Environment Forum

Coke’s new look: polar-bear white

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.

The whole point is to raise money to protect a far-north area where summer sea ice will probably persist the longest, WWF and Coke said in a statement. The Arctic Home plan is to work with local residents to manage as much as 500,000 square miles of territory to provide a home for polar bears.

Coke and polar bears are something of a classic combination, according to the company’s Katie Bayne, who said in a statement that the big white bears were first introduced in the beverage-maker’s advertising in 1922. But the color change is more than tin-deep. Coca-Cola is making an initial $2 million donation to World Wildlife Fund to support polar bear conservation work. Those who buy the white cans can text the package code to 357357 to make individual donations of $1, or donate online at ArcticHome.com. The company plans to match all donations made with a package code by March 15 up to $1 million.

“Polar bears inspire the imagination,” Carter Roberts, CEO and president of WWF, said in a statement. “They’re massive, powerful, beautiful and they live nowhere else except the Arctic. Their lives are intimately bound up with sea ice, which is now melting at an alarming rate. By working with Coca-Cola, we can raise the profile of polar bears and what they’re facing, and most importantly, engage people to work with us, to help protect their home.”

Some good news for a thirsty world

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.

The leader of the study, Simon Cook of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, said this is actually possible. And he said it wouldn’t require the repeal of the more selfish impulses of human nature.

Floods? Droughts? Wildfires? Hurricanes? Yes, there is a climate change connection

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.

There still is no direct line between a certain amount of warming and a certain storm, wildfire, drought or flood. But there is a “new normal,” detailed by scientists on a new website . Staffed and advised by some of the most well-known climate change experts in the United States and elsewhere, the site says plainly that what the computer models foretold in 2007 is clearly documented to be occurring.

Enviro-word of the moment: Anthropocene

A word has entered the language — at least, the language of environmental concern — that may be ready for prime-time. That word is Anthropocene. It’s the epoch we’re apparently living in, roughly translated as the Age of Man. The theory behind the name is that human beings have made such an impact on Earth’s geology that we should have an era named for us that differentiates this time from the tired old Holocene period.

Holocene means “entirely new,” but it’s been some 10,000 years since it started. Scientists and others meeting in London figure it may be time to move on.

In a note about their meeting at The Geological Society, they ask: “Has humanity’s impact on the Earth been so significant that it defines a new geological epoch? In the blink of a geological eye, through our need for energy, food, water, minerals, for space in which to live and play, we have wrought changes to Earth’s environment and life that are as significant as any known in the geological record.”

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.

Amazon’s drought, seen from space

AMAZON/DROUGHTHow green is the Amazon?

Not as green as it used to be, as shown in an analysis of satellite images made during last year’s record-breaking drought.

Because greenness is an indication of health in the Amazon, a decline in this measurement means this vast area is getting less healthy — bad news for biodiversity and some native peoples in the region.

What does a drop in the greenness index look like? It looks gold, orange and red in a graphic accompanying an article to be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters:

“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.

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.

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.

Greenland ice melt sets a record — and could set the stage for sea level rise

camp1Greenland’s ice sheet melted at a record rate in 2010, and this could be a major contributor to sea level rise in coming decades.

The ice in Greenland melted so much last year that it formed rivers and lakes on top of the vast series of glaciers that covers much of the big Arctic island, with waterfalls flowing through cracks and holes toward the bottom of the ice sheet. Take a look at video from Marco Tedesco of City College of New York, who is leading a project to study what factors affect ice sheet melting. The photo at left shows a camp by the side of a stream flowing from a lake — all of it on top of the ice sheet.

“This past melt season was exceptional, with melting in some areas stretching up to 50 days longer than average,” Tedesco said in a statement.  “Melting in 2010 started exceptionally early at the end of April and ended quite late in mid- September.”

  •