U.S. Air Quality Is Headed the Wrong Way
After four decades of improving air quality, the U.S. has started to take a step backwards, as the number of polluted days has ticked upwards over the last two years, the Associated Press reported.
Federal data shows there were 15 percent more days with unhealthy air over the U.S. in 2017 and 2018 than there were on average from 2013 through 2016, according to the AP. In that four-year span, Americans had the fewest number of polluted days since 1980.
President Trump has claimed that air quality is improving under his watch, saying earlier this month, "We have the cleanest air in the world, in the United States, and it's gotten better since I'm president." Yet, the facts tell a different story.
World Health Organization data says otherwise. When looking at fine particulate matter, a key to air pollution, the U.S. ranks tenth in the world, well below several European countries, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, as the New York Times reported.
"We do not have the cleanest air and we have not crossed the finish line when it comes to pollution," said former Obama U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Chief Gina McCarthy, now director of the Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard School of Public Health, as the AP reported.
Fine particulate matter is especially relevant after the EPA rolled back the Obama-era Clean Power Plan Wednesday, as EcoWatch reported. Fine particulate matter is a byproduct of the burning that frequently comes from power plants, engine exhaust and wildfires. It is also hazardous to human health, leading to asthma and respiratory inflammation, and increasing the risk for lung cancer, heart attack and stroke, according to the New York Times.
Furthermore, EPA data found there were significantly more polluted days each year of Mr. Trump's than in any year of President Obama's second term, according to the AP. And the worst of the bad days jumped even more than the 15 percent rise in unhealthy air. On average, there were nearly 140 times, in 2017 and 2018, when a city's air pollution reached "very unhealthy" and "hazardous" levels with the air quality index greater than 200. That's more than two-and-a-half times the average of nearly 55 from 2013 to 2016, the AP reported.
"Today it feels like the future of our kids and our country is at stake," said McCarthy.
Federal regulations since the Clean Air Act of 1970 that limit the emissions of certain chemicals and soot from factories, cars, and trucks helped dramatically improve air quality. In fact, a recent study, found that air pollution related deaths fell by about 30 percent in the two decades between 1990 and 2010.
Yet, air pollution is still a scourge. EPA data says that more than 110,000 million Americans live in counties with unhealthy levels of air pollution, according to the New York Times. And one recent study found that air pollution in the U.S. led to 107,000 premature deaths and cost the country $866 billion in 2011. Of the early deaths, 57 percent were caused by energy consumption — 28 percent were transportation related, 14 percent were from coal-fired and gas power plants, while 15 percent were caused by agricultural activities like manure storage, as CNN reported.
"Cars and trucks are much cleaner than they were, power plants are cleaner, industrial operations are cleaner," said Paul Billings, a representative of the American Lung Association, to the New York Times. "But cleaner air is not clean air."
Sweden's reindeer have a problem. In winter, they feed on lichens buried beneath the snow. But the climate crisis is making this difficult. Warmer temperatures mean moisture sometimes falls as rain instead of snow. When the air refreezes, a layer of ice forms between the reindeer and their meal, forcing them to wander further in search of ideal conditions. And sometimes, this means crossing busy roads.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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