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Articles by Jonathan Hiskes

Jonathan Hiskes is a writer in Seattle and a former Grist staff reporter. Find him at jonathanhiskes.com and on Twitter.

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  • Super-battery idea wins X Prize competition for next green invention

    From the people that brought you private space travel comes another ambitious techno challenge — a hyper-green battery that can store electrical energy in vast quantities, with super-quick recharging abilities and without environmentally harmful components. Today the X PRIZE Foundation announced the winner of its $25,000 YouTube contest to come up with the next “Crazy […]

  • Stephan Faris’ book is a grim reality check

    The cover of the new climate change travelogue from journalist Stephan Faris makes it pretty clear his news will be grim. On the front cover of Forecast: The Consequences of Climate Change, from the Amazon to the Arctic, from Darfur to Napa Valley ($25, Henry Holt and Company), a lifeless desert floor extends to an […]

  • 'Monaco Declaration' sounds alarm about ocean acidification

    If the idea of acidic oceans sounds problematic, it should. The carbon emissions that trap heat in the atmosphere also wind up in the ocean, where they dissolve and turn the water acidic. This lowering of the pH of seawater -- already underway -- threatens coral reefs, shellfish, and the vast food chains to which they belong.

    Today 155 scientists issued a report on the rising danger of ocean acidification, saying swift and drastic emissions cuts are needed to curb the problem. The Monaco Declaration [PDF] is based on the work of the Second International Symposium on the Ocean in a High-CO2 World, held in Monaco last October. It's not the first warning scientists have issued about ocean acidification, though the call to action from scientists from 26 countries is unusually strongly worded:

    Ocean acidification could affect marine food webs and lead to substantial changes in commercial fish stocks, threatening protein supply and food security for millions of people as well as the multi-billion dollar fishing industry by mid-century, ocean acidification may render most regions chemically inhospitable to coral reefs. These and other acidification-related changes could affect a wealth of marine goods and services, such as our ability to use the ocean to manage waste, to provide chemicals to make new medicines, and to benefit from its natural capacity to regulate climate.

    The report aims to reposition ocean acidification from a peripheral environmental issue to "the other CO2 problem that must be grappled with alongside climate change." Additionally, as the pH of seawater falls, the process reduces the ocean's ability to absorb more carbon. Oceans currently absorb one quarter of the CO2 emitted by human activities, the report says.

    The solution to acidification is essentially the same as that for climate change -- reduce carbon emissions. The declaration's action points are quite predictable: More research, bring policymakers and economists on board, and enact a global carbon emissions plan. Acidification doesn't require a separate plan as much as it provides another reason for an aggressive global climate treaty. From the declaration:

    Solving this problem will require a monumental worldwide effort. All countries must contribute, and developed countries must lead by example and by engineering new technologies to help solve the problem. Promoting these technologies will be rewarded economically, and prevention of severe environmental degradation will be far less costly for all nations than would be trying to live with the consequences of the present approach where CO2 emissions and atmospheric CO2 concentrations continue to increase, year after year.

    The International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, which helped organize the October summit, didn't explain its timing on the declaration, though it's a safe bet the release is designed to build on the momentum of new U.S. leadership. Not only has President Obama declared a return of science to the executive branch, he's also a bodysurfer from Hawaii who may be inclined to pay attention to oceanic issues. He's nominated ocean-protection superstar (at least in marine biology circles) Jane Lubchenco to lead the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration, though she won't be confirmed until a commerce secretary is first nominated and confirmed (thank you very much, Bill Richardson).

    It's not clear how scientists involved in acidification research intend to make a broader public-message push this year, though the declaration acknowledges the issue has a lot riding on the COP-15 climate talks in Copenhagen this December.

  • U.N. climate official clarifies remarks about near-term summit

    Monday, U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer sounded an awful lot like he was making a major announcement about a newly planned international summit on climate change. As the Financial Times reported, the U.N.'s top climate official said a meeting was necessary to lay groundwork before the international climate conference in Copenhagen this December. De Boer's remarks indicated that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon felt the same way and was looking to call a summit in February or March.

    But the secretary-general's office was mum on the matter when contacted by Grist yesterday. Today, de Boer's office confirmed that nothing is planned as of yet.

    "The Secretary General is planning to organize a High Level Event with Heads of State and Government for all Members States in the margins of the General Assembly in September," John Hay, a spokesperson for de Boer, wrote in an e-mail. "He is also exploring other avenues to galvanize Heads of State and Government and support high level political engagement throughout the next 11 months. No specifics, however, are confirmed at this time."

    The possibility of 30 to 40 heads of state meeting as early as February or March was a "personal hope" on de Boer's part, not a concrete plan, Hay said. One of the newest heads of state, President Barack Obama, is likely to have a big say in the timing.

    "Obviously, this is designed to get the U.S. back in play," said John Anthony, communications director for climate and energy for the United Nations Foundation. "[But] just look at what's happening domestically. It's a real crowded calendar on many fronts."

    Reuters has more on what de Boer wants to accomplish before Copenhagen.