Brad Johnson / AlterNet & Reuters & Der Spiegel – 2010-12-07 23:14:55
Seven Environmental Disasters
Killing People Across the Planet
As Cancun Climate Talks Plod Along
Brad Johnson / AlterNet
As the world’s environmental ministers arrive in Cancun, Mexico, for the 19th year of negotiations to address global warming pollution, new climate disasters are killing people across the planet. The slow-moving climate talks are hobbled by insufficient ambition, and uncertainty over whether the United States or China — the worldâ€™s largest climate polluters — will follow through with their Copenhagen Accord commitments.
The Obama administration’s stated commitment to cut pollution by 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels, after Republican climate deniers killed cap-and-trade legislation, now depends on whether the Environmental Protection Agency’s planned greenhouse standards survive a polluter onslaught.
Meanwhile, the building heat trapped by billions of tons of fossil fuel pollution is fueling catastrophic changes in the worldâ€™s climate system “here and now”:
+ The worst wildfires in Israel’s history, fueled by record warmth and drought, “have destroyed large sections of Israel’s northern area” and killed 41 people. Four days of intense fire fighting during the celebration of Hanukkah, with assistance from Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Russia, France, Britain, Switzerland, Spain, US, Germany, Bulgaria, Italy, Azerbaijan and others, have finally begun to bring the devastation under control.
+ Forty-two separate wildfires are burning in neighboring Lebanon, which has the same tinderbox conditions.
+ Dynamic winter-storm systems driven by the rapidly warming Arctic have plunged much of Europe into killer cold weather for the second year in a row, months after a summer of record heat and precipitation. Up to 30 people havefrozen to death in Poland, and thirty more were killed in the rest of Europe.
+ Floods have hit Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia after “three weeks of torrential rains,” forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people.
+ Thousands of people have been evacuated amid catastrophic floods in Australia that have already destroyed $500 million in crops, with rivers still rising.
+ Thunderstorms, high winds and tornadoes ripped through the southern United States, injuring at least 30 people, destroying buildings, toppling trees, flooding highways and forcing schools to close.
+ New Zealand is facing an intense heatwave and its third consecutive summer of drought.
Speaking at the funeral of a teenage volunteer firefighter, Israeli President Shimon Peres said the wildfire “disaster taught us that all of us, Jews, Arabs, Druze, and other peoples, share the same fate.”
Brad Johnson is reporting and tweeting live from the international climate talks in Cancun, Mexico.
Oceans Threatened by Rising Acidity and Overfishing
(December 3, 2010) — Emissions of CO2 don’t just have a negative effect on our climate. Oceans, which absorb a quarter of all carbon dioxide released, have become drastically more acidic in recent years. Should the trend continue, it could have dramatic effects on marine life.
Melting glaciers. Disappearing coastlines. Extreme weather. Climate scientists have been warning for years about the possible effects of global warming — and have a long list of future horrors in store for mankind.
Some effects of climate change, however, are more difficult to see. And with representatives from around the world currently gathered in Cancun, Mexico in yet another attempt to forge an international agreement on how best to tackle the climate problem, the United Nations on Thursday released a study pointing to one of those less visible catastrophes: the state of the world’s oceans.
According to the report, released by the UN Environmental Program (UNEP), the chemistry of the oceans is changing at a rate not seen for 65 million years. Should the rate of change continue unaltered, our oceans could be 150 percent more acidic by the end of this century, the study says.
“Ocean acidification is yet another red flag being raised, carrying planetary health warnings about the uncontrolled growth in greenhouse gas emissions,” said Achim Steiner, the executive director of UNEP. “It is a new and emerging piece in the scientific jigsaw puzzle, but one that is triggering rising concern.”
Oceans absorb some 25 percent of global CO2 emissions, but once they do so, the carbon dioxide is transformed into carbonic acid, which accounts for the precipitous fall in pH levels found by the study. It is unclear, however, what exactly the effects of the increase in acidity might be for ocean life, but scientists are concerned that the change may harm many shell-building organisms at the bottom of the food chain.
“We are seeing an overall negative impact from ocean acidification directly on organisms and on some key ecosystems that help provide food for billions,” said Carol Turley, the lead author of the new report, in a press release. Furthermore, according to the study, an increase in acidification could have a devastating effect on coral reefs, which provide a home for 25 percent of all marine species and provide food and jobs to some 500 million people around the world.
But its not just global warming that is damaging fish stocks in the oceans. According to a separate report released on Thursday by the University of British Columbia in Canada, the total global catch quintupled between 1950 and 1987, primarily the result of a rapid and expansive increase in fishing grounds.
Since then, however, expansion has slowed and the total catch has leveled off, and even dropped slightly from the peak of 90 million tons per year.
The study found that a third of the world’s oceans and two-thirds of coastal waters are now being exploited, with the only frontiers left being relatively unproductive waters on the high seas and the coastal regions of the Arctic and Antarctic, both difficult to access.
The study concludes that, if fish is going to remain a major part of the global diet, sustainable methods must be rapidly introduced to counteract the natural limits that may now have been reached.
“The decline in spatial expansion since the mid-1990s is not a reflection of successful conservation efforts but rather an indication that we’ve simply run out of room to expand fisheries,” said study author Wilf Swartz in a press release.
Co-author Enric Sala adds: “The era of great expansion has come to an end, and maintaining the current supply of wild fish sustainably is not possible.”
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