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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 145106 times)
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« Reply #900 on: Jan 11, 2014, 07:05 AM »

Polar vortex over US brings abnormally mild weather to Scandinavia

Weather system disrupts flora and fauna in Nordic countries, with bears reportedly emerging from hibernation

Jessica Aldred, Friday 10 January 2014 17.11 GMT   

The freezing polar vortex that has gripped the US has extended an abnormally mild winter in Scandinavia and disrupted the seasonal patterns of flora and fauna.

The weather system that brought snow, ice and record low temperatures to many parts of the United States this week left Iceland, Greenland and Scandinavia much warmer than normal.

On the back of a generally mild winter, there have been reports of bears emerging early from hibernation in Finland, changes in the behaviour of migratory birds off the coast of Sweden and plants appearing earlier than normal in Norway.

Scandinavia and Russia's cold weather during the winter comes from a high-pressure system that keeps warmer, more humid air and low-pressure systems with wind and rain from coming up from the Atlantic Ocean.

The weakening of the jetstream that holds this in place has allowed cold air to spill further south into much of the United States and Canada, while bringing above-average temperatures to parts of Europe.

The knock-on effects of the vortex follow one of the mildest Decembers in a century in Nordic countries. Ketil Isaksen, a scientist at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, said the country had been 4.2C above the mean temperature for December with parts of Oslo and south-eastern Norway experiencing the third warmest December on record. "It was very unusual to see no snow in large areas where it is normal in December. Only in the mountains and certain parts of Norway could you find snow."

Much of the precipitation in lowland and populated areas had fallen as rain instead of snow, he said. "In general it was a very wet December. Large parts of Norway had up to three times as much rain as normal and the country as a whole had 180% more than average."

Finland too has seen heavy rain, with flooding in western coastal areas and the majority of Finland's lakes containing record volumes of water. Temperatures exceeded their normal seasonal average by 4-5C nationwide, with Helsinki and southern Finland recording the mildest second half of December in 30 years.

Temperatures in parts of Sweden have fluctuated greatly, at Nikkaluokta falling from 4.7C on 3 December to -40.8C on 9 December, then rising two days later to 7.7C. Many locations measured their warmest December temperatures on record. "In the north, winter has arrived, but in the south it's autumn according to the meteorological definition," the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute said.

The rainy weather in Finland has reportedly disrupted the winter slumbers of many bears, bringing them out of hibernation early. Heavy rains and high waters may have invaded some dens, forcing the animals to seek new shelter.

Prof Jon Swenson of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, leader of the Scandinavian bear project, said he was worried about the indirect effects of the warmer weather. "If you go down into southern Europe, it's warmer, and there are some bears that don't hibernate.

"It doesn't seem to be harmful not to hibernate," he said. "What we are afraid of is that it means there will be more thawing periods … this really stresses the berry-producing plants. This can cause some mortality, and can have a very adverse effect on berry production. And that's what the bears survive on in the autumn, and what they use to get them through the winter. So the results of this mild weather won't be seen for some time."

Last week, the local Norwegian newspaper Sunnmørsposten published reader photographs of daffodils emerging as early as 14 December as well as crocuses, daisies, dandelions and honeysuckle.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Norway chief executive, Nina Jensen, said she was "cautious about drawing conclusions from one mild winter into specific changes in nature", but there were signals that changes were happening.

"We are definitely seeing plants like bluebells flowering that wouldn't come out until spring, and birds singing that wouldn't normally be at this time of year. There are quite obvious changes in the growth season, plant growth and migratory bird routes and timing. The flip side of this warmer winter is that we will also have an increasing threat of harmful introduced organisms, such as the wild boar or ticks that thrive in warmer temperatures."

Pål Hermansen, a wildlife photographer based in Oslo, said: "It's the smaller things where you see it most, especially butterflies and other insects. The combination of 'proper winters' with lots of snow, alternating with winters like this one, makes everything very unstable. In the 30 years I've been working we've seen butterfly populations reduce by 80-90%. We're now seeing mosquitos and ticks during the winter, which is unheard of. Ticks are spreading much further north than they ever were before."

Stephen Menzie, an ornithologist working at Falsterbo Bird Observatory – a migration point in south-west Sweden – said it was "certainly true" that milder weather this year had played a part in delaying the southbound migration of many species.

"We had one day in November when we ringed over 800 birds, compared to the same period last year when we struggled to catch double figures on most days."

Additional reporting by Ben McPherson in Oslo

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« Reply #901 on: Jan 11, 2014, 07:42 AM »

China’s Water Crisis Made Worse by Policy Failures

11 January 2014
World Affairs

On Friday, the National Development and Reform Commission announced that China will, by the end of 2015, put in place a three-tier pricing structure for water. Heavy users will pay more under the new system, which will cover all cities but not all towns. The Wall Street Journal called it “the first stab at actual resource-sector reform” after November’s Third Plenum.

Technically, it’s the first announcement of a future stab because it remains to be seen whether significantly higher charges, which will surely be unpopular, will in fact be imposed. If there were political will, the NDRC would likely have put the new and urgently needed price restructuring system in place much sooner.

In any event, if the new pricing structure were to be implemented tomorrow, it would not be a moment too soon. The People’s Republic, with 19 percent of the world’s population but only 7 percent of its freshwater, is a country that often defines itself by the scarcity of this resource. As Wang Shucheng, a former water minister, tells us, “To fight for every drop of water or die: that is the challenge facing China.”  Where “blue gold” is so precious, it is anomalous that Chinese water charges are less than a fourth of the global average.

Using the market to achieve conservation—the big idea behind the NDRC’s announcement—is certainly the right approach, but this move is decades late, coming after every other policy proved ineffective, unworkable, or inadequate.

Before this, Chinese leaders tried to solve their water problems by announcing—and failing to meet—water-efficiency targets. Then they decided to transport the commodity from the middle regions of the country, where it is plentiful, to the north, where it is not, with the South-to-North Water Diversion Project.

The first phase of the project’s eastern channel—one of three planned waterways—officially opened December 10th, and it now carries Yangtze River water to Dezhou in Shandong Province. The central channel will start delivering water this year from a Yangtze tributary in Hubei Province to Beijing, Tianjin, and nearby cities. The western channel is still in the planning stages and, if built, will take water from the frail Himalayan plateau.

As the New York Times reported, there was only “subdued resignation” at the eastern channel’s official opening last month, and that is unusual for construction-crazy Chinese officials. Yet the reason for their lack of enthusiasm is obvious. “It’s not a moment for celebration,” said Ma Jun, often described as China’s most famous environmental activist. “There should be a sobering review of how we cornered ourselves so that we had to undertake a project with so much social and environmental impact.”

The project, from all accounts, is already causing irreversible damage to the Yangtze, it will spread pollution by transporting goopy water from one part of the country to another, and it will displace hundreds of thousands of the poorest Chinese. And the cost has been exceedingly high. Estimates have now risen to $79.4 billion, and the most challenging part—the western channel—has not even gotten off the drawing board. The South-to-North project could end up, apart from the International Space Station, the most expensive civil engineering undertaking in history.

And if all this were not bad enough, the gargantuan project has actually made China’s water problems worse. As Ma explains, “To some extent, the north has subjected water resources to unsustainable exploitation because they’ve known that one day they’d get this water.”

If China’s technocratic leaders were so skilled, as many seem to think, they would have implemented the pricing solution two decades ago. What they have in done in the interim is despoil their environment and spend tens of billions, having apparently made matters much worse.

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« Reply #902 on: Jan 13, 2014, 06:21 AM »

13 January 2014

Cameron promises councils 'fracking' tax boost

Councils that back "fracking" will get to keep more money in tax revenue as part of an "all-out" drive to promote drilling, Prime Minister David Cameron has said. Mr Cameron said English local authorities would receive all the business rates collected from shale gas schemes - rather than the usual 50%.

The government says projects will support 74,000 jobs and reduce bills.

But Greenpeace accused ministers of trying to "bribe councils".

Mr Cameron's announcement comes as French company Total confirmed plans to invest about £30m to help drill two exploratory wells in Lincolnshire. It is the the first major energy company to invest in fracking in the UK.

The British Geological Survey estimates there may be 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas present in the north of England.

But the process to extract it - called fracking - has led to protests, with environmentalists fearing the technique could cause small earth tremors, water contamination and environmental damage.

The BBC's Danny Shaw is reported that protesters at the Barton Moss fracking facility in Greater Manchester have climbed on to to lorries entering the site.

Fracking, short for "hydraulic fracturing", involves drilling deep underground and releasing a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals to crack rocks and release gas stored inside.'


Whitehall officials said the business rates commitment would mean councils keeping up to £1.7m extra a year from each fracking site.

“We expect 20 to 40 wells to be drilled in exploration over the next couple of years and I think it's very important that local communities see some of the benefit”

Michael Fallon Energy Minister

Separately, the mining industry has pledged to give communities £100,000 for test drilling and a further 1% of the revenues if shale is discovered, they added.

Mr Cameron said: "A key part of our long-term economic plan to secure Britain's future is to back businesses with better infrastructure.

"That's why we're going all-out for shale. It will mean more jobs and opportunities for people, and economic security for our country."

Energy Minister Michael Fallon said councils could benefit by up to "£10m per wellhead" if shale gas was successfully extracted in their communities, through the 1% levy on revenues.

This would be on top of the business rates they would receive from companies involved in drilling.

"We want local councils and local people to benefit from this exploration. We expect 20 to 40 wells to be drilled in exploration over the next couple of years and I think it's very important that local communities see some of the benefit," he told Radio 4's Today programme.

The Local Government Association, which represents councils in England, said the announcement was a "step in the right direction" but any packages had to "fairly remunerate" those affected.

"Given the significant tax breaks being proposed to drive forward the development of shale gas and the impact drilling will have on local communities, these areas should not be short-changed by fracking schemes," said a spokesman.

"One percent of gross revenues distributed locally is not good enough; returns should be more in line with payments across the rest of the world and be set at 10%.

“Start Quote

    This is a naked attempt by the government to bribe hard-pressed councils into accepting fracking in their area.”

Lawrence Carter Greenpeace

"The community benefits of fracking should be enshrined in law, so companies cannot withdraw them to the detriment of local people."

Responding to the LGA's call for 10% of revenues, Mr Fallon said: "This is something obviously the industry will keep under review."

For Labour, shadow energy minister Tom Greatrex said it was right for communities to share in the potential rewards from shale gas, but he called on the government to "get its priorities right".

"Only by fully addressing legitimate environmental and safety concerns about fracking with robust regulation and comprehensive monitoring will people have confidence that the exploration and possible extraction of shale gas is a safe and reliable source that can contribute to the UK's energy mix," he said.

Conservative MP Ben Wallace described the government's offer on shale gas as "crumbs from the table".

Despite the business rates pledge, the Treasury would still keep 63% of the tax raised from each shale site, said the MP for Wyre and Preston North in Lancashire, where there is thought to be a substantial amount of shale gas.

Friends of the Earth's Jane Thomas argued that the new policy "highlights the depth of local opposition to fracking and the desperate lengths ministers are prepared to go to try and overcome it".

She argued: "This move raises potentially serious concerns about conflicts of interest, if councils that benefit from this money are also the ones who decide on planning applications from fracking firms in the first place.

"The government should be encouraging the development of Britain's huge renewable power potential, instead of coming up with new incentives that keep the nation hooked on climate-changing fossil fuels."

'New North Sea'

Lawrence Carter of Greenpeace added: "Cameron is effectively telling councils to ignore the risks and threat of large-scale industrialisation in exchange for cold, hard cash.

"But the proposal reveals just how worried the government is about planning applications being turned down.

"Having had their claims that fracking will bring down energy bills and create jobs thoroughly discredited, the government is now resorting to straight up bribery to sell their deeply unpopular fracking policy."

The Institute of Directors welcomed the move on business rates, with chief economist James Sproule arguing: "Investment from Total is a vote of long-term confidence in the UK shale industry, and is a welcome sign that the government is creating the conditions necessary to maximise the potential benefits of a new domestic energy source.

"The wider benefits are clear. Shale gas development could create tens of thousands of jobs, reduce imports, generate significant tax revenue and support a resurgence in British manufacturing.

"In short, shale gas could be a new North Sea for Britain."

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« Reply #903 on: Jan 14, 2014, 07:40 AM »

That West Virginia chemical spill? It’s likely a bigger scandal than Bridgegate

By Ana Marie Cox, The Guardian
Monday, January 13, 2014 13:06 EST

If we called West Virginia 4-methylcyclohexane-methanol leak ”Watergate”, do you think the political press would pay more attention?

Hours of cable news time and thousands of words have been spent in search of what ”Bridgegate” means for Chris Christie. An equal and opposite amount of energy has been poured into an examination of what the Christie situation means for Obama.

Meanwhile, in West Virginia, there are 300,000 people without useable water, and an unknown number who may fall ill because the warning to avoid the tainted supply came seven hours after the leak was discovered – and perhaps weeks after it happened. (Neighbors of the plant have told reporters they detected the chemical’s odor in December.)

Complaining about desperate news coverage is to call foul on a game that is actually just playing by a different set of rules. I know that. I know, too, that there’s no organized conspiracy, nor even any vague ill will, involved in how it came to be that Bridgegate continues to attract punditry while West Virginia only generates the kind of sympathetic-if-distant coverage we usually grant far-off and not too devastating natural disasters.

Bridgegate is just sexier; it features big personalities and a bold storyline. It gives reporters a chance to show off a range of pop culture references (The Sopranos, Bruce, assorted other Twitticisms!). It is taking place in the literal backyard of most national political reporters. It has very little to do with policy, or numbers, or science. Perhaps best of all, to opine about Bridgegate is to engage in a punditry wager with little or no cost, since 2016 is so very far away. Write that it’s the end of Christie’s career! Write that he’ll be fine! No one is keeping score (truth be told, even when people keep score in punditry, nothing bad happens to the losers).

Journalists can further excuse their myopia about the lane closure controversy with the notion that they’re just giving the public what they want. The story is “breaking through” because everyone can identify with those poor stuck commuters: “Traffic is a huge deal,” as one writer put it. That may be the case, but don’t even more people drink water?

I shouldn’t be too hard on journalists, though. On the surface, the West Virginia spill just isn’t as interesting or dynamic as revenge conspiracy. It’s a single event with an obvious bad guy (the deliciously-named “Freedom Industries“).

There’s no compelling narrative, no unfolding drama, no whodunit to solve, and catastrophic environmental destruction in West Virginia, on an even larger scale than the nine counties affected by the spill, is old news. The state harvested its entire 10m acres of virgin forest between 1870 and 1920. In the past 50 years, mountaintop-removal mining has made over 300,000 acres of unfit for economically productive use, and the clean water supply has been systematically reduced by= 20% in the last 25.

I suspect there’s a more subtle yet uglier motivation in how the New Jersey story beguiles us even as West Virginia toxifies.

Bridgegate as we understand right now it in no way asks us to take a look at our own lives or behavior. The questions people have about the Fort Lee lane closures take as a given that people should be able to drive to and from work minimal interference; we want to get to the bottom of “why the traffic was held up for hours?” but not, “Why are there so many people driving?”

That people identify with the drivers (“that could happen to me”) and see the West Virginia chemical draught as a merely a terrible misfortune (“those poor folks”) illustrates why dust-ups like Bridgegate decide elections but environmental issues continue to lag far behind as an issue voters care about, despite the growing urgency to combat climate change. We can personalize a scandal, but the effects of environmental damage happen to other people – the people of West Virginia, to be specific.

Because make no mistake: our country’s national habits are at the heart of West Virginia’s regional tragedy – perhaps even this specific one. We don’t get much coal from West Virginia anymore, it’s true – because a century of steady consumption stripped the state almost bare. (There are West Virginia mines that have been continuously excavated for over 120 years.) As coal production has shifted away from the Appalachians to Wyoming and the plains, West Virginia politicians have become increasingly desperate to make their state as attractive as possible to industry. In that context, that state authorities knew about Freedom Industries’ massive stockpile of MCMH as long ago as last year and did nothing about it makes sense.

Compared to the systematic devastation of an entire region’s environment, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” seems like the petty feud that it was. But my real hope isn’t that we shift our focus from New Jersey to West Virginia, it’s that people realize that both are scandals, and both are environmental policy stories. And they both speak to the costs of letting shortsighted, local economy goals trump more global concerns.

The traffic on the George Washington Bridge is, in part, as bad as it is because of the antiquated rail service between New York and New Jersey. The system needs the exact sort of overhaul that Christie scuttled as one of his first acts in office. And if you thought that New York bureaucrats hated the traffic Christie’s cronies caused, well, they hated the congestion pricing that Bloomberg threatened to bring about in his first term even more. (Just last November, New York Governor Cuomo dismissed the idea again.) One sure way to foil traffic vigilantes of the future, after all, would be to deny them a hostage. © Guardian News and Media 2014

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« Reply #904 on: Jan 15, 2014, 07:55 AM »

Exclusive: Mont Pelerin Society Revealed As Home To Leading Pushers Of Climate Science Denial


THERE’S a popular talking point coming from climate change denialists that all people who accept the science and the need to act on it are somehow blinded by faith.

In Australia, climate science contrarian columnists can barely touch their keyboards without typing out the words "global warming faith" or explaining how human-caused global warming is some sort of "new religion".

This “climate religion” narrative often goes hand-in-hand with another favourite denialist talking point where climate scientists are only doing what they do because there’s a dollar in it.

Presumably the laws of physics, the melting ice sheets, the increasing risk of bushfires, the hottest decades on record and the acidifying oceans are also waiting for their cash.

Maurice Newman, the man hand-picked by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to be the government’s top business advisor, loves both of these debating points.

Newman has described climate scientists as being a “global warming priesthood” and belonging to a new “religion”. In a second opinion column in two weeks in The Australian, Newman repeats his cynicism over the IPCC and climate scientists, describing them as a "cartel" that "will deny all contrary evidence".  Newman even repeats the myth that in the 1970s scientists were certain the world was heading for global cooling, when in fact, as this study shows, a healthy majority of scientific papers were predicting the opposite.

Yet Newman has a deep belief system of his own, having long been associated with a form of “classic liberalism” – a particular world view which advocates small government and low regulation of the activities of businesses.

Not only that, but he is a member of a global society of influential business people, academics and think tank associates known as the Mont Pelerin Society who share the same broad ideology.

The Mont Pelerin Society

The Mont Pelerin Society was established in 1947 by free market economist and philosopher Friedrich von Hayek.

Maurice Newman, a Mont Pelerin member since 1976, has long been an admirer of the work of Hayek and fellow free market economist Milton Friedman, a past president of the Mont Pelerin Society.

Newman was responsible for bringing Friedman to Australia in the mid-1970s, at a time when Newman was helping to set up the Centre for Independent Studies – a Sydney-based free market think tank.

Mont Pelerin’s website explains that while all members don’t agree on everything, “they see danger in the expansion of government, not least in state welfare, in the power of trade unions and business monopoly, and in the continuing threat and reality of inflation.”

The Society, which holds a meeting annually in different parts of the world, also explains how its members see their society “as an effort to interpret in modern terms the fundamental principles of economic society as expressed by those classical economists, political scientists, and philosophers who have inspired many in Europe, America and throughout the Western World.”

To become a member, individuals have to be nominated by a current member and then seek endorsement by the membership committee before being endorsed.

DeSmogBlog has obtained a full list of the society’s members that includes senior representatives of many of the world’s foremost “free market” think tanks actively pushing back on proposed policy solutions to tackle climate change.

The list, from 2010, includes almost 500 people from 52 countries, with the bulk of members coming from the United States and the United Kingdom. The 70-page list includes private contact details. DeSmogBlog has decided to publish only extracts with contact details redacted.

Among the notable members is Charles Koch (list excerpt here), the US oil billionaire who has been a Mont Pelerin Society member since 1970.

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« Reply #905 on: Jan 16, 2014, 06:20 AM »

Supreme Court sides with Monsanto in dispute over genetically engineered seeds

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, January 15, 2014 12:51 EST

The US Supreme Court Wednesday refused to hear an appeal seeking to prevent Monsanto from suing farmers who inadvertently grew crops contaminated by its genetically engineered seed.

It was the second time the top US court has sided with the American agro-giant in its running fight with farmers over seed patent rights, after a ruling in its favor in a May 2013 case involving an Indiana farmer.

In the latest case, the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association had asked that Monsanto agree not to sue farmers if they inadvertently grew plants containing traits of patented genetically engineered seed.

In rejecting the suit without comment, the Supreme Court let stand a federal appeals court ruling that the group’s challenge was unwarranted because Monsanto had already given binding assurances it would not sue when only trace amounts of its genetically modified seed were involved.

Monsanto had argued that to grant the organic growers’ request would allow farmers’ to intentionally violate its patents.

The company has filed more than 100 law suits in the United States against farmers it alleges planted its seeds without paying royalties.

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« Reply #906 on: Jan 16, 2014, 06:21 AM »

01/15/2014 02:42 PM

Green Fade-Out: Europe to Ditch Climate Protection Goals

By Gregor Peter Schmitz in Brussels

The EU's reputation as a model of environmental responsibility may soon be history. The European Commission wants to forgo ambitious climate protection goals and pave the way for fracking -- jeopardizing Germany's touted energy revolution in the process.

The climate between Brussels and Berlin is polluted, something European Commission officials attribute, among other things, to the "reckless" way German Chancellor Angela Merkel blocked stricter exhaust emissions during her re-election campaign to placate domestic automotive manufacturers like Daimler and BMW. This kind of blatant self-interest, officials complained at the time, is poisoning the climate.

But now it seems that the climate is no longer of much importance to the European Commission, the EU's executive branch, either. Commission sources have long been hinting that the body intends to move away from ambitious climate protection goals. On Tuesday, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported as much.

At the request of Commission President José Manuel Barroso, EU member states are no longer to receive specific guidelines for the development ofrenewable energy. The stated aim of increasing the share of green energy across the EU to up to 27 percent will hold. But how seriously countries tackle this project will no longer be regulated within the plan. As of 2020 at the latest -- when the current commitment to further increase the share of green energy expires -- climate protection in the EU will apparently be pursued on a voluntary basis.

Climate Leaders No More?

With such a policy, the European Union is seriously jeopardizing its global climate leadership role. Back in 2007, when Germany held the European Council presidency, the body decided on a climate and energy legislation package known as the "20-20-20" targets, to be fulfilled by the year 2020. They included:

    a 20 percent reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions;

    raising the share of EU energy consumption produced from renewable resources to 20 percent;

    and a 20 percent improvement in the EU's energy efficiency.

All of the goals were formulated relative to 1990 levels. And the targets could very well be met. But in the future, European climate and energy policy may be limited to just a single project: reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The Commission plans also set no new binding rules for energy efficiency.

Welcome, Frackers

In addition, the authority wants to pave the way in the EU for the controversial practice of fracking, according to the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The report says the Commission does not intend to establish strict rules for the extraction of shale gas, but only minimum health and environmental standards.

The plans will be officially presented next Wednesday ahead of an EU summit meeting in March. Observers, however, believe that a decision is unlikely to come until the summer at the earliest. But action must be taken this year: At the beginning of 2015, a climate conference will take place in Paris at which a global climate agreement is to be hashed out.

The European Parliament is unlikely to be pleased with the Commission's plans. Just at the beginning of January, a strong parliamentary majority voted to reduce carbon emissions EU-wide by 40 percent by 2030 and to raise the portion of renewables to at least 30 percent of energy consumption.

Germany's Energy Goals at Risk

The Commission's move further isolates Germany. Merkel's government, a "grand coalition" of her conservatives and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), seeks to increase the share of renewables in the country's energy mix to 60 percent by 2036. As reported in the latest issue of SPIEGEL, Sigmar Gabriel, SPD chair and minister of energy and economics, recently urged Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard and Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger to put forth mandatory expansion targets for renewable energy in the EU by 2030. Europe "can't afford to pass up this opportunity," Gabriel wrote.

But within the Commission, the ambitious project has long been controversial. The same goes for EU member states, as Gabriel recently discovered. Prior to Christmas the minister, together with eight colleagues from throughout the EU, called for a "renewables target" in a letter to the Commission. But some countries, such as France, joined the appeal only hesitantly at the time. Paris might prefer instead to rely more heavily on nuclear power in order to meet stringent carbon emission requirements.

Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger, a German from Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, has also shown reluctance. Rather than setting clear goals for the share of renewables, he wants fixed targets only for the reduction of carbon emissions -- and he is skeptical even of the 40 percent target proposed by Climate Commissioner Hedegaard.

The Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) writes in a recent study that more moderate EU climate goals and less support for renewable energies could have a real impact on Germany's so-called Energiewende, or energy revolution. "In such a context," writes the nonpartisan think tank, "it will be increasingly difficult for Germany to successfully carry out pioneering policies."

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« Reply #907 on: Jan 16, 2014, 06:23 AM »

Al Gore says use of geo-engineering to beat off climate disaster is insane

By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Wednesday, January 15, 2014 14:49 EST

Al Gore said on Wednesday it would be “insane, utterly mad and delusional in the extreme” to turn to geo-engineering projects to avoid a climate catastrophe.

The UN climate panel, in the next edition of its blockbuster reports, will warn that governments might have to extract vast amounts of greenhouses gases from the air by 2100 to limit climate change, according to a draft copy of the report seen by Reuters.

But the American politician, the former vice president of the US, said that searches for an instant solution, which he said were born of desperation, were misguided and could lead to an even bigger catastrophe.

“The idea that we can put a different form of pollution into the atmosphere to cancel out the effects of global warming pollution is utterly insane,” he told a conference call for South African reporters.

He added: “The fact that some scientists who should know better are actually engaged in serious discussion of those alternatives is a mark of how desperate some of them are feeling due to the paralysis in the global political system.”

In March Gore will expand his climate leadership training programmes to South Africa. He said he believed those leadership training sessions (this is his 28th) had developed a cadre of leaders who were helping to find political solutions for climate change.

The draft climate report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, due for release in Germany in April, said governments might have to turn increasingly to technologies for “carbon dioxide removal” to keep warming below the dangerous threshold of 2 degrees.

The draft said those technologies might involve capturing and burying emissions from coal-fired power plants, or planting more forests. But there has been debate in the environmental community over other more radical solutions.

On geo-engineering Gore drew a distinction between small-scale interventions, such as white roofs, and large-scale projects meant to extract or neutralise emissions from the air or block the sunlight. Those ideas, he said, carried enormous risks.

“The most discussed so-called geo-engineering proposals – like putting sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere to reflect incoming sunlight – that’s just insane. Let’s just describe that clearly – it is utterly mad,” Gore told the conference call.

He warned that such large and untested experiments carried enormous risks while “doing nothing to address other consequences of climate change such as ocean acidification”.

He said: “We are already engaged in a planet-wide experiment with consequences we can already tell are unpleasant for the future of humanity. So the hubris involved in thinking we can come up with a second planet-wide experiment that would exactly counteract the first experiment is delusional in the extreme.”

Gore was also cool on the other quick-fix of nuclear power, advocated by some. Late last year four leading US scientists, including the climatologist James Hansen, wrote an open letter urging environmentalists to rethink their opposition to nuclear power.

Gore’s re-thinking has apparently gone in the other direction. He told the call he had been an enthusiastic supporter of nuclear energy when he was in Congress. He was not opposed to nuclear energy now, he said. But he said the current state of technology in the nuclear energy industry did not yet warrant a big expansion.

“I do believe that it may be possible for scientists and researchers to develop a better and more inherently safer and cheaper form of nuclear reactor, which may yet play a significant role in resolving this crisis,” he told the call. But he added: “It is not available now.”

He said he thought such nuclear developments were still 10 or 15 years away. “Unless there are breakthroughs I think the role of nuclear power is likely to be limited to near the level of contribution it is now,” he said. © Guardian News and Media 2014

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« Reply #908 on: Jan 17, 2014, 05:16 AM »

U.N. Says Lag in Confronting Climate Woes Will Be Costly

JAN. 16, 2014

Nations have so dragged their feet in battling climate change that the situation has grown critical and the risk of severe economic disruption is rising, according to a draft United Nations report. Another 15 years of failure to limit carbon emissions could make the problem virtually impossible to solve with current technologies, experts found.

A delay would most likely force future generations to develop the ability to suck greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and store them underground to preserve the livability of the planet, the report found. But it is not clear whether such technologies will ever exist at the necessary scale, and even if they do, the approach would probably be wildly expensive compared with taking steps now to slow emissions.

The report said that governments of the world were still spending far more money to subsidize fossil fuels than to accelerate the shift to cleaner energy, thus encouraging continued investment in projects like coal-burning power plants that pose a long-term climate risk.

While the spread of technologies like solar power and wind farms might give the impression of progress, the report said, such developments are being overtaken by rising emissions from fossil fuels over the past decade, especially in fast-growing countries like China. And one of the most important sources of low-carbon energy, nuclear power, is actually declining over time as a percentage of the global energy mix, the report said.

Unless far greater efforts are made to reduce emissions, “the fundamental drivers of emissions growth are expected to persist despite major improvements in energy supply” and in the efficiency with which energy is used, the report said.

The new warnings come in a draft report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations panel of climate experts that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for its efforts to analyze and communicate the risks of climate change. The report is not final, but a draft dated Dec. 17 was leaked this week and was first reported by Reuters. The New York Times obtained a copy independently.

Business leaders will tackle many of the problems raised in the draft next week, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where a day will be devoted to addressing the rising economic costs of climate change — and the costs to businesses and governments of solving the problem.

Within the business community, “there is an awakening of increasing economic risk — a recognition that operating conditions are changing and we need to respond,” said Dominic Waughray, head of environmental initiatives for the forum. “There has been a failure of government to address these solutions. If there is an alliance of companies that can bite off pieces of the puzzle, it might help.”

In the dry language of a technical committee, the draft outlines an increasingly dire situation.

Even as the early effects of climate change are starting to be felt around the world, the panel concluded that efforts are lagging not only in reducing emissions, but also in adapting to the climatic changes that have become inevitable.

It is true, the report found, that the political willingness to tackle climate change is growing in many countries and new policies are spreading, but the report said these were essentially being outrun by the rapid growth of fossil fuels.

While emissions appear to have fallen in recent years in some of the wealthiest countries, that is somewhat of an illusion, the report found. The growth of international trade means many of the goods consumed in wealthy countries are now made abroad — so that those countries have, in effect, outsourced their greenhouse gas emissions to countries like China.

Emissions in the United States rose slightly in 2013, but are still about 10 percent below their 2005 levels, largely because of the newfound abundance of natural gas, which produces less greenhouse gases than burning coal.

The Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty meant to limit emissions, has “not been as successful as intended,” the report found. That is partly because some important countries like the United States refused to ratify it or later withdrew, but also because of flaws within the treaty itself, the report found. The treaty exempted developing countries from taking strong action, for instance, a decision that many experts now say was a mistake.

Efforts are underway to negotiate a new international treaty to replace Kyoto, but it is not even supposed to take effect until 2020, and it is unclear whether countries will agree on ambitious goals to limit emissions. It is equally unclear how much political support a new treaty will gain in China and the United States, the world’s largest emitters.

The Obama administration is pushing for a deal, but any treaty would have to be ratified by the Senate; many Republicans and some coal-state Democrats are wary, fearing economic damage to the country.

The new report suggests, however, that the real question is whether to take some economic pain now, or more later.

Nations have agreed to try to limit the warming of the planet to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels. Even though it will be exceedingly difficult to meet, this target would still mean vast ecological and economic damage, experts have found. But the hope is that these would come on slowly enough to be somewhat manageable; having no target would be to risk catastrophic disruption, the thinking goes.

As scientists can best figure, the target requires that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, stay below 500 parts per million. The level recently surpassed 400, and at present growth rates will surpass 500 within a few decades.

If countries permit continued high emissions growth until 2030, the draft report found, the target will most likely be impossible to meet, at least without a hugely expensive crash program to rebuild the energy system, and even that might not work.

If emissions do overshoot the target, the report found, future generations would probably have to develop ways to pull greenhouse gases out of the air. It is fairly clear this will be technically possible. It could be achieved, for instance, by growing bioenergy crops that take up carbon dioxide, burning the resulting fuel and then injecting the emissions into underground formations. But such efforts would compete with food production, already under strain.

The leaked draft is the third and final segment of a major report that the climate change panel is completing in stages. The first segment, published in September, found a 95 percent or greater likelihood that humans are the main cause of climate change. The second, due out in March, is expected to warn about the likely consequences of climate change, including risks to the food supply.

The third, focusing on policies to limit the damage, is due for publication in Berlin in April.

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« Reply #909 on: Jan 18, 2014, 07:22 AM »

01/17/2014 12:32 PM

Hydropower Struggle: Dams Threaten Europe's Last Wild Rivers

By Philip Bethge

Europe's last remaining wild rivers flow through the Balkans, providing stunning scenery and habitat to myriad plants and animals. But hundreds of dam projects threaten to do irreparable harm to the region's unique biospheres -- to provide much needed electricity to the people who live there.

How did Europe's rivers look before they were tamed -- back when they were allowed to flow freely through the beds they spent centuries carving out?

Most of the Continent's waterways, like the Elbe, the Rhine and the Danube, have long since been hemmed in. But examples of Europe's largely vanished wilderness remain. Such as the Vjosë, which flows unfettered through its valley in southwestern Albania, splitting off into tributaries that once again flow together in a constant game of give-and-take with solid ground.

"With every flood, the Vjosë shifts its course," says Ulrich Eichelmann, a conservationist with the organization RiverWatch, as he looks across to the narrow ribbon of alluvial forest that clings to the side of the valley. "The river fills the entire valley," says the 52-year-old. "Such a thing in Europe can only be found here, in the Balkans." Then he pauses. On the opposite shore, a cormorant takes flight.

The Vjosë: 270 kilometers (168 miles) of river landscape, from the Pindus Mountains of Greece all the way down to the Adriatic Sea. Not a single dam disturbs the water's course. No concrete bed directs its flow. And every pebble tells a story, says Eichelmann -- of pristine mountain enclaves, of waterfalls, gorges and lakes.

The 'Blue Heart of Europe'

The Vjosë is not alone. Several crystal clear, untamed rivers rush through many countries in the region. "The blue heart of Europe beats in the Balkans," says Eichelmann, who, together with environmental organization EuroNatur, works to preserve these natural water systems.

Experts say that approximately 80 percent of rivers in the Balkans remain in good or very good ecological condition -- a paradise for fish, freshwater molluscs, snails and insects.

But Europe's last wild rivers are now at risk. More than 570 large dams, complete with hydroelectric power plants (each with a capacity of more than one megawatt), are planned for the region (see graphic).

With money from international financial institutions -- among them Deutsche Bank, the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) -- dam construction is well underway.

Eichelmann describes a "gold rush mentality," with the "hydro-lobby" grasping for the last untapped energy market in Europe. Just before the Balkan states are forced to comply with ecological regulations as part of the process of joining the European Union, the industry is trying to establish a fait accompli: "Something that has long been banned in the EU, they're now trying quickly to pull off in the Balkans," says Eichelmann. It's a sell-off of untouched nature in the name of green energy and climate protection.

Albanian Building Boom

In Albania, the taming of wild waterways is already in full swing. The poverty-stricken country is currently in the grips of a construction boom. Three large dams have already been completed on the Drin River in the north. The Norwegian company Statkraft has acquired concessions for construction on the Devoll River. And the Vjosë, too, is under threat. Eight dams are planned. One is already under construction, where the river squeezes through a narrow gap near the village of Kalivaç. Excavators there haul heaps of gravel and sand; the dam is to be nearly 50 meters high and 350 meters wide (165 by 1,150 feet).

The man behind the construction of this dam is an Italian named Francesco Becchetti. Back in Italy, the 47-year-old owns a construction and waste removal empire. He also owns an Albanian television station. Those wishing to meet him must first submit to screening at the hands of one of his TV journalists, before being escorted down a dusty road to Kalivaç. There, the industrialist waits with his entourage -- over a dozen sturdy men crowded around a bevy of expensive sedans.

At the office unit on the construction site, Becchetti shows his plans for the Vjosë dam. He's brought along a thick stack of expert reports. His project has already swallowed up €70 million ($93 million) he says, including money from Deutsche Bank. Meanwhile the financial institution has backed out of the joint venture.

During the walk to the half-finished construction site, the conversation turns to the Vjosë. Is Becchetti aware that he is dealing with one of Europe's last remaining wild rivers? No, answers the builder. "The dam won't be a problem for the environment," he says, "somebody had to explain this to me first, but we will add some steps for trout."

A fishladder for trout? To mitigate the total loss of a unique habitat? From the perspective of ecologists, it sounds like a bad joke. "If the Vjosë degenerates into a chain of reservoirs," fears Spase Shumka, from the department of natural sciences at the Agricultural University of Tirana, "the eel and mullet here, for example, would not be able to survive." The fish, endangered throughout Europe, currently migrate up to 200 kilometers (124 miles) up the Vjosë.

Countless birds, such as little ringed plovers, little egrets and great egrets are dependent on the rivers' floodplains, says Shumka. And many fish species found only in the Balkans, such as the Pindus stone loach, could be brought to the brink of extinction.

No Choice but Hydropower?

In the Albanian capital of Tirana, however, it quickly becomes clear that nature conservancy is not high on the Albanian government' priority list.

Minister of Energy and Industry Damian Gjiknuri lives in the government quarter along Dëshmorët e Kombit Boulevard. He made an honest effort during his first few months in office to raise understanding for nature conservation. But the country's energy supply is an issue closer to his heart.

"Albania is still importing 35 to 40 percent of its electricity needs," says Gjiknuri. In order to change that, Albania has no other choice but to pursue hydroelectric power. The potential is enormous: "We have the possibility to generate 10 times more electricity from hydropower."

For the same reason, the state-owned energy company Elektrani na Makedonija (ELEM) wants to build two dams in neighboring Macedonia -- in the middle of a national park.

The 73,000-hectare (180,000-acre) Mavrovo nature reserve lies on the border of Albania and Kosovo and is one of the oldest national parks in Europe. It contains old-growth beech forests, where wolves and bears still prowl. Its streams are home to otters, trout and freshwater crayfish. The pride of the region is the Balkan lynx; only about 50 specimens of the feline species continue to roam the woods -- extinction is well in sight.

Damming the Biosphere
Two large dams are planned for Mavrovo National Park, one of those at Lukovo Pole. The place is perched high in the mountains, where the trees give way to dewy alpine meadows and biodiversity is at its apex. A nearby valley may become a candidate for UNESCO World Heritage status.

The planned Lukovo Pole Dam will be 71 meters tall. A new road must be paved through the park in order to build it. In July, the World Bank will decide whether to support the project with $70 million in funding.

Further down, in the valley, is the Boskov Most, the last refuge of the Balkan lynx. That's where a dam is planned which will block the Mala Reka River. The EBRD has already pledged €65 million for the construction project. A narrow road leads uphill along the Mala Reka. After driving for a few minutes, Eichelmann stops the car and jumps out. The first snow of winter lies across the valley like a porous blanket. The air is stingingly cold. The river froths and roars.

Eichelmann scrambles down the embankment. Suddenly he comes upon a world of light and shadow, cold and moisture. The water burbles over moss-covered rocks, disappearing into hidden hollows, forcing its way through ridges of icicles.

On an overhanging rock, a white-throated dipper has built a nest out of moss. There, among a labyrinth of roots and stones, live species of trout found only in the Balkans and the larvae of caddis flies and dragonflies. "That's what I love: this unique variety," says Eichelmann. What will happen to the Mala Reka when the dam is built? "The riverbed will be dry most of the time," he says. The water of the future reservoir will still flow through the Mala Reka, but only in times of high electricity demand. Engineers call the technique "hydropeaking." Once a day, a tidal wave will rip through the valley.

Biologists fear that a majority of the ecosystem's plants and animals would not survive the daily deluge. Furthermore, the roads necessary for the construction of the dam would fragment the Mavrovo reserve, making life difficult for wild animals there.

'We Need Hydropower'

International investors seem not to care. "None of the comprehensive studies and additional monitoring undertaken has suggested that the project could affect the national park status of Mavrovo," the EBRD said in a statement. The power station operator for the power company ELEM likewise chose a reassuring tone, saying that the project would not endanger diversity.

Macedonia is one of the member states of the "Regions 202020 Network." The countries involved have pledged to increase the share of renewable energies in their mix to at least 20 percent by 2020 and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent relative to 1990 levels in the same time period. "We need hydropower to take care of the future of our country," says ELEM head Dejan Boskovski.

But international pressure is increasing. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) passed a resolution demanding that the dam project in Mavrovo be abandoned. And last week, several hundred European researchers, including the German natural scientist Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, a former German parliamentarian and nephew of the ex-German President Richard von Weizsäcker, appealed directly to the World Bank and the EBRD in an effort to halt financing for the Mavrovo dam. "We are surprised that your institutions have even considered supporting these dam projects," reads the open letter. The projects "undermine the very idea of national parks" and "violate EU law, such as the Natura 2000 Directives and the Water Framework Directive."

If nothing happens, "these rivers will be destroyed just as ours were in the 1970s, and it will be done with our help," says preservationist Ulrich Eichelmann. "I am not opposed to hydropower, but we need a master plan for the Balkans to determine where it is okay to build such power plants and where it is not."

A Glimmer of Hope

Many of those countries in the Balkans that aren't yet members of the EU would ultimately like to join. "One of the things these countries have to offer the union is scenery," Eichelmann says.

But most Balkan countries remain mired in economic crisis. And where there is a paucity of money, environmental protection often takes a back seat. Not even a rigorous look at river diversity has been undertaken thus far.

Still, the economic crisis could indirectly benefit the rivers. In many places, dam construction projects have become playthings for speculators -- which is why Albania's Energy Minister Gjiknuri has revoked some building permits. "Many investors haven't started construction at all, but were trying to trade their licenses on the black market," he says. "Some only pretended" to build "so that they could increase their price in the market."

Gjiknuri doesn't explicitly mention the half-finished Kalivaç dam. But he can't hide the fact that he is unhappy with the situation there too. With good reason. Despite the energy with which Becchetti presents his Vjosë River project, almost no progress has been made in the last four years.

That gives Ulrich Eichelmann a glimmer of hope. "Thus far, no irreparable harm has been done to the Vjosë," he says. "We will do everything we can to block the power plant -- but it is a race against time."

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« Reply #910 on: Jan 18, 2014, 07:49 AM »

California declares statewide emergency amid worst drought on record

By Agence France-Presse
Friday, January 17, 2014 14:29 EST

California’s worst drought in a century is devastating the state’s agriculture and destroying its forestland, which is being consumed by wildfire, Governor Jerry Brown said Friday as he declared a state emergency.

The emergency declaration allows California to access federal help to battle the drought, which has left huge swathes of tinder-dry forest vulnerable to catching fire.

On Thursday, a massive blaze raged just outside Los Angeles, damaging several homes and forcing residents to evacuate the area, where the fire risk had been elevated for weeks.

Brown urged residents of his state to reduce their water use by at least 20 percent.

“I’ve declared this emergency and I’m calling on all Californians to conserve water in every way possible,” he said in his statement.

“We can’t make it rain,” he added.

“But we can be much better prepared for the terrible consequences that California’s drought now threatens, including dramatically less water for our farms and communities, and increased fires in both urban and rural areas.”

Brown told reporters in San Francisco that the current conditions were “the worst drought that California has ever seen since records (began) about 100 years ago,” media reports said.

The region is suffering its third dry winter in a row, highlighted by the Los Angeles blaze.

California and other western US states are routinely hit with wildfires during the summer, but winter fires like the ones currently raging, are relatively rare.

California’s rivers and reservoirs have reached record lows, with only 20 percent of the normal average supplies of water from melting snowpack, which flows down from mountains like the Sierra Nevada north-to-south range.

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« Reply #911 on: Jan 20, 2014, 06:49 AM »

CO2 emissions are being 'outsourced' by rich countries to rising economies

Greenhouse gas output of China and elsewhere is increased by making goods that are then used in the US and Europe

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Sunday 19 January 2014 16.53 GMT   
The world's richest countries are increasingly outsourcing their carbon pollution to China and other rising economies, according to a draft UN report.

Outsourcing of emissions comes in the form of electronic devices such as smartphones, cheap clothes and other goods manufactured in China and other rising economies but consumed in the US and Europe.

A draft of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, obtained by the Guardian, says emissions of carbon dioxide and the other greenhouse gases warming the planet grew twice as fast in the first decade of the 21st century as they did during the previous three decades.

Much of that rise was due to the burning of coal, the report says. And much of that coal was used to power factories in China and other rising economies that produce goods for US and European consumers, the draft adds.

Since 2000, annual carbon dioxide emissions for China and the other rising economies have more than doubled to nearly 14 gigatonnes a year, according to the draft report. But about 2 GT a year of that was produced making goods for export.

The picture is similar for other rising economies producing goods for export, the report finds.

"A growing share of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion in developing countries is released in the production of goods and services exported, notably from upper-middle-income countries to high-income countries," the report says.

Other middle income countries, with smaller exports, saw a more gradual rise in emissions. For the poorest countries in the world, however, emissions have flatlined since 1990.

Factories in China and other rising economies now produce more carbon pollution than industries in America and Europe.

"A growing share of global emissions is released in the manufacture of products that are traded across international borders," the draft says.

The newly wealthy elites of China, India and Brazil are flying more, buying more cars and otherwise fuelling the consumption that is driving climate change.

But their per capita greenhouse gas emissions are still below those in America and Europe – a gap that China and India regularly cite at climate talks to deflect pressure to cut emissions.

In addition, a large and growing share of the carbon pollution attributed to China and those rising economies was generated in the production of goods that ended up in America and Europe.

The outsourcing of those emissions has skewed efforts to account for all global emissions, which typically was conducted on a national basis. Those accounting efforts are no longer accurate, according to analysts.

"If we are just looking at our national inventory to understand the emissions trends, it is just not telling the full picture of our impacts," said Cynthia Cummis, an expert on greenhouse gas accounting at the World Resources Institute. "We need to understand the full life cycle of all the goods and services that we are purchasing and selling."

There is now growing debate about how to assign responsibility for emissions generated producing goods that were made in one country but ultimately destined for another.

"The consumers that are importing those goods have some responsibility for those goods that are happening outside of our boundaries," Cummis said.

The 29-page draft, a summary for policy makers, was dated 17 December. An edited version is due to be published in Germany in April.

The report is the third in a series by the IPCC, summing up the state of the climate crisis since 2007 and prospects for solutions. The first part was released in September. It is stark about the chances of avoiding dangerous climate change – especially if deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are pushed back beyond 2030.

Temperatures have already risen by 0.8C since the dawning of the industrial age, the report says.

Unless there are deep cuts in emissions – up to 70% of current levels by 2050 – or a near-quadrupling of renewable energy, governments may have to fall back increasingly on experimental technologies for sucking carbon dioxide from the air to avoid dangerous warming, the report says.

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« Reply #912 on: Jan 21, 2014, 06:30 AM »

Current rate of carbon emissions will double devastating El Niño weather events: study

By Damian Carrington, The Guardian
Monday, January 20, 2014 3:27 EST

Research shows world’s most devastating natural phenomenon will occur once a decade under current emissions scenario

The world’s most devastating global weather phenomenon – extreme “El Niño” weather events – will double in frequency to once a decade if global warming remains unchecked, according to what scientists believe is a major step forward in understanding such events.

The last extreme El Niño in 1998 resulted in the hottest year ever recorded, and the accompanying floods, cyclones, droughts and wildfires killed an estimated 23,000 people and caused $35bn-$45bn (£21.3bn-£27.5bn) in damage, particularly to food production. But until now scientists have been unable to agree how climate change will affect how often extreme El Niños strike.

The new study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, concludes that in stark contrast to earlier work, the current rate of carbon emissions would mean twice as many extreme El Niños over the next 100 years, with profound socioeconomic consequences.

“This is a highly unexpected consequence of global warming,” said Professor Mat Collins of the University of Exeter, who is on the research team. “Previously we had thought that El Niño would be unaffected by climate change. Tropical rainfall conditions such as those experienced in extreme El Niños have a dramatic influence on the world, [so] the impact therefore on mankind is substantial.”

Another team member, Professor Eric Guilyardi of the University of Reading, said: “This research is the first comprehensive examination of the issue to produce robust and convincing results about extreme El Niños.”

El Niños are weather events that begin with unusual sea surface warming of the tropics of the eastern Pacific and spread to affect many parts of the world. Previous attempts to determine the likely effect of climate change were inconclusive, as different computer climate models produced conflicting results.

By focusing on those models known to best represent the physical changes in temperature, currents and clouds that occur in the real world, the researchers were able to produce a clear result for the first time. The work showed that climate change is most likely to warm the tropical Pacific waters that drive El Niño more rapidly than surrounding regions, meaning extreme events would become twice as common.

Professor Myles Allen, a climate modelling expert at the University of Oxford who is not involved in the work, said: “It is a very reasonable paper and a very sensible approach. In the past people said models disagreed on changes to El Niño, but a lot of models simulated El Niño very badly.”

But Allen added: “I doubt it is the last word on the subject. It would be good to repeat this study with the computer models used for seasonal weather forecasting, which have higher spatial resolution than climate change models.”

Allen said much more use should be made of weather forecasting models, which are very well-funded and tested: “We’d get very interesting answers to questions like [the effect of warming on El Niño], which involves an interaction between weather and climate.”

Collins agreed that the findings needed to be tested further. He said: “The climate system is likely to throw up these unexpected consequences of climate change and we are only just learning about them.”

He added: “This is essentially an ‘irreversible’ climate change phenomenon, and it would take a dramatic reduction in greenhouse emissions over a number of generations to reduce the impact. It is even more evidence that cutting emissions would be a good idea.”

The most recent extreme El Niño events were in 1982-83 and 1997-98, when warm sea surface temperatures in the normally cool and dry eastern Pacific caused a massive reorganisation of global rainfall. “Nations in the western Pacific experienced devastating droughts and wildfires, while catastrophic floods occurred in the eastern equatorial region of Ecuador and northern Peru,” said Wenju Cai of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Victoria, Australia, part of the research team.

Previous work showed that the impacts of El Niño events appeared to double the risk of civil wars breaking out. © Guardian News and Media 2014

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« Reply #913 on: Jan 21, 2014, 06:32 AM »

Will Monsanto become the NSA of agriculture?

By Techdirt
Monday, January 20, 2014 20:10 EST

Monsanto is best-known for its controversial use of genetically-modified organisms, and less well-known for being involved in the story of the defoliant Agent Orange (the company's long and involved story is well told in the book and film "The World According to Monsanto", by Marie-Monique Robin.) Its shadow also looms large over the current TPP talks: the USTR's Chief Agricultural Negotiator is Islam A. Siddiqui, a former lobbyist for Monsanto. But it would seem that the company is starting to explore new fields, so to speak; as Salon reports in a fascinating and important post, Monsanto is going digital:

    Monsanto spent close to $1 billion to buy the Climate Corporation, a data analytics firm. Last year the chemical and seed company also bought Precision Planting, another high-tech firm, and also launched a venture capital arm geared to fund tech start-ups.

Here's the key shift that is behind that move:

    Many farmers have been collecting digitized yield data on their operations since the 1990s, when high-tech farm tools first emerged. But that information would sit on a tractor or monitor until the farmer manually transferred it to his computer, or handed a USB stick to an agronomist to analyze. Now, however, smart devices can wirelessly transfer data straight to a corporation’s servers, sometimes without a farmer's knowledge.

Data that in isolation is of limited use suddenly becomes highly valuable when aggregated. Here, for example, are some of the ways that companies like Monsanto might use their new stores of knowledge:

    details on the economic worth of a farm operation could empower Monsanto or DuPont to calculate the exact value the farm derives from its products. Monsanto already varies its prices by region, so that Illinois farmers with a bumper crop might be charged more for seeds than Texas farmers facing a drought. Bigger heaps of data would enable these companies to price discriminate more finely, not just among different geographic regions but between neighbors.

Another possibility is the following:

    Real-time data is highly valuable to investors and financial traders, who bet billions of dollars in wheat, soybean and corn futures. In a market where the slightest informational edge makes the difference between huge profits and even bigger losses, corporations that gather big data will have a ready customer base if they choose to sell their knowledge. Or they could just use it to speculate themselves.

Finally, there's this:

    Another issue is how the value of this information will be determined, and the profits divided. The prescription services Monsanto and DuPont are offering will draw on the vast amounts of data they amass from thousands of individual farms. Farmers consider much of this information -- such as on soil fertility and crop yields -- confidential, and most view details about particular farming techniques as akin to personal "trade secrets." Even if the corporations agree not to disclose farm-specific information, some farmers worry that the information may end up being used against them in ways that dull their particular competitive edge.

The parallels with Facebook, Google and other online services that make money from collecting and analysing personal data, are clear. By pooling huge quantities of previously secret data, companies gain a privileged position with unique insights into what farmers are doing. As well as enabling them to track exactly what the latter are up to on a 24-by-7, field-by-field basis, it also allows these aggregators of agricultural data to see the bigger picture in terms of the relationships between different farms. In other words, the race seems to be on to become the NSA of agriculture, with Monsanto already emerging as the likely winner.

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« Reply #914 on: Jan 21, 2014, 07:10 AM »

Climate change: don't get scared, get ready

Denmark's environment minister discusses Copenhagen's action plan, which is mobilising business, government and civil society

Ida Auken
Guardian Professional, Tuesday 21 January 2014 12.26 GMT      

Following November's climate negotiations in Warsaw, it seems no one is willing to give up any privileges for the benefit of the common good. Anyone observing these talks from the outside might think that if there was ever a time when one could count on politicians to make the right decisions, those days are over. So does that render politics obsolete?

Not at all. But as politicians we should understand that we are not able to deliver all the necessary political solutions. We have to involve many more stakeholders, not least the business sector, in our decision-making and actions - as facilitators, inspiration and as a means to collecting and sharing best practices. Given the global standstill, it is more important than ever to show that change is possible locally through cross-sectoral collaboration.

I recently put forward a climate adaptation plan which contains more than 60 action points. This was developed in a cross-ministerial process directly involving nine ministries and several stakeholders. We substantiated the government adaptation efforts by asking the "usual suspects" two questions: what is most important for adapting to climate change? And who else do we need to talk to as we prepare our climate adaptation plans?

That brought us in contact with many new stakeholders, including people from industry, house owners, insurance companies, nature conservation organisations, designers, engineers and municipalities. There was wide agreement that every municipality should have emergency plans for extreme weather situations, and plans for decoupling rainwater from the sewage system, and that we needed new ways of financing it.

This can be a frightening exercise for a ministry: the process is not entirely under the bureaucrats' control and the results could not be predicted. But look at what it brought us. We discovered that emergency planning was higher on the agenda than we would have thought and it got all the stakeholders moving in the same direction. And when we decided to finance these activities through water fees, there was acceptance – even from the house owners.

Involving a broad range of stakeholders also ensured that the entire agenda got a boost and companies discovered that climate change adaption can be a driver for marketing of Danish clean technologies. It represents new business opportunities.

With the climate adaptation plan, homeowners are focusing on mitigation of flooding risks, which gives work to smaller entrepreneurs. Municipalities are hiring medium-sized entrepreneurial companies, which specialise in flood-proof road solutions, and finally, larger consulting companies are finding it easier to sell their services around the world, based on the Danish experience.

Architects and utilities have started thinking in new ways about water storage. For example, instead of building a large concrete reservoir, the city of Roskilde decided to turn a field into a gigantic skateboard area, which can store as much water as 10 Olympic-size swimming pools during heavy rainfall. A technical installation in the city went from being a blind spot to a contribution to life and public health.

We changed the rules for water pricing so that a local government could choose to use their roads for transporting rainwater by designing them differently and maybe using permeable asphalt. We enabled them to create nature areas for storing rainwater to the benefit of the local citizens (and house prices). But all of this is contingent upon them demonstrating that the alternative solutions are less expensive than building new waste water treatment plants or expanding the sewers.

I also challenged our insurance companies, by asking them: "Given that you can raise prices with reference to large storms and damages, why don't you lower your prices again when house owners or local governments make their house or local area climate-proof?" This is exactly what three of the largest insurance companies in Denmark did. They now offer discounts on house insurance for homeowners, who have taken steps to avoid flooding of their properties.

I think it is possible to set up a scenario of a climate-proof city that is smarter, greener, healthier and more fun to live in. And by being among the first movers in this area, local technology developers, city planners, insurers and the construction sector lend a helping hand, as the projects serve as full-scale demonstration facilities. Such a win-win-situation is infinitely more compelling than a 2C (or more) scenario with frequent floods and large-scale damage to roads, homes and shops.

So as we hope and pray that politicians get their act together in the runup to COP 21 in Paris in 2015, do what you can in your local area, company or government.

Don't get scared. Get ready.

Ida Auken is the Danish minister for the environment

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