Category Archives: Resources

Map of the day: Pesticide water pollution risk

BLOG Pesticide

From Yale’s environment360, which notes:

Streams across roughly 40 percent of the planet’s land area are at risk of pollution from pesticides, according to an analysis published in the journal Environmental Pollution. Globally, roughly 4 million tons of agricultural pesticides are applied each year, and studies show they are associated with significant declines in freshwater biodiversity, the researchers note. Surface waters in the Mediterranean region, the United States, Central America, and Southeast Asia are particularly at risk, according to the study, which produced the first global map of pesticide pollution risk. Taking into account weather data, terrain, pesticide application rates, and land use patterns, the map shows that the risk of pesticide pollution is relatively low in Canada and northern Europe but increases closer to the Equator. More areas are likely to face high pesticide pollution risk as global population grows and the climate warms, the researchers say, because agricultural activity and crop pests will both intensify, likely requiring even higher rates of pesticide use.

Ocean analysis warns of food chain collapse

Some very grim news from the University of Adelaide [Australia], via Newswise:

A world-first global analysis of marine responses to climbing human CO2 emissions has painted a grim picture of future fisheries and ocean ecosystems.

Published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) [paywalled], marine ecologists from the University of Adelaide say the expected ocean acidification and warming is likely to produce a reduction in diversity and numbers of various key species that underpin marine ecosystems around the world.

“This ‘simplification’ of our oceans will have profound consequences for our current way of life, particularly for coastal populations and those that rely on oceans for food and trade,” says Associate Professor Ivan Nagelkerken, Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow with the University’s Environment Institute.

Associate Professor Nagelkerken and fellow University of Adelaide marine ecologist Professor Sean Connell have conducted a ‘meta-analysis’ of the data from 632 published experiments covering tropical to artic waters, and a range of ecosystems from coral reefs, through kelp forests to open oceans.

“We know relatively little about how climate change will affect the marine environment,” says Professor Connell. “Until now, there has been almost total reliance on qualitative reviews and perspectives of potential global change. Where quantitative assessments exist, they typically focus on single stressors, single ecosystems or single species.

“This analysis combines the results of all these experiments to study the combined effects of multiple stressors on whole communities, including species interactions and different measures of responses to climate change.”

The researchers found that there would be “limited scope” for acclimation to warmer waters and acidification. Very few species will escape the negative effects of increasing CO2, with an expected large reduction in species diversity and abundance across the globe. One exception will be microorganisms, which are expected to increase in number and diversity.

From a total food web point of view, primary production from the smallest plankton is expected to increase in the warmer waters but this often doesn’t translate into secondary production (the zooplankton and smaller fish) which shows decreased productivity under ocean acidification.

“With higher metabolic rates in the warmer water, and therefore a greater demand for food, there is a mismatch with less food available for carnivores ─ the bigger fish that fisheries industries are based around,” says Associate Professor Nagelkerken. “There will be a species collapse from the top of the food chain down.”

The analysis also showed that with warmer waters or increased acidification or both, there would be deleterious impacts on habitat-forming species for example coral, oysters and mussels. Any slight change in the health of habitats would have a broad impact on a wide range of species these reefs harbour.

Another finding was that acidification would lead to a decline in dimethylsulfide gas (DMS) production by ocean plankton which helps cloud formation and therefore in controlling the Earth’s heat exchange.

John Oliver takes on North Dakota fracking

Massive leaks of chemicals, worker deaths, corporate shenanigans, and serious regulatory agency failures are among the “benefits” accruing to the people and environment of North Dakota, as John Oliver reports in his latest offering from his HBO show

From Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Program notes:

North Dakota is known for being polite, but perhaps they’ve been a little too hospitable to oil companies.

Stephen Hawking takes on the plutocracy

The response of the world-renowned physicist and cosmologist when asked in a Reddit conversation, “[D]o you foresee a world where people work less because so much work is automated? Do you think people will always either find work or manufacture more work to be done?”:

If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed. Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution.

So far, the trend seems to be toward the second option, with technology driving ever-increasing inequality.

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.

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.

Video: Confronting the AIDS epidemic in Tijuana

And important and troubling documentary about battling the spread of AIDS just south of the California border, via University of California Television:

HIV/SIDA: Epidemic in Tijuana

Program notes from the UC San Diego News Center:

The new documentary “HIV/SIDA: The Epidemic in Tijuana” offers an unflinching look at the challenges facing researchers from the University of California, San Diego as they attempt to identify and treat people who inject drugs, sex workers, transgender women and others who are at high risk for HIV infection in Tijuana. The program. . .was shot over two years.

The documentary is split into four episodes, each telling a piece of the HIV/AIDS story in Tijuana. The series starts in El Bordo, a neighborhood of injecting drug users in the Tijuana River Canal, and then moves to Prevencasa where UC San Diego and Mexican medical students offer free care at the Health Frontiers in Tijuana clinic. From there, it turns its focus to a tattoo removal clinic and then a telemedicine program that connects patients with remotely located HIV doctors. The series continues with poignant stories and photos of people living with HIV and concludes with a wrap of what it would take to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Tijuana.

“HIV/SIDA” is organized around the research of UC San Diego epidemiologist Steffanie Strathdee, who is the chief of UC San Diego’s division of Global Public Health, UCSD psychologist Tom Patterson and their binational team of doctors, nurses and healthcare outreach workers. Their research has shown that Tijuana’s prevalence of HIV is three times higher than in Mexico at large. Strathdee said the documentary is a call to action to address the epidemic in a strategic and coordinated manner.

“It’s possible to end AIDS in Tijuana, but we need to take a broader look. Mexico as a whole should see Tijuana as a window for what could be the HIV epidemic for the rest of the country,” she said. “I also believe it shouldn’t just be Mexico’s responsibility to stop this epidemic because we have a shared population across the border. We need a binational response.”

The binational nature of Tijuana’s epidemic is reflected in the series title as SIDA is the Spanish term for AIDS, the acronym for síndrome de inmunodeficiencia adquirida.

“HIV/SIDA” was made possible through a grant from the Ford Foundation. UCTV Producer Shannon Bradley based the video series on Tomorrow Is a Long Time, a photo essay book with vignettes by photographer Malcolm Linton and Jon Cohen, two long-time collaborators who have travelled to more than 30 countries to document the HIV/AIDS epidemic for Science magazine.

Cohen said there is already a recipe for how to end the AIDS epidemic, which includes:

  • Identifying where high-risk groups congregate and then saturating those locales with rapid HIV testing and distributing educational materials as well as condoms, clean needles and syringes.
  • Testing all pregnant women.
  • Offering circumcision to men.
  • Connecting those who test positive with counselors who can emphasize the importance of treatment and not infecting others.
  • Providing antiretrovirals to all those infected with HIV and having case workers oversee their treatment so they achieve undetectable viral loads, which makes transmission to others less likely.
  • Offer antiretrovirals as preventatives to high-risk groups as a way to reduce transmission.

“We all know the recipe for ending AIDS,” Cohen said, “but it’s not happening aggressively enough in Tijuana. Could we do this? Could we break the back of the epidemic and get to the point where one person isn’t infecting another? Absolutely. The tools exist.”