December 1, 2013
In New Jersey Pines, Trouble Arrives on Six Legs
By JUSTIN GILLIS
BLUE ANCHOR, N.J. — “Heads up!”
Deep in the woods, the whine of chain saws pierced the fall air, and Steve Garcia shouted a warning to fellow loggers as a 40-foot pitch pine crashed to the ground.
He was chopping down trees to save the forest as part of New Jersey’s effort to beat back an invasion of beetles.
In an infestation that scientists say is almost certainly a consequence of global warming, the southern pine beetle is spreading through New Jersey’s famous Pinelands.
It tried to do so many times in the past, but bitterly cold winters would always kill it off. Now, scientists say, the winters are no longer cold enough. The tiny insect, firmly entrenched, has already killed tens of thousands of acres of pines, and it is marching northward.
Scientists say it is a striking example of the way seemingly small climatic changes are disturbing the balance of nature. They see these changes as a warning of the costly impact that is likely to come with continued high emissions of greenhouse gases.
The disturbances are also raising profound questions about how to respond. Old battles about whether to leave nature alone or to manage it are being rejoined as landscapes come under stress.
The New Jersey situation resembles, on a smaller scale, the outbreak of mountain pine beetles that has ravaged tens of millions of acres of forest across the Western United States and Canada. That devastation, too, has been attributed to global warming — specifically, the disappearance of the bitterly cold winter nights that once kept the beetles in check.
In contrast to the West, where dying evergreens are splayed across steep mountainsides for all to see, the invasion in New Jersey has received barely any notice. The state’s pine forests occupy relatively flat land, and the scope of the damage is obvious only from the air.
“It’s a tremendously serious issue, but it hasn’t gotten anybody’s attention,” said State Senator Bob Smith, a Democrat from Piscataway and the chairman of the Environment and Energy Committee.
Scientists and foresters say the lack of public pressure has meant that the state has been slow to mount an adequate response. They are worried that the beetles will not only devastate the Pinelands, but will also eventually attack coastal pinelands on Long Island and Cape Cod.
In New Jersey, the beetles hit a peak in 2010, when they killed trees across 14,000 acres of state and private land. More recently, the damage has been a few thousand acres per year. But with the beetle now endemic in New Jersey, experts do not think that reprieve will last.
“I’m worried about when we really get a superstress on the trees,” said George L. Zimmermann, a forest ecologist at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, in Galloway. “If the beetle takes off, you could be talking not tens of thousands of acres, but a hundred thousand or more.”
Historically, it was too cold for the beetles to live north of Delaware. In their native habitat in the South, they are always present at low levels, surviving by attacking diseased or weakened pine trees.
The beetles, no bigger than uncooked grains of rice, burrow through a tree’s bark and consume a layer of tissue that provides the tree with nutrients and water. As the evergreens starve to death, they take on the color of a broadleaf forest in autumn.
Healthy trees can fight off small numbers of beetles by exuding a sticky sap that pushes them out. But a large beetle outbreak can overwhelm even vigorous trees. “The way they kill trees is the way wolves kill a moose — they do it by numbers,” said Matthew P. Ayres, a Dartmouth biologist who studies the beetles.
New Jersey has warmed by about 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century, but that average obscures the change that really matters.
Winter nights of about 8 degrees below zero are needed to kill most beetles. The New Jersey climatologist’s office calculates that such bitter nights used to happen several times per decade in the state. But the last night that cold in the Pinelands was in 1996, and the beetle outbreak was first noticed five years later.
Dr. Ayres, one of the nation’s top beetle experts, has studied New Jersey closely for several years and has published research saying the rising temperatures have made the invasion possible. “I think the scientific inference is about as good as it gets,” Dr. Ayres said. “This is a big deal, and it’s going to forever change the way forests have to be managed in New Jersey.” The region of southern New Jersey once called the Pine Barrens — a term that has fallen out of favor — is the largest remnant of a once-vast coastal pine ecosystem stretching along much of the Atlantic Seaboard. It is partially protected by state and federal law, with about 300,000 acres owned by the public.
On a recent tour, Robert R. Williams, one of New Jersey’s most experienced private forest consultants, pointed time after time to dense stands of woods, thick with spindly pine trees and impenetrable underbrush — usually on state land.
Long ago, fires would have helped keep the forest more open, but they have been suppressed across much of the country for a century to protect life and property. That has left many forests in an overgrown, unnatural condition.
Experience in the South has shown that such “overstocked stands,” as foresters call them, are especially vulnerable to beetle attack because the trees are too stressed fighting one another for light, water and nutrients. Control of the pine beetle has been achieved there by thinning the woods, leaving the remaining trees stronger.
Mr. Williams, who is critical of New Jersey’s government, advocates a similar approach, involving controlled burns and selective tree-cutting. Mr. Smith, whose college degrees include one in environmental science, pushed through a bill that would have encouraged the state to manage its forests more aggressively. But several environmental groups were suspicious that large-scale logging would ensue.
“We saw this legislation as an excuse to come in under the guise of ‘stewardship’ to open up our forests for commercial operations,” said Jeff Tittel, the director of the state’s Sierra Club chapter.
To allay such fears, the senator included a requirement that any state forest plan receive certification from an outside body, the Forest Stewardship Council, which is trusted by many environmental groups.
That approach has been followed successfully in other states, including Maryland. But Gov. Chris Christie vetoed the bill, saying he could not allow the state to “abdicate its responsibility to serve as the state’s environmental steward to a named third party.”
Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection, said the state was working on a “new, comprehensive forestry management plan.” Right now, the state is essentially spot-treating beetle outbreaks in hopes of slowing the infestation.
State workers are searching from the air for the telltale red that signals dying pines.
Recently, off Piney Hollow Road in the Winslow Wildlife Management Area, three part-time loggers, including Mr. Garcia, revved their chain saws as they chopped down nearly an acre of pines on state land. Because most beetles do not fly far from the tree where they hatch, cutting out diseased trees can slow their spread.
Lynn E. Fleming, New Jersey’s state forester, said she hoped to confine the beetles to the southernmost part of the state, south of the Mullica River, keeping them out of the heart of the Pinelands. But the beetles are not cooperating; they keep jumping the river.
Dr. Ayres said that if climatic warming continues, nothing would stop them from eventually heading up the coast. That means forest management is likely to become critical in many places where it has been neglected for decades.
“It’s hard for some people to accept — ‘What, you have to cut down trees to save the forest?’ ” Dr. Ayres said. “Yes, that’s exactly right. The alternative is losing the forest for saving the trees.”
Scientists: Vast freshwater reserves trapped beneath ocean floor could sustain future generations
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, December 5, 2013 7:34 EST
Australian researchers said Thursday they had established the existence of vast freshwater reserves trapped beneath the ocean floor which could sustain future generations as current sources dwindle.
Lead author Vincent Post, from Australia’s Flinders University, said that an estimated 120,000 cubic miles of low-salinity water had been found buried beneath the seabed on continental shelves off Australia, China, North America and South Africa.
“The volume of this water resource is a hundred times greater than the amount we’ve extracted from the Earth’s sub-surface in the past century since 1900,” said Post of the study, published in the latest edition of Nature.
“Freshwater on our planet is increasingly under stress and strain so the discovery of significant new stores off the coast is very exciting.
“It means that more options can be considered to help reduce the impact of droughts and continental water shortages.”
UN Water, the United Nations’ water agency, estimates that water use has been growing at more than twice the rate of population in the last century due to demands such as irrigated agriculture and meat production.
More than 40 percent of the world’s population already live in conditions of water scarcity. By 2030, UN Water estimates that 47 percent of people will exist under high water stress.
Post said his team’s findings were drawn from a review of seafloor water studies done for scientific or oil and gas exploration purposes.
“By combining all this information we’ve demonstrated that the freshwater below the seafloor is a common finding, and not some anomaly that only occurs under very special circumstances,” he told AFP.
The deposits were formed over hundreds of thousands of years in the past, when the sea level was much lower and areas now under the ocean were exposed to rainfall which was absorbed into the underlying water table.
When the polar icecaps started melting about 20,000 years ago these coastlines disappeared under water, but their aquifers remain intact — protected by layers of clay and sediment.
Post said the deposits were comparable with the bore basins currently relied upon by much of the world for drinking water and would cost much less than seawater to desalinate.
Drilling for the water would be expensive, and Post said great care would have to be taken not to contaminate the aquifers.
He warned that they were a precious resource.
“We should use them carefully: once gone, they won’t be replenished until the sea level drops again, which is not likely to happen for a very long time,” Post said.
Oil exploration in the Arctic ‘a new menace to polar bears’
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, December 4, 2013 12:53 EST
Oil exploration and increased sea traffic in the Arctic are encroaching on polar bear habitat, adding to the existing climate change risk, representatives of Arctic nations said at a Moscow conference Wednesday.
“Today we face new challenges with the ship traffic increase and the oil and gas development,” Canada’s Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq said at the international forum on polar bear conservation organised by the World Wildlife Fund.
The United States, Canada, Russia, Greenland and Norway host a global population of 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears.
But increased economic activity in the environmentally sensitive region and global greenhouse gas emissions are speeding up the melting of ice, threatening the species, the forum heard.
Polar bears depend on ice cover to hunt seals, their major source of food.
Habitat change like loss of ice and permafrost also affects maternity denning by female bears — when the future mother bears dig shallow dens in the snow and go into light hibernation after feeding heavily.
“We are really concerned about the Northern Passage development and exploration of hydrocarbons,” said Sergei Kavry, a member of the Association of Indigenous People of the North, Siberia and the Far East, an umbrella group of Russia’s indigenous ethnic groups.
Russia has increasingly turned its attention to the region in recent years, with President Vladimir Putin recently calling it an area that marks an “era of industrial breakthrough”, and publicly berating a Russian professor who floated the idea that the Arctic should be placed under international jurisdiction.
“We must develop (the Arctic),” Putin said Tuesday, addressing students in Moscow.
State gas giant Gazprom has already launched exploration for oil on the Arctic shelf — to the dismay of environmental activists who say energy producers cannot contain or adequately clean up spills in the extreme climate.
“We should not be allowing the development of oil and gas exploration in the Arctic,” said WWF general director Jim Leape.
“There is no company in the world that has the technology to contain disasters.”
In September Greenpeace staged a protest on a Gazprom platform in the northern Barents Sea, with two activists attempting to scale it and set up camp there.
The stunt led to the entire crew being arrested and charged with piracy. Although Russia later scaled down the charges to hooliganism and released the multinational crew of 30, they spent about two months in jail.
Police remove protesters from Chevron's fracking site in Romania
Villagers complain of police brutality after being forced out of their camping site in fields targeted for shale gas drilling
Luke Dale-Harris and Vlad Ursulean
theguardian.com, Thursday 5 December 2013 11.36 GMT
US energy company Chevron has resumed its search for shale gas at a controversial site in north-east Romania after hundreds of riot police forcefully removed protesters from the village of Pungesti.
For more than two months, the village, which is believed to be sitting on large reserves of the valuable natural resource, has been the site of largely peaceful protests. Villagers, many of whom are elderly farmers, have set up camp next to the fields targeted for drilling, spending their nights in makeshift tents and cooking on open fires.
Even as the weather turned and temperatures dropped below zero, they looked set to stick the winter out. "We want the mayor to leave and Chevron to leave. We need courageous men, not to use force, just to show them we are united and we are not afraid," said Alexandru Focșa, 45, a farmer who has been camping since October.
At 4am on Monday the Romanian gendarmerie [paramilitary police force] moved in to secure the way for Chevron's trucks. In a scene that resembled a military operation, they occupied the village, blocking all access points with riot police vans and preventing anyone from leaving or entering for over 24 hours. Several villagers were detained and fined for the criminal offence of blocking a public road. Villagers say that anyone leaving their homes was stopped for questioning.
With no journalists allowed entry at the time, details are vague. But local newspapers claim that between 30 and 40 people had been beaten by police. Many villagers complained of brutality and injustice. Costică Spiridon, 56, a former village mayor, said: "They came on Tuesday morning with their clubs, they shoved me, I fractured a rib."
By the time the police started to move out and the roads were opened up, Chevron had built a new access road, erected a metal fence around the drilling site and deployed their own private security team.
Prime minister, Victor Ponta, has responded to anti-fracking protests around the country by saying that "the actions of the gendarmes were 100% according to the law and I congratulate them for this."
But others are demanding investigation. Maria-Nicoleta Andreescu, executive director of the Helsinki Committee Association for the defence of human rights in Romania, said: "There are important signs that indicate that the gendarmes' actions were at least abusive if not illegal. It is very clear is that by restricting the access of the press in the area the authorities did not allow the public to be informed."
In response to questions from the Guardian, Chevron said: "The company is committed to building constructive and positive relationships with the communities where we operate and we will continue our dialogue with the public, local communities and authorities on our projects." Explaning this week's events, a spokesperson said they are "committed to working with local communities to explain the benefits of natural gas."
• Additional reporting by Stefan Mako
12/06/2013 05:37 PM
Climate Summit Trap: Capitalism's March toward Global Collapse
An Essay by Harald Welzer
The Warsaw conference demonstrated that the "climate summit" model is broken and, more importantly, that capitalism itself is driving us to the brink. Protests are not the solution -- it's time to fight the system using its own weapons.
The municipal utility company in the city of Potsdam is currently wooing new customers with a special "BabyBonus" offer. The slogan reads, "We value little energy robbers! Welcome to the world!" Every newborn receives a credit of 500 kilowatt hours of electricity, allowing him or her to revel from the start in a world where everything, especially energy, will always be available in abundance. These babies may later find they're in for a surprise.
When the United Nations Climate Change Conference wrapped up in Warsaw the weekend before last, it did, despite what most observers and disappointed NGO representatives believe, yield a result. It just wasn't officially announced: the termination of the at-least symbolic general agreement that urgent action must be taken to counter global warming. In other words, climate change has been definitively removed from the global policy agenda.
The intense concern over climate change triggered by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports in 2007 and widely popularized by Al Gore's movie, "An Inconvenient Truth" -- a concern that led even Angela Merkel to make an appearance in the Arctic as the "climate chancellor," decked out in a red all-weather jacket -- actually dissipated a while ago, but no one wanted to say so out loud.
The United States' lack of interest in an international treaty is dressed up by its argument that gas extracted by fracking is more climate-friendly than coal, while in Japan, the Fukushima disaster and resulting phase-out of nuclear power has provided those responsible with an excellent argument for why the country now needs to burn more coal in order to stay economically competitive. Hannelore Kraft, governor of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, feels much the same way about her own state. And Australia, Canada, Poland and Russia have never really grasped why global warming should stop anyone from burning everything the oil rigs, mines and pipelines have to offer in the first place.
To put it another way: The primacy of economics has prevailed. It no longer seems to matter how we're supposed to get through the rest of this century if the world grows warmer by three, four or five degrees Celsius. National economies require an ever-growing dose of energy if their business models are to continue functioning, and, in the face of this logic, all scientific objections to the contrary are just as powerless as the climate protest movements, which are, in any case, marginal.
At this point, we could act as if we've seen it all and argue that in the course of human history many cultures failed because they did not adapt their success strategies to new conditions. The Vikings left Greenland in part because they clung to animal husbandry despite practically having to carry their cows out to pasture in the spring, because the lack of winter feed had left the animals too weak to walk. The Vikings would have just needed to come up with the idea of eating fish instead, but to them that seemed as inconceivable as renouncing the idea of growth does to nations today. The Vikings believed they could not live without cows, just as we believe that a high quality of life rests on expansion.
Those babies in Potsdam are being hooked on this concept from birth. True, babies born today will still get to experience a bit of this wonderful world of fossil fuels and miraculous growth. For two decades, perhaps? Three?
New Race for Survival
The economy's refusal to set limits has set off a new race: that of which society in this world of limitless resource exploitation and unchecked pollution will be able to remain within its comfort zone the longest. Economically powerful societies will have a considerable head start over those who embraced capitalism later or have the misfortune of being located in the wrong part of the world or are so-called "failed states" who do not have legal protection for their citizens or obstacles to the appropriation of land, water and raw materials of all kinds. The late sociologist Lars Clausen spoke presciently of "failed globalization."
We have to assume that expansive strategies will intensify as scarcities increase -- and as these scarcities are economically desired. The scarcer a resource, the greater the unmet demand for it, and thus the higher the asking price. And the more the balance shifts to the disadvantage of the consumers, the more favorable the conditions become for the suppliers. Scarcity is thus, in principle, good for business.
The capitalist economy, in fact, had great success with this principle. No other economic system in history has generated and distributed more wealth in such a comparatively short a span of time. But when expansion is the central problem-solving strategy of an economic and societal system, and when that system is finite, it will eventually encounter a fatal trap when it begins to consume that which it itself requires.
Existing Strategies Have Been Powerless
The task then becomes to extract as much out of it as possible, while we still can. In this sense, the alarmism of environmental activists and climate researchers actually adds fuel to the fire, because it calls attention to the fact that the party may soon be over. Perhaps this solves the puzzle of why "Earth Summits" and climate conferences to save the planet take place incessantly, even though none of these have ever lead to real change, let alone to a reversal of the trend.
It demonstrates the utter powerlessness of the intervention strategies which have been employed so far. It couldn't be otherwise, in fact, in a system organized around the division of labor. Any form of protest that doesn't interfere with the existing business models, and which is able to perform well in the economy of attention, quickly establishes its own economic segment. To put it cynically, such protest creates its own "concern industry," with its own experts and industry professionalization, its own career paths and PR divisions.
A science that produces troubling findings, as climate research does, differentiates itself as its own discipline, experiences booms in the creation of institutes, commissions and councils, yet in practical terms hardly disrupts the economic metabolism that is responsible for the troubling findings in the first place. We could even say that neither climate research nor climate conferences reduce CO2 emissions, but rather blithely contribute to their annual increase, because they are part of the larger system.
'Economy for the Common Good'
This means we need a method of searching for new strategies that can't be coopted by the sleek, but unfortunately destructive, principle of capitalism. Imagine, for example, what might happen if a large number of businesses make the improvement of the common good -- instead of an increase in their profits -- the goal of their commercial efforts.
There are in fact already more than 1,400 companies, if small ones, in German-speaking countries that have made a commitment to the concept of the "economy for the common good," an idea developed a few years ago by Christian Felber, the Austrian co-founder of Attac. Around one third of these companies have annual balance statements to show it.
In the medium term, the "economy for the common good" movement aims to make such accounting legally binding. The principle is that the more common-good "points" a business achieves, the more legal benefits it should enjoy. For example, companies with a positive common-good balance could benefit from lower taxes, obtain loans from national banks at lower interest rates and be given priority in public purchasing and the awarding of contracts. This reversal of the existing incentive system would serve to make products and services that are produced and traded fairly, and are environmentally sustainable, cheaper than ethically problematic products and nondurable, disposable items.
The appeal of this approach lies in the fact that -- as with the many energy and consumption cooperatives, ethical banks, swapping platforms and venues for giving things away that have sprung up in recent years -- there is no longer a reason to generate additional surplus, once enough has already been produced. This counters capitalism's logic of valuation far more effectively than any sort of symbolic act, because such experiments in alternative economic practices intervene directly in the economic metabolism. Rather than continuing to generate more and more arguments, they generate new facts.
The Argument for Divestment
Another, even more effective, instrument for creating this sort of change is the "Fossil Free" divestment campaign launched last year by American environmental activist Bill McKibben. This movement is based on the simple idea that entire industries' commercial foundation can be destroyed if funds are withdrawn from them. Private financial investment alone already amounts to a considerable sum. But serious clout could be achieved if the endowments of American colleges and universities, the assets of church organizations and city budgets, were no longer invested in companies that destroy the foundations of future human survival.
Such initiatives are now active at nearly 400 American schools, colleges and universities. Four colleges and 10 cities, including Seattle and San Francisco, have made the decision to divest. The campaign has also spread to Europe, where University College London just joined the movement.
We only need to think of the wealth of assets held by foundations here in Germany to see just how much capital could be divested from the wrong purposes. This is especially true if we follow a traditional capitalistic mode of thinking and further consider that the businesses affected by this divestment would no longer present good investment opportunities even for those investors who don't care how their returns are generated.
Seen from this angle, Warsaw's cold termination of the existing agreement can also serves as an opening for more effective counterstrategies. Perhaps even those determined to believe the best will understand that governments can't be counted on to effect this change, and that domination-free discourse is not the adequate mode for addressing the destruction of the foundations of human survival.
Welzer, 55, teaches social psychology at Flensburg and St. Gallen Universities. He is director of the "FUTURZWEI" foundation in Berlin, an international affiliate of which will shortly be launched under the name of "FUTUREPERFECT". His most recent book is "Selbst denken. Eine Anleitung zum Widerstand" ("Think for yourself: A Handbook for Resistance").
Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein
Schoolchildren ordered indoors as air pollution cloaks Shanghai
Eastern China's dangerous levels of air pollution blamed on coal burning, car exhaust, factories and weather patterns
theguardian.com, Friday 6 December 2013 10.19 GMT
A man flies kite at The Bund on December 5, 2013 in Shanghai, China. Heavy smog continued to hit northern and eastern parts of China on Thursday, disturbing the traffic, worsening air pollution and forcing the closure of schools. A man flies kite at The Bund on December 5, 2013 in Shanghai, China.
Shanghai authorities ordered schoolchildren indoors and halted all construction on Friday as China's financial hub suffered one its worst bouts of air pollution, bringing visibility down to a few dozen meters and obscuring the city's spectacular skyline.
The financial district was shrouded in a yellow haze and noticeably fewer people walked the city's streets. Vehicle traffic was thinner, as authorities pulled 30% of government vehicles from the roads. They also banned fireworks and stopped all public sporting events.
Protective masks and air purifiers were selling briskly at local stores.
"I feel like I'm living in clouds of smog," said Zheng Qiaoyun, a local resident who kept her 6-month-old son at home. "I have a headache, I'm coughing, and it's hard to breathe on my way to my office."
Shanghai's concentration of tiny, harmful PM 2.5 particles was 602.5 micrograms per cubic meter on Friday afternoon, an extremely hazardous level that was the highest since the city began recording such data last December. That compares with the World Health Organisation's safety guideline of 25 micrograms.
The dirty air that has gripped Shanghai and its neighbouring provinces for days is attributed to coal burning, car exhaust, factories and weather patterns, and is a stark reminder that pollution is a serious challenge in China.
Beijing, the capital, has seen extremely high smog several times over the past year. In the far northeastern city of Harbin, some monitoring sites reported PM 2.5 rates up to 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter in October, when the winter heating season kicked off.
As a coastal city, Shanghai usually has mild to modest air pollution, but recent weather patterns have left the city's air stagnant.
Factory emissions in the adjacent provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang are among China's worst, according to the environmental group Greenpeace.
"Both Jiangsu and Zhejiang should act as soon as possible to set goals to reduce their coal consumption so that the Yantze River Delta will again be green with fresh air," Huang Wei, a Greenpeace project manager, said in a statement.
Scientists debunk conservative myth of global warming ‘pause’
By Dana Nuccitelli, The Guardian
Tuesday, December 10, 2013 9:22 EST
A new paper shows that global warming has continued over the past decade, and been manifested in different ways
New research by Kevin Trenberth and John Fasullo of the National Center for Atmospheric Research investigates how the warming of the Earth’s climate has behaved over the past 15 years compared with the previous few decades. They conclude that while the rate of increase of average global surface temperatures has slowed since 1998, melting of Arctic ice, rising sea levels, and warming oceans have continued apace.
The widespread mainstream media focus on the slowed global surface warming has led some climate scientists like Trenberth and Fasullo to investigate its causes and how much various factors have contributed to the so-called ‘pause’ or ‘hiatus.’ However, the authors note that while the increase in global temperatures has slowed, the oceans have taken up heat at a faster rate since the turn of the century. Over 90 percent of the overall extra heat goes into the oceans, with only about 2 percent heating the Earth’s atmosphere. The myth of the ‘pause’ is based on ignoring 98 percent of global warming and focusing exclusively on the one bit that’s slowed.
Nevertheless, the causes of the slowed global surface temperature increase present an interesting scientific question. In examining changes in the activity of the sun and volcanoes, Trenberth and Fasullo estimated that they can account for no more than a 20 percent reduction in the Earth’s energy imbalance, which is what causes global warming. Thus the cause of the slowed surface warming must primarily lie elsewhere, and ocean cycles are the most likely culprit.
Trenberth and Fasullo found that after the massive El Niño event in 1998, the Pacific Ocean appears to have shifted into a new mode of operation. Since that time, Trenberth’s research has shown that the deep oceans have absorbed more heat than at any other time in the past 50 years.
As a recent paper published in the journal Nature showed, the Pacific Ocean in particular appears to be the key component of the climate’s natural internal variability, and the main culprit behind the slowed global surface warming over the past 15 years. However, another important recent paper by Kevin Cowtan and Robert Way showed that the global surface temperature rise has not slowed as much as some previously thought; in fact, the surface warming since 1997 happened more than twice as fast as previous estimates.
Trenberth and Fasullo’s new paper also casts doubt on the conclusions a few recent studies that estimated the Earth’s climate is less sensitive to the increased greenhouse effect than previously thought. These studies have been based on measurements of recent climate change, including the warming of the oceans. Climate contrarians like Matt Ridley have of course emphasized their results, because these few papers seem to suggest the climate won’t warm quite as much over the next century as climate scientists previously thought.
However, the type of approach taken by these studies suffers from some significant drawbacks. Mainly the size of the cooling effect due to human aerosol pollution remains highly uncertain, and while the oceans have been warming rapidly, just how rapidly is another unsettled question.
Previous estimates put the amount of heat accumulated by the world’s oceans over the past decade equivalent to about 4 Hiroshima atomic bomb detonations per second, on average, but Trenberth’s research puts the estimate equivalent to more than 6 detonations per second. Trenberth and Fasullo note that using their ocean heating estimate by itself would increase the equilibrium climate sensitivity estimate in the paper referenced by Ridley from 2°C to 2.5°C average global surface warming in response to a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide, and using other more widespread accepted values would bring the estimate in line with the standard value of 3°C. They thus note,
“Using short records with uncertain forcings of the Earth system that is not in equilibrium does not (yet) produce reliable estimates of climate sensitivity.”
In any case, the main point of the paper is that global warming is stuck on fast forward. Ice continues to melt, sea levels continue to rise, and the oceans continue to warm rapidly. While the warming of global surface temperatures has slowed somewhat, that appears to primarily be due to changing ocean cycles, particularly in the Pacific. However, these changes are mostly just causing the oceans to absorb more heat, leaving less for the atmosphere. As Trenberth and Fasullo conclude,
“Global warming is very much alive but being manifested in somewhat different ways than a simple increase in global mean surface temperature.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
Connecting the Dots
Climate Change Opens the Arctic to Shipping, Drilling, Militarization
December 9, 2013
by John Light
As climate change transforms our planet and the polar ice caps recede, new, previously inaccessible areas of the Arctic are opening up for business. Ironically, a notable amount of that business has to do with extracting and transporting the fossil fuels that drive climate change.
In September, a large freighter made it through the Northwest Passage, traveling from Vancouver, BC, to Finland. It was the first vessel of its type to ever make the journey and demonstrated the potential to cut costs and shipping times using the new route. The ship was carrying coal for use by a steel producer.
Elsewhere in the Arctic, the Northern Sea Route (NSR), a passage maintained by Russian nuclear-powered ice breakers, saw 71 vessels pass through it. According to the Russian fleet, that figure is up 50 percent from last year. As recently as 2010, only four vessels made the voyage between the Barents Sea, north of Scandinavia and Western Russia, and the Bering Strait, between Siberia and Alaska. While the mandatory icebreaker escort costs, on average, $200,000 per voyage, NSR is becoming an increasingly viable shipping path from Europe to Asia — an alternative route, through the Suez Canal, would have taken two weeks longer. Supertankers carrying crude oil were among the most common vessels making the crossing.
Though summer ice cover in the Arctic has dropped by more than 40 percent over the past few decades, shipping companies remain divided over the promise of Arctic shipping. “It’s early days,” Gary Li, a senior maritime analyst with IHS in Beijing, told the Financial Times. “The Northern Sea Route probably needs another 20 or 30 years of climate change to make it fully viable. And even then, it’s got so many constraints.”
But the Arctic is seeing an increase in other new business as well. It is rich in fossil fuels. Experts guess that 22 percent of the world’s remaining undiscovered oil and gas reserves lie below ice at the top of the globe. One US Geological Survey study estimated that 43 of the 61 significant arctic oil and gas fields are in Russian territory, and the country has been ramping up fossil fuel exploration since 2008. Norway, Greenland, Canada and the US have followed suit.
It’s an issue that came into national focus this year when Greenpeace activists and freelance journalists were arrested by Russia and charged with piracy while attempting to board the first oil platform to drill in the Arctic Circle. The charges were later reduced to “hooliganism” and the activists were released.
In the US, Shell Oil began exploring for oil up north in 2012. But after a drilling rig ran aground and the company encountered a slew of other problems — including fines for air pollution — it suspended its operations in 2013. They may remain suspended through 2014 as well.
In an attempt to control access to these new shipping routes and natural resources, nations are also moving to gain military influence in the Arctic. In 2007, a Russian submarine planted a titanium Russian flag at the base of the North Pole. And in September of this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the country was re-opening a Soviet-era military base in the Arctic, abandoned for two decades, to help support (and secure) the region’s sea lanes and natural resources. Canada is also holding an increasing number of military drills in the Arctic and is looking at stationing a permanent force there. Norway and the US are watching the region closely.
But the jockeying for control of the region — to the point of countries establishing military bases — makes shipping executives concerned about routes like the NSR. “One thing that makes me nervous is that this route is in Russia’s hands,” a Norwegian shipping executive told the Financial Times. “If they suddenly want to triple rates or impose this condition or that condition, they can.”
And there’s a further irony: the effects of climate change could present new impediments to shipping and drilling in the region, like unpredictable weather.
Environmental groups are opposed to tapping Arctic fossil fuels that will in turn contribute to continuing climate change. Advocates point to the disastrous effect that pollution — in one worst-case scenario, an oil spill — could have on animal and human populations.
“Even the best-prepared, best-equipped and most technologically advanced oil company has no business drilling for oil in the Arctic,” Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote in June. “It is simply not possible to do it safely here.”
Scientists discover new greenhouse gas that is 7,000 times more powerful than carbon dioxide
By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Tuesday, December 10, 2013 15:14 EST
A new greenhouse gas that is 7,000 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the Earth has been discovered by researchers in Toronto.
The newly discovered gas, perfluorotributylamine (PFTBA), has been in use by the electrical industry since the mid-20th century.
The chemical, that does not occur naturally, breaks all records for potential impacts on the climate, said the researchers at the University of Toronto’s department of chemistry.
“We claim that PFTBA has the highest radiative efficiency of any molecule detected in the atmosphere to date,” said Angela Hong, one of the co-authors.
The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found PFTBA was 7,100 more powerful at warming the Earth over a 100-year time span.
Concentrations of PFTBA in the atmosphere are low – 0.18 parts per trillion in the Toronto area – compared to 400 parts per million for carbon dioxide. So PFTBA does not in any way displace the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal as the main drivers of climate change.
“From a climate change perspective, individually, PFTBA’s atmospheric concentration does not significantly alert the phenomenon of climate change,” Hong said. “Still the biggest culprit is CO2 from fossil fuel emissions.”
“This is a warning to us that this gas could have a very very large impact on climate change – if there were a lot of it. Since there is not a lot of it now, we don’t have to worry about it at present, but we have to make sure it doesn’t grow and become a very large contributor to global warming,” said Dr Drew Shindell, a climatologist at Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
He said a number of recent studies had drawn attention to other potential new greenhouse gases which, like PFTBA, pack a lot of warming potential in each molecule but are not very prevalent in the atmosphere.
Such studies were a warning against increasing uses of such compounds without first understanding their impact on climate change, he added.
But PFTBA is long-lived. The researchers estimated PFTBA remains in the atmosphere for about 500 years, and unlike carbon dioxide, that is taken up by forests and oceans, there are no known natural “sinks” on Earth to absorb it.
“It is so much less than carbon dioxide, but the important thing is on a per molecule basis, it is very very effective in interacting with heat from the Earth,” she said. “Individually each molecule is able to affect the climate potentially and because its lifetime is so long it also has a long-lasting effect.”
Hong said the discovery of PFTBA and its warming potential raises questions about the climate impacts of other chemicals used in industrial processes.
PFTBA has been in use since the mid-20th century for various applications in electrical equipment, such as transistors and capacitors. The researchers said it was unclear how widespread its use was today.
It belongs to an entire class of chemicals used for industrial applications whose effects on the atmosphere remain unknown.
“PFTBA is just one example of an industrial chemical that is produced but there are no policies that control its production, use or emission,” she said. “It is not being regulated by any type of climate policy.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
Coal port plan will kill the Great Barrier Reef, activists say
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, December 11, 2013 7:15 EST
Conservationists on Wednesday slammed Australia’s approval for an Indian firm to expand a major coal port on the Great Barrier Reef coast, warning it would hasten the natural wonder’s demise.
“The Great Barrier Reef is dying and (Prime Minister) Tony Abbott is hastening its death,” Greens leader Christine Milne told reporters.
“(He) has made it clear that industrializing the reef, giving approvals to coal mines and gas facilities for his big business mates, is a much greater priority for him than protecting the reef and the 63,000 jobs that depend on it,” she said.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt on Tuesday gave the green light to the project by India’s Adani Group, under what he labelled as “some of the strictest conditions in Australian history” governing environmental protection.
Adani can now dredge some 3 million cubic meters from the seabed to allow for freighters to dock at the port in Abbott Point, lifting the facility’s capacity by 70 percent to make it one of the world’s largest coal ports.
WWF Australia said the material dredged during the expansion would be enough to fill 150,000 dump trucks that “lined up bumper-to-bumper would stretch from Brisbane to Melbourne”, a distance of more than 620 miles.
Greenpeace said Hunt had ignored the “serious concerns of scientists, tourism operators, fishers and UNESCO” to approve a development just 31 miles from the pristine Whitsunday Islands.
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee is to decide in June whether to list the Great Barrier Reef as being in danger, Greenpeace campaigner Louise Matthiesson noted, “and this decision will cause alarm among the international community.”
“If these plans succeed, and Abbot Point becomes the world’s biggest coal port, Australia will be speeding up the climate crisis that threatens our children’s future.”
The reef is now formally considered to be in “poor” health by government scientists, with overall coral cover declining by 15 percent since 2009 due to cyclones and floods, pollution and attacks by the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority — whose board is currently under investigation for its links to the mining industry — must now issue a permit allowing the dredge material to be disposed of within the park.
It said it would reveal its intentions within the next 10 days.
Hunt has also approved a major liquefied natural gas plant and transmission pipeline at Curtis Island, which is also within the reef marine park, for Australian firm Arrow Energy under 53 environmental conditions.
China's coal emissions responsible for 'quarter of a million premature deaths'
Hundreds of thousands of children still at risk from dangerous levels of air pollution as poisonous smog fills cities, study says
theguardian.com, Thursday 12 December 2013 03.00 GMT
Emissions from coal plants in China were responsible for a quarter of a million premature deaths in 2011 and are damaging the health of hundreds of thousands of Chinese children, according to a new study.
The study by a US air pollution expert, commissioned by Greenpeace, comes as many areas in northern and eastern China have been experiencing hazardous levels of air pollution in recent weeks.
In some eastern cities including Shanghai, levels were off the index that tracks dangerous pollution, with schools closing and flights being cancelled or diverted. Sales of air purifiers and face masks have soared with many retailers selling out of stock as residents try to protect themselves from the poisonous smog. In Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces visibility was reduced to less than 50 metres earlier this week and in the city of Nanjing a red alert for pollution was maintained for five consecutive days.
The analysis traced the chemicals which are made airborne from burning coal and found a number of health damages were caused as a result. It estimates that coal burning in China was responsible for reducing the lives of 260,000 people in 2011. It also found that in the same year it led to 320,000 children and 61,000 adults suffering from asthma, 36,000 babies being born with low weight and was responsible for 340,000 hospital visits and 141 million days of sick leave.
"This study provides an unprecedentedly detailed picture of the health fallout from China's coal burning," said Dr Andrew Gray, a US-based expert on air pollution, who conducted the research. Using computer simulations, Gray said he was able to "draw a clear map tracing the trail of health damages left by the coal fumes released by every power plant in China, untangling the contribution of individual companies, provinces and power stations to the air pollution crisis gripping the country."
China's air pollution problems frequently make headlines around the world.
Isabel Hilton, editor of China Dialogue, an independent website that publishes information and debate on the environment in China, said coal is the main cause of the country's air pollution problems. Coal burning in China "produces heavy metal pollution and produces particulate pollution on a scale that is getting quite extraordinary," she said.
China is the world's largest consumer of coal, which is its main energy source, and is responsible for around half the world's coal consumption. The impacts of its reliance on coal are becoming more well known and recently there was much online discussion after an eight-year-old girl was diagnosed with lung cancer which her doctor blamed on air pollution.
According to Gray's study, while the growth of coal consumption has slowed, 570 new coal-fired plants are either being built or are planned, and if they go ahead would be responsible for a further 32,000 premature deaths each year.
In September, the Chinese government announced a plan to tackle the high levels of air pollution including for the first time measures to cut coal consumption. Under the plan, China aims to cut air pollution in some of the worst affected areas including Beijing by 2017.
Hilton said that the reductions in the plan would not be enough to make a difference within a short time frame. "It is going to be difficult to make a difference very shortly. Much more radical things will have to happen," she said.
"The government has been forced into much greater transparency on the data," she added. "But I do think the ambition has to be raised quite a lot."
FDA to crack down on antibiotics in animals reared for meat
Regulators announce new guidelines for drug firms to phase out some antibiotics as a growth enhancer in livestock
Associated Press in Washington
theguardian.com, Wednesday 11 December 2013 22.47 GMT
The Food and Drug Administration is taking steps toward phasing out the use of some antibiotics in animals processed for meat in the US, citing a potential threat to public health.
Many cattle, hog and poultry producers give their animals antibiotics regularly to ensure that they are healthy and to make the animals grow faster. Now, the agency has announced that it will ask pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily stop labeling drugs important for treating human infection as acceptable for that growth promotion in animals.
If the companies sign on — and one major company has already said it will — using those antibiotics to promote growth in animals would be illegal. Prescriptions would be required to use the drugs for animal illnesses.
The FDA has been debating how to address the issue of antibiotics in meat for several years as consumers have become more aware of the issue and are clamoring for antibiotic-free meat. McDonald's, among other companies, has moved to limit the drugs in their meat, pushing many animal producers to go along.
The FDA move is designed to limit antibiotic-resistant diseases in humans. Repeated exposure to antibioticscan lead germs to become resistant to the drug so that it is no longer effective in treating a particular illness.
Antibiotic resistance is a growing public health problem. In September the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released sobering estimates that more than 23,000 people a year are dying from drug-resistant infections.
The biggest risk is from germs spread in hospitals, and it's not clear how much of the problem is related to the use of drugs in meat. Still, the FDA says this is one step toward decreasing resistance.
"We need to be selective about the drugs we use in animals and when we use them," said William Flynn of FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine. "Antimicrobial resistance may not be completely preventable, but we need to do what we can to slow it down."
The new guidance will give the companies three years to comply.
Michael Taylor, FDA's deputy commissioner of foods, said he believes asking industry to make the changes is the fastest way to help phase the drugs out. If the FDA made the process mandatory, he said, the agency would have had to move forward with a complex regulatory process that could take years.
"We have high confidence based on dialogue with industry that this initiative will succeed," Taylor said.
Drug company Zoetis, a leading manufacturer of animal antibiotics, has already said they will comply.
"This reflects our continued commitment to antibiotic stewardship and represents the many ways that Zoetis promotes the responsible use of antimicrobial drugs in animals," the company's statement said.
Animal agriculture groups will not have much of a choice in the matter if drug companies sign on and make the drugs' use illegal. But many antibiotics will still be available for those producers to use, just not those that the FDA has classified as most important for treating human infections. Some of the antibiotics that could not be used in animals are penicillins and tetracyclines, the FDA said.
Many animal groups signaled support for the FDA guidance after it was announced Wednesday, including the National Pork Producers Council. Still, Dr. Liz Wagstrom of the pork producers' group said the FDA action will mean "real change" in the way antibiotics are used on the farm, as some animals may not grow as quickly and producers may see more disease. She said she does not know how much it will cost the industry.
Some advocates pushing to rid the animal food supply of antibiotics said the FDA did not go far enough. Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York, a microbiologist, said the FDA should have made the action mandatory. The guidance "falls woefully short of what is needed to address a public health crisis," she said.
Others hailed the agency move as progress.
"We commend FDA for taking the first steps since 1977 to broadly reduce antibiotic overuse in livestock," said Laura Rogers of The Pew Charitable Trusts' human health and industrial farming campaign. "There is more work to do, but this is a promising start, especially after decades of inaction."
Gazprom's over-reaction to Arctic oil protest is a sign their fortune is at stake
Action on climate change would wipe billions off oil company balance sheets and they are determined to silence their critics
theguardian.com, Friday 13 December 2013 11.53 GMT
I've heard it said by Greenpeace old hands that when they first arrived in the Russian Arctic back in the 1980s, Russian fishermen would shower them with gifts. They found it acutely embarrassing. When I went to the Arctic Ocean last year to take action against Gazprom's Prirazlomnaya drilling rig, I got a decidedly less friendly reaction, but there were no arrests and certainly no talk of years in prison.
My protest was hardly the stuff of legend, it's true. I had managed, somehow, to climb up the side of the platform, and was hanging about eight metres above the freezing Arctic Ocean. Fifteen hours later, when my hard hat was finally broken by the water cannon the rig workers were blasting at us, I decided it was probably time to climb down.
This August, the same Greenpeace ship went back to the same waters, to repeat the same protest at the same rig. Gazprom knew exactly what to expect and so, we thought, did we.
And then the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) turned up. The guns and knives came out. A cannon was fired, but this time it was not water but bursts of ammunition across the bow of our ship. FSB commandos abseiled onto the deck and seized the vessel, and all 30 on board were held at gunpoint and taken to Murmansk. Since then they spent two months in prison, some of them in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, before being released on bail. They have been charged with hooliganism, which carries a potential sentence of seven years.
The story of my broken hard hat doesn't impress people quite so much as it used to.
So what happened in the 12 months that passed between these identical protests? What prompted such a different response?
The profit margins on offshore oil extraction in the Arctic have always been slim, and it's certainly arguable that recent developments onshore, most notably the discovery of the Bazhenov shale deposits, have made Gazprom and Shell's expensive joint venture even less economically viable than it already was. If that's the case, then Greenpeace drawing attention to its weaknesses (like the lack of any plan to clean up an oil spill) stops being a mere annoyance and becomes a serious threat.
Yet by over-reacting and demanding the FSB take action, Gazprom attracted a lot more publicity than the hanging of a banner could ever have achieved.
I think the Prirazlomnaya and Gazprom's machinations to keep it afloat need to be understood in a global context, where an unlikely and somewhat uncomfortable coalition is forming between investors, environmentalists, scientists, intelligence agencies and an increasingly radicalised public all calling for governments to intervene on climate change. If we – and they – succeed, then Gazprom and its partner Shell will see billions wiped from their balance sheets.
Here's the problem. Recently the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that we can emit a further half a trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide and still stay below 2C of global warming by the turn of this century. Two degrees may sound trifling, but the global impacts are enormous. It means we lose all of the Arctic sea ice and several low-lying nations, and recent extreme weather will look mild by comparison.
So we have a carbon budget of around 500 gigatonnes (GT), yet burning the fossil fuel that corporations now have in their reserves would produce 2,795GT of carbon dioxide — five times the so-called safe amount. So four-fifths of known fossil fuel reserves and all of the undiscovered resources, including everything in the Arctic, need to remain where they are, underground, unburnt. Worthless. Oil companies' market valuations are based on "assets" whose value has been wiped out by a cruel twist of atmospheric physics. The inevitable market correction won't be pretty, which explains how the oil companies persuaded their vassal governments to ignore the end of the oil age and keep setting fire to our future.
For a stark reminder of what we'll have to get used to if these companies get their way, you need only look to the Philippines. More than 5,000 people lost their lives because of typhoon Haiyan, and hundreds of thousands were left displaced, without food, water or shelter. We know climate change will bring even more extreme weather events. Three years earlier, Russia lost 50,000 people to a heatwave similar to the one that killed 50,000 in Europe in 2003. Extreme weather will become more and more common if irresponsible governments and fossil fuel companies cannot put their self-interest aside and call time on our addiction to fossil fuels.
This concern isn't confined to idealistic hippies. The International Monetary Fund is asking for an end to fossil fuel subsidies. The World Bank is saying that our aspirations to put an end to global poverty in the context of runaway climate change will become futile. Intelligence agencies are warning governments that the biggest threat to global peace and security is climate change, and PricewaterhouseCoopers is warning of stranded fossil fuel investments.
Not only are fossil fuel companies holding a busted flush, but alternative energy sources are encroaching on their territory. Photovoltaic panels have dropped in price by over 99% since the 70s, and by around 80% in the last five years. In India, solar is cheaper than diesel. Wind power is following a similar, if slightly less dramatic, decline in cost. The gas industry in Brazil has asked the government to institute protectionist measures to limit their exposure to competition from wind – a competition they have begun to lose. In Australia, the world's biggest coal exporter, all forms of renewable electricity are cheaper than fossil fuels, even coal. But the current prices are less important than the direction of travel. Renewables are dropping in price, while fossil fuels are rising.
All of which explains why companies like Gazprom are so determined to silence their critics. Their only solution is to obfuscate, to muddy the waters and delay the inevitable, all with the connivance of their pocket politicians. Our governments have become the man in the joke who, when confronted by a highwayman with the usual demand of "your money or your life", asks for time to think about it.
Which brings us back to peaceful protests on oil rigs in the freezing Arctic Ocean - the only rational response to years of deliberate inaction. In the days after typhoon Haiyan, the Filipino climate commissioner told the assembled delegates at the latest round of UN climate talks in Warsaw:
"I feel that I should rally behind the climate advocates who peacefully confront those historically responsible for the current state of our climate. These selfless people who fight coal, expose themselves to freezing temperatures, or block oil pipelines. In fact, we are seeing increasing frustration and, thus, more increased civil disobedience. The next two weeks, these people, and many around the world who serve as our conscience will again remind us of our enormous responsibility."
And we will keep doing exactly that. We will battle to make our voices heard over the oil industry and their pliant politicians as efforts are made to drown us out, to shut us up, perhaps with a court order, perhaps in a jail cell. Not because they're evil, but because their fortune is at stake. And it's hard to lose a trillion dollars gracefully.
12/13/2013 12:06 PM
Reeling In the Trawlers: EU Takes On Overfishing
By Philip Bethge
Fish stocks have made surprising comebacks in the North and Baltic seas. But much remains to be done. Beginning in January, new EU laws will impose more sustainable practices with stricter quotas and by-catch rules.
When the men open the net on the ship's deck, fat codfish slap into plastic fish baskets. Slippery plaice and flounder, rough as sandpaper, gasp for air. Turbot the size of two strong fisherman's hands slither between silvery herring and flat dabs.
A particularly large cod with its mouth wide open lies on top of the pile. "It has to weigh more than six kilos (13 lbs.)," estimates Martina Bleil as she looks down at the fish. "It's in great shape." The female is about 8 years old, says Bleil, a fish biologist. "It would have been spawning again soon."
Bleil works for the Thünen Institute for Baltic Sea Fisheries (Thünen OF) in the northern German port city of Rostock, an agency that is part of Germany's Federal Ministry of Agriculture. The scientist and her colleagues have made a big haul on this clear November day in the Bay of Mecklenburg. "We are headed in a very good direction with fish stocks in the Baltic Sea," says Bleil. "Anyone who eats plaice or herring doesn't have to feel guilty about it anymore."
Something amazing is happening in the seas off Germany's coasts, where most species were long considered overfished. But now some stocks are recovering at an astonishing rate. Experts are seeing a significant upward trend in the North Sea, and even more so in the Baltic Sea.
"We assume that the Baltic Sea will be the first European body of water that can be sustainably fished once again," says Christopher Zimmermann, director of the Thünen OF. "That would be a huge success."
Ending 'Horse-Trading" with Reform
This year, the European Union has also launched a reform of its Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) that Zimmermann believes "will accelerate the positive trend even further." In fact, the new rules could ring in a historic turning point.
"In the past, the group of ministers was setting fishing quotas in cloak-and-dagger meetings," says Ulrike Rodust, a member of Germany's center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) and a lawmaker in the European Parliament from the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein. Rodust played a key role in pushing through the reforms in Brussels. But now, she says, the system of "horse-trading" among members that inadequately protects fish stocks has come to an end.
Rodust expects that stricter maximum catch restrictions will lead to a trend reversal throughout Europe. The regulation, which comes into effect in January, stipulates that:
In the future, fishing quotas will be established exclusively on the basis of scientific criteria. The goal is to ensure that all stocks are fished only to the "maximum sustainable yield" by 2020.
Unwanted by-catch is to be brought to shore and included in the total subject to quotas. The more by-catch fisherman have in their nets, the less marketable fish they can catch. The rule creates an incentive to use more selective fishing methods.
Subsidies for building new trawlers are being eliminated. Instead, more money will be available to monitor fishermen and conduct scientific studies of fish stocks.
The new rules will also apply to EU fishermen operating outside Europe. This means that European trawlers will no longer have the option of simply shifting to fishing grounds off the coasts of Africa.
The details of the fishing regulations are being negotiated regionally. Soon the same rules could apply in both the Irish Sea and off the Spanish coast.
Stocks in 'Excellent Shape'
In the Baltic Sea, fishing reform has almost reached the goals that lawmakers hope to achieve in other European maritime regions in the future. This success story was made possible by the agreement among countries bordering the Baltic Sea to exclusively employ sustainable fishing practices, says Zimmermann.
This hasn't always been the case. Until 2007, for example, Polish fishermen were pulling about twice as much cod out of the water as EU rules permitted. It was only the new government under Prime Minister Donald Tusk that began "reining in the trawlers," says Zimmermann. "But now the Poles are also abiding by the rules."
Baltic Sea fishing policy has been an immense success. Cod in the eastern Baltic, for example, which was still heavily overfished in 2005, is now doing "very well," Zimmermann reports, while plaice stocks are in "excellent shape." And herring in the eastern Baltic are now producing young at a healthy rate once again.
Some fish species are also doing better in the North Sea. Researchers at the Thünen Institute for Sea Fisheries in Hamburg recently studied 43 fish stocks and concluded that 27 of them are in "good ecological condition." According to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, "more than half of the fish stocks in the North Sea and northeast Atlantic" are already "being managed sustainably" today.
Herring and plaice, in particular, are developing well in the North Sea, says Zimmermann. Even North Sea cod, long a subject of concern for biologists, is finally showing initial signs of recovery, he adds.
The Benefits of Stricter Quotas
Zimmermann is one of the architects of this fishing miracle. He represents Germany on the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), which develops recommendations for EU catch quotas. The data used to analyze fish stocks in the Baltic Sea are obtained with research ships like the Clupea.
Fish biologist Martina Bleil makes regular trips out to sea, where she and her assistants use a standardized TV3/520 research net. In the water, the net opens to a width of 20 meters (66 feet) and a height of two meters. With a mesh size of only 22 millimeters, hardly any swimming marine animal can escape the research net.
On this November day, Clupea Captain Rolf Singer heads for two catch sites. Once the catch is on board, Bleil grabs one cod after another and hoists them onto a nearby table, where she measures them. "84 centimeters long," she calls out to her assistants. With a practiced hand, she uses a pair of scissors to slice open the animals' bellies. Bleil's plastic gloves are stained red. Fish blood drips onto the green working deck. "Female," she calls out. "Stomach: 65 grams; liver: 170 grams."
Data collection is the basis of the ICES recommendations. Experts have reduced the maximum allowable catches for many fish stocks in recent years. While stocks have often been radically overfished, the strict sustainability principle will apply as of January.
The objective is to regulate fishing in such a way that fish stocks can stabilize or even grow in the long term, as well as to enable fishermen to continually harvest "the maximum yield with minimum effort," as Zimmermann puts it.
If stocks are doing well, there are more fish to catch, which enables fishermen to benefit from the reform. The overfished cod stock in the North Sea, for example, has provided an annual yield of no more than 40,000 metric tons for the last decade. If the stock were in good shape, Zimmermann explains, fishermen could easily catch more than three times as many fish.
This explains why there are good reasons to reform EU fishing policy, especially as catches in many places have well exceeded scientific recommendations in the past. In addition, about a quarter of the fish caught by EU fleets are by-catch and directly returned to the water. But extremely few of these fish survive.
"Overfishing must come to an end," says Rodust, and she is confident that his goal can be achieved. All EU fish stocks are to be fished using the new, more sustainable methods by 2015, if possible, and by no later than 2020. The EU could serve as a role model worldwide, says Rodust, adding: "We have received a great deal of praise internationally for our reforms."
Fears of Fishing Lobby Manipulation
But not all fishing experts see this in quite as positive a light. "The reform is supposed to be implemented by precisely the same people who were responsible for massive overfishing in the last few decades," says Rainer Froese of the GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research in the northern German port city of Kiel.
Since scientific recommendations are to become binding in the future, Froese fears that the fishing lobby could try to put pressure on scientists. This, in turn, could lead to the ICES quota recommendations being too high.
According to Froese, sustainable management should only be considered once stocks have recovered. He points out that the situation is not improving for all fish stocks.
"Eel and pollock are still being heavily overfished in the Baltic Sea," says the biologist. While cod is in better shape in the eastern Baltic, the species remains under strong pressure west of the Danish island of Bornholm. In the North Sea, says Froese, stocks of cod and pollock are still a long way from recovering, while eel and spiny dogfish are even "acutely threatened."
Froese is also opposed to the subsidies. "Although they have been restructured, they haven't been reduced," he says. Subsidies for ship fuel, for example, continue to allow for the use of massive, heavy ground tackle that tears up the ocean floor, destroying important habitats for young fish.
"We are currently still in hell and are marching toward the gates of paradise," Froese concludes. "The question is whether we will halt at the threshold or walk through."
Zimmermann, on the other hand, prefers to convey a sense of optimism. "As a rule, the only thing grumbling achieves," the Thünen OF director explains, "is that people say: 'Oh God, the best thing is stop eating fish altogether,' and to eat turkey from factory farms instead." Many types of saltwater fish can be "enjoyed with a good conscience" once again, he adds.
The biologist even believes that some stocks in the Baltic Sea are being "under-utilized." Cod stocks in the eastern Baltic, for example, have grown to such an extent that the animals are "starting to eat each other and compete for food," he says.
According to Zimmermann, one in five cod in the Bornholm Basin is so thin that it can no longer be cut into fillets. Fishermen refer to these fish as "triangular rasps" because they are so bony. The animals can no longer be sold, says Zimmermann, "so they end up in fishmeal production."
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
Why climate change threatens Peru's poverty reduction mission
As Peru prepares to host the COP summit in 2014, the UNDP is urging the country to focus on sustainability
Dan Collyns in Lima
Friday 13 December 2013 12.07 GMT theguardian.com
The Peruvian Amazon became a net emitter of carbon dioxide rather than oxygen for the first time in 2012, according to the UN Development Programme's (UNDP) latest human development country report.
The reversal of the rainforest's usual role as a carbon sink is a direct result of the droughts in the western Amazon in 2005 and 2010 – and a stark reminder, say scientists, that this mega-biodiverse country is highly vulnerable to climate change.
Peru, which has four of the five geographical areas most vulnerable to climate change – ranging from fragile mountain ecosystems to low-lying coastal areas – will host the 20th UN climate change conference in 2014.
The 2013 UNDP report warned that Peru's climate change vulnerability could undo the advances it has made in channelling economic growth into sustained poverty reduction. Peru's poverty rates have been more than halved over the past decade, dropping from 48.5% of the population in 2004 to 25.8% in 2012, according to the World Bank.
"If we disregard [environmental] sustainability, whatever progress we have made in poverty reduction or improvement of human development will just be erased due to climate change," cautioned Maria Eugenia Mujica, one of the UNDP report's authors.
Peru has already lost 39% of its tropical glaciers due to a 0.7C temperature rise in the Andes between 1939 and 2006. But, the report noted, with a predicted temperature rise of up to 6C in many parts of the Andes by the end of this century, there will be "harmful impacts on human development".
Peru, which contributes just 0.4% of the world's greenhouse gases, was ranked third after Bangladesh and Honduras, in climate hazards risks by the UK's Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.
What could be pushing Peru to the brink, researchers warned, is that its economic boom is inextricably linked to activities that damage the environment and contribute to climate change.
Illicit activities such as illegal gold mining and logging, and the cocaine trade – all of which are environmentally destructive but lucrative – are economic drivers in many regions of the country, boosting incomes and, ironically, human development.
A marked increase in the human development ranking in Peru's Amazon region – measured in increased income – was largely linked to environmentally destructive and illegal coca growing and gold mining, the latter of which also damages human health.
"The growth does not come from education or health, but from predatory activities, like [resource] extraction and mining," said Francisco Santa Cruz, another of the report's authors.
As a result of high global gold prices combined with the widespread nature of the informal economy, illegal and artisanal mining now occurs in 21 of Peru's 25 regions. In Madre de Dios, the Amazon region where illegal gold mining has had most impact, the rate of forest loss has tripled since the 2008 economic crisis, when gold prices began to soar.
Significantly, the rise in income has not been accompanied by an improvement in health and education, the two other key indicators in measuring human development. Consequently, Peru's 28% human development growth between 1980 and 2012 is more lopsided than it might appear.
"Despite stellar economic growth, the fact that human development is falling or stalled in one of every 10 districts shows the need for Peru to promote inclusive growth and rights," said the UK-based Peru Support Group.
"A key step in this direction would be to ensure that the millions of indigenous peoples have a say on how extractive projects should go ahead, by implementing their right to prior consultation, so they aren't forced to accept projects that are harmful to their interests but that ministers want to go ahead."
In recognition of Peru's status as a signatory to the International Labour Organisation's Convention 169, the law is designed to give indigenous communities the right to an opinion on development projects in or around their territories.
As Peru announces plans to invest $6bn in renewable energy projects, experts predict climate change could cost between 8% and 34% of its GDP. The Latin American and Caribbean region will face annual damages in the order of $100bn by 2050, according to an Inter-American Development Bank report.
"Environmentally damaging activities in Peru mean there are ecosystems which can no longer respond to climate change," said James Leslie, technical advisor on ecosystems and climate change for the UNDP.
"Peru needs to bring in mechanisms so that public finance takes into account climate risks."
Peru has called its hosting of next year's COP summit an opportunity to change the world. Its heightened sensitivity to climate change makes it, perhaps, the perfect location for a summit on which rest the hopes of so many nations.