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EarthTalk®

by the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine


Dear EarthTalk: The U.S. got socked with several major storms this past winter. Local weather reports never mentioned this as odd. But is it a sign of global warming? -- R.A. Forbes, via e-mail

Weather patterns and trends are notoriously unpredictable, varying due to a great many different inputs. While it’s true that snowier, stormier winters could be the result of global warming, many meteorologists believe that El Nino—a climate pattern involving warmer-than-usual sea temperatures across the tropical Pacific that affects weather all over the globe—is mainly to blame for this past winter’s ongoing white misery.

According to Joe Bastardi, a meteorologist with the Pennsylvania-based AccuWeather forecasting service, the current El Nino—they occur once every three to seven years—has been “very strong, prompting many major blizzards for the mid-Atlantic region.” By altering the intensity of the atmospheric jet stream, El Nino can force cold air from Northern Canada to push down into the United States, converting the moisture in clouds into falling snow as temperatures drop.

Bastardi believes that El Nino is exacerbating an already ongoing trend of cooling in the Pacific that is part of natural cyclical patterns of heating and cooling unrelated to global warming. “When you get an El Niño with a cold Pacific, you get crazy winters in the East,” he told National Geographic News.

Of course, global warming could also be playing a role, according to Amanda Staudt, a climate scientist with the National Wildlife Federation. “It’s hard to determine global warming’s effect on any particular storm, but it’s highly unusual to have these really large winter storms in one winter,” she says. “Oddball winter weather is yet another sign of how uncontrolled carbon pollution amounts to an unchecked experiment on people and nature.” Staudt reports that warmer temperatures cause more water to evaporate off the oceans and settle in clouds in the sky, where it eventually falls back to the Earth’s surface as rain or, if temperatures are low enough, snow.

The same types of atmospheric conditions have conspired at times to dump multiple feet of snow in the Great Lakes of the Midwest at unseasonable times. A 2003 study in the Journal of Climate found that as global temperatures have risen; the winter ice cover over the Great Lakes has decreased, leading in turn to more moisture in the atmosphere and snowier winters throughout the region. This is sometimes referred to as the “lake effect.”

Whether or not this past winter’s storms were exacerbated by global warming, scientists maintain that we must keep in mind the difference between climate and weather. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), climate is the average of weather over at least three decades, which means that specific storms or even individual snowy winters, let alone other types of extreme weather, cannot be considered evidence of either the existence or nonexistence of global warming.

CONTACTS: Accuweather, www.accuweather.com; National Wildlife Federation, www.nwf.org; Journal of Climate, journals.ametsoc.org/loi/clim; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), www.noaa.gov.

SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk®, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; earthtalk@emagazine.com. E is a nonprofit publication. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe; Request a Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.


EarthTalk®
From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: I've been hearing about the popularity of milk sold in bags (as opposed to plastic or cardboard cartons) in India, Europe and Canada. What are the environmental advantages to milk in bags, and do you think it will catch on in the U.S.? And what other options are out there for milk drinkers trying to be green? -- Paul Howe, San Francisco, CA

It’s true that plastic milk bags—not the cartons or jugs we are used to here in the U.S.—are de rigueur in many parts of Europe, Latin America and India and are catching on fast in Canada, South Africa, China and elsewhere. They typically hold a liter of milk and are sold in three-packs. Most people snip off a corner of the milk bag and keep it upright in a pitcher in the fridge. When the last drop has been used up, the bags, which are made out of easily recycled high-density polyethylene, can be rinsed out and tossed in with other recycling. Best of all, they use 75 percent less plastic than similar capacity plastic milk jugs.

The fact that milk bags are easy to recycle and use much less plastic (and as such are inexpensive) may be a big part of the reason for their popularity all over the world. They are more popular than ever in Great Britain today amid concerns that plastic milk jugs there are not being recycled at adequate levels. At least two of the UK’s largest grocery chains have switched over to milk bags in the last two years.

Of course, detractors point out that milk bags are not as sturdy as plastic jugs—they can puncture or burst if too much pressure is applied. Also, they do not stand upright like harder containers and cannot be sealed once snipped open—and are thus more prone to spilling. Perhaps for these reasons, milk bags are losing market share in many regions of the former Soviet bloc, where they were for years the most common packaging for milk. Some analysts cite the so-called “lower shelf appeal” of milk bags as the reason, which might have something to do with why U.S. supermarkets haven’t yet been eager to embrace them.

Of course, paper/cardboard (half-gallon) milk containers are also relatively friendly to the environment, especially if the empty boxes are worked into compost either at the residential or municipal level, or rinsed well and recycled. They tend to be more expensive than plastic jugs, though, as they cost more to make. Several companies are working on ways to employ recycled paper and cardboard into larger milk jugs while keeping costs comparable to inexpensive plastic jugs. And while most of us no longer employ milk delivery services to our homes, the glass bottles that they use (yes they still exist!)—and take back for reuse—may be the ultimate in eco-friendly milk storage, although driving the milk around and washing all the glass bottles are not the most eco-friendly activities.

Perhaps the modern-day version of the milkman is the herd share, whereby regular folks contribute annually or monthly to a local dairy farm in exchange for a gallon of milk fresh from the cow every week. Many of the herd shares offered these days feature organic milk from grass-fed cows, giving eco-conscious consumers a way to help keep small farmers alive while enjoying milk they know is safe and healthy. To find a herd share to join in your area, check out the Local Chapters website page of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a charity that works to disseminate the research of whole foods nutrition pioneer Dr. Weston Price.

CONTACTS: Weston A. Price Foundation, www.westonaprice.org; Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, www.ftcldf.org.

SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk®, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; earthtalk@emagazine.com. E is a nonprofit publication. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe; Request a Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

Dear EarthTalk: Is it true that the BP oil leak is much more of an environmental threat than previous spills from tankers, and if so why? -- Nathan Gore, Pawtucket, RI

No one knows for sure how the ongoing oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico will affect the deep sea ecosystem, but scientists are not optimistic. Oil from what is now considered the nation’s second largest spill, 1989’s Exxon Valdez mishap, slicked 11,000 square miles of ocean surface and 1,300 miles of pristine Alaskan coastline while killing hundreds of thousands of birds and marine mammals and untold numbers of fish and fish eggs. But the impacts of the ongoing Deepwater Horizon leak in the Gulf may be far worse given that much of the loose oil is actually in the water column, not on the surface. In fact, researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently detected huge deepwater plumes of dispersed oil up to 30 miles long, seven miles wide and hundreds of feet thick.

Why would an undersea spill be worse? One outcome could be the expansion in size and extension in time of a seasonal “dead zone” that already plagues the Gulf of Mexico as a result of industrial pollutants and agricultural run-off from the Mississippi River. While huge Gulf of Mexico algae blooms help to naturally clean up the Midwest’s factory emissions and wasted fertilizer, such a process doesn’t come without a cost to the ecosystem. Every spring, in a condition known as hypoxia, this fast growing algae depletes large sections of the Gulf's water column of the oxygen crucial for other life forms to survive there. The BP oil spill is likely to exacerbate this problem, as natural oil-eating microbes swarming over undersea oil plumes could cause or add to hypoxic conditions in otherwise teeming swaths of the Gulf.

According to NOAA researcher Samantha Joye, the undersea oil poses a direct threat to large marine wildlife, such as fish, sharks and cetaceans, and also to the tiny stuff, including zooplankton, shrimp, corals, crabs and worms. By endangering these latter populations, the foundation of the marine food chain, the oil could have chronic long-term effects on the wider Gulf ecosystem, including the industries—more shrimp and oysters come from the Gulf than anywhere else in the world—that rely on them.

Another worry is how the chemical dispersants being used to break up the undersea oil will impact the Gulf's ecosystems and inhabitants. The dispersant’s ingredients are a trade secret closely held by the company that makes it, and therefore have not been vetted by marine biologists to determine their safety for use in such a large application. It also remains to be seen what impact the tiny oil droplets left in the dispersant's wake will have. It could actually be worse for the undersea environment to break the oil up into tiny droplets (which is done to try to make it easier for microbes to digest them).

Beyond all these undersea environmental effects, the oil is also starting to wash up into coastal wetlands already besieged by overdevelopment, pollution and the lingering effects of Hurricane Katrina. If there can be any silver lining to this catastrophe, it may be that it is the wake-up call we’ve needed to start moving more rapidly away from fossil fuels to a clean, renewable energy future. For starters, we can all begin to reduce our own oil consumption and opt for clean and green energy sources whenever possible.

CONTACTS: Deepwater Horizon Response, www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com; NOAA, www.noaa.gov.

SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk®, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; earthtalk@emagazine.com. E is a nonprofit publication. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe; Request a Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.


 

EarthTalk®
From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Where does ethanol as an automobile fuel fit into the alternative energy mix? Is it better for the environment than gasoline? -- Donna Allgaier-Lamberti, Pullman, MI

Ethanol—a biofuel derived from corn and other feedstocks—is already playing a major role in helping to reduce emissions from many of the traditional gasoline-powered cars on the road today. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, nearly half of all the gasoline sold in the U.S. contains up to 10 percent ethanol, which not only boosts octane but also helps meet federally mandated air quality requirements. By promoting more complete fuel combustion, this small amount of ethanol mixed into gasoline reduces exhaust emissions of carbon monoxide—a regulated pollutant linked to smog, acid rain, global warming and other environmental problems—by as much as 30 percent compared with pure gasoline.

Also, a growing number of so-called “flex-fuel” vehicles now available can run on either straight unleaded gasoline or so-called E85, a mix of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Ethanol proponents underscore emissions savings, cost stability (ethanol is distilled from domestically grown corn) and reduced reliance on (foreign) oil as benefits of more drivers filling up their tanks with E85 instead of gas.

But even though some eight million flex-fuel vehicles are now on U.S. roads, most of them are not near convenient ethanol refilling stations and are therefore mostly running on regular gasoline. (The U.S. Department of Energy website has a map-based listing of E85 refueling stations across the country—most are in the Midwest’s “corn belt.”) So while the capacity and perhaps demand for a cleaner burning fuel is there, supplies have not kept pace—some say because the federal government has subsidized ethanol producers only and not the distributors and retailers who get the product to customers.

But this may change. In May 2009 President Obama signed a Presidential Directive to advance research into biofuels like ethanol and expand their use. The resulting Biofuels Interagency Working Group is developing a plan to increase flex fuel vehicle use by making E85 and other biofuels more available.

While many environmental advocates view increasing ethanol use as a promising development (if drivers would actually fill up with it), others are not so sure. Cornell agriculture professor David Pimentel argues that producing ethanol actually creates a net energy loss. His research shows that a gallon of ethanol contains 77,000 BTUs of energy for engines to burn but requires 131,000 BTUs to process into usable fuel, not including additional BTUs burned from fossil fuel sources to power the farm equipment to grow the corn, and the barges, trains and trucks used to transport it to refineries and ultimately fueling stations.

Pimentel also says that powering a car for a single year on ethanol would require 11 acres of corn, which could alternatively feed at least seven people. If we step up our use of ethanol and begin putting our farmers’ yields into gas tanks instead of on dinner tables, we could see a shortage of domestically grown food and higher prices at the grocery store. To address this problem, biofuels producers are researching alternative non-food feedstocks such as algae, corn stalks, wood chips and switchgrass, though they would still make use of arable land that could grow food for human consumption.

CONTACTS: U.S. Department of Energy, www.energy.gov; Argonne National Laboratory, www.anl.gov; E85 Fueling Station Locations, www.afdc.energy.gov/afdc/ethanol/ethanol_locations.html.

SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk®, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; earthtalk@emagazine.com. E is a nonprofit publication. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe; Request a Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

Dear EarthTalk: What is “kenaf” paper? From what I've heard, it’s good for the environment. But what exactly are its benefits and where can I obtain some? -- Tiffany Mikamo, via e-mail

Kenaf, a fast-growing, non-invasive annual hibiscus plant related to cotton, okra and hemp, makes ideal paper fiber as well as great source material for burlap, clothing, canvas, particleboard and rope. Its primary use around the world today is for animal forage, but humans enjoy its high-protein seed oil to add a nutritious and flavorful kick to a wide range of foods. In fact, kenaf has been grown for centuries in Africa, China and elsewhere for these and other purposes, but environmentalists see its future in replacing slower-growing trees as our primary source for paper.

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) research shows that kenaf yields some six to 10 tons of dry fiber per acre per year, which is three to five times more than the yield of Southern Pine trees—now the dominant paper pulp source in the U.S. And to top it off, researchers believe kenaf absorbs more carbon dioxide—the chief “greenhouse gas” behind global warming—than any other plant or tree growing. Some 45 percent of dry kenaf is carbon pulled down from the atmosphere via photosynthesis.

No wonder environmentalists are so bullish on kenaf for our common future. “The more kenaf we grow, we can not only absorb significant amounts of the carbon dioxide that is responsible for global warming,” says Bill Loftus of the non-profit Kenaf Research Farm, “but also educate the world on how to be self-sustainable through kenaf’s many properties of providing food, shelter and economic opportunities.”

As to its use for paper, 10 major U.S. newspapers have tested kenaf-based newsprint and were pleasantly surprised by how well it held up and how crisply it displayed text and pictures. And since it is already brighter than wood-based pulp, it requires less bleaching before it can be used to carry ink. But since kenaf is not mass-produced the way paper trees are on big plantations across the Southeast and West, it still costs more than regular paper and as such has not gone mass market, despite its environmental.

Also, while some policymakers and many environmentalists would like to see our paper feedstock switched from Southern Pine and other trees to kenaf, entrenched timber companies with big investments in tree farms (and who employ many a Washington lobbyist) do not. And with many timber companies already suffering economically, lawmakers are unlikely to mandate changes that could make matters worse.

Even if kenaf doesn’t become the paper of tomorrow, it may still have a bright future. The Kenaf Research Farm reports that Toyota is already using kenaf grown in Malaysia for insulation and interiors in some cars. Toyota is also experimenting with using kenaf to reinforce the sugarcane- and maize-based biopolymers it hopes can replace many of the plastic and metal parts in the vehicles it is designing today.

Your best bet for finding some kenaf paper is to try a specialty art supply or stationery store. One good online source is The Natural Abode. Photographers might try using kenaf photo paper, such as Pictorico’s ART Kenaf, in their ink jet printers to give their snaps a unique look and a green pedigree.

CONTACTS: USDA, www.usda.gov; Kenaf Research Farm, www.kenafresearchfarm.com; The Natural Abode, www.thenaturalabode.com; Pictorico ART Kenaf, www.pictorico.com.

SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk®, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; earthtalk@emagazine.com. E is a nonprofit publication. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe; Request a Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.


 

EarthTalk®
From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: OK, so are cell phones emitting dangerous radiation or not? If so, which phones are safer that others and what do we do to minimize exposure? -- Luke Alderman, Santa Fe, NM

The jury is still out as to whether or not the radiation emitted by cell phones can cause negative health effects for callers. Mobile phones emit signals to communicate with cellular towers via radio waves, which are comprised of radio-frequency (RF) energy, a form of electromagnetic radiation.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) limits the amount of radiation any phone sold in the U.S. can emit to what it considers a safe level of 1.6 watts per kilogram of body weight (a measure of the energy absorbed by the body when using a wireless device). But some health practitioners are concerned that even this level of exposure may be too high, resulting in people unwittingly exposing themselves to potentially harmful radiation every time they make or take a call.

Such radiation is known to heat up living tissue it comes into close contact with by a fraction of a degree, but this level of temperature increase is less than that caused by exposure to direct sunlight, and the brain’s blood circulation typically disperses this excess heat quickly by increasing local blood flow.

Some recent studies have found higher risks for brain and salivary gland tumors among people using cell phones for 10 years or longer, while other research has found little if any risk. Other research has looked at the reproductive, cognitive and sleep effects of RF energy at levels similar to what cell/smart phones emit. Results have been mixed. More studies are now underway to resolve whether or not cell phones are safe for people to use, but some electronics manufacturers aren’t waiting around to cut down on the radiation emissions of the phones they make and sell.

If you are in the market for a new cell phone, check out the nonprofit Environmental Working Group’s (EWG’s) rundown on which of the thousand or so popular cell/smart phone models give off the most and least radiation. Levels vary widely, from as little as 0.3 to the legal limit of 1.6 watts per kilogram of body weight. Sanyo’s Katana II, Samsung’s Rugby, Nokia’s 7710, and the Blackberry Storm, among others, get top marks from EWG for giving off lower amounts of radiation (in the 0.3 range). Meanwhile, more than a dozen different cell/smart phones (including some of the most popular models such as Motorola’s Droid, Blackberry’s Bold 9700, LG’s Chocolate Touch and HTC’s Nexus One by Google) are categorized as “worst” by EWG for giving off larger amounts of radiation (pushing the 1.6 limit). Apple’s iPhone 3Gs is in the middle of the spectrum, leaking between 0.52 and 1.19, depending on usage.

Regardless of which cell/smart phone you use, you can minimize your exposure to RF radiation by taking a few simple precautions. For one, using a headset (these give off significantly less radiation) or speaker phone keeps the phone itself away from your head. Also, your phone emits far less radiation when used to text instead of call—and the phone isn’t next to your brain when texting—so the more you tap (just not while driving, please!) instead of talk the better. Also, a poor signal (fewer bars) means that your phone has to work harder—and emit more radiation—to connect up to a wireless tower, so wait to make that call until you are somewhere with a stronger connection.

CONTACTS: FCC, www.fcc.gov; Environmental Working Group, www.ewg.org.

SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk®, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; earthtalk@emagazine.com. E is a nonprofit publication. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe; Request a Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.

Dear EarthTalk: Is it true that bananas are taboo for anyone who is concerned about rainforest destruction? Even if I seek out “fair trade” or organic bananas, am I feeding the demand which is causing rainforest to be cleared? -- Laura Barnard, Hillsboro, OH

Sadly, the short answers to these questions may be yes and yes for now, but that may change as the $5 billion banana industry slowly comes to terms with greener forms of production. Historically, growing the world’s most popular fruit has caused massive degradation of rainforest land across the tropics, spread noxious chemicals throughout formerly pristine watersheds, and poisoned and exploited farm workers.

“Banana plantations were infamous for their environmental and social abuses, which included the use of dangerous pesticides, poor working conditions, water pollution and deforestation,” reports the Rainforest Alliance, a New York-based non-profit that has been working to improve worker and environmental conditions in the industry since 1990. “Pesticide-impregnated plastic bags, which protect bananas as they grow, often littered riverbanks and beaches near banana farms, while agrochemical runoff and erosion killed fish, clogged rivers and choked coral reefs.” Also, the proximity of housing to banana fields, coupled with lax regulations for pesticide handling, led to frequent illness among workers and people living near the plantations.

But help is on the way, largely thanks to the pioneering work of the Rainforest Alliance, which certifies as sustainable those banana farms and plantations that meet certain criteria for responsible farm management set by the Sustainable Agriculture Network, a coalition of non-profits striving to improve commodity production in the tropics. As a result of the program, some 15 percent of all bananas sold internationally now come from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms. The group is especially proud of its agreements with two of the largest growers, Favorita and Chiquita. All of Favorita’s farms in Ecuador and all of Chiquita’s farms in Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama are certified sustainable under the program.

While the Rainforest Alliance’s success is certainly a step in the right direction, other groups bemoan the fact that even certified plantations are on land that was once tropical rainforest. According to Rainforest Relief, Americans should still avoid purchasing bananas altogether and instead opt for fruit grown locally, such as apples, peaches, cherries or pears. The group is hopeful, though, that its work with farm cooperatives growing organic bananas under the shade of a diverse forest canopy in Costa Rica can eventually drive the larger international banana market toward better land use and worker safety standards.

These growers are for the most part farming only small portions of the land they own or control, the rest being left as montaña—undisturbed forest—to keep their flowing water fresh and keep healthy the wildlife that ‘works’ their farms with them,” reports Rainforest Relief. The group has been working to develop secondary markets for bananas that may have been bruised during harvest or transport but which can still be used for baby food, vinegar and other applications that don’t require unblemished peels. Some of these products are marketed to tourists in Costa Rica while others are sold in the U.S.—look for the Rainforest Farms brand, among others—at Whole Foods and other natural foods retailers.

CONTACTS: The Rainforest Alliance, www.rainforest-alliance.org; Chiquita, www.chiquita.com; Favorita, www.favorita.com; Rainforest Relief, www.rainforestrelief.org.

SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk®, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; earthtalk@emagazine.com. E is a nonprofit publication. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe; Request a Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.


 

EarthTalk®
From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Is there any link between increased volcanic activity—such as the recent eruptions in Iceland, Alaska and elsewhere—and global warming? -- Ellen McAndrew, via e-mail

It’s impossible to pin isolated natural phenomena—like an individual volcanic eruption—on global warming, but some researchers insist that there is a correlation between the two in some instances.

“Global warming melts ice and this can influence magmatic systems,” reports Freysteinn Sigmundsson of the Nordic Volcanological Centre at the University of Iceland. Her research with Carolina Pagli of the University of Leeds in England suggests that rocks cannot expand to turn into magma—the primary “feedstock” for volcanic eruptions—when they are under the pressure of a big ice cap pushing down on them. As the theory goes, melting ice caps relieve that pressure and allow the rocks to become magma. This in turn increases the chances of larger and/or more frequent eruptions in affected regions, from Iceland to Alaska to Patagonia to Antarctica.

As for Iceland specifically, the eruption of Mt. Ejyafjallajökull that shut down some air travel for weeks this past spring cannot be blamed on changing climate: That volcano lies under a relatively small icecap which would not exert enough pressure to affect the creation of magma. But Sigmundsson and Pagli found that the melting of about a tenth of Iceland’s biggest icecap, Vatnajokull, over the last century caused the land to rise an inch or so per year and led to the growth of an underground mass of magma measuring a third of a cubic mile. Similar processes, they say, led to a surge in volcanic eruptions in Iceland at the end of the last ice age, and similarly increased volcanic activity is expected to occur there in the future.

On the flip side, volcanic eruptions can exacerbate the ongoing effects of climate change: Already retreating glaciers can lose all their ice when something below them blows. Of course, many volcanoes around the world are not subject to pressure from ice caps, and scientists stress that there is little if any evidence linking global warming to eruptions in such situations.

Some have theorized that large volcanic eruptions contribute to global warming by spewing large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the stratosphere. But the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by even a large and ongoing volcanic eruption is but a drop in the bucket in comparison to our annual output of industrial and automotive carbon emissions.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, greenhouse gas emissions from volcanoes make up less than one percent of those generated by human endeavors. Also, ash clouds and sulfur dioxide released from volcanoes shield some sunlight from reaching the Earth and as such can have a cooling effect on the planet. The 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines—a much larger eruption than what occurred recently in Iceland—caused an average cooling of half a degree centigrade worldwide during the following year. Regardless, single volcanic eruptions, even if they last for weeks or months, are unlikely to send enough gas or ash up into the skies to have any long term effect on the planet’s climate.

CONTACTS: Nordic Volcanological Centre at the University of Iceland, www2.norvol.hi.is; U.S. Geological Survey, www.usgs.gov.

SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk®, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; earthtalk@emagazine.com. E is a nonprofit publication. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe; Request a Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.


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