Saturday, 6 June 2009

'Global warming is baloney' signs put the heat on Burger King

Leo Hickman, Friday 5 June 2009 19.56 BST

Leo Hickman
A row between the fast food giant Burger King and one of its major franchise owners has erupted over roadside signs proclaiming "global warming is baloney".
The franchisee, a Memphis-based company called the Mirabile Investment Corporation (MIC) that owns more than 40 Burger Kings across Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi, has described Burger King as acting "kinda like cockroaches" over the controversy. MIC says it does not believe Burger King has the authority to make it take the signs down.
The dispute began to sizzle last week, when a local newspaper reporter in Memphis, Tennessee, noticed the signs outside two restaurants in the city and contacted the corporation to establish if the message represented its official viewpoint. Burger King's headquarters in Miami said it did not, adding that it had ordered MIC to take the signs down.
But a few days later readers of the Memphis paper said they had seen about a dozen Burger King restaurants across the state displaying the signs and that some had yet to be taken down. Media attempts to contact MIC to establish why it was taking an apparently defiant stance were rebuffed, but the Guardian managed to grill MIC's marketing president, John McNelis.
"I would think [Burger King] would run from any form of controversy kinda like cockroaches when the lights get turned on," said Mr McNelis. "I'm not aware of any direction that they gave the franchisee and I don't think they have the authority to do it."
McNelis added: "The [restaurant] management team can put the message up there if they want to. It is private property and here in the US we do have some rights. Notwithstanding a franchise agreement, I could load a Brinks vehicle with [rights] I've got so many of them. By the time the Burger King lawyers work out how to make that stick we'd be in the year 2020."
He continued: "Burger King can bluster all they want about what they can tell the franchisee to do, but we have free-speech rights in this country so I don't think there's any concerns."
The Guardian sent a transcript of the interview to Susan Robison, Burger King's vice-president of corporate communications.
She responded: "The statement that was posted on several restaurants' reader boards in the Memphis area, and the view expressed by the franchisee on this issue does not reflect Burger King Corp's opinion … BKC has guidelines for signage used by franchisees [which] were not followed. We have asked the franchisee to remove the signage and have been told that the franchisee will comply."

China promises economic stimulus plan will protect environment

China's environment ministry says it will monitor government's stimulus package for projects that cause pollution

Associated Press, Friday 5 June 2009 11.51 BST

China's environment ministry said today it would strictly monitor the government's economic stimulus package for projects that cause pollution, addressing worries that officials would ignore the environment in an effort to maintain China's high economic growth rates.
The stimulus will not damage the environment, the vice-minister of the ministry of environmental protection, Zhang Lijun, told a news conference. China's 4tn yuan (£365bn) stimulus package was unveiled last November to boost domestic demand during the global financial crisis.
Zhang said only projects concerning infrastructure and improving public welfare will get approval for fast-track environmental assessments – meaning everything else will be subject to a more rigorous assessment. The environmental ministry has approved 365 projects related to the stimulus since last year and rejected or postponed 29 high-energy ones, such as petrochemical plants, steel factories and coal-powered power plants, he said.
A total of 210bn yuan of the stimulus money is earmarked for environmental protection projects and improving energy efficiency.
Zhang said less than one-tenth of the 230bn yuan the central government spent of the stimulus in the fourth quarter of last year and the beginning of this year went to that.
"The government's endeavors to stimulate domestic demand and stimulate economic growth will have little effect on our environmental protection efforts," Zhang said.
But he warned that some regions in China are still building projects without getting the required approval from environmental authorities. Environmental problems in China's vast rural areas are "increasingly acute", he said.
"The environmental situation in China remains tough, the surface water pollution is serious, the coastal waters across the country are slightly polluted, and in some cities air pollution is still serious," he said. Still, measures to control pollution have been strengthened as seen in lower levels of some pollutants this year, Zhang said.
A measure of sulphur dioxide, an air pollutant that causes acid rain, fell 4.9% in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period a year earlier, and chemical oxygen demand, a measure of water pollution, fell 2.9%. "What we can see is a continued momentum of decline," Zhang said.
The government has set targets to cut chemical oxygen demand and emissions of sulphur dioxide by 10% between 2006 to 2010.

Water unlocks low-carbon route to London Olympics

A new lock and restored waterway at Bromley-by-Bow in east London will reduce lorry freight and offer greener transport to the Games

Press Association, Friday 5 June 2009 11.56 BST

The first lock to be built in London for nearly two decades opened today, creating a new low-carbon freight route to the site for the London 2012 Olympic games.
The environment secretary, Hilary Benn, is due today on one of the first boats to travel through Three Mills Lock at Bromley-by-Bow, a restored stretch of waterway which links to the Olympic Park site in east London.
The new lock opens up the Bow Back Rivers, a network of waterways in and around the Olympic Park. This not only creates a green gateway for freight barges to enter the Olympic construction zone but will also be an environmental asset for the new neighbourhoods being planned on the Olympic Park site after the 2012 London Games.
Mr Benn said: "We want the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games to be the greenest games ever. Funding the Three Mills Lock will not only take many lorries off local roads, reducing thousands of tonnes of CO2 and local congestion, it will also provide a green freight route for the redevelopment of east London, and open up the waterways for boaters, walkers, and cyclists."
London Mayor Boris Johnson said: "The revitalisation of this network of canals after decades of decline heralds a new age of water transport in the capital. By shifting noisy, dusty and heavily polluting freight vehicles from busy roads onto water, we can free up traffic and drastically improve the quality of our environment. This vital investment means a steady flow of boats will soon be carrying a substantial proportion of the materials needed to create the Olympic Park that would otherwise have travelled by road, sealing a legacy beyond the duration of the Games themselves."
British Waterways chairman Tony Hales said the lock opening was just the start of plans for the waterways of east London, "with everything from water taxis, waste removal by water and new marinas planned for the future".
Earlier this year, British Waterways launched a major wildlife survey on UK canals and announced it was turning over unused canal-side land for use as vegetable-growing allotments.

EcoSecurities rejects takeover approach

EcoSecurities, the trader of carbon offset projects, rose 14p to 59½p after it rejected as “wholly inadequate” a 60p-a-share takeover approach from Pedro Moura Costa, its co-founder and former president. KBC Peel Hunt said that a counter-offer was possible. Mirabaud analysts called the offer “risible”.

Electric cars

Published: June 5 2009 09:27

More than 20 years after we scoffed at Clive Sinclair’s battery-powered tricycle, electric cars are gaining speed again.
Mitsubishi Motors said it would start to sell “the ultimate eco-car” next month; by 2020 it expects electric vehicles, plus hybrids, to make up one-fifth of its total production.

Even if Japanese groups lead the market, with China’s BYD close behind, this is a big punt from a little carmaker. It would take Mitsubishi ahead of Toyota Motor, which aims to launch its mass-market vehicle in 2012.
Early indications suggest there is no need to rush. Consumers’ biggest gripe is price. Mitsubishi’s car will sell for $46,000, twice the cost of a hybrid and three times the price of a comparable petrol-fuelled car.
Even Japanese incentives that halve the price do not seem enough to woo drivers. In Kanagawa prefecture, Japan’s most aggressive promoter of electric vehicles, most are unwilling to pay more than $12,000. As it is, Mitsubishi will lose money on every electric car its sells until production tops 30,000 a year.
Mr Sinclair would already know the other criticisms, including short battery life and low speeds – although the $102,000 Tesla roadster can hit 60mph in four seconds.
Nor is the infrastructure ready: even Japan has only a handful of plug-in charging stations. Chevrolet might have described its plug-in Volt as its most important vehicle under development, while the US and UK may want to encourage electric vehicle production locally.
Yet CSM Worldwide, a consultancy, reckons that only 100,000 electric cars will be made in 2015, about 0.1 per cent of total global production. Even to include hybrids gives only 3 per cent.
The green movement has gone mainstream since the Sinclair C5, helped by high oil prices. But, for now, paying to hum around town is no more popular than it was in 1985.
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Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Mitsubishi Motors to launch plug-in electric car

By Lindsay Whipp in Tokyo
Published: June 5 2009 23:36

Mitsubishi Motors will introduce the electric plug-in car to Japanese drivers next month, stealing a march over its more affluent rivals.
The company plans to lease 1,400 of its four-door i-MiEV electric cars to business and local government customers until the end of next March.

It will then start selling the vehicles to consumers in April, though it will start taking orders from next month.
The introduction of the car is a big step for the medium-sized company, particularly as its much larger competitor, Toyota, is not planning to introduce an electric model in Japan until 2012.
However, Mitsubishi faces a challenge in luring customers. Production costs remain high, making the car far less competitive on price than conventional or hybrid vehicles.
The car will cost Y4.6m ($46,841). Even though government subsidies and tax exemptions will cut the cost of the i-MiEV by about half, it will still be more expensive than Honda’s Insight hybrid, which sells for Y1.89m.
“Unless batteries for electric cars have the technology to handle long- distances and enable quick recharging, existing technology [in conventional cars and hybrids] will remain more popular,” said Graeme Maxton, a motor industry expert, and director of the Insight Bureau in Singapore.
Electric vehicles have struggled to gain popularity over the years. Battery limitations have prevented owners from driving long distances and obliged them to recharge overnight.
There is also a lack of recharging infrastructure, with only 39 such stations in Japan, most of which are in Tokyo and surrounding areas, according to Koji Endo, an analyst at Credit Suisse in Tokyo.
A single charge of the i-MiEV, which can be done at home, can take it 160km, depending on road and weather conditions. The shortest time span required to charge the car fully is seven hours, although there is a so-called “quick charge” system that takes 30 minutes at special stations.
Mitsubishi Motors said it needed to produce about 30,000 of its electric cars a year to make the model profitable.
“For Mitsubishi, there’s a big opportunity but a big risk,” said Mr Endo. “To make a profit five years from now, they have to invest  . . .  that’s what they’re doing, and this is exactly what we saw 10 years ago in the case of Toyota and its Prius.”
“But 10 years ago Toyota was already very rich and had lots of cash and they could afford to lose some, but Mitsubishi is heavily indebted,” Mr Endo said.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

21st-century Noah’s Ark needed to save coral reefs from extinction

The Times
June 6, 2009
Frank Pope, Ocean Correspondent

The year is 2050, and the few remaining coral reefs are thriving. The tourists who flock to admire their vibrant seascapes and their clouds of multicoloured fish need no boat or dive gear, however.
The world’s only surviving coral ecosystems are contained in enormous aquaria where conditions can be carefully regulated. Out in the ocean itself, a collision of unconstrained human impacts have reduced reefs to grey rubble.
This is the nightmare scenario envisioned by marine scientists such as Alex Rogers, of the Institute of Zoology, London, who warns that unless drastic changes are made, the only way that the rainforests of the sea will survive is through radical intervention such as transplanting them to a Noah’s Ark of enormous seawater tanks.
“We’ve got at most ten years to do something really significant to turn things around,” said Dr Rogers, who was appearing at the Times Science Festival in Cheltenham. “We have to start contemplating such huge engineering projects to preserve reefs. Of course, they would only save a fraction of the species, but it would at least be something.”

Despite the oceans’s immensity — 71 per cent of the Earth’s surface with an average depth of almost 4km (2½m) — there are indications that it is approaching its tipping point. For reefs, warming waters and acidification are closing in like a pair of jaws that threaten to make them the first global ecosystem to disappear. Fast reductions in carbon dioxide emissions are crucial for the future of reefs because of a time lag between release into the atmosphere and absorption by the ocean.
Even if a total halt on emissions were accomplished immediately, seawater would continue to absorb carbon dioxide for years to come. Overcoming this carbon dioxide “hump” is going to be a critical challenge for coral reefs, Dr Rogers said.
While reefs are likely to be the first to go, they may not be the only marine ecosystems to crash. Whole seas have been known to lose their biological structure as a result of compounding pressures.
“As a result of fishing, pollution and invasive species, the Black Sea’s ecosystem collapsed,” Dr Rogers said. “Large predatory fish were gone by the Seventies. Finishing off the smaller ones took another 20 years. The gelatinous zooplankton (comb jellyfish, in this instance) came during that time.”
Those jellyfish feasted on fish eggs, and soon there was little else but jellyfish and plankton to be found in the Black Sea.
Extrapolating from the 400,000 square mile Black Sea to the global ocean is fraught with uncertainty, but the wide-scale impacts that have already been felt cause scientists concern, not just for life but for the ecosystem services that the ocean provides, such as regulating the oxygen, nitrogen and phophorus cycles. Deprived of these systems, the planet would be uninhabitable for humans.
“What we’ve done over the last two centuries is to eliminate a very large amount of the filter-feeding animals that used to live on the seabed,” said Professor Callum Roberts, of the University of York.
“If you lose 95 per cent of filter-feeding organisms on the seabed you lose 95 per cent of filter-feeding capacity of those organisms.
“Nobody says that wild oysters are at risk of extinction. But their functional role in the marine environment has essentially disappeared because of the reduction in population sizes. That’s one of the things we need to focus on in the future. If we want to have clean water, high levels of carbon uptake from the atmosphere, then we need ecosystems intact.”
While the price of business as usual carries a harsh penalty, scientists such as Dr Roberts point out that the rewards for allowing the seas to regenerate could be enormous.
“What the seas produce today is just a fraction of what they are capable of,” he said. With proper management, fishermen could catch many times as much as they do today for only a fraction of the effort. A recovery would have profound implications not just for food security but for tourism, angling and recreation.
Foremost among the tools that could return the seas to health are networks of Marine Protected Areas, which promise benefits for both biodiversity and productivity. The challenge faced is in changing the entrenched views of senior policy-makers.
“The interest in ecosystem-based management has risen out of the failings of species-based management of marine life. The scene is being set for a big change in how the marine environment is being managed,” Dr Roberts said.
“A lot is happening compared to 18 years ago. It’s not happening fast enough, but it’s happening faster than many people at a political level are comfortable with. So that’s positive.”
If an aquatic Noah’s Ark becomes the last chance for coral reefs, their troubles will not be over: lack of genetic mixing makes captive corals vulnerable to disease, for example. Perhaps more alarming still, they will once again rely on humans for the stability of their environment.
“It’s not that difficult to get corals to grow in captivity,” said Ash Sharpe, formerly of London Zoo’s aquarium and now a coral farmer. “The problem is maintaining genetic diversity. That and human error — if one person makes a mistake with the maintenance regimes, everything’s gone.”

Local, not global, is the key to a sustainable food supply

We can find a way to address environmental and production concerns, says Ian Woodhurst

Ian Woodhurst
The Guardian, Friday 5 June 2009

Your leader column discussed the warning by the government's chief scientist, Professor Sir John Beddington, of a "perfect storm" that will create a global food supply crisis. In it, you asserted that the Campaign to Protect Rural England's "Vision for the Countryside 2026" had "little to say about the new demand for food production" (The countryside: turf wars, 15 May).
Protecting our capacity to produce food is undoubtedly wise. But, given England's land area, how intensively it is used and its ecological limitations, how much can we contribute to global food production even by maximising the use of technology? We also question whether globalisation of food supplies is the answer, given that food riots broke out when oil prices soared, food exports dried up and national reserves dwindled.
Our campaign fears that food security could be used by agri-business as an opportunity to justify the widespread and uncontrolled use of pesticides, fertilisers and GM technology. This would undoubtedly compromise the "hard-won gains in sustainability" made during the "golden age of conservation" over the past 20 years.
You pointed out that the "debate that is beginning" on future reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and that "could shape our countryside for a generation", is "largely unobserved". Perhaps this is because it is difficult for most of us to comprehend how significantly the complexities of European farm payment rules influence farmer's decisions on what people eat and how the countryside is managed.
Although the CAP has changed, its faults remain numerous. Payments are unfairly divided both between countries and farmers, and have minimal environmental conditions. The CAP needs further reform - but if payments fell too much or disappeared completely, many farmers who do good things for the environment could go out of business.
Your leader states that "rural policy is once again creating a division between farmers who think productivity has to regain its traditional pre-eminence and the environmentalists who are determined that ... sustainability must not be compromised". As CPRE's Vision makes clear, there are two ways to avoid this.
The first is a major reform of agricultural policy at the European level. The CAP should become an environmental and social policy rewarding farmers for their landscape management. Impoverished budgets for green farming schemes should be matched to the true value of all the countryside provides. Second, we need to encourage the growth of networks of local food producers, processors and suppliers to feed rural and urban communities and sustain the rural economy.
We know there are harsh realties to face in transforming the way our land is farmed and our food produced. Food supplies may never be completely local. Environmentally sustainable commercial farming will have a part to play. But CPRE will continue "valiantly" working towards achieving our vision. That is what visions are all about.
• Ian Woodhurst is senior rural policy officer of the Campaign to Protect Rural England