WHO sets tougher regulations for air quality

Via Flickr.

Eleanor Hildebrandt | September 28, 2021

The World Health Organization set new standards for air quality guidelines for the next 15 years on Sept. 22.

The standards are set for policymakers across the world to lower pollutants that impact air quality. According to the Associated Press, more research and monitoring has cleared up previous questions regarding the impacts pollutants have on the health of human beings and animals. The United Nations health agency said 90 percent of the global population currently live in environments with at least one harmful type of pollutant.

Pollution of the air is concerning to global health advocates, as it becomes comparable to smoking tobacco. The guidelines are not legally binding, and they ask policy makers to focus on reducing the concentrations of six pollutant. The concerning pollutants include two types of particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and carbon monoxide.

Some of the guidelines also encourage individuals to do their part to improve air quality by changing their behaviors through reducing use of plastics and using public transportation instead of driving cars. Air pollution is decreasing in several countries and has over the past few years, especially in Europe and North America. The change of guidelines could see improvements across many other continents.

How COVID-19 impacts climate change

Airborne Nitrogen Dioxide Plummets Over China
Image from NASA

Tyler Chalfant | March 13th, 2020

As the 2019 novel coronavirus, now considered a pandemic by the World Health Organization, has impacted several businesses, including air travel, emissions and air pollution have fallen significantly around the globe. Satellite images of China show how air pollution has fallen drastically due to a fall in economic activity as the country responds to the outbreak. According to an analysis from the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, China’s carbon emissions have been reduced by 25%. 

However, environmental watchdog and activist groups have warned that these effects are temporary, and may even be harmful in the long run, as an economic slowdown replaces policy and clean energy investment as the means of reducing emissions. Zeke Hausfather, the director of climate and energy at the Breakthrough Institute, told Wired that “the only real times we’ve seen large emission reductions globally in the past few decades is during major recessions. But even then, the effects are often smaller than you think.” In 2008, for instance, emissions fell globally by 3%, but returned to normal and continued to grow after a few years.

As COVID-19 stalls infrastructure projects, that will likely include large clean energy projects. On Thursday, analysts from Bloomberg New Energy Finance lowered forecasts for new solar energy projects this year by 8%, predicting that electric car sales will likely fall as well.

Another impact of the outbreak is a dramatic fall in oil prices, which can slow electric car sales and discourage people from looking for clean energy alternatives. However, travel bans and fears of the virus mean that the rise in travel that usually accompanies a drop in oil prices isn’t likely to happen. Furthermore, the sale of electric cars is being driven by regulations in places like Europe, China, and California, as well as falling battery prices, which may also mean that cheaper oil won’t have as significant an impact this time.

The social, economic, and health impacts of COVID-19 are continuing to develop on a daily basis. Be sure to follow the latest information from the CDC here.

Iowa grocery shoppers have varied views on GMOs


The produce section of a Hy-Vee in Ankeny, Iowa (Douglas Porter/Flickr)
The produce section of a Hy-Vee in Ankeny, Iowa (Douglas Porter/Flickr)

The use of genetically modified organisms ranks low in the list of factors Iowans consider when buying groceries, according to a new survey from the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

The study, conducted online by Harris Poll, surveyed around 500 Iowans who buy groceries, focusing on the factors that influence packaged food purchases. It found that while 95 percent of Iowa’s corn is genetically modified, only 18 percent of consumers said a GMO label would cause them to choose one product over another, falling well behind “Natural” (30%) and “Organic” (25%) and just ahead of “Gluten free” (13%), according to a Des Moines Register infographic. Taste and price were listed among the most important factors behind packaged food purchases.

The study found confusion around the usefulness of GMO labels on packaged products. While 36 percent of those surveyed believe a non-GMO label denotes a safer product, 32 percent think the label is meaningless. Faced with the option of paying more for food with a GMO-free label, 38 percent opted for the lower price, while 26 percent preferred the non-GMO product and 36 percent were unsure.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that genetically modified plants must meet the same safety requirements for human consumption as traditionally bred plants, the World Health Organization has highlighted some environmental concerns of the technology, like decreased crop rotation, harm to beneficial insects and the potential for new plant pathogens.