Today, the UN is conflicted on the use of biofuels
The world's rush to embrace biofuels is causing a spike in the price of corn and other crops and could worsen water shortages and force poor communities off their land, a U.N. official said Wednesday.
Speaking at a regional forum on bioenergy, Regan Suzuki of the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization acknowledged that biofuels are better for the environment than fossil fuels and boost energy security for many countries.
However, she said those benefits must be weighed against the pitfalls - many of which are just now emerging as countries convert millions of acres to palm oil, sugar cane and other crops used to make biofuels.
Cited among the problems are increased competition for farmland and water shortages in India and China because biofuel crops require large amounts of water.
"Particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, land availability is a critical issue," Suzuki said. "There are clear comparative advantages for tropical and subtropical countries in growing biofuel feed stocks but it is often these same countries in which resource and land rights of vulnerable groups and protected forests are weakest."
Meanwhile, scientists are conflicted about the effects of climate change on hurricanes. Where previously Al Gore and others predicted that warming climate would increase the number of hurricanes that hit the US, but now the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Miami Lab and the University of Miami say it will decrease the number of hurricanes
...researchers link warming waters, especially in the Indian and Pacific oceans, to increased vertical wind shear in the Atlantic Ocean near the United States. Wind shear - a change in wind speed or direction - makes it hard for hurricanes to form, strengthen and stay alive. So that means "global warming may decrease the likelihood of hurricanes making landfall in the United States," according to researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Miami Lab and the University of Miami. With every degree Celsius that the oceans warm, the wind shear increases by up to 10 mph, weakening storm formation, said study author Chunzai Wang, a research oceanographer at NOAA. Winds forming over the Pacific and Indian oceans have global effects, much like El Nino does, he said. Wang said he based his study on observations instead of computer models and records of landfall hurricanes through more than 100 years
Of course, this doesn't settle the matter
Critics say Wang's study is based on poor data that was rejected by scientists on the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They said that at times only one in 10 North Atlantic hurricanes hit the U.S. coast and the data reflect only a small percentage of storms around the globe.
Hurricanes hitting land "are not a reliable record" for how hurricanes have changed, said Kevin Trenberth, climate analysis chief for the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.
Trenberth is among those on the other side of a growing debate over global warming and hurricanes. Each side uses different sets of data and focus on different details.
I should point out two things about this, first this is a healthy scientific debate and two, no one knows a whole helluva lot about the consequences of climate change. One thing we do know for sure; the climate is going to change one way or another, with or without our help.
It turns out though that hurricanes themselves may contribute to global warming: and that's especially true for hurricane Katrina. A researcher who is assessing the damage to tree stands after Katrina found detestation that will result in massive carbon dioxide emissions
[Tulane University biology professor Jeff] Chambers ran programs to compare the two images, pixel by pixel. Each pixel covers about the size of a basketball court. He picked 25 of them that represent a range of forest damage.
Then he zoomed in on each of those pixels, determined their locations and sent his research team to count and measure the dead trees. He added this field data to the information from the satellite images, did a lot of number crunching and came up with a number of dead trees: 320 million. The amount of carbon dioxide they'll release: about 105 million metric tons....
Chambers stops at one downed tree that's covered with mushrooms. The fungus is consuming the dead wood, he explains.
"One of the waste products of carbon dioxide," Chambers said.
Chambers is not the only scientist who has tried to measure Katrina's carbon footprint. Steve McNulty of the Forest Service used field surveys and aerial photography to assess the carbon dioxide that will be released from trees damaged by both Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. He came up with a figure less than half as big as Chamber's estimate.
But McNulty doesn't quarrel with Chambers' findings.
"My estimates are probably somewhat conservative relative to the damage, just because you can't go out and survey all of the damage," McNulty said.
But a Yale study suggests that global warming could trigger an Ice Age
...could the rapidly accelerating warming that we are experiencing actually hasten the onset of a new ice age? A growing body of evidence suggests that, at least for the UK and western Europe, there is a serious risk of this happening - and soon.
So in one scenario, fewer hurricanes will result in less tree damage which will result in less global warming which will increase hurricane activity and more damage to tress increasing global warming.
In the other, global warming increases hurricanes which destroys trees and continually increases global warming until it triggers a new Ice Age
Which is better?
One thing's for sure, something will happen sooner or later.