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Climate Change Worse Than We Thought, Likely To Be ‘Catastrophic Rather Than Simply Dangerous’

“Climate change may be far worse than scientists thought, causing global temperatures to rise by at least 4 degrees Celsius by 2100, or about 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit, according to a new study.

The study, published in the journal Nature, takes a fresh look at clouds’ effect on the planet, according to a report by The Guardian. The research found that as the planet heats, fewer sunlight-reflecting clouds form, causing temperatures to rise further in an upward spiral.

That number is double what many governments agree is the threshold for dangerous warming. Aside from dramatic environmental shifts like melting sea ice, many of the ills of the modern world — starvation, poverty, war and disease — are likely to get worse as the planet warms.

“4C would likely be catastrophic rather than simply dangerous,” lead researcher Steven Sherwood told the Guardian. “For example, it would make life difficult, if not impossible, in much of the tropics, and would guarantee the eventual melting of the Greenland ice sheet and some of the Antarctic ice sheet.”

Another report released earlier this month said the abrupt changes caused by rapid warming should be cause for concern, as many of climate change’s biggest threats are those we aren’t ready for.”


Climate change as a threat to US National Security. Why the military is so far ahead of US Congress

10 risky default settings in social media that you need to check

UN warned of major new food crisis at emergency meeting in Rome

September 24, 2010 – Original Source: Guardian, UK

Environmental disasters and speculative investors are to blame for volatile food commodities markets, says UN’s special adviser

July’s wildfires in Russia have led to a draconian wheat ban, pushing up prices. Photograph: Maxim Shipenkov/EPA

The world may be on the brink of a major new food crisis caused by environmental disasters and rampant market speculators, the UN was warned today at an emergency meeting on food price inflation.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) meeting in Rome today was called last month after a heatwave and wildfires in Russia led to a draconian wheat export ban and food riots broke out in Mozambique, killing 13 people. But UN experts heard that pension and hedge funds, sovereign wealth funds and large banks who speculate on commodity markets may also be responsible for inflation in food prices being seen across all continents.

In a new paper released this week, Olivier De Schutter, the UN’s special rapporteur on food, says that the increases in price and the volatility of food commodities can only be explained by the emergence of a “speculative bubble” which he traces back to the early noughties.

“[Beginning in ]2001, food commodities derivatives markets, and commodities indexes began to see an influx of non-traditional investors,” De Schutter writes. “The reason for this was because other markets dried up one by one: the dotcoms vanished at the end of 2001, the stock market soon after, and the US housing market in August 2007. As each bubble burst, these large institutional investors moved into other markets, each traditionally considered more stable than the last. Strong similarities can be seen between the price behaviour of food commodities and other refuge values, such as gold.”

He continues: “A significant contributory cause of the price spike [has been] speculation by institutional investors who did not have any expertise or interest in agricultural commodities, and who invested in commodities index funds or in order to hedge speculative bets.”

A near doubling of many staple food prices in 2007 and 2008 led to riots in more than 30 countries and an estimated 150 million extra people going hungry. While some commodity prices have since reduced, the majority are well over 50% higher than pre-2007 figures – and are now rising quickly upwards again.

“Once again we find ourselves in a situation where basic food commodities are undergoing supply shocks. World wheat futures and spot prices climbed steadily until the beginning of August 2010, when Russia – faced with massive wildfires that destroyed its wheat harvest – imposed an export ban on that commodity. In addition, other markets such as sugar and oilseeds are witnessing significant price increases,” said De Schutter, who spoke today at The UK Food Group’s conference in London.

Gregory Barrow of the UN World Food Program said: “What we have seen over the past few weeks is a period of volatility driven partly by the announcement from Russia of an export ban on grain food until next year, and this has driven prices up. They have fallen back again, but this has had an impact.”

Sergei Sukhov, from Russia’s agriculture ministry, told the Associated Press during a break in the meeting in Rome that the market for grains “should be stable and predictable for all participants.” He said no efforts should be spared “to the effect that the production of food be sufficient.”

“The emergency UN meeting in Rome is a clear warning sign that we could be on the brink of another food price crisis unless swift action is taken. Already, nearly a billion people go to bed hungry every night – another food crisis would be catastrophic for millions of poor people,” said Alex Wijeratna, ActionAid’s hunger campaigner.

An ActionAid report released last week revealed that hunger could be costing poor nations $450bn a year – more than 10 times the amount needed to halve hunger by 2015 and meet Millennium Development Goal One.

Food prices are rising around 15% a year in India and Nepal, and similarly in Latin America and China. US maize prices this week broke through the $5-a-bushel level for the first time since September 2008, fuelled by reports from US farmers of disappointing yields in the early stages of their harvests. The surge in the corn price also pushed up European wheat prices to a two-year high of €238 a tonne.

Elsewhere, the threat of civil unrest led Egypt this week to announce measures to increase food self-sufficiency to 70%. Partly as a result of food price rises, many middle eastern and other water-scarce countries have begun to invest heavily in farmland in Africa and elsewhere to guarantee supplies.

Although the FAO has rejected the notion of a food crisis on the scale of 2007-2008, it this week warned of greater volatility in food commodities markets in the years ahead.

At the meeting in London today, De Schutter said the only long term way to resolve the crisis would be to shift to “agro-ecological” ways of growing food. This farming, which does not depend on fossil fuels, pesticides or heavy machinery has been shown to protect soils and use less water.

“A growing number of experts are calling for a major shift in food security policies, and support the development of agroecology approaches, which have shown very promising results where implemented,” he said.

Green MP Caroline Lucas called for tighter regulation of the food trade. “Food has become a commodity to be traded. The only thing that matters under the current system is profit. Trading in food must not be treated as simply another form of business as usual: for many people it is a matter of life and death. We must insist on the complete removal of agriculture from the remit of the World Trade Organisation,” she said.


Military girds for climate change battles

September 7, 2010 – Original Source: The Globe and Mail

A navy planner says the Canadian Forces must be ready to be called to the front lines in the battle against the effects of climate change.

A recently published article by Lieutenant-Commander Ray Snook of the Defence Department’s directorate of maritime strategy says the military may have to step in if conflicts flare over dwindling supplies of food and water.

“There will be a clear need for peace support operations too, and being called upon to intervene overseas and to help prevent or to resolve conflicts may occur more frequently,” he wrote in the summer issue of the Canadian Naval Review.

“Canada has a proud history of responding to these demands and in guaranteeing the physical security required to stabilize and reconstruct.”

Some people – including U.S. President Barack Obama – have warned climate change could lead to violence if essential supplies run low. They see access to fresh water as one likely trigger.

Countries struck by natural disasters or extreme weather events may also seek military help, Lt.-Cmdr. Snook says, just as Haiti did after a powerful earthquake in January.

“Several reputable think-tanks and senior military officials have drawn the conclusion that increasingly Western armed forces will be called upon to conduct humanitarian assistance and disaster-relief missions,” he wrote.

“As the only government organization with the ability to undertake such missions on a significant scale, the public will expect nothing less.”

But he warns more than one call for help at a time could strain military resources.

Meanwhile, Lt.-Cmdr. Snook considers Britain’s military and the U.S. Navy to be the top thinkers when it comes to the ways in which climate change will affect national security. Canada’s Defence Department is trying to catch up to its American and British counterparts, he says.

“Within DND, although the discussion, debate and action are embryonic, there is growing recognition that the threat is real and more needs to be done,” he wrote.

“Climate change has the potential to be a global threat of unparalleled magnitude and requires early, aggressive action in order to overcome its effects.”

The department declined further comment on Lt.-Cmdr. Snook’s article.

Douglas Bland, a retired lieutenant-colonel who chairs defence management studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., says the military has been doing climate-related work on a smaller scale for some time.

Troops helped during the Red River floods in Manitoba in 1997 and when a major ice storm hit parts of eastern Ontario and Quebec in 1998. They once memorably traded their weapons for shovels to help dig out parts of snowed-in Toronto.

Mr. Bland says the military is probably more concerned about protecting the northern borders as melting sea ice opens up Arctic waterways than it is about deploying to other areas hard hit by climate change.

“In many respects, our national sea boundaries are changing before our eyes,” he said.

“And that calls up needs for the armed forces to be re-oriented and re-built in some ways, and expanded perhaps to take over the fact that they now have to guard and protect larger pieces of property.

“And people are working on those areas. Whether they’re very interested on the effects of global warming on wheat farming in Saskatchewan, I don’t think so.”

Besides being asked to deploy more often, Lt.-Cmdr. Snook’s article touches on other areas in which climate change might affect the military – including some potential opportunities for improvement.

Going green could keep troops in hot spots out of harm’s way. Using less energy could make it safer for troops in places like Afghanistan, Lt.-Cmdr. Snook says. Convoys that haul fuel to soldiers in the field are big targets for insurgents, so fewer trips could cut the risk.

The article reveals the military is looking at how well its bases can hold up to changes in the climate.

A rise in the sea level would swamp most of Halifax’s waterfront, and Lt.-Cmdr. Snook says the flooding would probably affect the naval facilities north of the city’s downtown core.

The officer also lays out how the military can help reduce greenhouse gases.

The Defence Department owns more buildings than any other government department. He says those buildings use a lot of energy and the department should determine if they can be made more efficient.

Growing Pentagon Focus on Energy and Climate

February 1, 2010 – Original Source: Dot Yearth, The New York Times. By Andrew C. Revkin

The Pentagon released its  Quadrennial Defense Review on Monday, a wide-ranging report laying out rising priorities for keeping the peace and, when needed, waging war. For the first time, the report — at the request of lawmakers — considered  the significance of climate change for national security, both as a potential source of conflict and a factor in military operations.

A core conclusion:

Assessments conducted by the intelligence community indicate that climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments. Climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease and may spur or exacerbate mass migration.

The report also describes a longstanding, and now intensifying, focus on cutting the use of fuels, which is a huge cost and a security concern on the battlefield. There’s yet another plea — particularly in light of  expanding shipping activity in the Arctic Ocean — for ratification of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, which despite support from a series of presidents faces persistent resistance from a small cluster of influential senators. Here’s the section on energy and climate:

Crafting a Strategic Approach to Climate and Energy

Climate change and energy are two key issues that will play a significant role in shaping the future security environment. Although they produce distinct types of challenges, climate change, energy security and economic stability are inextricably linked. The actions that the department takes now can prepare us to respond effectively to these challenges in the near term and in the future. Climate change will affect DoD in two broad ways. First, climate change will shape the operating environment, roles, and missions that we undertake. The U.S. Global Change Research Program, composed of 13 federal agencies, reported in 2009 that climate-related changes are already being observed in every region of the world, including the United States and its coastal waters. Among these physical changes are increases in heavy downpours, rising temperature and sea level, rapidly retreating glaciers, thawing permafrost, lengthening growing seasons, lengthening ice-free seasons in the oceans and on lakes and rivers, earlier snowmelt and alterations in river flows.

Assessments conducted by the intelligence community indicate that climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation and the further weakening of fragile governments. Climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease and may spur or exacerbate mass migration.

While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world. In addition, extreme weather events may lead to increased demands for defense support to civil authorities for humanitarian assistance or disaster response both within the United States an overseas. In some nations, the military is the only institution with the capacity to respond to a large-scale natural disaster. Proactive engagement with these countries can help build their capability to respond to such events. Working closely with relevant U.S. departments and agencies, DoD has undertaken environmental security cooperative initiatives with foreign militaries that represent a nonthreatening way of building trust, sharing best practices on installations management and operations and developing response capacity.

Second, DoD will need to adjust to the impacts of climate change on our facilities and military capabilities. The department already provides environmental stewardship at hundreds of DoD installations throughout the United States and around the world, working diligently to meet resource efficiency and sustainability goals as set by relevant laws and executive orders. Although the United States has significant capacity to adapt to climate change, it will pose challenges for civil society and DoD alike, particularly in light of the nation’s extensive coastal infrastructure. In 2008, the National Intelligence Council judged that more than 30 U.S. military installations were already facing elevated levels of risk from rising sea levels. DoD’s operational readiness hinges on continued access to land, air, and sea training and test space. Consequently, the department must complete a comprehensive assessment of all installations to assess the potential impacts of climate change on its missions and adapt as required.

In this regard, DoD will work to foster efforts to assess, adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Domestically, the department will leverage the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program, a joint effort among DoD, the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, to develop climate change assessment tools. Abroad, the department will increase its investment in the Defense Environmental International Cooperation Program not only to promote cooperation on environmental security issues, but also to augment international adaptation efforts. The department will also speed innovative energy and conservation technologies from laboratories to military end users. The Environmental Security and Technology Certification Program uses military installations as a test bed to demonstrate and create a market for innovative energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies coming out of the private sector and DoD and Department of Energy laboratories.

Finally, the department is improving small-scale energy efficiency and renewable energy projects at military installations through our Energy Conservation Investment Program. The effect of changing climate on the department’s operating environment is evident in the maritime commons of the Arctic. The opening of the Arctic waters in the decades ahead which will permit seasonal commerce, and transit presents a unique opportunity to work collaboratively in multilateral forums to promote a balanced approach to improving human and environmental security in the region. In that effort, DoD must work with the Coast Guard and the department of Homeland Security to address gaps in Arctic communications, domain awareness, search and rescue, and environmental observation and forecasting capabilities to support both current and future planning and operations. To support cooperative engagement in the Arctic, DoD strongly supports accession to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. As climate science advances, the department will regularly re-evaluate climate change risks and opportunities in order to develop policies and plans to manage its effects on the department’s operating environment, missions, and facilities. Managing the national security effects of climate change will require DoD to work collaboratively, through a whole-of-government approach, with both traditional allies and new partners.

Energy security for the department means having assured access to reliable supplies of energy and the ability to protect and deliver sufficient energy to meet operational needs. Energy efficiency can serve as a force multiplier, because it increases the range and endurance of forces in the field and can reduce the number of combat forces diverted to protect energy supply lines, which are vulnerable to both asymmetric and conventional attacks and disruptions. DoD must incorporate geostrategic and operational energy considerations into force planning, requirements development, and acquisition processes. To address these challenges, DoD will fully implement the statutory requirement for the energy efficiency Key Performance Parameter and fully burdened cost of fuel set forth in the 2009 National Defense Authorization Act. The department will also investigate alternative concepts for improving operational energy use, including the creation of an innovation fund administered by the new Director of Operational Energy to enable components to compete for funding on projects that advance integrated energy solutions. The department is increasing its use of renewable energy supplies and reducing energy demand to improve operational effectiveness, reduce greenhouse gas emissions in support of U.S. climate change initiatives, and protect the department from energy price fluctuations.

The military departments have invested in noncarbon power sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and biomass energy at domestic installations and in vehicles powered by alternative fuels, including hybrid power, electricity, hydrogen, and compressed national gas. Solving military challenges— through such innovations as more efficient generators, better batteries, lighter materials and tactically deployed energy sources—has the potential to yield spin-off technologies that benefit the civilian community as well. DoD will partner with academia, other U.S. agencies and international partners to research, develop, test, and evaluate new sustainable energy technologies. Indeed, the following examples demonstrate the broad range of Service energy innovations. By 2016, the Air Force will be postured to cost-competitively acquire 50 percent of its domestic aviation fuel via an alternative fuel blend that is greener than conventional petroleum fuel. Further, Air Force testing and standard-setting in this arena paves the way for the much larger commercial aviation sector to follow. The Army is in the midst of a significant transformation of its fleet of 70,000 nontactical vehicles (NTVs), including the current deployment of more than 500 hybrids and the acquisition of 4,000 low-speed electric vehicles at domestic installations to help cut fossil fuel usage.

The Army is also exploring ways to exploit the opportunities for renewable power generation to support operational needs: for instance, the Rucksack Enhanced Portable Power System (REPPS). The Navy commissioned the USS Makin Island, its first electric-drive surface combatant, and tested an F/A-18 engine on camelina-based biofuel in 2009 — two key steps toward the vision of deploying a “green” carrier strike group using biofuel and nuclear power by 2016. The Marine Corps has created an Expeditionary Energy Office to address operational energy risk, and its Energy Assessment Team has identified ways to achieve efficiencies in today’s highly energy-intensive operations in Afghanistan and Iraq in order to reduce logistics and related force protection requirements. To address energy security while simultaneously enhancing mission assurance at domestic facilities, the department is focusing on making them more resilient. U.S. forces at home and abroad rely on support from installations in the United States. DoD will conduct a coordinated energy assessment, prioritize critical assets and promote investments in energy efficiency to ensure that critical installations are adequately prepared for prolonged outages caused by natural disasters, accidents, or attacks. At the same time, the department will also take steps to balance energy production and transmission with the requirement to preserve the test and training ranges and the operating areas that are needed to maintain readiness.

AFRICA: Drying, Drying, Disappearing…

December 26, 2009 – Original Source: IPS

ROME, Dec 26 (IPS) – Lake Chad was bigger than Israel less than 50 years ago. Today its surface area is less than a tenth of its earlier size, amid forecasts the lake could disappear altogether within 20 years.

Climate change and overuse have put one of Africa’s mightiest lakes in mortal danger, and the livelihoods of the 30 million people who depend on its waters is hanging by a thread as a result.

An unprecedented crisis is looming that would create fresh hunger in a region already suffering grave food insecurity, and pose a massive threat to peace and stability, experts say.

"If Lake Chad dries up, 30 million people will have no means of a livelihood, and that is a big security problem because of growing competition for smaller quantities of water," Dr Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, executive secretary of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) tells IPS in Rome.

"Poverty and hunger will increase. When there is no food to eat, there is bound to be violence."

The lake, which shrank 90 percent between 1963 and 2001 from 25,000 square kilometres to under 1,500, is bordered by Chad, Niger, Cameroon and Nigeria.
Four more countries, the Central African Republic, Algeria, Sudan and Libya, share the lake’s hydrological basin and are therefore affected by its fortunes.
"Lake Chad has experienced shrinkage," Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said at November’s World Food Security Summit at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome. "If it dries up, it will be a real disaster. I want to warn the world about this imminent disaster."

That disaster has already started. Villages that used to be thriving lakeside ports are now stranded miles from the water, and have been swallowed by the advancing Sahara desert. Fishers and farmers are struggling to survive.
"The dramatic situation is already taking place," Maher Salman, a technical officer with FAO’s land and water division tells IPS. "It’s clear that the consequences have started. There is outward migration. People are looking for water, so they leave the basin area."

Fishers have seen once massive catches frequently reduced to half-filled buckets. The FAO says the lake’s fish production has fallen 60 percent, and the variety of fish caught has dramatically declined too.

Farmers who rely on lake waters for irrigation are having to move nearer to the water or abandon their activities. Lack of water has caused pasture lands to shrivel up and led to a serious shortage of animal feed, estimated at 46.5 percent in some areas in 2006, resulting in cattle deaths and plummeting livestock production.

This is the sort of situation former World Bank vice-president Ismail Serageldin was worried about in 1995 when he said that "the wars of the 20th century were fought over oil, and the wars of the next century will be about water" – a view echoed in reports by several organisations including the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

While some experts remain sceptical about the prospect of all-out wars being fought over water, there have been numerous reports of clashes between farmers and herds-people competing for productive land in the Lake Chad area.
Biodiversity too has been hit by the lake’s retreat. So has the region’s health situation.

"Due to the movement of people looking for food there is a high level of interaction, which complicates matters because of the high prevalence of HIV among Lake Chad inhabitants," says Ganduje. "The African Development Bank has come to our aid, and we are tackling this."

Little can be done at the regional level about climate change, which is attacking the lake on two fronts – reducing the rainfall that feeds it, and accelerating evaporation of its waters due to higher temperatures. Its shallowness for such a major water body makes it particularly vulnerable to these attacks.
It is a grim situation, but not a hopeless one. The other half of the problem, over-extraction, can be tackled locally.

"We are optimistic," says Ganduje. "We are regulating the use of Lake Chad water. We are drawing up a charter so everyone has common rules and regulations in the use of water.

"We are also controlling activities on the tributaries to Lake Chad, such as the construction of dams and irrigation activities. We are controlling human behaviour in response to other factors that are outside of our control."
This confidence is justified in part by growing understanding of the need for a response.

"There is recognition of the need for new management strategies to be put into place," says Salman. "The most common conclusion of studies on the lake’s shrinkage is that it is due to both human pressure on water resources and on climate change. A solution should be possible.

"There needs to be optimum use of the waters in each sector, up-scaling water conservation and small-scale agricultural technologies for more efficient irrigation. Awareness about use of the waters is important as well, so people cut down."

The LCBC also has high hopes of an ambitious plan to replenish the lake to its 1960s levels by diverting water from the Oubangui River, which is the major tributary to the Congo River.

"The feasibility study has started and a fund has been set up," says Ganduje. "The heads of state are confident of progress. If the feasibility study is positive, we believe we have the political support required."

The FAO says it does not have a position on whether the transfer project should go ahead, although it has called for very careful consideration of its impact, including that on the Congo River system. What it views as key is the presentation of concrete plans to save the lake, so donors can be badgered into committing to a cause that is crucial to millions of people .

"There is a strategic action plan for the sustainable development of Lake Chad, but to translate that into action we need an investment plan," says Salman. "We need more meetings of donors to get them to commit and make good those commitments through investment. The good news is that there is a consensus on the need for action."

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