Consider that as the earth heats up, different parts of the world experienced as many as 398 outbreaks of different diseases over the last 10 years, and diseases typically confined to the tropics are on a consistent march to the more temperate lands, according to findings reported at the Global Health Conference held at the University of Washington this week.This poses significant risks to people in the United States and their counterparts in other countries in the West.Changes in climate are steadily gnawing into the earth’s ability to keep billions of people fed and their thirsts quenched, researchers reported. This is because rise in temperatures has led to a decline in the supply of billions of gallons of water needed to quench our thirst and keep crops watered. At the same time, the lowering in quality of air we breathe is adding its own load of serious ailments to an already disease-burdened world.Making the chilling presentation were five experts drawn from diverse academic backgrounds and institutions. As Kristie Ebi of Carnegie Institution for Science gave an overview on climate change and health, she delivered data which pointed to the fact that rate of climate change is now faster than it ever was over the last 10,000 years. On average, global temperatures have risen by more than one degree Fahrenheit (0.7 degrees C) since 1880s and that if this trend was to hold by 2025, as many as 1.8 billion people will be living in places without enough water for their needs.It appears that rising temperatures are encouraging the spread of such tropical diseases including malaria and dengue fever -a virus spread by mosquitoes. The World Health Organization estimates that each year as many as 150,000 deaths occur due to health complications created by global warming.
Did President Obama do a flip-flop when he opened up vast swaths of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico to offshore oil drilling? It depends on how far back you want to go in the President's record. In the Senate he supported efforts to limit offshore drilling. But as a presidential candidate he came around to accepting at least some offshore drilling as a way to build consensus on the energy issue.Catharine Richert brings us this analysis for the worthwhile politifact.com website run by the St. Pete Times. Her post is worth a read.Flip-flop or no, though, it's one of what seem like increasingly more common Obama decisions on the environment that could easily have been made by the George W. Bush administration (but probably not by the George H.W. Bush team.) Example: On Monday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it was going with a Bush-era interpretation of the Clean Air Act that delays a crackdown on regulation of greenhouse gases from stationary sources such as power plants. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, this will allow construction of another 50 coal-fired plants.Other thoughts in the aftermath of Obama's drilling decision:+ I couldn't resist retweeting David Roberts of Grist.org: "Imagine Obama banning offshore drilling in the vague hope that environmental groups might some day support his bill.":>)
It was hard not to chuckle when I learned that blooper-prone Vice President Joe Biden, thinking he was out of earshot of the cameras when President Obama signed the heath-care legislation today, told the prez: "This is a big f–king deal!"But crying is more in order if you listen to what Obama said at the bill-signing in remarks about what's next. Why? Because it ain't climate legislation. Here's what our surpreme commander had to say about how he's going to use the health-care win to push Congress on other fronts (italics are mine): "We all know our journey is far from over. There’s still the work to do to rebuild this economy. There’s still work to do to spur on hiring. There’s work to do to improve our schools and make sure every child has a decent education. There’s still work to do to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. There’s more work to do to provide greater economic security to a middle class that has been struggling for a decade."Notice the emphasis not on what would surely be a hard fight to pass climate legislation, but rather on something (almost) everyone can agree on: Escaping this precipice where countries that hate America control something so vital to our well-being.No, Obama doesn't risk offending anyone with that sentiment.Here's how the situation was sized up in a note to clients and other contacts by Capitol Hill veteran Frank Maisano of the lobbying firm Bracewell & Giuliani (yes, that Giuliani!), whose clients include a number in the energy business:
An interesting study out today (PDF) concludes that logging in Western forests ravaged by pine beetles not only doesn’t do much to prevent wildfires – it also wastes precious government dough that could be used instead to actually protect the homes of those folks foolish enough to build in fire-prone forests.This particular study comes out of Colorado, which is described as the “epicenter” of the pine-beetle outbreak, although I think I wouldn’t have a lot of trouble finding folks in British Columbia who would dispute that characterization. And it’s reminiscent of the findings in Oregon following massive fires there a few years ago: That coming in and “salvaging timber” actually disrupts the natural processes that govern forests the way God made them.This newest report, spearheaded by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, points out that insect outbreaks have been a part of forest ecology in the West for millennia. It also details how it’s climate, high temperatures and the sparse amount of water in our changing Western climate that are primarily responsible for the beetle outbreaks. Harvesting beetle-mauled trees does not head off climate change. Perhaps even the opposite is true? It's particularly damaging to do this kind of post-beetle tree-cutting in roadless areas, sacrificing longterm ecological integrity for short-term profits and roads that pierce into formerly intact wilderness areas, the report argues.
I've always been just a hair skeptical about all those admonitions to consumers to save the world — you know, the "Live simply, that others may simply live"-type instructions. They felt a little too much like guilt-tripping to me, with perhaps not enough corresponding actual environmental good being done. It seems like a way for consumers who are feeling guilty about something — say, those SUVs they drive — to assuage their guilt by doing something that doesn't really hurt, like turning off the lights when leaving a room. And of course, we've seen how this mindset can backfire:
In what its authors admit is almost certainly an underestimate, a new study says the catastrophic climate changes coming to the Arctic will cost at least $2.4 trillion by mid-century. (To put that into perspective, President Obama just proposed a $3.8 trillion federal government budget for next year.)
The true cost is likely to be a whole lot more — probably in the range of the combined gross domestic products of Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom, says the report, which was financed by the Pew Environment Group.
A melting Arctic heats the climate in two basic ways: First, when all the white snow and ice on the land and in the ocean melts, the darker colors underneath absorb more heat instead of reflecting it.
The second thing that happens is that as the permafrost melts, it releases methane — remember methane, that other greenhouse gas, the one we fingered not long ago for its powerful greenhouse punch?
The researchers came up with estimates of how much both of these effects will have and converted those numbers into carbon dioxide equivalents — i.e., how much of that better-known greenhouse you’d have to release to create this much climate warming.
Those figures are sobering: The amount of warming to be wrought this year alone by Arctic melting will equal about 42 percent of all the emissions from the United States! That’s the equivalent of building 500 new coal-burning power plants.
Richard Harris’ NPR story this week exploring how global temperatures stayed pretty constant over the last decade even as greenhouse gas concentrations increased reminded me of another important piece of research overlooked during last month’s global climate negotiations in Copenhagen:
Yale University researchers studying past warming episodes that didn’t get any help from the Industrial Revolution say the climate may be more sensitive to carbon dioxide than we previously understood.
The study by Yale’s Climate and Energy Institute found that about 4.5 million years ago, when the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was roughly what it is today, global temperatures were 2 to 3 degrees Centigrade higher. This is a pretty big deal, recall, because we’re talking about global average temps. The extremes are higher and the effects are more far-reaching than, say, a simple bump in the mercury on a summer day of 2 to 3 degrees might suggest.
Well, President Obama certainly did go on at some length tonight in his just-concluded State of the Union address. But he once again failed to elevate the climate issue to urgency. I have to agree with David Roberts over at Grist.org: “Pretty weak tea.” (Hat tip to Roberts for posting the transcript of that part of the speech before Obama was even done talking.)
Now, some of our faithful correspondents and even some friends thought it curious that Dateline Earth faulted Obama for falling short on the climate and energy issue in his inaugural address a year ago, after which we held forth thusly:
That is not the speech of a man who intends to launch a World War II-style domestic campaign — think Rosie the Riveter and the Manahattan Project. And that’s what scientists are saying we’ll need.
He did it again tonight. The president — wisely — started out talking about jobs or, as we’ve put it before, “Fighting climate change = ending the recession.” He was clearly aware that Americans are saying in polls now that climate is pretty low on their list of concerns. And just a day before the talk, Republican Lindsey Graham caved on Cap’n Trade, provoking Roberts, for one, to accept that we probably won’t be going down that road this year, if ever in Obama’s presidency.
But the sheer brevity of what Obama had to say tonight portrays a president so pummeled by problems that on climate, he punted.
Richard Harris’ NPR piece today on methane’s climate-clobbering effects jolted me to remember a post I planned but that went by the wayside when I got so busy editing our coverage of last month’s big climate conference in Copenhagen.
During the big UNFCCC negotiations, an op-ed of huge import came out but didn’t get as much attention as you might think, considering it was co-authored by Robert Watson, former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Mohamed El-Ashray, a senior fellow at the United Nations Foundation. Reducing carbon dioxide emissions is important, they acknowledged, but a big focus in the next few years should be methane, because it traps heat in the Earth’s atmosphere much more efficiently than CO2. And methane converts to carbon dioxide after 10 or 12 years — compared to CO2’s residence time in the atmosphere that’s measured in hundreds of years.
Methane’s quite a bit easier to control, too (for now — more on that shortly). So, to buy time to invent better ways to reduce CO2 emissions, focus on methane, Watson and El-Ashray argue:
If we need to suppress temperature quickly in order to preserve glaciers, reducing methane can make an immediate impact. Compared to the massive requirements necessary to reduce CO2, cutting methane requires only modest investment. Where we stop methane emissions, cooling follows within a decade, not centuries. That could make the difference for many fragile systems on the brink.
Both Harris’ piece and the op-ed point out that controlling methane also helps fight ground-level ozone, a public health threat.
If there is any doubt that greenhouse gas emissions have extensive, far-reaching effects on our planet, the newly released results of a careful, long-term study should put any remaining confusion to rest. New research shows the Pacific Ocean is becoming more acidic, weakening shellfish and other marine life at a scarily fast clip – resulting in a 6 percent jump in ocean water acidity over the past 15 years in the top 300 feet of the ocean.
Ocean acidification is caused by carbon dioxide from cars, factories and power plants that causes global greenhouse effects and also dissolves in the ocean, writes Seattle Times science reporter Sandi Doughton.
The process makes seawater slightly more acidic, and also gobbles up carbonate, a basic building block of seashells. The higher acid environment dissolves shells, and kills plankton, marine snails and other small creatures that supply food for the rest of the marine ecosystem. Highly acidic water also kills fish eggs.
The most extensive survey of pH levels in the Pacific Ocean confirms what spot measurements have suggested: From Hawaii to Alaska, the upper reaches of the sea are becoming more acidic in concert with rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
“The fact that we saw this very significant change over the last 15 years is a reminder of how mankind is affecting the oceans at an ever-increasing rate,” said report co-author Richard Feely, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle.
The research teams measured acidity along 2,800 miles of ocean between Oahu and Kodiak in 1991, and returned in 2006 aboard a University of Washington research vessel, analyzing nearly 1,500 water samples over two months.