This week I'm reviewing the year’s social, environmental and economic events that have impacted human health and the environment. Today, I am reviewing the updated National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Annual Greenhouse Gas Index (AGGI).
In November, NOAA's AGGI, which measures the direct climate influence of many greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, showed a continued steady upward trend that began with the Industrial Revolution of the 1880s.
According to NOAA, the AGGI reached 1.29 in 2010, meaning that the combined heating effect of long-lived greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere by human activities has increased by 29 percent since 1990, the “index” year used as a baseline for comparison. This is slightly higher than the 2009 AGGI, which was 1.27.
“The increasing amounts of long-lived greenhouse gases in our atmosphere indicate that climate change is an issue society will be dealing with for a long time,” said Jim Butler, director of the Global Monitoring Division of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. “Climate warming has the potential to affect most aspects of society, including water supplies, agriculture, ecosystems and economies.”
Here's a YouTube video of Butler explaining the annual AGGI. He shares his concerns about the steady emissions of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere by human activities and explains that in records that reach back 800 thousand years, we have never seen carbon dioxide levels anywhere near what they are today—more than 390 parts per million (ppm). In fact, it's only in the last 100 years that we have seen CO2 exceed 290 ppm.
If you're familiar with the organization 350.org, founded by author and activist Bill McKibben, you understand the significance of exceeding 350 ppm. 350.org's mission is based on reducing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current level of 392 ppm to below 350 ppm, the number scientists say we need to achieve to preserve our planet.
According to Butler, the AGGI is analogous to the dial on an electric blanket—that dial does not tell you exactly how hot you will get, nor does the AGGI predict a specific temperature. Yet just as turning the dial up increases the heat of an electric blanket, a rise in the AGGI means greater greenhouse warming.
NOAA scientists created the AGGI recognizing that carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas affecting the balance of heat in the atmosphere. Many other long-lived gases also contribute to warming, although not currently as much as carbon dioxide.
The AGGI includes methane and nitrous oxide, for example, greenhouse gases that are emitted by human activities and also have natural sources and sinks. It also includes several chemicals known to deplete Earth’s protective ozone layer, which are also active as greenhouse gases. The 2010 AGGI reflects several changes in the concentration of these gases, including:
- A continued steady increase in carbon dioxide: Global carbon dioxide levels rose to an average of 389 parts per million in 2010, compared with 386 ppm in 2009, and 354 in the index or comparison year of 1990. Before the Industrial Revolution of the 1880s, carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was about 280 ppm. Carbon dioxide levels swing up and down in natural seasonal cycles, but human activities—primarily the burning of coal, oil, and gas for transportation and power—have driven a consistent upward trend in concentration.
- A continued recent increase in methane: Methane levels rose in 2010 for the fourth consecutive year after remaining nearly constant for the preceding 10 years, up to 1799 parts per billion. Methane measured 1794 ppb in 2009, and 1714 ppb in 1990. Pound for pound, methane is 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but there’s less of it in the atmosphere.
NOAA's Annual Greenhouse Gas Index is a gauge of the climate warming influence of greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere by human activities and compared with the "index" year of 1990. The AGGI shows a steady upward trend, reaching 1.29 in 2010. This means that the heating effect of additional greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has increased by 29 percent since 1990.
A continued steady increase in nitrous oxide: Best known as laughing gas in dentistry, nitrous oxide is also a greenhouse gas emitted from natural sources and as a byproduct of agricultural fertilization, livestock manure, sewage treatment and some industrial processes.
- A continued recent drop in two chlorofluorocarbons, CFC11 and CFC12: Levels of these two compounds—which are ozone-depleting chemicals in addition to greenhouse gases—have been dropping at about one percent per year since the late 1990s, because of an international agreement, the Montreal Protocol, to protect the ozone layer.
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Maintenance is key to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Healthy Home Principles. HUD
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The term "urban forest" may sound like an oxymoron. When most of us think about forests, we may picture vast expanses of tall trunks and dappled sunlight filtering through the leaves, far from the busyness of the city. But the trees that line city streets and surround apartment complexes across the U.S. hold great value, in part because of their proximity to people.
Screenshot from the Chicago Region Trees interactive map page.
Americans take great pride in their lawns. A centuries-old practice adopted from Great Britain and Northern France, lawns have become a status symbol; a standard fixture of American communities.
In the United States, more than 40 million acres of land are covered in grass, making it the single largest irrigated crop in the country, requiring more labor, fuel, toxins, and equipment than industrial farming. These vast areas of monoculture (the practice of planting only a single crop) do ultimately have devastating consequences for ecosystem health.
1. Native Plants and Flowers<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTg3MTc1NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3MTA2OTY3OX0.4DxcIekwqraQwZxEopXQFthBkKcdREadzQ1wpbw9mLQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="e8600" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="27907579abff35f0d7b905983662bacf" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="2048" data-height="1536" />
Lake Lou / Flickr / CC BY 2.0<p>The ryegrass and Kentucky Bluegrass that <a href="https://www.naturesseed.com/blog/identifying-5-common-lawn-grass-species/" target="_blank">make up most American lawns</a> aren't native to the US; between 5,000 and 385,000 acres of native ecosystems are displaced by lawns every day, crowding out regional flowers, plants, and grasses across the country. Without these native plants, monoculture lawns are essentially wastelands for birds and pollinators – like bees, whose populations have been <a href="https://www.nps.gov/subjects/pollinators/pollinators-in-trouble.htm#:~:text=Populations%20of%20bees%20and%20other%20pollinators%20are%20declining%20around%20the%20world.&text=The%20chief%20causes%20for%20pollinator,that%20have%20specific%20habitat" target="_blank">declining rapidly around the world</a> – eliminating the flowers they feed on and locations for nesting.</p><p>Choosing to instead foster a yard of native flowers and plants creates a <a href="https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/gardening-for-wildlife-with-native-plants.htm" target="_blank">ripple affect in regional food chains</a>: plants provide food for the bugs and bees that depend on it, which in turn provide food for mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, restoring the biodiversity that has been lost. Creating a deliberate landscaping plan to replace grass with low-maintenance plants will attract wildlife and bring some beauty to your backyard.</p><p>In urban areas, clover, dandelion, and other lawn "weeds" have been identified as some of the <a href="https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/smart_lawns_for_pollinators#:~:text=Lawns%20with%20a%20few%20weeds,between%20remnants%20of%20natural%20habitat." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">most important food sources</a> for bees, and flowers like columbine, monarda, asters, and holly provide a <a href="https://ny.audubon.org/conservation/getting-started-native-plants" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">friendly habitat for birds</a>. Of course, native plants vary by region, so be sure to check with your state's <a href="https://ahsgardening.org/gardening-resources/societies-clubs-organizations/native-plant-societies/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Native Plant Society</a> to find the right species for your eco-haven.</p>
2. Grass Alternatives<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTg3MTYzMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1ODUzODgxMX0.ZBVDjNIwqdjTNGlaZqvyPK_gy8jSjsEw9NwsSLckOcE/img.jpg?width=980" id="e3c0c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c2722209d6c0704436e5a43b7e7ecb03" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1200" data-height="900" />
PxHere<p>If you love to look out the window at your luscious patch of green, you don't have to give it up entirely.</p><p><a href="https://www.ecohome.net/guides/3402/grass-lawn-alternatives-eco-friendly-bee-friendly/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Groundcover plants</a> provide an alternative to turf, but eliminate the need for mowing and still deliver that traditional verdant green. Clover, creeping jenny, barberry cotoneaster, Corsican mint, and creeping herbs like thyme and oregano require <a href="https://elemental.green/10-low-maintenance-lawn-alternatives/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">very little maintenance</a>; clover especially needs little attention once it's established, suppresses weeds, and has a deep root system that aerates the soil.</p><p><a href="https://gardenerspath.com/how-to/lawns-and-grass/flowering-ground-covers/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Flowering perennial groundcover species</a> – like sweet woodruff, liriope, and horned violets – bring a dash of color to your yard and often do well in shaded areas, as do many kinds of moss. Species of <a href="https://nativeplantherald.prairienursery.com/2016/09/native-grasses-the-tall-and-short-of-it/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">native ornamental grass</a> thrive in different ranges of light, moisture, and soil, giving you plenty of options for your space.</p><p>Growing a natural lawn also eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers, improves soil quality, and prevents erosion – all while creating a native habitat for the birds and the bees.</p>
3. Befriend the Bugs<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTg3MTYzOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxOTk4ODY1MH0._dE-d2u44LnbcL3XxuiKPVLtUJQvKRwWbF-LRKQlFeE/img.jpg?width=980" id="4ef67" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3174b48fb428a9408a8aae79c0e8c293" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="2000" data-height="1500" />
Pexels<p>The prevailing rhetoric of traditional yard maintenance is to eliminate as many humming, buzzing, and crawling things as possible, which drives away the <a href="https://www.mercurynews.com/2021/03/16/healthy-garden-it-doesnt-hurt-to-have-these-bugs-around/" target="_blank">beneficial bugs</a> that foster healthy, thriving ecosystems such as ladybugs, spiders, and ground beetles. While caterpillars and Japanese beetles might not be a welcome sight, not all bugs are a bad sign!</p><p>During their lifetime, ladybugs may eat <a href="https://www.buglogical.com/garden-ladybugs/" target="_blank">as many as 5,000 aphids</a> – a common backyard enemy. Ground beetles too feed on less-desirable bugs like caterpillars, slugs, weevils, and nematodes. To encourage such insects to make a home in your yard, you can purchase many of them online or at garden stores to jumpstart the process. But, once you begin to populate your yard with native plants and bid the turf adieu, the insects should start crawling, flying, and buzzing back.</p><p>Learn what beneficial bugs live in your area so you can identify the signs of a healthy, bio-diverse lawn. </p>
4. Ditch the Fertilizer …<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTg3MTY2MC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3NjU2NDU2MX0.e9xa4PeyJkAvWOVYaElAmOJW8coM3_g5nu_gi9fK3f8/img.png?width=980" id="40c94" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b38ca246def55aa8a1226267330a6480" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="964" data-height="730" />
Pexels<p>While typical fertilizers ramp up the productivity of farms and might keep our backyards emerald green, they also <a href="https://civileats.com/2019/09/19/the-greenhouse-gas-no-ones-talking-about-nitrous-oxide-on-farms-explained/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">emit harmful greenhouse gases</a> – accounting for 1.5% of <a href="https://www.fertilizer.org/images/Library_Downloads/2018_IFA_Measuring_and_Reporting_Fertilizer_Emissions.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">global emissions</a> – and fertilized lawns are no exception.</p><p>According to Dr. Chuanhui Gu of Appalachian State University, a standard lawn emits <a href="https://today.appstate.edu/2015/01/22/chuanhui-gu" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">up to 6 times more CO2</a> than what can be absorbed during photosynthesis through mowing, irrigating, and fertilizing, including the production and transportation of the fertilizer.</p><p>Instead of synthetic fertilizers, try adding organic nutrients to your eco-friendly lawn by spreading compost. <a href="https://www.thespruce.com/choosing-compost-to-topdress-lawn-2152992" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">"Topdressing" your yard</a> with compost supplies nutrients and keeps the soil healthy without depleting it, allowing you to maintain a healthy ecosystem for the diverse plant and animal life thriving in your eco-oasis.</p>
5. … and the Pesticides<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTg3MTY4MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3NzAxNTE5Mn0.xdwsfejN6PSC_LOVExCUodaVWVi06iwG0S7jMndGTWg/img.jpg?width=980" id="13fd0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9a2c98c09f9ad03f6b279c04ff103b6d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1023" data-height="683" />
Henner Zeller / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0<p>Scientists have directly linked pesticides to the demise of <a href="http://www.panna.org/resources/environmental-impacts" target="_blank">frog, bat, and bee populations</a>, throwing delicately balanced ecosystems and food chains into disorder. Ninety percent of flowering plants <a href="https://www.beyondpesticides.org/assets/media/documents/pollinators/pollinators.pdf" target="_blank">depend on bees and other pollinators to survive</a> – species that have seen alarming decreases in population across the globe (also referred to as <a href="https://www.google.com/search?q=Colony+Collapse+Disorder&oq=Colony+Collapse+Disorder&aqs=chrome..69i57.235j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8" target="_blank">Colony Collapse Disorder</a>).</p><p>Luckily, saving the bees can start in your own backyard: lawn-owners can make a tangible difference by cutting pesticides from their lawn-care regimen. Allowing native plants and weeds to grow freely and bugs to crawl amongst them will save the lives of your local bees, providing them a sanctuary to live, eat, and thrive in.</p>
6. No-Mow Zones<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTg3MTcxOC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxOTA3MzAxNn0.Bu-qY9DTHjjQsZxR04KO1AdBQlUsDfzO-YqKVDyjmRI/img.jpg?width=980" id="128f5" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b068afdfec53124a5321ec4469ec105f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1200" data-height="800" />
PxHere<p>Mile-for-mile, gas-powered lawn mowers produce about 11 times more pollution than a new car, estimates the EPA – so, running a single gas-powered mower for an hour is <a href="https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/our-work/programs/zero-emission-landscaping-equipment" target="_blank">nearly equivalent</a> in emissions to a 100-mile car trip.</p><p>Mowing lawns is also <a href="https://www.onlynaturalenergy.com/grass-lawns-are-an-ecological-catastrophe/#:~:text=The%20EPA%20estimates%20that%20hour,of%20toxic%20pollutants%20per%20year." target="_blank">extremely time-consuming</a>, accounting for more than three million collective hours each year for Americans, who, on average, mow their lawns 22 times per year. Think of the time saved by <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/stories/more-sustainable-and-beautiful-alternatives-grass-lawn" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">going no-mow</a>!</p><p>The No-Mow Movement encourages lawn-owners to leave native grasses to their own devices, growing tall and wild to eliminate the environmental cost of watering and mowing, and allowing a more natural landscape to take over unimpeded. If you've decided on an alternative to grass that requires no mowing – like clover or moss – you're already there.</p><p>Do keep an eye out for invasive weeds in your no-mow lawn that might crowd out native plants and grasses.</p>
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