Selected category: Science

The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health – a Sobering New Report

We have even more information this week about the ways climate change poses a threat to human health.

The U.S. Global Change Research Program just released its newest report—The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States. This scientific assessment is the culmination of three years of work by hundreds of experts, and builds on the more general National Climate Assessment released in 2014.

The report concludes that every American is vulnerable to the health impacts associated with climate change.

Health Threats from Climate Change graphic

Graphic created by Ilissa Ocko, EDF Scientist

Scientists have known for decades that climate change threatens human health via excessive heat, worsened air quality, water related illnesses, food safety, diseases transmitted by pests like fleas and mosquitos, and mental stress. The new report thoroughly characterizes our current understanding of these impacts.

Because scientific understanding has advanced significantly in recent years, the authors also reviewed new information and insights from several recent scientific, peer-reviewed publications and other publicly available resources.

For example, new data revealed that the Ragweed season has grown by as much as 27 days in the central U.S. from 1995 to 2011, and the incidence of Lyme disease in the Northeast has doubled from 2001 to 2014, both consistent with warming trends.

Recent modeling studies have also improved quantification estimates of and confidence in projected health outcomes from climate change. By midcentury, scientists project that there will be as many as thousands of additional ground-level ozone (smog) related illnesses and premature deaths, and the majority of the western U.S. will have a 500 percent  increase in the number of weeks with risk of very large fires. By the end of the century, scientists project that there will be an additional 27,000 summertime heat-related deaths annually in over 200 U.S. cities (that are currently home to 160 million people), and harmful toxin-producing algal blooms could develop up to two months earlier and persist for up to two months longer.

Through climate and weather changes and disruptions to ecosystems and societal systems, here are the main concerns about climate change impacts on human health:

  • Temperature Related Death and Illness — Future climate warming could cause up to tens of thousands of additional deaths each year from heat in the summer, from loss of ability to control internal temperature, and worsened chronic cardiovascular and respiratory diseases
  • Air Quality Impacts — The future could include limited productivity at work and school due to exacerbated ground-level ozone (smog) health impacts from modified weather patterns conducive to ozone formation, and worsened allergy and asthma conditions from more airborne pollen and longer pollen seasons
  • Vectorborne Disease — The seasonality, distribution, and prevalence of vectorborne diseases, including Lyme disease and West Nile virus,  may change with changing temperature and rainfall patterns due to altered geographic and seasonal distributions of mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas
  • Water-Related Illness — Risk of exposure to illnesses increases as the growth, survival, spread, and toxicity of water-related pathogens and toxins is impacted by temperature and extreme rainfall events, and aging water infrastructure is vulnerable to failure with extreme events and storm surges
  • Food Safety, Nutrition, and Distribution — Rising temperatures, changing weather patterns, and extreme events have consequences for contamination, spoilage, and the disruption of food distribution, whereas higher carbon dioxide levels lower nutritional value of crops despite boosting plant growth
  • Extreme Weather — Fatalities, injuries, and infrastructure damages are imminent with increases in the frequency and/or intensity of extreme precipitation, hurricanes, coastal inundation, drought, and wildfires
  • Mental Health and Well-Being — Mental health conditions may develop with exposure to disasters or worsen by extreme health

Overall, the report is a sobering portrait of the risks we face because of climate change — and it underscores the urgency for climate action.

 

 

 

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, Health, News, Plants & Animals| Comments are closed

Climate denial has no place in the court

(This post was co-written by EDF’s Martha Roberts and Ilissa Ocko)

As federal courts consider the legal merits of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan — America’s first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from power plants – we find ourselves in a situation that might have felt familiar to Galileo, who was hauled before authorities for having the temerity to make conclusions based on science.

Three hundred seventy-four years after Galileo, flat-earth Clean Power Plan opponents are using the court’s time to challenge EPA’s rock solid conclusions about the scientific realities of climate change. They’re using misinformation and misrepresentation in an attempt to block EPA’s flexible and efficient approach to reducing the carbon pollution that is causing so much costly damage to our society.

Yes, they’re still doing that in 2016.

The Usual Suspects

The latest assault takes the form of an amicus, or “friend of the court,” brief that was submitted last week to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. It deploys selective reasoning and misleading arguments in an attempt to discredit evidence of climate change.

It’s numbingly familiar, but not surprising, to see Fred Singer’s name on the brief. A former tobacco industry mouthpiece, he’s been a mainstay for years in what’s been called the “parallel universe” of climate denial conferences.

It’s also no surprise that Peabody Energy — the world’s largest privately owned coal company — contested EPA’s rock solid climate science in an earlier submission to the court, given the company’s history of obfuscating the impacts of climate change in order to protect its profits.

The Real Motivation

This effort isn’t about debating science. It’s about using misinformation to obstruct climate progress. This attack is part of a longstanding effort to undermine EPA’s common sense solutions to limit harmful greenhouse gas pollution at all – despite that fact that the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the Clean Air Act requires EPA to address climate pollution. Coal companies and their hired allies have relentlessly attacked EPA’s safeguards to protect human health and the environment from climate pollution.

Junk Science Amicus Brief

This junk science submission, authored by Singer and others, claims to be based on “real world empirical temperature data” (amicus brief, page 15) – but in truth it’s deceptively unscientific, cherry-picking dates and locations in an effort to rebut overwhelming evidence of rising surface temperatures.

Two obvious flaws demonstrate the problematic reasoning employed by the brief.

First, the authors contend that globally averaged surface temperature has not increased because:

The decade of the 1930s still has the most currently held high-temperature records for States within the United States. (amicus brief, page 31)

This point suffers from cherry picking data that seems to support their phony argument. Drawing a comparison between a long term globally averaged temperature trend (i.e., as related to anthropogenic climate change) and summertime regional temperature spikes in a select portion of the U.S. is inherently misleading (see Figure 1 below). The U.S. covers only two percent of the global surface area, and the Great Plains far less. Arguing that a small regional temperature anomaly undermines for the global temperature trend is scientifically untenable.

Figure 1: How Cherry-Picked Data Misrepresents the Larger Picture

Source: The U.S. Global Historical Climatology Network Dataset

Source: The U.S. Global Historical Climatology Network Dataset

The second flaw is an egregious error with respect to defining a linear trend. The authors break the temperature time series in half and display two distinct trend lines separated by a large step increase, as opposed to the scientifically appropriate approach of employing the entire time series to define a trend.

Figure 2. The Amicus Brief’s Broken Time Trend Global Average Temperature Anomalies

(amicus brief, page 7)

They do this to hide the trend. It’s a classic strategy used by the climate denial community to deny trends, known as the “escalator” (see Figure 3 below).

The authors argue that the absence of a trend in the latter portion of the record indicates a lack of evidence for an anthropogenic climate change signal during this time. However, their starting point for the latter half is during the 1997-1998 El Nino, one of the strongest such events on record. Given that El Nino has a significant warming influence on a given year’s global temperature, starting at this point in the record introduces a strong temperature bias — i.e. the authors purposely choose a starting point with an extremely high temperature in order to create the appearance of a plateau in the years that follow.

It’s a bit like beginning a chart of Barry Bonds’ home runs per season in 2001, when he hit 73. The authors fail to disclose that the globally averaged temperature exceeded the 1990’s average in every year of the first decade of the 21st century and that both 2014 and 2015 broke records as the hottest years ever recorded — further confirming their selection bias.

Figure 3: The Escalator — An Example of How One Can Manipulate a Trendline to Pretend That There Is No Trend

 escalator graphic

Source: skepticalscience.com

The brief also attempts to reject EPA’s conclusion that the atmosphere in the tropics warms faster than the surface as a response to rising carbon dioxide levels.

The brief presents data from only a single location in an attempt to rebut this conclusion — the tropical central and eastern Pacific Ocean, an area home to the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the largest mode of natural interannual climate variability on the planet.

Using only one region (and in this case a single idiosyncratic point) to represent the entire global tropics is highly misleading and scientifically inappropriate. The data manifestly suffer from selection bias and are not representative of the full population of tropical climate data.

Indeed, the temperature time series shown in their analysis correlate extremely well with recently observed El Nino and La Nina events — suggesting that their index is simply a proxy for the El Nino/La Nina signal. Extracting a trend from an area with extremely large natural variability is inherently tenuous, because the large background variability swamps our ability to observe any other data trends.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time opponents have inaccurately distorted climate data in this case.

Earlier in this same crucial case, Peabody represented to the court that EPA’s claims of climate harms "substantially outrun the available evidence." (brief, page 7 footnotes)

Peabody’s efforts to justify these misleading allegations misrepresent scientific understanding of climate science in several major respects. Two core inconsistencies, among several, include:

  • Peabody’s biased assertion of hiatus in warming since 1998 — as mentioned earlier, beginning a trendline in 1998, an exceptionally warm year due to an unusually strong El Nino, is nonsensical and irrelevant to the long-term trend. Further, surface air temperatures are certainly still increasing. The 2000s were warmer than the 1990s, 2015 smashed all previous surface air temperature records, and heat uptake in the ocean has doubled over the last 20 years.
  • Flawed reasoning that increasing Antarctic sea ice disproves climate change — Antarctic sea ice is influenced by differences in fresh water supply and circulation in the Southern Ocean. Land ice that has taken thousands of years to accumulate in Antarctica is melting at a rapid rate due to warmer temperatures, changing the chemistry of the water and likely preventing the buildup of sea ice. Peabody’s submission ignored and omitted this crucial context.

Sadly, it’s not really news that Peabody is presenting misleading climate information. Peabody, the largest private-sector coal company in the world, was cited last fall by the New York Attorney General for violating investor protection laws by misrepresenting climate risk in its corporate filings. The Attorney General noted that Peabody “repeatedly denied in public financial filings to the Securities and Exchange Commission that it had the ability to predict the impact that potential regulation of climate change pollution would have on its business, even though Peabody and its consultants actually made projections that such regulation would have severe impacts on the company.”

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, EPA litgation, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight| Comments are closed

3 reasons the Zika outbreak may be linked to climate change

The regions that the Zika virus outbreak has struck hardest, such as Brazil and Colombia, also happen to be areas that are currently plagued by hotter-than-usual temperatures.

So is there a connection?

The ways that virus-carrying mosquitoes change their behavior with warmer temperatures may, in fact, point to a link between the Zika outbreak and climate change like the one that exists with malaria, Lyme Disease and other ills.

While it’s important to remember that it’s probably a combination of reasons for the current Zika virus outbreak – including movement of people and available breeding grounds – there are three ways in particular that warmer weather may be contributing to the crisis:

graphic_v3 (2)

1. Hotter temperatures make mosquitoes hungrier

Female mosquitoes require blood meals for reproduction. Along with many cold-blooded animals, mosquitoes feed more frequently with higher temperatures. The more they eat, the likelier they are to get infected and spread the disease.

2. Warm air incubates the virus faster

A virus must incubate inside a mosquito before the mosquito becomes infectious. That takes about 10 days, roughly a mosquito’s lifespan, so the mosquito will often die before it can spread the disease.

But hotter temperatures speed up the incubation process in the cold-blooded mosquito, because the virus can replicate faster. This means that the mosquito will be alive longer while infectious, thus having more time to transmit the disease.

3. Mosquito territory expands as the climate warms

Mosquitoes flourish in warm climates, restricting their range based on temperature. But with climate change, plants and animals are moving northward and upward, and we know mosquitoes do the same as new areas become warmer and a suitable habitat.

As mosquitoes expand their range, they can introduce diseases to populations that otherwise would have been safely out of reach. The distribution of the Zika-carrying mosquito, in particular, has wildly increased over the past few decades, which have also been the hottest decade on Earth in more than 1,000 years.

In fact, the current epidemic took off in 2015, the hottest year in South America and globally since record-keeping began 136 years ago.

The links between mosquitoes and temperature are scientifically clear, and it’s possible that climate change may now be playing a role in the spread of the Zika virus, a disease suspected of causing serious birth defects.

To know for sure, and to help nations deal with the outbreak, more research is needed to tease out the specific causes of this global catastrophe.

This post originally appeared on our EDF+Voices blog.

Also posted in Health, News, Plants & Animals| Comments are closed

Climate Change and Millennials – An Entire Lifetime of Warmer Than Average Temperatures

While reading the announcement that 2015 had broken – indeed, shattered – the hottest year on record set by 2014, there was one fact that really made things personal: we have now had 31 straight years since a single month was cooler than the twentieth century global average temperature. That means that I have never lived through a month that wasn’t warmer than average – never once in my lifetime.

My entire career as a climate scientist is focused on reducing the threat of global warming, and yet I have never even been alive at a time when the climate was stable. I technically don’t even know what normal is.

Warmest Years on Record graphic

So on one hand, you could say that I don’t even know what I am fighting for. On the other hand, I’ve been afforded two unique opportunities because I’ve lived in the shadow of global warming my entire life.

First, because I’ve grown up at a time when heat records are broken over and over again, I was aware of this worldwide crisis during those impressionable and important “pick a major” years of college. I was thus able to set myself on a career path shaped by climate change from the get-go, rather than later on in life once I was already an established professional in something else.

Second, because my elder colleagues have already identified – with extreme confidence – that humans are the main cause of climate change, I’ve been able to focus on solutions from the get-go, and not just causes and impacts. I have thus benefitted from previous scientific research because I could explore avenues to address climate change, because if humans are the cause, then we are also the solution.

And it’s not just me; there is now an entire generation of young people motivated and empowered to do something about climate change. We – almost the entire millennial generation – have never lived in a world without global warming.

Perhaps for similar reasons to mine (and/or because we think we’re special), my generation has shown a propensity for not just caring about climate change, but doing something about it. Whether on their campuses of their schools or the communities where they live, my generation is showing that they want solutions. In fact, eighty-percent of millennials support cleaner energy in the U.S., regardless of party affiliation.

For this reason among others, I am more hopeful about our future than ever before. Climate change has been impacting my generation our whole lives, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. We didn’t ask for this challenge, but I truly believe we’ll be able to rise up to meet it.

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News| Read 1 Response

Defending Our Future: Fighting Climate Change in South Florida

Speakers at the Defend Our Future/Voto Latino event: (back row) Alexis Calatayud, FIU Student Body President; Eric Chappell, Climate Corp alum; Edwin Luevanos, Citizen Energy; Mustafa Santiago Ali, EPA; (front row) Enrique Acevedo, Univision; Karina Castillo, CLEO Institute/MCAF

Speakers at the Defend Our Future/Voto Latino event: (back row) Alexis Calatayud, FIU Student Body President; Eric Chappell, Climate Corp alum; Edwin Luevanos, Citizen Energy; Mustafa Santiago Ali, EPA; (front row) Enrique Acevedo, Univision; Karina Castillo, CLEO Institute/MCAF

On Tuesday night Defend Our Future, EDF’s initiative to empower young people to fight climate change, partnered with Voto Latino, an organization that empowers Latino Millennials to claim a better future for themselves and their community, to bring a Power Summit “Pop Up” to Florida International University (FIU). We brought together 100 area youth leaders to engage in an evening of conversation focused on how young Latinos can fight climate change in South Florida. In Miami, in particular, addressing climate change is a critical part of this equation, and seeing a room full of rising leaders ready to take action was inspiring.

To kick off the conversation, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Senior Advisor on Environmental Justice, Mustafa Santiago Ali, reminded the crowd:

We need to be laser-focused on climate change.

He shared his story about growing up near a power plant in West Virginia, and reminded us about the importance of protecting our communities from the interconnected threats of air pollution and climate change. This is especially true, Ali said, for Latinos and African-Americans because climate change can compound other serious threats to our health and well-being.

Our panelists shared this perspective, including our moderator — Univision’s Enrique Acevedo, anchor of Noticiero Univision and Emmy nominee. Enrique began the panel conversation with FIU Student Body President Alexis Calatayud who spoke about the sense of urgency she feels addressing climate change in South Florida:

To me, Miami is my place. And if I don’t take care of my place, who is going to?

For Calatayud, her ‘Aha!’ moment on climate came earlier this year, when Alexis joined Defend Our Future in Washington, D.C. for the White House Youth Climate Conference.

Our guests made clear that there are countless ways in which young people can make a difference on climate change — from taking a challenge with Defend Our Future (like reducing your carbon footprint by committing to a reusable water bottle), to supporting Florida access to solar power, to weaving environmental responsibility into our careers.

But most impressive was the work young Latinos at the event were already engaged in within their communities. Karina Castillo knew from an early age that she wanted to study meteorology, but she didn’t know her work would to lead her to the Climate Leadership Engagement Opportunities (CLEO) Institute and to activism with Moms Clean Air Force. Edwin Luevanos shared his trajectory from Mexico to founding Citizen Energy, a consultancy for community-driven energy efficiency. And former EDF Climate Corp alum Eric Chappell shared his path from becoming an environmentalist to learning about sustainability in business school and beyond.

At this event and elsewhere, young people have made it clear they’re already acting on climate and want to do more – a great sign that we’re on the right track. No matter where you are, you can join us by taking action now and staying engaged. Join Defend Our Future’s #IWillNotWait campaign, take the challenge, and join the thousands of young people across the country who are becoming leaders in their own communities. You can also register to vote with Voto Latino In 2016.

Miami can’t wait for us to take action on climate change and honestly, neither can we.

This post was co-authored by Maria Urbina, VP of Politics & Campaigns for Voto Latino

Also posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Partners for Change| Comments are closed

4 undeniable signs we're making progress on climate change

Seven months ago, I made a strong statement that may have left some people shaking their heads. I said that we can turn the corner on climate change – end the centuries-long rise in greenhouse gas emissions and see them peak and begin to decline – in just five short years.

As it turns out, 2015 is shaping up to be a year of giant steps toward that goal.

In a deeply reported New York Magazine piece, political writer Jonathan Chait calls it “the year humans finally got serious about saving themselves.” Says Chait, “The world is suddenly responding to the climate emergency with – by the standards of its previous behavior – astonishing speed.”

I agree. Here are four reasons I believe we’re headed in the right direction:

1. America is tackling greenhouse gas pollution

The United States remains among the world’s largest per-capita emitters of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping pollutants. But thanks to this year’s action by the Environmental Protection Agency, America now has a Clean Power Plan that will cut emissions from power plants, our single largest source of carbon, by 32 percent over the next 15 years.

The era of unlimited climate pollution is over.

On the heels of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan came a proposed rule to cut methane from newly built facilities in the oil and gas industry. More needs to be done, but this is an important step in dealing with a potent greenhouse gas that accounts for 25 percent of Earth’s current warming.

These climate laws will help the U.S. meet our target to reduce emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, a commitment we made to the international community that is key to getting other large polluters to do their share.

We’ll need further reductions, but this is a very significant start.

2. China is building momentum for global action

The world’s No. 1 greenhouse gas emitter, China submitted its climate plan to the United Nations in June, confirming it will let emissions peak by 2030 – and possibly sooner. I know from my colleague Dan Dudek in China that “sooner” is possible because this is a country that’s serious about climate action.

Pollution is choking Chinese cities and threatening economic growth, but the country’s leaders also see opportunity in the emerging clean energy industry. China has pledged to have 20 percent of its energy come from wind, solar and other non-fossil energy sources within 15 years – a massive investment in a nation of 1.4 billion.

This year alone, China is expected to add 18 gigawatts of new solar capacity. By comparison, the U.S. recently surpassed 20 gigawatts total.

To have China and the U.S. making such significant commitments has transformed the dynamic going into the U.N. climate summit in Paris. Instead of making excuses for inaction, the leading emitters have launched a virtuous cycle of increasing ambition.

That changes everything.

3. Clean energy is lifting people out of poverty

One billion people worldwide still have no energy, and more than 1 billion live in extreme poverty. Turning the corner on climate cannot mean that economies can’t develop.

But just as some developing economies adopted cellular technology without ever having land lines, some will leap-frog the dirty energy phase of economic development and go straight to clean.

In fiscal 2014, the World Bank more than doubled lending for renewable energy projects to nearly $3.6 billion – or 38 percent of its total energy lending.

As Rachel Kyte, the bank’s vice president and special envoy for climate change, recently said, what poverty-stricken people of the world need now is a “a low-carbon revolution.”

And this is starting to happen. In 2014, the emerging economies of China, India, Brazil and South Africa invested $131 billion in clean energy, just 6 percent less than the developed world did.

4. Pope Francis is galvanizing world opinion 

When Pope Francis released his much-anticipated encyclical on environmental stewardship in June, he made an urgent moral appeal to the world.

As my colleague Paul Stinson noted at the time, “A leading voice without political boundaries, the pope has the ability to reach people who previously could not or would not face the reality of climate change.”

Pope Francis called on us to push harder to replace fossil fuel with renewable energy sources – and people are listening.

The day he speaks to Congress later this month, a climate rally is expected to draw many thousands to the nation’s capital in a unified call for action. Environmental Defense Fund will be there, too.

The momentum is growing. We’re on our way to turn the corner on climate change – and the race of our lives is on.

This post originally appeared on our EDF Voices blog.

Also posted in Clean Air Act, Clean Power Plan, Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, International, Policy, Setting the Facts Straight| Comments are closed
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