Archive for October 2011
Update March 2013: Changes in legislation are urgently needed to reduce traffic deaths, and especially among the most vulnerable, says Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013: Supporting a Decade of Action, published by the World Health Organization (WHO) and including data on the Americas gathered by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). See also Fact sheets on road safety in the Americas – Stephen
More than 16,000 people killed or injured on roads EVERY day
Health costs $500 billion ++
By Stephen Leahy
LEIPZIG, Germany, May 31, 2011 (IPS)
The leading killer of children over the age of five is not malaria or dysentery, but cars and trucks. And ninety percent of those children are killed on roads in developing countries.
Each day, 3,500 people are killed and 13,700 injured in road accidents around the world. That death and injury toll is expected to increase by nearly 50 percent over the next decade without serious efforts to improve road safety, says Etienne Krug, director of the Department of Violence and Injury Prevention and Disability at the World Health Organization (WHO).
Krug was here in Leipzig to the launch of the United Nations the Decade of Action for Road Safety at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s annual International Transport Forum. The goal for the U.N. Decade is to stabilise the spiralling increase in death and injuries on the world’s roads.
“We have the potential to save five million of lives over the next decade through changes in road safety,” Krug told IPS.
“A cultural shift is needed to create the awareness of the need for road safety,” he said.
Around 90 percent of all road fatalities occur in emerging and developing countries, making it the sixth leading cause of death in those countries. The lack of road safety laws and enforcement combined with increasing vehicle usage and population growth are the major reasons for this, said Krug.
Only 15 percent of countries in the world have good legislation on drinking and driving or use of helmets when driving scooters and motorcycles. “We want to push that to 50 percent by the 2020,” he said.
Legislation and enforcement can make a huge difference. Vietnam enacted a helmet law two years ago and the use of helmets went from only 20 percent to over 90 percent, he said. Brazil recently enacted strict drinking and driving laws, while Mexico has made wearing seatbelts mandatory.
“Much more of this is needed,” he said.
Read the rest of this entry »
This is my final article in the Trashing the Ocean series. It looks at the results of the first major international effort to deal with the issue in 11 years. It’s less than satisfying effort largely due to the plastics lobby. One of the unofficial solutions: buy local and create local, sustainable communities says the guy who ‘discovered’ the pacific garbage patch. — Stephen
There are three to six kilogrammes of marine trash for every kilogramme of plankton…. California nearly became the first U.S. state to ban plastic bags, but a multi-million-dollar lobby effort by industry killed the proposed legislation
By Stephen Leahy
HONOLULU, Hawaii, U.S., Mar 28, 2011 (IPS)
Every day, billions of plastic bags and bottles are discarded, and every day, millions of these become plastic pollution, fouling the oceans and endangering marine life.
No one wants this, but there is wide disagreement about how to stop it.
“Every time I stick my nose in the water, I am shocked. I see less and less fish and more and more garbage,” said Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the legendary marine ecologist Jacques Cousteau, who has spent four decades making documentaries and educating people about the oceans.
On trips to the remote and uninhabited northwestern Hawaiian Islands, Cousteau found miles and miles of plastic bottles, cigarette lighters, television tubes, spray cans, broken toys, and thousands of other pieces of plastic on the beaches and thousands of tonnes of derelict fishing nets in the reefs.
“We are using the oceans as a universal sewer,” he told some 440 participants from the plastics manufacturing, food and beverage sectors, environmental organisations, scientists and policy-makers from over 35 countries at the Fifth International Marine Debris Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii, which ended Mar. 25.
Humanity is risking its own health and survival in treating the oceans this way, Cousteau said. The oceans are the source of life on our planet. Through evaporation, oceans are the most important source of fresh water while phytoplankton generates at least half the oxygen we breathe.
“No one is away from the ocean. We are all intimately connected by every breath we take,” he said.
We share the planet with 8.7 million species. We’re unconcerned about the ongoing loss of 200 species a day since we fail to realize they are our life support system. And we don’t know how many or which species are needed to keep things running. There is metaphor in the article to make that clearer I hope. We are not even close to coming to grips with this issue. – Stephen
“If the decline in species around us is not significant then I ask what is?”
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Aug 23, 2011 (IPS)
The life support system that generates the planet’s air, water, and food is powered by 8.7 million living species according to the newest and best estimate. We know next to nothing about 99 percent of those unique species – except that lots of them are going extinct.
“It is like a complicated engine where we only know about the major pieces. If we lose one or some of the small hidden pieces that play a critical role the engine might stop working,” said Camilo Mora of the University of Hawaii and Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada.
“Many species may vanish before we even know of their existence, of their unique niche and function in ecosystems,” Mora told IPS.
Until now there wasn’t even a decent guesstimate about how many species exist currently: three million? 100 million? Now a new validated analytical technique has pined down the big number to 8.7 million species (give or take 1.3 million).
The analysis published Tuesday in the journal ‘PLoS Biology’ estimated there are 6.5 million species found on land and 2.2 million – about 25 percent of the total – dwelling in the ocean depths.
“Not knowing the answer to this fundamental question really highlights our ignorance about life on this planet,” said Boris Worm of Dalhousie University, co-author of the study along with Mora.
“We’re so fixated on the human enterprise we don’t recognise nature’s enterprise… the 8.7 million species that run the planet and provide the air we breathe, the water we drink and the soil we grow our crops in,” Worm told IPS. “If the decline in species around us is not significant then I ask what is? This is all we have on this planet, the only planet that holds life.” Read the rest of this entry »
There is a quick way to buy more time to make the switch from fossil fuels to alternatives. Serious reductions in air pollutants like soot and smog bring cleaner air, less asthma/lung disease/heart attacks and could cut warming by 30 per cent. No new technology needed as my article shows, just something like a Green Marshall Plan to bring simple things like $20 clean-burning cooking stove to hundreds of millions of people. (more at Global Alliance for Cookstoves) — Stephen
By Stephen Leahy
BONN, Jun 14, 2011 (IPS) – Clean the air, cool the planet and prevent millions of deaths with fast action on soot and smog, a new report urges.
Air pollutants like black carbon (soot) and ground-level ozone (smog) arise from incomplete combustion of fossil fuels and biomass like wood and charcoal.
Nations or regional blocks of nations could decide to put measures into place that quickly improve their air quality, reduce crop losses and shorten lives. And, almost as a side benefit, those efforts would do much to slow the rate of global warming, says the scientific assessment report released at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiating session here in Bonn.
“One-third of current global warming is due to emissions of black carbon, methane and ground-level ozone,” said Joseph Alcamo, chief scientist at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
This comprehensive scientific assessment shows that reducing emissions of these pollutants is a powerful adjunct to efforts to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, Alcamo said in a press conference.
If the global community fully implements clean-up measures, it could reduce future climate change by 0.5 degrees C by 2030 to 2040, the report concludes. This is a key ingredient in the extraordinary challenge of keeping global temperatures from rising beyond two degrees C, says report co-author Johan Kuylenstierna, York Centre Director of the Stockholm Environment Institute.
The scientists behind the assessment, coordinated by UNEP and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), also point to numerous public health and food security opportunities. Ground-level ozone and fine particles, including black carbon, are linked with premature deaths, primarily heart disease and lung cancer, alongside other illnesses such as bronchitis and low birth weight.
Both ground-level ozone and black carbon can also substantially reduce the growth of crops, trees and other plants. Implementing the measures in the report could avoid annual yield losses of up to 50 million tonnes annually, they estimate.
“The (clean-up) measures to do this all exist and are in use in many places. They need to be implemented very widely in order to get the full climate benefit,” Kuylenstierna told IPS. Read the rest of this entry »
The costs of car ownership and travel are far higher than anyone realizes: a 100 km total trip costs between 65 and 80 dollars when parking, fuel, wear and tear, insurance, depreciation, repairs are included. A car is usually parked and unused 22 hours a day but still incurs costs. Why not let someone use the car when you’re not and make some money at the same time Robin Chase told me for this article. She’s launched Buzzcar in France as part of a strategy for reducing carbon emissions and congestion in cities. — Stephen
Why do car owners get so much more public space than bus riders, bicyclists or walkers?
By Stephen Leahy
BERLIN, Jun 2, 2011 (IPS)
The world’s more than 850 million cars and small trucks are parked 20 to 22 hours a day. Why not use these vehicles more efficiently by letting other people drive them when the owners aren’t, asks Robin Chase, CEO of Buzzcar, a car- sharing network to be launched shortly in France.
“Sharing vehicles is much more efficient and represents a huge opportunity,” Chase told some 800 attendees from more than 50 countries at the OECD’s annual International Transport Forum (ITF) in Leipzig last week. The Forum is an intergovernmental organisation for the transport sector involving 52 different nations.
The ITF projects there will be three times as many cars – an eye-popping 2.5 billion – by 2050 according to its Transport Outlook 2011 report released at the meeting. Adding that many more vehicles in a sustainable way is an “extraordinary challenge”, said Jack Short, Secretary General of the ITF.
The vast majority of this growth will come from the developing countries since travel by passenger vehicle in a number of high-income countries has not increased, and even declined in some countries. Short acknowledged making such projections is risky because many factors such as lower economic growth, congestion in cities or new technologies will have an impact on levels of car ownership in future.
And the Transport Outlook report did not factor in the potential for car-sharing to offer personal mobility without car ownership.
Buzzcar is a car sharing service where car-owners in a city or town allow their idle cars to be used by other local citizens in exchange for getting about 70-75 per cent of the rental fee, Chase told IPS in an interview. Even when a car is parked it costs their owners money, she says. The average cost of owning and operating car is 8,000 to 12,000 dollars a year even if it sits parked 22 hours a day. (update: more like $9,000 to 14,000 according to auto clubs)
Buzzcar is an opportunity for car owners to get better value out of their vehicles and to help with ever- rising costs of car ownership. More importantly car sharing reduces the need for car ownership overall, she says.
Chase was a co-founder of Zipcar, a U.S.-based car-rental network with more than a half million members where people rent cars by the hour from easy-to-access neighbourhood lots or stations. Zipcar owns some 8,000 rental cars. She then went on to start GoLoco, a ride sharing company in which people pay to ride along with others in the network, and the drivers take a cut of the fees. Read the rest of this entry »
This article looks at the huge upswing in extreme events around the world. Imagine this: the worst-ever tornado season, the worst flooding, and worst heatwave have hit the US this year. And they may yet experience one the worst hurricane seasons. “24 Hours of Reality” online broadcast documented this Sept 15 to help people clear their heads of the fossil fuel propaganda and open their eyes to the crisis we are facing. — Stephen
“There are four anti-climate change lobbyists in Washington for every member of Congress.”
By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Sep 15, 2011 (IPS)
The dramatic increase in extreme weather that has affected hundreds of millions across the planet is one of the clearest signs that burning billions of tonnes fossil fuels has seriously and permanently disrupted the global climate, experts say.
That is the reality former U.S. vice president Al Gore is focusing on Thursday through an unprecedented live online event called “24 Hours of Reality” broadcast from 24 time zones and reaching millions of viewers in multiple languages.
“In 30 years of weather forecasting I have never seen extreme weather events like those in the last two years globally,” said Jeff Masters, co-founder and Director of Meteorology for Weather Underground, the web’s first commercial weather service.
“I never thought we could have the greatest outbreak of tornados, the worst-ever flooding, record heatwaves and droughts all in one year,” Masters told IPS at a press conference last week in reference to the multi-billion-dollar extreme weather the U.S. has endured this year.
“The hurricane season is only half over and is on pace to be a record year as well,” he said.
Masters and other climate experts say is the “new normal” for the coming decades is the reason why. Burning of oil, gas, coal puts billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where it traps more of the sun’s heat in what is known as the greenhouse effect.
That additional heat warms the oceans and air and allows more moisture to be retained in the atmosphere, scientists have long since proven. The enormous amounts of additional heat and moisture now trapped in the atmosphere are the potent fuel for extreme events.
“More than 1,400 high temperature records were broken in July in the eastern U.S.,” said Jerry Meehl, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Read the rest of this entry »
Military budget more than enough to convert USA to 100% renewable energy
Analysis by Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Sep 15, 2011 (IPS)
All the analysis and commentary about safety and security on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 ignored by far the biggest ongoing threat to global security: climate change.
Just days before Sunday’s commemoration of the attacks, German scientists pointed to yet another smoking gun of climate change: the Arctic sea ice reached a new historic minimum ice extent.
The rapidity with which the planet is losing its northern ice cap continues to astonish experts. The defrosting northern pole is one of the prime drivers of Earth’s climate system and is changing global weather patterns in unpredictable ways.
The Arctic ice melt is also accelerating the rate of climate change beyond what humanity is doing with every barrel of oil, tonne of coal or cubic metre of gas burned.
On Sep. 8, researchers at the University of Bremen in Germany reported that the Arctic ice melt bettered the previous minimum of 2007. Other research centres using different satellite and analysis tools say the extraordinary decline of ice in 2007 has not yet been exceeded this year and 2011 remains a close second.
“We think it will end up a little bit short of the record – not that it really matters,” said Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in the U.S. city of Boulder, Colorado.
“What is extraordinary this year is that there was no weird weather pattern that created the perfect conditions for the record melt in 2007,” Serreze told IPS.
This year, the summer weather was normal and yet it the ice vanished in similar amounts to 2007.
“That tells us the sea ice is too thin now to hold up under normal weather conditions,” he said.