Thursday, August 5, 2010


DEATH TOLL RISES AS RAGING WILDFIRES SPREAD - With the temperature pushing thirty-nine degrees Celsius and more than 500 smog-emitting forest fires raging across Russia, it was hot and smoky. Yet the sun was absent. It had been blotted out, lending the Russian capital an apocalyptic feel. Like an unwanted guest, the fog crept into people’s apartments overnight, seeping under door frames and through poorly insulated windows. It wrapped itself around the Russian capital’s major landmarks, and forced cars to slow down, causing traffic jams. The onion domes of St Basil’s Cathedral’s were a ghostly apparition, and the tops of the Kremlin’s terracotta-coloured towers were wreathed in thick grey smog. Thick smog that had blanketed Moscow partially lifted early Thursday but could return with no end in sight to a record heat wave, officials warned. Temperatures up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (39 Celsius) have exacerbated forest and peat bog fires across Russia’s central and western regions. The forecast for the week ahead shows little change in the capital and surrounding regions, where the average summer temperature is around 23 Celsius (75 Fahrenheit).

The death toll from hundreds of blazes nationwide rose to at least 50, the fires made more than 2,000 people homeless, and destroyed dozens of towns and villages. Doctors have advised people to stay indoors and close their windows. Better to boil in the comfort of your apartment, they say, than to inhale the smog which contains a cocktail of potentially harmful gases and chemicals. Outside the city limits, the situation is more serious. President Dmitry Medvedev has cut short his holiday to return to Moscow to manage the crisis. Vladimir Putin, the prime minister, is out and about in the regions trying to coordinate a response, and the Russian army has been brought in to help douse the flames. Almost 600 separate fires were still raging, mostly in western Russia.

The smog stung the eyes and the concentration of harmful particles in the air makes breathing difficult. Entire settlements look like they have been bombed rather than attacked by Mother Nature. The blackened husks of what were once houses smoulder in the summer heat. No doubt the unbearable heat, drought and fires are consequences of climate change.

Global warming poses one of the most serious threats to the global environment ever faced in human history. Yet by focusing entirely on carbon dioxide emissions, major environmental organizations have failed to account for published data showing that other gases are the main culprits behind the global warming we see today. ... Animal agriculture produces more than 100 million tons of methane a year. And this source is on the rise: global meat consumption has increased fivefold in the past fifty years, and shows little sign of abating. About 85% of this methane is produced in the digestive processes of livestock, and while a single cow releases a relatively small amount of methane, the collective effect on the environment of the hundreds of millions of livestock animals worldwide is enormous. ... Simply by going vegetarian we can eliminate one of the major sources of emissions of methane, the greenhouse gas responsible for almost half of the global warming impacting the planet today.

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