The Global Fool

our planet is our village

Global Threats: Water Scarcity and Uncertainty in the Estimates of Groundwater Availability
Jun28

Global Threats: Water Scarcity and Uncertainty in the Estimates of Groundwater Availability

By Roberta Attanasio Groundwater is any water that lies in aquifers beneath the land surface. While some of the water that falls as precipitation is channeled into streams or lakes, and some is used by plants or evaporates back into the atmosphere, most of it seeps underground in the cracks and spaces present in soil, sand and rock. Underground layers of rock that are saturated with groundwater are called aquifers. The groundwater contained in aquifers is one of the most important sources of water on our planet, and can be brought to the surface through natural springs or by pumping. Groundwater is constantly replenished (recharged), as part of the natural water cycle, by rain and melting snow, and to a smaller extent by surface water (rivers and lakes). Groundwater recharge is an important process for sustainable groundwater management — the volume of water extracted from an aquifer should be less than or equal to the volume of water that is recharged. Artificial recharge — the practice of increasing by artificial means the amount of water that enters an aquifer — is now gaining increasing acceptance for the support of sustainable groundwater management. Groundwater is among the most important natural resources in the United States. It provides half our drinking water and is essential to the vitality of agriculture and industry, as well as to the health of rivers, wetlands, and estuaries throughout the country. However, the future availability of groundwater to meet domestic, agricultural, industrial, and environmental needs is uncertain. Large-scale development of groundwater resources is leading to declines in groundwater levels not only in the United States, but also at a global level. In many arid and semi-arid regions in which water scarcity is almost endemic, groundwater plays a major role in meeting domestic and irrigation demands. Unfortunately, it is massively used for irrigation without adequate planning, raising serious concerns on the sustainability of such an intensive use of groundwater resources. Now, results from two new studies published in the journal Water Resources Research show that, while civilization is rapidly draining some of its largest groundwater basins, there is little to no accurate data about how much water remains in them. The researchers conclude that significant segments of Earth’s population are consuming groundwater quickly without knowing when it might run out. The studies characterized groundwater losses via data from space, using readings generated by NASA’s twin GRACE satellites through measurements of dips and bumps in Earth’s gravity, which is affected by the weight of water. In one of the studies (Quantifying renewable groundwater stress with GRACE), researchers examined — between 2003 and 2013 — the planet’s 37 largest aquifers. The eight...

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Global Threats: Climate Change is a Medical Emergency
Jun23

Global Threats: Climate Change is a Medical Emergency

By Roberta Attanasio For many years, we’ve been aware of the impacts of global climate change on human health and well-being. For example, safe drinking water, sufficient food, and secure shelter are threatened by rising sea levels and severe weather events. Heat waves dramatically increase death rates not only from heat strokes, but also from complications arising from cardiovascular, respiratory, and cerebrovascular diseases. However, the impacts of global climate change on human health are even greater than previously thought — according to a report published today (June 23, 2015) in The Lancet, the threat from climate change is so great that it could undermine the last fifty years of gains in development and global health. The report (Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health) which frames climate change as a health issue, is by a multidisciplinary and international Commission — the Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change — formed to map out the impacts of climate change, and the necessary policy responses, in order to ensure the highest attainable standards of health for populations worldwide. More precisely, the Commission includes European and Chinese climate scientists and geographers, social and environmental scientists, biodiversity experts, engineers and energy policy experts, economists, political scientists and public policy experts, and health professionals. By making the case for climate change as a health issue, the Commission hopes for greater public resonance. Public concern about the health effects of climate change has the potential to accelerate political action. The report shows that the direct health impacts of climate change come from the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, especially heat waves, floods, droughts and storms, whereas the indirect impacts come from changes in infectious disease patterns, air pollution, food insecurity and malnutrition, involuntary migration, displacement and conflicts. Because appropriate responses to mitigate and adapt to climate change have direct and indirect health benefits — from reducing air pollution to improving diet — concerted global efforts to tackle climate change represent one of the greatest opportunities to improve global health this century. Commission co-Chair Professor Peng Gong, from Tsinghua University, Beijing, China, said in a press release: “The health community has responded too many grave threats to health in the past. It took on entrenched interests such as the tobacco industry, and led the fight against HIV/AIDS. Now is the time for us to lead the way in responding to another great threat to human and environmental health of our generation.” The commission points out that a strong international consensus is essential to move the world to a global low-carbon economy, harnessing a crucial opportunity to protect human health —...

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Neil Young, Monsanto, Starbucks, and “The Monsanto Years”
Jun18

Neil Young, Monsanto, Starbucks, and “The Monsanto Years”

By Roberta Attanasio About two months ago, legendary music icon Neil Young announced the release of “The Monsanto Years“, which will come out on June 29th. The album — the result of a collaboration between Neil Young and Promise of the Real, a band featuring Lukas and Micah Nelson (sons of the legendary Willie Nelson) — includes songs criticizing the multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation Monsanto. The North American summer tour dates for “The Monsanto Years” have also been released — the tour starts July 5th at the Marcus Amphitheater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Monsanto is a leader producer of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. For years, Young has railed against it. However, Monsanto is not the only corporate target in the album — other targets are Chevron, Walmart and Starbucks. In the interest of hearing from both sides, Billboard sent Young’s lyrics to these organizations and asked for a response. Monsanto replied: “Many of us at Monsanto have been and are fans of Neil Young.  Unfortunately, for some of us, his current album may fail to reflect our strong beliefs in what we do every day to help make agriculture more sustainable.  We recognize there is a lot of misinformation about who we are and what we do – and unfortunately several of those myths seem to be captured in these lyrics.” On the title track, Young sings: “The farmer knows he’s got to grow what he can sell, Monsanto, Monsanto / So he signs a deal for GMOs that makes life hell with Monsanto, Monsanto / Every year he buys the patented seeds / Poison-ready they’re what the corporation needs, Monsanto.” Last year, Young announced on his website that he was boycotting Starbucks over the coffee company’s involvement in a lawsuit against the state of Vermont’s new requirements to label genetically modified ingredients. He wrote: “I used to line up and get my latte everyday, but yesterday was my last one. Starbucks has teamed up with Monsanto to sue Vermont, and stop accurate food labeling.” In the song “A Rock Star Bucks a Coffee Shop“, Neil Young and Promise of the Real sing: “A rock star bucks a coffee shop / Yeah, I want a cup of coffee / But I don’t want a GMO / I’d like to start my day off Without helpin’ Monsanto / Ask Starbucks if coffee has GMO… / Monsanto let our farmers grow what they want to grow / When the people of Vermont voted to label food with GMOs / So they would know what was in what the farmer grows / Monsanto and Starbucks through the grocery manufacturers alliance / Sued the...

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Quality Water, Quality Life: Aquatic Health and Contaminants in the Midcoast Oregon Salmon Watersheds
Jun08

Quality Water, Quality Life: Aquatic Health and Contaminants in the Midcoast Oregon Salmon Watersheds

A guest post by Ray Kinney From ridge tops to reefs, environmental degradation has caused many salmon populations to decline to one to ten percent of former numbers. Young salmon survival in freshwater is only 2 to 5% from egg to smolt phase just before entering the ocean phase of their life cycle. Many causative effects for this decline are known, but many remain to be clarified. Politics often prevents adequate investigation of contaminant effects for water quality. Chronic low dose accumulative effects of toxic contaminants take a toll that is generally unrecognized by fisheries managers. Our benevolent rainfall flows down out of the Coast Range to become, once again, part of the sea and the productivity of the salmon cycle of the near-shore ocean. Nutrients from the ocean, in the form of salmon and lamprey spawner carcasses, had fertilized our forests, streams, and rivers like an incoming tide for thousands of years. Our forest garden grew rich because of this tide of nutrients. Reduced numbers means reduced nutrients, which reduces development, growth, and survival abilities of the fish. The land also nourishes the sea. Freshwater flows down out of the mountains, past our farms and towns, through the jetties, and out over the continental shelf. These nutrient tides over land and sea have been shaping salmon for thousands of years, providing diversity, fitness, and resilience to the young fish and other stream organisms that support the salmon cycle complexity. For many hundreds of years humans have increasingly affected the quality of this complexity in ways that have stressed the fish. In the last two hundred years we have greatly increased pollution. Fish harvest levels increased unsustainably, while beaver and timber harvests altered the landscape stressing the salmon cycle. Increasing pollutants have contaminated the flow to the sea. Copious leaching rainfall and snowmelt dissolve and transport nutrients and contaminants down the river out of the Coast Range. Calcium and iron ride the waters downstream and out over the shelf during the winter, enriching the sea floor mud. As upwelling conditions increase in the summer, much of this iron distributes northward with the currents and combines with nitrates to fertilize plankton blooms that feed the food chain for the salmon. Iron and nitrate are in shorter supply over much of the ocean and limit productivity in many parts of the ocean. Here, off of the Oregon coast, the iron leached from our soils provides an important key to salmon ocean productivity. Large quantities of nitrate ride downstream through the freshwater, from red alder tree vegetation cover concentrations in our timberland. The red alder ‘fix’ nitrogen out of the air providing fertilizer...

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Global Threats: Children’s Exposure to Toxic Pesticides
May17

Global Threats: Children’s Exposure to Toxic Pesticides

By Roberta Attanasio In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a policy statement to outline the harmful effects of pesticides in children, and to make recommendations on how to reduce exposure. According to the statement, prenatal and early childhood exposure to pesticides is associated with pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems. In addition, the statement pointed out that recognizing and reducing children’s exposure to pesticides requires improved medical training, public health tracking, and regulatory approaches, and made recommendations on specific actions that should be taken to decrease such exposure. Despite the recognition of the dangers associated with pesticide use, and the AAP recommendations on limiting children’s exposure, not much has been done since 2012 — indeed, it’s likely going to get worse before it gets better. The AAP recommended that pediatricians should ask parents about pesticide use around the home and yard, offer guidance about safe storage, and recommend parents choose lowest-harm approaches when considering pest control. Are pediatricians following these recommendations? At this time, let’s say this is an open-ended question — although we may guess what the correct answer is. Let’s now move from the local (the American Academy of Pediatrics – AAP) to the global (the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations – FAO). According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), nearly 100 million boys and girls between 5 and 17 years old are engaged in child labor in agriculture. Many are directly exposed to toxic chemicals while working on the farm — however, children are also exposed when they help with family chores or play, and through the food they eat and the water they drink. Exposure can result in acute poisoning and sickness immediately after contact. But often, it also has longer-term, chronic impacts on their health and development. Children are particularly vulnerable to pesticide exposure for various biological and behavioral reasons. They breathe in more air than adults and so take in more dust, toxic vapors, and droplets of spray. Relative to their body weight, children need to eat and drink more than adults, and if food is contaminated, they absorb more toxins. The surface area of a child’s skin per unit of body mass is greater than that of an adult, and their skin is more delicate. All these factors can lead to greater absorption of chemicals, and children’s organs are less able to detoxify pesticides because they are not yet fully developed. Now, recognizing that education is crucial to limit exposure to pesticides (as stated by the AAP in 2012), FAO and ILO extension workers in Africa and elsewhere are engaging with rural communities to reduce...

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