Posts Tagged ‘air’

Swedish Oil Spill a Preview of the Alaskan Arctic?

Swedish Oil Spill a Preview of the Alaskan Arctic?

Shell secures permits to drill for oil in America’s Arctic waters in 2012.

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Posted20 September 2011, by David Lawlor, unEARTHED (Earthjustice), earthjustice.org/blog/

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A massive oil spill announced this week off the coast of western Sweden feels like an ominous harbinger for America’s Arctic Ocean.

Just days following the spill near the Swedish island of Tjörn, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued air permits for Shell Oil’s plans to drill in the Alaskan Arctic in 2012. EPA issued the permits despite the fact that Shell’s oil spill response plan for the region’s icy, remote waters is totally inadequate.

Sweden’s disaster serves as a cautionary tale for America’s Arctic Ocean.

The spill near Tjörn—a small island renowned for its natural beauty—is killing birds, polluting the shoreline and may not be cleaned up until next summer, threatening the area’s tourist industry. Bad weather is complicating spill response efforts (hmm, I wonder if they ever get bad weather in the Alaskan Arctic?), and locals who want to help have been turned away as the spill’s toxic nature is a serious threat to human health.

Shell’s Arctic drilling would involve many large ships, and the EPA’s permits are for air pollution coming from the stacks of the drill ship Discoverer and associated drilling fleet in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. This is Shell’s second go-round on obtaining the air permits after the EPA’s reviewing court, the Environmental Appeals Board, determined the original permits did not meet Clean Air Act requirements.

We are disappointed the EPA decided to issue permits that are less protective than they could and should be. Green lighting Shell’s plans for 2012 is another step toward Arctic Ocean oil drilling by the Obama administration without first ensuring that an oil spill could be cleaned up in the region. Earthjustice attorneys are reviewing the air permits and will make decisions about the next steps based on that review.

 

Related Blog Entries

Just one year after the nation’s worst oil spill, Shell Oil is reaffirming its plans to drill the Arctic Ocean next year. While that’s not exactly bre…
Environmentalist author Chellis Glendinning’s 2002 work of nonfiction, Off the Map, is an indictment of maps and cartography. Glendinning assert…
by Trip Van Noppen:

One year ago, the BP oil spill had just started turning the Gulf of Mexico’s blue waters to the color of rust. Triggered on April 20, 2010 by a well-r…

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http://earthjustice.org/blog/2011-september/swedish-oil-spill-a-preview-of-the-alaskan-arctic

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OTTAWA Tar Sands Civil Disobedience Sept 26, 2011

 

OTTAWA Tar Sands Civil Disobedience Sept 26, 2011

Canadian First Nations, US-based Tribal Governments and Indigenous Advocacy Groups Endorse Mass Civil Disobedience Action to Protest Canadian Tar Sands

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Posted 23 September 2011, by Brenda Norrell, Censored News, bsnorrell.blogspot.com

 

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Press statement
Posted at Censored News

OTTAWA, Ontario – Canadian First Nations, American Indian Tribes, Territorial, Provincial and Federal First Nations Governments and Advocacy groups have added their support for a rally featuring a civil disobedience sit-in against the tar sands on September 26 in Ottawa.

“Current operations in the tar sands are violating our human and constitutionally protected treaty rights.  Our community is currently in court with some of these companies and plan to oppose any and all future development with similar legal action,” said Lionel Lepine of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation “We demand free, prior and informed consent for development in our traditional territories as recognized by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

Hundreds of people from across North America have endorsed the call to action for September 26, which is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. in front of the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill. The action is to oppose the tar sands industry and push for a clean,green energy future that honors Indigenous rights and prioritizes the health of the environment and communities.

First Nations leaders from British Columbia, North West Territories and Alberta, three provinces most heavily affected by the tar sands development, will travel to Ottawa to lend their names and voices to raise awareness of the devastating environmental and social effects of the tar sands. US-based Native American Tribes and advocacy groups along with the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and the Yankton Sioux Tribe have also endorsed the day of action.

“Enbridge is trying to ram its tar sands pipeline right through our territories and the lands of many other First Nations,” said Chief Jackie Thomas of Saik’uz First Nation, amember of the Yinka Dene Alliance. “We have used our laws to forbid these pipelines in our lands. We will use every means available to us under Indigenous, Canadian and International law to enforce our decision and stop the Enbridge pipeline. If we take care of the land and water, it will take care of us. If we ruin our water with oil spills and once the tar sands kill the waters of our brother and sister nations, our people will be finished.”

On September 16 and 17, on the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Reservation in South Dakota, an Accord was signedopposing the proposed Trans-Canada Keystone XL pipeline and endorsing the Ottawa Action.  The emergency Tribal meeting, which included Canadian First Nations and Native AmericanTribes affected by the proposed pipeline, focused on Tribal opposition to the Trans-Canada Keystone XL.  The Accord highlights the neglected concerns of First Nations in Canada regarding the Canadian tar sands, the industry’s disproportionate impacts on Treaty and Aboriginal rights and the detrimental health and social consequencesfor affected First Nations communities.

“The tar sands represent apath of broken treaties, eroded human rights, catastrophic climate change, poisoned air and water and the complete stripping of Canada’s morality in theinternational community,” said Clayton Thomas-Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “Our communities should not be sacrificed on the altar of Canada’s addiction to dirty fossil fuel; wewant a new economic paradigm that protects our relationship to the sacredness of Mother Earth.”

Other First Nations groups endorsing the September 26 action include: Dene Nation, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Yinka Dene Alliance, Wet’suwet’en and Unis’tot’en Nations.

For more info: ClaytonThomas-Muller (English), Indigenous Tar Sands Campaigner, IndigenousEnvironmental Network (IEN), (613)297-7515 monsterredlight@gmail.com

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Join the IEN Newsletter!
https://www.mynewsletterbuilder.com/tools/subscription.php?username=ienearth
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Clayton Thomas-Muller
Indigenous Environmental Network
Canadian Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign
180 Metcalfe Street, Suite 500
Ottawa, ON, CND, K2P 1P5
Office: 613 237 1717 ext. 106
Cell: 613 297 7515http://www.ienearth.org/tarsands.html
www.ottawaaction.ca Please visit!!!!
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Please visit Defenders of the Land: http://www.defendersoftheland.org
Please visit Global Justice Ecology Project: http://www.globaljusticeecology.org/

 

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http://bsnorrell.blogspot.com/2011/09/ottawa-tar-sands-civil-disobedience.html

Surviving the Warmth of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum

 

Surviving the Warmth of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum

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Posted 21 September 2011, by Staff, CO2 Science (Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change), co2science.org

 

Reference
McInerney, F.A. and Wing, S.L. 2011. The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum: A perturbation of carbon cycle, climate, and biosphere with implications for the future. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences 39: 489-516.

Background
During the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM, of some 56 million years ago, it is believed that large amounts of carbon were released to the ocean-atmosphere system and that global temperatures may have risen by 5-8°C. Thus, the authors write that study of the PETM may provide “valuable insights into the carbon cycle, climate system and biotic responses to environmental change that are relevant to long-term future global changes.”

What was done
McInerney and Wing reviewed much of the scientific literature pertaining to the insights being sought by biologists concerned about potential species extinctions due to CO2-induced global warming; and they give their assessment of the current status of the grand enterprise in which many scientists have been involved since the early 1990s, when the PETM and its significance first began to be recognized (Kennett and Stott, 1991; Koch et al., 1992).

What was learned
In summarizing their findings, the two researchers write that although there was a major extinction of benthic foraminifera in the world’s oceans, “most groups of organisms did not suffer mass extinction.” In fact, they say “it is surprising that cool-adapted species already living at higher latitudes before the onset of the PETM are not known to have experienced major extinctions,” and they remark that “this absence of significant extinction in most groups is particularly interesting in light of the predictions of substantial future extinction with anthropogenic global warming.” In addition, they note that “low levels of extinction in the face of rapid environmental change during the Quaternary pose a similar challenge to modeled extinctions under future greenhouse warming,” citing Botkin et al. (2007). And, last of all, they indicate that “rapid morphological change occurred in both marine and terrestrial lineages, suggesting that organisms adjusted to climate change through evolution as well as dispersal.”

What it means
McInerney and Wing wrap up their review by noting that “research on the PETM and other intervals of rapid global change has been driven by the idea that they provide geological parallels to future anthropogenic warming.” And in this regard, the many research results they review seem to suggest that earth’s plants and animals, both on land and in the sea, may be much better equipped to deal with the environmental changes that climate alarmists claim are occurring in response to anthropogenic CO2 emissions than what many students of the subject have long believed to be possible.

References
Botkin, D.B., Saxe, H., Araujo, M.B., Betts, R, Bradshaw, R.H.W., Cedhagen, T., Chesson, P., Dawson, T.P., Etterson, J.R., Faith, D.P., Ferrier, S., Guisan, A., Skjoldborg-Hansen, A., Hilbert, D.W., Loehle, C., Margules, C., New, M., Sobel, M.J. and Stockwell, D.R.B. 2007. Forecasting the effects of global warming on biodiversity. BioScience 57: 227-236.

Kennett, J.P. and Stott, L.D. 1991. Abrupt deep-sea warming, palaeoceanographic changes and benthic extinctions at the end of the Palaeocene. Nature 353: 225-229.

Koch, P.L., Zachos, J.C. and Gingerich, P.D. 1992. Correlation between isotope records in marine and continental carbon reservoirs near the Paleocene/Eocene boundary. Nature 358: 319-322.

 

 

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http://www.co2science.org/articles/V14/N38/B3.php

Living with oil spill in Ogoniland


Living with oil spill in Ogoniland

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Posted 18 September 2011, by George Onah,Vanguard Media, vanguardngr.com

As the convoy of cars from Bodo town conveying journalists veered into the road leading to Goi community, the air became fetid. The  air was so offensive that two members of the entourage made to throw up. The air had been poisoned by the smell of crude oil that had enveloped the river serving the five communities of Goi.

The deeper the convoy rolled along the tarred road towards the river, the stronger the smell of the deadly spill. The stench, it was learnt, is worse at night when the ebbing river returns. As the vehicles brushed through the grasses that have grown into the road, few youths and elders stared at the group with gloomy faces. The road had obviously not been in full use because the spill had emptied the clan of its population.

None of the onlookers offered a smile. While mothers clutched their naked pale-looking babies, the old people and youths stood akimbo wearing long faces. The appearance of the rural folks reflected the extreme trauma the oil spill had programmed their lives. Minutes later, many deserted houses came into view. As we approaches the inner part of Goi, we beheld a community under siege by a demonic crude oil. Most of the buildings were in a state of disrepair.

The occupants have since fled  because of the massive spill. Goi, said to be the oldest in the area, and with a population of nearly 60,000, is tucked on a quiet hill in Gokana Local Government  Area of Rivers State.  The Goi River, which  has its source as Bonny River, flows through Opobo Channel and Bodo West, with tributaries scattered around the villages of the clan.

Damage
While examining the volume of destruction, it was observed that an area of the river, where spring water was gushing, had been covered by a  mass of oil. The thick oil stretched all around the edges of the water which overlooks the swamp in the far end of the river. It was the community’s source of drinking water. Clearly, aquatic life in the river had gone extinct. Paramount ruler of the clan, Mene Livinus Kobani, said the spring water used to accommodate crocodiles and boa, which the community embraced as its deities.

According to him, “Mudskippers and periwinkles, which sprinkled along the shores of the river and welcomed visitors to the water, are all gone. With what has happened here, no one can fish in the next 50 years”. Scores of carcases of fishing canoes and other seafaring materials littered the shores of the river. Even all the farmland, where the waterfront slopes in the clan, had been made infertile.

The exposed roots of coconut and palm trees whose leaves flutter as the ebbing water returns had started dying from the roots to the fronds. Spokesman of the land Alhaji Muhammad M. Kobani said four villages and scores of canoes in the clan were razed by a mystery fire when the spill spread round the area.

The fire and the spill have, according to him, rendered over 30,000 of the communities inhabitants homeless. “Those who refused to move out are daily inflicted by various ailments. Because the people do not have any choice of drinking water now, they scoop whatever they can find including water polluted with benzene. As at last count, we have lost 15 people in one month. What is happening here is a gradual extinction of our people by oil spill”.

When Sunday Vanguard visited Bodo General Hospital, the medical doctor in charge refused to comment on the effect of the spill on the people. He said he would need authorisation of the state government to speak. But some patients, including pregnant women, old people and youths said they started experiencing pain and nausea as soon as the spill was noticed in their river, three years ago (2008).

Many pregnant women were said to be miscarrying at an alarming rate. Mr. Barinua, a resident, said he had spent all his life savings catering for his sick family since the spill was noticed in the community. “We spend so much money on drinking water. If you have to spend so much on water alone, what about food, school fees, hospital bills and others? This oil spill has scattered the community and many families”.

Oil Spill

Another resident, Mrs. Barigboma Williams, said she had lost three pregnancies in a row due to the “bad water, smell of oil every day and the general hardship” occasioned by the spill. “We cannot even relocate because of the financial implications. I used to farm and trade while my husband fished to sustain the family. But we have lost our sources of livelihood because of the spill”.

Sources of Spill
Narrating the sources of their woes, Alhaji Kobani said the first spill in the area was in 2004 and was ignored by Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, because they said it was sabotage. He said the spill of 2008, which has remained till date, was accepted by SPDC as system failure at Bomu Manifold – Trans Niger Pipeline. The spokesman explained that Goi  has “always been at the receiving end of system failure and pipeline sabotage as claimed by Shell”.

The paramount ruler of the place, Mene Livinus Kobani, said he was taken aback that the UNEP report on the oil spill in Ogoniland did not mention Goi. Kobani said he was also surprised that the community has also not been involved in the distribution of drinking water by the Rivers State government.

Demands
Mene Kobani said, “Presently, there is no government or Shell presence in the community” and, for life to return to the area, they require a  health centre. My people want to return to the river to fish as well as to the land to farm. So, Shell should clean up the area and carry out remediation. We want adequate compensation from Shell and we want the company to build schools here.  Rivers State government should help us by supplying drinking water to this community”.

The lack of drinking water, he said, has contributed to the people leaving the area in droves. “The five sources of drinking water have been badly polluted. You see, only those who experience things would know the extent of pain. We are undergoing severe hardship in this community and the entire clan as a result of the oil spill here”.

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http://www.vanguardngr.com/2011/09/living-with-oil-spill-in-ogoniland/

Why I’m Donating My Heinz Award Money to the Fight Against Fracking

Sandra Steingraber beautifully shares why the fight against fracking is so important.

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Posted 15 September 2011, by Sandra Steingraber, AlterNet, alternet.org

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Photo Credit: todbaker

I’m thrilled to receive a Heinz Award in recognition of my research and writing on environmental health. This is work made possible by my residency as a scholar within the Department of Environmental Studies at Ithaca College. Many past and present Heinz Award winners are personal heroes of mine–and Teresa Heinz herself is a champion of women’s environmental health–so this recognition carries special meaning for me. And it comes with a $100,000 unrestricted cash prize. Which is stunning.

As a bladder cancer survivor of 32 years, I’m intimately familiar with two kinds of uncertainty: the kind that comes while waiting for results from the pathology and radiology labs and the kind that is created by the medical insurance industry who decides whether or not to pay the pathology and radiology bills. Over the years, I’ve learned to analyze data and raise children while surrounded by medical and financial insecurities. It’s a high-wire act.

But as an ecologist, I’m aware of a much larger insecurity: the one created by our nation’s ruinous dependency on fossil fuels in all their forms. When we light them on fire, we fill the atmosphere with heat-trapping gases that are destablizing the climate and acidifying the oceans (whose plankton stocks provide us half of the oxygen we breathe). When we use fossil fuels as feedstocks to make materials such as pesticides and solvents, we create toxic substances that trespass into our children’s bodies (where they raises risks for cancer, asthma, infertility, and learning disorders).

Emancipation from our terrible enslavement to fossil fuels is possible. The best science shows us that the United States could, within two decades, entirely run on green, renewable energy if we chose to dedicate ourselves to that course. But, right now, that is not the trail we are blazing.  Instead, evermore extreme and toxic methods are being deployed to blast fossilized carbon from the earth. We are blowing up mountains to get at coal, felling boreal forests to get at tar, and siphoning oil from the ocean deep.

Most ominously, through the process called fracking, we are shattering the very bedrock of our nation to get at the petrified bubbles of methane trapped inside. Fracking turns fresh water into poison. It fills our air with smog, our roadways with 18-wheelers hauling hazardous materials, and our fields and pastures with pipelines and toxic pits.

I am therefore announcing my intent to devote my Heinz Award to the fight against hydrofracking in upstate New York, where I live with my husband and our two children. Some might look at my small house (with its mismatched furniture) or my small bank accounts (with their absence of a college fund or a retirement plan) and question my priorities. But the bodies of my children are the rearranged molecules of the air, water, and food streaming through them.

As their mother, there is no more important investment that I could make right now than to support the fight for the integrity of the ecological system that makes their lives possible. As legal scholar Joseph Guth reminds us, a functioning biosphere is worth everything we have. This summer I traveled through the western United States and saw firsthand the devastation that fracking creates. In drought-crippled Texas where crops withered in the fields, I read a hand-lettered sign in a front yard that said, “I NEED WATER. U HAUL. I PAY. “

And still the fracking trucks rolled on, carrying water to the gas wells. This is the logic of drug addicts, not science.  I also stood on the courthouse steps in Salt Lake City while climate activist Tim DeChristopher was sentenced to two years in federal prison for an act of civil disobedience that halted the leasing of public land for gas and oil drilling near Arches National Park. Before he was hauled away by federal marshals, Tim said, “This is what love looks like.”

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http://www.alternet.org/water/152427/

Mending Mother Earth’s Garment of Protection

 

Mending Mother Earth’s Garment of Protection

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Posted 16 September 2011, by Nafeesa M P, Daijiworld (Daijiworld Media Pvt Ltd), daijiworld.com

 

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We see every new cosmetic brand guaranteeing protection from the sun, is it not the same sun our elders were faced with each day while working hard in their fields? Is it not the same sun which keeps us warm and sources energy for all the processes on the earth? Answer for these questions is a harsh reality which tells us the tale of pollution we have inflicted. The consequences of so called industrial development have reached the skies damaging the ozone layer which protects us from sun radiations. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) and other Ozone depleting substances containing the chemicals chlorine and bromine are the culprits.

Ozone is the layer of ozone gas that is set 15 to 30 kilometers above the earth and serves as a shield to protect the earth dwellers from the harmful Ultra Violet B (UVB) rays beamed out from the sun. Ozone is a highly reactive molecule containing three oxygen atoms, which is constantly being broken and formed above the atmosphere in a region called Stratosphere.

Scientist in the 1970’s discovered that the layer was thinning and as a result of the release of CFC’s, and consequently, the Ozone Hole developed. CFCs, which are used as industrial refrigerants and found in aerosol sprays have caused the breakdown of the ozone layer for last 50 years. The CFCs reaching the upper atmosphere are exposed to UV rays which causes them to break down into Chlorine substances. This chlorine reacts with oxygen which in turn depletes the ozone. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency one atom of chlorine destroys more than a hundred thousand ozone molecules.

The ozone above the Antarctic has been impacted due to pollution since mid-1980s, low temperature in the region speeds up the conversion of CFCs into Chlorine. During the southern summer when the sun shines for longer periods in the region the ozone break down occurs on a massive scale that is up to 65 percent. This is called ‘Ozone Hole’, whereas in other regions ozone is depleted up to 20 percent.

It is a bitter fact that more than 130,000 new cases of Melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer are reported each year around the world. The disease can also be caused by excessive exposure to the Ultra Violet B (UVB) rays beamed towards the earth from the sun. The extra UVB radiation which is reaching the earth due to ozone depletion inhibits the reproductive cycle of many single celled organisms, which are the root of the food cycle. Researchers have also found variations in the reproductive cycles of fish and other under water species.

Since 1995 on September 16 each year the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer is observed. The day is observed to focus on the protection of the ozone layer at global, national and local level. The day has been designated by the UN General Assembly to commemorate Montreal Protocol.

Nations around the world convened at Vienna in 1985 to develop a framework for co-operative activities to protect the Ozone layer and the agreement became known as the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) monitors programmes of the international treaties aimed at eliminating the production and use of ozone-depleting substances.

The Montreal Protocol which was agreed upon on September 16, 1987 at the Headquarters of the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal stipulated that production and consumption of compounds that deplete ozone in the stratosphere are to be phased out by the year 2000. A Multilateral Fund (MLF) has been established as a financial instrument of the Montreal Protocol, which assists developing countries in the implementation of the protocol.

India acceded to the Montreal Protocol September 17, 1992 India’s per capita consumption of Ozone Depleting Substances is at present less than 3 grams and did not cross 20 gms as against 300 gms permitted under the Protocol.

As of now about 90 percent of the CFCs present in atmosphere were emitted by developed countries in the northern hemisphere including US and Europe. The amount of chlorine in the atmosphere dropped down following the ban of CFCs in these countries in the year 1996. But scientific estimates still predict that it will take another 50 years for the chlorine levels to reach natural level.

 

http://www.daijiworld.com/chan/exclusive_arch.asp?ex_id=1706

 

Life in an unhealthy climate

 

Life in an unhealthy climate

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Posted 16 September 2011, by Mandi Smallhorne, The Mail & Guardian (M&G Media, Newtrust Company Botswana Limited and Guardian Newspapers Limited), mg.co.za

 

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Too hot to handle A firefighter battles a fire fuelled by strong winds and record temperatures in Vyksa, Russia. (Mikhail Voskresensky, Reuters)

Krish Perumal does not look forward to Durban’s summers. A ­middle-aged ­supervisor in a rubber-producing company, he was struck by asthma about 25 years ago when he was in his early 30s. “It’s worse when it’s hot and humid,” he says. “When you get bad wheezing, then you can get the flu.”

Perumal believes his condition is caused by industrial pollution — and he may be right. He lives in south Durban, home to two of South Africa’s biggest oil refineries and more than 120 industries, and more than 280 000 people. The area is a notorious pollution hot spot and a study done a few years ago showed that children here were twice as likely to get asthma as those in the northern parts of the city.

But there is reason to believe that global warming may be playing a part in the rise in respiratory disease here and elsewhere (asthma rates have been soaring around the world in the past three decades). Average temperatures in Southern Africa have risen by 1.5°C over the past century as opposed to 0.8°C globally, according to Dr Francois Engelbrecht of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The combination of higher temperatures and industrial pollutants is bad news for asthma sufferers like Perumal — and gives him a special interest in the 17th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP17), which will take place in Durban from November 28.

The pollutant by-product of interest here is ozone, which is something most of us connect to the hole in the ozone layer happening in the Antarctic high up in the sky. But ground-level ozone is common in our cities. It forms when nitrogen oxides (NOx, a product of combustion in cars, trucks, industrial processes and coal-fired power plants) react with volatile organic compounds in sunlight, explains Dan Ferber, co-author with Dr Paul Epstein of Changing Planet, Changing Health (University of California Press).

Ground-level ozone irritates the respiratory system, damages lung tissue and reduces lung function. It triggers coughing, chest discomfort, a scratchy feeling in the throat and other symptoms. It makes people more susceptible to respiratory infections and it exacerbates asthma and emphysema.

Effects on health
When he started working on the book, Ferber says, he had no idea what he would discover. “The overall scope of the potential health problems was surprising to me.”

Ferber says that because scientists focus on their own specialities, the public receives information about climate change piecemeal — a study that looks at how crops are being affected; research on expanding ranges for mosquitoes; insight into changing patterns of rainfall. It is only when you step back and try to take in the whole picture that you realise this should be framed “as a public health crisis”, he says.

Consider how all-encompassing the effects on health are. Most of South Africa has been malaria-free hitherto. But it is common cause that climate change will likely increase the range of the Anopheles mosquito that carries malaria. It will also alter — sometimes increasing, sometimes reducing — the range of other insects that carry disease, such as the ticks that carry Congo fever. South Africa needs to be prepared for a possible rise in insect-borne diseases.

Then there is water. “Water is the primary medium through which people in Africa will experience climate change impacts. By 2020, it is estimated that 75-million to 250-million Africans will be exposed to increased water stress,” writes Dr Mary Galvin in a forthcoming publication by the Environmental Monitoring Group, Water and Climate Change: An Exploration for the Concerned and Curious. Projections indicate that South Africa will not benefit from the fact that warmer air holds more moisture: specific climatic features mean that, overall, we will be hotter but not get much increase in useful rainfall.

Some of the rainfall will come in extreme weather events such as the recent floods in the Newcastle and Upington regions, which can damage crops and do not necessarily sink into the underground water table, instead running off and washing away precious topsoil.

What does this mean for our health? Water is, of course, a vital nutrient, but it is also crucial to a secure food supply. A reduced rainfall, combined with changes in times when crops can be planted and harvested because of higher temperatures, will likely add to greater food insecurity. Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington, DC, has estimated that for every 1C increase in temperature, yields of staple grains will drop by 10%. This, of course, like all the impacts of climate change, will hit the poor hardest.

“I can say with confidence that there is a link between rising food prices and climate change,” says Ferber. Drought in Australia, wildfires in Russia and other events affect global food supply. In August, for example, China Daily reported that South Korea’s rice harvest was expected to reach a 10-year low next year because of abnormal weather conditions, which we should perhaps be calling the “new normal”.

An absence of fresh, clean water in adequate amounts for drinking and washing, coupled with undernourished people add up to a perfect health storm: water-borne diseases like cholera thrive in such conditions and malnourished people’s immune systems are unable to mount a sufficient defence.

We should be putting thought into adapting to a water-poor future, says Galvin: “Sustainable water usage solutions that could be implemented not simply by ecologically progressive households or municipalities but on a national scale include rainwater-harvesting landscapes for growing food, from commercial agriculture to small-scale farms to homestead gardens; the use of grey water to irrigate agriculture, parks and public sites; ecological treatment of sewage; dry sanitation systems such as compost toilets and pit latrines; and reducing water leaks.

“Adaptation will also require improving river and local wetland health; adjusting farming practice with resilient crops and shifting seasons; expanding the number of households with food gardens; and preparing for drought or floods.”

Heat effects on productivity
We all know about the 2003 heat wave, the hottest on record in more than 450 years, which killed about 40 000 people in Europe. Perhaps we dismiss the significance of this in our minds because the news focus was on the elderly people who died in great numbers. What went largely unnoticed at the time was a significant increase in deaths among those under 65 — demonstrating that heat has a substantial effect on younger people too. Interestingly, although far more elderly women than men died, men were about twice as likely to die as women in the younger age group.

Heat waves will be more common in future, but the increase in average temperatures alone is likely to have an impact on human health in ways that will reduce productivity, shorten life spans and decrease wellbeing significantly, as Professor Tord Kjellstrom and his South African colleagues pointed out at a seminar at the University of Johannesburg in August. Kjellstrom is an internationally recognised expert on the health impacts of climate change — he is part-time professor and visiting fellow at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the Australian National University in Canberra and is developing a global programme of studies on high occupational temperature health and productivity suppression (Hothaps) that is aimed at quantifying the impacts of heat exposure at work.

In a warming world we will experience the highest temperatures during the day, while we are at work. The majority of workers will not be able to escape the heat in air-conditioned offices. They will be out in the fields harvesting crops, labouring on construction sites or in factories that are inadequately cooled — doing the work that feeds us and gives us the pleasant and useful things in life.

Professor Angela Mathee, head of the Medical Research Council’s Environment and Health Research Unit, and colleagues Joy Oba and Andre Rose have done a pilot study as part of Hothaps. They demonstrated that many outdoor workers were already exposed to alarmingly severe health and productivity impacts from heat exposure.

Focus groups in Johannesburg and Upington spoke of increased thirst, excessive sweating, exhaustion, dry noses, blisters, burning eyes, headaches, nose bleeds and dizziness, among a host of other effects including chronic tiredness: “When it is very hot, sometimes when you wake up in the morning you feel exhausted,” said one Upington participant. As temperatures rise further in the near future, symptoms like these will have to be urgently addressed by employers and the government.

Sweating it out
Excessive perspiration is a serious heat-related health concern that can become a killer. Kjellstrom spoke about South American sugar-cane cutters who sweated several litres of fluid in a day, but only brought two litres of water to work with them because they had to walk and could not carry more. Because the employers did not provide water in the field, each day they would have to wait until knock-off time to replace the deficit, which had led to a spate of life-threatening kidney conditions in relatively young workers.

The imbalance of salts that results from heavy sweating is one reason why heat exposure reduces productivity: it leads to a lessened ability to work intensively and a loss of perceptual and motor performance — even mild dehydration has been shown to decrease mental performance. The brain also sends a signal to decrease muscle tone, which leaves people feeling tired and listless.

People will be working at a slower pace — if you are working in a consistent temperature above 28°C you should work only half your normal hours, says the professor — and their risk of accidents on the job also will increase. There are psychosocial effects as well: aggression rises, for example, increasing the risk of conflict and interpersonal friction in the workplace.

In addition, Kjellstrom points out, heat in many workplaces will interact with chemicals such as solvents and pesticides used on the job; these will evaporate faster, boosting the danger of exposure for workers. And workers who wear protective clothing will be hotter while at the same time being less able to perspire as effectively. In Southeast Asia, innovators are coming up with concepts to tackle this problem. One inventor has developed a vest containing tubes of material that stay frozen solid until about 25°C — when the temperature hits 30°C you stick it in the freezer again.

South African research
“We’ve known about the effects of heat in the workplace for a long time,” says Kjellstrom. But it is only recently that people have begun to link this knowledge with the oncoming juggernaut of climate change.

Interestingly, the original research on heat and labour was done right here in South Africa about 60 years ago. Dr CH Wyndham tested the work capacity of fit young men who came to work in the hot underground of Johannesburg’s mines. He found that although about 64% of men could cope with moderate physical labour in hot conditions, only a few were able to cope with heavy labour. He decided to acclimatise them by having them exercise in a “warm gym” daily for a few weeks, after which the number who could do hard labour jumped to 29% — still less than a third. Wyndham’s concept is still in use to acclimatise and harden new recruits and men who return to the mines after holidays.

Will our future climate be hot enough to trigger these on-the-job health problems? The answer is yes. At the CSIR recently, atmospheric modeller Dr Francois Engelbrecht presented the results of six simulations or models of our future, the largest exercise of its kind ever done here. The news is not good: Southern Africa has an observed temperature increase over the past century of double the global average, and this trend will continue over the decades between now and century’s end. So if — and it’s an unlikely prospect — we manage to keep the global increase down to two degrees, Southern Africa will experience four. This means that whereas a pleasant Gauteng January day between 1960 and 2000 was usually about 25°C, it would in future be about 29°C. If, as many scientists now believe is likely, the increase is three or four degrees globally, we are going to have some stinking hot summers.

The middle class and the wealthy will be able to buy their way out of many of these impacts for the next decade or so — air conditioners and filters will protect us from the heat and pollutants and insect repellents from mozzies and ticks. And we will probably moan at the price of water and food. But climate change will affect the poor the most, worsening the divide between rich and poor and placing serious demands on the public purse.

Few hold out much hope for a meaningful and binding treaty at COP17. But the dark picture experts paint of our future health prospects if we do not act, and act now, ­provides South Africans with urgent reasons to hope — and lobby — for an outcome that holds some promise.

 

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