Raging Grannies Eugene

These seniors are organizing against climate change

They want to break through the gridlock on the issue.

By Daisy Simmons
Friday, November 3, 2017

Anthony Leiserowitz, Ph.D.
Director, Yale Program on Climate Change Communication
School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
Yale University

Residents of Portland, Oregon, knew they were in trouble when the sky got so hazy from smoke that the sun turned red. For weeks, people like Michelle Nicola, a Portland middle school teacher, lived enshrouded in smoke from a nearby wildfire.

“It’s like living in the middle of a bonfire,” Nicola said. “You can’t escape it. It feels very oppressive. It’s frightening.”

At Nicola’s school, kids stay inside for recess when smoke is in the area. The district even canceled school one day when a wildfire just east of the city, in the Columbia River Gorge, filled the area with smoke and temperatures approached 100°F.

“I worry about everyone with the smoke in the air,” Nicola said. “I feel like once the smoke is in the air, we just have to wait for the fire to stop. What actions can we take?”

Breathing smoke across North America

Consider this recent example: On September 13, there were 39 uncontained large fires in the United States. The vast majority of those fires burned in Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho and Montana. The smoke from those fires went everywhere.

Smoke plumes from the Pacific Northwest and Canada’s prairie provinces extended as far south as Mexico and eastward into the Atlantic Ocean.

As a result, millions of people across North America were potentially breathing in smoke.

[Smoke plume map]

According to the USDA, smoke from wildfires is mostly water vapor, but it also contains gases – like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide – and very small particles called particulate matter that are harmful to human health.

“When you have a wildfire, the level of particulate matter can get really really high,” says Francesca Dominici, a biostatistics professor at Harvard who studies the relationship between air pollution and health. She says particulate matter consists of small particles in the air that can penetrate deep into the lungs and initiate inflammation.

That can cause respiratory and cardiovascular problems. She added that emerging studies hint at a link between air pollution and cognitive health issues.

Recent research has also examined the connection between exposure to air pollution and school performance.

One such study followed nearly 500 children born in Rome in 2003-2004. Scientists determined the amount of air pollution the children were exposed to at birth. Then, when those children were seven years old, researchers administered an IQ test. The results showed that elevated exposure to the pollutant nitrogen dioxide was associated with a 1.4 point lower score in verbal IQ and verbal comprehension IQ.

A similar study looked at the effect of traffic pollution on school-age children. It found that kids who attended highly polluted schools in Barcelona had a smaller cognitive development growth than their peers who attended schools in less-polluted areas.

Smoke alarms

The state of Oregon maintains a “Smoke Blog” that offers an air quality index and tips for how to avoid inhaling too much smoke.

“We’ve had quite a few unhealthy days this year,” said Katherine Benenati, public affairs officer for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. Her department’s online air quality index crashed a few times this year because there was so much Web traffic.

'We've had quite a few unhealthy days this year.' Click To Tweet

Benenati’s department has about 35 air monitors around the state in high-population areas and near wildfire sites. The department uses information from the monitors to create an index that lets people know when it’s safe to be outside. Air containing an average of 98 micrograms of particulates per cubic meter means the department recommends sensitive groups – kids, elderly residents, pregnant women, and people who have asthma or lung or heart disease – limit their outdoor exposure.

“What we’ve seen this summer is a lot of days in the unhealthy area and even hazardous range,” Benenati said. “That’s where everyone should take precautions, it’s not just if you have lung disease, if you have asthma or you’re elderly.”

But Dominici says staying inside doesn’t guarantee that people are safe.

“It’s tricky for a single individual to protect themselves from fine particulate matter, especially from wildfires, simply because fine particulate matter tends to penetrate indoors as well,” she said. “To protect the community, I think the only way is to prevent these wildfires.”

Which brings us to climate change

According to the National Climate Assessment, summers in the Pacific Northwest will be hotter and drier than ever before. In fact, summers could see a 30 percent precipitation decrease by the end of the century.

Nicola and other ISeeChangers across the West have already noticed summers getting warmer.

“I don’t even want to go outside,” Nicola said. “It’s too hot, it’s too smoky, it’s not enjoyable to be outside, and that is new.”

The Northwest has always been dry, which is why wildfires aren’t unusual in the region. But the National Climate Assessment reports that the changing climate has already led to more frequent and bigger fires. It also predicts that the median annual area burned by wildfires in the Northwest will quadruple by the 2080s.[Smokey skies]
Smoke-filled Washington skies in September. Photo: Raleigh Chinn/ISeeChange.

“This year we’re seeing wildfire smoke in places that aren’t as used to seeing it,” Benenati said.

And it’s not just the U.S. In January, Chile experienced wildfires that the country’s president called the worst in Chilean history. This summer, Portugal faced more than 10,000 fires which killed over 64 people. And even Greenland, an island known for its icy terrain, saw wildfires in August.

Hotter days combined with particulate matter from wildfires are conspiring to contribute to another dangerous health hazard: Ozone, AKA the pollutant in smog.

While wildfires don’t directly produce ozone, studies show that they are a source for ozone ingredients like nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compounds.

A study by researchers at Harvard found that California and the Southwest could see an increase of nine days with dangerous ozone levels under projected climate trends.

Dominici sees fighting climate change and air pollution as killing two birds with one stone.

“The same main sources of climate change are the sources of outdoor air pollution,” Dominici says. “By intervening on climate change, it means tackling the sources of outdoor air pollution, which means saving lives right now.”

Produced in partnership with ISeeChange.Republish

Filed under: iSeeChange, Samantha Harrington, wildfires

How climate change is fueling wildfires and threatening human health

Photos: Courtesy of Elders Climate Action.

Dear Friends,
We are pleased to announce the publication of a new paper by Matthew Kotchen, Zachary Turk, and Anthony Leiserowitz: Public willingness to pay for a U.S. carbon tax and preferences for spending the revenue in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
Earlier this year, several prominent Republicans, including James Baker III (former Secretary of State, Treasury, and two-time White House Chief of Staff under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush), George Schultz (former Secretary of State and Treasury under President Reagan), and Henry Paulson Jr. (former Secretary of Treasury under President George W. Bush), called for a national carbon tax with all revenues returned to taxpayers as dividends.
Just a few months earlier, using a nationally representative survey, we asked Americans if they would support a carbon tax, how much they would be willing to pay, and how they would prefer the revenues be spent.
Respondents were asked: “If a tax on fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) to help reduce global warming were to cost your household $X more each year in higher energy bills, would you support or oppose it?” Respondents were randomly assigned a cost ranging from $5 to $155. We found that the average American is willing to pay $177 per year. Translating this to respondents’ energy bills based on their state of residence, we found that American households are, on average, willing to pay 14.4% more for energy in support of a carbon tax.
This willingness to pay $177 a year on household energy bills implies annual tax revenue of about $22.3 billion, which does not include revenue from a carbon tax levied on all other goods and services in the economy.
Respondents were also asked: “Congress may consider a tax on fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) to help reduce global warming. If implemented, how would you like to see the tax money used?” Respondents were given a list of 10 options, including reducing various taxes, paying down the national debt, returning the money to all American households equally, assisting workers in the coal industry who might lose their jobs, supporting development of clean energy, funding improvements to the nation’s infrastructure, and helping communities prepare for and adapt to global warming.

Overall, Americans most preferred spending carbon tax revenues to further develop clean sources of energy, like wind and solar, followed by funding improvements to America’s infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.). The third highest preferred use of the revenues was to “assist workers in the coal industry that may lose their jobs as a result of the tax.”
There are currently about 15,900 employees working in extraction roles in the US coal mining sector, with an average wage of $51,640. Many would require retraining to transition to jobs in other sectors if the nation stopped using coal. The study found that the average willingness to pay for a carbon tax, combined with public preferences about how to spend the revenues, indicates a public willingness to allocate $2.3 billion per year to support coal miners. This is enough to compensate all coal miners with nearly $146,000 a year in the extreme (and highly unlikely) case that the entire industry shut down. At the least, this analysis indicates strong public support for compensating coal miners who might lose their jobs as part of the nation’s transition to a clean energy system.

October 12, 2017

Decades ago, the civil rights and anti-war movements propelled many young people toward political activism. One of those people was Grady McGonagill.

McGonagill: “I had been a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War in the late sixties.”

In recent years, he says, his activism was reborn.

McGonagill: “I decided I was a conscientious objector to climate change.”

'I decided I was a conscientious objector to #climatechange.' Click To Tweet

McGonagill founded the Massachusetts Chapter of Elders Climate Action, a grassroots movement of senior citizens pushing for climate-friendly energy policies.

In addition to marches and protests, members lobby for climate action at the local, state, and national levels.

McGonagill: “Elders have a higher percentage of regular voters than other demographics, so we get the attention of legislators.”

The group also reaches out to senior centers in diverse communities to educate and recruit people who have never been involved in climate action before.

McGonagill says with decades of life experience and a concern for the world they pass on, elders can be a formidable force.

McGonagill: “As an elder, I want to be able to look my daughter in the eye and say I have become aware of the threat of climate change and I’m doing all that I can to protect you from the effects of that.”

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.
Image graphic: Created by David McCarthy.

Filed under: Daisy Simmons

By Samantha Harrington
Wednesday, October 11, 2017

October's deadly fires in northern California are the latest outbreaks in a heat- and smoke-filled summer

and fall.