Heavy rains have swept through England and Wales in the past week, causing about 940 homes to flood in the southwest and northeast of England and Wales since 21 November 2012, according to the U.K.’s Environment Agency. The damage caused by the recent weather brings the overall flood insurance bill for 2012 to 1 billion pounds, the most since 2007. Matt Cardy / Getty Images

By Kevin Crowley
27 November 2012

(Bloomberg) – Flooding in the U.K. over the past week will cost insurers as much as 500 million pounds ($800 million), making this year the most expensive for water damage since 2007, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC.

Heavy rains have swept through England and Wales in the past week, causing about 940 homes to flood in the southwest and northeast of England and Wales since Nov. 21, according to the U.K.’s Environment Agency. The 500 million-pound bill for insurers includes some flooding in September, PwC said.

“This is very much a high-level estimate while events are still unfolding,” Domenico Del Re, head of catastrophe management at PwC, said in a telephone interview.

The damage caused by the recent weather brings the overall flood insurance bill for 2012 to 1 billion pounds, the most since 2007, when the British army was drafted in to help rescue people from high water amid record summer showers. This year’s recent rain follows the wettest April to June period since records began.

The Environment Agency currently has 198 flood warnings in place and expects river and groundwater levels to peak in the next 48 hours as the rain subsides.

The U.K.’s biggest property and casualty insurers, including Direct Line Insurance Group Plc (DLG) and Aviva Plc (AV/), are lobbying the government to maintain or increase spending on flood defenses in return for a commitment from the insurance industry to insure the worst affected areas. The current agreement, called the Statement of Principles, ends next year. […]

U.K. Floods to Cost Insurers as Much as $800 Million, PwC Says

BEIJING, 29 November 2012 (EIA) – China, emergent superpower and the world’s second biggest economy, is effectively standing on the sidelines as its exponential growth devastates forests in a trade worth billions of dollars a year.

In the new report Appetite for Destruction: China’s Trade in Illegal Timber, launched today in Beijing, the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) reveals that China is now the single largest international consumer of illegal timber, importing wood stolen by organised criminal syndicates on a massive scale.

In the past 10 years, significant progress has been made to protect shrinking forests around the world from the devastating impacts of illegal logging. As major timber-consumers, the United States the European Union and Australia have now taken legislative steps to exclude stolen timber from their markets, while key producer countries such as Indonesia have dramatically improved enforcement against illegal logging.

Yet although China has taken vigorous and laudable steps to protect and re-grow its own forests, it has simultaneously nurtured a vast and ravenous wood processing industry reliant on importing most of its raw materials.

“China is now effectively exporting deforestation around the world,” said Faith Doherty, head of EIA’s Forests Campaign.

“Any further meaningful progress to safeguard the forests of the world is being undermined unless the Chinese Government acts swiftly and decisively to significantly strengthen its enforcement and ensure that illegal timber is barred from its markets.”

EIA investigators has been conducting field investigations into flows of illicit timber, including working undercover and posing as timber buyers, since 2004 in China, Indonesia, Laos, Madagascar, Mozambique, Myanmar, the Russian Far East and Vietnam.

Appetite for Destruction examines the extent and impacts on these countries of China’s voracious consumption, and features several case studies from countries whose forests are being severely depleted.

“This report makes a clear and concise case for action by China,” added Doherty. “The burden of making any further progress in the international fight against deforestation, illegal logging and the criminal networks behind it now rests squarely on its shoulders.”

To coincide with the report, EIA is releasing a short film on the issue; it can be downloaded and embedded at https://vimeo.com/54229395.

Appetite for Destruction: China’s Trade in Illegal Timber

Share of U.S. households collecting food stamps in 2011. These five states have the highest share of households receiving nutrition assistance. U.S. Census Bureau / CNN Money

By Tami Luhby
28 November 2012

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) – The number of American households receiving food stamps jumped nearly 10% in 2011.

Nearly 15 million households were on food stamps at some point last year, up from 13.6 million in 2010, newly released Census data shows. That's an increase to 13%, up from 11.9% in 2010.

Some 47 states and the nation's capital experienced an increase in their residents receiving nutrition assistance, with the District of Columbia, Alabama and Hawaii seeing the largest jump. No state experienced a statistically significant decrease.

Oregon had the highest share of households receiving food stamps at 18.9%. Wyoming had the lowest at 5.9%.

The food stamp program has become a source of controversy in political circles as a record number of Americans signed up for nutrition assistance during the Great Recession. An alternate measure of food stamps shows that though the economy is improving, more people are signing up. A record 47.1 million people received food stamps this past August, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. […]

Nearly 15 million households on food stamps

The six injection wells on John and Elizabeth Neider’s Carroll County farm use water carried through a pipeline over several miles from a reservoir on another farm. As much as 5 million gallons of water per well are needed to shatter the Utica shale and release the natural gas and oil trapped thousands of feet underground. Is there enough water for ‘fracking’ boom? Kyle Robertson / Columbus DispatchBy Spencer Hunt  
27 November 2012

CARROLLTON, Ohio (The Columbus Dispatch) – A deep, constant hum emanates from John and Elizabeth Neider’s dairy and sheep farm.

Depending on whom you ask, it’s either the sound of progress or a harbinger of environmental disaster.

The hum is created by a cluster of powerful pumps forcing millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals into six deep wells.

As much as 5 million gallons of water per well are needed to shatter the Utica shale and release the natural gas and oil trapped thousands of feet underground.

It’s a process that’s likely to be repeated in eastern Ohio thousands of times over the next few years, and Carroll County residents will have front-row seats.

The state has issued permits to drill as many as 161 wells in Carroll County. It’s the most-concentrated cluster of such wells on a growing list of permitted well sites that cover 21 counties. If every well is drilled in Carroll County, companies will use as much as 805 million gallons of water to free the oil and gas. Across Ohio, as many as 2,250 Utica wells could be drilled by the end of 2015, according to state estimates.

Critics say that drilling and “fracking” pose a pollution threat to streams and groundwater. Industry officials say the process is safe. As that debate continues, the industry’s water consumption has grown into an issue of its own.

The change alone in Carroll County is huge. A Dispatch analysis of state water-use records shows that the county’s mineral-extraction industry, which includes drilling, used 3.5 million gallons of water in 2010.

That year, Carroll County residents, farms and businesses drew 378.7 million gallons of water from the ground, lakes and streams.

Where will these companies get the water they need?

“I told them we were dry this spring,” John Neider said about a conversation he had with the drilling company when it considered using his creek for fracking water. “Our creek is pretty much dry.” Drilling-industry and state officials insist there’s plenty of water for everybody. […]

Is there enough water for ‘fracking’ boom? via The Oil Drum

A man turns on the tap of an empty water tank in the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon. Tomas Bravo / Reuters

By Grantham Institute, Imperial College London and Duncan Clark
30 November 2012

(guardian.co.uk) – Fresh water is crucial to human society – not just for drinking, but also for farming, washing and many other activities. It is expected to become increasingly scarce in the future, and this is partly due to climate change.

Understanding the problem of fresh water scarcity begins by considering the distribution of water on the planet. Approximately 98% of our water is salty and only 2% is fresh. Of that 2%, almost 70% is snow and ice, 30% is groundwater, less than 0.5% is surface water (lakes, rivers, etc.) and less than 0.05% is in the atmosphere. Climate change has several effects on these proportions on a global scale. The main one is that warming causes polar ice to melt into the sea, which turns fresh water into sea water, although this has little direct effect on water supply.

Another effect of warming is to increase the amount of water that the atmosphere can hold, which in turn can lead to more and heavier rainfall when the air cools. Although more rainfall can add to fresh water resources, heavier rainfall leads to more rapid movement of water from the atmosphere back to the oceans, reducing our ability to store and use it. Warmer air also means that snowfall is replaced by rainfall and evaporation rates tend to increase. Yet another impact of higher temperatures is the melting of inland glaciers. This will increase water supply to rivers and lakes in the short to medium term, but this will cease once these glaciers have melted. In the sub-tropics, climate change is likely to lead to reduced rainfall in what are already dry regions. The overall effect is an intensification of the water cycle that causes more extreme floods and droughts globally.

When planning future water supplies, however, the global picture is less important than the effect of warming on fresh water availability in individual regions and in individual seasons. This is a much more complicated thing to predict than global trends. The IPCC technical report on climate change and water concludes that, despite global increases in rainfall, many dry regions including the Mediterranean and southern Africa will suffer badly from reduced rainfall and increased evaporation. As a result, the IPCC special report on climate change adaptation estimates that around one billion people in dry regions may face increasing water scarcity.

However, the degree to which this will happen cannot be predicted with confidence by current models. In many regions different models cannot even agree on whether the climate will become wetter or drier. For example, a recent study of future flows in the River Thames at Kingston shows a possible 11% increase over the next 80 years relative to the last 60 years. However, under an identical emissions scenario, the same report shows an alternative projection of a 7% decrease in flows.

Especially little is known about future declines in regional groundwater resources because of lack of research on this topic, even though around 50% of global domestic water supply comes from groundwater. Although scientists are making progress in reducing uncertainty about fresh water scarcity, these kinds of unknowns mean that water supply strategies must be adaptable so that they can be effective under different scenarios.

The direct impact of climate change is not the only reason to be concerned about future fresh water scarcity – a fact highlighted by a recent United Nations Environment Programme report. The increasing global population means more demand for agriculture, greater use of water for irrigation and more water pollution. In parallel, rising affluence in some countries means a larger number of people living water-intensive lifestyles, including watering of gardens, cleaning cars and using washing machines and dishwashers. Rapidly developing economies also result in more industry and in many cases this comes without modern technology for water saving and pollution control. Therefore concerns about climate change must be viewed alongside management of pollution and demand for water. […]

How will climate change impact on fresh water security?

Logs smuggled across the border from Myanmar to China. Photo © EIA via mongabay.com

By Jeremy Hance
29 November 2012

(mongabay.com) – Runaway economic growth comes with costs: in the case of China's economic engine, one of them has been the world's forests. According to a new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), China has become the number one importer of illegal wood products from around the world. Illegal logging—which threatens biodiversity, emits carbon, impoverishes local communities, and is often coupled with other crimes—has come under heavy pressure in recent years from the U.S., the EU, and Australia. Each of these has implemented, or will soon implement, new laws that make importing and selling illegal wood products domestic crimes. However, China's unwillingness to tackle its vast appetite for illegal timber means the trade continues to decimate forests worldwide.

"China is now the biggest importer, exporter, and consumer of illegal timber in the world," the report, Appetite for Destruction: China's Trade in Illegal Timber, reads.

Launched today in Beijing, the new EIA report estimates that in 2011 China imported at least 18.5 million cubic meters of illegal logs and sawn timber, worth around $3.7 billion. Taken together, this amount would fill nearly a million standard 20-foot shipping containers. Even this does not tell the full story, as the new report did not analyze other wood products imports, which make up 55 percent of China's total trade in wood.

"China is now effectively exporting deforestation around the world," Faith Doherty, head of EIA’s Forests Campaign, explains in a statement.

For example, the report finds that in 2011, China imported at the very least 11.8 million cubic meters of illegal raw logs. Forty-seven percent of these illegal logs (5.6 million cubic meters) came from Russia while 21 percent (2.5 million cubic meters) came from Papua New Guinea. Logging, mining, and massive hydrocarbon projects have recently sprung up across Papua New Guinea, creating local conflict and often separating locals from the forests they have depended on for millennia. The report warns that "at the current rate, commercial forests [in Papua New Guinea] could be exhausted in a decade."

The remaining illegal logs last year came from the Solomon Islands (12 percent), Myanmar (4 percent), Republic of the Congo (4 percent), Equatorial Guinea (2 percent), and Mozambique (1.5 percent).

"More than half of China's current supplies of raw timber material are sourced from countries with a high risk of illegal logging and poor forest governance," the report warns, noting that once China exhausts forests in one country, it moves onto another. […]

"The vast construction effort in China, coupled with increasing wealth, is creating a surge in domestic demand for timber products," states the report. "A vivid example is the fashion for reproduction furniture made from rare rosewoods, which has created an upsurge in illegal logging from the Mekong region to Madagascar."

A government coup in 2009 led to the plundering of Madgascar's vanishing forests, including rainforests within protected areas. Loggers targeted the highly-valuable rosewood, despite a ban on cutting the increasingly rare species. EIA investigations found that 95 percent of the rosewood was at the behest of Chinese traders. […]

Illegal logging, which is often run by large international mafias, occurs in tandem with other crimes, such as drugs and human trafficking. In some countries, activists and journalists who speak out against illegal logging are met with threats, violence, and even murder. This year, a forest activist, Chut Wutty, was killed while investigating illegal logging in Cambodia; months later a journalist covering illegal logging, also in Cambodia, was found dead in the trunk of his car likely due to an axe wound to the head.

'Exporting deforestation': China is the kingpin of illegal logging

Adam LeWinter installs a camera on the Greenland ice sheet in 2009. The polar ice sheets are indeed shrinking—and fast, according to a comprehensive 2012 study on climate change.  James Balog / National Geographic

By Christine Dell'Amore
29 November 2012

(National Geographic News) – The polar ice sheets are indeed shrinking—and fast, according to a comprehensive new study on climate change.

And the effects, according to an international team, are equally clear—sea levels are rising faster than predicted, which could bring about disastrous effects for people and wildlife.

Rising seas would increase the risk of catastrophic flooding like that caused by Hurricane Sandy last month in New York and New Jersey. Environmental damage may include widespread erosion, contamination of aquifers and crops, and harm to marine life. And in the long term, rising seas may force hundreds of millions of people who live along the coast to abandon their homes.

By reconciling nearly two decades of often conflicting satellite data into one format—in other words, comparing apples to apples—the new study, published in the journal Science, made a more confident estimate of what's called ice sheet mass balance.

That refers to how much snow is deposited on an ice sheet versus how much is lost, either due to surface melting or ice breaking off glaciers.

Between 1992—when polar satellite measurements began—and 2011, the results show that all of the polar regions except for East Antarctica are losing ice, said study leader Andrew Shepherd, a professor of earth observation at the University of Leeds in the U.K.

In that 20-year span, Greenland lost 152 billion tons a year of ice, West Antarctica lost 65 billion tons a year, the Antarctic Peninsula lost 20 billion tons a year, and East Antarctica gained 14 billion tons a year. (See an interactive map of Antarctica.)

"When we did the experiments properly using the same time periods and same maps, the riddles did all agree," Shepherd said.

According to glaciologist Alexander Robinson, "We've had a good idea of what the ice sheets are doing, but it seems this study really brings it all together in one data set that gives a much clearer picture.

"It's one more piece of supporting evidence that shows there are some dramatic changes happening, and we know that's being driven mainly by a warmer climate and warmer ocean—but there's still a lot we don't know about these regions and how they're changing," said Robinson, of the Complutense University of Madrid in Spain, who was not involved in the research. […]

Polar Ice Sheets Shrinking Worldwide, Study Confirms

The U.K. edition of the Creamfields dance music festival was cancelled after being hit with massive flooding that turned the festival site near Warrington into a gigantic swamp. 26 August 2012

LONDON, 29 November 2012 (ClimateWire) – More than 1,100 homes across the United Kingdom have had to be evacuated after being flooded over the past week as persistent and at times torrential rains falling on already sodden ground have followed the country's wettest summer on record.

Four wet weather fronts in a row in just 10 days in late November caused misery across Wales and the west of England as rivers burst their banks, and although the immediate outlook is for drier and more settled – albeit much colder – weather, many rivers are still rising as the land slowly drains.

"Eight months ago we were in drought, with many reservoirs, rivers and groundwater aquifers at very low levels. But after the very wet spring and summer, and with all this new rainfall, they are all now exceptionally high and the ground is soaked, so the water has nowhere else to go," said a spokeswoman for the Environment Agency.

"The science tells us that it is just too early to say if this is a result of climate change," she added. "But this is certainly the first year that it has gone so dramatically from drought to flood. We have not seen that sort of turnaround before. The records that we have do show that."

Of the 1,038 flooded homes as of Tuesday, nearly 90 percent were in the southwest – particularly Devon – Wales and central England.

In the north Wales town of St. Asaph, about 500 residents were evacuated from their homes in the middle of Monday night, taking only what they could carry as the River Elwy rose to record levels and burst through flood defenses. Some used canoes to carry pets and light possessions to safety.

Locals said they had experienced nothing on the same scale since the mid-1960s. The Meteorological Office national weather service said the amount of rain that had fallen on the worst-affected areas in the past 10 days had, at up to 150 millimeters (5.9 inches), been roughly double the average for the month as a whole.

But although there had been a lot of rain in a relatively short period of time, the totals were not unprecedented. "The trouble is that we had a really wet summer, with not much respite since, so the rain has fallen on really saturated ground and this has led to flooding fairly quickly," a Met Office spokesman said.

The Met Office said there was some preliminary evidence to show that the incidence of extreme rainfall in the United Kingdom had risen in recent years but added that it was not possible to say whether the increased risk of flooding now being experienced was a result of climate change.

After a series of major floods stretching back decades – one of the biggest in recent times having been in 1953 as a storm surge in the North Sea hit Belgium, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, killing about 2,200 people, of which more than 300 were in the United Kingdom – successive governments have added to national flood defenses.

But despite several and more localized floods in the United Kingdom – the most recent major one in 2007 having caused about £3 billion ($4.8 billion) worth of damage – the government admitted having cut back spending on many flood defense projects as it struggles with a faltering local economy and a financial crisis of confidence in the European Union as a whole.

For swamped U.K. residents in flooded areas, there are more woes ahead. A deal between the government and the insurance industry, under which insurers agreed to provide affordable insurance to high-flood-risk households while the government built flood defenses, is about to lapse, with no prompt replacement in sight.

According to the insurance industry, that could mean up to 200,000 high-risk households not having insurance coverage after the middle of next year. […]

Thousands Evacuated in U.K. as Major Flooding Follows Record Drought

Monthly crude oil production for 12 OPEC countries, 2002-2012. Data from the monthly IEA Oil Market Reports via The Oil Drum

By Euan Mearns
28 November 2012

Executive summary

OPEC is currently pumping at close to near term and historic highs of 31.2 mmbpd of crude oil. Outside of Saudi Arabia, the majority of spare capacity is deemed to lie in Iran and Nigeria. Iran could certainly pump more if permitted to do so by the international community. It is doubtful that Nigeria could. The UAE Kuwait, Qatar, Libya, Algeria and Venezuela are all pumping at close to capacity levels. Saudi Arabia alone has meaningful spare capacity of 2.1 mmbpd.

Embedded in the production stack (Figure 1) is an intriguing tale of general strike, international conflict, civil war, and sanctions combined with masterly control of oil supply that has kept global markets in balance. […]

Oil Watch - OPEC Crude Oil Production (IEA)

Satellite view of Hurricane Sandy, at 9:02 am EST on 28 October 2012. NASA GOES Project

By KARL RITTER, with contributions from AP Environment Writer Michael Casey
27 November 2012

DOHA, Qatar (AP) – Though it's tricky to link a single weather event to climate change, Hurricane Sandy was "probably not a coincidence" but an example of the extreme weather events that are likely to strike the U.S. more often as the world gets warmer, the U.N. climate panel's No. 2 scientist said Tuesday.

Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, the vice chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, predicted that as stronger and more frequent heat waves and storms become part of life, people will stop asking whether global warming played a role.

"The new question should probably progressively become: Is it possible that climate warming has not influenced this particular event?" he told The Associated Press in an interview on the sidelines of U.N. climate negotiations in Qatar.

Ypersele's remarks come as global warming has re-emerged as an issue in Washington following the devastating superstorm — a rarity for the U.S. Northeast — and an election that led to Democratic gains.

After years of disagreement, climate scientists and hurricane experts have concluded that as the climate warms, there will be fewer total hurricanes. But those storms that do develop will be stronger and wetter.

It is not correct to say Sandy was caused by global warming, but "the damage caused by Sandy was worse because of sea level rise," said Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer. He said the sea level in New York City is a foot higher than a century ago because of man-made climate change.

On the second day of a two-week conference in the Qatari capital of Doha, the talks fell back to the bickering between rich and poor countries that has marked the negotiations since they started two decades ago. At the heart of the discord is how to divide the burden of cutting emissions of heat-trapping gases, including carbon dioxide.

Such emissions, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, have increased by 20 percent since 2000, according to a U.N. report released last week.

Van Ypersele (vahn EE-purr-say-luh) said the slow pace of the talks was "frustrating" and that negotiators seem more concerned with protecting national interests than studying the science that prompted the negotiations.

"I would say please read our reports a little more. And maybe that would help to give a sense of urgency that is lacking," he said.

Marlene Moses, the head of a coalition of island nations that view the rising sea levels as an existential threat, said that was good advice.

"These are the kind of people that it is probably a good idea to listen to," she said. "It is very much in the interest of small islands to focus on the science, which is why we have always based our positions on the latest research and why here we are calling for dramatically higher ambition." […]

UN climate scientist: Sandy no coincidence

28 November 2012 (NBC News) – On the Big Island of Hawaii, debris is changing the landscape as thousands of pounds of trash hit Kamilo Beach – much of it from Japan. The refuse is already impacting wildlife such as fish and birds. NBC’s Miguel Almaguer reports.

Tsunami debris washes up in Hawaii

In this 16 November 2012 photo, Jim Simons, who runs a rod and reel repair business in Onekama, Michigan, strolls on a sand bar alongside the Portage Lake channel that leads to Lake Michigan at Onekama. The sand bar normally would be submerged in water, but low Great Lakes levels have exposed the shoreline in many areas, causing problems for boaters and tourist businesses in small harbor towns. The Great Lakes, the world's biggest freshwater system, are dropping because of drought and climbing temperatures, a trend that accelerated with this year's almost snowless winter and scorching summer. John Flesher / AP Photo

By JOHN FLESHER, AP Environmental Writer
27 November 2012

ONEKAMA, Michigan (AP) – For more than a century, easy access to Lake Michigan has made Onekama a popular place for summer visitors and a refuge for boaters fleeing dangerous storms. Now the community itself needs a rescue, from slumping lake levels that threaten its precious link to open water.

The Great Lakes, the world's biggest freshwater system, are shrinking because of drought and rising temperatures, a trend that accelerated with this year's almost snowless winter and scorching summer. Water levels have fallen to near-record lows on Lakes Michigan and Huron, while Erie, Ontario and Superior are below their historical averages. The decline is causing heavy economic losses, with cargo freighters forced to lighten their loads, marinas too shallow for pleasure boats and weeds sprouting on exposed bottomlands, chasing away swimmers and sunbathers.

Some of the greatest suffering is in small tourist towns that lack the economic diversity of bigger port cities. Yet they are last in line for federal money to deepen channels and repair infrastructure to support the boating traffic that keeps them afloat.

"How do you like our mud bog?" Township Supervisor Dave Meister asked on a recent afternoon, gesturing toward the shoreline of Portage Lake, part of a 2,500-acre inland waterway that connects Onekama to Lake Michigan. A wide expanse that normally would be submerged is now an ugly patchwork of puddles, muck and thick stands of head-high cattails. A grounded pontoon boat rested forlornly alongside a deserted dock.

The Army Corps of Engineers has estimated that about 30 small Great Lakes harbors will need attention in the next couple of years.

In bygone days, friendly members of Congress would slip money into the federal budget to dredge a harbor. But so-called earmarks have fallen out of favor, leaving business and civic leaders wondering where to turn. A desperate few are raising money locally for dredging but insist they can't afford it on a regular basis.

Tourism has sustained Onekama since the early 1900s, when northwestern Michigan coastal towns became popular with wealthy visitors from Chicago, Milwaukee and Detroit. On a typical summer day, the community's marinas are crowded with yachts, speedboats and fishing charters.

But the falling water levels are taking a toll, illustrating how extensively the health of the Great Lakes affects the economy of a region that is home to more than 30 million people extending from Minnesota to New York.

Lake Michigan's level at the end of October was more than 2 feet below its long-term average. The Corps of Engineers says without heavy snowfall this winter, the lake may decline to its lowest point since record-keeping began in 1918.

The channel that connects Portage Lake and Lake Michigan is now about 7 feet deep at best. When the water is choppy, some vessels can hit bottom. If things get much worse, Onekama may be effectively cut off from the big lake.

"Businesses would close. People would be laid off. It would be devastating," said Jim Mrozinski, owner of Onekama Marine Inc., which services and stores pleasure craft and draws customers from across the Upper Midwest. He owns three marinas, one now unusable because of shallow water. If he's lucky, the others will have enough depth to rent perhaps 10 of the 55 slips next spring.

Onekama's year-round population is less than 2,000. Much of its tax base comes from expensive waterfront homes owned by summer residents who come for the boating and fishing. Without the link to Lake Michigan, property values would plummet, hammering local government budgets, Meister said.

"You're talking about schools, 911 emergency, library, fire protection - everything," he said.

Many places around the Great Lakes are having similar problems. At least a dozen boats have run aground this year in Lake Ontario around the harbor in Orleans County, N.Y. The state of Wisconsin warned boaters to watch for stumps, boulders and other hazards lurking just beneath the water. Boat-towing services have done brisk business rescuing stranded craft in newly shallow stretches of Lake Erie. […]

As Great Lakes plummet, towns try to save harbors

Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Prime Minister of Canada's officeBy Katherine Bagley
27 November 2012

(InsideClimate News) – The government of Canada's official position on climate change is that it's real and requires an "aggressive" response.

Despite that, Canada's ruling Conservative Party government has been leading a slow and systematic unraveling of environmental and climate research budgets, according to local scientists—including shuttering one of the world's top Arctic research stations for monitoring global warming. Hundreds of researchers have lost their jobs, and those that remain are forbidden from talking to media without a government minder.

"They publicly announce their commitment to dealing with climate change and acknowledge that it is a serious issue, but then they go ahead and do the exact opposite," said Andrew Weaver, a climate modeler at the University of Victoria and a lead author of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

"They've closed virtually every funding avenue for climate and atmospheric science. They are deceiving the Canadian public."

The alleged "war on science" is so bad that some scientists are leaving Canada for jobs in countries where they feel they have more opportunities and freedom. Protests by scientists and their supporters have erupted across the country in recent months.

Representatives from Environment Canada, the federal environmental agency, and Industry Canada, the department in charge of economic development and investment, denied that the government has targeted environmental science or scientists. "It is wrong to suggest that science … in this country is under assault," said Stefanie Power, a spokesperson for Industry Canada.

Primer Minister Stephen Harper's office did not respond to requests for comment; it has previously said the cuts are cost-saving measures to balance the budget and slash the country's $26 billion deficit.

But some scientists and environmental groups say the eliminated climate programs are a tiny fraction of the budget and that at least one of the government's goals with the cuts is to reduce opposition to oil sands development, the backbone of Canada's energy economy. Extracting and processing oil sands crude creates 20 percent more well-to-wheel greenhouse gas emissions than drilling for conventional oil.

Harper has weakened some environmental regulations, including fast-tracking permit reviews of oil sands pipelines and mines. He has also pulled Canada from the Kyoto Protocol, the global treaty to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and appointed climate skeptics to head scientific agencies, including the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, whose work benefits industry.

Canada's natural resources expansion plans are "driving absolutely everything in the country right now," said Tom Duck, an atmospheric scientist at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. "Our capacity to do environmental science is being rapidly destroyed. We're hemorrhaging scientists here." […]

Outcry Grows Over Canadian Govt's Undermining of Climate Science

Landsat 7 captured this image of a stretch of the Mississippi river just south of Memphis, Tennessee on 8 August 2012. The water was several feet below the historic normal stage for Memphis, and many sandbars were newly exposed or greatly expanded. The low water levels followed record-setting temperatures and dry weather. By the end of July, 63 percent of the contiguous United States was in drought, affecting both crops and water supplies. NASA Earth Observatory image created by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon, using Landsat data provided by the United States Geological Survey

By Alan Bjerga
27 November 2012

(Bloomberg) – Mississippi River barge traffic is slowing as the worst drought in five decades combines with a seasonal dry period to push water levels to a near-record low, prompting shippers to seek alternatives.

River vessels are cutting loads on the nation’s busiest waterway while railroads sign up new business and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers draws criticism from lawmakers over its management of the river, which could be shut to cargo from companies including Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. (ADM) next month.

“Our shippers are looking at alternate modes of transportation,” said Marty Hettel, senior manager of bulk sales for AEP River Operations, the barge unit of American Electric Power Co. (AEP), a utility owner based in Columbus, Ohio. “If you’re shipping raw materials to a steel mill in Chicago, you’re trying to figure out if you can go to Cincinnati or Louisville, Kentucky, unload it out of the barge and rail it up to the steel mill.”

The worst U.S. drought since 1956, which dried farmland from Ohio to Nebraska, will last at least through February in most areas, according to the U.S. Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland. Barges on the Mississippi handle about 60 percent of the nation’s grain exports entering the Gulf of Mexico through New Orleans, as well as 22 percent of its petroleum and 20 percent of its coal.

Barge, shipping and business organizations including the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute in a letter today urged President Barack Obama to declare an emergency in the region, calling for “immediate assistance in averting an economic catastrophe in the heartland” of the U.S.

Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, said the administration has sought drought relief for farmers, and today referred questions about the request to the Corps of Engineers

Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, also said Obama must act. “We need action to increase water flow from the Missouri River into the Mississippi,” Harkin said in an e-mail. “We also need to take immediate steps to enable the destruction of rock formations under the Mississippi River, which will allow navigation with less water.”

Mississippi water levels may drop to an historic low next month. The waterway is falling in part because of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which last week started reducing outflows from the Missouri River as part of an annual operating plan to ensure regions further north have adequate water.

That may help make the Mississippi too shallow to navigate by Dec. 10 from St. Louis south about 180 miles (290 kilometers) to Cairo, Illinois, where the Mississippi meets the Ohio River, according to the American Waterways Operators and Waterways Council Inc., a trade group based in Arlington, Virginia. About $7 billion worth of commodities usually travel on the Mississippi in December and January, according to the organization.

“It is imperative that the Corps review their actions to ensure they address this problem so it doesn’t impact waterborne commerce,” said Angela Graves, a spokeswoman for Marathon Petroleum Corp. (MPC), which operates a fleet of 180 barges and 15 tugboats to ship crude oil, transportation fuels and petroleum products on waterways, in a telephone interview.

December and January are historically the lowest times of year for the rivers because the fall season is usually dry and tributaries freeze, said Steve Buan, service coordination hydrologist at the U.S. North Central River Forecast Center in Chanhassen, Minnesota.

“That’s called the ice bite, the water gets made into ice and it can’t flow downstream,” Buan said.

The record low in St. Louis was minus-6.1 feet in January 1940, according to the National Weather Service. The river was at minus-1.49 feet at 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 26, and may drop to minus-5 or even minus-6 feet as measured by the river gauge in about two weeks if the weather doesn’t change and the Army Corps of Engineers drawdown of the Missouri River takes place as planned, Buan said. […]

Drought-Parched Mississippi River Is Halting Barges

In this photo taken on 22 November 2012, a carcass of a rhino lays on the ground at Finfoot Lake Reserve near Tantanana, South Africa. South Africa says at least 588 rhinos have been killed by poachers this year alone, 8 rhinos at the Finfoot Lake Reserve, the worst recorded year in decades. The number has soared as buyers in Asia pay the U.S. street value of cocaine for rhino horn, a material they believe, wrongly, medical experts say, cures diseases. Denis Farrell / AP Photo

By Jon Gambrell  
28 November 2012

By the time ranchers found the rhinoceros calf wandering alone in this idyllic setting of scrub brush and acacia, the nature reserve had become yet another blood-soaked crime scene in South Africa's losing battle against poachers.

Hunters killed eight rhinos at the private Finfoot Game Reserve inside the Vaalkop Dam Nature Reserve this month with single rifle shots that pierced their hearts and lungs. The poachers' objective: the rhinos' horns, cut away with knives and popped off the dead animals' snouts for buyers in Asia who pay the street value of cocaine for a material they believe cures diseases.

That insatiable demand for horns has sparked the worst recorded year of rhino poaching in South Africa in decades, with at least 588 rhinos killed so far, their carcasses rotting in private farms and national parks. Without drastic change, experts warn that soon the number of rhinos killed will outpace the number of the calves born — putting the entire population at risk in a nation that is the last bastion for the prehistoric-looking animals.

"This is a full-on bush war we are fighting," said Marc Lappeman, who runs the Finfoot reserve with his father Miles and has begun armed vigilante patrols to protect the remaining rhinos there. "We here are willing to die for these animals."

Unchecked hunting nearly killed off all the rhinos in southern Africa at the beginning of the 1900s. Conservationists in the 1960s airlifted rhinos to different parts of South Africa to spread them out. That helped the population grow to the point that South Africa is now home to some 20,000 rhinos — 90 percent of all rhinos in Africa.

From the 1990s to 2007, rhino poachings in South Africa averaged about 15 a year, according to a recent report by the wildlife trade monitoring network TRAFFIC. In 2008, however, poachers killed 83 rhinos and by 2009, the number hit 122, the report says.

The killings grew exponentially after that: 333 in 2010, 448 in 2011 and as of Tuesday, at least 588 rhino killed this year alone, according to South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs.

‘‘That the year-on-year rhino poaching losses have continued to grow in the face of heightened awareness, constant media attention and concerted law enforcement effort is testament to just how pervasive and gripping the rhino crisis in South Africa has become,’’ TRAFFIC wrote in its August report. ‘‘If poaching continues to increase annually as it has done since 2007, then eventually deaths will exceed births and rhino numbers in South Africa will start to fall.’’

Most of the killings, according to government statistics, occur in South Africa’s massive Kruger National Park, covering 19,400 square kilometers (7,500 square miles) in the country’s northeast abutting its borders with Mozambique and Zimbabwe. There, the impoverished slip across the park’s borders, largely from Mozambique, to kill and dehorn rhino, earning the equivalent of months’ wages in a single night of hunting. South Africa has deployed soldiers in the park with dogs to sniff out poachers, but their small force can’t sufficiently cover a park that’s roughly the same size as New Jersey.

The horns are sold by criminal gangs and smuggled into Asia. While poachers have been shot dead and hundreds of suspects arrested this year, the rhino killings continue unstopped largely because the trade is transnational and worth millions of dollars, said Julian Rademeyer, a journalist in South Africa who wrote ‘‘Killing for Profit,’’ a book on rhino poaching that came out this month.

‘‘The problem with law enforcement strategies is they end where our border ends,’’ Rademeyer said.

And law enforcement can’t always be trusted in South Africa, where corruption eats away at the nation. There have been several cases of rangers assigned to guard parks being arrested for aiding poachers.

The ever-increasing demand saw Vietnamese poachers kill the last of Vietnam’s rare Javan rhinoceros last year for its horn. The World Wildlife Fund ranked Vietnam as the worst country for wildlife crime in Asia and Africa in July. The country is seen as having lax laws on importing horns. Diplomats at the Vietnamese Embassy in South Africa’s capital Pretoria have also been linked to trafficking. Earlier this month, a South African court sentenced a Thai national to 40 years in prison for selling rhino horns. 

With high-level officials involved and a strong demand, Rademeyer said poaching ‘‘will probably get a lot worse before it gets any better.’’

Rhino poachers have gone beyond Kruger and are targeting private farms and reserves. Poachers likely watched the Finfoot Game Reserve, which breeds rhino for game viewing, for days, Lappeman said. Workers caught a man in ragged clothes lurking around the park with more than 1,000 rand ($115) in crisp hundred rand bills and a new mobile phone in his pocket around the time of the killings, Lappeman said.

The poachers fired on the rhino far from the game lodge, probably moving methodically closer as no one came to investigate the shots, he said. Lappeman said he and his father only found the dead rhinos the day after seeing the lost calf.

One wounded mother rhino walked all the way to the property’s edge, finally dying on a dirt road to be found first thing that morning.

‘‘She had physically come to the road to die, to say, ‘I'm dying, come fetch my calf,'’’ Lappeman said.

Rhino killings for horns rise rapidly in South Africa

SEM images of juvenile L. helicina antarctica (from which the periostracum has been removed) showing different levels of dissolution. a,b, Intact animal without any indications of dissolution. c, Level I: the upper prismatic layer slightly dissolved. d, Level II: the prismatic layer partially or completely missing and the cross-lamellar matrix partially exposed. Bednaršek, et al., 2012

26 November 2012 (SMH) – The shells of some marine snails in the seas around Antarctica are dissolving as the water becomes more acidic, threatening the food chain, a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience said on Sunday.

The tiny snails, known as ‘‘sea butterflies’’, live in the seas around Antarctica and are left more vulnerable to predators and disease as a result of having thinner shells, scientists say.

The study presents rare evidence of living creatures suffering the results of ocean acidification caused by rising carbon dioxide levels from fossil fuel burning, the British Antarctic Survey said in a statement.

‘‘The finding supports predictions that the impact of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems and food webs may be significant.’’

The tiny snail, named for two wing-like appendices, does not necessarily die as a result of losing its shell, but it becomes an easier target for fish and bird predators, as well as infection.

This trend may have a follow-through effect on other parts of the food chain, of which they form a core element.

The world’s oceans absorb more than a quarter of man-made carbon dioxide emissions, which lower the sea water pH.

Since the beginning of the industrial era, our oceans have become 30 per cent more acidic, reaching an acidity peak not seen in at least 55 million years, scientists say.

Scientists discovered the effects of acidification on the sea butterflies from samples taken around the Scotia Sea region of the Southern Ocean in February 2008.

Oceans soak up about a quarter of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere each year and as CO2 levels in the atmosphere increase from burning fossil fuels, so do ocean levels, making seas more acidic.

Ocean acidification is one of the effects of climate change and threatens coral reefs, marine ecosystems and wildlife.

The study involved researchers from the British Antarctic Survey, Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other institutions found.

"The corrosive properties of the water caused shells of live animals to be severely dissolved and this demonstrates how vulnerable pteropods are," said lead author Nina Bednarek, from the NOAA.

"Ocean acidification, resulting from the addition of human-induced carbon dioxide, contributed to this dissolution." […]

Rising acidity levels threaten ocean's food chain, study finds

ABSTRACT: The carbonate chemistry of the surface ocean is rapidly changing with ocean acidification, a result of human activities1. In the upper layers of the Southern Ocean, aragonite—a metastable form of calcium carbonate with rapid dissolution kinetics—may become undersaturated by 2050 (ref. 2). Aragonite undersaturation is likely to affect aragonite-shelled organisms, which can dominate surface water communities in polar regions3. Here we present analyses of specimens of the pteropod Limacina helicina antarctica that were extracted live from the Southern Ocean early in 2008. We sampled from the top 200 m of the water column, where aragonite saturation levels were around 1, as upwelled deep water is mixed with surface water containing anthropogenic CO2. Comparing the shell structure with samples from aragonite-supersaturated regions elsewhere under a scanning electron microscope, we found severe levels of shell dissolution in the undersaturated region alone. According to laboratory incubations of intact samples with a range of aragonite saturation levels, eight days of incubation in aragonite saturation levels of 0.94–1.12 produces equivalent levels of dissolution. As deep-water upwelling and CO2 absorption by surface waters is likely to increase as a result of human activities2, 4, we conclude that upper ocean regions where aragonite-shelled organisms are affected by dissolution are likely to expand.

Extensive dissolution of live pteropods in the Southern Ocean

Clearing of trees in a concession area of Herakles Farm’s area for a palm oil plantation. Greenpeace says these clearings are illegal since Herakles' lease has not been given final approval. Herakles Farm did not respond to request for comment. © Alex Yallop / Greenpeace

By Jeremy Hance
26 November 2012

(mongabay.com) – Newly released photos by Greenpeace show the dramatic destruction of tropical forest in Cameroon for an oil palm plantation operated by SG Sustainable Oils Cameroon (SGSOC), a subsidiary of the U.S. company Herakles Farm. The agriculture company is planning to convert 73,000 hectares to palm oil plantations on the edge of several protected areas, but has faced considerable opposition from environmentalists. In addition to the aerial photos, Greenpeace alleges that ongoing forest clearing by Herakles is illegal since the companies 99-year lease has yet to be fully approved by the Cameroonian government.

"Any large scale industrial projects in an area that is one of the most important watersheds in sub-Saharan Africa and located in one of Africa’s most important biodiversity hotspots are entirely unsuitable," said Frédéric Amiel, a forest campaigner with Greenpeace International in a press release.

The plantation is set in the midst of four protected areas, including Korup National Park, which is home to around 200 reptile and amphibian species, 400 bird species, and 160 species of mammals, including one of the most diverse assemblages of primates ever discovered. Its location prompted a letter last year from 80 civil service groups raising concerns about the impacts on forests, migrating species, and local people.

In response to the letter and other criticisms, Herakles Farms promised it would abide by strict environmental and social standards. The CEO, Bruce Wrobel, went so far as to call his team "environmentalists." However the project has since become mired in controversy as local communities began to protest the project and the company announced it was pulling out of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which sets the basic environmental standards for the industry. Most recently the head of an NGO actively opposing the plantation, Nasako Besingi, was arrested along with three others by national police. They were released four days later after local communities sported bail.

One of the more unusual twists in this story is that Herakles Farms is handing over some 17,000 acres to All for Africa, a charity that is also run by Bruce Wrobel, the CEO of Herakles Farms. As a part of its "Palm Out Poverty" campaign the proceeds from this plantation will go to funding community development projects around Africa. On its website, All for Africa's ask donors to fund palm oil trees, but neglects to mention that the "sustainable" plantation is at the expense of tropical forest and opposed by some communities.

The website even states that its palm oil trees will "absorb more than 28,000,000 pounds of carbon dioxide every single year." However, since the plantation comes at the expense of natural forests, it will actually release carbon into the atmosphere. All for Africa said it would remove this language from its website a year ago. […]

Photos reveal destruction of Cameroon rainforest for palm oil

A glacier on Bylot Island, Canada. Melting permafrosts such as these threaten to release billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, accelerating climate change, a new USGS study has warned. Corbis

By Damien Gayle
26 November 2012

As much as 44 billion tons of nitrogen and 850 billion tons of carbon could be released into the environment as permafrost thaws over the next century, U.S. government experts warn.

The release of carbon and nitrogen in permafrost could make global warming much worse and threaten delicate water systems on land and offshore, according to scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey.

It comes after the UN last week warned of record levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere are likely to be trapped for centuries with far-reaching impacts for all life, it was warned.

But the latest figure suggests levels of carbon could double in 100 years, meaning that the increase in global temperatures will be likely to accelerate.

The previously unpublished nitrogen figure is useful for scientists making predictions with computer climate models, the researchers say, while the carbon estimate adds credence to other studies with similar findings.

“This study quantifies the impact on Earth's two most important chemical cycles, carbon and nitrogen, from thawing of permafrost under future climate warming scenarios,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt.

“While the permafrost of the polar latitudes may seem distant and disconnected from the daily activities of most of us, its potential to alter the planet’s habitability when destabilised is very real.”

To generate the estimates, scientists studied how permafrost-affected soils, known as Gelisols, thaw under various climate scenarios, reporting their findings in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

They found that all Gelisols are not alike. Some have soil materials that are very peaty, with lots of decaying organic matter that burns easily – these will impart newly thawed nitrogen into the ecosystem and atmosphere.

Other Gelisols have materials that are very nutrient rich – these will release a lot of nitrogen into ecosystems.

However, all Gelisols will contribute carbon dioxide and likely some methane into the atmosphere as a result of decomposition once the permafrost thaws – and these gases will contribute to global warming. […]

Melting permafrost 'will DOUBLE carbon and nitrogen levels in the atmosphere': Experts issue chilling new climate change warning via Apocadocs

By Ellie Johnston
20 November 2012

John Sterman, MIT Professor and fellow collaborator on many Climate Interactive projects, lays out the stark realities we are facing with climate change inaction in his presentation at the MIT Museum last month. He describes the risks we face by not taking immediate measures to address climate change in every sector of society and equates it to playing Russian Roulette with a revolver that has 19 of 20 chambers filled. His conclusion: we can despair, take no action, and allow the worst case to happen, or we can immediately initiate measures to reduce our carbon emissions as an insurance policy against the worst risks. […]

MIT Professor Says We Are Playing Russian Roulette With Our Children’s Future

A dust storm blew across the Kansas-Colorado border on 10 November 2012, as the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this natural-color image. The dust storm struck in the midst of an exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. By November 2012, the area along the border between Colorado and Kansas had experienced dry conditions for several months, as did a much larger region. NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC

Caption by Michon Scott
10 November 2012

A dust storm blew across the Kansas-Colorado border on 10 November 2012, as the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this natural-color image. The dust storm occurred along the Arkansas River, which flows roughly eastward from the Rocky Mountains toward the Mississippi River.

The dust storm struck in the midst of an exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. By November 2012, the area along the border between Colorado and Kansas had experienced dry conditions for several months, as did a much larger region. In July 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared the largest natural-disaster area in U.S. history due to drought conditions, and this region was part of the disaster area.

Dust Storm along the Kansas-Colorado Border

In this 20 November 2012 file photo, conference flags are displayed ahead of the Doha Climate Change Conference, in Doha, Qatar. AP

By Alister Doyle and Regan Doherty
26 November 2012

DOHA (Reuters) – Despite mounting alarm about climate change, almost 200 nations meeting in Doha from Monday are likely to pay little more than lip service to the need to rein in rising greenhouse gas emissions.

A likely failure to agree a meaningful extension of the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol, a legally binding plan for cutting emissions by developed nations, would also undercut work on a new deal meant to unite rich and poor in fighting global warming from 2020.

"The situation is very urgent … We can no longer say that climate change is tomorrow's problem," Andrew Steer, president of the Washington-based World Resources Institute think-tank, said of the Nov. 26-Dec. 7 talks in Qatar.

Superstorm Sandy had been a wake-up call for many Americans as the sort of extreme event predicted by climate scientists in a warming world, he said, even though individual weather events cannot be blamed on man-made global warming.

A U.N. study last week said the world was on target for a rise in temperatures of between 3 and 5 degrees Celsius (5.4 to 9F) because of increasing emissions. That would cause more floods, droughts, heatwaves and rising sea levels.

A U.N. conference two years ago agreed to limit any rise in temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6F) above pre-industrial times. But greenhouse gas levels hit a new record in 2011, despite the world economic slowdown.

And countries are showing little sign of raising ambition.

"A faster response to climate change is necessary and possible," Christiana Figueres, head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat, said in a statement outlining hopes for the talks.

"The climate talks so far have not produced anything like the results that the science tells us that we need," said Samantha Smith, leader of global climate and energy work at the WWF conservation group.

Delegates will meet in a cavernous conference centre in Qatar - the first OPEC state to host the annual talks and the nation with the world's highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions, roughly three times those of the average American.

To keep up climate action, most countries favour extending the 1997 Kyoto pact, which binds developed nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions by an average 5.2 percent below 1990 levels between the years 2008 and 2012.

But Russia, Japan, and Canada have pulled out in recent years, meaning that Kyoto backers are down to a core led by the European Union and Australia that account for about 14 percent of world emissions.

The defectors say it is meaningless to extend cuts under Kyoto when big emerging countries, led by China, India, Brazil, and South Africa, have no curbs on rising emissions. The United States never ratified Kyoto, for similar reasons.

Developing countries and Kyoto backers say it is vital that developed nations lead the way towards the new worldwide accord meant to be negotiated by the end of 2015 and to start up in 2020.

Failure to extend Kyoto would leave only national actions, with no legally binding U.N. framework. "The Kyoto Protocol is going to be very important for us," said Seyni Nafo, spokesman of the African group of nations. "And ambition is very low." […]

A study by the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development said on Monday that rich nations had fallen short on promises to give poor countries $30 billion in new aid to help them combat climate change from 2010 to 2012.

It said commitments so far totalled just $23.6 billion, and most was in loans that would have to be repaid by the poor. […]

UN talks seen falling short despite climate change fears

Cleanup in Kawauchi, a village in Fukushima Prefecture. In Okuma, decontamination efforts have been slow to reduce radiation dosages, and hopes of returning to their ancestral lands have faded for evacuated residents. Ko Sasaki for The New York Times

25 November 2012

AIZU-WAKAMATSU, Japan (The New York Times) – As cold northerly winds sprinkle the first snow on the mountains surrounding this medieval city, those who fled here after last year’s Fukushima nuclear disaster are losing hope that they will ever return to their old homes.

The mayor of Okuma, a town near the Fukushima Daiichi plant that was hastily evacuated when a huge earthquake and tsunami crippled the reactors’ cooling systems on March 11, 2011, has vowed to lead residents back home as soon as radiation levels are low enough. But the slow pace of the government’s cleanup efforts, and the risk of another leak from the plant’s reactors, forced local officials to admit in September that it might be at least a decade before the town could be resettled.

A growing number of evacuees from Okuma have become pessimistic about ever living there again. At a temporary housing complex here in Aizu-Wakamatsu, a city 60 miles west of the plant, the mostly elderly residents say they do not have that much time or energy left to rebuild their town.

Many said they preferred plans that got them out of temporary housing but helped them maintain the friendships and communal bonds built over a lifetime, like rebuilding the town farther away from the plant.

“I was one of those who kept saying, ‘We will go back, we will go back!’ ” said Toshiko Iida, 78, who fled her rice farm three miles south of the plant. “Now, they are saying it will be years before we can go back. I’ll be dead then.”

Such feelings of resignation are shared by many of the 159,000 people who fled their towns after the earthquake and tsunami caused a triple meltdown at the Fukushima plant, spewing radiation over a wide area of northeastern Japan in the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 disaster at Chernobyl, in what was then the Soviet Union.

After first being reassured by the authorities that the accident was not so bad, then encouraged as the government began its costly decontamination effort, many evacuees are finally accepting that it may take decades, perhaps generations, before their town could be restored to anything like it was before the disaster.

“We all want to go back, but we have to face the obvious,” said Koichi Soga, 75, a retired carpenter who once worked on reactor buildings at the plant. “Look at the Soviet Union. They are still not back, right?”

Such sentiments have led to a very public loss of hope by the 11,350 displaced residents of Okuma, one of nine communities within 12 miles of the stricken plant that were evacuated.

After living in school gymnasiums and other shelters for about a month, Okuma’s town hall officials and about 4,300 of its residents relocated to temporary sites in Aizu-Wakamatsu, with most of the rest scattered as far as Tokyo, about 140 miles away. The mayor, Toshitsuna Watanabe, immediately began drawing up plans for returning to Okuma that called for a group to resettle a small corner of the town where radiation levels were relatively low. The settlers would then slowly expand the livable areas, decontaminating one street or building at a time, like colonists reclaiming a post-apocalyptic wilderness. […]

But the ministry said this summer that an experimental effort to decontaminate a 42-acre area in Okuma had failed to reduce radiation dosages by as much as had been hoped, leading officials to declare most of the town uninhabitable for at least another five years. That forced Okuma’s officials to change the target date of their “road map” for repopulating the town to 2022, instead of 2014.

“People are giving up because we have been hit by negative news after negative news,” said Mr. Watanabe, 65, who set up a temporary town hall in a former girls’ high school on a corner of Aizu-Wakamatsu’s six-century-old castle. “Keeping our road map is the only way to hold onto hope, and prevent the town from disappearing.”

Mr. Watanabe admits that his plan has a dwindling number of adherents. In response to a questionnaire sent to Okuma’s evacuees by the town hall in September, only 11 percent of the 3,424 households that responded said they wanted to go back, while 45.6 percent said they had no intention of ever returning, mostly because of radiation fears. […]

Hopes of Home Fade Among Japan’s Displaced

Cities encroach on the Amazon rainforest. The torrid growth is visible in places like Parauapebas. On the outskirts, slums stretch to the horizon and houses continue to go up. Lalo de Almeida for The New York Times

24 November 2012

PARAUAPEBAS, Brazil (The New York Times) — The Amazon has been viewed for ages as a vast quilt of rain forest interspersed by remote river outposts. But the surging population growth of cities in the jungle is turning that rural vision on its head and alarming scientists, as an array of new industrial projects transforms the Amazon into Brazil’s fastest-growing region.

The torrid expansion of rain forest cities is visible in places like Parauapebas, which has changed in a generation from an obscure frontier settlement with gold miners and gunfights to a sprawling urban area with an air-conditioned shopping mall, gated communities and a dealership selling Chevy pickup trucks.

Scientists are studying such developments and focusing on the demands on the resources of the Amazon, the world’s largest remaining area of tropical forest. Though Brazilian officials have historically viewed the colonization of the Amazon as a matter of national security — military rulers built roads to the forest under the slogan “Occupy it to avoid surrendering it” — deforestation in the region already ranks among the largest contributors to global greenhouse-gas emissions.

Brazil has shifted away from colonization, but policies that regularize land claims by squatters still lure migrants to the Amazon. And while the country has recently made progress in curbing deforestation, largely by enforcing logging laws and carving out protected forest areas, biologists and other climate researchers fear that the sharp increase in migration to cities in the Amazon, which now has a population approaching 25 million, could erode those gains.

“More population leads to more deforestation,” said Philip M. Fearnside, a researcher at the National Institute for Amazon Research in Manaus, an Amazonian city that registered by far the fastest growth of Brazil’s 10 largest cities from 2000 to 2010. The number of residents grew 22 percent to 1.7 million, according to government statistics.

Of the 19 Brazilian cities that the latest census indicates have doubled in population over the past decade, 10 are in the Amazon. Altogether, the region’s population climbed 23 percent from 2000 to 2010, while Brazil as a whole grew just 12 percent.

Various factors are fueling this growth, among them larger family sizes and the Amazon’s high levels of poverty in comparison with other regions that draw people to the cities for work. While Brazil’s birthrate has fallen to 1.86 children per woman, one of the lowest in Latin America, the Amazon has Brazil’s highest rate, at 2.42.

Then there is the region’s economic allure.

Sinop, a city of 111,000 people in Mato Grosso State, grew about 50 percent in the past decade as soybean farmers expanded operations there. Fiscal incentives for manufacturing promote growth in Manaus and satellite towns like Manacapuru and Rio Preto da Eva. Logging still provides the lifeblood for growing towns along BR-163, an important Amazon highway now being paved.

Elsewhere in the Amazon, the biggest linchpins for the fast-growing cities are major energy and industrial projects. The construction of dozens of hydroelectric projects, including sprawling dams that have drawn protests, are luring manual laborers from around Brazil to cities like Pôrto Velho, in Rondônia State, and Altamira, in Pará.

Here in Parauapebas, also in Pará, an open-pit iron ore mine provides thousands of jobs. Plans for additional mines here, supported largely by forecasts of robust demand in China, have lured many to this corner of the Amazon in search of work. Just since the 2010 census, the city’s population has swelled to an estimated 220,000 from 154,000.

“This entire area was thick, almost impenetrable, jungle,” said Oriovaldo Mateus, an engineer who arrived here in 1981 to work for Vale, the Brazilian mining giant. That was about the time that the authorities cut a road through the forest, making the settlement of Parauapebas feasible. By the early 1990s, he said, it had muddy roads, brothels, and more than 25,000 people. […]

The soaring population growth in some cities in the Amazon — called the “world’s last great settlement frontier” by Brian J. Godfrey, a geography professor at Vassar College who is the co-author of Rainforest Cities — is intensifying an urbanization that has been advancing for decades. […]

Swallowing Rain Forest, Cities Surge in Amazon


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