AmeriScan: May 29, 2001

MELTING GLACIERS SIGNAL GLOBAL WARMING

TEMPE, Arizona, May 29, 2001 (ENS) - New data on melting glaciers provides strong evidence that the global climate is warming.

For several years, evidence has been mounting that the global climate is getting warmer. But whether the unusual weather patterns - increasing temperatures, reduced snowfall and rising sea levels - are evidence of global warming or just passing blips in the earth's bumpy weather record continues to stir controversy.

Scientists studying climate change must be able to tease apart regional climate changes and short term weather fluctuations, such as El Niņo, from permanent changes that are happening worldwide.

Geologist Rick Wessels of Arizona State University is part of an international team of scientists studying the climate of the entire earth with the Global Land Ice Measurement from Space (GLIMS) project. The team, led by U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientist Hugh Kieffer, is monitoring climate change by tracking the melting of glaciers across the earth.

In just seven months of monitoring, Wessels has already seen melting in glaciers all over Earth, which provides some solid evidence for global warming. Thousands of glaciers are melting, getting thinner or even disappearing, he said.

The flooding caused by runoff from these melting glaciers could have disastrous consequences.

Because the melting and retreat is occurring at such a rapid pace, Wessels and his colleagues think global warming is the most likely explanation for the loss of glacial ice.

"The majority of these glaciers are receding," Wessels said. "There is definitely a global climate change."

Wessels and co-author Jeff Kargel, a USGS geologist, will present the first round of results from this project in a talk titled "GLIMS: Documenting the Demise of the Earth's Glaciers using ASTER," at the Spring Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in Boston, May 29 to June 2.

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VEGETATION KEY TO ACCURATE CLIMATE MODELING

BOSTON, Massachusetts, May 29, 2001 (ENS) - Linking vegetation models to climate models may make climate predictions more accurate and could provide a better picture of the effects of global warming on the Earth, say Penn State researchers

Atmospheric global climate models are large, complex computer programs that are only as accurate as the data they have and the variables they cover. Adding vegetation into the mix provides a better picture of the interconnected changes that occur as climate changes.

"Recent studies show that if accurate vegetation is not included in global climate models, anomalies of up to four degrees Fahrenheit and a third of an inch of rain per day can occur," said Persaram Batra, a Penn State graduate student in geosciences.

Batra, David Pollard, research associate, and Eric Barron, professor of geosciences and director, Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences' Environment Institute, looked at four different vegetation models and linked them to the GENESIS atmospheric global climate model.

The researchers found that none of the climate models tested were perfect and that some differences occurred between the models. Some models did better in modeling tropical vegetation while others were better at temperate vegetation.

Also, some of the vegetation models consider the effects of carbon dioxide on plants, while others ignore carbon dioxide. Because plant growth and type is dependent on the levels of carbon dioxide and carbon dioxide serves as a greenhouse gas, the researchers believe that its inclusion in the vegetation models may be important.

The way that vegetation is incorporated into a climate model is important. The best scenario is accurate, interactive vegetation data that can influence and be influenced by the climate model.

This data, and the effects on climate, including variables like temperature changes and reflectivity are fed back into the climate model that is adjusted and the process is repeated numerous times.

"We want to see how robust the various vegetation models are at different time periods," said Batra. "Then we can use the best models to see how climate change would affect vegetation patterns in the future."

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BUSH ENCOUNTERS ENERGY CONTROVERSY IN CALIFORNIA

LOS ANGELES, California, May 29, 2001 (ENS) - President George W. Bush will be greeted by protesters in California as he meets with Governor Gray Davis to discuss the state's energy crisis.

Bush went to California Monday night for the first time since before last year's presidential election, in which Bush lost California by about 12 percentage points to Democratic candidate Al Gore. Bush has been criticized for not taking stronger action to address power shortages in California, which have led to statewide rolling blackouts.

Bush will meet with Governor Davis to discuss additional measures that the federal government might take to help Californians. Davis is expected to ask, again, for federal caps on electricity wholesale prices to reduce the financial impact of the power shortage on his constituents. Bush is expected to turn him down, again.

This morning, activists from the Sierra Club held a rally in Los Angeles to call on Bush to clean up his energy plan and help Californians.

"The Bush Energy Plan won't work for California. We need quicker, cleaner, cheaper and safer energy solutions," the group said in a release. "President Bush should immediately put in place rate caps to stop the price gouging in the state and implement incentives for energy efficiency and responsible production."

Bush released his energy plan earlier this month, calling for increased development of domestic oil and natural gas, nuclear power and coal. The plan places little emphasis on renewable energy sources and energy conservation.

On Wednesday, Sierra Club members will protest President Bush's visit to Sequoia National Park. Volunteers will line the entrance road to the national park to get out their message that these are "our lands," not "oil lands," the group said.

The President is considering opening up national monuments, parks, wilderness areas and other wildlife refuges to oil and gas development, mining and logging.

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POLITICS, NOT ENERGY, CAUSED CALIFORNIA CRISIS, GROUP ARGUES

WASHINGTON, DC, May 29, 2001 (ENS) - "We do not have an energy crisis in America right now. What confounds us is a political crisis," say members of Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP America).

In the Spring 2001 issue of the "Green Elephant," a publication of REP America, two REP members outline their views of the current power shortages in California, and President George W. Bush's plan to address the nation's long term energy needs.

The group, comprised of Republicans that are dedicated to conservation, has objected to several parts of the Bush energy plan, including its proposal to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and portions of some national monuments to energy exploration.

"We are living in a world of our own making," said authors Jim Scarantino, executive director of REP America and the REP Environmental Educational Foundation, and Dr. Gerald Leigh, a REP America member and retired engineer who specialized in energy research and development.

"We have known for years that America will always be at the mercy of foreign oil powers as long as we rely on oil," the authors write. "Even if we drill in every wildlife refuge and put oil rigs off all our coasts, we will still have no more than four percent of the world's reserves. Yet we consume 25 percent of the world's production."

"We delude ourselves if we think we can drill our way to energy independence," they wrote. "We have known for years that our road to energy independence must be built upon efficiency, technology and the abundant all American, clean and renewable sources of power that surround us: wind, solar, geo- thermal, ocean and biomass energy."

In addition, "Despite all the advances claimed by the oil industry, accidents continue to cause grievous harm to the Earth," the authors note.

Their full arguments are available at: http://www.repamerica.org/

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SHARPTON PLANS HUNGER STRIKE OVER VIEQUES

BROOKLYN, New York, May 29, 2001 (ENS) - The Reverend Al Sharpton has begun a hunger strike to draw attention to Navy bombing on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, the "New York Times" reports.

"I am not going to eat until we are released," Sharpton told the newspaper. "I want to draw attention to what is going on in Vieques, and giving up my freedom is worth making people aware."

Last week, Sharpton was sentenced to spend 90 days in jail for trespassing on U.S. Navy lands during a protest of the ongoing Navy exercises which have littered Vieques with bombs, toxic metals and chemicals, and destroyed much of the island's coral reefs.

In his first interview since he was jailed, Sharpton told the "New York Times" that he has discussed his plans with the three New York area politicians who were arrested and jailed along with the reverend.

All four believe they were denied a fair trial because they could not choose their own lawyers and were given little time to prepare their defense.

"My position was that I was determined to commit an act of civil disobedience," Sharpton told the paper. "And you expect to pay a price for it. But you don't expect to pay a price that is unjust. But I'm determined to remain strong and to keep the focus on the issue of Vieques."

"I want to bring attention to the fact that children are contracting asthma at alarming rates," on Vieques, Sharpton continued. "The cancer rates have increased. All of this is going on without any sensitivity on the part of the national government."

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BUSH GETS FAILING GRADE ON PARKS ISSUES

WASHINGTON, DC, May 29, 2001 (ENS) - The Bush administration has so far earned a D grade for its handling of national parks issues, the National Parks Conservation Association says.

The Bush Administration has highlighted the needs of national parks by pledging almost $5 billion over the next five years to eliminate the decades old parks maintenance and resource protection backlog. While this sounds good, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) says the administration is not doing well at addressing the parks system's real needs.

"President Bush receives a D for his record to date on national parks," said Thomas Kiernan, NPCA president. "While his report card shows one important area of promise, his work needs significant improvement across the board."

The Bush Administration has declared that it will put the bulk of its parks funding on repairing park roads and buildings. Although such infrastructure is in need of repair in parks across the nation, brick and mortar projects alone will not restore America's national parks.

The parks suffer from a diversity of ills that include failing air and water quality, jeopardized wildlife, abuse by off road motorized vehicles, and lack of park transportation. Declining visitor education and interpretation, stifled park system expansion and insufficient management skills are other problems facing the parks.

"President Bush has earned a D on parks so far, but fortunately we're still early in his term," Kiernan said. "With some tutoring from the American public and less partying with industry, he can still earn an A."

The groups gives the Bush administration a C+ on park funding; a D on addressing park air and water quality; a C on park wildlife issues; and a D- on motorized abuse of parks.

The administration earned an "incomplete" grade on parks transportation and visitor education, issues for which Bush has so far failed to pledge sufficient funding.

Bush earned an F for Interior Secretary Gale Norton's announcement that the Department of the Interior will not even consider potential new parks, as required by law. This action flies in the face of the need to protect additional landscapes and diverse cultural and historical sites, the NPCA says.

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FOREST FRAGMENTATION LINKED TO STRESS IN BIRDS

AUBURN, Alabama, May 29, 2001 (ENS) - New research offers a clue as to why Amazon forest birds are sensitive to habitat fragmentation - even patches as big as 250 acres are missing many species.

Birds in fragments have slower growing feathers, learned U.S. researchers. This suggests that they are more stressed, which could decrease survival and reproduction.

"There might be physiological consequences for birds that live in fragments," said Jeff Stratford of Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, who did this work with Philip Stouffer of Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. The work appears in the June issue of the journal "Conservation Biology."

This the first evidence that fragmentation may have direct physiological effects.

Stratford and Stouffer compared feathers from two common bird species (the white crowned manakin and the wedge billed woodcreeper) that were captured in either forest fragments or continuous forest near Manaus, Brazil. To determine how fast the feathers had grown, the researchers measured the daily growth bars.

Healthier birds are assumed to have feathers with wider growth bars, meaning faster growing feathers.

The researchers found that feathers from birds captured in forest fragments had grown slower: for instance, feathers from birds in 2.5 acre fragments grew 10 percent slower than those from birds in continuous forest.

Why do birds in fragments have slower growing feathers? Stratford and Stouffer ruled out the possibility of insufficient food. The manakin's diet includes fruit and the woodcreeper eats insects living on tree trunks and branches, and fragmentation does not reduce either type of food.

Fragmentation may not affect feather growth directly. Rather, less robust birds may be more likely to end up in undesirable habitats like fragments.

"We suggest that these birds are social subordinates that are wandering about the landscape," said Stratford.

Birds in fragmented habitats elsewhere may be even more stressed because the fragmentation in this study was mild. For instance, the forest fragments were separated by pasture and regenerating forest rather than by parking lots and houses.

"Even though things look bad, this is a 'best case scenario'," Stratford said.

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LABOR DEPARTMENT MEETS FIRST DEADLINE FOR COMPENSATION PROGRAM

WASHINGTON, DC, May 29, 2001 (ENS) - An all out effort by the U.S. Labor Department to meet the first deadline for the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act has passed its first hurdle.

Passed in October 2000, the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act pays medical expenses and lump sum compensation to employees who are ill because of exposure to radiation, beryllium or silica while working in the nuclear weapons industry. Compensation will also be available to survivors in certain instances, and to uranium employees who received benefits under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act.

Proposed regulations for the new law, which were due May 31, appeared in the May 25 Federal Register. Although the interim regulations provide 90 days for public comment, they will go into effect 60 days after publication so the Labor Department can begin processing compensation and medical benefit claims on July 31, as required by the Act.

"Our goal was to issue these proposed regulations as soon as possible, to start the process of collecting comments and allow us to begin processing claims when the statute becomes effective on July 31, 2001," said Labor Secretary Elaine Chao. "This is the first step of many toward implementing a very complicated compensation program. As part of our commitment to helping those workers who were harmed in service to our country, we want to make sure this program is launched correctly and on time."

On May 31, the department will launch a toll free number that affected workers can call with questions about the program: 1-866-888-3322. The toll-free number can also be used to request application forms.

Updated information will be posted on the department's Web site at: http://www.dol.gov

Between May 31 and July 31, the Labor Department will host community meetings where workers can ask questions about the program, and at least nine resource centers run by the Labor and Energy Departments will be opening near Department of Energy facilities throughout the country.

The Department of Energy's Office of Worker Advocacy will help workers file state workers' compensation claims and list facilities where covered workers were employed. The Department of Health and Human Services must establish guidelines for estimating radiation doses and the likelihood that they caused a worker's cancer. The Justice Department is obligated to notify uranium workers eligible for benefits under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act that they may also receive compensation under the energy workers' program.

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HUMANE SOCIETY PUBLISHES STATE OF ANIMALS 2001

WASHINGTON, DC, May 29, 2001 (ENS) - A new book from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) examines how animals throughout the world have fared over the last half century.

"The State of the Animals 2001," is the first in a series reviewing the state of animal protection in North America and worldwide. The 211 page book was edited by Deborah Salem, director and editor in chief of the Humane Society Press and Andrew Rowan, HSUS senior vice president for research, education and international issues.

The book shows the gains and setbacks in the animal protection movement since 1950. Contributors of the book's 13 essays include HSUS experts on animal protection issues and distinguished scholars.

The book covers a range of topics including: the evolution of social attitudes towards animals; a history of postwar animal protection; the place of domestic animals in U.S. society; animal research; the role of zoos; animal cruelty; the effects of world trade; legislative issues; urban wildlife; and fertility control in animals.

"Our vision for 'The State of the Animals 2001' was to add significantly to the efforts of The HSUS to develop an analytical framework for evaluating human society's progress - or lack of progress - toward a respectful, compassionate, caring interaction with all animals, wild and domestic," said Rowan.

"The State of the Animals 2001" finds that the U.S. has made improvements in its care of dogs, cats and horses. The report explores the steady decline in sport hunting, the use of animals in research, trapping and fur sales, and finds an increase in more federal and state laws protecting animals.

Over the past 50 years, animals have lost ground on many fronts as well.

"The story for farm animals is very depressing," Rowan said. "We've seen the landscape of farming change dramatically from small, family owned farm operations to the take over of 'factory farms,' run by large corporations. The factory farm system uses intensive confinement systems to mass produce and deliver meats to market while stripping away any humane care and respect for the animals and subjecting them to high stress and illness."

Marine mammals, which once were gaining ground in protection worldwide, are now being threatened, the book says. The state of zoo animals is a problem, despite efforts by some progressive institutions to care and nurture captive wildlife and promote conservation.

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SYMPOSIUM BUILDS MOMENTUM FOR CALIFORNIA SMART GROWTH

SAN DIEGO, California, May 29, 2001 (ENS) - Almost 300 people met earlier this month to discuss, debate, and deliberate over potential solutions to reverse the impact of sprawling development in California.

With California's population expected to grow by a million people a year over the next 20 years, the impacts of unchecked growth on wildlife habitat and the environment could be disastrous. Many of California's threatened and endangered species, already in serious jeopardy due to sprawl, could be driven to extinction.

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Zero and low emission vehicles on display at the symposium caught the attention of some of California's future drivers (Photo courtesy National Wildlife Federation)
On May 19 and 20, the National Wildlife Federation and its California affiliate, the Planning and Conservation League, brought people together at the University of California San Diego for a symposium, Smart Growth for Californians and Wildlife: A Call to Action. The meeting focused on providing everyday residents, environmental activists and decision makers with practical actions they can take to protect the environment and enhance quality of life in responding to the demand for new places to live, work, shop and recreate.

Armed with practical actions to be part of the solution, participants left the symposium with a better understanding that smart growth is more than planning the locations of new communities. Smart growth means building reserves and corridors for wildlife, revitalizing older communities, creating attractive alternatives to the automobile, addressing population growth, reducing water and energy consumption and stormwater runoff through enhanced community and building design, and assuring social equity.

More information is available at: http://www.nwf.org/smartgrowth/learnmore.html