This Earth Day Week, San Francisco is hosting the 7th Annual Ecocity World Summit. This conference brings together an “international community of courageous individuals who are addressing problems of the world’s environment with thoughtful long-range solutions that are truly sustainable, ecologically healthy and socially just.”
I am attending the conference and I will post interesting information throughout the week about the sessions I attend. Last night (April 21st), Gary Braasch, photographer and author of Earth Under Fire, How Global Warming is Changing the World, presented “his past and present record of climate change around the world with emphasis on cities, their contributions to the problems of the world’s environment, and whole systems initiatives for change.” Richard Register who convened the First International Ecocity Conference in 1990, spoke as well. He is also President of Ecocity Builders based in Oakland.
Gary’s photos are alarming yet beautiful depictions of the effects climate change is having on the world. The above photo is of a polar bear in Cooper Island, Alaska who has been forced onto dry land to find food. The photograph below shows The Athabasca Glacier in Canada, 1917 and 2005. It has receded about one mile in the past 125 years, and lost over half of its volume. It currently recedes at a rate of 7-10 feet per year. Another photo shows children in Inner Mongolia, China playing in the shadow of a coal burning power plant.
Gary declared there is more CO2 in the atmosphere today than 800,000 years ago. After some sleuthing, I found the article that confirms this. Eric Wolff, ice core chemist from the British Antarctic Survey states: “Ice cores reveal the Earth’s natural climate rhythm over the last 800,000 years. Over the last 200 years, human activity has increased carbon dioxide to well outside the natural range and we have no analogue for what will happen next.”
The article states that the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide has remained relatively steady over the past 800,000 years, until humans began burning fossil fuels about 200 years ago. During this period, levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide increased 35 percent, and is rising at an unprecedented rate. The past 17 years, carbon dioxide levels have risen 30 parts per million (ppm), an increase that used to take 1,000 years. In addition, methane (even more powerful than carbon dioxide) which had never before surpassed 750 parts per billion, is now at 1,780 ppb.
Gary stated that air pollution emissions from power plants alone cause 30,000 premature deaths each year! This is based on a study conducted by Abt Associates for the EPA’s Environmental Integrity Project. The study also found that power plant emissions cause 20,000 respiratory and cardiovascular hospitalizations, and 600,000 asthma attacks annually. The EPA paper goes on to say: “Yet more than twenty-five years after the Clean Air Act became law, many of these power plants, as well as refiners, chemical producers, cement kilns, and other manufacturers, operate without modern pollution controls.”
Although we have won some battles for the environment, this shows there is much more we can do to ensure a healthy environment. These photographs illustrate the dire consequences and need for immediate action. Although all of this may seem daunting and overwhelming, each small action you take will make a difference. I just read this fabulous and inspiring article from the New York Times which expounds on the benefits of planting a vegetable garden. Also, write letters to your representatives encouraging them to pass pro-environment legislation.
Some cities are taking pro-active measures such as in Gary’s hometown of Portland, Oregon where CO2 levels are now at 1990 levels and dropping. This article says this is despite a 15 percent growth in population since 1990. This is due to the investment in bicycle, pedestrian and transit infrastructure; as well as an increase in compact development. The city and county’s global-warming action plan aims to reduce emissions to 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2010, and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.