The Planet Can't Wait
By David Ignatius
The Washington Post
Wednesday 08 March 2006
Climate change is real and must be addressed now.
The warnings are coming from frogs and beetles, from
melting ice and changing ocean currents, and from scientists and responsible
politicians around the world. And yet what is the US government doing about
global warming? Nothing. That should shock the conscience of Americans.
Actually, the Bush administration's policy is worse
than doing nothing. It has resisted efforts by other nations to discuss
new actions that could reduce emissions of carbon dioxide before the global
climate reaches a disastrous tipping point. And it muzzles administration
scientists to keep them from warning about the seriousness of the issue.
The administration's position is that more research is needed - and then,
as evidence grows that humans are adding to global warming, it calls for
still more research.
Congress is no better. Most members apparently are
waiting for permission from lobbyists and campaign contributors before
getting serious about climate change. The McCain-Lieberman bill to cap
emissions languishes in the Senate; Pete Domenici, the powerful chairman
of the Senate Energy Committee, has issued a white paper calling for ideas
for legislation, but there's no word when a bill might emerge from his
committee. Meanwhile, the Senate environment committee is also claiming
jurisdiction. So what we have in the Senate is a turf fight. And don't
even talk about the House. Maybe members would get interested if they thought
Dubai was behind global warming.
Giant corporations such as General Electric and Citigroup
have concluded that global warming is real, and they are beginning to mobilize
their resources to do something about it. This business activism may offer
the best hope of moving government off its duff. I asked Tom Donohue, the
head of the US Chamber of Commerce and one of Washington's savviest political
operators, when he might commit his organization's considerable clout to
taking action on this issue. He's still in the "needs more study" mode,
but he added, "When the time is right, we'll be as helpful as we can."
Hey, Tom, the time is right.
Every week brings new evidence that global climate
change is real and that it's advancing more rapidly than scientists had
expected. This past week brought a report in Science that the Antarctic
is losing as much as 36 cubic miles of ice a year. Last month researchers
reported that glaciers in Greenland are melting twice as fast as previously
estimated. One normally cautious scientist, Richard Alley, told The Post's
Juliet Eilperin he was concerned about the Antarctic findings, since just
five years ago scientists had been expecting more ice. "That's a wake-up
call," he said. "We better figure out what's going on."
Animals don't have the luxury of ordering up more
studies of global warming. Andrew Revkin of the New York Times reported
in January that colorful harlequin frogs found in Latin America are dying
at alarming rates because of a fungus that seems to be linked to global
warming. Doug Struck explained last week in The Post that climate change
is helping the ravenous mountain pine beetle devour forests in British
Columbia, killing more trees than wildfires or logging. Similar findings
are stacked in a depressing pile in my study that keeps getting taller.
And now we come to the Bush administration - the
folks who once warned that it would be folly to wait so long for evidence
that the "smoking gun" might be a mushroom cloud. Their spirit of vigilance
was applied to Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, which turned out not
to exist - but not to climate change, which does. In a meeting in Montreal
last December, the chief American delegate, Harlan L. Watson, got so peeved
about a proposal for new global "mechanisms" to carry out the 1992 Kyoto
Protocol that he walked out. The American side relented after the wording
was softened to "opportunities," and there's now at least a hope for future
talks about talks about global warming.
But woe unto any administration
official who becomes so concerned about global warming that he actually
tries to sound the alarm. James E. Hansen, the top climate scientist at
NASA, found that political minders at NASA headquarters had ordered a review
of his lectures, papers, interviews and Internet postings after he called
for quick reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to ease global warming.
A 24-year-old former Bush campaign worker who allegedly had been involved
in efforts to muzzle Hansen later resigned - after reports surfaced that
he had fudged his resume.
Usually, America's political antics are forgivable,
but not on this issue. As evidence grows that human activity is accelerating
dangerous changes in the world's climate, the Bush administration's excuses
for inaction are running out. History will not forgive political leaders
who failed to act on this issue, and neither should voters.
Rain Forest Gets Too Much Rain, and Animals Pay
By Hillary Rosner
The New York Times
Tuesday 07 March 2006
San Jose©, Costa Rica - Eduardo Carrillo was
on a field trip to Corcovado National Park with a group of his biology
students last November when he realized that something was wrong. In
just over a mile, the group found five dead monkeys.
Three more were in agony, he said later - emaciated,
near death, sitting on the forest floor unable to climb a tree.
"I had never seen something like this," said Dr.
Carrillo, a wildlife ecologist at the University of Costa Rica. At first
he suspected yellow fever, which swept through monkey populations in the
1950's. So he hurried back to San JosÃ©, the capital, and convened
a team of scientists, which included wildlife biologists, a microbiologist,
a geneticist and a veterinarian.
Tourists in the park, a relatively remote 212-square-mile
tropical rain forest preserve that stretches along the Pacific coast and
inland, reported sightings of other dead animals, including deer, toucans,
macaws and sloths.
In mid-November, park officials closed Corcovado
to visitors after tourists, despite warnings not to handle wildlife, began
bringing sick animals to ranger stations in the hope of saving them.
Dr. Carrillo and his colleagues, as well as government
officials, worried they might have a mini-epidemic on their hands. But
tissue samples from Corcovado spider monkeys - Costa Rica's most endangered
species of monkey - sent to a laboratory at the University of Texas for
analysis showed no evidence of a virus or other pathogen.
The story of what really happened in Corcovado, or
at least the prevailing theory, is less worrisome in the short term than
a disease outbreak, but it has the potential to be deadly serious.
Costa Rican researchers think the affected animals
to death because of a lack of available food sources and an inability to
forage for food during several months of extreme rain and cold.
September, October and November brought excessive
rainfall, nearly twice the monthly averages, and unusually low temperatures
to many parts of Costa Rica, especially the Osa Peninsula, which juts into
the Pacific in the south.
Corcovado averages about 24 inches of rain in September,
31 inches in October and 20 inches in November. In 2005, more than 39 inches
fell in the park in September, 59 inches in October, and 41 inches in November.
While it is impossible to know if the weather in
late 2005 is related to climate change, the Costa Rican team studying Corcovado
worries that if the climate changes and produces more extreme weather events
like this, animal populations may not bounce back easily, said Gustavo
GutiÃ©rrez-Espeleta, a wildlife population geneticist at the
University of Costa Rica.
The weather caused several problems for the monkeys.
Some fruit trees did not bear fruit during the rainy months. Others produced
fruit but it fell to the ground early, leaving nothing on the trees for
long periods of time.
Compounding the problem, researchers say, was that
monkeys were unable to look for food because of the incessant rain.
"If you have a long period of days where it's raining,
raining, raining, they just stay in the tree waiting, and they don't eat,"
said Grace Wong, a wildlife conservation researcher at National University
in San Jose.
"The monkeys need sun to dry off," said Ronald SÃ¡nchez
Porras, an ecologist at the University of Costa Rica. "You can see in the
tree when the monkey moves his body to try to shake the water off. But
when it rains like this, it's impossible."
Four species of monkeys live in Costa Rica, and all
four are found in Corcovado.
The squirrel and capuchin monkeys rely on a diet
of fruit, insects, leaves and stems; howler monkeys mainly eat leaves.
The spider monkeys consume a diet almost exclusively of fruit, leaving
them the most vulnerable.
Spider monkeys in Corcovado also appear to have very
low genetic diversity, said Dr. GutiÃ©rrez-Espeleta, the wildlife
"I've been finding that when we measure genetic variability,
the spider monkey is the worst in Costa Rica," he said.
Dr. GutiÃ©rrez-Espeleta said he believed
that a genetic bottleneck might have occurred several years ago among Corcovado's
spider monkeys, leading to reduction in their genetic diversity.
In addition to being hungry, the monkeys that died
were severely dehydrated, apparently having been unable to venture down
from the trees for water.
This may have stressed their immune systems to the
brink, causing parasites and infections that occur normally to become deadly.
Feces collected from the park showed elevated levels
of usually benign parasites, a sign, Dr. Guttierez-Espeleta said, that
the animals' immune systems were not functioning properly.
Animals living near the edges of the park or outside
the park in nearby privately owned rain forests seemed to fare better than
those living deep in the park, probably because they had access to fruit
trees and other crops planted by people.
"I never saw toucans here before, but they were fighting
outside my office because we have banana trees," said Marleny Jimenez,
who owns the Drake Bay Wilderness Resort, a tranquil getaway at the headwaters
of the RÃo Agujas, about five miles up the coast from Corcovado.
At Bosque del Cabo, a 650-acre private rain forest
preserve and eco-resort at the southern end of the Osa Peninsula, also
near Corcovado, most of the property's fruit trees did not bear fruit during
the excessive rains, said the proprietor, Kim Spier.
"We have also noticed that we had many more animals,
especially monkeys, than usual that were trying to get into the kitchen
or our fruit storage area to steal food," Ms. Spier wrote in an e-mail
While some estimates hold that as many as half
the spider monkeys in Corcovado died in the last few months of 2005,
the scientists cannot be certain, in large part because it is not known
exactly how many animals live in the park.
The Wildlife Conservation Society and Conservation
provided money for research into the animal deaths and will pay for follow-up
visits to the park every other month.
Researchers will then tag monkeys to keep tabs on
troop populations and mark trees to monitor fruit production.
"The lesson is that we should document as much as
possible from now on with this kind of event and try to establish a link
to the climate change process," said Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, Costa Rica's
minister of the environment and energy.
For several decades, Costa Rica has had a strong
record of natural resource protection, with strict rules on what sort of
resource extraction is allowed on private lands.
The country uses a gasoline tax to pay landowners
for "environmental services" provided by forests on their land, like watershed
protection, greenhouse gas mitigation, biodiversity and scenic beauty.
"Costa Rica is committed to reversing the process
of climate change," Mr. Rodriguez said, citing the country's rain forest
preservation efforts, ban on oil drilling and interest in renewable energy.
"We don't see the rest of the world doing a good
job," he added.
Corcovado's starving monkeys, the Costa Rican scientists
worry, may be early messengers of future problems associated with a changing
"It's proof," said Ms. Wong, the wildlife conservation
expert, "that sometimes we can establish a national park and say, 'We're
taking care of animals here,' but the situation is out of the control of
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