At some point, the pace of doom will overtake this blog’s capacity to document it. In 2012, Desdemona came pretty close to this threshold, as a burst of extreme weather events battered civilization and illustrated the nature of abrupt climate change to the most obdurate of nation states.
“The new normal” is how observers from Christiane Amanpour to The Onion characterized the various forms of extreme weather that wrought havoc around the globe. Thousands of high-temperature records fell in the United States alone, and immense swaths of boreal forest burned across the Northern Hemisphere. The U.S. drought broke many more records and continues unabated into 2013, with an unprecedented spike in tornado frequency an added bonus.
For Desdemona, the most under-reported story of 2012 was the spread of mega-fires through the taiga of Siberia. Very little news coverage escaped from Russia, but NASA satellites had a clear view of the astounding scale of the disaster. Dr. Jon Ranson, Head of Biospheric Sciences at the Goddard Space Flight Center, was in Siberia to study forest-fire frequency, and he got a close-up view:
We flew over a huge, curving river of thick smoke. It truly looked like a river, flowing, I think, generally north to south. We passed over it from west to east. As the sun set and the light dimmed, I could see the glow from some active fires. As we passed near the Ob River, in the vicinity of our 2010 expedition, dark plumes of smoke rose high in the sky.
In another spot, I believe within an hour of Krasnoyarsk, we flew over a huge burn scar. It was really stunning. I was on the left side of the plane, and this scar extended way to the north, maybe even to the Arctic Sea. It took us several minutes to fly over it, so I’m estimating the scar was around 100 km across. Just massive.
Smoke from the enormous Siberia wildfires lofted over the Pacific Ocean and fell out over British Columbia and Washington State. Here in Seattle, the sunlight had an eerie orange cast for much of the summer. Carbon monoxide levels in the B.C. Interior reached three times the July average.
Record flooding struck too many countries to name here, but the list includes Australia, the Philippines, the U.K., Nigeria, Pakistan (for the 3rd year in a row), Fiji, Peru, Colombia, Russia, and India. Frequently, these deluges followed record droughts. A warmer world is a wetter world, and it’s also a more erratic world.
For wildlife, 2012 was a terrible year, and it was particularly bad for the charismatic megafauna of Africa. Poaching on an immense scale decimated elephant and rhino populations, with hundreds of animals slaughtered during highly organized raids. In 2012 alone, at least half of the elephant population in Cameroon’s Bouba N’Djida reserve, and at least 588 rhinos in South Africa were slaughtered. Poachers are deploying sophisticated military technologies and unparalleled brutality to strike deep within nominally protected refuges. This carnage is driven by Asian demand for ivory and magical cures.
Possibly the most ominous development of 2012 was the record loss of Arctic sea ice, which reached an all-time low on August 26th. Sunlight that hasn’t reached deep into the Arctic ocean for some 15 million years is driving an efflorescence of algae, with unknowable consequences for the ocean ecosystem. The collapse of Arctic sea ice almost certainly is affecting weather in the Northern Hemisphere. By warming the Arctic, humans have managed to destroy one of the largest features on the planet, in only a few generations.
During all of the climate chaos, U.S. politicians either remained silent, or they cranked up the denial. During the seemingly endless presidential campaign, the subject of global warming never came up – until Hurricane Sandy changed the discourse overnight. Republicans in North Carolina voted to reject the scientific evidence on sea level rise. The Heartland Institute portrayed “belief” in global warming as terrorism.
And throughout the year, the American Petroleum Institute kept up its relentless “I’m an energy voter” disinformation campaign, with nightly prime-time ad buys spanning every major television network. The message was clear: fossil fuels are good, and reducing carbon emissions will cost you your job. After Hurricane Sandy, these ads struck Desdemona as particularly obscene. But API needn’t have bothered: human carbon emissions rose to 2 million pounds per second in 2012; our thirst for fossil fuels continues to rise inexorably with our population.
Posted by JoulesBurn
5 January 2012
Matthieu Auzanneau: What do you foresee? Let’s begin with the non-OPEC producers (which represent 58% of production and 23% of global reserves).
Olivier Rech: Outside OPEC, things are clear: of 40 million barrels per day (mb/d) of conventional petroleum extracted from existing fields, we face an annual decline on the order of 1 to 2 mb/d.
MA: In your view, are we therefore close to the 5% decline per year from existing production mentioned by Royal Dutch Shell?
OR: Yes, that’s about it.
By Darryl Fears
17 January 2012
More than five years since the deadly white-nose fungus was first detected in a New York cave where bats hibernate, up to 6.7 million of the animals are estimated to have died in 16 states and Canada, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced.
“We’re watching a potential extinction event on the order of what we experienced with bison and passenger pigeons for this group of mammals,” said Mylea Bayless, conservation programs manager for Bat Conservation International in Austin, Tex.
“The difference is we may be seeing the regional extinction of multiple species,” Bayless said. “Unlike some of the extinction events or population depletion events we’ve seen in the past, we’re looking at a whole group of animals here, not just one species. We don’t know what that means, but it could be catastrophic.”
By Jeremy Hance
19 January 2012
(mongabay.com) – Damming of the Xingu River has begun in Brazil to make way for the eventual construction of the hugely controversial, Belo Monte dam. The Norte Energia (NESA) consortium has begun building coffer dams across the Xingu, which will dry out parts of the river before permanent damming, reports the NGO International Rivers. Indigenous tribes, who have long opposed the dam plans on their ancestral river, conducted a peaceful protest that interrupted construction for a couple hours.
"We will continue to resist this monstrosity and work to call attention of the Brazilian public and the world that this wanton destruction of the Amazon will hurt us all," said Antônia Melo, coordinator of the Xingu Vivo movement that organized the protest. "To take away the river is to take away the life of its people, because water is life."
Diverting 80 percent of the Xingu River's flow, the Belo Monte dam is also expected to displace 16,000 people, according to the Brazilian government; although environmentalists estimate that 40,000 could be forced to move. Amazon Watch, a group campaigning against Belo Monte, says the dam will flood more than 40,000 hectares of rainforest. The issue has sparked considerable attention outside of Brazil with 600,000 people around the world signing a petition against the dam.
By David McNeill
3 February 2012
TOKYO – Researchers working around Japan's disabled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant say bird populations there have begun to dwindle, in what may be a chilling harbinger of the impact of radioactive fallout on local life.
In the first major study of the impact of the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years, the researchers, from Japan, the US and Denmark, said their analysis of 14 species of bird common to Fukushima and Chernobyl, the Ukrainian city which suffered a similar nuclear meltdown, showed the effect on abundance is worse in the Japanese disaster zone.
The study, published next week in the journal Environmental Pollution, suggests that its findings demonstrate "an immediate negative consequence of radiation for birds during the main breeding season [of] March [to] July".
By KARLA ZABLUDOVSKY
30 January 2012
MEXICO CITY – A drought that a government official called the most severe Mexico had ever faced has left two million people without access to water and, coupled with a cold snap, has devastated cropland in nearly half of the country.
The government in the past week has authorized $2.63 billion in aid, including potable water, food, and temporary jobs for the most affected areas, rural communities in 19 of Mexico’s 31 states. But officials warned that no serious relief was expected for at least another five months, when the rainy season typically begins in earnest.
By Eric Johnson
8 February 2012
SEATTLE – Debris from last year's earthquake and tsunami in Japan is already washing up on Washington beaches, and much more is expected.
Oceanographer Dr. Curtis Ebbsmeyer said chunks of wood and plastic and other pieces of flotsam from the tsunami will continue to show up on local beaches for years or even decades.
"Debris from Japan, from the tsunami of last March, started arriving last September," he said. "It's unprecedented in recorded history. We have a debris field the size of the state of California."
7 February 2012 (CNN) – Australian authorities on Monday pleaded with hundreds of people who had chosen to remain in a town in the path of rising flood waters to vacate their homes.
The level of the Balonne River in the town of St. George, in the eastern state of Queensland, swelled to 13.63 meters at lunchtime on Monday, breaking its previous record, and was expected to crest overnight above 14 meters.
Queensland has been deluged with heavy rains over the past week even as some parts of the region are still struggling to recover from devastating floods that took place about a year ago.
By Sahit Muja, NY Economy and Politics Examiner
11 February 2012
Europe’s record freezing temperatures have claimed hundreds of lives, snarled traffic and trapped hundreds of thousand of residents in remote villages .
At least seven people died and three others were missing after an avalanche hit the village in Kosovo.
There are reports of weather-related deaths in Kosovo, Albania, Serbia, Poland, Italy, Ukraine, Turkey, Bullgaria, Austria, Macedonia, Greece, Romania, Bosnia, France, Hungary and Lithuania.
Albania has recorded year-low temperatures that dropped to -30 Celsius in the Tropoje and Kukes region with more than 12 feet of snow in some areas.
East European countries have huge problems with drinking water, food, and electricity as residents there battle the deep snow and cold.
The weather has spelled a disaster in Europe, with the death toll of more than 600.
By MICHELLE FAUL Associated Press
16 February 2012
JOHANNESBURG (AP) – Poachers have slaughtered at least 200 elephants in the past five weeks in a patch of Africa where they are more dangerously endangered than anywhere else on Earth, wildlife activists said.
The money made from selling elephant tusks is fueling misery throughout the continent, the International Fund for Animal Welfare warned.
Many elephant calves orphaned by the recent killings have been spotted in Cameroon's Bouba Ndjida National Park, and activists fear the animals may soon die of hunger and thirst.
"Their deaths will only compound the impact of the poaching spree on the Cameroon's threatened elephant populations," the organization said Thursday in a statement.
It is not known how many elephants remain in the West African nation. The latest figures from the International Union for Conservation of Nature estimated there were only 1,000 to 5,000 left in 2007.
By Scott K. Johnson
1 March 2012
A new paper in Science examines the geologic record for context relating to ocean acidification, a lowering of the pH driven by the increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The research group (twenty-one scientists from nearly as many different universities) reviewed the evidence from past known or suspected intervals of ocean acidification. The work provides perspective on the current trend as well as the potential consequences. They find that the current rate of ocean acidification puts us on a track that, if continued, would likely be unprecedented in last 300 million years.
The Permian-Triassic mass extinction (about 252 million years ago) wiped out around 96 percent of marine species. Still, the rate of CO2 released to the atmosphere that drove the dangerous climate change was 10-100 times slower than current emissions.
By AKIKO OKAZAKI / Staff Writer
29 February 2012
A mind-boggling 40,000 trillion becquerels of radioactive cesium, or twice the amount previously thought, may have spewed from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant after the March 11 disaster, scientists say.
Michio Aoyama, a senior researcher at the Meteorological Research Institute, released the finding at a scientific symposium in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, on 28 February 2012.
The figure, which represents about 20 percent of the discharge during the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, is twice as large as previous estimates by research institutions both in Japan and overseas.
By Daily Mail Reporter
16 March 2012
These heartbreaking photos show the extent of an elephant slaughter in the troubled nation of Cameroon.
At least half the elephant population in Bouba N'Djida reserve have been slaughtered because the west African nation sent too few security forces to tackle poachers, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said on Thursday.
In what was described as one of the worst poaching massacres in decades, and at least 200 elephants have been killed for their tusks since January by poachers on horseback from Chad and Sudan.
'They move 1,000 kilometers (more than 600 miles) on horseback to get to northern Cameroon because they have already wiped out the elephants of Chad and Central African Republic,' said Richard Carroll, vice president of the U.S. chapter of WWF.
According to IFAW, poachers slaughtered as many as 400 elephants for their tusks in Cameroon since the killing spree began.
By Nathan Rao
28 March 2012
Almost half of Britain now faces devastating water shortages with supplies at critically low levels.
Weeks of virtually no rainfall have decimated river and underground sources leaving the country in the worst drought for 124 years.
The Environment Agency will today announce that parts of Yorkshire, the largest county, are officially in drought following the hottest March for seven years.
That could mean 4.7 million house holds will be hit by hosepipe bans by the summer.
And experts warn the entire country could face similar water restrictions in a matter of weeks.
Trevor Bishop, the Environment Agency’s head of water resources, said they were striving to balance the water needs of the community and of the environment.
He said: “We are working with businesses, farmers and water companies to plan ahead to meet the challenges of a continued drought.”
Wildlife experts warn that some species, including dragonflies and water voles, could lose their habitats.
The official drought zone now includes parts of North Yorkshire, East Yorkshire and South Yorkshire, as well as a whole swathe of the country stretching from Bournemouth on the south coast to Scarborough, affecting 27 million people.
That is already more than half of England’s 52 million population.
By Brian K. Sullivan
1 April 2012
Chicago had its all-time warmest March, while New York’s Central Park had its second-hottest as thousands of new weather records were set or tied across the U.S., according to the National Weather Service.
The average temperature for the month in Chicago was 53.5 degrees Fahrenheit (11.9 Celsius). That topped the previous mark of 48.6 degrees, set in 1910 and matched in 1945, the weather service said, citing data compiled since 1873.
In New York, the average temperature was 50.9 degrees, which was 8.9 degrees above normal, while below the record 51.1 degrees in 1945, according to the weather service.
“To put it in perspective, if it was April, it would still be in the top 10, as far as warmest. It is mind-boggling,” said Tom Kines, a meteorologist for AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania. “There are many areas across the upper Midwest that have had their warmest March ever. That seems to be where the core of the warmth was.”
Across the U.S., 7,577 all-time daily high temperatures were set or matched in March, according to the National Climate Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina. The warm weather contributed to a decline in natural gas prices, as less of the energy was needed to heat homes and business.
By Dahr Jamail
19 April 2012
NEW ORLEANS (IPS) – "The fishermen have never seen anything like this," Jim Cowan told Al Jazeera. "And in my 20 years working on red snapper, looking at somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 fish, I've never seen anything like this either."
Cowan, with Louisiana State University's Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, started hearing from fishermen about fish with sores and lesions in November 2010.
Cowan's findings reflect those of others living along vast areas of the Gulf Coast that have been impacted by BP's oil and dispersants.
Gulf of Mexico fishermen, scientists and seafood processors have told Al Jazeera they are finding disturbing numbers of mutated shrimp, crab and fish that they believe are deformed by chemicals released during BP's 2010 oil disaster.
Along with collapsing fisheries, signs of malignant impact on the regional ecosystem are ominous: horribly mutated shrimp, fish with oozing sores, underdeveloped blue crabs lacking claws, eyeless crabs and shrimp - and interviewees' fingers point towards BP's oil pollution disaster as being the cause.
Tracy Kuhns and her husband Mike Roberts, commercial fishers from Barataria, Louisiana, are finding eyeless shrimp.
"At the height of the last white shrimp season, in September, one of our friends caught 400 pounds of these," Kuhns told Al Jazeera while showing a sample of the eyeless shrimp.
By Alison Rourke in Sydney
17 May 2012
(guardian.co.uk) – The last 60 years have been the hottest in Australasia for a millennium and cannot be explained by natural causes, according to a new report by scientists that supports the case for a reduction in manmade carbon emissions.
In the first major study of its kind in the region, scientists at the University of Melbourne used natural data from 27 climate indicators, including tree rings, corals and ice cores to map temperature trends over the past 1,000 years.
"Our study revealed that recent warming in a 1,000-year context is highly unusual and cannot be explained by natural factors alone, suggesting a strong influence of human-caused climate change in the Australasian region," said the study's lead researcher, Dr Joelle Gergis.
By ANDREW C. REVKIN
3 June 2012
Even as insect infestations and other factors accompanying warming have led to the “browning” of some stretches of boreal forest between temperate regions and the Arctic tundra, the tundra appears to be greening in a big way, various studies have shown. The newest such work, focused on scrubby windswept regions along Russia’s northwest Arctic coast, has found a particularly noteworthy shift is under way.
In this part of the Arctic, which could be a bellwether for changes to come elsewhere with greenhouse-driven warming, what might be called pop-up forests are forming. Low tundra shrubs, many of which are willow and alder species, have rapidly grown into small trees over the last 50 years, according to the study, led by scientists from Oxford University and the Arctic Center of the University of Lapland. The researchers foresee a substantial additional local warming influence from this change in landscapes, with the darker foliage absorbing sunlight that would otherwise be reflected back to space.
GLADSTONE, Australia, 2 June 2012 (The Economist) – Seafood businesses commissioned Matt Landos, a veterinary scientist, to investigate outbreaks of sickness that have appeared among the harbour’s abundant marine life. His report in April detailed how creatures he caught in the harbour suffered skin ulcers, diseased fins and damaged intestines. Mr Landos blamed toxic metals and sediment from earlier industrial pollution that had settled on the harbour bed and was being stirred up by dredging.
Leo Zussino, the head of the Gladstone Ports Corporation, a state body, rejects this analysis. He says “all the evidence” links the outbreaks to vast freshwater flows from floods and cyclones that lashed Queensland in early 2011; “generational change” to the harbour’s salinity level followed. Mr Zussino blames sickness in the harbour’s barramundi, a local fish, on stress from invasions by freshwater barramundi during the floods. “Science will win in the end,” he says.
Whatever the cause, the outbreak has devastated Gladstone’s once-thriving seafood industry. Ted Whittingham, who runs a local wholesale seafood business, has stopped buying fish, prawns, and crustaceans caught in the harbour, which he says has been destroyed as a habitat for sea life. He estimates losses to local fishermen at A$36m ($35m) a year.
By Rohit Kachroo, NBC News in Niger, West Africa
19 June 2012
One-and-a-half-million children are in imminent danger of starvation in West Africa, according to The United Nations Children's Fund, despite recent pledges of international aid.
Across western Africa, communities are caught between climate change, conflict, and poverty -- yet the global economic crisis means international priorities lie elsewhere.
For example, during its financial crisis Greece has received a hundred times more from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) than Niger during the last few years.
20 June 2012 (BBC) – China has warned that the decline in its rare earth reserves in major mining areas is "accelerating", as most of the original resources are depleted.
In a policy paper, China's cabinet blamed excessive exploitation and illegal mining for the decline.
China accounts for more than 90% of the world's rare earth supplies, but has just 23% of global reserves.
It has urged those with reserves to boost production of the elements, which are used to make electrical goods.
"After more than 50 years of excessive mining, China's rare earth reserves have kept declining and the years of guaranteed rare earth supply have been reducing," China's cabinet said in the paper on the rare earth industry published by the official Xinhua news agency.
By Abrahm Lustgarten
21 June 2012
(ProPublica) – Over the past several decades, U.S. industries have injected more than 30 trillion gallons of toxic liquid deep into the earth, using broad expanses of the nation's geology as an invisible dumping ground.
No company would be allowed to pour such dangerous chemicals into the rivers or onto the soil. But until recently, scientists and environmental officials have assumed that deep layers of rock beneath the earth would safely entomb the waste for millenia.
There are growing signs they were mistaken.
Rising sea levels cannot be stopped over the next several hundred years, even if deep emissions cuts lower global average temperatures, but they can be slowed down, climate scientists said in a study on Sunday.
Rising sea levels threaten about a tenth of the world’s population who live in low-lying areas and islands which are at risk of flooding, including the Caribbean, Maldives and Asia-Pacific island groups.
Even if the most ambitious emissions cuts are made, it might not be enough to stop sea levels rising due to the thermal expansion of sea water, said scientists at the United States’ National Center for Atmospheric Research, U.S. research organization Climate Central and Center for Australian Weather and Climate Research in Melbourne.
“Even with aggressive mitigation measures that limit global warming to less than 2 degrees above pre-industrial values by 2100, and with decreases of global temperature in the 22nd and 23rd centuries … sea level continues to rise after 2100,” they said in the journal Nature Climate Change.
This is because, as warmer temperatures penetrate deep into the sea, the water warms and expands as the heat mixes through different ocean regions.
By Leo Hickman
20 July 2012
Detective chief superintendent Julian Gregory, the senior investigating officer, said that due to the three-year statutory limitation placed on the investigation by the Computer Misuse Act 1990, he was closing the case now because there was no realistic chance of bringing a prosecution ahead of the third anniversary of the theft in November. He did say, though, that the “the data breach was the result of a sophisticated and carefully orchestrated attack” and that there was “no evidence to suggest that anyone working at or associated with UEA was involved in the crime”.
Norfolk Police gave a press conference yesterday in which it revealed some more details about the investigation. For example, DCS Gregory said that the hacker(s) had, whilst accessing the university's servers remotely via the internet, breached several passwords in order to gain access to the emails and other documents. He also said that officers had examined CCTV footage at CRU to investigate the possibility – subsequently ruled out - that a member of staff might have been involved.
DCS Gregory confirmed, too, that it was highly unlikely to have been a chance discovery by a hacker. It was a targeted attack. No other university in the UK experienced a similar attack over that same time period, he confirmed. (The hackers breached CRU's servers "certainly more than three times" between September and November 2009.) There was no evidence, he said, that the hack was committed, or commissioned, by a government or an individual/organisation with commercial interests.
He added: “This appears to have been done with the intention of influencing the global debate on climate change and ultimately that affects us all. To not have done the best we could on this investigation would have been neglect.”
By Mike Jaccarino
5 August 2012
Thousands – perhaps millions – of various types of fish, some endangered, have died in the Midwest, as record summer temperatures dry up rivers and raise water temperatures in some spots to nearly 100 degrees.
About 40,000 shovelnose sturgeon were killed in Iowa last week as the water reached 97 degrees. Meanwhile, Nebraska fishery officials said they've seen thousands of dead sturgeon, catfish, carp, and other species, including the endangered pallid sturgeon, in the Lower Platte River.
And Illinois biologists said the hot weather has killed tens of thousands of large – and smallmouth bass – and channel catfish, and is threatening the population of the greater redhorse fish, a state-endangered species.
So many fish died in Illinois's Powerton Lake two weeks ago that the carcasses clogged an intake screen near a power plant. A spokesman for the coal-fired plant said workers shut down one of its two generators for several hours because of the low water levels at the lake, which it uses for cooling.
'We're talking hundreds of thousands (killed), maybe millions by now,' said Dan Stephenson, a biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. 'If you're only talking about game fish, it's probably in the thousands. But for all fish, it's probably in the millions if you look statewide.'
'It's something I've never seen in my career, and I've been here for more than 17 years,' said Mark Flammang, a biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. 'I think what we're mainly dealing with (is) … extremely low flows and this unparalleled heat.'
Indeed, it seems the fish are victims of one of the driest and warmest summers in history.
By COREY WILLIAMS
3 August 2012
DETROIT – From the street, the two decomposing bodies were nearly invisible, concealed in an overgrown lot alongside worn-out car tires and a moldy sofa. The teenagers had been shot, stripped to their underwear and left on a deserted block.
They were just the latest victims of foul play whose remains went undiscovered for days after being hidden deep inside Detroit's vast urban wilderness — a crumbling wasteland rarely visited by outsiders and infrequently patrolled by police.
Abandoned and neglected parts of the city are quickly becoming dumping grounds for the dead — at least a dozen bodies in 12 months' time. And authorities acknowledge there's little they can do.
"You can shoot a person, dump a body and it may just go unsolved" because of the time it may take for the corpse to be found, officer John Garner said.
WASHINGTON, 8 August 2012 (AP) – This probably comes as no surprise: Federal scientists say July was the hottest month ever recorded in the Lower 48 states, breaking a record set during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
And even less a surprise: The U.S. this year keeps setting records for weather extremes, based on the precise calculations that include drought, heavy rainfall, unusual temperatures, and storms.
The average temperature last month was 77.6 degrees. That breaks the old record from July 1936 by 0.2 degree, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Records go back to 1895.
"It's a pretty significant increase over the last record," said climate scientist Jake Crouch of NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. In the past, skeptics of global warming have pointed to the Dust Bowl to argue that recent heat isn't unprecedented. But Crouch said this shows that the current year "is out and beyond those Dust Bowl years. We're rivaling and beating them consistently from month to month."
MOSCOW, 3 August 2012 (RIA Novosti) – Fires are spreading across vast Siberian forests in a flashback to the summer of 2010, when the worst drought on record sparked fires that killed dozens of Russians.
The total area of forests gripped by fire in Russia has increased to 11 million-12 million hectares, Grigory Kuksin, head of the Greenpeace Russia fire safety program told Novye Izvestia paper on Friday.
Presently, 180 wildfires are raging across the country, but do not represent a threat to local economies and populated areas, the Emergencies Ministry claimed. The worst of the blazes are concentrated in Russia's Siberian regions of Krasnoyarsk, Tomsk, Tuva, Khakassia and Irkutsk.
A spokesman for the Emergencies Ministry’s Crisis Center on Friday said that 20,680 people and 4,000 vehicles are fighting the natural disaster.
Firefighting efforts began too late and now only steady rains could put out the flame, Kuksin said. “Of course, firefighters and vehicles are needed to protect residential areas. But these efforts won’t help shrink the wildfires, we already wasted this chance.” According to Greenpeace, the situation is worse now than at the same time in the summer of 2010, when Russia was devastated by forest fires.
27 July 2012 (Famine Early Warning System Network) – There are about 16 million people facing Stressed (IPC Phase 2) to Emergency (IPC Phase 4) levels of food insecurity in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya, and Uganda. The main drivers of food insecurity in these countries are poor rains, conflict, high food prices, and in some cases an inability to access humanitarian assistance.
Since the independence of Sudan from South Sudan a year ago, food security conditions in both countries have deteriorated, due to poor 2011/2012 harvests, widespread conflict, macroeconomic instability, and severely disrupted trade flows which have limited market supplies. The impacts are most severe in border areas, where conflict, displacement and trade restrictions are concentrated. In these countries, Crisis and Emergency levels of food insecurity (IPC Phases 3 and 4) will persist through the outlook period.
About 1.2 million resident/host communities in the drought affected areas of North Darfur face crisis levels of food insecurity (IPC Phase 3) due to poor food availability and high grain prices and in Jebel Mara due to the impacts of conflict on trade and humanitarian access. The rising pattern of insecurity is expected to cause new displacement, reduce access by humanitarian agencies and reduce the flow of and on food goods from central Sudan to Darfur resulting in even more higher prices. These areas are expected to continue to be highly food insecure through the outlook period.
21 August 2012 (AFP) – A pair of greenlings have shown the highest level of radioactive caesium detected in fish and shellfish caught in waters off Japan's crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant, its operator said Tuesday.
The fishes, captured 20 kilometres (12.5 miles) off the plant on August 1, registered 25,800 becquerels of caesium per kilo, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said -- 258 times the level the government deems safe for consumption.
The previous record in fish and shellfish off Fukushima was 18,700 becquerels per kilo detected in cherry salmons, according to the government's Fisheries Agency.
A new scientific study indicates the turn-of-the-century drought in the North American West was the worst of the last millennium—with major impacts to the carbon cycle and hints of even drier times ahead.
The study, titled “Reduction in carbon uptake during turn of the century drought in western North America,” indicates that the major drought that struck western North America from 2000 to 2004 severely reduced carbon uptake and stressed the region's water resources, with significant declines in river flows and crop yields. It was published on July 29 in Nature Geoscience. NSIDC scientist Kevin Schaefer is a co-author on the study, along with Christopher Williams of Clark University. The study was led by Christopher Schwalm of Northern Arizona University (NAU).
Researchers found that the turn-of-the-century drought was the most severe region-wide event of its kind since the last mega drought 800 years ago. “The turn-of-the-century drought may be the wetter end of a new climatology that would make the 21st century climate like mega-droughts of the last millennium,” said Schwalm.
30 August 2012 (BBC) – This summer is set to be the second wettest in the UK since records began - and the wettest summer in 100 years - provisional Met Office figures suggest.
The wettest summer - defined as June, July, and August - since national records began was in 1912.
Figures up until 29 August show that 366.8 mm of rain fell across the UK this summer, compared with 384.4 mm rainfall in 1912.
The April to June period was also the wettest recorded in the UK.
By Alister Doyle; editing by Tim Pearce
31 August 2012
OSLO (Reuters) – The vital tasks carried out by tiny "engineers" like earthworms that recycle waste and bees that pollinate crops are under threat because one fifth of the world's spineless creatures may be at risk of extinction, a study showed on Friday.
The rising human population is putting ever more pressure on the "spineless creatures that rule the world" including slugs, spiders, jellyfish, lobsters, corals, and bugs such as beetles and butterflies, it said.
"One in five invertebrates (creatures without a backbone) look to be threatened with extinction," said Ben Collen at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) of an 87-page report produced with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
"The invertebrates are the eco-system engineers," he told Reuters. "They produce a lot of the things that humans rely on and they produce them for free."
The report said that invertebrates, creatures that have no internal skeleton, faced loss of habitat, pollution, over-exploitation, and climate change.
The 'services' they provide - helping humans whose growing numbers threaten their survival - include water purification, pollination, waste recycling, and keeping soils productive. The value of insect pollination of crops, for instance, has been valued at 153 billion euros ($191 billion) a year, it said.
A 1997 study put the global economic value of soil biodiversity - thanks to often scorned creatures such as worms, woodlice and beetles - at $1.5 trillion a year.
By Miguel Llanos
7 September 2012
(NBC News) – Reefs in the Caribbean and Florida Keys have lost most of the colorful corals that feed a rich ecosystem and made the region a diving and snorkeling mecca, a major conservation group reported Friday. On average, reefs have live coral on just 8 percent of their surface area, down from more than 50 percent in the 1970s.
Impacts including warming seas and human sewage have contributed to a steady decline that shows "no signs of slowing," the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said in releasing its report, which was based on new data compiled by 36 experts earlier this year.
The decline was not uniform, the IUCN noted, and those areas with less human impact fared better. "Corals declined precipitously on the Jamaican north coast in the 1980s … but not at Curacao and Bonaire where coral has more gently declined to about 25-30% today," the IUCN said in the report.
In contrast, total coral cover in the Florida Keys, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico "has progressively declined from 25 to 35% in the 1970s to less than 15% today."
Many of those severely deteriorated reefs instead are covered with large algae, which make it harder for coral to get established, "and virtually no fish larger than" a few inches, the report stated.
The report cited a number of factors causing the decline: disease, pollution, overfishing, hurricanes, and "coral bleaching" — a process triggered by stress such as warm seas or pollution whereby the coral expels the tiny single-celled algae inside it that provide its color.
By JACK HEALY
6 September 2012
DENVER – People move to the mountains to be closer to nature. But not this close.
At least two candy stores have been burglarized this summer by ravenous, drought-starved bears. They are being struck by cars as they roam dark highways, far from their normal foraging grounds. Growing numbers are invading campsites and kitchens in search of food. One even tried to storm a hotel bar in Telluride, Colorado.
In addition to destroying crops, this summer’s record-breaking drought has also killed off the wild acorns, berries and grasses that sustain animals like mule deer, elk and bears. Without that food, the great outdoors is pushing its way inside, looking for calories wherever they can be found.
Elk and mule deer are stealing into farmers’ corn and alfalfa fields more aggressively, and in greater numbers, than usual, wildlife officials say. Bears have been spotted lumbering through alleys, raiding garbage cans and scooting into people’s homes through open windows and unlocked kitchen doors.
“My God, they’re everywhere,” said Sheriff Bill Masters of San Miguel County, in the mountains of southwest Colorado. “A lot of them just don’t seem to care anymore. They’re just wandering around.”
By Alister Doyle; Editing by Alison Williams
11 September 2012
OSLO (Reuters) – The world needs to find the equivalent of the flow of 20 Nile rivers by 2025 to grow enough food to feed a rising population and help avoid conflicts over water scarcity, a group of former leaders said on Monday.
Factors such as climate change would strain freshwater supplies and nations including China and India were likely to face shortages within two decades, they said, calling on the U.N. Security Council to get more involved.
The study, by the InterAction Council of former leaders, said the U.N. Security Council should make water the top concern. Until now, the Security Council has treated water as a factor in other crises, such as Sudan or the impact of global warming.
"With about 1 billion more mouths to feed worldwide by 2025, global agriculture alone will require another 1,000 cubic km (240 cubic miles) of water per year," it said. The world population now is just over 7 billion.
The increase was "equal to the annual flow of 20 Niles or 100 Colorado Rivers", according to the report, also backed by the U.N. University's Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNWEH) and Canada's Gordon Foundation.
By MIREYA NAVARRO
10 September 2012 [Hurricane Sandy struck New York City on 29 October 2012.]
With a 520-mile-long coast lined largely by teeming roads and fragile infrastructure, New York City is gingerly facing up to the intertwined threats posed by rising seas and ever-more-severe storm flooding.
So far, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has commissioned exhaustive research on the challenge of climate change. His administration is expanding wetlands to accommodate surging tides, installing green roofs to absorb rainwater and prodding property owners to move boilers out of flood-prone basements.
But even as city officials earn high marks for environmental awareness, critics say New York is moving too slowly to address the potential for flooding that could paralyze transportation, cripple the low-lying financial district and temporarily drive hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.
26 September 2012 (University of Bristol) – Speaking at the Third International Symposium on the Ocean in a High-CO2 World this week in Monterey, California, Dr Daniela Schmidt, a geologist from the University of Bristol, warned that current rates of ocean acidification are unparalleled in Earth history.
Dr Schmidt of Bristol's School of Earth Sciences said: "Ocean acidification has happened before sometimes with large consequences for marine ecosystems. But within the last 300 million years, never has the rate of ocean acidification been comparable to the ongoing acidification.
She added that the most comparable event, most likely 10 times slower than the current acidification, was 55 million years ago.
"At that time, species responded to the warming, acidification, change in nutrient input and loss of oxygen – the same processes that we now see in our oceans. The geological record shows changes in species distribution, changes in species composition, changes in calcification and growth and in a few cases extinction," she said.
"Our current acidification rates are unparalleled in Earth history and lead most ecosystems into unknown territory."
Islamabad/Brussels, 9 October 2012 (ICG) – Three successive years of devastating floods threatening the lives of millions, coupled with the displacement of hundreds of thousands due to military operations and militancy, gives Pakistan’s radical Islamist groups opportunities to recruit and increases the potential for conflict.
“Since the democratic transition began in 2008, some progress has been made”, says Samina Ahmed, Crisis Group’s South Asia Project Director. “But much more is needed to build the federal and provincial governments’ disaster and early recovery response”.
Pakistan: No End to Humanitarian Crises [pdf], Crisis Group’s latest report, warns that the recurrent natural and conflict-driven humanitarian crises, which have put the lives and livelihoods of so many at risk and aggravated economic hardships, need urgent and coordinated action.
“The military’s suspicions of and animosity toward foreign actors undermine efforts to improve the humanitarian community’s coordination with government agencies”, says Ahmed. “By hindering international humanitarian actors’ access to populations in need, the civil-military bureaucracies are undermining efforts to help citizens cope in the aftermath of humanitarian disasters”.
By Sara Reardon and Rowan Hooper
1 October 2012
It's not as glamorous as chercocaine or diamonds, but the illegal logging industry has become very attractive to criminal organisations over the past decade. A new report finds that up to 90 per cent of tropical deforestation can be attributed to organised crime, which controls up to 30 per cent of the global timber trade.
For years, environmental regulators thought that illegal logging was decreasing worldwide. But they were just looking in the wrong places, says Christian Nelleman, author of the 27 September report from the United Nations Environment Programme .
Import and export records don't tell the whole truth, he says. When the report's authors factored in the impact of sophisticated concealment techniques of the kind used by drug cartels, they discovered that rates of illegal logging have actually been rising. The criminals have become simply better at hiding their tracks. Common ploys include forging permits, hacking trade databases, bribing officials, concealing timber's true origin, and hiding illegal timber amid legal stocks.
International crime organisations that get involved in the timber trade bring considerable resources and expertise. They are attracted by both the profits and the low risk of being caught: shipping timber, unlike ivory or drugs, is not illegal.
"What we're shocked about is the sheer scale of timber that goes unaccounted for," Nelleman says. In 2008, for instance, Indonesia officially exported 18.6 million more cubic metres of wood than in 2000. This additional wood ostensibly came from legal plantations, but most of these turned out to be bogus. Loggers simply cut down forests instead.
By Matt Walker, Editor, BBC Nature
28 September 2012
Great apes, such as gorillas, chimps, and bonobos, are running out of places to live, say scientists.
They have recorded a dramatic decline in the amount of habitat suitable for great apes, according to the first such survey across the African continent.
Eastern gorillas, the largest living primate, have lost more than half their habitat since the early 1990s.
Cross River gorillas, chimps, and bonobos have also suffered significant losses, according to the study.
Details are published in the journal Diversity and Distributions.
"Several studies either on a site or country level indicated already that African ape populations are under enormous pressure and in decline," said Hjalmar Kuehl, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, who helped organise the research.
By Felix Onuah and Tim Cocks
11 October 2012
LOKOJA, Nigeria (Reuters) – Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday visited some of the hundreds of thousands of people made homeless by the country's worst flooding in at least five decades, calling it a 'national disaster'.
Vast stretches of Africa's most populous nation have been submerged by floods in the past few weeks, as major rivers like the Niger, the continent's third longest, burst their banks.
At least 140 people have been killed, hundreds of thousands uprooted and tens of thousands of hectares of farmland have been submerged since the start of July, raising concerns about food security, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said.
In Kogi, a northern state that has been the worst affected and which Jonathan visited on Thursday, NEMA state coordinator Ishaya Chonoko said 623,900 people had been displaced and 152,575 hectares of farmland destroyed so far.
By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent
11 October 2012
(Reuters) – Governments need to spend $80 billion a year to halt extinctions of endangered animals and plants, many times current levels and only half the amount paid to bankers in bonuses last year, a study showed.
The extra spending is vital to protect natural services such as insect pollination of crops or water purification by wetlands, the report in Friday's edition of Science said.
"These are investments in natural capital. They are not bills. They are dwarfed by the benefits we get back from nature," Stuart Butchart of BirdLife International in England, one of the authors of the study, told Reuters.
The report, trying to put a price tag on U.N. goals for 2020 agreed by governments in 2010 for preserving everything from insects to whales, estimated that it would cost $76.1 billion to expand and manage protected areas for endangered species.
And it would cost an extra $3.41 billion to $4.76 billion a year to achieve a goal of avoiding extinctions and improving the conservation level of all known threatened species, ranging from the giant panda or the tiger to lesser known frogs or plants.
Many scientists say the sum now spent on biodiversity protection is about 10 times too little.
Butchart said the $80 billion total was half of $156 billion estimated in one report as bonuses at major banks in 2011, or a fraction of world defence spending of $1.7 trillion.
By Charlotte Stoddart
21 October 2012
Bees, the most important pollinators of crops, are in trouble. All over the world, their populations are decreasing and scientists and farmers want to know why. In some cases, such as the widely reported colony collapses in North America in 2006, it is probably down to disease. But a blooming crop of research suggests that pesticides are also to blame1–3.
Earlier this year, two studies published in Science showed that colonies are severely affected when bees are exposed to neonicotinoid pesticides of the kind commonly sprayed on crops. In one study, exposure led to a significant loss of queens in colonies of bumblebees (Bombus terrestris). In the other, on honeybees (Apis mellifera), the insecticide interfered with the foragers’ ability to navigate back to the hive.
Now, in a study published in Nature, researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London, in Egham, UK, show that low-level exposure to a combination of two pesticides is more harmful to bumblebee colonies than either pesticide on its own. The results suggest that current methods for regulating pesticides are inadequate because they consider only lethal doses of single pesticides. As ecologist Nigel Raine explains in the video, low doses of pesticides have subtle effects on individual bees and can seriously harm colonies. He hopes that his work will feed into consultations on pesticide regulations that are happening now in Europe.
By Ben Moshinsky and Jim Brunsden
18 November 2012
(Bloomberg) – The shadow banking industry has grown to about $67 trillion, $6 trillion bigger than previously thought, leading global regulators to seek more oversight of financial transactions that fall outside traditional oversight.
The size of the shadow banking system, which includes the activities of money market funds, monoline insurers and off- balance sheet investment vehicles, “can create systemic risks” and “amplify market reactions when market liquidity is scarce,” the Financial Stability Board said in a report, which utilized more data than last year’s probe into the sector.
“Appropriate monitoring and regulatory frameworks for the shadow banking system needs to be in place to mitigate the build-up of risks,” the FSB said in the report published on its website.
While watchdogs have reined in excessive risk-taking by banks in the wake of the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in 2008, they are concerned that lenders might use shadow banking to evade the clampdown. Michel Barnier, the European Union’s financial services chief, is planning to target money market funds in a first wave of rules for shadow banks next year.
By Deborah Zabarenko
9 November 2012
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – For a clue to the possible impact of climate change on modern society, a study suggests a look back at the end of classic Mayan civilization, which disintegrated into famine, war and collapse as a long-term wet weather pattern shifted to drought.
An international team of researchers compiled a detailed climate record that tracks 2,000 years of wet and dry weather in present-day Belize, where Mayan cities developed from the year 300 to 1000. Using data locked in stalagmites - mineral deposits left by dripping water in caves - and the rich archeological evidence created by the Maya, the team reported its findings in the journal Science on Thursday.
Unlike the current global warming trend, which is spurred by human activities including the emission of atmosphere-heating greenhouse gases, the change in the Central American climate during the collapse of the Mayan civilization was due to a massive, undulating, natural weather pattern.
This weather pattern alternately brought extreme moisture, which fostered the growth of the Mayan civilization, and periods of dry weather and drought on a centuries-long scale, said the study's lead author, Douglas Kennett, an anthropologist at Penn State University.
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.”
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%.
By JIM GOMEZ Associated Press
2 December 2012
MANILA, Philippines (AP) – Pacific island nations and environmentalists raised an alarm Sunday over destructive fishing methods and overfishing that they say are threatening bigeye tuna - the fish popular among sushi lovers worldwide.
Palau fisheries official Nanette Malsol, who leads a bloc of Pacific island nations, said at the start of a weeklong tuna fisheries conference in Manila that large countries should cut back on fishing, curb the use of destructive fishing methods and respect fishing bans to allow tuna stocks to be replenished in the Pacific, which produces more than 60 percent of the world's tuna catch.
Many fleets are using so-called "fish aggregation devices" - various types of floats which are used to lure vast numbers of tuna. When schools of tuna have massed under the devices, fishing vessels alerted by sensors approach and scoop up their catch with giant nets.
Between 47,000 and 105,000 fish aggregation devices, made from bamboo, palm fronds, plastic, or old nets, have been deployed worldwide to attract a wide variety of marine life. The method is used to catch nearly half of the world's tuna and has contributed to the overfishing of bigeye tuna across the Pacific Ocean, according to the U.S.-based Pew Environment Group.
Aside from tuna, sea turtles, sharks and juvenile fish have often been caught and killed.
"The deployment of tens of thousands of drifting fish aggregating devices in the world's oceans with little to no oversight is extremely worrisome," said Amanda Nickson of the Pew Environment Group.
By Bob Berwyn
3 December 2012
The massive amounts of oil that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico after BP’s Deepwater Horizon drill rig exploded was devastating to marine life, but the dispersant used in the aftermath to try and break down the oil slicks may have been even worse for some species, according to new research done by scientists with the Georgia Institute of Technology and Universidad Autonoma de Aguascalientes, Mexico.
Based on laboratory toxicity tests, the study found that the oil-dispersant mix was up to 52 times more toxic to tiny rotifers, microscopic grazers at the base of the Gulf’s food chain.
The researchers tested a mix oil from the spill and Corexit, the dispersant required by the Environmental Protection Agency for clean up, on five strains of rotifers. Rotifers have long been used by ecotoxicologists to assess toxicity in marine waters because of their fast response time, ease of use in tests and sensitivity to toxicants.
Other studies the past two years have shown similar results. Essentially, the mixture of oil and dispersant is more easily absorbed by organisms, raising the question of whether the benefits of using dispersant are enough to offset the negative effects.
One study showed a dramatic change in the composition of microbial communities on some Gulf beaches, while another found traces of a toxic blend of oil and dispersants present in the surf line, where swimmers and surfers could be exposed. Scientists with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution found that plumes of the dispersant lingered in deep Gulf waters for many months after the spill.
The Deepwater Horizon spill marked the first time dispersant was used in such massive quantities, being mixed directly with the oil spewing out of the broken well.
By Miguel Llanos, NBC News
6 December 2012
Africa's lions are running out of habitat and some populations, especially those in West Africa, are running toward extinction, according to a study published Tuesday.
Using new satellite data, a research team at Duke University found that about 75 percent of Africa's savannahs were fragmented by farmers and other development in the last 50 years.
"Only 25 percent remains of an ecosystem that once was a third larger than the continental United States," co-author Stuart Pimm, a Duke conservation ecology professor, said in a statement issued with the study.
"The situation in West Africa is particularly dire," the experts wrote, noting that human populations have doubled there over the last three decades. Fewer than 500 lions remain in West Africa, the study estimated.
The team and a panel of lion experts used the savannah data to refine estimates of lion populations, which had ranged between 20,000 and 40,000 across Africa. Their estimate: 32,000 lions remain, down from an estimated 100,000 in 1960.
"Given that many now live in small, isolated populations, this trend will continue," the experts wrote in the study published in the peer-reviewed journal Biodiversity and Conservation.