Archive for the ‘environment’ Category

Why Are Squirrels Going Nuts? No Acorns

November 30, 2008

The idea seemed too crazy to Rod Simmons, a measured, careful field botanist. Naturalists in Arlington County couldn’t find any acorns. None. No hickory nuts, either. Then he went out to look for himself. He came up with nothing. Nothing crunched underfoot. Nothing hit him on the head.

Then calls started coming in about crazy squirrels. Starving, skinny squirrels eating garbage, inhaling bird feed, greedily demolishing pumpkins. Squirrels boldly scampering into the road. And a lot more calls about squirrel roadkill.

But Simmons really got spooked when he was teaching a class on identifying oak and hickory trees late last month. For 2 1/2 miles, Simmons and other naturalists hiked through Northern Virginia oak and hickory forests. They sifted through leaves on the ground, dug in the dirt and peered into the tree canopies. Nothing. 

By Brigid Schulte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 30, 2008; Page A01

Eastern Gray Squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis

“I’m used to seeing so many acorns around and out in the field, it’s something I just didn’t believe,” he said. “But this is not just not a good year for oaks. It’s a zero year. There’s zero production. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

The absence of acorns could have something to do with the weather, Simmons thought. But he hoped it wasn’t a climatic event. “Let’s hope it’s not something ghastly going on with the natural world.”

To find out, Simmons and Arlington naturalists began calling around. A naturalist in Maryland found no acorns on an Audubon nature walk there. Ditto for Fairfax, Falls Church, Charles County, even as far away as Pennsylvania. There are no acorns falling from the majestic oaks in Arlington National Cemetery.

“Once I started paying attention, I couldn’t find any acorns anywhere. Not from white oaks, red oaks or black oaks, and this was supposed to be their big year,” said Greg Zell, a naturalist at Long Branch Nature Center in Arlington. “We’re talking zero. Not a single acorn. It’s really bizarre.”

Zell began to do some research. He found Internet discussion groups, including one on Topix called “No acorns this year,” reporting the same thing from as far away as the Midwest up through New England and Nova Scotia. “We live in Glenwood Landing, N.Y., and don’t have any acorns this year. Really weird,” wrote one. “None in Kansas either! Curiouser and curiouser.”

Read the rest:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/w
p-dyn/content/article/2008/11/29
/AR2008112902045.html?hpid=topnews

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Obama’s Biggest Challenge of All: China

November 29, 2008

The single most important challenge for the new administration—one with the potential to shape the 21st century—is China. As goes China, so go 1.3 billion men, women and children—one out of every five people on the planet.

China’s economy is now roughly half the size of America’s; in three decades, the two are likely to be about equal. What the Chinese eat, how much (or whether) they drive, where and how they choose to live, work and play: all will have an enormous impact on the availability and price of energy, the temperature of the planet and the prosperity of mankind.

By Richard Haass
Newsweek

Beijing’s foreign policy is no less important. A cooperative China could help stem the spread of nuclear materials and weapons, maintain an open global trading and financial system, secure energy supplies, frustrate terrorists, prevent pandemics and slow climate change. A hostile or simply noncooperative China, on the other hand, would make it that much more difficult for the United States and its allies to tame the most dangerous facets of globalization. But the emergence of a cooperative China is anything but inevitable. That is why Washington needs a new approach to Beijing. Think of it as “integration.”

In this March 31, 2008 file photo, a worker on a boat clears ... 
A  worker on a boat clears garbage from the Yellow River in Lanzhou in northwest China’s Gansu province. Newly released survey results show water quality along one third of China’s famed Yellow River has fallen below the lowest levels measured due to massive pollution. China’s second-longest river has seen its water quality deteriorate rapidly in the last few years, as discharge from factories increases and water levels drop due to diversion for booming cities.(AP Photo/File)

Integration should be for this era what containment was for the previous one. Our goal should be to make China a pillar of a globalized world, too deeply invested to disrupt its smooth functioning. The aim is ambitious, even optimistic, but not unrealistic. The United States and China need each other. Neither wants to go to war over Taiwan, to see another conflict on the Korean Peninsula or to see world oil prices quadruple as a result of a military strike on Iran. Even more than that, China needs access to the U.S. market for its exports in order to maintain economic growth and domestic political stability. Americans, in addition to benefiting from low-cost Chinese imports, need Beijing to manage its large dollar reserves responsibly.

Americans must accept China’s rise. There’s no guarantee we could prevent it anyway, and the attempt would only worsen the rivalry. We should not exaggerate China’s strength or the threat it poses. China’s military, for all its improvements, is still a generation behind America’s. And we should resist any calls to block China’s access to the U.S. market. Trade and investment aren’t just beneficial on their own terms; they also contribute to the web of ties that would bind China into an orderly world order.

Read the rest:
http://www.newsweek.com/id/171259

Chinese People's Liberation Army troops stand in their formation ... 
Chinese People’s Liberation Army troops stand in their formation at a parade ground during the annual rotation of military personnel in Hong Kong November 25, 2008.REUTERS/Alex Hoffard/Pool (CHINA)

Obama Affirms Climate Change Goals

November 18, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama confirmed on Tuesday that he plans to stick to the aggressive targets he had set earlier for fighting climate change and for spurring the development of clean-energy technology, saying, “Delay is no longer an option.”
A Chinese man cycles past chimney of a coal-burning power plant ... 
A Chinese man cycles past chimney of a coal-burning power plant in Shenyang, north China’s Liaoning province, Friday, Nov. 7, 2008. The head of the U.N.’s climate change body said Friday he hopes the United States will take a more active role in fighting global warming once Barack Obama becomes president in January.(AP Photo)

The remarks were striking for being made in what was billed as a “surprise taped statement,” before a bipartisan conference on climate change in Los Angeles that included governors who have battled the Bush administration by trying to pass stricter pollution standards than federal guidelines require.

Officials from at least 10 other countries were also present, and Mr. Obama addressed his comments to them when he said, “Solving this problem will require all of us working together.” He said he had asked lawmakers who will attend a climate-change conference next month in Poland to report back to him.

By Brian Knowlton
The New York Times
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Mr. Obama’s remarks were sure to be welcomed by Europeans and others who have been urging the administration to take tougher measures ever since President turned his back on the Kyoto Protocol on climate change in 2001.

Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, said the call for legislation to cap emissions, one of the first specific policy statements Mr. Obama has made since his election, was a particularly important signal that he will, as he promised during the campaign, make global warming a top priority.

“Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all,” Mr. Obama said.

“Denial is no longer an acceptable response,” he added. “The stakes are too high. The consequences, too serious.”

It appeared significant that Mr. Obama, who has stayed largely out of sight at his offices in Chicago since being elected, chose to use such strong language on global warming so early in his transition period. Still, it remains unclear that the current financial crisis and grim economic outlook will allow him to move as quickly as he might like.

Read the rest:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/19/us/politics/19climate.html?_r=1&hp

China’s coal fires belch fumes, worsening global warming

November 16, 2008

The barren hillsides give a hint of the inferno underfoot. White smoke billows from cracks in the earth, venting a sulfurous rotten smell into the air. The rocky ground is hot to the touch, and heat penetrates the soles of shoes.

Tourists walk through heavy fog over Tiananmen Square in Beijing ...
Tourists walk through heavy fog over Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 2007. China warned its heavy dependence on coal to fuel its fast-growing economy made it difficult to control greenhouse gas emissions, but said fighting global warming remained imperative.(AFP/File/Teh Eng Koon)

Beneath some rocks, an eerie red glow betrays an unseen hell: the epicenter of a severe underground coal fire.

“Don’t stay too long,” warned Ma Ping , a retired coal miner. “The gases are poisonous.”

Another miner tugs on the sleeve of a visitor.

“You can cook a potato here,” said Zhou Ningsheng, his face still black from a just-finished shift, as he pointed to a vent in the earth. “You can see with your own eyes.”

China has the worst underground coal fires of any country on Earth. The fires destroy as much as 20 million tons of coal annually, nearly the equivalent of Germany’s entire annual production. The costs go beyond the waste of a valuable fuel, however.

Scientists blame uncontrolled coal fires as a significant source of greenhouse gases, which lead to global warming. Unnoticed by most people, the coal fires can burn for years — even decades and longer — seeping carbon dioxide, methane and other gases that warm the atmosphere.

“Coal fires are a disaster for all of humanity. And it’s only due to global warming that people are finally beginning to pay attention,” said Guan Haiyan, a coal fire expert at Shenhua Remote Sensing and Geo-engineering Co.

By Tim Johnson, McClatchy Newspapers

Read the rest:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/mcclatchy/
20081116/wl_mcclatchy/3098670_1

Cyclists passes through thick pollution from a factory in Yutian, ... 
Cyclists passes through thick pollution from a factory in Yutian, China.(AFP/File/Peter Parks)

Vietnam Rejects Steel Mill for Environmental Concerns

November 14, 2008

Vietnam has rejected a proposal by South Korea’s Posco Group to build a 5.4-billion-dollar steel mill near a coastal resort, citing environmental concerns, state media reported on Friday.

The hot-rolled steel mill proposed for south-central Nha Trang’s Van Phong Bay would have breached environmental protection rules, said a decision from Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, according to the Tien Phong (Pioneer) daily.

AFP

The headquarters of POSCO in Seoul. Vietnam has rejected a proposal ... 
The headquarters of POSCO in Seoul. Vietnam has rejected a proposal by the South Korean group to build a 5.4-billion-dollar steel mill near a coastal resort, citing environmental concerns(AFP/File/Jung Yeon-Je)

The newspaper, and other media reports, said another reason the government scrapped the project was that it would have clashed with the planned development of a major container port in Van Phong Bay.

Dung asked Khanh Hoa province leaders to discuss other possible sites for the mill, according to the news website VietnamNet.

The premier, in a televised address to the national assembly on Thursday, said the communist government had “refused a project worth 4-5 billion dollars in steel” for environmental reasons, without naming the project.

He added that the government was determined to prevent further pollution in the country of 86 million people, where rapid industrialisation since the 1990s has caused widespread river and air contamination.

In January local authorities had given Posco and local ship builder Vinashin the green light to build the mill, including a 1,000-megawatt power plant.

Read the rest:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20081114/sc_afp/vietnam
skoreasteelposco_081114041832

Congress isn’t waiting for Obama

November 13, 2008

Lawmakers are unveiling plans to expand health coverage and curb global warming. And Democratic leaders have called a lame-duck session next week to discuss an auto industry bailout.
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More than two months before he is sworn in, Barack Obama already is facing a Congress busily asserting itself on the timing and details of the president-elect’s agenda, including major issues like healthcare and economic policy.

By Janet Hook, Noam N. Levey and Peter Nicholas
The Los Angeles Times
.
Committee chairmen are unveiling legislation to expand health insurance coverage and curb global warming. Democratic leaders have called a lame-duck session next week to consider an auto industry bailout. And other economic stimulus measures may be enacted even before Obama is inaugurated.

Read the rest:
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/
nation/la-na-agenda13-2008nov13,0,3893199.story

Vietnam environment minister proposes higher fines for polluters

November 11, 2008

Vietnam’s environment minister on Tuesday proposed raising penalties for industrial polluters and admitted that current fines are too low to act as effective deterrents.

Pham Khoi Nguyen was answering questions in the national assembly following a series of pollution scandals in which companies from Taiwan and other countries have been caught pumping toxic wastewater into rivers.

Nguyen, the minister for natural resources and the environment, admitted that the problem was widespread and that after over a decade of rapid industrialisation “Vietnam’s environment now is seriously polluted.”

“At present, Vietnam has 110 industrial zones in operation,” the minister said, adding that less than one third of them had adequate treatment systems for wastewater and other toxic effluent.

The government was aware of at least 4,000 factories and other entities now polluting rivers and the air, he said, but he added that his ministry lacked the resources and staff to effectively crack down on them.

Nguyen said environmental inspectors have to inform factories of site visits in advance, and that polluting factories now face maximum fines of just 70 million dong (4,100 dollars) per breach of regulations.

“Many factories accept paying the fine in order to operate,” he said. “The level of the fine is not high enough to be a threat. We have proposed raising the maximum fine to 500 million dong (29,800 dollars).”

–AFP

Obama’s Best Cabinet Line Up: Governing for The Future of America

November 11, 2008

If there is a single appointment Barack Obama could make to signal how dramatically things will change in Washington, it would be to name Albert Gore Jr. — former House member, former senator, former vice president, former presidential nominee and current Custodian of the Planet — as secretary of state. For all the other aspirants to the job, sorry — this is an inconvenient truth.

Can you imagine a bolder statement about a new direction when it comes to global warming and the general care of our abused planet? Gore has won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work in this area (and an Oscar, to boot), and his appointment would signal a dramatic shift from the indifference of the Bush era with its cold shoulder to the Kyoto treaty. In one stroke, the United States would emerge as the leader of nations in the effort to save the planet from ourselves — and could prepare for the consequences of a changed world.

The new president’s urgent priority has to be the economy. He has no other choice. But given that Obama has no foreign policy background, he needs a secretary of state who can really run the nation’s foreign affairs while the attention of the White House is largely directed elsewhere. Others are capable of handling the job, including, of course, Sen. John Kerry, who is being mentioned. But Gore has as much experience and something else as well — he was right on the Persian Gulf War (voted yes) and right on the Iraq war (like Obama, he opposed it from the start).

By Richard Cohen
The Washington Post

Read the rest:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/w
p-dyn/content/article/2008/11/10
/AR2008111002478.html?hpid=opinionsbox1

China Wants West to Fund its Environmental Cleanup

November 9, 2008

You paid for it at Wall Mart but China had to destroy the envoronment to make it.  Now China wants your money to overhaul and clean the mess that’s left in the environment….

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China is trying to persuade rich nations to finance its fight against climate change just as the developed world is tightening its purse strings.

The Chinese government used a two-day conference in Beijing, which ended Saturday, to trumpet proposals for rich economies to devote up to 1 percent of their gross domestic product to help developing countries reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

By Chris O’Brien
The Washington Times
November 9, 2008 

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao attends the opening ceremony for the Beijing high-level conference on climate change held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Friday. (Associated Press)

Above: Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao attends the opening ceremony for the Beijing high-level conference on climate change held at the Great Hall of the People on Friday (Associated Press photo)

“The developed countries have a responsibility and an obligation to respond to global climate change by altering their unsustainable way of life,” Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao told representatives of 76 nations.

China has been quick to grab the initiative in global climate change talks, wary of pressure over its own ballooning emissions.

Scientists say China has already overtaken the United States as the world’s biggest polluter. The Chinese government did not refer to this in a recent white paper, but a senior official admitted for the first time that China’s total emissions were “about the same as the United States.”

“Whether or not we have surpassed the United States is not in itself important,” Xie Zhenhua, a deputy chief of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), told the conference.

The timing of the meeting was significant. A major United Nations climate change conference is to be held in the Polish city of Poznan in December. Negotiators will continue a quest to agree on a successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

The Chinese government recognizes the urgent need to tackle the repercussions of its explosive, and ultimately unsustainable, industrial growth. State media has widely reported that climate change is causing crop failure and increasing the risks of flooding and drought. Environment-related protests are also on the rise.

However, the central government insists that it is not prepared to impede economic progress through the implementation of environmental measures.

Instead, China is demanding that rich nations set aside between 0.7 percent and 1 percent of their GDP to help poorer nations cut emissions. That amounts to more than $300 billion a year from the Group of Seven countries. The bulk of the money would be used to transfer advanced technology to combat climate change.

Fouling our nest - 'bird's nest' stadium, Beijing by Sibad.
Above: The “Bird’s Nest” or China’s National Stadium, built for this summer’s Olympics, is covered in pollution…

Related:
China: Your Worst Environmental Nighmare
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China: 70% of waterways and 90% of underground water polluted
.
China is the World’s E-Waste Dumping Ground

Read the rest:
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/nov/09/
china-wants-west-to-fund-its-cleanup/

China’s Premier: Rich nations should ditch ‘unsustainable’ lifestyles

November 7, 2008

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and a top UN official urged industrialised nations Friday to alter their lifestyles and not let the global financial crisis hamper climate change efforts.


Above: Wen Jiabao

Industrialised nations should also help developing countries respond to climate change, Wen said at the opening of a two-day international meeting on global warming in Beijing.

“The developed countries have a responsibility and an obligation to respond to global climate change by altering their unsustainable way of life,” the state news agency Xinhua quoted him as saying.

“As the global financial crisis spreads and worsens, and the world economy slows down, the international community must not waver in its determination to tackle climate change.”

AFP

The gathering in Beijing is focused on the development and transfer of technology that can help tackle climate change ahead of next month’s talks on creating a new global treaty on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Representatives from 76 nations are attending.

China proposed last week that rich nations devote one percent of their economic output to helping poor countries fight global warming.

Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said Friday a lack of firm funding commitments could derail efforts to cut emissions in developing countries, especially during the financial crisis.

“The financial crisis is definitely going to affect international climate change policy,” he said.

But “the financial crisis offers the world an opportunity to move away from toxic investments and make sustainable investments, for example into low emissions energy infrastructure,” he said.

In the landmark Kyoto Protocol, rich nations agreed to targets for cutting greenhouse gases as well as helping to transfer clean technology to developing nations to help them reduce their emissions.

But much of the pledged transfers are not happening, said de Boer.

“Industrial countries must meet their technology transfer obligations,” he told journalists.

“Given their historical responsibility for the problem, it is essential that industrialised countries take the lead in reducing emissions and that they show real leadership (in climate change negotiations).”

Formal negotiations on a new treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012 will begin in Poznan, Poland next month, with the UN hoping that a new agreement will be ready by the end of 2009, de Boer said.

“Governments have used 2008 to gather information and clarify their positions on a number of topics. At Poznan governments need to go into full negotiation mode and make concrete results,” he said.

China has long resisted calls to join rich nations in setting targets for emissions cuts, saying its relatively low per capita emissions and recent emergence as a major source of greenhouse gases should exempt it from action.

Scientists said in September that China had leapfrogged the United States as the world’s biggest producer of carbon dioxide (CO2), one of the principal gases that cause global warming.