by Cameron Scott, May 10, 2011

ImageThe tsunami that has thrown Japan into a nuclear disaster is a powerful reminder that when weather events exceed our predictions, our most basic infrastructure can suffer the consequences.

“Our hospitals, homes, and economy depend on an energy infrastructure that will be increasingly disrupted by extreme weather events related to climate change,” said Amanda Staudt, Ph.D., NWF climate scientist and author of the report "More Extreme Weather and the U.S. Energy Infrastructure."

But there’s some very good news: The steps necessary to make our energy supply kinder to the planet are the same steps that will protect it from the worst the weather can deliver. 

“The nation must transition to more efficient, low-carbon, energy sources and a less vulnerable infrastructure,” says Michael Breen, vice president of the Truman National Security Project. The Center for Naval Analyses Military Advisory Board concluded in 2009 that, “fossil fuels, as well as the nation’s fragile electricity grid, pose significant security threats to the country as a whole and the military in particular.”

It’s the oldest and dirtiest aspects of our energy supply that are most threatened, according to the NWF study. Increasingly powerful hurricanes jeopardize the oil and gas infrastructure in the Gulf. Flooding will disrupt coal transport in the Midwest and Northeast. Conventional electricity generation in the Southwest will be hampered by water shortages and more extreme heat, but solar power will thrive.

Boosting use of distributed generation will minimize the effect of blackouts caused by storms. At present, almost 90 percent of electricity in the United States is generated in thermoelectric power plants that require water for cooling. With droughts expected to increase in frequency and intensity, we will have to move to other means of power production. Appropriately-sited offshore wind and distributed photovoltaic solar systems are depend less on water resources and are more resilient; they also contribute far less to air and carbon pollution. Of course, increasing our energy efficiency remains the cheapest, most effective way to, ahem, insulate ourselves from pollution and extreme weather.

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by Cameron Scott, May 04, 2011

ImageA study conducted by Kaiser Permanente and published in a May special issue of Health Affairs devoted to environmental issues, estimates that use of electronic health records, if universally adopted in the United States, could reduce carbon emissions by 1.7 million tons.

Kaiser's HMO serves 8.7 million people and runs the world’s largest private electronic health record (it's called Kaiser Permanente HealthConnect: no relation). Kaiser found that its electronic system saved 1,044 tons of paper, reduced the use of toxic chemicals including silver nitrate hydroquinone by 33.3 tons by digitizing X-rays and other scans. Because patients can contact their doctors and fill prescriptions online, visits declined, eliminating 99,000 tons of emissions from travel.

The analysis illustrates how health care providers have a dual role to play as climate change ramps up: Not only will they have to tend to those who get sick as a result, but they can — and should — also make their own work more sustainable so they don't inadvertently exacerbate the causes of their patients' illnesses.

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by Cameron Scott, May 02, 2011

ImageLast month, extreme temperatures expert Paul English wrote in a guest blog post about a program getting under way in Ahmedabad, in the state of Gujarat in western India. The average summer maximum temperature there is 113 degrees, a daunting number that is expected to creep still further up with the changing climate. 

Public health groups in Ahmedabad are collaborating with U.S. public health officials, including English, to help one another prepare for the corresponding spike in heat-related illnesses. According to a new blog post from an NRDC participant, The Indians have a lot to teach Americans about heat, and the Americans could offer expertise in tracking weather and conducting public education programs. 

It’s fascinating to see how specific recommendations to local publics need to be to be effective. For instance, Ahmedabad officials shared with their American colleagues a flyer whose instructions included: “drink lots of fluids, especially water and lime sherbet,” “don’t fast,” and “do not directly face hot wind storms” along with “avoid roaming around in the heat” and “use a wet cloth to dab your head.” 

In New York City, by contrast, one of the main approaches to helping vulnerable populations (especially seniors) survive heat waves is encouraging them to visit “cooling centers,” air-conditioned public-access buildings.

At least one recommendation came from the workshop: People need to be warned about unusually high temperatures in advance in order to be able to plan accordingly, whether it’s scratching plans to fast for Ramadan or arranging a ride to a local senior center or public library.

Neither Ahmedabad nor most U.S. cities have such an early warning system. It’s a humbling reminder of how much still needs to be done to prepare for the effects climate change will have on people all over the world.

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by Cameron Scott, April 19, 2011

Altamont Wind FarmBecause California is so far ahead of other states in preparing for climate change, it may actually benefit economically from their failures as those states' residents go west. The Golden State economy may grow by $25.1 billion as 152,000 jobs are created by mid-century, according to an analysis conducted by the American Security Project. ("Dirty Energy" Prop 23 backers, take note!)

On the other hand, if sea levels rise by as much as some predictions estimate, protecting coastal areas around the San Francisco Bay alone would offset the economic expansion.

Then there's the water problem. If the world's other large greenhouse gas emitters — California is the 12th largest — don't follow California's lead, the Sierra snowpack could decrease by 70 to 90 percent, creating a dire water scarcity problem that would cost $121 million a year.

Additionally, the state's $30-billion agriculture industry will likely see revenues drop by 10 - 15 percent relative to predictions by 2050.
So while California benefits economically from being a climate leader and won't be hit as hard as other states and nations, unless they follow its lead, limited economic benefits won't mean much.
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by Cameron Scott, April 18, 2011

ImageSighs of relief could be heard the world over after the UN climate talks in December delivered some concrete progress where the previous year’s had failed. But this month’s round of talks in failed to build on that progress and instead became mired in the same tension between industrialized countries and developing countries that the adaptation funding mechanism established in Cancun was intended to ameliorate.

The talks, which took place in Bangkok, were expected to formalize the Cancun agreements. Instead, the Tuvalo delegate, who has emerged as the most emotional voice for action, said the talks were going around in circles.

In Bangkok, developing countries pressured their industrialized counterparts to start cash flowing through the clean energy fund they had agreed to. They also pushed for an extension of the Kyoto Protocol — which will expire in 2012 — as a cap on greenhouse gas emissions. But Kyoto applies only to industrial countries, generating friction.

The U.S.’s chief climate negotiator, Todd Stern, scoffed at the protocol, calling it “unnecessary” and not “doable.”

The Europeans pointed to the United States as the chief roadblock to progress, saying the Chinese were making more serious progress towards greener energy.

The agenda for important end-of-the-year talks in Durban, South Africa, will include a discussion of these issues.

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by Paul English, April 10, 2011
NRDC’s India Initiative is partnering with the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and the Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar (IIPH-G) on India’s first comprehensive scientific vulnerability assessment to measure risk of the negative health impacts of heat. Guest blogger Paul English traveled to India with NRDC to participate in the initial workshop that kicked off the study.

It is getting hot in Asia. Last year the temperature hit over 128 degrees F in Pakistan, a new record. Arriving in Ahmedabad to learn from and assist local experts in incorporating heat into the city’s disaster planning, I can quickly see how climate change will exacerbate underlying problems. A city of 5.5 million in the state of Gujarat, Ahmedabad is the fastest growing city in India (and the third fastest in the world). The populace here already suffers from chlolera and hepatitis, as well as infectious diseases such as malaria, dengue, and chakungunya. All are expected to get worse under increasing temperatures, unless heightened control measures can be implemented.

Ahmedabad's early summer temperatures are already getting near 100 degrees F, and a drastic increase in heat wave days is expected. Not only will increased heat lead to more heat deaths and hospitalizations, it will also have dire effects on livestock, and on agriculture--leading to an increase in malnutrition, especially among children.  Multiplying greenhouse gas emissions are driving all of this change, an issue our country continues to ignore as a global environmental and health crisis.

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The meeting in Ahmedabad, sponsored by NRDC and Indian health organizations, starts with Dr. K. Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, speaking of the “careless consumption” and “corporate irresponsibility” driving climate change, which will have the greatest effect among the least powerful among us. Indeed, health officials have already identified women, children, workers, and the elderly as some of the populations most likely to suffer the most from climate change. Throughout India, we are told, increasing dry spells will worsen the country’s water crisis; already in Ahmedabad some sectors of the city only have water service for 30 minutes a day.

The meeting ends with some excellent strategies and a show of promise. The local officials are eager to initiate work on better identifying vulnerable populations, and working on adaptive policies that encourage shade tree planting, better water supply, population heat awareness, and health surveillance. The city itself is a leader in India on addressing climate change: Most of the buses and auto-rickshaws have been converted to natural gas, dramatically reducing pollution levels. In the state of Gujarat, all first-year college students are required to take a course on the threats that climate change pose for their country.

Throughout India, there are hopeful signs of awareness: As our auto-rickshaw in Jaipur, Rajasthan, jockeys for position with bicycles, taxis, camels, and cows, I glance out of the corner of my eye at a sign entreating people to attend a rally against climate change. The national paper highlights the news that Bollywood star Vidya Balan is encouraging Indians to participate in Earth Hour.

Everywhere, the earth is changing. India is becoming more aware. We must meet this challenge in the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and do our part to stop the humanitarian crisis of climate change.

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