Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Warsaw Climate Talks -- Lots at Stake

A new round of climate talks began in Warsaw, Poland this week. Between the severe drought that engulfed much of the US this year, the high number of temperature records, and the many extreme weather events
globally, of which Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest on record, is the latest, lots is at stake. 

It's also easy to summarize. Here is the temperature anomaly (departure from the long term average) from the National Climatic Data Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): 
climate change data

The global average temperature, decade by decade, has been increasing. The main driver for this increase is carbon dioxide emitted through the burning of fossil fuels. If there was any sanity in the climate negotiations, then viewing the above figure should stir nations to action. That was the reasoning behind the Kyoto Protocol, an ambitious international treaty, which did not succeed in reducing global carbon dioxide emissions. The present round of climate talks is to set up a framework for negotiations in Paris in 2015, a new Kyoto accord, as it were, which will come into effect in 2020. 

How are nations responding to the evidence of global warming? By wringing their hands mostly, as this nice summary from NPR shows. Developed countries have pledged reductions of carbon dioxide emissions in the range of 10 to 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and developing countries, like India and China, have yet to make any real pledges. But when you look at what the present emissions are (below) you can see that these pledges, many of which will not be successful, you get the idea that much more needs to be done. 

carbon dioxide emissions per country

Clearly, looking at the above figure, any sort of deal is going to require an agreement between China, the EU and the US, the three biggest emitters. It's also apparent that talk of cuts of 10 to 20% within ten years seem inadequate (for the US, 17% below 1990 levels would be 5000 million tons carbon dioxide, which doesn't look like much of a decrease at all), but I suppose it's a start. 

It's hard to see where the leadership will come from to see the talks end on a positive note. Bringing China on board is key, but that's unlikely until developed countries pledge greater cuts and at the moment in North America, the climate for such cuts is lukewarm at best. (In June, President Obama did address climate change, in a speech that was heavy on new technologies, while in Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper continues to push for pipelines for Alberta tar sands oil, despite the majority of Canadians wanting him to take a leadership role on climate change.)

In October, a study published in Nature argues that we are shockingly close, within a few decades, to the time when changes in weather patterns become irreversible. It's our planet and our future. We're well beyond the time for debate and firmly in the time for action. We must demand it. 


climate tipping points

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Basho and the Grebes

Basho, grebes, endangered species, extinct species
The Japanese haiku poet Matsuo Basho

I've been writing stories about recently extinct species to raise awareness that the latest spasm of species loss, which we are in the midst of, includes much more than the Dodo, the passenger pigeon and the great Auk. One of my stories, "Basho and the Grebes," was just published in the online journal Toad. The story begins like this:
This is a story that ends prematurely. Once there was a diving bird that lived happily on a lake. This grebe, like grebes everywhere, had an elaborate mating ritual. Males and females faced each other, bobbed their long swan necks and preened their feathers in rhythm. They dove into the shallows, rose up breast to breast and, feet paddling furiously, waltzed around each other with a bill full of reeds as if proposing to build a floating nest together. Then they dashed side by side across the surface of the lake like fools in love before diving under.
You can read the rest of the story, and find out how the great Japanese haiku poet is connected, here.

And, the clip below shows aspects of the grebes' mating ritual (the same clip is here):


                              


Monday, August 19, 2013

World Orangutan Day


orangutans, palm oil

Welcome to the inaugural World Orangutan Day!

Orangutans live only in Borneo (Malaysia) and the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Known
as "persons of the forest", they are highly intelligent and have their own culture, yet they
are losing habitat because of our demands for palm oil.

Here's how you can help celebrate World Orangutan Day
1) spend 1.5 minutes educating yourself with this gonzo Greenpeace ad:


2) Check your shopping basket. If you're buying "vegetable oil", pre-packaged
snack foods by the corporate food giants like Nestle, or products where the
saturated fat content is more than 40% of the total fat, then you're buying palm oil.
Destruction of rainforest in Sumatra and Borneo for palm oil plantations is a leading
cause of orangutan endangerment. See the Say No to Palm Oil guide for more information.

3) Spread the word. Share this post. Join the Facebook event. Sign a petition.
Find a way to give orangutans a voice. They're depending on us to do what's right. Let's
all show the orangutans some love today and everyday!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Monsanto vs Democracy

Here's a word cloud of my recent posts. How come it's easy to find Monsanto but difficult to find democracy? That "endangered" seems to be trying to tell us something too. And hey, that's not Obama under Monsanto's thumb is it? I sure hope not...
word cloud, endangered species, Monsanto, democracy

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Endangered Species Chronicles: The Spotted Handfish

spotted handfish, endangered species, Arkive, infographic, endangered fish, walking fish
The Spotted Handfish, looking unhappy to be endangered. 

In the coastal estuaries of Tasmania lives one of the most unique fish ever to walk the Earth: the spotted handfish (Brachionichthys hirsutus). One of the most endangered marine fish, this unique swimmer is also a walker, thanks to its hand-like pectoral and dorsal fins, which it uses to walk along the seafloor.

First discovered in the late 1790's by French explorer Peron, the spotted handfish was a common sight in Tasmanian waters until the 1980's when its population crashed. Reasons for the crash are unclear but possibilities include the introduction of the northern Pacific seastar (Asterias amurensis), known to be a voracious predator of shellfish and which may also eat the eggs of handfish, and deterioration of habitat due to coastal development.

Surveys in the 1990's showed the spotted handfish to be sparsely distributed and the largest colony had only 300 to 500 members. Its restricted range and low population density make it vulnerable to extinction and a captive breeding program has been launched to eventually re-introduce this unique fish back into its former range.

See incredible video of the spotted handfish walking on the seafloor at Arkive.

See an infographic on how we're endangering species here.

See Joel Sartore's portraits of many endangered animals here.

Please help raise awareness about endangered species and share this post.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Reading as a Revolutionary Act

Taksim Square Book Club, reading as revolution, great environmental books

Just over a month ago we all watched as Turks in Istanbul and elsewhere protested the demolition of Taksim Gezi Park and the increasing authoritarianism of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. The protest has evolved from sit-ins, strikes and demonstrations, some of which were harshly squashed by the Turkish authorities, to silent vigils and book-reading.

According to Aljezeera, a new form of resistance is emerging, known as the "Standing Man". Initiated by performance artist Erdem Gunduz, who stood with his hands in his pockets facing the Ataturk Cultural Center in Taksim Square for eight hours, the Standing Man has now merged with public reading and education to become the Taksim Square Book Club. Now we have individuals standing in the square and simply being a presence or reading a book. Those reading books chose some of the 20th Century's classics, including Orwell's 1984 and Camus's The Myth of Sisyphus, along with modern works of Turkish and world literature. View a terrific slideshow of this revolutionary act here.

This summer we could all take page from the actions of Taksimites and gather to read Thoreau's Walden, Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, or any other number of environmental classics to protest climate inaction, fracking on public lands, overuse of pesticides and lack of leadership on biodiversity loss. We could gather and read, and educate ourselves and each other. The revolution is ready and waiting -- all it needs is us.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Obama and Climate Change -- What about Conservation?

President Obama, climate change, biodiversity crisis
Obama's Climate Speech (Reuters)

Yesterday, President Obama finally addressed the problem of climate change in a 45-minute speech at Georgetown University in Washington DC. He began with an impressive summary of the facts of climate change, calling carbon “pollution”, stating that twelve of the last fifteen years have been the warmest on record, that arctic ice has diminished to its smallest size on record and that the ocean temperatures have reached record highs. He also mentioned last week’s heat wave in Alaska and the drought and heavy rains of the Midwest.
            From there, he discussed how these effects have costs for all of us and said that, because the science was sound, we had to act. He wondered if we had the courage to act before it’s too late.
            To his credit, he proposed limits on pollution from power plants and mentioned ending fossil fuel subsidies. However, though he still did not come out against the Keystone Pipeline and instead left himself some wiggle room, saying that it would only be approved if it was in the nation’s best interests.
            It was a speech that was heavy on new technologies, as if renewable energies can solve our problems. Unfortunately, though he talked about using energy more efficiently and wasting less energy, he made no mention of actually using less energy, which also needs to be part of the solution. If we’re to transition off fossil fuels to 100% renewables, we simply can’t keep consuming energy the way we have been. Either that, or we’ll have to give up pristine wilderness and public lands for wind farms. I’m all for wind power, but not at any cost.
            Factoring consumption into the equation is also important to bring home the message that we are over-consuming the environment. One of the main causes of species loss is habitat destruction, usually from land converted to agriculture (typically cattle). In fact, if we developed a silver bullet and solved our energy problems tomorrow, we would still have the biodiversity crisis to solve.
            Obama said, “We all share a responsibility for keeping the planet habitable,” and this means we’re going to need to do more than transfer to renewable energies. We have to examine our entire environmental footprint and reduce it.

See the complete transcript of Obama's speech here, and a discussion of the impacts of climate change on biodiversity here