Posts Tagged ‘global warming’

Economic Development vis-à-vis Environment:

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

Economic Development vis-à-vis Environment:

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Prologue:

“When the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten, and the last stream poisoned, you will realize that you cannot eat money,” Native American saying. A quote by Richard Wilkinson describes economic development as a development of more intensive ways to exploit the natural environment. We hurt the environment in more ways than you could possibly imagine. Misguided construction, irrigation and mining can deface the natural landscape and disrupt important ecological processes. Aggressive fishing and hunting can deplete entire stocks of species. Human migration can introduce alien competitors to native food chains. Greed can lead to catastrophic accidents and laziness to environmentally destructive practices. Will our children and grandchildren live in a better world, or will economic and social conditions decline? Every culture has worried over this question—often for good reason. One would think that modern man, living amid ever-rising material comforts and a security unimagined by his ancestors, would have moved beyond this fear. Environmentalists are often accused — not always unfairly — of overplaying the fear card. With apocalyptic references to melting polar ice caps, rising sea levels and widespread species extinction, the driving message of environmentalism is that the future is doomed, unless we act now to save it.  Despite our growing prosperity there is a renewed fear in many quarters that we are living on borrowed time, because we’re running out of resources and endangering our very environment. The environment debate has made little progress in a significant amount of time. The common attitude is that we have to put either the environment above people, or people above the environment. Such narrow minded thinking has never advanced society. The first things the economic growth lobby will say if you criticize economic growth is that you are condemning the poor to eternal poverty.  Yes, people have to be allowed to benefit from economic development, but we also have to respect the environment. Without either, survival isn’t possible as we know it. 

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The two critical purposes of an economy are to produce and distribute goods. The production and distribution of goods require matter and energy, create waste and take up space. The latter four, matter, energy, waste and space are products of the environment. The wastes created by the economy are thrown back into the environment, hence degrading the environment. The environment is often described as the central pillar of sustainability; the economy exists within society and culture, and these three in turn, exist in the environment.  A healthy environment is the foundation on which a sound economy and a healthy society depend.  Communities cannot thrive without essentials such as clean air and water.

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Our world as we see it today has changed a lot in the past 100 years. Industrial revolution of the 19th century laid the foundation for the rise of a new culture ‘enriched’ by machines and money. By the end of the 19th century, the industrial development had attained a mind-boggling pace which was reflected in the changes that took place thereafter. The issue is not new to the society and it has its roots in the second and third industrial revolutions back in the early 20th century when the manufacturing sector skyrocketed establishing chimneys and letting out tones of effluents.  It is necessary to understand that the growth of economies across the world resulting from use of machines had a great impact on our environment. This kind of development had both positive and negative impacts on the environment. All these changes have led to people taking extreme views on the subject matter. Man’s scientific knowledge knew no bounds and to realize its full potential it encroached heavily upon nature; so much so that it was only in 1972 that global concern for environmental problems found itself on the agenda at the United Nations Convention on the Human Environment (UNCHE), held in Stockholm, Sweden. Deliberations over degrading environment have the capacity of attracting masses. Be it a television program or a public debate, one can see everyone around bickering as to how contaminated their surroundings are. This is amusing to note as about fifty percent of those detractors unconsciously contribute to the mess by not making use of garbage bins and not recycling & reusing items in their daily lives. But let us confront ourselves with the basic truth here: our environment is at a critical stage; and it would be wrong to put the blame on industries alone for this condition. Social aspects such as population explosion are equal violators of the environment. Environment vs. development can be called one of today’s dilemmas for thinkers. Humanity have fear that uncontrolled economic development will lead to environmental disaster such as global warming, greenhouse effect, air pollution, and so on – all these are the results of human activity. On the other hand, human activity is something that makes our society and world in general develop. The main problem is that our development harms nature and environment greatly. What is more important? Does development really damage the environment?  

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The figure above illustrates the direct and residual effects of physical goods flows between the economy and the environment.

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Economics Environment
Short time frame Long time frame of 100,000 of years
Resources valued according to output. Interconnections between species and the environment
Place is not important. Production can be moved. Place is critical
Measured in money Physical units (i.e. calories, rainfall, etc)

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The current debate concerning development versus environment is premised on the fatal assumption that the two are in contradiction with each other. The industrialized world’s emphasis on green issues holds back developing countries as this is seen as interference in their affairs. It also contributes to a greater divide between the First and Third worlds. Consider Kyoto Protocol for an example. The United States of America pushed other countries into ratifying the treaty but it never did the same and only signed it. Before the Protocol was agreed on, the US Senate passed the Byrd-Hagel Resolution unanimously disapproving of any international agreement that “would seriously harm the economy of the United States.” With developed nations shying away from such commitments it is confusing to note why developing countries should throw away the chance of securing a better future. In tribal areas where development has failed to reach, often the only means of survival is what they call ‘slash and burn agriculture’. This method involves burning down forests for fuel and food which is clearly not eco-friendly.

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Economic development vs. environment is a complex challenge of competing interests:

  • Developed vs. developing countries;
  • Present generation vs. future generations and;
  • Country vs. Country (from a nationalistic economic standpoint).

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Our natural environment includes all living and non living things like land, forests, minerals, water bodies, the atmosphere, etc.  Some of these resources are renewable and others are non renewable, which get depleted and ultimately exhausted with their continuous use. Even the renewable resources may get degraded or polluted. Economic development leads to increase in the rate of national income. Increase in national income would result only from increased production of goods and services. This is only possible with greater consumption of natural resources such as land, forest, fuels etc. Thus reckless and thoughtless use of these resources would cause their exhaustion and degradation, thereby reduce productivity and impede economic growth. As a result our future generations will not get enough resources for their use thus adversely affecting their output, income and living standards. So environmental degradation not only affects us but will also have repercussions on our future generations.

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The truth, of course, is that most of us care more about our standard of living than we do about the health of some species we seldom if ever see. And the truth, even harder to admit, is that most of us care more about our own welfare than we do about that of persons living three or four or five generations hence. If protecting the planet, for future generations and for other species, depended on changing these operational values, then we would be in deep trouble. And perhaps we are in deep trouble, but if we are, it is not because protecting the planet requires neglecting our own interests. Think whatever you wish about the moral standing of these operational values — this is the reality. It is a deeply held view that protecting the environment constitutes a net expense to our economy. To the extent that environmental concerns have faded in economic hard times, and they have, it is a reflection of the fact that most of the public and most of the leadership still believes that protecting the environment represents spending money rather than saving it, represents consumption rather than investment. Economic activity, both production and consumption, relates to the environment in two fundamental ways — we draw resources (both renewable and non-renewable) from the environment to produce goods and services, and we emit wastes into the environment in the process of both producing and consuming. In thinking about how environmental protection expenditures relate to future prosperity, we must first consider the yardsticks we use to measure how we are doing in economic terms.

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Man is an integral part of the environment, yet he is the arch-enemy of it. For centuries man has been thriving on its generosity. But in his quest to make life very simpler and more luxurious, he has turned a blind eye to the damage caused to the environment. Our greed to get the most out of everything has made us contemptuously neglect the environment, although we all know that our very existence depends on it. A careful analysis of why there are imbalances in the environment will highlight numerous mistakes and aberrations on our parts. It is the time man undid the damage done to his surroundings. In developed countries, environmental regulation and new technologies are reducing the environmental impact, but industrial activities and growing demand are still putting pressures on the environment and the natural resource base. In developing countries a double environmental effect is occurring: old environmental problems, such as deforestation and soil degradation, remain largely unsolved. At the same time, new problems linked to industrialization are emerging, such as rising greenhouse gas emissions, air and water pollution, growing volumes of waste, desertification and chemicals pollution. Since environment regulation tends to be weak in developing countries some of these countries have begun to specialize in pollution intensive manufacturing, particularly in products which have good export potential. However it is also extremely important for developing countries to achieve a high level of economic growth to mitigate their socio-economic problems. But the major challenge here is: how to ensure development by maintaining a balance between environment and development. Both the developed and the developing nations should come together to protect the environment. Instead of questioning each other’s duties, they should collectively strive for a solution and step up their efforts to save the environment. In fact, every county should do its bit.

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In contrast to the above view, some argue that these environmental problems will be addressed more or less automatically in the process of economic growth. However the national income or the GNP (Gross National Product) which is the commonly accepted measure of economic development of a nation fails to reflect the true cost of development. It excludes the cost of depletion of natural resources and other environmental costs. For example when we cut down trees for commercial use, its value is added to the GNP but the loss in the form of depletion of natural resources is not accounted for anywhere. So the fact remains that the more output we produce today by using greater amount of natural resources, the greater is the loss of our natural assets and consequently lower will be the output that the future generations will be able to produce from these depleted resources. More so the pace at which we are exploiting these resources is unmatchable by any solutions that economic growth may offer.

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Economic development to alleviate poverty:

Estimates show that about 1.1 billion live on less than a dollar per day; 2.7 billion on less than 2 dollars a day. A majority of these come from the sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and parts of Latin America which are considered as one of the poorest regions on Earth. The main reason why these parts of the world are the poorest is because there was hardly any economic development there in the last few centuries when they were ruled by the colonial powers. These countries would be able to grow and compete economically with the developed countries only when they start producing large numbers of goods and services and engage in trade. Setting up of industries would not only bring more jobs in the developing countries but would also pump money into the economy. This is what the developed countries like the U.S, U.K etc did in the 20th century which in turn increased their income and improved the standard of living of the people. Experts are of the view that taking care of a million people who are starving is more important than saving the natural resources, most of which are renewable. The developing countries cannot share the green concerns of the developed countries which will put a cap on the emissions as it is fighting a constant battle with an enemy (poverty) that can be defeated only by industrialization.  

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Economic development is vital for meeting the basic needs of the growing economy. Economic development can pave the way to feeding the millions of under-nourished people of the world. The world population has topped 6 billion people and is predicted to double in the next 50 years. Ensuring an adequate food supply for this booming population is going to be a major challenge in the years to come. We cannot expect nations to share the green concerns when they are faced with dire poverty and a constant battle for survival. Taking care of millions of people who are starving is more important than saving natural resources, most of which are renewable anyway. While the importance of maintaining the environment at sustainable levels cannot be undermined, economic development can actually help to repair the damage that industrialization has brought to the earth’s fragile Eco-system. As our natural resources dwindle, innovative thinking in business, science and development will flourish to meet environmental challenges. For example, efficient new steelworks use much less water, raw materials and power, while producing much less pollution than traditional factories. Nuclear generating plants can provide more energy than coal while contributing far less to global warming. We are also exploring alternative, renewable types of energy such as solar, wind and hydro-power.

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Poverty and environmental degradation:

Awareness and concern about environmental degradation have grown around the world over the last few decades; these concerns are shared by people of different nations, cultures, religions and social classes. Poverty is considered as a great influence of environmental degradation. In many regions of the world, regional overgrazing has resulted in destruction of grazing lands, forest and soil. Air and water have been degraded. The carrying capacity of the natural environment has been reduced. As the people become poorer, they destroy the resources faster. They tend to overuse the natural resources because they don’t have anything to eat or any means of getting money except through the natural resources, they start to depend more on natural resources. Poor people harvest natural resources for their survival or in order to meet their basic needs such as firewood, agricultural productions (such as maize), and water and wild plants for their medicine.  Due to the lack of sufficient income people start to use and overuse every resource available to them when their survival is at stake. Most of the poor people use fire wood as their source of income by selling them, and also use them for cooking and heating. The roots of the trees are dug out for medicinal purpose. This leaves the soil exposed as the grasses are also grazed by animals and also collected for roofing the houses. When it rains the entire top and good soil are eroded which makes it difficult for that soil to produce better agricultural products. The poor do not willfully degrade the environment but poor families often lack the resources to avoid degrading their environment. The very poor, struggling at the edge of subsistence, are preoccupied with day to day survival. A hungry man will (likely) not think twice about using dynamite-fishing techniques on an endangered coral reef if it means a huge caloric return for minimal effort, although this is not at all an indication or indictment of laziness on the part of impoverished people. Poverty is said to be both cause and effect of environmental degradation. The circular link between poverty and environment is an extremely complex phenomenon. Inequality may foster unsustainability because the poor, who rely on natural resources more than the rich, deplete natural resources faster as they have no real prospects of gaining access to other types of resources. Moreover, degraded environment can accelerate the process of impoverishment, again because the poor depend directly on natural assets. On one hand alleviating poverty especially in tribal areas will help conserve environment and on other hand, industrialization to alleviate poverty harms environment.

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Environmental degradation worsening poverty:

In the future, the problem of declining living standards in poor countries is likely to be worsened by environmental degradation. Today, environmental problems already affect the health and livelihoods of hundreds of millions. If drastic steps are not taken, the coming century will see billions of people suffer the consequences of pollution and scarcity of natural resources, especially, agricultural land and water. Assuming that of the non-renewable minerals, non-discovered reserves will prove to be roughly equal to the supplies now known, and that consumption is maintained at current levels, oil supplies will run out in about 80 years, gas in 120, and coal in 230 years. The known reserves of copper, zinc, lead and tin have been estimated to run out in as little as 20 to 40 years. Scarcity of non-renewable minerals will stimulate the search for alternatives, but will also raise prices. Steep price increases mean the poor will be unable to afford either the scarce materials or their alternatives. Reduced industrial and agricultural output could lead to economic crises and large scale food scarcity – a risk greatly enhanced by population growth.  

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The herculean environmental issue:

About 1.3 billion live without clean drinking water; 2.6 billion without proper sanitation and 2 billion without electricity; 800 million are malnourished; 25 billion tons of topsoil is lost annually, yet the available food will need to double in the next 25 years or so due to population and economic growth. One third of the population live in water-stress areas and this is projected to double by 2025; 50% of Africans suffer from water-related diseases. In developing countries, about 220 million urban residents lack access to portable drinking water; 350 million have no access to basic sanitation and one billion have no solid waste collection service. With increasing population size, level of consumption and choice of technology, it is therefore a great challenge to meet these needs without adverse impact on the environment.

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Only 39% of the world is wilderness. A little over 1/3 of that is nothing but ice. This leaves all of the rainforests, deserts, and grasslands making up only 1/4 of the world, and it shrinks daily. The Amazon Rainforest alone is losing an area the size of Switzerland each year. A large percentage of our freshwater is located in the Amazon Rainforest. Many people, animals, and plants in that region depend on it. At the rate we’re destroying the rainforest, the water cycle of that region is going to be severely damaged. Without plants to hold the soil in place, the heavy rains are going to destroy the land and make it infertile and useless to not only the animals that lived there, but people as well. The ocean has become an easy solution to waste management, that is, when you aren’t the one living in the water. All of what we dump into the oceans is then in turn taken into the animals that are forced to live there, mainly through food. This does have a way of coming back and hurting humanity, however it typically doesn’t affect the person disposing of the waste. In many Asian countries that consume large amounts of ocean dwelling fish, this pollution is contaminating their food supply. Many problems such as these exist; we can’t continue like this if we want a functional future.

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Various institutional efforts have been carried out at global level in order to reduce the effect of development on the environment.

Club of Rome, 1968:

At the international level the Club of Rome advocated resource conservation in a systematic manner.

Brundland commission, 1987:

 It introduced the concept of sustainable development which was subsequently published in a book titled “Our Common Future”.

Rio de Janerio Earth Summit, 1992:

 In 1992 more than 100 heads of the state met in Rio de Janerio in Brazil, for the first International Earth Summit. This summit was convened for addressing urgent problems of environmental protection and socio – economic development at the global level. The Rio Convention endorsed the global forest principles and adopted Agenda 21for achieving Sustainable Development in the 21st century.

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Statistics on public opinion vis-à-vis economy vs. environment:

Protecting environment vs. economic growth: comparing public opinion:

When asked which was more important protecting the environment or economic growth the three common/significant answers were:

Protecting environment; coded as a 1

Economy growth and creating jobs; coded as a 2

And other answers (i.e. “not sure”); coded as a 3

Great Britain: United States: South Africa: Australia:    India: Peru: Viet Nam:
Mean Response: 1.41 1.46 1.74 1.34 1.60 1.36 1.55

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This ‘mean’ statistic can be deceptive though. By this stat, it seems that Viet Nam is torn almost evenly between a number 1 answer and number 2 answer, however a closure looks shows us that Viet Nam has the highest rate of number three response which are commonly a ‘not sure” response. What does this show? It could show a lack of understanding of the question in that culture, or perhaps a lack of education or information on this issue in Viet Nam. It is hard to say what this statistic shows exactly without further exploration but obviously there is some sort of third factor here given the large number of other responses here. An interesting thing to notice here is that, by far the poorest and least developed nation on the chart, South Africa, is also the only nation here that values economic growth above environmental protection. This can be an interesting insight into human necessities that makes sense. On an individual-by-individual basis, feeding and protecting your family would outweigh being careful about the environment. This could show a connection that for global environmental protection we must first focus on sustainable economic growth and combating global poverty.

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As economic conditions worsen, people asked to choose between protecting the environment or economic growth and development strongly favor economic growth, according to a June Harris Poll conducted in 2008 online among 2,454 adults aged 18+, MarketingCharts reports. More than three in five Americans (63 percent) say economic growth and development are more important to their region, whereas more than one in four (27 percent) say protecting the environment is more important.

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For the first time in Gallup’s 25-year history of asking Americans about the trade-off between environmental protection and economic growth, a majority of Americans say economic growth should be given the priority, even if the environment suffers to some extent in by a 49% to 41% margin in 2009. Americans in 2012 are about as likely to say production of energy supplies (47%) should be prioritized as to say environmental protection (44%) should be, a closer division than previous year, when energy led by 50% to 41%. These views mark a shift compared with the early 2000s, when Americans consistently assigned a higher priority to environmental protection. 

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A Gallup poll conducted in 2011 found that in emerging markets China, India, and Brazil, a large percentage of citizens felt that the environment should be prioritized, even if it jeopardized economic growth.

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Economy vs. environment debate and politics:

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann calls the Environmental Protection Agency “job killing.” Texas Gov. Rick Perry has called for a moratorium on all federal regulations, especially those from the EPA. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has said he supports some of what the EPA does, but he opposes regulations relating to carbon pollution. As the economy slumps along, those positions may resonate with voters. After years of down economic news, anything that hits at the economy may be anathema.

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What is environment anyway?

Environment includes the physical factors of the surrounding of human beings including land, water atmosphere, climate, sound, odor, taste, the biological factors of living things, and the social factors of aesthetics, and includes both the natural and the built environment. It can be viewed as the totality of nature and its components.

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Environment may be broadly understood to mean our surroundings. It can be divided into non-living and living components. The Environment provides resources which support life on the earth and which also help in the growth of a relationship of interchange between living organisms and the environment in which they live. It is important to realize that humans enjoy a unique position in nature due to their exceptional ability to influence and mould the environment. In the recent past the term nature has been used as parallel to word environment. It has been generally believed that nature is what man has not made. In this discussion, the terms ‘environment’ and ‘nature’ are synonymous with each other, which incorporate most of the visible manifestation of geography. Raymond Williams defines nature as ‘the material world itself, taken as including or not including human beings.’ Tracing the history of the term he suggests that ‘nature’ has meant the ‘countryside, the unspoiled places, plants and creatures other than man.’(Keywords, London, 1988. p. 219-223). The industrial revolution heralded a completely new era in which the term ‘environment’ attained new dimensions. The present day concerns of environmental pollution, decay of bio-diversity and the green-house effect have necessitated a redefining of the concept of the man-nature relationship. Another corollary has been the problems related with the modern concept of development and resultant compulsions of conservation. In their attempt to conserve the dwindling bio-diversity, humans started demarcating fragile ecological zones ranging from forests, wet lands, bio-sphere reserves, mangroves, etc., as reserves to preserve not only the flora-fauna but also the physical attributes of ecological niche itself. It often led to conflicts with the communities sustaining on such resources, e.g. forest-dwellers. Similar kind of conflicts can be located on the sites for big-dams and ancillary activities which necessitated displacement.

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Natural capital:

Natural capital is the extension of the economic notion of capital (manufactured means of production) to goods and services relating to the natural environment. Natural capital is thus the stock of natural ecosystems that yields a flow of valuable ecosystem goods or services into the future. For example, a stock of trees or fish provides a flow of new trees or fish, a flow which can be indefinitely sustainable. Natural capital may also provide services like recycling wastes or water catchment and erosion control. Since the flow of services from ecosystems requires that they function as whole systems, the structure and diversity of the system are important components of natural capital. Global bio-geo-chemical cycles critical for life include Nitrogen cycle, Water cycle, Carbon cycle, Oxygen cycle and Phosphorus cycle. In the natural world, life processes are cyclic so as to maintain the critical structure of the biosphere and of its constituent ecosystems. For example, because carbon dioxide and oxygen are constantly recycled by plants and animals, the correct atmospheric content of these gasses and the climatic conditions most favourable to life are maintained. Natural capital is described in the book Natural Capitalism as a metaphor for the mineral, plant, and animal formations of the Earth’s biosphere when viewed as a means of production of oxygen, water filter, erosion preventer, or provider of other ecosystem services. It is one approach to ecosystem valuation (which is a type of natural capital accounting), an alternative to the traditional view of all non-human life as passive natural resources, and to the idea of ecological health. However, human knowledge and understanding of the natural environment is never complete, and therefore the boundaries of natural capital expand or contract as knowledge is gained or lost. The concept of natural capital implies that the savings rate of an economy is an imperfect measure of what the country is actually saving, because it measures only investment in man-made capital. The World Bank now calculates the genuine savings rate of a country, taking into account the extraction of natural resources and the ecological damage caused by CO2 emissions.

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Natural resources are derived from the environment. Many natural resources are essential for human survival, while others are used for satisfying human desire. Natural resources may be further classified in different ways.

Resources can be categorized on the basis of origin:

1. Abiotic resources comprise non-living things (e.g., land, water, air and minerals such as gold, iron, copper, silver).

2. Biotic resources are obtained from the biosphere. Forests and their products, animals, birds and their products, fish and other marine organisms are important examples. Minerals such as coal and petroleum are sometimes included in this category because they were formed from fossilized organic matter, though over long periods of time.

Natural resources can be categorized on the basis of renewability:

1. Non-renewable Resources are formed over very long geological periods. Minerals and fossils are included in this category. Since their rate of formation is extremely slow, they cannot be replenished, once they are depleted. Out of these, the metallic minerals can be re-used by recycling them, but coal and petroleum cannot be recycled.

2. Renewable resources, such as forests and fisheries, can be replenished or reproduced relatively quickly. Some resources, like sunlight, air, and wind, are called perpetual resources because they are available continuously, though at a limited rate. Their quantity is not affected by human consumption. Many renewable resources can be depleted by human use, but may also be replenished, thus maintaining a flow. Some of these, like agricultural crops, take a short time for renewal; others, like water, take a comparatively longer time, while still others, like forests, take even longer. 

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The depletion of natural resources is caused by ‘direct drivers of change’ such as Mining, petroleum extraction, fishing and forestry as well as ‘indirect drivers of change’ such as demography, economy, society, politics and technology. The current practice of Agriculture is another factor causing depletion of natural resources.

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Major Global Environmental Issues:

Some of the major global environmental issues that the world is facing include the following:

 Climate change (Global Warming), ozone layer depletion, marine pollution, build-up of persistent organic pollutants, loss of biological diversity, desertification and land degradation, degradation of freshwater, deforestation and unsustainable use of forests.

 

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Millennium development goals vis-à-vis environment:

Major challenges for development (comprehensively summarized in the millennium development goals) include reducing poverty; providing energy services without environmental degradation; providing access to water to meet basics needs and developing healthy urban environments.

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What is development anyway?

Over the years, the word ‘development’ seems to have taken prominence in day-to-day usage of general public, students, diplomats, politicians and even with organizations like United Nations, WTO, etc. But with temperatures rising and melting of ice in Antarctica and transcendental effects of environment change on the world, environment has jumped in to strike a debate. The debate is not just confined development and environment, but also within the term Development. Is development just about economic growth? And then comes the question of a debate between development and environment. Can development really happen at the expense of environmental damage? Aren’t costs of disaster and disaster management increasing year on year and diminishing the effective growth rate itself? Several such questions needs to be answered before framing policies which could help both develop the world and save the planet.         

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The terms ‘development’, ‘economic development’ and ‘human development’ are correlated in figures below:

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Development:

Development is a term used with different connotations. In word and sense, development is not static, and this makes it difficult to gasp. In addition, the term development depends on value concepts, that is, what is seen as a favorable socio-economic situation and what is not. Development is a normative concept and is further complicated by the fact that different social actors have different and often conflicting objectives. The Brandt commission Report, for example, states: “the term development characterizes, in a broad sense, the desired social and economic progress- and there will always be different nations of what is desired” (Brandt commission Report, 1980). As an approximation, development can be defined as “The process for improving the living conditions of the whole population living in a certain area or country”.

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Various dimensions of Development:

Economic: more production and income

Social: equity, justice, less poverty

Human: education, health, gender equality

Cultural: indigenous cultural values versus foreign culture

Political: participation of various socio-economic groups in political decision making at different levels

Technological: environmental sustainability of development

All dimensions need to be seen as part of development, and must be aware of trade-offs and synergies between these dimensions. Economic, social, political, human and ecologically sustainable development are essential dimensions of development, that is the improvement of living conditions for the present and future generations of the whole population.

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Human development index:

The Human Development Index (HDI) is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and income indices used to rank countries into four tiers of human development. It was created by the Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq and the Indian economist Amartya Sen in 1990 and was published by the United Nations Development Program.

The HDI combined three dimensions:

1. Life expectancy at birth, as an index of population health and longevity

2. Knowledge and education, as measured by the adult literacy rate (with two-thirds weighting) and the combined primary, secondary, and tertiary gross enrollment ratio (with one-third weighting).

3.Standard of living, as indicated by the natural logarithm of gross domestic product per capita at purchasing power parity.

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HDI for a sample of 150 countries shows a very high correlation with logarithm of GDP per capita as shown in the figure above.  

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Is GDP growth synonymous with country’s developmental stage?

As can be seen in the image below, there is a good mixture of developed countries (green HDI ranking) with low GDP growth (red GDP ranking) and underdeveloped countries (red HDI rankings) with high GDP growth (green GDP ranking). At the same time, there are also numerous cases where HDI and GDP rankings were positively correlated. So GDP growth is not synonymous with a country’s development.  

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Economic growth:

 Growth is widely thought to be the panacea for all the major economic ills of the modern world.

Poverty? Just grow the economy (that is, increase the production of goods and services and spur consumer spending) and watch wealth trickle down. Don’t try to redistribute wealth from rich to poor, because that slows growth.

Unemployment? Increase demand for goods and services by lowering interest rates on loans and stimulating investment, which leads to more jobs as well as growth.

Overpopulation? Just push economic growth and rely on the resulting demographic transition to reduce birth rates, as it did in the industrial nations during the 20th century.

Environmental degradation? Trust in the environmental Kuznets curve (vide infra) to show that with ongoing growth in gross domestic product (GDP), pollution at first increases but then reaches a maximum and declines.

Relying on growth in this way might be fine if the global economy existed in a void, but it does not. Rather the economy is a subsystem of the finite biosphere that supports it. When the economy’s expansion encroaches too much on its surrounding ecosystem, we will begin to sacrifice natural capital (such as fish, minerals and fossil fuels) that is worth more than the man-made capital (such as roads, factories and appliances) added by the growth. We will then have uneconomic growth, producing “bads” faster than goods–making us poorer, not richer. Once we pass the optimal scale, growth becomes stupid in the short run and impossible to maintain in the long run. Evidence suggests that the U.S. may already have entered the uneconomic growth phase.

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Development assumes economic growth, and economic growth is impossible without industry, which needs energy resources. Nowadays, the range of goods, required by common people, has expanded significantly, compared to the old times. People feel the need, not only for some primary things, such as a piece of bread and a roof over their heads, but also, for various facilities and luxuries. Providing humanity with these things involves the exploitation of natural resources. In turn, the conventional sources of energy we use today cause pollution, so economic growth is almost inevitably associated with environmental damage. One of the aspects of economic growth which affects the environment most of all is that, in order to produce more goods and products, at a faster rate, the construction of large industrial plants is required. These enterprises generate a lot of waste in the form of liquid waste and gaseous fumes. The liquid waste is frequently dumped in fresh water bodies, while the gaseous fumes are released into the atmosphere.

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Economic growth involves the combination of different types of capital to produce goods and services. These include:

• produced capital, such as machinery, buildings and roads;

• human capital, such as skills and knowledge;

• natural capital, for example, raw materials we extract from the earth, carbon sequestration services provided by forests and soils; and

• social capital, including institutions and ties within communities.

Natural capital is different from other types of capital for a number of reasons (vide supra). Some elements of natural capital have critical thresholds beyond which sudden and dramatic changes may occur; some have finite limits; changes to natural capital are potentially irreversible; and impacts extend across many generations. Therefore, while natural capital is used to generate growth, it needs to be used sustainably and efficiently in order to secure growth in the long run. This is most obvious in the context of non-renewable resources such as oil and minerals, but the rate of consumption of renewable resources such as forests and fisheries and of ecosystem services such as biodiversity and carbon sequestration must also be considered relative to their rate of recharge and replenishment and any critical thresholds they exhibit.  

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Human- Environment Interaction:

Human beings are endowed by nature to be reflective and active. Their biological evolution gives them capacity to forge tools and establish an adaptive relationship with nature. In the beginning, human life was more biological than cultural and was somewhat similar to other animals where environmental considerations dictated the place of human residence. In the process of adaptive relationship man gradually evolved tools with the help of which the resources of the environment could be put to use. The tool making ability developed over a very long period of time as it began with the use of materials locally obtainable. The tools shaped human life such that we witness the emergence and growth of ‘cultures’. The different stages of human culture have been identified on the basis of the tools used by them. The earliest was the paleolithic age representing the beginning of the tool industry. In this age humans lived by gathering plant foods and hunting animals. It was inherent in the nature of the economy of the period that humans could not lead sedentary life and were forced to migrate to new places in search of plant foods and game. This kind of life-style restricted the size of the peregrinating human groups. It can be safely argued that during this phase of human history the environment dictated terms and humans had just started making an effort to modify their dependence on nature. Nonetheless, it is necessary to point out that mobility had led to greater interaction between numerous groups of humans spread over different parts of the world. It will be not out of place here to delineate the adaptive strategy of the early humans so as to explain his interaction with the environment. For this purpose we focus on southwest France. During the upper Palaeolithic phase (35000-12000 years ago), the climate of this region was strongly oceanic, with cool summers and mild winters (by Ice age standards) affecting the environment. Summer temperature may have been in the 53.6° to 59° F range, with winter readings around 32° F. The vegetation-growing season was longer on the open plains to the north and east, and snow cover had retreated considerably. Thus food resources for large herbivores were now more readily available, perhaps resulting in a much higher density of game animals as well as more plentiful edible foods. This region was marked as a region of diverse food resources. The people were mainly subsisted off Reindeer, but they took wild ox, red deer, bison, ibex, chamois, woolly rhinoceros and mammoth too. Many of these resources were relatively predictable. The large-scale salmon fishing during seasonal runs was a major factor in the evolution of complex hunter-gatherer societies in the region. Effective exploitation of salmon runs requires not only efficient fishing technology but the services of considerable numbers of people to dry and store the thousands of fresh fish before they spoil. These people extensively used fishhooks and harpoons. The people tended to choose many of their settlement sites with reference to plentiful water supply and good views of the surrounding landscape, so they could observe game. When the people occupied a rock shelter or cave, it invariably faced south, so they could benefit from the sun’s rays on cool days. Some of the largest cave and rock shelter sites lay close to river fords, places, perhaps, where migrating reindeer would cross each year. (Fagan B.M., People of the Earth: An introduction to World Prehistory, Illinois & Boston, 1989). The relationship between nature and man was redefined with the advent of agriculture. Till the beginning of agriculture, the sources of food had mostly been naturally available products and man had no control over their availability. An important contribution of agriculture has been the cultivation of cereals. The fact is that the shelf-life of cereals is unlimited whereas fruits and meat had very limited shelf-life. It has been a very significant factor as this property of cereals encouraged accumulation, which perhaps was one of the causes for the introduction and intensification of social stratification. In the beginning agriculture was a highly unreliable source of food, and transition from hunter-gatherer to peasant was not very smooth and was a long drawn process. The development of technology/tools to increase agricultural production was a continuing process in which development of irrigation technology too played an important role. Slowly but surely agriculture became the major source of subsistence and increased productivity contributed towards increase in population. Initially agriculture was confined to highly favourable locations with natural irrigation. With the growth in population, however, man was forced to migrate to less-favourable locations, necessitating irrigation. The development of irrigation facilities required larger social participation and better management resulting in a transition towards complex society. Furthermore better management of agriculture insured food security and provided humans with surplus time since agriculture was a seasonal activity. Likewise demand for improved tools and technology for better irrigation to ensure larger production led to depletion of locally available raw materials for tools (for example stone, as man moved away from foothills to open plains). This compelled man to look for other kinds of materials and other locations to augment the supply of raw material for tool making. Meanwhile, the introduction of the wheel had revolutionized movement and encouraged the emergence of wheel-based pottery, a highly specialized occupation. The gradual development in technology attained another stage as metallurgy developed. The discovery of metallic ores once again redefined the man-environment interaction. The major advantage of metal tools over stone was its reusable character: stone tools once broken could not be used again whereas metal tools could be remoulded. However, the relative scarcity of mineral ores together with the limited capabilities of processing, beginning from procurement to transportation and finally extraction made metal procurement a labour intensive and expensive proposition. The most important feature of metallurgy was the highly specialized knowledge required and expertise which made it a full-time occupation. The emergence of such professionals could be sustained only with the availability of agricultural surplus. This led to the emergence of a section of the population not directly involved with the food production. The parasitic character of this section of population gradually liberated from direct dependence on nature and heralded a new era where certain sections of the inhabitants survived solely on their professional knowledge. The character of agriculture based societies has been defined in terms of complex social stratification with specialization of craft. The growing ability of humans to make use of a variety of environmental resources opened up the possibilities of the exploitation of natural resources for self-benefit. The larger equity based and open community now witnessed a transition towards a rudimentary system of socio-politico- economic hierarchy. Still, we cannot say that humans were controlling the environment rather the nature of dependence on environment had changed drastically. The most defined form of control over nature became visible only in the Industrial Age. Unprecedented growth of technology during the Industrial Age (second half of the 18th century to the beginning of 20th century) liberated man from physical labour and an alienation with the natural world gradually set in. The Industrial Age introduced the exploitation of abiotic source of energy (which are not biologically procurable) and gradually replaced human and animal energy as the dominating forms. Since the ancient past thermal energy had been used in direct application, but during the Industrial Age it was used to mechanize tools. The Industrial Age witnessed the conversion of thermal energy to mechanical energy and thus enhanced the possibilities of greater exploitation of natural resources. The conversion of thermal energy to other forms of energy tremendously increased the overall demand for energy and resulted in a gradual depletion of the sources of energy. Consequently search for newer sources of thermal energy began: hydrocarbons, i.e., coal, petroleum products, etc., were explored and the magnitude of their exploitation widened. Unlike the earlier renewable source of energy like human and animal labour and wood, newer sources of energy i.e. hydrocarbons are non-renewable in character or have economically unviable extralong cycles of renewal. The introduction of non-renewable source of energy redefined the relationship between the environment and humans. In the modern age ever-growing demand for energy coupled with the steady depletion of sources of energy forced man to reconsider priorities and we see the beginning of the movement for ‘conservation.’ Better technology ensured greater agricultural production which contributed to a rise in life-expectancy and decline in the mortality rate. The resultant increase in the population in real terms was unprecedented. It is not that human civilization had never witnessed the growth of population in the past, but the magnitude has been very high in the modern age- the nineteenth century. Ferdinand Braudel has attempted to define it in terms of the ecological watershed, i.e., the end of the ‘Biological ancient regime’. He writes: ‘What was shattered … with the eighteenth century was a “Biological ancient regime”, a set of restrictions, obstacles, structures, proportions and numerical relationships that had hitherto been the norm. The chief constituents are: 1. Number of death roughly equivalent to the number of births; 2. Very high infant mortality; 3. Famine; 4. Chronic undernourishment; 5. Formidable epidemics. It is rather broader definition to explain the ecological watershed as it traces the causes in a very long-term perspective beginning with the middle ages and at-least the geographical explorations. (Braudel, Ferdinand, Civilization and Capitalism 15th-18th century, Vol- I., The Structures of Everyday Life: The Limits of the Possible, tr. Sian Reynolds, London, 1985.)  At this juncture it is necessary to point out that since the ancient past in Europe we could witness the prevalence of anthropocentric social attitudes. The clearest manifestation was seen in the concept of cosmology in ancient discourses. The earth, the abode of humans, was considered at the centre of the universe and was enveloped by seven strata. All the seven strata were supposed to have emanated from the earth. The growth of capitalism and the breakdown of the ‘biological regime’ led to an exponential growth in population. Another corollary of excessive exploitation of environmental resources during the Industrial Age has been the growth of democratic values and institutions. In the same era, scientific knowledge along with technological development provided a world vision where technology was portrayed as a solution to all human problems, especially the problem of hunger and poverty. Moreover, the growth of scientific and technological knowledge furthered the traditional anthropocentric view and the exploitation of the environment gained a fresh momentum that continues unabated till today. The greater use of energy led to major problem of environmental pollution. The greater consumption and generation of energy induced a ‘green house effect’. However, what has been a more bothersome fall-out of this process is the development of materials not naturally available in the world, i.e., polymers. The chemical revolution of the 1930’s & 1940’s developed an artificial material which was not biodegradable and was thus difficult to destroy and decompose. At the same time, the wider applications of the material in industrial and domestic use and low cost of production encouraged its wider circulation. However, the problem of decomposition of the material made it a major cause of concern for the scientific community. Similarly, the question of the viability of nuclear fuel as a source of energy has been a major issue of concern. The production of non-natural radioactive substance for energy production has been a major scientific and technological development, but again the decay or the proper and cost effective decomposition of the residue has been a major technological failure.

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The Link between Environment and Development:

Development and environmental management are inextricably linked. The Earth’s physical resources (land, atmosphere, oceans) and biological systems provide the humans with goods (food, timber, medicines) and essential services such as purification of air and water, soil generation, maintenance of soil fertility and pollination of crops, among others. The earth’s natural systems stabilize the Earth’s climate, offer protection from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, provide aesthetic beauty and support for the world’s diverse cultures. Global environmental problems and the ability to meet human needs are linked through a set of physical, chemical, and biological processes; when human activities affect one component of the earth system, there are often ramifications to other components as a well. For example, a change in the earth’s climate would likely reduce bio-diversity, change the distribution and productivity of forests, and increase the rate of loss of stratospheric ozone. Like the conversion of forests to other types of land cover can increase greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere and thus contribute to change climate, reduce biological bio-diversity, and affect water resources.

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What would happen if a company has announced that it wishes to build a large factory near your community?

First, the pollutants released into the atmosphere are harmful to the residents living in your community. The release of poisonous gases such as Methane, Carbon Monoxide, Chlorine through the factory chimney or other outlets will affect the natural surroundings. For instance, no one can forget the disastrous impact of the Bhopal gas tragedy that took place in 1984 where a pesticide plant released poisonous methyl isocyanate gas which claimed the lives of  thousands of Bhopal residents living in the nearby area. Although there is no certainty that such an incident is bound to happen immediately after the development of the plant, but one can’t mar the self evident truth that it happens in almost all the cases. If factory’s waste water and effluents are not processed and treated properly, even they may be discharged in surrounding area contaminating ground water and spread diseases like jaundice, cholera, typhoid and vector borne diseases like malaria and dengue. Second, consumption of resources such as electricity and water by the factory will affect the nearby communities. For a factory of manufacture products, it needs continuous supply of electricity and water. This will reduce the rate of supply of these resources to the nearby communities. Thus one may observe frequent load shedding and scarcity of water in those areas thereby affecting the residents of these areas. Thus to sum up, building a factory nearby a residential community should be discouraged.

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How buying chicken and a pre-made salad from the market affect the environment?

Driving to and from the store contributed carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The electricity required to light the store was powered by coal, the mining of which ravaged an Appalachian ecosystem. The salad ingredients were grown on a farm treated with pesticides that washed into local streams, poisoning fish and aquatic plants (which help keep the air clean). The chicken was grown on a massive factory farm a long distance away, where animal waste produced toxic levels of atmospheric methane. Getting the goods to the store required trucks, trains and more trucks — all of which emitted carbon. Even the smallest human actions initiate environmental change. How we heat our homes and power our electronics, how we get around, what we do with our garbage, where our food comes from — all of these put a strain on the environment beyond what it’s designed to support. 

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Science, technology and environment:

In this time and age, science and technology are advancing at an alarming rate. It goes without saying that the rapid development of science and technology brings considerable benefits to human being. Thanks to science, we now live safer, more comfortable and convenient life. However, others argue that it also brings us environmental pollution and energy shortage. Firstly, science should be responsible for environmental issues. When we enjoy the comfort and convenience of modern traffic, a large amount of exhaust gas from automobiles leads to serious air pollution. In addition, owing to the development of modern agricultural technology, farmers tend to use lots of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to increase the yield. Nevertheless, we often neglect the adverse effect of these chemicals, which severely poison our arable soil and underground water. Besides environmental pollution, science also probably causes energy shortage. With advances in technology, we are able to use the modern technology to exploit more energy (including fossil fuel coal, natural gas and so on) to meet the demand for the growing population. The more population we have, the more energy we need. Finally it results in a vicious circle with the energy consumption and the population growth. Furthermore, with the expansion of industrialization, requirement for energy worldwide has an upward trend. We have a great need for energy because of the rapid growth of our economy.  Admittedly, some people hold that we can reduce environmental pollution by green technology, and explore renewable and clean energy such as wind energy or solar energy to solve energy crisis. But these new technologies need a large number of investments on research and development. Most countries cannot afford it. Therefore these methods are infeasible in the short term. To sum it up, the development of science and technology leads to the pollution of environment and shortage of energy.

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Industrialization & Environment:

Industrialization in the name of growth has loaded tremendous pressure on environment. Industrialization & environment in the developing countries tries to run hand to hand. But knowingly or unknowingly, industrialization ran faster without caring for environment to win the race. The pace of industrialization has increased several fold in last decade. Rapid industrialization to meet the public need has deteriorated the environment to its fullest extent during last two decade. Industrial effluents, polluted air, noise pollution, Green House gas effect etc are not only a concern for human habitat but also a concern for the forthcoming disasters. In order to lead a healthy life we are deteriorating the environment in shadow. Human comfort in one form for short duration causes discomfort in long run. Of the late, industries as well as human being at individual understood the basics & now concentrated on long run & durability. World over, the industries are becoming increasingly concerned about achieving and demonstrating their environmental performance because of the growing compulsions from tough legislations and mounting public pressures. Environmental disasters such as Bhopal tragedy, Rhine pollution , Chernobyl disaster, acid rain damage ,Ozone Layer Depletion has led to growing public pressures on governments all over the world which started imposing stringent legislation with severe penalties in environmental issues. These standards do not lay down specific environmental performance criteria but these are system standards which describe the management of environment based on company’s environmental policy, objectives and targets defined on the basis of their significant environmental effects. Industry is becoming increasingly concerned about achieving and demonstrating sound environmental performance because of growing compulsions from stringent legislation and Mounting public pressure. There was a time, not long ago, when the harm caused in environment due to human and industrial activities was no body’s concern. Pollutants affect not only living environment but also social, cultural, political and aesthetic values. In the recent years there is a growing alertness against this environmental pollution. On the one hand the advancements of science & Technology have added to the human comforts by giving us automobiles, electrical appliance better medicine, better chemical to control harmful insects and pest but on the other hand they gave us a very serious problem to face pollution. The continued increase in the pollution coupled with the industrial revolution has had the vital impact on natural resources. The resultant deterioration of environment and fast depletion of natural resources threaten the sustainability of economic development. One of the most pressing and complex challenges facing by our generation are to search out a workable synthesis between economic development and environmental behavior. So we need to compromise our needs to maintain a harmony between these two entities i.e. Industry & Environment. Industry has become vital to the way that society functions. Not only do we need the products produced by industries, but humanity needs the jobs that it offers. The economy wouldn’t be able to function without corporations or industries. It’s important to allow industry to continuously develop to improve the prosperity of not only governments, but the people living under those governments. We can’t protect the environment if the countries providing the protection have ceased to manufacture to do so; they would have no finances.

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Agricultural Problems:

Even more so than manufacturing industry, we truly could not survive without the products produced by agricultural industries. Food is a necessity, that won’t change. Environmentalists estimate that the Earth could efficiently and safely sustain 3 billion people. Our population is nearly 7 billion, so you can see why so much environmental damage is occurring due to the land loss to accommodate the farms needed to sustain this many people. Even with all of the crops we produce, people still starve on a daily basis. The problem isn’t that we need more farmland, it’s that we need to redistribute what we have. 80% of all the crops grown in the United States are used to feed livestock. Smaller meat consumption would result in more food to trade with poorer countries.  In Costa Rica, the government pays farmers to protect the rainforest. They receive money for allowing certain fields to regrow and become parts of the rainforest again. This has had a positive impact on the environment, resulting in the land area of Costa Rica’s rainforests to increase. However, how long can they afford these payments? Many people assume things like “Well they shouldn’t have to pay them to not destroy the environment! How selfish!” In reality, they aren’t all selfish. For many people, it comes down to allowing a tree to stand or feeding their children. Of course, given the opportunity to help the environment they would, but if they had to put their family in danger to do so they won’t. Can you blame them?

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Impact of Modern Agricultural Technology on environment:

The ever-increasing population gave rise to the need to produce more than what Nature had provided. Agriculture was the first sector to feel the impact of this development combined with the realization of man’s entrepreneurial abilities. Early man was a food-gatherer, dependent wholly on nature’s bounty. With growing population pressure, man used his ingenuity and began to produce food by clearing patches of forestland. Trees were also cut for firewood contributing to the further clearance of forest areas. When this practice became widespread, it precipitated soil degradation and soil erosion. As the demand for food and raw materials continued to grow exponentially, agricultural techniques changed and agricultural productivity increased phenomenally. The increased agricultural productivity was the outcome of several factors, viz. chemical inputs, artificial irrigation, mechanization of agriculture, and other modern agricultural practices. The entire focus of the new technology was on rising agricultural yield with no thought to preservation of the natural balance. Inorganic inputs used in farm operations to raise agricultural yield have been identified as harmful agents. The lack of proper techniques necessitated shifting to new and easily available lands rather than using areas already cultivated. This exploitation led to large-scale disequilibria in the environment. Nature retaliated by creating agricultural instability by way of reduced water supply, increased floods, spreading crop diseases resulting in high cost of production. Technological advancements have adversely affected the earth’s crust and useful bacteria have been destroyed. The increased use of chemical fertilizers has been hardening the upper layers of the soil and consequently, tractors are digging deeper and deeper. As this exercise continues, the depth of the hard, upper layer goes on increasing, which will make the soil barren in the future. Hardening of the upper layers of soil destroys the moisture retention quality of the soil. This not only reduces the potential for growth of vegetation, but the soil also loses the capacity to hold rainwater. When highland areas are unable to hold rainwater, it has two effects, firstly, these areas do not retain moisture which is essential for earthworms and bacteria that are conducive for agricultural growth and secondly, low lying areas get inundated. The risk of inundation of low-lying areas thus increases sharply. Inorganic farming has also adversely impacted upon crop genetics, with many new diseases, emerging in recent times. When pesticides are used, the chemical should fall only on the targeted organism, but this rarely happens. A large part of the chemicals get disseminated into the environment, contaminating air, water, soil and other ecosystems and causing health hazards. The correlation between the development of agriculture and environmental damage was not recognized in time. Consequently, there has been widespread deforestation, soil erosion and destruction, flood havoc, waterlogging, air and water pollution, etc. Irrigation projects are also considered to be a part of agricultural development. These projects result in several problems such as destruction of flora and fauna, clearing of forests, displacement of entire villages, depletion of groundwater resources, and many other problems. In order to assure irrigation facilities, digging of wells has taken place on a large scale. In the process, instead of optimal use of water, water was overutilised and wasted. This resulted in salinity problems and a falling water table. While irrigation projects are undoubtedly important, how high is the cost that we have to bear in terms of degradation of our environment? It should not happen that while enriching our present we mortgage our future. As with almost everything else, ecological disorders also impinge most harshly on the poor who are almost completely dependent upon the prosperity of agriculture in the countryside. It is true that the village poor are partly responsible for this deterioration. Practices such as overgrazing, clearing of forests, lighting forest fires, etc. have all contributed to environmental degradation. But this can be tackled through proper awareness and widespread education.

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Economy vs. Environment: The Conflicts:

There are pro-environment groups and also there are people who promote economic development. Striking a balance to bring these entities with extreme views on a common platform is the need of time.  I am trying to presents information on the seemingly conflicting subjects of economic development and environmental conservation.

First conflict:

 Economic progress is said to improve our standard of living. On the other hand, this very progress can lead to degradation of the environment. There is a common belief in our society that preserving the environment is somehow linked with compromising on economic terms. This very belief has fueled the economy vs. environment debate. However, the truth is exactly opposite to this perception of ours. In reality, there is enough that the planet earth can provide us to satisfy our needs. Our economy can prosper and sustain in the long run without putting undue stress on the natural resources. It is the greed to possess and enjoy as many luxuries as possible that has led to the state in which we find ourselves, today. The use of green technologies and renewable sources of energy should solve the energy crisis to a great extent without putting any burden on the existing natural resources. It means the economic growth of the country/region in question doesn’t get hampered owing to environmental concerns. There is another misconception that conservation efforts require you to spend a lot of money to be successful. In reality, it is the awareness and a bit of effort on our part that can save many trees and animals on this planet. Even a simple act of planting and nurturing a sapling holds great importance in the process of environmental conservation. Such kind of efforts needs to be concentrated in order to bring about a bigger and long-lasting change.

Second conflict:

Industrialists believe that economic progress gets hampered by putting restrictions on the way their operations are conducted. Environmentalists, on the other hand, demand for impractical rules and regulations to be put on working of industries. It is actually possible to keep the economy in good shape without harming the environment. More than relying on temporary solutions like issuing monetary packages to solve environmental problems, it is the conscientious approach towards sustainable development that can lead to a better and also an economically prosperous world. Merely imposing rules and setting guidelines won’t go a long way in the quest to conserve the environment. It requires a voluntary change in the mindset of people towards judicious use of natural resources. People should actually start thinking about the environment and surroundings as their own property. Only then, can a person truly care about nature. Following such ethics can definitely bring about a positive change. Few of our environmentalists take an extreme view on the subject of conservation and oppose any and every developmental activity. Such kind of attitude not only blocks the economic progress, but also prevents a reasoned dialog on environmental issues from taking place. No matter how hard we try, there is little possibility that we can completely repair the damage caused to our environment. It is therefore, necessary to become a little more pragmatic. You cannot change the established economic policies and systems overnight. It is however, possible to change our outlook towards the way we go about economic development. The developmental policies should be all-encompassing. Merely human-centric development won’t help much in the long run and which is why we have to question the prevalent economic policies that revolve only around human welfare.  

Third conflict:

There is a section of people who believe that natural resources of this planet are meant for human use. Environmentalists oppose this view and demand for keeping human intrusion out of the working of nature’s laws. The theory of anthropocentrism considers human beings as the most important entity of the world. It is true that humans are placed at a higher intellectual level than other organisms of the planet; however, this intelligence also acts as a double-edged sword. If used properly, the intellect of humans can allow economic progress while still preserving the environment. On the other hand, it can also cause uncontrolled economic development to take place at the cost of precious natural resources. Considering ourselves (humans) as a part of the ecosystem and not the masters can help in bringing about a positive change. With this approach, one can think about caring more for the environment. Humans are not here to rule this planet, but to live in harmony with the environment and all its constituents. It is only with this belief that we can think of maintaining a balance in terms of utilizing and also replenishing (at least to some extent) the natural resources. Our knowledge about the environment, nature’s phenomena and their effect on human life has increased manifold in the past few years. This very knowledge has also made us aware that we have earlier caused some irreparable damage to our natural surroundings. For instance: by introducing hybrid crop varieties in our attempt to increase crop production, we have allowed the gene pool of crops (and other plants) to erode. Thousands of wild animals are used in the testing of cosmetic products; a large number of wild animal species have become extinct due to poaching. Many more are on the verge of extinction. Thus, it is very much important to take steps for economic development, considering its impact on the environment. Uncontrolled economic development neither benefits the humans nor does it serve any purpose in the conservation of environment. It is therefore, important to design systems that are self-sustaining. Proper planning on economic fronts can help utilize resources in a better manner; such carefully devised policies won’t hamper economic development as well. In the end, it all comes down to maintaining a balance between economic growth and preserving natural resources. By maintaining the balance between consuming and replenishing back the natural resources, we can create a self-sustaining system. However, it would be a continual process that requires monitoring in order to function properly. It is said that the way you spend your money matters more than the amount you earn. Similarly, in the case of environmental conservation, you should refrain as much as possible from misuse or abuse of the scarce natural resources. You can plant hundred new trees and nurture them; however, once a species becomes extinct, nothing can bring it back. It is therefore, necessary to set up gene banks for conserving the different varieties of plants. This would make it possible to use them when required.

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The economy vs. environment debate has gained media attention mainly due to emergence of the phenomenon of global warming. This phenomenon has acted as a catalyst and influenced various campaigns undertaken by environmentalists. It has also helped in drawing attention towards related problems like poaching, deforestation, genetic erosion, etc. Pressing on the issue of ‘Global Warming’ through a reasoned debate should prove to be useful for the cause of saving the environment while still allowing economic progress. There is no magic wand at our disposal to carry on the monumental task of environmental conservation. It is only through constant vigilance and use of green technologies that we can keep up with the needs of economic progress without further damaging our environment.  

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The Environment versus the Economy: A Losing Battle?

We do not know whether we would see the vanishing of the arctic ice sheet in our lifetimes. Well, in less than two years we are already seeing a very rapid decline, and the record thinning this year is suggesting that the Arctic could be ice-free by the end of the decade. We’ve also discovered that the Great Barrier Reef is half dead, with two-thirds of the loss since 1998. Climate related disasters are on the increase, with some significant enough to dent government budgets, cause migraines for insurers and kill people. A recent study Climate Vulnerability Monitor has found that climate change is already contributing to the deaths of nearly 400,000 people a year and costing the world more than $1.2 trillion, wiping 1.6% annually from global GDP. Climate change is no longer a long-term problem. It is clear that the battle is one that we are losing – on both fronts. While the evidence is obvious and scientific alarm high on the link between environmental damage and economic impact, the temptation to hitch our wagons to the economic growth engine seems to be too high and too easy. Sadly, the likely future to environmental action now rests on seeing the evidence of our ignorance, sometimes catastrophically and irreversibly.

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Environmental concerns:

In the name of Development what not are humans doing. Nature provides a free lunch, but only if we control our appetites. Today what we are living in is a fast paced world where everybody is stuck up in the never ending rat race. Losing even one minute of this time allowing one to enter into eternity without providing any contribution to this world is indeed a peccadillo. Unfortunately, in the present scenario, development that has taken up a new meaning has seriously altered the environment both locally and worldwide.
Cities are clogged with traffic causing pollution that is detrimental to our health.
New buildings are being built on the green emerald carpeted sites ornamented adroitly by the dew drops.
Each year the list of endangered spices seems to be augmented enormously.
Acid rain is damaging the celestial tranquility – the rain forests
Millions of tons of waste is being land filled every day
CFCs and other chemicals are depleting the ozone layer that protects us from harmful radiation.
Today’s world is one in which the age-old risks of humankind – the drought, floods, communicable diseases are less of a problem than ever before. They have been replaced by risks of humanity’s own making – the unintended side-effects of beneficial technologies and the intended effects of the technologies of war. Society must hope that the world’s ability to assess and manage risks will keep pace with its ability to create them. This is a beautiful planet and not at all fragile. Earth can withstand significant volcanic eruptions, tectonic cataclysms, and ice ages. But this canny, intelligent, prolific, and extremely self-centered human creature had proven himself capable of more destruction of life than Mother Nature herself…. We’ve got to be stopped. An equitable distribution of resources is essential for sustained quality of life and global peace. Resources are vital for any developmental activity. But irrational consumption and over – utilization of resources may lead to socio – economic and environmental problems. To overcome these problems, resource conservation is highly essential.

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Development harms the environment in several ways. When new areas are developed, destruction of wildlife habitat is obvious. Also replacing trees and vegetation with concrete prevents water absorption, reflecting the sun’s heat back into our atmosphere. This reduces the land’s ability to convert excess carbon dioxide into oxygen. Further harm is done when waterways and estuaries are diverted or destroyed. These are vital resources used by wildlife as breeding grounds and growth for species that later populate saltwater, freshwater, and even land ecosystems. Development also brings concerns with waste management. Handling of sewage is of great importance as it can have extremely negative impacts on the surrounding environment, especially if it finds its way into nearby waterways. Last, unnatural amounts of freshwater through irrigation and storm drainage concentrate in the local ecosystem and can be very harmful, especially near marine environments. Make no mistake, in a world grossly overpopulated with humans, development is not going to stop completely. Development of natural areas, as well as modifications to existing structures such as buildings, parks, roads, and complexes continues, and it is vital that sustainable, eco-friendly solutions are found when possible.

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The figure below shows cost of poor environment in terms of % of GDP:

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The most important issues facing our environment right now are the depletion of ozone layer, global warming and the subsequent rising sea levels caused by the rapid melting of glaciers in the Antarctica, pollution, land degradation, extinction of species etc. Industrialization is directly responsible for pollution and increase in the global warming. Factories worldwide are responsible for releasing pollutants like carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides etc into the atmosphere which is the prime reason why the ozone layer is depleting. With the rise in the income levels across the world, more and more people are buying vehicles which are adding up to the pollution in the atmosphere. The soil is getting degraded by chemicals like chlorinated hydrocarbons and metals like cadmium (found in the batteries), lead & benzene. Large scale use of fertilizers are also making the land unfit for agriculture. Trees are being cut either for wood or for making roads and buildings. The rate of cutting of trees is more in the developing countries. Environmentalists are of the view that in order to preserve the earth for our children and grandchildren, the developing world will have to start practicing sustainable development which will put a cap on their emissions on a yearly basis. The earth cannot support the kind of unrestricted growth which is being seen in the developing world today.  

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Humans Caused $6.6 Trillion in Environmental Damage in 2008:

According to a recent analysis by Trucost, the estimated cost of environmental damage caused by human activity reached $6.6 trillion in 2008, or 11 percent of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). To put the loss in perspective, it was 20 percent larger than the $5.4 trillion loss in the value of pension funds in developed countries caused by the global financial crisis in 2007 and 2008. The findings of Trucost are included in a new report from the Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) and the UNEP Finance Initiative (UNEP FI), “Universal Ownership: Why environmental externalities matter to institutional investors.” By 2050, the report continues, “global environmental costs are projected to reach $28.6 trillion, equivalent to 18 percent of GDP,” in a business-as-usual scenario.  Furthermore, according to the report, “environmental costs are likely to be incurred earlier,” because “values do not account for growing ecosystem sensitivity, increased natural capital scarcity and potential breaches of thresholds.” On the other hand, if renewable and resource-efficient technologies are introduced on a global scale, the cost of environmental externalities could be reduced by 23 percent by 2050. In a footnote, Trucost states, “Actual values are likely to be higher, since this study takes a global view that simplifies many economic and environmental complexities.” Due to a lack of data, the report excludes most natural resources used, “as well as many environmental impacts including water pollution, most heavy metals, land use change and waste in non-OECD countries.”  Citing a 2005 study entitled “A Tale of Two Market Failures: Technology and Environmental Policy (PDF),” the report asserts, “The costs of addressing environmental damage after it has occurred are usually higher than the costs of preventing pollution or using natural resources in a more sustainable way.”

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Cost of environmental degradation (coed) in various countries:

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Economic development systematically annihilates the natural world:

Indeed, everywhere today, forests are being overlogged, croplands overcropped, pasturelands overgrazed, wetlands overdrained, groundwater overtapped and rivers and seas overfished. Economic development, of whatever variety, can only mean further increasing the impact of our activities on each of these already overexploited ecosystems; and hence further accelerating the process that is already rapidly making our planet uninhabitable. At the same time, as economic development systematically annihilates the natural world, so does it replace it with a very different man-made or artificial world—the world of houses, factories, office blocks, warehouses, gas containers, power stations, and parking lots, i.e. the physical infrastructure of economic development. As this process continues the physical infrastructure must necessarily expand. So has it expanded in mainland China, since economic development has got under way some ten years ago, as a result of which some ten percent of that grossly overpopulated country’s agricultural land has already been paved-over. In the UK, according to Alice Coleman’s Second Land Utilization Survey, by the year 2157, the last acre of agricultural land will have been paved over, reduced to wasteland, or so broken up by different development schemes as to become virtually unusable for agricultural purposes. It is not just the man-made world or the technosphere, as it is often referred to, that, must be substituted for the natural world or the biosphere, but the environment also has to cope with the even more voluminous and toxic waste products. In the natural world, life processes are cyclic. They must be for two reasons. The first is that though the natural world is an open system from the point of view of energy, it is, to all extents and purposes, a closed system from the point of view of materials. This means that to avoid resource shortages, they must continually be recycled, the waste products of one process serving as the raw materials of the next. They must be recycled too in order to avoid the accumulation of un-recycled materials that would interfere with the processes. In more general terms, they must be recycled so as to maintain the critical structure of the biosphere and of its constituent ecosystems. Thus, because carbon dioxide and oxygen are constantly recycled by plants and animals, the correct atmospheric content of these gasses and the climatic conditions most favourable to life are maintained. If, on the other hand, carbon dioxide levels are allowed to fall below the optimum, the climate will, in general, become too cold; while if the levels are allowed to become too high, as is occurring today, it will become too hot. Traditional man felt morally committed to returning all organic wastes to the soil from which they were derived. It was an essential part of his religious commitment to maintaining the harmony and balance of the natural world—so this essential ecological principle was closely adhered to. With the breakdown of traditional cultural patterns, this principle was rapidly lost sight of—as indeed it had to be if economic development was to take precedence over all other considerations. Thus, if the produce of the land is to be systematically exported, as it must be in a market economy, it cannot be returned to the soil from which it was derived. The soil is thus deprived of its mineral nutrients and organic matter, as is occurring wherever modern agriculture is practiced today. This process that can only be exacerbated if human excreta is to be flushed into the nearest waterway or consigned to the nearest landfill, rather than being religiously returned to the soil as in tribal and peasant societies. The recycling of materials, as economic development proceeds, becomes impossible, in any case, because an increasingly degraded biosphere becomes incapable of coping with the ever more massive throughput of materials. Consider the fact that modern man now coops for his own purposes some 40% of the net biological product of photosynthesis occurring in terrestrial ecosystems—a truly horrifying thought. In addition he now produces massive amounts of synthetic organic chemicals such as PCBs, CFCs and nearly all modern pesticides which, being totally foreign to the natural world (xenobiotic), cannot be recycled within it and can only accumulate—or break down into decayed products that are often equally un-recyclable—and that more often than not must interfere particularly drastically with its normal functioning. It will be argued that our present runaway economic activities can be brought under control by the State, assisted by the specialized agencies of the United Nations. But this thesis is irreconcilable with our experience of the last fifty years. In no country has the State shown any serious concern towards the increasingly daunting environmental problems that confront us. The international agencies, such as the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), are part of the problem and not of the solution. Thus though the world is losing some 20 million hectares of forest every year, nothing whatsoever is being done to bring this intolerable destruction to an end. FAOs Tropical Forestry Action Plan (TFAP) is an eight billion dollar economic development project that involves planting vast plantations of fast growing exotics for the benefit of the papermills and the rayon factories. Though our agricultural lands are losing some 26 billion tones of topsoil every year, nothing is being done to reduce the impact of our activities on soil ecosystems. On the contrary, on the basis of FAOs current plans for “developing” agriculture in the Third World, this impact must just about double within the next decade or so. In addition, though it is now accepted that our destructive economic activities are leading to the rapid destabilisation of world climate to the point that we are already condemned to living in climatic conditions in which man has never yet lived, and which could well render much of this planet uninhabitable, neither governments nor international agencies are doing anything about it. In each case the reason is the same. To do so would mean taking measures that would reduce the rate of economic development -something that in the modern corporation-based market economy is not remotely acceptable. In other words, the measures required to assure our survival on this planet cannot, in the aberrant society we have created, be undertaken because they are not “economic”. This implies that if we are to survive on this planet we shall have to create a very different sort of society; one in which economic activities can once again be brought under social control.

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I earlier discussed human-environmental interaction and now I will discuss how humans are destroying environment in the name of development:

1. Overpopulation:

Overpopulation is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. Unless we reduce the human population humanely through family planning, nature will do it for us through violence, epidemics or starvation. The world’s population has grown from 3 billion to 6.7 billion in the past 40 years. Seventy-five million people — the equivalent of the population of Germany — are added to the planet every year, or more than 200,000 people every day. The Earth’s population is projected to exceed 9 billion by the year 2050. In that same time period, the population of the U.S. grew from 200 million to more than 303 million. By 2050, it is projected to be 420 million. More people means more waste, more demand for food, more production of consumer goods, more need for electricity, cars and everything. In other words, all the factors that contribute to global warming will be exacerbated. Increased demand for food will force farmers and fishermen to exploit already-fragile ecosystems. Forests will be cleared as cities and suburbs expand, and to make room for more farmland. Strains on endangered species will increase. In rapidly developing countries such as China and India, increasing energy demands are expected to accelerate carbon emissions. In short, more people mean more problems.

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 2. Global Warming (vide infra):

The average surface temperature of the Earth has increased by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius) in the last 130 years, and by 1 F (0.56 C) since 1975. Global ice caps are melting at an alarming rate – since 1979, more than 20 percent of the global ice cap has disappeared. Sea levels are rising, causing flooding and, according to a bevy of scientists, influencing catastrophic natural disasters around the globe. Global warming is caused by the greenhouse effect, in which certain gases trap heat from the sun in the atmosphere. Since 1990, yearly emissions of greenhouse gases have gone up by about 6 billion metric tons (6.61 billion tons) worldwide, an increase of more than 20 percent. The gas most responsible for global warming is carbon dioxide, which accounts for 82 percent of all greenhouse gases in the United States. Carbon dioxide is produced through combustion of fossil fuels, mostly in cars and coal-powered factories. In 2005, global atmospheric concentrations of the gas were 35 percent higher than they were before the Industrial Revolution. America’s transportation and industrial sectors each account for around 30 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Global warming could lead to natural disasters, large-scale food and water shortages and devastating outcomes for wildlife. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the sea level could rise between 7 and 23 inches (17.8 and 58.4 centimeters) by the end of the century. Rise of just 4 inches (0.9 meters) of sea level would submerge much of the world’s population living near coastal areas. More than a million species face extinction from disappearing habitat, changing ecosystems and acid rain.

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3. Deforestation:

There was a time, not that long ago, when the majority of the land on this planet — almost half of the United States, three-quarters of Canada and nearly all of Europe — was covered in forests. Today, the world’s forests are disappearing before our eyes. 12-15 million hectares of forest are lost each year, the equivalent of 36 football fields per minute. The United Nations estimates that more than 32 million acres (12,949,941 hectares) of forest are lost each year, including 14.8 million acres (5,989,348 hectares) of primary forest — lands not occupied or affected by human beings. Deforestation is typically done to make more land available for housing and urbanization, timber, large scale cash crops such as soy and palm oil, and cattle ranching. The World Wildlife Fund reports that much of the logging industry that contributes to deforestation is done illegally (about half of it used for firewood). Common methods of deforestation are burning trees and clear cutting, which is the controversial practice of complete removal of a given tract of forest. Seventy percent of the planet’s land animals and plants live in forests, and the loss of their homes threatens the existence of an untold number of species. The problem is particularly acute in tropical forests, especially rainforests. Rainforests cover 7 percent of the Earth’s land area and provide a home to half of all the species on the planet. At the current rate of deforestation, scientists estimate that the world’s rainforests could disappear in 100 years. Deforestation contributes to global warming. Trees absorb greenhouse gases — so fewer trees means larger amounts of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere. Deforestation causes 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. They also help perpetuate the water cycle by returning water vapor to the atmosphere. Without trees, former forests can quickly become barren deserts, leading to more extreme temperature swings. When forests are burned down, carbon in the trees is released, contributing to global warming. Scientists estimate that Amazonian trees contain the equivalent of 10 years worth of greenhouse gases produced by humans. Poverty is a root cause of deforestation — most tropical forests are in Third World countries — as are policies to encourage economic development in undeveloped areas. Loggers and farmers drive deforestation. In most cases, a subsistence farmer, crowded into pioneer lands by overpopulation, will cut down trees for a farm plot. The farmer typically burns the trees and vegetation to create a fertilizing layer of ash. This is called slash-and-burn farming. The risks of erosion and flooding are increased. Soil nutrients are lost, and in a few years, the land often proves unable to support the very crops for which the trees were cut down.  

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4. Unsustainable Agriculture:

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, current farming practices are responsible for 70 percent of the pollution in the nation’s rivers and streams. Runoff of chemicals, contaminated soil and animal waste from farms has polluted more than 173,000 miles (278,417 kilometers) of waterways. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides increase nitrogen levels and decrease oxygen in the water supply. Even before the BP Oil Spill, the Gulf of Mexico suffered a “dead zone” the size of New Jersey from industrial run-off from factories and farms along the Mississippi River. Pesticides used to protect crops from predators endanger bird and insect populations. For example, the number of honeybee colonies on U.S. farmland dropped from 4.4 million in 1985 to less than 2 million in 1997. Exposure to pesticides weakened the bees’ immune systems, making them more vulnerable to natural enemies. Large scale industrial agriculture also contributes to global warming. The vast majority of meat in the world comes from industrial farms. On any given farm, tens of thousands of livestock are concentrated in small areas for economy of scale. Factory farms emit harmful gases from unprocessed animal waste, including methane, which contributes to global warming. Livestock literally wade in pools of their own waste, which ravages the soil and nearby forests — not to mention creating a ghastly odor.  

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5. Cars:

America has long been considered the land of the automobile, so it should come as no surprise that one-fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. comes from cars. There are more than 232 million vehicles on the roads in this country — only a tiny portion of which are electric-powered or hybrid. And an average American car consumes 600 gallons (2271 liters) of gasoline a year. A single car emits 12,000 pounds of carbon dioxide (or 5443 kilograms) every year in the form of exhaust. It would take 250 trees to offset that amount. In America, cars emit around the same amount of carbon dioxide as the country’s coal-burning power plants. In 2004, U.S. cars and light trucks emitted 314 million metric tons (346 million tons) of carbon, which is one third of the nation’s total carbon dioxide output. It would take a 50,000-mile-long (80,467-kilometer-long) coal train — equal to 17 times the distance between New York and San Francisco — to match the amount of carbon released into the environment by American cars every year. Combustion in the car’s engine produces fine particles of nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons and sulfur dioxide. In high quantities, these chemicals interfere with the human respiratory system, causing coughing, choking and reduced lung capacity. Cars also generate carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas formed by combustion of fossil fuels that blocks the transport of oxygen to the brain, heart and other vital organs. And then there’s all the oil required to keep our cars moving. Drilling for oil has significant environmental consequences in its own right. Land-based drilling displaces local species and, in remote regions, requires that roads be built out of dense forest. Marine drilling and shipping not uncommonly results in spills like the BP Gulf of Mexico catastrophe — there have been a dozen spills of more than 40 million gallons (151,416,471 liters) across the world since 1978. Dispersants used to mitigate the effects can also kill marine life.  

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6. Coal Mining:

The greatest risk to the environment presented by coal is climate change, but mining for the valuable resource endangers local ecosystems as well. Market realities create grave risks to mountains in coal — heavy regions, especially in the United States. Coal is a cheap source of energy – one megawatt of energy produced by coal costs $20 to $30, versus $45 to $60 for one megawatt of energy produced from natural gas. And one-quarter of the world’s coal reserves are in the U.S. Two of the most environmentally destructive forms of mining are mountain top removal and strip mining. In mountain-top removal mining, up to 1,000 feet (305 meters) might be shaved off the peak in order to scoop out the coal inside. The mountain is hollowed out as minerals are extracted. Strip mining is used when the coal is closer to the surface of the mountain. The top layers of the mountain face — including trees and any creatures living in them — are scraped away to extract valuable minerals. Each practice lays waste to everything in its path. Vast swaths of old-growth forest are removed and dumped in nearby valleys. It’s estimated that more than 300,000 acres (121,405 hectares) of hardwood forest in West Virginia have already been destroyed by mining. By 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that an additional 2,000 square miles (5,180 square kilometers) of Appalachian forest will disappear through mountain top removal and strip mining. The question of what to do with the refuse compounds the environmental consequences. Usually the mining company simply dumps the rocks, trees and wildlife in a nearby valley. In West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee, more than 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) of streams have been buried by strip mine refuse. Not only does this destroy the natural ecosystem of the mountain and stream, it also dries up larger rivers and strangles ecosystems that feed on the higher-elevation streams. Industrial waste from the mine washes into river beds. In West Virginia, more than 75 percent of streams and rivers are polluted by mining and related industries.

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7. Overfishing:

“There are plenty of fish in the sea” might not be so true anymore. Mankind’s appetite for seafood has emptied our oceans to such a degree that experts worry many species can’t replenish themselves. According to the World Wildlife Federation, the global fishing fleet is 2.5 times larger than what our oceans can support. More than half of the world’s fisheries are already gone, and one-quarter are “overexploited, depleted or recovering from collapse.” Ninety percent of the ocean’s large fish — tuna, swordfish, marlin, cod, halibut, skate and flounder — have been fished out of their natural habitats. It’s estimated that unless something changes, stocks of these fish will disappear by 2048. Advances in fishing technology are the main culprit. Today’s commercial fishing boats are basically floating factories equipped with fish-finding sonar. They drop massive nets the size of three football fields that can sweep up an entire school of fish in minutes. Once a commercial fishing boat stakes a claim on an area, it’s estimated that the fish population will decline by 80 percent within 10 to 15 years.

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8. Dam Follies:

Sometimes public works projects don’t work out so well for the public. Meant to generate clean energy, dam projects in China have ravaged their surroundings by flooding cities and environmental waste sites and increasing the risk of natural disasters. The re-routed river has also greatly increased the risk of landslides along its banks, home to hundreds of thousands of people. It’s estimated that another half-million people might be displaced by landslides along the Yangtze by the year 2020. And landslides choke rivers with silt, further depleting the ecosystem. Scientists have recently linked dams to earthquakes. The Three Gorges reservoir is built atop two major fault lines, and hundreds of small tremors have occurred since it opened. Scientists have suggested that the catastrophic 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province, which left 80,000 people dead, was exacerbated by water build-up at the Zipingpu Dam, less than half a mile from the earthquake’s primary fault line. The phenomenon of dams causing earthquakes, known as reservoir-induced seismicity, is caused by water pressure building up underneath the reservoir, which in turn increases pressure in the rocks and acts to lubricate fault lines already under strain. An earthquake caused by Three Gorges Dam would present a humanitarian disaster of untold proportions.  

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Environmental distress:

There are three related types of what Samuelson calls “environmental distress”.

First, at world level, the most basic natural resources, air, water and soil, are increasingly contaminated. Moreover, large areas of agricultural soil are degrading so rapidly that the capacity to feed the world is threatened.

Second, natural ecosystems, especially rainforests and wetlands, are rapidly disappearing. Not only are these areas home to many plant and animal species, they are also climate regulators and sources of clean air and water.

Third, many raw materials upon which modern society depends, notably oil and various metals are being consumed so quickly that within a few generations there will be nothing left.

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The toll of “environmental distress” is much larger. The disruption of natural ecosystems such as forests and wetlands, for example, causes the disruption of water cycles and natural drainage systems. Each year, the resulting floods take hundreds, if not thousands, of lives. Moreover, the disappearance of forests contributes to prolonged droughts. Both flooding and drought cause the losses of crops and livestock, which can lead to famines. Even if people do not die from hunger, lack of food makes them more susceptible to disease. Again, it is especially the children who suffer: their physical and mental development is impaired, and child mortality rises. Another serious problem is soil degradation. It threatens the livelihood of hundreds of millions of people who depend on small scale farming. Lower yields make for less food and lower incomes; and that results in a higher susceptibility to disease and thus, higher death rates, particularly among infants. When agricultural production falls to levels where the family can no longer feed itself, people move to urban areas in search of a better life. There, they face new health risks, posed by the often appalling sanitary conditions in city slums. A third form of “environmental distress” that takes a heavy toll is exposure to chemicals. The World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimate that, worldwide, each year tens of thousands die of direct contact with agricultural and industrial chemicals. Some disasters make the press, such as the 1984 accident in a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India. It resulted in an estimated 5,000 deaths; many more people were impaired for life. Yet accidents like Bhopal form only the tip of the iceberg. To give an impression of the extent of the problem, consider this: in 1994 the Chinese Xinhua news agency reported that in 1993 alone, 500,000 Chinese workers had been exposed to toxic substances leaking from industrial installations. The above figures apply to the incidental exposure to chemicals, usually through accidents. Much more widespread, however, are the deaths and impairments resulting from the long term, continuous exposure to dangerous substances. The Russian academy of medical sciences has estimated that half the Russian drinking water supply and a tenth of the food supply is to some extent contaminated by chemicals. As a result, 11% of newborn children suffer birth defects, and 55% of school age youths have exposure-related health problems. A lesser known form of pollution is the burning of wood. In the developing world, hundreds of millions of people depend on it for cooking. The World Bank estimates that 300 to 700 million women and children are affected by the indoor air pollution caused by wood-fires. Especially in towns and cities, industrial fumes also take their toll. All in all, worldwide, 1.3 billion people are exposed to dangerous quantities of particles and smoke. Again, the consequences are illness and, in many cases, premature death. It is difficult to make an estimate of the total number of victims of “environmental distress”. It would perhaps be possible to calculate the number of “direct” deaths: those occurring shortly after exposure. But it is almost impossible to count the non-fatal and fatal illnesses (including cancer), the premature deaths, the stillbirths and the miscarriages that appear months, years or even decades after exposure has taken place. Still, the above given estimates point to the likelihood that each year, millions of people die as a direct or indirect consequence of environmental degradation, whereas hundreds of millions see their health affected. The overwhelming majority of the direct victims of environmental degradation live in the poor countries. Thus, at first sight Samuelson’s “featherweight” contention would appear to gain in strength when applied to the rich nations. He may be right when he states that in the rich countries the number of “direct” deaths from environmental causes is relatively small. Still, we don’t really know how many deaths from diseases such as cancer are caused, partly or entirely, by environmental factors.

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How government and media harm environment:

Government causes more Harm to the Environment than Businesses or Individual Citizens:

The zeal with which our legal system handles alleged enemies of the environment grows ever stronger. Individuals are imprisoned for dumping dirt on their own land. Entrepreneurs-even with local and state permits in hand-are brought to trial for violating the decrees of the Army Corps of Engineers by creating new lakes and wildlife preserves. Private forestland is declared off-limits to individuals seeking to retire to and build on their own property; selling their own trees will land them in jail. In their efforts to protect the ecology, government agents prohibit development along certain seashores; seek to limit usage of private property that is home to endangered species, to forbid lumber harvesting on “public” lands harboring spotted owls, and to bring more and more wilderness under the protective wing of our dedicated public servants. Yet, as in many other areas of our society, government reveals its contradictions by doing things that harm our environment far more than anything attributable to business or individual citizens. Amazingly, though, the ecological headaches engendered by these darker policies do not dim the luster of governmental activism. Indeed, as is typical of the harm engendered by the state’s ignorance, ineptitude, and intolerance, the resultant problems lead to even more strident calls for further intervention. This seemingly endless cycle only increases the costs we all pay for such bad programs, not only monetarily but in diminished personal freedom and erosion of respect for our legal and governing system. Most of the damage the state does to our environment comes when it seeks to help a particular segment of the population at the expense of the rest. With concentrated benefits and diffused costs masquerading under the mask of “the public good,” these efforts have created many of the most egregious examples of abuse.

•Water usage has proven to be a favorite excuse offered for state intervention. Farmers benefit from subsidies designed to lower their costs for irrigating their crops. As a result, areas of marginal agricultural potential (especially in the west) are brought under production. Fragile lands are exploited that might otherwise lie fallow. Not only does the resultant overproduction of some commodities lower the prices farmers get for them, but the increased acreage put into crops leads to an acceleration of soil erosion. Subsidized crop insurance further exacerbates the situation.

•Nonfarm citizens also have their water costs subsidized by people in other parts of the country. Dam construction and artificial waterways designed to transport that water enable people to populate such arid regions as Arizona and southern California. Not only does that lead to an explosion in population in those and other areas, natural lands are flooded for reservoirs, water tables are lowered to quench the thirst of newcomers, and water shortages occur during times of lowered rainfall. Rather than letting supply and demand determine the proper usage of water, the government decides how this resource will be distributed. Those dams also provide hydroelectricity below cost, again encouraging settlement of these areas at a higher level than would otherwise occur.

•Where there is too much water the government again intervenes. Swamps have been drained (in Florida, for example) to encourage development. Now those same areas suffer a dearth of water, endangering the habitat of alligators and various species of birds.

•Even while prohibiting the cutting of trees in some forests, the government subsidizes the construction of access roads into other so-called public lands. This leads to an increase in the harvesting of lumber from areas many environmentalists would like to preserve. Wildlife habitat is also threatened.

•In a similar vein, state-owned rangelands are overgrazed by cattlemen enjoying lower-than-market rates to rent the land. In another example of the “tragedy of the commons” (the overuse of a resource because of the denial of individual ownership), overgrazing also strains local water supplies and contributes to environmental degradation.

•While the government is lauded by some and condemned by others for reintroducing wolves into the west, few mention that it was government bounties on these predators (as well as others) that contributed to their decline in the first place.

•Though it prohibits development of some “sensitive” rivers, seashores, and islands, the government encourages building in other such places. On flood plains and along coastlines, homeowners proliferate despite the dangers of recurrent flooding or storm damage. Why? Either they purchase below-market flood insurance or have their property losses covered by a “compassionate” government’s disaster relief that diminishes the cost of choosing to settle in such risky environments. Many of these homeowners rebuild repeatedly, all at the expense of their fellow citizens.

•Zoning and land-use regulations designed to preserve wetlands and other wildlife habitat diminish the incentive of landowners to convert portions of their property to such uses. Rather than lose control of their property to stifling edicts, many citizens will choose instead to “sterilize” their land and not convert it to recreational or conservational use.

•Highway construction paid for by the government places roads through woodlands and other habitat regardless of the wishes of the property owners (who are confronted by the use of eminent domain) and regardless of whether it makes economic sense. By also paying for infrastructure costs, the state encourages development in places where it might not otherwise occur. In Brazil, tax incentives and state-subsidized road construction have contributed to the very rain forest destruction so many environmentalists decry–even as they call for more governmental controls.

•Subsidized freeways contribute to overuse that leads to massive traffic jams and more car exhaust in the atmosphere as autos creep along toward their destinations.

•Through excessive regulation and the prohibition of such technology as breeder reactors, the government has effectively killed new nuclear-power plant construction in this country, although nuclear power is safer and pollutes less than many traditional power sources, including coal and natural gas.

•By reducing the wealth of its citizens through taxation, inflation, and regulation, the government makes it more difficult to deal with the legitimate environmental problems we do face. Wealthier societies have the resources to handle such difficulties while poorer ones do not.

Ultimately, it is the state’s violation of property rights that leads to many of the environmental ills laid at the feet of private citizens and businesses. The greatest ecological disasters in the world have occurred in those countries where property rights did not exist. (In the former Soviet Union and East Germany, for example, the devastation reached horrific heights.) Through subsidies, regulations, zoning, and eminent domain, the state encourages behavior that increases pressures on the environment.

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Media’s role:

Environmental journalists run from issue to issue, harried, dealing with environmental impacts more than causes. They’re too busy chasing stories to talk about context. It’s an approach that makes money for the media but isn’t so great for environmental protection. But journalists are obliged to tell the truth. Here we’re concerned with the “whole” truth. We have a society – a readership – that considers economic growth the top priority. This unhealthy obsession has led to all kinds of problems: biodiversity loss, climate change, and ocean acidification to name a few. Yet society is just not making the connection. Growing the gross domestic product seems like the answer to all problems, not the cause. Try to remember the last article you read about an environmental problem in which economic growth was even mentioned, much less explored with nuance. Journalists covering climate negotiations sometimes identify economic growth as the goal in the way of progress. As they’ve noted, China and India aren’t about to give up on growth now, and for that matter neither is the United States. But that’s about it for coverage. There’s little exploration of the nuances: of how in a 90 percent fossil-fueled economy, economic growth means climate change; of how “green” energy can’t substitute for fossil fueling of the economy; of how a stabilized climate amounts to a steady state economy. And that’s just the context of one environmental problem: climate change. When, in reading about biodiversity loss, ocean acidification, depletion of aquifers, fisheries decline and so on, do we read about the linkage to economic growth?  All environmental problems track with GDP growth, and it’s no coincidence. The relationship between economic growth and environmental impact is causal, just as gaining weight is causal of bad knees.  Let’s be clear on this: Growth as we know it today doesn’t happen without environmental impact.  It’s ironic that environmental journalists don’t tap into the big picture of economic growth. After all, the best, most relevant journalism connects events and problems to society’s concerns. What is more relevant today than economic growth? What is more covered in the broader media? What gets more attention from politicians? Environmental journalists don’t have an obligation to environmental protection. But they do have a unique opportunity. They have the opportunity to raise awareness of the whole truth, however inconvenient, that environmental protection doesn’t square with economic growth.  

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Global warming and climate change:

One of the biggest issues facing us right now is global warming. Its effects on animals and on agriculture are indeed frightening, and the effects on the human population are even scarier. The facts about global warming are often debated in politics and the media, but, unfortunately, even if we disagree about the causes, global warming effects are real, global, and measurable. The causes are mainly from us, the human race, and the effects on us will be severe.

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As discussed earlier, the average surface temperature of the Earth has increased by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius) in the last 130 years, and by 1 F (0.56 C) since 1975. Global ice caps are melting at an alarming rate – since 1979, more than 20 percent of the global ice cap has disappeared. Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and scientists are more than 90% certain that it is primarily caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases produced by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. These findings are recognized by the national science academies of all major industrialized nations.  Over the last three decades of the 20th century, gross domestic product per capita and population growth were the main drivers of increases in greenhouse gas emissions. CO2 emissions are continuing to rise due to the burning of fossil fuels and land-use change.

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Greenhouse Gases (GHG):

99 per cent of our atmosphere is made up of only two gases: 78 per cent nitrogen and 21 per cent oxygen. They do not really affect the climate regulation on the planet. Greenhouse gases are those that can absorb and emit infrared radiation, but not radiation in or near the visible spectrum. In order, the most abundant greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere are:

Water vapor (H20)

Carbon dioxide (CO2)

Methane (CH4)

Nitrous oxide (N20)

Ozone (03)

CFCs

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The six trace gases that are blamed for global warming make up only 1 per cent of gases in the atmosphere. The gases created mainly by human activities are:

•Carbon dioxide

•Methane

•Nitrous oxide

•Sulphur hexafluoride

•Hydrofluorocarbons

•Perfluorocarbons

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Note: Even though water vapor is a greenhouse gas, it is not seen in the list of gases created mainly by human activities.

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Most scientists blame industrialization for global warming. Since the 19th century, the richer countries of the Northern Hemisphere have been pumping out ever-increasing volumes of heat-trapping greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. Industrial societies burn fossil fuels in their power plants, homes, factories and cars. They clear forests (trees absorb carbon dioxide) and they build big cities. Greenhouse gases allow solar radiation to pass through the earth’s atmosphere. But after the earth absorbs part of that radiation, it reflects the rest back. That’s where the problem lies. Particles of greenhouse gas absorb the radiation, heating up, and warming the atmosphere. The increasing levels of greenhouse gases are causing too much energy to be trapped – the so-called greenhouse effect.

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The Greenhouse Effect:

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The energy from the sun that reaches the top of the earth’s atmosphere consists mainly of infrared (IR) and visible light, with a small amount of ultraviolet light (UV). Of all the sunlight that reaches the earth’s atmosphere about 50% is absorbed by water bodies, soil, vegetation, buildings, etc. 20% is absorbed by water droplets in the air and molecular gases such as: the UV component of sunlight is absorbed by ozone (O3) and diatomic oxygen (O2) and the IR component by carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases such as methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (NOx) and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). The remaining incoming sunlight is reflected back into space. The energy emitted by the earth must equal the energy absorbed for the temperature to remain constant. Currently, the planet is absorbing more than it emits. Some molecular gases, such as CO2 have the ability to absorb IR light. Not only can they absorb incoming light, but they can also absorb light that is being re-emitted. Once this IR energy has been absorbed, it can be re-emitted as IR light, can be transferred to a neighboring gas molecule, or can be converted into heat, causing the Earth’s temperatures to rise. This absorption of IR causes the air temperature around the molecules to increase. The absorption of IR by gases causing a rise in the atmospheric temperature is known as the greenhouse effect. Some of these greenhouse gases are present naturally; however, humans have caused additional warming by emitting the above mentioned greenhouse gases.  Figure below illustrates the greenhouse effect.

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Why is CO2 most effective at raising the Earth’s temperatures?

When comparing one molecule of CH4 to one molecule of CO2, the CH4 molecule is much more likely to absorb IR energy than a CO2 molecule. Therefore, if the CH4 concentration in air is increased, it will cause much greater warming than increasing the concentration of CO2. Since methane has a residence time of one century after its emission, through this time, “one kilogram of methane is still about 23 times more effective in raising air temperature than the same mass of carbon dioxide.” More strikingly, during the first 20 years of methane emission, methane is about 69 times more effective than CO2. So why is CO2 considered to be more effective than methane at raising the Earth’s temperature and why does everybody stress that we reduce our CO2 emissions rather than our CH4 emissions? The reason is because CO2 concentrations have increased 80 times more than methane concentrations partly due to the temporary sinks and re-emission of CO2. So, for short term consideration, CH4 is much more effective than CO2 due to its ability to absorb IR energy so efficiently; but, for long term consideration, due to such high concentrations, CO2 is more effective. Data supports this because thus far, it has been estimated that methane only produces about one-third as much warming as CO2.

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A time scale for CO2 warming potential out as far as 500 years is entirely reasonable:

It is true that an individual molecule of CO2 has a short residence time in the atmosphere. However, in most cases when a molecule of CO2 leaves the atmosphere it is simply swapping places with one in the ocean. Thus, the warming potential of CO2 has very little to do with the residence time of CO2. What really governs the warming potential is how long the extra CO2 remains in the atmosphere. CO2 is essentially chemically inert in the atmosphere and is only removed by biological uptake and by dissolving into the ocean. Biological uptake (with the exception of fossil fuel formation) is carbon neutral: Every tree that grows will eventually die and decompose, thereby releasing CO2. (Yes, there are maybe some gains to be made from reforestation but they are probably minor compared to fossil fuel releases).  Dissolution of CO2 into the oceans is fast but the problem is that the top of the ocean is “getting full” and the bottleneck is thus the transfer of carbon from surface waters to the deep ocean. This transfer largely occurs by the slow ocean basin circulation and turn over. This turnover takes 500-1000 years. Therefore a time scale for CO2 warming potential out as far as 500 years is entirely reasonable.

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Global warming is a long-term problem. One of the most important greenhouse gases is carbon dioxide. Around 20% of carbon dioxide which is emitted due to human activities can remain in the atmosphere for many thousands of years. The long time-scales and uncertainty associated with global warming has led analysts to develop “scenarios” of future environmental, social and economic changes. These scenarios can help governments understand the potential consequences of their decisions. The impacts of climate change include the loss of biodiversity, sea level rise, increased frequency and severity of some extreme weather events, and acidification of the oceans. Economists have attempted to quantify these impacts in monetary terms, but these assessments can be controversial.

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Emissions of GHG are one of the greatest threats to our future prosperity. World emissions (flows) are currently around 50 billion tones of carbon dioxide-equivalent (CO2) per annum and are growing rapidly. As the terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems are unable to absorb all of the world‘s annual emissions, concentrations (stocks) of GHG emissions in the atmosphere have increased, to over 400ppm of CO2 today (even after taking the offsetting radiative effects of aerosols into account) and increasing at a rate of around 2.5ppm per year. Under the business as usual scenario, atmospheric CO2 peaks at 563 parts per million (ppm) in the year 2100. Thus we have a flow-stock problem. Without strong action to reduce emissions, over the course of this century we would likely add at least 300 ppm CO2, taking concentrations to around 750 ppm CO2 or higher at the end of the century or early in the next. The world‘s current commitments to reduce emissions are consistent with at least a 3 degree C rise (50-50 chance) in temperature: a temperature not seen on the planet for around 3 million years, with serious risks of 5 degree C rise: a temperature not seen on the planet for around 30 million years. Given there are some uncertainties present in all steps of the scientific chain (flows to stocks to temperatures to climate change and impacts), this is a problem of risk management and public action on a great scale. 

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The Energy Information Administration estimates that in 2007 the primary sources of energy consisted of petroleum 36.0%, coal 27.4%, and natural gas 23.0%, amounting to an 86.4% share for fossil fuels in primary energy consumption in the world. Non-fossil sources in 2006 included hydroelectric 6.3%, nuclear 8.5%, and others (geothermal, solar, tidal, wind, wood, waste) amounting to 0.9%. World energy consumption was growing about 2.3% per year. The burning of fossil fuels such as gasoline, coal, oil, natural gas in combustion reactions results in the production of carbon dioxide. The burning of fossil fuels produces around 21.3 billion tons (21.3 gigatons) of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, but it is estimated that natural processes can only absorb about half of that amount, so there is a net increase of 10.65 billion tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide per year (one ton of atmospheric carbon is equivalent to 44/12 or 3.7 tons of carbon dioxide). 

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The bubble diagram above shows the share of global cumulative energy-related carbon dioxide emissions for major emitters between 1890-2007. Since 2006, China’s CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use and industrial processes (cement production) have been larger than the emissions of the USA. With approximately 8% higher emissions than those of the USA, China now tops the list of CO2 emitting countries. In 2008, china produced 23.5 % of world CO2 emissions while the USA 18.27%, EU 13.98%, India 5.83%, Russia 5.72%, and Japan 4.04%.

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Energy intensity:

The energy intensity (E/GDP) of the economy is the amount of energy required to generate one unit of GDP measured in tons of oil equivalent per thousand dollars.

In the United States and other industrialized countries the energy intensity increased as the infrastructure and heavy industry developed, going through a peak and then a steady decline. Latecomers in the industrialization process, in other industrialized countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany as well as India peaked later and at lower energy intensities than their predecessors, indicating early adoption of modern, more energy-efficient industrial processes and technologies: China and Russia industrialized very rapidly in the last century basically in a ―brute force‖ pattern based on the use of less efficient technologies. The observed decline of the energy intensity in countries is due to the decoupling of energy consumption (E) – mostly originating in fossil fuels use – and GDP resulting from energy efficiency measures and shifts in the economic structure of these countries, from manufacturing sectors to services.

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Energy efficiency:

Measured in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) per unit of energy use, energy efficiency in Russia is more than 5 times lower than in the United States and more than 12 times lower than in Japan. Only four countries are less energy efficient than Russia—and all are former members of the Soviet Union.

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Carbon intensity: CO2 per GDP:

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The over-reliance on fossil fuel energy (coal, oil and gas) and inefficient end-use technologies has significantly increased the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. We are currently putting one million years worth of sequestered carbon into the atmosphere each year. Recent efforts to reduce the carbon intensity (CO2/GDP) were made in a large number of countries, particularly in China and Russia where the carbon content has declined significantly in the last 30 years albeit from very high levels as seen in the figure above. However the carbon intensities of India, South Africa and Brazil (including deforestation) have not declined significantly in that period. It is therefore clear that all countries have to take serious measures to reduce their CO2 emissions in the next few decades, recognizing the principle of differentiated responsibilities. OECD countries alone, despite their efforts to reduce their carbon intensity (and carbon emissions), will not be able to avoid the world‘s growth of carbon emissions.

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Carbon dioxide emission by various countries:

The amount of carbon dioxide a country emits into the atmosphere depends mainly on the size of its economy, the level of its industrialization, and the efficiency of its energy use. Even though developing countries contain most of the world’s population, their industrial production and energy consumption per capita are relatively low. Thus until recently there has been little doubt that the primary responsibility for creating the risk of global warming lies with developed countries. The United States is the largest contributor to global warming. Although it contains just 4 percent of the world’s population, it produces almost 25 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Russia was recently replaced by China as the second largest emitter, but on a per capita basis it is still far ahead of China as seen in the figure below. Russia’s high per capita carbon dioxide emissions are explained not only by its high level of industrialization: it is also because many Russian enterprises use technologies that are older and “dirtier” than those normally used in developed countries. Extremely inefficient energy use is one of Russia’s biggest economic problems.

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The figure below shows annual carbon emission by region:

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Is the climate changing?

The United Nations certainly thinks so. And so do most (but not all) scientists who study climate. In February 2007, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report that said global warming was “very likely” – meaning an at least 90 per cent certainty – caused by human activity. The report has some telling predictions. The document forecasts that the average temperature will rise 1.8 C to 4 C by the year 2100 and sea levels will creep up by 17.8 centimeters to 58.4 centimeters by the end of the century. If polar sheets continue to melt, another rise of 9.9 centimeters to 19.8 centimeters is possible. Past reports from the organization have examined the changes in the previous century. In a 2001 report, the IPCC said the average global surface temperature had risen by about 0.6 C degrees since 1900, with much of that rise coming in the 1990s – likely the warmest decade in 1,000 years. The IPCC also found that snow cover since the late 1960s has decreased by about 10 per cent and lakes and rivers in the Northern Hemisphere are frozen over about two weeks less each year than they were in the late 1960s. Mountain glaciers in non-polar regions have also been in “noticeable retreat” in the 20th century, and the average global sea level has risen between 0.1 and 0.2 meters since 1900. Simply put, the world is getting warmer and the temperature is rising faster than ever.

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It is sometimes claimed that global warming results from changes in energy from the sun. Since 1750, the average amount of energy coming from the sun has either remained constant or increased slightly. However, if warming had been caused by a more active sun, then scientists would expect to see warmer temperatures in all layers of the atmosphere. Instead, they have observed a cooling in the upper atmosphere, and a warming at the surface and in the lower parts of the atmosphere. This is because greenhouse gases are trapping heat in the lower atmosphere before it can reach the stratosphere. Climate models that include only changes in solar irradiance are unable to reproduce the observed temperature trend over the past century or more without including a rise in greenhouse gases.   

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While scientists tend to agree that the earth is warming, not all agree that rising greenhouse gas emissions are the culprits. A vocal minority say the earth’s climate warms and cools in long cycles that have nothing to do with greenhouse gases. Some dispute the data concerning rising sea levels and rising temperatures. Others dispute the projections, which are based on computer models. But again, those views are those of a minority. Most climatologists agree that global warming is causing unprecedented climate change and that things will get worse unless something is done.

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All the studies that shows global warming is caused by economic growth are depicted below:

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The figure below shows that as global GDP increases, atmospheric CO2 increases.

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The figure above shows annual growth of the world economic output and annual change of estimated CO2 emissions.

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To slow down global warming, we’ll either have to put the brakes on economic growth or transform the way the world’s economies work. That’s the implication of an innovative University of Michigan study examining the most likely causes of global warming. The study, conducted by José Tapia Granados and Edward Ionides of UM and Óscar Carpintero of the University of Valladolid in Spain, was published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science and Policy. It is the first analysis to use measurable levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide to assess fluctuations in the gas, rather than estimates of CO2 emissions, which are less accurate. “If ‘business as usual’ conditions continue, economic contractions the size of the Great Recession or even bigger will be needed to reduce atmospheric levels of CO2,” said Tapia Granados, who is a researcher at the UM Institute for Social Research. For the study, the researchers assessed the impact of four factors on short-run, year-to-year changes in atmospheric concentrations of CO2, widely considered the most important greenhouse gas.  Those factors included two natural phenomena believed to affect CO2 levels – volcanic eruptions and the El Niño Southern oscillation – and also world population and the world economy, as measured by worldwide gross domestic product. Tapia Granados and colleagues found no observable relation between short-term growth of world population and CO2 concentrations, and they show that recent incidents of volcanic activity coincided with global recessions, which brings into question the reductions in atmospheric CO2 previously ascribed to these volcanic eruptions. In years of above-trend world GDP, from 1958 to 2010, the researchers found greater increases in CO2 concentrations.  For each trillion US dollars that the world GDP deviates from trend, CO2 levels deviate from trend about half a part per million (ppm), they found.  Concentrations of CO2are estimated to have been between 200 and 300 ppm during preindustrial times. They are presently close to 400 ppm, and levels around 300 ppm are considered safe to keep a stable climate. To break the economic habits contributing to a rise in atmospheric CO2 levels and global warming, Tapia Granados points out; societies around the world would need to make enormous changes.

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Economic growth driving Global Warming towards 6 degrees C:

The earth’s climate system is facing a global meltdown with carbon emissions steadily increasing and business as usual emissions projections on a path of 4 degrees C (7.2°F) of global warming by about the 2060s and 6 degrees C (10.8°F) of warming by the turn of the century, just 88 years hence, according to a scientific report – Turn Down the Heat – by the Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) done on behalf of the World Bank. Some say the World Bank’s call for slowing global warming ignores their own role.

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The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) warned that greenhouse gas emissions gap is widening as Nations head to crucial Climate talks in Doha, while the European Environment Agency has warned in a new report Climate change evident across Europe, confirming urgent need for adaptation. A recent Price Waterhouse Coopers report warned that business as usual Carbon emissions is heading towards 6°C (10.8°F) of global warming this century. So there is widespread agreement from science and scientists, energy experts and experts in global economics and accounting that we are facing a climate meltdown.

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The International Energy Agency warned in their 2011 World Energy Outlook report that we are on a 4 to 6 degree Celsius trajectory and that 80 percent of carbon emissions infrastructure has already been built and is in operation. We cannot afford to add any new carbon intensive infrastructure that will continue to pollute for 30 to 50 years, yet the World Resources Institute reveals that nearly 1,200 Proposed Coal-Fired Power Plants are in the making, the majority in India and China.

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Are the increases and decreases in global CO2 emissions simply an indicator of economic growth (or lack thereof)?

New figures suggest global carbon dioxide emissions increase with economic growth and decrease in economic recessions. Global carbon dioxide emissions dropped by 1.3 percent in 2009 due to economic recession that  “helped stave off climate change.” Increases in CO2 emissions in 2010 suggest the global economy is back on track. The 38 countries that pledged to restrain their emissions of climate change–inducing greenhouse gases, most notably carbon dioxide (CO2), are failing, according to new figures. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the body charged with overseeing global emission reduction efforts, says that, overall, greenhouse emissions—measured in terms of the most ubiquitous: carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e)—dropped by 894 million metric tons between 1990 and 2006 (the latest year for which figures are available). But the UNFCCC found that emissions had grown by 2.3 percent—403 million metric tons of CO2e—from 2000 to 2006, and that the 16-year dip was due entirely to the drop in economic activity (factory and power plant shutdowns) in former Eastern bloc countries such as Russia after the 1989 fall of communist governments, which led to a decline of more than two billion metric tons of CO2e emissions. Those countries’ economies have recovered since 2000, leading to an increase in CO2e emissions of some 258 million metric tons, according to UNFCCC.

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Why is global warming such a big deal?

 

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Global warming is considered to be our most crucial worldwide environmental problem. It is currently a critical problem for many species of plants and animals around the globe and could soon pose a threat to humans. Plants and animals are adapted to a specific climate, and can only survive in that particular climate. You may not notice it because you can throw on a jacket or adjust your thermostat, but there have been fluctuations in the weather due to global warming. As the temperature changes, animals must migrate to adapt. The migration of species to more suitable climates upsets the balance of interdependence among species in their ecosystems. A few examples are flower and pollinator, hunter and hunted, grazers and plant life. Urbanization and agriculture also block the migration routes of many species. Some ecosystems have flourished from the migration changes, but the rate of climate change due to human behavior is now much greater than any natural rates of change. According to Jim Hansen of the Goddard Space Institute, “Studies of more than one thousand species charted by members of the public, found an average migration rate toward the North and South Poles of about four miles per decade in the second half of the twentieth century.” This is an issue because, “during the past thirty years the lines marking the regions in which a given average temperature prevails (“isotherms”) have been moving pole-ward at a rate of about thirty-five miles per decade. Each decade the range of a given species is moving one row of counties northward.” If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, the rate of isotherm movement will double in this century to at least seventy miles per decade, which could leave as much as 50 percent or more of the species on Earth extinct.
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Climate Change also poses a threat to humans as the massive ice sheets in Greenland and Antartica begin to melt as the Earth’s temperature rises. As these ice masses melt, they will cause sea levels to rise, which will decrease the levels of fresh water on the planet. A five degree increase in the Earth’s temperature would cause sea levels to rise eighty feet. If this were to happen, the United States would lose most of its coastal cities such as: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and Miami, and the whole state of Florida would practically be underwater.
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Scientists have come up with the firmest evidence so far that global warming will significantly increase the intensity of the most extreme storms worldwide. The maximum wind speeds of the strongest tropical cyclones have increased significantly since 1981, according to research published in Nature. And the upward trend, thought to be driven by rising ocean temperatures, is unlikely to stop at any time soon. Climate change is expected to have the most severe impact on water supplies. Shortages in future are likely to threaten food production, reduce sanitation, hinder economic development and damage ecosystems. It causes more violent swings between floods and droughts. According to research published in Nature, by 2050, rising temperatures could lead to the extinction of more than a million species. And because we can’t exist without a diverse population of species on Earth, this is scary news for humans.

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According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the sea level has risen 5 to 6 inches in the last century. The International Panel on Climate Change estimates that the sea level will rise between 0.6 and 2 feet in the next century. This poses a great threat to coastal wetland ecosystems. Wetlands are a thriving habitat for thousands of species and also serve to protect nearby areas from flooding. The EPA has estimated that a two foot rise in sea level would result in the loss of 17-43 percent of wetlands in the United States.
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Global Warming has the potential to change the human environment in several different ways:
Agriculture –

Today almost all humans have a direct impact on agriculture as many of us harvest and plant crops, while the rest of us consume them at incredible rates. Agriculture is one of the main determining factors of human life and global warming has the potential to severely disrupt that. Although many plants depend on the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, there are plenty of other determining factors global warming effects on agriculture. It’s believed that many high altitude cities will actually benefit agriculturally due to the slightly higher temperatures, but in comparison, the well of agriculture is formed in areas that have the perfect ingredients for the perfect crop. Slightly higher temperature will yield less crop. Scientists believe that this will cause an increase in global hunger since plant crops are the most efficient to produce. Studies show a rise in wild fires due to the slight increase in temperature. Wildfires have the potential to demolish dozens of square miles of both agricultural land and natural habitat of thousands of species of wildlife.
Health –

Surely the rise in temperature will decrease the amount of cold/winter related deaths that happen every year. Yes, but the amount of heat related deaths are suppose to trump the amount saved by the weather five-time fold. And although there are plenty of scientific reasons for this such as a plethora of different things that can go wrong when you are hot as opposed to when you are cold, but scientists believe there’s one determining factor to this. It’s easier to get warmer than it is to get colder. Think about a year in the United States. Energy costs to cool a house down are much heavier than those to keep a house warm. When summers are unbearable you turn on the air conditioner. Not everybody has that luxury. When winter is unbearable many people today use the same method as hundreds of years ago. Fire, a staple of society and a relatively cheap resource. Another major health risk is the migration of disease carrying insects throughout the world. Mosquitoes carry many major health science related problems like malaria and they are already showing up in places they’ve haven’t been before.
Ocean Acidification –

Although it is impossible to determine just what will happen when all the excess carbon dioxide is absorbed into the ocean, little can be seen positively of the effects of the acidification of the oceanic water supply. This acidification will have the ability to change the entire oceanic food change. This inevitably comes back to humans in several ways. If the ocean is not safe to swim in because of the acidification not only will it stop ocean lover’s fun, it will stop our ability to kill the heat on a hot day.
Economic –

The economy is the number one thing to change as global warming occurs. And the results are catastrophic. The Stern Report (www.scienceskeptic.com) is an overall economic report on the stark effects of global warming. Their main point although unhelpful as it is, is that the cost of fixing global warming far outweighs the cost that could have been put forth to prevent it as a whole. Another main issue reflected in the Stern Report is one of repetitive nature. The poorest of countries will be hit not only the hardest, the fastest. That is why the fastest mode of prevention is the best for everyone on the planet. The Stern Report foresees some major changes in governmental economic policy. For one the addition of a carbon dioxide tax is one that seems close to be putting in place. The Stern Report also has a view on issues for the future such as immigration. The current idea is that people of poorer countries who get hit hard will migrate to other countries in which life is more comfortable. This directly affects the economy of neighboring countries as well as social issues. Eventually wars could be fought over the issues of global warming and mass migrations of hurting populations.

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Climate change will increase the frequency of extreme weather events, including high rainfall. A study by the prestigious Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research says that with one degree Celsius global warming, daily variability in monsoon rainfall over India will increase by four to 12 percent and by as much as 13 to 50 percent if global greenhouse gas emissions rise unabated.

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The economic cost of increased temperatures:

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Even temporary rises in local temperatures significantly damage long-term economic growth in the world’s developing nations, according to a new study co-authored by an MIT economist. Looking at weather data over the last half-century, the study finds that every 1-degree-Celsius increase in a poor country, over the course of a given year, reduces its economic growth by about 1.3 percentage points. However, this only applies to the world’s developing nations; wealthier countries do not appear to be affected by the variations in temperature. “Higher temperatures lead to substantially lower economic growth in poor countries,” says Ben Olken, a professor of economics at MIT, who helped conduct the research. And while it’s relatively straightforward to see how droughts and hot weather might hurt agriculture, the study indicates that hot spells have much wider economic effects. “What we’re suggesting is that it’s much broader than agriculture,” Olken adds. “It affects investment, political stability and industrial output.”

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World Bank chief says global warming threatens the planet and the poorest:

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim said climate change was a “fundamental threat” to global economic development as he called for a major new push to reduce extreme poverty over the next 17 years. “If we do not act to curb climate change immediately, we will leave our children and grandchildren on an unrecognizable planet,” Kim said. “It is the poor, those least responsible for climate change and least able to afford adaptation, who would suffer the most.” His comments are part of an emerging push by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to focus on climate change — something that IMF managing director Christine Lagarde already said puts global financial stability “clearly at stake.” The IMF published a report arguing that fossil fuels are subsidized to the tune of $1.9 trillion annually by governments around the world and should be more heavily taxed. Both the IMF and the World Resources Institute hosted a speech by British economist Lord Nicholas Stern, author of a controversial climate report for the British government and an advocate of fast and deep carbon emissions cuts. “We have to go zero carbon more or less where we can” to meet the goal of limiting planetary warming to 2 degrees Celsius over the next 90 years, Stern said. The joint effort by the IMF and World Bank to elevate thinking about the economics of climate change has accelerated under Kim and Lagarde, pushed by evidence that the effects of a warming planet are already being felt in agricultural yields in some nations and the severity of weather events around the globe. Both organizations often tout the power of advocacy and research in shaping countries’ policies, but their more direct influence may relate to their power over loans and financing. In the bank’s case, that power has declined as the flow of private money has increased around the globe.

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What is the Kyoto treaty?

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The Kyoto Treaty commits industrialised nations to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, principally Carbon Dioxide, by around 5.2% below their 1990 levels over the next decade. Drawn up in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, the agreement needs to be ratified by countries who were responsible for at least 55% of the world’s carbon emissions in 1990 to come into force. The agreement was dealt a severe blow in March 2001 when President George W Bush announced that the United States would never sign it. The US produced 36% of emissions in 1990, making it the world’s biggest polluter. The revised Kyoto agreement, widely credited to the European Union, made considerable compromises allowing countries like Russia to offset their targets with carbon sinks – areas of forest and farmland which absorb carbon through photosynthesis. The Bonn agreement also reduced cuts to be made to emissions of six gases believed to be exacerbating global warming – from the original treaty’s 5.2% to 2%. It was hoped that these slightly watered down provisions would allow the US to take up the Kyoto principles – but this has not proved to be the case. As part of the Kyoto Protocol, many developed countries have agreed to legally binding limitations/reductions in their emissions of greenhouse gases in two commitments periods. The first commitment period applies to emissions between 2008-2012, and the second commitment period applies to emissions between 2013-2020. The protocol was amended in 2012 to accommodate the second commitment period,  but this amendment has (as of January 2013) not entered into legal force. Developing countries do not have binding targets under the Kyoto Protocol, but are still committed under the treaty to reduce their emissions. Actions taken by developed and developing countries to reduce emissions include support for renewable energy, improving energy efficiency, and reducing deforestation. Under the Protocol, emissions of developing countries are allowed to grow in accordance with their development needs. One criticism of the Kyoto Protocol is that it does not require developing countries to lower their carbon emissions. China, now the largest emitter of carbon, is not bound by the Kyoto Protocol to reduce production of carbon dioxide. They are, however, able to take advantage of the funding provision, which states that the group of developed countries must economically help developing countries tackle climate change. India, also a large contributor to global carbon emissions, is under no legal agreement to reduce their levels of emissions.

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Policies to cope with the threat of Global Warming:

In response to the threat of global warming, a wide variety of responses are available.

A first option, taking steps to slow or prevent greenhouse warming, has received the greatest public attention. Most policy discussion has focused on reducing energy consumption or switching to nonfossil fuels, while some have suggested reforestation to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. One important goal of policy should be cost-effectiveness–structuring policies to get the maximal reduction in harmful climatic change for a given level of expenditure.

A second option is to offset greenhouse warming through climatic engineering. Measures in this category include changing the albedo (reflectivity) of the earth, increasing the rate of removal of greenhouse gases, or changing water flows to cool the earth.

A final option is to adapt to the warmer climate. Adaptation could take place gradually on a decentralized basis through the automatic response of people and institutions or through markets as the climate warms and the oceans rise. In addition, governments could prevent harmful climatic impacts by land-use regulations or investments in research on living in a warmer climate.

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Common sense strategies:

Often-discussed strategies for slowing carbon dioxide emissions and global warming include increased energy efficiency, reduced population growth and a switch to power sources that don’t emit carbon dioxide, including nuclear, wind and solar energy and underground storage of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning. Another strategy is rarely mentioned: a decreased standard of living, which would occur if energy supplies ran short and the economy collapsed.

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Is Global Warming Unstoppable? Shifting to non-CO2 emitting power source:

A provocative new study, a University of Utah scientist Tim Garrett, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences argues that rising carbon dioxide emissions — the major cause of global warming — cannot be stabilized unless the world’s economy collapses or society builds the equivalent of one new nuclear power plant each day. Garrett treats civilization like a “heat engine” that “consumes energy and does ‘work’ in the form of economic production, which then spurs it to consume more energy,” he says. “If society consumed no energy, civilization would be worthless,” he adds. “It is only by consuming energy that civilization is able to maintain the activities that give it economic value. This means that if we ever start to run out of energy, then the value of civilization is going to fall and even collapse absent discovery of new energy sources.” Garrett says his study’s key finding “is that accumulated economic production over the course of history has been tied to the rate of energy consumption at a global level through a constant factor.” That “constant” is 9.7 (plus or minus 0.3) mill watts per inflation-adjusted 1990 dollar. So if you look at economic and energy production at any specific time in history, “each inflation-adjusted 1990 dollar would be supported by 9.7 mill watts of primary energy consumption,” Garrett says. The study — which is based on the concept that physics can be used to characterize the evolution of civilization — indicates:

* Energy conservation or efficiency doesn’t really save energy, but instead spurs economic growth and accelerated energy consumption.

* Throughout history, a simple physical “constant” — an unchanging mathematical value — links global energy use to the world’s accumulated economic productivity, adjusted for inflation. So it isn’t necessary to consider population growth and standard of living in predicting society’s future energy consumption and resulting carbon dioxide emissions.

* “Stabilization of carbon dioxide emissions at current rates will require approximately 300 gigawatts of new non-carbon-dioxide-emitting power production capacity annually — approximately one new nuclear power plant (or equivalent) per day, physically, there are no other options without killing the economy.   

Is meaningful energy conservation Impossible?

Perhaps the most provocative implication of Garrett’s theory is that conserving energy doesn’t reduce energy use, but spurs economic growth and more energy use. “Making civilization more energy efficient simply allows it to grow faster and consume more energy,” says Garrett. He says the idea that resource conservation accelerates resource consumption — known as Jevons paradox — was proposed in the 1865 book “The Coal Question” by William Stanley Jevons, who noted that coal prices fell and coal consumption soared after improvements in steam engine efficiency. Changes in population and standard of living are only a function of the current energy efficiency. That leaves only switching to a non-carbon-dioxide-emitting power source as an available option.” “The problem is that, in order to stabilize emissions, not even reduce them, we have to switch to non-carbonized energy sources at a rate about 2.1 percent per year. That comes out to almost one new nuclear power plant per day.” “If society invests sufficient resources into alternative and new, non-carbon energy supplies, then perhaps it can continue growing without increasing global warming,” Garrett says.

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Curbing consumer habits could slow global warming:

Virtually every economist and politician, from the right to the left, believes that economic growth is good, even necessary, to maintain jobs, production, tax revenues, the stock market and our standing in the world. It is so deeply embedded in our psyches and our system that it is almost forbidden to challenge the growth-is-necessary paradigm. But there are economists and thinkers who do challenge it. They are small in number but growing: Tim Jackson, in “Prosperity Without Growth,” claims that increasing consumption adds little to happiness and that it increases the stress on environmental systems; Andrew Simms and Victoria Johnson, in “Growth Isn’t Possible,” believe that continued growth is unsustainable, restricted by the limits of our resources; Peter Victor, in his article “Nothing Grows Forever,” sees the continued release of pollutants, forest clearing and greenhouse gas emissions of the last eight generations of humans out of 125,000 generations as devastating; Charles Eisenstein, in his video “Living Without Economic Growth,” sees the present growth paradigm as not working but is optimistic that a no-growth system with less consumption will be difficult but will lead to better lives over time. The commonality in these views is that our water, soil, air and mineral resources are finite and that our current rate of use of these resources cannot be maintained over a length of time. None sees significant progress worldwide in limiting this usage. Additionally, there is an elephant in this room that few people are aware of. And that is the climate emergency. There is a very powerful connection between economic growth and global warming. Everything that is manufactured requires energy to run the equipment that leads to the product. That energy almost always comes from burning coal, oil or natural gas. Burning these fossil fuels produces large quantities of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas most responsible for global warming. Every bit of clothing, every car, every book, every electronic device, every movie, every piece of furniture, every hamburger that is produced leads to greenhouse gas emissions. On every front we are encouraged to buy more stuff. Television, newspapers and magazines are the leaders in rushing us to purchase stuff. Of course there is lots of employment and abundant profits as a result of our purchases that keep our growth economies on their path to ultimate failure. And this growth in production that takes place worldwide has this terrible downside of increasing the threat of reaching the tipping point of global warming. It is imperative that our nation, as well as the other industrialized countries, change the dominating view of growth as a necessity and adopt nongrowth economies. The consequence of a failure to change our consuming habits will be runaway global warming.

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Encourage Responsible Consumerism:

Convincing people to buy more stuff is one of the classic methods of stimulating an economy. Of course, this kind of consumerism generates waste and uses lots of energy and resources. “Buy less,” in fact, is a common refrain among environmentalists. That said there is room for consumers to buy green by selecting environmentally-responsible products. Through responsible shopping, green consumers can do their part to stimulate the economy, without sacrificing their eco-principles.

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Population control and global warming:

A report by the London School of Economics actually performed a “cost-benefit analysis” on the various methods for reducing carbon emissions around the world, and they found that the “cheapest” way to reduce carbon emissions by far was to increase funding for “family planning”. According to the report, each birth results not only in the emissions attributable to that person in his or her lifetime, but also the emissions of all his or her descendents. Hence, the emissions savings from intended or planned births multiply with time. No human is genuinely “carbon neutral,” especially when all greenhouse gases are figured into the equation. Therefore, everyone is part of the problem, so everyone must be part of the solution in some way. Strong family planning programs are in the interests of all countries for greenhouse-gas concerns as well as for broader welfare concerns. However, eighty percent of the current consumption of the Earth’s resources is accounted for by the 20% of the world’s population that resides in the North. While overall population growth is a danger to the health of the planet, it must be recognized that population growth in the North, due to extremely high levels of per capital consumption, is a far greater threat than population growth in the South.

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A cure worse than the disease? Global Economic Impact of Global Warming Policy:

Warming of the world may have economic costs that exceed benefits, but cutting CO2 emissions will not necessarily improve matters. Warming alone may have net negative impacts. However, warming caused by human activity cannot be divorced from the benefits that human activity generates. Cutting CO2 emissions will have clear economic costs. The question for policymakers is how the costs of cutting CO2 compare with the benefits. Researchers find that the costs vastly exceed the benefits. In particular, researchers analyzed a regime to reduce CO2 emissions of the magnitude found in the Boxer–Sanders carbon-tax bill and the Lieberman–Warner and Waxman–Markey cap-and-trade bills. These reductions would have a decidedly negative economic impact on both the U.S. and the world as a whole, with net losses reaching hundreds of trillions of dollars by the century’s end. On the other hand, faster growth could insulate the economy from the impacts of global warming.

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Developing country and environment:

The world is environmentally interdependent, whether borne by air or water, is quickly transmitted from one state to another. The effect of soil erosion on agricultural production in one part of the world reverberates to other parts very quickly. All countries share the atmosphere, as air recognizes no national boundaries. The mutual dependence of the peoples of the world on a single common planetary biosphere means that environmental decline of one country or region is a problem for the entire community of region. A growing number have become vulnerable to trans-boundary global environmental degradation, which did not originate in the area in which they live. The population explosion in the modernization has made poor countries more vulnerable to the impact of environmental damage. In these countries, the effects of environmental destruction pushes more and more people towards the sustainable margin, and it leads to social unrest. The high population growth in the developing countries has multiplied pressure on all renewable resources namely fresh water, soil, forests, air, atmosphere, climate, oceans and biodiversity. Social degradation and deforestation do complement each other. Due to environmental destruction, there may be reduction in the availability of cultivatable land, green forest, fresh water, clear air and fish resources for the consumption of the human kind. Environmental change can lead to dramatic reduction in agricultural output of affected area. In the developing countries, where the agriculture is the most important source of subsistence, its decreased production might result in the loss of livelihood of millions people. Environmental destruction leads to social conflicts.

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Is the economic development of developing countries more important than protecting the environment?

The issue of economic growth versus environmental conservation can be seen as developed countries vs. developing ones. Industrial countries such as the USA and Germany have depended upon polluting industries for their wealth. Now they fear that uncontrolled economic development in the Third World will lead to environmental disaster. They point out that massive clearing of tropical rainforest for farming threatens biodiversity and may affect the global climate. At the same time relying upon heavy industry adds more pollution to the air, soil and water sources, while a richer population demands more energy, often produced from burning dirty fossil fuels such as coal. Developing countries such as China and Brazil point out that they must make industrialization and economic development a priority because they have to support their growing populations. Developing countries must address current problems; they cannot afford to worry about the distant future. They also point out that as First World countries are most to blame for current environmental damage since they originally created some of the environmental problems. Please go through the table below and see where you stand on the debate economy vs. environment vis-à-vis developing countries:

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Is the economic development of developing countries more important than protecting the environment? A debate:

Yes because No because
Taking care of millions of people who are starving is more important than saving natural resources, most of which are renewable anyway. We cannot expect developing nations to share the green concerns of developed countries when they are faced with dire poverty and a constant battle for survival. We have already wasted and destroyed vast amounts of natural resources, and in so doing have put earth at risk. We must preserve the earth for our children and grandchildren. In any case, poverty and environmental damage are often linked. Destroying the rainforest gives native peoples nowhere to go except urban slums. Polluted water can lead to crop failures. Climate change will turn fertile fields into desert and flood coastal areas where hundreds of millions live. Developing countries have to choose sustainable development if they want a future for their people.
The industrialized world’s emphasis on green issues holds back developing countries. Because this is seen as interference in their affairs, it also contributes to a greater divide between the First and Third worlds. Many also believe it is a deliberate attempt to stop possible economic competitors. After all, the USA and EU already put high tariffs (import taxes) on products made cheaply in developing countries (e.g. canned tomatoes, shoes) which could be sold in America or Europe. By limiting the development of profitable but polluting industries like steel or oil refineries we are forcing nations to remain economically backward. No one wants to stop economic progress that could give millions better lives. But we must insist on sustainable development that combines environmental care, social justice and economic growth. Earth cannot support unrestricted growth. Companies in developed countries already have higher costs of production because of rules to protect the environment. It is unfair if they then see their prices undercut by goods produced cheaply in developing countries at the cost of great pollution
Economic development is vital for meeting the basic needs of the growing populations of developing countries. If we do not allow them to industrialize, these nations will have to bring in measures to limit population growth just to preserve vital resources such as water. Unchecked population growth has a negative impact on any nation, as well as on the whole planet. Both the poverty and the environmental problems of sub-Saharan Africa are largely the result of rapid population growth putting pressure on limited resources. At the same time China has become wealthy while following a “one-child” per couple policy. Limiting population growth will result in a higher standard of living and will preserve the environment.
Obviously the world would be better if all nations stuck to strict environmental rules. The reality is that for many nations such rules are not in their interests. For example, closing China’s huge Capital Iron and Steelworks, a major source of pollution, would cost 40 000 jobs. The equal application of strict environmental policies would create huge barriers to economic progress, at a risk to political stability. Nations are losing more from pollution than they are gaining from industrialization. China is a perfect example. Twenty years of uncontrolled economic development have created serious, chronic air and water pollution. This has increased health problems and resulted in annual losses to farmers of crops worth billions of dollars. So uncontrolled growth is not only bad for the environment, it is also makes no economic sense.
Rapid industrialization does not have to put more pressure on the environment. Scientific advances have made industries much less polluting. And developing countries can learn from the environmental mistakes of the developed world’s industrial revolution, and from more recent disasters in communist countries such as China and the USSR. For example, efficient new steelworks use much less water, raw materials and power, while producing much less pollution than traditional factories. And nuclear generating plants can provide more energy than coal while contributing far less to global warming. We are also exploring alternative, renewable types of energy such as solar, wind and hydro-power. Scientific progress has made people too confident in their abilities to control their environment. In just half a century the world’s nuclear industry has had at least three serious accidents: Windscale (UK, 1957), Three Mile Island (USA, 1979), and Chernobyl (USSR, 1986). In addition, the nuclear power industry still cannot store its waste safely. Hydro-power sounds great but damming rivers is itself damaging to the environment. It also forces huge numbers of people off their land – as in China’s 3 Gorges project.
It is hypocritical (two-faced and unfair) for rich developed countries to demand that poorer nations make conservation their priority. After all, they became rich in the first place by destroying their environment in the industrial revolution. Now that they have cut down their own trees, polluted their water sources and poured billions of tons of carbon into the air, they are in no position to tell others to behave differently. In any case, as countries become richer they become more concerned about the environment, and can afford to do something about it. For developing countries conservation can therefore wait until they are richer. Looking after our fragile world has to be a partnership. Climate change will affect the whole planet, not just the developed world. In fact it is likely to have particularly terrible effects on developing countries as sea levels rise, deserts advance, and natural disasters become more common. It is no use Europe trying to cut its emissions into the atmosphere if unchecked growth in China and India leads to much greater overall pollution. Instead, developed countries need to transfer greener technologies to the developing world, paying for environmental protection and making sustainability a condition for aid.
The “Green Revolution” has doubled the size of grain harvests. Thus, cutting down more forests to provide more space for crops is no longer necessary. We now have the knowledge to feed the world’s increasing population without harming the environment. Genetically modified crops can also benefit the developing world by requiring much less water, fertiliser or pesticide use while giving better yields. This is another example of economic development leading to environmental benefits. The Green Revolution is threatening the biodiversity of the Third World by replacing native seeds with hybrids. We do not know what the long-term environmental or economic consequences will be. We do know that in the short run, such hybrid crops can cause environmental problems by crowding out native plants and the wildlife which relies on them. The farmer growing hybrid crops must buy costly new seed every year because it cannot be saved to plant the following year’s crops. Farmers using hybrid seeds in what was the richest part of India went bankrupt. As a result, fertile lands lay idle and unploughed, resulting in droughts and desertification.
Our fellow man is our most important resource. Allowing people to suffer and die in the name of “protecting the planet” is self-centered and racist. If you were the guy trying to plough the field to plant crops and feed your starving family and friends, only to be stopped by people from a country whose 35% of the population are obese, you’d be pretty angry at the folks who are fighting the technology and methods that could feed your children all in the name of “being green”. You can complain about needing a good economy because your nation has to prosper and be maintained financially, but though the countries that need a better economy are struggling, it won’t compare to the world wide damage that will be done if nothing is done to improve the environmental state. Bad economy means people may lose jobs, and live in poverty. But bad environment means we lose crops to polluted water, we limit livable areas, and eventually have no natural resources left. Rather than focusing on progressing countries and the issues that have been around for hundreds of years regardless, it’s time to start focusing on the environment, before it’s unsavable, and we have to start controlling population growth to sustain our resources. You would rather be poor and be able to breathe in an undeveloped country now, than push climate change and end up hurting the economy even worse in the future trying to cope with all the challenges and disasters it’ll bring.

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Double injustice to developing nations:

India and many developing countries actually suffer “a double injustice”: environmental degradation and climate change will impinge on the poor countries hardest, but at the same time, they are required to be “part of the solution” by cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at the expense of their economic development. Environmental degradation can only intensify these existing development problems. For example, increased maximum temperatures and changing rainfall patterns are already exerting negative impacts on the agriculture and food security of many low-income communities, while several coastal states in India are suffering from damage to our ocean – fauna and flora brought on by ocean acidification due to rapid industrial pollution. However, an economic slowdown in India can jeopardize their ability to address pressing problems such as poverty, lack of adequate health care, high unemployment and gender inequality. If growth continues on what has been called the “business as usual” development path, it is likely to exaggerate existing development problems and compromise the well-being of present and future generations.

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Conflict between Developing Economy and Protecting Environment:

Whether is the developing economy and protecting environment a pair of contradiction? The answer depends on the economy development stage. In the developed country, the developing economy and protecting environment is not a pair of contradiction because of environment improved along with the economic structure changed. But in the developing country, it is a pair of contradiction because of environment worsens with a high speed economy increasing. The choice of the industrial structure is a factor affecting the environmental pollution. Generally speaking by agricultural and light industry, pollution level is low; and when the manufacturing industry proportion is high in the country, the pollution degree can be high inevitably. Technology also is an important indicator to affect the environment. The country of using low technical expertise can consume more resources and more pollution. In economic development low stage, the economic activity is low. In the economy launching phase, the manufacture is developed greatly. The result is the resource consumption surpasses the resource generation. The environment worsens in an economical development higher stage. When economic structure changes, the pollution industry stops producing or is shifted. The environmental condition starts to improve. Along with economic development people will pay more attention to the environmental protection. The environmental protection fund also will be increased. The protecting environment meant the fund invested because a lot of environmental protection equipments are very expensive. In the long term, the disbursement and effect of protecting environment is an important factor affecting environment Kuznets curve (vide infra).

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Pollution heaven hypothesis:

Based on the view that “developing countries may be acting as pollution havens, places where firms can move and operate without the strict environmental controls of the developed country”.  Stringent Environment Standards in industrialized countries are causing some firms especially ‘pollution intensive’ ones to flee to countries with less stringent standards. Most developing countries do have regulations regarding levels of pollution, but these are not enforced. Developing countries have tried with some success to attract pollution intensive firms with the promise of lower pollution control standards in the hope of bolstering their rate of economic growth.  

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Why and how rich nations should pay poor nations for disturbing weather?

In 2012, the 18th Conference of the Parties (COP-18) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) sputtered to its conclusion in Doha, Qatar. The first big item on the Doha agenda was keeping the Kyoto Protocol on some sort of life support. Adopted in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol required 35 rich countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by about 5.2 percent below what they emitted in back in 1990. The original Kyoto Protocol would have obliged the U.S. to cut its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 7 percent below its 1990 levels. However, the U.S. never ratified the treaty and now Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and Russia have pulled out. At Doha, in what amounts to a mostly symbolic gesture, only the European Union, Australia, Ukraine, Switzerland, and Norway agreed to remain in the treaty that, in any case, covers only 15 percent of the world’s GHG emissions. And instead of binding commitments, each country gets to pick its own emissions targets for 2020. The countries that remain in the rump Kyoto Protocol promised to let the U.N. know what their new emissions reduction commitments (if any) will be next year. As noted, a largely symbolic act. At the Doha climate change conference the delegates from 194 countries spent most of their time squabbling over how much money the rich countries purportedly owe to the poor countries in what amounts to climate change reparations. In addition to the Green Climate Fund, the poor countries want even more money from the rich countries to compensate them for the “loss and damage” caused by climate change. The idea is that the rich countries have loaded up the atmosphere with GHGs that are dangerously warming the atmosphere and provoking all sorts of weather disasters, floods, droughts, hurricanes, storm surges, and so forth. Since the rich countries grew wealthy by destroying the world’s weather, they should pay off the poor whom they have harmed. How much? Another $100 billion annually on top of the $100 billion slated for the Green Climate Fund. For comparison, in 2010 development aid from rich countries to poor countries totaled $128 billion. How to tell if a particular storm or a drought is the result of man-made global warming or would have happened anyway? After all, deadly storms killed hundreds of thousands, floods drowned millions, and tens of millions died in famines caused by drought well before humanity began to boost significantly the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. However, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies researcher James Hansen and his colleagues argued earlier in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that increasing GHG levels have loaded the “climate dice” so that the chances of weather extremes are now much higher now than they were back in the halcyon era between 1951 and 1980. Maybe so. But if a particular heat wave is, say, a degree warmer than a particular region’s average heat wave (whatever that may signify), does that mean that the “loss and damage” attributed to global warming is confined to just that additional one degree above average temperature? And what about the converse case; how might the benefits of extra warming be accounted for? Recent winters in the U.S. have been warmer on average, slashing the home heating bills faced by consumers. Would consumers be obligated to pay the oil, natural gas, and coal companies for beneficent weather and compensate them as well for the loss of business?

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Is West responsible for environmental degradation of the East?

Are developed country policies leading to environmental degradation in developing countries?

The proponents of the weak sustainability model argue that the demand for environmental currency is elastic with high-income. In their opinion, environment is a luxury goods which people demand for improvements in their quality of lives once their other needs are met.  (Pearce and Atkinson, 1993). In other words, environmental entitlements for each individual are better guaranteed in countries with high per-capita incomes. From the visual reality, this seems to be true. Developed countries have clean air, cleaner technology and safer sanitation and waste-disposal systems.  Developing countries, on the other hand, are marked by polluted air, open waste disposal systems, non-existent effluent treatment plants and polluting technology. Developed countries therefore have emerged to be at the vanguard of environment protection whereas poor countries seem to be lagging behind as squanderers of environmental resources. The verdict seems to be loud and clear that it is the developing countries themselves to be blamed for their environmental unsustainability conditions. Developed countries on the other hand have managed their environment well and have also sustained their economic growth. The reality however, is different from what appears to the eye. Some argue that the developed countries are to be significantly blamed for causing environmental unsustainability in developing countries. Developed countries used up a considerable proportion of their environmental resources for their national economic growth processes and are now building up their environmental currency reserves at the cost of their depletion in developing countries.  Ecological footprints of nations are the biologically productive areas necessary to continuously provide their resource supplies and absorb their wastes under the prevailing technology. The available biologically productive area is however not a variable quantity but has an upper value -which is the carrying capacity of the earth.  In other words, the average per-capita productive land area available for human use is limited and is around 1.7 hectare today. The average ecological footprint of the world in 1995 was 2.5 hectare. In comparison, the ecological footprint of US was 9.6 ha (as against its available capacity of 5.5 ha), Japan was 4.2 ha (as against its available capacity of 0.7 ha), and Germany was 4.6 ha (as against its available capacity of 1.9 ha). Developed countries account for much larger footprints as compared to developing countries. Ecological footprint of India is 1 ha (as against its available capacity of 0.5 ha), Argentina has a footprint of 3 ha (as against its available capacity of 4 ha.), and China has an ecological footprint of 1.4 ha (as against its ecological capacity of 0.6 ha). The figures indicate that developed countries have been using up a higher proportion of the earth’s carrying capacity and are also using the carrying capacity available with developing countries to boost their domestic growth. Interdependence of nations, specifically trade, is one of the mechanisms by which the developed countries appropriate carrying capacity from developing countries and are able to increase their own ecological footprints. The case of environmental currency transfer therefore builds up. Over-consumption is one of the key reasons behind the large footprints of developed countries. For example, in 1790 the estimated average daily energy consumption by Americans was 11,000 kcal. By 1980, this increased almost twenty-fold to 210,000 kcal/day (Catton, 1986). The high growth in energy and material consumption in rich countries is reducing the ecological space available to poor countries and is causing transboundary externalities, which are borne by developing countries. For instance, industrial countries produce most of the global warming gases that cause climatic change, and yet, it is the developing countries that are likely to feel the most environmental damaging effects. The densely populated nations of South Asia, East Asia, and West Africa, where millions of people live on vast deltas at or below sea-levels are most vulnerable to rising sea-levels. Further, due to high population and low economic growth, developing countries are not able to effectively soften these detrimental environmental impacts and it leads to cascade form of environmental destruction. Developed countries have always found it much easier to change the policies of the developing countries to make way for their externalities rather than change their own domestic policies to cause less environmental damage. Changing their domestic policies would entail change in production and consumption patterns which is no-debate area. Countries like U.S. would rather have Amazon rainforest cut down to make way for cattle ranches to provide beef in Mc. Donald’s burgers rather than bring about a change in their domestic policies. This positioning of developed countries to look outside their national borders for solution is rigid and has been taken as the starting point for many of the instruments and treaties to protect the environment. For instance, the traditional aid donor concludes that investment in pollution abatement in a developing country is more efficient than undertaking investments for this purpose at home. The analysis of the current patterns of aid and the meek Kyoto Protocol substantiates this. It is an irony that one of the most valuable resource- Environment – essential for human survival continues to be exploited and appropriated by the west even beyond their national borders. Allowing over-consumption and non-payment of environmental debts has become a rigid element of their policies. The world does not lack the financial resources to establish a healthy environment on planet Earth. Over 745 billion dollars gets spent on military costs annually in the world whereas all the environmental problems such as global warming, providing safe and cleaner energy could be provided at 20% of this cost. What is lacking is the attitude and the need to change the resource flow equations and bring about policy changes in domestic arena. National benefits and immediate benefits supersede the need for equitable and inter-temporal sharing of benefits, and developing countries and its future generations are on the receiving end of the short-sighted policies of the west. As premium on environmental resources increase, the developed countries would be at a much powerful position to divest developing countries of all their environmental currency to add to their own reserves.  Eco-imperialism will then get embedded as yet another powerful means to wield global control.  

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Japan is the classical example of how ecological stability is purchased by rich industrialized developed nations:

Japan’s ecological relationship to the Southeast Asian region is a case in point. If there is any country whose population might be said to have outstripped its carrying capacity, it is Japan, a land with scarce natural resources and agricultural endowments. Japan depends on the outside for close to 100% of the key raw materials consumed by its industry. Yet its nearly 130 million people enjoy one of the world’s highest standards of living and an environment more stable than that of many other countries. It is, however, prosperity and ecological stability that has been purchased by displacing the Japanese economy’s resource and environmental costs to Japan’s less prosperous and less powerful neighbors. Japan is the world’s largest consumer of tropical forest products, and it is its insatiable demand rather than local population growth that has been the main cause of rapid deforestation in Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Burma, Cambodia, and Laos. To take one example, the area of the Philippines covered by forests dropped from 50% in 1950 to less than 20% by 1990; and 70% of the timber logged in that country is said to have found its way to Japan. Apart from devouring Southeast Asia’s forests, the Japanese economic machine is now exporting industrial pollution on a massive scale to the region. Highly-polluting resource-processing plants like copper smelters were relocated from Japan to the Philippines and Malaysia in the 1970s. This was followed in the mid-1980s by the large-scale migration of labour-intensive car and electronics assembly plants, along with their components suppliers, to Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia. A third phase of industrial relocation began, with the transfer of pollution-intensive heavy and chemical industries to the region. So Japan has made its environment stable at the cost of degrading environment & depleting natural resources of its neighbors. 

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The figure below shows problems of global environment vis-à-vis developed and developing countries:

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Is environment protection more important than economic growth?

The stem of your question contains a false assumption, i.e. that environmental protection is more important than economic growth. In fact, not only are both important, but they are interdependent. Environmental protection is made possible by the revenues generated by economic growth. Environmental protections must be weighed against the economic costs. This seems unpleasant, but in fact a failure to do so results in less protection than could otherwise be achieved. Resources are finite, and it is best for man and the environment that those resources are concentrated on those measures which provide the maximum benefit for the cost (direct and indirect). The EPA places the value of a human life at about $7.9 million. Macroeconomics tells us that $1 removed from the economy will reduce overall economic activity by about $5. Thus, an environmental measure that costs (direct and indirect) $160 million dollars will likely reduce economic activity by $800 million, and cost approximately 100 human lives. When resources are finite (which is always), we must choose between competing measures. If we fail to take into account the human cost induced by the economic impact, we will choose to implement measures which are more costly than others which might provide as much or more benefit but with a lower human cost. To separate environmental (or other safety measures) from their economic costs results in poor choices, and less overall environmental protection than that which could have been attained with proper economic prioritization.

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Let me begin with largest democracy India vis-à-vis economy environment debate:

The Indian experience:

In the first flush of Independence, the top-most priority of the nation was bringing the light of knowledge and promise of two square meals a day to the ignorant and the starving millions of India. It was necessary to provide water for drinking and irrigation as well as electricity to run the engines of development. Ambitious schemes of hydroelectric power and irrigation dams were launched to obtain affordable power and irrigation for the masses. In the process, the mountainous and forest regions underwent massive upheavals to give way to underground tunnels, huge water reservoirs and long roads. While a very large number of people benefited from the irrigation, drinking water and electricity, substantial population of hill and tribal people, who drew their sustenance from their immediate hilly and forest environment, were displaced and underwent considerable hardship.

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In 57 years, at least 50 million people in India have been displaced by dams, mines, thermal power plants, corridor projects, field firing ranges, express highways, airports, national parks, sanctuaries, industrial townships, even poultry farms. They continue to pay the price for India’s ‘development’. The story of the displaced & suffering of the villagers is shocking and should lead to a comprehensive review of people whose lives have been destroyed in the name of development. Often, the government acquires land for say, a thermal power plant, in the public interest and later hands it over to a private company to build a cement factory. Or it constructs a dam for irrigation but diverts the water of the dam to private industrial zones when the project gets completed. In Maharashtra, a study done by a legislative committee in 2001 found that only about 18% of the water from irrigation projects actually gets used for agriculture. As things stand today, there’s no region in the country where people haven’t been displaced by development projects. And there’s no region in the country where you would find people rehabilitated according to their aspirations and priorities. This is India’s 21’st century catastrophe. A planning and development apocalypse. Where millions pay a price for the benefits of the political and economic elite. Where victims are still, oddly, described as ‘beneficiaries’. Where laws that throw people out are cruel, colonial and arbitrary. Where the policies of rehabilitation give little or no respite to those evicted. Where terms like ‘national’ or ‘public interest’ at once put these laws and policies beyond question.

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Many of these dams, constructed in ecologically fragile areas caused considerable damage to the soil and also created salinity and ravines. Moved by the pitiable plight of the hill and tribal people, some people took up their cause. They launched movements for protecting the interests of these vulnerable people and by implication the cause of protection of the environment .Two of the better known movements are ‘Chipko Andolan’ – preventing cutting of forest trees – and the Narmada Bachao Andolan – the movement to save the people living in the valley of river Narmada from displacement due to the construction of a massive dam. Environmentalists are not opposed to development per-se. They, however, oppose development at any cost. They favour sustainable development, which according to them can be achieved only by preservation and protection of ecological balance, the conservation of forests and the water bodies and the preservation of the flora and the fauna of the country. India is very rich in bio-diversity, which is its potential strength. Environmentalists want it to be preserved. Millions of plant and animal species of the Indian sub-continent should be zealously preserved and protected against extinction. Hybridization may increase the productivity of foodgrains in the short run. It should, however, be monitored and chocked if it is likely to lead to long term fall in overall productivity of soil.

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While the first three decades after independence have been characterised by an unrelenting demand for expansion of irrigation facilities, water supply, chemical fertilizers and electricity for developing agriculture, industry and thereby the general living standards of the masses, the last two decade have witnessed a growing stridency on the part of environmentalists seeking preservation of the flora and fauna and the protection of the ecologically fragile habitations of the hill and tribal people of the mountainous and forest regions. The protagonists of development can naturally depend on the political support and the pressure group of industry and business selling machines and material needed for lining the irrigation channels, energising the tubewells and improving the productivity of agriculture, the environmentalists derive their strength from the poor hill and tribal folk living in a symbiotic relationship with their immediate environment and to some extent from the unorganised and silent citizenry frightened by the hazy but certain prospects of environmental degradation due to denudation of hills, erosion of land and salinity of river basins.

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While many environmentalists hailed the government’s rejection of London-listed Vedanta’s bauxite mining project in Orissa’s Niyamgiri hills, saying the decision was in favour of the poor tribal communities residing there; others contented that, had Vedanta succeeded in making aluminum close to a bauxite source, as it had planned in Orissa, world prices of aluminum could have fallen by half and India could have become an important aluminum producer. The Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment welcomed the environment ministry’s decision, saying that it was appalled at the way that Vedanta had been violating all laws. “This is certainly a decision which goes in favour of the poor and marginalised people of Orissa — a manifestation of ‘environmentalism of the poor’,” it said in a statement. Describing the decision a “great victory for India”, environmentalist Bittu Sehgal said, “This is a victory of common sense as these forests would have been badly affected by the mining, not just the people, but all the lions, elephants, everything.” In contradiction, Tavleen Singh wrote in her column in the Indian Express: “As someone who has actually been to Kalahandi, I would like to state clearly that the Adivasis (tribals) live in such horrible poverty and deprivation that such exalted ideas as cultural heritage are irrelevant. If Vedanta had succeeded in bringing schools, hospitals and employment to Kalahandi, it would have transformed the bleak, hopeless lives of those who live here.” That we need economic development to meet our most pressing challenge of bringing 400-500 million citizens out of poverty and deprivation are unarguable. Take a poll anywhere in India today and if asked to choose, a vast majority of Indians would choose economic development over environmental protection. It’s not necessarily right, but it reflects the priorities as people see it. Wallets will win over the environment for a vast majority.  

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But there is however a school of thought that believes that if we are genuinely concerned about preserving the environment, we must begin by ensuring that India does not make the same mistakes that other countries did when they were developing. The main cause of environmental degradation in India is extreme poverty. It reduces people like the Dongria Kondhs of Niyamgiri to living conditions that are not much better than if they were still living in hunter-gatherer times. In tribal areas where development has failed to reach, often the only means of survival is what they call ‘slash and burn agriculture’. This method involves burning down forests for fuel and food. Only when development brings schools, hospitals, roads and public services, does this horrible practice stop. If the adivasis who live in the Niyamgiri hills were to discover that the bauxite that lies buried under their ‘sacred’ mountain could help them become rich and prosperous, they might not want Vedanta to leave. Tavleen Singh says that instead of banning projects essential to development, perhaps more focus should be spend on developing an environmental policy that would allow development and yet improve the environment. If Vedanta, for instance, needs to cut down trees to mine the bauxite reserves under the Niyamgiri hills, then it must take responsibility for reforestation elsewhere.

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The environment /climate change crisis and development needs of the India’s poor require us to acknowledge the necessity and urgency for both continued growth at the current pace, and rapid greening of this growth strategy. The threat of human-induced climate change poses a serious question to humanity: how can India achieve an all-rounded human development in the future without degrading our environment but are the aims of growth and environmental protection irredeemably incompatible? Thus serious environmental problems such as ecosystem disturbance, climate change, water and air pollution, and rising sea levels can be seen as the unintended consequences of the development process. The recent history of Indian economic growth has largely been achieved at the expense of the environment. Growth enables human development that includes non-income dimensions such as education, health, gender equality and freedom of expression, which are essential for human well-being.  Compared to developed nations, India is much more vulnerable to the effects of climate change due to their low capacity to adapt and their disproportionate dependency on natural resources for welfare. At first glance, it looks like whichever path India chooses it will not be able to attain over all development goals taken-up in our India’s 11th five year plan (2008 – 2013). The resource-intensive model of growth of the past fails not only because of the lack of cheap raw materials, but also because of the earth’s limited capacity to absorb carbon emissions and waste. Since environmental degradation will harm human productivity and welfare, the traditional economic growth pattern cannot be sustainable, and will eventually be self-defeating.

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It is clear that the devastation caused by the flash floods and landslides in Uttarakhand was at least in part due to environmental degradation of fragile mountain slopes and reckless commercialization. It is for this reason that the National Green Tribunal (NGT) summoned the Ministry of Environment and Forest and the state government, to give details of upcoming projects pending clearance in the state and their ecological and environmental impact. On the other hand Bhutan, which is at the eastern end of Himalayas, has a carefully calibrated index of development, where economic needs, culture and environment are all taken into account and it can evidently serve as a role model for India. Dr. Manmohan Singh, the incumbent Prime Minister of India, emphatically stated that environmental concerns must not be taken so far that they end development. Environmental governance shall keep a check on economic development and vice versa. The idea is to strike a perfect balance. There shall emerge no single victor. Developing countries might never advance if environment is given the edge. There shall be equal opportunities for all while ensuring that we do not compromise our future existence. India as a developing country shall accede to implement the policy of sustainable development in all its schemes. Economic growth does entail some degree of environmental damage and India cannot afford to ban exploitation of minerals if it wishes to develop, the only limitation being utilization of natural resources to sustainable levels.  

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Was priority of development over environment caused Uttarakhand tragedy in India in 2013?

On June 16-17, Uttarakhand experienced heavy rainfall of 340-370 millimeters within 24 hours, leading to flash floods. But this was not unprecedented. In recent years, Uttarakhand has recorded single-day rainfall exceeding 400 mm several times, including 450 mm in 1995, and 900 mm in 1965. Cloudbursts, floods and rapid swelling of rivers too are not uncommon.  This time, however, the floodwaters, laden with many tones of silt, boulders and construction debris, found no other outlet than hundreds of villages and towns, and submerged some of their buildings under several feet of mud.  It will take years to roll back the ecological, social, economic and psychological damage including thousands of deaths that wrought by the terrible floods in Uttarakhand, India’s north Himalayan state. The deeper causes of this epic tragedy were man-made, not natural. They include official policies and governance failures: aggressive promotion and runaway growth of tourism; unchecked, unplanned development of roads, hotels, shops, mines and multi-storeyed housing in ecologically fragile areas; and above all, the planned development of scores of environmentally destructive hydroelectricity dams. These ensured that cloudbursts and heavy rainfall, which routinely occur in Uttarakhand, turned into a catastrophe. The worst culprits are hydroelectric dams, which have spread like a rash on Rivers Alaknanda, Mandakini and Bhagirathi and their tributaries. Seventy dams have already been built, including 23 mega-projects generating 100 MW-plus. According to the NGO People’s Science Institute, another 680 dams are in various stages of commissioning, construction or planning. Dams involve drilling huge tunnels in the hills by blasting rocks, placing enormous turbines in the tunnels, cutting forests to build water channels, roads and other infrastructure, and laying transmission lines. Many dams are built on the same river so close to one another that they leave no scope for the river’s regeneration. Hydroelectric dams steal water from people. They cause enormous destruction throughout their lifecycle by mining building materials, dumping debris, and altering the natural course of rivers. Uttarakhand’s 70 dams have led to interference with 640 kilometers of river flows, equivalent to half the length of the state’s major rivers.

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The Bhopal disaster and its aftermath:

On December 3, 1984, more than 40 tons of methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, immediately killing at least 3,800 people and causing significant morbidity and premature death for many thousands more. The company involved in what became the worst industrial accident in history immediately tried to dissociate itself from legal responsibility. Eventually it reached a settlement with the Indian Government through mediation of that country’s Supreme Court and accepted moral responsibility. It paid $470 million in compensation, a relatively small amount of based on significant underestimations of the long-term health consequences of exposure and the number of people exposed. The disaster indicated a need for enforceable international standards for environmental safety, preventative strategies to avoid similar accidents and industrial disaster preparedness.  Since the disaster, India has experienced rapid industrialization. While some positive changes in government policy and behavior of a few industries have taken place, major threats to the environment from rapid and poorly regulated industrial growth remain. Widespread environmental degradation with significant adverse human health consequences continues to occur throughout India.

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How Dahanu epitomizes environment vs. development debate:

A fierce environmental struggle won Dahanu the status of a protected, environmentally-sensitive region in 1991. Situated in the picturesque Sahyadari mountain range in western Maharastra, merely 125 km north of Mumbai, is the serene and sleepy region of Dahanu. Sandwiched between the chemical corridor of Vapi, Gujarat, to the north and the industrialised zones of Palghar-Boisar to the south, Dahanu remains one of the last surviving green zones in this region. Dahanu may have been saved from becoming a toxic hotspot like its neighbour Vapi. Additionally, the legal restrictions on industrialisation may have played some role in protecting the cultural identity and livelihoods of the diverse communities of Dahanu. However, for environmental justice and equitable growth to happen in tandem, much more would need to be done. Efforts to create a parallel economy based on rural tourism are options that need to be urgently explored. The need of the hour is to demonstrate alternative and sustainable forms of development that are economically and ecologically viable. Whether the battle for ecological equity inevitably compromises opportunities for economic development is a question the communities of Dahanu have grappled with for over a decade. While there may be no simple answer, Dahanu’s communities live in a paradoxical reality. Even as the environmental movement has sheltered them from the hazards of unregulated industrialisation, it has been unable to provide an alternative viable reality, while restricting many of the benefits of the modern economy. In other words, when you singularly protect your environment, your economic development suffers and your people remain in lower standard of living.

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Dahanu Thermal Power Station (DTPS):

The ISO certification has been awarded to DTPS (Dahanu Thermal Power Station) for its energy management systems, commitment and endeavors in the field of energy use and environment conservation. ISO 50001:2011 is the new global standard for Energy Management developed by the International Standard Organization. Effective energy management is a priority focus because of the significant potential to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide. The ISO 50001:2011 is awarded to all the organizations and their activities; if they can demonstrate and showcase commitment towards environment, conservation, social accountability and energy management. DTPS is the first power station in India that has received certifications in quality, environment, occupational health & safety, social accountability, IT security and energy management. This 500-MW power plant supplies electricity to Mumbai.  

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How casteism affects environment in India?

India has deeply entrenched caste lines. People of superior castes believe that certain activities should be carried out only by those from the lower strata of the society. Cleaning drains and toilets and picking rags from the streets are expected to be carried out by these people. If these workers go on leave, no individual from the upper echelons of the society would engage himself in such work. Young individuals from lower castes no longer wants to continue with this petty work and want to pursue something that is socially more acceptable. It has widened the demand-and-supply gap resulting in squalid surroundings. If people understand their duties and change their outlook a bit, the problem can be readily solved. As has been practiced in the developed countries for years now, home owners should themselves collect and dump the garbage at the local collection point. They should not look down upon this because keeping’s one’s surroundings clean is not disrespectable. They should also not expect someone else to do this on their behalf just because that person stands lower on the social ladder.

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India is burning–and, in a similar way, it is eroding, melting, drying, silting up, and suffocating. Across the country, rivers and lakes and glaciers are disappearing, underground aquifers being depleted, air quality declining, beaches being swept away. The numbers are astounding. According to a government report, almost half of India’s land suffered from some kind of erosion. Seventy percent of its surface water was polluted. Earlier this year, a study conducted by Yale and Columbia universities concluded that India had the worst air quality in the world. Experts estimate that, if it were quantified, the cost of environmental damage in India would shave anywhere from 2.5 to 4 percent of GDP. The nation’s emerging environmental calamity threatens to overshadow–and undermine–its phenomenal growth.

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India must look at green growth: World Bank report:

According to the assessment done by the authors of the report, the annual cost of environmental degradation in India amounts to about Rs 3.75 trillion ($80 billion) equivalent to 5.7% of GDP. It focuses on particle pollution from the burning of fossil fuels, which has serious health consequences amounting to up to three per cent of India’s GDP along with losses due to lack of access to clean water supply, sanitation and hygiene and natural resources depletion. India can make green growth a reality by putting in place strategies to reduce environmental degradation at the minimal cost of 0.02% to 0.04% of average annual GDP growth rate. According to another World Bank report, this will allow India to maintain a high pace of economic growth without jeopardizing future environmental sustainability.

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From India let me go to China on the same subject:

Is Environmentally Sustainable Economic Growth possible in China?

Ask Chinese officials why their nation’s environment is so toxic; you’ll get a list of scientific-sounding explanations. The population is huge and dense. Arable land per capita is alarmingly sparse. Despite stunning rates of economic growth, many Chinese remain poor and rural, prone to ungreen behaviors such as tossing pollutants and trash into the rivers. But the real question is why China fares poorly in Yale and Columbia’s Environmental Performance Index (it ranks 101st overall, but dead last in its income category). Its weaknesses are legion: air pollution, stifling levels of industrial ozone, poor fishing practices, bad water quality and other ills. The problem is not a lack of good intentions. For years then President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao have been reciting the mantra of sustainable development (and, for good measure, “Green Olympics”). They’ve set serious goals but have yet to institute the tough regulatory reforms needed to achieve them. Enforcement lags and market mechanisms aren’t in place to give industry incentives to adopt green practices. Groundbreaking initiatives—most recently an effort to establish a “Green GDP” to measure the environmental progressiveness of each province—have languished due to lack of cooperation within the government.

China’s environmental headaches run the gamut, but most can be linked to the scorching pace of economic growth. Factories that emit copious amounts of smog, soot and carbon have sprouted quickly and cheaply. Polluting, unsafe coal mines are so busy (and lucrative) that coal czars are loath to curb China’s overriding dependence on coal as an energy source. As a result, China scores poorly on key categories such as water pollution, industrial CO2 emissions and indoor air pollution (which in some cases is linked to the prevalent use of burning coal bricks for warmth during winter). One third of China’s rivers and three quarters of its major lakes are “highly polluted,” according to the OECD, which late last year reported that up to 300 million people drink contaminated water. Some argue that China is able to contain, and to some extent improve, air and water quality for the urban population at the local level. The situation is uneven when it comes to problems at the regional level. On the one hand, surface water quality in the South is improving and particle emissions are stable. On the other hand, nitrogen oxide emissions are increasing rapidly and sulfur oxide emissions have been on the rise until very recently, despite intense official pressure to bring sulfur emissions down. China’s CO2 emissions have grown rapidly in recent years, causing global concern. We hope that future growth in CO2 emissions is likely to be slower and also hope that China shall follow a path similar to the one taken by more industrialized countries.

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Pollute First, Control Later: China follows the west:

Throughout history, no nation has emerged as a major industrial and economic power without inflicting substantial environmental damage.  “Pollute first, control later,” model of economic development has been followed in the past by other countries such as the United States, Japan, and the United Kingdom, but each of these countries was able to effectively address the consequent environmental degradation after their respective economies matured. In recent years China has also followed this trend, but on an entirely unparalleled scale.  As mentioned below, however, China’s situation is unique in that the nation faces the consequences of severe environmental degradation well before economic maturation and as it continues to strive for maximum economic growth. Over the past two decades China has experienced unprecedented economic growth; unfortunately, this torrid growth has also been accompanied by unprecedented environmental degradation. Unlike previous nations that caused environmental damage at a more modest rate on their marches toward economic strength, China has incurred severe environmental costs well before the maturation of its economic development. As such, China is essentially “a teenage smoker with emphysema.” The deterioration of China’s environment has been severe, pervasive, and unrelenting. China is commonly considered to have the worst urban air pollution in the world, and a 2005 World Bank study found that sixteen of the world’s most polluted cities are in China. Only one percent of China’s 560 million urban residents breathe air considered safe by the European Union, and the Chinese Ministry of Health says that pollution has made cancer the leading cause of death in the country. Additionally, 300 million Chinese citizens, approximately the population of the United States, lack access to safe drinking water. Desertification in China has been severe and has led to increased sand and dust storms that travel to South Korea and Japan. Additionally, a significant amount of pollution in the United States can be attributed to China, including more than a quarter of the atmospheric pollution over Los Angeles, California. In fact, environmental experts predict that China will eventually account for one-third of the air pollution in the entire state of California. Environmental accidents have also directly impacted other countries. In the Songhua River case, because the Songhua flows into the Heilong River that eventually becomes Russia’s Amur River, the toxic chemicals ultimately contaminated Russian waters. As China continues to face severe environmental degradation as a side effect of torrid economic growth and rise in population, the Chinese government has promulgated numerous environmental laws over the past few decades to address this critical issue. The efficacy of these laws, however, has been highly questionable. Although the laws themselves—modeled substantially on United States and European environmental laws—are relatively complete and comprehensive, difficulties in implementation and particularly enforcement have led to the continued deterioration of China’s environment. These failures in implementation and enforcement of environmental laws emerge from numerous factors, most notably from the decentralized structure of China’s environmental protection agency, from china’s underdeveloped legal system, and from the country’s insistent prioritization of continued economic growth over environmental protection.

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The relationship between Economic Growth and the Environment:

Will the world be able to sustain economic growth indefinitely without running into resource constraints or despoiling the environment beyond repair? What is the relationship between steadily increasing incomes and environmental quality? Can we sustain economic growth while the environment is continually degraded? Is the environment at the terminal stage? Is salvation just round the bend? We must attend these pertinent and urgent questions, lest we reach the terminal, blind and unwitting.  Scholars are divided on this issue.

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For some social and physical scientists such as Georgescu-Roegen (1971), Meadows et al. (1972), Ehrlich and Holdren (1971), (1974), and Cleveland (1984), higher levels of economic activity (production and consumption) require larger inputs of energy and material, and generate larger quantities of waste byproducts. Increased extraction of natural resources, accumulation of waste, and concentration of pollutants would overwhelm the carrying capacity of the biosphere and result in the degradation of environmental quality and decline in human welfare, despite rising incomes (Daly 1977). Furthermore, it is argued that degradation of the resource base would eventually put economic activity itself at risk (Jansson et al. 1994). To save the environment and even economic activity from itself, economic growth must cease and the world must make a transition to a steady-state economy. At the other extreme, are those who argue that the fastest road to environmental improvement is along the path of economic growth: with higher incomes comes an increased demand for goods and services that are less material-intensive, and for improved environmental quality that leads to the adoption of environmental protection measures. As Beckerman (1992) puts it, “The strong correlation between incomes, and the extent to which environmental protection measures are adopted, demonstrates that in the longer run, the surest way to improve your environment is to become rich,” (quoted by Rothman 1998, pp. 178). Some went as far as claiming that environmental regulation, by reducing economic growth, may actually be reducing environmental quality (Barlett1994). Yet, others (e.g., Shafik and Bandyopadhyay (1992), Panayotou (1993), Grossman and Krueger (1993) and Selden and Song (1994)) have hypothesized that the relationship between economic growth and environmental quality, whether positive or negative, is not fixed along a country’s development path; indeed it may change sign from positive to negative as a country reaches a level of income at which people demand and afford more efficient infrastructure and a cleaner environment. The implied inverted-U relationship between environmental degradation and economic growth came to be known as the “Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC),” by analogy with the income-inequality relationship postulated by Kuznets (1965, 1966) [vide infra]. At low levels of development, both the quantity and the intensity of environmental degradation are limited to the impacts of subsistence economic activity on the resource base and to limited quantities of biodegradable wastes. As agriculture and resource extraction intensifies and industrialization takes off, both resource depletion and waste generation accelerate. At higher levels of development, structural change towards information-based industries and services, more efficient technologies, and increased demand for environmental quality result in leveling-off and a steady decline of environmental degradation (Panayotou1993). The issue of whether environmental degradation (a) increases monotonically, (b) decreases monotonically, or (c) first increases and then declines along a country’s development path, has critical implications for policy. A monotonic increase of environmental degradation with economic growth calls for strict environmental regulations and even limits on economic growth to ensure a sustainable scale of economic activity within the ecological life-support system (Arrow et al. 1995). A monotonic decrease of environmental degradation along a country’s development path suggests that policies that accelerate economic growth lead also to rapid environmental improvements and no explicit environmental policies are needed; indeed, they may be counterproductive if they slow down economic growth and thereby delay environmental improvement. Finally, if the Environmental Kuznets Curve hypothesis is supported by evidence, development policies have the potential of being environmentally benign over the long run, (at high incomes), but they are also capable of significant environmental damage in the short-to-medium run (at low-to-medium-level incomes). In this case, several issues arise: (1) At what level of per capita income is the turning point? (2) How much damage would have taken place by then and can it be reduced? (3) Would any ecological thresholds be violated and irreversible damages take place before environmental degradation turns down, and how can they be avoided? (4) Is environmental improvement at higher income levels automatic, or does it require conscious institutional and policy reforms? and (5) How to accelerate the development process so that poor countries can experience the same improved economic and environmental conditions enjoyed by developed countries?

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There are plenty of studies that suggest that the relationship between economic growth and environmental quality – whether inverse or direct — is not fixed along a country’s development path. Indeed, it may change as a country reaches a level of income at which people can demand and afford a more efficient infrastructure and a cleaner environment. This implied inverted-U relationship between environmental degradation and economic growth came to be known as the “Environmental Kuznets Curve, (EKC)” by analogy with the income-inequality relationship postulated by Kuznets (1965, 1966). The EKC takes after the name of Nobel Laureate Simon Kuznets who had famously hypothesized an inverted ‘U’ income-inequality relationship (Kuznets, 1955). Later economists found this hypothesis analogous to the income-pollution relationship and popularized the phrase Environmental Kuznets Curve.

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Kuznets curve:

Kuznets was a USA economist of Russian extraction. In 1955 he advanced the hypothesis that during the process of industrialization of presently developed nations, income inequality in society initially increased, later ceased to increase and eventually began to decrease (Kuznets, 1955). This sequence was tied up with the gradual process of urbanization. A Kuznets curve is the graphical representation of Simon Kuznets’ hypothesis that as a country develops, there is a natural cycle of economic inequality driven by market forces which at first increases inequality, and then decreases it after a certain average income is attained. Overall then, Kuznets postulated that over time during the development of modern industrial economies, income inequality first rose, then leveled off and subsequently declined. However, this change must be viewed against the background of overall economic growth and the fact that average per capita income rose over time (except during catastrophic periods such as wars). So that if one plots income inequality against per capita income one gets a bell shaped, or inverted U-shaped curve.

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Original kuznets curve:

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Transition from income inequality to environmental degradation vis-à-vis economic growth:

In 1991, the Kuznets Curve took on a new existence. It became a vehicle for describing the relationship between measured levels of environmental quality, such as the concentration of sulfur dioxide emissions, and related measures of per capita income, across time. During the 1990s several workers found evidence suggesting that with some indicators of environmental degradation (mainly indicators of atmospheric pollution), in the early stages of economic growth (with average income rising from a low level) environmental degradation increases, but at some stage in economic growth (at some income level) pollution ceases to increase and subsequently decreases. As economists were able to marshal data on the environment for larger samples of countries and income levels, evidence began to mount that as countries develop, certain measures of the quality of life might initially deteriorate but then improve. Specifically, there is evidence that the level of environmental degradation and conventionally measured per capita income follows the same inverted-U-shaped relationship as does income inequality and per capita income in the original Kuznets curve. Graphically, this relationship shows an inverted U-shaped curve when degradation per capita (y axis) is plotted against GDP per capita (x axis). The resemblance of this relationship to the one studied by Kuznets led to the curve being named the Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC). Generalizing to total environmental degradation, the hypothesis was born that environmental quality deteriorates in the early stages of economic growth but improves at later stages; further, there is a causal connection between economic growth (usually measured by income per capita) and this pathway of change of environmental quality. The hypothesis was named the EKC hypothesis.

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At low levels of development, both the quantity and the intensity of environmental degradation are limited to the impacts of subsistence economic activity on the resource base and to limited quantities of biodegradable wastes. As agriculture and resource extraction intensifies and industrialization takes off, both resource depletion and waste generation accelerate. At higher levels of development, structural change towards information-based industries and services, more efficient technologies, and increased demand for environmental quality result in leveling-off and a steady decline of environmental degradation, as seen in the figure below.

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The Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC) hypothesis postulates an inverted-U-shaped relationship between different pollutants and per capita income, i.e., environmental pressure increases up to a certain level as income goes up; after that, it decreases. An EKC actually reveals how a technically specified measurement of environmental quality changes as the fortunes of a country change. A sizeable literature on EKC has grown in recent period. The common point of all the studies is the assertion that the environmental quality deteriorates at the early stages of economic development/growth and subsequently improves at the later stages. In other words, environmental pressure increases faster than income at early stages of development and slows down relative to GDP growth at higher income levels.

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Researchers in a study examined various environmental indicators and level of country’s per capita income. The study covered 4 types of indicators:

1. Concentration of urban air pollution

2. Measures of the state of oxygen regime in regime in river basins

3. Concentrations of fecal contaminants in river basins

4. Concentration of heavy metals in river basins

Researchers found no evidence that environmental quality deteriorates steadily with economic growth. Rather, for most indicators, economic growth brings an initial phase of environmental deterioration followed by a subsequent phase of improvement.  The turning points of different pollutants vary, but in most cases they come before a country reaches per capita income of 8000 $. 

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The logic of EKC relation is intuitively appealing. In the first stage of industrialization, pollution grows rapidly because high priority is given to increase material output, and people are more interested in jobs and income than clean air and water (Dasgupta et al., 2002). The rapid growth inevitably results in greater use of natural resources and emission of pollutants, which in turn put more pressure on environment. People are too poor to pay for abatement, and/or disregard environmental consequences of growth. In later stage of industrialization, as income rises, people value the environment more, regulatory institutions become more effective and pollution level declines. Thus, EKC hypothesis posits a well-defined relationship between level of economic activity and environmental pressure (defined as the level of concentration of pollution or flow of emissions, depletion of resources, etc.). An Environmental Kuznets Curve reveals how a technically specified measurement of environmental quality changes as the fortunes of a country or a large human community change. In brief, Environmental Kuznets Curves are statistical artifacts that summarize a few important aspects of collective human behavior in two-dimensional space.

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Panayotou (2003) suggests the following 3 reasons for the inversion of pollution.

1. The turning point for pollution is the result of more affluent and progressive communities placing greater value on the cleaner environment and thus putting into place institutional and non-institutional measures to affect this.

2. Pollution increases at the early phase of a country’s industrialization due to the setting up of rudimentary, inefficient and polluting industries. When industrialization is sufficiently advanced, service industries will gain prominence. This will reduce pollution further.

3. When a country begins industrialization, the scale effect will take place and pollution increases. Further along the trajectory, firms switching to less-polluting industries results in the composition effect, which levels the rate of pollution. Finally, the technique effect comes into play when mature companies invest in pollution abatement equipment and technology, which reduces pollution.

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The figure below depicts various stages of economic development vis-à-vis environmental degradation:

 

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The EKC results have shown that economic growth could be compatible with environmental improvement if appropriate policies are taken. It is a significant condition that only when income grows, the effective environmental policies can be implemented.

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Criticisms of kuznets curve:

Despite concerns over adequacy of data sources and criticisms of methodology, it is generally agreed that an inverted U-shaped relationship (the EKC) between economic growth, usually measured as per capita GDP, and some indicators of environmental quality has been found. And the causes of this EKC have been largely unraveled. To some extent, technological improvements, and shifts in relative importance of sectors of the economy, especially the movement away from energy intensive manufacturing industries to service industries (composition effects), which have been normal elements of economic growth, have been causal factors. Economic growth then has been a causal factor of the EKC. But economic growth per se does not alone produce the EKC. Combinations of other factors seem to be essential for the EKC to develop. These include various aspects of a country’s environmental regulatory system, including standards, implementation and enforcement mechanisms, and associated institutions. Property rights also are important. A high general administrative, political, scientific and technical capability seems also to be a hallmark of countries where the EKC relationship has developed. The impact of economic development on the environment is clearly complex in nature. It is important to note, however, that whilst economic growth may facilitate some environmental improvements, this is not an automatic process and will only result from investment and policy initiatives.  On the other hand, and although the evidence is somewhat conflicting, corruption, a high degree of income inequality, low level of literacy, lack of political rights and civil liberties, may impede the development of the EKC relationship.

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Environmental indicators that have shown the EKC relationship are primarily pollutants, especially air quality indicators. And these are primarily pollutants which have a direct effect on human health rather than pollutants that have little direct impact on health. Some water quality indicators have shown the EKC, but for some others an N-shaped rather than an inverted U-shaped relationship has been detected. Leaving aside pollutants and water quality indicators, a wide variety of other environmental indicators do not show evidence of the EKC. Environmental problems having a direct impact on human health, such as access to urban sanitation and clean water, usually tend to improve steadily with economic growth, according to Dinda (2004), who also observes however, that when environmental problems can be externalized, as with municipal solid wastes, improvement may not occur even at high income levels. It is when we come to look at indicators of resource use that we especially find a dearth of evidence for the EKC. Perhaps the most studied resource is forests, and here the evidence on deforestation is conflicting, although it seems likely that the EKC relationship may have been found in some parts of the world. If we are interested in the global significance of EKCs, it is worth remembering that the existence of an EKC demonstrated on data from individual countries, does not necessarily mean that the beneficial effect for the particular indicator concerned applies to global levels of environmental degradation, i.e. does not necessarily imply global benefit. For it does seem to be generally agreed that there is at least some truth in the Pollution Haven Hypothesis (PHH). However, since opinions seem still to be divided on the significance of the PHH, one should perhaps not stress its possible significance.

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Studies contradicting EKC:

The evidence presented in a paper show that the statistical analysis on which the environmental Kuznets curve is based is not robust. There is little evidence for a common inverted U-shaped pathway that countries follow as their income rises. There may be an inverted U shaped relation between urban ambient concentrations of some pollutants and income though this should be tested with more rigorous time-series or panel data methods. It seems unlikely that the EKC is an adequate model of emissions or concentrations. The researcher concurs with Copeland and Taylor (2004), who state that: ‘‘our review of both the theoretical and empirical work on the EKC leads us to be skeptical about the existence of a simple and predictable relationship between pollution and per capita income.’’ The EKC proposes that indicators of environmental degradation first rise, and then fall with increasing income per capita. Recent evidence shows however, that developing countries are addressing environmental issues, sometimes adopting developed country standards with a short time lag and sometimes performing better than some wealthy countries, and that the EKC results have a very flimsy statistical foundation.

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Another study revealed that while income appears to have a beneficial effect on pollution measures, it has a detrimental effect on most eco-efficiency measures of environmental sustainability, ceteris paribus. This suggests that the Environmental Kuznets Curve needs to be renamed as the “Pollution” Kuznets Curve in order to give correct impression that not all environmental measures but only pollution measures may improve with income. This also suggests that while conventional policies focus more on pollution control, they need to be combined with policy options focusing on eco-efficiency aspects of environmental sustainability in the process of economic development. Otherwise, economic growth will continue to degrade environmental sustainability in most countries.

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Limit to economical growth approach:

Global economic growth – in its current form – cannot continue if nations are serious about curbing climate change, says Andrew Simms. He warns that the consumer society cannot “have its planet and eat it”. From birth until it reaches sexual maturity at about six weeks, a hamster doubles its weight each week. If, instead of leveling-off in maturity, it carried on growing – continuing to double its weight each week – we would be facing a nine-billion-tone hamster on its first birthday. If it kept eating at the same ratio of food to bodyweight, the hamster’s daily intake would be greater than the total, annual amount of maize produced worldwide. In nature, there is a reason why things do not grow indefinitely. Yet the entire canon of mainstream contemporary economics seems to believe that economics exists independent of the laws of biology, chemistry and physics. It assumes, without exception, that infinite economic growth on a finite planet is both desirable and possible. For example, a group of researchers in 1972 used an early computer model to compare available natural resources with rates of human consumption. Their “world model” was published as the famous Limits to Growth report. Back then, much less data and processing power were available. As a result, for some it acted as a wake-up call, but many others mocked it and used the report to brand the wider environmental movement as alarmist. In 2008, a physicist called Graham Turner decided to look again at the controversial report. He compared its original projections with 30 years’ worth of subsequent observed trends. Amazingly, given the available technology and data, he concluded that they “compared favourably”. The authors of Limits to Growth had been broadly right all along.  We shouldn’t be surprised. At what point, and on what basis, did consumer society ever truly believe that it could have its planet and eat it? Jared Diamond’s book Collapse tells the history of societies throughout history that fell by overshooting their environmental life support systems. He charts how wealth too often comes at the expense of liquidating natural capital and how, in environmental terms, “an impressive-looking bank account may conceal a negative cash flow”. Based on the leading models for climate change and the global economy’s use of fossil fuels, the report – called Growth Isn’t Possible – comes to a seemingly inescapable and self-explanatory conclusion. In a unique study, published in the science journal Nature in September 2009, a group of 29 leading international scientists identified nine processes in the biosphere for which they considered it necessary to “define planetary boundaries”.  Of the nine, three boundaries had already been transgressed: climate change, interference in the nitrogen cycle, and biodiversity loss. Assuming that humanity does not deliberately wish to destroy its own foundations, and with so much science and sophisticated monitoring available, why is this happening?  For all the promise of magic bullet technologies, continual growth drowns out energy and natural resource efficiency gains.  Even efficiency gains themselves do not necessarily reduce consumption. Counter-intuitively, greater energy efficiency tends to reduce costs and drive up overall consumption. There is a growing awareness too that, at least where rich countries are concerned, the downside of growth comes with very little or no upside.  For most of these nations, the link between rising GDP and higher life satisfaction broke down decades ago. Lord Adair Turner, chairman of both the UK Financial Services Authority and the UK Climate Change Committee, recently described the pursuit of endless rich country growth a “false god”.  Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said GDP growth was “proving to be an extremely harmful way of measuring economic progress”.

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Environmentalists Winin Pereira and Jeremy Seabrook (1991) also dispute the idea that high living standards, which they define as ‘the widespread consumption of large volumes of goods and services,’ can be sustained. No matter how much recycling and reuse occurs, the energy component in all manufactured goods and services cannot be recycled and inevitably creates pollution. They say: ‘Economic growth can be made compatible with environmental enhancement only if the emission of pollution is less than that which can be assimilated and transformed by the natural environment. In order that resources may be conserved, all articles must be manufactured so as to be fully recyclable. Further, they must be manufactured, transported, used, and recycled with energy from renewable sources only.’  However, complete recycling is not possible, since some materials are always lost through wear and tear, and corrosion. Moreover, Trainer claims that even if pollution generated by manufacturing could be cut by 30 percent, while manufacturing grew at 3 percent per year, the gains would be lost in 13 years — and there would be twice as much pollution as we started with in 23 years’ time. At this rate of growth (3 percent), Australia would be producing eight times as many goods in 2050 as it is now. Limits to growth advocates argued that economic growth in general needed to be curbed whilst sustainable developers argue that economic growth should continue everywhere. What neither advocates nor opponents of economic growth seem to recognise is that economic growth in a particular country can be beneficial up to a point, beyond which the disadvantages begin outweighing the advantages.

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But critics argued that even if notional limits were identifiable they could be extended through scientific and technological innovation and that economic growth was necessary to finance and motivate such innovation. The focus of early limits to growth writings on the depletion of resources such as oil and minerals, left them particularly open to this criticism and the lack of global shortages in subsequent years served more than anything else to discredit their arguments. Also the limits to growth advocates neglected to consider the social implications of no-growth policies and the social imperatives behind economic growth. Economic growth provided increasing living standards for many people in affluent countries and it was seen to be necessary to provide similar benefits for the remaining poor in those countries and for the populations of developing nations. Those who argued for limits to growth were accused of being elitist and of emphasizing the environment at the expense of the quality of human life. Many did not differentiate between economic growth in affluent countries and economic growth in developing countries. Nor did they recognise that population growth in affluent countries could be far more environmentally damaging than population growth in poorer countries where resource use per person was low. 

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Contrary to the concept of limit to growth approach is the concept of sustainable development. The limits-to-growth model has been replaced with the sustainable development model, and the ’gloom and doom’ scenario has been replaced with ‘win-win’ solutions. Sustainable development seeks to make the competing goals of economic growth and environmental protection compatible. Is this possible? And does it represent an eclipse of the ethical and political dimensions of environmental problems by economic interests and priorities?

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Environmental sustainability: 

Environmental sustainability is the process of making sure current processes of interaction with the environment are pursued with the idea of keeping the environment as pristine as naturally possible based on ideal-seeking behavior. Thus, environmental sustainability demands that society designs activities to meet human needs while indefinitely preserving the life support systems of the planet. This, for example, entails using water sustainably, only utilizing renewable energy, and sustainable material supplies (e.g. harvesting wood from forests at a rate that maintains the biomass and biodiversity). An “unsustainable situation” occurs when natural capital (the sum total of nature’s resources) is used up faster than it can be replenished. Sustainability requires that human activity only uses nature’s resources at a rate at which they can be replenished naturally. Inherently the concept of sustainable development is intertwined with the concept of carrying capacity. Theoretically, the long-term result of environmental degradation is the inability to sustain human life. Such degradation on a global scale should imply extinction for humanity.

Consumption of renewable resources State of environment Sustainability
Moe than nature’s ability to replenish Environmental degradation Not sustainable
Equal to nature’s ability to replenish Environmental equilibrium Steady state economy
Less than nature’s ability to replenish Environmental renewal Environmentally sustainable

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Sustainable development (SD):

Sustainable development is defined as a development which meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of nature generations to meet their own needs. The concept of sustainable development includes: The idea of cost effective development which neither impairs the environment nor restrains productivity in the long run; Reducing the exploitation of non- renewable resource and expanding the use of renewable ones; Shifting to a greater local control over resources and their use by providing for greater decentralization and more local decision making and directing economic activities to the micro-level in order to reach indigenous and poor social groups. Sustainable development does not mean stopping economic growth. Ecological concepts can be combined with economic progress.

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Sustainable development refers to a mode of human development in which resource use aims to meet human needs while ensuring the sustainability of natural systems and the environment, so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for generations to come. The term ‘sustainable development’ was used by the Brundtland Commission, which coined what has become the most often-quoted definition of sustainable development: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

It has two key concepts:

1. The concept of ‘needs’, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and

2. The idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs.  

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Sustainable development has become one of the “buzz words” and strongest leitmotivs of modern politics, economics and media; it’s seen as the way that we simultaneously promote economical growth and technological progress while safeguarding our planets natural resources. And the reason the concept has gained so much traction within organizations that traditionally wouldn’t buy-in to the economic space is because nations (particularly the likes of the US and the EU) have started to understand the economic opportunity sustainable development (in the form of green technology and environmental services) present for future economic growth and, simultaneously, the economic cost of inaction in the form of the growing cost of correcting negative externalities from traditional development methods.

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In 1982, the British Government began using the term ‘sustainability’ to refer to sustainable economic expansion rather than the sustainable use of resources. In the mid-1980s the World Commission on Environment and Development popularized the term ‘sustainable development’ in its Brundtland Report (1990). The Commission defined sustainable development as: ‘Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ In October 1987, the goal of sustainable development was largely accepted by the governments of 100 nations and approved by the UN General Assembly.  Sustainable development recognizes that economic growth can harm the environment but argues that it does not need to. This new formulation of the term ‘sustainability’ still offends more radical environmentalists. The term ‘sustainable’ from the ecological point of view means the maintenance of the integrity of the ecology. It means a harmonious relation between humanity and nature, that is, harmony in the interaction between individual human beings and in their interaction with natural resources.  ‘The term ‘sustainable’ from the point of view of non-ecological elites means ‘how to continue to sustain the supply of raw materials when the existing sources of raw materials run out’. (1990, p. 16) However, for more conservative environmentalists and for economists, politicians, business people and others, the concept of sustainable development offers the opportunity to overcome previous differences and conflicts, and to work together towards achieving common goals rather than confronting each other over whether economic growth should be encouraged or discouraged.

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Sustainable development means that the needs of the present generation should be met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainability is the key to preventing or reducing the effect of environmental issues. Environmental sustainability is the process of making sure current processes of interaction with the environment are pursued with the idea of keeping the environment as pristine as naturally possible based on ideal-seeking behavior. Ecosystems are dynamic interactions between plants, animals, and microorganisms and their environment working together as a functional unit. Ecosystems will fail if they do not remain in balance. No community can carry more organisms than its food, water, and shelter can accommodate. Food and territory are often balanced by natural phenomena such as fire, disease, and the number of predators. Each organism has its own niche, or role, to play. The environment of our planet is degrading at an alarming rate because of non-sustainable urbanization, industrialization and agriculture. Our air, water, land and food are polluted. Pollution rate has exceeded the manageable capacity of nature at many places. Almost 50% of the land is eroded and robbed of its fertility. The extent of damage done to the world’s biological diversity and ecosystem cannot be assessed. Our renewable and non-renewable resources are being alarmingly exhausted due to increasing population pressure posing difficulty to manage threat to future generation. Environmental issues are receiving utmost attention and have been debated at various international forums e.g. the first Earth Summit held in Stockholm, Sweden in June 1972; the second one in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992. The European Council in Göteborg (2001) adopted the first EU Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS). This was complemented by an external dimension in 2002 by the European Council in Barcelona in view of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg (2002), the Montreal and Kyoto Protocols etc. The European Council of June 2006 adopted an ambitious and comprehensive renewed Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS) for an enlarged EU. The European Commission adopted in October 2007 the first progress report on the Sustainable Development Strategy and in July 2009 reviews of EU SDS. Declarations of far reaching consequences were made at these summits. But current approaches in environmental protection have shifted from the end of pipe mitigation to zero emission strategies and to 3 R’s: reduce, reuse and recycle waste. Every nation desires economic growth, and at the same time it craves for eco-conservation and sustainable development. Administrative authorities are required to frame plans, programs and policies for a better scientific and technological development of production, distribution and consumption processes with sustainability. Green technology concepts are emerging as the future strategy for environmental management. It has become a challenge for scientists to devise remedial measures to control pollution levels and safeguard the future.

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Sustainable development is not about giving priority to environmental concerns: it is about incorporating environmental assets into the economic system to ensure its reproduction. Sustainable development encompasses the idea that the loss of environmental values can be compensated for by wealth creation; that putting a price on the environment will help us protect it unless degrading it is more profitable; that the “free” market is the best way of allocating environmental resources; that businesses should base their decisions about polluting behaviour on economic considerations and the quest for profit; that economic growth is necessary for environmental protection and therefore should take priority over it. “Sustainable development” involves a cooption of the term “sustainability” which once represented ideas of stability, equilibrium and harmony with nature.

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Economic growth will remain the basis for human development, but it must change and become less environmentally destructive. The challenge of sustainable development is to put this understanding into practice, changing our unsustainable ways into more sustainable ones. The aim of sustainable development is to balance our economic, environmental and social needs, allowing prosperity for now and future generations. Sustainable development consists of a long-term, integrated approach to developing and achieving a healthy community by jointly addressing economic, environmental, and social issues, whilst avoiding the over consumption of key natural resources. Sustainable development encourages us to conserve and enhance our resource base, by gradually changing the ways in which we develop and use technologies. Countries must be allowed to meet their basic needs of employment, food, energy, water and sanitation. If this is to be done in a sustainable manner, then there is a definite need for a sustainable level of population. Economic growth should be supported and developing nations should be allowed a growth of equal quality to the developed nations. 

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The Critical Triangle of Development:

 

The figure above shows three pillars of sustainability. Economy is a system developed by society that governs the goods and services used to fulfill needs. The goods and services required are sourced from the environment in which society lives. This figure demonstrates that society and the economy that governs it are both smaller subsets of the environment which supports both. The interaction between these systems is evident.

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Sustainable development can best be visualized in the ‘critical triangle’ of development, with three Es: environment (ecological development), equity (social development) and economic development. Economic development has to do with creation of material wealth (goods and services) to meet the human basic needs. Sustainable development should also guarantee inter and intra generation equality with respect to meeting all basic needs. Ecological development means protection and conservation of our natural resources. These three are inter-dependent and mutually reinforcing components of SD. It is certain that, with one fifth of humanity living in dire poverty, and many more in conditions of acute insecurity, the needs of the present generation are not being met.

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The above approach is challenged to the extent that it treats the economy as the master domain, or as a domain that exists outside of the social; it treats the environment as a world of natural metrics; and it treats the social as a miscellaneous collection of extra things that do not fit into the economic or environmental domains. In the alternative Circles of Sustainability approach, the economic domain is defined as the practices and meanings associated with the production, use, and management of resources, where the concept of ‘resources’ is used in the broadest sense of that word.

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Although sustainable development means many different things to different people, sustainable development generally refers to sustainability in terms of environmental, economic, and social progress and equity, all interconnected and operating within the limits of natural resources. At the heart of such development is the goal of a healthy and harmonious relationship between humans and natural resources, such that the latter can continue to provide for future generations of the former. Among the most important resources that must be sustained are energy resources. Alternative and renewable energy sources, particularly clean energy sources, are necessary components of any plan of sustainable development. Such sources include biofuels, geothermal power, solar power, wind power, and wave power. In the short term, any technology that improves energy efficiency may be considered a component of the transition to sustainable energy practices. Biofuels in particular can be produced from almost any organic carbon source (Adkin, 1998). However, most biofuels are produced using plants and plant derived materials. The first generation of biofuels includes vegetable oils, biodiesel, bioalcohols, and solid biofuels such as wood, grass cuttings, domestic refuse, and dried manure. The most common use of these substances is as liquid fuel for transportation. Two common strategies are employed to produce biofuels: Sugar and starchy crops are used to produce ethanol through yeast fermentation, while natural plant oils, such as canola, soybean, and palm oils, are extracted and processed for use as biodiesel. Production of first-generation biofuels is highly controversial, because it requires direct use of grains and takes away land from growing food crops, exacerbating world hunger. Moreover, biofuel crops, particularly corn, are extremely hard on soil, making them among the least sustainable crops in the world. The low energy efficiency of such crops is also cause for concern. As a result of these factors and related debates, technologies are being developed for second- and third-generation biofuels. Second-generation biofuels will be produced using cellulosic biomass, which is theoretically capable of much greater energy efficiency than is corn, as well as a variety of nonfood crops. Third-generation biofuel is also called algae fuel or oilgae, and it will be derived from low input/high yield algae (which produces thirty times more energy per unit of area than do land crops).

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In general, sustainable economic development improves the economy without undermining society or the environment. There are various definitions of sustainable business or economic development from different sources, most of which share many common characteristics. According to the Lowell Center for Sustainable Development, Sustainable Production is the creation of goods and services using processes and systems that are: nonpolluting; conserving of energy and natural resources; economically efficient; safe and healthful for workers, communities, and consumers; and, socially and creatively rewarding for all working people. By and large, current societies and socioeconomic practices are unsustainable. As a result, future generations will have a poorer, more polluted world to live in. Everyone depends on nature and ecosystem services for the resources necessary to live decent, healthy, and sustainable lives, including clean air, drinkable water, nutritious food, clothing, shelter, and so forth. Human activities in recent decades have pushed the Earth to the brink of massive species extinctions, threatening humanity’s well-being. While the Industrial Revolution and technological advancement have served to improve the living standards of millions, the associated environmental degradation remains a heavy price.

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Incorporating the Environment into the Economic System:

The sustainable development approach claims to be able to avoid the environmental degradation that has previously accompanied economic growth by integrating economic and environmental decisions. For most governments this means incorporating the environment into the economic system. David Pearce and his colleagues, in their report on sustainable development to Margaret Thatcher, then British Prime Minister, said that the principles of sustainable development meant recognizing that ‘resources and environments serve economic functions and have positive economic value.’ As a component of the economic system, the environment is seen to provide raw materials for production and to be a receptacle for its wastes.

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The natural environment is an important component of the economic system, and without the natural environment the economic system will not be able to function. Hence, in recent years economists have started treating the natural environment in the same way as they treat labor and capital as an asset and a resource. According to environmental economists, environmental degradation is the result of the failure of the market system to put the deserving value on the environment, even though the environment serves economic functions and provides economic and other benefits. It is argued that, because environmental assets are free or under-priced, they tend to be overused and abused, resulting in environmental damage. The solution offered to the above problem is to put a price on the environment so that it can be incorporated into the economic system and taken seriously by those who make decisions. The incorporation of the environment into the economic system ensures that it will only be protected to the extent necessary to ensure it is able to continue to supply goods and services to the economic system. Sustainable development therefore represents a willingness to put up with a declining environmental amenity so long as human welfare in total is being enhanced. However one of the major problems in putting a price on the environment is that it is highly objected by many as it is similar to putting a price tag on your family and friendship. Another problem with valuing the environment is that the preferences of future generations and other species are not taken into account.

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Development can be conceptualized as the manipulation of factors of production to generate goods and services to satisfy human needs and even wants. The four traditional factors of production (land, labour, capital and entrepreneurship) are part and parcel of the environment. There are five different yet inter-connected and inter related environmental components seen as critical in economic growth and development.

 SD=f (NC, FC, HC, SC, PC)

Where SD is sustainable development and natural capital (NC) comprises of nature’s ‘free goods’ such as land, water, climate (Natural resources). Financial Capital (FC) comprises of stocks of readily available money for investment. Human capital (HC) includes all that goes into the improvement of the status and quality of humans’ lives such technical skills, education, and medical care. Social capital (SC) includes all that that enhances people’s propensity to cooperate, wok together and network, and the benefits accruing from such. Physical capital (PC) comprises of all forms of infra- structural and technological development by humans in the pursuit of development.

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Criticism of sustainable development:

The proponents of the de-growth reckon that the term of sustainable development is an oxymoron. According to them, on a planet where 20% of the population consumes 80% of the natural resources, a sustainable development cannot be possible for this 20%: According to the origin of the concept of sustainable development, a development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, the right term for the developed countries should be a sustainable de-growth. For several decades, theorists of steady state economy and ecological economy have been positing that reduction in population growth or even negative population growth is required for the human community not to destroy its planetary support systems, i.e., to date, increases in efficiency of production and consumption have not been sufficient, when applied to existing trends in population and resource depletion and waste by-production, to allow for projections of future sustainability.

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What is better, limit to growth approach or sustainable development?

Both the Limits to Growth approach and the Sustainable Development approach have neglected the ethical and political dimensions. The limits to growth advocates of the 1960s and 70s tended to avoid the social implications of aborting economic growth in low-income countries and the issue of which nations were responsible for most resource use.  The sustainable development advocates of the present similarly want to avoid the ethical issues by falling back on economic calculus to make decisions as if values can be determined by doing the sums correctly. They also avoid the distributional issues by advocating economic growth for all in the hope that this will solve the problem of equity.  On top of this the sustainable development approach makes further environmental degradation inevitable. It is apparent there is a need to go beyond these two failed approaches and find a third one which embraces the ethical dimension. This will involve getting beyond the current preoccupation of governments with economic growth as the overriding priority for all nations at all times. Our endeavors need to be focused on new ways of achieving a reasonable level of comfort in all nations, without the environmental damage normally associated with economic development. We need to find ways of ensuring the fruits of this development are more evenly distributed within populations. This cannot be done if decision-making is based on the premise that any development that provides a net monetary benefit to a nation should be approved. Even if the calculation of the benefit incorporates measures of environmental damage, environmental amenity is likely to decline and equity issues will still be ignored. We need new forms of social decision-making that integrate the ethical dimension – neither limits to growth nor sustainable development offer the answers.  

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Environmental economics and ecological economics:

Environmental economics is a branch of economics concerned with environmental issues. Environmental economics involves theoretical and empirical studies of the economic effects of national or local environmental policies around the world. Particular issues in environmental economics include the costs and benefits of alternative environmental policies to deal with air and water pollution, toxic substances, solid waste, and global warming. Thus environmental economics addresses environmental problems and valuation of nonmarket environmental services. In general, environmental economics focuses on efficient allocation and accepts the assumption of neoclassical economics that the economic system is the whole and not a subsystem of the global ecosystem. Central to environmental economics is the concept of market failure. Market failure means that markets fail to allocate resources efficiently. Environmental economics is related to ecological economics but there are differences. Most environmental economists have been trained as economists. They apply the tools of economics to address environmental problems, many of which are related to so-called market failures—circumstances wherein the “invisible hand” of economics is unreliable. Most ecological economists have been trained as ecologists, but have expanded the scope of their work to consider the impacts of humans and their economic activity on ecological systems and services, and vice-versa. This field takes as its premise that economics is a strict subfield of ecology. Ecological economics is sometimes described as taking a more pluralistic approach to environmental problems and focuses more explicitly on long-term environmental sustainability and issues of scale. Environmental economics is viewed as more pragmatic in a price system; ecological economics as more idealistic in its attempts not to use money as a primary arbiter of decisions. These two groups of specialists sometimes have conflicting views which may be traced to the different philosophical underpinnings.   

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There are two broad perspectives on how to measure environmental problems and how to better (quantifiably) understand the relations between economies and the environment. The environmental economics maintains that we have to avoid decline in future production, income, and consumption to ensure economies and people survive. According to this perspective, the problem has been that the market, which is the mechanism that distributes resources across society, has so far considered nature to be “free” for the taking, so that the costs to nature and to society that arise from economic activities are not taken into account by those who generate them. For example, the cost of logging one tree is not directly dependent on how quickly the same type of tree can re-grow if replanted. Thus, the cost of depriving society of the future availability of that tree is not accounted for in the extraction. Also, emissions like pollution have costs for the general health of the population, even though companies and consumers pollute “for free”. Finally, nature and biodiversity provide many ecosystem services that nourish people and the planet, such as providing clean air, water and cultural and economic sustenance to communities who rely on them for their ways of life. These extra services are not usually taken into account when decisions like chopping down forests for the market value of timber are made by policy makers. For example, a forest’s ability to clean the air could then be calculated by how much it would cost for society to clean that air by other means. Therefore, the recommendation of environmental economics is to create markets for environmental goods and services so that there will be a monetary price for overusing resources or emitting waste and pollution. As a consequence of this more “complete” price, supply and demand will work in a way that unsustainable practices and products will become more expensive and thus will be significantly reduced, while sustainability will be incentivized. For instance, if a gas guzzling 4×4 costs a million dollars and a more sustainable electric smart car costs a more affordable $5,000, many more people would buy the latter, thus helping to curb pollution.

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Ecological economics, on the other hand, believes that the current environmental situation is too critical for us to rely on market mechanisms to solve it, because markets and economies have simply “appropriated” nature. Thus, what is needed is a deeper sustainability that involves actually reducing the size of economies and relying on a much smaller quantity of materials to function, thus taking less from nature and emitting less waste into it. Ecological economics is not against economic growth or managing financial incentives, but it attempts to calculate how much growth we can actually attain while being sustainable. Ecological economics is referred to as both a transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary field of academic research that aims to address the interdependence and coevolution of human economies and natural ecosystems over time and space. It is distinguished from environmental economics, which is the mainstream economic analysis of the environment, by its treatment of the economy as a subsystem of the ecosystem and its emphasis upon preserving natural capital.  One survey of German economists found that ecological and environmental economics are different schools of economic thought, with ecological economists emphasizing strong sustainability and rejecting the proposition that natural capital can be substituted by human-made capital. Here arises the conflict with environmental economics, since those calculations may lead to policies that support negative economic growth. The way ecological economics measures these economic limits is not by attaching prices to the environment, but through physical measures of extraction and emissions, such as calculating how many metric tons of CO2 we can emit without reaching a catastrophic tipping point that causes irreversible climate change or how much timber we can extract without crossing the line after which forests cannot recover. Therefore, their strategy is more radical than that of environmental economics: Depending on the analysis, certain activities will have to be banned rather that just “disincentivized”. If for some reason economies still manage to sell a lot of guzzling 4x4s that cost a million dollars each—sales that would be great for the economy—pollution will still be a problem, thus such vehicles would simply be banned.

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 Both approaches create new indicators for sustainability. Environmental economics makes use of what is known as “integrated environmental and economic accounts” to adjust economic indicators with environmental values, creating for example a “green Gross Domestic Product (GDP)”. The logic is that if we deplete our natural wealth, the green GDP won’t perform well, and economies will change their practices towards stronger sustainability.  How to account for that wealth, however, is also a subject of debate. One way of doing that, as already mentioned, is to calculate the value of services done by nature that are otherwise ignored, a practice within the concept of “green accounting”. Nevertheless, in environmental economics, the economy always comes first, and economic growth cannot be sacrificed. Ecological economics, on the other hand, keeps the sustainability indicators separate from economic ones. For instance, one indicator they use is the Total Material Requirement (TMR), which measures all physical requirements that support an economy, including the ones that are often not seen, such as unused extracted resources (e.g. gangue). TMR also traces back imported raw materials to their delivering countries, and accounts for the impacts done during extraction there. The logic here is that regardless of how the economy performs, TMR has to decrease. This reassessment of priorities is reasonable and urgent. For example, a natural reaction by a son or daughter when their mother becomes ill and needs life-saving surgery would be to say yes to the surgery, and figure out later how to pay for it, even if that means acquiring a harmful debt, or asking for other people’s help. Therefore, if we agree that the current environmental situation is an emergency, the logic of environmental economics falls down. If deep sustainability requires less economic growth, that is a sacrifice worth taking. In addition, environmental economics fails to consider that markets are governed by power, subject to speculation and corruption, and are vulnerable to big crises, which make them poor tools for longer-term environmental sustainability. Conversely, ecological economics seems to offer a better starting point for a strategy, even if that strategy can end up hurting economies. But after all, it’s humanity that we’re trying to save, not economies.

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Ecosystem service:

Humankind benefits from a multitude of resources and processes that are supplied by ecosystems. Collectively, these benefits are known as ecosystem services and grouped into four broad categories: provisioning, such as the production of food and water; regulating, such as the control of climate and disease; supporting, such as nutrient cycles and crop pollination; and cultural, such as spiritual and recreational benefits.

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Limitation of GDP:

Most economists assess the progress in welfare of the people by comparing the gross domestic product over time, that is, by adding up the annual dollar value of all goods and services produced within a country over successive years. However, GDP was never intended to be used for such purpose. It is prone to productivism or consumerism, over-valuing production and consumption of goods, and not reflecting improvement in human well-being. It also fails to distinguish between money spent for new production and money spent to repair negative outcomes from previous expenditure. For example, one million dollars spent to build new homes may be an indication of progress but one million dollars spent in aid relief to those whose homes have been destroyed is not the same kind of progress. This becomes important especially when considering the true costs of development that destroys wetlands and hence exacerbate flood damages. Simon Kuznets, the inventor of the concept of the GDP, notes in his very first report to the US Congress in 1934: …the welfare of a nation [can] scarcely be inferred from a measure of national income… An adequate measure must also take into account ecological yield and the ability of nature to provide services. These things are part of a more inclusive ideal of progress, which transcends the traditional focus on raw industrial production. Richard Stone, one of the creators the original GDP indicator, suggested that while “the three pillars on which an analysis of society ought to rest are studies of economic, socio-demographic and environmental phenomenon,” he had done little work in the area of environmental issues.

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Our measures of economic growth are deeply flawed in that they are purely measures of activity in the monetized economy. Expanded use of cigarettes and alcohol increases economic output both as a direct consequence of their consumption and because of the related increase in health care needs. The need to clean up oil spills generates economic activity. Gun sales to minors generate economic activity. A divorce generates both lawyer’s fees and the need to buy or rent and outfit a new home-increasing real estate brokerage fees and retail sales. It is now well documented that in the United States and a number of other countries the quality of living of ordinary people has been declining as aggregate economic output increases.  The growth myth has another serious flaw. Since 1950, the world’s economic output has increased 5 to 7 times. That growth has already increased the human burden on the planet’s regenerative systems—its soils, air, water, fisheries, and forestry systems—beyond what the planet can sustain. Continuing to press for economic growth beyond the planet’s sustainable limits does two things. It accelerates the rate of breakdown of the earth’s regenerative systems—as we see so dramatically demonstrated in the case of many ocean fisheries—and it intensifies the competition between rich and poor for the resource base that remains.

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Going beyond GDP:

The immense environmental, social and economic risks arising from our current path will be much harder to manage if we are unable to measure key aspects of the problem. For example, governments should recognise the serious limitations of GDP as a measure of economic activity and complement it with measures of the five forms of capital: built, financial, natural, human and social capital, i.e., a measure of wealth that integrates economic, environmental and social dimensions. Green taxes and the elimination of subsidies should ensure that the natural resources needed to protect poor people are available rather than via subsidies that often only benefit those that are better off.

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Growth in gross national product has become the seminal indicator of the health of our economy. But how good a yardstick of our present or future prosperity is it? Gross sales of goods and services as a measure leave something to be desired. If an economic activity produces directly one million dollars in product but also results in one million dollars of costs in health impacts and destruction of essential assets, common sense might lead you to think nothing has been gained. But health services and asset replacement are part of the gross national product, and using GNP as a measure, the loss becomes a gain. To the one million dollars in product is added one million dollars in health services and asset replacement, yielding two million in GNP. Something is clearly wrong with this picture. Lots of things which enhance our quality of life do not contribute to our GNP. For example, if we were to take extremely good care of our constructed assets — our homes, buildings, vehicles, industrial equipment and so on — we would spend less on their replacement. This would reduce our GNP, but can anyone reasonably suggest that it would reduce our wealth. GNP measures transactions, not net worth. Beyond this, could anyone really suggest that human well being is adequately measured by net worth? If we maximize net worth, but poison our bodies in the process, would anyone really suggest that we would be better off?

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Consider two worlds. In state A there is no enhanced Greenhouse Effect, there is no need for defensive capital expenditures or new investment in energy sources, and the fossil fuel economy continues into the future, say, eventually switching to perfect substitutes. Economic growth can be taken as more material consumption. In state B the enhanced Greenhouse Effect threatens to destroy the economic system so mitigation is undertaken. Investment goes into research and development of alternative energy sources, new markets are established to trade carbon, expenditures are undertaken to build new capital and structures are adapted to changed temperatures and sea levels. All these activities have displaced consumer and capital items or potential for more material consumption as in state A. Both states have human activity, both have GDP growth as measured by throughput and people are fully employed doing things. The point is that the states are qualitatively different, not quantitatively different. They are different worlds. So what is the “pro-growth” strategy for the future? Both are actually pro-growth strategies, the difference is in terms of “for what” economic activity is undertaken. GDP measures face a problem when addressing defensive expenditures and are misleading if they treat them as positive gains.

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There is an urgent need to break the link between production and consumption on the one hand and environmental destruction on the other. This can allow raising material living standards for a period that would allow us to overcome world poverty. Indefinite material growth on a planet with finite and often fragile natural resources will however, eventually be unsustainable. Unsustainable growth is promoted by environmentally-damaging subsidies in areas such as energy, transportation and agriculture and should be eliminated; external environmental and social costs should be internalized; and the market and nonmarket values of ecosystem goods and services should be taken into account in decision making.

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Genuine progress indicator (GPI):

Genuine Progress Indicator, or GPI, is a metric that has been suggested to replace, or supplement, gross domestic product (GDP) as a measure of economic growth. GPI is designed to take fuller account of the health of a nation’s economy by incorporating environmental and social factors which are not measured by GDP. For instance, some models of GPI decrease in value when the poverty rate increases. The GPI is used in green economics, sustainability and more inclusive types of economics by factoring in environmental and carbon footprints that businesses produce or eliminate. “Among the indicators factored into GPI are resource depletion, pollution, and long-term environmental damage.” GDP gains double the amount when pollution is created, since it increases once upon creation (as a side-effect of some valuable process) and again when the pollution is cleaned up, whereas GPI counts the initial pollution as a loss rather than a gain, generally equal to the amount it will cost to clean up later (plus the cost of any negative impact the pollution will have in the mean time). Comparatively speaking, the relationship between GDP and GPI is analogous to the relationship between the gross profit of a company and the net profit; the Net Profit is the Gross Profit minus the costs incurred; the GPI is the GDP (value of all goods and services produced) minus the environmental and social costs. Accordingly, the GPI will be zero if the financial costs of poverty and pollution equal the financial gains in production of goods and services, all other factors being constant.

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The calculation formula of Genuine Progress Indicator presented in the simplified form is the following:

GPI = A + B – C – D + I

A is income weighted private consumption

B is value of non-market services generating welfare

C is private defensive cost of natural deterioration

D is cost of deterioration of nature and natural resources

I is increase in capital stock and balance of international trade

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Environmental performance index (EPI):

The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) is a method of quantifying and numerically benchmarking the environmental performance of a country’s policies. This index was developed from the Pilot Environmental Performance Index, first published in 2002, and designed to supplement the environmental targets set forth in the U.N. Millennium Development Goals. In the 2012 EPI ranking, the top five countries were Switzerland, Latvia, Norway, Luxembourg, and Costa Rica. The bottom five countries were South Africa, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Iraq. The United Kingdom was ranked in 9th place, Japan 23rd place, Brazil 30th, the United States 49th, China 116th, and India came in 125th.The top five countries based on their Pilot Trend EPI were Latvia, Azerbaijan, Romania, Albania and Egypt.

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Green economy:

The green economy is one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. Green economy is an economy or economic development model based on sustainable development and knowledge of ecological economics. Green economy is identified as an important tool for achieving sustainable development. Green economics is loosely defined as any theory of economics by which an economy is considered to be component of the ecosystem in which it resides. Green economy includes green energy generation based on renewable energy to substitute for fossil fuels and energy conservation for efficient energy use. Because the market failure related to environmental and climate protection as a result of external costs, high future commercial rates and associated high initial costs for research, development, and marketing of green energy sources and green products prevents firms from being voluntarily interested in reducing environment-unfriendly activities (Reinhardt, 1999; King and Lenox, 2002; Wagner, 203; Wagner, et al., 2005), the green economy may need government subsidies as market incentives to motivate firms to invest and produce green products and services. The German Renewable Energy Act, legislations of many other member states of the European Union and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, all provide such market incentives.

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Karl Burkart defines a green economy as based on six main sectors:

Renewable energy

Green buildings

Sustainable transport

Water management

Waste management

Land management

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A green economy is understood as a system that is attuned with the environment and thus, is environmentally friendly. Today, the concept of green economy has evolved to also accommodate social issues. By using clean technology and clean energy, the green economy is expected to provide safer and healthier environments, create alternative green jobs and maintain the development of societies. This concept is often associated with ideas such as “low-carbon growth” or “green growth”. With this perspective the term “growth” does not simply mean economic output development, but indicates “sustainable economic advancement”. In fact, it aims to rise above the reductionist approach that has considered gross domestic product as a straightforward measure of macro market economic activity and a signal of progress and societal well-being. This understanding proved to be misleading, as current climate and economic crisis exhibit that growth is unsustainable with over-exploitation; in fact, wiping out the natural resource base hinders present and future livelihoods.

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Green growth:

The green growth is not identical to sustainable development. While sustainable development is seeking a balance among economic growth, environmental projection, and social justice, a strict definition of green growth does not address “social justice,” focusing rather on economic growth while reducing environmental impact.  In this regard, green growth is a narrower or subordinate concept of sustainable development as seen in the figure below:

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Can poor countries afford to be green?

That is a question which politicians in the developing world have often asked rather pointedly. To them, it seems that the obsession of some rich types with preserving forests and saving cuddly animals like pandas or lemurs, while paying less attention to the human beings living nearby, is both cynical and hypocritical. There is, of course, plenty of evidence that greenery and growth are not polar opposites. After decades of expansion in China and other fast-emerging economies, some of the negative side-effects and their impact on human welfare, above all the death toll caused by foul air and water, are horribly clear. Yet the relationship between growth and the state of the environment is far from simple. Poor countries have been quite right to challenge the sort of green orthodoxy which rejects the very idea of economic growth. Indeed, the single biggest variable in determining a country’s ranking is income per head. But that doesn’t imply that economic growth automatically leads to an improvement in the environment. However, growth does offer solutions to the sorts of environmental woes (local air pollution, for example) that directly kill humans. This matters, because about a quarter of all deaths in the world have some link to environmental factors. Most of the victims are poor people who are already vulnerable because of bad living conditions, lack of access to medicine, and malnutrition. Among the killers (especially of children) in which the environment plays a role are diarrhoea, respiratory infections and malaria. These diseases reinforce a vicious circle of poverty and hopelessness by depressing production. According to the World Bank, the economic burden on society caused by bad environmental health amounts to between 2% and 5% of GDP. As poor countries get richer, they usually invest heavily in environmental improvements, such as cleaning up water supplies and improving sanitation, that boost human health. (Their economies may also shift gear, from making steel or chemicals to turning out computer chips.) But the link between growth and environmentally benign outcomes is much less clear. 

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Of course it is no surprise that Switzerland fares better than Niger. But why is the poor Dominican Republic much healthier and greener than nearby Haiti? Or Costa Rica so far ahead of Nicaragua, whose nature and resources are broadly similar? And why is wealthy Belgium the sick man of Western Europe, with an environmental record worse than that of many developing countries? A mixture of factors related to good government—accurate data, transparent administration, lack of corruption, checks and balances—all show a clear statistical relationship with environmental performance. Among countries of comparable income, tough regulations and above all, enforcement are the key factors in keeping things green.

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For the purposes of the Green Economy Initiative, UNEP has developed a working definition of a green economy as one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. In its simplest expression, a green economy can be thought of as one which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive.  Practically speaking, a green economy is one whose growth in income and employment is driven by public and private investments that reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy and resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. These investments need to be catalyzed and supported by targeted public expenditure, policy reforms and regulation changes. This development path should maintain, enhance and, where necessary, rebuild natural capital as a critical economic asset and source of public benefits, especially for poor people whose livelihoods and security depend strongly on nature.

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Low carbon economy:

The present energy system, which is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, underlies many of the problems we face today: exhaustion of easily accessible physical resources, security of access to fuels, and degradation of health and environmental conditions. Universal access to clean energy services is vital for the poor, and a transition to a low carbon economy will require rapid technological evolution in the efficiency of energy use, environmentally sound low-carbon renewable energy sources and carbon capture and storage. The longer we wait to transition to a low carbon economy the more we are locked into a high carbon energy system with consequent environmental damage to ecological and socio-economic systems, including infrastructure.

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The figure above shows large windmills and solar panels in Atlantic City; the wind farm consists of five windmills that generate 7.5 megawatts, enough energy to power approximately 2,500 homes.

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No quick switch to low-carbon energy:

On reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, Gert Jan Kramer and Martin Haigh analyze historic growth in energy systems to explain why deploying alternative technologies will be a long haul. The Summary of their research is as follows:

There are physical limits to the rate at which new technologies can be deployed.

Governments need to design policies targeted at specific technologies to accelerate deployment.

More action is required on demand side to increase efficiency and curtail consumption.

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The big problem facing the world today is energy, economy and environment. All three are interrelated and influence each other. Solving the problem or solution to it can only be done in a comprehensive way, not partial, so that the sustainable development is possible.  That’s bad idea when we just focusing on one aspect so the two other aspects are neglected thus enabling larger problem. Low-carbon energy will reduce environmental impact without affecting the economy.  

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Low carbon economy and job creation:

The success of many environmentally sustainable businesses makes the case for the transition to a low carbon economy. These businesses are profitable and sustainable, they create jobs and minimize their impact on the environment. Although some try to make the case that environmental sustainability is bad for business, the truth is a strong business case can be made for sustainability. The transition to a low carbon economy offers an unprecedented stimulus that creates jobs. There are sustainable solutions that can both speed up activity in the low-carbon economy and mitigate the economic crisis. For $ 1 billion invested in a new coal plant, you get fewer than 900 jobs; for solar you got 1,900 jobs, for wind turbines 3,300 jobs and (for) retrofitting buildings 7,000 – 8,000 jobs. Environmentally sustainable solutions have proven to be hugely profitable while simultaneously protecting economies from the volatility of markets reliant on oil and other finite resources.

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National carbon policy and cars:

Our best intentions regarding conservation and carbon reduction inevitably run up against the realities of foreclosure and bankruptcy and unemployment. How do we persuade people to drive less—an environmental necessity—while also encouraging them to revive our staggering economy by buying new cars? The popular answer—switch to hybrids—leaves the fundamental problem unaddressed. Increasing the fuel efficiency of a car is mathematically indistinguishable from lowering the price of its fuel; it’s just fiddling with the other side of the equation. If doubling the cost of gas gives drivers an environmentally valuable incentive to drive less—the recent oil-price spike pushed down consumption and vehicle miles travelled, stimulated investment in renewable energy, increased public transit ridership, and killed the Hummer—then doubling the efficiency of cars makes that incentive disappear. Getting more miles to the gallon is of no benefit to the environment if it leads to an increase in driving—and the response of drivers to decreases in the cost of driving is to drive more. Increases in fuel efficiency could be bad for the environment unless they’re accompanied by powerful disincentives that force drivers to find alternatives to hundred-mile commutes. And a national carbon policy, if it’s to have a real impact, will almost certainly need to bring fuel prices back to at least where they were at their peak. Electric cars are not the panacea they are sometimes claimed to be, not only because the electricity they run on has to be generated somewhere but also because making driving less expensive does nothing to discourage people from sprawling across the face of the planet, promoting forms of development that are inherently and catastrophically wasteful.

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Can green economy lead to sustainable development?

In a green economy, the environment is an “enabler” of economic growth and human well-being. Additionally, since the poor are most dependent on the natural resource base for their livelihoods and least able to shield themselves from a degraded environment, movement towards a green economy also promotes equitable growth. As such, the shift to a green economy can be seen as a pathway to sustainable development, a journey rather than a destination. The nature of a ‘green economy’ sought after by a developed or developing nation can vary greatly, depending on its geographical confines, its natural resource base, its human and social capital, and its stage of economic development. What does not change however are its key tenets – of targeting improved human well-being and social equity, whilst reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.

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Can green economy reduce poverty?

Equally important, the move towards a green economy aims to increase access to basic services and infrastructure as a means of alleviating poverty and improving overall quality of life. This includes, for example, providing energy access to the 1.4 billion people who currently lack electricity, and another 700 million who are deprived of modern energy services. Renewable energy technologies, such as solar and wind power, and supportive energy policies promise to make a significant contribution to improving living standards and health in low income areas, particularly to those that currently lack access to energy.

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Can green economy generate jobs?

A green economy creates jobs in a wide range of sectors of the economy as new markets emerge and grow, such as in organic agriculture, renewable energy, building retrofits for energy efficiency, public transportation, reclamation of brown-field sites, and recycling, among others. Decent jobs, with high labour productivity as well as high eco-efficiency and low emissions, hold the promise to provide rising incomes, spur growth and help to protect the climate and the environment. Such green jobs already exist and some have seen high growth, for example, as a result of investment in energy efficiency. Nonetheless, to ensure a smooth transition to a green economy, a concerted effort in job creation is necessary. Social policies will need to be developed along with environmental and economic policies. Key issues like investing in new skills needed for a low-carbon global economy and policies to handle the employment adjustments in key sectors like energy and transport will be needed to ensure a smooth transition.

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Green GDP:

The green gross domestic product (green GDP) is an index of economic growth with the environmental consequences of that growth factored into a country’s conventional GDP. Green GDP monetizes the loss of biodiversity, and accounts for costs caused by climate change. Some environmental experts prefer physical indicators (such as “waste per capita” or “carbon dioxide emissions per year”), which may be aggregated to indices such as the “Sustainable Development Index”. Calculating green GDP requires that net natural capital consumption, including resource depletion, environmental degradation, and protective and restorative environmental initiatives, be subtracted from traditional GDP. Some early calculations of Green GDP take into account one or two, but not all environmental adjustments. GDP, or gross domestic product, is a national accounting term designating the domestic economic output measured in value terms minus costs associated with input of goods and services. Thus, GDP is measuring the value added of production and rents to owners of natural resources, values that are available for payment of use of capital and labour. “Green GDP” on the other hand, is a term much used, but only seldom precisely defined. Most commonly, and perhaps most correctly, it has been used to designate a “corrected” GDP number, or sometimes a “corrected” GDP growth rate, where the correction seeks to take into account the depletion of non-renewable resources, as well as various damages to the environment due to pollution to air, water and soil, and also sometimes loss of ecosystem services as a consequence of pollution from economic activities. To find the true net benefits of economic activities, these activities should obviously be corrected for all costs that are associated with the economic activities. Hence, these costs should be deducted from the traditional GDP to obtain a greener GDP. 

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Green GDP is an attempt by economists to measure the growth of an economy compared to the harm production does to the environment. This is done by subtracting the costs of environmental and ecological damage done in a specific period of time from the gross domestic product, or GDP, from that some time. As a result, the damage done to the environment as a whole is factored into the equation to give a clearer picture of the consequences of growing an economy. Unfortunately, green GDP can be difficult to measure because of the problems inherent in trying to quantify the costs of ecological and environmental damage.

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Green GDP = GDP (traditional) – Depletion of natural resources – Cost of pollution

of which

Resources exhaustion: decreases in forest areas and products, cultivated land, preserved land, animals, plants, ecological condition, natural resources, etc.

Costs of pollution/climate change: costs occurred as results of environmental pollution, health and climate change impacts…

Traditional GDP does not elaborate impacts and degradation on the environment as a result of economic activities.

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Methodological problems in calculating the Green GDP:

In 2004, Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, announced that the green GDP index would replace the Chinese GDP index itself as a performance measure for government. The first green GDP accounting report, for 2004, was published in September 2006. It showed that the financial loss country pollution was 511.8 billion Yuan ($ 66.3 billion), or 3.05 percent of the nation’s economy. As an experiment on national accounting, the Green GDP effort collapsed in failure in 2007, when it become clear that the adjustment for environment damage had reduced the growth rate politically unacceptable levels, nearly zero in some provinces. In the face of mounting evidence that environmental damage and resource depletion was far more costly than anticipated, the government withdrew its support for the Green GDP methodology. Independent estimates of the cost to China of environmental degradation and depletion have for the last decade ranged from 8 to 12 percentage points of GDP growth. These estimates support the idea that, by this measure at least, the growth of the Chinese economy is close to zero. Statisticians caution that key methodological problems in calculating the GDP, such as the monetary value of biodiversity loss and the impacts of climate change and carbon dioxide emissions. Many barometers are currently in use, particularly indices such as Waste Per Capita or Carbon Dioxide Emissions Per Annum. One must also acknowledge how poorly represented true growth or sustainable development is with the anachronic GDP. “GDP is to reflect many of today’s challenges, such as climate change, public health, education and environment,” was the conclusion of Beyond GDP, an international conference on gross domestic product held in Brussels in November 2007. Many governments in the world have spent trillions of dollars last year to get out of “recession” to keep economy on track and get back to GDP growth at any cost, it seems as if the main goal is simply to maintain the current ailing market system and stimulate continued unsustainable consumption.

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Is Green GDP a flawed index?

Green GDP involves adding “development of human capital” and “development of natural capital” to the volume of production conventionally measured by GDP. The idea behind it is interesting. Output that is accompanied by a deterioration in human capital (e.g. in terms of health or education) or by environmental damage (e.g. through CO2 emissions or deforestation) is reduced by the amount of capital thus consumed. Conversely, any enhancement of human or natural capital constitutes in itself a form of output that can be added to GDP. UNEP accordingly compared growth in GDP per capita with green GDP per capita for 40 countries over a nineteen-year period, from 1990 to 2008. For China and India – the two countries with the strongest economic growth (9.6% and 4.5% annual average per capita growth) – the rates of green GDP turn out to be significantly lower, at 2.1% and 0.9% respectively. Their economic growth has been achieved in part by drawing down their human and natural capital. But their green GDP remains positive, as if to signal that the two countries’ development models were generally acceptable: economic growth offsets the destruction of natural capital. Economic growth in Germany and France has been more limited (Germany: +1.5%, France: +1.3%), but their green GDP (at +1.8% and +1.4% respectively) has risen faster than the standard measure. Once again, green GDP seems to endorse an apparently virtuous model of growth: economic development goes hand in hand with a greater development in natural and human capital. It seems reasonable to assume that the green GDP index was designed so that upward movement would be a sign of sustainable development. It is hard to believe, however, that the development models of emerging powers like China and India, or of old industrialized countries such as France and Germany, might be sustainable. In practice, green GDP is open to serious criticism. How can one compare a child educated with a hectare of forest protected, a ton of CO2 emitted, a species saved from extinction, or a moped manufactured? Depending on how you attribute values and weightings to these different factors, you can in fact obtain any ranking you want, even putting China first, or India, or France, or Brazil, or, for that matter, Niger. In reality, the green GDP index cannot be used as a guide for sustainable development. By aggregating too many dimensions, it loses any real informational content. It is therefore highly questionable both in terms of the messages it conveys and in the way it is established. For these reasons, it seems unlikely that green GDP will ever attract sufficient consensus to dethrone GDP as we know it. The conventional index has already reached an excessive level of aggregation. Any further aggregation would only make our evaluation processes more arbitrary, our interpretations more confused, and the whole picture even fuzzier than before.

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Sustainable Development Indicators (SDI):

 It is also possible to develop some indicators that represent several aspects of sustainable development. The following indicators may be useful for the current situation in China:

• Fossil energy (carbon) intensity per GDP could be a very good indicator to reflect the elasticity of fossil energy consumption and carbon emission with GDP growth.

• SO2 intensity per GDP is a similar indicator to reflect the elasticity of sulphur emission with GDP growth.

• COD intensity per GDP reflects the elasticity of organic effluent with GDP growth.

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ISO 14000:

ISO 14000 is a family of standards related to environmental management that exists to help organizations (a) minimize how their operations (processes etc.) negatively affect the environment (i.e. cause adverse changes to air, water, or land); (b) comply with applicable laws, regulations, and other environmentally oriented requirements, and (c) continually improve in the above. ISO 14000 is similar to ISO 9000 quality management in that both pertain to the process of how a product is produced, rather than to the product itself. As with ISO 9000, certification is performed by third-party organizations rather than being awarded by ISO directly. The ISO 19011 audit standard applies when auditing for both 9000 and 14000 compliance at once.

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World Bank pushes for ‘Green Accounting’ by Nations:

For decades, GDP has been growing and growing in many countries, but a large segment of society hasn’t been getting any better off.  We’ve reached a critical threshold where international consensus said we really need to move in a more deliberate and systematic manner to get better accounts up and running that reflect the true state of the economy. Botswana’s diamond mining sector accounts for 31 percent of the country’s economic output — and a glistening De Beers five-diamond bracelet sells online for $1,500. But how much does depleting diamond mines cut into Botswana’s overall economic health? The Philippines’ untapped gold and nickel is valued at nearly $1 trillion, but the mines and refining process needed to tap them will require a great deal of water. If climate change leads to reduced rainfall in the country, how much would be lost by diverting water from agriculture? And in Australia, the government has found that pesticides used in farming are causing significant damage to the Great Barrier Reef. But how much might that damage affect the tourist economy that thrives around the World Heritage site? Those countries and a handful of others have been trying to answer precisely those kinds of questions as they develop some of the world’s first “green” accounting systems. Known formally as natural capital accounting, the idea of measuring the economic value of clean water, clean air, forests and ecosystems in addition to traditional measures of the market value of a country’s goods and services has been gaining traction since the 1980s. In February 2012, the U.N. Statistical Commission adopted a standardized accounting method, which advocates called a major step, essentially helping environmentalists use the same language and tools that finance ministers and economists use to measure strictly in terms of national accounts. Now, with the approach in the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, activists hope that green accounting’s time has finally come.

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Green recovery program:

The Center for American Progress releases a new report by Dr. Robert Pollin and University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute economists. This report demonstrates how a new Green Recovery program that spends $100 billion over two years would create 2 million new jobs, with a significant proportion in the struggling construction and manufacturing sectors. It is clear from this research that a strategy to invest in the greening of our economy will create more jobs, and better jobs, compared to continuing to pursue a path of inaction marked by rising dependence on energy imports alongside billowing pollution. The $100 billion fiscal expansion that researchers examined in this study provides the infrastructure to jumpstart a comprehensive clean energy transformation for the U.S., such as the strategy described in CAP’s 2007 report, “Capturing the Energy Opportunity: Creating a Low-Carbon Economy.” This paper shows the impact of a swift initial investment in climate solutions that would direct funding toward six energy efficiency and renewable energy strategies:

1. Retrofitting buildings to increase energy efficiency

2. Expanding mass transit and freight rail

3. Constructing “smart” electrical grid transmission systems

4. Wind power

5. Solar power

6. Advanced biofuels

This green recovery and infrastructure investment program would:

1. Create 2 million new jobs nationwide over two years

2. Create nearly four times more jobs than spending the same amount of money within the oil industry and 300,000 more jobs than a similar amount of spending directed toward household consumption.

3. Create roughly triple the number of good jobs—paying at least $16 dollars an hour—as spending the same amount of money within the oil industry.

4. Reduce the unemployment rate to 4.4 percent from 5.7 percent (calculated within the framework of U.S. labor market conditions in July 2008).

5. Bolster employment especially in construction and manufacturing. Construction employment has fallen from 8 million to 7.2 million over the past two years due to the housing bubble collapse. The Green Recovery program can, at the least, bring back these lost 800,000 construction jobs.

6. Provide opportunities to rebuild career ladders through training and workforce development that if properly implemented can provide pathways out of poverty to those who need jobs most. (Because green investment not only creates more good jobs with higher wages, but more jobs overall, distributed broadly across the economy, this program can bring more people into good jobs over time.)

7. Help lower oil prices. Moderating domestic energy demand will have greater price effects than modest new domestic supply increases.

8. Begin the reconstruction of local communities and public infrastructure all across America, setting us on a course for a long-term transition to a low-carbon economy that increases our energy independence and helps fight global warming. Currently, about 22 percent of total household expenditures go to imports. With a green infrastructure investment program, only about 9 percent of purchases flow to imports since so much of the investment is rooted in communities and the built environment, keeping more of the resources within the domestic economy.   

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The Ecological Footprint:

The Ecological Footprint tracks humanity’s demands on the biosphere by comparing humanity’s consumption against the Earth’s regenerative capacity, or biocapacity. It does this by calculating the area required to produce the resources people consume, the area occupied by infrastructure, and the area of forest required for sequestering CO2 not absorbed by the ocean (see Galli et al., 2007; Kitzes et al., 2009 and Wackernagel et al., 2002). Every human activity uses biologically productive land and/ or fishing grounds. The Ecological Footprint is the sum of these areas, regardless of where they are located on the planet. This includes the areas for producing the resource it consumes, the space for accommodating its buildings and roads, and the ecosystems for absorbing its waste emissions such as carbon dioxide.  By measuring the Footprint of a population—an individual, city, business, nation, or all of humanity—we can assess our pressure on the planet, which helps us manage our ecological assets more wisely and take personal and collective action in support of a world where humanity lives within the Earth’s bounds. The Ecological Footprint is driven by consumer habits and the efficiency with which goods and services can be provided. An individual’s Ecological Footprint varies significantly depending on a number of factors, including their country of residence, the quantity of goods and services they consume, the resources used and the wastes generated to provide these goods and services. The size of a person’s Ecological Footprint depends on development level and wealth, and in part on the choices individuals make on what they eat, what products they purchase and how they travel. But decisions undertaken by governments and businesses have a substantial influence on the Ecological Footprint too. Since the 1970s, humanity has been in ecological overshoot with annual demand on resources exceeding what Earth can regenerate each year. It now takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what we use in a year. We maintain this overshoot by liquidating the Earth’s resources. Overshoot is a vastly underestimated threat to human well-being and the health of the planet, and one that is not adequately addressed. In 2007, the average biologically productive area per person worldwide was approximately 1.8 global hectares (gha) per capita. The U.S. footprint per capita was 9.0 gha, and that of Switzerland was 5.6 gha, while China’s was 1.8 gha. The WWF claims that the human footprint has exceeded the biocapacity (the available supply of natural resources) of the planet by 20%. Wackernagel and Rees originally estimated that the available biological capacity for the 6 billion people on Earth at that time was about 1.3 hectares per person, which is smaller than the 1.8 global hectares published for 2006, because the initial studies neither used global hectares nor included bioproductive marine areas. If all of humanity lived like an average Indonesian, for example, only two-thirds of the planet’s biocapacity would be used; if everyone lived like an average Argentinean, humanity would demand more than half an additional planet; and if everyone lived like an average resident of the USA, a total of four Earths would be required to regenerate humanity’s annual demand on nature.

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As it stands now, 500 million people on the planet (about 7% of the world population) is responsible for 50% of all CO2 emissions. At the other end of the scale, the bottom 3 billion people are responsible for just 6% of the total. The United States leads the world, with its 5% of world population roughly responsible for one-third of all global expenditures on goods and services. If that level of resource consumption was extended globally, the planet could support just 1.4 billion people. To equitably support current population levels and not continue to degrade the ability of the planet to support us, we’d all have to live like the average person in Thailand or Jordan–roughly $5,000 a year’s worth of consumption. And remember that population growth is expected to continue until we hit about $9 billion people. Which means that the global resource pie gets sliced into even smaller and smaller equal pieces–or relatively equal at least. It is undeniable that our current way of life is unsustainable; part of the problem lies in the fact that economics—the major discipline advising global and national policy—has failed to include the environment in its calculations. To rectify this problem, different methods have been proposed, so as to make predictions and come up with better ways of managing the planet’s resources without compromising the future.

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The figure above sums up everything. Not a single country lies in the green area where we would have high human development index within the earth’s limit. It’s time that Americans reduce their ecological foot print so that poor developing nations can improve their human development index.

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Do more with less or things will get ugly: Decoupling ~ Sustainable and Scalable Growth…

As it stands, economic growth is largely dependent on resource consumption. As a country grows, so does its use of natural–and limited–high-quality resources like oil, gold, and copper. But this is untenable in the long run, especially as growing countries like India and China model themselves increasingly on American habits of consumption (a car, two cell phones, and 30 pounds of meat for all!). The seemingly impossible solution: separating resource use and environmental impact from economic growth–a process with the unfortunate name “decoupling.” According to a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), decoupling is already happening, albeit at a small scale. The resources required per $1,000 of economic output dropped from 2.1 to 1.6 tons between 1980 and 2002–but more needs to be done to prevent the world from devolving into mayhem where we’re fighting for every last drop of gas. But if resource consumption continues at its current rate, we will see an annual total consumption of 140 billion tons of minerals, fossil fuels, ores, and biomass by 2050. If industrialized nations make moderate changes, that number could drop all the way to 70 billion tons of resource extraction by the same year. And if, by some miracle, all countries start scrambling to decrease resource use, we could see total consumption of 50 billion tons by 2050–the same as in 2000. It’s certainly not fair to ask developing countries to give up a chance at prosperity because we already used all the good stuff and want to keep using what’s left. But those countries may ultimately have an easier time decoupling than developed nations since they can leapfrog older, inefficient technologies (i.e. coal-fired power plants) for more resource efficient ones, such as solar power. It’s easier to simply adopt efficiency first than to tear down existing infrastructure and start over.

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Incorporating Environmental Costs in Prices:

China is moving forward with power sector reforms that will result in competition between generators. A fundamental precondition of any market is that all costs be reflected in prices. If electricity generation becomes competitive and the cost of emissions/environmental degradation is not reflected in prices, the result will be in increased pollution.  In China, the cost of pollution (cost of health care, agricultural losses, resource degradation and resource depletion) and the cost of electricity will be determined by what plants get built, what plants get operated, how much is invested in pollution control, and how much is invested in energy efficiency. Fully incorporating the environmental cost of pollution in electricity prices is the best way to ensure that the total cost (environmental cost and electricity cost) is minimized.  Societies have struggled and experimented with the concept of internalizing external costs since it was described by A. C. Pigou over seventy years ago. There is significant international experience with a variety of strategies designed to make prices of goods and services reflect their true costs. These strategies are revised and refined often, as people learn from their mistakes and improve their understanding of how the market, the environment, public policy, and human behavior interact. Recently many nations have moved from using regulations alone to curb pollution, to the use of economic instruments to internalize environmental costs. “Economic instruments, in theory, have all the efficiency properties of competitive market pricing: they trigger actions both among producers and consumers that allow the achievement of given environmental objectives at the lowest costs. The efficient nature of economic instruments is due to the flexibility given to the polluters for devising a cost effective compliance strategy.”

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Pollution levies, charges, taxes:

This strategy has many names, but the result is the same. The producer and/or consumer pays when materials or processes are used that cause pollution. These fees are attractive because they create a very explicit charge for pollution. As a result, savings from reducing pollution are tangible. At a minimum, this strategy raises money. The funds may be used to raise revenue for the general budget, to support environmental activities, to offset other taxes, or for other purposes. If the charges are high enough, levies and taxes can result in incentives to increase the efficient use of resources and reduce pollution. If they are high enough and conflicting subsidies are removed, they may result in the full internalization of environmental costs, and the market will move toward more sustainable uses of resources. Pollution levies, charges and taxes appear internationally in a variety of forms. The consumer may pay when purchasing a product if the pollution is too dispersed to measure (e.g. motor fuel). The charge may be on the use of raw materials with predictable pollution results (e.g. carbon tax, some sulfur taxes). The charge may differentiate between similar materials with different polluting characteristics (e.g. leaded vs. unleaded gasoline). The charge may be levied at discharge based on the volume or toxicity of effluent or emissions (e.g. NOX, solid waste, sewage).

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Ecotax:

Ecotax (short for Ecological taxation) refers to taxes intended to promote ecologically sustainable activities via economic incentives. Such a policy can complement or avert the need for regulatory (command and control) approaches. Often, an ecotax policy proposal may attempt to maintain overall tax revenue by proportionately reducing other taxes (e.g. taxes on human labor and renewable resources); such proposals are known as a green tax shift towards ecological taxation. An ecotax has been enacted in Germany by means of three laws in 1998, 1999 and 2002. The first introduced a tax on electricity and petroleum, at variable rates based on environmental considerations; renewable sources of electricity were not taxed. The second adjusted the taxes to favor efficient conventional power plants. The third increased the tax on petroleum. At the same time, income taxes were reduced proportionally so that the total tax burden remained constant.

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Green tariff:

An Environmental tariff, also known as a green tariff or eco-tariff, is an import or export tax placed on products being imported from, or also being sent to countries with substandard environmental pollution controls. They can be used as controls on global pollution and can also be considered as corrective measures against “environmental races to the bottom” and “eco-dumping”. Environment tariffs were not implemented in the past, in part, because they were not sanctioned by multilateral trade regimes such as the World Trade Organization and within the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), a fact which generated considerable criticism and calls for reform. Additionally, many foreign factory owners in newly industrialized countries and underdeveloped countries saw the attempts to impose pollution controls on them as suspicious… “…seeing it as a threat to their growth and fearing that developed countries would attempt to export their preferences for pollution control or to place ‘environmental’ tariffs on imports from countries with lower standards.”

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European Union: Carbon/Energy Taxes:

Many countries of the European Union, individually, have been taxing raw materials, emissions, energy and electricity for over a decade. The goals of each specific plan have been varied, and their designs have been complicated and customized to meet each country’s needs. The European Union did reduce their greenhouse gas emissions from 1990-2000. Although these reductions cannot be attributed to their energy taxes alone, their experiences and experiments are worth studying.

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European Environmental Tax Reform (ETR):

“’Environmental tax reform’ (ETR) refers to measures that use the revenue from taxes on pollution or natural resource depletion to lower taxes on valuable economic activities, such as employment or investment.” Depending upon a country’s goals, the environmental taxes can raise more, less or the same amount of money as the amount by which other taxes are reduced. In a recent study, eight European countries’ experience with ETR was examined in detail. Over 100 simulations of ETR impacts were analyzed. The authors concluded that ETR boosts employment, especially when environmental tax revenues allow payroll taxes to be cut. ETR can cut greenhouse gas emissions and promote a cleaner environment. At the same time ETR can result in very little change in the economy as measured by gross domestic product (GDP). The authors found ETR was most likely to have positive employment and GDP results when some of the environmental tax revenues are used to finance energy efficiency or renewable energy options. 

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Deposit-refund Systems:

A deposit-refund system always involves some form of charge for a product or action combined with a subsidy or refund upon the proper recycling or disposal of the product, or completion of the action. Deposit-refund programs usually involve items whose improper disposal would cause environmental harm and be difficult to monitor. Some of their uses have included beverage containers, batteries, appliances, tires and pesticide containers. “Several studies have concluded that deposit systems are more cost-effective than other methods of reducing waste disposal, such as traditional forms of regulations, recycling subsidies, or advanced disposal fees (ADF) alone.”

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Environmental Performance Bonds:

An environmental performance bond is a form of deposit-refund system where a potential degrader of the environment has to pay into an escrow account before proceeding with an activity, such as coal mining. In the US, certain laws require companies to deposit money before extracting certain natural resources (e.g. the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act). The money will only be refunded when the extractor fulfills obligations such as reclamation activities. To be effective, the deposit amount has to be enough for the regulatory authority to complete the reclamation if the company forfeits the deposit. Generally there are two incentives in this program: an economic incentive (getting the deposit back) and a regulatory incentive (satisfying this bond in order to be eligible for extraction permits in the future).

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Marketable Permits:

Taxes set a price for pollution and the market decides how much pollution will be cut. Instead of taxing, a government can decide to set a target limit on pollution or resource depletion, then distribute permits for those activities. In a permit trading system, the market determines the price. A company that is unable or unwilling to live with its limits then has to buy permits from those who over-comply. As companies compare their marginal abatement cost with the cost of a permit, market activity will take place to reach the lowest possible combined cost. As a result trading systems can cut compliance costs, create incentives to over-comply with regulations and support development of new technology.

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Economic instruments promoting Renewable Energy Strategies:

Most societies continue to subsidize water use, motor transport, petroleum product combustion and raw material extraction. How can new, renewable, energy producers compete economically with the status quo? Countries continue to experiment with strategies that reach social goals and make economic sense. Grants, loans, subsidies, and other programs for new technologies may look inviting. However, this support must be balanced to encourage the new technologies to become efficient and cost-effective as well.

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Subsidies:

There are subsidies that can be considered as environmentally harmful and those that can be considered environmentally friendly. Recent estimates of environmentally destructive subsidies range from $500 to $650 billion annually. Roodman suggests a three step analysis for environmental subsidy reform:

• First, determine whether society needs the benefits the subsidy promises and whether the subsidy can bring about the benefit.

• Can the subsidy become more efficient through more precise targeting?

• Are the improvements in security, equity, and economic development worth the financial, social and environmental costs? Does it pass the fairness test?

As long as government subsidies encourage activities that environmental policies seek to discourage, the effectiveness of all the economic instruments discussed here will be limited.

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As the discussion above illustrate, economic instruments can have a significant impact on environmental pollution or improvement. Some broad notes of caution should be mentioned. In some parts of Latin America, a tendency to over-legislate and under-fund resulted in unattainable goals. When programs were designed without the input of relevant agencies, laws were not easily enforced. “Institutional weaknesses-such as underfunding, inexperience, unclear jurisdiction, or lack of political will-limit the effective implementation of economic instruments.” In Russia, when privatization is “shaped to favor the ‘insiders’ (ministries, plant managers, local authorities, etc.) with no regard for economic efficiency issues, in such a way that many elements of the former centrally planned economy continue to exist…the basic structure of resource management remains virtually the same.” The best solutions will reflect the strengths and acknowledge the constraints of local culture and institutional conditions.

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The table below shows fundamental differences between approach to economy and approach to environment:

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Can economic growth and environmental protection be complementary to each other?

We can argue that the main direct contributions of environmental protection, understood as natural capital, to development and green (economic) growth is through increased inputs of natural resources which lead to a greater economic return. Contrary to conventional intuition, economic growth and environmental conservation are not necessarily conflicting goals, and can even be seen as complementary aims. Green growth aiming to achieve a harmony between economic growth and environmental sustainability is just what the world needs to obtain long-term and all rounded human development. The ever-worsening environmental crisis has sent out a serious alert to the communities as to the urgency of embarking on the green growth development path. With sound protection and management, natural capital can actually yield considerable economic dividends for the developing nations like India especially due to its dependent on agricultural production, which is in turn highly dependent on natural resources for the livelihoods of producers. Green growth can be defined as “fostering economic growth and development, while ensuring that natural assets continue to provide the resources and environmental services on which our well-being relies”. Alternatively, economic development can provide a solid material foundation for environmental protection efforts, enabling government to take a better care of their ecosystems, and equip them financially and technologically for the fight against climate change / environment. It is about growing cleaner and greener, but not slower. By maximizing the synergies between economic development and environmental protection, the concept of green growth emphasizes that strategic environmental policies can not only foster environmental sustainability at a low cost, but also have the potential to sustain long-term economic growth. Alternatively strategic climate/ environment policies should not be framed as a choice between the environment and economic development, but rather as a choice between effective measures to achieve balance between the two dimensions.

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The ideas that are good for both economy and environment:

• First, energy has a substantial influence on both the global economy and climate. Energy expenditure represents about 8% of GDP worldwide, while accounts for about 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions through its use in electricity, heating and industry. No solution to the climate crisis is possible without a fundamental shift to low-carbon energy. Fortunately, governments can make huge gains through energy efficiency, which can both drive growth and make a significant dent in emissions, given the right drivers and incentives. China, for example, has employed investments, penalties, rewards and awareness-raising activities to slash energy use among its largest 1,000 companies. These actions prevented the release of 265m metric tons of carbon dioxide between 2006 and 2009. Phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, although politically challenging, would spur global clean energy development and generate growth. Countries spent a staggering $409bn dollar on fossil fuel subsidies in 2010.

• Second, forestry represents around 12% of global greenhouse gas emissions, while presenting another major economy-boosting opportunity. In the Amazon, for example, ranchers routinely fell a hectare of forest to create a pasture worth around $500, while releasing hundreds of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. One win-win solution is to prevent deforestation where the land is worth more with trees than without. At prices of $10 for every ton of unreleased emissions, those Amazonian groves could generate several times more from carbon markets than from pasture. Another solution is to restore already degraded lands. Niger, one of the world’s poorest nations, offers a prime example. Reform of land and tree tenure and a program to support regeneration of trees has benefitted 4.5 million people, increasing food production and farmers’ incomes, as it creates new markets. Brazil, meanwhile, has about 300m hectares of degraded forest lands, with the potential to create agricultural jobs without clearing more virgin forest.

• Third, transportation generates about 12% of global GHG emissions and represents an opportunity for a more sustainable and profitable path. Around the globe, car ownership is booming, along with an expanding middle class. This dynamic is creating more urban gridlock and deteriorating air quality, as well as increasing emissions. While an expanding auto industry can be part of a country’s economic recovery, investments in cleaner public transport have been found to generate even greater economic returns. In the United States, stimulus dollars spent on public transport yielded 70 more job hours than those spent on highways, according to Smart Growth America. Meanwhile in Mexico, the government is pursuing an innovative transportation approach with policies and investments to scale up bus rapid-transit networks across the country. Moving away from traditional approaches of economic growth will not be easy. Even where energy reform, sustainable forestry, and investments in public transit can be shown to be beneficial, powerful special interests are blocking progress in many countries. To overcome these entrenched interests, countries – especially the world’s leading greenhouse gas emitters – need to recognize that addressing climate change is in their national interest and will improve public well-being.

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Environment protection in fact helps improve economy:

It is a general belief that we can’t have both economic development and environmental quality simultaneously, that if we want to improve economically we must sacrifice the environment. Often in the past Economic Development has been given importance over the environment and society. There is a mutual connection between environment and economy that is often not recognized. There is a widely held theory that resource management practices and policies which protect the environment are most likely to harm the economy and reduce employment opportunities. However, empirical data supporting this theory are rare. In recent years, economists and ecologists have increasingly begun to use quantitative methods to test this theory. Studies examining industrial emissions, endangered species, air quality and other issues have found no evidence that economies suffer as environmental policy strength increases. On the contrary, numerous researchers have reported slight positive correlations between environmental and economic indices, suggesting that environmental health may help to improve the economy.  Methods are being developed to measure the value of clean water and air, and healthy forests throughout the world. Estimated values vary widely, but studies agree that clean, rivers, clean air, biodiversity, and open space are highly valued by the public and that the public is willing to pay to preserve and enjoy these resources. For example, properties near clean rivers have been found to be worth more than similar properties elsewhere. Another rapidly expanding field of study is the valuation of “ecosystem services”. Ecosystem services are the processes by which the environment produces resources that we often take for granted such as clean water, timber, and habitat for fisheries, and pollination of native and agricultural plants. The following is list of the positive impacts of environmental protection on a nation’s economy.

• Environmental protection prevents pollution and the related cost of health care.

• Reduction in pollution results in increased yield from agriculture and cattle.

• A healthy environment supports healthy human beings and increases productivity.

• In a protected environment, the effects of natural calamities such as drought and flood will be less.

• Environmental protection produces job opportunities in the field of green industries and ecotourism.

• As policymakers begin to incorporate environmental conservation into resource management laws and practices, the quality and sustainability of our lives and economies will improve.

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Some examples that show that environmental protection actually strengthens economic growth:

Example -1:

California’s Green Policies have created 1.5 Million jobs and added $45 Billion to the economy. According to a University of California report, “California’s energy-efficiency policies created nearly 1.5 million jobs from 1977 to 2007,” while keeping per-capita electricity demand 40 percent below the national average. Instead of household income being lost to the capital intensive energy sector, “induced job growth has contributed approximately $45 billion to the California economy since 1972.” ["Energy Efficiency, Innovation, and Job Creation in California," 10/20/08]

Example-2:

A National Green Economy creates Millions of new jobs. According to a Greenpeace International and European Renewable Energy Council study, building a green economy that would cut United States greenhouse emissions by 45% by 2030 would create a net 7.8 million jobs versus business as usual. ["Energy Revolution,” 3/11/09]

Example-3:

The economy vs. environment myth was debunked ten years ago when MIT found that states with stronger environmental policies “consistently out-performed the weaker environmental states on all the economic measures.”

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Anti-environmentalism:

Anti-environmentalism is a backlash against the environmental movement. The anti-environmentalist movement opposes the environmental movement. Anti-environmentalism disregards the current “environmental crisis” due to specific scientific and economic reasoning. Anti-environmentalists believe that the Earth is not as fragile as environmentalists maintain. It focuses on job-creation, wage enhancement and industry. Generally, chemical manufacturers, oil producers, mining producers, timber companies, real estate developers, nuclear power industries, and electric utilities have anti-environmental motives. Anti-environmentalists are generally right-wing with conservative views, however there may be exceptions. Anti-environmentalism labels environmentalism as an extreme, false and exaggerated reaction to the human contribution of climate change. Anti-environmentalism often seeks to portray environmentalism as an anti-human advancement. The economic recession that began in 1990 enhanced anti-green and pro-industry views. A group called Alliance for America was created with 125 anti-environment and pro-industry groups. In 1994, the US did not pass a Biodiversity Treaty. Another group that was created in the 90’s was called Earth Day Alternatives. They were also counter-environmentalists. This group labeled environmentalists as “anti-human” and extremists. The Earth Day Alternative group promoted three things. They aimed to privatise resources for exploitation, advocate pollution to be permitted as trade between companies, to discredit environmental science. Heritage was a group that was also created with a laissez-faire approach toward the environment.  Anti-environmentalists were motivated by the fact that the ICI created deceptive green advertising. By 2011, less than half of the American population believed that the burning of fossil fuels would affect the environment, proving the success of anti-environmental publicity. In 2011, 80% of Republicans do not believe the science explaining the current “environmental crisis”.

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How selfishness affect environment?

The motto of people goes like “If it suits you, carry on and forget about everything else”. Unfortunately, the word “everything” is that seems to refer o the environment because it is that one thing which everyone tends to forget about. Again, no better example comes to mind other than India to substantiate this. Right from the festivals, to holiday trips to part celebrations, people’s actions disrupt the balance in nature. Starting with the festival many of them involve submerging sacred statue in rivers or seas causing water pollution. Water bodies have self-cleaning ability, but if polluted beyond the saturation point they disturb the aquatic life. Many varieties of fish are known to have become endangered due to people’s negligence. Some festivals involve blasting crackers which causes air pollution. Not only this, stray animals suffer severe trauma because of the unbearable noise of crackers. Moving on to overzealous vacation trips, people somehow damage the environment there also. Look at seashore. I live in small town Daman where every weekend tourists come and dump wastes and garbage at seashore. Some of Indian hill stations have started getting warmer. The rise in temperature is partly due to the vehicles coming to these areas packed with visitors and emitting CO2 copiously. Such scenes have especially become common in places like Massoorie, Simla, Khandala, etc, which are close to major cities like Delhi, Mumbai, etc. People do not mind taking their high emission vehicles to these serene places, thus disturbing their ecology. And all this is due to inadequate government policies and the indifferent attitude of the people.

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The Supposed Ethics of Economic Growth:

One of the most pressing arguments for continued economic growth is that it is necessary to meet the needs of poor people. Jim MacNeill, the secretary-general to the Brundtland Commission, argues that: The most urgent imperative of the next few decades is further rapid growth. A fivefold to tenfold increase in economic activity would be required over the next 50 years in order to meet the needs and aspirations of a burgeoning world population, as well as to begin to reduce mass poverty. If such poverty is not reduced significantly and soon, there really is no way to stop the accelerating decline in the planet’s stocks of basic capital: its forests, soils, species, fisheries, waters and atmosphere. (1989, p. 106) The Brundtland Report also argued that economic growth was necessary for poorer nations to meet their needs but used this argument to support economic growth in all nations. This argument is based on the idea that if the whole pie were bigger than each person’s share would be larger and even the smallest portions would be adequate to meet a person’s needs. The need for a growing pie avoids facing up to the ethical questions about how the pie is distributed. If the pie is not growing then either some people will remain in poverty or others will have to give up some of their share to them. As William Rees has said: ‘economic growth is a major instrument of social policy. By sustaining hope for improvement, it relieves the pressure for policies aimed at more equitable distribution of wealth.’ (1990, p.18)  However, economic growth does not necessarily eliminate poverty. The economic growth that has occurred worldwide over the last 20 years has not decreased the poverty in many developing nations; and the richest nations in the world still accommodate some of the poorest people. Such poverty results from distributional problems rather than from a nation’s lack of wealth. Although the world’s economy has grown 5 times since 1950 there are arguably more people in absolute poverty today than there were then.

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Final comments:

Humans and the environment shape each other and thus must exist co-harmoniously. Humans exploit the natural capital for development to meet their basic needs and wants. To continue to do this on the long-term; they must develop a culture of managing/exploiting natural resources sustainable. That is, up to the level where there is self –regeneration for the renewable natural resources; and by reducing exploitation of non-renewable resources and expanding the use of alternatives. ‘No-one’ half of the globe can exist without the other as we all depend on the ‘common resources.’ We must all be united in securing our common inheritance: the developed world and the developing world; the poor and the not so poor; those whose livelihood depend directly on the natural resources and those who do not. A vision to create a world where economic progress meets environmental conservation is the need of time. One cannot achieve much by just blaming the rampant industrial development witnessed in the 20th and 21st century. Changing the lifestyle for acclimatizing ourselves to the imminent food and energy crisis while still optimizing the economic development are the solutions that we have to act upon. 

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The ‘environment’ is where we live; and development is what we all do in attempting to improve our lot within that abode. The two are inseparable. The economy and environment are not in opposition with one another. In fact, environmental issues are not separate from any issue we face but actually a component of them all. You cannot combat poverty, disease, or suffering without a stable climate and a healthy environment for which people to live in and you cannot improve a struggling economy either. A healthy environment is a prerequisite for a healthy economy. The economy relies on the planet’s ability to provide resources and the necessities of life, if the pollution we produce is reducing its ability to do that it becomes catastrophic for the economy. In fact, climate change has the potential to (and most likely will) send us into one of the biggest global recessions ever.

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Myths vis-à-vis economy vs. environment:

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Myth: We can’t afford any more environmental protection, because it will hurt the economy.

Fact: How many times have you heard that line? Probably every time any new standards were proposed to clean up our air or water and protect our health. And every time we try to preserve some rare plant or animal we have pushed to the brink of extinction, it‘s ―owls (or whatever) versus jobs. These arguments are the most common ones we face in trying to protect the earth. Politicians spout them freely, and so do business groups and radio talk show entertainers. There is only one problem with these assertions: They are simply not true! There have been dozens of well designed studies by economists who have tested these claims, and the results are clear: environmental protection normally has no negative impact on the economy overall, and sometimes it has a positive effect.

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Myth: As a country’s economy grows, its environment becomes cleaner.

Fact: Yes, according to environmental Kuznets curve, as economy becomes mature, per capita income rises, pollution falls. However, the environment doesn’t have national boundaries, and the global environment is degrading at an alarming rate. The UK economy is much, much bigger than 100 years ago, and yet locally, the air and water quality is better in many places. But that’s because they hardly manufacture anything anymore – dirty factories have been exported to the Far East, India and Latin America. And then everything has to be transported from the other side of the world, creating much more ecological damage than if these goods were produced at UK. Japan has displaced its environmental costs to less prosperous and less powerful neighbors. American Union Carbide was responsible for the worst industrial disaster poisoning environment in Bhopal, India and not in America.  

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Myth: Energy efficiency, renewables and new energy sources will allow growth forever.

Fact: Energy efficiency and renewables are not environmentally-friendly in a growing economy, because any money saved will be used to buy something else – a fridge from China, apples from New Zealand, a holiday in Florida – so the benefit is wiped out. Similarly, on a larger scale, if nuclear fusion becomes available and economically viable, it won’t stop environmental destruction as long as there is a growing economy – can you imagine how many new roads, factories, docks, airports, golf courses etc will be built if we harness fusion? Many more habitats and species will be destroyed. Various studies have shown that energy efficiency does not reduce consumption but in fact increases consumption. If you have a highly fuel efficient car, you will drive more. 

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Myth: We need economic growth to eradicate poverty.

Fact: One of the first things the growth lobby will say if you criticize economic growth is that you are condemning the poor to eternal poverty. Not true – anyone interested in poverty eradication would advocate a re-distribution of wealth. There is enough wealth in the world for everyone to live comfortably – it’s just that most of it is in the hands of a tiny minority. Sharing and a fair distribution of resources will alleviate poverty, not growth. We’ve had 200 years of growth and although some people have been lifted out of poverty, concentration of wealth and power means that there are now more poor people in the world than ever before. There is a case for economic growth in poor countries but economic growth does not necessarily eliminate poverty. India has achieved great economic growth but due to population explosion, corruption and poor governance, one third of the population lives below poverty line. Although the world’s economy has grown 5 times since 1950 there are arguably more people in absolute poverty today than there were then.

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Myth: Humans did not cause global warming and CO2 is a natural gas of the atmosphere.

Fact: First we must know whether CO2 is generated from the natural system or from industrial waste. One needs to know the difference between naturally respirated CO2 in the seasonal carbon cycle and how to identify CO2 from human or industrial sources. The simple answer is that any carbon dioxide that has been breathing in and out of the natural carbon cycle is exposed to Galactic Cosmic Rays (GCR’s) that cause a change in the isotopic signature of the CO2 molecule. The key isotope is C-14. Carbon dioxide that has the C-14 signature has been exposed to GCR’s. If the C-14 signature is missing, then that CO2 has not been exposed to GCR’s and therefore originated from an area protected from solar rays (underground). The isotopic signature clearly shows that the extra CO2in the atmosphere is from fossil fuels. The amount of increase of atmospheric CO2 and the amount of CO2 expected from burning the amount of fossil fuel we have burned are approximately the same. The conclusion is that the quantitative analysis and the C-14 signature provide solid evidence for the human fingerprint on the increase atmospheric carbon dioxide.  CO2 is the most effective greenhouse gas at raising the Earth’s temperature. CO2 has warming potential for as long as 500 years. Global CO2 emissions increase with economic growth and decrease in economic recession. There is a strong scientific consensus that the global climate is changing and that human activity contributes significantly. This consensus is attested to by a joint statement signed in 2005 by 11 of the world’s leading national science academies representing Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, India, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Their statement confirmed the likelihood of human induced climate change. Carbon dioxide makes the largest contribution to enhanced climate change. Fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) are the greatest source of humanity’s carbon dioxide.  

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The moral of the story:

1. One common trend emerges in all the ways mankind hurts the environment: We fail to plan for the future.

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2. Our water, soil, air and mineral resources are finite and that our current rate of use of these resources cannot be maintained over a length of time. The earth cannot support the kind of unrestricted growth which is being seen in the world today.

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3. Modern man now uses for his own purposes some 40% of the net biological product of photosynthesis occurring in terrestrial ecosystems. 

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4. The United Nations estimates that more than 32 million acres (12,949,941 hectares [the equivalent of 36 football fields per minute]) of forest are lost each year. Deforestation leads to global warming, soil erosion, decline in biodiversity and disrupt water cycle.

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 5. Each year millions of people die as a direct or indirect consequence of environmental degradation, whereas hundreds of millions see their health affected. The overwhelming majority of the direct victims of environmental degradation live in the poor countries.

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6. On one hand alleviating poverty especially in tribal areas will help conserve environment and on other hand, industrialization to alleviate poverty harms environment. Poverty causes deforestation and economic development to alleviate poverty also causes deforestation. Also, environmental degradation worsens poverty. So there is a vicious cycle of poverty and environmental degradation.  

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7. Environmental Kuznets curve (EKC) suggests that the level of environmental degradation (pollution) and per capita income follows inverted-U-shaped relationship so that environmental quality deteriorates in early stage of economic development/growth and improves in later stage as an economy develops. Behind this curve lies the traditional economic model of developed countries — “pollute first, harness later”. According to the inverted U-shaped pattern, demand for the environment increases as people get wealthier and more capable of reducing environmental deterioration. The curve describes the relationship between economic growth and the environment in developed countries. Their success seems to infer that there is no need to pay special attention to environmental issues; that the “green” stage of the curve will be reached through rapid economic growth. So the only way to break the vicious cycle of poverty and environmental degradation is to become rich by working hard and developing economy. However corruption, a high degree of income inequality, low level of literacy, lack of political rights and civil liberties, may impede the development of the EKC relationship. This is the reason why EKC theory fails in many Indian states. So economic growth may facilitate some environmental improvements but this is not an automatic process and will only result from investment and policy initiatives.

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8. It is hypocritical and unfair for rich developed countries to demand that poorer nations make environmental conservation their priority. After all, they became rich in the first place by destroying their environment in the industrial revolution. They worked hard and developed their economies but at the cost of cutting down their own trees, polluting their water sources and poured billions of tons of carbon into the air; and so they are in no position to tell others to behave differently. Also one cannot overlook a fact that developed nations have displaced some of its environmental costs by shifting pollution producing factories to less prosperous and less powerful developing nations.       

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9. Rich developed nations have a historical responsibility for global warming because their factories released carbon emissions into the atmosphere long before the climate effects were known. The climate change phenomenon has been caused by the industrialization of the developed world. However China has overtaken the U.S. to become the world’s top carbon polluter since 2006.

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10. There is no country in the world that has achieved high human development index within the limits of Earth’s ecosystem. What we need is high human development using low ecological foot print per capita. If everyone in the world lived like an average American, a total of four Earths would be required to regenerate humanity’s annual demand on nature. What we need is high level of human development without exerting unsustainable pressure on the planet’s ecological resources.    

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11. Both the developed and the developing nations should come together to protect the environment. Instead of questioning each other’s duties, they should collectively strive for a solution and step up their efforts to save the environment. In fact, every county should do its bit.

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12. Sustainable development means balancing our economic, environmental and social needs, allowing prosperity for now and future generations. Sustainable development means that the needs of the present generation should be met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.  

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13.The average global surface temperature of Earth has increased by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius) in the last 130 years, and by 1 degree F (0.56 C) since 1975; and the average global sea level has risen between 0.1 and 0.2 meters since 1900. The average temperature will rise 1.8 degrees C to 4 degrees C by the year 2100. Simply put, the world is getting warmer and the temperature is rising faster than ever. The International Panel on Climate Change estimates that the sea level could rise between 7 and 23 inches (17.8 and 58.4 centimeters) by the end of the century. This poses a great threat to coastal wetland ecosystems and coastal population.

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14. Concentrations of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) are estimated to have been between 200 and 300 parts per million (ppm) during preindustrial times. They are presently close to 400 ppm, and levels around 300 ppm are considered safe to keep a stable climate. Under the business as usual scenario, atmospheric CO2 peaks at 563 ppm in the year 2100. CO2 is the most effective greenhouse gas at raising the Earth’s temperature. CO2 has warming potential for as long as 500 years. Global CO2 emissions increase with economic growth and decrease in economic recession.  

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15. There is substantial scientific evidence to show that global warming is caused by economic growth. On the other hand, for every 1-degree-Celsius increase in temperature in a poor country over the course of a given year, it reduces economic growth by about 1.3 percentage points.  Also, a recent study Climate Vulnerability Monitor has found that global warming is already contributing to the deaths of nearly 400,000 people a year and costing the world more than $1.2 trillion, wiping 1.6% annually from global GDP. In other words, economic growth of the world caused global warming and global warming is harming the economy. The only solution to climate crisis is a fundamental shift to low-carbon energy. However there are physical limits to the rate at which new technologies can be deployed.  

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16. A single car emits 12,000 pounds of carbon dioxide (or 5443 kilograms) every year in the form of exhaust. It would take 250 trees to offset that amount. Can we tell a car owner that he/she has to plant 250 trees to prevent global warming?   

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17. A green economy can be thought of as one which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive. Green economy is identified as an important tool for achieving sustainable development. 

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18. According to a recent provocative study, rising carbon dioxide emissions — the major cause of global warming — cannot be stabilized unless the world’s economy collapses or society builds the equivalent of one new nuclear power plant each day. 

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19. It is a deeply held view that protecting the environment constitutes a net expense to our economy to the extent that environmental concerns have faded in economic hard times.

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20. According to a recent analysis by Trucost, the estimated cost of environmental damage caused by human activity reached $6.6 trillion in 2008, or 11 percent of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP). By 2050, the report continues, “global environmental costs are projected to reach $28.6 trillion, equivalent to 18 percent of GDP,” in a business-as-usual scenario. On the other hand, if renewable and resource-efficient technologies are introduced on a global scale, the cost of environmental externalities could be reduced by 23 percent by 2050.

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21. The costs of addressing environmental damage after it has occurred are usually higher than the costs of preventing pollution or using natural resources in a more sustainable way.

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22. If an economic activity produces directly one million dollars in product but also results in one million dollars of costs in health impacts and destruction of essential assets, common sense might lead you to think nothing has been gained. But health services and asset replacement are part of the GDP, and using GDP as a measure, the loss becomes a gain. To the one million dollars in product is added one million dollars in health services and asset replacement, yielding two million in GDP. This is what happens when the cost of environmental degradation and depletion of natural resources are not deducted from GDP. GDP gains double the amount when pollution is created, since it increases once upon creation (as a side-effect of some valuable process) and again when the pollution is cleaned up.  

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23. We must improve our understanding of how the market, the environment, public policy, and human behavior interact. Recently many nations have moved from using regulations alone to curb pollution, to the use of economic instruments to internalize environmental costs. Incorporating environmental costs in prices is one of the best solution to reduce environmental degradation by economic growth. We must know that a typical coal power plant generates 3.5 million tons of CO2 per year. The burning of fossil fuels produces around 21.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year. Countries spent a staggering $409 billion dollar on fossil fuel subsidies in 2010. Recent estimates of environmentally destructive subsidies range from $500 to $650 billion annually. As long as government subsidies encourage activities that environmental policies seek to discourage, the effectiveness of all the economic instruments to curb environmental degradation will be limited. In other words, take out subsidies on fossil fuel and augment subsidies on nuclear, solar, hydro and wind power. For example, unless coal burned power plant meets requirements for ISO 50001:2011 certificationelectricity generated from coal burned power plant which is highly polluting, should be more expensive to consumers than electricity generated from non-polluting solar, wind, hydro and nuclear power.  This will also encourage people to install solar panel on buildings and wind turbines on large plain areas.  

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24. We need both economic development and environment, and without either our survival is not possible. In the end, it all comes down to maintaining a balance between economic growth and preserving natural resources.

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25. Studies have found that states with stronger environmental policies consistently out-performed the weaker environmental states on all the economic measures.

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26. Environmentalists estimate that the Earth could efficiently and safely sustain 3 billion people but our population is nearly 7 billion. To sustain such a large population, large economic growth is required at the cost of large environmental degradation and large use of natural resources. Our renewable and non-renewable resources are being alarmingly exhausted due to increasing population pressure posing difficulty to manage threat to future generation. More people means more waste, more demand for food, more production of consumer goods, more need for electricity, cars and everything. In other words, all the factors that contribute to global warming will be exacerbated. Unchecked population growth has a negative impact on any nation, as well as on the whole planet. Both the poverty and the environmental problems of sub-Saharan Africa are largely the result of rapid population growth putting pressure on limited resources. Each birth results not only in the emissions attributable to that person in his or her lifetime, but also the emissions of all his or her descendents. Limiting population growth will result in a higher standard of living and will preserve the environment. Strong family planning programs are in the interests of all countries for greenhouse-gas concerns as well as for broader welfare concerns. However, 80 % of the current consumption of the Earth’s resources is accounted for by the 20% of the world’s population that resides in the rich industrialized countries and therefore curbing consumer habits in these developed nations is equally important besides population control.  

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Dr, Rajiv Desai. MD. 

September 2, 2013  

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Postscript:

I am neither economist nor environmentalist but still I made an honest attempt to discuss this burning issue. We the humans must consider ourselves as a part of the ecosystem and not master of the ecosystem.      

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HEAT ILLNESS

Monday, June 13th, 2011

HEAT ILLNESS:


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Prologue:

Heat stroke is not new to the medical community. In 24 B.C., Roman soldiers with heat stroke were instructed to drink olive oil and wine while rubbing both liquids on the body. In the 1500s, physicians recommended stimulating friction and bloodletting to “release the heat”. In the 18th century, the cause of heat stroke was once thought to be drinking cold water. Patients would receive the diagnosis of “hurt by drinking cold water.” Amazingly, public pumps were posted with signs warning about the risk of sudden death from drinking cold water. Today, heat illness is the number one weather killer in the world and kills more people every year than tornadoes, hurricanes, flooding and lightening. Heat illness is more common in poor & middle class people than rich people because air-conditioners are beyond the reach of majority of middle class people (especially in developing countries) and all poor people. On the top of it, in my view, heat illness is commonly missed by patients, relatives and doctors. I remember a Saudi gentleman driving a car without air-conditioning for hundreds of kilometers in very hot Saudi summer brought to hospital with weakness, vomiting & high temperature; and was diagnosed as a case of fever by emergency doctor. It was impending heat stroke.

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Seasons:


Seasons result from the yearly revolution of the Earth around the Sun (minor contribution) and the tilt of the Earth’s axis relative to the plane of revolution (major contribution). The Earth’s axis is tilted from perpendicular to the plane of the ecliptic by 23.5°. This tilting is what gives us the four seasons of the year – spring, summer, autumn (fall) and winter. Since the axis is tilted, different parts of the globe are oriented towards the Sun at different times of the year. Summer is warmer than winter (in each hemisphere) because the Sun’s rays hit the Earth at a more direct angle during summer than during winter and also because the days are much longer than the nights during the summer. During the winter, the Sun’s rays hit the Earth at an extreme angle, and the days are very short. These effects are due to the tilt of the Earth’s axis. During May, June and July, the northern hemisphere is exposed to more direct sunlight because the hemisphere faces the sun. The same is true of the southern hemisphere in November, December and January. When it is summer in the southern hemisphere it is winter in the northern hemisphere, and vice versa.  It is the tilt of the Earth that causes the Sun to be higher in the sky during the summer months which increases the solar flux. The solstices are days when the Sun reaches its farthest northern and southern declinations. For the year 2011, the winter solstice occurs on December 22 and marks the beginning of winter (this is the shortest day of the year) and the summer solstice occurs on June 21 and marks the beginning of summer (this is the longest day of the year). However, there exists a variable seasonal lag meaning that the meteorological start of the season, which is based on average temperature patterns, occurs several weeks later than the start of the astronomical season. According to meteorologists, summer extends for the whole months of June, July, and August in the northern hemisphere and the whole months of December, January, and February in the southern hemisphere. In southern and Southeast Asia, where the monsoon occurs, summer is more generally defined as lasting from March to May/early June, their warmest time of the year, ending with the onset of the monsoon rains.

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Climate change (global warming) and health:

Global warming is the current rise in the average temperature of Earth’s oceans and atmosphere. During the 20th century, global surface temperature increased by about 0.74 °C (1.33 °F) and it is projected that global surface temperature is likely to rise 1.1 to 6.4 °C (2.0 to 11.5 °F) by 2100.  It would be speculative to assume that the cooling mechanisms developed by human body over evolution of millions of years to dissipate extra-heat, will in fact work, when global warming causes increase in ambient temperature by 1 to 2 degree Celsius over 50 years. Sufficient to say that our body would not have developed newer mechanism to dissipate extra-heat of global warming and therefore our existing heat dissipation mechanisms would be overloaded and can be overwhelmed by global warming.

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Climate change threatens far more than our environment. It has already led to the spread of infectious diseases and respiratory ailments across the globe and contributed to thousands of deaths through heat waves and other extreme weather events. Malaria, Lyme disease, and cholera, as well as food shortages and malnutrition, are all becoming increased risks with steadily rising temperatures. Even slight increases in temperature – a couple of degrees – can broaden the habitat of pests that cause infectious diseases, from malaria in Kenya to Lyme disease in Maine. Pests also target wildlife, wiping out forests and increasing the risk of fires, such as in the Rockies and Cascades, where it used to be too cool for those pests to venture to high altitudes. A WHO report estimated that an additional 150,000 people were dying every year from global warming – mainly from malnutrition, diarrhoea and malaria. Another result of a changing climate: heat and carbon dioxide magnify the effects of asthma and allergies, particularly in cities where more and more children are developing respiratory problems.

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Climate change is leading to variations in weather patterns and an apparent increase in extreme weather events, including heat-waves. And a combination of heat waves — such as the one that killed fifteen thousands Russians last summer (2010) — and droughts not only causes immediate local health crises, but also threatens global public health by destroying crops and driving up food prices. The heat-waves have led to a rise in related mortality but the adverse health effects of hot weather and heat-waves are largely preventable. Prevention requires a portfolio of actions at different levels, including meteorological early warning systems, timely public and medical advice, improvements to housing and urban planning, and ensuring that health care and social systems are ready to act. These actions can be integrated into a defined heat–health action plan.

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Population health outcomes of hot weather and heat waves depend upon the level of exposure (frequency, severity and duration), the size of the exposed population and the population sensitivity. It is therefore not surprising that the relationship between daily weather and health varies between populations and between studies. For a given city or region there is a general pattern of increase in the number of daily deaths above and below an optimum range of temperatures.

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Are we warm-blooded?

We humans are warm-blooded animals. In fact, with a few exceptions, all mammals and birds are warm-blooded, and all reptiles, insects, arachnids, amphibians and fish are cold-blooded. Warm-blooded creatures try to keep the inside of their bodies at a constant temperature. In other words, warm-blooded species tries to maintain core body temperature independent of environmental temperature. The human body has the remarkable capacity for regulating its core temperature somewhere between 98°F and 100°F when the ambient temperature is between approximately 68°F and 130°F. They do this by generating their own heat when they are in a cooler environment, and by cooling themselves when they are in a hotter environment. To generate heat, warm-blooded animals convert the food that they eat into energy. They have to eat a lot of food, compared with cold-blooded animals, to maintain a constant body temperature. Only a small amount of the food that a warm-blooded animal eats is converted into body mass. The rest is used to fuel a constant body temperature. Cold-blooded creatures take on the temperature of their surroundings. They are hot when their environment is hot and cold when their environment is cold. In hot environments, cold-blooded animals can have blood that is much warmer than warm-blooded animals. A cold-blooded animal can convert much more of its food into body mass compared with a warm-blooded animal. Mammals and birds require much more food & energy than do cold-blooded animals of the same weight.

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Heat generated by human body:

Out of total energy derived from food, about 20 percent is utilized for all metabolic processes and the remaining 80 percent is converted into heat to maintain the core temperature of human body. Irrespective of the work output, a human body continuously generates heat at a rate varying from about 100 Watts (e.g. for a sedentary person) to as high as 2000 Watts (e.g. a person doing strenuous exercise). Continuous heat generation is essential, as the temperature of the human body has to be maintained within a narrow range of temperature, irrespective of the external surroundings. The rate of metabolic heat production is primarily controlled by the rate of body activity. In general, the more physically active (physical exertion), the higher the metabolic rate and the higher metabolic rate will generate more heat which in turn will increase body temperature above normal unless extra-heat is dissipated. Other factors which influence an individual’s metabolic rate include: body weight, sex, age and state of health. The metabolic rate is normally measured in the unit “Met”. A Met is defined as the metabolic rate per unit area of a sedentary person and is found to be equal to about 58.2 W/m2. This is also known as “basal metabolic rate”. When the metabolic rate is about 1 Met (58.2 W/m2), there is neither body cooling nor body heating at an operative temperature of about 25.5 deg C for light clothed person. That means that when Met is higher, more heat is generated necessitating heat dissipation to prevent core temperature rising. The resting individual has metabolic rate of 0.7 met, light work 1.2 met, walking 2 met and wrestling 7 met. The total heat generated rate by body is given in following formula.


Where A is the surface area of the body in square-meter and QG is total heat generated in watts. For example, a normal adult with 1.7 square-meter body area is walking (2 met) that will generate heat of 197.8 watts.

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Body temperature:

Is this the correct way to measure body temperature?


An axillary temperature is when your armpit (axilla) is used to check your temperature. No reputed textbook of medicine advocates axillary temperature measurements. This is because axilla (armpit) is exposed to air and hence its temperature is influenced by air temperature. Axillary temperature should be read after 5 minutes but nobody waits for 5 minutes. Even under ideal conditions, an armpit (axillary) temperature is usually 0.5°F (0.3°C) to 1°F (0.6°C) lower than an oral temperature. So when you are taking axillary temperature, you are going to miss many cases of fever and heat illnesses. To counteract it, nurses add 1 degree to the temperature they get from armpit for a more accurate reading but it is unscientific to say the least. Nonetheless, the sorry state of affairs in India, I have seen many nurses & doctors taking axillary temperature and nobody objects to it.

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While measuring the temperature, make sure that the patient hasn’t just had a bath or has been exercising. This could give a wrong temperature reading. Improper placement of the thermometer or removing it too quickly, could also give a faulty thermometer reading. Oral or rectal temperature should be measured. For oral temperature measurement, with your mouth open, put the tip of thermometer under your tongue. Close your lips gently around the thermometer. Avoid using mercury thermometer because if thermometer breaks, mercury may be swallowed or absorbed. A child younger than 5 years may bite the thermometer, breaking it in their mouth. So take rectal temperature in children below 5 years. There is a perception that axillary temperature should be taken in infants as it is too dangerous to take oral or rectal temperature. Taking oral temperature may be dangerous in infants for the risk of breaking thermometer in mouth but the same cannot be said about rectal temperature. Rectal temperature measurement is safer than previously suggested as perforation has occurred in less than one in two million measurements. Also, when used in hospital to detect high temperature, axillary temperature had a sensitivity of 73% compared with rectal temperature. This is too insensitive for accurate detection of an infant’s high temperature. Therefore, if an infant’s temperature needs to be taken, rectal temperature should be used. If heat stroke is suspected, always take rectal temperature in all age groups.

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Different parts of the body have different temperatures. Core temperature is the temperature of structures deep within the body, as opposed to peripheral (surface) temperature such as that of the skin. The skin is the largest organ in the human body. It protects the body from the sun’s rays. It also keeps body (core) temperature normal (37 °C). Skin temperature depends on air temperature and time spent in that environment. Such weather factors as wind chill and humidity cause changes in skin temperature. The normal temperature of skin is about 33 °C or 91 °F. The flow of energy to and from the skin determines our sense of hot and cold. Heat flows from higher to lower temperature, so the human skin will not drop below that of surrounding air, regardless of wind. If a person goes in a warm room and his skin temperature was cooler than the air, then his skin temperature would rise. The opposite would happen in a cold room and warm skin temperature. The person’s skin temperature would decrease. Humans fight air temperature by becoming warm or cold. When warm, they sweat. When cold, they get chills. On a trip during a windy and snowy day, a man recorded his skin temperature from different parts of body while climbing a mountain. The skin temperature of his toe was about 15 °C. At the same time, the skin temperature of his chest was 32 °C. This proves that different parts of body can have different skin temperatures. The skin over chest is closer to core of body while skin over toes is far away from core of body.

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Rectal and vaginal measurements, or measurements taken directly inside the body cavity, are typically slightly higher than oral measurements, and oral measurements are somewhat higher than skin temperature. Temperature examination in the rectum is the traditional gold standard measurement used to estimate core temperature. Rectal temperatures are generally 0.4°C (0.7°F) higher than oral readings. Lower oral readings are probably attributable to mouth breathing, a particularly important factor in patients with respiratory infections and rapid breathing. Also, oral temperature is affected by hot or cold drink taken just before measurement. Lower-esophageal temperatures closely reflect core temperature. Tympanic (ear) thermometer measurements, although convenient, may be more variable than directly determined oral or rectal values. Ear thermometers measure eardrum temperature using infrared sensors. The blood supply to the tympanic membrane is shared with the brain. However, this method of measuring body temperature is not as accurate as rectal measurement and has a low sensitivity for fevers, missing three or four out of every ten fevers in children. Ear temperature measurement may be acceptable for observing trends in body temperature but it is less useful in consistently identifying fevers.

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The commonly accepted average core body temperature (taken internally) is 37.0 °C (98.6 °F). The typical oral (under the tongue) measurement is slightly cooler, at 36.8±0.7 °C, or 98.2±1.3 °F, with low levels at 6 a.m. and high levels at 4–6 p.m. Normal daily temperature variation is typically 0.5°C (0.9°F). In some individuals recovering from a febrile illness, daily variation can be as great as 1.0°C. During a febrile illness, diurnal variations are usually maintained, but at higher levels. Daily temperature swings do not occur in patients with hyperthermia. It is observed that when the core temperature is between 35 to 39oC, the body experiences only a mild discomfort. When the temperature is lower than 35oC or higher than 39oC, then people suffer major loss in efficiency. It becomes lethal when the temperature falls below 31oC or rises above 43oC.

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Core temperature (rectal, esophageal, etc.)
Normal 36.5–37.5 °C (98–100 °F)
Hypothermia <35.0 °C (95.0 °F)
Fever >37.5–38.3 °C (100–101 °F)
Hyperthermia >37.5–38.3 °C (100–101 °F)
Hyperpyrexia >41.5 °C (>106.7 °F)
Note: The difference between fever and hyperthermia is the mechanism

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Thermoregulation:

Body temperature is controlled by the hypothalamus in our brain. Neurons in both the preoptic anterior hypothalamus and the posterior hypothalamus receive two kinds of signals: one from peripheral nerves that reflect warmth/cold receptors and the other from the temperature of the blood bathing the region. These two types of signals are integrated by the thermoregulatory center of the hypothalamus (thermostat) to maintain normal temperature. In a neural environment, the metabolic rates of humans consistently produce more heat than is necessary to maintain the core body temperature of 37 degree C. A normal body temperature is ordinarily maintained, despite environmental variations, because the hypothalamic thermoregulatory center balances the excess heat production derived from metabolic activities from muscles & liver with heat dissipation from skin & lungs.

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Elevated body temperature occurs due to process of heat conservation (vasoconstriction) and heat production (shivering and increased metabolic activity). Vasoconstriction means blood vessels in the periphery of body are constricted, shunting away blood form periphery (skin) to the internal organs. The person feels cold. This process can increase body temperature by 1-2 degree C. Vasoconstriction can directly prevent heat loss from skin by reducing heat loss via radiation, convection and conduction. Shivering, which increases heat production from muscles, can increases temperature further. Heat productions from liver also contribute. Human behavior of putting on more clothing/bedding can also help raise temperature by reducing heat loss from skin. So when you are exposed to cold environment, body maintains core temperature by vasoconstriction, increased heat production and behavioral changes.

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Lowering of body temperature occurs by process of heat loss via sweating and vasodilatation. Vasodilatation means blood vessels in periphery of body are dilated drawing away blood from internal organs to periphery (skin) promoting heat loss via skin. Vasodilatation can directly promote heat loss from skin by the processes of radiation, convection and conduction provided skin temperature is higher than ambient temperature. Skin blood flow can increase from approximately 0.2–0.5 L/min in normothermia to values exceeding 7–8 L/min hyperthermia. However, if the ambient temperature is higher than skin temperature, then, sweat evaporation is the only means of heat loss. The evaporation of sweat from skin takes away bodily heat promoting heat loss, thereby reducing temperature. So when you are exposed to hot environment, body maintains core temperature by vasodilatation and sweating. Heat produced by metabolic processes of body can not be reduced in hot environment because these metabolic processes are essential for our survival.

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The healthy human body maintains its internal temperature around 37°C. Variations, usually of less than 1°C, occur with the time of the day, level of physical activity or emotional state. A change of body temperature exceeding 1°C occurs only during illness or when environmental conditions surpass the body’s ability to cope with extreme temperatures. As the environment warms-up, the body tends to warm-up as well. The body’s internal “thermostat” maintains a constant inner body temperature by pumping more blood to the skin and by increasing sweat production. In this way, the body increases the rate of heat loss to balance the heat burden created by the environment. In a very hot environment, the rate of “heat gain” exceeds the rate of “heat loss” and the body temperature begins to rise. A rise in the body temperature results in heat illnesses.

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The normal human body temperature range (36.1–37.8 ºC) is maintained by the hypothalamus which constantly regulates heat gain and heat loss. The main source of heat gain is the body’s own internal heat called metabolic heat. It is generated within the body by the biochemical processes that keep us alive and by the energy we use in physical activity.

Heat is exchanged with the environment by:

(1) Radiation occurs through electromagnetic waves in the form of infrared rays. At rest, radiation is the primary method of heat loss. Heat loss by radiation occurs by electromagnetic waves when someone is in an environment that is cooler than the body temperature. Therefore, if the ambient temperature is 60 deg F, and the body temperature is 98.6 deg F, the body radiates heat to the environment, including buildings, trees, etc. Radiation is the process by which the body gains heat from surrounding hot objects, such as hot metal, furnaces or steam pipes, and loses heat to cold objects, such as chilled metallic surfaces, without contact with them. No radiant heat gain or loss occurs when the temperature of surrounding objects is the same as the skin temperature (about 33°C).

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(2) Convection occurs through water or air circulating across the skin. Convection is the process by which the body exchanges heat with the surrounding air. The body gains heat from hot air and loses heat to cold air which comes in contact with the skin. Convective heat exchange increases with increasing air speed and increased difference between air and skin temperature.

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(3) By conduction, the body gains or loses heat when it comes into direct contact with hot or cold objects. It is a small amount as compared to other heat exchange modalities.

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(4) Evaporation of sweat.

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Conduction, radiation and convection require a temperature gradient between the skin and its surroundings, and evaporation entails a water vapor pressure gradient. Excessive heat exposure constitutes a major stress for the organism but particularly for the cardiovascular system. When environmental heat overwhelms the body’s heat-dissipating mechanisms, core temperature rises. An increase of less than 1 ºC is immediately detected by thermoreceptors disseminated through the skin, deep tissues and organs. The thermoreceptors convey the information to the hypothalamic thermoregulatory centre, which triggers two powerful responses to increase dissipation of heat: an active increase in skin blood flow and initiation of sweating (through cholinergic pathways). The cutaneous vasodilatation results in marked increases in blood flow to the skin and cardiac output, at the expense of other major systems. When the outdoor temperature is higher than the skin temperature, the only heat loss mechanism available is evaporation (sweating). Therefore, any factor that hampers evaporation, such as high ambient humidity, reduced air currents (no breeze, tight fitting clothes) or drugs with anticholinergic mechanisms, will result in a rise of body temperature that can culminate in life-threatening heatstroke or aggravate chronic medical conditions in vulnerable individuals. Evaporation proceeds more quickly and the cooling effect is more pronounced with high wind speeds and low relative humidity. In hot and humid workplaces, the cooling of the body due to sweat evaporation is limited by the capacity of the ambient air to accept additional moisture. In hot and dry workplaces, the cooling due to sweat evaporation is limited by the amount of sweat produced by the body. The body also exchanges small amounts of heat by breathing. Breathing exchanges heat because the respiratory system warms the inhaled air. When exhaled, this warmed air carries away some of the body’s heat. However, the amount of heat exchanged through breathing is normally small enough to be ignored in assessing the heat load on the body. Also, evaporation of insensible fluid from skin (trans-epithelial) & respiratory tract is a major source of heat loss from the body each day but is not under regulatory control.

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Under control of thermoregulatory mechanisms, sweating begins almost precisely at a skin temperature of 37°C and increases rapidly as the skin temperature rises above this value. The heat production of the body under these conditions remains almost constant as the skin temperature rises. If the skin temperature drops below 37°C, a variety of responses are initiated to conserve the heat in the body and to increase heat production. These include

1)   Vasoconstriction to decrease the flow of heat to the skin.

2)   Cessation of sweating.

3)   Shivering to increase heat production in the muscles.

4)   Secretion of norepinephrine, epinephrine, and thyroxine to increase heat production.

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Heat Balance equation

Body Heat = Metabolism + [+/- conduction +/- radiation +/- convection – evaporation]

Note:

Conduction, convection and radiation modes of heat transfer proceeds only form higher temperature to lower temperature. If the skin temperature is higher than ambient temperature, heat will be lost from body to environment through these 3 modes. If the ambient temperature is higher than skin temperature, then, heat will be gained by body through these 3 modes. Sweat evaporation is a one way traffic. Heat is always lost from body to environment through sweat evaporation. Unless the person has more heat than can be eliminated by radiation and convection, evaporation (through perspiration) is not required and conduction is negligible. A sedentary person at neutral condition loses about 40 % of heat by evaporation, about 30 % by convection and 30 % by radiation. However, this proportion may change with other factors. The process of sweating itself consumes energy but it is negligible in quantity and therefore not considered.

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Sweat:

Sweating is controlled from a center in the hypothalamus where thermosensitive neurones are located. The heat regulatory function of the hypothalamus is affected by inputs from temperature receptors in the skin. High skin temperature reduces the hypothalamic set point for sweating and increases the gain of the hypothalamic feedback system in response to variations in core temperature. Overall though, the sweating response to a rise in hypothalamic temperature (‘core temp’) is much larger than the response to the same increase in average skin temperature. The volume of water lost in sweat daily is highly variable, ranging from 100 to 8,000 ml/day. It is made almost completely of water, with tiny amounts of other chemicals like ammonia, urea, salts, and sugar. The solute loss can be as much as 350 mmol/day (or 90 mmol/day acclimatized) of sodium under the most extreme conditions. In a cool climate and in the absence of exercise, sodium loss can be very low (less than 5 mmols/day). Sodium concentration in sweat is 30-65 mmol/l, depending on the degree of acclimatization. In humans, sweat is hypo-osmotic relative to plasma. In general, emotionally induced sweating is restricted to palms, soles, armpits, and sometimes the forehead, while physical heat-induced sweating occurs throughout the body. Individuals with heat exposure can require from 5 to 13 liters of water per day depending upon the type of work they do. Salt consumption should be slightly increased to compensate for loses due to sweating. However, an average American/Indian diet contains excess salt anyway, so salt tablets are unnecessary and may indeed be harmful. Horses and humans are two of the few animals capable of sweating. Animals with few sweat glands, such as dogs, accomplish similar temperature regulation results by panting, which evaporates water from the moist lining of the oral cavity and pharynx. The adult human body can maximally produce 1 to 2 liters of perspiration every hour to cool it. If there’s not enough fluid or the heat overwhelms the body, the person develops a heat related illness.

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Do humans pant?

Panting is the primary avenue for evaporative heat loss in most non-sweating animals, dissipating as much as 95% of metabolic heat. Panting is dominated by an increased breathing frequency, with elevated evaporative heat loss occurring within the upper airways at frequencies as high as 200 breaths/min. Humans have an extremely powerful sweating response, and while the coexistence in humans of hyperthermia and hyperventilation has been known for almost 100 years; ventilatory heat losses generally constitute a small portion of total heat loss during thermal stress. Contrary to the situation in panting species where there is no clear threshold body temperature for the onset of hyperventilation; a change in respiration occurs in humans (hyperthermic hyperventilation) only when core body temperature has risen to a threshold value; once a threshold temperature is exceeded, hyperventilation ensues. This threshold is significantly higher than the threshold temperatures for both the onset of sweating and increase in cutaneous blood flow, demonstrating that the respiratory response to hyperthermia is a part of the usual group of thermolytic reflexes to cool down brain. Most heat exchange takes place at the nasal epithelial lining, and venous drainage can be directed to a special network of arteries at the base of the brain whereby countercurrent heat transfer can occur, which results in selective brain cooling.

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Evaporation of sweat from the skin surface has a cooling effect due to the latent heat of evaporation of water. Hence, in hot weather, or when body heats up due to physical exertion, more sweat is produced. Typically, all of the sweat does not evaporate, but a part of it runs off your skin. After the sweat has been evaporated, the water vapor must move away from the skin in order that more evaporation can occur; which is dependent on speed of air movement around skin. The driving force for evaporation is the gradient of the water vapor pressure near the skin surface. The water vapor pressure is that part of the total pressure of the air which is caused by the molecules of water vapor in it. The maximum driving force is the difference between the vapor pressure of water at skin temperature and the vapor pressure in the air as a whole. Remember, vapor pressure of water is different from vapor pressure in air (vide infra). Higher the humidity of air, greater will be vapor pressure in air, lesser will be the gradient of water vapor pressure at the skin surface and lesser will be sweat evaporation.

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If air temperature is as warm as or warmer than the skin, blood brought to the body surface cannot lose its heat. Under these conditions, the heart continues to pump blood to the body surface, the sweat glands pour liquids containing electrolytes onto the surface of the skin and the evaporation of the sweat becomes the principal effective means of maintaining a constant body temperature. Sweating does not cool the body unless the moisture is removed from the skin by evaporation. Under conditions of high humidity, the evaporation of sweat from the skin is decreased and the body’s efforts to maintain an acceptable body temperature may be significantly impaired.

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Ratio of body surface area to body mass (weight);

Assuming all other factors same, the heat transfer between environment and human body is proportional to the surface area of the body, while the heat generated by the body is proportional to its mass. Greater the mass of human body, more heat will be generated. Greater the surface area, more heat will be lost through radiation, conduction and convection if environmental temperature is less than body temperature which is the case in many parts of worlds in all seasons. However, in other parts of world, during summer, the environmental temperature is higher than body temperature. Again, greater surface area will be advantageous as more heat can be lost via sweating. The ratio of body surface area to body mass is crucial in determining body response to environmental temperature changes. A commonly accepted view in human physiology literature is that a high surface to mass ratio is beneficial in the heat. This is based on the concept that body surface determines heat loss capacity for dry and evaporative heat loss (together with skin temperature and sweat rate) and that body mass determines the amount of heat producing tissues. However when sweat evaporation was limited, as e.g. in hot humid climates, this higher ratio would not be advantageous. In cold climates, greater the exposed surface area, greater the loss of heat and therefore energy. Humans in cold climates need to conserve as much energy as possible. A low surface area to mass ratio helps to conserve heat and will be advantageous in cold climate. In warm climates, the opposite is true. We will overheat quickly if we have a low surface area to mass ratio. Therefore, humans in warm climates need to have high surface area to mass ratios so as to help them lose heat. In a nutshell, it simply means there is a characteristic ratio of body surface area to body mass that generally correlates with climate. For example, Fur or Tutsi people of Africa (warm climate) release body heat more readily because their ratio is high. However, Eskimos and Inuit (cold climate) have a lower ratio and therefore retain body heat.

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Greater the ratio of surface area to mass, advantageous in summer and disadvantageous in winter.

Lesser the ratio of surface area to mass, advantageous in winter and disadvantageous in summer.

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Body surface area (BSA):

The human body is considered to be a cylinder with uniform heat generation and dissipation. The surface area over which the heat dissipation takes place is given by an empirical equation, called as Du Bois Equation. This equation expresses the surface area as a function of the mass and height of the human being.


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Average BSA is generally taken to be 1.73 m² for an adult.

Average BSA values
Neonate (Newborn) 0.25
Child 2 years 0.5
Child 9 years 1.07
Child 10 years 1.14
Child 12-13 years 1.33
For men 1.9
For women 1.6

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All formula of BSA contains height and weight of an individual and therefore ratio of surface area to mass (weight) is more dependent on height than weight. So comparison of the height of two individual will roughly compare the ratios of surface areas to mass of the same two individuals irrespective of their weights. In other words, greater the height of an individual, greater will be his ability to dissipate heat.

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Humidity and relative humidity (RH):

The term humidity describes the fact that the atmosphere does contain water vapor. The amount of humidity found in air varies depending on many factors. Absolute humidity on a volume basis is the mass of water in the unit volume of air. The most common units are grams per cubic meter. Absolute humidity ranges from 0 grams per cubic meter in dry air to 30 grams per cubic meter when the vapor is saturated at 30 °C. Relative humidity is defined as the ratio of the partial pressure of water vapor (in a gaseous mixture of air and water vapor) to the saturated vapor pressure of water vapor at a given temperature. In other words, relative humidity is the amount of water vapor in the air at a specific temperature compared to the maximum water vapor that the air is able to hold without it condensing, at that given temperature. Relative humidity is expressed as a percentage and is calculated in the following manner:


Where PG [H2O] is the partial pressure of water vapor in the given air; PS [H2O] is the partial pressure of the saturated water vapor at that temperature of the air; and RH is relative humidity at that temperature.

Note: In a gas mixture having water vapor e.g. air, the vapor pressure is synonymous with the partial pressure exerted by vapor. Since air contains predominantly nitrogen gas and oxygen gas, the atmospheric pressure of air is the sum total of partial pressures of nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor and partial pressures of other gases. Therefore the term ‘vapor pressure’ and ‘partial pressure of water vapor’ can be used interchangeably as far as air (atmosphere) is concerned.

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In other words, Relative humidity (RH) is the amount of moisture in the air compared to what the air can “hold” at that temperature. When the air can’t “hold” all the moisture, then it condenses as dew. The dewpoint temperature is the temperature at which the air can no longer hold all of its water vapor, and some of the water vapor must condense  into liquid water. The dew point is always lower than (or equal to) the air temperature. Relative humidity of 100% indicates the dew point is equal to the current temperature and the air is maximally saturated with water. Air with a relative humidity of 50% contains half of the water vapor it could hold at a particular temperature. The picture below shows concept of relative humidity (RH).


The yellow circle is the amount of water vapor, the air can maximally hold at that temperature and the blue circle is the amount of water vapor, the air is actually holding at that temperature.

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The capacity of the air to hold moisture is proportional to ambient temperature; warm air can hold more moisture than cold air. Basically heat loss through sweating is inversely proportional to RH. So when we are in hot weather with warm air as in heat waves, higher RH will reduce efficiency of sweat mediated heat loss and therefore we are more prone to heat illness despite sweating. However, in a proscribed space e.g., a room, as warm air in it is cooled; the capacity of the air to hold moisture in that room thus decreases reducing RH. So the best thing to do in heat waves is to remain indoor in cool room.

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Radiant temperature:

We all know air temperature but less known and equally important is mean radiant temperature. All objects emit radiant energy at a level proportional to their temperature. Thus, when we are in a room, we radiate out to all surfaces and objects and they radiate back. The mean radiant temperature is a measure of the radiative effects arising in a room from all objects and surfaces. Large cold surfaces such as cold walls or windows can greatly reduce the mean radiant temperature of a room, causing significant thermal discomfort. For example, a poorly insulated home has cold interior walls, and bodies within its rooms continually lose heat to these cold surfaces. To compensate, room air temperature must be raised significantly, even as high as 27 degree C, before occupants feel comfortable. The complex interaction of air temperature, mean radiant temperature, air velocity and humidity makes up the human thermal environment.

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Heat wave:


The above picture shows temperature difference in Europe form the average during the European heat wave of 2003.

The heat wave as defined by the World Meteorological Organization is when the daily maximum temperature of more than five consecutive days exceeds the average maximum temperature by 5 Celsius degrees (9 Fahrenheit degrees), the normal period being 1961–1990. Temperatures that people from a hotter climate consider normal can be termed a heat wave in a cooler area if they are outside the normal climate pattern for that area. The term is applied both to routine weather variations and to extraordinary spells of heat which may occur only once a century. Severe heat waves have caused catastrophic crop failures, thousands of deaths from hyperthermia, and widespread power outages due to increased use of air conditioning. Near the summer solstice, long days & high sun would create warm conditions. In the summer, within an area of high pressure with little or no rain or clouds, the air and the ground easily heats to excess. A static high pressure area can impose a very persistent heat wave. A heat wave may be accompanied by high humidity increasing heat index (vide infra).

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Recently torrid weather continued to bake North Indian plains as mercury soared over 46 deg C in parts of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh and the humidity oscillated between 25 per cent and 56 per cent. Such high ambient temperature would definitely initiate heat illnesses among people. When these unusually hot weather conditions last longer than 2 days, the number of heat illnesses usually increases. This is due to several factors, such as progressive body fluid deficit, loss of appetite (and possible salt deficit), buildup of heat in living and work areas, and breakdown of air-conditioning equipment. Therefore, it is advisable to make a special effort to adhere rigorously to the preventive measures during these extended hot spells (vide infra) and to avoid any unnecessary or unusual stressful activity. Sufficient sleep and good nutrition are important for maintaining a high level of heat tolerance.

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Fever versus hyperthermia:

Fever is an elevation of body temperature that exceeds the normal daily variation and occurs in conjunction with an increase in the hypothalamic set point- for example, from 37 to 39 degree C. This shift of the set point from normothermic to febrile levels is similar to resetting of a thermostat in the AC of your home. On the other hand, hyperthermia means unchanged set point of hypothalamus in conjunction with an uncontrolled increase in body temperature that exceeds the body’s ability to lose heat. Hyperpyrexia is the temperature > 41.5°C (> 106.7°F) which can occur with severe infections, but more commonly occurs with central nervous system (CNS) hemorrhages or hyperthermia.

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The above picture shows summary of the differences between hyperthermia, hypothermia, and fever.
Hyperthermia: Characterized on the left: Normal body temperature (thermoregulatory set-point) is shown in green, while the hyperthermic temperature is shown in red. As can be seen, hyperthermia can be conceptualized as an increase above the thermoregulatory set-point.
Hypothermia: Characterized in the center: Normal body temperature is shown in green, while the hypothermic temperature is shown in blue. As can be seen, hypothermia can be conceptualized as a decrease below the thermoregulatory set-point.
Fever: Characterized on the right: Normal body temperature is shown in green. It reads “New Normal” because the thermoregulatory set-point has risen. This has caused what was the normal body temperature (in blue) to be considered hypothermic.

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It is important to distinguish between fever and hyperthermia. Hyperthermia can be rapidly fatal and characteristically does not respond to antipyretics. There is no rapid way to make this distinction. Hyperthermia is often diagnosed on the basis of events immediately preceding elevation of core temperature for example history of heat exposure and treatment with drugs that interfere with thermoregulation. In addition to clinical history, physical aspects of some forms of hyperthermia may alert the clinician. Hot, dry skin is a typical sign of hyperthermia. The skin may become red and hot as blood vessels dilate in an attempt to increase heat dissipation, sometimes leading to swollen lips. An inability to cool the body through perspiration causes the skin to feel dry. Other signs and symptoms vary depending on the cause. Antipyretics do not reduce elevated temperature in hyperthermia.

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Heat stress:

“Heat stress” is the net (overall) heat burden on the body from the combination of the body heat generated while working, environmental sources (air temperature, humidity, air movement, radiation from the sun or hot surfaces/sources) and clothing requirements. In foundries, steel mills, bakeries, smelters, glass factories, and furnaces, extremely hot or molten material is the main source of heat. In outdoor occupations, such as construction, road repair, open-pit mining and agriculture, summer sunshine is the main source of heat. In laundries, restaurant kitchens, and canneries, high humidity adds to the heat burden. In all instances, the cause of heat stress is a working environment which can potentially overwhelm the body’s ability to deal with heat. Most people feel comfortable when the air temperature is between 20°C and 27°C and the when relative humidity ranges from 35 to 60%. When air temperature or humidity is higher, people feel uncomfortable. Such situations do not cause harm as long as the body can adjust and cope with the additional heat. Very hot environments can overwhelm the body’s coping mechanisms leading to a variety of serious and possibly fatal conditions.

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The most widely used heat stress index is the wet bulb globe temperature (WBGT) index. The WBGT is a composite temperature used to estimate the effect of temperature, humidity, wind speed (wind chill) and solar radiation on humans. It is used by industrial hygienists, athletes, and the military to determine appropriate exposure levels to high temperatures. This method is the most accurate and practical way to evaluate the potential threat of heat related illness in industry.

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In moderately hot environments, the body “goes to work” to get rid of excess heat so it can maintain its normal body temperature. The heart rate increases to pump more blood through outer body parts and skin so that excess heat is lost to the environment, and sweating occurs. These changes impose additional demands on the body. Changes in blood flow and excessive sweating reduce a person’s ability to do physical and mental work. When the environmental temperature rises above 30°C, it may interfere with the performance of mental tasks. Heat can also lead to accidents resulting from the slipperiness of sweaty palms and to accidental contact with hot surfaces. As a worker moves from a cold to a hot environment, fogging of eye glasses can briefly obscure vision, presenting a safety hazard.

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Under conditions of high humidity, the evaporation of sweat from the skin is decreased and the body’s efforts to maintain an acceptable body temperature may be significantly impaired. These conditions adversely affect an individual’s ability to work in the hot environment. With so much blood going to the external surface of the body, relatively less goes to the active muscles, the brain, and other internal organs; strength declines; and fatigue occurs sooner than it would otherwise. Alertness and mental capacity also may be affected. Very high body temperatures may damage the brain or other vital organs directly. Several factors affect the body’s ability to cool itself during extremely hot weather besides humidity including old age, youth (age 0-4), obesity, fever, dehydration, heart disease, mental illness, poor circulation, sunburn, prescription drug use and alcohol use.

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Gender difference of heat tolerance:

Several studies comparing the heat tolerances of men and women have concluded that women are generally less heat tolerant than men. While this difference seems to diminish when such comparisons take into account cardiovascular fitness, body size and acclimatization, women have a lower sweat rate than men of equal fitness, size and acclimatization. Laboratory experiments have shown that women may be more tolerant of heat under humid conditions, but slightly less tolerant than men under dry conditions.

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Acclimatization:

Humans are, to a large extent, capable of adjusting to the heat. When a person moves from a cold climate to a hot climate, adaptive changes occur in their sweating mechanism. These are referred to as acclimatization. The maximum rate of sweating increases and its solute composition decreases. From 1 liter sweat production per hour in a non-acclimated individual, an acclimated individual can produce 2 liter of sweat per hour. This adjustment to heat, under normal circumstances, usually takes about 5 to 7 days, during which time the body will undergo a series of changes that will make continued exposure to heat more endurable. On the first day of work in a hot environment, the body temperature, pulse rate, and general discomfort will be higher. With each succeeding daily exposure, all of these responses will gradually decrease, while the sweat rate will increase. When the body becomes acclimated to the heat, the person will find it possible to perform work with less strain and distress. Gradual exposure to heat gives the body time to become accustomed to higher environmental temperatures. Heat disorders in general are more likely to occur among workers who have not been given time to adjust to working in the heat or among workers who have been away from hot environments and who have gotten accustomed to lower temperatures. Hot weather conditions of the summer are likely to affect the worker who is not acclimatized to heat.  Be aware that any sudden change in temperature, such as an early summer heat wave, will be stressful to your body. You will have a greater tolerance for heat if you limit your physical activity until you become accustomed to the heat. If you travel to a hotter climate, allow several days to become acclimatized before attempting any vigorous exercise, and work up to it gradually.

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Vulnerable population for heat illness:

Heat-waves and hot weather can kill and also aggravate existing health conditions. Health effects can appear in all age groups and as a result of a wide range of factors; however, some people are more at risk of heat-related illness and death than others.

1)   Elderly population: A comprehensive literature review showed that the elderly (and the very elderly) constitute the largest defined group at risk of dying due to a heat-wave. Elderly people with dementia are particularly at risk. Ageing decreases tolerance to heat: thirst is sensed late, the sweating reaction is delayed and the number of sweat glands is reduced. The elderly often suffer from co-morbidity, physical and cognitive impairment and need to take multiple medications. Elderly persons are at increased risk for heat-related illnesses because of their limited cardiovascular reserves, preexisting illness, and use of many medications that may affect their volume status or sweating ability. In addition, elderly people who are unable to care for themselves are at increased risk for heatstroke, presumably because of their inability to control their environment.

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2)   Infants and children are sensitive to the effects of high temperatures because their metabolism differs from the metabolism in adults. They also rely on others to regulate their thermal environments and provide adequate fluid intake. Information and advice should thus be addressed to their carers. Infants and children are also at risk for heat illness due to inefficient sweating. Even though, infants & children have a greater ratio of body surface area to body mass as compared to adults, they are more vulnerable to heat illness due to inefficient sweating, higher metabolism and dependence on others for fluid intake.

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3)   Virtually all chronic diseases present a risk of death/illness due to heat and, since the elderly are more likely to have a chronic medical condition, this is another reason why they are at increased risk.  Medical conditions where the evidence is strongest are psychiatric disorders, depression, diabetes, pulmonary, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular conditions. There are several reasons why people with chronic diseases are at increased risk during heat-waves.

A)  Any disease that leads to an inability to increase cardiac output, such as cardiovascular disease, will increase the susceptibility to heatstroke and/or cardiovascular failure and death, as thermoregulation during severe heat stress requires a healthy cardiovascular system.

B)  Peripheral vascular disease, often caused by diabetes or atherosclerosis, may increase the risk of severe heat illness, as it may be hard to increase the blood supply to the skin.

C) Diarrhoea or febrile illness, particularly in children, and pre-existing renal or metabolic diseases may increase the risk of heat-related illness and death because these may be associated with excessive fluid loss and dehydration.

D) Chronic diseases which affect the number and/or function of sweat glands, such as diabetes, scleroderma and cystic fibrosis, can increase the risk of hyperthermia and heatstroke. Psoriasis, burns and eczema can also affect heat illness.

E)  Any disease or condition that confines someone to bed and reduces their ability to care for themselves or to leave home daily also increases the risk. This is because of a general reduction in the ability to make an appropriate behavioral response to heat.

The table below shows medical conditions which increases risk of dying in a heat wave.


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4)  Medications can also aggravate heat illness. The risk for heat-related illness and death may increase among people using the following drugs:

(A) Psychotropics, which affect psychic function, behavior, or experience (e.g. haloperidol or chlorpromazine);

(B) Medications for Parkinson’s disease, because they can inhibit perspiration;

(C) Tranquilizers such as phenothiazines, butyrophenones, and thiozanthenes;

(D) Diuretic medications or “water pills” that affect fluid balance in the body.

Many medications can directly affect the central and peripheral mechanisms of thermoregulation, namely the thermoregulatory centre or afferent and efferent pathways, sweating, cutaneous vasodilatation, and/or cardiac output and thereby affect heat elimination. A simple non-prescription cough/cold remedy containing anti-histaminic agent can reduce sweating due to its anticholinergic effect. Some medications place you at a greater risk of heatstroke and other heat-related conditions because they affect your body’s ability to stay hydrated and respond to heat. Be especially careful in hot weather if you take medications that narrow your blood vessels (vasoconstrictors), regulate your blood pressure by blocking adrenaline (beta blockers), rid your body of sodium and water (diuretics), or reduce psychiatric symptoms (antidepressants or antipsychotics). Additionally stimulants, such as amphetamines and cocaine, increase your body’s heat production, making you more vulnerable to heatstroke. Vasodilators, such as nitrates and calcium channel blockers, can theoretically cause low blood pressure in people who tend to be dehydrated during excessive heat exposure, particularly the elderly. Dehydration and changes in blood volume distribution can also increase medication toxicity and/or decrease the efficacy by influencing drug levels, drug kinetics and excretion and, hence the pharmacological activity. This includes drugs with a narrow therapeutic index. Finally, storage of drugs at high ambient temperatures can adversely affect their efficacy, as most manufactured drugs are licensed for storage at temperatures up to 25 °C. This is particularly important for emergency drugs used by practitioners including antibiotics, adrenalins, analgesics and sedatives.

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5)  It may be that socioeconomic status, including ethnicity, occupation and education, is linked to heat-related health effects as mainly shown in several studies from the United States. Social isolation may also indicate higher vulnerability to the health effects of heat and increased social contact may be a protective factor. The effects of social isolation or the role of social networks in coping with hazards is, however, no straightforward and requires further research. The existing information on possible linkages between social and socioeconomic indicators and heat–health effects may still show important indications as to which population groups to include in targeted interventions. Needless to say that poor people can not afford air-conditioning and even fans in many developing countries. Also, access to water is lacking among these poor people and therefore deaths due to heat illness are quite a reality among poor people.

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6)   Many occupations require people to work in hot conditions, irrespective of the weather, and need effective management systems for ensuring health and safety. Air temperature, radiant temperature, air velocity, humidity, clothing and activity are recognized as factors that interact to determine heat stress. Anyone having to work outside in hot weather without appropriate protection, particularly if this involves heavy physical activity, is at increased risk of suffering health effects from heat. Protective clothing, particularly for workers in the emergency services, may become a dangerous hazard. Therefore, certain occupational groups need to be informed about possible measures to prevent heat stress, how to recognize heat stress, heat exhaustion and heatstroke, and what to do.

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7)  Obese population: People who are overweight may be prone to heat sickness because of their tendency to retain more body heat.

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8) Genetic response to heat stress: To some degree, the way your body responds to extreme heat is determined by genetics. Researchers believe that your genes may play a vital role in determining how your body will respond in extremely hot conditions.

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Heat illness:

Heat illness means illness due to increased heat energy in our body manifested by increased core temperature without change in hypothalamic set-point. Increased heat energy in our body is due to increased heat gain and/or reduced heat loss. Our bodies have a natural mechanism of regulating the body temperature through sweat and emitting heat through skin. This mechanism helps our body temperature to stay normal. However, this mechanism may fail if our body is exposed to extreme conditions like high temperature and/or high humidity level. In such cases, the body fails to cool down and its temperature builds up to unnatural and harmful levels. This condition is called heat illness. Mild to moderate heat-related health problems include heat rash, heat tetany, heat oedema, heat syncope, heat cramps and heat exhaustion while severe heat illness means heat stroke. Heat illness can also occur with normal or subnormal ambient temperature by increased heat production in the body (e.g. physical exertion, metabolic conditions) or reduced heat loss from the body (e.g. high humidity, anticholinergic drugs).

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1)   Heat rash:  Heat rash, also known as prickly heat, is a maculopapular rash accompanied by acute inflammation and blocked sweat ducts. The sweat ducts may become dilated and may eventually rupture, producing small pruritic vesicles on an erythematous base. Heat rash affects areas of the body covered by tight clothing. When profuse sweating is covered by tight clothing, sweat ducts get blocked. It is an itching rash in warm environment (itching usually responds to antihistamines). If prolonged, it can develop into chronic dermatitis or a secondary bacterial infection. Treatment includes staying in cool environment and frequent showers. Keep affected area dry. It is advisable to wear loose-fitting clothing in the heat to prevent hear rash.

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2)   Heat tetany (hyperventilation and heat stress) is usually related to short periods of stress in intense heat environments. Symptoms may include hyperventilation, respiratory problems, numbness or tingling, or muscle spasms. Hyperventilation leads to hypocapnia, and hypocapnia leads to respiratory alkalosis, and alkalosis causes increased binding of calcium to albumin, thus decreasing free calcium despite normal total calcium level in blood. Treatment includes removing the affected person from the heat and slowing the breathing pattern.

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3)   Heat cramps are muscle contractions, usually in the gastrocnemius or hamstring muscles (muscles at the back of the calves or thighs). These contractions are forceful and painful. Heat cramps are muscle spasms that result from loss of large amount of salt and water through exercise. Besides calf muscles, heat cramps are associated with cramping in the abdomen and arms. Frequently, they don’t occur until sometime later, especially at night or when relaxing. Heavy sweating causes heat cramps, especially when the water is replaced without replacing salt. The mechanism is considered to be extra-cellular sodium depletion as a result of persistent sweating, exacerbated by replacement of water but not salt. Although heat cramps can be quite painful, they usually don’t result in permanent damage. Gently massage or apply pressure to cramping muscles. Symptoms usually respond rapidly to rehydration with oral rehydration salts or intravenous normal saline. In order to prevent them, one may drink electrolyte solutions such as sports drinks during exercise.

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4)   Heat edema: Heat edema presents as a transient swelling of the hands, feet, and ankles and is generally secondary to increased aldosterone secretion, which enhances sodium & water retention. When combined with peripheral vasodilatation and venous stasis, the excess fluid accumulates in the dependent areas of the extremities. The heat edema usually resolves within several days after the patient becomes acclimated to the warmer environment. No treatment is required, although wearing support stocking and elevating the affected legs with help minimize the edema. Diuretics are not indicated.

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5)  Heat syncope: Heat syncope is related to heat exposure that produces orthostatic hypotension. This hypotension can precipitate a near-syncopal episode. Heat syncope is believed to result from intense sweating, which leads to dehydration, followed by peripheral vasodilatation and reduced venous blood return in the face of decreased vasomotor control. The patient should be brought into a cool room and given supine position with elevated legs to increase venous return. Management of heat syncope consists of cooling and rehydration of the patient using oral rehydration therapy (sport drinks) or isotonic IV fluids. People who experience heat syncope should avoid standing in the heat for long periods of time. They should move to a cooler environment and lie down if they recognize the initial symptoms. Wearing support stockings and engaging in deep knee-bending movements can help promote venous blood return.

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6)   Heat exhaustion: Heat exhaustion occurs with prolonged exertion in hot and humid weather, profuse sweating and inadequate salt & water replacement. There is an elevation of core temperature between 37 to 40 degree C.  Heat exhaustion is considered by experts to be the forerunner of heat stroke. It may even resemble heat stroke, with the difference being that the neurologic function remains intact. Heat exhaustion is marked by excessive dehydration and electrolyte depletion. Symptoms may include headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, malaise, and myalgia.  Heat exhaustion is caused by the loss of large amounts of fluid by sweating, sometimes with excessive loss of salt. A worker suffering from heat exhaustion still sweats but experiences extreme weakness or fatigue, giddiness, nausea, or headache. The clinical signs include heavy sweating, rapid breathing and a fast, weak pulse. The skin is clammy and moist, the complexion is pale or flushed, and the body temperature may be occasionally normal or only slightly elevated. So normal body temperature (due to profuse sweating) does not rule out heat exhaustion. In most cases, treatment involves having the victim rest in a cool place and drinks plenty of oral rehydration solutions or intravenous normal saline. Up to 5 liters of positive fluid balance is required in first 24 hours. Victims with mild cases of heat exhaustion usually recover spontaneously with this treatment. Those with severe cases or with high core temperatures need active evaporation cooling using tepid sprays and fanning. There are no known permanent effects. Untreated, heat exhaustion may progress to heat stroke.

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7)   Heat stroke means core body temperature of greater than 40 °C (104 °F) due lack of thermoregulation (vide infra). This is distinct from fever, where there is a physiological increase in the temperature set point of the body.

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First aid to victims of heat illnesses:

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Condition Symptoms First Aid
Sunburn Skin redness and pain, possible swelling, blisters, fever, headaches Take a shower using soap to remove oils that may block pores, preventing the body from cooling naturally. Apply dry, sterile dressings to any blisters, and get medical attention.
Heat Cramps Painful spasms, usually in leg and abdominal muscles; heavy sweating Get the victim to a cooler location. Lightly stretch and gently massage affected muscles to relieve spasms. Give sips of up to a half glass of cool water every 15 minutes or sports drink. (Do not give liquids with caffeine or alcohol.) Discontinue liquids, if victim is nauseated.
Heat Exhaustion Heavy sweating but skin may be cool, pale, or flushed. Weak pulse. Normal body temperature is possible, but temperature will likely rise. Fainting or dizziness, nausea, vomiting, exhaustion, and headaches are possible. Get victim to lie down in a cool place. Loosen or remove clothing. Apply cool, wet clothes. Fan or move victim to air-conditioned place. Give sips of water if victim is conscious. Be sure water is consumed slowly. Give half glass of cool water every 15 minutes. Discontinue water if victim is nauseated. Seek immediate medical attention.
Heat Stroke
( a medical emergency)
High body temperature (105+); hot, red, dry skin; rapid, weak pulse; and rapid shallow breathing. Victim will probably not sweat unless victim was sweating from recent strenuous activity. Possible unconsciousness. Get the victim to a hospital immediately. Delay can be fatal. Move victim to a cooler environment. Removing clothing. Try a cool bath, sponging, or wet sheet to reduce body temperature. Watch for breathing problems. Use extreme caution. Use fans and air conditioners. No fluid by mouth.

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Heat stroke (HS):

Heat stroke is the most severe form of the heat-related illnesses and is defined as a core body temperature higher than 40°C (104°F) associated with neurologic dysfunction due to lack of thermoregulation. Heat stroke becomes commonplace during periods of sustained high temperature and humidity. Sweating is absent from 84%–100% of those affected. Two forms of heat strokes exist.

1)   Exertional heat stroke (EHS) generally occurs in young individuals who engage in strenuous physical activity for a prolonged period of time in a hot environment. EHS can happen in young people without health problems or medications, most often in athletes and military recruits. EHS results from increased heat production, which overwhelms the body’s ability to dissipate heat.

2)   Classic heat stroke or nonexertional heat stroke (NEHS) more commonly affects sedentary elderly individuals, persons who are chronically ill and very young persons. NEHS occurs during environmental heat waves and is more common in areas that have not experienced a heat wave in many years. Classic heat stroke occurs because of failure of the body’s heat dissipating mechanisms. Substances that inhibit cooling and cause dehydration such as alcohol, caffeine, stimulants, medications, and age related physiological changes predispose to so-called “classic” heat stroke (NEHS). The chronically ill and elderly are often taking prescription medications (e.g., diuretics, anticholinergics, antipsychotics, and antihypertensives) that interfere with the body’s ability to dissipate heat.

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Both types of heatstroke are associated with a high morbidity and mortality, especially when therapy is delayed. A combination of the two types is frequently seen. Women are at lower risk of EHS probably due to lower muscle bulk, effects of estrogens and a lower threshold for activation of thermoregulatory reflexes. With the influence of global warming, it is predicted that the incidence of heatstroke cases and fatalities will also become more prevalent. Because behavioral responses are important in the management of temperature elevations, heat strokes may be entirely preventable.

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Pathophysiology of heat stroke:

Despite wide variations in ambient temperatures, humans and other mammals can maintain a constant body temperature by balancing heat gain with heat loss. When heat gain overwhelms the body’s mechanisms of heat loss, the body temperature rises, and a major heat illness ensues. Excessive heat denatures proteins, destabilizes phospholipids and lipoproteins, and liquefies membrane lipids; leading to cardiovascular collapse, multiorgan failure, and ultimately death. Generally speaking, heat directly influences the body on a cellular level by interfering with cellular processes along with denaturing proteins and cellular membranes. In turn, an array of inflammatory cytokines and heat shock proteins (HSPs) (HSP-70 in particular, which allows the cell to endure the stress of its environment) are produced. If the stress continues, the cell will succumb to the stress (apoptosis) and die. Certain preexisting factors such as age, genetic makeup, and the non-acclimated individual may allow progression from heat stress to heat stroke, multiorgan-dysfunction syndrome (MODS), and ultimately death. Progression to heatstroke may occur through thermoregulatory failure, an amplified acute-phase response, and alterations in the expression of HSPs.  The exact temperature at which cardiovascular collapse occurs varies among individuals because coexisting disease, drugs, and other factors may contribute to or delay organ dysfunction. Full recovery has been observed in patients with temperatures as high as 46°C, and death has occurred in patients with much lower temperatures. Temperatures exceeding 106°F or 41.1°C generally are catastrophic and require immediate aggressive therapy.

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Heat may be acquired by a number of different mechanisms. At rest, basal metabolic processes produce approximately 80 kcal of heat per hour or 1 kcal/kg/h. These mechanisms can raise the body temperature by 1.1°C/hr if the heat dissipating mechanisms are nonfunctional. Strenuous physical activity can increase heat production more than 10-fold to levels exceeding 800 kcal/h which necessitates a greater need for heat dissipation to prevent body becoming overheated. If both the ambient temperature and the humidity are high, it becomes difficult for the body to dissipate heat – and body temperature may rise. If body temperature becomes too high, hyperthermia may result. Similarly fever, shivering, tremors, convulsions, thyrotoxicosis, sepsis, sympathomimetic drugs, and many other conditions can increase heat production, thereby increasing body temperature. The body also can acquire heat from the environment through some of the same mechanisms involved in heat dissipation including conduction, convection, and radiation. These mechanisms occur at the level of the skin and require a properly functioning skin surface, sweat glands, and autonomic nervous system, but they also may be manipulated by behavioral responses. The efficacy of radiation as a means of heat transfer depends on the angle of the sun, the season, and the presence of clouds, among other factors. For example, during summer, lying down in the sun can result in a heat gain of up to150 kcal/h.

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Maximum sweating in non-acclimated person is 1 liter per hour and in acclimated person is 2 liter per hour. The person at rest will generate heat of 1 kcal/kg/hr and the person doing significant physical exertion (exercise) will generate heat of 10 Kcal/kg/hr raising body temperature significantly, had no heat dissipation mechanism existed. But since sweating exists as heat dissipation mechanism, the amount of which is dependent on acclimatization, non-acclimated person doing exertion is most likely to be affected by heat illness and acclimated person at rest is least likely to be affected by heat illness, provided ambient temperature & relative humidity are same for both persons. Also, in dry environment & with maximum efficiency, sweating can maximally dispose of 604 Kcal of heat by evaporating 1 liter sweat in 1 hour and if a man having weight of 80 kg is doing strenuous work generating 800 Kcal heat per hour, he cannot dispose of extra-heat despite maximum sweating especially in hot weather when heat loss through convection & radiation is negligible. Such a person is vulnerable to heat illness despite adequate sweating, merely on the basis of strenuous work.

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In a simplified model, thermosensors located in the skin, muscles, and spinal cord send information regarding the body temperature to the anterior hypothalamus, where the information is processed and appropriate physiologic and behavioral responses are generated. Physiologic responses to heat include an increase in the blood flow to the skin (as much as 8 L/min), which is the major heat-dissipating organ; dilatation of the peripheral venous system; and stimulation of the eccrine sweat glands to produce more sweat.

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As the major heat-dissipating organ, the skin can transfer heat to the environment through conduction, convection, radiation, and evaporation. Radiation is the most important mechanism of heat transfer at rest in temperate climates, accounting for 65% of heat dissipation, and it can be modulated by clothing. At high ambient temperatures, conduction becomes the least important of the 4 mechanisms, while evaporation, which refers to the conversion of a liquid to a gaseous phase, becomes the most effective mechanism of heat loss. The efficacy of evaporation as a mechanism of heat loss depends on the condition of the skin and sweat glands, the function of the lung, ambient temperature, humidity, air movement, and whether or not the person is acclimated to the high temperatures. For example, evaporation does not occur when the ambient humidity exceeds 75% and is less effective in individuals who are not acclimated. Acclimatization to hot environments usually occurs over 7-10 days and enables individuals to reduce the threshold at which sweating begins, increase sweat production, and increase the capacity of the sweat glands to reabsorb sweat sodium, thereby increasing the efficiency of heat dissipation.

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When heat gain exceeds heat loss, the body temperature rises. Classic heatstroke occurs in individuals who lack the capacity to modulate the environment (e.g., infants, elderly individuals, individuals who are chronically ill). Furthermore, elderly persons and patients with diminished cardiovascular reserves are unable to generate and cope with the physiologic responses to heat stress and, therefore, are at risk of heat stroke. Patients with skin diseases and those taking medications that interfere with sweating also are at increased risk for heat stroke because they are unable to dissipate heat adequately. Additionally, the redistribution of blood flow to the periphery, coupled with the loss of fluids and electrolytes in sweat, place a tremendous burden on the heart, which ultimately may fail to maintain an adequate cardiac output, leading to additional morbidity and mortality. Factors that interfere with heat dissipation include an inadequate intravascular volume, cardiovascular dysfunction, and abnormal skin. Additionally, high ambient temperatures, high ambient humidity, and many drugs can interfere with heat dissipation, resulting in a major heat illness. Similarly, hypothalamic dysfunction may alter temperature regulation and may result in an unchecked rise in temperature and heat illness.

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Clinical manifestation of heat stroke:

Heat stroke is typically seen as hyperthermia exceeding 40°C and anhidrosis (no sweating) associated with an altered sensorium. However, when a patient is allowed to cool down prior to measurement of the temperature (as may occur during transportation in a cool ambulance or evaluation in an emergency department), the measured temperature may be much lower than 40°C, making the temperature criterion relative. Similarly, some patients may retain the ability to sweat, removing anhidrosis as a criterion for the diagnosis of heatstroke. Therefore, strict adherence to the definition is not advised because it may result in dangerous delays in diagnosis and therapy.

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EHS is characterized by hyperthermia, diaphoresis ( profuse sweating), and an altered sensorium, which may manifest suddenly during extreme physical exertion in a hot environment. A number of symptoms (e.g., abdominal and muscular cramping, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, dizziness, dyspnea, weakness) commonly precede the heatstroke and may remain unrecognized. Syncope and loss of consciousness also are observed commonly before the development of EHS. EHS commonly is observed in young, healthy individuals (e.g., athletes, firefighters, military personnel) who, while engaging in strenuous physical activity, overwhelm their thermoregulatory system and become hyperthermic. Because their ability to sweat remains intact, patients with EHS are able to cool down after cessation of physical activity and may present for medical attention with temperatures well below 41°C. Despite education and preventative measures, EHS is still the third most common cause of death among high school students. Risk factors that increase the likelihood of heat-related illnesses include a preceding viral infection, dehydration, fatigue, obesity, lack of sleep, poor physical fitness, and lack of acclimatization. Although lack of acclimatization is a risk factor for heatstroke, EHS also can occur in acclimatized individuals who are subjected to moderately intense exercise. EHS also may occur because of increased motor activity due to drug use, such as cocaine and amphetamines, and as a complication of status epilepticus.

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NEHS is characterized by hyperthermia, anhidrosis, and an altered sensorium, which develop suddenly after a period of prolonged elevations in ambient temperatures (i.e., heat waves). Core body temperatures greater than 41°C are diagnostic, although heatstroke may occur with lower core body temperatures. Numerous CNS symptoms, ranging from minor irritability to delusions, irrational behavior, hallucinations, and coma have been described. Anhidrosis due to cessation of sweating is a late occurrence in heatstroke and may not be present when patients are examined. Other CNS symptoms include hallucinations, seizures, cranial nerve abnormalities, cerebellar dysfunction, and opisthotonus. Patients with NEHS initially may exhibit a hyperdynamic circulatory state, but, in severe cases, hypodynamic states may be noted.  Classic heatstroke most commonly occurs during episodes of prolonged elevations in ambient temperatures. It affects people who are unable to control their environment and water intake (e.g., infants, elderly persons, individuals who are chronically ill), people with reduced cardiovascular reserve (e.g., elderly persons, patients with chronic cardiovascular illnesses), and people with impaired sweating (e.g., patients with skin disease, patients ingesting anticholinergic and psychiatric drugs). In addition, infants have an immature thermoregulatory system, and elderly persons have impaired perception of changes in body and ambient temperatures and a decreased capacity to sweat.

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Heat stroke symptoms include:

1) High body temperature. A body temperature of 104 F (40 C) or higher is the main sign of heatstroke.

2) A lack of sweating. In heat stroke brought on by hot weather, your skin will feel hot and dry to the touch. However, in heat stroke brought on by strenuous exercise, your skin usually feels moist.

3) Flushed skin. Your skin may turn red due to increased blood flow.

4) Rapid breathing. Your breathing may become rapid and shallow.

5) Racing heart rate and weak pulse. Your pulse rate may significantly increase because heat stress places a tremendous burden on your heart to help cool your body.

6) Headache. You may experience a throbbing headache.

7) Neurological symptoms. You may have seizures, lose consciousness, slip into a coma, hallucinate, or have difficulty speaking or understanding what others are saying.

8) Muscle cramps or weakness. Your muscles may feel tender or cramped in the early stages of heatstroke, but may later go rigid or limp.

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Causes of heat stroke:

Increased heat production:

A) Increased metabolism

1) Infections

2) Sepsis

3) Encephalitis

4) Stimulant drugs: Stimulant drugs, including cocaine and amphetamines, can generate excessive amounts of heat by increasing metabolism and motor activity through the stimulatory effects of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.

5) Thyroid storm

6) Drug withdrawal

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B) Increased muscular activity

1) Exercise: Strenuous exercise and status epilepticus can increase heat production 10-fold and, when uninterrupted, can overwhelm the body’s heat-dissipating mechanisms, leading to dangerous rises in body temperature.

2) Convulsions

3) Tetanus

4) Strychnine poisoning

5) Sympathomimetics

6) Drug withdrawal

7) Thyroid storm

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Neuroleptic malignant syndrome and malignant hyperthermia:

Neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS) is a syndrome of hyperthermia, autonomic dysregulation, and extrapyramidal side effects caused by neuroleptic agents (e.g., haloperidol). Neuroleptic malignant syndrome appears to be caused by inhibition of central dopamine receptors in the hypothalamus, resulting in increased heat generation and decreased heat dissipation. NMS is basically an idiosyncratic reaction characterized by hyperthermia, altered mental status, muscle rigidity, and autonomic instability and appears to be due to excessive contraction of muscles. Malignant hyperthermia is a hyperthermic and systemic response to halothane and other inhalational anesthetics in patients with genetic abnormality.  Malignant hyperthermia occurs in individuals with an inherited abnormality of skeletal-muscle sarcoplasmic reticulum that causes a rapid increase in intracellular calcium levels in response to halothane and other inhalational anesthetics or to succinylcholine. In contrast to heat stroke, malignant hyperthermia is believed to be induced by a decreased ability of the sarcoplasmic reticulum to retain calcium, resulting in sustained muscle contraction.

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Decreased heat loss:

A) Reduced sweating

1)      Dermatologic diseases

2)      Drugs

3)      Burns

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B) Reduced CNS responses

1) Advanced age

2) Toddlers and infants

3) Alcohol

4) Barbiturates

5) Other sedatives

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C) Reduced cardiovascular reserve

1) Elderly persons

2) Beta-blockers

3) Calcium channel blockers

4) Diuretics

5) Cardiovascular drugs that interfere with the cardiovascular responses to heat and, therefore, can interfere with heat loss.

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D) Drugs

1) Anticholinergics

2) Neuroleptics

3) Antihistamines

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E) Exogenous factors

1) High ambient temperatures

2) High ambient humidity

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F) Reduced ability to acclimatize

1) Children and toddlers

2) Elderly persons

3) Diuretic use

4) Hypokalemia

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G) Reduced behavioral responsiveness: Infants, patients who are bedridden, and patients who are chronically ill are at risk for heat stroke because they are unable to control their environment and water intake. To compound matters, co-morbidities and poly-pharmacy in the elderly can compromise their recovery.

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Investigations in heat stroke:

Laboratory investigation of heat stroke include arterial blood gases with electrolytes, glucose, renal function tests, liver function tests, muscle enzymes, CBC, urinalysis etc. other tests include ECG, CT brain and chest radiograph.

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Differential diagnosis:

Differential diagnosis of heat stroke includes delirium, delirium tremens, diabetic ketoacidosis, uremic encephalopathy, hepatic encephalopathy, hyperthyroidism, meningitis, Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome, Malignant Hyperthermia, tetanus, cocaine toxicity, phencyclidine toxicity, salicylate toxicity, cerebral malaria etc. Each of these possible diagnosis have distinguishing features that may help to differentiate one from another. However, establishing the correct diagnosis is a challenge in the setting of an obtunded emergency patient who gives no history and where there may be limited access to any past medical or drug history.

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What should lay people do if they see anybody with warning symptoms of heat stroke before hospitalizing him?

1)   Get the victim to a shady area.

2)   Cool the victim rapidly, using whatever methods you can. For example, immerse the victim in a tub of cool water; place the person in a cool shower; spray the victim with cool water from a garden hose; sponge the person with cool water; or if the humidity is low, wrap the victim in a cool, wet sheet and fan him or her vigorously.

3)   Monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101-102°F.

4)   Do not give the victim alcohol or coffee to drink.

5)   Do not give the victim any fluids to drink as his consciousness is impaired resulting in aspiration of fluids.

6)   Get medical assistance as soon as possible.

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Medical treatment of heat stroke:

Heat stroke is a medical emergency. Rapid reduction of the core body temperature is the cornerstone of treatment because the duration of hyperthermia is the primary determinant of outcome. Except for the mildest cases, patients diagnosed with EHS or NEHS should be admitted to the hospital for at least 48 hours to monitor for complications. Once heatstroke is suspected, cooling must begin immediately and must be continued during the patient’s resuscitation. Controversy still exists over what therapeutic modality is most effective in the treatment of heatstroke; however, the basic premise of rapidly lowering the core temperature to about 39°C (avoid overshooting and rebound hyperthermia) remains the primary goal. Various studies have shown that the conduction method of cooling was found to be more efficacious in young, active adults with EHS. Removal of restrictive clothing and spraying water on the body, covering the patient with ice water soaked sheets, or placing ice packs in the axillae and groin may reduce the patient’s temperature significantly. The goal of treatment is to reduce the temperature by at least 0.2°C/min to approximately 39°C. Active external cooling generally is halted at 39°C to prevent overshooting, which can result in iatrogenic hypothermia.

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Cold-water immersion (CWI) or Ice-water immersion is an extremely effective method of rapidly reducing core body temperature and traditionally was the most frequently recommended method. The increased thermal conductivity of ice water can reduce core body temperature to less than 39°C in approximately 20-40 minutes. The practice has been criticized recently. Theoretically, the ice water, which may be extremely uncomfortable to patients who are awake, can cause subcutaneous vasoconstriction, preventing the transfer of heat via conduction. Ice water also increases shivering, which in turn increases internal heat production. Other reasons for the recent criticisms include difficulty monitoring and resuscitating patients. This line of criticism has reached the medical community, including athletic trainers, team physicians, emergency department physicians, emergency medical technicians, registered nurses, first aid-trained coaches, and others. However, scientific evidence strongly refutes this criticism. Evidence from basic physiological studies looking at the effect of CWI on cooling rates in hyperthermic individuals and treatment of actual EHS victims clearly shows that CWI has cooling rates superior to any other known modality. Recently, evaporative techniques have been touted to be as effective as CWI techniques without the practical difficulties. However, data on the efficacy of this method are limited. Evaporative body heat loss may be accomplished by removing all of the patient’s clothes and intermittently spraying the patient’s body with tap water while a powerful fan blows across the body, allowing the heat to evaporate. A number of other cooling techniques have been suggested, but none has proven superior to or equal to cold-water immersion or evaporative techniques.

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Various studies have shown that the cooling rates of hyperthermic individuals during CWI are consistently about 0.16 to 0.2°C/minute. A scientific study found that the cooling rates were nearly identical between ice-water immersion (5.15 ± 0.20°C) and cold-water immersion (14.03 ± 0.28°C) and the cooling rate is 0.16 ± 0.01°C reduction in core temperature every minute. It is far greater than reported cooling rates for other modes of cooling: passive cooling (0.054°C/min), 6 cold packs placed on large arteries of the neck, axillae, and groin (0.049°C/min), body covered with 24 to 48 cold packs (0.074°C/min), evaporative cooling in which water was splashed onto the body and evaporated by a compressed air spray (0.081°C/min), evaporative cooling plus 6 cold packs (0.086°C/min), and whole-body immersion at 25°C (0.075°C/min).

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The results of various studies on cooling rates in humans and dogs by various methods are depicted in table below:


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Monitor core temperature continuously by rectal probe as oral or tympanic membrane temperature may be inaccurate. If any treatments to lower your body temperature makes you shiver, your doctor may give you a muscle relaxant, such as a benzodiazepine. Shivering increases your body temperature, making treatment less effective. Supportive treatment includes oxygen, endotracheal intubation & assisted ventilation, replacement of fluids, electrolytes & glucose; judicious use of benzodiazepines, treatment of shock, treatment of rhabdomyolysis, ICU cares etc. If treated swiftly, 90% of people with heat stroke survive. If not, the survival rate is as low as 20% among vulnerable people such as the elderly. Complications of heat stroke may include renal and hepatic failure, disseminated intravascular coagulation, rhabdomyolysis and adult respiratory distress syndrome.

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Antipyretics (e.g., acetaminophen [paracetamol], aspirin, and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents) have no role in the treatment of heat stroke because antipyretics interrupt the change in the hypothalamic set point caused by pyrogens. They are not expected to work on a healthy hypothalamus that has been overloaded, as in the case of heat stroke. In this situation, antipyretics actually may be harmful in patients who develop hepatic, hematologic, and renal complications because they may aggravate bleeding tendencies. Dantrolene has been studied as a possible pharmacological option in the treatment of hyperthermia and heatstroke, but at present, it has not been proven to be efficacious in clinical trials.

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Heat waves, heat strokes and mortality:

Heat stroke is fatal in 10–50% of all cases and may lead to neurological morbidity in 20–30% of patients. Researchers say that the majority of heat-related deaths occur in urban areas where stagnant air and poor ventilation are common. It is still under-reported, as causes of death have been attributed instead to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. Heat illness as an increased risk of death, was found among individuals with pre-existing illnesses, for example, heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, respiratory diseases, blood and metabolic/endocrine gland disorders, cardiopulmonary and genitourinary disorders. Heat stroke is the second leading cause of death among young athletes. An estimated 10,000 people perished in the 1980 United States heat wave and drought, which impacted the central and eastern United States. In the European heat wave of 2003, around 35,000 people died of it. Much of the heat was concentrated in France, where nearly 15,000 people died.  Heat-related deaths and illness are preventable, yet annually many people succumb to extreme heat. In the United States, heat waves claim more lives each year than all other weather-related exposures combined (hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and lightening). About 400 people in the US die from heat illnesses every year but if there’s a major heat wave, the number of deaths can increase to over 1500 people. In the UK, heat related mortality is estimated to be at around 40 cases per million population annually. The highest incidence of heat illness of 45 to 1300 per 100,000 population is reported from Saudi Arabia. The incidence can rise when customs or beliefs cause groups of people to be exposed to the heat for long periods of time such as Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. The statistics of heat related mortality from developing countries of Africa and Asia is lacking but I assume it to be far greater than the U.S. In India, HS occurs frequently in areas of Northern and Western India but precise statistics is lacking.

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Children and pets in cars:

If you ever park outside during the summer months, your car will heat up quickly. Heat coming in through the windows is absorbed by the interior, and the glass acts as an insulator. The temperature in your car get up to 200 degrees, depending on the temperature outside, the kind of vehicle you have, and how long it has been in the sun. Even in cool temperatures, cars can heat up to dangerous temperatures very quickly. The temperature can raise to 135 degrees in less than ten minutes, which can cause death to children or pets. Even with the windows cracked open, interior temperatures can rise almost 20 degrees Fahrenheit within the first 10 minutes. Anyone left inside is at risk for serious heat-related illnesses or even death. Children, elderly, or disabled individuals left alone in a vehicle are at particular risk of succumbing to heat stroke, even with windows partially open. As these groups of individuals may not be able to express discomfort verbally (or audibly, inside a closed car), their plight may not be immediately noticed by others in the vicinity. Pets are even more susceptible than humans to heat stroke in cars, as dogs (the animals usually involved), cats and many other animals cannot produce whole body sweat. Dogs cool themselves by panting and by sweating through their paws. If they have only overheated air to breathe, animals can collapse, suffer brain damage and possibly die of heat stroke. Non-guide dogs are prohibited from being brought into many establishments, and opening a vehicle window sufficiently may present an escape opportunity or bite hazard. Leaving the pet at home with plenty of water on hot days is recommended instead, or, if a dog must be brought along, tied up outside the destination and provided with a full water bowl. Always park car in the shade and use tinted window glass or place sunshades on the inside of the windshield. Never leave children, elderly, disabled and pets in a parked car even with windows partially open.

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Working in hot environment:

From iron workers to pastry bakers, people work in a wide variety of hot or hot and humid environments. Being uncomfortable is not the major problem with working in high temperature and humidity. Workers who are suddenly exposed to working in a hot environment face additional and generally avoidable hazards to their safety and health. Certain safety problems are common to hot environments. Heat tends to promote accidents due to the slipperiness of sweaty palms, dizziness, or the fogging of safety glasses. Wherever there exists molten metal hot surfaces, steam, etc., the possibility of burns from accidental contact also exists. Aside from these obvious dangers, the frequency of accidents, in general appears to be higher in hot environments than in more moderate environmental conditions. One reason is that working in a hot environment lowers the mental alertness and physical performance of an individual. Increased body temperature and physical discomfort promote irritability, anger, and other emotional states which sometimes cause workers to overlook safety procedures or to divert attention from hazardous tasks.

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People working in industry, military and first responders must wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to protect themselves from hazardous threats such as chemical agents, gases, fire, small arms and even Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). This PPE can include a range of hazmat suits, firefighting turnout gear, body armor and bomb suits, among many other forms. Depending on its design, PPE often ‘encapsulates’ the wearer from a threat and creates what is known as a microclimate, due to an increase in thermal resistance and decrease in vapor permeability. As a person performs physical work, the body’s natural method of thermoregulation (i.e., sweating) becomes ineffective. This is compounded by increased work rates, high ambient temperatures and humidity levels, and direct exposure to the sun. The net effect is that protection from one or more environmental threats inadvertently brings on the threat of heat stress. In situations demanding prolonged wearing protective equipment, a personal cooling system is required as a matter of health and safety. A variety of active or passive technology-mediated personal cooling systems exist which can be categorized by their power sources and whether they are man or vehicle-mounted. For example, active liquid systems operate on the basis of chilling water and circulating it through a garment that cools the skin surface area that it covers through conduction. This type of system has proven successful in certain Military, Law Enforcement and Industrial applications.

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Efforts to reduce heat stress in hot working environment:

1)   Many industries have attempted to reduce the hazards of heat stress by introducing engineering controls, training workers in the recognition and prevention of heat stress, and implementing work-rest cycles.

2)   Lessen work duration & frequency by providing adequate rest time. Take more breaks in extreme heat and humidity. Schedule heavy work during the coolest parts of day.

3)   Providing cool rest areas in hot work environments considerably reduces the stress of working in those environments. Take breaks in the shade or a cool area when possible.

4)   In the course of a day’s work in the heat, a worker may produce as much as 2 to 3 gallons of sweat. Because so many heat disorders involve excessive dehydration of the body, it is essential that water intake during the workday be about equal to the amount of sweat produced. Most workers exposed to hot conditions drink less fluid than needed because of an insufficient thirst drive. A worker, therefore, should not depend on thirst to signal when and how much to drink. Instead, the worker should drink 5 to 7 ounces of fluids every 15 to 20 minutes to replenish the necessary fluids in the body.

5)   Heat acclimatized workers lose much less salt in their sweat than do workers who are not adjusted to the heat. The average American/Indian diet contains sufficient salt for acclimatized workers even when sweat production is high. If, for some reason, salt replacement is required, the best way to compensate for the loss is to add a little extra salt to the food. Salt tablets should not be used.

6)   Clothing inhibits the transfer of heat between the body and the surrounding environment. Therefore, in jobs where the air temperature is lower than skin temperature, wearing clothing reduces the body’s ability to lose heat into the air. When air temperature is higher than skin temperature, clothing helps to prevent the transfer of heat from the air to the body. However, this advantage may be nullified if the clothes interfere with the evaporation of sweat. In dry climates, adequate evaporation of sweat is seldom a problem; protective clothing could be an advantage to the worker. However, during hot & humid climate, protective clothing may increase the risk of heat illness. Wear light-colored, loose-fitting, breathable clothing such as cotton. Avoid non-breathing synthetic clothing.

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Sports and heat:

Although the condition is relatively rare, EHS incidence rate is as high as 1 in 1000 at some athletic events. Heat-related illnesses have claimed the lives of nearly 40 U.S. football players since 1995. It’s also important to be sensible about how much you exert yourself in hot weather. The hotter and more humid it is, the harder it will be for you to get rid of excess heat. The clothing you wear makes a difference too. The less clothing you have on, and the lighter that clothing is, the easier you can cool off. Football players are notoriously prone to heat illness, since football uniforms cover nearly the whole body, and since football practice usually begins in late summer when the temperature outside is highest.  The majority of serious heat illness cases occur during the first four days of summer football practice, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. This is because most players aren’t used to the heat, are unprepared for the intensity of practice, and are not used to exerting themselves while wearing equipment.

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Exercising in heat, for any population, places unusual demands on the human body’s thermoregulatory centers. Heat production during exercise is 10 to 15 times greater than at rest and is sufficient to raise core body temperature 1°C every 5 minutes if are no thermoregulatory adjustments. This generated heat, in addition to ambient heat from the external environment, must be offset by the body’s multiple mechanisms for heat dissipation to avoid hyperthermia. These cooling mechanisms include conduction, convection, evaporation and radiation. As ambient temperature rises above 20°C, the contributions of conduction, convection, and particularly radiation, become increasingly insignificant, with the bulk of heat dissipation in the patient resulting from evaporation as. In hot dry conditions, evaporation contributes for as much as 98% of dissipated heat. Anything that limits evaporation such as high humidity or dehydration will have profound effects on physiological function, athletic performance and risk for heat illness in the exercising patient. The athletic performance suffers considerably with even 2 to 3 % dehydration due to rise in core body temperature. Dehydration, with fluid loss occasionally as high as 6–10% of bodyweight, appears to be one of the most common risk factors for heat illness in athletes exercising in the heat. Core body temperature has been shown to rise an additional 0.15–0.2°C for every 1% of bodyweight lost to dehydration during exercise. To help prevent dehydration, consuming 400 to 600 ml (13 to 20 ounces) of cold water before exercising in the heat is recommended. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends approximately 250 ml of fluid (eight and one-half ounces) for every 10 to 15 minutes of activity.

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Guidelines for sportsmen and athletes who are going to exert in heat:

1)   Allow time for heat acclimatization. Increases in the duration or intensity of physical activity should be gradual. This process can take up to 14 days to complete.

2)   Take breaks. Be sure to include adequate rest between exercise regimens.

3)   Hydrate. Drink plenty of water or sports drinks before, during and after outdoor activities. Urine that is darker in color is a key warning sign of dehydration.

4)   Time it right. Whenever possible, exercise during the early morning or late evening when the temperatures are cooler.

5)   The highest risk for heat stroke occurs in the first few days of training in hot weather. The largest and fattest athletes are the most heat-sensitive.

6)   Off the field, never skip meals, get plenty of fluids and salt, avoid alcohol, stay cool when you can, and get plenty of sleep.

7)   After a workout, drink 1 liter of fluid for every pound of weight lost.

8)  Know when to quit. Fever or other pre-existing illnesses can make a person more susceptible to heat related conditions.

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An ice sock is a sock filled with ice, used by cyclists participating in long-distance rides to avoid overheating. A white athletic sock is filled with ice, which the cyclist drapes around his/her neck.  This is a low-cost and effective method to keep the cyclist’s temperature in check and prevent overheating.

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Sports drinks are beverages that may contain carbohydrates, minerals, electrolytes, and flavoring that intended to replenish water and electrolytes lost through sweating during exercise. Young athletes participating in vigorous, prolonged activities should be discouraged from using sports drinks outside of those activities because of their high caloric content. When not exercising, plain water and not commercial drinks, is the best source of hydration for children & adolescents according to an American Academy of Pediatrics report in ‘Pediatrics’.

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Interaction between heat and air pollution:

Air pollution is often worse during a heat-wave. Because hot weather and air pollution often coincide, it can be difficult to separate the effects of the two exposures. Two main pollutants are particularly relevant during heat: ozone and PM10 (particulate matter with diameter under 10 microns). Ozone levels are highest outdoors, while PM10 also penetrates indoors. One possibility is that the effects of heat and air pollution are essentially equivalent to the effect of the two exposures occurring separately (an additive effect). Alternatively, it is plausible that there might be a greater than additive effect of simultaneous exposures to air pollution and heat (a synergistic effect). There is increasing evidence for a synergistic effect on mortality by co-existence of high temperatures and ozone concentrations. Several studies (from Europe, the United States and Canada) have found that the effects of ozone are higher during the summer. This may be explained by the higher ozone concentrations that occur during summer combined with a nonlinear response; or by a higher population exposure, as people spend more time outdoors in summer; or by an interactive effect. Similarly, the effects of heat-wave days on mortality are greater on days with high PM10 levels. The same was not found for other pollutants such as black smoke, NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) or SO2 (sulfur dioxide). The fact that, in contrast to ozone exposure, the interaction here seems to affect the elderly as well, might be explained by the high penetration of PM10 indoors. From these findings, it seems necessary that every effort should be made to keep levels of ozone and particulates as low as possible during hot weather and perhaps to integrate the monitoring and warning systems for air pollution with those for heat.

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Chronic heat illness:

Certain kidney, liver, heart, digestive system, central nervous system and skin illnesses are thought by some researchers to be linked to long-term heat exposure. However, the evidence supporting these associations is not conclusive. Chronic heat exhaustion, sleep disturbances and susceptibility to minor injuries & sicknesses have all been attributed to the possible effects of prolonged exposure to heat. The lens of the eye is particularly vulnerable to radiation produced by red-hot metallic objects (infrared radiation) because it has no heat sensors and lacks blood vessels to carry heat away. Glass blowers and furnace-men have developed cataracts after many years of exposure to radiation from hot objects. Foundry workers, blacksmiths and oven operators are also exposed to possibly eye-damaging infrared radiation. In men, repeatedly raising testicular temperature 3 to 5°C decreases sperm counts. There is no conclusive evidence of reduced fertility among heat-exposed women. There are no adequate data from which conclusions can be drawn regarding the reproductive effects of occupational heat exposure at currently accepted exposure limits.

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Sequelae (consequences) of heat stroke survivors:

It is widely believed that heat stroke leads only rarely to permanent deficits and the convalescence is almost complete. However, a study found the contrary. American researchers from the University of Chicago Medical Centre followed 58 subjects chosen from more than 3,000 patients with heat-related conditions who were admitted to Chicago area hospitals between July 12 and July 20, 1995. All 58 subjects experienced symptoms of near-fatal heat stroke. Each was interviewed at the time of their discharge from the hospital, with a follow up interview scheduled one year later. Almost a full quarter of the subjects died within the year; most of them within the first three months. All of the remaining survivors suffered some amount of brain and nervous system impairment. Approximately half were diagnosed with kidney problems and blood clots, while 10 percent of the group experienced malfunction of the lungs due to inflammation. After taking into account each subject’s health conditions before hospitalization, all of these side effects were judged to be a direct result of heat stroke. Perhaps the most significant finding was that age was not a factor among the subjects who died, in spite of the fact that the elderly are generally at greater risk of suffering heat stroke. Subjects ranged in age from 25 to 95, with the average age of the group being around 67. The study also recognized the fact that because of overcrowded conditions in all of the participating hospitals during this crisis, the immediate care – which is critical – was not as comprehensive as it should have been, underlining how important it is to quickly seek medical attention when the first signs occur.

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Heat index (HI):

The heat index is a measure of how hot it feels based on temperature and humidity. The heat index is the “APPARENT TEMPERATURE” that describes the combined effect of high air temperature and high humidity. The higher this combination, the more difficult it is for the body to cool itself. If you work outdoors, it is critical that you remain aware of the heat index and take the appropriate precautions. Our bodies dissipate heat by varying the rate and depth of blood circulation, by evaporating water through the skin (sweat); and as a last resort, by hyperthermic hyperventilation (simulating panting) when blood is heated well above 98.6°F. Sweating cools the body through evaporation by using body heat as latent heat of water evaporation. However, high relative humidity retards evaporation, robbing the body of its ability to cool itself. When the relative humidity is high, the evaporation rate is reduced, so heat is removed from the body at a lower rate causing it to retain more heat than it would in dry air. Measurements have been taken based on subjective descriptions of how hot subjects feel for a given temperature and humidity, allowing an index to be made which relates one temperature and humidity combination to another at a higher temperature in drier air.  When heat gain exceeds the level the body can remove, body temperature begins to rise, and heat related illnesses and disorders may develop. A heat index of 90°F or higher is risky and it is important to stay cool. The National weather service of every country will issue heat advisories or heat warnings based on the heat index. The chart below shows the HI that corresponds to the actual air temperature and relative humidity. (This chart is based upon shady, light wind conditions). Exposure to direct sunlight can increase the HI by up to 15°F.  (Due to the nature of the heat index calculation, the values in the tables below have an error +/- 1.3F.)


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Since high humidity reduces your body’s ability to get rid of excess heat by sweating, for a given air temperature, higher the humidity, higher the apparent temperature, or heat index. For example, if the air temperature is 86 degrees Fahrenheit (or 30 degrees Celsius), but the relative humidity is 50 percent, the apparent temperature will be about 88 degrees Fahrenheit (31 degrees Celsius). That may not sound like a huge difference… but if the humidity is 90 percent, the heat index will be 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40.7 degrees Celsius). In other words, your body will have to sweat as much to get rid of extra heat at 86 degrees Fahrenheit in 90 percent humidity as it would in a dry desert at 105 degrees Fahrenheit. People tend to feel most comfortable at a relative humidity of about 45 percent.

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The formula for calculating heat index from ambient temperature and relative humidity is depicted below.


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Remember, damp basement wall and floors, excessive boiling when cooking and laundry hung up to dry can cause high humidity in your home which can reduce efficiency of evaporative heat loss via sweating. Basement floors and walls should be treated with efficient waterproofing. Kitchen exhaust fan used while cooking is helpful. At least close kitchen door to the rest of house and open window slightly for ventilation. Windows in laundry room should be opened for ventilation when laundering or keep wet cloths outside home for drying. Bathroom door should be closed and window ventilation provided after hot showers. All these measures will reduce humidity in your home.

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Educating people:
Education is the single most important tool for the prevention of heat stroke. The media, public education, public health programs, and athlete safety programs can play a pivotal role in increasing the public’s awareness of the dangers of heat during heat waves and advising the public on methods of remaining cool. Similarly, drinking fluids on schedule (and not based only on thirst), frequent cooling breaks, and frequent visits to air-conditioned places are very important because even short stays in an air-conditioned environment may drastically reduce the incidence of heatstroke. The best way to prevent dehydration is to observe color of urine. If urine is dark yellow, you are dehydrated. Keep on drinking fluids to maintain color of urine watery. Recognition of host risk factors and modification of behavior (e.g., limiting alcohol and drug intake and the use of medications and drugs that interfere with heat dissipation) and physical activity also will prevent heatstroke.

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Recommendations for public during heat waves:

A) Keep your home cool:

During the day, close windows and shutters which are facing the sun and open those away from sun to let fresh air in. Open windows and shutters at night when the outside temperature is lower, if safe to do so. If your residence is air conditioned, close the doors and windows. Electric fans may provide relief, but when the temperature is above 35 °C, fans may not prevent heat-related illness. Use fan only when windows are open otherwise fan will circulate hot air around you. Air conditioning is the strongest protective factor against heat-related illness. Exposure to air conditioning for even a few hours a day will reduce the risk for heat-related illness. If you do not have air-conditioner at home, then, consider visiting a shopping mall or public library (having AC) for a few hours. People can reduce their risk for heat-related illness by spending time in public facilities that are air-conditioned. Have a plan for what to do if the power goes out.

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B) Keep out of the heat.

If air-conditioning is not available, stay out of the direct sunshine. Move to the coolest room in the home, especially at night. Avoid going outside during the hottest time of the day. Schedule outdoor activities for cooler times of the day, before 10:00 AM and after 6:00 PM. If you must go outdoors, be sure to apply sunscreen 30 minutes prior to going out and continue to reapply according to the package directions. Sunburn affects your body’s ability to cool itself and causes a loss of body fluids. It also causes pain and damages the skin. Avoid strenuous physical activity during daylight hours in hot weather. Stay in the shade. It’s also a good idea to carry an umbrella. Do not leave children or animals in a parked vehicle (vide supra).

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C) Keep the body cool and hydrated.

Take a cool shower or bath. If you’re outdoors and nowhere near shelter; soaking in a cool pond or stream also help bring your temperature down. Alternatives include cold packs and wraps, towels, sponging, foot baths, etc. Wear lightweight, loose fitting, light-colored clothes of natural materials. In environments that are not only hot but also humid, it is important to recognize that humidity reduces the degree to which the body can lose heat by evaporation. In such environments, it helps to wear light clothing such as cotton in light colors that is pervious to sweat but impervious to radiant heat from the sun. This minimizes the gaining of radiant heat, while allowing as much evaporation to occur as the environment will allow. Clothing such as plastic fabrics that are impermeable to sweat and thus do not facilitate heat loss through evaporation, can actually contribute to heat stress. Light-colored clothing fosters radiation because some light waves from the sun are reflected away from light surfaces. Darker colors absorb heat, so wearing dark colored clothing is not recommended during hot weather. If you go outside, wear a wide brimmed hat or cap and sunglasses. Wide-brimmed hats in light colors keep the sun from warming the head & neck and sunglasses block the powerful radiation from hurting the eyes. Also, vents on a hat will allow perspiration to cool the head. Drink regularly fluids. In hot weather people need to drink plenty of liquids to replace fluids lost from sweating. Thirst is not a reliable sign that a person needs fluids.  A better indicator is the color of urine. A dark yellow color may indicate dehydration. It is debatable whether water or sports drinks are more effective to regain fluids; however, drinking only water without ingesting any salts may lead to a condition known as hyponatremia, or low sodium. By sweating and urination, humans lose salts, which need to be replaced along with fluids. However, average American/Indian diet contains excess salt and therefore salt replacement is not necessary in most cases. Do not take salt tablets because excessive sodium intake causes dehydration as it causes water to be drawn from the body’s cells. Orange juice is very good because it contains lot of potassium which is also lost in profuse sweating. Avoid drinks containing alcohol/ high-sugar/caffeine because they will actually cause you to lose more fluid through urine and may worsen dehydration. Also avoid very cold drinks, because they can cause stomach cramps. If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or you are on diuretics, ask him how much you should drink while the weather is hot. Avoid hot foods and heavy meals—they add heat to your body. Even people that stay mostly indoors all day should drink at least 2 liters of water per day. Folks that spend time outdoors should drink 1 to 2 liters per hour that they are outdoors. People that do strenuous activity outdoors should be very careful- your body can lose up to 2 to 3 liters of water per hour during strenuous activity.

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D) Get informed.

Listen to local news and weather channels or contact your local public health department during extreme heat conditions for health and safety updates.

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E) Help others.

If you’re with someone who’s experiencing heat-related symptoms, cool the person by covering him or her with damp sheets or by spraying with cool water. Direct air onto the person with a fan.  If anyone you know is at risk, help them to get advice and support. Elderly or sick people living alone should be visited at least daily. If the person is taking medication, check with the treating doctor how they can influence the thermoregulation and the fluid balance.

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F) If you have a health problem:

Keep medicines below 25 °C or in the fridge (read the storage instructions on the packaging). Seek medical advice if you are suffering from a chronic medical condition or taking multiple medications.

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G) If you or others feel unwell:

Try to get help if you feel dizzy, weak, anxious or have intense thirst and headache; move to a cool place as soon as possible and measure your body temperature. Drink some water or fruit juice to rehydrate. Rest immediately in a cool place if you have painful muscular spasms, most often in the legs, arms or abdomen, in many cases after sustained exercise during very hot weather. Drink oral rehydration solutions containing electrolytes. Medical attention is needed if heat cramps are sustained for more than one hour. Consult your medical doctor if you feel unusual symptoms or if symptoms persist. If one of your family members or people you assist presents with hot dry skin and delirium, convulsions and/or unconsciousness call the doctor/ambulance immediately. While waiting for the doctor/ambulance move him/her to a cool place and put him/her in a horizontal position and elevate legs and hips, remove clothing and initiate external cooling, such as with cold packs on the neck, axillae and groin, continuous fanning and spraying the skin with tepid water. Measure the body temperature. Do not give aspirin or paracetamol. Position unconscious person on his side.

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“DO NOT” of heat illness:

1)   DO NOT underestimate the seriousness of heat illness, especially if the person is a child, elderly, or injured.

2)   DO NOT give the person medications that are used to treat fever (such as aspirin or acetaminophen [paracetamol]). They will not help, and they may be harmful.

3)   DO NOT give the person salt tablets.

4)   DO NOT give the person liquids that contain alcohol or high sugar or caffeine as they speed up dehydration. They will also interfere with the body’s ability to control its internal temperature.

5)   DO NOT use alcohol rubs on the person’s skin.

6)   DO NOT give the person anything by mouth (not even salted drinks) if the person is vomiting or unconscious.

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How to avoid heat stroke in infants and children?

1)   Never leave a child in a closed, parked vehicle, not even for a minute.

2)   Make sure babies and children drink plenty of fluids. If you are thirsty, chances are your little ones could also use a beverage. Avoid beverages with caffeine, or a large amount of sugar.

3)   Avoid bundling infants in heavy blankets or clothing. Like adults, babies need to air out in order to cool down.

4)   During the hottest hours of the day, keep children indoors in an air-conditioned environment as much as possible. Families without air conditioning should pull shades over the windows and use room fans.

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I have discussed in the prologue of this article how a G.P. misdiagnosed fever for heat illness.

A pro-active approach by GPs – What GPs should know and do:

1)   Understand the thermoregulatory and haemodynamic responses to excessive heat exposure.

2)   The most important point in arriving at the diagnosis of heat illness is high index of suspicion by G.P. and obtaining careful history regarding exposure to heat and/or strenuous exertion.

3)  Understand the mechanisms of heat illnesses, their clinical manifestations, diagnosis and treatment.

4)  Recognize early signs of heat stroke, which is a medical emergency.

5)   Initiate proper cooling and resuscitative measures.

6)   Be aware of the risk and protective factors in heat-wave-related illness.

7)  Identify the patients at risk and encourage proper education regarding heat illnesses and their prevention; education of guardians of the old and infirm and infants is also important.

8)  Include a pre-summer medical assessment and advice relevant to heat into routine care for people with chronic disease (reduction of heat exposure, fluid intake, medication etc).

9)  Be aware of the potential side-effects of the medicines prescribed and adjust dose, if necessary, during hot weather and heat-waves.

10)  Make decisions on an individual basis, since there are – according to current knowledge – no standards or formal advice for alteration in medications during hot weather.

11)  Be aware that high temperatures can adversely affect the efficacy of drugs, as most manufactured drugs are licensed for storage at temperatures up to 25 °C; ensure that emergency drugs are stored and transported at proper temperature.

12)  Be prepared to monitor drug therapy and fluid intake, especially in the old and infirm and those with advanced cardiac diseases.

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It is interesting to know that even though our bodies need to be a warm 98.6 degrees F (37 deg C) to function properly, sitting in a room of 98.6 degrees F would for most of us, be extremely uncomfortable. This is so because our body consistently produces more heat than it requires to maintain core temperature and all the times we are losing heat through convection, radiation and sweat evaporation to environment. When room temperature is same as body temperature, heat loss through convection and radiation becomes nil and body gets heated up, making us feel uncomfortable.

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Is AC really helpful to world?

Ensure that responses to heat-waves do not exacerbate the problem of climate change. This is an important and heat-wave-specific principle. It would be easy to assume that the solution is widespread use of air conditioning (AC) and there is little doubt that air conditioning can be protective for vulnerable populations. However, air conditioning is energy intensive and adds to greenhouse gas emissions; and there are many ways of adapting the environment & buildings, and protecting individuals that are not energy intensive. Also, air-conditioning exhaust is nothing but a very hot air and if thousands of ACs are working simultaneously, it will also increase environmental temperature. So air-conditioning on massive scale will contribute to global warming primarily by increasing green house gas emissions due to electricity consumption and secondary to warming environment directly through hot air emissions. The global warming leads to increases heat waves which leads to increased use of air-conditioning and consequently a vicious cycle is established due to air-conditioning on massive scale.

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Can we do something to moderate summer heat through nature?

Picture below shows trees as Nature’s air-conditioner.


Higher temperatures are recorded in urban areas compared with rural areas due to roofs and asphalt pavements baked by the sun. Warmer air hovers above city rooftops and streets with fewer trees, extending upwards as much as a mile. These Urban “heat islands” cause heat illnesses and also consume tremendous electricity. Trees are the nature’s air-conditioner. Urban street trees help to cool cities by providing shade to lower surface air temperatures. Trees also release water into the air from their leaves – a process called “transpiration” which cools the air. Temperatures in the shade are 20 to 45°F cooler than un-shaded areas. Transpiration alone reduces peak summer temperatures by 2 to 9°F. Maintaining existing street trees and planting more are simple, cost-effective strategies to mitigate urban heat islands effects.

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Heat stroke in trees?

I discussed trees as nature’s air-conditioner for humans but can trees themselves get heat stroke?

Heat stroke in trees means heat loads have been extreme and caused damage or death of trees. Hot temperatures can injure and kill living tree systems. A thermal death threshold is reached at approximately 115°F. The thermal death threshold varies depending upon the duration of hot temperatures, the absolute highest temperature reached, tissue age, thermal mass, water content of tissue, and ability of the tree to make adjustments to temperature changes. Trees dissipate heat by long-wave radiation, convection of heat into the air, and transpiration (water loss from leaves). Transpiration is a major mechanism for dissipation of tree heat loads. Trees can dissipate tremendous heat loads if allowed to function normally and with adequate soil moisture. However in extreme hot weather; many of the old, young, and soil-limited trees get damaged. The best treatment of heat stroke in trees is watering of trees. The best way to prevent heat stroke in trees is to plant native trees which are heat-resistant.

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My theory of ‘simulated sweating’ for prevention of heat illness:

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The small calorie or gram calorie (symbol: cal) approximates the energy needed to increase the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 °C. This is about 4.2 joules. The large calorie, kilogram calorie, dietary calorie or food calorie (symbol: Kcal) approximates the energy needed to increase the temperature of 1 kilogram of water by 1 °C. This is exactly 1000 small calories or about 4.2 kilojoules (KJ). Assuming an adult human body is 80 kg in weight, having surface area of 1.7 square meters and having core temperature of 37 degree C. The specific heat of human body on average is 0.82 kcal/kg/ degree Celsius. So to raise temperature of 80 kg human body by 1 degree Celsius, it will need 65.6 Kcal energy equivalent to 275.52 kilo-joules of energy. In other words, it will need 3.44 Kilo-joules of energy per kilogram body weight to raise temperature of human body by 1 degree C. Conversely, if 275.52 kilo-joules of energy is taken out of 80 kg body through evaporation of sweat water, the body temperature will fall by one degree Celsius. In other words, you have to take out 3.44 kilo-joules/kg body weight of heat energy from human body to reduce body temperature by 1 degree C.

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The sweat water is having temperature of 33 degree Celsius, same as that of skin surface. At normal atmospheric pressure, water boils at 100°C, and 419 kJ of energy are required to heat 1 kg of water from 0°C to its boiling temperature of 100°C. So to raise temperature of 1 kg water from 33 to 100 degree Celsius, it will need approximate 281 kilo-joules of energy. Another 2257 kJ of energy are required to convert 1 kg of water at 100°C into 1 kg of steam (latent heat of vaporization). So total 281 + 2257 = 2538 kilo-joules (604 Kilocalories) of energy required to vaporize 1 kg sweat from 33 degree C skin temperature to vapor. So when body loses 1 kg sweat from skin into vapor, 2538 kilo-joules of energy lost. [The evaporation of 1g/minute of sweat is equivalent to 42Watts]. Since 275.52 kilo-joules of energy taken out of 80 kg human will reduce body temperature by 1 degree Celsius; it amounts to 0.1085 kg of sweat evaporated. In other words, 108.5 ml of sweat evaporation can reduce body temperature by 1 deg C in 80 kg human. Since specific heat of body and energy required to vaporize sweat are constant, it would mean that about 1.36 ml of sweat evaporation per kg body weight is required to reduce body temperature by 1 degree Celsius. This is the magic figure for heat loss via sweating. The same magic figure can be arrived by direct calculations. Since specific heat of human body is 0.82 Kcal/Kg/Celsius and since 1 liter of evaporation of sweat causes loss of 604 Kcal of heat from body, it would come to evaporation of 1.36 ml of sweat per kg body weight to lose sufficient heat to reduce body temperature by 1 degree Celsius.

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One example is sufficient. Your body weight is 60 kg, you are at rest and ambient temperature is 47 deg C. If there is no mechanism of heat dissipation and heat production is constant, your body temperature will rise at a rate of 4.4 degree C per hour. This is calculated from complex equations of heat transfer for convective heat (QC) and radiative heat (QR) in an ‘average person’ in the formula depicted below.


Where QC is heat transferred to body by convection in watts, QR is heat transferred to body by radiation in watts, AT is ambient temperature in Celsius and BT is body temperature in Celsius and V is speed of air surrounding skin in m/s.

QC + QR = total heat received by body from environment when ambient temperature is greater than body temperature.

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If ambient temperature is 47 degree C and your temperature is 37 deg C, your body of 60 kg will receive 182 watts heat energy from environment through convection & radiation, which comes to 156 Kcal/ hour. Also, at the rate of 1 Kcal/kg/hr, your body of 60 kg will generate heat of 60 Kcal/hr from basal metabolism at rest. So the total heat gain of body is 156 + 60 = 216 Kcal/hr. Since your body weight is 60 kg and since specific heat of body is 0.82 Kcal/kg/C, it will need 49 Kcal to raise body temperature by 1 degree C; and hence 216 Kcal/hr will raise body temperature by 4.4 degree C every hour. So if you are 60 kg in weight and exposed to ambient temperature of 47 deg C, your core temperature will rise by 4.4 deg C every hour if you do not sweat. You need 1.36 ml sweat evaporation per kg body weight to reduce body temperature by 1 degree C. Hence you will need 359 ml of sweat evaporated every hour to maintain core temperature to 37 deg C. Remember, 359 ml of sweat evaporation is not the same as 359 ml of sweat secreted as all sweat never evaporate. Remember, speed of sweat evaporation depends on body surface area, relative humidity of environment and speed of air surrounding skin. Tall person will evaporate sweat faster than short person despite having same body weight because of large surface area of tall person. A well ventilated room with fan will evaporate sweat faster than a room without fan. The rate limiting step of sweat evaporation is relative humidity (RH). Sweat evaporation is inversely proportional to RH. At RH higher than 75 %, there will be negligible sweat evaporation.

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Your body doesn’t know about the humidity; it produces sweat to regulate your temperature. You feel more sweat when it is humid because it doesn’t evaporate that fast, but you sweat as much when the air is dry. So the perception of sweating is higher in humid conditions but the cooling is less. The cooling effect of evaporation of sweat is greater the more completely sweat evaporates. When humidity is more, the evaporation of sweat is inhibited or blocked completely. The reason is that because air is already very saturated with water vapor, it can not hold more water vapor and therefore sweat can’t evaporate. Sweat that beads up and rolls off doesn’t function in the cooling process. However, this “futile sweat” does deplete the body of vital water and salt. As dehydration progresses cooling become more difficult. Performance drops and heat injury becomes a real threat. Deaths have occurred when the air temperature was less than 75 degrees F (24 degrees C) but the relative humidity (RH) was above 95%.

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Now in the above example, ambient temperature is 47 degree C and as discussed before, warmer the air, greater is the humidity and therefore at such high ambient temperature, it is not uncommon to have humidity of about 60 % or more which will reduce efficiency of heat loss via sweating. Since efficiency of heat loss via sweating is reduced, thermo-receptors of skin will record higher temperature and through hypothalamus, further sweating is stimulated. So even though 359 ml of sweat is already secreted every hour, it is not enough, therefore you actually sweat far more than 359 ml every hour to maintain core temperature and even that will not work. You can not sustain such a sweating rate long and you can not maintain core temperature long and therefore your body will be gradually dehydrated and develop heat illness. However, if you have RH of 20 % or less, then majority of sweat will evaporate and core body temperature will be maintained provided you keep on replenishing fluids and electrolytes.

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Speed of evaporation:

On a molecular level, there is no strict boundary between the liquid state and the vapor state. All liquids have a tendency to evaporate, and vice versa, all gases have a tendency to condense back to their liquid form. The vapor pressure of liquid is an indication of a liquid’s evaporation rate. It relates to the tendency of particles to escape from the liquid phase into vapor phase. A liquid with a high vapor pressure at normal temperatures is often referred to as volatile. Vapor pressure of liquid is the pressure of a vapor in thermodynamic equilibrium with its liquid phase in a closed system. We all know that water evaporates from ocean surface to form clouds in the sky. We all know that when water boils at 100 deg C, it is converted into vapor. Basic difference between evaporation and boiling is that evaporation is the vaporization that occurs at the surface of liquid while boiling is the vaporization that occurs throughout the liquid. Evaporation rates generally have an inverse relationship to boiling points; i.e. the higher the boiling point, the lower the rate of evaporation. Evaporation of water occurs at a temperature far below boiling point of water. On average, the molecules in a glass of water do not have enough heat energy to escape from the liquid. When the molecules collide, they transfer energy to each other in varying degrees, based on how they collide. Sometimes the transfer is so one-sided for a molecule near the surface that it ends up with enough energy to escape. For molecules of a liquid to evaporate, they must be located near the surface, be moving in the proper direction, and have sufficient kinetic energy to overcome liquid-phase intermolecular forces. Only a small proportion of the molecules meet these criteria, so the rate of evaporation is limited. Since the kinetic energy of a molecule is proportional to its temperature, evaporation proceeds more quickly at higher temperatures. As the faster-moving molecules escape, the remaining molecules have lower average kinetic energy, and the temperature of the liquid, thus, decreases. This phenomenon is also called evaporative cooling. This is why evaporating sweat cools the human body. The vapor pressure of a liquid (water) is defined as the pressure exerted by the molecules that escapes from the liquid to form a separate vapor phase above the liquid surface. Vapor pressure of water depends on temperature. Higher the temperature, greater is the kinetic energy of water molecules, greater is the collision of molecules, greater is the energy transferred to surface molecules, greater is the number of surface molecules escape from liquid phase into vapor phase and greater will be vapor pressure of water. So more water evaporates from ocean having 30 deg C surface temperature than having 20 deg C surface temperature. Of course at boiling point, at temperature of 100 deg C, vapor pressure of water will be equal to atmospheric pressure and hence all water will be converted into vapor. But below boiling point, the speed of evaporation of water depends on many factors, namely;

- Relative Humidity of the air

- Temperature of the air and the water

- Surface area of the water

- Velocity of air over the water

This is why sprays evaporate faster (large surface area), clothes dry faster on windy days (higher velocity of air), you feel hotter on a humid day (your sweat does not evaporate as easily) and you will see more steam from a hot cup of coffee than cold one (higher temperature).

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A typical equation for the rate (speed) of water (sweat) evaporation in kg/second/square meter is:

(Pw-Pa) x (0.089 + 0.0782V)/Y

Where Pw is the vapor pressure of water at skin temperature, Pa is the partial pressure of vapor in air, V is the velocity of the air over the water (sweat) in m/s and Y is the latent heat of vaporization of water. Pressures should be in kPa.  So, the speed of water (sweat) evaporation could be practically anything depending on these conditions. This is only one of the formulas but many others are also available but none of them are exact because there are plenty of variables in water evaporation and it is difficult to put down all variables in an equation form.

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Most of the factors in the heat gain and/or heat loss are not under our control. We can not change high ambient temperature unless we plant trees on massive scale. When ambient temperature is higher than body temperature as in hot weather or heat waves, heat loss from body via convection & radiation is nil and in fact there may be heat gain instead of heat loss. We can not change relative humidity unless we buy a dehumidifier which will work in a close environment like home but useless outdoors. We can not change our body surface area. We can increase speed of air surrounding skin by fan but even that will not work if ambient temperature is > 35 deg C. We can not avoid going outdoor during summer as we need to work to earn livelihood. We can not reduce metabolic heat production because these metabolic processes are essential for survival. We have to take tablets for many co-existent illnesses for our well-being. Most of the middle class people in developing countries and all poor people can not afford air-conditioning. So the only factor left in our hand is to increase water intake so that sweat loss of water is compensated. As I doctor I can say that most of my patients can not drink more water even though they are warned of adverse consequences of dehydration. Most people can not drink 2 to 3 liter water in a matter of 2 to 3 hours when they are facing hot weather outdoor. So basically, in hot weather & heat waves, we are at the receiving end of a zero sum game.

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The concept of simulated sweating is designed for middle class and poor class people who can not afford air conditioner, who do not have access to plenty of water and who are vulnerable to heat illness due to lifestyle & occupation. Simulated sweating is recommended when a person feels uncomfortable due to heat and/or when a person is likely to acquire heat illness.

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Simulated sweating is similar to the evaporative technique used in management of heat stroke by spraying person’s body with tap water while a powerful fan blows across the body, allowing the heat to evaporate. This can be used by common people to prevent heat illness especially those who cannot afford air-conditioner. Just sit below fan unclothed and wet body surface with tap water. Body heat will evaporate water on skin and fan will circulate air around body to reduce humidity around skin surface because evaporated water from skin will form a layer of humid air around body which will prevent further evaporation. The fan will bring fresh air around skin and replace evaporated vapor containing air. Also, higher surrounding air velocity increases evaporative heat loss from the body. By this simple inexpensive way, most heat illness can be prevented during heat waves. The water on skin will work as simulated sweating and circulation of air around skin by fan will prevent humidity around skin surface to rise.

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The same principle can be used to cool down your building in summer. Just throw water on terrace & walls, and as it evaporates, the building will cool down. The stronger the breeze, the faster the evaporation rate and the cooler you feel in your home.

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Various studies have shown that in the dry environment and at a maximum efficiency, sweating can dissipate 604 kilocalories of energy per hour, requiring evaporation of about 1 liter of sweat in an adult. Even though you may be acclimated person producing 2 liters of sweat every hour, all sweat is never evaporated and a significant amount dribbles down the skin. An experienced marathon runner can evaporate more than 2 liter of sweat per hour but it is an exception and such physiological adaptation is not possible for common people. Hence 1 liter per hour or 16 ml per minute or 160 ml every 10 minutes is the maximum an adult human can evaporate by sweating.

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Is simulated sweating more efficient in heat dissipation than natural sweating ?

Yes.

Simulated sweat is only water while natural sweat has salt dissolved in it. Sodium concentration in sweat is 30 to 65 mmol/l, depending on the degree of acclimatization. Higher the acclimatization, lesser the sodium concentration. Salt is what we call a nonvolatile substance. This means that it will not easily evaporate. Water is a slightly volatile substance, meaning that if left standing it will evaporate (go from the liquid to the gas phase).When we have pure water, there is nothing to prevent it from evaporating. That is, on the surface of the water there are only water molecules, and we know that evaporation takes place on the surface. When we have saltwater, the surface now contains both salt and water. Salt does not like to evaporate (because it is nonvolatile), so it will stay in the solution. The water will still evaporate, but not as quickly because now salt takes up part of the surface area at the top of the solution.  Since the water molecules in salt water don’t have as much surface area to evaporate from as the water molecules in pure water, the water in salt water will take longer to evaporate. We can also look at the forces between the salt and water in saltwater. We call these as intermolecular forces and they result from the attraction of the positive and negative parts of a water molecule to the positive and negative ions in salt. Salt is made up of ions, which are just atoms with either a positive or negative charge. This charge comes about when an atom has more or less electrons than it does protons.  Sodium and chloride ions make up salt, and when we put salt in water, these ions separate from each other (we call this dissociation) and the salt dissolves. The chloride ions, which are negatively charged, are attracted to the partial positive charge on the hydrogen atoms in a water molecule while the positively charged sodium ions are attracted to the partial negative charge on the oxygen atom in a water molecule. When the water in saltwater tries to evaporate it has a harder time because now it has sodium and chloride ions holding it back. Remember that salt doesn’t like to evaporate so it tries to keep the water in the solution, too. In order for the water in saltwater to evaporate it needs more energy than pure water, so it will take a longer time to evaporate. Pure water, on the other hand, does not have to worry about intermolecular forces with ions. It does have something we call “hydrogen bonding,” which is basically a weak force between the negative and positively charged parts of a water molecule, but hydrogen bonding is not as strong as the forces between the water and ions in saltwater. So in a nutshell, greater the salt content of water, lesser is the speed of evaporation. Therefore, the acclimated person who has sweat secretion with lower salt concentration evaporates sweat faster than non-acclimated person. Also, volume of sweat secretion is higher in acclimated person than non-acclimated person and so heat dissipation by acclimated person is far higher than non-acclimated person. Simulated sweat (water) has no salt in it as compared to natural sweat and therefore water evaporation rate and heat dissipation rate is higher with simulated sweating than natural sweating for the same volume. Also, the volume of simulated sweating is independent of any bodily factors while natural sweating is dependent on many factors including hydration of body. Therefore total heal loss by simulated sweating will always be more than natural sweating.

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All you have to do is to apply 160 ml of tap or stored water (20 to 30 deg C) over your skin surface every 10 minutes (for adults) and let it evaporate under a fan. This will work just like sweating but without causing dehydration and electrolyte loss. Since 1.36 ml/kg of sweat evaporation reduces body temperature by 1 degree C, 160 ml of tap water evaporation will reduce body temperature by 2 degree C in 60 kg person and by 1.5 degree C in 80 kg person within 10 minutes. This cooling rate is possible only if all 160 ml of water is evaporated in 10 minutes but anything less will reduce cooling rate. Since the process can be repeated every 10 minutes, body temperature can be reduced by several degrees C in an hour. You should not apply more than 160 ml of water every 10 minutes as excess water will be wasted and not evaporated. Experts say that bath with cool water will help but I disagree. First, you need lot of water for bath which is not possible in many developing countries especially in summer when many wells go dry. Second, you take a bath for 10 minutes and then come out. So body is allowed to cool for 10 minutes and again back to square one. My technique uses only small amount of water every 10 minutes and therefore saves water. Also, cooling will continue as long as you wish till core temperature is brought to normal. Also, the technique will work when your sweating is blocked due to any reason including drugs & dehydration. Also, you do not have to drink plenty of water to replenish water loss from sweating. In fact, application of tap or stored water (20 to 30 deg C) on skin will reduce skin temperature to less than 30 deg C instantly, which will reduce hypothalamic drive for sweating and conserve water & electrolytes in body during heat waves & hot weather. In event, you do not have even a fan or electricity is unavailable, a piece of cardboard or newspaper or magazine can be used manually to circulate air around you. Before advent of electricity, people were using hand-held-fans in summer to evaporate sweat.

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Common people with common sense would suggest why simulated sweating? Why not apply ice on skin? Evaporation of 1ml of water has been shown to dissipate seven times as much heat as melting 1gm of ice. This is because latent heat of water evaporation is seven times greater than latent heat of ice melting. So evaporation of water from skin in simulated sweating is far better than melting of ice on skin. Ice-water immersion for treatment of heat stroke is recommended because it is a medical emergency and we want to rapidly cool down core temperature to save life and such rapidity is achieved by conductive heat loss through contact with ice or ice-water. Simulated sweating is not for treatment of heat stroke but to prevent it. However, if ice or ice-water is not available, then simulated sweating can be used even for treatment of heat stroke. Simulated sweating will be inefficient to lose heat if relative humidity of air is very high.

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Simulated sweating is different from tepid water (lukewarm water) sponging as in the case of high grade fever. During fever, tepid water sponging is done to cause vasodilatation of skin blood vessels so that heat is lost from skin through convection & radiation. On the other hand, during hot weather & heat waves, body tries to lose heat by vasodilatation of skin blood vessels but fails as ambient temperature is higher than skin temperature and therefore heat loss through convection & radiation is nil, and the only way to lose heat is to evaporate water from skin surface.

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I strongly recommend simulated sweating for all people who are at the risk of heat illness especially sportsmen (athletes, footballers etc), elderly, persons suffering from chronic diseases taking various medications, children, workers in hot environments, and poor & middle class people living in hot environment especially in developing world. Instead of getting heat illness, better prevent it. The best way to prevent heat illness in hot weather & heat waves is by simulated sweating.

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The moral of the story:

1)   One of the most under-reported cause of death in the world is heat illness because majority of deaths due to heat illnesses are attributed to other co-existent diseases.

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2)   Heat illnesses are easily preventable and readily treatable.

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3)   Tips to avoiding heat illness include: rely not on thirst; drink water on schedule; favor sports drinks during exercise; monitor weight; watch urine color; shun caffeine, alcohol and high sugar beverages; stay out of the sun; check up on relatives and neighbors; and know the early warning signs of heat illness.

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4)   Ice-water immersion or cold-water immersion is the best method for rapid cooling of body in heat stroke.

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5)   There is a vicious cycle of air-conditioning on massive scale contributing to global warming, which in turn leads to heat waves, which leads to more air-conditioning.

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6)   Plant more native trees to increase transpiration (evaporation of water from leaves) to reduce ambient temperature.

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7)   Evaporation of 1.36 ml of sweat per kg body weight is needed to reduce body temperature by 1 degree Celsius.

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8)  The best way to prevent heat illness in hot weather & heat waves is simulated sweating. Soaking skin surface by 160 ml of tap or stored water (20 to 30 degree C) every 10 minutes in adults under fan in a well ventilated place is simulated sweating; which help cool down the body by losing heat through water evaporation to prevent heal illness especially in high risk populations and populations who can not afford air-conditioning. The cooling can be continued till the person feels comfortable and/or core temperature is brought down to 37 deg Celsius.

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Dr. Rajiv Desai. MD.

June 13, 2011

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Postscript:

Socio-economic factors are responsible for many diseases including malnutrition, infectious diseases, alcoholism, smoking and heat illnesses. When a patient comes to a doctor for treatment, the buck stops at a doctor but the buck should have stopped at government & media. In India, one third of population live below poverty line who do not have access to electric fan & sufficient water; and therefore vulnerable to heat illness. Every year, thousands die due to heat illness in India but neither government & media have any statistics of it nor are they concerned about it.

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THE CYCLONE

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

THE CYCLONE:

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Prologue:

I am not fond of weather analysis. Many times I inadvertently watch weather forecast on TV which I find quite boring. Nonetheless, after discussing earthquakes and tsunamis, I felt that I should discuss adverse weather events which also affect our lives. A storm is any disturbed state of atmosphere, and strongly implying severe weather; marked by strong wind, thunder, lightning and heavy precipitation (rain, ice etc). Storms are created when a center of low pressure develops, with a system of high pressure surrounding it. This combination of opposing forces can create winds and result in the formation of storm clouds. Storms generally lead to significant negative impacts to lives and property. The vertical wind shear in thunderstorm can cause airplane crashes. Severe weather is also responsible for plenty of helicopter crashes, and delay launch of space shuttles. There are various types of storms including tropical cyclone, thunderstorm, hailstorm, windstorm, tornadoes etc. Out of them, tropical cyclones and tornadoes stand out as causing maximum damage. Last month, tornadoes killed hundreds of people in America. I also felt that we must prevent nuclear meltdown form tornadoes and cyclones. So I decided to go into the details of weather.

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Let us start with basics, the basics which will help us understand weather, weather storms and weather analysis.

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The picture below shows earth’s rotation

Basics of time, length (distance) and place (location):

The Earth is a sphere flattened along the axis from pole to pole such that there is a bulge around the equator. This bulge results from the rotation of the Earth, and causes the diameter at the equator to be 43 km larger than the pole to pole diameter. The average diameter of this sphere is about 12,742 km, which gives approximately 40,003 km as circumference. At present, the Earth orbits the Sun once every 365.24 times it rotates about its own axis, which is equal to 365.24 solar days, or one solar year. Earth’s axis is the imaginary line which goes through the north and south poles and around which Earth spins. Earth’s axis is inclined 66.5 degrees from Earth’s orbital plane which means that it is tilted 23.5 degrees from a vertical 90 degrees.

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A nautical mile is based on the circumference of the planet Earth. If you were to cut the Earth in half at the equator, you could pick up one of the halves and look at the equator as a circle. You could divide that circle into 360 degrees. You could then divide a degree into 60 minutes. A minute of arc on the planet Earth is 1 nautical mile. This unit of measurement is used by all nations for air and sea travel. A nautical mile is 1852 meters, or 1.852 kilometers. In other words, a nautical mile is 1.157 miles, or 6076 feet. To travel around the Earth at the equator, you would have to travel (360 multiply by 60) 21600 nautical miles, 24991 miles or 40003 kilometers.

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A knot is a unit of measure for speed. If you are traveling at a speed of 1 nautical mile per hour, you are said to be traveling at a speed of 1 knot.

For wind speed

1 knot (kt) = 1.852 kilometer per hour (kph) = 1.157 miles per hour (mph)

1 mph = 0.864 kt

1 mph = 1.609 kph

1 mph = 0.4470 meters per second (m/s)

1 kt = 0.5148 m/s

1 kph = 0.277 m/s

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Any location on Earth is described by two numbers–its latitude and its longitude. When looking at a map, latitude lines run horizontally. Latitude lines are also known as parallels since they are parallel and are an equal distant from each other. Each degree of latitude is approximately 69 miles (111 km) apart; there is a variation due to the fact that the earth is not a perfect sphere but an oblate ellipsoid (slightly egg-shaped). On a globe of the Earth, lines of latitude are circles of different size. The longest is the equator, whose latitude is zero, while at the poles–at latitudes 90° north and 90° south (or -90°) the circles shrink to a point. The vertical longitude lines are known as meridians. They converge at the poles and are widest at the equator (about 69 miles or 111 km apart). Zero degrees longitude is located at Greenwich, England (0°). The degrees continue 180° east and 180° west where they meet and form the International Date Line in the Pacific Ocean. Greenwich, the site of the British Royal Greenwich Observatory, was established as the site of the prime meridian by an international agreement. Every meridian must cross the equator. Since the equator is a circle, we can divide it–like any circle–into 360 degrees, and the longitude of a point is then the marked value of that division where its meridian meets the equator. To precisely locate points on the earth’s surface, degrees longitude and latitude have been divided into minutes (‘) and seconds (“). There are 60 minutes in each degree. Each minute is divided into 60 seconds. Seconds can be further divided into tenths, hundredths, or even thousandths. For example, the U.S. Capitol Washington is located at 38°53’23″N, 77°00’27″W (38 degrees, 53 minutes, and 23 seconds north of the equator and 77 degrees, no minutes and 27 seconds west of the meridian passing through Greenwich, England).

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UTC stands for Universal Time Coordinated, what used to be called Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) is defined as the local time in Greenwich, England located at the zero meridian. This is the time at the Prime Meridian (0° Longitude) given in hours and minutes on a 24 hour clock. For example, 1350 UTC is 13 hours and 50 minutes after midnight or 1:50 PM at the Prime Meridian. As the Earth rotates around its axis, at any moment, one line of longitude –“the noon meridian “–faces the Sun, and at that moment, it will be noon everywhere on it. After 24 hours the Earth has undergone a full rotation with respect to the Sun, and the same meridian again faces noon. Thus each hour the Earth rotates by 360/24 = 15 degrees. When at your location the time is 12 noon, 15° to the east the time is 1 pm, for that is the meridian which faced the Sun an hour ago. On the other hand, 15° to the west the time is 11 am, for in an hour’s time, that meridian will face the Sun and experience noon. Now, 1 degree longitude on equator means 111 km in distance. So 15 degree would mean 1665 km. So when your location time on equator is 12 noon, it would be 1 pm at 1665 km east of you and 11 am at 1665 km west of you. Meteorologists have used UTC or GMT times for over a century to ensure that observations taken around the globe are taken simultaneously. However, longitude determines only the hour of the day–not the date, which is determined separately. The international date line has been established–most of it following the 180th meridian–where by common agreement, whenever we cross it the date advances one day (going west) or goes back one day (going east). That line passes through the Bering Strait between Alaska and Siberia, which thus have different dates, but for most of its course, it runs in mid-ocean and does not inconvenience any local time keeping.

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Heat and temperature:

Heat and temperature are related and often confused. More heat usually means a higher temperature. Heat is energy. It is the total amount of energy (both kinetic and potential) possessed by the molecules in a piece of matter. Heat is measured in Joules. Temperature is not energy. It relates to the average (kinetic) energy of microscopic motions of a single particle in the system per degree of freedom. It is measured in Kelvin (K), Celsius (C) or Fahrenheit (F). When you heat a substance, either of two things can happen: the temperature of the substance can rise or the state of substance can change. I will give example. You have two bowls of water, one at 20 degree C and another at 90 degree C. The motion of the water molecules in the warmer bowl is greater than cooler bowl because temperature of warmer bowl is high. In other words, temperature denotes movement of atoms and molecules in a given matter. Greater the temperature, greater the movement. However, at 100 degree C, water starts boiling and transformed into vapor. The temperature remains same but the state changed from liquid to gaseous. The logic remains same. The water molecules in water vapor have far grater mobility than water in liquid state at 100 degree C. So heat energy in water vapor is greater than liquid water at 100 degree C and this increment of heat energy is the latent heat of vapor. Latent heat is defined as the energy released or required when a substance changes phases, such as gas to liquid in this case. If this latent heat energy is taken out of vapor, it is again converted back into liquid water. This latent heat energy can be utilized for storm generation.

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I remember a simple formula from school days for conversion of Celsius (C) into Fahrenheit (F).

C/5 = F-32/9 __________C upon 5 is equal to F minus 32 upon 9.

So 50 degree Celsius is equal to 122 degree Fahrenheit. Celsius is also known as Centigrade.

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Atmosphere and atmospheric pressure:

The Earth is surrounded by a blanket of air, which we call the atmosphere. The atmosphere of Earth is a layer of gases surrounding the planet Earth that is retained by Earth’s gravity. The atmosphere has no precise upper limit, but for all practical purposes the absolute top can be regarded as being at about 200 km. However, from a scientific point of view the atmosphere reaches up to 600-700 km. Life on Earth is supported by the atmosphere. The atmosphere absorbs the energy from the Sun, recycles water and other chemicals, and works with the electrical and magnetic forces to provide a moderate climate. The atmosphere also protects us from high-energy radiation and the frigid vacuum of space.

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A planet’s climate is decided by its mass, its distance from the sun and the composition of its atmosphere. In fact, it is the distance from sun and mass of earth that determined during development of solar system, what kind of atmosphere the earth will have, water on earth and consequently life on earth. The corollary to this logic means that out of billions of stars in the sky, if any one of them of the size of sun has a planet of the size of earth at a distance from the star equivalent to distance of earth from the sun, then, such a planet could have atmosphere and water similar to earth and consequently life on it. Over the 4 plus billions of years in which Earth has had an atmosphere, its composition has changed significantly. The early atmosphere was largely ammonia and carbon dioxide plus some nitrogen, with little oxygen, but may have had more hydrogen. Today, atmosphere contains mainly nitrogen gas and oxygen gas. The picture below shows composition of atmosphere (air).

The nitrogen was derived originally as an escape from the Earth’s interior. Oxygen has increased its percentage over time largely through photosynthetic processes, starting about 1.5 billion years ago. Argon (derived from radioactive decay of potassium in rocks) is the next most abundant component, about 1%, but can sometimes be matched by water vapor (0.1 to 2 %). Carbon dioxide (CO2) and Ozone (O3) play small but important roles. Many of the other “trace” gases have either a biogenic origin, a volcanic origin, or result from human activity. The composition of air up to the outer limits of the stratosphere (out to about 70 km) is almost constant and homogeneous insofar as the three dominant species is concerned.

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Mars is too small to keep a thick atmosphere. Its atmosphere consists mainly of carbon dioxide, but the atmosphere is very thin. The atmosphere of the Earth is a hundred times thicker. Most of Mars’ carbon dioxide is frozen in the ground. Mars’ average surface temperature is about -50 degree C. Venus has almost the same mass as Earth but a thicker atmosphere, composed of 96% carbon dioxide. The surface temperature on Venus is +460 degree C. Venus is hotter than earth and Mars is colder than earth because Venus is closer to sun than earth and Mars is away from sun than earth. Earth’s atmosphere is 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and 1% other gases. Carbon dioxide accounts for just 0.03 to 0.04%. Water vapor, varying in amount from 0 to 2%, carbon dioxide and some other minor gases present in the atmosphere absorb some of the thermal radiation (heat in the form of infra-red rays) leaving the earth’s surface and re-emit back the heat in the form of infra-red rays to the earth’s surface. These radiatively active gases are known as greenhouse gases because they act as a partial blanket for the thermal radiation from the earth’s surface and enable it to be substantially warmer than it would otherwise be, analogous to the effect of a greenhouse. This blanketing is known as the natural greenhouse effect. Without the greenhouse gases, Earth’s average surface temperature would be roughly -20 degree C.

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The atmosphere itself is a mixture of gases of different compositions; plus water as vapor, liquid, or solid; and suspended particles of various natures. These gases follow various rules of thermodynamics. Thus, the physics of meteorology becomes the physics of gas behavior as described by temperature, pressure, circulation, density stratification, and energy utilization and transformation. The main (predominant) source of energy powering atmospheric behavior and change is solar radiation from the Sun. Also contribution to thermal inputs (or exchange) is terrestrial heat flow; in and out movement of heat from water reservoirs (mainly, the ocean); contributions from man, animals, and plants; and chemical reactions within the atmosphere which can be exothermic or endothermic.

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Subdivisions of earth’s atmosphere:

The picture below shows the main structural components of the atmosphere as a function of height above the surface of earth.

The lowest part of the atmosphere is called the troposphere. The gases in this region are predominantly molecular Oxygen (O2) and molecular Nitrogen (N2). All weather is confined to this lower region and it contains 90% of the Earth’s atmosphere and 99% of the water vapor. The highest mountains are still within the troposphere and all of our normal day-to-day activities occur here. The height of the troposphere varies from the equator to the poles. At the equator it is around 11-12 miles (18-20 km) high and at the poles just under four miles (6 – 7 km) high. Jet aircraft are capable of flying in the upper troposphere and lowermost stratosphere where the air is less dense (less drag on the plane and hence greater speed) and smoother, often cloud-free wind conditions.

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In space, there is a nearly complete vacuum so the air pressure is zero. On Earth, because there are many miles of air molecules stacked up and exerting pressure due to the force of gravity, the pressure is about 14.7 pounds per square inch at sea level. Atmospheric pressure is the amount of force exerted over a surface area, caused by the weight of air molecules above it. Although air molecules are invisible, they still have weight and take up space. Since there’s a lot of “empty” space between air molecules, air can be compressed to fit in a smaller volume. When it’s compressed, air is said to be “under high pressure”. Air at sea level is what we’re used to; in fact, we’re so used to it that we forget we’re actually feeling air pressure all the time! Earth’s atmosphere is pressing against each square inch of you with a force of 1 kilogram per square centimeter (14.7 pounds per square inch). The force on 1,000 square centimeters (a little larger than a square foot) is about a ton! However, all that pressure does not squash you. Remember that you have air inside your body too, that air balances out the pressure outside so you stay nice and firm and not squishy.

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The standard value for atmospheric pressure at sea level is: 29.92 inches or 760 millimeters of mercury.

The Pascal (symbol: Pa) is the SI derived unit of pressure, a measure of force per unit area, defined as one newton per square meter. One hectopascal (hPa) = 100 Pa. One hectopascal (hPa) is equivalent to one millibar (mb).

1 atmospheric pressure (atm) = 101325 Pascal (Pa) = 1013.25 millibars (mb) = 760 mm of mercury (Hg)

For atmospheric pressures: 1 inch of mercury = 33.86 mb = 3386 Pa

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The total mass of the global atmosphere is estimated to be approximately 5.1 x 1018 kilograms. Ninety percent of that mass is in the inner 10 km (6 miles). The average density of air at the Earth’s surface is 1.2 kg/m3. The mean pressure of a column of air at sea level, coming from gravitational attraction on all gases above it to the outer limits of the exosphere (where gas molecules diminish to the levels of outer space) is set as 1013 millibars. Most of the mass of atmosphere is concentrated in the troposphere and air becomes progressively thinner with altitude. This causes progressive fall in atmospheric pressure and air density as one travels to higher altitude. At about 18000 feet (5.48 km), the pressure is 500 millibars, about half that at sea level.

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Air pressure is related to density of air and density is related to temperature of air. Warm air is less dense than cooler air because the gas molecules in warm air have a greater velocity and are farther apart than in cooler air. So following gas laws, warm air has greater volume and lesser pressure than cool air for the same number of gas molecules. So, while the average altitude of the 500 millibars level is around 18,000 feet (5486 meters) the actual elevation will be higher in warm air than in cold air.

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Temperature also progressively fall as one travels to higher altitude in troposphere but again increases in stratosphere due to ozone layer absorbing solar radiation. In the troposphere the source of heat is the surface of the Earth, as well as particles in the air, which absorb heat and energy from the Sun, and release it back into the atmosphere. The further away you get from that heat source, the cooler the air becomes and therefore in troposphere, air becomes cooler as altitude increases. The gases in this layer also decrease with height and the air becomes thinner as discussed before. As you climb higher, the temperature drops from about 17 degree C to -51 degree C, atmospheric pressure drops from 1013 millibars to 300 millibars and air becomes thinner and less dense. Almost all weather occurs in this region (troposphere).

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So in a nutshell, the air pressure is related to its density, which is related to the air’s temperature and height above the Earth’s surface. As altitude increases, fewer air molecules are present and that is the rate limiting step. Even though at an altitude, temperature is low with cool air, it cannot increase atmospheric pressure as fewer gas molecules are present at height. Therefore, atmospheric pressure always decreases with increasing height. If you’ve ever been to the top of a tall mountain, you may have noticed that your ears pop and you need to breathe more often than when you’re at sea level. As the number of molecules of air around you decreases, the air pressure decreases. This causes your ears to pop in order to balance the pressure between the outside and inside of your ear. Since you are breathing fewer molecules of oxygen, you need to breathe faster to bring the few molecules there are into your lungs to make up for the deficit.

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For every 1,000 feet you ascend the atmospheric pressure decreases by 4%. The pressure drops about 1 inch of mercury for each 1,000 feet altitude gain. If you’re using millibars, the correction is 1 millibar for each 8 meters of altitude gain.

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Meteorology (from the Greek meteõros meaning “high in the air”) is defined as the science of atmospheric phenomena and processes. The synoptic scale in meteorology (also known as large scale or cyclonic scale) is a horizontal length scale of the order of 1000 kilometers (about 620 miles) or more. Most high and low pressure areas seen on weather maps such as surface weather analyses are synoptic-scale systems. Mesoscale meteorology is the study of weather systems smaller than synoptic scale systems but larger than microscale. Horizontal dimensions generally range from around 5 kilometers to several hundred kilometers. Examples of mesoscale weather systems are sea breezes, squall lines, and mesoscale convective complexes. Microscale meteorology is the study of short-lived atmospheric phenomena smaller than mesoscale, about 1 km or less and they study features generally too small to be depicted on a weather map.

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Weather and climate:

Weather denotes the short-termed (hours to a few days up to a week or so) behavior of the atmosphere, generally with the connotation of applying to local or regional parts of the Earth’s globe, as it varies in the conditions used to describe weather – fair, rain, warm, windy, etc. Thus, each place is said to have a set of particular conditions, which tend to change over short time spans, that affected people describe as the weather for the day or perhaps as long as the next week. Climate refers to much longer time frames and describes the common characteristics of weather in broader parts of the Earth’s globe. It applies to wider regions and depends on geographic location, physiographic conditions, time of year, and other factors. Climate is thus tied to 1) the larger, longer variation in typical or average weather in a region determined by the seasons – which in turn depend on the location of the Earth, with its tilted axis, as it rotates around the Sun in an annual cycle; and 2) the range of conditions expressed in day to day weather variations and extremes in such properties as temperatures, extent of cloud cover, and duration and types of rainfall/snowfall. Weather and climate are both used interchangeably sometimes but differ in their measure of time, and trends that affect them.

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Wind:

Wind is defined as the horizontal motion of air across the surface of the Earth, described by convention, as the direction from which the wind is blowing. Consequently winds blowing from the north are called northerly winds and westerly wind comes from west. However, most winds also have a vertical component, which is normally much smaller, but will gain some importance under certain conditions. Wind speed is commonly measured in knots (kt), kilometers or miles per hour (kph or mph). The international SI unit for wind speed is given in meters per second.

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Air movement:

An air movement within the Earth’s atmospheric circulation is called planetary winds. As generalities: air moves along pressure gradients from conditions of high pressure to lower pressure; warm air rises, cold air sinks; movements of air are also influenced by the motion of the Earth itself, as well as other forces. The dominant cause behind movement of air in near horizontal conditions is the pressure gradient. If a high pressure zone is far away from a low pressure zone, the pressure gradient is small so that the wind moving towards the low moves more slowly than when the these zones are close-spaced (higher gradient and faster wind flow). It cannot be overemphasized that high and low pressures are relative terms. There’s no set number that divides high and low pressure. Atmospheric pressure differences normally originate from a temperature (and thus density) difference between different regions due to differential heating and cooling of the earth’s surface. In addition, changes in wind speed and direction are related to the Earth’s rotation via the Coriolis Effect (vide infra) and to surface friction.

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Cloud:

Cloud means a structure formed in the lower atmosphere by condensed water vapor and ice particles. Clouds form when air is cooled to its dewpoint which is a temperature where air reaches saturation with water vapor. Air can reach saturation in a number of ways. The most common way is through lifting. As a bubble or parcel of air rises, it moves into an area of lower pressure (pressure decreases with height). As this occurs the parcel expands. This requires energy, or work, which takes heat away from the parcel. So as air rises it cools. This is called an adiabatic process. The rate at which the parcel cools with increasing elevation is called the “lapse rate”. The lapse rate of unsaturated air (air with relative humidity <100%) is 5.4°F per 1000 feet (9.8°C per kilometer). This is called the dry lapse rate. This means for each 1000 feet increase in elevation, the air temperature will decrease 5.4°F. Since cold air can hold less water vapor than warm air, some of the vapor will condense onto tiny clay and salt particles called condensation nuclei in order to form a cloud. The reverse is also true. As a parcel of air sinks it encounters increasing pressure so it is squeezed inward. This adds heat to the parcel so it warms as it sinks. Warm air can hold more water vapor than cold air, so clouds tend to evaporate as air sinks. Air can also get saturated by adding water vapor to the air. The main ways water vapor is added to the air are: wind convergence over water or moist ground into areas of upward motion, precipitation or virga falling from above, daytime heating evaporating water from the surface of oceans, water bodies or wet land, transpiration from plants, and cool or dry air moving over warmer water.

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Air masses and fronts:

An air mass is a large body of air with generally uniform temperature and humidity. The area from which an air mass originates is called a “source region.” Air masses can control the weather for a relatively long time period: from a period of days, to months. Most weather occurs along the periphery of these air masses at boundaries called fronts. Fronts are classified as to which type of air mass (cold or warm) is replacing the other. For example, a cold front demarcates the leading edge of a cold air mass displacing a warmer air mass. A warm front is the leading edge of a warmer air mass replacing a colder air mass. If the front is essentially not moving (i.e. the air masses are not moving) it is called a stationary front.

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Atmospheric circulation:

The heat source for our planet is the sun. Energy from the sun is transferred through space and through the earth’s atmosphere to the earth’s surface. This energy warms the earth’s surface and atmosphere. Air in the atmosphere acts as a fluid and therefore amenable to heat transfer by convection. The sun’s radiation strikes the ground, thus warming the rocks. As the rock’s temperature rises due to conduction, heat energy is released into the atmosphere, forming a bubble of air which is warmer than the surrounding air. This bubble of air rises into the atmosphere. As it rises, the bubble cools with the heat contained in the bubble moving into the atmosphere. As the hot air mass rises, the air is replaced by the surrounding cooler denser air, what we feel as wind. These movements of air masses can be small in a certain region, such as local cumulus clouds, or large cycles in the troposphere, covering large sections of the earth. Convection currents are responsible for many weather patterns in the troposphere. Convection is the principle motor of cloud formation and circulation on all scales – including the atmosphere’s general circulation as warm moist air is going upwards and colder, drier and denser air will be sinking downwards.

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The weather in the tropics is basically hot and humid. This is primarily due to the earth receiving more solar radiation than it re-radiates back to space. This excessive heating generates weather that can impact any other location on the globe. This energy imbalance drives the circulation of the atmosphere. The picture below shows how tropics receive more solar energy than poles.

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The atmosphere is kept in motion and develops its weather/climate characteristics primarily through energy input as heat (as a term this refers to quantities of thermal energy). Heat actions produce various temperatures (a measure of the degree of atomic/molecular motions through heat inputs and withdrawals). This temperature variations give rise to differences in pressure (hence development of pressure gradients that drive gases into motions that include wind) and volumes. It must be emphasized that heat from any source (sun and/or earth surface) warms up atmospheric gases (air) resulting in increased volume and reduced pressure. In other words, warm air has lower pressure than cool air. Air being a fluid moves across pressure gradient. So wind will flow from cool air to warm air. The dominant source of heat affecting the atmosphere come from solar irradiation (insolation) and heat added from internal Earth flow adds a small amount to the land/ocean bottom surface. Of the total solar radiation, 31 % is reflected by the ground, air molecules, clouds, and dust, (reflected radiation); the atmosphere’s dust and clouds absorb 21% and the remaining 48% is absorbed by land and ocean surfaces. Of great importance is the geographic distribution of net radiation. The excess of radiation at low latitudes results from radiation coming in faster than it goes out; the converse (slower in, faster out) takes over at the higher latitudes. This build-up of heat around the equator and depletion in Polar Regions is responsible for the pole-ward flow (transport) of heat energy to equalize the total energy distribution. That is one of the driving forces in the circulation patterns that mark Earth’s atmosphere. This picture below shows that the low latitudes in the course of an annual seasonal cycle gain more heat whereas the higher latitudes loose heat.

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What drives the atmospheric circulation?

The short answer is: Differential heating.

That means the heating of the sun is most intensive in the tropics, but least intensive in the Polar Regions. This means that the air in the tropics is much warmer than the air in the Polar Regions. This means that the air at the equator should be less dense (low pressure) than the air at the poles (high pressure). But such a situation is unstable. The cold air should flow under the warm air. So we might envision an equilibrium situation where at the earth’s surface cold air flows towards the equator, where it is heated and it rises up in the atmosphere, and aloft it flows back to the Polar Regions. Flow like this is called a thermally direct circulation. The global circulation would be simple (and the weather boring) if the Earth did not rotate; the rotation was not tilted relative to the sun, and had no water.

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However, since the earth rotates, the axis is tilted, and there is more land mass in the northern hemisphere (NH) than in the southern hemisphere (SH), the actual global pattern is much more complicated. Atmospheric circulation is the large-scale movement of air through the troposphere, and the means (with ocean circulation) by which heat is distributed around the Earth. The large-scale structure of the atmospheric circulation varies from year to year, but the basic structure remains fairly constant as it is determined by the Earth’s rotation rate and the difference in solar radiation between the equator and poles.

Latitudinal circulation is the consequence of the fact that incident solar radiation per unit area is highest at the equator, and decreases as the latitude increases, reaching its minimum at the poles. It consists of three convection cells, the Hadley cell, the polar vortex and the Ferrel cell. Let me discuss these cells in vertical view. The Hadley cell is characterized by rising air at the equator. Once aloft, the air flows poleward to about latitude 30 (S and N) where it sinks to the surface and there is a return equatorward surface flow. This is a thermally direct circulation. The polar cell has rising air at the polar front, flow aloft to the pole, where the air sinks and returns at the surface back to the polar front. The Ferrel cell (mid-latitude cell) has descending at about latitude 30, poleward surface flow to about 60 degrees (the polar front) where the air rises and returns equatorward aloft. This is not a thermally direct cell. Now the discussion shifts from vertical to horizontal view. In the Hadley cell we have surface air flowing to equatorward. Deflection by the Coriolis force (CF) leads to an easterly flow. These are the trade-winds. Easterly means from east to west…Easterly in both hemispheres! (CF is to right in NH and to left in SH). In the Ferrel cell the surface flow is poleward, and the deflection leads to the westerly winds, the mid-latitude westerlies. In the polar cell the flow is equatorward at the surface which gives rise to easterly winds. (the polar easterlies).

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Longitudinal circulation, on the other hand, comes about because water has a higher specific heat capacity than land and thereby absorbs and releases more heat, but the temperature changes less than land. This effect is noticeable; it is what brings the sea breeze, air cooled by the water, ashore in the day, and carries the land breeze, air cooled by contact with the ground, out to sea during the night. Longitudinal circulation consists of two cells, the Walker circulation and El Niño / Southern Oscillation.

The above picture shows direction of wind from cooler sea to warmer land during day.

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It is the differences in heat distribution on a geographic and temporal basis that gives rise to the vicissitudes of weather and climate we observe on our planet. Earth is characterized by its seasons, which are extended periods in which weather and climate have different average temperature, rainfall, and storm frequency and type conditions. The reasons for seasons are mainly twofold: 1) the position of the Earth relative to the Sun during its annual 365.24 day revolution around the Sun; 2) the 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth’s axis of rotation. The first factor shown here has a much smaller effect than the second; distances from the Sun vary by less than 10% so that insolation intensity is not great but has some influence. This variation in heat content over the seasons affects the range of temperatures in marine waters, as shown below for several different oceans. In general, surface sea water experiences a minimum of temperature variations in low latitudes and a much high range of change as the Polar Regions are approached.

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The oceans act as major heat reservoirs that have significant effects on the roles that heat and radiation play in generating meteorological patterns. The oceans experience differential heating, generally being warmer at the surface. Cooler water being denser will sink. Since there are temperature differences within the oceans at various depths, these give rise to current movements. The weather can not be discussed without discussing ocean because the ocean has huge ability absorb, store, and release heat into the atmosphere which often directly affects us. In fact, just the top 10 feet of the ocean surface contains more heat than our entire atmosphere. Also, nearly 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by ocean and more than 97% of all our water is contained in it. Also, more than one-half of the world’s population lives within 60 miles (100 km) of the ocean. The weather has effect on ocean and the ocean has effect on weather. Major climate events, such as El Niño, result from ocean temperature changes. These temperature changes then have impacts on weather events such as hurricanes, typhoons, floods and droughts which, in turn, affect the prices of fruits, vegetables and grains.

Ocean Surface Area
miles2
Surface Area
kilometers2
Of all
oceans
Pacific 64,000,000 166,000,000 45.0%
Atlantic 31,600,000 82,000,000 22.2%
Indian 28,400,000 73,600,000 20.0%
Southern 13,523,000 35,000,000 9.5%
Arctic 4,700,000 12,173,000 3.3%

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Coriolis force (CF):

Coriolis force (effect) is an inertial force described by the 19th-century French engineer-mathematician Gustave-Gaspard Coriolis in 1835. The effect of the Coriolis force is an apparent deflection of the path of an object that moves within a rotating coordinate system. The object does not actually deviate from its path, but it appears to do so because of the motion of the coordinate system. The Earth is spinning on its rotational axis at a rate approximating 1700 kilometers per hour (1062 mph). The speed diminishes pole-ward, going to just above zero immediately beyond the point where the axis can be imagined to emerge at the surface. The rotational speed of earth at equator and mind-latitude is indicated in the picture below.

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The Coriolis Effect is most apparent in the path of an object moving longitudinally. On the Earth an object that moves along a north-south path, or longitudinal line, will undergo apparent deflection to the right in the Northern Hemisphere and to the left in the Southern Hemisphere. There are two reasons for this phenomenon: first, the Earth rotates eastward; and second, the tangential velocity of a point on the Earth is a function of latitude (the velocity is essentially zero at the poles and it attains a maximum value at the Equator). Thus, if a cannon were fired northward from a point on the Equator, the projectile would land to the east of its due north path. This variation would occur because the projectile was moving eastward faster at the Equator than was its target farther north. Similarly, if the weapon were fired toward the Equator from the North Pole, the projectile would again land to the right of its true path. In this case, the target area would have moved eastward before the shell reached it because of its greater eastward velocity. The Coriolis deflection is therefore related to the motion of the object, the motion of the Earth, and the latitude. There will be no Coriolis Effect if an object moves on equator because all objects on equator will have the same rotational speed of earth (1700 km/h). So if a cannon were fired eastward or westward from a point on equator, the projectile would not deviate from intended path. The picture below shows Coriolis deflection to the right of the path from North Pole to equator.

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The differential velocities associated with the rotation of earth give rise to an effect on the air known as the Coriolis force (effect) in meteorology. Not a directly applied force as such, it nevertheless acts on moving air to deflect their paths in a systematic manner. In the northern hemisphere, air moving from a high pressure zone around the poles to lower pressures at the equator would move in a straight line if there were no rotation but because of the rotation, the air moves to the right of its straight path as it moves equatorward. So the Coriolis-induced deflections of wind are to the right of its path in the northern hemisphere and to the left in the southern hemisphere. The reason for the reversal – right or left – is just the consequence of motion direction in the two hemispheres. Those in the southern hemisphere are in a sense upside down relative to those in the north so the perception of motions is reversed. Imagine you hovering exactly over the North Pole. The rotation of the earth, as seen from the vantage point of the North Pole, is counterclockwise. Imagine standing at the South Pole and seeing the rotation of the earth. The earth would appear to rotate in a clockwise direction.

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The basic idea behind the Coriolis Effect is that the resultant wind direction is a product of two competing forces. First, the Pressure Gradient Force (high to low) is acting in a North-South direction and the Coriolis force (not as strong) in east to west direction. The Net Direction of Motion is the resultant of vector addition of these two forces. Let us summarize this concept for in the picture below which shows counterclockwise inspiral in northern hemisphere and clockwise inspiral in southern hemisphere of a cyclone and vice versa in anticyclone (vide infra).

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Why do tropical cyclones’ winds rotate counter-clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in Southern hemisphere?

When a pressure gradient starts form north of the equator, the surface winds will flow inward trying to fill in the low and will be deflected to the right of its path due to Coriolis Effect and a counter-clockwise rotation will be initiated. The opposite (a deflection to the left of its path and a clockwise rotation) will occur south of the equator. However, this force is too tiny to effect rotation in, for example, a football game where a ball is kicked from one player to another.

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The principal features of weather systems that affect land & sea, humans, animals, and vegetation thereon are winds and precipitation. Most weather of consequence to people occurs in storms. These may be local in origin but more commonly are carried to locations in wide areas along pathways followed by active air masses consisting of Highs and Lows. The key ingredient in storms is water, either as a liquid or as a vapor. The vapor acts like a gas and thus contributes to the total pressure of the atmosphere, making up a small but vital fraction of the total, as seen in the picture below.

Water vapor in the air will vary in amount depending on sources quantities, processes involved, and air temperature.

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The picture below shows mean atmospheric water content.

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Precipitation:

Heat, mainly as solar irradiation but with some contributed by the Earth and human activity, and some from change of state processes, will cause some water molecules either in water bodies (oceans, lakes, rivers) or in soils to be excited thermally and escape from their sources. This is called evaporation; and if water is released from trees and other vegetation the process is known as evapotranspiration. The evaporated water, or moisture, that enters the air is responsible for a state called humidity. When a parcel of air attains or exceeds relative humidity of 100% condensation will occur and water in some state other than vapor will begin to form as some type of precipitation. One familiar form is dew, which occurs when the saturation temperature for some quantity of moisture reaches a temperature low at the surface at which condensation sets in, leaving the moisture to coat the ground (especially obvious on lawns). The other types of precipitations are rain, mist, glaze, snow, hail etc.

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The three general conditions in an atmospheric system that led to local to widespread precipitation are 1) Convectional; 2) Orographic; and 3) Cyclonic.

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Thunderstorm:

The classical example of convectional precipitation is a thunderstorm. Thunderstorms originate when intense heating causes a parcel of moist air to rise from the earth’s surface into upper levels of the atmosphere, a process called convection. Thunderstorms are therefore also known as convective storms.

A thunderstorm is a type of storm that generates lightning and the attendant thunder. It is normally accompanied by heavy precipitation. Thunderstorms occur throughout the world, with the highest frequency in tropical rainforest regions where there are conditions of high humidity and temperature along with atmospheric instability. These storms occur when high levels of condensation form in a volume of unstable air that generates deep, rapid, upward motion in the atmosphere. The heat energy creates powerful rising air currents that swirl upwards to the tropopause. Warm, moist air rises as an unstable air mass and cools adiabatically. The rising parcel is commonly called a “thermal”. As it reaches cooler air, and lower pressures, condensation begins and often yields numerous raindrops. These are eventually too heavy for the growing cloud (cumulonimbus) and fall to Earth in torrents. The updrafts of wind recirculate and windflow on the ground may be turbulent and violent. After the storm has spent its energy, the rising currents die away and downdraughts break up the cloud. Individual storm clouds can measure 2–10 km across. An average thunderstorm lasts for few hours and it has wind speed between 10 to 30 knots. They occur most frequently in the tropics but are also common in the mid-latitudes. There are four types of thunderstorms: single-cell, multicell cluster, multicell lines, and supercells. Supercell thunderstorms are the strongest and may rotate and are associated with severe weather phenomena. A thunderstorm is classified as a mesocyclone when cyclonically rotating air is detected within it and it is these rotating thunderstorms which generate tornadoes. Thunderstorms are often accompanied by severe weather and lightning is among the biggest weather killers. However, less then one percent of all thunderstorms produce hail bigger than the size of a golf ball and/or strong downburst winds. Only a small fraction of severe storms actually produce tornadoes or waterspouts. At any given moment, it is estimated there are 2000 thunderstorms in progress around the world. It is estimated that there are as many as 40,000 thunderstorm occurrences each day world-wide. This translates into an astounding 14.6 million occurrences annually!

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The picture below it is an actual photograph of a supercell storm that displays a prominent anvil cloud at its top which occurs when air of different properties is encountered.

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Convective thunderstorms are the most common type of atmospheric instability that produces lightning followed by thunder. As seen in below image, lightning is one of the most spectacular phenomena witnessed in storms.

A typical lightning bolt can attain strength up to 30 million volts and a current as much as 10000 amperes. It can cause air temperatures to reach 10000°C. But a bolt’s duration is extremely short (fractions of a second). Although it can kill people as bolt strikes, some can survive. A lightning bolt is the discharge of electrons (negative charges) that build up in a cloud. Both negative and positive charges accumulate from processes that derive them from the ground or by ionization of the air. With both charges present in a thundercloud (the thunder itself occur as superheated air rushes back into the bolt’s path), much lightning is discharged in and remains within the cloud. But if the Earth’s surface is induced to have a surplus of + (positive) charges, as when – (negative) charges are drawn off and carried upwards, the bolt may strike some spot on the ground if the potential difference is great enough.

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The cyclone:

The word cyclone has been derived from Greek word ‘cyclos’ which means ‘coiling of a snake’. Cyclone is defined as a large-scale, atmospheric wind-and-pressure system characterized by low pressure at its center and by circular wind motion, counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. A cyclone may technically refer to any cyclonically rotating circulation. A cyclone is any mass of air that spirals around a low pressure center. It is an organized collection of thunderstorms embedded in a swirling mass of air.

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Polar-Front theory of cyclone formation (the Norwegian model):

Norwegian meteorologists studies cyclone formation and development during World War I, using mainly surface observations. They formulated what became known as the polar-front theory of cyclone formation. According to them, stages of cyclone development are as follows.

1) Front develops (known as frontogenesis).

2) A wave develops on the front.

3) A cyclonic circulation (low-pressure) becomes established.

4) The cold front overtakes the warm front, beginning the occlusion.

5) The occluded front continues to develop as the cyclone reaches maturity.

The lifetime of the cyclone is roughly 3 – 5 days (one week) from the initial wave to the dissipating stage.

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In meteorology, a cyclone is an area of closed, circular fluid motion rotating in the same direction as the Earth. This is usually characterized by inward spiraling winds that rotate counter clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere of the Earth. Most large-scale cyclonic circulations are centered on areas of low atmospheric pressure. The largest low-pressure systems are cold-core polar cyclones and extratropical cyclones which lie on the synoptic scale. Warm-core cyclones such as tropical cyclones, mesocyclones, and polar lows lie within the smaller mesoscale. Subtropical cyclones are of intermediate size. Cyclogenesis describes the process of cyclone formation and intensification. Structurally, tropical cyclones have their strongest winds near the earth’s surface, while extra-tropical cyclones have their strongest winds near the tropopause – about 8 miles (12 km) up. These differences are due to the tropical cyclone being “warm-core” in the troposphere (below the tropopause) and the extra-tropical cyclone being “warm-core” in the stratosphere (above the tropopause) and “cold-core” in the troposphere. “Warm-core” refers to being relatively warmer than the environment at the same pressure surface (“pressure surfaces” are simply another way to measure height or altitude). A warm core cyclone has a profile of cyclone strength that decreases with height. A cold core cyclone has a profile of cyclone strength that increases with height.

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The conventional types of cyclones can be labeled within the phase space where four generic quadrants of cyclone type result:

1) Frontal/asymmetric warm-core;

2) Nonfrontal/symmetric warm-core;

3) Nonfrontal/symmetric cold-core and

4) Frontal/asymmetric cold-core.

Picture below shows general locations of cyclones within phase space.

Tropical cyclone is warm core non-frontal symmetrical weather system.

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Cyclone energetics:

The energy that drives the cyclone is derived from the temperature contrast across the front. It is converting potential energy to kinetic energy. After the cyclone has mixed away the temperature contrast across the front there is no longer any potential energy available to keep the cyclone going, so it dissipates. Note that the cyclone is serving to reduce the latitudinal heat imbalance by transporting warm air toward the pole and cold air toward the equator.

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Types of cyclones:

There are six main types of cyclones: Polar cyclones, Polar lows, Extratropical cyclones, Subtropical cyclones, Tropical cyclones, and Mesocyclones.

1) Polar cyclones:

A polar, sub-polar, or Arctic cyclone (also known as a polar vortex) is a vast area of low pressure which strengthens in the winter and weakens in the summer. A polar cyclone is a low pressure weather system, usually spanning 1,000 kilometers to 2,000 kilometers, in which the air circulates in a counterclockwise direction in the northern hemisphere, and a clockwise direction in the southern hemisphere. When the polar vortex is strong, westerly flow descends to the Earth’s surface. When the polar cyclone is weak, significant cold outbreaks occur.

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2) Polar lows:

A polar low is a small-scale, short-lived atmospheric low pressure system (depression) that is found over the ocean areas poleward of the main polar front in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. During winter, when cold-core lows with temperatures in the mid-levels of the troposphere reach -45 °C (-49 °F) move over open waters, deep convection forms which allows polar low development to become possible. The systems usually have a horizontal length scale of less than 1,000 kilometers and exist for no more than a couple of days.

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3) Extratropical cyclone:

An extra-tropical cyclone is a storm system that primarily gets its energy from the horizontal temperature contrasts that exist in the atmosphere. Extra-tropical cyclones (also known as mid-latitude or baroclinic storms) are low pressure systems with associated cold fronts, warm fronts, and occluded fronts. An extratropical cyclone is a synoptic scale low pressure weather system that has neither tropical nor polar characteristics, being connected with fronts and horizontal gradients in temperature and dew point otherwise known as “baroclinic zones”. The descriptor “extratropical” refers to the fact that this type of cyclone generally occurs outside of the tropics, in the middle latitudes of the planet. These systems may also be described as “mid-latitude cyclones” due to their area of formation and are often described as “depressions” or “lows” by weather forecasters and the general public. These are the everyday phenomena which along with anticyclones drive the weather over much of the Earth. Mid-latitude or frontal cyclones are large traveling atmospheric cyclonic storms up to 2000 kilometers in diameter with centers of low atmospheric pressure. An intense mid-latitude cyclone may have a surface pressure as low as 970 millibars, compared to an average sea-level pressure of 1013 millibars. Normally, individual frontal cyclones exist for about 3 to 10 days moving in a generally west to east direction. Frontal cyclones are the dominant weather event of the Earth’s mid-latitudes forming along the polar front. Mid-latitude cyclones are the result of the dynamic interaction of warm tropical and cold polar air masses at the polar front. This interaction causes the warm air to be cyclonically lifted vertically into the atmosphere where it combines with colder upper atmosphere air. This process also helps to transport excess energy from the lower latitudes to the higher latitudes. Its direction of movement is generally eastward. Mid-latitude cyclones cause far less damage than tropical cyclones or hurricanes.

The picture below shows typical paths of mid-latitude cyclones are represented by black arrows. This image also shows the typical paths traveled by subtropical hurricanes (green arrows).

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4) Subtropical cyclone:

A subtropical cyclone is a weather system that has some characteristics of a tropical cyclone and some characteristics of an extratropical cyclone. They can form between the equator and the 50th parallel. Since they form from initially extratropical cyclones which have colder temperatures aloft than normally found in the tropics, the sea surface temperatures required for their formation are lower than the tropical cyclone threshold by three degrees Celsius, or five degrees Fahrenheit, lying around 23 degrees Celsius. This means that subtropical cyclones are more likely to form outside the traditional bounds of the hurricane season. The maximum recorded wind speed for a subtropical storm is 33 m/s (119 km/h, 64 knots, or 74 mph), also the minimum for a hurricane. Subtropical cyclones in the Atlantic basin are classified by the maximum sustained surface winds: less than 18 m/s (34 kt, 39 mph) – “subtropical depression”; greater than or equal to 18 m/s (34 kt, 39 mph) – “subtropical storm”. Although subtropical storms rarely have hurricane-force winds, they may become tropical in nature as their cores warm.

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5) Tropical cyclone:

The term “tropical” refers to both the geographic origin of these systems, which form almost exclusively in tropical regions of the globe. Tropical cyclones, in contrast to extratropical cyclone, typically have little to no temperature differences across the storm at the surface and their winds are derived from the release of energy due to cloud/rain formation from the warm moist air of the tropics. A tropical cyclone feeds on heat released when moist air rises, resulting in condensation of water vapor contained in the moist air. Depending on their location and strength, tropical cyclones are referred to by other names, such as hurricane, typhoon or simply as a cyclone (vide infra).

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6) Mesocyclone:

A Mesocyclone is a vortex of air, 2.0 kilometers to 10 kilometers in diameter (the mesoscale of meteorology), within a convective thunderstorm. Air rises and rotates around a vertical axis, usually in the same direction as low pressure systems in both northern and southern hemisphere. They are most often cyclonic, that is, associated with a localized low-pressure region within a severe thunderstorm. Such storms can feature strong surface winds and severe hail. Mesocyclones often occur together with updrafts in supercells, where tornadoes may form. The mesocyclone is the “mother of tornadoes.” About 1700 mesocyclones form annually across the United States, but only half produce tornadoes.

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However, Cyclones can undergo transition between extratropical, subtropical, and tropical phases under the right conditions. An extratropical cyclone is a storm that derives energy from horizontal temperature differences, which are typical in higher latitudes. A tropical cyclone can become extratropical as it moves toward higher latitudes and if its energy source changes from heat released by condensation to differences in temperature between air masses; additionally, although not as frequently, an extratropical cyclone can transform into a subtropical storm, and from there into a tropical cyclone. Although subtropical cyclones rarely have hurricane-force winds, they may become tropical in nature as their cores warm. Many times these subtropical storms transform into true tropical cyclones. A recent example is the Atlantic basin’s Hurricane Florence in November 1994 which began as a subtropical cyclone before becoming fully tropical. Conversely, there has been at least one occurrence of tropical cyclones transforming into a subtropical storm (e.g. Atlantic basin storm 8 in 1973). However, from an operational standpoint, a tropical cyclone is usually not considered to become subtropical during its extratropical transition. The transformation of tropical cyclone into an extra-tropical cyclone (and vice versa) is currently one of the most challenging forecast problems.

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Tropical cyclone (TC):

Introduction:

A tropical cyclone is the generic term for a low pressure system over tropical or sub-tropical waters, with organized convection (i.e. thunderstorm activity) and winds at low levels circulating either anti-clockwise (in the northern hemisphere) or clockwise (in the southern hemisphere). A tropical cyclone is a rotational low pressure system in tropics when the central pressure falls by 5 to 6 hPa from the surrounding. The whole storm system may be five to six miles high and 300 to 400 miles wide, although sometimes can be even bigger. It typically moves forward at speeds of 10-15 mph, but can travel as fast as 40 mph. At its very early and weak stages it is called a Tropical Depression. When the winds reach 39 mph, it is called a Tropical Storm. If the wind should reach 74 mph or more, the tropical storm is called a Hurricane in the Atlantic and the north-east Pacific or a Typhoon in the north-west Pacific. In other parts of the world, such as the Indian Ocean and South Pacific the term Cyclone or Tropical Cyclone is used.

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The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) defines a tropical cyclone as a non-frontal synoptic scale cyclone originating over tropical or subtropical water with well organized convection and definite cyclonic surface wind circulation.

Hurricane Isabel (2003) as seen from orbit during Expedition 7 of the International Space Station. The eye, eyewall and surrounding rainbands that are characteristics of tropical cyclones are clearly visible in this view from space.

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Why do tropical cyclones form?

The sun heats the tropical areas more than the Polar Regions. If there were no wind, then the tropics would keep getting hotter and hotter, and the poles would get colder and colder. The atmosphere’s basic function is to redistribute heat from the equator to the poles, and tropical cyclones are one mechanism by which this occurs. However it is still quite remarkable that such a thing as a tropical cyclone should arise. It has been said that if we had not actually observed tropical cyclones, then, despite all we know about the physics of the atmosphere, we would never have guessed at their existence.

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Tropical Cyclones are formed over the ocean in the area around the equator, between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. In order for a cyclone to form, the ocean waters need to be warm, at least 26.5°C. Above the warm ocean, water evaporates and form clouds. If there is low air pressure where the clouds are formed, it pulls them in and they begin to rotate. It is the Earth’s rotation and spinning on its axis that causes the cyclone’s clouds to rotate. Clouds will continue to form and begin spinning more. This is the stage when it can develop into a mature cyclone, or lose its momentum. Even if it has developed into a mature cyclone, it can still grow in size and increase its wind speed.

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Tropical cyclones use warm, moist air as fuel. That is why they form only over warm ocean waters near the equator. The warm, moist air over the ocean rises rapidly upward from near the surface and becomes saturated with evaporated moisture. This means that there is less air left at the surface (i.e. low pressure). Air from surrounding areas with higher air pressure pushes in to the low pressure area to try to equalize the pressure. Then that “new” air becomes warm and moist and rises, too. As the warm air continues to rise, the surrounding air swirls in to take its place. Trade winds cause the moist air to spin inwards. As the warmed, moist air rises and cools off, the water in the air forms towering cumulonimbus thunderclouds (because there is a huge amount of condensation). The whole system of clouds and wind spins and grows, fed by the ocean’s heat and water evaporating from the surface. The picture below shows a cross section of tropical cyclone being formed above ocean.

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Storms that form north of the equator spin counterclockwise. Storms south of the equator spin clockwise. As the storm system spins faster and faster, an eye forms in the centre. It is very calm and clear in the eye, with very low air pressure. Higher pressure air from above flows down into the eye.

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Traditionally, areas of tropical cyclone formation are divided into seven basins. The Northwest Pacific is the most active and the north Indian the least active. An average of 86 tropical cyclones of tropical storm intensity (>34 kt) form annually worldwide, with 47 reaching hurricane/typhoon strength (>64 kt) , and 20 becoming intense tropical cyclones (at least of Category 3 intensity on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale). Most (87%) form within 20° of the Equator. It’s important to remember that only 11% of all hurricanes occur in the Atlantic, the rest are in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.)

1) Atlantic basin (including the North Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea)

2) Northeast Pacific basin (from Mexico to about the dateline)

3) Northwest Pacific basin (from the dateline to Asia including the South China Sea)

4) North Indian basin (including the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea)

5) Southwest Indian basin (from Africa to about 100E)

6) Southeast Indian/Australian basin (100E to 142E)

7) Australian/Southwest Pacific basin (142E to about 120W)

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Each basin has a Regional Specialized Meteorological Centers (RSMC) designated by the World Meteorological Organization and is responsible for tracking and issuing bulletins, warnings, and advisories about tropical cyclones in their designated areas of responsibility. Additionally, there are six Tropical Cyclone Warning Centers (TCWCs) that provide information to smaller regions. Also, countries like the U.S., Canada and Philippines have their own typhoon or hurricane warning center. Each RSMC issues advance list of names of TC arising in its basin.

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The name of the storm system varies according to the place of origin of these storms.

Cyclones – Storms are called cyclones if they are formed over the Indian Ocean and Southwestern Pacific Ocean i.e. near Africa and Australia.

Typhoon – Storms are called typhoons if they are formed in the Northwestern Pacific Ocean i.e. near Asia.

Hurricane – Storms are referred to as hurricanes if formed in Atlantic Ocean and Eastern Pacific Ocean i.e., near Gulf of Mexico and America.

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Tropical cyclones emerge in these regions, between 8° and 20° latitude, because of the high humidity, light winds, and warm sea surface temperatures present in these locations. Cyclones and hurricanes can only form when the ocean water is around 80°F (26.5°C) or higher, and these conditions are only common during certain months of the year.

Weather conditions in the central Atlantic and Pacific Oceans are most favorable to hurricane formation during the summer and early fall months, which is why the period of June to October is often referred to as “Hurricane Season” in the northern hemisphere. The opposite situation occurs in the southern hemisphere since the tropical waters off Australia are warmest during the winter and spring months of January to March. Worldwide, tropical cyclone activity peaks in late summer when water temperatures are warmest. Each basin, however, has its own seasonal patterns. On a worldwide scale, May is the least active month, while September is the most active. This can be explained by the greater tropical cyclone activity across the Northern hemisphere than south of the equator. In the Southern Hemisphere, tropical cyclone activity begins in early November and depending on the country ends on either April 30 or May 15. While one would intuitively expect tropical cyclones to peak right at the time of maximum solar radiation (late June for the tropical Northern Hemisphere and late December for the tropical Southern Hemisphere), it takes several more weeks for the oceans to reach their warmest temperatures.

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Factors:

The formation of tropical cyclones is the topic of extensive ongoing research and is still not fully understood. While six factors appear to be generally necessary, tropical cyclones may occasionally form without meeting all of the following conditions.

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1) In most situations, water temperatures of at least 26.5 °C (79.7 °F) are needed down to a depth of at least 50 meters (160 ft); waters of this temperature cause the overlying atmosphere to be unstable enough to sustain convection and thunderstorms. Warm waters are necessary to fuel the heat engine of the tropical cyclone. This value is well above 16.1 °C (60.9 °F), the global average surface temperature of the oceans.

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2) Another factor is rapid cooling with height, which allows the release of the heat of condensation that powers a tropical cyclone. An atmosphere which cools fast enough with height in a way that is potentially unstable to moist convection results in the thunderstorm activity which allows the heat stored in the ocean waters to be liberated for the tropical cyclone development.

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3) High humidity is needed, especially in the lower-to-mid troposphere; when there is a great deal of moisture in the atmosphere, conditions are more favorable for disturbances to develop. Relatively moist layers near the mid-troposphere (5 km). Dry mid levels are not conducive for allowing the continuing development of widespread thunderstorm activity.

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4) Low amounts of wind shear are needed, as high shear is disruptive to the storm’s circulation. Low values (less than about 10 m/s) of vertical wind shear between the surface and the upper troposphere. Vertical wind shear is the magnitude of wind change with height. Large values of vertical wind shear disrupt the incipient tropical cyclone and can prevent genesis or, if a tropical cyclone has already formed, large vertical shear can weaken or destroy the tropical cyclone by interfering with the organization of deep convection around the cyclone center.

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5) Tropical cyclones generally need to form more than 555 km (345 miles) or 5 degrees of latitude away from the equator, allowing the Coriolis Effect to deflect winds blowing towards the low pressure center and creating a circulation. Without the Coriolis force, the low pressure of the disturbance cannot be maintained and Coriolis force is negligible near equator.

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6) Tropical Cyclones cannot be generated spontaneously. To develop, they require a weakly organized system with sizable spin and low level inflow. A formative tropical cyclone needs a pre-existing system of disturbed weather. Low-latitude and low-level westerly wind bursts associated with the Madden-Julian oscillation can create favorable conditions for tropical cyclogenesis by initiating tropical disturbances.

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Having these conditions met is necessary, but not sufficient as many disturbances that appear to have favorable conditions do not develop. Recent work has identified that large thunderstorm systems called mesoscale convective complexes (MCC) often produce an inertially stable, warm core vortex in the trailing altostratus decks of the MCC. These mesovortices have a horizontal scale of approximately 100 to 200 km, are strongest in the mid-troposphere (5 km) and have no appreciable signature at the surface. It is hypothesized that genesis of the tropical cyclones occurs in two stages: stage 1 occurs when the MCC produces a mesoscale vortex and stage 2 occurs when a second blow up of convection at the mesoscale vortex initiates the intensification process of lowering central pressure and increasing swirling winds.

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Tropical cyclones are known to form even when normal conditions are not met. For example, cooler air temperatures at a higher altitude can lead to tropical cyclogenesis at lower water temperatures, as a certain lapse rate is required to force the atmosphere to be unstable enough for convection. A recent example of a tropical cyclone that maintained itself over cooler waters was Epsilon of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season.

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Tropical cyclone classification:

Tropical cyclone weather systems are classified into four main stages: tropical disturbance, tropical depressions, tropical storms, and a fourth stage of more intense storms, whose name depends on the region (vide supra). Most hurricanes start life as areas of rough weather and thunderstorms in the tropics. Many of these disturbances, or tropical waves, produce little more than heavy rain and gusty winds. But if a tropical wave succeeds in spinning into a complete circle of winds rotating around an area of low air pressure at its center, it’s given the name tropical depression. When a depression’s peak sustained winds reach 39 miles per hour (34 knots), it’s called a tropical storm. As a tropical system strengthens, its winds spiral inward, concentrating moisture near the center. This spiraling, a result of Earth’s rotation, can’t happen near the equator. To benefit from the curving winds produced by the Coriolis Effect, a storm needs to be at least 300 miles (500 kilometers) north or south of the equator. When a tropical storm maintains wind speeds of at least 74 miles per hour (64 knots), it’s known as a hurricane or typhoon or tropical cyclone or cyclone.

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Stage 1–Tropical disturbance:

The cluster of thunderstorms that may eventually grow into a hurricane is formed during the first stage of cyclone development known as a tropical disturbance. A tropical disturbance is created when surface winds converge to create instabilities in the atmosphere that trigger the formation of storms. This situation is common near the equator where the easterly trade winds converge to create thunderstorms in a region called the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). Most Atlantic hurricanes form from another kind of tropical disturbance called the easterly wave. This disturbance emerges in the tropical easterlies and creates “waves” in the trade winds that travel toward the west. This wave causes the winds to converge together and encourages the formation of thunderstorms on the east side of the wave.

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Stage 2—Tropical depression:

A tropical disturbance officially enters the second stage of development called a tropical depression once the sustained wind speed within the storm reaches 23 mph (37 km/h). The tropical depression gets its name from the falling surface pressures measured in the region surrounding the storm. The pressure drop occurs as water vapor within the storm condenses into water droplets and releases latent heat into the atmosphere. A tropical depression is an organized system of clouds and thunderstorms with a defined, closed surface circulation and maximum sustained winds of less than 17 meters per second (34 kt) or 39 miles per hour (63 km/h). It has no eye and does not typically have the organization or the spiral shape of more powerful storms. However, it is already a low-pressure system, hence the name “depression”.

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The addition of heat causes atmospheric gases to expand, so the air inside the depression becomes less dense and rises tens of thousands of feet above the ocean surface. As its altitude increases, the air cools causing more water vapor to condense and release its heat, which draws in yet more air to rise upward. This process repeats itself again and again causing the temperature at the center of the storm to continually increase and driving the surface pressure even lower. As the pressure drops, more low-altitude air that is rich in water vapor is pulled inward to release yet more heat into the center of the storm. This process becomes a chain reaction that pulls hot, humid air from the surface of the ocean up to high altitude where the air becomes cold and water vapor condenses into thick clouds. This growing air mass becomes increasingly dense causing the atmospheric pressure to grow. The increasing pressure pushes the growing mass of clouds outward away from the center to create the spiraling bands of clouds that hurricanes are known for. As the air mass spirals outward, its pressure decreases and the dense air plunges back towards the ocean surface where it started. It now picks up vapor again from the warm waters below and is sucked back into the center of the depression to begin its journey anew. As the cycle continues, the surface pressure at the center drops lower and lower causing the circulation of the air to strengthen and the winds to grow increasingly stronger.

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Stage 3—Tropical storm:

Once the sustained wind speed increases to 39 mph (63 km/h), the tropical depression enters the third stage of development called a tropical storm. A tropical storm is an organized system of strong thunderstorms with a defined surface circulation and maximum sustained winds between 17 meters per second (34 kt) or 39 miles per hour (63 km/h) and 32 meters per second (63 kt) or 73 miles per hour (116 km/h). At this point, the distinctive cyclonic shape starts to develop, although an eye is not usually present.

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Stage 4—Tropical cyclone

A hurricane or typhoon or tropical cyclone is a weather system with sustained winds of at least 33 meters per second (64 kt) or 74 miles per hour (119 km/h). A cyclone of this intensity tends to develop an eye, an area of relative calm (and lowest atmospheric pressure) at the center of circulation. The eye is often visible in satellite images as a small, circular, cloud-free spot. Surrounding the eye is the eyewall, an area about 16 kilometers (9.9 miles) to 80 kilometers (50 miles) wide in which the strongest thunderstorms and winds circulate around the storm’s center. Maximum sustained winds in the strongest tropical cyclones have been estimated at about 87 meters per second (168 kt) or 195 miles per hour (312 km/h).

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Mechanism of tropical cyclone formation:

Tropical cyclones form when the energy released by the condensation of moisture in rising air causes a positive feedback loop over warm ocean waters. Within this area of low pressure the air is heated over the warm tropical ocean. This air rises in discrete parcels, causing thundery showers to form. These showers usually come and go, but from time to time, they group together into large clusters of thunderstorms. This creates a flow of very warm, moist, rapidly rising air, leading to the development of a centre of low pressure, or depression, at the surface. A tropical cyclone’s primary energy source is the release of the heat of condensation from water vapor condensing, with solar heating being the initial source for evaporation. Therefore, a tropical cyclone can be visualized as a giant vertical heat engine supported by mechanics driven by physical forces such as the rotation and gravity of the Earth. In another way, tropical cyclones could be viewed as a special type of mesoscale convective complex, which continues to develop over a vast source of relative warmth and moisture. While an initial warm core system, such as an organized thunderstorm complex, is necessary for the formation of a tropical cyclone, a large flux of energy is needed to lower atmospheric pressure more than a few millibars (0.10 inch of mercury). The inflow of warmth and moisture from the underlying ocean surface is critical for tropical cyclone strengthening. A significant amount of the inflow in the cyclone is in the lowest 1 kilometer (3,300 ft) of the atmosphere.

Condensation of warm moist air leads to higher wind speeds, as a tiny fraction of the released energy is converted into mechanical energy; the faster winds and lower pressure associated with them in turn cause increased surface evaporation and thus even more condensation. Much of the released energy drives updrafts that increase the height of the storm clouds, speeding up condensation. This positive feedback loop, called the Wind-induced surface heat exchange, continues for as long as conditions are favorable for tropical cyclone development. Factors such as a continued lack of equilibrium in air mass distribution would also give supporting energy to the cyclone. The rotation of the Earth causes the system to spin, an effect known as the Coriolis Effect, giving it a cyclonic characteristic and affecting the trajectory of the storm. To continue to drive its heat engine, a tropical cyclone must remain over warm water, which provides the needed atmospheric moisture to keep the positive feedback loop running. This heat is distributed vertically around the center of the storm. Thus, at any given altitude (except close to the surface, where water temperature dictates air temperature) the environment inside the cyclone is warmer than its outer surroundings. When a tropical cyclone passes over land, it is cut off from its heat source and its strength diminishes rapidly.

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A strong tropical cyclone will harbor an area of sinking air at the center of circulation. If this area is strong enough, it can develop into a large “eye”. The eye results from the rapid rotation of inflowing surface air that rises and spins away from the storm’s center. To replace this outward and upward flow, air from above descends in the central area. The subsidence of this drier air causes warming and evaporates clouds, so that the eye region may be free of clouds. Weather in the eye is normally calm and free of clouds, although the sea may be extremely violent. The eye is the region of lowest surface pressure and warmest temperatures aloft – the eye temperature may be 10°C warmer or more at an altitude of 12 km than the surrounding environment, but only 0-2°C warmer at the surface in the tropical cyclone. The eye is normally circular in shape, and may range in size from 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) to 370 kilometers (230 miles) in diameter. The eyewall is a circle of strong thunderstorms that surrounds the eye; here is where the greatest wind speeds are found, where clouds reach the highest, and precipitation is the heaviest. The heaviest wind damage occurs where a tropical cyclone’s eyewall passes over land. Eyewall replacement cycles occur naturally in intense tropical cyclones. When cyclones reach peak intensity they usually have an eyewall and radius of maximum winds that contract to a very small size, around 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) to 25 kilometers (16 miles). Outer rainbands can organize into an outer ring of thunderstorms that slowly moves inward and robs the inner eyewall of its needed moisture and angular momentum. When the inner eyewall weakens, the tropical cyclone weakens (in other words, the maximum sustained winds weaken and the central pressure rises.) The outer eyewall replaces the inner one completely at the end of the cycle. The storm can be of the same intensity as it was previously or even stronger after the eyewall replacement cycle finishes. The storm may strengthen again as it builds a new outer ring for the next eyewall replacement.

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CDO is an acronym that stands for “central dense overcast”. This is the cirrus cloud shield that results from the thunderstorms in the eyewall of a tropical cyclone and its rainbands. Before the tropical cyclone reaches very severe cyclonic storm (64 knots,), typically the CDO is uniformly showing the cold cloud tops of the cirrus with no eye apparent. Once the storm reaches the hurricane strength threshold, usually an eye can be seen in either the infrared or visible channels of the satellites. Tropical cyclones that have nearly circular CDO’s are indicative of favorable, low vertical shear environments. Meteorologists always look for development of eye in an evolving cyclone as existence of eye means intense storm.

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Location of Tropical cyclone:

Essentially they form between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn (hence the name ‘tropical’ storm). Most of these systems form between 10 and 30 degrees away of the equator, and 87% form no farther away than 20 degrees of latitude, north or south. Because the Coriolis effect initiates and maintains tropical cyclone rotation, tropical cyclones rarely form or move within about 5 degrees of the equator, where the Coriolis effect is weakest. However rarely, it is possible for tropical cyclones to form within this boundary as Tropical Storm Vamei did in 2001 and Cyclone Agni in 2004.

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Size, movement and life of Tropical cyclones:

One measure of the size of a tropical cyclone is determined by measuring the distance from its center of circulation to its outermost closed isobar, also known as its ROCI. If the radius is less than two degrees of latitude or 222 kilometers (138 miles), then the cyclone is “very small” or a “midget”. A radius between 3 and 6 latitude degrees or 333 kilometers (207 miles) to 670 kilometers (420 miles) are considered “average-sized”. “Very large” tropical cyclones have a radius of greater than 8 degrees or 888 kilometers (552 miles).

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Regardless of where they form, hurricanes always move towards the west initially owing to easterly winds and slightly towards poles and spin in a circular direction about the eye, or center, of the storm. Hurricanes and cyclones typically move westward at a speed of about 10 mph (16 km/h) during the early stages of formation. The storms are steered in this direction by the trade winds that occur near the equator and blow towards the west. The Coriolis Effect that determines the direction of the cyclone’s circulation also influences the direction the storm takes. As a storm moves further from the equator, its course is turned towards the poles and the cyclone curves towards the north in the northern hemisphere or towards the south below the equator. Tropical cyclones move westward when equatorward of the subtropical ridge, intensifying as they move. Although tropical cyclones are large systems generating enormous energy, their movements over the Earth’s surface are controlled by large-scale winds—the streams in the Earth’s atmosphere. Tropical systems, while generally located equatorward of the 20th parallel, are steered primarily westward by the east-to-west winds on the equatorward side of the subtropical ridge—a persistent high pressure area over the world’s oceans. However, if the subtropical ridge is weak – often times due to a trough in the jet stream – the tropical cyclone may turn poleward and then recurve back toward the east. On the poleward side of the subtropical ridge, westerly winds prevail thus steering the tropical cyclone back to the east in the mid-latitudes. These westerly winds are the same ones that typically bring extratropical cyclones with their cold and warm fronts from west to east. These winds tend to reverse the direction of the tropical cyclone to an eastward path. Tropical cyclones can also be steered by other systems, such as other low pressure systems, high pressure systems, warm fronts, and cold fronts. As the tropical cyclone moves polewards it picks up forward speed and may reach 30 mph or more. An average tropical cyclone can travel about 300 to 400 miles a day, or about 3,000 miles before it dies out.

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The average forward speed of a tropical cyclone is dependent on the latitude where the storm is currently. Generally, at less than 30 degrees of latitude, the storms will move at about 20 mph on average. The closer the storm is located the equator, the slower the movement. Some storms will even stall out over an area for an extended period of time. After about 35 degrees North latitude, the storms start to pick up speed. It can not be overemphasized that the speed of the movement of cyclone is different from the wind speed of cyclone.

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Coriolis Effect in Tropical cyclone movement:

The Earth’s rotation imparts an acceleration known as the Coriolis Effect, Coriolis acceleration, or colloquially, Coriolis force. This acceleration causes cyclonic systems to turn towards the poles in the absence of strong steering currents. The poleward portion of a tropical cyclone contains easterly winds, and the Coriolis Effect pulls them slightly more poleward. The westerly winds on the equatorward portion of the cyclone pull slightly towards the equator, but, because the Coriolis Effect weakens toward the equator, the net drag on the cyclone is poleward. Thus, tropical cyclones in the Northern Hemisphere usually turn north (before being blown east), and tropical cyclones in the Southern Hemisphere usually turn south (before being blown east) when no other effects counteract the Coriolis Effect. The Coriolis Effect also initiates cyclonic rotation, but it is not the driving force that brings this rotation to high speeds – that force is the heat of condensation.

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Hurricanes usually hit the East coast of the U.S., but never the West coast because of two reasons. The first is that hurricanes tend to move toward the west-northwest after they form in the tropical and subtropical latitudes. In the Atlantic, such a motion often brings the hurricane into the vicinity of the U.S. east coast. In the Northeast Pacific, a west-northwest track takes those hurricanes farther off-shore, well away from the U.S. west coast. The second reason is the difference in water temperatures along the U.S. east and west coasts. Along the U.S. east coast, the Gulf Stream provides a source of warm (> 80°F or 26.5°C) waters to help maintain the hurricane. However, along the U.S. west coast, the ocean temperatures rarely get above the lower 70s, even in the midst of summer. Such relatively cool temperatures are not energetic enough to sustain a hurricane’s strength.

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The lifetime of a cyclone is determined by how favorable the atmospheric environment is, movement and sea surface temperatures. While most cyclones undergo a life-cycle of 3 to 7 days; some weak ones only briefly reach gale force while others can be sustained for weeks if they remain in a favorable environment. The longest being Hurricane Ginger (1971) that lasted for 30 days.

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The passage of a tropical cyclone over the ocean causes the upper layers of the ocean to cool substantially, which can influence subsequent cyclone development. This cooling is primarily caused by wind-driven mixing of cold water from deeper in the ocean and the warm surface waters. This effect results in a negative feedback process which can inhibit further development or lead to weakening. Additional cooling may come in the form of cold water from falling raindrops (this is because the atmosphere is cooler at higher altitudes). Cloud cover may also play a role in cooling the ocean, by shielding the ocean surface from direct sunlight before and slightly after the storm passage. All these effects can combine to produce a dramatic drop in sea surface temperature over a large area in just a few days. The ocean’s primary direct response to a hurricane is cooling of the sea surface temperature (SST). When the strong winds of a hurricane move over the ocean they churn-up much cooler water from below. The net result is that the SST of the ocean after storm passage can be lowered by several degrees Celsius (up to 10° Fahrenheit).

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Cyclone energy:

Great amounts of energy are transferred when warm water is evaporated from tropical seas. This energy is stored within the water vapor contained in moist air. As this air ascends, 90% of the stored energy is released by condensation, giving rise to the towering cumulus clouds and rain. The release of heat energy warms the air locally, causing a further decrease in pressure aloft. Consequently, air rises faster to fill this area of low pressure, and more warm, moist air is drawn off the sea, feeding further energy to the system. Thus, a self-sustaining heat engine is created. Hurricanes can be thought of, to a first approximation, as a heat engine; obtaining its heat input from the warm, humid air over the tropical ocean, and releasing this heat through the condensation of water vapor into water droplets in deep thunderstorms of the eyewall and rainbands, then giving off a cold exhaust in the upper levels of the troposphere (~12 km/8 miles up). It turns out that the vast majority of the heat released in the condensation process is used to cause rising motions in the thunderstorms and only a small portion drives the storm’s horizontal winds. Scientists estimate that an average hurricane releases total heat energy at the rate of 5.2 x 1019 Joules/day equivalent to about 6.0 x 1014 Watts. This rate of energy release is equivalent to 70 times the world energy consumption of humans and 200 times the worldwide electrical generating capacity, or to exploding a 10-megaton nuclear bomb every 20 minutes. However, it is estimated that the ratio of the amount of energy released by a hurricane (by creating clouds/rain) to the amount of energy that actually goes to maintaining the hurricane’s spiraling winds is a huge ratio of 400 to 1. That means only 0.25 % of total heat energy of an average hurricane is converted into kinetic energy of circulating winds. That means for an average hurricane having 40 m/s (90 mph) winds on a scale of radius 60 km, the energy generated for wind movement is 1.3 x 1017 Joules/day or 1.5 x 1012Watts. This is equivalent to about half the world-wide electrical generating capacity. Other studies have shown that 3 % of total heat energy of an average hurricane is converted into kinetic energy of circulating winds.

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The biggest technical impediment of harnessing hurricane energy is that a hurricane’s energy is low grade. It’s abundant, but it’s spread over a tremendous area. For energy to be high grade it should be concentrated, making it easy to gather and use. You would need a field of wind turbines covering dozens of square miles in order for it to be profitable. And it would have to be mobile, so you could intercept landfalling storms, or chase those that change direction. Of course, you have to expend energy to move them around, so you run the risk of losing money on the operation. Also, you would need to find a way of anchoring wind turbines securely without compromising mobility. These are the reasons why we cannot harness hurricane energy.

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Hurricane categories:

Two researchers named Herbert Saffir and Robert Simpson developed a system called the Saffir-Simpson Scale to predict the level of flooding and damage expected during a hurricane. Officially, the Saffir–Simpson Hurricane Scale is used only to describe hurricanes forming in the Atlantic Ocean and northern Pacific Ocean east of the International Date Line. Other areas use different scales to label these storms, which are called “cyclones” or “typhoons”, depending on the area. The scale consists of five categories based primarily on the hurricane’s maximum sustained winds but also taking into account its central pressure and storm surge. The weakest hurricanes are Category 1 or 2 that do relatively little damage. Categories 3, 4, and 5 are much more powerful, can do intense damage to property, and pose great risk to life. This scale is criticized for being too simplistic; indicating that the scale does not take into account the physical size of a storm, nor the amount of precipitation it produces.

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Categories of hurricanes and their relative destructive power as per Saffire-Simpson scale.

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In order to avoid confusion between miles per hour and kilometers per hour, the following table is depicted.

Category Wind speed Storm surge
mph
(km/h)
feet
(meters)
Five > 156
(> 250)
> 18
(> 5.5)
Four 131–155
(210–249)
13–18
(4.0–5.5)
Three 111–130

(178–209)

9–12
(2.7–3.7)
Two 96–110
(154–177)
6–8
(1.8–2.4)
One 74–95
(119–153)
4–5
(1.2–1.5)
Tropical
storm
39–73
(63–116)
0–3
(0–0.9)
Tropical
depression
0–38
(0–62)
0
(0)

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The USA uses the Saffir-Simpson hurricane intensity scale for the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific basins. The picture below provides a rough comparison of the USA hurricane scale with Australian tropical cyclone categories. One minute winds have been converted to 10-minute winds using a conversion factor of 0.871.

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Tropical cyclones are classified as severe when they are producing ‘very destructive winds’ having sustained surface winds of at least 177 km/h (111m/hr) near the centre and gust winds of at least 221 km/h (138 m/hr). This corresponds to cyclone categories 3, 4 and 5.

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The Beaufort scale

Beaufort scale Cyclone category Average wind speed (knots) Average wind speed (km/h) Estimating speed over land Estimating speed over water
Gale 1 34 – 40 62 – 74 Breaks twigs off trees; generally impedes progress. Moderately high waves of greater length; edges of crests begin to break into the spindrift; the foam is blown in well-marked streaks along the direction of the wind
Strong gale 1 41 – 47 75 – 88 Slight structural damage occurs (chimney pots and slates removed). High waves; dense streaks of foam along the direction of the wind; crests of waves begin to topple, tumble and roll over; spray may affect visibility
Storm 2 48 – 55 89 – 102 Seldom experienced inland; trees uprooted; considerable structural damage occurs. Very high waves with long overhanging crests; the resulting foam, in great patches, is blown in dense white streaks along the direction of the wind; on the whole, the surface of the sea takes a white appearance; the tumbling of the sea becomes heavy and shock-like; visibility affected
Violent storm 2 56 – 63 103 – 117 Very rarely experienced; accompanied by widespread damage. Exceptionally high waves (small and medium sized ships might be for a time lost to view behind the waves); the sea is completely covered with long white patches of foam lying along the direction of the wind; everywhere the edges of the wave crests are blown into froth; visibility affected
Hurricane 3,4,5 64 and over 118 and over Severe and extensive damage. The air is filled with foam and spray; sea completely white with driving spray; visibility very seriously affected

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What does ‘maximum sustained winds’ mean? How does it relate to wind gusts in tropical cyclones?

The Bureau of Meteorology uses a 10 minute averaging time for reporting the sustained (i.e. relatively long-lasting) winds. The maximum sustained winds are the highest 10 minute surface winds occurring within the circulation of the cyclone. These surface winds are those observed (or, more often estimated) to occur at the standard meteorological height of 10 meters having an unobstructed exposure. Gusts are a few seconds (3-5 seconds) wind peak. Typically, in a cyclone environment the value for a peak gust is about 25 % higher than a 10 minute sustained wind.

NOTE: USA agencies, who have responsibility for issuing tropical cyclone warnings in the Atlantic and Northeast Pacific tropical cyclone basins, use a 1 minute averaging time for sustained winds. While one can utilize a simple ratio to convert from peak 10 minute wind to peak 1 minute wind (roughly 12% higher for the latter), such systematic differences tend to make inter-basin comparison of tropical cyclones around the world problematic. India Meteorological Department (IMD) uses a 3 minutes averaging for the sustained wind.

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Destructive power of tropical cyclone:

Traditional meteorological teaching says that there is very little association between intensity (either measured by maximum sustained winds or by central pressure) and size (either measured by radius of gale force (30 kt) winds or the radius of the outer closed isobar).

The destructive power of hurricanes and cyclones comes from four primary factors.

1) The strong winds generated inside the storm have the power to severely damage structures in their own right. The winds also pick up loose objects converting the debris into powerful projectiles that can do considerable damage.

2) The second destructive factor is the heavy rains that the thunderstorms inside a tropical cyclone bring. Rains most often cause flooding or landslides that wash out communities and block roads.

3) The rotating motion of cyclones can also lead to the formation of tornados with strong damaging winds of their own.

4) The final and usually most destructive force wrought by a hurricane is called the storm surge. The storm surge is a rise in the level of the ocean that can reach as much as 35 ft (10.5 m) above normal. The surge is created by strong winds that push up a wall of water ahead of the cyclone and washes inland as the storm moves ashore. The storm surge is created on the right-hand side of the cyclone (left-hand side in the southern hemisphere) ahead of that portion of the storm rotating towards the coast. The destructive power of the surge comes from its ability to wash over shorelines, flood areas far inland, and then rush back out to sea as the waters subside.

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Landfall:

Officially, landfall is when a storm’s center (the center of its circulation, not its edge) crosses the coastline. Storm conditions may be experienced on the coast and inland hours before landfall. In fact, a tropical cyclone can launch its strongest winds over land, yet not make landfall; if this occurs, then it is said that the storm made a direct hit on the coast. Tropical cyclones may spawn tornadoes up to about three days after landfall.

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Multiple storm interaction:

When two cyclones approach one another, their centers will begin orbiting cyclonically about a point between the two systems. The two vortices will be attracted to each other, and eventually spiral into the center point and merge. When the two vortices are of unequal size, the larger vortex will tend to dominate the interaction, and the smaller vortex will orbit around it. This phenomenon is called the Fujiwhara effect.

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Natural dissipation:

During landfall, the increased friction over land acts – somewhat contradictory – to both decrease the sustained winds and also to increase the gusts felt at the surface. The sustained (1 min or longer average) winds are reduced because of the dampening effect of larger roughness over land (i.e. bushes, trees and houses over land versus a relatively smooth ocean). The gusts are stronger because turbulence increases and acts to bring faster winds down to the surface in short (a few seconds) bursts. However, after just a few hours, a tropical cyclone over land will begin to weaken rapidly – not because of friction – but because the storm lacks the moisture and heat sources that the ocean provided. This depletion of moisture and heat hurts the tropical cyclone’s ability to produce thunderstorms near the storm center. Without this convection, the storm rapidly weakens. Most strong storms lose their strength very rapidly after landfall and become disorganized areas of low pressure within a day or two, or evolve into extratropical cyclones. If it remains over mountains for even a short time, weakening will accelerate. Many storm fatalities occur in mountainous terrain, as the dying storm unleashes torrential rainfall, leading to deadly floods and mudslides. Additionally, dissipation can occur if a storm remains in the same area of ocean for too long, mixing the upper 60 meters (200 ft) of water, dropping sea surface temperatures more than 5 °C (9 °F). Without warm surface water, the storm cannot survive. A tropical cyclone can dissipate when it moves over waters significantly below 26.5 °C (79.7 °F). This will cause the storm to lose its tropical characteristics (i.e. thunderstorms near the center and warm core) and become a remnant low pressure area, which can persist for several days. This is the main dissipation mechanism in the Northeast Pacific ocean. Weakening or dissipation can occur if it experiences vertical wind shear, causing the convection and heat engine to move away from the center; this normally ceases development of a tropical cyclone.

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Effects of cyclone:

The above picture shows the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in Gulfport, Mississippi in the year 2005.

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Primary effects are those that result directly from the event itself. Secondary effects are those that result from the primary effects. Primary effects of tropical storms include high winds, torrential rain and storm surges at landfall. There may also be localized tornadoes and waterspouts. These are all physical effects. Secondary effects of tropical storms are very wide-ranging. It is divided them into social, economic and environmental effects.

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Tropical cyclones out at sea cause large waves, heavy rain, and high winds, disrupting international shipping and, at times, causing shipwrecks. On land, strong winds can damage or destroy vehicles, buildings, bridges, and other outside objects, turning loose debris into deadly flying projectiles. Storm surge is simply water that is pushed toward the shore by the force of the winds swirling around the storm. This advancing surge combines with the normal tides to create the hurricane storm tide, which can increase the average water level 15 feet (4.5 m) or more. The storm surge, or the increase in sea level due to the cyclone, is typically the worst effect from landfalling tropical cyclones, historically resulting in 90% of tropical cyclone deaths. In addition to the storm surge and high winds, tropical cyclones threaten with their torrential rains and flooding. Even after the wind has diminished, the flooding potential of these storms remains for several days. Over the past two centuries, tropical cyclones have been responsible for the deaths of about 1.9 million people worldwide. The broad rotation of a landfalling tropical cyclone, and vertical wind shear at its periphery, spawns tornadoes. Tornadoes can also be spawned as a result of eyewall mesovortices, which persist until landfall. Large areas of standing water caused by flooding lead to infection, as well as contributing to mosquito-borne illnesses. Crowded evacuees in shelters increase the risk of disease propagation. Tropical cyclones significantly interrupt infrastructure, leading to power outages, bridge destruction, and the hampering of reconstruction efforts. Tropical cyclones have an impact on oil production due to brief shutdowns due to damage to oil platforms and oil refineries which in turn can cause a temporary spike in price.

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Social effects of tropical storms

1) There are likely to be food and water shortages.

2) As a result of extensive flooding, people may catch water-borne diseases. This may eventually lead to death.

3) Communities are displaced from their homes, and may be broken up if the area is not restored. Many people are made homeless.

4) People suffer from stress due to loss of possessions and housing.

5) There may be looting of properties – domestic and commercial.

6) People may lose their jobs if they work in an industry that has been badly affected.

7) If insurance premiums rise in the future, some people may not be able to afford them and will consequently not be financially protected against future storms.

8) People might be stranded due to flooding – this will cause trauma.

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Economic effects of tropical storms

1) There are the obvious costs of repairing any damage caused.

2) Insurance claims will be made, and this may cause the cost of insurance premiums to rise in the future.

3) Whilst businesses are closed, earnings (and profits) will be lost.

4) Crops may be damaged and exports lost. These may be a key source of income for the local economy.

5) Oil prices may increase (this was a significant effect in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina).

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Environmental effects of tropical storms (sometimes referred to as physical effects)

1) A huge amount of water is released in a tropical storm so there will be extensive flooding.

2) Flooding might led to sewer systems being flushed out and spreading disease.

3) There will be structural damage to buildings and they may have to be pulled down and rebuilt. This is very costly. Other buildings may have broken windows, chimneys etc.

4) Roads and other infrastructure such as railways may be destroyed. This can lead to communication problems.

5) Electricity lines might be blown down and, as a result, people could be without power supplies.

6) Sensitive ecosystems may be destroyed and plant and animal habitats lost.

7) Sea fish are often killed because of silting, and freshwater fish may be killed in storm surges.

8) Fishing boats and other craft may be damaged.

9) Crops and livestock may be damaged or destroyed.

10) Mudslides become common because the soil is saturated. They will flow quickly down hillsides and may bury houses, crops and livestock (or even people).

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Advantages of tropical cyclones:

Although their effects on human populations can be devastating, tropical cyclones can also relieve drought conditions by bringing much-needed precipitation to otherwise dry regions. They also carry heat and energy away from the tropics and transport it toward temperate latitudes, which make them an important part of the global atmospheric circulation mechanism. As a result, tropical cyclones help to maintain equilibrium in the Earth’s troposphere. They also stir up the waters of coastal estuaries, which are typically important fish breeding locales. Tropical cyclone destruction spurs redevelopment, greatly increasing local property values.

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Preparation and safety procedures for survival during cyclone:

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A) When a cyclone watch is issued:

1) Re-check your property for any loose material and tie down (or fill with water) all large, relatively light items such as boats and rubbish bins.

2) Fill vehicles’ fuel tanks. Check your emergency kit and fill water containers.

3) Ensure household members know which the strongest part of the house is and what to do in the event of a cyclone warning or an evacuation.

4) Tune to your local radio/TV for further information and warnings.

5) Check that neighbors are aware of the situation and are preparing.

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B) When a cyclone warning is issued:

1) If requested by local authorities, collect children from school or childcare centre and go home.

2) Park vehicles under solid shelter (hand brake on and in gear).

3) Put wooden or plastic outdoor furniture in your pool or inside with other loose items.

4) Close shutters or board-up or heavily tape all windows. Draw curtains and lock doors.

5) Pack an evacuation kit of warm clothes, essential medications, baby formula, nappies, valuables, important papers, photos and mementos in waterproof bags to be taken with your emergency kit. Large/heavy valuables could be protected in a strong cupboard.

6) Remain indoors (with your pets). Stay tuned to your local radio/TV for further information.

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C) On warning of local evacuation:

Based on predicted wind speeds and storm surge heights, evacuation may be necessary. Official advice will be given on local radio/TV regarding safe routes and when to move.

1) Wear strong shoes (not thongs) and tough clothing for protection.

2) Lock doors; turn off power, gas, and water; take your evacuation and emergency kits.

3) If evacuating inland (out of town), take pets and leave early to avoid heavy traffic, flooding and wind hazards.

4) If evacuating to a public shelter or higher location, follow police and State/Territory Emergency Services directions.

5) If going to a public shelter, take bedding needs and books or games for children.

6) Leave pets protected and with food and water.

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D) When the cyclone strikes:

1) Disconnect all electrical appliances. Listen to your battery radio for updates.

2) Stay inside and shelter {well clear of windows) in the strongest part of the building, i.e. cellar, internal hallway or bathroom. Keep evacuation and emergency kits with you.

3) All of the doors and windows should be closed (and shuttered) throughout the duration of the hurricane. It is wrong to keep windows & doors on the storm side closed, and the windows & doors on the lee side open because the pressure differences between inside your house and outside in the storm do not build up enough to cause any damaging explosions. On the contrary, an open window or door – even if in the lee side of the house – can be an open target to flying debris.

4) If the building starts to break up, protect yourself with mattresses, rugs or blankets under a strong table or bench or hold onto a solid fixture, e.g. a water pipe.

5) Beware the calm ‘eye’. If the wind drops, don’t assume the cyclone is over; violent winds will soon resume from another direction. Wait for the official ‘all clear’.

6) If driving, stop (handbrake on and in gear) – but well away from the sea and clear of trees, power lines and streams. Stay in the vehicle.

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E) After the cyclone:

1) Don’t go outside until officially advised it is safe.

2) Check for gas leaks. Don’t use electric appliances if wet.

3) Listen to local radio for official warnings and advice.

4) If you have to evacuate, or did so earlier, don’t return until advised. Use a recommended route and don’t rush.

5) Beware of damaged power lines, bridges, buildings, trees, and don’t enter floodwaters.

6) Heed all warnings and don’t go sightseeing. Check/help neighbors instead.

7) Don’t make unnecessary telephone calls.

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What’s it like to go through a tropical cyclone on the ground?

What are the early warning signs of an approaching tropical cyclone?

The picture below is of a general sequence of events one might expect from a Category 2 hurricane approaching a coastal area.

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96 hours before landfall

At first there aren’t any apparent signs of a storm. The barometer is steady; winds are light and variable, and fair weather cumulus clouds dot the sky. But the perceptive observer will note a swell on the ocean surface of about a meter (3 feet) in height with a wave coming ashore every ten seconds. These waves race out far ahead of a storm at sea.

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72 hours before landfall

Little has changed, except that the swell has increase to about 2 meters (6 feet) in height and the waves now come in every nine seconds. This means that the storm, still far over the horizon, is approaching.

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48 hours before landfall

If anything, conditions have improved. The sky is now clear of clouds, the barometer is steady, and the wind is almost calm. The swell is now about 3 m (9 feet) and coming in every 8 seconds. A hurricane watch is issued, and areas with long evacuation times are given the order to begin.

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36 hours before landfall

The first signs of the storm appear. The barometer is falling slightly, the wind is around 5 m/s (10 kt, 11 mph), and the ocean swell is about 4m (13 feet) in height and coming in 7 seconds apart. On the horizon a large mass of white cirrus clouds appear. A hurricane warning is issued and low lying areas and people living in mobile homes are ordered to evacuate.

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24 hours before landfall

In addition to the overcast, small low clouds streak by overhead. The barometer is falling by 0.2 mb/hr (0.006″Hg/hr), the wind picks up to 15 m/s (30 kt, 34 mph). The wind driven waves are covered in whitecaps and streaks of foam begin to ride over the surface. Evacuations should be completed and final preparations made by this time.

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18 hours before landfall

The low clouds are thicker and bring driving rain squalls with gusty winds. The barometer is steadily falling at half a millibar per hour (0.015 “Hg/hr), and the winds are whistling by at 20 m/s (40 kt, 46 mph). It is hard to stand against the wind.

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12 hours before landfall

The rain squalls are more frequent and the winds don’t diminish after they depart. The cloud ceiling is getting lower, and the barometer is falling at 1 mb/hr (0.029 “Hg/hr). The wind is howling at hurricane force at 32 m/s (64 kt, 74 mph), and small, loose objects are flying through the air and branches are stripped from trees.

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6 hours before landfall

The rain is constant now and the 40 m/s wind (80 kt, 92 mph) drives it horizontally. The barometer is falling 1.5 mb/hr (0.044 “Hg/hr), and the storm surge has advanced above the high tide mark. It is impossible to stand upright outside without bracing yourself, and heavy objects like coconuts and plywood sheets become airborne missiles.

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1 hour before landfall

It didn’t seem possible, but the rain has become heavier, a torrential downpour. Low areas inland become flooded from the rain. The winds are roaring at 45 m/s (90 kt, 104 mph), and the barometer is free-falling at 2 mb/hr (0.058 “Hg/hr). The sea is white with foam and streaks. The storm surge has covered coastal roads and 5 meter (16 foot) waves crash into buildings near the shore.

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The eye

Just as the storm reaches its peak, the winds begin to slacken, and the sky starts to brighten. The rain ends abruptly and the clouds break and blue sky is seen. However the barometer continues falling at 3 mb/hr (0.09 “Hg/hr) and the storm surge reaches the furthest inland. The air is uncomfortably warm and humid. Looking up you can see huge walls of cloud on every side, brilliant white in the sunlight.

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1 hour after landfall

The sky darkens and the winds and rain return just a heavy as they were before the eye. The storm surge begins a slow retreat, but the monstrous waves continue to crash ashore. The barometer is now rising at 2 mb/hr (0.058 “Hg/hr). The winds top out at 45 m/s (90 kt, 104 mph), and heavy items torn loose by the front side of the storm are thrown about and into sides of buildings that had been in the lee before the eye passed.

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6 hours after landfall

The flooding rains continue, but the winds have diminished to a ‘mere’ 40 m/s (80 kt, 92 mph). The storm surge is retreating and pulling debris out to sea or stranding sea borne objects well inland. It is still impossible to go outside.

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12 hours after landfall

The rain now comes in squalls and the winds begin to diminish after each squall passes. The cloud ceiling is rising, as is the barometer at 1 mb/hr (0.029 “Hg/hr). The wind is still howling at near hurricane force at 30 m/s (60 kt, 69 mph), and the ocean is covered with streaks and foam patches. The sea level returns to the high tide mark.

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24 hours after landfall

The low clouds break into smaller fragments and the high overcast is seen again. The barometer is rising by 0.2 mb/hr (0.006″Hg/hr), the wind falls to 15 m/s (30 kt, 34 mph). The surge has fully retreated from land, but the ocean surface is still covered by small whitecaps and large waves.

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36 hours after landfall

The overcast has broken and the large mass of white cirrus clouds disappears over the horizon. The sky is clear and the sun seems brilliant. The barometer is rising slightly, the wind are a steady 5 m/s (10 kt, 11 mph). All around are torn trees and battered buildings. The air stinks of dead vegetation and muck that was dredged by the storm from the bottom of the sea to cover the shore. The all clear is given.

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Naming of tropical cyclones:

Tropical cyclones are named to provide ease of communication between forecasters and the general public regarding forecasts, watches, and warnings. Having a name also raises the profile of the cyclone heightening the public’s awareness. Since the storms can often last a week or longer and that more than one can be occurring in the same region at the same time, names can also reduce the confusion about what storm is being described. These names are taken from lists that vary from region to region and are usually drafted a few years ahead of time. The lists are decided on, depending on the regions, either by committees of the World Meteorological Organization (called primarily to discuss many other issues), or by national weather offices involved in the forecasting of the storms. Women and men’s names are alternated. The names also include animals, flowers and astrological signs. The list of names for the year 2011 is already out and cyclones will be named accordingly as soon as they start developing.

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Worst cyclones:

The 1970 Bhola cyclone is the deadliest tropical cyclone on record, killing more than 300,000 people after striking the densely populated Ganges Delta region of Bangladesh. The 2005 Hurricane Katrina is estimated as the costliest tropical cyclone worldwide causing overall damage exceeding $100 billion.

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Storm tracking:

Tropical cyclones far from land are tracked by weather satellites capturing visible and infrared images from space, usually at half-hour to quarter-hour intervals. Tropical storms are areas of intense low pressure. On a satellite image, a tropical storm will show as a huge, swirling mass of cloud. The eye (calm area) is at the centre. As a storm approaches land, it can be observed by land-based Doppler radar. Radar plays a crucial role around landfall by showing a storm’s location and intensity every several minutes. Doppler radar can also tell meteorologists the direction that storms are heading. Another thing Doppler radar tells meteorologists is the direction and speed of winds inside of storm. This allows them to visibly see rotation in a storm, how intense the rotation is and send out warnings accordingly. In-situ measurements, in real-time, can be taken by sending specially equipped reconnaissance flights into the cyclone (hurricane hunters). These aircraft fly directly into the cyclone and take direct and remote-sensing measurements. The aircraft also launch GPS dropsondes inside the cyclone. The dropsonde measures things like wind speed, pressure, temperature, and humidity as it falls all the way through the hurricane to the surface. That information all goes into the models and helps them predict two-three days what that storm is going to be doing. So you have to understand what’s going on now to help predict the future. Even though an airplane is flying through a hurricane, most flights are uneventful, aside from some constant turbulence. A new era in hurricane observation began when a remotely piloted Aerosonde, a small drone aircraft, was flown through Tropical Storm Ophelia as it passed Virginia’s Eastern Shore during the 2005 hurricane season. A similar mission was also completed successfully in the western Pacific Ocean. This demonstrated a new way to probe the storms at low altitudes that human pilots seldom dare.

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Besides watching weather report on television at home, you can track cyclones through internet on computers. Computer softwares are available in market for tracking tropical cyclone at your home. Facebook and iPhone applications are also available for tracking tropical cyclones.

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Storm forecasting:

Meteorologists around the world use modern technology such as satellites, doppler weather radars and computers etc. to track tropical cyclones as they develop. Tropical cyclones are often difficult to predict, as they can suddenly weaken or change their course. However, meteorologists use state-of-art technologies and develop modern techniques such as numerical weather prediction models to predict how a tropical cyclone evolves, including its movement and change of intensity; when and where one will hit land and at what speed. Official warnings are then issued by the National Meteorological Services of the countries concerned.

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Because of the forces that affect tropical cyclone tracks, accurate track predictions depend on determining the position and strength of high & low pressure areas, and predicting how those areas will change during the life of a tropical system. The deep layer mean flow, or average wind through the depth of the troposphere, is considered the best tool in determining track direction and speed. High-speed computers and sophisticated simulation software allow forecasters to produce computer models that predict tropical cyclone tracks based on the future position and strength of high- and low-pressure systems. Combining forecast models with increased understanding of the forces that act on tropical cyclones, as well as with a wealth of data from Earth-orbiting satellites and other sensors, scientists have increased the accuracy of track forecasts over recent decades. However, scientists are not as skillful at predicting the intensity of tropical cyclones. The lack of improvement in intensity forecasting is attributed to the complexity of tropical systems and an incomplete understanding of factors that affect their development.

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There are certain areas over the oceans that are particularly favorable for tropical cyclone development, but it is usually certain characteristics in a cluster of thunderclouds that leads forecasters to recognize them as tropical depressions. This is done by people at specialist tropical cyclone forecasting centers around the globe who are constantly studying satellite images, instruments and other weather data to detect and track them through their life-cycle. Once detected, their track is forecast using a combination of numerical forecasting models, synoptic forecasting and statistical methods, which have been developed from the study of the behavior of past storms.

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Remote sensing is the science of obtaining information about a subject or object without actually being in contact with that subject or object. In the National Weather Service, remote sensing equipment is used in the detection and measurement of weather phenomena with devices sensitive to electromagnetic energy such as.

1) Light (satellite)

2) Heat (infrared scanners on satellites)

3) Radio Waves (Doppler radar)

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The radiosonde is a small, expendable instrument package that is suspended below a six feet wide balloon filled with hydrogen or helium. As the radiosonde rises at about 1,000 feet/minute (300 meters/minute), sensors on the radiosonde measure profiles of pressure, temperature, and relative humidity. The radiosonde flight can last in excess of two hours, and during this time the radiosonde can ascend to over 115,000 feet (35,000 m) and drift more than 125 miles (200 km) from the release point. During the flight, the radiosonde is exposed to temperatures as cold as -130°F (-92°C) and an air pressure only few thousandths of what is found on the Earth’s surface. The picture below shows the radiosonde ready for launch.

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Weather satellites:

Weather satellites are of two types, polar and geostationary. Polar orbiting satellites closely parallel the earth’s meridian lines, thus having a highly inclined orbit close to 90°. They pass over the north and south poles each revolution. As the earth rotates to the east beneath the satellite, each pass monitors an area to the west of the previous pass at intervals of roughly 90 to 100 minutes. Polar orbiting satellites (POES) offer the advantage of daily global coverage, by making nearly polar orbits roughly 14.1 times daily. Since the number of orbits per day is not an integer, the orbital tracks do not repeat on a daily basis. Currently in orbit we have morning and afternoon satellites, which provide global coverage four times daily. The geostationary satellites (GOES) were placed in orbit beginning in 1966. Unlike Polar satellite, geostationary satellites orbit at an altitude of 22,236 miles (35,786 km). At this distance the satellite completes one orbit of the earth in 24 hours. The net result is the satellite appears stationary, relative to the earth. This allows them to hover continuously over one position on the surface. Because they stay above a fixed spot on the surface, they provide a constant vigil for the atmospheric “triggers” for severe weather conditions such as tornadoes, flash floods, hail storms, and hurricanes.

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The picture above shows polar satellite (POES) and geostationary satellite (GOES).

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The advantages and disadvantages to each kind of orbit are discussed in the table below.

Polar satellite Advantages:

Closer to the earth with an orbit of about 520 miles (833 km) above the surface. Much more detailed images. Excellent views of the polar regions.

Disadvantages:

Cannot see the whole earth’s surface at any one time. The path of each orbit changes due to the earth’s rotation so no two images are from the same location. Limited to about six or seven images a day since most of the time the satellite is below the earth’s horizon and out of range of listening equipment.

Geostationary satellite Always located in the same spot of the sky relative to the earth. Can view the entire earth at all times. Can record images as fast as once every minute. View is always from same perspective so motion of clouds over the earth’s surface can be computed. Also receives transmissions from free-floating balloons, buoys and remote automatic data collection stations around the world. Located about 22,000 miles (35,000 km) in space, providing less detail views of the earth. Views of the polar regions are limited due to the earth’s curvature.

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ANTICYCLONES:

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The picture above shows winds in cyclone (low pressure in center) and winds in anticyclone (high pressure in center).

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The terms cyclone and anticyclone are used to describe areas of low and high atmospheric pressure, respectively. Vertical air movements are associated with both cyclones and anticyclones. In the former case, air close to the ground is forced inward, toward the center of a cyclone, where pressure is lowest, and then begins to rise upward. At some height, the rising air begins to diverge outward away from the cyclone center. In an anticyclone, the situation is reversed. Air at the center of an anticyclone is forced away from the high pressure that occurs there and is replaced by a downward draft of air from higher altitudes. That air is replaced, in turn, by a convergence of air from higher altitudes moving into the upper region of the anticyclone. Distinctive weather patterns tend to be associated with both cyclones and anticyclones. Cyclones and low pressure systems are generally harbingers of rain, clouds, and other forms of bad weather, while anticyclones and high pressure systems are predictors of fair weather.

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An anticyclone (that is, opposite to a cyclone) is a weather phenomenon defined as “A large-scale circulation of winds around a central region of high atmospheric pressure, clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere, counterclockwise in the Southern Hemisphere”. Effects of surface-based anticyclones include clearing skies as well as cooler, drier air. Fog can also form overnight within a region of higher pressure. Anticyclones are also known as high-pressure systems, or simply highs. Because anticyclones are associated with surface divergence and sinking air they generally bring good weather with clear skies. In the winter they can bring bitterly cold, dry air masses down from Canada and the Arctic. There can be a tight pressure gradient associated with them which causes strong winds. This drastically reduces the wind-chill temperature and causes blowing snow. The clear, cold nights can produce radiation fog. In the summer, they can cause very hot weather, resulting in heat stress and other heat related illnesses, as well as draughts. The stagnant air can cause pollution to build to excess levels. When a large, vertically stacked anticyclone becomes stationary it can disrupt the entire upper-level wind flow in the atmosphere. In extreme cases it can block storms from moving eastward. It then becomes known as a blocking high.

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Tornado:

A tornado (twister) is a violently rotating column of air that extends from the base of a cumulonimbus, a thunderstorm cloud and touches the ground. Tornadoes often develop from a class of thunderstorms known as supercells. Supercells contain mesocyclones, an area of organized rotation a few miles up in the atmosphere, usually 1–6 miles (2–10 km) across. Besides mesocyclones, tornadoes can also generate from tropical cyclones after landfall. Almost all tropical cyclones making landfall spawn at least one tornado, provided enough of the Tropical cyclone’s circulation moves over land. However, 2004′s Hurricane Ivan caused a multi-day outbreak of 127 tornadoes. The deadliest single TC-spawned tornado was one that spawned in October 1964 by Hurricane Hilda killing 22 people in Larose, LA. In general, it appears that TC tornadoes are somewhat weaker and briefer than mid-latitude tornadoes. Most tornadoes have wind speeds less than 110 miles per hour (177 km/h), are approximately 250 feet (80 meter) across, and travel a few miles (several kilometers) before dissipating. Various types of tornadoes include the landspout, multiple vortex tornado, and waterspout. Tornadoes normally rotate cyclonically in direction counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere, clockwise in the southern. The weakest tornado damages trees and not substantial structures but the strongest category, rips buildings off their foundations and can deform large skyscrapers. Doppler radar is used to see into the rotation of the storm looking for a tornado signature. A tornado signature or tornado vortex signature shows up as an area within the storm with rapidly changing wind directions. This is used to issue a tornado warning for people in the path of the storm often well before the tornado is even on the ground saving many lives every year. Scientists still do not know the exact mechanisms by which most tornadoes form, and occasional tornadoes still strike without a tornado warning being issued. However, when a warning is issued, going to a basement or an interior first-floor room of a sturdy building greatly increases chances of survival. If no sturdy shelter is nearby, getting low in a ditch is the next best option. A tornado dissipates in few minutes. Tornadoes come in many sizes but are typically in the form of a visible condensation funnel, whose narrow end touches the earth and is often encircled by a cloud of debris.

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How are tropical cyclones different from tornadoes?

See following pictures of cyclone and tornado animation.

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While both tropical cyclones and tornadoes are atmospheric vortices, they have little in common. Tornadoes have diameters on the scale of hundreds of meters and are usually produced from a single thunderstorm. A tropical cyclone, however, has a diameter on the scale of hundreds of kilometers and contains many thunderstorms. Tornadoes are primarily over-land phenomena as solar heating of the land surface usually contributes toward the development of the thunderstorm that spawns the vortex (though over-water tornadoes have occurred). In contrast, tropical cyclones are purely oceanic phenomena – they die out over-land due to a loss of a moisture source. While tornadoes require substantial vertical shear of the horizontal winds (i.e. change of wind speed and/or direction with height) to provide ideal conditions for tornado genesis, tropical cyclones require very low values (less than 10 m/s or 20 kt or 23 mph) of tropospheric vertical shear in order to form and grow. Lastly, tropical cyclones have a lifetime that is measured in days, while tornadoes typically last on the scale of minutes. Interestingly, tropical cyclones near landfall often provide the conditions necessary for tornado formation. As the strong onshore surface winds move over land they weaken, but above the surface (> 1 km) winds are not affected. This creates strong wind shear that is conducive to tornado formation. It is believed that most of the tornadoes that do form occur in the outer rain bands some 80-300 km from the centre, but some have been documented to occur in the inner core of the eye wall. It is possible that the extreme damage produced from winds in the eye wall are actually due to tornadoes.

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Tropical cyclone tornado
Location: Atlantic, Pacific and Indian ocean Tornados have been spotted in all continents except Antarctica.
Intensity: The scale for measuring cyclones is called the Beaufort Scale and Saffir-Simpson scale and may vary in different countries. The scale used for rating the strength of tornadoes is called the Fujita (F), Enhanced Fujita (EF), and TORRO (T) Scale.
About: A cyclone is an atmospheric system characterized by the rapid inward circulation of air masses about a low-pressure center, usually accompanied by stormy often destructive weather. A tornado is a rotating column of air ranging in width from a few yards to more than a mile and whirling at destructively high speeds, usually accompanied by a funnel-shaped downward extension of a cumulonimbus cloud.
Frequency: 80 to 90 per year of intensity (>34 kt) The United States records about 1200 tornadoes per year, whereas the Netherlands records the highest number of tornadoes per area compared to other countries. Tornadoes occur commonly in spring and the fall season and are less common in winters
Rotation: Clockwise in the Southern hemisphere and anticlockwise in the northern hemisphere. Clockwise in the Southern hemisphere and anticlockwise in the northern hemisphere.
Most affected areas: Pacific Ocean North America
size Has a diameter on the scale of hundreds of kilometers Has diameter on the scale of hundreds of meters
lifetime Can last for few days Usually dies out in few minutes

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How are tropical cyclones different to mid-latitude cyclones (extratropical cyclones)?

To a first approximation, a tropical cyclone is like a heat engine – it derives its energy from the heat that is released when water vapor that has been evaporated from the ocean surface (assisted by high winds and low pressure) condenses in the middle of the atmosphere. Mid-latitude cyclones (low pressure systems associated with fronts) primarily get their energy from horizontal gradients in temperature. Another important difference between the two is that tropical cyclones have their strongest winds near the surface while mid-latitude systems have their strongest winds many kilometers above the surface near the top of the atmosphere.

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Global warming and cyclones:

The first thing is to establish that there indeed is a phenomenon called “global warming,” and that is at least partially due to increased carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. One of the main arguments from skeptics is that global temperatures are caused more by changes in the sun than human activity. However, if it were mainly the sun, both the lower atmosphere (troposphere) and upper atmosphere (stratosphere) would warm. But that’s not happening. The troposphere is warming, but the stratosphere is cooling! What would explain that? The greenhouse effect, where some of the warmth (infra-red radiation emitted by earth) gets “trapped” by carbon dioxide & other greenhouse gases and acts as warm blanket around earth.

The above picture shows pretty widespread warming, especially in the northern latitudes.

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Why do people think that climate change will lead to more tropical storms?

As you already know, tropical storms form where the sea surface temperature (SST) of the water is at least 26.5 degrees C. Global warming is causing a rise in the ocean temperatures, and this would mean that ocean temperatures will exceed 26.5 degrees C for longer periods of time. As a result, the tropical storm season will last longer. In addition, ocean temperatures will exceed 26.5 degrees C in more places so there will be more tropical storms. The map below shows the monthly sea surface temperature anomalies in January 2010 relative to the 1961-1990 base period.

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However, the fact of the matter is complicated and interesting. The common sense suggests that were the area enclosed by the 26.5 C SST isotherm to increase, so too would the area experiencing tropical cyclogenesis. However, regions prone to tropical cyclogenesis are better characterized as places where the atmosphere is slowly ascending on the largest scales. Since about as much atmosphere is descending as ascending, it is hard to change the total area experiencing ascent. Therefore there is little basis for believing that there would be any substantial expansion of the area of the world prone to tropical cyclogenesis by merely increasing areas of ocean having SST more than 26.5 degree C.

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Another viewpoint is that there is a natural cycle of variations in the number of tropical storms and that this is not linked to global warming. A natural cycle is a series of events that happen over and over again. The Atlantic multidecadal oscillation (AMO) is a mode of variability occurring in the North Atlantic Ocean and which has its principal expression in the sea surface temperature (SST) field. The AMO is a 20-20 year fluctuation between warmer and cooler than average ocean temperatures in the North Atlantic Ocean. We are currently in the warm phase of the AMO. Some scientists argue that this is why we are experiencing increased tropical storm activity.

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El Nino

El Niños were originally recognized by fisherman off the coast of South America as the appearance of unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean, occurring near the beginning of the year. El Niño means “The Little One” in Spanish. El Niño is a climate phenomenon affecting mainly the Pacific Ocean, occurring approx every 3-7 years. Officially, it is a sustained sea surface temperature greater than 0.5°C more than normal across the central tropical Pacific Ocean. The great width of the Pacific Ocean is the main reason why we see El Niño events in that ocean as compared to the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The narrower width of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans means the waves can cross those basins in less time, so that ocean adjusts more quickly to wind variations. Conversely, wind variations in the Pacific Ocean excites waves that take a long time to cross the basin, so that the Pacific adjusts to wind variations more slowly. This slower adjustment time allows the ocean-atmosphere system to drift further from equilibrium than in the narrower Atlantic or Indian Ocean, with the result that interannual climate anomalies (e.g. unusually warm or cold Sea Surface Temperatures) are larger in the Pacific.

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The above picture shows the Pacific Basin under normal conditions and during an El Niño event. During El Niño, the trade winds falter, and a pool of warm water moves eastward across the ocean. Normally, warm water extends to a greater depth in the western Pacific than in the east; during El Niño, this gradient evens out with the reduced upwelling off the coast of South America.

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Normally, trade winds blow west and slightly north across the Pacific Ocean, causing surface water, warmed by the sun, to ‘pile up’ at the western end so that the sea surface is about half a meter higher here. The warm water means surface temperature is about 8 degrees higher. Sometimes the normal trade winds relax. This is the start of an El Niño. The warm pool of water in the Western Pacific is released. It ‘floats’ because it is less dense than the cold water around it, and flows across the surface of the ocean back east towards South America. In general, El Nino events are characterized by more tropical storms in the eastern Pacific and less in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea due to increased SST of eastern pacific during El Niño year. The relationship between El Niño and global warming is complicated. The speeded-up hydrological cycle that has resulted from global warming may lead to heavier rainstorms in El Niño years. Some scientists have speculated that a warmer atmosphere due to global warming is likely to produce stronger or more frequent El Niños, based on trends observed over the past 25 years. On the other hand, some computer models indicate El Niños may actually be weaker in a warmer climate. We need better science and more data.

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However, the global annual frequency of tropical storms is about 90, plus or minus 10. There is no indication whatsoever of a long-term trend in this number. So apparently global warming has not caused more storms. On the other hand, there is some evidence to suggest that hurricanes are increasing their intensity with time. Records of hurricane activity worldwide show an upswing of both the maximum wind speed in and the duration of hurricanes. The energy released by the average hurricane (again considering all hurricanes worldwide) seems to have increased by around 70% in the past 30 years or so, corresponding to about a 15% increase in the maximum wind speed and a 60% increase in storm lifetime. When the sea surface temperature falls, the energy consumption falls, and conversely, when it rises, so too does the energy consumption. Both theory and models of hurricane intensity predict that this should be so as well. The 0.5 degree centigrade (1 degree Fahrenheit) warming of the tropical oceans we have seen in the past 50 years due to global warming is unprecedented for perhaps as long as a few thousand years. Scientists who work on these records therefore believe that the recent increase in hurricane intensity is due to increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere which might lead to an increase in the energy available to tropical cyclones and therefore to an increase in their potential intensity. Greenhouse gases reduce the amount of infrared radiation leaving the earth’s surface, and unless there is a compensating decrease in the amount of solar radiation reaching the surface by clouds (but this is complicated because clouds also trap outgoing infrared radiation), the ocean must lose the excess heat by increased evaporation of sea water. There are only two ways to achieve this: either the thermodynamic disequilibrium between the tropical oceans and atmosphere must increase or the average surface wind speed must increase. If the thermodynamic disequilibrium increases, then so does the potential intensity of hurricanes unless the thermodynamic efficiency were to decrease, but in fact, the efficiency also increases when greenhouse gases are added to the atmosphere. Not only does the input temperature (the sea surface temperature) increase, for the reasons given above, but the temperature of the tropopause decreases, because the extra greenhouse gas at high levels leads to more efficient trapping of infrared radiation and thus to more cooling. If the average wind speed near the surface of the tropical oceans does not change, it is estimated that the wind speeds in hurricane should increase about 5% for every 1oC increase in tropical ocean temperature. This suggests that the global upward trend in tropical cyclone activity is a consequence of global warming. However, a huge upward trend in hurricane damage is mainly due to increasing coastal population and building in hurricane-prone areas rather than increased intensity due to global warming.

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A report from Indian Meteorological Department found that Arabian Sea’s temperature rise led to more cyclones. The Arabian Sea’s temperature, which used to be 22 to 27 degrees Celsius till 1980s, is now 27 to 32 degrees Celsius. The sea’s average temperature has increased by two degrees in the last 40 years due to global warming. This has resulted in many cyclones originating from the Arabian Sea and hitting the western coast of India, and countries like Pakistan and Iran. While the Bay of Bengal has always been the one to generate most cyclones that affect India, there have been quite a few in the last few years that have been affecting western parts of the country too. The most recent example of a super cyclone was Cyclone Phet, which churned the Arabian Sea and hit coastal Gujarat, Rajasthan and Karachi last June. Such cyclones were uncommon 50 years ago.

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When we think of carbon emissions that exacerbate global climate change, most of us probably think of the exhaust from automobiles and other vehicles, or smoke billowing from fossil fuel-burning power plants. But there is a source of large carbon emissions that is not so immediately obvious — the destruction of forest trees through hurricanes. A study has shown that Hurricane Katrina, the storm that flooded New Orleans and pounded the Gulf coastal areas of Mississippi and Louisiana, uprooted or severely damaged roughly 320 million trees. In terms of the carbon cycle, this devastating loss of vegetation from a single storm was equivalent to about a 10-percent increase in U.S. fossil fuel emissions for a year. So this massive loss of vegetation contributes to global warming. Storm intensity is expected to increase with a warming climate, which would result in additional tree mortality and carbon release to the atmosphere, with the potential to further warm the climate system. So there is a vicious cycle of storm destroying forest resulting in global warming, and global warming causing increased storm intensity resulting in further forest destruction. The only way to break this vicious cycle is to plant more trees.

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How does the damage that hurricanes cause increase as a function of wind speed?

Would a minimal 74 mph hurricane cause one half of the damage that a major hurricane with 148 mph winds? No.

We are most concerned with three aspects of hurricane activity: their frequency, their intensity, and their geographical distribution. Any change in the frequency with which hurricanes strike populated land is of obvious concern. But more important than frequency is the speed of hurricane winds. The amount of damage does not increase linearly with the wind speed. Instead, the damage produced increases exponentially with the winds. The 148 mph hurricane (a category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson Scale) may produce – on average – up to 100 times the damage of a minimal category 1 hurricane! As wind speed increases the power of the wind to do damage increases exponentially. The amount of damage increases roughly as the cube of the maximum wind speed in storms. Hence a category 5 severe tropical cyclone (with wind gusts > 280 km/h) has the potential to do around 250 times the damage of a Category 3 severe tropical cyclone (with wind gusts of 165 km/h). This underscores the importance of the category system. Therefore, in practice, we are concerned with most intense storms. So if some aspect of climate variation were to lead to fewer hurricanes, but more intense ones, we might expect more losses. We would also be concerned if climate change were to cause hurricanes to be experienced in parts of the world now free from them, or to cease to be experienced in regions they now trouble. The factors that control the intensity of hurricanes appear to be quite different from those that govern their frequency of occurrence, and this is reflected in the observation that some seasons produce very few but very intense storms. Fourth characteristic of hurricanes, their geometric size, has received less attention. The diameter of tropical cyclones ranges over nearly a factor of ten: the smallest observed storms can be placed entirely within the eyes of the largest. A storm whose radial dimension is twice the size of another will cause perhaps as much as four times the damage (all other things being equal) since the damage track will be twice as wide and each point within it will experience damaging winds for twice as long. The magnitude and area covered by oceans waves and the storm surge will also be greater. Katrina of 2005 is a grim example of a large hurricane.

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Attempts of hurricane dissipation by artificial means:

1) Attempt was made to weaken hurricanes by dropping silver iodide – a substance that serves as effective ice nuclei – into the rainbands of the storms. The experiment took place over the open Atlantic far from land. The experimental seeding targeted convective clouds just outside the hurricane’s eyewall in an attempt to form a new ring of clouds that, it was hoped, would compete with the natural circulation of the storm and weaken it. The idea was that the silver iodide would enhance the thunderstorms of a rainband by causing the supercooled water to freeze, thus liberating the latent heat and helping a rainbands to grow at the expense of the eyewall. With a weakened convergence to the eyewall, the strong inner core winds would also weaken quite a bit. However, it was found that unseeded hurricanes form natural outer eyewalls just as scientists expected seeded ones to do so. This phenomenon makes it almost impossible to separate the effect (if any) of seeding from natural changes. For cloud seeding to be successful, the clouds must contain sufficient supercooled water (water that has remained liquid at temperatures below the freezing point, 0°C/32°F). Observations made in the 1980s showed that most hurricanes don’t have enough supercooled water for silver iodide seeding to work. Because the results of seeding experiments were so inconclusive, the experiment was discontinued.

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2) There has been some experimental work in trying to develop a liquid that when placed over the ocean surface would prevent evaporation from occurring. If this worked in the tropical cyclone environment, it would probably have a limiting effect on the intensity of the storm as it needs huge amounts of oceanic evaporation to continue to maintain its intensity. However, finding a substance that would be able to stay together in the rough seas of a tropical cyclone proved to be the downfall of this idea.

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3) During each hurricane season, there always appear suggestions that one should simply use nuclear weapons to try and destroy the storms. Apart from the fact that this might not even alter the storm, this approach neglects the problem that the released radioactive fallout would fairly quickly move with the tradewinds to affect land areas and cause devastating environmental problems. The main difficulty with using explosives to modify hurricanes is the amount of energy required. A fully developed hurricane releases total heat energy at the rate of 5.2 x 1019 Joules/day equivalent to about 6.0 x 1014 Watts and converts less than 0.25% of the heat into the mechanical energy of the wind. The heat release is equivalent to a 10-megaton nuclear bomb exploding every 20 minutes. Also a nuclear blast would not increase atmospheric pressure in the eye of hurricane. For normal atmospheric pressure, there are about ten metric tons of airs bearing down on each square meter of surface. In the eye of the strongest hurricanes there are nine. To change a Category 5 hurricane into a Category 2 hurricane you would have to add about a half ton of air for each square meter inside the eye, or a total of a bit more than half a billion (500,000,000) tons for a 20 km radius eye. It’s difficult to envision a practical way of moving that much air around.

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4) “Dyn-O-Gel” is a special powder that absorbs large amounts of moisture and then becomes a gooey gel. It has been proposed to drop large amounts of the substance into the clouds of a hurricane to dissipate some of the clouds thus helping to weaken or destroy the hurricane. One of the biggest problems is, however, that it would take a lot of the stuff to even hope to have an impact. Calculations showed that if the eye of hurricane to be 20 km in diameter surrounded by a 20km thick eyewall, it would requiring 37,699.1 tons of “Dyn-O-Gel”; and to keep the eyewall doped up, you’d need to deliver this much “Dyn-O-Gel” every hour-and-a-half.

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5) Since hurricanes draw their energy from warm ocean water, some proposals have been put forward to tow icebergs from the arctic zones to the tropics to cool the sea surface temperatures. Others have suggested pumping cold bottom water in pipes to the surface, or releasing bags of cold freshwater from near the bottom to do this. Calculations showed that you need a cool patch of 24,000 sq miles (38,000 sq km) for just 24 hours of the cyclone’s life. On the top of it, if you suddenly cool the surface layer of the ocean (and even turn it temporarily fresh), you would alter the ecology of that area and probably kill most of the sea life contained therein. A hurricane would be devastating enough on them without our adding to the mayhem.

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6) The idea here is to spread a layer of sunlight absorbing or reflecting particles (such as micro-encapsulated soot, carbon black, or tiny reflectors) at high altitude around a hurricane. This would prevent solar radiation from reaching the surface and cooling it, while at the same time increase the temperature of the upper atmosphere. Being vertically oriented, tropical cyclones are driven by energy differences between the lower and upper layer of the troposphere. Reducing this difference should reduce the forces behind hurricane winds. It would take a tremendous amount of whichever substance you choose to alter the energy balance over a wide swath of the ocean in order to have an impact on a hurricane.

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All above methods failed to appreciate the size and power of tropical cyclones. For example, when Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida in 1992, the eye and eyewall devastated a swath 20 miles wide. The heat energy released around the eye was 5,000 times the combined heat and electrical power generation of the Turkey Point nuclear power plant over which the eye passed. The kinetic energy of the wind at any instant was equivalent to that released by a nuclear warhead. Perhaps if the time comes when men and women can travel at nearly the speed of light to the stars, we will then have enough energy for brute-force intervention in hurricane dynamics. Also, attacking weak tropical waves or depressions before they have a chance to grow into hurricanes isn’t promising either. About 80 of these disturbances form every year in the Atlantic basin, but only about 5 become hurricanes in a typical year. There is no way to tell in advance which ones will develop. If the energy released in a tropical disturbance were only 10% of that released in a hurricane, it’s still a lot of power. Perhaps the best solution is not to try to alter or destroy the tropical cyclones, but just learn to co-exist better with them. Since we know that coastal regions are vulnerable to the storms, building codes that can have houses stand up to the force of the tropical cyclones need to be enforced. In addition, efforts to educate the public on effective preparedness need to continue. Helping poorer nations in their mitigation efforts can also result in saving countless lives. Finally, we need to continue in our efforts to better understand and observe hurricanes in order to more accurately predict their development, intensification and track.

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Safety of people vis-à-vis nuclear power plants during strike by hurricanes & tornadoes:

I have discussed in my previous article earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown due to inability of nuclear power plant to cool down reactor core in event of such an emergency. What about hurricanes and tornadoes?

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A safety procedure is in place that requires nuclear power plants to be shut down when a hurricane is forecast, and remain offline until thorough operational and safety assessments are completed. Even though, hurricanes can be forecast depending on the data from weather satellite and weather Doppler radar, tornadoes can not be accurately predicted.

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What happens if a massive tornado slams into a working nuclear power plant?

No tornado can damage the shell of a nuclear reactor.

Nuclear power plants are designed to withstand tornadoes and hurricanes. That means that nuclear plants are designed for total wind speeds of 230 mph. When you look at these plants, there’s a lot of concrete. They have very thick, steel-reinforced concrete walls around nuclear reactor. In 1988, a Japanese company hired Sandia National Laboratory to hurl a rocket at a 3-foot thick steel-reinforced concrete wall. It’s a wall much like what surrounds a nuclear reactor. The rocket slammed into the wall at 415 miles per hour. The rocket was obliterated. But the wall was just fine. It penetrated 3 inches into the wall. There is a history of tornados and hurricanes hitting nuclear plants, and there’s been no damage to the core reactors. In 2008, a tornado hit a nuclear reactor at Kansas State University. The building took damage, but the steel-reinforced concrete walls protected the reactor. So damage isn’t the issue, getting power to cool the reactor core is.

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While most nuclear reactors built in potential hurricane zones are designed to structurally withstand high winds and modest flooding, they are vulnerable to other effects of severe storms. The most significant event is the loss of offsite power, a problem that can lead to a “station blackout.” When offsite AC power is lost due to electrical grid failure, reactors are designed to automatically switch over to required backup emergency diesel generators. Just like what happened in Japan, nuclear plants have a diesel generator backup power supply. It is required to have a 7-day supply of diesel oil on site. If that fails, there’s a battery backup that would last for 48 hours. And if that fails, then, water can be drawn from nearby river or sea or any water source through the portable pump and get that to the reactor vessel to maintain cooling. The Japanese had all those backups too. And it wasn’t enough. Tsunami swept away water pumps, diesel tanks and diesel generators. The flooding with strong hurricane can do the same thing. The storm surge can do the same thing in seashore plants. Also, as recent as August 09, 2005; all four of a South Carolina nuclear power station’s emergency diesel generators were discovered to be inoperable due to a common mode failure. So what happened in Japan can happen again; nuclear meltdown due to failure of cooling system due to hurricane.

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My theory regarding strength of cyclone:

Let me start with example. The earth spins on its axis with period of rotation of about 24 hours. That means any point on earth except both poles, rotates around axis of rotation in 24 hours. Now, if you are on equator, you will rotate with the speed of 1700 km/h but as you shift to higher latitudes, the speed of rotation will decrease. Nonetheless, the period of rotation will remain same i.e. 24 hours. In the same way, an average tropical cyclone is a disc of about 10 km high and 600 km wide. This disc spins on its axis which passes through the center of the storm (center of eye). The period of rotation is the time taken by any point on this disc (except its axis) to rotate full circle, which remains same for all points on the disc. That means if a wind A is 50 km away from the axis and another wind B is 100 km away from the axis, the period of rotation for both winds will be same. However the speed of wind B will be faster than wind A as wind B is further away from axis than wind A. The strength of a tropical cyclone is inversely proportional to the period of rotation. Lesser the period, faster the speed of rotation and more energy will be required. Also, larger the size of the disc, greater will be energy required to produce rotation of cyclone. So my formula for cyclone strength or intensity is as follows.

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Where diameter of cyclone in kilometers, period of rotation in hours and intensity means strength of cyclone.

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Note:

I am using diameter as a surrogate marker for the size of a cyclone to simplify the equation. Ideally, size means volume of a cyclone (disc volume). Also, there would be differential rotation in cyclone resulting in varying period of rotation due to fluidity of its contents. For solid objects such as earth, the rotation period is a single value (24 hour). For gaseous/fluid bodies, such as stars and gas giant planets, the period of rotation varies from the equator to the poles due to a phenomenon called differential rotation. The same logic applies to the cyclone being fluid in nature, has differential rotation. The Sun being a gaseous star has differential rotation implying that the angular velocity decreases with increased latitude. The poles of sun make one rotation every 34.3 days and the equator every 25.05 days, as measured relative to distant stars This is because, although the rotation axis is fixed in space (by the conservation of angular momentum), it is not necessarily fixed in the body of the object itself. As a result of this, the moment of inertia of the object around the rotation axis can vary, and hence the rate of rotation can vary (because the product of the moment of inertia and the rate of rotation is equal to the angular momentum, which is fixed). In the same way, there could be differential rotation in cyclonic motion but its overall effect will be negligible and therefore, for the sake of simplicity, it is ignored.

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This is my formula for intensity of cyclone which does not consider wind speed but size of cyclone and period of rotation. Larger the size of cyclone, greater will be intensity. Greater the period of rotation, lesser will be intensity. Many times, largest cyclone is not strongest if the period of rotation is more. On the other hand, medium sized cyclone can be very intense if the period of rotation is less. Tornado can be deadly because even though size is small, its period of rotation is very less (rapidly rotating). The size of cyclone can be determined by satellite pictures and the period of rotation is determined by doppler radar by measuring period of rotation of the eye of cyclone. If a modest cyclone is strengthening, either its period of rotation will lessen and/or its size will increase; which can help forecast the intensity of a cyclone.

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The moral of the story:

1) The biggest problem of discussing weather is lack of uniformity in nomenclature & standardization of various events & parameters. I see no reason why a storm is called cyclone in one part of world and similar storm is called hurricane in another part of world. I see no reason why the averaging time for maximum sustained winds is 10 minutes for most of the world, 1 minute for the U.S. and 3 minutes for India. I see no reason why storms are classified by different scales in different parts of world. It is time for all meteorologists all over world to bring uniformity in nomenclature and standardization.

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2) There is evidence to suggest that the weather analysis, storm tracking and storm forecast are suffering form poverty of science. We need better science and more scientists working on it.

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3) Basically all planets of solar system are evolved from the same material. Various planets of solar system differ in their atmosphere & composition merely on the basis of their mass and their distance from the sun. The earth has a unique atmosphere due to its specific mass, specific distance from the sun and specific tilt of its axis of rotation and this atmosphere is responsible for creation and survival of life on earth. If there is any other planet anywhere in the universe with similar specificity, atmosphere similar to earth can exist there and consequently life on it.

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4) An average of 90 plus or minus 10 tropical cyclones of tropical storm intensity (> 34 knots) form annually worldwide, with 50 % reaching hurricane/typhoon strength (>64 knots) , and 25 % becoming intense tropical cyclones (>96 knots). There is no way by which we can prevent it.

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5) The strength (intensity) of a tropical cyclone is directly proportional to the size of cyclone and inversely proportional to the period of rotation of cyclone.

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6) Global warming is responsible for increased intensity of tropical cyclones.

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7) There is a vicious cycle of hurricanes damaging forests and thus contributing to global warming and consequently increasing their intensities. Plant more trees to break this vicious cycle. Planting more trees will lead to reduced global warming and reduced intensities of future hurricanes.

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8) Nuclear power plants are safe in hurricanes and tornadoes as far as reactor core is concerned but the same can not be said about the cooling system of reactor core. What happened in Japan on March 11, 2011 can be repeated due to flooding of nuclear power plant during hurricane. Therefore, every nuclear power plant by design & construction should have an alternate access to reactor core by way of ductal system to pump water to cool down fuel rods in event of emergency. Also, the emergency alternate power source diesel generators & tanks must be secured at a height to prevent damage due to flooding. Also, diesel generators must be tested on daily basis to ensure operability.

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9) World energy problem could be solved if we could harness only a fraction of hurricane wind energy.

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Dr. Rajiv Desai. MD.

May 14, 2011

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Postscript:

Further progress in confronting the important relationship between tropical cyclone activity and climate will be limited unless there are fundamental advances in understanding the basic physics of hurricanes. An important limitation to making such advances is social and political in nature. There are remarkably few scientists working on the problem. Till today, out of 1.2 billion Indians, not a single person met me and offered any help in my scientific activities. The same Indian population will rush to have a glimpse of a movie star or a cricket star whose contribution to the world is nothing except entertainment.

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