Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"It's Not Sex, It's Money"

by George Monbiot

Population growth is not a problem - it's among those who consume the least. So why isn't anyone targeting the very rich?

It's no coincidence that most of those who are obsessed with population growth are post-reproductive wealthy white men: it's about the only environmental issue for which they can't be blamed. The brilliant Earth systems scientist James Lovelock, for instance, claimed last month that "those who fail to see that population growth and climate change are two sides of the same coin are either ignorant or hiding from the truth. These two huge environmental problems are inseparable and to discuss one while ignoring the other is irrational." But it's Lovelock who is being ignorant and irrational.

A paper published yesterday in the journal Environment and Urbanization shows that the places where population has been growing fastest are those in which carbon dioxide has been growing most slowly, and vice versa. Between 1980 and 2005, for instance, sub-Saharan Africa produced 18.5% of the world's population growth and just 2.4% of the growth in CO2. North America turned out only 4% of the extra people, but 14% of the extra emissions. Sixty-three percent of the world's population growth happened in places with very low emissions.

Even this does not capture it. The paper points out that about one sixth of the world's population is so poor that it produces no significant emissions at all. This is also the group whose growth rate is likely to be highest. Households in India earning less than 3,000 rupees (£40) a month use a fifth of the electricity per head and one seventh of the transport fuel of households earning 30,000 rupees or more. Street sleepers use almost nothing. Those who live by processing waste (a large part of the urban underclass) often save more greenhouse gases than they produce.

Many of the emissions for which poorer countries are blamed should in fairness belong to the developed nations. Gas flaring by companies exporting oil from Nigeria, for instance, has produced more greenhouse gases than all other sources in sub-Saharan Africa put together. Even deforestation in poor countries is driven mostly by commercial operations delivering timber, meat and animal feed to rich consumers. The rural poor do far less harm.

The paper's author, David Satterthwaite, points out that the old formula taught to students of development - that total impact equals population times affluence times technology (I = PAT) - is wrong. Total impact should be measured as I = CAT: consumers times affluence times technology. Many of the world's people use so little that they wouldn't figure in this equation. They are the ones who have most children.

While there's a weak correlation between global warming and population growth, there's a strong correlation between global warming and wealth. I've been taking a look at a few super-yachts, as I'll need somewhere to entertain Labour ministers in the style to which they are accustomed. First I went through the plans for Royal Falcon Fleet's RFF135, but when I discovered that it burns only 750 litres of fuel per hour I realised that it wasn't going to impress Lord Mandelson. I might raise half an eyebrow in Brighton with the Overmarine Mangusta 105, which sucks up 850 litres per hour. But the raft that's really caught my eye is made by Wally Yachts in Monaco. The WallyPower 118 (which gives total wallies a sensation of power) consumes 3,400 litres per hour when travelling at 60 knots. That's nearly a litre per second. Another way of putting it is 31 litres per kilometre.

Of course, to make a real splash I'll have to shell out on teak and mahogany fittings, carry a few jetskis and a mini-submarine, ferry my guests to the marina by private plane and helicopter, offer them bluefin tuna sushi and beluga caviar, and drive the beast so fast that I mash up half the marine life of the Mediterranean. As the owner of one of these yachts I'll do more damage to the biosphere in 10 minutes than most Africans inflict in a lifetime. Now we're burning, baby.

Someone I know who hangs out with the very rich tells me that in the banker belt of the lower Thames valley there are people who heat their outdoor swimming pools to bath temperature, all round the year. They like to lie in the pool on winter nights, looking up at the stars. The fuel costs them £3,000 a month. One hundred thousand people living like these bankers would knacker our life support systems faster than 10 billion people living like the African peasantry. But at least the super wealthy have the good manners not to breed very much, so the rich old men who bang on about human reproduction leave them alone.

In May the Sunday Times carried an article headlined "Billionaire club in bid to curb overpopulation". It revealed that "some of America's leading billionaires have met secretly" to decide which good cause they should support. "A consensus emerged that they would back a strategy in which population growth would be tackled as a potentially disastrous environmental, social and industrial threat." The ultra-rich, in other words, have decided that it's the very poor who are trashing the planet. You grope for a metaphor, but it's impossible to satirise.

James Lovelock, like Sir David Attenborough and Jonathan Porritt, is a patron of the Optimum Population Trust. It is one of dozens of campaigns and charities whose sole purpose is to discourage people from breeding in the name of saving the biosphere. But I haven't been able to find any campaign whose sole purpose is to address the impacts of the very rich....

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"Algae prompt Des Moines to switch drinking-water rivers"

From the Des Moines Register:

Record levels of potentially toxic algae in the Raccoon River have once again forced the Des Moines Water Works to draw from the Des Moines River to keep drinking water free of poor tastes, bad smells and health risks.

Levels of blue-green algae — also known as cyanobacteria — for the past month have been higher than those of last year, when readings were the highest Water Works CEO Randy Beavers had seen in his nearly 30 years of service.

Samples collected from the Raccoon in recent weeks have frequently exceeded 20,000 cyanobacteria cells per milliliter of river water — well beyond levels that can easily be treated for use as drinking water. Tests from this week showed levels above 60,000 — the highest waterworks employees have ever measured in the Raccoon River.

In some cases, cyanobacteria can release a toxin that can sicken or even kill animals and humans.

"That's one of the reasons we go to the Des Moines River as another safety precaution should there be any unforeseen spikes in that toxin," Beavers said. "Fortunately, the toxin has been at very low concentrations."

Of further concern this year: Blue-green algae blooms have been more prevalent in the Des Moines River than in the past.

"It's problematic for us when we are, in essence, reduced to one river source," Beavers said. "Our current treatment system just has a very difficult time handling the really high counts" of cyanobacteria. "From an infrastructure standpoint, we feel water quality should be sufficient that we could draw water from either river."

...It would probably cost $1 million or more to upgrade treatment facilities to handle consistently elevated levels of cyanobacteria, Beavers said.

Instead, Beavers and others are hopeful improvements can be made throughout the 2.3-million-acre Raccoon River watershed to decrease the amount of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus that feed the growth of algae blooms....

Global warming creates second El Nino

From Agence France-Presse via the Australian:

GLOBAL warming periodically shifts El Nino thousands of miles to the west, potentially intensifying Asian droughts and weakening its dampening effect on Atlantic hurricanes, reports a study published today.

Up to now, the tropical weather phenomenon, which strikes on average every four or five years, has generally occurred along a wide stretch of the equator in the eastern Pacific.

Such is the case with the current El Nino, which is likely to remain in place well into next year, the World Meteorological Organisation said last month.

El Nino disrupts weather patterns around the world, causing drought in Indonesia, Australia, India and eastern Brazil, and unusually heavy rainfall in the US Gulf Coast and parts of South America.

It also lowers sea surface temperatures in the Caribbean and Atlantic, which helps prevent the formation and intensity of hurricanes in that region.

But climate change has apparently given rise to an alternate form of El Nino that is likely to become more frequent over the coming decades, according to the research, published in Nature.

"There are two El Ninos,'' said Ben Kirtman, a professor at the University of Miami and a co-author of the study.

"In addition to the eastern Pacific El Nino ... a second El Nino in the central Pacific is on the increase,'' he said in a communique.

The two do not occur at the same time, he added.

This could be bad news on at least two fronts, the researchers said.

In Asia, it could intensify droughts that have already wreaked havoc in recent decades.

And in the Atlantic, it could weaken the positive effect it has had up to now in mitigating the intensity of hurricanes that strike the Caribbean and the US east coast.

Researchers led by Sang-Wook Yeh of the Korea Ocean Research and Development Institute in Ansan, Korea matched sea surface temperature data from the last 150 years against future global warming scenarios laid out by the UN Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC).

Most of the models showed that global warming will boost the frequency of the central Pacific El Nino.

The findings are bolstered by observation: half of the most recent El Nino occurrences have been in the central rather than the eastern Pacific, compared to only one-out-of-five before that.

During a strong eastern Pacific El Nino, ocean temperatures can average 2.0 to 3.5C above normal between the international dateline and the west coast of South America.

The warm water region also coincides with above average tropical rainfall.

Sydney dust storm 'like Mars'

From the BBC:

A storm which blew in from the Australian outback blanketed Sydney in a layer of orange dust. Here, residents describe the bizarre and frightening scene.

Tanya Ferguson said the dust was the weirdest thing she had seen in her life, turning the city into a scene from another planet.
"It was like being on Mars," she told the BBC News website.

"I haven't been there, obviously, but I imagine that's what the sky would look like."

She said she woke to a massive gust of wind blowing through her windows early in the morning.

"The whole room was completely orange. I couldn't believe my eyes," she said.

Ms Ferguson said she initially thought there was a bush fire. When she finally decided to venture outside, she said the entire city was covered in a film of orange dust.

"All the cars are just orange - and the orange was so intense," she said by phone from Sydney, where she has lived for the past six years.

Sydney dust storm worst in 70 years, says weather bureau

The dust cloud covers almost the whole of NSW, after an extreme low pressure system moved across the state from central Australia and western NSW.

The dust caused commuter chaos, the cancellation of flights from Sydney Airport, the closure of the M5 tunnel and the suspension of Sydney ferries.

People with respiratory illnesses were told to stay indoors and health authorities advised people to avoid exercise until the dust cleared.

The Bureau of Meteorology's Regional Director for New South Wales Barry Hanstrum said visibility at Sydney Airport had dropped as low as 400m.

“An event like this is extremely rare,” Mr Hanstrum said. “It's one of the worst, if not the worst.”

The Bureau of Meteorology issued a severe weather warning for damaging winds in Sydney with a gale warning issued for Sydney closed waters.

Wild winds are lashing the Hunter region and gale force winds of up to 100km/h are expected to hit Sydney.

Global warning: Sydney dust storm just the beginning

It is the natural consequence of a very long drought, and the probable onset of another El Nino effect. The storm today is unusual in that particles were carried as far as the coast.

What seems certain is that future dust storms will get more frequent and probably bigger, as the climate warms. Along with other firmly grounded projections such as an increase in bushfires and a drop in rainfall, we can expect more dust storms in the coming decades as a consequence of climate change.

Reports from farmers in outback NSW suggest a surge in the number of storms in the past few years, as topsoil is dried and exposed to winds.

It may look like Doomsday, but the causes of today's storm are relatively prosaic.

Tiny particles lifted from the desert in South Australia are wafted high into the air and carried east. The ruddy haze is caused by sunlight refracting through iron-rich dust.

If it were possible to scrape the film of dust coating outdoor surfaces across Sydney together into a heap, it would probably weigh something like 1000 tonnes - equal to the huge storm that blanketed Melbourne in 1983.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Multidrug-Resistant Staph Found on Puget Sound Beaches

From ENS:

Samples of sand and water from five beaches around the Puget Sound have tested positive for a multidrug resistant form of the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. This potentially fatal strain of staph is resistant to the broad-spectrum antibiotics commonly used to treat it.

Dr. Marilyn Roberts, a professor of environmental and health science at the University of Washington in Seattle, Firday reported the first isolation of Methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus, MRSA, from marine and beach sand samples taken from public beaches in Washington state.

Speaking at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in San Francisco, Dr. Roberts did not identify the individual beaches where the dangerous bacteria was found.

She said the MRSA bacteria was found in samples at four urban beaches and one rural beach about 10 miles apart around the Puget Sound.

"We found the same strain in three different beaches," said Roberts. "It's possible there was a common source. It could have been a hospital, could have been a person or people, but we don't really know where it came from or how three beaches got same strain," she told colleagues at the conference.

Most MRSA infections occur in hospitals or other health care settings, such as nursing homes and dialysis centers. More recently, another type of MRSA has occurred among otherwise healthy people in the wider community. This community-associated MRSA is responsible for serious skin and soft tissue infections and for a serious form of pneumonia.

Dr. Roberts said, "In most cases people who acquire it do not have an association with hospitals, do not work there, do not visit there, so the assumption is you've got MRSA out in the environment."

She said sewage outflows were the most likely source of the MRSA found on the sampled beaches...

"The fact that we found these organisms suggests that the level was much higher that one would have thought," she said.

"We don't really know the risk for people going to the beach," said Dr. Roberts. She cited a survey of 27,000 people published this year in the "Journal of Epidemiology" that found that people who dug in the sand or were completely covered by sand were much more likely to come down with a diarrheal disaease than those who did not engage in these activities and suggested that being covered with sand might also be a risk factor for MRSA...

Because the Puget Sound water is cold, between 50 and 58 degrees, and MRSA is salt-resistant, the organism can survive, Roberts said, and she added that it can also survive hospital cleaning and the laundering of hospital linens.

"All disinfectants do not give you a 100 percent kill," she said. "Hot water does a better job than cold water, but virtually nothing that anyone has will give 100 percent rate kill unless you autoclave," she said of the process used to sterilize surgical instruments by heating them under pressure.

Friday, September 11, 2009

"From Deep Pacific, Ugly and Tasty, With a Catch"

From the New York TImes:

The answer to the eternal mystery of what makes up a Filet-O-Fish sandwich turns out to involve an ugly creature from the sunless depths of the Pacific, whose bounty, it seems, is not limitless.

The world’s insatiable appetite for fish, with its disastrous effects on populations of favorites like red snapper, monkfish and tuna, has driven commercial fleets to deeper waters in search of creatures unlikely to star on the Food Network.

One of the most popular is the hoki, or whiptail, a bug-eyed specimen found far down in the waters around New Zealand and transformed into a major export. McDonald’s alone at one time used roughly 15 million pounds of it each year.

The hoki may be exceedingly unattractive, but when its flesh reaches the consumer it’s just fish — cut into filets and sticks or rolled into sushi — moist, slightly sweet and very tasty. Better yet, the hoki fishery was thought to be sustainable, providing New Zealand with a reliable major export for years to come.

But arguments over managing this resource are flaring not only between commercial interests and conservationists, but also among the environmental agencies most directly involved in monitoring and regulating the catch.

A lot of money is at stake, as well as questions about the effectiveness of global guidelines meant to limit the effects of industrial fishing.

Without formally acknowledging that hoki are being overfished, New Zealand has slashed the allowable catch in steps, from about 275,000 tons in 2000 and 2001 to about 100,000 tons in 2007 and 2008 — a decline of nearly two-thirds.

The scientific jury is still out, but critics warn that the hoki fishery is losing its image as a showpiece of oceanic sustainability.

“We have major concerns,” said Peter Trott, the fisheries program manager in Australia for the World Wildlife Fund, which closely monitors the New Zealand fishery.

The problems, he said, include population declines, ecosystem damage and the accidental killing of skates and sharks. He added that New Zealand hoki managers let industry “get as much as it can from the resource without alarm bells ringing.”

The hoki lives in inky darkness about a half-mile down and grows to more than four feet long, its body ending in a sinuous tail of great length. Large eyes give the fish a startled look.

Scientists say its fate represents a cautionary tale much like that of its heavily harvested forerunner, orange roughy. That deepwater fish reproduces slowly and lives more than 100 years. Around New Zealand, catches fell steeply in the early 1990s under the pressures of industrial fishing, in which factory trawlers work around the clock hauling in huge nets with big winches.

Hoki rose commercially as orange roughy fell. Its shorter life span (up to 25 years) and quicker pace of reproduction seemed to promise sustainable harvests. And its dense spawning aggregations, from June to September, made colossal hauls relatively easy.

As a result, the New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries set very high quotas — roughly 275,000 tons a year from 1996 to 2001. Dozens of factory trawlers plied the deep waters, and dealers shipped frozen blocks and fillets of the fish around the globe...

“Most Americans have no clue that hoki is often what they’re eating in fried-fish sandwiches,” SeaFood Business, an industry magazine, reported in April 2001. It said chain restaurants using hoki included McDonald’s, Denny’s and Long John Silver’s.

Ominous signs of overfishing — mainly drops in hoki spawns — came soon thereafter. Criticism from ecological groups soared. The stewardship council promotes hoki as sustainable “in spite of falling fish stocks and the annual killing of hundreds of protected seals, albatross and petrels,” the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand said in May 2004...

Gary Johnson, McDonald’s senior director of global purchasing, said hoki use was down recently to about 11 million pounds annually from roughly 15 million pounds — a drop of about 25 percent. “It could go up if the quota goes up,” he said in an interview. He noted that McDonald’s also used other whitefish for its Filet-O-Fish sandwiches...

"German Geothermal Project Leads to ....Earthquake"

From the New York Times:

LANDAU IN DER PFALZ, Germany — Government officials here are reviewing the safety of a geothermal energy project that scientists say set off an earthquake in mid-August, shaking buildings and frightening many residents of this small city.

The geothermal plant, built by Geox, a German energy company, extracts heat by drilling deep into the earth. Advocates of the method say that it could greatly reduce the world’s dependence on fossil fuels by providing a vast supply of renewable energy.

But in recent months, two similar projects have stirred concerns about their safety and their propensity to cause earthquakes. In the United States, the Energy Department is scrutinizing a project in Northern California run by AltaRock Energy to determine if it is safe. (The project was shut down by the company last month because of crippling technical problems.) Another project, in Basel, Switzerland, was shut down after it generated earthquakes in 2006 and 2007 and is awaiting the decision of a panel of experts about whether it can resume...

The Landau plant, which cost $30 million, went into operation in 2007 and produces electricity for 6,000 homes by drawing heat from beneath the bedrock, nearly two miles beneath the earth’s surface. Geox said a coal-burning plant producing the same electricity would emit 30,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually.

Not everyone in town was troubled by the quake. “It’s really not such a big deal,” said Volker Weisenburger, 43. “Gas has its own set of risks.”

But other residents said they were skeptical about the new technology. “The engineers always say that they have everything under control, until something happens that they never expected,” said Sabine Hofmann, 47, who lives near the plant.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Satellite Photos

From the Guardian:

"This Envisat image shows the Ganges delta in the south Asia area of Bangladesh and India. The delta plain, about 350km wide along the Bay of Bengal, is formed by the confluence of the rivers Ganges, the Brahmaputra and Meghna. The colour effect comes from variations in the Earth's surface that occurred when three Envisat radar acquisitions taken over the same area at different times were combined"
Photograph: Envisat/ESA

"In the chilly waters of the Barents Sea, off the north-western corner of Russia, the ocean switched on its carbon dioxide vacuum during August: a giant bloom of single-celled, plant-like organisms called phytoplankton. During these blooms, which can cover thousands of square kilometres of the surface of the ocean, a litre of seawater may contain a billion or more phytoplankton cells, each one a microscopic chemical factory that vacuums carbon dioxide out of the surrounding seawater and uses photosynthesis to turn it into stored chemical energy. The milky-blue colour that dominates the bloom suggests that it contains large numbers of coccolithophores, phytoplankton that arm themselves with tiny calcium carbonate (chalk) scales. Chlorophyll and other light-harvesting pigments from other species of phytoplankton can add darker blues, greens, and reddish-browns to the bloom."
Photograph: MODIS/NASA

"Mount Hood is located within the Cascade range of the western United States, and it is the highest peak in Oregon at 3,426m. The Cascade Range is characterised by a line of volcanoes associated with a slab of oceanic crust that is descending underneath the westward-moving, continental crust of North America. Magma generated by this process rises upward through the crust and feeds a line of active volcanoes that extends from northern California in the United States to southern British Columbia in Canada. While hot springs and steam vents are still active on Mount Hood, the last eruption from the volcano occurred in 1866. The volcano is considered dormant, but still actively monitored."
Photograph: NASA

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

"Jellyfish Ingesting Plastic"

From the Epoch Times:

SAN FRANCISCO—Green plastic netting entangled in a derelict piece of rope and other plastic debris moving slowly along the ocean surface are inhabited by crabs, barnacles, and sea anemones taking a free ride carried by the currents of the North Pacific Ocean. These materials comprise just a small piece of a massive plastic pile-up beneath the waves.

The random clumps of plastic litter that a group of California scientists found in the Pacific Ocean, just 1,000 miles off of the California coast and about the same distance north of Hawaii is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

“It’s very upsetting for all of us to see the amount of plastic we were collecting,” said Mary T. Crowley, the founder of Ocean Voyages Institute, at a press conference in San Francisco on Tuesday. She had just returned from an exploration of the vortex of floating plastic garbage.

The problem, according to the scientists, is that much of the plastic has already broken down under the ultraviolet rays from the sun and is now spread over a vast area as molecular strains that are impossible to detect with the naked eye or satellites....

Anything floating away from the west coast of North America or the East Coast of Asia is captured in the currents of the North Pacific Ocean and begins to turn slowly clockwise, according to scientists.

On one occasion, scientists pulled out of the garbage-littered ocean water large quantities of jelly fish and pieces of plastic mixed together, which made the scientists realize that a lot of the sea life may be ingesting the plastic.

“You could see pieces of plastic inside and outside the jellyfish, and you could see the jellyfish ingesting the plastic,” says Crowley in one video filmed during the August mission.

A second ship was launched from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego early last month aided the Kaisei. The New Horizon ship, was funded by a $600,000 grant from the University of California. With a crew of 20 graduate students, the Horizon sailed off to measure the size of the patch and its effects on wildlife throughout the food chain...

“I really feel that oceans are the blue heart of our planet, and the ocean currents are the veins that are now getting clogged with plastic,” Crowley said.

Different fragments of plastic often turn up in the bellies of marine mammals, and fish, and a study cited by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that more than 100,000 marine mammals die as a result of trash each year.

In her blog posted Sunday, Crowley said, "We all know that plastic lasts. There is no away when we throw plastics away. Every bit of plastic made is still on the planet."

"Try Nature, Not Tech, To Fix Economic Woes: UNEP"


GENEVA - The world is waking up to huge economic benefits of investing in nature, from forests to coral reefs, after one of the "great oversights" of the 20th century, the head of the U.N. Environment Program said on Friday.

Achim Steiner told Reuters that governments had long placed too much faith in technology to fix problems such as global warming, water pollution or erosion, instead of looking to natural solutions.

"At the beginning of the 21st century we are being thrown back onto nature because you can't fix all these problems with technology," he said.

"The disproportion of investments in technological fixes versus investing in nature's ready-made solutions, tried and tested over millions of years, is one of the great oversights of the 20th century," he said.

A U.N.-backed study this week, for instance, indicated that tropical forests provide services worth an estimated $6,120 per hectare (2.47 acres) a year such as food, building materials, water purification or opportunities for tourism.

A new U.N. climate pact due for agreement in December in Copenhagen is set to encourage measures to safeguard tropical forests that soak up greenhouse gases when they grow.

Steiner said that governments should take an even wider view of the value of forests since storing heat-trapping carbon dioxide was only one aspect of a tree's worth.


He said his advice to governments and investors was: "Don't just look at a forest as a watershed, or a carbon sink, or as helping biodiversity, or a tourism attraction. Put them all together and then make a cost-benefit analysis."

"The cumulative set of benefits you get from talking about a tree ... has to get economically captured," he said.

Among other natural systems, coral reefs provide services as nurseries for fish, protecting coasts from storms, or as scuba-diving holiday destinations. Or insects provide services, for instance, in pollinating crops.

"These services are not new. The problem was that we did not capture their value," Steiner said.

Among examples, he said that Kenya planned to raise its forest cover to 10 percent from 1 percent by planting 7 billion trees to help restore an environment degraded by erosion and dwindling water supplies.

Steiner also said a call by UNEP last year for a "Green New Deal" of investments in clean economic growth to revive struggling economies had helped but that it was too soon to judge if it marked a permanent greener shift.

"This concept struck a chord," he said of the idea, inspired by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal" that helped end the Depression of the 1930s.

"Given that it was born out of a crisis I think it's had significant impact," he said, saying that economies such as China had given a high proportion of spending to green jobs.

He said it was "too early to predict" if the "Green New Deal" had become a "universal concept that will survive the calming down after the crisis."

"A lot will depend on Copenhagen. The greatest stimulus package could be a deal in Copenhagen," he said of the new U.N: climate pact. Steiner was an early guest for a Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit on September 8-10.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

"Thousands Flee Flooding In Burkina Faso"

Posted at PlanetArk:

DAKAR - The heaviest rainfall in 90 years in the African state of Burkina Faso has triggered heavy flooding and forced thousands of people to flee their homes, the government said Wednesday.

"We have been able to find shelter for about 110,000 people but there are others who have taken refuge with their neighbors," Prime Minister Tertius Zongo told reporters after an emergency cabinet meeting.

"There are at least 150,000 people to cater for."

Aid groups in the Burkina Faso capital of Ouagadougou, which has a population of about 1 million, said the flood water had smashed bridges and roads and could hamper their work.

"Bridges and dams have been destroyed, the main hospital in Ouagadougou which is close to a dam was inundated and some patients including about 60 children were evacuated," Rosine Jourdain of the Belgian Red Cross in Burkina Faso told Reuters by telephone.

"An electrical plant was also destroyed so I think we are going to have some power supply problems."

In neighboring Niger, hundreds of families have also been made homeless by flooding in the uranium-rich region of Agadez when their homes collapsed after the river Kora burst and flooded the town of Agadez which has a population of about 80,000.

"Many persons are dead and others are unaccounted for. This is one of the worst disasters in the history of Agadez," Ali Hamidou, a craftsman and resident of the town, told Reuters by phone.

Seasonal rains from June regularly cause fatal floods and mudslides in West Africa. In 2007, over 800,000 people were affected, some 300 died while homes, crops and infrastructure were washed away.

"Turkey unable to give more water to Iraq, Syria: minister"

From TerreDaily:

(AFP) Turkey cannot give more water to Iraq and Syria, Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said Thursday as officials from the three neighbours met here to discuss the sharing of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

The Ankara talks follow Iraqi accusations last month that Turkey was holding back water despite a promise to increase the flow into its drought-stricken southern neighbour.

"We are aware of the need for water in our neighbours...but we do not have a lot of it in the reservoirs of our dams," Yildiz told reporters ahead of the meeting.

Turkey has increased the flow to 517 cubic meters per second (18,095 cubic feet per second) from the average 500 m3/second, the minister said.

"To be honest, it is not possible for us to increase this further. We cannot allow our own water and energy management to run into problems."

The talks were also attended by Turkey's Environment Minister Veysel Eroglu, Iraqi Water Minister Latif Rashid and Syrian Irrigation Minister Nader Bunni.

Issues to be discussed include joint measurement stations along the rivers, exchanging hydrological and meteorological data, seasonal monitoring of water levels and training programmes on climate change and the development of water sources, a Turkish statement said.

Iraq called for an urgent meeting with Syria and Turkey after the flow of water from the Euphrates river fell by more than half in less than a month.

Iraq said at the end of June that Turkey had increased the Eupharates flow from 360 m3/second to 570 m3/second to help overcome a shortage along the river which runs through Syria before reaching Iraq.

Baghdad also said that Ankara had promised to raise that to 715 cubic metres per second in July, August and September.

But last month, Iraq claimed that the amount was cut back to around only 250 cubic metres per second, around a quarter of the minimum requirement for irrigation.

Iraq and Syria have often complained that Turkey monopolises the waters of the Euphrates and Tigris through a series of dams built on both rivers as part of a massive project to irrigate its southeastern corner.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

"Seeking rapid change in human behavior"

From DailyClimate.org:

Paul Ehrlich, citing 'humanity's collision with the natural world,' launches a new forum to direct human activity toward a more sustainable future.

Called the Millennium Assessment of Human Behavior, or MAHB (pronounced "mob"), the venture seeks to link a broad array of seemingly unrelated human activities that endanger humanity's future - from racism to climate change, loss of biological diversity, water shortages, declining food security, economic justice and pollution.

The hope, Ehrlich said, is that by making these larger connections, more effective solutions can be found.

"Basically, absolutely nothing is happening," he said. "We don't need more scientific evidence that we're screwing ourselves. We need to get beyond the cultural discussions we're having now."

The problem, Ehrlich said, is clearly not a need for more natural science. Rather, it is the need for a better understanding of "human behaviors and how they can be altered to direct humanity toward a sustainable society before it is too late."

Organizers envision the MAHB as a global conference, involving scholars, politicians and a diverse spectrum of stakeholders – from media and industry to religious communities and foundations. Organizers also hope to encourage a "global discussion" about human goals and to explore ways to steer cultural change toward creation of a more sustainable society...

It's not clear - yet - who the MAHB is meant to inform.

For the IPCC, "the governments are the ones who have asked for the information, and they are the ones who endorse the information," Huq said. "If scientists just produce a report, and ... there isn't really anyone in a position to take it up, nothing happens to it."

"We are just preaching."

Still, Huq agreed with the premise, adding that the endeavor is something "we certainly need."

But for now, the MAHB is just 10 big thinkers, among them Stanford climatologist Steve Schneider, Science editor and Stanford president emeritus Donald Kennedy, Washington State University sociologist Eugene Rosa and University of Oslo philosopher Nina Witoszek...

That 1992 summit remains the UN's largest environmental gathering, with 172 governments, 108 heads of states, 2,400 representatives of non-governmental organizations and another 17,000 attendees at a parallel global forum. It led to the adoption of a wide-ranging blueprint for action on sustainable development worldwide. The Kyoto Protocol and the upcoming Copenhagen negotiations in December are two products...

"Demand for electricity sputters and bills may fall"

AP- COLUMBUS, Ohio – Consumers and businesses may finally be seeing some relief from rising utility bills, thanks to the biggest decline in U.S. electricity demand in decades.

Prices on wholesale markets are expected to decline for the rest of 2009, according to the Energy Information Agency. While rates will probably begin edging up again in 2010, it will likely be less than half the 6.2 percent jump recorded last year.

For decades as Americans bought more electronics, more appliances, air conditioners and other gizmos, energy demand has only moved in one direction and prices have followed suit.

The decline in power usage over the past year is a rarity and also an indication of how badly the recession has jolted the economy and changed the way Americans spend.

The shift began last year, when power consumption fell 1.6 percent. Government forecasters see consumption falling another 2.7 percent this year. That would mark the first time since 1949 that the nation has seen energy demand fall in consecutive years.

Given the broad apprehension over the economy, any money consumers can keep in their pockets may help.

"You might see a decrease in your bill or, at the very least, less of an increase. And these days that's not bad," said Charlie Acquard, executive director of the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates.

You can trace the shift from major industrial power users all the way back to individual consumers to see what has happened.
The number of unemployed Americans is nearing 15 million and prospects for the job market remain gloomy. Retailers just reported their 12th straight month of declining sales and many people are buying only what they must.

Power consumption by the industrial and manufacturing companies that make everything from cars to cotton swabs has fallen faster than anywhere else — 10 percent this year by government estimates. Industrial consumption fell about 20 percent in parts of the Midwest, Carolinas and the South during the second quarter, utilities say.

This pullback by some of the biggest energy users in the U.S. may provide a silver lining for millions of people and businesses in the form of declining or flattening utility bills.

The recession has suppressed demand for coal, natural gas and oil. This has sent a ripple through wholesale electric markets, where fossil fuels are turned into energy.

In the PJM wholesale market that coordinates prices in all or parts of 13 states in the eastern half of the country, prices are down about 40 percent from a year ago.

The weather is helping as well. After a very mild summer in which it made more sense to open the windows of your home rather than crank up the air conditioning, most meteorologists see a relatively warm winter on the way...