National Climate Assessment Finally Released -- Scientists: Effects Will Be Deadly, Bush spokesperson: Don't Worry, Be Happy
In response to a court order obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Bush administration today issued the first-ever national overview of global warming's likely impacts on human health, ecosystems, and the economy.
Dr. Thomas Lovejoy, who chaired the group of scientists that reviewed the report, told the Associated Press, "It basically says the America we've known we can no longer count on. It's a pretty dramatic picture of all kinds of change rippling through natural systems across the country. And all of that has implications for people."
Curiously, White House associate science director Sharon Hays refused to characterize the report as bad news. But hmm -- this is how the Associated Press summarized the report's predictions:
• Increased heat deaths and deaths from climate-worsened smog. In Los Angeles alone, yearly heat fatalities could increase by more than 1,000 by 2080, and the Midwest and Northeast are most vulnerable to increased heat deaths.
• Worsening water shortages for agriculture and urban users. From California to New York, lack of water will be an issue.
• A need for billions of dollars in more power plants (one major cause of global warming gases) to cool a hotter country. The report says that summer cooling will cause Seattle's energy consumption to increase by 146 percent with the warming that could come by the end of the century.
• More death and damage from wildfires, hurricanes, and other natural disasters and extreme weather. In the last three decades, wildfire season in the West has lengthened by 78 days.
• Increased insect infestations and food- and waterborne microbes and diseases. Insect and pathogen outbreaks to the forests are even now causing $1.5 billion in annual losses.
Not what we think of as good news.
Learn more from the New York Times and Reuters.
Feds Get Ultimatum Over Pacific Walrus' Peril
On Tuesday, almost four months after the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to federally protect the Pacific walrus, we warned the administration that we'll sue if it keeps ignoring the species' plight. The Pacific walrus, whose scientific name means "tooth-walking sea horse," is an intriguing Arctic pinniped that needs sea ice for resting, diving for food, breeding, nursing, and raising young -- in other words, for survival. But thanks to global warming, which is melting Arctic sea ice at record-breaking speed, Pacific walruses have been forced into a land-based existence that they're not adapted to . . . and they're dying as a result. Global warming impacts on the walrus will only get worse; in the meantime, the species is also threatened by oil and gas development in its Arctic habitat.
The Pacific walrus is on a growing list of species the Center is working to defend from global warming, including four ice seals, 12 penguin species, the American pika, and of course the now-famous polar bear.
Read more in the Seattle Post Intelligencer.
Forest Service Warned It Must Protect Fossil Creek
Last November, the highly imperiled loach minnow and spikedace were reintroduced to Fossil Creek, a perennial Arizona river now on the mend after decades of devastation by dams. Unfortunately, the U.S. Forest Service has allowed further damage to the delicate river, its riparian ecosystem, and the native fish it harbors.
Since the loach minnow and spikedace are federally protected as "threatened," the Endangered Species Act forbids federal agencies to permit activities that harm them, yet the Forest Service has refused to curtail damage from increasing Fossil Creek visitation, allowing trash, off-road vehicles, firearm use, illegal trails, and human waste to degrade the water and threaten creek inhabitants. The Center has asked the Forest Service to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, complete management plans to help protected Fossil Creek species, and enforce camping restrictions until a management plan is realized.
Get a local point of view in the Prescott Daily Courier.
Dirt-bike Derby Threatens Tranquil Trout
The Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians have sent letters to protest a large motorcycle race planned for the beautiful Lake Fork Canyon in New Mexico's Santa Fe National Forest. The application for holding the race, which is planned to last for two days and will involve an estimated 100 people, is a meager page long and lacks information on the event's impacts on water and wildlife. And although the event has been happening in the area for at least 11 years, only a very limited environmental analysis has been done. Many vulnerable species could be harmed by the race, including the Rio Grande cutthroat trout -- which luckily, thanks to a Center petition and three lawsuits, is now on its way to federal protection.
Read more in the Santa Fe New Mexican.
"Apocalypse in A Jar": Hear Center Writer's Short Story on NPR
At the request of National Public Radio, Center for Biological Diversity staffer and acclaimed novelist Lydia Millet has written a short, short, short story commemorating the firing-up of the Large Hadron Collider, an enormous particle accelerator able to smash protons at nearly the speed of light. The collider will help physicists solve the mysteries of the universe -- or, as one curious lawsuit claims, create a black hole that would swallow the Earth.
Read by actress Martha Plimpton, the 750-word story imagines a world in which the collider captures and contains a tiny black hole, rendering humanity forever responsible for its potential apocalyptic escape. Told from the perspective of a lowly lab tech tasked to monitor the containment, "Telford" ponders how the threat of extinction forces us to examine the meaning of life.
Millet is the author of the Penn USA-winning My Happy Life. Her current novel is How the Dead Dream.
Listen to "Telford" online or download a podcast.
Desert Tortoises Dwindle in Utah
Last Friday -- World Turtle Day, for those who missed the memo -- was a great day for honoring turtles and tortoises worldwide, but desert tortoises in Utah had no reason to celebrate. Thanks to drought, fire, disease, and other dangers, the population of threatened reptiles on the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve has been nearly halved since 2000. Although desert tortoises are hardy and adapted for arid lands, it hasn't been easy for them to find sustenance during recent dry years, and they're still feeling the effects of a large 2005 fire that burned up much of their food in the reserve -- and directly killed many tortoises (who couldn't, of course, outrun the flames).
Happily, desert tortoises are protected under the Endangered Species Act, but delicate populations need special care. The Center for Biological Diversity is currently fighting for tortoises in the western Mojave threatened by the perils of relocation.
Read more about Utah tortoises in the Salt Lake Tribune, and check out the Center's desert tortoise Web page.
Sad Goodbye to the Chinese White-handed Gibbon
The Chinese white-handed gibbon has been declared extinct. The remarkable ape roamed the forests of China's Yunnan province for many thousands of years before succumbing to the destruction of its forest home and uncontrolled hunting. It was last seen in 1988 and last heard in 1992. The extinction was declared by a Swiss scientific team that recently searched all Chinese forests where the subspecies was seen in the past 20 years. There's a faint hope, but no evidence, that it may be holding on in adjacent Burma (Myanmar).
Hello to Newly Discovered Santa Marta Screech Owl
In February 2007, researchers in Colombia's Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range discovered a new species of owl, dubbed the Santa Marta screech owl, a bird closely related to the tropical screech owl but with its own unique vocalizations, plumage, and range. The new owl is known only from four or five pairs that live in high-elevation areas within the El Dorado Bird Reserve, a wildlife preserve established two years ago by the American Bird Conservancy, Fundación ProAves, and Conservation International for its suit of endangered species (including at least 14 globally imperiled birds). Biologists have just erected 40 screech-owl nest-boxes on the reserve in the hopes of encouraging the Santa Marta screech owl to breed where it can be closely monitored -- and admired.
Watch a video of the newly discovered owl.
Photo credits: Pacific walrus by Captain Budd Christman, NOAA; Pacific walrus by Bill Hickey, USFWS; spikedace by Marty Jakle, USFWS; Rio Grande cutthroat trout courtesy of USFWS; desert tortoise by Beth Jackson; Santa Marta screech owl by Benjamin Freeman.
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