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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 144621 times)
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« Reply #585 on: Aug 01, 2013, 11:00 PM »

Climate change on pace to occur 10 times faster than any change recorded in past 65 million years, Stanford scientists say

Not only is the planet undergoing one of the largest climate changes in the past 65 million years, Stanford climate scientists Noah Diffenbaugh and Chris Field report that it's on pace to occur at a rate 10 times faster than any change in that period. Without intervention, this extreme pace could lead to a 5-6 degree Celsius spike in annual temperatures by the end of the century.


Courtesy of Stanford University
Two 'heat maps' depicting aspects of climate change
The top map shows global temperatures in the late 21st century, based on current warming trends. The bottom map illustrates the velocity of climate change, or how far species in any given area will need to migrate by the end of the 21st century to experience climate similar to present. (Click image to enlarge)
The planet is undergoing one of the largest changes in climate since the dinosaurs went extinct. But what might be even more troubling for humans, plants and animals is the speed of the change. Stanford climate scientists warn that the likely rate of change over the next century will be at least 10 times quicker than any climate shift in the past 65 million years.

If the trend continues at its current rapid pace, it will place significant stress on terrestrial ecosystems around the world, and many species will need to make behavioral, evolutionary or geographic adaptations to survive.

Although some of the changes the planet will experience in the next few decades are already "baked into the system," how different the climate looks at the end of the 21st century will depend largely on how humans respond.

The findings come from a review of climate research by Noah Diffenbaugh, an associate professor of environmental Earth system science, and Chris Field, a professor of biology and of environmental Earth system science and the director of the Department of Global Ecology at the Carnegie Institution. The work is part of a special report on climate change in the current issue of Science.

Diffenbaugh and Field, both senior fellows at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, conducted the targeted but broad review of scientific literature on aspects of climate change that can affect ecosystems, and investigated how recent observations and projections for the next century compare to past events in Earth's history.

For instance, the planet experienced a 5 degree Celsius hike in temperature 20,000 years ago, as Earth emerged from the last ice age. This is a change comparable to the high-end of the projections for warming over the 20th and 21st centuries.

The geologic record shows that, 20,000 years ago, as the ice sheet that covered much of North America receded northward, plants and animals recolonized areas that had been under ice. As the climate continued to warm, those plants and animals moved northward, to cooler climes.

"We know from past changes that ecosystems have responded to a few degrees of global temperature change over thousands of years," said Diffenbaugh. "But the unprecedented trajectory that we're on now is forcing that change to occur over decades. That's orders of magnitude faster, and we're already seeing that some species are challenged by that rate of change."

Some of the strongest evidence for how the global climate system responds to high levels of carbon dioxide comes from paleoclimate studies. Fifty-five million years ago, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was elevated to a level comparable to today. The Arctic Ocean did not have ice in the summer, and nearby land was warm enough to support alligators and palm trees.

"There are two key differences for ecosystems in the coming decades compared with the geologic past," Diffenbaugh said. "One is the rapid pace of modern climate change. The other is that today there are multiple human stressors that were not present 55 million years ago, such as urbanization and air and water pollution."

Record-setting heat

Diffenbaugh and Field also reviewed results from two-dozen climate models to describe possible climate outcomes from present day to the end of the century. In general, extreme weather events, such as heat waves and heavy rainfall, are expected to become more severe and more frequent.

For example, the researchers note that, with continued emissions of greenhouse gases at the high end of the scenarios, annual temperatures over North America, Europe and East Asia will increase 2-4 degrees C by 2046-2065. With that amount of warming, the hottest summer of the last 20 years is expected to occur every other year, or even more frequently.

By the end of the century, should the current emissions of greenhouse gases remain unchecked, temperatures over the northern hemisphere will tip 5-6 degrees C warmer than today's averages. In this case, the hottest summer of the last 20 years becomes the new annual norm.

"It's not easy to intuit the exact impact from annual temperatures warming by 6 C," Diffenbaugh said. "But this would present a novel climate for most land areas. Given the impacts those kinds of seasons currently have on terrestrial forests, agriculture and human health, we'll likely see substantial stress from severely hot conditions."

The scientists also projected the velocity of climate change, defined as the distance per year that species of plants and animals would need to migrate to live in annual temperatures similar to current conditions. Around the world, including much of the United States, species face needing to move toward the poles or higher in the mountains by at least one kilometer per year. Many parts of the world face much larger changes.

The human element

Some climate changes will be unavoidable, because humans have already emitted greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and the atmosphere and oceans have already been heated.

"There is already some inertia in place," Diffenbaugh said. "If every new power plant or factory in the world produced zero emissions, we'd still see impact from the existing infrastructure, and from gases already released."

The more dramatic changes that could occur by the end of the century, however, are not written in stone. There are many human variables at play that could slow the pace and magnitude of change – or accelerate it.

Consider the 2.5 billion people who lack access to modern energy resources. This energy poverty means they lack fundamental benefits for illumination, cooking and transportation, and they're more susceptible to extreme weather disasters. Increased energy access will improve their quality of life – and in some cases their chances of survival – but will increase global energy consumption and possibly hasten warming.

Diffenbaugh said that the range of climate projections offered in the report can inform decision-makers about the risks that different levels of climate change pose for ecosystems.

"There's no question that a climate in which every summer is hotter than the hottest of the last 20 years poses real risks for ecosystems across the globe," Diffenbaugh said. "However, there are opportunities to decrease those risks, while also ensuring access to the benefits of energy consumption."
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« Reply #586 on: Aug 02, 2013, 05:47 AM »

Caribbean has lost 80 percent of its coral reefs due to climate change and pollution

By Fiona Harvey, The Guardian
Thursday, August 1, 2013 21:15 EDT

A major survey of the coral reefs of the Caribbean is expected to reveal the extent to which one of the world’s biggest and most important reserves of coral has been degraded by climate change, pollution, overfishing and degradation.

The Catlin scientific survey will undertake the most comprehensive survey yet of the state of the region’s reefs, starting in Belize and moving on to Mexico, Anguilla, Barbuda, St Lucia, Turks & Caicos, Florida and Bermuda.

The Catlin scientists said the state of the regions’ reefs would act as an early warning of problems besetting all of the world’s coral. As much as 80% of Caribbean coral is reckoned to have been lost in recent years, but the survey should give a more accurate picture of where the losses have had most effect and on the causes.

Loss of reefs is also a serious economic problem in the Caribbean, where large populations depend on fishing and tourism. Coral reefs provide a vital home for marine creatures, acting as a nursery for fish and a food resource for higher food chain predators such as sharks and whales.

Stephen Catlin, chief executive of the Catlin Group, said: “It is not only important that scientists have access to this valuable data, but companies such as ours must understand the impact that significant changes to our environment will have on local economies.”

Globally, coral reefs are under threat. The future of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is in doubt as mining and energy companies want to forge a shipping lane through it to form a more direct link with their export markets.

Warming seas owing to climate change can lead to coral being “bleached” – a state where the tiny polyps that build the reefs die off. The US government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts increasing frequency and severity of mass bleaching events as global warming takes effect.

Richard Vevers, the lead scientist, told the Guardian that one important role of the new survey would be to describe a new “baseline” to establish how far such problems have taken their toll to date, which will enable future scientists to judge how degradation – or conservation – progresses.

He said the team of scientists would also probe the underlying reasons for such degradation, with a view to informing conservation efforts.

The team will use satellite data as well as direct observations to assess the reefs. As part of the survey, they will develop software that marine scientists can apply to other reefs around the world. A new camera has bee constructed to assist their efforts.

Vevers said: “The Caribbean was chosen to launch the global mission is because it is at the frontline of risk. Over the last 50 years 80% of the corals have been lost due mainly coastal development and pollution. They now are also threatened by invasive species, global warming and the early effects of ocean acidification — it’s the perfect storm.” © Guardian News and Media 2013

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« Reply #587 on: Aug 02, 2013, 05:49 AM »

French court overturns ban on Monsanto’s genetically modified corn

By Reuters
Thursday, August 1, 2013 18:55 EDT

PARIS (Reuters) – France’s highest administrative court rejected on Thursday a government ban on growing Monsanto’s MON810 genetically modified maize (corn).

In its ruling, the Conseil d’Etat said under European Union law such a measure could only be imposed in an emergency or if there was a serious health or environmental risk.

This marks the second time in two years that the State Council has overturned a government ban on growing MON810. France, which is the EU’s largest grain producer and a vocal opponent of GMO crops, has argued the technology poses environmental risks.

The ruling was expected after a preliminary hearing earlier this month found there was no scientific justification for the ban. The government has said it remains opposed to the cultivation of Monsanto’s GMO maize.

(Reporting by Sophie Louet and Gus Trompiz, editing by Michel Rose)

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« Reply #588 on: Aug 02, 2013, 06:23 AM »

08/02/2013 12:47 PM

Turbine Trouble: Ill Wind Blows for Germany's Offshore Industry

By Michael Fröhlingsdorf

Only recently, the offshore wind industry was seen as an opportunity to regenerate Germany's coast. But amid changing political attitudes and spiraling costs, several companies are struggling to survive. Is the wind boom over before it even really began?

The new power plant 15 kilometers (9 miles) off the North Sea island of Borkum is a masterpiece of German engineering. In only 14 months, experts anchored dozens of giant rotors to the sea floor. The 150-meter (492-foot) wind turbines at the Riffgat offshore wind farm work perfectly.

Providing clean electricity to 120,000 households, Riffgat was expected to become a milestone of the federal government's shift away from nuclear power and toward green energy.

But the dedication of the first commercial German wind farm in the North Sea on August 10 is set to be a low-key affair. Chancellor Angela Merkel cancelled her scheduled appearance. And Environment Minister Peter Altmaier and European Union Energy Commission Günther Oettinger, both members of Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), have hesitated to accept the invitation from EWE, an energy company based in the northern German city of Oldenburg.

The reason is that Riffgat has a cosmetic defect: the wind farm is still missing part of its power line to the mainland. For the time being, instead of producing energy, Riffgat is actually consuming it. To prevent the rotors from corroding in the salty air, they have to be supplied with electricity produced with diesel generators.

Grid operator Tennet is responsible for the missing power line. The delay is costing EWE millions of euros, costs that will eventually be passed on to electricity customers. Instead of being a showcase project, Riffgat has become a symbol of the government's failed offshore wind policy.

The Germans invested in offshore wind farms because the wind blows constantly at sea and no land area is needed. But they were also keen to avoid spoiling the view from the North Sea resort islands, which is why Germany's wind farms, unlike those in England and Denmark, are not near the coast.

But the solutions developed by engineers proved expensive. The public became increasingly skeptical as it saw its electricity bills going up, and politicians began discussing a cap on electricity prices.

The shift in the direction of political winds immediately affected the turbine builders. Several companies that were recruiting on a large scale only a few months ago are now laying people off. One company, Siag Nordseewerke, has filed for bankruptcy, and others could soon follow. The offshore boom has hardly begun, and yet it already seems to be over.

Half a dozen wind farms are still being built in the North Sea, but there are no follow-up contracts. "The market has collapsed," says Ronny Meyer, the managing director of Windenergie Agentur (WAB), based in the northern port city of Bremerhaven. Riffgat developer EWE also doesn't want to invest in additional offshore turbines.

From Boom to Bust

Until last year, the construction of wind farms was seen as an opportunity to regenerate Germany's coast. Cities like Bremerhaven, Cuxhaven and Emden, ailing for years in the wake of declines in the shipbuilding and fishing industries, were booming. An estimated €1 billion ($1.3 billion) was invested in port facilities and factory buildings, and some 10,000 jobs were supposedly created. In Cuxhaven alone, the state of Lower Saxony invested €125 million ($165 million) in the harbor. Each square meter of the wharf can now support 90 tons, so that the turbine foundations can be loaded onto construction ships.

Today, only seagulls are landing at the new harbor facility. The grounds of Cuxhaven Steel Construction (CSC) cover an area of 70 soccer fields, and in the middle is a large building, 270 meters long and 52 meters high. Until this spring, this is where foundations for the Bard Offshore 1 wind farm, now being built about 100 kilometers off the coast, were being welded together. CSC hasn't had any work since then, and almost all of its 450 employees were laid off.

The parent company, Bard, hasn't had much luck attracting investors. Once the foundations were built, the company turned to rotor production. Of Bard's initial 1,000 employees, only those who will operate the wind farm will remain. A company spokesman couldn't say how many employees that would be.

Close to the CSC premises, Austrian construction company Strabag had intended to build concrete foundations with 500 employees. A few weeks ago, Strabag quietly closed its office in Cuxhaven. The 15 wind farms in the North Sea in which the company had planned to invest will not be built, at least for now.

CSC's other neighbor, a company called Ambau, is still making steel towers for the wind turbine generators. But, says Ambau head Kai Simon, "we only have work in Cuxhaven until the end of the year. I don't know what'll happen after that." The company was actually planning an expansion, but the building permit is now sitting in a drawer.

The same grim scenario is unfolding all along the coast. China's Hantong Group had planned to build a plant in Wilhelmshaven, but now the Chinese have temporarily stepped away from production in Germany.

There are several reasons for the industry's problems. Grid operator Tennet, which readily admits that it is underfinanced, has also failed to connect wind farms to the power grid on schedule in other locations. But the industry is mostly critical of the lack of investment security. Economics Minister Philipp Rösler, a member of the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP), and Environment Minister Altmaier announced plans for a cap on electricity prices in February. This could reduce the guaranteed feed-in tariffs for green energy in order to keep costs low for consumers.

This alarmed the industry. Operators of offshore wind farms depend on sufficiently high electricity prices to refinance their investments. "Although the cap on electricity prices was never approved, it made investors very anxious," says wind energy expert Meyer.

A Wasted Learning Curve

Many along the coast are pinning their hopes on the upcoming national election in September. "We need planning certainty," Lower Saxony's Environment Minister Stefan Wenzel, a member of the Green Party, said during a visit to Cuxhaven. Jürgen von Ahnen at the Economic Development Agency of Cuxhaven claims that the industry has merely "bottomed out," and that things will go uphill again after the election, no matter who is in power.

There is little reason for such optimism. The government has increased the incentives for electricity from offshore wind turbines several times to help the industry get off its feet. Now the wind farm operators will receive 19 cents for each kilowatt-hour fed into the grid for the first eight years after construction. This is more than twice as much as is paid for electricity from terrestrial wind turbines.

Growing numbers of critics say that the offshore wind turbines are too expensive. The criticism comes from Germany's southern states and is politically motivated to some extent, because the south doesn't want to leave the generation of wind energy to coastal areas. This explains why the government in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg has no qualms about building turbines in the Black Forest, while neighboring Rhineland-Palatinate is even proposing the construction of wind farms on ridges in the scenic Hunsrück and Eifel regions.

If offshore wind receives new impetus, despite the southern lobby, it will have to search for large numbers of personnel again. In 2008, when the first boom began in Cuxhaven, the companies had trouble finding qualified workers. The employment center provided training for hundreds of welders, scaffold-builders and crane operators. Now there are trained teams but no jobs. "Those who can, seek alternatives, such as with aircraft manufacturer Airbus," says Manfred Wendel, head of the Cuxhaven continuing education center. "The learning curve experienced by the experts when they built the first parks could be lost," says Christian Dahlke, in charge of offshore wind farms at the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency.

Steelmaker Dillinger Hütte has come up with an interesting strategy. The company is currently building a new plant for 300 workers in Nordenham, on the lower Weser River. "We have good market analyses and believe that things are moving forward with offshore," says Managing Director Ralf Hubo, explaining the optimistic project. "The crisis helps us find good and inexpensive workers," he says. He doesn't have any large contracts, but that isn't a problem, says Hubo, noting that he could also sell his products abroad.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #589 on: Aug 02, 2013, 06:54 AM »

Climate change linked to violent behaviour

Study shows that even a small increase in average temperatures or unusual weather can spark violent behaviour

Fiona Harvey, environment correspondent, Friday 2 August 2013 11.53 BST   

Bring on the cool weather – climate change is predicted to cause extreme weather, more intense storms, more frequent floods and droughts, but could it also cause us to be more violent with one another?

A new study from scientists in the US controversially draws a link between increased rates of domestic violence, assault and other violent crimes and a warming climate.

That conflict could be a major result of global warming has long been accepted. As climate change makes vulnerable parts of the world more susceptible to weather-related problems, people move from an afflicted region to neighbouring areas, bringing them into conflict with the existing populations. That pattern has been evident around the world, and experts have even posited that conflicts such as Darfur should be regarded as climate related.

But the authors of the study, published in the peer review journal Science, have departed from such examples to look closely at patterns of violence in Brazil, China, Germany and the US.

The authors suggest that even a small increase in average temperatures or unusual weather can spark violent behaviour. They found an increase in reports of domestic violence in India and Australia at times of drought; land invasions in Brazil linked to poor weather; and more controversially, a rise in the number of assaults and murders in the US and Tanzania.

The authors searched historic records as well as examining contemporary statistics. Solomon Hsiang, of University of California Berkeley in the US, who was lead author of the study, said: "What was lacking was a clear picture of what this body of research as a whole was telling us. We collected 60 existing studies containing 45 different data sets and we re-analysed their data and findings using a common statistical framework. The results were striking."

The study found that conflict, including domestic violence and ethnic violence, was heightened as temperatures rose. The authors said that in all of the 27 studies of modern societies they looked at, higher temperatures showed a correlation with rising rates of violence.

But they could not say why this might be the case. More studies would be needed to confirm the results and explain why such a correlation might exist, they said. The underlying reasons could run from increased economic hardship as harvests fail or droughts bite, to the physiological effects of hot weather.

"The studies showing that high temperature increases violence crime in the US and other wealthy societies seems to suggest that physiological responses are important, too, with very short-run exposure to heat contributing to more aggressive and violent behaviour," said Marshall Burke, also of Berkeley.

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« Reply #590 on: Aug 02, 2013, 07:04 AM »

August 1, 2013

TransCanada Plans Pipeline to East Coast


OTTAWA — Faced with uncertainty over its proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would link Canada’s oil sands with the American Gulf Coast, TransCanada said on Thursday that it would build a pipeline to eastern Canada.

The pipeline company announced that it would proceed with a $12 billion pipeline that could move up to 1.1 million barrels a day to New Brunswick, to serve a region that now relies on imported crude oil for the overwhelming majority of its supply.

TransCanada announced its decision four days after President Obama, in an interview with The New York Times, dismissed the significance of job claims by advocates of Keystone XL. In the interview he reiterated his position that approval for that pipeline rests on whether it will add significantly more carbon to the atmosphere.

But Russ Girling, the president and chief executive of TransCanada, said the new project was not a sign that his company was retreating from Keystone XL. “What we know in North America is production is continuing to grow,” Mr. Girling said at a news conference. “The marketplace needs both of these pipelines and probably more.”

While Mr. Girling promoted the Energy East Pipeline primarily as a way to supply Canadian refineries, he said it would also allow oil sands producers to increase their export business. He said a new deep seaport at the pipeline’s eastern terminus, Saint John, New Brunswick, and a port in Quebec City would allow tankers to carry diluted bitumen, the oil-containing substance that is separated out of the oil sands, to the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, the Gulf Coast, Europe, India and Asia.

A plan by Enbridge, another Canadian pipeline company, to build a pipeline from Alberta to a new tanker port in British Columbia for exports to Asia has met strong opposition from environmentalists and several native Canadian communities along its route.

TransCanada’s new plan involves converting 1,864 miles of a natural gas pipeline to carry oil, and the construction of 870 miles of new pipeline, mainly in Quebec and New Brunswick. It has long-term contracts to carry about 900,000 barrels of oil a day along the route, Mr. Girling said.

“They’re in for a fight,” John Bennett, the executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, said shortly after the announcement. Mr. Bennett said he was particularly concerned about the possibility of oil spills in the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick and about harm to whales in the area from tanker traffic. In a statement, Environmental Defence said the plan was “yet another misguided scheme that puts Canadians in harm’s way for the benefit of the oil industry’s bottom line.”

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« Reply #591 on: Aug 03, 2013, 05:44 AM »

Canada’s conservative Prime Minister slams Obama’s statements on Keystone XL gas pipeline

By Reuters
Friday, August 2, 2013 17:26 EDT

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper contradicted on Friday U.S. President Barack Obama’s dismissal of the job-creation potential of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, saying the project is important both for jobs and for energy security.

Asked about remarks made by Obama in an interview with the New York Times last Saturday and then repeated this week in a speech, Harper told reporters in Quebec City that Canada’s perspective was well-known by everyone in Washington.

“That is that first of all our No. 1 priority in Canada is the creation of jobs, and clearly this is a project that will create jobs on both sides of the border,” Harper said. “And it is in our judgment an important project, not just for our economy and for job creation but for the long-term energy security of North America.”

Obama said in the interview that the evidence was that TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry 830,000 barrels per day of crude from Canada’s oil sands and the Bakken shale in North Dakota and Montana to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, would not be a big jobs generator.

He said it might create 2,000 jobs during the construction for a year or two and then 50 or 100 jobs thereafter. The U.S. State Department’s analysis in March was that Keystone would support 42,100 direct and indirect jobs.

Harper’s Conservative government has been a big booster of Keystone XL and other pipelines to tidewater because it wants export markets for increasing crude oil production in the land-locked oil sands of northern Alberta.

Green groups have put heavy pressure on Obama to reject Keystone XL, warning of spills and higher emissions from the carbon-intensive oil sands.

The U.S. administration’s final decision on whether to approve Keystone XL is expected later this year or early in 2014.

(Reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by Peter Galloway)

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« Reply #592 on: Aug 03, 2013, 05:48 AM »

US Solar Targets Could Save Americans $20 Billion Annually By 2050
Silvio Marcacci

Clean Power

Published on August 2nd, 2013 | by Silvio Marcacci

Solar energy could supply one-third of all electricity demand in the Western US by 2050 while and massively cutting emissions – if the Department of Energy’s (DOE) SunShot Initiative succeeds.

Researchers made the bold prediction in “SunShot Solar Power Reduces Costs and Uncertainty in Future Low-Carbon Electricity Systems,” a study released this week by the University of California at Berkeley.

Using a detailed computer model that considered potential cost reductions through the SunShot Initiative and potential effects of proposed emissions reduction policies, the study found if DOE achieves its goal of reducing the cost of solar to $0.06 cents per kilowatt-hour to reach grid parity, it will displace natural gas, nuclear, and clean coal technologies while reducing emissions 80% below 1990 levels.
Solar Energy Could Save The Planet At A Modest Cost

The UC Berkeley team used SWITCH (Solar, Wind, Transmission, Conventional, and Hydro) a high-resolution electricity system planning model, to study what the future of solar energy could look like across the Western US. Fortunately, the outlook is bright for solar for states west of the Kansas-Colorado border and as far north as Alberta and British Columbia.

Western US solar power by 2050 image via Environmental Science and Technology

A cap-and-trade or carbon tax system will be initially required to provide utilities the incentives they need to shift toward solar, good news considering California has already begun successful operation of its cap-and-trade system, and additional Western US states and Canadian Provinces could create similar systems through the Western Climate Initiative.

But if SunShot works, the transition to a solar-based electrical system with reduced emissions could save consumers 14% off their bills, roughly $20 billion annually by 2050. “Given strategic long-term planning and research and policy support, the increase in electricity costs can be contained as we reduce emissions,” said Dan Kammen, UC Berkeley professor and study leader. “Saving the planet may be possible at only a modest cost.”

SunShot Will Help, But Widespread Coordination Will Be Key

Through a diverse mix of renewable energy generation sources and innovative grid technologies, the study finds solar can displace natural gas in the medium term and reduce the need for nuclear or carbon capture and sequestration technologies – reaching far beyond America’s current 10-gigawatt installed solar PV capacity.

Concentrating solar power image via CleanTechnica

Utility-scale energy storage will have to play a central role in achieving widespread solar deployment, and if flexible loads are available through applications like demand response, solar penetration levels could be even higher than initial estimates.

Reaching America’s solar-powered future will take a coordinated push of smart solar policies across utilities, state governments, grid operators, and federal officials, but it could be worth the effort.

“The lower estimated ratepayer cost is also partly attributable to the coordinated investment in new power plants, transmission lines, storage, and demand response in the SWITCH model,” said Kammen. “Using such a comprehensive strategy could substantially reduce the actual consumer cost of meeting carbon emission targets.”

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« Reply #593 on: Aug 03, 2013, 06:16 AM »

Defiant nuns and monks refuse to give up Kentucky land for gas pipeline

By David Ferguson
Friday, August 2, 2013 14:50 EDT

Two Kentucky Catholic religious orders that collectively own more than 3,000 acres of historic farmland are refusing to give up portions of their lands for a proposed natural-gas pipeline that would channel millions of gallons of pressurized, highly flammable natural-gas liquids through the area. According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, the nuns of the Sisters of Loretto and the monks of the Abbey of Gethsemani have denied surveyors permission to survey the land ahead of the pipeline project and say that they have no interest in helping it along.

“We’ve been on this property since 1824,” said Sister Maria Visse, service coordinator for the Sisters of Loretto. “We feel entrusted with this (land). It’s a gift. It’s not a commodity.”

The energy company that hopes to build the pipeline — Williams Co. of Tulsa, Oklahoma — has repeatedly sent representatives and made requests for permission to survey the land, all of which have been summarily denied. The proposed pipeline would run from gas-drilling facilities in Pennsylvania to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, impacting 18 counties in Kentucky.

Visse told the Courier that she turned down the Williams Co.’s proposal to use the sisters’ and the monks’ land on the spot and without a second thought.

“This is just short-term money that has very dangerous potential long-term consequences,” Visse said. She worries about the impact of water pollution on the porous limestone bedrock upon which the community resides.

Brother Aaron Schulte of the Abbey of Gethsemani confirmed to the Courier that the abbey had been approached by the pipeline company, but declined to give an interview to the paper. The Trappist monks own about 2,500 acres of property, including the grounds of the monastery, a guest house and hundreds of acres of pristine woods.

Sister Claire McGowan, a Dominican nun and director of the New Pioneers for a Sustainable Future in Springfield, KY, said the project “would risk much of what makes Central Kentucky dear to us: the beauty of our landscape, the abundance of good water, the health of our air, the peaceful quietness of our rural areas, and the general sense of security from unexpected disasters.”

Williams Co. spokesperson Tom Droege told the Courier that he couldn’t talk about his dealings with specific landowners along the pipeline’s proposed route. He said the company plans to hold a series of open houses in communities that would be affected by the pipeline.

“With each landowner we approach,” he said, “we pledge to be a respectful guest on their land and ensure they are well informed about what activities are taking place.”

Williams Co. is currently struggling to bring one of its Gulf coast ethylene plants back online after a deadly explosion on June 13. The Geismar Olefins plant in Louisiana had been plagued with safety violations prior to the propylene explosion that killed two workers and injured 77 others.

Six months before the incident, inspectors had noted the propylene leak that caused the explosion at Geismar Olefins, but plant managers failed to take any action. The company said that it hopes to have the damage repaired and the plant back online by April of 2014.

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« Reply #594 on: Aug 03, 2013, 06:20 AM »

French president promises to keep ban on Monsanto GMO corn despite court ruling

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, August 2, 2013 12:46 EDT

French President Francois Hollande said Friday that a ban on growing GM corn sold by US giant Monsanto would remain in place, despite a court ruling reversing the suspension.

“The moratorium will be extended,” he said on a visit to the southwestern department of Dordogne.

France’s Council of State court ruled Thursday that the French moratorium imposed on growing MON810 corn since March 2012 failed to uphold European Union law.

Under EU rules, such a ban “can only be taken by a member state in case of an emergency or if a situation poses a major risk” to people, animals or the environment, it said.

But Hollande said the ban on GM crops was in place “not because we refuse progress, but in the name of progress.”

“We cannot accept that a product — corn — have bad consequences on other produce,” he added, stressing that it would however be necessary to “secure this decision legally, at a national level and especially at a European level.”

MON810 includes an inserted gene that makes the corn plant exude a natural toxin that is poisonous to insect pests. This offers a potential financial gain for farmers, as they do not have to use chemical pesticides.

Green groups say that GM crops are potentially dangerous and should be outlawed as a precaution.

Greenpeace says MON810 encourages the emergence of pesticide-resistant insects, and has questioned whether the toxin affects bees, which are rapidly declining in Europe.

Scientists, though, have generally found no major problems with the first generation of GM crops, of which MON810 is one.

It has been okayed for farmers in many big grain-growing countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil and China, but has run headlong into problems in Europe.

Brussels cleared MON810 in 1998 for 10 years and Monsanto submitted a request in 2007 for it to be extended but the process has been effectively frozen since then.

In the absence of clear guidelines, MON810 is grown only on a small scale, notably in Spain and Portugal.

Monsanto’s GM corn is one of just two types of genetically engineered crops approved by the EU.

The other is BASF’s Amflora potato, but the German conglomerate has stopped producing it in the EU.

Europe also allows the imports of some GM products for animal feed.

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« Reply #595 on: Aug 05, 2013, 07:56 AM »

Japanese scientists develop roots breakthrough for drought-resistant rice

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, August 5, 2013 7:58 EDT

Japanese biotechnologists on Sunday said they had developed a rice plant with deeper roots that can sustain high yields in droughts that wipe out conventional rice crops.

It is the third breakthrough in new cereal strains in less than two years, boosting the quest to feed the world’s spiralling population at a time of worsening climate change.

Writing in the journal Nature Genetics, a team led by Yusaku Uga of the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences in Tsukuba describe how they found a remarkable gene in a rice plant cultivated in the dry uplands of the Philippines.

This rice strain, also called cultivar, is called Kinandang Patong. Its big characteristic is roots that are deep and grow straight downwards, delving into parched soil for water, as opposed to root systems that are shallow and grow out sideways in typical water-rich paddy fields.

The gene for this, called Deep Rooting — dubbed DRO1 — was spliced into a cultivar called IR64, a paddy rice plant that is grown around Asia.

The team then put the new plant through its paces, planting it and standard IR64 in upland fields in three kinds of conditions — no drought, moderate drought and severe drought.

Moderate drought reduced yield from IR64 to just 42 percent of no-drought conditions. Severe drought destroyed it totally.

But IR64 with the DRO1 gene was almost unaffected by moderate drought. In severe drought, yield fell — but not catastrophically — by around 30 percent.

“Based on our results, this variety can be adapted to upland (agriculture) without irrigation,” Uga said in an email exchange with AFP.

“We are also evaluating the DRO1 performance under rain-fed lowland with the International Rice Research Institute,” he said. “If we can get positive results in farmer’s fields, we hope to release the variety for Asian countries. We are also going to introduce the DRO1 into leading varieties in Latin America with CIAT,” the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, he said.

Without genetic technology, it would have been extraordinarily hard to have pinpointed, and then inserted, the right gene, said Uga.

“Development of GM rice plants is… one of (the) useful strategies to improve drought resistance,” he said.

In January 2012, scientists in Britain and Japan said they had developed a fast-track technique, called MutMat, that identifies useful genetic variants, or mutations, in rice plants. They used it to derive a strain from Japan’s Hitomebore wild rice that is resistant to salinity — a boon for farmers whose fields have high salt content through irrigation.

In March 2012, researchers in Australia said they had bred durum wheat with a salt-loving gene whose yields were up to 25 percent greater than ordinary counterparts when grown on saline fields.

The world’s population is expected to reach 9.6 billion by mid-century, from 7.2 billion today, according to UN estimates. By 2100, the tally could be 10.9 billion.

To feed this rising number at a time of worsening drought and flood will require a campaign against food waste, smarter use of land, water, fertiliser and pesticides and agricultural innovation to select higher-yield or climate-resistant strains of cereals, according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and France’s National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA).

Improvements in rice strains — leading to a short, stubby “semi-dwarf” plant with a full head of grain — unleashed the Green Revolution of the 1960s, boosting harvests in China and other rice-dependent countries that used to teeter perpetually on the brink of famine.

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« Reply #596 on: Aug 05, 2013, 07:57 AM »

Fracking settlement puts permanent gag order on 7-year-old and 10-year-old

By David Ferguson
Sunday, August 4, 2013 19:42 EDT

A 10-year-old boy and his 7-year-old sister have been forbidden from discussing fracking for the rest of their lives under the terms of a court settlement with several gas companies. According to Mother Jones, representatives of Range Resources Corporation — one of the gas companies named in the settlement — confirmed in court that both the parents and children of the Hallowich family are prohibited from discussing the health issues and environmental factors that drove the family to relocate from their farm in Mount Pleasant, PA.

Chris and Stephanie Hallowich received a settlement of $750,000 from three gas companies — Range Resources Corp., Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream and Markwest Energy — pertaining to health and environmental damages caused by a natural gas drilling operation near their home. It is not uncommon for large businesses to stipulate that recipients of settlements cannot discuss the damages or terms of the settlement. It is more unusual, however, for the terms of the agreement to extend to children.

A transcript of one of the hearings leading up to the settlement revealed that the family’s lawyer, Peter Villari, attempted to make certain the family knew what they were agreeing to:

    Mr. Villari: You both understand and accept that as written the settlement agreement may apply to your children’s First Amendment rights as well?

    Mrs. Hallowish: Yes.


    Mr. Villari: And you accept that because you, as adults and as legal guardians and parents of these children, are accepting these terms and conditions because you believe it is in the bet interests of not only them but your family?

    Mr. Hallowich: Yes, and health reasons. We needed to do this in order to get them out of this situation.

Later in the same hearing, attorney James Swetz, representing Range Resources, asserted that the ban should extend to the Hallowich family children, a 10-year-old son and a 7-year-old daughter.

“I guess our position is it does apply to the whole family,” Swetz said. “We would certainly enforce it.”

Hallowich, said Mother Jones, said that it would be difficult to constantly monitor the children, that there is no way to ensure that none of the list of “illegal words” would come out on the playground, for example.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette spoke to representatives of Range Resources, who distanced themselves from Swetz’ remarks.

Range spokesperson Matt Pitzarella told the Post-Gazette that Swetz’ assertion that the children should be included in the gag order is “not something we agree with.” The company, he said, has never issued gag orders on children and “we don’t believe the [Hallowich] settlement applies to children.”

Villari disputes this version of events. He told the Post-Gazette that when Swetz made his statements about the gag order, he assured the court that he “had the full authority to speak on his client’s behalf.”

The non-disclosure agreement, Swetz said in court, “extended to the minor children” and that the company would be “still insisting on the full extent of those obligations.”

University of Pittsburgh law professor Harry Flechtner told the Post-Gazette on Wednesday that if such an agreement exists, it would be very uncommon.

“They are children and can’t be bound by such an agreement, a contract, but the wild card is the court approval of the agreement,” he said.

Villari said that if the company is not going to force the children to remain silent, he wants proof that they’re free to speak openly.

“It’s news to me that they say they are now releasing the children,” he told Post-Gazette writer Don Hopey, “but I’d appreciate it if they’d put that in writing. It would be very nice to do that.”

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« Reply #597 on: Aug 06, 2013, 06:14 AM »

How the World's 'Most Biodiverse Place' Could Be Ransomed for Oil Money

By: Jim Wyss,
Miami Herald

Editor's note: This piece is part of a collaboration on the Yasuni National Park between the Miami Herald and the PBS NewsHour. Read more about the project here.

TIPUTINI RIVER, Ecuador -- Waving away a cloud of gnats, biologist Phyllis "Lissy" Coley scours the Amazonian underbrush for inga shrubs, whose young leaves are loaded with powerful toxins and chemicals that might be useful in medical research.

Coley and her team from the University of Utah have spent almost two years in the Amazon of Guyana, Peru and Brazil researching the plant -- but this patch of Ecuador was delivering surprises. In a single week, Coley's team found 60 species of inga, 40 of which were unknown to them -- and likely unknown to science. They also found a carnivorous caterpillar. While flesh-eating caterpillars exist in Asia, they've never been recorded in the New World.

Photo essay: Snapshot of Species in Ecuador's Yasuni National Park

The mysteries of this forest, which scientists like Coley are still discovering, could be at risk after this South American nation quietly began considering pulling the plug on one of the most innovative and ambitious conservation plans ever attempted.

The Yasuní-ITT Initiative was designed to leave more than 846 million barrels of crude oil untouched, in perpetuity, beneath Yasuní National Park -- rioting with unknown species and tribes living in voluntary isolation.

In exchange, the government asked the world to cover just half of the crude's $7.2 billion market price.

Environmental groups praised the plan as a novel way to slash greenhouse gases. In 2010, the United Nations threw its support behind the project, setting up a trust fund to receive and manage donations. There were hopes that crowd-sourcing conservation might be a model for other developing nations.

But six years after its launch, those goals are proving elusive. The plan has raised less than 10 percent of the $3.6 billion it's seeking. Ecuador's government says it has received $116.7 million and has pledges for an additional $220 million -- some of it in non-cash cooperation. The United Nations trust fund has just $9.8 million in the bank.

The shortfall is driving speculation that Ecuador might be forced to drill for crude in the ITT oil block (short for Ishpingo, Tambococha, Tiputini), which it says holds 20 percent of the nation's reserves.

"We want to keep 400 million tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere," Ecuador's president Rafael Correa told a crowd in April. "But if the international community doesn't help share the responsibility, we have to make the best decision for the Ecuadorean people."

Correa and his cabinet held a meeting about the fate of the project in June and are expecting to meet again in coming weeks. Officials say drilling the ITT is on the table.

In the balance is one of the most biodiverse spots on the planet. The ITT block is among the most isolated areas of Yasuní National Park, a 2.4 million-acre U.N. biosphere reserve, which holds about one-third of all of the Amazon's amphibian species, even though it represents just a small fraction of the total area. In any given two-and-a-half acre plot of the Yasuní -- roughly the size of a soccer pitch -- there are more species of trees than in the United States and Canada combined.

"As a biologist, nothing makes me more awestruck than to work in an incredibly diverse and pristine area where every day you discover something that you couldn't even imagine or anticipate," Coley said.

Even so, she understands the financial pressure Ecuador is facing.

"You can't expect countries just to save rainforest because they're amazing places and we would, as humans, like to keep them around," she said. "Given the potential to make oil money from here, I think it's a remarkably generous offer to say to the rest of the world 'Can you contribute and we won't develop this area.' "

Ecuador needs the money. One of the poorest nations in South America, oil represents more than half of its export earnings and is the country's top source of revenue.

Keeping oil underground is like "a very poor family trying to protect the family jewels, in the meantime most of the people are starving to death," said David Romo, one of the directors of the University of San Francisco de Quito's Tiputini Biodiversity Station, which borders the park and where Coley was doing her research. "So how do you do the trade-off here? The initiative gives us an option for that."

Ivonne Baki is the former Ecuadorean ambassador to the United States, a one-time presidential candidate who speaks six languages. Now, she's traveling the world on behalf of the government, marshaling resources for the project.

 View full photo essay here:

While the initiative has seen a groundswell of popular support, she admits the financing has been disappointing. The government is considering "Plan B," which includes tapping the oil in the ITT block in a "conscientious" way. But keeping the oil underground is still the administration's priority, she said.

"We believe in conserving and we have done it before," she said. Twenty-five percent of Ecuador's territory is in a national park or protected area, including the world-renowned Galapagos Islands. By contrast, 12 percent of the United States is under protection, according to the World Database on Protected Areas.

The Yasuní-ITT Initiative is "an environmental service we are providing to the world, not just Ecuador," Baki said.

But the world seems deaf to the plea. While countries like Italy, Germany, Spain, Turkey and Luxembourg have supported the effort, the United States -- Ecuador's largest oil buyer and which has a long and troubled history of polluting the Amazon -- has not contributed to the effort. Neither have gas guzzling nations like China, Japan or India.

Baki speculated that crude-consuming nations fear the model might be replicated and push fuel prices higher.

But critics say the country also has a credibility issue. The socialist-leaning Correa administration has broken pledges in the past, defaulting on the national debt in 2008, and unilaterally forcing oil companies to renegotiate their contracts.

And while the country touts the initiative, it's already exploring for oil in Yasuní National Park and has begun building a road in oil block 31, adjacent to the ITT area. It's also building a massive new refinery that's designed to process more oil than the country is currently producing.

"It might seem like the government is operating in bad faith," said Ivonne Yánez, one of the founders of the Acción Ecológica environmental group. "On one hand, they seem to be pushing Plan B, which is to extract the petroleum, and on the other hand there is Plan A that Ms. Baki is promoting."

Yánez said the government's mixed messages are likely hurting international support for the initiative.

But Baki said powerful business interests are also undermining the project. In particular, oil companies don't like its implications.

"They don't want to accept that oil contaminates," she said. "They say they have the best technologies and that the technology works. We saw what happened in the Gulf of Mexico with British Petroleum."

Ecuador doesn't have to look as far afield as the 2010 Gulf oil spill for cautionary tales. Beginning in the 1960s, Texaco and the state-run oil company began punching into the Amazon looking for crude. Critics accuse the company of using obsolete technology and pumping millions of gallons of wastewater into open pits and rivers.

Last year, an Ecuador appellate court ordered Texaco's successor Chevron to pay $18 billion to clean up the mess and reward local communities. The company is fighting the judgment and is suing Ecuador's legal team on racketeering charges.

But even cutting-edge oil exploration can have unintended consequences. In 1993, Maxus Ecuador built a 112-mile road that cuts through the northern boundary of Yasuní National Park. Only 19-feet wide, it was designed to disappear in a decade after the crude it targeted ran dry. The company also guarded the route to keep colonizers from moving in.

Twenty years later, the crude is still flowing and the road has the marks of permanence. A handful of Huaorani and Quichua communities have sprung up along the gravel route. Most of the proto-villages are just a few wooden shacks, but others have cinderblock schools and concrete volleyball courts.

For the last two decades, Terry Erwin, one of the world's top entomologists who works at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, has been studying the environmental impact of the road. While the construction has had virtually no effect on the insects that he monitors, the same is not true for larger creatures. When Erwin began studying the area, the forests alongside were home to five monkey species.

"By the end of three years, there were no monkeys left," he said. "Everything was out of there -- gone."

The Huaorani, who have ancestral rights to the land, had eradicated all the game animals for about one mile on either side of it, he said.

Some of the species are making a comeback, Erwin said, but that is largely because of changing Huaorani lifestyles -- they are giving up their nomadic hunting ways for more permanent agriculture.

In theory, there are ways to responsibly extract oil from the ITT, Erwin said, "but even with the best ideas possible to start out with, if you let a person in there it's gone."

In some ways, the Yasuní-ITT project is already a success. Yánez, with Acción Ecológica, said that before the initiative was launched few in Ecuador were aware of the area. Now polls show that more than 80 percent of Ecuadoreans don't want the country to exploit the oil in the ITT, even if the international funds don't materialize. If Correa lifts the drilling ban, he's likely to face a public backlash, she said.

Gas flares from an oil facility near Yasuni National Park. Photo by Alejandra Parra/Bloomberg via Getty Images. View full photo essay here.

One of the risks of tapping the ITT is that no one is sure what it holds. Researchers recently discovered a fungus near the area with intriguing commercial potential: it consumes plastic. Erwin says 85 percent of all the insects his team collects are unknown to science.

Damaging the forest before it gives up its secrets is analogous to the burning of the legendary library of Alexandria, Egypt in 600 B.C., said Romo with the university research station.

"There are so many wonders and so much information that Yasuní is holding that will be beneficial to humans," he said. "We just don't know it because we haven't had the chance to explore it."

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« Reply #598 on: Aug 06, 2013, 06:50 AM »

Starved polar bear perished due to record sea-ice melt, says expert

Climate change has reduced ice in the Arctic to record lows in the past year, forcing animals to range further in search of food

Damian Carrington, Tuesday 6 August 2013 13.17 BST   

A starved polar bear found found dead in Svalbard as "little more than skin and bones" perished due to a lack of sea ice on which to hunt seals, according to a polar bear expert.

Climate change has reduced sea ice in the Arctic to record lows in the last year and Dr Ian Stirling, who has studied the bears for almost 40 years and examined the animal, said the lack of ice forced the bear into ranging far and wide in an ultimately unsuccessful search for food.

"From his lying position in death, the bear appears to simply have starved and died where he dropped," Stirling said. "He had no external suggestion of any remaining fat, having been reduced to little more than skin and bone."

The bear had been examined by scientists from the Norwegian Polar Institute in April in the southern part of Svalbard, an Arctic island archipelago, and appeared healthy. The same bear had been captured in the same area in previous years, suggesting that the discovery of its body, 250km away in northern Svalbard, represented an unusual movement away from its normal range. The bear probably followed the fjords inland as it trekked north, meaning it may have walked double or treble that distance.

Polar bears feed almost exclusively on seals and need sea ice to capture their prey. But 2012 saw the lowest level of sea ice in the Arctic on record. Prond Robertson, at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, said: "The sea ice break up around Svalbard in 2013 was both fast and very early." He said recent years had been poor for ice around the islands: "Warm water entered the western fjords in 2005-06 and since then has not shifted."

Stirling, now at Polar Bears International and previously at the University of Alberta and the Canadian Wildlife Service, said: "Most of the fjords and inter-island channels in Svalbard did not freeze normally last winter and so many potential areas known to that bear for hunting seals in spring do not appear to have been as productive as in a normal winter. As a result, the bear likely went looking for food in another area but appears to have been unsuccessful."

Research published in May showed that loss of sea ice was harming the health, breeding success and population size of the polar bears of Hudson Bay, Canada as they spent longer on land waiting for the sea to refreeze. In February, a panel of polar bear experts published a paper stating that rapid ice loss meant options such the feeding of starving bears by humans needed to be considered to protect the 20,000-25,000 animals that remain.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature's expert group states that of the 19 populations of polar bear around the Arctic, data is available for 12. Of those, eight are declining, three are stable and one is increasing.

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« Reply #599 on: Aug 07, 2013, 06:05 AM »

Nez Perce tribe activists block Idaho highway over tar sands ‘megaload’

By Reuters
Wednesday, August 7, 2013 6:49 EDT

By Laura Zuckerman

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) – Police arrested 19 members of the Nez Perce Tribe on Tuesday on suspicion of disorderly conduct for refusing to break a human chain blocking a highway in Idaho in protest against a 322-ton load of equipment bound for the tar sands of Alberta, Canada.

The blockade by more than 250 mostly Native American protesters halted travel of a so-called megaload for two hours on a scenic roadway at the front lines of an ideological struggle over North American oil and gas development and its impact on the environment, local communities and native cultures.

The Nez Perce said they staged the protest to oppose the shipment of massive oil refinery equipment along wild stretches of two prized Idaho rivers, the Clearwater and the Lochsa, and through Nez Perce and protected federal lands.

The 19 Nez Perce activists who were arrested by tribal police on Tuesday were later released on bail, authorities said. The megaload resumed its journey after the protest.

Nez Perce Chairman Silas C. Whitman said in a statement that tribal leaders were against “the conversion of this wild and scenic area into a high and wide industrial corridor.”

The load, which measures 255 feet long, 21 feet wide and 23 feet tall, is one of two planned shipments by an Oregon hauling company, Omega Morgan, of a water purification unit being trucked to Alberta production fields, according to an Idaho transportation permit issued on Friday.

The route along U.S. Highway 95 and U.S. 12 follows a historic trail broken by early Nez Perce bison hunters and used in the early 19th century by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on a government-sponsored expedition that charted the newly purchased American West.

Megaload opponents say the oversize trucks may impair the visual and ecological values of the trail and a river corridor that supports threatened steelhead and Chinook salmon and fuels a tourist economy tied to rafting, fishing, camping and hunting.

The Omega Morgan load, which will take four nights to cross Idaho into Montana, was approved by Idaho over the objections of environmentalists and despite U.S. Forest Service concerns.

“This is a quiet, winding mountain highway through a beautiful river canyon, not an industrial park,” said Kevin Lewis, conservation director of Idaho Rivers United.

The Forest Service had sought to stop the shipment pending a study of its social, economic and ecological impacts.

Omega Morgan spokeswoman Olga Haley said an Idaho permit allowed the shipment to proceed but declined further comment. Clearwater County Commissioner Don Ebert supported the shipments.

“What are we going to stop next? We have to have commerce in this country,” he said.

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