International News

Axing water overseer could leave regional Australia high and dry

The Conversation - 3 hours 32 min ago
Warragamba Dam, supplying drinking water to over four million residents of Sydney. Author provided

Summer is coming and, with it, dry conditions for many parts of Australia. While it may be difficult to imagine for city dwellers, parts of regional Australia will likely face severe water shortages over the coming months.

During the past 10 years Australia’s water management has been focused by the National Water Initiative and overseen by the National Water Commission. This helped many of our towns and cities through the devastating millennium drought and beyond.

The 10-year assessment of the National Water Initiative released this week by the commission confirms the importance of the initiative for water reform.

But the National Water Commission will be wrapped up at the end of the year due to funding cuts under the 2014 federal budget.

Agricultural green paper

This week, a new commonwealth water infrastructure ministerial working group, chaired by Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, outlined its recommendations for water infrastructure projects as part of its Agricultural Competitiveness Green Paper.

The report is laden with dozens of dams and other major water infrastructure projects proposed for potential commonwealth support. It states that such support would be dependant upon alignment with National Water Initiative principles.

However, without the National Water Commission, there is no obvious responsible body to make an independent expert assessment on whether such principles have been adhered to.

Building a national water system

Streams and rivers transport water across great distances and feed groundwater aquifers underlying enormous areas such as the Great Artesian Basin. With the obvious exception of Tasmania, these surface water and groundwater systems rarely respect state and territory boundaries.

Australia’s constitution states specifically that: “The Commonwealth shall not, by any law or regulation of trade or commerce, abridge the right of a State or of the residents therein to the reasonable use of the waters of rivers for conservation or irrigation.”

Arguably, the greatest achievement of the government under former prime minister John Howard was to oversee the development and signing of Australia’s National Water Initiative. This document was the first formalised agreement to work together to achieve national water management objectives, following the initial 1994 Water Reform agreement.

The initiative includes commitments to provide water for the environment, address over-allocation of rural supplies, register water rights, develop standards for water accounting, expand water trading, improve water supply pricing and manage urban water demands.

To guide the implementation of the initiative, Howard established an independent statutory authority, the National Water Commission, in 2004. The commission was to provide independent, evidence-based advice to the Council of Australian Governments and the Australian government.

Throughout the last decade, the oversight of the National Water Commission has produced progress towards many of these goals.

Water trading capacity has improved agricultural productivity for many rural Australians.

Formal allocation of water to the environment has revived the long-term survival prospects for wetlands and other ecosystems.

Major urban water supplies have been bolstered. This has drastically reduced the likelihood of water restrictions being imposed for most Australians in the coming decades.

Drought-plagued states of the USA, such as California, now point to Australia’s National Water Initiative as a successful example of cooperation to achieve more sustainable water management.

Dry forecast for regional Australia

But for all these successes, there remains much more to be achieved. While our state capital cities have achieved high levels of water supply security, the same cannot be said for many of our regional towns and cities.

For example, many in NSW are likely to face severe water shortages before the end of the summer. Improvements in water efficiency and water conservation, as well as new water resources, will be required.

The Commonwealth government and the National Water Commission played a key role in navigating the water sector through new extremes and supporting the economic viability of many towns and cities during the millennium drought.

Without the National Water Commission, there is now no clear avenue through which to drive and harness the benefits from national coordination in water reform.

Equal to the importance of managing water availability is the need to ensure safe drinking water. There is evidence that many regional drinking water supply systems fall short when it comes to managing water quality, protecting public health risks and ensuring the efficient delivery of water and wastewater management.

But improvements are hindered by lack of a nationally coordinated strategy for safe drinking water quality management or a framework for driving greater efficiency.

Skills, training and infrastructure

There are plenty of other areas that a national water overseer could improve.

During the past decade, the commission has facilitated great gains in research and development efficiency by encouraging national collaboration among industry and research providers including the universities and the CSIRO.

Without the commission, the research and development sector will lack a “line of sight” to embed new findings in practice and ensure Australia remains at the frontier of innovation in water.

Skills and training, such as those required for operating drinking water treatment plants, are poorly coordinated in Australia, largely to the detriment of regional towns and cities.

An organisation like the National Water Commission would be ideally placed to oversee the development of national skills coordination, including consideration of how large capital city water utilities could assist in the training of regional and rural suppliers.

Compared to the capital cities, regional water supply and wastewater facilities tend to be based on small systems with few economies of scale. Factors such as design and performance evaluation can be made more economic where national standards are developed and accepted, thus setting clear achievable benchmarks for compliance.

The commission played a key role in developing guidelines for water recycling, providing safe and economic means to re-use wastewater and conserve freshwater.

Similarly Australia could do with national guidelines for coal seam gas and groundwater, and economic appraisal.

Our state capital cities each run highly profitable water supply utilities, which pay tidy annual dividends back to their state government owners. Sydney Water, for example, pays the NSW government a dividend in the order of A$300 million per year. This profitability arises from many factors including long-established major infrastructure and the large economies of scale that come with large high-density populations.

But many Sydney residents also spend some time in regional Australia. Most would presumably prefer to have the benefit of safe and reliable water supplies when they do.

It would make sense to consider cross-subsidisation of regional water supply funding using profits from capital city water supplies.

Profound reforms, more needed

In the last 10 years, the Australian water sector has been through the most profound reforms in our history. Indeed, they have had to navigate through new extremes in drought and flood and deal with the increasing risk from more complex water sources. Without these, many towns and cities may have run dry.

But the world in which water is managed continues to change, and there is unfinished business from the National Water Initiative. Now is not the time to rest on our past achievements — the drivers may have changed but new issues can and will continue to emerge.

A loss of focus on the National Water Initiative would be an enormous lost opportunity for ongoing coordinated, cooperative water management in Australia.

Stuart Khan has received research funding from the National Water Commission. He is affiliated with water industry organisations including the Australian Water Association.

Categories: International News

Pain and gain as gas export boom is set to drive up domestic bills

The Conversation - 17 hours 52 min ago
Shipping gas overseas can be good for Australia - but bad for Australian gas bills. Ken Hodge, CC BY

Queensland’s liquid natural gas boom, built on the back of vast reserves of coal seam gas, will bring huge gains to Australia. Exports of gas are set to quadruple by 2018, creating investment, jobs and income.

The boom is being driven by an increase in international demand for gas, and its consequent rising price. Other countries – particularly Japan, having closed its nuclear facilities – are looking to gas to meet their energy needs. Japanese wholesale gas prices have increased to more than A$16 a gigajoule.

Spurred on by these high international prices, Australian producers have developed new, previously uneconomical gas reserves, and the capacity to export gas for the first time from Australia’s east coast. Virtually overnight, a closed domestic market has become an international one.

Teething pains

But this change has a significant downside. In the next two or three years, the wholesale cost of gas for domestic use will more than double. Embracing the international market means moving towards the international price, as domestic consumers will have to compete with international users who are prepared to pay significantly more than Australians are used to paying.

As a result, businesses and households in Australia face an unpleasant shock and some hard choices. On top of large increases to electricity prices over the past decade, a typical Melbourne household’s annual gas bill is likely to rise by more than A$300. For small businesses that rely on gas, such as dry cleaners, the annual increase could be as high as A$2,500. Gas consumers are increasingly frustrated and are already demanding a response from government.

The Grattan Institute’s new report, Gas at the crossroads: Australia’s hard choice, looks at how the gas revolution on the east coast will affect households and businesses, and what governments should and shouldn’t do to help gas consumers.

Australia has enough gas in reserve to support both the domestic and export markets. But the gas market on the east coast, while not broken, is not flexible or transparent enough to deal with the transition to an international market. Inevitably, the losers are local consumers. Both the government and the gas industry have been slow to act to help consumers with the gas market transition. Both need to do more.

Keeping prices low – without domestic reserves

The Federal Government should commission a review of the gas market to identify barriers to its competitiveness and then move quickly to address them. A functioning market would give consumers access to the lowest prices.

Both industry and governments need to work with communities to resolve the impasse over coal seam gas in New South Wales and Victoria. One way or the other, a resolution would bring certainty to gas producers, and allow them to make stable investment decisions and get gas moving. The poor flow of information to all consumers has been striking; better information from government and industry will help households and businesses respond appropriately to rising gas prices.

The best way to bring prices back down will be to get more gas flowing. When faced with high prices in the United States, gas producers responded by increasing development. Now Americans pay some of the world’s lowest gas prices.

Yet governments should not put constraints on the market – for example, by introducing a gas reservation policy that allocates a fixed amount of gas to domestic consumers for a fixed (and lower) price.

While such a policy would appear to ensure a domestic gas supply, it will not necessarily reduce prices in the long term or increase supply, and would reduce the incentive for producers to develop more gas. The difficult transition that the country is going through as it adjusts from a domestic to an international gas market would be prolonged. Although businesses and households are hurting, any move towards protectionist policies will be counterproductive and limit the economic benefits of gas development.

After their initial rise, gas prices are likely to come down again if governments hold their nerve. Prices will not, however, fall back to where they are now. Without a price on carbon, this means that gas will be priced out of electricity generation, except to meet short-term peaks in demand, and generation will shift back towards coal.

As coal produces more greenhouse emissions, this is bad news for the environment and for Australia’s target of cutting emissions by 5% by 2020.

The gas boom will make meeting our emissions obligations a whole lot more difficult. That is a completely different challenge that Australia has to face up to.

David Blowers does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Categories: International News

RIP: Rick Piltz

Climate Crocks - October 19, 2014 - 3:02pm
I met Rick Piltz in DC several years ago. He had been doing yeoman’s work on climate issues for a long time already, including blowing the whistle on underhanded attempts to quash scientific inquiry. I was saddened to hear last night that he had passed away. D. R. Tucker in the Washington Monthly: Rick Piltz, […]
Categories: International News

Death Of Northern White Rhino Leaves Only Six Left In Existence

Climate Progress - October 19, 2014 - 11:46am

Northern White Rhino cows Najin & Fatu at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

CREDIT: Courtesy of African Wildlife Defence Force

A 34-year-old male northern white rhino has died in a wildlife conservancy in Kenya, leaving on six northern white rhinos left in the world. Suni, one of four northern white rhinos living in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, was the first-ever northern white rhino to be born in captivity. He arrived at the conservancy in 2009 from Dvůr Králové Zoo in Czech Republic as part of a breeding program along with another male and two females.

The cause of his death is yet to be determined. His father Saút died in 2006 of natural causes at the same age as Suni. No northern white rhinos are known to have survived in the wild, and Suni was one of the last two breeding males in the world leaving the future of his species in serious doubt.

“The species now stands at the brink of complete extinction, a sorry testament to the greed of the human race,” said the conservancy in a statement. The conservancy will continue to work towards breeding a northern white rhino calf. In 2012, Suni entered a courtship ritual and mated with another northern white rhino named Najin, however the mating did not result in a pregnancy.

The northern white rhino is the world’s rarest large mammal. While it is often considered one of two subspecies of white rhinoceros — the southern white rhino being the other — recent research has found that the northern white rhino may indeed be a distinct species. Having once ranged across Southern Africa, southern white rhinos were considered extinct in the late 19th century. Then in 1895, a small population of less than 100 individuals was discovered in South Africa. Now there are about 20,000 southern white rhinos living protected areas, making them the only non-endangered rhino.

Formerly found in several countries in East and Central Africa south of the Sahara, the northern white rhino was decimated by poaching, with their wild population reduced from around 500 to 15 in the 1970s and 1980s. In Asia, rhino horn was used as a traditional medicine and is often now used as a status symbol of success, especially in Vietnam. It can sell for more than gold or platinum.

According to a recent report from the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London, the Earth has lost half its vertebrate species — mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians — since 1970. The report found that the worst declines of animal populations have occurred among developing, low-income nations. About seven percent of the overall decline could be attributed to climate change, according to the report, with over one-third due to exploitation such as poaching, while most of the rest was due to habitat alteration, degradation, or loss.

The post Death Of Northern White Rhino Leaves Only Six Left In Existence appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

If you plant different trees in the forest, is it still the same forest?

Guardian - October 19, 2014 - 10:00am

As the Nature Conservancy works to help Minnesotas North Woods adapt to climate change, other environmentalists worry assisted migration may end up changing the forests very nature

In northern Minnesota, theres a near-mythic expanse of lakes and boreal forests known as the North Woods, packed with spruces, firs, red and bur oaks, and other trees. Its in danger of vanishing forever.

The North Woods joins the ever-lengthening list of regions threatened by climate change. Temperatures in Minnesota have increased by more than 1.5F since record keeping began, according to a 2013 report by the states interagency climate adaptation team. Temperatures have risen even more in the northern portion of the state, and the growth is picking up speed, with more than 80% of the recorded increase happening since 1980.

These increases are expected to continue through the next 50 years, joined by more days of extreme heat, heavier precipitation and other changes to the regions climate. As rainfall and other conditions shift because of climate change, once iconic species like spruce and fir may move northward, either leaving the forests replaced by unproductive grasslands or given over to the hardwoods more common further south. Climate change, the state report says, will likely exacerbate and intensify the effects of invasive plant species, insect pests, and tree diseases.

In other words, the forest like others across the northern United States and southern Canada could disappear. Now the conservationists most driven to save the forest may do so only by changing its nature for good.

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Categories: International News

Humble spud poised to launch a world food revolution

Guardian - October 18, 2014 - 8:50am
Dutch team is pioneering development of crops fed by sea water

In a small army field-hut Dr Arjen de Vos shows off his irrigation machine with pride. Pipes lead out to several acres of muddy field, where only a few stragglers from the autumn harvest of potatoes, salads, carrots and onions are left. The tubes are lined with copper to stop corrosion because in a move that defies everything we think we know about farming de Vos is watering his plants with diluted sea water.

Last week the project beat 560 competitors from 90 countries to win the prestigious USAid grand challenge award for its salt-tolerant potato. Its a game changer, said de Vos. We dont see salination as a problem, we see it as an opportunity.

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Categories: International News

Fossil fuel divestment: climate change activists take aim at Australia's banks

Guardian - October 17, 2014 - 7:51pm

A national day of divestment will see more than 1,000 bank customers switch their accounts away from the big four banks

Climate change activists will aim to give the big banks a $200m bloody nose on Saturday, in the latest round of what has been an increasingly bitter campaign to force the divestment of companies with fossil fuel interests.

A national day of divestment will see more than 1,000 bank customers switch their accounts away from the big four banks: ANZ, Westpac, Commonwealth Bank and NAB.

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Categories: International News

Watch these powerful speeches from the night before Pacific Warriors came face to face with the biggest threat to their homes - October 17, 2014 - 5:40pm

These Pacific Warriors did something incredibly brave and inspiring in their fight to defend their homes and ways of life. Hear what they had to say the night before they faced off against the world’s largest coal port, then show the world you stand with them.

Via Mark Doyle

Categories: International News

Study Ties Mountaintop Removal Mining Dust To Increased Risk Of Lung Cancer

Climate Progress - October 17, 2014 - 2:37pm

This Sept. 18, 2008 file photo shows a mountaintop removal mining site at Kayford Mountain, W.Va.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Jeff Gentner, File

Mountaintop removal mining destroys forest ecosystems and clogs streams with often toxic mining waste. And according to a new study, it also increases a person’s risk of lung cancer.

The study, published this week in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, looks at the carcinogenic potential of the particulate matter that enters the air during mountaintop removal mining, a form of surface mining that blasts the tops of mountains away so that underground coal reserves can be accessed. The study found “new evidence” that breathing in this particulate matter over an extended period of time can lead to lung cancer, confirming previous research that has found increased cases of lung cancer in communities that live near coal mining operations in Appalachia. That research noted that smoking rates in these communities are likely also contributing to the lung cancer risk, making exposure to mining operations only one of the variables involved, but this week’s research confirms, for the first time, that dust from mining operations can drive up a person’s risk of lung cancer.

“It’s a risk factor, with other risk factors, that increases the risks of getting lung cancer,” study co-author and West Virginia University cancer researcher Yon Rojanasakul told the Charleston Gazette. “That’s what the results show.”

The researchers exposed lung cells to dust from mountaintop removal operations over a three-month period. They found that the dust had “cell-transforming and tumor-promoting effects” — it led to certain changes in the cells that promoted lung cancer development.

“As more than 60,000 cancer cases has been estimated to correlate with MTM [mountaintop removal] activities in West Virginia, this finding on the cancer promoting effect of [particulate matter] and related epidemiological data are crucial to raise public health awareness to reduce cancer risk,” the study’s authors write.

Environmentalists and some Appalachian residents have fought against mountaintop removal, which is considered to be the most destructive way to extract coal, for years. According to anti-mountaintop removal group Appalachian Voices, the practice has destroyed more than 500 mountains so far in central and southern Appalachia. Blowing up the tops of these mountains obliterates temperate forest ecosystems that are among the most biologically diverse in the world.

The operations can blast away up to 400 vertical feet of a mountain’s summit, and this, plus the process of mining the coal itself, creates large amounts of waste, which has historically been dumped in valleys. This practice actually destroys streams. Chief U.S. District Judge Charles H. Haden II wrote about the disposal practice in a 1999 ruling that concluded that these “valley fills” violated the Clean Water Act.

“The normal flow and gradient of the stream is now buried under millions of cubic yards of excess spoil waste material, an extremely adverse effect,” the judge wrote. “If there are fish, they cannot migrate. If there is any life form that cannot acclimate to life deep in a rubble pile, it is eliminated. No effect on related environmental values is more adverse than obliteration.”

According to the EPA, valley fills still occur in mountaintop removal operations that are located in “steep terrain where there are limited disposal alternatives.” This waste disposal practice, along with the blasting and coal mining process itself, threatens the water supply of Appalachian residents. In September, some of these residents rallied at the White House, saying that the Obama administration needed to do more to address the health and environmental impacts of mountaintop removal mining.

“We think the Obama administration should make this one of his legacies — protecting Appalachian water,” Ann Leauge, member of the Alliance for Appalachia, said. “It’s one of the things he mentioned in his campaign in 2008 — that mountains should not be blown up to get to the coal below — and we want him to follow through on that.”

Some Appalachian lawmakers agree that the health and environmental impacts of mountaintop removal mining need to be addressed — especially now that this study links mountaintop removal process to cancer.

“We have clear scientific evidence that mountaintop removal coal mining jeopardizes the health of coalfield residents, and today’s study is more proof that we can no longer ignore the dangerous impact of this destructive practice,” Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) said in a statement. “No one should have to breathe the dirty air or drink the polluted water in mountaintop removal communities, but as long as we allow this public health hazard to continue, we are forcing the residents of Appalachia to do exactly that.”

The post Study Ties Mountaintop Removal Mining Dust To Increased Risk Of Lung Cancer appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

For Lake Erie’s Toxic Algae, Blame Climate Change And Invasive Mussels

Climate Progress - October 17, 2014 - 2:28pm

Algae is seen near the City of Toledo water intake crib in Lake Erie on Sunday, August 3, 2014.

CREDIT: AP Photo / Haraz N. Ghanbari

Lake Erie is increasingly plagued by toxic algae blooms each summer, and a new study suggests how climate change and mussels, of all things, may be to blame.

On Thursday, the Columbus Dispatch reported on the new research and computer modeling, which show neither rising water temperatures nor runoff from fertilizers and sewage — the traditional causes cited — fully account for the blooms. According to the paper, published in Water Resources Research, climate change may be providing cyanobacteria — the toxic blue-green algae that’s been invading the lake — a competitive edge over other species of algae.

On top of that, invasive species of mussels which were transported to the Great Lakes in the 1980s by ocean shipping may also be killing off the other beneficial species of algae while avoiding the cyanobacteria, again giving them more room to spread.

“When you have these calmer weather conditions, the cyanobacteria can rise to the surface and create scum layers that shade out other species of algae, which makes cyanobacteria more dominant in the water,” said Daniel Obenour, who was the lead author of the study while still at the University of Michigan Water Center, though now he hails from North Carolina State University.

Climate change also contributes to the rising water temperatures and the phosphorous runoff from agricultural fertilizer and sewage treatment plants. The Earth’s natural cycles plow the vast majority of the additional heat from global warming into the oceans and other major water bodies.

Climate change is also projected to increase the severity of rainfall and flooding in the Great Lakes area over the next few decades. That can overwhelm the infrastructure in many major cities, especially the older ones where stormwater and sewage are handled by the same systems, pushing the nutrients from the sewage into the lakes where the cyanobacteria can feed off it. Runoff from the increased rainfall also carries fertilizer from farms and agricultural areas through the surrounding watersheds, ultimately bringing them to the Great Lakes as well.

“While analyzing all of the factors involved in the algae threat is important, it is imperative to act now on the factors we can influence,” Hugh McDiarmid Jr., a spokesman for the International Joint Commission, a U.S.-Canadian agency, told the Columbus Dispatch. The group has called for a 46 percent reduction in phosphorous and fertilizer runoff in Lake Erie’s western and central basins, and a 37 percent reduction for the Maumee River watershed which flows into the lake near Toledo, Ohio.

In 2013, the Ohio Phosphorus Task Force recommended a 40 percent reduction in the phosphorus washing into the northwestern Ohio watersheds that feed Lake Erie. And an international commission called the Lake Erie Ecosystem Priority recently provided 16 specific ideas — including wetland restoration, pollution filtering, biodiversity support, and other policies — to help with the reductions in phosphorous. So far, however, they remain recommendations only.

Don Scavia, a University of Michigan environmental engineer who contributed to Obenour’s study, said the research shows even those cuts may not be enough on their own. “The caution of this paper is that if there’s a continuing trend and if it gets more sensitive, loads may have to be reduced even more than we’re targeting now,” he said.

This past summer, the algae blooms forced 400,000 people in and around Toledo to avoid their tapwater for two days after toxins from the cyanobacteria were found in the water supply. Lake Erie is also suffering from larger and larger seasonal deadzones, as algae blooms consume all the oxygen in the surrounding water and kill off fish and other marine life.

Other places in the United States where the blooms have been spotted include Lake Okeechobee in Florida, California’s Klamath River, the Cheney Reservoir in Kansas and Sodus Bay in New York. Though how precipitation and temperature changes from climate change, and the presence of invasive species will affect the blooms in each case remains an open question.

The post For Lake Erie’s Toxic Algae, Blame Climate Change And Invasive Mussels appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

US eyes buffet option in global climate talks

Guardian - October 17, 2014 - 1:34pm
Deal would allow US to join other countries in cutting carbon dioxide emissions but avoid having to obtain Senate ratification

Barack Obamas negotiating position for a global deal to fight climate change is beginning to look like a big buffet. In speeches this week, Obamas lead climate negotiator, Todd Stern, has given the clearest indication to date that America is pushing for an agreement with some elements of a full-scale, legally binding international treaty. But other key components of a global agreement would be more in line with a handshake deal among leaders.

The combo deal would allow America to join other countries in cutting carbon dioxide emissions but avoid having to obtain Senate ratification, which is generally acknowledged as politically impossible. The buffet option will be put on the table in Lima in December when negotiations enter the final stretch aimed at reaching an international climate deal by the end of 2015.

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Categories: International News

Bikes pretending to be cars? Riga's cyclists stage a clever protest over space

Guardian - October 17, 2014 - 12:25pm

City links: The best city stories this week follow activist cyclists in Latvias capital, explore Minneapolis plan for a city within a city and discover proposals for street canals in Boston

This weeks best city stories from around the web discover cyclists pretending to be cars in Riga, a mobile cinema creating public spaces in Brussels and a plan to make streets into canals in Boston.

Wed love to hear your responses to these stories and any others youve read recently, both at Guardian Cities and elsewhere: share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Categories: International News

32 Dead, 85 Missing In Himalayan Trekking Disaster After Unseasonal Blizzard

Climate Progress - October 17, 2014 - 10:42am

In this photo provided by the Nepalese army, soldiers prepare to airlift an avalanche victim in Thorong La pass area, Nepal, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014.

CREDIT: AP/Nepal Army

October in Nepal is a peak season for trekkers to gather and work their way up the Himalayan mountains. Skies are usually clear and sun shines though. However, heavy snowfall on Tuesday followed by a series of avalanches has caused a nightmare scenario, leaving at least 32 people dead and 85 missing.

Most of the fatalities happened as the blizzard reached a point on the Annapurna Circuit, 100 miles northwest of the capital, Kathmandu. A well-known trekking route in central Nepal, the area is about 14,800 feet above sea level and close the the circuit’s highest point, the Thorung La pass. Helicopters have saved survivors stranded in lodges and huts along the route, with at least 200 trekkers already rescued according to authorities. Tourists from countries around the world, including Israel, Indonesia, Germany, Spain, India, Canada, Russia, and Poland, were caught on the mountain. This is the worst disaster in the history of Nepal’s mountain-climbing industry — snowfall from the storm topped six feet in some places.

“I was sure I was going to die on the way to the pass because I lost my group, I lost all the people I was with and I could not see anything,” said Linor Kajan, an injured trekker from Israel, who said she was stuck in waist-deep snow. “One Nepalese guide who knows the way saw me and asked me to stay with him. And he dragged me, really dragged me to the tea shop. And everybody there was really frightened.”

In this handout photo provided by the Nepalese army, rescue team members carry the body of an avalanche victim at Thorong La pass area in Nepal, Friday, Oct. 17, 2014. Rescuers widened their search Friday for trekkers stranded since a series of blizzards and avalanches battered the Himalayas in northern Nepal early this week.

CREDIT: AP/Nepalese Army

The blizzard was the tail end of Cyclone Hudhud, which hit the Indian coast a few days earlier and was reportedly one of the strongest storms on record to hit the region. The equivalent of a category 4 hurricane, Hudhud made landfall on October 12 in Andhra Pradesh, India.

Climate scientists are hesitant to link any one weather event to climate change, but they have pointed out in the past that the Himalayas are especially vulnerable to the increased storm intensity expected to result from climate change.

“Storms in that region are getting stronger,” John Stone, an IPCC lead author and adjunct professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, told the Toronto Star. “It is not inconsistent with what scientists have been saying … by making the atmosphere contain more energy, we have increased the likelihood of more frequent and severe storms.”

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, a regional agency based in Kathmandu that serves eight countries, released a report in May showing that rising temperatures caused Nepal’s glaciers to shrink by almost a quarter between 1977 and 2010 — at an average loss of about 15 square miles per year. The report also pointed out that Nepal’s average temperature change has been two to eight times greater than the global average. The report says that these changes could bring more intense and frequent floods, avalanches, and landslides.

This is not the first time a deadly blizzard has struck trekkers during the hiking season. In 1995 and 2005 more than a dozen climbers and guides were killed by storms. Then earlier this year in April an avalanche killed 16 Nepalese guides near a base camp on Mount Everest in the deadliest disaster in the mountain’s history. This avalanche was not caused by a storm, but melting ice on the famous Khumbu Icefall.

“Accurate weather forecasting has reduced the risk of being surprised by a killer storm like the one that struck in 1996,” wrote Jon Krakauer, author of a book about a deadly 1996 storm event on Everest, in the New Yorker. “But the pronounced warming of the Himalayan climate in recent years has made the Icefall more unstable than ever, and there is still no way to predict when a serac is going to topple over. And Sherpas spend much, much more time in the Icefall than their Western employers.”

Of this disaster, former British Gurkha officer and avid trekker General Sam Cowan said “no one should have ventured out to cross Thorung La with the weather as threatening as it was, nor should their trekking guides have allowed it.”

The post 32 Dead, 85 Missing In Himalayan Trekking Disaster After Unseasonal Blizzard appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

Leonardo DiCaprio Donates $2 Million To Ocean Conservation Efforts

Climate Progress - October 17, 2014 - 10:40am

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio walks onstage to speak at the second day of the State Department’s ‘Our Ocean’ conference at the State Department in Washington, Tuesday, June 17, 2014.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Cliff Owen

For an actor who catapulted to international fame for a movie set largely in the ocean, giving back to the marine environment just makes sense.

Leonardo DiCaprio announced Thursday that his foundation, which is focused on conservation and climate change, is donating $2 million to marine conservation group Oceans 5.

“The sad truth is that less than two percent of our oceans are fully protected,” DiCaprio said in a statement. “We need to change that now. My Foundation supports Oceans 5 projects that are directly improving ocean health by stopping overfishing and creating marine reserves.”

Oceans 5 was created in 2011 and has worked on multiple marine conservation projects, including curbing illegal fishing and protecting key marine regions. DiCaprio’s contribution will help the group in its work to create protected areas in the Arctic and the Pacific Islands, and will also go toward enforcing fishing laws in the U.S. and abroad.

DiCaprio’s contribution to Oceans 5 marks the third time this year that he’s pledged donations to ocean-related groups. In June, he announced at a State Department conference that his foundation would be contributing $7 million to marine life and environment conservation efforts over the next two years, and in February, DiCaprio’s foundation donated $3 million to Oceana for initiatives aimed at protecting sharks and other keystone ocean species.

DiCaprio has been outspoken in recent years about the need to take action on climate change and on other major environmental problems, such as overfishing and the shark fin trade. DiCaprio supported bills to ban the sale of shark fins in New York and California, and his foundation donated $3 million last year to help the Wold Wildlife Fund in its quest to double Nepal’s population of wild tigers by 2022. DiCaprio also participated in September’s People’s Climate March in New York City, and spoke at the U.N.’s climate summit about the urgency of acting on climate change.

“I am not a scientist, but I don’t need to be,” he said at the summit. “Because the world’s scientific community has spoken, and they have given us our prognosis. If we do not act together, we will surely perish. Now is our moment for action.”

DiCaprio’s contribution to Oceans 5 comes soon after September’s expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument by the Obama administration, an effort that Oceans 5 supported. The monument will create a haven for marine life, safe from energy development and commercial — though not recreational — fishing.

Still, more of these protected areas are needed — less than one percent of the world’s oceans are protected, and experts maintain that good management of oceans will help make marine life more resilient to the impacts of climate change, such as ocean warming and acidification. According to the Nature Conservancy, coral reefs “can be resilient” to warming-induced stressors like bleaching if they’re well-protected from other human-induced stressors like pollution overfishing. One report from July found that some of the areas around the world with the healthiest coral reefs were those that had taken action to protect coral grazers such as parrotfish and sea urchins — either by banning the collection of these grazers or by banning the type of fishing methods that tend to trap grazers in their bycatch.

The post Leonardo DiCaprio Donates $2 Million To Ocean Conservation Efforts appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

Methane Bomb Squad Part 4: Dr. Richard Alley and the National Academy

Climate Crocks - October 17, 2014 - 10:02am
Along with Dr. Jim Byrne, and Geoff Haines Stiles, I interviewed Dr. Richard Alley, along with 22 other leading scientists at last year’s American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting. Dr. Alley had just finished work as part of a National Academy of Science project on Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change – a useful and authoritative look […]
Categories: International News

“Tornadoes”. “Swarms”: Words We Don’t Like to See Together

Climate Crocks - October 17, 2014 - 9:50am
Terrorists. Oil revenue. Ebola. Cruise Ship. Tornadoes. Swarms. Lindsay Abrams in Salon: A new study, published Thursday in the journal Science, is the latest to indicate that tornadoes have been acting differently lately. NOAA researchers looked at U.S. storms going back to 1954, and found that the number of “tornado days” (days during which a tornado occurs) has […]
Categories: International News

Seeing Co2 : The Invisible Made Visible

Climate Crocks - October 17, 2014 - 9:49am
See more at, including the spectacular video below. Filed under: Crock of the Week
Categories: International News

An Innovative New Way For Normal People To Invest In Solar Power

Climate Progress - October 17, 2014 - 9:04am

CREDIT: Shutterstock

On top of new storage-plus-solar deals for businesses, lease-to-own models, and business partnerships, SolarCity has just cooked up a new way for everyday Americans to invest in the solar power it provides.

The country’s biggest solar services firm and its leading installer of rooftop solar systems, SolarCity announced on Wednesday that it’s now offering bonds online to everyday investors, the New York Times reported. Bonds are a form of debt: the purchaser pays the bond seller a fixed amount, then the seller pays back the amount over a pre-determined amount of time (maturity) along with interest. It’s a way for a company to build up capital to finance future expansions, particularly in its start-up years. SolarCity’s bonds will be sold in $1,000 increments, and will be available to any U.S. citizen, 18 or older, with a domestic bank account. The bonds will mature in one, two, three, or seven years, and will offer interest rates between two and four percent.

The company has already raised $575 million through the traditional bond market, which is generally only available to wealthy and institutional investors, and is run through middlemen in the financial services industry. Mosaic is the only other solar company to use similar “crowdfunding” structures to finance individual projects on the small- and medium-scale. But unlike SolarCity it doesn’t install the arrays itself, and it only just recently began moving into the residential solar market.

“We’re similar to crowdfunding in that we’re doing this directly through our own online platform with no fees to purchase,” said Tim Newell, the vice-president of financial products at SolarCity. “We don’t look to earn revenue from the sales of the bonds.”

SolarCity will handle the bond sales and the paperwork through its own website, and the plan is to offer $200 million worth of bonds initially, but expects to make additional offerings on a fairly regular basis in the future. The company will also pay back the bonds using the monthly electricity payments from its solar customers. “The big innovation in this announcement is not solar-specific; it’s the offering of simple, attractive corporate bonds to the general public,” observed Shayle Kann, the vice-president of Greentech Media, a renewable technology research outfit. “The fact that these are ‘solar bonds,’ meaning bonds backed by SolarCity’s revenue streams, is just icing on the cake.”

“By expanding the pool of people who can participate in financing solar with us, we’re diversifying our sources of capital,” Newell added. “That also makes us more resilient in any economic environment and over time should help us be able to have the lowest cost of capital.”

The new direct-to-consumer bonds are admittedly smaller and come with lower rates than the bonds SolarCity has sold in the traditional market. The latter offered longer maturities and interest rates at 4.03 percent or even 4.59 percent.

But in a national and global financial market that’s still seen as somewhat uncertain when it comes to renewable power, direct-to-consumer models, crowdfunding, and other forms of financial innovation have emerge as useful — even crucial — tools in building up green power capacity, either at the level of utilities or for the individual homeowner. “If you look at the task we have to overcome in transforming the energy infrastructure, it’s a massive task,” SolarCity CEO’s Lyndon Rive also said. “We need to deploy large amounts of money as fast as humanly possible… One of our biggest tasks is raising awareness and helping people understand that solar is not a 10-year investment with minimal payback.”

By giving everyday investors a stake in the energy source, solar bonds can also serve as an implicit marketing program or awareness-raiser for solar power and green policy. “If you have some skin in the game, then you’re going to want [solar] to succeed in the same way as when you invest in a stock, you want that stock to be successful,” Amy Davidsen, the U.S. executive director of The Climate Group, a non-profit organization that seeks to promote clean energy technology, told The Guardian. “[This] will include supporting policies to help support clean energy.”

A similar dynamic has played out in Germany, where citizens locally own about half of the country’s renewable power capacity, meaning they benefit from the returns on the investment. That’s kept support high for Germany’s green energy policies, even as they’ve arguably helped contribute to high residential electricity bills, thanks to some quixotic design choices. SolarCity’s situation is a bit different — its raising capital to install solar systems, as opposed to offering ownership in the systems themselves — but the end effect of giving the bond customer a personal stake in the social and economic fate of renewable power more broadly.

Over the long haul, SolarCity hopes the bonds will become a “significant part of our financing strategy,” according to Newell. But, he added, “this is new –- no one has done this before — and we’re going to have to see how it proceeds.”

The post An Innovative New Way For Normal People To Invest In Solar Power appeared first on ThinkProgress.

Categories: International News

Ice loss sends Alaskan temperatures soaring by 7C

Guardian - October 17, 2014 - 7:56am

Scientists analysing more than three decades of weather data for the northern Alaskan outpost of Barrow have linked 7C rise to the decline in Arctic sea ice, reports Climate News Network

If you doubt that parts of the planet really are warming, talk to residents of Barrow, the Alaskan town that is the most northerly settlement in the US.

In the last 34 years, the average October temperature in Barrow has risen by more than 7°C an increase that, on its own, makes a mockery of international efforts to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 2°C above their pre-industrial levels.

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Categories: International News


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