Friday, December 14, 2012

VIDEO: "Chasing Ice" Movie Reveals Largest Iceberg Break-Up Ever Filmed

by The Guardian:

It's like watching 'Manhattan breaking apart in front of your eyes', says one of the researchers for filmmaker James Balog. He's describing the largest iceberg calving ever filmed, as featured in his movie, Chasing Ice.

After weeks of waiting, the filmakers witnessed 7.4 cubic km of ice crashing off the Ilulissat glacier in Greenland. Chasing Ice, released in the UK on Friday, follows Balog's mission to document Arctic ice being melted by climate change.

Friday, December 7, 2012

SPECIAL REPORT: Australia’s Critically Endangered Animal Species

by Jane Rawson, Editor, Energy & Environment, The Conversation:

“Critically endangered” is the highest threat level that can be assigned to a wild species (lower levels are “endangered” and “vulnerable”).

These species are either facing an extremely high risk of extinction, or have numbers which decreased (or will) by 80% within three generations. Some of these species may already be extinct.

Where no common name exists, only the Latin name is given.


Woylie Bettongia penicillata Also known as the Brush-tailed Bettong, or Brush-tailed Rat Kangaroo; a small marsupial found from south-west Western Australia across southern Australia.
Mountain Pygmy Possum Burramys parvus This tiny possum occurs as three isolated, genetically distinct populations in the alps of Victoria and NSW. 
Christmas Island Shrew Crocidura trichura The shrew is endemic to Christmas Island and hasn’t been seen since 1985. It is possibly extinct.
Northern Hairy-Nosed Wombat Lasiorhinus krefftii Only 115 of these wombats remain; they are limited to Epping Forest National Park in Queensland.
Lesser Stick-Nest Rat Leporillus apicalis This central-Australian rodent is probably extinct, with no reliable sightings since 1970.
Bramble Cay Melomys Melomys rubicola Limited to a small cay in the Torres Strait, this rodent has one of the most restricted distributions of any mammal species.
Lord Howe Long-Eared Bat Nyctophilus howensis This bat is known only from a single skull found in 1972, but Lord Howe Islanders continue to report bat sightings.
Christmas Island Pipistrelle Pipistrellus murrayi While listed as critically endangered, it’s generally accepted this little bat is now extinct.
Gilbert’s Potoroo Potorous gilbertii Only 40 or so of these rabbit-sized marsupials live in south-west Western Australia, but the population seems stable.
Kangaroo Island Dunnart Sminthopsis aitkeni This little hand-sized marsupial is restricted to a very small area of Kangaroo Island.
Carpentarian Rock Rat Zyzomys palatalis A rodent found in sandstone gorges in the Northern Territory, there are thought to be less than 2000 remaining.
Central Rock Rat Zyzomys pedunculatus This rodent is found only in the western MacDonnell Ranges in the Northern Territory.


Christmas Island Frigatebird Fregata andrewsi Dust from mining has destroyed much of the frigate’s nesting habitat but it may be losses away from the island that are the real danger – we have no idea of either trends or the severity of threats.
Orange-Bellied Parrot Neophema chrysogaster One of the world’s most endangered species, this parrot is expected to become extinct in three to five years.
Regent Honeyeater Xanthomyza phrygia Brightly coloured honeyeater from inland southeast Australia.


Short-Nosed Sea Snake Aipysurus apraefrontalis In the 1990s, this Ashmore Reef-dweller was the third most commonly recorded sea snake; no individuals have been recorded since 2000, suggesting a 90% decline.
Leaf-Scaled Sea Snake Aipysurus foliosquama Like the short-nosed sea snake, this snake has declined precipitously this century, perhaps due to coral bleaching.
Eared Worm-Lizard Aprasia aurita Found around Ouyen, Victoria, this 10cm lizard is seriously threatened by fire; the next large fire could wipe it out.
Leatherback Turtle Dermochelys coriacea While this turtle has a world-wide range, its Pacific Ocean population has declined drastically in the last decade.
Christmas Island Whiptail-Skink Emoia nativitatis The population of this skink, found only on Christmas Island, has declined 98% due to the invasion of yellow crazy ants.
Hawksbill Turtle Eretmochelys imbricata The largest breeding populations of these ornate sea turtles are found along the northern coast of Australia.
Retro Slider Lerista allanae This burrowing skink has no legs and is found in the Brigalow woodlands of inland Queensland.
Gulbaru Gecko Phyllurus gulbaru Discovered only in 2003, this leaf gecko already makes the critically endangered list due to its restricted distribution.
Western Swamp Tortoise Pseudemydura umbrina Less than 200 of these tortoises remain in the wetlands around Perth.


Elegant Frog Cophixalus concinnus This frog is abundant, but because it lives on one mountaintop in Queensland it is threatened by climate change.
White-Bellied Frog Geocrinia alba This frog is found only in the swamps in the dry lands around Perth, Western Australia.
Booroolong Frog Litoria booroolongensis Found right through New South Wales, this frog is found only in streams of the western Great Dividing Range.
Yellow-Spotted Tree Frog Litoria castanea Found in permanent ponds, this bell frog is found in two completely separate populations in southeast Australia.
Armoured Frog Litoria lorica This wet tropics tree frog was rediscovered in 2008 in a tiny population on the Atherton Tablelands.
Kuranda Tree Frog Litoria myola Another tree frog from the wet tropics, this species is found in patches around Cairns.
Mountain Mistfrog Litoria nyakalensis This frog from the wet tropics was last recorded in 1990.
Peppered Tree Frog Litoria piperata This frog is found on in creeks in the dry escarpments of New South Wales.
Spotted Tree Frog Litoria spenceri A frog from the rocky gullies of the southern Great Dividing Range.
Baw Baw Frog Philoria frosti Discovered when a snake vomited it on to a naturalist, this frog is found only in the bogs of Mount Baw Baw in Victoria.
Corroboree Frog Pseudophryne corroboree This yellow-and-black striped frog is found only in the sphagnum bogs of the Australian Alps.
Sharp-Snouted Day Frog Taudactylus acutirostris A frog from the mountains near Cooktown in Queensland.
Eungella Day Frog Taudactylus eungellensis This frog is found in the ranges of central Queensland.
Kroombit Tinker Frog Taudactylus pleione A frog restricted to forest patches in southern Queensland.
Tinkling Frog Taudactylus rheophilus With a “tinkling” call, this frog is restricted to mountaintops in Queensland.


Knifetooth Sawfish Anoxypristis cuspidata A sawfish found in shallow waters across the tropical Indian Ocean and western Pacific.
Spotted Handfish Brachionichthys hirsutus This fish walks around on the sea bed using its fins and is found only in southeast Tasmania.
Dumb Gulper Shark Centrophorus harrissoni A species of dogfish from the deep waters off eastern Australia, threatened by fishing for oil and meat.
Elizabeth Springs Goby Chlamydogobius micropterus (and Edgbaston Goby C. squamigenus) Two highly specialised fish from artesian springs on stations in Western Queensland.
Swan Galaxias Galaxias fontanus This fish from eastern Tasmania declined with the introduction of Brown Trout.
Barred Galaxias Galaxias fuscus A Victorian galaxias from the headwaters of rivers near Mount Buller.
Clarence Galaxias Galaxias johnstoni A southern Tasmanian freshwater fish, this galaxias is threatened by invasive species.
Pedder Galaxias Galaxias pedderensis This spotty fish was threatened by the historic flooding of Lake Pedder in 1972.
Northern River Shark Glyphis garricki A shark found in the tidal rivers and estuaries of northern Australia and New Guinea.
Murray Cod Maccullochella peelii This large fish from the Murray-Darling is threatened by overfishing and river regulation.
Queensland Sawfish Pristis clavata (and Green Sawfish P. zijsron) Two sawfish from northern Australia, these shark relatives have declined due to bycatch.
Red-Finned Blue-Eye Scaturiginichthys vermeilipinnis A fish adapted to the harsh conditions of the Great Artesian Basin springs in western Queensland.
Southern Bluefin Tuna Thunnus maccoyii This large, predatory fish spawns off northwest coast of Australia and migrates around the southern coast.


Sydney Hawk Austrocordulia leonardi A dragonfly from southern Sydney, threatened by urban expansion.
Lord Howe Island Stick Insect Dryococelus australis Australia’s most famous insect, it was presumed extinct until 2001 and is now bred in captivity.
Tasmanian Torrent Midge Edwardsina tasmaniensis This insect lives only in the Cataract Gorge of Launceston, Tasmania.
Hemisaga elongata (and Ixalodectes flectocercus, Nanodectes bulbicercus, Pachysaga strobila) Four species of katydids.
Dinosaur Ant Nothomyrmecia macrops F ound on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, this ant is a living fossil.
Schayera baiulus Presumed extinct until its rediscovery in 1991, this northern Tasmanian grasshopper hasn’t been seen since.


Cherax leckii This crayfish is found in one river on the border of New South Wales and Queensland.
Margaret River Hairy Marron Cherax tenuimanus A crayfish from deep waters of Margaret River, threatened by competition with another crayfish species.
Central North Burrowing Crayfish Engaeus granulatus Only recently described, very little is known about this this northern Tasmanian crayfish.
Mallacoota Burrowing Crayfish Engaeus mallacoota This crayfish is found only in the rainforest of an inlet in Victoria.
Scottsdale Burrowing Crayfish Engaeus spinicaudatus A burrowing crayfish found only in northeast Tasmania around the forestry town of Scottsdale.
Warragul Burrowing Crayfish Engaeus sternalis Land cleared for farming is the last remaining habitat for this burrowing crayfish.
Margaret River Burrowing Crayfish Engaewa pseudoreducta This burrowing crayfish is found in two streams in Western Australian heathlands.
Euastacus bindal (and E. clarkae, E. dalagarbe, E. dharawalus, E. eungella, E. gamilaroi, E. girurmulayn, E. guruhgi, E. guwinus, E. jagabar, E. jagara, E. maidae, E. mirangudjin, E. monteithorum, E. robertsi, E. setosus, E. yigara) Seventeen species of crayfish found on isolated mountaintops and cool rainforest streams in New South Wales and Queensland.
Ombrastacoides denisoni (and O. parvicaudatus) These two crayfish are endemic to western Tasmania and threatened by mining activities.


Tasmanian Freshwater ‘Limpet’ Ancylastrum cumingianus A mollusc, that is not a limpet, found in Great Lake in Tasmania, now flooded for hydroelectricity.
Beddomeia tumida This snail possibly became extinct when Great Lake, Tasmania was flooded.
Fluvidona petterdi This snail is found in a single creek in New South Wales
Hemistomia whiteleggei A possibly extinct snail found only on Lord Howe Island.
Jardinella colmani A snail found only in the springs of the Great Artesian Basin in western Queensland.
Placostylus bivaricosus This large land snail is endemic to Lord Howe Island.


Fire Coral Millepora boschmai This coral, found in eastern Indian and central Pacific oceans, is vulnerable to El Nino events and global warming.

Read about how lists of endangered species are compiled.
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Friday, November 30, 2012

Basin Plan is Historic But Let’s Not Lose the Whole Story

by Professor Lin Crase, Professor of Applied Economics at La Trobe University, The Conversation:

English: A panorama of the junction of the Mur...
A panorama of the junction of the Murray and Darling Rivers at Wentworth, New South Wales. The Darling River is on the left of the photo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reaching agreement on a Murray-Darling Basin Plan is undoubtedly a significant political accomplishment.

The water resources of the Murray-Darling have been the basis of disagreement between states, industries and communities for the best part of a century, and having a national plan is seen by many as a step forward.

The fact that the Opposition has now agreed to support the Plan assures its acceptance by Parliament, even if implementation remains a challenge for future governments and the states.

But before we become too exuberant about the political achievements embodied in a basin plan, it might be helpful to draw lessons from the entire episode. This is especially important as Environment Minister Tony Burke presents Australia’s water planning processes as a panacea to other nations dealing with water scarcity.

The Basin Plan was the latest attempt to rein in the proclivity of governments to treat water resources like a magic pudding. While water resources are renewable, they are also finite.

In addition, off-the-cuff decisions to allocate water perceived as “going to waste” is a sure recipe for creating problems for future generations. I can personally recall statements by former water bureaucrats describing water exiting the Murray Mouth as “waste”.

In an effort to avoid repeating mistakes of the past, we should treat cautiously recent proclamations by NSW Governor, Marie Bashir and mining entrepreneur, Gina Rinehart, on turning around river flows.

History suggests that a poor appreciation of the benefits conferred by water in different places and the role it plays in supporting a range of environmental processes can prove costly.

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Saving Australian Endangered Species: A Policy Gap and Political Opportunity

by Professor Stephen Garnett, Professor of Biodiversity and Sustainability at Charles Darwin University, The Conversation:

Map shows biodiversity "hotspots" as...
Map shows biodiversity "hotspots" as defined by Conservation International, with color coding indicating number of Critically Endangered, Endangered, and Threatened bird species occurring in these areas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tim Flannery, in his Quarterly Essay After the Future, is right to deplore the sudden abrogation of responsibility for threatened species by state and federal governments.

The tragedy is that neglecting endangered species is the wrong thing to do on so many counts. It does not reflect the popular will of the people. And it is counter to what is happening elsewhere in the world.

To take the last point first. In Hyderabad recently the Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity - which includes representatives of nearly all world governments - agreed to double the funding for the Global Environment Fund (GEF) to $10 billion a year.

Although still less than required for improving the status of all threatened species and for protecting critical habitats, this was still a big step forward.

Significantly, India and several African countries also agreed to contribute to the GEF. The world is taking a serious interest in saving species. And with good reason - there is increasing evidence that biodiversity loss has an influence on ecosystem service provision on a par with drought, ozone loss, acidification and climate warming. Species conservation is an investment in natural capital that provides enormous returns.

So why are Australian governments turning off threatened species? While Australia did contribute $23 million to the GEF through AusAid in 2011-12, here at home there is no coordinated national pool of funds for threatened species. The carbon fund and Caring for Country are lotteries in which winning tickets are too often captured by local agendas unrelated to the risk of species loss.

And the states and territories have always been poor cousins. While they have long employed threatened species managers - often deeply committed individuals who have devoted decades to retaining species for future generations - the operating money has usually had to be gleaned from a reluctant Commonwealth.

Since 2009 that money has been ever harder to obtain. That was when Peter Garrett got up at the INTECOL conference in Brisbane and said that funding would be given to protecting landscapes not species. I wonder if it weighs on his conscience, and those of his advisers, that this statement led directly to extinction of the Christmas Island Pipistrelle, the first mammal extinction in a generation.

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Obama’s Second Term Challenges Must Include Tackling Climate Change

First Lady Michelle Obama applauds the staff m...
Michelle Obama at the EPA (Wikipedia)
by Dr Barry Naughten, Energy Economist at Australian National University, The Conversation:

In his acceptance speech of November 6, Barack Obama at long last reaffirmed the need to address global warming.

But unfortunately he also reaffirmed the spurious goal of US oil independence, which can be at odds with climate policy when used to promote CO2-intensive options such as tar sands and shale oil.

The fate of the Keystone tar sands pipeline will be an early test of Obama’s bona fides on climate change as distinct from his being hostage to the “oil independence” goal and Big Oil.

If US climate change policy is to be more than cosmetic, the real questions should be about its part in an internally consistent set of fundamental policies within a “whole of government” approach.

Pricing and regulating emissions

In the 2008 presidential elections, both Obama and John McCain supported cap-and-trade as a means of meeting designated abatement targets by 2050. But pricing US greenhouse gas emissions has been abandoned since the advent of the Tea Party’s power in the Congressional elections of 2010.

However, such political difficulties need not preclude regulatory policy action, such as by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has closed down emissions-intensive, coal-fired power stations and blocked new ones. Total CO2 emission reductions have also reflected federally subsidised growth in wind-power and tightened vehicle efficiency standards.

The aggregate level of US CO2 emissions has in fact declined to mid-1990s levels.

This is due also to the glut of natural gas which has displaced some coal-fired electricity generation. It is also an unintended side effect of the 2008 economic crisis, “off-shoring” (“deindustrialisation”) and the tripling of oil prices since 2003.

An integrated approach can address the above-noted political obstacles. Fiscal policy is a case in point.

“Green” investment and fiscal policy

To be effective, fiscal policy in the present deep slump needs expansionary investment programs but also to address the public debt concerns. Resulting sustainable economic growth helps the latter by augmenting tax revenues.

Additional revenues can also be sourced from taxing the super-rich, as Obama is seeking to do, and by taxing beneficiaries of infrastructure programs. Retrenching wasteful military expenditures (especially foreign) will also help.

To facilitate such investment in assets that are both productive and ecologically sound, the US also needs institutions such as Skidelsky and Martin’s proposed National Investment Bank.

Such a Bank (as the authors claim) “could take the lead in financing green technologies such as wind and geothermal power by evaluating and incorporating into its appraisals the value of their benefits to the broader economy”.

This proposal includes explicit criteria about due process and transparency, to prevent the kind of pork-barrelling evident in “Big Oil” and corn-based ethanol fuel supports.

A Republican-dominated House will no doubt seek to block such measures in favour of concessions to big business based on dubious “trickle down” or “sound finance” ideologies. The solution is not deals with economic libertarians in the re-arranged Tea Party.

Rather, the political challenge for the presidential arm would be to ensure that these elements bear the electoral consequences of seeking to grant further fiscal privileges to the rich at the expense of a sound macroeconomic strategy.

Effective policy and politics also need to include structural adjustment assistance to ensure fair burden-sharing as well as effective information programs about extreme climate events, imminent climate system “tipping points” and so on.

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Friday, November 9, 2012

Don’t Write Off Antarctic Marine Protected Areas

Antarctica at its finest
Antarctica at its finest (Photo: HamishM)
by Dr Tony Press, CEO, Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems CRC at University of Tasmania, The Conversation:

The annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) wound up in Hobart on Thursday last week without declaring a system of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Antarctic.

But this shouldn’t be seen as a defeat for marine protection.

The three proposals on the table at the Commission were:
  • a pre-emptive move to protect areas in the Antarctic peninsula region when ice shelves collapse
  • an MPA in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica
  • a proposal from Australia, France and the European Community for a series of MPAs in east Antarctica.
During the meeting the USA and New Zealand merged their competing proposals for an MPA in the Ross Sea. NGO groups and some CCAMLR members expressed their extreme disappointment that the Commission had not met the deadline it had set itself in 2009 to establish a representative system of protected areas in the Convention area by 2012.

A failure, or a brighter future?

The Commission decided, for only the second time in its history, to hold a Special Meeting. This Special Meeting, to be held in Germany in July 2013, will further consider the protected area proposals for East Antarctica and the Ross Sea.

It will be preceded by a special meeting of CCAMLR’s Scientific Committee. The last time the CCAMLR Commission held a Special Meeting was 1986 to discuss the application from Brazil to become a member.

CCAMLR operates by consensus. Ultimately all parties must agree to a decision, or at least choose to not disagree. Consensus decision making (a hallmark of the Antarctic Treaty System) leads to strong agreement and support for decisions that are made. But it can also mean that decisions can take a long time as doubts, criticisms and opposition are addressed.

In the case of the remaining protected area proposals (the Antarctic peninsula proposal will not be considered in the Special Meeting in 2013), enough doubt existed in some delegations that consensus could not be reached. But there was not enough opposition to scuttle the call for a Special Meeting.

The stakes will be high in Germany. All parties will have had many months to consider the MPA proposals, having already considered the science behind them in 2011. The fact that these MPAs will be the only substantive issue to be considered also provides added focus on reaching a decision in July 2013.

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Monday, November 5, 2012

Shark Protection Developments Have No Bite

English: Great white shark at Isla Guadalupe, ...
Great White Shark (Photo: Wikipedia)
by Professor Erika Techera, Professor of Law at University of Western Australia, The Conversation:

Whether it’s from fishing and by-catch, finning or even culling, global shark populations are under a growing threat from human activity.

But how successful is international law at protecting some of the planet’s oldest species?

Only two of the global legal instruments that protect sharks are legally binding: the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

While there are other non-binding agreements aimed at addressing shark conservation and management, the overall legal framework is not comprehensive. The result is that international law offers at best only a limited level of protection for sharks.

The Convention on Migratory Species (CMS)

When species are listed under the CMS they are protected throughout their migratory range. Three shark species are listed on Appendix I: the Whale Shark, Basking Shark and Great White Shark. This means any states in their “range” must prohibit catching the species.

Range states include those countries in whose waters the species are found, and nations who register vessels that fish on the high seas.

Four further species are listed on Appendix II: the Porbeagle, Spiny Dogfish, Short Fin and Long Fin Mako. For these species, range states have to enter into agreements with each other to protect them.

CMS signatories signed up to a Memorandum of Understanding on sharks in 2010. In September 2012 they agreed involvement in CMS should go beyond States and that NGOs, scientists and fishing industry representatives also needed to be involved. Relevantly, the US and Australian chapters of the Humane Society International signed on to the Memorandum.

Importantly, the parties adopted a Conservation Plan for sharks. This recognises the importance of research, sustainability of fisheries, protection of critical habitats, public education and international cooperation.

The meeting also recommended that sharks be landed with their fins naturally attached. This measure is aimed at reducing the abhorrent practice of live finning - the fins are cut off the shark while it is alive, and the shark is left to bleed to death or drown. In some cases the sharks are dead when the fins are removed but the bodies are still wastefully discarded.

This finning should be distinguished from circumstances where sharks are landed whole and their meat and fins separately sold. It is the former practice that is most controversial, unsustainable and breaches guidelines on responsible fishery practice.

The shark fin industry is driven by the high prices fishers can get for fins. Meat is not as profitable. This recommendation is therefore a significant advance. It follows a 2008 UN General Assembly Resolution and comes in the wake of shark fin regulations in countries such as the US, and a number of Pacific nations.

Although not legally binding on countries, the recommendation illustrates growing consensus on the need to address shark finning and endorses the “fins naturally attached” approach. The recommendation will hopefully catalyse the development of binding regulations in regional fishery management organisations and at the national level as well.

Although the global community acknowledges the poor conservation status of some shark species, ultimately, the CMS Memorandum is not legally binding and only covers the seven species listed under the Convention. Furthermore, only 50 states have signed the document and by extension committed to the Conservation Plan.

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Friday, November 2, 2012

It's Global Warming, Stupid

Hurricane Sandy Flooding East Village 2012
Hurricane Sandy Flooding East Village 2012 (Photo credit: david_shankbone)
by , Business Week:

Yes, yes, it’s unsophisticated to blame any given storm on climate change.

Men and women in white lab coats tell us - and they’re right - that many factors contribute to each severe weather episode.

Climate deniers exploit scientific complexity to avoid any discussion at all.

Clarity, however, is not beyond reach. Hurricane Sandy demands it: At least 40 U.S. deaths. Economic losses expected to climb as high as $50 billion. Eight million homes without power. Hundreds of thousands of people evacuated. More than 15,000 flights grounded. Factories, stores, and hospitals shut. Lower Manhattan dark, silent, and underwater.

An unscientific survey of the social networking literature on Sandy reveals an illuminating tweet (you read that correctly) from Jonathan Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota.

On Oct. 29, Foley thumbed thusly: “Would this kind of storm happen without climate change? Yes. Fueled by many factors. Is the storm stronger because of climate change? Yes.”

Eric Pooley, senior vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund (and former deputy editor of Bloomberg Businessweek), offers a baseball analogy: “We can’t say that steroids caused any one home run by Barry Bonds, but steroids sure helped him hit more and hit them farther. Now we have weather on steroids.”

In an Oct. 30 blog post, Mark Fischetti of Scientific American took a spin through Ph.D.-land and found more and more credentialed experts willing to shrug off the climate caveats.

The broadening consensus: “Climate change amps up other basic factors that contribute to big storms. For example, the oceans have warmed, providing more energy for storms. And the Earth’s atmosphere has warmed, so it retains more moisture, which is drawn into storms and is then dumped on us.” Even those of us who are science-phobic can get the gist of that.

Sandy featured a scary extra twist implicating climate change. An Atlantic hurricane moving up the East Coast crashed into cold air dipping south from Canada. The collision supercharged the storm’s energy level and extended its geographical reach. Pushing that cold air south was an atmospheric pattern, known as a blocking high, above the Arctic Ocean.

Climate scientists Charles Greene and Bruce Monger of Cornell University, writing earlier this year in Oceanography, provided evidence that Arctic icemelts linked to global warming contribute to the very atmospheric pattern that sent the frigid burst down across Canada and the eastern U.S.

If all that doesn’t impress, forget the scientists ostensibly devoted to advancing knowledge and saving lives. Listen instead to corporate insurers committed to compiling statistics for profit.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

Poachers Decimate Tanzania's Elephant Herds

Taken in the Ngorongoro crater, Tanzania
Taken in the Ngorongoro crater, Tanzania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by ,

"The word 'ivory' rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it" - Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness.
Conrad wrote more than a century ago, when there were no laws against shooting elephants. If anything, today's restrictions on the ivory trade have only increased its value.

The slaughter of elephants and the seizure of illegal ivory have soared to their highest levels in decades. A voracious market in Asia and chaotic wildlife protection in much of Africa have put elephant herds at risk throughout the African continent, particularly in Central and East Africa. Poachers are gunning down whole families, oblivious to game scouts.

A key battleground is Tanzania, one of the world's last great repositories of elephants. Perhaps 70,000 to 80,000 elephants roam this nation's immense sanctuaries, amounting to perhaps a quarter of all African elephants.

In colonial times, the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar held the largest ivory auctions in the world. Today Tanzania has regained that infamy. Those public auctions have been replaced by underground networks of smugglers, but Tanzania remains a leading source of ivory.

From 2009 to 2011, the country was the leading exporter of illegal ivory in the world. Thirty-seven percent of all elephant tusks seized by law enforcement came from Tanzania, with neighboring Kenya a close second.

On Saturday, customs officials in Hong Kong announced the seizure of nearly 4 tons' worth of ivory hidden in two containers shipped from Indian Ocean ports in Tanzania and Kenya. Whether the ivory is merely transshipped through Tanzanian ports or plundered from its parks is a point of contention.

Few Protections For Elephants

Conservationists say Tanzania has for years been one of Africa's worst elephant slaughterhouses. They blame authorities who are unable or unwilling to control poaching and trafficking. The government acknowledges there is a problem and says reforms are under way.

"There's an enormous slaughter of elephants going on in Tanzania right now. Things are out of hand," says Iain Douglas-Hamilton, who has been studying and protecting elephants in Africa for 47 years. "There's no protection in numbers for elephants any more than there was for bison in the last century when they were all wiped out in America. So people shouldn't kid themselves."

Wildlife rangers in Tanzania came across this elephant that had been killed for its ivory. Tanzania says it wants to prevent the slaughter of elephants, but rangers are poorly paid and are responsible for monitoring vast game reserves in the East African country. Tanzania had been curiously mute over the massacre of its elephants. But recently, an avuncular, white-haired member of Parliament offered this grim assessment.

"Thirty elephants per day. At the end of the year, you're talking about 10,000 elephants killed," says James Lembeli, chairman of Parliament's Natural Resources Committee and a former National Parks official. "Move around this country where you have populations of elephants: carcasses everywhere."

In Search Of Dead Elephants

I decided to go see for myself. Two Masai tribesmen in tire-tread sandals use elaborate whistling to herd their cattle. They know this landscape of dry thorn brush and tawny grass intimately. So they lead us to a recent elephant kill on the Tanzania-Kenya border.

We walked up on the carcass of a dead elephant. It was killed sometime last month. All that's left is a great leathery hide, gray on the outside, pink on the inside, decomposing on the savanna. The poachers hauled off the tusks. The villagers came and cut away all the meat, and took the head and bones. The scene is being repeated again and again across Tanzania.

The poachers come in all types in Africa these days. The Democratic Republic of Congo recently accused Ugandan soldiers of machine-gunning elephants from a military helicopter. Some poachers track jumbo elephants on foot for days like big-game hunters. Others use high-tech shortcuts.

Robert Waltenburg manages Lake Chala Safari Camp, a small, private game reserve where we found the carcass. It's one of eight elephants killed here in recent weeks.

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Climate Change is Placing Increasing Pressure on Queensland’s Ecosystems

Mountain-top ecosystem. Kara Brugman
by Dr Kristen Williams, Research Scientist in Ecological Geography at CSIRO and Dr Michael Dunlop, Senior Research Scientist: land-water-biodiversity-climate at CSIRO, The Conversation:

Climate change will place increasing pressure on Australia’s natural environments in the future. Queensland is no exception.

CSIRO and the Queensland Government recently conducted an in-depth review and synthesis of the existing scientific literature.

The resulting report shows that climate and ocean changes will affect Queensland’s marine, terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in ways that are more widespread and, in many situations, more extreme than currently recognised.

Even under a moderate global emissions scenario, there are likely to be very significant ecological changes at most locations in Queensland by 2070.

It is impossible to predict exactly how ecosystems will change, but our models indicate that in any affected location more than half the plant species in that location in 2070 could differ to those there today.

This example provides an indication of the magnitude of the environmental change that ecosystems may face. Actual levels of change at any location could be higher or lower depending on how individual species respond and interact with each other.

These findings mirror CSIRO’s Australia-wide assessment of the impact of climate change on biodiversity conservation and the National Reserve System. Species and ecosystems will be very sensitive to anticipated levels of future environmental change, and existing pressures greatly reduce their ability to adapt to those changes.

Some areas of international significance are particularly at risk, such as the Wet Tropics and the Great Barrier Reef. The Wet Tropics was identified as a global climate change “hot spot” by the IPCC in 2007. Our report found that the entire region is expected to experience significant environmental change; some mountain top ecosystems may disappear entirely.

The Great Barrier Reef is expected to face the combined influences of warming, ocean acidification and storm activity. It is generally expected to have its mix of species altered, be prone to disease and bleaching, have reduced coral cover, and become more dominated by algae.

The report indicates that, under a scenario of two degrees increase in average global temperature, ocean acidification will be severely affecting reefs by the mid century.

Last month’s Climate Commission report, The Critical Decade, said future operations of the agriculture and tourism industries will be significantly affected as climate change alters the ecosystems on which they rely.

The cultural identity of North Queensland’s tourism sector relies heavily on the integrity of the ecosystems and biodiversity of the Wet Tropics and Great Barrier Reef. CSIRO’s report describes how climate change could cause disruptions and significant economic losses while the tourism industry adjusts.

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Rapid Demise of The African Elephant: Can This Massive Slaughter Be Stopped?

Men with ivory tusks, Dar Es Salaam
Men with ivory tusks, Dar Es Salaam (Wikipedia)
by J Delms


Because of the huge demand for ivory-carved religious artifacts in Asia, the African elephant is being decimated by highly paid well-armed poachers and smugglers.


According to reliable sources like the National Geographic magazine (Ivory Worship, National Geographic, October 2012, p.32), these underground operations have been going on for several years.

During the 1980's, for example, about half of this nation's elephants were killed by hunters and poachers. To slow down this killing, several countries agreed to ban imported ivory in 1989.

However, this ban caused the value of ivory to skyrocket. Today, one 11-lb tusk can be worth $7500 or more on the black market. Thus, the poaching-smuggling trade flourishes. Also, some of the African countries who had previously banned elephant killing are now dropping their bans to thin out their so-called over-populated herds. In 2011, more than 25,000 African elephants were murdered.

Poaching methods used

The poachers are well-armed and organized. This year alone, they have killed several African park rangers who tried to protect these herds. Otherwise, they murder entire herds with AK-47 rifles and propelled grenades. Lately, they have shot down herds from helicopters.

To speed-up the tusk removal itself, they saw out the entire snout areas of the dying elephants with chain-saws. In other instances, poor groups of natives set out poisoned pumpkins and watermelons to kill the elephants for the poachers.

Underground systems deeply entrenched 

1. The religious sectors in question see the ivory (and nothing but ivory) as giving the proper adoration to their gods. Any substitute material is unacceptable.
2. To transport this large amount of contraband ivory across Africa, and then, to smuggle it by boat or plane into Asia requires massive illegal organization. In one article, one interviewee claimed the only time this contraband is officially seized is when a payment is missed.
3. Currently, the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda and Sudan sees this illegal trade as a revenue source. This rogue army is the same one that raids native villages, captures its children, and then forces them to kill their own parents before trafficking them abusively.

Can anything be done about it?

One source predicts the African elephant will be gone by 2020 at the present rate of poaching. That's only seven years away from now. Making a difference in this savage travesty will require more police action than is currently available. The bribes and payoffs go well beyond poorly trained inspectors and customs agents. They creep into the upper reaches of several governments.

One thought is to stop these mass killings in Africa. However, the enormity of this cause will require much more than poorly equipped park rangers. Cooperating multinational military action will be needed. Such action could mean having

  • United Nations oversight
  • spies and armed military personnel
  • heavily armored vehicles and helicopters to offset the poacher's armament
  • extensive radio, camera and video communications
  • continuous flyovers of suspect regions
  • satellite surveillance
  • improved port detection and inspection


Although the African elephant also faces natural habitat losses, poaching remains the biggest cause of their rapid disappearance. When this immoral illegal trade is stopped, it will have to make-do with the ivory it already has on hand in its own way. For more detailed information on this subject, see the following reference.

Poaching Frenzy --

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Friday, October 5, 2012

Crown of Thorns is a Symptom of Reef Decline: Let’s Address the Cause

English: Striped Surgeon (Acanthurus lineatus)...
Great Barrier Reef (Photo: Wikipedia)
by Dr Terry Hughes, Federation Fellow, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, The Conversation:

A recent report on coral loss from the Great Barrier Reef has pointed the finger at cyclones and Crown of Thorns starfish.

The real culprit is human activity, and until we reduce port activity and pollution, coral will be unable to bounce back.

Three recent studies, published in 2004, 2007 and this week, have shown that at least 50% of the corals on the Great Barrier Reef have disappeared in recent decades.

Last year, another report claimed the declines were more modest and the result of a natural cycle. But the latest report, from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, confirms earlier studies - the Great Barrier Reef is in trouble.

Corals are the backbone of the reef, providing habitat for many other species. Measuring coral cover on a reef is the simplest way to monitor its condition.

But other metrics - like counts of sharks, dugongs and turtles - also show alarming downward trajectories. The decline in coral cover highlights UNESCO’s concerns about the dwindling Universal Heritage Values of the Barrier Reef.

The key question now is, what are we going to do about these losses?

First, we need to consider why coral cover changes. The amount of coral goes down when they reproduce less, grow more slowly or die more frequently. Even under ideal conditions, about one-quarter to one-third of a coral population dies each year from background mortality.

They can die from old age, disease, predation, competition with a neighbour, erosion of their skeleton, smothering by sediment, severe coral bleaching, and from storms.

On a healthy reef, loss of cover is balanced by new recruitment of young corals and by new growth. It’s just like a human population - we measure births, deaths and net migration to track demographic changes. Measuring mortality alone won’t help us to plan for schools or new roads.

Next consider where the loss of coral cover is greatest. The 50% decline in coral cover is averaged over the whole Great Barrier Reef (GBR). However, there has been no net loss of coral cover in the remote north beyond Cooktown or on reefs far from shore. Consequently, most reefs that are close to the coast (and to people) have lost far more than 50% of their cover.

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Friday, September 28, 2012

Hot Issue: Bushfires, Powerlines and Climate Change

English: Lake Mountain toboggan run after 2009...
2009 Black Saturday bushfires (Wikipedia)
by Professor David Bowman, Professor, Environmental Change Biology at University of Tasmania, The Conversation:

We have unwittingly hardwired a bushfire ignition source throughout our flammable landscapes - powerlines.

Powerlines can fail under any conditions but the risk increases on days of high bushfire risk, which means powerline failures frequently start bushfires.

The problem was clearly identified by the 2009 Black Saturday Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission. The Director of Energy Safe Victoria told the Commission it was “probably self-evident” that there was an increased chance of fires caused by electrical assets on days of extreme fire danger.

The Bushfire Royal Commission found that on 7 February 2009, electrical faults caused five of the 11 major fires.

This significant risk led the Royal Commission to make a number of recommendations. These are now being acted on as part of the Victorian Government’s Powerline Bushfire Safety Program. More than $750 million is being invested in new safety measures for Victoria’s electricity grid. Changes include improved maintenance of existing infrastructure and roll out of technology to target high risk areas.

This requires approximately $500 million in improvements to protection and controls on Victoria’s electricity network. These “will be funded by electricity distributors and will be recovered at a modest increase in power bills to customers.” The Victorian Government will “provide up to $200 million for the replacement of powerlines in areas of highest bushfire risk over the next eight years”.

There will be an additional $40 million Safer Electricity Assets Fund “to address equity and financial hardship issues associated with bushfire mitigation”. Ten million dollars will be provided “to fund research to improve the cost effectiveness of bushfire mitigation”.

A key change in existing infrastructure is the modification of automatic circuit breakers. The current generation of circuit breakers has been shown to cause bushfires by sparking when attempting to reconnect power. However modifications to remedy this fault may result in blackouts on days of high bushfire risk.

Bushfire ignition by power line faults has a serious legal dimension. Powercor paid Horsham residents and businesses $40 million to settle a class action after the Black Saturday bushfires.

The electricity provider SP AusNet paid $19.7 million to settle a class action over the Beechworth fire that also occurred on Black Saturday. The company is contesting other class actions relating to other Black Saturday bushfires, all allegedly caused by electrical faults.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

The Atmosphere’s Shift of State and the Origin of Extreme Weather Events

Greenhouse Gases
Greenhouse Gases (Photo: CECAR)
by Professor Andrew Glikson, Earth and paleo-climate scientist at Australian National University, The Conversation:

The linear nature of global warming trends projected by the IPCC since 1990 and as late as 2007 (see Figure 1) has given the public and policy makers an impression there is plenty of time for economies to convert from carbon-emitting industries to non-polluting utilities.

Paleo-climate records suggest otherwise. They display abrupt shifts in the atmosphere/ocean/cryosphere system, as manifest in the ice core records of the last 800,000 years.

This suggests high sensitivity of the climate system to moderate changes in radiative forcing, whether triggered by changes in solar radiation energy or the thermal properties of greenhouse gases or aerosols. In some instances these shifts have happened over periods as short as centuries to decades, and even over a few years.

Figure 1: Global surface temperature rise trajectories for the 21st century under varying carbon emission scenarios portrayed by the IPCC AR4 2007. A2 represents the business-as-usual scenario consistent with currently rising global emissions. IPCC
Examples of abrupt climate shifts are the 1470 years-long Dansgaard-Oeschger intra-glacial cycles, which were triggered by solar signals amplified by ocean currents, and the “younger dryas” cold interval, which occured when interglacial peaks resulted in extensive melting of ice and cooling of large ocean regions by melt water.

The last glacial termination (when large-scale melting of ice occurred between about 18,000 to 11,000 years ago) is attributed to transient solar pulsations of 40–60 Watt/m2 affecting mid-northern latitudes. This led to a ~6.5+/-1.5 Watt/m2 rise in mean global atmospheric energy level, which meant a mean global temperature rise of ~5.0+/-1.0 degrees Celsius and sea level rise of 120 meters (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Comparison between radiative forcing levels of (1) the Pliocene (~400 ppm CO2; T ~ 2-3 degrees C; Sea level 25+/-12 meters higher than pre-industrial); (2) the last Glacial Termination (~6.5+/-1.5 Watt/m2; ~5.0+/-1.0 degrees C; SL rise 120 meters) and (3) Anthropogenic 1750-2007 warming (1.66 Watt/m2 + 1.35 Watt/m2 – the latter currently masked by sulphur aerosols). Modified after Hansen et al 2008
As shown in Figure 2, anthropogenic carbon emission and land clearing since 1750 have raised the atmospheric energy level by +1.66 Watt/m2. Once the masking effect of industrial sulphur aerosols is taken into account. This totals ~3.0 Watt/m2, namely near half the radiative forcing associated with the last glacial termination.

Compounding the major rise in radiative forcing over the last ~260 years is the rate of greenhouse gas (GHG) rise. This has averaged ~0.5ppm CO2 per year since 1750. That’s more than 40 times the rate during the last glacial termination, which was 0.012ppm CO2 per year. The current CO2 rise rate - 2ppm a year - is the fastest recorded for the Cainozoic (the period since 65 million years ago) (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Relations between CO2 rise rates and mean global temperature rise rates during warming periods, including the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, Oligocene, Miocene, glacial terminations, Dansgaard-Oeschger (D-O) cycles and the post-1750 period. Glikson
We have seen this scale and rate of radiative forcing, in particular since the 1970s, expressed by intensification of the hydrological cycle, heat waves and hurricanes around the globe. It imparts a new meaning to the otherwise little-defined term, “tipping point”.

Between 1900 and 2000, the ratio of observed to expected extremes in monthly mean temperatures has risen from ~1.0 to ~3.5. From about 1970 the Power Dissipation Index (which combines storm intensity, duration, and frequency) of North Atlantic storms increased from ~1.0 to ~2.7-5.5 in accord with tropical sea surface temperatures which rose by about 1.0 degree Celsius.

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Queensland’s Big Step Back From Environmental Assessment

English: Professor Ian Lowe making a presentat...
Professor Ian Lowe (Photo: Wikipedia)
by Emeritus Professor Ian Lowe, Emeritus Professor, School of Science at Griffith University, The Conversation:

The defining characteristic of the Newman government’s environmental policy seems to be a Great Leap Backwards: an old-fashioned determination not to let environmental concerns get in the way of expanding the mining industry in general and the coal industry in particular. It really is a coal-ition government.

There were early signs in such penny-pinching measures as scrapping the public funding of the Environmental Defenders’ Office, which provides legal advice to individuals and community groups when they are resisting inappropriate developments.

Wriggling out of the previous government’s commitment to support large scale solar energy projects, then cutting the feed-in tariff so that householders who install solar panels in future will actually be subsidising electricity retailers, were further signs of a mindset harking back to the fossil-fuel age.

The real worry is the approach to environmental assessment more generally. No objective observer could possibly conclude that industry is currently over-regulated in Queensland.

It has recently experienced specific environmental problems: devastation of fishing in the Gladstone area, methane coming to the surface near coal-seam gas operations. More generally, four national state-of-the-environment reports have documented the steady and systematic worsening of all the major environmental indicators, including the loss of our unique biological diversity.

Yet the first time Mr Newman met with his fellow coalition Premiers, he joined them in calling for the elimination of “green tape”: what they perceive to be needless restrictions on business interests who want to ignore environmental harm to maximise profits.

Then Newman attacked the federal environment minister, claiming that he was causing needless delays to resource projects in Queensland, when he delayed the massive Alpha coal mine because of the inadequacies in the State-based environmental impact assessment.

As I was preparing this piece, the government announced dramatic cuts to the public service in the natural resources area, claiming that “over-regulation” was holding back development and costing the tax-payer money to no good end.

The public face of this change was the rapid passage in July of the Environmental Protection (Greentape Reduction) and Other Legislation Amendments Bill. The Minister said the emphasis is on “streamlining and clarifying assessment and approval processes”, promising “benefits and savings” for “all regulated activities”.

The government claimed there would be no erosion of environmental standards. To be fair, standards in Queensland were not particularly high when the government changed.

Under the previous Bligh government, the environment department generally seemed to see its job as ensuring that no environmental concerns impeded a profitable proposal.

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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Louisiana Looks for 'Smoking Gun' to Link Isaac Tar Balls to Gulf Oil Disaster

by , US environment correspondent, The Guardian,

Officials report weathered oil in areas struck by the hurricane that also were badly damaged after the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Hurricane Isaace in Braithwaite, Louisiana
Braithwaite, Louisiana, experienced a chemical release in the aftermath of hurricane Isaac. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Louisiana is investigating whether tar balls deposited on Gulf of Mexico beaches by Hurricane Isaac were relics of the 2010 BP oil disaster.

Government agencies and environmental groups this week reported weathered oil in areas which took the brunt of last week's hurricane - and which were also heavily damaged by the 4.9m barrel gusher from BP's leaking oil well.

"I'd say there is a smoking gun," Garrett Graves, the coastal adviser to Louisiana's governor Bobby Jindal, told news organisations. "It's an area that experienced heavy oiling during the spill."

State officials shut down commercial fishing and all shrimping in a 13-mile stretch from Port Fourchon to Caminada Pass, after observing tar mats and high concentration of tar balls on beaches.

The Gulf Restoration Network, which has been touring the aftermath of Isaac by air and boat this week, said crew had reported 109 dead pelican in the wake of the storm and oil in a number of locations on the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts.

"We saw a fair amount of oil sheen and fresh tar balls at Ship Island, one of the Mississippi barrier islands," said Aaron Viles, a spokesman for the coalition of environmental groups. "The storm really delivered a shock to the ecosystem, and we are seeing BP oil showing up again and we are seeing, unfortunately, real impacts to an ecosystem still struggling to recover."

The Gulf network had repeatedly warned that powerful storms risked dredging up oil that had been purposely sunk to the ocean floor, by the use of chemical dispersants in the wake of the BP oil spill.

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