Later On

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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Food shortages showing up in fishing, and the follow-on effects are bad

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Michelle Nijhuis writes in the New Yorker:

In 1998, a young American biologist named Justin Brashares, now a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, went to Ghana to research antelope behavior. But, as he hiked the West African forests and savannahs, he didn’t see many antelope. He also didn’t see many hippos, leopards, duikers, or lions. What he did see were large, aggressive troops of olive baboons. They had recently begun to raid maize crops and steal chickens, causing such serious and persistent damage that many Ghanaians were keeping their young children out of school to help guard family farms.

How had baboons gained influence over the education of Ghanaian children? In search of an answer, Brashares dug into the fantastically detailed records of wildlife populations and hunting activity that Ghana has kept since its days as a British colony. He found that as populations of large mammal species had declined in the country’s national parks over the decades, baboon populations had expanded into the newly predator-free habitat. Hunting intensified by human population growth was one reason for the over-all declines, but the mammal numbers didn’t follow a straight line toward extinction: they rose, then fell, then rose again.

Brashares asked Ghanaian farmers about the pattern. “Oh, it’s the fish,” he remembers them saying dismissively. Poor fishing on the Atlantic coast, they told Brashares, drove more people into the forest to hunt for bushmeat. More hunting meant fewer large mammals, more olive baboons—and, eventually, more kids kept home from school. Brashares’ analysis of data collected by researchers from his lab and elsewhere showed that, in 2009, sixty-five per cent of school-age children in sixty-four baboon-affected villages were withdrawn from school for at least one month, and many for much longer than that.

This causal chain from the health of ocean fisheries to educational success was so straightforward that Brashares initially didn’t believe it. “I thought, ‘Oh, that’s interesting, but these uninformed people aren’t aware of some bigger dynamic,’ ” Brashares told me. “Of course, they were right all along.” With the Ghanaian park data and extensive surveys of twelve Ghanaian markets over several years, Brashares and his colleagues eventually showed that when fish populations were low, fish prices were high, and bushmeat hunting increased, a relationship that was especially strong near the coast. Other researchers documented similar patterns elsewhere in Africa and in South America, further proving what Ghanaian farmers already knew: wildlife declines aren’t only a result of social ills but also a cause.

Brashares and his students have since looked more closely at the global social effects of fish and wildlife declines. In a review article published today in the journal Science, and in a talk at the North American Congress for Conservation Biology in Missoula, Montana, last week, Brashares detailed examples: declining fish populations off the coast of southern Thailand are forcing Thai fishing fleets to work harder for the same catch, and the resulting desperation for labor has triggered an epidemic of indentured servitude and child slavery. (The United Nations estimates that ten to fifteen per cent of the global fisheries workforce now suffers some form of enslavement.) Over the past decade, more than a hundred “fishing militias” have formed in Thailand, and clashes over local fishing rights have killed an estimated three thousand nine hundred people. In surveys of Kenyan households conducted by Kathryn Fiorella, a graduate student who works with Brashares, a large proportion of women reported exchanging sex for fish because, they said, fish had become too scarce and expensive to secure otherwise. (More than half the women who had exchanged sex for fish were H.I.V.-positive.) In West Africa, where Brashares began his work, child labor and child slavery are increasing as both fishing and bushmeat hunting become more difficult.

These linkages are rarely discussed in academic circles, or even in the popular press. Not long after Brashares published his work on fisheries and bushmeat trends in Ghana, Science published a high-profile article on the decline of global fisheries; the same week, the Times published a story on forced child labor in the fishing industry, drawing on research and analysis by UNICEF and the International Labor Organization. Science made no mention of forced labor, and the Times made no mention of fisheries’ declines. “The science side is very focused on natural-resource trends and not really thinking about social consequences, while the policy side is looking at Somali pirates or elephant ivory, and totally disconnected from the root causes,” Brashares said.

Meanwhile, non-specialists—from Ghanaian farmers to English-speaking magazine readers—may well be surprised to learn that the people charged with solving such problems aren’t making what seem like patently obvious connections.

Academic institutions reward specialization, and specialists are invariably at risk of missing the larger problem. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2014 at 3:43 pm

Another thing that helps one psychological state: A walk in the park

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Tom Jacobs reports at Pacific Standard:

Plenty of research has suggested immersing yourself in nature has significant mental and physical health benefits. But can it also make you a better person? New research from France suggests it just might.

In two experiments, pedestrians who had just strolled through a beautiful park were more likely to come to the aid or a stranger who had just dropped a glove. Writing in the journal Environment and Behavior, Nicolas Guéguen and Jordy Stefan of the University of Bretagne-Sud refer to this as “green altruism.”

Their first experiment featured

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2014 at 11:30 am

The EPA Dithers While a Popular Pesticide Threatens Ecosystems

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A somewhat depressing article in Mother Jones by Tom Philpott.

He cites many studies, but the EPA so far has shown little or no interest.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 July 2014 at 9:19 am

Roundup-ready GMO corn causes serious health damage

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Perhaps GMO foods are not so benign after all—particularly if the genetic modification was to allow the food crop to survive being sprayed and coated with highly toxic herbicides, such as Roundup. Oliver Tickell reports in The Ecologist:

A scientific study that identified serious health impacts on rats fed on ‘Roundup ready’ GMO maize has been republished following its controversial retraction under strong commercial pressure. Now regulators must respond and review GMO and agro-chemical licenses, and licensing procedures.

A highly controversial paper by Prof Gilles-Eric Séralini and colleagues has been republished after a stringent peer review process.

The chronic toxicity study examines the health impacts on rats of eating a commercialized genetically modified (GM) maize, Monsanto’s NK603 glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup.

The original study, published in Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT) in September 2012, found severe liver and kidney damage and hormonal disturbances in rats fed the GM maize and low levels of Roundup that are below those permitted in drinking water in the EU.

However it was retracted by the editor-in-chief of the Journal in November 2013 after a sustained campaign of criticism and defamation by pro-GMO scientists.

Toxic effects were found from the GM maize tested alone, as well as from Roundup tested alone and together with the maize. Additional unexpected findings were higher rates of large tumours and mortality in most treatment groups.

Criticisms addressed in the new version

Now the study has been republished by Environmental Sciences Europe. The republished version contains extra material addressing criticisms of the original publication.

The raw data underlying the study’s findings are also published – unlike the raw data for the industry studies that underlie regulatory approvals of Roundup, which are kept secret. However, the new paper presents the same results as before and the conclusions are unchanged.

The republication restores the study to the peer-reviewed literature so that it can be consulted and built upon by other scientists.

The republished study is accompanied by . . .

Continue reading.

Monsanto will fight this to the bitter end. Monsanto really doesn’t care whether the foods are damaging to the body; Monsanto is striving purely to make sure profits grow.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 July 2014 at 9:12 pm

Why organic food is more healthful

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Sarah Gray writes in Salon:

Could there be a clear difference between organic and non-organic food? An international study, due out next week, in the journal British Journal of Nutrition, presents evidence that there is, indeed, a discernible difference.

Carlo Leifert from Newcastle University, led the team of researchers. Their conclusion states that organic food may have more antioxidant compounds present and lower levels of pesticides — four times lower than non-organic — and toxic metals like cadmium .

Leifert told the Guardian that the differences in antioxidant levels were “substantially higher.” They were apparently ranging between 19% and 69% higher in organic food. This study, according to the Guardian, is the first to show an actual difference between organic and non-organic food.

The debate of whether organic is healthier, is still far from over, as this is only one study. If anything it opens up new questions, and will lead to new exploration on the topic.

And of course not all are convinced, including Tom Sanders, a professor of nutrition at King’s College London. He said the study does show some difference but has some questions. “But the question is are they within natural variation? And are they nutritionally relevant?” he asked, “I am not convinced.” He also believes the article is misleading due to a reference to antioxidants as key nutrients.

The Independent also reports questions amongst the nutrition community, including Professor Richared Mithen of the Institute of Food Research. “The references to ‘antioxidants’ and ‘antioxidant activity’, and various ‘antioxidant’ assays would suggest a poor knowledge of the current understanding within the nutrition community of how fruit and vegetables may maintain and improve health,” Mithen explained.

The results, according to the Guardian are ” based on an analysis of 343 peer-reviewed studies from around the world – more than ever before – which examine differences between organic and conventional fruit, vegetables and cereals.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 July 2014 at 9:17 pm

Food Labelled ‘Organic’ Can Have Shocking Levels of Heavy Metals

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Imported foods, mostly—I hope. Ari LeVaux has the story at AlterNet:

Heavy metal pollution makes no distinction between how crops are grown. Irrespective of whether farming practices are organic or conventional practices are used, if the likes of cadmium, arsenic, lead, nickel and mercury are in the soil, water or air they can contaminate food and poison the people who consume it. With enough exposure, heavy metals can build up in the body, causing chronic problems in the skin, intestine, nervous system, kidneys, liver, and brain. Some heavy metals occur naturally in soil, but rarely at toxic levels, while human activities like mining, manufacturing and the use of synthetic materials like paint, and even some agricultural chemicals, can release heavy metals into the air and water, and from there they find their way to the soil. And once in the soil, heavy metals are virtually impossible to remove.

China acknowledged last April that a staggering one-fifth of its arable land is seriously polluted with heavy metals, thanks to decades of aggressive industrial development. China’s Environmental Protection Ministry looked at data sampled between 2006 and 2013 and described the situation as “not optimistic.” The most commonly found heavy metals were cadmium, nickel and arsenic. The revelation came after months of speculation about the report, which at one point was not going to be released as the results were considered to be a “State Secret.”

Cadmium, one of the metals found in high concentrations in Chinese soil, is one of the most toxic heavy metal pollutants. It moves through soil layers with ease, and is taken up by a variety of plants, including leafy vegetables, root crops, cereals and grains. Last year it was discovered that nearly half of the rice for sale in the southern China city of Guangzhou was tainted with cadmium, which caused a major uproar.

Nickel and arsenic, the other two pollutants found in greatest amounts, aren’t so great either.

In the U.S., arsenic in apple juice has been on the popular radar since September 2011, when Mehmet Oz reported high arsenic levels in multiple samples of apple juice that were independently tested for his television show. More than half of the apple juice consumed in the U.S. comes from China.

Oz was taken to the woodshed for being alarmist by a number of experts and authorities, including the FDA, which disputed the results with its own data. ABC News’ senior health medical editor, Richard Besser, called Oz’s claims “extremely irresponsible,” comparing it to yelling fire in a crowded theater.

A few weeks later, FDA admitted it had withheld many test results which did, in fact, support Oz’s claim. Besser apologized to Oz on national television, and soon after the FDA collected about 90 retail samples of apple juice for a new round of analysis. According to FDA documents now available, the levels reported by Oz are in fact consistent with those detected by the agency in samples from China and Turkey.

Last year the agency set a limit, also known as an “action level,” on arsenic in juice, at 10 parts per billion, the same level that’s enforced in drinking water. Currently, FDA has import alerts set for four firms, two each in China and Turkey. The products of these companies, while regularly tested for arsenic because of previous violations of the action level, continue to be imported.

While China is not the only polluted region from which we import food, with a combination of aggressive industrial development and legendarily lax enforcement, it’s become a poster child for scary food imports. But any region with rapid industrial development and suspect environmental regulations could be a candidate for producing food contaminated with heavy metals.

While we don’t import a huge amount of food from China overall, we do consume large amounts of certain things in addition to apple juice, like garlic and farmed seafood—including 80 percent of the tilapia we eat. Much of China’s surface water, including water used for aquaculture, is polluted, not only with industrial toxins but also with agricultural fertilizers, which fuel the growth of algae. Algae can accumulate heavy metals, as will the fish that eat it. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 July 2014 at 11:04 am

Interesting adaptation: Taking Oil Industry Cue, Environmentalists Drew Emissions Blueprint

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Coral Davenport has a very interesting article in the NY Times:

In November 2010, three combatants gathered in a sleek office here to build a carbon emissions policy that they hoped to sell to the Obama administration.

One was a lawyer who had been wielding the Clean Air Act since his days at the University of California, Berkeley. Another had turned to practicing environmental law and writing federal regulations to curb pollution after spending a summer on a pristine island off Nova Scotia. The third, a climate scientist who is a fixture on Capitol Hill, became an environmentalist because of postcollege backpacking trips in the Rockies.

The three were as seasoned and well connected as Washington’s best-paid lobbyists because of their decades of experience and the relationships they formed in the capital.

Over the next two years the lawyers, David Doniger and David Hawkins, and the scientist, Daniel Lashof, worked with a team of experts to write a 110-page proposal, widely viewed as innovative and audacious, that was aimed at slashing planet-warming carbon pollution from the nation’s coal-fired power plants. On June 2, President Obama proposed a new Environmental Protection Agency rule to curb power plant emissions that used as its blueprint the work of the three men and their team.

It was a remarkable victory for the Natural Resources Defense Council, the longtime home of Mr. Doniger and Mr. Hawkins and, until recently, of Mr. Lashof. The organization has a reach that extends from the big donors of Wall Street to the elite of Hollywood (Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert Redford are on its board) to the far corners of the Environmental Protection Agency, where Mr. Doniger and Mr. Hawkins once worked.

The group’s leaders understand the art of influence: In successfully drafting a climate plan that heavily influenced the president’s proposal, the organization followed the strategy used by the American Petroleum Institute, the lobbying arm of the oil industry, to write an energy policy for Vice President Dick Cheney during the Bush administration.

“The N.R.D.C. proposal has its fingerprints throughout this, for sure,” said Dallas Burtraw, an energy policy expert at Resources for the Future, a Washington nonprofit, describing how the council’s work influenced the proposed 650-page environmental regulation.

Representatives of the coal industry agreed. “N.R.D.C. is crafting regulatory policy for the E.P.A. that is designed to advance their agenda at the cost of American businesses and people who will pay the price through much higher electricity rates,” wrote Laura Sheehan, a spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a lobbying group. Scott Segal, who lobbies for the coal industry with the firm Bracewell & Giuliani, said in an email that the council’s experts “have unprecedented access to this E.P.A. and are able to project influence down to the details of regulatory proposals and creative legal theories.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was so certain of the council’s sway that it used the group’s proposal as the basis for its economic analysis of what it expected in the E.P.A. rule, before the rule’s actual release. “It is no surprise that N.R.D.C. has a great deal of influence on E.P.A. and the White House,” Matthew LeTourneau, a chamber spokesman, wrote in an email.

Continue reading. Also note the comments and links to related coverage.

One important point inexplicably omitted from the story is the result of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce analysis. Here’s Krugman’s comment on their analysis—and it found that the cost of combatting climate change is remarkably low.

See also this column.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 July 2014 at 8:04 pm

Hopeful: How two small New York towns have shaken up the national fight over fracking

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In the Washington Post Steven Mufson describes some hopeful developments in the fight for a clean environment in which to live—and from which to get clean drinking water.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 July 2014 at 3:39 pm

How politics derailed EPA science on arsenic, endangering public health

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David Heath reports at The Center for Public Integrity:

Living in the lush, wooded countryside with fresh New England air, Wendy Brennan never imagined her family might be consuming poison every day.

But when she signed up for a research study offering a free T-shirt and a water-quality test, she was stunned to discover that her private well contained arsenic.

“My eldest daughter said … ‘You’re feeding us rat poison.’ I said, ‘Not really,’ but I guess essentially … that is what you’re doing. You’re poisoning your kids,” Brennan lamented in her thick Maine accent. “I felt bad for not knowing it.”

Brennan is not alone. Urine samples collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from volunteers reveal that most Americans regularly consume small amounts of arsenic. It’s not just in water; it’s also in some of the foods we eat and beverages we drink, such as rice, fruit juice, beer and wine.

Under orders from a Republican-controlled Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency in 2001 established a new drinking-water standard to try to limit people’s exposure to arsenic. But a growing body of research since then has raised questions about whether the standard is adequate.

The EPA has been prepared to say since 2008, based on its review of independent science, that arsenic is 17 times more potent as a carcinogen than the agency now reports. Women are especially vulnerable. Agency scientists calculated that if 100,000 women consumed the legal limit of arsenic every day, 730 of them would eventually get bladder or lung cancer from it.

After years of research and delays, the EPA was on the verge of making its findings official by 2012. Once the science was complete, the agency could review the drinking water standard.

But an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found that one member of Congress effectively blocked the release of the EPA findings and any new regulations for years. . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more. For example:

Researchers from Columbia University gave IQ tests to about 270 grade-school children in Maine. They also checked to see if there was arsenic in their tap water at home. Maine is known as a hot spot for arsenic in groundwater.

The researchers found that children who drank water with arsenic — even at levels below the current EPA drinking water standard — had an average IQ deficit of six points compared to children who drank water with virtually no arsenic.

The findings are eerily similar to studies of lead, a toxin considered so dangerous to children that it was removed from paint and gasoline decades ago. Other studies have linked arsenic to a wide variety of other ailments, including cancer, heart disease, strokes and diabetes.

“I jokingly say that arsenic makes lead look like a vitamin,” said Joseph Graziano, a Columbia professor who headed the Maine research. “Because the lead effects are limited to just a couple of organ systems — brain, blood, kidney. The arsenic effects just sweep across the body and impact everything that’s going on, every organ system.”

And the Congressman who fought to keep arsenic in US drinking water?

. . . So, who did it? All the evidence from the Center’s investigation pointed to one congressman: Mike Simpson of Idaho.

Simpson was one of the Republicans who signed the letter to the EPA administrator complaining about the missing 300 studies. He was the chairman of the subcommittee that controlled funding for the EPA, where the language first appeared. He was also a member of another committee where the language surfaced again in a different report. He even asked the EPA administrator about arsenic at a subcommittee hearing.

Simpson, who worked as a dentist and state legislator before entering Congress, is a frequent critic of the EPA. But in the 2012 and 2014 election campaigns, he has been portrayed as too liberal by Tea Party candidates funded by the right-wing Club for Growth.

In a brief interview outside his Capitol Hill office, Simpson accepted credit for instructing the EPA to stop work on its arsenic assessment.

“I’m worried about drinking water and small communities trying to meet standards that they can’t meet,” he said. “So we want the Academy of Science to look at how they come up with their science.”

Simpson said he didn’t know that his actions kept a weed killer containing arsenic on the market. He denied that the pesticide companies lobbied him for the delay.

But lobbyist Grizzle offered a different account.

“I was part of a group that met with the congressman and his staff a number of years ago on our concerns,” Grizzle said, adding that there were four or five other lobbyists in that meeting but he couldn’t remember who they were.

Other organizations that disclosed lobbying the EPA and Congress on the agency’s arsenic evaluation were the U.S. Rice Federation; the Mulch and Soil Council; the Association of California Water Agencies; and the National Mining Association, including the mining companies Arch Coal and Rio Tinto.

Grizzle began making donations to Simpson’s re-election campaign in January 2011, a few months before Simpson took action to delay the arsenic assessment. Since then, Grizzle has given a total of $7,500. That’s more than he’s given in that time to any other candidate.

Asked if the contributions were made in exchange for the delay, Grizzle said, “I don’t see a connection. I’ve been a friend and supporter of Congressman Simpson for a long time.”

When Simpson was asked if he was aware of the donations, he terminated the interview, saying, “I have no idea. But I’ve got a hearing.” . . .


Written by LeisureGuy

3 July 2014 at 12:44 pm

The Best Reporting on Children With Post-Traumatic Stress

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As pointed out in the article of the previous post, stress is particularly damaging to young children, whose neurological systems are still developing.In Pacific Standard Lois Beckett has an annotated reading list of articles on this scourge:

When people think of post-traumatic stress disorder, they often focus on military veterans. But there’s growing evidence that PTSD is also a serious problem for American civilians, especially those exposed to violence in their own neighborhoods. Researchers in Atlanta found that one out of three inner-city residents they interviewed had experienced symptoms consistent with PTSD at some point in their lives.

We’ve put together a collection of some of the best reporting on PTSD in children and teenagers exposed to community violence. The stories here take a nuanced look at the intersection of trauma, poverty, and racism. Not all stories about PTSD in high-violence neighborhoods meet that standard. This May, a local CBS affiliate released a segment on trauma in Oakland youth that referred to PTSD as “hood disease.” The anchor who used that term on air later apologized.

Among our recommendations here are magazine stories, radio segments, a book based on a doctor’s interviews with shooting victims, and a documentary film. You can also see our selection of the best reporting on PTSD and the U.S. military.

Brain Development Altered by Violence, Washington Post, May 1999
After the Columbine shootings, this article looked broadly at post-traumatic stress among American children. “The Columbine students are the lucky ones,” the story concluded. “Most child witnesses to violence in America live in inner cities, where shootings occur repeatedly, and where parents often are as traumatized by them as children. And counselors rarely come calling on them in the aftermath of horrors, as they have in Littleton.”

Children Who Survive Urban Warfare Suffer From PTSD, Too, San Francisco Chronicle, August 2007

Eleven-year-old Tierra’s brother was murdered two weeks before she began sixth grade. She wrote her brother’s name on the cover of her notebooks. Her grades dropped. She started getting into fights. And she wasn’t the only one: At her San Francisco middle school, a third of students said they had seen or knew someone killed with a gun. A look at how post-traumatic stress affects children’s school performance—and at the difficulties of getting treatment.

The Poverty Clinic, the New Yorker, March 2011

Experiencing traumatic events at a young age doesn’t simply affect a child’s emotional health. There’s increasing evidence that childhood trauma is linked to serious medical problems in adulthood. A look at how a clinic

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 June 2014 at 11:05 am

America’s child poverty rate better than Romania’s!

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The US is making progress. Our child poverty rate (23%) is not so good as that of the UK (10%) or the Nordic countries (7%-8%), but is better than Romania. Those figures are from Jeff Madrick’s article “Inequality Begins at Birth” in the NY Review of Books:

Over the past year, the lack of universal pre-kindergarten for American four-year-olds has become a national issue. In 2013, President Obama proposed to fund an ambitious new nationwide pre-kindergarten program through a new cigarette tax. That plan failed to gain support, but Bill de Blasio gave new urgency to the issue when he swept into the New York mayor’s office promising universal pre-K for all city children—which will begin in the fall. Even as these efforts are being made, however, new research is making it increasingly clear that educational disparities start much earlier.

The value of universal access to early education has long been recognized: it improves the life chances of disadvantaged children and is crucial to keeping a level playing field for all. The United States has fallen well short of this goal. In most of Europe there is universal, good-quality preschool for three- and four-year-olds. In America, recent data show that fewer than half of all three- and four-year olds are enrolled in some form of preschool. Head Start, the main federal program, provides preschool funding for only about two fifths of poor children in this group.

Moreover, America has the second highest child poverty rate out of the thirty-five nations measured by the United Nation Children’s Fund (only Romania is worse). Twenty-three percent of American kids are poor by international standards, compared to 10 percent in the UK and 7 or 8 percent in the Nordic countries. According to studies on the US population, the poorest children are those five and under—indeed, they are the poorest demographic group in the nation. Many of these kids live in deep poverty, with family income less than half of the poverty line. Poverty rates for black and Latino children are especially high.

Scholars have long documented that children who grow up poor face greater obstacles to social development and good health, obstacles that often remain with them the rest of their lives. They are more likely to have chronic diseases like asthma or attention deficit disorder, few of them graduate from high school, their wages are lower, and they often end up on welfare. Poor teenage women have more unwanted births.

But neurological evidence from recent years strongly suggests that the causes of these poor outcomes are neither solely cultural nor a function of a weak gene pool, as commentators like Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve, once claimed. As Dr. David Keller made clear at a recent conference on child poverty in Washington, D.C. called “Inequality Begins at Birth” (primarily sponsored by the think tank I direct, The Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative at the Century Foundation), there is new biological evidence that a high-stress environment for very young children does not simply affect cultural and psychological conditions that predispose the poor to failure; it can also affect the architecture of the brain, changing the actual neurological functioning and quantity of brain matter.

In other words, pre-K is not enough. What is concerning, moreover, is that these findings have been known for some time but are not getting adequate attention. In fact, the original documentation was published back in 2000 in a vanguard article by Harvard’s Center on the Development of the Child, and corroborating studies have multiplied since then.

Indeed, two studies completed in 2013 relate neural deterioration directly to poverty. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 June 2014 at 10:17 am

The endgame on climate change is in sight

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I’m surprised to learn that I have readers who deny that human activity in burning fossil fuels has released enough additional greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (measured directly in Hawaii) that the Earth’s climate system is growing hotter, triggering changes that will soon be catastrophic. This is now so well established that it requires a deliberate effort to ignore the evidence, seeking out denialist sites and screeds to find small counterarguments.

Many of these think of science has a house of cards rather than a jigsaw puzzle: one wrong move in a house of cards brings the entire structure tumbling down, and seeking for that “bad card” occupies the attention and energy of many a denialist. But science is much more like a jigsaw puzzle where, even if a few pieces are found to be misplaced, the overall pattern is still clear.

Bill McKibben in the NY Review of Books reviews three books that denialists will undoubtedly avoid:

Antarctica: An Intimate Portrait of a Mysterious Continent
by Gabrielle Walker
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 388 pp., $27.00

What We Know: The Reality, Risks and Response to Climate Change
a report by the Climate Science Panel of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
28 pp., March 2014 [You can download a PDF at the link - LG]

Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment
a report by the US Global Change Research Program
829 pp., May 2014

We may be entering the high-stakes endgame on climate change. The pieces—technological and perhaps political—are finally in place for rapid, powerful action to shift us off of fossil fuel. Unfortunately, the players may well decide instead to simply move pawns back and forth for another couple of decades, which would be fatal. Even more unfortunately, the natural world is daily making it more clear that the clock ticks down faster than we feared. The whole game is very nearly in check.

Let us begin in Antarctica, the least-populated continent, and the one most nearly unchanged by humans. In her book about the region, Gabrielle Walker describes very well current activities on the vast ice sheet, from the constant discovery of new undersea life to the ongoing hunt for meteorites, which are relatively easy to track down on the white ice. For anyone who has ever wondered what it’s like to winter at 70 degrees below zero, her account will be telling. She quotes Sarah Krall, who worked in the air control center for the continent, coordinating flights and serving as “the voice of Antarctica.” From her first view of the landscape, Krall says, she was captivated:

I felt like I had no place to put it…. It was so big, so beautiful. I thought it might seem bare, but that b word didn’t occur to me. Antarctica was just too full of itself.

Describing her walk around the rim of Mount Erebus, the most southerly active volcano on the planet, Krall adds: “It’s visceral. This land makes me feel small. Not diminished, but small. I like that.”

In another sense, though, Antarctica is where we really learned how big we are, if not as individuals then as a species. Scientists have long reckoned that we must be filling the atmosphere with carbon dioxide as we burn coal and gas and oil, and indeed the first instrument designed to measure its abundance—erected in the late 1950s on the slopes of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa—found that more CO2 accumulated with each passing year. But that measurement didn’t tell us much about the past. To understand how much danger we were in required knowing how the planet had responded to atmospheric carbon in the distant past. If you take a core sample of an ice sheet, the tiny air bubbles trapped in each layer can give you a good idea of the successive amounts of CO2—and by far the longest ice cores can be collected in the Antarctic.

Walker gives an absorbing account of the difficulties in drilling through glacial ice, retrieving intact cores, and keeping them frozen for study. When the machine freezes up during the process, the European drilling team drops “cognac bombs” of alcohol down the hole to thaw the mechanism. The reward for their exertions is

a perfect, transparent cylinder, about a metre long, cut through with large crystal boundaries that were clearly visible as if through a window. It had never before been seen by human eyes. It was the oldest part of the oldest continuous ice core on Earth. I put my face close to it, careful not to touch, holding my breath.

The team, by the time it finally pulled up its drills, had taken the world’s climate record back about 800,000 years—through many ice ages and interglacial periods. And what it found was simple and unvarying:

Even when our climate was in some other phase, some different way of balancing the many subtle influences that make up the wind and weather and warmth we experience, temperature and greenhouse gases still marched in lockstep. Higher temperature always went with higher CO2. Lower temperature went with lower CO2.

Moreover, in all that long deep history, we’ve never had anywhere near as much CO2 in the atmosphere as we have today. According to Walker, “through the entire [ice core] record, the highest value of CO2 was about 290 parts for every million parts of air. Now we are at nearly 400 and rising.” That is to say, Antarctica, by virtue of being pristine, provides us the best glimpse we’re going to get of the bizarre geological moment we now inhabit.

But of course Antarctica is pristine no longer. Human effects on the atmosphere and climate can actually be read more easily from the South Pole than almost anywhere on earth, and the results are truly horrifying. To put the facts simply, the massive ice sheets are starting to move with awful speed. On the narrow Antarctic Peninsula, which points up toward South America, and where most Antarctic tourists come, melt is proceeding as fast as or faster than anywhere on earth. It’s here that a big chunk of the Larsen B ice shelf broke off in 2002.

But the peninsula contains relatively small amounts of ice; most of the world’s freshwater is tied up in the giant ice sheets of East and West Antarctica. Scientists—innately conservative—had long considered that these giants were comparatively stable, at least over millennia: it’s no easy feat to melt a mile or two of ice, especially when the air temperature rarely if ever rises above freezing. However, as Walker hints toward the end of her account, researchers have grown increasingly concerned about the stability of the West Antarctic in particular.

Enormous glaciers spill out from the West Antarctic ice sheet into the Amundsen Sea in the South Pacific. It’s perhaps the most remote part of the most remote continent, and to make matters worse the most interesting part of it is underwater. So scientists have been sending “autonomous subs” beneath the waves to study the geology, and using satellites to study changes in the height of the ice. Their work wasn’t quite finished when Walker went to press with her book, but her account provides all the background you need to understand what may have been the most depressing announcement yet of the global warming era.

In mid-May of this year, a pair of papers were published in Science and Geophysical Research Letters that made clear that the great glaciers facing the Amundsen Sea were no longer effectively “buttressed.” It turns out that the geology of the region is bowl-shaped: beneath the glaciers the ground slopes downward, meaning that water can and is flooding underneath them. It is eating away at them from below and freeing them from the points where they were pinned to the ground. This water is warmer, because our oceans are steadily warming. This slow-motion collapse, which will occur over many decades, is “unstoppable” at this point, scientists say; it has “passed the point of no return.”

This means that as much as ten feet of sea-level rise is being added to previous predictions. We don’t know how quickly it will come, just that it will. And that won’t be all. A few days after the Antarctic announcement, other scientists found that much of Greenland’s ice sheet shows a similar underlying geology, with warm water able to melt it from underneath. Another study that week showed that soot from huge forest fires, which are more frequent as a result of global warming, is helping to melt the Greenland ice sheet, a remarkably vicious cycle.

In certain ways none of this really comes as news.

A leading glaciologist, Jason Box of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS), has calculated that given the paleoclimatic record, our current atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases are probably enough to produce an eventual sixty-nine feet of sea-level rise.2 But it’s one thing to know that the gun is cocked, and another to see the bullet actually traveling; the news from the Antarctic is a turning point. It doesn’t mean we should give up efforts to slow climate change: if anything, as scientists immediately pointed out, it means we should ramp them up enormously, because we can still affect the rate at which this change happens, and hence the level of chaos it produces. Coping over centuries will be easier than coping over decades.

We also can . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2014 at 2:43 pm

Another article on pesticides as a cause of autism

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John Upton writes at Pacific Standard:

Many of today’s insecticides work by scrambling insects’ brains. And new research suggests they are having a similar effect on the brains of unborn humans, contributing to autism and development disorders—right up until the final trimester.

A team of researchers combined data from the Childhood Autism Risks From Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) study with data from the California Pesticide Use Report, which is produced through one of the world’s most comprehensive pesticide application reporting programs. They wanted to assess how exposure to pesticides drifting over sprayed nearby fields could contribute to autism spectral disorders and developmental difficulties among mothers’ soon-to-be-born children.

The results of the analysis—which compared insecticide exposure from 1997 to 2008 with mental health metrics of the children of nearly 1,000 mothers in a state where 200 million pounds of insecticides are sprayed every year—were mind-boggling.

“We were expecting to see some association, only because it’s previously been reported,” says Janie Shelton, an epidemiologist working as a United Nations consultant and an author of the study. “But we didn’t expect to see it in the second and third trimesters.”

About a third of the mothers who took part in the study lived, during their pregnancy, within 5,000 feet of a farm where one of the four pesticide lasses being studied were sprayed. These mothers were more likely to have kids with autism, or kids who suffer difficulties developing communication, social, and motor skills (problems that affect one out of every 25 American children).

Children with autism spectral disorders were found to have had a 60 percent greater chance of having had organophosphates sprayed near their mothers’ homes while they were still in the womb. Children with development disorders were nearly 150 percent more likely to have had carbamate pesticides applied near the home during their mothers’ pregnancy. Both of the associations grew stronger as the pesticide applications encroached more closely upon their mothers’ homes.

“Applications of two of the most common agricultural pesticides (organophosphates and pyrethroids) nearby the home may increase the prevalence of [autism spectrum disorders],” the researchers write in their paper, published Monday in Environmental Health Perspectives. “Our findings relating agricultural pesticides to [development disorders] were less robust, but were suggestive of an [association] with applications of carbamates during pregnancy nearby the home.”

A large part of the problem is believed to be that the pesticides are neurotoxic—and tender neuron networks are particularly vulnerable to disruption. . .

Continue reading.

If you think that Monsanto and other such companies will voluntarily curtail their use of chemicals that are implicated in causing autism, then you have another think coming. The businesses that profit from those chemicals will fight to the bitter end to keep selling the, autistic children or not. Their only interest is increasing their profits. Cf. the cigarette industry, the asbestos industry, the automobile industry (which resisted every single safety enhancement until it was required by law and have continued to seek for ways to profit at the expense of safety—e.g., the Ford Pinto, the GM Cobalt). Corporations are sociopaths and the ONLY measure they look at now is profit. Nothing else.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2014 at 1:54 pm

Former state health employees say they were silenced on drilling

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More evidence that corporations control the government. Katie Colaneri reports for NPR:

Two retirees from the Pennsylvania Department of Health say its employees were silenced on the issue of Marcellus Shale drilling.

One veteran employee says she was instructed not to return phone calls from residents who expressed health concerns about natural gas development.

“We were absolutely not allowed to talk to them,” said Tammi Stuck, who worked as a community health nurse in Fayette County for nearly 36 years.

Another retired employee, Marshall P. Deasy III, confirmed that.

Deasy, a former program specialist with the Bureau of Epidemiology, said the department also began requiring field staff to get permission to attend any meetings outside the department. This happened, he said, after an agency consultant made comments about drilling at a community meeting.

In the more than 20 years he worked for the department, Deasy said, “community health wasn’t told to be silent on any other topic that I can think of.”

Companies have drilled more than 6,000 wells into Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale over the last six years, making it the fastest-growing state for natural gas production in America.

Amid the record-breaking development, public health advocates have expressed concern that Pennsylvania has not funded research to examine the potential health impacts of the shale boom.

Doctors have said that some people who live near natural gas development sites – including well pads and compressor stations – have suffered from skin rashes, nausea, nosebleeds and other ailments. Some residents believe their ill health is linked to drilling, but doctors say they simply don’t have the data or research – from the state or other sources – to confirm that.

A state Department of Health spokesperson denied that employees were told not to return calls. Aimee Tysarczyk said all complaints related to shale gas drilling are sent to the Bureau of Epidemiology. Since 2011, she said, the agency has logged 51 complaints, but has found no link between drilling and illness.

“A list of buzzwords”

Tammi Stuck has been retired for just over two years. She still remembers a piece of paper she kept in her desk after her supervisor distributed it to Stuck and other employees of the state health center in Uniontown in 2011.

It was not unusual, Stuck said, for department brass to send out written talking points on certain issues, such as the H1N1 or “swine flu” virus, meant to guide staff in answering questions from the public.

This was different.

“There was a list of buzzwords we had gotten,” Stuck said. “There were some obvious ones like fracking, gas, soil contamination. There were probably 15 to 20 words and short phrases that were on this list. If anybody from the public called in and that was part of the conversation, we were not allowed to talk to them.”

Normally, when fielding calls, Stuck would discuss the caller’s problem, ask about symptoms, and explain what services the department or other agencies could offer.

However, for drilling-related calls, Stuck said she and her fellow employees were told just to take the caller’s name and number and forward the information to a supervisor.

“And somebody was supposed to call them back and address their concerns,” she said, adding that she never knew whether these callbacks occurred.

Sometimes, Stuck said, people would call again, angry they had not heard back from anyone from the department. . . .

Continue reading.

Government in the US is not in good shape, at least so far as guarding the public welfare.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2014 at 1:58 pm

Autism Risk Higher Near Pesticide-Related Fields

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As readers know, I have long believed that the upsurge in autism-spectrum disorders was in part due to our practice of spreading millions of tons of toxins, including neurotoxins, on our fields and food. Now we see evidence supporting that supposition. Lindsey Konkel writes in Scientific American:

The study of 970 children, born in farm-rich areas of Northern California, is part of the largest project to date that is exploring links between autism and environmental exposures.

The University of California, Davis research – which used women’s addresses to determine their proximity to insecticide-treated fields – is the third project to link prenatal pesticide exposures to autism and related disorders.

“The weight of evidence is beginning to suggest that mothers’ exposures during pregnancy may play a role in the development of autism spectrum disorders,” said Kim Harley, an environmental health researcher at the University of California, Berkeley who was not involved in the new study.

One in every 68 U.S. children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder—a group of neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by difficulties with social interactions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This study does not show that pesticides are likely to cause autism, though it suggests that exposure to farming chemicals during pregnancy is probably not a good thing,” said Dr. Bennett Leventhal, a child psychiatrist at University of California, San Francisco who studies autistic children. He did not participate in the new study.

The biggest known contributor to autism risk is having a family member with it. Siblings of a child with autism are 35 times more likely to develop it than those without an autistic brother or sister, according to the National Institutes of Health.

By comparison, in the new study, children with mothers who lived less than one mile from fields treated with organophosphate pesticides during pregnancy were about 60 percent more likely to have autism than children whose mothers did not live close to treated fields. Most of the women lived in the Sacramento Valley.

When women in the second trimester lived near fields treated with chlorpyrifos – the most commonly applied organophosphate pesticide – their children were 3.3 times more likely to have autism, according to the study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Chlorpyrifos, once widely used to kill insects in homes and gardens, was banned for residential use in 2001 after it was linked to neurological effects in children. It is still widely used on crops, including nut trees, alfalfa, vegetables and fruits.

The study also is the first to report a link between pyrethroids and autism. Application of pyrethroids just prior to conception meant an increased risk of 82 percent, and during the third trimester, the risk was 87 percent higher.

That finding is particularly concerning because . . .

Continue reading.

If you think Big Agriculture cares a whit about these findings, think again: I predict that they will use all their lobbying muscle and millions in “campaign contributions” to ensure that they can continue to use the toxic substances.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2014 at 1:39 pm

Is Air Pollution Linked to Autism and Schizophrenia?

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If air pollution is the culprit, that would explain the steady rise in autism rates. Cliff Weathers reports at AlterNet:

A study recently released by University of Rochester researchers [3] indicates that air pollution exposure may have a negative impact on mental health and could possibly play a role in schizophrenia and autism. The university’s study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The researchers found that air pollution causes inflammation in the brains of newly born mice, which damages the development of “white matter.” The same parts of the brain are known to be affected in humans exhibiting autism and schizophrenia traits.

The university researchers say that when mice are exposed to extra fine particle air pollution in the first few weeks of life, they developed neurological abnormalities similar to those seen in humans with the two health disorders. The abnormalities were mostly found in male mice, which also corresponds to the high numbers of men and boys diagnosed with both schizophrenia and autism.

The research concurs with a 2013 study published in JAMA Psychiatry [4] that also drew a link between air pollution and autism. That study, by researchers at the University of Southern California and the University of California, found that children who lived in areas with high levels of traffic pollution were three times more likely to be diagnosed with the neurodevelopmental disorder.

But the University of Rochester research is the first to link more mental-health disorders to air pollution.

“Our findings add to the growing body of evidence that air pollution may play a role in autism, as well as in other neurodevelopmental disorders,” said Deborah Cory-Slechta, professor of Environmental Medicine at the university.

The Rochester study found that the brain’s lateral ventricles, which are cavities filled with fluid to protect it from trauma, were three times their normal size. Similar dilation of the lateral ventricles has also been found in humans with autism and schizophrenia. The study also found that mice breathing polluted air also had high levels of glutamate, a neurotransmitter, in the brain.

Glutamate, is one of the most abundant chemical messengers in the brain. It plays a key role in learning and memory [5]. Moreover, serves as a source of energy for the brain cells when their regular energy supplier, glucose, is lacking. But excess glutamate can damage and even kill neurons by generating free radicals in the cells that it over-excites. High levels of glutamate are also found in individuals suffering from these same two disorders.

The atmospheric contamination created by the researchers mimics what might typically be present at peak rush-hour traffic in a moderately-sized U.S. metropolitan area. The mice were exposed to air polluted with extremely fine particles for four hours for eight days during the first two weeks after birth. The finest air-pollution particles are believed to have the greatest health impact, according to the researchers. . .

Continue reading.

And I continue to suspect that the widespread use of toxic chemicals in agriculture also is a contributing factor.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 June 2014 at 9:22 am

Environmental lead from leaded gasoline and violence in our schools

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The evidence quite solidly supports that leaded gasoline caused an  era of violence: lead is a neurotoxin that affects impulse control, among other things.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2014 at 8:59 pm

Desalination plants: The future of the California coast?

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California’s drought is serious. Here in Monterey we are also undertaking a desalination plant. Here’s a story on the desalination plant in San Diego. It will be the largest in the Western Hemisphere.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 June 2014 at 1:11 pm

That’s just great! Climate change triggers rock snot

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It makes sense: the organism has been there all along, and what we’re seeing now is its response to climate change (and, I would bet, pollution—though of course, climate change is directly caused by our pollution of the atmosphere). It’s one of the no doubt countless unexpected side-effects of climate change. And we’re just getting started. I imagine we’ll see many more before long.

Here’s the article.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 June 2014 at 2:38 pm

Paul Krugman makes perfect sense on global warming, agreeing with the Chamber of Commerce figures

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Well worth reading—and worth asking, given their own figures, why the Chamber of Commerce is opposed to efforts to fight global warming—especially since the costs involved with it happening are horrendous. Answer: the Koch brothers.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 May 2014 at 7:15 pm


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