More protection: UN says Earth’s ozone layer is healing
By SETH BORENSTEIN
AP Science Writer
Monday, November 5
WASHINGTON (AP) — Earth’s protective ozone layer is finally healing from damage caused by aerosol sprays and coolants, a new United Nations report said.
The ozone layer had been thinning since the late 1970s. Scientist raised the alarm and ozone-depleting chemicals were phased out worldwide.
As a result, the upper ozone layer above the Northern Hemisphere should be completely repaired in the 2030s and the gaping Antarctic ozone hole should disappear in the 2060s, according to a scientific assessment released Monday at a conference in Quito, Ecuador. The Southern Hemisphere lags a bit and its ozone layer should be healed by mid-century.
“It’s really good news,” said report co-chairman Paul Newman, chief Earth scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “If ozone-depleting substances had continued to increase, we would have seen huge effects. We stopped that.”
High in the atmosphere, ozone shields Earth from ultraviolet rays that cause skin cancer, crop damage and other problems. Use of man-made chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which release chlorine and bromine, began eating away at the ozone. In 1987, countries around the world agreed in the Montreal Protocol to phase out CFCs and businesses came up with replacements for spray cans and other uses.
At its worst in the late 1990s, about 10 percent of the upper ozone layer was depleted, said Newman. Since 2000, it has increased by about 1 to 3 percent per decade, the report said.
This year, the ozone hole over the South Pole peaked at nearly 9.6 million square miles (24.8 million square kilometers). That’s about 16 percent smaller than the biggest hole recorded — 11.4 million square miles (29.6 million square kilometers) in 2006.
The hole reaches its peak in September and October and disappears by late December until the next Southern Hemisphere spring, Newman said.
The ozone layer starts at about 6 miles (10 kilometers) above Earth and stretches for nearly 25 miles (40 kilometers); ozone is a colorless combination of three oxygen atoms.
If nothing had been done to stop the thinning, the world would have destroyed two-thirds of its ozone layer by 2065, Newman said.
But it’s not a complete success yet, said University of Colorado’s Brian Toon, who wasn’t part of the report.
“We are only at a point where recovery may have started,” Toon said, pointing to some ozone measurements that haven’t increased yet.
Another problem is that new technology has found an increase in emissions of a banned CFC out of East Asia, the report noted.
And the replacements now being used to cool cars and refrigerators need to be replaced themselves with chemicals that don’t worsen global warming, Newman said. An amendment to the Montreal Protocol that goes into effect next year would cut use of some of those gases.
“I don’t think we can do a victory lap until 2060,” Newman said. “That will be for our grandchildren to do.”
Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter: borenbears
The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Opinion: A Half-Degree Change in Temperature, a 180-Degree Change in Thinking?
By Basav Sen
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international scientific body, released a long-awaited report on the Earth’s prospect for keeping climate change to a manageable level. The findings are terrifying, yet hopeful.
First, the bad news.
Many countries have embraced a goal of keeping warming within 1.5 degrees Celsius. But we’re on track to a 2 degree or greater rise. That may sound like a small difference, but it’s enormous.
The frequency of extremely hot days is expected to be considerably higher at a 2 degrees increase. The global mean sea level is likely to rise a tenth of a meter more, affecting about 10 million additional people. There will be more droughts in some regions and heavier rainfall and flooding in others.
The report also predicts bigger drops in yields of major food crops than previously projected, and estimates that up to 50 percent more people will be affected by water scarcity. Risks from heat-related illnesses, malaria and dengue fever are higher, too.
All told, the number of people exposed to climate change effects and associated increases in poverty at a 2 degree rise is “several hundred million more” by 2050.
What a difference a half degree makes.
The window to get emissions down enough to keep the temperature rise manageable is rapidly closing. To do that, the report says, we need to cut carbon-dioxide emissions 45 percent below 2010 levels by 2030 — and reach net zero emissions by 2050. We also need steep reductions in emissions of other greenhouse gases such as methane, black carbon, nitrous oxide and hydrofluorocarbons.
In short, the IPCC says that we need “rapid and far-reaching transitions” in virtually all of our economic systems, on a scale with “no documented historic precedent.”
Rapid. Far-reaching. Unprecedented.
Those are strong words coming from a usually staid international scientific body. This public acknowledgement of the need for systemic change by a respected global body like the IPCC is probably the best and most politically significant outcome of this report.
That’s the hopeful news.
To be clear, this call for systemic change isn’t new. For years, movements of indigenous and other marginalized peoples worldwide (including right here in the United States) have been calling for systemic transformation and an end to fossil fuel influence on our politics.
What’s changed is that systemic change is going mainstream — along with the realization that the major obstacles aren’t technical, but political.
It’s “possible within the laws of physics and chemistry” to keep warming within 1.5 degrees, said IPCC official Jim Skea, and the technological changes needed are achievable. But what happens on the political and institutional fronts is harder to predict.
We “can’t carry on with business as usual or minor changes,” Skea warned. In a similar vein, Will Steffen of the Climate Council of Australia warned that “business-as-usual, or minor modifications of it, will be totally inadequate” to make changes on the scale we need.
In terms of concrete policy recommendations, the IPCC report cautiously suggests that market adjustments like carbon pricing aren’t enough, echoing what many climate activists have said for years. “Carbon pricing alone,” it says, “cannot reach the levels needed to trigger system transitions.”
This is quite far from calling out carbon pricing as a false solution that at best tinkers at the margins while facilitating business as usual, as many more radical movements have charged. Regardless, the IPCC’s acknowledgement of its limitations is a cautious step in the direction of abandoning incrementalist solutions.
Probably the clearest sign of a shift in thinking was a telling moment at the IPCC press conference, when German scientist Hans-Otto Portner celebrated demonstrations against coal mining in the sensitive Hambach Forest in his home country. He called it an example of civil society demanding “reasonable climate policies.”
Yes, a scientist on an IPCC press conference called militant “keep it in the ground” protests an example of demanding “reasonable climate policies.”
It’s going to take a lot more to actually win the systemic change that the IPCC says we need. But a shift in public consciousness is an important first step. We can hope that key scientists and international bodies are now beginning to take it.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Basav Sen directs the Climate Policy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Opinion: Tackling Health Threats Requires Governments and Private Sector Working in Tandem
By Judith Monroe
Earlier this month, the philanthropy world lost a hero as Paul G. Allen passed away from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. While many know Allen from his work in personal computing, business and sports, it was his tireless philanthropic efforts to improve and save the lives of thousands that is often unheralded, but critical to public health constituencies.
Four years ago, Ebola dominated the headlines as the number of cases in West Africa rapidly grew and the fear of the deadly disease spreading to other parts of the world led to active monitoring and movement of travelers. Ebola is unfortunately again in the news, this time surfacing in a conflict area in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As we think about this current response, there is one lesson we learned in the last one I hope we don’t forget in our responses to both large-scale, persistent health challenges, such as cardiovascular disease, as well as emergency responses, like Ebola.
That lesson is how governments and the private sector must work in tandem. While government support from the United States and other nations was crucial to stem the tide of Ebola, government funding only became available months into the response. Until then, the gap was largely filled by philanthropic and private sector donors, including Allen. His relentless work, along with the contributions of many others, saved thousands of lives.
In total, Allen committed $100 million toward the Ebola research and response, including a $12.9 million contribution in 2014 to the CDC Foundation, which I lead. Allen’s early leadership and support helped advance the scientific expertise of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention along with the on-the-ground application by ministries of health to establish sustainable emergency operations centers in the most-impacted countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. During a public health emergency like Ebola, emergency operations centers provide a hub that brings all response functions together in one location.
Allen’s generous contribution also provided systems-strengthening infrastructure in support of the emergency operations centers during the Ebola outbreak. Examples included providing technical equipment for communications, software to accelerate contact tracing, staffing and training and much more. Critically, the emergency operations centers Allen funded continue to operate in each country, helping to prevent, detect and respond to health threats that safeguard both West Africa and the world.
Although I never met Allen in person, I mourn the loss of this extraordinary innovator and philanthropist. I also mourn his death on a personal level. My husband just completed chemotherapy treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He sent me the news about Allen and commented on the similarity in their cases. Spending time this summer at the oncology unit at Emory University Hospital for treatments every three weeks was not our original plan, but we are all subject to health threats — and we all can play a role in helping address these.
Whether you are a billionaire philanthropist, like Allen, a CEO running an international corporation, a small or mid-size regional philanthropy, or an individual donor, each of us has the power to join the battle against disease threats and health emergencies. We all have a chance to make an impact.
Paul Allen leaves behind a legacy of philanthropy, innovation and impact. His life reminds us of one important fact. That is, when the philanthropic, private and public sectors work together, we collectively have the means, science and reach to improve the public’s health and safety. We all have a responsibility to carry on Allen’s legacy — our global public health outcomes will be better for it.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Judith Monroe is president and CEO of the CDC Foundation. She previously served as a CDC deputy director and as state health commissioner for Indiana. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Storms, floods in Sicily kill at least 12 people; 2 missing
By FRANCES D’EMILIO
Sunday, November 4
ROME (AP) — Storm-related floods killed at least 12 people in Sicily, Italian authorities said Sunday, including nine members of two families who were spending a long weekend together when water and mud from a swollen river overran their rented villa.
After surveying the stricken Mediterranean island by helicopter, Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte identified two more of the victims as a German couple whose car was swept away by flood waters near Agrigento, a tourist town known for its ancient Greek temples.
Italian news reports said a 1-year—old, a 3-year-old and a teenager were among the flood victims from the family get-together in Casteldaccia. A survivor, Giuseppe Giordano, lost his wife, two of his children, his parents and a brother, Italian news agency ANSA said.
State broadcaster RaiNews24 said Giordano was stepping outside on Saturday night when the torrent rushed in and described him as the sole person to made it out alive.
When he opened the door, “there was a river of water, I was knocked down and grabbed hold of a tree,” Giordano told reporters between sobs. “I was yelling, ‘Help, help.’”
“My son Federico tried to save his little sister, but both died,” Giordano said, telling reporters he heard his son call out “I handle” about the girl’s rescue.
Then “I saw the windows go dark, the light go out, a layer of mud was moving across the floor,” Giordano said, Then, he said he was swept away from the house by the force of the water.
The two families had gathered in the villa during Italy’s long weekend centering on the Nov. 1 All Saint’s Day national holiday.
Although Italian news reports originally described him of the house’s owner, Giordano said he was renting the villa.
Casteldaccia Mayor Giovanni Di Giacinto told Sky TG24 that the flood water reached 2 meters (move than 6 feet) high inside the home.
Rescuers retrieved the bodies from the home. A Sicilian prosecutor opened an investigation to determine if neglect, such as possible inadequate drainage of the river, played a role in the deaths or if the home was built illegally close to the river.
The latter might be the case. Pino Virga, the mayor of the neighboring town of Altavilla Milicia, told SkyTG24 TV that other local authorities told him the house was slated for demolition because it stood too near the river.
Separately, Di Giacinto told reporters the homeowner had blocked the demolition by challenging it in a local tribunal.
A nursing home up the road was spared any damage, ANSA reported.
Only days earlier, other storms battered much of northern Italy, killing at least 15 people, uprooting millions of trees near Alpine valleys and leaving several Italian villages without electricity or road access for days.
Conte said a special Cabinet meeting could be in the coming days to deliberate aid for storm-ravaged communities, as well as to approve 1 billion euros ($1.15 billion) to ensure safe hydrogeological conditions in Italy, including proper cleaning of riverbeds.
The other known casualty in Sicily was a man whose body was also found on a guardrail along a Palermo-area road after floodwaters swept away his car, Italian news reports said.
Across the island, in the town of Cammarata, near Agrigento, the fire department said its divers worked to recover the bodies of the couple whose car was caught up in the flooding waters of the Saraceno River.
Also in Agrigento province, firefighters rescued 14 people from a hotel in the town of Montevago, which was threatened by floodwaters from the Belice River.
Elsewhere in Sicily, at least two other people were missing Sunday after floodwaters swept away their cars, including a doctor heading to the hospital in the hill town of Corleone.
In Casteldaccia, Maria Concetta Alfano said she, her husband and their adult disabled daughter fled after barking dogs drew their attention to the rising waters in the Milicia River. ANSA quoted the husband, Andrea Cardenale, as saying he drove away as “water was up to the hood of the car.”
Frances D’Emilio is on twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio.