Do not inhale

co2_data_mloPuffy, itchy eyes; sinus headaches and a general sense of malaise hit many in Alaska’s largest city on Saturday as the dark side of global warming showed its face in a spring come early and warmly wonderful.

Two straight days with temperatures in the 70s — highly unusual for Anchorage — sent pollen exploding from the alders that blanket the Front Range Chugach Mountains above the city and the birch trees that dot the lowlands.

The Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Center of Alaska, which tracks pollen counts reported 728 grains per meter of air — more than three times the count from earlier in the month when the local newspaper was warning “Alaska birch pollen is getting so bad, even those without allergies might suffer.”

And yes, atmospheric changes  – global or otherwise – have been blamed.

“As you increase CO2 (carbon dioxide), it tells the allergenic plants to produce more pollen to the tune of three to four times more, and the pollen itself, we think, may actually be more potent,” Dr. Clifford Bassett, an allergist and American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, told CNN in 2013.

Some allergists have been predicting a coming nightmare for people with allergies because of climate change.

If pollen levels are tied to atmospheric carbon dioxide – as Bassett and others contend – this might be a more realistic threat than global warming, predictions on which are still compounded by multiple variables.

Not so carbon dioxide. It has been documented as  steadily rising for decades.

As a consequence, the planet has grown greener, as those in Alaska might have noticed more than others. Glaciers and once persistent snowfield have melted back to expose ground that now supports new grasses, shrubs and in some cases trees in the 49th state.

All this recent growth is no small thing.

“A new study says that if the extra green leaves prompted by rising CO2 levels were laid in a carpet, it would cover twice the continental USA,” the BBC reported only a month ago.

All that new greenery translates into a  lot of new pollen when plants breed. And Alaska, as is often the case, seems to be at the forefront of the change.

“Birch pollen breaks record,” the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported on May 2. The pollen count of 4,290 was enough to make what was happening in Anchorage on Saturday seeming like almost nothing unless, of course, you were one of those who suffer from allergies.

Then the burning eyes sure seemed like something no matter how blessed mid-June-style weather in the middle of May.







4 replies »

  1. Peter,
    Would you mind sharing what your wife’s anti-allergy regimen consists of? I have suffered from seasonal allergies really bad and am trying to find a remedy for the misery they cause.

    • She is in her second year of taking sub-lingual birch drops (technical name SLIT) for a three-month season. She was tested and found to be allergic to birch pollen. The provider is the Allergy Asthma Immunology Center of Alaska (in Building S at Providence, if you live locally).
      FYI … This medication is not yet FDA approved, so likely there will be no insurance coverage for it. It appears to be more widely used in Europe and perhaps elsewhere, so it’s not a fringe drug. Hope this helps.

      • Thank you so much for the information. I tested allergic to birch pollen a few years back at the Allergy Asthma Immunology Center. Really appreciate you taking the time to share as I will definitely be looking into the info. Bless you!

  2. Interesting. So does this mean that, as CO2 levels increase or at least stay elevated, and more green stuff grows on the planet, the additional vegetation will soak up more CO2, leading perhaps to decreased atmospheric levels? That would be a neat trick. … My wife suffers badly from birch pollen, but thanks to a new regimen of anti-allergy medication, she is feeling practically nothing this spring compared with previous years. Even tonight, during a wedding reception at O’Malley on the Green, as we stood on the deck soaking up a lovely evening on the lavishly treed Hillside, she felt essentially nothing. The stuff is working for her. My sympathies to anyone who’s miserable just because trees and such engage shamelessly in reproductive acts with no regard for their human neighbors.

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