Dirt: The Silent Global Crisis

Dirt Isn’t So Cheap After All

By Stephen Leahy

Aug 30 (IPS) – Soil erosion is the “silent global crisis” that is undermining food production and water availability, as well as being responsible for 30 percent of the greenhouse gases driving climate change.

“We are overlooking soil as the foundation of all life on Earth,” said Andres Arnalds, assistant director of the Icelandic Soil Conservation Service.

“Soil and vegetation is being lost at an alarming rate around the globe, which in turn has devastating effects on food production and accelerates climate change,” Arnalds told IPS from Selfoss, Iceland, host city of the International Forum on Soils, Society and Climate Change which starts Friday.

Along with many other international partner institutions, Iceland is marking the centenary of its Soil Conservation Service by convening this forum of experts.

Every year, some 100,000 square kilometres of land loses its vegetation and becomes degraded or turns into desert.

“Land degradation and desertification may be regarded as the silent crisis of the world, a genuine threat to the future of humankind,” Arnalds said.

Food production has kept pace with population growth by increasing 50 percent between 1980 and 2000. But it is an open question whether there will be enough food in 2050 with an estimated three billion more mouths to feed.

That means more food has to be produced within the next 50 years than during the last 10,000 years combined he noted.

“Global food production per hectare is already declining,” said Zafar Adeel, director of the United Nations University’s Canadian-based International Network on Water, Environment and Health.

There are a number of reasons for this decline, including the fact that soil degradation is producing growing shortages of water. Soil and vegetation act as a sponge that holds and gradually releases water, Adeel explained.

The newest challenge to food production and conserving land and water resources is the boom in vegetable-based biofuels, says Andrew Campbell, Australia’s first National Landcare Facilitator.

“Soils are under greater pressure than ever before,” Campbell said in an interview. “Governments around the world are subsidising crops to produce biofuels.”

For complete article see Dirt Isn’t So Cheap After All.

Satélites revelan caída de tala amazónica en Perú

Para los lectores españoles:

Satélites revelan caída de tala amazónica en PerúRecently-contacted Murunahua man, River Yurua, Peru. He was shot in the eye by loggers during first contact. © David Hill / Survival
Por Stephen Leahy

La deforestación peruana, intensa en las áreas cercanas a carreteras y explotaciones minerales, ha tenido escaso impacto en las selvas protegidas, afirman investigadores.

TORONTO, 13 ago (Tierramérica).- Las políticas de conservación de selvas redujeron el ritmo de la deforestación en la Amazonia peruana, afirma un nuevo estudio basado en detección satelital de alta precisión.

Aunque los bosques amazónicos de Brasil son los que concitan la mayor parte de la atención internacional, los 661 mil kilómetros cuadrados de selvas peruanas son reconocidos como un ecosistema único.

Pero los impactos de la actividad humana en toda la región han sido mal comprendidos hasta un estudio publicado el viernes 10 en la revista científica Science.

“Las reservas forestales y las áreas de conservación de Perú parecen estar funcionando bien”, dijo Greg Asner, director del estadounidense Observatorio Aéreo de la Carnegie Institution of Washington, con sede en California.

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Steve’s Hurricane Handbook 2007

hurri-handbk.png One year before Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, scientists feared global warming was going to make hurricanes more powerful.

Five Little-Known Facts:

  1. “These are not natural disasters, they are environmental disasters.”
  2. NOAA study found that Katrina was only a Category 1 or perhaps 2 on landfall
  3. Storms in the NorthWest Pacific Ocean are 75 percent more powerful than they were 30 years ago
  4. Climate change has the potential to raise oceans temperatures high enough create future hypercanes — 600 kilometre per hour superstorms
  5. “The U.S. has a very big societal problem when it comes to coping with hurricanes” (ok, maybe you knew that)

This is a sampling of the little known information about hurricanes from respected scientists collected in the modestly titled “Steve’s Hurricane Handbook 2007 – Lessons Learned 2004-2006? “ (1.2 mb pdf). It’s a compendium of the most interesting quotes and facts about hurricanes from hurricane experts since 2004. Continue reading

Hog Waste and Rise in Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria

Animals living in large numbers on factory farms are given large amounts of antibiotics to prevent spread of disease. This has been implicated in rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria that render common antibiotics ineffective when used in humans. I’ve written about this a number of times but not in recent years. It’s an important issue that has not gone away.

In a new study, researchers at the University of Illinois report that some genes found in hog waste lagoons are transferred — ‘like batons’ — from one bacterial species to another. And these bacteria with antibiotic genes were found in groundwater and wells.

See also: Factory Farms, Bird Flu and Global Warming

Flying Blind Into a Monster Hurricane Season

ivan.jpgFlying Blind Into Monster Storm Season

By Stephen Leahy

“…New Orleans is at the same risk as it was before Katrina.”
— Stephen Leatherman, director of the International Hurricane Research Center

Aug 24 (IPS) – Category Five Hurricane Dean is just the first of several monster storms coming this hurricane season, meteorologists predict.

The United States and other countries remain highly vulnerable, even as budget cuts to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) imperil hurricane prediction and research.

“The U.S. will experience landfalls of between two and four major hurricanes this year,” said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Centre in Maryland.

“In addition to Dean, the Caribbean region can expect two or three more major storms,” Bell told IPS. Continue reading

Pollute for Free – America’s Economic Model

copyright Pembina Institute

If ever there was a project where sustainable accounting is needed, Alberta tar sands oil extraction is it.” — Mindy S. Lubber

Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, a leading coalition of investors and environmental groups working on sustainability issues notes in this article today that the current “accounting system meant that companies were long able to “externalize” natural resource costs. In other words, they could pollute for free without paying for environmental damage and cleanups. Society and taxpayers shouldered these costs instead.”

Reform of this not-grounded-in-reality accounting and economic system is essential to move towards sustainable societies.

Canada’s oil or tar sands that supply the US with much of its oil is devastating huge swaths of pristine boreal forest, ruining wild rivers and polluting the air of the north Lubber says. For more on the environmental impacts of the biggest industrial project on the planet see Destroying Canada’s Boreal Forest for America’s Oil

Greenland on Verge of Meltdown

Copyright Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research Deniers Jump on NASA Gaff, While Greenland on Verge of Meltdown
By Stephen Leahy

Aug 16, 2007 (IPS) – Scientists warn that climate change tipping points are imminent, and will lead to potentially catastrophic events like a seven-metre sea level rise. Meanwhile, conservatives in the North American media are focusing on a NASA admission of a climate calculation error.

First the error.

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Roads Lead to Deforestation in Untouched Peruvian Amazon

Recently-contacted Murunahua man, River Yurua, Peru. He was shot in the eye by loggers during first contact. © David Hill / Survival

Satellites Show Logging Decline in Peruvian Amazon
By Stephen Leahy

Deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon, intense in zones near roads and mining operations, has had little impact in protected forests, say researchers.

Aug 13 (Tierramérica).- Rainforest conservation policies are reducing the rate of deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon, but roads are unquestionably the drivers of change, new satellite data reveal.

Although Brazil’s Amazon forests draw the most international attention, Peru’s 661,000 square kilometers of rainforests are recognized as a unique and important ecosystem.

However, the impacts of human activities throughout the region have been poorly understood, until a study published Aug. 10 in the journal Science.

“Peru’s forest reserves and conservation areas appear to be working well,” said Greg Asner, director of the Carnegie Airborne Observatory, at Stanford University in California.

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Elections Pushed Iraq Into Current Chaos as Predicted

Not my usual beat but with the Iraq tragedy worsening each day it may be useful to recall that experts said in 2004 before the much-heralded Iraq elections that voting would make the situation worse. Sadly they were all too correct.

“It is one of the perverse realities of post-conflict elections that this linchpin of the democratic process can also be its undoing,” Benjamin Reilly, a political scientist at Australian National University — 2004.

UN Study: Premature Vote May Prove Disastrous
by Stephen Leahy

(Originally published in Oct 2004)

Oct 19 (IPS) Elections in Afghanistan and Iraq may prove disastrous by increasing violence and extremism, according to studies of other post-conflict societies included in a book released Monday by United Nations University Press.

If elections in volatile situations are ill-timed or poorly designed, they risk producing the direct opposite of the intended outcome, fueling chaos and reversing progress toward democracy, adds the volume, The UN Role in Promoting Democracy.

“It is one of the perverse realities of post-conflict elections that this linchpin of the democratic process can also be its undoing,” Benjamin Reilly, a political scientist at Australian National University, said in a news release announcing the book.

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Atlantic Bluefin Tuna Going Way of Northern Cod

tuna-hall-sml.jpgAtlantic Bluefin Tuna Going Way of Northern Cod
By Stephen Leahy

Aug 6 (IPS) – Fishing wiped out Atlantic Bluefin tuna stocks in Northern Europe 50 years ago, according to a new study, while ongoing pressure on the remaining stocks is pushing the entire species to the edge of extinction.

Every summer in the early 1900s, Northern European waters from Holland to northern Norway teemed with Atlantic Bluefin tuna, some three metres long and weighing 700 kilogrammes, according to historical fishing records. Few could catch the powerful, fast-swimming fish until the 1930s and 1940s when bigger, faster boats with better catch gear were designed.

“The Bluefin population crashed in the 1960s and more than 40 years later it still hasn’t recovered,” said Brian MacKenzie of the Technical University of Denmark, who led the study to be published in the journal Fisheries Research.yellow-fin-tua-galapagos.jpg

“You simply don’t see bluefins in these waters any more,” MacKenzie told IPS.

There is a clear parallel to the more recent collapse of once abundant Northern Cod stocks. Also fished into near extinction on the other side of the Atlantic, the Cod have not recovered despite a no-fishing ban for the past 15 years.

“I’m afraid what happened to the Bluefin is similar to what happened to the Northern Cod,” he said.

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