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Summer might seem like an odd time to talk about hockey, but we have two good reasons: First, the National Hockey League is scheduled to start playoffs on Saturday in Edmonton and Toronto. Second, a team of researchers in Canada published a report this month looking at climate change and outdoor rinks.
After a four-month hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic, the outcome of the N.H.L. season is anyone’s guess. The takeaway from the study is more clear: Rising global temperatures are puncturing the viability of homemade rinks because there are fewer days each winter when it’s cold enough to maintain them.
The researchers looked at backyard rinks in the Original Six N.H.L. cities — Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Montreal, New York and Toronto — and found a steady decline in the number of days when the weather was cold enough to make ice and skate on the rinks.
Toronto saw the greatest reduction in ice time. In the winter of 1942-43, the first year of the Original Six era, there were close to 60 days when Torontonians could expect high-quality skating conditions in backyard rinks. Last year, there were about 20.
“Starting in the 1980s you see this downward slope on virtually every indicator for all the cities,” said Robert McLeman, an environmental scientist at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, and one of the authors of the study. “Skating seasons are shifting toward shorter seasons and more of a yo-yo effect with a mild winter followed by a cold one. You did not see that much prior to 1980.”
For the past seven years the scientists have been collecting data from outdoor rink owners in a project known as RinkWatch to determine the number of high-quality skating days available to them. To discover the conditions in the previous seven decades, they gathered data from weather stations in those towns to determine how many skateable days were available.
They used outdoor rinks as the vehicle to highlight the data because they capture the imagination, especially in Canada. Dr. McLeman said that connecting climate data to outdoor rinks in the six original N.H.L. cities made the study, published in The Canadian Geographer, an exercise in science communication as much as a research paper.
By making it about hockey, it becomes more relatable.
“It’s hard for individuals to sense change in average temperature,” Dr. McLeman said. “It’s easier for us as humans to sense changes in our own behaviors or activities.”
The scientists also measured the time period when good skating was possible. For example, in Montreal, where the N.H.L.’s Canadiens are an institution, the outdoor skating season used to begin in late November. It has mostly shifted to early December and it did not start until January a few times in recent years.
Since 1995, there have been six late starts to the outdoor rink season in Montreal, whereas in the previous 45 years there had only been only one.
Unless governments take action to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions, scientists say, that trend will continue. And, with fewer good skating days each winter, according to Dr. McLeman, people will be less likely to make the considerable effort to build backyard rinks.
That means hockey could become a sport for the privileged few.
“You take away the outdoor rink,” Dr. McLeman said, “and only the rich kids get to play.”
Air pollution and children’s health
A program in the Eastern United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants also has significant health benefits for children in the region, according to a new study led by researchers at Columbia University.
The emissions program, known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, was established in 2009 and sets a cap on planet-warming carbon dioxide pollution, giving plants emissions allowances via permit auctions and allowing them to trade those allowances.
According to the study, which was published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives and included researchers from Boston University and private groups, the program may also have reduced the number of underweight births in the region and lowered the incidence of asthma and autism by hundreds of cases.
Scientists say that’s because the tiny pollution particles known as fine particulate matter, a byproduct of burning fossil fuels, when inhaled by a pregnant mother, can cross the placenta barrier and interfere with fetal development.
Frederica Perera, the lead researcher on the study, said that fine particulate matter can wreak havoc on the rapid and “highly choreographed” development of unborn babies.
The study built on earlier estimates of how much more polluted air in Eastern states would have been without the agreement. Researchers paired that data with population measurements and estimated that cleaner air between 2009 and 2014 could have prevented nearly 100 children in the region from developing autism spectrum disorder, and over 500 from developing childhood asthma. The study also found that more than 100 preterm births and more than 50 cases of low birth weight may have been avoided.
The regional initiative includes Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.
The researchers looked at county-level data in those states and some neighboring downwind states. Neighborhood-level analysis would most likely have shown disparities in exposure to pollution based on race and income, Dr. Perera said, but air quality measurements at that level are generally unavailable outside big cities and would have been too expensive for researchers to compile.
Jonathan Buonocore, a research scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said that the study’s methodology was sound, but if anything, it undercounted the value of health benefits. “If a child has a disability and needs special care and doesn’t have the same life as an adult as they would have had they been born at normal birth weight, that’s not included,” Dr. Buonocore said.
The emissions program, often referred to as “Reggie” because of its acronym, has already surpassed its 2020 goal for carbon reductions. Proponents say it has allowed states to invest in clean energy and impose limits on big polluters. Critics counter that it could distract states from pursuing more aggressive carbon reduction policies.
The study estimated that air quality improvements in the region and subsequent child health improvements have resulted in $200 to $350 million in economic benefits. That’s in addition to the $5.7 billion estimated by a 2017 study of the carbon dioxide initiative’s health benefits for adults.
“Dollars cannot possibly capture the cost in terms of the psychological cost and the disruption of the family” when it comes to children with serious health problems, Dr. Perera said. But she and her colleagues decided that it was important to include economic projections in the study to counter what she called false arguments against pollution rules and regulations.
She cited the example of catalytic converters in cars, which automakers used to help meet requirements set by the Clean Air Act. The benefits of converters and other technology are estimated to have outweighed the costs 30 to 1, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
“We’ve gone ahead and done it, simply because we think it does reach some people when you say, ‘Not only do we have this health benefit, but we are saving money,’” Dr. Perera said.
“There are many of these exercises that really blow up that theory of false dichotomy, between health and expenditure.”
The Ohio corruption case: An update
Last week, we reported on the arrest of the Ohio House speaker, who is accused of talking bribes in connection with a giant bailout measure to support foundering coal and nuclear energy plants.
The Ohio governor, Mike DeWine, has called on lawmakers to repeal and replace the bailout package, which provided about $150 million in annual subsidies to energy plants while also gutting Ohio’s renewable energy standards.
Governor DeWine initially supported the measure, but said the arrest of Larry Householder, the speaker, and others on bribery charges calls for a rethinking of the state’s energy plans. “While the policy in my opinion is good, the process by which it was created stinks,” Governor DeWine said.
Mr. Householder has rejected calls from leaders of both parties in Ohio to resign.
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