Thursday, 13 September 2007

UK Ministry of Defence pays £12 million to identify potential climate change conflicts

In the UK, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has agreed a £12 million contract with the Meteorological (Met) Office to identify areas of the world where climate change could cause conflict and pose security threats to the UK. The MOD needs to know both the locations of future conflicts and the environmental and climate outlook too for future military planning. The Met Office will use its expertise to determine areas that will be affected by global warming over the coming decades. The research will focus on two main possibilities, locations where drought could lead to food and water shortages and locations where previously unfertile land becomes fertile, either through rising temperatures or increased rainfall.

It is believed conflict could arise from both of these scenarios. The MOD’s chief scientific adviser, Roy Anderson said: "The MoD has identified climate change as a key strategic factor affecting societal stresses and the responses of communities and nations to those stresses. We have a pressing need for the best available advice on future climate change and, based on these predictions, assessments of the impacts of those changes on human societies at the regional and local scale." This particular project is only one part of a wider scheme to determine the effects of climate change globally and nationally. Defra, the environment department, has pledged £74m to help scientists provide more detailed forecasts of how UK weather is likely to change over the coming decades. The emphasis of the UK government has very clearly shifted from trying to determine if global warming is real to what the effects of global warming will be.

Computer models predict that the Middle East will become increasingly hotter and drier, with 30% less rainfall by 2010. In such a volatile area, increased drought will only add to the tensions and conflicts. With oil still the mainstay of Europe and the US economies, this is an area that is very likely to draw us into conflict.

Worryingly for the MOD, it is predicted that by the end of the century there could be as many as 130 days each year that are too hot for soldiers to operate.

In the US, a report for the government back in March warned that the US must be prepared to intervene in escalating crises around the world brought on by climate change. Global Business Network, a consultancy based in San Francisco said in their paper ‘Impacts of Climate Change’ “…crises may force the US as a global leader to act in situations that it might otherwise have preferred to ignore…to adopt a ‘pre-emptive’ approach to forestall the worst effects of collapsing ecosystems, water systems…”

Looking at the whole raft of measures the UK government is putting in place, it would appear that they are resigned to global warming and are looking at ways to deal with the impact rather than try to stop it happening. If this is the case in the US and other countries too, it looks like it is up to us as individuals to do everything we can to minimize our carbon emissions, both personally and with the products and services we buy.

Via The Guardian]

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Tories embrace the environment with new policies

The conservative party is fast becoming the party of the environment, with an 800-page report due to be published on Thursday outlining a raft of policies to make us all more environmentally friendly. The report promises to be bold and innovative in its approach to protecting the environment. There are proposals to ban electrical appliances that exceed precise limits on energy consumption. Another idea worth mentioning is to force manufacturers to fit appliances with devices that switch them off rather than leave them on stand-by. These are great ideas, they will force manufacturers to develop technology that is better geared to reducing climate change emissions.

The other important element of this policy document is the concept of increasing taxation on energy wasteful practices, such as buying big petrol guzzling cars and giving rebates to households that take positive steps to reduce their energy use. Some may see this as a cynical marketing ploy to attract voters, but I like to think that whatever the motivation behind the policies, as long as the policies are effective, it does not really matter.

[Via The Telegraph]

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Eco-housing gets a boost

The second largest house-builder in the UK, Persimmon has pledged to support the government’s plans for low carbon emission housing. The company has said it wants to help build the 3 million houses needed by 2020. They have agreed to introduce environmental measures in the new homes to try to get the zero carbon emissions standard the government wants. They are currently testing things like wind turbines and photovoltaic solar cell roof tiles. The company in return wants the government to change the planning laws to speed up the planning application process and make it easier for them to buy land to build on.

This may appear to be a worthwhile move by a building company, but is it? Building new homes with renewable energy technologies is a great idea and needs to be a statutory requirement for all new houses, not a marketing ploy by builders. The worrying element of this deal is the relaxation of the planning application law that could allow builders to use precious greenbelt land to build on. They are in effect holding the government to ransom. The government knows the country needs 3 million new homes, so they will have to cave-in to house-builders demands to ease planning and building restrictions.

[Via The Guardian]

Biofuel demand starts to hurt poorest communities

As predicted by many environmentalists recently, the demand for corn (or maize) for biofuel production has started to cause suffering among the poorest of communities. Western demand for biofuel is leading to higher prices and declining food stocks for people in the poorest countries. An example of this is Mexico, where demand for corn in the USA has increased dramatically since president Bush stated his aim that the US produce 35 billion gallons of biofuels by 2017. Corn is a main staple in the Mexican diet, and when the price jumped by 50% there were protests in the streets. The Mexican government had to step in and enforce a price freeze. As demand grows further there are fears that decreased stocks and price rises will create more problems in Mexico. As Doña Catalina, making and selling tortillas from her little shop says "Poor corn..It isn't meant to go in cars. It is meant to feed our children and our grandchildren. And their grandchildren too."

The scale of demand for biofuel crops such as corn is staggering. In the US alone there are already 121 ethanol biorefineries with a 76 under construction. Even so, this will only meet a third of president Bush’s quota of biofuel production. The whole international biofuel production process has to be managed effectively and fairly otherwise it will be another case of the richer developed countries inflicting suffering on the poorest countries to satisfy their own greed.

[Via The Guardian]

Solar powered watch to save the planet

In the Guardian today there is an article called ‘Top 10 green gadgets’ which I just happened to glance at while I was reading the more serious news items. Number six on the list is a Citizen solar powered watch. I never thought of a solar powered watch as something that could save the planet, but now I’m convinced. All I need to do now is persuade my partner that this is something I simply must buy to reduce the threat of global warming. The rationale behind this broad statement is that people tend to buy new watches quite frequently, many just replace their watch when the battery has died rather than have the battery changed. 18.4 million watches are sold in the UK alone in 2003, imagine how many are sold every year throughout the world. Having a watch like this one means you can keep the same watch for life, saving energy and resources, thereby protecting the environment. You can find these ‘green’ watches at Citizens website. They have women’s and men’s watches in sporty, classic and dress styles. My favourite is the perpetual calendar sports model for £299, so if Father Christmas is reading this, I’ve been good all year, honest!

Monday, 3 September 2007

Wind turbines in your backyard

There are many people, myself included that believe wind and solar power is a good solution to our energy needs. So far, the majority of wind farms have been planned and located in the countryside, far away from population centres. This does blight the countryside and affect the local wildlife and population, but for the majority of people there is no consequence apart from greener electricity. Local councils and residents have in the past, and continue now, to campaign against wind farms in their local area. All that is about to change. Ecotricity have started a new policy of seeking planning permission to install wind turbines in urban areas. This makes it far easier for them to get planning permission approval. Apparently urban populations do not oppose wind turbines and local residents have little objection to them. I suppose this is because we are used to having big ugly structures all around us in cities, whereas in the countryside people are more used to living in a beautiful and peaceful environment. Whatever the reasons are, this is a good move by Ecotricity and will mean more green electricity for more people without spoiling the countryside.

[Via The Guardian]

The real cost of distressed denim

Distressed denim may be all the rage in the fashion world at the moment, but the style comes at an environmental and human cost. In Tehuacán in Mexico it is the local people that pay price for our fashion. Once famous for its mineral springs and spas, Tehuacán, the ‘City of Health’, is now home to around 700 clothes manufacturers, many with little or no environmental controls or standards. Workers are routinely exploited, their employee rights ignored. The worst environmental culprits are the dozens of factories that make the faded or distressed denim that is so fashionable right now. The chemicals used in the process are discharged into the rivers and streams around the factories, turning the water blue and damaging the crops that depend on the water systems.

The main chemical used is potassium permanganate, a strong bleaching agent that was once used to induce abortions. Mariano Baragán, a local farmer said: "As well as being blue, it burns the seedlings and sterilises the earth." The government agencies that should be monitoring the factories are allowing this to happen, probably because the local economy depends on the factories, and their foreign corporate customers. It is these corporations that should be enforcing stricter controls on their client factories to protect both the workers and the environment. We as customers ultimately have the power to change this with our buying power. We chould only buy products from ethical and fairtrade companies.

[Via The Guardian]

Climate change hits Inuit way of life

Climate change is something that we sometimes perceive as abstract and a bit unreal at the moment, in our country at least. We have not really had to experience the devastating effects of global warming on our way of life, yet. For the Inuit people of Canada, Greenland, Alaska and Russia’s far east, climate change is real and it is current. Rising temperatures, melting ice and rising sea levels are affecting entire communities and their traditional way of life. This is not something that they need to worry about in the future, this is their reality now. Sheila Watt-Cloutier, the former president and international chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC) is trying to raise awareness of the effect of global warming to her people. She talks about increasing numbers of hunters falling through the ice. She explains about her neighbour: “He fell through the ice and found him two days or three days later when his legs were frozen…

…It's a remarkable story because he is an experienced hunter yet even he couldn't read the condition of the ice. What you see on the surface of the ice may look like what you've been taught for generations, but the ice is forming differently because the Arctic sink is warmer”

She goes on to say: “In Baffin, yes, the floe edge is much closer than before. In Greenland, the ice sheet is melting much faster than anything that they have ever experienced in the past few years. Alaska has been hit very hard as communities are literally falling into the sea.” This really brings home to me how important it is for us to do everything we can to reduce our own carbon footprint. It is not just about us, and our future, it is about other people around the world and their present. We owe it them.

[Via The Guardian]

Offshore wind farms are a danger to whales and dolphins

Offshore wind farms are expected to account for around 20% of our electricity needs by 2020, which is good news for the government as it is at least one target they may be able to meet and it is good news for the planet as it means reduced carbon emissions and lower global temperature rises, which makes it good news for us too. Unfortunately these constructions are very likely to harm whales and dolphins, both during construction and in the longer term. A report by the Whale and Dolphin Society states that during construction, the noise can be heard up to 80km away and at closer ranges whales and dolphins can have their hearing damaged and can exhibit dramatic behavioural changes. Once the wind farms are in full operation, the noise from the service boats will continue to cause damage to marine life.

As a vegan, I do not want to see any living creature caused pain or suffering. On the other hand, global warming if left unchecked will do incredible harm to many life forms, humans included. Is this a lesser of two evils? I personally do not think so. We created the mess we’re in, and we should sort it out without causing harm to animals or people. We should endeavour to find solutions the climate change that are ethical and fair to all living creatures.

[Via The Independent]