Posts Tagged ‘Sea Levels’

Curb soot and smog to keep Earth cool, says UN

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

Sharply reducing emissions of soot and smog could play a critical role in preventing Earth from overheating, according to a UN report released on Tuesday.

Curbing these pollutants could also boost global food output and save millions of lives lost to heart and lung disease, said the report from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).

Even as climate talks remain deadlocked on how to share out the task of cutting CO2, parallel action on “black carbon” particles and ground-level ozone would buy precious time in the quest to limit global temperature rise to 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), it said.

Record output in 2010 of carbon from energy use and unprecedented CO2 levels in the atmosphere suggest that efforts to maintain the 2.0 C cap, widely seen as a threshold for dangerous warming, may already be doomed, say scientists.

On current trajectories, temperatures are set to go up 1.3 C (2.3 F) — on top of the 0.9 C (1.6 F) jump since human-induced warming kicked in — by 2050, bringing the total compared to preindustrial levels to 2.2 C (4.0 F).

But quickly tackling black carbon and smog-related ozone could slash 0.5 C (0.9 F) off the temperature increase projected for 2030, putting the two-degree target back on track, the new findings suggest.

“There are clear and concrete measures that can be undertaken to help protect the global climate in the short and medium term,” said Drew Shindell, a researcher at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the 50 scientists behind the new assessment.

“The win-win here for limiting climate change and improving air quality is self-evident and the ways to achieve it have become far clearer.”

The report was unveiled in Bonn as delegates from more than 190 nations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) struggle to make headway in the deeply stymied negotiations.

Black carbon, found in soot, is a byproduct of incomplete burning of fossil fuels, wood and biomass, such as animal waste. The most common sources are car and truck emissions, primitive cook stoves, forest fires and industry.

Soot suspended in the air accelerates global warming by absorbing sunlight. When it covers snow and ice, white surfaces that normally reflect the Sun’s radiative force back into space soak up heat instead, speeding up the melting of mountain glaciers, ice sheets, and the Arctic ice cap.

The tiny particles have also been linked to premature death from heart disease and lung cancer.

Ground-level, or tropospheric, ozone — a major ingredient of urban smog — is both a powerful greenhouse gas and a noxious air pollutant. It is formed from other gases including methane, itself a potent driver of global warming.

A threefold increase in concentrations in the northern hemisphere over the last century has made it the third most important greenhouse gas.

Unlike carbon dioxide, which lingers in the atmosphere for centuries once emitted, black carbon and ozone disappear quickly when emissions taper off.

“The science of short-lived climate forcers has evolved to a level of maturity that now requires … a robust policy response by nations,” said Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP.

Measures recommended for reducing black carbon include mandatory use of diesel filters on vehicles, phasing out wood-burning stoves in rich countries, use of clean-burning biomass stoves for cooking and heating in developing nations, and a ban on the open burning of agricultural waste.

For ozone, the report calls for policies that curb organic waste, require water treatment facilities to recover gas, reduce methane emissions from coal and oil industries, and promote anaerobic digestion of manure from cattle and pigs, both major sources of methane.

The report estimates that nearly 2.5 million deaths from outdoor pollution, mainly in Africa and Asia, could be avoided every year by 2030 if black carbon levels dropped significantly.

Far less ground-level ozone could also avoid important losses in global maize, rice, soybean and wheat production, it said.

Source: Curb soot and smog to keep Earth cool, says UN – PHYSORG

Date: 14 June 2011

Rising forest density offsets climate change-study

Monday, June 6th, 2011
  • Trees get denser, store more carbon-study
  • Forest density can complicate U.N.-led carbon market

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

Rising forest density in many countries is helping to offset climate change caused by deforestation from the Amazon basin to Indonesia, a study showed on Sunday.

The report indicated that the size of trees in a forest — rather than just the area covered — needed to be taken into account more in U.N.-led efforts to put a price on forests as part of a nascent market to slow global warming.

“Higher density means world forests are capturing more carbon,” experts in Finland and the United States said of the study in the online journal PLoS One, issued on June 5 which is World Environment Day in the U.N. calendar.

Trees soak up carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, as they grow and release it when they burn or rot. Deforestation in places from the Congo basin to Papua New Guinea is blamed for perhaps 12 to 20 percent of all emissions by human activities.

The report, based on a survey of 68 nations, found that the amount of carbon stored in forests increased in Europe and North America from 2000-10 despite little change in forest area.

And in Africa and South America, the total amount of carbon stored in forests fell at a slower rate than the loss of area, indicating that they had grown denser. [ID:nLDE75407A]. Forests in Asia became less dense over the same period.

And some countries still had big losses of carbon, including Indonesia and Argentina. The study did not try to estimate the overall trend, saying there was not yet enough data.

Greater density in some countries, including China, was probably linked to past forest plantings, lead author Aapo Rautiainen of the University of Helsinki told Reuters.

“Forests that were established in China a few decades ago are now starting to reach their fast-growing phase. That is a reason for rising density now,” he said.

WARMER

Global warming, blamed by the U.N. panel of climate experts mainly on human use of fossil fuels, might itself be improving growth conditions for trees in some regions. Warming is projected to cause heatwaves, droughts and rising sea levels.

The United States has had among the most striking shifts — timberland area expanded by just one percent between 1953 and 2007 but the volume of growing stock surged by 51 percent.

A shift towards farming in the Midwestern United States meant that forests in the east had been left to grow, and get denser.

The report also suggested that forest managers might rotate fellings less frequently since trees kept thickening.

But it could complicate efforts to design market mechanisms to encourage developing nations to safeguard tropical forests. Under the U.N.-led effort, people would get tradeable credits for slowing the rate of deforestation.

Measuring the density of a forest requires more complex monitoring than just measuring the extent of a forest by photographing it from a plane or by satellite.

“There does need to be a greater sampling to be able to come to a legitimate and credible number for the carbon,” said Iddo Wernick, a co-author at the Rockefeller University in New York.

Negotiators from about 180 nations will meet in Bonn, Germany, from June 6-17 to discuss measures to slow global wraming, including the protection of tropical forests. (Editing by David Cowell)

Source: Rising forest density offsets climate change-study – Thompson Reuters Foundation AlertNet

Date: 05 June 2011

Worst ever carbon emissions leave climate on the brink

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Greenhouse gas emissions increased by a record amount last year, to the highest carbon output in history, putting hopes of holding global warming to safe levels all but out of reach, according to unpublished estimates from the International Energy Agency.

The shock rise means the goal of preventing a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius – which scientists say is the threshold for potentially “dangerous climate change” – is likely to be just “a nice Utopia”, according to Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA. It also shows the most serious global recession for 80 years has had only a minimal effect on emissions, contrary to some predictions.

Last year, a record 30.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide poured into the atmosphere, mainly from burning fossil fuel – a rise of 1.6Gt on 2009, according to estimates from the IEA regarded as the gold standard for emissions data.

“I am very worried. This is the worst news on emissions,” Birol told the Guardian. “It is becoming extremely challenging to remain below 2 degrees. The prospect is getting bleaker. That is what the numbers say.”

Professor Lord Stern of the London School of Economics, the author of the influential Stern Report into the economics of climate change for the Treasury in 2006, warned that if the pattern continued, the results would be dire. “These figures indicate that [emissions] are now close to being back on a ‘business as usual’ path. According to the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's] projections, such a path … would mean around a 50% chance of a rise in global average temperature of more than 4C by 2100,” he said.

“Such warming would disrupt the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people across the planet, leading to widespread mass migration and conflict. That is a risk any sane person would seek to drastically reduce.”

Birol said disaster could yet be averted, if governments heed the warning. “If we have bold, decisive and urgent action, very soon, we still have a chance of succeeding,” he said.

The IEA has calculated that if the world is to escape the most damaging effects of global warming, annual energy-related emissions should be no more than 32Gt by 2020. If this year’s emissions rise by as much as they did in 2010, that limit will be exceeded nine years ahead of schedule, making it all but impossible to hold warming to a manageable degree.

Emissions from energy fell slightly between 2008 and 2009, from 29.3Gt to 29Gt, due to the financial crisis. A small rise was predicted for 2010 as economies recovered, but the scale of the increase has shocked the IEA. “I was expecting a rebound, but not such a strong one,” said Birol, who is widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost experts on emissions.

John Sauven, the executive director of Greenpeace UK, said time was running out. “This news should shock the world. Yet even now politicians in each of the great powers are eyeing up extraordinary and risky ways to extract the world’s last remaining reserves of fossil fuels – even from under the melting ice of the Arctic. You don’t put out a fire with gasoline. It will now be up to us to stop them.”

Most of the rise – about three-quarters – has come from developing countries, as rapidly emerging economies have weathered the financial crisis and the recession that has gripped most of the developed world.

But he added that, while the emissions data was bad enough news, there were other factors that made it even less likely that the world would meet its greenhouse gas targets.

  • About 80% of the power stations likely to be in use in 2020 are either already built or under construction, the IEA found. Most of these are fossil fuel power stations unlikely to be taken out of service early, so they will continue to pour out carbon – possibly into the mid-century. The emissions from these stations amount to about 11.2Gt, out of a total of 13.7Gt from the electricity sector. These “locked-in” emissions mean savings must be found elsewhere.

“It means the room for manoeuvre is shrinking,” warned Birol.

  • Another factor that suggests emissions will continue their climb is the crisis in the nuclear power industry. Following the tsunami damage at Fukushima, Japan and Germany have called a halt to their reactor programmes, and other countries are reconsidering nuclear power.

“People may not like nuclear, but it is one of the major technologies for generating electricity without carbon dioxide,” said Birol. The gap left by scaling back the world’s nuclear ambitions is unlikely to be filled entirely by renewable energy, meaning an increased reliance on fossil fuels.

  • Added to that, the United Nations-led negotiations on a new global treaty on climate change have stalled. “The significance of climate change in international policy debates is much less pronounced than it was a few years ago,” said Birol.

He urged governments to take action urgently. “This should be a wake-up call. A chance [of staying below 2 degrees] would be if we had a legally binding international agreement or major moves on clean energy technologies, energy efficiency and other technologies.”

Governments are to meet next week in Bonn for the next round of the UN talks, but little progress is expected.

Sir David King, former chief scientific adviser to the UK government, said the global emissions figures showed that the link between rising GDP and rising emissions had not been broken. “The only people who will be surprised by this are people who have not been reading the situation properly,” he said.

Forthcoming research led by Sir David will show the west has only managed to reduce emissions by relying on imports from countries such as China.

Another telling message from the IEA’s estimates is the relatively small effect that the recession – the worst since the 1930s – had on emissions. Initially, the agency had hoped the resulting reduction in emissions could be maintained, helping to give the world a “breathing space” and set countries on a low-carbon path. The new estimates suggest that opportunity may have been missed.

Source: Worst ever carbon emissions leave climate on the brink – The Guardian UK

Date: 29 May 2011

The coming hunger: Record food prices put world ‘in danger’, says UN

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

Food riots, geopolitical tensions, global inflation and increasing hunger among the planet’s poorest people are the likely effects of a new surge in world food prices, which have hit an all-time high according to the United Nations.

The UN’s index of food prices – an international basket comprising wheat, corn, dairy produce, meat and sugar – stands at its highest since the index started in 1990, surpassing even the peaks seen during the 2008 food crisis, which prompted civil disturbances from Mexico to Indonesia.

“We are entering danger territory,” said the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s chief economist, Abdolreza Abbassian.

Global food prices have risen for the sixth month in succession. Wheat has almost doubled since June, sugar is at a 30-year high, and pork is up by a quarter since the beginning of 2010.

The trends have already affected the UK where the jump in food prices in November was the highest since 1976. Meat and poultry were up 1 per cent and fruit by 7.5 per cent in one month.

Food producers have been told to expect the wheat price to jump again this month, hitting bakers and the makers of everything from pasta to biscuits.

More is sure to follow and that in turn will add to pressure on the Bank of England to raise interest rates to control rising prices. Higher mortgage bills by the end of the year will add to the unpleasantness facing “middle England” from a year of tax hikes and below-inflation pay rises.

However, the biggest impact of the food price shock will be felt in countries in the developing world where staple items command a much larger share of household incomes.

Economists warn that “soft commodity” food prices show little sign of stabilising, and that cereals and sugar in particular may surge even higher in coming months. In addition, long-term trends associated with growth in population and climate change may mean higher food costs become a permanent feature of economic life, even though the current spike may end in due course. Speculation, too, may be part of the crisis, as investors climb on to the rising food-price bandwagon.

Mr Abbassian said the UN agency is concerned by the unpredictability of weather activity, which many experts link to climate change. He said: “There is still room for prices to go up much higher, if for example the dry conditions in Argentina tend to become a drought, and if we start having problems with winterkill in the northern hemisphere for the wheat crops.”

One concern, especially in Ukraine and Russia, is that the cold winter, following disastrous droughts and summer fires, will have damaged the seeds for next year’s crops, leading to an even more acute crisis than seen last year. Government policies, especially the export bans imposed by nervous Indian and Russian governments, have exacerbated such problems in world markets.

Meanwhile, burgeoning consumption in the booming economies of east Asia and the pressure exerted by the demand for crops for biofuels rather than food, especially in the US, is adding to the unprecedented squeeze on world food supplies.

The latest surge in crude oil prices adds to the risk of turmoil. Many experts say oil prices show few signs of abating, and the price of a barrel is set to breach the $100 barrier again soon. Opec officials yesterday said they were happy with such a level. Oil peaked at just under $150 a barrel in 2008; any sign of renewed tension in Iran would see the price exceed that. Higher oil prices add to food price inflation by increasing transportation costs.

The interplay of rising fuel prices, the growing use of biofuels, bad weather and soaring futures markets drove up the price of food dramatically in 2008, prompting violent protests in Mexico, Indonesia, Egypt, Cameroon and Haiti. Last year’s spike was provoked mainly by the freakish weather conditions in Russia and Ukraine, but one of the underlying trends is the growing and changing appetites of east Asia.

As more Chinese enter the middle classes they tend to consume more poultry and meat, just as Westerners did at a similar stage in their economic progress. However, meat and poultry husbandry consumes at least three times the resources that grains do, while the drift towards the cities in China is reducing the yields of its farms. Similar trends are visible in the other fast-growing, populous nations such as Brazil, India and Indonesia.

Countries that are poor and produce relatively little of their own food are most vulnerable to the food price shock – Bangladesh, Morocco and Nigeria top the “at risk” list, according to research by Nomura economists, who also identify growing shortages of water as a critical factor restraining any growth in agricultural productivity.

Owen Job, strategist at Nomura, said: “The economists’ model of increasing supply as demand grows may be breaking down. Supply cannot keep up with factors such as biofuels and the urbanisation of China. Some 30 per cent of all water used in agriculture comes from unsustainable sources.”

* David Cameron has disclosed that the Treasury was considering introducing a “fuel stabiliser”. Under the move, tax paid by motorists would be cut when the cost of oil surged worldwide and rise when it dropped. He said: “We are looking at it. It’s not simple but I would like to try and find some way of sharing the risk of higher fuel prices with the consumer.”

Source: The coming hunger: Record food prices put world ‘in danger’, says UN – The Independent

Date: 6 January 2011

Can we control black carbon in the Arctic by reducing agricultural fires?

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

Looking forward to seeing the presentations and meeting reports from the ‘International Meeting on Open Burning and the Arctic: Causes, Impacts, and Mitigation Approaches‘ conference held in St. Petersburg last week.

The Clean Air Task Force blog post on the conference is included below for reference:

One long day down, and one to go at a global meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, where climate scientists, fire experts, farmers, regulators and NGOs have been discussing the role of springtime fires on climate change in the Arctic and what must be done to reduce the occurrence of set fires in northern latitudes.

The Arctic is warming at an alarming rate, threatening not just regional ecosystems but coastal areas around the world that are vulnerable to sea level rise.

Carbon dioxide is the main pollutant responsible for this warming, but recent research shows that black carbon, or soot, from incomplete combustion may also be responsible for much of the Arctic’s warming.

Samples from snow indicate that most of the black carbon in Arctic snow comes from burning biomass, and much of that is from burning crops and grasslands in northern Eurasia.

These crop and grass fires have local impacts too, of course.  These fires often get out of control and spread into forests and peatlands. In fact, many of the deadly fires that plagued Russia this past summer began with fires set on grasslands or croplands.

In response to the growing threat, Clean Air Task Force and Bellona Russia have organized this event to:

  1. 1 Examine the range of health, safety, and climate impacts associated with open burning.
  2.  

  3. 2 Elevate the issue of black carbon emissions from open burning, and its Arctic impacts, among researchers, governmental bodies, and NGOs in Russia and elsewhere.
  4.  

  5. 3 Increase coordination between different organizations (governmental, research, and NGOs) in the USA, Europe, and Russia, and within those countries, working on short-lived climate forcers.
  6.  

  7. 4 Survey indigenous practices and motivations for burning.
  8.  

  9. 5 Explore alternatives to burning and strategies to reduce emissions from burns, including the practical, economic, cultural, and environmental implications of these alternatives.

We’re not exactly sure where we’ll end up tomorrow, but conversations have been flying and we expect some useful closure by the end of the conference. More information about the meeting is available at http://www.fires-and-the-arctic.org.

After the meeting we’ll post presentations, meeting reports, and any other outcomes on that site.

First half of 2010 sets heat records

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Just as climate skeptics cited this winter’s snowstorm as evidence that global warming was overhyped, some environmental activists might be tempted to point to this summer’s heat waves to bolster their case.

But instead, they’re pointing to a more scientific measurement: The NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies now reports that the first six months of 2010 are the warmest on record, both in terms of atmospheric data and in combined atmospheric/ocean readings.

In some cases the atmospheric readings for some of the first six months of the year are between 1.8 and 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above what they were in previous years.

And on top of that, last week Arctic sea ice extent hit the lowest level ever for June.

A senior fellow, Rafe Pomerance, at Clean Air Cool Planet said:

“The 2010 temperature data is evidence that the planet is continuing to warm,”

“The absolute numbers indicate that the earth’s climate is moving into uncharted territory, as reflected by the massive retreat of Arctic sea ice.”

Source: First half of 2010 sets heat records – views.washingtonpost

Date: 12 July 2010

“Latin America Faces an Environmental Emergency”

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Milagros Salazar interviews Uruguayan ecologist EDUARDO GUDYNAS

An Uruguayan expert warns that the unrelenting extraction of natural resources in Latin America fails to take into account the environmental damage, with the pretext that the wealth generated will sustain social programs.

The Latin American economy based on exploitation of natural resources does not create social well-being and is unsustainable in the context of climate change, says Uruguayan Eduardo Gudynas, lead researcher at the Latin American Center for Social Ecology (CLAES).

Gudynas, who was in Lima to lead a workshop with the Peruvian Network for Equitable Globalization, is one of the contributors to the new report Global Environmental Outlook for Latin America and the Caribbean (GEO-ALC), produced by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), to be officially presented later this year.

TIERRAMÉRICA: You assert that there is an imbalance in Latin America between the exploitation of resources and protection of the environment. How serious is the problem?

EDUARDO GUDYNAS: Latin America is faced with an environmental emergency, because the pace of establishing new protected areas and setting up environmental regulations, for example in the industrial sector, is much slower than the increased pace of negative impacts from resource extraction.

TIERRAMÉRICA: In the context of climate change, is the threat any greater?

EG: Much more, not only because of the vulnerability of developing countries, but also because Latin America isn’t taking responsibility.

Always left in the margins is the fact that the region’s principal source of greenhouse gas emissions is deforestation, followed by changes in land use and agriculture. As such, discussing climate change means talking about rural development, agricultural policies and land ownership.

But there are economic and political interests that stand in the way. It is simpler to propose using energy efficient light bulbs than talk about these issues.

In the international sphere the focus is on the historic responsibility of the countries of the North for emissions, and requiring compensation from them, but there is little action in this region to confront climate change and preserve our ecological heritage.

TIERRAMÉRICA: How did we arrive at such a state?

EG: Historically it has been argued that the road to development for South America is the appropriation and extraction of natural resources. Attention went to how to do it most efficiently and we missed the opportunity to diversify the economies in the years of high prices for basic commodities.

That accentuated the focus on raw materials, to the detriment of the environment, even in countries with strong industry, like Brazil.

TIERRAMÉRICA: Which countries in the region are worst off?

EG: Brazil is in a critical state because of its nearly complete appropriation of resources and their impacts. It is followed by the Andean countries, like Peru (with big mining projects) and Ecuador (extensive petroleum exploitation).

Brazil is already a major mining country, mostly iron and aluminum, and has a policy to increase that production through low taxation in order to continue attracting foreign investment. Most worrisome is that the strategy includes flexibilizing its environmental policies. Also of concern is the search for “cheap energy” through hydroelectric dams in the Amazon.

TIERRAMÉRICA: Is “extractivism” bad in and of itself, or is the problem that the environmental and social costs are not included?

EG: There is global overconsumption of raw materials. The economic impact of the social and environmental damages should be taken into account to evaluate the costs of the productive process, as well as the contribution to climate change.

But these assessments are not done, because if they were the extractive projects would never be approved.

The impacts in the areas where the resources are extracted are ignored, and that explains why there are conflicts. It’s the paradox of macroeconomic well-being at the cost of local harm.

TIERRAMÉRICA: Does this happen in countries governed by political parties of the center and right, and of the left?

EG: It does. Although there are substantial differences in the role that the government plays in the extractivist sector. In the countries governed by the left, like Bolivia or Brazil, a portion of the wealth generated by that sector is used for social programs as a way to legitimize the policy in order to continue exploiting the resources.

At this point, extractivism, in addition to being a political problem, is a cultural problem. It is deeply rooted in the idea that mining and petroleum are sources of wealth and that they should be exploited as soon as possible.

The governments of the left have used that idea to say that they are more efficient in using the Earth’s resources. But being a cultural problem, it is reproduced in different political currents.

TIERRAMÉRICA: So how can other alternatives for sustainable development be generated?

EG: That is the problem. Because the idea of extractivism is so widespread, other possibilities are seen with mistrust or are rejected. And that is a serious situation because there are sectors like petroleum that are going to disappear. Survival lies on the “post-extractivist” path.

TIERRAMÉRICA: What role does regional integration play in that path?

EG: It plays a fundamental role. To escape the old approach requires economic and social coordination among neighboring countries, even if those alternatives do not aim to annul the mining or petroleum industries, but rather to reformulate them.

TIERRAMÉRICA: How can anyone negotiate integration with Brazil without losing? The energy agreement between Brazil and Peru has undertones of inequality.

EG: A prime objective is to reduce the asymmetries among the nations so that the smallest can have relatively the same level of development as the largest.

Peru shouldn’t just sell electricity to Brazil and be left with the environmental and social damages as well as having to buy Brazilian cars. They have to find other ways so that the neighbor advances as well.

Source: “Latin America Faces an Environmental Emergency” - tierramerica

Date: 08 July 2010

Expert issues sea level warning

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

A lead author of the next international climate change assessment says his ice research supports predictions of a doubling in the rate of sea-level rise over the next century.

Professor Tim Naish, director of New Zealand’s Antarctic Research Centre, has been appointed a lead author of the next assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

He says rock cores drilled from the Antarctic coastline reveal how the Earth coped with a hotter climate 4 million years ago.

  • The Greenland ice sheet had melted contributing another seven metres.
  • The West Antarctic ice sheet had melted – [that] contributed five metres of sea level rise.
  • In fact the earth was a very similar looking place to what it is today.
  • It sounds a long time ago but it was the last time that the Earth had a climate that’s very similar to the climate that we are heading towards in the next century with global warming.

Professor Naish’s findings will be presented at the Australian Earth Sciences Convention in Canberra.

He says some researchers have forecast a two-metre increase in sea levels within the next century but his studies support only a one-metre increase.

Source: Expert issues sea level warning – abc.net.au

Date: 07 July 2010

The heat wave is here: ‘There is a risk of people dying,’ regional medical officer says

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

The heat wave wilting the region has spawned another health hazard — bad air.

Smog is blanketing the area in levels high enough to prompt an advisory from Ontario’s Environment Ministry for the Waterloo-Wellington area, along with much of southern Ontario and into Quebec.

On Monday, the mercury soared to 33.2 C at the Region of Waterloo International Airport — hot, but not hot enough to reach the record of 34.4 C set in Kitchener on this date back in 1921. But factor in the humidity, and temperatures at the University of Waterloo weather station were feeling more like a blistering 44.5 C, even into the early evening.

Temperatures were expected to hit 32 or 33 C today through Thursday, with humidex values in the 40-degree range.

“This is going to be near record-setting,” said Environment Canada meteorologist Rob Kuhn.

While we swelter, Region of Waterloo Public Health is urging people to be cautious during smog alert days and heat waves. Overheating can be dangerous.

“There is a risk of people dying,” said regional medical officer of health Dr. Liana Nolan.

Nolan encourages people to stay hydrated and seek out cooler spaces during the hot weather.

“Even one break during the day can make a difference,” she said.

“Give your body a chance to cool down.”

Temperatures are forecast to drop back to 25 C on Friday — actually a degree shy of the seasonal norm.

But as long as the thermometer hits 32 C or more today and tomorrow, we’ll officially have seen a heat wave — defined as three or more consecutive days with readings of 32 C or higher.

“In my opinion, we’re due for one,” Kuhn said. Waterloo Region usually experiences one or two heat waves every couple of years, but there have been some years where we don’t quite make it.

Kitchener has been encouraging people to use city facilities as cooling centres during heat waves for a couple of years, and of course public swimming pools and malls are other options. Hildebrand also encourages people to also check on family, friends and neighbours, especially isolated adults and seniors at greater risk of heat-related illness.

When the temperature spikes, so do the calls to local humane societies about dogs left in vehicles.

Gary Boes, inspector for the Kitchener-Waterloo Humane Society, doesn’t understand why people still leave animals in cars on a sweltering day. In just minutes, the situation can be deadly and parking in the shade or opening windows makes little difference.

“Literally, they are being cooked alive,” Boes said.

He warns people that animal cruelty charges have recently been revamped provincially and federally with hefty jail sentences and fines for causing an animal distress, including being left in a hot car.

People should take the same precautions for pets as themselves on hot, muggy days. Like humans, animals with medical conditions and those old and young are especially susceptible to the heat.

“It’s not good for us. It’s not good for them,” Boes said.

Don’t go for a walk in the middle of the day with a dog, carry water, and leave pets at home when doing errands. Animals kept outdoors should have food, water and shelter, and be watched closely and brought inside when it’s too hot.

Despite the rising temperature and smog level, local emergency departments haven’t seen a surge in heat-related illness or respiratory complaints.

Those at higher risk of suffering serious health problems, which includes people with existing heart or respiratory problems, children and seniors, in particular should take precautions when the air quality is poor. Remain indoors in a cool environment as much as possible, refrain from strenuous outdoor activity and seek immediate medical help if symptoms worsen.

Even people who are healthy should avoid or limit strenuous outdoor exercise until air quality improves. If unavoidable, take extra breaks, drink more water and avoid high-traffic areas. Breathing problems and eye, nose and throat irritations can happen from exposure to poor air.

Smog is a mixture of air pollutants, the two main ingredients being ground-level ozone and particulate matter. Smog can form in most climates where industry or cities spew large amounts of air pollution, although it’s worse in hot, sunny weather.

Smog caused more than 29 million minor illnesses, 59,000 emergency room visits, 16,000 hospital admissions and more than 5,800 premature deaths in Ontario in 2005, according to the Ministry of the Environment.

Relatively few smog advisories were issued in the past couple of years in Ontario. Last year, there were three advisories lasting just five days and eight advisories totalling 17 days in 2008. The summer of 2007 suffered from many bad air days, with 13 smog advisories covering 39 days. The worst year in the past 15 was 2005, which had 15 advisories over 53 days.

The Independent Electricity System Operator reported on its website that the high temperatures had pushed the power demand to 24,567 megawatts at 5 p.m. — exceeding the day’s predicted peak of 24,351.

Around the same time, a power outage left large swaths of Toronto in the dark and also turned out the lights on Prince Philip presenting the Duke of Edinburgh Awards, a program that encourages youth to participate in community services, at the Royal York Hotel when the lights went out.

The emergency power kicked in and Prince Philip soldiered on, presenting the awards in the dimly lit room, joking with parents in the audience.

Hydro One spokesperson Daffyd Roderick said about 240,000 customers were without power at the height of the outage caused by a fire at a transformer station. About 1,000 megawatts were taken out of the grid.

The outage was substantial enough to cause blips throughout the province, with reports of the lights flickering as far away as Ottawa. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Source: The heat wave is here: ‘There is a risk of people dying,’ regional medical officer says – news.therecord

Date: 06 July 2010

Carbon emissions threaten fish

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010
Rising acidity levels in oceans due to CO2  is affecting the behaviour of fish in the  larval stage, according to researchers.

Rising acidity levels in oceans due to CO2 is affecting the behaviour of fish in the larval stage, according to researchers.

Baby fish may become easy meat for predators as the world’s oceans become more acidic due to CO2 fallout from human activity, an international team of researchers has discovered.

In a series of experiments reported in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS), the team found that as carbon levels rise and ocean water acidifies, the behaviour of baby fish changes dramatically – in ways that decrease their chances of survival by 500 to 800 per cent.

“As CO2 increases in the atmosphere and dissolves into the oceans, the water becomes slightly more acidic. Eventually this reaches a point where it significantly changes the sense of smell and behaviour of larval fish,”

says team leader Professor Philip Munday of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS) at James Cook University.

“Instead of avoiding predators, they become attracted to them. They appear to lose their natural caution and start taking big risks, such as swimming out in the open – with lethal consequences.”

Dr Mark Meekan from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, a co-author on the paper, says the change in fish behaviour could have serious implications for the sustainability of fish populations because fewer baby fish will survive to replenish adult populations.

“Every time we start a car or turn on the light part of the resulting CO2 is absorbed by the oceans, turning them slightly more acidic. Ocean pH has already declined by 0.1 unit and could fall a further 03.-0.4 of a unit if we continue to emit CO2 at our present increasing rate.

“We already know this will have an adverse effect on corals, shellfish, plankton and other organisms with calcified skeletons. Now we are starting to find it could affect other marine life, such as fish.”

Earlier research by Professor Munday and colleagues found that baby ‘Nemo’ clownfish were unable to find their way back to their home reef under more acidic conditions. The latest experiments cover a wider range of fish species and show that acidified sea water produces dangerous changes in fish behaviour.

“If humanity keeps on burning coal and oil at current rates, atmospheric CO2 levels will be 750-1000 parts per million by the end of the century. This will acidify the seas much faster than has happened at any stage in the last 650,000 years.

“In our experiments we created the kind of sea water we will have in the latter part of this century if we do nothing to reduce emissions. We exposed baby fish to it, in an aquarium and then returned some to the sea to see how they behaved.

“When we released them on the reef, we found that they swam further away from shelter and their mortality rates were five to eight times higher than those of normal baby fish,” Professor Munday says.

He adds it should be clearly understood that this impact is likely to happen independent of global warming, and is a direct consequence of human carbon emissions.

The research team concludes

“Our results demonstrate that additional CO2 absorbed into the ocean will reduce recruitment success and have far-reaching consequences for the sustainability of fish populations.”

Professor Munday adds

“In its 2008 report on the state of the world’s fisheries the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said “the maximum wild capture fisheries potential from the world’s oceans has probably been reached”. If you add the impact of ocean acidification and other climate change impacts to this, it means there are grounds for serious concern about the future state of world fish stocks and the amount of food we will be able to obtain from the sea.”

Source: Carbon emissions threaten fish - Sciencealert

Date: 06 July 2010

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