Later On

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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Ominous news: Tornado Outbreaks Are on the Rise, and Scientists Don’t Know Why

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It seems likely to me that large-scale changes in weather patterns are likely to be effects of global warming. And, since a majority of those in power (in the GOP, specifically) deny that global warming exists (and either cannot understand or refuse to consider, the evidence that it truly does exist, some of which—the disappearance of glaciers and the warming of the arctic and the rise in sea level—is totally obvious), I doubt that much will be done until it is too late, whereupon those who blocked action will blame the rest of us.

Grennan Milliken reports at Motherboard:

Late Tuesday and early Wednesday morning, a dozen tornadoes tore through the southern part of the US, killing 5 people and destroying up to 20 buildings in one town alone in Alabama.

This cluster of tornadoes, all part of one large weather-event, constitute a “tornado outbreak.” These are the most damaging and harmful tornado-related events that can occur. And new research, published today in Science, has found that the frequency and intensity of these deadly tornado outbreaks has nearly doubled in the last 50 years and may continue to do so. Whether these trends are related to climate change or not is unclear, and raises the question as to whether or not global warming may be affecting weather events in ways we don’t understand.

Comprehending how the most extreme tornado outbreaks function and form is a not just a matter of public health, but also a matter of financial security. The first half of 2016 in the U.S. saw $8.5 billion in insured losses due to tornadoes and severe thunderstorms. So a team of climate scientists led by Michael K. Tippett of Columbia University analyzed the most intense events on two National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration datasets of tornadoes and meteorological observations related to tornado outbreaks from 1965 to 2015.

They found that the worst outbreaks are containing more tornadoes, and worse, that those outbreaks are growing in intensity faster than the “regular sized” ones. But they can’t determine why this is happening.

Climate change is one guess, but the researchers haven’t found any conclusive signs that it is the culprit. Lead author Michael Tippett told Motherboard that climate models are good for predicting temperature rise, but they can’t say how weather will change. So scientists act like weather forecasters. They look for environments that are favorable to severe storms, and then see if climate change is likely to create more of those storm-friendly environments.

“If it’s climate change, well—we can expect more,” Tippett said. “That’s the bad news scenario. And the good news scenario is if it’s not climate change then we could go back to the way it was earlier. The 80s, let’s say.”

One of the main ingredients for tornadoes, thunderstorms and the like is something called convective available potential energy (CAPE), which refers to warm moist air near the ground surface that ultimately rises up into the atmosphere. Climate projections have said that increases in CAPE will cause more frequent storm-friendly environments, explained Tippett.

But despite the increase in the intensity of tornado outbreaks, “we don’t see these extreme CAPE environments changing” he said. “It’s either not climate change, or it’s something about climate change that we don’t understand.”

Tippett also pointed out that lots of aspects of climate change are unknown. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2016 at 10:57 am

Why businesses require regulation: “Air pollution hot spot in Paramount spurs calls for action on metal factory emissions”

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Tony Barboza reports in the LA Times:

en with the doors and windows closed, Venecia Yanez can’t escape the head-splitting, metallic odors that permeate her Paramount home.

Yanez says the harsh fumes and smoke that waft in at all hours and the rusty residue she finds on her family’s car must be coming from one of the metal-forging plants she can see from outside her apartment.

She and her neighbors on Vermont Avenue have long complained of headaches, nausea and burning throats. Yanez, 28, worries the emissions are harmful to her 14-month-old daughter.

“We breathe it every day and it just doesn’t feel safe,” she said.

Residents of this small, working-class city southeast of Los Angeles have for years watched regulators launch studies and promise stricter rules to protect homes and schools from toxic emissions from the array of metal-processing facilities operating in their midst. But they have seen little action.

Then, a few weeks ago, air quality monitoring detected high levels of a potent, cancer-causing metal in Paramount, forcing authorities to pay attention.

Now, what had been a slow-moving effort targeting one metal-forging plant has snowballed into a broad investigation, with teams of inspectors from several agencies fanning out to at least 20 facilities in the city’s industrial spine, searching for the origin of the toxic hot spot.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District has not yet found the source of hexavalent chromium, a compound known to cause lung cancer, that was detected at more than 350 times normal levels starting in late October.

And it’s not clear how long it could take.

Community groups and some civic leaders say the latest revelations in Paramount show that government in California has not done enough to address hot spots of pollution where industry operates near homes and schools.

California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) said: “I am concerned that our community has become the latest example of people being exposed to toxic chemicals because a company is breaking the law and regulators haven’t been aggressive enough in enforcing that law.” He urged the air district to “find the culprit and fix the problem — now.” . . .

Continue reading.

Do read the rest: finding the source of the pollution is not so easy as it sounds.

This is a clear instance of where government is required. Individual homeowners do not have the power to force a business to clean up its act, particularly when they are (in effect) bystanders rather than customers. The business is dumping its toxic pollutants on them, and the only thing that can force the business to stop is the government.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2016 at 2:36 pm

Trump Team Thinks NASA Should Study Planets, Just Not the One We Live On

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It’s worse than stupidity, it’s willful ignorance (aka “choosing to be stupid”). Becky Ferreira reports in Motherboard:

Earth: It’s the planet we live on. Understanding its complex dynamics is essential to the continuation of human civilization on our home world, and beyond it. That’s why NASA has spent the last decade heavily investing in its Earth Science Division, with the support of the Obama administration. The agency’s growing fleet of sophisticated Earth observation satellites has distinguished it as the world’s leading player in studying climate change, natural disasters, rising oceans, and other major issues that impact people who happen to reside on Earth.

President-elect Donald Trump, however, is beginning to shape a different vision for NASA, particularly with regards to Earth science. According to former congressman Robert Walker, Trump’s senior space policy advisor, NASA’s Earth observation programs are too “politicized” and must be scaled back.

“We see NASA in an exploration role, in deep space research,” Walker told the Guardian. “Earth-centric science is better placed at other agencies where it is their prime mission […] I believe that climate research is necessary but it has been heavily politicized, which has undermined a lot of the work that researchers have been doing. Mr. Trump’s decisions will be based upon solid science, not politicized science.”

There’s a lot to unpack there, but let’s start with clarifying what Walker means by “other agencies.” In the lead-up to the election, Walker hinted that a Trump administration would redistrict NASA’s Earth observation efforts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is the government arm responsible for monitoring sea and air conditions. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has also been floated as a federal agency that could help pick up the slack on Earth science.

NOAA and NSF fund important work, but they receive a fraction of NASA’s annual budget for their research. Plus, both agencies already depend on partnerships with NASA to study Earth from space, as they lack the money and the spaceflight facilities to continue those projects without NASA’s support. Unless the Trump administration clearly outlines how non-NASA agencies will be compensated for taking over NASA’s leadership in this field, this idea seems like a rather blatant attempt to sweep Earth science under an administrative rug. So far, Walker has not elaborated on this strategy beyond affirming that “there would have to be some budget adjustments” in terms of retooling Earth science under other agencies.

For reference, Earth science has been on the margins of NASA’s interests since the agency’s inception under President Dwight Eisenhower. But it wasn’t until the NASA Authorization Act of 1985, during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, that the agency became focused on Earth science as a dedicated goal. In 1986, NASA’s advisory council published a detailed roadmap for its new Earth observation division that called for collaboration with NOAA and NSF. NASA took the lead in providing the spaceflight infrastructure for satellite observations of Earth, while NOAA and the NSF have provided support on selected projects.

But as Earth science became more controversial over the subsequent decades—particularly climate change research—conflict has erupted over whether NASA’s prime directives should be constrained to ”deep space activities rather than Earth-centric work,” as Walker wrote in an October 19 op-ed for SpaceNews. It is not a new angle for the GOP. In early 2015, for instance, Republican senator Ted Cruz, Trump’s former presidential rival, lamented that President Obama “shifted [NASA’s] funding to global warming pursuits rather than carry out NASA’s core mission.”

READ MORE: Scientists’ Top Concerns in Trump’s America

At the heart of this argument is a denial of Earth science’s relevance to space science. As NASA administrator Charles Bolden pointed out to Cruz last year, Earth is, in fact, located in space. Even setting aside the urgent need to monitor global effects of human activity on our environment, our planet provides a veritable Rosetta Stone for identifying and deciphering patterns on countless other alien worlds. It is our most valuable planetary research sample. In fact, even the mere act of observing Earth from space has long been acknowledged to be profoundly revelatory and meaningful, because it exposes the harrowing fragility of our planet and its inhabitants.

NASA’s Earth observation missions not only keep tabs on dangerous environmental problems that will impact people regardless of political leanings, these efforts represent cutting-edge technological platforms that have encouraged innovations in many emerging fields.

Take the GOES-R spacecraft, launched on Saturday, which is the most advanced weather satellite ever built, offering the most precise meteorological forecasting system in space. From . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 November 2016 at 6:13 pm

The police crackdown on pipeline protesters in North Dakota

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Steve Haley reports in the Washington Post:

It may seem, from a certain vantage point, as though the formation of Donald Trump’s administration is the only thing going on in the world right now, but the protests over the Dakota Access oil pipeline and the police crackdowns on them are still ongoing in North Dakota.

This week, police defended their use of water cannons aimed at unarmed protesters in freezing temperatures. Protest organizers said at least 17 protesters were taken to the hospital and that some were treated for hypothermia.

This statement, by a sheriff’s department spokeswoman conceding the target of the water cannons as an afterthought, is almost art:

“There are multiple fires being set by protesters on the bridge and in the area of the bridge,” department spokeswoman Donnell Hushka told CNN. “We have firetrucks on the scene. They are using their fire hoses to put out the fires, wet the land around so fires don’t spread, and they are also using water as crowd control.”

Protesters say they were starting small fires to keep people warm — after they had been sprayed by the water cannons.

Perhaps the most alarming story to come out of the weekend clashes, though, was that of 21-year-old Sophia Wilansky, who is at risk of losing her arm after protester organizers say she was struck by a concussion grenade. From the Intercept:

In a statement on Tuesday, her father, Wayne Wilansky, said she would need multiple surgeries to regain functional use of her arm and hand. “All of the muscle and soft tissue between her elbow and wrist were blown away,” he said. “She will be, every day for the foreseeable future, fearful of losing her arm and hand.”

In a statement to the Los Angeles Times, the sheriff’s department denied using concussion grenades and suggested the injury was caused by explosives allegedly used by protesters. The Medic and Healer Council responded, “These statements are refuted by Sophia’s testimony, by several eyewitnesses who watched police intentionally throw concussion grenades at unarmed people, by the lack of charring of flesh at the wound site, and by the grenade pieces that have been removed from her arm in surgery and will be saved for legal proceedings.”

In the pipeline standoff, we have all the hallmarks of a militarized police force, with images and events that remind one of the police crackdowns in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014.

At least two journalists, including “Democracy Now!” host Amy Goodman, were arrested last month while covering the demonstrations. Police confronting the Native American protesters, and others who have come to join them, have used dogs, tear gas, rubber bullets, the aforementioned water cannons and, allegedly, concussion grenades. The tactics have been denounced by the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the rights of freedom of association and peaceful assembly, who released a statement last week calling out the violence against protesters and the “inhuman and degrading conditions” they face when detained. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 November 2016 at 1:15 pm

Maryland’s plea to EPA: Make out-of-state power plants run pollution controls

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It will be instructive to see how Trump’s EPA handles this one. I assume they will do absolutely nothing because businesses should be allowed to do whatever they want to make profits because corporate profits mean more jobs! (despite all the evidence to the contrary) So if destroying the biosphere will increase your profits, just go right ahead ExxonMobil! Don’t let us slow you down! I’m sure that climate change will work out okay, though your own scientists deny that. Still, since it’s a total fiction, we can just ignore them. And next quarter’s looking good.

Jamie Smith Hopkins reports at the Center for Public Integrity:

Some power plants with smog controls aren’t using them effectively — or at all — and are fouling the air hundreds of miles away as a result.

That’s the conclusion reached by the Maryland Department of the Environment, which petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week to make 19 coal-fired plants run their control equipment throughout the summer, when ground-level ozone — often known as smog — is most likely to form.

Ten of those 19 plants were identified by the Center for Public Integrity in September as “super polluters” because they were among the top 100 U.S. industrial sites for toxic substances pumped into the air, greenhouse gases released, or both, in 2014.

Maryland’s petition focused on releases of nitrogen oxides, a key ozone ingredient. Ben Grumbles, Maryland’s secretary of the environment, said he simply wants the 19 plants to do what his state’s coal plants must: “Run the controls — run the controls every day of the ozone season, and downwind states will benefit significantly from that.”

Ozone is bad for the lungs, can trigger asthma attacks and, researchers suspect, can harm the heart as well. And the pollutants that turn into it when baked in the sun can travel far afield.

Maryland contends that roughly 70 percent of its ozone problem can be linked to emissions from upwind states. Its petition names power plants in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, including three in the southwest Indiana region that the Center featured because of its concentration of big air polluters.

Maryland says in its petition that the power plants’ inefficient use of their controls put roughly 39,000 tons of nitrogen oxides into the air in the summer of 2015 that otherwise would have been captured. That’s because federal rules capping those emissions are based on averages over the entire summer, rather than on a daily basis. . .

Continue reading.

Note that this is a situation that exactly calls for government action: individual consumers cannot do it. What are you going to do? not use electricity this winter? The only player with power comparable to the corporations is the Federal government, which in this case is involved because one state is dumping pollution on its neighbor, which quite clearly should be illegal, just as you can dump your garbage on my lawn.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2016 at 1:17 pm

102 Million Trees Have Died in California’s Drought

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Wildfire hazards for years to come. And the temperature records continue to be set as global warming continues unabated. Trump is appointing a climate-change denier to be in charge of (and dismantle) the EPA.

The result will be like the article at the link, only worse.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 November 2016 at 1:55 pm

A FDA-registered food safety laboratory tested iconic American food for residues of the weed killer glyphosate (aka Monsanto’s Roundup) and found ALARMING amounts.

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I periodically see news reports of scientist who carefully compare the nutritional value of organic produce vs. conventionally raised produce (i.e., using various pesticides) and state their findings by saying that there is “no difference between the foods.” They are speaking only of nutritional differences and they (carefully?) avoid any discussion of differences in pesticide residues, but the absence of pesticides is exactly why I buy organic produce, and I don’t think I’m alone in this.

Unfortunately, conventional food crops, along with their residual pesticides, go into the making of a lot of prepared foods. This post discusses that issue. From the post:

A FDA-registered food safety laboratory tested iconic American food for residues of the weed killer glyphosate (aka Monsanto’s Roundup) and found ALARMING amounts.

Just to give you an idea of how outrageous these amounts are, independent research shows that probable harm to human health begins at really low levels of exposure – at only 0.1 ppb of glyphosate. Many foods were found to have over 1,000 times this amount! Well above what regulators throughout the world consider “safe”.

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Read more at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2016 at 10:52 am

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