Environment Forum

Cancun talks ignore intrusive aspect of climate change

pine beetle

One pesky aspect of climate change is that rising temperatures  and stronger storms may increase  invasions of non-native species to places that have no natural defenses against them.

The issue is mostly being ignored at the annual U.N. climate talks in Cancun, Mexico, California’s Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura said.

Just a few miles away from the talks an island called Isla Mujeres has been fighting an infestation of cactus moth swept there during a hurricane, storms that are expected to get stronger as a result of climate change.  The moth destroys prickly pears, and if it makes it to mainland –ferries full of tourists go to and fro Cancun to the island all day long — it would could harm more than the price of prickly pear fruit for your margarita.

Mexico is afraid it could reach the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts and hurt the 76 types of pricklies there and the 38 found only in Mexico. Many insects eat only the cacti and in turn many desert birds and mammals depend on those insects.

Pricklies are also an important food source in Mexico — you might have had them in a nopales soup or salad.

Google launches mapping tool to monitor global environmental change

Mexico map 2.jpgGoogle unveiled a powerful new mapping tool at the Cancun climate talks on Thursday that allows scientists to monitor changes in the Earth’s environment as climate change accelerates.

The search giant’s philanthropic arm, Google.org, calls the new Google Earth Engine “a planetary-scale platform for environmental data and analysis.” It combines Google Earth’s maps with 25 years’ worth of Landsat satellite images and other data.

Just as important as that data goldmine is Google’s move to put its immense computing resources at scientists’ disposal. Google.org is donating 20 million computational hours over the next two years to developing countries so they can monitor their forests as the United Nation’s prepares to implement an initiative called REDD, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries.

10,000 walruses, ready for their close-up

BELARUS/Zoom! Pan! Swish!  Take a look at a new movie of walruses crowding an Alaska beach — as you’ve never seen them before! Shot from 4,000 feet up in the air, the vast herd of walruses looks like a pile of brown gravel from a distance. (A far different view than the extreme close-up in the still photo at left, which was taken at a zoo in Belarus.)

As the camera in Alaska zooms in, you can see there are thousands of walruses scrambling ashore as the ice floes they normally use as hunting platforms melt away. The video was shot this month at Point Lay, Alaska, and distributed this week by the U.S. Geological Survey. It’s impossible to say how many are on this beach in this movie, but an Arctic scientist at World Wildlife Fund estimates between 10,000 and 20,000 of the tusked marine mammals have hauled themselves onto land in Alaska this year as summer Arctic sea ice shrank to its third-smallest recorded size.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Stringer Vladimir Nikolsky (Zoo employee plays with a walrus during celebrations marking the zoo’s 23th birthday in Minsk, Belarus, August 11, 2007)

The World Bank’s $6 billion man on climate change

BIRDFLU INDONESIAAs the special envoy on climate change for the World Bank, Andrew Steer might be thought of as the $6 billion man of environmental finance. He oversees more than that amount for projects to fight the effects of global warming.

“More funds flow through us to help adaptation and mitigation than anyone else,” Steer said in a conversation at the bank’s Washington headquarters. Named to the newly created position in June, Steer said one of his priorities is to marshall more than $6 billion in the organization’s Climate Investment Funds to move from smaller pilot projects to large-scale efforts.

While the World Bank is not a party to global climate talks set for Cancun, Mexico, later this year, it is deeply engaged in this issue, Steer said. Acknowledging that an international agreement on climate change is a long shot this year, he said there are still opportunities to make changes to cut the greenhouse gas emissions that spur climate change.

from The Great Debate UK:

Why Pakistan monsoons support evidence of global warming

-Lord Julian Hunt is visiting Professor at Delft University, and former Director-General of the UK Met Office. The opinions expressed are his own.-

The unusually large rainfall from this year’s monsoon has caused the most catastrophic flooding in Pakistan for 80 years, with the U.N. estimating that around one fifth of the country is underwater.  This is thus truly a crisis of the very first order.

Heavy monsoon precipitation has increased in frequency in Pakistan and Western India in recent years.  For instance, in July 2005, Mumbai was deluged by almost 950 mm (37 inches) of rain in just one day, and more than 1,000 people were killed in floods in the state of Maharashtra.  Last year, deadly flash floods hit Northwestern Pakistan, and Karachi was also flooded.

from Commodity Corner:

Getting down to business at U.N. climate talks a hard task

A U.N. concession to delegates at this week's climate talks in Bonn to take off jackets and ties due to recent high temperatures may be going to some participants' heads.

Breaking the back of negotiations for a new climate pact after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012 is proving hard work even though the talks' chair hopes to have a new negotiating text on the table by the end of the week.

Developing nations are still blaming the rich for global warming and the issue of who will contribute most to climate financing is still a matter for debate.

Campaign ad equating global warming with weather gets “pants-on-fire” rating

MILKEN/By now, almost everybody — with the possible exception of Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina — realizes there’s a difference between climate and weather. Fiorina, running in the California primary and ultimately aiming to unseat Democrat Barbara Boxer, paid for and appeared in a campaign ad slamming the sitting senator for being “worried about the weather” when there are serious concerns like terrorism to deal with.

Take a look here:

A few problems with this ad earned it the not-so-coveted beyond-false “Pants on Fire” rating from Politifact, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalism website that checks on the truthfulness of political advertising. First off, Boxer didn’t say she was worried about the weather. She said that climate change was “one of the very important national security issues” — a position in line with the Pentagon and the CIA. The site also found that it’s not an either/or thing, that focusing on climate change doesn’t necessarily mean neglecting national security. They took a look at Boxer’s record and found she has supported at least six bills against terrorism.

“Fiorina casts climate change as something you need to pack an umbrella for, or that prompts you to curse at the TV weatherman — which strikes us as not only a trivialization of climate change but also a failure to distinguish between two well-established scientific specialties,” Politifact said. “She also ignores Boxer’s lengthy record supporting bills against terrorism. So we have to light up the meter (the site’s Truth-o-Meter): Pants on Fire!”

So long, sardines? Lake Tanganyika hasn’t been this warm in 1,500 years

lake_tanganyika1_hEast Africa’s Lake Tanganyika might be getting too hot for sardines.

The little fish have been an economic and nutritional mainstay for some 10 million people in neighboring Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo — four of the poorest countries on Earth. They also depend on Lake Tanganyika for drinking water.

But that could change, according to research published in the online version of the journal Nature Geoscience. Using samples of the lakebed that chart a 1,500-year history of the lake’s surface water temperature, the scientists found the current temperature — 78.8 degrees F (26 degrees C) — is the warmest it’s been in a millennium and a half. And that could play havoc with sardines and other fish the local people depend on.

The scientists also found that the lake saw its biggest warm-up in the 20th century.

U.N. climate panel under review: no stranger to controversy

glaciersipccThe U.N. panel of climate scientists came under the microscope on Friday by  experts named by the United Nations to figure out how to restore faith in its work after errors including an exaggeration of the thaw of the Himalayas. 

They’ll have to write clearly, check their findings and avoid overstating their case (sounds like a journalism manual). But how? And are there only isolated slips, or a wider problem? Also, why hasn’t the panel learn more from past controversies?

Rajendra Pachauri (below right), chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, acknowledged at the start of the session in Amsterdam there had been errors in the last major report in 2007 — but said the did not detract from the overall conclusions that warming is under way and that people are very likely to be the cause by burning fossil fuels.

Washington math: oil spill + climate bill = new environmental polls

OIL-RIG/LEAKWith BP’s spilled oil shimmering off the U.S. Gulf Coast, and a re-tooled bill to curb climate change expected to be unveiled this week in the U.S. Senate, what could be more appropriate than a bouquet of new environmental polls? Conducted on behalf of groups that want less fossil fuel use, the polls show hefty majorities favoring legislation to limit emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide.

In the kind of harmonic convergence that sometimes happens inside the Capital Beltway, a new poll released on Monday by the Clean Energy Works campaign showed “overwhelming public support for comprehensive clean energy legislation,” with 61 percent of 2010 voters saying they want to limit pollution, invest in clean energy and make energy companies pay for emitting the carbon that contributes to climate change. A healthy majority — 54 percent — of respondents said they’d be more likely to re-elect a senator who votes for the bill.

Last Friday, the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has been pushing for climate change legislation for years, released its own poll numbers. NRDC’s pollsters found seven in 10 Americans want to see fast-tracked clean energy legislation in the wake of the BP oil spill, and two-thirds say they want to postpone new offshore drilling until the Gulf oil spill is investigated and new safeguards are put in place.

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