Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Climate change puts health at risk and economists have the right prescription

PHYS ORG by Christopher Ragan And Courtney Howard, 
Wildfire smoke from Alberta descends on central
Manitoba, two provinces away. 2017. A PinP photo. 

Doctors and economists may seem like strange partners.  We spend our days working on very different problems in very different settings. But climate change has injected a common and urgent vocabulary into our work. We find ourselves agreeing both about the nature of the problem and the best solution. It is essential that we put a price on carbon pollution.  Story here.

Is relentless industrial development threatening the beautiful Birdtail River? Lucrative highway contracts have brought an explosion of noise and congestion to a picturesque valley in western Manitoba. (Letter)

Dear Editor,

If ever there was an example of just how numb we've become to the planetary crisis we all face, it’s surely playing out in plain sight right here, right now, in Shoal Lake. As many of my neighbours will already know, big dump trucks have been lumbering by in front of our homes for about a week now. Beginning before dawn, they sometimes become a steady stream that lasts much of each day, coming and going, until about dusk. 

These heavy diesel "twenty-two-wheelers" with long, steel boxes, have been moving gravel (or some similar material), from a big mine along the Yellowhead to the west, to a big maintenance project along Highway 21 to the south.
One of the many trucks working on the project
in question, ready to be loaded at the mine.
Since the trucks pass right by our front window, I’ve been able to do a rough count. At about 150 round trips per day, they must be set to move hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of material before the operation ends. Make no mistake, folks. This is one big job. 
The mine in full operational mode, fall, 2018. PinP photos.
The mine supplying the raw product has been expanding for years along the banks of the Birdtail River. I’ve been out there a few times over the past few years. I’ve captured shots of the copious dust it kicks up when in full operational mode (above). You can also hear the din of the machines echoing up and down an otherwise fairly peaceful valley. Prevailing westerlies carry the dust from the mine right over (and no doubt into) the river. Such sediment has long been proven to be bad news for fish and other aquatic life. 

This seems to matter not, however. Neither does the fact that internal combustion engines are significant contributors of greenhouse gases and climate change which the experts are warning will be in “runaway mode,” or beyond our ability to turn around, in about a decade. 

Apparently, we are also supposed to ignore the fact that being exposed to diesel fumes, even for a short time, can cause coughing and irritation of the eye, nose or throat. Long-term exposure can lead to even more serious health effects, including cancer. So just how long will this highway “improvement” project last? I have no idea, do you? 

And, by the way, did you take part in the vote that gave them our permission to do this? Oh, that’s right! There wasn’t one!

So how do we maintain our roads and standard of living to the degree to which we've become accustomed without producing these downsides?  I personally believe - while it's not something many will want to hear - maybe we cannot! Surely at least part of the solution must include actually lowering our expectations - travelling less and driving more energy-efficient vehicles. 

One thing I do know. The way we are doing things now, is taking us all down a dangerous, and very congested road.

Larry Powell
Shoal Lake, Manitoba.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Canada's Permafrost Is Thawing 70 Years Earlier Than Expected, Study Shows. Scientists Are 'Quite Surprised'

Of course, "The Big Thaw" is not confined to Canada. This Alaskan
permafrost has melted, causing one of this lake's banks to collapse. 

As a result, its waters are draining into a river, then into the sea, 
perhaps leading to the lake's disappearance!
NPS Climate Change Response Photo (C.Ciancibelli)
The Canadian Arctic permafrost is thawing 70 years earlier than expected, a rate shocking a group of scientists who released the findings of their long-term study this month. More here.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Canada becomes first G7 country to ban shark fin imports

The Guardian

Shark fins for sale in Canada.
Photo by Hakai MAGAZINE 
  • Measure which also bans sale of fins awaits royal assent. Story here.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Deadly gas: Cutting farm emissions in half could save 3,000 lives a year

Bureau of Investigative Journalism
Spreading manure on a harvested corn field.
Photo by Chesapeake Bay Program.

Thousands of deaths could be avoided each year if air pollution from UK farms were halved, new analysis has revealed. But the government's failure to act means the most damaging sectors are under no obligation to cut their emissions. Story here.

More research on African swine fever is urgently needed: No cure, no vaccine and no treatment yet exists for this lethal pig disease

The swelling around the kidneys & the muscle hemorrhages shown here
are typical of pigs with African swine fever. Karen Apicelli - USDA.
African swine fever is a highly contagious viral disease affecting domestic and wild pigs. It kills nearly 100% of the pigs it infects. The good news is that the African swine fever virus does not infect or harm humans. The bad news is that it devastates household and national economies. Particularly in Africa and now in China and Vietnam, it can destroy the livelihoods. More here.

An Alberta wildfire specialist links Fort Mac "megafire" and BC's 2017 fire season to climate change

The Energy Mix
On May, 2016, the Landsat 7 satellite (NASA) acquired this
false-colour image of the wildfire that burned through
Fort McMurray. Advanced technology allows it to
penetrate clouds and smoke to reveal the hot spots
associated with active fires. Smoke appears white
& burned areas appear brown.
More than two thousand wildfires hit British Columbia in 2017. Another massive one consumed much of Fort McMurray, Alberta a year earlier. Mike Flannigan, A University specialist in wildland fire, says both were connected to climate change. Story here.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Remote lakes in New Brunswick, Canada, remain dangerously polluted, half-a-century after being drenched with the insecticide, DDT, says study.

It's no secret that the now-infamous bug-killer, DDT,
persists stubbornly in the environment. Still, what scientists found in lake sediments they recently analyzed in the Atlantic province, 50 years after it was last used there, shocked them. The sediment in all five lakes they tested (representing numerous watersheds), were laced with DDT at levels up to 450 times beyond what would be considered safe for key aquatic species and even entire food webs.

by Larry Powell
A plane sprays DDT on bud worms in Oregon, 1955. 
Photo by Forest Health Protection.

In some ways, it was like a real war.

In the early fifties, governments and the forest industry teamed up in New Brunswick to launch a massive aerial assault against spruce bud worms. 

The pests had probably been eating their way through conifer stands in eastern Canada and the U.S. for thousands of years. But now, they were causing hundreds of millions of dollars of damage yearly to forests of mostly spruce and fir, highly valued by a growing human population.

By 1968, almost six million kilograms of DDT had been unleashed on the worms. The area treated, varied widely from year to year - from about 80 thousand hectares to two million. Some years, the same area was treated once - others, twice.
 “Budworm City,” established in the early 1950s and used 
as a base for DDT spray operations in northern 
New Brunswick. Photo credit: D.C. Anderson.

Then, some two years later, as awareness of the harm the product was doing to fish and wildlife grew, authorities stopped using it altogether. 

But not before copious amounts had washed off the land and settled into the water directly from the air. 
But this latest research builds even further on what was known back then. 

In the words of the researchers, "Surprisingly, DDT and its toxic breakdown products are still very high in modern sediments - above levels where harmful biological effects tend to occur." 
Populations of a small water flea, Daphnia sp. (below) were found to have gone down significantly in the lakes tested. While such a creature may not sound impressive, it's considered an important invertebrate in the food webs of lakes.
An image of the aquatic organism Daphnia, commonly known as a water flea. They are often numerous in lakes and important grazers of algae, and are eaten by small fish, waterfowl, and large invertebrates. Daphnia are sensitive to their aquatic environment, including DDT levels and other contaminants. Daphniids are used worldwide in toxicology and ecology studies, and are often considered a keystone aquatic species. The postabdominal claw (indicated by the arrow) of Daphnia are preserved in lake sediments and useful to their identification. Photo credit: Kim Lemmen (Queen's University).
L. to r. Environmental Scientist and lead author Dr Josh Kurek,
study co-author Sarah Veinot, field assistant Marley Caddell, and study 
co-author Paul MacKeigan at a remote New Brunswick lake.

The study's lead author, Dr. Joshua Kurek, tells PinP, "Just to be clear, the loss/reduction of Daphnia is a concern, as Daphnia eat algae and are also food for fish. Fewer Daphnia mean less food for fish (and other organisms). It also means less grazing pressure on algae. It's very difficult to quantify. But other studies do show more algae (and blooms of algae), when Daphnia are fewer in lakes."
Excessive growth of sometimes toxic algae can clog lakes, robbing them of their oxygen and killing fish. It has become a huge problem in waterways, worldwide. 

Because New Brunswick had likely become the most heavily-sprayed forested region on the continent, DDT's harmful legacy could well be playing out well beyond the five lakes that were studied. (There are about 2,500 in the province, in all.) 

Another co-author, Dr. Karen Kidd of McMaster University, adds a cautionary note of her own. "The lesson from our study is that pesticide use can result in persistent and permanent changes in aquatic environments."

The project was conducted by experts from three Canadian Universities; Mount Allison, New Brunswick and McMaster. Its findings were published today in the journal,Environmental Science & Technology.

DDT's "rap sheet" is a long one.

Rachel Carson's famous book, "Silent Spring," published in the early 60s, dedicates almost an entire chapter to the New Brunswick experience. Called "Rivers of Death," it documents the loss of countless fish, insects and birds along the Mirimachi River, one of North America's best salmon-fishing spots, in the wake of the spraying. She noted the pilots made no effort to avoid spraying directly over waterways. She also observed that the spraying was having questionable results, in any event, since the amounts applied kept having to be increased, just to keep ahead of the hungry worms.

Also, years ago, DDT was found to cause a thinning of the eggshells of dozens of bird species, leading to reproductive failure. While their numbers have since recovered, raptors, notably the bald eagle, were especially hard hit.
A swift, as depicted in
Bird Craft - 1897.

And, by killing the bugs eaten by insectivorous birds such as the swift (above), DDT has long been recognized as instrumental in widespread species declines, as well. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Plant Species Have Been Disappearing 500 Times Faster Than Normal, Thanks to Humans

Omar Monsgur exhibits endangered plants in Puerto Rico.
US Fish & Wildlife photo.
Researchers call the results “frightening” because it’s likely “gross underestimate” and the problem is probably much worse. Story here.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Older forests resist change, climate change, that is

Science News
A  forest in Maritime Canada. A PinP photo.

With age, forests in eastern US and Canada become less vulnerable to climate change, study finds. Story here.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

'Existential' Risk of Climate Crisis Could Lead to Civilizational Collapse by 2050, Warns Report

Common Dreams
Drivers near Ponoka, Alberta face smoke from wildfires burning further north.
2019 photo by TaqaSanPedroAko.
"The world is currently completely unprepared to envisage, and even less deal with, the consequences of catastrophic climate change." More here.

Loss of Canadian Arctic sea ice stokes summer heat waves in southern U.S.

Drift ice in the Arctic ocean. Wickimedia commons.
Over the last 40 years, Arctic sea ice thickness, extent and volume have declined dramatically. Now, a new study finds a link between declining sea ice coverage in parts of the Canadian Arctic and an increasing incidence of summer heat waves across the southern United States. Story here.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Downpours of torrential rain more frequent with global warming

Flooding in Saskatchewan. A PinP photo.
The frequency of downpours of heavy rain—which can lead to flash floods, devastation, and outbreaks of waterborne disease—has increased across the globe in the past 50 years, research led by the University of Saskatchewan (USask) has found. Story here.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Climate change is already affecting global food production—unequally

A soy field in Canada. A PinP photo.
The world's top 10 crops— barley, cassava, maize, oil palm, rapeseed, rice, sorghum, soybean, sugarcane and wheat—supply a combined 83 percent of all calories produced on cropland. Yields have long been projected to decrease in future climate conditions. Now, new research shows climate change has already affected production of these key energy sources—and some regions and countries are faring far worse than others. Story here.

Manitoba's Opposition NDP Leader, Wab Kinew, Favours Cap & Trade Over Carbon Tax.

Backyard chickens.
Climate chicken. 

The Arctic may be sea-ice-free in summer by the 2030s

  Nature Communications                                                 Photo by Patrick Kelley   The Arctic could be sea-ice-free during th...