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China's Great Disappearing Lake

Desertification and a shrinking lake threaten northern China's wetlands and grasslands

by Huo Weiya,

Jan 23, 2011
Dalai Lake

Dalai Lake is shrinking. For years, the water level of northern China’s largest freshwater lake – lying on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, close to the borders with Mongolia and Russia – has been falling. Since 2009, the local government has been trying to halt the decline by siphoning off water from the , which forms part of the boundary between Russia and China. But Dalai’s long-term future is still unclear.

Dalai is a huge body of water – the fifth biggest of China’s freshwater lakes. And its importance in maintaining the ecological balance of the Hulunbuir grasslands, currently the healthiest in China, has earned it the nickname “Kidney of the Grasslands”. In 1986, Inner Mongolia established the Dalai Lake Nature Reserve in order to protect the site’s rare birds, wetlands and grasslands ecology. In 1992, the area was upgraded to a and, in 2001, it was included on a of internationally important wetlands.

New Mexico’s About-Face on GHGs Not Expected to Hinder Regional Action

Mass firings, a controversial 90-day rule freeze, and appointment of a climate skeptic have made the new GOP governor a lightning rod of controversy

By Maria Gallucci

Jan 21, 2011
New Mexico capitol

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez’s swift actions to stall progress on greenhouse gas regulations she inherited from her predecessor will likely hinder the state’s participation in the ’s (WCI) cap-and-trade program, environmental authorities said, although it will not sideline the regional initiative itself.

Bruce Frederick, a staff attorney at the (NMELC), said that he expects the newly elected Republican governor to repeal a key November ruling by the state’s Environmental Improvement Board (EIB). It permits New Mexico to exchange carbon allowances with the seven other U.S. states and four Canadian provinces participating in the California-driven emissions trading program.

Mariel Nanasi, executive director of the nonprofit (NEE) in New Mexico, said that “it is certainly on (the governor’s) agenda” to withdraw the state from the WCI emissions plan.

The press office for Gov. Martinez did not respond to phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.

Science Advancing on Methane’s Behavior in Carbon Cycle

Studies improve the tool set for scientists to track and measure the contribution of methane to warming global temperatures

By Catherine M. Cooney

Jan 20, 2011
a wetland

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, with more than 20 times greater global warming potential than carbon dioxide. Yet scientists admit that their knowledge about methane’s sources and movements through the carbon cycle is still incomplete.

Two new studies published earlier this month in the journal Science chip away at this lack of knowledge. an international team of scientists reported new data showing that freshwater sources, such as lakes and streams, contribute more methane to the atmosphere than previously thought. clarified how methane is consistently cleansed from the atmosphere.

Together, they provide a clearer window on methane’s behavior in two places in the carbon cycle, improving the tool set scientists can use to track and measure the contribution of the greenhouse gas on warming global temperatures.

Report Questions Role of Shale Gas as Bridge to Low Carbon Future

The authors warn shale gas will be burned in addition to coal, not as a substitute, and block renewable energy development

By Stacy Feldman

Jan 19, 2011

Without a global carbon price, the expanding shale gas boom would exacerbate climate change and take money away from renewable energy projects, a new report said, calling for a worldwide pause until countries take steps necessary to lower the risks of the new wave of drilling.

On the Frontlines of a Warming World, 925 Million Undernourished People

Because of global warming and trends in population, dramatic movements in the food economy are likely here to stay

By Stacy Feldman

Jan 18, 2011

The rapid surge in staple food prices in 2008 that sparked global riots and sent millions into poverty is back. Now, researchers say that because of global warming and trends in population, these dramatic price movements in the food economy are likely here to stay.

The influential , based in Washington, D.C.,  gave warning last week that if current trends continue, extraordinary weather events like last year's Russian heatwave that wiped out 40 percent of the nation's wheat crop will recur more frequently, with effects felt everywhere and especially in the world's poorest regions.

"The frontlines of this crisis are occupied by the world's 925 million undernourished people," the group said in its annual report.

Clinton Ties to Pipeline Lobbyist Obscured by Questionable FOIA Denial

FOIA expert says the State Department lacks sufficient grounds for denying the request

By Elizabeth McGowan

Jan 17, 2011

WASHINGTON—Environmental advocates are already doubtful of the U.S. State Department’s ability to conduct a transparent review of a controversial Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline.

And their suspicions were heightened recently when department decision-makers rejected their request to turn over any and all correspondence the department has had with the chief lobbyist for TransCanada, the company seeking to build what’s known as the Keystone XL pipeline. The lobbyist, a man named Paul Elliott, was one of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s former presidential campaign staffers.

Leaders of the three advocacy organizations that filed say they suspect some sort of impropriety.

Borneo's Logging Barons Turn Profits into Overseas Assets

Much of the ill-gotten gains from massive logging are hidden in plain sight as real estate holdings

by Judith Mayer,

Jan 16, 2011

For years, environmental and indigenous rights advocates in the forested Malaysian state of Sarawak, on the island of Borneo, have struggled against the rampant logging destroying their homes. Deforestation for timber and industrial palm oil, they say, is theft of the state’s natural heritage and betrayal of its most vulnerable citizens. Adding insult to injury, much of the money made by timber and palm oil barons, as well as by the Malaysian politicians they have corrupted, is not invested in the local economy, nor is it taxed; it’s exported.

Much of the ill-gotten gains from massive logging are hidden in plain sight as real estate holdings. An investigation by an international network including has uncovered a chain of destruction and deception in which loggers and their political patrons have acquired real estate empires stretching from the United States to Great Britain, from Australia to Canada.

Documentary Chronicles Toxic Air of Texas, Petrochemical Malpractice

Petrochemical plants were routinely releasing millions of tons of toxic pollutants into the air each year; the casualties are the people living nearby

by Hannah Patterson,

Jan 14, 2011
Image from Shelter in Place. Photographer: Zed Nelson

It was back in November 2004 that I found myself standing outside one of the largest petrochemical plants in the US, in the Texan city of Port Arthur. A grey smog hung over the plant and the air was heavy with the smell of rotting eggs, and for the second time that afternoon, two armed security guards were bearing down on us. George Bush had just been re-elected president, which pleased a large contingent of voters, but not so much the people living on the fenceline of the refineries. I was with photographer Zed Nelson, looking for any flames or flaring that we could catch on film.

If you don't know his name, Zed is the photographer behind projects such as , a book about America's love affair with guns. His conceptual approach to contemporary social issues is conveyed through arresting, thought-provoking images. So when he told me he wanted to make a about the Texas industry, I wanted to get involved – and ended up producing it.

The idea for the film came out of a story Zed had researched and photographed for an Observer feature just as Bush had become president the first time around. Petrochemical plants were routinely releasing millions of tons of toxic pollutants into the air each year, and a loophole in the law allowed them to release thousands more in "accidental" or "unscheduled" releases. The casualties are the people living nearby, who complain they are breathing the air every day. That's where the title comes from: Shelter in Place is the warning sent out for people to stay indoors after a significant release.

Obama Can Cut Fossil Fuel Subsidies and Save $39 Billion, But Will Congress Go Along?

The cuts were included in the last two budgets submitted to Congress, but were never implemented. Will GOP budget hawks now get on board?

By Elizabeth McGowan

Jan 14, 2011

WASHINGTON—Lately, President Obama seems to be suffering from a case of laryngitis on the topic of shaving subsidies for the fossil fuel industry.

Thus, not too surprisingly, it appears Congress has been infected with the same bug.

Environmentalists and deficit hawks are eager for the president to find his voice again by using his 2012 federal budget to once again take a whack at propping up oil and coal. Last year, the idea he dangled of in such subsidies through 2020 went nowhere. It’s unclear if Obama might try to duplicate those savings when he unveils his latest budget proposal in mid-February.

David Goldwyn of the State Department made it clear during a talk in Washington this week that reining in fossil fuel subsidies worldwide would help to make a significant dent in greenhouse gas emissions. The Group of 20 has committed to doing so and the International Energy Agency will be keeping score, said Goldwyn, who is stepping down today from his position as coordinator for international energy affairs.

In the United States, he pointed out, reducing subsidies “will be a political battle.”

Is Biomass Clean or Dirty Energy? We Won't Know for 3 Years

Should turning tree parts into electricity qualify as renewable power or is the practice dirtier than burning coal?

By Stacy Feldman

Jan 13, 2011

The Obama administration put off for another three years a decision on whether to regulate planet-warming gases from biomass power. The surprise delay dealt a blow to green groups' hopes for pollution controls on wood-burning incinerators anytime soon, while industry breathed sighs of relief.

"It was a total shock," said Margaret Sheehan, a lawyer with the Cambridge, Mass.-based , who said that she believes Big Timber was behind the U.S. EPA's decision.

Dan Whiting, spokesperson for the (NAFO), an organization of private forest owners in 47 states, said he was "pleasantly surprised."

Still, the delay leaves wide open a question central to the industry's future: Should turning tree parts into electricity qualify as clean renewable power in the eyes of government regulators, or should biomass emissions be regarded as a source of greenhouse gas pollution?