Higher temperatures make trees grow faster, but the wood is weaker and breaks more easily

As climate change pushes overall temperatures higher, trees and other plants “are experiencing longer growing seasons, sometimes as much as 3 extra weeks a year.”  That is helping trees grow faster, but research based in Europe indicates that “higher temperatures–combined with pollution from auto exhaust and farms–are making wood weaker.”  As a result, trees will break more easily in storms and lumber from the trees “is less durable.”  This is occurring at a time when climate change is also playing a role in more frequent extreme weather events–stronger storms.  Plus, trees “may be less efficient at soaking up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

The research tested spruce, oak, beech, and pine trees–using core samples and analyzing tree rings.  In all 4 species, “wood density has decreased by 8%-12%.”  The size of the decrease was unexpected.  “Increasing temperatures … probably account for some of the drop.  But another factor … is more nitrogen in the soil from agricultural fertilizer and vehicle exhaust.”  Other studies have also linked “increased fertilizer use to decreased wood density.”

As wood density decreases so does the carbon content of the wood–“by about 50%.”  This means the trees are absorbing less carbon dioxide “from the atmosphere every year.”

Read the article (Lakshmi Supriya, Science, August 22, 2018).

For more information about the impacts of climate change, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.

Inadequate sleep leads to big economic losses

According to a study by the Rand Corporation, the United States is suffering an economic loss of up to $411 billion annually due to people not getting enough sleep.  That translates into a loss of 1.23 million working days every year.  “The impact of chronic sleeplessness in the United States far exceeds the costs in other industrialized countries.”

In addition, “sleep deprivation is linked to a higher mortality risk.”  “An individual that sleeps on average less than 6 hours per night has a 10% higher mortality risk than someone sleeping between 7 and 9 hours ” per night.

“Inadequate sleep reduces the safety and productivity of workers.”  “Well-rested employees are more efficient, tend to be healthier, and feel more content.”

People “should be educated about the importance of sleep and sleep hygiene at a young age.”  “Poor sleeping habits in middle age can be traced back to sleep patterns formed in youth.”

Read the article (Bilal Choudhry, New York Times, August 21, 2018).



Concentrated, intensive therapy–a new way of treating anxiety disorders

There is “a new wave of concentrated, intensive therapy programs for psychiatric disorders.”  New research is showing that, for both children and adults, the concentrated therapy that takes place through multiple, longer meetings over one or two weeks (sometimes even just one day) “is generally just as effective, and in some ways more effective, as [standard] treatment that is spread out over several months.”  Standard treatment generally involves a one-hour meeting once a week.

The research found that remission rates were not statistically different for children taking part in intensive, concentrated therapy for anxiety disorders versus those in standard therapy.  Plus, fewer participants dropped out of the concentrated therapy compared to the standard therapy–this has been seen in both children and adults.

Another study from 2015 found that Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder patients who underwent intensive, concentrated therapy “were more improved after treatment ended than those who received traditional weekly or twice-weekly” therapy.  After three months, “both groups were equally improved.”  “The intensive treatments seem to work best for anxiety-related disorders” usually involving cognitive behavioral therapy.

Advantages of the concentrated therapy can include quicker relief from symptoms and delivering treatment to more people (“it’s easier for patients who live in places without access to high-quality therapy to travel for a one- or two-week program” or just “deal with the logistics of weekly therapy”).

While interest in and the popularity of concentrated, intensive therapy is relatively new in the United States, therapists in Europe, especially in Scandinavia, have been developing and using it for a longer period of time.

Read the article (Andrea Petersen, New York Times, August 13, 2018).

Earth Overshoot Day at the earliest date ever recorded

Earth Overshoot Day, the point at which yearly consumption of carbon, food, water, fiber, land, and timber exceeds the capacity of nature to regenerate, has been moved to August 1–“the earliest date ever recorded.”  The Overshoot Day for the United States alone is March 15.

In comparison, when first measured in 1970, the Overshoot Day was December 29.

“While ever greater food production, mineral extraction, forest clearance, and fossil-fuel burning bring short-term lifestyle gains” for some, the long-term consequences for all “are increasingly apparent in terms of soil erosion, water shortages, and climate disruption.”

Research indicates that group political action is more effective than individual choices in reversing these trends.  For example, government-mandated or incentivized “efficiency improvements in building and industry” could set back the Overshoot Day by 3 weeks.

Many recent studies (such as here and here)  have cataloged widespread environmental degradation.  See the graph; read the article (Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, July 22, 2018).


Heatwaves and droughts lead to power plants shutting down

Nuclear and coal power plants use a tremendous amount of water.  These plants use cool water “drawn from rivers, lakes, or seas” to condense steam back into liquid water.  That water–heated to a high temperature–then is used in the plants to turn turbines “which convert heat energy into electricity.”

Climate change-driven heatwaves, however, raise the temperature of water (just as they raise the temperature of the air) which can then prevent the use of the usual cooling water sources by power plants.  The water temperature becomes too high.  The result is power plant shutdowns.  During this summer’s (2018) heatwaves, Europe has seen nuclear plant shutdowns in France and Sweden, while plants in Finland, Germany, and Switzerland have had to curtail power production.  “Heatwaves [also] forced nuclear shutdowns or curtailment across Europe in 2003, 2006, and 2015.”

And, it will get worse.  Research indicates that climate change driving both heatwaves and droughts (meaning enough water for cooling is not available) will make nuclear and coal plants increasingly susceptible to shutdowns or power reductions.  The research focused on the effects in Europe, but these impacts can happen anywhere including the United States.  Even as more nuclear and coal plants are retired due to natural gas and renewable energy sources and water use for cooling decreases, the impact of climate change will force shutdowns and curtailments on the remaining nuclear and coal plants.  “Climate change makes many fossil-fuel plants stranded assets.  Water stress only adds to the problems.”

Read the article (Akshat Rathi, Quartz, August 6, 2018).

Gluten-free; is it gluten or our industrially-produced foods?

While just a small percentage of people actually have celiac disease and require gluten-free food, a significantly larger percentage are choosing a gluten-free diet believing it to be healthier (though sometimes with unrealistic expectations).  At the same time, many are skeptical believing that gluten-free is unnecessary and that “it’s all in the mind.”

Yet, the folks choosing gluten-free are often reporting the same symptoms as celiacs–diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain, fatigue, etc.–and find relief “when they cut out gluten.”

What is actually going on?  While celiac disease has been around at least since the first century, “non-celiac gluten sensitivity appears to be a modern condition” and is found more often in women (“2 to 3 times as many women as men suffer from celiac disease”).  Unfortunately, part of the skepticism is gendered; if women are affected more often, then it must not be real.

“Gluten-free diets yield mixed results.”  However, a recent study that analyzed “the motivation for gluten avoidance” did find that “the reasons for gluten avoidance are in the most part reasoned and logical”  And, that “the vast majority of [study] participants believed that adhering to a gluten-free diet led to improvements.”

Still, humans have been eating wheat and other grains for thousands of years.  “What is it about the grain-based staples that most of us are eating, that could be causing population-wide digestive difficulties?”  What is the food manufacturing industry doing to us?

We are not eating what our ancestors ate.   Wheat today has been bred “to have higher levels of gluten”–at the request of “industrial bakeries and food manufacturers.”  “The more gluten, the fluffier and more voluminous your loaf.”  Grain today is also often “sprayed with pesticides”–especially with glyphosate (a probable human carcinogen).  27 potential allergens have been identified in modern wheat.  Bakery factory workers come down with “baker’s lung.”  Industrial bakeries today add extra gluten to their products; “consumers are eating more gluten now than ever before” in history.

Gluten may not be a “digestive disruptor” on its own in normal/natural amounts, but it could become so when in inadequately fermented forms and when “mixed with pesticide residues, food additives, and processing aids.”

And, unfortunately, industrially-produced non-gluten foods may not be any better.

It is very challenging to eat a real-food diet these days.  Read the article (Joanna Blythman, The Guardian, August 7, 2018).