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Thomas Friedman on climate change in the Middle East Noting that 12 of the 15 most water-scarce countries in the world are in the Middle East, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman argues that climate issues provided some the kindling for the fire called the Arab Spring now consuming the region. "The Arab awakening was driven not only by political and economic stresses, but, less visibly, by environmental, population and climate stresses as well," he writes. Syria, one of the region's most volatile, is a good example. 60 percent of it experienced drought in the five year preceding the conflict there today, leading to widespread crop and livestock failure. Water and food shortage exacerbate tensions between people and government, the latter often unable to meet the former's needs. "We and the Arabs need to figure out — and fast — more ways to partner to mitigate the environmental threats where we can and to build greater resiliency against those where we can’t," Friedman concludes.

NPR on how too much sunshine isn't a day in the park We ordinary folks have perhaps enjoyed this early spring in the U.S., inconveniences aside, but climate scientists are worried. "They say all these sunny days are actually an extreme weather event, one with local and global implications." On a weekend edition of All Things Considered, Laura Sullivan runs down some of the dire consequences of the warm winter, including maple syrup production being down in Vermont and crops running ahead of schedule in Iowa, dangerous if there's a sudden frost. As for, say, the tornadoes in Texas, scientists hesitate to make direct links between global warming and specific extreme weather events. Nevertheless, the UN released a report last week warning of "more intense heat weaves, heavier rainfalls and longer droughts" in the coming decades as a result of climate change.

The Daily Climate on when wildfires hit rainforests Forest fires usually aren't thought of as a problem for rainforests, named such because of their high levels of precipitation, but parts of the Amazon are drying out so bad some years that they soon may become a regular occurrence. Unheard-of rainforest fires occurred in 2005 and 2010 in Brazil, Peru, and Bolivia, reports The Daily Climate's Barbara Fraser, which scientists believe were caused by higher-than-average temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean those years. "As the Atlantic warms, it draws moisture away from the forest, priming the region for bigger fires." Aside from the localized problems such as food insecurity, smoke-induced respiratory illnesses, and loss of life, the greenhouse gasses released from fires in the Amazon, which is usually a net absorber of carbon from the atmosphere, could intensify global warming.

Scientific American on a cleaner rickshaw The auto rickshaw, a three- or four-wheeled motorized version of the traditional human-pulled rickshaw, has some curious advantages as a eco-friendly vehicle since it wears road less than regular automobiles and take less materials to make, given its size. But they're usually powered by dirty two-stroke engines, prompting calls for reform to capitalize on their green potential in developing Asian countries, where the vehicles are popular and where pollution is a huge issue. In one city in India, cleaner, compressed natural gas rickshaws were mandated, greatly improving its air-quality ranking. In another city in the Philippines, citizens were incentivized to trade in two-stroke models with loans and free medical checkups.

Reuters on what's ailing the polar bear Polar bears, whose numbers have been harshly affected by climate change, are often taken up as a symbol of the movement against climate change. Usually their plight has something to do with melting us ice, but today we can add another problem to their list: a new mysterious disease. As Yereth Rosen for Rueters reports, "Nine polar bears from the Beaufort Sea region near Barrow were found with patchy hair loss and oozing sores on their skin, similar to conditions found in diseased seals and walruses." The outbreak occurred among the seals and walruses last summer in Alaska, resulting in the deaths of some, but these nine polar bears otherwise seem healthy, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Scientists are still trying to pin down the cause of the illness, though one potential culprit, radiation poisoning from Japan has been ruled out.