As part of national compliance with Environmental Protection Agency standards, Fort Wayne began a supplementary water disinfection project almost two years ago. Now complete, the project will have an open house this week. Click here for more info.
If your home had been devastated by a disaster, would you stay? Why do people choose to remain in potentially life-threatening places? These are just a few of the complex questions that photojournalist Michael Forster Rothbart and filmmaker Holly Morris explore in their respective work, documenting the lives of people living in Chernobyl and Fukushima. Of course, in order to do their work, Morris and Forster Rothbart had to live in contaminated zones themselves.
[ted_talkteaser id=1857]In today’s talk, Holly Morris describes a group of elderly women living illegally in Chernobyl’s “dead zone,” who she followed for the documentary film The Babushkas of Chernobyl. For more than 25 years, these “babushkas” have survived on some of the most contaminated land on earth, refusing to be evacuated from their homes. And in the brand new TED Book, Would You Stay?, Michael Forster Rothbart captures the unique lives of groups…
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Friday 4 October 2013 05.43 EDT
Chen pointed with a shaky hand at the small plot of cabbage, scallions and corn where his friend Yu Yihong was stung to death by giant hornets.
“When he got to the hospital, there were still two hornets in his trousers,” says Chen, a local farmer who, like many villagers, declined to give his full name to a foreign journalist. “The hornets’ poison was too strong – his liver and kidneys failed, and he couldn’t urinate.”
Yu, a square-jawed 40-year-old farmer in perfect health, had been harvesting his crops when he stepped on a nest of vespa mandarinia hornets concealed beneath a pile of dry corn husks. The hornets swarmed Yu, stinging him through his long-sleeve shirt and trousers. He ran, but the hornets chased him, stinging his arms and legs, his head and neck.
After Yu succumbed to his wounds and about 50 of his friends and relatives gathered to mourn his passing. Outside the farmer’s mountainside home in Yuanba village, they ate preserved eggs, buckwheat noodles and boiled peanuts in silence; one set off a string of fireworks. Yu’s wife and two children sat inside weeping.
Vespa mandarinia is the world’s largest hornet, around the size of a human adult’s thumb, yellow and black in colour and highly venomous. Their 6mm-long stingers carry a venom potent enough to dissolve human tissue. Victims may die of kidney failure or anaphylactic shock.
Yu’s story is a tragic but increasingly common one in north-west China‘s Shaanxi province where, over the past three months alone, hornets have killed 41 people and injured a further 1,675. Ankang, a municipality in the province’s south, appears to be the epicentre of the scourge. While hornets infest its mountainous rural areas every year – 36 residents were stung to death between 2002 and 2005 – locals and municipal officials say this year is tantamount to an epidemic, the worst they have ever seen.
At least some of the deaths were caused by vespa mandarinia, experts say. The species does not typically attack unless it feels its nest is threatened. But when it does, it can be fierce and fast – the hornets can fly at 25 miles per hour and cover 50 miles in a day. They nest in tree stumps or underground, making nests extremely difficult to detect.
Both locals and experts blame this year’s scourge on climate change; the past year has been unusually warm, allowing a high number of hornets to survive the winter. Huang Ronghui, an official at the Ankang Forestry Bureau’s pest control department, lists a host of other possibilities: the hornets may have been agitated by a dry spell, while labourers have been moving deeper and deeper into the mountains, disturbing their nests. “Other than this, hornets are attracted to bright colours and the smell of peoples’ sweat, alcohol and sweet things,” he told state media. “They’re sensitive to movement, such as running people or animals.”
The region has also been overrun by the Asian hornet vespa velutina, a slightly smaller species which can be equally dangerous. Hundreds, even thousands inhabit their nests, which typically hang from high places. In Chengxing village, a few miles downhill from a winding mountain road from Yu’s hometown, 16-year-old Tan Xingjian points at a tree in the distance. Hanging from one thick branch was a pale, basketball-sized bulb, its surface alive with darting black specks. “That’s where they live,” Tan says. “We don’t dare to go near there.”
Ankang is on alert, with the local authorities posting warning notices online, on roadside tree trunks and on primary school walls. The crisis has exhausted Gong Zhenghong, the spiky-haired mayor of Hongshan township in rural Ankang. Since September, Gong has spent nearly every night wandering the township exterminating nests with four other cadres. He says there are 248 hornet nests in Hongshan with 175 are close to schools and roads.
Gong and his team survey nests by day; once the sun sets, they dress in homemade anti-hornet suits made of rain jackets and canvass, and burn the nests with spray-can flamethrowers. “They don’t fly around at night,” he says.
Sometimes, his team begins work in the late evening and doesn’t finish until 2am. “We’d normally send the fire squad to do this, but this year there were too many nests.” Gong left his office, returned with a black rubbish bag, and pulled out the charred remains of a nest, the blackened tails of bulb-like larvae protruding from its combs.
Two other cities in Shaanxi – Hanzhong and Shangluo – have also been besieged by hornets, though the death tolls have been markedly lower. In southern China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, a swarm of hornets attacked a primary school in mid-September, injuring 23 children and seven adults. The teacher, Li Zhiqiang, told pupils to hide under their desks and tried to fight the creatures off until he lost consciousness, state media reported.
The hornets seem ubiquitous in Ankang. In Liushui township, a smattering of two-storey concrete homes sandwiched between a lush hillside and a stagnant river, an elderly shopkeeper in a purple blazer says that the hornets have infested a cabbage patch near her home. “The government has been coming down and burning them, but they can’t burn them all,” she adds, pointing down into the brush. “I’m not willing to go down there.”
Mu Conghui, a 55-year-old Ankang villager, was stung 200 times while tending her rice field in late August. “These hornets are terrifying – all at once they flew to my head, and when I stopped, they stung me so much that I couldn’t budge,” she told state media. “My legs were crawling with hornets. Right now my legs are covered with small sting holes – over the past two months I’ve received 13 dialysis treatments.”
The Ankang government says it has removed 710 hives and sent 7m yuan (£707,000) to help affected areas. “We’re doing everything we can, but there’s only so much we can do,” says Deng Xianghong, the deputy head of the Ankang propaganda department. “God has been unfair to us.”
- China: Hornets kill 41, injure 1,500 (edition.cnn.com)
By MATT RIDLEY
Later this month, a long-awaited event that last happened in 2007 will recur. Like a returning comet, it will be taken to portend ominous happenings. I refer to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) “fifth assessment report,” part of which will be published on Sept. 27.
There have already been leaks from this 31-page document, which summarizes 1,914 pages of scientific discussion, but thanks to a senior climate scientist, I have had a glimpse of the key prediction at the heart of the document. The big news is that, for the first time since these reports started coming out in 1990, the new one dials back the alarm. It states that the temperature rise we can expect as a result of man-made emissions of carbon dioxide is lower than the IPPC thought in 2007.
Admittedly, the change is small, and because of changing definitions, it is not easy to compare the two reports, but retreat it is. It is significant because it points to the very real possibility that, over the next several generations, the overall effect of climate change will be positive for humankind and the planet.
Specifically, the draft report says that “equilibrium climate sensitivity” (ECS)—eventual warming induced by a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which takes hundreds of years to occur—is “extremely likely” to be above 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit), “likely” to be above 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.4 degrees Fahrenheit) and “very likely” to be below 6 degrees Celsius (10.8 Fahrenheit). In 2007, the IPPC said it was “likely” to be above 2 degrees Celsius and “very likely” to be above 1.5 degrees, with no upper limit. Since “extremely” and “very” have specific and different statistical meanings here, comparison is difficult.
Still, the downward movement since 2007 is clear, especially at the bottom of the “likely” range. The most probable value (3 degrees Celsius last time) is for some reason not stated this time.
A more immediately relevant measure of likely warming has also come down: “transient climate response” (TCR)—the actual temperature change expected from a doubling of carbon dioxide about 70 years from now, without the delayed effects that come in the next century. The new report will say that this change is “likely” to be 1 to 2.5 degrees Celsius and “extremely unlikely” to be greater than 3 degrees. This again is lower than when last estimated in 2007 (“very likely” warming of 1 to 3 degrees Celsius, based on models, or 1 to 3.5 degrees, based on observational studies).
Most experts believe that warming of less than 2 degrees Celsius from preindustrial levels will result in no net economic and ecological damage. Therefore, the new report is effectively saying (based on the middle of the range of the IPCC’s emissions scenarios) that there is a better than 50-50 chance that by 2083, the benefits of climate change will still outweigh the harm.
Warming of up to 1.2 degrees Celsius over the next 70 years (0.8 degrees have already occurred), most of which is predicted to happen in cold areas in winter and at night, would extend the range of farming further north, improve crop yields, slightly increase rainfall (especially in arid areas), enhance forest growth and cut winter deaths (which far exceed summer deaths in most places). Increased carbon dioxide levels also have caused and will continue to cause an increase in the growth rates of crops and the greening of the Earth—because plants grow faster and need less water when carbon dioxide concentrations are higher.
Up to two degrees of warming, these benefits will generally outweigh the harmful effects, such as more extreme weather or rising sea levels, which even the IPCC concedes will be only about 1 to 3 feet during this period.
Yet these latest IPCC estimates of climate sensitivity may still be too high. They don’t adequately reflect the latest rash of published papers estimating “equilibrium climate sensitivity” and “transient climate response” on the basis of observations, most of which are pointing to an even milder warming. This was already apparent last year with two papers—by scientists at the University of Illinois and Oslo University in Norway—finding a lower ECS than assumed by the models. Since then, three new papers conclude that ECS is well below the range assumed in the models. The most significant of these, published in Nature Geoscience by a team including 14 lead authors of the forthcoming IPCC scientific report, concluded that “the most likely value of equilibrium climate sensitivity based on the energy budget of the most recent decade is 2.0 degrees Celsius.”
Two recent papers (one in the Journal of the American Meteorological Society, the other in the journal Earth System Dynamics) estimate that TCR is probably around 1.65 degrees Celsius. That’s uncannily close to the estimate of 1.67 degrees reached in 1938 by Guy Callendar, a British engineer and pioneer student of the greenhouse effect. A Canadian mathematician and blogger named Steve McIntyre has pointed out that Callendar’s model does a better job of forecasting the temperature of the world between 1938 and now than do modern models that “hindcast” the same data.
The significance of this is that Callendar assumed that carbon dioxide acts alone, whereas the modern models all assume that its effect is amplified by water vapor. There is not much doubt about the amount of warming that carbon dioxide can cause. There is much more doubt about whether net amplification by water vapor happens in practice or is offset by precipitation and a cooling effect of clouds.
Since the last IPCC report in 2007, much has changed. It is now more than 15 years since global average temperature rose significantly. Indeed, the IPCC chairman Rajendra Pachauri has conceded that the “pause” already may have lasted for 17 years, depending on which data set you look at. A recent study in Nature Climate Change by Francis Zwiers and colleagues of the University of Victoria, British Columbia, found that models have overestimated warming by 100% over the past 20 years.
Explaining this failure is now a cottage industry in climate science. At first, it was hoped that an underestimate of sulfate pollution from industry (which can cool the air by reflecting heat back into space) might explain the pause, but the science has gone the other way—reducing its estimate of sulfate cooling. Now a favorite explanation is that the heat is hiding in the deep ocean. Yet the data to support this thesis come from ocean buoys and deal in hundredths of a degree of temperature change, with a measurement error far larger than that. Moreover, ocean heat uptake has been slowing over the past eight years.
The most plausible explanation of the pause is simply that climate sensitivity was overestimated in the models because of faulty assumptions about net amplification through water-vapor feedback. This will be a topic of heated debate at the political session to rewrite the report in Stockholm, starting on Sept. 23, at which issues other than the actual science of climate change will be at stake.
—Mr. Ridley is the author of “The Rational Optimist” and a member of the British House of Lords.
This article from August 4th, 2013, by Chicago Tribune reporter, Abby Olena, recounts the research on trash in the Chicago River and its potential impact on microbial communities that exist in the slimy “biofilms” that cover objects in the water. These little-studied ecosystems are part of the river’s larger ecological processes of oxygen production and consumption, nutrient cycling, etc.
Like a doctor with a complicated patient, aquatic ecologist Timothy Hoellein is determined to assess the health of the Chicago River by focusing on one of its major problems: garbage.
Hoellein is spearheading an effort to examine trash in the river more carefully than anyone has before. Two years ago, he and his students collected, measured and cataloged all the garbage they could find along some stretches of the North Branch.
But that was just a starting point. An assistant professor of biology at Loyola University Chicago, Hoellein ultimately wants…
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Lower average temperatures and increased rainfall compared to last summer have resulted in reduced water clarity in many local lakes. In addition to other factors, rains wash sediment into aquatic systems, clouding the water. This reduces the amount of sunlight available to aquatic plants and makes it more difficult for some fish to see while feeding. See the whole story from Indiana DNR:
The non-elected officials at Obama’s EPA are again trying to mandate the use of E15 gasoline. This means that instead of 10% ethanol they will now start selling gasoline that will contain 15% ethanol. While this sounds green we feel the reality is there are many bad issues in doing this and no good ones. We also strongly suspicion the outcome the EPA really wants is nefarious and is entirely different from what they appear to claim.
The EPA’s goals appear on the surface to merely be a) reduce pollution and b) reduce dependence on oil via using more ethanol. As ethanol is made from crops such as corn, they consider it a renewable (aka green) resource. They claim that E15 is safe in cars manufactured after 2001 and that it’s the most tested fuel…ever. On the face of it, this sounds just terrific. A green win-win situation if there ever…
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