May 15 2018

May 15 2018

mosquito-borne diseases, offshore wind, an Antarctic expedition, the “hockey stick graph” turns 20

The New York Times reports that according to the Centers for Disease Control the number of people getting diseases transmitted by mosquito, tick and flea bites has more than tripled in the United States in recent years. New tick-borne diseases like Heartland virus are showing up in the continental United States, while cases of Lyme disease and other established infections are becoming more frequent. Warmer weather is an important cause of the surge, although there are many other factors at play including more frequent jet travel, lack of vaccines and poor support for local health agencies. The CDC study conspicuously avoids mentioning climate change, despite health experts calling climate change a “threat multiplier” for public health.

Reuters reports that a recent study concludes yellow fever is on the rise due to climate change, mobility, urbanization and vaccine shortages. The study notes that Miami is at risk for an outbreak, because the disease vectors can thrive there and the US has no program to require proof of vaccination for visitors from zones where the disease is endemic. Grist reports on the spread of tick-borne diseases in the Eastern US as these parasites spread north.

Joe Romm at Climate Progress discusses the importance of talking about climate change. He notes that recent advances in LGBT rights occurred after members of that community made a concerted effort to break the “spiral of silence” around the issues (so share In Brief: Climate News with your friends!). On Vox a broadcast meteorologist reviews his decision to begin discussing climate change with his audience, and how public attitudes on the topic are shifting even in conservative areas of the country.

The American Lung Association reports in their recent State of the Air report that the number of days with unsafe levels of ozone pollution increased significantly in 2014 – 2016, when air temperatures were at all-time highs. This outcome is a predicted impact of global warming as the photochemical reactions that produce ozone at the surface of the planet are temperature dependent.

The Washington Post reports on one of the largest Antarctic scientific expeditions in decades to study the Thwaites Glacier. The Thwaites is losing ice rapidly, currently driving four percent of global sea-level rise. Due to the structure of the glacier and the local sea floor, this single glacier has the potential to increase global sea level rise significantly in this century.

I highly recommend Jeff Tollefson’s excellent overview in Nature of humanity’s decarbonization challenge and our progress in meeting this vital goal. Grist reports that carbon dioxide concentrations have now reached 410 ppm, which underscores Tollefson’s analysis that we are not decarbonizing fast enough. The accumulation of heat energy in the arctic is driving major changes in the marine ecosystem, as documented in an excellent article at Yale Environment360.

The Raleigh News-Observer describes the growing problem of “sunny day” flooding on the east coast. Charleston saw 50 days of tidal flooding in 2016, compared to just four days 50 years ago. Meanwhile, Fortune Magazine summarizes recent research documenting a decline in real estate values for properties exposed to sea level rise (Bloomberg reports as well).

When Michael Mann was a post-doc at the University of Massachusetts he published an article in Nature that concluded the world was warming at a rate not seen in the last millennium, and the rise was correlated with the burning of fossil fuels. The key figure in this paper has become known as the “hockey stick,” and its publication changed Mike’s life in astonishing ways. I encourage you to read his article in Scientific American (or his book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars), to understand what life has been like for some climate scientists over the last few decades. All of us concerned about this issue owe Mike a debt.

While interest rates continue to rise, Bloomberg reports that large solar developers are receiving better rates as some banks try to win deals due to investor confidence in solar. The New York Times has an article (with great photos and video) about the new generation of large wind turbines. The American Prospect has an excellent article by Derrick Jackson about the rise of the US offshore wind industry in northern Europe and on the Atlantic Coast.

High Country News reports that a group of high school students in Utah have successfully altered the Legislature’s position about climate change. In 2010 the Legislature passed a resolution stating that the EPA endangerment finding should be revoked “until climate data and global warming science are substantiated.” This has now been rejected in favor of a new resolution drafted and adopted through the work of a diverse coalition built by these students, including industry, the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, ski areas and local government officials. Seventy-five percent of the Republican legislators eventually supported the resolution, which notes “the Department of Health has issued a report outlining the increased risk of extreme weather events, including wildfires, water scarcity, and flooding.” This is a very hopeful sign that the younger generation is realizing the need to stand up strongly for their own future.