Archive for March 2011
By Stephen Leahy*
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Mar 6, 2011 (Tierramérica)
After five years of preparation the international community is expected to launch the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services this year. For some of its proponents, even the decisions of the World Trade Organisation should be subject to its analysis.
IPBES would be analogous to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), but focused on biological diversity.
The idea behind this effort is that decisions by all levels of government are largely responsible for the decline in species and ecosystems that support life on the Earth.
To put an end to species decline, governments need an independent, authoritative scientific body that can assess the impacts of proposed policies and decisions that biodiversity experts have long recommended.
“People generally have yet to appreciate the importance of biodiversity and ecosystem services, and how much is at stake in biodiversity loss,” Charles Perrings, professor of environmental economics at Arizona State University in the U.S. southwest, told Tierramérica.
“Biodiversity” is the term used to describe the wide variety of living things that comprise the planet’s biological infrastructure and provide us with health, wealth, food, water, fuel and other vital services. Read the rest of this entry »
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Mar 22, 2011 (IPS)
Canadian Kevin Freedman is celebrating World Water Day Tuesday by living on 25 litres of water a day, instead of the North American average of 330 litres per day. And he has enlisted 31 others in his “Water Conservation Challenge” to go water- lean, using just 25 litres per day for cooking, drinking, cleaning, and sanitation for the entire month of March.
“People in Canada and the U.S. have no idea how much water they use or how much they waste,” Freedman told IPS.
“Although people live on less, it is very difficult to use just 25 litres a day. You can’t shower or use a washing machine,” he said. “I’m hoping to raise awareness that water is a finite resource.”
Nearly a billion people don’t have good access to safe fresh water. In a single generation, that number could double as growing demands for water will exceed the available and sustainable supply by 40 percent, according a recent study. “Peak water” has already come and gone. Humanity uses more water than can be sustained, drawing on non-renewable reserves of water accumulated over thousands of years in deep aquifers.
“Water cannot be created, it can only by managed,” said Margaret Catley-Carlson, a former senior official with both the Canadian government and at the United Nations, a renowned global authority on water issues, and a director at the Canadian Water Network Read the rest of this entry »
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Mar 17, 2011 (IPS)
A global nuclear disaster potentially worse than Chernobyl may be under way in Japan as hundreds of tonnes of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel are open to the sky, and may be on fire and emitting radioactive particles into the atmosphere.
Many countries have advised their citizens in Japan to leave the country.
“This is uncharted territory. There is a 50-percent chance they could lose all six reactors and their storage pools,” said Jan Beyea, a nuclear physicist with a New Jersey consulting firm called Consulting in the Public Interest.
“I’m surprised the situation hasn’t gotten worse faster… But without a breakthrough it’s only a matter of days before spent fuels will melt down,” said Ed Lyman, a physicist at the Union of Concerned Scientists and an expert on nuclear plant design.
Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant was damaged by a powerful earthquake and tsunami on Mar. 11. It has an estimated 1,700 tonnes of used or spent but still dangerous nuclear fuel in storage pools next to its six nuclear reactors, according to Kevin Kamps, a radioactive waste specialist at Beyond Nuclear, a U.S. anti-nuclear environmental group.
The storage pools holding 30 to 35 years worth of spent fuel at reactors No. 3 and No. 4 have lost containment and most if not all of their coolant water. They may be on fire, venting radioactive particles into the atmosphere, Kamps told IPS.
On Thursday, Japanese military helicopters protected by lead shielding managed to dump some seawater on the damaged reactors No. 3 and No. 4 in a desperate and very risky last- ditch effort at the highly radioactive site.
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Feb 8, 2011 (IPS)
Eco-farming could double food production in entire regions within 10 years while mitigating climate change, according to a new U.N. report released Tuesday in Geneva.
An urgent transformation to ‘eco-farming’ is the only way to end hunger and face the challenges of climate change and rural poverty, said Olivier De Schutter, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to food, following the presentation of his annual report focusing on agroecology and the right to food to the U.N. Human Rights Council.
“Agroecology mimics nature not industrial processes. It replaces the external inputs like fertiliser with knowledge of how a combination of plants, trees and animals can enhance productivity of the land,” De Schutter told IPS, stressing that, “Yields went up 214 percent in 44 projects in 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa using agro-ecological farming techniques over a period of 3 to 10 years… far more than any GM [genetically modified] crop has ever done.”
Other recent scientific assessments have shown that small farmers in 57 countries using agro-ecological techniques obtained average yield increases of 80 percent. Africans’ average increases were 116 percent.
“Today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilisers in boosting food production in regions where the hungry live,” De Schutter said. [Video Interviews with De Schutter]
[This is a repost about the financial costs and risks of nuclear technology. If a country is going to spend $10 billion to generate energy and reduce carbon emissions what technology truly offers the best return on a full cost-accounting basis? The latter calculation is not simple or uncontroversial - here is an attempt to get at it.-- Stephen ]
By Stephen Leahy*
Costs of nuclear skyrocket while costs of renewables falling quickly say energy experts
BERLIN, Jul 31, 2009 (IPS)
Why is nuclear energy back on the table?
One reason is a powerful U.S. lobby where 14 energy companies spent 48 million dollars in 2007 alone to convince American politicians to give the industry huge loan guarantees because they cannot get financing anywhere else, says Ellen Vancko, a nuclear energy analyst at the Union of Concerned Scientists, a U.S.-based non governmental organisation (NGO).
This lavish lobbying effort by the energy and nuclear power sector has been ongoing since the mid-1990s, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a U.S. NGO and now totals at least 953 million dollars.
Even more has been spent to convince the public that nuclear is one of the keys to energy security so that there is significant public support for new reactors, a Gallup Environment Poll reported this year.
“There are lots of senators and members of congress talking about nuclear as a clean, renewable energy resource,” Vancko says.
The other reason is the French. Read the rest of this entry »
Fossil Fuel Lobby Following the Playbook of Big Tobacco Confusing the Public on Dangers of Climate Disruption
Fossil Energy Interests Sowing Confusion and Buying Legislative Delay on America’s Biggest Threat: Climate Change says Environmental Economist
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Mar 2, 2011 (IPS)
Powerful fossil energy interests are preventing the United States from making the necessary transition to 21st century energy sources, one of the country’s leading environmental economists documents in a just-published book.
Fossil energy interests are spending “hundreds of millions of dollars” lobbying U.S. politicians in Congress and funding groups to confuse the public about the serious risks climate change poses, says Robert Repetto, author of “America’s Climate Problem: The Way Forward” published by Earthscan.
IPS climate and environment correspondent Stephen Leahy spoke with Repetto about his new book.
Q: Why did you write this book?
A: We’re running out of time. The latest science shows that climate change is coming faster and posing greater risks than previously thought. We are at risk of triggering positive feedbacks that will lead to uncontrollable climate change.
Meanwhile, America is locked in a climate-policy stalemate, with very few in the public comprehending the real risks climate change poses. Most don’t understand that climate change is happening now. They don’t link extreme weather events we’ve been experiencing with climate change. As a result they are not demanding that politicians take action.
Q: Why don’t most Americans understand the fact that climate change is already underway and poses serious risks?
A: Fossil (oil, coal, natural gas) energy interests are pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into sowing doubt and uncertainty to blunt public concern and to provide political cover to those politicians they are funding. In America, there is a very concerted effort by fossil energy interests that bankroll right-wing and libertarian “think tanks” like the Competitive Enterprise Institute to create an atmosphere of doubt and uncertainty, just like the tobacco companies did regarding the health effects of smoking. Read the rest of this entry »
Two Percent Price-Tag for a Green Economy – Time to end Growth-obsessed Markets pillaging the planet
No future in the “brown” economic system driven by fossil fuel energy and the serial depletion and degradation of natural resources and ecosystems
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Feb 23, 2011 (IPS)
Growth-obsessed markets and governments are pillaging the planet and it must stop, a new U.N. report warns.
The present “brown” economic system driven by fossil fuel energy and the serial depletion and degradation of natural resources and ecosystems has no future and must be replaced by a green economy, says the Green Economy report launched in Nairobi, Kenya this week by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Investing just two percent of the global economy into a few key sectors will kick-start a transition towards a low- carbon, resource-efficient economy, the report says. With that relatively small investment, many of the world’s biggest challenges – climate change, poverty, hunger, jobs, sanitation, energy, food – could be successfully met within two generations.
“The Green Economy provides a vital part of the answer of how to keep humanity’s ecological footprint within planetary boundaries,” said Achim Steiner, UNEP executive director.
“It aims to link the environmental imperatives for changing course to economic and social outcomes,” Steiner said.
The report documents that a green, low-carbon, resource- efficient economy will be at least as prosperous as the old brown economy. Better still, a green economy will not have the inherent risks, shocks, scarcities and crises of the resource-depleting, high carbon ‘brown’ economy, it says. Read the rest of this entry »
Since December of last year the Arctic sea ice has been breaking records with the lowest ever ice cover – lower than the shocker melt down of ice in 2007. This is the latest update from NOAA’s National Snow and Ice Data Center. It shows that the seasonal extant of Arctic sea ice at the end of February, 2011, stood at a record low, well below the prior record set in 2007 and almost 3 million square kilometers below the average for that winter date, when sea ice is usually within days of its greatest seasonal extant for the year.
I’ve written several articles on the latest arctic science and how the decline in sea ice affects weather in the northern hemisphere: