Beijing Smog Sparks First Red Alert

Schools, Factories Close As Millions Of Vehicles Forced To Park

Beijing has issued its first pollution red alert as acrid smog enveloped the Chinese capital for the second time this month. The alert will begin at 7am on Tuesday and should see millions of vehicles forced off the roads, factories and construction sites shut down and schools and nurseries advised to close.

air pollution Beijing

“It is history – this is a precedent set,” said Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public an Environmental Affairs in Beijing. “This is extremely important to stop children from being exposed to such a high level of pollution.”

Chinese authorities faced fierce criticism last week when they failed to issue a red alert even as Beijing’s residents choked on smog levels that in some areas rose to 40 times those considered safe by the World Health Organisation.

Greenpeace complained that the government’s insufficient alerting system compounded the effects of Beijing’s latest “airpocalypse,” in which readings of the hazardous airborne particle PM2.5 exceed 900 micrograms per cubic meter in some parts of the city.

Monday’s emergency announcement appeared in part to be a reaction to those criticisms. Ma Jun said it would have been a “very tough decision” for China’s leaders to declare the red alert in a city of about 23 million inhabitants.

 

“It is going to involve some very challenging actions like stopping half of the cars. In a city with more than five million cars you can imagine that is going to be a big challenge,” he said. “It is not about the political or financial cost, first and foremost it is about the great difficulty in trying to organize such an emergency response.

“But this will definitely help protect people’s health. With the red alert, primary schools, middle schools and kindergartens will be [advised] to stop having class. This will be very helpful in preventing extra exposure of the most vulnerable group of people to the air pollution hazards.”

Chinese state media said the latest bout of pollution would linger over Beijing until Thursday, when rain is expected to clear away the toxic smog. “Coal-fired power plants are the major culprit at this point,” said Xinhua, China’s official news agency.

Last year the Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, vowed to declare war on pollution, but despite such pledges smog continues to blight cities right across the country. Scientists blame air pollution for about 4,000 deaths a day.

Ma Jun said Beijing’s first red alert underlined how serious the smog problem remained. “It just shows that air pollution is still a very big challenge to the city of Beijing and that the government has paid greater attention to this issue,” he said.

air pollution China

The crisis is even more severe in the regions surrounding Beijing, where hundreds of millions of tons of coal are still being burned each year even as the capital tries to slash its use of the fossil fuel.

Ma Jun said government action in those places was also needed in order to solve Beijing’s smog problem. “Beijing actually isn’t even in the top 10 polluting cities in the region [any more]. There are others which are significantly more polluting,” he said.

Sustainable City News via http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/07/beijing-pollution-red-alert-smog-engulfs-capital?CMP=share_btn_tw

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Singapore Choking On Air Pollution From Indonesia

Singapore Pays Price For Bungle In Indonesia’s Jungles

Illegal burning of Indonesian rainforest to make room for palm and paper plantations has left neighboring countries choking on smoke. Many hope the latest crisis will lead to stricter policies.

More than a month after uncontrollable wildfires were kindled in Indonesian rainforests to make room for palm and paper plantations, a blanket of smog is choking the region, including the country’s neighbors of Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand.

The dense cloud of smoke has closed schools, canceled major events, grounded flights, and driven thousands of people to doctors.

Though this is regular occurrence, thanks to paper and palm oil companies that illegally burn down Indonesian rainforest to make room for farmland, this year’s fire is particularly devastating, having reached crisis levels, according to the World Resources Institute. Largely this is due to El Niño-induced drought helping the unrelenting fire spread through Sumatran peatland.

Environmental and public-health advocates from Singapore, Malaysia, and around the world have been sternly calling on the Indonesian government to strengthen its policies on forest fires, pressuring it in September to ratify a 13-year-old regional agreement on cross-border haze.

Deforestation and climate change

“Indonesia has already carried out operations for the prevention, mitigation of forest fires and haze, and recovery activities, at the national level,” the country’s parliament said in a statement. “But, to handle cross-border pollution, Indonesia and other Asian nations recognize that prevention and mitigation need to be done together,” it said.

The “together” part might be key, as Greenpeace points out that companies that own plantations on Indonesian islands are not necessarily Indonesian.

“Of course all the fires are coming from Indonesia, but Singapore is enjoying the ‘deforestation economy’ of Indonesia as a financial center,” Bustar Maitar, head of Indonesia Forest Campaign at Greenpeace International told the Times. “And there are many Malaysian palm oil companies operating in Indonesia, and Singaporean companies are there as well,” he pointed out.

Perhaps the latest bout of fires is a tipping point for the southeast-Asian countries. On Wednesday, reports the Times, Singapore’s largest grocery chain, NTUC FairPrice, stopped selling paper products sourced from one of the world’s largest paper and pulp companies: Indonesia’s Asia Pulp and Paper Group.

Singapore last month passed a bill allowing it to fine companies up to $1.6 million for causing or contributing to haze, the Guardian reported, regardless of whether they have an office in the country.

For its part, Indonesia arrested seven people last month whose companies are suspected of starting the fires. They could face 15 years in jail and heavy fines for breaking Indonesian laws that ban starting forest fires.

Air Pollution News via http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/2015/1008/Why-is-Singapore-covered-in-smoke-and-what-can-be-done-about-it-video

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Major US Banks Urge Global Leaders To Tackle Climate Change

Global Warming Threatens Business As Usual

Six major U.S. banks are urging world leaders to adopt a strong agreement to slash carbon emissions and tackle climate change. The coalition warned in a letter Monday that warming global temperatures and related effects, including sea level rise and severe drought, threaten to upend the global economy and jeopardize future prosperity.

trees a climate change solution

Their message targeted the heads of state and diplomats gathered in New York Monday for the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly. Climate change is one of the top subjects on the agenda, along with Syria’s civil war, the refugee crisis and the Iran nuclear accord. The U.N. is spearheading negotiations to forge a 195-country climate accord in Paris this December.

Bank of America, Citi, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo called on negotiators to adopt policies that “recognize the cost of carbon” and help “provide greater market certainty, accelerate investment, drive innovation in low carbon energy, and create jobs,” according to the letter published by Ceres, a sustainability advocacy organization.

The banks noted that investments in global energy, water, transportation and urban infrastructure systems are projected to total $90 trillion over the next 15 years — a sum that could include funding for low-carbon alternatives given the right policy signals, according to a 2014 report by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, an initiative chaired by former Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

“Businesses across the spectrum are evaluating the risks and opportunities associated with a changing climate,” Mary Wenzel, head of environmental affairs at Wells Fargo, said in a statement. “Strong, long-term policy frameworks can provide the business certainty needed to accelerate innovation and investment.”

climate change negotiations in Lima, Peru

The banks’ statement did not explicitly call for a price on carbon dioxide emissions, which proponents say would make it more expensive to burn coal, oil and natural gas and encourage greater investment solar and wind power, electric vehicles, biofuels and other clean energy alternatives. But some financial leaders, including the World Bank, a U.N. financial institution, have repeatedly urged policymakers to put an outright tax on carbon emissions or adopt a cap-and-trade system. China last week announced it would launch the world’s largest cap-and-trade system to reduce emissions from its steel, cement, paper and electric power sectors.

A carbon price is “the most powerful move that a government can make in the fight against climate change and the reengineering of the economy,” Rachel Kyte, a special envoy for climate change at the World Bank, said a year ago at the 2014 Climate Week NYC, an annual forum to promote the business case for a low-carbon economy.

Climate Change Solutions via http://www.ibtimes.com/six-major-us-banks-urge-global-leaders-adopt-climate-change-agreement-2116755

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Are Cities Ready For The Next Major Hurricane

Coastal Cities Unprepared For Extreme Storms

By Nick Stockton, Wired

After the storm, after the flooding, after the investigations, the US came to realize that what happened to New Orleans on August 29, 2005 was not a natural disaster. The levee system built by the US Army Corps of Engineers had structural flaws, and those flaws were awaiting the right circumstances. In that way, what happened was all but inevitable.

sustainable cities and climate change

And just as the storm is not to blame, New Orleans is not unique in its vulnerability. The city endured a lot of scolding in the aftermath of Katrina, as if the storm was the climax to a parable about poor urban planning. Sure, the city sits below sea level, at the end of hurricane alley, and relies heavily on an elaborate (and delicate) system of infrastructure. But where the city’s geography is unique, its vulnerability is anything but. Just about every coastal city, state, or region is sitting on a similar confluence of catastrophic conditions. The seas are rising, a storm is coming, and critical infrastructure is dangerously exposed.

The basic math of carbon dioxide is pretty simple: Generally, as CO2 levels rise, the air will warm. Warmer air melts glaciers, which drip into the sea—even as the water itself warms, too. Both cause the oceans to rise. Even if the entire planet stopped emitting carbon dioxide, Earth would continue to suffer the effects of past emissions.

“We’ve got at least 30 years of inertia in terms of sea level rise,” says Trevor Houser, a Rhodium Group economist who studies climate risk. And even if the sea weren’t rising, the rate of urban growth will more than double the area of urban land at high flood risk, according to a study Global Environmental Change published earlier this year.

But the sea is rising, at about .13 of an inch per year, for the past 20 years. (It was rising before then, too, but at about half the rate for the preceding 80 years.) Another recent study calculated that the world should expect about 4 feet of sea level rise for every degree Fahrenheit the global average temperature rises. This puts nearly every coastal city, in every coastal state, in danger of floods. Climate Central has an extensive project looking at sea level risk, if you’re curious about your city’s risk.

Warm air also holds more moisture, and moisture holds more energy, hence stronger (though not necessarily more frequent) storms. Those storms combine with high sea levels to create a danger greater than the sum of their parts. In a combined flooding event, a severe storm traps a city between rainfall and surging seas. Higher sea levels cause rivers to back up, water tables to saturate, shorelines to shorten. Storms—which are likely to be stronger than before—have fewer options to run off, so they pool and flood. And America built its coastal civilization oblivious to their threat.

hurricane Katrina

Take Florida, the most climate-threatened swath of American soil. It’s low, flat, built on porous limestone, and hurricane prone. According to a new analysis by disaster insurance agency Karen Clark and Co., Florida has four of the 10 US cities most vulnerable to combined flooding events.

Florida, knowing its place in the world, has copious levees and seawalls. But the levees are there mostly to protect against the Everglades. The seawalls are about as good at breaking a hurricane as a hood ornament is at breaking the wind. And all of that infrastructure is of little use in the face of combined flooding events—the sea will simply come up from below. Miami flooded last year when the storm sewers backed up because the water table was too high to drain them.

The Sunshine State’s geography makes it an easy target for blame (not to mention hurricanes). But if there’s anything the US should have learned in the decade since Katrina, it’s that storms don’t always hit where you expect them—because, you know, Sandy. “Florida is definitely the most vulnerable place, but you also have places like Norfolk that are built on the coastal floodplain, and parts of New England where there is a lot of sunk infrastructure very close to the increasingly vulnerable coast,” says Houser. The pattern repeats itself all along the Atlantic coastal plain: Physical protections are largely insufficient to protect against a new class of climate threats.

And then, sometimes, that infrastructure falls apart entirely. Louisiana’s levees couldn’t have held off Katrina entirely, but it was their collapse, not the hurricane itself, that turned the Big Easy into a bathtub. “Some were improperly designed, some were improperly constructed, the rest were improperly maintained,” says Sandy Rosenthal, the director of Levees.org, an infrastructure watchdog group.

That same sentence could apply to key infrastructure nationwide. A lot of the country’s infrastructure—its bridges, transportation corridors, airports, seaports, water supply systems, electrical grids, flood control, and so one—were built poorly, hastily, or both. A lot of it is old and neglected. In a 2013 survey, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave US infrastructure a D+ grade.

“A lot of infrastructure went up in the midcentury,” says Solomon Hsiang, a UC Berkeley economist who studies public policy. “Now we’re reaching the end of the natural lifetime of that infrastructure, and we need to decide that we can no longer ride on all the investment that occurred 50 or 60 years ago.” Much of this stuff is directly vulnerable to climate change. Earlier this year, the Army Corps of Engineers released two surveys describing hundreds of dams and thousands of levees vulnerable to rising seas and stronger storms. Threats identified—but not yet remedied.

Sustainable City News via http://climatedesk.org/2015/08/no-one-is-ready-for-the-next-katrina/

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Rio Olympians Threatened By Sewage

Fecal Contamination In Water Threatens Health Of Athletes

By Brad Brooks, AP

Athletes in next year’s Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will be swimming and boating in waters so contaminated with human feces that they risk becoming violently ill and unable to compete in the games.

An AP analysis of water quality revealed dangerously high levels of viruses and bacteria from human sewage in Olympic and Paralympic venues — results that alarmed international experts and dismayed competitors training in Rio, some of whom have already fallen ill with fevers, vomiting and diarrhea.

It is the first independent comprehensive testing for both viruses and bacteria at the Olympic sites. Brazilian officials have assured that the water will be safe for the Olympic athletes and the medical director of the International Olympic Committee said all was on track for providing safe competing venues. But neither the government nor the IOC tests for viruses, relying on bacteria testing only.

Rio de janeiro water contamination threatens Olympics

Extreme water pollution is common in Brazil, where the majority of sewage is not treated. Raw waste runs through open-air ditches to streams and rivers that feed the Olympic water sites. As a result, Olympic athletes are almost certain to come into contact with disease-causing viruses that in some tests measured up to 1.7 million times the level of what would be considered hazardous on a Southern California beach.

Despite decades of official pledges to clean up the mess, the stench of raw sewage still greets travelers touching down at Rio’s international airport. Prime beaches are deserted because the surf is thick with putrid sludge, and periodic die-offs leave the Olympic lake, Rodrigo de Freitas, littered with rotting fish.

“What you have there is basically raw sewage,” said John Griffith, a marine biologist at the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project. Griffith examined the protocols, methodology and results of the AP tests.

“It’s all the water from the toilets and the showers and whatever people put down their sinks, all mixed up, and it’s going out into the beach waters. Those kinds of things would be shut down immediately if found here,” he said, referring to the U.S.

water contamination Rio de Janeiro

Vera Oliveira, head of water monitoring for Rio’s municipal environmental secretariat, said officials are not testing viral levels at the Olympic lake, the water quality of which is the city’s responsibility. The other Olympic water venues are under the control of the Rio state environmental agency.

Leonardo Daemon, coordinator of water quality monitoring for the state’s environmental agency, said officials are strictly following Brazilian regulations on water quality, which are all based on bacteria levels, as are those of almost all nations.

“What would be the standard that should be followed for the quantity of virus? Because the presence or absence of virus in the water … needs to have a standard, a limit,” he said. “You don’t have a standard for the quantity of virus in relation to human health when it comes to contact with water.”

Rio de Janeiro water contamination

Olympic hopefuls will be diving into Copacabana’s surf this Sunday during a triathlon Olympic qualifier event, while rowers take to the lake’s water beginning Wednesday for the 2015 World Rowing Junior Championships. Test events for sailing and marathon swimming take place later in August.

More than 10,000 athletes from 205 nations are expected to compete in next year’s Olympics. Nearly 1,400 of them will be sailing in the waters near Marina da Gloria in Guanabara Bay, swimming off Copacabana beach, and canoeing and rowing on the brackish waters of the Rodrigo de Freitas Lake.

The AP commissioned four rounds of testing in each of those three Olympic water venues, and also in the surf off Ipanema Beach, which is popular with tourists but where no events will be held. Thirty-seven samples were checked for three types of human adenovirus, as well as rotavirus, enterovirus and fecal coliforms.

The AP viral testing, which will continue in the coming year, found not one water venue safe for swimming or boating, according to global water experts.

wastewater treatment and disease

Instead, the test results found high counts of active and infectious human adenoviruses, which multiply in the intestinal and respiratory tracts of people. These are viruses that are known to cause respiratory and digestive illnesses, including explosive diarrhea and vomiting, but can also lead to more serious heart, brain and other diseases.

The concentrations of the viruses in all tests were roughly equivalent to that seen in raw sewage — even at one of the least-polluted areas tested, the Copacabana Beach, where marathon and triathlon swimming will take place and where many of the expected 350,000 foreign tourists may take a dip.

“Everybody runs the risk of infection in these polluted waters,” said Dr. Carlos Terra, a hepatologist and head of a Rio-based association of doctors specializing in the research and treatment of liver diseases.

Alzheimer's disease infectious

Kristina Mena, a U.S. expert in risk assessment for waterborne viruses, examined the AP data and estimated that international athletes at all water venues would have a 99 percent chance of infection if they ingested just three teaspoons of water — though whether a person will fall ill depends on immunity and other factors.

Besides swimmers, athletes in sailing, canoeing and to a lesser degree rowing often get drenched when competing, and breathe in mist as well. Viruses can enter the body through the mouth, eyes, any orifice, or even a small cut.

The Rodrigo de Freitas Lake, which was largely cleaned up in recent years, was thought be safe for rowers and canoers. Yet AP tests found its waters to be among the most polluted for Olympic sites, with results ranging from 14 million adenoviruses per liter on the low end to 1.7 billion per liter at the high end.

Water contamination and disease

By comparison, water quality experts who monitor beaches in Southern California become alarmed if they see viral counts reaching 1,000 per liter.

“If I were going to be in the Olympics,” said Griffith, the California water expert, “I would probably go early and get exposed and build up my immunity system to these viruses before I had to compete, because I don’t see how they’re going to solve this sewage problem.”

However, Dr. Richard Budgett, the medical director for the International Olympic Committee, said after seeing the AP findings that the IOC and Brazilian authorities should stick to their program of testing only for bacteria to determine whether the water is safe for athletes.

“We’ve had reassurances from the World Health Organization and others that there is no significant risk to athlete health,” he said. “There will be people pushing for all sorts of other tests, but we follow the expert advice and official advice on how to monitor water effectively.”

Many water and health experts in the U.S. and Europe are pushing regulatory agencies to include viral testing in determining water quality because the majority of illnesses from recreational water activities are related to viruses, not bacteria.

Ivan Bulaja, the Croatian-born coach of Austria’s 49er-class sailing team, has seen it firsthand. His sailors have lost valuable training days after falling ill with vomiting and diarrhea.

“This is by far the worst water quality we’ve ever seen in our sailing careers,” said Bulaja.

Training earlier this month in Guanabara Bay, Austrian sailor David Hussl said he and his teammates take precautions, washing their faces immediately with bottled water when they get splashed by waves and showering the minute they return to shore. And yet Hussl said he’s fallen ill several times.

“I’ve had high temperatures and problems with my stomach,” he said. “It’s always one day completely in bed and then usually not sailing for two or three days.”

It is a huge risk for the athletes, the coach said.

“The Olympic medal is something that you live your life for,” Bulaja said, “and it can really happen that just a few days before the competition you get ill and you’re not able to perform at all.”

Dr. Alberto Chebabo, who heads Rio’s Infectious Diseases Society, said the raw sewage has led to “endemic” public health woes among Brazilians, primarily infectious diarrhea in children.

By adolescence, he said, people in Rio have been so exposed to the viruses they build up antibodies. But foreign athletes and tourists won’t have that protection.

“Somebody who hasn’t been exposed to this lack of sanitation and goes to a polluted beach obviously has a much higher risk of getting infected,” Chebabo said.

An estimated 60 percent of Brazilian adults have been exposed to hepatitis A, said Terra, the Rio hepatologist. Doctors urge foreigners heading to Rio, whether athletes or tourists, to be vaccinated against hepatitis A. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends travelers to Brazil get vaccinated for typhoid.

The AP commissioned Fernando Spilki, a virologist and coordinator of the environmental quality program at Feevale University in southern Brazil, to conduct the water tests.

Spilki’s testing looked for three different types of human adenovirus that are typical “markers” of human sewage in Brazil. In addition, he tested for enteroviruses, the most common cause of upper respiratory tract infections in the young. He also searched for signs of rotavirus, the main cause of gastroenteritis globally.

The tests so far show that Rio’s waters “are chronically contaminated,” he said. “The quantity of fecal matter entering the waterbodies in Brazil is extremely high. Unfortunately, we have levels comparable to some African nations, to India.”

Griffith, the California expert, said the real concern isn’t for what Spilki actually measured, noting that “there are very likely to be nastier bugs in there that weren’t searched for and that are out there lurking.”

There is no lack of illness in Rio, but there is a severe shortage of health data related to dirty water, medical experts said.

The maladies often hit people hard, but most don’t go see a doctor, so no data is collected.

Globally, however, rotavirus accounts for about 2 million hospitalizations and over 450,000 deaths of children worldwide each year, according to the World Health Organization.

The AP testing found rotavirus on three separate occasions at Olympic sites — twice at the lake and once at a beach next to the Marina da Gloria, where sailors are expected to launch their boats.

Mena, an associate professor of public health at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and an expert in water quality, conducted what she called a “conservative” risk assessment for Olympic athletes participating in water sports in Rio, assuming they would ingest 16 milliliters of water, or three teaspoons — far less than athletes themselves say they take in.

She found “an infection risk of 99 percent,” she said.

“Given those viral concentration levels, do I think somebody should be exposed to those amounts? The answer is no.”

The AP also measured fecal coliform bacteria, single-celled organisms that live in the intestines of humans and animals. Fecal coliforms can suggest the presence of cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A and typhoid.

In 75 percent of the samples taken at the Olympic lake, the number of fecal coliforms exceeded Brazil’s legal limit for “secondary contact,” such as boating or rowing — in two samples spiking to over 10 times the accepted level. The Marina da Gloria venue exceeded the limit only once, while at Rio’s most popular tourist beach, Ipanema, fecal coliforms tested at three times the acceptable level in a single sample. At Copacabana, the AP tests found no violations of fecal coliform counts.

Fecal coliforms have long been used by most governments as a marker to determine whether bodies of water are polluted because they are relatively easy and cheap to test and find. Brazil uses only bacterial testing when determining water quality.

In Rio, the fecal coliform levels were not as astronomical as the viral numbers the AP found. That gap is at the heart of a global debate among water experts, many of whom are pushing governments to adopt viral as well as bacterial testing to determine if recreational waters are safe.

That’s because fecal coliform bacteria from sewage can survive only a short time in water, especially in the salty and sunny conditions around Rio. Human adenoviruses have been shown to last several months, with some studies even indicating they can last years.

That means that even if Rio magically collected and treated all its sewage tomorrow, its waters would stay polluted for a long time.

In its Olympic bid, Rio officials vowed the games would “regenerate Rio’s magnificent waterways” through a $4 billion government expansion of basic sanitation infrastructure.

It was the latest in a long line of promises that have already cost Brazilian taxpayers more than $1 billion — with very little to show for it.

Rio’s historic sewage problem spiraled over the past decades as the population exploded, with many of the metropolitan area’s 12 million residents settling in the vast hillside slums that ring the bay.

Waste flows into more than 50 streams that empty into the once-crystalline Guanabara Bay. An eye-watering stench emanates from much of the bay and its palm-lined beaches, which were popular swimming spots as late as the 1970s but are now perpetually off-limits for swimmers.

Tons of household trash — margarine tubes, deflated soccer balls, waterlogged couches and washing machines — line the shore and form islands of refuse.

Starting in 1993, Japan’s international cooperation agency poured hundreds of millions of dollars into a Guanabara cleanup project. The Inter-American Development Bank issued $452 million in loans for more works.

A culture of mismanagement stymied any progress. For years, none of four sewage treatment plants built with the Japanese funds operated at full capacity. One of the plants in the gritty Duque de Caxias neighborhood didn’t treat a drop of waste from its construction in 2000 through its inauguration in 2014. For 14 years, it wasn’t connected to the sewage mains.

By then, the Japanese agency rated the project as “unsatisfactory,” with “no significant improvements in the water quality of the bay.”

As part of its Olympic project, Brazil promised to build eight treatment facilities to filter out much of the sewage and prevent tons of household trash from flowing into the Guanabara Bay. Only one has been built.

The fluorescent green lagoons that hug the Olympic Park and which the government’s own data shows are among the most polluted waters in Rio were to be dredged, but the project got hung up in bureaucratic hurdles and has yet to start.

“Brazilian authorities promised the moon in order to win their Olympic bid and as usual they’re not making good on those promises,” said Mario Moscatelli, a biologist who has spent 20 years lobbying for a cleanup of Rio’s waterways. “I’m sad but not surprised.”

As the clock ticks down, local officials have dialed back their promises. Rio Gov. Luiz Fernando Pezao has acknowledged “there’s not going to be time” to finish the cleanup of the bay ahead of the games.

Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes has said it’s a “shame” the Olympic promises wouldn’t be met, adding the games are proving “a wasted opportunity” as far as the waterways are concerned.

But the Rio Olympic organizing committee’s website still states that a key legacy of the games will be “the rehabilitation and protection of the area’s environment, particularly its bays and canals” in areas where water sports will take place.

Municipal Sewage News via http://bigstory.ap.org/article/d92f6af5121f49d982601a657d745e95/ap-investigation-rios-olympic-water-rife-sewage-virus#

Posted in Human Health, Public Health, Waste Management, Water | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Living Near Trees Is Good For Your Health

Neighborhood Green Space Good For Mental, Physical Health

Studies have shown that natural environments can enhance health. But how much could a tree in the street or a nearby neighborhood park improve our health? Several scientists examined this issue by studying the relationship between health and neighborhood green space. They compared the impacts of trees along streets vs. tree canopy in parks and private residences.

urban trees and public health

Trees make people in urban environments feel, healthier, wealthier and younger.

It is a known fact that urban trees improve air quality, reduce cooling and heating energy use, and make urban environments aesthetically more preferable. Importantly, several studies have shown that exposure to green spaces can be psychologically and physiologically restorative by promoting mental health, reducing non-accidental mortality, reducing physician assessed-morbidity, reducing income-related health inequality’s effect on morbidity, reducing blood pressure and stress levels, reducing sedentary leisure time, as well as promoting physical activity. In addition, green space may enhance psychological and cardio-vascular benefits of physical activity, as compared with other settings.

Moreover, experimental research has demonstrated that interacting with natural environments can have beneficial effects – after brief exposures – on memory and attention for healthy individuals and for patient populations. In addition, having access to views of natural settings (from a home or a hospital bed, for example) have been found to reduce crime and aggression and improve recovery from surgery.

Although many studies have shown that natural environments enhance health or encourage healthy behaviors, to our knowledge, fewer studies have quantified the relationship between individual trees and health. In addition, studies have not separately estimated the treed area beside the streets and other urban green spaces and related those variables to individuals’ health in various domains, including cardio-metabolic conditions, mental disorders and general health perception. Knowing the kind of green space that may be associated with health benefits would be critical when deciding the type of green space that should be incorporated into built environments to improve health.

urban forests and public health

The typical method for quantifying exposure to green space for individuals in large population studies is to use the percentage of area covered in green space in an individual’s neighborhood. The size of the areas and the accuracy (and also definition) of green space quantification vary across different studies. For example, used data containing >10 m2 accuracy for green space and geographical units of 4 km2 on average in their study, Richardson et al. (2013) used >200 m2accuracy for green space and geographical units that averaged 5 km2, and used the presence of public “natural” spaces in areas within a 5 km radius from schools to quantify exposure to nature for school-aged children.

In this study, we were interested in examining green space with lower granularity (i.e., higher geographical resolution) and quantifying associations that are specific to exposure to trees, as opposed to exposures to any green space, such as grass or shrubbery. Here, our definition of green space consisted of tree canopy only and not of urban grass or bushes (or other “natural” settings). This choice is based on the assumption that trees are the most consistent green components in an area and potentially the most important component for having beneficial effects.

We also used a much higher geographical resolution for the following reasons. First, we wanted to distinguish between trees along the roads and streets versus those in domestic gardens and parks, and other open areas. To do so, we used individual tree data from the ‘Street Tree General Data’ and tree-canopy polygon data from the ‘Forest and Land Cover’ dataset to construct our green space variables. Both datasets came from the city of Toronto. Second, to ensure that the tree variables were less confounded by health insurance policies as well as demographic parameters (age, sex, education, and income), we used a single urban population (Toronto) in Canada, a country with a universal publicly funded healthcare system that, compared with the United States, guarantees access to health-care services independent of income and/or employment status.

These health-care equalities facilitate the interpretation of the relationships between individual urban trees and health in this urban population. Although financial barriers may not impede access to health care services in Canada, differential use of physician services with respect to socio-economic status persist; Canadians with lower incomes and fewer years of schooling visit specialists at a lower rate than those with moderate or high incomes and higher levels of education despite the existence of universal health care. In particular, we examined the relationship between tree canopy density beside the streets and in other areas such as parks and domestic gardens with an individual’s health.

The health variables evaluated include:

  • Overall health perception;
  • Presence of cardio-metabolic conditions such as hypertension, high blood glucose, obesity (both overweight and obese), high cholesterol, myocardiac infarction, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes; and
  • Mental health problems including major depression, anxiety, and addiction. Subjective self-rated health perception was chosen as one of the health outcomes because self-perception of health has been found to be related to morbidity and mortality rates and is a strong predictor of health status and outcomes in both clinical and community settings.

Furthermore, on the tree variable side, we distinguished tree canopy of trees beside the street from those planted in other areas, such as parks and private backyards. A distinction of these different sources of tree canopy may be helpful for urban planning policies. We hypothesized that street trees could have stronger beneficial associations with individual’s health because they may be more accessible to all residents in a given neighborhood as residents are likely exposed to street trees in their daily activities and through views from their windows.

Our results suggest that people who live in areas that have more (and/or larger) trees on the streets report better health perception. this increase in health perception is equivalent to the effect of a $10,200 increase in annual household income. This same increase in health perception is also, on average, equivalent to being 7 years younger.

Results suggest that people who live in areas that have more (and/or larger) trees on the streets report significantly fewer cardio-metabolic conditions. Results suggest that people who live in areas that have more (and/or larger) trees on the streets report significantly fewer cardio-metabolic conditions. This decrease in cardio-metabolic conditions is also, on average, equivalent to being 1.4 years younger.

The second important finding is that the health associations with tree density were not found (in a statistically reliable manner) for tree density in areas other than beside the streets and along local roads. It seems that trees that affect people most generally are those that they may have the most contact (visual or presence) with, which we are hypothesizing to be those planted along the streets. Another possible explanation could be that trees on the street may be more important to reductions in air pollution generated by traffic through dry deposition.

This does not indicate, however, that parks are not beneficial. This study only shows that planting trees along the roads may be more beneficial than planting trees in parks and private residences at least for these health measures.

Read The Full Report About Greening Our Cities: http://www.nature.com/srep/2015/150709/srep11610/full/srep11610.html

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Technical Solutions Not A Silver Bullet In Battle Against Climate Change

Economic Incentives Must Change On Many Levels

By Laurie Goering, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Dealing with climate change and its risks will require not only technical responses like drought-resilient crops and higher sea walls but also reshaping economic and political incentives that are driving global warming, scientists said on Wednesday.

“The biggest risk of all that we face is that we’re addressing the wrong problem,” University of Oslo sociologist Karen O’Brien told a week-long conference of climate researchers in Paris.

Using more renewable energy and setting up crop insurance schemes and early warning systems is important, she said. But climate change “is more than a technical challenge.” Finding genuine solutions will have to involve “looking at who has power and how that might need to change,” she said.

sustainable cities

Climate change solutions will require a different set of incentives for government, industry and consumers. Will it take crises of epic proportions to force changes?

The rush to secure oil drilling rights in the Arctic, for instance, is painted by some analysts as the potential start of a new Cold War, as countries compete to gain access to some of the planet’s last untapped oil deposits in pursuit of profit and energy security, she said. But it is happening despite science that shows a third of the world’s already discovered oil reserves – as well as half of gas reserves and 80 percent of coal reserves – must stay in the ground to avoid runaway climate change that could see food supplies collapse, O’Brien and other experts said.

Climate risks will not be tackled effectively unless such contradictions are dealt with, O’Brien said. One way to achieve that could be through people stepping up to try and change the way governments and institutions behave.

“Small changes can make big differences, and individuals, especially when working together, can generate big social change,” she said.

Bending political and economic power to solve climate problems will be difficult, but “we are transforming either way,” O’Brien said, as a world four degrees Celsius warmer – the current trajectory for 2100 – would reshape life on Earth.

trees a climate change solution

Adapting to some of the accompanying problems, including a rise in deaths from extreme heat in South Asia, would be largely impossible, she said.

Some of the biggest opportunities to put the world on a different pathway may lie in fast-growing cities, said Shobhakar Dhakal of the Asian Institute of Technology in Thailand.

Already more than 70 percent of global emissions caused by energy use come from cities, according to scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. By 2050, urban areas will have 2.6 billion more people, most of them in Asia and Africa, Dhakal said.

green infrastructure

Sustainable cities are resilient cities.

If rapidly urbanizing areas can build homes close to jobs and services, while making walking and public transport good options, climate-changing emissions could be reduced dramatically, he said.

“Our ability to make deep cuts to global greenhouse gas emissions depends to a large extent on what kinds of cities and towns we build,” Dhakal said.

Real progress on climate change and reducing vulnerability to its impacts will also require efforts to coordinate a huge range of activities, including social policy, urban planning, insurance, weather monitoring and deploying the right technologies, said Nobuo Minura, president of Japan’s Ibaraki University.

Johan Rockstrom of the Stockholm Resilience Centre warned that “we as humanity are now in a position to disrupt the stability of the entire world by driving climate change.

Many economic and government systems have been designed around a high-emission way of doing things, he said. Now, “we need a new relationship between people and the planet.”

Greener City News via http://www.trust.org/item/20150708160447-iq2yo/

 

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Climate Fund Moving At Glacial Speed

Focus On Sustainability, Clean Energy

The Green Climate Fund is finally getting some legs. The big question now is what direction it will pursue. Local ownership, sustainability and a firm commitment to clean energy are a few of the apparent priorities.

“The GCF board is aiming to have at least a few projects in the pipeline in time for COP21 [the high-level climate change summit in Paris in December] – to show the world that the fund is open for business and that developed countries are putting their money where their mouths are,” Karen Orenstein of Friends of the Earth told IPS. “Of course, this will be more credible once substantially more of the money pledged to the GCF is legally committed.

Green Climate Fund projects

Can the Green Climate Fund move fast enough to make a difference?

“It is essential that those first GCF projects set the appropriate precedent for future-financed activities. The GCF must showcase the best of what it has to offer,” she added. “This means directly addressing the adaptation and mitigation needs of the vulnerable through environmentally-sound initiatives that promote human rights and benefit local economies, rather than Wall Street-type transactions that may theoretically have trickle-down benefit for the poor.”

The Fund is the United Nations’ premier mechanism for funding climate change-related mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. At the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, donors agreed to mobilize 100 billion dollars a year by 2020, in an undefined mix of public and private funding, to help developing countries. The GCF is to be a cornerstone of this mobilization, using the money to fund an even split between mitigation and adaptation projects.

Actual funding has trickled in slowly. But delivery of a pledge by the government of Japan late last month for $1.5 billion carried the Fund over the required 50 percent threshold to begin allocating resources for projects and programs in developing countries.

The Fund aims to finalize its first set of projects for approval by the GCF Board at its 11th meeting in November.

It has also identified strategic priority areas and global investment opportunities that are not adequately supported by existing climate finance mechanisms, and can be used to maximize the GCF’s impact, especially investments in efficient and resilient cities, land‐use management and resilience of small islands.

“Projects must be genuinely country-driven, which means not only government-driven but also driven by communities, civil society and local private sector. And, of course, there must be no trace of support for dirty energy,” Orenstein said.

Green Climate Fund

To date, 33 governments, including eight developing countries, have pledged close to 10.2 billion dollars equivalent, with 21 of them signing a part or all of their contribution agreement. But how to maintain and accelerate that funding in the long term remains to be seen.

In a new analysis, the World Resources Institute (WRI) notes that more than five years after Copenhagen, the sources, instruments, and channels that should count toward the 100-billion-a-year goal remain ambiguous.

It suggests four possible scenarios: developed country climate finance only; developed country finance plus leveraged private sector investment; developed country finance, multilateral development bank (MDB) climate finance (weighted by developed countries’ capital share) and the combined leveraged private sector investment; and all the first three sources, plus climate-related official development assistance (ODA) as compiled by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

In terms of which is most likely to be adopted, as governments negotiate a comprehensive new climate change agreement for the post-2020 period, Michael Westphal, a senior associate on WRI’s Sustainable Finance team, told IPS that parties have not agreed yet on even what finance sources should count.

“Our scenario analysis is focused on assessing how likely is it that each scenario could reach 100 billion dollars, given different assumptions of growth and leverage,” he explained.

“One of the main conclusions, not surprisingly, is that the more sources that are included, the more realistic is it for the 100 billion dollars to be reached – i.e., it would require lower growth rates and assumptions about how much private finance is leveraged per public dollar.”

Supplemental funding could flow from new and innovative sources, such as the redirection of fossil fuel subsidies, carbon market revenues, financial transaction taxes, export credits, and debt relief, the analysis says.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that pre-tax fossil fuel subsidies for OECD countries – long derided as irrational and destructive by environmental groups and many economists – amounted to 13.3 billion dollars in 2012.

Budgetary support and tax expenditures to fossil fuels totalled 76.4 billion dollars in 2011 for the OECD’s 34 member countries.

“On fossil fuel subsidies, the G20 has agreed to phase them out over the medium term, so we think it is likely to have progress on this front over the next five years,” Westphal told IPS.

“The IMF has written extensively about the costs of fossil fuel subsidies, so the issue is now a front burner issue for multilateral finance institutions.  As for ETS [emission trading system], governments would have to agree to divert some of the revenues from the allowances into their budgets for international climate finance.”

But even should the funding goal be reached, observers will be watching closely to see where the money goes.

Karen Orenstein has compared the push by some governments and financial institutions for “less dirty” fossil fuels to fight climate change to a doctor telling his cancer-ridden patient that “it’s fine to smoke, as long as the cigarettes are filtered.”

She notes that the list of activities that can currently be counted under the Common Principles (approved by multilateral development banks and the International Development Finance Club in March) as climate mitigation finance includes “energy-efficiency improvement in existing thermal power plants” and “thermal power plant retrofit to fuel switch from a more GHG-intensive fuel to a different, less GHG-intensive fuel type.”

“In the broad spectrum of fossil fuels, there is always going to be a project or fuel type that is relatively more or less dirty than another,” Orenstein says. “Allowing so-called climate financing for projects that are slightly less dirty than a hypothetical alternative is a sure way to game the system.”

She’s also guarding against the funding of false solutions like so-called “climate smart” agriculture, biofuels, waste incineration, nuclear energy and big dams – many of which are included in the Common Principles.

Climate Change News via http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/climate-fund-rolls-out-amid-hopes-it-stays-green/

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Chicago Hosting Conference For Greener Airports

Sustainability Initiatives Transforming Air Transportation

The Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA), in partnership with the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE), is pleased to announce its 8th Annual Airports Going Green Conference to be held October 26-28, 2015 at the Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza River North in downtown Chicago.

sustainable airport strategy

The Airports Going Green Conference is the largest aviation sustainability forum, bringing together sustainability leaders, experts, and innovators from around the world.  More than 400 attendees from 11 different countries participated in last year’s Conference.  There were 30-plus airports represented, including small, medium, and large hub airports.

Airports Going Green creates an atmosphere that advances federal, regional, and educational partnerships. The Conference provides an opportunity to share best practices and lessons learned across the aviation industry with stakeholders in the U.S. and around the world including airports, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), airlines, concessions and tenants, consultants, construction managers, governmental agencies, and others.

The 2014 Conference featured more than 20 sessions, 70 speakers, 40 sponsors, 20 exhibitors, and 10 local businesses. Highlights included a “Sustainable Fabrics Fashion Show” featuring recycled airline seat fabric, the industry’s first and only “zero waste” conference, more than $38,000 donated to the Airports Going Green Sustainability Education Fund, a sustainable foods happy hour, the Airports Going Green Awards, and an electric vehicle test drive on future O’Hare Runway 10R-28L.

The CDA is also pleased to announce that United Airlines has agreed to be the Presenting Sponsor of the Conference. United is a longstanding sponsor and supporter of the Conference. Last year, United donated airline seat fabric used by the Fashion Studies Department at Columbia College Chicago to create fashion designs for the 2014 “Sustainable Fabrics Fashion Show.” United staff also participated on a panel describing their weather resiliency planning and future aviation sustainability considerations.

United Airlines’ Eco-Skies program affirms its commitment to operating sustainability. As a founding member of the Midwest Aviation Sustainable Biofuels Initiative (MASBI), United is continually working to support aviation biofuels and to improve aircraft fuel efficiency. For its efforts in this area, the airline received the World Bio Markets Award for Excellence in Advanced Biofuels on March 2, 2015.  It was also awarded the Global Business Travel Association Foundation’s Sustainability Outstanding Achievement Award in 2014; was named Air Transport World magazine’s Eco-Aviation Airline of the Year Gold Winner in 2013; and was awarded an Airports Going Green Award in 2011.

Visit www.airportsgoinggreen.org for more information.

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U.N. Leaders Join Pope Francis To Build Momentum For Climate Action

Vatican Supports Climate Science, Policies

For a 2,000-year-old institution hardly known for its mutability, there was a sense of urgency at the Vatican on Tuesday when scientists, diplomats and religious and political leaders discussed climate change and its impact on the world’s poor.

“We are the first generation that can end poverty, and the last generation that can avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” Secretary GeneralBan Ki-moon of the United Nations said at an international symposium on climate change organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The event presaged a keenly anticipated papal letter on the environment that Pope Francis is expected to issue in June.

Pope Francis and climate change

Mr. Ban met with the pope ahead of the one-day conference here and told reporters afterward that the pope’s message in his scheduled papal teaching, known as an encyclical, would come at “a critical time,” one that “demanded a collective action.”

“Climate change is approaching much faster than one may think,” he said.

In September, the pope is scheduled to address Congress, as well as a United Nations summit meeting on sustainable development, where he is expected to reiterate his environmental message. The pope has said that climate change is “mostly” a result of human activity.

“I count on his moral voice, his moral leadership,” said Mr. Ban, who is leading efforts to come to an agreement on limiting human contributions to global warming, which will be discussed at a climate summit meeting in Paris in December.

Representatives of different religions spoke at the symposium, and a statement approved Tuesday by the participants underscored their environmental concerns: “These traditions all affirm the inherent dignity of every individual linked to the common good of all humanity. They affirm the beauty, wonder, and inherent goodness of the natural world, and appreciate that it is a precious gift entrusted to our common care, making it our moral duty to respect rather than ravage the garden that is our home,” the statement read.

“Let the world know that there is no divide whatsoever between religion and science on the issue of climate change,” Mr. Ban told the assembly.

Pope Francis is not the first pope to address environmental issues, but his encyclical is expected to be the most comprehensive Vatican document so far on the links between sustainable development, concern for the poor and care of the planet.

Some critics of restrictions on greenhouse gases have said the pope’s encyclical could confuse “people into thinking that climate change issues are now an article of faith, part of the Roman Catholic doctrine,” said Marc Morano, publisher of ClimateDepot, a global warming website.

Mr. Morano was part of a delegation of self-proclaimed “climate skeptics” led by the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank, that came to Rome to challenge the symposium’s findings. Jim Lakely, the director of communications for the institute, said Monday that the delegates wanted to “prevent the pope from making the mistake” of listening only to what they believe are climate change alarmists.

Mr. Ban conceded Tuesday that “faith leaders should not be scientists,” but what is important, he added, “is their moral commitment.”

“Not only scientists, but every citizen should be part of the process,” Mr. Ban said. Religious leaders, he added, should play a “substantively important role.”

Climate Change News via http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/29/world/europe/scientists-and-religious-leaders-discuss-climate-change-at-vatican.html?_r=0

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