Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Drylands, Deserts, and Desertification Conference
The Conference opened with the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, Luc Gnacadja. I was excited for this section, hoping to learn a bit about the global strategies employed in this field. My excitement ended in disappointment as his accent was so strong that he was hard to understand. While there were translators for the participants listening with headphones, there weren't translators for the presenters, so the non-native English speaking presenters were really at a disadvantage trying to communicate their hypotheses and discoveries.
Despite the organizational challenges, there were some great presenters. On Monday morning I attended the Public Health and Desertification session. Professor Jonathan Patz of the Univ. of Wisconsin talked about the impact of the 3 degree Celcius increase in air temperative that the earth is currently undergoing in relation to public health. Two examples that I had never considered really stuck with me. Afterall, how could a slight temperature increase impact our health? If anything, us northerners would be happy with a little less snow, right? (Never mind the melting of the polar ice caps and rise in sea levels, but I digress). Patz talked about the impact of 3 degrees on mosquitos. Mosquitos are cold blooded, and thus take on the temperature of the air. Any blood they suck will then also be air temperature. When that blood carries malaria, it is now warmer which means it is less likely to remain dormant and quicker to spread. A few degrees isn't a lot for a human, but it can be deadly via those pesky little mosquitos. Second, with the temperature change we are seeing an increase in precipitation intensity (not volume). This is leading to things like sewer overflows into places like Lake Michigan. When tested, these waters have E. Coli and all kinds of little nasties, and guess what? Our drinking water is being pulled right back out from these lakes. Another very important point he made was that if you consider a more holistic view of the cost to convert to clean energy, it suddenly becomes a no-brainer. Cities in the midwest U.S. showed a $4B healthcare cost savings by electing one day per week without driving (less polution, more exercise - kind of makes your head explode with the obvious simplicity of it).
In the Economic Development Strategies, Public Policy and Remote Sensing category, Alan Grainger from Leeds University talked about the World Forest Observatory, the first global monitoring system for the forest lands we have left. Sounds crazy that we wouldn't have global monitoring systems by now (doesn't google monitor everything?) but it has been a real challenge create a publicly accessible data warehouse or wiki. This one appears to be launching this year, however, and they hope it will lead to other global resources for gathering and monitoring data that spans the globe.
In this same panel, I learned about two Israeli companies that have developed Concentrator Photovoltaics which significantly improve the efficiency of solar energy. The companies are Zenith Solar and MST.