"Energy and Global Warming News for June 27th: Dust-Bowl-ification spreads to southern Italy; Clean energy by Nobel Prize-wining Grameen Bank; DC Metro crash symptom of crumbling infrastructure"
It’s my birthday (how coincidental!), and I’m on a rare plane trip (from a peak oil meeting — more on that later), so this will be the only post today. And yes, this is really yesterday’s other news.
Dust-Bowlification is predicted to happen all over the world — see NOAA stunner: humanity faces permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe. But it’s happening some places now:
The Sahara Desert is crossing the Mediterranean, according to Italian environmental protection group Legambiente which warns that the livelihoods of 6.5 million people living along its shores could be at risk.
”Desertification isn’t limited to Africa,” said Legambiente Vice President Sebastiano Venneri.
”Without a serious change of direction in economic and environmental policies, the risk will become concrete and irreversible.” A recent report by Legambiente estimated that 74 million acres of fertile land along the Mediterranean were turning to desert as the result of overexploited land and water resources.
Legambiente said that southern Italy was at severe risk in addition to the islands of Sicily and Sardinia where 11% of all arable land showed signs of drying up. ”Semi-arid coastal regions like southern Italy are prone to the effects of desertification due to farmers’ dependence on water from underground aquifers instead of rainfall,” said Legambiente spokesman Giorgio Zampetti. According to Zampetti, pumping too much fresh water out of these underground deposits can result in seawater leaking in to replace it, effectively poisoning the groundwater.
As an example of the long-term consequences, Legambiente pointed to Egypt where it said brackish groundwater had compromised half the country’s farmland.
“The south of Italy isn’t the only part of the country at risk,” added Zampetti. ”Aquifers around the Po Delta in northern Italy have also begun showing signs of saltwater contamination.” Experts said that the Po River, which is Italy’s longest waterway and nearly dries up in parts when industrial consumption peaks, is one of the most visible examples of desertifying climate change in Italy. Italy is not the only country in Europe losing fertile land.
Legambiente estimated that desertification affects more than a fifth of the Iberian Peninsula with early indicators also present along the French Riviera.
Across the Mediterranean, Legambiente said that countries like Libya, Tunisia and Morocco were losing 1,000 square kilometers of fertile land every year.
Legambiente experts predict that between 1997 and 2020, desertification will have forced over 60 million people in sub-Saharan Africa to leave their homes, many of whom will head north to Europe.
Here in the Bangladesh countryside, amid the emerald-green rice paddies and farmers threshing crops with their bare feet, are beige cows, giant haystacks”¦ and solar energy panels – 200,000 of them scattered throughout the country.
This clean-electricity source is part of an innovative program conducted by Grameen Shakti, the environmental arm of Grameen Bank, which won a Nobel Peace Prize for its pioneering use of microloans in Bangladesh.
Its projects also include biogas production, improved cookstove technology, and solar power training centers for women.
Grameen Shakti (meaning “village energy” in Bangla) was started in 1996 as a way to bring electricity and better living standards to the country’s rural poor. “At that time, 85 percent [of the total population of 140 million] had no electricity,” says Dipal Barua, the nonprofit group’s managing director.
He’s speaking from his 19th floor office, which is lined with solar panel prototypes and overlooks the country’s capital, Dhaka.
The train that rear-ended another in Washington on Monday evening, killing nine people, was made up of some of the oldest cars in Washington’s relatively young subway system, cars that had been cited for vulnerabilities before. But federal data show that many other cities are also using outdated rail equipment.
More than a third of the equipment in the nation’s seven largest rail transit agencies was rated in marginal or poor condition by the Federal Transit Administration this spring. Replacing all the equipment that has exceeded its useful life and finishing all outstanding station rehabilitations for just those seven large systems would cost roughly $50 billion, the agency estimated, and keeping the systems in a state of good repair after that would cost an estimated $5.9 billion a year.
While the world nervously watches the uprising in Iran, an even more important uprising has been passing unnoticed – yet its outcome will shape your fate, and mine.
In the depths of the Amazon rainforest, the poorest people in the world have taken on the richest people in the world to defend a part of the ecosystem none of us can live without. They had nothing but wooden spears and moral force to defeat the oil companies – and, for today, they have won.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown wants to set up a £60bn annual fund to help poor countries deal with climate change.
He hopes it will break the deadlock over who will pay developing nations to adapt to the changing climate and who will help them obtain clean technology.
Countries must reach a binding global agreement on carbon emission cuts at December’s Copenhagen summit, he said.
The summit is seen as the last chance to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto agreement, which expires in 2012.
In a broadside aimed squarely at Canada’s energy heartland, a coalition of 18 leading environmental groups launched a high-profile campaign this week, calling on the United States government to discourage imports of crude oil derived from tar sands.
Led by the Sierra Club, the coalition is asking Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton not to issue permits to Canadian energy companies that want to build pipelines between Alberta to the American Midwest. The group will also be lobbying lawmakers in Washington to adopt a low-carbon fuel standard, similar to one in California, as another means of preventing Alberta crude from finding its way into American engines.
Major economies including the United States and China are considering setting a goal of halving world greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 when they hold a summit in Italy next month, a draft document showed.
The text also says the 17-member Major Economies Forum (MEF) will seek to double public investments in low-carbon technology by 2015 and boost funding from both public and private sources as well as from carbon markets to fight global warming.
The draft was put forward by the United States and Mexico at talks in Mexico this week, without reaching accord before a MEF summit on July 9. U.S. President Barack Obama launched the MEF to help toward a new U.N. climate pact due in December.
Environmental interests were trounced in the 2009 Supreme Court term that ends Monday.
In five high-profile cases, the justices overturned decisions that favored environmentalists. They ruled in favor of the Navy in a case pitting national security concerns against the welfare of marine mammals; limited the scope of liability for a Superfund cleanup; and reversed a decision that held no cost-benefit test could be used to determine the best technology for withdrawing water from rivers to cool power-plant turbines.
In addition, the court held that five conservation groups lacked standing to challenge U.S. Forest Service regulations and found that the Army Corps of Engineers, not U.S. EPA, has permitting authority over mining-waste discharges under the Clean Water Act.
China plans to build several gigantic wind farms that will each generate as much electricity as the Three Gorges Dam. One such project will be built in the northwestern Gansu province by 2020, a senior official announced today.
The vice governor of Gansu province, Feng Jianshen, told reporters that his province’s wind power base will top 20 gigawatts within 11 years — 10 times its current levels.
A new study by a team of researchers led by Jessica Hellmann, assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Notre Dame, offers interesting insights into how species may, or may not, change their geographic range “” the place where they live on earth “” under climate change. The lead author on the paper is recent Notre Dame doctoral degree recipient Shannon Pelini.
“¦In a paper appearing in this week’s edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Hellmann and her team describe how they tested the assumption that populations at the northern edge of a species’ range will increase with warming and thereby enhance the colonization process by using two butterflies: the Propertius duskywing and the Anise swallowtail. Hellmann notes that butterflies serve as a kind of flagship species for studying the effects of climate change. They live and die relatively quickly and researchers have garnered a substantial amount of information about them and their habits. Insects in general are important subjects for climate studies because of the key role they play in areas such as pollination and the cycling of nutrient in ecosystems.
The rapidly changing weather pattern blamed on global warming is hurting the fishing industry, depriving fishermen and their families not only of income but also their own places to live.
However, the government seems unprepared to respond to the effects of global warming as well as to its impact on the population, mostly the poor, who are at risk, civil society groups said on Wednesday.
In a study conducted three months ago on Camiguin Island, the umbrella group NGOs for Fisheries Reform (NRF) found that fishermen suffered from twin effects of global warming: “We found the social and economic impact of climate change on coastal communities,” NRF’s Dennis Calvan said.