Monday, 30 August 2010

'Great Green Wall of Africa' to halt Sahara

There are plans to plant a tree belt all the way across Africa, running from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east, in an effort to halt the advance of the Sahara Desert.

If it goes ahead, the tree belt would be 15km wide and nearly 8,000km long. The project is still tentative because there are concerns about lack of funding and longer term doubts regarding its maintenance.

The trees that would be planted are more drought resistant, helping to reduce soil erosion, slowing wind speeds and helping rain water to filter into the ground thereby holding back the desert.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Urban trees 'help migrating birds'

US researchers have found that migrating birds use urban trees to rest and refuel en route between winter and breeding sites. The scientists made the discovery by fitting tiny tags to thrushes, which tracked the birds' movements. The findings are important because the world is becoming increasingly urbanised.

"With the expansion of urban areas worldwide, migrating songbirds increasingly encounter fragmented landscapes where habitat patches are embedded in an urban matrix," wrote co-authors Stephen Matthews and Paul Rodewald, landscape ecologists at Ohio State University in the US. "These findings suggest that remnant forests within urban areas have conservation value for Swainson's thrushes and, potentially, other migrant land birds."

Disappearing lizards

It seems that lizards are more vulnerable to climate change than we previously thought. According to one study, climate change could wipe out around a fifth of the Earth’s lizard species by 2080. Nor is this scaremongering since rising temperatures have already driven around 12% of Mexico's lizard population to extinction.

The research team from the University of California in Santa Cruz states that "lizards have already crossed a threshold for extinctions".

The research team have shown that lizards are more susceptible to climate change because rising temperatures leave them unable to spend enough time foraging for food, since they have to rest and regulate their body temperature.

Steep rise in India’s carbon emissions

India's greenhouse gas emissions increased by around 60% between 1994 and 2007, a government study says. The government says that emissions grew from 1.2bn tonnes in 1994 to 1.9bn tonnes in 2007, providing India with the unenviable title of one of the world's biggest emitters.

The rapid increase in emissions has been blamed on the growth of industries such as cement production, electricity and transport as India’s economy surges.

Importantly, India did not sign up to binding targets at the climate change talks in Copenhagen last year.

However, India’s per capita emissions are far lower than that of most industrialised nations and its Environment Minister has argued that its emissions are not comparable with those of the US and China. "The emissions of the United States and China are almost four times that of India in 2007," he told the AFP news agency.

Remember the ozone hole? Have we learned anything?

The scientist responsible for leading the team which discovered the ozone hole over Antarctica in 1985 has spoken out about the lack of co-ordinated effort to tackle global warming.

When Dr Farman's team at the British Antarctic Survey reported the ozone hole in 1985, it highlighted the earth's fragility and catalysed the environmental movement into action.

In an interview with the BBC on the 25th anniversary of the reporting of the ozone hole, Dr Joe Farman said the environment was still being damaged in many ways.

Dr Farman was particularly critical of politicians who he claimed had failed to show leadership on combating climate change, saying it was "damned stupid" to keep increasing carbon emissions when we know it is a warming gas.

But, in a nod to climate sceptics, he also blamed the scientific establishment for failing to take specific criticisms of detailed climate science seriously enough.

As with the relationship between carbon emissions and warming, it was found that the ozone layer was being stripped away by chemicals known as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were mostly used in aerosols and refrigerators. Although resisted at the time by some manufacturers, the making of ozone-depleting chemicals was controlled within two years under the Montreal Protocol.

Dr Farman says that governments have failed to learn the lesson that they need to move swiftly and act decisively on global threats to the environment. "You ought to be able to convince people it's a damned stupid thing to increase CO2 - clearly that must trap more energy," he says.

Is carbon offsetting a con?

Every time we turn on the central heating, cook a meal, take a trip by car or aeroplane then carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are emitted into the atmosphere.

Carbon offsetting involves paying someone else to reduce these emissions by the same amount; thereby counterbalancing the two.

This process has become the subject of much debate. Some have argued that it is dangerous because it suggests that we can somehow buy our way out of climate change. It has also been argued that it doesn’t encourage people to change their behaviour. Others claim that carbon offset schemes are dubious and unaccountable.

Clearly, it is an area that has caused controversy and cynicism. Our view is that true carbon reduction efforts should always come first, but that when emissions are unavoidable then they should be offset through clear, unambiguous programmes that genuinely help the environment.

One good example of a genuine scheme we came across is from Climatesure, who offer carbon offsetting with their insurance policies. One of their projects is restoring rainforests in Uganda, funding part of a forest restoration programme in the Kibale National Park in Uganda. The project aims to re-create a rainforest canopy by planting and managing 30 species of local trees. The area is an important wildlife habitat – with one of the highest number of primate species in the world - and the project provides employment for local communities. Each hectare of rainforest that is restored there is expected to absorb 400 tonnes of CO2.

Always be cautious when evaluating the claims of some companies to be carbon neutral and ensure that they are firstly reducing their own emissions and secondly investing in genuine programmes to help the environment.

Carbon footprint? What about water footprint?

We have long argued that population growth is a much overlooked contributor to environmental damage and climate change. You can have all the carbon reduction measures in the world but they simply won’t be effective so long as the global population goes on increasing.

Rising populations are also making the world a thirsty planet. Conversations about carbon footprints are now turning towards water footprints. The reason? Growing populations require more food, and this can only be created from more water. The inevitable consequence is greater water scarcity.

Today, one-third of the world's population has to contend with water scarcity, and there are worrying signs that this proportion is set to increase rapidly. Some projections suggests that up to twice as much water will be required to provide enough food to eliminate hunger and feed the additional 2.5 billion people that are expected to join the current population.

Worse still, wealthier, urbanised populations tend to consumer a diet higher in meat, which is very water intensive. Given the escalating water demands, it seems unlikely that we will be able to provide water for producers to grow enough food and sustain a healthy environment.

The only solution is to learn how to live with less water by making much better use of what we have.

Disputed island 'vanishes'

A tiny island claimed for years by India and Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal has disappeared beneath the rising seas, scientists in India say. The uninhabited territory south of the Hariabhanga river was known as New Moore Island to the Indians and South Talpatti Island to the Bangladeshis. The irony is that the island was the subject of territorial dispute, involving the deployment of naval vessels at times.

"What these two countries could not achieve from years of talking, has been resolved by global warming," said Professor Sugata Hazra of the School of Oceanographic Studies at Jadavpur University in Calcutta.

NASA study concludes that no cooling evident in past decade

A comprehensive analysis of global air and sea temperatures by NASA climatologists shows that the planet has not experienced a cooling trend in the past decade and is continuing to warm at a rate of about .3 degrees F per decade. The NASA scientists, affiliated with the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said the warming trend has continued despite the sun's irradiative power being at one of its lowest points in a century. Read more on climate change

Tar sands are among the world’s dirtiest fuels

Their extraction produces on average three times the greenhouse gases of conventional oil. The associated pollution, deforestation and disturbance of wildlife also threaten the traditional livelihoods and well-being of indigenous communities.

If you are a pension holder it is highly likely that your pension provider has substantial shareholdings held on your behalf, either in Shell or other companies involved in tar sands developments. Friends of the Earth Europe and FairPensions have created an online action that will target Shell and BP shareholders directly. You can express your concerns to your pension provider or if you don't have a pension you can email one of Shell and BP's largest shareholders.

China is the world’s worst polluter, right?

Er, not quite. China overtook the US during 2009 to become the biggest investor in renewable energy technologies, according to a new analysis. Researchers with the Pew Charitable Trusts calculate that China invested $34.6bn (£23.2bn) in clean energy over the year, almost double the US figure. The UK emerges in third place among G20 nations, followed by Spain and Brazil. The most spectacular growth has come in South Korea, which saw installed capacity rise by 250% in five years.

"Even in the midst of a global recession, the clean energy market has experienced impressive growth," said Phyllis Cuttino, director of Pew's campaign on climate change. "They know that investing in clean energy can renew manufacturing bases, and create export opportunities, jobs and businesses."

Plastic accounted for 63% of litter found on UK beaches

UK beaches are being ruined by an ever-accumulating tide of plastic litter, the Marine Conservation Society says. It said the amount of rubbish was 77% higher than in 1994 - its first annual survey - and the proportion of plastic volunteers found had never been higher. A spokeswoman said the figures showed plastic makes up an increasing proportion of beach litter - now nearly two-thirds of the total.

"Plastic does not biodegrade but breaks down into small pieces that will last for hundreds if not thousands of years. In parts of our oceans there are now six times more plastic particles in the water than plankton," she added.

Optimum Population Trust

Optimum Population Trust. Take the stop at two pledge here

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Commercial fishing could be destroyed within 50 years

According to the United Nations, commercial fishing could be over within 50 years. Their top environmental official has been keen to point out that this is not another scare story, and that within 30 to 40 years we could effectively have run out of fish. "It is not a science fiction scenario. It is within the lifetime of a child born today," said Achim Steiner, head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

The UNEP report claims that as many as 22 million jobs associated with the fishing industry may have to be axed globally, if fish stocks are to be saved. The report goes on to suggest that investment should be channelled into sustainable fishing initiatives, such as Marine Protected Areas, where the most endangered fish species are given an opportunity to recover.