By Miranda Blue
7 March 2014
(Right Wing Watch) – The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this morning hosted a panel titled, “What’s The Deal With Global Warming?,” the answer to which was apparently that it’s a “silly debate,” a “scam” and “modern witchcraft.”
The panel was moderated by Joseph Bast of the Heartland Institute, a leading climate-change denial group funded in large part by major corporations, and included Steve Milloy, a longtime climate change denier who is now working for the coal company Murray Energy; Marc Morano of the oil-industry funded Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, a Heartland Institute “expert” and former a staffer for climate skeptic Sen. Jim Inhofe; Marlo Lewis of the anti-regulation Competitive Enterprise Institute; George Landrith of Fronteirs of Freedom, another oil-industry funded climate change denial group; and for “balance,” Shannon Smith, who runs an energy efficiency financing group.
Throughout the hour-long discussion, the panelists were cracking each other up with jabs at climate science.
One of the biggest laugh lines came from Morano, who mocked Rep. Barbara Lee’s warning that the effects of climate change in the developing world could force women into poverty and prostitution. “So now, everyone in the audience worried that your mom’s sister or daughter is going to become a hooker, had better start to get behind a carbon tax or cap and trade,” he joked.
He then made fun of a UN report that many African countries will be especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change. “They’re now saying because of weird weather in Africa and other places, families are desperate and so their daughters are turning to prostitution,” he said. “They’re trying everything and anything.”
Milloy for his part insisted that this “is really sort of a silly discussion,” adding, “I reject the notion that we need to cut back on fossil fuels because we’re worried about the weather possibly being inclement in 30 years or 40 years.”
The panelists also presented various conspiracy theories about U.S. policies meant to combat climate change. [more]
Global warming spreads malaria to higher altitudes – ‘In Ethiopia, based on the distribution of malaria with altitude, a 1C rise in temperature could lead to an additional three million cases in under-15-year-olds per year’0 comments Posted by Jim at Friday, March 07, 2014
By Rebecca Morelle, Science reporter
6 March 2014
(BBC World Service) – Warmer temperatures are causing malaria to spread to higher altitudes, a study suggests.
Researchers have found that people living in the highlands of Africa and South America are at an increased risk of catching the mosquito-borne disease during hotter years.
They believe that temperature rises in the future could result in millions of additional cases in some areas.
The research is published in the journal Science.
Prof Mercedes Pascual, from the University of Michigan in the US, who carried out the research, said: "The impact in terms of increasing the risk of exposure to disease is very large."
Areas at higher altitudes have traditionally provided a haven from this devastating disease.
Both the malaria parasite and the mosquito that carries it struggle to cope with the cooler air.
Prof Pascual said: "The risk of the disease decreases with altitude and this is why historically people have settled in these higher regions."
But the scientists say the disease is entering new regions that had previously been malaria-free.
To investigate, scientists looked at densely populated areas in the highlands of Colombia and Ethiopia, where there are detailed records of both temperature and malaria cases from the 1990s to 2005.
They found that in warmer years, malaria shifted higher into the mountains, while in cooler years it was limited to lower elevations.
"This expansion could in a sense account for a substantial part of the increase of cases we have already observed in these areas," said Prof Pascual.
The team believes that rising temperatures could cause a further spread.
In Ethiopia, where nearly half of the population live at an altitude of between 1,600m (5,250ft) and 2,400m, the scientists believe there could be many more cases.
"We have estimated that, based on the distribution of malaria with altitude, a 1C rise in temperature could lead to an additional three million cases in under-15-year-olds per year," said Prof Pascual. [more]
Climate change felt in deep waters of Antarctica – A surge in freshwater at the surface may have shut down mixing of water layers in the Weddell Sea0 comments Posted by Jim at Friday, March 07, 2014
By Sarah Zielinski
3 March 2014
(smithsonianmag.com) – In 1974, just a couple years after the launch of the first Landsat satellite, scientists noticed something odd in the Weddell Sea near Antarctica. There was a large ice-free area, called a polynya, in the middle of the ice pack. The polynya, which covered an area as large as New Zealand, reappeared in the winters of 1975 and 1976 but has not been seen since.
Scientists interpreted the polynya’s disappearance as a sign that its formation was a naturally rare event. But researchers reporting in Nature Climate Change disagree, saying that the polynya’s appearance used to be far more common and that climate change is now suppressing its formation.
What’s more, the polynya’s absence could have implications for the vast conveyor belt of ocean currents that move heat around the globe.
Surface seawater around the poles tends to be relatively fresh due to precipitation and the fact that sea ice melts into it, which makes it very cold. As a result, below the surface is a layer of slightly warmer and more saline water not infiltrated by melting ice and precipitation. This higher salinity makes it denser than water at the surface. […]
To find out what has been going on in the Weddell Sea, Casimir de Lavergne of McGill University in Montreal and colleagues began by analyzing temperature and salinity measurements collected by ships and robotic floats in this region since 1956—tens of thousands of data points. The researchers could see that the surface layer of water at the site of the Weddell polynya has been getting less salty since the 1950s. Freshwater is less dense than saltwater, and it acts as a lid on the Weddell system, trapping the subsurface warm waters and preventing them from reaching the surface. That in turn, stops the mixing that produces Antarctic Bottom Water at that site.
That increase in freshwater is coming from two sources: Climate change has amplified the global water cycle, increasing both evaporation and precipitation. And Antarctic glaciers have been calving and melting at a greater rate. Both of these sources end up contributing more freshwater to the Weddell Sea than what the area experienced in the past, the researchers note. [more]
By Jeremy Hance
28 February 2014
(mongabay.com) – Since the first of the year, South Africa has lost 146 rhinos to poachers or approximately 2.5 rhinos every day. This is a slight dip from last year's poaching rate, which hit 1,004 for the whole year or 2.75 a day. South Africa is home to more rhinos than any other country on the planet, but the populations have been hit hard by poachers in recent years seeking rhino horn.
According to data released by South Africa National Parks this week, Kruger National Park remains the epicenter of the poaching crisis with 95 rhinos killed there.
Poachers target rhinos for their horns that are ground into powder, which is used as a traditional medicine and status symbol in East Asia, despite the fact that scientific studies have proven the horns have no curative properties. Poachers often shoot the rhinos then saw off their horns, sometimes while they are still alive.
South Africa is home to two species of rhinos: white rhinos (Ceratotherium simum) and black rhinos (Diceros bicornis). White rhinos are currently listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List, while black rhinos are considered Critically Endangered.
Drought sends beef prices soaring, with no relief in sight – U.S. cattle herd the smallest since 19510 comments Posted by Jim at Thursday, March 06, 2014
By Joe Taschler
3 March 2014
(Journal Sentinel) – Next time you bite into a big, juicy hamburger, don't be surprised if it bites back — at your bank account.
Unrelenting drought across large swaths of the Great Plains, Texas, and California has led to the smallest U.S. cattle herd since 1951, shrinking the supply of beef. That has sent prices higher for everything from rump roasts to rib-eyes.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the average retail price per pound for fresh beef in January was $5.04, the highest price ever on records that date back to 1987.
From grocers to meat markets to restaurants, a whole lot of folks are watching the situation carefully.
"Everybody's kind of worried about it," said Matthew Bayer, president of the Wisconsin Association of Meat Processors and owner of Country Fresh Meats in Weston, near Wausau. "I don't see them (beef prices) going down."
The situation is on the radar of Milwaukee-based grocer Roundy's Inc.
"We are watching the situation very closely," said James Hyland, vice president of investor relations for Roundy's. "If beef prices become a sticker shock to the customer, there will be a transfer to other proteins like chicken or pork," and that will further complicate the market.
"It can become a difficult balancing act," Hyland said. Roundy's Pick 'n Save brand is the grocery market share leader in the Milwaukee area.
This time of the year, beef prices often fall during what amounts to a lull between the holidays and the beginning of outdoor grilling season, said Chip Bunzel, third-generation co-owner of Bunzel's Old-Fashioned Meat Market in Milwaukee.
But this year, "Beef really didn't drop much since the holidays," Bunzel said, and that sent the price of everything from beef short ribs to ground chuck higher.
"Even the (beef) dog bones, those have gone up quite a bit," he said. "We used to give those away."
Like consumers, Bunzel said he feels the squeeze.
"It's hard because your income isn't going up as fast as the products are going up," he said. "Everybody complains about it. It's like gasoline. Gas goes up and everybody complains about it, but they still use it. You have to still put gas in your car, and you still have to eat."
So do cattle — and there's the rub.
When a calf is born on a ranch, it is usually put out to graze on grass and pastureland. When it doesn't rain, those pastures dry up. Without grass, the animals have to be fed something else.
"They can't eat wind, water, and scenery," said John Freitag, executive director of the Wisconsin Beef Council in Madison.
But other feed types of late have been extremely expensive, as prices of feed grains — primarily corn — soared because of reduced supplies brought on by drought.
"Hay prices are just going through the roof," said Kevin Kester, a fifth-generation rancher whose operation covers 22,000 acres in central California.
As a result, cattle producers have been selling off their animals because they can't afford to feed them. In Texas and Oklahoma alone, "There's a million-plus head of cattle that aren't here anymore," Freitag said. "Some guys just decided it was easier to plant corn than it was to raise or feed cattle." [more]
By Ryan Koronowski
4 March 2014
(Climate Progress) – The Iditarod, the annual sled-dog race across 975 miles of Alaska, started in earnest on Sunday. While much of the local buzz is on whether the usual strong slate of Alaskan mushers can hold off the Norwegians, much of the attention has turned to how the race will be affected by the warm weather Alaska experienced earlier this year.
“It’s a minefield out there,” said former Yukon Quest champion Hugh Neff. “It’s the roughest I’ve ever seen,” said Jeff King, a 22-time race finisher. Aliy Zirkle reported “No snow. Zip. Zero. None.” Many suffered crashes, busted knees, bruises, and sprained ankles. Several are out of the race already.
With the polar vortex shifting winter upside-down and melting large parts of Alaska with springlike temperatures, the state began the year with more melting snow than usual. In fact, across the globe, January 2014 was the fourth-hottest January on record, according to NOAA.
The abnormally warm weather melted snow in Alaska, which made a return toward more normal cooler temperatures in much of February create a different kind of dangerous condition: ice, and hard debris.
DeeDee Jonrowe of Willow trained on “ribbons of ice” that reduced her usual number of training miles. Snowpack is what mushers need to race well, and even when it hasn’t been warm enough to rain, real snowfall can be hard to come by. In February, snowfall in Fairbanks is a foot below normal.
“The problem has been frequent mild days, which have been knocking down the snowcover,” said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Jack Boston.
The Anchorage Daily News reported in its pre-race rundown that “conditions are hard, fast, and icy south of the Alaska Range — or at least they were before the latest heat wave.”
In fact, the main reason that the race was not moved north from Willow to Fairbanks is because a construction company used specialized equipment to rebuild the trail.
Usually there is so much snow that race organizers have to pack down drifts of 10 feet or more to allow mushers to stop to resupply and get their dogs checked out. At the checkpoint near Finger Lake, volunteers encountered an entirely different kind of challenge: having to drill into the ice to even place trail markers.
When Martin Buser was training for his 31st race in January, he ran into some “challenging” conditions — like open water on the trail.
By Holli Riebeek
28 Feb 2014
(NASA) – Dense smoke cloaks central Sumatra, Indonesia, in these images taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites. The smoke is coming from fires in Riau province, where palm oil and pulpwood plantations are abundant. Though illegal for all but small landowners, fire is frequently used to clear brush and trees for farming, especially plantations. The forest and peat soil produce dense smoke when burned, as shown in these images.
The top image shows conditions in the morning (10:45 a.m. local time), while the lower image is from the afternoon (1:45 p.m. local time). The fires, which are outlined in red, build throughout the day.
The fires and resulting air pollution have forced the Riau government to declare a state of emergency, reported the Wall Street Journal. The smoke has caused illness, closed schools for the past two weeks, and reduced visibility.
Morwell coalmine fire: doctors warn residents face serious health risks from air pollution – Thousands affected by the fire, which has been burning for three weeks and may continue months0 comments Posted by Jim at Monday, March 03, 2014
By Helen Davidson
3 March 2014
(theguardian.com) – Doctors have warned of serious health risks to people living around the Morwell coalmine fire, due to a carcinogenic air pollutant reaching levels up to 20 times the average level.
The Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) group, which spoke to a rally of Morwell residents on Sunday, is also renewing calls for federally regulated monitoring and reporting requirements to warn people of increasing risks as they occur.
Thousands of Victorians are being affected by smoke from the coal which has been burning for three weeks and looks to continue for many months to come. The fire was discovered to have been deliberately lit during one of Victoria’s most serious fire situations since Black Saturday.
The Victorian fire services commissioner, Craig Lapsley, on Friday told residents it would be at least 10 days before the fires stopped producing significant ash and smoke over the region, and the state’s chief health officer Dr Rosemary Lester advised at-risk groups in South Morwell to temporarily relocate.
The government has offered free travel and relocation payments for some people as residents leave the area. There have been some complaints that the relocation payments are not available to all residents.
On Sunday, the DEA, an environmental campaign group of doctors and medical students, warned the burning coal was creating an abnormally high level of particle PM2.5, which has been classified as a class one carcinogen alongside tobacco smoke and asbestos.
PM2.5 is formed in a number of ways, particularly in fossil fuel combustion, Dr Merryn Redenbach, research and liaison officer for DEA said.
“In general in Australia we have a daily average exposure advisory limit of 25 micrograms per metre cubed per day,” said Redenbach.
“But there have been peaks of around or over 500 since the fires began at Hazelwood.”
In the immediate short term, exposure to the high levels of PM2.5 was a danger to vulnerable groups such as young children, the elderly, and people with pre-existing illnesses including heart and lung diseases, Redenbach said.
“For example on days when particulate matter is higher, we see more hospital presentations with heart failure, heart arrhythmias,” said Redenbach.
“Long-term exposure of PM2.5 is associated with increased mortality rates, but also with rates of lung cancer.” [more]
19 February 2014 (ABC) – The air quality in communities in eastern Victoria continues to deteriorate as officials battle a big fire in the Hazelwood open cut coal mine.
The air quality at Morwell and Traralgon has hit a record low for the second time in a week.
The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) says any air quality index reading above 150 is very poor.
On Sunday the air quality reading at Traralgon deteriorated to 460 and this morning it hit a high of 702 at Morwell.
Deputy Premier Peter Ryan has instructed the Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley to open a special centre in Morwell to answer health-related and business questions for residents.
Thick smoke from the blaze continues to engulf the town and has spread as far as Sale, 65 kilometres away.
The air quality is so bad that some schools are being closed down and children relocated to Moe.
The Education Department plans to close a primary school in the Latrobe Valley to protect its students from the smoke and ash coming from the Hazelwood and Yallourn fires.
The Commercial Road Primary School in Morwell will be closed and its students relocated to schools in Moe.
The school's playground, like most of Morwell, is affected by the smoke haze and covered in a fine ash. [more]
By MELISSA EDDY
18 February 2014
ATTERWASCH, Germany (The New York Times) – A grove of apple saplings grows on the lee side of Ulrich Schulz’s barn. He did not plant them for the fruit, he said, but as an act of rebellion against a nearby mining company that wants to raze his farm, which his family has owned since 1560, to get at the coal beneath his land.
“A nod to Martin Luther,” said Mr. Schulz, 53, gesturing at the two rows of spindly trees. “He said that if he knew the world was coming to an end, he would plant an apple tree.”
It may not be the end of the world, but it could be the end of Atterwasch, population 241. While Chancellor Angela Merkel has promised her country a future virtually free of fossil fuels, it may seem strange that this village in eastern Germany, and two neighboring ones, are still fighting plans to wipe them, quite literally, off the map.
But Germany’s sudden hunger for coal has emerged as the dirty side of Ms. Merkel’s ambitions to shut down the country’s nuclear power plants by 2022 and eventually move Germans mostly to renewable energy. In fact, last year Germany burned more brown coal than at any time since its Communist-era factories began closing in 1990, according to AG Energiebilanzen, an association that tracks energy consumption.
The problem is that there are days when the wind does not blow and clouds fill the sky. With eight nuclear reactors shut since 2011 and the push for renewable energy still in its infancy, the country needs to bridge the power gaps. That has only increased Germans’ craving for coal, even though their energy diet is supposed to be shifting.
For Mr. Schulz and his neighbors, the battle to save Atterwasch is akin to not wanting to be the final casualty of a lost war, in a region where about 25,000 people have already been uprooted by mines over the years.
“Nobody wants to be the last one,” Mr. Schulz said, contemplating the bright green of a young crop of rye on a balmy winter day.
Eckhard Schulz, Ulrich’s brother, said he was struck by that fact recently, while touring the nearby open-pit mine at Jänschwalde with his future son-in-law, a landscaper employed for reclamation projects by Vattenfall, the Swedish company that runs the mine.
They encountered a small sign on the spot where a church in the village of Horno had stood for centuries. Until 2003. That was when Horno became the most recent of 136 villages swallowed by open-pit mines in the region of Lusatia since 1924, according to the Archive of Lost Places, a local documentation center about the relocated villages.
“I stopped and I realized in the future, that could be our church,” said Eckhard Schulz, who helps care for the three bells in the tower of Atterwasch’s medieval church. The oldest bell, he notes, was cast in 1460, before Columbus reached America. “Suddenly, I wanted to turn back. I didn’t want to see anything more.” [more]