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How El Niño affects everything from flu pandemics to the price of coffee

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Noticed any crazy weather lately? You may be feeling the return of El Niño. Scientists announced yesterday that one of the most potent influences on global weather patterns is back after a 5-year hiatus.

This article was written by Michael Reilly and first published on Timeline.com. Get Timeline App.

A robust El Niño spells a muted hurricane season for the eastern US, and much-needed rains for the west, which has been parched for years. But other parts of the world are likely to face drought, wildfires and crop failures.

As a climate phenomenon, El Niño has been around for millennia. But it’s only in the last century that we have come to understand how the wild weather plays a role in everything from flu pandemics to the price of coffee.

 

1800s: Peruvian fisherman name the warm Pacific

Peru

The phrase El Niño is capitalized for a reason. Fishermen working the waters of the Pacific Ocean off of Peru noticed that in some years the normally chilly currents warmed suddenly around Christmas time.

The anomaly was seen as a blessing — not only were the waters more balmy, they also brought with them steady rains along a stretch of the the South American coast that’s usually parched. So they named the warm current in honor of the baby Jesus.

 

1918—1919: Spanish flu pandemic worsened by El Niño

India

The nourishing monsoon rains that India relies on failed to materialize, and one of the 20th century’s worst droughts followed. Food became scarce. And then came the flu.

One of the most deadly pandemics of all time, the Spanish flu spread rapidly among soldiers fighting in the European trenches in World War I before making its way around the globe.

The punishing drought in India was a direct consequence of a strong El Niño, and it weakened people when they could least afford it. Of the 50 million people claimed by the Spanish flu pandemic, 18 million were in India.

 

What is El Niño? – Explained

 

In 1957 a global network of earth scientists witnessed a profound warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean, all the way from the coast of South America to Southeast Asia. What had previously been thought of as a quaint regional phenomenon now looked global.

The entire El Niño cycle generally takes three to seven years, and includes an El Niño (a period of warming in the eastern Pacific near the equator), and a cooling called La Niña. Depending on its strength, each phase of the cycle can cause wild deviations from normal weather patterns.

 

1997—1998: Record-setting El Niño causes massive flooding, drought

Global

Starting in March of 1997, a year-long surge of warm waters in the tropical Pacific showed the full force of El Niño. Extreme weather events ranged from intense rain and snow in California to flooding in Peru and Ecuador to drought in Indonesia.

Research since then suggests that as the world warms, such extreme El Niño events are likely to become more frequent.

It’s something of a mixed blessing. An analysis of the 1997-1998 El Niño indicated that Brazil’s coffee industry was hit hard, for example, but a warm winter in the US led to low energy usage and other knock-on effects that netted the country $20 billion in economic benefit.

 

May 12, 2015: El Niño teases, but then returns in a ‘proper’ way

Equatorial Pacific Ocean

The waters of the equatorial Pacific Ocean have warmed again after five years. El Niño is back. In March, forecasters predicted a weak event, but in the last month they have watched as warming has intensified off the coast of South America. They now say we’re in for a “proper” El Niño.

Over the next few months, forecasters say there is a 70% chance that the balmy seas will persist through the Northern Hemisphere’s summer months and a 60% chance that the warmth will persist into the fall.

That’s in line with predictions for a quiet hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean, though unusually heavy rains, flooding or drought could be in store for many other parts of the world.

Photo: Jon Sullivan via publicdomain

 

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Further reading:

How does climate change affect the strength and frequency of floods, droughts, hurricanes, and tornadoes?

El Niño worsens economic damage from flooding, study finds

70% probability of El Niño arriving this summer, say US climate forecasters

Rising carbon dioxide will amplify El Niño, say scientists

70% chance El Niño will be declared

Environment

5 Eco-friendly Appliance Maintenance Tips

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Eco-friendly Appliance
Shutterstock Photos - By Punyhong | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/punyhong

Modern day society is becoming ever more conscious about the effects of human consumption on the environment & the planet.

As a collective, more people are considering taking action to positively counteract their environmental footprint. This is accomplished by cutting down on water consumption, recycling and switching from plastic to more sustainable materials. Although most people forget about the additional things that can be done at home to improve your individual eco footprint.

Appliances, for example, can be overlooked when it comes to helping the environment, despite the fact they are items which are found in every household, and if they are not maintained effectively they can be detrimental to the environment. The longer an appliance is used, the less of an impact it has on the environment, so it is essential for you to keep them well maintained.

If you’re considering becoming more eco-conscious, here are 5 handy appliance maintenance tips to help you.

Don’t Forget to Disconnect From Power First

General maintenance of all your appliances start with disconnecting them from power; microwaves, washing machines and ovens all use residual energy when plugged in, so it’s essential to unplug them.

Disconnecting the plugs can help keep them in their best condition, as it ensures no electrical current is running through them whilst they are supposed to be out of use. Additionally, this can help you save on energy bills. By doing this you are minimising your energy footprint.

Here we break down 4 tips to keep the most popular household appliances maintained.

Eco-Friendly Oven Maintenance

Ovens generally require very little maintenance, although it is essential to stay on top of cleaning.

A simple task to make sure you don’t have any issues in the future is to check the oven door has a tight seal. To do this ensure the oven is cold, open the oven door and use your hands to locate the rubber seal. You can now feel for any tears or breaks. If any have occurred simply replace the seal. More oven tips can be read here.

Eco-Friendly Refrigerator Maintenance

When keeping a fridge in good condition, don’t forget about exterior maintenance. Refrigerator coils, although an external fixture, can cause damage when overlooked.

Refrigerator coils can be found either at the front or rear of a fridge (check you user manual if you are unsure of its location). These tend to accumulate various sources of dust and dirt over a substantial time-period, which clog refrigerator coils, causing the refrigerator to have to work twice as hard to stay cool. An easy tip to solve this is to periodically use a vacuum to get rid of any loose dirt.

Eco-Friendly Washing Machine Maintenance

Most people tend to remember the basics tasks for maintaining a washing machine, such as not to overload the machine, not to slam the door and to ensure the washing machine is on a solid and level platform.

In addition, it is necessary to routinely do a maintenance wash for your washing machine. This means running an empty wash on the highest temperature setting and letting it complete a full wash to erase any build up and residue. You should repeat this task at least once a month.

Try to schedule this task around your bulk wash load times to save on water consumption.

This will help keep your washing machine in peak working condition.

Eco-Friendly Dishwasher Maintenance Tips

Dishwasher maintenance can be simple if implemented after every wash cycle.

To keep your best dishwasher hygiene standards, scrape away excess food whilst making sure to keep the filter at the bottom of the cavity empty between cycles. This simple task can be highly effective at preventing food build up from occurring in your dishwasher.

If you need additional tips or tasks you, can reference your manufacturer’s guidebook to check for a full breakdown. You can also head to Service Force’s extensive database of repair and maintenance manuals – including extensive troubleshooting guides for all of the critical appliance maintenance procedures.

In conclusion, you can save both money and energy by keeping your appliances in peak condition. The steps outlined in this guide will help us all preserve the environment and reduce industrial waste from discarded appliances.

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Environment

Two Ancient Japanese Philosophies Are the Future of Eco-Living

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Eco-Living
Shutterstock Photos - By Syda Productions | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/dolgachov

Our obsession with all things new has blighted the planet. We have a waste crisis, particularly when it comes to plastic. US scientists have calculated the total amount of plastic ever made – 8.3 billion tons! Unfortunately, only 9% of this is estimated to have been recycled. And current global trends point to there being 12 billion tons of plastic waste by 2050.

However, two ancient Japanese philosophies are providing an antidote to the excesses of modern life. By emphasizing the elimination of waste and the acceptance of the old and imperfect, the concepts of Mottainai and Wabi-Sabi have positively influenced Japanese life for centuries.

They are now making their way into the consciousness of the Western mainstream, with an increasing influence in the UK and US. By encouraging us to be frugal with our possessions, (i.e. using natural materials for interior design) these concepts can be the future of eco-living.

What is Wabi-Sabi and Mottainai??

Wabi-Sabi emphasizes an acceptance of transience and imperfection. Although Wabi had the original meaning of sad and lonely, it has come to describe those that are simple, unmaterialistic and at one with nature. The term Sabi is defined as the “the bloom of time”, and has evolved into a new meaning: taking pleasure and seeing beauty in things that are old and faded. 

Any flaws in objects, like cracks or marks, are cherished because they illustrate the passage of time. Wear and tear is seen as a representation of their loving use. This makes it intrinsically linked to Wabi, due to its emphasis on simplicity and rejection of materialism.

In the West, Wabi-Sabi has infiltrated many elements of daily life, from cuisine to interior design. Specialist Japanese homeware companies, like Sansho, source handmade products that embody the Wabi-Sabi philosophy. Their products, largely made from natural materials, are handcrafted by traditional Japanese artisans – meaning no two pieces are the same and no two pieces are “perfect” in size or shape.

Mottainai

Mottainai is a term expressing a feeling of regret concerning waste, translating roughly in English to either “what a waste!” or “Don’t waste!”. The philosophy emphasizes the intrinsic value of a resource or object, and is linked to hinto animism, the notion that all objects have a spirit, or ‘kami’. The idea that we are part of nature is a key part of Japanese psychology.

Mottainai also has origins in Buddhist philosophy. The Buddhist monastic tradition emphasizes a life of frugality, to allow us to concentrate on attaining enlightenment. It is from this move towards frugality that a link to Mottainai as a concept of waste can be made.

How have Wabi-Sabi and Mottainai promoted eco living?

Wabi-Sabi is still a prominent feature of Japanese life today, and has remained instrumental in the way people design their homes. The ideas of imperfection and frugality are hugely influential.

For example, instead of buying a brand-new kitchen table, many Japanese people instead retain a table that has been passed through the generations. Although its long use can be seen by various marks and scratches, Wabi-Sabi has taught people that they should value it because of its imperfect nature. Those scratches and marks are a story and signify the passage of time. This is a far cry from what we typically associate with the Western World.

Like Wabi Sabi, Mottainai is manifested throughout Japanese life, creating a great respect for Japanese resources. This has had a major impact on home design. For example, the Japanese prefer natural materials in their homes, such as using soil and dried grass as thermal insulation.

Their influence in the UK

The UK appears to be increasingly influenced by thes two concepts. Some new reports indicate that Wabi Sabi has been labelled as ‘the trend of 2018’. For example, Japanese ofuro baths inspired the project that won the New London Architecture’s 2017 Don’t Move, Improve award. Ofuro baths are smaller than typical baths, use less water, and are usually made out of natural materials, like hinoki wood.

Many other UK properties have also been influenced by these philosophies, such as natural Kebony wood being applied to the external cladding of a Victorian property in Hampstead; or a house in Lancaster Gate using rice paper partitions as sub-dividers. These examples embody the spirit of both philosophies. They are representative of Mottainai because of their use of natural resources to discourage waste. And they’re reflective of Wabi-Sabi because they accept imperfect materials that have not been engineered or modified.

In a world that is plagued by mass over-consumption and an incessant need for novelty, the ancient concepts of Mottainai and Wabi-Sabi provide a blueprint for living a more sustainable life. They help us to reduce consumption and put less of a strain on the planet. This refreshing mindset can help us transform the way we go about our day to day lives.

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