September 30 News: One-Third of Thailand Deluged, Major City Prepares Evacuation, Rice Fields Inundated, Price Spike Likely

A round-up of climate and energy news. Please post additional stories below.

Rains wreak havoc across Southeast Asia

More than 100 people have died and tens of thousands of others have been displaced as monsoon rains continue to wreak havoc across Southeast Asia.

In Cambodia and southern Vietnam, more than a 100 people have died this week in the worst flooding along the Mekong River in 11 years. Heavy rain swamped homes, washed away bridges and forced thousands of people to evacuate.

Worse could be in store if Typhoon Nesat, which killed at least 39 people in China this week and is expected to pound northern Vietnam on Friday, dumps rain deep enough inland to further swell the Mekong.

Floods are affecting hundreds of thousands of people throughout India, the Philippines, and now Thailand. One-third of Thailand was deluged and Chiang Mai, one of the largest cities was being prepared for evacuation.

China issued its first red alert weather warning of the year as Typhoon Nesat moved closer. In Guangdong province, waves damaged a seawall, causing serious disruption to transport and about 300,000 people fled from their homes there and in Hainan province.

Rice prices

Flooding across the fertile Mekong Delta helped drive rice prices to a three-year high in Vietnam this week, traders said, which will add to inflation problems. The delta produces more than half of Vietnam’s rice and 90 per cent of its exportable grain.

In Cambodia, 97 people have died in weeks of flooding.

“Now, more than 200,000 hectares of our rice paddies are under water but we don’t yet know the full extent of the damage,” said Keo Vy, deputy information director at the National Disaster Management Committee.

Cambodia is a rice exporter, but Vietnam is the world’s second-biggest exporter behind Thailand.

In 2000, the worst flooding in decades killed more than 480 people across the Delta region. The following year, more than 300 people died when the Mekong, which flows 4,350km from the glaciers of Tibet to the rice-rich Delta of southern Vietnam, overflowed its banks.

Some 150,000 families had been affected by the flooding in Cambodia this year and another 15,000 evacuated to higher ground, said Men Neary Sopheak, deputy secretary general of Cambodia’s Red Cross.

Vietnam floods

… Water had reached 4.76m early on Friday at Vietnam’s Tan Chau gauging station, above Alarm Level Three, the most dangerous flood condition at which inundation is widespread and dykes are in jeopardy.It was forecast to peak at 4.9m by Sunday, the government said. Water five metres deep can submerge one-storey houses, which are common in the Delta in southern Vietnam.

Evacuations urged

Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai urged the provincial authorities to evacuate people from dangerous areas, speed up the rice harvest and close more schools to prevent deaths.

Around 5,000 hectares of the Delta’s third rice crop have been inundated as floods broke through dyke sections in the provinces of Dong Thap and An Giang, and another 90,000 hectares were under threat.

The region has planted nearly 600,000 hectares for the current crop, which is mainly for domestic consumption, and only 5 per cent has been harvested, the agriculture ministry said.

In Thailand, the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation said 180 people had died in flooding since mid-July caused by tropical storms and seasonal monsoons.

Two million people in 23 provinces have been affected, with 2.4 million acres of farmland under water. Officials say rice has been harvested early in some areas, which may cut yields.

Asia reels from floods; Vietnam braces for storm

A tropical storm whacked into Vietnam on Friday, forcing 20,000 people to be evacuated, as the Philippines braced for a new typhoon and several Asian countries reeled under floods after some of the wildest weather this summer.Prolonged monsoon flooding, typhoons and storms have wreaked untold havoc in the region, leaving more than 600 people dead or missing in India, Thailand, the Philippines, Japan, China, Pakistan and Vietnam in the last four months. In India alone, the damage is estimated to be worth $1 billion, with the worst-hit state of Orissa accounting for $726 million.

Several studies suggest an intensification of the Asian summer monsoon rainfall with increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, the state-run Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology said. Still, it is not clear that this is entirely because of climate change, especially in India, it said.

After pummeling the Philippines and China this week, Typhoon Nesat was downgraded to a tropical storm just before churning into northern Vietnam on Friday afternoon with sustained wind speeds of up to 73 mph (118 kph), according to the national weather forecasting center.

Heavy rains were reported in northern and central areas. Warnings were issued for flash floods and landslides in mountainous regions, and for flooding in low-lying areas. High winds whipped through the streets of the capital, Hanoi.

California Supreme Court denies request to halt cap-and-trade work

The California Supreme Court Wednesday declined to order state regulators to halt work on a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program while a lower court considers legal challenges filed by environment groups.

The California Air Resource Board is scheduled to adopt a final rules on October 21 implementing the nation’s first economy-wide cap-and-trade plan. While the program is scheduled to start in January, CARB has decided to delay enforcement until January 2013.

While the court’s ruling does not end legal challenges to the cap-and-trade program, it does represent a setback for Communities for a Better Environment and other groups that had sued CARB, arguing that the agency had failed to consider alternatives before it adopted a cap-and-trade implementation plan.

A leaf that could power the future: Silicon strip developed at MIT might be key to inexpensive fuel cells

The thumb-size black strip looks like a thin magnet. But in reality, it is an artificial leaf, made of silicon and capable of using sunlight to split water into hydrogen and oxygen that can be fed into fuel cells to make power.

“You drop it in a glass of water and you walk outside and hold it in the sun, and you’ll start to see bubbles of hydrogen and oxygen,’’ explained Daniel Nocera, an MIT professor who led the team that invented the device.

The next step, he said, is to make the technology work on a large scale to produce enough hydrogen and oxygen for a fuel cell to power a car or home.

The leaf, which Nocera has worked on for about three years, has the potential to solve one of the most pressing challenges facing solar power: how to store energy produced by the sun so it can be used on cloudy day.

Instead of a battery, that energy could be stored as oxygen and hydrogen gases, then recombined in fuel cells, which generate electricity from the chemical reaction.

NZ looks at banning certain CO2 offsets

New Zealand is looking to exclude the use of U.N. offsets from industrial gas projects in its emissions trading scheme from as soon as 2012, as these offsets threaten to distort the market, the government said on Friday.

Climate change minister Nick Smith said he wanted to maintain the integrity of the emissions trading scheme, which is why the government is considering banning offsets from the potent greenhouse gas hydrofluorocarbon-23 (HFC-23) and nitrous oxide credits.

“The high value for destroying these gases creates perverse incentives in developing countries to manufacture more of them bringing into question the environmental gains,” Smith said in a statement.

The New Zealand scheme allows polluters and traders to import U.N. offsets called Certified Emission Reductions from clean energy projects in poorer nations. The CERs can help polluters meet their emissions reduction obligations.

Federal Oil Spill Probe Finds U.S. Regulations Lacking

An ongoing federal investigation into last year’s massive rig explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has found that a particularly lax U.S. regulatory regime was a significant factor in the events leading up to the disaster.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) is conducting an extensive examination at the request of Congress of the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident, which killed 11 workers. Its probe, which will likely take another year to complete, will analyze all factors that may have contributed to the accident.

CSB has already found one issue to be particularly worrisome: how U.S. regulations stack up to those of other countries where offshore drilling occurs.

In particular, CSB is raising questions about why the United States does not adopt the “safety case” hazard system used internationally.

“Nearly every regime where there is significant oil exploration has adopted the safety case,” Don Holmstrom, a CSB investigator, told Greenwire.

Department of Energy Awards $156 Million for Groundbreaking Energy Research Projects

Arun Majumdar, Director of the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), today announced 60 cutting-edge research projects aimed at dramatically improving how the U.S. produces and uses energy. With $156 million from the Fiscal Year 2011 budget, the new ARPA-E selections focus on accelerating innovations in clean technology while increasing America’s competitiveness in rare earth alternatives and breakthroughs in biofuels, thermal storage, grid controls, and solar power electronics.   Demonstrating the success ARPA-E has already seen, the program announced this year that eleven of its projects secured more than $200 million in outside private capital investment.

“These innovative projects are at the forefront of a new technological frontier that plays a critical role in our future energy security and economic growth, “said Majumdar. “It is now more important than ever to invest in game-changing ideas that will build the technological infrastructure for a new, clean energy economy.”

25 Responses to September 30 News: One-Third of Thailand Deluged, Major City Prepares Evacuation, Rice Fields Inundated, Price Spike Likely

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    Chiang Mai is a beautiful city, but most buildings will survive. They are either concrete block or raised teak post and beam.

    We have a real problem in the US. Most homes are built on slabs with two by fours. When there is a major flood, the whole structural system often becomes worthless, and ends up in a landfill. This is bad design, and needs to change.

  2. Flooding in Southeast Asia appears to be part of a climate change pattern of extreme rains. (And the same occurs on the other side of the spectrum, extreme drought. Current victim: Texas.)
    There’s hope for some areas, though, like the US Midwest, where flooding is exacerbated by chemical farming — which depletes the soil and leads to runoff — as well as man-made impositions on the Missouri River. Rodale Institute has just confirmed what we all suspected, that organic farming could improve that situation by keeping the soil healthy and detering runoff, and when there is an unavoidable flooding it would not send synthetic fertilizer downriver to choke off life in the Gulf of Mexico. What would persuade farmers to switch? The study found the organic farmers had better profits, and not so much because of higher market prices, but due to lower energy inputs. Sometimes the old ways are best. Story here:

  3. cervantes says:

    Canadian Arctic nearly loses entire ice shelf.

    “TORONTO — Two ice shelves that existed before Canada was settled by Europeans diminished significantly this summer, one nearly disappearing altogether, Canadian scientists say in newly published research. . . . Between 1906 and 1982, there has been a 90 percent reduction in the areal extent of ice shelves along the entire coastline, according to data published by W.F. Vincent at Quebec’s Laval University. The former extensive “Ellesmere Island Ice Sheet” was reduced to six smaller, separate ice shelves: Serson, Petersen, Milne, Ayles, Ward Hunt and Markham. In 2005, the Ayles Ice Shelf whittled almost completely away, as did the Markham Ice Shelf in 2008 and the Serson this year.

    “The impact is significant and yet only a piece of the ongoing and accelerating response to warming of the Arctic,” said Dr. Robert Bindschadler, emeritus scientist at the Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences Laboratory at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

    Bindschadler said the loss is an indication of another threshold being passed, as well as the likely acceleration of buttressed glaciers able to flow faster into the ocean, which accelerates their contribution to global sea level.

    Copland said mean winter temperatures have risen by about 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade for the past five to six decades on northern Ellesmere Island.”

  4. Paul Magnus says:

    North Sea gas production falls 25%
    Alarming slump could put pressure on coalition to approve controversial shale gas projects

  5. Paul Magnus says:
    North Sea gas production falls 25%

    Alarming slump could put pressure on coalition to approve controversial shale gas projects

  6. Paul Magnus says:

    Huge Australian bushfires ignited rare plant growth – environment – 19 September 2011 – New Scientis
    Rare plants are springing up in an Australian park ravaged by bushfires – plants that had never been recorded there before the fire

  7. prokaryotes says:

    Fate of the World: Tipping Point Launches
    By: Bill Rastello on Friday, September 30, 2011

  8. prokaryotes says:

    Mold…The Silent Killer

    Now, you cannot get an insurance policy without a separate clause and an additional premium added to cover mold damage

  9. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Very true, Barbara, but the multinational chemical companies won’t allow it. Organic agriculture in Australia is parodied and vilified whenever it is mentioned in the MSM, without exception. There are billions at risk here.

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘Tipping-points’ long past. ‘Points of no return’ real worry.

  11. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Add the loss of rice and fish farms from the Mekong Delta to the last year’s losses of wheat, corn, sugar etc. Add in rapid acidification of the oceans.

    Anybody willing to bet their house on the UN’s projection of 9 billion humans by 2050? ME

  12. prokaryotes says:

    Are Americans warming to the threat of climate change?

    Here’s a turn-up for the books. If a poll is to be believed (and I agree its a bit of an “if”) the proportion of Americans who agree with the conclusion of the vast majority of climate scientists that the world is warming has jumped over the past year.
    Eighty-three per cent of respondents told a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll that global warming is taking place, compared with 75 per cent last year. Even more surprisingly – and in sharp contrast to equally hot issues like healthcare and the deficit – the great majority of supporters of both main political parties are on the same side. Ninety-two per cent of Democrats said the climate change is happening, but so did 72 per cent of Republicans.

    The comment section is full with ad hominem and the typical denier rants.

  13. prokaryotes says:

    Visions of an Age When Oil Isn’t King

    Among Mr. Yergin’s fears is Iran possessing an atomic bomb and upsetting the balance of power in the Middle East. A nuclear Iran is especially terrifying, he writes, because of the West’s lack of direct “communication with Tehran, which could increase the likelihood of an ‘accidental’ nuclear confrontation.” He worries too about future cyber attacks on energy grids, perhaps even a “cyber Pearl Harbor.”

    Mr. Yergin devotes a large chunk of his book to renewable sources of energy: wind, direct sunlight, biofuels and hydropower, among others. He is particularly interested in the possibility of “disruptive technologies,” or unforeseen, game-changing energy sources. He describes these as the “Googles” of energy, and notes that venture capitalists are increasingly interested in financing research in them.

    Threaded throughout the book are small, adept profiles both of world leaders and of less well known figures, like H. L. Williams, the godfather of offshore drilling; the Princeton mathematician John von Neumann, a pioneer of computer-driven weather forecasting; and Roger Revelle, who, while teaching at Harvard in the 1960s, educated Al Gore on global warming.

    “The Quest” often works on a micro as well as a macro level; that is, there are incidental pleasures. Mr. Yergin prints an oilman’s maxim: “Easy glum, easy glow.” He quotes the Venezuelan leader Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonso, a founder of OPEC, who called oil “the excrement of the devil.” He catalogs Jimmy Carter’s Sisyphean struggle to make energy independence a central issue during his presidency. The effort, Mr. Carter argues, was the “moral equivalent of war.” Critics mocked him with that phrase’s initials: MEOW.

    When it comes to assessing the world’s energy future Mr. Yergin is a Churchillian. He argues that we should consider all possible energy sources, the way Winston Churchill considered oil when he spoke to the British Parliament in 1913. “On no one quality, on no one process, on no one country, on no one route, and on no one field must we be dependent,” Churchill said. “Safety and security in oil lie in variety and variety alone.”

    One of Mr. Yergin’s closing arguments focuses on the importance of thinking seriously about one energy source that “has the potential to have the biggest impact of all.” That source is efficiency. It’s a simple idea, he points out, but one that is oddly “the hardest to wrap one’s mind around.” More efficient buildings, cars, airplanes, computers and other products have the potential to change our world.

    So does old-fashioned individual action. Mr. Yergin turns to the Japanese, who have rarely had abundant natural resources. He brings up the notion of “mottainai,” a word that is difficult to translate into English yet explains why the Japanese save wrapping paper from gifts to use again and again. The best translation of “mottainai,” Mr. Yergin writes, is “too precious to waste.”

  14. prokaryotes says:

    People need to envision what is loading up. For example: When the atmospheric, chemistry setup is abruptly altered and chances of CO2 or methane(possibly explosive) clouds hovering over the northern hemisphere. This in the event of abrupt methane release from huge destabilizing methane deposits.

    Analogous experiments which demonstrate and bring more attention to the threats, are good for messaging too.

    That’s why i like this video so much:

    CO2 is Just a Trace Gas

  15. prokaryotes says:

    Great to read again from Daniel Nocera. I follow his team process for almost 2 years now. Joe Romm wrote 1 article about this technology so far. I wonder when they kick off their first large scale test.

    More from MIT

    A Simple Way to Boost Battery Storage
    A stretchy binder material that’s compatible with existing factories could help electric cars and portable electronics go 30 percent longer.

  16. Joe Romm says:

    Yergin book is lame. Review is lamer.

  17. Alex Smith says:

    Don’t forget the resurgence of peat fires in Indonesia this year. According to Dr. Florian Siegert of the Geobio lab in Munich, 1997 peat fires doubled the RATE of increase of CO2 measured at Manua Loa, Hawaii.

    Was this a factor in the 1998 hot year?

    Tropical forest fires in Indonesia, not counting the peat fires, are greater than in the Amazon this year.

    Smoke from peat fires reaching Singapore and Malaysia, as it did in ’97.

    Hear the interview in this week’s Radio Ecoshock show:

    Or read about it in the blog here:

    Peat fires alone can change the climate!

    Alex, Radio Ecoshock

  18. Alex Smith says:

    Another one to watch: the manic building of coal-fired power plants in India.

    India has approved 173 new plants this year alone, including several mega-projects of 4 Gigawatts each.

    The country has run short of coal, is building big plants near the coast, to import coal from Indonesia (the world’s second largest coal exporter).

    Some plan to use generated power to run desalinization plants to cool themselves. A very power-intensive way to go, but water is so scarce in India already.

    Displaced peasants and fisherpeople have protested by the thousands, with several shot dead by police.

    Watch coal growth in India. The second half of this week’s Radio Ecoshock show, (see above) features an interview with Indian power expert Shankar Sharma.

    Radio Ecoshock

  19. The Wonderer says:

    Today’s NYT article on climate and carbon sinks isn’t too bad, but moderately confused, and the usual denialist’s paragraphs to boot.

  20. prokaryotes says:

    Suicide epidemic hits bankrupt farmers of India

    Devastated by one of the worst droughts in decades, farming does not get much tougher than in India where thousands left with poor harvests and big debts have been driven to take their own lives.

    ­Sadly, the government has turned a blind eye to the growing problem.

    The farmlands in Telangana region in southern India are commonly known as the country’s ‘rice bowl’. They may look lush under the brightly shining sun, but the grass is far from greener in this once-fertile land where farmers are killing themselves in their thousands.