Global environmental challenges
There are no small parts, only small actors, or so the old show-biz saying goes. Now there are big stars — Matt Damon and Brad Pitt — playing two of the smallest parts ever. In a far cry from “Ocean’s Eleven” (and 12 and 13) they’re lending their voices to a pair of krill, small shrimp-like creatures that form the base of the Antarctic food web.
Pitt and Damon play Will and Bill, the krill, in “Happy Feet Two,” the sequel to the 2006 dancing-penguins animated feature. Both films have conservation themes. The latest movie opens in mid-November.
These Hollywood names might help shine a spotlight on krill at a time when the species is under pressure, according to the Pew Environment Group. An international meeting under way now in Hobart, Tasmania, is expected to consider more protection for these tiny animals, which penguins, seals and whales depend on to survive.
Increasing demand for krill as feed for industrially farmed fish and for nutritional supplements has pushed the krill fishery beyond a sustainable level, the conservation group said in a statement. Krill fishing in some areas could outpace efforts to protect the well-known animals that rely on it.
Coca-Cola has one of the most recognizable brands on the planet: the red can with the white letters. World Wildlife Fund has an equally eye-catching logo: a black-and-white panda. This week, the two are joining forces to change the Coke can’s look from red to white. It’s meant to raise awareness and money to find a safe haven for polar bears, listed as a threatened species because their icy Arctic habitat is melting under their paws due to climate change.
In a project called Arctic Home, Coke plans to turn 1.4 billion of its soft-drink cans white for the first time in its history, replacing the familiar red with an image of a mother polar bear and two cubs making their way across the Arctic. There will also be white bottle caps on other drinks the company sells. The new look is to show up on store shelves from November 1 through February 2012.
Amid the worry about water and food scarcity, some hints of good news: a five-year, 30-nation analysis suggests there might be enough water – and therefore enough food — for Earth’s hungriest and thirstiest as the human population heads toward the 9 billion mark sometime around mid-century.
Anxiety about food and water supplies stems in part from the effects of climate change, with its projected rise in droughts, wildfires, floods and other events that cut down on food production. Another factor is the increase in population, much of it grouped around water sources in the developing world. But water experts said at a conference this week in Brazil that there could be plenty of water over the coming decades if those upstream collaborate with those downstream and use water more efficiently.
For years, climate scientists were circumspect when asked if a specific bit of violent weather — for example, Hurricane Irene, the late-summer storm that slammed the heavily populated U.S. East Coast — could be blamed in some way on climate change.
“Climate is what you expect,” the scientists would say, “while weather is what you get.” They would often go on to say that while increasingly severe weather and correspondingly serious costs and consequences were forecast in climate change computer simulations, there was no way to directly blame a given storm on human-generated heat-trapping gases in Earth’s atmosphere.
The opinions expressed are his own.
American Airlines, in an article in its in-flight magazine American Way, says the company is “committed to identifying and implementing programs to reduce our environmental impact.” Just this week, American announced the purchase of 460 new fuel-efficient aircraft. The newly merged United and Continental recently launched an “Eco-Skies” campaign that, according to a company web site, reflects “a common focus on protecting the environment” and “allow[s] us to integrate our programs and focus on the environmental commitment of our combined company.”
Nicholas Stern, the British economist who warned five years ago that global warming could cost the world’s GDP as much as 20 percent a year by 2050, hasn’t given up on the United States taking action on climate even though he’s down on Washington for not passing a bill that would do just that.
“If you look around the world, of all places to sit and wonder where (climate policy is) going, this is probably the most pessimistic place — this city,” he told a small gathering of reporters at the World Bank’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. late this week.
At issue is the decision by American Electric Power to put its plans for carbon capture and storage on hold, due to the weak economy and the lack of a U.S. plan to limit emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide. Read the Reuters story about it here.
Andy Wales, head of sustainable development at global brewer SABMiller, maintains it can happen. The maker of Miller beer — and 20 other brands, from Aguila in Colombia to Zolotaya Bochka Klassicheskoye in Russia — likes the environmental angle, but the main impetus is to ensure production of their products in what is a highly variable business from location to location.
“Water is obviously a critical part of high quality beer,” Wales said by telephone from London. One important part of this equation is figuring out how to use less water and still make good beer.
As the Mississippi River crested at near-record levels near Memphis, Tennessee, a nagging question surfaced at a Capitol Hill briefing: are people to blame? According to one expert on water and hydrology, the answer is closer to yes than no.
“I’m not suggesting these (floods) are caused by climate change, but there’s very clear scientific evidence that the risk of flooding on the Mississippi River is increasing because of human influence,” said Peter Gleick, president of the California-based Pacific Institute.
If you took all the cows in the United States and figured out how much greenhouse gas they emit, would you be able to sue all the farmers who own them?
That interesting legal question came from Justice Antonin Scalia during Supreme Court oral arguments about whether an environmental case against five big U.S. power companies can go forward.