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environmental health

"And so on. Or else."

Kurt Vonnegut:

Now that we can discuss the mess we are in with some precision, I hope you have stopped choosing abysmally ignorant optimists for positions of leadership. They were useful only so long as nobody had a clue as to what was really going on--during the past seven million years or so. In my time they have been catastrophic as heads of sophisticated institutions with real work to do.

The sort of leaders we need now are not those who promise ultimate victory over Nature through perseverance in living as we do right now, but those with the courage and intelligence to present to the world what appears to be Nature's stern but reasonable surrender terms:

  1. Reduce and stabilize your population.
  2. Stop poisoning the air, the water, and the topsoil.
  3. Stop preparing for war and start dealing with your real problems.
  4. Teach your kids, and yourselves, too, while you're at it, how to inhabit a small planet without helping to kill it.
  5. Stop thinking science can fix anything if you give it a trillion dollars.
  6. Stop thinking your grandchildren will be OK no matter how wasteful or destructive you may be, since they can go to a nice new planet on a spaceship. That is really mean, and stupid.
  7. And so on. Or else.

Am I too pessimistic about life a hundred years from now?... Nobody will have to leave home to go to work or school, or even stop watching television. Everybody will sit around all day punching the keys of computer terminals connected to everything there is, and sip orange drink through straws like the astronauts.

(h/t kottke.org)

"Face masks make it harder to hear, but amplification can help"

Teaching through a mask has been on my mind of late, as I am leading a large, in-person lecture class that starts in a couple of weeks. The University of Illinois Augmented Listening Laboratory has done a nice set of research on face masks, their impact on vocalization and hearing, and how amplification can help. They looked at a common set of available face masks, including cloth, flannel, N95s, KN95s, and surgical masks. They did not take into account filtration efficiency -- that is not their area of focus or specialization.

This research showed that more breathable masks, such as surgical masks and plain-weave cotton, transmit sound better than plastic windows and densely woven fabrics. It is important to note that we did not evaluate how effective the masks are at blocking droplet transmission; it is possible that the most effective masks against the virus are the least effective for sound, and vice versa. Fortunately, all masks seem to work well with lapel microphones, which could benefit teachers and others who will need to be heard while wearing a face mask.

This is helpful guidance. I wish they had put more emphasis on some of the masks that perform better from a filtration efficiency (for example, the KN94s). My current thinking, after reviewing their paper and discussions in more public forums is to stick with a KN94 or an N95 in the classroom with a lapel mic.

Washington Post: Tracking Biden's environmental actions

Juliet Eilperin, Brady Dennis and John Muyskens tracking Biden's environmental, climate, and environmental health actions:

President Biden has placed climate change squarely at the center of his White House agenda, using his first hours in office to rejoin the Paris climate accord and begin overturning more than 100 environmental actions taken by the Trump administration.

The order also makes environmental justice a priority across the government, establishing an interagency council in the White House and standing up new offices in both the Health and Human Services and Justice departments.

Those initial moves are the first in what promises to be a much longer -- and more arduous -- effort to unwind the Trump administration's sweeping environmental and energy policies, which were marked by aggressive deregulation, prioritizing the fossil fuels industry and sidelining efforts to combat climate change or protect imperiled animals.

The Post sorts the policies into the following bins: Air pollution and greenhouse gases, Chemical safety, Drilling and extraction, Infrastructure and permitting, Accountability, Water pollution, and Wildlife. For each category, they list "New" policies put into place by the Biden administration and those that are "Easy to overturn" (by executive order, for example), "Medium" (reversible by rewriting regulation or court rule), and "Difficult" (lengthy regulatory process, Congress, or court ruling).

Worth a look. A really useful resource.

Aerosols in the Skies after Krakatoa

Pechuel-Loesche Cloud Shadow With Red Diffusion Light During the Disturbance Period (Midday) -- Jena, April 24th 1884

While looking for art for our walls, I stumbled upon the image above, from

a German book published in 1888 -- Untersuchungen über Dämmerungserscheinungen: zur Erklärung der nach dem Krakatau-Ausbruch beobachteten atmosphärisch-optischen Störung, which roughly translates as "Studies on twilight phenomena: to explain the atmospheric-optical disturbance observed after the Krakatau eruption". 1

The book is by Johann Kiessling, "a scientist from Hamburg nearly unknown to science historians" who sought to "find the physical laws governing normal twilight phenomena and those of the extraordinary phenomena in the disturbed interval 1882-1886," during and after the eruption of Krakatoa. Among his findings, many of which still have relevance today2:

Kiessling also did experiments with ammonia hydrate and with smoke particles. He burnt sulphur and found that the developing sulphuric acid strongly promotes condensation.

According to Kiessling diffraction rings develop due to 'reflection' in homogeneous fog--today we speak of light backscattering; he wanted to explain by them the ring-like counter-twilight. In his experiments, the light source was electric arc light. The diffracted light was strongly polarized. Richarz, who, two decades later, studied the similar atmospheric phenomena called 'glory', considered Kiessling's experiments as giving a suitable explanation of these phenomena.

By a further study of reports collected by the naval observatory and by shipping companies, and by considering and evaluating all available material, Kiessling could definitely trace the distribution and the path of the Krakatoa smoke masses together with their condensation products. He had correspondence even from Peking and Tokyo. He argued that the dust and fog clouds encircled the Earth twice or three times from the east towards the west with a velocity of about 40 ms-1. He could further show that such an air current does exist in the high atmosphere parallel with the Equator. Some parts of the cloud separated from the main mass and propagated northwards and southwards, respectively, and then diffused to the whole temperate zone. The dust masses disappeared after two to three years due to fall-out.

Clearly a slouch. In his tome, the original version of which can be downloaded from ETH Zurich's library, the last pages are "a wonderful series of chromolithographs from watercolour images by Eduard Pechuël-Loesche." The images are incredible and available in high resolution at Google Arts & Culture. A number are posted below.

Circular Twilight Glow at Sunrise -- Hereroland (present-day Namibia), September 4th 1884

Red Sunset at the End of the Rainy Season (Evening) -- Loango Coast (present-day Republic of Congo) April 1st 1875

  1. The Public Domain Review

  1. Schröder W. and Wiederkehr K-. H. 2000. Johann Kiessling, the Krakatoa event and the development of atmosheric optics after 1883. Notes Rec. R. Soc. Lond. 54249-258

Towards safe drinking water and clean cooking for all

Isha Ray, writing with and channeling the late Kirk R. Smith, in Lancet Global Health:

In the past 40 decades, there have been many innovations in the development of low-cost and efficacious technologies for WASH and household air pollution, but many of these technologies have been associated with disappointing health outcomes, often because low-income households have either not adopted, or inconsistently adopted, these technologies. In this Viewpoint, we argue that public health researchers (ourselves included) have had an oversimplified understanding of poverty; our work has not focused on insights into the lived experience of poverty, with its uncertainties, stresses from constant scarcity, and attendant fears. Such insights are central to understanding why technologies for safe water or clean cooking are unused by so many households that could benefit from them. We argue that, rather than improved versions of household-scale delivery models, transformative investments in safe water and clean cooking for all require utility-scale service models.

In the months before Kirk passed away, this topic -- the combination of WASH and HAP interventions, the merging of decades of thinking about usage, service delivery, affordability, and quality of interventions -- was a common theme. See also 'Let the "A" in WASH Stand for Air: Integrating Research and Interventions to Improve Household Air Pollution (HAP) and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) in Low-Income Settings.'

an aside: I think they must have meant "the past 40 years" or "past 4 decades" -- but also Kirk worked on these issues with such mental intensity and productive output it may as well have been 40 decades.

Fresh Air: Biden's Plan To Enact A Climate Agenda

Terry Gross interviews Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post, who outlines the Trump administration's big last-minute push to roll back environmental regulations and to open up drilling in ANWR, among other things. A really interesting and succinct overview of what's going on and how the Biden Administration may respond. Recorded the day before Biden's inauguration.


Among many interesting parts:

GROSS: I want to ask you about this. One of Trump's signature campaign promises was to bring back the coal industry. How did that turn out?

EILPERIN: So in fact, what we've seen is, despite President Trump's dogged efforts to bolster the coal industry, what's happened is that roughly 15% of the nation's coal generated capacity has gone out of business under his time in office. And so that's a faster decline in coal capacity in any single presidential term, so even faster than what happened under Barack Obama. And in addition to the plants that have already retired, there's another 73 that had indicated that they will close more coal burning units by the end of the decade.

Sometimes, you get the unexpected.

Professor Kirk R. Smith, close friend, mentor, and pioneering environmental health scientist, passed away unexpectedly on Monday, June 15th, 2020 at home with his family. This news has been hard to process; a remembrance of Kirk follows.

I don't know where to begin, how to start. So I'll start at our beginning.

I emailed Dr. Smith, as I insisted on calling Dr. Smith then, out of the blue in July 2006. I was applying for a Fulbright in Nepal and proposed an air pollution assessment in a few rural villages. I needed help identifying a local field partner and knew Dr. Smith had worked in Nepal on similar issues. I had no sense of the scale of his work, knew only a little of his renown, and had enough youthful hubris to reach out blindly. Still, I honestly expected no response.

To adapt (or bastardize, you pick) a mantra of Dr. Smith's 1, and the motto of his research group: You don't get what you expect; sometimes, you get the unexpected. Dr. Smith wrote back a few hours after my random inquiry -- succinct and helpful, my first exposure to the notorious slash-k 2. He introduced me to Amod Pokhrel -- at the time, a student in EHS -- who helped me find a field partner and who has been a friend and colleague since. My first experience of one of Dr. Smith's many gifts: his generosity of time and thought. One short act - three lines in total, 2 of which were email addresses - opened a door for me and lay the groundwork for lifelong friendships and collaborations.

About a year later, Dr. Smith and I met in person in Nepal, over lukewarm chai, while I was on my Fulbright. As is often the case, this meeting was (1) after he had given a lecture and (2) before he had to dash off to another meeting. I remember being struck then, as ever, by his warmth, his willingness to interact despite being very busy, his quirky sense of humor, and his intellectual rigor. He encouraged me to consider a PhD at Berkeley. We had about a half hour talk and then went to find cabs: it was pouring, otherwise I am confident he would have walked or taken the bus or a tuk-tuk.

We were infrequently in touch for the next year. I applied to the EHS PhD program at Berkeley in late 2009, got in, and moved into an apartment in Oakland in July of 2010. At some point in that first few months, I called Dr. Smith's home, up Panoramic Way, and Joan answered. Joan scared me just as much as Dr. Smith in those days. I asked for Dr. Smith, and she gave him the phone, saying something along the lines of, "Will you please tell him to stop with this Dr. Smith nonsense?" It was just loud enough that I could hear it, and it worked: 'Dr. Smith' (eventually) gave way to 'Kirk'. An example, one of many, highlighting Joan's wit, grace, warmth, and intellect.

Between then and now, there are a lot of stories -- some are mine, but so many more are Kirk's. We know he was never shy with a story. I never tired of them (okay, yeah: sometimes I tired of them).

I had the privilege of working directly with Kirk - first as a doctoral student, then as a postdoc - for the last decade, on small and large projects of all types, all over the globe. He was the greatest advocate for his students I have ever seen, and our working relationship was the best I have had. I learned much watching Kirk move through the world, with his grace, wit, inquisitiveness, and, when needed, prickly sharpness. Our friendship grew into something deep and constant. I'd like to think I gave to Kirk a thousandth of what he gave to me, but that is unlikely.

My last in-person visit with Kirk was in mid-February, about six weeks after we moved from Oakland to Atlanta, and ten years since we made the opposite journey, from Atlanta to Oakland. Mid-February, just before the pandemic obliterated routine and instated an era of uncertainty. Just six weeks after I had started a new job.

Kirk asked me to return to Berkeley to lecture in two of his classes: one an air pollution and health course that he and I launched with John Balmes, and the other his Environmental Health breadth course, which he was in the process of reimagining. Always reimagining, always improving.

We met a few times during that short visit, between other obligations. Kirk offered advice about new jobs, which he said he borrowed from Joanie, and his own supportive words; we discussed ongoing and potential work together; we ended the day with a nice Korean meal. It was a cool, drizzly Berkeley evening. I remember walking after that meal, full of bibimbap and nostalgia, heavy with memories (and with rice). The next morning's lecture, in the air pollution and health class, was small, intimate, fun; Kirk shuffled out early to go up to Bear Valley with his family. When class wrapped, I dropped some things off at Maria's desk, wandering by Kirk's office, wondering when I would see it again.

I never expected that visit to be the last time we would meet in person or see each other; nor did I expect our lives to be turned upside down by a new, emergent public health threat enabled, in some ways, by the same time- and space-folding habits that enabled Kirk and I (and so many others) to do our work. I never expected to form a deep bond with such an important, transformative thinker, and certainly never expected to count him among my closest confidants, mentors, and dearest friends. I didn't expect to hear the words "Kirk" and "stroke" and "cardiac arrest" strung together a few months later.

I expected our plans for new studies - that we discussed, just days ago - to bear fruit through our collective efforts. I expected that we would carry on for at least another decade of work, of stories, of excitement, of quibbles, of jetlag and food poisoning, of kids and grandkids, of small and large adventure, of gentle silence and enthusiastic proclamation, of our Kirk.

Sometimes, you don't get what you expect, or what you inspect. Sometimes, you get the unexpected.

  1. "You don't get what you expect, you get what you inspect."

  2. Dr. Smith's emails were short, very short, and unique. The subject line was usually the first part of a sentence: whatever he was emailing about; the next terse phrase continued that thought; they invariably ended with '/k'.

PMUY beneficiaries get 3 free LPG cylinders in response to COVID-19

From the Economic Times of India

"The relief package of Rs 1.7 lakh crore will help the nation deal with disruptions from the Covid-19 outbreak," he said in a statement. "Comprehensive measures announced today, will mitigate the economic impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on the rural and urban poor, farmers, health workers, migrant workers, divyangs, senior citizens and other vulnerable sections of the society."

More detail from Times of India

The guideline issued for the scheme on Tuesday said the Centre will transfer the full cost of a cylinder as advance by the fourth of the month till June. This will allow the households to book the refills under the free-cylinder scheme.

The guidelines also allow the connection holder to retain the advance payment and use it till March 2021 for buying a cylinder in case a household does not take all the three cylinders under the special scheme. But, households can get only one cylinder a month and there has to be a minimum 15-day gap between two bookings for refills. These measures are aimed at checking misuse of the scheme or diversion of subsidised cylinders meant for the poor.

An Integrated Sensor Data Logging, Survey, and Analytics Platform for Field Research and Its Application in HAPIN, a Multi-Center Household Energy Intervention Trial

Wilson, D.L.; Williams, K.N.; Pillarisetti, A., on behalf of the HAPIN Investigators. An Integrated Sensor Data Logging, Survey, and Analytics Platform for Field Research and Its Application in HAPIN, a Multi-Center Household Energy Intervention Trial. Sustainability 2020, 12, 1805.

The Colonial Roots of India's Air Pollution Crisis

A fascinating interrogation of the air pollution crisis in India in EPW by Asher Ghertner. The full article is behind a paywall, unfortunately; Rutgers has a good summary:

Drawing on the "fact" of small Indian lungs, key Indian government ministries have argued something quite different, suggesting that Indian lungs are not uniquely vulnerable to air pollution but rather uniquely "adapted" to tropical air/dust. Small lungs, in other words, are somehow less affected by pollution - they claim. These ministries have used the anatomical difference in Indian lung size to challenge the applicability of World Health Organization and Global Burden of Disease (GBD) integrated exposure-response (IER) functions for air pollution--which define the expected increase in death and illness caused by levels of pollution exposure within a population. Ghertner uses these ministries' arguments and testimonies from judicial records to show how the same argument used in the colonial era to submit Indian workers to unshielded "miasmas" now subjects all citizens to a process of slow death by breath. This also normalizes what he calls a "sequestration" model of atmospheric conduct that maintains that the solution to pollution is enclosure - escape into private cars and townships or self-defense through air pollution masks and personal purification systems - not pollution abatement.

Comparison of next‐generation portable pollution monitors to measure exposure to PM2.5 from household air pollution in Puno, Peru

Burrowes VJ, Piedrahita R, Pillarisetti A, Underhill L, Fandiño‐Del‐Rio M, Johnson M, Kephart J, Hartinger SM, Steenland K, Naeher L, Kearns K, Peel JL, Clark ML, Checkley W and HAPIN Investigators (2020), Comparison of next‐generation portable pollution monitors to measure exposure to PM2.5 from household air pollution in Puno, Peru. Indoor Air. Accepted Author Manuscript.

Challenges in the diagnosis of paediatric pneumonia in intervention field trials: recommendations from a pneumonia field trial working group

Goodman D, Crocker ME, Pervaiz F, McCollum ED, Steenland K, Simkovich SM, Miele CH, Hammitt LL, Herrera P, Zar HJ, Campbell H, Lanata CF, McCracken JP, Thompson LM, Rosa G, Kirby MA, Garg S, Thangavel G, Thanasekaraan V, Balakrishnan K, King C, Clasen T, Checkley W, Nambajimana A, Pillarisetti A, et al. (2019) Challenges in the diagnosis of paediatric pneumonia in intervention field trials: recommendations from a pneumonia field trial working group.

Burden of disease at the same limit of exposure to airborne polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons varies significantly across countries depending on the gap in longevity

Etchie AT, Etchie TO, Shen H, Pillarisetti A, Popovicheva O (2019) Burden of disease at the same limit of exposure to airborne polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons varies significantly across countries depending on the gap in longevity. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety 180:420-429.

The use of bluetooth low energy Beacon systems to estimate indirect personal exposure to household air pollution

Liao J, McCracken JP, Piedrahita R, Thompson L, Mollinedo E, Canuz E, De Leon O, Díaz-Artiga A, Johnson M, Clark M, Pillarisetti A, Kearns K, Naeher L, Steenland K, Checkley W, Peel J, Clasen TF et al. (2019) The use of bluetooth low energy Beacon systems to estimate indirect personal exposure to household air pollution. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol (2019) doi:10.1038/s41370-019-0172-z

Impacts of household sources on air pollution at village and regional scales in India

Rooney B, Zhao R, Wang Y, Bates KH, Pillarisetti A, Sharma S, Kundu S, Bond TC, Lam NL, Ozaltun B, Xu L, Goel V, Fleming LT, Weltman R, Meinardi S, Blake DR, Nizkorodov SA, Edwards RD, Yadav A, Arora NK, Smith KR, Seinfeld JH (2019) Impacts of household sources on air pollution at village and regional scales in India. Atmos Chem Phys 19:7719-7742.

Modeling the Impact of an Indoor Air Filter on Air Pollution Exposure Reduction and Associated Mortality in Urban Delhi Household

Liao J, Ye W, Pillarisetti A, Clasen TF. Modeling the Impact of an Indoor Air Filter on Air Pollution Exposure Reduction and Associated Mortality in Urban Delhi Household. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2019, 16(8), 1391; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph16081391    Supplementary Information

Indian annual ambient air quality standard is achievable by completely mitigating emissions from household sources

Chowdhury S, Dey S, Guttikunda S, Pillarisetti A, Smith KR, Di Girolamo L. Indian annual ambient air quality standard is achievable by completely mitigating emissions from household sources. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Apr 2019, 201900888; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1900888116. Supporting Information.

Understanding Air Pollution with Art: "The Air of the Anthropocene" and "Mutual Air"

Playground, India Institute of Technology Campus, Delhi, India - PM2.5 500 - 600 µg/m3

Artist Robin Price and Professor Francis Pope use experimental photography to “see” small particles as part of their “Air of the Anthropocene” project (h/t Zoe Chafe). The photos are stunning. From a Guardian piece highlighting many of the photos:

Using a custom-built digital light painter and wearable particulate sensor, I take long exposure photographs that paint the amount of PM2.5 particles in the air as particles of light. As the light painter’s sensor detects more pollution it draws correspondingly greater numbers of light particles into the photograph. The effect is as if the microscopic pollution has been enlarged and lit up, shedding light on the invisible particles.

Meanwhile, in the Bay Area, Artist Rosten Woo uses chimes to make air pollution audible:

Mutual Air is a network of roughly thirty specially designed bells that generate a soundscape reflecting and responding to the changing composition of our local and global atmosphere. By sonifying air-quality fluctuations, Woo hopes​ to engage the public in an experiential understanding of climate science and how aspects of our atmosphere, while a shared resource, reflect socioeconomic disparities.

His work was featured on PBS News Hour:


See also Smog Meringues and British Pathe - Air Pollution

Indian Election Analysis: Election manifestos feature air plan but little action on ground

A new report titled “Political Leaders Position and Action on Air Quality in India” released by Climate Trends also highlighted that members of parliament in 14 Indian cities, among the most polluted cities globally as per the WHO 2018 urban air quality database, have done little to get their cities to comply with safe air quality standards locally.

“The manifestos of both the national parties have proven that political parties cannot ignore and neglect air pollution related health emergency any more. This rhetoric is a good sign. But the bigger question is - if this electoral promise will translate into strong enough political will to push for hard action with accountability and show results,” said Anumita Roychowdhury, executive director, Centre for Science and Environment. Delhi’s air pollution levels recorded a fall in 2018 because of multiple strategies, she added.

Energy and Health in the 2019 BJP Manifesto

The BJP’s Manifesto was released in the last few days. A little hard to hunt down, initially, though a PDF is hosted at documentcloud.

In a section that is partly a list of achievements and partly a description of next steps:

We have evolved technologically better strategies and devices to map the level of pollution in cities and rivers and have taken effective steps to reduce the level of pollution in major cities, including the national capital. We will convert the National Clean Air Plan into a Mission and we will focus on 102 most polluted cities in the country. Through concerted action, we will reduce the level of pollution in each of the mission cities by at least 35% over the next five years.

Another part of he Manifesto is framed around 75 milestones for India’s 75th anniversary, including some focusing on health, energy, air pollution, and water & sanitation.

Under Infrastructure:

Ensure a pucca house to every family. Ensure the LPG gas cylinder connection to all poor rural households. Ensure 100% electrification of all households. Ensure a toilet in every household. Ensure access to safe and potable drinking water for all households. Bharat Mission to achieve ODF+ (Open Defecation Free) and ODF++ in cities and villages. Ensure ODF status for all villages and cities.

Under good governance:

Work towards substantially reducing the current levels of air pollution. Work towards completely eliminating crop residue burning to reduce air pollution.

A running list of how President Trump is changing environmental policy

McClatchy reporting today:

The Trump campaign is seeking a list of “climate change victories” that can be attributed to Donald Trump’s presidency, reflecting a shift in strategy ahead of the 2020 election as polls show growing voter concern over global warming, two sources familiar with the campaign told McClatchy this week.

To hell with that. National Geographic has provided an excellent rebuttal with “A running list of how President Trump is changing environmental policy”. They peg it at a 70 minute read.

Some highlights:

TRUMP SIGNS ORDER GREENLIGHTING KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE

EXECUTIVE ORDER CALLS FOR SHARP LOGGING INCREASE ON PUBLIC LANDS

EPA CRIMINAL ENFORCEMENTS HIT 30-YEAR LOW

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION ROLLS BACK OBAMA-ERA COAL RULES

FIRST OFFSHORE OIL WELLS APPROVED FOR THE ARCTIC

Washington Post: If I were still working at the EPA, I would resign

Bernard D. Goldstein, former chairman of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee and EPA assistant administrator for R&D under Reagan:

I had hoped that Wheeler would reverse Pruitt’s initial policies. Instead, he has taken them well beyond the point that, were I a member of CASAC, I would have resigned. Neither my conscience, nor my concern for the respect of my peers, would have allowed me to provide advice on a complex health-related subject when I cannot interact in a scientific consensus advisory process with those who have the necessary expert credentials.

I cannot ask President Trump’s EPA assistant administrator for research and development to resign. That position remains unfilled. Nor is it likely that any credible scientist would accept such a nomination. But I urge the current members of CASAC to step down rather than seemingly acquiesce to this charade. The EPA’s leadership is destroying the scientific foundation of environmental regulations, to the detriment of the health of the American people and our environment.

Read the whole thing.

The Return of London's Fog

London’s fogs may be about to make a comeback. Christine Corton, in the NYT:

In January, researchers at King’s College London announced that pollution levels on Oxford Street, in central London, had exceeded limits set for the entire year in just the first four days of 2015. Similarly alarming numbers have been recorded for other streets in the city — and yet the mayor, Boris Johnson, has delayed implementation of stricter air-quality measures until 2020.

What’s happening in London is being played out in cities worldwide, as efforts to curtail the onslaught of air pollution are stymied by short-term vested interests, with potentially disastrous results.

I just experienced a particular, particulate version of this hell first-hand in Delhi. For the last few days of my trip, a dense, thick haze - clearly not an innocuous fog - permeated the city and surrounding environs. On one trip back to our flat, all of my fellow taxi passengers complained of burning eyes and sore throats.

The closest PM monitor during that drive back — actually quite far from us — read over 250 µg/m3. That’s around 10x higher than a ‘bad’ day in the US. Moreover, we guessed that the levels we were experiencing were closer to 350 µg/m3. As a point of reference, the maximum mean hourly PM2.5 concentration in London since 2008 was approximately 30 µg/m3.

Corton points to a behavioral component to the historic London Fog episodes — a parallel I find particularly interesting:

There was a cultural component, too. The British were wedded to their open fires. Closed stoves, popular throughout much of Europe, especially in Germany, were shunned by Londoners. During World War I, Britons were exhorted, in the words of the famous song, to “keep the home fires burning.” Politicians were simply not willing to risk unpopularity by forcing Londoners to stop using coal and go over to gas or electric heating instead. In Britain today, in an echo of these earlier concerns, the government is cutting subsidies for onshore wind and solar farms, anxious not to offend voters in rural areas where such facilities would be built.

It took a disaster to force London to change direction. In 1952, a “great killer fog” lasted five days and killed an estimated 4,000 people. In a Britain trying to turn a corner after the death and destruction of the Blitz, this was unacceptable. A Clean Air Act was passed in 1956, forcing Londoners to burn smokeless fuel or switch to gas or electricity, power sources that had become much cheaper as these industries expanded.

Let’s hope that policy levers and momentum — not a disaster — can help transition away from solid fuels in India and beyond.

A Primer on Household Air Pollution and Health

A Primer on Household Air Pollution and Health in Environmental and Occupational Case Studies, UC Berkeley School of Public Health, Instructors: Sadie Costello and Ellen Eisen. 7 October 2015.

A Low-Cost, Carbon Dioxide Monitoring System for Estimating Household Air Exchange Rates

Pillarisetti A, Lam NL, Pokhrel A, Hill LA, Allen T, Kunwar B, Pandey B, Thapa S, Sijali TR, Smith KR, Bates MN. A Low-Cost, Carbon Dioxide Monitoring System for Estimating Household Air Exchange Rates. International Society of Exposure Science. Henderson, Nevada: October 2015.

Predicting Personal PM2.5 Exposures from Kitchen Concentrations and Survey Data in Homes Cooking with Biomass Fuels: A Pilot in Lao, PDR

Hill LA, Garland CR, Delapena S, Pennise D, Boatman MR, Phimmasone A, Kotting P, Vongnakhone K, Pillarisetti A, Smith KR. Predicting Personal PM2.5 Exposures from Kitchen Concentrations and Survey Data in Homes Cooking with Biomass Fuels: A Pilot in Lao, PDR. International Society of Exposure Science. Henderson, Nevada: October 2015.

Measuring Vertical PM2.5 Concentrations in Rural India: The Design, Development, and Evaluation of the Aerial Particle and Temperature Sensor (aPATS)

Pillarisetti A, Allen T, Allen-Piccolo G, Vaswani M, Arora NK, Smith KR. Measuring Vertical PM2.5 Concentrations in Rural India: The Design, Development, and Evaluation of the Aerial Particle and Temperature Sensor (aPATS). International Society of Exposure Science. Henderson, Nevada: October 2015.

Laboratory and Field Based Performance of an Integrated Air Quality and Stove Use Monitoring System

Pillarisetti A, Johnson MA, Garland CR, Allen T, Gill M, Delapena S, Charron D, Pennise D. Laboratory and Field Based Performance of an Integrated Air Quality and Stove Use Monitoring System. International Society of Exposure Science. Henderson, Nevada: October 2015.

India is building millions of toilets, but that's the easy part

Rama Lakshmi, in the Washington Post, on the push for many, many more toilets throughout India:

Modi has made toilet-building and sanitation a rallying cry since October. He has enlisted large companies to help. In the past year, his government has built more than 5.8 million toilets — up from 4.9 million the previous year. But reports show that many of them are unused or that they are being used to store grain, clothes or to tether goats, thwarting Modi’s sanitation revolution.

“Even as we accelerate toilet construction now, much more needs to be done to persuade people to use them,” said Chaudhary Birender Singh, India’s minister for rural development, sanitation and drinking water. “For long, we assumed that if the toilets are built, people will automatically use it. But we have to diligently monitor the use over a period of time and reward them with cash incentives to the village councils at every stage. Only then will it become a daily habit.”

This all sounds really familiar.

Ye Olde Smog Meringue

image from coclimate.com

Nicola Twilley, writing at ediblegeography.com:

After running around New York City in order to source our precursor ingredients (a huge thanks to Kent Kirshenbaum, chemistry professor at NYU and co-founder of the Experimental Cuising Collective), we spent Thursday afternoon and evening in the kitchens of Baz Bagel (excellent bagels, amazing ramp cream cheese, and truly lovely people) assembling the cart, mixing different chemical precursors, and then “baking” them under UV light to form a London peasouper, a 1950s Los Angeles photochemical smog, and a present-day air-quality event in Atlanta.

We chose these three places and times to showcase three of the classic “types” that atmospheric scientists use to characterize smogs: 1950s London was a sulfur- and particulate-heavy fog, whereas 1950s Los Angeles was a photochemical smog created by the reactions between sunlight, NOx, and partially combusted hydrocarbons. Present-day Beijing often experiences London-style atmospheric conditions, whereas Mexico City’s smog is in the Angeleno style.

Meanwhile, at its worst, Atlanta’s atmosphere is similar in composition to that of Los Angeles, but with the addition of biogenic emissions. An estimated ten percent of emissions in Atlanta are from a class of chemicals known as terpenes, from organic sources such as pine trees and decaying green matter. We had also hoped to create a Central Valley smog as well, but time got the better of us.

Each city’s different precursor emissions and weather conditions produce a different kind of smog, with distinct chemical characteristics—and a unique flavour.

Pictures of Lake Tahoe during the drought

August 2014:

Late May 2015:

We’re lucky enough to live near Lake Tahoe and all the surrounding glory — and fortunate enough to make it up there every now and then. Our most recent jaunt was a nice one with a great hike, good food, and all around fun times.

It was clear while roaming around town that the Lake Tahoe was very, very low. Docks had ladders and secondary structures to allow access to vessels. The walkable area extended much further than before. This was all amplified when we stood at the edge of the lake — now a few dozen meters further out than in August of 2014 — at one of our favorite public access points.

Extending the Stove Use Monitoring System?

Pillarisetti A. Extending the Stove Use Monitoring System: Updated hardware & software. Beyond Distribution: Ensuring and Evaluating the Adoption of Clean Cooking and Its Benefits. Lima, Peru: May 5, 2015.

NYT: "Emissions From India Will Increase"

India’s new Minister of Environment and Forests, in the New York Times:

The minister, Prakash Javadekar, said in an interview that his government’s first priority was to alleviate poverty and improve the nation’s economy, which he said would necessarily involve an increase in emissions through new coal-powered electricity and transportation. He placed responsibility for what scientists call a coming climate crisis on the United States, the world’s largest historic greenhouse gas polluter, and dismissed the idea that India would make cuts to carbon emissions.

“What cuts?” Mr. Javadekar said. “That’s for more developed countries. The moral principle of historic responsibility cannot be washed away.” Mr. Javadekar was referring to an argument frequently made by developing economies — that developed economies, chiefly the United States, which spent the last century building their economies while pumping warming emissions into the atmosphere — bear the greatest responsibility for cutting pollution.

Not great news. Vox has interesting coverage of this story, as well; the bottom of their story has a great collection of links.

Paulson on Climate Change and the Price of Inaction

Henry M. Paulson, writing in the NYT:

In a future with more severe storms, deeper droughts, longer fire seasons and rising seas that imperil coastal cities, public funding to pay for adaptations and disaster relief will add significantly to our fiscal deficit and threaten our long-term economic security. So it is perverse that those who want limited government and rail against bailouts would put the economy at risk by ignoring climate change.

This is short-termism. There is a tendency, particularly in government and politics, to avoid focusing on difficult problems until they balloon into crisis. We would be fools to wait for that to happen to our climate.

When you run a company, you want to hand it off in better shape than you found it. In the same way, just as we shouldn’t leave our children or grandchildren with mountains of national debt and unsustainable entitlement programs, we shouldn’t leave them with the economic and environmental costs of climate change. Republicans must not shrink from this issue. Risk management is a conservative principle, as is preserving our natural environment for future generations. We are, after all, the party of Teddy Roosevelt.

Naomi Klein on Climate Change

Well-written and well thought piece on some of the challenges surrounding climate change from Naomi Klein in The Nation:

Another part of what makes climate change so very difficult for us to grasp is that ours is a culture of the perpetual present, one that deliberately severs itself from the past that created us as well as the future we are shaping with our actions. Climate change is about how what we did generations in the past will inescapably affect not just the present, but generations in the future. These time frames are a language that has become foreign to most of us.

This is not about passing individual judgment, nor about berating ourselves for our shallowness or rootlessness. Rather, it is about recognizing that we are products of an industrial project, one intimately, historically linked to fossil fuels.

And just as we have changed before, we can change again. After listening to the great farmer-poet Wendell Berry deliver a lecture on how we each have a duty to love our “homeplace” more than any other, I asked him if he had any advice for rootless people like me and my friends, who live in our computers and always seem to be shopping for a home. “Stop somewhere,” he replied. “And begin the thousand-year-long process of knowing that place.”

That’s good advice on lots of levels. Because in order to win this fight of our lives, we all need a place to stand.

Urban Air Pollution in Delhi, India

I’ve got some fundamental issues with this recent article in the NYT, starting with its absurd title: Beijing’s Bad Air Would Be Step Up for Smoggy Delhi. The difference between levels in Beijing and Delhi are nigh indistinguishable shades of the same grey - we’re seeing similar and important trends playing out in large urban centers. We know the levels are health damaging and we know that the exposure-response relationships for a number of health impacts are not linear - a decrease from 400 to 300 ug/m3 doesn’t incur the same benefit in a population as the decrease from, say, 150 to 50 ug/m3. The latter decrease seems to have a far more profound and substantial positive impact on health. That, of course, is not to say we shouldn’t applaud any and all decreases in ambient air pollution — but instead to emphasize that we have a long way to go to fully protect public health.

No doubt, these issues need to become more prominent in Indian discourse, as the author acknowledges:

… [For] the first three weeks of this year, New Delhi’s average daily peak reading of fine particulate matter from Punjabi Bagh, a monitor whose readings are often below those of other city and independent monitors, was 473, more than twice as high as the average of 227 in Beijing. By the time pollution breached 500 in Beijing for the first time on the night of Jan. 15, Delhi had already had eight such days. Indeed, only once in three weeks did New Delhi’s daily peak value of fine particles fall below 300, a level more than 12 times the exposure limit recommended by the World Health Organization.

“It’s always puzzled me that the focus is always on China and not India,” said Dr. Angel Hsu, director of the environmental performance measurement program at the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy. “China has realized that it can’t hide behind its usual opacity, whereas India gets no pressure to release better data. So there simply isn’t good public data on India like there is for China.”

Experts have long known that India’s air is among the worst in the world. A recent analysis by Yale researchers found that seven of the 10 countries with the worst air pollution exposures are in South Asia. And evidence is mounting that Indians pay a higher price for air pollution than almost anyone. A recent study showed that Indians have the world’s weakest lungs, with far less capacity than Chinese lungs. Researchers are beginning to suspect that India’s unusual mix of polluted air, poor sanitation and contaminated water may make the country among the most dangerous in the world for lungs.

But even this doesn’t tell the whole story. Rural India is fraught with air pollution concerns of a different type — that arising from solid fuel combustion for household cooking. This ‘household air pollution’ results in approximately 900,000 annual deaths in India - 10% of national mortality. It disproportionately affects the rural poor, who, for the most part, don’t have access to modern fuels for cooking, heating, or lighting. It’s estimated that approximately 700 million people - more than twice the US population - in India rely on solid fuel use for household energy needs.

I applaud the NYT for covering air pollution in Delhi and across India. That said, neither of the above articles consider air pollution out of urban centers - and neither address the fact that these types of pollution events were commonplace in now-developed countries (see Donora, PA; London Smog; Thanksgiving Day Smog, NYC, 1966 ) as they stumbled in search of progress.

Lisa Jackson on the Moth

Lisa Jackson, former EPA Administrator, tells an audience at the Moth about how she transitioned into Environmental Engineering. Great story.

Earth Island Journal's Conversation with Naomi Klein

A good interview with Naomi Klein leading her new book coming out in 2014. Read the whole thing here.

You’ve said that progressives’ narratives are insufficient. What would be an alternative narrative to turn this situation around?

Well, I think the narrative that got us into this - that’s part of the reason why you have climate change denialism being such as powerful force in North America and in Australia - is really tied to the frontier mentality. It’s really tied to the idea of there always being more. We live on lands that were supposedly innocent, “discovered” lands where nature was so abundant. You could not imagine depletion ever. These are foundational myths.

And so I’ve taken a huge amount of hope from the emergence of the Idle No More movement, because of what I see as a tremendous generosity of spirit from Indigenous leadership right now to educate us in another narrative. I just did a panel with Idle No More and I was the only non-Native speaker at this event, and the other Native speakers were all saying we want to play this leadership role. It’s actually taken a long time to get to that point. There’s been so much abuse heaped upon these communities, and so much rightful anger at the people who stole their lands. This is the first time that I’ve seen this openness, open willingness that we have something to bring, we want to lead, we want to model another way which relates to the land. So that’s where I am getting a lot of hope right now.

The impacts of Idle No More are really not understood. My husband is making a documentary that goes with this book, and he’s directing it right now in Montana, and we’ve been doing a lot of filming on the northern Cheyenne reservation because there’s a huge, huge coal deposit that they’ve been debating for a lot of years - whether or not to dig out this coal. And it was really looking like they were going to dig it up. It goes against their prophecies, and it’s just very painful. Now there’s just this new generation of young people on that reserve who are determined to leave that coal in the ground, and are training themselves to do solar and wind, and they all talk about Idle No More. I think there’s something very powerful going on. In Canada it’s a very big deal. It’s very big deal in all of North America, because of the huge amount of untapped energy, fossil fuel energy, that is on Indigenous land. That goes for Arctic oil. It certainly goes for the tar sands. It goes for where they want to lay those pipelines. It goes for where the natural gas is. It goes for where the major coal deposits are in the US. I think in Canada we take Indigenous rights more seriously than in the US. I hope that will change.

Rim Fire images from NASA & the KPCC Fire Tracker

Devastating. KPCC has an interesting, interactive tool for monitoring California’s wildfires. A bit is embedded below, but the whole thing is worth a look.

NASA’s posted a number of photos of the fire from space. A smattering are embedded below.

In some of the photos, you can see the plume from the Rim Fire and the plume from the American Fire in Tahoe National Forest.

Reno’s been adversely affected by the plume from the Rim Fire, reporting unhealthy on their AQI (can’t find any numbers, at the moment); NASA projects that the plume is impacting AQ in 4 states.

Good luck to the firefighters and rangers working to control the blaze. Our thoughts are with them and others in the surrounding communities.

EIA: World petroleum use sets record high in 2012 despite declines in North America and Europe

U.S. Energy Information Administration:

The world’s consumption of gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, heating oil, and other petroleum products reached a record high of 88.9 million barrels per day (bbl/d) in 2012, as declining consumption in North America and Europe was more than outpaced by growth in Asia and other regions (see animated map). A previous article examined regional trends in petroleum consumption between 1980 and 2010; today’s article extends that analysis through 2012.

Some other specific points of interest:

Between 2008 and 2012, Asia’s consumption increased by 4.4 million bbl/d. The rapidly industrializing economies of China and India fueled much of Asia’s demand increase, growing 2.8 million bbl/d and 800,000 bbl/d, respectively. If China’s use of petroleum continues to grow as projected, it is expected to replace the United States as the world’s largest net oil importer this fall.

Petroleum use in Europe has declined in every year since 2006. Part of this decline was related to a reduction in overall energy intensity and government policies that encourage energy efficiency. Europe’s weak economic performance has also affected its petroleum use, with declines of 780,000 bbl/d in 2009 and 570,000 bbl/d in 2012 occurring at a time of slow growth and/or recessions in many European countries.

John Nelson's A Breathing Earth

John Nelson, writing about the creation of these images:

Having spent much of my life living near the center of that mitten-shaped peninsula in North America, I have had a consistent seasonal metronome through which I track the years of my life. When I stitch together what can be an impersonal snapshot of an entire planet, all of the sudden I see a thing with a heartbeat. I can track one location throughout a year to compare the annual push and pull of snow and plant life there, while in my periphery I see the oscillating wave of life advancing and retreating, advancing and retreating. And I’m reassured by it.

Of course there are the global characteristics of climate and the nature of land to heat and cool more rapidly than water. The effects of warm currents feeding a surprisingly mild climate in the British Isles. The snowy head start of winter in high elevations like the Himalayas, Rockies, and Caucuses, that spread downward to join the later snowiness of lower elevations. The continental wave of growing grasses in African plains.

But, overall, to me it looks like breathing.

Past EPA Administrators: The US "must move now on substantive steps to curb climate change, at home and internationally."

Writing in an NYT Editorial, four previous EPA administrators make a strong case for climate action now.

Climate change puts all our progress and our successes at risk. If we could articulate one framework for successful governance, perhaps it should be this: When confronted by a problem, deal with it. Look at the facts, cut through the extraneous, devise a workable solution and get it done.

We can have both a strong economy and a livable climate. All parties know that we need both. The rest of the discussion is either detail, which we can resolve, or purposeful delay, which we should not tolerate.

Mr. Obama’s plan is just a start. More will be required. But we must continue efforts to reduce the climate-altering pollutants that threaten our planet. The only uncertainty about our warming world is how bad the changes will get, and how soon. What is most clear is that there is no time to waste.

The writers are former administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency: William D. Ruckelshaus, from its founding in 1970 to 1973, and again from 1983 to 1985; Lee M. Thomas, from 1985 to 1989; William K. Reilly, from 1989 to 1993; and Christine Todd Whitman, from 2001 to 2003.

China to spend $277 billion to curb air pollution

Reuters, reporting on statements by Chinese state-run media:

China plans to invest 1.7 trillion yuan ($277 billion) to combat air pollution over the next five years, state media said on Thursday, underscoring the new government’s concerns about addressing a key source of social discontent.

The money is to be spent primarily in regions that have heavy air pollution and high levels of PM 2.5, the state-run China Daily newspaper quoted Wang Jinnan, vice-president of the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning as saying. Wang helped draft the plan.

EIA: World energy consumption will increase 56% by 2040

EIA’s recently released International Energy Outlook 2013 (IEO2013) projects that world energy consumption will grow by 56% between 2010 and 2040, from 524 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) to 820 quadrillion Btu. Most of this growth will come from non-OECD (non-Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries, where demand is driven by strong economic growth.

Renewable energy and nuclear power are the world’s fastest-growing energy sources, each increasing 2.5% per year. However, fossil fuels continue to supply nearly 80% of world energy use through 2040. Natural gas is the fastest-growing fossil fuel, as global supplies of tight gas, shale gas, and coalbed methane increase.

The industrial sector continues to account for the largest share of delivered energy consumption and is projected to consume more than half of global delivered energy in 2040. Based on current policies and regulations governing fossil fuel use, global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are projected to rise to 45 billion metric tons in 2040, a 46% increase from 2010. Economic growth in developing nations, fueled by a continued reliance on fossil fuels, accounts for most of the emissions increases.

Report of the US-China Climate Change Working Group

From the report:

We have prepared this Report mindful of the overwhelming scientific consensus about anthropogenic climate change and its worsening impacts, as well as the urgent need to intensify global efforts to combat climate change. Rising temperatures are predicted to lead to sea level rise that could affect tens of millions of people around the world, as well as more frequent and intense heat waves, intensified urban smog, and droughts and floods in our most productive agricultural regions. Global climate change represents a grave threat to the economic livelihood and security of all nations, but it also represents a significant opportunity for sustainable development that will benefit both current and future generations. We believe that ambitious domestic action by China and the United States is more critical than ever. China has given high priority to building an “Ecological Civilization” by striving for green, circular and low-carbon development. It has adopted proactive policies and measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The United States is implementing robust policies to promote renewable energy, enhance energy efficiency, and reduce emissions from transportation, buildings, and the power sector. Both countries recognize the need to work together to continue and build on these important efforts.

Five key areas of collaboration were outlined.

  1. Emission reductions from heavy-duty and other vehicles.
  2. Smart Grids
  3. Carbon capture, utilization, and storage.
  4. Collecting and managing greenhouse gas emissions data.
  5. Energy efficiency in buildings and industry.

There’s an explicit acknowledgement of coal as a bad actor here, but nothing explicated about moving from dirty to clean fuels for generation of electricity. Some mentions of co-benefits, as well.

Details on 'Power Africa,' the White House's new plan for electrification across sub-Saharan Africa

From the White House:

Today the President announced Power Africa, a new initiative to double access to power in sub-Saharan Africa. More than two-thirds of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is without electricity, and more than 85 percent of those living in rural areas lack access. Power Africa will build on Africa’s enormous power potential, including new discoveries of vast reserves of oil and gas, and the potential to develop clean geothermal, hydro, wind and solar energy. It will help countries develop newly-discovered resources responsibly, build out power generation and transmission, and expand the reach of mini-grid and off-grid solutions.

According to the International Energy Agency, sub-Saharan Africa will require more than $300 billion in investment to achieve universal electricity access by 2030. Only with greater private sector investment can the promise of Power Africa be realized. With an initial set of six partner countries in its first phase, Power Africa will add more than 10,000 megawatts of cleaner, more efficient electricity generation capacity. It will increase electricity access by at least 20 million new households and commercial entities with on-grid, mini-grid, and off-grid solutions. And it will enhance energy resource management capabilities, allowing partner countries to meet their critical energy needs and achieve greater energy security.

As that first paragraph points out, this is inherently an issue of rural energy — and of household energy. The following bit seems a bit… optimistic:

Power Africa will work in collaboration with partner countries to ensure the path forward on oil and gas development maximizes the benefits to the people of Africa, while also ensuring that development proceeds in a timely, financially sound, inclusive, transparent and environmentally sustainable manner.

The 'Social Cost Of Carbon' Is Almost Double What The Government Previously Thought

Think Progress has a nice summary of the report out of the Obama administration updating the social cost of carbon (SCC). From the report’s executive summary:

The SCC estimates using the updated versions of the models are higher than those reported in the 2010 TSD. By way of comparison, the four 2020 SCC estimates reported in the 2010 TSD were $7, $26, $42 and $81 (2007$). The corresponding four updated SCC estimates for 2020 are $12, $43, $65, and $129 (2007$). The model updates that are relevant to the SCC estimates include: an explicit representation of sea level rise damages in the DICE and PAGE models; updated adaptation assumptions, revisions to ensure damages are constrained by GDP, updated regional scaling of damages, and a revised treatment of potentially abrupt shifts in climate damages in the PAGE model; an updated carbon cycle in the DICE model; and updated damage functions for sea level rise impacts, the agricultural sector, and reduced space heating requirements, as well as changes to the transient response of temperature to the buildup of GHG concentrations and the inclusion of indirect effects of methane emissions in the FUND model. The SCC estimates vary by year, and the following table summarizes the revised SCC estimates from 2010 through 2050.

After reviewing the full document, the changes update the science to the state of current understanding. As such, the projections offered within are more current (and based on more evolved science) than previously SCC estimates. The conclusions from the report are significant, but seem to overplay the US’s actions and role to date:

However, the climate change problem is highly unusual in at least two respects. First, it involves a global externality: emissions of most greenhouse gases contribute to damages around the world even when they are emitted in the United States. Consequently, to address the global nature of the problem, the SCC must incorporate the full (global) damages caused by GHG emissions. Second, climate change presents a problem that the United States alone cannot solve. Even if the United States were to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero, that step would be far from enough to avoid substantial climate change. Other countries would also need to take action to reduce emissions if significant changes in the global climate are to be avoided. Emphasizing the need for a global solution to a global problem, the United States has been actively involved in seeking international agreements to reduce emissions and in encouraging other nations, including emerging major economies, to take significant steps to reduce emissions.

This is a step in the right direction, but dodges real leadership.

Stories To Mark 60 Years Since First Summit Of Everest

slayers among men.

From SFGate:

Nepal celebrated the 60th anniversary of the conquest of Mount Everest on Wednesday by honoring climbers who followed in the footsteps of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay.

Among them was Italian Reinhold Messner, the first climber to scale Everest without using bottled oxygen and the first person to climb all of the world’s 14 highest peaks.

“I am here in Nepal again for filming … not any more for climbing,” Messner said, adding he did reach the base camp of Mount Kanchenjunga during his visit. “I am full of energy and full of enthusiasm for this country.”

Nepalese officials offered flower garlands and scarfs to the climbers who took part in the ceremony. They were taken around Katmandu on horse-drawn carriages followed by hundreds of people who marched holding banners to mark the anniversary.

Hillary and Norgay reached the summit of Everest on May 29, 1953. Since then thousands of people have reached the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) peak.

and from NPR:

On this, the 60th anniversary of the first successful summit of the world’s tallest mountain, there’s plenty of news about Mount Everest. Here are six stories [NPR] found interesting.

The Koch coke pile in Detroit

The NYT reports on a growing pile of coke, a byproduct of refining, in Detroit. In this case, the coke is produced as a result of tar sands refining; due to its high sulfur and carbon content, it is largely useless in the developed world. It seems that Koch brothers, who have purchased the coke from tar sands operations in Alberta, plan to sell it abroad.

Coke, which is mainly carbon, is an essential ingredient in steelmaking as well as producing the electrical anodes used to make aluminum.

While there is high demand from both those industries, the small grains and high sulfur content of this petroleum coke make it largely unusable for those purposes, said Kerry Satterthwaite, a petroleum coke analyst at Roskill Information Services, a commodities analysis company based in London.

“It is worse than a byproduct,” Ms. Satterthwaite said.”It’s a waste byproduct that is costly and inconvenient to store, but effectively costs nothing to produce.”

Murray Gray, the scientific director for the Center for Oil Sands Innovation at the University of Alberta, said that about two years ago, Alberta backed away from plans to use the petroleum coke as a fuel source, partly over concerns about greenhouse-gas emissions. Some of it is burned there, however, to power coking plants.

NYT Public Editor's Journal: For Times Environmental Reporting, Intentions May Be Good but the Signs Are Not

Margaret Sullivan, the fifth public editor appointed by The New York Times, on the recent closings of the Environment Desk and the Times’ Green Blog:

Here’s my take: I’m not convinced that The Times’s environmental coverage will be as strong without the team and the blog. Something real has been lost on a topic of huge and growing importance.

Especially given The Times’s declared interest in attracting international readers and younger readers, I hope that Times editors — very soon — will look for new ways to show readers that environmental news hasn’t been abandoned, but in fact is of utmost importance. So far, in 2013, they are not sending that message.

Understatement of 2013, thus far.

Ella Chou: What Would China's Carbon Tax Regime Look Like

A thoughtful and insightful overview of the proposed carbon/environmental tax by Harvard graduate student Ella Chou. Some excerpts follow.

The first thing I want to clarify is that calling it a “carbon tax” would be a gross misnomer, because for a long time to come, the majority of the tax collected from this would still be from what used to be called “pollution discharge fees”, not from taxing carbon emissions.

The tax on carbon would in fact be puny. The Xinhua report noted that previous MOF expert suggestion for the carbon tax was 10 yuan (US $1.5) per ton of carbon dioxide in 2012, with gradual increase to 50 yuan ($7.9) per ton by 2020.

…[T]he tax on coal in China is merely 2-3 yuan (US $0.4) per ton, and 8 yuan (US $1.27) per ton for charred coal, even though the price of coal has increased to several hundreds of yuan per ton.

The point of a carbon tax, be in China or elsewhere, is to set the price signal straight. We tax income; we tax property; we tax goods and services — all the things we want more of, so wouldn’t it be logic to actually tax the thing we want less of: pollution?

I should note that the proportion of environmental tax in the overall revenue of any level of government would be tiny, as is the pollution discharge fee portion of the revenue mix now. Local governments would continue to come up ways to give industries tax rebates and subsidies to attract them to their own jurisdictions, so the effect of the environmental tax or the carbon tax on the industries would be negligible. Standardizing fees into a tax is a step in the right direction. China can use a price on carbon, and environmental issues in general, as a starting point to address the price distortions that are stifling its long-term growth.

Climate Change in Obama's 2013 State of the Union

Strong words from President Obama on climate change during his 2013 State of the Union Address

But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods - all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science - and act before it’s too late.

The good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean energy market and the jobs that came with it. We’ve begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year - so let’s drive costs down even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.

In the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. That’s why my Administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits. But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and water.

Indeed, much of our new-found energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together. So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good. If a non-partisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we. Let’s take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we’ve put up with for far too long. I’m also issuing a new goal for America: let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next twenty years. The states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make it happen.

Wind industry installs almost 5,300 MW of capacity in December

Today in Energy:

Approximately 40% of the total 2012 wind capacity additions (12,620 MW) came online in December, just before the scheduled expiration of the wind production tax credit (PTC). During December 2012, 59 new wind projects totaling 5,253 MW began commercial operation, the largest-ever single-month capacity increase for U.S. wind energy. About 50% of the total December wind capacity additions were installed in three states: Texas (1,120MW), Oklahoma (794 MW), and California (730 MW)…

Wind generators provided the largest share of additions to total U.S. electric generation capacity in 2012, just as it did in 2008 and 2009. The 2012 addition of 12,620 MW is the highest annual wind capacity installment ever reported to EIA. Wind capacity additions accounted for more than 45% of total 2012 capacity additions and exceeded capacity additions from any other fuel source, including natural gas (which led capacity additions in 2000-07, 2010, and 2011).

EPA Releases its "Climate Change Adaptation Plan"

We live in a world in which the climate is changing. Changes in climate have occurred since the formation of the planet. But humans are now influencing Earth’s climate and causing it to change in unprecedented ways.

It is in this rapidly changing world that EPA is working to fulfill its mission to protect human health and the environment. Many of the outcomes EPA is working to attain (e.g., clean air, safe drinking water) are sensitive to changes in weather and climate. Until now, EPA has been able to assume that climate is relatively stable and future climate will mirror past climate. However, with climate changing more rapidly than society has experienced in the past, the past is no longer a good predictor of the future. Climate change is posing new challenges to EPA’s ability to fulfill its mission.

EPA: Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Large Facilities

A cool tool for visualizing large GHG emitters in the US.

Through EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program, facilities that emit 25,000 metric tons or more per year of GHGs are required to annually report their GHG emissions to EPA. The facilities are known as direct emitters. The data reported by direct emitters provides a “bottom-up” accounting of the major sources of GHG emissions associated with stationary fuel combustion and industrial processes. Well over half of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are accounted for in this facility level data set, including nearly complete coverage of major emitting sectors such as power plants and refineries.

Air Quality in Delhi

From India Ink at the NYT:

But in New Delhi on Thursday, air pollution levels far exceeded those in Beijing, only without any government acknowledgement or action. It is not the first time pollution in India’s capital has outpaced that in China.

The level of tiny particulates known as PM 2.5, which lodge deep in the lungs and can enter the bloodstream, was over 400 micrograms per cubic meter in various neighborhoods in and around Delhi Thursday, according to a real-time air quality monitor. That compared to Beijing’s most-recent air quality reading of 172 micrograms per cubic meter. (The “Air Quality online” link to the left of the Delhi website gives you real-time monitoring of Delhi’s pollution levels.)

At the University of Delhi’s northern campus at 12:30 p.m., the reading for PM 2.5 was 402 micrograms per cubic meter; in the eastern suburb of Noida it was 411; at the Indira Gandhi International airport it was 421.

Having spent winters in Delhi, I can attest to the intensity of the air pollution. Part of the problem, like in other large cities, relates to winter meteorology; another significant component is the location of industry and power production in close proximity to urban population centers.

I’m working on culling the data from the Indian Ministry of Earth Sciences air pollution monitors; check back soon.

In Focus: China's Toxic Sky

The Atlantic has an amazing collection of photographs of Beijing’s sky during these last few weeks of intense PM pollution. Particularly striking are the before-and-after shots, which on their site allow you to fade between polluted and less polluted days. One is adapted below, but check them all out.

Since the beginning of this year, the levels of air pollution in Beijing have been dangerously high, with thick clouds of smog chasing people indoors, disrupting air travel, and affecting the health of millions. The past two weeks have been especially bad — at one point the pollution level measured 40 times recommended safety levels. Authorities are taking short-term measures to combat the current crisis, shutting down some factories and limiting government auto usage. However, long-term solutions seem distant, as China’s use of coal continues to rise, and the government remains slow to acknowledge and address the problems.

The focus, of course, has been on Beijing, but astute observers note that it is hardly the most polluted city in the country. As a result of the widespread pollution - which has been getting remarkable coverage in the mainstream media - Chinese activists, educators, and policymakers are speaking out.

Professor Qu Geping, China’s first environmental protection chief, in a recent interview with the South China Morning Post:

“I would not call the past 40 years’ efforts of environmental protection a total failure,” he said. “But I have to admit that governments have done far from enough to rein in the wild pursuit of economic growth … and failed to avoid some of the worst pollution scenarios we, as policymakers, had predicted.”

After three decades of worsening industrial pollution resulting from rapid urbanisation and industrialisation, China has accumulated huge environmental debts that will have to be paid back, Qu said.

He said recently he regretted that some of the very forward-looking strategies - emphasising a more balanced and co-ordinated approach to development and conservation, that were worked out as early as 1983 - were never put into serious practice when China was still at an early stage of industrialisation.

Pan Shiyi, “one of China’s highest profile antipollution warriors” and a real estate mogul, asked Chinese bloggers and social media users to vote on whether or not China should enact national clean air legislation. According to the WSJ’s China Real Time Report,

In less than 10 hours of voting, nearly 32,000 microbloggers have said they agree with real estate mogul Pan Shiyi’s call for China to implement a clean air law. Fewer than 250 said they were opposed, while just over 120 said they weren’t sure.

As of a few minutes ago, 46,353 people had participated in the poll. A drop in the ocean, but a start.

Finally, according to the Times, the Beijing government is taking steps to curb emissions in the capital. The state run news agency reports that 180,000 old vehicles will be removed from the road; the heating systems of 44,000 old, single story homes and coal-burning boilers downtown will be replaced with clean energy; and 40% of Beijing will be forest covered in the next five years.

The city also plans to reduce coal consumption by 1.4 million tonnes and volatile organic compounds emissions by 8,000 tonnes, in addition to closing some 450 heavily polluting plants, according to municipal authorities.

Reasonable measures, but not ones that will occur rapidly. And, as mentioned, this doesn’t help much with the other, equally or more heavily polluted cities throughout the country.

In 2011, China consumed nearly as much coal as the rest of the world combined

From EIA’s interesting today in energy series:

Figure based on available EIA data

Coal consumption in China grew more than 9% in 2011, continuing its upward trend for the 12th consecutive year, according to newly released international data. China’s coal use grew by 325 million tons in 2011, accounting for 87% of the 374 million ton global increase in coal use. Of the 2.9 billion tons of global coal demand growth since 2000, China accounted for 2.3 billion tons (82%). China now accounts for 47% of global coal consumption—almost as much as the entire rest of the world combined.

Robust coal demand growth in China is the result of a more than 200% increase in Chinese electric generation since 2000, fueled primarily by coal. China’s coal demand growth averaged 9% per year from 2000 to 2010, more than double the global growth rate of 4% and significantly higher than global growth excluding China, which averaged only 1%.

Another thought-provoking climate post from David Roberts

A good, compelling piece from David Roberts, who appeals to a fundamental moral need for climate action:

The U.S. must act because all people have a moral obligation to act. We have no guarantee that if we act, others will act; we have no guarantee that if everyone acts, it will be enough. But inaction is not a choice. If the danger were an invading army from another planet or a raging global pandemic, we wouldn’t be having these arguments. The need for everyone to act would be obvious. Quibbles over who acts first, or who benefits most from the planet not being invaded, or how to avoid spending “too much” to avoid being annihilated would rightly be seen as verging on sociopathic. Everyone would be eager to act, despite having no certainty of success, because the alternative is simply unacceptable.

That’s the root of it: The results of inaction are morally unacceptable. They are also economically unacceptable, worse than virtually anything we might inflict on ourselves through too-vigorous pursuit of clean energy, regenerative agriculture, reforestation, resource-efficient land use, and resilient infrastructure. But ultimately it is a moral argument. We know we are on track for unthinkable human suffering and we know how to avoid it. Even if we can’t make a dime by saving millions of future children in Africa and Asia, we ought to save them. Even if we’re not certain of our success, we have to try. It’s a matter of human decency.

There was a time, not that long ago, when America took pride in leading the world against such dangers. Where is that pride now?

Your Warming World

newscientist.jpg

New Scientist has released a web app that asks you to think about climate change in a more selfish manner — for yourself or your community. It loads a world map and you can click where you live and get a quick glimpse of how temperatures have changed — for you.

The graphs and maps all show changes relative to average temperatures for the three decades from 1951 to 1980, the earliest period for which there was sufficiently good coverage for comparison. This gives a consistent view of climate change across the globe. To put these numbers in context, the NASA team estimates that the global average temperature for the 1951-1980 baseline period was about 14 �C.

The analysis uses land-based temperature measurements from some 6000 monitoring stations in the Global Historical Climatology Network, plus records from Antarctic stations recorded by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research. Temperatures at the ocean surface come from a measurements made by ships from 1880 to 1981, plus satellite measurements from 1982 onwards.

It’s a neat, somewhat egocentric approach. I’m not sure if it really engages a broad audience — but it points towards the kinds of interactivity that may be able to reach skeptical members of the public.

David Roberts: The 14 fossil-fuel projects poised to seriously damage the climate

David Roberts, writing at Grist:

If we want a reasonable hope of hitting our 2 degree target, we have to leave about 80 percent of the known fossil fuels in the ground.

That is indeed terrifying math, but it may become slightly less so as it becomes more specific and concrete. (It is always helpful to break a large task into component parts.) Toward that end, today saw some fascinating new work from the research consultancy Ecofys. Commissioned by Greenpeace, it attempts to rank the most dangerous fossil-fuel projects currently being planned.

The metric is simple: how many additional tons of CO2 the project will emit by 2020. (See the report for more on methodology.) Here’s how they rank:

China’s Western provinces / Coal mining expansion / 1,400

Australia / Coal export expansion / 760

Arctic / Drilling for oil and gas / 520

Indonesia / Coal export expansion / 460

United States / Coal export expansion / 420

Canada / Tar sands oil / 420

Iraq / Oil drilling / 420

Gulf of Mexico / Deepwater oil drilling / 350

Brazil / Deepwater oil drilling (pre-salt) / 330

Kazakhstan / Oil drilling / 290

United States / Shale gas / 280

Africa / Gas drilling / 260

Caspian Sea / Gas drilling / 240

Venezuela / Tar sands oil / 190

A simple pie chart here is useful — of the 14 projects, the majority of the problem involves coal, though others aren’t far behind. Note that the the compression here is a bit tricky — coal includes export expansion, for instance. Nonetheless, the point stands — our dirtiest fuel, from a climate and health perspective, appears to be on a trajectory to create more substantial problems for the global environment.

Climate change and sustainable energy in President Obama's second inaugural address

President Obama, during his second inaugural address (emphasis added):

“We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries — we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure — our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet…”

Tackling the world's forgotten killer

My advisor, writing at CNN:

About the worst thing you can do is stick burning stuff in your mouth. Every year, tobacco kills more than six million people, according to the World health Organization. Including secondhand tobacco smoke affecting non-smokers, it is the chief cause of ill-health (measured as lost years of healthy life) among men globally and for everyone in North America and Western Europe.

The terrible disease burden imposed by tobacco is recognized by most people, but the risk of another form of smoke is also highlighted in the new “Global Burden of Disease” report released last Month in The Lancet - smoke from cooking fires. About 40 percent of the world still cooks with solid fuels, like wood and coal, in simple stoves that release substantial amounts of the same kinds of hazardous chemicals found in tobacco smoke directly into the household environment. Indeed, a typical wood cookfire emits 400 cigarettes worth of smoke an hour.

This “household air pollution” is responsible for about 3.5 million premature deaths each year. Perhaps it is not surprising that the impact on health is so high when one considers that this smoke particularly affects a very vulnerable group - poor women in developing countries.

NASA/NOAA: Smog in China, as seen from space

smog_space.jpg

NOAA:

Smog is a common part of life across much of eastern China; however the past week has seen extremely high air pollution counts, some exceeding 750 micrograms per cubic meter of particles that are 2.5 microns or less in diameter. In the U.S., the EPA classifies any PM2.5 concentration above 100 as “unsafe,” as these tiny particles are able to penetrate deep into airways causing many health risks. This image of eastern China was taken on January 13, 2013 by the NASA/NOAA Suomi NPP satellite. Clouds can be seen as bright white areas, whereas the smog and other pollutants appear as a dull gray blanket over the region.

The Imported Landscapes of Petur Thomsen

Petur Thomsen, an Icelandic photographer, has been documenting “man’s attempts to dominate nature” and “man’s transformation of nature into environment.”

One set of photographs - his “Imported Landscape” series — is particularly striking. It examines the impact of the Karahnjukar Hydroelectric Project in eastern Iceland.

The project consists of three dams, one of them being the highest in Europe, and a hydroelectric power plant. The dams block among others the big glacial river Jokula a Dal, creating the 57km2 artificial lake Halslon.

The power plant is primarily being constructed to supply electricity to a new Aluminum smelter built by Alcoa of USA in the fjord of Reyoarfjorour on the east coast of Iceland.

The artificial lake and the constructions have spoiled the biggest wild nature in Europe. Making the Karahnjukar project, not only the biggest project in Icelandic history, but also the most controversial one. There have been a lot of debates about this project. Environmentalists are fighting for the preservation of the wild nature while those supporting the project talk about the need to use the energy the nature has to offer.

The best way for me to participate in the debate was to follow the land in its transformation.

Environmental degradation in the name of energy production — even ‘clean’ energy production — is nothing new. Thomsen’s take starkly frames the respective powers of man and nature as antagonists. For me, he conveys perfectly our conflicting senses of nostalgia/loss and awe/control. His photos embody contrasting, awkward meanings of power — electricity, energy, dominion, destruction, beauty.

Via The Fox is Black.

Memories for the Future: Documenting what was lost during the Tohoku quake & tsunami

Really cool - and thoughtful - use of internet tech from Google. The before and after photos, in particular, are striking and overwhelming. I like this kind of thing — it imagines the internet and social networks out of the doldrums of daily life and highlights the power of these kinds of technologies; it remembers the old promises of what these technologies could do for us.

On March 11, 2011 a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit northeastern Japan, causing unimaginable damage. Many people lost their lives, their homes, and all their precious memories collected over generations. Among the things lost were precious photos and videos — cherished images of family, friends, pets and once-in-a-lifetime events — buried in rubble or washed to sea.

To help people in Japan share their photographs and videos that did survive, Google created a website, “Mirai e no kioku” (text is in Japanese only), which means “Memories for the Future”. Through this site, people have been able to rediscover lost memories of their homes and towns.

Google is now also providing thousands of miles of Street View imagery in the affected areas that were collected before and after the disaster. Seeing the street-level imagery of the affected areas puts the plight of these communities into perspective and ensures that the memories of the disaster remain relevant and tangible for future generations.

Click the “Before” or “After” links at the top of this page and use the Google Maps display to see the areas where we have Street View coverage. Find an image in Street View by dragging the yellow “Pegman” icon onto the map where you see a blue overlay. Then click between the “Before” and “After” links to see how the earthquake and tsunami impacted that area.

If you're 27 or younger, you've never experienced a colder-than-average month

From NOAA’s State of the Climate (as reported by Grist) October 2012:

The average temperature across land and ocean surfaces during October was 14.63�C (58.23�F). This is 0.63�C (1.13�F) above the 20th century average and ties with 2008 as the fifth warmest October on record. The record warmest October occurred in 2003 and the record coldest October occurred in 1912. This is the 332nd consecutive month with an above-average temperature. The last below-average month was February 1985. The last October with a below-average temperature was 1976. The Northern Hemisphere ranked as the seventh warmest October on record, while the Southern Hemisphere ranked as second warmest, behind 1997.

Read more at NOAA.

On the Cold Front: Photos of Receding Glaciers

In an effort to provide concrete visual proof of climate change and its devastating effects, photographer James Balog embarked on a years-long project that spanned the northern reaches of the globe. He set up cameras from Greenland to Alaska in order to capture horrifying—yet undeniably beautiful—time-lapse photos that reveal the unprecedented rate at which glaciers are receding. As the award-winning Chasing Ice, which chronicles Balog’s monumental endeavor with his Extreme Ice Survey, hits New York on November 9, VF.com showcases breathtaking photographs from Balog’s Ice: Portraits of Vanishing Glaciers, published by Rizzoli.

From Dave Pell’s NextDraft

Air Quality in London During the Olympics

Earlier this week, a few British newspapers ran stories about the implications of poor air quality in London and the impact it may have on athlete’s performance. The articles were a bit scant on details, but hinted at dangers for vulnerable populations and an increased risk of exercise-induced asthma during certain times of the day, especially for athletes. They cited London Air, a site that is tracking a number of important pollutants at sites throughout London.

They’ve got a remarkable amount of relatively easily accessible data on their site, and a special subsection catered towards visitors to London for the 2012 games. They’ve also created (in collaboration with the Environmental Health group at King’s College) free location-aware smartphone apps for Android and iOS that are impressive, easy to use, and comprehensive.

Click here to see a map of PM10 concentrations around London and visit their site for more information.

The AP story has been picked up by the Washington Post.

The Yellow River

Zhang Kechun is a 32 year old Chinese photographer born in Sichuan, China. He’s created a large-format collection of photographs called “The Yellow River Surging Northward Rumblingly.” The images — with their muted tones — showcase a stunning, vast landscape mottled with people. The large intrusions and scars on the scenery — smoke stacks, superhighways, cooling towers — appear unnatural, huge, imposing. Large compared to the scale of the people in his photos, but small in comparison to the enormity of the surroundings. Really impressive work.

It is a river, with its unity of bend and straight, fullness and imperfection, rapid and slow, active or tranquil, majestic and elegant, simple and wonderful, bright and dark, light and color, form and spirit, visionary and real… It embraces people’s reality and fate, joy and sorrow, firmness and leisure.

I determined to follow its pace, with all my courage and my… large format camera.

See the whole set here.

Dave Pell's NextDraft: Meet Me in the City

Dave Pell, in his excellent NextDraft newsletter, points to a couple of quick and entertaining links about cities.

First, from NPR, a fun way to figure out if you live in a city.

Second, from The Atlantic Cities, a short but entertaining look at cities that may or may not have been without air conditioning. Pretty scary stuff, when we think about the rapid increase in AC use in the developing world and the concomitant strain on power supplies and use of harmful, climate forcing chemicals.

China's Air Quality Dilemma

Fascinating commentary in JAMA (related primarily to this article). The article and the commentary focus on the extraordinary pollution mitigation and control strategies undertaken by the Chinese government in the lead-up to the 2008 Olympics.

To ensure acceptable air quality during the Olympics (held from August 8-24) and the Paralympics (held from September 6-16), the Chinese government launched a series of aggressive measures to reduce pollutant emissions. To reduce industrial emissions, the operations of combustion facilities were restricted in smelters, cement plants, power plants, nonattainment boilers, and construction and petro-chemical industries. To reduce traffic emissions, certain vehicles and trucks were banned, 70% of government-owned vehicles were kept off the streets, and other vehicles could travel through the city only on alternating days.

The pollutant reductions are striking and substantial — reductions in mean concentrations of sulfur dioxide (-60%), carbon monoxide (-48%), nitrogen dioxide (-43%), elemental carbon (-36%), fine particulate matter (PM2.5, -27%), ozone (-22%), and sulfate (-13%), were reported. (Of note, even during the cleanest days in Beijing, mean concentrations exceeded the worst days in LA).

The study by Rich et al in JAMA (linked above) presents compelling evidence of changes in biomarkers due to the decreased pollution that point towards the vast potential for improved health with air quality regulation. The nitty-gritty scientific details are interesting, but more salient, I believe, are the policy ramifications. The reductions in ambient air pollution under the pressure of the IOC and widespread, international attention prove that change is possible, though at a potentially steep economic cost.

China’s dilemma, like many countries with emerging industries, is how to reconcile rapid economic growth with environmental protection. In recent decades, China has achieved industrialization and urbanization. However, China has been much less successful in maintaining the quality of urban air. Several factors challenge the implementation of air pollution controls in China: heavy reliance on coal as a main heating system, especially in subsidized housing; lack of political incentives for trading slower growth for less pollution; economic factors: most Chinese factories and power plants run on extremely thin margins and fines for polluting are generally lower than the cost of controlling emissions; and economic transformation of the landscape, from ubiquitous construction sites to the rapid expansion of the nation’s vehicle fleet. If air pollution in China and other Asian nations cannot be controlled, it could spread to other continents. A recent study by Lin et al provides compelling evidence that Asian emissions may account for as much as 20% of ground-level pollution in the United States. Clean air is a shared global resource. It is in the common interest to maintain air quality for the promotion of global health.

Burn: An Energy Journal

It is the fundamental issue of our time: Energy; where we get it; how we use it; what happens then. It powers our homes and our economy; it creates troubled alliances and disturbing divisions; it empowers and impoverishes; it enables almost all that we do and now threatens all that we have become.

The Peabody-award winning SoundVision Productions presents BURN: An Energy Journal, a broadcast and digital project hosted by one of public radio's most trusted journalists and master storytellers, Alex Chadwick. Alex will explore our energy future through the intimate stories of visionaries of research, maverick inventors, industry insiders and concerned citizens. These personal stories will help explain how and why we face an energy crisis, the dilemma of the continuing demand for energy, the realities and consequences of a mostly carbon-based industry and infrastructure, and some possible alternatives and personal/global solutions to an energy and climate future in the coming decades. BURN will follow the quest for Energy answers and the stirring public initiative required to transition to this new energy world.

I'm listening to the first episode now about the Fukushima Daiichi disaster and what it means for nuclear power in the future. Really well put together and reported. And timely. Highly recommended. Listen here.

Interactive, motion-filled US Windmap

A pretty stunning visualization of wind direction and speed over the continental US. Data is pulled from the National Digital Forecast Database every hour, so the visualization is almost in real-time. And, impressively, they're using HTML5 to draw the map and wind animation.

Beautiful + impressive.

Bloomberg Tech Blog: "Now Can We Start Talking About the Real Foxconn?"

Tim Culpan, on 20 March :

There are also things happening at Foxconn that just aren't sexy to talk about: the cheap accommodation and subsidized food for workers, the Foxconn-run health centers right on campus, the salary that's well above the government minimum and other companies, the continuous stream of young workers who still want to work there.

The problem with Mike Daisey's lies is that they've painted a picture of the Evil Empire, a place devoid of any happiness or humanity. A dark, Dickensian scene of horror and tears. They also make anyone who tries to tell a fuller, more balanced account look like an Apple or Foxconn apologist because your mind is already full of the "knowledge" of how bad it is there.

To the public, a story about a 19-year-old shrugging her shoulders and claiming work is not so bad just can't stand up against a 12-year-old working the iPad factory lines. The naïve and youthful smile of a kid having found his first girlfriend at a Foxconn work party pales in comparison to a crippled old man holding an iPad for the first time. Compared to the lies, the truth just doesn't make good theater.

And again, on 23 March:

If one of the most ardent and well-versed groups in the whole labor debate struggles to put a finger on exactly what the standards are for good employment practices, then there's little hope that the rest of the industry's stakeholders can reach a conclusion, let alone actually achieve it.

Some things are clear. Worker deaths are bad. Underage labor, with such ages clearly defined, is also bad. A safe, clean, healthy work environment is good. Social welfare such as health-care and pensions, also good. Student internships are a grey area while that ultimate desire of all workers - a decent living wage - hasn't exactly been solved in the West. So far neither local laws nor industry self-regulation have succeeded in turning these principles into rules the industry will comply with. Meanwhile, neither camp has done anything to compare conditions at Apple suppliers with the rest of the industry, the country, or the rest of the world.

His second set of points hit the nail on the head. We know what's good and bad -- but we don't know how to contextualize what we know about Apple and Foxconn in the larger global picture. More importantly, we're not clear how to move forward. So, yes, we can all acknowledge there's a problem and something needs to be done. But until there are clear standards and actionable, realistic, mutually agreed upon steps forward, the caustic, circuitous discourse will continue.

Mike Daisey: "It's not journalism. It's theater."

Ira Glass, showing again why he's among the best journalists in America today:

I have difficult news. We've learned that Mike Daisey's story about Apple in China - which we broadcast in January - contained significant fabrications. We're retracting the story because we can't vouch for its truth. This is not a story we commissioned. It was an excerpt of Mike Daisey's acclaimed one-man show "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," in which he talks about visiting a factory in China that makes iPhones and other Apple products.

The China correspondent for the public radio show Marketplace tracked down the interpreter that Daisey hired when he visited Shenzhen China. The interpreter disputed much of what Daisey has been saying on stage and on our show. On this week's episode of This American Life, we will devote the entire hour to detailing the errors in "Mr. Daisey Goes to the Apple Factory."

Daisey lied to me and to This American Life producer Brian Reed during the fact checking we did on the story, before it was broadcast. That doesn't excuse the fact that we never should've put this on the air. In the end, this was our mistake.

We're horrified to have let something like this onto public radio. Many dedicated reporters and editors - our friends and colleagues - have worked for years to build the reputation for accuracy and integrity that the journalism on public radio enjoys. It's trusted by so many people for good reason. Our program adheres to the same journalistic standards as the other national shows, and in this case, we did not live up to those standards.

Friends and loved ones encouraged me to see Daisey's show and listen closely. They pointed to my like of Apple products. I read about it, thought about it, and tried to balance it with the picture of conditions that Apple (and now others) puts out about their industrial hygiene and environmental practices. It didn't all fit, but I made room for it.

Today, then, the shocker -- This American Life is retracting the previous show and dedicating an hour to setting the record straight. Who does this in this day and age? Who makes a public pronouncement of their own fallibility and goes out of their way to correct it in an ethical way that respects their audience?

I'd argue very few do this. Corrections are relegated to the dusty interior pages of print papers and magazines and hidden from online viewers, for the most part, in the nether regions of websites. NPR may be the exception (as a slight aside, their ethics portal clearly and nicely lays out their stance on a number of things, including retractions, social media, and the like).

Looking forward to hearing the show and continuing to support This American Life's breed of ethical, conscientious, and respectful journalism.

One amendment: I doubt working conditions are perfect in Apple's contractor's factories in China and elsewhere. We know that efforts are being taken to improve them. We know that Apple is beginning to be more transparent about what goes on and is working with independent auditors to get some more precise data about working conditions. And we know they have a long way to go to true transparency.

Industrial hygiene and environmental audits of this type are difficult -- they're heavily biased because they are scheduled visits, often with predetermined and specific objectives. What Daisey's conflation of theatre and journalism does, though, is undermine legitimate reports of working conditions. Exaggeration for theatre may be fine, but the maniacal press tour -- with his descriptions of specific chemical exposures, guards with guns, underage workers, etc passed off as fact -- doesn't work. No one will argue that conditions should improve - but for them to improve, we need a true understanding of baseline conditions, actionable interventions to make the situation healthier, and regular reporting to understand how the situation is changing.

Pop Song Carbon Footprints

A little silly, but fun. My favorite is below.

"Light My Fire" by the Doors

The time to hesitate is through. No time to wallow in the mire. Try now we can only lose, And our love become a funeral pyre, Come on, baby, light my fire

Carbon Footprint: A traditional open-air funeral pyre burns for around six hours, using approximately 385 lbs. of wood. A single funeral pyre produces 362.25 lbs. of CO2, though in India four million tons of wood are used annually for traditional cremations.

Guardian Blog: Once the smoke clears: how clean cookstoves can transform lives

Julia Roberts, writing in the Guardian:

Alarmingly, nearly 3 billion people still rely on solid fuels to cook their food each day. When burned in open fires and inefficient cookstoves, fuels such as wood, coal, charcoal and animal waste create a toxic smoke that fills homes and communities the world over.

Two million people die annually from pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer and heart disease caused by cookstove smoke, and millions more suffer from these ailments for years, as well as from injuries such as cataracts and burns.

Women are predominantly the household cooks in most countries, and with their children swaddled to their backs or at their side as they cook, the entire family becomes victim to this silent killer.

Before they can even begin cooking, however, women will likely have spent hours searching for wood and other fuel sources. Children often accompany their mother on this journey, which keeps them from attending school or earning an income.

Such a nurturing act as cooking should not put lives at risk. There are effective solutions, which can save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women and combat climate change.

Resilience.

TOKYO (AP) -- Last Sunday was the six-month anniversary of the day the massive earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan's northeast coast.

Some 20,000 people are dead or missing. More than 800,000 homes were completely or partially destroyed. The disaster crippled businesses, roads and infrastructure. The Japanese Red Cross Society estimates that 400,000 people were displaced.

Half a year later, there are physical signs of progress.

Much of the debris has been cleared away or at least organized into big piles. In the port city of Kesennuma, many of the boats carried inland by the tsunami have been removed. Most evacuees have moved out of high school gyms and into temporary shelters or apartments.

Last week the Kyodo News agency distributed an amazing group of combination photographs showing three scenes. The first scene is right after the earthquake and tsunami hit, then three months later and finally, how the scene looks now.