The Global Fool

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Clean Air: The Effects of U.S. Power Plant Carbon Standards on Human Health
May04

Clean Air: The Effects of U.S. Power Plant Carbon Standards on Human Health

By Roberta Attanasio A little more than a year ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that in 2012 around 7 million people died — accounting for one in eight of total global deaths — as a result of exposure to air pollution. These estimates more than doubled the previous ones, and confirmed that air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk. The WHO concluded that reducing air pollution globally could save millions of lives. But, what policy changes would be most effective at saving lives? The answer comes from a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change (May 4, 2015.) The study, (US power plant carbon standards and clean air and health co-benefits), was based on data from the Census Bureau as well as detailed maps of the more than 2,400 fossil-fuel-fired power plants operating across the U.S. It outlines how changes in carbon dioxide emissions could lead to considerable health benefits for the U.S population. According to the WHO, the diseases caused by air pollution include ischemic heart disease (40%), stroke (40%), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (11%), lung cancer (6%), and acute lower respiratory infections in children (3%). For the new study, the researchers analyzed three possible policy options for power plant carbon standards. The policy option leading to the biggest health benefits was the one that included changes proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on June 2, 2014, in the Clean Power Plan. Modeling analysis indicated that this option could prevent an expected 3,500 premature deaths in the U.S. every year, and avert more than a thousand heart attacks and hospitalizations annually from air pollution-related illness. Thus, according to the study, the formula presented in the draft Clean Power Plan is on the right track to provide large health benefits, and these health benefits depend entirely on critical policy choices that will be made by the EPA in the final Clean Power Plan expected in July. The Plan is the nation’s first attempt to establish standards for carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. It is also viewed as an important signal of U.S. leadership in the run-up to international climate negotiations in Paris in December. Jonathan Buonocore, one of the researchers involved in the study, said in a press release: “If EPA sets strong carbon standards, we can expect large public health benefits from cleaner air almost immediately after the standards are implemented.” Power plants are the nation’s largest source of carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change. However, they release not only carbon dioxide, but also other pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter — precursors to smog and...

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Global Threats: Soil and Topsoil Erosion and Degradation
Aug09

Global Threats: Soil and Topsoil Erosion and Degradation

By Roberta Attanasio “Soil anaemia also breeds human anaemia. Micronutrient deficiency in the soil results in micronutrient malnutrition in people, since crops grown on such soils tend to be deficient in the nutrients needed to fight hidden hunger. (…) Managing our soil and water resources in a sustainable and equitable manner needs a new political vision.” M.S. Swaminathan — the “Indian Father of Green Revolution”. Soil, the earth’s skin, is one of our most valuable resources — it’s a dynamic and complex ecosystem that acts as a growing medium. Plant and animal life depend on the recycling of primary nutrients through soil processes. It plays a major role in determining the composition of the atmosphere by emitting and absorbing carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor and, due to its water filtering function, is essential for the clean water supply of our planet.  Soil degradation is the decline in soil quality caused by its improper use.  Examples of soil degradation are loss of organic matter, decline in soil fertility, decline in structural condition, erosion (soil is naturally removed, for example by the action of water or wind), adverse changes in salinity, acidity or alkalinity, and the effects of toxic chemicals, pesticides, pollutants or excessive flooding. Back in 1984, a study by the Worldwatch Institute defined the erosion of agricultural topsoil a ”quiet crisis” that could lead to “pockets of famine” around the world. At the time, Lester R. Brown told the New York Times: ”Grave though the loss of topsoil may be, it is a quiet crisis, one that is not widely perceived. Unlike earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and other natural disasters, this disaster of human origin is unfolding gradually.” Then, in 1992, the World Resources Institute published the results of the first global assessment of land degradation. It reported that, since World War II, about 11 percent of the world’s vegetated surface area had become degraded, mostly due to farming, overgrazing and deforestation. It pointed out that the continuation of activities leading to soil degradation would seriously affect the ability of providing growing populations with food, fuel, and fiber. Now, more than twenty years later, The Global Soil Partnership — which brings together a broad range of government and non-government stakeholders — recognized that urgent action is required to improve the health of the world’s limited soil resources and stop land degradation, so as to ensure that future generations have enough supplies of food, water, energy and raw materials. Thus, it has endorsed a series of action plans to safeguard soil resources which provide the basis for global agricultural production. Maria Helena Semedo, Deputy Director-General of the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), said: “Soil is the basis for food, feed, fuel and fibre production. Without soils we...

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What is Carbon Farming?
Aug08

What is Carbon Farming?

By Roberta Attanasio Greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, fluorinated gases, and ozone) work like the glass walls of a greenhouse and are responsible for the greenhouse effect. What is the greenhouse effect? It’s a process in which greenhouse gases let the radiation from the sun onto the Earth’s surface. At the same time, they trap the heat that reflects back up into the atmosphere. The greenhouse effect keeps our planet at an average 59 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius).  However, if the greenhouse effect is too strong, our planet gets warmer and warmer. This is what is happening now — the greenhouse effect is becoming stronger because of increased release of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The result of a stronger greenhouse effect is climate change. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the primary greenhouse gas emitted through human activities. CO2 enters the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels (coal, natural gas and oil), solid waste, trees and wood products, and also as a result of certain chemical reactions (e.g., manufacture of cement). Carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere when it is absorbed by plants as part of the biological carbon cycle. Using energy from the sun, plants transform carbon dioxide and water into glucose and oxygen through the process of photosynthesis. CO2 is said to be removed, captured or sequestered (in such a context, these three words have the same meaning). To mitigate climate change, a group of German scientists has now come up with an environmentally friendly method to capture CO2 — in other words, a method to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. The method, dubbed carbon farming, consists in planting trees in arid regions to capture CO2. The team of investigators, in a paper published in the scientific journal Earth System Dynamics on July 31, 2013, shows that Jatropha curcas does a great job at sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere.  Jatropha curcas is a small tree very resistant to aridity. Therefore, it can be planted in hot and dry land in soil unsuitable for food production. Because the plant needs water to grow, coastal areas where desalinated seawater can be made available are ideal. The new Earth System Dynamics study shows that one hectare of Jatropha curcas could capture up to 25 tonnes of atmospheric carbon dioxide per year, over a 20 year period. A plantation taking up only about 3% of the Arabian Desert, for example, could absorb in a couple of decades all the CO2 produced by motor vehicles in Germany over the same period. With about one billion hectares suitable for carbon farming, the method could sequester a significant portion of the CO2 added to the atmosphere since the industrial revolution. The main limitations to implementing this method are lack...

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Carbon Dioxide Fertilization Effect and Greening of Deserts
Jul13

Carbon Dioxide Fertilization Effect and Greening of Deserts

By The Editors Rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels (CO2) are greening our deserts — in other words, many of the planet’s arid environments are greener than they would otherwise be if CO2 had remained constant. The greening of our deserts is due to the so-called CO2 fertilization effect, which can be defined as the enhancement of photosynthesis caused by rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Photosynthesis is the driving force behind most of the life on our planet. It’s a set of chemical reactions used by many plants and some other organisms to build carbohydrates (sugars) from carbon dioxide and water, using light as source of energy. Most forms of photosynthesis release oxygen as a byproduct of these reactions. Photosynthesis is carried out in two steps, 1) the light reactions (need light to work), which use the pigment chlorophyll to capture solar energy and 2) the dark reactions (do not need light to work), which use the energy from the light reactions to fix atmospherically derived carbon dioxide (CO2) into organic carbon (sugars). Greenhouse experiments have shown that plants, grown in dry conditions, are more efficient at using water under higher CO2 levels than under lower levels. This led CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) and ANU (Australian National University) scientists to expect a general increase in vegetation foliage cover across arid landscapes — an increase proportional to the increase in CO2 levels. They found out about the expected greening of our deserts trough satellite observations and published the results of their study (on 19 Jun 2013) in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters. Dr. Randall Donohue, lead author of the study, said “If elevated carbon dioxide causes individual leaves to drop their use of water, plants in arid environments will respond by increasing their total numbers of leaves. These changes in leaf cover can be detected by satellite, particularly in deserts and savannas where the cover is less complete than in wet locations.” Results from the study show that carbon dioxide fertilization correlates with an 11 per cent increase in foliage cover from 1982-2010 across parts of the arid areas studied in Australia, North America, the Middle East and Africa. Dr. Donohue added, “Our work was able to tease-out the carbon dioxide fertilization effect by using mathematical modelling together with satellite data adjusted to take out the observed effects of other influences such as precipitation, air temperature, the amount of light, and land-use changes.” The greening of deserts, however, does not mean that climate change is good for the planet. The well-known detrimental effects of climate change, as for example droughts, floods, raising sea levels and shifting seasons, will keep affecting our lives on a daily...

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