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Environments in Crisis

2015 was the hottest year on record but the first 3 months of 2016 are hotter. March 2016 set a new record temperature for that time of year, according to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. The global temperature was 2.30 °F (1.28 °C) warmer than the average for March from 1951 to 1980, which is used as a baseline. Every month this year has broken the record for that month. January was 2.03 °F (1.13 °C) hotter than the baseline for previous Januaries and February was 2.41 °F (1.34 °C) hotter than the baseline for previous Februaries.

Global data show that a powerful El Niño, marked by warmer waters in the tropical Pacific Ocean, helped to drive atmospheric temperatures well past 2014's record highs. Some researchers suggest that broader Pacific trends could spell even more dramatic temperature increases in years to come. Released on 20 January, the global temperature data come from three independent records maintained by NASA, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the UK Met Office. All three data sets document unprecedented high temperatures in 2015, pushing the global average to more than 1 ºC above pre-industrial levels.(Nature 20 January 2016.)

The tolerance for environmental destruction is ancient and human history is littered with civilizations that failed because humans indiscriminately exploited natural resources and spoiled their own nest. The benefits to citizens of all modern industrial societies peaked sometime in recent decades. Now, we are paying penalties for careless consumption and pollution of our own nest. You could argue that all human activities have adverse effects on environments, but, at the same time, you can argue that humans are capable of enhancing environments, protecting animals at risk, cultivating plants, and above all else, humans are capable of understanding their dependence on healthy nature.

In an ideal world, everyone would seek personal health and well being, but at the same time would strive to restore planet health. Smart people realize that no personal benefit will survive long in a world that is ailing, polluted and careening toward more man-made disasters. Big environmental problems are built from many business and personal decisions, little mistakes that add up over time. If there is a solution, it will emerge from the collective value of millions of better decisions made by individuals all over the globe. The environmental action plan is to think globally and act locally - it does make sense.

Complex Systems

The attempt to understand complex systems has taken a quantum leap in recent years. We have gone beyond naïve linear models and now appreciate that if complex systems such as the atmosphere, the oceans, and land ecosystems change, they may become unstable, more unfriendly and less predictable.

Extra heat will cause more turbulence, and weather patterns will change in unpredictable ways. Unfortunately nature changes in abrupt ways and catastrophes are natural phenomena - volcanic eruptions, storms, floods, earthquakes, avalanches all represent basic patterns of nature. We have to understand that our actions contribute to weather events - the issues loom large when you consider that climate changes with increasingly destructive extreme weather events are adverse consequences of human activities that can be improved.

Air pollution is an obvious adverse effect of human activities. Air pollution was first noticed as problem of city dwellers, poisoning themselves, but more recently, air pollution is acknowledged as a problem of global significance. Air pollution is not a good idea for a variety of reasons, large and small. The right ideas for remediation of environmental degradations involve unselfish and compassionate behavior, a scarce commodity. The right ideas involve long-term planning, conservation and a deep commitment to preserving the natural world. Without a healthy natural environment, there will be few or no healthy humans. The really sad part of our current predicament is that all the right concerns and the right ideas for remediation have been around for decades and have been clearly articulated in many forms by a host of intelligent people.

The immediately negative effects of air pollution in cities is measured on a daily basis. The largest issue is climate changes due to burning fossil fuels, increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The release of the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was a milestone, a scientific consensus that we had created problems of catastrophic proportions. A political consensus was required for real, effective remedial action in all countries.

Air Pollution Promotes Disease and Death

Michael Brauer, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health in Vancouver, Canada stated:” Air pollution is the fourth highest risk factor for death globally and by far the leading environmental risk factor for disease. Reducing air pollution is an incredibly efficient way to improve the health of a population.“The findings of the UBC group were discussed Feb 2016 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in Washington.

UN Climate Summits

In his opening address to the UN Climate Summit in 2014, secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon warned the dreams of humanity hung in the balance. "To ride this storm we need all hands on deck. The human environmental and financial cost of climate change is fast becoming unbearable."Dr Rajendra Pachauri the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated: "Time was running out. How can we leave our children with a world like this? "I'm not sure if I could stand before you if the threats of climate change had no solutions, but they do. We already have the means to build a better, more sustainable world... renewable energy is a real option."

US president Barack Obama said despite the present threats of terrorism, instability and disease, climate change would define the contours of the century more dramatically than any other issue. This challenge demands our ambition. Our children deserve such ambition. Today I call on all countries to join us - not next year or the year after that but right now - because no nation can meet this global threat alone."

Several countries pledged to cut CO2 emissions. China, the world's largest emitter, reiterated its goal to cut carbon intensity by 40 to 45 per cent of 2005 levels by 2020. The next formal round of talks between nations will be in Peru at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Nearly 200 countries have pledged to reach agreement in Paris at the end of 2015 on a climate pact for carbon cuts beyond 2020.

The Paris 2015 climate meeting was attended by 195 countries and a non-binding agreement was reached to limit global warming to 2 degrees C by reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Despite a celebratory ending and optimistic speeches by USA president Obama and others, the prospect of 195 countries developing unprecedented, sustained cooperation seems remote or impossible. The challenge is to phase out fossil fuel dependence which requires great wealth, determination and technological sophistication to achieve.

The USA - NASA Monitors Global Climate Change

The USA is a country of extreme paradox. NASA is a government agency that has led earth monitoring, relevant to all the effects of fossil fuel consumption and climate changes. At the same time the country is home to an ignorant population on climate change deniers and vested interests  that resist constraints on the mining and use of fossil fuels. See the website NASA Global Climate Change- Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. Accessed Online

A recent ( 2016) government report outlines the threats to the US from climate changes. USGCRP, 2016: The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment. Crimmins, A., J. Balbus, J.L. Gamble, C.B. Beard, J.E. Bell, D. Dodgen, R.J. Eisen, N. Fann, M.D. Hawkins, S.C. Herring, L. Jantarasami, D.M. Mills, S. Saha, M.C. Sarofim, J. Trtanj, and L. Ziska, Eds. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, 312 pp.

Accessed online April 2016