Air Care

Breathe in and breathe out. Quite a simple and satisfying reflex isn’t it? We all enjoy this feeling of being alive (I hope), but it seems that it is being taken for granted. It’s not the fact that we can inhale and exhale; but it is what’s happening to that air we’re breathing. Most people know of pollution – air pollution that is negatively effecting air quality and the environment. It seems like a large-scale epidemic doesn’t it? Yet, where has talk of air pollution gone? I’m no expert in climate change by any means, but I do know that there are challenges surrounding our air, and they need to be brought back to light.

Now most people recognize the cause of air pollution. We understand that relative problems, such as smog and acid rain, initiate from human activities. Our mobile vehicles, industrial processes, burning fuels for electricity and heat production, and other products such as paints and solvents, create this mess. However, many people don’t know the technicalities behind it. I for one didn’t, but I conducted some research and I’d like to share some of the scientific terms.

The air pollutants that are being emitted in the air by the above human activities release particulate matter (PM), which is composed of minute solid particles and tiny liquid droplets that remain suspended in the air. Major components of PM include sulfate, nitrates, ammonia, and carbon. It affects more people than any other pollutant:

Then there’s ground-level ozone (not to be confused with the layer in the upper atmosphere). It makes up the second key component of smog and joins PM as the two most pervasive and widespread air pollutants to which people are exposed. It’s a colourless and odourless gas at ambient concentrations resulting from photochemical reactions in the presence of sunlight, which is illustrated here:

So now with a bit more basic scientific knowledge on air pollution, effects and trends can be better understood. For both notorious pollutants, their concentrations seem to be increasing:

Fine particulate matter concentrations, Canada, 2000 to 2010

Fine particulate matter concentrations, Canada, 2000 to 2010

Ground-level ozone concentrations, Canada, 1990 to 2010

Ground-level ozone concentrations, Canada, 1990 to 2010

This data is from the recent decade, but as we look towards the end of 2010, both pollutant emissions seem to be increasing. To be fair, we were doing a good job in the few years where concentrations were comparatively lower, which is definitely what we should be aiming for again. I wish I could provide the exact reason(s) for the years of decreased air pollution, but the production of APC’s (Air Pollution Control technologies) may be a factor. These Canadian services in air pollution control (such as air handling equipment, dust collectors, and particulate filtration and emission control) have been effective solutions in helping clean the air.

Now what does all of this mean? Why do we need air care? The answer is in the big three:

The environment. It’s definitely the victim in all of this. It didn’t ask for ground-level ozone to damage vegetation, including crops, flowers, shrubs and forests, interfering with plants’ ability to produce and store food. This damage then makes them more susceptible to disease, pests and environmental stresses. We don’t want more plants looking like this:

Other pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulphur dioxide (SO2), can become acidic gases or particulates, and cause or accelerate the corrosion and soiling of materials. Along with ammonia, they cause acid rain which affects soils and water bodies, and stresses both vegetation and animals.

Humans. Also known as us. Although our health risk from air pollution relies on a number of factors (the level of pollutant and the level of exposure to it, health, age, etc), the harmful air quality can cause serious respiratory problems. Lung tissue cells, such as the alveoli, can be injured directly by air pollution.

Diagram of Human Respiratory System

Finally, society. We all pay for the effects of air pollution. There’s additional health care costs associated with hospital admissions, medications, inhalers, missed days at work, reduced worker productivity, reduction in the growth of crops, plants and stress leading to economic loss in forestry and agriculture (breathe). These add up. Air pollution costs Canadians and the Canadian economy billions of dollars per year!

So what can we do? The attainable solutions in regards to air pollution are quite simple. Individually, we can carpool. Why take you and your friends car to the restaurant when one of you can pick the other one up. Don’t worry you can alternate. However, why even take the car when you can bike or walk? This is a great choice, especially during the summer. You can help care for the air while getting some exercise; and if you really enjoy the outdoors and nature, plant a tree! Help produce some more oxygen. Finally, creating and using a compost bin can be a great practice. There’s already enough garbage so let nature do its job to help.

Without this individual initiative, we are left to rely on our government. In order to help care for our air, governments need to pay billions to implement programs, such as cleaner vehicles and fuel. Sure, they have all this money, but something tells me that they’d rather spend it on other things (like the economy). Plus imagine them getting rid of all those sizeable factories. It wouldn’t be a shot in the dark to say that won’t be happening any time soon. So essentially they are unreliable, which is why we have to depend on our own attributes. In the greater perspective, it’s a few billion dollars and a couple of small personal adjustments to aid in making our air cleaner compared to a few more billion dollars and more drastic alterations and adjustments to pay for the current effects. A hard choice isn’t it? I mean, it’s only our air.

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Swimming in Climate Change

Climate Change and Marine Life – Final Draft

Why Care?

Global warming, climate change. I know that when I hear terms like these, I think of the affects they have on our habitat: solid ground.  But the ocean is actually one of the main components of humans’ survival – ocean plants produce half of the world’s oxygen, and absorb 1/3 of the carbon dioxide we produce, making the oxygen easily accessible.  We also get weather from the ocean, whether we live near it or not; through the water cycle, the ocean gives us clouds that block or allow heat to pass through, adjusting temperature, and produce precipitation – let alone fresh water.  Then there’s food; seafood, of course, but along with this, ingredients like algae that are used in so many of the products we consume.  So, to sum all of those statistics up, we really do need the ocean.  I am extremely unscientific so apologies to all of you who know this as common knowledge; I knew that the ocean’s purpose went deeper than scenic views, but in which direction I had no clue.  In return for all that it gives us, we have the responsibility of caring for it; the quality of the water and therefore the plant and animal life.  This is why, in all of this global warming talk, we need to remember the ocean and how it and its inhabitants are being effected by climate change.

How Climate Change is Affecting Marine Life

“The top ocean predators in the North Pacific could lose as much as 35% of their habitat by the end of the century as a result of climate change”, writes Juliet Eilperin in response to a study published in the Nature Climate Change journal.  The study that Eilperin is referring is one where Canadian and American researchers, over the past decade, tracked 4,300 ocean animals, of 23 different species, mainly in the North Pacific area, and discovered that climate change could destroy many marine animals’ habitats and possibly their species itself.  The North Pacific area is a Transition Zone, which means that cold and warm waters come into contact here.  The dotted lines in the image below show where this area is:

© 2012 The Earth Times

This study sparked many questions in me, mainly, how? How could climate change really affect marine life thousands of feet below us? So, after doing a little research, I came up with some useful information that helped me understand; I hope it helps my readers also!

With the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change‘s predictions of global temperature increase of 1.8 to 10.8 degrees by 2100, this transition zone could move 600 miles north throughout the majority of seasons as colder waters will be pushed from the equator (warmer waters will ultimately be “taking over”).  Graphs a and b show the past decade’s sea-surface temperature (SST), and the predictions for change.  Notice that the ‘high’ temperatures are moving North.  The graphs I’ve used all come from the Nature Climate Change study; I’ve just tried to infer and explain them in not-so-sciencey language!

© 2012 Nature Publishing Group

This change means that as the polar waters move further north, the chlorophyll (the green pigment needed for photosynthesis) will essentially move with it, as the greatest chlorophyll concentrations are in cold polar waters.  So, at the geographical location of the North Pacific Transition Zone now, the amount of chlorophyll will decrease as the zone (point of contact of cold and warm waters) moves North.  Graphs b and c show the past decade’s Chlorophyll a, (Chl-a) and the predictions for change (chlorophyll a is just a specific form of chlorophyll).  Notice that the chlorophyll is moving North and areas in graph c, plentiful in chlorophyll, have quite little in graph d.

© 2012 Nature Publishing Group

Now, since plants will not grow without chlorophyll, the plant growth in this location will also decrease significantly, cutting marine animals off from a major food source.  And this leads to the conclusion; most marine animals are going to move as far as the North Pacific Transition Zone does, in order to follow the plant life, the food; seabirds and sharks, for example, target high-chlorophyll waters and will therefore be among the many species that migrate themselves and their future habitats.

Graphs a to d show the quarterly trends of the amounts of animals in the past decade, and graphs e to f show the predicted change.  Notice that the high concentration of species moves North, and that the area that was dense in marine population during the past decade will be quite empty in the future.

© 2012 Nature Publishing Group

Affects on the Animals

Many animals will mostly lose their habitat in the climate-inspired move and therefore decrease in population; as conditions in the North will not be the same, and their adaptation ability differs.  Some reasons species would lose their habitats are bolded, below, with examples of the animals that the cause would affect.

Narrow Temperature Range

– sharks

– salmon

Specialized Diets (less ability to adapt and therefore population decrease)

– blue whales

– leatherbacks

Some animals, on the other hand, will not only survive, but likely increase in number due to the lack of predators and ability to adapt.  These animals include:

– tuna

– seabirds

– pinnipeds (fin-footed marine animals such as seals or walruses)

Animals have an effect on the other animals around them also, for example, if certain species depopulate, this will confuse the marine food chain and result in even more depopulation, due to lack of food; Eiperlin writes that from California to Japan, we could lose up to 20% of species diversity.

Affects on Humans

The North Pacific Transition Zone shift will affect humans mostly in a negative way: for example, fisheries will have to relocate and travel further for product, ultimately using more energy and causing the climate to get warmer still, eventually coming back to ocean temperature, marine life, and then humans as a result.  Again, if certain species depopulate, this will confuse the marine food chain which really, we are a part of.  With decreasing marine life, we will need to search harder for it and destroy certain ecosystems in the process, for example, scraping seabed to get as many fish out of an area as possible.  An uncontrollable food chain will result in a completely imbalanced marine ecosystem which will therefore suffer.  And really, once the ocean goes, we go, as we rely on the ocean for our own survival.  But, this is one extreme, not too possible in the near future.  Areas other than the North Pacific could stay completely unaffected, like the current that runs along the west of North America: the California Current.  Here, the rising of cold polar waters will continue and for the most part stay in one place.  So, while the affects of climate change on marine life could definitely lead our planet in a negative direction, I say that this possible negative direction is not what we need to be worrying about right now.  I think we need to be concerned about the present, not preventing change but monitoring it.  This does not, however, mean that we can forget about the future altogether.  What we need to have is balance; it the best way we can achieve sustainable development. Elliott L. Hazen, in the study Predicted habitat shifts of Pacific top predators in a changing climate, speaks of this present-future balance, of acting and planning future actions: “management strategies and reserves need to be based not only on present biodiversity distributions and migration corridors but also on their persistence in the future… Climate change is a broad-scale and directional process and we must plan accordingly to ensure our healthy and functioning ecosystems remain intact, and recovery efforts are appropriately targeted and successful.”

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The Future We Want

As researchers investigate the mysteries of Climate Change, world-leaders seek to debate and discuss the issue while attempting to control and reduce its effects towards the planet in conferences such as the Rio+20, held in June of this year. The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development as it is formally known, has had its effectiveness questioned, as many leaders of the G20 and global organizations did not attend the 10-day summit, resulting in debates of whether the world is really is committed to sustainability.

The summit occurred in a discrete fashion. Parents and children were enlightened by the massive expo that went on in the streets around the conference, while committees held closed-door meetings, followed by brief statements to the press from the present delegations. As any other summit would go, it ended with a formal document regarding the outcome of the event, in this case, the document was entitled “The Future We Want”.

As someone who lived in Brazil at the time of the summit, I had the pleasure of knowing a few diplomats who attended it and was able to briefly talk to a few of them at the time. While I can’t precisely quote their remarks, I can say that they were satisfied with the outcome from a political point of view. It wasn’t until reading a recent remark by Janez Potocnik, the European Union  environment commissioner, that I decided to read the document for myself and was shocked by it.

This document is a mere agreement that the world must be aware of current environmental issues. It does not set any goals for the future, nor does it demonstrate a true effort by any of the participating delegations to work on the issue of sustainability. This document is properly titled “The Future We Want” and not “The Future We Are Willing to Work For” as it shows global concern over sustainability but does not show any measures that will be effective for our planet. There are no statistics in the text or any data that deals with sustainability, only an agreement that the world must focus on issues of sustainability. Well, I don’t think anyone needed a 49-page document to know that, what do you think? What is the future you want? Share your thoughts on how successful the Rio+20 conference was, or what you think we can do to make world-leaders more aware of environmental issues.

Post edited on October 16th, 2012

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Where Did The Issue of Climate Go In The USA Election? [DRAFT #1]

In his 2008 election campaign, Barack Obama made climate change one of his top priorities, making several grand promises to reface American consumption, use cleaner energy, and create jobs while doing it, A recent article from World News Australia has noticed how it is weirdly absent from the current election: Since 2008, even more research has been done to expose humans as having a significant effect on the climate, yet in his 2012 election campaign, Barack has all but ignored climate issues. More and more people have a great opportunity to become educated on climate change, and with that education, increasingly worried; yet, it remains absent from his current platform. As one of the most pressing issues of our time, it is unfathomable that it is to be placed on the back burner, and cast under a shadow of doubt, especially in the most powerful country in the world’s political agenda.

The question is: why? Some people blame the media because so much of climate change information, through outlets like Fox News, have been vastly incorrect, misleading, and unreliable. Therefore, since common media outlets are the vast majority of the population’s main information source, those without an actual understanding of the truth, are being influenced by the misconceptions portrayed in news. This can have disastrous effects, for example, half of Americans believe that most scientists believe that global warming isn’t even occurring. Research has proved that if a published consensus of climate change was done, it would impact the amount of support that climate change would get. Yet, the president himself is neglecting to stress the importance of the issue.

It is also not helpful that one of the most powerful political parties, The Republicans, are purposefully casting doubt on the matter of climate change in the minds of average American citizens. Presidential candidate Romney refuses to support climate change science. This has potential to be detrimental to the future of climate change science, but also can greatly impact the climate itself. If Romney is put in office, and refuses to support the research of climate change, it is fair to assume that he will not to anything to actually help reduce the negative impact that humans have on the environment in the heavily polluted US, only adding to the problem. Also, since America is such an influential country, many other countries in the world may adopt their lassiez-faire mentality, and start questioning the validity of climate change, even though the truth stares them in the face. This is a problem that cannot be ignored for long, and the US presidential candidates need to wake up and realize this. As Mr. Obama said in 2008: “Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all. Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response.”

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How Africa Suffers From Climate Change

Climate Change is a global phenomenon affecting continents all over the world, we hear about how climate is changing and regions in North America and Europe are getting warmer. Africa is also suffering from climate change in a way that is much more severe than what most other countries are experiencing. Accelerated climate change is meant to have large impact across the African continent.  Climate change in Africa is been seen to be apocalyptical and disastrous which would add to the problems the continent is already facing. Africa exhibits large contrasts in its surface terrain and vegetation, which may be pivotal in moderating the global climate.
Regions like Africa discharge the least air pollution, although most people in Africa might suffer the most as a result of climate change. It also threatens the  standard of living and the source of income and food for people living in Africa. Farming is a source of income and livelihood for most people in Africa. Climate change could cause increase in temperature for most countries in Africa would be substantially larger than most other countries.                   These countries will suffer from reduced rainfall which would lead to reduce crop yields. This would not only reduce the income of most people, it would also lead to reduce food and water shortages. Poor water quality will intensify because of climate change and this could also increase the number of water borne diseases. This could limit the economic development options that most countries in the region face.
As a result of climate change droughts and famines are getting worse. Climate in Africa has always being known to be unstable and unpredictable, however, most of the change has led to  new dangerous extremes in African temperatures  which could have catastrophic effect for the African continent. Global warming in Africa will make the wet areas in Africa get wetter and the dry areas drier and this could lead a swarm of famines, drought, and floods.                       The higher temperatures and droughts could lead to severe wild fires in the region. Drought and floods could lead to scarcity of resources this could spark violence across the region and add to the regions previous problems of political instability. This will further increase the risk of war in the regions because as countries face scarcity of food and other resources they might want to attack other countries to secure additional resources.                               World Bank specialists estimated that approximately 7 million people migrated – driven by food scarcity – out of the 80 million semi-starving in sub-Saharan Africa due to environmental factors, this could only to be aggravated in the future. Climate change will make the problems in Africa gets worse, this is as most people in Africa lose their incomes which makes problems like poverty get worse and as food levels reduces starvation could rise. Floods could also lead to displacement in homes leading to a fall in the standard of living for most residents of the African Countinent.
Africa is poor and underdeveloped, but because of climate change the continent faces bigger and greater challenges. The average temperature could increase substantially. The region could have large amounts of flood; droughts in the region could also increase substantially. In addition to that, the region could suffer from increased poverty, increased starvation, and conflict. All this would increase instability in the region, which would make the region unbearable to live in. Africa will suffer the most from climate change, hence the western world need to act fast on climate change in order to reduce the effect it would have on Africa.

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Hello all! So along with creating a post just to see how all this stuff works, I thought I would share with you a beautiful movie I’ve watched a couple times for an environmental studies class back in high school. It’s called “Home” and it’s a look at our earth and how climate change is destroying it (aka how we’re destroying it). I also thought Myra would enjoy this as it’s sponsored by all the big names in fashion. If you don’t have an hour and a half to kill, just watch the trailer for the spectacular views the planet the movie provides. And if you’re interested in watching it, you can find it all on youtube! Enjoy!

(I tried to add the movie in here, but that’s a skill I’ve yet to master)

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Last Call at the Oasis

I was happy to learn, once I set foot on campus this past January, that U of T is a “bottled water free zone“; that is to say, selling it is against the rules.

As I mentioned in class on Tuesday, there is an excellent documentary film that addresses the increasing problem of the availability of fresh water in the global north, to say nothing of the fact that 1.1 billion people in the world are currently without, and don’t have access to potable water at all.

If you haven’t seen the film, I highly recommend it.

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Chasing Ice

Welcome everyone to the fall 2012 class for PMU199 Climate Change:  Software Science and Society. The students taking this year’s course will be blogging here soon. In the meantime, I mentioned in class today an excellent new movie called “Chasing Ice”, about scientists attempts to take time-lapse movies of the melting ice in the Arctic. Here’s the trailer:

It’s not officially released yet, but it is being shown in Toronto on Oct 14, at the closing night of the Planet In Focus environmental film festival.

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Interesting TED talk

I thought this was pretty interesting.

James Hansen: Why I must speak out about climate change

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Stephen Harper’s climate change challenge in accordance with the world

“Stephen Harper has changed his mind, reversed his field and is now going to the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen.

He didn’t want to do it. Climate change is becoming the most divisive issue in this country since the fight over energy pricing in the 1970s and ’80s. But he had no choice.

The man the prime minister has been counting on to shape a climate change policy that Canada would have to accept is now going to Copenhagen himself on Dec. 9.

So when U.S. President Barack Obama said he would “drop in” on the climate change summit, Harper knew that he as well had to pack his bags for Denmark.”

Please look at my comment on Christina’s Article as my introduction into the article.  Notably CBC’s introduction to the article creates a specific mood that identifies the Prime Minister and the President as childish and lazy in accordance with environmental policy.  Do you believe it is accurate and effective in generating attention to Canada and the United States role in the Kyoto Protocol in comparison to the rest of the world?

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