Newsdesk – June 20

Kirk Smith on a field visit for the Household Air Pollution Intervention Network (HAPIN) randomized controlled trial in Kallakurichi, Tamil Nadu, India, in 2017. Photo: Ajay Pillarisetti

Kirk R. Smith, Nobel Prize recipient and environmental health giant, dies at 73.  He was an environmental titan who championed the poor and disenfranchised, especially rural women and children in the developing world.  “Kirk showed an overwhelming commitment to the poor and the planet, and in fact showed us how we were failing both,” said Professor Justin Remais, head of the Division of Environmental Health Sciences at Berkeley Public Health, who first met  Smith as a Berkeley undergraduate in 1998.  Smith was big on environmental health ever since he began his career as a health scientist studying the risk associated with nuclear reactors, founding the Energy Program at the East-West Center in Honolulu. But in the late 1970s, a trip to Asia led to the realization that air pollution posed a much bigger threat to human health than did nuclear accidents. Smith started the pioneering work in indoor air pollution.   “Smith was really a true public health hero”, according to John Balmes, director of Berkeley Public Health’s Joint Medical Program.  ” I don’t know anyone I’ve worked with who saved more lives than he has. Kirk helped the world understand that the burning of dirty household fuels was devastating the health and well-being of women and children around the world and he dedicated his career to providing the evidence from robust and creative science that was needed to convince policymakers to reduce pollution and improve the lives of millions.” Before Smith’s pioneering research, starting in 1981, there had been only one study on the health effects of indoor air pollution from cookstoves. Smith led studies on the problem and worked on practical solutions in 20 countries in Latin America and Asia. He also spearheaded the design and implementation of small, smart, fast, and cheap air sensors for people in low-income countries. Smith went on to lead and contribute to the authorship of important chapters of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, including on climate change health impacts and climate adaptation.  In 1997, Smith was elected as a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors awarded to U.S. scientists by their peers. He and 300 other scientists shared in the Nobel Peace Prize with Vice President Al Gore in 2007.  In addition to sharing a Nobel Prize, Smith received the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, often called “The Nobel for the environment” in 2012.  In 2018  Smith was named one of 75 Most Influential Alums of the UC Berkeley School of Public Health Berkeleyside

  • Wildlife Trade Spreads Coronaviruses as Animals Get to Market – The New York Times
  • Q&A: A Pioneer of Environmental Justice Explains Why He Sees Reason for Optimism – Inside Climate News
  • Climate Change Tied to Pregnancy Risks, Affecting Black Mothers Most – The New York Times
  • Desertification: Understanding the Threats of Land Degradation in Era of Land Doom – The Weather Channel
  • As Climate Change Makes Growing Seasons Less Predictable, Scientists Dig Into a Novel Approach to Boosting Crop Resilience – Ensia
  • Climate Models Underestimate CO2 Emissions from Permafrost by 14 Percent, Study Finds – Yale Environment 360
  • ‘It’s only important if you eat food’: inside a film on the honeybee crisis – The Guardian
A man sells cold bottled drinks to motorist at a busy intersection in Phoenix, Arizona. Photograph: Ralph Freso/Getty Images

Deadly heat is killing Americans: A decade of inaction on climate puts lives at risk.  Yearly heat-related deaths have more than doubled in Arizona in the last decade to 283. Across the country, heat caused at least 10,000 deaths between 1999 and 2016 – more than hurricanes, tornadoes, or floods in most years. Federal research predicts heatstroke and similar illnesses will claim tens of thousands of American lives each year by the end of the century.  In contrast to a viral pandemic, this is a quiet, insidious threat with no endpoint.  Federal officials have known for decades that climate change poses a public health crisis. In 1989, the US Environmental Protection Agency issued a 100-page report on how global warming could affect human health. It urged public health agencies to fund research on extreme heat and provide health departments with “trained professionals”.  Five years later, Dr. Howard Frumkin, a veteran epidemiologist hired to run CDC’s environmental health center, brought the nation’s leading public health agency into the battle against climate change. In 2009 – then the second-hottest year on record – Frumkin seized an opportunity to expand the CDC’s climate efforts.  A month later, a Democratic-led Congress funded the climate program to be renewed yearly.  The new initiative seeded climate and health activities in 10 health departments. Frumkin hoped it would eventually expand to all 50 states. Shortly after Congress funded the program, the newly appointed CDC director, Dr. Thomas Frieden, introduced his “winnable battles” – seven health initiatives that his agency prioritized. Climate was not among them. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,  charged with helping cities and states adapt to threats like extreme heat, t created its climate programs more than 10 years ago and it is the federal government’s only sustained effort to bolster state and local health departments’ fight against global warming. But the program has been hampered by a decade of underfunding. While pushing measures to combat climate change, the Obama administrations missed opportunities to expand the program. Under Donald Trump, officials have tried to eliminate it – The Guardian

In Europe, about 88 million metric tons of food are wasted every year. Photo: Photograph: picture-aliiance/dpa/F. May

To stop land degradation, reject fast fashion and cancel food waste.  To combat desertification and drought, a UN secretary highlights how more responsible consumer choices can help. More than 2 billion hectares of previously productive land is degraded. “Despite COVID-19, we still need to eat. We still need to have clothes. We still need to feed our animals. And we still need the planet. The planet does not need us”. says Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in his interview with DW.  If you consider the size of the land that is affected by desertification, we think of Africa, but if you consider the number of people that are affected by land degradation, it is Asia. If you include both north and south Americans,  40% of the land is affected by desertification or susceptible to be affected by land degradation. Europe is not spared either since Europe has been more vulnerable to droughts in recent years due to climate change.  “There is no region in the world that is immune to land degradation.  Land degradation is affecting people’s lives, their health, the economy, their security”, says  Ibrahim Thiaw.   It’s also having its impact on migration. We will see more migration because people cannot produce any more in their land. Land degradation is not biophysical only. It is as much social as it is economic. We waste one-third of the food we produce.  And yet we have 800 million people who are going to bed hungry. The one-third of the food we produce each year is equivalent to 1.4 billion hectares.  It means that we could feed the entire world without further degrading our land, without further clearing our forests, without further affecting our wetlands and our water ponds. There are a few examples in different parts of the world of places that have successfully reversed desertification.  In the days of former East Germany, more than 65,000 miners were employed in Lausatia’s coal mining sector. Thousands lost their jobs when mines shut down in the 1990s. To compensate, the region decided to boost its tourism sector, and the transformation has been ongoing ever since. Many parts of Africa where land that was degraded is now being reconstituted and managed for wildlife conservation. “More than 80 countries have pledged to regenerate 400 million hectares by 2030. It is not something that can be done only by experts, scientists, or naturalists or biologists. It should be done by everybody”, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD said – Made for Minds