Methane from cattle

You might have heard that there is no point in doing anything about reducing emissions from energy because cows emit far more greenhouse gas than people. Like many such statements there is a kernel of truth, but not much more. Continue reading

If we do not care for the environment, the environment will not care for us

The world’s environmental problems grow with the numbers of humanity. The quality of the air is getting poorer, there is less fresh water to go round, biodiversity is being lost; the forests are being chopped down; the climate appears to be changing quite rapidly as a result of human caused emissions of greenhouse gases and there are fewer and fewer fish in the seas. Continue reading

Kudzu – a greenhouse gas producing weed

If you do not live in southern Japan, southeast China or the South Eastern States of the United States of America, you might not have heard of kudzu. Kudzu (pueraria lobata) sounds like a character Captain may ,meet but in fact is an oriental vine which has found (for it) a very satisfactory home in an area to the south and east of Texas to West Virginia. It is the classic weed- an unwanted plant in an unwanted place. Continue reading

Oh, no, yet another greenhouse gas!

Sulphuryl fluoride, also known as sulfuryl fluoride has been identified as another greenhouse gas by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The chemical is used in gaseous form for fumigation. Continue reading

Mercury in the air

Humans like to dump things, and they are often quite careless about what they dump. Because the effect is perceived as being unharmful at the time of dumping, and because dumping usually involves the least cost and the least effort, we have end up dumping carbon dioxide and heavy metals almost as a matter of course, not recognising the problem until it threatens to overwhelm us. Continue reading

Carbon dioxide in the air, cancer and death

Professor Mark Z Jacobson of Stanford University, California has an impressive series of qualifications. He is a civil engineer, holds qualifications in economics and in environmental engineering (he holds the post of Professor of Environmental Engineering at Stanford). He is an expert on atmospheric science.He tries to understand physical, chemical, and dynamical processes in the atmosphere and he has an equally impressive number of peer reviewed papers and well received text books for someone who got his first degree in 1988.

I learnt of Professor Jacobson’s recent paper in which he looked at the effect of carbon dioxide on air pollution mortality. He wondered if there was a link between increased atmospheric carbon dioxide and human deaths. I have wondered about this but he is qualified to study it, and I am not.

He is well qualified to study this because in 1994 he developed the first gas-aerosol-radiative air-pollution model with interactive feedback to weather. In 2001, he invented the nested global-through-urban air-pollution-weather-climate model. In 2000, he discovered that black carbon, the main component of soot particles, may be the second-leading cause of global warming after carbon dioxide. He has also studied the relative effects of greenhouse gases on global climate, the effects of aerosols on ultraviolet radiation, the effects of aerosol mixing state on atmospheric heating, the effects of biomass burning on climate, the effect of hydrogen fuel cells on air pollution and the ozone layer, the effects of aerosols on winds and precipitation, the effects of ethanol and diesel vehicles on air quality as well as the effects of agriculture on air pollution.

In December 2007 Professor Jacobson published his findings which draw on many scientific sources as well as his own original research. He finds that (by modeling) increases in fossil fuel sourced carbon dioxide also increase the ozone levels on the surface of the planet. Ozone is a molecule that consists of there atoms of oxygen; high in the upper atmosphere it shields us from harmful ultraviolet light but at the surface of the earth it is generally thought to be  very harmful to human respiratory systems because it harms your breathing apparatus.

He also found that carbon dioxide from fossil fuel increases the volume of carcinogens that we are likely to meet. Burning fossil fuel also (as we know) increases particulates. All this leads to more cancers, more deaths and more people ill in hospitals. In addition if you pump more carbon dioxide in the air, the air becomes more stable, making a better home for particulates which damage health. 

He extrapolates that deaths increase with increased carbon dioxide levels and higher temperatures. It is difficult to be precise (and any headline figure will inevitably be misleading) but the effects of the carbon dioxide that we are pumping into the atmosphere are causing deaths which would not have been caused otherwise, quite apart from the deaths that are being caused by extreme climate events caused by increased temperatures. Those deaths are significant enough (every death is of course significant) in number to measure. 

Professor Jacobson also has found that carbon dioxide decreases column ozone over the United States (and I guess over other countries too) because it increases water vapour in the upper atmosphere, so we can presumably look forward to more skin cancers and cataracts. It is generally thought that some crops like rice and important food chain plankton will all decline if ozone does not filter out the ultraviolet light as effectively as it has done in the past.  

Well, if you needed another reason to stop burning fossil fuel you can find it in Professor Jacobson’s work.