Climate change as a social problem

We cannot rely on governments, businesses or the public to adopt technological solutions to solve the problem of climate change, instead, social solutions must be put in place, according to research published in the International Journal of Sustainable Society.

According to Stephen Axon of the School of Natural Sciences and Psychology, at Liverpool John Moores University, UK, addressing real and present climate change has looked to technological solutions. However, this has to a large extent not led to immediate action to address the severity of the imminent crisis of rising global temperatures and associated problems due to the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations due to human activity. Indeed, there has been an over-reliance on seeking out technological responses and only minimal attention paid to the role of social solutions that might actually get sufficient numbers of people engaged in the problem.

Axon suggests that following the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in December 2015 there has been increased awareness of the growing problem of climate change among members of the public. There is now a need for people to demonstrate unity, use social media to garner support and attention and to ensure our young people are also educated and empowered with regards to the problem. Such social changes will help to ensure that those in power are sent a clear signal that climate change must be addressed and also show the so-called “denialists” that the public opinion expects the problem to be addressed and not ignored or rebuffed.

The transition to a sustainable society in which we have faced up to climate change and found ways to ameliorate the problems it is bringing and perhaps even halting the rise in temperatures will be characterised by social and behavioural solutions and these must be tailored to the needs of individuals and communities, shaped and reshaped in response to individual need, Axon suggests. A community-led, grassroots response is the way forward. By demonstrating a united front against climate change within and beyond communities, mirroring rhetoric with action and empowering young people to engender new sustainable habits it might be possible to remove barriers to action and make sustainability acceptable in more meaningful ways to individuals.

Axon, S. (2016) ‘Sustaining public engagement with addressing climate change and the role of social solutions‘, Int. J. Sustainable Society, Vol. 8, No. 3, pp.185-205.

Measuring the benefits of biodiesel

Biodiesel is often touted as a cleaner alternative to fuel derived from crude oil. Research published in the International Journal Environment and Pollution shows that in the urban region of Porto, Portugal, where biodiesel is widely used particulates and some gaseous pollutant levels are lower, but toxic ozone levels are higher, and nitrogen dioxide levels are the same as they would otherwise be if conventional diesel were being used.

Isabel Ribeiro and colleagues at CESAM and Department of Environment and Planning, University of Aveiro, have investigated ground level atmospheric concentrations of common pollutants from diesel-powered vehicles. Carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), 10 and 2.5 nanometre particulates, PM10, PM2.5, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, acrolein and benzene are all released in the exhaust from diesel engines.

The researchers’ tests on standard diesel, blended biodiesel and biodiesel products show that particulate levels are much lower with biodiesel products. Particulates, which are essentially nanoscopic particles of soot have been implicated in respiratory health problems among people living in towns and cities where diesel traffic is common. The biodiesel products also generated lower levels of gaseous pollutants with the exception of one particular NOx compound, nitrogen dioxide. Worryingly, however, the team reports that ozone, which represents a pollution problem at ground level as opposed to an atmospheric essential at high altitude, is higher with biodiesel. The effect was small but measurable over the Porto urban region, the team asserts.

However, further studies are now needed to ascertain whether or not the reduction of other pollutants including NMVOCs, many of which are carcinogenic, as well as the reduction in particulates is offset in terms of public health by the rise in ozone.

Ribeiro, I., Monteiro, A., Martins, H., Freitas, S., Borrego, C., Lopes, M. (2015) ‘How does the use of biodiesel affect urban air quality?’, Int. J. Environment and Pollution, Vol. 58, Nos. 1/2, pp.79-88.

Is radiation really so bad?

Researchers in Europe have reviewed cancer rates among people in parts of the world where natural background radiation is higher than average and found that incidence is not as high as one might guess. The findings, published in the International Journal of Low Radiation suggests that science ought to take a second look at studies that correlate low levels of radiation exposure with detrimental health effects.

Ludwik Dobrzyński of the National Centre for Nuclear Research (NCBJ) in Otwock-Świerk, Poland and colleagues in Poland and Germany, explain that natural background ionizing radiation is ubiquitous. We are all constantly exposed to radioactivity literally from the rocks beneath our feet, the air we breathe and the cosmic rays that have many different sources in space and bathe our planet. Moreover, life on earth evolved in this background radiation and has many mechanisms to repair the damage caused by exposure and protect us from its otherwise harmful effects.

While exposure to high levels of radiation is well documented as causing health problems from lethal radiation sickness to cancer, the low levels of background radiation to which we are constantly exposed have never been shown unequivocally to cause any illness, cancer other otherwise, despite tabloid scaremongering. Indeed, there are numerous studies from around the world that suggest that background radiation has to some degree a protective effect against the other causes of cancer. The team’s review of these and other studies in contrast to the received wisdom suggests that cancer rates are commonly lower in regions where exposure to slightly higher doses of background radiation than to those areas with average low dose natural exposure.

“The level of natural background radiation on Earth varies considerably by even two orders of magnitude from place to place with the world average annual effective dose being about 2.5 milliSieverts,” the team explains. In Ramsar, Iran, it is several hundred milliSieverts per year. The team’s review of the available research using Bayesian statistics to analyze the data suggests that, “Risks of cancer mortality from low-doses and low dose-rates, appear not to exist or to be much lower than the effects normally assumed, when assessed alone by epidemiological methods.”

Dobrzyński, L., Fornalski, K.W. and Feinendegen, L.E. (2015) ‘The human cancer in high natural background radiation areas’, Int. J. Low Radiation, Vol. 10, No. 2, pp.143–154.