AmeriScan: January 26, 2001


AMHERST, Massachusetts, January 26, 2001 (ENS) - Sudden climate changes may have been a major factor in the collapse of several societies during the past 10,000 years, a new study concludes.

"In general, climate is a major factor when societies unravel, but at times in the past, it's been the decisive factor," said Raymond Bradley, head of the geosciences department at the University of Massachusetts. The study counters common views that societies adapted to environmental changes, and failed due to combinations of social, political and economic forces.

Bradley and Harvey Weiss, a Yale University archeologist, compared the timing of major climate changes with the collapses of ancient societies around the world, including Africa, the Mediterranean, and North and South America.

The team defined collapse as an abandonment of an established community due to a lack of food. In many cases, farming and harvesting efforts faltered during prolonged droughts, and societies became nomadic.

"Societies that have been close to subsistence levels had certain expectations about weather conditions, such as amounts of rainfall, and their patterns of existence - their infrastructures - were built on those expectations," Bradley said. "Such expectations would have been handed down for generations. Thus, a sudden climate shift, such as a drought, would have presented completely unfamiliar conditions. If a major climate shift persisted, it would have caused unprecedented disruption in their ability to secure food."

Societal collapse was associated with abrupt climate change that persisted over decades or even centuries, and was unprecedented in the experiences of the people living during those times.

"The change had to be of a sufficient magnitude to threaten the food supply," said Bradley.

The combination of accelerated population growth and projected changes in the climate "make for a potent mix for real problems on a global scale," he suggested.

"It's fairly inarguable that the population is going to grow from six billion today to nearly nine to 12 billion by the year 2050, according to the United Nations," Bradley noted. "A lot of the developing world lives at subsistence levels, and is already vulnerable to year to year variations in climate."

Even developed countries face risks, Bradley warned. "Much of our infrastructure - our hydroelectric dams, our levees, and coastal construction - were built based on weather patterns that we expect to continue. But if you have a hydroelectric dam, and you can't meet the society's demand for electricity, that's a problem," said Bradley, pointing to the energy crisis in California. "We're somewhat insulated by technology, and we're not going to starve, but even in the developed world there may be disruptions."

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SANTA BARBARA, California, January 26, 2001 (ENS) - Using pieces of ancient coral reefs as windows on the history of climate, geologists have discovered that at no time in the past 130,000 years does the weather phenomenon known as El Niņo appear to have been as intense as it has in the last century.

In an article published in today's issue of "Science Magazine," the researchers reported that the strength of El Niņo was diminished during ice ages. The findings are important in evaluating the hypothesis that the intensity of El Niņo during the last century is related to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

El Niņo is defined as the resulting world wide weather changes that occur following an increase of warm water in the tropical eastern Pacific.

coral terraces

Uplifted coral reef terraces of the Huon Peninsula, Papua New Guinea, form a succession of 'steps', or terraces, in the coastal landscape (Photo courtesy University of California, Santa Barbara)
The researchers studied coral reef terraces dating back 130,000 years in the Huon Peninsula of New Guinea. By analyzing the temperature and salinity of the water, as revealed by the ancient pieces of coral, the researchers were able to reconstruct past climate.

"The samples indicated that El Niņo was never more intense than the events of the last hundred years," said David Lea, co-author and professor of geological sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara. "Over the last 100 years we have very accurate records of El Nino, with 1982-83 and 1997-98 being the largest events on record. Of course, everyone wants to know if the intensity of these large events is somehow related to global warming. Our data suggest that the behavior of the tropical Pacific over the last 100 years is atypical, but it does not pinpoint which factors modulate El Niņo."

The researchers also learned that during the ice ages the intensity of El Niņo appears to be about 50 percent weaker. During the warmest times El Niņo was the strongest.

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TALLAHASSEE, Florida, January 26, 2001 (ENS) - Two Florida land purchases announced Tuesday will protect more than 68,000 wetland and forest acres for wildlife.

In one of the deals, Governor Jeb Bush and the state Cabinet have approved the purchase of a 11,329 acre parcel purchase to strengthen the protection and restoration of the Everglades. The parcel, known as Golden Gate Estates South, will help protect the flow of water between Big Cypress National Preserve, Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve and Everglades National Park.

"The acquisition of Golden Gate Estates South will allow the restoration of significant wetlands crucial to the reestablishment of the historic water flow pattern in the western Everglades," said Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) secretary David Struhs. "Ultimately, this will contribute to the formation of a continuous public conservation corridor extending across South Florida, form the Gulf Coast, to approximately 10 miles from the Atlantic Ocean."

The second deal provides for the purchase of the Baker County Forest from Rayonier, an international forest products company. The deal between Rayonier, the Florida DEP and the St. Johns River Water Management District was negotiated by The Nature Conservancy.1

The 57,379 acre Rayonier tract is part of the state's Conservation and Recreation Lands (CARL) Pinhook Swamp project and is an integral part of the wildlife corridor that connects Georgia's Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge with the Osceola National Forest in Florida's Columbia and Baker counties. This addition forms one of the largest public wildlife corridors east of the Mississippi River.

"It is because commercial forestry is a conserving land use that there are still large tracts of relatively undisturbed land," said Ed Montgomery, manager, business development, Rayonier. "This project is a prime example of how commercial forestry provides for natural values such clean water, clean air and wildlife habitat as well as providing a wide variety of consumer products that we all use on a daily basis."

"It is because of many years of sound forest management and good stewardship by the timber industry that we still have these vast natural areas of black bear habitat in northeast Florida," said Betsy Donley, associate director of protection for The Nature Conservancy.

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BILLINGS, Montana, January 26, 2001 (ENS) - A coalition of environmental groups has filed court papers opposing a landowner's lawsuit to require almost nine miles of new road construction to reach a private parcel deep within Montana's Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area.

"Building a road into the Absaroka-Beartooth wilderness is like throwing a brick through a church window ­ it is an assault on one of Montana's treasures, and we will oppose it," said Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund attorney Tim Preso, who is representing conservationists in the case.

The lawsuit was filed by the Absaroka Trust, a trust established by Livingston resident James Sievers. The Trust seeks to overturn a decision by the U.S. Forest Service denying the Trust's request to build a 20 foot wide gravel road through the 943,626 acre Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area to access a 120 acre private inholding.

The Forest Service has estimated that 8.6 miles of new road would be required to reach the property. The proposed road would be used to log and mine the inholding property, and to construct and operate a hunting and fishing lodge.

"The Forest Service was right to deny the request to build a road into the Wilderness," said Bob Ekey, Northern Rockies regional director for The Wilderness Society. "When you buy property in the heart of a Wilderness area, you shouldn't expect to drive to it. Access by trails in the area is adequate."

"Not only should this road never be built, but it is adding insult to injury to insist that Americans pay for the destruction of their own wilderness," added Bob Decker, executive director of the Montana Wilderness Association. The lawsuit demands that the Forest Service pay for all costs and expenses incurred in constructing the road, estimated at well over $1 million.

George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch, noted that the case could set a dangerous precedent.

"This case will have a profound impact on the entire National Wilderness Preservation System," said Nickas. "With literally thousands of individual parcels of private lands scattered throughout the system, a ruling in the Trust's favor threatens to eviscerate millions of acres of Wilderness designated to date."

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DANVERS, Massachusetts, January 26, 2001 (ENS) - Three depleted Northeastern marine fish and shellfish species ­ Gulf of Maine haddock, sea scallops and American plaice - are showing measurable rebuilding, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) said this week.

"I am particularly optimistic about sea scallop improvements," said Patricia Kurkul, NMFS Northeastern regional administrator. The NMFS is the federal agency charged with building sustainable fisheries in the nation's ocean.

"We have detailed information about sea scallop commercial fishing effort, and an unusually precise picture of stock status and biology. As a result, fishing rules can allow increased harvest without damaging rebuilding," said Kurkul.

The findings were reported Thursday at a meeting of the New England Fishery Management Council, the body that devises regional management plans for fisheries in this region's federal waters. The report comes from the Northeast Regional Stock Assessment Review Committee (SARC), the scientific body convened since 1985 to peer review fish population status analyses and produce scientific advice used by fishery managers in the Northeast.

The review panel noted that the spawning population of American plaice, a flatfish found in the Gulf of Maine and on Georges Bank, is continuing to rise, and is about half the size of that expected in a rebuilt population. The panel recommended that managers continue to keep fishing removals low and reduce the unintentional harvest of these flatfish.

Gulf of Maine haddock were depleted in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with the present population concentrated in a portion of the western Gulf of Maine. The review panel reported that while the overall population is low, there is continued growth, and recommended that the present year round area closure in the western Gulf of Maine be extended.

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ALBANY, New York, January 26, 2001 (ENS) - The New York Public Service Commission (PSC) took action this week to increase funding for wind, solar and biomass energy sources and for energy conservation.

The Commission decision will provide $47.5 million over five years for development of large scale wind farms and encourage the use of small wind turbines on farms and rural homesteads. Over the next five years the funding is expected to result in construction of over 200 megawatts of wind turbine generating capacity in New York State, enough to meet the annual energy needs of 84,000 homes.

"New York needs more clean, renewable electric power resources. This action will boost wind energy, create jobs and help make our electric power supplies more secure and affordable," said David Wooley, spokesperson for the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

Wooley, who is AWEA's regional director, added, "Wind energy development makes our electric power supply more secure by reducing dependence on imported fossil fuels and insulating us from price spikes caused by shortages. It also provides an economic stimulus for rural areas and reduces air pollution."

The Commission's action increases wind energy funding by almost four times above previous funding levels. The funds from the Commission's 1996 order helped establish New York's first two large scale wind farms that went on line last fall in Madison and Wyoming Counties.

Industry experts believe that wind energy could supply 5000 megawatts of electric power generation in New York, enough to meet eight to 10 percent of the state's electric power consumption.

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NEW YORK, New York, January 26, 2001 (ENS) ­ The United States has reached a proposed settlement with Marisol, Incorporated to pay about $11 million toward cleanup costs at the Lang Property federal Superfund site in Pemberton Township.

In the 1970s, hazardous waste from Marisol was disposed of at the Lang Property, a 40 acre parcel of rural land in New Jersey's Pinelands National Reserve, one of the country's valuable environmental resources.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) removed and disposed of 13,200 tons of contaminated soil at the site, and constructed a system that has treated 232 million gallons of contaminated groundwater since August 1995.

"The good news is that EPA's cleanup at the Lang Property is working to restore the aquifer," EPA acting regional administrator William Muszynski explained. "Marisol showed good faith by starting to repay the government even before the settlement was officially completed."

Federal Superfund Trust monies covered 90 percent and New Jersey the remaining 10 percent of the costs for the two phases of the site cleanup. These phases included the 1988 cleanup of contaminated soil and other surface hazards, and then later, the construction and operation of the treatment system that removes volatile organic compounds and metals from the groundwater and reinjects the treated water into the underlying aquifer.

The federal government will recover about $10 million, and the state of New Jersey about $1.1 million from the settlement.

"This is how the Superfund program is designed to work, enabling large cleanups to proceed for protection of public health and the environment, in this case the sensitive underlying aquifer in the Pinelands. The significant $11 million cost recovery is welcome news for the cleanup program in New Jersey," said New York Department of Environmental Protection commissioner Bob Shinn.

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WASHINGTON, DC, January 26, 2001 (ENS) - The new global economy, lambasted by environmental and human rights activists, is the topic of a youth summit this weekend.

As part of the effort to ensure that globalization includes protections of human rights and the environment, the Sierra Club and Amnesty International USA are bringing 200 students from around the country to Washington, DC to participate in workshops and meet with their members of Congress.

The Youth Summit on Globalization, which starts today, will culminate with a rally at the U.S. Capitol on Monday morning before the students go to meetings with their representatives.

In the past year, there have been several protests regarding the threats that unrestrained free trade can have on the environment and human rights. The Youth Summit on Globalization aims to focus the energy of this movement and give youth the tools they need to really go about making change.

Speakers from Amnesty International and Sierra Club and 200 student activists will address the rally Monday morning on the House Triangle, at the southeast corner of the U.S. Capitol building.

Beginning today, the students will help plan the defense of the environment and of environmental activists in the face of globalization, the Sierra Club says. The summit will be held at the National 4-H Center in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Many international agreements ignore environmental and human rights concerns, the groups say, and set foreign policy based on the dictates of global corporations rather than human values. The Youth Summit is intended to will help build the movement to protect human rights and the environment.