Monday, August 21, 2017

TRANSLATE CLIMATE SCIENCE INTO ACTION? NOT WHILE TRUMP'S IN THE WHITE HOUSE

The researchers who leaked the National Climate Assessment in early August did so out of fear that the Trump administration would censor or simply refuse to publish the report--the product of years of work by 13 federal agencies.

Trump has already proved them right by shutting down the advisory committee charged with evaluating and translating the assessment's scientific findings into action.

It's not as though action on climate change isn't urgently needed--the assessment found that temperatures are rising rapidly, especially in the western US and the northern Great Plains; the Atlantic seaboard can expect more destructive hurricanes; California can expect more droughts; the Northeast can expect more deluges and floods; coastal cities will suffer more flooding as sea levels rise; and the risk of irreversible climate tipping points is growing.

Hurricane Isabel hits East Coast of US, 2003
Credit: Wikipedia
With Trump in the White House (or at Mar-a-Lago), and Scott Pruitt in charge of the EPA, the US will not just be ignoring climate change, it will be moving full speed in reverse.

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

SOUTH MIAMI BREAKS FROM CLIMATE DENIAL, MANDATES SOLAR PANELS ON NEW CONSTRUCTION

Here's a quicklink to a Cleantechnia,com story about how South Miami is coming to its senses about global warming, climate change and, especially, the region's risk from rising sea levels and storm surges. It's the first city outside of California to mandate solar panels on all new homes.

Tidal flooding on a sunny day, Miami, 2016
Credit: B137

While our leaders at the federal level continue to march backwards with respect to climate change and its impacts, cities like South Miami and states like California and New York are, of necessity, taking the lead.




Friday, August 11, 2017

SEA LEVEL RISE SPEEDING UP

Climate scientists have been concerned about the risks from rising sea levels for nearly 50 years.

That a warming climate will raise sea levels makes intuitive sense--water, including all the water in the world's oceans, expands as it warms, and melt water from glaciers, ice sheets and the Antarcitc ice cap will of course end up in the oceans.

Although the pace of sea level rise seems small, on the order of a millimeter per year, its impact is multiplied by higher tides, stronger storm surges, sea-level-rise hotspots, and by the fact that 634 million people, close to ten percent of the world's population, live in low-lying coastal areas. The US is among the top ten countries with large numbers of people at risk from sea-level rise.

Pinning down the rate of sea level rise has proved to be challenging (see "Sea level measurement" at this URL). Now, however, a team of researchers has used sophisticated statistical techniques to deal systematically with the sources of uncertainty in different sea level data sets. "This likely is the first time a group of statisticians have had really close examination of sea level data," says Andrew Parnell, at University College Dublin.

Their approach allowed them to trace sea level changes over the past 2000 years, with increasing accuracy as more, and more accurate, data have become available in recent decades.

The group found that from 1 AD through 1800 AD, global sea levels rose by much less than one millimeter per year. They began to rise more rapidly at the start of the Industrial Revolution, and are currently not just rising, but rising faster and faster. They estimate that globally the rate is now 1.7 millimeter per year.

"Some people argue that sea levels are not rising," says Parnell. "We are showing them that sea levels are not only rising, but accelerating.

In terms of potential impacts, the East Coast of the US is at particularly high risk. It happens to be one of the sea level rise hotspots. For example, sea level near New York City is rising by 3 millimeters per year, putting more than $25 billion of infrastructure at risk.

New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina
September 11, 2005
Source: NOAA
Author: Lieut. Commander Mark Moran, NOAA Corps, NMAO/AOC

Parnell and his colleagues presented their new findings at the 2017 Joint Statistical Meetings, in Baltimore, Maryland.
















Tuesday, August 08, 2017

ORWELL STRIKES AGAIN, THIS TIME AT THE US DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

In his prescient novel, 1984, George Orwell introduced the world to Newspeak, a minimized and simplified revision of English designed to make nuanced, reasoned, independent thought impossible.

Inspired by our current president and his climate-change denial, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)--the agency whose mission is to guide and enhance American agriculture, conserve and improve the rural environment, and help feed America and the world--has decided to outlaw phrases such as "climate change," "climate change adaptation," "reduce greenhouse gases," and "sequester carbon." Newspeak is alive and well at the USDA.

Flooding in New Orleans--yet again

Those now-forbidden terms are to be replaced in official communication by what Orwell would call "goodthink"--terms approved by the all-powerful Party. "Climate change" becomes "weather extremes" or "intense weather events," "climate change adaptation" becomes "resilience to weather extremes," while "reduce greenhouse gases" and "sequester carbon" become "build soil organic matter" or the mind-numbing "increase nutrient use efficiency."

Wildfire, Black Forest, Colorado, June 12, 2013
Credit: DoD--photo by Master Sgt. Christopher DeWitt, U.S. Air Force

In Oldspeak--plain old English--it's at least possible to think and speak clearly about the global problem of climate change and ways to minimize or adapt to it. But, in Newspeak, in Trump's Department of Agriculture, that's now a thoughtcrime, or, better yet, simply unthinkable.

The flash drought that's currently decimating the high plains' wheat crop is simply an isolated weather extreme. It can't be linked to the raging wildfires in the Pacific Northwestflooding in New Orleans, the fact that Virginia's Tangier Island is washing away or that Death Valley just experienced the hottest month ever measured anywhere on Earth. The concept that ties these "weather extremes" together no longer exists, at least at the USDA.

 Credit: Stephen Bettany

One of the three guiding slogans of the Party in 1984 was "Ignorance is Strength." If that's true, Trump's USDA is certainly flexing its muscles.

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You can read environmentalist Bill McKibben's comments  on this issue here.

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

PERSISTENT ORGANIC POLLUTANTS ASSOCIATED WITH METABOLIC ABNORMALITIES IN SEEMINGLY HEALTHY PEOPLE

Persistent organic pollutants--POPS--are pervasive in the environment and accumulate in our bodies. Pesticides, pharmaceuticals and many industrial chemicals contribute to this potentially toxic tide.

Some common organic pollutants
Credit CunhaEnviroSci

In an earlier post, I reported on findings by epidemiologist Miquel Porta and his colleagues revealing that ten percent of Americans have 10 or more different POPS in our blood at abnormally high concentrations.

Porta and his team are now studying the impacts of these long-lived organic compounds that many of us unknowingly carry in our bodies and bloodstream.

His most recent findings, reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology, reveal a strong correlation between people's toxic loads and metabolic abnormalities such as high blood pressure, insulin resistance, high blood sugar, unhealthy lipid profiles, and chronic inflammation--factors that increase the risk of metabolic syndrome, diabetes and heart disease.

Porta and his colleagues at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute in Barcelona (IMIM), and the Autonomous University of Barcelona, evaluated 860 people enrolled in the Catalan Health Interview Survey. Participants included obese and normal-weight men and women from the age of 18 to 74. Statistical analyses controlled for the effects of age, sex, BMI, educational level and social-economic status. It's the first study looking at the relationship between POPs and metabolic abnormalities in  normal-weight individuals.

"The take-home message of our study," says Porta, "is that POPs contribute to cause unhealthy metabolic phenotypes as well as the metabolic syndrome."

 Intriguingly, the correlation was stronger for people of normal weight than for obese people. This may help to explain why many people of normal weight turn out to be metabolically unhealthy, and why some obese people remain metabolically normal.

It wasn't  a small effect--people of normal weight carrying high loads of POPs were four times more likely to be metabolically unhealthy than normal-weight peers with low toxic loads. Obese individuals with high toxic loads were 1.4 times as likely to suffer from metabolic abnormalities than those with low levels of toxins in their blood. And regardless of weight, metabolically unhealthy people carried nearly twice the load of toxins than their healthy peers.

A separate research study reports that normal-weight people who are metabolically unhealthy have three times the risk of heart attack, stroke or death compared to their metabolically healthy, normal-weight peers.

Although we are all exposed to organic pollutants from many sources--the air we breathe, the water we drink, furniture, fabrics, food containers and many other sources, the authors point out that fatty animal foods are the biggest source, and one that we can control by what we choose to eat.

They add, however, that individual efforts to eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight are only part of the solution. Government action to minimize the accumulation of POPs and other toxins in the workplace, consumer goods and the environment are also needed, as well as similar efforts by private companies.

"Individual habits play a role, but so do public and private policies," says Porta, "that is, polices of governments and companies that have been shown to decrease 'internal contamination' by POPs."

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You can access the abstract of Porta's journal article at this URL.

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

"GET ME ROGER STONE" -- A MUST-SEE DOCUMENTARY

“Get Me Roger Stone” Netflix documentary 2017

Those still attempting to make sense of how the country has reached its
current political impasse could hardly do better than viewing the new Netflix documentary,

 Roger Stone
Credit: Wikipedia

Stone, whose career closely tracks the Republican Party's evolutionary descent from Nixon to Reagan to Trump (sad) appears first as a ideologically driven Young Republican partisan in the 1970's, then a fervent Reagan campaign staffer and later big-time Washington consultant/lobbyist in the 1980's and 1990's, and most recently as a key strategic adviser to Trump's campaign team. With a history of lobbying for a variety of unsavory foreign governments, his name has currently appeared in a number of recent investigative reports and articles delving into the relationship between close Trump associates and Russian operatives during the 2016 presidential campaign. 

As his public profile has risen, so has his ego, which the documentary highlights in full graphic display-- to Stone's evident delight. Like Trump himself, one of Stone's acknowledged mentors in the darker arts of politics was the infamous Roy Cohn, Senator Joseph McCarthy's chief counsel and hatchet man during the Senator's anti-Communist crusade in the 1950's. It was, in fact, Cohn who introduced Stone to Trump in the early 1980's; and Stone, who later in the decade began urging Trump to consider running for President.

Central to Stone's 'brand' has been a mastery of the techniques of negative campaigning, including character assassination, dirty tricks, disinformation and behind-the-scenes manipulation of groups, individuals and causes. In interviews, he is openly and aggressively unapologetic about his commitment to winning at all cost, using any tools available. Unfortunately, his model seems to have been increasingly adopted by Republican leaders in Washington where policy and public interest concerns, along with any commitment to bipartisanship or shared governance have given way to the single-minded goal of defeating and demeaning the opposition. With no fixed ideology, available to the highest bidder, and certainly without shame, Stone is the perfect hired gun and exemplar of the new Trumpian world. 

The documentary's chief impact, however, is its shocking revelation of just how far and how fast we have come from a world in which at least the ideals and standards of acceptable political and personal behavior in a democracy were promoted and proclaimed –if not always followed. What we are experiencing is not a new normal, but what can best be described as a 'new abnormal' in which 'alternative facts', denial of evidence, blatant lies, deliberate distortions and a generous admixture of the politics of fear have effectively undermined a sense of shared reality and trust in national institutions.

In their effort to win at all cost, freely employing the politics of personal destruction while demeaning the very instruments of democracy, Trump, Stone and their enablers have brought the nation to its current debased level of national division and crisis. Joe McCarthy and his amanuensis, Roy Cohn, have very nearly triumphed. While perhaps not explaining fully the shape of the elephant in the room, “Get Me Roger Stone” is a timely examination of a significant portion the beast.

Les Adler

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

CLIMATE CHANGE: AS TEMPERATURES SOAR, AIRPLANES CAN'T

On June 19th, the Arizona Republic published this headline:

Nearly 50 flights cancelled Tuesday as Phoenix nears 120-degree day

My first thought was that the tarmac had melted, but of course a modern international airport is paved with concrete, not asphalt. The problem turns out to be basic physics--hot air is less dense than cold air. That's what gives a hot-air balloon lift, but it steals lift from a plane. Every plane has a rated temperature beyond which it can't take off if fully loaded--it can't pick up enough speed to get airborne before running out of runway. 

As the world warms, we can expect more planes stuck at gates
Photo credit: AP

At 120 degrees, smaller commuter aircraft were stuck in Phoenix until the heat abated, while larger, more powerful planes, like the Airbus or the Boeing 747 still had 6 or 7 degrees to spare.

Don't expect this to be an isolated incident, a new study warns. Researchers at Columbia University examined the impact rising temperatures due to global warming will have on 20 major airports worldwide, including Phoenix, Denver, LaGuardia and Ronald Reagan, in Washington, DC. As reported in the journal Climatic Change, under a "business as usual" scenario, on hot days, 10 to 30 percent of flights could be affected and airlines on average would lose about four percent of capacity.

That may not sound like a lot, but since more than 8 million people fly every day, that could mean 320,000 hot and unhappy passengers. In addition, given the slim profit margins of most airlines, that kind of loss could have serious financial implications.

And, the authors point out, those unbearably hot days may come around much more frequently as the atmosphere continues to warm. Daily maximum temperatures at major airports may rise by 4 to 8 degrees C (7.2 to 14.4 F) by 2080 under many scenarios. That would mean far more frequent and intense heat waves and far more delayed, cancelled or weight-restricted flights.

"Our results suggest that weight restriction may impose a non-trivial cost on airline and impact aviation operations around the world," writes lead author Ethan Coffel, at Columbia University.

One more non-trivial reason to take climate change seriously, and do everything we can to slow it down.

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