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Unnecessary travel? The return of breathable air and rethinking transport in a crisis

Unnecessary travel? The return of breathable air and rethinking transport in a crisis

Bowing, perhaps to inevitability, the group of scientists responsible for assessing ways to cut the pollution that causes global heating, working group three of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, announced in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, that for the first time it will hold one of its major meetings ‘virtually’, avoiding the need for polluting travel. Over 270 experts from 65 countries would instead gather online. At a stroke they had been compelled to find a way that would set an example by cutting their own emissions. In doing so they revealed that this had, in fact, been an option all along as the technology to do so already existed.

One of the first things people in cities noticed as the coronavirus lockdowns started to be implemented and travel quickly reduced was the change in pollution levels. The sky was clear and contrail-free, and the air was cleaner. In some Indian cities, where air pollution is among the world’s worst and a major cause of death and disease, “people are reporting seeing the Himalayas for the first time from where they live,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

India’s hastily imposed shutdowns have been devastating, leaving hundreds of thousands of migrant workers without homes or jobs. But in Delhi, where air is normally choking, levels of both PM2.5 (small particulates) and the harmful gas nitrogen dioxide fell more than 70 percent. In China, the drops in pollution resulting from coronavirus shutdowns likely saved between 53,000 and 77,000 lives—many times more than the direct toll of the virus—according to calculations done by Marshall Burke, an Earth system scientist at Stanford University. Air pollution accounts for more than 1.2 million annual deaths in China.

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Crime of the 21st Century

Crime of the 21st Century

Perpetrators of Apocalypse, or, The Seven Circles of Hell

Gustave Doré

Time to have a talk / it will not be fun / buckle up. Feel free to skip to the end at any point for pleasant pictures of adorable animals.

You and I are witnessing the twenty-first century’s great crime: a global holocaust whose first victims have already perished. And I mean holocaust, from Greek holókaustos, translated as “whole” and “burnt” – the whole enormity of life daily sacrificed to flames. That is not hyperbole. Driving this crime is the collapse of the world’s stable climatic and atmospheric systems. Fossil energy economies are doing this. They transform the world into a deathly, suffocating hothouse sabotaging the climate and atmosphere. That’s what they do.

Carbon energy kills 3.5 to 6 million people per year through air pollution alone. Beyond that, this crime is also killing people via extreme hurricanes, wildfires, floods, droughts, and heat waves, expanding the range of deadly diseases like malaria and Lyme, famines, and conflicts like the Syrian civil war. There is good reason to believe these disasters will destabilizegeopolitical relationships and lead to world war. Every one of these types of disasters will continue to intensify—that is inevitable at this point.

What is not inevitable is degree of intensity. Quantity of death can still be curtailed; we can prevent billions of deaths, even forestall human extinction. But the tragic fact is that some immense minimum of murder is certain. The body count will exceed those of any crimes that have come before. Monarchs and dictators designed the twentieth century’s vast death; this new crime is perpetrated by a global oligarchy – a hereditary aristocracy – a network of governments ruled by a super-wealthy elite. The most culpable among this elite are members of the oil, gas, and coal industries.

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Devil’s Bargain

We already have planet-cooling technology. The problem is, it’s killing us.

A trope of sci-fi movies these days, from Snowpiercer to Geostorm, is that our failure to tackle climate change will eventually force us to deploy an arsenal of unproven technologies to save the planet. Think sun-deflecting space mirrors or chemically altered clouds. And because these are sci-fi movies, it’s assumed that these grand experiments in geoengineering will go horribly wrong.

The fiction, new evidence suggests, may be much closer to reality than we thought.

When most people hear “climate change,” they think of greenhouse gases overheating the planet. But there’s another product of industry changing the climate that has received scant public attention: aerosols. They’re microscopic particles of pollution that, on balance, reflect sunlight back to space and help cool the planet down, providing a crucial counterweight to greenhouse-powered global warming.

An effort to co-opt this natural cooling ability of aerosols has long been considered a potential last-ditch, desperate shot at slowing down global warming. The promise of planet-cooling technology has also been touted by techno-optimists, Silicon Valley types and politicians who aren’t keen on the government doing anything to curb emissions. “Geoengineering holds forth the promise of addressing global warming concerns for just a few billion dollars a year,” wrote Newt Gingrich in an attack on proposed cap-and-trade legislation back in 2008.

But there’s a catch. Our surplus of aerosols is a huge problem for those of us who like to breathe air. At high concentrations, these tiny particles are one of the deadliest substances in existence, burrowing deep into our bodies where they can damage hearts and lungs.

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How Has the US Fracking Boom Affected Air Pollution in Shale Areas?

How Has the US Fracking Boom Affected Air Pollution in Shale Areas?

Trucks in front of a flare at a fracking site

Urban air pollution in the U.S. has been decreasing near continuously since the 1970s.

Federal regulations, notably the Clean Air Act passed by President Nixon, to reduce toxic air pollutants such as benzene, a hydrocarbon, and ozone, a strong oxidant, effectively lowered their abundance in ambient air with steady progress.

But about 10 years ago, the picture on air pollutants in the U.S. started to change. The “fracking boom” in several different parts of the nation led to a new source of hydrocarbons to the atmosphere, affecting abundances of both toxic benzene and ozone, including in areas that were not previously affected much by such air pollution.

As a result, in recent years there has been a spike of research to determine what the extent of emissions are from fracked oil and gas wells — called “unconventional” sources in the industry. While much discussion has surrounded methane emissions, a greenhouse gas, less attention has been paid to air toxics.

Upstream Emissions

Fracking is a term that can stir strong emotions among its opponents and proponents. It is actually a combination of techniques, including hydraulic fracturing, that has allowed drillers to draw hydrocarbons from rock formations which were once not profitable to tap.

Drillers shatter layers of shale rock with high-pressure water, sand and chemicals to start the flow of hydrocarbons from a well. The hydraulic fracturing process itself, aside from its large demand for water, is possibly the least environmentally impactful step along the complete operational chain of drilling for hydrocarbons. Arguably, the more relevant environmental effects are wastewater handling and disposal, as well as the release of vapors from oil and gas storage and distribution.

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Aston Martin CEO: UK Fossil Fuel Ban “Meaningless”

Aston Martin CEO: UK Fossil Fuel Ban “Meaningless”

EV

British performance carmaker Aston Martin’s chief sees his country taking a very unrealistic approach to dealing with air pollution.

The UK government’s July announcement that it will be banning the sale of petrol- and diesel-powered vehicles by 2040 is “meaningless” to Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer.

Government officials are certainly not automotive engineers and are missing the mark, he said.

“Policy makers should not try to be engineers,” Palmer said. His conclusion was that the July announcement banning fossil fuel vehicles by 2040 was “just spin” and doesn’t stand a chance of being achieved.

China is now becoming one of four countries joining the UK in stopping fossil-fuel powered vehicles on its roads, along with France and Norway. Xin Guobin, the country’s vice minister of industry and information technology, announced in a speech earlier this month that regulators are working on a timeline for phasing out the sales and production of the gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles.

Other countries central to the global auto market are considering heading toward an eventual phase-out of petroleum-powered cars through government incentives and mandates. It’s a big job – with about 695,000 of 84 million new vehicles sold last year being electric; and with about a billon gasoline and diesel vehicles out on roads across the world now.

These regulators are getting their wires crossed with national mandates, Palmer said.

“In my view as an engineer, it’s better to prescribe the emission, and then let the engineers figure out what the right technology is,” he said.

Palmer thinks the technology is already there with fuel efficient gasoline engine vehicles. He made reference to Formula 1 racers in development that can already double their previous fuel economy.

Hybrid vehicles can confuse the issue.

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This Is The Chinese Documentary That Got Over 30 Million Views In One Day

This Is The Chinese Documentary That Got Over 30 Million Views In One Day

While the citizenry of America remains transfixed by the ever-changing color of some Scottish wedding dress; this weekend saw an even more massively viral social media phenomenon as tens of millions of Chinese watched, gripped and outraged, a 104-minute video entitled “Under The Dome” exposing the ugly truth about Chinese air pollution. What is perhaps most stunning – aside from the fact that something so ‘important’ can go viral without Kim Kardashian’s ass all over it – is that the Chinese government, so far, has not shut off the documentary, and recently appointed minister of environmental protection, Chen Jining, even praised the video; suggesting a growing conflict between Beijing and the Chinese industrial complex.

As The NY Times reports, the documentary, funded and narrated by a former Chinese TV reporter,  recounts her journey of discovery, hunting for the sources of China’s bad air and inquiring why repeated government promises have done so little to clear it up, while coping with a daughter born with a tumor…

[In 2013], she did not pay much attention to the smog engulfing much of China and affecting 600 million people, even as she traveled for work from place to place where the air was acrid with fumes and dust.

“But,” Ms. Chai says with a pause, “when I returned to Beijing, I learned that I was pregnant.”

Since its online debut on Saturday, Ms. Chai’s documentary, “Under the Dome,” has inspired an unusually passionate eruption of public and mass media discussion.  Many messages were from Chinese parents identifying with Ms. Chai’s fears that pollution has imperiled their children’s health.

 

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Inside Beijing’s airpocalypse – a city made ‘almost uninhabitable’ by pollution | Cities | The Guardian

Inside Beijing’s airpocalypse – a city made ‘almost uninhabitable’ by pollution | Cities | The Guardian.

The scene could be straight from a science-fiction film: a vision of everyday life, but with one jarring difference that makes you realise you’re on another planet, or in a distant future era.

A sports class is in full swing on the outskirts of Beijing. Herds of children charge after a football on an artificial pitch, criss-crossed with colourful markings and illuminated in high definition by the glare of bright white floodlights. It all seems normal enough – except for the fact that this familiar playground scene is taking place beneath a gigantic inflatable dome.

“It’s a bit of a change having to go through an airlock on the way to class,” says Travis Washko, director of sports at the British School of Beijing. “But the kids love it, and parents can now rest assured their children are playing in a safe environment.”

The reason for the dome becomes apparent when you step outside. A grey blanket hangs in the sky, swamping the surroundings in a de-saturated haze and almost obscuring the buildings across the street. A red flag hangs above the school’s main entrance to warn it’s a no-go day: stay indoors at all costs. The airpocalypse has arrived.

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BBC News – Air pollution ‘causing deadly public health crisis’

BBC News – Air pollution ‘causing deadly public health crisis’.

New schools, care homes and hospitals should be built far away from major roads because of the dangers of air pollution, a report by MPs says.

The Environmental Audit Committee argues air pollution is a “public health crisis” causing nearly as many deaths as smoking.

It also suggested a scrappage scheme for diesel cars to cut emissions.

The government said it was “investing heavily” in clean air, but campaigners said it was ignoring the issue.

There are an estimated 29,000 deaths annually in the UK from air pollution.

Nitrogen dioxide is known to cause inflammation of the airways, reduce lung function and exacerbate asthma.

Particulate matter – tiny invisible specks of mineral dust, carbon and other chemicals – are linked to heart and lung diseases as well as cancer.

Some particulate matter lodges in the lungs, while the finest particles can enter the bloodstream, risking damage elsewhere in the body.

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