By Laurel Delp, Budget Travel
May 10, 2011 8:05 a.m. EDT
(Budget Travel) — You’ve heard the grim timelines: if warming continues, the Great Barrier Reef will be bleached by 2030; glaciers in the Swiss Alps, on Mt. Kilimanjaro, and in Glacier National Park will disappear in under 40 years; and Arctic ice melt will leave the North Pole bare and polar bears extinct.
The immediacy of these timelines prompts flocks of curious eco-tourists to travel to environmentally fragile areas.
Tourism is both bane and boon: it can add strain to already distressed areas, but it can also provide income, which in turn can help preserve these wonders.
We spotlight 10 areas under threat — some lesser known than others — that can still be visited responsibly. In some cases the price tag may be higher than your average vacation, but consider it an investment in Mother Earth.
See photos of the wonders
BELIZE BARRIER REEF
Like the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Belize Barrier Reef leads a tenuous existence.
A section of the nearly 700-mile-long Mesoamerican Reef that reaches from Mexico to Honduras, the Belize reef suffered a severe bleaching in 1998, with a loss of 50 percent of its coral in many areas, including much of its distinctive staghorn coral.
Since the bleaching, its decline has continued, due to global warming of the world’s seas, agricultural pollution, development, and increasing tourism, which has given rise to more coastal development and an invasion of cruise ships.
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THE CONGO BASIN
At more than 1.3 million square miles, the Congo Basin has the world’s second-largest rainforest, after the Amazon’s. According to the United Nations, up to two-thirds of the forest and its unique plants and wildlife could be lost by 2040 unless more effective measures are taken to protect it.
Extending across six nations, ten million acres of forest is degraded each year due to mining, illegal logging, farming, ranching, and guerilla warfare. Roads cut by loggers and miners have also enabled poachers and bushmeat hunters to prey on endangered animals like mountain gorillas, forest elephants, bonobos, and okapis.
As the forest shrinks, less carbon dioxide is absorbed, and rain decreases, adding to climate change.
THE DEAD SEA
In the last four decades, the Dead Sea has shrunk by a third and sunk 80 feet –13 inches per year! — stranding formerly seaside resorts and restaurants nearly a mile from shore.
The Jordan River is the lake’s sole source, and as surrounding countries increasingly tap its waters, little reaches the Dead Sea, which could disappear within 50 years. Further pressure is put on the sea by the cosmetic companies and potash producers who drain it for minerals.
One proposed solution is the controversial Red-Dead Canal, channeling water 112 miles from the Red Sea, but its environmental impact could be negative (some worry that it would increase seismic activity in the region).
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A host of dangers are putting this fragile wetland at risk: pollution from farms, invasive species, and encroaching development, not to mention the fact that 60 percent of the region’s water is being diverted to nearby cities and farms.
As a result, The Everglades is now half the size it was in 1900. Worse, this is the sole habitat of the Florida panther, and there are less than 100 of the creatures left in the wild.
These big cats may be completely lost within the next 40 years as their habitat disappears (they’re not alone, either — at least 20 species in the Everglades are endangered, including turtles, manatees, and wading birds).
If nothing is done to save the world’s fourth-largest island, its forests will be gone in 35 years (once 120,000 square miles, they’re now down to 20,000), and their unique inhabitants along with them.
Forest ecosystems are being destroyed by logging, burning for subsistence farms, and poaching. The 20 species of lemurs for which Madagascar is renowned are in danger of disappearing.
Though there are game reserves, they’re not large (occupying only 5% of the island), nor are they contiguous, thus failing to provide corridors for the animals to travel through. Some of Madagascar’s endemic species have never even been recorded, and will likely be lost before they can be studied.
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Few scientists hold out much hope for the Maldives — the world’s lowest nation — if global warming continues to melt the ice caps and raise sea levels. Its 1,190 small islands and atolls (200 of which are inhabited) scattered across the Indian Ocean rise a mere eight feet above sea level.
In 2008, the President of the Maldives announced the government would start buying land in other countries, including India, for future homes for citizens displaced by rising waters. In 2009, he held a cabinet meeting underwater to stress the islands’ vulnerability.
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, the world’s largest non-profit ocean research group, has predicted that 80 percent of the emperor penguin population of Antarctica will be lost, and the rest in danger of extinction, if global warming continues.
In the Arctic, the polar bear is also endangered by the steady loss of sea ice (which has decreased 3% per decade since the 1970s). As sea ice disappears at the poles, so do entire ecosystems: the phytoplankton that grows under ice sheets feeds zooplankton and small crustaceans like krill, which are on the food chain for fish, seals, whales, polar bears and penguins.
Studies predict that with continued warming, within 20-40 years, no ice will form in Antarctica.
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The world’s population of wild tigers has fallen to as few as 3,200, more than half of which live in India. If extreme efforts are not undertaken, the big cat may be extinct within our lifetime — possibly in as soon as a dozen years. (Compare this number to the 100,000 tigers that lived in India in 1900 and you can see just how drastically things have changed in the past two centuries.)
Their habitats have been reduced 93%, and though there are reserves across Asia, most are small and have no corridors between them for the normally far-roaming felines. It’s estimated that a tiger a day is killed for use in Chinese traditional medicine.
THE TAHUAMANÚ RAINFOREST
This magnificent rain forest in Peru’s Madre de Dios region holds some of the last old-growth stands of mahogany in South America. But illegal logging is depleting the rainforest — and the U.S. is responsible for buying 80% of the mahogany.
A single tree can create as much as $1 million worth of furniture. Loggers build roads, allowing farmers and hunters to enter, further crowding the indigenous people and destroying the delicate ecosystem. In nearby areas, gold mining has released mercury into the air and water.
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THE YANGTZE RIVER BASIN
It’s too early to know the exact impact of the creation of China’s massive, $24 billion Three Gorges Dam, but many, including the Chinese government, have acknowledged that the Yangtze Basin region is in danger of losing its most distinctive marine and animal life.
Deforestation has occurred from clearing land for displaced farmers, and the reservoir has flooded villages, farms, factories, and mines, adding to the Yangtze River’s existing pollution from shipping, industry, agriculture and raw sewage.
Landslides have also happened, and seismologists wonder if the water pressure above two fault lines might result in a disastrous earthquake.
May 10, 2011 at 6:47 PM najourdan
U.S. Changes Plan for Capturing Emissions From Coal
WASHINGTON — The Energy Department abruptly shifted course on Thursday on a flagship federal effort to capture and sequester carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants, saying it would not finance construction of a new plant in Mattoon, Ill.
Instead of underwriting that project, which would have turned coal into a hydrocarbon gas, filtered out the carbon and burned the hydrogen, the government said it would contribute $737 million to remake an obsolete oil-burning plant in Meredosia, Ill.
In the new design, the plant would be fed pure oxygen and burn coal, and the exhaust gas would consist of almost pure carbon dioxide. That carbon dioxide would then be piped 170 miles east to Mattoon and injected underground, possibly along with contributions from an ethanol plant in Decatur, Ill., and other industrial plants along the way.
It is the latest twist for FutureGen, a federally supported venture to demonstrate the most advanced ways to convert coal to a gas, capturing pollutants and burning the gas for power.
Despite warnings that pollution from power plants contribute to global warming and that the United States should promptly build several prototypes using different technologies, FutureGen has been repeatedly delayed by drawn-out federal procedures for choosing a site and then by sticker shock in Washington.
The Bush administration cut off money, saying the costs were too high. But President Obama included $1 billion in last year’s stimulus bill. Now that there is money in hand, his administration opted to support a more advanced technology that some officials described on Thursday as FutureGen 2.
Although the planned retrofit involves an old oil-burning plant, the new approach could be a way of converting dozens of big old coal plants around the country, said Matt Rogers, a senior adviser to the energy secretary, Steven Chu. If successful, Mr. Rogers said, this would allow the coal industry “to remain competitive on a global basis.”
With new Environmental Protection Agency rules scheduled to take effect limiting power plants’ emissions of conventional pollutants like nitrogen oxides, mercury and particulates, he said, many older coal plants are candidates for re-powering.
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September 14, 2010 at 1:20 PM ldcasterson
Community College Training for Managing Green Jobs
BEYOND “green-collar” jobs, like retrofitting a home to conserve energy or helping build a wind farm, an energy-conscious economy will need a new generation of environmentally smart managers, and that’s where community colleges are stepping up with new courses and degree programs.
The federal government is pouring $500 million into training for green jobs, and the sector devoted to energy efficiency is estimated to grow as much as fourfold in the next decade, to some 1.3 million people, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Its March 2010 report was financed by the Energy Department.
Green-collar jobs have grabbed the public’s attention, and educational institutions are starting programs to train the managers who will oversee the technologies, manufacturing processes and materials that will be used to conserve energy and help safeguard natural resources.
Some community colleges already are offering two-year degrees in environmental management and certificates for managers who want to add green qualifications — which means learning more about the environmental aspects of a particular field — to their résumés. These colleges are offering some courses and training on campus as well as online.
Lane Community College, in Eugene, Ore., for example, is offering two-year programs — for associate degrees in applied sciences — in energy management, renewable energy or water conservation.
The college, which has an organic garden and changed its faucets and toilets to conserve water, was an early proponent of environmental education, and its degree programs are serving as models for 10 other community colleges, according to Roger Ebbage, director of energy programs at the college’s Northwest Energy Education Institute.
“When we first started two decades ago we were focused on community and residential energy efficiency,” Mr. Ebbage said. “Now we are preparing people to go into the commercial sector anywhere in the country.”
The graduates are in great demand, said Mr. Ebbage.
“They are working for utilities, on engineering jobs, for school districts, cities and the military,” he said. “We’re not going to be in areas where there is no job demand,” he added, noting that some short-term green job training programs have been criticized because they do not always lead to employment in the current economy.
The demand for its managerial graduates prompted Lane Community College to accelerate its two-year program, with help from federal money, starting this month. The college is beginning a trial program that allows students to earn their energy management degrees in fewer academic terms. Their tuition is subsidized as part of the federal stimulus funds for green courses and training, including a $2,500 tuition tax credit.
Matthew Heflin, 49, decided to get his energy management degree after spending 18 years working at a Hewlett-Packard lab that researched new products. Mr. Heflin, a military veteran who does not have a college degree, wanted to be prepared for the green economy.
“I was first interested in wind or solar, but then I heard about the energy management program,” said Mr. Heflin, whose previous job had been eliminated. “Now I’m taking math, physics and three energy management classes, including sustainability.”
Mr. Heflin is among the program’s 25 students, most 25 to 55 years old and many displaced from industries like computers and aerospace. Math and sciences are part of the program, so applicants have to have at least an algebra background.
The students can also take the college’s other continuing education courses, including sustainable landscaping, and cross-disciplinary courses like natural resource economics, environmental politics and global ecology.
Last year, the college won a $890,000 grant from the federal government — not stimulus money — for its accelerated program. An additional grant is being used to help 10 other community colleges across the country begin or enhance their programs in energy management over a three-year period, said Mr. Ebbage.
Those colleges include American River College in Sacramento; Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay; Delaware Technical and Community College; and West Virginia University, in Parkersburg.
Delaware Technical and Community College, which has campuses in Dover, Georgetown and Wilmington, will be offering an applied energy program to train energy managers and “green power” technicians starting in September, said Stephanie Smith, the college’s academic vice president.
“Lane is the national leader in this program, and we are modeling our program on them,” she said. The college plans to offer a two-year associate’s degree in applied science, first in energy management and then, starting in the 2011 academic year, in solar energy management.
The program, which opened student enrollment this month, will have 30 students, both entering freshmen and older people trying to retool their skills, said Ms. Smith.
Such training is also being offered in rural areas, with online environmental degrees and certificates, according to a survey of 321 community colleges by researchers at the University of Louisville’s National Research Center for Career and Technical Education.
Rod P. Githens, one of the authors and assistant professor of work force education at the University of Louisville, said many of the green learning programs were for workers in transition and required education beyond a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree.
A few, like the College of Southern Maryland, in La Plata, offer management programs, including one in environmental planning, and a separate program in environmental management. These programs provide a letter of recognition, and not a degree.
For those seeking a four-year degree, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study found that about two dozen four-year colleges and universities across the country offer degree programs with courses that are directly relevant to the energy efficiency sector.
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September 14, 2010 at 1:15 PM ldcasterson
Another offshore oil facility caught fire Thursday morning in the Gulf of Mexico, sending 13 workers into the water to be rescued by boat, and sending enough petroleum into the water to create a mile-long by 100 foot wide sheen, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.
The cause of the explosion is not yet known and is under investigation. It comes a little more than four months after BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig blowout, which killed 11 workers and resulted in the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The government and BP are still working on completely sealing that well, which has not leaked since mid-July.
Among environmentalists and liberal lawmakers, reaction was swift.
“In the wake of the BP catastrophe, this is an extremely disturbing event,” said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who has led a congressional investigation into the BP spill. “I call on the administration to immediately redouble safety reviews of all offshore drilling and platform operations in the gulf and take all appropriate action to ensure safety and protection of the environment.”
In a news conference Thursday afternoon, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said that the oil platform’s operator, Mariner Energy reported that all of the site’s seven active wells had been “shut in,” meaning they were not leaking oil. Though a fire was still burning on the platform, Jindal said the company had told officials that it was being fed by an oil product stored on the platform.
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September 2, 2010 at 1:28 PM usfunplugged
Even though BP‘s busted well has stopped spewing oil, the disaster is still generating tons of soiled boom and other oily waste that federal and state laws allow to be buried at specially designated dumps, some near residential neighborhoods.
Officials in one Mississippi area, however, raised concerns about the magnitude and safety of the oil spill waste being buried nearby. On Thursday, Harrison County officials blocked it from being dumped in their community — potentially opening the door for others in the region to do the same.
County supervisors voted in June to stop BP from dumping waste at subcontractor Waste Management Inc.‘s Pecan Grove landfill in Pass Christian, Miss. When Waste Management balked, the county board commissioned independent testing of the waste and subpoenaed the company’s test results that reportedly showed it was not hazardous.
But rather than prolong the dispute, BP and Waste Management decided to stop dumping at Pecan Grove. The county, however, has continued with its waste testing and results are pending, said Tim Holleman, the county board’s attorney.
“Ultimately, I think people will raise the same issue elsewhere,” Holleman said.
A BP spokesman confirmed the agreement but defended the company’s waste management plan.
“This is industrial waste, and it’s suitable for industrial landfills,” said BP spokesman Mark Proegler. “If the localities have concerns about that, we’re certainly willing to talk with them.”
Spill waste is hauled from beaches and the ocean to more than 50 regional storage sites in all four gulf states, where it is packaged for shipment to recyclers, liquid waste processors and landfills. So far the spill has generated about 35,600 tons of solid waste.
In Louisiana, the formerly abandoned Grand Isle Shipyard has been transformed into a waste storage site, where about 150 workers pump oil from skimmer boats into storage tanks. More than 7.7 million gallons of oily liquid waste have been collected. At the docks, workers dump plastic bags of oily debris into dozens of dumpsters.
The sprawling operation is indicative of the cleanup industry that has grown out of the nation’s worst oil spill disaster. The now-capped well was spewing as many as 60,000 barrels of oil a day since the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.
“Typically with a spill you’d have a bell-shaped curve where you deploy the boom, recover it and go home,” said Joe Kramer, project manager with BP subcontractor Miller Environmental Services Inc. “It’s more of an ongoing operation here.”
Waste samples are tested at storage sites by BP subcontractors to ensure they are, by law, nonhazardous. Much oil industry waste is not considered hazardous under a 1980 exemption carved out of the federal law.
Oil waste can be dumped in industrial-graded landfills, which are more strictly monitored than municipal dumps but not as isolated or restricted as hazardous waste sites.
“These are the type of facilities you want this waste to go to,” said Sam Phillips, solid waste permits administrator for the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. “If something goes wrong, there are things we can do to prevent it from getting into a drinking-water aquifer.”
Members of the Gulf Coast congressional delegation said they intended to hold BP accountable for the health and safety of communities where spill waste was dumped.
“Gulf Coast residents have a right to be concerned about the waste placed in their landfills, and BP and its agents should do everything they can to work with local officials to address these concerns,” said Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) after a trip to spill-affected areas this month.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said tests by BP and her agency had shown that oil spill waste was not hazardous.
“The constituents of most of it are industrial waste, not hazardous, man-made chemicals, and it’s testing that way,” said Jackson, a chemical engineer by training. To reassure residents, Jackson ordered more EPA testing last month and required BP to release more information about waste testing, tracking and disposal.
But many gulf residents still worry.
“Anything that’s man-made can fail,” Harrison County Supervisor Marlin Ladner, a Mississippi lawmaker, said of the landfills. “The rig shows us that.”
Source: LA Times
July 30, 2010 at 10:02 AM dpmccarthy