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FEATURE

Kyoto II climate meeting opens in Thailand





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Talks by the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to negotiate a replacement to the Kyoto Accord began in Bangkok today with a plea by the Secretary General for unity and a common purpose toward the remediation of climate change.
Three months after the landmark agreement on a road map towards strengthened international action on climate change reached in Bali, Indonesia, the next round of negotiations shifts to the neighbouring country of Thailand and its capital, Bangkok. The talks are taking place between 31 March to 4 April 2008 at the United Nations Conference Centre (UNCC) of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. [webcast]
"The world is waiting for a solution that is long-term and economically viable," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said in a video address to the 1,000 delegates from 190 nations gathered in Bangkok.


The previously unscheduled (by the UNFCCC) week-long meeting is the result of an agreement that was reached in the last moments of the Bali Climate Change Summit last December, after pressure was put upon the United States to
participate in the process.

"Following a speech by the representative of Papua New Guinea, where he called upon the United States to: 'lead, follow or get out of the way:'

The United States made a dramatic reversal Saturday, first rejecting and then accepting a compromise to set the stage for intense negotiations in the next two years aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions worldwide. The final result was a global warming pact that provides for negotiating rounds to conclude in 2009."
"It's the first test of whether the goodwill and good intentions that were present in Bali are still there when they get down to the hard negotiations," said Angela Anderson of the Pew Environment Group.

Congress to drill for answers on oil prices





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Congress will hold hearings this week where they will question the five biggest oil companies, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP and Royal Dutch Shell, about tax subsidies, high prices and record profits.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Under the backdrop of record gas prices and record profits, Congress is set to grill executives Tuesday from the world's five biggest publicly traded oil companies.

Lawmakers are expected to focus their questions on why the cash-rich industry needs $18 billion in tax breaks over ten years with some in Congress looking to take them away and use them to subsidize renewable energy projects.
The hearings are set to open Tuesday before the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming chaired by Congressman Edward Markey (D-MA):
On Tuesday, April 1, 2008, Chairman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) will bring top-level executives from the five largest oil companies to discuss the current state of oil and gas prices, oil company profits, and the need for clean, renewable fuels to ease demand for oil and cut global warming pollution. The Select Committee will hear from the number two officers worldwide for the three United States-based oil companies and the presidents of U.S. operations for the foreign companies.
Set to testify:

* Mr. J. Stephen Simon, Senior Vice President, Exxon Mobil Corp.

* Mr. John Hofmeister, President, Shell Oil Company

* Mr. Robert A. Malone, Chairman and President, BP America, Inc.

* Mr. Peter Robertson, Vice Chairman, Chevron
* Mr. John Lowe, Executive Vice President, ConocoPhillips

The hearing will start at 12 pm EST, Tuesday, April 1, 2008, at 210 Cannon House Office Building, Washington, DC and on the web at globalwarming.house.gov. On Thursday, the Senate committee on Energy and Natural Resources will hear testimony Thursday regarding the role investment money has on oil prices...

FEATURE

Cities go dark for Earth Hour





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The first cities have dimmed their lights for what is hoped to be an annual awareness event on climate change: Earth Hour, an hour of darkness to remind the populace of the impact of global warming.

The movement began a year ago in Australia and has now spread world-wide, with the first cities already dimming their lights between 8-9pm local time [Video].

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- The iconic Opera House and Harbour Bridge went dark Saturday night as Sydney became the world's first major city to turn off its lights for this year's Earth Hour, a global campaign to raise awareness about climate change.

Thousands of homes were dark for an hour in Christchurch, New Zealand. The famed Wat Arun Buddhist temple in Bangkok, Thailand switched off its lights.

The three major cities were among 23 worldwide, along with 300 smaller towns, taking part in Earth Hour -- a campaign by environmental group WWF to highlight the need to conserve energy and fight global warming.

"This provides an extraordinary symbol and an indication that we can be part of the solution" to global warming, Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett told Sky News television.

On March 29, 2008 at 8 p.m., join millions of people around the world in making a statement about climate change by turning off your lights for Earth Hour, an event created by the World Wildlife Fund.

Earth Hour was created by WWF in Sydney, Australia in 2007, and in one year has grown from an event in one city to a global movement. In 2008, millions of people, businesses, governments and civic organizations in nearly 200 cities around the globe will turn out for Earth Hour.

We invite everyone throughout North America and around the world to turn off the lights for an hour starting at 8 p.m. (your own local time)–whether at home or at work, with friends and family or solo, in a big city or a small town.

The other cities that have signed up to participate include...

FEATURE

Giant Antarctic Ice Shelf Collapses





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The National Ice and Snow Institute (NISDC) has released a report documenting a dramatic and troubling collapse of a large portion (nine times the size of Manhattan) of the Wilkins Ice Shelf in Antarctica.

Satellite imagery from the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder reveals that a 13,680 square kilometer (5,282 square mile) ice shelf has begun to collapse because of rapid climate change in a fast-warming region of Antarctica.

The Wilkins Ice Shelf it's a broad plate of permanent floating ice on the southwest Antarctic Peninsula, about 1,000 miles south of South America. In the past 50 years, the western Antarctic Peninsula has experienced the biggest temperature increase on Earth, rising by 0.5 degree Celsius (0.9 degree Fahrenheit) per decade. NSIDC Lead Scientist Ted Scambos, who first spotted the disintegration in March, said, "We believe the Wilkins has been in place for at least a few hundred years. But warm air and exposure to ocean waves are causing a break-up."

The ice shelf began its visible collapse on February 28th, when a huge iceberg (41 x 2.5 kilometers - 25.5 by 1.5 miles) broke away, triggering a wider collapse of 405 square kilometers (160 square miles) of the shelf.



The edge of the shelf crumbled into the sky-blue pattern of exposed deep glacial ice that has become characteristic of climate-induced ice shelf break-ups such as the Larsen B in 2002. A narrow beam of intact ice, just 6 kilometers wide (3.7 miles) was protecting the remaining shelf from further breakup as of March 23.

"The Wilkins disintegration won't raise sea level because it already floats in the ocean, and few glaciers flow into it." Scambos said. "However, the collapse underscores that the Wilkins region has experienced an intense melt season. Regional sea ice has all but vanished, leaving the ice shelf exposed to the action of waves."
Scientists have tracked this event with great interest, both for the indications of warming, the loss of habitat and the concern that other ice shelves, similarly impacted, do have the potential to significantly raise sea level. NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) and data from ICESat alerted scientists to the ice shelf's collapse in mid-March...

Photo Credit (1): National Snow and Ice Data Center; Photo Credit(2): National Snow and Ice Data Center/NASA

FEATURE

An Early Spring





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Forty-six years ago, Rachel Carson's seminal work, SILENT SPRING, alerted the world of damage to the environment by the pesticide DDT. It is a book that is widely considered to be the genesis of modern environmental movement and that may be true, as it raised public awareness as to the dangers of pollution to the eco-system.

Now, a new kind of silent spring is upon us; an early spring that is so confusing to vulnerable plant and wildlife that many may not survive its untimely arrival.

"The alarm clock that all the plants and animals are listening to is running too fast," Stanford University biologist Terry Root said.

Blame global warming.

The fingerprints of man-made climate change are evident in seasonal timing changes for thousands of species on Earth, according to dozens of studies and last year's authoritative report by the Nobel Prize-winning international climate scientists. More than 30 scientists told The Associated Press how global warming is affecting plants and animals at springtime across the country, in nearly every state.

The science of biological timing, known as phenology, has been impacted to the point where the "federal government and some university scientists are so alarmed by the changes that they created a National Phenology Network at the U.S. Geological Survey."

"Phenology is the study of the times of recurring natural phenomena. The word is derived from the Greek phainomai (φαινομαι)- to appear, come into view, and indicates that phenology has been principally concerned with the dates of first occurrence of natural events in their annual cycle.

Because many such phenomena are very sensitive to small variations in climate, especially to temperature, phenological records can be a useful proxy for temperature in historical climatology, especially in the study of global warming..."

Cats may lower heart attack risk





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Cross-posted on Reuters, FoxNews

A new study from the University of Minnesota has discovered that people with cats have a 40% lower risk of heart attack than their non-feline friendly counterparts.

Researchers looked at nearly 4,500 adults and found that cat ownership was related to a 40% lower risk of suffering a fatal heart attack. The team speculated that having a cat may reduce stress and anxiety, and so protect against cardiovascular disease.

The study, led by Professor Adnan Qureshi at the University of Minnesota, suggested that even those who no longer owned a cat benefited from these protective effects...The benefits held true even after the researchers adjusted for cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and high cholesterol.

The study's authors do not recommend getting a cat in response to the findings, as more research needs to be done and, as one researcher suggested, it may be that the temperament of a cat-lover is more conducive to heart-health than those who did not share their feline affinity.

This study did not examine the benefit of dog ownership, although a previous study did find benefits of keeping dogs beyond taking their companions out for walks.

The study did not indicate whether cats were present in the household or how the dogs felt about their feline counterparts.

Both studies indicate pets are good for humans, which will come as little surprise to the many humans who now have a scientific basis to support their claims that they are healthier for their canine and feline companions.

Chinook Salmon at 'disastrous' all-time low





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by Janet Ritz
with THE ENVIRONMENTALIST staff
Cross-posted on Chicago Sun-Times

The Pacific Fishery Management Council has warned that entire the West Coast salmon season may have to be halted due to the lack of available fall Pacific chinook salmon.

“This is very bad news for West Coast salmon fisheries,” said Pacific Council Chairman Don Hansen. “The word ‘disaster’ comes immediately to mind, and I mean a disaster much worse than the Klamath fishery disaster of 2006.”
Sacramento River salmon are primarily caught off California and Oregon, but are also found off Washington and as far north as British Columbia. They are typically one of the healthiest and most abundant stocks on the west coast, and are the dominant contributor to both commercial and recreational fisheries off California and most of Oregon. ~snip~

The forecast of very low abundance is based on the return of “jack” salmon in the fall of 2007. Jack salmon are young male fish that return to the rivers as two year olds, unlike adult fish which return at age three or older. Jack salmon are currently the best statistical indicator of returning adult population the following year. Only about 2,000 Sacramento River fall Chinook jacks returned in 2007, by far a new record low count. This compares to a long‐term average of about 40,000 and the previous record low of about 10,000, which occurred in 2006.
“The biological situation for Sacramento River fall Chinook salmon is unprecedented in our experience,” said Pacific Council Executive Director Dr. Donald McIsaac. “We are looking at back-to-back record low brood year production..."

Barack Obama: The Prejudice of Predefinition





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I listened to Barack Obama's historic speech in awe of the raw truth of his words and recognition of the dignity with which he faces the obvious attempts by others to predefine him as something singular -- a black candidate -- rather than as a multi-cultural and gifted American who presents a unique opportunity for both his country and the world.

I understand what his opponents are trying to do. The prejudice of predefinition. If one can be defined, then they are somehow 'less than'. I've seen it before. While researching World War II for a script, I came across a definition of race as classified by looks -- how close were the eyes to the nose to the chin, the color of hair -- that defined opportunity, the prejudice of predefinition that superceded both the potential of the individual and the needs of entire nations.


"The issues that have surfaced over the past few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we've never worked through. A part of our union that we've not yet made perfect. And if we walk away now. If we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care or education or the need to find good jobs for every American." (Senator Barack Obama).


The effort underway to define Barack Obama as 'the other,' whether it is as (too) black, not black enough, not ready, too eager, too young, too embroiled in his (Christian) church, (the false accusation of his being) a Muslim (a claim now confused by the fact that the pastor who brought him to Christ makes for a better target); all the cynical ways that opportunity has been grabbed by those who will use anything to hold onto power -- regardless of the consequences.

The emails that have been sent proclaiming Senator Obama as Muslim are clear examples of the cynical ploys that seek to divide and conquer and leave all but the few with less and those few with everything else. But that's not the worst crime of those emails. Senator Obama defined it well on CBS's 60 Minutes as an insult to him as a Christian and to all Muslims for the implication that there was something wrong in being Muslim.

There is nothing wrong with faith. It's what one does with that faith that becomes the test of their faith...

FEATURE

UN: Danger to Near East Climate





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The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has released a report (PDF) at their March 5-8 Cairo conference that has warned of danger to the Middle East, Asia Minor and North Africa due to climate change (referred to, collectively, in the report, as the 'Near East Region'):

Photo: Ship stranded in the Aral Sea, Kazakhstan

The number of dry days is conjectured to increase everywhere in the region, with the exception of some central- Saharan areas. The number of frost days should decrease everywhere, while heat waves could increase in the Region’s more continental areas. The length of growing seasons (LGSs) should decrease. ~snip~

In all scenarios, the highest impacts are in Africa, the Middle East, India and Southeast Asia. Once temperatures increase by 3°C, 250 to 550 million additional people may be at risk worldwide – more than half in Africa and Western Asia – particularly where the declines in yield are greatest, dependence on agriculture highest and purchasing power most limited. Yields of the key crops across Africa and Western Asia may fall 15 to 35 percent.

The report raises concern for the entire region, decreased precipitation for areas that have already experienced drought, increased precipitation in others: "Heavy precipitation events and an increase in the proportion of total rainfall that comes from heavy events are “very likely”, and it is “likely” that more areas will be affected by droughts and tropical cyclones." The picture is one of an impact, region-wide, of increasing instability that will lead to a decline in agriculture in a region already beset by hunger and troubling geopolitics...

FEATURE

President Bush Intervenes on EPA Smog Ruling





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Cross-posted on Reuters

George W. Bush personally intervened on the new EPA smog ruling by pushing them to lower the standards more than the EPA wanted, to standards already lower than the recommended limit:
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agreed to weaken an important part of its new smog requirements after being told at the last minute that President Bush preferred a less stringent approach, according to government documents. They show tense exchanges between the EPA and the White House Office of Management and Budget in the days before the smog air quality standard was announced Wednesday. ~snip~

The disagreement concerned the amount of protection from ozone, or smog, that should be afforded wildlife, farmlands, parks and open spaces.
This "public welfare" or "secondary" smog standard is separate from a decision to tighten the smog requirements for human health, which the EPA decided to do by reducing the allowable concentrations of ozone in the air from 80 parts per billion to 75 parts per billion.


The lowering of ozone to 75 parts per billion is far less than recommended by scientists, environmentalists and other experts for immediate human health. The 'secondary' smog standard is there to protect the environment over the
long term...


Blue Green Alliance: Unions' Green Job Focus





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The Blue Green Alliance, a partnership between the United Steel Workers and The Sierra Club, has just completed a two day conference in Pittsburg, PA that focused on the opportunity presented by the creation of 'green jobs':
[The Green Jobs Conference] will provide a platform for the best thinking about economic development and environmental solutions. The conference will launch a national discussion about how we can solve global warming, end American dependence on foreign oil and transition from our overuse of toxic chemicals.

Photo: Vermont wind turbine (c. 1941) built to provide alternative power during WWII

The alliance is also working with the Renewable Energy Policy Project to document the potential for thousands of new jobs based on a new renewable energy standard for such projects as solar panel and wind turbine manufacture.


FEATURE

Prescription Drugs found in Drinking Water





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Trace amounts of antibiotics, mood stabilizers, anti-convulsants and sex hormones have been found in drinking water across the U.S. following a five month investigation by Associated Press:
In the course of a five-month inquiry, the AP discovered that drugs have been detected in the drinking water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas -- from Southern California to Northern New Jersey, from Detroit, Michigan, to Louisville, Kentucky.

the concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are tiny, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion, far below the levels of a medical dose. Also, utilities insist their water is safe.

But the presence of so many prescription drugs -- and over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen -- in so much of our drinking water is heightening worries among scientists of long-term consequences to human health.

There is no federal regulation for testing these drugs in drinking water. In one example, Philadelphia, traces of 56 different drugs were found in the tap water. This included the above mentioned drugs, anti-cholesterol drugs and other pills that Americans take on a regular basis.

As water companies (this includes some bottled waters) and utilities do not routinely filter out these chemicals, which means they are returned to the water systems through the water table, following the reprocessing of waste water from human sources. We are taking these drugs and then depositing the residue into the water table and, ultimately, back into our bodies...

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Rain and Wind Batter English Coast





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The
British Met Office has issued flood alerts for the entire Devon and Cornwall coast amidst a storm that has reached the west coast of England and Wale and is expected to impact much of the U.K. over the next two days.



STORM WARNINGS

Storm warnings have been issued for the areas coloured in red on the map.



Rain and fierce winds are hitting parts of the UK, as what could be winter's worst storm moves in from the Atlantic.

Emergency services said trees had been uprooted and power lines brought down in south-west England, where winds have reached almost 80mph (130km/h). Severe flood warnings have been issued for the Devon and Cornwall coast. In St Brides, Newport, 170 people were told to evacuate a caravan park overnight.

Meanwhile, forecasters say central Scotland will see blizzards and snow.

The BBC has put together a satellite slide show of the approaching storm. Warnings have been issued by the Environment Agency to stay away from exposed coastline and to watch for floods in the effected areas:



Mon 10 Mar Tue 11 Mar Wed 12 Mar


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FEATURE

Who are the Kurds?





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Cross-posted on Reuters, The Huffington Post


A year ago, a friend who'd heard that I'd spent time with the Kurds asked me, 'who are they?' That query led to this post.

After reading Bill Clinton's statement regarding the need for troops in the Kurdish north because Turkey doesn't "like the fact that the PKK guerrillas sometimes come across into northern Iraq" and the news that Turkey crossed to border to take on the PKK, it seemed time to revisit the question.

Kurdish Chieftain c. 1885

Who are the Kurds? Who are these Middle Eastern people that have both men and women in their army? These mountain warriors that many refer to as the best fighters in the Middle East; these ancient people whom claim descent from the Biblical Medes and count among their number: Saladin, the Muslim leader who defeated Richard the Lionheart and, more recently (through her mother), the late Benazir Bhutto.

Kurds were once a mostly nomadic people living around the mountainous regions of Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. Mostly Sunni (there are Kurdish Shi'a, Alevi, Yazidi, Jews, Zoroastrians, Christians, etc), they are known to hold their Islam with a light touch. Promised an autonomous Kurdistan under the terms of the 1920 Treaty of Sevres, they saw it rescinded under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.


The resultant division of their historical homeland between Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria left between 25 and 40 million Kurds as the world's largest stateless minority. This has led to an an alphabet soup of alliances as the Kurds struggle to survive in a world of shifting allegiances...


FEATURE

Tropical Storm Emma's hurricane force winds hammer Europe





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A tropical storm named "Emma" with wind speeds equivalent to a category 3 hurricane has been
thrashing Germany, Prague, Vienna and other parts of central Europe, stunning residents across the continent:


Europe began feeling the effects of Emma late Friday night, according to Deutchscher Wetter Dienst (DWD), Germany's national weather service.

Wind gusts of up to 190 km/h (118 mph) -- the strength of a Category 3 hurricane -- were clocked in the higher elevations of Austria, Corriveau said. Sustained winds as of Saturday night ranged from 50 km/h to nearly 80 km/h (31 mph to 50 mph). Winds were clocked at 98 km/hr (61 mph) in Denmark.

Eight deaths have been reported, with many more injured, including a passenger bus blown off the road in Bavaria and a child killed by a falling tree north of Prague. Air traffic has been disrupted from Amsterdam to the East, as the powerful storm cuts through Central Europe...


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