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BBC: Gore challenges US to ditch oil

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BBC: Gore challenges US to ditch oil

Al Gore sets his oil challenge to Americans

The Nobel laureate and former US vice president, Al Gore, has urged Americans to abandon electricity generated by fossil fuels within a decade.

Mr Gore compared the scale of the challenge to that of putting a man on the moon in the 1960s.

He said it did not make sense that the US was borrowing money from China to burn oil from the Middle East which then contributed to climate change.

Critics say weaning the US off fossil fuels is not possible within a decade.

Mr Gore, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for his work on climate change, insists his goal is achievable and affordable.

"The answer is to end our reliance on carbon-based fuels," he said in a speech in


"When you connect the dots, it turns out that the real solutions to the climate crisis are the very same measures needed to renew our economy and escape the trap of ever-rising energy prices."

To secure this green revolution, Mr Gore said the single most important policy change would be to "tax what we burn - not what we earn".

Cold turkey

Mr Gore's ambitious plan would still rely on nuclear energy for a fifth of America's energy needs. Many see the goal as unachievable.

Robby Diamond, president of a bipartisan think tank called Securing America's Future Energy, said weaning the nation off fossil fuels could not be done in a decade.

"The country is not going to be able to go cold turkey," he told the Associated Press.

"We have a hundred years of infrastructure with trillions of dollars of investment that is not simply going to be made obsolete."

US President George W Bush has often been criticised for not doing enough to tackle climate change.

Green campaign

At the recent G8 summit of developed nations in Japan, he did move the US closer to a consensus on climate change, by agreeing to language which makes achieving 50% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 a G8 "vision".

The BBC's Warren Bull says that whatever those seeking to succeed Mr Bush in the White House think of Mr Gore's plan, they appear to agree on the need for progress on green issues.

Mr Gore said the Democrat's Barack Obama and Republican John McCain were way ahead of most politicians in the fight against global climate change.

Whether their enthusiasm for the environment survives into the White House may be influenced by how much the electorate warms to Mr Gore's vision, our correspondent adds.
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Independent: Woodland birds on route to extinction as numbers dive

By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor
Thursday, 17 July 2008

Birds of Britain's woodlands are declining so rapidly that some appear to be on the road to extinction, a study reveals today.

A suite of woodland species, from the nightingale to the spotted flycatcher, fell by more than 50 per cent between 1994 and last year, according to the report of the annual Breeding Bird Survey, run by the British Trust for Ornithology, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. The willow tit has declined by 77 per cent over the period and is extinct over much of Britain. But other declines are nearly as bad: since 1994, wood warbler has declined by 67 per cent, nightingale by 60 per cent, spotted flycatcher by 59 per cent and pied flycatcher by 54 per cent. Lesser spotted woodpecker has declined so much that it is too rare to monitor accurately on a national basis.

Over the past 30 years declines of Britain's farmland birds have been the main concern, with grey partridge and corn bunting falling nearly 90 per cent because of the intensification of agriculture. Now woodland birds seem to be going the same way – but the causes are much less obvious.

Factors being considered include predation by grey squirrels or great spotted woodpeckers (not proved), the decline in the form of woodland management known as coppicing (possible) and the huge rise in the numbers of deer (much more likely). Virtually all species of deer are steadily increasing, led by the muntjac. Their browsing is causing structural changes to the vegetation, and the undergrowth where birds nests are disappearing.

The other factor is migration. Four of the five birds with the biggest drop in numbers - wood warbler, nightingale and the two flycatchers – are summer visitors, spending the winter in Africa south of the Sahara, and conservationists fear trouble on their journeys or on the wintering grounds could be to blame.

The possibility is increased when the picture is widened beyond woodland birds to all species. Of the 10 greatest declines recorded between 1994 and 2007, eight concern long-distance migrants – the other four species being turtle dove (down 66 per cent), yellow wagtail (47 per cent), swift (41 per cent) and cuckoo (37 per cent.) "There may be trouble on migration or on the wintering grounds, such as drought in the Sahel [the region south of the Sahara], but we don't actually know," said Kate Risely, the Breeding Bird Survey national organiser. "We are starting to do more research to try and find out."

But over the same period, nearly all of Britain's more familiar garden birds showed substantial increases, probably reflecting the popularity of garden feeding and warmer winters. Great tit was up 55 per cent, followed by goldfinch (39); greenfinch (27); wren (25); dunnock (25); blackbird (24); robin (21); coal tit (19); song thrush (18); blue tit (14) and chaffinch (also 14). Only house sparrow bucked the trend, down 10 per cent, which reflects its mysterious disappearance from many urban areas.

Other significant rises include raven (up 134 per cent) and buzzard (up 56 per cent), both species now spreading as persecution by gamekeepers declines.

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Daily Nation (Kenya): Wildebeest migration to boost tourism
Story by NATION Reporter

Publication Date: 7/18/2008

The annual wildebeest migration is expected to attract a large number of tourists to Kenya coming after six months of uncertainty following the post-election violence.
The annual Wildebeest migration in the Maasai Mara is classified as the seventh wonder of the world. Photo/FILE

The migration, classified as the seventh wonder of the world, is a world famous event that takes place from July every year. Both local and international airlines, which bring in visitors to Kenya and by extension the Mara, are among the beneficiaries of this phenomena.

“Things are gradually getting back to normal and we are operating two scheduled flights to the Mara, one from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and the other from Mombasa and Malindi. These flights land on any of the seven airstrips in the Masai Mara depending on the bookings,” said Mr Sammy Nzoka, Fly540 operations manager, Safari Circuit.
Timed flights
“We have timed our morning flights to link up with international airlines bringing tourists from the UK, India, Asia and Egypt. Many of these visitors want to go straight to the Mara without stopping in Nairobi. Our Mombasa flight mainly takes passengers destined to the Mara from charter aircraft from Europe,” he added.
A year ago, Fly540 became the first airline to offer services between JKIA and the tourist resort, and to link Mombasa and Malindi to the Mara directly.
The service mainly targets tourists arriving on international flights, holiday makers at the coast and Kenyans who want to visit the Mara without going via road.
Maasai Mara is the most famous game reserve in Kenya and is best known for viewing the big five in wide open scenic surroundings and the migration of zebra and wildebeest between Kenya and Tanzania every year from July to October.

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Financial Times: Soil under strain: A thinning layer of life evokes concern

By Fiona Harvey, Environment Correspondent

Published: July 16 2008 19:32 | Last updated: July 16 2008 19:32

Civilisation sprang from dirt. The thin layer of topsoil, formed on parts of the earth’s surface over thousands or hundreds of thousands of years, enabled crops to be cultivated and gave early farmers a reliable food source. On average, that layer is only three feet deep.


In depth: Food prices - Jun-02UAE to invest in Kazakh agriculture - Jul-16Analysis: Are financial investors driving up the cost of commodities? - Jul-07Focus aid on food crisis, says Berlin - Jul-07Food cost link causes retreat on biofuel - Jul-07IMF warns of threat to poorer nations - Jul-01But now that dirt is in danger. “The world’s cropland is losing topsoil through erosion faster than new soil is forming, thereby reducing the land’s inherent productivity,” warns Lester Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Institute, in his book Plan B. “Where losses are heavy, productive land turns into wasteland.”

Farmland across the world is affected, stretching from the wheat-covered prairies of the US to chemically contaminated tracts of eastern Europe and China. But the problem is most acute in Africa, where farmers tilling some of the world’s oldest soils are among the least able to take action to protect their most important resource.
These problems are not new. Some archaeologists assert that civilisations such as the Mayans, the Easter Islanders and the Norse settlers of Greenland collapsed because of the depletion of their soils, caused by over-use, deforestation or climate change. More recently, the “dust bowl” of 1930s America provided a stark warning of the dangers.
What has changed is population pressure: there are now more than 6.5bn people on the planet, a figure that is forecast to rise to 9bn by mid-century. Though scientists estimate that there is enough suitable uncultivated land to meet increased demand until at least 2020, feeding the world demands that existing fields remain productive.
The soil degradation problem has been worsening for decades but it has taken the food price rises of the past two years to spur policymakers to take the issue seriously. A report from the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology, which found that the rate of yield increases was faltering, concluded that a large part of the reason was the declining quality of soils.
“Land degradation is certainly linked to the food crisis,” says Parviz Koohafkan, director of the land and water division at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome. “It is not such a direct and immediate threat [as changing supply and demand pressures] but we will have more and more of a problem, as soils in many places are becoming less and less resilient.”
The reasons for soil degradation are as varied as the soils themselves. In the US, soils have been protected since the 1930s, when the federal government was forced to take action on conservation. Nevertheless, North American farmers are still losing topsoil at 1 per cent a year, according to David Montgomery, a geologist and author of Dirt: The Erosion of Civilisations. The losses often occur through erosion by water, as downpours or even irrigation wash topsoil into rivers and dams. A study published in Science in the 1990s found that soil erosion cost the US economy about $44bn (€28bn, £22bn) a year.
In Australia, one of the world’s most important wheat producers, increased salinity is a serious problem, as farmers pump more water from underground aquifers and as years of heavy fertiliser and pesticide use take their toll.
The European Union is consulting on a Soil Directive to address the issue. According to a “soil atlas” published in 2005 by the EU’s Joint Research Centre, in southern Europe nearly 75 per cent of soil had an organic matter content – a measure of fertility – low enough to be a cause for concern. “Soil is a non-renewable resource and we need to take action to protect it,” says Arwyn Jones, a research scientist at the centre one of the authors of the atlas.
In Spain and Italy, in particular, the erosion of soil by water and wind is a serious problem. An increasing tendency for farmland to fall out of cultivation exacerbates the problem: when the crops are taken away, the bare soil is vulnerable until wild vegetation re-establishes itself.
In the EU’s new member states to the east, more than one-third of land is affected by soil degradation, according to the soil atlas. In China, meanwhile, industrial pollution is one of the main culprits. Rivers running black with industrial effluent do not tend to bode well for farmland, while increasing demand for water is also taking its toll, allowing desert to swallow the drier areas of what was once fertile land.
It is Africa that is suffering the most. “Africa’s soils are among the poorest in the world, and poor soils produce poor crops,” said Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the UN, at the launch last year of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra), of which he is chairman. Cereal yields in sub-Saharan Africa are barely 1 tonne per hectare, compared with yields in Asia of well over 3 tonnes. While cereal yields in other developing regions rose by between 1.2 and 2.3 per cent a year from 1980 to 2000, those in Africa increased by just 0.7 per cent a year, according to the World Bank.
Africa’s soils suffer from several disadvantages. First, the continent is geologically old and has been home to people for a long time. Ancient soils are thin and often lack the structure necessary to hold water and nutrients. The deep red colour characteristic of the continent’s soils betrays another difficulty: such earth is heavily laden with iron, which “binds” phosphorus, rendering it unavailable to plants. African soil also often lacks the key nutrients of nitrogen and potassium, as well as less important substances such as zinc, says Otto Spaargaren, head of the World Data Centre for Soils at the International Soil Reference and Information Centre.
These problems are compounded by poor agricultural practices. Mr Koohafkan explains: “Farmers are driven by their immediate needs to provide food and income.” As a result, “they are ‘mining’ their own resources”, he says. “They are using up their capital and they can’t re­invest in those resources.”
Traditional farming practices that might have preserved the soils have fallen away under the pressure of feeding so many more mouths. “No longer can traditional systems answer the demand of [an] increasing population,” says Mr Koohafkan.
“The [practice of leaving ground] fallow has disappeared. The size of the plots is smaller, so they don’t provide a sufficient income for people to both feed themselves and invest in the future.” A lack of security of tenure in some areas exacerbates the problem, as people are unwilling to invest in the future of land they do not own or that they could be thrown off, he adds. “[Soil degradation] is a structural problem, not a temporary problem,” he concludes.
As a result, according to the International Centre for Soil Fertility and Agricultural Development, Africa loses about 8m tonnes of soil nutrients a year, while more than 95m hectares of land have been degraded to the point where productivity is greatly reduced.

As Agra notes, “such severe soil depletion results in a vicious cycle of declining yields, deepening poverty, and increased degradation of the natural resource base that farmers depend upon ... As soils decline and farm yields drop, impoverished farmers move on to clear forests and savannah, where the cycle begins again.”

African farmers are among the lowest users of artificial fertilisers in the world. Could shipping in millions of tonnes of the chemicals used to enhance soil in the US, Europe and Asia be the answer? It is not so simple, warns Mr Spaargaren.
“The soils themselves can’t hold much fertiliser, because their nutrient retention is so poor,” he says. “You can pour fertiliser on to land like that but most of it will be washed away.” Even if large quantities of fertiliser are applied to degraded soils, it would still take centuries to recover their health, he says. Overuse of fertiliser can also generate problems such as the acidification of the soil that has occurred in places such as Europe and Australia.
Yet the overuse of fertilisers is a problem that most African farmers can only dream of having. Many lack the income to buy even small amounts, and the infrastructure that developed-world farmers take for granted – banks that will give credit and wait until the crops are sold to be repaid, together with reliable networks of agricultural suppliers – is seldom in place.
What about natural fertilisers? Again, soils that are too poor to hold artificial nutrients cannot hold on to natural ones either and some of it is washed into water courses. Using animal manure also requires sufficient land to graze animals, which is not always possible – and some experts suggest that over-grazing on unsuitable lands is exacerbating soil erosion and desertification.
If soil degradation is to be halted, experts agree, the answer will be some combination of fertiliser use and improvements in farming methods. “We need a 21st-century green revolution designed for the special and diverse needs of Africa,” said Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, when announcing an initiative this year in which Agra was granted $164.5m from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and $15m from the Rockefeller Foundation to establish a soil health programme for the continent. “It must be driven by greater investments in technological research and dissemination, sustainable land management, agricultural supply chains, irrigation, rural microcredit and policies that strengthen market opportunities while assisting with rural vulnerabilities and insecurities.”
The lessons are not unique to Africa, moreover. Improved farming methods are required around the world to ensure that erosion is minimised and the nutrient content is maintained. “Farmers can be taught better practices,” says Steve McGrath, a scientist at the Rothamsted Institute, a centre for agricultural research. One example is no-till farming, says Julian Little, chairman of the ABC. This requires a mixture of carefully managed crop rotation, the introduction of secondary “undercrops” to prevent the growth of weeds, as well as “the judicious use of herbicide”.
The US Soil Conservation Service, set up after the devastation of the dust bowl, has been teaching similar techniques for years, along with manuring and the use of artificial fertiliser. Other techniques are simple, such as ploughing along the contour of fields so that water does not run off and take topsoil with it, and maintaining hedgerows or ditches as field boundaries.
About three feet of topsoil represents the foundation of human civilisation. The pressure of feeding a population of 9bn people is likely to stretch that resource to the limit.
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