2013 Marked 37th Consecutive Year of Above-Average Temperature
By Janet Larsen
Last year was the thirty-seventh consecutive year of above-normal global temperature. According to data from NASA, the global temperature in 2013 averaged 58.3 degrees Fahrenheit (14.6 degrees Celsius), roughly a degree warmer than the twentieth-century average. Since the dawn of agriculture 11,000 years ago, civilization has enjoyed a relatively stable climate. That is now changing as the growing human population rivals long-range geological processes in shaping the face of the planet. Fully 4 billion people alive today have never experienced a year that was cooler than last century's average, begging the question of what is now “normal” with respect to the climate.
Despite the absence of El Niño conditions (an oceanic/atmospheric circulation pattern that tends to warm the globe), 2013 placed among the 10 warmest years in recordkeeping since 1880. With the exception of 1998—an intense El Niño year—these top 10 years have all occurred since 2000. More important than annual records, however, is the longer-term trend, which in the case of the Earth’s temperature is clearly on the way up.
Since 1970, each decade has averaged 0.28 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the preceding one. (See data.) As emissions from burning fossil fuels and forests have soared since the Industrial Revolution, the amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere has increased, peaking at 400 parts per million in 2013. The last time the CO2 concentration was this high was over 3 million years ago, when there was far less ice on the planet and the seas were much higher.
Much of the 7.5 inches (19 centimeters) of sea level rise since 1901 has been from the thermal expansion of water, but the contribution from melting mountain glaciers and polar ice caps is growing. The amount of ice in the Arctic Ocean is shrinking to new lows. While the loss of floating ice does not directly affect sea level, the shrinkage of the highly reflective cover allows more sunlight to be absorbed, heating the region about twice as fast as at lower latitudes and further accelerating melting, importantly on Greenland. If Greenland’s ice cap were to melt completely, global sea level would rise by 23 feet (7 meters). As early as 2100, seas could rise by up to 6 feet, dramatically redrawing coastlines around the world.
With each incremental increase in temperature, the risk of profound disruption increases too. Even a small rise above the freezing point at critical times means the difference between a rain shower and a snowfall, an important distinction for areas dependent on water gradually released from melting snowpack. A preview is on display in California: Following the state’s driest year on record, with precipitation just a third of average, snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains shrank to 88 percent below normal by late January 2014.
As the global average temperature has risen, the world has seen an increase in warmer days. In the U.S., for instance, more high-temperature records have been set in recent years than record lows. Throughout 2013, while there certainly were cold weather events, no region of the globe experienced record cold. Heat waves have increased in recent decades in some areas, particularly in Europe, Asia and Australia. Off-the-chart temperatures in Australia made 2013 its warmest year on record, with December marking the seventeenth consecutive month of above-average temperature. Regional heat waves continued in January 2014, with the inland town of Moomba topping 120 degrees Fahrenheit on the second day of the New Year. In Queensland, an estimated 100,000 bats died from heat stress.
Global warming is predicted to amplify both dry spells and wet ones. In one example of the kind of event expected to happen more frequently on a hotter planet, much of southern China was blanketed by intense drought and heat in July and August 2013. Seven provinces received less than half their normal rainfall, leaving 20 million acres (8 million hectares) of cropland thirsty. Losses neared $8 billion. According to the U.S. National Climatic Data Center, the heat wave “was one of the most severe on record with respect to its geographical extent, duration, and intensity; more than 300 stations exceeded a daily maximum temperature of 104 degrees Fahrenheit.”
In Angola and Namibia, where one of every four people are chronically undernourished, 2013 brought a second consecutive year of extremely low rainfall in a string of 30 years that have tended toward dryness. And a drought in Brazil’s northeast, thought to be the most severe in the last half century, continued from late 2012 into the first part of 2013, with some areas receiving no rain for a year. The result was some $8 billion in losses. Then in December 2013, two months’ worth of rain fell in a matter of hours in the heaviest precipitation in 90 years, leading to severe flooding and landslides.
Parts of India and Nepal also received record rainfall in June 2013, with northwestern India receiving double its normal precipitation for that month. The resulting floods and landslides killed more than 6,500 people.
The most expensive weather event in 2013, according to reinsurance company Aon Benfield, was the spring flooding in Central Europe that brought $22 billion worth in damages, only about a quarter of which were insured. June flooding in Alberta was Canada's costliest natural disaster in history, racking up $5.2 billion in damages. A major Canadian property insurer announced premium hikes of up to 20 percent shortly after its CEO warned of “severe weather events becom[ing] more extreme and frequent”—just one of the growing number of businesses realizing the risk that climate change poses to their bottom lines.
Some insurers have pulled out from storm-prone coastal areas entirely. In a warmer world, tropical cyclones (hurricanes) are not necessarily expected to form more frequently, but the ones that do develop have a good chance of growing more severe, fueled by additional heat energy. Together with higher seas, which make storm surge more dangerous, and increasing populations and infrastructure in vulnerable areas, this is a recipe for high costs.
The year 2013 saw more tropical storms develop than the average since 1980, though fewer than average reached land. In September, Mexico had the unusual experience of being hit from both sides by simultaneous hurricanes in the North Atlantic and the Eastern Pacific. And then in the Western Pacific in November, Super Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest tropical storm ever to make landfall, ravaged large swaths of the Philippines, killing 8,000 people and leaving millions homeless. Winds that reached 235 miles per hour and a major storm surge brought damages tallying an estimated $13 billion.
While any one of these events could possibly have occurred prior to anthropogenic climate change, the risk of weather surprises is increasing as temperatures climb. Furthermore, the danger of hitting invisible thresholds—such as the loss of major ice sheets—where the effects of global warming become irreversible on a human timescale is real. With rapid rates of change, adaptation becomes difficult to impossible. For the safety of civilization, governments around the world have agreed on the goal of staying within a temperature rise of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius). We will shoot past that mark, however, without dramatic reductions in fossil fuel burning and deforestation. This requires investment, but the alternative costs that will mount from inaction are beyond measure.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
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By Gwen Ranniger
In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.
1. Fragrance – Avoid It<p>One of the fastest ways to narrow down your product options is immediately eliminating any product that promotes a fragrance, or parfum. That scent of "fresh breeze" or lemon might initially smell good, but the fragrance does not last. What does last? The concoction of various undisclosed and unregulated chemicals that created that fragrance.</p><p>Many fragrances contain phthalates, which are linked to many health risks including reproductive problems and cancer.</p>
2. With Bleach? Do Without<p>Going scent-free should have narrowed down your options substantially – now, check the front of the remaining packaging. Any that include ammonia or chlorine bleach ought to go, as these substances are irritating and corrosive to your body. While bleach is commonly known as a powerful disinfectant, there are safer alternatives that you can use in your home, such as sodium borate or hydrogen peroxide.</p><p>While you're at it, check if there are any warnings on the label – "flammable," "use in ventilated area," etc. – if the product is hazardous, that's a red flag and should be avoided.</p>
3. Check the Back Label<p>Flip to the back of the remaining contenders and check out that ingredient list. Less is more, here. Opt for a shorter ingredient list with words you recognize and/or can pronounce.</p><p>You may notice many products do not have ingredient lists – while this doesn't necessarily mean they contain toxic ingredients, transparency is key. Feel free to look up a list online, or stick to products that are open about their ingredients.</p>
4. Ingredients to Avoid<p>We already mentioned that cleaners containing fragrance or parfum, and bleach or ammonia should be avoided, but there are other ingredients to look out for as well.</p><ul><li>Quaternary ammonium "quats" – lung irritants that contribute to asthma and other breathing problems. Also linger on surfaces long after they've been cleaned.</li><li>Parabens – Known hormone disruptor; can contribute to ailments such as cancer</li><li>Triclosan – triclosan and other antibacterial chemicals are registered with the EPA as pesticides. Triclosan is a known hormone disruptor and can also impact your immune system.</li><li>Formaldehyde – Causes irritation of eyes, nose, and throat; studies suggest formaldehyde exposure is linked with certain varieties of cancer. Can be found in products or become a byproduct of chemical reactions in the air.</li></ul>
Cleaning Products and Toxics: The Bottom Line<p>Do your research. There are many cleaning products available, but taking these steps will drastically reduce your options and help keep your home toxic-free. Protecting your home from bacteria and viruses is important, but make sure you do so in a way that doesn't introduce other health risks into the home.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.ehn.org/how-to-shop-for-cleaning-products-while-avoiding-toxics-2648130273.html" target="_blank">Environmental Health News</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649054624#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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Twenty-five years ago, a food called Tofurky made its debut on grocery store shelves. Since then, the tofu-based roast has become a beloved part of many vegetarians' holiday feasts.
By Jessica Corbett
A leading environmental advocacy group marked Native American Heritage Month on Wednesday by urging President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Kamala Harris, and the entire incoming administration "to honor Indigenous sovereignty and immediately halt the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines."
- Climate Crisis: What We Can Learn From Indigenous Traditions ... ›
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- Biden Vows to Ax Keystone XL if Elected - EcoWatch ›
Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.