Indicators - global warming in the tropics

Trends, news bites, and other indicators of a challenging, spinning, changing world.


BP's New Stand

This spring, British Petroleum announced plans to dedicate substantial resources to combating the threat of global climate change. In a speech at Stanford University, John Browne, BP's chief executive, said:

"The time to consider the policy dimensions of climate change is not when the link between greenhouse gases and climate change is conclusively proven, but when the possibility cannot be discounted. ... We in BP have reached that point." That's important new policy ground, coming from a leading representative of big oil.

As part of BP's new stance, the company plans to aggressively monitor its carbon-dioxide emissions and to develop strategies and technologies that help its customers do the same.

Other initiatives include substantially increasing the company's commitment to solar energy and upping the funds it commits to scientific and policy research on global climate change.

Not all of Browne's remarks were radical. He struck industry's usual cautionary note about the perils of aggressive government intervention. "Actions whichsought, at a stroke, drastically to restrict carbon emissions would be unsustainable because they would crash into the realities of economic growth."

He also reaffirmed the company's commitment to petroleum, calling the continuing use of fossil fuels compatible with sustainability. Still, BP's shift in policy is significant. For years, the oil industry has been downplaying the threat of global climate change. Now BP has crossed over.

by Carl Frankel

Climate Changes Affecting Tropics

A team of Ohio State University researchers has found compelling evidence of global climate change in the tropics and subtropics. Glaciers in alpine regions throughout the lower latitudes are melting at a phenomenal rate. Last year, other scientists discovered that the freezing point in the upper atmosphere has been gaining altitude.

These findings may be among the best evidence to date that the planet is experiencing a recent and rapid warming. On April 3, Ellen Mosley-Thompson, a professor of geography at Ohio State, told researchers attending the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers in Fort Worth that the climatic and environmental changes will have massive impacts on human populations around the globe.

Consider the evidence:

* The edge of the Qori Kalis glacier that flows off the Quelccaya ice cap high in the Peruvian Andes retreated at a rate of 4 meters annually between 1963 and 1978. By 1995, that rate had grown to 30 meters each year.

* The freezing level in the Earth's atmosphere - the elevation at which the air temperature drops to zero degrees centigrade - has been gaining altitude since 1970 at a rate of 4.5 meters each year.

* Ice core samples taken from the Dunde ice cap in eastern Tibet have shown that the last 50 years were the warmest in recorded history. A similar ice core record from the Huascaran ice cap in Peru has shown a strong warming trend over the last 200 years.

For years, scientists have argued over whether the evidence for changes in world climate was being hidden behind normal climate variations. The Ohio State team believes that the evidence is getting stronger as our ability to decipher it has improved dramatically.

They cited the loss of ice volume in the tropical and subtropical ice caps, in the Antarctic Peninsula, and in the Russian Arctic, along with increased snowfall over East Antarctica, as further evidence of change.

"We're making massive changes to the climate on an unprecedented scale in some parts of the globe," Mosley-Thompson said. "This kind of discussion has to find its way into the general conversation."

by Earle Holland

Mosley-Thompson coauthored this paper with Lonnie Thompson. Both are professors of geological sciences at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio and researchers with the Byrd Polar Research Center.

Bicycle Growth

World automobile output totaled 36 million in 1996, enough to expand the global fleet to 496 million vehicles. In the US, the traffic congestion price tag for wasted fuel, rising health care costs associated with air pollution, and lost productivity totals nearly $100 billion. In Bangkok, one of the worlds' most congested cities, the typical motorist spends 44 days a year sitting in traffic jams.

As urban traffic congestion spreads and air pollution worsens, some governments are looking to bicycles, and production is on the rise.

In 1995, about 109 million bikes were produced that's 1.9 percent more bicycles than the previous year.

Copenhagen, one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world, boasts 300 kilometers of bikeways and provides 1,000 bikes for free citizen use around the city. Businesses sponsor the free bicycles in exchange for advertising space on them while the city maintains the fleet. As a result, cycling in the city accounts for 20 percent of daily trips, compared with less than 1 percent in the United States.

Peru's capital is constructing bikeways and redesigning roads to accommodate bikes. Lima also plans to provide loans to the poor for bicycle purchase. Bicycles were included as an integral part of the European Union transportation plan, and Britain has announced it will use bike-friendly policies to double bicycle use by 2002, and to double it again by 2012.

Cities in Europe and Japan boost ridership through "bike and ride" programs that link cycling with public transportation.

Worldwatch Institute

Trading Trash

If there's been any major impediment to the growth of the recycling business it's been how to bring buyers and sellers together in an efficient, responsible manner. The Recyclables Exchange, formed in October 1995 by the Chicago Board of Trade, Environmental Protection Agency, National Recycling Coalition, Clean Washington Center and National Institute of Standards and Technology, may be an answer. Through this organization, companies buy and sell recycled paper, glass, plastic, rubber and other materials over the Internet.

A year and half after it was founded, membership has more than tripled to 179 companies throughout the US, as well as in Canada, Europe and the Pacific Rim. Registered exchange members who want to buy recycled materials simply specify their needs on an online form at the Exchange's Internet site. When a matching sell listing appears, the buyer is notified via Email. Buyers and sellers then work out the shipping details between themselves.

America West Magazine

Graduates Seek Sustainable Jobs

In 1987, members of Student Citizens for Social Responsibility at Humboldt State University in California initiated the Pledge of Social and Environmental Responsibility. It states "I pledge to investigate and take into account the social and environmental consequences of any job opportunity I consider." Since that time, dozens of colleges and universities have enacted the voluntary pledge, which allows students to define what "responsiblei" means to them.

In 1996, Indiana's Manchester College publicized the pledge with a community-wide event coordinated by a diverse committee. Approximately 50 percent of the students signed a wallet-size card stating the pledge and wore green ribbons at commencement. The pledge was also printed in commencement programs.

Contact Neil Wollman at Manchester College, MC Box 152, N Manchester, IN 46962 Email [email protected]

Victorian Car Co-op

Residents of Victoria, British Columbia, have found a way to avoid the high cost of maintaining and insuring cars while also cutting environmental costs.

Impressed by the successes of car share co-ops in Europe, where approximately 30,000 people collectively own 1,500 automobiles, Guy Dauncey brought the idea to British Columbia. Last Valentine's Day, 40 citizens of Victoria pooled their money to launch the Victoria Car Share Co-operative.

Co-op members pay a sign-up fee and purchase two shares in the co-op, costing a total of $500 (Canadian). This money, coupled with a $10 monthly fee, buys them access to a fleet of three compact cars, one truck, and a van. Each of the vehicles are new and will be replaced every three to four years.

Individual insurance and maintenance worries are nonexistent for the co-op members. The vehicles are insured as a fleet, and the group has a maintenance contract with a local service station, which also provides parking. These costs are included in the membership and monthly fees. Drivers are responsible for usage fees, which are about $1.30 per hour, and 25 cents per kilometer.

Besides saving time and money, the co-op provides the added boon of cutting down on vehicle emissions and traffic congestion in a country where such changes are sorely needed. Canadians consume more energy and release more CO2 per capita than does any other population in the world, mostly due to their love affair with driving.

Anne Moon, one of the co-op participants, cites two reasons why she and others opted for the car-sharing plan the need to conserve cash, and to keep the air as clean as possible.

Monday Magazine, Victoria

Shopping is Passe

US retail buyers and consumer-product manufacturers should prepare for a long-term downturn in holiday shopping, according to Trends Journal. The 20th century phenomenon of relying on heavy consumer spending in the weeks after Thanksgiving to "make the year" is a dying trend.

Americans will still shop in big numbers during the gift-giving season, but the time and money they spend will decrease. And the gifts theyill buy will tend to satisfy practical needs, simple pleasures and life-quality improvements.

There are several reasons for this shift. With real wages and benefits rising only 2.9 percent, personal bankruptcies running at a record million a year, and consumer debt at a record trillion dollars, Americans simply can't spend what they used to.

A new-millennium philosophy of voluntary simplicity is also pushing people away from the retail environment. Moreover, 63 percent of the nation's households will have no children by the year 2000, so there will be less pressure to buy gifts for young ones.

Trends Journal

Slow Food

A movement for "slow food" was launched in Italy recently, when McDonald's brought fast food to Rome. Slow Food aims to increase the quality of life by decreasing its pace. The movement, which now claims 40,000 members in 40 countries, demonstrates that many people are putting the brakes on the "faster is better" mindset.

Developing Ideas, International Institute for Sustainable Development, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Plutonium Aboard Cassini Rocket

On October 6, 1997, NASA will launch the Cassini probe to Saturn carrying 72.3 pounds of deadly plutonium-238. The plutonium will power the Cassini probe's electrical instruments during its voyage to Saturn. A malfunction within the Earth's atmosphere could cause the "most toxic chemical known to science" to "shower down with a tremendous tragedy for the people of the Earth," according to City University of New York nuclear physics professor Dr. Michio Kaku.

The craft will orbit Venus twice and then speed back to Earth at 42,300 miles per hour. Just 312 miles above the Earthis surface, Cassini will swing around the planet and use centrifugal force in what is known as a "slingshot maneuver" to hurl itself to Saturn.

If Cassini comes too close to the Earth's atmosphere, it could burn up and cause the deadly plutonium to rain down on the planet's surface. Dr. Helen Caldicott, founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility, warns that plutonium "is so toxic that less than 1 millionth of a gram ... is a carcinogenic dose. One pound, if uniformly distributed, could hypothetically induce lung cancer in every person on Earth."

In a Baltimore Sun article, SUNY professor Karl Grossberg says that such radiation exposure could affect 5 billion of the world's 7 to 8 billion population.

The present launch vehicle is the Titan IV rocket. In 1993, the same type of vehicle exploded 101 seconds after launch and destroyed three spy satellites. NASA estimates a 1 in 900 chance of an accident at Cassini's launch.

Global Response, Tel 303/444-0306 Email [email protected],

Out of This World

The Creative Consumer Co-operative in Great Britain is meeting a demand for socially and environmentally sustainable products. Out of This World neighborhood-based shops feature products and services that promote healthy eating, community development, fair trade, animal welfare, and environmental sustainability.

Out of This World stores are open in Bristol, Nottingham, and Newcastle. Three more stores will open at other locations by the end of this year.

Out of This World

The Creative Consumer Co-operative Ltd.

52 Elswick Road

Newcastle Upon Tyne*

NE4 6JH, United Kingdom

Tel 0191 272 1602

Fax 0191 272 1615

[email protected]

Global Citizens Network

A civil society network emerging from talks with Non-Government Organizations (NGO's) and World Bank President James Wolfenden is growing in size and diversity according to a January 1997 BankCheck Report. The Structural Adjustment Participatory Review Initiative Network (SAPRIN), marks the first time the World Bank has accepted a challenge from civil society organizations to systematically assess the impact of structural adjustment programs on the societies affected.

Structural adjustment policies pushed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund typically are aimed at orienting a country's economy toward exports, reducing spending on education and social services,and privatizing public holdings.

In 10 countries for some 18 months, local civil organizations will join World Bank and government officials to assess the effects of structural adjustment programs. With SAPRIN, the World Bank finds itself dealing with not just a few NGO's, but with a coalition that represents millions of people around the world. 80 percent of the 220 groups in SAPRIN are from 50 countries in the global South.

Other Network members include labor unions, government representatives, business, farmers' and women's associations, churches, and environmental organizations. The broad range of members demonstrates the deep concern grassroots groups have about structural adjustment programs. Participants will directly inform and involve their local communities in the review process, which will begin early this year.

Pacific World

Barometer of Sustainability

In the Western world, people have become so used to thinking about the material wealth of nations that they have neglected the well-being of nations. Prosperity, narrowly-defined, has come to overshadow broader social and ecological concerns in decision-making. A number of forward-thinking organizations have been at work developing indicators that take into account social and ecological well-being, as well as economic growth. Author Robert Prescott-Allen has added a simple, user-friendly approach to this effort as part of his book, The Well-being of Nations.

His "barometer of sustainability" is a two-coordinate measure of community health, with human well-being along one axis and ecosystem health along theother. In his book, Prescott-Allen maps out the data for 180 countries using five categories that show national well-being as ranging from "unsustainable," through "potentially sustainable," and "sustainable." The result is an atlas of sustainable development that is useful for schoolchildren, scholars, and anyone in between.

Developing Ideas, International Institute for Sustainable Development

Free the Children

Schoolchildren in America, Canada and Europe are alerting the world about the inhumane situation of child labor through the nonprofit organization Free the Children. These more than 300 children have organized to end child labor and raise money to build schools for children to attend instead of sweatshops.

Formed by a 12-year old from Toronto, Canada, Free the Children is a memorial to the life of Iqbal Masih, a 12-year old from Pakistan. Masih was just one of millions of children ages 5 to 14 who work in sweatshops around the world. Masih escaped the life he spent shackled to a rug loom. For six years he tied knots in rugs that were later sold in the US and other western countries. Just a year after he traveled to the US in 1994 to receive the Youth in Action Human Rights Award, Masih was killed by gunfire in his Pakistan village.

Masihis experience is not unusual. According to the National Consumers League, there are thousands of sweatshops in the US and tens of thousands around the world. Dismal working conditions have escalated with the global economy. Apparel workers in Bangladesh earn 20 cents an hour, under-age agricultural workers earn even less and bonded laborers in Asia are losing their health, their freedom and their access to education. Here in America, 300 children are killed and some 70,000 injured while on the job every year, according to the National Safe Workplace Institute.

By the middle of 1996, Free the Children had raised almost half of its goal of $300,000. The money will be used to build a rehabilitation and education center, as well as four small rural schools for children freed from sweatshop labor.

Co-op America Quarterly

Contact either Adam Carter, Free the Children, 603 N. Oak Street, Falls Church, VA 22046 Tel 703/534-7045 or Craig Kielbruger, 16 Thornbank Rd, Thornhill, Ontario, Canada L4J 2A2 Tel 905/881-0863
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