Another week when the words wouldn’t come out. Of if they did, they were an incoherent mumble. Or if they did, they were in the middle of the night when I had no easy way to pin them to paper or screen. And if I tried to pin them down by trotting down at 2 am or 3, when the words seemed to make sense, they faded away like a mirage. And now, its the end of the week and the weekend is crowded with things to do and people to see. But these three pictures caught my eye as I surfed the news. So, here’s another week where the pictures speak for words.
The three pictcures paint the world – starkly, in my opinion – we’re creating.
This first picture is the first snapshot of the world seen through the haze of particulate matter. NASA released this picture this week and I ran across it at the Wired Science Blogs, penned by Duncan Greene. From the article:
“Many estimates of air pollution in developing countries are innaccurate, as there’s no network of surface-based sensors that can find the worst-polluted areas. Scientists regularly have to rely on a few dated observations of questionable veracity.
However, Nasa has just published the first long-term global map that shows density of particulate matter below 2.5 micrometres in diameter. This size is important, because it’s small enough to get past the body’s defences and accumulate in the lungs, making it dangerous to human health. Epidemologists believe that they cause millions of premature deaths each year.
Satellites can’t easily scan the surface of the Earth — they instead scan a column of air in the atmosphere, and the difficulty comes in getting readings at a particular level out of that data. The team who produced the map, Aaron van Donkelaar and Randall Martin at Dalhousie University, in Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada, blended total-column aerosol measurements from satellites with information about how aerosols are distributed vertically in the atmosphere to obtain the data.
The World Health Organisation’s recommended level is 10 micrograms per cubic metre, so anything on the map that’s green or above is cause for concern. Once in the lungs, the particles can cause asthma, cardiovascular diseases and bronchitis. Some very fine particles can even get into the bloodstream.
Some of the particulate matter is man-made and some is natural, and scientists haven’t quite worked out the relative quantities yet, but both are dangerous to human health. In the Arabian and Sahara deserts, its mostly natural mineral dust lifted by the wind, but in eastern China and Northern India, it’s more likely to be soot particles emitted by power plants, factories and cars.“
I was appalled at the haze over the Himalayas. The only dim light in the picture for me was that Southern India, especially around Bangalore, doesn’t seem as bad as Northern India. At least our loved ones living there aren’t as badly exposed.
The other picture captures is a good visualization of the history of global warming, including the different predicted outcomes based on various models and scenarios. This picture comes courtesy of the brilliant climate change site, Skepical Science, one site that attempts to synthesize all the climate change news – scientific and political – and present them in an easily comprehensible manner. I highly recommend readers to visit the blog for insightful information about climate change, including the basic facts.
From the blog entry:
“I love a simple, accessible graph that tells a clear story. A good example can be found in a new paper Climate Change: Past, Present, and Future (Chapman & Davis 2010). They plot past climate change over the past 1000 years together with what we can expect to experience over the next century. In a single figure, it tells us a number of stories which are fleshed out further in the paper.
The past 1000 years feature a number of temperature reconstructions (the thin coloured lines) using various proxies such as tree rings, corals, sediments, glacier length and boreholes. The black dotted line is the average temperature over the decade centered on 1 Jan 2000. Having a variety of independent proxy methods gives us confidence that current temperatures are warmer than any experienced over the past 1000 years.
The coloured areas represent future projections of global temperature. The yellow projection (C3) tells us what would happen if CO2 concentrations were held steady at year 2000 levels. In other words, what would happen if humanity had suddenly stopped emitting CO2 in the year 2000 (but it’s okay, we’d still be allowed to breath). Even in this imaginary case, temperatures would still continue to increase due to the thermal inertia of the oceans. ”
The third picture comes from the BBC, from a story titled, “Water Map Shows Billions At Risk of ‘Water Insecurity’“. Reporting on a story published in Nature this week, the article warns that more than 80% of the world’s population live in areas where the water source is insecure. They urge the developing nations, where the water insecurity is the highest, to not follow the lead of Western nations but “governments should invest in water management strategies that combine infrastructure with “natural” options such as safeguarding watersheds, wetlands and flood plains.” From the article:
“Looking at the “raw threats” to people’s water security – the “natural” picture – much of western Europe and North America appears to be under high stress.
However, when the impact of the infrastructure that distributes and conserves water is added in – the “managed” picture – most of the serious threat disappears from these regions.
Africa, however, moves in the opposite direction.
“The problem is, we know that a large proportion of the world’s population cannot afford these investments,” said Peter McIntyre from the University of Wisconsin, another of the researchers involved.
“In fact we show them benefiting less than a billion people, so we’re already excluding a large majority of the world’s population,” he told BBC News.”
“For developed countries and the Bric group – Brazil, Russia, India and China – alone, “$800bn per year will be required by 2015 to cover investments in water infrastructure, a target likely to go unmet,” they conclude.
For poorer countries, the outlook is considerably more bleak, they say.
“In reality this is a snapshot of the world about five or 10 years ago, because that’s the data that’s coming on line now,” said Dr McIntyre.
“It’s not about the future, but we would argue people should be even more worried if you start to account for climate change and population growth.
“Climate change is going to affect the amount of water that comes in as precipitation; and if you overlay that on an already stressed population, we’re rolling the dice.”
As I have penned before, these visualizations are not merely academic for me. They are an indicator of the kind of world we’re leaving behind for our children, for Maya. Attempting to provide for the most opportunities for our children is not just by sending them to good schools or ensuring that they eat well. If we don’t wake up and act, continue to deny and live our lives in ways that will create a world that is more poisoned and strife-ridden, we’d have acted less with love for our children.
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