Category Archives: Nature

Map of the day II: Massive losses of Arctic ice

With the areas of loss [reds] far outweighing the gains [blues], via the Los Angeles Times:

Before: Arctic ice coverage in 1984. After: Receding coverage in 2013.

Before: Arctic ice coverage in 1984. After: Receding coverage in 2013.

Hunger for fuel leads to another health woe

From the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, with a H/T to Newswise:

Study: Fracking Industry Wells Associated With Premature Birth

New research suggests increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes closer to active unconventional natural gas wells

Expectant mothers who live near active natural gas wells operated by the fracking industry in Pennsylvania are at an increased risk of giving birth prematurely and for having high-risk pregnancies, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research suggests.

The findings, published online last week in the journal Epidemiology, shed light on some of the possible adverse health outcomes associated with the fracking industry, which has been booming in the decade since the first wells were drilled. Health officials have been concerned about the effect of this type of drilling on air and water quality, as well as the stress of living near a well where just developing the site of the well can require 1,000 truck trips on once-quiet roads.

“The growth in the fracking industry has gotten way out ahead of our ability to assess what the environmental and, just as importantly, public health impacts are,” says study leader Brian S. Schwartz, MD, a professor in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Bloomberg School. “More than 8,000 unconventional gas wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania alone and we’re allowing this while knowing almost nothing about what it can do to health. Our research adds evidence to the very few studies that have been done in showing adverse health outcomes associated with the fracking industry.”

In Pennsylvania in 2006, there were fewer than 100 unconventional gas wells; now there are more than 8,000.

For his study, Schwartz and his colleagues analyzed data from Geisinger Health System, which covers 40 counties in north and central Pennsylvania. They studied the records of 9,384 mothers who gave birth to 10,946 babies between January 2009 and January 2013. They compared that data with information about wells drilled for fracking and looked at how close they were to the homes of the pregnant mothers as well as what stage of drilling the wells were in, how deep the wells were dug and how much gas was being produced at the wells during the mothers’ pregnancies. Using this information, they developed an index of how active each of the wells were and how close they were to the women.

The researchers found that living in the most active quartile of drilling and production activity was associated with a 40 percent increase in the likelihood of a woman giving birth before 37 weeks of gestation (considered pre-term) and a 30 percent increase in the chance that an obstetrician had labeled their pregnancy “high-risk,” a designation that can include factors such as elevated blood pressure or excessive weight gain during pregnancy. When looking at all of the pregnancies in the study, 11 percent of babies were born preterm, with the majority (79 percent) born between 32 and 36 weeks.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that preterm-related causes of death together accounted for 35 percent of all infant deaths in 2010, more than any other single cause. Being born prematurely is also a leading cause of long-term neurological disabilities in children. Preterm birth cost the U.S. health care system more than $26 billion in 2005, they say.

Read the rest.

Quote of the day: When Jane Goodall goes ape

As the world’s leading expert on chimpanzee behavior in the wild, Jane Goodall took a unique approach to a high government official to urge him to bring her community-based environmental education and action Roots & Shoots program into his country. She described the occasion in an interview with Der Spiegel:

I remember once meeting the Chinese environment minister. I wanted to convince him to allow our Roots and Shoots program into Chinese schools. However, he spoke no English, and so now here we were, just sitting, a translator between us, and I had only 10 minutes time. So I gathered my courage and started off saying, “If I was a female chimp and I was greeting a very high-ranking male, I would be very stupid if I didn’t do the proper submissive greeting,” and I made this submissive sound: “Ö-hö-hö-hö-hö-hö.” The male, I continued, would now have to pet the female, and with that I took his hand. He stiffened and we sort of had a little tug of war, but I didn’t give up and put his hand on my head. At first, there was dead silence. But then he began to laugh. In the end, we talked for an hour and a half, and since that time we now have Roots & Shoots at Chinese schools.

Naomi Klein: Capitalism, a threat to humanity

And not just to humans, but to all the other critters with whom we share this small, bright blue sphere.

In this interview with Amanda Lang of CBC News, Naomi Klein, whose writing helped paved the way to the Occupy movement and a growing revolt against economic inequality, says the threat is capitalism itself, an ideology which sees the acquisition of wealth as an end in itself.

Klein’s latest book, This Changes Everything, Capitalism vs the Climate, was hailed by the New York Times as “the most momentous and contentious environmental book since Silent Spring.”

From CBC News:

Naomi Klein – The Exchange with Amanda Lang

Program note:

Amanda interviews author, activist and environmentalist Naomi Klein on her theory that capitalism is to blame for climate change.

Map of the day II: Carbon trapped in permafrost

And in danger of escaping as temperatures rise, via Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory:

BLOG Carbon

Headline of the day II: You know it’s dry when. . .

From the San Francisco Chronicle, reporting on the drought emergency measures in one parched Northern California coastal community:

Fort Bragg orders restaurants to use disposable plates, cups

Maps of the day: Dry California & El Niño hopes

From the California Department of Water Resources, the severely depleted levels of the Golden State’s reservoirs explains why both agribusiness and urban governments are hoping for those promised El Niño deluges:


With water rationing the rule for both in both town and country, the arriving El Niño is being brought to the western shores of the Americas by a current of warm water out of Asia that triggers precipitation as it hits the colder waters of the Eastern Pacific.

The warm waters have already triggered an invasion of Australian jellyfish off the California shores, as well as a host of other changes in marine life.

From the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, here’s a map of temperature anomalies in the Pacific, with the warm current clearly visible toward the bottom:

BLOG El nino