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UN weather agency: Greenhouse gases reach new record in 2021

GENEVA — The three main greenhouse gases hit record high levels in the atmosphere last year, the U.N. weather agency said Wednesday, calling it an “ominous” sign as war in Ukraine, rising costs of food and fuel, and other worries have elbowed in on longtime concerns about global warming in recent months.

“More bad news for the planet,” the World Meteorological Organization said in a statement along with its latest annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin. It’s one of several reports released in recent days looking at several aspects of humanity’s struggle with climate change in the run up to the U.N.’s latest climate conference, in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.

Of the three main types of heat-trapping greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide — the biggest jump from 2020 to 2021 was in methane, whose concentrations in the air came in with the biggest year-on-year increase since regular measurements began four decades ago, WMO said.

“The continuing rise in concentrations of the main heat-trapping gases, including the record acceleration in methane levels, shows that we are heading in the wrong direction,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

Methane is more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, but doesn’t stay in the atmosphere nearly as long as carbon dioxide and there’s 200 times more carbon dioxide in the air than methane. Over a 20-year time-period, a molecule of methane traps about 81 times the heat as a molecule of carbon dioxide but over a century it goes down to trapping 28 times more heat per molecule than carbon dioxide, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Since pre-industrial times, which WMO sets at around the year 1750, CO2 concentrations in the air have increased by nearly 50% to 415.7 parts per million, with the U.S., China and Europe responsible for the bulk of emissions. Methane is up 162% to 1,908 parts per billion, and nitrous oxide — whose human-made sources are things like biomass burning, industrial processes and fertilizer use — is up about one-quarter to 334.5 parts per million.

Earlier on Wednesday the U.N’s climate office said current pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions put the planet on course to blow past the limit for global warming countries agreed to in the 2015 Paris climate accord.

It said its latest estimate based on 193 national emissions targets would see temperatures rise to 2.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial averages by the end of the century, a full degree higher than the ambitious goal set in the Paris pact to limit warming by 1.5 C (2.7 F).

“We are still nowhere near the scale and pace of emission reductions required to put us on track toward a 1.5 degrees Celsius world,” the head of the U.N. climate office, Simon Stiell, said in a statement. “To keep this goal alive, national governments need to strengthen their climate action plans now and implement them in the next eight years.”

The report found that emissions will also increase by 10.6% by 2030 from 2010 levels, a slight decrease from the 13.7% estimates last year.

A report published Wednesday by Climate Action Tracker who track nations’ pledges to reduce warming found that of 40 indicators for reducing emissions — like weaning off coal, ramping up electric vehicles or reducing deforestation — the world wasn’t on track for any of them to match the levels of emissions reductions scientists say are needed to limit warming to 1.5C. Over half of the indicators showed the world is “well off track” to cutting emissions but added that promising progress has been made.

Climatologists and environmental advocates have been raising their voices for years about the impact of climate change, by pointing to vast changes in the weather in recent decades like forest fires in China and western United States, drought in the horn of Africa and unprecedented flooding in Pakistan – to name only a few.

CO2 remains the single most important greenhouse gas generated by human activity — mainly from burning of fossil fuels and cement production — amounting to about two-thirds of the warming effect on the climate, known as radiative forcing. Over the last decade, carbon dioxide has been responsible for about four-fifths of that warming effect.

Methane accounts for about more than one-sixth of the warming effect, said WMO. Three-fifths of methane reaches the atmosphere through the burps and farts of livestock, rice farming, use of fossil fuels, biomass burning and landfills; the rest comes from natural sources like wetlands and termites.

Rob Jackson, who heads the Global Carbon Project, suggested that the spikes in methane over the last two years were “mysterious” — either blips related to the coronavirus pandemic, which temporary dented emissions, or a sign of “a dangerous acceleration in methane emissions from wetlands and other systems we’ve been worrying about for decades.”

“Concentrations of methane and nitrous oxide are not just rising, they’re rising faster than ever. While not losing our focus on carbon dioxide, we need to pay more attention to the ‘other’ greenhouse gases,” he added. “Fortunately, methane is beginning to get the attention it deserves” through initiatives like the Global Methane Pledge, a capping effort supported by the U.S. and European Union, among others.

Nitrous oxide remains “mostly ignored,” he added.

Taalas, who has been repeating warnings about global warming for years, says the focus should remain on CO2.

“As the top and most urgent priority, we have to slash carbon dioxide emissions which are the main driver of climate change and associated extreme weather, and which will affect climate for thousands of years through polar ice loss, ocean warming and sea level rise,” he said.

NASA announced that an instrument on the International Space Station designed to look at mineral dust turned out to be a useful tool to find “super emitters” of methane from orbit. NASA shared three images showing plumes several miles long that are spewing methane.

A group of a dozen leaks from pipeline and other gas infrastructure in Turkmenistan is leaking 55 tons of methane per hour, about the same as the infamous 2015 Aliso Canyon leak, drilling in New Mexico that’s spewing 18 tons per hour and a landfill in Iran that’s emitting 8 tons per hour.

“We’re looking in places where no one is planning to look for methane,” said NASA instrument scientist Robert Green. “If it’s there we’ll see it.”

Hastings surgeon honored for innovation in telemedicine

A lthough they were never popular in mainstream media, televised broadcasts produced by Dr. Caleb Schroeder did bring him national recognition across United States and Canada in terms of breaking ground in health care communications.

Schroeder, 41, a general surgeon who partners with Dr. Jared Dietze at Hastings General Surgery, was honored with the Oweida Scholar Award for his use of telemedicine by the American College of Surgeons Clinical Congress Oct. 15-20 in San Diego, California.

The annual ACS Clinical Congress is the largest-attended surgery meeting in North America, Schroeder said. More than 9,000 people from 70 countries attended this year’s gathering.

Presented annually to three physicians from the United States and Canada, the Oweida Scholar Award recognizes significant contributions made by health care professionals to further practice of medicine in rural communities. Those honored are selected annually from a pool of contestants submitting applications for consideration.

A fixture in the Tribland coverage area for more than seven years, Schroeder, a husband and father of two children, began offering telemedicine services from his practice in Superior in 2018 in response to a law passed in Nebraska in 2017 that prohibited insurance companies from refusing to pay for such services.

Although it had been used in other medical specialties, including pediatric psychiatry, telemedicine was unheard of in general surgery inside the United States when Schroeder adopted it to streamline his surgical procedure schedule.

His writings on the topic have become an instruction manual for using telemedicine in the practice of general surgery after being published by General Surgeons in America in a journal that drew national attention to its usage.

Schroeder shared his story during the conference and was presented the prestigious award before an audience of distinguished physicians from around the world. He initially was named to receive the award in 2020, but his presentation was postponed until this year because of conference cancellations related to the pandemic.

“Up to that point, the only place doing telemedicine for surgeries was the Armed Forces in Europe,” Schroeder said. “Shortly after the Nebraska law passed, we had this perfect situation where the opportunity arose and we started doing it. What telemedicine did was get patients into surgeries quicker.

“For most patients, you had to meet with them in the office, talk to them about the surgery, then schedule surgery on a different day. In Superior, that was usually about two weeks later. What telemedicine did was that if someone needed to be seen urgently, it significantly decreased the time between when they would be seen and have surgery.”

Though no longer using telemedicine in his own practice, Schroeder remains committed to assisting others looking to add it to their practices. With the explosion of telemedicine opportunities fueled by the pandemic, Schroeder’s basic guide on how to launch a telemedicine program — written at the behest of the American College of Surgeons — continues to provide a jump-off point for conversations regarding the topic.

“At the national level, we’re still talking about what kind of conditions you can use to treat with telemedicine and what you can’t,” he said. “That’s one of the big things we still need to establish. I’m still working on how extensive you can use it, what you can use it for, and to what extent you can use it.”

Through his recent partnership struck with Dietze, Schroeder said he hopes to bolster his efforts in strengthening the rural medicine scene in Nebraska. Having grown up between Blue Hill and Lawrence, he feels a sense of responsibility to communities in the area expected to be affected by the shortage of physicians committing themselves to providing service to these areas — a situation he believes will get worse before it gets better.

“Nationally, there is a real shortage of rural surgeons,” he said. “Right now a very low number of residents who graduate go right into practice, and an even lower number go to rural locations.

“One of the things we’re working on is getting residents into rural locations and giving them the chance to experience them. This has been shown to help address that shortage by having more people go into rural surgery.”

The importance of supporting hospitals and other practices in rural settings goes well beyond meeting patient needs, Schroeder said. Most rural communities rely heavily on their local hospitals and larger medical practices to provide jobs and support the local economy.

“Hospitals are a major component economically for rural locations,” Schroeder said. “Typically, hospitals and schools are the area’s two biggest employers. And surgery contributes a very high percentage of a hospital’s income.

“Surgeons working in rural areas have a lot more skin in the game. You’re essentially working on your friends and neighbors, and if you don’t do the work, it’s not going to get done. Having general surgeons in rural locations is important not only for the people’s health, but also for these rural locations to continue to exist.”

Hoff, Nuss seeking seat on UBBNRD board

Voters in the Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District face a choice in the Nov. 8 general election in the race for a Subdistrict 5 seat on the NRD board of directors.

Incumbent Micheal Nuss of Sutton and challenger Neal Hoff of Hastings are seeking election to a four-year term of office.

The Upper Big Blue district is headquartered in York and encompasses all of York County, almost all of Hamilton County, northeastern Adams County, northern Clay and Fillmore counties, and parts of Saline, Seward, Butler and Polk counties.

The 17-member, nonpartisan board of directors includes two directors from each of eight subdistricts, plus one at-large seat. While directors must reside in the subdistrict they are elected to represent, they are elected by voters districtwide.

Directors don’t receive a salary but are paid a per-diem and are reimbursed for their expenses in tending to district business.

Nebraska’s 23 NRDs address groundwater management, soil conservation, flood control, hazard mitigation, education and public recreation.

Several NRDs that include Tribland communities have contested director races in this year’s election. The Tribune recently sent a survey to candidates in all contested races. Several of the candidates, including Neal Hoff of Hastings, responded.

Nuss has a rural Sutton address and has served on the UBBNRD board for a number of years.

Hoff, 74, lives at 3611 Wendell Drive in Hastings. He is retired after serving as chairman of the board of Hoff Brothers Inc., doing business as Uncle Neal’s Country Convenience Stores.

He and his wife, Susan, have three children and nine grandchildren.

Hoff holds a bachelor of general studies degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha with minors in political science and accounting.

Hoff served previously on the boards of the Little Blue Natural Resources District and the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District, respectively. He served as treasurer of the Little Blue board. He stepped down from the Little Blue board after he and his wife moved to a new residence within the city of Hastings that is across the boundary line between the Little Blue and Upper Big Blue districts.

Hoff’s other community leadership experiences include service on the board of trustees of First Presbyterian Church in Omaha; the board of the Minden Optimist Club; the board of Pheasants Forever in Hastings, with service as president and treasurer; the boards of the Hastings Museum (vice chair) and Hastings Museum Foundation, respectively; the session and board of trustees of First Presbyterian Church in Hastings; and the board of United Harvest in Hastings, with service as president. He was among the founders of the Hastings Area Habitat for Humanity organization and serves as board treasurer.

In response to the Tribune’s survey, Hoff said two of his main areas of concern related to the NRD are the Hastings Wellhead Protection Area and the cooperative agreement to clean up Lake Hastings.

“I have always been interested in the environment and wildlife habitat,” Hoff said.