Antioxidants may reduce harm from air pollution

Orange vitamin CA study of adults with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) found that individuals with lower levels of some antioxidants in their blood were more vulnerable to the harmful effects of air pollution.  Particulate matter (PM) – the main pollutant measured in this study – is produced by traffic and combustion of fossil fuels. PM less than 10 micrometers in diameter, or PM10, is known to exacerbate respiratory illness and increase the risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular disease. One way air pollutants can harm health is through oxidative stress. Harmful oxidant molecules can form when air pollutants are absorbed through the lungs. These oxidants also called free radicals damage cells. The body constantly tries to counteract oxidant molecules with protective ones (antioxidant). If not enough anti-oxidant molecules are available to cancel them out, oxidative stress  may occur.

In this study, researchers wanted to see if individual levels of antioxidants and related genetic markers would protect against harm from oxidative stress imposed by particulate air pollution. Results showed participants with low levels of vitamin C in their blood were more vulnerable to PM10. The study is important as it indicates that a healthy diet including fruits and vegetables may protect against the common health threat of air pollution.

Canova C et al. 2012. PM10-induced hospital admissions for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: The modifying effect of individual characteristics.

Health and economic benefits of green urbanism


Credits: California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco

A Natural England study on green urbanism found that people with good access to green spaces such as parks, gardens and trees at the heart of neighborhoods are 24% more likely to be physically active and hence, healthier, both physically and mentally, even after accounting for the tendency of wealthier people to live in more attractive areas. A swedish study suggests that use of green space reduced self-reported stress in the long term.

Another health benefit of green urbanism is the key improvement in air quality. It is estimated that poor air quality leads to an average life expectancy reduction of 7 – 8 months in the UK. Urban trees and green space help to absorb some of the air pollution particles.  Cities can also use green infrastructure to prepare for the challenge of climate change.  Concrete and other hard surfaces retain heat much more than trees, plants and grass, which substantially increases heat-wave health risks for urban populations. The biosphere also plays a positive role in the absorption of greenhouse gases.

Green infrastructure has also proved attractive to city planners by helping to save money at a city scale. In New York money was invested in protecting the main water catchment area instead of building a traditional filtration plant.  Although this cost the city $1.5 billion over ten years, it avoided capital costs of $6 billion for a new filtration plant and annual running costs of $300 million. Evidence contained in the studies suggests that a range of economic benefits can be gained by planning for the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and wildlife in our urban communities.

Solar energy: harvesting desert sunshine


Foreseing a future reduction of fossil fuels availability, a German company intends to harvest sunshine from the empty deserts of North Africa and the Middle East using solar energy technology. It aims at using it to produce clean power for the region and Europe. A pilot project is being setup in Morocco to demonstrate feasibility. The company expects to see the first electricity flowing through undersea cables from Morocco to Spain as early as 2014. Its long-term goal is to use desert power to supply up to 100% of local needs and up to 15% of European demand by 2050. Many countries with intense sunshine such as the United States also have large tracts of uninhabited land. Is solar energy in the desert, a solution to our future ?



Art sculpture and nature’s fragility

Climate Change ice sculpture

Credits: Nicole Dextras

Environmental artist Nicole Dextras builds giant words made of ice in vulnerable and cold landscapes. She constructs wooden letter frames that she fills with water and leaves outside to freeze. Eventually they melt – which she says “subverts the power of the English language and commercial signage by depicting how vulnerable they are”.

Children reaching hearts and minds for Climate Change

Young Voices for the Planet seeks to connect concerned scientists and children who wish to be active about climate change and raise awareness. They promote and provide opportunities and encouragement for children to become involved in climate change mitigation. The video shows steps children are undertaking and climate change experiences they are learning to protect our planet.

Tanguy Griffon

Women: a vital leadership role against Climate Change

"Women Africa Climate Change"


The role of women as agents of change in their homes, places of work and communities is often underplayed and is critical. Women think in time horizons spanning the lives of generations and deeply understand the inter-relationships between people and nature.

As an example, Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland from 1990-1997 and president of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice,  wrote an article focusing on women´s contributions in the fight against Climate Change. She highlights gender dimensions and that in many countries women act as champions of the green economy, practicing sustainable agriculture, protecting natural resources, and promoting renewable energy.

She states that awareness of the differential impacts of Climate Change on men and women is increasing. In Africa, women are responsible for 60-80% of food production and are adapting to these changes, showing incredible resilience. Women are also drivers of economic growth in education, business, agriculture.

A recent World Bank report identifying that women now represent 40% of the global labor force, 43% of the world’s agricultural labor force, and above 50% of the world’s university students. Productivity will be raised if their skills and talents are used more fully.

Mary Robinson encourages leaders to harness the contribution of women, which play a vital leadership role : “Their voice and leadership on Climate Change can result in a low-carbon revolution for the 21st century that is sustainable and equitable”.

Tanguy Griffon

‘Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21 century’. Lancet, 2009


Credits: A drop of water falls from a melting piece of ice on Argentina’s Perito Moreno glacier near the city of El Calafate, in the Patagonian province of Santa Cruz, December 16, 2009. (REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci)

One of the world’s leading universities UCL and the world’s foremost medical journal Lancet addressed the greatest potential health threat of all time: ”climate change” in a 2009 report entitled “Managing the Health Effects of Climate Change”.

The report states that:

  • Climate Change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century
  • Recent scientific findings on greenhouse gas emissions, global temperature, sea-level rise, ice sheets, ocean acidification and extreme climatic events suggest that the 2007 climate forecasts by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) may be too conservative
  • Temperature rises above 2 degrees Celsius will increase the level of climate disruption through the 21st century and might lead to abrupt, severe and irreversible changes in climate

There are major health benefits from low-carbon living with potential reductions in obesity, heart disease, diabetes and respiratory illnesses. A new advocacy and public health movement is urgently needed, which frames the threat of Climate Change as a health issue for humankind, and which also seeks to drive the health benefits of a low-carbon society.