When I was 12

April 10, 2008

Large rocks, severed heads, and flaming pots of oil rained down on Baghdad, capital of the vast Islamic Empire, as its weary defenders scrambled to reinforce gates, ditches, and the massive stone walls surrounding the fortress city’s many brick and teak palaces. Giant wooden manjaniq catapults bombarded distant structures while the smaller, more precise arradah catapult guns pelted individuals with grapefruit-sized rocks. Arrows flew thickly and elite horsemen assaulted footmen with swords and spears. “The horses . . . trample the livers of courageous young men,” lamented the poet al-Khuraymi, “and their hooves split their skulls.” Outside the circular city’s main wall—100 feet high, 145 feet thick, and six miles in circumference—soldiers pressed forward with battering rams while other squads choked off supply lines of food and reinforcements. Amid sinking boats and burning rafts, bodies drifted down the Tigris River.

The impenetrable “City of Peace” was crumbling. In the fifty years since its creation in A.D. 762, young Baghdad had rivaled Constantinople and Rome in its prestige and influence. It was a wildly fertile axis of art, science, and religion, and a bustling commercial hub for trade routes reaching deep into Central Asia, Africa, and Europe. But by the late summer of A.D. 813, after nearly two years of civil war (between brothers, no less), the enlightened Islamic capital was a smoldering, starving, bloody heap.

In the face of disorder, any human being desperately needs order—some way to manage, if not the material world, at least one’s understanding of the world. In that light, perhaps it’s no real surprise that, as the stones and arrows and horses’ hooves thundered down on Baghdad, the protected core of the city hosted a different sort of battle. Within the round city’s imperial inner sanctum, secure behind three thick, circular walls and many layers of gate and guard, under the luminescent green dome of the Golden Gate Palace, Muhammad al-Amin, the sixth caliph of the Abbasid Empire, spiritual descendant of (and distant blood relation to) the Prophet Muhammad, sovereign of one of the largest dominions in the history of the world, was playing chess against his favorite eunuch Kauthar.

A trusted messenger burst into the royal apartment with urgently bad news. More inglorious defeats in and around the city were to be reported to the caliph. In fact, his own safety was now in jeopardy.

But al-Amin would not hear of it. He waved off his panicked emissary.

“O Commander of the faithful,” implored the messenger, according to the medieval Islamic historian Jirjis al-Makin. “This is not the time to play. Pray arise and attend to matters of more serious moment.”

It was no use. The caliph was absorbed in the board. A chess game in progress is—as every chess spouse quickly learns—a cosmos unto itself, fully insulated from an infant’s cry, an erotic invitation, or war. The board may have only thirty-two pieces and sixty-four squares, but within that confined space the game has near-infinite depth and possibility. An outsider looking on casually might find the intensity incomprehensible. But anyone who has played the game a few times understands how it can be engrossing in the extreme. Quite often, in the middle of an interesting game, it’s almost as if reality has been flipped inside out: the chess game in motion seems to be the only matter of substance, while any hint of the outside world feels like an annoying irrelevance.

The messier the external world, the more powerful this inverted dynamic can be. Perhaps that is why Caliph al-Amin, who sensed that his hours were numbered, preferred to soak in the details of his chess battlefield rather than reports of the calamitous siege of his city. On the board he could see the whole action. On the board he could neatly make sense of significant past events and carefully plan his future. On the board he still might win.

“Patience my friend,” the caliph calmly replied to his messenger standing only a few feet away and yet a world apart. “I see that in a few moves I shall give Kauthar checkmate.”

Not long after this, al-Amin and his men were captured. The sixth Abbasid caliph, victor in his final chess game, was swiftly beheaded.

Chess lived on. The game had been a prominent court fixture of Caliph al-Amin’s predecessor, and would voraciously consume the attention of his successor—and the caliph after that, and the caliph after that. Several centuries before it infected feudal Christian Europe, chess was already an indelible part of the landscape adjoining the Tigris and Euphrates. This simple game, imbued with a universe of complexity and character, demanded from peasants, soldiers, philosophers, and sovereigns an endless amount of time and energy. In return it offered unique insights into the human endeavor.

And so, against all odds, it lasted. Games, as a general rule, do not last. They come and go. In the eighth century, the Irish loved a board game called fidchell. Long before that, in the third millennium B.C., the Egyptians played a backgammonlike race game called senet. The Romans were drawn to duodecim scripta, played with three knucklebone dice and stacks of discs. The Vikings were obsessed with a game called hnefatafl in the tenth century, in which a protagonist King attempted to escape through a ring of enemies to any edge of the board. The ancient Greeks had petteia and kubeia. These and hundreds of other once popular games are all now long gone. They caught the public imagination of their time and place, and then for whatever reason lost steam. Generations died off, taking their habits with them; or conquering cultures imposed new ideas and pastimes; or people just got bored and wanted something new. Many of the games fell into such total oblivion that they couldn’t even make a coherent mark in the historical record. Try as they might, determined historians still cannot uncover the basic rules of play for a large graveyard of yesterday’s games.

Contrast this with chess, a game that could not be contained by religious edict, nor ocean, nor war, nor language barrier. Not even the merciless accumulation of time, which eventually washes over and dissolves most everything, could so much as tug lightly at chess’s ferocious momentum. “It has, for numberless ages,” wrote Benjamin Franklin in 1786, “been the amusement of all the civilized nations of Asia, the Persians, the Indians, and the Chinese. Europe has had it above 1000 years; the Spaniards have spread it over their part of America, and it begins lately to make its appearance in these States.”

The game would eventually pass into every city in the world and along more than 1,500 years of continuous history—a common thread of Pawn chains, Knight forks, and humiliating checkmates that would run through the lives of Karl Marx, Pope Leo XIII, Arnold Schwarzenegger, King Edward I, George Bernard Shaw, Abraham Lincoln, Ivan the Terrible, Voltaire, King Montezuma, Rabbi Ibn Ezra, William the Conqueror, Jorge Luis Borges, Willie Nelson, Napoleon, Samuel Beckett, Woody Allen, and Norman Schwarzkopf. From Baghdad’s Golden Gate Palace to London’s Windsor Castle to today’s lakeside tables at Chicago’s North Avenue Beach, chess would tie history together in a surprising and compelling way.

How could a game last so long, and appeal so broadly across vast spans of time, geography, language, and culture? Endurance is not, of course, a magnificent accomplishment in itself, but a compelling sign that something profound is going on, a catalytic connection between this “game” and the human brain. Another sign is that chess was not just played but also integrated into the creative and professional lives of artists, linguists, psychologists, economists, mathematicians, politicians, theologians, computer scientists, and generals. It became a popular and pliable metaphor for abstract ideas and complex systems, and an effective tool through which scientists could better understand the human mind.

The remarkable scope of this game began to infect my own brain after a visit from an old family ghost in the fall of 2002. My mother had sent on some faded newspaper clippings about her great-grandfather, my great-great-grandfather, a diminutive Polish Jew named Samuel Rosenthal who immigrated to France in 1864 and became one of its legendary chess masters. Family lore had it that Rosenthal had impressed and/or somehow secured the gratitude of one of the Napoleons, and had been awarded a magnificent, jewel-encrusted pocket watch. No one in the family seemed to have actually seen this watch, but they’d all heard about it. Four generations down the line, this story, retold to a boy from the Ohio suburbs, was just exotic enough, and just hazy enough, to set the mind racing. I had begged Mom for years to tell me more about the great S. Rosenthal and his lost watch.

As I combed through the records on my mother’s mother’s father’s father’s achievements, wondering what spectacular (if still hidden) intelligences had filtered down through the generations, I also became reacquainted with the game itself, which I had not played since high school (and then only a handful of times). Stumbling through a few dozen games with friends at home and with strangers over the Internet, I found that I was just as ambivalent about chess as I’d been twenty years earlier—charmed by its elegance and intrigued by its depth, but also put off by the high gates of entry to even moderately serious play. Graduating from patzer to mere competence would require untold hundreds of hours of not just playing but studying volumes of opening theory, endgame problems, and strategy. Years of obsessive attention to the game might—might—eventually gain me entry into reasonably serious tournaments, where I would no doubt be quickly dispatched by an acid-tongued, self-assured ten-year-old. Chess is an ultimately indomitable peak that gets steeper and steeper with every step.

I was also repelled, frankly, by the forbidding atmosphere of unforgiving rules, insider jargon, and the general aggressiveness and unpleasantness that seemed to accompany even reasonably casual play. I recalled one of Bobby Fischer’s declarations: “Chess is war over the board,” he proclaimed. “The object is to crush the opponent’s mind.” Fischer was not alone in his lusty embrace of chess’s brutality. The game is often as much about demolishing your opponent’s will and self-esteem as it is about implementing a superior strategy. No blood is drawn (ordinarily), but the injury can be real. The historical link between top chess play and mental instability stands as yet another intriguing feature about the game and its power. “Here is nothing less,” writes recovering chess master Alfred Kreymborg, “than a silent duel between two human engines using and abusing all the faculties of the mind. . . . It is warfare in the most mysterious jungles of the human character.”

Still, much to my wife’s dismay, I got hooked. It is an intoxicating game that, though often grueling, never grows tiresome. The exquisite interplay of the simple and the complex is hypnotic: the pieces and moves are elementary enough for any five-year-old to quickly soak up, but the board combinations are so vast that all the possible chess games could never be played—or even known—by a single person. Other parlor games sufficiently amuse, entertain, challenge, distract; chess seizes. It does not merely engage the mind; it takes hold of the mind in a way that suggests a primal, hardwired connection.

Even more powerfully, though, I became transported by chess’s rich history. It seemed to have been present in every place and time, and to have been utilized in every sort of activity. Kings cajoled and threatened with it; philosophers told stories with it; poets analogized with it; moralists preached with it. Its origins are wrapped up in some of the earliest discussions of fate versus free will. It sparked and settled feuds, facilitated and sabotaged romances, and fertilized literature from Dante to Nabokov. A thirteenth-century book using chess as a guide to social morality may have been the second-most popular text in the Middle Ages, after the Bible. In the twentieth century, chess enabled computer scientists to create intelligent machines. Chess has also, in modern times, been used to study memory, language, math, and logic, and has recently emerged as a powerful learning tool in elementary and secondary schools.

The more I learned about chess’s peculiarly strong cultural relevance in century after century, the more it seemed that chess’s endurance was no historical accident. As with the Bible and Shakespeare, there was something particular about the game that made it continually accessible to generation after generation. It served a genuine function—perhaps not vital, but often far more than merely useful. I often found myself wondering how particular events or lives would have unfolded in chess’s absence—a condition, I learned, that many chess haters had ardently sought. Perhaps the most vivid measure of chess’s potency, in fact, is the determination of its orthodox enemies to stamp it out—as long ago as a ruling in 655 by Caliph Ali Ben Abu-Talib (the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law), and as recently as decrees by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1981, the Taliban in 1996, and the Iraqi clergy in post-Saddam Iraq. In between, chess was tamped down:

in 780 by Abbasid Caliph al-Mahdi ibn al-Mansur
in 1005 by Egypt’s al-Hakim Bi-Amr Allah
in 1061 by Cardinal Damiani of Ostia
in 1093 by the Eastern Orthodox Church
in 1128 by St. Bernard
in 1195 by Rabbi Maimonides
in 1197 by the Abbot of Persigny
in 1208 by the Bishop of Paris
in 1240 by religious leaders of Worcester, England
in 1254 by King Louis IX of France (St. Louis)
in 1291 by the Archbishop of Canterbury
in 1310 by the Council of Trier (Germany)
in 1322 by Rabbi Kalonymos Ben Kalonymos
in 1375 by France’s Charles V
in 1380 by Oxford University’s founder William of Wickham
in 1549 by the Protohierarch Sylvester of Russia
and in 1649 by Tsar Alexei

But like the Talmud, like the theory of natural selection, like any organized thought paradigm that humans have found irresistibly compelling, chess refused to go away. Why were sixty-four squares and a handful of generic war figurines so hard to erase from the human imagination? What was it about chess that drew simultaneous devotion and disgust, and sparked so many powerful ideas and observations over many centuries?

This is what I set out to understand, through a close survey of chess’s history and a fresh look at the game.

Excerpted from The Immortal Game by David Shenk Copyright © 2006 by David Shenk.

Well it starts earlier than aged 12 for me really.

When I was in Primary School I had a fascination with Chess, I was indeed Chess champion back then.

Then I went off to Secondary School where peer pressure and trying to fit in made me lose my love of the game.  However I found out soon after starting there that my skills had not been totally lost.

I went to Germany with school as part of my German class and stayed with a family there for a week.  During that time the father of the household asked me if I would play with him.  The best of three as it turns out.  I lost the first, but won both of the next, much to the fathers displeasure I might add, proving to myself, as most kids that age think, that I was master of the universe.

I have lost any proper knowledge I had of the game from back then, even to the point of being afraid to really sit and think about playing someone who knows a little of the game. But being settled and content as I am with my life now, I think it is time to renew the love affair with the game.  So here I am writing this blog having placed a book about the history of Chess next to me and I am about to delve back into my childhood and much further into the human mind apparently.

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Some News…

December 15, 2007

Top 11 Warmest Years On Record Have All Been In Last 13 Years

ScienceDaily (Dec. 13, 2007) — The decade of 1998-2007 is the warmest on record, according to data sources obtained by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The global mean surface temperature for 2007 is currently estimated at 0.41°C/0.74°F above the 1961-1990 annual average of 14.00°C/57.20°F.

[spoiler]

The University of East Anglia and the Met Office’s Hadley Centre have released preliminary global temperature figures for 2007, which show the top 11 warmest years all occurring in the last 13 years. The provisional global figure for 2007 using data from January to November, currently places the year as the seventh warmest on records dating back to 1850.
Other remarkable global climatic events recorded so far in 2007 include record-low Arctic sea ice extent, which led to first recorded opening of the Canadian Northwest Passage; the relatively small Antarctic Ozone Hole; development of La Niña in the central and eastern Equatorial Pacific; and devastating floods, drought and storms in many places around the world.
The preliminary information for 2007 is based on climate data up to the end of November from networks of land-based weather stations, ships and buoys, as well as satellites. The data are continually collected and disseminated by the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHS) of WMO’s 188 Members and several collaborating research institutions. Final updates and figures for 2007 will be published in March 2008 in the annual WMO brochure for the Statement on the Status of the Global Climate.
WMO’s global temperature analyses are based on two different sources. One is the combined dataset maintained by both the Hadley Centre of the UK Meteorological Office, and the Climatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia, UK, which at this stage ranked 2007 as the seventh warmest on record. The other dataset is maintained by the US Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which indicated that 2007 is likely to be the fifth warmest on record.
Since the start of the 20th century, the global average surface temperature has risen by 0.74°C. But this rise has not been continuous. The linear warming trend over the last 50 years (0.13°C per decade) is nearly twice that for the last 100 years.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 4th Assessment (Synthesis) Report, 2007, “warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.”
2007 global temperatures have been averaged separately for both hemispheres. Surface temperatures for the northern hemisphere are likely to be the second warmest on record, at 0.63°C above the 30-year mean (1961-90) of 14.6°C/58.3°F. The southern hemisphere temperature is 0.20°C higher than the 30-year average of 13.4°C/56.1°F, making it the ninth warmest in the instrumental record since 1850.
January 2007 was the warmest January in the global average temperature record at 12.7°C/54.9°F, compared to the 1961-1990 January long-term average of 12.1°C/53.8°F.
Regional temperature anomalies
2007 started with record breaking temperature anomalies throughout the world. In parts of Europe, winter and spring ranked amongst the warmest ever recorded, with anomalies of more than 4°C above the long-term monthly averages for January and April.
Extreme high temperatures occurred in much of Western Australia from early January to early March, with February temperatures more than 5°C above average.
Two extreme heat waves affected south-eastern Europe in June and July, breaking previous records with daily maximum temperatures exceeding 40°C/104°F in some locations, including up to 45°C/113°F in Bulgaria. Dozens of people died and fire-fighters battled blazes devastating thousands of hectares of land. A severe heat wave occurred across the southern United States of America during much of August with more than 50 deaths attributed to excessive heat. August to September 2007 was extremely warm in parts of Japan, setting a new national record of absolute maximum temperature of 40.9°/105.6°F on 16 August.
In contrast, Australia recorded its coldest ever June with the mean temperature dropping to 1.5°C below normal. South America experienced an unusually cold winter (June-August), bringing winds, blizzards and rare snowfall to various provinces with temperatures falling to -22°C/-7.6°F in Argentina and -18°C/-0.4°F in Chile in early July.
Prolonged drought
Across North America, severe to extreme drought was present across large parts of the western U.S. and Upper Midwest, including southern Ontario/Canada, for much of 2007.  More than three-quarters of the Southeast U.S. was in drought from mid-summer into December, but heavy rainfall led to an end of drought in the southern Plains.
In Australia, while conditions were not as severely dry as in 2006, long term drought meant water resources remained extremely low in many areas. Below average rainfall over the densely populated and agricultural regions resulted in significant crop and stock losses, as well as water restrictions in most major cities.
China experienced its worst drought in a decade, affecting nearly 40 million hectares of farmland. Tens of millions of people suffered from water restrictions.
Flooding and intense storms
Flooding affected many African countries in 2007. In February, Mozambique experienced its worst flooding in six years, killing dozens, destroying thousands of homes and flooding 80,000 hectares of crops in the Zambezi valley.
In Sudan, torrential rains caused flash floods in many areas in June/July, affecting over 410,000 people, including 200,000 left homeless. The strong southwesterly monsoon resulted in one of the heaviest July-September rainfall periods, triggering widespread flash floods affecting several countries in West Africa, Central Africa and parts of the Greater Horn of Africa. Some 1.5 million people were affected and hundreds of thousands homes destroyed.
In Bolivia, flooding in January-February affected nearly 200,000 people and 70,000 hectares of cropland. Strong storms brought heavy rain that caused extreme flooding in the littoral region of Argentina in late March/early April. In early May, Uruguay was hit by its worst flooding since 1959, with heavy rain producing floods that affected more than 110,000 people and severely damaged crops and buildings. Triggered by storms, massive flooding in Mexico in early November destroyed the homes of half a million people and seriously affected the country’s oil industry.
In Indonesia, massive flooding on Java in early February killed dozens and covered half of the city of Jakarta by up to 3.7 metres of water. Heavy rains in June ravaged areas across southern China, with flooding and landslides affecting over 13.5 million people and killing more than 120. Monsoon-related extreme rainfall events caused the worst flooding in years in parts of South Asia. About 25 million people were affected in the region, especially in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. Thousands lost their lives. However, rainfall during the Indian summer monsoon season (June-September) for India was, generally, near normal (105% of the long-term average), but with marked differences in the distribution of rainfall in space and time.
A powerful storm system, Kyrill, affected much of northern Europe during 17-18 January 2007 with torrential rains and winds gusting up to 170km/h. There were at least 47 deaths across the region, with disruptions in electric supply affecting tens of thousands during the storm.
England and Wales recorded its wettest May-July period since records began in 1766, receiving 406 mm of rain compared to the previous record of 349 mm in 1789. Extensive flooding in the region killed nine and caused more than US$6 billion in damages.
Development of La Niña
The brief El Niño event of late 2006 quickly dissipated in January 2007, and La Niña conditions became well established across the central and eastern Equatorial Pacific in the latter half of 2007.
In addition to La Niña, unusual sea surface temperature patterns with cooler than normal values across the north of Australia to the Indian Ocean, and warmer than normal values in the Western Indian Ocean, were recorded. These are believed to have modified the usual La Niña impacts in certain regions around the world.
The current La Niña is expected to continue into the first quarter of 2008 at least.
Devastating tropical cyclones
Twenty-four named tropical storms developed in the North-West Pacific during 2007, below the annual average of 27. Fourteen storms were classified as typhoons, equalling the annual average. Tropical cyclones affected millions in south-east Asia, with typhoons Pabuk, Krosa, Lekima and tropical storms like Peipah among the severest.
During the 2007 Atlantic Hurricane season, 14 named storms occurred, compared to the annual average of 12, with 6 being classified as hurricanes, equalling the average. For the first time since 1886, two category 5 hurricanes (Dean and Felix) made landfall in the same season.
In February, due to tropical cyclone Gamède, a new worldwide rainfall record was set in French La Reunion with 3,929 mm measured within three days.
In June, cyclone Gonu made landfall in Oman, affecting more than 20,000 people and killing 50, before reaching the Islamic Republic of Iran. There is no record of a tropical cyclone hitting Iran since 1945.
On 15 November, tropical cyclone Sidr made landfall in Bangladesh, generating winds of up to 240 km/h and torrential rains. More than 8.5 million people were affected and over 3,000 died. Nearly 1.5 million houses were damaged or destroyed. Often hit by cyclones, Bangladesh has developed a network of cyclone shelters and a storm early-warning system, which significantly reduced casualties.
Australia’s 2006/2007 tropical season was unusually quiet, with only five tropical cyclones recorded, equalling the lowest number observed since at least 1943-44.
Relatively small Antarctic ozone hole
The 2007 Antarctic ozone hole was relatively small due to mild stratosphere winter temperatures. Since 1998, only the 2002 and 2004 ozone holes were smaller. In 2007, the ozone hole reached a maximum of 25 million square kms in mid-September, compared to 29 million square kms in the record years of 2000 and 2006. The ozone mass deficit reached 28 megatonnes on 23 September, compared to more than 40 megatonnes in the record year of 2006.
Record-low Arctic sea ice extent opened the Northwest Passage
Following the Arctic sea ice melt season, which ends annually in September at the end of the northern summer, the average “sea ice extent” was 4.28 million square kms, the lowest on record. The “sea ice extent” at September 2007 was 39% below the long-term 1979-2000 average, and 23% below the previous record set just two years ago in September 2005.For the first time in recorded history, the disappearance of ice across parts of the Arctic opened the Canadian Northwest Passage for about five weeks starting 11 August. Nearly 100 voyages in normally ice-blocked waters sailed without the threat of ice. The September rate of sea ice decline since 1979 is now approximately 10% per decade, or 72,000 square kms per year.
Sea level rise continues
The sea level continued to rise at rates substantially above the average for the 20th century of about 1.7 mm per year. Measurements show that the 2007 global averaged sea level is about 20 cm higher than the 1870 estimate. Modern satellite measurements show that since 1993 global averaged sea level has been rising at about 3 mm per year.
Global 10 Warmest Years Mean Global temperature (°C) (anomaly with respect to 1961-1990)
1998 0.52
2005 0.48
2003 0.46
2002 0.46
2004 0.43
2006 0.42
2007(Jan-Nov) 0.41
2001 0.40
1997 0.36
1995 0.28
UK 10 Warmest Years Mean UK Temperature (°C) (anomaly with respect to 1971-2000)
2006 +1.15
2007 (Jan to 10th Dec) + 1.10
2003 + 0.92
2004 + 0.89
2002 + 0.89
2005 + 0.87
1990 + 0.83
1997 + 0.82
1949 + 0.80
1999 + 0.78
Adapted from materials provided by World Meteorological Organization.

[/spoiler]

More fuel for the metaphorical fire.

PS3 one ups Xbox 360 with its DivX support

The Xbox 360 may have beaten Sony to to the punch with regards to supporting the DivX format but it seems that the PS3 will have the last laugh on the matter. First of all, unlike the Xbox 360, the PS3 is DivX certified meaning it will get full DivX functionality. This even allows for developers to utilize the solid form of compression for various in-game cut scenes.

quote:

Last month, DivX announced that the PS3 will soon support DivX, and, this month, Gizmodo met with the company, which shared some interesting details on the big move.

First of all, unlike the Xbox 360, the PS3 is DivX certified. While Microsoft’s console can only playback some DivX files, the PS3 will get full DivX functionality. This includes the ability for game developers to use the very efficient compression format for in-game cut-scenes.

This means DivX video cut scenes will reduce stress on the machine, theoretically allowing for better load times, less power consumption, and less heat output.

News Source: Blorge

Hurrah!  Well ok, I’m not a PS3 fanboy per say, but I do own one.  So in the interests of keeping the inter console wars fresh…. Hurrah!


Climate change will significantly increase impending bird extinctions

December 6, 2007

[spoiler]

Where do you go when you’ve reached the top of a mountain and you can’t go back down?

It’s a question increasingly relevant to plants and animals, as their habitats slowly shift to higher elevations, driven by rising temperatures worldwide. The answer, unfortunately, is you can’t go anywhere. Habitats shrink to the vanishing point, and species go extinct.

That scenario is likely to be played out repeatedly and at an accelerating rate as the world continues to warm, Stanford researchers say.

By 2100, climate change could cause up to 30 percent of land-bird species to go extinct worldwide, if the worst-case scenario comes to pass. Land birds constitute the vast majority of all bird species.

”Of the land-bird species predicted to go extinct, 79 percent of them are not currently considered threatened with extinction, but many will be if we cannot stop climate change,” said Cagan Sekercioglu, a senior research scientist at Stanford and the lead author of a paper detailing the research, which is scheduled to be published online this week in Conservation Biology.

The study is one of the first analyses of extinction rates to incorporate the most recent climate change scenarios set forth earlier this year in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which shared the Nobel Peace Price with Al Gore.

The researchers modeled changes to the elevational limits of the ranges of more than 8,400 species of land birds using 60 scenarios. The scenarios consisted of various combinations of surface warming projections from the 2007 IPCC report, habitat loss estimates from the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (an evaluation of the planet’s ecosystems by 1,360 experts around the world), and several possibilities of shifts in elevational range limits.

The worst-case scenario of 6.4 degrees Celsius surface warming combined with extensive habitat loss produced the estimate of 30 percent of land bird species going extinct by 2100. Increasing habitat loss exacerbates the effects of climate change because organisms seeking more suitable conditions will be less likely to find intact habitats. Even with an intermediate 2.8 C warming, 400 to 550 land-bird extinctions are expected.

”Vegetational shift is the key issue here,” Sekercioglu said. ”Birds will follow the shift in habitat.”

All plants have certain temperature and precipitation requirements they need to flourish. As lowlands become too warm for some species, higher slopes that were formerly too cool become better suited to their needs, and the distributions of plants slowly move upward. That shifting of populations renders bird species vulnerable to a host of complications.

Topography itself is a major issue. Each bird species is only found between specific elevations, limits based mainly on the temperatures at which it can survive and the presence of the plants, insects and other animals on which it feeds. Temperature decreases as one goes up a mountain, so as the lowlands become warmer, plant and animal communities need to move higher in order to remain in their required microclimates. Most bird species live in the tropics, mostly in lowland environments. In many of these areas, there may be no significantly higher slopes to which they can retreat. But even the presence of hills or mountains does not guarantee the survival of a species.

As one moves upslope, the extent of the area encompassed by a given elevational range almost always decreases. It’s a matter of simple geometry. The circumference of a mountain is typically smaller near the summit than at its base, so a range of, say, a hundred vertical meters occupies a far smaller band of area near the top than it does down at the base.

And once the summit of a mountain becomes too hot for a species or its preferred vegetation type, the habitable area is reduced to nothing.

”It’s like an escalator to extinction. As a species is forced upwards and its elevational range narrows, the species moves closer to extinction,” Sekercioglu said.

In some instances, species can expand their ranges, which the authors also considered in their models. If warming is limited and a species adapts, only the upper limit of a species’ elevational range might rise. As warming continues, however, the lower bound is likely to rise, as well.

Additional threats include interactions between the rising temperatures and other environmental factors. For example, as Hawaiian mountains get warmer, mosquitoes carrying avian malaria, to which most native bird species have no immunity, are moving upslope, invading the last refuges of birds already on the brink of extinction. In Costa Rica, toucans normally confined to lower elevations are colonizing mountain forests, where they compete with resident species for food and nesting holes, and prey on the eggs and nestlings of other bird species.

In addition, plant species that currently share a habitat may not all react the same way to temperature and moisture changes. Some species may be forced upslope while others are able to linger behind, tearing apart plant and animal communities even if all the species survive. Differences in soil composition can further disrupt plant communities. If soils at higher elevations are inhospitable to some plant species, those species will be wedged between a fixed upper bound and a rising lower bound until they are squeezed out of existence.

Until now, highland species have been less threatened by habitat loss and hunting, simply because most people live in flat lowlands instead of the steeper highlands. Compared to lowland birds, however, highland species are not only more sensitive to temperature changes, but their populations also are more isolated from each other, as mountains effectively constitute habitat islands surrounded by a sea of hotter lowlands.

The study also has shown that sedentary birds, which comprise over 80 percent of all bird species, are much more likely to go extinct from climate change than are migratory birds. That suggests that many sedentary mountain species currently thought to be safe are actually jeopardized by global warming. All in all, climate change is likely to be especially hard on the hundreds of bird species endemic to tropical mountains.

But in part because of the remoteness of the mountains and in part due to a lack funding for ornithological studies in most tropical countries, there are few data on these birds’ responses to climate change. Crucial remote sensing data are also becoming less available, as government satellites like Landsat age and as image distribution moves increasingly to the relatively expensive private sector.

”To effectively monitor the rate of change as warming progresses, especially in the species-rich tropics, we need a lot more data on birds’ distributions and on the speed and extent of birds’ elevational shifts in response to climate change,” Sekercioglu said.

Perhaps the most worrisome finding is that each additional degree of warming will have increasingly devastating effects. The authors estimate that an increase of 1 C from present temperatures will trigger roughly 100 bird extinctions. But if the global average temperature were to rise 5 C, from that point on an additional degree of warming, to 6 C, would be expected to cause 300 to 500 more bird extinctions.

”This emphasizes the importance of any measure that reduces surface warming, even if we cannot stop it altogether,” Sekercioglu said. ”Even a reduction of 1 degree can make a huge difference.”

”Giving up the fight against global warming would be the true disaster,” he added.

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Communities Across the Globe Getting to Grips with Climate Change

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UN Environment Programme/Global Environment Facility Report Points to Real Possibilities for Climate Proofing Economies, Livelihoods and Infrastructure

UN Climate Convention – 2 to 14 December – Bali and Beyond

Bali/Nairobi, 4 December 2007 – The way farmers in the Sudan, flood-prone communities in Argentina and dengue-challenged islands in the Caribbean are beginning to adapt to climate change are distilled in a new report launched today.

The five-year Assessments of Impacts and Adaptations to Climate Change provides new and inspiring examples of how vulnerable communities and countries may ‘climate proof’ economies in the years and decades to come.

In doing so, the assessments lay a foundation upon which at-risk nations and the international community can build and fund a credible and timely response to the climate change that is already underway.

Choices – the Tortoise and the ‘Hare’

The report underlines that factoring climate into development strategies is do-able but that in some cases hard choices may have to be made.

In a modern re-run of Aesop’s famous fable, it highlights the case of tortoise and the rabbit rather than hare.

One study in South Africa’s world famous Cape Floral Kingdom – a unique and economically important ecosystem – indicates that climate change is likely to increase the risk of extinction of the highly endangered riverine rabbit.

However, adaptation measures might conserve the padloper tortoise highlighting how across sectors – from biodiversity to agriculture, water and infrastructure – investments in adaptation will need to be intelligently and cost-effectively targeted.

The more than $ 9 million assessment has been funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), implemented by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and executed by the START secretariat in Washington DC and TWAS, the Academy of Science for the Developing World in Trieste, Italy.

Twenty-four case studies were carried out under the AIACC project, including eleven in Africa. They encompass food security in the Sahel; smallholder farmers and artisanal fishing communities in South America; coastal townships of small islands in the Pacific; pastoralists in Mongolia; rice farmers in the lower Mekong basin.

More than 350 scientists, experts and ‘stakeholders’ from 150 institutions in 50 developing countries and 12 developed ones took part. Pilot adaptation programmes have been drawn up in some cases and some of these have already been tested with many encouraging results.

The findings, stories and recommendations from the AIACC case studies are presented in two newly published books, Climate Change and Vulnerability and Climate Change and Adaptation. Results of the project are also summarized in the final technical report and detailed in a number of supporting reports available at http://www.start.org.

Community Involvement and Early Warning

A key success of the assessment has been the increased awareness among the scientists, governments and local communities as to the importance of adaptation.

It also highlights in many cases the need to develop early warning systems especially, but not exclusively in Africa, where weather and climate monitoring networks remain sparse, under funded or poorly maintained.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “2007 has, as a result of the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), been a year in which the science of climate change has reached a finality – it is happening, it is unequivocal”.

“2007 has also seen clear and cost effective strategies for cutting greenhouse gas emissions put on the table from improved energy efficiency in buildings to ones that address deforestation and agriculture,” he added.

“One of the big missing links has been adaptation, both in terms of adaptive strategies and in terms of resources for vulnerable communities. This assessment, involving experts across the developed and developing world, lays a solid and much needed foundation – a foundation upon which adaptation can become part of country development plans and built into international assistance including overseas development aid,” said Mr Steiner.

Monique Barbut, Chief Executive Officer and Chairperson of the GEF, said: “The GEF has a long history working with the world’s most vulnerable countries

that want environmentally-friendly ways to adapt to changing climate without sacrificing key development goals”.

“As this wide sweeping assessment shows first hand, we are moving forward in a very focused way to weave adaptation strategies into daily practice. GEF money is working today to ensure that food security, access to drinking and irrigation water, sound public health and other basic needs are protected now and into the future,” she added.

Neil Leary of the International START Secretariat in Washington, who along with the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World in Trieste, have executed the project said: “Adaptation to climate hazards is not new. People have always been at risk from the climate and have continually sought ways of adapting. Still, variations and extremes of climate regularly exceed abilities to cope, too often with devastating effect, and give evidence of what has been called an adaptation deficit”.

“Now climate change threatens to widen the deficit, as shown by the AIACC studies. But the AIACC studies also find and document a variety of adaptive practices in use that reduce vulnerability. Building on and improving many of these practices can serve as a good starting point for adapting to the growing risks from climate change. Reducing emissions of the gases that cause climate change is necessary. But adaptation is necessary too,” he added.

The decision to carry out the assessments was at the request of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC said the peer reviewed reports had made a significant contribution to the IPCC’s landmark fourth assessment report published this year.

Highlights – Africa

South Africa

The Berg River dam was commissioned in 2004 to supply Cape Town, South Africa with water for uses such as drinking and irrigation. Climate change is likely to put increased stress on water availability over the coming decades in the Western Cape region.

The researchers looked at various costs and benefits linked with a variety of adaptation measures including increasing the capacity of the dam to creative water markets. They conclude that “substituting water markets for the existing allocation system substantially increased the simulated marginal cost of water to urban users and led to reduced consumption”.

The researchers add that such a system would have to take into account the impact on poor households in the Cape Town area.

Another study has looked at cost effective adaptation opportunities in parts of the Cape Floral Kingdom in the Western Cape – a biodiversity hotspot and major tourist attraction.

By 2050, climate change may result in loss of habitat for over 10 per cent of species and six per cent would need to move to new locations. Wildlife corridors will help.

One option might also be to expand the conservation network including reserves. Overall however a more cost effective option will be to pay farmers to manage land for conservation or to encourage more environment-friendly farming, the study concludes.

The Gambia

Some projections of climate change suggest steadily declining rainfall from 2010 to the end off the century in West Africa. Should a drier climate come to pass, millet, a key staple crop, would undergo a gradual decline in yields unless adaptation measures are taken.

The researchers looked at four responses including the introduction and extension of irrigation, the introduction of new crop varieties and the use of fertilizers.

The findings show that millet crop yields can be increased even in a climate constrained world with harvests improved by 13 per cent if new varieties are deployed; up to a third if fertilizers are made available and increased by 37 per cent if irrigation is introduced.

The analysis indicates that new varieties and expanded use of fertilizer can be cost effective measures for maintaining grain yields in a drier climate. However, the adoption of irrigation is found to be too costly to be economically viable for growing relatively low valued grains.

The actual income for poor farmers might fall without assistance as irrigation will require the purchase and maintenance of diesel-powered water pumping kit. Solar-powered pumping could reduce the costs by perhaps 60 per cent.

Sudan

Here three case studies were undertaken in the dry, drought-prone and often degraded lands of Bara Province of North Kordofan; Arbaat, Red Sea State and El Fashir, North Darfur to see if communities can be made more resilient to climatic shocks.

The findings indicate that relatively minor but well thought out interventions, if supported by community involvement and involving in many cases the empowerment of women and services such as veterinary to micro-credit, can boost livelihoods and reduce vulnerability.

In Bara, a pilot to develop sustainable livelihoods has been tested under an UN Development Programme-GEF initiative called the Community-Based Rangeland Rehabilitation for Carbon Sequestration’.

Small-scale irrigated vegetable gardens, pest management, a switch from goats to sheep, sand dune stabilization and other measures have been tested as adaptive measures.

The project in Bara has seen land rehabilitation rise by close to 60 per cent; the carrying capacity for livestock rise by over 45 per cent and forage production climb by 48 per cent.

In Arbaat, various practical and institutional measures have been tested including the deployment of rainwater harvesting and tree planting alongside micro credit schemes, adult literacy for women and training for improved agricultural practices.

The work in Arbaat has led to land productivity increasing by 12 per cent and crop productivity by almost a fifth with improvements in both water quality and quantity.

In El Fashir, the community has developed their own response to a changing climate now supplemented by outside assistance.

Utilizing a water collection system known as trus alongside earth dams.

Responding to the encroachment of sand over fertile soils by adopting magun cultivation involving the sinking of regular placed holes five to 15 cm deep in which to plant melon and other seedlings.

Diversifying crop production including pumpkin, okra, tomatoes, citrus fruits, cucumbers, tobacco, millet and sesame.

The establishment of trades union – the Traditional Farmers and Fruits and Vegetable Unions – to organize production, harvesting and distribution.

The project has registered a 50 per cent improvement in productivity of the land as a result of dramatically increased water harvesting.

Asia

Mongolia

A study of livestock – a key mainstay of the Mongolian economy – indicates that climatic impacts are already affecting productivity.

Over the period 1980 to 2001, the average weight of sheep, goats and cattle have fallen by an average of 4kg, 2kg and 10 kg. Wool and cashmere production are also down.

Models forecast increasing impacts as a result of climbing air temperatures including a spread of the desert area to the north by 2080. The weight of ewes in the summer is expected to decline by 50 per cent by the same date as a result of factors including heat stress.

The area of land in Mongolia suitable for grazing may decline from 60 per cent now to 20 per in 2080.

There is also concern that climate change may intensify weather extremes from drought to a phenomenon called dzuds – sudden spurts of heavy and long-lasting snowfall that bar animals from access to grazing land.

In 1999-2000 a dzud event saw herders losing more than a quarter of their livestock forcing Mongolia to request international assistance.

A suite of adaptation measures are pinpointed ranging from insurance systems and risk funds to buffer herders against climatic shocks up to improved forecasting of extreme weather events.

The revival of traditional pasture management, reforestation of flood plains and irrigation of pasture lands are also proposed alongside the provision of animal shelters.

Studies on climatic impacts and possible adaptation strategies have also been carried out for Indonesia.

Here the Citarum watershed emerges as highly vulnerable to climate change with more extreme floods and droughts likely over the coming decades.

Studies indicate that many of these impacts can be minimized if forest cover is kept above 25 per cent. The authorities and the private sector are now looking at paying communities upstream to maintain rather than fell the forest – a system known as payment for ecosystem services.

“The electricity company Indonesian Power is also willing to support community reforestation activities through a community development programme. With these efforts, it is expected that a minimum forest cover of 25 per cent could be achieved to ensure a continuous supply of water during dry season and extreme drought years,” says the AIACC report.

China

A further study in Asia has focused on the Heihe River Basin in Northwestern China – an area where water supplies are already heavily utilized if not overtly utilized and where conflict of water is already occurring.

The study forecasts that that average temperature rises of between 2.5 degrees C and 6.5 degrees C could occur by 2050.

A vulnerability assessment has also been undertaken indicating a range of serious emerging risks as a result off climate change including very severe water shortages; increased floods and droughts and impacts on food supplies.

“Ecosystem vulnerability to climate change in the Heihe River Basin is also high. The degree of vulnerability is highest in the lower reach of the basin which is largely unmanaged grassland,” says the report. Indeed, it warns that increasing pressure from climate, population and over use of nature-based resources could trigger ecological collapse in some areas.

The researchers have drawn up a list of adaptation options that might assist the communities of the Heihe River Basin.

These include water-saving irrigation strategies; leak reduction from irrigation channels; conserving soil moisture by plastic films, straw and deep plowing methods up to the establishment of market mechanisms such as water permits and water allocation policies.

Latin America

Argentina and Uruguay

One AIACC study here has focused on the likely impact of climate change on floods and storm surges on coastal and estuary lands on La Plata River.

Strong winds, high tides and the natural features of the La Plata mean flooding occurs already with vulnerable areas identified as Samborombon Bay and up stream as far as Buenos Aires and its surrounds.

The researchers modeled likely future floods as a result of climate change including effects on storm surges and sea level rise.

It is likely that the level of the La Plata will rise higher than average sea level rise because of changes in wind patterns with the increase higher on the Uruguay coast and greater up the river’s estuary.

The report estimates that, as a result of climate change and a modest one per cent per year increase in population, the population at risk of floods could be 1.7 million by 2070 – more than three times the current numbers at risk of floods.

Around a quarter of a million people will be at risk of flooding each year or six times the current number at risk.

Property and infrastructure losses for the period 2050-2100 could range from five to 15 billion US dollars. Part of the loss calculation is based on the assumption of a single storm surge surging into the Metropolitan region of Buenos Aires.

The findings have been presented to the governments concerned alongside recommendations that include a review of coastal and city defenses and of early warning systems and flood response strategies.

The report also flags up concern that a traditional adaptation strategy is being ignored with increasing numbers of poor settlements and ‘gated communities of upper middle class people’ being sited on very low coastal lands.

The Caribbean

Dengue hemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome are forecast to increase in the tropics and sub tropics as a result of climate change.

In the Caribbean cases have climbed from a few hundred a year in the 1980s to as many as 8,000 a year since the early 1990s.

There are concerns that rising cases of dengue could impact on the economically-important tourism industry which accounts for nearly 70 per cent of GDP in Antigua and more than 10 per cent on most other islands.

The researchers estimate that a two degree C temperature rise in the Caribbean could, by the 2080s, triple the cases of dengue.

This AIACC study not only assessed the likelihood of dengue increasing but pin pointed measures that can reduce the risk.

It found, for example, that pupae of the dengue-carrying mosquito favour breeding in 40 gallon drums commonly used for outside water storage. The study also concluded that informal settlements and poor households, often headed by a single unemployed woman, were at greatest risk.

Education on the disease and its transmission, targeted at these households, is suggested as one important adaptation strategy, alongside measures to deal with the breeding grounds.

A pilot early warning system has also been developed and the findings and recommendations discussed with several countries including Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

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Bush aide says warming man-made and other news.

September 17, 2007

The US chief scientist has told the BBC that climate change is now a fact.

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Professor John Marburger, who advises President Bush, said it was more than 90% certain that greenhouse gas emissions from mankind are to blame.

The Earth may become “unliveable” without cuts in CO2 output, he said, but he labelled targets for curbing temperature rise as “arbitrary”.

His comments come shortly before major meetings on climate change at the UN and the Washington White House.

There may still be some members of the White House team who are not completely convinced about climate change – but it is clear that the science advisor to the President and director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy is not one of them.

In the starkest warning from the White House so far about the dangers ahead, Professor Marburger told the BBC that climate change was unequivocal, with mankind more than 90% likely to blame.

Despite disagreement on the details of climate science, he said: “I think there is widespread agreement on certain basics, and one of the most important is that we are producing far more CO2 from fossil fuels than we ought to be. “And it’s going to lead to trouble unless we can begin to reduce the amount of fossil fuels we are burning and using in our economies.”

Trouble ahead

This is an explicit endorsement of the latest major review of climate science from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Professor Marburger said humanity would be in trouble if we did not stop increasing carbon emissions.

“The CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere and there’s no end point, it just gets hotter and hotter, and so at some point it becomes unliveable,” he said. Professor Marburger said he wished he could stop US emissions right away, but that was obviously not possible.

US backing for the scientific consensus was confirmed by President Bush’s top climate advisor, James Connaughton.

The chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality told BBC News that advancing technology was the best way to curb the warming trend.

“You only have two choices; you either have advanced technologies and get them into the marketplace, or you shut down your economies and put people out of work,” he said.

“I don’t know of any politician that favours shutting down economies.”

‘Arbitrary’ targets

Mr Bush has invited leaders of major developed and developing nations to the White House later this month for discussions on a future global direction on climate change.

It will follow a UN General Assembly session on the same issue.

Last week the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum in Sydney backed the UN climate convention as the right body for developing future global policy.

The European Union wants such a policy to adopt its own target of stabilising temperature rise at or below 2C.

But Mr Marburger said the state of the science made it difficult to justify any particular target.

“It’s not clear that we’ll be in a position to predict the future accurately enough to make policy confidently for a long time,” he said.

“I think 2C is rather arbitrary, and it’s not clear to me that the answer shouldn’t be 3C or more or less. It’s a hunch, a guess.”

The truth, he said, was that we just do not know what the ‘safe’ limit is.

Roger Harrabin
Environment analyst, BBC News

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I wouldn’t be expecting Bush or the US to be making any big changes to their environmental and economic policies quite yet. He’s one species of monkey I don’t think needs saving. The epitome of short term thinking, if you can call it thinking.

Tuvalu about to disappear into the ocean

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SEOUL (Reuters) – The tiny Pacific island state of Tuvalu on Thursday urged the rest of the world to do more to combat global warming before it sinks beneath the ocean.

The group of atolls and reefs, home to some 10,000 people, is barely two meters on average above sea-level and one study predicted at the current rate the ocean is rising could disappear in the next 30 to 50 years.
“We keep thinking that the time will never come. The alternative is to turn ourselves into fish and live under water,” Tuvalu Deputy Prime Tavau Teii told Reuters in the South Korean capital where he was attending a conference on the environment.

“All countries must make an effort to reduce their emissions before it is too late for countries like Tuvalu,” he said, calling the country one of the most vulnerable in the world to man-made climate change.

He reeled off a list of threats to the country, one of whose few export earnings comes from its Internet country suffix which it can sell to anyone wanting their Website site to end with .tv.

Coral reefs are being damaged by the warming ocean and so threatening fish stocks — the main source of protein.

The sea is increasingly invading underground fresh water supplies, creating problems for farmers, while drought constantly threatened to limit drinking water.

Annual spring tides appear to be getting higher each year, eroding the coastline. As the coral reefs die, that protection goes and the risk only increases.

And the mounting ferocity of cyclones from a warmer ocean also brought greater risks, he said, noting another island state in the area had been buffeted by waves three years ago that crashed over its 30 meter cliffs.

“We’ll try and maintain our own way of living on the island as long as we can. If the time comes we should leave the islands, there is no other choice but to leave.”

Teii said his government had received indications from New Zealand it was prepared to take in people from the islands. About 2,000 of its population already live there.

But Australia, the other major economy in the region, had only given vague commitments.

“Australia was very reluctant to make a commitment even though they have been approached in a diplomatic way.”

Reuters

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For some people the reality of climate change is very real. People sit in there homes thinking a lot of things about climate change. Most think it’s terrible but that it is never going to affect me. Well maybe it won’t directly at this moment in time, but in the near future it will affect our generations to come. And for some unfortunate people the time has come when there is no time to stop and think ‘thats terrible’ because the effects are already hitting them hard.

Global warming impact like “nuclear war”: report

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LONDON (Reuters) – Climate change could have global security implications on a par with nuclear war unless urgent action is taken, a report said on Wednesday.
The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) security think-tank said global warming would hit crop yields and water availability everywhere, causing great human suffering and leading to regional strife.
While everyone had now started to recognize the threat posed by climate change, no one was taking effective leadership to tackle it and no one could tell precisely when and where it would hit hardest, it added.
“The most recent international moves towards combating global warming represent a recognition … that if the emission of greenhouse gases … is allowed to continue unchecked, the effects will be catastrophic — on the level of nuclear war,” the IISS report said.
“Even if the international community succeeds in adopting comprehensive and effective measures to mitigate climate change, there will still be unavoidable impacts from global warming on the environment, economies and human security,” it added.

Scientists say global average temperatures will rise by between 1.8 and 4.0 degrees Celsius this century due to burning fossil fuels for power and transport.
The IISS report said the effects would cause a host of problems including rising sea levels, forced migration, freak storms, droughts, floods, extinctions, wildfires, disease epidemics, crop failures and famines.
The impact was already being felt — particularly in conflicts in Kenya and Sudan — and more was expected in places from Asia to Latin America as dwindling resources led to competition between haves and have nots.
“We can all see that climate change is a threat to global security, and you can judge some of the more obvious causes and areas,” said IISS transnational threat specialist Nigel Inkster. “What is much harder to do is see how to cope with them.”
The report, an annual survey of the impact of world events on global security, said conflicts and state collapses due to climate change would reduce the world’s ability to tackle the causes and to reduce the effects of global warming.
State failures would increase the gap between rich and poor and heighten racial and ethnic tensions which in turn would produce fertile breeding grounds for more conflict.
Urban areas would not be exempt from the fallout as falling crop yields due to reduced water and rising temperatures would push food prices higher, IISS said.
Overall, it said 65 countries were likely to lose over 15 percent of their agricultural output by 2100 at a time when the world’s population was expected to head from six billion now to nine billion people.
“Fundamental environmental issues of food, water and energy security ultimately lie behind many present security concerns, and climate change will magnify all three,” it added.

Jeremy Lovell -Reuters

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A pretty stark accessment. Sometimes it baffles me how complacent people really are. I remember reading an article a few months ago about the misconception that scientists weren’t in agreement about the fact that global warming is real and that man is causing it. The article put that to bed quite easily by pointing out that the only articles in the past 20 years not to agree were ones sponsored by companies with something to gain by denying it. Out of every single non biased report and article written every single one agreed with the above statement. Seems pretty straight forward to me.

Eating Less Meat May Slow Climate Change

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LONDON (AP) — Eating less meat could help slow global warming by reducing the number of livestock and thereby decreasing the amount of methane flatulence from the animals, scientists said on Thursday.

In a special energy and health series of the medical journal The Lancet, experts said people should eat fewer steaks and hamburgers. Reducing global red meat consumption by 10 percent, they said, would cut the gases emitted by cows, sheep and goats that contribute to global warming.

“We are at a significant tipping point,” said Geri Brewster, a nutritionist at Northern Westchester Hospital in New York, who was not connected to the study.

“If people knew that they were threatening the environment by eating more meat, they might think twice before ordering a burger,” Brewster said.

Other ways of reducing greenhouse gases from farming practices, like feeding animals higher-quality grains, would only have a limited impact on cutting emissions. Gases from animals destined for dinner plates account for nearly a quarter of all emissions worldwide.

“That leaves reducing demand for meat as the only real option,” said Dr. John Powles, a public health expert at Cambridge University, one of the study’s authors.

The amount of meat eaten varies considerably worldwide. In developed countries, people typically eat about 224 grams per day. But in Africa, most people only get about 31 grams a day.

With demand for meat increasing worldwide, experts worry that this increased livestock production will mean more gases like methane and nitrous oxide heating up the atmosphere. In China, for instance, people are eating double the amount of meat they used to a decade ago.

Powles said that if the global average were 90 grams per day, that would prevent the levels of gases from speeding up climate change.

Eating less red meat would also improve health in general. Powles and his co-authors estimate that reducing meat consumption would reduce the numbers of people with heart disease and cancer. One study has estimated that the risk of colorectal cancer drops by about a third for every 100 grams of red meat that is cut out of your diet.

“As a society, we are overconsuming protein,” Brewster said. “If we ate less red meat, it would also help stop the obesity epidemic.”

Experts said that it would probably take decades to wane the public off of its meat-eating tendency. “We need to better understand the implications of our diet,” said Dr. Maria Neira, director of director of the World Health Organization’s department of public health and the environment.

“It is an interesting theory that needs to be further examined,” she said. “But eating less meat could definitely be one way to reduce gas emissions and climate change.”

Associated Press

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There are some people out there who think the fact that animal waste products such as methane contribute to the greenhouse effect is just plain stupid. It can even strike them as humourous. Methane is more than x20 more effective as a green house gas than CO2 and farmed animals produce a lot of it.  Couple that with the fact that we have many times the population of farmed cattle on the planet as humans and things begin to add up.  “Gases from animals destined for dinner plates account for nearly a quarter of all emissions worldwide”.  There are plenty of scientific studies out and published on the subject.


Arctic thaw opens fabled trade route For centuries explorers sought the Northwest Passage. Global warming has finally opened it up

September 16, 2007

For centuries explorers sought the Northwest Passage. Global warming has finally opened it up.

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The Arctic’s sea covering has shrunk so much that the Northwest Passage, the fabled sea route that connects Europe and Asia, has opened up for the first time since records began.

The discovery, revealed through satellite images provided by the European Space Agency (Esa), shows how bad the consequences of global warming are becoming in northerly latitudes. This summer there was a reduction of a million square kilometres in the Arctic’s ice covering compared with 2006, scientists have found.

As a result, the Northwest Passage that runs between Canada and Greenland has been freed of the ice that has previously blocked it and that, over the centuries, has frustrated dozens of expeditions that attempted to sail northwest and open up a commercial sea route between the Atlantic and the Pacific.

In addition, scientists have found that the Northeast Passage, a corresponding route that runs parallel to the north coast of Russia, may also soon become navigable – though the clearing of both passages is likely to fuel animosity between countries trying to exploit the region’s oil, fish and mineral resources, experts have warned.

According to scientists led by Leif Toudal Pedersen of the Danish National Space Centre, Arctic ice this summer dropped to around 3 million square kilometres, a decrease of 1 million square kilometres on last year’s coverage. Given that for the past 10 years Arctic ice has been disappearing at an average annual rate of only 100,000 square kilometres, this year’s reduction is ‘extreme’, said Pedersen.

‘The strong reduction in just one year raises flags that the ice [in summer] may disappear much sooner than expected and that we urgently need to understand better the processes involved,’ he added.

Pedersen and his team used 200 images – acquired earlier this month by the Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar instrument aboard Esa’s Envisat satellite – to create a mosaic that shows the Northwest route across northern Canada is currently navigable, while the Northeast Passage along the Siberian coast remains blocked, but only partially.

Finding a Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific was a dream of European merchants since the 16th century. Explorers including Martin Frobisher and Henry Hudson tried to find a route but failed.

Finally, in 1845, a well-equipped two-ship expedition led by Sir John Franklin attempted to find the passage. It disappeared, with all its 129 crewmen. Subsequent investigations found the bodies of Franklin’s sailors and uncovered evidence that contaminated food may have helped doom the expedition. It is also thought some crewmen may have resorted to cannibalism to try to save themselves.

The passage was finally conquered in 1906 by the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who completed the journey in a converted 47-ton herring boat called Gjoa. However, some of the waterways used by Amundsen were extremely shallow, making his route commercially impractical.

Although the discovery that the passage is now opening up dramatically, indicating it may soon be possible for shipping to take highly profitable northerly short cuts between the Europe and Asia, scientists are also very worried about the rate at which the region’s ice is melting. They fear the polar regions may have passed a crucial tipping point.

Ice reflects solar energy. But if it starts to disappear, heat is absorbed by the dark seas and rock below ice floes and glaciers. The Arctic then gets warmer and even more protective ice covering is lost – so melting accelerates dangerously.

The opening up of the sea routes is also like to increase the intensity of international disputes in the Arctic. Canada claims full rights over those parts of the Northwest Passage that pass through its territory and has announced that it will bar transit there if it wants. However, this claim is disputed by the US and the European Union.

In addition, Russia has laid claims to large tracts of the Arctic seabed, claiming these are extension of its maritime zones. Again this claim is disputed by other countries, including Canada, which recently announced it was building a fleet of naval vessels to protect its northern waters.

Source

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If the tipping point has been reached then it’s really going to be a shit storm. I would be less worried or inclined to even care about Canada building a fleet of ships to protect certain waters and such like than the fact that when Global warming really does kick in it’s effects will be worse for us humans than full scale nuclear war.

It’s always short term profit that captures the imagination of industry and economies rather than the profits to be had in the long term by protecting this fragile planet for our future generations.


Conservation

September 15, 2007

I have been reading an article in The New Scientist:

Innovate or watch them die

Radical measures are required if we are to prevent thousands of species from becoming extinct

It is one of the most depressing lists ever created. Species by species, the World Conservation Union’s Red List, published this week, details the huge swathe of life being driven towrards oblivion.

According to the list, 16,306 species are now defined as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. According to the best available data, 51 per cent of invertebrate species, 39 per cent of fish, 31 per cent of reptiles and amphibians, 20 per cent of mammals and 12 per cent of birds are threatened. “We’re losing the battle on almost every front,” says Gretchen Daily of Stanford University, California.

However, while the Red List details a biodiversity crisis that is all too familiar, the tactics required to tackle it are not. “Traditional approaches on their own are utterly doomed to failure,” says Daily. So she and other conservationists are introducing a raft of innovative policies in a bid to save as many species as they can.

New Scientist #2621

It’s a nightmare situation really. One of the solutions seems novel and something that could work.

The idea is to put a monetary value on the services that healthy ecosystems provide for human populations – from the role of forest cover in preventing soil erosion and flooding, to the pollination of crops by insects, and revenues from ecotourism. Conservationists would then work with local governments, industry and the finanical markets to set up incentives encouraging measures for the protection of ecosystems and the vital services they provide.

It sounds like a tax, and people hate taxes, but when current methods fail and things reach a point of no return these kind of measures may be the only way forward, and when you think about it the companies and areas that the money is diverted from reap the rewards. I like the idea.

Large Scale Solar Plants are here

 

Is solar a viable alternative energy source on a mass scale? Spain’s opening of a commercial solar power plant and a test facility with another plant due to open this month. Powering 5000 homes from its 11 megawatt production.

With the number of commercial solar plants growing at a rapid rate and the huge investment into research and development to make solar energy more affordable it seems that yes, solar has the potential to become a viable alternative energy source on a mass scale. Solar is a particularly attractive option for countries with vast expanses of uninhabitable desert. With the sun being one of our few freely available, infinite resources, it will be vital to our future survival to harness the power of the sun and alleviate our current reliance on finite resources which are fast running out.

Hog Futures
How the meat industry thrives, even as costs rise

[spoiler]

When corn prices spiked last fall, things looked dire for industrial meat processors.

These enormous companies thrive by confining (or contracting with farmers to confine) livestock into tightly packed quarters and stuffing them with corn. Pricier corn — in this case, pushed up by the government-backed surge in ethanol production — seemed to translate to lower profits for the industrial meat giants. On cue, Big Meat executives like Tyson’s Richard Bond complained bitterly about the end of cheap corn.

I, for one, looked forward to a slowdown in one of the globe’s most environmentally destructive industries. (As the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization pointed out last fall, feedlot meat production spews more greenhouse gases even than automobile use.)

If nothing else useful came out of the ethanol boom, I thought to myself, at least industrial meat would take a hard hit. But a funny thing has happened on the way to my industrial-meat schadenfreude: the meat titans are shaking off higher corn prices and thriving. And now I’m the one complaining bitterly.

Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork processor and among the largest beef and poultry producers, recently reported that its earnings for the May to July 2007 quarter more than doubled

Its rival Tyson — the world’s largest chicken producer, and a leader in pork and beef — also reported

What happened?

No Bones About It

For one thing, Smithfield and Tyson have managed to raise meat prices, forcing consumers to carry the costs of pricier corn. As the investment site Motley Fool put it, “It’s been relatively easy for Tyson to push price increases through to its customers [i.e., large food retailers like Wal-Mart], who in turn have pushed through food inflation to consumers.”

The second factor propping up the meat giants is that they have entered what seems like the early stages of a long-term export boom: They’re swamping Eastern Europe and parts of Asia with U.S.-raised meat. In the most recent quarter, Tyson increased its export sales by nearly a third. Smithfield, meanwhile, reported a jump in operating profit for its international unit — and promptly announced a sizable sale of U.S.-grown pork to China.

Note the contrast to the plight of large-scale U.S. vegetable farmers, which I laid out in the previous Victual Reality. Like meat processors, vegetable farmers have also seen the price of a key input rise: in their case, labor costs are up because of a crackdown on undocumented workers.

But unlike meat processors, vegetable growers can’t easily pass higher costs onto the big buyers like Wal-Mart and other food retailing giants. Those buyers can simply reject pricier U.S.-grown goods and buy produce from other countries where labor costs are lower, such as Mexico and China.

Meat is a different story. Whereas thousands of U.S. vegetable farmers compete among themselves and foreign rivals for space in Wal-Mart’s produce section, a precious few companies control the meat trade. Just two companies — Smithfield and Tyson — process 43 percent of pork consumed in the U.S. Their three largest competitors, Swift, Cargill, and Hormel, have together sewn up another 27 percent of the pork market. When players this big experience higher costs, not even a giant like Wal-Mart can say no to higher prices.

Moreover, while U.S. vegetable farmers rightly fear cheap imports from foreign competitors, the opposite holds true with meat. The U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization projects that U.S. producers will “dominate” the growing global pork market over the next decade. By 2016, the FAO predicts, nearly one of every three pounds of pork traded globally will originate in the U.S. The FAO also expects the nation’s beef and poultry production to thrive in the global market.

The lowly state of the U.S. dollar — widely projected to remain weak over the next decade — explains part of the power of the U.S. meat-exporting machine. A weaker dollar makes our exports cheaper, and thus more competitive, overseas.

But an even more important factor, I think, is that our huge and highly consolidated meat giants have managed to establish classic “Third World” labor and environmental conditions right here in the United States.

Have You Seen the Little Piggies?

In Iowa, the nation’s leading pork-producing state, confined-hog operations churn out 50 million tons of excrement each year, the great bulk of which festers in massive lagoons, belching putrid fumes into surrounding communities and leaking into groundwater. In Hardin County, where I visited this summer, 18,000 residents live amid more than a million confined hogs and hundreds of manure lagoons. The county’s once-teeming creeks and waterways have become dead zones, and an eye-stinging stench hangs in the air. It reminds you who benefits from the arrangement — not the remaining residents or the hogs, but rather the confinement owners and the companies they work for under contract: Smithfield and its few meat-packing peers.

In North Carolina, the No. 2 hog-producing state, similar conditions hold sway. And there, just as in the “Third World,” the poor pay dearest for highly profitable environmental banditry. According to a University of North Carolina study, “There are 18.9 times as many hog operations in the highest quintile of poverty as compared to the lowest.” People of color get it worst of all: “The excess of hog operations is greatest in areas with both high poverty and high percentage non-whites.”

Labor conditions, too, resemble those that might hold sway under a miserable dictatorship run by blinkered elites in thrall to foreign investors. In 2005, Human Rights Watch issued a blistering report on labor issues in U.S. slaughterhouses. “Meat-packing is the most dangerous factory job in America,” the report declared. “Dangerous conditions are cheaper for companies — and the government does next to nothing.” The report also documents meat-packers’ heroic efforts to squash unions.

Indeed, in its anti-unionism, the meat industry takes a hint from practices used during the 1980s-era heyday of death squads in Central America. Speaking of a Smithfield plant in North Carolina, one Salvadoran worker told Human Rights Watch that, “The company has armed police walking around the plant to intimidate us … It’s especially frightening for those of us from Central America. Where we come from, the police shoot trade unionists.”

Thus, it turns out, it will take much more than pricy corn to cut down the U.S. industrial-meat behemoth. Global demand for meat is rising, and U.S. producers are well positioned to dominate the market. But why let the U.S. become manure lagoon to the world?

Without access to exploitable labor and comically lax environmental codes, the industrial-meat complex would surely wither away — and the world would be a better place. What can ordinary citizens do? Rejecting industrial meat is a necessary but insufficient step. Efforts to organize meat-packing workers deserve broad public support, as does the movement to force the industry to take responsibility for the extraordinary environmental costs now being borne by people who live near its feedlots.
over the same period a year ago. what analysts hailed as a “stellar” quarter, handily exceeding Wall Street’s performance expectations.

http://www.grist.org/[/spoiler]

I really dislike the meat industry as a whole. It’s exploitive in every aspect of it’s operation. I make a point of trying to just state the facts and use my opinions in this blog without trying to say ‘You must do this, and you should do that.’ But in some cases the I wouldn’t even need to. The brute facts speak for themselves.