June 22, 2011

Marine Life May be on Brink of ‘Phase of Extinction’

A panel convened at Oxford University has issued a strong statement about the condition of the world’s oceans now and for the foreseeable future. As phrased on the home page of StateOfTheOcean.org, their judgment is that “the world’s ocean is at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history.”

Scientists associated with the conference, which was convened by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), profess something like bewilderment at their shared conclusions. “We’ve sat in one forum and spoken to each other about what we’re seeing,” said Alex Rogers, IPSO’s scientific director and professor of conservation biology at Oxford University, as reported by BBC.com, “and we’ve ended up with a picture showing that almost right across the board we’re seeing changes that are happening faster than we’d thought, or in ways that we didn’t expect to see for hundreds of years.” Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a coral specialist from the University of Queensland in Australia, added that “the rate of change is vastly exceeding what we were expecting even a couple of years ago.”

The conclusions are in agreement with those drawn by the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme and presented in mid-May.

The group has identified six harmful phenomena and practices:

Climate Change Rising sea temperatures affect the distribution of marine species, and wreak havoc on coral reefs, which are safe havens for countless marine species. Absorption of carbon dioxide is also causing ocean acidification, which may already be reducing the size and growth rates of some marine animals.

Over-fishing Due to unsustainable fishing practices, fisheries can only deliver a fraction of what they could in the past, which in turn affects everything from seabirds to coral.

Habitat destruction In addition to the destruction of coral reefs through such practices as bottom trawling, we are also ruining habitats of sensitive sea animals by changing the water quality.

Extraction While headline-grabbing spills are an obvious way in which oil and gas extraction can harm the oceans, even disaster-free drilling releases toxic substances into the water, and acoustic methods of prospecting are harmful to aquatic life.

Pollution Release of sewage into the water promotes microbial activity, which drains the water of oxygen and can produce “dead zones” where there is little to no aquatic life. Heavy metals, plastics, oil and pesticides are also incredibly harmful to the ecosystem.

Alien species introduction Introduction of non-native species into a delicately balanced ecosystem, whether intentional or not, can cause major stress, even disaster.

The full Global State of the Ocean Report is not due to be released until 2012.

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June 30, 2011

American Indians Vital in Climate Change Discussions

On Sept. 13, 2007, I watched the UN General Assembly in New York vote for the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It was nearly a three-decade-long campaign for some of the American Indians who helped steer its passage.

It was a victorious day giving credence to the maintenance of aboriginal lands and preservation of indigenous rights.

Now, American Indian leaders face another international campaign. This time they are appealing for a seat at the table to discuss climate change impacts on indigenous peoples. They struck out during the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change discussions in Cancun last December.

Indigenous Environmental Network organizers will discuss local-to-global concerns July 28-31 during the Protecting Mother Earth Gathering on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. Panelists will address the following worldwide topics: UNDRIP, green economies, climate change, climate justice, REDD, carbon markets, World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, globalization, and RIO+20.

Climate change poses a monumental problem for indigenous peoples who “are among the first to face the direct consequences of climate change, due to their dependence upon, and close relationship, with the environment and its resources,” according to a report by the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples. “Climate change exacerbates the difficulties already faced by indigenous communities including political and economic marginalization, loss of land and resources, human rights violations, discrimination and unemployment.”

I recently worked with Rose High Bear, an Alaskan Athabaskan, to help her tell the story of climate change and indigenous peoples through a series of radio programs. She’s seeking funding for her project. She told me her personal story in trying to find a suitable caribou hide to make a traditional dress. Many of the hides she comes across have bug-eaten holes, an increasing problem attributable to warmer weather and a proliferation of mosquitos in the Arctic.

High Bear decided to make her dresses with the holey hides. It was one way to create awareness about climate change and its effect on indigenous communities. She and other indigenous peoples need messengers of all sorts considering the invisibility of indigenous peoples. Consider: It took some 25 years to get UNDRIP passed. Even then, Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Australia – all with considerable aboriginal populations – initially refused to sign.

An environmental and science reporting colleague, Terri Hansen, attended the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change discussions in Cancun. She reported: “Though I’d been there to cover the involvement of Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples at the talks, missing from the U.S. delegation was a representative for the 565 federally recognized tribes in the U.S…The tribes have requested that the U.S. include a tribal leader on their climate delegation, yet there is no engagement by the U.S. with the tribes in these climate negotiations.”

She noted the lack of tribal representation as “a grave concern” for the National Tribal Environmental Council and the National Council of American Indians. Attorneys from the Institute of Tribal Environmental Professionals and NCAI made three requests to meet with the U.S. delegation in Cancun.

Bob Gruenig of ITEP said the door was shut on them. “The U.S. delegation didn’t even make an attempt to include a tribal perspective. It was a replay of Copenhagen. Tribes didn’t get that meeting, either.”

In June 2012, world leaders will discuss green economies and poverty eradication as a main theme during RIO+20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development. American Indians should have more than one seat at the table given that tribes occupy 55 million acres of trust land in the United States.

“Climate change poses threats and dangers to the survival of indigenous communities worldwide, even though indigenous peoples contribute the least to greenhouse emissions,” reports the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples. “Indigenous peoples are vital to, and active in, the many ecosystems that inhabit their lands and territories and may therefore help enhance the resilience of these ecosystems. In addition, indigenous peoples interpret and react to the impacts of climate change in creative ways, drawing on traditional knowledge and other technologies to find solutions which may help society at large to cope with impending changes.

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August 9, 2011

American Indians Feel the Effects of Climate Change at Higer Rate Than Other Groups

Filed under: Environment,News Alerts — Tags: , — ICTMN Staff @ 12:31 am

According to a new study from the National Wildlife Federation, American Indians suffer more from climate change than other groups.

The report states that “The high dependence of tribes upon their lands and natural resources to sustain their economic, cultural and spiritual practices, the relatively poor state of their infrastructure and the great need for financial and technical resources to recover from such events all contribute to the disproportionate impact on tribes.”

American Indians and Alaska natives suffer from the effects of a warming planet because they depend more on natural resources, oceans and rivers, according to the report, “Facing the Storm: Indian Tribes, Climate-Induced Weather Extremes and the Future for Indian Country.”

“Extreme weather events can be very destructive for tribes, many of whom are already suffering from lack of resources to begin with,” said Amanda Staudt—a scientist at the National Wildlife Federation and a contributor to the report—to The New York Times.

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September 3, 2011

Brazil’s Indigenous Imbira People: The Earth, Life and Water are Life, Not Money

Click here to view the embedded video.

“We indigenous communities are saying, look at the sky, it’s changing, the sun is changing, the rain is changing,” says Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, president of CAFOD partner Hutukara Yanomami Association in this video uploaded by GreenCollegeOnline on August 28.

In the video Yanomami discusses the issues that are effecting the Imbira, one of Brazil’s Indigenous Peoples and others throughout the world—issues such as deforestation and climate change.

The video is part of the project “Timbira People: working to the land management” executed by the NGO Indigenist Working Centre.

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November 4, 2011

Iceberg Calving in Antarctica

Click here to view the embedded video.

An 18-mile-long crack, 400 feet deep, has formed in the Antarctic ice, NASA reports. It’s part of a process called calving, in which a huge piece of ice breaks off a glacier and forms an iceberg. This one will be 340 square miles (880 square kilometers) of surface area, The Christian Science Monitor reports. The ice shelf in this region is about 1,640 feet, or 500 meters, thick, with all but 160 feet of the ice shelf underwater.

“We are actually now witnessing how it happens, and it’s very exciting for us,” IceBridge project scientist Michael Studinger of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., told Our Amazing Planet.com, in The Christian Science Monitor. “It’s part of a natural process, but it’s pretty exciting to be here and actually observe it while it happens.”

It happens when the glacial ice is pulled westward along the Hudson Mountains in Antarctica toward the Amundsen Sea, The Christian Science Monitor story said. An offshoot of ice stretching 30 miles into the Amundsen, and as the ice pushes toward the sea, that spit of ice snaps off, unleashing an iceberg. This iceberg-forming rift is opening up by 6.5 feet, or two meters, daily, Agence France Presse reported.

The birth process is not all that uncommon, but it’s rare to witness it, scientists said, and the October 14 sighting by NASA surveillance planes afforded some unique insights.

It does not mean that new ice is forming, and indeed, when the new iceberg has floated away, the leading edge of the ice shelf that it breaks off of will be the farthest back that it has been since the 1940s, when the shelf was first measured.

Ice melt is a concern everywhere, and not limited to the Antarctic. Although Canada’s ice is not known as an iceberg incubator per se, it is melting rapidly, and at the end of September an alarm was sounded.

Canada’s Arctic region has lost nearly half its ice shelf extent in the past six years. One major ice shelf, the Serson, disappeared almost completely, and the Ward Hunt shelf split in half, CBC News reported, for an ice loss of three billion tonnes (metric tons), or 500 times the mass of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

“This is our coastline changing,” says Derek Mueller, from Carleton University’s department of geography and environmental studies, told CBC News. “These unique and massive geographical features that we consider to be a part of the map of Canada are disappearing and they won’t come back.”

These shelves took thousands of years to form, he added.

More information on melting ice caps is at Our Amazing Planet.

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November 18, 2011

Report Links Extreme Weather to Climate Change

Filed under: Environment,News Alerts — Tags: , , — ICTMN Staff @ 11:36 pm

USA Today has obtained a draft of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that confirms with data what many people have been come to believe based on anecdotal evidence: Extreme weather is on the rise, and set to worsen in the coming years, and climate change is to blame.

The broad strokes, as given in an interactive graphic on the USA Today site, are concerning. Reduced precipitation and increased evaporation will likely cause more severe droughts in southern North America, South America, Europe, the Mediterranean, and west Africa. The Pacific islands may see the sea level rise, causing increased erosion, and heavy precipitation events could make flooding more frequent in east Africa. Hurricanes in the Caribbean could become more intense (though not more frequent) and all regions are likely to see rising average temperatures and heat waves.

Visit USAToday.com for more on the report.

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November 30, 2011

Canada Racks Up Fossil Awards in Durban as Rumors of Kyoto Withdrawal Swirl

As rumors swirled about Canada’s potential withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions, the nation continued its Fossil Award–winning sweep at the COP17 talks in Durban, South Africa, on November 30 as the Climate Action Network (CAN) handed out its daily dose of anti-kudos to countries that put pollution-causing development ahead of lives.

On opening day, November 29, the northern nation won both second and first place for Environmental Minister Peter Kent’s continued bashing of developing countries as well as his implication that Canada would likely not sign on for an extension of the accord on emissions targets signed in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997.

In an interview with the Canadian Press before leaving for Durban, Kent said that lesser-developed countries must stop “wielding the historical guilty card” in asking for less-stringent emissions targets just because industrial countries historically have created more greenhouse gas emissions than other nations.

Kent further fueled the fire by claiming that “from Canada’s point of view, Kyoto was the biggest mistake the previous Liberal government made,” referring to Canada’s signing of the Kyoto Protocol.

This as the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in its annual report to the U.N. talks said that 2011 has been the warmest year on record as far as climate goes.

With debate still raging over the use of bituminous crude from the notorious oil sands of northern Alberta, Canada, it would seem that Kent is hardly one to talk. Even China, one of the alleged major emitters, called on Canada to set a better example vis a vis combatting climate change. A Canadian withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol would hurt the international community’s attempts to mitigate climate change, the deputy head of the Chinese delegation to Durban told the Chinese news agency Xinhua. It would “definitely add to the obstacles in our negotiation,” he said.

At the same time, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other prominent Africans took out an ad in the conference’s daily newsletter ECO with “A Message for Canada during the UN Climate Summit in Durban” that was essentially a petition urging Canada to set a better example on combatting climate change the way it had against Apartheid in the 1980s.

“Canada, you were once considered a leader on global issues like human rights and environmental protection,” the ad said. “Today you’re home to polluting tar sands oil, speeding the dangerous effects of climate change. For us in Africa, climate change is a life and death issue. By dramatically increasing Canada’s global warming pollution, tar sands mining and drilling makes the problem worse, and exposes millions of Africans to more devastating drought and famine today and in the years to come. It’s time to draw the line. We call on Canada to change course and be a leader in clean energy and to support international action to reduce global warming pollution.”

The U.S.’s decision over the Keystone XL pipeline has been postponed until after the 2012 presidential election, and Canada has indicated it will take its oil sands products to Asia if the U.S. does not allow the construction of a 1,700-mile-long pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. Meanwhile several First Nations are set to reiterate their major opposition to Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline in the wake of a report by the National Resources Defense Council, the sustainable-energy think tank the Pembina Institute, and the marine conservation group the Living Oceans Society saying that the pipeline would risk too much environmental damage to be feasible. Several First Nations of British Columbia will hold a press conference in Vancouver on December 1.

On the day that Kent’s attitude netted Canada’s two opening-day Fossil Awards, third place went to Britain—but only because of its efforts to bring Canada’s tar sands oil into Europe.

“This quotation from Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent, doesn’t even require paraphrasing in typical fossil humour—it is sufficiently outrageous on its own,” CAN said in bestowing those first Fossils.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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December 9, 2011

Is Polar Bear Cannibalism on the Rise due to Climate Change? Ask the Inuit

Filed under: Canada,Environment,Inuit,News Alerts — Tags: , , , — ICTMN Staff @ 8:57 pm

The BBC has posted graphic photos of an adult polar bear eating a cub that have intensified concerns that global warming or climate change is threatening the survival of the species. Polar bears are often seen as the “canary in the coal mine” of global warming.

As Tori Floyd points out at the Yahoo! Daily Brew blog, “this year has been an especially hard one for the polar bear.” Canada has declared the polar bear a species of “special concern”. But is a headline such as the one posted at ThirdAge — “Polar Bear Cannibalism is Result of Global Warming” — warranted?

While the grisly images are jarring, it’s an accepted fact of zoology that polar bears (and other types of bears) are known to eat their young — a point that photographer Jenny Ross concedes. “This type of intraspecific predation has always occurred to some extent,” she said, according to the BBC story. “However, there are increasing numbers of observations of it occurring, particularly on land where polar bears are trapped ashore, completely food-deprived for extended periods of time due to the loss of sea ice as a result of climate change.”

Blogger James Delingpole, in a post at telegraph.co.uk, doesn’t buy Ross’s explanation: “Don’t you just love that having-it-both-ways fudge? On the one hand, she concedes that polar bears have been doing this kind of thing since time immemorial. On the other, for all that, it’s just gotta be climate change hasn’t it?”

With such passion on both sides of the climate change issue, the truth is hard to ferret out. Perhaps it’s best to ask the indigenous people whose knowledge of their suroundings stretches back far further than scientific inquiry. The CBC did just that in 2009 when a similar polar bear “cannibalism” photo surfaced. Kivalliq Inuit Association president Jose Kusugak was dismissive of the hype: “A male polar bear eating a cub becomes a big story and they try to marry it with climate change and so on, it becomes absurd when it’s a normal normal occurrence.” He added that the media attention “makes the south — southern people — look so ignorant.”

When it comes to reaching conclusions, modern science and indigenous wisdom share a love of accumulating evidence. While a single photo may prompt an emotional reaction, Inuit observers have better proof that climate change is occurring. They point to streams that don’t freeze as they used to and changes in the sturdiness of animal pelts as evidence that the life they have lived for many centuries is not as it once was.

s CANNIBAL POLAR BEARS large640 615x449 Is Polar Bear Cannibalism on the Rise due to Climate Change? Ask the Inuit

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December 13, 2011

Merry, Tarry Christmas: Canada Exits Kyoto

It’s official: Canada will not renew its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in 2012 when the existing agreement expires, becoming the first country ever to formally withdraw from the accords.

“The Kyoto Protocol does not cover the world’s largest two emitters, United States and China, and therefore cannot work,” Kent said, according to the Associated Press. “It’s now clear that Kyoto is not the path forward to a global solution to climate change. If anything it’s an impediment.”

His announcement came a day after he returned from the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP-17) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which adjourned on Sunday December 11.

In being the first country to exit the Protocol—although the U.S. has never joined—Canada earned outright censure from China, Japan and other countries. Under its commitment, Canada was supposed to reduce its greenhouse gases by six percent below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012, but those emissions by some estimates may be more than 30 percent above that, The Globe and Mail reported.

Indeed, emissions from the Alberta oil sands, which holds the world’s third-largest oil reserves, are going in the wrong direction. With more than 170 billion barrels, by 2025 the 1.5 million barrels produced daily is slated to rise to 3.7 million, the AP said. Currently Canada’s oil sands are its fastest-growing source of emissions.

“It allows us to continue to create jobs and growth in Canada,” Kent told reporters about the withdrawal, according to the AP.

China and Japan called the decision regrettable. China, although it is one of the world’s largest emitters, has less strict requirements because of its status as a developing nation, one of the reasons Canadian leaders think the accords won’t work.

“It is regrettable and flies in the face of the efforts of the international community for Canada to leave the Kyoto Protocol at a time when the Durban meeting, as everyone knows, made important progress by securing a second phase of commitment to the Protocol,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin told reporters, according to Reuters.

A last-minute agreement at Durban extended the Kyoto Protocol commitment through 2017, with a sketch of a treaty to include all nations in binding commitments by 2020.

None of this is soon enough for countries like Tuvalu, an island nation in the South Pacific that is already affected by rising sea levels.

“For a vulnerable country like Tuvalu, its an act of sabotage on our future,” Ian Fry, its lead negotiator, told Reuters. “Withdrawing from the Kyoto Protocol is a reckless and totally irresponsible act.”

Canada had already come under fire throughout the Durban talks, from censure over its harsh stance on developing nations, emissions and the Protocol, to the tongue-in-cheek but deadly serious Fossil Awards bestowed by the Climate Action Network, of which it won several.

The country is taking heat domestically too, with rising opposition to an expansion of the Alberta oil sands operations as the U.S. postpones its decision on the 1,700-mile-long Keystone XL pipeline that would wend its way to the Gulf of Mexico through environmentally sensitive areas and sacred sites.

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January 6, 2012

Manitoba Aboriginals Roadless, on Thin Ice as Temps Soar

Manitoba aboriginals are suffering from a lack of cold weather, as warmer than usual temperatures prevent the construction of ice roads to bring in supplies.

Unlike their Ontario counterparts in Attawapiskat, where First Nations are suffering from a surfeit of cold weather combined with shoddy housing, Manitoban aboriginals need the cold so they can make the ice roads to transport the annual 2,500 shipments of staples that come through by truck each year over 1,300 miles of ice roads, Grand Chief David Harper of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc., the political advocacy organization for 30 northern Manitoba First Nations, told the Canadian Press.

A good 30,000 people who reside in 20 remote communities that are only road-accessible during winter depend on this connection, according to the Winnipeg Free Press. The alternative is prohibitively expensive fly-in delivery.

Current temperatures in and around Winnipeg were reaching 7 degrees Centigrade, or 44 degrees Fahrenheit, on January 5, and Environment Canada said such highs were likely to last for a few more weeks. The previous high was 4.3C, or 40F, in 1984, CBC News said. This time last year it was Nunavut and its capital, Iqaluit, that were dealing with a heat wave.

In Berens River First Nation the high temperatures have created a health emergency, CBC News reported on January 5. The community had run out of gasoline and could not fuel its ambulances. Chief George Kemp told CBC News that health workers were unable to reach home-care patients and said that 30 residents may have to evacuate.

The unseasonably warm weather also means weeks of delay for $5.5 million in supplies that are scheduled to be trucked in to help residents of the four First Nations communities of Island Lake obtain long-awaited running water, according to the Winnipeg Free Press. As the newspaper has reported extensively, most Island Lake homes “lack indoor plumbing, and many residents have less access to clean water each day than is recommended by the United Nations for refugee camps.”

The higher-than-usual temps are also keeping people off lake and river ice, as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have warned people away from such bodies of water.

This problem is not new, the Canadian Press points out. Supply trucks were stranded in 2010, CBC News reported, as winter roads thawed into muddy quagmires, prompting a few aboriginal chiefs to declare a state of emergency. Chief Harper told the Canadian Press that he plans to take the issue up with Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the Crown–First Nations Gathering to be held later this month.

There is a slight upside, as the Canadian Press reported: The floods that crippled Manitoba’s prairie communities may not happen this year, due to the lack of snow and thus melt.

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