Some Science

December 12, 2007

The best of science, the worst of creationism

In 2000, a popular school textbook called Biology reluctantly dropped it’s prime example of evolution in action – industrial melanism in the peppered moth. Nothing in evolutionary biology had forced the change. The decision was entirely political,made in response to creationist attacks.

The loss of the peppered moth was a blow to science education in the US, as it is one of the easiest to understand examples of evolution by natural selection. So it is heartening to hear that biologists are fighting back. Thanks to their efforts, evidence that the moth is an example of evolution in action is more robust than ever.

This tawdry tale reveals much of what is good about science – and rotten about creationism. Creationists went gunning for the moth after a scientific disagreement over the fine detail of a seminal experiment done in the 1950s. They used the debate to portray the science behind industrial melanism as hopelessly flawed, if not fraudulent.

In response, one scientist patiently redid the experiment – it took him seven years. It is hard to think of another system of thought that is so stringently self-critical and self-correcting.

In science, everything is provisional . There are no preordained answers and fresh ideas are always welcome, so long as their proponents are happy for them to be tested.

That is not how creationists work. They already know the answer. They seek only evidence that confirms their conclusion, and distort or ignore the rest. Such an unreasoned approach is worthless. Creationists will keep trying to undermine the theory of evolution.

All science can do is continue, with dignity, to stick to it’s guns. As with the peppered moth, the best testable explanation will win out.

Conspiracy? Not in China

There’s no stopping a good conspiracy theory. For over 30 years, NASA has faced allegations that it faked the moon landings, and now it is the turn of the Chinese.

In October, the Chinese spacecraft Chang’e 1 entered lunar orbit, and last week the country released its first image of the lunar surface. Within hours of the picture’s release the internet rumour mill leapt into action on various Chinese blogs and forums, casting doubt on it’s validity and saying it bore an uncanny resemblance to a picture released by NASA in 2005.

The Chinese space agency replied that the pictures are similar because they are of the same part of the moon. NASA’s experience with conspiracy theories suggests that denying the rumour will only serve to keep it running. Ouying Ziyuan, chief scientist for the lunar probe, more or less guaranteed this by adding: “There is absolutely no forgery.”

 

Our solar future

In theory, solving the world’s energy problems should be pretty straightforward. Locate a piece of sun-drenched land about half the size of Texas, find a way to capture just 20 per cent of the solar energy that falls there and bingo – problem solved. You have enough power to replace the world’s entire energy needs using the cleanest, most renewable resource there is.

Can it really be that easy? For years, supporters of solar power have heralded every new technological breakthrough as a revolution in the making. Yet time and again it has failed to materialise, largely because the technology was too expensive and inefficient and, unlike alternatives such as nuclear and wind power, no substantial subsidies were available to kick-start a mass transition to solar energy. This time things are different. Aconfluence of political will, economic pressure and technological advances suggests that we are on the brink of an era of solar power.

The prospect of relying on the sun for all our power demands – conservatively estimated at 15 terawatts in 2005 – is finally becoming realistic thanks to the rising price of fossil fuels, an almost universal acceptance of the damage they cause, plus mushrooming investment in the development of solar cells and steady advances in their efficiency. The tried-and-tested method of using the heat of the sun to generate electricity is already hitting the big time but the really big breakthroughs are happening to photovoltaic (PV) cells.

Ever since the first PV cell was created by Bell Labs in 1954, the efficiency with which a cell can convert light into electricity has been the technology’s Achilles’ heel. The problem is rooted in the way PV cells work. At the heart of every PV cell is a semiconducting material, which when struck by a photon liberates an electron. This can be guided by a conductor into a circuit, leaving behind a “hole” which is filled by another electron from the other end of the circuit, creating an electric current.

Photons from the sun arrive at the semiconductor sporting many different energies, not all of which will liberate an electron. Each semiconducting material material has a characteristic “band gap” – an energy value which photons must exceed if they are to dislodge the semiconductor’s electrons. If the photons are too weak they pass through the material, and if they are too energetic then only part of their energy is converted to electricity, the rest into heat. Some are just right, and the closer the photons are to matching the band gap, the greater the efficiency of the PV cell.

Bell Labs discovered that silicon, which is cheap and easy to produce, has one of the best band gaps for the spectrum of photon energies in sunlight. Even so, their first cell had an efficiency of only 6 per cent. For a long time improvements were piecemeal, inching up to the mid-teens at best, and at a cost only military and space exploration programmes could afford. The past decade has seen a sea change as inexpensive cells with an efficiency of 20 per cent have become a commercial reality, while in the lab efficiencies are leaping forward still further.

Last year, Allen Barnett and colleagues at the university of Delaware, Newark, set a new record with a design that achieved 42.8 per cent energy conversion efficiency. Barnett says 50 per cent efficiency on a commercial scale is now within reach. Such designs, married to modern manufacturing techniques, mean costs are falling fast too.

As a result, in parts of Japan, California and Italy, where the retail price of electricity is among the world’s highest, the cost of solar-generated electricity is now close to, and in some cases matches, that of electricity generated from natural gas and nuclear power, says Michael Rogol, a solar industry analyst with Photon Consulting, based in Aachen, Germany. For example, in the US the average price of conventionally generated electricity is around 10 cents per kilowatt-hour. The cost of solar-generated electricity has fallen to roughly double that. This has created a booming market for PV cells – now growing by around 35 per cent annually – and private investors are starting to take a serious interest. The value of stocks in companies whose business focuses primarily on solar power has grown from $40 billion in January 2006 to more than $140 billion today, making solar power the fastest-growing sector in the global marketplace.

George W. Bush has acknowledged this new dawn, setting aside $168 million of federal funds for the Solar America Initiative, a research programme that aims to make the cost of PV technology competitive with other energy technologies in the US by 2015. Rogol thinks Bush’s target is achievable. He says the cost of manufacturing PV equipment has fallen to the point where, in some places, PV-generated electricity could already be produced for less than conventional electricity. Manufacturing PV cells at $1 per watt of generating capacity and the cost should be competitive everywhere.

Perhaps surprisingly, given its less than cloudless skies, one of the countries leading the solar revolution is Germany. In November 2003, amid rising oil and gas prices and growing concern over global warming, its parliament agreed a “feed-in-tariff” programme, which guarantees a market for solar power. Anyone who produces electricity from solar power can sell it to the national grid for between €0.45 and €0.57 per kilowatt-hour, which is almost three times what consumers pay for their electricity, roughly €0.19 per kilowatt-hour. Germany’s power-generating companies are required by law to pay this premium which is guaranteed until 2024. This guarantee has spurred enterprising individuals to invest in solar panels, confident of earning back the cost of their systems.

Source:  New Scientist

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Climate change will significantly increase impending bird extinctions

December 6, 2007

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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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Carbon Off Setting Makes Us Carbon Neutral

September 19, 2007

Well, I’ve been looking at how we in this household can become carbon neutral and it’s about to happen.

I have found out our average KWh for both sources of energy we use, gas and electricity. Then calculated it into a yearly amount rounding up generously, (I don’t want to say that we are carbon neutral and not actually be there for whatever reason).

No one in the household drives and flights will be calculated and added and offset if and when we take them.

So what happens next? Well, with the total figures I can use an online calculator to convert the KWh into an actual CO2 output number. Then we offset by investing in a place or a couple of places that will do the offsetting. Some of the schemes include:

human energy

bioenergy

wind energy

rainforest restoration

efficient stoves

efficient lighting

 

The way this works is the money we pay in a yearly lump sum is used in these example schemes to ‘offset’ what our house produces in the way of CO2.

 

This along with me being vegan, Olly my partner will be going vegan after our baby is born, as it isn’t the right time now for a major diet change obvious reasons (hurry up CJ!), our recycling schemes and also the switch to ‘green’ energy, (a little bit more expensive than normal but well worth it), should mean we are really doing our bit as a household for the environment. There is always more to be done though and I’ll be doing it….

 How does our ‘green’ energy work?  Well simply put all the money we pay for our bills is put into the production of energy from wind farms.  Although obviously we don’t get all that what it means is the amount of energy we use is produced by a wind farm and  distributed through the energy grid.  So in theory this household’s power is all from wind power if you can look at it like that.

 

If you live in the UK and would like details of where and how we are offsetting feel free to contact me, a google search does just as well at turning up offsetting schemes for UK and non-UK residents.


Green Books

September 13, 2007

I have been reading books on climate change for quite a long period of time, a lot of the content is around along the same lines but it does give me a grounding in the current state of scientific research, this is supplimented by daily forages online in well respected articles and documents and I think this is going to stand me in good stead for my latest venture.

I have enrolled on a course which will lead to a diploma in Conservation and most of the reading I’m doing at this point I consider to be prep.

If you haven’t read a book on climate change I highly recommend ‘The Weather Makers’ by Tim Flannery. You can find a direct link to the Amazon listing in the right hand sidebar in the books section of my blog. It’s an eye opener.

So, anyway, at the end of this course I should, fingers crossed, have two qualifications. The Diploma and an ASET Level 3 Conservation Award. After which I should be beginning a course in Java programming with the University of Exeter.

So what’s in the new today, well this caught my eye:

 

Can this really save the planet?

We are constantly told to switch the TV off standby, recycle our plastic bags and boil less water – but does focusing on the small, easy steps distract us from the bigger picture, asks George Marshall

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Why is everyone so keen to believe that tiny actions can prevent climate change? We are given easy household tips by campaigners and the government that will help “save the climate”. You know the kind of thing – recycle your plastic bags, turn your telly off standby, bring your own cup to work. There is usually a little clutch of them attached to the latest grim news about climate change: it’s not all bad news, they plead, you can take these simple steps today and they really do “make a difference”.

But do they? Take the plastic bags, for example. We are pestered to re-use them or use designer “bags for life” instead. People get very worked up about this topic. There are eight online petitions on the No 10 website calling for them to be banned or taxed, Ireland has imposed a special bag tax, and a town in Devon has banned them outright.

Yes, they are ugly, wasteful and deadly to turtles. But their contribution to climate change is miniscule. The average Brit uses 134 plastic bags a year, resulting in just two kilos of the typical 11 tonnes of carbon dioxide he or she will emit in a year. That is one five thousandth of their overall climate impact.

And then there is the issue of electronics on standby. This is an attractive example of consumer waste culture and has been aggressively challenged by, among others, the Conservative’s Quality of Life Group, which publishes its environmental policy document today. But it is hardly a major source of emissions. The electricity to keep the average television on standby mode for a whole year leads to 25 kilograms of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. It’s more than plastic bags, but still very marginal: 0.2% of average per capita emissions in the UK.

Here’s another tip that sounds more substantial: fill your kettle with the right amount of water. The government made this one of the core messages of its “Are You Doing Your Bit?” campaign in 1999. A very small bit as it turns out. According to the government’s own figures, even if you are constantly boiling full kettles this will save all of 100 kilos of carbon dioxide a year, less than 1% of average per capita emissions.

Please don’t misunderstand me. All of these actions are worth doing as part of a greener lifestyle. And I do all of them – I also turn off my tap when brushing my teeth, share my baths, and watch the telly in the dark – wearing three jumpers if need be. But it is a serious distortion to imply, as the top 10 lists of green living usually do, that there is any equivalence between these lifestyle preferences and the serious decisions that really reduce emissions – stopping flying, living close to work and living in a well-insulated house, for example.

Judging by the latest Mori poll data, people have already acquired a severely distorted sense of priorities. Forty per cent of people now believe that recycling domestic waste, which is a relatively small contributor to emissions, is the most important thing they can do to prevent climate change. Only 10% mention the far more important goals of using public transport or reducing foreign holidays.

The easy tips also undermine the wider message on the seriousness of climate change. In its report Warm Words, on climate-change messaging, the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) argues that simple actions “easily lapse into ‘wallpaper’ – the domestic, the routine, the boring, the too-easily understood and ignorable”. The IPPR is especially critical of headlines such as “20 things you can do to save the planet from destruction” and said that putting trivial measures alongside alarmist warnings can lead people to “deflate, mock and reject the very notion of climate change”.

Lest you think I am being harsh, look at this from a different point of view. Imagine that someone came up with a brilliant new campaign against smoking. It would show graphic images of people dying of lung cancer followed by the punchline: “It’s easy to be healthy – smoke one less cigarette a month.”

We know without a moment’s reflection that this campaign would fail. The target is so ludicrous, and the disconnection between the images and the message is so great, that most smokers would just laugh it off.

So why then do well-intentioned schools, councils and green groups – and let’s face it, Live Earth was an eight-hour tip-fest – persist in promoting such ineffectual actions?

Their logic is as follows. Simple actions capture people’s attention and provide an entry-level activity. Present people with the daunting big-ticket solutions and they turn away. Give them something easy and you have them moving in the right direction and, in theory, ready to make the step up to the next level.

That is the theory, but, as plentiful social research confirms, it doesn’t work. For one thing, making the solutions easy is no guarantee that anyone will carry them out. The government spent £22m on the Do Your Bit campaign and has subsequently admitted that it produced no measurable change in personal behaviour.

And there is a greater danger that people might adopt the simple measures as a way to avoid making more challenging lifestyle changes. With recycling, Mori concluded that it was becoming an act of “totem behaviour” and that “individuals use recycling as a means of discharging their responsibility to undertake wider changes in lifestyle”. In other words, people can adopt the simplest solutions as a part of a deliberate denial strategy that enables them to feel virtuous without changing their real behaviour.

Governments and businesses are, if anything, even more prone to tokenistic behaviour than individuals. Encouraging small voluntary actions by the public, customers or staff looks good and is much safer than passing restrictive legislation or rethinking your entire business model.

So what we need is a sense of proportion. The great advantage that climate change has over other pressing issues is that the gases that cause it can be measured down to the last gram. People can make informed decisions in the knowledge that, say, a return flight to Australia will have the same climate-change impact as 730,000 plastic bags or 176,000 overfilled kettles.

We also need to rethink the way we talk about climate change. It is insulting to assume that people can only be energised with the pint-sized options. We need to present all lifestyle changes as part of a radical vision for a smart, healthy and just 21st century. And let’s be clear that voluntary action will never be enough – we will need radical political, economic and social change. So let’s start by doing away with that wretched phrase “you can save the planet”

· George Marshall is the founder and director of projects at the Climate Outreach and Information Network (coinet.org.uk). Read Bibi van der Zee’s response to this article at blogs.guardian.co.uk/ethicalliving

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Well I do have something quite simple to say to that: I think there is a bigger picture involved that the writer of this article is missing. Sure we should look at doing things on every scale for the major to the minor to help avoid and slow down, with a view to stopping, climate change. But, and this is a big but, if the entire population of the UK actually do the small things, that does add up to a rather considerable CO2 drop in output. One person, maybe it seems like a small result, millions? Well that’s another story.


Government nuclear talks pointless, say green groups

September 7, 2007

“Leading environmental groups today withdrew from a consultation on whether to build new nuclear power stations, accusing the government of a “public relations stitch-up”.”

Ok, the nuclear debate.

I personally believe that nuclear power could be a way forward in the fight against climate change. I admit I am not in full receipt of the facts but the arguements do ring true to me. We have this capability and technology and it doesnt leave a carbon footprint in any way or sense like the current fossil fuel plants do. As long as we are careful in the disposal of nuclear waste I think it’s a positive and relatively clean way to generate electricity. My personal view and of course it is open to challenge and debate.

There is however one spanner that can be thrown in to the works.

Mr Sauven told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “You can’t expect people to contribute to an exercise which the government is essentially saying itself is absolutely pointless.

“And it goes much further than this because the consultation documents that we have seen are making all kinds of assertions – for example, that the nuclear waste problem is solved.

“It even says nuclear power is cheaper than wind even though the government’s own published documents show the exact opposite is true.”

Where do we go from here, I guess time will tell. If nuclear power is decided as the way forward, as things stand, I wouldnt be one that complains too hard and fast.

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