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Environmental disaster satellites PDF Print E-mail
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A rocket has been launched from Kazakhstan carrying two British-built satellites which will help monitor natural disasters. The UK-DMC2 and Deimos-1 spacecraft will join four platforms already in the sky that together form the Disaster Monitoring Constellation.

The network obtains rapid pictures of areas struck by natural calamities - such as floods, earthquakes and fire. The imagery is used by governments and aid agencies to co-ordinate relief. The two satellites headed for orbit aboard a Dnepr rocket which was launched from Baikonur cosmodrome, Russia's Strategic Space Troops said.

The Dnepr, a converted Soviet-era SS-18 intercontinental ballistic missile, was also carrying four other foreign satellites, including the United Arab Emirates' first space platform, known as DubaiSat-1.

The British built satellites were launched onboard a Dnepr rocket in Kazakhstan

"After a major disaster, the first thing you need to do is supply the relief workers with an up-to-date map," explained Philip Davies, from manufacturers Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL). "If there's been a big flood, there will be landslides, roads will have been washed away and bridges will be down. So you need a new map that shows you how to get around the area; and it's the satellite imagery that helps you do that."

UK-DMC2, as the name suggests, is Britain's second contribution to the constellation. Deimos-1 is owned by a Spanish imaging company. The pair joins orbital assets that belong to Algeria, China and Nigeria (a Turkish satellite is no longer operational after finishing its mission). The spacecraft picture the Earth at resolutions between 4m and 32m, across an ultra-wide 600km-plus swath.

When they fly over their home territories, the satellites acquire a range of data for domestic use - everything from urban planning to monitoring locust swarms. But when the platforms fly across the rest of the globe, they gather imagery which is pooled and sold on to commercial users. Every so often, however, a major disaster will strike some part of the globe and the DMC constellation will be tasked with gathering emergency pictures as fast as possible.

Recent deployments have included the Australian bushfires in February this year, and after the major cyclone that hit Burma in May 2008. "The biggest use of the DMC was after the Asian tsunami is 2004," said Mr Davies. "We used the fact that it's a constellation and can cover very wide swaths to image the entire Indian Ocean coastline. "Other satellites may have been able to deploy high resolutions at particular locations, but we were the only system that could cover the entire coastline at a reasonable resolution."

The UK-DMC2 platform carries some improvements over the previous DMC satellites, including an enhanced camera sensor to deliver better ground resolution, and X-band transmitters that will enable the spacecraft to download data 10 times as fast as its orbital cousins.

The 96kg, 60cm cube is also carrying a student experiment called Poise, which was developed by pupils at Shrewsbury School, in Shropshire. The experiment will measure variations in the ionosphere - the outermost layer of the atmosphere.

These variations can affect the accuracy and safety of satellite navigation (sat-nav) systems. SSTL is famous for producing the very first spacecraft for Europe's forthcoming sat-nav system, Galileo.

7 potential flashpoints due to climate change PDF Print E-mail
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Lake Victoria,

AfricaTalk of war between Kenya and Uganda has recently caused the world to take notice. The dispute is over a tiny, fishing-rich island in Lake Victoria. The one-acre island would hardly be worth fighting over were it not for the effects of climate change, which have pitted already discordant ethnic groups and countries against one another. Environmental damage has worsened a continent-wide water-supply problem, leading to droughts and famine.

Central Asia

The already volatile states of central Asia will experience above-average warming due to climate change. As mountain glaciers continue to melt, water-supply problems are likely to combine with existing conflicts over energy resources and social issues to create the possibility of widespread violence. Many of these formerly Soviet states could collapse, especially with the heightened tensions brought about by war in Afghanistan and the increasingly precocious aspirations of Iran

Sahel Region,

AfricaIn Sudan, climate change has already led to increased competition over natural resources, one of the many causes of the crisis in Darfur. These resources are expected to become even scarcer, which would likely cause crises like Darfur to be replicated around the country, with varying degrees of seriousness. The entire Sahel region of Africa is one vast "marginal situation,"


Climate change has already affected both rainfall and snowfall patterns in Kashmir, the volatile state that lies between India and Pakistan, and is fiercely contested by both nuclear-armed nations. According to an Action Aid India report, "the once rich paddy growing fields in Kashmir are transforming into arid stretches resulting in a 40 percent drop in food production" — a deficit that could well reach 60 percent before 2020.

Western China

Increasing droughts and heat waves will worsen desertification and water scarcity in many parts of China. Western China, much of which is already desert, also happens to be home to the country's most volatile ethnic minorities, many of them Muslim Uighurs. The Xinjiang border province has 8.5 million Uighurs and, according to Der Spiegel, "is second only to Tibet as a source of trouble for Beijing."


With glacial retreat in the Himalayas endangering the clean water supply of one of the world's most densely populated areas, climate change is expected to hit the Indian subcontinent with particular severity. In Bangladesh especially, changes in the annual monsoon season, along with devastating sea-level rises and an increase in cyclones, could raise social tensions to a level that undermines an already unstable government

Southern Africa

Much of southern Africa is desperately poor and climate change conditions could push struggling states to collapse. This could create an untenable refugee situation, resulting in armed conflict as relocating peoples are oppressed, either by existing militaries or by xenophobic local populations. Food security in southern Africa is already an issue due to unprecedented droughts, which have forced countries to import massive amounts of food. 


Chinese greentech reduces poverty PDF Print E-mail
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As U.S. politicians and business leaders debate the economic feasibility of renewable energy and clean technology, and the Chinese government draws fire for polluted rivers and dirty air, reports say that a green revolution is taking place in rural China and transforming the lives of Chinese villagers.

Zhang Chengui is the leader of a village in northwest China’s Yunnan province, a region poor in money but rich in biodiversity, home to more than 17,000 plant and wildlife species. Commercial logging has been banned in Yunnan’s forests for a decade, but half a million households spend hours cutting and gathering firewood for cooking and heating—a labor-intensive survival chore that damages the environment and keeps families in poverty.

In 2003, using bank loans and grants from The Nature Conservancy, Zhang installed a solar water heater, energy-efficient stove, rain-collection cistern, and a biogas digester that converts human and animal waste to clean gas for cooking, lighting and heating. Zhang also uses slurry from the biogas digester to fertilize his fruit and vegetable crops.

By adopting alternative energy and conservation strategies, Zhang lessened his need for firewood, freed more of his time for farming, and tripled his annual income. With more income and less time spent chasing down firewood (a net gain of 100 working days annually for Zhang and his family), Zhang’s children were able to attend college. His son is now a magazine editor and his daughter is a government official. What makes all this possible is innovative financing through the GreenVillage Credit program—part of the United Nations Environment Programme’s China Rural Energy Enterprises Development (CREED) initiative—and the enlightened support of nongovernmental organizations such as

The Nature Conservancy that provide grants, training and other resources. The CREED initiative aims to reduce fuel wood consumption by 75 percent in rural China, which will cut the number of hours that families (mostly women and children) must spend gathering firewood and relieve many of the damaging health effects associated with wood burning and indoor pollution, thereby attacking some of the root causes of poverty.

GreenVillage Credit is helping to achieve that goal by providing small loans and technical support to help families invest in the kind of alternative energy and clean technology that Zhang adopted in his village. Loan applicants lay out a plan for the devices they want to purchase and how those investments will help them generate more income.

As a guarantee against default, 5 percent of the loan amount is deposited at a bank and five to eight other households agree to share responsibility for repaying the loan in 18 months. The program already has established an impressive track record of success in five African nations and parts of Brazil—and now it’s working in China.

By the end of 2007, more than 26.5 million households in rural China were using biodigesters, saving the equivalent of 44 million tons of CO2 emissions, according to the State Council Information Office of China. At the same time, The Nature Conservancy and its partners have taken their alternative energy project to 420 remote villages in Yunnan province, installing more than 14,000 biogas units, energy efficient stoves and solar water heating systems.

Englands dire energy crisis PDF Print E-mail
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Let us be clear: England is facing an unprecedented crisis. Before long, we will lose 40 per cent of our generating capacity.

And unless we come up quickly with an alternative, the lights WILL go out. Not before time, the Confederation of British Industry yesterday waded in, warning the Government it must abandon its crazy fixation with wind turbines as a way of plugging this forthcoming shortfall and instead urgently focus on far more efficient ways to meet the threat of a permanent, nationwide black-out.

There are a few contenders for the title of the maddest thing that has happened in our lifetime. But a front-runner must be the way in which politicians of all parties have been seduced by the La-La Land promises of the wind power lobby.

If you still haven't made your mind up about wind power, just consider some of the inescapable facts - facts which the Government and the wind industry do their best to hide from us all. So far we have spent billions of pounds on building just over 2,000 wind turbines - and yet they contribute barely one per cent of all the electricity that we need.

The combined output of all those 2,000 turbines put together, averaging 700 megawatts, is less than that of a single, medium-sized conventional power station.What's more, far from being 'free', this pitiful dribble of electricity is twice as expensive as the power we get from the nuclear, gas or coal-fired power stations which currently supply well over 90 per cent of our needs - and we all pay the difference, without knowing it, through our electricity bills.

But despite its best efforts to conceal the fact that wind turbines expensively and unreliably generate only a derisory amount of electricity, the Government keeps on telling us of its megalomaniac plans to build thousands more of them - at a cost of up to £100billion. The prime reason for this is that we are legally obliged by the European Union to generate 32 per cent of our electricity from 'renewable' sources by 2020. And with just 11 years to go until that deadline, we hope to meet the target by building highly-subsidised wind turbines.

But this is a farce. In fact, as the Government is privately well aware, there is not the faintest hope that we can do anything of the kind - even if we wanted to. Gordon Brown talks airily of building 4,000 offshore turbines by our target date - plus another 3,000 onshore. But this would mean sticking two of these 2,000-ton monsters, each the height of Blackpool Tower, into the seabed every day for the next 11 years.

Nowhere in the world has it proved possible to install more than one of them a week. The infrastructure simply isn't there to build more than a fraction of that figure. Furthermore, such are the weather conditions around Britain's coasts that it is only possible to work on these projects for a few months every summer.

Then there are the 3,000 promised onshore turbines - many of which are to be erected in the most beautiful stretches of Britain's countryside. These are meeting with so much local hostility that the Government has continually had to bend the planning rules in order to force them through over the wishes of local communities and the democratic opposition of local councils. But wind power is not just the pipedream of deluded politicians.

As the CBI was trying to warn yesterday, the real disaster of this great wind fantasy is that it has diverted attention from the genuine energy crisis now hurtling towards us at breakneck speed. For while the Government is trying to force a scattering of useless wind turbines through the planning offices, the truth is that the rest of us will lose 40 per cent of our power stations within as little as seven years. If this happens, and we don't have an alternative, our kettles won't boil, our computers won't work and our country will face economic meltdown.

There is little hope now of an 11th hour reprieve. Eight of our nine nuclear power stations - which presently supply 20 per cent of our electricity needs - are so old they will have to close. Nine more large coal and oil-fired power plants will also be forced to shut down under an EU anti-pollution directive.

But more alarming still is the astonishing naivete of almost all our politicians when it comes to working out how we are going to fill the 40 per cent shortfall left in their wake. Very belatedly, the Government has said that it wants to see a new generation of nuclear reactors.

Yet there is little hope that any of them can be up and running earlier than 2020. What's more, they will have to be built by foreign-owned companies because, as recently as October 2006, the Government sold off our last world-class nuclear construction company, Westinghouse, to the Japanese at a knockdown price.

At the same time, our Energy And Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband, now says he will not allow any new coal-fired power stations to be built unless they have 'carbon capture' - piping off CO2 to bury it in holes in the ground.

This technology not only doubles the price of electricity but hasn't even yet been properly developed. And so the only hope of keeping the lights on will be to build dozens more gas-fired power stations - at a time when North Sea gas is fast running out. And then we will be forced to rely on imports from politically unreliable countries such as Russia, at a time when gas prices are likely to be soaring. In any event, over the past 20 years, our politicians have made an even more unholy shambles of Britain's energy policy than they have of our economy - and the cost, when the chickens come to roost in a few years' time, will be almost unimaginable.

The causes of Britain's impending energy crisis are manifold. Michael Heseltine's 1992 'dash for gas', when he closed down most of our remaining coal mines because North Sea gas was still cheap and abundant, and because its CO2 emissions were only half those of coal, was one of them.

But nothing has done more to take the politicians' eye off the ball, egged on by environmentalist groups such as Friends Of The Earth and Greenpeace, than their quite incomprehensible obsession with windmills. For these white elephants can never produce more than a fraction of the electricity we need, and by no means always when we need it - as we saw last winter when, for weeks on end, they were scarcely turning at all. Do politicians never look outside the windows of their centrally-heated offices to see how often the wind is not blowing?

The Government has now shovelled so much money in hidden subsidies into the pockets of the turbine companies that the 'wind bonanza', promoted on a host of fraudulent claims, has become one of the greatest scams of our age. But if and when our lights do go out, it will be important to remember just why we got carried away by such a massive blunder. Left with a land blighted with useless towers of metal, we shall look on those windmills as a monument to the age when the politicians of Britain and Europe collectively went completely off their heads.

G8 a lot of hot air ???? PDF Print E-mail
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The G8 leaders are set this week to deliver their strongest statement so far on global warming. They are likely to agree that the world ought to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050 - with rich nations reducing them by 80%.

The group will probably also say that any human-induced temperature rise should be held to 2C - a level considered to be a danger threshold. The US has previously objected to such a clause.

But it looks as though the G8 will fall short of agreeing the short-term targets scientists say are essential to ensure that the 2C threshold is not breached. Environmental campaigners accuse the G8 of willing the ends on climate change but not willing the means.

American officials have privately said they cannot cut emissions as fast as the science requires, because the issue is still too politically contentious in the US Congress. I understand that the US is also delaying the G8 climate communique in the hope of obtaining more commitment from emerging nations on the issue.

Technology potential On Thursday July 6 09, US President Barack Obama chairs a meeting of the G8 members with the leaders of the emerging economies, including India and China, under a process known as the Major Economies Forum (MEF). That meeting will produce a declaration separate from the G8.

Opinions among the emerging economies vary widely. India opposes commitments on cutting emissions. It has millions living in poverty and considers that the problem should be solved by rich nations. India is suspicious of signing up to the 2C warming threshold because it implicitly puts a cap on Indian growth.

China is committed to achieving a low-carbon economy, but slowly so as to cause minimum social and economic upheaval. "We have to persuade China that it is in China's interests to move quickly to a low-carbon economy - that will be be key," a western diplomatic source said. Brazil is the most significant of the emerging nations to sign up to the 2C threshold. "This is extremely significant," said the source. "It is an acknowledgement from political leaders to their peoples that there are scientific limits to how far we can push the planet." The head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC),

Professor RK Pachauri, said: "I don't think we can hold out great hopes for the MEF - it is G8 that had to make the key decisions here on emissions cuts and on funding to help poorer countries to adapt to climate change and obtain clean energy supplies."

Recently, the UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown (who has spent billions on bailing out banks) proposed that rich nations should put $100bn into a fund to help poor countries deal with climate change; but I understand the figures on the table so far at the G8 are very much lower than this.

The former UK premier Tony Blair has urged the group's leaders to seize the moment, to tackle climate change with major emissions cuts by 2020. He has been working on a private initiative with a business-oriented NGO called The Climate Group.

It has produced a new report which champions green technologies, arguing that they offer the chance of "substantial job creation and growth". The report also says the technologies needed to meet emissions reduction goals set for 2020 are "already proven, available now and the policies needed to implement them known". This means ramping up existing policies on energy efficiency, new appliance standards and renewable energy.

 Mr Blair (said by many to be the one of the architects of the recession)  said that significant emissions cuts could be achieved by halting deforestation and the degradation of forests; something that could be done if rich nations paid poor nations to protect their forests (though this seemingly simple policy is fraught with practical difficulties).

Copenhagen challenge "I think it's very understandable at a time of major economic crisis that people are very daunted by the additional challenge of climate change," Mr Blair said. "I think the single most important thing we found is that almost three-quarters of what you want to do can come from existing and known technologies and actions. It has to be done. There is no option."

Mr Blair said there had been a huge change in the attitude of world leaders to climate change: "In 2005, there was a lot of resistance when I put it on the G8 agenda. We were able to come out with some broad, general principles - it was a big step forwards. "But in the intervening period, this has moved a long way. I think leaders are now focused on practical policy implications. "This is now at the stage where it's been taken out of the hands of campaigners (although they are still important) and into the hands of the people who are going to have to get the job done. "We have an American administration (also spending billions bailing out banks) committed to tackling climate change.

We have a Chinese administration that's no longer saying, 'you guys have created the problem - you solve it', but has immersed itself in this challenge. "And you have a general acceptance on the part of most sensible people that we have to deal with it. I think you will see a significant move forward before Copenhagen." (The UN conference to seal a new global climate deal in December)

Campaigners will welcome Mr Blair's intervention but may be sceptical about his confidence in the outcomes. In his term of office the UK Treasury adopted a laissez-faire energy policy which has left the UK with one of the lowest shares of renewable energy in Europe, despite having one of the best potentials for renewable power. When asked Mr Blair if he would have pursued a different energy policy with hindsight. He declined to comment. A group of 22 leading climate scientists has written to G8 and MEF leaders calling for policies that would see global emissions peak by 2020, and shrink by at least 50% by 2050. "Unless the burden of poverty in developing nations is alleviated by significant financial support for mitigation, adaptation, and the reduction of deforestation, the ability of developing countries to pursue sustainable development is likely to diminish, to the economic and environmental detriment of all," the scientists said.  

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