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Alaska baking faster?

This was us in Barrow just two weeks ago.
This morning, this email reached me from George Divoky, our ornithologist friend, observing climate change as part of his work monitoring a black guillemot colony on the Arctic’s Cooper Island:

“Was able to follow your travels via the B&J website and your blog and it looked like you were able to see some impressive examples of climate change in Alaska.
I was impressed with both the quality of climate change ambassadors and the media traveling with them. I tend to be skeptical of much of what is said and done to bring climate change issues to the public but found this exercise to be a good one and was glad I could become involved.
(…) I head off to Alaska in a week and Cooper Island about a week after that. After the late and snowy spring (which you know about first hand) things have gotten very hot there (5 C as I write this) and the snow all melted in the past two days.

George J. Divoky
Friends of Cooper Island


May 26, 2008 | 8:02 am



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A good climate for saving biodiversity?

Cara and Marie Lauré are 2 of the Climate College ambassadors committed to protecting the environment. They would love the atmosphere here in Bonn at the moment.
Bonn is “abuzz” with environmental experts and activists at the moment. Today was the start of “COP 9”, the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
This is the nature protection event of the year. “One Nature. One World. Our Future” – that’s the motto.
CBD website
They’re expecting around 7,000 people from around the world. The event goes over 2 weeks. Next week, the ministers and heads-of-state will arrive for the “high-level” segment. You might ask yourself whether involving that many people in a conference is really good for the environment. Of course that also means me as one of the 500 (!) journalists accredited for the event. My ecological footprint isn’t deep for this one, as the conference is literally 2 tram stops away from our headquarters here at DW. I’m not sure whether the numbers don’t get inflated in general though. But I do think we need to do something, and if that means getting all these people around the table – then, so be it.
The German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel opened the conference, with Ahmed Djoghlaf, who’s the Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. They both stressed the link between biodiversity and climate, which is why Bonn is a great city to have it, as it’s home to the UNFCCC (Yes, there really are 3 “C”s), the Climate Secretariat.
Homepage for the UN climate experts
There is a live webcast of the conference, if you’re in to that sort of thing.(You’ll find it under the link above).
I went along today with my colleague Nina Haase. We’ll be reporting on what’s happening on Living Planet and other programmes over the next 2 weeks.
On the way there, I (almost literally) ran into a Greenpeace kids’ demo. They were singing their own German version of “Frère Jacques” adressed to the German Environment Minister. It goes like this:
“Sigmar Gabriel, Sigmar Gabriel, are you sleeping?
Can’t you hear the polar bears, Can’t you hear the polar bears: “Save the Climate”.
It’s great to see young school kids, with their faces painted and hand-made banners with tigers and polar bears on them being active for the environment.
You can listen to them singing below.
Thanks to teachers like Isobel who have responded to this blog. Isobel wants to use it to teach her pupils about climate change and related issues. She finds they show a lot of interest in these issues. More power to you Isobel and everyone reading this who’s working to get the next generation involved in protecting biodiversity, combatting climate change, and making sure they have a future.


May 19, 2008 | 2:44 pm



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No More Ice for the Blog? (And Rabbie on the Retreat)

There are around 10,000 glaciers in the area around Whittier. All in all 29,000 square miles – 5% of the state of Alaska – are made up of glaciers. But with temperatures clearly on the rise, the ice is melting so fast that people here are talking of a boom in “climate change tourism”. – “See the glaciers before they’re gone”. Cynical? Bizzare? There is the old maxim that tourism destroys what it seeks. Climate change adds another factor. Some food for thought there. I talked to some of the young “climate ambassadors” about our own carbon footprint in doing this trip.
The background to the Climate Change College Arctic Field-Trip
Calculating your carbon footprint

(Erika, Aart and Cara “performing” for their project videos, linking climate protection at home to the melting of the Arctic ice. Check out Cara’s website:
Green “Do it yourself”
Start “Global WORMing by contacting Erika@ClimateChangeCollege.Org. Aart’s project info via Aart@ClimateChangeCollege.Org)

The organisers are paying into a fund to offset the emissions from travel. And the idea is that these youngsters will be doing such a lot to spread the word about what we’re doing to the planet with global warming – and what we can still do to cope with the changes and halt the trend – that it will be more than worth the trip. And after spending 10 days with them, I’m sure that’s very true. The projects they’re working in at home – some full-time, some alongside other jobs – show a deep commitment to finding solutions. Our Swedish ambassador Jakob Rutqvist in particular keeps reminding me that it’s not just about spreading the word but finding creative ways to tackle the problem and move forward. He’s involved in a very high-powered network, supported by WWF, aimed at encouraging innovation across the globe when it comes to reducing emissions and halting global warming.
The “Global Focus Network”
Jakob is currently planning a trip to China in June to meet potential partners in finding solutions to energy and other problems in a country that is crucial to safeguarding the future because of its huge population. He’s also the Swedish youth representative at a big gathering in Stockholm next weekend to discuss climate issues.
Jakob’s website
He’s invited Aart, the Dutch climate ambassador to go along. I’ve recruited them both to report on the conference for Deutsche Welle. This is a perfect story for our youth programme COOL. Anke and Laura, if you’re reading this, I think I’ve found you two new reporters.
Click here for the “coolest programme on the air”
Jakob and Aart are both keen to disprove the popular assumption that – unlike the 1968 generation being celebrated in the media at the moment 40 years on – today’s youth are not interested in activism or committed to change. They want to make a statement to demonstrate the opposite.

Aart told me he was really flabbergasted by our visit to the Begich Boggs glacier visitors centre.There’s a magnificent glass-walled viewing room. The trouble is that the Portage glacier has retreated so far that you can’t see it all from the centre. In less than 70 years, it has receded more than 2 miles. So there is an impressive view of Portage lake, iced over, and snowy hills, but definitely no glacier.
What bothered me just as much was that I wasn’t allowed to interview our guide through the centre or record any of her talk. – Because it was about climate change. She wasn’t authorized to speak officially on that. Melting Ice is clearly a “hot” topic.
The talk was informative, though, so thanks to our guide for that, even though she can’t be on the programme.
The glaciers in this area bear the names of famous authors –Byron, Shakespeare and – Robert Burns. Friends of Scotland please take note. Rabbie is definitely on the retreat in this area of Alaska. I hope it only applies to the glaciers.
More about Scotland and the network of Scots abroad
To get up close to the glaciers, we took a trip on a “landing boat”, loaded with kayaks for the ultimate and “otterly environment-friendly” approach to the ice wonders. (We met plenty of those “otterly laid-back” little sea “critters” on the way – and I enjoyed exchanging those otterly corny puns with Sebastian, a colleague on the trip. Thanks Seb.)

Our guide Andy is very experienced in minimum-impact camping, and made sure we didn’t disturb nature too much and just had the basics – but the right gear for the conditions.Sleeping in the vicinity of glaciers is an odd experience.

We had been prepared to sleep on thick snow, but our campsite was actually snow-free. Only the water was full of “ice cubes”.

Our three glaciers were rumbling so much during the night I thought I was in a thunderstorm. You frequently hear explosive crashes, and a bit closer up the ice crackles and pops away constantly.

“Sound-Rich Ice” (to be heard soon on Living Planet!)
The environment program you should be listening to every week. Podcast?

The ambassadors used the glacier background trip to film scenes for their “project movies”, linking their work at home to the dramatic ice melt in this very sensitive region. Ines from Spain braved the icy temperatures in her bikini and a rubber dingy.

The first half of her film had been shot in an empty outdoor pool at home, demonstrating the drought conditions which are causing desperate water shortages in Portugal. Her idea was to show that you might have to go a very long way to get water.
Unfortunately our trip was flawed when our expedition leader Marc Cornelissen – the mastermind behind the “Climate Change College” – got a message by satellite phone that his father was critically ill. Visibility was too poor for a helicopter to collect him, so Andy took him off in the “Zodiac” boat to meet another boat coming in from Whittier to take him back. This was very sad for all the group, as the field trip and Marc’s whole project was just coming to its highpoint. They all coped very well, including taking over the logistics of getting the group and all their equipment organised for the trip home afterwards.We hope things will work out OK for Marc.
Marc told his ambassadors as he left they had to see the project through. So the kayak trip went ahead.

We paddled through a field of mini ice-bergs. Now I know what it feels to be a slice of lemon in a glass of fizzy drink with ice cubes in it. I recorded as we went along – and even interviewed Marie Laure from kayak to kayak as we reached our destination – as close as safety would allow to the 3 glaciers.

She’s in love with snow and ice, but concerned that people looking to enjoy it on the ski slopes of Europe use up too many of our natural resources, with artificial snow and a huge amount of water in general. Her project is to save on water consumption in the ski resorts of her home in France by simple things like water-saving showerheads. She told me about it and her deep concern about global warming as we sat and marvelled at the glaciers – and the sound of them melting and breaking in the background.

That would be a good place to end this entry of the “Ice Blog”. The Climate College Field Trip has come to an end. But of course climate change is a never-ending story. Back in Bonn, Germany, we’re in a heat wave, with high summer temperatures, and it’s only early May. (The mosquitos were already out in Fairbanks, by the way, way too early, the locals said). I heard on the radio that the oil supply will “peak” as early as in 10 years. And the IPCC climate chief says the sea level increase through global warming definitely exacerbated the effects of the disastrous cyclone in Myanmar.
Watch this space for more Arctic pictures and climate news and views in the weeks to come.
– Not the End –


May 11, 2008 | 12:57 pm




Arctic melting ever faster and nothing in todays papers?

A new study says climate change is having a far greater impact on the Arctic and much faster than previously thought. Like the other journalists and media organisations on the distribution list,this information reached me yesterday from WWF, for publication as of midnight last night.The results of the “Arctic Climate Science Update” are dramatic.
Read the report for yourself via WWF Arctic Programme
But there was no mention of all this on the radio news or in the papers I read this morning. Could it be that melting sea ice, even the melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet and the wide-ranging impacts no longer make the headlines? Are people getting bored with reading about it and starting to take it for granted? Let’s see if it makes the news in the course of today or tomorrow.
I also got these photos from Narsaq in Southern Greenland. The girls are launching a “Messenger Kayak” from an ice floe in the bay. Against the background of a conference on climate change and sustainable development being held in their town, they want to make the voices of young Greenlanders heard, taking on responsibility for the future and asking their leaders to take action on climate change and pollution. Good on you girls.

The picture was taken by Anders Rosenberg, Indra Film.
More info on the Greenland youth initiative

At least I’ve heard quite a few of my neighbours and friends talking about a 2-part film documentary which was shown on German tv last week and this week, which included dramatisations of what climate change is likely to mean for countries like Bangladesh – far away but clearly drastic impact – and places like Cologne in Germany, with huge chemical plants right next to the river Rhine – definitely too close for comfort. I found the film a bit too sensational in style, but I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that we need this sort of tv coverage (evening prime time viewing slot) to get the message across.
What did make the news this morning – John McCain is proposing dropping fuel taxes during the summer holidays. Clearly a very popular proposal. Shame about the climate.
Here are some more pictures from Justin Anderson. They were taken in Denali National Park in January. “Mt. McKinley sunsets”. Emily Schwing adds “it was actually perpetual sunset all day long”. This is Alaska as we’d like to keep it:


April 24, 2008 | 9:01 am