Steam billowing from the cooling towers of Vattenfall's Jaenschwalde brown coal power station is reflected in the water of a lake near Cottbus, eastern Germany, in this file picture taken in December 2009. PAWEL KOPCZYNSKI / REUTERS

By ORA MORISON, The Globe and Mail
25 July 2012

The severe drought hitting U.S. farms may be just the latest sign of climate change and the impact it will have on the economy.

Climate change and economics have been intersecting long before a drought descended upon the Midwest this year. Over the past 20 years, policies that impose a “cap and trade” system or emission reduction targets have been called economically irresponsible and haven’t put a dent in the climate change problem. Carbon emission levels in Canada were actually 25 per cent higher in 2007 than in 1990.

These policies, and reduction targets in general, failed because they put the chicken before the egg, say a group of economists writing for the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP).

That is, emissions-reduction targets came before the technological developments that would have made reaching those targets a reasonable possibility.

In a report released this week, Christopher Green, an economics professor at McGill University who began researching climate change in 1988, partnered with Isabel Galiana, a PhD candidate at McGill University and Jeremy Leonard, research director at the IRPP, and tried to come up with a strategy to reduce carbon emissions that is both economically and politically palatable.

The authors say that a very low carbon tax could be used to establish a low-carbon energy research council that funds research and development. Canadian companies would then be encouraged to develop the kind of major technologies that actually have a hope to help reduce climate change.

“Nothing short of a technological revolution will be required to sufficiently cut emissions,” the report says.

While other economists have assumed carbon pricing will encourage development of new energy technology in the private sector, the authors say this is probably only true for technologies that are close to commercialization.

The public sector has a role here, the authors argue, because the outcomes of these technologies would be closely tied to public good.

“It is highly unlikely that [current policies] would spur the large and risky up-front investments in basic research and development testing and demonstration required to develop next-generation technologies,” the authors wrote.

A big challenge will be deciding which companies and technologies to “bet” on with public funds. Transparently choosing the projects most likely to come up with the best technologies will be critical for this policy to be successful, but also difficult and fraught with potential political problems.

Another trick lies in how the money is collected. Raising taxes or fees on businesses and voters could be political suicide.

The authors suggest a very low, but steadily rising carbon tax. A tax of $5 per tonne of carbon would add about 1 cent per litre of gasoline, not enough to raise the ire of businesses or voters, eliminating political risk.

If this tax doubled every decade, it would reach $80 per tonne by 2050. A hefty fee, but one the authors argue would be imposed only after businesses have had decades to plan for and create new technologies to avoid paying it. […]

Real emission cuts tough until technology catches up, says report

Colorado forest before beetle infestation, September 2005

The Thematic Mapper on Landsat 5 acquired this image of lodgepole pine forests near Grand Lake, Colorado on 11 September 2005, before a severe bark beetle infestation led to die-off of the tree canopy. NASA Earth Observatory image created by Robert Simmon, using Landsat data provided by USGA


Colorado forest after beetle infestation, September 2011

The Thematic Mapper on Landsat 5 acquired this image of lodgepole pine forests near Grand Lake, Colorado on 28 September 2011, after a severe bark beetle infestation led to die-off of the tree canopy. NASA Earth Observatory image created by Robert Simmon, using Landsat data provided by USGA

Caption by Adam Voiland, with information from Thomas Veblen and Bill Romme
28 July 2012

A single pine bark beetle is about the size of a grain of rice. But when the beetle population swells, it can have a major impact on forest health. And that’s exactly what has been happening across the Rocky Mountains over the past decade.

In Colorado, severe beetle infestations showed up in lodgepole pine forests about 50 miles west of Boulder and Fort Collins around 2000. Over time, the affected area grew so that by 2011 the infestation had spread east to ponderosa pine forests that were much closer to the two cities. (A map showing the progression between 1998 and 2011 is available here).

The beetle epidemic caused so many trees to die-off that the impacts are visible from space. The Thematic Mapper on Landsat 5 acquired these images of lodgepole pine forests near Grand Lake, Colorado on September 11, 2005, and September 28, 2011—before and after a severe infestation led to die-off of the tree canopy.

Over six years, beetle activity turned entire ridges and valleys brown. Forest die-off is most visible in the center of the image and along both sides of the Kawuneeche Valley. The brownest areas in the 2011 image are generally stands of lodgepole pine, a slender tree that grows at 6,000 to 11,000 feet (1,800 to 3,300 meters) in elevation. Either spruce or aspen dominates the green areas that escaped infestation, such as the forests near Gravel Mountain and areas west of the Kawuneeche Valley.

Not all of the browning is due to beetles. In the upper central and lower right of the image, logging has also had an impact. And despite the beetle damage to the upper canopy, the forests are anything but dead. Even in the most severely affected areas, large numbers of trees survive.

It has been suggested that all the dead needles and trees trunk left after a beetle infestation must make wildfires more common and severe. It wasn’t uncommon for beetles to get the blame for exacerbating the destructive High Park fire that raged near Fort Collin in June 2012.

However, Bill Romme, a Colorado State University professor who has studied the relationship, is not convinced. “Most research indicates that there is little or no such relationship between beetle-caused tree mortality and subsequent fire occurrence and severity in lodgepole pine forests,” he noted in an email. “Fire occurrence and severity in these forests are controlled primarily by weather conditions. Variation in fuel conditions, such as that introduced by the beetles, is a secondary and generally minor influence on fire behavior.”

Researchers do think pine beetles can affect the risk of severe fires, but the impacts are not always straightforward. The most dangerous fires—crown fires—leap from treetop to treetop in an explosive wall of flame, rather than creeping along the ground surface. For the first few years after an infestation, beetle-impacted forests may have an increased risk of crown fires due to the dry needles that remain clinging to the tops of dying trees. But as these needles—and other debris—drop to the ground, the risk of crown fires drops as well. According to one study, forest die-off from pine beetles infestations can reduce the risk of crown fires for decades by thinning forests.

Thomas Veblen, the head of a biogeography research group at the University of Colorado that has also studied the link between beetles and fires, shares Romme’s skepticism. One of the telling features of the image pair above, Veblen noted, is the lack of burn scars. Beetles started attacking the area during the early 2000s; but even as trees have been dying, there has not been a significant fire.

“While dead trees from pine beetles provide a teachable moment for discussing fire hazard, the underlying factor explaining the increase in area burned across the western U.S.—which is well documented—since the 1980s is warming,” Veblen said.

Tiny Beetles Take a Large Bite Out of the Forest

Villagers return to their homes after a flood in Bihar, India. balazsgardi / Flickr via

By Alison Singer; Edited by Antonia Sohns
26 July 2012

Rezaul Karim Chowdhury is from Kutubdia, a Bangladeshi island in the Bay of Bengal. When Chowdhury was younger, the palm-dotted tropical island spanned 65 square kilometers, but rising sea levels and erosion have since shrunk it by more than half, to only 25 square kilometers. With their land and homes submerged, more than 40,000 residents of Kutubdia have fled to sandbars near the mainland town of Coxsbazar, where they endure slum conditions and the constant threat of eviction. Chowdhury manages a development organization on Kutubdia, and although he wishes he could help the island’s displaced people, he is forced to ignore their pleas, as he can offer no solution.

As climate change intensifies, it will continue to displace vulnerable peoples, like those in Kutubdia, as sea levels rise and as extreme weather brings devastating floods, droughts, and other disasters. The London-based Environmental Justice Foundation reports that around 26 million people worldwide have already had to move due to the effects of climate change, a figure that could grow to 150 million by 2050. The group estimates that as many as 500 to 600 million people—nearly 10 percent of the world’s population—are at risk from displacement.

Villages in the Arctic are facing the effects of thawing permafrost, among other challenges. In Newtok, on Alaska’s western coast, the melting permafrost and rising sea expose the village to sanitation problems as local sewage facilities are damaged and the previously frozen earth becomes unstable, causing houses to collapse. Additionally, the village’s water supply is in danger of being contaminated by seawater. In the face of these dramatic challenges, the village is preparing for the future and has identified a relocation site nine miles south. But a lack of funding and coordination has made relocation and adaptation efforts difficult.

Extreme weather, encroaching seas, and desertification are the leading drivers behind the surge in “climate refugees” worldwide, commonly defined as those who flee their homes and ways of life due to factors related to climate change.

In Mongolia, an estimated quarter of the population has fled to shanty towns near the urban center of Ulan Bator to find work, as residents’ traditional nomadic existence is threatened by long, cold winters and desertification caused by climate change and overgrazing. Throughout Asia and Africa, millions of livestock have died in extremely harsh winters and dry summers. In the planet’s far northerly regions, reindeer herders are encumbered by swampy land and changing migration patterns due to altered freezing and thawing cycles. […]

Climate Refugees: A Human Cost of Climate Change

Sunflower Electric Cooperative's coal-fired power plant churns out electricity in Holcomb, Kansas. The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a rule that, if enacted, would in effect outlaw the construction of new coal-fired power plants in the United States.  Charlie Riedel / Associated Press

[cf. Earth’s greatest mass extinction caused by coal: study]

By Robert Bryce
27 July 2012

Standing in the dispatch office of the North Antelope Rochelle Mine near Gillette, Wyo., Scott Durgin pointed at a flat-panel display.

The regional vice president for Peabody Energy smiled. The most productive coal mine in the world was on target. Since midnight, about one train an hour had been loaded, each carrying about 16,000 tons of coal.

I asked Durgin how long Peabody could continue mining in the region. Easily for five more decades, he replied. "There's no end to the coal here."

The Peabody mine, along with the about 1,300 other coal mines in the U.S., is being threatened. The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a rule that, if enacted, would in effect outlaw the construction of new coal-fired power plants in the United States. The EPA's motives are clear: It wants to shut down coal plants, which emit lots of carbon dioxide.

But the EPA and the Obama administration know their attack on coal is little more than a token gesture. The rest of the world will continue to burn coal, and lots of it. Reducing the use of coal in the U.S. may force Americans to pay higher prices for electricity, but it will have nearly no effect on climate change.

There's no denying that coal has earned its reputation as a relatively dirty fuel. On one particularly nasty day in London in 1812, a combination of coal smoke and fog became so dense that, according to one report, "for the greater part of the day it was impossible to read or write at a window without artificial light." About 200 years later, the New York Times reported that in Datong, China, known as the City of Coal, the air pollution on some winter days is so bad that "even during the daytime, people drive with their lights on."

Air pollution is only part of the coal industry's toll. It damages the Earth's surface with strip mines, mountaintop removal and ash ponds at power plants. In addition, thousands of workers die each year in coal mines.

But U.S. policymakers are mostly focused on carbon dioxide. The proposed EPA rule would cap the amount of CO2 that new fossil-fuel electricity generation units could emit at 1,000 pounds per megawatt-hour. Absent "carbon capture and storage," a process that isn't commercially viable, that standard will rule out coal-fired units, which emit about 1,800 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour. (Natural gas units emit about 800 pounds per megawatt-hour.)

Prohibiting new coal-fired power plants may please President Obama's domestic supporters, but it would leave global coal demand and CO2 emissions almost unchanged. Indeed, over the last decade, even if CO2 emissions in the U.S. had fallen to zero, global emissions still would have increased.

Consider Vietnam, where electricity use increased by 227% from 2001 to 2010. Its coal demand jumped by 175% during the same period, and it had the world's fastest percentage growth in CO2 emissions. Meanwhile, China has about 650,000 megawatts of coal-fired electricity generation capacity (more than twice the capacity in the U.S.), and it plans to build an additional 273,000 megawatts of coal-fired capacity.

Those numbers help explain this fact: Over the last decade, global coal consumption has increased by more than the growth in oil, natural gas and hydro and nuclear power combined.

We needn't look only at developing countries to see the essential role of coal. After the disaster at Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant, Germany is rushing to shutter its reactors. Although renewable-energy projects are the darling of European politicians, nearly 14,000 of the 36,000 megawatts of new electricity generation capacity that will be built in Germany over the next few years probably will be coal-fired facilities.

Coal is helping meet the world's electricity demands for a simple reason: It's cheap, thanks to the fact that deposits are abundant, widely dispersed, easily mined and not controlled by any OPEC-like cartels. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, from 1999 through 2010, coal cost about half as much per BTU as the next cheapest fuel, natural gas. […]

Dirty but essential -- that's coal

U.S. corn futures for September 2012, March 2011 - July 2012. CME Group

20 July 2012 (CME Group) – September Corn finished up 16 3/4 at 824 1/2, 4 1/4 off the high and 25 up from the low. December Corn closed up 17 1/4 at 795 3/4. This was 16 3/4 up from the low and 1 1/4 off the high. September and December corn traded sharply higher into the close. September corn posted a new high for the move while the December contract once again failed to move above the 800 level, offering a slightly negative technical view. The trade believes crop conditions could lose another 3-5% on their good/excellent ratings on Monday's Crop Condition report. Weather forecasts continue to look abysmal for US row crops the next two weeks with below normal rainfall and above normal temperatures in the central Midwest. Temperatures are expected to reach 95-105 degrees in Kansas, Missouri, South Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska this week; increasing stress on crops. The blistering temperatures are expected to last until the middle of next week. Iran bought 50,000 tonnes of Brazilian corn today and sluggish export sales reported yesterday suggest demand is slowly backing off. The bearish demand headlines are being offset by lower corn yield estimates. A closely followed commodity weather agency revised their new crop corn yield to 136.2 bushels/acre. This was down from 152.2 bushels per acre. Yield could fall further if current weather patterns persist into August. Grain markets are trading higher despite the negative outside markets and a sharply higher US Dollar. September Rice finished up 0.04 at 15.535, equal to the high and 0.025 up from the low.

Corn Market Recap for 7/20/2012

A towboat and its barges pass under the old Mississippi River bridge at Vicksburg, Miss., Thursday, 26 July 2012. In a switch of extremes, the river has dropped to very low levels this summer unlike last year when the river was flooding much of the Delta due to record high levels. The drop in water level now exposes the river bottom, forcing river traffic to a trickle as barges are forced to lessen their loads to keep from getting stuck on sandbars. Rogelio V. Solis / AP Photo

By Sam Nelson and Charles Abbott; editing by Mary Milliken; desking by Andrew Hay
26 July 2012

CHICAGO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The severe drought in the U.S. Midwest wreaked more havoc across the country on Thursday, forcing barges on the Mississippi River to lighten loads for fear of getting stuck and raising concerns about higher prices for food and gasoline.

Damage to crops in the most extensive drought in five decades and the pressure of the November elections sparked some action in the U.S. Congress to bring relief to farmers and make progress on a generous farm bill.

"When times are tough for farmers, they tend to be more active politically," Iowa Senator Charles Grassley said, urging fellow Republicans to act on the farm bill and avoid punishment at the polls.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner said on Thursday that Republican leaders were working with the Agriculture Committee "on an appropriate path forward."

"I do believe the House will address the livestock disaster program that unfortunately in the last farm bill was only authorized for four years," Boehner said. […]

One year after its waters swelled to historic proportions, the lower Mississippi River now sits so low that barge operators hauling some $180 billion in goods must lighten their loads for fear of getting stuck.

If water levels drop any lower, industry insiders say, prices could rise on the raw commodities commonly shipped by boat -- coal, grain, petroleum and steel, to name a few.

"The main thing that they're doing now is voluntarily reducing the size of their tows … so they're having to take more trips to carry their normal volume of commodities," said Ann McCulloch, spokeswoman for American Waterways Operators, a national trade association representing tugboats, tow boats and barges.

"This will drive up transportation costs if it continues over a long period of time," she said. […]

In Washington, temperatures boiled on both sides of the aisle. A new five-year, $491 billion farm bill is stalled in the House on concerns there are not enough votes in the Republican-controlled chamber to pass a bill.

"We're seeing all across the country dried-up, parched land," said Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow. "This is a very serious issue for our farmers and ranchers, so we need a farm bill."

The farm bill has been attacked by Democrats for cutting too much from food stamps for the poor and by Republicans for doing too little to reform farm subsidies.

There is little more than a week before Congress moves to a recess that lasts until September 10. Democrats have lambasted Republicans for lack of action ahead of the November elections.

"If they actually try to do disaster next week, it's just to inoculate members for the month of August," said Ferd Hoefner, a small-farm activist. "We want the real bill and we want it this year."

Scattered rains in the Midwest this week have come too late for many crops, government drought specialists said, and the worst drought conditions since 1956 worsened over the last week.

Almost 30 percent of the nine-state Midwest was suffering extreme drought as of July 24, nearly triple that of a week ago. […]

Drought and scorching temperatures in Eastern Europe from Poland to Romania also have burned up crops, causing alarm about stockpiles and soaring prices. Russian wheat harvests will also be cut by drought and Indian harvests will be cut by the poorest monsoon rains in four decades, officials said on Thursday.

The U.S. Agriculture Department said U.S. food prices are likely to rise as much as 3.5 percent this year and as much as 4 percent in 2013, with higher feed costs driving up meat and dairy products. By comparison, the overall U.S. inflation rate is estimated at 2 percent this year and 1.9 percent in 2013.

Wildfires in drought-hit areas were also a growing problem. Firefighters in three Nebraska counties battled expanding wildfires, and Ola, Arkansas, a town of 1,300 people, was evacuated because of an approaching fire.

Drought diminishes mighty Mississippi, puts heat on Congress

NOT SO PERMANENT: A pool of permafrost meltwater has formed along the Alaska Highway near Beaver Creek, Yukon. Guy Dore / Laval University

23 July 2012

WHITEHORSE, Yukon Territory – […] Today, as the road now known as the Alaska Highway celebrates its 70th birthday, cars and trucks flash along what Wally Hidinger calls “a very good standard two-lane highway” from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, to Fairbanks, Alaska. “Our mantra is bare, dry pavement 365 days a year,” said Mr. Hidinger, who directs transportation engineering for the Yukon territorial government. It is a vow he and his staff can keep.

They rely on remote sensing technology to anticipate bad weather and keep the pavement clear. They work to unkink twists and turns left over from the original construction, when the builders dealt with muskeg and other obstacles by curving the road around them.

But today the Alcan faces challenges that could not have been predicted when it was built. By far the biggest is permafrost, the permanently frozen ground that underlies much of the road.

As the climate warms, stretches of permafrost are no longer permanent. They are melting — leaving pavement with cracks, turning asphalt into washboard, and otherwise threatening the stability of the road.

Not all of the melting is due to climate change. Road improvements like heat-absorbing dark pavement alter conditions in the ground beneath, particularly if a lens of ice lies close to the surface. Merely removing roadside vegetation to uncover dark soil can have a melting effect.

Another problem is fire. “Even a natural forest fire will change the surface of the road,” leading to melting, said Bronwyn Benkert, who studies cold-climate issues at the Yukon Research Center, and who is researching highway conditions north of here, near the Alaska border.

But climate change is most worrisome of all. Not only is the world warming: it is warming fastest in high northern latitudes. And the problem is getting worse, with no easy solutions.

If the permafrost is patchy — “discontinuous,” in geological parlance — even identifying areas of melt risk is tricky. Highway engineers have been drilling core samples along the roadway for 50 years, but “if you don’t drill in the right place you won’t find it,” Mr. Hidinger said. “We don’t even have a precise picture of the soil conditions under the road.” […]

With Warming, Peril Underlies Road to Alaska

A boat dock rests in mud at Morse Reservoir as water levels drop due to drought conditions near Cicero, Indiana in this file photo taken 19 July 2012. The drought wreaking havoc across the U.S. farm belt has dealt a body blow to the nation's game-fishing industry, with the intense heat killing millions of fish in lakes and rivers across the Midwest, officials and industry sources said. Chris Bergin / Reuters

By Alyce Hinton; editing by Jim Marshall
27 July 2012

(Reuters) – The drought and extreme heat wreaking havoc across the U.S. farm belt is killing fish by the thousands in lakes and rivers and could pose a problem to migrating ducks and other waterfowl if it stretches into the fall, officials said.

Authorities are tallying up the losses which could run into the millions of dollar as the worst drought in 56 years expands, devastating the corn and soybean crops and forcing ranchers to cull their herds due to scorched pasture.

"Nationwide we are talking tens of millions to hundreds of millions (of dollars in losses). It just depends upon how long it lasts and how widespread it becomes," said fisheries biologist Dan Stephenson of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

"If this drought persists into fall, when the duck and other waterfowl pass through on their way south, there could be a larger problem," Stephenson told Reuters.

In Iowa, losses were estimated at $10.1 million after 37,000 fish were found dead along a 42-mile stretch of the Des Moines River from the dam in Eldon to the Farmington Bridge in the northeast of the state.

"Temperatures were extremely high … I mean 97 degrees (Fahrenheit; 36 Celsius) is essentially unheard of on this stretch of the river and it's certainly higher than anything I've ever seen," says fisheries biologist Mark Flammang of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Flammang said the majority of fish killed in Iowa were shovelnose sturgeon, with a value of $116.20 per lb based on guidelines from the American Fisheries Society. […]

Fish are particularly susceptible to even subtle changes in their environments. Oxygen levels usually fluctuate during the day and night depending on temperature and other factors.

But the hot weather heated some waterways to between 85 and 90 degrees, forcing oxygen levels in the water down to a degree that caused fish to suffocate. […]

Drought taking heavy toll on fishing industry

Drought-damaged corn is seen near Brownville, Neb., 26 July 2012. The widest drought to grip the United States in decades is getting worse with no signs of abating. The drought covering two-thirds of the continental U.S. had been considered relatively shallow, the product of months without rain, rather than years, but a report released Thursday showed its intensity is rapidly increasing, with 20 percent of the nation now in the two worst stages of drought, up 7 percent from last week. Nati Harnik / AP PhotoBy Jim Suhr, with additional reporting by Nelson Lampe in Omaha, Nebraska, John Milburn in Topeka, Kansas, Jason Keyser in Chicago, and Ken Miller in Oklahoma City.

ST. LOUIS (AP) – The widest drought to grip the United States in decades is getting worse with no signs of abating, a new report warned Thursday, as state officials urged conservation and more ranchers considered selling cattle.

The drought covering two-thirds of the continental U.S. had been considered relatively shallow, the product of months without rain, rather than years. But Thursday's report showed its intensity is rapidly increasing, with 20 percent of the nation now in the two worst stages of drought — up 7 percent from last week.

The U.S. Drought Monitor classifies drought in various stages, from moderate to severe, extreme and, ultimately, exceptional. Five states — Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska — are blanketed by a drought that is severe or worse. States like Arkansas and Oklahoma are nearly as bad, with most areas covered in a severe drought and large portions in extreme or exceptional drought.

Other states are seeing conditions rapidly worsen. Illinois — a key producer of corn and soybeans — saw its percentage of land in extreme or exceptional drought balloon from just 8 percent last week to roughly 71 percent as of Thursday, the Drought Monitor reported.

And conditions are not expected to get better, with little rain and more intense heat forecast for the rest of the summer.

"Some of these areas that are picking up a shower here and there, but it's not really improving anything because the heat has been so persistent in recent weeks, the damage already is done," said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. "Realistically, the forecast going forward is a continuation of warm, dry conditions through the end of August easily, and we may see them in the fall."

Some are reacting to the drought with inventiveness. At Lake DePue in Illinois, the dangerously low water level threatened to doom an annual boat race that's a big fundraiser for the community. Hundreds of volunteers joined forces and built a makeshift dam out of sandbags before hundreds of millions of gallons of water were pumped in from a river. By Wednesday, the effort had added 2 feet to the water level, doubling the lake's size and saving the race.

In other areas, communities are instituting water restrictions and asking people to voluntarily conserve.

The drought stretches from Ohio west to California and runs from Texas north to the Dakotas. Only in the 1930s and the 1950s has a drought covered more of the U.S., according to National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.

Rain-starved Oklahoma could get a brief respite with perhaps a quarter of an inch possible through sunrise Friday, the National Weather Service said. […]

Report shows US drought rapidly intensifying

Aerial view of Nova Cidade de Kilamba, a residential development of 750 eight-story apartment buildings, a dozen schools, and more than 100 retail units outside of Angola's capital city of Luanda. ANGOLA (Albums) / Facebook

By Mamta Badkar
3 July 2012

There's been a lot written about ghost cities in China.

Just outside Angola's capital city of Luanda is Nova Cidade de Kilamba a residential development of 750 eight-story apartment buildings, a dozen schools, and more than 100 retail units, reports the BBC's Louise Redvers.

The $3.5 billion development covers 12,355 acres and was built to house about 500,000 people, and this is one of "several satellite cities being constructed by Chinese firms around Angola," writes Redvers.

Angolan president José Eduardo dos Santos has touted the 'Kilamba social housing project' as an example of his social policy, and he has brought international policymakers including Chinese vice-president Xi Jingping to the site.

But the apartments in the complex cost somewhere between $120,000 and $200,000 according to online advertisements cited by BBC. Other anecdotal reports put the price of 3-bedroom apartment at about $250,000.

None of which helps the average Angolan given the country's per capita GDP of $5,144 per year, according to the World Bank.

And let's not forget, Angola serves as China's largest source of oil in Africa. Some like energy expert @pcdunham speculate this could be in preparation for oil money that is expected once the country begins developing new oil discoveries.

We pooled together some images we found of this ghost town from news reports and from this non-profit's Facebook page to give you a look at the Kilamba housing project.

Check Out The Massive Chinese-Built Ghost Town In The Middle Of Angola

Outside Angola's capital city of Luanda is Nova Cidade de Kilamba, a residential development of 750 eight-story apartment buildings, a dozen schools, and more than 100 retail units. Louise Redvers filmed this footage showing how eerily quiet Nova Cidade de Kilamba is, on 2 July 2012. BBC

By Louise Redvers
2 July 2012

Kilamba, Angola (BBC) – The ghost towns of China, Ireland, and Spain - full of large empty house estates - may be a phenomenon that is on its way to Africa.

Built for people who never move in, they leave those who did with a worthless property they cannot sell.

Perched in an isolated spot some 30km (18 miles) outside of Angola's capital, Luanda, Nova Cidade de Kilamba is a brand-new mixed residential development of 750 eight-storey apartment buildings, a dozen schools and more than 100 retail units.

Designed to house up to half a million people when complete, Kilamba has been built by the state-owned China International Trust and Investment Corporation (CITIC) in under three years at a reported cost of $3.5bn (£2.2bn).

Spanning 5,000 hectares (12,355 acres), the development is the largest of several new "satellite cities" being constructed by Chinese firms around Angola, and it is believed to be one of the largest new-build projects on the continent.

The jewel in Angola's post-war reconstruction crown, Kilamba is the star of glossy government promotional videos which show smiling families enjoying a new style of living away from the dust and confusion of central Luanda where millions live in sprawling slums.

But the people in these films are only actors, and despite all the hype, nearly a year since the first batch of 2,800 apartments went on sale, only 220 have been sold.
When you visit Kilamba, you cannot help but wonder if even a third of those buyers have moved in yet.

The place is eerily quiet, voices bouncing off all the fresh concrete and wide-open tarred roads.

There are hardly any cars and even fewer people, just dozens of repetitive rows of multi-coloured apartment buildings, their shutters sealed and their balconies empty.

Only a handful of the commercial units are occupied, mostly by utility companies, but there are no actual shops on site, and so - with the exception of a new hypermarket located at one entrance - there is nowhere to buy food.

After driving around for nearly 15 minutes and seeing no-one apart from Chinese labourers, many of whom appear to live in containers next to the site, I came across a tiny pocket of life at a school. […]

Angola's Chinese-built ghost town

By Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent,
25 July 2012

The gust of warm air that caused the unprecedented thaw in Greenland's surface ice also appears to have caused unusually high runoff from a glacier, wiping out a crossing near a key research and transport hub.

Scientists who fly in Kangerlussuaq, near the western edge of the ice sheet, have been keeping an eye on the Watson river bridge for years.

The bridge dates from the 1950s, but wasn't built for the magnitude of spring and summer melt of the last 12 years or so, said Jason Box, a glaciologist at Ohio State University who returned on Tuesday from a three-week stint in Greenland.

"The midsummer floods have been growing and threatening this bridge and finally took it out," he said. "It washed out roads and took out a tractor."

The river is fed by the nearby Russell Glacier, which sits just outside of town. Unlike other glaciers, which are exposed to the warming ocean waters, it sits entirely on land.

Box, who works extensively in Greenland, has publicly warned that the ice melt is accelerating, in part because the snow and ice are losing their reflective capabilities.

It was T-shirt weather some days in Greenland this month, he said. Such warms days were not unheard of though, he added.

Meltwater from Greenland glacier wipes out key crossing

Farmers try to put out a fire near Llers, in the Spanish province of Girona, 23 July 2012. Albert Gea / REUTERS

By Iciar Reinlein, Nigel Davies, Sarah White, Daniel Alvarenga, and Igor Ilic; Writing by Alison Williams; Editing by Andrew Osborn
23 July 2012

MADRID (Reuters) – Two big forest fires raging in the border area between France and northern Catalonia in Spain have killed a fourth person, the authorities said on Monday, as erratic winds hindered efforts to control the blaze.

The fires broke out on Sunday, affecting Spain's Costa Brava, one of the country's most popular beach destinations, as well as major motorways used by holidaymakers driving to and from southern France. Ash from the blaze has also begun to reach the Barcelona area.

Wildfires have broken out in other parts of southern Europe in the past few days.

On Monday, Croatia evacuated tourists near a coastal village and thick smoke forced the closure of the main coastal road linking the northern and central Adriatic. Last week, fire swept through forests near Athens, and villagers had to be evacuated from their homes on the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira.

The fires in the Spanish province of Girona, Catalonia, are the area's most devastating in well over 20 years, the local government said, and Environment Ministry data show 2012 is already the worst year for forest fires in Spain for more than a decade.

All four victims were French, the government of Catalonia and the fire service said. The fourth victim was a 64-year-old man who died of burns on Monday.

On Sunday, a father and his 15-year-old daughter died after trying to escape the flames by descending a cliffside in Portbou, a coastal town where one of the fires broke out. A man died of a heart attack further inland near La Junquera, a border town at the epicenter of the biggest blaze.

The Catalan government said at least 23 people had been injured.

Strong winds, sometimes reaching 80 kph (50 mph), hindered efforts to keep the fires in check overnight. Although they had calmed by morning, gusts were still swirling erratically.

The fire has affected an area of 13,000 hectares inland, and burned through about 200 hectares near Portbou. Some 150,000 residents inland have been told to stay at home. […]

Fires in Spain kill four, Croatia evacuates tourists

Rising sea levels have become a growing concern for the 130 people who now live on the Île de Sein, off the coast of Brittany. Catalina Martin-Chico for The New York Times

23 July 2012

ÎLE DE SEIN, France – The 130 inhabitants of this tiny island off the coast of Brittany are survivors.

They and their ancestors, who trace their origins to the Celtic druids, have lived through frequent periods of hunger, a terrible flood and two cholera epidemics. During World War II, many of the islanders refused to accept German occupation and fled by boat to join Charles de Gaulle’s Free French Army.

Today, the residents of Île de Sein are confronted by a more existential threat. With increasingly rough storms and a global rise in sea levels of 0.14 inches per year since the early 1990s, the existence of the island — just five feet above sea level, on average — seems increasingly at risk.

“There is a growing probability that the island may be hit by a bigger than usual storm,” said Denis Bredin, who is part of the government office that is charged with protecting seacoasts in Brittany and based in the nearby port city of Brest. “We know that it will happen, but we can’t say when.”

The Île de Sein is a treeless, question-mark-shaped island of 138 acres, regularly swept by heavy winds. It gets more than 2,000 vacationers in August, but has no police officers or cars or bank. In the 17th century, King Louis XIV rewarded the islanders for having rescued several crew members from a sinking ship by exempting them from paying property taxes, a privilege they still hold.

In this westernmost part of France, the sea has already swamped the island twice, in 1924 and again in 2008, when a deadly storm called Emma lashed the island with waves as high as 26 feet that damaged sea walls and flooded homes. The water even invaded the small granite chapel of St.-Corentin, built in the 1970s, on one of the highest spots of the island. “This had never happened before,” said Serge Coatmeur, who runs a lighthouse here, one of the last still operating in Brittany.

“It is like living on a volcano that can burst at any time,” said Michel Touzet, a retired pilot who settled on the Île de Sein 20 years ago. “In winter, we never know whether we’ll find ourselves sitting on the roof of the church or not.”

Rising sea levels have threatened the existence of small island states, including Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, the Maldives and Tuvalu. In fact, the government of Tuvalu announced recently that Tuvaluans would need to leave for good within 50 years.

But the residents here prefer not to talk about evacuation or displacement. They are particularly attached to what some called their “fragment of land.” […]

Having Defied the Nazis, Islanders Take On the Sea

The iconic 145-foot Sugarberry Tree in Kirkwood Park has weathered a lighting strike, rotor wash from a Marine helicopter and more than 150 years of unpredictable St. Louis weather, but the 2012 drought and heat wave were the last straw in its battle to survive. On 6 July 2012, a large portion of the tree gave way. It was paper dry to the core. ANDREW JANSEN / JOURNAL

By Sarah Baraba
24 July 2012

The iconic 145-foot Sugarberry Tree in Kirkwood Park has weathered a lighting strike, rotor wash from a Marine helicopter and more than 150 years of unpredictable St. Louis weather, but the recent heat wave was the last straw in its battle to survive.

Just as the sun was rising above the Missouri State Champion tree on July 6, a large portion of the tree gave way.

"It broke around 6:20 in the morning with no wind," said Curt Carron, Kirkwood Parks superintendent. "It was paper dry to the core."

The tree will be removed later this year.

Across the region, trees are similarly parched given this summer's heat and drought. As of last week, St. Louis County as well as more than 93 percent of Missouri was in a 'severe" drought, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Just over 23 percent of the state was in an "extreme" drought.

Recent cloud cover may have dropped sporadic showers across the region, but public works directors say it's not enough to quench trees' thirst, particularly those in city rights-of-way and parking lots.

In Sunset Hills, public works director Anne Lamitola said the city removed five large trees earlier this month in the rights-of-way. Some had diameters as wide as two-and-a-half feet.

Kirkwood Parks employee Kevin McCarthy, of Rock Hill, cuts off a limb that fell away from this white oak at Kirkwood Park. Across the region, trees are parched from the 2012 summer heat and drought. By then last week in July, St. Louis County, as well as more than 93 percent of Missouri, was in a 'severe" drought, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Just over 23 percent of the state was in an 'extreme' drought. ANDREW JANSEN / JOURNAL

"Our code compliance officer is working with numerous property owners who have dead trees on their private property," she said in an email. "A dead tree becomes 'hazardous' when that tree can fall on a structure or into a public right-of-way."

Young trees in Chesterfield can be seen wearing a unique accessory. Several of the trees with trunks less than six inches in diameter are wearing "gator bags," or bags of water seated at a tree's base that slowly water roots.

"Trees like a long, slow soak," explained Mindy Mohrman, city arborist for Chesterfield. "They're not cheap, so we just use them on the trees that are the highest priority."

Maryland Heights is taking similar precautions.

"Younger trees don't have root systems deep enough to survive on their own in this kind of drought," said Bryan Pearl, Maryland Heights public works director. Trees less than a year old are getting supplemental water, he said. […]

Though the region has seen long-lasting heat in past summers, the seasons leading up to summer have usually provided enough rain or snowfall to build up saturation in the soil.

"This past winter was dry too, we only had one snowfall. So there's no moisture to begin with. If the ground is so dry, where are the roots going to find moisture?" said Gary Blassie, St. Louis County Parks forestry supervisor. Pine trees, dogwoods and even native Missouri perennial flowers have taken the hardest hit, he said. […]

Shade trees under assault in St. Louis County

A private vehicle crosses a bridge as excavators are used at the dam site of Kishanganga power project in Gurez, 160 km north of Srinagar, 21 June 2012. Reuters

By Nita Bhalla, Reuters
23 Jul 2012

KANZALWAN, India-Pakistan Line of Control (AlertNet) – As the silver waters of the Kishanganga rush through this north Kashmir valley, Indian labourers are hard at work on a hydropower project that will dam the river just before it flows across one of the world's most heavily militarised borders into Pakistan.

The hum of excavators echoes through the pine-covered valley, clearing masses of soil and boulders, while army trucks crawl through the steep Himalayan mountain passes.

The 330-MW dam is a symbol of India's growing focus on hydropower but also highlights how water is a growing source of tension with downstream Pakistan, which depends on the snow-fed Himalayan rivers for everything from drinking water to agriculture.

Islamabad has complained to an international court that the dam in the Gurez valley, one of dozens planned by India, will affect river flows and is illegal. The court has halted any permanent work on the river for the moment, although India can still continue tunneling and other associated projects. In the years since their partition from British India in 1947, land disputes have led the two nuclear-armed neighbours to two of their three wars. Water could well be the next flashpoint.

"There is definitely potential for conflict based on water, particularly if we are looking to the year 2050, when there could be considerable water scarcity in India and Pakistan," says Michael Kugelman, South Asia Associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.

"Populations will continue to grow. There will be more pressure on supply. Factor in climate change and faster glacial melt … That means much more will be at stake. So you could have a perfect storm which conceivably could be some sort of trigger."

It's not just South Asia – water disputes are a global phenomenon, sparked by growing populations, rapid urbanisation, increased irrigation and a rising demand for alternative power such as hydroelectricity.

Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq quarrel over the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates. The Jordan river divides Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and the West Bank. Ten African countries begrudgingly share the Nile.

In Southeast Asia, China and Laos are building dams over the mighty Mekong, raising tensions with downstream nations.

A U.S. intelligence report in February warned fresh water supplies are unlikely to keep up with global demand by 2040, increasing political instability, hobbling economic growth and endangering world food markets.

A "water war" is unlikely in the next decade, it said, but beyond that rising demand and scarcities due to climate change and poor management will increase the risk of conflict.

That threat is possibly nowhere more apparent than in South Asia, home to a fifth of humanity and rife with historical tensions, mistrust and regional rivalries.

The region's three major river systems - the Indus, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra - sustain India and Pakistan's breadbasket states and many of their major cities including New Delhi and Islamabad, as well as Bangladesh.

"South Asia is symbolic of what we are seeing in terms of water stress and tensions across the world," says B.G. Verghese, author and analyst at New Delhi's Centre for Policy Research.

The region is one of the world's most water-stressed, yet the population is adding an extra 25 million people a year - South Asia's per capita water availability has dropped by 70 percent since 1950, says the Asian Development Bank.

The effect of climate change on glaciers and rainfall patterns may be crucial.

"Most of the water that is used in Pakistan comes from glacial melt or the monsoon," says Rafay Alam, an environmental lawyer and coordinator of the water programme at Lahore University of Management Sciences.

The dry months of June-July offer a snapshot of the extreme water crisis in the region.

Hospitals in New Delhi this year cancelled surgeries because they had no water to sterilise instruments, clean operating theatres, or even wash hands. Swanky malls selling luxury brands were forced to switch off air conditioners and shut toilets.

In Pakistan, the port town of Gwadar ran out of water entirely, forcing the government to send two naval water tankers. Some government flats in the garrison city of Rawalpindi have not had water for weeks, said the local press.

India, as both an upper and lower riparian nation, finds itself at the centre of water disputes with its eastern and western downstream neighbours -- Bangladesh and Pakistan -- which accuse New Delhi of monopolising water flows.

To the north and northeast, India fears the same of upstream China, with which it fought a brief border war in 1962. Beijing plans a series of dams over the Tsangpo river, called the Brahmaputra as it flows into eastern India. […]

FEATURE-Thirsty South Asia's river rifts threaten "water wars"

Arctic sea ice extent for 23 July 2012 was 7.32 million square kilometers (2.82 million square miles). The magenta line shows the 1979 to 2000 median extent for that month. The black cross indicates the geographic North Pole. Arctic sea ice continued to track at levels far below average through the middle of July 2012, with open water in the Kara and Barents seas reaching as far north as typically seen during September. Melt onset began earlier than normal throughout most of the Arctic. NSIDC

By Natasha Vizcarra
24 July 2012

Arctic sea ice continued to track at levels far below average through the middle of July, with open water in the Kara and Barents seas reaching as far north as typically seen during September. Melt onset began earlier than normal throughout most of the Arctic.

Overview of conditions

As of July 23, 2012, sea ice extent was 7.32 million square kilometers (2.82 million square miles). On the same day last year, ice extent was 7.22 million square kilometers (2.78 million square miles), the previous record low for this day.

Arctic sea ice extent continued to track at very low levels, setting daily record lows for the satellite era for a few days in early July. Extent is especially low in the Barents, Kara, and Laptev seas. In the Barents and Kara seas, the area of open water extends to the north coasts of Franz Josef Land and Severnaya Zemlya, as far north as typically seen during September, the end of the summer melt season. Polynyas in the Beaufort and East Siberian seas continued to expand during the first half of July. By sharp contrast, ice extent in the Chukchi Sea remains near normal levels. In this region the ice has retreated back to the edge of the multiyear ice cover. Ice cover in the East Greenland Sea, while of generally low concentration, remains slightly more extensive than normal.

Conditions in context

The first part of July was once again dominated by high sea level pressure over the Beaufort Sea, combined with low sea level pressure over Siberia and Alaska. As discussed in last month’s post, this pressure pattern tends to promote above-average temperatures and enhances ice transport out of the Arctic through Fram Strait. Beginning July 11th, the pressure pattern changed as cyclones moved into the central Arctic Ocean, bringing in cooler temperatures and helping to slow ice loss. Air temperatures at the 925 hPa level (about 3000 feet) in the central Arctic and the Beaufort Sea were 1 to 4 degrees Celsius (2 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal as averaged from July 1 to July 14. In the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, the sea ice has retreated to the edge of the multiyear ice cover. As a result of the anomalously high air temperatures, melt over the multiyear ice cover is extensive and ice concentrations are low. Anomalously low air temperatures for that period were found in the Barents, Kara, and East Greenland seas (1 to 3 degrees Celsius, or 2 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit, below the 1981 to 2010 climatology).

Early melt onset

The timing of seasonal melt onset, which can be estimated from satellite passive microwave data, plays an important role in the amount of ice that melts each summer. Unusually early melt onset means an early reduction in the surface albedo, allowing for more solar heating of the ice, which in turn allows melt ponds and open water areas to develop earlier in the melt season. In 2012, melt began earlier than normal (as compared to averages for the period 1979 to 2000) throughout most of the Arctic, the exceptions being the Bering Sea and the East Greenland Sea. Melt in the Kara and Barents seas began more than two weeks earlier than normal. Melt onset for the Laptev Sea region as a whole started on June 1 and was the earliest seen in the satellite record. Melt began 12 and 9 days earlier than normal averaged over the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, respectively.

Low ice concentrations

NSIDC uses satellite data from the Special Sensor Microwave Imager (SSM/I) and the Special Sensor Microwave Imager/Sounder (SSMIS) instruments, in part because they provide the longest consistent time series of data. However, more recent sensors such as the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer-Earth Observing System (AMSR-E) provide a more detailed perspective. In particular, we can examine ice concentration, which tells us how much ice is in a pixel, providing information on how vulnerable the ice may be to summer melting.

In October 2011, the AMSR-E instrument on board the NASA Aqua satellite ceased operation, dealing a blow to the science community. This is because its higher spatial resolution and advanced technology provided detailed ice information to complement the long-term record of the Special Sensor Microwave Imager/Sounder (SSMIS) instrument. However, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) successfully launched a new satellite called Shizuku, or Global Change Observation Mission 1st-Water (GCOM-W1), on 18 May 2012. The Shizuku carries a new Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer (AMSR2) instrument, a sensor similar to AMSR-E. As soon as calibration and validation of AMSR2 are complete, the University of Bremen will once again produce maps of sea ice concentration at a fairly high resolution (about 6 kilometers).

In the meantime, the University of Bremen offers sea ice concentration maps from the lower-resolution SSMIS. The July 23 chart shows areas of low sea ice concentration in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, the Canadian Archipelago, the East Greenland Sea, and north of Siberia. In the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, low ice concentrations and polynyas are found over areas of multiyear sea ice, where open water areas have developed between individual multiyear ice floes and significant ponding on the ice is observed. Low ice concentrations mean a low surface albedo, allowing for more of the sun’s energy to be absorbed, melting even more sea ice. This makes the multiyear ice in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas vulnerable to melting out this summer.

Sea ice continues to track at low levels

Extent of surface melt over Greenland’s ice sheet on 8 July 2012 (left) and 12 July 2012 (right). Measurements from three satellites showed that on 8 July, about 40 percent of the ice sheet had undergone thawing at or near the surface. In just a few days, the melting had dramatically accelerated and an estimated 97 percent of the ice sheet surface had thawed by 12 July. Nicolo E. DiGirolamo, SSAI / NASA GSFC, and Jesse Allen, NASA Earth Observatory

By Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent,
24 July 2012

The Greenland ice sheet melted at a faster rate this month than at any other time in recorded history, with virtually the entire ice sheet showing signs of thaw.

The rapid melting over just four days was captured by three satellites. It has stunned and alarmed scientists, and deepened fears about the pace and future consequences of climate change.

In a statement posted on NASA's website on Tuesday, scientists admitted the satellite data were so striking they thought at first there had to be a mistake.

"This was so extraordinary that at first I questioned the result: was this real or was it due to a data error?" Son Nghiem of Nasa's jet propulsion laboratory in Pasadena said in the release.

He consulted with several colleagues, who confirmed his findings. Dorothy Hall, who studies the surface temperature of Greenland at NASA's space flight centre in Greenbelt, Maryland, confirmed that the area experienced unusually high temperatures in mid-July, and that there was widespread melting over the surface of the ice sheet.

Climatologists Thomas Mote, at the University of Georgia, and Marco Tedesco, of the City University of New York, also confirmed the melt recorded by the satellites.

However, scientists were still coming to grips with the shocking images on Tuesday. "I think it's fair to say that this is unprecedented," Jay Zwally, a glaciologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, told the Guardian.

The set of images released by NASA on Tuesday show a rapid thaw between 8 July and 12 July. Within that four-day period, measurements from three satellites showed a swift expansion of the area of melting ice, from about 40% of the ice sheet surface to 97%.

Zwally, who has made almost yearly trips to the Greenland ice sheet for more than three decades, said he had never seen such a rapid melt.

About half of Greenland's surface ice sheet melts during a typical summer, but Zwally said he and other scientists had been recording an acceleration of that melting process over the last few decades. This year his team had to rebuild their camp, at Swiss Station, when the snow and ice supports melted.

He said he was most surprised to see indications in the images of melting even around the area of Summit Station, which is about two miles above sea level.

It was the second unusual event in Greenland in a matter of days, after an iceberg the size of Manhattan broke off from the Petermann Glacier. But the rapid melt was viewed as more serious.

"If you look at the 8 July image that might be the maximum extent of warming you would see in the summer," Zwally noted. "There have been periods when melting might have occurred at higher elevations briefly – maybe for a day or so – but to have it cover the whole of Greenland like this is unknown, certainly in the time of satellite records." […]

Greenland ice sheet melted at unprecedented rate during July

By ROXANA HEGEMAN, Associated Press
24 July 2012

WICHITA, Kansas (AP) – Kansas cattleman Ken Grecian sold 20 pairs of cows and calves a few weeks after drought had sucked his pastures dry and no rain was in the forecast. He sold 20 more pairs Friday.

Grecian spent years meticulously breeding his cows to improve the genetics in each generation, but with Kansas in one of the worst droughts seen in decades, he's struggling to find enough grazing to feed 300 cows, plus their calves. He hopes to get by with selling only a quarter of his herd, but there are no guarantees with the drought expected to linger through October.

Other cattlemen throughout the middle and western part of the U.S. also are selling animals they can't graze or afford to buy feed for. Beef from the animals now flooding livestock auctions will start showing up in grocery stores in November and December, temporarily driving down meat prices. But then prices are expected to rise sharply by January in the wake of dwindling supplies and smaller livestock herds.

The number of cattle in the U.S. has been dropping for years, but the pace picked up last year when ranchers in Texas, the nation's top beef producer, sold a massive number of animals amid a severe drought in the Southwest. Farmers in Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas bought some of those cows, however, so nationwide, the loss wasn't as great as it could have been. This year, virtually no one is expanding herds.

"The drought was really bad in the Southern Plains last year, but the cattle industry was able nationally to absorb it because it wasn't bad everywhere. This one is much more along the lines of bad everywhere, so the market implications are a lot larger and a lot more players in the industry are impacted by this," said Glynn Tonsor, an agriculture economics professor at Kansas State University.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Friday that the nation's cattle inventory was the smallest since the agency began a July count in 1973. It estimates the size of the nation's herd each January and July. The U.S. had 97.8 million head as of July 1, 2 percent less than a year ago.

It is likely to take the beef industry years to recover. Cows have a nine-month gestation period, and it can take up to two years after calves are born for them to grow big enough for slaughter. The time needed to repair drought-damaged pastures will only extend that timetable because ranchers must have grass for grazing before they can add animals.

Grecian, 62, who farms northwest of Hays, said a local drought forced him to sell nearly 30 percent of his cattle in 2003. It took six years for him to rebuild once the drought ended. He did it by holding onto female calves and not selling them.

It's possible, he said, to rebuild faster by buying animals, but that can be costly when few young, female cows are available, and farmers might not get the animals they want.

"It is our life and we invest a lot of emotion and energy and money into developing a cow herd that is genetically what we want," Grecian said. "When we are forced to liquidate, it is not an easy thing to do. It is pretty heart-wrenching sometimes, but is part of the business."

Cattle have been streaming into auction yards across the country in recent weeks as grazing land burns up in the sun, ponds and streams evaporate, and prices for feed corn rise. In Oklahoma City, the number of cattle going to auction quadrupled in one week earlier this month, and in Kearney, Neb., it increased three-fold.

In Texas, some 36,000 cattle were brought to auctions last week — nearly triple the 13,400 animals sold just a couple of weeks earlier and approaching the 43,600 head sold at the same time during last summer's brutal drought, according to the USDA.

Calf prices are falling with so many animals on the market. A 600-pound calf now fetches $120 less than it brought in just a couple of months ago. Prices for feeder cattle, which are typically fed grass before going to feedlots to be fattened on corn, have collapsed as corn prices have gone up. Feedlots are spending about $200 more per cow on corn than they were just months ago.

Beef prices were already falling after rising 10 percent last year amid the drought in the Southwest. They peaked at an average of $5.09 per pound in January, and then came down to about $4.93 per pound in June. They are expected to increase again, but it's not clear by how much. The USDA had predicted a 2.5 to 3.5 percent increase in beef prices for the year, but that was before the drought spread and cattle selloffs mounted.

Jon Ferguson, 63, has weaned calves earlier and sold some cows about a month earlier than usual to save pasture on his ranch near Kensington, Kan. He has about 450 pairs of cows and calves and nearly 1,200 other calves that he buys each year to fatten on grass before shipping them to a feedlot.

He shipped a third of his cattle from Kansas to Colorado to graze during a drought in the summer of 1989. He's not sure whether that option will be available this year, or whether he should just liquidate and cut his costs now.

"If you can figure out a way to hang on to them at a reasonable cost until the drought is over, it typically pays you pretty well," Ferguson said. But, he added, "If this thing persists through the summer, and we see these kinds of temperatures with no significant moisture relief, we will be in trouble by fall."

Plains Ranchers Sell Cattle as US Drought Spreads

Aerial view of flood-damaged Honda cars at the Honda factory in Ayutthaya province, on 27 December 2011. Japanese car assembler Honda automobile (Thailand) started to scrap 1,055 cars which were damaged by the floods in Thailand, ensuring that damaged parts would not be sold, the company said in statement.

By David Fogarty and Clare Baldwin, with additional reporting by Khettiya Jittapong and Orathai Sriring in BANGKOK, Tian Chen in HONG KONG, Andjarsari Paramaditha in JAKARTA, Chang-Ran Kim, Yoko Kubota and Taiga Uranaka in TOKYO, Kevin Lim in SINGAPORE and Norihiko Shirouzu in BEIJING; Editing by Michael Flaherty and Alex Richardson
22 July 2012

BANGKOK/HONG KONG (Reuters) – Global insurance companies are struggling to get a grip on their flood exposure in Asia nearly a year after one of the world's costliest disasters hit Thailand, with executives fearing an even worse event looms in the region.

Some firms learnt from the Thai floods, with new defenses built to protect multi-billion dollar industrial estates in the country. Insurance premiums have also gone up, but factory construction in flood-prone areas remains rampant across Asia.

Insurance executives say the industry is vulnerable to another major flood, with scientists identifying the coastal plains of southern China as one area at greatest risk.

"When I go and look at these industrial parks and ports in some of the low-lying coastal areas, I just have to stand back and think: Who's insuring these things? Who's done the risk assessment?" said Adam Switzer, a coastal scientist at the Earth Observatory in Singapore.

"What I consistently see on the coasts throughout Asia is that we're still making the same sorts of mistakes."

The Thai floods hit nearly 1,000 factories feeding global supply chains - particularly in the auto sector - costing insurers an estimated $20 billion.

In the rush for development that has lifted millions out of poverty in Asia, many factories have been built along coasts, especially in river deltas. According to insurance industry executives, most construction was done without long-term historical data on floods and storms.

On top of that, rising sea levels, increasing rainfall and more intense storms - together with more people and infrastructure - mean the risks have multiplied.

"We should be identifying these pockets of exposure earlier," said Scott Ryrie, Asia-Pacific vice chairman for Guy Carpenter, a global insurance industry services firm.

The goal, insurance executives say, is to break the cycle of paying for the same losses over and over again.

After the Thai floods, global reinsurer Swiss Re reassessed flood risk in emerging markets. The report's No. 1 risk was China, whose vast industrial estates are at the heart of global manufacturing, making everything from iPads to brake pads.

Among other Asian countries listed, Malaysia was 5, Indonesia 7 and India 10. Thailand was ninth.

Munich Re and Guy Carpenter have also reviewed flood risk models, particularly for industrial parks in Asia.

"A new risk awareness has to set in along the entire value chain," said Tobias Farny, Munich Re's Asia-Pacific chief executive. "The exposures present need to be defined, described and ring-fenced in order to become insurable." […]

"If we have a really extreme event in China, I am quite certain there would be some surprises for the insurance industry," said Jens Mehlhorn, head of Swiss Re's flood group. "The flooding we see currently in China is just average flooding. We haven't seen a 50- or 100-year flood event in the past 5 to 10 years."

The Pearl River Delta is one of China's biggest industrial zones. The western side of the delta, constructed on sediment-filled fish ponds and rice paddies, is flat for up to 100 km (60 miles) inland, and 40 percent is less than 2 meters (6.5 ft) above sea level.

The government has not published detailed maps showing China's most critical flood zones. […]

A recent study by Texas A&M University and Yale University shows the amount of developed land in low-elevation coastal areas in China is skyrocketing. In 2000, 13,500 sq km (5,200 sq miles) of low-elevation coastal land had been built up. By 2030, that is set to nearly quintuple to 63,600 sq km (24,500 sq m), an area nearly as large as the Netherlands and Belgium combined.

Another study, in the journal Irrigation and Drainage in 2010, said one third of China's farmland, two-thirds of its people, more than 60 percent of its cities and 80 percent of its GDP were threatened by floods.

Maryam Golnaraghi, chief of the World Meteorological Organization's disaster risk reduction division, said Chinese data is often not detailed enough to be useful - and that some government agencies feel information on water flows is too sensitive to share. […]

Close to where workers were toiling to build new flood defenses to protect the complex was a bronze statue of an elderly couple standing on sandbags.

They are the estate's founders and the statue commemorates a flood in 1995 in which 1 million sandbags were used to fend off high waters, a reminder that this is not the first time the estate has been threatened. […]

Insight: Flood risk rampant across Asia's factory zones


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