I applaud Al Gore's efforts to confront climate change and laud the fact that he has brought many previously ignored environmental issues into the mainstream. But it's hard not to be a little provoked by a Reuters report today that leads with Al Gore's hope that the Live Earth concerts scheduled for July 7 will do for climate change awareness what Live Aid did for Africa. Aside from noting that pop stars, with their "taste for conspicuous consumption," are hardly the best advocates for environmentalism, we should ask: What exactly did those Live Aid concerts ultimately achieve, apart from a glittering media spectacle and some healthy publicity for its entertainers? An update more than two decades on:
The Live Earth message is undoubtedly important. I just hope the upcoming concerts achieve more than Live Aid did back in 1985.
Here's a bizarre science experiment: Researchers at the U.K.'s Birmingham University are fitting 50 wild penguins with heart monitors to measure the effects of climate change on their habits:
The 'guinea pig' penguins live on the Crozet Islands, in the southern Indian Ocean, about 1,500 miles north of the Antarctic.
The monitors record each penguin's heart rate, location, the surrounding pressure and hence water depth, and the temperature at the back of its throat, telling the scientists when it has swallowed a cold fish.
The birds, famously awkward and ungainly on land, are released back into the wild to go on their usual diving expeditions and caught again a few months later when they return to land to breed.
The scientists expect to find that the flightless birds are swimming and waddling further afield to find food. They'll compare these results to data from the control group, ten penguins that were run through their paces on treadmills while their vital stats were recorded.
So, what does a penguin on a treadmill look like? Click on the video below to find out:(Hat tip: Neatorama)
Snow plows are making their way down the national highway in the West African country of Mauritania. But they aren't clearing snow; they're clearing sand.
Mauritania is getting buried under sand as Saharan dunes shift 3 to 4 km (2 to 3 miles) per year. Whole houses have been consumed, and entire cities have been abandoned.
When 75-year-old Sidahmed Ould Magaya goes to sleep on windy nights, a wall of sand accumulates around his house, sealing the door shut. He has to pay $6 for workers to dig him out in the morning. He has ended up selling one goat a month to pay the diggers. In most buried towns, people have resorted to going in and out through their windows.
The encroaching sand is due to climate change and the cutting of desert plants. Climate change has resulted in less rainfall, which means there is less moisture to hold the sand together in clumps. The uprooting of desert vegetation for camel feed, firewood, and insulation means there's nothing to anchor the sand in place.
The Mauritanian government has created a 109-page action plan to stop the sand from taking over, using measures such as planting green belts around cities and staking sticks into dunes. So far, though, the plan hasn't received any funding from the budget.
Meanwhile, the dunes continue to advance .…
Fidel Castro has denounced the United States' recent drive towards ethanol production as "sinister" and a threat to the "hungry masses" of the world. Castro, who clearly chooses his reading material with great discernment, made the comments in an op-ed piece for Granma, a newspaper controlled by the Cuban Communist Party. Castro has been unwell for many months, but his hatred of the hegemon to the north appears undimmed. The story's headline read "Condemned to premature death by hunger and thirst more than three billion people." Castro described this figure as "cautious," and issued dire warnings about the West converting imported corn to ethanol while millions starve.
There is a grain of truth in Castro's words. Plenty of politicians are looking to cash in on the recent surge in eco-awareness. Ethanol is the perfect vehicle for such opportunists, who couldn't care less about the world's poor. But for my money, Castro is less concerned about the world's starving than about one man in particular: Hugo Chavez. Chavez's Venezuela currently supplies 13 percent of the US's oil imports and generously subsidizes Cuba to infuriate the United States. The last thing Chavez wants or Cuba needs is a greener U.S. energy policy dampening global oil demand. A few thousand words in Granma will go a long way to keeping Castro's sugar daddy sweet. Sick or not, El Commandante is a shrewd operator.
We here at FP can get a little obsessed with pandas sometimes. (OK, maybe it's just me.) But here's proof that the environment is getting its panda on, too: The cuddly bears' waste can be recycled into paper. Researchers at the Chengdu Giant Panda Breeding Base are looking for a paper mill to take the fiber-rich poo and turn it into scribbling pads. They got the idea after visiting a Thai zoo that recycles elephant dung into paper. The pandas in Chengdu produce two tons of feces every day from their bamboo-rich diet. And, as trend-spotters know, bamboo is quickly becoming the material of choice for eco-aware consumers. Bamboo isn't just panda fodder; the tough, fast-growing wood can be made into furniture, floors, and even bedsheets and clothes.
Think about it ... you could get at nearly the whole life cycle with bamboo. It could go into the tummy of an endangered species, come out the other end, be made into paper that you can write on and then stick in your (bamboo) recycling bin when you're done.
Here's a novel idea: Buy up carbon credits by the boat load, never emit any carbon, and thereby help to reduce the worldwide output of greenhouse gases. As the demand for credits soars, the value of individual credits will skyrocket, and carbon-reduction technologies will become more cost-competitive. At least, that's the theory.
Just last month, CO2quota.org set up a foundation to collect funds and purchase carbon credits—credits they plan never to use. In exchange for giving money, donors receive a certificate detailing how many tons of carbon they've kept out of the atmosphere. It costs about $19 to offset one ton of carbon emissions. (That's a bargain: $28 will buy you just one ton of carbon emissions using green tags.) CO2quota.org says that they buy their credits from The Nordic Power Exchange, and that Deloitte watches over their books.
Personally, I'm skeptical. To me, this whole scenario sounds about like ripping up $100 bills to help fight inflation. So far the foundation has offset roughly 185 tons of carbon emissions, which actually isn't much—it's the amount of carbon produced by about twenty average U.S. households in a year. I suspect that similar savings could be achieved if those who bought credits just switched to energy-saving lightbulbs.
But any environmental movement that relies on the generosity of individuals to donate, volunteer, or otherwise sacrifice our way to a greener future will never work, simply because the problem is too big. The only way green technologies will overtake their older counterparts is for the market to deem them to be more profitable.
On top of that, a system as flawed as the Kyoto Protocol can never be the key to solving our climate crisis. The only credits CO2quota is buying up are those issued to companies who cannot meet current CO2 Kyoto targets. Buying the credits will do nothing to help lower the current targets—and it will have no effect on the world's biggest carbon producers, China and the United States, since they don't fall under Kyoto's jurisdiction.
Ultimately, I hope a group like CO2quota proves me wrong. But first they should probably hire a copy editor:
“The more CO2 quotas we buy – the more expensive it gets for the industry to pollute with CO2. Hopefully, this will make them rethink the continued use of fusil fuels. Let’s buy back our climate!”
I'll take a rain check.
Today marks the fifteenth annual World Water Day, first designated by the United Nations in 1992. This year's theme though, "Coping with Water Scarcity," is hardly celebratory, and reflects a growing global concern about the steady drip of bad news for water supplies.
Water scarcity and its implications for global stability is one of the most critical, yet least discussed, issues of our generation. As Sandra Postel and Aaron Wolf reported in FP way back in 2001, more than fifty countries on five continents are facing severe water crises that could spiral into military conflicts. By the time the article was written, the renewable water supply per person had dropped by almost sixty percent since 1950. And it gets worse:
By 2015, nearly three billion people - 40 percent of the projected world population - are expected to live in countries that find it difficult or impossible to mobilize enough water to satisfy the food, industrial, and domestic needs of their citizens. This scarcity will translate into heightened competition for water between cities and farms, between neighboring states and provinces, and at times between nations.
Unlike with oil, there is no substitute for fresh water. Have a nice day.
At the end of January, 75,000 angry people marched in Mexico City to protest the exorbitant price of tortillas. Like much of what happens in Latin America these days, it didn't attract much attention in the United States. But the discontent of poor Mexicans is just the tip of the iceberg in a region that depends heavily on corn.
What's going on? The ethanol boom in the United States is pushing up the price of corn, and that means food prices in the Western Hemisphere and around the world are also on the rise. For a Bush administration deeply worried about anti-American leftism in Latin America, that's a problem. As Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute puts it in this week's Seven Questions:
Our refrigerators are stuffed with corn: milk, eggs, cheese, chicken, pork, beef, yogurt, ice cream—these are all corn products. The risk is that by converting so much of our grain into fuel for cars, we will drive up the price of grain and create chaos in the world grain markets. This could mean urban food riots in scores of low- and middle-income countries around the world.
How can we avoid this dangerous situation? Read the interview to find out.
A while ago, we were puzzled by the efforts of workers in China's southwestern Fumin County to spray-paint a mountain green. Nobody quite knew why the painting was taking place. And now the plot thickens.
The central question emerging is: Who is responsible for the painting order in the first place? Reports conflict, says China blog EastWestSouthNorth.
Was it the Fumin County Bureau of Agriculture and Forestry, as first reported? Or was it Boss Du, a local decoration company boss whose house faces the green mountainside in question?
Chen Peng, a reporter for China's official Xinhua news agency, interviewed a reluctant Boss Du:
After repeated probing from me, he finally admitted that this was related to fengshui. Based upon my years of experience as a reporter, he would have covered the whole matter like a blanket if the county government had given him instructions. So why was he unwilling to bring up the fengshui thing?
That was very meaningful. His reluctance to mention fengshui at first meant that he was being truthful."
Or was he?
A reporter from New Life News disagrees, sensing that Boss Du may have been a scapegoat for a bizarre government request. And Zhang Ke, who first broke the story for the Metropolitan Times, maintains that it was the county:
Q: When the deputy director of the Bureau of Agriculture and Forestry was interviewed afterwards, he claimed that it was an act by a private company boss. So now people are wondering whether your first report was inaccurate.
A: If it was an inaccurate report, Fumin county would have come after me. They would have gone through various departments to punish us. As of now, Fumin county has not contacted me and they have not told our newspaper that the report was inaccurate."
So who ordered the spray-painting? Boss Du, or the county Bureau of Agriculture and Forestry? And more to the point, why? Perhaps we'll never know. But the bizarre story sheds light on just how hard it is to get reliable information in an authoritarian state.
In 2001, atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen theorized that particles suspended in the atmosphere (dust and soot) were blocking up to 15 percent of the sunlight meant to reach the ground in many parts of Asia. Back then, this was considered to be a bad thing—but today, aerosols are hailed as a potential foil to global warming. The map above is a NASA image generated by two of their Earth-imaging satellites, Terra and Aqua. The dark orange areas represent high concentrations of airborne particles, while the lighter areas depict clearer atmosphere. The grey areas have not been mapped.
The global aerosol patterns in 2006 were similar to previous years. High aerosol concentrations were observed over western and central Africa (a mixture of dust from the Sahara and smoke from agricultural fires), northern India (where urban and industrial pollution concentrates against the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains), and northeastern China (urban and industrial pollution). Aerosol optical depth appeared unusually high in 2006 over Indonesia, probably as a result of increased fire activity there. The image also shows the impact of fires in Russia’s boreal forest, which spread aerosols into the Arctic.
The high res version is splendid.
When Hitler rained bombs on London for more than 50 consecutive nights in the fall of 1940, Londoners responded by tacking up "Business As Usual" signs on the city's streets. Life went on, and the Blitz be damned.
Contrast that to this morning, when a light dusting of snow—less than one-eighth of an inch—fell on Washington. It was apparently too much for our federal government to handle. Business couldn't continue. On the floor of the U.S. Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid struggled to explain why the chamber was helpless in the face of a dusting of snow. Taking a vote on a homeland security measure would have to wait. Washington, he explained, is "different from a lot of other places." Here, at the epicenter of the free world, he continued, "an inch or two" of snow probably shouldn't cause the federal government to grind to a halt, "but it does." "Those are the facts of life in the bitter winter of an inch of snow" in the most powerful city in the world, Reid concluded.
Let's hope the terrorists don't get their hands on any cloud seeding technology, in which silver iodide is sprayed into clouds by airplanes or artillery shells in an effort to encourage precipitation. Come to think of it, a pre-emptive strike against China may be necessary, as they've been making use of cloud seeding for years.
The company formerly known as British Petroleum has finally acknowledged that it tried to cut corners on environmental safety in order to save money prior to the March, 2005, Texas refinery blast that killed 15 people and injured 500. BP successfully lobbied against stricter environmental controls in Texas, which would have forced BP to upgrade the exhaust system that ultimately exploded. Susan Moore, BP's lobbying chief, was even given a $1,000 bonus for saving BP $150 million in monitoring and equipment upgrades.
BP has been in hot water over the past few years for some questionable practices. In addition to facing accusations that it tried to manipulate propane prices in 2004, the company has also had to close down part of its Alaskan operations in March, 2006, after around 267,000 gallons of crude oil leaked out of one of its pipelines and prompted a safety investigation by U.S. regulators. Then six months later BP had to excavate a 50-year-old underground pipeline after 1,000 barrels of gasoil spilled in Long Beach, California. Despite these glaring errors, BP still managed to make a $22.3 billion profit last year. If BP is not intending to move "Beyond Petroleum" just yet, let's at least hope that it will stop cutting corners when it comes to environmental safety.
CISARUA, INDONESIA - FEBRUARY 26: Dema (male) the 26-day-old endangered Sumatran Tiger cub cuddles up to 5-month-old female Orangutan, Irma at the 'Taman Safari Indonesia' Animal Hospital, on February 26, 2007 in Cisarua, Bogor Regency, West Java, Indonesia. Irma and another orangutan have been rejected by their mothers while two Sumatran tiger-cubs (including Dema) also born in the hospital, have also been rejected by their mother Cicis and are being looked after by staff at the Animal Hospital.
African elephants are under threat again despite a 1989 ban on poaching the animals for their ivory tusks. A new study led by Samuel K. Wasser of the University of Washington estimated that around 23,000 elephants were killed illegally in 2006 alone, or one in twelve of the entire African population (when you exclude Botswana).
The striking finding is yet another sign that Asia's economic boom is having unexpected consequences around the world, since ivory is highly coveted in Japan and China for use in jewelry and for "hankos," cross sections of the tusk that are popular for use as stamps. Since the world largely lost interest in protecting African elephants during the 1990s, wholesale prices for ivory have skyrocketed to $750 per kilogram in those countries, turning tusk smuggling into a highly lucrative business and decimating the elephant population.
That's not all Wasser and his colleagues found. Taking DNA data information from the largest 535 pieces from a huge cache of smuggled ivory seized in 2002 by the authorities in Singapore, the interdisciplinary team of researchers used a new method to narrow down the range of possible geographic origins for the seized ivory. They quickly ruled out forested areas, honing in on the savanna that crosses the south-central portion of the continent. Their finding embarrassed the government of Zambia, which had claimed in documents that only 135 elephants had been killed illegally in the 10 years prior to the seizure, a number far below Wasser's estimate.
Holding African states accountable is key to halting what Wasser calls "a widespread slaughter of elephants that is getting worse by the day." But countries like Zambia have few resources with which to combat sophisticated ivory smuggling networks with deep pockets and international reach. Saving African elephants from possible extinction will require a global approach, Wasser argues, including public awareness campaigns in Asia (enlisting, say, Yao Ming as an advocate could help) and international aid to overwhelmed African governments. After all, the international community was able to halt the spread of poaching before, in 1989. Now that the scientific tools for tracking poachers are becoming more advanced, it's just a question of will.
It makes me feel a bit like we're living in the beginning of a bad apocalyptic movie: Bees are vanishing all over the United States, and no one knows why. In 24 states around the country, beekeepers have opened up their boxes to find tens of millions of bees simply missing. Other beekeepers open up their hives only to find every bee dead.
Scientists are baffled, investigating every possibility from viruses to fungi to "bee stress." And beekeepers are quick to stress that their own bank accounts are not the main worry. Bees annually pollinate $14 billion worth of crops like almonds, apples, peaches, and blueberries, and growers are scrambling to find "alternative" pollinators like fans and helicopters to make up for the lack of buzzing in the fields.
So, where have all the honeybees gone? Here's a theory:
The International Herald Tribune sent its reporters to seven different cities to find out where the garbage goes. My favorite recycling story? Reporter Andréa R. Vaucher found that Los Angeles' trash sometimes ends up as carpets in Alabama and T-shirts in China.
And Meg Bortin raises a good question: "[W]hat will happen when Asian manufacturing powerhouses like India and China begin to produce even a fraction of the trash produced in the West[?]"
Ikea is set to be the first retail store in the United States that charges U.S. customers for each disposable plastic shopping bag used instead of providing them free with purchases. Keeping in line with its projected image of being a socially responsible company, Ikea's decision to charge 5 cents per bag is a direct response to the massive amount of waste produced by plastic bags in the United States. An estimated 100 billion of these bags are thrown away every year by U.S. consumers, which causes environmental problems ranging from animal strangulation to waterway blockage. And it can take polyethylene bags 1,000 years to decompose, creating significant landfill problems. Ikea started charging its UK customers for plastic bags in June, and has since reduced their bag consumption by 95 percent.
Governments have also come on board in the effort to restrict and ultimately abolish the use of plastic bags. South Australia intends to completely ban single-use plastic bags by the end of 2008. Rwanda and Bangladesh have already done so. Taiwain has reduced plastic bag consumption by 80 percent since stores started charging for them, and Ireland has reduced consumption by 90 percent through taxing bag use. Not only do these decisions reduce the costs of waste management, but taxing plastic bag consumption can be highly profitable—Ireland has managed to raise 75 million euros since it introduced its bag tax in 2002. Fortunately for the environment, this should provide a pretty compelling incentive for other countries to do the same.
Those who want to bag a lion but lack the hunting skill to track one down themselves are running out of time. As of June 1, South African lion breeders will no longer be permitted to offer "canned hunts," whereby lions bred in captivity are released into small enclosures and gunned down by tourists for a hefty fee. The practice has long been criticized as unseemly. As the South African minister put it:
To see people who are half drunk on the back of a bakkie (truck) hunting lions which are in fact tame animals is quite abhorrent.
One unforeseen consequence of the ban, however: It may now be necessary to euthanize 3,000 to 5,000 of the lions that have already been raised for the hunts.
Forget Kyoto, carbon trading, and renewable resource targets.
Just change your light bulbs, says Australian Prime Minister John Howard. In an effort to reduce his country’s carbon emissions (and to simplify his party’s environmental policy) Howard’s government will outlaw the antiquated incandescent light bulb by 2010. Australians will have to use more energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs, which are about five times more energy efficient and last much longer than standard bulbs.
(Hat tip: Slashdot)
Although neither as famous nor as cuddly as the koala (yes, koala, not koala bear), Australia's tasmanian devils are a national icon, even inspiring the Warner Brothers cartoon character Taz.
But for at least a decade, a deadly cancer has been killing off these native creatures to the point where the tassie devil is now officially set to become an endangered species. The cancer, Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD), causes lesions usually around the mouth of the devils, which then develop into tumors that make it impossible for the animals to eat. Eventually they die of starvation. DFTD is killing almost three out of four of the animals, such that the total population of wild tasmanian devils has declined from 200,000 ten years ago to around 50,000 today.
Scientists still don't know what causes DFTD, or how to detect it before it strikes. While there is some hope that isolated populations may be able to escape the tumors, many researchers fear that this might be the end of the natural population of tasmanian devils on the island of Tasmania. This is because even if they do survive, their dwindled numbers mean that other foreign predators, such as foxes or feral cats, could end up dominating areas once occupied by the devils. This would be a tragic end for the voracious Taz, but Tasmanians aren't giving up just yet.
Since last August, workers in southwestern China have been spray-painting Laoshou mountain. On the government's orders, the entire mountainside, which is barren, is to be painted green. Both the workers and villagers in the surrounding Fumin Country remain confused about the motives behind the decision, speculating it could be to improve the feng shui of the mountain, or part of an effort to "green" the area in the wake of environmental damage.
Xinhua, China's official news agency, estimates the cost of the paint project at around 470,000 yuan ($60,600). Villagers argued that a far greater area of the mountain could have been restored if that money had been used for actual plants and trees. So what was the official reason? "This is an order from above. You should ask the leader from above. I don't have any information on this," was the response from a worker at the Fumin County forestry department.
The battle over whaling rights is getting heated. That is to say, as heated as anything can be in the frigid waters surrounding Antarctica. Japan has been trying for years to get the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to allow commercialized whaling, enlisting unlikely allies, like landlocked Mongolia, in its cause. Countries that oppose lifting the limits are becoming increasingly annoyed, and in fact most are boycotting a commission meeting going on this week in Japan.
But it's on the high seas that the confrontation is getting really tense—spawning the creation of what may be the world's first whale pirate. Over the past few days, a radical Canadian environmentalist has been harassing Japanese scientific whaling vessels in the Antarctic Ocean. Tactics have included lobbing acid onto the whaler's deck, fouling the ships' ropes, and provoking a collision. The renegade's ships have been stripped of their national registrations, and are now navis non grata in the world's ports. Greenpeace, meanwhile, has been forced into the unaccustomed role of playing the moderate. The environmental organization condemned the attack, and even sent a ship to help one of the whalers after it sent out a distress signal.
The above is one of the very cool maps at Worldmapper. It shows the world's countries not by geographical size, but in terms of the number of people affected by disasters caused by insects. As you can see, China's got big problems with bugs, while North Africa and Ethiopia (in pink) have insect issues vastly out of proportion to their populations.
China's big bug problem could get worse due to global warming, Chinese scientists fear, because warm winters are good for worm eggs.
If a great flood ravages the Earth in 2207, we won’t have to worry about losing the key to our food supply.
The Norwegian government is paying for the construction of a Noah's Ark that will house seeds of all the world’s food crops. The seed vault—which will hold up to 3 million seed samples—will be built 364 feet inside a mountain on a remote island near the North Pole. It would protect the seeds from apocalyptic catastrophes such as a nuclear Armageddon, an asteroid collision, and the much-feared consequences of climate change.
The site on Spitsbergen, one of Norway’s Svalbard islands, was chosen because of the long-term stability that it will provide. Designers modeled the worst-case scenario for climate change 200 years in the future and determined that the seed vault would still remain above water if the ice sheets of Greenland and the North and South Poles all melted. The surrounding permafrost will protect the precious seeds if the refrigeration system malfunctions.
My only question is: If humans get wiped out in a global catastrophe, who would take the seeds out of the vault?
What if, before you were allowed to get a driver's license, you had to understand why catalytic converters are good for the environment and where they are located on a car? I'm guessing here in America we'd have a lot fewer people on the roads.
But from September of this year, that's exactly what people seeking drivers licenses in the United Kingdom will be tested on—their knowledge of so-called "eco-driving." The Times of London got a hold of some sample questions, which make up the pop quiz below (answers below the fold):
1. When a roof rack is not in use it should be removed. Why is this?
a) It will affect the suspension
b) It is illegal
c) It will affect your braking
d) It will waste fuel
2. Driving at 70 mph uses more fuel than driving at 50 mph by up to...
a) 10 percent
b) 30 percent
c) 75 percent
d) 100 percent
3. What is most likely to cause high fuel consumption?
a) Poor steering control
b) Accelerating around bends
c) Staying in high gears
d) Harsh braking and accelerating
4. On a vehicle, where would you find a catalytic converter?
a) In the fuel tank
b) In the air filter
c) On the cooling system
d) On the exhaust system
5. Supertrams or Light Rapid Transit (LRT) systems are environmentally friendly because...
a) They use diesel power
b) The use quieter roads
c) They use electric power
d) They do not operate during rush hour
Back in 2000, I sat in on our interview with anti-globalization activist Lori Wallach. (I was the guy running the tape recorder). Wallach had this great line, which she has often repeated, about two ships passing in the night. One ship is loaded with chopsticks cut from wood in the Pacific Northwest and being shipped to Japan. The other ship is loaded with toothpicks cut from trees in Malaysia and packaged in Japan on their way to California. How could these two companies possibly be profitable?
Wallach's illustration comes to mind when I read sustainability engineer Pablo Päster's latest column. Producing and shipping one bottle of Fiji bottled water around the globe consumes nearly 27 liters of water, nearly a kilogram of fossil fuels, and generates more than a pound of carbon dioxide emissions. No wonder that stuff is so overpriced.
Here's a sad story.
Last week's storms in Florida claimed 17 victims: young whooping cranes that had been carefully tended to by Operation Migration, a concerned NGO that teaches the highly endangered birds how to fly south for the winter. The cranes died when they could not escape from netting put in place to protect them from larger, more aggressive older birds. One whooping crane did manage to survive, however, and was spotted mixing it up with two sandhill cranes on Sunday.
According to a team of international scientists led by University of Leeds geophysicist Tim Wright, we're witnessing the birth of a new ocean. In remote northern Ethiopia, the team has front-row seats to the show of the next hundred millennia. The earth is slowly being ripped apart by extreme seismic activity at the meeting point of the Arabian and African continental plates, but sometimes it shifts much faster. During the most dramatic period, September 2005, hundreds of cracks in the earth developed in just a few weeks, and sections of earth moved more than 20 feet practically overnight. As the land is pulled apart, Wright says, molten rock will rise from the earth's core and fills in the gaps, forming new land valleys and redrawing parts of the African landscape. At that point, the scientists believe, the Red Sea could come flooding into the region.
It's very exciting because we're witnessing the birth of a new ocean," said Dr Wright. "In geological terms, a million years is the blink of an eye. We don't precisely know what is going to happen, but we believe that it may turn parts of Northern Ethiopia and Eritrea into an island, before a much larger land mass -- the horn of Africa -- breaks off from the continent."
What's Global Cool, you ask? It happens to be the latest, splashiest, star-studded global do-gooder campaign. It aims to persuade one billion people around the world to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions every year for the next ten years in order to combat global warming.
And this really is a campaign for the kids. They've enlisted some of the "biggest names in entertainment," like Sienna Miller, Orlando Bloom, and the Scissor Sisters. (Note: If that last sentence confuses you at all, I'm afraid Global Cool might not resonate.) Global Cool is taking the Live 8 route, planning five simultaneous concerts this summer to raise awareness and inspire the kids to really, you know, care about global warming, especially since Live 8 did so much to eradicate global poverty in 2005.
They do have plenty of useful (albeit recycled) suggestions on how to reduce one's personal carbon dioxide emissions: Turn out the lights, turn the heating down, put the computer on standby (good one)—all things that require little effort, but can have a huge impact when done by millions.
The campaign is a bit corny, but Global Cool is trying hard to make sure that they're taken seriously as an environmental player, and not just seen as padding for some starlet's resume. They're aware that a skeptical public might just tune them out, and they recognize how "tiresome a bunch of rock stars and movie actors can appear when trying to tell the public how to run their lives." And so far, it doesn't appear the campaign has gotten quite the media splash it was designed to receive. I have to say, as much as Global Cool hopes to be a influence leader on global warming, I'm just not sure any strategy involving, as theirs does, the use of the term "ecosexual" is one that is going to get a lot of traction.
Australia's water crisis has gone from terrible to dire. The country's drought, the worst ever on record, has caused one Australian farmer to commit suicide every four days, according to research findings announced by a national health body in October 2006. Last week, Australian Prime Minister John Howard declared water security to be Australia's biggest challenge, and unveiled a controversial $10 (AUD) billion plan to increase the country's water efficiency. Howard, who has been criticized in the past for refusing the sign the Kyoto Protocol, now considers himself a "climate change realist," acknowledging that climate change is affecting the nation's water supply.
Now, Queensland Premier Peter Beattie has announced that his state will be the first to use recycled water for drinking—a measure he predicts will soon be needed in the rest of the country. The concept of drinking purified recycled water (also known as "gray water") doesn't exactly appeal to everyone in Australia, as the stigma of seeing it as "effluent" water remains prevalent for the moment. But sophisticated technology in use in Israel, Singapore, the United States and parts of Europe has already proved treated waste water to be a viable solution. Given their country's enormous and growing water problems, purified recycled water should ultimately be an easy pill for Australians to swallow—and it just might give depressed farmers another reason to live.
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.