Methane levels hold steady
Levels of the greenhouse gas methane have plateaued for the first time in about
200 years, shows a report in Geophysical Research Letters. Methane is second
only to carbon dioxide in contributing to our planet's warming. The gas - belched
out by fossil-fuel burning, rice paddies, festering farm manure and landfill
sites - has been accumulating since the industrial revolution. Now the tide
may be turning, say Ed Dlugokencky of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA) in Boulder, Colorado, and his team. They found that levels steadied between
1999 and 2002, according to measurements from 43 ground-based stations around
the world. v7b24bx
The reason for the change is unclear. Dlugokencky believes that a big contributing
factor was the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. Oil and gas production
fell, and the industry became more efficient at plugging gas leaks from pipes
Experts say the plateau is no cause for complacency. Increasing fossil-fuel
consumption in developing nations, or renewed drilling for natural gas, might
boost methane again. "The trajectory is still moving up," says David
Blake, an atmospheric chemist at the University of California, Irvine.
The finding highlights how small steps to cut methane emissions could slow global
warming, he says. Leaking gas pipelines could be capped and incentives introduced
to encourage landfill owners and farmers to use methane to run power generators.
Earlier studies hinted at a slowing in the long-term rise in methane - but Dlugokencky's
conclusion is based on particularly frequent and accurate measurements..
Taiwan, the largest manufacturer of compact discs in the world, will begin to
recycle this product as early as next July, when required regulations have been
established, Environmental Protection Administrator Chang Juu-en said yesterday.
Officials from the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) yesterday were
criticized by legislators for their lax efforts to recycle compact discs, which
are composed of plastic materials and diverse metals, including aluminum, gold,
silver and titanium.
According to legislators, Taiwan produces 5.5 billion compact discs annually,
including 4.7 billion discs for overseas markets. Common compact discs are classified
into read-only memory (CD-ROM), recordable disc (CD-R) and rewritable disc (CD-RW).
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Cheng Kuei-lien yesterday urged
the administration to establish regulations encouraging the public to recycle
"More than 800 million compact discs are sold annually on the domestic
market. It's inappropriate to dispose of the discs only in landfills or incinerators,"
If compact discs are dumped at landfills, he said, soil and groundwater would
be polluted by heavy metals. In addition, burning compact discs containing plastic
materials in incinerators might produce the dangerous chemical dioxin.
Chang said that the EPA had entrusted the Industrial Technology Research Institute
with conducting a feasibility study on recycling compact discs. The final report
will be completed by the end of this year.
"We estimate that the product will be efficiently recycled as early as
July next year, if related regulations are established," Chang said.
Cheng's colleagues, including Kuo Jung-tsung of the DPP, and Chen Li-hui and
Chang Tsai-mei of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), also expressed their
concerns over pollution resulting from untreated compact discs.
According to Chen Hsiung-wen , director-general of the EPA's Bureau of Solid
Waste Management, the administration so far had no clear picture of the amount
of unwanted compact discs that had to be recycled annually.
But according to a preliminary study by the institute, which estimates that
discs have a 4-year lifespan and a 2 percent damage rate during the recording
process, about 60 million compact discs weighing 990 tonnes are discarded annually
in Taiwan. This conservative estimation excludes discs with defects discarded
by the manufacturing sector.
According to a Ministry of Economic Affairs publication in December last year,
discs damaged during the manufacturing process accounts for about 10 percent
of total production.
According to the EPA, there has been only one environmental service company
so far that systematically recycles compact discs. The Kaohsiung-based company,
which received its license in August, is expected to recycle as many as 300
million compact discs annually. The company now produces 400 tonnes of plastic
materials a month from discarded and recycled compact discs. Meanwhile, two
other companies are applying for similar licenses.
Administration officials said that it's worthwhile to recycle unwanted compact
discs because the production volume is still increasing significantly.
In addition to production, officials said, other factors affecting the recycling
of compact discs would be considered, including potential environmental pollution,
consumer behavior, the market economy and executive strategies. Australia life-line
for Barrier Reef
The Reef is one of Australia's greatest icons
The Australian Government has submitted a plan to parliament to make the Great
Barrier Reef the most protected coral reef system in the world. It wants to
increase so-called green zones, where commercial and recreational fishing is
banned, from 4.5% of the 2,000-kilometre (1,200-mile) reef to 33%.
The plan, which is expected to be approved by parliament and come into force
by the middle of next year, would create the world's largest network of protected
There are concerns that over-fishing has depleted the reef of marine life, threatening
its delicate eco-balance.
WWF Australia hailed the plan as a breakthrough.
"It's groundbreaking, it's visionary," Imogen Zethoven, Great Barrier
Reef Campaign Manager, told BBC News Online.
"There is no other network on Earth of a similar scale. It doesn't mean
that the plan is perfect, but it does mean there's a dramatic improvement,"
"What we sought to do is provide a level of protection that assures that
biodiversity will be protected while minimising the impact on users," Environment
Minister David Kemp told BBC News Online.
There are other factors that damage the reef - global warming, which is believed
to be to blame for coral bleaching, and chemical run-offs from cattle grazing,
sugarcane growing and urban development.
Ms Zethoven said that restricting fishing around the reef would help mitigate
the effects of global warming and pollution.
"It you maintain an ecosystem... with an abundance of life, it has a greater
chance of recovering," she said.
The government has also finalised a water quality protection plan, which seeks
to regulate land management to reduce pollution from agriculture and horticulture.
Ms Zethoven said the administration now needed to address greenhouse emissions,
which should be cut "dramatically and urgently".
Prime Minister John Howard last year refused to sign the Kyoto protocol on climate
The Great Barrier Reef, situated off Queensland state in Australia's northeast,
injects an estimated A$1.5bn ($975m) into the economy each year through tourism
Companies and individuals caught breaching green zone rules will face heavy
The commercial fishing industry has warned the plan could devastate fishing
firms and small communities.
Mr Kemp said the government was in consultation with the community to formulate
"appropriate adjustment assistance", which could include buying out
licenses and helping people into other careers. Norwegian experts who looked
at more than 16,000 men over almost three decades found that those in more polluted
areas were more at risk.
The stronger the concentration of nitrogen dioxide, the greater the chance of
developing the disease.
However, smoking remains the biggest risk factor for developing lung cancer,
It has always been tough to pin down the health effects of air pollution, although
evidence linking it to cancer has emerged before.
However, the large scale study has produced clear signs that pollution may influence
During the follow-up period of 27 years, more than 400 men from the group developed
The researchers altered their results to take account of smoking habits - but
found that, for every rise in concentration of the pollutant nitrogen dioxide
(NO2) around their home compared to their home at the start of the study, there
was roughly an 8% increase in risk.