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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 146341 times)
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« Reply #750 on: Oct 22, 2013, 05:45 AM »

Brazil's Libra oilfield auction goes ahead despite protests

Massive resource deep beneath the Atlantic stays 40% state-owned, with 60% going to Shell, Total and Chinese partners

Dom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro, Tuesday 22 October 2013 04.20 BST 

Brazilian soldiers and national guard troops have fired rubber bullets and teargas at protesters near a luxury beach-side hotel where a multi-billion dollar oil rights auction took place in Rio de Janeiro.

The auction for Libra, a prime deepwater oilfield off the Rio coast which could hold up to 12bn barrels of reserves, has divided opinion in Brazil.

The auction was staged in Barra de Tijuca, an upmarket beachside suburb popular with actors and footballers, and 1,100 members of the security forces were brought in for the event, which eventually took place an hour late.

The auction was won by the only bidder – a consortium of international and state oil companies, including Shell (which got 20%), France's Total (20%) and Chinese state companies CNPC and CNOOC (10% each). They will pay a total of R15bn (£4.27bn) in signing fee alone for the vast field.

Brazil's state-controlled oil company Petrobras will drill the field and keeps ownership of 40%. The country's oil industry has expressed concern it is far too much of a commitment for a company that is already overstretched and heavily in debt.

But many Brazilians feel the country is selling off national riches. "I don't feel secure about it," said Wendell Santana, 40, a taxi driver. "It should have been debated more by the population."

In recent years Brazil has discovered billions of barrels of oil thousands of metres beneath the Atlantic Ocean bed in so-called "subsalt" fields – enough to make the country one of the top half a dozen producers in the world by 2020.

Petrobras does not have enough money to develop all the deepwater finds by itself, so a new model was devised to attract foreign oil companies but keep most of the profits in Brazil.

Oil workers oppose what they see as a sale of national riches and have declared a strike in protest at the auction. On Monday they formed an unlikely alliance with the anarchist Black Bloc movement.

At the auction a few hundred masked protesters sheltered behind corrugated iron sheets waving red flags and advancing gingerly while throwing rocks. Army sharpshooters repeatedly stepped forward to fire rubber bullets and teargas canisters. Out at sea two navy vessels were standing by.

Bathers and surfers filmed on mobile phones and shouted a mix of abuse and encouragement as teargas drifted over the beach. "They can make demands but not like this," said Luiz, 23, who was carrying a surfboard and declined to give his full name. "If Petrobras don't have the resources to explore this field they have to auction it."

Trapped behind a tree in the crossfire, a young woman cried and ran for the beach, shouting down a mobile phone: "I'm trapped in this business." Lines of soldiers stood guard in the sand.

Student William Lucio, 24, had travelled from Belo Horizonte in nearby Minas Gerais state for the protest and was waving a red flag. "I am against the auction. It is nothing more than privatisation. We support that the state keeps the oil and invests it in health and education."

One rubber bullet narrowly missed Barra resident Pedro de Lucca, 25, who was walking his dog. He advanced on bemused soldiers and ripped off his shirt, showing his slight build. "Stop shooting! What danger do I present?" he shouted. "I have never been to the gym in my life!"

Inside the hotel, behind two lines of troops holding riot shields, government officials defended the auction and insisted it had been a success – despite the fact that only one consortium had entered, offering the minimum cut to the government allowed under the rules: 41.65%. "We are satisfied. Very satisfied," said Edison Lobão, Brazil's minister of mines and energy.

Magda Chambriard, head of Brazil's National Petroleum Agency, said: "The result could not have been better." The Libra field would require R100bn (£28.5bn) to develop, she said.

President Dilma Rousseff released a statement defending the auction, which she said would raise R1tn (£285bn) over the next 35 years, with R736bn (£210bn) of that spent on health and education. "Eighty-five per cent of the all the income to be produced in the Libra field will belong to the Brazilian state and Petrobras. This is very different to privatisation," Rousseff said. "May God continue blessing Brazil!"

The oil workers' union FUP expressed dismay. "Before the auction the country was 100% owner of the biggest oil field yet discovered in the world. Now the Brazilian people are 60% poorer," it said in a statement.

There have been 26 legal cases launched against the auction, with none succeeding. Denis Palluat de Besset, the chief executive of Total Brasil, said he was "very happy" with the result.

"It is going to be a good project for Total," he said, "for the partners, for the Brazilian people, for the Chinese, for everyone."

Protesters moved on to central Rio on Monday night, closing city centre streets and demonstrating outside the headquarters of Petrobras.

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« Reply #751 on: Oct 22, 2013, 05:47 AM »

Angola 'in denial' over impact of severe drought

Government accused of playing down the crisis, which has affected 1.8 million people, to protect its economic reputation

Mark Tran, Tuesday 22 October 2013 07.00 BST   

The Angolan government has been accused of being in denial over a drought that has affected 1.8 million people because the crisis threatens to tarnish the country's image as a booming economy.

Children as young as nine are digging wells to fetch water, amid a severe drought in southern regions of Angola that has forced people to use unclean water for consumption and cooking, according to the UN. Neighbouring Namibia, which has also been badly affected, has declared a drought emergency and appealed for humanitarian aid.

Angola has done neither, although it has appointed a special inter-ministerial commission to respond to the drought, delivered food aid and drilled boreholes. Government sources have told the UN that funding requirements are between $150m (£242.3m) and $350m, but amounts disbursed so far have not been confirmed.

International relief agencies, including Unicef, the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation, began responding to Angola's drought in 2012, but the Angolan government was slow to respond, according to aid officials.

"At the time, there was a denial of the problem," said an aid official. "There was a lot of difficulty for them to accept the situation. There was a lot of criticism of the methodology of our rapid assessment. The government said it did not need humanitarian assistance and had enough resources … the problem is we don't know how much it has provided."

Others have been harsher, accusing the Angolan government of seeking to play down the crisis.

"We have a government that has no political responsibility," said Elias Isaac, country director for the Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa (Osisa) and a strong critic of the Angolan government. "Last month, it spent over $130m to host an international hockey tournament and paid for the Spanish to come, so you see the lack of regard this government has for its own people."

Unicef, the UN agency for children, says approximately 3 million children under five will potentially be affected by the effects of the prolonged drought. Between December last year and June this year, 17,746 malnourished children went through outreach community programmes, 5,337 with severe acute malnutrition and 11,097 with moderate acute malnutrition.

"The drought follows three years of poor rainfall," said Enrique Paz, Unicef's head of child survival and development in Angola. "In terms of water, access in affected provinces has been limited to ponds that are drying up, with the water unsafe for drinking and cooking. There have been 1,500 cases of cholera, with 62 deaths."

Drinking water is a concern, particularly in Cunene and Namibe. Cunene has been the hardest-hit province, where an estimated 542,979 people – half of Cunene's population – have been affected, especially farmers, including semi-nomadic communities, and children under five. Almost 1.2m livestock are at risk.

Provincial authorities have indicated that 430 water points are not working, affecting 100,000 people. The wells are as deep as 15-25 metres, and dug where a stream has dried up. Children, mostly boys between the ages of nine and 18 have to cover distances of 15-30km to dig wells and fetch water.

Malnutrition has reached 24.4% of the population in Cunene, with a prevalence of severe acute malnutrition of 5.7%. Food production has been badly hit. In some areas – Cunene, Namibe, Benguela coast and the southern part of Huila – almost all production of cereals and legumes was lost.

Poor rainfall has particularly affected five southern Angolan provinces: Cunene, Namibe, Kuando Kubango, Benguela and Huila. Rainfall during the 2011-12 season was 60% below average. Rainfall in 2012-13 was also well below average in large parts of the country, particularly in the southwest on the Namibian border.

The drought comes against a backdrop of strong economic growth. According to the World Bank, Angola's gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated to have grown by more than 8% in 2012, spurred by high oil export price and rising production volume. According to the UN Committee for Development Policy, Angola's gross national product was more than double a threshold of $1,190 per capita a year to qualify for the move from least-developed country status.

Yet sub-Saharan Africa's third biggest economy, which has been ruled by president José Eduardo dos Santos for 34 years, has not seen its oil wealth spread evenly. Spectacular growth has created few jobs and entrenched or even deepened inequality, underlining that natural resources can be both a blessing and a curse.

For Isaac, the Angolan government has been too proud to admit the need for help. "It is a lack of regard for its own people and a question of national pride," he said. "To accept help from other organisations would contradict the picture that Angola is one of Africa's most successful economies ... one thing that needs to happen is for more information, there needs to be more pressures from civil society, churches, particularly the Roman Catholic church, if it doesn't take a strong stand that's a big problem."

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« Reply #752 on: Oct 22, 2013, 05:49 AM »

Bushfires: New South Wales braces for its most dangerous day

Fire commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons announces weather warning has been upgraded to 'as bad as it gets'

Oliver Milman, Tuesday 22 October 2013 08.32 BST   

New South Wales is bracing for a potentially devastating day of bushfires, with the state’s fire commissioner urging people not to travel to the Blue Mountains due to conditions that are set to be “as bad as it gets”.

The fire danger warning for the greater Sydney area, the Blue Mountains and the Hunter valley has been set to “extreme” – the second highest level.

Shane Fitzsimmons, commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service, said the forecast for Wednesday was worse than previously thought, making it the most dangerous day yet in the bushfire emergency that began last Thursday.

“The temperature will be in the mid to high 30s, humidity down to 10% and wind strengths of 80 to 100km/h,” he said. “The forecast and scenario for tomorrow is about as bad as it gets.”

All schools and childcare centres in the Blue Mountains will be closed, with Fitzsimmons urging residents to seriously consider fleeing their homes.

“If you are going to leave, leave early,” he said. “Leaving early is always the safest option. Know your fire safety plan and be decisive. Procrastination won’t be helpful,” he said.

“We will do everything we can, but it would be wrong of me to provide a guarantee that we will deliver on providing a truck to every home, a message to every person. It is simply something we cannot guarantee, but we will do our absolute darndest to make sure we can.

“Anyone who does not have an important reason to be in the Blue Mountains – don't be there. Stay away from the Blue Mountains and Kurrajong Heights areas. To do so, otherwise, is simply putting yourself in harm’s way and indeed putting others in harm’s way.”

An additional 1400 firefighters will be deployed across NSW in areas considered to be particularly at risk as conditions deteriorate. The perimeter of the various fire areas stretches for 1600km.

About 60 fires are burning in NSW, 17 of them uncontained. Since the start of the bushfires, more than 200 homes have been destroyed, with one man losing his life. Wildlife carers have warned that thousands of koalas, possums, reptiles and other animals have been killed or seriously injured in the fires.

Meanwhile, an 11-year-old boy accused of lighting two fires, one of which destroyed 5,000 hectares of land near Newcastle, has been granted bail.

Insurance claims worth more than $100m already have been lodged, according to the Insurance Council of Australia. Further financial assistance is on its way to residents of fire ravaged areas, with the Salvation Army raising $1.2m in aid.

The federal government has also offered financial support for lost income to eligible people, as well as a “disaster recovery payment” of $1,000 per adult and $400 per child. However, unlike during the Tasmanian bushfires in January, money will not be available to people cut off from their homes or who are without electricity or water for 48 hours.

“These devastating bushfires have affected many individuals and have prevented people’s ability to earn a living,” said Michael Keenan, the federal justice minister.

“This assistance is designed to help employees, primary producers and sole traders recover from these bushfires and get back on their feet and back to work.”

The bushfires have caught the attention of the UN’s climate change chief, Christiana Figueres, who has warned that they signal a future of “doom and gloom” unless carbon emissions are radically cut. Figueres also took the opportunity, while speaking to CNN, to attack the Australian government’s Direct Action climate change policy.

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« Reply #753 on: Oct 22, 2013, 06:25 AM »

Welcome to the jungle: the botanist trying to alter perceptions of rainforests

During his lifetime Francis Hallé has seen too many primary forests obliterated. Now he has joined director Luc Jacquet to make a film, Il Etait une Forêt, celebrating the ones that are left

Lewis Smith, Tuesday 22 October 2013 10.50 BST   

At an age when freedom passes allow pensioners to take on the challenge of clambering to the top deck of a bus, Francis Hallé is more likely to be found perched at the top of a tree.

The retired professor of botany is 75 and has just completed his first film. In it he can be seen standing, without a safety rope, on a branch of a massive moabi tree 230 feet above the forest floor.

He is at ease, seemingly oblivious to the dizzying drop and, as the camera pans away, the beauty of the forest stretching into the distance becomes apparent.

But it is a bittersweet image. During his lifetime he has watched helplessly as tropical forests undisturbed for millennia have been logged, razed and ploughed.

In an attempt to bring world attention to the plight of the rainforests he spent 25 years seeking a film-maker who could breathe life into a film in which trees are the stars.

His search ended when he met Luc Jacquet, the Oscar-winning director of March of the Penguins, who was looking for a new challenge after his Antarctic success. The result of the collaboration is Il Etait une Forêt.

The trailer for Il Etait une Forêt

Dr Hallé hopes the film can bring the same public attention to forests as Jacques Cousteau did for marine life: "When I was young I saw the first film of Commander Cousteau [The Silent World]. This film had a very big impact on the public in many places in the world. So our aim – Luc and I – is to inform the public but also to try to modify behaviour."

His main concern is for primary tropical forests, the undisturbed jungles that take at least 700 years to re-grow and which now cover a tiny fraction of what they did even half a century ago.

"When I was a young scientist in the 1960s primary rainforest was everywhere in the tropics," he said. "Africa, Asia, South America. Everywhere.

"Fifty years later there are practically no primary forests left in the tropics. This happened over my lifetime. I'm a witness to it." Had he suggested back in the 1960s that the forests were on their way out "everybody would have laughed".

Much of the problem, he believes, is that the public still regard tropical forests as lethal tracts of jungle where humans should fear to tread. The truth, he says, is that when the forests are left undisturbed by logging and other destructive human activities, they are havens of tranquillity.

He said: "When you talk about the forest everyone is horrified. It is seen as a 'green hell'. It's still considered dangerous and without interest.

"We wanted to renew the image of the forest. It's not dangerous, it's not terrifying. It's extremely relaxing and extremely beautiful. This is what we want to say, what we want to demonstrate."

It is so peaceful in the forest, he adds, that he can think of few things that he would prefer to walking on the tops of trees in the jungle: "Sometimes it is really useful to have a rope but many times I am so comfortable that I am just free. It's extremely pleasant for me. I draw at the top of the tree. I'm a draughtsman so I like to draw."

Once he saw a rainforest for himself, Jacquet needed little persuasion to make the film. He said: "I needed to know if it was inspiring. I went, and it was just magic. First of all, I felt very comfortable in the forest. It was quiet and natural, it felt safe. I felt a connection.

"It was like discovering an observed yet secret universe. We have all seen many forests in the world but it felt secret.

"For me, this film had to be done. This is my moral position. We hope it is going to change things. We have to try. We must try!

"This is important for me. I find very strong and deep emotions in that place. To think that these things will disappear and my children won't be able to see them – I can't accept it."

• Il Etait une Forêt, distributed by Disney, will open in France in November. It is due to be shown in the UK in 2014.

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« Reply #754 on: Oct 22, 2013, 08:29 AM »

October 21, 2013

A Quiet Trip to the Ozone Hole


BEND, Ore. — It might be the weirdest part of the atmosphere, 15 miles above the polar regions, where vast stratospheric clouds of nitric acid and water vapor shimmer in iridescent pink while human-made chemicals play havoc with the ozone layer.

Scientists long to study the stratosphere at close range. But this is almost the edge of space, far too high for a conventional airplane in level flight.

How to get there?

In a glider.

Without the weight of engines or fuel, a glider can be lifted by natural atmospheric phenomena, engineers say. So a team of scientists, aviation buffs and entrepreneurs is building a two-seat sailplane designed to withstand the peculiar hazards of stratospheric flight. The journey is scheduled for August 2015.

The glider will be shipped by freighter to El Calafate, Argentina, where winds from the Pacific Ocean are deflected by the Andes Mountains to create a standing wave, like the waves of water that form over rocks in a mountain stream, with updrafts of 30 feet per second.

“These mountain waves get so steep and energetic, they turn into white water,” said Edward J. Warnock, an aerospace engineer who is chief executive of the Perlan Project, the nonprofit organization that is building the glider, Perlan II.

A single-engine plane, probably a crop duster, will tow the glider to meet these waves, at about 10,000 feet. Where the waves weaken, at about 60,000 feet, the glider is supposed to intercept another phenomenon, the polar vortex — circulating winds that act like a giant cyclone during the austral winter, delivering a strong uplift. If it can catch that current, the glider will soar still higher, into the Perlan Clouds, and higher, into the ozone hole, where the chemical reactions that disrupt the ozone layer take place. (Perlan is the Icelandic word for “pearl,” describing the clouds’ sunlit glow.)

The aim is to go to 90,000 feet, or 17 miles up, and set a new altitude record for a glider. The plane’s predecessor, Perlan I, set the record of 50,726 feet on Aug. 30, 2006.

Perlan II will cost an estimated $7.5 million, of which $3.5 million has already been spent; the project is still trying to raise the balance. The organizers include Dennis Tito, the pension fund manager who paid $20 million to visit the International Space Station, and, until he was killed in the 2007 crash of his single-engine plane, Steve Fossett, the aeronaut and sailor who flew Perlan I.

Perlan I also used the Andes mountain uplift; the climb took about four and a half hours. The new sailplane will have a wingspan of 84 feet and weigh just 1,700 pounds, counting crew — 100 pounds lighter than Perlan I, even though the older plane had a 72-foot wingspan. The builders say Perlan II is 80 percent complete. Huge carbon-fiber pieces that look like a woven fabric, a tight-knit plaid in two shades of gray, fill most of a hangar, waiting to be glued together.

In the end, all will be painted a reflective white to stop the sun from heating the parts enough to weaken the epoxy. (Inside the cabin, though, the air will be near freezing.)

The glider was designed partly by computer calculation and partly by intuition. Long wings with a short distance from leading edge to trailing edge have low drag, essential in a plane with no engines. But as the wings get longer, the bending forces become greater, so the wings require a stiffer internal spar, which adds thickness. And thicker wings have a harder time cutting through the air.

“You’re always working trade-offs,” said Einar K. Enevoldson, the founder and chief pilot of the project, who was Mr. Fossett’s co-pilot on the record-breaking flight.

Mr. Enevoldson has been flying gliders since 1947, when he was 15 years old, and has extensive experience in high-altitude fighters and research planes. Now he is 81. His reflexes are not the same, he said, but his judgment in the tricky business of finding the uplifts is still good.

The glider’s design is a trade-off of performance and safety. Above 50,000 feet, the air pressure is so low that a pilot would find it impossible to exhale, even with an oxygen mask. One solution is a pressure suit, but it would be too big for a glider built to climb so high.

The glider’s system will be tricked by the thin atmosphere into showing an airspeed of 46 miles an hour, about what it needs to stay aloft. But for the speed indicator to get to that reading in such low-density air, the actual speed will have to be about 335 m.p.h.

And this, indirectly, sets the altitude limit. The challenge for the glider, as for most aircraft, is to move fast enough to get sufficient lift in the thin air to stay airborne, without approaching the speed of sound, which causes unacceptable stresses on the airframe. But as air density goes down, so does the speed of sound. On the top of the Perlan II glider’s wing, the passing air will approach the speed of sound but will not reach it.

“They’re definitely going to need to push the performance envelope, which means high lift and incredibly low drag,” said Richard P. Anderson, a professor of aerospace engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla., and a glider pilot, who is not affiliated with the project.

And the high altitude will introduce other complications.

One is the need to pressurize the cabin so human lungs can overcome low air pressure — something other airplanes do with an engine.

The solution is to seal the tiny cabin as the plane ascends, and bleed off a little air through a valve so the cabin pressure mimics what it would be at 14,500 feet. The sealed cabin needs spaceship-style scrubbers to remove the carbon dioxide and the moisture that would otherwise produce ice on the windows and walls. There is no way to warm the plane — another consequence of lacking an engine — so the two pilots, who will spell each other during the long flight, will wear socks with heaters in their soles, Mr. Enevoldson said.

Squeezed into a fuselage about 36 inches in diameter, they will be almost recumbent. They will bring sandwiches and wear diapers.

If a cabin-pressure emergency should strike at high altitude, the plane would have to dive — no simple matter in an airframe designed to glide many miles horizontally for each mile of altitude loss. The crew would deploy a small drogue parachute in the tail, point the glider’s nose down so it could fall quickly into thicker air, and then jettison the chute.

The glider will also carry a bigger, rocket-fired chute that could lower the plane to earth slowly enough for a survivable crash. Such parachutes are now in use on the Cirrus, a single-engine airplane.

The whole contraption, studded with windows cut in circles to minimize stresses on the frame, looks well suited to an otherworldly environment. “The temperature and atmospheric pressure aren’t too far off from Mars,” said Mr. Warnock, the project’s chief executive. (Mars is a special interest of Mr. Tito’s.) In fact, the engineers say, their plane would fly well in the atmosphere of Mars — if it could get there, and find a tow plane to get it off the ground.

The stratosphere is ripe for close study, scientists say. It is where the sun continuously breaks apart molecules of ozone, which is made up of three oxygen atoms. The third tends to bind with human-made chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants in the atmosphere. While those chemicals have been mostly banned, the stray oxygen atoms stay married to chlorine or fluorine for 50 years, unavailable to become part of new ozone molecules, thereby depleting the ozone layer and altering the natural balance.

Perlan II could take samples and use lasers to observe and measure concentrations of chemicals. It is also expected to provide data on how the air mixes at such high altitudes, a phenomenon that is crucial to the planet’s heat balance.

The altitude is not completely virgin territory; the space shuttle, which was in effect a glider on its way back to earth, used to traverse it at several times the speed of sound.

Spy planes like the SR-71 Blackbird have reached that altitude, but only for brief periods in their parabolic flight, according to Mr. Warnock. Perlan’s plan is to cruise for hours at a time, in peaceful silence. The U-2 spy plane — Mr. Enevoldson has flown a civilian version — tops out at a height of about 70,000 feet. (The exact number is classified.) A year ago, Felix Baumgartner reached 128,100 feet in a balloon before skydiving out, but it would be difficult to navigate a balloon into the ozone hole.

“The idea of extended observations from a platform in the 70-to-90,000 foot range has huge potential scientific advantages,” said James G. Anderson, a climate scientist at Harvard who is not affiliated with the project.

But he added that in an era of remote-controlled drones, human pilots were something of a liability. “When you start delivering mass to 90,000 feet, or even 70,000 feet, every kilogram makes a huge difference, and it either goes into the payload or into the pilot,” he said. “Even a skinny pilot is still four or five instruments.”

But that is not the point, say Perlan’s backers, who hope to inspire a new generation of aeronautical adventurers.

After all, Mr. Warnock said, “you could run the Indy 500 or the Reno air races with drones, too.” But “it wouldn’t be the same.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 21, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated the record altitude reached by Perlan I. It was 50, 726 feet, not 50,651 feet.

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« Reply #755 on: Oct 23, 2013, 08:02 AM »

October 22, 2013

China Tries to Clean Up Toxic Legacy of Its Rare Earth Riches


TIANJIN, China — In northern China, near the Mongolian border, radioactively contaminated leaks from two decades of rare earth refining have been slowly trickling underground toward the Yellow River, a crucial water source for 150 million people.

In Jiangxi province in south-central China, the national government has seized control of rare earth mining districts from provincial officials after finding widespread illegal strip-mining of rare earth metals.

And in Guangdong province in southeastern China, regulators are struggling to repair rice fields and streams destroyed by powerful acids and other runoff from open-pit rare earth mines that are often run by violent organized crime syndicates.

Communities scattered across China face heavy environmental damage that accumulated through two decades of nearly unregulated rare earth mining and refining. While the Chinese government has begun spending billions of dollars to clean up the damage, the environmental impact is becoming an international trade issue, with a World Trade Organization panel in Geneva expected to issue a crucial draft report on Wednesday.

Arriving three years after an international tempest over the rare earths trade and 19 months after the World Trade Organization litigation was actually filed, the coming decision may not make a big difference to the rare earth industry itself, industry executives and officials said. But the case does seem to have had the unintended effect of helping to goad China into a major environmental cleanup.

China, the world’s dominant producer of rare earth metals, quietly and unilaterally imposed taxes and annual tonnage limits on its rare earth exports seven years ago. It then gradually raised the taxes and lowered the tonnage limits in subsequent years, slowly throttling supplies to overseas manufacturers.

China contends that these export restrictions are needed to protect its environment. The United States, the European Union and Japan have challenged China’s taxes and quotas at the World Trade Organization. They note that China has done little to limit rare earth consumption within its borders.

The rare earth case “will be a landmark case in terms of both export restrictions and the environment,” said James Bacchus, the former two-term chairman of the W.T.O. appeals tribunal in Geneva.

China has made ample supplies available to manufacturers within China that produce crucial components for a host of products like laptop computers, compact fluorescent bulbs, wind turbines and electric cars. Some Western and Japanese companies have moved factories to China to make sure that they have access to rare earths.

The W.T.O. panel faces some of the trickiest issues in international trade. Environmentalists have been wary of the trade organization ever since its predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, rejected an American ban in the early 1990s on the import of tuna caught in ways that are hazardous to dolphins.

The Chinese export restrictions have become less important over the last several years for two reasons. Alternative rare earth mines have gone into production in the United States and Australia, reducing China’s share of global production to 85 percent, from 95 percent three years ago. And companies have become much more efficient about economizing on rare earths, especially the costliest ones, the so-called heavy rare earths like dysprosium.

The change is visible in the supply warehouse here of one of the world’s few factories producing rare earth powders for use in very powerful magnets. Whether in smartphones or missiles, the most advanced applications for rare earths tend to involve the manufacture of miniature but crucial components using the powerful magnetic qualities of rare earths.

The rare earth complex here in Tianjin is owned by Molycorp, an American company, although the factory buys its processed rare earths almost entirely from Chinese refineries. The warehouse has neatly arranged stacks of barrels of rare earths. The bright blue barrels holding neodymium, another highly magnetic rare earth, are only two feet high and a little more than a foot in diameter, but weigh more than 550 pounds because of the material’s extraordinary density.

Sitting by itself on a wooden pallet is a single gray can of dysprosium, a rare earth that sells for $243 per pound. Dysprosium prices soared as high as $1,135 per pound two years ago in a speculative bubble that followed China’s imposition of an unannounced embargo on rare earth shipments to Japan from September to November 2010, during a territorial dispute.

That spike in prices has prompted companies to economize in use of rare earths. Molycorp now mixes half as much dysprosium into its magnetic powders as it did even a year ago. Many of its customers have decided that their magnets do not need dysprosium, which is added in trace quantities to help rare earth magnets retain their magnetism at temperatures above the boiling point of water.

“People in Sichuan think they would die without their chili peppers, but they can live without them,” said Chen Kerong, the production director at the Molycorp factory here. “People love dysprosium, but they can live without it, too.”

The global oil industry has similarly begun using less lanthanum, another rare earth, during oil refining. Only 1.5 percent of the latest catalyst formulations for oil refining are now lanthanum, down from 4 or 5 percent three years ago.

But the case before the World Trade Organization appears to have made a difference already by prompting a broad environmental cleanup. In a white paper issued in June last year, China’s cabinet described at length the environmental harm caused by the rare earth industry, an admission that although embarrassing for Beijing may have buttressed its case at the W.T.O. that the rare earth industry is a dirty business for which export restrictions are justified. “Excessive rare earth mining has resulted in landslides, clogged rivers, environmental pollution emergencies and even major accidents and disasters, causing great damage to people’s safety and health and the ecological environment,” the white paper said.

Chinese officials have repeatedly denied that their newfound concerns for the environmental consequences of rare earth mining and refining are driven by a desire to help avoid defeat at the W.T.O., although the cleanup could help on that.

Whole villages between the city of Baotou and the Yellow River in Inner Mongolia have been evacuated and resettled to apartment towers elsewhere after reports of high cancer rates and other health problems associated with the numerous rare earth refineries there.

The most hazardous refineries are those that crack the tight chemical bonds that tie rare earths found in mineral ores to a variety of hazardous materials, notably radioactive thorium. Many tons of extremely concentrated sulfuric acid are used to break the chemical bonds. Then the valuable rare earth metals, which are not radioactive themselves, can be purified. But a hazardous stew of toxic chemicals and low-level radioactive waste is left behind. Most of that waste has been dumped into the world’s largest mine tailings pond, which covers four square miles near the Yellow River on the western outskirts of Baotou.

Built in the 1950s under Mao Zedong, the tailings pond lacks a liner to prevent the leaking of radioactive waste and toxins into the groundwater, where they have been gradually seeping toward the Yellow River. There is no evidence that the waste and toxins have reached the river, but the Chinese government plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars pumping out as much contaminated groundwater as possible and pumping enormous quantities of fresh water into the earth to dilute what is left before it reaches the Yellow River.

On orders from Beijing, state-controlled enterprises have dismantled Baotou refineries and rebuilt them at an enormous mining complex at Bayan Obo in the Gobi Desert, which mines about half the world’s rare earths. Chinese state-controlled media have reported that tens of thousands of goats and other livestock there have died and many baby goats have been born severely deformed, possibly because of radioactive contamination from the rare earth industry.

Located in an arid area nearly uninhabited except for mine workers, the refineries have been rebuilt there with extensive wastewater treatment facilities, according to industry officials in Beijing.

The W.T.O. panel will send its confidential draft report on Wednesday to China and the countries that brought the case, which will then be allowed to suggest changes before the final decision is made on Nov. 21.

Whoever loses the decision is likely to appeal to the trade organization’s appellate body — two-thirds of decisions are appealed, and sometimes even winners have appealed to obtain better-worded verdicts. Each party has six weeks to decide whether to appeal after the decision is published in mid-December, and then the appellate body has another three months to rule.

The betting in most of the rare earth industry and among international trade lawyers is that China will lose the W.T.O. case and will comply by removing its export quotas and export duties. But these changes may not make a big difference, because China has spent the past few years forcing mergers so that 99 percent of the country’s legally mined rare earths are produced by just 10 companies, all with varying degrees of state control.

But if they push prices up too quickly, they could face competition from Molycorp, which has reopened a mine in the California desert, and from Lynas of Australia, which mines rare earths in Western Australia and refines and processes them in Malaysia.

Market forces may have more of an effect on China’s ability to control the market in the coming years than export restrictions, said Dudley Kingsnorth, a former rare earths mining executive who is now a business professor and the director of the Critical Materials Initiative at Curtin University in Perth, Australia.

“If it were decided five years ago,” he said, “it might have had an impact.”

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« Reply #756 on: Oct 23, 2013, 08:07 AM »

Nations debate whether to create two giant Antarctic ocean sanctuaries

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 23, 2013 8:49 EDT

Multi-nation talks on creating two vast sanctuaries in Antarctic waters began Wednesday with a key official saying a marine reserve protecting the pristine Ross Sea had the better chance of success.

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) meeting in Hobart brings together 24 nations and the EU to try to agree plans for conserving marine ecosystems in the Southern Ocean.

At stake, say environmentalists, is an ocean wilderness that is home to 16,000 known species, including whales, seals, albatrosses, penguins and unique species of fish.

Proposals to create two huge Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) — both of which failed to be agreed to at a special meeting in Germany in July at which Russia made objections — are on the table.

But the United States-New Zealand proposal for a protected zone in the Ross Sea, the deep bay on Antarctica’s Pacific side, is considered the best hope after its size was reduced. It now has a 1.25 million square kilometre no-fish zone.

“We believe in this year we have a bigger chance to reach compromise, maybe not for both MPAs but, for example, for the Ross Sea,” CCAMLR chair Leszek Dybiec told reporters in Hobart.

Australia, France and the European Union are behind the second proposal which calls for a 1.6 million square kilometre (640,000 square mile) protected zone off East Antarctica, on the frozen continent’s Indian Ocean side.

The proposed protected areas are designed to conserve the remote southern regions and CCAMLR executive secretary Andrew Wright expressed optimism “that we will get an outcome at this meeting”.

“I’m not sure that they will all get up (succeed) in the current form but I am… quietly confident that some revisions will take place to both proposals and one, or hopefully both, will get up,” he told AFP.

The Hobart meeting is the latest attempt to agree on marine reserves after Russia stymied the plans at a special meeting in Germany in July, saying the no-fishing areas were too extensive and questioning the legal right of CCAMLR to set up such sanctuaries.

Since then there have been mixed signals from the Russians on how they will vote but they are believed to have dropped their argument about CCAMLR’s legality, boosting optimism the sanctuaries will receive greater support in Hobart.

Because all 25 members of the commission have to agree for a decision to be made, regardless of extent of the interest they have as a nation in Antarctica, negotiations are complex.

Wright said it was not only the size of the zones which could be negotiated, but also the duration for which they would be kept as sanctuaries, along with elements such as research and monitoring programmes.

New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Murray McCully has refused to rule out scaling back the New Zealand/US proposal which has already been substantially reduced from 1.6 million square kilometres.

“Some modifications were made to the proposal, and there may be more yet,” he said on Tuesday.

McCully said he was optimistic, but not confident, of reaching agreement in Hobart.

“We’ve got signs of good engagement leading up to the meeting but getting 25 countries to agree on something complex is going to be difficult,” he admitted.

“All of the negotiations are quite challenging but we?re satisfied that there?s engagement and good faith at the moment.”

If accepted, the combined area of the two sanctuaries is 2.85 million square kilometres, a fraction smaller than India, more than five times larger than France and 12 times the size of Britain.

Each proposal has the potential to create the world’s largest marine protection zone.

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« Reply #757 on: Oct 23, 2013, 08:11 AM »

Australian firefighters brace for the worst in a wildfire ‘flare up’

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, October 22, 2013 22:48 EDT

Firefighters in Australia braced for hot, dry winds and soaring temperatures Wednesday with lightning also posing a problem as they battle to prevent a week-long bushfire disaster getting worse.

As the crisis entered its seventh day, 59 fires were raging across the state of New South Wales with 19 of them uncontained and warnings again issued for people to leave their homes or be extra vigilant.

“On days like today, minutes really matter,” NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said, with the focus again on the Blue Mountains region west of Sydney, a popular tourist area home to 75,000 people where three huge infernos have been out of control for days.

So far more than 120,000 hectares (296,500 acres) of land has been burnt across the state and more than 200 homes destroyed. But only one person has died as residents heed advice to either flee or head to evacuation centres.

Temperatures were heading towards the mid-30 degrees Celsius range Wednesday and coupled with low humidity and forecast wind gusts of up to 100 kilometres (62 miles) per hour, the fire chief called the conditions “as bad as it gets”.

Drizzle fell overnight but it only hampered the mostly volunteer crews fighting the blazes.

“Whilst that is some welcome relief in terms of moderating the current fire behaviour, it has compromised considerably the ability to continue with the backburning operations that were planned throughout the evening,” Fitzsimmons said.

Backburning is a tactic aimed at creating firebreaks to control the path of blazes.

This has been a key focus of operations ahead of Wednesday, which authorities fear will be the toughest day so far.

The light rain meant many firefighters had to be withdrawn from forest trails due to fears that their trucks could get bogged down.

Much of the dampness has already dried out and Fitzsimmons said: “It’s only a matter of hours before we see a flare up of fire activity.”

While the Blue Mountains is the main concern, fires are breaking out across the vast state with reports from Broken Hill in the north of lightning strikes sparking new blazes.

“What can’t be denied is there is something like 1,600 kilometres (992 miles) of fire perimeter that we’re dealing with. Now, that’s all active to one degree or another,” said Fitzsimmons.

“Noone knows where that fire activity will stir up under today’s weather.”

NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell drove home the message, saying regardless of what happens on Wednesday “we’re not out of the woods yet”.

“We hope of course that today’s conditions, today’s potential events do not occur. As the commissioner has said repeatedly, we’ve planned for the worst, but we continue to hope for the best,” he said.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]


Tony Abbott: Australia's bushfires not linked to climate change - video

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott rubbishes a suggestion by the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, that there is a link between global warming and bushfires, as the fire danger-level in regions of New South Wales was raised on Wednesday amid worsening weather conditions

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« Reply #758 on: Oct 23, 2013, 08:52 AM »

October 22, 2013

Koch Brother Wages 12-Year Fight Over Wind Farm


OSTERVILLE, Mass. — If the vast wind farm proposed for Nantucket Sound is ever built, William I. Koch will have a spectacular view of it.

Of course, that is the last thing he wants. Mr. Koch, a billionaire industrialist who made his fortune in fossil fuels and whose better-known brothers underwrite conservative political causes, has been fighting the wind farm, called Cape Wind, for more than a decade, donating about $5 million and leading an adversarial group against it. He believes that Cape Wind’s 130 industrial turbines would not only create what he calls “visual pollution” but also increase the cost of electricity for everyone.

Now, as if placing a bet on the outcome of the battle, Mr. Koch, 73, who has owned an exclusive summer compound here for years, has acquired an even grander one — Rachel Mellon’s 26-acre waterfront estate in the gated community of Oyster Harbors, for $19.5 million. He has also bought the nearby 12-plus-acre Dupont estate. All of this adds up to a prime perch over Nantucket Sound.

“I love the area,” Mr. Koch said in an e-mail. “The ability to acquire a special property where I can create a family compound for my children and extended family was and is very meaningful to me.” (His current home, in the same gated community, is on the market for $15 million.)

At one time, Cape Wind — which would produce 75 percent of the power for Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket — was expected to be the first offshore wind farm in the country, and supporters hoped it would serve as a catalyst for other offshore wind projects like those that ring Europe. But after more than a dozen years, the $2.6 billion proposal remains on the drawing board, thanks in large part to the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, of which Mr. Koch is chairman.

Still, Jim Gordon, Cape Wind’s developer, who has spent $70 million of his own money on the project since 2001, vows that it will go forward. He said that he would qualify for certain federal tax credits by the end of the year and that the necessary financing would be in place, but he declined to disclose details, saying he did not want to give Mr. Koch a “road map” of his plans.

“This is a very sophisticated adversary,” Mr. Gordon said. “Koch has already spent a decade trying to push us off the path toward a better energy future.”

The two men have circled each other for a decade in an escalating test of wills. Mr. Gordon has tried unsuccessfully to enlist Mr. Koch, who once financed green energy plants, in his cause; Mr. Koch has successfully delayed Cape Wind for years by tying it up in court. A few lawsuits, some of them backed by the Nantucket Sound alliance, remain to be settled.

Audra Parker, chief executive of the alliance, is skeptical that Mr. Gordon can move ahead. His plans, she said, are “built on a house of cards.”

Mr. Gordon, for his part, contends that Mr. Koch “lives in a billionaire bubble” and that his efforts to block Cape Wind are self-defeating because climate change is already assaulting Cape Cod.

“Their beach is eroding, houses are falling into the sea, the ocean is getting warmer, lobsters are migrating away,” Mr. Gordon said in an interview in his Boston office. “It’s just sad that somebody who has the means to spend millions of dollars can hold something up that’s going to produce a lot of benefits for Massachusetts and this region.”

Mr. Koch is not the only opponent of Cape Wind. The late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat, whose Hyannis family compound also looked out on Nantucket Sound, opposed the project too, as do many fishermen and business owners on the Cape who worry it will hurt their livelihoods. Hundreds of people have made donations to the alliance; Mr. Koch’s $5 million in contributions account for only part of the $30 million raised.

But he is one of the few wealthy homeowners here who has taken a public role in the fight. And his ties to the fossil-fuel industry, and the fact that he is a Koch brother, make him a convenient target for pro-wind supporters.

Major environmental groups support the wind farm as a necessary step toward reducing carbon emissions, and they are furious with Mr. Koch. But when he was warned last year that environmentalists were going to start attacking him and try to stop his other projects, he said he welcomed the fight.

“The environmentalists are already after me,” he told CommonWealth magazine in April. “I’ve had the Turkish government after me, I’ve had the I.R.S. after me and I’ve had a $50-billion-a-year corporation after me. I’ve had the Turkish mafia after me, so bring it on, baby.”

Combative, flamboyant and litigious, Mr. Koch does not shy away from public scrapes. He has been involved in dozens of lawsuits over the years, including a tangled case against his own brothers that went on for two decades and that Forbes called “perhaps the nastiest family feud in American business history.”

Like his brothers David and Charles, who own Koch Industries Inc., Bill Koch is a billionaire, though not on the same order of magnitude. Forbes listed him in September as the 122nd richest person in the United States, with a net worth of $3.8 billion; his brothers are tied for fourth, with a net worth of $36 billion each.

David and Charles Koch, who are more conservative, use their money to promote political movements like the Tea Party, to back a libertarian social agenda and to protect their extensive fossil fuel holdings; Bill spends his on an array of passions, including sailing (he won the America’s Cup in 1992) and collecting wine, art (a wing at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is named for him) and Western memorabilia (he bought a ghost town in Colorado and is converting it into an authentic frontier settlement).

But Bill Koch, who founded Oxbow, a fossil-fuel-based company, three decades ago, has also been stepping up his political donations. He is spending millions to beat back environmental regulations and giving more than ever to like-minded politicians. He told CommonWealth magazine that he wanted to help elect people “who understand how foolhardy alternative energy is.”

His political contributions are generally less ideological than those of his brothers and are focused chiefly on advancing his business interests. Last year, Oxbow donated its largest amount ever, $4.35 million, to so-called super political action committees, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

Mr. Koch has donated to both Democrats and Republicans; the determining factor, he said, is whether they support policies that will benefit Oxbow. Recently, most of his recipients have been Republicans, including many House leaders who are seeking re-election next year.

Some say his protection of his fossil fuel interests goes hand-in-hand with his opposition to Cape Wind.

“No renewable energy resource holds as much potential as offshore wind to displace many, many, many gigawatts of dirty, carbon-intensive resources,” said Sue Reid, vice president and director of the Massachusetts office of the Conservation Law Foundation, which supports Cape Wind.

Mr. Koch has said that the most persuasive arguments against Cape Wind are economic, arguing that the project relies on government subsidies that could vanish tomorrow and that it would raise the cost of electricity, not lower it.

That point was bolstered last month by news that the biggest utilities in Massachusetts had signed contracts to buy land-based wind power from Maine and New Hampshire for 8 cents per kilowatt-hour; Cape Wind, by comparison, has contracts with those same utilities to start at 19 cents per kilowatt-hour, with built-in escalation clauses of 3.5 percent a year. Ms. Parker of the Nantucket Sound alliance called this news “the death knell for Cape Wind.”

But Mr. Gordon, the Cape Wind developer, said that his offshore turbines would produce power more consistently, at peak demand, than those in Maine and New Hampshire, and that he would be delivering power reliably to “the fastest-growing electric load demand center in New England.”

And, he said, he was confident that Cape Wind would one day be up and running.

Mr. Koch was just as certain that it would never be built. “I am equally confident,” he said in his e-mail, “that the project’s lack of merit will result in its demise.”

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« Reply #759 on: Oct 24, 2013, 06:40 AM »

Suck it and see: Dutch artist's vacuum cleaner could clear China smog

Daan Roosegaarde came up with idea during visit to Beijing and has won agreement to test system in one of city's public parks

Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing, Thursday 24 October 2013 12.58 BST    

There are many theories on how China could best tackle its air pollution problem: it could shutter its factories, upgrade its emissions standards or, according to one Dutch artist, it could simply suck up the haze using a giant electromagnetic vacuum cleaner.

At least, Daan Roosegaarde says, it doesn't hurt to dream. With Beijing in mind, Roosegaarde has designed a system called Smog that can pull pollutants from the sky. Copper coils buried underground attract airborne particles by generating an electrostatic field, "like a balloon that attracts your hair", he explains. The particles can then be collected and repurposed. An animated promotional video shows the smoggy sky above a park parting like the Red Sea, the blue sky visible through a perfectly round gap in the haze.

"We always had this notion of merging nature with technology," says Roosegaarde, who owns studios in the Netherlands and Shanghai. "It's hacking the landscape, in a poetic way."

Over the past week, a noxious cloud of smog has blanketed a broad swath of the the country's north-east. In the city of Harbin, levels of PM2.5 – particulate matter small enough to lodge itself deep within the lungs – soared to 1,000 micrograms per cubic metre, worse than Beijing's historic highs. Visibility dropped to 20 metres and authorities grounded flights and closed more than 2,000 schools.

Air pollution has been a huge source of public outrage since last winter when Beijing was hit by a week of smog so noxious that central government had no choice but to respond. Environmental authorities, once reticent to even discuss the issue for fear that it could stoke social unrest, have begun seeking a dash of inspiration to buoy their long-haul anti-pollution measures. They have lent support to a bevy of innovative small-scale ideas.

Roosegarde, already known for developing ambitious projects such as an internet-connected "smart highway" in the UK, conceived of the Smog system during a business trip to Beijing, as he watched the CCTV tower gradually disappear into a white-grey haze from his hotel window.

The artist recently forged an agreement with Beijing's mayor to test the project in one of the city's public parks, having already run successful trials in a 25sq metre room. He says the project should be ready for launch within nine months. "Right now it's just a question of getting funding for the pilot."

As part of a five-year plan released last month, Beijing will spend £102bn to significantly reduce air pollution levels by 2017. This week, the city announced it would enact a raft of emergency measures when pollution levels remain "serious" for three consecutive days – schools and factories would close and some private cars would be banned from entering the centre of the city.

The measures are a step forward but Song Ranping, a Beijing-based climate and energy expert at the World Resources Institute, says there is still a long way to go. "The system is so large, and there are so many conflicting interests between different parties," he says.

Polluting factories are simply moving to parts of the country that are not as economically developed, he says. "In Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, the air quality should be getting better pretty soon, given all the things the government is doing. But for Harbin, I don't know – I don't have too much reason to be optimistic there."

Many of Beijing's air pollution-related design projects lend themselves more to inspiration than sustainable change. One Beijing-based artist, Matt Hope, has developed a prototype for an air-purifying bicycle out of a mesh rubbish bun, a fighter-pilot mask, a moped helmet and a pedal-powered wind generator.

Xiaowei Wang, a recent graduate of Harvard's Graduate School of Design, has developed a work of performance art using air quality-indicating LED lights affixed to kites.

"The goal was to raise awareness about air-quality issues in Beijing through the poetic, participatory act of kite flying," Wang says.

Her project, called Float, consists of two parts: workshops in which Beijing residents affix small air quality-reading modules to homemade kites, and night-time kite-flying sessions in a local park. LED lights on the modules flash different colours according to their readings, creating a "constellation" of pollution-indicating lights in the sky.

Wang organised the project in August 2012, before the Beijing smog crisis. State security agents initially approached her about the project, fearing that the data could harm the city's image, but eventually deemed her unthreatening enough to proceed.

Wang says she is amazed by how dramatically China's attitudes towards air quality has changed since that summer. "I feel like I'm getting an email once a month from someone heading to China to do an air-quality monitoring project," she says. "And this is all very official – it's just become not a problem, and that's been astonishing to me."

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« Reply #760 on: Oct 24, 2013, 06:43 AM »

Australia’s environment minister cites Wikipedia to dismiss suggested link between climate change and country’s massive brushfire disaster

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 24, 2013 7:40 EDT

Australian Environment Minister Greg Hunt has played down links between the country’s bushfire disaster and climate change after he “looked up what Wikipedia said”.

His comments came as US environmental activist Al Gore likened Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s insistence that wildfires had nothing to do with changing climate patterns to the tobacco industry claiming smoking does not cause lung cancer.

Both Hunt and Gore weighed in on the issue after UN climate chief Christiana Figueres’s assertion this week that there was “absolutely” a connection between wildfires and rising temperatures.

Australia has been battling massive bushfires that started in unseasonably hot and dry weather west of Sydney a week ago, inflaming the debate.

In a testy interview with BBC radio late Wednesday, Hunt defended Abbott’s argument that fires had long been part of Australian life and were not linked to climate change.

“I looked up what Wikipedia said, for example, just to see what the rest of the world thought,” he said.”And it opens up with the fact that bushfires in Australia are frequently-occurring events during the hotter months of the year, large areas of land are ravaged every year by bushfires, and that’s the Australian experience.”

Abbott, a long-time climate change sceptic, this week accused Figueres of “talking through her hat”, but former US vice president and Nobel laureate Gore said climate change clearly brought about more extreme weather.

“Bushfires can occur naturally, and do, but the science shows clearly that when the temperature goes up, and when the vegetation and soils dry out, then wildfires become more pervasive and more dangerous,” he told ABC television late Wednesday.

“That’s not me saying it, that’s what the scientific community says.”

In the BBC interview, Hunt took issue with the presenter quizzing him on Abbott’s past description of climate change as “absolute crap”.

“In parliament our prime minister has expressed clear support for the science,” he said, before the presenter asked: “So (Abbott) no longer thinks it’s absolute crap?”

“Look, with great respect you can swear on international radio, you can invite me from Australia to do this, you can be profoundly rude, I’m happy to answer, but I’m not going to be sworn at,” Hunt responded.

Gore said Abbott’s stance that climate change had nothing to do with the fires was similar to politicians in the US who received support from tobacco companies, and then publicly argued the companies’ cause.

“It reminds me of politicians here who got a lot of support from the tobacco companies and who argued to the public that there was absolutely no connection between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer,” he said from the United States.

“For 40 years the tobacco companies were able to persuade pliant politicians within their grip to tell the public what they wanted them to tell them, and for 40 years the tragedy continued.”

He urged the Abbott government — which plans to abandon an industrial pollution tax in favour of a “direct action” scheme to plant trees and set up an emissions reduction incentive fund for business — not to bend to the will of “special interest” groups, which dismiss climate science evidence.

“The energy companies, coal companies particularly, have prevented the Congress of the US from doing anything meaningful so far about the climate crisis,” he said.


Al Gore challenges Australian PM in debate over wildfires and climate change

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 23, 2013 23:07 EDT

Environmental activist Al Gore has likened Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s insistence that wildfires are not linked to climate change to the tobacco industry claiming smoking does not cause lung cancer.

The former US vice president and Nobel laureate was commenting after Abbott this week dismissed UN climate chief Christiana Figueres’ assertion that there was “absolutely” a connection between wildfires and rising temperatures.

Australia has been battling massive bushfires west of Sydney for more than a week in unseasonably hot and dry weather that has inflamed debate about whether there is a link to changing climate conditions.

Abbott argued that fires were simply part of Australian life and accused Figueres of “talking through her hat”, but Gore said climate change clearly brought about more extreme weather.

“Bushfires can occur naturally, and do, but the science shows clearly that when the temperature goes up, and when the vegetation and soils dry out, then wildfires become more pervasive and more dangerous,” he told ABC television late Wednesday.

“That’s not me saying it, that’s what the scientific community says.”

Gore said Abbott’s stance that climate change had nothing to do with the fires was similar to politicians in the US who received support from tobacco companies, and then publicly argued the companies’ cause.

“It reminds me of politicians here who got a lot of support from the tobacco companies and who argued to the public that there was absolutely no connection between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer,” he said from the United States.

“For 40 years the tobacco companies were able to persuade pliant politicians within their grip to tell the public what they wanted them to tell them, and for 40 years the tragedy continued.”

He urged the Abbott government — which plans to abandon an industrial pollution tax in favour of a “direct action” scheme to plant trees and set up an emissions reduction incentive fund for business — not to bend to the will of “special interest” groups, which dismiss climate science evidence.

“The energy companies, coal companies particularly, have prevented the Congress of the US from doing anything meaningful so far about the climate crisis,” he said.

Gore added that the only way to deal with climate change was to put a price on emissions, in stark contrast to Abbott whose new government is moving to repeal the previous administration’s carbon pollution tax.

“The meaningful way to solve this crisis is to put a price on carbon, and in Australia’s case to keep a price on carbon,” he said.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #761 on: Oct 24, 2013, 07:02 AM »

IPCC's 'carbon budget' will not drive Warsaw talks, says Christiana Figueres

The UN climate change chief says it would be too 'politically difficult' to negotiate national allocations of carbon emissions

Fiona Harvey, environment correspondent, Thursday 24 October 2013 12.46 BST

A key finding of the UN climate panel's latest report on climate change is too politically "difficult" to drive international climate talks in November, according to the UN's climate chief.

Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) calculated how much carbon dioxide the world could emit in future without going over 2C of warming – and showed that, at current rates, this "budget" would be exhausted within 30 years. It effectively put a limit on the amount of CO2 that the human activities such as burning fossil fuels can produce, without risking what scientists regard as dangerous climate change.

But Christiana Figueres, executive director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said carbon budgets were a good scientific exercise but said that they could not be the basis for negotiations. "I don't think it's possible," she told the Guardian in an interview. "Politically it would be very difficult. I don't know who would hold the pen [in setting out allocations of future budgets]."

Figueres said the IPCC findings, which set out starkly that climate change is unequivocal, should be "a huge wake-up call" to the world.

She said there were also strong practical reasons for not basing the negotiations on allocations of future emissions to nations. "It treats carbon budgets as though it is a zero sum game, and would presume that there is no advance in technology [to reduce emissions]," she said. "We have made tremendous advances in the past ten years."

Governments will meet in Warsaw next month for the next round of international climate talks. This will be a staging post on the way to crunch negotiations in Paris in 2015, aimed at producing a new global agreement on dealing with emissions.

Figueres said the question of equity between developed and developing nations would be central to the talks. "It requires a concerted effort … we are all in this together," she said. "Countries will be guided by their national circumstances, but at the same time they need also to be guided by our collective needs and collective interest."

She added that the implications of the research, and of studies by the International Energy Agency and others, were that a significant portion of the world's fossil fuel reserves would be "unburnable" if dangerous climate change is to be avoided.

But Figueres rejected claims that nations, including developing countries, could be compensated. "It's not the first time that someone has come to the table with expectations of compensation. I don't see space for that kind of measure. It remains to be seen."

She said a draft negotiating text for a new agreement would be set out next year. National governments will be asked to set out how they intend to reduce emissions.

Other developed country climate negotiators agreed with Figueres' stance, telling the Guardian privately that it was not practical to attempt to allocate emissions based on estimates of future emissions. Instead, nations should set out their own targets for cutting their carbon and these could be subject to review.

The US has made it clear that it will take a leading role, as President Barack Obama has made global warming a priority.

Todd Stern, special envoy on climate change under secretary of state John Kerry, told a conference at Chatham House in London that he was speaking to the White House "almost daily" and that the current talks offered "a historic opportunity" to meet the threat of warming. In the past, the US has sometimes been accused of being lukewarm on an international agreement. But Stern, while rejecting the rigid approach that defined the Kyoto protocol, whereby countries set out firm targets and timetables on emissions but some never met them, had strong words on the need for a global agreement to guide and spur action on carbon.

He said: "National action will only rise to the level of ambition we need if it takes place within a strong and effective international system. Effective international climate agreements serve three vital purposes: they supply the confidence countries need to assure them that if they take ambitious action, their partners and competitors will do the same. They send a potent signal to other important actors [including] sub-national governments and the private sector … and they prompt countries to take aggressive action at home to meet their national pledges."

But he stressed that all nations would be required to play a part, and that countries previously classed as developing would have to take on national commitments on emissions.

He set out a vision of a new global agreement that would require governments to fix national targets that would then be subject to review against progress, perhaps every five years.

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« Reply #762 on: Oct 25, 2013, 06:10 AM »

Global warming helps Greenland snag its first big mining contract

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, October 25, 2013 6:50 EDT

Greenland awarded Thursday its first big mining exploitation license, approving a project by British company London Mining, which will most likely hire Chinese workers.

“This is indeed a historic moment for Greenland,” Greenland’s Industry and Minerals Minister Jens-Erik Kirkegaard said.

Kirkegaard called it “the largest commercial project to date in Greenland,” and said the agreement would affect employment and state revenue in a very positive direction.

London Mining said in a statement that the government of the island has granted them a 30-year license to exploit an iron deposit located 93 miles from the capital Nuuk, which should produce 15 million tons per year.

Greenland, an autonomous Danish territory, expects its mineral resources to boost the economy, which currently depends on fishing and Danish subsidies.

Social Democrats won the last general election in March on a promise to obtain revenues from foreign companies interested in the island’s resources.

Isolation and weak infrastructure had kept investors away, despite Greenland’s natural underground wealth, recently rendered more accessible thanks to global warming and the resulting ice retreat.

The company plans to build the mining site in three years with up to 3,000 workers, the equivalent of more than five percent of Greenland’s population of 56,000.

The majority of these workers will most likely be Chinese, according to a London Mining statement from 2010 saying that “the involvement of Chinese groups is anticipated to deliver significant cost savings.”

The company estimates exploitation of the deposit will support 810 jobs, some 55 percent out of which could be Greenlandic.

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« Reply #763 on: Oct 25, 2013, 06:15 AM »

Al Gore rips Keystone XL: ‘It is an atrocity and a threat to our future’

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 24, 2013 20:40 EDT

Former US vice president Al Gore on Thursday urged President Barack Obama to block the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada, likening the carbon-intense project to drug addiction.

Gore, who has championed action against climate change since his razor-thin loss for the White House in 2000, praised Obama’s general views on climate change but said his fellow Democrat faced a key test on the proposed project.

“This should be vetoed. It is an atrocity and a threat to our future,” Gore told a conference marking the 10th anniversary of the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank.

“Junkies find veins in their toes when the ones in their arms and their legs give out. We are now at the point where we’re going after these ridiculously dirty and dangerous carbon-based dirty fuels, and we’ve got to stop that,” he said.

Obama has held off on a decision on the proposed 1,179-mile (1,897-km) pipeline, which would take oil from Alberta’s tar sands to US refineries, as he waits for a review on the environmental impact.

Opponents say that oil from Alberta’s tar sands is among the dirtiest on the planet as it must be melted with steaming hot water before processing, further contributing to carbon emissions blamed for climate change.

Industry groups and Republican US lawmakers, some of whom reject mainstream science on climate change, have heavily promoted the project as an employer. Canada has billed itself as a friendlier source of energy for the United States than oil producers in the Middle East.

Speaking before Gore at the same conference, Canada’s Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau said he agreed with right-leaning Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Keystone, arguing that the energy industry supported “strong middle-class jobs.”

“The jingoism and the sound-bites of arguments on both sides are getting too much airplay rather than the actual facts and struggles that we have with making, creating that prosperity,” said Trudeau, seen as a potential future prime minister.

Trudeau, the eldest son of late prime minister Pierre Trudeau, said it was more important to find a path that is “long-term, sustainable, and will bring us to independence from hydrocarbons sometime in the future.”

But Gore, in his remarks, said that traditional economic planning paid insufficient attention to environmental risks.

He pointed to a slew of disasters linked to climate change including unprecedented storms in his native Nashville and floods in Pakistan that affected 20 million people in 2010.

“We are seeing these once-in-a-thousand-year events on a regular basis,” Gore said.

“This is part of the cost of carbon and it’s not included on the balance sheets, it’s not included in the way we calculate profit and loss and productivity and growth — which is the holy grail” for economists, he said.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #764 on: Oct 25, 2013, 06:17 AM »

Game changer? Chinese scientists create window that generates energy

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 24, 2013 13:14 EDT

Scientists in China said Thursday they had designed a “smart” window that can both save and generate energy, and may ultimately reduce heating and cooling costs for buildings.

While allowing us to feel close to the outside world, windows cause heat to escape from buildings in winter and let the Sun’s unwanted rays enter in summer.

This has sparked a quest for “smart” windows that can adapt to weather conditions outside.

Today’s smart windows are limited to regulating light and heat from the sun, allowing a lot of potential energy to escape, study co-author Yanfeng Gao of the Chinese Academy of Sciences told AFP.

“The main innovation of this work is that it developed a concept smart window device for simultaneous generation and saving of energy.”

Engineers have long battled to incorporate energy-generating solar cells into window panes without affecting their transparency.

Gao’s team discovered that a material called vanadium oxide (VO2) can be used as a transparent coating to regulate infrared radiation from the Sun.

VO2 changes its properties based on temperature. Below a certain level it is insulating and lets through infrared light, while at another temperature it becomes reflective.

A window in which VO2 was used could regulate the amount of Sun energy entering a building, but also scatter light to solar cells the team had placed around their glass panels, where it was used to generate energy with which to light a lamp, for example.

“This smart window combines energy-saving and generation in one device, and offers potential to intelligently regulate and utilise solar radiation in an efficient manner,” the study authors wrote in the journal Nature Scientific Reports.

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