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Saturday, October 27, 2007

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

The recently published UN report GEO4 giving a comprehensive report on the environmental state of the planet is a powerful document running to over 500 pages and packed with charts and detailed accounts of the four most important natural services we all depend on for our survival. So there are sections titled "State- and- Trends of the Environment from 1987 to 2007" for the Atmosphere, Land, Water and Biodiversity.
To find out more about the UNEP and the GEO4 Report click here.

On the UNEP home page are links to Web Animations for a number of Environmental issues which are I think well done and can be useful in clarifying what is at stake in for instance "Loss of Biodiversity".

Apart from the mass of data in the report there are short summary statements for each section which are reproduced below.

Section A Overview.

“The ‘environment’ is where we live; and

development is what we all do in attempting

to improve our lot within that abode.

The two are inseparable.”

Our Common Future

Section B State-and-Trend of the Environment: 1987-2007.

Climate change affects the warming and

acidification of the global ocean, it influences

the Earth’s surface temperature, the amount,

timing and intensity of precipitation,

including storms and droughts. On land,

these changes affect freshwater availability

and quality, surface water run-off and

groundwater recharge, and the spread of

water-borne disease vectors and it is likely

to play an increasing role in driving changes

in biodiversity and species’ distribution and

relative abundance.

Section C Regional Perspectives: 1987-2007.

Continued environmental degradation in

all regions is unfairly shifting burdens onto

future generations, and contradicts the

principle of intergenerational equity.

Section D Human Dimensions of Environmental Change.

Many people, individually and

collectively, contribute, often

inadvertently, to the suffering of

others while improving their own

well-being. This can result from

environmental changes which are

linked across scales and between

geographical regions through both

biophysical and social processes.

Section E The Outlook- Towards 2015 and Beyond.

The scenarios point to both risks and

opportunities in the future. Of particular

significance are the risks of crossing

thresholds, the potential of reaching turning

points in the relationship between people

and the environment, and the need to

account for interlinkages in pursuing a

more sustainable path.

Section F Sustaining Our Common Future.

While governments are expected to take the

lead, other stakeholders are just as important

to ensure success in achieving sustainable

development. The need couldn’t be more

urgent and the time couldn’t be more

opportune, with our enhanced understanding

of the challenges we face, to act now to

safeguard our own survival and that of

future generations.

Extracts from UNEP report GEO4.

"Global Environment Outlook October 2007"

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Fungi Foray Beer Wood 2007

Here are a few photos from this event. As a reminder you can expand any photo by clicking on it to make it full screen for clearer viewing.The strange looking specimen in the centre was identified as Peltigera canina, (Dog Lichen) which is technically a lichen not a fungi. It was growing on a fallen tree trunk along with the moss. There is a useful web site for idents on plants and some fungi here:
The link takes you to a better photo of the lichen.
There are plenty more which can be uploaded soon together with a list of species found on this visit. The total was around 40 and a new species for the reserve was found making the overall running total 190

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Rachel Carson and her book Silent Spring

Just by chance I came upon a flier for a new play based on the life of Rachael Carson who was the author of "Silent Spring". This was a book written and published in the USA in 1962 which caused a rethink in the use of toxic chemicals as pesticides, fungicides and herbicides in agriculture. It has been compared for its impact on history with Adam Smith's , The wealth of Nations and Charles Darwin's , The origin of the species.
Carson was born a hundred years ago this year and the play is a celebration of her major part in controlling the use of chemicals in this way. Here is a link to a web site dedicated to the play and Carson.

A few short extracts to the book give the flavour of its dramatic tale:

Chapter 1 A Fable for Tomorrow.

"There was once a town in the heart of America where all life seemed to live in harmony with its surroundings" We like to think such towns and villages still exist here in Somerset. "The town lay in the midst of a checkerboard of prosperous farms, with fields of grain and hillsides of orchards where, in spring, white clouds of bloom drifted above the green fields." ***********
" Then a strange blight crept over the area and everything began to change. Some evil spell had settled on the community: mysterious maladies swept the flocks of chickens; the cattle and sheep sickened and died. Everywhere was a shadow of death."***********

A page further on she wrote:

" This town does not actually exist, but it might easily have a thousand counterparts in America and elsewhere. I know of no community that has experienced all the misfortunes I describe. Yet everyone of these disasters has actually happened somewhere, and many real communities have actually suffered a substantial number of them. A grim spectre has crept up on us almost unnoticed, and this imagined tragedy may easily become a stark reality we shall all know.
What has already silenced the voices of spring in countless towns in America? This book is an attempt to explain."

These extracts are taken from a Penguin Books edition of " Silent Spring" Published in 1995 and reprinted many times since.
The story told is still relevant today not only in terms of taoxic chemicals but because of GM crop experiments.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Marine wildlife is a local matter to us in Somerset

In my last posts I've made reference to our Fungi Foray and climate change. Now here is an issue of growing concern to us not least because of the announcement of a proposal for a Severn Estuary barrage.

I am posting the Trusts press release dated today as a small way of helping to spread the word on this issue.

I feel involved with this because I signed the petition for a Marine Bill.

300,000-strong petition calls for a Marine Bill now!

17th October, 2007

The call for a Marine Act - giving greater protection to the UK’s marine wildlife - will go to London later today when a 300,000-strong petition - comprising supporters from four conservation organisations - will be delivered to Downing Street by four children representing our future generations.

The Wildlife Trusts, RSPB, Marine Conservation Society and WWF are campaigning for a full Marine Bill in next month’s Queen’s Speech. They have long been campaigning for new and improved marine nature conservation legislation. Currently, the groups regard existing marine legislation as ineffective, inadequate or even non-existent.

The petition has attracted widespread support, including a pledge from Kate Humble, the RSPB’s newest vice president and a big fan of the marine environment. Kate said:

“As a diver I know what an amazing wealth of wildlife we have in the seas around the UK. But, I'm also aware of the pressures the marine environment is under. That's why I'm supporting the call for a Marine Bill now to introduce marine reserves to give our wonderful sealife the protection it deserves.”

The marine campaign coalition is calling on the Prime Minister to include a full Marine Bill in the Queen’s Speech in November – not the draft Bill that was mentioned in Gordon Brown’s draft legislative programme. Putting marine planning at its heart and giving much stronger protection to marine wildlife, the groups says it is vital the Bill includes measures to designate and conserve nationally-important marine wildlife sites, including highly-protected marine reserves.

Joan Edwards, head of marine policy for The Wildlife Trusts, said:

“The UK public clearly places great value on our seas and believes they should be properly protected. We urgently need new laws to protect our seas and marine life. The number of signatures handed in today shows how public support is growing - as is awareness of how we treat our life support system. But our campaign cannot stop until there’s renewed commitment from Gordon Brown to improve the protection and management of the UK’s marine environment.”

Melissa Moore, Marine Conservation Society senior policy officer, said:

“We need a full Marine Bill in November’s Queen’s Speech. A draft Marine Bill next year would be just another consultation and we have had two of those already. The shocking adverts the coalition has placed in today’s national papers reflect the urgent need for a Marine Act to halt the demise of a range of UK marine species and habitats while we are on watch.”

Jan Brown, senior marine policy officer at WWF says:

“Our seas have been in decline for some time and it is imperative that the Government addresses the urgency of the situation and introduces a Marine Bill now. The facts are inescapable, our seas are in crisis. We need to act and cannot afford another year of delay by the Government.”

Dr Sharon Thompson, a senior marine policy officer with the RSPB, said:

“Seabirds provide one of the greatest wildlife spectacles the UK has to offer. The UK hosts the majority of the global breeding populations of Manx shearwater, gannet and great skua and the UK coasts throng with millions of individual seabirds, a testament to the richness of our seas. Although these birds are protected on land, at sea they have little protection – a Marine Bill would pave the way for giving them, and the seas they depend upon, the protection they need.”

Preliminary work by the RSPB has identified at least 23 examples of sites of national importance for nesting seabirds that could benefit from further protection from a Marine Bill. Although many of the actual nesting colonies are already protected on land, the foraging areas these seabirds need at sea are not protected at all.

The list includes St Bees Head, in Cumbria, the only English nesting site for the black guillemot; England’s rarest nesting seabird.
The call for a Marine Bill has also attracted widespread cross-party support with 117 MPs signing the Early Day Motion (EDM 1833) calling for its introduction in the Queen’s Speech.

Four children representing the four organisations will hand in the Marine Bill petition to Downing Street at 9am on Wednesday 17 October.

Story by RSWT

Friday, October 12, 2007

"RealClimate" web site , recent post and link

Having just held our October meeting on Climate Change last night and thinking about the pros and cons or our understanding of climate events I looked up the RealClimate blog and found this latest posting which I thought illustrates very well the need for a better understanding amongst us all and that informed help to achieve that goal is easily to hand if we look for it.

Here is the posting shown below and it can be seen on their blog here:

I think the last paragraph is relevant to this post.
If you want to find out more about the scientific background to climate change just click on the "Start Here" button on the RealClimate page.

11 October 2007

CO2 equivalents

Filed under: — gavin @ 5:40 PM

There was a minor kerfuffle in recent days over claims by Tim Flannery (author of "The Weather Makers") that new information from the upcoming IPCC synthesis report will show that we have reached 455 ppmv CO2_equivalent 10 years ahead of schedule, with predictable implications. This is confused and incorrect, but the definitions of CO2_e, why one would use it and what the relevant level is, are all highly uncertain in many peoples' minds. So here is a quick rundown.

Definition: The CO2_equivalent level is the amount of CO2 that would be required to give the same global mean radiative forcing as the sum of a basket of other forcings. This is a way to include the effects of CH4 and N2O etc. in a simple way, particularly for people doing future impacts or cost-benefit analysis. The equivalent amount is calculated using the IPCC formula for CO2 forcing:

Total Forcing = 5.35 log(CO2_e/CO2_orig)

where CO2_orig is the 1750 concentration (278 ppmv).

Usage: There are two main ways it is used. Firstly, it is often used to group together all the forcings from the Kyoto greenhouse gases (CO2, CH4, N2O and CFCs), and secondly to group together all forcings (including ozone, sulphate aerosols, black carbon etc.). The first is simply a convenience, but the second is what matters to the planet. Many stabilisation scenarios, such as are being discussed in UNFCCC negotiations are based on stabilising total CO2_e at 450, 550 or 750 ppmv.

Magnitude The values of CO2_e (Kyoto) and CO2_e (Total) can be calculated from Figure 2.21 and Table 2.12 in the IPCC WG1 Chapter 2. The forcing for CO2, CH4 (including indirect effects), N2O and CFCs is 1.66+0.48+0.07+0.16+0.34=2.71 W/m2 (with around 0.3 W/m2 uncertainty). Using the formula above, that gives CO2_e (Kyoto) = 460 ppmv. However, including all the forcings (some of which are negative), you get a net forcing of around 1.6 W/m2, and a CO2_e (Total) of 375 ppmv with quite a wide error bar. This is, coincidently, close to the actual CO2 level.

Implications The important number is CO2_e (Total) which is around 375 ppmv. Stabilisation scenarios of 450 ppmv or 550 ppmv are therefore still within reach. Claims that we have passed the first target are simply incorrect, however, that is not to say they are easily achievable. It is even more of a stretch to state that we have all of a sudden gone past the 'dangerous' level. It is still not clear what that level is, but if you take a conventional 450 ppmv CO2_e value (which will lead to a net equilibrium warming of ~ 2 deg C above pre-industrial levels), we are still a number of years from that, and we have (probably) not yet committed ourselves to reaching it.

Finally, the IPCC synthesis report is simply a concise summary of the three separate reports that have already come out. It therefore can't be significantly different from what is already available. But this is another example where people are quoting from draft reports that they have neither properly read nor understood and for which better informed opinion is not immediately available. I wish journalists and editors would resist the temptation to jump on leaks like this (though I know it's hard). The situation is confusing enough without adding to it unintentionally.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Fungus Foray

An event which is attracting more than usual interest is:

WALK: Fungus Foray, Beer Woods

Date: 21st October 2007
Time: 11:00 AM

Collect fungi in morning then identify fungi with Peter Baker, at High Ham Village Hall. Bring lunch, collecting baskets/containers. Meet Turn Hill (ST 414 316) near Aller. Unsuitable for wheelchair users/limited mobility. Finish 3pm.

The event is organised by Peter Baker Chair of the
Beer and Aller Woods Management committee.
If you want to know more about it you can contact us by replying to this posting.

It is right in the middle of our Group Area and is one of our most important local sites. Perhaps the weather will give us a better than usual display.

The two photos are from our last years Foray and show most of the group who took part and then the collected specimens laid out on newspaper in High Ham Village Hall.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Our programme of events through to March 2008

If you would like to know what talks we have arranged through to March 2008 you will find details on our updated Diary blog. Link here.