Our Daily Planet: Cutting Air Pollution Saves 150 million lives, But Last Male White Rhino is Gone, and much more…
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

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Reducing Air Pollution Would Save 150 Million Lives This Century

A new study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change found that premature deaths caused by air pollution would fall dramatically if nations were to reduce their emissions of carbon and other harmful gases enough to limit global temperature rise to less than 3 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. That is approximately one degree lower than the target set by the Paris climate agreement.  The authors of the study hoped to motivate nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by explaining the benefits in terms that would be more persuasive, correlating the air pollution reductions to public health benefits.  Most of the benefits would be felt in Asian countries with very dirty air; for example, 13 million lives would be saved in large cities in India alone.

But there would be significant benefits in the U.S. as well -- more than 330,000 lives in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Detroit, Atlanta, and Washington would be spared if these emissions reductions could be achieved.  As the study's lead author, Drew Shindell, a professor of Earth Sciences at Duke University explains, “Americans don’t really grasp how pollution impacts their lives. You say, ‘My uncle went to the hospital and died of a heart attack.’ You don’t say the heart attack was caused by air pollution, so we don’t know. It’s still a big killer here. It’s much bigger than from people who die from plane crashes or war or terrorism, but we don’t see the link so clearly.”

Why This Matters:  It is hard to motivate citizens and governments to take action in the near term to reduce greenhouse gas emissions when the worst impacts will not be felt for decades.  By focusing on human health benefits -- and lives saved in the near term through the reduction in harmful air pollution -- the authors of the study hope it hits closer to home and inspires action.  We do too. 


What's In Store for Florida's Wetlands?

Florida Governor Rick Scott is expected to sign recently approved legislation that shifts responsibility for issuing permits for development on wetlands from the Army Corps of Engineers to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Currently, through an established federal program the Army Corps of Engineers protects wetlands under state control through the Clean Water Act. The effort to move important wetland protections from the federal government to DEP is worrying environmental activists who say that this will fast-track development of wetlands. 

"This is one of many terrible anti-environmental bills passed this legislative session," said Richard Baker, head of the Pelican Island Audubon chapter in Indian River County. "There are exceptions, but I'm a fan of keeping environmental rules at the highest governmental level possible as they are less likely to be influenced by local and state political payoffs and special interest groups."

Why This Matters: Proponents of the bill say that this will reduce redundancies in regulation but as WUSF noted, Florida lawmakers considered making this regulatory change back in 2005, but after a detailed analysis decided it would be too costly and too complicated to implement. Ultimately, Florida's wetlands are critical ecosystems that serve as habitat for animals, are a source of fresh drinking water, and are a natural buffer from hurricanes. Their health is crucial to the safety of Floridians and their protection is necessary especially as the intensity of hurricanes increases. As it stands, the federal government has not prioritized environmental protection and Governor Scott has a mixed legacy


Hatch Point, Utah  Photo: Neal Clark, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance
Interior Auctions Oil and Gas Leases In Southern Utah 

Yesterday, the Department of Interior leased 32 tracts of land located in southeastern Utah near several national parks and monuments, including in close proximity to the Bears Ears Monument that it proposes to drastically reduce in size.  According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the tracts are ecologically, culturally and economically significant, and include:
  • Several tracts in a culturally rich part of southeastern Utah known as Alkali Ridge. BLM briefly considered leasing in this area in 2015, but acknowledged that it lacked sufficient information about the cultural resources in the area and backed away from the proposal. The agency is putting these cultural sites at risk without collecting and reviewing that information;
  • Several tracts along segments of the Green River and San Juan River popular with families, recreational business, and tourists for river running, as well as home to several endangered fish species; and
  • Several tracts in proposed wilderness areas including in Goldbar Canyon and Labyrinth Canyon near Moab, Utah, and in Cross Canyon, immediately adjacent to Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.
These tracts are not within the boundaries of the Bears Ears monument as drawn by the Obama Administration -- the vast cutbacks to those boundaries are still in the public comment process.  Environmental groups expressed opposition, but there is little they could do -- they have already filed formal protests of these leases with the Department back in January but the sales went forward nonetheless.

Why This Matters:  Once the sales are done, returning the leases to the public's hands will be nearly impossible.  It would require the government to spend money to buy them back.  And often the leaseholders don't develop them immediately -- the land is not protected nor is it developed, so no one wins.  The Center for Biological Diversity found that at the end of the 2016 fiscal year, there were approximately 2.9 million acres of federal public land in Utah leased for oil and gas development but oil and gas companies had less than 1.2 million acres of those leased lands in production. 

What You Can Do:  It's not too late to file comments with the Bureau of Land Management on the proposal to shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante Monuments - they will be taking comments from the public until April 11th.  If you would like to let them know your views, click here to get started.  

 Climate Change

It's Spring - Really?!?!

Although yesterday marked the official first day of spring, the East Coast is being punked by Mother Nature AGAIN!  Today the I-95 corridor is dealing with Winter Storm Toby, its fourth "Nor'easter" in the past three weeks, bringing snowfall totals for March into record territory.  These gorgeous satellite images are available thanks to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's next generation of weather satellites (and we have included more in Cosmos below just because they are so beautiful).  This late snowfall is hardly the latest on record for the northeastern U.S., but it could set records for the largest "spring" snowfalls in New York City and Philadelphia, according to The Weather Channel.     
Why This Matters:  Each of these storms is expensive and disruptive of transportation, schools, and businesses, not to mention dangerous -- there have been numerous fatalities associated with them. Last year there were 16 weather events in the U.S. that caused at least $1 billion each in damage, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The cumulative cost was $306 billion—easily surpassing the previous one-year record of $215 billion set in 2005. This year's totals could be even higher.  And at this point, most of us in the east have had it with ice, snow and cold weather. 

For Fun Facts About the Equinox: Check out this article from Vox.   For example, this day got its name because equinox means “equal night” -- on this date most places on Earth will see approximately 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness.


Local Papers Crucial to Public Health 

Local newspapers are important because they often cover issues that are too difficult for bigger media outlets to report. Local reporting covers what's happening in local governments, within the community, and on the streets, and as they increasingly shut down so does their service to these communities. 

Maia Majumder, a scientist who specializes in mathematical modeling, recently studied a map denoting which American counties lacked a local newspaper and realized that this was a disaster for infectious disease surveillance. As Stat News explained, "Epidemiologists rely on all kinds of data to detect the spread of disease, including reports from local and state agencies and social media. But local newspapers are critical to identifying outbreaks and forecasting their trajectories."

Local newspapers help scientists, like the ones at HealthMap, a disease detection project, better understand changing geographic distribution of diseases — think Zika — and the impact of climate change on disease patterns, according to John Brownstein, one of the co-founders of the site. Brownstein also pointed to the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic as an example of a case in which local reporting helped to bring an emerging disease threat to global attention. 

Why This Matters: Majumder said the newspaper desert map scared her because she realized that many of the places without local papers are also places where voters have been complaining of being left behind.

“What that means is they lose access to news which is very, very vital for knowing what’s going on in your town, but also from the public health surveillance point of view, we’re losing access to knowing what they need.”

Go Deeper: We rely on local reporting a lot in writing ODP and want to express our appreciation for the tireless work of these journalists. If you want to learn more about what you can do to support local news, this Medium article is a great resource. John Oliver also covered America's local newspaper crisis quite poignantly, watch below: 



Photo: National Geographic 
Last Male Northern White Rhino Dies 

Sudan, the world's last male Northern White Rhino passed away Tuesday morning at the age of 45. He lived a long and healthy life for a rhino and was euthanized at his home in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Earlier this month, Sudan developed an infection on his back right leg. He had already been suffering from age-related complications, and the infection worsened his condition.

Now only two female Northern White Rhinos remain at the conservancy, the last animals of their species on Earth. As NatGeo reported, sex cells were harvested from the living northern white rhinos, and scientists are hoping to use IVF to impregnate southern white rhino surrogates. By conservative estimates, the technology to pull this off is still roughly ten years from being perfected.

Why This Matters: NatGeo photographer, Ami Vitale (who documented the species' decline) said it best in her Instagram post: "Today, we are witnessing the extinction of a species that had survived for millions of years but could not survive mankind."​



Views From Space

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