Environment Forum

from Tales from the Trail:

U.S. reveals nuclear target: oceans

ARMS MISSILE

The new U.S.  nuclear weapons doctrine released on Tuesday had stern warnings for Iran and North Korea, with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates explaining that it left "all options on the table" for dealing with atomic renegades despite its broader goal of restricting the U.S. use of its nuclear stockpile.

But Gates also let slip a bit of information that may give pause to environmentalists: most U.S. nuclear missiles are now targeted at the world's oceans.

"Our ICBMs are all targeted right now on the oceans, so that if, God forbid and for the first time in 60 years, there were an accidental launch or a problem ...it would put a missile right into the middle of the ocean, rather than targeted on any country," Gates told a news briefing.

The vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright explained the details of  "open ocean targeting", part of a broader package of measures the United States has undertaken for some time to reduce the threat of  nuclear war by mistake.

"For a weapon that has a target associated with it, that is on alert, there is a specific target: that target is the ocean, it is the center of the ocean," Cartwright told the same news briefing,  adding that the U.S. military kept specific areas of the ocean in mind "for that type of work."

from Russell Boyce:

Don’t drink the water, even if there is any to drink (Update)

One more picture that caught my eye during the 24 hours news cycle for the World Water Day is the image of hundreds of hoses providing drinking water to  residents of a housing block in Jakarta.  The grubby plastic pipes supplying a fragile lifeline to families seem to represent the desperation that people face when the water supply is cut off.

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Hoses used to supply residences with water are seen hanging across a street at the Penjaringan subdistrict in Jakarta March 22, 2010. Residents in the area say that they have had to construct makeshift water supplies for their homes by attaching hoses to pumps bought with their own money, as the government has yet to repair the original water supply which was damaged. March 22 is World Water Day.     REUTERS/Beawiharta

Today, March 22 is World Water Day and Reuters photographers in Asia were given an open brief to shoot feature pictures to illustrate it.  The only requirement I asked of them is that they included in the captions, the fact that while the Earth is literally covered in water, more than a billion people lack access to clean water for drinking or sanitation. At the same time in China 50 million people are facing drought conditions and water shortages and the two stories seemed to tie in with one another.

from Mario Di Simine:

At COP15, the waiting is now the hardest part

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You go for walks, maybe stretch out on an open couch, perhaps stand in long lines for a luke-warm bite to eat. You make numerous trips to the vending machines, munch on biscuits, chat with colleagues. Life in the fast lane of the COP15 Climate Conference in Copenhagen has slowed down to a crawl, and the waiting is most certainly the hardest part.

On the final day of the conference, the media -- and everyone else -- is looking forward to an outcome, any outcome of a two-week marathon that was supposed to lead to cuts in greenhouse gas emisions and a 2010 deadline for a legally binding treaty.

The world leaders gathered here and their negotiators are still working on the cuts, but that deadline is now out in the cold. What kind of deal will finally emerge? No one here, not the media at least, has an answer to that yet.

G8 leaders: still around to keep 2050 climate promises?

Last year, when G8 leaders agreed a “vision” of halving world greenhouse gases by 2050 at a summit in Tokyo, Japan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel looked around the table and wondered aloud if any of them would still be around to ensure the plan worked — or held to account if it didn’t.

“Probably only Dmitry”, one of the leaders said, referring to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, according to a G8 source. At the time, Medvedev was 42 and will be 84 in 2050.

At this year’s G8 summit, the discussion came up again when the leaders agreed other distant targets, including an 80 percent reduction in emissions by developed nations by 2050. (Critics said they should have focused more on 2020 goals that are most relevant to a new U.N. climate treaty due in December.)

The other plan to cut car pollution? Drive less

The feds are taking on California’s plan to limit tailpipe emissions of greenhouse gases and discussing the idea of low carbon fuel, but California has one other major idea to curb vehicle pollution, says the state senator who pushed through the tailpipe emissions law, Fran Pavley. The idea: drive less.

“No matter what we do on the clean car regs, with the gross of the state… and the sprawl out into the suburbs and the rural areas, we are going to be going in the wrong direction. And that’s something the federal government hopefully will eventually look at — land use,” she said by phone, when asked about next steps for vehicle pollution.

2008′s Senate Bill 375 by Darrell Steinberg set up targets for coordinated planning of transportation, land use and housing with regional reduction targets for greenhouse gases. At the time the bill passed, California was expecting its population to rise to 46 million by 2030 from 38 million.

Obama says greenhouse gases are hurting us — now what?

The Obama administration’s move to declare climate-warming carbon pollution a danger to human health was quickly hailed by environmental groups and leading liberals as a long-overdue shift from the Bush era and a historic first step toward regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

In making the announcement, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson said that solving the problem would not only clean up the air but also “create millions of green jobs and end our country’s dependence on foreign oil.”

She says the way to do it is for Congress to pass comprehensive climate change legislation while at the same time averting a “regulatory thicket” that unduly burdens governments and businesses.

Will Obama like his lichen?

A scientist at the University of California, Riverside has named a newly discovered lichen after President Obama, a gesture he clearly intends as an honor.

Kerry Knudsen, lichen curator at UCR’s Herbarium, says he discovered the hardy orange organism on Santa Rosa Island,  off the California coast, and “named it Caloplaca obamae to show my appreciation for the president’s support of science and science education.”

Lichen is a plant-like growth that looks like moss.

Knudsen,  an ardent supporter of Obama, says he made his final collections of the presidential lichen, which grows on soil and was almost driven to extinction by cattle ranching on the island during the final weeks of the presidential election.

California wastes no time pressing new EPA

California wasted no time asking incoming U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson to reconsider a request to let the state impose stiff targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from cars.

 The state’s top air quality regulator sent a letter to Jackson on Wednesday, the Obama administration’s first full day at work. Jackson hasn’t even been confirmed as the new EPA administrator yet, but California isn’t beating around the bush.

Stephen Johnson, the EPA administrator under former President Bush, drew the ire of California and more than a dozen other states in 2007 when he denied the state’s request for federal permission to impose tough new standards on auto emissions. 

From Suds to Sunshine in Brooklyn

A green contracting outfit based in a former Brooklyn brewery says it’s the first business in a major U.S. city that can sell power back to the grid that it generates from the sun.

New York state gave Big Sue, LLC, which has about 3,500 square feet of solar panels on its roof, the OK to sell any extra power it generates from the panels back to the grid.

For years, homeowners who have put solar panels on their roofs have been able to sell a bit of solar power back to the grid, which has helped them deal with the big costs of buying and installing the panels. For homeowners it can take 8 to 12 years to break even on the initial investment.

Will Obama see the forest for the trees?

A Chinese campaigner has urged U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to prove his green credentials, asking him to offset the emissions generated by his inauguration by funding a forest in China.

A carbon fund named “Obama, future” could invest in increased forest coverage in another country and Obama himself could plant a tree there, Lin Hui said in an open letter, published on www.ditan360.com. Lin hopes that country will be China.

Lin’s appeal is based on estimates by conservative U.S. think-tank, the Institute for Liberty, that people travelling to attend Tuesday’s inauguration would generate 220,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

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