Thursday, May 31, 2012
By Associated Press, Updated: Thursday, May 31, 2:32 PM
WASHINGTON — The world’s air has reached what scientists call a troubling new milestone for carbon dioxide, the main global warming pollutant.
Monitoring stations across the Arctic this spring are measuring more than 400 parts per million of the heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere. The number isn’t quite a surprise, because it’s been rising at an accelerating pace. Years ago, it passed the 350 ppm mark that many scientists say is the highest safe level for carbon dioxide. It now stands globally at 395.
So far, only the Arctic has reached that 400 level, but the rest of the world will follow soon.
“The fact that it’s 400 is significant,” said Jim Butler, global monitoring director at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth System Research Lab in Boulder, Colo. “It’s just a reminder to everybody that we haven’t fixed this and we’re still in trouble.”
Carbon dioxide is the chief greenhouse gas and most of it lasts about 100 years in the air, but some of it stays in the atmosphere for thousands of years. Some carbon dioxide is natural, mainly from decomposing dead plants and animals. Before the Industrial Age, levels were around 275 parts per million.
For more than 60 years, readings have been in the 300s, except in urban areas, where levels are skewed. The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal for electricity and oil for gasoline, has caused the overwhelming bulk of the man-made increase in carbon in the air, scientists say.
It’s been at least 800,000 years — probably more — since Earth saw carbon dioxide levels in the 400s, Butler and other climate scientists said.
Readings are coming in at 400 and higher all over the Arctic. They’ve been recorded in Alaska, Greenland, Norway, Iceland and even Mongolia. But levels change with the seasons and will drop a bit in the summer, when plants suck up carbon dioxide, NOAA scientists said.
So the yearly average for those northern stations likely will be lower and so will the global number.
Globally, the average carbon dioxide level is about 395 parts per million but will pass the 400 mark within a few years, scientists said.
The Arctic is the leading indicator in global warming, both in carbon dioxide in the air and effects, said Pieter Tans, a senior NOAA scientist.
“This is the first time the entire Arctic is that high,” he said.
Tans called reaching the 400 number “depressing,” and Butler said it was “a troubling milestone.”
“It’s an important threshold,” said Carnegie Institution ecologist Chris Field, a scientist who helps lead the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “It is an indication that we’re in a different world.”
Ronald Prinn, an atmospheric sciences professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said 400 is more a psychological milestone than a scientific one. We think in hundreds, and “we’re poking our heads above 400,” he said.
Tans said the readings show how much the Earth’s atmosphere and its climate are being affected by humans. Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels hit a record high of 34.8 billion tons in 2011, up 3.2 percent, the International Energy Agency announced last week.
The agency said it’s becoming unlikely that the world can achieve the European goal of limiting global warming to just 2 degrees based on increasing pollution and greenhouse gas levels.
“The news today, that some stations have measured concentrations above 400 ppm in the atmosphere, is further evidence that the world’s political leaders — with a few honorable exceptions — are failing catastrophically to address the climate crisis,” former Vice President Al Gore, the highest-profile campaigner against global warming, said in an email. “History will not understand or forgive them.”
But political dynamics in the United States mean there’s no possibility of significant restrictions on man-made greenhouse gases no matter what the levels are in the air, said Jerry Taylor, a senior fellow of the libertarian Cato Institute.
“These milestones are always worth noting,” said economist Myron Ebell at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute. “As carbon dioxide levels have continued to increase, global temperatures flattened out, contrary to the models” used by climate scientists and the United Nations.
He contends temperatures have not risen since 1998, which was unusually hot.
Temperature records contradict that claim. Both 2005 and 2010 were warmer than 1998, and the entire decade of 2000 to 2009 was the warmest on record, according to NOAA.
NOAA’s global monitoring lab: http://esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/
Seth Borenstein can be followed at http://twitter.com/borenbears
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
© The Washington Post Company
Monday, May 28, 2012
Thursday, May 17, 2012
By Amina Khan
6:18 PM PDT, May 16, 2012
Researchers have some reassuring news for the legions of coffee drinkers who can't get through the day without a latte, cappuccino, iced mocha, double-shot of espresso or a plain old cuppa joe: That coffee habit may help you live longer.
A new study that tracked the health and coffee consumption of more than 400,000 older adults for nearly 14 years found that java drinkers were less likely to die during the study than their counterparts who eschewed the brew. In fact, men and women who averaged four or five cups of coffee per day had the lowest risk of death, according to a report in Thursday's edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.
The research doesn't prove that coffee deserves the credit for helping people live longer. But it is the largest analysis to date to suggest that the beverage's reputation for being a liquid vice may be undeserved.
There's been concerns for a long time that coffee might be a risky behavior, said study leader Neal Freedman, an epidemiologist with the National Cancer Institute who drinks coffee here and there. The results offer some reassurance that it's not a risk factor for future disease.
Coffee originated in Ethiopia more than 500 years ago. As it spread through the Middle East, Europe and the Americas, its popularity was tempered by concerns about its supposed ill effects. A 1674 petition by aggrieved women in London complained that coffee left men impotent, with nothing moist but their snotty noses, nothing stiff but their joints, nor standing but their ears, according to the book Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World.
In more modern times, the caffeinated beverage has been seen as a stimulating substance, a commonly consumed drug, said Rob van Dam, an epidemiologist at the National University of Singapore who has investigated the drink's health effects but was not involved in the latest study.
People get somewhat dependent on it, Van Dam said. If you try to rapidly reduce coffee consumption, you get headaches or other symptoms.
The National Coffee Assn. estimates that 64% of American adults drink coffee on a daily basis, with the average drinker consuming 3.2 cups each day. To get a deeper understanding of the risks and benefits of all that joe, the National Cancer Institute researchers turned to data on 402,260 adults who were between the ages of 50 and 71 when they joined the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study in 1995 and 1996. The volunteers were followed through December 2008 or until they died — whichever came first.
When the team first crunched the numbers, coffee seemed to have a detrimental effect on longevity. But people who drink coffee are more likely to smoke, and when the scientists took that into account (along with other demographic factors), the opposite appeared to be true.
Compared with men who didn't drink any coffee at all, those who drank just one cup per day had a 6% lower risk of death during the course of the study; those who drank two to three cups per day had a 10% lower risk, and those who had four to five cups had a 12% lower risk. For men who drank six cups or more, the apparent benefit waned slightly, with a 10% lower risk of death during the study compared with men who drank no coffee.
The relationship between coffee and risk of death was even more dramatic in women. Those who drank one cup per day had 5% lower odds of dying during the study compared with women who drank none. Those who consumed two or three cups a day were 13% less likely to die, those who downed four or five cups were 16% less likely to die, and those who drank six or more cups had a 15% lower mortality rate.
The effect held across a number of causes of death — including heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke and diabetes — but not cancer, the researchers found. And the link was stronger in coffee drinkers who had never smoked.
The correlation even held for people who mostly drank decaf brew, the researchers found.
If these are real biological effects, they seem to [have] to do with the substances in coffee that are not caffeine, Van Dam said. Other compounds in the coffee could be linked to the lower death rates, he said — or there could be no causal relationship at all.
And, Van Dam added, the researchers didn't make distinctions between different types of drinks. Unfiltered brews like Turkish coffee or Scandinavian boiled coffee have been shown to raise cholesterol and could present very different results from the current study if examined separately, he said.
To prove that coffee deserves the credit, researchers could study each of the 1,000-odd compounds in the brew and test them on subjects over time to see if they reduced inflammation, improved the body's sensitivity to insulin or caused any other useful biological effects, he said.
Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times
Sunday, May 13, 2012
Christians today have the same problem as their fellow believers of two hundred years ago: “One of the embarrassing problems for the early nineteenth-century champions of the Christian faith was that not one of the first six Presidents of the United States was an orthodox Christian.” –The Encyclopedia Britannica, 1968.
The ‘Christian’ label did not even fit some of our early Presidents. However, whether religious or not, the great intellects of democracy had a vision of all that the United States could be. They wouldn’t have dreamed of imposing religion on their fellow Americans; they knew that this nation’s greatness came from not being a Christian one. In their own emphatic words:
1) “Enforced uniformity confounds civil and religious liberty and denies the principles of Christianity and civility. No man shall be required to worship or maintain a worship against his will.” Roger Williams, Puritan minister and founder of Rhode Island, in The Bloudy Tenet of Persecution, 1644.
2) “As the government of the United States of America is not on any sense founded on the Christian Religion, – as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen (Muslims), – and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.” –Treaty of Tripoli
–initiated under President George Washington, 1796
–signed into law by President John Adams, 1797
–ratified unanimously by the Senate, 1797
–Published in full in all 13 states, with no record of complaint or dissent.
3) “But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed.”–John Adams, letter to F.A. Van der Kamp, Dec. 27, 1816
4) “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship… I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State.” –Thomas Jefferson, letter to Danbury Baptist Association, CT
5) “I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises.”–Thomas Jefferson, letter to Samuel Miller, 1808 [note that this does not say Christian religion; it refers to all religions, equally]
6) “History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purpose.” –Thomas Jefferson to Baron von Humboldt, 1813
7) “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.” –James Madison, letter to William Bradford, April 1, 1774
8) “Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?” –James Madison, A Memorial and Remonstrance, addressed to the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of VA, 1795
9) “What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people… A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not.” –James Madison, A Memorial and Remonstrance, 1785 .
10) “During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.” –James Madison, A Memorial and Remonstrance
11) “He had no faith, in the Christian sense of the term– he had faith in laws, principles, causes and effects.” –Supreme Court Justice David Davis, on Abraham Lincoln
12) “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” –First Amendment, Constitution of the United States