Archive for September, 2011

Outdoor air pollution kills 1.3 million each year

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

World Health Organization has issued a new report on the health effects of particulates (the small unburned particles released when fossil fuels and biomass are burned).

Air pollution levels in cities with population over 100,000 and capital cities
Map of air pollution levels in cities with population over 100,000 and capital cities
larger image

WHO says:

• Indoor air pollution is estimated to cause approximately 2 million premature deaths mostly in developing countries. Almost half of these deaths are due to pneumonia in children under 5 years of age.
• Urban outdoor air pollution is estimated to cause 1.3 million deaths worldwide per year. Those living in middle-income countries disproportionately experience this burden.

From the report:

PM10 particles, which are particles of 10 micrometers or less, which can penetrate into the lungs and may enter the bloodstream, can cause heart disease, lung cancer, asthma, and acute lower respiratory infections. The WHO air quality guidelines for PM10 is 20 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m3) as an annual average, but the data released today shows that average PM10 in some cities has reached up to 300 µg/m3.

The 1 1/3 million who died from outdoor air pollution in 2008 is an increase of 200,000 over the 2004 estimate (due to increases in air pollution and numbers living in urban areas, as well as improved data). The recommended level of 20 µg/m3 is better, but not healthy: 250,000 people would have died if particulate pollution everywhere stayed below that level.

In both developed and developing countries, the largest contributors to urban outdoor air pollution include motor transport, small-scale manufacturers and other industries, burning of biomass and coal for cooking and heating, as well as coal-fired power plants. Residential wood and coal burning for space heating is an important contributor to air pollution, especially in rural areas during colder months.

Measurements were made in 2003 – 2010; the majority were from 2008 – 2009.

WHO also discusses other pollutants, such as ozone, NO2 and SO2, but gives mortality in a different format:


Excessive ozone in the air can have a marked effect on human health. It can cause breathing problems, trigger asthma, reduce lung function and cause lung diseases. In Europe it is currently one of the air pollutants of most concern. Several European studies have reported that the daily mortality rises by 0.3% and that for heart diseases by 0.4 %, per 10 µg/m3 increase in ozone exposure.

Nitrogen Dioxide

Epidemiological studies have shown that symptoms of bronchitis in asthmatic children increase in association with long-term exposure to NO2. Reduced lung function growth is also linked to NO2 at concentrations currently measured (or observed) in cities of Europe and North America.

Sulfur Dioxide

SO2 can affect the respiratory system and the functions of the lungs, and causes irritation of the eyes. Inflammation of the respiratory tract causes coughing, mucus secretion, aggravation of asthma and chronic bronchitis and makes people more prone to infections of the respiratory tract. Hospital admissions for cardiac disease and mortality increase on days with higher SO2 levels. When SO2 combines with water, it forms sulfuric acid; this is the main component of acid rain which is a cause of deforestation.

The Weather Club

Friday, September 16th, 2011

The Weather Club, produced by the British Royal Meteorological Society “for a nation completely obsessed by weather”, looks at and explains the weather from an international perspective, works with kids, and provides a magazine scientists and weather nerds enjoy. Or just check out the gallery of beautiful photos.

Some recent articles:
2010: The year of extremes

Record highs
Record highs

[T]he trend in 2010 has been for record breaking highs, with several countries experiencing their highest ever temperatures: 49.6°C [121.3°F] in Dongola, Sudan (June); 52°C [125.6°F] in Basra, Iraq (June); 44°C [111°F] in Yashkul, Russia (July); 50.4°C [122.7°F] in Doha, Qatar (July); 37.2°C [99°F] in Joensuu, Finland (July) and 53.5°C [128.3°F] in Mohenjo-daro, Pakistan (June), the fourth highest temperature ever recorded. While we expect to see the odd record breaking high each year, this year has been unusual in that we’ve seen record after record broken.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) figures show that the combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for March, April , May and June all reached their highest ever level this year. The June figure continued another trend by being the 304th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average.

Monsoon rains threaten flood disaster
Huge flooding in south Asia, millions affected, and I haven’t seen it covered in my news sources. Date: September 12, 2011

The recent flooding in southern Pakistan is threatening to spiral into another humanitarian disaster as the area prepares to be hit by more rain. Officials are now saying that more than 200 people have died and millions continue to be affected after two weeks of flooding in Pakistan’s southern Sindh region. Pakistan’s disaster management body told reporters that the situation is worsening every day as water levels continue to rise. The UN has begun relief work in the area but more rain has been forecast for the coming days.

Meanwhile, in India’s eastern Orissa state more than one million people have been displaced and 16 killed as floods sweep through the province. About 2,600 villages have been submerged across 19 districts. The army and navy have been called in to help, as many villagers are still stranded and dependent on food drops from helicopters.

After the 2010 Pakistani floods, the report was that climate change had not led to more rain each year in South Asia, but apparently, rain fell in more intense episodes, leading to more floods. I don’t know if this is still true.

Weather balloons used to probe wind farm effects

The project…hopes to improve the ability of the renewable energy industry to accurately forecast winds at the height of the turbine blades.

What caused the mini ice-age?

Hope and Climate Change

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

We all know that hope is crucial to acting—if we’re doomed to failure, only a few of us bother. Yet, too frequent expressions of hope can have their down side. I remember when my aunt was dying, as she wasted away, she expressed her sense each time we met that she was getting better. I never felt like we got a chance to talk honestly.

Here are two examples that bother some about expressed hope. Then I want to hear what you have to say.

• I taught a workshop several times in which I gave people space to respond from their own personal experience, their own heart, about how they feel about climate change, right after showing slides on the facts of climate change, climate change to date, and predictions from scientists—mainstream to worst case—about what changes we could see this century. Go to Public Concern and Scientific Warnings Diverge for sample items on the prediction list (worst case).

Some spoke of grief or sadness, some of feeling a need for a beer. And twice in four years, young people (teens to 20) talked about hope. Once the hope was general, and one year more than one young person said they had hope because people their age would protest climate change and coal power, and so all would be well.

Both years, older adults complained to me about this sharing. One felt reprimanded for feeling grief, and all felt that expressions of hope felt so much like denial that it interfered with listening to and expressing their own feelings. Ultimately what I did is forbid people from expressing hope, likely the only such prohibition in the history of this exercise! People told me that they needed the prohibition to feel safe.

• People I know working on climate change sometimes say how much hope they feel. Eg, young people are taking such and such an action, which may be meaningless in itself, as a desire to respond to climate change. Recently someone became upset when I found little hope from this, instead I find hope when people listen, and respond after listening. I hear her example as people doing what they want to do, and hoping that it somehow addresses climate change. Hoping for a result doesn’t feel like hope to me.

So please help! How do you hear people expressing hope on climate change? What gives you hope on climate change?