From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #925, Sep. 20, 2007
THE COAL INDUSTRY IS IN DEEP TROUBLE
By Peter Montague
Big Coal is in deep trouble and wants Congress to provide a massive federal bailout. Since the beginning of 2006 at least two dozen new coal-fired electric power plants have been canceled, most for environmental reasons. As of May there were only 132 coal plants scheduled for construction nationwide, down from 137 in 2006, and even this number will likely dwindle. A small but effective citizens' movement has managed to box in Big Coal.
Last week Alan Greenspan, the nation's financial elder statesman, acknowledged that the Iraq war "is largely about oil." Big Coal is hoping instability in the Middle East will spook Congress into a $10 billion subsidy for 10 or more coal-to-liquid (CTL) plants, to make diesel fuel from coal instead of from oil. Coal-to-liquid (CTL) is Big Coal's best hope for remaining viable, but the chances of success grow dimmer each passing day.
As recently as 2004, the coal industry seemed invincible. But since then the threat of global warming has produced a scientific consensus, which has begun to produce a political consensus. 'Ban coal' is becoming a popular slogan.
** U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) has announced he opposes the construction of any new coal plants: "There's not a coal-fired plant in America that's clean. They're all dirty," Reid told reporters recently. "Unless we do something quickly about global warming, we're in trouble," he said.
** Some states have begun to force utilities to consider renewable energy sources. For example, in June the bi-partisan Florida Public Service Commission rejected a proposal from Florida Power and Light to build a coal-fired electric plant. Florida's Republican governor Charlie Crist said approvingly that the Public Service Commission's decision "sent a very powerful message" and that Florida "should look to solar and wind and nuclear as alternatives to the way we've generated power in the Sunshine State."
** In January the California Public Utilities Commission voted 4-0 to prohibit the state's three big electric companies from entering into long-term contracts with sources that emit more carbon dioxide than a modern natural gas plant. This means no coal.
** Colorado has a new law requiring its rural electric coops to get 10% of their electricity from renewable sources. And in July environmental groups in Montana sued to stop the U.S. Agriculture Department's Rural Utilities Service from giving hundreds of millions of dollars in low-cost loans to rural electric cooperatives to build a huge coal-fired plant to supply electricity to Missoula, Montana and to sell excess electricity far and wide. The case could have important consequences because rural electric coops rely on coal for 80% of their power and many have been planning new plants subsidized by low- cost government loans.
** The Sierra Club is asking U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reconsider all air permits issued to coal-burning plants because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that carbon dioxide is a pollutant that must be regulated under the Clean Air Act. The Supreme Court ruling created great uncertainty about the future of carbon dioxide regulation -- and investors dislike uncertainty more than anything else. Who knows? Perhaps the Supreme Court ruling will create some new liabilities among major carbon dioxide emitters. Coal plants emit more than a third of the nation's total carbon dioxide each year.
** The Washington Post reported September 4 that, "In July, Citigroup coal analysts downgraded the stocks of coal companies across the board." "Prophesies of a new wave of coal-fired generation have vaporized, while clean coal technologies... remain a decade away, or more," Citigroup said.
** In late August U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it is reconsidering whether to label coal ash a "hazardous waste." In 2000 EPA had decided not to apply the "hazardous" label to coal ash, but since that time the agency has discovered what many already knew, that groundwater beneath coal ash piles can become contaminated with dangerous levels of arsenic, thallium, and other toxic materials.
** EPA itself has also proposed new air regulations that would require utilities to capture more of the "fly ash" that presently flies out the smokestack -- and any captured ash must be buried in the ground somewhere. The electric utility industry presently captures roughly 120 million tons of toxic ash each year. About 38 percent of it is presently "recycled" into highways and other concrete construction projects (on the old, mistaken assumption that "dilution is the solution to pollution") but EPA's proposed new air regulations would require the addition of chemicals to the ash, making it unsuitable for use in construction. It will have to be buried in a big hole in the ground, where it will almost certainly contaminate groundwater sooner or later.
** Big Coal played a crucial role in getting George Bush elected, and Mr. Bush is loyal to a fault. The President has said he wants the nation to adopt "alternative energy" -- being careful not to say "renewable energy." Coal fits the President's definition of "alternative" energy.
The administration in August proposed to weaken the already-weak regulation of coal mining in Appalachia, but citizen groups there have promised a major fight. In Appalachia, jobs in the coal mines are being steadily replaced by machines, and the up-and-coming industry is tourism. In Appalachia, coal companies employ a mining technique called "mountain top removal," which is incompatible with a growing tourist industry. As the name implies, whole mountains are blasted into rubble with high explosive and then gigantic machines shovel the millions of tons of broken rock and soil into adjacent valleys and streams. In Appalachia between 1985 and 2001, 724 miles of streams were buried beneath mine rubble, and 400,000 acres of forest were destroyed. By 2018 the destruction will have doubled in size. Mr. Bush's lax new federal mining rules were written initially by Deputy Secretary of the Interior Stephen J. Griles, a former mining industry lobbyist who is now relaxing in a federal prison for lying to a Senate Committee.
** Coal can readily be turned into diesel fuel or jet fuel (though not into gasoline). Reliable coal-to-liquid (CTL) technology was developed in 1925 by German chemists and it provided half of Nazi German's military fuel during World War II. Unfortunately, the German process uses 5 to 7 gallons of water for each gallon of fuel it produces -- and in the U.S. much of the nation's coal lies beneath semi-arid lands in Montana and Wyoming where water is particularly precious.
Worse yet, the German process (known as Fischer-Tropsch) produces twice as much carbon dioxide per unit of energy, compared to diesel made from petroleum. From a global warming perspective, investing in coal-to-liquid plants could be a serious mistake, and Wall Street knows it. CTL plants are having trouble finding financing.
On paper, the coal industry has a plan for dealing with its massive carbon dioxide emissions. The plan -- or, more accurately, the hope -- is to "capture" the carbon dioxide and "permanently store" it deep in the earth. But our civilization has been down this road before -- we built 438 nuclear power plants worldwide without any solid idea where to "permanently store" the radioactive wastes. Almost 70 years into the nuclear enterprise, scientists still don't even have a consistent definition of "permanent storage."
If we pretend to have a "permanent" solution to the carbon dioxide problem only to discover in 100 years that our solution was full of holes, the earth will heat up rapidly, perhaps even becoming uninhabitable. Do we really want to gamble the future of humanity and of the planet on untested (and essentially untestable) schemes for "permanently" storing carbon in old oil fields, beneath the ocean, or in deep mine shafts? Have humans ever engineered anything that could be considered permanent?
** Big Coal does have one solid plan: they are spending tens of millions of dollars buying the support of representatives and senators in Congress. Big Coal is banking on the U.S. military to jump-start the coal-to-liquids (CTL) industry and thus salvage the future of Big Coal. If the CTL industry could get off the ground, U.S. coal consumption could increase from 1.2 billion tons in 2006 to 2.2 billion tons in 2030, according to Peabody Coal Company, the nation's largest coal producer. Peabody knows what it wants: if CTL gets going, the value of the company's coal reserves will increase 10-fold.
Unfortunately for Peabody, the military buys much of its fuel overseas, so a domestic CTL industry might be of limited use to them. Perhaps a military petroleum reserve makes better sense from a defense perspective. "Right now, coal-to-liquids looks to me to be pretty darn low on the reasonable list of alternatives," says James Woolsey, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, who is part of a study team examining the Pentagon's energy options.
CTL plants are expensive. The industry estimates that building an 80,000-barrel-per-day coal-to-liquids refinery would cost $7 to $9 billion, compared with less than $2 billion to build a similar-size petroleum refinery. Despite endless lip service to "free markets," Wall Street investors are not going to gamble such large sums without a substantial return guaranteed by the government. Long-term contracts to sell expensive fuel to the Air Force is what the CTL industry has in mind. Presently the Air Force is prohibited from making contracts longer than 5 years -- so Congress would have to extend that to at least 20 years (and then come up with additional subsidies, loan guarantees, and price supports) to kick-start the CTL industry. In Congress, it is Democrats who are most keen to subsidize the CTL industry, the New York Times reports.
** A massive study of the coal-to-liquids, released by a team at M.I.T. last March [7 Mbytes PDF] estimated that it would take an investment of at least $70 billion to build enough plants to replace 10 percent of American gasoline consumption. And the M.I.T. team pointed out that past cost estimates of CTL plants have been "wildly optimistic." All this makes Wall Street investors nervous. They don't want more blather about free markets. They want substantial gains guaranteed by government.
** Virginia is a coal state, but a June 5 editorial in the Roanoke Times, titled, "Billion-Dollar Boondoggle" said, "The National Coal Council, an industry-laden advisory board, painted an even bleaker picture. It estimated that a $211 billion investment would be needed over the next 20 years to replace 10 percent of current gasoline usage.
"More important, the council found that burning the same amount of coal to produce electricity to power plug-in hybrids would replace twice as much oil without generating nearly as much greenhouse gas."
** This summer the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) completed its report Carbon Free and Nuclear Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy. As the name implies, the report lays out a strategy for meeting the nation's energy needs without emitting carbon and without any nuclear power plants.
The existence of this new report shifts the burden of proof onto the energy corporations and the federal government to show why we need any new coal plants, any new oil refineries, or any more nuclear plants. Has your favorite presidential candidate take a position on this report?
It is apparent that, for the first time in years, Big Coal finds itself on the defensive. At this point, their only hope is a massive federal bailout to jump-start a new industry -- coal-to-liquids, or CTL. CTL is a dirty, expensive, -- and above all, unnecessary -- solution to the nation's need for liquid fuels. This seems like a political fight we can win -- if we can just keep the Democrats in Congress from making a pact with the devil.
From: Sacramento (Calif.) Bee
BREAST CANCER HAZARD RISING AS GIRLS ENTER PUBERTY EARLIER
By Dorsey Griffith, Bee Medical Writer
American girls are entering puberty at earlier ages, putting them at far greater risk for breast cancer later in life and for all sorts of social and emotional problems well before they reach adulthood.
Girls as young as 8 increasingly are starting to menstruate, develop breasts and grow pubic and underarm hair -- biological milestones that only decades ago typically occurred at 13 or older. African American girls are especially prone to early puberty.
Theories abound as to what is driving the trend, but the exact cause, or causes, is not known. A new report, commissioned by the San Francisco-based Breast Cancer Fund, has gathered heretofore disparate pieces of evidence to help explain the phenomenon -- and spur efforts to help prevent it.
"This is a review of what we know -- it's absolutely superb," said Dr. Marion Kavanaugh-Lynch, an oncologist and director of the California Breast Cancer Research Program in Oakland, which directs tobacco tax proceeds to research projects. "Having something like this document put together that discusses all the factors that influence puberty will advance the science and allow us to think creatively about new areas of study."
The stakes are high: "The data indicates that if you get your first period before age 12, your risk of breast cancer is 50 percent higher than if you get it at age 16," said the report's author, biologist Sandra Steingraber, herself a cancer survivor. "For every year we could delay a girl's first menstrual period, we could prevent thousands of breast cancers."
Kavanaugh-Lynch said most breast cancer cells thrive on estrogen, and girls who menstruate early are exposed to more estrogen than normally maturing girls.
Steingraber's paper, "The Falling Age of Puberty in U.S. Girls: What We Know, What We Need to Know," examines everything from obesity and inactivity to family stress, sexual imagery in media sources and accidental exposures of girls to chemicals that can change the timing of sexual maturation.
Steingraber concludes that early puberty could best be understood as an "ecological disorder," resulting from a variety of environmental hits.
"The evidence suggests that children's hormonal systems are being altered by various stimuli, and that early puberty is the coincidental, non-adaptive outcome," she writes.
Steingraber's report is being released amid growing national interest in how the environment contributes to disease, particularly cancer.
California is at the forefront of the research movement. Among the ongoing efforts:
** The California Environmental Contaminant Biomonitoring Program, a five-year, state-funded project, will measure chemical exposures in blood and urine samples from more than 2,000 Californians.
** The Bay Area Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Center, a federally funded project run by scientists at Kaiser Permanente and the University of California, San Francisco, is studying predictors of early puberty through monitoring of environmental exposures in more than 400 Bay Area girls over several years.
For years, parents, doctors and teachers have recognized the trend in early puberty among girls, with little information to explain it.
Dr. Charles Wibbelsman, a pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on adolescents, said he now routinely sees girls as young as 8 with breast development and girls as young as 9 who have started their periods. He said the phenomenon is most striking in African American girls.
"We don't think of third-graders as using tampons or wearing bras," he said. In fact, he said, pediatricians are having to adjust the way they do regular check-ups because the older approaches don't jibe with reality.
Steingraber acknowledges that some of the shift in girls' puberty is evolutionary, a reflection of better infectious disease control and improved nutrition, conditions that allow mammals to reproduce.
But since the mid-20th century, she said, other factors seem to have "hijacked the system" that dictates the onset of puberty.
Rising childhood obesity rates clearly play a role, she said, noting that chubbier girls tend to reach puberty earlier than thinner girls. Levels of leptin, a hormone produced by body fat, is one trigger for puberty, and leptin levels are higher in blacks than in other groups.
But obesity cannot alone be blamed for the shifts, she said. Steingraber's paper explored many other factors that likely play a role, including exposure to common household chemicals. And she cited findings that link early puberty with premature birth and low birth weight, formula feeding of infants and excessive television viewing and media use.
"My job was to put together a huge jigsaw puzzle," she said.
Steingraber also reported associations of early puberty with emotional and social problems. "The world is not a good place for early maturing girls," she said. "They are at higher risk of depression, early alcohol abuse, substance abuse, early first sexual encounter and unintended pregnancies."
The reasons for this may be related to the way these children are treated or because of the way puberty affects a child's judgment, she said.
"It's possible that developing an adult-style brain at age 10 instead of 14 makes you make decisions about your life that are not really in your best interest," she said.
Priya Batra, a women's health psychologist at Kaiser Permanente in Sacramento, said she's seen the effects on girls who "look like sexual beings before they are ready to be sexual beings," and counseled mothers worried about their daughters entering puberty too early.
"It's a stressful culture, and we have a lot of demands on children," she said. "It's hard when we add this other layer of early puberty."
From: Planet Ark
SCIENTISTS CALL FOR ALL-OUT EFFORT TO SAVE AMPHIBIANS
By Jeremy Lovell
LONDON -- Conservationists from around the world have declared 2008 the Year of the Frog to highlight their new campaign to save threatened amphibians from extinction.
The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) said on Friday that up to half of amphibian species could be wiped out in coming years through habitat loss and climate change -- the biggest mass extinction since dinosaurs disappeared.
"It's imperative that the world zoo and aquarium community plays an active role in working to save the planet's critically endangered amphibian species," said WAZA president Karen Sausman following the decision at a meeting in Budapest.
As part of the campaign, which needs to raise up to US$60 million in funding, WAZA also set up a petition calling on all governments to take action to beat the amphibian crisis and agreed to an Amphibian Ark captive breeding programme.
"It's both our obligation and our privilege to help these glorious animals. We invite all people around the world to help amphibians survive by signing our global petition and contributing to fund this initiative," Sausman added.
The programme will bring priority amphibian species into dedicated facilities at zoos, aquariums, and other institutions around the world for safekeeping and breeding.
The creatures will be released back into the wild when the original threats have been controlled.
WAZA, founded in 1946, is the umbrella organisation for 237 major zoos and aquariums as well as 24 regional or national federations representing a further 1,100 zoos and aquariums.
IUCN, the World Conservation Union, which is taking part in the Amphibian Ark programme, said 1,856 of the 5,743 known amphibian species were threatened with extinction.
WAZA, which hopes its petition will be signed by the millions of people who visit zoos and aquariums each year, appointed world renowned British naturalist David Attenborough as patron of the Year of the Frog.
"Without an immediate and sustained conservation effort to support captive management, hundreds of species of these wonderful creatures could become extinct in our own lifetime," he said.
"But implementation calls for financial and political support from all parts of the world."
From: Scientific American
PESTICIDE EXPOSURE TIED TO ASTHMA IN FARMERS
By Anthony J. Brown, MD
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) -- Exposure to several commonly used pesticides appears to increase the risk of asthma, US researchers report.
This finding stems from a study of nearly 20,000 farmers, which was presented Sunday at the European Respiratory Society Annual Congress in Stockholm.
Pesticide exposure is a "potential risk factor for asthma and respiratory symptoms among farmers," lead author Dr. Jane A. Hoppin, from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, told Reuters Health.
"Because grains and animals are more common exposures in agricultural settings, pesticides may be overlooked," Hoppin warned, adding: "Better education and training of farmers and pesticide handlers may help to reduce asthma risk."
Of the 19,704 farmers included in the study, 127 had self-reported (doctor diagnosed) allergic asthma and 314 had non-allergic asthma.
The main finding was that a history of high pesticide exposure was associated with a doubling of asthma risk, Hoppin noted. The link remained statistically significant after adjusting for a variety of potentially confounding factors including age, smoking, body weight, and state of residence.
Overall, 16 of the pesticides studied were associated with asthma: 12 with the allergic variety of asthma and 4 with the non-allergic type. Coumaphos, EPTC, lindane, parathion, heptachlor, and 2,4,5-TP were most strongly linked to allergic asthma. For non-allergic asthma, DDT, malathion, and phorate had the strongest effect.
"This is the first study with sufficient power to evaluate individual pesticides and adult asthma among individuals who routinely apply pesticides," Hoppin noted. Moreover, this is the only study to date to do this for allergic and non-allergic asthma separately, the researcher said.
Copyright 1996-2007 Scientific American, Inc.
From: Agence France Presse
GLOBAL WARMING WILL INCREASE INFECTIOUS DISEASE: STUDY
CHICAGO (AFP) -- Global warming likely will lead to an increase in infectious disease around the world, as viruses, microbes and the agents that spread them flourish, experts at a medical conference warned Tuesday.
The problem is already evident and has become particularly acute in just the past decade, according to researchers at a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.
"Years ago we probably would not be talking about this topic," said Anthony McMichael, lead scientist on a study entitled "The Impact of Climate Change on Human Health."
"Human-induced climate change... is proceeding a little bit faster than we would have expected," said McMichael, an epidemiologist at the University of Canberra in Australia.
Experts cite West Nile virus as a disease whose spread has been facilitated by global warming.
Native to Africa, West Nile can be found today throughout Canada and the United States, according to McMichael, who explained that a rise in North American temperatures since 1999 has allowed non-native mosquitoes that transmit the virus to thrive.
Jim Sliwa, spokesman for the American Society for Microbiology, underscored the potential health crisis posed by a rise in world temperatures.
"We know that climate change is going to change the pattern of infectious diseases," said Sliwa at the conference, which, with some 12,000 physicians and scientists, is billed as the world's biggest on disease-causing microbes.
For example, he said, "the malaria line in mountainous regions will continue to rise," as global average temperature increases.
McMichael also predicted a rise in the incidence of "year-round influenza" in the tropics.
Near the equator, he said "there is no influenza season, so as the temperature rises the tropical areas expand and we'll get more year- round influenza."
Climate change experts believe that the earth's temperature is likely to rise by 1.8-4.0 degrees Celsius by the year 2100.
Experts believe diseases worsened by global warming already have contributed to the deaths of between 150,000 and five million people per year.
In addition to an increase in diseases like malaria and dengue fever, global warming is likely heighten the incidence of diarrhea, heat waves, drought, floods and malnutrition.
To prevent a global warming drive health crisis, McMichael said, researchers will have to begin to think about the interconnectedness of climate and infectious diseases.
"We are going to have to think within larger integrated terms (and) employ a more ecological perspective," he said at the conference, which runs through Thursday.
However, McMichael said there are some areas where infectious disease may be less virulent as a result of global warming.
"In West Africa, for example, the rate of (malaria) is likely to decline, as future conditions are getting too hot and too dry for the mosquito," he said, adding that there has been a 25 percent decline in rainfall over the last three decades in the Sahara region of Africa.
"Sub-Saharan Africa almost certainly is in an early stage of a climate change process which we know is tending to displace rainfall systems," McMichael said.
Copyright 2007 AFP.
From: The Independent (London, England)
'TOO LATE TO AVOID GLOBAL WARMING,' SAY SCIENTISTS
By Cahal Milmo
A rise of two degrees centigrade in global temperatures -- the point considered to be the threshold for catastrophic climate change which will expose millions to drought, hunger and flooding -- is now "very unlikely" to be avoided, the world's leading climate scientists said yesterday.
The latest study from the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) put the inevitability of drastic global warming in the starkest terms yet, stating that major impacts on parts of the world -- in particular Africa, Asian river deltas, low-lying islands and the Arctic -- are unavoidable and the focus must be on adapting life to survive the most devastating changes.
For more than a decade, EU countries led by Britain have set a rise of two degrees centigrade or less in global temperatures above pre- industrial levels as the benchmark after which the effects of climate become devastating, with crop failures, water shortages, sea-level rises, species extinctions and increased disease.
Two years ago, an authoritative study predicted there could be as little as 10 years before this "tipping point" for global warming was reached, adding a rise of 0.8 degrees had already been reached with further rises already locked in because of the time lag in the way carbon dioxide -- the principal greenhouse gas -- is absorbed into the atmosphere.
The IPCC said yesterday that the effects of this rise are being felt sooner than anticipated with the poorest countries and the poorest people set to suffer the worst of shifts in rainfall patterns, temperature rises and the viability of agriculture across much of the developing world.
In its latest assessment of the progress of climate change, the body said: "If warming is not kept below two degrees centigrade, which will require the strongest mitigation efforts, and currently looks very unlikely to be achieved, the substantial global impacts will occur, such as species extinctions, and millions of people at risk from drought, hunger, flooding."
Under the scale of risk used by IPCC, the words "very unlikely" mean there is just a one to 10 per cent chance of limiting the global temperature rise to two degrees centigrade or less.
Professor Martin Parry, a senior Met Office scientist and co-chairman of the IPCC committee which produced the report, said he believed it would now be "very difficult" to achieve the target and that governments need to combine efforts to "mitigate" climate change by reducing CO2 emissions with "adaptation" to tackle active consequences such as crop failure and flooding.
Speaking at the Royal Geographical Society, he said: "Ten years ago we were talking about these impacts affecting our children and our grandchildren. Now it is happening to us."
"Even if we achieve a cap at two degrees, there is a stock of major impacts out there already and that means adaptation. You cannot mitigate your way out of this problem... The choice is between a damaged world or a future with a severely damaged world."
The IPCC assessment states that up to two billion people worldwide will face water shortages and up to 30 per cent of plant and animal species would be put at risk of extinction if the average rise in temperature stabilises at 1.5C to 2.5C.
Professor Parry said developed countries needed to help the most affected regions, which include sub-Saharan Africa and major Asian river deltas with improved technology for irrigation, drought- resistant crop strains and building techniques.
Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the IPCC, said that 2015 was the last year in which the world could afford a net rise in greenhouse gas emissions, after which "very sharp reductions" are required.
Dr Pachauri said the ability of the world's most populous nations to feed themselves was already under pressure, citing a study in India which showed that peak production of wheat had already been reached in one region.
Campaigners said the IPCC findings brought added urgency to the EU's efforts to slash emissions. John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace, said: "The EU needs to adopt a science-based cap on emissions, ditch plans for dirty new coal plants and nuclear power stations that will give tiny emission cuts at enormous and dangerous cost, end aviation expansion and ban wasteful products like incandescent lightbulbs."
Plus two degrees: the consequences
Arica: Between 350 and 600 million people will suffer water shortages or increased competition for water. Yields from agriculture could fall by half by 2020 while arid areas will rise by up to 8 per cent. The number of sub-Saharan species at risk of extinction will rise by at least 10 per cent.
Asia: Up to a billion people will suffer water shortages as supplies dwindle with the melting of Himalayan glaciers. Maize and wheat yields will fall by up to 5 per cent in India; rice crops in China will drop by up to 12 per cent. Increased risk of coastal flooding.
Australia/New Zealand: Between 3,000 and 5,000 more heat-related deaths a year. Water supplies will no longer be guaranteed in parts of southern and eastern Australia by 2030. Annual bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef.
Europe: Warmer temperatures will increase wheat yields by up to 25 per cent in the north but water availability will drop in the south by up to a quarter. Heatwaves, forest fires and extreme weather events such as flash floods will be more frequent. New diseases will appear.
Latin America: Up to 77 million people will face water shortages and tropical glaciers will disappear. Tropical forests will become savanna and there will be increased risk of coastal flooding in low-lying areas such as El Salvador and Guyana.
North America: Crop yields will increase by up to 20 per cent due to warmer temperatures but economic damage from extreme weather events such as Hurricane Katrina will continue increasing.
Polar regions: The seasonal thaw of permafrost will increase by 15 per cent and the overall extent of the permafrost will shrink by about 20 per cent. Indigenous communities such as the Inuit face loss of traditional lifestyle.
Small islands: Low-lying islands are particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels with the Maldives already suffering land loss.
Copyright 2007 Independent News and Media Limited
From: New York Times
ONE ANSWER TO GLOBAL WARMING: A NEW TAX
By N. Gregory Mankiw
In the debate over global climate change, there is a yawning gap that needs to be bridged. The gap is not between environmentalists and industrialists, or between Democrats and Republicans. It is between policy wonks and political consultants.
Among policy wonks like me, there is a broad consensus. The scientists tell us that world temperatures are rising because humans are emitting carbon into the atmosphere. Basic economics tells us that when you tax something, you normally get less of it. So if we want to reduce global emissions of carbon, we need a global carbon tax. Q.E.D.
The idea of using taxes to fix problems, rather than merely raise government revenue, has a long history. The British economist Arthur Pigou advocated such corrective taxes to deal with pollution in the early 20th century. In his honor, economics textbooks now call them "Pigovian taxes."
Using a Pigovian tax to address global warming is also an old idea. It was proposed as far back as 1992 by Martin S. Feldstein on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal. Once chief economist to Ronald Reagan, Mr. Feldstein has devoted much of his career to studying how high tax rates distort incentives and impede economic growth. But like most other policy wonks, he appreciates that some taxes align private incentives with social costs and move us toward better outcomes.
Those vying for elected office, however, are reluctant to sign on to this agenda. Their political consultants are no fans of taxes, Pigovian or otherwise. Republican consultants advise using the word "tax" only if followed immediately by the word "cut." Democratic consultants recommend the word "tax" be followed by "on the rich."
Yet this natural aversion to carbon taxes can be overcome if the revenue from the tax is used to reduce other taxes. By itself, a carbon tax would raise the tax burden on anyone who drives a car or uses electricity produced with fossil fuels, which means just about everybody. Some might fear this would be particularly hard on the poor and middle class.
But Gilbert Metcalf, a professor of economics at Tufts, has shown how revenue from a carbon tax could be used to reduce payroll taxes in a way that would leave the distribution of total tax burden approximately unchanged. He proposes a tax of $15 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, together with a rebate of the federal payroll tax on the first $3,660 of earnings for each worker.
The case for a carbon tax looks even stronger after an examination of the other options on the table. Lawmakers in both political parties want to require carmakers to increase the fuel efficiency of the cars they sell. Passing the buck to auto companies has a lot of popular appeal.
Increased fuel efficiency, however, is not free. Like a tax, the cost of complying with more stringent regulation will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher car prices. But the government will not raise any revenue that it can use to cut other taxes to compensate for these higher prices. (And don't expect savings on gas to compensate consumers in a meaningful way: Any truly cost-effective increase in fuel efficiency would already have been made.)
More important, enhancing fuel efficiency by itself is not the best way to reduce energy consumption. Fuel use depends not only on the efficiency of the car fleet but also on the daily decisions that people make -- how far from work they choose to live and how often they carpool or use public transportation.
A carbon tax would provide incentives for people to use less fuel in a multitude of ways. By contrast, merely having more efficient cars encourages more driving. Increased driving not only produces more carbon, but also exacerbates other problems, like accidents and road congestion.
Another popular proposal to limit carbon emissions is a cap-and-trade system, under which carbon emissions are limited and allowances are bought and sold in the marketplace. The effect of such a system depends on how the carbon allowances are allocated. If the government auctions them off, then the price of a carbon allowance is effectively a carbon tax.
But the history of cap-and-trade systems suggests that the allowances would probably be handed out to power companies and other carbon emitters, which would then be free to use them or sell them at market prices. In this case, the prices of energy products would rise as they would under a carbon tax, but the government would collect no revenue to reduce other taxes and compensate consumers.
The international dimension of the problem also suggests the superiority of a carbon tax over cap-and-trade. Any long-term approach to global climate change will have to deal with the emerging economies of China and India. By some reports, China is now the world's leading emitter of carbon, in large part simply because it has so many people. The failure of the Kyoto treaty to include these emerging economies is one reason that, in 1997, the United States Senate passed a resolution rejecting the Kyoto approach by a vote of 95 to zero.
Agreement on a truly global cap-and-trade system, however, is hard to imagine. China is unlikely to be persuaded to accept fewer carbon allowances per person than the United States. Using a historical baseline to allocate allowances, as is often proposed, would reward the United States for having been a leading cause of the problem.
But allocating carbon allowances based on population alone would create a system in which the United States, with its higher standard of living, would buy allowances from China. American voters are not going to embrace a system of higher energy prices, coupled with a large transfer of national income to the Chinese. It would amount to a massive foreign aid program to one of the world's most rapidly growing economies.
A global carbon tax would be easier to negotiate. All governments require revenue for public purposes. The world's nations could agree to use a carbon tax as one instrument to raise some of that revenue. No money needs to change hands across national borders. Each government could keep the revenue from its tax and use it to finance spending or whatever form of tax relief it considered best.
Convincing China of the virtues of a carbon tax, however, may prove to be the easy part. The first and more difficult step is to convince American voters, and therefore political consultants, that "tax" is not a four-letter word.
N. Gregory Mankiw is a professor of economics at Harvard. He was an adviser to President Bush and is advising Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, in the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company
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