Archive | October 2014

September 2014 – Another Month of Record High Global Average Temperature

earth-from-space
This past September was the warmest since records began in 1880, according to new data released by NASA this weekend. The announcement continues a trend of record or near-record breaking months, including May and August of this year.

The newly released data could make it very likely that 2014 will become the warmest year on record.

Health Effects of Small Particle Pollution from Heavy Motor Vehicle Traffic

houston-highway_wikipedia

What people cannot see can be very harmful. In 2012, a report on the Global Burden of Disease found that pollution from dangerous tiny particles and droplets in the air — what scientists call “fine particulate matter” — is among the leading causes of death and severe disability. According to estimates in this report, over 3.2 million deaths per year may be attributable to people breathing dangerous particles in their general environment, and another 3.6 million deaths happen because of polluted air attributed to burning solid fuels for heating or cooking in developing countries. To put the danger in perspective: the total deaths from particulate air pollution are greater than 6.3 million deaths each year from tobacco use.

The bad health news about dangerous particles in the air is not confined to fine particulate matter which is spread broadly across metropolitan regions, however. I direct a study called the Community Assessment of Freeway Exposure and Health that looks at air pollution from even tinier particles — “ultrafine particles” — that are concentrated next to freeways and other places with a lot of motor vehicle traffic. Pockets of this kind of invisible, odorless and often overlooked air pollution may be especially dangerous for people to live and work next to busy highways. My research group is developing innovative ways to assess the hazard and protect people from exposure to health risks.

Health dangers from particles in the air

Many people suppose that respiratory diseases are the main risk from breathing in polluted air, but in fact the major health risks are from cardiovascular diseases. Breathing in fine particles from vehicle emissions, power plants, or burning fuels causes inflammation that spreads throughout the body in the blood, contributing to hardening of the arteries and increased risks for heart attacks and strokes.

Most research on particle pollution in the air has so far focused on fine particles in the surrounding air. This kind of pollution is not spread evenly around the world. Very high pollution levels in China and India, for example, result in approximately two million deaths a year from exposure to fine particles. But even in countries like the United States, where pollution levels have been regulated for decades and skies are usually relatively clear, there is still a surprisingly high level of deaths from breathing dangerous fine particles. Estimates vary, but somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths per year are attributable to dangerous fine particles spewed into the air, primarily from power plants and motor vehicles.

Measurements of the health effects of ultrafine particles are less well developed — and that is what my research colleagues and I are tackling. Conventional fine particle air pollution tends to be spread evenly over wide areas — such as whole cities — but ultrafine particle pollution can be high in small, local areas, next to a highway or major roadway, for example. Pollution concentrations can move around and go up and down rapidly. Researchers have not looked as much at ultrafine particle air pollution in part because the fast-changing levels make it hard to pin down exactly how much people are exposed to.

Researchers often do tests on animals to see how dangerous various kinds of pollution might be for people, and ultrafine particles in the air turn out to be more toxic in animal studies than similar concentrations of fine particles. Investigations looking at people have found that when ultrafine particle pollution levels go up and down, measures of health problems also rise and fall in the weeks that follow. Particularly worrisome, people who live very close to heavy traffic and get exposed to high levels of ultrafine particle pollution also have more health problems, including heart and vascular problems, according to available studies. Air monitoring has repeatedly shown ultrafine particles are elevated next to highways and major roadways, but researchers are still working to fully connect the dots between ultrafine exposure and its health effects in people.

In the Community Assessment of Freeway Exposure and Health study, my colleagues and I are measuring exposure to ultrafine particles in the air for people living at various distances from a highway and testing for health risks. Our full findings are not yet ready to report, but we have published some early papers that demonstrate both elevated ultrafine particle levels and higher disease risks for people who live closer to highways. We expect to be able to give more precise estimates of degrees of exposure and health risks in the near future.

Addressing the highway air pollution problem

Over the past half century, air in many parts of the United States has gone from sometimes looking cloudy and soot-filled, much like the air over much of China today, to clearer skies. Over many decades, America figured out how to reduce emissions of fine particulate matter from smoke stacks and tail pipes, phasing in increasingly effective pollution-reducing technologies. But we are at earlier stages in developing awareness of the measurable dangers from ultrafine particle pollution — and finding solutions to reduce those dangers.

My research group is actively looking for workable solutions — such as installing various forms of air filtration as a possible way to protect people who live or work next to highways or heavy traffic. Early experiments on public housing units near highways have not achieved the reductions we hoped for, but we are continuing to test ideas. In addition, we are working with municipal agencies, regional planners and design experts to draft local ordinances that might be protective. So far, only California has ordinances that restrict the building of schools next to freeways, and many places might need such rules for parks, public plazas and other community institutions as well.

The bottom line is that particulate matter in the air — including very tiny and invisible particles in air near highways — is the most important and dangerous environmental health threat. Yet the dangers are insufficiently recognized by the public and policy makers. Better evidence can educate the public and inspire new efforts to tackle serious health risks. We already know that risks from ultrafine air pollution near highways are serious — and they may turn out to be even more worrisome than we know so far. Research can help communities prepare to take action.

Source: Scholars Strategy Network, written by Doug Brugge, Tufts University School of Medicine – See more at: http://journalistsresource.org/studies/environment/pollution-environment/health-risks-polluted-air-freeways#sthash.ViZVW4zM.dpuf
Learn More.

Frac Sand Rush Threatens Wisconsin, Minnesota Towns, Advocates Warn

Operations At The Wisconsin Industrial Sand Co.

Victoria Trinko hasn’t opened the windows of her Wisconsin home in two years — for fear of the dust clouds billowing from a frac sand mine a half-mile away.

“This blowing of silica sand has not abated since the inception of the mine in 2011,” Trinko, a farmer and the town clerk for Cooks Valley, Wisconsin, said during a media call on Thursday highlighting an industry proliferating alongside horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Frac sand is an essential ingredient in the process of natural gas drilling.

Trinko is among residents, advocates and scientists warning of risks posed by the frac sand boom — from heavy truck traffic and sleep-stymying lights and noise. At least one truck hauling silica sand travels a road by Trinko’s home every three minutes. When HuffPost spoke with Trinko in 2012, she had just been diagnosed with asthma — and her doctor suggested the condition was pollution-related.

The industry is concentrated in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Rising demand, however, threatens to expand frac sand mining into New York, Massachusetts and 10 other states, according to a report

released Thursday by the Civil Society Institute’s Boston Action Research, a human rights advocacy group, in partnership with the nonprofit Environmental Working Group and other environmental health advocates.

On top of the burgeoning rush for natural gas, the appetite for frac sand has been inflated by the recent discovery that using more sand per well increases fracking yields. An energy consulting firm estimated that fracking companies will blast nearly 95 billion pounds of frac sand into wells this year — an increase of almost 30 percent over last year, exceeding predictions. The number of frac mines have more than doubled in the last decade, with Wisconsin and Minnesota now hosting a total of 164 active facilities, according to the advocacy report. An additional 20 mines have been proposed in the two states.

Deanna Schone of Glenwood City, Wisconsin, lives near one of the proposed frac sand mines. She told HuffPost that city council members had “made their intentions known” in early September that they will allow the mine to proceed in a location about a half-mile from both her home and her kids’ school.

“We heard at the beginning that this was going to happen very quickly. That’s very much what happened,” said Schone, noting that most decisions seemed to have been made “under the table” before the public caught wind. In an effort to protect residents in regions not yet experienced with the frac sand boom, she offered some advice: “Talk to your local government. Do you have zoning? What are types of things that you could do to at least slow down the process?

“Once attorneys and big money are involved, it’s an uphill battle,” Schone added, as she stood outside her home and watched two young deer eating acorns off her kids’ basketball court. “This is part of why we don’t want to live in an industrial area.”

An interactive map published with the new report shows that more than 58,000 people live within a half-mile of existing or permitted frac sand mining sites across a 33-county span in Minnesota and Wisconsin, as well as a small corner of Iowa. Twenty schools also fall within that half-mile range.

Rich Budinger, president of the Wisconsin Industrial Sand Association, highlighted his industry’s own list of “facts about frac sand mining in Wisconsin,” and offered a broad critique of the advocates’ publication.

“The groups behind this report have a definite political and social agenda against sand mining, so their conclusions are not surprising,” Budinger wrote in an email to HuffPost. “But their conclusions also fail to offer an accurate picture of sand mining in Wisconsin and the industry’s major contributions to the state’s communities and economy.

“There is no scientific evidence that ambient respirable crystalline silica that may be associated with sand mines poses a health risk,” said Budinger, referring to the frac sand dust that tops advocates’ concerns. He added that the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and other regulators “require air permits and fugitive dust control plans, which limit emissions and off-site impacts from dust.”

Crispin Pierce, a professor of environmental health at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, has been studying these potential health impacts for the last five years. He offered a different take during the media call.

The state regulatory agency, Pierce explained, requires fewer than 10 percent of the 140 frac sand operations in Wisconsin to monitor their emissions — and not the fine particulate matter and silica that he said are the “most dangerous components” of those emissions. Further, the state asks the companies to monitor themselves.

Of tests conducted by the industry and by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, none have detected levels of pollution that exceeded federal standards, Pierce said.

“To overstate the certainty that these issues are causing problems is to dilute their importance,” said Pierce. But he underscored “some real concerns,” including “potential long-term exposures and increases in cardiovascular disease, premature death and lung cancer,” as well as threats to water availability and quality.

A television station in Chippewa County, Wisconsin, reported last week that heavy rains had washed fine particles off a frac sand mine site and clouded a local waterway. Because state regulations for the mines are vague and “open to interpretation,” mining companies can get away with the pollution, an engineer with the county suggested.

Illinois is among the most recent states facing a potential surge in strip-mining for frac sand. While its deposits remain largely untapped, that’s changing fast, said Ashley Williams, a resident of Ottawa, Illinois.

She mentioned a battle HuffPost first covered in 2012, which continues over Mississippi Sand’s proposed mine near the entrance of Starved Rock State Park. The bluffs, canyons, waterfalls and wildlife found there entice more than 2 million visitors each year.

The 425-million-year-old rock formations also contain some of the nation’s highest quality frac sand, which has drawn the mining companies. Environmental groups, with help from lawyers and students at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, are fighting multiple mining permits around the state, including the one now held by Mississippi Sand.

“They’re descending on our community like sand sharks,” said Williams, “and it seems like there’s no end in sight.”

Wisconsin Public Radio Promotes Fossil Fuel Burning

140124124418-meridian-private-jet-traffic-620xa
Although I listen regularly to Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR)’s news and talk shows, and I just renewed my annual membership with them (with a $120.00 donation), I told them with my renewal that I was not interested in entering their vacation trip sweepstakes, to travel to France, take a cruise ship in Alaska, or travel Germany and France by way of the Rhine River this December. WPR regularly sponsors vacation trips (through travel agencies) for listeners to fly to various resorts around the world, presumably as fundraiser events.

I have told them in more than one email message and by phone during last month’s call-in show with their news director that I don’t support their promoting and coordinating travel by people from Wisconsin taking long distance vacations by jet airplane to exotic places because of the tremendous volumes of fossil fuel burned by jet airplanes flying thousands of miles, to and from foreign vacation resorts. It would be far better for everyone, here, if Wisconsin vacationers stayed closer to home, spending their vacation money within their home state, and thus benefiting Wisconsin’s economy and sparing the atmosphere from receiving huge quantities of planet warming greenhouse gases.

Following is a copy of a recent message I sent them:

“Thank you for taking my comments about the long term global warming effects from the abundant amount of greenhouse gases from people taking WPR sponsored flying/vacation trips. As I said before, flying by jet airplane is the worst thing an individual can do for the future of our planet. The impending global warming catastrophe is right around the corner.”

“I’m surprised WPR continues to sponsor these trips in light of having a number of excellent guests and programs attesting to this. Even President Obama agrees the earth is warming, the ocean are warming and rising, and the cummulative effect of rising concentrations of GHGs in the atmosphere and oceans is a grave threat to our world and especially children who will grow up in a far less hospitable world than the world that was passed onto us.”

When I called in and talked to the director, he said WPR’s contract with the travel agency requires passengers to “offset” their carbon emissions from the flight with sources that take an equal amount of carbon dioxide out of the air. See article on pros and cons of “justifying” flying by purchasing offsetting factors.

Below is a copy of another email I sent to WPR, sent 10-13-2014:

“Although I do love public radio, in particular the ideas network, I do NOT love WPR’s promotion of fossil fuel burning via it’s sponsoring and prize vacations at exotic locations thousands of miles from our home state. I do not believe buying into “tradeoff” C02 sequesters offset the extremely large volume of greenhouse gases that long distance vacations produce.”

Earth’s warming might be viewed of as a water glass, filled with water (the oceans), and ice (the polar ice caps and Earth’s mountainous glaciers). With a constant heat source (a stable “greenhouse effect”), the ice in the glass will remain roughly unchanged over time, the average temperature of the water in the glass will also remain unchanged (as did the Earth’s global average temperature). However, should the temperature surrounding the water and ice increase (i.e. due to an increase in the “greenhouse effect”, or global warming), the ice in the glass will gradually melt away, and once it melts, the temperature of the water in the glass will warm much faster, until equilibrium is reached, whatever temperature that might be, depending on the energy source, and the strength of the growing “greenhouse effect”.

WPR says it’s impartial on topics it chooses to air. When it come to preserving the livability of our planet, its actions are speaking louder than words because they sponsor these trips. WPR employees are state employees. State employees should be role models for people wanting to minimizing their global footprint. Promoting travel to exotic places is about the worst thing they could do. They should stop it. It’s morally not the right thing to do to save the planet. it’s more sustainable to take vacations in your home state and keep the local economy healthy the Earth from getting an even higher temperature/

Contact WPR’s Audience Service,..s at 1-800-747-7444 and listener@wpr.org and tell them to stop doing these trips.

Ice Melt at the Poles

melting at poles
It’s confirmed: both Antarctica and Greenland are losing ice—around 350 billion tons each year—and, as a result, sea level has risen 11.1 millimeters worldwide since 1992. This photo shows a summertime channel created by the flow of melted ice, which ultimately carries the water away from the glacier to the sea.

It’s not easy to measure melting ice. But by using data from 10 satellite missions, an international team of 47 scientists put together the most accurate estimate of ice melt to date. Ice melt doesn’t just affect sea level, however: the influx of fresh water could change the salinity of the North Atlantic enough to alter weather patterns in North America and affect ocean organisms.

Source: Smithsonian Ocean Portal

Miami Beach Prepares For Annual ‘King Tide’ Flooding And A Taste Of Future Sea Level Rise Reuters

By Zachary Fagenson and David Adams

MIAMI BEACH, Fla., Oct. 3 (Reuters) – Construction crews are wading into chest high pools of muck in a race against time to install pumps Miami Beach officials hope will help control an annual super-high tide threatening to flood south Florida’s popular seaside city next week.

Around Oct. 9, a so-called “King Tide” is expected to push almost an extra foot (30 cm) of water onto streets, going over sea walls and forcing residents to wade through flooded streets, an annual event causing widespread damage.

“It’s been a nightmare,” said Andreas Schreiner, who has seen past high tides bring water up to and even inside his group of neighborhood restaurants, causing tens of thousands of dollars in losses due temporary shut downs and cleanup.

The event, caused by the alignment of the sun, moon and Earth, provides a taste of the potential impact of a longer-term two-foot sea level rise predicted for south Florida by 2060, according to the United States Geological Survey.

The low-lying greater Miami area, with a population of 5.7 million, is one of the world’s most at-risk urban communities, scientists told a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing in April.

The King Tide is expected to rise to almost four feet. With seven miles of coastline, Miami Beach is already seeing more frequent salt-water street flooding at high tide, according to Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales.

To combat such widespread flooding, the city has set aside $300 million to 400 million to install up to 50 pumps in the coming years in what some say is a vain effort to protect an estimated $23 billion of real estate.

Bigger sea walls are not an option as Miami Beach’s flooding is caused largely by water rising underfoot through porous limestone bedrock. Officials concede pumping water back into the ocean is only a short-term solution.

Standing near four pumps that will each push 7,000 gallons per second when switched on, Miami Beach’s chief engineer, Bruce Mowry, said rising seas pose a constant challenge.

“The technology is never as effective as it was when you first installed it,” he said.

The city is also retrofitting 300 outflow valves that allow stormwater to drain into the bay, inserting plugs to prevent the reverse flow of sea water. Dunes are being reinforced with sea oats and engineers are looking into pumping water into underground storage.

Apart from these measures, Miami Beach has begun to develop a long-term plan for coping with sea level rise, including pushing developers to sacrifice street-level space for more elevated building designs.

“It’s a retreat up,” said Morales.

Doing so is critical to quell concerns of insurers and lenders backing the city’s blockbuster development.

“In order to keep the real estate market hot, we need to assure people who understand this that we are doing everything in our power,” Morales added. “Do you wait till it’s at your ankles and knees?” (Editing by David Adams and Steve Orlofsky)

Source: The Huffington Post

All Good Things Need Not Come to an End

NGClimatemarch

Demonstrators make their way down New York’s Sixth Avenue on Sunday.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JASON DECROW, AP

Last week was quite a week for U.S. advocates of protecting the environment. Four hundred thousand of them, including people of all ages, cultures and locations (people from all 50 States), joined together and marched through the streets of New York City, the country’s’s most populous city otherwise known as “The Big Apple”. Their reason for making the trip (many chose to endure long bus rides) was to demonstrate to the world and their county’s political leaders, and in no uncertain terms, their deep and growing concern with the increasing amounts of “greenhouse gases”, most notably carbon dioxide (CO2) which has 42% higher concentration levels in the atmosphere now than in pre-industrial times, before the widespread burning of fossil fuels for energy, which releases predominantly CO2 gas as an invisible byproduct. The greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have historically kept the planet warm by absorbing the Sun’s radiant energy and trapping it near the surface. However, too many of them being added to the atmosphere causes what is commonly known now as “global warming”, which causes ice and snow to melt at the poles and mountainous glaciers, and ultimately leads to rising and warming ocean waters that are more acidic (a certain percentage of CO2 is absorbed in the oceans). Global warming also causes more extreme weather events (a warmer atmosphere is more volatile), including heavier rainfalls and flooding, stronger storms, hotter and longer heat waves, worse drought and related problems (such as buckling highways and dwindling water supplies).

“Our citizens keep marching,” U.S. President Barack Obama said in his Tuesday address, acknowledging the protest. “We cannot pretend we do not hear them. We have to answer the call.”

Despite the biggest and most diverse climate march ever – one having almost 400,000 people, including people from every state of the Union marching through the streets of New York City in a huge show of strength in advance of last week’s United Nations General Meeting, it’s back to “business as usual” in the USA this week.

Global warming deniers, who flat-out refuse to believe rising greenhouses gas emissions from fossil fuel burning the last two centuries are affecting the atmosphere, the oceans, plants, wildlife, the weather and people; and that the effects are likely to grow stronger in intensity and thus in damage as the world adds to the aggregate amount of greenhouse gases emitted to the atmosphere, cannot deny the fact that the poor and middle class in the U.S. and the rest of the world will be the ones who suffer the greater effects from global warming. Those who are at the top of the economic ladder in the U.S., many who refuse to pay their fair share of U.S. taxes to help poor individuals and families yet purposely deny the existence of global warming are all now likely breathing a huge sigh of relief.

Last week’s groundswell of the people’s demands and concern for urgent action is now past history for them. They survived the four-hundred thousand people from all over the country marching through NYC Sunday, September 21, demanding action be taken by government and business to slow the global warming – already causing brutal climate change impacts throughout the globe and the country; they survived Wall Street being flooded with protesters Monday, September 22, that brought Wall Streets Financial District to a grinding halt over the course of a day-long sit-in by environmental activists; they survived any action by the U.S. Congress which adjourned after last week for the year.

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”
― Plato

U.S. Congress Needs to Take Action to Slow Climate Change and Ensure Public Saftey

n-CLIMATE-CHANGE-PROTEST-large570 (1)

Julia Pierson, a 30-year veteran of the Secret Service agency who became director in 2013, was forced to resign under pressure as director Wednesday after breaches of White House security that resulted in nobody getting hurt and no damage to property.

Juliapierson

The U.S. Congress has 535 members: 435 Representatives and 100 Senators. The One Hundred Thirteenth United States Congress first met in Washington, D.C. on January 3, 2013, and is scheduled to end on January 3, 2015. Widespread public dissatisfaction with the institution has increased in recent years, and some commentators have ranked it among the worst in United States congressional history. According to a Gallup Poll released in August 2014, the 113th Congress had the highest disapproval rating of any Congress since 1974, when data first started being collected: 83% of Americans surveyed said that they disapproved of the job Congress was doing, while only 13% said that they approved.

So why aren’t we forcing some of these folks to resign?

A New York Times/CBS News poll found that nearly half of Americans believe that global warming is causing a serious impact now, while about 60 percent said that protecting the environment should be a priority “even at the risk of curbing economic growth.”

Fifty-four percent of those surveyed said that global warming is caused by human activity. This, the New York Times notes, is the “highest level ever recorded by the national poll.”

Those results echo those of another survey conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which found that more than 70 percent of Americans believe climate change is either a critical or an important threat “to the vital interests” of the country, while more than 80 percent said that combating climate change is either a “very important” or “somewhat important” goal for the U.S.

The survey also found that 50 percent of the American public believe that the government is not doing enough to address the problem of climate change. According to poll makers, this is an increase of five percentage points from 2012 poll results.

Dealing appropriately with reducing causes of global warming and insuring protection of citizens from climate change is government responsibility. But this Congress (and the Congresses preceding it) have failed to act on it, as have many states, Wisconsin included. They all ought consider resignation for their failure to enact legislation to slow global warming and ensure the America public is protected from climate change.

Picture – 35,000 walruses are swarming Alaska’s shore — because their sea ice is vanishing

Walruses

New images captured by NOAA aerial surveys of the Alaska coast on September 27 show an estimated 35,000 walruses ashore near Point Lay. (Corey Arrardo / NOAA/NMFS/AFSC/NMML)
.

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”
― Plato