Archive for June 28th, 2011

Eco-Briefs

Eco-Briefs

Posted 27 June 2011, by Staff, Tierramerica, tierramerica.info

BRAZIL: Wind Power Potential Ignored by Government

RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 27 (Tierramérica).- Wind power is an abundant source of energy in Brazil, but it is not given priority in government plans, according to a study by the Institute of Electrotechnics and Energy at São Paulo University.

While there is potential for the generation of up to 143 gigawatts, only one gigawatt of wind power is produced, the equivalent of just 0.88 percent of the energy currently available in Brazil. Projects already underway will expand the country’s wind power capacity to six gigawatts by 2019.

“The potential for wind power was quantified in 2001. Today there are higher towers that could increase it. Limited experience with the related technology is one of the reasons for the lack of investment,” head researcher Juliana Chad told Tierramérica.

“The development of research mechanisms and incentive programs could change this state of affairs,” she added.

The study noted that the Northeast is the region with the greatest potential for the generation of wind power, accounting for half of the total national potential.

MEXICO: Mesoamerican Drylands Project Launched

MEXICO CITY, Jun 27 (Tierramérica).- Marginalized communities in four states in southern Mexico and the central Guatemalan department of Baja Verapaz will be involved in a project to improve natural resource management in areas with scant rainfall.

The Conservation and Sustainable Management of Drylands in Mesoamerica initiative will be executed over the course of three years in Baja Verapaz and the Mexican states of Veracruz, Puebla, Oaxaca and Chiapas, with almost 1.3 million dollars in funding.

The project is being undertaken by the European Union, the Mexican and UK branches of the humanitarian organization Oxfam, and the Mexican Network to Combat Desertification and the Degradation of Natural Resources.

It is aimed at “strengthening local processes of agricultural production, building technical and empirical knowledge in local communities and promoting the sustainable management of land, energy and water in productive activities and conservation,” Oxfam Mexico campaign coordinator Dolores Rojas told Tierramérica.

ARGENTINA: Schools in Mendoza to Teach Safe Handling of Pesticides

BUENOS AIRES, Jun 27 (Tierramérica).- An Argentine government agency is carrying out a program to teach students in rural primary schools in the western province of Mendoza about the safe handling of pesticides.

The educational program on the safe use of these chemical products is based on the idea that “by educating children we will reach their parents,” Maximiliano Caballero of the National Institute of Industrial Technology told Tierramérica.

The program is being carried out in Mendoza at the request of the Department of Toxicology at the local branch of the Ministry of Health. Of the 103 cases of pesticide poisoning reported in 2010 in Argentina, 49 took place in the province of Mendoza and almost half involved children, explained Caballero.

Children and adolescents are not only exposed to these toxic substances because they live in rural areas, but also because some of them work alongside their parents in agriculture and are therefore handling pesticides.

HONDURAS: Climate Change Adaptation Projects in Indigenous Areas

TEGUCIGALPA, Jun 27 (Tierramérica).- Work will begin in July on four climate change adaptation projects in four primarily indigenous departments in Honduras.

The projects are being carried out in the western departments of Ocotepeque, Copán and Lempira, which are home to the Chortí ethnic group, and the northern department of Atlántida, where there is a large Garifuna population.

They will involve the construction of hydraulic works, retaining walls and bridges in areas frequently hit by flooding, Lisandro Rosales, head of the Permanent Commission on Emergencies, told Tierramérica.

The works will be executed with community participation and financed with a 19-million-dollar loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). There are plans for a total of 55 projects in different regions of the country.

http://www.tierramerica.info/nota.php?lang=eng&idnews=eco&nro=532

“Women Environment and Climate Action Network Training Centre” by Rosemary

“Women Environment and Climate Action Network Training Centre” by Rosemary

Posted on 18 June 2011, by Alexandra, Travel 2 Change, travel2change.org

Rosemary is a Cameroonian Geologist and Gender Ambassador for the Gender and Water Alliance. She has over 20 years working experience in the field of water, sanitation, environmental education and training across Africa. She agreed to answer a few questions about her project idea “Women Environment and Climate Action Network (WECAN) Training Centre” located at the Kponkpo Village, Ga East Municipal Assembly Greater Accra Region of Ghana.

Rosemary work as the International Coordinator for the Pan African Climate Education (PACE) Centre and the Women Environment and Climate Action Network. The PACE Centre promotes climate education across African schools and communities to build their capacity to establish resilient communities and combat the impacts of Climate Change.

What’s your project idea about?

The idea of the WECAN Training Centre is to build the capacity of grassroots women across Central and West Africa within the area of climate change mitigation and adaptation technologies. Many communities across Central and West Africa have been affected by droughts, floods, disease and other ills. As care givers and natural resources managers grassroots women can become very active agents of change and help lift their communities out of poverty and promote sustainable development by undertaking simple technologies that would help them fight the impact of climate change within their communities.”

“I have over 20 years working experience in the field of water, sanitation, environmental education and training across Africa. I did notice that although the HIV/AIDS issues in African communities is very serious, many women and children die from water and sanitation related diseases easily, something that can be avoided if the capacities of women can be built to undertake grassroots project within the area of clean development. Hence I have dedicated 20 years of my life to ensure that communities have access to clean and safe water and adequate sanitation, and women can become a very powerful agent of change. Hence to WECAN Training Centre is a permanent centre of excellence that would help communities across Africa have access to clean and safe water and adequate sanitation by undertaking capacity building in climate change adaptation and mitigation technologies. This includes construction of Ecological Sanitation toilets instead of the flying toilets (where people use plastic bags and throw in the bush), the use of improved stoves instead of firewood, rain water harvesting for household water security etc. I have worked with several international organization such as the National Coordinator for the Stockholm Junior Water Prize, Nigeria and Cameroon, Project Water Education for Teachers (WET) Cameroon etc and I have a membership in various women and gender organization such as Women’s Earth Alliance (WEA), Gender CC, Women for Climate Justice, Gender and Disaster Network etc.”

How can travel2change help you with this project?

“The WECAN Centre is based in the Greater Accra Region of Ghana. We are very happy to receive voluntary travelers and any support from travel2change members and partners such as equipment, scholarships to train women, adopting a village or a community to ensure that they have access to clean and safe water and adequate sanitation etc. Whatever support possible, we shall be very grateful.”

How can you ensure sustainability for this project?

“We seek to make the WECAN Centre a self financing centre to ensure its sustainability through using the social enterprise approach. We work with local communities and various stakeholders across Africa and worldwide. For example, we have received a donation of a 10 acre land to build the centre from Ms Georgina Svanikier, the land owner. We are also seeking to sell products like solar cookers, water purification systems etc to make money that would be plough back into the system to ensure the sustainability of the project.”

Is there anything else you would like to share with the community?

“I also have a blog site called Go Green with Green Rosemary. I educate the masses about  green life styles and sustainable livelihood. I am also working on a publication “Managing Small Green Business”. I was also one of the authors of Water Voices from around the world. I have written several environmental poems and songs and I work in collaboration with my mother, a retired teacher now 74 years old, who is also an environmentalist. Poet, playwright, musician, human rights activist etc.”

Thanks for telling us about the great work you do, Rosemary! We hope that you get lots of support for your project from our community members!

Want to help Rosemary and the WECAN project? Vote for her on http://www.travel2change.org/idea.php?id=31

http://www.travel2change.org/blog/?p=257

New Publication on Development and Customary Law

New Publication on Development & Customary Law

Posted 24 June 2011, by Staff, Natural Justice, natural-justice.blogspot.com

The International Work Group on Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) recently released an issue of “Indigenous Affairs”. Edited by Jens Dahl and Geneviève Rose, it includes a range of articles on different aspects of customary law, self-determination, and development among Indigenous peoples in Kenya, Sabah (Malaysia), India, Bolivia, and Russia. The editorial explores the importance of customary law for Indigenous peoples’ self-determined development, self-governance, control and management of their territories, and addressing internal challenges such as conflict resolution and women’s rights. The full issue can be downloaded herehttp://www.iwgia.org/iwgia_files_publications_files/0470_IA_1_2_2010.pdf
Thanks to Elsa from the TK Bulletin for the link!

 http://natural-justice.blogspot.com/2011/06/new-publication-on-development.html

France Invests €1B in Nuclear, Saying Moratorium ‘Makes No Sense’


France Invests €1B in Nuclear,
Saying Moratorium ‘Makes No Sense’

 

Posted 27 June 2011, by Staff, Yale Environment 360, e360.yale.edu

Despite recent safety concerns in the wake of the Fukushima crisis, French President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged to invest 1 billion euros in the next generation of nuclear power generation. Saying that a moratorium on nuclear production “makes no sense,” Sarkozy said France will focus investment on “fourth-generation” technology, as well as research into nuclear safety. France, which generates about 74 percent of its electricity from its 58 nuclear reactors, is also the world’s biggest net exporter of electricity from nuclear sources. “There is no alternative to nuclear energy today,” Sarkozy told reporters. The commitment comes as neighboring Germany moves to phase out all of its nuclear reactors by 2022. Sarkozy also pledged investment of another 1.3 billion euros in renewable energy production. Other nations are also lining up to build nuclear reactors despite the Fukushima crisis, including the United Arab Emirates, which recently signed a deal to build four reactors; Saudi Arabia, which announced it will build 16 reactors by 2030; and Turkey, which is building two new nuclear plants.

Germany’s Unlikely Champion Of a Radical Green Energy Path

The Fukushima disaster convinced Angela Merkel that nuclear power would never again be a viable option for her country, Christian Schwägerl reports. Now Merkel has embarked on an ambitious plan to power an industrial economy on renewable sources of energy. READ THE e360 REPORT

http://e360.yale.edu/digest/france_invests_1_billion_euros_in_nuclear_saying_moratorium_makes_no_sense/3009/

How Genetic Engineering May Have Created E. Coli Outbreak

 

How Genetic Engineering May Have Created E. Coli Outbreak

 

Posted 27 June 2011, by Dr. Mae-Wan Ho (ISIS Report), Institute of Science in Society (ISIS), i-sis.org.uk

Greatly assisted horizontal gene transfer and recombination turned previously harmless bacteria into dangerous pathogens Dr. Mae-Wan Ho

Rapid decoding in the new scientific commons

The E. coli O104:H4 genome was rapidly decoded within days of the initial outbreak in Germany by Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI)’s third generation technologies, and the raw data promptly uploaded to a public database (ftp://ftp.genomics.org.cn/pub/Ecoli_TY-2482) so geneticists all over the world could analyse and annotate the sequences and share their findings quickly in a new scientific commons on the internet.

It was clear that the outbreak E. coli O104:H4 is a new strain with a genome size of about 5.2 Mbp (million basepairs), which unusually, has both the properties of enteroaggregative E. coli (EAEC) that cause diarrhoea and enterohaemolytic E. coli (EHEC) that cause haemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS, or bloody urine), along with resistance to the widest range of antibiotics [1].

The outbreak strain is most similar to EAEC 55989, previously isolated in the Central African Republic from an HIV-positive adult, and since emerged as a major cause of diarrhoea in children and adults worldwide [2].  EAEC carry small extra units of genetic material called plasmids; the German outbreak strain has the typical plasmid genes of EAEC bacteria, as well as the Shiga toxin genes of EHEC carried on prophage (genome of bacteria virus) integrated in the bacterial chromosome.

Rampant horizontal gene transfer

Preliminary analyses using an algorithm that searches for protein similarity to define genes based on known proteins in E. coli and other bacteria, detected 6327 genes in all, 6156 coding for proteins and 171 coding for ribosomal and tRNA.

Of the proteins identified, 33 genes are toxins, 3 suspected haemolysins (proteins causing haemolysis), a putative hemolysin expression modulating protein, and a channel protein of hemolysin III family. In addition, 31 predicted genes are related to specific antibiotic resistance: beta-lactamic, aminoglycoside, macrolide, polymyxin, tetracycline, fosfomycin and deoxycholate, novobiocin, chloramphenicol, bicyclomycin, norfloxacin and enoxacin and 6-mercaptopurine [3]. The strain is also rich in adhesion, secretion systems, pathogenicity and virulence related proteins. It seems to have a restriction-modification system, many proteins involved in Fe transport and utilization (siderophores as aerobactin and enterobactin), lysozyme, one inhibitor of pancreatic serine proteases, proteins involved in anaerobic respiration, antimicrobial peptides, proteins involved in quorum sensing and biofilm formation that could confer competitive advantage to the strain. There are genes for tellurium resistance and resistance to other metals including mercury, nickel, copper, zinc and cobalt, and more than 170 phage proteins.

The proteins are from all major classes of E. coli, pathogenic and otherwise, and at least 21 bacteria of other genera. Most of the proteins (2810) are from E. coli O26:H11 (strain 11368/EHEC), while the second largest contribution (1166) are from E.coli O44:H18 (strain 042/EAEC). Only 51 proteins are recognizably from E. coli K12, the laboratory strain originating from the original ‘wild-type’ isolate, a harmless strain. Other bacteria with major contributions include Salmonella typhi (54 proteins), Yersinia pestis (29 proteins), Shigella dysenteriae  (16 proteins) S. flexneri (20 proteins), S. boydii (9 proteins) and Bacillus cereus.

Judging from the fact that only 51 of 6156 proteins in the outbreak strain are identified with E. coli K12, the degree of divergence from the harmless ‘wild-type’ is more than 99 percent, and much of that could be due to horizontal gene transfer.

Another geneticist who has carried out extensive analysis of the sequences remarks [4]: “In the German outbreak bacteria, as in most E. coli, plenty of horizontal transfer has gone on to create the genome we are now looking at..”

She confirms that the chromosome of the outbreak strain is most similar to strain EC55989, sharing with it part of the EAEC plasmid carrying aggregative adhesion operons aat, the regulator aggR and some other bits, but has a different aggregative adhesion fimbrial complement (AAF/I). The outbreak strain has also acquired the stx2 phage carrying Shiga-toxin 2 genes stx2A, stx2B; a plasmid very similar to the IncI plasmid pEC Bactec, including blaCTX-M and blaTEM-1 beta-lactamase (antibiotic resistance) genes, and a lot of sequence similar to plasmid pCVM29188_101 from Salmonella enterica Kentucky. In addition, a 300-500 kbp do not match any known sequence.

Based on the single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) analysis of the three outbreak isolates genomes carried out by Konrad Oaszkiewicz at University of Exeter in the UK, and ignoring about 10 percent of the genome that is obviously involved in horizontal gene transfer such as phage (bacteria virus), transposase and IS (insertion sequences), she drew a phylogenetic network (a network of evolutionary relationships) [4]. The network clearly shows that the outbreak genomes are very similar to EC55989, and very different from other sequenced E. coli. In particular, the group of EHEC O157:H7 are very distant from the outbreak strain. The current outbreak strain also has an EAEC plasmid carrying aggregative adhesion fimbrial cluster 1.All in all, the non-horizontally gene transferred regions of the outbreak strain differs only by 0.12 percent or less from EC55989.

“Natural GMO” or artificially enhanced by genetic engineering

Geneticist David Tribe has referred to the outbreak strain as a “natural GMO” in his blog [2], on account of the numerous horizontal gene transfer and recombination events that have gone into creating it; more or less taking for granted that rampant horizontal gene transfer is the natural order of things ever since bacteria began to populate the earth. However, there are some who claim that such profuse horizontal gene transfer is impossible within the timespan involved, and that the current outbreak strain must have been genetically engineered in the laboratory as a bioweapon. I take a somewhat different view from either of the two.

I do not believe anyone has intentionally created the outbreak strain. However, as in the case of E. coli O157:H7, in which nearly 20 percent of the genome is thought to have been derived from horizontal gene transfer [5, 6], one should be asking whether genetic engineerng has contributed, unintentionally, to creating it [7] (E. coli 0157-H7 and Genetic Engineering, ISIS News 9/10), in the same way that genetic engineering has contributed to accelerating the emergence of new pathogens and spread of antibiotic and drug resistance (see [8] Gene Technology and Gene Ecology of Infectious Diseases, ISIS scientific publication).

Horizontal gene transfer and recombination is a major route to creating new pathogens and spreading drug and antibiotic resistance. There is nothing natural about artificial genetic engineering, which has greatly expanded the scope and accelerated the rate of horizontal gene transfer and recombination. Furthermore, E. coli is the primary bacterium used in genetic engineering. Many new genes and combinations of genes were created and amplified and propagated in E. coli, because the originalbacterium was harmless. In the process, genetic engineers have turned an original harmless bacterium into deadly pathogens. The problem is surely that even when you have killed the bacteria, the recombinant (genetic engineered)DNA survives, and can be transferred into living bacteria in the sewage, soil, and water to create new strains.

Genetically engineered nucleic acids that slipped through the regulatory net

No, the current outbreak strain has not been intentionally created in the laboratory and released into the environment as a bioweapon. Much more isaccomplished by the bacteria themselves than can be dreamt of by human genetic engineers, when the genetically engineered DNA/RNA is released into the environment as waste, or worst, incorporated as ‘fertilizer’ for crops; as legally authorized by our regulators ever since genetic engineering began, on the mistaken assumption that the killed bacteria and genetically engineered nucleic acids are ‘safe’. I and my colleagueshave warned regulators against such releases time and again since 1994, but in vain (see for example [8-11] Genetic Engineering Dream or Nightmare, Naked and Free Nucleic Acids – Unregulated Hazards, and Living with the Fluid Genome, ISIS/TWN publications).

It is time for such releases to stop. No more live GMOs should be released into the environment; and the GM DNA or RNA contained in laboratory and industrial wastes should be thoroughly broken down before they are discharged into the environment.

References

1. BGI sequences genome of the deadly E. coli in Germany” BGI Premier Scientific Partner, 2 June 2011, http://www.genomics.cn/en/news_show.php?type=show&id=644

2. “Natural GMOs part 85. Speed matters! Era7 and crowd outsourcing provide – E coli EHEC genome annotation fast!”,David Tribe, Biofortified, 3 June 2011

http://www.biofortified.org/2011/06/natural-gmos-part-85-speed-matters-era7-bioinformatics-provide-e-coli-ehec-genome-annotation/

3. Tobes R, Manrique M, Pareja-Tobes P, Pareja-Tobes E, Pareja E, and Tobes R. Full gene contect of the German isolate described. Nature Precedings, No. 713. (6 June 2011) doi:10.1038/npre.2011.6001.1 Key: citeulike:9388507

4. SNP-base phylogeny confirms similarity of E. coli outbreak to EAEC Ec55989. Bacpathgenomics, Posted by Kat 15 June 2011, http://bacpathgenomics.wordpress.com/2011/06/15/snp-base-phylogeny-confirms-similarity-of-e-coli-outbreak-to-eaec-ec55989/

5. Perna NT et al. Genome sequence of enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli O157:H7. Nature 2001:409: 529-33.

6. Eisen JA Gastrogenomics. Nature 2001: 409, 462-3.

7. Ho MW. E. coli 0157:H7 and Genetic Engineering  ISIS Report – March 21 2001http://www.i-sis.org.uk/ecoli.php; ISIS News 9/10, July 2001, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/isisnews/i-sisnews9.php

8. Ho MW, Traavik T, Olsvik R, Tappeser B, Howard V, von Weizsacker C and McGavin G. Gene Technology and Gene Ecology of Infectious Diseases. Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease 1998, 10, 33-59.

9. Ho MW. Genetic Engineering Dream of Nightmare? The Brave New World of Bad Science and Big Business, Third World Network, Gateway Books, MacMillan, Continuum, Penang, Malaysia, Bath, UK, Dublin, Ireland, New York, USA, 1998, 1999, 2007 (reprint with extended Introduction). http://www.i-sis.org.uk/genet.php

10. Ho MW, Ryan A, Traavik T and Cummins J. Unregulated Hazards, ‘Naked’ and ‘Free’ Nucleic Acids, ISIS report 2000, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/naked.php; also Slipping Through the Regulatory Net, ‘Naked’ and ‘Free’ Nucleic Acids, TWN Biotechnology and Biosafety Series, No. 5, 2001, http://www.twnside.org.sg/title/biod5.htm

11. Ho MW. Living with the Fluid Genome, ISIS/TWN, London/Penanag, 2003. http://www.i-sis.org.uk/fluidGenome.php

 

 http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Genetic_Engineering_E_coli_Outbreak.php

Bangalore: State to weather climate change

 

Bangalore: State to weather climate change

Posted 28 June 2011, by Staff, The Mangalorean, mangalorean.com

Bangalore, June 27, DHNS: With the scientific community predicting a steady rise in temperature in the years to come, the State is all set to come out with a comprehensive action plan that would provide a roadmap for policy interventions to mitigate the adverse impact of climate change.

The government has entrusted the work of preparing the “Karnataka Climate Change Action Plan“ to Environment Management and Policy Research Institute (EMPRI) under the Department of Forest, Ecology and Environment. Final touches are being given to the report, which is to be released next month, after extensive consultation with government departments, scientific institutions and independent experts.

Once the plan is finalised, be prepared for several regulatory frameworks and policy interventions ranging from protection and conservation of forest areas to recharge of ground water among others.

Climate change is indeed a matter of concern for the State. Several studies have predicted a changing weather pattern in the coming decades with warmer climate, depletion in rainfall and increase in drought situations necessitating the need for adopting mitigating options.

After Rajasthan, Karnataka is the most vulnerable state in the country to climate change. The arid districts of North Karnataka have earned the State the tag of second driest place in the country.

While the government has the mammoth task of making people change their lifestyle and follow sustainable living principles to reduce global warming, the government itself has a list of dos and don’ts.

Kanwar Pal, Secretary, Environment and Ecology department, says the State is already in a preparatory mode to mitigate the impact of climate change. The government’s move making rainwater harvesting mandatory for all new buildings in Bangalore is a part of the water conservation initiative, he pointed out.

Other measures in this direction include the State’s community-based tank management project for rejuvenation of tanks, subsidies for taking up drip irrigation, priority for organic farming and use of solar energy, policy of phasing out old vehicles and improvement in mass transport system, afforestation programme and clean development mechanism for energy among others.

“Once the action plan is in place, we will streamline and fine tune the policy intervention to mitigate climate change impact,” Additional Chief Secretary and Development Commissioner Meera Saxena said.

The inputs provided by Centre for Sustainable Development and the Bangalore Climate Change Initiative – Karnataka (both organisations are also working on the issue) would also be considered before finalising the action plan, Pal said.

EMPRI research scholars working on the report said that action plan would cover major areas including agriculture, forest, energy and water conservation. Short and long term remedial measures to reduce the impact of climate change would be suggested. The role of agencies to implement the remedial measures would also be elaborated in the action plan.

The State government has also constituted a coordination committee headed by the development commissioner to comply with the action plan.

The 20-member committee comprises secretaries of various departments and will monitor the action initiated by departments with regard to the guidelines stipulated for mitigating climate change impact.

The state-level action plans are being prepared as a part of the announcement made by the Prime Minister’s Council on Climate Change in 2008 about the need to formulate a national action plan on climate change.

http://mangalorean.com/news.php?newstype=broadcast&broadcastid=247542

The radical science of geo-engineering: Maybe it’s not so crazy

 

The radical science of geo-engineering: Maybe it’s not so crazy

Posted 24 June 2011, by John Lorinc, The Globe and Mail, theglobeandmail.com

During a year marked by startlingly unsettled weather, the world’s leaders – preoccupied as they are by economic storms – have had conspicuously little to say about global warming. Indeed, when the Kyoto Protocol, once touted as the big climate fix, expires next year, will anyone notice?

In the absence of meaningful international progress on a workable emissions-reduction strategy, some climate experts have begun to ponder more radical Plan B solutions designed to prevent a torrid future filled with fierce hurricanes, vanishing glaciers and flooded lowlands.

These “geo-engineering” technologies (see sidebar), some seemingly plucked from the realm of science fiction, propose techniques to artificially reduce global temperatures and soak up excess carbon as an alternative to traditional fixes, such as green power and energy-efficient buildings. The proposals run the gamut from whitening clouds to capturing airborne carbon and deploying vast quantities of reflective materials into the orbit around Earth to deflect incoming solar rays.

About 60 scientists and international relations experts gathered this week in Lima to contemplate the rapidly growing body of geo-engineering science and, in effect, consider a once-unthinkable question: Should the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which oversees Kyoto (and its eventual successor), seriously consider geo-engineering as part of its arsenal for fighting global warming?

The meeting in Lima is an indication that the science of geo-engineering is gaining a new aura of legitimacy on the world stage, even though few would dispute that it represents a drastic response to arresting climate change. Not only is it rife with complicated legal and ethical questions, there is also the terrifying prospect of what could happen if one of these global-scale interventions fails or has unforeseen consequences.

Indeed, many environmentalists and social justice groups are dead set against costly technical schemes to manipulate global temperatures and the atmosphere.

But the bracing question geo-engineering proponents pose is a valid one: What’s the alternative, given the lack of progress with conventional fixes?

Jason Blackstock, a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont., and a member of the steering committee that organized the meeting in Lima, frames the emerging debate in terms of “risk versus risk.” With emissions at record levels and little hope of co-ordinated international mitigation efforts, the perils of inaction are equally troublesome, he says. “I don’t think it’s reasonable right now to take any option off the table.”

This week certainly wasn’t the first time experts have gathered to debate these almost unimaginably grandiose proposals, some of which could take decades or even centuries to deliver results. The British Parliament held extensive hearings in 2009 and the signatories of the Convention on Biological Diversity last fall hashed out a toughly worded resolution banning commercial ocean fertilization, a form of geo-engineering meant to sequester carbon by artificially promoting algae growth. Networks of geo-engineering experts have also formed to hash out voluntary research protocols and approaches for regulating these systems.

This week’s session was different, however. Hosted by the UN-chartered Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the meeting marked the first time the Nobel Prize-winning organization has turned its scholarly attention to a set of ideas many critics dismiss as fanciful, and possibly destructive.

In response, Montreal-based ETC Group, a social justice non-governmental organization that has focused intensively on geo-engineering, predicted that the IPCC will “squander its credibility” by evaluating technologies that aspire to re-engineer Earth’s climate.

And some environmentalists argue that such schemes represent a distraction from the pressing business of emissions reduction. Even geo-engineering experts acknowledge that no one really understands the full ecological impact of large-scale interventions in the global climate system.

A detailed overview by Britain’s Royal Society in 2009 noted that techniques such as cloud whitening and aerosol reflectors could alter local climate conditions and even damage the ozone layer. Other technologies would involve enormous amounts of mining activity or could pose risks to global food crops.

The IPCC plans to assess geo-engineering as part of its next evaluation of climate science and mitigation technology, says the Carnegie Institution’s Chris Field, a global ecologist who co-chairs the panel’s Working Group II. The IPCC will release its next set of climate change assessments in 2013-14; those intensely scrutinized reports inform global-climate negotiations.

Proposals for engineering Earth’s climate have been circulating for decades, and some trace their origins to military applications as scientists toyed with methods to alter weather patterns for tactical reasons. Indeed, in the wake of top-secret attempts by the U.S. military to use cloud seeding in the Vietnam war, the international community negotiated a global treaty to ban such activity.

Long relegated to the margins of climate science, geo-engineering has enjoyed a kind of second life since 2005, when Paul Crutzen, a Nobel Prize-winning Dutch scientist, called for more research into global-temperature manipulation techniques as a kind of backup to chronically stalled climate negotiations.

A rapidly growing number of scientists and international relations experts have picked up Prof. Crutzen’s call to arms. “The increase in scientific papers in the last couple of years has been very fast,” Mr. Blackstock says.

The tricky question now is how to conduct experiments to see if the nascent geo-engineering technologies actually work. After all, there’s only one Earth, and humans have already done a lot to mess up the climate system.

The scholarly work on geo-engineering to date has been largely theoretical, with scientists modelling different solutions using climate and atmospheric data. But in recent years, a handful of privately financed ocean fertilization research projects generated international controversy as critics questioned why for-profit entities should be allowed to gamble with sensitive marine ecosystems.

For that reason, the participants at the Lima meeting included environmentalists and international-relations experts who want to ensure that the emerging research activity surrounding geo-engineering is accountable to some kind of international governance body.

“We see geo-engineering as not just a climate issue, but an emerging international relations issue,” says Arunabha Ghosh, chief executive officer of India’s Council on Energy, Environment and Water. His goal: push the IPCC to think about ethical and legal questions, such as what would happen if one country chose to unilaterally deploy a geo-engineering system without consulting its neighbours.

Mr. Blackstock offers another scenario: What happens if the island nations in the Pacific find themselves facing catastrophic flooding due to rising sea levels associated with global warming? Does the international community have an obligation to protect those vulnerable populations, even if it means relying on extreme technologies? “It’s definitely a question we need to ask,” he says.

Clarisse Kehler Siebert, a Canadian research fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute who attended the session, adds that environmental and civil-society groups must engage in such debates so the discussion about the regulation of research isn’t dominated by scientists and technical considerations. “Geo-engineering is here, it’s on the table. Banning big powerful things doesn’t work. [Like nuclear weapons], it needs to be governed within a transparent framework.”

A GEO-ENGINEERING PRIMER

Geo-engineering approaches fall into two broad categories: carbon-dioxide removal (CDR) techniques and solar-radiation management (SRM).

A detailed overview prepared in 2009 by Britain’s Royal Society describes CDR as “large-scale engineering approaches which use either chemical or physical processes to remove the greenhouse gas, and biologically based methods which aim to simulate or enhance natural carbon storage processes.” Time frame: decades or even centuries.

SRM describes futuristic technologies intended to reflect the sun’s rays and lower temperatures, even as emissions continue to build. Time frame: years, once the technologies are deployed.

Carbon-dioxide removal

Biomass-related methods and biochar: The combustion of crops as fuel prevents the release of carbon stored in fossil fuels. Other variations include the burial of waste wood, agricultural matter and charcoal to sequester carbon.

Verdict: It would be moderately effective and affordable, but slow, with a high potential to interfere with the global food system.

Ocean fertilization: The oceans absorb atmospheric carbon, and the resulting acidification has threatened marine ecosystems. Fertilization proposes the use of agents such as iron filings, nitrogen or phosphorous to promote the growth of algae, which absorb carbon. The algae sink, with the carbon sequestered in the depths.

Verdict: The impact on the ocean environment is highly unpredictable. Also it is seen to be slow and costly. It can at best play a “moderate role in carbon sequestration.”

Chemical air capture with carbon removal: Some scientists have been developing prototype devices that soak up ambient airborne carbon and fix it in various chemical or mineral compounds, which must then be transported and stored.

Verdict: It is seen to have lots of potential, but storage venues for the captured carbon must be identified. It’s slow and expensive, but low-risk.

Solar-radiation management

Cloud whitening: Cloud cover over the oceans can be increased by spraying tiny saltwater particles into the sky. This idea has received a lot of public attention and doesn’t depend on sci-fi technology.

Verdict: Cloud-whitening efforts, carried out by special flotillas, can be turned off quickly in case of problems. The impact on marine ecosystems is not known.

Increasing Earth’s surface reflectivity: Making Earth’s surface more reflective could bring down temperatures. Measures include painting roofs, roads and other man-made surfaces white. Other ideas: large-scale desert reflectors.

Verdict: Surface whitening is straightforward, but it would take time to paint a sufficient area to achieve a result. The Royal Society estimates that all of the world’s desert areas would have to be covered with reflectors to achieve a meaningful effect.

Stratospheric aerosols: Inspired by cooling after the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, some experts have proposed jettisoning various aerosols into the stratosphere to replicate the impact of a major volcanic explosion.

Verdict: The quantity of aerosols needed to reduce temperatures is estimated to weigh less than a 10th of the cargo shipped by air each year. But scientists don’t yet understand the impact on the ozone layer and other climatic systems.

Space-based solar reflectors: Reflective or refractive surfaces – everything from orbiting mirrors to dust particles or trillions of metallic disks – could be deployed in Earth’s orbit.

Verdict: Besides the cost, technical complexity and time involved (decades to deploy), the obvious question is what happens if something goes wrong after all that stuff is sent into orbit.

Source: Royal Society

 

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/climate-change/the-radical-science-of-geo-engineering-maybe-its-not-so-crazy/article2074900/

Global warming decreasing salt in sea

 

Global warming decreasing salt in sea

 

Posted 27 June 2011, by Paul Bignell, IOL Scitech, iol.co.za

London – Climate change will turn the Baltic Sea into an increasingly freshwater sea and devastate its marine life, according to scientists.

A multinational study has found that an increase in precipitation in the region would lead the water in the Baltic to become less salty. Such a decrease in salinity would change the make-up of sea life, which is already suffering from over-fishing and harmful chemicals.

Professor Chris Reid, of the Marine Institute, University of Plymouth, who was involved in the study, said: “Due to global warming, it is predicted there will be an increase in precipitation in the river basins that flow into the Baltic Sea. As a result – because it’s an enclosed sea with a very narrow exit – the sea will become fresher. We predict this will happen over the next 100 years.”

Transformations to the Baltic’s ecosystem is among a number changes reported in the research project, led by Climate Change & European Marine Ecosystem Research (Clamer) which has collated more than 13 years’ worth of reports, involving 17 marine institutes from 10 European countries.

Another alarming discovery is the arrival of a new species of plankton in the north Atlantic from the Pacific. The microscopic species had disappeared from the region 800,000 years ago. As the melting Arctic icecap has opened the Northwest Passage, the plant has drifted back across the pole.

While the algae is a food source, experts say any changes at the base of the marine food web, could shake or even topple the pillars of existing Atlantic Ocean life.

Before the Arctic froze, nearly a million years ago, Pacific water was able to enter the North Atlantic, which allowed large numbers of Pacific species to dominate its ecosystems. Some of the species found in European waters today originally arrived from the Pacific. “If the Arctic continues to melt more species can get through; then we could see huge changes taking place in the north Atlantic,” said Dr Reid. “The potential effect on fisheries could be huge. There would be increased competition. For example, there are about six different species of salmon in the Pacific, but only one in the Atlantic. The present stocks of salmon in the Atlantic are in a serious situation, so anything that’s going to exacerbate that is going to be a real problem.”

Just last year a Pacific grey whale was spotted in the Mediterranean, the first time it was seen in those waters for more than three centuries. Scientists believe the ice-reduced Arctic allowed the whale to cross into the North Atlantic.

Marine species are tending to migrate toward the poles, but they are doing so at varying speeds. This is making it difficult to predict how they will interact. In enclosed seas, species that require cooler conditions might have nowhere to go as waters become warmer. Researchers predict that by 2060, as the Mediterranean warms, one third of its 75 fish species will be threatened and six will be extinct.

In the similarly enclosed Black Sea, however, where new Mediterranean species are arriving, warming air and seawater are expected to result in increased diversity, with adverse affects limited to the decline or loss of a small number of native species.

Other findings from the report reveal an influx of highly venomous jellyfish in the north east Atlantic, often forming massive blooms. A particularly dangerous warm-water species dominates in many areas and outbreaks have forced the closure of some European beaches. This particular species is also a predator of young fish, so experts consider its spread a harmful trend. Recently, the Portuguese Man-of-War, a poisonous jellyfish-like subtropical creature, has been found more regularly in Atlantic waters.

Dr Carlos Heip, the director general of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, said: “We need to learn much more about what’s happening in Europe’s seas, but the signs already point to far more trouble than benefit from climate change. Despite the many unknowns, it’s obvious that we can expect damaging upheaval as we overturn the workings of a system that’s so complex and important.” – The Independent on Sunday

 http://www.iol.co.za/scitech/science/environment/global-warming-decreasing-salt-in-sea-1.1089154

 

Annan Cites Africa as Answer to Global Food Crisis

 

Annan Cites Africa as Answer to Global Food Crisis

Posted 27 june 2011, by Caroline Henshaw, The Wall Street Journal, wsj.com

The number of hungry people in the world is set to top one billion again this year as rising food prices push millions more into poverty, the former secretary general of the United Nations warned Saturday.

Speaking at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, Kofi Annan said the increasing gap between population and food production growth may turn this year’s food security crisis into a permanent disaster.

“Delivering global food and nutrition security is the challenge of our time,” Mr. Annan said, echoing much of the rhetoric that surrounded the meeting of the Group of 20 agriculture ministers last week.

Like many experts in the sector, Mr. Annan sees Africa as the key to ensuring global food security in the future.

One in three Africans is chronically hungry, according to the UN, despite $3 billion being spent on food aid for the continent every year. And it is in Africa that the effects of this year’s record food prices have been felt most keenly and where the decades of predicted rising costs are expected to wreak their worst damage.

Where others have called for a new type of green revolution, Mr. Annan called instead for an African revolution, centered on improving the lives of smallholder farmers.

“Africa is the continent which has perhaps the greatest opportunities to help find solutions to global food insecurity,” he said. “Even within existing cultivated land, a doubling of cereal yields would turn Africa into a major food surplus region.”

As a well-fed Westerner used to seeing images of starvation and crippling poverty in Africa, it is hard to imagine that in the 1960s the continent was actually a net exporter of food. Fifty years later Africa imports around a quarter of its food at a cost of $30 billion a year.

Much of that is down to a slowdown in yields. About 70% of Africans are involved in agriculture, but almost 250 million people–a quarter of the population–are undernourished. That number has risen 100 million in the past 20 years as food production has fallen 10%, compared to an increase of 145% for the rest of the world.

Worryingly, the pressure on output is expected to get worse as climate change takes its toll. A recent study, which mapped where rising temperatures and shorter growing seasons are expected to impact crops most, found that many of the worst effects will be felt across vast swathes of Africa, South Asia and parts of Latin America.

“The biggest challenge the world faces in the next 40 years is food security and associated with that is the mechanisms by which we can deal with that while mitigating climate change,” said New Zealand Minister for Agriculture David Carter.

On Friday, New Zealand gave $25 million to support research by the Global Research Alliance, a network of scientists from 36 countries which is working to boost food output while reducing its contribution to global warming.

Climate change is estimated to have increased the global food bill by $50 billion a year. Mr. Carter argues that science will be able to deliver where politics has failed: to devise a global approach to tackling food security and climate change, two of the world’s most pressing issues.

Yet, where politics is concerned, progress will always be slow. Many had high hopes that last week’s meeting of the G20 agriculture ministers would revolutionize the global politics of food security, only to find their expectations dashed. If the world is to start real revolution in Africa’s agriculture, actions will need to live up to words.

 

http://blogs.wsj.com/source/2011/06/27/annan-cites-africa-as-answer-to-global-food-crisis/