Soaring Energy Costs May Force Low-CO2 Living

By Stephen Leahy

Jun 5 (IPS) – Climate change is a global problem but individuals and communities can take simple measures to cut their carbon emissions in half, experts said Thursday on World Environment Day.

The U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) launched a “Kick the CO2 Habit” campaign in Wellington, New Zealand today to encourage low-carbon lifestyle choices at home and when travelling.

“The public have the power to change the future — have the power to personally and collectively influence economies to ‘Kick the CO2 Habit’,” said Achim Steiner, UNEP executive director.

UNEP released a kind of “Rough Guide” to low-carbon living, entitled “Kick the Habit: The UN Guide to Climate Neutrality“, which is available free online.

The knowledge and technology to dramatically reduce carbon emissions already exist, mainly through improvements in energy efficiency. What have been lacking in most countries are incentives to make changes. Now the hard stick of high energy prices has given the public new interest in reducing energy costs, which also reduce carbon emissions. Continue reading

International Enviro Standards Needed for Biofuels

By Stephen Leahy

BONN, Jun 5 (Tierramérica) – The adoption of international standards for the sustainable production of biofuels emerged as a controversial approach at the recent United Nations conference on biodiversity here.

The still-vague proposals suggest that they would “promote the sustainable production, conversion, use, and trade of biofuels”, and revolve around reducing “perverse incentives” like farm subsidies in Europe and the United States.

“In 33 years of ethanol production, Brazil has never bothered to set up sustainability standards,” said Camila Moreno, a researcher with the Brazilian environmental group Terra de Direitos.

Also known as agro-fuels, made from crops like maize, sugarcane and soybeans, they face criticism from those who blame them for the current global food crisis.

The biofuel market is also accused of aggravating the destruction of ecosystems by pushing other crops to cut down forests and expand the farming frontier. Indeed, halting the growing tide of extinctions of plant and animals species was the focus of the Bonn meeting. Continue reading

Male Infertility Linked to Pesticides

Pesticide exposure is widespread in North America and has long been associated with human health impacts. Here’s yet more proof: A June 2008 review of scientific studies on pesticide exposure shows a decline in semen quality and reduced male fertility.

“The conclusion can be drawn that pesticide exposure may affect spermatogenesis leading to poor semen quality and reduced male fertility.” — Current Opinion in Obstetrics & Gynecology

Related posts:
Organic Cure for Brain-damaging Pesticides Found in US Children
Cancer Rates Soaring – Common Toxic Chemicals Responsible
The Real Cost of US Strawberries
Coke Spraying with Roundup Damages DNA in Ecuador/Colombia
GM Crops Creating Pest Problems Around World

“We’re Running the Risk of Unstoppable Climate Change” — Oceanographer

Interview with leading marine scientist Chris Reid

“I’m afraid it is going to take a major catastrophe in the developed world…”

GIJON, Spain, Jun 4 (IPS) – Warming seawater, melting sea ice and glaciers, sea level rise, storm intensification, changes in ocean currents, growing “dead zones”, and ocean acidification are just some of the signs that the oceans that cover 71 percent of our watery planet are changing.

Changes in the oceans also means major impacts on the land and the atmosphere. “Policy makers and the public do not realize that the oceans are the drivers of the climate system,” says Chris Reid, recently retired professor of oceanography at the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science in Plymouth, England.

Reid will be producing a report this summer on the impacts the altered oceans are having and will have on the global climate.

IPS environment correspondent Stephen Leahy spoke to Reid at an international scientific symposium held late last month in Gijon, Spain on the effects of climate change on the world’s oceans.

IPS: What is happening in the oceans that will affect the global climate?

CR: The oceans have absorbed 30 percent of all human emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) since the start of the industrial age. There is now good evidence that the oceans are absorbing less carbon as a result of climate change. The warming of surface waters, glacial and sea ice meltwater, acidification and so on are inhibiting or slowing a number of the oceans’ mechanisms for absorbing carbon from the atmosphere and safely storing them in the deep ocean.

IPS: How will that affect us?

CR: It means the atmospheric concentrations of CO2 will rise much faster than has been previously projected by climate scientists. Human carbon emissions are already on pace for the worst case scenario as envisioned by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). These changes in the oceans means the rate of warming will increase, bringing even more severe hurricanes and cyclones, flooding events and so on.

IPS: Cyclones like the one that recently devastated Burma?

CR: Yes. Research presented at this meeting shows that South Korea and Japan are experiencing more powerful cyclones. While a single event can’t be precisely connected to climate change, the Burma cyclone fits what is expected with climate change. Continue reading

Canada “acting like USA” Torpedoes International Enviro Agreement

Analysis by Stephen Leahy

“Do Canadians know what their government is doing here? You must tell them.” — Mamadou Mana Diakite of Mali

BONN, Jun 3 (IPS) – Self-interest and petty politicking largely paralysed efforts to solve the urgent problem of the widespread extinction of species, with few concrete achievements after nearly two weeks of 14-hour meetings at the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) in Bonn that concluded last Friday.

Why? Mainly because a few rich and powerful countries like Japan, Canada, Australia, Brazil and China fought tooth and nail to boost their own self-interest regardless of the environmental and human costs.

Six years ago, more than 160 countries at the April 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg agreed on a target of achieving a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss by 2010. In May 2008, virtually everyone here acknowledged the target will not be met.

Some countries, like Germany and most of the developing world, do understand that species extinction is undermining the vital ecosystem services that nature provides, such as food, fibre, clean water and air. Others, such as Canada, express altruistic sentiments that are belied by their actions. Since decisions at U.N. meetings are by consensus, any country can block decisions on a whim. Or, as is more often the case, countries will block agreement on something they have no connection to simply so they can force concessions on other issues.

“You listen to them debate over every comma and realise they could be arguing over anything,” said Helena Paul of EcoNexus, a British-based environmental group that participated in the CBD meetings. NGOs can observe but are not participants except for the occasional opportunity to express their views. Continue reading

Greed Stalls 21st Century Bio-Economy

By Stephen Leahy

BONN, May 31 (IPS) – The world community took some ever-so-careful steps towards slowing the biodiversity crisis at a major U.N. meeting in Bonn, while emphasising the need for urgency and action.

Agreement on the need for more protected areas in tropical forests and oceans was universal, but only Germany offered any new funding. On the contentious issue of biofuels and their impacts on food and biodiversity, members agreed at the last minute that biofuels production ought to be environmentally sustainable and not impact biodiversity. There was also an agreement on a de facto moratorium on ocean fertilisation schemes.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged $785 million a year to protect forests.

And, after 16 years of meetings, the 168 nations that have ratified the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) agreed to a final two-year timetable to establish an asset and benefit sharing (ABS) regime.

ABS is about access to biodiversity and equitable sharing of benefits resulting from its use. The intent is to end “biopiracy” — the exploitation of indigenous plants and animals for profit without permission or compensation — and reverse countries’ denial of access to any native species for scientific or commercial purposes. Half of all synthetic drugs have been derived from plants or insects.

“This is a real breakthrough. This agreement is a detailed framework on how to put ABS into place,” said German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who is also the president of the CBD for the next two years.

It might seem strange that delegates enthusiastically cheered this “Bonn Mandate”, an agreement to have two more years of meetings. But in fact, Japan, Canada, New Zealand and Australia have fought hard against anything resembling a legal obligation to compensate countries in the developing world for the use of their genetic resources, a delegate from Malaysia told IPS:

“They don’t want to share any money they’ve made from using our biodiversity.” Continue reading

Economics Killing Mother Nature

For 40 years some economists have known boosting GDP was perverse and suicidal — i.e. Hurricane Katrina was great for the US economy — and is laying waste to the planet’s ecosystems

By Stephen Leahy

BONN, May 30 (IPS) – The global biodiversity crisis that threatens life on Earth is driven by economic policies that fail to value nature, a new report finds.

It took the 2006 Stern Review to convince business and governments that combating climate change would be far less costly than ignoring it. Now another “Stern-like” report pegs the ecological damage to the planet’s land areas every year at 78 billion dollars due to ongoing loss of biodiversity.

“The developing world will never catch up with the developed world at the current level of biodiversity loss,” said Pavan Sukhdev, the lead author of the report and head of Deutsche Bank’s global markets business in India. Continue reading

Six Experts On Why Ethanol is a Dumb Idea

In response to the many questions and concerns about ethanol/biofuels and impacts on food prices and climate change here are the six or seven articles I’ve done on the subject in the past year.

Emissions from ethanol are 93 percent higher than gasoline,” said David Tilman, an ecologist at the University of Minnesota and co-author of one of the papers published Thursday in the journal Science.

See: Ethanol Worse Than Gasoline

“The U.S. has led the fight to stem global hunger, now we are creating hunger,” said Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute, an environmental think tank in Washington.

See: Biofuels: Another Good Reason to Hate American Policy

Subsidising biofuels is just about the dumbest way to go.” – Todd Litman, director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute — Subsidies for 2007 est $13-$15 billion

Ethanol: The Great Big Green Fraud

We consider sweet sorghum an ideal ’smart crop’ because it produces food as well as fuel,” said William Dar, director general of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics.

See: Food & Fuel: The New Magic Bullet Biofuel?

“It’s not just the World Bank, regional development agencies, progressive development groups in Europe and many countries are all investing in agrofuels,” says Anuradha Mittal of the Oakland Institute,

See: Record $Financing For Biofuels, Not Food

“Cellulosic ethanol is just the next big money-maker for the agro-chemical and biotech corporations,” says Andrew Boswell of Biofuelwatch, a British environmental NGO.

See: (Cellulosic) Greenest Ethanol Still Unproven

GE Trees: Poor Countries Can’t Control

Courtsey of Museo d\'Arte Contemporanea, Turin, Italy

by Stephen Leahy

BONN, May 29 (IPS) – An intense North-South debate over genetically engineered trees has sidetracked delegates at a U.N. conference on biodiversity here: African nations want a global moratorium, while a few rich countries led by Canada say it should be up to individual countries to regulate.

While 168 nations that are part of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) debate the issue, a new two-year U.N.-funded study warns that developing countries simply don’t have the capacity to manage or monitor biotechnology.

“Africa doesn’t have the technical and scientific capacity to fully debate let alone enforce rules around biosafety of biotechnology,” said the study’s co-author, Sam Johnston of the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies (UN-IAS) in Tokyo.

“Genetic contamination by GE plants is a huge issue and it’s increasing,” Johnston told IPS in Bonn.

Continue reading