Cover of the book, 'Enviromedics: The Impact of Climate Change on Human Health'. The book lays out in disturbing detail how human afflictions are proliferating due to manmade environmental change. Graphic: Rowman & Littlefield

By Tracie White
21 September 2017

(Stanford Medicine) – In 2008, Jay Lemery, MD, an emergency physician in Colorado, read a commentary about the effects of global climate change on human health. The author was Paul Auerbach, MD, professor of emergency medicine at Stanford and one of the world’s leading authorities on wilderness medicine.

Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the article caught Lemery’s attention.

“What I immediately thought was we need to have a physician movement around this,” said Lemery, associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado and section chief of wilderness and environmental medicine.

Now, a decade later, Lemery has co-authored a book with Auerbach that delves into the growing health issues touched upon in that 2008 article — the countless, frightening ways that climate change is increasing allergens, creating toxic algal blooms, inducing heat stress, causing air degradation, and creating water and food insecurity. The book, Enviromedics: The Impact of Climate Change on Human Health, not only calls on physicians, but everyone on the planet, to take note. The book is scheduled to be published in October.

Trying to hasten a ‘reasonable response’

“We don’t see the world moving fast enough to protect the planet, so perhaps by moving the discussion to human health we can hasten some sort of reasonable response,” Auerbach said. “Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are already causing a considerable health impact, such as floodwaters contaminated with bacteria and toxins, drowning deaths, disruption of essential medical care and even floating fire ant colonies.”

Lemery said, “On the hottest day of the year, patients come to the ER with heart attacks, COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] exacerbations and diabetes complications. If you do what we do, it’s not that hard to see the link between global warming and human illness.”

The book lays out in disturbing detail how human afflictions are proliferating due to manmade environmental change, and it’s likely to only get worse.  More intense heat waves are killing the sick and the elderly; increasing air degradation sends asthma sufferers into serious and sometimes deadly attacks; hotter temperatures are spreading mosquito-borne diseases. The authors warn that if nothing is done to curtail climate change, it will do much more than cause the extinction of polar bears: It may threaten humanity. By bringing together the many risks to human health in one book, the authors hope to propel people into action.

“People may have heard scattered comments about global climate change, but I don’t think they’ve looked at the issue as an aggregate whole,” Auerbach said. “It’s time for everyone to realize that it could conceivably become now or never on this issue because there soon may be much more environmental chaos and human suffering.”

No one is immune

The book is grounded in the overwhelming scientific evidence of global warming. To write it, the authors conducted extensive research, as well as called upon their firsthand experiences with cases linked to climate change. The following are a few examples from the book that illustrate how no one is immune from the health effects of the phenomenon:

  • A warmer world with greater weather extremes and increased atmospheric turbulence that degrades air quality will affect more people and increase the severity and number of asthma attacks. The book uses the fictional story of Sandra, a young woman with asthma in the South Bronx, who almost dies during a heat wave as temperatures soar toward 110 degrees.
  • Extreme weather causes more severe storms and flooding, magnifying the ubiquitous problem of sewage overflow. The lack of access to clean water has been linked to outbreaks of such illnesses as cholera, hepatitis A, ringworm and scabies. The book introduces us to Andrew, a fictional character who starts itching violently after wading in a polluted river near his home. The doctor diagnoses what is now a common household disorder contracted from dirty water: scabies. The minuscule human scabies mite completes its entire life cycle on the skin of humans and, untreated, might live there for years.
  • The book enumerates the ways in which drought can force people to abandon safe practices and use whatever resources are available. In Tanzania and Mozambique, drought conditions were associated with outbreaks of konzo, a devastating neurological disease that causes irreversible paralysis. A report from Brazil in 1996 cited more than 50 deaths from liver failure when local cyanotoxin-contaminated water was unknowingly used for kidney dialysis.

The two physicians have treated patients with most of the illnesses and conditions described in the book. Global warming, as far as they know, is not causing new disorders, but rather spreading them and making them worse. “This is an inventory of what happens when our environment goes haywire, and all the checks and balances of an ecosystem are gone,” Lemery said. “We should all pause. We should all worry.”

New book warns climate change is making us sick

By Anthony Faiola
12 September 2017

CRUZ BAY, U.S. Virgin Islands (The Washington Post) – The Asolare restaurant is gone, practically blown off its cliff, along with its world-famous carrot ginger soup. The facade of Margarita Phil’s is a junkyard of yellow and vermilion planks. Multimillion-dollar homes and aluminum huts alike lie in ruins.

On the island of St. John, that was only Irma’s beginning. Once a lush gem in the U.S. Virgin Islands, a chain steeped in the lore of pirates and killer storms, this 20-square-mile island is now perhaps the site of Irma’s worst devastation on American soil.

Six days after the storm — some say several days too late — the island finally has an active-theater disaster zone. Military helicopters buzz overhead and a Navy aircraft carrier is anchored off the coast, as the National Guard patrols the streets.

The Coast Guard is ferrying the last of St. John’s dazed tourists to large cruise ships destined for Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico. More than a few locals, cut off from the world with no power, no landlines and no cellular service — other than the single bar you might get above Ronnie’s Pizza — are leaving, too, some of them in tears.

Debris and destruction caused by Hurricane Irma is seen on St. John Island in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Photo: Anthony Faiola / The Washington Post

The streets of Cruz Bay, the largest town of this island of roughly 5,000, were a bizarre tableau of broken businesses and boats on sidewalks. Beyond belief, the Dog House bar had not only a generator but satellite TV, and folks streamed in and out, some stepping over debris holding beers. [more]

After Irma, a once-lush gem in the U.S. Virgin Islands reduced to battered wasteland

Damaged solar panels are seen after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Humacao, Puerto Rico on 22 September 2017. Photo: Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters

By Jon Schuppe
23 September 2017

(NBC News) – A team of New York electricity-transmission workers and a pair of drone operators arrived in San Juan Friday to help the reeling government of Puerto Rico begin to measure the damage to the U.S. territory's power grid.

The entire island remained without electricity into the weekend, days after Hurricane Maria thrashed its fragile and neglected network of plants, lines and poles.

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, known as PREPA, is unable to complete the task of restoring power on its own: It is bankrupt, just like the Puerto Rican government. The utility would not begin regular operations until Monday to "avoid jeopardizing the safety of its employees," according to its executive director, Ricardo Ramos.

In addition, when Maria hit, PREPA was in the midst of restoring power to the last of 1 million households that went black during Hurricane Irma only weeks earlier.

This time, there's no telling how long the power outages will last. […]

The crews arrived on a donated JetBlue flight and included engineers, planners and technical supervisors from the New York Power Authority. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo commissioned the flight and joined Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló in surveying the destruction.

"The devastation of the island is really breathtaking," Cuomo said after returning to New York Friday night. "There are parts of the island that had as much as seven to eight feet of water in homes."

"The entire power system on the island is down. The only systems that are operating are operating by generator," he said. [more]

Why It's Unclear When Puerto Rico Will Get Power Back

Satellite view of the Carajás Mine in Pará state, Brazil is the largest iron ore mine in the world. Photo: Google Earth

By Philip Fearnside
15 September 2017

(Mongabay) – On 23 August 2017, Brazil’s president Michel Temer issued a decree revoking the RENCA (National Reserve of Copper and Associated Minerals), an area the size of Switzerland on the northern side of the Amazon River straddling the states of Pará and Amapá. The Ministry of Environment had not been consulted and Brazil’s environmentalists and public were caught by surprise. Actually, in March the Temer administration had announced its intention of revoking the RENCA at a convention of mining companies in Canada. The choice of venue is telling.

A firestorm of criticism in Brazil and abroad (see here, here, here, here and here) led Temer to “revoke” the decree on August 28th and replace it with a new one. However, this widely trumpeted “revocation” didn’t mean ceasing to abolish the reserve, as the new decree merely tacked on some language stating that protected areas and environmental regulations would be respected. Needless to say, these regulations were already in place, and the original decree implicitly assumed that they would remain so.

On August 30th a federal judge issued a preliminary decision (liminar) suspending the decree and directed that the matter should be decided by the National Congress. However, the National Congress is presently dominated by representatives with a decidedly anti-environmental stance (see here, here and here). In addition, preliminary judicial decisions such as this are easily overruled by interested parties, such as the presidential administration, by seeking out friendly judges to issue a counter decision. This occurred many times when decisions halting construction of dams like Belo Monte were overturned within a few days.

The RENCA was not created for conservation purposes, but rather as an act of Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship to preserve a strategic reserve of mineral deposits instead of allowing international mining companies to exhaust and export these deposits, as, for example, had happened with the manganese deposit elsewhere in Amapá. However, in practice, the RENCA’s prevention of large-scale mining has protected the environment in this vast area, both inside and outside of legally protected areas.

Aerial images produced by the MAAP Project showing before (July 2010) and after (June 2017) the construction of the Belo Monte dam on the Xingu River. Photo: DigitalGlobe / ACT / Airbus / Apollo Mapping

In an editorial, the Folha de São Paulo newspaper considered the negative public-opinion reaction to be “exaggerated.” Although it is always possible to exaggerate environmental threats, and a few statements by politicians and others can best be interpreted as hyperbole, abolishing the RENCA is indeed a threat to the environment and to traditional peoples in this highly biodiverse and relatively undisturbed area. […]

The presumption that what is forbidden by Brazil’s laws or by the constitution will simply not happen in real life is very naïve. After all, the Belo Monte Dam was well described by the Federal Public Ministry (public prosecutors charged with defending the people’s interests) in Belém as “totally illegal,” but it now stands on the Xingu River as a concrete fact (see here and here). The Canadian mining firms that the Temer administration has invited to the area are of sufficient size to change history in their favor. [more]

Amazon mining unleashed (commentary)

PORT ARTHUR, Texas, 31 August 2017: A flooded street is seen after the area was inundated with flooding from Hurricane Harvey on 31 August 2017 in Port Arthur, Texas. At least 37 deaths related to the storm have been reported since Harvey made it's first landfall north of Corpus Christi, 25 August 2017. Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images

By Seth Cline
22 September 2017

(US News) – To some, climate change is a vague idea, a hazy future. In parts of the South, it's become a devastating reality.

"When you drive down the street there's piles and piles of furniture, clothing, shoes, sound systems, just about anything you find inside a home," Hilton Kelley, an environmental activist and former actor, says of Port Arthur, Texas, in Harvey's aftermath. "It really looks like a war zone in many of our neighborhoods."

For the residents of Port Arthur and nearby Houston, Hurricane Harvey was just the latest battle in the region's ongoing conflict with an increasingly volatile Mother Nature.

"Katrina, we should've learned from that. If we didn't learn from that we should've learned from Rita. If we didn't learn from Rita, we should've learned from Ike. If we didn't learn from Ike, we should've learned from Gustav," says Kelley of the area's stormy history. "How many hurricanes do you have to go through in 15 years to realize that this is the new norm?"

Port Arthur, like the South as a whole, is both uniquely located to feel climate change's effects and uniquely vulnerable to its dangers, experts say. From Florida and the Gulf Coast to Kentucky and Southern Appalachia, the rising temperatures and more frequent extreme weather that come with climate change threatens to disrupt local economies and endanger working class communities.

"The southern U.S. is basically ground zero for climate change," says Dr. Robert Bullard, a professor at Texas Southern University and the so-called "father of environmental justice."

There's the South's geography, for one. Surrounded on one side by rising seas and susceptible to the heat waves and droughts of the lower latitudes, it's suffered more billion-dollar weather and climate disasters than any other U.S. region going back to 1980. Texas alone has seen 94 of such events in that time frame, nearly 25 more than any other state.

"In Texas you get everything. You get ice storms and blizzards and tornadoes and flash flooding and haboobs and of course hurricanes," says Katharine Hayhoe, a professor at Texas Tech University who contributed to the 2014 National Climate Assessment.

But geographic hazards are only part of what makes the South particularly at risk to climate change, Hayhoe says. There's also the sheer number of people affected, and how vulnerable they are.

Despite the hazards, states like Texas have taken few steps to reduce risk. Although Texas leads the U.S. in terms of dollars paid for flood claims, it ranks among the worst in flood-control spending and doesn't require its communities to enroll in FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program. Suburban sprawl has led to new houses and developments being built on flood plains, and complicated emergency response. And migration to Texas and the South generally have only increased the region's exposure, particularly for those pushed to the low-lying and less desirable areas.

"These weather and climate extremes broaden the gaps between haves and have-nots. If you have insurance versus if you don't, if you can evacuate or you can't," Hayhoe says. "There's a socioeconomic component to individual vulnerability."

That vulnerability is a major reason why the South is set to be America's biggest loser in the coming battles with a changing climate. An study published this summer in the journal Science, which used innovative methods to estimate climate change's economic costs by region, predicted that climate change would hit the South the hardest: desecrating crop yields, increasing mortality rates, and exacerbating income inequality in what is already the country's poorest region.

Harbingers of those dire predictions can already be seen in this year's hurricane season. [more]

Climate Change's Southern Salvo

Smoke from fires near Cle Elum obscures the Cascades as a paddle boarder on Lake Washington glides past the hazy horizon including the Bellevue skyline on Monday, 28 August 2017. Photo: Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times

By Christine Clarridge
22 September 2017

(The Seattle Times) – This summer in Seattle was the warmest and driest ever recorded.

For those of us living in the Puget Sound region, it might not come as a surprise. In fact, it’s been a year full of extremes, with numerous daytime high records broken, one of the wettest rainy seasons and some of the haziest, smokiest days in memory from wildfires that blanketed the Pacific Northwest.

But this summer was special. Meteorologist Doug McDonnal, of the National Weather Service in Seattle, said the stretch from June 21 (the first day of summer) to Sept. 21 (the last full day of summer) is going down in the record books as being tied for the hottest since 1894 — when record-keeping began — with an average high temperature of 78.6 degrees, about 4 degrees warmer than average.

Tied for first place is 1967, when the average high was also 78.6 degrees, according to the weather service.

Early Friday morning, the weather service said 2017 had the hottest summer, but that was amended when the overnight numbers were calculated, McDonnal said.

(For those interested, third, fourth and fifth places are held by 2015, 2014 and 2013, respectively.)

This summer was also the driest on record, according to the weather service, with just 0.52 inches of rain, beating out 1910 at 0.58 inches. The region usually gets 2.25 inches of rain in that three-month period. [more]

We just experienced warmest and driest summer ever recorded in Seattle

The 'Moon Tree', a sycamore planted at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in 1976, sprouted from a seed that flew on Apollo 14. The tree was toppled by Hurricane Irma in September 2017, forcing crews to remove it from the complex. Photo: Florida Today

By Emre Kelly
21 September 2017

(Florida Today) – A tiny tree seed that began its voyage in an Apollo command module and later sprouted to life at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex was lost to the winds of Hurricane Irma earlier this month.

Known as a "Moon Tree," the perennial plant once located in a visitor complex courtyard spent nearly two weeks of 1971 tucked away in the personal kit of Apollo 14 Astronaut Stuart Roosa and completed 34 orbits of Earth's closest neighbor.

But despite its epic voyage, the sycamore tree planted in 1976 to celebrate the U.S. bicentennial was removed from the visitor complex after Irma toppled it, which created a hazard to guests.

"The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex Moon Tree was a beautiful, living artifact, and part of our nation’s history of space exploration," the visitor complex said in a statement. "We were saddened to lose it."

A NASA analysis found that Irma's winds reached as high as 94 mph at Kennedy Space Center. [more]

Irma topples NASA's 'Moon Tree' that flew on Apollo 14

The Environmental Data and Governance Initiative has this screenshot taken between 5 April 2017 and 30 May 2017 of the Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay website. Numerous mentions of “climate change,” “greenhouse gasses” and other phrases related to global warming have been found to be altered or deleted. Graphic: EDGI / EPA

By Dino Grandoni
22 September 2017

(The Washington Post) – Numerous mentions of “climate change,” “greenhouse gasses” and other phrases related to global warming have been found to be altered or deleted from another portion of the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, according to a new environmental watchdog report.

At the beginning of President Trump's term, the EPA’s SmartWay program, designed to help businesses looking to lower their impact on the environment find ways of doing so when shipping goods, told visitors that “many companies monitor their carbon emissions and establish inventories or overall 'carbon footprint' to help decision makers identify the best strategies for reducing climate impacts."

But by May, those descriptions had been replaced by more generalized terms. Instead of tracking carbon emissions, firms could monitor “fuel consumption.” Instead of shrinking their carbon footprint, companies could address their "environmental footprint." Instead of reducing climate impacts, they were told they could “improve sustainability.”

The Environmental Data and Governance Initiative has the above screenshot taken between April 5 and May 30.

Elsewhere on SmartWay’s website, other phrases used in climate science were deleted without replacement, with “climate change” and “greenhouse gas emissions” being dropped from a paragraph describing the environmental effects of freight transport. In one instance, the sentence “The science is clear — greenhouse gas emissions from all sources must decrease” was struck entirely from the website.

The changes were detailed in a report released Friday by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, a group of nonprofits and academics who among other activities have monitored changes to federal government websites during the Trump administration.

According to EDGI, the alterations occurred sometime between late March and early May. In April, the EPA announced an overhaul of the agency’s website that included a review of “content related to climate and regulation.”

The EPA did not respond to a request for comment for this story, but in April the agency’s associate administrator for public affairs, J.P. Freire, addressed the website overhaul in a statement: “We want to eliminate confusion by removing outdated language first and making room to discuss how we’re protecting the environment and human health by partnering with states and working within the law.” [more]

The Energy 202: Climate change terms altered in another corner of EPA’s website


By Kelly Kasulis
15 September 2017

(Mic) – The world’s oceans are going to have more plastic in them than fish by 2050, according to World Economic Forum projections. But we don’t need to wait for the future to witness grim scenes of polluted waters.

Just look at the photo below. Photographer Justin Hofman caught a tiny sea horse latched onto a cotton swab along the coast of Sumbawa Island in Indonesia, one of one of the most biodiverse nations in the world.

“After 10 minutes, the tide started to turn and all this junk started to flow through,” the 33-year-old said in a phone call from Monterey, California. “It first grasped onto a piece of sea grass, then there was a little wispy piece of plastic that it grabbed onto, and the next thing it was this Q-tip. It was this weird progression of going from natural to unnatural in this short span.”

Hofman said that he was “surprised at how good the coral” in the area was, but the waters were otherwise heavily polluted. The white blurry spots in the photo’s background are actually bits of plastic drifting around, and the water started to stink as sewage came through (which he thinks made him sick the next day). […]

“I was just in the Arctic a couple weeks ago and we watched a polar bear dig through trash and eat plastic. It was pretty heartbreaking stuff,” he said. “I’ve seen dynamite fishing, shark fishing, starving polar bears, whales caught in nets … a lot of depressing shit.

“I do truly feel like I carry this weight sometimes,” he added. [more]

Justin Hofman’s viral sea horse photo shows the heartbreaking state of our polluted water


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