Environment Forum

Skating on thin ice

We hear a lot of grim news about how sea ice has been melting more than usual in recent summers in the Arctic, how glaciers from the Himalayas to the Andes are melting or how winter sports such as ice hockey in Canada may be under threat from global warming.

So here’s a bit of light relief (assuming it’s not for real): YouTube Preview Image

Imagining Bucky and Geo-Engineering

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.

fuller.jpgA retrospective exhibit about the life and inventions of R. Buckminster Fuller (a.k.a. Bucky) is about to open at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City . Fuller was truly one-of-a-kind-an iconoclastic architect, inventor, engineer, and philosopher.

I still have vivid memories of a public talk he gave at Columbia University in the late 1970′s. He died in 1983. He is best known as the leading proponent, if not inventor, of the geodesic dome, the sturdy spherical structure, composed of triangular elements, that closely approximates a sphere.  

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.

Carbon credits to rescue a Madagascar forest?

lemur1.jpgCan credits traded in the world’s financial centers stop local farmers in Madagascar from burning up a rain forest filled with lemurs and other life found nowhere else in the world?    

The New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society is working with the government of Madagascar to sell about 9.5 million tonnes of carbon credits to help save the Makira Forest, which contains 22 species of lemurs, hundreds of bird species and thousands of plants. Many of those species are found nowhere else on the planet. 

 ”We want to create incentives so people don’t deforest,” Ray Victurine, the finance expert at WCS, told me. 

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.

So what happened to global warming?

An enormous iceberg (R) breaks off the Knox Coast in the Australian Antarctic Territory, January 11, 2008. Australia’s CSIRO’s atmospheric research unit has found the world is warming faster than predicted by the United Nations’ top climate change body, with harmful emissions exceeding worst-case estimates. Picture taken January 11, 2008. REUTERS/Torsten Blackwood/Pool (ANTARCTICA)So what happened to global warming?

It’s not just that it’s disappeared from media headlines this year – shoved off by the credit crunch and natural disasters, for example. It can’t be ignored that 2007 came and went as another very warm year – the 7th hottest on record since 1850 according to the World Meteorological Organization.

But it wasn’t a record. In fact that was 1998, a full 10 years ago — the year of an exceptional El Nino, a Pacific weather pattern which heats the whole globe. So is global warming not living up to the hype?

Two weeks ago Leibniz Institute’s Noel Keenlyside stirred an academic hornet’s
nest by saying that we may have to wait longer – a decade or more – for another
peak year, because a natural weakening in ocean currents may be cooling sea

Notice more trees? Campaign aims to plant 7 billion

Nobel prize winner Wangari Maathai, Japanese Ambassador to Kenya Miyamuri and Chairman of Environmental Foundation Okada water a tree in Sabatia forest, Kenya.A worldwide tree planting campaign is aiming to reach a total of 7 billion by the end of 2009 – that means just over one for everyone on the planet.

The United Nations says the campaign has exceeded expectations since it began in late 2006 with a goal of planting one billion within a year: two billion have been planted already. That means another 5 billion by late 2009.

A lot of the plantings so far have been by carried out governments —  including 700 million by Ethiopia, 400 million by Turkey and 250 million by Mexico. That still leaves a lot still to be planted by companies and people like you and me.

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.

Arctic ice: big thaw on the way?

Tamara Rud, 70, fishes in the River Polui in the arctic city of Salekhard some 2000 km (1242 miles) northeast of Moscow November 25, 2007. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko (RUSSIA)It’s hard to imagine how big some of the cracks are on this link to satellite images of the Arctic ice during winter – dark lines hundreds of miles (km) long abruptly appear off the Canadian islands at the bottom right of the picture as the ice swirls through the winter.

At the top right, vast amounts of ice are flowing out of the Arctic basin southwards along the coast of Greenland.

“As of the middle of March, most of the basin, including the pole itself, appears to be covered only by seasonal ice,” it says. The image comes from Koji Shimada of the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, via a link supplied by Thomas Homer Dixon, an environmental expert at the Trudeau Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Toronto.

Smoking bans stoke global warming?

N. Virani stands in his outdoor bar and restaurant in central Oslo — his heating bills have jumped  by $100,000 a year after Norway banned smoking indoorsFewer cigarettes get lit indoors in bars and restaurants because of smoking bans from California to Ireland but something else is going up in smoke from a sidewalk in central Oslo – about $100,000 a year in extra outdoor heating bills.

The heated pavement, installed at a cost of about $400,000, may be the most extreme example of an environmental side-effect of smoking bans: rocketing power use.

“It’s warm out here even when it’s snowing and minus 10 (14 Fahrenheit) on the worst winter day,” said N. Virani, managing director of the Mona Lisa restaurant, which includes an outdoor section named after former health Minister Dagfinn Hoybraten who introduced the smoking ban in 2004.