Monthly Archives: September 2012

West Nile Virus and the Future of Once-Tropical Diseases

Midwest outbreak is the worst in U.S. history — and may be a sign of things to come

Molly Samuel/KQED

Mosquitoes under a microscope at the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District.

William Reisen began studying tropical diseases when he was drafted in the Vietnam War. He’d studied insects in school, so he worked as an entomologist for the Air Force. Eventually, his career led him to California, where he now heads UC Davis’s Center for Vectorborne Diseases. But even with his professional experience with mosquito-borne diseases, he says he never expected to see West Nile virus in the United States.

“Everybody was surprised,” he says. “If you were a betting person, and you wanted to guess the next virus that would cause trouble from abroad in North America, I think few of us would have expected West Nile.”

West Nile, a disease carried by birds and spread by mosquitoes, first made inroads in the U.S. in 1999, in New York. By 2003, it had reached California. In 2004 and 2005, there were hundreds of human cases; in those two years combined, 48 people in California died. Continue reading

NAS Study Calls for ‘Next Generation’ of Climate Models

Report reflects shift in climate research toward news you can use

National Center for Atmospheric Research

A new study from the National Academy of Sciences advocates for more detailed and interconnected climate models.

In the effort to better understand the dynamics of the Earth’s changing climate, a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences calls for scientists to collaborate on a “new generation” of highly detailed and integrated climate change models.

According to the NAS release:

With changes in climate and weather . . . past weather data are no longer adequate predictors of future extremes. Advanced modeling capabilities could potentially provide useful predictions and projections of extreme environments.

Those “useful predictions and projections,” according to the report, could come in various forms — supplying farmers with better information about what to plant, year-to-year, say, or giving local officials greater insights into future flood risk, or providing climatologists with better information about specific parts of the country most susceptible to extreme heat. Continue reading

Quick Link: ‘Climate change: why it could be a hot topic on the campaign trail’

Long before the current campaign season, it seemed like “climate” had been banished from the Beltway vocabulary. Suddenly it’s back.


Climate change had been virtually absent from the campaign until Mitt Romney and President Obama traded jabs at their conventions. Some polls say it could be a vote-getter for Democrats. By Mark Clayton, Staff writer / September 7, 2012 Like Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter saga, climate change has been the issue “that shall not be named” – mostly a political no-show in the presidential campaign.

Read more at: www.csmonitor.com

Planting the Seeds for ‘Greener’ Farms

Sustainable ag makes its bid for cap & trade revenues

Craig Miller

Reducing tillage is one technique farmers are trying out to cut carbon emissions.

Supporters of sustainable agriculture are looking forward to some “sustenance” of their own, after an eleventh-hour win in Sacramento. Just as the state’s last legislative session was drawing to a close, Assembly Bill 1532 passed by a vote of 51-28, sending to the governor’s desk a system for allocating cap-and-trade auction revenues, which are expected to reach into the billions of dollars by the end of next year.

AB 1532, authored by Assembly Speaker John Pérez, lays out an approach for ensuring that all proceeds from the sale of permits be used to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Among the eligible activities identified in the bill are farming and ranching practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon, such as reducing soil tillage, improving energy and water efficiency, and reducing synthetic fertilizer use through compost, cover crops, and crop rotation. Continue reading

Quick Link: “El Niño is coming, but weakly – sort of”

The Pacific warm-water phase known as El Nino is gathering momentum but don’t batten down the hatches just yet, as the impact on California weather remains ambiguous. Often associated with drenching winter storms, this occurrence seems too weak to have forecasters in an uproar.

Thanks to a tiny but consistent warming of the Pacific Ocean half a world away, the Bay Area will experience an El Nino season this year, beginning this month. If that idea conjures up images of fearsome storms and tumultuous winds – as one infamous El Nino pattern caused in the late 1990s – fear not.

Read more at: www.sfgate.com

Quick Link: Extreme Weather Drives Up Food Prices

Officials at the World Bank and the UN say countries should prepare for a spike in food prices after this summer’s droughts in the Midwest, Russia and Brazil. But it’s not only a short-term problem. A report from Oxfam warns that extreme weather caused by climate change will make food prices even more volatile in the future.


The directors of three major United Nations food and agriculture programs sounded the alarm both on the immediate problem of high food prices and the “long-term issue of how we produce, trade and consume food in an age of increasing population, demand and climate change.”

Read more at: www.nytimes.com

California Examines the Health Effects of Extreme Heat

A new report looks at how to prepare for — and adapt to — a warmer world

State agencies are bracing for the public health threat from extreme heat. Heatwaves can have devastating effects on public health; in a 2006 heatwave in California, hundreds of people died [PDF]. And scientists predict in the future, heat waves will be longer, hotter and more frequent.

In the future, heat waves will be longer, hotter and more frequent.

To try to keep the health costs to a minimum, the California Climate Action Team, led by the California Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Public Health, is developing a plan to prepare for extreme heat[PDF].

The state’s plan addresses building codes and urban planning, state and local emergency response plans, health care system preparedness and worker safety. The recommendations include making sure the most vulnerable people can be protected from high temperatures, protecting key parts of the power grid from air-conditioner overload and planting more trees in cities. Continue reading