A New Report Just Revealed Something Horrifying about the Weather

January 25th 2015

Earlier this month, reports on global temperatures confirmed what many, disturbingly, already suspected: 2014 was the hottest year on earth in recorded history. Separate studies conducted by researchers at NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released last Friday both confirmed that global averages for land and sea temperatures were nearly a degree-and-a-half higher than the 20th century average of 57 degrees Fahrenheit.

The announcements, which confirm environmentalists’ worst fears, also seal in the fact that the ten warmest years in the instrumental record (excluding 1998) have occurred since 2000. Since 1880, last month marked the 358th consecutive month where the global temperature was above the 20th century average.


According to the studies, the average surface temperature of the Earth has warmed by about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, largely driven by the increased prevalence of carbon dioxide and human-born emissions. While skeptics may scoff at what seems like a low number, it’s worth noting that the majority of that warming has taken place over the past three decades.

The NASA and NOAA studies come amidst others that land upon similar conclusions; a study from Japan found 2014 to be the warmest since the early 1890s, and a similar study from the British Meteorological Office, according to some reports, is expected soon. And although many are not surprised by the findings, the studies pull the rug out from many others (including a majority of Republican Senators) who have been accused of cherry picking data to conclude that the Earth has not warmed since 1998. The new data is just the latest, though, in a heaping stack of empirical evidence warning against the many dangers of a very real threat: climate change. 

It should be no secret at this point that harmful, air-polluting emissions will likely result in long-term consequences on our health and the environment. But according to a recent study by the Harvard University School of Public Health, the consequences could extend far beyond what we already know and even assume.

The report, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives last month, traced the presence of particulate matter air pollution and the frequency of autism spectrum disorder in children born between 1990 and 2002 across 50 states. The results were less than comforting.

Out of the 1,774 children born within that time frame, 252 were born with autism to mothers living in areas where the highest levels of air pollution were recorded. Researchers collected data on everything from the location the mother was living in, to when they gave birth, to the monthly pollution levels in each relevant locale, and found that higher concentrations of air pollution were particularly harmful in the third trimester, during which neural development takes place.

"[In] the third trimester, there's a lot of neuronal growth and migration going on–brain-building, essentially," Marc Weisskopf, a Harvard epidemiologist and lead author of the study, told Vice News"It's definitely a period of very active brain growth that if you disrupt in the wrong way could easily have some important implications."

Pollutant particles from things like car and power plant exhaust float in the air with varying degrees of sizes, and their potential to cause harm on our bodies has been well documented. The Harvard study is the first to look at a national scale and connect air pollution’s effects connected with autism on specific trimesters of pregnancy. But it’s hardly the first of its kind. A study on children in North Carolina last year concluded similar findings, as did a 2010 study of autism rates in Los Angeles.

On the one hand, these studies demonstrate air pollution’s compelling links to a mysterious disease that has been on a steady rise for over a decade now. On the other, they also come at a time when the effects of air pollution are spinning out of control. According to an NRDC report from November of last year, approximately 670,000 people in China died due to airborne pollutants related largely to coal production and reliance in the country. And in the US, new and controversial forms of natural gas extraction, namely fracking, have been linked to increased levels of dangerous chemicals and carcinogens in surrounding areas. The city of London has been in breach of European Union pollution limits since 2010. So what is being done to curb these hazards?

Last year, as global temperatures climbed higher and higher, some important steps were taken in the march towards curbing emissions and reassessing our values as the planet warms up. The world’s two biggest polluters, the U.S. and China, struck an accord to curb their respective emissions to safer levels within 15 years; the Pentagon recognized the present-day threats of climate change; more states banned fracking; and the EPA announced new regulations to further curb carbon emissions.

But despite new efforts by the Obama administration this year to cut down on emissions further, the new republican-led Congress is already taking steps to limit essential government oversight efforts over the industries that generate the most air pollution. After moving forward on approving the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, Congressional leaders have gone a step further by challenging a tenant of pollution regulation. The EPA, under the Clean Air Act, is required to regulate things like air pollution and toxic emissions detrimental to human health. But a new House bill would change the agency’s regulations to be tailored by a cost-benefit calculation rather than set by necessary protection against health risks alone. A vote on the legislation, called the Regulatory Accountability Act of 2015, is expected soon.

Environmentalists have roundly decried the proposal, citing concerns that it would destroy pollution regulation. But with many Congressional ears sympathetic to big industry money, the battle is a steep, uphill one. It’s not exactly a well-kept secret that large, polluting companies have vested interests in keeping regulations at a minimum, and the best way to do that is to lobby hard. Back in May for example, a prominent Detroit steel mill, in back-door workings with a Michigan state agency lobbied the state’s Department of Environmental Quality to allow them to release harmful pollutants at levels more than 700 times higher than their individual permit allowed. And last month, after the EPA released new goals for cutting smog, business lobbies were quick to label them “damaging,” “destructive,” and “unachievable,” according to reports. Other tract records include the enlisting of large public relations firms to fix the images of companies in hot water, like how Burston-Marsteller picked up the slack after the American-owned Union Carbide, a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Co., was responsible for a disaster in India that killed tens of thousands, and did irreparable physical damage to hundreds of thousands more.

More recently, business groups, including chemical companies and the American Chemistry Council, applauded the Regulatory Accountability Act. According to Andrew Liveris, the head of Dow Chemical Co. as well as a chairman of the Business Roundtable, quoted in the Hill, “A smarter regulatory system that engages affected parties earlier in the process, improves the quality of information relied upon by federal agencies and better estimates the costs and benefits of potential regulations will help promote business investment, innovation and job creation.”

It's clear that big industry money isn't going anywhere anytime soon. The equation is made no more comfortable, either, given that 72% of Republican Senators are climate change deniers. But as we move into uncharted Congressional waters when it comes to reining in air pollution, there is a glimmer of hope. And that is that more and more damning studies will emerge, exposing the numerous, damaging connections air pollutants have to our health and the health of the planet.

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