Monday, August 25, 2008

Positive environmental spillovers from the Olympics

Coverage of the "pollution problem" for the Beijing Olympics was widespread as was the methods China employed to ensure that the air quality was a good as possible including the shutting down of many polluting factories.

It is therefore interesting to note that positive legacy effect of the games. Perhaps locals began to appreciate improved air quality that fed through to the decision makers.

Factories to Have to Clean Up Before Reopening [PlanetArk]

BEIJING - Polluting factories in Beijing ordered to stop work to improve the air quality for the Olympics will have to clean up their operations before being allowed to resume production, state media said on Saturday.

Authorities have ordered dozens of factories to halt or limit their operations and restricted use of cars to cut down on pollution during the Games, leading to the cleanest summer-time air in a decade, according to official statistics.


Du did not give details on the criteria the bureau would use to determine whether factories would reopen. City officials would also not have authority over factories in surrounding provinces that were also affected by the Olympic-related shutdowns.

However, the pledge underlines the degree to which the success of the environmental measures could affect policy making beyond the Games.

Du had previously said that authorities would accelerate the removal of polluting vehicles from the roads and take more stringent measures to cut down on dust at construction sites.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Climate Change Shrinks Africa

Nice little climate change scare story with "experts" predicting that the coast of Africa will soon have to be redrawn as sea levels rise. This is merely another example of the poorest countries (who contributed least to the pollution in the first place) experiencing the largest amount of pain.

In the first paragraph I particularly like the term "brutally redrawn". This gives the impression of a some rather aggressive pen on map behaviour.

West Africa's coastline redrawn by climate change: experts [Yahoo]

Rising sea levels caused by climate change will brutally redraw a 4,000-kilometre (2500-mile) stretch of west African coastline from Senegal to Cameroon by century's end, experts were told AFP Friday.


Among the cities worst hit would be the Gambian capital Banjul and Lagos, Nigeria's economic capital and home to 15 million. Some parts of Lagos lie below sea-level today and it is already subject to frequent flooding.

The Niger delta's income-generating oil fields are especially vulnerable, Cramer said.

Clearly the economists have been called in and come out with the old adage "too expensive" therfore you are doomed.

Another serious threat is salty sea water intrusion into fertile agricultural land.

"This will make the ground water undrinkable and unsuitable for agricultural purposes. The result will be food and water insecurity," said George Awudi, Ghana Programme Coordinator for Friends of the Earth.

Environmental experts offer different solutions, but all agree on the futility -- and prohibitive cost -- of erecting massive sea barriers.

"The sensible option is moving to higher ground, which is a tough option especially for Nigeria as it means giving up its economic centres in Lagos and its oil installations in the Delta," Cramer said.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Pollution and Health: The Love Canal Disaster

In a lot of my work there is an assumed link between pollution and detrimental health effects. This would appear to be obvious but this is still contentious. We are using TRI data to get at some of these issues.

This story of birth defects in the US is sobering. In particular the long time lag between exposure and adverse effects is of interest. The use of the term "love canal" could not be more inappropriate.

As the EPA put it:

The Environmental Protection Agency calls Love Canal "one of the most appalling environmental tragedies in American history," and many believe the site is still deadly.

Love Canal's Lethal Legacy Persists


And now, on the 30th anniversary of Love Canal, a preliminary New York State Department of Health study says women like Retton, whose mothers were pregnant and exposed to those chemicals, have double the risk for reproductive problems -- low birth weights, pre-term deliveries and birth defects.

They are also at higher risk for kidney, bladder and lung cancer, according to a not-yet-released study of the health effects at Love Canal.


There, in a seemingly idyllic subdivision of swales, fields and neat bungalows, children played as carcinogens like benzene and dioxin bubbled up from the earth below. More than 6,000 residents were affected.

"It's scary," Retton told, as she walked ankle-deep in the untended brush where her childhood home was demolished in the clean-up effort.

"I feel like a research animal," said Retton, a redhead with cherubic features and waif-like limbs. "I don't think anything I have now compares to what I will get later. It's not if, it's when."

Amphibian death spiral and the end of civilization

I apologise for the recent post shortage but I am down under on holiday at the moment. Even so, some stories cannot wait and those that are concerned with the end of the world get top priority.

It looks like "chytridiomycosis" could kill us all. The economics angle of this story is admittedly rather limited but I would guess that mass extinction would be a sell signal for shareholders.

Do Amphibian Deaths Signal the Coming of a Sixth Mass Extinction? [Treehugger]

If the rapidly depleting amphibian populations are any indication, we could be in for another mass extinction. That's the conclusion of a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which finds that humans are worsening the impacts of climate change and disease on frogs and their fellow amphibians -- to the point where they are vanishing at an unprecedented, alarming speed.

The fatal infectious disease in question, chytridiomycosis, is caused by an aquatic fungus that only targets amphibians and is able to jump from one species to the next; it is believed to have already wiped out over 200 species.


Friday, August 01, 2008

"100 months" to save the planet?

Always with an eye for a headline the "100 months" to save the planet certainly has more headline appeal than writing "just over 8 years to save the planet". There is even a to accompany this headline. Clever. Although this will be oddly out of date in 1 months time.

There is a curious appeal about round numbers - think the year 2000 end of the world cults that slowly came down from their mountain hideouts a few months later.

'100 months' to stop overheating [Guardian]

Rising greenhouse gas emissions could pass a critical tipping point and trigger runaway global warming within the next 100 months, according to a report today.

The estimate from the New Economics Foundation is based on when emissions will reach such high levels that it "is no longer likely" the world will be able to avoid a 2C rise in average temperatures. "We know climate change is a huge problem, but there's a missing ingredient of urgency," said Andrew Simms, policy director at the foundation.

I am sure that I can confidently predict that the planet will not avoid passing through the 450ppm level of emissions. Given the time taken for the current trade negotiations it will take 100 months just to get some sort of compromised, half baked climate change agreement.

Perhaps the 4 billion that are predicted to suffer severe water shortages and the ensuing migration and inevitable armed conflicts will speed things up. This article also gives me a chance to write about "potentially catastrophic" events.

Andrew Simms (one of the authors) discusses in more detail also in the Guardian. This is an article worth reading in full.

The final countdown [Guardian]

The concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere today, the most prevalent greenhouse gas, is the highest it has been for the past 650,000 years. In the space of just 250 years, as a result of the coal-fired Industrial Revolution, and changes to land use such as the growth of cities and the felling of forests, we have released, cumulatively, more than 1,800bn tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere. Currently, approximately 1,000 tonnes of CO2 are released into the Earth's atmosphere every second, due to human activity. Greenhouse gases trap incoming solar radiation, warming the atmosphere. When these gases accumulate beyond a certain level - often termed a "tipping point" - global warming will accelerate, potentially beyond control.

All this is well known (or should be to G&E readers) as are the feedback mechanisms but Simms' description is a good one:

Because of such self-reinforcing positive feedbacks (which, because of the accidental humour of science, we must remind ourselves are, in fact, negative), once a critical greenhouse concentration threshold is passed, global warming will continue even if we stop releasing additional greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. If that happens, the Earth's climate will shift into another, more volatile state, with different ocean circulation, wind and rainfall patterns. The implications of which, according to a growing litany of research, are potentially catastrophic for life on Earth. Such a change in the state of the climate system is often referred to as irreversible climate change.

The other paragraph that caught my eye concerns those forward looking Cubans.

In terms of what is possible in times of economic stress and isolation, Cuba provides an even more embarrassing example to show up our national tardiness. In a single year in 2006 Cuba rolled-out a nationwide scheme replacing inefficient incandescent lightbulbs with low-energy alternatives. Prior to that, at the end of the cold war, after losing access to cheap Soviet oil, it switched over to growing most of its food for domestic consumption on small scale, often urban plots, using mostly low-fossil-fuel organic techniques. Half the food consumed in the capital, Havana, was grown in the city's own gardens. Cuba echoed and surpassed what America achieved in its push for "Victory Gardening" during the second world war. Back then, led by Eleanor Roosevelt, between 30-40% of vegetables for domestic consumption were produced by the Victory Gardening movement.

Time to go and harvest some runner beans and potatoes from my back garden.