Prince Charles: Climate change sceptics are ‘headless chickens’
By Ben Quinn, The Guardian
Friday, January 31, 2014 19:53 EST
Charles uses green awards speech at Buckingham Palace to renew attack on ‘powerful groups of deniers’
The Prince of Wales has launched an attack on climate change sceptics, describing them as the “headless chicken brigade” and accusing “powerful groups of deniers” of engaging in intimidation.
Charles, who has long campaigned to raise awareness of global warming and has hit out at sceptics in the past, unleashed his latest salvo during an awards ceremony at Buckingham Palace for green entrepreneurs.
“It is baffling, I must say, that in our modern world we have such blind trust in science and technology that we all accept what science tells us about everything – until, that is, it comes to climate science,” the prince said in a speech on Thursday evening.
“All of a sudden, and with a barrage of sheer intimidation, we are told by powerful groups of deniers that the scientists are wrong and we must abandon all our faith in so much overwhelming scientific evidence.
“So, thank goodness for our young entrepreneurs here this evening, who have the far-sightedness and confidence in what they know is happening to ignore the headless chicken brigade and do something practical to help.”
Charles made his comments as the inaugural Prince of Wales Young Sustainability Entrepreneur Prize was awarded to Gamal Albinsaid, who founded the Indonesian social enterprise Garbage Clinical Insurance, which helps the poor gain access to health services and education through the collection and recycling of rubbish.
The prince told the audience of sustainability experts, entrepreneurs, business leaders, and policymakers: “As you may possibly have noticed from time to time, I have tended to make a habit of sticking my head above the parapet and generally getting it shot off for pointing out what has always been blindingly obvious to me.
“Perhaps it has been too uncomfortable for those with vested interests to acknowledge, but we have spent the best part of the past century enthusiastically testing the world to utter destruction; not looking closely enough at the long-term impact our actions will have.”
Charles has previously said world leaders must “face down a storm of opposition from all sides” in order to tackle climate change, last year describing those who questioned the need to act as “the incorporated society of syndicated sceptics and the international association of corporate lobbyists”.
He was criticised at the time by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a climate-sceptic thinktank set up by former Conservative chancellor Nigel Lawson, which accused him of engaging in “apocalyptic rhetoric”.
© Guardian News and Media 2014
Rivers run dry as claims of illegality surround Romania's hydropower boom
Green tariffs are driving development in the Southern Carpathian mountains, but with ecological and legal consequences
Luke Dale-Harris in Curtea de Arges
theguardian.com, Tuesday 4 February 2014 12.00 GMT
Deep into the wilderness of Romania's Southern Carpathian mountains, Bogdan Binescu, an avid angler and environmental campaigner, stops by the white waters of a mountain stream. "This river used to be the only route back to civilisation," he says. "But now civilisation has caught up."
A few kilometres on, his meaning becomes clear. Where beech trees had previously risen from the banks of the River Capra, a grey concrete building sits on muddied earth, housing the turbines of a small hydropower plant. Beyond, the river has all but disappeared, its bed of shattered rock and compacted earth now exposed. Between 80 and 90% of the river now flows through a thick metal pipe, carried here from a dam five kilometres upstream.
This is one of more than 500 "micro" hydropower plants operating or in various stages of construction and planning in the largely protected mountains. Together, they will produce less than 4% of the country's energy.
Often subsidised by European funds and with profits boosted by up to 500% from green tariffs – a subsidy drawn from a tax on energy consumers – micro hydropower has quickly become a favoured form of investment.
As profits are highest where the rivers run fast, investors are drawn deep into the mountains, in many cases to state-owned nature parks, protected under EU and domestic law. Binescu says: "Many of these projects are illegal on so many levels that only the powerful and well-connected have access to them." It is this, as much as the ecological impact of the power plants, which has drawn public protests throughout the Carpathians over the last year, in Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria.
Here in the Southern Carpathians, the power plant to which Binescu has taken us is one of 10 recently constructed by the retail company Imob Expert Consulting, owned by the self-declared "two top businessmen" in the county, one of whom, Gheorghe Badea, recently ran in the local elections. In partnership with them is the fiancée of the daughter of the Romanian president, Radu Pricop, a lawyer and local MP whose private law firm carried out all the legal operations involved in the investment.
Funded with €2m of European rural development funds, the investment will see a return of €1.2m a year. Of this, €1m will come directly from government-issued green tariffs, guaranteed annually for at least the next 13 years.
Without the political connections of the investors, opponents say, the project would be impossible. Spread across three rivers, the power plants all lie within an European protected Natura 2000 site and on state-owned land. Environmental regulations deem the project unlawful on three counts, it is claimed, while to rent the land from the state would cost, at rates set by the National Forestry Department, around €1m a year.
Yet the company engineered a straight land swap with the state, exchanging the 24,000 square feet of mountain land necessary for the power plants for a similar-sized area of arable land it owned. It drew up its own environmental impact assessments, critics say. When construction began, video footage allegedly recorded violations of environmental law on multiple counts.
At first, the Romanian government agency, the National Guard for the Environment, urged action, declaring the project and environmental forms "absolutely illegal". Two days later, officials had changed their minds and refused to "talk any more about it." The European commission, however, is set to visit the site next month to assess its legality.
Badea told the Guardiant: "The projects have been made with all the necessary approvals, authorisations and they function like all the other projects for micro hydropower plants in Europe. But there are some sick people who don't have anything to do, so they invent things about these projects."
Over the last few months the opposition to micro hydropower in the region has grown. Backed by a petition signed by 20,000 Romanians, WWF Romania and the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River have drawn up a protocol to create areas protected from hydropower development.
However, government support for the industry is strong and Diana Popa, a policy officer with WWF who worked on the protocol, sees a tough fight ahead. A state report has identified 4,000 locations to be potentially exploited for hydropower. Meanwhile, president Traian Băsescu recently blocked a well-supported government proposal to reduce green tariffs for micro hydropower by 24%.
"The political connections in this industry are everywhere," says Popa. "Because of the green tariff scheme, many politicians have big interests in hydropower. They think they can get away with what they want as it comes under the 'green category'."
Attila Andras Nagy, a freshwater marine biologist with the Romanian wildlife protection organisation Milvus, explains. "We are talking about the loss of thousands of kilometres of river. Tens of thousands across the whole mountains range. The habitat fragmentation this creates severely affects the populations of countless fish species, many of them protected. Then consider the animals that feed from the water – the otters, European dipper birds and more. The impact is cumulative and ends far from the rivers."
• Bogdan Binescu's name has been changed at his request.
Chinese scientists sound warning over new H10N8 bird flu
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, February 4, 2014 20:11 EST
Chinese scientists sounded the alarm Wednesday after a new bird flu virus, H10N8, killed an elderly woman in December and infected another individual last month.
The fifth novel influenza strain to emerge in 17 years, the virus has a worrying genetic profile and should be closely monitored, they reported in The Lancet medical journal.
It appears to be able to infect tissue deep in the lung and may have features allowing it to spread efficiently among humans, they said.
“The pandemic potential of this novel virus should not be underestimated,” said the team headed by Yuelong Shu from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Beijing.
The warning stems from analysis of a virus sample taken from a 73-year-old woman who died in Nanchang, in southeastern Jiangxi province, on December 6 after being diagnosed with severe pneumonia and respiratory failure.
The Chinese authorities announced her death from H10N8 on December 18.
The Lancet study disclosed that a second case of H10N8 was recorded in Nanchang, on January 26. It did not give further details.
They are the first known human cases of H10N8, a virus that has been found only twice before in China — once in a water sample from a lake in Hunan in 2007, and the second time in live poultry in Guangdong province in 2012.
But this particular strain is different from the ones found in those two samples, the study said.
Genetic profile of virus
The big contributors to its genome are reshuffled genes from the H9N2 virus, the authors said.
This is a bird virus that erupted in Hong Kong in 1999 and has also contributed to the dangerous H5N1 and H7N9 flu viruses, the probe said.
Avian flu viruses pass from infected birds to humans in close proximity but typically do not transmit easily between humans.
The worry for health watchdogs is their potential to acquire an ability to jump easily from person to person.
H7N9, which emerged last year, has led to 159 human infections in China, including 71 deaths, according to a combined toll of official figures and an AFP tally of reports by local authorities.
H5N1, which first occurred among humans in Hong Kong in 1997, has caused 648 infections with 384 deaths since 2003, according to figures cited in The Lancet study.
The genome of H10N8, it said, pointed to a mutation in its so-called PB2 protein that, previous research has found, suggests an ability to adapt to mammals.
The virus also has a mutation in its haemagglutinin protein — a spike on the virus surface that enables it to latch onto other cells — that suggests it can infect deep in the lung, like H5N1, rather than the upper respiratory tract, the trachea.
Lab tests on the sample showed it could be attacked by Tamiflu, the frontline anti-viral drug.
Many questions remain, including how the woman was infected.
She had bought a live chicken at a poultry market several days before falling sick.
But she may have become infected beforehand, the scientists said. She did not handle the bird and no virus traces were found in poultry at the market.
In addition, the woman may have been an easy target for the virus because of poor health — she had coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and a muscle-weakening disease called myasthenia gravis.
Tests on people who had been in close contact with her concluded that no one else had been infected.
The second case of H10N8 “is of great concern”, said co-author Mingbin Liu of the Nanchang branch of China’s CDC.
“It reveals that the H10N8 virus has continued to circulate and may cause more human infections in the future.”
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Michael Bloomberg pledges to help world leaders reach climate deal
Former New York mayor says he will 'carry the flag' for Ban Ki-moon's attempts to get heads of state to agree 2015 climate deal
theguardian.com, Wednesday 5 February 2014 05.00 GMT
New York's former mayor, Mike Bloomberg, said he plans to spend his post-political career helping the United Nations with the “very difficult” and “frustrating” work of herding leaders towards a global climate deal.
Bloomberg, who was named UN special envoy for cities and climate change last week, told a conference call he sees his next mission as getting leaders on side for a global climate deal.
The former mayor put climate change at the top of his agenda during his 12 years running New York, and led an international group of cities acting on climate change, the C40.
He told a conference call organised by the C40 group the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, could use a push getting world leaders to turn up to a summit in New York in September with “concrete solutions” to climate change.
“The secretary general – he has a very difficult job,” Bloomberg told the call. “I think he is probably a little bit frustrated that the nations of the world haven't come together in Rio+20 and all the others things like that have to be taken to the next step. What he is trying to do is get as much help as he can so at the national level they take the bull by the horns, and really make progress.”
He went on: “If I can carry the flag for him, and get him a little bit of information and be a spokesman for him, I would really love to do that,” Bloomberg said.
As mayor, Bloomberg committed to cutting New York's greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030, retrofitting official buildings with energy saving features, cleaning up waste, and installing bike lanes.
He told the call cities produced a large and growing share of greenhouse gas emissions. Three-quarters of the world's population will live in cities by 2050, according to projections.
Bloomberg argued that city mayors, through their use of executive powers, have greater scope for action than state or national legislatures.
“While little progress is made on international levels, cities are just forging ahead," he said.
The 63 member cities in the C40 group had between them committed to 8,000 different actions to cut greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report out on Wednesday.
Those actions ranged from introducing energy-saving building codes to investing in bus rapid transit systems which take thousands of cars off the roads, and installing LED street lighting.
Some 90% of cities were now moving towards the more efficient LED lighting, the report said. Among those is Glasgow, funded by the UK's green investment bank. Thirty-six cities had bike sharing schemes.
Not all of Bloomberg's efforts succeeded, of course. He failed in one of his biggest battles to get a congestion charge, taxing vehicles entering Manhattan, through the New York state legislature.
But the mayor told the call he saw his two-year term as UN climate envoy as a chance to persuade national leaders there was a lot they could do to avoid catastrophic climate change.
“It is in the interests of all these countries to do something, and sometimes I think the benefits just get lost in all of the verbiage and structure,” he said. “Sometimes just bringing something to people's attention just gets them to focus and take action.”
Report: Fracking is depleting water in America’s driest areas
By Suzanne Moore, The Guardian
Wednesday, February 5, 2014 13:56 EST
From Texas to California, drilling for oil and gas is using billions of gallons of water in the country’s most drought-prone areas
America’s oil and gas rush is depleting water supplies in the driest and most drought-prone areas of the country, from Texas to California, new research has found.
Of the nearly 40,000 oil and gas wells drilled since 2011, three-quarters were located in areas where water is scarce, and 55% were in areas experiencing drought, the report by the Ceres investor network found.
Fracking those wells used 97bn gallons of water, raising new concerns about unforeseen costs of America’s energy rush.
“Hydraulic fracturing is increasing competitive pressures for water in some of the country’s most water-stressed and drought-ridden regions,” said Mindy Lubber, president of the Ceres green investors’ network.
Without new tougher regulations on water use, she warned industry could be on a “collision course” with other water users.
“It’s a wake-up call,” said Prof James Famiglietti, a hydrologist at the University of California, Irvine. “We understand as a country that we need more energy but it is time to have a conversation about what impacts there are, and do our best to try to minimise any damage.”
It can take millions of gallons of fresh water to frack a single well, and much of the drilling is tightly concentrated in areas where water is in chronically short supply, or where there have been multi-year droughts.
Half of the 97bn gallons of water was used to frack wells in Texas, which has experienced severe drought for years – and where production is expected to double over the next five years.
Farming and cities are still the biggest users of water, the report found. But it warned the added demand for fracking in the Eagle Ford, at the heart of the Texas oil and gas rush, was hitting small, rural communities hard.
“Shale producers are having significant impacts at the county level, especially in smaller rural counties with limited water infrastructure capacity,” the report said. “With water use requirements for shale producers in the Eagle Ford already high and expected to double in the coming 10 years, these rural counties can expect severe water stress challenges in the years ahead.”
Local aquifer levels in the Eagle Ford formation have dropped by up to 300ft over the last few years.
A number of small communities in Texas oil and gas country have already run out of water or are in danger of running out of water in days, pushed to the brink by a combination of drought and high demand for water for fracking.
Twenty-nine communities across Texas could run out of water in 90 days, according to the Texas commission on environmental quality. Many reservoirs in west Texas are at only 25% capacity.
Nearly all of the wells in Colorado (97%) were located in areas where most of the ground and surface water is already stretched between farming and cities, the report said. It said water demand for fracking in the state was expected to double to 6bn gallons by 2015 – or about twice as much as the entire city of Boulder uses in a year.
In California, where a drought emergency was declared last month, 96% of new oil and gas wells were located in areas where there was already fierce competition for water.
The pattern holds for other regions caught up in the oil and gas rush. Most of the wells in New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming were also located in areas of high water stress, the report said.
Some oil and gas producers were beginning to recycle water, especially in the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania, the report said. But it said those savings were too little to offset the huge demand for water for fracking in the coming years.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2014
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
February 7, 2014, 8:52 am
Desperate for Clean Air, Delhi Residents Experiment with Solutions
By MAX BEARAK
NEW DELHI — For some worried expatriates and Indians, the battle to keep pollution out of their homes and their lungs started well before renewed media coverage in the past weeks unofficially crowned New Delhi as the world’s most polluted city.
One story by Gardiner Harris of The New York Times noted that for the first three weeks of this year, New Delhi’s average daily peak reading of fine particulate matter from one monitor was 473, more than twice as high as the average of 227 in Beijing.
The story also noted that many Indians seemed to be less concerned about the pollution compared to residents in Beijing. But instead of simply waiting for the winds to change, a pioneering few in Delhi have been willing to spend large sums or to risk embarrassment in their efforts to breathe clean air, employing air filters, indoor plants and imported masks.
Air pollution’s associated health risks have necessitated lifestyle changes the Chases, an American family of four who arrived in Delhi from Ethiopia about a year and a half ago.
“As a parent, you are constantly weighing outdoor exercise against health concerns because of the air,” said Genevieve Chase, a public health professional. “We used to be an outdoors kind of family. Now we have to save that for our vacations.”
The Chases have installed top-of-the-line air purifiers in two rooms in their home, each costing around $1,400 and only available from a supplier in Mumbai called Samskara Wellness, which, incidentally, said via email that their sales have risen slightly in the past week because of the increased news coverage of air pollution, although almost exclusively among expat customers.
Delhi’s exceptionally bad air means filters in the machines must be replaced at more than double the rate they would in, say, Geneva, where the machines are made, and upkeep costs could easily exceed $1,000 per year, said Ms. Chase. Nevertheless, she said that if her family chooses to stay in Delhi, they would buy more.
Outside, the Chases have tried to protect themselves by wearing masks to cover their mouths – a practice widespread in East Asia — but the masks are hard to find in stores and wearing them draws unwanted attention.
Annabelle Chase, 11, said her mother had gotten her to wear a mask specially brought from the United States, but once she reached school, her friends exclaimed, “Oh my gosh, what happened?” Then they said she looked “like an alien” or “like she had a disease.”
Ten minutes later, Annabelle swore never to don the mask again, or at least until the unlikely event that all her friends were wearing them, too.
Barun Aggarwal, the director of BreatheEasy, a company that installs centralized air systems in homes and businesses, said he, too, wears a mask when he goes outside, despite the stares.
“People look at me and you can see they’re thinking ‘What’s wrong with him?’ rather than asking what’s wrong with the air,” said Mr. Aggarwal.
As might be expected, Mr. Aggarwal recommended using an air filter at home, but he also said that placing plants that convert carbon dioxide to oxygen in rooms yields significant gains when coupled with air purifiers. He said small areca palms perform that conversion during the day and a plant called mother-in-law’s-tongue does so at night. Both are available at most nurseries.
But stopgap solutions seem to provide as many headaches as clean breaths. The masks are largely unavailable and decidedly uncool. Mr. Aggarwal wants to arrange masks for Delhi’s police officers, for their own safety and so they might become role models, and Ms. Chase wants to do the same with the athletes at her children’s school. Neither initiative has made much headway.
With air purifiers, the best require frequent filter replacements, are prohibitively expensive for most people, and besides, when those filters are thrown away, the particles trapped in them escape right back into the air, even if outside one’s home.
One of the most viable options for protecting Delhi residents’ lung health would be installing central ventilation and filtration systems – technology that already exists — in new homes and businesses, said Maija Virta, an independent indoor air quality consultant based in Bangalore.
“These systems improve air quality up to 80 percent. The very least we should do is not make new buildings without them,” she said. “Architects should be educated on how to incorporate these things.”
But there is little, if any, push to incorporate such technology in current projects, which is in line with the general lack of concern about the pollution.
Preetha Rajaram, an environmental epidemiologist and mother of two daughters, moved back to India from the United States three years ago and has since invested in air purifiers at home. But she was amazed at how few of her Indian colleagues seem bothered by the air.
“Sure, there are plenty of things competing to bother you here,” she said. “Perhaps if you’ve only been here though, then you don’t necessarily know that this isn’t the way that things should be.”
Ms. Rajaram says she and her husband are increasingly convinced that Delhi’s air is responsible for exacerbating one daughter’s asthma, and giving the other tonsillitis and inflamed adenoids, which has meant she can only breathe out of her mouth.
Mr. Aggarwal does his part to raise the alarm among Delhi residents over pollution’s hazards, often giving presentations at schools and conferences, but he lamented the apathy he encountered.
“People are definitely appalled, but instead of doing anything about it I often hear this kind of ‘Oh, God, should I just shoot myself instead?’ type of attitude,” he said. “Unless they or their kids are facing severe respiratory problems, I don’t see Indians doing anything about this.”
Not far from the terrace of the Delhi Golf Club, where Mr. Aggarwal sat for an interview, floodlights illuminated the shroud of carcinogenic particles hovering above the bunkers and greens.
Over at the next table, a man coughed and muttered one of Delhi’s common refrains into his cellphone: “This smog is killing me.”
U.S., French Presidents Call for 'Ambitious' Climate Change Deal
by Naharnet Newsdesk
10 February 2014, 08:49
The presidents of France and the United States issued a joint call Monday for other nations to join them in seeking an "ambitious" agreement to curb climate change.
Presidents Barack Obama and Francois Hollande, writing in an article in the Washington Post and Le Monde, called for support "in pursuit of an ambitious and inclusive global agreement" to reduce greenhouse gas emissions "through concrete actions" at a climate conference in Paris in 2015.
Cooperation on a host of global issues -- which include the Syrian crisis, Iran's nuclear program, and security in Africa -- has resulted in France and the United States enjoying a "model" relationship, the presidents wrote.
The joint opinion piece comes as Hollande travels to the United States on Tuesday for a state visit.
"Rooted in a friendship stretching back more than two centuries, our deepening partnership offers a model for international cooperation," the presidents wrote.
"Transnational challenges cannot be met by any one nation alone. More nations must step forward and share the burden and costs of leadership."
Ties between the two countries have warmed considerably since chilling over France's refusal to support the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq under president George W. Bush.
"A decade ago, few would have imagined our countries working so closely together in so many ways. But in recent years our alliance has transformed," the presidents wrote.
The two countries "have been able to take our alliance to a new level because our interests and values are so closely aligned," they said.
Regarding climate change, even as the United States and France "reduce our own carbon emissions, we can expand the clean energy partnerships that create jobs and move us toward low-carbon growth. We can do more to help developing countries shift to low-carbon energy as well, and deal with rising seas and more intense storms," they wrote.
Sustainable nuclear fusion breakthrough raises hopes for ultimate green energy
Scientists have moved a step closer to achieving sustainable nuclear fusion and almost limitless clean energy
• Explaining nuclear fusion: is it the way to cheap energy?
Ian Sample, science correspondent
The Guardian, Thursday 13 February 2014
US researchers have achieved a world first in an ambitious experiment that aims to recreate the conditions at the heart of the sun and pave the way for nuclear fusion reactors.
The scientists generated more energy from fusion reactions than they put into the nuclear fuel, in a small but crucial step along the road to harnessing fusion power. The ultimate goal – to produce more energy than the whole experiment consumes – remains a long way off, but the feat has nonetheless raised hopes that after decades of setbacks, firm progress is finally being made.
Fusion energy has the potential to become a radical alternative power source, with zero carbon emissions during operation and minimal waste, but the technical difficulties in demonstrating fusion in the lab have so far proved overwhelming. While existing nuclear reactors generate energy by splitting atoms into lighter particles, fusion reactors combine light atomic nuclei into heavier particles.
In their experiments, researchers at the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California use a bank of 192 powerful lasers to crush a minuscule amount of fuel so hard and fast that it becomes hotter than the sun.
The process is not straightforward. The lasers are fired into a gold capsule that holds a 2mm-wide spherical pellet. The fuel is coated on the inside of this plastic pellet in a layer as thin as a human hair.
When the laser light enters the gold capsule, it makes the walls of the gold container emit x-rays, which heat the pellet and make it implode with extraordinary ferocity. The fuel, a mixture of hydrogen isotopes called tritium and deuterium, partially fuses under the intense conditions.
The scientists have not generated more energy than the experiment uses in total. The lasers unleash nearly two megajoules of energy on their target, the equivalent, roughly, of two standard sticks of dynamite. But only a tiny fraction of this reaches the fuel. Writing in Nature, the scientists say fusion reactions in the fuel released at best 17 kilojoules of energy.
Though slight, the advance is welcome news for the NIF scientists. In 2012, the project was restructured and given more modest goals after six years of failure to generate more energy than the experiment consumes, known as "ignition".
Results from the NIF facility will help scientists work out how to build a fusion reactor, but the centre is funded primarily to help the US understand how its stockpile of nuclear weapons is ageing. The experiments help to verify computer models that are used in place of nuclear tests, which are now banned.
Omar Hurricane, the lead author of the report, said the latest improvement came by controlling the implosion of the spherical pellet more carefully. In previous experiments, the pellet distorted as it was crushed, which seemed to reduce the efficiency of the process. By squashing the fuel more softly, helium nuclei that are produced in the fusion reactions dump their energy into the fuel, heating it up even further, and driving a cycle of ever more fusion.
"We are finally, by harnessing these reactions, getting more energy out of that reaction than we put into the DT fuel," Hurricane said. The report appears in the journal Nature.
The dream of controlled fusion remains a distant hope, and Hurricane said it was too early to say whether it was even possible with the NIF facility. The researchers need to get a hundred times more energy from the fusion reactions before the process can run itself, and more for it to deliver an overall surplus of energy.
Steven Cowley, director of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy near Abingdon in the UK, said the study was "truly excellent" and began to address the core challenges of what is known as inertial fusion in the lab. He said the team may need a bigger laser, or a redesigned capsule that can be squashed more violently without becoming unstable. "Livermore should be given plenty of time to develop a better capsule. It strikes me that we have only just begun to understand the fusion regime," Cowley told the Guardian.
The Culham lab has taken a different approach, called magnetic confinement. As long ago as 1997, the facility generated 16MW of power with 24MW put into the device. "We have waited 60 years to get close to controlled fusion. We are now close in both magnetic and inertial. We must keep at it. The engineering milestone is when the whole plant produces more energy than it consumes," Cowley said.
The experimental fusion reactor Iter, which is being built in France, is expected to be the first plant to produce more energy than it consumes. The project has faced delays of more than two years and overrun budgets, but is still an international flagship for fusion research. "Iter is going slowly but progress is happening," said Cowley.
Explaining nuclear fusion: is it the way forward for cheap energy?
With a new nuclear fission power station given the green light, Professor Steve Cowley examines whether nuclear fusion could soon be a viable alternative
The Observer, Sunday 10 November 2013
The government has recently approved a new nuclear fission power station. But could nuclear fusion soon be a viable alternative? Professor Steve Cowley, CEO of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, the operator of the Jet fusion reactor, explains
What is fusion?
The most stable nucleus of an atom is a medium-sized one, iron. Anything that is smaller than iron wants to join together and fuse.
How do you get nuclei to fuse?
That process is the way stars make all the elements. In the middle of a star you've got quite a lot of hydrogen bumping into the other hydrogen at great velocity. The hydrogen nucleus is positively charged and so it will mostly bounce off another one. But if you fire them at each other really strongly, and they hit dead on, they get close enough that the strong force, which binds the nucleus together, grabs them and fuses them. This releases lots of energy, keeping the star hot.
How much heat is needed for fusion?
At Jet we go up to 200m degrees and at that temperature the hydrogen nuclei bump in to each other many times, but every 1,000 or so times they fuse. In our experiment we bump together two kinds of hydrogen and we make helium and a neutron. The mass of the particles that we react is slightly more than the particles we create and that mass difference is turned into energy. It all comes back to E=mc2.
How much more energy is produced than consumed?
The world record for what we call gain, which is the ratio of energy out to energy in, is held by Jet, which is 0.7 - you always get the energy you put in, plus in our case 70%. Jet is going to try to break that record.
How do you keep the hydrogen at 200m degrees?
The fusion fuel is in the form of what's called a plasma. We suspend it in mid air inside an evacuated vessel with magnetic fields. It doesn't touch anything so it can get to 200 million degrees without heating the wall.
Is it safe?
We only put 1/10th of a gram of fuel in at any one time. If it all burns in a big burst at once, it's just nothing. Fusion has intrinsic safety. [It] produces energy without making long-lived radioactive waste, without making CO2.
Could this solve our energy problems?
If we could make this a commercially viable energy source, there is 30 million years' worth of fuel in seawater. The problem is we have very reliable, cheap energy from fossil fuels. People are unwilling to sacrifice economics for the environment. [With fusion] the fuel is so cheap that it's an irrelevant cost. Everything is in the hi-tech pieces of equipment to make it work and hi-tech can be unreliable so we've got to engineer something that works 24/7. That's a challenge.
We will move [around 2020] to a machine in southern France called ITER which will not only produce more energy than is put in, it will get to a state where you don't have to put any energy in at all. That will be a demonstration that fusion is feasible, it's not a demonstration that it will be cost effective. We've got work to do to make sure we can then turn that into the first power station.
Climate change is here now and it could lead to global conflict
Extreme weather events in the UK and overseas are part of a growing pattern that it would be very unwise for us, or our leaders, to ignore, writes the author of the influential 2006 report on the economics of climate change
The Guardian, Friday 14 February 2014
The record rainfall and storm surges that have brought flooding across the UK are a clear sign that we are already experiencing the impacts of climate change.
Many commentators have suggested that we are suffering from unprecedented extreme weather. There are powerful grounds for arguing that this is part of a trend.
Four of the five wettest years recorded in the UK have occurred from the year 2000 onwards. Over that same period, we have also had the seven warmest years.
That is not a coincidence. There is an increasing body of evidence that extreme daily rainfall rates are becoming more intense, in line with what is expected from fundamental physics, as the Met Office pointed out earlier this week.
A warmer atmosphere holds more water. Add to this the increase in sea level, particularly along the English Channel, which is making storm surges bigger, and it is clear why the risk of flooding in the UK is rising.
But it is not just here that the impacts of climate change have been felt through extreme weather events over the past few months. Australia has just had its hottest year on record, during which it suffered record-breaking heatwaves and severe bushfires in many parts of the country. And there has been more extreme heat over the past few weeks.
Argentina had one of its worst heatwaves in late December, while parts of Brazil were struck by floods and landslides following record rainfall.
And very warm surface waters in the north-west Pacific during November fuelled Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall anywhere in the world, which killed more than 5,700 people in the Philippines.
This is a pattern of global change that it would be very unwise to ignore.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change last September pointed to a changing pattern of extreme weather since 1950, with more heatwaves and downpours in many parts of the world, as the Earth has warmed by about 0.7C.
The IPCC has concluded from all of the available scientific evidence that it is 95% likely that most of the rise in global average temperature since the middle of the 20th century is due to emissions of greenhouse gases, deforestation and other human activities.
The upward trend in temperature is undeniable, despite the effects of natural variability in the climate which causes the rate of warming to temporarily accelerate or slow for short periods, as we have seen over the past 15 years.
If we do not cut emissions, we face even more devastating consequences, as unchecked they could raise global average temperature to 4C or more above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.
This would be far above the threshold warming of 2C that countries have already agreed that it would be dangerous to breach. The average temperature has not been 2C above pre-industrial levels for about 115,000 years, when the ice-caps were smaller and global sea level was at least five metres higher than today.
The shift to such a world could cause mass migrations of hundreds of millions of people away from the worst-affected areas. That would lead to conflict and war, not peace and prosperity.
Satellite photos of the River Parrett on the Somerset Levels taken before the recent flooding and on 8 February. Satellite photos of the river Parrett on the Somerset Levels taken before the recent flooding and on 8 February. Photograph: UK Space Agency/SWNS.com
In fact, the risks are even bigger than I realised when I was working on the review of the economics of climate change for the UK government in 2006. Since then, annual greenhouse gas emissions have increased steeply and some of the impacts, such as the decline of Arctic sea ice, have started to happen much more quickly.
We also underestimated the potential importance of strong feedbacks, such as the thawing of the permafrost to release methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, as well as tipping points beyond which some changes in the climate may become effectively irreversible.
What we have experienced so far is surely small relative to what could happen in the future. We should remember that the last time global temperature was 5C different from today, the Earth was gripped by an ice age.
So the risks are immense and can only be sensibly managed by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which will require a new low-carbon industrial revolution.
History teaches us how quickly industrial transformations can occur through waves of technological development, such as the introduction of electricity, based on innovation and discovery.
We are already seeing low-carbon technologies being deployed across the world, but further progress will require investment and facing up to the real prices of energy, including the very damaging emissions from fossil fuels.
Unfortunately, the current pace of progress is not nearly rapid enough, with many rich industrialised countries being slow to make the transition to cleaner and more efficient forms of economic growth.
The lack of vision and political will from the leaders of many developed countries is not just harming their long-term competitiveness, but is also endangering efforts to create international co-operation and reach a new agreement that should be signed in Paris in December 2015.
Delay is dangerous. Inaction could be justified only if we could have great confidence that the risks posed by climate change are small. But that is not what 200 years of climate science is telling us. The risks are huge.
Fortunately poorer countries, such as China, are showing leadership and beginning to demonstrate to the world how to invest in low-carbon growth.
The UK must continue to set an example to other countries. The 2008 Climate Change Act, which commits the UK to cut its emissions by at least 80% by 2050, is regarded around the world as a model for how politicians can create the kind of clear policy signal to the private sector which could generate billions of pounds of investment. Weakening the Act would be a great mistake and would undermine a strong commitment made by all of the main political parties.
Squabbling and inconsistent messages from ministers, as well as uncertainty about the policies of possible future governments, are already eroding the confidence of businesses. Government-induced policy risk has become a serious deterrent to private investment.
Instead, the UK should work with the rest of the European Union to create a unified and much better functioning energy market and power grid structure. This would also increase energy security, lower costs and reduce emissions. What better way is there to bring Europe together?
The government will also have to ensure the country becomes more resilient to those impacts of climate change that cannot now be avoided, including by investing greater sums in flood defences.
It should resist calls from some politicians and parts of media to fund adaptation to climate change by cutting overseas aid. It would be deeply immoral to penalise the 1.2 billion people around the world who live in extreme poverty.
In fact, the UK should be increasing aid to poor countries to help them develop economically in a climate that is becoming more hostile largely because of past emissions by rich countries.
A much more sensible way to raise money would be to implement a strong price on greenhouse gas pollution across the economy, which would also help to reduce emissions. It is essential that the government seizes this opportunity to foster the wave of low-carbon technological development and innovation that will drive economic growth and avoid the enormous risks of unmanaged climate change.
• Nicholas Stern is chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the LSE and president of the British Academy.
Public health warning as cat parasite spreads to Arctic beluga whales
Whalemeat presents possible danger to humans as Toxoplasma gondii, which can lead to blindness, spreads to thawing region
Ian Sample, science correspondent
theguardian.com, Friday 14 February 2014 13.33 GMT
A dangerous parasite spread by domestic cats has been found in beluga whales in the Arctic.
The discovery of Toxoplasma gondii in the marine mammals has led researchers to issue a public health warning to Inuit populations who eat beluga whalemeat in dried strips and stews.
Though cooking the meat destroys the parasite, the infection could be spread when people prepare meals and fail to wash their hands afterwards.
Toxoplasma is one of the most successful pathogens on Earth. The bug infects an estimated third of the world population. In the UK, the Food Standards Agency estimates 350,000 people become infected each year.
The infection is harmless in most cases, but 10% of people develop flu symptoms or more serious eye problems that can lead to blindness. The infection has also been linked to schizophrenia and other bipolar disorders.
Pregnant women are particularly at risk, as the parasite can affect heart and brain development in foetuses, and trigger miscarriages and stillbirths.
Prof Michael Grigg at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver said tests on hundreds of beluga whales in the Beaufort Sea, on the edge of the Arctic, revealed that 14% of the creatures harboured the infection. The tests are the first to show the infection has reached the region.
"This is now emerging in the Arctic and there's not much we can do about that. This is the new normal," said Grigg. The infected whales did not appear ill, but Grigg said that his team might not be finding animals made sick by the infection.
The most likely cause of the outbreak was infected cat faeces washing into waterways and on to the sea, where fish and other marine organisms became contaminated and ultimately eaten by the whales.
Given that water supplies might be contaminated, the Inuit populations have been advised to filter or boil their water to destroy the parasite. The organism is hardy, and will survive immersion in chlorine or sulphuric acid, but can be killed by heat, desiccation or freezing.
The rise in pet cats among the Inuit and a warming climate which helps the pathogen survive until it finds a host could be to blame for the emergence of the infection, Grigg told the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago.
"Ice is a major eco-barrier for pathogens. What we are seeing with the big thaw is the liberation of pathogens gaining access to vulnerable new hosts and wreaking havoc," he added.
Belugas are killed by the Inuit as part of a subsistence hunt and limits are imposed on the catches. Though some populations are endangered, others, such as the 30,000 or so in Hudson Bay, are not. The population in Canadian waters is estimated at 70,000 to 140,000. A single whale can feed 100 people.
"The Inuit's traditional processing and cooking methods should be enough to kill Toxoplasma but vulnerable populations such as pregnant women need to be extra vigilant around handling and consuming raw whalemeat," said Grigg.
In separate work, the same researchers identified a pathogen that caused a mass die-off of grey seals in the north Atlantic in 2012. The parasite, named Sarcocystis, was previously found only in the coldest northern waters. Further tests since have found that the same parasite has killed Steller sea lions, seals, Hawaiian monk seals, walruses, and polar and grizzly bears in Alaska and British Columbia
Kerry announces 'unique co-operative effort' with China on climate change
Martin Pengelly in New York
theguardian.com, Saturday 15 February 2014 16.37 GMT
Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday announced a “unique co-operative effort” with China on the issue of combating climate change.
In a press conference at a Beijing car-making factory, the Cummins-Foton Joint-Venture Plant, which he visited as part of an Asia tour, Kerry said he and local representatives had “succeeded in completing our agreement with respect to some steps we are going to take to move the climate change process forward”.
Kerry is scheduled to continue his tour, which started with talks in Seoul at which he heralded China’s stance on North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, with visits to Indonesia and Abu Dhabi.
On Saturday, he continued: “One of the most important challenges that we all face here in China, in America, in Europe and other countries … is how do we improve the quality of the air that we breathe and at the same time reduce the greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to climate change? To be successful, it is going to take the cooperation of China and the United States – not just our governments, but also our industries.”
Kerry said China and the US, the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gas, had a “special role” to play in reducing those emissions, and cited progress made on the issue during vice-president Joe Biden’s visit to Beijing last year.
Earlier this week, a Chinese report said pollution had made Beijing “barely suitable” for living. The report ranked the capital second worst out of 40 global cities for its environmental conditions – behind Moscow. Also this week, the Chinese government announced that it will spend up to 10bn yuan ($1.65bn) to fight air pollution.
In January, overruling opposition from the UK, the European Union pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030.
Kerry said: “Last year, when I was here, we joined together with … China’s leaders in what we call the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. Within this dialogue, we have launched five initiatives as part of our Climate Change Working Group.
“I’m very pleased to report today that we have completed implementation plans for those five initiatives on heavy-duty vehicles, on smart grid for the delivery of energy, on carbon capture, utilization and storage, on energy efficiency, and finally on collection and management of data.
“I’m very pleased to also announce today that the leaders of China have agreed to join us in a mutual effort – China and the United States will put an extra effort into exchanging information and discussing policies that will help both of us to be able to develop and lead on the standards that need to be announced next year for the global climate change agreement.
“This is a unique cooperative effort between China and the United States, and we have hopes that it will help to set an example for global leadership and global seriousness on the issue of next year’s climate change negotiation.”
Ed Miliband: 'Britain is sleepwalking to a climate crisis'
Dither – and denial – over the widely agreed cause of extreme weather are paralysing government and steering the country towards a security crisis, believes the Labour leader
Toby Helm, political editor
The Observer, Saturday 15 February 2014 21.06 GMT
We are on the 3.30pm train from Birmingham to London and it feels like a race against time. Outside, the fields are flooded and the rain is lashing down. More bad weather is heading in fast from the west. Two days before, on Wednesday, Virgin Trains called a temporary, early-evening halt to services in and out of Euston and passengers are worried it may do so again.
Aside from a nagging anxiety about getting home, Ed Miliband is having a decent day. Earlier, he dropped in on south Manchester, where Labour had won the Wythenshawe and Sale East byelection with ease, before heading to Birmingham to explain his union reforms to a group of mostly enthusiastic party activists.
Now, however, he wants to discuss something far more important: climate change, its consequences, and his plans to combat its worst effects. Between 2008 and 2010, Miliband was secretary of state for energy and climate change at a time when David Cameron was positioning himself as a believer in everything green. It seems like an age ago that they trod such similar ground.
"I genuinely believed he believed it," he says of the prime minister's ultra-green phase as opposition leader. "He talked a lot about it. It seemed to be close to his heart."
Since then, though, much water has passed under the Tory bridge and Miliband is not at all sure what Cameron believes. The economic crash and recession helped put green politics out of fashion in Conservative circles and austerity made the whole agenda seem, at least to some, like an expensive luxury the country could not afford.
In 2012, Cameron sacked a green energy minister, Charles Hendry, and appointed a climate change sceptic, Owen Paterson, as environment secretary. Where being green had once been a defining mission, for Cameron and others it had become a financial burden and a source of party division. Last year, Cameron was said to have been wandering around Downing Street talking of his wish to be rid of all this "green crap" .
As the wind buffets our carrriage, Miliband describes Cameron's claims to be leading the "greenest government ever" as nothing more than a joke these days. Last week – after more than a fortnight of storms and wall-to-wall media coverage of a country under water – he tuned into the prime minister's press conference and heard Cameron equivocate when asked about the link between climate change and storms and floods.
Cameron said: "I think the point I would make is, whatever your view, clearly we have had and are having some pretty extreme weather. So whatever your view about climate change, it makes sense to mitigate it and act to deal with that weather." Everyone had a right to their own view, but the prime minister would not stick his neck out. Had he lost faith in climate change as the cause of the extreme weather and was he no longer prepared to lead the debate? Miliband was mystified and dismayed.
"It is pretty extraordinary that [in Cameron's case] it has gone from a core conviction, a part of his irreducible core, to a matter of conscience as to whether you believe it or not," he says.
For the Labour leader there is no doubt. "In 2012 we had the second wettest winter on record and this winter is a one in 250-year event. If you keep throwing the dice and you keep getting sixes then the dice are loaded. Something is going on," he says.
Miliband has plenty of experience on climate change. In 2008, he navigated the Climate Change Act, which committed the UK to cut its emissions by at least 80% by 2050, through parliament. It passed with only five votes against.
At that time, all three political parties appeared united about the scale of the problem and the measures that needed to be taken. The act was regarded around the world as a model. But today, squabbling and inconsistent messages from ministers, and pressure from Ukip has split the Tories from Labour and the Liberal Democrats on green issues.
Miliband is keen not to be seen to be laying too much blame at Cameron's door, when so many people are suffering the terrible effects of flooding. It is not a time for political point-scoring but for leadership, he says.
But he struggles to avoid personal criticism, because he believes the Tories' divisions on the issue are having an effect on policy. "The reality is that the action we take as a country depends on whether you believe in climate change. If you believe that the climate has been changing for centuries – and that this is no different – then why would you believe that it is necessary to take all the measures that are required?
"What we have seen for the last couple of weeks is that that [attitude] has impacts.
"So when the government downgrades flood protection, cuts the floods budgets, cuts the adaptation budget – all of those things – that has an impact."
He says it is urgent that a national consensus is rebuilt behind the scientists' view that climate change is to blame for extreme weather – because otherwise the planning about how to respond will continue to be inadequate.
More money, he admits, will have to be spent on flood defence – though he is adamant that a Labour government would find it by reordering priorities rather than increasing overall spending.
He wants the floods to serve as a wake-up call and suggests that the need for national unity on this issue is just as urgent as it is in wartime. "We have always warned that climate change threatens national security because of the consequences for destabilisation of entire regions of the world, mass migration of millions of people and conflict over water or food supplies," he says.
"But the events of the last few weeks have shown this is a national security issue in our own country, too, with people's homes, businesses and livelihoods coming under attack from extreme weather. And we know this will happen more in the future."
Miliband's declared mission is to rebuild a national consensus on the subject. That task is, however, hugely complicated by the divisions in the Tory party between climate change deniers, agnostics and believers.
"The problem is that either denial or dither on climate change will damage the country. Denial is damaging because it means you won't take the steps necessary, but dither is damaging, too, because it means you are half-hearted about taking the necessary measures.
"The science is clear. The public know there is a problem. But, because of political division in Westminster, we are sleepwalking into a national security crisis on climate change."
He calls for "decent people" in the Tory party and the Liberal Democrats to join the cause, "to come forward and say, we can't have this ambivalence any more because it will be disastrous for this country".
A FLOOD OF FACTS
■ The Thames Barrier at Woolwich was shut for a record 16th consecutive tide yesterday to reduce flood risk for communities along the Thames, which recorded some of its highest levels in 60 years.
■ The Energy Networks Association said electricity had been restored to 572,291 properties across the UK since the storms struck, but 16,092 homes, mostly in north Wales, remained cut off.
■ Local authorities are providing 10,000 sandbags a day to home and business owners trying to protect their properties. Around 5,800 properties have flooded.
■ An estimated 7.3 million tonnes of water is being pumped off the Somerset Levels every day.
■ 5.2 million properties in England – one in six – are at risk of flooding. Of these, 1.4 million are at risk from rivers or the sea alone, 2.8 million from surface water and 1 million are at risk from both.
The Dutch solution to floods: live with water, don't fight it
With more than half the country at or below sea level, the Dutch are experts on water management – and its people have had to make sacrifices
The Observer, Sunday 16 February 2014
Nol and Wil Hooijmaaijers have been watching the TV news from Britain with some horror. "It's terrible to see, very sad, I am so sorry. And when you see the cows up to their knees in the water," Wils tuts and shakes her head. "We are so lucky." Sitting at their oak dining table, looking out of the windows of their modern farmhouse at the newly planted saplings standing firm in the grey afternoon, the couple know what it is like to lose a home on a flood plain. .
Their old house and fields were sacrificed to a flood management scheme that forced them to sacrifice their farm for the sake of 150,000 strangers in the city of Den Bosch, some 30km upstream. Both in their sixties, they now live on a "mound dwelling", a man-made hillock with a flattened five-and-a-half acre top. There are eight dairy farms strung along the 6km dyke, like eight giant mud pies plunked down on the flat fields and linked by a raised road. All with the same large grey cattle sheds and newbuild houses in each plot.
All but one of the 17 farms that had been scattered across the land before the government's Room for the River agency arrived have been demolished. "That one goes in four weeks," said Nol, pointing to a tidy farm settlement behind mature trees.
The project on the Overdiepse Polder, eye-shaped farmland enclosed between the curves of two rivers, is one of 40 programmes due to be completed by next year by Room for the River. Set up in 2006, the agency was given a budget of €2.2bn (£1.8bn) to reduce the risk of Holland's four main rivers flooding. It has been busily lowering floodplains, widening rivers and side channels – basically giving the river space to cope with extra water – and moving 200 families, including the Hooijmaaijers, out of their homes. It's a project that the Irish government among others is interested in emulating and, after this winter, Britain may want to take note.
The low-lying Netherlands has been fighting back water for more than 1,000 years, when farmers built the first dykes. Windmills have been pumping the stuff off the land since the 14th century and the Overdiepse Polder mound dwellings are based on what the earliest inhabitants built here in 500BC. One of the most densely populated countries on the planet, 60% of the Netherlands is vulnerable to flooding, and its peat-rich agricultural soil is subsiding even as climate change is raising sea levels.
The country's universities are producing some of the world's best water engineers and managers and it is exporting its expertise abroad; the Dutch government has advised on water governance projects in China, Africa and Australia.
The Netherlands has also learned from past mistakes – a 1977 report warning about the weakness of the river dykes was ignored because it involved demolishing houses. It took floods in 1993 and again in 1995, when more than 200,000 people had to be evacuated and hundreds of farm animals died, to put plans into action.
Hans Brouwers is a senior rivers expert at Rijkswaterstaat Room for the River. He shudders at the idea of dredging or flood defence maintenance being neglected and says that the UK should look closely at where it has gone wrong this year.
According to Brouwers, the clear demarcation of responsibilities in the Netherlands is crucial, as are the present projects that he is involved in pushing through.
There are no financial packages for people who have to move. "They get the market value of their house and that is all. We will help them find another place, but not financially. The only thing we do is to make sure that they do not lose money." He insists people will accept the situation "if you are honest and proactive and go to people and talk to them and take their fears seriously". Only two cases have been taken to court by people who didn't want to leave, both of which have been won by Room for the River.
"Of course there is opposition and of course people are hurt," said Brouwers. "They aren't singing and dancing about it. If you are the third generation in that house and you have to move it is terrible. But we have to find a way to live with water rather than fight it. Our task is clear. Our cashflow is constant. The programme is on track. Holland is divided and ringed by dykes and that will not change. We have built our cities for years close around rivers, we have given them no space so we have to change that."
At Overdiepse, nine families chose to leave the area. "When we first heard in 2001, we were shown a map and all of our area was coloured blue," said Nol. "The farmers were surprised and worried and the first thought was no, we will not let this happen. But in the flooding of 1993 to 1995 we had a close call here. It was clear that something had to be done. Like the UK is having now, it was a wake-up call. So maybe if we co-operate we can be involved. For me, I decided to take the opportunity to invest in new dairy machinery and modernise in the new place.
"I don't think in the cities that what has happened here is a topic; they think water protection is the responsibility of the government and they trust them to take care of them. They get on with their daily lives. With dry feet."
Harold van Waveren is a water management expert from the Dutch ministry of infrastructure and environment. His colleague is in the UK helping to advise on the flooding.
He says that, while no risk is ever zero, the Dutch system is about taking nothing for granted and being constantly on top of maintenance of coastal and river defences.
"The Dutch are extremely proud of their water management and we have eight million people [almost half the population] living below sea level who depend on it. We have learned a lot from floods in the past, especially from 1953, the big flood which Britain also had, when we had a lot of damage and 1,800 casualties. We started the delta programme then and put a lot of flood protection in place.
"Our organisation is very important. We have regional water boards with their own tax system who are in charge of dredging and of the programmes of dyke maintenance. We have adapted climate change into urban planning, and development on flood plains has not been allowed since the 80s. More and more we are working with nature – on the coast, management is about building up the sand dunes and beaches.
"In extreme situations, of course, you have to fight but in everyday life you have to live alongside water. Sometimes people resent the spending that goes on dykes because they don't see the benefit the next day. That is why we are glad Dutch politicians agreed to constant funding. There is no end to this. It's a continuous process. We do not want to be surprised again."
Several Dutch companies have experimented with amphibious housing. In 2005 one architectural company, Dura Vermeer, built 32 "floating" homes in Amsterdam, based loosely on old Dutch house boats. The plan was to beat the government ban on building behind the dykes which surround the cities, the equivalent of banning building in flood plains, by creating amphibious houses of two types: one that would be on dry land until it flooded, when it would effectively float up with the rising water; and another that was built over water but that could cope with its changing levels. Most of the houses are now holiday homes.
Three years ago, Dura Vermeer built another 12 in Maastricht. "They are a little more expensive than other houses but they need no more maintenance and they can be in very special places," said Glenn Mason of Dura Vermeer. "We are not restricted as is the rest of Holland's housing. So much of Holland is below sea level and you can't build as you would normally, so we are running out of room and have to look to adapt our living style. We are one of the pioneers of working with water and now we are seeing a lot of other countries coming to look and to copy them."
Mason said the Maastricht houses, costing from €200,000-€800,000, were not all sold yet "because of the economic crisis and because there is a housing crisis too in the Netherlands". A tightening of regulations has made it harder for some people to get a mortgage. It may also be that people may joke about needing an ark but are uneasy about living in one.
"It is an experiment and at the moment all our floating houses are recreational homes. But in places like Rotterdam, where they are running out of space fast, we are looking at floating offices along with houses which are amphibious. It may well be the future."
In Overdiepse Polder, Nol Hooijmaaijers shows off this week's seven new Friesian calves and says he believes the future has arrived.
"I'm lucky, the farm is safe, the cows are safe, the people in the city will have dry feet," he said. "I have a son who is taking over the farm, otherwise what would I have done? Just retired probably, given up."
He shows the path down to the field that his cows take when they feel in the mood. "Six metres, up here in our castle on the hill! Now let the water come. I would like very much to see that in my lifetime. We have done this for the next generation but I would very much like to see if it works. I would like the taxpayers to see that it works. Let the floods come."
Barack Obama proposes $1 billion climate protection fund
Feb 15, 2014, 02.39 AM IST
WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama will Friday propose a $1 billion dollar fund to mitigate the impact of climate change, as he inspects farmland parched by drought in California.
He will propose the investment in his 2015 budget that will be released next month -- though it is unclear whether the fund has much prospect of advancing past Republicans on Capitol Hill.
"We've always had heat waves, but now the worst ones are longer, and they're hotter," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
"We've always had droughts, but the worst ones are getting longer and drier.
"We've always had severe storms, but instead of hundred-year storms that happen once a hundred years, we're having hundred-year storms that happen every other year or every five years."
The new Climate Resilience Fund is intended to finance research into better understanding of projected impacts of climate change and how to better protect communities and infrastructure.
It is also designed to help vulnerable communities plan and prepare for the impacts of climate change and to encourage local measures to reduce future risk and to fund new resilient technologies and infrastructure to combat a warming climate.
Obama will travel to Fresno, for a roundtable discussion with farmers on the drought which has turned parts of the state's lush farmland into a Dust-bowl type moonscape.
Around 90 percent of California is reported to be experiencing severe to exceptional drought.
The drought emergency has also sparked wildfires and prompted Governor Jerry Brown to ask Californians to cut their water use by 20 percent.
Obama will pledge to implement $100 million in livestock disaster assistance for California producers contained in a recently passed agriculture bill.
He will also highlight $15 million in conservation funding for extreme drought areas in California, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado and New Mexico.
A further $5 million will be provided for emergency watershed protection for California, among other measures which also include a mandate for federal facilities to use less water.
Obama pledges help for California’s drought-stricken San Joaquin Valley
Saturday, February 15, 2014 9:04 EST
President Barack Obama toured parts of California’s drought zone on Friday and pledged to speed help to the No. 1 farm state, but he said harsh weather in the United States will get worse until more steps are taken to address climate change.
California is coming off its driest year on record and a recent winter storm did little to dull the impact of the drought in the state that produces half the country’s fruits and vegetables. A recent drought monitor said 91.6 percent of the state is experiencing severe to exceptional drought.
Obama walked past a below-normal canal in a dusty field that would otherwise be producing asparagus and organic melons. In remarks after the tour and during an earlier roundtable, the message was sober: California, usually bountiful, is facing a challenging year.
“Anybody in this state can tell you California is living through some of its driest years in a century,” he said, standing with Governor Jerry Brown.
Since California is the biggest U.S. agricultural producer, he said, “What happens here matters to every working American right down to the cost of food you put on your table.”
Obama announced plans to make available within 60 days up to $100 million in aid to help California farmers who lost livestock because of drought conditions. For livestock producers across the country, about $1 billion will be available.
The assistance was contained in a $956 billion farm bill that Congress passed and that he signed last week. Separately, the administration said it plans new funding to address climate change.
At a meeting of the state’s top water officials in Sacramento on Friday the mood was grim, despite the welcome news that federal aid was on the way.
Water resources secretary John Laird called the drought a catastrophe that had not been mitigated by recent rains in the state.
Job losses among farm workers were expected to be so acute that $60 million of the federal assistance was expected to be used to shore up food banks.
“This is a disaster that crosses over into employment and food,” he said.
Laird said the state was moving quickly to help the communities most affected by the dry conditions, sending low-security prison inmates to lay pipe in the parched town of Willits to improve access to water.
“We can’t make it rain, but we’re sending water where we need it the most, saving what we can and asking everyone to conserve,” Laird said.
Obama said the federal government will help California as it adjusts policies to conserve more water. But he said it will take a lasting effort over the long haul to combat carbon emissions blamed for global warming.
“We have to be clear: a changing climate means that weather-related disasters like droughts, wildfires, storms, floods are potentially going to be costlier and they’re going to be harsher,” he said.
Droughts have existed for eons, he said, “but scientific evidence shows that a changing climate is going to make them more intense… Unless and until we do more to combat carbon pollution that causes climate change, this trend is going to get worse.”
Given congressional gridlock over the issue, Obama might be building a case to impose some measures this year against climate change via executive order, part of an effort to take action where he can with or without congressional approval.
Beyond California’s drought, Obama’s 2015 budget proposal, expected in March, will include $1 billion to help communities prepare for climate change, the White House said.
The so-called Climate Resilience Fund will pay for research on climate change and fund technologies and infrastructure to blunt its impact.
Obama stopped in the drought zone on his way to California to meet Jordan’s King Abdullah on Friday night at Sunnylands, a desert retreat in Rancho Mirage.
Obama announced $15 million in aid to help farmers and ranchers implement water conservation practices. This includes $5 million for California and $10 million for hard-hit areas in Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado and New Mexico.
Among other measures, Obama said he directed federal facilities in California to take steps to curb water use immediately, including a moratorium on new landscaping projects not deemed essential.
(Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento and Mark Felsenthal and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Alden Bentley, Andre Grenon and Ken Wills)