Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Tackle climate change or face deep recession, world's leaders warned
· Economic review turns cost argument on head
· Technologies investment 'could stimulate growth'
James Randerson, science correspondent
Thursday October 26, 2006
Climate change could tilt the world's economy into the worst global recession in recent history, a report will warn next week.
Sir Nicholas Stern, a former chief economist with the World Bank, will warn that governments need to tackle the problem head-on by cutting emissions or face economic ruin. The findings, due to be released on Monday, will turn economic argument about global warming on its head by insisting that fighting global warming will save industrial nations money. The US refused to join the Kyoto protocol, the international agreement on greenhouse gas emissions, because George Bush said it would harm the economy.
The contents of the Stern review into the economics of climate change - commissioned by the Treasury - have been kept secret since the nature of the work was revealed to the world's environment ministers in Mexico this month. But Sir David King, the government's chief scientific adviser, yesterday gave the Guardian a preview of its main findings.
Speaking at a climate change conference in Birmingham, he said: "All of [Stern's] detailed modelling out to the year 2100 is going to indicate first of all that if we don't take global action we are going to see a massive downturn in global economies." He added: "If no action is taken we will be faced with the kind of downturn that has not been seen since the great depression and the two world wars." Sir David called the review "the most detailed economic analysis that I think has yet been conducted".
The review will highlight the threat of sea level rise. Sir David said: "If you look at sea level rises alone and the impact that will have on global economies where cities are becoming inundated by flooding ... this will cause the displacement of ... hundreds of millions of people."
Sir David's comments mirror those of the foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, on Tuesday. "This is not just an environmental problem," she said. "It is a defence problem. It is a problem for those who deal with economics and development, conflict prevention, agriculture, finance, housing, transport, innovation, trade and health." Sir Nicholas will argue that tackling the problem may not prove as economically painful as some experts predict. Investment in low-carbon technologies could stimulate the global economy. Sir David said: "[Stern's] analysis, I think, will also surprise many people in terms of the relatively small cost of action."
The International Energy Agency predicts that $15 trillion (£8 trillion) of investment in new energy sources will be required over the next 15 years. "The massive investment programme that's ahead of us is an opportunity for us to move towards a zero carbon energy system. The investment process is going to act quite possibly in the opposite direction to an economic downturn," Sir David said.
He told the Rapid Climate Change conference, organised by the Natural Environment Research Council in Birmingham, that achieving global political consensus would be extremely difficult. "In my view this is the biggest challenge our global political system has ever been faced with. We've never been faced with a decision where collective decision making is required by all major countries." The timescale too is unprecedented. "Actions being asked of the political system today are only going to play through into mid-century and beyond. So for the first time we are asking a global political system to make decisions around risks to their populations that are well outside the time period of any election process."
He drew parallels between scientific advice on global warming and advice from seismologists ahead of the Boxing Day tsunami. A month before the disaster a delegation warned governments around the Indian ocean about the extreme danger posed by tectonic activity under the sea. No government chose to act on the advice. "$30m as the cost to install some kind of early warning system presumably looked like a lot of money." But such a system could have saved 150,000 lives.
FAQ The Stern review
What is the Stern review?
Gordon Brown asked Sir Nicholas Stern last July to analyse the financial implications of climate change.
What will it say?
Climate change poses a threat to the world economy and it will be cheaper to address the problem than to deal with the consequences.
Why does it matter?
The global warming argument seemed a straight fight between the scientific case to act and the economic case not to. Now, economists are urging action.
International action beyond 2012 is debated in Nairobi next month.
What about the US?
The great sticking point. Some believe only a change of president will bring serious action.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Global warming: looking beyond Kyoto
Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth has helped focus attention on the threat posed by fossil-fuel driven climate change. Gore’s film was met with a predictable barrage of criticism by right-wing pundits. For example Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt wrote in a September 13 article that the “former US vice-president's ludicrous scaremongering contains exaggerations, half-truths and falsehoods”.
However Bolt and his ilk are increasingly isolated. Over the last decade, the framework of the debate on climate change has shifted, with so-called “greenhouse sceptics” increasingly rare.
A GlobeScan opinion poll of people in 30 countries conducted between October 2005 and January 2006 found that a large majority believe that global warming is a serious problem. A Lowy Institute poll released on October 4 found that climate change is seen as one of the top three threats to Australia's vital interests in the next 10 years.
In 1997, PM John Howard said, “There is ... quite a bit of debate about the science, so far as greenhouse effects are concerned, and it’s not all one way. It is not all — how should one put it — the apocalyptic view of the world and of life.” But on the October 15 60 Minutes Howard talked about living in “an age where we’re worried about global warming” (of course he was arguing that climate change is a case for Australia developing nuclear power “because it’s clean and it doesn’t emit greenhouse gases”).
Although it’s good news that the terrain of the “debate” has decisively shifted from whether global warming is happening and is a problem to the question of solutions (even if in Howard’s case it’s a non-solution like nuclear power), the bad news is that in the meantime more evidence has emerged that paints a terrifying picture of the scope, speed and impact of climate change.
Of major concern to climate scientists are findings that the Arctic ice cap is melting faster than expected. According to a September 26 Bulletin article by Tim Flannery, although the Arctic ice cap has been melting at a rate of 8% per decade since the 1970s, resulting in thinning of the sheet and a loss of one quarter of its surface, during the summer of 2005 the melting accelerated, resulting in the loss of 300,000 square kilometres of ice.
The results of the monitoring of winter ice are no more heartening. According to Gretchen-Cook Anderson of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Arctic winter ice has been retreating at a rate of 1.5% per decade since 1979. However, over the last two years the ice has retreated by 6% each winter — 40 times faster than in previous years. Flannery speculated that this could be as a result of the Arctic Ocean passing “an important thermal point and ... retaining the warmth it gains from the 24-hour summer sun”, which could trigger the collapse of the Arctic food chain and destabilise the Earth's heat balance.
Possibly the gravest warning so far about global warming’s speed was given by NASA scientist James Hansen at the Climate Change Research Conference in California on September 13. Hansen said that the world has “at the most” a decade in which to stem climate change, warning that a “business as usual” approach would raise global temperatures by 2-3°C, producing a “different planet”.
Melting icecaps will raise sea levels by between 10 and 25 metres forcing millions to seek refuge, increasingly violent weather patterns will cause major destruction and as the land dries up bushfires will be more frequent.
A 2°C rise in temperature will raise sea levels, inundating low-lying countries in the Asia Pacific region and create up to 150 million refugees by 2070, a CSIRO report released in October predicted.
But the challenge posed by global warming has been met primarily with criminal inaction from the governments of the two highest per capita greenhouse gas polluters — Australia and the US. Both countries have refused to sign on to the Kyoto Protocol, citing as “unfair” the fact that Third World nations are not bound to reduce greenhouse emissions and possible economic damage caused by the agreement.
Instead of promoting green technologies like solar, wind and hydro power, the Howard government is pushing “clean coal” — an attempt to rehabilitate a polluting industry on the basis of unproven technology — and nuclear power — low in greenhouse efficiency and high in environmental and human impact (though with wonderful profit margins thanks to the massive government subsidies needed to make it viable) — as solutions to climate change.
Forcing climate renegades like the Howard and Bush governments to sign on to Kyoto has been a natural and useful focus of these movements. However the severity of the threat posed by climate change means that on its own Kyoto isn’t enough.
According to New Scientist, the treaty's range of loopholes and scams will mean that even if the industrialised countries achieve Kyoto's reduction of 5.2% below 1990 levels by 2012 on paper, the real-world reduction will be more likely to be 1.5%.
A September 21 British Guardian article by George Monbiot argued that atmospheric carbon concentrations need to be stabilised at the current level in order to avoid a 2°C temperature rise that will send the Earth's climate spiralling out of control. This would mean that the industrialised nations would need to cut emissions by 90% by 2030.
Not only does Kyoto not go anywhere near mandating the kind of greenhouse emission cutbacks that are needed, it also relies upon carbon-trading schemes that have proven ineffective in curbing emissions.
One of the first major tests of Kyoto’s carbon trading has been the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme, which has been an almost total failure. The ETS is a carbon-trading market that includes all 25 EU member-states. Earlier this year the ETS market crashed as a result of member EU governments setting lax national emission targets, meaning that high-polluting industries could continue with business as usual and had no need to buy carbon credits.
By May 2006 the market price of permits had dropped to 10 euros per tonne, down 20 euros from April. In another indication of the ease with which corporate interests undermine “market mechanisms”, on June 28 Germany announced that it would exempt its coal industry from any Kyoto requirements.
Some of the harshest criticisms of Kyoto are of its “Clean Development Mechanism”. CDM allows First World countries to avoid reducing their emissions by investing in projects in the Third World that reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The amount of GHGs that are theoretically reduced by the projects are transferred into credits that First World countries can buy to allow their companies to continue a pollution-as-usual approach.
Participants at the first anti-carbon-trading conference, held in South Africa in October 2004, issued a statement declaring: “As representatives of people’s movements and independent organisations, we reject the claim that carbon trading will halt the climate crisis. This crisis has been caused more than anything else by the mining of fossil fuels and the release of their carbon to the oceans, air, soil and living things. This excessive burning of fossil fuels is now jeopardising Earth’s ability to maintain a liveable climate ...
“Carbon trading will not contribute to achieving this protection of the Earth’s climate. It is a false solution which entrenches and magnifies social inequalities ... ‘giving carbon a price’ will not prove to be any more effective, democratic, or conducive to human welfare, than giving genes, forests, biodiversity or clean rivers a price. We reaffirm that drastic reductions in emissions from fossil fuel use are a pre-requisite if we are to avert the climate crisis.”
However the kind of “drastic reductions” in fossil-fuel emissions that are required have barely even registered on the policy agendas of governments like Australia’s.
The degree to which the Howard government and the Bush regime in the US have shifted rhetoric on climate change reflects the cracks in the political and corporate elite over climate change. Those who now see global warming as a threat to the stability of capitalist economies, and, therefore, a threat to corporate profit, reflect an increasing body of elite opinion (as, indeed, is reflected by Gore).
But the kind of changes that are urgently needed — severe restrictions on greenhouse emissions, massive investment in public transport and renewable energy sources, access to clean technology for poor nations, and the eradication of the First World/Third World divide — will mean cutting into the “right” of corporations to profit at the expense of the environment. Governments that rule on behalf of the corporate rich, like Howard’s, will only take these steps — which are needed now — under pressure from a strong, grassroots environment movements.
However the global warming crisis also raises questions about the sustainability of the capitalist economic system. The economic competition that is so fundamental to capitalism drives corporations to maximise their profits no matter what damage is done to the environment or face ruination at the hands of competitors, and the anarchy of the so-called “free market” renders impossible a rational allocation of resources on the basis of social need.
Renowned socialist environmentalist John Bellamy Foster explained in the October 2005 Monthly Review: “The main response of the ruling capitalist class when confronted with the growing environmental challenge is to 'fiddle while Rome burns.’ To the extent that it has a strategy, it is to rely on revolutionizing the forces of production, i.e., on technical change, while keeping the existing system of social relations intact ...
“In stark contrast, many environmentalists now believe that technological revolution alone will be insufficient to solve the problem and that a more far-reaching social revolution aimed at transforming the present mode of production is required.”
Foster argued that environmental sustainability was achievable only through radical social change: “The creation of an ecological civilization requires a social revolution ... It must put the provision of basic human needs — clean air, unpolluted water, safe food, adequate sanitation, social transport, and universal health care and education, all of which require a sustainable relation to the earth — ahead of all other needs and wants.”
“Such a revolutionary turn in human affairs may seem improbable But the continuation of the present capitalist system for any length of time will prove impossible — if human civilization and the web of life as we know it are to be sustained.”From Green Left Weekly, October 25, 2006.
Saturday, October 21, 2006
Here is a preview of two beautiful bird families coming soon as a 6" x 9" portrait on card stock for your enjoyment.
See Coming Soon at Good Nature
Marbled Murrelet and Pileated Woodpeckers are $1.99 ea
I post this story for friends in Colorado who like to hike and don't subscribe to the NYT.
But I leave it up for you as a fine example of clear, crisp writing in a short format.
Oakley Brooks sets up his protagonist quickly, someone with a wild hair, perfect Northwest weather and nuts enough to climb steep Cascade peaks in the Pickets by himself. Read on:
Lone Climber Attacks Rocky Proving Ground
By OAKLEY BROOKS
Published: October 21, 2006
In the heart of North Cascades National Park in north-central Washington is a saw-toothed line of 8,000-foot volcanic rock known as the Picket Range. The sheer faces and the bruising, off-trail slogs required to get to the Pickets make the mountains some of toughest climbs in the lower 48.
“For a mountaineer, it’s probably the best venue in the lower 48 because there are a lot of appealing climbs that haven’t been done yet,” said Peter Potterfield, editor of Greatoutdoors.com and author of a Cascades climbing guide.
In 1980, John Roper, a Bellevue, Wash., physician who grew up climbing the mountains in the national park, went on a three-peak expedition that included 8,291-foot Mount Fury in the Pickets. Walking around the south side of Fury, he passed a jagged, 4,000-foot ridgeline leading up toward the summit. The last spike in the ridge jutted out and cast a finger-like shadow against the mountain. Roper later theorized that, given the difficulty of the Pickets, the spike on the ridge of Fury was probably the hardest place to get to in Washington State. Roper named the line Mongo Ridge and the last tower The Pole of Remoteness.
This summer, the Seattle climber Wayne Wallace decided to ascend the ridge and reach the Pole. Nobody else had done it. Few had even considered it.
“It never occurred to me to climb it,” said Roper, now 62 and one of the old guard of Cascades climbers. But when the two talked about going up Mongo, Roper encouraged Wallace, a sinewy, 5-foot-11 carpenter foreman with a thick grip who had in recent years completed tough climbs in the Pickets.
In late August, Wallace had three weeks free because of a strike, and he tried to rally some climbing friends for an attempt at the ridge.
“I only know three people that really qualify for that trip, but everybody had commitments to other climbs or family,” said Wallace, who is 43 and single. “I had the line on this, I had the approach, I had the weather, but I didn’t have partners.”
On Aug. 23, Wallace attended a slide show in Seattle of a first ascent in Alaska. He returned home, packed his gear and left at 4 a.m., charged up by the idea of tackling his own new route — alone.
“In the daily world, we have so much padding around us,” Wallace said. “When that’s gone and it’s just you hanging there in control of your life, that’s when life is at its clearest.”
Wallace’s planned route was a grueling four-and-half-day trek, including a crossing of the eastern summit of Fury before he even got to Mongo Ridge. On his first day, he hiked 28 miles, the last 14 off-trail, through thick forest and clumps of devil’s club, a thorny plant. The next morning, he crossed Fury’s glacier en route to the mountain’s eastern peak. He reached the summit and stretched out to watch a molten red sunset — a good sign for the next day’s attempt on Mongo Ridge.
“When you don’t have any excuses, that’s when it’s scary,” said Wallace, who took a few sleeping pills, as he usually does during climbs.
Upon reaching the base of Mongo the next morning, he looked at the ridge’s first three major pinnacles using his digital camera. “It was a weapon throughout the trip,” he said of the camera.
After going up some steep rock leading to the bottom of the first pinnacle, he began a moderately difficult climb up the 400-foot first tower. Wallace kept his 45-pound pack on and stayed unroped — which saved him the time of looping back down to retrieve rope holds. At the top of the tower, he set a rope and rappelled some 200 feet over to the base of Tower 2, an up-and-down pattern he would repeat throughout the day.
He climbed the next tower unroped and rappelled to the base of Tower 3, where Wallace photographed one of the more intimidating spots on Mongo: a sheer granite pinnacle that soared into a deep blue sky. A gaggle of other towers lay in waiting behind it. Wallace roped up. The climbing ahead looked more technical.
His calves were feeling the effects of carrying his pack. “You’re working against time and energy,” he said.
As he climbed across the face of Tower 3, he looked down on a thousand-foot drop. He repeated a mantra that every mountain has a way up, and another saying: if you live through this, seek help.
Wallace’s hands began to cramp as he traversed the fourth tower. Reaching the top, he had to move across a sharp ridge to get the base of the Pole. He recalled it as one of the dicier points — “like climbing on loose teeth.”
Wallace had been climbing for nearly 12 hours. He sensed that his concentration was blurring from fatigue. Looking up at the Pole and its sheer headwall, he thought it might be the most difficult climb of the day. But he found a notched path up the right edge that allowed him to keep his pack on and ease his way up.
Once atop the tower, he let out a bellowing yell and captured a vertigo-inspiring image: the shadow of the Pole projected against the rest of Fury, with Wallace’s tiny likeness perched on the pinhead top.
He was not finished, however. In his final rappel that day, Wallace triggered a rock fall that sliced into one of his ropes. He said he had a sense something bad would happen on the Pole. It had been named before he had reached it, something mountain climbers are wary of.
But Wallace safely reached the backside of the Pole and had stamped the ridge with a new identity: his own.
Roper ranked the climb among the most challenging first ascents in the North Cascades in the past several years. “It’s impressive,” he said. “And brazen.”
That night, Wallace found a crack in the rocks with a pillow of snow to sleep on. He filled his water bottles with melted snow, and the next day, he climbed to the top of West Fury, traversed across to East Fury and began the long walk to Ross Lake. He celebrated with a dinner at a small resort at the south end of the lake, then hustled back to Seattle.
The strike had ended, and work was starting up again.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
In Blackwater Woods
their own bodies
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
I have ever learned
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
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Unraveling Plant Ancestry Through Modern Technology
by Jessica M. Scully
Since Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus created the modern biological classification system in the mid 18th century, botanists have determined a plant's place among the wild diversity of life on the planet primarily based on its morphology, or form.
But to Bruce Baldwin, a professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley, what a plant looks like isn't always the best indicator of its species or closest relatives. "When morphological similarity has been the sole line of evidence, it's often been misleading about evolutionary relationships," he says.
Baldwin, whose specialty is native plants of California and the Hawaiian plants that evolved from them, uses DNA testing to resolve plants' ancestry and evolution. The evidence he has unearthed shows that plant evolution can occur more rapidly than once thought, and that plants evolve with remarkable precision to fit sometimes extremely local environments. While botanists have long known that California is rich in native species, Baldwin and his students' work proves that the state's plant life is even more varied and diverse than his predecessors imagined.
Baldwin's most extensive studies have focused on Madiinae, a group of plants in the sunflower family commonly known as tarweeds. The group includes plants that look dramatically different from one another, from the more than 6-feet tall, yucca-like Hawaiian silversword to the tiny California tarweed, Hemizonella minima, often less than an inch in height. "The group has undergone tremendous change for having such a short evolutionary history," says Baldwin.
Baldwin, who is also the curator of the Jepson Herbarium at UC Berkeley, has recently used experimental and genetic methods to explore theories about the evolution of different tarweed species proposed by earlier researchers, including Jens Clausen, David Keck, and William Hiesey, a Bay Area team well known worldwide in botanical circles. The three were pioneers at their time, from the 1930s to 1950s, for incorporating genetics, ecology, and physiology into plant classification. But they lacked the tools necessary to resolve relationships with modern levels of precision.
"There wasn't at that time a way to reconstruct genealogies rigorously, and there certainly wasn't any means of getting at the actual timing of when one species separated from another," says Baldwin.
To determine relationships between different plant species or populations, Baldwin extracts their DNA, then sequences non-coding regions that evolve rapidly enough to provide evidence of recent evolutionary change. Instead of looking for overall genetic similarity between species as in the past, which can be misleading, Baldwin reconstructs relationships based on the fewest mutational steps, or a more explicit model of DNA sequence evolution.
Through these and other techniques, he's been able to resolve questions left unanswered by earlier botanists. One of these questions is the evolutionary history of Layia discoidea ("Discoidea"), also known as rayless layia, a small annual herb.
Unlike other layias, Discoidea has a yellow bloom without rays, or showy petal-like flowers. It lives in serpentine soils, with a mineral composition toxic to many plants, in a small area of San Benito and Fresno counties, and looks so different from other tarweeds that some botanists once thought it wasn't even a member of the tribe.
Clausen's team discovered it was a tarweed and related to Layia glandulosa ("Glandulosa"), or white layia, a ray-bearing plant found in sandy soils throughout the western United States. But the researchers weren't sure which plant came first, and thought that the rayless plant could be an evolutionary relict.
Through genetic testing, Baldwin found that Discoidea split from Glandulosa less than a million years ago. And he discovered an interesting fact about both species. Glandulosa's common name – white layia – is something of a misnomer. While most of the plants have white rays, a rare variety has yellow rays. Baldwin discovered that the rare, yellow-rayed version is more closely related to Discoidea, a separate species, than it is to the white-rayed plants in its own species. That means Discoidea underwent such rapid change that its close relationship to yellow Glandulosa was obscured, except with the aid of molecular data, Baldwin explains. Discoidea even retains a gene coding for yellow ray color, although it no longer has rays, he says.
This example "shows that evolution can proceed at very different rates and in very different ways, depending on ecological circumstances," Baldwin says. California, with its many microclimates and soils, offers a multitude of distinct environments that have shaped plant evolution here, Baldwin says. That means the state likely has many new species yet to be discovered, he adds.
But Baldwin knows if species lose their habitats, they could disappear before being discovered. "If a (species) disappears, we're losing something irreplaceable," he says. "We still aren't knowledgeable enough to say whether these plants have special ecological properties or special medicinal properties," he adds. "But we do know once they're gone, they're gone forever."
Monday, October 16, 2006
World's tallest tree
Researchers have confirmed that a redwood named Hyperion in a remote Northern California forest is the world's tallest tree.
Steve Sillett, a forestry professor at Humboldt State University, recently climbed Hyperion and measured it at 379.1 feet, one foot taller than previously thought.
Hyperion, which grows in Redwood National Park, edged aside the previous record holder, a 370.5-foot redwood called Stratosphere Giant in nearby Humboldt State Park.
Researchers had to wait until the end of the endangered marbled murrelet's nesting season to measure Hyperion and confirm its status as the world's tallest living thing.
If it weren't for damage caused by woodpeckers at its top, Hyperion could have reached 380 feet, researchers said.
Michael Taylor and Chris Atkins, the naturalists who initially found Hyperion, said the chances of finding a taller living organism are slim because they have already searched about 95 percent of the prime habitat for big redwoods.
Officials would not pinpoint the exact location of Hyperion because they are worried that too many visitors could damage the tree's delicate ecosystem.
Picture Credit Treehugger