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Sun Rises over a Polluted Phoenix and Mesa Arizona

Sun Rises over a Polluted Phoenix and Mesa Arizona

Photographer Kevin Dooley took this photograph of the sun rising over a polluted Phoenix valley, looking East towards the city of Mesa, Arizona. Phoenix, as About.com notes, has had a growing problem with pollution:

“Since the early 1990s, residents of the Valley of the Sun have been looking for some relief of their own. The “Brown Cloud”, as it has come to be known, shrouds the Phoenix area in pollutants nearly year-round resulting in the American Lung Association giving Maricopa County its lowest grade for air quality in both ozone and particulates in 2005. “

This photograph is from Kevin Dooley who generously shared it via Flickr. It is used on EcoWorld under the Creative Commons license.

Posted in Ozone1 Comment

EPA Declares Greenhouse Gases as Public Health Hazard

WASHINGTON, Dec. 7 (UPI) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Monday declared greenhouse gas emissions a public health hazard that can be regulated under the Clean Air Act.

“These long-overdue findings cement 2009′s place in history as the year when the United States Government began addressing the challenge of greenhouse-gas pollution and seizing the opportunity of clean-energy reform,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said during a news conference. “Business leaders, security experts, government officials, concerned citizens and the United States Supreme Court have called for enduring, pragmatic solutions to reduce the greenhouse gas pollution that is causing climate change.”

She said the declaration allows the federal government to move toward clean energy reform that will cut greenhouse gases and reduce dependence on foreign oil.

Greenhouse gases are the primary driver of climate change, which can lead to hotter, longer heat waves that threaten the health of the sick, poor or elderly. Climate change also increases in ground-level ozone pollution linked to asthma and other respiratory illnesses, among other things, the EPA said in a release.

EPA’s final findings respond to the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision that greenhouse gases fit within the Clean Air Act definition of air pollutants. The findings don’t impose any emission reduction requirements but allow the EPA to finalize the greenhouse gases standards proposed earlier in 2009 for new light-duty vehicles as part of the joint rule-making with the Department of Transportation.

The endangerment finding covers emissions of six greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulfur hexafluoride.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Air Pollutants, Energy, Human Health & Wellness, Other, Ozone, Transportation0 Comments

Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh Stands Firm on Emissions

NEW DELHI, Nov. 19 (UPI) — Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh Thursday said his country would never agree to legally binding emissions and downplayed expectations for the climate-change summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, next month.

“Internationally we reject legally binding emissions. We will never agree to that, and we are prepared to be alone in our stand, but domestically we have to be proactive in reducing carbon emissions,” Ramesh said in New Delhi while releasing a U.N. population report.

In resisting pressure to set limits on carbon output, India has long contended that doing so would slow its economic growth and that the responsibility for reducing greenhouse gases lies with longtime polluters.

Rather than committing to legally binding cuts internationally, Ramesh said, India needs to be “proactive, aggressive and ruthless” domestically to tackle climate change.

India currently emits about 3 billion tons of greenhouse gases each year, making it the world’s fourth-largest polluter.

“You should not have too much expectations from the Copenhagen summit. It looks like the negotiations would continue,” he said of talks set to begin Dec. 7 to thrash out a global deal on climate change to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

“It seems there is a long haul before we arrive at an international commitment,” Ramesh added.

Noting that climate change is a concern for India, Ramesh said his country has to regard the issue from a development perspective.

“I think there is an abundance of evidence to show that climate change is not related in any way to population growth,” he said, adding that it is more related to lifestyle. He pointed to China, saying that although it recorded negative population growth during the 1990s, its emissions continued to increase.

“Emissions are caused by consumption patterns. There is no iron law to say that India with its growing population has chances of increasing emissions,” he said.

India’s emissions are projected to rise to between 4 billion and 7.3 billion tons by 2031, according to a September report by non-governmental groups, including the global consultancy McKinsey & Co.

Ramesh said that low carbon growth would be part of the country’s new five-year plan. Some of the measures India needs to take include mandatory fuel efficiency standards, water legislation and renewable energy sources, he said.

On Wednesday Ramesh announced new standards for air quality, replacing the country’s 1994 standards and introducing limits for several pollutants not previously covered, including benzene, ozone, benzopyrene, arsenic, nickel and ammonia.

Ramesh said the new limits would push air quality standards in India to European levels.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Consumption, Energy, Ozone, Pollution & Toxins, Population Growth0 Comments

Air Pollutants Study Shows Toxins Move from Asia to United States, from United States to Europe

Pollutant plumes observed in the United States can be attributed unambiguously to Asian sources based on meteorological and chemical analyses, researchers say.

Charles Kolb — president of Aerodyne Research Inc. and chairman of the committee that wrote the report on air pollution by the National Research Council — said the report examines four types of air pollutants: ozone; particulate matter such as dust, sulfates, or soot; mercury; and persistent organic pollutants such as DDT.

The committee found evidence, including satellite observations, that these four types of pollutants can be transported aloft across the Northern Hemisphere, delivering significant concentrations to downwind continents — from Asia to the United States and from the United States to Europe.

One study found that a polluted airmass detected at Mt. Bachelor Observatory in central Oregon took approximately eight days to travel from East Asia, the report said.

Modeling studies have estimated that about 500 premature cardiopulmonary deaths could be avoided annually in North America if ozone emissions were reduced by 20 percent in the other major industrial regions of the Northern Hemisphere.

For mercury and persistent organic pollutants, the main health concern is transport and deposition on land and water. For example, people may consume mercury by eating fish, the report said.

Posted in Air Pollutants, Air Pollution, Fish, Other, Ozone, Pollution & Toxins0 Comments

Analysts Say US Should Spend $197 Million More on Climate Change's Impact on Public Health

A recent analysis suggests the United States should spend roughly $197 million more than it now does to research the impact of climate change on public health.

The analysis, reported in the form of a commentary, found the U.S. spends about $3 million in federal funds on research related to the health impacts of climate change. But University of Michigan Assistant Professor Marie S. O’Neill, one of the commentary’s co-authors, said that isn’t nearly enough to adequately address public health issues related to global warming.

Climate change is expected to exacerbate a number of public health problems in the United States and elsewhere, including heat-related deaths, diarrheal diseases and diseases associated with exposure to allergens and ozone.

“Even disease distributions are likely to change,” said Professor Mark Wilson, another co-author. “Certain areas of the world could become more favorable for transmission of various infectious diseases that are associated with water, insect vectors or non-human animal reservoirs. The challenge is to identify the critical research questions that will help inform improvements to the public health infrastructure and prepare for changing environments.”

The commentary that included John Balbus of the Environmental Defense Fund, Adjunct Professor Kristie Ebi of the University of Michigan, Associate Professors Patrick Kinney of Columbia University and Erin Lipp of the University of Georgia and David Mills of Stratus Consulting Inc. appears online in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Posted in Other, Ozone, Policy, Law, & Government0 Comments

Invention Alerts to Home Dust Dangers, Monitors Air Quality

TEL AVIV, Israel, Sept. 24 (UPI) — Israeli researchers say they have developed a tool to warn of invisible dangers lurking in the dust found in homes.

Eyal Ben-Dor and Sandra Chudnovsky of Tel Aviv University in Israel said the sensor — called Dust Alert — is a portable chemical analyzer called a spectrophotometer that functions much like a chemistry lab and could help families and authorities monitor the quality of a home’s air.

“It works just like an ozone meter would,” Ben-Dor said in a statement. “We’ve found through our ongoing research that some simple actions at home can have a profound effect on the quality of air we breathe.”

He suggests the tool could accurately forecast the health of a home or apartment for prospective home owners.

“If somebody in your family has an allergy, poor air quality can be a deal breaker,” Ben-Dor said.

The findings have been published in Science of the Total Environment, Urban Air Pollution: Problems, Control Technologies and Management Practices.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Air Pollution, Homes & Buildings, Other, Ozone1 Comment

Ozone Depletion Appears to Be Getting Better

PARIS, Sept. 21 (UPI) — Scientists using European Space Agency satellite data say they’ve discovered the depletion of the Earth’s ozone layer might be easing.

“We found a global slightly positive trend of ozone increase of almost 1 percent per decade in the total ozone from the last 14 years: a result that was confirmed by comparisons with ground-based measurements,” said Diego Loyola, who worked on the project with colleagues from the German Aerospace Center.

Ashley Jones and Jo Urban from Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology and colleagues analyzed the long-term evolution of stratospheric ozone from 1979 to the present. These data show a decrease in ozone from 1979 until 1997, and a small increase since then, the ESA said.

“Our analysis shows that upper stratospheric ozone declines at northern and southern mid-latitudes at roughly 7 percent per decade during 1979–97, consistent with earlier studies based on data from satellites and ground networks,” Urban said. “A clear statistically significant change of trend can be seen around 1997. The small increase observed thereafter, from 1997 to 2008, is however not yet statistically different from a zero trend. We hope to see a significant recovery of (upper stratospheric) ozone in the next years using longer, extended satellite time-series.”

The study was presented earlier this month in Barcelona, Spain, during the ESA’s Atmospheric Science Conference.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Atmospheric Science, Other, Ozone, Pollution & Toxins, Science, Space, & Technology1 Comment

Climate Change May Lessen UV Radiation

TORONTO, Sept. 17 (UPI) — Canadian scientists say climate change will lead to less ultraviolet radiation in some northern areas, such as Siberia, Scandinavia and northern Canada.

Physicists at the University of Toronto said they have discovered changes in the Earth’s ozone layer due to climate change will reduce the amount of ultraviolet radiation in northern high latitude regions, while other areas of the Earth, such as the tropics and Antarctica, will instead face increasing levels of UV radiation.

Using a sophisticated computer model, postdoctoral fellow Michaela Hegglin, Professor Theodore Shepherd and colleagues determined 21st-century climate change will alter atmospheric circulation, increasing the flux of ozone from the upper to the lower atmosphere and shifting the distribution of ozone within the upper atmosphere.

They said that will result in modifying the amount of UV radiation reaching the Earth’s surface — up to a 20 percent increase over southern high latitudes during spring and summer, and a nine percent decrease in UV radiation over northern high latitudes, by the end of the century.

The scientists said decreased UV radiation could have adverse effects on vitamin D production for people in regions with limited sunlight such as the northern high latitudes.

The study appeared in the Sept. 6 issue of the journal Nature Geoscience.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Effects Of Air Pollution, Global Warming & Climate Change, Other, Ozone, Radiation1 Comment

People

PEOPLE

Who Are We?

The term “human” is actually the common name given to any individual of the species “Homo sapiens.” Homo sapiens belong to the family Hominidae (that also includes the gorilla and chimpanzee) whose members possess a backbone (phylum Chordata), a segmented spinal cord (subphylum Vertebrata) and suckle its young (class Mammalia).

Human Behavior

So we now know how a human is classified within the Animal kingdom but the question still remains. What does it mean to be uniquely human? At first glance, it would seem that human’s capacity for rational or abstract thought is the key to our uniqueness within the animal kingdom. But is that really enough to separate us from our nearest animal relatives? Well, not necessarily. First of all, “abstract thought” is such a vague notion. What does it really mean and how can we be sure other animals haven’t had them? Secondly, good cases can and have been made for rational behavior among subhuman animals. So with rational and abstract thought not being all that uniquely human, where does that leave us?

Humans have a unique capacity to assign to things and events certain meanings that the senses alone cannot comprehend. This consistent ability, called “symboling,” has been proposed by many experts to be a more suitable explanation as to how humans differ from other animals. Language is a good example of this ability. In speech, the meaning of the words we utter is not entirely inherent in the sounds themselves. Humans assign meaning to those sounds freely and arbitrarily. This is the essence of symboling.

How did humans come to develop the ability to symbol?
Oddly enough, it all began with posture. Erect posture freed the arms and hands of our ancestors from its earlier function of locomotion. This made possible an extensive and versatile use of tools and the eye-hand-object coordination involved in using tools stimulated the growth of the brain, especially the forebrain. This enlargement and specialization of the brain allowed for refined control of the lips and tongue, which allowed for the development of, you guessed it, speech! And speech, as mentioned earlier, is one of best examples of symboling.

The introduction of symboling into primate social was nothing short of revolutionary. It changed everything. The world of nature became alive and acquired new meaning. The ability to symbol added a new dimension to primate existence. Tools became symbols of authority, mating became marriage and social relationships became moral obligations. Man had at last arrived.

Strictly Human

Culture

Culture refers to a society in which many members share common rules of behavior and a basic social organization. Culture and society are somewhat interchangeable. But while many animals live in societies, such as a pack of wolves, only humans have the capacity for culture.

Because human societies do not exist in complete isolation to one another, they tend to exchange culture in the form of ideas, people, goods and natural resources. Today, cultural exchange has led to many people around the world using the same kinds of technology-cars, telephones, computers and televisions. Communication technologies and commercial trade has effectively created a global human culture and people around the world are doing what they’ve done throughout history-they are adapting.

The ability to adapt to cultural changes has made humans one of the most successful species on the planet. When the natural environment changes, culture can help human societies survive. For example, when the earth warmed at the end of the last Ice Age, game animals disappeared, and a great majority of the land areas were submerged by rising sea levels. But people survived. They developed new technologies and learned how to subsist on new plant and animal species. Throughout history, major developments in technology, medicine, and nutrition have allowed people to reproduce and survive in ever-increasing numbers. The increase in global population rates, which has risen from 8 million during the Ice Age to almost 6 billion today, can be seen as a sign of our success.

But the success of culture has also led to some problems. Over the past 200 years, people have begun to use massive quantities of natural resources and energy. This has led to the production of an enormous amount of material and chemical waste and the altering of the world’s climate in unpredictable and possibly harmful ways. And if that wasn’t enough, the global population’s consumption of crucial natural resources (petroleum, coal, natural gas, timber) far outpaces nature’s ability to produce them. And as the world’s population continue to grow, so to will its need for energy. Some experts expect that need to double every twenty years or so and if that happens, we are bound to find out exactly how limited these natural resources really are.

Religion

In all human cultures, there exists the belief that we are connected somehow to spiritual powers beyond our existence. These sacred powers may be within us, external to the self or both and come in the form of gods, spirits, ancestors or any kind of sacred truth. The practice of interacting with these supreme powers and the sacred reverence and attention to which we bestow them is collectively known as religion. Historically, the number of spirits within a particular culture has been virtually limitless. However, over the course of time, spirits that play a more important cultural role usually develop into gods. The history of religion has also shown a natural tendency to move beyond multiple gods toward one central, all-powerful God.

Humans and the Global Ecosystem

An Integrated System
The earth can be viewed as a single integrated system. The epitome of balance. Throughout history, species have co-existed in naturally evolved communities that have kept populations relatively stable and resources plentiful. Enter humans. Though humans are not the only species in history to have changed the environment, there’s little debate that we have done so on a substantially larger scale than any other species in history. Humans have at times disturbed the naturally balanced system developed over the generations. One microcosmic example of this type of disturbance is the introduction of goats by settlers to isolated oceanic islands. Intending the goats to roam free and be a readily available source of meat, the settlers did not realize that their introduction of the goat effectively drove many native animal species to extinction. Without a natural predator to keep the goat population in check, the goats thrived and, in the process, overgrazing occurred. Overgrazing created a change in the plant composition that disrupted the natural order of the island ecosystem resulting in the extinction of native animals not capable of adapting to such rapid changes. In a truly integrated system, one simple action can have unpredictable and often dire results.

Many experts place human population growth at the root of virtually all of the world’s environmental problems. As more and more people are added to the world every year, more pollution is generated, more habitats are destroyed and more natural resources consumed. The population division of the United Nations predicts that the 5.63 billion humans alive in 1994 will increase to 6.23 billion in the year 2000, 8.47 billion in 2025 and 10.02 billion in 2050. The UN’s estimate assumes human population to peak and stabilize at 11.6 billion in 2200. Others predict that number to be as high as 19 billion in 2200.

The population growth problem affects the entire human community. Although it is true that rates of population increase are much higher in developing countries, it happens to be members of the developed world who have a much greater environmental impact. This is due to the fact that developed nations utilize much larger amounts of resources per person than less developed countries. So in the developed world, it is vitally important that conservation strategies be in place that would greatly lessen environmental impact without substantially altering lifestyle. In the developing world, where rates of population growth are highest, evidence suggests that democracy and social justice are important factors in lowering population growth rates. It has been shown that population growth rates have fallen in areas where literacy rates have increased. Similarly, population is much lower in areas where women are given the same economic status as men allowing them to hold jobs and to own property. The availability of information on birth control as well as the freedom for women to make their own reproductive decisions is also important if lower population growth rates are to be achieved.

A Global Environmental Consciousness

Since the late 1960s and early 1970s, international concern over the environmental has increased sharply. The world has come to realize that most forms of pollution do not respect national boundaries. In 1972, the United Nations sponsored the first major international conference on environmental issues was held in Stockholm, Sweden. The most important outcome of the conference was the creation of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).

UNEP

Since the late 1960s, international concern over the environmental has increased dramatically. The world has come to realize that there are no national boundaries when it comes to most forms of pollution. In 1972, the United Nations sponsored the first major international conference on environmental issues held in Stockholm, Sweden. The most important outcome of the conference was the creation of the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). UNEP was designed to be “the environmental conscience of the United Nations.” It worked to achieve scientific consensus about major environmental issues and to study ways to encourage sustainable development thereby increasing standards of living without destroying the environment. UNEP was also the first UN agency to be headquartered in a developing country, with offices in Nairobi, Kenya. This was a symbolic gesture to the developing countries of the UN who were concerned that a global focus on environmental protection was a way for their developed counterparts to keep them at a disadvantage. When the UNEP was created back in 1972, only 11 countries had environmental agencies. Ten years later that number had increased to 106 with developing countries accounted for 70.

CITES
In 1975 the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) went into effect with the goal of reducing commerce in animals and plants on the edge of extinction.

The Earth Summit

In 1992, twenty years after the Stockholm Conference, a UN Conference known as the Earth Summit, became the largest gathering of world leaders in history. The Earth Summit produced two major treaties. The first was an agreement to reduce emission of gases leading to global warming, and the second was a treaty on biodiversity requiring countries to develop plans to protect endangered species and habitats.

The Green Parties

Green Parties are political parties whose emphasis was largely on environmental protection. The first green party to be created was the Values Party in New Zealand, which formed in 1972. By far the most successful green party is the Die Grunen of West Germany, which in 1983 won nearly 6 percent of the seats in the West German Parliament. Green parties have developed in almost all countries that have open elections. However, they tend to be more successful in nations governed by a parliamentary system. In 1993, green parties from eastern and western Europe came together to form the European Federation of Green Parties. With a unified green party, they hoped to gain enough leverage to demand that environmental issues such as pollution control, population growth, and sustainable development be more fully addressed.

The Kyoto Protocol

The 1992 Earth Summit agreement on global warming limited each industrialized nation to emissions in the year 2000 that were equal to or below 1990 emissions. Unfortunately, these limits were voluntary and the agreement itself had no enforcement provisions. By 1997, it became clear that these goals would not be met. In a follow-up conference in Kyoto, Japan, representatives from 160 countries signed a new agreement, known as the Kyoto Protocol, which called for the industrialized nations to reduce emissions to an average of about 5 percent below 1990 emission levels and to reach this goal by 2012.

Interesting Facts

Most Populous Country

China has the world’s largest population, with an estimated 1.24 billion people in 1998. It grows at a rate of approximately 44,000 people a day.

Least Populous Country

The Vatican City, with an estimated 870 people in July 1999, is officially the world’s least inhabited country.

Most Densely Populated Countries

In 1997, Bangladesh had approximately 2,200 people inhabiting every square mile.

Most sparsely Populated Country

In 1997, Mongolia had approximately 4 people inhabiting every square mile.

Highest Life Expectancy

People in Japan enjoy the highest life expectancy in the world at approximately 84 years for women and 77 years for men.

Lowest Life Expectancy

In Sierra Leone, life expectancy is approximately 40 years for women and 36 years for men.

Highest Birth Rate

Niger’s has the highest birth rate in the world with approximately 55 births per 1000 people in 1996.

Highest Death Rate

Sierra Leone has the highest death rate in the world, with approximately 25 deaths per 1000 people in 1995-96.

Lowest Death Rate

Kuwait enjoys the lowest death rate in the world, with approximately 2 deaths per 1000 people in 1995-96.

Most Polluted Major City

Mexico City has levels of sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone and suspended atmospheric particulate matter more than double those considered acceptable by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Highest CO2 Emissions

Based on sheer volume, the United States emits more carbon dioxide than any other country in the world. In 1995, the US emitted an estimated 5.1 billion tons. Relative to population, the United Arab Emirates is the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, with a total of 29.6 tons per capita emitted in 1995. This is compared to 20.2 emitted per capita by the US in 1995.

Biggest Consumer of Energy

The United States holds the record for being the world’s largest consumer of both fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) and of commercial energy (nuclear and hydro power). In 1998, the US consumed almost 2 billion tons of oil equivalent of fossil fuels and an equal amount of oil equivalent of commercial energy.

Posted in Animals, Biodiversity, Cars, Coal, Conservation, Consumption, Energy, Ideas, Humanities, & Education, Natural Gas, Other, Ozone, Population Growth, Science, Space, & Technology0 Comments

Designing Drought-Resistant Crops

Droughts are a farmer’s worst nightmare: Crops meant for the dinner table wither away in the dry heat leaving people hungry and farmers broke.

Not all plants are as sensitive to drought, though, and it is the genetic makeup of these more resilient plants that is of interest to scientists who feel the need to develop crops that can handle drastic shifts in their environments.

U.S and Finnish researchers recently discovered the specific gene responsible for controlling the amount of water released by the plant as it absorbs carbon dioxide-more specifically, the gene that controls the plant’s stomata.

The stomatic pore in a tomato leaf.
(Photo: Wikipedia)

All leaves are covered with stomata, which are tiny pores used to suck up carbon dioxide and to release water vapor back into the air.

Some of the ‘hardier’ plants close up their stomatal pores when ozone levels increase.

This reaction also reduces the amount of water lost during the harsher seasons. (It is interesting to note that plants suffer from excessive amounts of ozone rather than thriving in a CO2 rich environment when they use this specific gas for growth.)

The gene in question controls when the stomata are open or closed. Unfortunately, with their stomata closed, plants are unable to absorb the excessive amounts of CO2 in our atmosphere.

Up to 95% of water loss occurs through these pores while they are open, so manipulating the genetic makeup of plants to increase their sensitivity to droughts (forcing them to close their stomata) could have a positive effect on their survivability: A little water lasts much longer.

This may slow plant growth since CO2 is a necessary component for photosynthesis and plant development (with the stomatal pores closed, less CO2 makes it into the plants’ system), but a smaller plant is still better than a dead one.

Researchers claim that within the next few years plants could be genetically modified to hold on to the precious water that is so hard to come by during a drought, while still being able to absorb the CO2 they need for photosynthesis.

This is a win-win situation: It will allow crops to survive in arid regions while also sequestering the atmosphere’s CO2.

via Science Daily

Posted in Drought, Ozone, People, Policy, Law, & Government0 Comments

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