feb 18, 2013, 09:25 AM »

Thousands of protesters urge Obama to fight global warming

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, February 17, 2013 12:32 EST

Thousands of protesters gathered in Washington Sunday for a rally to press President Barack Obama to take concrete measures to help fight global warming.

The protesters want Obama to reject the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would bring oil from Canada’s tar sands to Texas and order the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set carbon standards for power plants, among other things.

The event has been organized by scores of local and national environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, under an umbrella group named Forward on Climate.

“Your legacy as 44th president of the United States rests firmly on your leadership on climate disruption,” protest organizers say on their website.

“Only the president has the power to lead an effort on the scale and with the urgency we need to phase out fossil fuels and lead America, and the world in a clean energy revolution.”

Organizers claim the event will be the largest climate rally in US history, and includes protesters who have arrived aboard buses from 28 states.

The crowd was to rally at the National Mall at noon, then march to the White House.

The president mentioned climate change during his inauguration speech in January, and in Tuesday’s State of the Union he vowed to take action “for the sake of our children and our future” if Congress fails to do so.

“I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy,” Obama said in his speech.

Celebrities who have signed a petition supporting the protesters include Alec Baldwin, Susan Sarandon, Morgan Freeman, Robert Kennedy Jr and Yoko Ono.

The rally comes after the United States last year endured record high temperatures and lengthy droughts, as well as superstorm Sandy, which devastated the New York-New Jersey coastline.

To demand action against the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline protesters said they will form a “a human pipeline” — a chain of people — between the National Mall and the White House.

Soon after taking office in 2009 Obama presented an ambitious measure aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions — the United States is the world’s second largest CO2 emitter after China. But the bill ran into stiff resistance from the Republican opposition.
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« Reply #292 on: Feb 20, 2013, 09:04 AM »

Sea Shepherd activists clash with Japanese whaler in Southern Ocean

Marine conservation society reports double ramming and calls on Australia to send naval vessel to scene

Justin McCurry in Tokyo, Wednesday 20 February 2013 11.12 GMT   

Anti-whaling activists say a Japanese whaling ship has rammed two of their vessels, marking the first clash of this winter's "whale wars" in the freezing Antarctic seas.

The marine conservation group Sea Shepherd called on Australia to send a naval vessel to the area after claims that the whaling fleet's factory ship, the Nisshin Maru, had collided with two of its vessels including its flagship, the Steve Irwin.

"The Nisshin Maru has rammed the Steve Irwin and the Bob Barker but both vessels continue to hold their positions," Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd's founder, said in a statement.

Watson, who is on an Interpol wanted list for allegedly endangering a fishing vessel crew in 2002, accused the Japanese coastguard personnel accompanying the whalers of throwing stun grenades at activists.

The International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986 but a clause in the moratorium allows Japan to catch just fewer than 1,000 whales in the Antarctic every winter for "scientific research". The meat from the hunts is sold legally, on the open market, although Japan's appetite for it has declined dramatically since the 1960s.

In recent years, Sea Shepherd has prevented the fleet from reaching its quota, of about 950 minke whales and about 50 fin whales. However, Professor Masayuki Komatsu, a former agriculture ministry official, told the Guardian recently the whalers had left port later than usual at the end of last year, and were expected to catch only about 300 whales.

Sea Shepherd said the 8,000-tonne Nisshin Maru, which processes slaughtered whales, had also collided with the Bob Barker, causing the latter temporarily to take on water in its engine room. No one was reported injured in the collision.

The clashes, near the Australian Davis research base, on the Antarctic coast, came after activists had spent two days trying to prevent the Nisshin Maru from reaching the whaling fleet's tanker, Sun Laurel, to refuel.

Sea Shepherd said three of its boats, including the two that were damaged, had been positioned near the Japanese factory ship and tanker when the incident occurred.

The Cetacean Research Institute, a quasi-governmental body that oversees the hunts, said it was investigating the incident.

Japan's consul general in Melbourne, Hidenobu Sobashima, called on Sea Shepherd to end its confrontations with the fleet. "All obstructive activities of Sea Shepherd that endanger life of the crew and property, and safe navigation at sea, should be stopped," the Sydney Morning Herald quoted him as saying.

The latest incident is one of many clashes between Sea Shepherd and the whaling fleet over the past nine years. The most serious came in 2010, when the group's hi-tech trimaran, the Ady Gil, sank after colliding with a whaling ship.

Last December, a US court granted a temporary injunction to the Japanese whalers forbidding Sea Shepherd from sailing within 500 yards of the whaling vessels.

On Monday, Watson wrote in the Guardian that Japan's whalers had "never before been more recklessly aggressive".

Sea Shepherd's director, Bob Brown, said the group's two vessels had been repeatedly rammed, and called on the Australian government to send a naval ship to the area.

"It is illegal to be ramming ships in any seas, anywhere on the planet," the former Australian Greens party leader told reporters in Melbourne. "It is illegal for a tanker to be carrying heavy fuel oil into Antarctic waters under international law."

The Australian government, a vocal critic of whaling, has taken its campaign to end the annual hunts in the Southern Ocean to the international court of justice, in the Hague; a ruling could come later this year.

Australia's environment minister, Tony Burke, said in a statement: "The government condemns so-called scientific whaling in all waters, and we urge everyone in the ocean to observe safety at sea."

Link to the video:

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« Reply #293 on: Feb 20, 2013, 09:10 AM »

Sea Shepherd: defending the integrity of the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary

Our Antarctic campaign has become stronger and more efficient – but the Japanese whalers are getting recklessly aggressive

Paul Watson, Monday 18 February 2013 11.04 GMT   
I don't think that there is a more isolated, more remote, or more forbidding place on this planet than where we find ourselves at this moment.

Draw a line due south from Sri Lanka for 4,404 nautical miles and it will bring you to Prdyz Bay, deep in the Cooperation Sea, close to the massive Amory ice shelf.

Some 2,632 nautical miles to the north-east is Perth, Western Australia and 2,632 miles to the north-west is Cape Town, South Africa.

In contrast, we are only 1,380 miles to the south pole.

It is summertime in Antarctica and outside on the deck, the wind is blowing at 30 knots and the temperature has dropped to -10C.

On our port beam at a quarter of a kilometre, and just barely discernible through the misty swirling snow is the Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker. I can see her taking white water over her bow and hoar frost clinging like bleached algae on her blue, grey, and black mottled hull.

Ahead of us another quarter of a kilometre, a massive black hull plunges and bucks in a frothing sea. And as if the sea spray was not enough, the ship fires six high-powered streams of sea water in different directions. Briny icicles hang from her rails.

I can see the stern slipway, that awful maw that literally swallows whales whole, wasting nothing, they say, except for the whales themselves.

The beautiful creatures get dragged onto the flensing deck to be mutilated and cut into pieces, to be frozen and boxed below deck as streams of steaming blood pour into the sea from the scuppers.

The Sea Shepherd Crew call that floating mechanised abattoir the cetacean Death Star. It is the Japanese whale-processing factory ship the Nisshin Maru, and for nine long years we have hunted her down in these waters with the single objective of interfering with her primary activity – the slaughtering of whales.

I suppose in a way, I am the mirror image of the fictional Captain Ahab. Instead of a white whale, it is a whale-killing death ship that I have been obsessed with stopping.

Nine voyages I have spent in these hellish cold waters, totalling near 30 months. This voyage is now in its 105th day, a voyage that began in Melbourne, went north to American Samoa, then south again to New Zealand, and further south still, to the Ross Sea; and for the last 18 days a pursuit of some 2,500 miles westward to this forsaken place.

Forsaken yet incredibly beautiful. The seas are bejeweled with thousands of icebergs, ranging in size from that of a small building to massive tabletops larger than major cities. And it is not all white on blue, the icebergs boast a spectrum of blues, indigos, and greens; and the ever-present sun splatters the horizon twice a day with the spectrum of reds, orange and yellows.

In the sea and flying through the air are the great living treasures of these waters - the birds, whales, seals, and penguins; and beneath the surface the great schools of fishes and the vast plumes of plankton and krill.

What brings us down here year after year is the simple fact that these waters have been designated by the international community of nations as the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary, and we are here to defend the integrity and the sanctity of this legal sanctuary for whales.

The Japanese whalers are slaughtering protected, threatened, and endangered species of whales within this sanctuary in violation of a global moratorium on commercial whaling. They are also in contempt of an Australian federal court ruling from 2008 that specifically forbade them from killing whales in the waters of the Australian Antarctic territory.

Three days ago the Japanese harpoon vessel Yushin Maru #2 killed a minke whale within the Australian Antarctic Territory, only 50 miles from the Australian Davis Research base on the Antarctic coast.

This is the first time since 2009 that they have killed a whale in front of us and they did so deliberately to test our resolve.

In December 2012, the US 9th district court granted a temporary injunction to the Japanese whalers that ordered the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society USA to not approach within 500 yards of the whaling vessels.

Sea Shepherd USA immediately complied with the injunction. Sea Shepherd USA has never broken an American law from the day it was founded in August 1977. In compliance, Sea Shepherd USA stopped all funding to Operation Zero Tolerance and withdrew all support, leaving the campaign in the hands of Sea Shepherd Australia under the leadership of Bob Brown, the former Australian Federal Senator and Leader of the Greens.

Bob Brown had previously led a Sea Shepherd campaign with the Steve Irwin to protect whales in Western Australia, and the Southern Ocean campaigns have been staged out of Australia since 2005.

The Japanese whalers, however, mistakenly thought that the US courts could exercise jurisdiction over Dutch- and Australian-flagged and owned vessels under the command of Australian, French, Indian and Swedish captains operating out of Australian and New Zealand ports into international and Australian territorial waters.

Thus we had the strange situation of Japanese whalers operating in contempt of an Australian federal court ruling, killing a whale inside the Australian Antarctic Territorial waters, and warning a Swedish captain of a Dutch-flagged ship that they would be in contempt of a US court should they interfere with their unlawful activities in an internationally established sanctuary for whales.

Captain Peter Hammarstedt was not about to watch the poachers transfer a dead whale to the factory ship without interference. He blocked the transfer. The factory ship and the harpoon vessels deployed prop fouling lines to stop him but the Bob Barker crew took to small boats and cut the lines.

It took 12 attempts and most of the day before they were able to transfer the poached whale.

They finally managed to do so by making an extremely dangerous lunge at the Bob Barker with the Nisshin Maru. Five times the size of the Bob Barker, the ramming would have breached the hull. Thus as Captain Hammarstedt had no choice but to dodge the collision, the move allowed the harpoon vessel to dash in front of the Bob Barker and behind the Nisshin Maru, where a cable was quickly attached to the corpse of the whale and it was hoisted up the slipway onto the flensing deck.

The next morning the Steve Irwin arrived, and with two ships on the stern of the Nisshin Maru, the whaling operations were shut down.

Three days later, the whaling operations have not resumed. The harpoon vessels have all disappeared, leaving the Steve Irwin and the Bob Barker chasing the Nisshin Maru ever further west.

Each year that Sea Shepherd has returned to these waters since 2005 the campaign has gotten stronger and more efficient. Last season, the whalers took only 26% of their kill quota and the season before that they took only17%.

This season, with four ships, the campaign is stronger but facing more challenges. The injunction imposed on Sea Shepherd USA weakened the finances of the campaign, but it did something even more threatening to the crews of these four ships. It has emboldened the Japanese whalers.

The Japanese whalers have never before been more recklessly aggressive. The Sea Shepherd ships have been forced to yield to uphold our primary operational concern and that is to not cause any injuries to either side.

The whalers destroyed the Ady Gil in 2010 and did not have to answer for it. They were not even questioned. They have interpreted the US court injunction as de facto permission to be more aggressive. They have the total support of the Japanese government, and although Australia and New Zealand are taking Japan to the international court in the Hague this year, both countries have not done anything to actually stop the slaughter of whales.

Thus it has been left to a small band of international volunteers to protect and defend the whale sanctuary, despite being marginalised and given labels ranging from extremists to eco-terrorists.

Yet after nine year of confrontations Sea Shepherd have not caused a single injury or inflicted any damage on the Japanese ships; whereas they have injured Sea Shepherd crew, damaged Sea Shepherd ships, and completely destroyed one vessel.

These whalers are poachers and no different than elephant and rhino poachers in Africa, except for the fact that the African poachers are generally black and poor and they are shot for their crimes.

The whale poachers on the other hand are encouraged by their own government to continue their crimes.

This is a strange battle down here in the Southern Seas. Within two days we expect that the three harpoon vessels, along with the armed government vessel Shonan Maru #2 and the Korean tanker Sun Laurel, will catch up with the Nisshin Maru. That will pit a whaling fleet of six against three Sea Shepherd ships.

The Sea Shepherd crews are committed to blocking the illegal whaling operations, and it appears the whalers are under orders to kill as many whales as possible. This is gearing up for a major showdown, and the challenge for the Sea Shepherd volunteers is to save as many whales as possible while ensuring that no one is injured by an increasingly hostile and aggressive crew of whalers, made all the more dangerous by the extreme remoteness and intense weather and sea conditions.

The Japanese Fishery Agency issued themselves a permit to kill 935 protected minke whales, 50 endangered fin whales, and 50 endangered humpback whales.

The Sea Shepherd Crew are confident that the whalers will take only a small fraction of this list of the condemned, and they will once again lose millions of dollars in profits.

And if they return next year, so will the Sea Shepherd Crew, and the year after that if need be. Because what is the point of declaring and establishing a sanctuary for whales if whales can be allowed to be killed there?

• Captain Paul Watson is the founder and president of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Click to watch the sadistic Japanese 'whalers' poaching and killing this whale:


Sea Shepherd vessel Bob Barker tries to stop a from being whale loaded on to the Nisshin Maru
The Sea Shepherd vessel Bob Barker tries to stop a from being whale loaded on to the Nisshin Maru. Photograph: Glenn Lockitch / Sea Shepherd Australia

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« Reply #294 on: Feb 20, 2013, 09:13 AM »

Bid to solve mystery of 50,000 red-breasted geese lost in migration

Scientists have fitted 11 geese with tracking tags in an attempt to find the cause of the birds' mass disappearance 10 years ago

Jessica Aldred, Wednesday 20 February 2013 06.00 GMT   

British conservationists are to track red-breasted geese in a bid to solve the mystery of thousands of birds that went missing during migration.

Researchers from the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) and the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB) have caught 91 red-breasted geese (Branta ruficollis) in Bulgaria and fitted 11 tags which will allow them to follow the birds' movements along their 6,000km migration route to breeding grounds in Arctic Russia.

More than 50,000 of the endangered geese disappeared from their main wintering grounds along the Black Sea coast in Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine around 10 years ago.

International surveys that have taken place since have not recorded any significant population increases, leaving scientists to speculate whether the missing geese – which accounted for half of the world's population – found a new site in Asia or fell victim to hunting, development or changes in farming.

Peter Cranswick, head of species recovery at WWT, said: "Almost overnight, we were unable to account for around half the world's red-breasted geese. The reasons are still unclear and we are tracking these individual birds to find out more.

"It is also possible that, as the climate has changed, some birds have started to winter further east. We hope our tagged birds will reveal as yet unknown sites, so we can assess their importance and – if necessary – ensure their protection.

"The data we get will be invaluable to our work with local communities in Bulgaria – the farmers, shooters and landowners – to work out how we support the remaining geese, while still meeting their needs."

With its striking plumage, the red-breasted goose is one of the rarest, smallest and most beautiful goose species in the world.

The moderately small population declined by 50% in just 10 years after the migrating birds went missing, leading to the species being moved up a category from vulnerable to endangered on the IUCN red list of threatened species in 2007. At the last count, scientists estimated that there were just 37,000 of the birds left in the wild.

The goose is threatened by hunting in Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine. Although it is protected throughout its range, reports have found there is significant deliberate hunting in some areas, primarily for sport. Legal hunting of more common goose species is also disturbing the red-breast, as the birds may not have enough time to build up food reserves before beginning their migration.

Climate change is expected to alter the tundra habitats where the goose breeds, leading to reduced breeding success.

Large flocks of the geese feed in the wheat fields in their wintering grounds along the Black Sea coast. The resulting damage to the crops has brought the birds into conflict with farmers, some of whom have used pesticides and poisons to get rid of the birds.

The rapid growth in windfarms in the region is another cause for concern, with several proposals for turbines close to roosting and feeding sites.

WWT and the BSPB have been working on the study and conservation of red-breasted geese in their main wintering grounds in Bulgarian Dobrudzha for eight years.

Two red-breasted geese were fitted with satellite tags that will follow their migration to their summer breeding grounds in Arctic Russia and back next winter. Nine birds were fitted with GPS data loggers which provide fixes of the birds' locations every two hours while the birds are in Bulgaria.

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« Reply #295 on: Feb 20, 2013, 09:19 AM »

‘Extremely Large Telescope’ will be able to find oxygen on other planets

By David Ferguson
Tuesday, February 19, 2013 15:21 EST

New telescopes will be able to see whether the atmospheres of other, extremely distant planets contain oxygen. According to New Scientist magazine, the European Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), slated for completion on Cerro Armazones, a Chilean mountaintop within the next decade, will be able to divine whether the gases necessary to support life as we know it are present in a planet’s atmosphere.

Current telescopes aren’t strong enough to detect atmospheric makeup of anything but big, gaseous planets, called “gas giants.” There are two gas giants in our own solar system, Saturn and Jupiter, large planets made of liquids and gases which scientists study by examining the way light passes through their atmospheres.

Ignas Snellen of Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands told New Scientist, “We do this now for Jupiter-sized planets.”

Atmospheres on smaller, rocky planets like our own are harder to detect, particularly when current telescopes have difficulty filtering out Earth’s own oxygen-rich atmosphere from its observations.

The ELT, however, will be a huge leap forward. It will boast a mirror 39 meters (about 130 feet) across and will be sensitive enough to see some of the furthest known galaxies and star systems in the universe. It will also be able to see beyond Earth’s atmosphere because it will be sensitive enough to read whether the air it’s observing is rotating with the Earth or with the other planet by way of the atmosphere’s wavelength band.

The search promises to be no easy task. A planet will have to pass between its home star and the telescope multiple times for astronomers to gather enough information about it to determine its atmospheric contents. Depending on the shape of its orbit and the size of its star, it could take between four years and four centuries to get the right data.

Exoplanets are planets outside our solar system, and astronomers have identified more than 850 of them as of February, 2013. The presence of oxygen on one of these planets would indicate the possible presence of plants and bacteria in numbers abundant enough to create significant atmospheric oxygen.

Jack O’Malley-James at the University of St. Andrews at Fife, U.K. cautioned, though, that finding oxygen on a planet is not necessarily a guarantee of finding life. He said that organisms on planets with vastly different chemical makeups could find alternatives to oxygen in order to survive. He stressed the need for more detailed chemical analyses of exoplanetary atmospheres.

On Earth, deep sea hydrothermal vents support a variety of anaerobic microbes that thrive in oxygen-free environments. Scientists have observed bacteria at so-called “black smoker” vents that take no energy from sunlight whatsoever, but harvest energy from the sulfur boiling out of fissures in the sea floor where the temperature reaches up to 700 degrees fahrenheit.

O’Malley-James believes that too much emphasis is being placed on the big mirror telescopes. He supports the production of many, smaller “flux bucket” scopes that collect as much light as possible. They’re not able to produce the same detailed images as the bigger observatories, but, he said, they allow for the kind of long-term research models needed for observing exoplanets.

“It’s good to have a cheaper alternative to the big space-based missions,” he said.

[image via Wikipedia]

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« Reply #296 on: Feb 20, 2013, 09:21 AM »

Supreme Court tilts toward Monsanto in battle with farmer

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, February 20, 2013 3:16 EST

The US Supreme Court appeared on Tuesday to side with Monsanto against an Indiana farmer accused of having pirated the genetically-modified crops developed by the agribusiness giant.

At stake is whether farmers can reproduce genetically-modified seeds on their own without paying for the technology again each growing season, which Monsanto says would stifle biotechnology innovation.

Critics counter that Monsanto is asserting ownership over a now nearly ubiquitous life form, which would allow it to share in the occasional profits of struggling farmers but insulate it from the risk they face.

Vernon Hugh Bowman, the 75-year-old soybean farmer at the center of the controversy, claims he acted in good faith and poses no threat to the multi-billion dollar genetically modified seed industry.

“I’ve done nothing wrong,” Bowman said before the Supreme Court on Tuesday. “If I had done something wrong, no matter how big, they would have the right to come after me.”

In a lawsuit filed in 2007, Monsanto accused Bowman of infringing on its intellectual property rights by replanting, cultivating and selling herbicide-resistant soybean seeds it spent more than a decade developing.

The patented seed, which allows farmers to aerially spray Monsanto-made Roundup herbicide over their entire fields, was invented in 1996 and is now grown by more than 90 percent of the 275,000 US soybean farmers.

Bowman claims to have respected his contract with Monsanto and purchased new Roundup Ready seeds each year for his first planting.

But he says hard times forced him to purchase a cheaper mixture of seeds from a grain elevator starting in 1999, which he used for his second planting.

The mixture included Roundup Ready soybeans, which Bowman was able to isolate and replant from 2000 to 2007.

Monsanto attorney Seth Waxman argued that Bowman was able to profit from the seed giant’s technology without having to pay for it, comparing the case to software piracy.

“Without the ability to limit reproduction of soybeans containing this patented trait, Monsanto could not have commercialized its invention, and never would have produced what is, by now, the most popular agricultural technology in America,” he argued.

“Having committed hundreds of millions of dollars in 13 years to develop this technology, in the very first sale of an article that practices the patent, it would have exhausted its rights in perpetuity.”

Monsanto, which won earlier rulings in lower courts, appeared to have also convinced the nation’s highest judicial body.

“Why in the world would anybody spend any money to try to improve the seed if as soon as they sold the first one anybody could grow more and have as many of those seeds as they want?” Chief Justice John Roberts asked.

Justice Stephen Breyer, a more progressive jurist, appeared to agree.

“You know, there are certain things that the law prohibits. What it prohibits here is making a copy of the patented invention. And that is what (Bowman) did,” he said.

Bowman’s attorney, Mark Walters, countered that extending Monsanto’s rights to the less reliable grain elevator seed would allow it to profit from the crop without sharing the farmer’s risk.

In Monsanto’s legal reasoning, he said, “it doesn’t matter how you come into possession with these seeds… Any cell division is patent infringement.”

“So what they’re essentially asking for is for the farmers to bear all the risks of farming, yet they can sit back and control how that property is used.”

He added that the use of grain elevator seed by small-scale farmers like Bowman is “never going to be a threat to Monsanto’s business.”

After the hearing, Walters told reporters that Bowman — from whom Monsanto has demanded $85,000 in damages — is in dire economic straits.

But the attorney admitted that the court may rule according to the “impact of patterns of investment.”

The court is expected to rule on the case by the end of June.
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« Reply #297 on: Feb 21, 2013, 09:44 AM »

'Alien' wildlife in Europe wreaks €12bn damage a year, study shows

From tiger mosquitoes to ragweed, more than 10,000 invasive species are putting increasing pressure on the natural world

Reuters, Thursday 21 February 2013 12.07 GMT   

Animals and plants brought to Europe from other parts of the world are a bigger-than-expected threat to health and the environment costing at least €12bn (£10bn) a year, according to a study published on Thursday.

More than 10,000 "alien" species have gained a foothold in Europe, from Asian tiger mosquitoes to North American ragweed, and at least 1,500 are known to be harmful, the European Environment Agency (EEA) said.

"In many areas, ecosystems are weakened by pollution, climate change and fragmentation. Alien species invasions are a growing pressure on the natural world which are extremely difficult to reverse," said Jacqueline McGlade, head of the EEA.

Introduced species that suddenly thrive in a new home in Europe, including parakeets from Africa or water hyacinth from the Amazon, were estimated to cost Europe at least €12bn a year, according to the 118-page study.

"Our number is an underestimate," Piero Genovesi, a lead author at the Italian Institute for Environmental Protection and Research, told Reuters, saying it omitted the impacts of many species such as tropical "killer algae" in the Mediterranean.

"The problem has exploded in the last 100 years," he said. Europe had the most data but the problem was worsening worldwide, he said. And more travel, trade and climate change were likely to aggravate the invasions.

"Invasive species pose greater risks than previously thought for biodiversity, human health and economies," the EEA said.

It urged more focus on preventing the arrival of unwanted species and a better early warning system to sort out the good from the bad. Many introduced species, like potatoes from South America, bring enormous benefits.

Among invaders, the tiger mosquito, native to Asia, transmitted dengue fever and was linked to an outbreak of the chikungunya virus in Italy in 2007. And climate change meant the mosquitos were likely to spread.

Ragweed, originally from North America and spreading north in Europe in a warming climate, added to health problems since 10 to 20% of patients who suffered from pollen allergy suffer from ragweed.

Invasive species have been around for a long time – Pliny the Elder wrote in 77 AD that Roman troops were deployed to try to rid the Balearic islands in the Mediterranean of invasive rabbits brought from the mainland.

And European species have in turn been damaging elsewhere, such as rabbits that have spread across Australia.

Many alien invasive species were introduced deliberately and then escaped or spread rapidly – such as farmed mink from North America or ornamental rhododendron plants from Asia.

Others came accidentally, such as zebra mussels attached to ships from the Black Sea in the 19th century that choke water intake pipes at power plants or factories.

Invaders are hard to beat, but spending is often worthwhile.

Britain eradicated the coypu, a large rodent from South America whose burrows can undermine riverbanks, in a €5m campaign. In Italy, a bigger coypu infestation causes damage of up to €12m a year.

The study also urged better assessment of fast-growing species before they are used as biofuel crops – such as the Japanese knotweed that can grow 30cms (1ft) a day and threatens slower-growing plants by blocking sunlight.
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« Reply #298 on: Feb 21, 2013, 09:45 AM »

Interpol arrests 200 and seizes $8m worth of timber in illegal logging raid

Police release details of one of the biggest raids on suspected illegal timber operations ever undertaken in Latin America

Fiona Harvey, environment correspondent, Thursday 21 February 2013 11.46 GMT   

Nearly 200 people have been arrested and 2,000 truckloads of wood seized in one of the biggest raids on suspected illegal timber operations ever undertaken in Latin America.

It was Interpol's first international operation against large-scale illegal logging, carried out in 12 Latin American countries alongside national agencies from September to late November last year. About 50,000 cubic metres of wood was seized, with an estimated value of about $8m, according to details released by Interpol this week.

David Higgins, programme manager of the environmental crime programme at Interpol, said: "Operation Lead marks the beginning of our effort to assist member countries to combat illegal logging and forestry crime, which affects not only the health, security and quality of life of local forest-dependent communities, but also causes significant costs to governments in terms of lost economic revenue."

Details of Interpol's swoop come as the European Union prepares for the introduction of strict new rules designed to keep out illegally logged wood and related products. From 3 March, the new timber regulations will make it illegal for European companies to import illegally harvested timber, and they will be judged guilty if they are found to have imported such products without having carried out proper checks on their supply chains. This is expected to encourage companies to ensure they can trace the provenance of their imported wood products, certifying how it was obtained. In the UK, company directors who fail to undertake the checks needed and import illegal products could face two years in jail.

The illegal timber trade is estimated to be worth between $30bn and $100bn a year, and the products – much of it from Latin America, but also Africa and south-east Asia - have been found widely spread in importing countries from China to the US and Europe.

Global Witness, the non-governmental organisation, hailed the Interpol move as a step towards halting the harmful international trade in illegal timber.

Billy Kyte, forest campaigner at Global Witness, said: "This is a major development in the fight against illegal logging, which is a much bigger global problem than most people realise. Local people often get the blame, but they are usually not the real problem. Much more damage is done by big companies connected to business, political and criminal elites who systematically skirt laws and regulations in order to destroy forests on an industrial scale – which is a disaster for the people who live in the forest and the planet as a whole."

He said companies dealing in any sort of timber products should take note. "For too long, governments and international enforcement bodies have turned a blind eye to the illegality and corruption that lies behind much of what ends up on our shop floors and in our living rooms. This news should come as a wake-up call for companies importing wood products," he warned.

Operation Lead was part of a wider programme at Interpol known as Project Leaf, which is a joint effort with the United Nations Environment Programme and funding from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation. It provides help for forested countries to tackle illegal logging and forestry crime.

Operation Lead was carried out in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela. Under the operation, officials inspected vehicles, retail premises, ports and other transport centres.
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« Reply #299 on: Feb 21, 2013, 09:48 AM »

February 20, 2013

Iceland Looks to Export Power Bubbling From Below


KRAFLA, Iceland — Soon after work began here on a power plant to harness some of the vast reserves of energy stored at the earth’s crust, the ground moved and, along a six-mile-long fissure, began belching red-hot lava. The eruptions continued for nine years, prompting the construction of a stone and soil barrier to make sure that molten rock did not incinerate Iceland’s first geothermal power station.

While the menacing lava flow has long since stopped and Krafla is today a showcase of Iceland’s peerless mastery of renewable energy sources, another problem that has dogged its energy calculations for decades still remains: what to do with all the electricity that the country — which literally bubbles with steam, hot mud and the occasional cloud of volcanic ash — is capable of producing.

In a nation with only 320,000 people, the state-owned power company, Landsvirkjun, which operates the Krafla facility, sells just 17 percent of its electricity to households and local industry. The rest goes mostly to aluminum smelters owned by the American giant Alcoa and other foreign companies that have been lured to this remote North Atlantic nation by its abundant supply of cheap energy.

Now a huge and potentially far more lucrative market beckons — if only Iceland can find a way to transmit electricity across the more than 1,000 miles of frigid sea that separate it from the 500 million consumers of the European Union. “Prices are so low in Iceland that it is normal that we should want to sell to Europe and get a better price,” said Stein Agust Steinsson, the manager of the Krafla plant. “It is not good to put all our eggs in one basket.”

What Landsvirkjun charges aluminum smelters exactly is a secret, but in 2011 it received on average less than $30 per megawatt/hour — less than half the going rate in the European Union and barely a quarter of what, according to the Renewable Energies Federation, a Brussels-based research unit, is the average tariff, once tax breaks and subsidies are factored in, for “renewable” electricity in the European Union. Iceland would not easily get this top “renewable” rate, which is not a market price, but it still stands to earn far more from its electricity than it does now.

Eager to reach these better paying customers, the power company has conducted extensive research into the possibility of a massive extension cord — or a “submarine interconnector,” in the jargon of the trade — to plug Iceland into Europe’s electricity grid. Such a cable would probably go first to the northern tip of Scotland, which, about 700 miles away, is relatively close, and then all the way to continental Europe, nearly 1,200 miles away. That is more than three times longer than a link between Norway and the Netherlands, which is currently the world’s longest.

Laying an underwater cable from the North Atlantic would probably cost more than $2 billion, and the idea is not popular with those who worry about Iceland — a country that takes pride in living by its own means in harsh isolation — becoming an ice-covered version of Middle East nations addicted to easy money from energy exports.

Backers of the cable “are looking for easy money, but who is going to pay in the end?” said Lara Hanna Einarsdottir, an Icelandic blogger who has written extensively on the potential risks involved in geothermal energy. “We will all pay.”

Iceland, Ms. Einarsdottir said, should use its energy sources to “supply ourselves and coming generations” and not gamble with Iceland’s unique heritage by “building more and more plants so that we can provide electricity to towns in Scotland.”

The idea of somehow exporting electricity to Europe has been around for decades and has been “technically doable for some time,” said Hordur Arnarson, the power company’s chief executive, “but it was not seen as economically feasible until recently.” The change is largely because of a push by the European Union to reduce the use of oil and coal and promote green energy, a move that has put a premium on electricity generated by wind, water and geothermal sources. The union’s 27 member states agreed in 2009 to a mandatory target of deriving at least 20 percent of its energy from “renewable sources” by 2020.

A connection to Europe would not only allow Iceland to tap the export market but also to import electricity from Europe in the event of a crisis, a backup that would allow it to stop keeping large emergency reserves, as it does now.

“This is a very promising project,” Mr. Arnarson said. “We have a lot of electricity for the very few people who live here.” Compared with the rest of the world, he said, Iceland produces “more energy per capita by far, and it is very natural to consider connecting ourselves to other markets.”

For example, in the region around the Krafla plant, where Landsvirkjun is due to build a second geothermal power station, there are just 400 residents. The only nearby business is a health complex with a big outdoor pool and saunas, but it does not use much electricity, as its hot water and heating all come from the ground. Most Icelandic homes and offices, once reliant on coal- and wood-fired furnaces, are now kept warm by geothermal energy.

Whether Iceland pursues the cable project depends on a government committee now reviewing the idea. “If there is not a broad consensus, we won’t do it,” Mr. Arnarson said.

But pressure to find new markets for its electricity is growing as the gap between plentiful supply and tepid local demand widens. Parliament in January approved a new energy “master plan” that gives a green light to at least 11 new geothermal power stations and two additional hydroelectric projects.

“I keep asking the same question over and over again: what are we going to do with all this electricity?” said Gudmundur Ingi Gudbrandsson, head of the Icelandic Environment Association. The answer, he said, used to be that aluminum smelters needed it, but “they now say we will sell it to Europe.”

His own and 10 other environmental groups joined together last year to warn that “the so-called profit of constructing a sea cable has been painted in bright colors as one of Iceland’s biggest-ever business opportunities,” but that it would have an “enormous environmental impact” through the construction of new power plants and overhead power lines.

Geothermal energy, Mr. Gudbrandsson said, is “certainly cleaner than coal, gas or oil” in terms of the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. But building huge plants to harness it, often in remote, vulnerable areas, “definitely hurts the environment.”

The minister responsible for energy, Steingrimur Sigfusson, who is also leader of the Left-Green Movement, thinks that Iceland should focus on using its electricity to develop industrial-scale greenhouses, fish farming and other productive ventures, not to power homes and factories in Europe. “We need to create jobs, not rely on bulk exports,” he said.

Environmentalists complain that geothermal plants are nowhere near as green as their boosters say, pointing to problems caused by large amounts of wastewater and the release of hydrogen sulfide gas, which smells like rotten eggs and can cause or aggravate respiratory ailments like asthma. There are also worries that drilling bore holes deep into seismically sensitive earth to reach the scorching fluid that powers turbines can set off or at least accelerate earthquakes. The town of Hveragerdi near Reykjavik had a series of earthquakes that some scientists attributed to a nearby geothermal power plant.

“There are so many unknowns,” said Mr. Gudbrandsson of the Icelandic Environment Association. He said he was not opposed to geothermal energy for heating but was concerned that it stops being a “renewable” source of energy if it is exploited too intensively by power plants. “You have to use it rather slowly so that it can renew itself. Otherwise it is just like mining.”

On paper, said Gudni Johannesson, director general of the National Energy Authority, Iceland has so much geothermal energy that “there is no real limit” to how much power can be generated, especially with advances in drilling technology. But pushing too far in exploiting these reserves, he added, would require cracking huge amounts of rock and vast investment.

This, Mr. Johannesson said, means that Iceland should avoid any grandiose ambitions of becoming a geothermal Saudi Arabia and remain mindful of its limits. “If we export everything we now have,” he said, “we could perhaps supply Paris.”

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