Julia Whitty

Julia Whitty

Environmental Correspondent

Julia is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction (Deep Blue Home, The Fragile Edge, A Tortoise for the Queen of Tonga), and a former documentary filmmaker. She also blogs at Deep Blue Home.

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Julia is a writer and former documentary filmmaker and the author of The Fragile Edge: Diving & Other Adventures in the South Pacific, winner of a PEN USA Literary Award, the John Burroughs Medal, the Kiriyama Prize, the Northern California Books Awards, and finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and Deep Blue Home: An Intimate Ecology of Our Wild Ocean. Her short story collection A Tortoise for the Queen of Tonga won an O. Henry and was a finalist for the PEN Hemingway Award. She also blogs at Deep Blue Home.

How Bad Will Global Warming Get? Indonesia Could Lose 2,000 Islands to Rising Seas

| Mon Jan. 29, 2007 12:29 PM PST

Two thousand of Indonesia's 17,000-plus islands may be lost to rising sea levels by 2030, Indonesia's environment minister told Reuters Monday.

Rachmat Witoelar said studies by U.N. experts showed that sea levels were expected to rise about 89 centimetres in 2030 which meant that about 2,000 mostly uninhabited small islets would be submerged.

"We are optimistic it can be prevented. Switching to bio-fuels is not only good for the environment but also will benefit us economically considering the volatile state of oil prices," he said.

Lower lying islands like the Bahamas, the Maldives, and Tuvalu will suffer more, likely submerging altogether, as reported in "All the Disappearing Islands" in Mother Jones in 2003.

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Scary Impacts of Temperature Increases from Global Warming

| Mon Jan. 29, 2007 12:08 PM PST

Ever wonder just what is coming our way from global warming? How bad can it get? Check it out. Reuters reports on estimates of the global implications of different temperature rises from Nicholas Stern, chief British government economist:

Temp. rise/ Impacts 1 DEGREE

* Shrinking glaciers threaten water for 50 million people

* Modest increases in cereal yields in temperate regions

* At least 300,000 people each year die from malaria, malnutrition and other climate-related diseases

* Reduction in winter mortality in higher latitudes

* 80 percent bleaching of coral reefs, e.g. Great Barrier Reef


2 DEGREES

* 5 - 10 percent decline in crop yield in tropical Africa

* 40 - 60 million more people exposed to malaria in Africa

* Up to 10 million more people affected by coastal flooding

* 15 - 40 percent of species face extinction (one estimate)

* High risk of extinction of Arctic species, e.g. polar bear

* Potential for Greenland ice sheet to start to melt irreversibly, committing world to 7 metre sea level rise


3 DEGREES

* In Southern Europe, serious droughts once every 10 years

* 1 - 4 billion more people suffer water shortages

* Some 150 - 550 additional millions at risk of hunger

* 1 - 3 million more people die from malnutrition

* Onset of Amazon forest collapse (some models only)

* Rising risk of collapse of West Antarctic Ice Sheet

* Rising risk of collapse of Atlantic Conveyor of warm water

* Rising risk of abrupt changes to the monsoon


4 DEGREES

* Agricultural yields decline by 15 - 35 percent in Africa

* Up to 80 million more people exposed to malaria in Africa

* Loss of around half Arctic tundra


5 DEGREES

* Possible disappearance of large glaciers in Himalayas, affecting one-quarter of China's population, many in India

* Continued increase in ocean acidity seriously disrupting marine ecosystems and possibly fish stocks

* Sea level rise threatens small islands, coastal areas such as Florida and major cities such as New York, London, and Tokyo

The Thirteenth Tipping Point Begins

| Fri Jan. 26, 2007 12:43 PM PST

Climate change is in the air. And not just the warming kind. A fresh breeze blows from Washington DC as Congress finally declares an interest in global warming. The barometer climbs a notch as CEOs urge Bush to address the issues now. The heavy, foggy, dark, oppressive weather stagnating in place for the past six years is finally yielding to new air destined to dismantle the Big Low from the top down. We may see sunshine yet. By Independence Day, if Speaker Pelosi has her way.

Yet no matter what changes transpire in government or industry, you and I can't abrogate our responsibility. Only we can shift the human race from its doomsday course. My article in the November/December 2006 issue of Mother Jones, The Thirteenth Tipping Point, examined what science can tell us about our ability to change ourselves. The outlook is good, and the following op-ed, which ran in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere summarizes:

What if twelve meteors were on known collision courses with earth? What if we could alter their trajectories and save our planet by the cumulative effect of our individual efforts? What if science and history proved that we are fully capable of such heroism? What would it take to get us started?

John Schellnhuber, distinguished science advisor at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the United Kingdom, has identified 12 global warming tipping points—from the deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest to the melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet—any one of which, if triggered, will likely initiate sudden, meteoric changes across the planet.

Hot Promises of Geothermal Energy

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 1:35 PM PST

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology-led study of geothermal energy within the US finds that mining the huge amounts of thermal energy stored in the Earth's rock crust could supply a substantial portion of the nation's electricity needs currently being generated by conventional fossil fuel, hydroelectric, and nuclear plants—at competitive prices and with minimal environmental impact. Go deep enough, and there's heat everywhere.

The study shows that drilling several wells to reach hot rock and connecting them to a fractured rock region that has been stimulated to let water flow through it creates a heat-exchanger that can produce large amounts of hot water or steam to run electric generators at the surface. Unlike conventional fossil-fuel power plants that burn coal, natural gas or oil, no fuel would be required. And unlike wind and solar systems, a geothermal plant works night and day, offering a non-interruptible source of electric power.

… "This environmental advantage is due to low emissions and the small overall footprint of the entire geothermal system, which results because energy capture and extraction is contained entirely underground, and the surface equipment needed for conversion to electricity is relatively compact," [Jefferson W.] Tester [the H. P. Meissner Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT] said.

… Panel member Brian Anderson, an assistant professor at West Virginia University, noted that the drilling and reservoir technologies used to mine heat have many similarities to those used for extracting oil and gas. As a result, the geothermal industry today is well connected technically to two industry giants in the energy arena, oil and gas producers and electric power generators. With increasing demand for technology advances to produce oil and gas more effectively and to generate electricity with minimal carbon and other emissions, an opportunity exists to accelerate the development of EGS by increased investments by these two industries.

The study notes that government-funded research into geothermal was highly active in the 1970s and early 1980s, but that as oil prices declined, funding and geothermal research waned. Time to heat that up again.

Beware Emissions Trading, Airlines Stand to Make Billions

| Tue Jan. 23, 2007 12:47 PM PST

The science journal Nature warns that a short-term effect of the European Commission's plan to include the airlines in the continent-wide market for greenhouse gas emissions will likely reap the industry billions, at least initially.

The world's airlines, including many firms who have lobbied aggressively against climate-change legislation, could make billions of euros from a planned emissions-reduction scheme, say economists studying the situation.

The resulting rise in cost to individual airline tickets will be too small to deter customers, they add, so the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions will be miniscule —at least in the short term.

…The windfall is a consequence of the way emissions trading works. Industries in the scheme are allocated carbon dioxide permits that are traded in as emissions are generated. The permits can be sold if a firm emits less than its allowance, or bought if they wish to exceed it. Because industries are initially given almost enough permits to cover their usual amount of emissions, they should be able to continue business much as usual.

But experience with other industries already in the scheme shows that they treat permits as assets — the permits are currently worth around US$5 per tonne of carbon. To compensate for having to lose the assets when accounting for their emissions, the firms charge extra for products. In the case of the electricity sector, this is estimated to have generated an extra $1.5 billion in annual profits for British firms between 2005 and 2007.

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