A controversial new paper by climate scientists says that more effective immediate remedies against climate change can be found in tackling specific small warming agents other than CO2 – for example, black carbon. These particles – basically, soot – are emitted from incomplete burning of fossil fuels, mainly in diesel engines and wood. As light-absorbing specks (for example, on snow and ice in the Arctic), they darken the white reflective surface, absorbing more solar energy.

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Like EU, Washington Opts for Action, not Treaties

After years of national and local debate, Washington has approved the country’s first off-shore wind farm – an important step for the U.S. in catching up with developments in Europe.

Approved by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the Cape Wind project -- 130 wind towers each 440 feet tall -- will occupy a 25-square-mile section of Nantucket Sound in Massachusetts. It promises to provide 75 percent of the electricity required by the nearest part of the coast — the equivalent of the output of a medium-size coal-fired plant.

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French Intellectual Calls it “Excessive” and Ineffective

The swine-flu epidemic was the latest high-profile example of the precautionary principle as applied in France. Health officials in France (as in the United States and in other European countries) opted for a massive vaccination program. All the attendant problems (cost, statistical risks of deaths from vaccines, government credibility on health dangers) were accepted by the authorities, who said that they were compelled to take this initiative in the name of the precautionary principle. In the case of some previous threats (such as mad cow disease), Paris took a more cautious approach. In the instance of the swine flu scare, the policy provoked public debate and criticism, especially once it became clear that the imminent threat was small – and as a result, French people ignored the vaccination program. As a case study, this latest episode illustrates some of the contradictions and problems can arise with a systematic adherence to the precautionary principle. Exploring the issue, François Ewald, a French philosopher of risk management, does not criticize the authorities’ handling of the flu threat but he does conclude the precautionary principle may be incompatible with the real-life practices of contemporary Western societies.

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Such Hopes Discredited by Copenhagen

The watered-down outcome of the summit talks at Copenhagen fell dramatically short of expectations set by the EU. Since the 1997 Kyoto pact, Europe has claimed the moral lead on climate-change issues -- and the influence that goes with it. That image was dashed in Copenhagen: EU credibility and ambitions were sidelined in favor of the views of the U.S. and China. To regain a global voice, the EU needs drastic changes as it starts implementing the Lisbon treaty.

In a detailed review of the situation, an article in the Irish Times article -- “Copenhagen debacle brings home limits of EU's influence” – also talks about some apparently uncertain initial European steps to get a new grip on the climate agenda.

After a decade in declining cooperation on space research, the EU and the U.S. have agreed to a breakthrough joint venture. In a letter of intent released in November, the two powers announced an agreement to design unmanned spacecraft for exploration of the surface of Mars. The stakes are high in the light of the prestige associated with the countries that fund scientific advances in space, but progress is contingent on the funding required to carry out the research. So far, the financial details are unclear.

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