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The coral reef crisis: The critical importance of

Temperature-induced mass coral bleaching causing mortality on a wide geographic scale started when atmospheric CO2 levels exceeded not, vert, similar320 ppm. When CO2 levels reached not, vert, similar340 ppm, sporadic but highly destructive mass bleaching occurred in most reefs world-wide, often associated with El Niño events. Recovery was dependent on the vulnerability of individual reef areas and on the reef’s previous history and resilience. At today’s level of not, vert, similar387 ppm, allowing a lag-time of 10 years for sea temperatures to respond, most reefs world-wide are committed to an irreversible decline. Mass bleaching will in future become annual, departing from the 4 to 7 years return-time of El Niño events. Bleaching will be exacerbated by the effects of degraded water-quality and increased severe weather events. In addition, the progressive onset of ocean acidification will cause reduction of coral growth and retardation of the growth of high magnesium calcite-secreting coralline algae. If CO2 levels are allowed to reach 450 ppm (due to occur by 2030–2040 at the current rates), reefs will be in rapid and terminal decline world-wide from multiple synergies arising from mass bleaching, ocean acidification, and other environmental impacts. Damage to shallow reef communities will become extensive with consequent reduction of biodiversity followed by extinctions. Reefs will cease to be large-scale nursery grounds for fish and will cease to have most of their current value to humanity. There will be knock-on effects to ecosystems associated with reefs, and to other pelagic and benthic ecosystems. Should CO2 levels reach 600 ppm reefs will be eroding geological structures with populations of surviving biota restricted to refuges. Domino effects will follow, affecting many other marine ecosystems. This is likely to have been the path of great mass extinctions of the past, adding to the case that anthropogenic CO2 emissions could trigger the Earth’s sixth mass extinction.


Runoff from land covered with slaughterhouse and livestock waste polluting water supplies throughout the country

The U.S. livestock industry—a large and vital part of agriculture in this country—has been undergoing a drastic change over the past several decades. Huge CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) have become the predominant method of raising livestock, and the crowded conditions in these facilities have increased water and air pollution and other types of harm to public health and rural communities.CAFOs are not the inevitable result of market forces. Instead, these unhealthy operations are largely the result of misguided public policy that can and should be changed.In this report, the Union of Concerned Scientists analyzes both the policies that have facilitated the growth of CAFOs and the enormous costs imposed on society by CAFOs. We also discuss sophisticated and efficient alternatives for producing affordable animal products, and offer policy recommendations that can begin to lead us toward a healthy and sustainable food system.

Full Report

Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) Uncovered | Union of Concerned Scientists

Biotech companies suppress research on engineered crops

Biotechnology companies are using “strong-arm tactics and close-fisted attitudes” to prevent independent scientists from conducting research on genetically engineered (GE) crops, according to Nature Biotechnology. Because companies have patent rights on these crop varieties, they are legally allowed to control their use, even for research. Companies have refused scientists’ requests for seeds and have interfered with publication. In one case, DuPont/Pioneer forbade scientists from publishing their findings that ladybugs (beneficial insects) were killed by its GE corn in feeding trials. Subsequently the company gained regulatory approval to market a nearly identical corn variety—but it did not submit the data on the feeding trial that killed the ladybugs. Read the article (pdf).

nature biotechnology volume 27 number 10 october 2009

Proposals for Clean Tech Transfer Commitments at Copenhagen

But neither more money alone, nor an international mechanism to collect and distribute such funding, will be sufficient.It is equally important to guarantee that a large part of the funded projects are directed at meeting the needs of the poor who are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

This will require political concessions from the developed world that are unlikely to be easily conceded at Copenhagen. In particular, the idea that clean technology should be a ‘public good’ — a resource free for everyone.Such a commitment would significantly improve access to clean technology by those who need it most but are least able to pay.

Similar to the thinking behind ‘open access’ to scientific research, the idea is that the easier it is to access clean technologies, the more widely the benefits will be felt.But patents increasingly cover clean technologies — whether developed in the public or the private sector. And, despite calls for loosening patent protection, in practice the reverse is likely to happen as corporations and countries view the sale and export of green technology as a path to economic growth.

Markets not the answerThis is true for the developed and developing world alike. Countries such as China and India are already producing new technologies within a market perspective, developing them as a major future source of revenue rather than a free gift.But, as long-argued by economists such as Nicholas Stern and increasingly accepted by governments around the world, climate change represents one of the biggest market failures of all time.If, as with the financial crisis, it was the failure of global markets to stem excessive greed (in this case for energy) that triggered the current climate crisis, markets are unlikely to get us out of it.

We need a massive public bail-out of precisely the type that the proposed MCTF represents and that governments have already provided for their financial institutions.But those excluded from markets in the first place, including most of the world’s poorest communities, need a different approach. It is here that the ‘public good’ approach to clean technology is most urgent.If next month’s climate talks in Copenhagen can enshrine such a commitment, it would be one of its most significant and long-lasting achievements.

Clean technology as a public good – SciDev.Net

China’s Nitrogen and Ammonia Emissions Set to Rise by 30% and 57% by 2020

Although China is on target to meet its goal of reducing sulphur dioxide emissions by 10 per cent between 2005 and 2010 — Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao announced in March this year that SO2 emissions have been reduced by 8.95 per cent in the last three years — researchers report that its nitrogen emissions are climbing dramatically.Writing in Environmental Science and Technology this month (1 November) , the researchers predict that the country’s emissions of nitrous oxides (NOx) and ammonia (NH3) will rise by 30 and 57 per cent respectively from 2005 to 2020.Fossil fuel combustion in power plants and vehicles are China’s main source of NOx discharges, while livestock farming and fertilisers are to blame for the bulk of its NH3 emissions.In China’ industrial sector, there is currently no nitrogen emission standard for coal combustion boilers, as a result of which emission control measures are rarely taken.


Rumination: The Quest for Residential Energy Efficiency: Are You Bogarting?

One of the magic wands being waved around as an elixir to cure climate change is the notion of efficiency gains. This remedial ‘wedge’ (each remedial wedge closes the alligator jaws on the greenhouse gas chart just a little more) is nothing to scoff at as it is one of the least expensive ways to make headway on the challenge. One place where most of us can get to work immediately is in the home. There are some nice supporting gadgets I’ll get to in a minute.

So to get started point to this Residential Energy Efficiency Calculator:  ResEff Calculator (you will need to have a program that can work with Excel files on your computer). The program will spit out your household’s per capita energy consumption for the year (all the common residential fuels are covered) and compare that to results from around the world (for the most recent year of data I could find) and if you are like most of us you will soon discover your energy profligacy. If you run the calculator and find that your consumption exceeds the world average then you can undoubtedly bring yourself into harmony by installing and using the set of devices I will describe below.

To get an accurate calculator result, you need to have some data at your disposal. Things like how much electricity or gas or other fuels your home consumed during a given year. You also need to know how many people lived in the residence (most of us shouldn’t have much trouble with that one) and how many hours per week each of the residents worked outside the residence. If you live in a condo or coop or any form of associative style, you need to include the common energy consumption on a separate line as well as your percentage share of common ownership. This info is usually available in annual reports or from the management office.

Here are my results (this chart is expressed in Giga Joules so as to standardize the measurements across all types of energy and all parts of the world):

ResEffBeing the environmentalist I am, I had to eat heavy crow after this result. In my defense I can only say that the excess comes from the coop’s (I live in an apartment building) electricity usage for the common areas like lobbies, elevators, and hallways. Furthermore, I have tried to make some waves on the issue with the coop Board, so far to little avail. I propose that common areas in coops and condos should best be considered commercial spaces for efficiency purposes since the individual resident has little to no control over how energy is consumed there. If I leave out the electricity draw in the building’s common areas, my consumption comes in at a respectable 18.08 GJ per year. How you want to handle common areas is up to your discretion and conscience.

I have reached this low consumption level mainly due to a system of devices I have installed in my apartment to maximize the efficiencies I have control over. This is something that everyone can do, either as a DIY or with the help of an installer. Since there are several brands and models available for these components, I will speak of the devices generically. To find devices, try running a search using the terms ‘power monitor meter’ or ‘home automation’.

First, I installed a real time electricity consumption monitor. There are several versions of these devices. Some are designed to measure consumption on a single appliance or device and they simply plug into the wall between the appliance and the socket. I don’t mean these. Instead I recommend the whole house monitor. These devices are installed easily into the breaker panel and then communicate with a console places anywhere in the home. The console gives a real time reading (e.g. 1.5 kW) showing what your house is consuming at any given moment and also keeps track of the monthly consumption. There are many other readings and configuration options. The nice thing about this device is that I can see the amount of electricity consumed by any appliance in the house. If I turn on my bathroom heater, I can see that the console reading rises by 300 watts and so on. Armed with this information I can quickly determine which of my devices are burning the midnight oil and then focus on either eliminating them or taming their demands….

Second, I installed an intelligent home automation system. These systems allow you to plug in any or all the appliances in your home into an automated system that can turn them on or off according to your schedule. If you are still envisioning those ancient rotary modules that can turn a lamp on and off according to your placement of certain pegs, this is a whole ‘nother order of automation. Using a home computer to program the automating console, you can give all kinds of contingent instructions to the electric appliances in your home. For instance, you can tell the bathroom heater to crank up on weekdays at 6am if and only if the outside temperature is below 50 degrees F and the lamp in your room is on (i.e. you are awake), and if not, then to check every half hour until you are awake. The possibilities are truly endless and best of all can make a very substantial impact on your residential energy efficiency.


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