Environment Forum

Cows, climate change and the high court

FRANCE/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.

At issue is whether six states can sue the country’s biggest coal-fired electric utilities to make them cut down on the climate-warming carbon dioxide they emit. One lower court said they couldn’t, an appeals court said they could and now the high court will consider where the case will go next. A ruling should come by the end of June.

For now, though, the question was cows.

Attorney Barbara Underwood argued that the five power companies were the largest emitters of carbon dioxide in the United States, making up 10 percent of U.S. emissions. No other company comes close, she said.

Scalia then leaped into the fray.

USA-COURT/“You’re lumping them all together,” he said of the five big power companies. “Suppose you lump together all the cows in the country. Would that allow you to sue all those farmers? I mean, don’t you have to do it defendant by defendant? … Cow by cow or at least farm by farm?”

John Kerry has had it up to HERE with “The Flat Earth Caucus”

ISRAEL/You remember John Kerry, right? Tall, silver-haired, urbane enough to be accused of being French. But there’s a feisty side to the senior senator from Massachusetts, and it was on display at a forum on energy and economic growth, where Kerry teed off on congressional Republicans and others who doubt the seriousness of the challenge of climate change.

“After a while you get exasperated and jaded and frustrated about it all,” Kerry told The New Republic forum at the National Press Club. “I’ve had it just about up to here with America’s indifference to the realities of this crisis … the United States is like an ostrich putting its head in the sand.”

How do you feel about the U.S. political establishment, Senator Kerry? “I don’t know what’s happened to us in the body politic of this country where facts and science seem to be so easily shunted aside and disposed of in favor of simple sloganeering, pure ideology and little bromides of politics that are offered up, that offer no solution to anything but might get you through an election.”

from Photographers' Blog:

A global view of Earth Hour

The world turned off its lights on March 26 for an hour from 8.30 p.m. local time as a show of support for tougher action to confront climate change.

A global celebration of Earth Hour 2011 from Nicky Loh on Vimeo.

I was given the assignment to not only photograph the event from Taipei, Taiwan, but to produce a multimedia video that showcased the world's landmarks without lights as part of the fifth annual Earth Hour.

The Taipei 101 building is seen before Earth Hour in Taipei March 26, 2011.  REUTERS/Nicky Loh

The Taipei 101 building is seen during Earth Hour in Taipei March 26, 2011. REUTERS/Nicky Loh

The Reuters online team in Toronto and I had decided to produce a video to illustrate the event with pictures by our photographers around the world. The idea was to fade before pictures with the lights turned on into the exact same image without the lights on.

Is Earth due for a mass extinction?

extinction2_h1It has all the signs of a sick good-news/bad-news tale. The bad news is that Earth may be ripe for a mass extinction, where 75 percent or more of the life on the planet vanishes forever.

The good news is it’s unlikely to happen for at least three more centuries.

Scientists writing in the journal Nature warn that we could be on the brink of a mass extinction, the kind of species loss that has happened just five times in the last 540 million years.

“The Harry Potter theory of climate”

USA/Climate doesn’t change by magic.

Just ask Mark Serreze, director of the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado. On a conference call with other scientists and reporters, Serreze and others linked climate change to the last two harsh winters over much of the United States and Europe. And they squarely blamed human-caused greenhouse gas emissions for the rise in world temperatures that got the process going.

“Climate doesn’t change all by itself,” Serreze said. “It’s not like the Harry Potter theory of climate, where he flicks his magic wand and the climate suddenly changes. Climate only changes for a reason.”

He crossed off other possible drivers for climate change one by one.

“Could it be that the Sun is shining more brightly than it was? No, that doesn’t work. We’ve been monitoring energy coming from the Sun and apart from the 11-year sunspot cycle, there’s not much happening.

“Climategate” e-mails rear their ugly heads — again

CLIMATE-WARMING/How many investigations of climate scientists’ stolen e-mails does the world really need?

The answer, in Washington at least, appears to be five. And counting.

These are not investigations into who might have stolen the e-mails — that’s still publicly unknown. They’re investigating whether the scientists themselves manipulated data to bolster the case for human-caused climate change or tried to keep dissenting researchers from publishing their findings.

Four investigations said the scientists did nothing improper. Now a fifth one, requested by vocal climate change denier Sen. James Inhofe, has said basically the same thing. Inhofe says at least one issue mentioned in the latest report “deserves further investigation.”

Job security for allergists?

JAPAN/Please don’t blame Dr. Jay Portnoy, an allergy specialist in Kansas City, Missouri. He doesn’t go around planting ragweed. But he does treat people who suffer from asthma and hay fever, and he figures he will be busier now that the ragweed pollen that exacerbates these conditions is around longer each season than it used to be.

“These are really common diseases and they’re very expensive and they definitely affect quality of life and it’s just going to get worse for pollen sufferers,” Portnoy said of the report he helped write on climate change’s impact on the ragweed pollen season. “Of course for allergists like me, it’s job security.”

Really, though, it’s not his fault: “I’m not ‘Ragweed Appleseed,’ I don’t go around planting ragweed. I’m just the messenger. The reality is I’m going to have more patients.”

A winter’s tale of climate skepticism

USA/Another winter storm is brewing in Middle America. So what else is new?

It’s been one spate of severe weather after another even before 2011 began. And you would expect those skeptical of climate change to capitalize on the cold snap by questioning whether human-spurred global warming is a real deal.

Strangely enough, climate skeptics appear to be less vocal than they were last year, when Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma built an igloo as a blizzard blew through Washington DC, and dubbed it “Al Gore’s new home.” If it’s so cold, the argument went, how can there be global warming?

Gore himself offered an answer last week, in a blog post meant to respond to just such a question from Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly.

Pure water from solar power; will it catch on?

water1 Remote villages in developing countries might benefit from these twin 40-ft long containers (left) — a water purification system driven by solar power — as a substitute for noisy diesel-powered generators, trucks bringing in water or people spending hours every day walking to fetch water.

That’s the hope of the makers, environmental technology group SwissINSO Holding Inc. The small company has recently won its first contracts to supply the systems to Algeria and Malaysia and is aiming to sell 42 units of what it calls the world’s “first high-volume, 100 percent-solar turnkey water purification system” in 2011.

The system, an interesting-sounding technology in a world where more than a billion people lack access to fresh water, could also have extra uses from disaster relief to construction sites or to helping armies stay healthy in remote regions.

Hu’s visit is over, but China’s ecological footprint lingers

CHINA-PARLIAMENT/The Chinese flags have disappeared from Washington’s wide avenues after China’s President Hu Jintao’s visit this week, but one statistic is still in the air: the rapidly expanding size of the Chinese ecological footprint, compared to the huge but slowing impact U.S. consumers have on global supplies of food, water, fuel — everything, really.

China and the United States are generally considered to hold the top two spots in the world for emissions of climate-warming greenhouse gases. But how do they compare when consumption of all goods is taken into account?

A report by Global Footprint Network indicates both countries are living beyond their means, ecologically speaking.

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