Archives for category: Climate Change

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New research is showing that carbon dioxide is not only causing global warming, but it’s also causing sea water to become more acidic. As this ScienCentral News video explains, the implications of this on underwater life is becoming a hot topic for everyone from scientists, to IMAX filmmakers.

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From: The New York Times:

The tiny black particles released into the atmosphere by burning fuels are far more powerful agents of global warming than had previously been estimated, some of the world’s most prominent atmospheric scientists reported in a study issued on Tuesday.

These particles, which are known as black carbon and are the major component of soot, are the second most important contributor to global warming, behind only carbon dioxide, wrote the 31 authors of the study, published online by The Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres.

The new estimate of black carbon’s heat-trapping power is about double the one made in the last major report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in 2007. And the researchers said that if indirect warming effects of the particles are factored in, they may be trapping heat at almost three times the previously estimated rate.

The new calculation adds urgency to efforts to curb the production of black carbon, which is released primarily by diesel engines in the industrialized world and by primitive cook stoves and kerosene lamps in poorer nations. Natural phenomena like forest fires also produce it.

Read entire article here.

From TEDxTC:

A skyrocketing demand for food means that agriculture has become the largest driver of climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental destruction. At TEDxTC Jonathan Foley shows why we desperately need to begin “terraculture” — farming for the whole planet.

Jonathan Foley studies complex environmental systems and their affects on society. His computer models have shown the deep impact agriculture is having on our planet.

From :

A new study comparing past and present ocean temperatures reveals the global ocean has been warming for more than a century. Join Dean Roemmich, Scripps physical oceanographer and study co-author, as he describes how warm our oceans are getting, where all that heat is going, and how this knowledge will help scientists better understand the earth’s climate. Learn how scientists measured ocean temperature during the historic voyage of the HMS Challenger (1872-76) and how today’s network of ocean-probing robots is changing the way scientists study the seas.

We dump billions of tons of carbon pollution into the atmosphere each year. As a result, the concentration of carbon dioxide has increased by 40%. Excess carbon dioxide traps excess heat in the atmosphere. Excess heat causes extreme heat waves, droughts, and storms.

This year’s extreme weather follows last year’s. The last twelve months were the hottest on record for the United States. Texas saw its hottest and driest summer on record in 2011 by a wide margin, and research published recently shows that carbon pollution dramatically increased the probability of such extreme heat and drought. The data are in. This is what global warming looks like.

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Synopsis from Culture Unplugged:

During the last 100 years, the world has experienced an enormous growth, unequaled in the entire history of mankind. Production has increased more than 13 times, and this enormous step is linked to our capacity of exploiting the fossil fuels – coal and oil. In early industrialization, smoky chimneys, swinging cranes and burning melting furnace were potent symbols of power, optimism and money. But progress had its price. During the 20th century, millions of people die of lung cancer, heart and respiratory diseases – only due to the air pollution in the big cities all over the world.

From Los Angeles Times:

To understand the latest brouhaha about safe levels of ozone, it helps to understand the difference between science and policy.

First the back story. In 2008, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Stephen Johnson, reduced the allowable level of ozone in the air from 84 parts per billion to 75 ppb. Johnson said the change would lead to cleaner air and improve public health.

However, the EPA’s independent advisory panel had recommended that the limit be set even lower, in the range of 60 ppb to 70 ppb. Critics, including scientists, environmental advocates and medical associations, such as the American Thoracic Society, accused Johnson and the George W. Bush administration of prioritizing the economic concerns of polluters over the interests of the general public.

Depending on your point of view, you may see things Johnson’s way or you may side with his critics. But the process worked exactly as it was supposed to, with scientists analyzing the data and policymakers exercising their authority to take other factors into consideration, says Dr. Roger McClellan, a toxicologist and former chairman of the EPA’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. “They were an advisory panel, not a standard-setting panel,” he says.

Fast-forward to the Obama administration. Lisa Jackson is now the EPA administrator, and she wanted to revisit the ozone standard. She asked the current members of the advisory panel to take another look at the data, and they agreed with the previous panel’s conclusion that lowering the standard to between 60 ppb and 70 ppb range would have beneficial effects on public health. In a 2010 regulatory impact analysis report, the agency estimated that setting the limit at 70 ppb would prevent about 2,200 heart attacks, 23,000 asthma attacks and between 1,500 and 4,300 premature deaths each year; a limit of 60 ppb would avert 5,300 heart attacks, 58,000 asthma attacks and 4,000 to 12,000 premature deaths.

So this month, when President Obama put the kibosh on any reconsideration of the ozone standard, all those who railed before railed again.

The Clean Air Act mandates that the standards for certain pollutants, including ozone, be revisited every five years. So even as the advisory panel was digging into the old reports to answer Jackson’s queries, its members have also started reviewing more recent evidence for 2013, says the current committee chairman, Dr. Jonathan Samet, professor of preventive medicine at USC’s Keck School of Medicine.

Here’s a closer look at the scientific case against ozone.

What is ozone?

Ozone is the main component of smog and is created when certain volatile chemicals emitted from cars and factories react with sunlight. The ozone level in Southern California frequently is higher than the EPA standard, with the South Coast Air Basin out of compliance on 109 days last year, according to the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

How is ozone harmful to health?

Ozone is a gas that you inhale with the surrounding air. It can cause irritation and inflammation of the airways as well as coughing and shortness of breath. These effects depend on the concentration of ozone in the air you’re breathing, how rapidly and deeply you’re breathing and your own sensitivity to the pollutant.

Researchers have documented wide variability in people’s symptoms when they are exposed to controlled levels of ozone. These experiments usually have young, healthy nonsmokers breathing high concentrations of ozone — greater than 80 ppb and sometimes as high as 120 ppb — for six to eight hours. Subjects spend up to half of that time exercising, forcing them to inhale more of the pollutant.

The EPA panel said it was a “scientific certainty” that under these conditions, ozone decreases lung function (as measured by the amount of air a person breathes out when exhaling as hard as possible). The decline, of at least 10%, may sound small, but it is considered “clinically relevant,” according to the American Thoracic Society. Even when ozone levels were only 60 ppb, one study found that two out of 30 healthy subjects had at least a 10% decrease in lung function and six others showed symptoms of respiratory distress. That report was published in 2006 in the journal Inhalation Toxicology.

Who is most at risk?

The problem worsens for certain groups of people, notably children, seniors and those with asthma or other respiratory health issues.

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What are the public health consequences of having too much ozone?

Researchers in real-world settings have correlated ozone-level spikes to increased mortality and greater numbers of emergency room visits for respiratory problems.

For example, Delfino and his colleagues studied more than 23,000 emergency room admissions at 25 Montreal hospitals in the summer of 1993. They found that on days after the ozone level was at or above the average of 36 ppb, the number of older patients with respiratory symptoms who came to the ER jumped by 21%. However, ER visits for patients younger than 64 with respiratory symptoms or for patients with other kinds of health problems did not vary with ozone level. The results were published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

“Hundreds of similar studies have been done throughout the world,” Delfino says.

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Description from Culture Unplugged:

“Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story” is a film about the “unintended consequences” of farming practices on water quality, soil loss and the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico, an oxygen-deprived area where fish and shrimp cannot survive. Excess nitrogen, phosphorous and fertilizers essential to the growth of plants are contaminating the nation’s rivers, lakes and aquifers at the same time as precious soils wash away. The film features concerned farmers, scientists and citizens who are seeking solutions that will help meet the goals of an ambitious, food-producing nation while ensuring the long-term health and sustainability of its most precious natural resources

From

Yesterday the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum of Natural History showed two screenings of “Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story”, a documentary which relies on undisputed scientific facts to narrate how fertilizers used by industrial agriculture make their way into the water systems and the Mississippi River, and ultimately create a “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. Despite contracting the film, the University had initially blocked the release of “Troubled Waters” and held it from being broadcast Oct. 5 on Twin Cities Public Television (TPT), claiming that its narrative was based on questionable science — even as news emerged that vice president for university relations Karen Himle’s husband runs a public relations firm representing agricultural clients in Minnesota. Himle was who initially pulled the plug on the movie airing on TPT tomorrow.Following the initial screening, The UpTake spoke to director Larkin McPhee about “Troubled Waters”, the role that sustainable farming can play in protecting our water systems, and the controversy over the University’s handling of the movie. We also spoke to several panelists who spoke following the screening, including Louisiana marine scientist Nancy Rabalais, sustainable farmer Jack Hedin and the university’s director of the institute on the environment Jonathan Foley.

(Humble + Standard Oil => Exxon)

From Associated Press:

In a dramatic reversal, President Barack Obama on Friday scrubbed a clean-air regulation that aimed to reduce health-threatening smog, yielding to bitterly protesting businesses and congressional Republicans who complained the rule would kill jobs in America’s ailing economy.

Withdrawal of the proposed regulation marked the latest in a string of retreats by the president in the face of GOP opposition, and it drew quick criticism from liberals. Environmentalists, a key Obama constituency, accused him of caving to corporate polluters, and the American Lung Association threatened to restart the legal action it had begun against rules proposed by President George W. Bush.

The White House has been under heavy pressure from GOP lawmakers and major industries, which have slammed the stricter standard as an unnecessary jobs killer. The Environmental Protection Agency, whose scientific advisers favored the tighter limits, had predicted the proposed change would cost up to $90 billion a year, making it one of the most expensive environmental regulations ever imposed in the U.S.

However, the Clean Air Act bars the EPA from considering the costs of complying when setting public health standards.

Obama said his decision was made in part to reduce regulatory burdens and uncertainty at a time of rampant questions about the strength of the U.S. economy.

Underscoring the economic concerns: a new report Friday that showed the economy essentially adding no jobs in August and the unemployment rate stubbornly stuck at 9.1 percent.

The regulation would have reduced concentrations of ground-level ozone, the main ingredient in smog, a powerful lung irritant that can cause asthma and other lung ailments. Smog is created when emissions from cars, power and chemical plants, refineries and other factories mix in sunlight and heat.

Republican lawmakers, already emboldened by Obama’s concessions on extending Bush-era tax cuts and his agreement to more than $1 trillion in spending reductions as the price for raising the nation’s debt ceiling, had pledged to try to block the stricter smog standards as well as other EPA regulations when they returned to Washington after Labor Day.

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had muted praise for the White House Friday, saying that withdrawal of the smog regulation was a good first step toward removing obstacles that are blocking business growth.

“But it is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to stopping Washington Democrats’ agenda of tax hikes, more government ‘stimulus’ spending and increased regulations, which are all making it harder to create more American jobs,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.

Thomas Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the move was “an enormous victory for America’s job creators, the right decision by the president and one that will help reduce the uncertainty facing businesses.”

White House officials said the president’s decision was not the product of industry pressure, and they said the administration would continue to fight other efforts by Republicans to dismantle the EPA’s authority.

But that was little consolation for many of the president’s supporters. The group MoveOn.org issued a scathing statement, saying Obama’s decision was one it would have expected from his Republican predecessor.

“Many MoveOn members are wondering today how they can ever work for President Obama’s re-election, or make the case for him to their neighbors, when he does something like this, after extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich and giving in to tea party demands on the debt deal,” said Justin Ruben, the group’s executive director.

The American Lung Association, which had sued the EPA over Bush’s smog standards, said it would resume its legal fight now that Obama was essentially endorsing the weaker limit. The group had suspended its lawsuit after the Obama administration pledged to change it.

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From the Sydney Morning Herald:

RATES of mental illnesses including depression and post-traumatic stress will increase as a result of climate change, a report to be released today says.

The paper, prepared for the Climate Institute, says loss of social cohesion in the wake of severe weather events related to climate change could be linked to increased rates of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress and substance abuse.

As many as one in five people reported ”emotional injury, stress and despair” in the wake of these events.

The report, A Climate of Suffering: The Real Cost of Living with Inaction on Climate Change, called the past 15 years a ”preview of life under unrestrained global warming”.

”While cyclones, drought, bushfires and floods are all a normal part of Australian life, there is no doubt our climate is changing,” the report says.

”For instance, the intensity and frequency of bushfires is greater. This is a ‘new normal’, for which the past provides little guidance …

”Moreover, recent conditions are entirely consistent with the best scientific predictions: as the world warms so the weather becomes wilder, with big consequences for people’s health and well-being.”

The paper suggests a possible link between Australia’s recent decade-long drought and climate change. It points to a breakdown of social cohesion caused by loss of work and associated stability, adding that the suicide rate in rural communities rose by 8 per cent.

The report also looks at mental health in the aftermath of major weather events possibly linked to climate change.

It shows that one in 10 primary school children reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in the wake of cyclone Larry in 2006. More than one in 10 reported symptoms more than three months after the cyclone.

”There’s really clear evidence around severe weather events,” the executive director of the Brain and Mind Research Institute, Professor Ian Hickie, said.

”We’re now more sophisticated in understanding the mental health effects and these effects are one of the major factors.

”What we have seriously underestimated is the effects on social cohesion. That is very hard to rebuild and they are critical to the mental health of an individual.”

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From

From Environment 360:

Consider the African rain dance. People in tribal costumes stamping the ground to make rain — it’s nonsense, you might say. Except that we now know it could actually work. If you have enough dancers, there may be no better way to make rain, because bugs in the soil and surface vegetation make exceptionally good cloud- and ice-condensation nuclei — and rain dances stir them up.

Microbes, it turns out, are the hidden players in the atmosphere, making clouds, causing rain, spreading diseases between continents, and maybe even changing climates as well. Eos, published by the American Geophysical Union, last month reported that bio-aerosols are “leading the high life.” In the Eos article, David Smith of the University of Washington and colleagues argue that microbes are “the most successful types of life on Earth” and are the unacknowledged players in many planetary processes, particularly in the atmosphere. It’s time we caught up with them.

Back in 1979, Russell Schnell of the University of Colorado was in western Kenya wondering why the tea plantations there held the world record for hailstorms. They occurred 132 days a year. He discovered that tiny particles of dead and decaying leaves in the soil bore a close resemblance to the tiny particles around which hailstones formed. They were, it turned out, far better adapted to the task even than man-made cloud seeding chemicals like silver iodide.

Schnell, who is now deputy director of the Global Monitoring Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, concluded that “the feet of hundreds of tea pickers going about their daily jobs” were to blame for the hail. By kicking the bits of leaf into the air, he said, the tea pickers must be providing the abundant ice-nucleators that created the hailstorms. He published in Tellus in 1982, revealing that the critical actors in this Kenyan drama were the bacteria, Pseudomonas syringae, that attached

‘Bioprecipitation’ is a hot topic, more so as we learn how much biological matter is in the atmosphere.

themselves to the leaves as they rotted — the tea pickers sent the leaf bits airborne as they walked the fields picking the tea leaves from the bushes.

Biologists have long known that many species of bacteria trigger frost damage on vegetation, with Pseudomonas syringae the most efficient. The bacteria have evolved a gene that promotes spontaneous ice nucleation at around minus 2 degrees Celsius, much warmer than would happen otherwise. Their ice-making skills allow them to break down the cell walls of the plants they feed on. But it seems they also use the same skill in clouds.

Mineral and salt particles are present in large numbers in clouds and can act as condensation nuclei. But many bacteria, as well as fungal spores and tiny algae, are the cloud condensation nuclei of choice because they can work at higher temperatures. Since the formation of ice is normally the first step in the creation of raindrops in clouds, they are probably critical in the creation of rain. “Numerous studies,” say Smith and his colleagues in Eos, “have shown that many… condensation nuclei responsible for climate and precipitation patterns are in fact airborne micro-organisms, living or dead.”

And that, Smith says, means any human activity that puts more bugs in the air is potentially a rain-making activity, whether it is tramping tea plantations or cooking up a big rain dance. “Exactly how higher concentrations of airborne micro-organisms will interact with other variables that drive weather and precipitation is a major unknown in the climate change equation,” he says.

Schnell’s original observation was largely ignored by the wider science community. But recent papers have made similar observations in other places. For instance, Brent Christner, a microbiologist at Louisiana State University, reported in Science in 2008 that he had found “ubiquitous and abundant” microbes in fresh snowfall sampled from Antarctica to Montana – between 70 and 100 percent of ice nucleators found in the snow were biological.

This, Christner points out, was especially remarkable since he was sampling snow in areas where there was no local vegetation. The microbes had traveled a long way to do their job. “It’s a wake-up call,” he says. “Biological particles do seem to play a very important role in generating snowfall and rain.”

Then in May this year, at a meeting of the American Society of Microbiology, Alexander Michaud of Montana State University in Bozeman reported finding high concentrations of bacteria in hailstones falling on his campus.

“Bioprecipitation” is a hot topic. And the more so as we learn how much biological matter there is in the atmosphere — more than 10,000 individual bacteria per cubic meter of air over the land, according to a 2009 study by Susannah Burrows of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany. These bacteria spend an average of about a week in the atmosphere; but while some stay close to the ground, others soar into the stratosphere, says Smith. Weather balloons have even found them in the mesosphere, up to 77 kilometers aloft, according to a forgotten study by Soviet scientist A. A. Imshenetsky, published in Applied and Environmental Biology as long ago as 1978 and uncovered by Smith.

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From

Meet Dr. Erin Lipp, Associate Professor in the University of Georgia’s Department of Environmental Health Science. Her research interests include: Ecology of human pathogens in coastal and other natural waters; Role of environmental exposures in waterborne disease transmission; Coastal water quality and wastewater impacts on coral reefs; Climate change and waterborne disease; Oceans and human health.

Excerpt from 2008 Sundance Awarding Winning Documentary FUEL.

From KUOW News:

Washington state might seem immune to the hot temperatures that are affecting the rest of the country, but that’s not the case. Some people may reject the idea of climate change, but scientists say summer temperatures have been climbing over the years, and it will continue to get hotter over time. It’s these kinds of heat conditions that put many people at risk. Some researchers estimate that in 2004 alone the cost of hospitalizing people due to extreme heat was nearly a billion dollars. In the first part of our report on heat and health, KUOW’s Ruby de Luna reports on the health impacts of climate change.

TRANSCRIPT

Remember the heat wave of 2009?

News Clip: “Seattle tied an all–time record high Tuesday, and it’s getting hotter… “

That heat event in the Pacific Northwest lasted a week.

News Clip: “Today, Seattle is supposed to reach triple–digit temps for the first time ever.”

Seattle peaked at 103 degrees, a record high for the area. Well, scientists say we can expect hotter days ahead.

Richard Fenske is professor of environmental occupational health sciences at the University of Washington.

Fenske: “When we look across a period of 20 to 40 years, we are confident that temperatures are increasing, and this will result in severe heat events and probably longer heat events, but not necessarily every year.”

In 2009, Fenske and his colleagues in the School of Public Health were awarded a federal grant to study how climate change will affect people’s health. In a nutshell, the study concluded that heat events will likely lead to what they call excess deaths. How do researchers know that?

Michael Yost: “We counted the dead bodies, and we continue to count them.”

That’s Michael Yost, also a UW professor in the same department. He and Fenske are part of the research team that’s analyzing the data for the study.

Here’s what they did: They tracked Washington’s previous weather records between May and September for the last 26 years. They noted a rise in overall temperatures during that time. The team also looked at death records for the same time period. They found that whenever there was a heat event, there were more deaths, mostly elderly people.

The thinking goes that if temperatures continue to rise in the next few decades, so will the number of excess deaths. But it’s hard to predict just exactly how much warmer it’s going to be, or how many hot days we’re going to have. So, Fenske and Yost came up with a range of scenarios. On the low end, the region may have only 16 extreme heat days in a given year; or, on the high end, as many as 30 days.

Yost: “What we’re trying to do is to not simply say this is one possible outcome in the future, but to simulate many possible outcomes, and so what we end up with is a range of possible values for how many heat events might occur in, say, 2025.”

The study’s goal is to help local public health agencies and emergency responders prepare for heat events. Richard Fenske says this will prevent deaths and unnecessary hospitalizations.

Fenske: “We can develop a warning systems, education, transportation systems to get elderly people to cool environments, like a public library, during a heat event. There are ways to prevent these deaths if we choose to do so, but we have to know where and when they might occur.”

And since extreme heat days are uncommon in the Puget Sound region, most homes don’t have cooling systems. And when it does get hot, especially for an extended period of time, most people don’t know how to deal with the heat or lose the ability to take precaution.

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