November 30, 2005

If a coalition of developing countries has its way, there could soon be new forests sprouting up in tropical regions. The group of ten countries, led by Papua New Guinea, has proposed that wealthy countries pay them to preserve their rainforests. Since forests absorb atmospheric carbon as they grow and release carbon as they are cut or degraded, the coalition seeks compensation for the amount of carbon locked up by their forests. Focusing specifically on the value of carbon sequestration the coalition could be talking a lot of money. At the current going rate of $20 for a one-ton unit of carbon dioxide, the forests of Bolivia, Central African Republic, Chile, Congo, Costa Rica, Democratic Republic of Congo, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Papua New Guinea are worth around $1.1 trillion for their carbon sequestration alone. Of course the forests offer a great deal more value through the other, less measurable services they provide including fisheries protection, biodiversity preservation, erosion and flood control, recreation and tourism value, harvest of renewable products, and water services.

November 29, 2005

At the climate change conference in Montreal, IUCN warned that a 2-degree rise in global temperatures could have a devastating impact causing massive species extinctions and dramatic changes in ecosystems.

Scientists working with ice cores from Antarctica confirmed that temperatures in the past are closely correlated with atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations.

November 28, 2005

At this week's United Nations summit on climate change in Montreal a coalition of tropical developing countries plans to propose that wealthy countries pay them to preserve their rainforests. The group of 10 countries, led by Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica, will argue that they should be compensated for the services rainforests provide the rest of the world. profiled Brazil's vulnerability to climate change, noting that its biologically diverse ecosystems are of particular concern. also looks at why carbon emissions trading will not solve deforestation in the Amazon.

November 27, 2005

Many popular tropical freshwater aquarium fish originate in the world's tropical rainforests. The Amazon Basin is a particularly rich source of fish -- 5000 species are estimated to be swimming in its many streams, rivers, and lakes. This fall I traveled to the Peruvian Amazon and examined habitats for freshwater fish. As a result of this effort, two new "biotope" descriptions have been posted on the site: Amazon oxbow lake biotope and Amazon stream biotope. The descriptions include underwater photographs for those interested in replicating the natural conditions of these habitats.

November 26, 2005

Carbon stored in Canada's boreal forests and peatlands is worth $3.7 trillion according to research by the Pembina Institute for the Canadian Boreal Initiative. The two-year study puts the value of ecosystem services like water filtration, pest-control services, and carbon storage at $93 billion -- roughly 2.5 times greater than the net market value of forestry, hydroelectric, mining, and oil and gas extraction in Canada's Boreal region.

November 25, 2005

Two noteworthy climate change articles appeared in this week's Science. One reported that global ocean levels are rising twice as fast today as they were 150 years ago, based on core samples of sediments along the New Jersey coast. The other, using Antarctic ice cores, says that carbon dioxide levels are now 27 percent higher than at any point in the last 650,000 years. Finally, another article in Science announced the discovery of a musical iceberg in Antarctica.

November 24, 2005

Rising ocean levels will inundate low-lying islands and spawn environmental refugees says a Reuters article. Earlier this year the UN forcast that some 50 million people could became environmental refugees by 2010, driven from their homes by desertification, rising sea levels, flooding and storms linked to climate change.

November 23, 2005

Goldman Sachs became the first global investment bank to adopt a comprehensive environmental policy. The policy acknowledges the scientific consensus on climate change and calls for urgent action by public policy makers and federal regulators to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The firm further agrees to promote green building standards and sustainable wood certification.

Palm oil will soon be produced without threatening tropical forests according to WWF. Palm oil plantations in southeast Asia have resulted in large-scale clearing of primary forests in Malaysia and Indonesia.

November 22, 2005

Britain is the biggest importer of illegally-logged timber in Europe, responsible for the destruction of 1.4 million acres of forest a year according to a new report by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature.

The FAO says 203 million people are malnourished in sub-Saharan Africa, a 19% increase in the number of hungry over the past decade. In Madagascar, UN agencies are supporting famine relief efforts.

November 21, 2005

A week after a Brazilian environmentalist died after self-immolation in a protest against the construction of alcohol factories in the Pantanal marsh region, WWF called for the restructuring of a planned infrastructure project that threatens the sensitive ecosystem.

November 20, 2005

Fluorescent patches on the wings of African swallowtail butterflies work in a very similar, but more efficient way to high emission light emitting diodes (LEDs) used in electronic equipment and displays, according to University of Exeter research published in Science.

Two large solar projects in the desert of California could boost industrial-scale development of solar technology according to an article in The Wall Street Journal.

November 19, 2005

Fish are increasingly threatened by the effects of climate change as temperatures rise in rivers, lakes and oceans, says a new WWF report. It says that hotter water means less food, less offspring and even less oxygen for marine and freshwater fish populations. Meanwhile, a researcher in Australia said that freshwater ecosystems in that country will be threatened as much by the human response to climate change as by climate change itself.

A study released in late October shows that areas buffered by coastal forests, like mangroves, were less damaged by the 2004 tsunami than areas without tree vegetation. Last week the FAO reported that 20% of the world's mangrove forests have disappeared since 1980.

November 18, 2005

Revised deforestation figures from FAO show that Nigeria, not Cambodia, suffered the highest rate of forest loss between 2000 and 2005. During that period, the West African country lost 55.7 percent of its primary forests, mostly due to logging, fuelwood collection, and subsistence agriculture. FAO gave no reason for the revision.

Climate climate will result in costly disruptions to water supply and resource management systems according to new research by scientists at UCSD, the University of Washington, and USGS. The simulations, presented in Nature predict increased water runoff in eastern equatorial Africa, the La Plata basin and high latitude North America and Eurasia. They forecast declining water availability in southern Africa, southern Europe, the Middle East and mid-latitude western North America. Yesterday Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, unveiled a prototype of a cheap and rugged $100 laptop for children, as part of the UN's goal of giving poor communities access to the benefits of information technologies and networks.

November 17, 2005

Australia's Great Barrier Reef could lose 95 percent of its living coral by 2050 should ocean temperatures increase by the 1.5 degrees Celsius projected by climate scientists. The startling and controversial prediction, made last year in a report commissioned by the World Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Queensland government, is just one of the dire scenarios forecast for reefs in the near future. The degradation and possible disappearance of these ecosystems would have profound socioeconomic ramifications as well as ecological impacts.

Developed countries, taken as a group, have cut greenhouse gas emissions 5.9% compared to the 1990 levels according to a new publication from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat. However the figures are misleading because of the large reduction in emissions from Eastern Europe, where the transition towards a market economy has shuttered many of the worst polluting industries.

November 16, 2005

Cambodia has the world's highest deforestation rate, Brazil loses the largest area of forest annually, Congo consumes more bushmeat than any other tropical country, and, in the United States, old growth forests are being replaced by "modified natural," "seminatural," and plantation forests. These are among the findings from further analysis of new deforestation figures from the United Nations. The data, released Monday, show that some 13 million hectares of the world's forests are still lost each year, including 6 million hectares of primary forests. Also see new country deforestation tables.

November 15, 2005

Continued increases in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere from the combustion of fossil fuels could trigger large-scale changes in global biodiversity and require thousands of years of recovery according to recent research on an extreme global warming episode 55 million years ago.

A Brazilian environmentalist has died after self-immolation in a protest against the construction of alcohol factories in the Pantanal marsh region. The 65-year-old Francisco Anselmo de Barros wrapped himself in an alcohol-soaked blanket and set it on fire during a protest Saturday in Campo Grande, 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) northwest of Rio de Janeiro.

Madagascar's first inhabitants probably hunted the island's largest animals to extinction according to research published in the November issue of the Journal of Human Evolution.

November 14, 2005

Traditionally, the passenger pigeon has been held as one of the more beloved animal species to fall prey to humankind's disregard for the natural world and its creatures. Once abundant, the bird experienced a rapid decline in the late 1800s, due almost entirely to rampant hunting, and the last passenger pigeon died in 1914. In light of new findings however, this image of a naturally plentiful species laid to waste by man is now being tested. Evidence collected over the past few years from a significant number of Native American archeological sites is beginning to upset long-accepted beliefs about one of the most famous extinct species in modern history.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations today released its assessment of world's forests showing that some 13 million hectares of the world's forests -- an area the size of Panama -- are lost each year. FAO claims that forest loss has slowed since the 1990-2000 period, but analysis of the numbers shows that FAO is using industrial plantations to offset deforestation figures for natural forests. Further, many groups see the FAO figures as heavily flawed since they define forest as being an area with as little as 10% actual tree cover and rely on figures provided not by objective third party sources, but by governments that have incentives to manipulate forest cover numbers.

November 13, 2005

In the tropical forests of Guatemala, poor rural farmers and loggers are battling environmentalists, archaeologists, and Mel Gibson over the establishment of a 525,000-acre Mayan national park.

November 12, 2005

Researchers from the University of Zurich have named a newly discovered species of lemur after British comedian John Cleese in honor of his work with the primates from Madagascar.

20% of the world's mangrove forests have disappeared since 1980 according to a new study by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

November 11, 2005

Peru is one of the world's most biodiverse countries. More than 1800 species of birds, 464 mammal species, and 4000 types of butterflies are found its many ecosystems ranging from lowland tropical rainforests of the Amazon to the glacial peaks of the Andes. The country was also the center of the advanced Inca civilization which, despite its short existence, made lasting contributions in architecture, agriculture, astronomy, and political organization. I have recently returned from a visit to this beautiful land. Here are some pictures of Peru.

The House leadership dropped its plan to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as part of the budget bill. 22 Republican Congressmen said they would vote against the budget if it meant drilling in the wildlife refuge.

November 10, 2005

A conference meeting in Nairobi, Kenya is seeking to establish stronger African science academies in an effort to build scientific expertise on the continent.

The Army Corps of Engineers and the state of Louisiana lack an overall plan for restoring coastal wetlands, says a new report from the National Academy of Sciences. Scientists say the loss of coastal marshlands that buffer New Orleans from flooding and storm surges may have worsened the impact of Hurricane Katrina.

November 9, 2005

A coalition of conservation groups filed a complaint against the White House for delaying protection of hundreds of wildlife species as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, leaving 283 plants and animals on a perpetual candidate waiting list. According to the suit, since passage of the Act, at least 24 candidate species have gone extinct waiting for protection.

A gigantic ape, measuring about 10 feet tall and weighing up to 1,200 pounds, co-existed alongside humans according to new research by a geochronologist at McMaster University. Jack Rink, associate professor of geography and earth sciences at McMaster, has determined that Gigantopithecus blackii, the largest primate that ever lived, roamed southeast Asia for nearly a million years before the species died out 100,000 years ago.

November 8, 2005

The International Energy Agency (EIA) released a report projecting that global greenhouse gas emissions will rise by 52% by 2030, unless the world takes action to reduce energy consumption. Further, the IEA says that oil prices will rise "substantially" unless there is extra investment -- $20.3 trillion in fresh facilities by 2030 -- in oil facilities.

90% of the tropical forest in L·zaro C·rdenas, Aquila y Coahuayana -- municipalities in the state of Michoac·n, Mexico -- has been destroyed according to an article in Cambio de Michoac·n. Cattle ranching, mining, and the harvesting of precious wood are blamed as the principle causes behind the forest loss.

November 7, 2005

Rabid vampire bats killed 23 people and attacked more than 1,000 Brazilian officials confirmed last week. The bats have been displaced from their normal rain forest environment by worsening deforestation in the region.

November 6, 2005

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has issued a response to a study that found selective logging in the Amazon is highly destructive. The research, conducted by scientists from the Carnegie Institution at Stanford University, was published in Science last month. FAO argues that selective logging is not necessarily destructive and can be done with low impact on the remaining forests, if the proper techniques are applied.

Financial institutions are buying up millions of acres of forest land for development across the United States, New Zealand, and South America according to an article in The Wall Street Journal. Since 1994, nearly $30 billion of American forest land has come under control of financial investors, a six-fold increase. Environmental implications of the land transfer may prove significant.

November 5, 2005

The government of Papua New Guinea announced that it will create 12 new protected areas covering some of the country's most biologically diverse forests, wetlands and coral reefs. Currently only 2.7 per cent of the country's land area and 0.07 per cent of its territorial waters are included in protected areas -- one of the lowest figures of protected area cover of any country in the world.

November 4, 2005

Ebay Inc. founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife, Pamela, have given $100 million in eBay stock to Tufts University to create a fund that will invest in microfinance. Microfinance, the practice of loaning small amounts of money to people who are often too poor to qualify for conventional lending, is increasingly seen as a promising means to help the world's poorest people. Supporters argue that microfinance can fund microenterprises that generate broad-based, long-term economic growth opportunities in developing countries.

U.S. companies are unknowingly importing illegal Honduran wood, contributing to deforestation, corruption and poverty in the Latin American country, according to a yearlong undercover investigation by the Center for International Policy and the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

November 3, 2005

Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory estimate that should fossil fuel consumption continue at its current pace, ocean sea levels will rise by more than 20 feet (seven meters) and median air temperatures will increase 14.5 degrees.

Harvard Medical School, in conjunction with Swiss Re and the United Nations Development Programme, released a study showing that climate change will significantly affect the health of humans and ecosystems. The study reports that the insurance industry will be at the center of this issue, absorbing risk and helping society and business to adapt and reduce new risks.

A new survey by the UN found that Africa's lakes are disappearing. African lakes have the largest water volume of any continent in the world.

November 2, 2005

The economic benefits of protecting a rainforest reserve outweigh the costs of preserving it says a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A cost-benefit analysis of Mabira Forest Reserve in southern Uganda found that rainforest conservation was economically viable despite intense pressures to exploit the forest for timber harvesting, fuelwood, charcoal production, and agricultural development. The research suggests rainforest parks can play an important economic role in rural communities.

November 1, 2005

Research released earlier this month in Science found that Brazil's Amazon rain forest is being degraded twice as fast as deforestation figures suggest. Selective logging, where only one or two valuable tree species are harvested from an area, is driving the forest degradation. The findings have important implications for "sustainable harvesting" schemes that have been promoted as ecologically-sound alternatives to traditional harvesting techniques.