Articles by Maywa Montenegro
Maywa Montenegro is an editor and writer at Seed magazine, focusing mainly on ecology, bidiversity, agriculture, and sustainable development.
For this enviro, Christmas is shaping up pretty nicely this year. Today, as post-Kyoto discussions commence in Bali, Australia has ratified the Kyoto Protocol, sweeping aside decades of Howard's curmudgeonly climate skepticism. Another unexpected gift came last month, when a group of 80 experts convened in France to mull over the future of biodiversity. Their consensus? That we need to establish a new intergovernmental panel -- akin to the IPCC -- to begin aggressively addressing the biodiversity crisis.
In words that would surely make E.O. Wilson proud, the committee said: "It is not enough to draw up a list of threatened or extinct species. Biodiversity needs to be seen as a whole, in terms of management but also of environmental services rendered, for instance from the point of view of adaptation to climate change." They hope to have a structure in place by 2008. Keep 'em rollin' in, Santa!
So while the U.S. Farm Bill is out to pasture until 2008, it looks like most commodity subsidies will remain untouched. Agricultural price supports may be the law of the land here, but it's certainly not what we've been advocating abroad. A bittersweet story on page one of today's NY Times documents how Malawians are pulling back from the brink, largely because -- going against the wishes of the World Bank -- they've begun to reinstitute government crop subsidies:
A few months ago, I reported on the decade-long drought that's bedeviling Australia. In it I predicted -- with the help of experts such as Tim Flannery -- that climate skeptic John Howard would lose his seat to the Labor Party leader, Kevin Rudd, in this October's national elections. Rudd is running on a platform that includes $50 million for geothermal energy, $50 million for an Australian Solar Institute, and a 60 percent cut in CO2 emissions by 2050. And according to Flannery, the election will in large part be a referendum on climate change.
Until recently, I was under the impression that scaling back carbon emissions 80% by 2050 might forestall the worst of effects of global warming. But with news like yesterday's, with California up in flames, and with the Arctic ice cap shrunken to an all-time low, I'm beginning to wonder if we've already done so much damage that a technological fix might be necessary.
In today's Times, Ken Caldeira, of the Global Ecology Department at Stanford makes his case:
If we could pour a five-gallon bucket's worth of sulfate particles per second into the stratosphere, it might be enough to keep the earth from warming for 50 years. Tossing twice as much up there could protect us into the next century.
Geoengineering has never received much love from environmentalists, and understandably so. Too often it just diverts attention from the core problem: that our fossil-fuel fed lifestyles are unsustainable. Surely, if we're going to consider these types of projects at all, they must be one weapon among many in our arsenal. And Caldeira agrees:
This is not to say that we should give up trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Ninety-nine percent of the $3 billion federal Climate Change Technology Program should still go toward developing climate-friendly energy systems. But 1 percent of that money could be put toward working out geoengineered climate fixes like sulfate particles in the atmosphere, and developing the understanding we need to ensure that they wouldn't just make matters worse.
What do you think?