Friday, 18 September 2009

Oil barons needn't fear the green machines

By Lee Wild
Date: Friday 18 Sep 2009
LONDON (ShareCast) - Oil bosses are furiously spending billions of dollars trying to find enough of the black stuff to help us maintain our love affair with the car. So, imagine the look on their faces this week when the world’s biggest auto makers wheeled out an army of electric concept cars at the Frankfurt motor show. ‘Damn them pesky greens’, you could hear them cry as Volkswagen claimed its L1 tandem two-seater diesel-electric hybrid concept car will nudge 200 miles-per-gallon. Other manufacturers also rushed to unveil their own fuel efficient, low emission vehicles they hope will lure environmentally conscious drivers to the showroom. But the oil barons really shouldn’t worry too much about the potential impact on their precious revenue, certainly not for the next decade or so. First of all, these super efficient cars that can get you from London to Manchester on a gallon of fuel aren’t in production yet. The 1.6-litre L1 won’t hit the road until 2013, while many experts doubt Nissan’s all-electric Leaf will do 367mpg and GM’s plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt will wring out 230mpg. Audi’s North American President Johan de Nysschen was definitely unimpressed. He reportedly called the Chevy Volt a ‘car for idiots’, later denied, and said potential buyers are part of an ‘intellectual elite who want to show what enlightened souls they are’. This new technology also doesn’t come cheap. VW haven’t put a price on the L1, but they’re unlikely to be giving away a car that boasts impressive carbon-fibre coachwork and television cameras instead of wing mirrors. Of course, there will be cheaper alternatives. Renault promises a big push on electric vehicles, planning production of four models by 2012 and promising to make at least 100,000 by 2016. Chief executive Carlos Ghosn told Frankfurt show-goers the range will ‘bring environmental soundness at a price everyone can afford’. But then there’s performance. The L1 will manage a top speed of just 99mph and labour from 0-62mph in over 14 seconds, while Renault’s jazzy Kangoo Be Bop Z.E. (Zero Emissions) will take about 15 seconds and do just 80mph. OK, so you don’t mind paying a bit more if it’ll save the planet, and you’re not a boy racer so aren’t going to be breaking the speed limit. But you’re not going to get very far. Electric cars generally run for between 40 and 120 miles before they need recharging, a process that can take as long as seven hours. VW’s strangely-named E.Up! might do 80 miles if it ever goes into production, good enough for the school run, but not much more. Governments have said they’ll pump millions of dollars and euros into making the electric car a viable alternative to petrol driven vehicles. But analysts at IHS Global Insight predict production of purely electric cars will jump to just 58,000 in 2011 from 9,500 this year. To put this in perspective, the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers said 52.6m passenger cars were made in 2008. Phil Gott, a director for automotive consulting at IHS Global Insight, told Sharecast the penetration of electric vehicles will depend on oil demand, although he believes the ramp up will be so slow that the oil industry will see little impact until after 2020. ‘Even a reasonably aggressive acceleration of electric vehicle sales will not have a significant impact on the energy mix until after 2020, or even 2025,’ he said. Gott admits the situation is uncertain post-2020 as we’ll be closer to the ‘doomsday forecasts’ concerning global warming. Urbanisation and congestion will also have increased, which could boost the market for electric vehicles. ‘A much bigger impact on the oil industry will come from bio fuels and other green fuels rather than electric vehicles until post 2030,' Gott says, 'unless something happens to make governments incentivise the take up of green vehicles.’

China's top climatologist stays cool over 2C rise

It is too early to determine the level of meteorological risk posed by global warming, says the director-general of the Beijing Climate Centre
Jonathan Watts, Asia environment correspondent, Thursday 17 September 2009 15.48 BST
A 2C rise in global temperatures will not necessarily result in the calamity predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), China's most senior climatologist has told the Guardian.
Despite growing evidence that storms in China are getting fiercer, droughts longer and typhoons more deadly, Xiao Ziniu, the director general of the Beijing Climate Centre, said it was too early to determine the level of risk posed by global warming.
"There is no agreed conclusion about how much change is dangerous," Xiao said. "Whether the climate turns warmer or cooler, there are both positive and negative effects. We are not focusing on what will happen with a one degree or two degree increase, we are looking at what level will be a danger to the environment. In Chinese history, there have been many periods warmer than today."
The IPCC warns a 2C rise substantially increases the risks of floods, drought and storms.
Whether a 2C rise turns global warming into global burning has emerged as one of the most contentious issues in advance of the Copenhagen summit.
The G8 and EU want the world to set 2C as a ceiling by 2050, but China is sceptical. A senior government adviser said yesterday that the target of two degrees was unrealistic and would not give developing nations room to grow.
Xiao said China had started its own climate modelling programme for the next 100 years aimed at predicting the point when global warming will result in environmental collapse.
His centre will also release yearly climate predictions for China. Even with weather satellites and sophisticated simulation software, Xiao is not overly optimistic about accuracy the initial results.
"Climate prediction has only come into operation in recent years. The accuracy of the prediction is very low because the climate is affected by many mechanisms we do not fully understand."
China's growing influence in climate studies was recognised this year when the World Meteorological Organisation selected Beijing as a co-host of the Asian Climate Centre. Alongside Tokyo, it will be responsible for monitoring and predicting changes in weather patterns and their impact on natural disasters, water resources and soil quality.
Even at current levels of warming, the centre has collected a strong body of evidence that climate change is wreaking havoc in China.
A report provided by the centre to the Guardian shows rainfall coming in shorter, fiercer bursts, interspersed by protracted periods of drought, particularly in the north. Water supplies have been badly affected. The Yellow river watershed has suffered a continuous drought since 1965 and it is getting worse, it said. Almost half the serious droughts of the past 60 years have occurred since 1990.
"Due to climate change, drought disasters come more frequently and across a wider area," the report noted.
Since 1950, Beijing has had an average of 36 rainy days a year, but not once in the past decade has that figure been reached. In 2007, the northernmost province of Heilongjiang reported a summer drought, which is almost unheard of in what is usually a flood season. Glaciers are melting at an accelerating rate.
A ferocious storm on 10 May this year broke records in Gaoqing, Shandong, with nearly 19.7cm of water dumped from the skies in one day. On the edge of the Gobi desert in Xilin Haote, Inner Mongolia, 5.6 cm of rain fell on 27 June 2008 – the most since a monitoring station was established in the area fifty years earlier.
Summer is coming earlier and hotter across swaths of the North. Of the many records broken this year, the most dramatic was in Shijiazhuang Hebei where the temperature soared to 30C on 17 March, more than six degrees higher than the previous high for that day.
Near the border with Siberia, the counties of Yilan and Yichun have experienced the hottest May in history and searing heat of more than 40C is now commonplace in many areas of the north.
"I think it is the responsibility of scientists to have a sense of crisis. We should study whether climate change threatens human survival," says Xiao. "But I believe humans are wise creatures. With wisdom and effort, we will prevent disaster. There is always hope."
Founded in 1995 as a national level organisation, the centre's 150 staff compile data from four Chinese weather satellites, thousands of national monitoring stations and a regional network of meteorological organisations.

India challenges US by agreeing to impose limits on carbon emissions

Jeremy Page in Delhi, Giles Whittell in Washington and David Charter in Brussels
India wrong-footed the United States and other rich nations yesterday by agreeing for the first time to set numerical targets for curbing its greenhouse gas emissions.
The move added to pressure on the Obama Administration to deliver on its own climate change pledges even as senior Democrats warned that US legislation may face severe delays.
Jairam Ramesh, the Indian Environment Minister, told The Times that legislation was being drafted in Delhi to limit India’s carbon footprint and in the process repair his country’s reputation for intransigence on climate change before the crucial UN conference in Copenhagen in December.
The announcement marks a breakthough in international talks, which have stalled over whether emissions curbs in a new UN climate treaty should apply to developing nations as well as to the developed countries covered by the Kyoto Protocol.
It came as Gordon Brown sought to goad the US into tougher action on climate change, and as environmental groups reacted with alarm to a Senate forecast that there would be no US carbon “cap-and-trade” Bill until 2010 — if at all. Harry Reid, the Senate’s Democratic Majority Leader, indicated on Wednesday that bitter congressional wrangling over healthcare reform could delay climate change legislation for months.
Sources close to the Administration have said that the White House considers climate change “a much harder poll” than healthcare. Alternatives being considered to Mr Obama’s preferred option of tradable carbon permits include scrapping the cap-and-trade Bill in favour of an energy Bill that would cover only power stations, and abandoning the climate change fight in Congress altogether. In that event, curbing emissions could be left to the US Environmental Protection Agency, an option that many business leaders favour. However, restricting new curbs to the energy sector “would be worse than no Bill at all”, Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defence Fund, said yesterday.
India has long refused to commit itself to any cuts on the ground that its per capita emissions are far lower than developed countries’ and any caps would hamper its economic development.
Mr Ramesh said that in Copenhagen, India would stick to its long-standing commitment to keep per capita emissions below those of developed nations – and would not agree to any internationally binding cuts.
He added, however, that India was drafting legislation that would set its own targets for mitigating carbon emissions through various domestic initiatives, such as a massive plan to promote solar energy. Carbon emissions in India are set to soar as its economy expands rapidly and industrialisation gathers pace. The new targets would be consistent with an annual growth rate of 8 to 9 per cent for India’s GDP, Mr Ramesh said.
The announcement was designed to improve India’s image in the West as an obstacle to climate change talks and to put the onus on the developed world to commit to deeper emissions cuts.
Mr Brown yesterday backed plans for a €100 billion-a-year commitment by 2020 to help developing countries to move to a low-carbon economy, with much of that coming from an international emissions trading scheme. The EU has said that it will provide between €2 billion and €15 billion and that it expects the US to find up to €13 billion a year.
EU leaders meeting in Brussels last night before the Pittsburgh summit of the world’s 20 leading economies, called on the G20 leaders to inject much needed urgency into the climate change talks.
In Delhi, Mr Ramesh said: “This notion that India is intransigent on mitigation is crap. We are mitigating and mitigating considerably to save our forests and our rivers. But for an international agreement, the developed world has to demonstrate its seriousness much more credibly than it has done so far.”
A coalition of Indian experts is urging the Government to reduce the country’s projected emissions by 25 per cent by 2030. The Delhi Science Forum, which meets today, also recommends making that commitment conditional on developed countries adopting emissions targets set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
“Such a position could be a game-changer for Copenhagen and propel India into a leadership role on the climate issue,” said D. Raghunandan, secretary of the Delhi Science Forum.

Adonis defends aviation industry over emissions

Transport secretary says it is 'perfectly credible' for airlines to continue to expand as new technology to control their carbon emissions becomes available
Dan Milmo and Abhinav Ramnarayan, Thursday 17 September 2009 19.21 BST
The government has defended aviation's growing contribution to greenhouse gas emissions following last week's warning that the industry will be the biggest contributor to global warming in the developed world by 2050.
Lord Adonis, the transport secretary, said other sectors such as car manufacturers could lower their carbon dioxide output more easily and argued that it was "perfectly credible" for airlines to continue expanding as new technology becomes available.
The Committee on Climate Change, the government's advisory body on global warming, portrayed aviation as the laggard in the emissions reductions race last week after calculating that the industry will account for a quarter of the carbon dioxide generated in developed countries in 2050, against 1.6% currently. Airlines would be the biggest emitters even if they met a tough UK government target of limiting their 2050 emissions to below 2005, the commission said.
"The reason why aviation will achieve a higher proportion [of CO2 emissions] is that it is harder to replace the carbon impact of aviation than it is in other sectors," said Lord Adonis.
Speaking at an Aviation Club lunch in London, he added that new technology and the emergence of biofuels would help offset the environmental cost of expanding the industry, which is expected to double in the UK to 465 million passengers per year by 2030.
The committee raised doubts last week that aircraft manufacturers and airlines could fund the research and development needed to produce more carbon-friendly jets and engines.
But Lord Adonis said there was a "growing confidence" that the industry could lower its emissions significantly with technological breakthroughs. "It is perfectly credible that we can have growth in passenger numbers at significant levels," he said.
One of the two major aircraft manufacturers, Airbus, forecast a 2% dip in passenger traffic this year as the recession hits demand. The European company also predicted that sales would be flat next year and that order cancellations and deferrals were likely over the winter as airlines struggled for cash. "We are expecting some airlines to say 'we would love to have the aircraft, but we haven't got the money,'" said John Leahy, chief operating officer of Airbus.
However, the expected 2% drop in demand is much more positive than projected figures released by the International Air Transport Association (Iata), which said the industry could see a £16.9bn loss in 2008 and 2009, with passenger numbers falling 4%. Leahy said Airbus was more optimistic because Iata figures did not take budget and domestic airlines into account.
Airbus bosses expect to deliver 480 aircraft in 2009, the same as last year, but think new orders will be at the lower end of the 300-350 projection made earlier this year.
Leahy also said that he did not expect last week's interim report by the World Trade Organisation on Boeing's complaint that Airbus was receiving unfair levels of EU aid and subsidies to have any effect. "I see on no impact on the A350 programme, we already have 500 firm orders for all three models," Leahy said.
Airbus's global market forecast says it expects that 25,000 new passenger and freight aircraft will be sold between 2009 and 2028 at a value of $3.1tn (£1.9tn). This compares with last year's forecast of 24,300 new planes for $2.8tn in the 20 years to 2026.
Asia, which currently accounts for 26% of the global airline market, would drive this growth. China and India are projected to be among the top five countries in terms of passenger aircraft demand, fuelled by the booming domestic air travel business in those two countries.

Scotland unveils world's first carbon budget

The Scottish government estimates spending on core services will lead to the release of 11.5m tonnes of carbon dioxide
Severin Carrell, Scotland correspondent, Thursday 17 September 2009 18.16 BST

Scotland today unveiled the world's first "carbon budget" to link greenhouse gas emissions with government spending, revealing that its plans will emit the equivalent of four coal-fired power stations next year.
The Scottish government has estimated that its spending next year on £33bn worth of core services such as hospitals, schools, roads, local government and farming, will lead to the release of 11.5m tonnes of carbon dioxide.
The "carbon budget" is being claimed as another world first by ministers in Edinburgh, after the Scottish parliament set the first legally binding CO2 reductions target of 42% by 2020 in a climate act in June. The UK Treasury has no plans to follow suit but officials in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are closely watching the Scottish government's efforts.
John Swinney, the Scottish finance secretary, said these estimates would be used eventually to test the environmental impact of government spending, allowing ministers to weigh up individual policies and award contracts on how much CO2 they would emit.
Officials said the goal would be to use carbon emissions to help decide which contract or policy to follow, alongside its cost and quality.
"It is vital to have analysis available to help inform critical decisions on how to take appropriate action during these challenging economic times," Swinney said. "It will form part of an important discussion taking place across our nation about the carbon implications of activity across the economy and across society."
Environment groups have applauded the new measurements, but urged ministers to introduce much more detailed assessments of each spending decision, particularly on transport and housing. Swinney has yet to set a target date for detailed measurements.
Elizabeth Leighton, of WWF Scotland, said ministers had to make that a priority. "They urgently need to apply this appraisal to individual projects and individual policies, so that we know early on the carbon implications of their decision-making, so we can choose the low-carbon option."
Patrick Harvie, the Scottish Green party leader, was scathing about the government's failure to include car and lorry emissions, which equal 10.5Mt, from the section on roads in the carbon assessment. The budget said spending on new motorways and trunk roads would only release 213,000tns.
"Are we really to believe that the total carbon impacts from roads will be just half that of the Scottish public pensions agency?" Harvie said.
Environment campaigners remain highly critical of many Scottish National party policies, particularly on transport and housing, arguing they undermine the minority SNP government's commitment to renewable energy. The SNP has authorised extending the M74 motorway through southern Glasgow, has promised new roads, backs a new coal-fired power station at Hunterston, supports expanding several airports and has relaxed planning laws for opencast coal mines. Scotland also has weaker planning laws on energy efficiency for new homes than apply in England.
Swinney also announced that a £170m rail link to Glasgow airport had been cancelled, to help meet a £500m drop in Treasury funding next year due to UK-wide spending cuts. The SNP also dropped a £500m rail link to Edinburgh airport two years ago.
The budget estimates that the £11bn spending on health services in Scotland would release 3.5Mt of CO2; local council spending of £11.6bn would lead to 4.3Mt of CO2; finance and sustainable growth spending of £4.9bn would result in 1.7Mt of CO2.
Agriculture and forestry, which only has a budget of £587m, would release the greatest amount of CO2 for every pound spend, at 0.56Mt of CO2, partly because of emissions from livestock.
Swinney and his officials admit the current carbon budget is based on estimates and will be refined over coming years. Although it fails to includes "secondary emissions" such as car usage of roads, it does include the indirect emissions of public sector workers from their own lifestyles and commuting and emissions from the supply chain.
The total estimate accounts for only 14% of Scotland's total carbon emissions, and the devolved government only has control over 30% of those total emissions. The UK government and European Union oversees the policies and areas for the remaining 70%, such as fuel duty, air taxes and funding green energy investments.

Dong Energy: 'Clean' Denmark's dirty secret

State-owned Dong Energy trades on its green image at home while outsourcing the dirty end of its energy portfolio with coal-fired power stations elsewhere in Europe

Fred Pearce, Thursday 17 September 2009 12.55 BST
The Danes like to think of themselves as green. Denmark is home to the world's largest wind turbine manufacturer, Vestas. And today, the giant state-owned energy company, Dong Energy, opens the world's largest windfarm.
But the Danes have a dirty secret. For Dong Energy, while greening its image at home, is busy building coal-fired power stations elsewhere in Europe. First in Germany, and now in Scotland.
We in the rich world are used to the idea of our big companies dumping their dirty and anti-social industries on the poor countries. But now European companies are doing the same to us. Rather as if Scotland were a banana republic somewhere in the developing world, it is the recipient of Dong "outsourcing" the dirty end of its energy portfolio.
Dong, which began as a North Sea oil and gas company before buying the country's electricity utilities, trades on its green image in a country that likes to be thought of as green. Its website announces that the company is "part of the solution" to climate change, and it lovingly pictures its efforts to "move energy forward" on a sea of wind turbines.
Today Denmark's king and prime minister will both be on hand as the record-breaking 209-MW Horns Rev 2 windfarm opens off the west coast.
But Dong also sees itself as a diverse energy provider, and wants to grow in the coal business, too. It would be unlikely to get permission to build a new coal-fired plant at home, however. The Danish government last December proposed that the EU should limit carbon emissions from new power plants to 500g per kilowatt hour – far too low to accommodate a coal-fired plant.
So, what it cannot do at home, it is intent on doing abroad. It is planning to build a giant 1600MW coal-fired plant at Greifswald in northern Germany.
And now in Scotland, Dong is to take a 75% stake in a new joint venture with local company Peel Energy to build a similar behemoth at Hunterston, west of Glasgow.
It would be the first new fossil-fuel burning power plant in Scotland for 30 years – a real step backwards for the country that has pioneered wind power in Britain.
I have written about Scotland talking green and building for coal before. The Scottish Nationalist government is keen to end the country's reliance on nuclear power, and to that end they are covering the glens in wind turbines and dotting the coastline with coal-fired power stations. Dong's new Hunterston plant would be built next to a nuclear power station.
But Dong, like many coal companies, is keen to give the dirtiest fossil fuel a makeover. For instance, it says it will add some biofuels to the coal in the boiler to create a "super-efficient multi-fuel power plant". Both the German and Scottish plants will this way reduce emissions by 20-30% compared to conventional coal power stations, it says.
But sorry, it will still burn coal. Burning coal produces roughly twice the CO2 emissions of even another fossil fuel like natural gas. So that 20-30% cut still leaves it among the dirtiest plants around. WWF estimates the new plant's carbon emissions will be 6.9m tonnes a year. So it would still be outlawed by the proposed new EU rules.
The other greenwash favoured by coal-burners is to hold out the prospect that emissions will soon be cleaned up and buried under ground using carbon capture and storage.
Dong says the construction plans for the £2bn Hunterston plant "include the development of carbon capture and storage", but adds the caveat "once the CCS technology has been fully developed."
As I have written before, that's quite a caveat. By some counts, that day will not happen till towards the end of the plant's lifetime, if at all.
Dong Energy may be an efficient coal-burner. But dressing that accomplishment up as a green technology is greenwash. When it goes on the coal trail, Dong looks like part of the problem, not part of the solution.

World's biggest offshore windfarm launched … eventually

Fritz Schur, chairman of Dong, said his firm would triple its production capacity of clean energy by 2020
Terry Macalister, Thursday 17 September 2009 17.42 BST
The world's largest offshore windfarm was inaugurated in the North Sea today – with a high-profile display of the intermittent nature of this power source.
Danish Crown Prince Frederik pressed the button to start the Horns Rev 2 project, which uses 91 turbines to generate enough green power for 200,000 households.
But an industry audience brought together in a civic centre to watch the opening via a videolink with the 209MW windfarm, watched in silence as the turbines failed to turn.
Half a minute later as a breeze developed and the first blade slowly began to rotate, there were cheers of relief as much as joy from executives of the developer, Dong, and its guests.
Horns Rev 2, 30 kilometres (16.2 nautical miles) off the coast of Jutland, Denmark, is the largest offshore windfarm but its position will be eclipsed when the Greater Gabbard field comes on stream in Britain followed later by the much larger London Array.
The 3.5bn kroner (£420m) development has some extra significance because it has been put together by a Danish oil company.
Fritz Schur, chairman of Dong, said his firm would triple its production capacity of clean energy by 2020. "Establishing Horns Rev 2 is an important milestone in Dong Energy's gradual transition from conventional to green power generation," he said.
Critics of wind power complain that it is unreliable because of the intermittent nature of wind. But wind executives say this will only be a problem if it replaces most other energy sources. Even then they believe that other forms of clean energy can be used to take up the slack via a much-vaunted super grid to link the whole of Europe's electricity supply.
Niels Bergh-Hansen, head of wind power at Dong, shrugged off the slow start at Horns Rev 2. "The turbines are very heavy and it always takes time to get started. I had faith in the team out there and never doubted it would work fine."

Wind energy firm given £1m grant

Published Date: 17 September 2009
A COMPANY in Midlothian was today awarded £1 million by the UK Government to develop new wind power technology.
Artemis Intelligent Power, based in Loanhead, is one of three firms to received grants for offshore wind development.Announcing the cash at the TUC conference in Liverpool today, Environment Secretary Ed Miliband said: "Our coastline means the offshore wind industry has the potential to employ tens of thousands of workers by 2020, manufacturing, transporting, installing and operating the new turbines."Waverley Cameron, chairman of Artemis Intelligent Power, said: "This kind of targeted support by government enables small research and development companies like Artemis to develop the breakthrough technologies needed to bring Britain to the forefront of the low carbon revolution."

Turf Battle Heats Up Over Limits on Water-Guzzling Landscapes

There's a turf war under way over America's lawns, and it may be headed for your yard.
Later this year, the Environmental Protection Agency plans to expand its WaterSense conservation program to include a voluntary label for newly built homes. Homes could win certification if they consume roughly 20% less water than standard new homes. Along with criteria for high-efficiency toilets and faucets, the program has a landscaping clause that could strictly limit the amount of turfgrass participating builders plant. The rationale: Homeowners waste a lot of water laboring to keep lawns lush.

Locally, some cities and water utilities, in Florida, Nevada and Texas, for example, already offer homeowners and builders financial incentives for taking steps to decrease water usage, including reducing the amount of lawn in residential yards. But the EPA's latest bid to go green would take the movement national, and that has the turfgrass industry up in arms.
"It puts a label on grass as bad -- that it's not something to be used," says Kris Kiser, executive vice president of the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, a trade group representing equipment manufacturers for the landscape, lawn and other industries. Mr. Kiser says his group and other landscape-trade organizations are lobbying legislators to oppose the proposed WaterSense criteria for landscaping. And Scotts Miracle-Gro Co., the world's largest lawn and garden company, has criticized the EPA's outdoor plan as "arbitrary" and "not supported by science."
Under the plan, WaterSense would give participating builders two options for landscaping new homes. The first: Turfgrass can't exceed 40% of the landscapable area. The second: Builders may use a "water-budget" approach and an EPA-provided online tool to design landscape based on a regionally appropriate amount of water, as well as individual plants' water needs. "So basically, a yard in Maine or Minnesota could have larger turf area than Las Vegas," says Virginia Lee, EPA's WaterSense program team leader.
Ms. Lee says the average home in America uses 30% of its water outdoors, and in some areas of the country that number soars to 70%. While there's nothing to stop homeowners from planting all the turfgrass they want once they move in, with WaterSense landscaping as an initial template, she says, "we are trying to teach people to plant appropriate landscapes."
Looming Water Shortages
That the nation's water supplies need closer monitoring and preservation is generally not in dispute. Water managers in 36 states anticipate shortages by 2013, according to a report by the U.S. General Accounting Office. Between 1950 and 2000, the U.S. population nearly doubled, but public demand for water more than tripled, according to the EPA.
The problem is particularly severe in regions battling competing forces of drought and heavy population growth, such as Las Vegas, Texas, Florida and Atlanta. A five-year study of Nevada homes that converted lawn to Xeriscape -- a broad term for water-efficient landscape that includes flowers, plants and trees found converted areas used 75% less water on average. The study was conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
Turf Tear-Up
Homeowners in some towns can get financial incentives to replace certain types of turfgrass with plants deemed more water efficient. Here's a sampling (some awards are capped and funds may be limited):
Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority, New Mexico
Water-bill credit of up to 75 cents a square foot for converting landscape designated as "high water use" such as Kentucky bluegrass and sheep fescue to lower-water-use plantings. Plus, 25% off the cost of renting equipment for grass removal.
Southern Nevada Water Authority
Rebate of $1 to $1.50 per square foot of grass removed and replaced with desert landscaping.
City of Chandler, Ariz.
$200 to $600 rebate for replacing turf areas with "non-grass," low-water-use, drought-tolerant plants.
San Antonio Water System, Texas
$100 gift certificate to nursery for, among other things, "having no more than 50% of the landscape planted in turf" (only Bermuda, buffalo or zoysia varieties no St. Augustine). Additional water bill credit of $50 to $300 for low water usage.
Aurora Water, Aurora Colo.
"Xeriscape Rebate" offers residential customers up to $1 per square foot for replacing turf grass with low-water-use plant material.
The EPA hopes its WaterSense program, launched in 2006, can mimic the success of Energy Star, the federal program created in 1992 to identify and champion products that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Energy Star label is now on thousands of items. By year-end, nearly one million new homes will have been Energy Star certified -- meaning built with qualifying materials and equipment that make them roughly 30% more efficient than standard new homes. While purchases of government-certified products are voluntary, over time they can skew the market toward products meeting the criteria. Over the Labor Day weekend, for instance, Sears and Lowe's hawked 20% discounts on appliances bearing the Energy Star label.
Opponents of the WaterSense landscape criteria worry the EPA certification, as currently proposed, might eventually gain similar traction as Energy Star among home builders. Some WaterSense labeled products, such as toilets, qualify for rebates in places such as Cobb County, Ga., and Durham, N.C. Proposed legislation would give a federal tax credit to purchasers of WaterSense-labeled homes. Other water-saving rebates are listed at
But while significant strides have been made to reduce residential indoor water use with low-flow faucets, shower heads and other water-conserving appliances, outdoor usage remains difficult to curtail. "Indoors, water conservation is based on installing technologies that don't require significant changes in behavior -- you can still flush the toilet and do laundry," says Heather Cooley, senior research associate at the Pacific Institute, a nonprofit research group. Outdoors, there is more behavior change involved with educating people about the volume of water being used and alternatives to lawns and irrigation technologies."
Public officials are trying financial persuasion to convince consumers to ditch grass. The Southern Nevada Water Authority runs a Get Off Your Grass, We'll Pay Cash program that pays customers between $1 and $1.50 per square foot of grass removed and replaced with desert landscaping. To date the program has converted turf equivalent to roughly 2,400 football fields. Building codes in the Las Vegas area also require that new homes cannot have any lawn in the front yard and only 50% lawn in back, says Doug Bennett, conservation manager at SNWA.
What Neighbors Think
Florida has its own voluntary program, called Water Star, that limits how much high-volume-irrigation landscape -- often that's turfgrass -- participating builders can install. But that can conflict with rules enforced by many homeowners associations that require well-maintained grass landscaping. This spring, Republican Gov. Charlie Crist stepped in and signed a bill permitting homeowners to replace lawns with more "Florida friendly" plants, regardless of neighborhood covenants. Some cities, such as Apopka, Fla., even regulate the type of grass permitted for new homes to favor more drought-tolerant varieties such as Bahia and Bermuda over St. Augustine.
Such moves have met with mixed reviews. "No one here wants to see Xeriscape next door to them for the most part," says Greg Kullman, resident and former president of Silverthorn, a gated golf-course community in Hernando County, Fla. He estimates grass takes up about 90% of a Silverthorn home's yard. "Grass is a part of everyone's life from when you are first born. Without grass, a home would be bland, and if a home is bland, its value drops."
Virtues of Grass
Others say grass's own environmental benefits are being sold short. Scotts Miracle-Gro this year launched a Love Your Lawn consumer Web site. In its public comments opposing WaterSense's landscape criteria, the company asserts that healthy turf reduces soil erosion, traps dust and dirt and reduces surface temperatures. Scotts and other grass sellers are developing new seed varieties that need less water.
The EPA aims to implement the WaterSense program for new homes in early December but the agency could still modify the landscape criteria. One alternative model is Florida's Water Star program, which doesn't directly limit turfgrass but rather the amount of landscape that uses high-volume irrigation. That distinction forces participating home builders to plant more drought-tolerant grass varieties or other water-saving plants without demonizing grass, says Deirdre Irwin, Water Star coordinator for the St. Johns Water Management District, one of five such agencies in Florida.
"Our agency has a strong position that it isn't turfgrass that wastes water but the irrigation and the wrong species in the wrong place," Ms. Irwin says.

Measures to protect Mediterranean tuna are failing, report warns

Confidential papers show how fishing boats in the region routinely fail to follow regulations put in place to protect tuna stocks
David Adam, Environment correspondent, Thursday 17 September 2009 16.43 BST
Measures to protect dwindling stocks of bluefin tuna fish in the Mediterranean have failed to curb illegal fishing practices, leaked papers show.
The Guardian has been passed a confidential report of a French navy inspection of the tuna fishery, which shows how fishing boats in the region routinely fail to follow regulations put in place to protect stocks. Conservation experts say the report shows that existing controls are not enough to save the species and that wider measures are needed.
The disclosure comes in advance of a European commission vote on Monday on whether to support moves to list bluefin tuna as an endangered species under the UN agreement Cites, which would bring an immediate ban on its trade.
Sergi Tudela, head of fisheries at WWF Mediterranean, said: "This report speaks of the real situation of the fishery, more than any paper measures that remain largely unapplied. It is evident that the bluefin tuna fishery in the Mediterranean is still entirely out of control and illegal fishing continues unabated. Management measures adopted for the fishery are not only well below the standards requested by urgent scientific advice, but even so they are not even implemented in the field."
Stocks of bluefin in the Mediterranean - where they spawn before heading into the Atlantic - collapsed during the 1990s, driven by demand for sushi, for which their tender flesh is highly prized. Numbers are now reckoned to be below one-fifth of what they were in 1970.
The remaining fish are supposed to be protected by a intergovernmental body called the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), which regulates catches and fishing activity. The organisation has been consistently criticised by scientists and conservation groups for setting quotas above sustainable levels and ignoring expert advice.
The French navy report describes a surprise inspection of the tuna fishery in the eastern Mediterranean by patrol boat Arago in May this year. The navy inspected 24 vessels from Turkey, Spain, Italy, Greece and Cyprus involved in "purse seine" fishing for bluefin, a practice where fishermen use giant nets to herd the fish towards shore, where they are transferred to shallow water pens for fattening.
The report strongly criticised the Turkish fishing fleet. It says: "The Turkish didn't seem to apply the regulations. Registration documents were either not filled in or simply did not exist. There are no ICCAT observers in the purse seiners or the vessel is simply not registered with ICCAT."
Under ICCAT rules, each vessel over 24m needs to carry a regional observer to be allowed to work the fishery.
The Arago report says they found only one observer across the fleet, and raised question marks about his honesty. "After the inspections he would find all sorts of explanations or false arguments to try to justify noncompliance with ICCAT recommendations. Moreover, the estimations of the amount of fish in the cages given by him were on average 10-times lower than those estimated by the divers of the Arago."
In all, the Arago report details 22 breaches of ICCAT regulations, including fishing without licenses, poor or absent record keeping and taking fish below the allowed size.
Tudela said: "The risk situation reported for the bluefin tuna breeding stock is higher than ever. This is inevitable given the huge overcapacity of the industrial fleet targeting the stock. To break even, this giant fleet needs to overfish. The only option to save the stock and the fishery is to temporarily close the fishery, to create conditions for a sustainable fishery and to allow the stock to recover. A ban of international trade under Cites is essential to cut the main driver of overfishing. We want to see a sustainable fishery in the future, but to allow that we must give tuna a breather."

Almost 4 million Kenyans on food aid as drought deepens

Pictures of hundreds of cow carcasses being tipped into a mass grave near Nairobi highlight the scale of the natural disaster
Xan Rice in Nairobi, Thursday 17 September 2009 23.12 BST
The devastating drought sweeping across Kenya is causing widespread hunger, thirst and, in the case of cattle, death. Pictures of hundreds of cow carcasses being tipped into a mass grave near Nairobi highlight the scale of the natural disaster – and the clumsy or even negligent efforts of the government to deal with it.
Aware that the drought was likely to cause pastoralists to lose significant parts of their herds, the government announced a 500m shilling (£4.1m) plan last month to buy weak animals from farmers for 8,000 shillings (£65) each. The plan provided for the animals to be transported by truck to the Kenya meat commission depot in Athi River, a town near Nairobi, where they would be held, fed, and slaughtered, with the meat sold to recoup costs.
But many of the trucks transporting the cows hundreds of miles from as far away as north-eastern province, had insufficient water and food on board, causing large numbers of animals to die along the way. Of those that arrived alive, many soon perished owing to a lack of pasture in the holding bay.
The botched operation has caused anger and embarrassment among MPs, especially given that the government has been asking donors for urgent financial help in feeding the nearly 10 million Kenyans who are food insecure.
"They should have slaughtered the animals at the point of origin, not money to bring them to Athi River to be buried," said John Muthotho, chairman of the parliamentary committee on agriculture, which has accused the meat commission and the livestock ministry of incompetence.
Drought has long been a theme in Kenya, and east Africa more broadly, though the extreme dry spells appear to be hitting with more frequency. Over the past decade pastoralists have become used to marching vast distances in search of grazing, ending up in once-unlikely areas.
In Nairobi, the sight of Masai herders grazing their cows in upmarket suburbs or blocking the highway as their cattle amble across no longer raises eyebrows. In the Masai Mara game reserve tourists enter the park each day to see the wild animals roam the vast plains but at night it is the herders, who are being allowed to drive in thousands of cattle to graze.
The crisis is being exacerbated by high food prices, caused by poor harvests but also poor government planning that has left a large hole in the grain reserves. During the recent holidays many schools that serve lunches during term time stayed open simply so the pupils could be assured of eating one meal a day.
There is also a serious water shortage, with some neighbourhoods in Nairobi going without for weeks at a time. One reason is drought, but the destruction of water catchment areas – in some cases with the encouragement of the authorities – has not helped. With the electricity supply largely dependent of hydropower, low dam levels have also led to widespread power rationing.

Sovereignty, oil hunt complicate Arctic research

Reuters, Thursday September 17 2009
* Arctic sovereignty complicates research
* Oil industry exploration cuts ships available
* Expedition science chief helps design new vessel
By Jeffrey Jones
ABOARD THE PROFESSOR KHROMOV, Sept 18 (Reuters) - Russian and U.S. oceanographers studying the impact of global warming on the Bering Strait in late August enjoyed seas on some days that were so calm their ship made the only ripples.
But the serenity of the seascape belied increasingly turbulent waters for scientific research as countries exert sovereignty over Arctic territory and Big Oil boosts exploration efforts.
It has complicated life for Kathleen Crane, as she and her colleagues coordinate dozens of researchers in the western Arctic, a crucial region for the study of climate change and its impact on water, ice and life forms.
"It makes it harder because it's starting to ratchet up the perceived antagonisms between countries. They become competitors rather than working for the same goal," Crane, of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said aboard the research ship Professor Khromov.
The expedition, called RUSALCA, or Russian-American Long-term Census of the Arctic, is one of several international Arctic studies as sea ice shrinks, opening the possibility of more navigable waterways in the far north.
Russia and the United States are among six countries pressing jurisdiction in the Arctic, where oil and gas resources are huge but access has always been restricted by the remoteness and cold.
Shrinking ice is sharpening previously minor disputes, such as a Russian-Danish standoff over who owns the seabed under the North Pole or how far Canada controls the Northwest Passage that the United States calls an international waterway.
A week before the RUSALCA mission began, Canada conducted a high-profile military exercise in its most northerly regions to underline its claims.
Such tensions have made security provisions at ports and aboard ships more onerous, Crane said.
In Washington, more government departments demand paperwork, and scientists and their gear require Transportation Security Administration clearance -- even at a tiny port like Nome, Alaska, where the mission began.
Nome, best known as the finish line for Alaska's Iditarod dogsled race, is expected to become an important strategic base as development ramps up, Joy Baker, the town's harbor master, said before RUSALCA scientists embarked on their expedition.
"The Arctic has become a very important place in the U.S. mind-set," Crane said. "But on the other hand, there's a lot more need for justification to work in that Arctic."
In Russian waters, every activity and piece of gear requires a permit. In late August, an impromptu plan to take a Zodiac craft out for a spin around the Khromov in waters just off Siberia was quickly scrubbed by the ship's Russian Navy representative, fearing that launching without prior authorization could jeopardize the mission.
Security fears eased after the Cold War, which helped NOAA and the Russian Academy of Sciences begin joint oceanographic cruises in 2004. But the old distrust never completely faded.
"It was pretty difficult. There was some suspicion among enforcement agencies on the Russian and American sides," said Aleksey Ostrovskiy, a Russian coordinator for the expedition. "Permission is given to anyone who wants to work, as long as it doesn't conflict with Russian national security interests. But sometimes it's hard to prove."
The race for Arctic resources has also created headaches for oceanographers, as the world's largest oil companies scoop up ice-capable vessels for exploration.
There are relatively few ships that scientists can use for their research, which includes sampling water and sea life at numerous points in the Bering and ice-prone Chukchi seas.
Crane said Exxon Mobil Corp, BP Plc and Royal Dutch Shell, which have pockets deep enough to sign contracts for years in advance, are her biggest competitors for ships.
"The oil companies that are really expanding their geophysical surveying in the Arctic, and also environmental surveying, have been relying on Russian icebreakers and Russian research vessels," she said.
The Khromov is a Russian research ship leased and operated by Heritage Expeditions, a New Zealand-based ecotourism company. Financial troubles forced Russia's science authority to take such steps, Ostrovskiy said.
"Some ships were decommissioned, some ships were turned into tourist business because it was very difficult for the academy to keep them running though all of this, with licensing and inspections. It's very expensive," he said.
The United States has a few ships that oceanographers can use in the region occasionally. But the science community will soon have one all its own thanks to President Barack Obama's economic stimulus package.
RUSALCA's since chief, Terry Whitledge, is working on a project to build the United States' first ship dedicated to science since the 1980s.
The $200 million project is the first use of U.S. economic stimulus funding by the National Science Foundation.
A contract to build the 242-foot (74-metre) ship, designed to operate off Alaska, is scheduled to go to a U.S. shipyard in the next two months, said Whitledge, who directs the Institute of Marine Science at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
"We were the main supporters to keep the ball rolling, but it's a national resource available to anyone in the U.S. who has an oceanography grant," he said. (Editing by Alan Elsner)

Eco groups tell parties not to cut spending on environment

By Andrew Grice, Political Editor
Friday, 18 September 2009
Green groups have urged Britain's political parties to match their spin with substance by including firm pledges on the environment in their election manifestos.
Although the parties have maintained their commitment to green issues despite the recession, campaigners fear that the huge deficit in the public finances may force cuts in spending on tackling climate change and improving the natural environment.
In a report published today, eight groups which have a total of 1.5 million members list 10 key demands the parties should include in their manifestos to prove their green credentials. They include an increase in the budgets of the Energy and Climate Change and Environment departments. Both could be vulnerable to spending cuts under Labour or the Tories, as neither party has pledged to ring-fence their budgets. Other demands include an end to airport expansion, and a 40 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions generally and from Britain's houses by 2020.
Stephen Hale, director of Green Alliance, said on behalf of the groups (CPRE, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust, WWF and the Green Alliance): "It's now or never. The real contest will be over specific policies. Action in the next parliament is critical if we are to simultaneously reduce our CO2 emissions while improving the resilience of our natural environment to avoid the looming crises of food, energy and water shortages by 2030."
A year ago, the groups accused Labour of having a "contradictory and incoherent" approach to the environment, saying the Tories were "strong on presentation but weak on substance" and that the Liberal Democrats' long-standing enthusiasm for green issues had waned.
Privately, green campaigners believe the Government's record has improved since Ed Miliband became Energy and Climate Change Secretary. They think the Tories have adopted some good policies, such as opposing a third runway at Heathrow, but want to see David Cameron give the environment the high profile it enjoyed soon after he became Tory leader four years ago. They believe that Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, has become more engaged in green issues in the past year after a poor start.
The groups said: "It is imperative that the leaders of all parties in the next Parliament accord the highest priority to climate change and the natural environment."
Green manifestos: The 10 environment demands
* UK on track to cut emissions by 40 per cent by 2020, 80 per cent by 2050
* At least 15 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2020
* Strong UK leadership to ensure world greenhouse gas emissions fall by 2015
* UK to give most of $160bn-a-year low-carbon scheme in developing nations
* Progress towards restoring UK natural environment by 2020
*Access for all to green space within walking distance of their home
* Sustainable as well as economic development at heart of planning system
* All income from EU emissions trading to go to tackling climate change
* Increase government spending on low carbon economy
* Cut emissions from UK housing stock by more than 40 per cent by 2020