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The die-off of Andean rivers

HUARAZ, Peru — Glacier melt in the Peruvian Andes has caused increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and exposed more rock that feeds new pollutants into the mountain rivers.

Federico Huanca Torres, a farmer and mountain guide in the Cordillera Blanca in northern Peru, said his community used to fish Quilcayhuanca River, which runs down from Huascaran mountain and is the life source for many Andean communities. But in the last 20 years, all the fish in the river have died off. Torres said his family relies on beans as their only source of protein.

Federico Huanca Torres discusses the impact of climate change to the Quilcayhuanca River, which runs from Cordillera through Huascaran National Park and into the municipality Huaraz.

The Quilcayhuanca is a critical water source for the tourist town of Huaraz, which sits at the base of the Cordillera Blanca, but residents and tourists have severely polluted it over the years. Local environmentalists point to human impact on the river systems, as well as the impacts of climate change, as a threat to water quality in the region.

The Quilcayhuanca River in Huaraz.

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Heather versus the glacier

Mount Huascarán, Peru's highest mountain at 22,200 feet, towers above the other glacier peaks in the Cordillera Blanca range of the Andes in northern Peru.

Our South America reporter Heather Somerville sent us a brief update today from her travels in Peru, where she is tracking the effects of glacial melt in the country:
“Monday through Thursday of last week was full — and I mean full — of interviews with government officials, environmentalists and NGOs. It was a whirlwind, and it was by and large very successful. Thursday I traveled to the Cordillera Blanca, a glorious place in the northern Peruvian Andes, where I spent Friday with Peru’s leading glacier scientist, who took me to two communities impacted by glacier melt.
… Continue Reading

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Climate change ups ante in disaster response, World Bank says

A World Bank report released last week calls climate change, rapid urbanization and climate-induced catastrophes “game changers” in the destinies of nations and the way they currently respond to disasters.

The report says it’s wise for countries to invest in disaster prevention rather than spend exorbitant amounts after hazards have struck. Titled Natural Hazards, UnNatural Disasters – the Economics of Effective Prevention, the report looks at economic effects of disasters – natural and manmade—and provides cost-effective solutions that countries can look at as they plan to tackle 21st century challenges like  climate change induced crises.

It warns that climate change-induced catastrophes, which it defines as “disasters that occur on a global scale and are likely to be irreversible over any realistic time frame for decision-making,” are going to be  … Continue Reading

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Growing countries should be allowed emissions

Developing countries should have different standards for emission reductions than “developed” countries, to allow for their economic growth, a US Department of State official said Wednesday, Nov. 10.

Jeff Miotke, the department’s climate change coordinator for the U.S. special envoy for climate change, talked about the differences during a discussion about what to expect from climate change negotiations in Cancun next week.

Miotke said developed countries like the US should agree to reduce their emissions on an absolute basis, below a past year’s baseline, while developing countries should be held to more relative standards. For example, the US has committed to reduce their emissions levels in 2020 by 17 percent of what they were in 2005. China is targeting a reduction of the carbon intensity of their economy by up to 45 percent, which means per unit of GDP the amount of emissions would decline but overall emissions will actually grow with the country’s economy.

“Over the short term I think this is something that’s quite feasible and is equitable to allow developing countries that face a very evident development challenge to continue to … Continue Reading

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My great Arctic-Alaskan adventure

KODIAK, Alaska — I spent yesterday flying through the Arctic Circle with the U.S. Coast Guard.

As part of my story about how the Arctic fits into our national security framework, I got to board one of the Coast Guard’s “Arctic Domain Awareness” flights, conducted twice a month between spring and early winter to keep an eye on the region.

So at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, a Coast Guard aviation unit and I left the 17th Coast Guard District base in Kodiak, Alaska, and headed due north to Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost city in the U.S. Then we followed the ice and Alaskan coastline until it brought us through the Bering Strait and back down in the scenic (and cold) Kodiak Island. (Story continued below photo gallery)


As you might guess, we saw a lot of ice, nearly nine hours worth of ice. But before you snicker, you should know that the ice was notably thinner than it used to be, according to my guides. Much of the ice we saw was “first-year,” “pancake” ice. It is thin brand-new forming ice, quite unlike the thicker multi-year ice that I think most people imagine when we talk about the Arctic. You can’t walk on it or rely on it. Satellites often can’t even detect it.

So don’t let the surface quantity of ice that we saw fool you. The most recent Arctic Report Card, distributed by NOAA, says that the Arctic will likely never go back to the days of yesteryear when the thick slabs and glaciers were commonplace.

Instead, today, the extremes in the Arctic have just become more, well, extreme. The ice recedes further and further north during the summer–2007 was the lowest amount of ice in the Arctic in recorded history–while it freezes over further and further south in the winter time–it reached one of the most southern tips of Alaska, Cold Bay, last year.

From the airplane as I stared at Mt. McKinley, I thought  about what a true treat it is to see the vast frozen frontier  as it begins to solidify for the winter. (I’m told that the visibility just happened to be unusually incredible yesterday.) Despite our country’s rightful title as an Arctic nation, most Americans will never have the chance to see the far North in their lifetime, in this distant and removed state of Alaska.

But it doesn’t necessarily mean we aren’t starting to adapt and take to our position in the uncertain region into account. The 17th Coast Guard District is only one example of it.

Other things I learned in the nine hours while onboard the C130:

  • Flying conditions are so extreme and unpredictable that we had to pack overnight bags before we boarded in case we had to land in Anchorage instead of Kodiak due to poor weather
  • Musk Ox must have incredible camouflage, or I was being hoaxed
  • C130s are loud, cold with “bathrooms” I’m glad I didn’t experience
  • Small villages in northern Alaska are really as remote as they say they are
  • The Coast Guard takes special precaution to not disturb the wildlife in areas identified as places where the indigenous people hunt
  • Some C130s, like the one I was on, are several decades old and require a crew of about a dozen people to ensure everything is working properly– the technology is old and not computerized. (The very recently installed new navigation Garmin GPS was a novelty much enjoyed by the pilots.)
  • The Coast Guard makes a mean cinnamon bun at 20,000 feet
  • I’ll be writing more about my Great Alaskan Adventure as I travel from Kodiak to Anchorage, and then more in-depth  in a few weeks about how climate change up here is impacting our national security, the way we do operations and how we position ourselves for the coming frenzy of human activity in the thawing north pole. (Hint: It’s more than just taking awesome flights and almost seeing Russia.)


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    Obama talks climate change in Indonesia

    WASHINGTON — Climate change emerged as the top priority during President Barack Obama’s visit this week to Indonesia.

    On Nov. 9, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced a new partnership with the U.S. to combat the threat of climate change, according to a White House press release. The U.S.-Indonesia partnership includes $136 million in U.S. funding, the bulk of which will be spent on climate change research and forest conservation. Another $7 million will go toward the establishment of a Climate Change Center in Indonesia that will link science to policy and set Indonesia’s priorities for climate change adaption and mitigation, according to media reports from Indonesia. The U.S. pledged another $10 million in funding for projects to protect peatlands.

    Obama also offered his support for Norway’s pledge of up to $1 billion over the next seven to eight years to support Indonesia’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation. The Norway-Indonesia agreement was signed in May.

    Climate change impacts in Indonesia worry security experts like Capt. Tim Gallaudet, director the U.S. Navy Climate Change Task Force. In a recent interview, Gallaudet said he was concerned that ocean acidification, caused by increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, could have a negative impact on fisheries in Indonesia, threatening food security and stability of the country. The low-lying island nation is threatened by rising sea levels, which cases erosion and flooding, and has also suffered from high levels of deforestation, which some climate experts say both contributes to and exacerbates the impacts of climate change.

    Just before his arrival in Indonesia, Obama was in India, promising to work together on climate change mitigation. According to the White House, India Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Obama reaffirmed their countries’ commitments to “taking vigorous action to address climate change” through clean energy initiatives.

    Obama’s climate change discussions overseas contrast with the conversations — or perhaps, lack thereof — on Capitol Hill, where the House now has a new class of climate skeptics. Environmentalists and climate scientists have been bracing for an attack since mid-term elections last week, when a largely climate-skeptic Republican Party took control of the House.

    The Center for American Progress Action Fund found that nearly all Republican candidates in congressional and gubernatorial races disputed the science on global warming, and none supported measures to mitigate it, reported in a recent article in The Washington Post. Moreover, questions abound whether Republicans will shut down the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which was launched by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and to bring attention to climate issues. Ranking GOP members have already made threats about investigating the EPA and climate science.

    The GOP’s midterm victory effectively ends the two-year effort to pass sweeping climate legislation. Meanwhile, the U.S. appears dedicated to spending hundreds of millions to combat climate change in nations half a world away.

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    Climate and military budget comparison lacks depth

    In the 2011 fiscal year, the U.S. will spend $41 on its military for every $1 spent combating climate change, according to a recent report by the Institute for Policy Studies that compares the two amounts. But defense experts caution that the assessment of climate change spending isn’t detailed enough, and criticize that the report lacks suggestions for how government money could be redistributed.

    Miriam Pemberton, who authored the report, said what prompted her to compare the two budget figures was growing emphasis in the security community that climate change is an issue the United States needs to address.

    Two recent strategy documents, the Quadrennial Defense Review and the National Security Strategy, have noted the issue as a security challenge. The QDR calls climate change an “accelerant of instability.” President Barack Obama’s National Security Strategy says climate change “will lead to new conflicts over refugees and resources.” (Click here to view the respective section of the document.)

    “If it’s as big a problem as they think it is, we need a real shift in the budget to take that into account,” said Pemberton of the Institute for Policy Studies. “If it’s a security issue then our security resources should be devoted to it.”

    … Continue Reading

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    What’s the government doing about climate change?

    As the national security implications of climate change are slowly being realized, the U.S. government is beginning to weave adaptation measures into its policies. But considering the breadth of issues, federal agencies are looking first at the problems most relevant to them and “mainstreaming,” or integrating, their individual adaptation efforts into their daily activities.

    The problem is that it’s becoming harder and harder to keep track of who’s doing what.

    Enter the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. … Continue Reading

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    Stating the obvious

    On a project like this, when you’re Google searching every conceivable variation of the phrase you want to find, it’s hard to know what you’re missing or how you’re missing it. All you know is, what I want is out there and I can’t find it.

    So you’re slightly frustrated at yourself when, after several weeks of mind-numbing research, you find what you need was right under your nose all along. But you’re even more frustrated by the people who you came in contact during those weeks who probably could have directed you to the info long ago. … Continue Reading

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    Climate change in top 3 global concerns

    A new Climate Change Confidence report released by US bank HSBC lists climate change as one of the top three global concerns for consumers, alongside terrorism and economic stability.  HSBC’s Climate Change Centre of Excellence commissioned the report to understand the economic implications of climate change and climate-related business opportunities worldwide.  This is the fourth annual study providing consumer perceptions on climate change.

    The study found respondents in developing economies have the highest concern in terms of their climate vulnerability.  People in developed economies supported low-carbon solutions and pushed for businesses to invest more in resources used to tackle climate change. … Continue Reading

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