Environment Forum

Climate change, it’s snow joke

snowshow1.JPGIt’s summer at the G8 media centre in Hokkaido. Yet underneath the building are tonnes of snow to keep journalists cool as they write about global warming.

Japan budgeted $283 million for security at the summit and $30 million to build a temporary, low-emissions media centre far from where the G8 leaders are meeting in a luxury hotel.

The centre took five months to construct next to a ski resort and the company that built it says 95 percent of the materials will be recycled or reused once the building is torn down in the weeks after the G8 meeting.

During construction, tonnes of snow were scooped up from the resort’s car park and dumped into an insulated area under the floor. Of the 5.5 metres of snow, more than 4 metres remain, which is used to chill the air circulating around the cavernous two-storey building. Large arrays of solar panels also help power the centre and cut emissions.

Journalists can walk over glass panels to see the snow underneath.

 Jun Oishi of Takenaka Corporation, which designed and built the centre, says it will save 6,ooo tonnes of carbon dioxide over its short life compared with a conventionally designed building.

Should climate sinners face World Cup ban?

Smoke billows from a power plant as an aircraft flies by in Qingdao, Shandong province, January 12, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer (CHINA)Among suggestions for slowing global warming it may be the most radical — countries failing to keep promises to curb emissions should not be allowed to send a soccer team to the World Cup.

June 2-13 talks in Bonn on a new deal to widen the Kyoto Protocol after  a first period ends in 2012 are ending on Friday with few agreements and many criticisms about a lack of progress.

But how do you focus delegations’ minds and get countries to do more to curb greenhouse gas emissions? U.N. reports last year warning the world of rising temperatures, droughts, rising seas and other risks in coming decades have not fully done the trick.

Planet sick; do the doctors care?

Children run on a dried lakebed in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad June 5, 2008. The United Nations urged the world on Thursday to kick an all-consuming addiction to carbon dioxide and said everyone must take steps to fight climate change. World Environment Day, conceived in 1972, is the United Nation’s principal day to mark global green issues and aims to give a human face to environmental problems and solutions. REUTERS/Krishnendu Halder (INDIA)    The UN’s climate surgery opening hours this week in Bonn, Germany, are 10am-1pm and 3pm-6pm.

    Several times they’ve finished early — lack of demand?

    “That’s good. Often they just go on and on. Next week it may be a bit later,” a UN spokesperson told me.

    Welcome to a new round of talks to find a successor to the UN-administered Kyoto Protocol on global warming. Bonn is the second of eight meetings of 190 countries and 2,000 people or so to agree a new climate pact by December 2009.

Is Germany’s Merkel full of hot air?

German Chancellor Angela Merkel makes a speech at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Bonn May 28, 2008. The UN is holding the conference in Germany’s former capital Bonn from May 19 to 30, to develop strategies to ensure the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender (GERMANY)At the U.N. Biodiversity Conference in Bonn, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is being hailed as something of a hero. In what could be seen as an attempt to salvage both the talks and her own reputation as a champion of the environment, she announced millions of euros in handouts to help save the planet’s forests.

 Campaigners fell over themselves praising her for setting an example. The physicist and former environment minister won credit last year for helping to broker EU and G8 deals to tackle climate change and some close to her insist the subject is close to her heart.

But there is a different story. 

Merkel is backpeddling on a wide range of green issues at home as political reality bites. She is robustly defending the powerful German car industry — responsible for one in five jobs in Europe’s biggest economy – against the EU’s planned CO2 caps and her government this week all but dropped plans to change a tax regime on cars that would have encouraged lower emissions.

There Is a Time for Everything — And It’s Changing

Snow lies on Daffodils in Heather, central England March 23, 2008. REUTERS/Darren Staples (BRITAIN)

 Stuart Gaffin is a climate researcher at Columbia University and a regular contributor with his blog “Exhausted Earth”. ThomsonReuters is not responsible for the content – the views are the author’s alone.

Colleagues of mine at Columbia have just published a large study of physical and biological changes recorded around the world since 1970 , during which the globe has been warming.

The massive database they compiled describes an extraordinary and fascinating range of phenomena that would likely be sensitive to climate changes like spring flowering of plants, migration times and ranges for birds, fish and insects, spring river flows from winter snow melt, lake freezing and melting times, pollen release, egg-laying, and even the time that bullfrogs start calling in Spring. (It’s hard to find bullfrogs in a lake but it sure is easy to hear them so I trust that data!)    View of Manshuk Mametova glacier melting down to a lake in northern Tien Shan mountains. The Soviets have gone, the glaciers are getting smaller and in parched oil-rich central Asia the battle is on for water. Picture taken August 24, 2003. FOR RELEASE WITH FEATURE STORY BC-CENTRALASIA-WATER REUTERS/Alexei Kalmykov SZH/CVI/WS

Happy about high gasoline prices?

A California Highway Patrol officer travels south with commuters on Interstate 5 as they make their way through heavy morning fog near San DiegoI have a confession to make — I’m glad gas prices in the United States, as elsewhere, are rising. And I’m quietly hoping they’ll keep going higher because there may possibly be no more effective way to promote conservation and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Higher pump prices might be the only way that we Americans will ever even begin adjusting our driving habits and reducing fuel consumption — when it hits you in the pocketbook. The price of gas in the United States may be cresting at over the $4 per gallon level but it is still far lower than it many other countries where fuel taxes are much higher.

In Germany, gasoline is now up to about 6 euros ($9) per gallon. German think tanks have forecast that it would take prices of 10 euros ($15) per gallon to radically change driving habits.
Certainly there are fewer mass transit options in the United States than in Europe and elsewhere. And higher fuel prices are especially problematic for people with low or no income. What’s nevertheless disheartening in the United States is that any suggestion of alleviating the price squeeze in the United States through the conservation of fuel by driving less or by driving smaller, more fuel-efficient cars or by using public transportation seems to get drowned out by a strange political debate about temporarily suspending the federal fuel tax for a few months during the summer holiday season.

That seems to be sending the wrong message to Americans, who already use about one quarter of the world’s gas. It’s a wasted opportunity, in the age of climate change, to help a global campaign for conservation.
I spent an illuminating week recently driving around in California. It was amazing that so many people are still driving enormous SUVs even though fuel prices are high and rising. It was also amazing that people drive their enormous SUVs and other gas-guzzling cars at such high speeds and with such jack-rabbit acceleration.

Call Hercules! Species under threat

German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel appears on a large screen as he opens a session of the 9th UN convention on biological diversity COP 9 in Bonn May 19, 2008. The UN is holding the conference in Germany’s former capital Bonn from May 19 to 30, to develop strategies to ensure the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from the use of genetic resources. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay (GERMANY)Delegates from almost 200 countries are meeting in Bonn, Germany,  to discuss ways to protect animals and plants from threats ranging from climate change to pollution. 

Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s environment minister, said it would be a ”Herculean task” to safeguard animal and plant life. Try my colleague Madeline Chambers’ fine story about the opening.

But what can they do at the May 19-30 meeting?

An Earth Summit in Johannesburg in 2002 set a goal of slowing the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010, but U.N. studies say that climate change, rising human populations and loss of habitats are causing the worst spate of extinctions since the dinosaurs were wiped out 65 million years ago. A museum visitor examines a statue of “Young Hercules” during a preview of the new Greek and Roman Galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York April 16, 2007. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid (UNITED STATES)That means that most experts say the 2010 goal is out of reach.

Nike wins, restaurants lose on list of climate-friendly companies

nikeshoes.jpgCan the running shoes we buy really help protect the environment?

According to a new list by nonprofit group Climate Counts, Nike ranked first among the world’s most climate-friendly companies.

In its second annual report, Climate Counts ranked companies based on efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, support of global warming legislation, public disclosure of their efforts to address climate change, and whether they measure their impacts on the environment.

Nike ranked well in all those areas, garnering a score of 82 out of a possible 100 points. Stonyfield Farm, IBM, Unilever, Canon, General Electric, Toshiba, Procter & Gamble, Hewlett-Packard and Sony rounded out the list’s top 10.

Carbon is intense

Stuart Gaffin is a climate researcher at Columbia University  and is a regular contributor with his blog “Exhausted Earth”. ThomsonReuters is not responsible for the content – the views are the author’s alone.

U.S. President George W. Bush walks through the colonnade from the Oval Office to make remarks on the climate at the White House in Washington, April 16, 2008. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES)On April 16 President Bush gave a speech laying out a new United States climate policy goal – stabilizing US emissions by the year 2025.

During the course of this speech the President reported as progress a previous goal he had announced in 2002: that the “carbon intensity” of the US economy under his administration has been declining at the rate of about 18% per decade — the rate he targeted in 2002. Carbon intensity is the amount of carbon emitted by US fossil fuel combustion per dollar of US economic output.

Maldives: “Paradise Drowning”, partly due to tourism?

A tourist from London plays with her daughter on the jetty outside the Maldivian resort of Banyan Tree on January 9, 2005. Most tourists are leaving the Maldives after the atoll nation was hit by the Asian tsunami. REUTERS/Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachchi AL/TWThe Maldives has a dilemma — it fears that rising seas caused by global warming could wipe the country off the map but it doesn’t want to restrict tourists who visit the Indian Ocean coral islands in aircraft whose emissions are a cause of climate change.

Read Melanie Lee and Neil Chatterjee’s story about the problem faced by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who is writing a book about ”Paradise Drowning” but wants to keep the tourist-dependent economy going.

What should countries like the Maldives do?

Ending poverty is the overriding goal for developing nations, but how far should they take part in fighting global warming, caused by people in rich nations on the other side of the world?