Environment Forum

Sue world leaders $1 billion for global warming?

In a global stunt, a U.S. environmental activist is poised to lodge a $1 billion damages class action lawsuit at the International Criminal Court (ICC) against all world leaders for failing to prevent global warming.

Activist and blogger Dan Bloom says he will sue world leaders for “intent to commit manslaughter against future generations of human beings by allowing murderous amounts of fossil fuels to be harvested, burned and sent into the atmosphere as CO2″.

He intends to lodge the lawsuit in the week starting Sunday, Dec. 6. 

The prosecutor’s office at the ICC, the world’s first permanent court (pictured below right) for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, says it is allowed to receive information on crimes that may fall within the court’s jurisdiction from any source.

“Such information does not per se trigger a judicial proceeding,” the prosecutor’s office hastened to add.

The question is: will or should the prosecutor take on the case?

One might argue in defence that world leaders are in fact trying to impose climate-saving measures. In Vienna last year, almost all rich nations agreed to consider cuts in greenhouse emissions of 25-40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. Talks on a new climate treaty will be held in Poznan, Poland, from Dec. 1-12.

California: Man the lifeboats!

California’s already in the vanguard on U.S. carbon reduction (well, planning so far), and now Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger wants to be ready for rising sea levels.

 On Friday he ordered the state to study how high waters could rise and what to do about it, in an executive order which could be seen as the Cliffs Notes of why climate change is a big deal financially.


(PHOTO: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni)

Of fingerprints and polar bear whiskers

 What do human fingerprints and polar bear “whisker prints” have in common?

You probably guessed — both give away identity.

Jane Waterman, a Canadian biologist at the University of Central Florida, is asking any tourist who takes a photo of a polar bear around Churchill, Canada, to send it to her to help study the bears. Here’s her website.

Polar bears look pretty much the same to most people — big, white and to be avoided.

Greenhouse gases: saints, villains or future saviours from an Ice Age?

 It’s not often that greenhouse gases spewed out by human activities get praise as potential saviours of the planet in a leading scientific journal — they’re normally viewed as villains for causing global warming.

But a study in Nature today shows that heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide can help avert an even worse problem in thousands of years’ time — a shift to a freeze worse than an Ice Age that could blanket much of the northern hemisphere with ice (see picture on the left and story here).

The scientists say that the Earth is close to a natural tipping point, partly based on shifts in the orbit around the sun, that could abruptly end swings between warm periods, like the present, and Ice Ages like the one that ended 10,000 years ago.

2008 to be 10th hottest year: warming trend up, or stalling?

This year is set to be about the 10th warmest since records began in the 19th century, according to Phil Jones, a leading British climate scientist — see story here.

But does that confirm a long-term trend of global warming, stoked by human emissions of greenhouse gases, or show that it has stalled? The warmest year on record is now a while ago, in 1998.

Jones, head of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, has no doubt that the underlying trend is still up — 1998 was an unusual year when global temperatures were boosted by an El Nino weather event in the Pacific Ocean. And this year, the opposite La Nina effect is cooling the planet.

Antarctica warms; scientists say we’re to blame

New research shows that both Antarctica and the Arctic are getting less icy – and the best explanation is mankind’s emissions of greenhouse gases.

But will that convert anyone who doubts that global warming is caused by human activities, led by burning fossil fuels?

The scientists, writing in the journal Nature Geoscience, say that a study of temperature records from Antarctica (there aren’t many of them) shows a slight rising trend over recent decades that can be best explained by a build-up of greenhouse gases led by carbon dioxide.

“Post 2012″ strikes fear in carbon market players

No pun intended but for the world’s carbon community, times are looking a little black.

The global financial crisis, or GFC as it is being called this week during Australia’s largest ever carbon market gathering, is deeply troubling many participants. But a larger, more worrying issue remains “post 2012″.

This is when the Clean Development Mechanism under the current phase of the U.N. Kyoto Protocol runs out, along with the hundreds of CDM projects already approved and the 3,000 still awaiting approval by a U.N. board.

Baa baa green sheep, have you any grass?

Farming often gets a bad wrap for causing global warming but at least two sheep in Norway are doing their bit to go green.

Grass has been growing on the backs of the sheep on the island Vega off Norway’s northwest coast — apparently from seeds that fell onto them during the night when they were sleeping in a shed under some stacks of hay.

“Their backs are green as lawns,” farmer Arvid Olsen (pictured left) told Ingvar Andersen, who works for the Norwegian regional newspaper Brønnøysunds Avis and who took these two photos.

Smoke and mirrors to slow global warming?

With worries about recession in many countries, does it make sense to try out some more radical ideas for fighting global warming, like placing mirrors in the sky to block the sun or fertilising the oceans to soak up greenhouse gases?

They sound like great proposals at first sight: simple,  probably cheaper and in some cases reversible. See a story about the technologies here. But there’s a lot of scepticism among scientists in the U.N. Climate Panel – there could be nasty side effects.

If you spew clouds of tiny particles, such as sulphur, into the upper atmosphere to block out some sunlight, for instance, they will eventually fall to earth and add to smog (think Beijing on bad days before the Olympics). Backers say that volcanoes do the same thing naturally — big eruptions can cool the planet. But who wants to breathe it in every day?

Cyclones’ silver lining: they may slow global warming

A Filipino resident wades across a flooded area after Typhoon Mindulle hit Baguio City, north of Manila, July 1, 2004. At least 16 people were killed when Typhoon Mindulle hit the country on Wednesday, packing peak winds of 190 km per hour near the center and gustiness of 230 kph, cut power and telecommunications lines. REUTERS/Tito Zapata RR/FAA cyclone slamming into a tropical island in the Pacific or the Caribbean sounds like unmitigated bad news – flattening homes, destroying crops, flooding towns or washing away coastlines.

But there may be a silver lining even to the worst storm clouds; hurricanes and typhoons may help — at least a bit – to slow global warming by washing huge amounts of leaves, branches, tree trunks, roots and soil into the ocean, according to research in the journal Nature Geoscience. Read a story about the findings here.

Plants soak up carbon dioxide – a non-toxic heat-trapping gas that is building up fast in the atmosphere because of human emissions of greenhouse gases – as they grow and release the stored carbon when they rot or burn.