Heating our homes kills 10,000 Americans per year

smoke over house


PM2.5 is what used to be called fine soot, tiny particles less than 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter, about 1/30th the width of a human hair. According to the EPA (for now, anyway), they are small enough that they get stuck in the lungs. A recent article in the Guardian says they can even penetrate the lungs and get into major organs, including the brain and testicles. They cause serious problems for people with heart or lung diseases, children, and older adults.

Now a new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives shows that they actually cause 31,000 deaths per year in America; 21,000 from burning what the President calls “clean, beautiful coal” and 10,000 from household heating with oil, natural gas and wood. The study also plots which states have the most deaths.

Deaths from EGU© Total premature deaths associated with source-state EGU emissions (e.g., EGU emissions from Ohio caused 2,300 premature deaths across all states)

The most damage is done by coal burning power plants or what the study calls Electricity Generating Units, or EGUs. More than half of the health impacts come from emissions from eight states, which then affect the downwind population. Many of these sources were going to be cleaned up under the EPA’s Clean Power Plan which has just been gutted.

RC Pollution© Total premature deaths associated with source-state RC emissions (e.g., California RC emissions caused 980 premature deaths across all states)

The number of deaths from residential combustion sources (RC) was really surprising. RC pollution is related to population density, having more sources and more people who are affected, so they are highest in dense northeastern states. In fact, in the dense northeast there are more deaths caused by residential sources than there are from power generation.

Ratios of RC-related deaths to EGU-related deaths vary greatly across source-states. Deaths from RC exceed those from EGUs for source-states in the Northeast and West Coast where population density is high, EGU coal combustion is limited, and wood or oil is used in some homes for heating. In contrast, deaths from EGUs exceed those from RC in source-states with appreciable EGU coal combustion and significant usage of electricity for home heating.

According to the study, “The vast majority of our 10,000 attributable premature deaths are likely related to wood combustion given its dominance in primary PM2.5 emissions.” However the high numbers of deaths in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York State from residential combustion are scary. The numbers in Oregon and Washington are certainly leading me to rethink my previous position on wood burning stoves in low-density rural areas.

Total health impacts from RC are driven by POC [primary organic carbon] emissions across the United States. The number of deaths caused by each source-state is related to population, which influences both the extent of residential emissions and size of the exposed population, the need for home heating, and the degree to which wood, oil, and gas are used. As such, states causing the most deaths from RC have large populations within the state and immediately downwind and experience cold weather.

The fact that 21,000 people die each year because of the particulate pollution from coal-fired power generation is disgraceful; that the government is in fact rolling back regulations and promoting coal consumption is scandalous. And 10,000 deaths from residential combustion is shocking.

None of this even takes into account the contribution from car exhaust; it become clearer every day that we have to decarbonize our economy, not just because of carbon dioxide and climate change in the longer term, but because it is killing us directly right now.



You Finally Have an Excuse for Acting Like a Baby When You’re Sick

by Tracy Moore

New research has found that viruses might actually hit men harder

Grab a box of tissues: Researchers may have cracked the code behind why men must take to bed as if hit by the Ebola virus when they only have a minor case of the sniffles: Their immune cells are weaker, Time reports.

The study, published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity found that male mice who were exposed to bacteria causing a flu-like illness not only seemed sicker, but also took longer to get over it, plus, they had more fluctuation in body temperature, inflammation and fever.

Studies on mice may not accurately predict human responses, but even so, the world didn’t need a study to know what it has observed with its own eyes — that men are rendered helpless and in need of round-the-clock intensive care when beset with the common cold, while women soldier on diligently. But even the researchers didn’t expect these results.

“We were really surprised, and at first, we were like, ‘Is this real?’” Nafissa Ismail, the director of the University of Ottawa lab that conducted the study,told Canada’s Metro News. So they did the experiment again, and got the same results. Based on previous research that found that testosterone suppresses the immune system (and estrogen boosts it), Ismail said they figured the results were related to sex hormones. But even after removing the gonads on the male mice, they still had worse symptoms.

This doesn’t mean testosterone isn’t still a factor here — Ismail said the effects of testosterone could already be locked in before a mouse, or man, hits puberty. Sabra Klein, associate professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, offered another theory to Time — a “live fast, die young” theory that suggests, confusingly, that men’s greater risk-taking and greater penchant for adventure exposes them to more disease, but somehow makes them less able to fight it off. The idea here is that immunity-wise, men only need to be worried about being well enough to reproduce, whereas women, eternal caretakers of children, would be more invested in a quick recovery that allowed them to get right back on those dishes ASAP.

All this runs counter to the beloved notion as men as robust in the face of all challenges — not a good look. If there is one evolutionary mandate to prove wrong for no other reason than sheer vanity, we suggest this one.



The Periodic Stranger



When exile becomes home.

My roots are in a hilltop village west of Matera, where rabbit and boar run riot in the fields. Figs, apricots, and pears hang in heavy clusters, at eye-level and within easy reach. There, the local girls are famous for their calves, made firm and strong from hauling earthen jugs up steep and stony paths. The weather is as a rule clement, neither too humid nor too arid. The air smells of limes.

I think of it the way I think of the afterlife. It’s an improbable place conjured in equal parts from the gauzy descriptions of my parents and my own wishful longing. The crumpled photograph my father kept in the inner pocket of his leather satchel told me little other than the size of his mustache at the time he was forced to leave the village for good. The shapeless gray forms in the background, which he swore were self-sustaining orchards of peach and black cherry, looked like nothing of the sort. No girls were evident.

I have lived on this rock in the sea since two days after my birth. In all the years since I have not seen any sign of game—an honor of classification I do not confer on the gray, greasy-feathered gulls that sometimes take perch on the higher crags. I have never been to the village near Matera, the one from which my father was exiled with his wife and me, his newborn son, for reasons he never made clear. There was something about a fugitive Austrian soldier, a missing scabbard, a dented helmet, but the pieces have never come together, and by the time I was old enough to press for details my mother would interrupt with a shake of the head and say: Don’t even ask.

This rock is really two rocks, which are linked by a short natural bridge that twice a day is quietly submerged by the tides and, several times a year, somewhat less gently overtaken by the storm-churned seas. Lampedusa—and I understand there is much to recommend about that island—lies three turbulent hours away by supply boat, a small, steel-sided skiff that brings lemons and whatever fruit might be in season, along with cheese, bottled water, flour, ink, medicine, tobacco, wine, and the occasional newspaper. The skiff leaves with the octopus my wife and I catch in submerged pots arrayed like the beads of a necklace drawn snugly around the island. Octopus fetches an adequate return, and this exchange of goods, this bartering, is how we make our living, such as it is. And as it is, we need nothing more.

“See you in two weeks, God willing!” shouts Pallucci, the short, sunburned captain, as he fires the outboard and guides his dented craft back into the open sea.

I still have my father’s books, his writings, and the crumpled photograph of him. I have the education my mother provided, measured in the painstaking hours she took in teaching me to read, calculate, sing, and sew. I have a wife with whom I still occasionally make love. I’m seventy-two years old, but I know now that I know less than ever of what it would take to live in the world.

My father always implied that others decided his exile, an unjust punishment handed down by petty bureaucrats. Yet, what if he were its sole engineer? What if his exile was self-imposed? In that case, he made me a party to an obsession I had no say in indulging.

At dawn a pair of figures appears on the other rock. They are silhouettes against the eastern sky, only harder, like pillared extensions of the island itself, two stone fingers thrust up from the earth overnight. My wife asks, “Is that a rifle?”

I follow her concerned gaze and spy the barrel of a weapon taking shape above the shoulder of one of the men. It is not like any firearm I have ever seen, but that is saying little. My wife passes me the single-bolt carbine my father brought here with him, its black stock polished smooth from years of handling. It seems to weigh more than the painted wooden boats we drag into the water every day in checking the octopus pots. Surely this mysterious pair must know someone else is here; signs of habitation are all around, from the strung nets on which we dry our meager catch of fish to the pecking chickens that roam freely about—to say nothing of the tricolor Italian flag fluttering atop the rock on our side (my father may have lost his home, but not his patriotism). One of the men now lifts a pair of heavy binoculars to his face, makes a great show of taking in the surrounding sea, then swings back to train them directly on us…




What is global history now?

Resultado de imagem para Storm clouds gather above ships waiting to dock in Singapore.

Storm clouds gather above ships waiting to dock in Singapore. Photo by Edgar Su/Reuters

Historians cheered globalism with work about cosmopolitans and border-crossing, but the power of place never went away

Jeremy Adelman is the Henry Charles Lea professor of history and director of the Global History Lab at Princeton University. His latest books are Worldly Philosopher: the Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman (2013) and the co-authored Worlds Together, Worlds Apart (4th ed, 2014). 

Well, that was a short ride. Not long ago, one of the world’s leading historians, Lynn Hunt, stated with confidence in Writing History in the Global Era (2014) that a more global approach to the past would do for our age what national history did in the heyday of nation-building: it would, as Jean-Jacques Rousseau had said was necessary of the nation-builders, remake people from the inside out. Global history would produce tolerant and cosmopolitan global citizens. It rendered the past a mirror on our future border-crossing selves – not unlike Barack Obama, the son of a Kenyan father and white American mother, raised in Indonesia and educated in the Ivy League, who became the passing figure of our fading dreams of meritocracy without walls.

The mild-mannered German historian Jürgen Osterhammel might serve as an example of that global turn. When his book The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the 19th Century (2014) came out in English, one reviewer baptised him the new Fernand Braudel. It was already a sensation in Germany. One day, Osterhammel’s office phone at the University of Konstanz rang. On the other end of the line was the country’s chancellor, Angela Merkel. ‘You don’t check your SMSs,’ she scolded lightly. At the time, Merkel was on the mend from a broken pelvis and the political fallout of the Eurocrisis. While recovering, she’d read Osterhammel’s 1,200-page book for therapy. She was calling to invite the author to her 60th-birthday party to lecture her guests about time and global perspectives. Obsessed with the rise of China and the consequences of digitalisation, she had turned to the sage of the moment: the global historian.

It’s hard to imagine Osterhammel getting invited to the party now. In our fevered present of Nation-X First, of resurgent ethno-nationalism, what’s the point of recovering global pasts? Merkel, daughter of the East, might be the improbable last voice of Atlantic Charter internationalism. Two years after her 60th birthday, the vision of an integrated future and spreading tolerance is beating a hasty retreat.

What is to become of this approach to the past, one that a short time ago promised to re-image a vintage discipline? What would global narratives look like in the age of an anti-global backlash? Does the rise of ‘America First’, ‘China First’, ‘India First’ and ‘Russia First’ mean that the dreams and work of globe-narrating historians were just a bender, a neo-liberal joyride?

Until very recently, the practice of modern history centred on, and was dominated by, the nation state. Most history was the history of the nation. If you wander through the history and biography aisles of either brick-and-mortar or virtual bookstores, the characters and heroes of patriotism dominate. In the United States, authors such as Walter Isaacson, David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin have helped to give millions of readers their understanding of the past and the present. Inevitably, they wrote page-turning profiles of heroic nation-builders. Every nation cherishes its national history, and every country has a cadre of flame-keepers.

Then, along came globalisation and the shake-up of old, bordered imaginations. Historians quickly responded to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the crumbling protective ramparts of national capitalism, the boom in container shipping, and the rise of the cosmopolis. New scales and new concepts came to life. Europe’s Schengen Agreement, inked in 1985, the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1993, and the founding of the World Trade Organization in 1995, heralded new levels of international fusion. These now-imperilled treaties promised a borderless world. ‘The world is being flattened,’ Thomas Friedman’s popular manifesto of globalisation, The World Is Flat (2005), concluded. ‘I didn’t start it and you can’t stop it,’ Friedman wrote in an open letter to his daughter, ‘except at great cost to human development and your own future.’…