Tuesday, September 30, 2014

1564. Scientists Trace Extreme Heat in Australia to Climate Change

By Justin Gillis, The New York Times, September 29, 2014
Australia's 2013 heat wave had no precedents
The savage heat waves that struck Australia last year were almost certainly a direct consequence of greenhouse gases released by human activity, researchers said Monday. It is perhaps the most definitive statement climate scientists have made tying a specific weather event to global warming.
Five groups of researchers, using distinct methods, analyzed the heat that baked Australia for much of 2013 and continued into 2014, briefly shutting down the Australian Open tennis tournament in January when the temperature climbed to 111 degrees Fahrenheit.
All five research groups came to the conclusion that last year’s heat waves could not have been as severe without the long-term climatic warming caused by human emissions.
“When we look at the heat across the whole of Australia and the whole 12 months of 2013, we can say that this was virtually impossible without climate change,” said David Karoly, a climate scientist at the University of Melbourne who led some of the research.
The findings relied on computer analyses of what the climate would have been like in the absence of human-caused greenhouse emissions, a type of research widely acknowledged to be imperfect, and which often produces conflicting findings from different groups. But scientists said the results in this case were strengthened by the unanimity of the papers, written by veteran research teams scattered around the world.
“The evidence in those papers is very strong,” said Martin P. Hoerling, an American scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who has often been skeptical of claimed links between weather events and global warming.
In other results published Monday, three research groups analyzed the drought afflicting California but could not come to a unanimous conclusion about whether the odds had been increased by human activity. One paper found that they had been; the two others found no clear evidence of that.
Researchers generally agreed, however, that regardless of the causes, the effects of the California drought had been worsened by global warming. That is because whatever rain does fall in California tends to evaporate faster in the hotter climate, leading to drier conditions.
Two dozen papers analyzing weather extremes from 2013 were published on Monday in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. This look back at the prior year has become an annual event, as scientists increasingly try to answer the question many people ask after every extreme weather event: Did climate change have anything to do with it?
For several events in 2013, they were able to rule out such a link. Even though the overall global warming trend has been definitively linked to human emissions in scores of papers, the new reports show that the frequent impulse to attribute specific weather events to human activity is not always well grounded.
For instance, one research group found that the type of extreme rainfall that struck parts of Colorado last September had become less likely, not more likely, in the warming climate. Another group, analyzing the heavy rains and floods that struck parts of Central Europe in June 2013, found no evidence that these could be attributed to global warming, even though such claims were made at the time.
Myles R. Allen, a researcher at Oxford whose group conducted the study on the European rains, noted in an interview that the science of attributing specific events to human emissions was still contentious and difficult, so any answers given today must be regarded as provisional.
His group has found a measure of human influence on several weather events over the years. But with the science still emerging, he cautioned against the tendency to cite global warming as a cause of almost any kind of severe weather.
“If we don’t have evidence, I don’t think we should hint darkly all the time that human influence must be to blame somehow,” Dr. Allen said.
The new batch of reports analyzed extreme heat in 2013 not only in Australia, but also in Europe, China, Japan and the Korean Peninsula, with the researchers concluding in every case that global warming had made the occurrence of the heat extremes In the Australian case, computer analyses of a hypothetical climate without human-caused emissions were simply unable to produce a year as extreme as 2013, and other analytical methods yielded similar answers.
But computer simulations that factored in those emissions and the warming they are causing showed an increasing likelihood of extraordinary heat waves in Australia.
The Australia finding is likely to add to an intense political debate in that country. The newly elected prime minister, Tony Abbott, has repealed a law intended to reduce emissions, and his government appointed a climate skeptic to lead a separate review of the country’s renewable energy targets.
Yet scientists say that Australia, an arid land to begin with, may be among the primary victims if global warming is allowed to continue unchecked.
In addition to the Colorado and Central European rains, the 2013 events for which scientists were able to rule out a human contribution included a blizzard in South Dakota, heavy snowfall in the Pyrenees in Europe and a cyclone that swept across northwestern Europe in late October.
The new reports come as scientists, responding to popular demand, are trying to speed up their analysis of extreme weather events and the role of greenhouse gases.
It used to take them years to come to a clear view of any particular event; now, papers are being published within several months. By sometime next year, researchers hope to reduce that to a matter of days, with three groups of researchers around the world training their sights on extreme events as soon as they occur, then putting out reports while the public is still discussing the aftermath.

“We want to get to this place where we can answer the question when the media are asking it,” said Heidi Cullen, a scientist with Climate Central, a news and research organization in Princeton, N.J., who is helping to lead the effort. “We want to give the first, best answer we can possibly give.”

Monday, September 29, 2014

1563. The Benefits of Easing Climate Change: An Economic View

By Eduardo Porter, The New York Times, September 23, 2014
President Obama addresses climate change at the UN meeting
On Tuesday, more than 100 world leaders gathered at the United Nations to open a climate summit meeting that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hopes will provide momentum to a new round of negotiations toward a global environmental agreement to be signed in Paris next year.
You’re forgiven if you hold your applause. World leaders have been trying without success to cut such a deal for almost two decades, crashing time and again into the fear that slowing the emissions of carbon that are inexorably changing the climate carries an economic cost that few are willing to bear.
This time, though, advocates come armed with a trump card: All things considered, the cost of curbing carbon emissions may be considerably cheaper than earlier estimates had suggested. For all the fears that climate change mitigation would put the brakes on growth, it might actually enhance it.
Whether this can tip the balance toward the global grand bargain that has eluded world leaders so many times depends on a couple of things. The first is to what extent it is true. The second is whether this is, in fact, the issue that matters most to the people making the decisions.
The most recent salvo came in “The New Climate Economy,” a report issued last week by an international commission appointed by a handful of rich and poor countries to take a new look at the economics of climate change.
“There is now huge scope for action which can both enhance growth and reduce climate risk,” it reads. Efficient investments could deliver at least half of the emission cuts needed by 2030 to keep global temperatures in check. And they could do so while delivering extra economic gains on the side.
At first blush, the proposition that replacing fossil fuel with more expensive energy could produce a net economic gain seems implausible. Until now, even many supporters of tough action accepted the idea that there would be a necessary price to pay initially to achieve the long-term goal of avoiding catastrophic climate change.
But the new thinking turns that on its head by taking more careful account of the hidden benefits of mitigating climate change.
“The cost of action is well known,” said Helen Mountford, director of economics at the World Resources Institute, which worked on the “New Climate Economy” report. “The co-benefits, like reduced health costs, are less known.”
The findings are not isolated. Research published this month by Ian Parry and Chandara Veung of the International Monetary Fund and Dirk Heine of the University of Bologna concluded that almost every one of the top 20 carbon emitters would reap economic gains by imposing a hefty carbon tax, if they deployed the revenue to reduce taxes on income.
A tax of $63 per ton of CO2, for instance, would not only cut China’s emissions by some 17 percent, it would also cut the number of Chinese sickened or killed by pollution from coal. If Beijing used the money to cut other taxes, it would increase economic efficiency, adding up to a net economic gain — on top of any climate impact — of more than 1 percent of China’s gross domestic product.
This finding does not depend on any technological breakthroughs. It happens whether solar energy is cheap or expensive.
“It’s only recently that policy makers are beginning to appreciate the power of fiscal instruments like environmental taxes,” Mr. Parry told me. “And it’s only fairly recently that we’ve been able to value the health and other environment impacts so we’ve only recently got some sense of the substantial and pervasive undercharging for environmental damages.”
While this is all theory, some empirical research also supports the finding.
In 2008, for instance, the Canadian province of British Columbia unilaterally imposed a carbon tax that rose from 10 Canadian dollars per ton of CO2 in 2010 to 30 dollars in 2012, using the money to reduce personal and corporate income taxes.
An assessment of the experience published last year by economists at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that fuel use declined, but economic growth remained on the same trajectory as the rest of Canada’s. Notably, British Columbia ended up with the lowest income tax in the country.
Could this new understanding change the debate over climate change?
At the very least, the belief that there is a climate-related free lunch out there might provide welcome harmony to negotiations that usually end in acrimonious finger-pointing. The new research might even help move the debate away from the failed strategy of seeking legally binding emissions targets on every country, providing a blueprint for countries to voluntarily take on ambitious goals because it is in their own self-interest regardless of what other nations do.
Not everybody buys the math, though. And even those who do acknowledge that these efficient pathways to a low-carbon future are very narrow indeed. “Not all climate policies are win-win, and some trade-offs are inevitable,” notes “The New Climate Economy.”
For even if every country reaped net benefits from embracing a low-carbon development path, governments still must allocate costs and benefits within individual economies, mediating between winners and losers.
“Health is a social benefit that is not included in the accounts of private investors,” noted Zou Ji, deputy director of China’s National Center for Climate Change Strategy, a research institute affiliated with the government’s National Development and Reform Commission. “But abatement costs will be felt by private investors.”
Navigating these distributional issues will be tricky. Getting it wrong can be expensive. For instance, Mr. Parry and his co-researchers found that if carbon revenue was not used to reduce other income taxes, the net gain from a carbon tax evaporated and became a net cost.
Germany — perhaps the country most committed to developing an economy powered with renewable energy — has struggled with the trade-offs. First it exempted its export-oriented, energy-intensive industries from the surcharges levied to pay for subsidies to solar and wind generators. More recently, alarmed at the rising cost of power, it has begun reducing its subsidies for renewables, which has led to a drop in the rollout of solar power.
So maybe it’s no surprise that few countries have been willing, at least so far, to commit to take the promised high growth/low carbon path.
Last July, Australia’s newly installed conservative government repealed the carbon tax introduced by the Labor government before it, and the country’s carbon emissions quickly shot up.
“If the Chinese and the Indians found it much more economically efficient to build out solar, nuclear and wind, why are they still building all these coal plants?” asked Ted Nordhaus, chairman of the Breakthrough Institute, a think tank focused on development and the environment.
China’s CO2 emissions increased 4.2 percent last year, according to the Global Carbon Project, helping drive a global increase of 2.3 percent. China now accounts for 28 percent of the world’s total emissions, more than the United States and the European Union combined.
“I don’t think the Chinese and the Indians are stupid,” Mr. Nordhaus told me. “They are looking at their indigenous energy resources and energy demand and making fairly reasonable decisions.”

For them, combating climate change does not look at all like a free lunch.

1562. State of the Oceans: Swimming Through Garbage

By Lewis Pugh, The New York Times, September 28, 2014
The author swimming over the Aqaba Marine Protected Area in the Red Sea. Photo: Kelvin Trautman

The swims were intended to draw attention to the health of the oceans. But I seriously underestimated the urgency of the issue I was swimming for. As the United Nations Patron of the Oceans, I have given many speeches stressing the need to protect our environment for the sake of our children and grandchildren. I now realize it’s not about our children. It’s about us. And the situation is much worse than I thought.CAPE TOWN — YOU get a good feel for the health of the oceans when you stick your head in them for four weeks. This summer, I swam long distances in the Seven Seas: the Mediterranean, Adriatic, Aegean, Black, Red, Arabian and North Seas. The longest swim was 37 miles and took me two days.
I was shocked by what I saw in the seas, and by what I didn’t see.
I saw no sharks, no whales, no dolphins. I saw no fish longer than 11 inches. The larger ones had all been fished out.
When I swam in the Aegean, the sea floor was covered with litter; I saw tires and plastic bags, bottles, cans, shoes and clothing.
The Black Sea was full of Mnemiopsis, a rapidly reproducing species of jellyfish. This species is not native; it was brought in with the ballast on visiting ships, and has wrought havoc on the ecosystem.
As I was about to jump into the Red Sea, I asked the boat’s skipper whether I should keep a lookout for sharks. He told me not to worry — they’re long gone. Well, that’s exactly what does worry me. An estimated 100 million sharks are fished out of the world’s oceans every year. That’s like removing the lions from the Serengeti. It wouldn’t be long before the gazelles, zebras and wildebeests had multiplied and eaten all the grass. And when the land was laid bare the grazers would starve. Predators are crucial for a healthy ecosystem, be it on land or in the water.
I’m 44 years old. I like to think I’m only halfway through my life. That’s hardly a comforting thought, though, when I imagine the changes in the oceans in the first half of my life continuing into the second. World population is expected to grow from seven billion to nine billion. As developing countries become developed, they will demand more resources like fuel, fresh water and food. Much of that food is expected to come from our oceans. And they simply don’t have the capacity to provide it anymore.
A priest who traveled to the New World with Christopher Columbus described in his diaries the turtles they encountered. “The sea was all thick with them,” he wrote, “so numerous that it seemed the ships would run aground on them.” We have forgotten what our seas used to look like. Many species are now on the brink of extinction, from the Mediterranean monk seal to the hawksbill turtle in the Arabian Sea.
In 2005, I swam in the Southern Ocean, just off Antarctica. It was cold — very cold — when I swam over a graveyard of whale bones near an old whaling factory. As far as I could see, there were bleached white bones piled up on the seafloor. Man hunted whales almost to the point of extinction, not seeming to care that we could lose one of the wonders of the sea forever. It is the coldness of the water that preserves the bones and makes it look as if they were left there yesterday, but I like to think they are there as a reminder of man’s potential for folly.
Fortunately, in 1986 most countries ceased commercial whaling, and some whale populations have made a spectacular recovery. Whales like the Southern right were brought back from the brink of extinction. Their numbers are now increasing 7 percent year after year. If we can do it with one species, surely we can do it for entire ecosystems. We just need to give them the space to recover.
Marine protected areas, which are like national parks for the seas, are the best way to make that happen. In the Red Sea, I saw no coral and no fish. It looked like an underwater desert. But then, a little more than a mile later, I swam into a protected area, where fishing had been restricted. It was a sea as it was meant to be: rich and colorful and teeming with abundant life.
We need far more of these protected areas. They allow the habitat to recover from overfishing and pollution, which helps fish stocks recover. When we create them, we protect the coral, which protects the shoreline and provides shelter for fish. They become places people want to visit for ecotourism. They are good for the world economy, for the health of the oceans, for every person living on this planet.
This year in the Aegean I swam over tires and trash. In a few years, I hope to return, and swim over thriving coral reefs.

Lewis Pugh is the author of “21 Yaks and a Speedo” and a leader of an expedition called Seven Swims in Seven Seas for One Reason.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

1561. Building an Ark for the Anthropocene

By Jim Robbins, The New York Times, September 27, 2014
Credit: Jason Holley 
WE are barreling into the Anthropocene, the sixth mass extinction in the history of the planet. A recent study published in the journal Science concluded that the world’s species are disappearing as much as 1,000 times faster than the rate at which species naturally go extinct. It’s a one-two punch — on top of the ecosystems we’ve broken, extreme weather from a changing climate causes even more damage. By 2100, researchers say, one-third to one-half of all Earth’s species could be wiped out.
As a result, efforts to protect species are ramping up as governments, scientists and nonprofit organizations try to build a modern version of Noah’s Ark. The new ark certainly won’t come in the form of a large boat, or even always a place set aside. Instead it is a patchwork quilt of approaches, including assisted migration, seed banks and new preserves and travel corridors based on where species are likely to migrate as seas rise or food sources die out.
The questions are complex. What species do you save? The ones most at risk? Charismatic animals, such as lions or bears or elephants? The ones most likely to survive? The species that hold the most value for us?
One initiative, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services formed in 2012 by the governments of 121 countries, aims to protect and restore species in wild areas and to protect species like bees that carry out valuable ecosystem service functions in the places people live. Some three-quarters of the world’s food production depends primarily on bees.
“We still know very little about what could or should be included in the ark and where,” said Walter Jetz, an ecologist at Yale involved with the project. Species are being wiped out even before we know what they are.
Another project, the EDGE of Existence, run by the Zoological Society of London, seeks to protect the most unusual wildlife at highest risk. These are species that evolved on their own for so long that they are very different from other species. Among the species the project has helped to preserve are the tiny bumblebee bat and the golden-rumped elephant shrew.
While the traditional approach to protecting species is to buy land, preservation of the right habitat can be a moving target, since it’s not known how species will respond to a changing climate.
To complete the maps of where life lives, scientists have enlisted the crowd. A crowdsourcing effort called the Global Biodiversity Information Facility identifies and curates biodiversity data — such as photos of species taken with a smartphone — to show their distribution and then makes the information available online. That is especially helpful to researchers in developing countries with limited budgets. Another project, Lifemapper, at the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute, uses the data to understand where a species might move as its world changes.
“We know that species don’t persist long in fragmented areas and so we try and reconnect those fragments,” said Stuart L. Pimm, a professor of conservation at Duke University, and head of a nonprofit organization called SavingSpecies. One of his group’s projects in the Colombian Andes identified a forest that contains a carnivorous mammal that some have described as a cross between a house cat and a teddy bear, called an olinguito, new to science. Using crowd-sourced data, “we worked with local conservation groups and helped them buy land, reforest the land and reconnect pieces,” Dr. Pimm says.
Coastal areas, especially, are getting scrutiny. Biologists in Florida, which faces a daunting sea level rise, are working on a plan to set aside land farther inland as a reserve for everything from the MacGillivray’s seaside sparrow to the tiny Key deer.
To thwart something called “coastal squeeze,” a network of “migratory greenways” is envisioned so that species can move on their own away from rising seas to new habitat. “But some are basically trapped,” said Reed F. Noss, a professor of conservation biology at the University of Central Florida who is involved in the effort, and they will most likely need to be picked up and moved. The program has languished, but Amendment 1, on the ballot this November, would provide funding.
One species at risk is the Florida panther. Once highly endangered, with just 20 individuals left, this charismatic animal has come back — some. But a quarter or more of its habitat is predicted to be under some three feet of water by 2100. Males will move on their own, but females will need help because they won’t cross the Caloosahatchee River. Experts hope to create reserves north of the river, and think at some point they will have to move females to new quarters.
Protecting land between reserves is vital. The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, known as Y2Y, would protect corridors between wild landscapes in the Rockies from Yellowstone National Park to northern Canada, which would allow species to migrate.
RESEARCHERS have also focused on “refugia,” regions around the world that have remained stable during previous swings of the Earth’s climate — and that might be the best bet for the survival of life this time around.
A section of the Driftless Area encompassing northeastern Iowa and southern Minnesota, also known as Little Switzerland, has ice beneath some of its ridges. The underground refrigerator means the land never gets above 50 or so degrees and has kept the Pleistocene snail, long thought extinct, from disappearing there. Other species might find refuge there as things get hot.
A roughly 250-acre refugia on the Little Cahaba River in Alabama has been called a botanical lost world, because of its wide range of unusual plants, including eight species found nowhere else. Dr. Noss said these kinds of places should be sought out and protected.
Daniel Janzen, a conservation ecologist at the University of Pennsylvania who is working to protect large tracts in Costa Rica, said that to truly protect biodiversity, a place-based approach must be tailored to the country. A reserve needs to be large, to be resilient against a changing climate, and so needs the support of the people who live with the wild place and will want to protect it. “To survive climate change we need to minimize the other assaults, such as illegal logging and contaminating water,” he said. “Each time you add one of those you make it more sensitive to climate change.”
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, beneath the permafrost on an island in the Arctic Ocean north of mainland Norway, preserves seeds from food crops. Frozen zoos keep the genetic material from extinct and endangered animals. The Archangel Ancient Tree Archive in Michigan, meanwhile, founded by a family of shade tree growers, has made exact genetic duplicates of some of the largest trees on the planet and planted them in “living libraries” elsewhere — should something befall the original.
In 2008, Connie Barlow, a biologist and conservationist, helped move an endangered conifer tree in Florida north by planting seedlings in cooler regions. Now she is working in the West. “I just assisted in the migration of the alligator juniper in New Mexico by planting seeds in Colorado,” she said. “We have to. Climate change is happening so fast and trees are the least capable of moving.”

1560. When Cuba Sends Patients Abroad

By Fernando Ravesberg, Havana Times, September 25, 2014
Hilda and her mother, Alda, are deeply grateful to the Cuban and foreign medical doctors who treated her 
When I wrote about Rafael’s illness, I became curious about the medical services that Cuban Public Health arranges for patients abroad. Following a rather arduous search, we found a teenager who had just been treated at a clinic in Europe. Below is her story.
Alda Soria’s world fell apart when she found out that her daughter’s illness could not be treated in Cuba because the country did not have the needed medical equipment. 17-year-old Hilda had multiple vascular ramifications in the right hemisphere of her brain, a condition that caused her splitting head-aches and was pushing one of her eyes out of its socket.
Alda is a nurse’s aide, a low income woman who could not afford to pay for medical treatment abroad. Specialists at Havana’s neurology hospital calmed her explaining that there was an option available to her: they would recommend that Hilda undergo an operation in Europe.
A short time later, a Ministry of Public Health commission approved the procedure and some 60 thousand euros were destined to the surgery, air tickets for Hilda and her mother, hotel expenses for the mother and transportation. “Ultimately, my daughter’s treatment cost 26 thousand euros, so the remainder of the money was reassigned to a Cuban being treated for spinal cancer at a clinic in the same country. They’ve already spent 200 thousand euros on his treatment,” Alda explained to us.
Hilda’s case is no exception, former Cuban ambassador in Spain Alejandro Gonzalez reminds us. “I know about this well because, during my stay in Europe, we paid for the treatment of Cuban patients in different countries, up to 70, 80 and even 100 thousand euros.” Gonzalez recalls that “when kidney transplants weren’t being done in Cuba, a two-year stay abroad for the patient and a companion was paid for.”
Alda agreed to the interview on the condition that we did not mention the country or clinic where her daughter was treated. “They’re good people who charge very little because they sympathize with Cuba and, if we mention them, smear campaigns against them will start.” She also told us that Cuban patients are sent everywhere around the world. “While waiting for my trip, I came across a little girl that was going to be treated in the United States, and another one they were sending to Italy.”
“When a case like my daughter’s turns up, they start looking for a clinic anywhere in the world that has the technology needed to treat the patient. Then, they have to find one among these whose medical doctors are willing to take on a case that has already been treated by physicians from a different part of the world. It isn’t easy,” Alda told us.
Despite this, Hilda was being treated at one of the best clinics in Europe within four short months. There, the procedure was so successful she didn’t even need radio-surgery afterwards. The mother told us the treatment she received was marvelous. “The doctor asked me and my daughter what we expected from the surgery. I said I wanted my daughter’s wellbeing. My girl replied she wanted to look pretty. After the procedure, we found out they had also done a bit of plastic surgery to erase all traces of her condition.”
They returned to Cuba in August this year. Hilda is still recovering from the surgery, but she will be able to resume her studies in the next school year. She has been reborn, but she regards the entire process as something normal. For Cuba’s teenagers and youth, receiving medical attention free of charge, no matter how costly the procedure, is not something extraordinary – it is something they are entitled to from the moment of conception. Alda, incidentally, works at a pregnancy home, where expecting mothers are admitted when any complication arises.
Hilda’s mother cannot help but shed tears when she thanks Cuban Public Health authorities and the foreign doctors who treated her daughter. She knows she would never have been able to put together the money needed for her daughter’s operation and that this would have surely meant her death.
She regains her smile when I ask her if they’re related to any higher-up in the country. She spreads her arms so as to direct my attention to her humble apartment and its old furniture. “I have no important relatives, not even acquaintances. I am even a single mother. I didn’t have to pull any strings. The doctors who treated Hilda in Cuba were the ones who arranged everything. That’s how things work here.”

Saturday, September 27, 2014

1559. Cuba’s Sugar Industry to Use Bagasse for Bioenergy

By Patricia Grogg, IPS, September 26, 2014
A worker at the Jesús Rabí sugar mill in the Cuban province of Matanzas. The plant’s biomass will help increase electricity production from clean sources of energy in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS
HAVANA - Cuba’s sugar industry hopes to become the main source of clean energy in the country as part of a programme to develop renewable sources aimed at reducing dependence on imported fossil fuels and protecting the environment.
The project forms part of the plans for upgrading and modernising sugar mills that have been opened up to foreign investment by Azcuba, the government business group that replaced the Sugar Ministry in 2011. Traditionally, sugar mills have generated electricity for their own consumption, using bagasse, the fibrous matter that remains after sugarcane stalks are crushed to extract their juice.
In a conversation with Tierramérica, Azcuba spokesman Liobel Pérez defended the production of energy using bagasse as a cheap, environmentally friendly alternative. “The CO2 [carbon dioxide] produced in the generation of electricity is the same amount that the sugar cane absorbs when it grows, which means there is an environmental balance.”
For now, the production of ethanol as a by-product of sugarcane is not being considered in Cuba, although some experts argue that the biofuel could reduce consumption of gasoline by farm machinery and transportation and thus limit atmospheric emissions.
“That is one of the issues being discussed and analysed by the government commission created to study the development of renewable energies,” said Manuel Díaz, director of the Cuban Institute of Research on Sugar Cane Derivatives. The official did not, however, rule out the possibility in the future.
“Even if it is not the definitive long-term solution to the consumption of automotive fuel, ethanol is an important factor and contributes to reducing fossil fuel use, and if it does not run counter to the use of land for food, it could be, it seems to me, an alternative that each country should analyse depending on its specific characteristics,” Díaz said.
The sugar industry currently accounts for 3.5 percent of electricity generation in this Caribbean island nation. A target of the plan to boost energy efficiency is for around 20 sugar mills to generate a surplus of 755 MW by 2030, to go into the national power grid.
That would raise the proportion of electricity produced by sugarcane biomass to 14 percent by 2030. The overall aim is for 24 percent of energy to come from renewable sources, including wind power (six percent), solar (three percent), and hydropower (one percent).
Currently, renewable energy sources only represent 4.6 percent of electricity generation; the rest comes from fossil fuels.
The gradual installation in the sugar mills of modern bioelectric plants needed to achieve that goal requires an estimated investment of 1.29 billion dollars, which Azcuba hopes to obtain from government loans or foreign investment.
“If we don’t find a loan we will get foreign investment,” said Jorge Lodos, business director for Zerus SA, a subsidiary of Azcuba. The executive told Tierramérica that the first two companies to enter into partnership with Cuba in the sector included the bioelectric plants in their plans, to boost energy efficiency.
The first of the plants that run on sugarcane biomass will begin to produce energy in 2016, Lodos said. It is to be built near the Ciro Redondo sugar mill in the province of Ciego de Ávila, 423 km from Havana, by Biopower, a joint venture established in 2012 by Cuba’s state-run Zerus and the British firm Havana Energy Ltd.
During the December to May harvest season, the plant will use sugarcane bagasse from the nearby sugar mill. The rest of the year it will use stored sugarcane waste and marabú (Dichrostachys cinérea), a woody shrub that has invaded vast areas of farmland in Cuba. The projected investment ranges between 45 and 55 million dollars.
Meanwhile, the Compañía de Obras e Infraestructura (COI), a subsidiary of Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, reached an agreement with the Empresa Azucarera Cienfuegos, another Azcuba subsidiary, to jointly administer the 5 de Septiembre sugar mill in the province of Cienfuegos, 256 km from the capital, for 13 years.
In this case, the commitment is to bring the productive capacity of the sugar mill back up to 90,000 tons of sugar per harvest, or even higher.
Lodos said investment in the project would surpass 100 million dollars, and would also include the construction of a bioenergy plant.
These two sugar mills and the Jesús Rabí mill in the province of Matanzas, 98 km from Havana, will generate the first 140 MW of electricity in the medium term.
Havana Energy and COI opened the door to foreign capital in Cuba’s sugar industry, just as investment has already been welcomed in other sectors of this country’s centralised economy. “Foreign investment requires mutual trust,” Lodos said.
The socialist government of Raúl Castro estimates that the country needs between two and 2.5 billion dollars a year in foreign capital in order to grow and develop.
Of Cuba’s 56 sugar mills, six of which are now inactive, Azcuba has opened up 20 to foreign investment. The initial priorities are the eight built after the 1959 revolution.
Although ethanol production is not among the plans to be offered to foreign investors, many experts believe prospects for selling the fuel are good.
“It is not expected to be included in the programme,” Lodos said. “None of the minimum conditions required to introduce foreign investment are in place. It would not involve large amounts of capital or technology contribution, and it would not be for export or to replace imports. Today it isn’t on the business menu. But it might be tomorrow.”
Cuba produces alcohol in 11 distilleries, which are also to be upgraded, for pharmaceutical use and the industry that produces rum and other alcohol.
Cuba’s once-powerful sugar industry, which produced harvests of up to eight million tons, hit bottom in the 2009-2010 season when output plunged to 1.1 million tones – the lowest level in 105 years.
The industry currently represents around five percent of the country’s inflow of foreign exchange.

The hope is that the modernisation of factories, machinery, transport equipment and other resources will boost yields and bolster production, along with the increase in the planting of sugarcane. Last year 400,000 hectares were planted and production in the 2013-2014 harvest amounted to over 1.6 million tons.

1558. How Israel Silences Jewish Dissent

By Mairav Zonszein, The New York Times, September 26, 2014
Anti-war demonstration of few hundred dissident Jews that was attached by right-wing Jewish forces in Tel Aviv on July 12, 2014
JAFFA, Israel — On July 12, four days after the latest war in Gaza began, hundreds of Israelis gathered in central Tel Aviv to protest the killing of civilians on both sides and call for an end to the siege of Gaza and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. They chanted, “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.”
Hamas had warned that it would fire a barrage of rockets at central Israel after 9 p.m., and it did.
But the injuries suffered in Tel Aviv that night stemmed not from rocket fire but from a premeditated assault by a group of extremist Israeli Jews. Chanting “Death to Arabs” and “Death to leftists,” they attacked protesters with clubs. Although several demonstrators were beaten and required medical attention, the police made no arrests.
The same thing happened at another antiwar protest in Haifa a week later; this time, the victims included the city’s deputy mayor, Suhail Assad, and his son. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made no statement condemning the violence, even though he had previously stated his primary concern was the safety of Israeli citizens.
The vilification of the few Israelis who don’t subscribe to right-wing doctrine is not new. Similar acts of incitement occurred before the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. But now they have multiplied, escalated and spread.
On July 10, the veteran Israeli actress Gila Almagor did not show up to perform at Tel Aviv’s Habima Theater; she had received threats that she would be murdered on stage. In an interview in the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot a few days earlier, she had expressed feeling ashamed after a 16-year old Palestinian, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, was kidnapped and burned alive by Jewish extremists.
In an interview during the Gaza war, the popular comedian Orna Banai said she felt terrible that Palestinian women and children were being killed — she was subsequently fired from her position as spokeswoman for an Israeli cruise ship operator. And Haaretz hired bodyguards for its columnist Gideon Levy after he wrote an article criticizing Israeli Air Force pilots.
The aggressive silencing of anyone who voices disapproval of Israeli policies or expresses empathy with Palestinians is the latest manifestation of an us-versus-them mentality that has been simmering for decades. It is based on the narrative that Palestinians are enemies who threaten Jewish sovereignty and are solely to blame for the failure to achieve peace. The Israeli peace camp — which remains obsessively focused on stopping settlement expansion and pursuing the ever-elusive two-state solution while ignoring Israel’s failure to separate religion and state and guarantee equal rights for Arab citizens — has been incapable of challenging this mentality.
Israeli society has been unable and unwilling to overcome an exclusivist ethno-religious nationalism that privileges Jewish citizens and is represented politically by the religious settler movement and the increasingly conservative secular right. Israel’s liberal, progressive forces remain weak in the face of a robust economy that profits from occupation while international inaction reinforces the status quo. In their attempt to juggle being both Jewish and democratic, most Israelis are choosing the former at the expense of the latter.
Israel has never, for example, genuinely addressed the fact that non-Jewish Arabs who generally identify as Palestinian account for about 20 percent of the population (this excludes the approximately three million Palestinians living under Israel’s control in East Jerusalem and the West Bank). Israel has also never clearly defined its borders, preferring to keep them vague and porous. Nor has it defined what it means to be “Israeli,” as distinct from being “Jewish,” leaving a vacuum that has been filled by nationalist and religious ideologues.
This has allowed the us-versus-them mentality to bleed into Israeli Jewish society. “Us” no longer refers to any Jewish citizen, and “them” to any Palestinian. Now, “us” means all those who defend the status quo of occupation and settlement expansion, including many Christian evangelicals and Republicans in America. And “them” means anyone who tries to challenge that status quo, whether a rabbi, a dissenting Israeli soldier or the president of the United States.
Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a shock. For most of Israel’s existence, the majority of Israelis have allowed the state, in the name of Jewish sovereignty and security, to violate Palestinians’ basic human rights — including access to water and the freedom of movement and assembly. The state has killed unarmed protesters and then failed to carry out investigations; it has allowed settlers and soldiers to act with impunity; and it has systematically discriminated against non-Jewish citizens. After so many years of repressing those who stand in the way, the transition to targeting “one of your own” isn’t so difficult. Now it is the few Jewish Israelis who speak the language of human rights who are branded as enemies.
Zeev Sternhell, a political scientist and an expert on fascism, believes that “radical nationalism” and the “erosion of Enlightenment values” have reached new heights in Israel. “To grieve for the loss of life on both sides is already a subversive act, treason,” he told Haaretz. Mr. Sternhell has experienced Jewish extremist violence firsthand; in 2008, a settler planted a bomb in his home that wounded him.
Israelis increasingly seem unwilling to listen to criticism, even when it comes from within their own family. Not only are they not willing to listen, they are trying to silence it before it can even be voiced. With a family like that, I would rather be considered one of “them.”
Mairav Zonszein, an Israeli-American writer, translator and editor, blogs at +972 

1557. Dengue Fever and Malaria Reach the Himalayas

By Science Daily, September 25, 2014
Due to climate change malaria transmitting mosquitos may be able to colonize mountain valleys of Nepal. Credit: Meghnath Dhimal

Research by Nepalese and German scientists from the Nepal Health Research Council, Goethe University and the LOEWE Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre analyzes the current situation of these diseases in the Himalayan country of Nepal and highlights how they profit from climate change and globalization.

Dengue fever: high risk, little knowledge
Although the first case of dengue fever in Nepal was only reported in 2004, the country was shaken by an epidemic already in 2010. In a study published in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases the researchers report that the mosquito species that can transmit dengue virus have already colonized mountains and valleys of intermediate elevations in Nepal including the country's capital Kathmandu. Survey data from lowland and highland regions of Nepal, published in the journal PLOS One, show that local people know only very little about the disease: Although about 75% had previously heard of dengue fever, only a few knew how the virus is transmitted and which symptoms typically indicate dengue fever. While the majority had a positive attitude towards measures to prevent mosquito breeding, their practical implementation was very variable depending on the region. "Fifty percent of the total population of Nepal live in the warmer lowlands and are particularly vulnerable because there, mosquitos can breed more successfully. Interestingly, these people take less prevention measures than those in the highlands" says Meghnath Dhimal of the Nepal Health Research Council who conducted the studies as part of his PhD research as a scholar of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) at Goethe University. "One explanation could be that mosquito nuisance only recently appeared in many highland areas of Nepal in the wake of global warming and better road communication. Thus, people there show a greater interest in controlling the dangerous newcomers," adds Dr. Ulrich Kuch, Head of the Department of Tropical Medicine and Public Health at the Institute of Occupational Medicine, Social Medicine and Environmental Medicine of Goethe University and an author of the studies.

Malaria: Imported cases as a challenge
In spite of a difficult political and economic environment, Nepal has made tremendous achievements to eliminate malaria during the last fifty years, a study by the same team in Malaria Journal highlights: In the mid-1980s the number of malaria cases in Nepal was around 42,000 per year; this was reduced to around 2,000 cases in 2012 with only one reported death. This success is the result of new treatments, the distribution of insecticide impregnated mosquito bed-nets and access to free health services run by the state. However, significant challenges remain. The lead author of the study, Meghnath Dhimal, cautions that an outbreak of malaria may occur any time, even in low-risk areas, following severe changes in the ecology or extreme weather events and that there is a continuous rise in the numbers of imported cases of malaria. In addition, the risk of malaria transmission in the temperate regions may increase because global warming has more pronounced effects in the higher altitudes of Nepal.

Nepal's lessons for Europe
Dengue fever and malaria are also of public health concern in Europe. Apart from climate change there are other similarities to Nepal such as localized malaria outbreaks in southern Europe, a rapid spread of exotic mosquito species that can transmit dengue virus, and thousands of tourists per year who return home with the virus. "With respect to dengue fever we are concerned that infected travelers returning to areas where tiger mosquitoes are already common -this is a large part of Europe south of the Alps- might be bitten and then transmit the virus," concludes Dr. Kuch. Raising the awareness of medical staff and the general population about mosquito control and the transmission and symptoms of the diseases are now increasingly recognized as important in Europe; similar to the tasks that the researchers propose for Nepal.

Story Source:
The above story is based on materials provided by Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal References:
1. Meghnath Dhimal, Krishna Kumar Aryal, Mandira Lamichhane Dhimal, Ishan Gautam, Shanker Pratap Singh, Chop Lal Bhusal, Ulrich Kuch. Knowledge, Attitude and Practice Regarding Dengue Fever among the Healthy Population of Highland and Lowland Communities in Central Nepal. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (7): e102028 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0102028
2. Meghnath Dhimal, Bodo Ahrens, Ulrich Kuch. Malaria control in Nepal 1963–2012: challenges on the path towards elimination. Malaria Journal, 2014; 13 (1): 241 DOI: 10.1186/1475-2875-13-241
3. Meghnath Dhimal, Ishan Gautam, Aljoscha Kreß, Ruth Müller, Ulrich Kuch. Spatio-Temporal Distribution of Dengue and Lymphatic Filariasis Vectors along an Altitudinal Transect in Central Nepal. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases, 2014; 8 (7): e3035 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pntd.0003035

1556. With Death Rate of 70%, Ebola Cases Are Expected to Reach 1.4 Million in Four Months

By Denise Grady, The New York Times, September 23, 2014
The body of an ebola victim is removed from her home in Monrovia, Liberia, last week. 
Yet another set of ominous projections about the Ebola epidemic in West Africa was released Tuesday, in a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that gave worst- and best-case estimates for Liberia and Sierra Leone based on computer modeling.
In the worst-case scenario, the two countries could have a total of 21,000 cases of Ebola by Sept. 30 and 1.4 million cases by Jan. 20 if the disease keeps spreading without effective methods to contain it. These figures take into account the fact that many cases go undetected, and estimate that there are actually 2.5 times as many as reported.
In the best-case model, the epidemic in both countries would be “almost ended” by Jan. 20, the report said. Success would require conducting safe funerals at which no one touches the bodies, and treating 70 percent of patients in settings that reduce the risk of transmission. The report said the proportion of patients now in such settings was about 18 percent in Liberia and 40 percent in Sierra Leone.
The caseload projections are based on data from August, but Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the C.D.C. director, said the situation appeared to have improved since then because more aid had begun to reach the region.
“My gut feeling is, the actions we’re taking now are going to make that worst-case scenario not come to pass,” Dr. Frieden said in a telephone interview. “But it’s important to understand that it could happen.”
Outside experts said the modeling figures were in line with estimates by others in the field.
“It’s a nice job,” said Ira Longini, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida who has also done computer modeling of the epidemic. “It summarizes the extent of the problem and what has to happen to deal with it.”
Bryan Lewis, an epidemiologist at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech, agreed that the estimates were reasonable, perhaps even a bit low compared with those generated by other models. He said that if some of the latest data from the World Health Organization is plugged into the C.D.C. model, “the very large numbers of estimated cases are, unfortunately, even larger.”
The current official case count is 5,843, including 2,803 deaths, according to the W.H.O.
The C.D.C. estimates omit Guinea, which has been hit hard, because the epidemic struck in waves that could not be modeled. 
The W.H.O. published its own revised estimates of the outbreak on Monday, predicting more than 20,000 cases by Nov. 2 if control does not improve. That figure is more conservative than the one from the C.D.C., but the W.H.O. report also noted that many cases were unreported and said that without effective help, the three most affected countries would soon be reporting thousands of cases and deaths per week. It said its projections were similar to those from the C.D.C.
The W.H.O. report also raised, for the first time, the possibility that the disease would not be stopped but could become endemic in West Africa, meaning that it could become a constant presence there.
President Obama’s promise last week to send 3,000 military personnel to Liberia and to build 17 hospitals there, each with 100 beds, was part of the solution, Dr. Frieden said. But it was not clear when those hospitals would be ready, or who would staff them.
Dr. Frieden said the Defense Department had already delivered parts of a 25-bed unit that would soon be set up to treat health workers who become infected, a safety measure he said was important to help encourage health professionals to volunteer. He said that more aid groups were also arriving in the region to set up treatment centers, and that a “surge” of help would “break the back of the epidemic.”
Dr. Jack Chow, a professor of global health at Carnegie Mellon University and a former W.H.O. official, said, “The surge only becomes realized when those beds are up and operating and the workers are delivering care.”
He added, “If even the medium case comes to pass, with, say, 700,000 cases by January, the epidemic will quickly overwhelm the capabilities that the U.S. plans to send.”
The W.H.O. reported that a new center had just opened in Monrovia, the Liberian capital, with 120 beds for treatment and 30 for triage. Patients were already lined up at the door.
The report from the C.D.C. acknowledged that case counts were rising faster than hospital beds could be provided. It said that in the meantime, different types of treatment would be used, based in homes or community centers, with relatives and others being given protective gear to help prevent the disease from spreading.
The United States government is also sending 400,000 kits containing gloves and disinfectant to Liberia to help families take care of patients at home.
At least one aid group in Liberia is already shifting its focus to teaching people about home care and providing materials to help because there are not enough hospital beds for the sick. Ken Isaacs, a vice president of the group, Samaritan’s Purse, said, “I believe inevitably this is going to move into people’s houses, and the notion of home-based care has to play a more prominent role.”
“Where are they going to go?” he said.
Though providing home-care kits may seem like a pragmatic approach, some public health authorities said they were no substitute for beds in isolation or containment wards.
But Dr. Frieden said that home care had been used to help stamp out smallpox in Africa in the 1960s. The caregivers were often people who had survived smallpox themselves and were immune to it. Some experts have suggested that Ebola survivors might also be employed to care for the sick.
Dr. D. A. Henderson, who led the W.H.O.’s smallpox eradication program, said that local people had been paid to help in the campaign.
“We recruited a lot of people to stand guard at huts with smallpox,” said Dr. Henderson, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the University of Pittsburgh. “The important thing was to know they got paid.”
He added: “We gave money and food to families who had smallpox so they didn’t have to go out and beg, and they didn’t have to go to the market and potentially infect people. What can you do? If you don’t have food, you’ve got to leave the house and go out. Money can play a useful role.”