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Articles Posted in the Green News category

Call for action: sign up for Earth Hour

March 24, 2009
Posted in Green News

In four days, on Saturday March 28, lights will be switched off for an hour all over the world at 8.30pm as a sign of support for our overexploited Earth. This year one of the aims of the WWF’s Earth Hour is to send a petition of 1-billion names to the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen in December. It is at this meeting that the countries of the world will agree (we hope) to an international response to climate change.

By signing up for the WWF’s Earth Hour campaign you add your name to a global call for effective action to combat climate change.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon said that Earth Hour promised to be “the largest demonstration of public concern about climate change ever attempted”.

“Earth Hour is a way for citizens of the world to send a clear message.
They want action on climate change.”

So now is your chance to make yourself heard. All you need to do to add your name to this call is to go to the Earth Hour website and sign up. And then on Saturday at 8.30pm, switch off you lights for an hour. Use the time to have a cosy candle-lit dinner or lie on a blanket outside and look at the stars.

Earth Hour started in Australia in 2007, when 2.2-million people and more than 2,100 businesses switched off their lights in Sydney for an hour. Energy consumption reportedly dropped by 10.2 percent for the period – the equivalent of taking 48,000 cars off the road for a year, says the WWF. In 2008, 50-million people around the world switched off their lights for Earth Hour. This year the WWF hopes to reach 1-billion people in 1,000 cities around the world.

In South Africa, an official WWF Earth Hour celebration will be held at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. The Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra will be among the entertainment lined up and mayor Helen Zille will switch off Table Mountain’s lights for the occasion.

In Johannesburg, an Earth Hour party is planned for Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton.

For more information on Earth Hour in South Africa go to the Earth Hour website.

Treevolution’s new, improved newsletter

March 20, 2009
Posted in Green News

newsletterToday we launch a new way to keep up to date with environmental news and issues. In addition to the regular news headlines, newsletter subscribers can now also download an extra electronic newsletter. This newsletter, in PDF format, goes beyond just Treevolution’s weekly headlines and looks at issues in a little more detail. We’ve designed it to be both easy to read onscreen and printed out (if you must). Read more

Study links ozone to higher death risk

March 12, 2009
Posted in Green News

Los Angeles smog by Infinite Wilderness licensed under Creative Commons licence

We normally think of ozone in connection with the hole in the atmosphere that’s letting in ultraviolet radiation and increasing the risk of skin cancers. When it’s in the upper atmosphere, ozone is beneficial to us. But when we breathe it in at ground level, it’s not. A new US study has found that long-term exposure to ground-level ozone, a major component of smog, is associated with an increased risk of death from respiratory ailments.

Ground level ozone is formed through a complex chemical reaction in sunlight between nitrogen oxides (NOx), commonly spewed from vehicle exhausts, and industrial factory emissions.

To analyse the risk of death for both ozone and fine particulate matter, two of the most prevalent components of air pollution, researchers followed nearly 450,000 people in 96 metropolitan regions in the United States for two decades, according to the University of California, Berkeley. Michael Jerrett, UC Berkeley associate professor of environmental health sciences, led the study.

The researchers found that people living in areas with the highest concentrations of ozone, such as Los Angeles, had a 25 to 30 percent greater annual risk of dying from respiratory diseases compared with people from regions with the lowest levels of the pollutant.

“This is the first time we’ve been able to connect chronic exposure to ozone, one of the most widespread pollutants in the world, with the risk of death,” said Jerrett.

“Previous research has connected short-term or acute ozone exposure to impaired lung function, aggravated asthma symptoms, increased emergency room visits and hospitalisations, but the impact of long-term exposure to ozone on mortality had not been pinned down until now.”

The study found that for every 10 parts-per-billion (ppb) increase in ozone level, there is a 4 percent increase in risk of death from respiratory causes, primarily pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“World Health Organisation data indicate that about 240,000 people die each year from respiratory causes in the US,” said Jerrett. “Even a 4 percent increase can translate into thousands of excess deaths each year. Globally, some 7.7 million people die from respiratory causes, so worldwide the impact of ozone pollution could be very large.”

The study is published in the March 12 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Source: UC Berkely

Coastal cities under threat from rising sea levels

March 11, 2009
Posted in Green News

Image: Greeland glacier, Nasa/Wallops

Sea level could rise by a metre or more by the end of the century, according new science presented yesterday at the International Scientific Congress on Climate Change in Copenhagen. This has disastrous implications for the 10 percent of the world’s population, or 600-million people, living in low-lying areas in danger of being flooded.

The new estimates are higher than those in the 2007 assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which projected a sea level rise of 18 to 59 centimetres. Scientists at the Copenhagen meeting said that it looked increasingly unlikely that sea level rise would be much less than 50cm by 2100.

Rob Bailey, Oxfam’s climate change policy advisor, said: “These startling new predictions on sea level rise spell disaster for millions of the world’s poorest people. Poor coastal communities in countries such as Bangladesh are already struggling to cope with a changing climate and it can only get worse.

“This must be a wake-up call for rich countries are not doing anywhere near enough to prevent these cataclysmic predictions becoming a reality. Rich countries, who created the climate crisis, must cut their emissions from 1990 levels by at least 40 percent by 2020 and provide the $50-billion that is the minimum needed each year to help the world’s poorest people adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change,” said Bailey.

Dr John Church of the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, told the Copenhagen conference: “The most recent satellite and ground-based observations show that sea-level rise is continuing to rise at 3mm/yr or more since 1993, a rate well above the 20th-century average. The oceans are continuing to warm and expand, the melting of mountain glacier has increased and the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are also contributing to sea level rise.”

“Unless we undertake urgent and significant mitigation actions, the climate could cross a threshold during the 21st century committing the world to a sea level rise of metres,” said Dr Church.

Eric Rignot, professor of earth system science at the University of California Irvine and senior research scientist at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said: “The numbers from the last IPCC are a lower bound because it was recognised at the time that there was a lot of uncertainty about ice sheets. The numerical models used at the time did not have a complete representation of outlet glaciers and their interactions with the ocean. The results gathered in the last two to three years show that these are fundamental aspects that cannot be overlooked. As a result of the acceleration of outlet glaciers over large regions, the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are already contributing more and faster to sea level rise than anticipated. If this trend continues, we are likely to witness sea level rise one metre or more by year 2100.”

Measurements around the world show that sea level has risen almost 20 centimetres since 1880, said Professor Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. These data also show that the rate of sea level rise is closely linked to temperature: sea level rises faster the warmer it gets.

“If sea level keeps rising at a constant pace, we will end up in the middle of that 18-59 cm IPCC range by 2100,” said Prof Rahmstorf. “But based on past experience I expect that sea level rise will accelerate as the planet gets hotter.”

According to Dr Church, “Sea level is currently rising at a rate that is above any of the model projections of 18 to 59 cm.”

“Different groups may come to slightly different projections, but differences in the details of the projections should not cloud the overall picture where even the lower end of the projections looks to have very serious effects,” says Konrad Steffen, director of the Co-operative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

And South Africa?

Last year the City of Cape Town announced that it had commissioned an in-depth study of the implications of sea-level rise on the city. With 307km of coastline the city is particularly vulnerable to a rise in sea level and an increase in the frequency of storm events predicted as a result of climate change.

According to Gregg Oelofse of the city’s strategy and planning department: “Impacts will be experienced across key service infrastructure such as wastewater treatment works, stormwater pipelines, electricity grids and substations as well as roads and rail routes. In addition, residential property and recreational amenities located in the coastal areas are particularly vulnerable.”

The study aimed to identify the risks so the city could begin to plan adaptation and mitigation strategies to minimise the implications of climate change. What did arise from the study was that if the City of Cape Town did not proactively address climate change the consequences could be severe.

According to a report in the Sunday Times last year, Durban has initiated a climate change programme and other South African coastal cities such as Port Elizabeth and East London may also.

Sources: University of Copenhagen, Oxfam, City of Cape Town, The Times.

Footage of Greenland ice melt

March 11, 2009
Posted in Green News

This amazing footage of meltwater gushing down into a bottomless pit in a glacier in Greeland was shot for a Discovery Channel series called Ways to Save the Planet. Dr Jason Box, a glaciologist, and a colleague are seen risking their lives to measure the flow of water into the moulin – another name for a hole or crevasse in a glacier into which water from the surface flows. Box and his team found that 42-million litres of water a day drained down this particular moulin. Glaciers are the epicentre of global warming, he says.

[Via: Telegraph.co.uk]

Coen brothers do ‘clean coal’ parody ad

March 10, 2009
Posted in Green News

Joel and Ethan Coen – the filmmaking brothers known for such off-beat greats as Fargo, No Country for Old Men, The Hudsucker Proxy and many more – have brought their dark humour to a television ad for an environmental group campaigning against “clean coal” (see above), the Reality Coalition. The coalition is a project of the Alliance for Climate Protection, of which Al Gore is the chairman of the board.

Week that was – March 8 2009

March 8, 2009
Posted in Green News

More than 700 delegates from government, business, labour, academia and civil society got together to discuss South Africa’s climate change policy this week in Midrand, north of Johannesburg. Designed to “translate political will and the best available scientific evidence into policy and action”, the summit was the start of a participatory process that will culminate in a policy White Paper on climate change by 2010 and a legislative, regulatory and fiscal package by 2012.

But first a draft document that will set out “slightly more than the skeleton” of a climate change policy will be produced by August This will be consulted widely and inform what South Africa takes into the international climate negotiations in Copenhagen in December.

Renewable energy and energy efficiency comprised a strong theme coming out of the conference. The minister of environmental affairs and tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, said in a statement that “early gains can be achieved by massively up-scaling our efforts in respect of energy efficiency and renewable energy”.

But the country’s energy mix was a hotly contested issue. Coal accounts for more than 90 percent of electricity at present – but Cabinet will have the final say on whether coal’s role in the energy mix will decrease. And more technical work and a policy process that allows all views to be expressed is needed before a Cabinet decision can be made, Joanne Yawitch, a deputy director-general in the department of environmental affairs and tourism, told the media.

South African President Kgalema Motlanthe said that acting now on climate change is an opportunity to overcome the global economic crisis by creating pro-poor jobs and sustainable green growth.

The impacts of climate change are already being felt in South Africa, the conference heard, so there needs to be a balance between adaptation and mitigation. Adaptation needs more attention and funding.

The minister of environmental affairs and tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, said that the summit far exceeded expectations. “I am encouraged by the strong resolve to meet the dual challenges of adaptation and mitigation by placing sustainable development and poverty eradication at the forefront. The strong consensus on making the transition to a climate resilient and low carbon economy and society will underpin our future work.”

A report from this week’s climate change conference said that Eskom may decide to build a solar thermal baseload plant later this year. Another developing country, China is about to start building its first solar thermal power station in Beijing this month, China Daily reports. The 1.5MW experimental station is expected to generate about 2.7-million kWh of electricity a year, enough to power at least 30,000 homes. The solar tower-type station, which will comprise 100 mirrors or heliostats which will redirect the suns rays to a receiver at the top of a 100m-high tower, will cost about 100-million yuan (R150-million). China plans to generate at least 150MW of power from solar thermal power stations by 2015, the report says. Full report

South Africa could get it’s third wind farm soon. According to a report in Engineering News, a 50MW wind farm has been proposed for the Western Cape town of St Helena Bay and the environmental impact assessment, which has reportedly been delayed for a year because of investor concerns, may start this month. David Chown of Genesis Eco-Energy, a Cape Town-based company said that once the National Energy Regulator (Nersa) announces its renewable energy feed-in tariffs, which it is expected to do at the end of this month, the company will be able to raise funding for the R850-million project. The 5.2MW Darling wind farm was officially launched last year and Eskom is building a 100MW wind farm in Koekenaap. All are in the Western Cape province. Full report

A new programme has been launched by the department of water affairs and forestry that will award municipalities with “Blue Drop Status” for having drinking water of excellent quality. If a town has Blue Drop status consumers will be secure in the knowledge that wastewater is managed and discharged in a sustainable, environmentally-acceptable manner, Bua News reports. Minister Lindiwe Hendricks said at the launch of the programme this week that towns would be able to use the prestigious Blue Drop Status to market themselves to both residents and tourists. She said assessments had been completed in various towns and their status would be made known soon.

Greenpeace Africa has called on the South African government not to allow two ships carrying plutonium mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel to enter its waters as they make their way from France to Japan. The shipment of about 1.8 tonnes of MOX fuel – enough to make 225 nuclear weapons – will round the Cape of Good Hope this month on two heavily armed ships protected by specially trained British forces, the environmental group says. “MOX shipments are simply not worth the risk, they are a major terror target and pose an enormous threat to the environment of all countries en route,” says Dr Rianne Teule, nuclear campaigner for Greenpeace International. [Greenpeace]

Sky picture by twoblueday licensed under a Creative Commons licence

Solar tower by chausinho licenses under a Creative Commons licence

Tap picture by chopr licensed under a Creative Commons licence

How we’re turning the ocean into plastic soup

March 5, 2009
Posted in Green News

In the late 1990s Charles Moore discovered a huge swath of plastic rubbish, “the size of two Texases”, in the Pacific Ocean. Discarded plastic accumulates there in an enormous slow whirlpool created by competing air currents known as the Pacific Gyre. Moore now carries out research on the plastic floating in the Pacific and tries to raise awareness about the problem through the Algalita Marine Research Foundation in California. The link above is a talk he gave in February on plastic pollution and it’s well worth watching.

Plastic is a petrochemical product and it never biodegrades, it photodegrades which means it is broken down into ever smaller pieces by sunlight over a very long period of time. Much of the plastic floating in the Pacific Gyre is in the form of small particles, so rather than a rubbish dump of floating bottles and bags, Moore describes it as a “plastic soup”.

A brochure on the foundation’s website says the following:

  • A disposable nappy can take 500 years to photodegrade
  • A plastic six-pack ring can take 400 years
  • A plastic bottle can take 450 years

The first synthetic plastic, Bakelite, was produced in 1907. So, in effect, 100 years’ worth of plastic has accumulated on Earth and it’s going to keep piling up unless we do something about it.

The Pacific ocean rubbish dump has a terrible effect on marine life. Many marine animals mistake floating plastics for food. Baby albatrosses have been found with bottle tops and other plastic rubbish in their stomachs, fed to them by their parents. Plastics eaten by turtles have blocked their intestines, making the animals float so they can’t dive for food, says the website. Animals also become entangled in fishing nets and line.

All that plastic in the ocean can also affect human health. According to the research foundation the plastic in the ocean absorbs pollutants such as PCBs and pesticides. Marine organisms eat the tiny bits of plastic and these pollutants accumulate in their tissues. In this way the pollutants enter the food chain and into the food we eat. And as a result, no fishmonger can guarantee you an organic wild fish, Moore says in the TED talk.

About 80 percent of the rubbish in the ocean originates on land, washing down storm water drains and rivers into the sea. So the moral of the story is: Use less plastic

There’s an interesting article here about a research trip with Moore’s foundation to the Pacific Gyre. It’s worth a look just to see Flyp Media’s stunning online magazine. The Algalita Research Foundation’s website is also a good place to learn more.

Is clean coal really an option?

March 5, 2009
Posted in Green News

Clean coal is a term that’s bandied about in South Africa as much as it is in the United States. But it’s hard to determine whether it’s real or just wishful thinking.

If you watch the clip from CNN above, it seems clean coal means different things to different people. Bruce Nilles of the Sierra Club, says that the coal industry uses the term clean coal to mean “anything that is built post-1970 regardless of the fact that it’s spewing out large amounts of carbon dioxide”.

Technology is the key to clean coal, it would appear. But does the technology that will prevent the world’s coal power plants from belching out greenhouses gases exist yet – and on a big enough scale? The CNN clip says that not one power station in the US is fitted with carbon capture technology yet. So how far away are we from actually seeing it being installed on the coal-to-liquid fuel plants and power stations here in South Africa? Then there’s also the matter of finding somewhere to store the carbon dioxide in perpetuity.

As a developing country, South Africa doesn’t have caps on its greenhouse gas emissions like the developed countries do under the Kyoto Protocol. Huge new coal power plants are being built here and some old ones are being brought out of mothballs and recommissioned to meet the growing demand for electricity. The reason we’re continuing down the coal path is that at present it appears to be the cheapest option. And the government has carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) down on its list of climate change mitigation options.

We already have a high per capita carbon footprint in this country (about 10 tons a year) because of our reliance on coal for energy and this is despite the fact that 30 percent of South Africans don’t have access to electricity. The country needs to be able to generate clean and affordable electricity to help raise these millions of people out of poverty.

So my question is: Will “clean coal” technology ever be able to do this – and even it it can, will it be too expensive for us people of the South to afford?

[CNN link from Adam of Twilight Earth on Twitter]

Climate change an opportunity for sustainable green growth, says President Motlanthe

March 4, 2009
Posted in Green News


Klipheuwel wind farm in the Western Cape. Pic by Warrenski licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0

Acting now on climate change is an opportunity to overcome the global economic crisis by creating pro-poor jobs and sustainable green growth, South Africa’s President Kgalema Motlanthe said in his opening address at the government’s Climate Change Summit 2009 in Midrand yesterday.

The four-day summit in Midrand is an opportunity for key stakeholders to discuss and agree the framework for a national climate change response strategy.

The climate change challenge in South Africa is ultimately about combating poverty, sustainable development and energy supply, the president said. It is poor communities who have contributed the least to climate change that will bear the brunt of the impacts, he said. The policy frameworks for a transition to a low-carbon economy are an insurance policy against the worst impacts of climate change.

The country’s emissions need to peak between 2020 and 2025, stabilise for the next decade and then start to decrease from mid-century but to do this the country needs a coherent strategy.

Marthinus van Schalkwyk, the minister of environmental affairs and tourism, said: “We cannot allow ourselves to dither at the point when action and implementation are most critical.”

Describing how much had changed since South Africa’s first national climate change summit four years ago, he said that although a great deal of progress had been made, the challenges had become more urgent.

Climate change is now one of the government’s foremost priorities and internationally the message is resounding that climate change is happening now and will get far worse unless we substantially reduce our greenhouse gas emissions immediately.

Action on climate change needs to be seen as an investment in the future, he said. The development of clean and renewable technologies is imperative and holds many opportunities for green investment and green jobs. “Today we know that if we continue without a carbon constraint we face the threat of border tax adjustments or trade sanctions from key trading partners and the destruction of thousands of jobs in the high-emitting trade exposed sectors.”

Thanks to the Long Term Mitigation Scenarios study released last year, South Africa is now aware that if the country does nothing to reduce its carbon emissions and continues on a business-as-usual path, its emissions, which are already relatively high by international standards, will quadruple by 2050 with potentially dire consequences.

He said that local industry must be prepared for a new era in which mandatory reporting of greenhouse gas emissions will become part of the regulatory landscape. The department of environment affairs and tourism “has initiated a process of developing greenhouse gas measurement monitoring and reporting regulations that will shift our work in this regard from a voluntary to a mandatory level”.

He said South Africa is willing to substantially deviate from its business-as-usual emissions trajectories, but the rich countries of the north must take the first steps with deep emissions cuts and financial and technical support for developing countries.

The world needs a strong, innovative, multilateral solution to climate change, said Beki Ntshalintshali, the deputy general secretary of Cosatu. Without that “the main victims of climate change will be the poor (as we have seen in the recent floods in KwaZulu-Natal and Soweto) and workers, particularly in developing countries.”

The challenges of poverty and climate change have to be tackled in a mutally reinforcing manner, he said.

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