Posts Tagged ‘transportation’

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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Fresh flood submerges 600 villages in Orissa


Fresh flood submerges 600 villages in Orissa

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Posted 23September 2011, by Staff, The Times of India (Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd.), timesofindia.indiatimes.com

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BHUBANESWAR: Flood condition worsened in Orissa on Friday with four major rivers submerging around 600 villages in the state.

Fresh flood in Brahmani, Baitarani, Budhabalang and Subarnarekha rivers following a heavy downpour wrecked havoc in Jajpur, Keonjhar, Bhadrak, Kendrapara, Balasore and Mayurbjanj districts, officials said.

“Jajpur was cut off from rest of the state as a portion of 120-year-old bridge on Baitarani river at Sathipur caved in,” District Collector Anil Samal said.

“Vast stretches of national highways connecting Panikoili to Keonjhar, Keonjhar-Jashipur and Kamakhyanagar-Bhubana were inundated in flood waters, paralysing vehicular movement,” Works Secretary S K Ray said.

Also several state highways in Bhadrak, Keonjhar, Jajpur, Dhenkanal, Kendrapara and Mayurbhanj were submerged in many places, throwing traffic out of gear.

Meanwhile, chief minister Naveen Patnaik reviewed the flood situation at a high-level meeting here and deputed three senior officials to worst-hit Jajpur, Bhadrak and Kendrapara to monitor and supervise rescue and relief work.

Helicopters available with the state for anti-Naxal operation will be pressed into service for air dropping of relief materials for the marooned people from tomorrow, Special Relief Commissioner P K Mohapatra said. .

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http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Fresh-flood-submerges-600-villages-in-Orissa/articleshow/10091137.cms

Whose ears, will you whisper into: Journalist or Policeman?

 

Whose ears, will you whisper into: Journalist or Policeman?

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Posted 21 September 2011, by Francis Ameyibor, Ghana News Agency (GNA), ghananewsagency.org

 

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Accra, Sept 21, GNA – Once a while I love to join public transport (Trotro) to enjoy the tick-chat, tick-chat, tick-chat that goes on among passengers.

Recently I joined a Trotro from Kwame Nkrumah circle to North Kaneshie, the usual gossips, shouts, argument over practically nothing started, and then suddenly I overheard an argument between a lady and gentleman as who can keep a secret; a Journalist or a Police Officer.

As media practitioner, Trotro has sometimes served as information gathering centre for me, what am looking for determines the route I use, and the value of the gossips depends largely on the route.

Information you gather onboard Trotro from Circle to Madina through 37 Military Hospital, Airport, Legon Campus is different from what you gather onboard Tema Station Trotro to Teshie Nungua through Osu, La or Labadi, and Teshie.

What about Circle to Dansoman route, or Tema Station to Achimota, “I tell you in Trotro you see things, you smell things, you hear things and you are likely to touch some things”. You must also know the time and the season for boarding Trotro for good information.

Anyway back to the debate on: Whose ear will you whisper into? The two Trotro debaters have picked entrenched positions; the gentleman noted: “My sister, can you confidently whisper into the ears of a Police Officer that you know for a fact that your boyfriend deals in narcotics, and be sure that he will not be arrested?

The lady retorted: “Yes that’s easy just whisper into his ears and seal it with a stamp (money that’s bribe). The colour (denomination) of the stamp is very important for the security of the information provided.

“But for the Journalist, my brother, I will not dare, whether you give him or her a brown envelop or not, trust me so far as its newsworthy information you will see it the next minute in the news”.

As the argument developed I started reflecting over the issues raised and decided to talk to some few people on the topic.

Ms Cynthia Naa Aryee, a trader shouted: “eeeeh none of the above, they are all the same, they survive on information, so how on earth do you want me to whisper into their ears, never!

Mr Kofi Obeng Wiafe, a businessman noted: “I will whisper into the ears of the Journalist as I have learnt to live at hands length with a Police Officer.

You know what? A Policeman will always hide behind a colleague to act on your secret. It’s very dangerous to whisper into the Policeman’s ear.

A legal practitioner said: “I trust the Journalist more than the Police Officer. Even though some few Journalists have let me down, but overall, they have respected the confidence I have reposed in them”.

As I conjecture on the debate I realised that majority of Ghanaians are ignorant that both the Police and the Journalist perform effectively in the interest of the public based largely on whispering.

In an interview with the Ghana News Agency, a Senior Police Officer explained that the Police classified what you civilians called whisper as “Tip-off,” – a piece of confidential, advance, warning or hint, or inside information.

“We process whisper ‘Tip-off’ through security intelligence platform to review its sensitivity then act; to a security personnel knowledge is the only effective tool to prevail in the face of the wide range of asymmetric threats to national security,” he stated.

He revealed that the standard for intelligence gathering now is “need to share” not “need to know,” which is sometimes gathered through wide range of platforms including the whispering platforms in town.

Intelligence is critical to ensuring national security, especially with asymmetric threats making up most of the new challenges. Knowledge, rather than power, is the only weapon that can prevail in a complex and uncertain environment awash with asymmetric threats, some known, many currently unknown in the public domain.

In their scheme of functions – the detection of crime; the apprehension of offenders; the maintenance of law and order; and the maintenance of internal peace and security the Police thrive mainly on information tip-off.

A senior Journalist on the other hand noted that media practitioners consider whisper as a lead – vital exclusive information with aspects of importance and excitement acquired by luck or initiative.

Similarly; a journalist cultivates information sources “lead” to collects and disseminates news about current events, people, trend, and issues.

Society is therefore endangered if citizens failed to feed the Police as well as the Journalist with vital information. They both seek the interest of the public but unfortunately due to the misdeeds of some few bad nuts among them a proportion of the general public are scared to venture information or whisper into their ears.

I concluded that based on the discussion; the two professional bodies are gradually losing the public trust-reliance on their integrity, ability, surety to the usage of protected information passed on to them.

(A GNA feature by Francis Ameyibor)

 

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http://www.ghananewsagency.org/details/Features/Whose-ears-will-you-whisper-into-Journalist-or-Policeman/?ci=10&ai=33765

Respublika passes a bill on Issyk-Kul ecology protection


Respublika passes a bill on Issyk-Kul ecology protection

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Posted 21 September 2011, by Tolgonai Osmongazieva, 24.kg” News Agency, eng.24.kg

 

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Respublika parliamentary faction has passed a bill on amending the law on the sustainable development of eco-economic system of Issyk-Kul Lake. The decision was made today at its meeting.

According to the MP Maksat Sabirov, the document is aimed at improving and protecting the ecology of the lake that is now in danger. “The provision of the law that the capital construction is possible at a distance of 100 meters is necessary to change to 300 meters should be changed. The owners of boarding houses construct the houses disorderly near the water wishing to earn more money during the season. However, there are no treatment facilities in many buildings and the available are not answerable to the requirements. In theory beach areas belong to the state. But the owners of boarding houses have assigned the plots. They destroy the sea-buckthorn that is a natural filter of the Lake,” he said.

Maksat Sabirov said that according to the draft law, the restriction applies to boarding houses located in a resort area – from Korumdu village to Cholpon-Ata town. “We need to stop the chaotic construction of buildings otherwise we will lose the unique lake. We sent the bill to the government. The State Agency of Environment and Forestry has approved it,” added the people’s deputy.

His colleague Cholpon Sultanbekova stressed that they are to make the owners of boarding houses to install treatment facilities.

Several MPs noted the need to coordinate the amendments to the State Agency for Construction and Architecture.

The leader of the faction Kanatbek Isaev to review the work of scooters and motor boats that cause great harm to the lake in his opinion. “If it’s a tourist area then we can not prohibit scooters and boats. But it is necessary that all water appliances annually to be held passportization, the taxes to be paid to the local or state budget,” he added.

Issyk Kul, Kyrgyzstan - September 1992, Photo: NASA, Retrieved from Wikipedia Commons by Only Ed

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UN: Indigenous Peoples abused in race for natural resources

UN: Indigenous Peoples abused in race for natural resources

Indigenous peoples suffer abuses in race for natural resources – UN rights expert

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Posted 20 September 2011, by Brenda Norrell, Censored News, bsnorrell.blogspot.com

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Special Rapporteur James Anaya

UN News Centre

20 September 2011 
Posted at Censored News

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Extraction of natural resources and other major development projects in or near the territories of indigenous peoples is one of the most significant sources of abuse of their human rights worldwide, an independent United Nations expert warned today.

“In its prevailing form, the model for advancing with natural resource extraction within the territories of indigenous peoples appears to run counter to the self-determination of indigenous peoples in the political, social and economic spheres,” the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples James Anaya told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

In a report based on answers to a questionnaire he distributed to governments, indigenous peoples and organizations, business corporations and other actors, he cited conflicting viewpoints on the potential adverse impact and benefits of such activities as mining, forestry, oil and natural gas extraction and hydroelectric projects in indigenous territories.

He said he had made it a priority to reconcile the differing views and courses of action to ensure the full protection of indigenous rights and promote best practices through a broad dialogue with governments, indigenous peoples’ organizations, corporate actors and international institutions, in which consensus-building would be a key element.

“The lack of a minimum common ground for understanding the key issues by all actors concerned entails a major barrier for the effective protection and realization of indigenous peoples’ rights,” he added, praising a new Peruvian law compelling private companies to consult indigenous communities before going ahead with major projects such as mining.

Among key concerns, Mr. Anaya included the gradual loss of control by indigenous peoples over lands, territories and natural resources; water source depletion and contamination for drinking, farming and grazing; the adverse effects of water and airborne pollution on overall community health; and an increase in infectious diseases spread by interaction with workers or settlers.

Another concern was the adverse impact on indigenous social structures and cultures, including alarming rates of alcoholism and prostitution previously unheard of among such peoples, imported by illegal loggers or miners, non-indigenous workers and industry personnel in specific projects, and increased traffic due to the construction of roads and other infrastructure.

“Submissions by indigenous peoples and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) also reported an escalation of violence by government and private security forces as a consequence of extractive operations in indigenous territories, especially against indigenous leaders,” Mr. Anaya noted. “A general repression of human rights was reported in situations where entire communities had voiced their opposition to extractive operations.”

Several governments highlighted the key importance of natural resource extraction projects for their domestic economies that, reportedly accounting for up to 60 to 70 per cent of the gross national product (GNP) in some countries, with positive benefits for indigenous peoples.

Mining companies noted that indigenous peoples have been direct beneficiaries of basic infrastructure construction such as roads, communications, electricity and water services, as well as health and educational opportunities.

But most indigenous peoples underscored the adverse effects on their environment, culture and societies, which they said outweighed the minimal or short-term benefits arising out of extractive operations.

For example, a member of the Pemon people of Venezuela reported that benefits from extractive industries were not a top priority within the community, which sought “healthy communities, with no infections, in a pollution-free environment,” Mr. Anaya said.

Similarly, an organization representing the traditional authorities of the Cofan people of Colombia concluded that “indigenous peoples are left with no option other than to try to find something positive for their communities out of the disaster left behind by the extraction of oil, mineral, and other resources” in their lands.

“The vast majority of indigenous peoples’ responses, many of which stemmed from the direct experience of specific projects affecting their territories and communities, rather emphasized a common perception of disenfranchisement, ignorance of their rights and concerns on the part of States and businesses enterprises, and constant life insecurity in the face of encroaching extractive activities,” Mr. Anaya said.

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http://bsnorrell.blogspot.com/2011/09/un-indigenous-peoples-abused-in-race.html

Road Ecology: An Often Overlooked Field Of Conservation Research


Road Ecology: An Often Overlooked Field Of Conservation Research

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Posted 19 September 2011, by Caitlin Kight, Science 2.0 (ION Publications LLC), science20.com

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Earlier this year, the open access journal Ecology and Society had a special feature called The Effects of Roads and Traffic on Wildlife Populations and Landscape Function. The issue featured 17 papers plus a guest editorial all devoted to discussing the ecological impacts of roads, the efficacy of road-related mitigation techniques, and the future of road ecology research.

One of the themes highlighted in the introductory editorial is the need for greater public awareness about the effects of roads, as well as a greater emphasis on collaboration between managers, politicians, and road ecology experts. There are an estimated 750 million vehicles utilizing approximately 50 million kilometers of road worldwide, with increases in both road network and traffic volumes continuing to occur globally–especially in developing areas such as eastern Europe, China, India, and Latin America. The known effects of roads include loss and fragmentation of habitat, injury and/or death of wildlife after collision with vehicles, changes in microhabitat (e.g., light, moisture, wind) due to increased exposure, pollution, and facilitation of invasion by non-native species.

Roads can have negative impacts on humans, as well–by reducing the aesthetic qualities and the recreational value of habitats. Perhaps more immediately important is the massive amount of injury and property damage associated with animal-vehicle collisions; in North America alone, 1-2 million collisions are thought to occur each year, causing several hundred human fatalities and over a billion US dollars in damage.

Despite the clear drawbacks of roads, they are often not considered in the same light as other human-induced habitat changes; ask the average person what anthropogenic disturbances are most destructive, and he/she is more likely to focus on factors such as pollution, urban sprawl, and climate change. Although roads are often associated with these things, they are generally not pinpointed as a dangerous habitat feature unto themselves, perhaps because they lie flat to the ground and do not have the same obvious physical presence of, say, skyscrapers or strip malls.

Pretty much since the first road ecology study was conducted  in 1925, it has been clear that animal abundance is negatively impacted by the presence of roads. The extent of the effect varies for different species and at different distances from road. Among frogs studied in Utah, for instance, the “road-effect zone” included land up to 1000 m from the roadside, and reduced abundances of 4 of 7 frog species examined; among small mammals evaluated in a desert environment, however, 11 of 13 species could be captured under vegetation right next to the road. Roads may also affect behaviors. Traffic noise, for instance, causes some bird and frog species to alter their vocalizations, thus potentially impacting their ability to communicate effectively. Roads can also disturb migration patterns, slowing down progress or forcing migrating individuals to take more circuitous routes, as observed in northern leopard frogs (Rana pipiens).

Encouragingly, some relatively simple mitigation techniques are effective at reducing the negative impacts of roads on wildlife. For instance, moving salt pools farther from roadsides can reduce moose (Alces alces)-vehicle collisions by 50%, saving lives of both moose and drivers. The installation of both over- and underpasses can allow safe passage of wildlife, not only preventing accidents on the road, but also preserving or even improving current rates of gene flow. Preliminary cost-benefits analyses have already suggested that, in many areas, the efficacy of some management methods exceed the costs required to employ them, indicating that increased implementation of a few simple techniques could save money and animals.

Because roads keep humans connected, they are an integral part not only of our daily lives, but also of our social structure. In other words, they are not going anywhere soon. Although the major goal among road ecologists is developing mitigation techniques that keep wildlife safe for generations to come, there is still a dearth of the very data that are necessary to make logical management plans. For instance, we still know relatively little about how roads affect long-term viability of populations, what effects they have on the landscape, and whether/how they alter ecosystem function. The authors of the guest editorial encourage road ecologists to center their future work around these questions. Furthermore, they encourage research that is applied in nature and can have direct, obvious value for road agencies, conservationists, wildlife, and motorists alike. One important goal–shared by biologists in a number of fields–is education of the public, including those individuals that make policy decisions. Hopefully, greater awareness will lead to smarter, safer use of roadways, and choices that bode well for the future of wildlife that live in heavily-trafficked areas.

van der Ree, R., Jaeger, J.A.G., van der Grift, E.A., and Clevenger, A.P. 2011. Effects of roads and traffic on wildlife populations and landscape function: road ecology is moving toward larger scales. Ecology and Society 16(1): 48 [online].

Thanks to the following websites for providing the images used in this post:

http://www.rural-roads.co.uk/

http://inhabitat.com/piezoelectric-energy-generating-roads-proposed-for-…

http://illusion.scene360.com/photography/1207/every-road-leads-to-somewh…

http://www.science20.com/anthrophysis/road_ecology_often_overlooked_field_conservation_research-82715

 

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.

 

TOPICS IN THIS ARTICLE
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