Future Protection Found in the Past

By: Kate Good

As the world struggles to create “nature friendly” technology to compensate for our gas-guzzling vehicles and electricity needs, a major solution to global carbon increase has been overlooked. Collaborative research from forest scientists and over 13 universities suggests that the best way to combat global warming is by protecting indigenous lands

Deforestation of indigenous lands causes large amounts of carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere, by creating protected areas where the natural habitat is preserved, hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon dioxide will be prevented from entering into the global carbon cycle.

Described as a  “win-win” situation, the protection of indigenous lands will slow forest loss, conserve biodiversity while simultaneously preserving local cultures.

Industry and urbanization does not only pose a threat to natural environments, but cultural ones as well. While this approach seems to be a step backward in the movement to create new “green” technology, logically it makes the most sense.

Research shows that all of the indigenous lands and protected areas (ILPAs) in the world contain more than 312 billion tons of carbon. It is projected that the protected areas founded between 2003 and 2007 could prevent over one-third of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions of carbon dioxide from being released by 2050.

In areas such as Brazil, indigenous lands account for approximately four times the area of already existing national and state protected lands, however, without protection, these lands face the direct threat of deforestation.

Brazilian Rainforest

The expansion of industrial land as apposed to the establishment of protected natural areas is not only costly in the monetary sense but also environmentally. Rather than looking to assuage the damage caused by industrialization, efforts to protect and maintain indigenous lands holds a long-term benefit to the health of the environment.

Over the course of the December climate talks in Copenhage, developed countries agreed to financially support poor nations in protecting their forests from deforestation, however there is no governmental mechanism in existence to carry out these changes.



Breathing Underwater

By: Kate Good

Off the shore of Washington and Oregon low oxygen levels in the Pacific has caused the death of hundreds of Dungeness crabs.  Like mammals, underwater species need oxygen to survive. In a recent study, marine researchers at Oregon State believe that the temperature increase associated with global climate change is directly linked to lowering oxygen levels in oceans.

Causes of Hypoxia

Areas of hypoxia (lacking oxygen) are common in the deep ocean, however, it appears that areas in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans are spreading.  This phenomenon can be caused by the excess of nutrients within water, causing large increases of algae growth. As algae levels rise, the ability of sunlight to penetrate water decreases along with the amount of oxygen that can be dissolved. As algae die and breakdown they consume oxygen, if the oxygen is not replaced, the result is a dead zone.

Scientists believe that as water temperatures rise, the warm water on the surface acts as a cap, inhibiting the natural circulation patterns, disallowing deep waters from reaching the surface where it can be replenished with oxygen.

There is a delicate balance between upwelling and the ocean ecosystems, as this process provides many low dwelling species with oxygen. Scientists do not yet know the future implications that will follow with mass oxygen depletion. However, the large amount of dead Dungeness crab illustrates the dire consequences of oxygen depletion.

Marine Algae

Though hypoxia takes place in the deep ocean, humans play a large role in its occurrence.  After rain, or excessive watering, the fertilizers used on agricult

ural fields, golf courses, and suburban lawns runoff into lakes and streams that lead to major bodies of water.  The effect that fertilizer has on plants on land is the same with plants in the ocean, however, when underwater excessive plant growth has serious consequences.





Air Pollution: A Radiation Umbrella

By: Kate Good

In the world of climate change there is much debate over the reality of greenhouse gases and the volatile nature of toxic chemical emissions. However, in a new study, published February 17, 2010, scientists are beginning to look at air pollution as a possible inhibitor of global warming.

The thick black clouds of smog produced from coal burning power plants in Asia seem to be having the reverse effect of warming in the atmosphere. In fact, the dark layer acts like an umbrella, blocking the sun’s radiation from reaching Earth’s surface reflecting them back into space.

The most recent work being done on the climate effects of air pollution is being done in New York at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, led by scientist Drew Shindell.

In Shindell’s study, a number of scenarios have been run for the years 2000-2080, putting controls on the output of SO2 and NOX from power plants. While initially SO2 creates a cooling effect, when unchecked, once controls are put on the warming potential of CO2 comes into effect. When run for longer time trials, without controls on SO2, the effects of CO2 eventually catch up to SO2, eliminating the net cooling effect.

In the 1970’s, the United States began the Clean Air Act, which cut emissions of SO2 and NOx to reduce acid rain and to improve public health. Many other industrial countries followed curbing their own emissions, interestingly, during this period global temperatures increased rapidly after having been stable in the preceding decades.

If having high levels of air pollution in fact produces lower global temperatures, all the work done by environmentalists in the past will be completely void.

Meinrat Andreae, an expert on aerosols from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, Germany, is quoted describing this phenomenon as,  “enjoy now and make others pay later.”

While SO2 may seem like a good temporary fix to rising global temperatures, it is also a deathly chemical. Sulfur dioxide is associated with increased respiratory disease, difficulty in breathing and premature death. So, even though this chemical may aid in blocking the sun’s radiation, it is still a harsh chemical compound that is harmful to humans when present in air.

One Degree Makes All The Difference


By: Kate Good

Among the laundry list of harmful “greenhouse gases” that are thought to be responsible for global warming, water vapor just does not seem to fit in. It is known that water vapor in the lower stratosphere dominates temperature as it is able to absorb and radiate heat, much like water vapor can on Earth’s surface. This ability to hold heat qualifies water vapor as a viable greenhouse gas. However, new research shows that water vapor has not only played a key role in global warming but now may be responsible for the recent plateau in global temperatures.

A team of researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colorado, reported a 10% drop in the amount of water vapor in the stratosphere (the atmospheric layer 10-50 km above Earth’s surface) since 2000. This decrease in stratospheric water vapor offset the previous predictions for greenhouse gas warming by approximately 25%.

Interestingly, water vapor projections from researchers at the University of Reading, UK, in 1999, found that an increase of stratospheric water vapor could have boosted present day warming by up to 40% compared to carbon dioxide on its own. Meaning, the current decrease of water vapor levels is a very good sign.

While the exact cause for this sudden decrease of stratospheric water vapor is unknown, scientists believe that the simultaneous drop of 1° Celsius in the temperature of the stratosphere is to blame. The colder temperature freezes out water vapor that would have otherwise entered the stratosphere and added to warming. However, like the fall in the amount of water vapor, the fall in temperature is too not yet completely understood.



The Carbon Footprint of Disaster

By: Kate Good

Damaged Buildings in Petionville, Port-au-Prince

When a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hits, the first reaction of most people would not be to think of the environmental consequences of the natural disaster, but rather of the people who have been affected. While the devastation on the population of Haiti, as a result of the January twelfth earthquake is the first and foremost focus for relief, the future consequences on the distressed country’s environment could be as detrimental as the quake itself. No systems or equipment have yet been placed to dispose of hazardous medical waste, over 1,000,000 people have been displaced, and the possibility of landslides on the already eroding island’s shore demonstrate both short and long term problems that will plague the exhausted country.

Haiti’s General Hospital, the largest public hospital in Port-au-Prince sustained massive damage in the earthquake and as a result, many makeshift medical stations have been put in place. Described as a “war zone”, the first objective of aid workers is to treat those in need, meaning normal procedures taken to properly dispose of used medical equipment and wastes are not always followed.

While this is one of the short-term problems affecting the Haitian environment, the spread of medical wastes throughout waterways could lead to further contamination outside of the capital. Similarly, wastes from oil and chemical spills from a large number of badly damaged small industry and storage sites have become a concern as the impact of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) have yet to be assessed.

It is estimated that in the epicenter of damage the percentage of destruction to buildings is 60-80%, not only does this mean tens of millions of tons of waste, but to make matters worse, cleared debris is deposited on roadsides because of the lack of other means of disposal. While efforts are being made to recycle as much material as possible, the waste generated by the reconstruction of these buildings will be equally significant in the future.

Approximately 1,000,000 people have been displaced into less affected rural and urban areas, however, the addition to the population of already stressed environments has put a serious threat on the area’s natural resources. With a dark history of deforestation and erosion, the addition of the earthquake makes the possibility of landslides much more likely. Due to the country’s natural dry conditions and coral sand geology, the already reported small landslides on hillsides in Port-au-Prince, will inevitably grow with the addition of heavy rains.


  • http://www.unep.org/Documents.Multilingual/Default.asp?DocumentID=608&ArticleID=6454&l=en&t=long
  • http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/715270
  • http://news.discovery.com/history/why-is-haiti-so-poor.html
  • http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2010/01/earthquake_in_haiti.html