Scientists on Climate Change
 
An Interview with Dr. Kirk Smith, Professor of Global Environmental Health at UC Berkeley    Part 2
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The effects of climate change is being felt all over the world – from increased severity and frequency of storms, rapid melting of glaciers, crop losses, and rising sea water levels, to name just a few.

The golden state of California in the United States has experienced its own share of hardship from global warming such as droughts, heat waves, reduction of the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Ranked as one of the top institutions of higher learning in the nation with 61 Nobel Laureates associated with the university, the University of California, Berkeley is pooling its vast resources of top scientists, researchers and professors to research and address the effects of global climate change.

Today, Supreme Master Television presents an interview with Dr. Kirk Smith, a professor of Global Environmental Health at UC Berkeley. The university is also his alma mater where he received his bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees.

Dr. Smith holds the Maxwell Endowed Chair in Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley.

He is also founder and coordinator of the campus-wide Masters Program in Health, Environment, and Development.

His research work focuses on environmental and health issues in developing countries, particularly those related to health-damaging and climate-changing air pollution, and includes ongoing field projects in India, China, Nepal, and Guatemala.

He serves on a number of national and international scientific advisory boards including those for the Global Action Plan for Pneumonia, the Global Energy Assessment, and the WHO Air Quality Guidelines.

He is on the editorial boards of a range of international journals and has published over 250 scientific articles and 7 books.

In 1997, Dr. Smith was elected as a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors awarded to US scientists by their peers.

SUPREME MASTER TV:
Hallo and thank you for joining us today on Planet Earth: Our Loving Home. Today we have the good fortune of speaking with Dr. Kirk Smith. He’s a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and his main focus is Global Environmental Health.

So welcome, Dr. Smith.

Dr. Smith:
Thank you. It’s very nice to be here.

SUPREME MASTER TV:
Can you explain a little bit about your background, how you got into this field, how many years you’ve been working in the field of climate change and how it impacts public health?

Dr. Smith:
Well, actually I was trained initially as an astrophysicist and expected a career in that, but back in the 70’s, I thought well, perhaps I should do something that was a bit more relevant to world issues.

So I took a long trip out through Asia and the Pacific, saw the conditions in the third world of people living in poverty and terrible environmental conditions, and came back and decided to change my career, to use my scientific background, but in environmental health issues.

So I’ve been working on these issues now more than 30 years.

In the case of climate change, of course we were aware of that during the 70’s and 80’s, but I became convinced around 1990 that this was a serious problem and so devoted a portion of my research to climate change issues in the third world.

HOST:
The effects of climate change are not only see in severity of weather but with continued research such as that of Dr. Smith’s, it is becoming more evident the impacts global warming has on human health.

Dr. Smith:
People hear about heat stress in cities, you know. Are there going to be more episodes like in Paris a few years ago, or in Chicago a couple of years ago and this kind of thing?

That’s one category of impact. Another is the shift in disease vectors now, not mainly mosquitoes, but others as well.

So if malaria exists because of mosquito population in a certain area of Africa, and doesn’t go up the mountains of Africa because it’s too cold, but if you change the temperature, the mosquitoes will go further up to the mountains.

And for example, some of the major cities in Africa were purposely set at places in the mountains to avoid malaria. Nairobi and Harar are a few good examples, big cities now.

Well, they’re starting to get malaria in Nairobi now. And you’re going to see more of that, the extension of the disease vectors.

Another is increase in diarrhea because of warming of sewage [which] gets into the environment and the bugs can grow better and that’s considered to be one of the impacts.

Another is sea level rise, causing displacement of coastal populations with health impacts associated with that.

Another is that climate change will increase outdoor air pollution, particularly ozone, because it’s currently a function of temperature and sunlight.

So even in California, it’s expected that we’ll have more outdoor air pollution because of climate change.

HOST:
You are watching Planet Earth: Our Loving Home’s program on climate change and public health, our exclusive interview with Dr. Kirk Smith, UC Berkeley professor on global environmental health and a member of the US National Academy of Sciences.

SUPREME MASTER TV:
And then what about lung-related illnesses, such as pneumonia?

Number one, I’d like to ask, if there would be an increase such as this. And also what about psychological stress? Is there an increase in psychological disorders due to the changes in the atmosphere? And do you see those increasing?

Dr. Smith:
Well, of course, I was just seeing something the other day that somebody was looking at the very reporting about climate change is causing stress.

Yes, you and I at this moment are causing stress for somebody.

So, stress is not all negative. It can get people to act, so maybe that’s good. But obviously, there can be a negative side to it. I think the big stress is going to be in these refugee populations.

If you get displaced because there are droughts, displaced because there are floods, displaced because of sea level rise, that’s a very stressful situation. And even, if there are no diseases, there usually are with the refugee populations, there will be lots of psychological stress.

And so I think that is an impact.

HOST:
Through his research, Dr. Smith and other scientists have already seen the major impacts of climate change on the health of society’s most vulnerable citizens – children in developing nations.

There have now been systematic studies on the health effects of climate change. They found that as of the year 2000, which is, you know, now sometime passed, there were about 150,000 premature deaths around the world from climate change already.

Now that assessment is being redone as we speak. I’m on the committee; we’re sure it’s going to be much larger now; but the problem is not the 150,000. It’s the fact that it’s growing, and we expect a lot more. It gives you an idea of the distribution around the world of this impact.

And 88% of that impact is in Third World children, because they’re the ones that are already vulnerable, they’re the ones that are malnourished, they’re the ones that don’t have access to medical care, they’re the ones that live in bad environments already.

And so they are the ones that are going to be suffering from climate change health effects.


The world will be more colorless for us. It’s going to cost more because, you know, we have to protect ourselves, air conditioning and so on, sea level rise, and all of this, but we’re not dying from it.

But there are people who die in the world because of it. And the biggest group is Third World children. It’s one of the things I haven’t heard many people talk about.

The fact is that the impact, in terms of health of climate change, is actually children, in particular children in Africa, India, the poor places in Latin America.

And it’s because of malaria, it’s because of diarrhea, it’s because of malnutrition, or another effect of climate change on health is changes in the crop productivity in areas where they’re already right at the level, right at the edge of malnutrition.

And that’s a big impact as well.

Malaria, malnutrition, diarrhea and the increase in sea level rise, and the increase in hurricanes, you know, severe weather events, which have severe health effects, those things are considered real.

On the other hand, there are more subtle things. For example, if you change the precipitation, the rainfall and the temperature, you are going to change the pattern of pollens.

SUPREME MASTER TV:
So then this would lead to longer allergy seasons or…?

Dr. Smith:
Yeah, longer allergy seasons, new forms of pollen coming in that people might be more allergic to [leading to] exacerbation of asthma. We already have a very high rate of asthma in this country and many countries. So those kinds of impacts, you know, are being looked at as well.

SUPREME MASTER TV:
And we’re already seeing evidence of this is what you’re saying.

Dr. Smith:
Yeah, there’s some evidence of this.

SUPREME MASTER TV:
It’s not out in the future. It’s here now.

Dr. Smith:
Yeah. It’s starting now, right. And it’ll just get more and more obvious.

HOST: 
The golden state of California in the United States has experienced its own share of hardship from global warming such as droughts, heat waves, reduction of the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Ranked as one of the top institutions of higher learning in the nation with 61 Nobel Laureates associated with the university, the University of California, Berkeley is pooling its vast resources of top scientists, researchers and professors to research and address the effects of global climate change.

Today, Supreme Master Television presents an interview with Dr. Kirk Smith, a professor of Global Environmental Health at UC Berkeley. The university is also his alma mater where he received his bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees.

Dr. Smith holds the Maxwell Endowed Chair in Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley.

He is also founder and coordinator of the campus-wide Masters Program in Health, Environment, and Development.

His research work focuses on environmental and health issues in developing countries, particularly those related to health-damaging and climate-changing air pollution, and includes ongoing field projects in India, China, Nepal, and Guatemala.

He serves on a number of national and international scientific advisory boards including those for the Global Action Plan for Pneumonia, the Global Energy Assessment, and the WHO Air Quality Guidelines.

He is on the editorial boards of a range of international journals and has published over 250 scientific articles and 7 books.

In 1997, Dr. Smith was elected as a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors awarded to US scientists by their peers.

SUPREME MASTER TV:
This pie chart. I see that there’s a large segment devoted to animals.

If you could just go through the pie chart and explain to us a little bit about what actually is on there, what it means to us and to the near future.

Dr. Smith:
This pie chart is the estimated distribution of emissions of methane, which is a very powerful greenhouse gas; it also causes ozone, a ground level-ozone that has a health impact and is also a greenhouse gas, so it's one of the pollutants we need to reduce our emissions of.
 
Now there’s a natural source as shown on the graph: termites, the ocean produces some, wetlands. 

Those, we can't do anything directly about. The other – the much larger portion of it is human emissions, some of which are from the energy industry, emissions from coal mines, from oil refineries, from leaking gas pipelines, those technological fixes, we can deal with those. 

Waste water in landfills, that’s the methane from sewage plants, poorly operating sewage plants, or let’s say “old style” sewage plants, landfills where you don't capture the methane, as they are in most of the world, that's where we put our garbage. 

There are obviously solutions to that, but rice paddies, produced in wet conditions; there is dry-land rice too that does not produce methane.

But wetland rice, you think of methane. People are working on low-methane varieties of rice, ways to dry out the rice field once in a while, so the methane production stops and so on.

And then there's biomass burning which is what my research focuses on, that also produces methane.

And by improving a household stove in the Third World, or a fireplace in the Silicon Valley, you can reduce methane emissions that way.

But the biggest single slice here, the red slice, on the human side, is animalsAnd that's livestock, large livestock that, produce methane partly as part of their digestion but also because of the manure.

And that is something that we all contribute to, all of us who eat meat and I must say, drink milk as well. But the largest portion of it is meat; the immediate fix is to eat less meat

So you and I can have an impact. I can have an impact and our friends and colleagues can have impacts by eating less meat. 

When you eat less methane, you’ll be responsible for less of that methane. Over time, the growth of methane emissions would be lower.

HOST:
Today we feature Dr. Kirk Smith, a professor of Global Environmental Health at UC Berkeley, who is discussing the role of methane in global warming and how its production can be drastically reduced by society’s switch to a vegetarian, meaning animal free diet.

SUPREME MASTER TV:
It seems to me that most governmental agencies are focusing in that realm of reducing CO2, whereas it seems to me that you had spoken a lot about the methane portion or contribution of affecting the atmosphere and impacting global warming, so if you could just share with us a little bit about the difference between how CO2 impacts the environment and the potential global warming versus methane, because it seems to me that one is the more important of the two, so if you can educate us a little bit more on that it would be wonderful.

Dr. Smith:
Well you raise a very good question, because there’s so much discussion now, good discussion on the CO2 issue. 

In the long run we have to deal with CO2, because that is the primary greenhouse gas. But CO2 is a very weak greenhouse gas. Its issue is it lasts a long time so it lasts hundreds of years in the atmosphere.

What we emit today will be in the atmosphere for hundreds of years; methane is the second most well-known greenhouse gas but is much more powerful.

Dr. Smith:
Methane is an insidious gas in many ways.

It, of course, is a fuel itself; natural gas is methane, but it’s a very powerful greenhouse gas as I mentioned.

But it also helps create ozone. And I’m talking not about ozone way out, but ground-level ozone, which is a very powerful health pollutant and also a greenhouse gas.

So one of the impacts of methane is that it’s causing the background level, a sort of global level of ozone to rise in the atmosphere. 

So now ozone levels far from cities are getting to be almost up with health-damaging areas in causing global warming.
 
So this is another side effect of methane. 

Dr. Smith:
Per molecule, you know, per carbon atom, methane is maybe 30 times more damaging than CO2, by unit weight, which most people will think about it in terms of weight, maybe 100 times more.

So, if we emit some methane today, in the next 20 years, it’s going to produce more damage than the same amount of CO2 produced.

And once the heat gets into the Earth’s system, it doesn’t matter whether it came from CO2 or methane, the problem is the heat. 

And so that heat, from methane just as the heat from the CO2 will melt the glaciers, will cause the sea level to rise, will cause diseases to change their patterns and so forth. 

Many of us, not just myself but other people working in the climate science area, are beginning to think that we have not emphasized methane enough.
 
Sure we have to deal with CO2, but if you want to make an impact on climate in the next 20 years, the place to do it is with the shorter-lived greenhouse gases, most important of which is methane.

So, of the emissions in the next 20 years, the CO2 in this year’s emissions will only be about 40% of the total warming.

The other 60% or more will be from the shorter-lived gases, most important of which is methane.

So, many of us are saying, if you want to make an impact soon, slow down the melting of the glaciers, slow down the rise of the sea level and so on, give us more time to deal with things, give society more time, shouldn’t you work more on methane?

Dr. Smith:
Many of us understand a bit how their daily activities might affect combustion of fossil fuels, which is the biggest creator of CO2.

So your vehicle you drive, the air travel you have, maybe the furnace in your house and so forth, those are CO2 producers.

And most of us don’t see the methane that we produce. It’s one step removed. But we still produce, each of us, a lot of methane by our activities one step removed.

Some of us might produce methane if we had, say, some kind of pit in the backyard that was filled with garbage or something that might produce some methane.

But where do we produce our methane?

We produce it through our sewage, through the landfills, where our garbage goes (SUPREME MASTER TV: Right.), through the leakage in the natural gas pipelines that supply our houses, through the emissions of methane from coal mines, where they mine our coal to power our power plants, and from some sources that aren’t related at all to CO2, for example, animals, livestock; the biggest single source of methane emissions, human methane emissions, human-caused methane emissions is livestock.

SUPREME MASTER TV:
On the chart that we looked at, the pie chart a large section of the contributing factors has to do with the raising of livestock.

Dr. Smith:
That’s right.

SUPREME MASTER TV:
So, based on this, one feeling that I’d like to grasp from you, is there’s a lot of talk about going, switching to a meat-free or vegetarian diet.

And how might that impact us on a global level and help us reduce the methane, thereby reducing, slowing down the process of global warming?

Dr. Smith:
Well, I think this is quite important.

I mean, there are a number of reasons to think that moving to low meat or less expansion of meat consumption, maybe a decline in the rich countries, and slowing the growth in the middle-income countries like China, it has been official, one is greenhouse gases.  

Already livestock is 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions, excuse me, the meat system, which includes the animals, includes growing the food for the animals, includes the transport of the meat, includes the fertilizer to grow the food to feed the meat.

There was a recent article last fall in Lancet, the famous medical journal that laid this all out showing that. And that’s with not treating methane any more than the sort of normal way it is used. If you treat it more, if you worried about it a bit more as we were talking about a minute ago, then that 20% will go up to maybe 30%.

So the 30%, in the next 20 years, is going to be due to meat production.

So there is something that an individual can do. 

Most of us aren’t growing our own meat, but when you pick out that slab of meat from the Safeway (supermarket chain), you are, in a sense, turning on the whole system that creates it; just as you turn on the electricity in your house, you’re turning on the power plant.

SUPREME MASTER TV:
So by simply purchasing any of these meat products, people are indirectly contributing to the increase in methane.

Dr. Smith: 
That’s right, methane and the whole operation of the meat system, and the other part of the problem with meat is it requires a lot of land.

There is a whole bunch of agricultural land somewhere making the food to grow those animals.

We’re all connected together, we live on the same planet; we do one thing, it affects everybody.

And this is a very important illustration. It’s going to take a lot of effort, the media, and maybe the schools to get at this.

HOST:
We thank Dr. Smith for his insight and research in detrimental effects of climate change on human health and how a plant based diet would be the single most effective way an individual can help to halt global warming.


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