Category Archives: Health

UK’s nuclear plans flounder through muddy dispute

Arguments over where to dump huge amounts of potentially radioactive mud are now ensnarling the UK’s nuclear plans.

LONDON, 3 July, 2020 – Vast quantities of mud, which campaigners say may contain radioactive particles, are the latest problem to confront the UK’s nuclear plans for two new reactors under construction in the West of England.

The nuclear industry, which insists that it is a key part of fighting climate change, is no stranger to controversy, and it may be glad that it has experience of arguing for the mud’s harmless character.

The battle concerns campaigners’ attempts to prevent 600,000 cubic metres of mud from the sites of two closed reactors being dumped in the waters of the Bristol Channel, close to where the French nuclear company EDF is building two new reactors at Hinkley Point.

EDF wants to move the mud from where it is now so that it can build the water intakes for the new reactors up to three kilometres offshore.

Relying on tides

The issue is whether the mud contains radioactivity discharged from the old Hinkley Point reactors, and whether dredging it will release dangerous particles to be distributed across the estuary onto Welsh beaches.

Amid much controversy EDF was given permission to dump 300,000 cubic metres of mud from the same site in 2018, but in the end it moved less than half the total to the disposal grounds close to Cardiff, the capital of Wales. The plan is not for the mud to settle on the sea bed but for the powerful tides that scour the Bristol Channel to distribute the mud over much of the estuary.

The campaigners opposing the dumping believe there is a risk that the mud contains plutonium and other highly dangerous radionuclides which can reach the shore in spray or dry in sand on the beaches and then be blown inland.

These particles could be inhaled, they say, and could cause an increase in cancers – particularly child leukaemia and birth defects.

“Our message is that the only acceptable reassurance is the assurance that the mud and all its particles will remain untouched”

The 34 groups, with members including policy analysts, experts and local authorities, spell out their objections in a letter sent to the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford. They ask for an extended sampling programme, for protection of Welsh people’s health, and for the appointment of an expert group to advise on the dangers.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW), the Welsh government’s environment agency, has received over 150 representations about EDF’s plan and has imposed conditions on the company, requiring it to sample the mud from the area to be dredged, including for plutonium and other radionuclides.

EDF, whose two reactors will cost £22.5 billion (US$27.9bn) by 2025, said the dredging was safe and that claims the mud was toxic were wrong. All the mud dumped already had been tested to international standards, it said, and it was sure it was safe.

At the heart of the argument are the internationally accepted radioactive dose limits for humans. There is an increasing body of evidence of cancer clusters around nuclear installations, but established government scientists reject the idea that there could be a link with radioactivity.

Urgent review

These issues are discussed in a recently published report for Children with Cancer UK. It calls for an urgent scientific reassessment of international standards and says that governments are trying to avoid the evidence of the dangers of low-level radiation.

The report suggests the risk is far greater than officially acknowledged.

Those who wrote to Mark Drakeford supported this view. They said: “Past activities at the Hinkley nuclear site have almost certainly resulted in the dispersal of plutonium and other radioactive substances on land in the Severn Estuary in the area adjacent to the plant.

“These carcinogenic (cancer-causing) materials are highly likely to be present in the mud EDF wants to dump on the north side of the estuary, close to Cardiff, with a population of 350,000 people.”

‘Risk to thousands’

They add that well-documented evidence shows radioactive particles can come ashore, travel long distances on the breeze, “and can easily be ingested or inhaled, adding to the risk of cancer, leukaemia and congenital malformation at far higher rates than government advisors and the nuclear industry admit.

“Disposal of material which has not been adequately assessed for content of plutonium and other alpha-emitting materials is highly irresponsible and represents a potential health risk for thousands of people in Cardiff and beyond.”

Richard Bramhall, from the Low-Level Radiation Campaign, said: “Our message is that the only acceptable reassurance is the assurance that the mud and all its particles will remain untouched.”

EDF denies any danger. Chris Fayers, head of environment at Hinkley Point C, said the second phase of dredging was necessary ahead of drilling six vertical shafts for the cooling water system for the new power station.

More stringent testing

“The mud is typical of sediment found anywhere in the Bristol Channel and no different to sediment already at the Cardiff Grounds [disposal] site”, he said.

“Ahead of the second phase of dredging independent experts will carry out further analysis of the mud and sediment using techniques that are even more stringent than those used in 2017.”

He said NRW had confirmed that independent analysis showed the levels of toxicity were so low as to be not classed as radioactive under UK law, and posed no threat to human health or the environment.

NRW says: “We only grant licences if we’re satisfied that the activity can take place without harming the health of people, wildlife and the environment.” – Climate News Network

Arguments over where to dump huge amounts of potentially radioactive mud are now ensnarling the UK’s nuclear plans.

LONDON, 3 July, 2020 – Vast quantities of mud, which campaigners say may contain radioactive particles, are the latest problem to confront the UK’s nuclear plans for two new reactors under construction in the West of England.

The nuclear industry, which insists that it is a key part of fighting climate change, is no stranger to controversy, and it may be glad that it has experience of arguing for the mud’s harmless character.

The battle concerns campaigners’ attempts to prevent 600,000 cubic metres of mud from the sites of two closed reactors being dumped in the waters of the Bristol Channel, close to where the French nuclear company EDF is building two new reactors at Hinkley Point.

EDF wants to move the mud from where it is now so that it can build the water intakes for the new reactors up to three kilometres offshore.

Relying on tides

The issue is whether the mud contains radioactivity discharged from the old Hinkley Point reactors, and whether dredging it will release dangerous particles to be distributed across the estuary onto Welsh beaches.

Amid much controversy EDF was given permission to dump 300,000 cubic metres of mud from the same site in 2018, but in the end it moved less than half the total to the disposal grounds close to Cardiff, the capital of Wales. The plan is not for the mud to settle on the sea bed but for the powerful tides that scour the Bristol Channel to distribute the mud over much of the estuary.

The campaigners opposing the dumping believe there is a risk that the mud contains plutonium and other highly dangerous radionuclides which can reach the shore in spray or dry in sand on the beaches and then be blown inland.

These particles could be inhaled, they say, and could cause an increase in cancers – particularly child leukaemia and birth defects.

“Our message is that the only acceptable reassurance is the assurance that the mud and all its particles will remain untouched”

The 34 groups, with members including policy analysts, experts and local authorities, spell out their objections in a letter sent to the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford. They ask for an extended sampling programme, for protection of Welsh people’s health, and for the appointment of an expert group to advise on the dangers.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW), the Welsh government’s environment agency, has received over 150 representations about EDF’s plan and has imposed conditions on the company, requiring it to sample the mud from the area to be dredged, including for plutonium and other radionuclides.

EDF, whose two reactors will cost £22.5 billion (US$27.9bn) by 2025, said the dredging was safe and that claims the mud was toxic were wrong. All the mud dumped already had been tested to international standards, it said, and it was sure it was safe.

At the heart of the argument are the internationally accepted radioactive dose limits for humans. There is an increasing body of evidence of cancer clusters around nuclear installations, but established government scientists reject the idea that there could be a link with radioactivity.

Urgent review

These issues are discussed in a recently published report for Children with Cancer UK. It calls for an urgent scientific reassessment of international standards and says that governments are trying to avoid the evidence of the dangers of low-level radiation.

The report suggests the risk is far greater than officially acknowledged.

Those who wrote to Mark Drakeford supported this view. They said: “Past activities at the Hinkley nuclear site have almost certainly resulted in the dispersal of plutonium and other radioactive substances on land in the Severn Estuary in the area adjacent to the plant.

“These carcinogenic (cancer-causing) materials are highly likely to be present in the mud EDF wants to dump on the north side of the estuary, close to Cardiff, with a population of 350,000 people.”

‘Risk to thousands’

They add that well-documented evidence shows radioactive particles can come ashore, travel long distances on the breeze, “and can easily be ingested or inhaled, adding to the risk of cancer, leukaemia and congenital malformation at far higher rates than government advisors and the nuclear industry admit.

“Disposal of material which has not been adequately assessed for content of plutonium and other alpha-emitting materials is highly irresponsible and represents a potential health risk for thousands of people in Cardiff and beyond.”

Richard Bramhall, from the Low-Level Radiation Campaign, said: “Our message is that the only acceptable reassurance is the assurance that the mud and all its particles will remain untouched.”

EDF denies any danger. Chris Fayers, head of environment at Hinkley Point C, said the second phase of dredging was necessary ahead of drilling six vertical shafts for the cooling water system for the new power station.

More stringent testing

“The mud is typical of sediment found anywhere in the Bristol Channel and no different to sediment already at the Cardiff Grounds [disposal] site”, he said.

“Ahead of the second phase of dredging independent experts will carry out further analysis of the mud and sediment using techniques that are even more stringent than those used in 2017.”

He said NRW had confirmed that independent analysis showed the levels of toxicity were so low as to be not classed as radioactive under UK law, and posed no threat to human health or the environment.

NRW says: “We only grant licences if we’re satisfied that the activity can take place without harming the health of people, wildlife and the environment.” – Climate News Network

How dangerous is low-level radiation to children?

A rethink on the risks of low-level radiation would imperil the nuclear industry’s future − perhaps why there’s never been one.

LONDON, 22 May, 2020 − The threat that low-level radiation poses to human life, particularly to unborn children, and its link with childhood leukaemia, demands an urgent scientific reassessment.

This is the conclusion of a carefully-detailed report produced for the charity Children With Cancer UK by the Low-Level Radiation Campaign.

It is compiled from evidence contained in dozens of scientific reports from numerous countries over many decades, which show that tiny doses of radiation, some of it inhaled, can have devastating effects on the human body, particularly by causing cancer and birth defects.

The original reports were completed for a range of academic institutions, governments and medical organisations, and their results were compared by the newest report’s authors, Richard Bramhall and Pete Wilkinson.  They believe they have provided overwhelming evidence for a basic rethink on so-called “safe” radiation doses.

They write: “The fundamental conclusion of this report is that when the evidence is rationally assessed it appears that the health impacts, especially in the more radio-sensitive young, have been consistently and routinely underestimated.”

Ceaseless controversy

The pair concede this is not the first time such a call has been made, but it has never been acted upon. Now they say it must be.

What constitutes safety for nuclear workers and for civilians living near nuclear power stations, or affected by fall-out from accidents like the ones at Sellafield in Cumbria in north-west England in 1957, Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011, has always been highly controversial.

Bramhall and Wilkinson detail how the debate began in earnest in the 1980s, when a cluster of childhood leukaemia cases, ten times higher than would be expected, was identified around Sellafield.

Government inquiries followed but reached no settled conclusion, and low-level radiation safety has been a scientific battleground ever since.

The official agencies appointed by governments are still using dose estimates based on calculations made in 1943, when Western governments were trying to develop an atomic bomb.

“The discrepancy between the number of congenital malformations in babies expected after Chernobyl and the number actually observed was between 15,000 and 50,000”

The new report highlights that this was when very little was known about how tiny doses of ingested radiation could affect the body − and when DNA was yet to be discovered.

Despite the fact that international standards are based on these scientifically ancient, out-of-date assumptions, they have not been revised. If they were, the results could be catastrophic for the nuclear industry and for the manufacturers of nuclear weapons.

The report makes clear that if the worst estimates of the damage that low-level radiation causes to children proved anywhere close to correct, then no-one would want to live anywhere near a nuclear power station.

Most would be appalled if they knew even small numbers of children living within 50 kilometres of a station would contract leukaemia from being so close.

It acknowledges that the stakes are high. If the authors’ findings are accepted, then it will be the end of public tolerance of nuclear power.

Revolution needed

Despite this long-lived institutional pushback from governments and the industry, the report says what is needed is a scientific revolution in the way that low-level radiation is considered. It compares the situation with the treatment of asbestos.

It was in the 1890s that the first evidence of disease related to asbestos exposure was laid before the UK Parliament. But it was not until 1972, when the causal link between the always fatal lung cancer, mesothelioma, and human fatality rates was established beyond reasonable doubt, that the use of asbestos was banned.

This delay is why on average 2,700 people still die annually in the UK: they were at some point exposed to and inhalers of asbestos.

Another example, which the report does not quote but is perhaps as relevant today, is air pollution. It has taken decades for the scientific community to realise that in many cities it is the tiniest particles of air pollution, invisible to the naked eye, that are taken deepest into the lungs and that cause the most damage, killing thousands of people a year.

So far governments across the world have not yet outlawed the vehicles and industrial processes that are wiping out their own citizens in vast numbers.

Anxiety not irrational

The report cites many studies, with perhaps the most telling those that compare the actual numbers of cancers and malformations in babies which occurred in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident with the numbers to have been expected if the currently accepted and out-of-date risk calculations had been used.

Despite the difficulties of getting information from reluctant governments close to Chernobyl, the report says: “The discrepancy between the number of congenital malformations in babies expected after Chernobyl and the number actually observed was between 15,000 and 50,000.”

The authors say their object “is to dispel the repeated assertion that public anxiety about the health impact of radioactivity in the environment is irrational.”

Both Wilkinson and Bramhall have considerable experience of dealing with governments, both inside official bodies as members, and as external lobbyists.

They detail how they believe the concerns of both ordinary people and scientists have been swept aside in order to preserve the status quo. Clearly, in sponsoring the report, Children with Cancer UK agrees. − Climate News Network

A rethink on the risks of low-level radiation would imperil the nuclear industry’s future − perhaps why there’s never been one.

LONDON, 22 May, 2020 − The threat that low-level radiation poses to human life, particularly to unborn children, and its link with childhood leukaemia, demands an urgent scientific reassessment.

This is the conclusion of a carefully-detailed report produced for the charity Children With Cancer UK by the Low-Level Radiation Campaign.

It is compiled from evidence contained in dozens of scientific reports from numerous countries over many decades, which show that tiny doses of radiation, some of it inhaled, can have devastating effects on the human body, particularly by causing cancer and birth defects.

The original reports were completed for a range of academic institutions, governments and medical organisations, and their results were compared by the newest report’s authors, Richard Bramhall and Pete Wilkinson.  They believe they have provided overwhelming evidence for a basic rethink on so-called “safe” radiation doses.

They write: “The fundamental conclusion of this report is that when the evidence is rationally assessed it appears that the health impacts, especially in the more radio-sensitive young, have been consistently and routinely underestimated.”

Ceaseless controversy

The pair concede this is not the first time such a call has been made, but it has never been acted upon. Now they say it must be.

What constitutes safety for nuclear workers and for civilians living near nuclear power stations, or affected by fall-out from accidents like the ones at Sellafield in Cumbria in north-west England in 1957, Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011, has always been highly controversial.

Bramhall and Wilkinson detail how the debate began in earnest in the 1980s, when a cluster of childhood leukaemia cases, ten times higher than would be expected, was identified around Sellafield.

Government inquiries followed but reached no settled conclusion, and low-level radiation safety has been a scientific battleground ever since.

The official agencies appointed by governments are still using dose estimates based on calculations made in 1943, when Western governments were trying to develop an atomic bomb.

“The discrepancy between the number of congenital malformations in babies expected after Chernobyl and the number actually observed was between 15,000 and 50,000”

The new report highlights that this was when very little was known about how tiny doses of ingested radiation could affect the body − and when DNA was yet to be discovered.

Despite the fact that international standards are based on these scientifically ancient, out-of-date assumptions, they have not been revised. If they were, the results could be catastrophic for the nuclear industry and for the manufacturers of nuclear weapons.

The report makes clear that if the worst estimates of the damage that low-level radiation causes to children proved anywhere close to correct, then no-one would want to live anywhere near a nuclear power station.

Most would be appalled if they knew even small numbers of children living within 50 kilometres of a station would contract leukaemia from being so close.

It acknowledges that the stakes are high. If the authors’ findings are accepted, then it will be the end of public tolerance of nuclear power.

Revolution needed

Despite this long-lived institutional pushback from governments and the industry, the report says what is needed is a scientific revolution in the way that low-level radiation is considered. It compares the situation with the treatment of asbestos.

It was in the 1890s that the first evidence of disease related to asbestos exposure was laid before the UK Parliament. But it was not until 1972, when the causal link between the always fatal lung cancer, mesothelioma, and human fatality rates was established beyond reasonable doubt, that the use of asbestos was banned.

This delay is why on average 2,700 people still die annually in the UK: they were at some point exposed to and inhalers of asbestos.

Another example, which the report does not quote but is perhaps as relevant today, is air pollution. It has taken decades for the scientific community to realise that in many cities it is the tiniest particles of air pollution, invisible to the naked eye, that are taken deepest into the lungs and that cause the most damage, killing thousands of people a year.

So far governments across the world have not yet outlawed the vehicles and industrial processes that are wiping out their own citizens in vast numbers.

Anxiety not irrational

The report cites many studies, with perhaps the most telling those that compare the actual numbers of cancers and malformations in babies which occurred in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident with the numbers to have been expected if the currently accepted and out-of-date risk calculations had been used.

Despite the difficulties of getting information from reluctant governments close to Chernobyl, the report says: “The discrepancy between the number of congenital malformations in babies expected after Chernobyl and the number actually observed was between 15,000 and 50,000.”

The authors say their object “is to dispel the repeated assertion that public anxiety about the health impact of radioactivity in the environment is irrational.”

Both Wilkinson and Bramhall have considerable experience of dealing with governments, both inside official bodies as members, and as external lobbyists.

They detail how they believe the concerns of both ordinary people and scientists have been swept aside in order to preserve the status quo. Clearly, in sponsoring the report, Children with Cancer UK agrees. − Climate News Network

At last: a fair deal for our atomic love affair

However you view the argument, nuclear passions run strong. This film gives you a breathless ride through our atomic love affair.

LONDON, 15 May, 2020 – It’s probably hard to imagine a dispassionate account of the West’s atomic love affair, the way so many of us have been beguiled by the notion of both civil and military nuclear power.

And, although it’s taken more than a decade to come to the big screen, the wait has been worthwhile. Anyone interested in nuclear power, politics, or simply how to make a documentary, should watch The Atom: A Love Affair.

It’s hard to beat the New Scientist’s summary of the film (6 November, 2019): “It takes no sides and pulls no punches in its witty and admirably objective archival account of the West’s relationship with nuclear power.”

Vicki Lesley, of Tenner Films, UK, who directed the film, has amassed a remarkable library of clips of scientists, politicians, campaigners, old newsreels and up-to-date interviews, to chart the evolution of nuclear power from the first atom bombs to the present, the start of the so-called nuclear renaissance.

To someone who has used for teaching purposes other excellent but much shorter films directed and produced by Lesley, it seemed likely that this feature-length documentary, running for 90 minutes, might be anti-nuclear. But it is much cleverer than that.

Open approach

In the best traditions of journalism and documentary-making, she has allowed the facts and the people to speak for themselves, with a clever commentary delivered by Lily Cole knitting it all together.

There are people in the film who clearly do not like nuclear power, but equally there are enthusiasts, among them scientists and politicians who saw, and still see, the technology as the answer to humankind’s insatiable energy needs.

Few subjects arouse such strong feelings as nuclear power, and the film’s publicity is right to describe it as a sweeping story of technological obsession, political imperatives and powerful conflicting passions.

For those, like me, who have written extensively about the technology and have come to believe that nuclear power is far too expensive, too slow and too much a waste of resources to help in tackling climate change, it reinforced my views. But whatever your opinion of nuclear power, The Atom is worth watching, both as a history lesson and to test your own beliefs.

The movie, and the need for nuclear reactors, all began with the atom bomb, and the perceived need for Western powers to make nuclear weapons. The documentary recalls how the first nuclear power stations in Britain were designed to manufacture fissile material, particularly  plutonium.

‘Ludicrous’ pretence

The public, however, could not be told this, so the stations were launched as civil nuclear power plants, producing energy “too cheap to meter”.

This ludicrous claim was based on the fact that the UK’s Ministry of Defence footed the entire bill for the project, because the government wanted the plutonium for nuclear weapons. It could therefore be said that the electricity produced as a by-product of the process and fed into the grid was cost-free. The reality was, however, and still is, that nuclear power is very expensive.

These deceptions, which in the view of some were necessary during the Cold War, ingrained a habit of secrecy into the industry that continued for decades. Many would argue it still persists.

But the movie makes no such judgements. What it does do is remind all those with an interest in the industry of the important milestones in its relatively short life: the many dreams of new types of reactors like fast breeders, which worked but could not be scaled up to work commercially, for instance, and the terrible accidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

But it is not all doomy. There are plenty of jokes, clever interchanges of archive footage to put both sides of the argument, but equally no dishonesty or tricks. There is none of the poor judgement of some TV documentaries when clips are cut to make the participants appear to have made statements that they later qualified.

“The Atom is worth watching, both as a history lesson and to test your own beliefs”

This film captures the mood of the moments in history it is reporting, and sometimes makes you laugh at the naivety of those involved.

It has taken more than a decade to complete the film, mainly because Lesley struggled to finance the production while being a mother and earning a living as a documentary maker for TV companies.

Finally she won the backing of Dartmouth Films, which has organised public viewings. While there have been some private showings already, achieving wider distribution of documentaries, even one as excellent as this, is hard.

However, the film is being shown on Curzon Home Cinema on 15 May, with a Q&A session afterwards with Lesley and Cole.

At a time when millions of people are still locked down by the coronavirus pandemic, it is a perfect moment to launch such an entertaining and educational film. – Climate News Network

However you view the argument, nuclear passions run strong. This film gives you a breathless ride through our atomic love affair.

LONDON, 15 May, 2020 – It’s probably hard to imagine a dispassionate account of the West’s atomic love affair, the way so many of us have been beguiled by the notion of both civil and military nuclear power.

And, although it’s taken more than a decade to come to the big screen, the wait has been worthwhile. Anyone interested in nuclear power, politics, or simply how to make a documentary, should watch The Atom: A Love Affair.

It’s hard to beat the New Scientist’s summary of the film (6 November, 2019): “It takes no sides and pulls no punches in its witty and admirably objective archival account of the West’s relationship with nuclear power.”

Vicki Lesley, of Tenner Films, UK, who directed the film, has amassed a remarkable library of clips of scientists, politicians, campaigners, old newsreels and up-to-date interviews, to chart the evolution of nuclear power from the first atom bombs to the present, the start of the so-called nuclear renaissance.

To someone who has used for teaching purposes other excellent but much shorter films directed and produced by Lesley, it seemed likely that this feature-length documentary, running for 90 minutes, might be anti-nuclear. But it is much cleverer than that.

Open approach

In the best traditions of journalism and documentary-making, she has allowed the facts and the people to speak for themselves, with a clever commentary delivered by Lily Cole knitting it all together.

There are people in the film who clearly do not like nuclear power, but equally there are enthusiasts, among them scientists and politicians who saw, and still see, the technology as the answer to humankind’s insatiable energy needs.

Few subjects arouse such strong feelings as nuclear power, and the film’s publicity is right to describe it as a sweeping story of technological obsession, political imperatives and powerful conflicting passions.

For those, like me, who have written extensively about the technology and have come to believe that nuclear power is far too expensive, too slow and too much a waste of resources to help in tackling climate change, it reinforced my views. But whatever your opinion of nuclear power, The Atom is worth watching, both as a history lesson and to test your own beliefs.

The movie, and the need for nuclear reactors, all began with the atom bomb, and the perceived need for Western powers to make nuclear weapons. The documentary recalls how the first nuclear power stations in Britain were designed to manufacture fissile material, particularly  plutonium.

‘Ludicrous’ pretence

The public, however, could not be told this, so the stations were launched as civil nuclear power plants, producing energy “too cheap to meter”.

This ludicrous claim was based on the fact that the UK’s Ministry of Defence footed the entire bill for the project, because the government wanted the plutonium for nuclear weapons. It could therefore be said that the electricity produced as a by-product of the process and fed into the grid was cost-free. The reality was, however, and still is, that nuclear power is very expensive.

These deceptions, which in the view of some were necessary during the Cold War, ingrained a habit of secrecy into the industry that continued for decades. Many would argue it still persists.

But the movie makes no such judgements. What it does do is remind all those with an interest in the industry of the important milestones in its relatively short life: the many dreams of new types of reactors like fast breeders, which worked but could not be scaled up to work commercially, for instance, and the terrible accidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

But it is not all doomy. There are plenty of jokes, clever interchanges of archive footage to put both sides of the argument, but equally no dishonesty or tricks. There is none of the poor judgement of some TV documentaries when clips are cut to make the participants appear to have made statements that they later qualified.

“The Atom is worth watching, both as a history lesson and to test your own beliefs”

This film captures the mood of the moments in history it is reporting, and sometimes makes you laugh at the naivety of those involved.

It has taken more than a decade to complete the film, mainly because Lesley struggled to finance the production while being a mother and earning a living as a documentary maker for TV companies.

Finally she won the backing of Dartmouth Films, which has organised public viewings. While there have been some private showings already, achieving wider distribution of documentaries, even one as excellent as this, is hard.

However, the film is being shown on Curzon Home Cinema on 15 May, with a Q&A session afterwards with Lesley and Cole.

At a time when millions of people are still locked down by the coronavirus pandemic, it is a perfect moment to launch such an entertaining and educational film. – Climate News Network

The great coronavirus toilet tissue panic buy-up

In the UK and elsewhere, many people were preoccupied last March with toilet tissue. Could it help to slow climate change?

LONDON, 13 May, 2020 – What was on your mind two months ago: might it have been toilet tissue? For many Britons the answer is yes. It was when the United Kingdom began to get to grips with the coronavirus pandemic.

Whether you welcome or condemn the action your government took in those uncertain days, in many countries the response was very similar: broad approval for the speed of the official reaction.

That sheer speed has even prompted some people to ask whether modern societies could act as fast to protect themselves, not only against another pandemic, but against a possible comparable global threat. Climate change, perhaps?

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”.

The Alliance says pandemics show how good governments are at responding fast and effectively, and at changing economic priorities in the public interest. And people, it says, can also change their daily habits very quickly.

Taken for granted

So we can. But the introduction of lockdown and similar measures brought an example (and not only in the UK) of very quick changes in daily habits which suggested they might not help exactly as the RTA hopes in the case of the climate crisis. There was an outbreak of panic buying of supposedly staple goods – including toilet tissue.

What the run on loo rolls did achieve, as the RTA points out in its delicately-worded treatment of it, was to remind many people in relatively wealthy countries not to take for granted some familiar aspects of daily life. It illuminated the rapid but unfinished global progress towards universal access to safe water and sanitation.

In fact supplies of toilet paper hadn’t altered. It was an artificial shortage created by the suddenly changed behaviour of people buying far more than they really needed: anything from 50 to 100 rolls of paper are used in US toilets annually, without pandemic pressures.

But sewage systems, clean water and efficient drainage are constant  development priorities across the world, and today they are centre stage in climate emergency planning.

“For many of the world’s people loo paper is a luxury and toilets themselves may be unsanitary, outside the home and not places of privacy or sanctuary”

The future will include more flooding, heatwaves and heavier summer rainfall, which will hit hardest places that are already low-lying or on reclaimed land, or on coasts.

Diseases that thrive in these conditions – diarrhoea, malaria, leptospirosis, for example – are expected to worsen. In Mumbai slum dwellers ironically say during the monsoon: “There’s water everywhere, except in the taps.”

The profit-led colonial system left behind in India a patchwork of supply and disposal, with the city’s vast slum areas mostly unserved, and subject to flooding which in 2005 killed over 900 people.

There have been improvements to sanitation globally since 2000, thanks to the UN’s Millennium Goals. The numbers of people using safe sanitation increased from 28% in 2000 to 45% in 2017. During that time 2.1 billion people gained access to at least basic services and the number practising open-air defecation halved, from 1.3 billion to 673 million – still a huge number.

Many top-down approaches to sanitation have failed. But Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), which began in rural Bangladesh in 2000, has worked by focusing on helping people to change their behaviour.

Making the links

By raising awareness of the links between open defecation and disease, CLTS encourages local people to analyse their situation and then act. Typically, its facilitators help communities to carry out their own appraisal  of community sanitation.

This usually leads them to recognise the volume of human waste they generate and how open defecation means they are likely to be ingesting one another’s faeces. In turn, this can prompt them to act by building latrines without waiting for external support.

For many of the world’s people loo paper is a luxury and toilets themselves may be unsanitary, outside the home and certainly not places of privacy or sanctuary.

In 2015 2.3bn people still lacked even a basic sanitation service. An estimated 4 in 10 households globally still do not have soap and water on the premises, and half of all schools lack hand-washing facilities. For a sizeable minority – and in particular for women – the daily trip to relieve themselves can be dangerous and even life-threatening.

The production of toilet tissue for use in the global North raises serious environmental issues, including destruction of woodland, the wasteful use of water and energy, and chemicals for processing.

Bamboo alternative

This is still a message unheard by most people. The Australian company Who Gives A Crap supplies recycled or bamboo toilet paper and gives 50% of its profits to help build toilets and improve sanitation in the global South. But it is a rarity. Analysis from the UK’s Ethical Consumer magazine found in 2019 that major brands were using less recycled paper than they had in 2011.

Climate change? How’s that mixed up in toilet tissue? Does a sudden bout of panic buying help anyone to cut their carbon footprint? It sounds far-fetched.

There’s a gulf between the strains of social lockdown caused by a pandemic and the daring required for an economic change of direction demanded by impending climate catastrophe. And somehow we recognised the pandemic threat, but still fail to recognise the climate mayhem about to overtake us.

But if making the connection adds urgency to the quest for better sanitation, that will bring better health, less poverty and a world whose population stays within slimmer bounds.

And emptying the supermarket shelves of loo rolls two months ago showed how determined if misguided action could achieve very fast results. That could work wonders for slowing greenhouse gas emissions. – Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

In the UK and elsewhere, many people were preoccupied last March with toilet tissue. Could it help to slow climate change?

LONDON, 13 May, 2020 – What was on your mind two months ago: might it have been toilet tissue? For many Britons the answer is yes. It was when the United Kingdom began to get to grips with the coronavirus pandemic.

Whether you welcome or condemn the action your government took in those uncertain days, in many countries the response was very similar: broad approval for the speed of the official reaction.

That sheer speed has even prompted some people to ask whether modern societies could act as fast to protect themselves, not only against another pandemic, but against a possible comparable global threat. Climate change, perhaps?

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”.

The Alliance says pandemics show how good governments are at responding fast and effectively, and at changing economic priorities in the public interest. And people, it says, can also change their daily habits very quickly.

Taken for granted

So we can. But the introduction of lockdown and similar measures brought an example (and not only in the UK) of very quick changes in daily habits which suggested they might not help exactly as the RTA hopes in the case of the climate crisis. There was an outbreak of panic buying of supposedly staple goods – including toilet tissue.

What the run on loo rolls did achieve, as the RTA points out in its delicately-worded treatment of it, was to remind many people in relatively wealthy countries not to take for granted some familiar aspects of daily life. It illuminated the rapid but unfinished global progress towards universal access to safe water and sanitation.

In fact supplies of toilet paper hadn’t altered. It was an artificial shortage created by the suddenly changed behaviour of people buying far more than they really needed: anything from 50 to 100 rolls of paper are used in US toilets annually, without pandemic pressures.

But sewage systems, clean water and efficient drainage are constant  development priorities across the world, and today they are centre stage in climate emergency planning.

“For many of the world’s people loo paper is a luxury and toilets themselves may be unsanitary, outside the home and not places of privacy or sanctuary”

The future will include more flooding, heatwaves and heavier summer rainfall, which will hit hardest places that are already low-lying or on reclaimed land, or on coasts.

Diseases that thrive in these conditions – diarrhoea, malaria, leptospirosis, for example – are expected to worsen. In Mumbai slum dwellers ironically say during the monsoon: “There’s water everywhere, except in the taps.”

The profit-led colonial system left behind in India a patchwork of supply and disposal, with the city’s vast slum areas mostly unserved, and subject to flooding which in 2005 killed over 900 people.

There have been improvements to sanitation globally since 2000, thanks to the UN’s Millennium Goals. The numbers of people using safe sanitation increased from 28% in 2000 to 45% in 2017. During that time 2.1 billion people gained access to at least basic services and the number practising open-air defecation halved, from 1.3 billion to 673 million – still a huge number.

Many top-down approaches to sanitation have failed. But Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS), which began in rural Bangladesh in 2000, has worked by focusing on helping people to change their behaviour.

Making the links

By raising awareness of the links between open defecation and disease, CLTS encourages local people to analyse their situation and then act. Typically, its facilitators help communities to carry out their own appraisal  of community sanitation.

This usually leads them to recognise the volume of human waste they generate and how open defecation means they are likely to be ingesting one another’s faeces. In turn, this can prompt them to act by building latrines without waiting for external support.

For many of the world’s people loo paper is a luxury and toilets themselves may be unsanitary, outside the home and certainly not places of privacy or sanctuary.

In 2015 2.3bn people still lacked even a basic sanitation service. An estimated 4 in 10 households globally still do not have soap and water on the premises, and half of all schools lack hand-washing facilities. For a sizeable minority – and in particular for women – the daily trip to relieve themselves can be dangerous and even life-threatening.

The production of toilet tissue for use in the global North raises serious environmental issues, including destruction of woodland, the wasteful use of water and energy, and chemicals for processing.

Bamboo alternative

This is still a message unheard by most people. The Australian company Who Gives A Crap supplies recycled or bamboo toilet paper and gives 50% of its profits to help build toilets and improve sanitation in the global South. But it is a rarity. Analysis from the UK’s Ethical Consumer magazine found in 2019 that major brands were using less recycled paper than they had in 2011.

Climate change? How’s that mixed up in toilet tissue? Does a sudden bout of panic buying help anyone to cut their carbon footprint? It sounds far-fetched.

There’s a gulf between the strains of social lockdown caused by a pandemic and the daring required for an economic change of direction demanded by impending climate catastrophe. And somehow we recognised the pandemic threat, but still fail to recognise the climate mayhem about to overtake us.

But if making the connection adds urgency to the quest for better sanitation, that will bring better health, less poverty and a world whose population stays within slimmer bounds.

And emptying the supermarket shelves of loo rolls two months ago showed how determined if misguided action could achieve very fast results. That could work wonders for slowing greenhouse gas emissions. – Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Heatwaves too hot and wet for human life are here

Lethal heatwaves carrying air turned too hot and wet to survive are a threat which has arrived, thanks to climate change.

LONDON, 11 May, 2020 – Scientists who have repeatedly warned of future lethal conditions of temperature and humidity caused by heatwaves in a world of climate change have grim news: that future has already arrived.

They have combed through local records to identify thousands of episodes in which the dangerous combination of high temperatures and high humidity has risen to levels at which humans could not in theory survive for long. These have happened in Asia, Africa, South and North America and Australia.

More than a dozen such episodes have already been recorded around the Persian Gulf, a region that – researchers warned years ago – could one day become deadly for outdoor workers.

These outbreaks of both sweltering heat and stifling humidity have, researchers report in the journal Science Advances, so far been confined to localised areas and have lasted only hours, but they are now increasing in frequency and intensity.

There are many ways in which extreme heat can lead to death – one group has identified as many as 27 – but at its simplest, a species adapted to maintain a stable temperature by shivering when cold and perspiring when too hot can be overwhelmed by very high temperatures, or in conditions in which the body can no longer lose heat because the air is too moist for perspiration to evaporate.

“Previous studies projected that this would happen several decades from now, but this shows it’s happening right now”

Scientists measure such hazards by what they call a “wet bulb” temperature, and even the strongest and best adapted humans cannot work safely outdoors when this hits 32°C.

Potentially fatal readings identified in hourly reports from 7,877 weather stations between 1979 and 2017 confirm that such temperatures have already reached dangerous levels – and even as high as 35°C – in Saudi Arabia, Doha in Qatar, in the United Arab Emirates, in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida in the US, India and Bangladesh, south China, northwest Australia and Iran.

Researchers began warning years ago of the notional threat of extreme heat and extreme humidity in a world in which humans continue to burn fossil fuels and increase greenhouse gases’ concentrations in the atmosphere, and repeated studies have confirmed the reality of the hazard.

Humans cannot survive outdoor “wet bulb” conditions of 35°C for long. The number of readings beyond 30°C has doubled since 1979. There have been 1,000 readings of 31°C and 80 of 33°C.

“Previous studies projected that this would happen several decades from now, but this shows it’s happening right now,” said Colin Raymond, who completed the research at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, but who is now at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“The times these events last will increase, and the areas they affect will grow, in direct correlation with global warming.” – Climate News Network

Lethal heatwaves carrying air turned too hot and wet to survive are a threat which has arrived, thanks to climate change.

LONDON, 11 May, 2020 – Scientists who have repeatedly warned of future lethal conditions of temperature and humidity caused by heatwaves in a world of climate change have grim news: that future has already arrived.

They have combed through local records to identify thousands of episodes in which the dangerous combination of high temperatures and high humidity has risen to levels at which humans could not in theory survive for long. These have happened in Asia, Africa, South and North America and Australia.

More than a dozen such episodes have already been recorded around the Persian Gulf, a region that – researchers warned years ago – could one day become deadly for outdoor workers.

These outbreaks of both sweltering heat and stifling humidity have, researchers report in the journal Science Advances, so far been confined to localised areas and have lasted only hours, but they are now increasing in frequency and intensity.

There are many ways in which extreme heat can lead to death – one group has identified as many as 27 – but at its simplest, a species adapted to maintain a stable temperature by shivering when cold and perspiring when too hot can be overwhelmed by very high temperatures, or in conditions in which the body can no longer lose heat because the air is too moist for perspiration to evaporate.

“Previous studies projected that this would happen several decades from now, but this shows it’s happening right now”

Scientists measure such hazards by what they call a “wet bulb” temperature, and even the strongest and best adapted humans cannot work safely outdoors when this hits 32°C.

Potentially fatal readings identified in hourly reports from 7,877 weather stations between 1979 and 2017 confirm that such temperatures have already reached dangerous levels – and even as high as 35°C – in Saudi Arabia, Doha in Qatar, in the United Arab Emirates, in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida in the US, India and Bangladesh, south China, northwest Australia and Iran.

Researchers began warning years ago of the notional threat of extreme heat and extreme humidity in a world in which humans continue to burn fossil fuels and increase greenhouse gases’ concentrations in the atmosphere, and repeated studies have confirmed the reality of the hazard.

Humans cannot survive outdoor “wet bulb” conditions of 35°C for long. The number of readings beyond 30°C has doubled since 1979. There have been 1,000 readings of 31°C and 80 of 33°C.

“Previous studies projected that this would happen several decades from now, but this shows it’s happening right now,” said Colin Raymond, who completed the research at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, but who is now at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“The times these events last will increase, and the areas they affect will grow, in direct correlation with global warming.” – Climate News Network

How to save economy and climate together

There’s growing agreement by economists and scientists: Covid-19 needs the world to rescue both economy and climate together.

LONDON, 7 May, 2020 − The warnings are stark. With the Covid-19 crisis wreaking global havoc and the overheating atmosphere threatening far worse in the long term, especially if governments rely on the same old carbon-intensive ways, both economy and climate will sink or swim together.

“There are reasons to fear that we will leap from the Covid-19 frying pan into the climate fire”, says a new report, Will Covid-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on Climate Change? Published by the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment at the University of Oxford, UK, it says now is the time for governments to restructure their economies and act decisively to tackle climate change.

“The climate emergency is like the Covid-19 emergency, just in slow motion and much graver”, says the study, written by a team of economic and climate change heavyweights including Joseph Stiglitz, Cameron Hepburn and Nicholas Stern.

Economic recovery packages emerging in the coming months will have a significant impact on whether globally agreed climate goals are met, says the report.

“The recovery packages can either kill two birds with one stone – setting the global economy on a pathway to net-zero emissions – or lock us into a fossil system from which it will be nearly impossible to escape.”

“In the short term clean energy infrastructure construction is particularly labour-intensive, creating twice as many jobs per dollar as fossil fuel investments”

The study’s authors talked to economists, finance officials and central banks around the world.

They say that putting policies aimed at tackling climate change at the centre of recovery plans makes economic as well as environmental sense.

“… Green projects create more jobs, deliver higher short-term returns per dollar spend and lead to increased long term-term cost saving, by comparison with traditional fiscal stimulus”, says the report.

“Examples include investment in renewable energy production, such as wind or solar.

“As previous research has shown, in the short term clean energy infrastructure construction is particularly labour-intensive, creating twice as many jobs per dollar as fossil fuel investments.”

Fundamental change coming

Covid-19 is causing great suffering and considerable economic hardship around the world. But it has also resulted in cleaner air and waterways, a quieter environment and far less commuting to and from work, with people in the developed countries doing more work from home.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a recent survey that Covid-19 and other factors were bringing about a fundamental change in the global energy market, with the use of climate-changing fossil fuels falling sharply and prices of oil, coal and gas plummeting. The IEA also projected that global emissions of greenhouses gases would fall by 8% in 2020, more than any other year on record.

The Oxford report says that with the implementation of the right policies, these positive changes can be sustained: by tackling climate change, many economic and other problems will be solved.

Sceptics have often said that public resistance to changes in lifestyle will prevent governments from taking any substantial action on the climate issue. The study begs to differ: “The (Covid-19) crisis has also demonstrated that governments can intervene decisively once the scale of an emergency is clear and public support is present.”

Economists and finance experts are calling for the UK to play a decisive role in ensuring that economies around the world do not return to the old, high-carbon ways but instead implement green recovery packages.

Climate conference

The UK is president and co-host of COP-26, the round of UN climate talks originally due to take place in November this year but now, due to Covid, postponed to early 2021.

The round is seen as a vital part of efforts to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England, now a finance adviser to the British prime minister for COP-26, says the UK has the opportunity to bring about fundamental changes in order to combat a warming world.

“The UK’s global leadership in financial services provides a unique opportunity to address climate change by transforming the financial system”, he says.

“To seize it, all financial decisions need to take into account the risks from climate change and the opportunities from the transition to a net zero economy.” − Climate News Network

There’s growing agreement by economists and scientists: Covid-19 needs the world to rescue both economy and climate together.

LONDON, 7 May, 2020 − The warnings are stark. With the Covid-19 crisis wreaking global havoc and the overheating atmosphere threatening far worse in the long term, especially if governments rely on the same old carbon-intensive ways, both economy and climate will sink or swim together.

“There are reasons to fear that we will leap from the Covid-19 frying pan into the climate fire”, says a new report, Will Covid-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on Climate Change? Published by the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment at the University of Oxford, UK, it says now is the time for governments to restructure their economies and act decisively to tackle climate change.

“The climate emergency is like the Covid-19 emergency, just in slow motion and much graver”, says the study, written by a team of economic and climate change heavyweights including Joseph Stiglitz, Cameron Hepburn and Nicholas Stern.

Economic recovery packages emerging in the coming months will have a significant impact on whether globally agreed climate goals are met, says the report.

“The recovery packages can either kill two birds with one stone – setting the global economy on a pathway to net-zero emissions – or lock us into a fossil system from which it will be nearly impossible to escape.”

“In the short term clean energy infrastructure construction is particularly labour-intensive, creating twice as many jobs per dollar as fossil fuel investments”

The study’s authors talked to economists, finance officials and central banks around the world.

They say that putting policies aimed at tackling climate change at the centre of recovery plans makes economic as well as environmental sense.

“… Green projects create more jobs, deliver higher short-term returns per dollar spend and lead to increased long term-term cost saving, by comparison with traditional fiscal stimulus”, says the report.

“Examples include investment in renewable energy production, such as wind or solar.

“As previous research has shown, in the short term clean energy infrastructure construction is particularly labour-intensive, creating twice as many jobs per dollar as fossil fuel investments.”

Fundamental change coming

Covid-19 is causing great suffering and considerable economic hardship around the world. But it has also resulted in cleaner air and waterways, a quieter environment and far less commuting to and from work, with people in the developed countries doing more work from home.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a recent survey that Covid-19 and other factors were bringing about a fundamental change in the global energy market, with the use of climate-changing fossil fuels falling sharply and prices of oil, coal and gas plummeting. The IEA also projected that global emissions of greenhouses gases would fall by 8% in 2020, more than any other year on record.

The Oxford report says that with the implementation of the right policies, these positive changes can be sustained: by tackling climate change, many economic and other problems will be solved.

Sceptics have often said that public resistance to changes in lifestyle will prevent governments from taking any substantial action on the climate issue. The study begs to differ: “The (Covid-19) crisis has also demonstrated that governments can intervene decisively once the scale of an emergency is clear and public support is present.”

Economists and finance experts are calling for the UK to play a decisive role in ensuring that economies around the world do not return to the old, high-carbon ways but instead implement green recovery packages.

Climate conference

The UK is president and co-host of COP-26, the round of UN climate talks originally due to take place in November this year but now, due to Covid, postponed to early 2021.

The round is seen as a vital part of efforts to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England, now a finance adviser to the British prime minister for COP-26, says the UK has the opportunity to bring about fundamental changes in order to combat a warming world.

“The UK’s global leadership in financial services provides a unique opportunity to address climate change by transforming the financial system”, he says.

“To seize it, all financial decisions need to take into account the risks from climate change and the opportunities from the transition to a net zero economy.” − Climate News Network

US farm workers face worsening lethal heat

By 2100, US farmers can expect more lethal heat, the equivalent of two months when it’s unsafe to pick crops.

LONDON, 6 May, 2020 – Life is already bad enough for underpaid and overworked crop pickers in the US, but as lethal heat levels rise they will render outdoor labour in the harvest season increasingly impossible.

The men and women who gather melons and strawberries, nuts and grapes, onions and lettuce already find conditions too hot to handle on at least 21 days a year.

By 2050, US agricultural workers will meet unsafe daytime summer temperatures on 39 days each harvest season. And by 2100, this number could triple to 62 unsafe days, according to new research.

Unsafe means that the levels of high thermometer readings and high humidity outdoors could put field workers at risk of heat exhaustion, heat stroke, heat cramps, dehydration, potential kidney injury and even death.

There are roughly one million people in the US officially employed picking crops in states such as Oregon, California, Washington and Florida. The actual number however is estimated to be two million.

“You don’t have to go to the global south to find people who will get hurt with even modest amounts of global warming – you just have to look in your own backyard”

More than three-quarters of them are foreign-born, many from Mexico. Only about half of these have lawful authority to work in the US. Of these, 71% do not speak English well, and on average educational levels are low. Fewer than half have medical insurance, and one third of the families of agricultural workers live below the poverty line.

Their housing and sanitary conditions are often not good, they are often paid on the basis of crops picked, so that to survive they must neglect breaks and work for longer, and they are often deprived of shade, according to data compiled in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

High summer extremes are a hazard, and can cause death on a significant scale. Climate scientists have established that by the century’s end, more than a billion people worldwide will be placed in danger of summer extremes, and the risks are growing.

One enterprising group has even numbered 27 ways in which high temperatures and high humidity can kill. Economists have already counted the price paid in falling productivity in severe conditions in Australia, and – since fruit tends to ripen as the thermometer rises and must be picked at the right moment – the hazards faced by grape-pickers in the world’s vineyards.

When Michelle Tigchelaar began her study of the climate impacts, she was at the University of Washington. She is now at Stanford University in California.

Low estimate

She and colleagues simply followed the climate projections and the impact rising global average temperatures will have on the intensity, frequency and duration of heat waves, and found that with a 2°C rise, expected by 2050, the level of unsafe days leapt from 21 to 39. At 4°C – and there is a high risk on present trends – then unsafe conditions could by 2100 reach 62 days.

“I was surprised by the scale of the change – seeing a doubling of unsafe days by mid-century, then a tripling by 2100. And we think that’s a low estimate,” Dr Tigchelaar said.

“The people who are the most vulnerable are asked to take the highest risk so that we, as consumers, can eat a healthy nutritious diet.”

And her co-author David Battisti of the University of Washington said: “The climate science community has long been pointing to the global south, the developing countries, as places that will be disproportionately affected by climate change.

“This shows that you don’t have to go to the global south to find people who will get hurt with even modest amounts of global warming – you just have to look in your own backyard.” – Climate News Network

By 2100, US farmers can expect more lethal heat, the equivalent of two months when it’s unsafe to pick crops.

LONDON, 6 May, 2020 – Life is already bad enough for underpaid and overworked crop pickers in the US, but as lethal heat levels rise they will render outdoor labour in the harvest season increasingly impossible.

The men and women who gather melons and strawberries, nuts and grapes, onions and lettuce already find conditions too hot to handle on at least 21 days a year.

By 2050, US agricultural workers will meet unsafe daytime summer temperatures on 39 days each harvest season. And by 2100, this number could triple to 62 unsafe days, according to new research.

Unsafe means that the levels of high thermometer readings and high humidity outdoors could put field workers at risk of heat exhaustion, heat stroke, heat cramps, dehydration, potential kidney injury and even death.

There are roughly one million people in the US officially employed picking crops in states such as Oregon, California, Washington and Florida. The actual number however is estimated to be two million.

“You don’t have to go to the global south to find people who will get hurt with even modest amounts of global warming – you just have to look in your own backyard”

More than three-quarters of them are foreign-born, many from Mexico. Only about half of these have lawful authority to work in the US. Of these, 71% do not speak English well, and on average educational levels are low. Fewer than half have medical insurance, and one third of the families of agricultural workers live below the poverty line.

Their housing and sanitary conditions are often not good, they are often paid on the basis of crops picked, so that to survive they must neglect breaks and work for longer, and they are often deprived of shade, according to data compiled in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

High summer extremes are a hazard, and can cause death on a significant scale. Climate scientists have established that by the century’s end, more than a billion people worldwide will be placed in danger of summer extremes, and the risks are growing.

One enterprising group has even numbered 27 ways in which high temperatures and high humidity can kill. Economists have already counted the price paid in falling productivity in severe conditions in Australia, and – since fruit tends to ripen as the thermometer rises and must be picked at the right moment – the hazards faced by grape-pickers in the world’s vineyards.

When Michelle Tigchelaar began her study of the climate impacts, she was at the University of Washington. She is now at Stanford University in California.

Low estimate

She and colleagues simply followed the climate projections and the impact rising global average temperatures will have on the intensity, frequency and duration of heat waves, and found that with a 2°C rise, expected by 2050, the level of unsafe days leapt from 21 to 39. At 4°C – and there is a high risk on present trends – then unsafe conditions could by 2100 reach 62 days.

“I was surprised by the scale of the change – seeing a doubling of unsafe days by mid-century, then a tripling by 2100. And we think that’s a low estimate,” Dr Tigchelaar said.

“The people who are the most vulnerable are asked to take the highest risk so that we, as consumers, can eat a healthy nutritious diet.”

And her co-author David Battisti of the University of Washington said: “The climate science community has long been pointing to the global south, the developing countries, as places that will be disproportionately affected by climate change.

“This shows that you don’t have to go to the global south to find people who will get hurt with even modest amounts of global warming – you just have to look in your own backyard.” – Climate News Network

Tropical deforestation releases deadly infections

Brazil’s burning forests are bad news for the global climate. Now scientists say the trees harbour deadly infections too.

SÃO PAULO, 29 April, 2020 − As forest destruction continues unabated in Brazil, scientists are alarmed that, as well as spurring climate change, it may unleash new and deadly infections on humankind.

There is growing awareness that large-scale tropical deforestation, as in the Amazon, not only brings disastrous consequences for the climate, but releases new diseases like Covid-19 by enabling infections to pass from wild animals to human beings.

As one well-known Amazon scientist, biologist Philip Fearnside, puts it: “Amazon deforestation facilitates transmission both of new diseases and of old ones like malaria.

“The connection between deforestation and infectious diseases is just one more impact of deforestation, added to impacts of losing both Amazonia’s biodiversity and the forest’s vital climate functions in avoiding global warming and in recycling water.”

He is one of the co-authors of a paper by a team led by Joel Henrique Ellwanger on the impacts of Amazon deforestation on infectious diseases and public health, which has just been published in the Annals of the Brazilian Academy.

Dr Fearnside adds: “Many ‘new’ human diseases originate from pathogens transferred from wild animals, as occurred with the Covid-19 coronavirus. Amazonia contains a vast number of animal species and their associated pathogens with the potential to be transferred to humans.”

No surprise

The warnings are not new. Ana Lúcia Tourinho, with a Ph.D in ecology at the Federal University of Mato Grosso (UFMT), interviewed by Deutsche Welle, said: “For at least two decades scientists have repeated the warning: as populations advance on the forests, the risk grows of micro-organisms – up till then in equilibrium – migrating to humans and causing victims.

“That is why news of the propagation of the new coronavirus detected in China, which has spread throughout the world, was not a surprise.

“When a vírus which is not part of our evolutionary history leaves its natural host and enters our body it brings chaos”, she said.

Isolated and in equilibrium with their habitats, like dense forests, this sort of vírus would not be a threat to humans. The problem comes when this natural reservoir is destroyed and occupied (by other species).

Scientific studies published years before the present pandemic already showed the connection between the loss of forest, proliferation of bats in the degraded areas, and the coronavirus.

One example is the study by Dr Aneta Afelt, a researcher at the University of Warsaw, who concluded that the high rates of forest destruction in the last 40 years in Asia were an indication that the next serious infectious disease could come from there.

“For at least two decades scientists have repeated the warning: as populations advance on the forests, the risk grows of micro-organisms migrating to humans”

To reach this conclusion, she followed the trail of previous pandemics triggered by other coronaviruses like Sars in 2002 and 2003, and Mers in 2012.

“Because it’s one of the regions where population growth is most intense, where sanitary conditions remain bad and where the rate of deforestation is high, south-east Asia has all the conditions for becoming the place where infectious diseases emerge or re-emerge”, she wrote in 2018.

If destruction of the Amazon continues at the present accelerated pace, Dr Tourinho says, and it is turned into an area of savannah, “we cannot imagine what might come out of there in terms of diseases.”

The relationship between deforestation and the increase of diseases in the Amazon has been studied by Brazil’s Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA).

A 2015 survey in 773 Amazon towns showed that for each 1% of forest destroyed, malaria cases increased by 23%. The incidence of leishmaniasis, a disease spread by the bite of sand flies, which causes skin sores, disfigurement and can kill, also increased.

Since Jair Bolsonaro, an extreme right-wing climate denier, became president of Brazil in January 2019, the rate of deforestation, followed by forest fires, has exploded.

Officially-sanctioned illegality

This year the Institute of People and the Environment of the Amazon (Imazon)’s deforestation alert system (SAD) reports that an area of 254 sq km in the Amazon region was deforested in March, a increase of 279% over the same month last year.

This is even more alarming because traditionally deforestation begins in June, at the end of the rainy season. This year it has begun three months earlier.

The illegal clearing of the forest, much of it in indigenous reserves or conservation areas, by land grabbers, for cattle, soy, and logging projects, and by miners panning for gold, has been openly encouraged by Bolsonaro and his so-called Environment Minister, Ricardo Salles.

The Amazon Council set up by the president to coordinate action in the region does not include a single scientist, environmentalist or Amazon researcher, or even any experts from the government agencies for the environment and indigenous affairs, Ibama and Funai.

Instead, all its members are officers of the armed forces or the police. The likelihood that it will do anything serious to stop deforestation is zero.

Yet the destruction of the Amazon is a disaster not only for the world’s climate but also for its health, and Brazil is set to become one of the worst-affected countries. Climate News Network

Brazil’s burning forests are bad news for the global climate. Now scientists say the trees harbour deadly infections too.

SÃO PAULO, 29 April, 2020 − As forest destruction continues unabated in Brazil, scientists are alarmed that, as well as spurring climate change, it may unleash new and deadly infections on humankind.

There is growing awareness that large-scale tropical deforestation, as in the Amazon, not only brings disastrous consequences for the climate, but releases new diseases like Covid-19 by enabling infections to pass from wild animals to human beings.

As one well-known Amazon scientist, biologist Philip Fearnside, puts it: “Amazon deforestation facilitates transmission both of new diseases and of old ones like malaria.

“The connection between deforestation and infectious diseases is just one more impact of deforestation, added to impacts of losing both Amazonia’s biodiversity and the forest’s vital climate functions in avoiding global warming and in recycling water.”

He is one of the co-authors of a paper by a team led by Joel Henrique Ellwanger on the impacts of Amazon deforestation on infectious diseases and public health, which has just been published in the Annals of the Brazilian Academy.

Dr Fearnside adds: “Many ‘new’ human diseases originate from pathogens transferred from wild animals, as occurred with the Covid-19 coronavirus. Amazonia contains a vast number of animal species and their associated pathogens with the potential to be transferred to humans.”

No surprise

The warnings are not new. Ana Lúcia Tourinho, with a Ph.D in ecology at the Federal University of Mato Grosso (UFMT), interviewed by Deutsche Welle, said: “For at least two decades scientists have repeated the warning: as populations advance on the forests, the risk grows of micro-organisms – up till then in equilibrium – migrating to humans and causing victims.

“That is why news of the propagation of the new coronavirus detected in China, which has spread throughout the world, was not a surprise.

“When a vírus which is not part of our evolutionary history leaves its natural host and enters our body it brings chaos”, she said.

Isolated and in equilibrium with their habitats, like dense forests, this sort of vírus would not be a threat to humans. The problem comes when this natural reservoir is destroyed and occupied (by other species).

Scientific studies published years before the present pandemic already showed the connection between the loss of forest, proliferation of bats in the degraded areas, and the coronavirus.

One example is the study by Dr Aneta Afelt, a researcher at the University of Warsaw, who concluded that the high rates of forest destruction in the last 40 years in Asia were an indication that the next serious infectious disease could come from there.

“For at least two decades scientists have repeated the warning: as populations advance on the forests, the risk grows of micro-organisms migrating to humans”

To reach this conclusion, she followed the trail of previous pandemics triggered by other coronaviruses like Sars in 2002 and 2003, and Mers in 2012.

“Because it’s one of the regions where population growth is most intense, where sanitary conditions remain bad and where the rate of deforestation is high, south-east Asia has all the conditions for becoming the place where infectious diseases emerge or re-emerge”, she wrote in 2018.

If destruction of the Amazon continues at the present accelerated pace, Dr Tourinho says, and it is turned into an area of savannah, “we cannot imagine what might come out of there in terms of diseases.”

The relationship between deforestation and the increase of diseases in the Amazon has been studied by Brazil’s Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA).

A 2015 survey in 773 Amazon towns showed that for each 1% of forest destroyed, malaria cases increased by 23%. The incidence of leishmaniasis, a disease spread by the bite of sand flies, which causes skin sores, disfigurement and can kill, also increased.

Since Jair Bolsonaro, an extreme right-wing climate denier, became president of Brazil in January 2019, the rate of deforestation, followed by forest fires, has exploded.

Officially-sanctioned illegality

This year the Institute of People and the Environment of the Amazon (Imazon)’s deforestation alert system (SAD) reports that an area of 254 sq km in the Amazon region was deforested in March, a increase of 279% over the same month last year.

This is even more alarming because traditionally deforestation begins in June, at the end of the rainy season. This year it has begun three months earlier.

The illegal clearing of the forest, much of it in indigenous reserves or conservation areas, by land grabbers, for cattle, soy, and logging projects, and by miners panning for gold, has been openly encouraged by Bolsonaro and his so-called Environment Minister, Ricardo Salles.

The Amazon Council set up by the president to coordinate action in the region does not include a single scientist, environmentalist or Amazon researcher, or even any experts from the government agencies for the environment and indigenous affairs, Ibama and Funai.

Instead, all its members are officers of the armed forces or the police. The likelihood that it will do anything serious to stop deforestation is zero.

Yet the destruction of the Amazon is a disaster not only for the world’s climate but also for its health, and Brazil is set to become one of the worst-affected countries. Climate News Network

Carbon dioxide pollution dulls the brain

Carbon dioxide pollution slows our thinking. It could get bad enough to stop some of us thinking our way out of danger.

LONDON, 27 April, 2020 – If humans go on burning ever-greater quantities of fossil fuels, then tomorrow’s children in badly-ventilated classrooms or workers in crowded offices could find their wits dulled: the predicted concentrations of carbon dioxide pollution by 2100 could reduce the ability to make decisions by 25%, and cut the capacity for complex strategic thinking by as much as half.

That is, global warming driven by greenhouse gas emissions wouldn’t just be bad for the planet and its oceans: it would also make Homo sapiens measurably less sapient.

Although outdoor CO2 levels could more than triple – and at 930 parts per million (ppm), this would be far higher than humans have ever experienced – concentrations in enclosed spaces could rise much higher.

Research on seamen aboard submarines and in astronaut tests have confirmed that CO2 builds up in confined spaces, to limit the supply of oxygen to the brain. As this happens, people in such conditions have problems responding to any stimulus or even recognising a threat.

City atmospheres normally have higher carbon dioxide concentrations than in the countryside. And in poorly-ventilated city buildings, higher carbon dioxide levels could begin to limit human potential.

Direct effect

“It’s amazing how high CO2 levels get in enclosed spaces,” said Kris Karnauskas, of the University of Colorado, Boulder and the author of a new study in the journal Geohealth.

“It affects everybody – from little kids packed into classrooms to scientists, business people and decision makers, to regular folks in their houses and apartments.”

Other researchers have repeatedly warned that any steps to reduce emissions would more than pay off in terms of advancing human health and wealth, and that conversely expanding fossil fuel emissions could only increase damaging atmospheric pollution, along with potentially life-threatening extremes of summer heat.

But these are indirect effects of carbon dioxide concentration: Dr Karnauskas and his colleagues were more interested in a direct effect.

They report that they looked simply at climate scenarios, including the notorious business-as-usual prediction in which humans go on destroying forests, burning coal and oil, and making cement to build ever-expanding cities.

“It’s amazing how high CO2 levels get in enclosed spaces. It affects everybody – from little kids to scientists, business people and decision makers, to regular folks in their houses and apartments”

In this scenario, carbon dioxide concentrations – at around 280 ppm for most of human history, but already past the 400ppm mark – will rise to 930ppm by the end of the century.

If that happens, then indoor concentrations could quickly reach 1400ppm. And this could, on some research findings, begin to compromise what psychologists call high-level cognitive domains. So basic decision-making ability could falter by a quarter, and concentration on complex problems by 50%.

Quite literally, carbon dioxide build-up could reduce the capacity to think clearly. Such an outcome is far from certain, and the Geohealth researchers recognise this.

“This is a complex problem, and our study is at the beginning,” said Dr Karnauskas. “It’s not just a matter of predicting global outdoor CO2 levels. It’s going from global background emissions, to concentrations in the urban environment, to the indoor concentrations and finally the resulting human impact.

“We need even broader, interdisciplinary teams of researchers to explore this.” – Climate News Network

Carbon dioxide pollution slows our thinking. It could get bad enough to stop some of us thinking our way out of danger.

LONDON, 27 April, 2020 – If humans go on burning ever-greater quantities of fossil fuels, then tomorrow’s children in badly-ventilated classrooms or workers in crowded offices could find their wits dulled: the predicted concentrations of carbon dioxide pollution by 2100 could reduce the ability to make decisions by 25%, and cut the capacity for complex strategic thinking by as much as half.

That is, global warming driven by greenhouse gas emissions wouldn’t just be bad for the planet and its oceans: it would also make Homo sapiens measurably less sapient.

Although outdoor CO2 levels could more than triple – and at 930 parts per million (ppm), this would be far higher than humans have ever experienced – concentrations in enclosed spaces could rise much higher.

Research on seamen aboard submarines and in astronaut tests have confirmed that CO2 builds up in confined spaces, to limit the supply of oxygen to the brain. As this happens, people in such conditions have problems responding to any stimulus or even recognising a threat.

City atmospheres normally have higher carbon dioxide concentrations than in the countryside. And in poorly-ventilated city buildings, higher carbon dioxide levels could begin to limit human potential.

Direct effect

“It’s amazing how high CO2 levels get in enclosed spaces,” said Kris Karnauskas, of the University of Colorado, Boulder and the author of a new study in the journal Geohealth.

“It affects everybody – from little kids packed into classrooms to scientists, business people and decision makers, to regular folks in their houses and apartments.”

Other researchers have repeatedly warned that any steps to reduce emissions would more than pay off in terms of advancing human health and wealth, and that conversely expanding fossil fuel emissions could only increase damaging atmospheric pollution, along with potentially life-threatening extremes of summer heat.

But these are indirect effects of carbon dioxide concentration: Dr Karnauskas and his colleagues were more interested in a direct effect.

They report that they looked simply at climate scenarios, including the notorious business-as-usual prediction in which humans go on destroying forests, burning coal and oil, and making cement to build ever-expanding cities.

“It’s amazing how high CO2 levels get in enclosed spaces. It affects everybody – from little kids to scientists, business people and decision makers, to regular folks in their houses and apartments”

In this scenario, carbon dioxide concentrations – at around 280 ppm for most of human history, but already past the 400ppm mark – will rise to 930ppm by the end of the century.

If that happens, then indoor concentrations could quickly reach 1400ppm. And this could, on some research findings, begin to compromise what psychologists call high-level cognitive domains. So basic decision-making ability could falter by a quarter, and concentration on complex problems by 50%.

Quite literally, carbon dioxide build-up could reduce the capacity to think clearly. Such an outcome is far from certain, and the Geohealth researchers recognise this.

“This is a complex problem, and our study is at the beginning,” said Dr Karnauskas. “It’s not just a matter of predicting global outdoor CO2 levels. It’s going from global background emissions, to concentrations in the urban environment, to the indoor concentrations and finally the resulting human impact.

“We need even broader, interdisciplinary teams of researchers to explore this.” – Climate News Network

Covid-19 severity ‘linked to higher air pollution’

This story is a part of Covering Climate Now’s week of coverage focused on Climate Solutions, to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Covering Climate Now is a global journalism collaboration committed to strengthening coverage of the climate story.

Scientists in the UK say they have found evidence suggesting air pollution levels in England are linked to Covid-19 severity.

LONDON, 21 April, 2020 − In research which could, if confirmed by further studies, have fundamental implications not only for health but also for the climate crisis, scientists at the University of Cambridge say they have found an association between living in parts of England with high levels of air pollution and Covid-19 severity.

Because of the urgent need to share information relating to the pandemic, the researchers say, they have decided to publish their report on medRxiv, the preprint server for health sciences, even though it has not yet been peer-reviewed. However, they say, this preliminary data is supported by that from other countries.

The initial symptoms of Covid-19 include fever, but do not always include breathing difficulties. But, the researchers point out, some patients do go on to develop very serious respiratory problems. Although most experience only mild illness, around a quarter of patients admitted to hospital need intensive care treatment because of viral pneumonia with respiratory complications.

Research suggests that this probably stems from an overactive immune response, they say − but it is not clear why some patients are at greater risk of severe disease.

Previous studies have suggested that people over the age of 60 or with underlying health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and cancer, are at highest risk of severe disease or death.

Long-term exposure to air pollutants, including nitrogen oxides and ground-level ozone from car exhaust fumes or burning fossil fuels is a known risk factor for these health conditions.

Higher infection risk

Such pollutants can also cause a persistent inflammatory response and increase the risk of infection by viruses that target the respiratory tract.

In this study the researchers, from the Medical Research Council toxicology unit at Cambridge, report an association between certain air pollutants and Covid-19 in several parts of England.

They analysed the data on total Covid-19 cases and deaths, against the levels of three major air pollutants, collected during 2018 and 2019, when no Covid-19 case had been reported.

Their study used publicly available data from seven regions in England, where a minimum of 2,000 coronavirus infections and 200 deaths have been reported from from February to 8 April 2020.

The largest number of Covid deaths in England has been recorded across London and the Midlands; previous studies have shown that the annual average of nitrogen dioxide concentrations are largest in these two regions, both of which have heavy levels of traffic and industrial concentrations.

When the team compared the annual average of daily nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide levels to the total number of Covid-19 cases in each region, they found a positive correlation – in other words, the higher the pollutant levels, the greater the number of cases and deaths.

“This highlights the importance of reducing air pollution for the protection of human health, both in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond”

Both pollutants result from a chemical reaction between nitrogen and oxygen during the combustion of fossil fuels, and so they represent a significant source of air pollution in areas with high road traffic.

Marco Travaglio, a PhD student at the MRC Toxicology Unit, said: “Our results provide the first evidence that SARS-CoV-2 case fatality is associated with increased nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide levels in England.

“London, the Midlands and the northwest [of England] show the largest concentration of these air pollutants, with southern regions displaying the lowest levels in the country, and the number of Covid-19 deaths follows a similar trend.”

The team found a negative association between ambient ground levels of ozone and the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths in each region – in other words, reduced ozone levels are associated with a greater number of cases and deaths.

Ozone is a secondary by-product of traffic-related air pollution and is generated through sunlight-driven reactions between motor-vehicle emissions and volatile organic compounds. The lowest levels of ozone were found in highly urbanised regions, such as London or the Midlands.

This is likely to be due to the highly reactive nature of ozone, which results in the gas being converted to other chemicals, a phenomenon previously reported for areas of heavy traffic.

Supporting data

Dr Miguel Martins, senior author of the study, said: “Our study adds to growing evidence from northern Italy and the USA that high levels of air pollution are linked to deadlier cases of Covid-19.

“This is something we saw during the previous SARS outbreak back in 2003, where long-term exposure to air pollutants had a detrimental effect on the prognosis of SARS patients in China.

“This highlights the importance of reducing air pollution for the protection of human health, both in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond.”

The researchers say their findings show only a correlation, and that further research is needed to confirm that air pollution makes Covid-19 worse.

So their research is suitably tentative and will rightly be treated with caution by other scientists. It does however pose a range of questions, which include:

•are the UK’s air pollution standards adequate?

•what can be done to protect children, the elderly and other specially vulnerable people?

•what further protection is available for everyone who lives in areas with toxic air?

•what are the implications for climate and energy policy?

•what are the geopolitical implications of the suggested Covid-19/air pollution association?

Few of these preliminary questions are likely to receive an immediate answer. − Climate News Network

This story is a part of Covering Climate Now’s week of coverage focused on Climate Solutions, to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Covering Climate Now is a global journalism collaboration committed to strengthening coverage of the climate story.

Scientists in the UK say they have found evidence suggesting air pollution levels in England are linked to Covid-19 severity.

LONDON, 21 April, 2020 − In research which could, if confirmed by further studies, have fundamental implications not only for health but also for the climate crisis, scientists at the University of Cambridge say they have found an association between living in parts of England with high levels of air pollution and Covid-19 severity.

Because of the urgent need to share information relating to the pandemic, the researchers say, they have decided to publish their report on medRxiv, the preprint server for health sciences, even though it has not yet been peer-reviewed. However, they say, this preliminary data is supported by that from other countries.

The initial symptoms of Covid-19 include fever, but do not always include breathing difficulties. But, the researchers point out, some patients do go on to develop very serious respiratory problems. Although most experience only mild illness, around a quarter of patients admitted to hospital need intensive care treatment because of viral pneumonia with respiratory complications.

Research suggests that this probably stems from an overactive immune response, they say − but it is not clear why some patients are at greater risk of severe disease.

Previous studies have suggested that people over the age of 60 or with underlying health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and cancer, are at highest risk of severe disease or death.

Long-term exposure to air pollutants, including nitrogen oxides and ground-level ozone from car exhaust fumes or burning fossil fuels is a known risk factor for these health conditions.

Higher infection risk

Such pollutants can also cause a persistent inflammatory response and increase the risk of infection by viruses that target the respiratory tract.

In this study the researchers, from the Medical Research Council toxicology unit at Cambridge, report an association between certain air pollutants and Covid-19 in several parts of England.

They analysed the data on total Covid-19 cases and deaths, against the levels of three major air pollutants, collected during 2018 and 2019, when no Covid-19 case had been reported.

Their study used publicly available data from seven regions in England, where a minimum of 2,000 coronavirus infections and 200 deaths have been reported from from February to 8 April 2020.

The largest number of Covid deaths in England has been recorded across London and the Midlands; previous studies have shown that the annual average of nitrogen dioxide concentrations are largest in these two regions, both of which have heavy levels of traffic and industrial concentrations.

When the team compared the annual average of daily nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide levels to the total number of Covid-19 cases in each region, they found a positive correlation – in other words, the higher the pollutant levels, the greater the number of cases and deaths.

“This highlights the importance of reducing air pollution for the protection of human health, both in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond”

Both pollutants result from a chemical reaction between nitrogen and oxygen during the combustion of fossil fuels, and so they represent a significant source of air pollution in areas with high road traffic.

Marco Travaglio, a PhD student at the MRC Toxicology Unit, said: “Our results provide the first evidence that SARS-CoV-2 case fatality is associated with increased nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide levels in England.

“London, the Midlands and the northwest [of England] show the largest concentration of these air pollutants, with southern regions displaying the lowest levels in the country, and the number of Covid-19 deaths follows a similar trend.”

The team found a negative association between ambient ground levels of ozone and the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths in each region – in other words, reduced ozone levels are associated with a greater number of cases and deaths.

Ozone is a secondary by-product of traffic-related air pollution and is generated through sunlight-driven reactions between motor-vehicle emissions and volatile organic compounds. The lowest levels of ozone were found in highly urbanised regions, such as London or the Midlands.

This is likely to be due to the highly reactive nature of ozone, which results in the gas being converted to other chemicals, a phenomenon previously reported for areas of heavy traffic.

Supporting data

Dr Miguel Martins, senior author of the study, said: “Our study adds to growing evidence from northern Italy and the USA that high levels of air pollution are linked to deadlier cases of Covid-19.

“This is something we saw during the previous SARS outbreak back in 2003, where long-term exposure to air pollutants had a detrimental effect on the prognosis of SARS patients in China.

“This highlights the importance of reducing air pollution for the protection of human health, both in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond.”

The researchers say their findings show only a correlation, and that further research is needed to confirm that air pollution makes Covid-19 worse.

So their research is suitably tentative and will rightly be treated with caution by other scientists. It does however pose a range of questions, which include:

•are the UK’s air pollution standards adequate?

•what can be done to protect children, the elderly and other specially vulnerable people?

•what further protection is available for everyone who lives in areas with toxic air?

•what are the implications for climate and energy policy?

•what are the geopolitical implications of the suggested Covid-19/air pollution association?

Few of these preliminary questions are likely to receive an immediate answer. − Climate News Network