Daily Archives: March 16, 2018

Study Downgrades Groundwater Contribution to Sea Level Rise

Groundwater pumping for agriculture and other uses has risen sharply. But a new study says it isn’t contributing as much as previously thought to sea level rise.

(First published on May 3, 2016, on State of the Planet.)

Some research suggests that, along with melting ice sheets and glaciers, the water pumped from underground for irrigation and other uses, on the rise worldwide, could contribute substantially to rising sea levels over the next 50 years. A new study published in Nature Climate Change says the magnitude is much lower than previously estimated.

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How to Rethink Urban Transit, and Pay for It, Too

New York subway construction in the beginning of the 20th century. Aging infrastructure hampers the system’s efficiency. Photo: NY Public Library Digital Collections

(First published on April 19, 2016, on State of the Planet.)

Cities around the world are growing, creating pressure to provide adequate transportation systems to get people to and from their work and homes. In New York City, the population is growing again after decades of suburban flight, which focused much of public and private transportation spending on accommodating people traveling in cars.

Public transit systems around New York face increasing pressure from both an aging infrastructure and the need to carry more and more people. According to PlaNYC, subway ridership is the highest it’s been in over 60 years; 43 percent of New Yorkers travel to work by subway and commuter rail; more than 4,000 public buses carry more than 650 million riders throughout New York City each year.

A key question is how will we pay for these systems—both to fix the deteriorating infrastructure, and to pay for ongoing operations. This is a familiar topic for Elliott Sclar, professor of urban planning at the Columbia School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and the director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at the Earth Institute.

In a new book, Improving Urban Access: New Approaches to Funding Transport Investment,” Sclar and other researchers lay out the issues facing cities and offer new ways to think about who pays for public transportation, and how and why this can be changed. The new book continues lines of thinking from an earlier volume, Urban Access for the 21st Century.

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Zeroing in on Life Around a Hydrothermal Vent


(First published on April 13, 2016, on State of the Planet.)

Vicki Ferrini has spent a lot of time working on mapping the ocean floor, and now she’s sailing in the South Pacific to get a closer look.

Ferrini, who works in the Marine Geology and Geophysics Division of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, is sailing aboard the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s R/V Falkor. Scientists aboard the research vessel are exploring the life around hydrothermal vent systems 2,400 meters beneath the surface of the South Pacific Ocean. And, they’re blogging about it.

Ferrini posted the latest dispatch at the American Geophysical Union website. The ship is hovering over the Lau Back-arc Basin, between Tonga and Fiji and next to the Tonga Trench, where the Pacific plate drives under the Australian Plate.

The video above takes you there via some sophisticated mapping to one of the thermal vents that they are studying.

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Report Charges ‘Nepotism and Neglect’ on Bangladesh Arsenic Poisoning

Osman Ghani, 60, and his wife Rehana Begum, 50, both suffer from arsenic-related health conditions. They live in Balia village, in the Barisal District, south of Dhaka. A Human Rights Watch investigation found many villagers have little or no access to health care for such conditions. Photo: © 2016 Atish Saha for Human Rights Watch

(First published on April 7-8, 2016, on State of the Planet.)

Two decades after arsenic was found to be contaminating drinking water across Bangladesh, tens of millions of people are still exposed to the deadly chemical. Now a new report from the group Human Rights Watch charges that this is in part because the nation’s government “is failing to adequately respond” to the issue, and that political favoritism and neglect have corrupted the government’s efforts.

The report says Bangladesh’s health system largely ignores the health impacts of arsenic exposure. An estimated 43,000 people die each year from arsenic-related illness in Bangladesh, according to one earlier study. But the government identifies people with arsenic-related illnesses primarily via skin lesions, the report says, although the vast majority of those with arsenic-related illnesses don’t develop them. Those exposed are at significant risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and lung disease as a result, but many receive no health care at all.

“Bangladesh isn’t taking basic, obvious steps to get arsenic out of the drinking water of millions of its rural poor,” said Richard Pearshouse, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “The government acts as though the problem has been mostly solved, but unless the government and Bangladesh’s international donors do more, millions of Bangladeshis will die from preventable arsenic-related diseases.”

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Scientists Prepare ‘Climate City’ for Take-Off

A rendering of Climate City, the first research center solely dedicated to climate change, in Lorraine, France, at a former NATO airport. Architect: Agence d’Architecture A. Béchu

(First published on March 9, 2016, on State of the Planet.)

Sometime soon, a flock of “Climate Birds” could be ascending from a former NATO base in northeast France to take the measure of climate change around the world.

The Chambley-Planet Air Base, located in the Meurthe-et-Moselle département, about 10 miles west of the city of Metz, has more recently been the site of mass flights of hot air balloons that paint the sky with bright colors during a biennial festival. But the vision of Earth Institute scientist Yves Tourre and Laurent Husson, his partner and Climate City’s CEO, would turn part of the base into “Climate City”: a center for research on the local and regional impacts of climate change.

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Climate May Make Some Regions ‘Uninhabitable’ by End of Century

The graphs show the rightward shift—to warmer temperatures—in different regions of the world. The greater the shift, the more likely people in the region will experience summers or winters warmer than the average recorded between 1951-1980. The most dramatic changes can be seen in the Middle East and Southeast Asian summer months. Graphics: Hansen and Sato, Environmental Research Letters, March 2016

(First published on March 2, 2016, on State of the Planet.)

The global trend toward hotter summers could make parts of the Middle East and tropics “practically uninhabitable” by the end of the century, new research published this week contends.

The work, by climate scientist James Hansen and Makiko Sato of Columbia University’s Program on Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions, builds on earlier research showing that summers generally are more often becoming hotter than the average recorded between 1951-1980. The new paper updates their analysis of the data and looks at how temperatures are changing region by region. The authors conclude that summers in particular have continued to grow hotter, and that extreme heat events are occurring more frequently.

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Students Help an Urban Farm Rethink Its Future


(First published on State of the Planet on Jan. 25, 2016.)

In the Fair Haven section of New Haven, Conn., rates of obesity and diabetes are high, and access to healthy fresh food can be limited. For some residents of this low-income neighborhood, New Haven Farms is just what the doctor ordered.

The small non-profit agency grows vegetables on several plots around the city, and conducts classes in basic nutrition and healthy cooking. New Haven Farms grew out of a program run by the Fair Haven Community Health Center, which serves the largely low-income, Hispanic neighborhood. Doctors actually prescribe the program as one way to help patients at risk from diet-related diseases like Diabetes 2 learn a healthier lifestyle.

Last fall, a team of students in the Earth Institute’s Master of Science in Sustainability Management program traveled to Connecticut to study the New Haven Farms operation and come up with ways to expand its growing capacity and the number of people it serves. This “Capstone Workshop” was one of several conducted by teams of students in the MSSM program and serves in place of a thesis, giving students a hands-on experience consulting for a real-world client. This video tells the story of what the New Haven Farms team did.

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