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The earth and us



By Silvia Casabianca

After each hurricane batters lands, flattens homes, floods streets, leaving hundreds of people struggling to get back to business, scientists try to answer a crucial question: Is global warming making hurricanes worse? Which, in other words is the same as asking, is our lifestyle making hurricanes stronger? And, would changes in our lifestyle contribute to planetary health? So far, research, mostly based on mathematical models, isn't giving us a conclusive answer.

The fine balance of the Earth has been gradually disrupted by modern daily life, and changes in that balance in many ways affect our individual health. But in this polemic issue, interpretations of the studies are biased by our strong tendency towards denial. Accepting that we're somehow responsible for the Earth's wellness would force us into mindful living. And we are sturdily resistant to changes. We're looking for comfort, no matter the environmental price we have to pay.

A new study by Kerry Emanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at MIT, published in the journal Nature, concludes that hurricanes have become stronger and longer-lasting in the past 30 years, which correlates with a rise in sea surface temperatures. The strengthening of the storms also correlates with the increasing pounds of carbon dioxide we pour into the atmosphere from transportation, air conditioning and waste disposal.

In chaos theory, which advocates for a responsible attitude towards the universe where we live, there is "the butterfly effect" concept,stating that the flapping of a butterfly's wings in Japan may eventually cause a hurricane in the Caribbean. Incidentally, chaos theory derives from a meteorologist who found that very small variations in the data entered in a computer would give him radically different forecast outcomes. Sounds familiar? Aren't we suspended in awe, paralyzed by the not-knowing, of the different forecast models predicting that a storm seems to be heading our way, but may land miles north or south of us?

I fantasize with the idea that if a storm is approaching and we all turn our air conditioning up a few degrees, off when it's not needed, that we can make a difference in the temperature of the waters that feed the threatening divine winds. Chaos theory gives us hope that small contributions on our part would translate into positive outcomes.

By now, probably everybody knows that global warming is the result of a buildup of greenhouse gases (mainly carbon dioxide, but also methane, chloroflorocarbons and nitrous oxide) in the atmosphere. These gases come mainly from the cars we drive. If we drive an average of 200 miles per week in a vehicle that uses around 22 miles per gallon, our vehicle will emit 17,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per year. Gases also come from the electricity and the natural gas used in our households. EPA has calculated the emission of 20,000 pounds of CO2 per household, based on an average of 1,000 kwh/month and 11,000 pounds per household from natural gas. Waste disposal would be responsible for as much as 4,800 lbs of CO2 emissions, based on a household of two.

But take into account that these statistics, provided by the Environmental Protection Agency, are eight years old and in the past decade thousands of new cars have been put in the roads, and forests, which could clean the air from some car emissions are shrinking fast. For 60 years, the World Health Organization's definition of health as a "state of complete physical, mental and social well-being," has served the purpose of defining the scope of public health. But, in these past decades, climate changes call for a redefinition, according to Dr. Raymond Hayes and Taseer Hussain who presented a proposal to revisit the above mentioned definition at the 16th Global Warming International Conference, held last April in New York City. The new definition should consider not only the impact that our lifestyle has on planetary health, but also shall depart from a concern about climate sensitive diseases.

Human health is fragile, and dependent on the larger world around it. We shouldn't lose sight of the interconnectedness of all life or the consequences of our behavior. While planetary health eventually becomes a public health matter, it has been left to us to make wise choices. If ocean heat is the key factor for hurricane formation, more heat necessarily means generation of more intense storms. Therefore, our contribution to stop global warming will hopefully spare us from the damage of stronger storms in the future.
According to WHO, approximately 600,000 deaths occurred worldwide as a result of weather-related natural disasters in the 1990s.

Published in the Naples Sun Times (Oct 28, 2005) under the title "Spooky Winds."


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Captain John Puig of Naples Biodiesel knows that harvesting oil at local restaurants might involve people asking permission to smell or take a ride in his 1983 Mercedes Benz. Asking for a ride is understandable but, why taking a whiff of the car? Well, when Puig comes to collect waste oil, they want to verify that his vehicle has in fact the funky French fries smell they've so much heard about. The kitchen staff also want proof that the Mercedes engine works well even if it runs on the oil they discard and consider trash. Read more...

I found this page interesting. Learn how much you're contributing to global warming and plan how to cut the emissions that are destroying our planet.

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Disclaimer: The information provided in this website is mostly based on personal opinions and experiences of Silvia Casabianca, unless otherwise noted. Advise offered is meant to help users take informed decisions and not to replace medical care by a qualified practitioner.

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