Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Success in Durban can not disguise need for climate adaptation

Earlier this month, the world’s heads of state, government, industry and NGOs met in Durban, South Africa, to discuss our common future. These climate negotiations were more successful than many people had feared. 

A new international climate agreement will enter into force in 2020. This agreement makes life more predictable for industry and supports a future based on low-carbon technology. But we cannot rest on our laurels because - irrespective of political processes - climate forces are wreaking havoc everywhere. The authorities are drowning in information but lack knowledge about how to adapt to the climate changes we are already facing.

A number of Native Americans in the town of Kivalina in the wilds of Alaska are currently suing oil and energy companies, accusing them of destroying the basis of Kivalina’s life. The town depends on ice formations which protect it against the massive forces of nature which ravage Alaska’s coast. The problem is that the ice has melted dangerously fast over the past few years. Even in 2006, the US authorities’ research results showed that the little society had to be relocated as a result of global warming. The so-called “climigration” lawsuit that is currently taking place in the USA may be the first of many actions for damages in which companies are made responsible for the negative effect that their operations have on the climate of local communities.

A new UN report shows that man-made climate change has already led to extreme weather in the form of heat waves and flooding. Thailand is a country that has over the past few weeks become painfully aware of how catastrophic amounts of rain can destroy the basis of existence for millions of people. Here in Norway, we were reminded of nature’s inexorable forces when Hurricane Berit struck local communities along the Norwegian coast, leading to major destruction. Norwegian municipalities are now being urged to implement measures to adapt to the extreme weather resulting from climate change.

There is widespread anger, frustration and disappointment about politicians and other decision-makers. The authorities, on the other hand, are drowning in information on climate change but lack knowledge about how to deal with the risks they are facing. More

Friday, December 23, 2011

Climate Story of the Year: Warming-Driven Drought and Extreme Weather Emerge as Key Threat to Global Food Security

This year has seen a great many important climate stories.  Obviously, the continued self-destructive failure of the nation and the world to reverse greenhouse gas emission trends always deserve to be the top story in some sense:

The emergence of a genuine grassroots movement following Obama’s fecklessness on the environment is a major U.S. story (see “A Climate Movement Is Born: Ozone Decision Spikes Total Arrests to 1,252 at White House Pipeline Protest“).

And the energy story with the biggest climate implication was clearly Fukushima:

But the climate story that affects the most people around the world today by far is well described in this post — Oxfam: Extreme Weather Has Helped Push Tens of Millions into “Hunger and Poverty” in “Grim Foretaste” of Warmed World.

Climate Progress had been covering those who have been warning the day would come when humanity’s  unsustainable energy and agricultural policies would collide with global warming, who warned that the agricultural system we need to feed the world was built on a relatively stable climate that we are now destroying.  Lester Brown has been our Paul Revere on food insecurity (see the 2009 post Scientific American asks “Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?”). More

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Coming Mega Drought

Australia experienced the worst and most consistent dry period in its recorded history over much of the past decade. The Murray River failed to reach the sea for the first time ever in 2002. Fires swept much of the country, and dust storms blanketed major cities for days. Australia’s sheep population dropped by 50 percent, and rice and cotton production collapsed in some years. Tens of thousands of farm families gave up their livelihoods. The drought ended in 2010 with torrential rains and flooding.

Australia’s Millennium Drought is a wake-up call for residents of the drought-plagued southwestern U.S. and for all of us. What happened in Australia could happen in the U.S., with devastating consequences to the region and to the nation. We can avert the worst, however, if we pay attention to Australia’s experience and learn the right lessons.

The southwestern U.S. bears some resemblance to parts of Australia before the drought. Both include arid regions where thirsty cities and irrigated agriculture are straining water supplies and damaging ecosystems. The Colorado River no longer flows to the sea in most years. Water levels in major reservoirs have steadily declined over the past decade; some analysts project that the largest may never refill. The U.S. and Australia also share a changing global climate that is increasing the risk of drought.

Evidence is mounting that climate change is playing a role in Australia’s water woes. Since 1950 average rainfall has decreased 15 percent, and researchers found average temperatures over southeastern Australia from 1995 to 2006 were 0.3 to 0.6 degree Celsius higher than the long-term average. The combination of higher evaporation and lower precipitation depletes soil moisture and reduces runoff, making droughts more intense and more frequent. Australian scientists forecast a 35 to 50 percent decline in water availability in the Murray-Darling river basin and a drop in flows near the mouth of the Murray by up to 70 percent by 2030.  More

Failure at Durban - Is There a Crime of Ecocide

There is increasing evidence of dangerous, possibly catastrophic, climate change approaching. The latest science leads to the conclusion that limiting climate change to a 2⁰C increase in average global temperature is now not possible. 

There always was, after all, only a 50% chance. Now it has become a question of which year the threshold will be breached, how high the temperature will rise, over what time period, and what the consequences will be for the planet. Twenty years after Rio – after the legislative framework for effective global coordination to combat climate change was set in place – we arrive at deadlock. The capacity of the global community to solve the over-riding global challenge has proven to be inadequate. The global interest has been torn to shreds by the mindlessly competitive pursuit of excessive national interests. 
The talk will now turn to ‘transition periods’, to ‘preparatory phases’, ‘voluntary targets’, ‘coordinated action’, and ‘bottom-up approaches’. Our national leaders will spin positively into 2012. The ‘realistic expectation’ will focus on the possibility of global agreement by, or after, 2020.

The realistic prescription, from the UN and research institutes, is that global emissions need to peak between 2015 and ’17.

Historians, assuming sufficient social stability for dispassionate analysis a half-century from now, will search for reasons for our collective failure during the critical twenty-year period, 1992 – 2012. They will conclude that human technology outpaced human institutional capacity for rational decision-making. National leaders responded, as constitutionally and politically obliged, to national interest. More

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Climate Change and Large-Scale Human Crises

Climate Change and Large-Scale Human Crises


The authors note that early paleo-temperature reconstructions suggested that "massive social disturbance, societal collapse, and population collapse often coincided with great climate change in America, the Middle East, China, and many other countries in preindustrial times (Bryson and Murray, 1977; Atwell, 2001; deMenocal, 2001; Weiss and Bradley, 2001; Atwell, 2002)." They also say it has been shown more recently that "climate change was responsible for the outbreak of war, dynastic transition, and population decline in China, Europe, and around the world because of climate-induced shrinkage of agricultural production (Zhang et al., 2005, 2006, 2007a,b; Lee and Zhang, 2008; Lee et al., 2009; Lee and Zhang, 2010; Tol and Wagner, 2010; Zhang, 2010; Zhang et al., 2011b)."

What was done

In a study designed to provide still greater support for this general relationship, Zhang et al. (2011a) "examined the climate-crisis causal mechanism in a period [AD 1500-1800] that contained both periods of harmony and times of crisis," the most prominent of the latter of which was the General Crisis of the 17th Century (GCSC) in Europe, which was marked by widespread economic distress, social unrest, and population decline. This they did by examining linkages between temperature data and climate-driven economic variables that defined the "golden" and "dark" ages in Europe and North America.

What was learned

The seven scientists were able to demonstrate, in their words, that "climate change was the ultimate cause, and climate-driven economic downturn was the direct cause, of large-scale human crises in pre-industrial Europe and the Northern Hemisphere." In addition, they say it was cooling that triggered the chain of negative responses in variables pertaining to physical and human systems. Initially, for example, they found that agricultural production "decreased or stagnated in a cold climate and increased rapidly in a mild climate at the multi-decadal timescale," while the time course of crisis development was such that "bio-productivity, agricultural production and food supply per capita (FSPC) sectors responded to temperature change immediately, whereas the social disturbance, war, migration, nutritional status, epidemics, famine and population sectors responded to the drop in FSPC with a 5- to 30-year time lag." Thus, the dark ages they delineated by these means were AD 1212-1381 (the Crisis of Late Middle Ages) and AD 1568-1665 (the GCSC), whereas the golden ageswere the 10th to 12th centuries (the High Middle Ages), the late-14th to early 16th centuries (the Renaissance), and the late-17th to 18th centuries (the Enlightenment).

What it means

Several centuries of European and Northern Hemispheric data reveal that warming and warmth beget human wellness, while cooling and cold produce human misery. More

Atwell, W.S. 2001. Volcanism and short-term climatic change in East Asian and world history, c.1200-1699. Journal of World History 12: 29-98.

Atwell, W.S. 2002. Time, money, and the weather: Ming China and the 'great depression' of the mid-fifteenth century. Journal of Asian Studies 61: 83-113.

Bryson, R.A. and Murray, T.J. 1977. Climates of Hunger: Mankind and the World's Changing Weather.University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, Wisconsin, USA.

deMenocal, P.B. 2001. Cultural responses to climate change during the late Holocene. Science 292: 667-673.

Lee, H.F., Fok, L. and Zhang, D.D. 2008. Climatic change and Chinese population growth dynamics over the last millennium. Climatic Change 88: 131-156.

Lee, H.F. and Zhang, D.D. 2010. Changes in climate and secular population cycles n China, 1000 CE to 1911. Climate Research 42: 235'-246.

Lee, H.F., Zhang, D.D. and Fok, L. 2009. Temperature, aridity thresholds, and population growth dynamics in China over the last millennium. Climate Research 39: 131-147.

Tol, R.S.J. and Wagner, S. 2010. Climate change and violent conflict in Europe over the last millennium. Climatic Change 99: 65-79.

Weiss, H. and Bradley, R.S. 2001. Archaeology. What drives societal collapse? Science 291: 609-610.

Zhang, D.D., Brecke, P., Lee, H.F., He, Y.Q. and Zhang, J. 2007a. Global climate change, war, and population decline in recent human history. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA104: 19,214-19,219.

Zhang, D.D., Jim, C.Y., Lin, C.S., He, Y.Q. and Lee, F. 2005. Climate change, social unrest and dynastic transition in ancient China. Chinese Science Bulletin 50: 137-144.

Zhang, D.D., Jim, C.Y., Lin, G.C.-S., He, Y.-Q., Wang, J.J. and Lee, H.F. 2006. Climatic change, wars and dynastic cycles in China over the last millennium. Climatic Change 76: 459-477.

Zhang, D.D., Lee, H.F., Wang, C., Li, B., Zhang, J., Pei, Q. and Chen, J. 2011b. Climate change and large scale human population collapses in the pre-industrial era. Global Ecology and Biogeography 20: 520-531.

Zhang, D.D., Zhang, J., Lee, H.F. and He, Y.Q. 2007b. Climate change and war frequency in Eastern China over the last millennium. Human Ecology 35: 403-414.

Zhang, Z., 2010. Periodic climate cooling enhanced natural disasters and wars in China during AD 10-1900. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Science 277: 3745-3753.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Climate Change Diplomacy and Small Island Developing States Climate Change Diplomacy and Small Island Developing States News Articles (3) Publications (69)

While multilateral environmental agreements like the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) recognize the enormous global challenges posed by climatic changes, these agreements often fall short on pragmatic financial and other mechanisms to assist the most vulnerable countries in addressing these challenges.

Contemporary climate change diplomacy mirrors this phenomenon, as science and global politics interact and converge to confront the vulnerabilities of small island developing States (SIDS) where sustainable livelihoods are threatened by climate change-induced food, water, health and other insecurities.

Science (climate scientists) and politics (diplomats and Foreign Ministry officials) may not always speak the same language, but climate change diplomacy (inter-governmental negotiations on climate change issues) inevitably brings them together into a “marriage of convenience”. In order to address the special needs of vulnerable countries like SIDS, there is consensus between science and politics that the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility” offers the best paradigm and institutional framework to understand and confront the asymmetries in the international system.

Paradoxically, within this consensus lies deep-rooted disagreements as to the best ways to finance mitigation and adaptation programs in SIDS — including, among other issues, how to diffuse the emerging climate-friendly technologies as widely and as fairly as possible. To effectively address these issues, the peculiar developmental and technological challenges facing SIDS must be assessed in the context of the gaps, failures and limitations of present and past global environmental funding facilities such as the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

“Common but differentiated responsibilities”

The principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” recognizes the asymmetries of the international system, especially the differential levels of technological, financial, economic and human capacities between industrialized/developed and developing countries in international environmental negotiations. Despite these asymmetries, every nation has an obligation to participate in joint efforts to tackle shared global environmental problems according to each nation’s capacity and level of development. However, industrialized countries have an obligation to bear a greater burden of these shared problems. More

Monday, November 21, 2011

Climate Change: THere is no Plan B

Time is almost up. It is critical we secure a legally binding approach on climate change in Durban 

The lesson the world is learning the hard way from the financial crisis is that there is only one boat and we are all in it. To stay afloat, we need rules tough enough to stop systemic risks becoming systemic collapses. This lesson is as true for the environment as it is for the economy.A key battle in the campaign to build an effective system of global rules will shortly take place in Durban, where the UN climate negotiations reopen at the end of this month. 
The International Energy Agency has set the scene, with the timely warning in its new World Energy Outlook that we are way off track to avoid dangerous climate change, and that the window for effective action is closing fast.It is fashionable to argue that a new climate treaty, based on the Kyoto architecture of legally binding carbon caps, is dead. We should, on this view, give Kyoto a decent burial and switch to plan B. This turns out to be a looser arrangement in which governments make voluntary pledges to each other. Its advocates often call themselves "realists".The case for voluntarism was first put by those who want to try less hard to deal with climate change. It has subsequently attracted support from academics and other commentators whose concern – indeed alarm – about the climate is unquestionable. They may be desperate rather than cynical, but they tend to know more about the climate than they do about diplomacy. 

The problem is in the politics not the architecture.The choice between what needs to be done but looks impossible, and what can be done but is clearly not enough, is as old as history. It lay behind the struggle between Churchill and Halifax as Britain faced Hitler's tanks on the Channel coast. Nato's success in Libya was conducted against a barrage of predictions that it would lead to years of stalemate. When there is no alternative, realism lies in expanding the limits of the possible, not in nourishing the delusion that something else might help. More

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Rising sea levels threaten Bahrain

UP TO 22 per cent of Bahrain's land could be under water by the end of the century as a result of rising global sea levels, it was declared yesterday.
This is based on an Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme report, said Bahrain's UN resident co-ordinator Peter Grohmann. It concluded a likely global sea level rise of close to a metre or more by   the end of the century, compared to a forecast of 0.18 to 0.59 metres by the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, he added.
"We are awaiting the final report of the second national communication on climate change for Bahrain," said Mr Grohmann. "However, early results of the sea level rise modelling studies off the coasts of Bahrain suggest that between seven and 22pc of the country's entire land could be inundated (with water)." More

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Asia’s Motown Meets Waterworld–The Global Water Supply Chain Crisis

Since July, an almost unceasing torrent of rain has soaked Thailand, flooding farms, roads, factories, and finally Bangkok itself, a city of some 12 million people; so far at least 500 people have died. To date the government has ordered evacuations of 12 of the city’s 50 districts, even as water continues to creep through the city from the north. Latest reports suggest floodwaters are now threatening the city’s rail transportation network.

By all accounts the floods are a humanitarian and economic disaster for the country, another apparent sign of the emerging dangers embedded in a variable and changing The floods, however, are also emblematic of something else—one of the clearest examples of the unprecedented water resource and climate dangers the global economy faces in an ever-more interconnected world.

One example: if you are reading this on a computer, there is a 40 percent chance that the hard drive you are using was manufactured in Thailand. With over a 1,000 Thai factories now closed due to flooding, hard-drive production in the country could be reduced by 25 to 40 percent according to IDC, a market research firm. Apple CEO Tim Cook told investors in an earnings conference call that he “is virtually certain there will be an overall industry shortage of disk drives as a result of this disaster.” Industry leader Western Digital, which produces some 60 percent of its hard drives in Thailand, expects output to drop by half. More

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Bering Sea storm: Has global warming made Alaska more vulnerable?

Bering Sea storm winds are lashing the coast of Alaska. Sea ice extending out from the shoreline has protected the coast from past Bering Sea storm surges, but there is little such ice this year, and global warming is likely to blame.

A powerful fall storm – the strongest since a mid-November storm in 1974 – is pounding Alaska's west coast with hurricane-force winds and a storm surge that in many places is expected to top eight feet above the high-tide line. Although Alaska's coast is sparsely populated compared with other coastal regions in the US, low-lying areas host a number of native Alaskan villages, as well as the city of Nome.
Concerns for flooding and coastal erosion are compounded by a lack of coastal sea ice, which typically extends from the shoreline out toward the open ocean and is building at this time of year. "There's not a lot of shore-fast ice yet," says Scott Berg, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service forecast office in Fairbanks. "This year it hasn't developed quite as extensively as it normally does."

This shore-fast ice, which builds in bays along the coast north of Nome, typically represents a first line of defense against coastal flooding when storms plow into the state's coastline. It reduces storm surge. More

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Relief Is Slow to Reach Cambodia Flood Victims

The high water is devastating even for a country inured to monsoon rains and waterlogged rice fields: wide swaths of Cambodia’s countryside have become giant lakes, with villagers and livestock marooned on scattered patches of dry land.

The floods that have affected three-quarters of the country’s land area, by the United Nations’ estimate, have been overshadowed by similar troubles in Cambodia’s larger and wealthier neighbor, Thailand, where the government is scrambling to protect central Bangkok from inundation.

Here in Cambodia, though, aid workers describe a more Darwinian struggle and a generally higher degree of desperation among villagers. “This is the worst I’ve seen in my career,” said Soen Seueng, a 58-year-old doctor who tended to a long line of flood victims on Wednesday, most of them women and children, who were camped on a strip of raised land accessible only by boat.
Dr. Seueng grasped the limp arm of a 6-year-old girl, Lor Chaneut, who received a diagnosis of dengue fever, the mosquito-borne disease that can be fatal without close medical attention. “You must take her to the hospital,” Dr. Seueng urged the girl’s family. The girl’s mother, Jeok Kimsan, said the family’s savings were wiped out by the floods. “We will go to the hospital when we get some money,” she said, as her husband built a fish trap.

Flood victims, many of whom begged a foreign visitor for help, took shelter here under plastic sheeting, like refugees from a civil war. Cows, pigs and chickens shared the strip of dry land, which was covered with animal and human waste. “The toilet is everywhere,” said Henry Y. Sophorn, a Cambodian-born American who represents a nonprofit group, Disadvantaged Cambodians Organization, which is part of a syndicate delivering aid to flood victims.
In Thailand, the government has used helicopters, military vehicles and an array of equipment to reach and assist flood victims, but in Cambodia the work of providing basic necessities has been largely left to private organizations.
“The government can only help a small number of people — they don’t have the capacity,” said Mr. Sophorn, whose organization has supplied 3,400 families with medical care, rice, instant noodles, canned fish and bottled water, using money from a donor in Hong Kong who has asked to remain anonymous.

With little or no government assistance, many villagers have been left to fend for themselves. “The big impact is just starting,” said Sen Jeunsafy, a spokeswoman in Cambodia for Save the Children, an international aid organization. “What we have done is provided immediate relief. But collectively, we have not been able to reach every family.” More

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Climate change linked to extreme weather

A draft UN report three years in the making concludes that man-made climate change has boosted the frequency or intensity of heat waves, wildfires, floods and cyclones and that such disasters are likely to increase in the future.

The document being discussed by the world's Nobel-winning panel of climate scientists says the severity of the impacts vary, and some regions are more vulnerable than others.
Hundreds of scientists working under the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) will vet the phonebook-sized draft at a meeting in Kampala of the 194-nation body later this month.

"This is the largest effort that has even been made to assess how extremes are changing," said Neville Nicholls, a professor at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and a coordinating lead author of one of the review's key chapters. Mindful of an outcry by climate skeptics over flaws in an earlier IPCC text, those working on the document stress that the level of "confidence" in the findings depends on the quantity and quality of data available.

But the overall picture that emerges is one of enhanced volatility and frequency of dangerous weather, leading in turn to a sharply increased risk for large swathes of humanity in coming decades. More

Monday, October 31, 2011

China International Forum on Climate Change opens

BEIJING-- The 2011 China International Forum on Climate Change opened in Beijing on Sunday to discuss ways to balance economic and environmental priorities, develop green industry and construct low-carbon cities.

The forum was attended by more than 200 officials, scholars and entrepreneurs from China and European countries, according to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, co-organizer of the event.
Delegates are expected to suggest new ways to curb greenhouse gas emissions and develop carbon-trading markets in the hope of providing insights for next month's climate talks in Durban, South Africa.
Liu Yanhua, a counselor of the State Council, China's Cabinet, said as climate change has become an issue of economic and political concerns rather than a scientific problem, every country should take their fair share of responsibility in mitigating the impacts it brings.
He said both developed and developing countries should tackle climate change, notably with emission reduction plans in accordance with the principals of "common but differentiated responsibilities" and "respective capacities."
China has maintained that countries should bear "common but differentiated responsibilities" in climate change, with developed countries taking most of the responsibility for reducing carbon emissions blamed for global warming.
But Liu, also the former Vice Minister of Science and Technology, said that China in particular needs to speed up upgrading its low-carbon industries with technological innovation.
"Developed countries in the West have been dealing with their environmental problems over the past 100 to 200 years, but a lot of such problems simultaneously appeared in a much shorter period of time in China, making our situation much more complicated," he said.
"That's why we need to invest more and to expand international cooperation to provide our fight against climate change with stronger technical support." More

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Global warming: Middle East's vital wet winters are disappearing

Global warming is playing a significant role in diverting much-needed wet winter weather away from the increasingly dry Mediterranean, a new study led by a NOAA scientist suggests.

Winter droughts have become increasingly common in the Mediterranean region, particularly over the past 20 years, and a new study finds that global warming has driven at least half of the change.

Winter storms historically have delivered most of the annual rain and snowfall to the already arid Mediterranean region. Yet precipitation measurements from the region and modeling studies point to a relatively rapid shift in the winter rain and snowfall trends that began in the 1970s, according to the study.

That change could signal that the region "has moved into a new climate regime," says Martin Hoerling, a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Earth Systems Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., and the study's lead author. More

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Water emergencies grip Tuvalu & Tokelau

As governments and aid agencies scramble to deliver desalination plants and bottled water to drought stricken Pacific Island nations of Tuvalu and Tokelau, other Pacific Island nations - Samoa and the Cook Islands - are preparing for a similar fate.
Is this band-aid approach to solving this problem going to be enough?

Redina Auina, spokeswoman for the Tuvalu Faith Based Youth network, who partner with 350.org, is in Tuvalu and describes the feelings of people as they face the reality of less than 5 days of drinkable water in the nations capital, Funafuti --
Experts say the past 12 months have been the second driest in Funafuti's 78 years of records. While we do not make any claims to it being solely a climate change related event, the reality is that the line between what is normal climatic variation and what might be extremes resulting from accelerated climate change is being blurred. This is particularly true for the hydrological cycle, which is sensitive to even subtle variations in the global climate and often results in either too much water, or in our case at the moment, too little. With an intense La Nina weather pattern over much of the Pacific, we’re not likely to see rain for months to come. It’s these kind of extremes that we are told will become our new reality for Tuvalu and the Pacific region as a whole. More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Monday, October 10, 2011

Water security, green growth in limelight at forum

Policymakers, academics and private experts from around the world united to call for measures to address a looming water crisis and shore up sustainable growth at a forum last week.

Around 800 officials and researchers from some 20 countries and multinational agencies took part in the International Conference on River

Restoration for Green Growth hosted on Friday in Seoul by the Korean government and the state-run Korea Water Resources Corp.

Participants underlined the significance of green growth given increasing water shortages, which are poised to take a huge toll on many parts of global community and their economy.

“Water affects everything ― climate, diversity, pollution, ocean acidification, poverty and others,” said Anthony Cox, head of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s environment and economy integration division.

“Water and green growth can go together to foster economy and deflate resource-based systemic risks. Water management can preserve ecosystem services, which saves tremendous costs.”

Water security has been catapulted into the foreground of global policy discussions as swift urbanization and desertification stoke demand for drinking water amid global warming. More >>>

Location:Cayman Islands

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

NASA's top climate scientist: US south could become uninhabitable

Well, it doesn’t come as a huge surprise to see this statement from NASA’s James Hansen, perhaps the top climate scientist in the world. But

it’s a statement we seem to keep ignoring. Here’s the statement I’m referring to:

“Climate change — human-made global warming — is happening. It is already having noticeable impacts…. If we stay on with business as usual, the southern U.S. will become almost uninhabitable.”
Dr. James Hansen has a new paper out on global warming and climate science (and Monarch butterflies), but aside from tackling the science alone, Dr. Hansen also delves into the problems stopping us from addressing these problems. Here’s a piece of that:

There is ample evidence of growing climate disruption. But despite record or near-record heat and drought in the United States this past summer with simultaneous extreme flooding, and despite comparable extremes in China and elsewhere, there has been little public discussion of the connection of these climate extremes with human-made climate forcing.

The media are partly responsible for the silent summer, as they have mainly chosen not to examine connections between climate anomalies and human-made causes. A cynic may ask whether their silent summer is related to increasing right-wing control of media and large advertising revenues from fossil fuel companies. More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

World Food Day, 16 October 2011

Food prices - from crisis to stability

Price swings, upswings in particular, represent a major threat to food security in developing countries. Hardest-hit are the poor. According to the

World Bank, in 2010-2011 rising food costs pushed nearly 70 million people into extreme poverty.

“FOOD PRICES – FROM CRISIS TO STABILITY” has been chosen as this year’s World Food Day theme to shed some light on this trend and what can be done to mitigate its impact on the most vulnerable.

On World Food Day 2011, let us look seriously at what causes swings in food prices, and do what needs to be done to reduce their impact on the weakest members of global society. More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Pakistan: Another Victim of Climate Change

By Zafar Iqbal ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, September 27, 2011 (ENS) - Environmentalists are blaming climate change for the unprecedented

massive monsoon rains in Pakistan, which so far this year have affected eight million people, claiming 350 lives and damaging 1.3 million homes.
Over the past month, the country's southern region has received the highest monsoon rains ever recorded, local metrological experts confirm.

In August, the southern parts of the country received 270 percent above-normal monsoon rains. And in September, the monsoons rains were 1,170 percent above normal, says Dr. Qamar-uz-Zaman Chaudhry, Adviser Climate Affairs.

The Sindh province, where six million acres of land were inundated in current floods, had experienced severe drought conditions before the monsoon season and had not received any rainfall at all during the past 12 months.

Aid agencies are scrambling to help the multitude of flood victims - more than 1.5 million people are living in temporary camps.

Pakistan has witnessed swift climate change because of rising temperature and flooding downpours in the past two years. Climate experts consider this unexpected change as a part of broader regional climate changes also happening in the neighboring countries. More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Film on Climate Refugees Strikes a Chord

During the shooting of his 2010 documentary “Climate Refugees,” the Irish-American filmmaker Michael Nash visited nearly 50 countries in about

18 months, interviewing politicians, scientists, health workers and victims of floods, cyclones, hurricanes and droughts.

Click here for film trailer

His conclusion was that short- and longer-term changes in climate are causing vast numbers of people to abandon their jobs, homes and countries to seek better lives elsewhere, or to simply survive. (Jeffrey Gettleman’s recent coverage of the Somali refugee crisis in The Times has offered some vivid and disturbing examples, although Somalia’s troubles are also inextricably linked to political turmoil.)

Mr. Nash poses a basic question: what will become of the millions of people whose lack of access to food and clean water leads them to take increasingly desperate measures? What type of strains will huge migration put on resources in more developed countries?

Will this dislocation eventually, as the retired Navy vice admiral Lee Gunn told Mr. Nash, pose a threat to Americans’ national security, too?

By focusing on the consequences of climate change rather than its scientific causes, some experts suggest that Mr. Nash succeeded in circumventing a divisive political debate over global warming and the extent to which human activity contributes to it. More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Friday, September 30, 2011

Study Uncovers a Predictable Sequence Toward Coral Reef Collapse

ScienceDaily (Sep. 29, 2011) — Coral reefs that have lots of corals and appear healthy may, in fact, be heading toward collapse, according to a study published by the Wildlife Conservation Society and other groups.

Using data from coral reef systems across the western Indian Ocean, an international team of researchers identified how overfishing creates a series of at least eight big changes on reefs that precipitate a final collapse. This information can help managers gauge the health of a reef and tell them when to restrict fishing in order to avoid a collapse of the ecosystem and fishery.

The study appears this week in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The authors of the study include: Tim R. McClanahan and Nyawira A. Muthiga of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Nicholas A.J. Graham and Joshua E. Cinner of James Cook University, Queensland, Australia; M. Aaron MacNeil of the Australian Institute of Marine Science; J. Henrich Bruggemann of Laboratoire d’Ecologie Marine, Université de la Réunion, La Réunion, France; and Shaun K. Wilson of the Department of Environment and Conservation, Perth, Western Australia. More >>>

Location:Cayman Islands

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Palau, Marshall Islands to Seek Advice from World Court on GHG Impacts

22 September 2011: The Governments of Palau and the Marshall Islands have called upon the UN General Assembly (UNGA) to seek, on an urgent basis, an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the responsibilities of States under international law to ensure that activities carried out under their jurisdiction of control that emit greenhouse gases (GHGs) do not damage other States.

The announcement was made by Palau’s President Johnson Toribiong during the general debate of the 66th session of the UNGA. Toribiong said urgent action to combat climate change is vital, and that the ICJ has already “confirmed that customary international law obliges” States to ensure activities within their jurisdiction “respect the environment of other States.” Toriniong underscored it was time to determine what the “international rule of law means in the context of climate change.” More >>>

Location: Cayman islands

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Economy, Peak Oil and Permaculture

Richard Heinberg- Senior Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute is a Permaculturist.

His latest book describes The End of Growth- isn't looking for when the recession will end and we'll get back to "normal". He believes our decades-long era of growth was based on aberrant set of conditions- namely cheap oil, but also cheap minerals, cheap food, etc- and that looking ahead, we need to prepare for a "new normal". The problem, according to Heinberg, is our natural resources just aren't so cheap and plentiful anymore, and he's not just talking about Peak Oil, Heinberg believes in Peak Everything (also the title of one of his books). Heinberg thinks for many, adjusting to a life where everything costs a bit more, could be very hard, but he also thinks the transition to a new normal might actually make life better. "Particularly in the Western industrialized countries we've gotten used to levels of consumption that are not only environmentally unsustainable, they also don't make us happy. They've in fact hollowed out our lives. We've given up things that actually do give us satisfaction and pleasure so that we can work more and more hours to get more and more money with which to buy more and more stuff- more flatscreen tvs, bigger SUVs, bigger houses and it's not making us happier. Well, guess what, it's possible to downsize, it's possible to use less, become more self sufficient, grow more of your own food, have chickens in your backyard and be a happier person." This is not all theoretical. In the backyard of the home Heinberg shares with his wife, Janet Barocco, the couple grow most of their food during the summer months (i.e. 25 fruit & nut trees, veggies, potatoes.. they're just lack grains), raise chickens for eggs, capture rainwater, bake with solar cookers and a solar food drier and secure energy with photovoltaic and solar hot water panels. Their backyard reflects Heinberg's vision for our "new normal" and it's full of experiments, like the slightly less than 120-square-foot cottage that was inspired by the Small Home Movement. It was built with the help of some of Heinberg's college students (in one of the nation's first sustainability classes) using recycled and natural materials (like lime plaster). Heinberg admits it's not a real tiny house experiment since they don't actually live in it- his wife uses it as a massage studio, he meditates there and sometimes it's used as a guest house (though that's hush hush due to permitting issues). But their tiny cottage points to the bigger point behind why a transition to a less resource intensive future could equal greater happiness. "Simplify. Pay less attention to all of the stuff in your life and pay more attention to what's really important. Maybe for you it's gardening, maybe for you it's painting or music. You know we all have stuff that gives us real pleasure and most of us find we have less and less time for that because we have to devote so much time to shopping, paying bills and driving from here to there and so on. Well, how about if we cut out some of that stuff and spend more time doing what really feeds us emotionally and spiritually and in some cases even nutritionally." http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=cl8ZHDQQY7I

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Our Weatherbeaten Nation

Awakening a week or so ago to the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, and to several days of heavy rain, flooding, property damage and a feeling of powerlessness in my small suburban community, my thoughts turned to the debate over climate change in our country.

In a year when the number of tornadoes registered up to the end of June – approximately 1,600 – is already at a record level, 48 percent of Americans believe that the threat of climate change is exaggerated. At a time when eight of the top 10 worst disasters of 2010 (in terms of victims affected) were due to weather-related factors and the scientific consensus on man-made global warming is at 97% and growing, Americans are split on whether climate change is the result of human activities or non-human natural causes. U.S. public opinion on climate change has become increasingly polarized, as partisan think tanks, narrowcast media, chat rooms, divisive politicians and frustrated scientists have framed the discussion to recast an originally scientific topic into a political wedge issue.

Facts and education no longer seem to matter. Early environmental researchers found that level of education was the most consistent predictor of citizen concern over climate change. However, a study published in 2010 found something startling: concern about climate change increased with level of education among Democrats, but decreased with education among Republicans. That’s right: the higher the education level of Democrats, the more they believe in global warming, and the higher the education level of Republicans, the less they believe in it. This tells us that data, research and problem-solving are taking take a back seat to ideology, sentiment and politics. In other words, this divide has less to do with science and more to do with emotions and values. There is a great sense of disdain and suspicion right now for the liberal scientific elite in a significant portion of the U.S. population, and I’m afraid the feeling is often mutual. More >>>

Location:Amman, Jordan

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Climate change threatens to hike hunger in the Pacific – report

BANGKOK (AlertNet) – Climate change threatens to increase hunger and malnutrition among millions of poor people in the 14 small and geographically remote island nations of the Pacific unless action is taken, a new report by the Asian Development Bank said.

Food Security and Climate Change in the Pacific: Rethinking the Options urged Pacific nations, many of which are in fragile and conflict-affected situations and suffering from slow economic growth rates, to manage natural resources better and increase local food production, particularly of climate-resistant crops such as taro, yam, and cassava.

"Rising temperatures and rising tides due to climate change could reduce food supply in the Pacific,” Mahfuzuddin Ahmed, a senior economist in the Asian Development Bank’s Pacific Department who wrote the report, said in a statement.

“With over 10 million people in developing countries in the region, this is a threat that we cannot ignore," he added.

The region is already seeing a decline in agricultural production per capita and productivity has stagnated, the report said, partly due to an increase in migration from rural to urban areas and also because of fragile ecosystems and a limited natural resource base.

The Pacific is also considered one of the most vulnerable to impacts of climate change such as natural disasters and sea level rises, which are expected to reduce the agricultural output further. More >>>

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Seeing Irene as Harbinger of a Change in Climate

The scale of Hurricane Irene, which could cause more extensive damage along the Eastern Seaboard than any storm in decades, is reviving an old question: are hurricanes getting worse because of human-induced climate change
The short answer from scientists is that they are still trying to figure it out. But many of them do believe that hurricanes will get more intense as the planet warms, and they see large hurricanes like Irene as a harbinger. While the number of the most intense storms has clearly been rising since the 1970s, researchers have come to differing conclusions about whether that increase can be attributed to human activities.
“On a longer time scale, I think — but not all of my colleagues agree — that the evidence for a connection between Atlantic hurricanes and global climate change is fairly compelling,” said Kerry Emanuel, an expert on the issue at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Among those who disagree is Thomas R. Knutson, a federal researcher at the government’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, N.J. The rising trend of recent decades occurred over too short a period to be sure it was not a consequence of natural variability, he said, and statistics from earlier years are not reliable enough to draw firm conclusions about any long-term trend in hurricane intensities. “Everyone sort of agrees on this short-term trend, but then the agreement starts to break down when you go back longer-term,” Mr. Knutson said. He argues, essentially, that Dr. Emanuel’s conclusion is premature, though he adds that evidence for a human impact on hurricanes could eventually be established.
While scientists from both camps tend to think hurricanes are likely to intensify, they do not have great confidence in their ability to project the magnitude of that increase. One climate-change projection, prepared by Mr. Knutson’s group, is that the annual number of the most intense storms will double over the course of the 21st century. But what proportion of those would actually hit land is another murky issue. Scientists say climate change could alter steering currents or other traits of the atmosphere that influence hurricane behavior. More >>>

Friday, August 26, 2011

Irrigation and climate change

While attention has, appropriately, been focused on getting food and medicines to the victims of the famine in the Horn of Africa, many observers are asking about longer-term solutions, especially if droughts such as the current one become more frequent with climate change. One possibility is to expand irrigation.

Currently, only about 4 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s arable land is irrigated; the rest is rain-fed, meaning it is susceptible to droughts and floods. Yet, irrigated land can have yields that are up to five times those of rain-fed areas. It must be the case that the costs of irrigation—capital, recurrent, administrative, political—are sufficiently high to outweigh these benefits. But if you take into account the possibility of more frequent floods and droughts, which would make irrigated land relatively more attractive, does the benefit-cost calculation change?

The short answer is yes. In a calculation for the Zambezi basin, Aziz Bouzaher and I estimate that the costs of tripling the irrigated area are about equal to the benefits—if you ignore the effects of climate change. It is not surprising therefore that there has not been much investment in irrigation. But when you include as benefits of irrigation the avoided damage from increasingly frequent droughts (using fairly conservative assumptions), the overall benefits are double the costs. Recognizing that the effects of climate change will increasingly affect rain-fed agriculture may tip the scales in favor of more irrigation in Africa, and lead to higher yields for African farmers.

More information on the costs and benefits of irrigation in the Zambezi River Basin (PDF)

Location:Cayman Islands

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Public opinion on climate just tipped

One of the hallmarks of tipping points is that you don't know when you're in one. There's growing agreement that peak oil, for example, happened between 2004 and 2008. Still, you're never sure about such inflection points until well after the fact.

This week, though, sure feels like the tipping point on public opinion on climate, and so I'm going to stick a fork in it right here, folks. Climate opinion just tipped. Why do I say that? In the last week:
Australia, with huge coal reserves -- but rapidly passing the Arctic as ground zero for climate impacts with epic fires, droughts, floods, hurricanes, and dust storms -- passed a carbon credit law, with a tax coming up next.

Canada rolled out regulations that will likely phase out coal by mid-century.

Michael Mann's "hockey stick" research was once and for all vindicated.

Prominant Republicans like Jon Hunstman and Chris Christie agree that climate science is real, and there's even presssure within the GOP to not become the anti-science party. In fact, when Rick Perry denied climate science, he wasn't just censured by some Republicans, he was instantly and vigoriously debunked by the Washington Post.

The press is finally doing its job by calling deniers like Rick Perry out on their climate claims.

Last and most important, prominant intellectuals, scholars, and youth (the people who always make up revolutions and are regularly jailed in less freedom-friendly countries) were arrested and imprisoned for peaceful protest in our nation's capital, and kept overnight on the eve of the national dedication of a memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is a gift. What more could an activist ask for than for all these things to happen at once -- to wind up in jail, just like Dr. King in Birmingham, and to have it all happen on the eve of a national dedication to this great man who would certainly have seen our cause as his own: about poverty, and intergenerational justice, and equality. Dr. King tragically and prophetically said that he might not get there with us, but that he had seen the promised land. More >>>

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Expanding Deserts, Falling Water Tables, and Toxic Pollutants Driving People from Their Homes

People do not normally leave their homes, their families, and their communities unless they have no other option.

Yet as environmental stresses mount, we can expect to see a growing number of environmental refugees. Rising seas and increasingly devastating storms grab headlines, but expanding deserts, falling water tables, and toxic waste and radiation are also forcing people from their homes.

Advancing deserts are now on the move almost everywhere. The Sahara desert, for example, is expanding in every direction. As it advances northward, it is squeezing the populations of Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria against the Mediterranean coast. The Sahelian region of Africa—the vast swath of savannah that separates the southern Sahara desert from the tropical rainforests of central Africa—is shrinking as the desert moves southward. As the desert invades Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, from the north, farmers and herders are forced southward, squeezed into a shrinking area of productive land. A 2006 U.N. conference on desertification in Tunisia projected that by 2020 up to 60 million people could migrate from sub-Saharan Africa to North Africa and Europe.

In Iran, villages abandoned because of spreading deserts or a lack of water number in the thousands. In Brazil, some 250,000 square miles of land are affected by desertification, much of it concentrated in the country’s northeast. In Mexico, many of the migrants who leave rural communities in arid and semiarid regions of the country each year are doing so because of desertification. Some of these environmental refugees end up in Mexican cities, others cross the northern border into the United States. U.S. analysts estimate that Mexico is forced to abandon 400 square miles of farmland to desertification each year.

In China, desert expansion has accelerated in each successive decade since 1950. Desert scholar Wang Tao reports that over the last half-century or so some 24,000 villages in northern and western China have been abandoned either entirely or partly because of desert expansion. More >>>

Location:Cayman Islands

Tourist island of Zanzibar to host climate change conference in December

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania (eTN) - Standing among small island states threatened by effects of climate change, the tourist island of Zanzibar has organized a three-day symposium to deliberate the impact of climate change in small island states.

Scheduled from December 12 to 14 this year, the symposium bears the theme of “First International Symposium on Impact and Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change in Small Island Developing States.”

Organizers of the event, the State University of Zanzibar, said the symposium is aimed to raise national and international awareness on threats of climate change to small island states, which are leading tourist attraction destinations in the world, including the island of Zanzibar.

Climate change scientists had earlier raised their concern over climate changes in Zanzibar and threats to rising water levels of the Indian Ocean, and predicted dangers ahead, among them, a possible sinking of some islands which make the Zanzibar archipelago.

Experts further warned of a possibility to see key beaches of Zanzibar and a big part of this island totally sinking in the Indian Ocean within the coming 100 years.

According to the State University of Zanzibar, key speakers will be drawn from other island states including Samoa and Japan. Other speakers confirmed to attend will come from Tanzania and South Africa. More >>>

Location:Cayman Islands

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Clean energy is path for security, not the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline

The August 13 Washington Post editorial (Oil pipeline politics) diagnoses the problems with tar sands and then gets the solution wrong.

The proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will take us in the wrong direction, making global warming worse and bringing additional dangers of oil spills to America’s heartland. The United States is the main market for the bitumen that is strip-mined and drilled from under Canada’s Boreal forest. Despite Canadian claims that they’ll sell tar sands to China if we don’t take it, not only are there no major pipelines to the Canadian coasts, but opposition to these pipeline proposals is fierce. Instead of providing energy security, the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will give oil companies a Gulf Coast deepwater port for export and raise gas prices in the Midwest. After a summer of droughts and heat waves, we need to be working harder than ever to reduce our demand for oil. With fuel efficiency standards and cleaner ways to move people around, America can be a leader in clean energy rather than giving into our oil addiction. That is the path of true energy security. More >>>

Location:Cayman Islands

Friday, August 19, 2011

Backdraft: Minimizing Conflict in Climate Change Responses

“What are the conflicts or risks associated with response to climate change?” asked ECSP Director Geoff Dabelko at the Wilson Center on July 18.  

“How we respond to climate change may or may not contribute to conflict,” he said, but “at the end of the day, we need to do no harm.”

Dabelko was joined by Christian Webersik, associate professor at the University of Agder, Norway, and Dennis Taenzler, senior project manager at adelphi, to discuss how responses to climate change may lead to new conflict. As we think about adopting biofuels, solar and nuclear energy options, and geoengineering, “we have to do it with our eyes open,” Dabelko said.

The Ripple Effects of Climate Change

We are “both the victims and agents” of climate change, Webersik said. We are affected by it, but we are also responding to it, through adaptation and mitigation efforts, geoengineering proposals, and emissions avoidance. “These strategies themselves have ripple-on effects,” he said. For example, the fuel-food crisis in 2008, in which higher demand for biofuels led to more competition over arable land and increases in food prices, contributed to riots and political instability in some places. More >>>

Sunday, August 14, 2011

On thin ice

The Arctic — a mosaic of oceans, glaciers and the northernmost projections of several countries — is a place most of us will never see. We can imagine it, though, and our mental picture is dominated by one feature: ice.

Yet the Arctic sea ice is changing dramatically, and its presence shouldn’t be taken for granted, even over the course of our lifetimes. According to new research from MIT, the most recent global climate report fails to capture trends in Arctic sea-ice thinning and drift, and in some cases substantially underestimates these trends. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report, released in 2007, forecasts an ice-free Arctic summer by the year 2100, among other predictions. But Pierre Rampal, a postdoc in the Department of Earth, Atmosphere, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), and colleagues say it may happen several decades earlier. More >>>

Location:Cayman Islands

Thursday, August 11, 2011

International Permaculture Conference and Convergence, IPC10, will be held in Jordan across September 2011

The biennial International Permaculture Conference is the world's premier permaculture gathering.

The next International Permaculture Conference and Convergence, IPC10, will be held in Jordan across September 2011. The theme is "Plan Jordan ~ Water".

The 1-day IPC10 Conference (open to all) and 4-day IPC10 Convergence (open to Permaculture Design Certificate graduates only) will be held in Jordan (Amman and Wadi Rum, respectively) and will be coordinated by Nadia 'Abu Yahia' Lawton. Prior to the start of the Conference and subsequent Convergence, a two-week International Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) course will be taught by a team of respected permaculture educators and pratitioners, and all three events will be followed by tours and permaculture site visits.

The theme of IPC10 is highly appropriate given the United Nations have just launched their Decades for Deserts and the Fight Against Desertification. We have the solutions!

You are cordially invited to support this valuable initiative with your presence and involvement! We welcome submissions for appropriate articles to appear below! More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Pacific Moves Towards Integrated DRR and Climate Change Strategy

Pacific Moves Towards Integrated DRR and Climate Change Strategy
2 August 2011: The UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UN/ISDR) announced the launch of the Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction (GAR11), titled "Revealing Risk, Redefining Development."

The report was launched in Auckland, New Zealand, at the Third Session of the Pacific Platform for Disaster Risk Management, co-convened by UN/ISDR and the Applied Geoscience and Technology Division (SOPAC) of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).

In his opening remarks to the Third Session, Russell Howorth, Director, SOPAC, said a key outcome anticipated from the meeting is the adoption of a “Roadmap” to develop an integrated regional strategy for disaster risk management and climate change, for endorsement in 2015. Currently the Pacific region is guided by the Pacific Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Disaster Management Framework for Action, and the Pacific Islands Framework for Action on Climate Change. Both of these regional policies expire in 2015, paving the way for an integrated approach from 2015 onwards.

Howorth further noted that several Pacific Island Countries, including the Cook Islands, Marshall Islands, Niue, Tuvalu, Fiji and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), already are moving forward with the integration of national strategies on DRR and climate change. More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Tanana -- Tiny City in Yukon Takes a Giant Renewable Step

A city of 300 in Alaska is at the cutting edge of bioenergy.

The Backstory

It's ironic. In resource- and fossil fuel-rich Alaska, Tanana residents are paying more than seven times the national rate for their electricity and are shipping in diesel fuel to heat their buildings and water.

Probably the name Tanana (pronounced TAN-uh-naw) doesn't ring a bell. No wonder: It's not just rural, it's remote. Accessible only by air and river (which is how the diesel arrives), this central Alaskan city is about an hour's flight from Fairbanks and two miles below where the Tanana and Yukon Rivers meet.

A Subsistence Lifestyle

Tanana is helping put woody biomass on the Alaskan map. By harvesting local wood for energy, the city is becoming more efficient and self-sufficient. The plan is to reap wider benefits by sharing their experience with other rural communities. (Image: Alaska Community Database Community Information Summaries)
About 80 percent of Tananans are Native American, 18 percent Caucasian, and there's a smattering of Latinos and others.

"Subsistence is the primary way of life," city manager Bear Ketzler says. "Be it hauling water or getting your own firewood or harvesting berry products and moose and fish and things like this."

Utilizing local natural resources is key in a place where staples like milk (at about $10/gallon) and fresh vegetables (tomatoes fetch about $7-8 each, a head of lettuce about $6-7) are luxuries.

Dogs probably outnumber people there, says Ketzler, as they are integral to the economy, whether for trapping, breeding or that big Alaskan business: dog-racing.

Tanana, incorporated as a city in 1961 and as a "first class city" in 1980, is co-governed by a city council and a Native council. The median household income is about $30,000 per year with most of the jobs coming from the local government (Tanana school teachers are among the highest paid) and to a lesser extent construction.

Smokehouses are common. There's a school, a senior center, a firehouse, a tribal building, and city offices. There's one B&B, one general store, and 38 traffic lights (in the process of being updated with LEDs). More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Managing Contraction, Redefining Progress

Only a crisis—actual or perceived—produces real change. When the crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend upon the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to
existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.
—Milton Friedman (economist)

Many analysts who focus on the problems of population growth, resource depletion, and climate change foresee gradually tightening constraints on world economic activity. In most cases the prognosis they offer is for worsening environmental problems, more expensive energy and materials, and slowing economic growth.

However, their analyses often fail to factor in the impacts to and from a financial system built on the expectation of further growth—a system that could come unhinged in a non-linear, catastrophic fashion as growth ends. Financial and monetary systems can crash suddenly and completely. This almost happened in September 2008 as the result of a combination of a decline in the housing market, reliance on overly complex and in many cases fraudulent financial instruments, and skyrocketing energy prices. Another sovereign debt crisis in Europe could bring the world to a similar precipice. Indeed, there is a line-up of actors waiting to take center stage in the years ahead, each capable of bringing the curtain down on the global banking system or one of the world’s major currencies. Each derives its destructive potency from its ability to strangle growth, thus setting off chain reactions of default, bankruptcy, and currency failure. More >>>

Location: Cayman Islands