Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Climate Spiral: 1880-2022 (Degrees Celsius)

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A 1-minute video

Written by Leisureguy

12 March 2023 at 11:44 am

BBC assists the Right with censorship

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Conservative forces are being assisted by those in the media who cooperate by censoring anything that might offend conservatives. Here’s a specific instance reported in Daily Kos by Mark Sumner:

Even if you don’t know David Attenborough, you know David Attenborough. At 96, the British broadcaster, biologist, and author has been one of the biggest popularizers of science for more than six decades. Odds are if there’s a video of animals doing something interesting, the voice behind that moment is either Attenborough or someone mimicking his signature delivery.

The nine series making up Attenborough’s Life collection—which he wrote, produced, and presented—may be the greatest documentation of the diversity and sheer wonder of life on this planet that has ever been assembled. Each represents hundreds of person-years of labor and innovative techniques to capture moments almost no one would otherwise have the opportunity to witness. The work has garnered Attenborough multiple awards and made him one of the best known and most beloved figures working anywhere in broadcasting—not just in England but around the world. The programs he has created have been called the best of the BBC by figures across the political spectrum.

All this shows just how extraordinary it is that the BBC—Attenborough’s partner on many of his ventures—is refusing to air an episode of his latest presentation. That program, Wild Isles, focuses specifically on the wildlife of the British isles. It allows Attenborough to bring the technology and the team of wildlife photographers he has used around the world and apply their skills to the nation he has always called home.

Why would the BBC refuse to air their most iconic presenter helming what may be his last series, on a topic not just dear to his heart, but of intrinsic interest to a British audience? It’s because in this banned episode, Attenborough focuses on the destruction of nature, and the BBC fears that the Conservative government will find this offensive.

As The Guardian reports, the Wild Isles series consists of five episodes that begin airing this Sunday. Only in the last week the BBC has decided to ditch a full 20% of this series in order to prevent a “backlash” from Tories who might see mourning the destruction of the natural environment as somehow offensive.

They’re not even being coy about it.

Senior sources at the BBC told the Guardian that the decision was made to fend off potential critique from the political right. …

One source at the broadcaster, who asked not to be named, said “lobbying groups that are desperately hanging on to their dinosaurian ways” such as the farming and game industry would “kick off” if the show had too political a message.

Reportedly, the episode shows a balanced approach to agriculture. It features descriptions of how monoculture farms heavily dependent on chemical pesticides and fertilizers cause damage to the environment, resulting in huge environmental rifts. However, it also features farms that are using practices including the use of native plants for native pest control and that preserve both the farm and the surrounding natural habitat.

A similar approach was applied to gaming, which in this case isn’t video games or casinos. It’s largely staged hunting events that sacrifice land and natural diversity to maintain artificial crops of animals to be hunted for sport. The impact of these practices can be reduced, but too often hunters want open, parklike land for “traditional” hunts that are little more than ritualized slaughter of tamed animals.

But this balanced approach was not enough to satisfy the concerns of the BBC. They’re not even responding to an actual issue, they’re running away from a potential backlash that they admit is being generated by lobbyists. The whole decision smacks of an almost unfathomable level of cowardice.

“For the BBC to censor of one of the nation’s most informed and trusted voices on the nature and climate emergencies is nothing short of an unforgivable dereliction of its duty to public service broadcasting, “ said Caroline Lucas, a member of Parliament for the Green Party.

As in the United States, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 March 2023 at 11:40 am

How to expand solar power without using precious land

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Stephen Battersby writes at

Land is a finite resource, facing huge demands from a growing population that clamors for living space and food. Farming, meanwhile, is beset by soil degradation, water shortages, plummeting biodiversity, and climate change.

So it’s unfortunate that solar power, an essential solution to climate change, should also be hungry for land. To generate as much energy as a conventional 1-gigawatt power station, an array of solar photovoltaic (PV) panels needs to cover about 80 square kilometers of land. Unsurprisingly, solar development faces increasingly organized resistance from many rural communities and activist groups, who see it as an enemy of farming.

Yet there’s no need for this confrontation. Properly designed solar installations can increase food harvests, reduce the need for irrigation, revive dying lakes, rescue pollinators, restore soils, and cool overheated humans—all while producing more power than conventional solar arrays.

That’s the promise of a wave of projects that aims to expand solar power without taking useful land out of commission. Symbiotic solar installations on farmland, lakes, and parking lots could enable solar to supply a large fraction of the world’s energy needs sooner than would otherwise be possible. “This can grease the skids for solar, by reducing conflict between food and energy,” says Greg Barron-Gafford, a plant ecologist at the University of Arizona.

These approaches still face a range of obstacles, including cost, convenience, and the need for collaboration between farmers and developers. But the signs are promising—researchers are developing symbiotic solar systems that are cheaper and more efficient, while governments are beginning to plow serious cash into the field. These efforts raise the possibility that symbiotic approaches might become commonplace.

Solar Farming

Solar power and farming often compete for the same precious land. It costs about $1 million to install a mile of electricity transmission lines, so most new solar power arrays are close to cities, where residents and industries need the power. But that puts solar installations in prime agricultural territory.

In 1982, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy (ISE) in Germany proposed a stunningly simple solution: set solar panels a few meters above the ground, and grow food underneath. Their original sketch shows angled panels with fairly large gaps in between, so the crops still get plenty of sunlight (1). This concept began to bear fruit in the early 2010s, with field trials in Japan and Europe. Japan now has about 3,000 farms with small solar installations set up on stilts, which are financially supported by government funding and known as solar sharing. In the United States and Europe, this idea is usually called agrivoltaics (AV), and it comes in a mouth-watering array of varieties.

The simplest approach is to plant grass under the panels and unleash some sheep. The United States already has more than 15,000 acres of solar grazing, including a huge 4,700-acre site at Topaz Solar Farm in California. The sheep gain shelter from the panels, and it saves on the cost of cutting the grass. With an eye on improving biodiversity, other projects plant native vegetation beneath their panels to support pollinating insects. This can also restore soils that have been depleted and compacted by decades of intensive farming, locking up carbon from the atmosphere. Both of these are low-maintenance options, and they work with panels set less than 1 meter above the ground, which keeps installation costs down.

Greater benefits can come from combining solar with food crops. The solar panels must be mounted higher up to allow workers and machinery to access the crops, making the setup more expensive. But this approach can help to offset those costs by boosting harvests.

In 2016, for example, Barron-Gafford’s team started an AV project growing cherry tomatoes, chiltepin peppers, and jalapeños—“things to make salsa, because if all else fails, you can still eat the science,” he says. The researchers found that the panels kept plants cooler during the day and warmer at night, and they held more moisture in the air. These less-stressed plants produced just as many jalapeños, twice the crop of tomatoes, and three times the amount of chiltepin peppers as those on a control plot (2). They also needed substantially less watering, a key benefit in a time of worsening water shortages around the world. Water evaporation from the plants even helped to cool the panels and increase electricity output.

Making Light Work

Some of the best crops for AV systems include root vegetables and leafy greens, which grow larger leaves in shady conditions. A US-wide study called InSPIRE (Innovative Solar Practices Integrated with Rural Economies and Ecosystems) has spent the past 7 years studying dozens of AV installations to provide a robust evidence base to guide crop selection, including what grows well under various climates and designs. “We had bits of AV starting to blossom in different parts of the country, but we don’t have time for academics to putz around in their own worlds; we need to work together,” says environmental scientist Jordan Macknick at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado, who leads the InSPIRE team.

The project’s first report, which came out in August, shows that details matter—some varieties . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

5 March 2023 at 12:09 pm

US is averaging one chemical accident every two days

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Map of US with symbols representing chemical accidents in the US in 2022. Symbols flood the West Coast and the eastern half of the US, beginning with Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas (though South Dakota is relatively free).
Map of reported chemical accidents in the US created by Coalition To Prevent Chemical Disasters. Red icons indicate accidents from 1 January to 31 December 2022. Purple icons indicate accidents since 1 January 2023. Photograph: Coalition To Prevent Chemical Disasters

Carey Gillam reports in the Guardian:

Mike DeWine, the Ohio governor, recently lamented the toll taken on the residents of East Palestine after the toxic train derailment there, saying “no other community should have to go through this”.

But such accidents are happening with striking regularity. A Guardian analysis of data collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and by non-profit groups that track chemical accidents in the US shows that accidental releases – be they through train derailments, truck crashes, pipeline ruptures or industrial plant leaks and spills – are happening consistently across the country.

By one estimate these incidents are occurring, on average, every two days.

“These kinds of hidden disasters happen far too frequently,” Mathy Stanislaus, who served as assistant administrator of the EPA’s office of land and emergency management during the Obama administration, told the Guardian. Stanislaus led programs focused on the cleanup of contaminated hazardous waste sites, chemical plant safety, oil spill prevention and emergency response.

In the first seven weeks of 2023 alone, there were more than 30 incidents recorded by the Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters, roughly one every day and a half. Last year the coalition recorded 188, up from 177 in 2021. The group has tallied more than 470 incidents since it started counting in April 2020.

The incidents logged by the coalition range widely in severity but each involves the accidental release of chemicals deemed to pose potential threats to human and environmental health.

In September, for instance, nine people were hospitalized and 300 evacuated in California after a spill of caustic materials at a recycling facility. In October, officials ordered residents to shelter in place after an explosion and fire at a petrochemical plant in Louisiana.

Among multiple incidents in December, a large pipeline ruptured in rural . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 March 2023 at 10:08 am

How a tax break meant to curb climate change could make it worse

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As I mentioned in the previous post, the fact that burning fossil fuels is destroying the climate and likely will destroy us if it continues, the imperative of capitalism — to increase profits no matter what — means that fossil fuels will continue to be burned — and worse, as Evan Halper reports in the Washington Post:

The promise of a powerful new fuel that can be used to run such things as steel mills or heavy construction equipment without any greenhouse gas emissions was a major selling point in the climate package President Biden signed over the summer.

But now, as tens of billions of taxpayer dollars are poised to start flowing toward “green hydrogen” technology, environmentalists, scientists and some clean-tech firms fear the subsidies could boost a fuel with a very different profile.

They are fighting an intense lobbying effort by some of the world’s biggest energy firms to make those lucrative tax credits from the Inflation Reduction Act available even to companies that are using fossil fuels to produce the hydrogen, releasing what some scholars warn could be an enormous amount of greenhouse gas in the process.

The dispute underscores the considerable challenges involved with implementing the Inflation Reduction Act, which included hundreds of billions of dollars to speed the transition toward a greener economy. Several of the provisions are geared toward accelerating production of next-generation clean technologies. But deep disagreements exist over how quickly some of them can be brought into the mainstream and how aggressively the federal government should demand quick climate benefits.

Tensions are also emerging around subsidies for capturing and storing carbon, as well as those for next-generation nuclear power plants and development of sustainable aviation fuels.

The corporate resistance to requiring all green hydrogen be made with clean energy has alarmed major environmental groups and several developers of the new fuelThey warn the less restrictive rules sought by industry groups representing companies such as BP, NextEra and ExxonMobil from the IRS threaten to undermine the integrity of the fledgling green hydrogen industry and the new climate law.

“We are talking about a massive subsidy, where more than $100 billion could be spent,” said Rachel Fakhry, who leads hydrogen work at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We could wind up with government spending it on something that actually increases emissions. Imagine the consequences of tons of added emissions heavily subsidized by a climate bill. That is an awful story.”

An Australian mining magnate wants to save the planet with green hydrogen

The worries, shared by the Clean Air Task Force, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Union of Concerned Scientists, are grounded in a study from a team of scientists at Princeton University. It concludes the looser accounting guidelines influential industry players are seeking would enable them to make the energy-intensive fuel without adding enough new clean power to local electricity grids to produce it. The result, the scientists found, is that it would be backfilled by large amounts of dirtier energy.

At the core of the dispute is the question of whether the lucrative hydrogen subsidies should be conditioned on the fuel being produced entirely with renewable power, confirmed by hourly tracking of the electrons flowing from the grid to the projects. The companies arguing for less strict requirements say flexibility in how production is powered is essential to nourishing the fragile industry, which needs to get up and running quickly to produce the most climate benefits.

The tax credit, said Rebecca J. Kujawa, president and CEO of NextEra Energy Resources, “has the ability to  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2023 at 3:52 pm

‘Very precarious’: Europe faces growing water crisis as winter drought worsens

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Of course, since there is still money to be made from fossil fuels, corporations and the wealthy are determined to make it. In their view, one can never have too much money, and a lack of water will not affect them, or so they believe.

Jon Henley in Paris, Sam Jones in Madrid, Angela Giuffrida in Rome, and Philip Oltermann in Berlin report in the Guardian:

The scenes are rare enough in mid-summer; in early March, they are unprecedented. Lac de Montbel in south-west France is more than 80% empty, the boats of the local sailing club stranded on its desiccated brown banks.

In northern Italy, tourists can walk to the small island of San Biagio, normally reached only by boat, from the shore of Lake Garda, where the water level is 70cm (27in) lower than average. The Alps have had 63% less snow than usual.

In Germany, shallow waters on the Rhine are already disrupting barge traffic, forcing boats heading up into central Europe to load at half capacity, and in Catalonia, now short of water for three years, Barcelona has stopped watering its parks.

After its driest summer in 500 years, much of Europe is in the grip of a winter drought driven by climate breakdown that is prompting growing concern among governments over the water security for homes, farmers and factories across the continent.

A study published in January by Graz University of Technology in Austria, whose scientists used satellite data to analyse groundwater reserves, concluded that Europe has been in drought since 2018 and its water situation was now “very precarious”.

Torsten Mayer-Gürr, one of the researchers, said: “I would never have imagined that water would be a problem here in Europe, especially in Germany or Austria. We are actually getting problems with the water supply here. We have to think about this.”

The World Weather Attribution service said last year northern hemisphere drought was at least 20 times more likely because of human-caused climate change, warning that such extreme periods would become increasingly common with global heating.

Andrea Toreti, a senior scientist at the European Drought Observatory, said: “What is unusual is the recurrence of these events, because we already experienced a severe to extreme drought a year ago, and another one in 2018.

“Clearly, in some parts of Europe, the lack of precipitation and the current deficit is such that it won’t be easy for water levels to recover before the start of the summer,” Toreti told Euronews. Experts have said the coming months will be crucial.

A map of current droughts in Europe from the EU’s Copernicus programme shows alerts for low rainfall or soil moisture in areas of northern and southern Spain, northern Italy and southern Germany, with almost all of France affected.

France recently recorded 32 days without significant rainfall, the longest period since records began in 1959, and the state forecaster Météo-France has said little or no precipitation of note is expected until at least the end of the month.

Simon Mitelberger, a climatologist, said about 75% less . . .

Continue reading.

This brief video — “What Happens If The World Warms Up By 5°C?” — may also be of interest:

Written by Leisureguy

4 March 2023 at 2:27 pm

Here’s the real reason the EPA doesn’t want to test for toxins in East Palestine

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Stephen Lester writes in the Guardian:

The decision to release and burn five tanker cars of vinyl chloride and other chemicals at the site of a 38-car derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, just over three weeks ago unleashed a gigantic cloud full of particulates that enveloped surrounding neighborhoods and farms in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

It is well documented that burning chlorinated chemicals like vinyl chloride will generate dioxins. “Dioxin” is the name given to a group of persistent, very toxic chemicals that share similar chemical structures. The most toxic form of dioxin is 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin or TCDD. TCDD is more commonly recognized as the toxic contaminant found in Agent Orange and at Love Canal, New York and Times Beach, Missouri, both sites of two of the most tragic environmental catastrophes in US history.

Dioxin is not deliberately manufactured. It is the unintended byproduct of industrial processes that use or burn chlorine. It is also produced when chemicals such as vinyl chloride are burned such as occurred in East Palestine.

The organization I work for, the Center for Health, Environment & Justice, has worked with communities affected by dioxins for over 40 years. We have seen the impact of exposure to dioxins in communities from Love Canal and Times Beach to Pensacola, Florida. And now, we are asking, why isn’t EPA testing for dioxins in East Palestine, Ohio? Are dioxins present in the soil downwind from the site of the accident?

At a townhall meeting in East Palestine last week, people talked about what it was like when the black cloud reached their property. One person who lived 15 miles away described burned ash material from the fire that settled on her property. Another who lived 3 miles away described how the black cloud completely smothered his property. Repeatedly people asked: was it safe for my kids to play in the yard? Is it safe to grow a garden? What is going to happen to my farm animals?

These are important questions that deserve to be answered. Today there are no clear answers. Why? Because no one has done any testing for dioxins anywhere in East Palestine. No one. And, it seems, that the EPA is uninterested in testing for dioxins, behaving as though dioxin is no big deal.

This makes no sense. Testing for dioxin, a highly toxic substance, should have been one of the first things to look for, especially in the air once the decision was made to burn the vinyl chloride. There is no question that dioxins were formed in the vinyl chloride fire. They would have formed on the particulate matter – the black soot – in the cloud that was so clearly visible at the time of the burn. Now, the question is how much is in the soil where people live in and around East Palestine. Without testing, no one will know and the people who live there will remain in the dark, uncertain about their fate.

This is important because . . .

Continue reading.

The institutions, organizations, and agencies whose mission it is to protect the public are failing badly. The police now endanger the public as much as protect it, the EPA no longer protects the environment, the government does not ensure that railroads are safe, the DOJ and FTC have not stopped monopolies, the Supreme Court now takes away rights, companies simply fire anyone who wants a union (illegal, but nothing is done to stop it), … It goes on.

Robert Reich points out a few things:

otal student loan debt erased by Biden plan: $400 billion

Total cost of the 2017 GOP tax cuts: $1.9 trillion

Funny how Republicans have no problem giving corporations and billionaires big tax cuts, but erasing some student loan debt for millions of people is just too much.

and also

The upward redistribution of wealth over the past 40 years has shifted $50 trillion from the bottom 90% to the top 1%. That’s $50 trillion that would have gone into the paychecks of working Americans.

The greatest trick of all is trickle-down economics.

And yet people still will vote for Republicans.

Written by Leisureguy

2 March 2023 at 9:59 pm

Rail unions tell Biden officials that workers have fallen ill at Norfolk Southern derailment site

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Uh-oh. This can’t be good. Lori Ann LaRocco reports for CNBC:


  • The presidents of U.S. railroad unions told Biden administration officials that rail workers have fallen ill at the Norfolk Southern derailment site in East Palestine, Ohio, in a push for more train safety.
  • Leaders from 12 unions met with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Amit Bose, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.
  • Earlier Wednesday, a group of bipartisan senators introduced The Railway Safety Act of 2023, aimed at preventing future train disasters like the derailment that devastated the Ohio village.

The presidents of U.S. railroad unions told Biden administration officials that rail workers have fallen ill at the Norfolk Southern derailment site in East Palestine, Ohio, in a push for more train safety.

Leaders from 12 unions met with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Amit Bose, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, in Washington, D.C., Wednesday to discuss the derailment, aftermath and needed safety improvements.

“My hope is the stakeholders in this industry can work towards the same goals related to safety when transporting hazardous materials by rail,” said Mike Baldwin, president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen. “Today’s meeting is an opportunity for labor to share what our members are seeing and dealing with day to day. The railroaders labor represents are the employees who make it safe and they must have the tools to do so.”

Jeremy Ferguson, president of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers – Transportation Division, told CNBC that Buttigieg plans on more talks with the unions in the future.

“This was a good start,” said Ferguson. “It’s important these . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

2 March 2023 at 7:54 am

Multi-modal streets can serve more people than car-oriented streets

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Two streets, one with 3 lanes of traffic, two lanes of parking, and two sidewalks and one with wide sidewalks, two bike lanes, some parking, one car lane, and one bus lane. The former has a capacity of 12,300 people per hour, the latter 30,100 people per hour.

If we stop designing our cities with the primary goal of serving cars, the result is more livable cities with more efficient streets. For more information, see National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO)

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2023 at 2:24 pm

A suburb in Arizona lost its source of water. Residents warn: We’re only the beginning

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Although the Great Climate Migration is beginning, we haven’t seen anything yet. Alexander Panetta reports for CBC News:

A man in Arizona sees a glimpse of a potentially frightening future. A future where the planet is hotter, the soil is drier, and our most precious resource is evaporating.

His job is delivering water. And his job is getting harder.

John Hornewer is now having to drive hours farther each day to fill his truck, which, in turn, fills the subterranean tanks at homes in an area outside Phoenix.

His normal supplier cut him off; more precisely, on Jan. 1, the city of Scottsdale, Ariz., cut off transfers to the exurban community he serves in a desire to conserve water for its own residents.

He found new suppliers, farther away. Then another supplier cut him off.

And now he’s had to go farther, spending more time in his truck, making fewer deliveries, and having to double the price he charges hundreds of his customers in Rio Verde Foothills, an unincorporated community that has lost its water supplier.

“It’s brutal,” Hornewer said in an interview. “The water haulers simply cannot keep up.”

Hornewer refers to Rio Verde Foothills as a warning sign, as the Colorado River shrinks and climate change is forecast to make things worse: “We’re the first domino to fall.”

ngenious and borderline-desperate water-saving tactics are being deployed.

People are now showering at nearby gyms. Some eat on paper plates. They collect rainwater in outdoor buckets and use them to flush toilets.

They flush toilets less often and promote their water-saving ways with not-entirely-tongue-in-cheek slogans like: Don’t blush, share a flush.

“One neighbour started peeing outside,” said one resident, Linda Vincent. “We haven’t gotten to that point yet.”

This county, Maricopa, is a fast-growing area in a fast-growing state.

A visitor can see why so many people want to live here: It’s a . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

27 February 2023 at 4:13 am

This Native American Tribe Is Taking Back Its Water

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Jim Robbins reports in Smithsonian Magazine:

Cradling her 4-year-old son, Cowboy, Camille Cabello watches tumbleweeds blow across an emerald green field of newly sprouted alfalfa toward a small canal. Water spills over the canal’s side, glistening in the brilliant Arizona sun.

Not far away, her husband, Cimarron, his head covered in a western hat, guards the stream with a pitchfork. As the tumbleweeds roll into the water, he fishes them out. “On a windy day like this we have to stay out here,” Camille says, a dust devil spiraling skyward in the distance behind her. “If we don’t get them out of there it will clog the canal and cause problems.”

This desert tableau is at once modern and ancient. Modern because the arrow-straight canal, lined with concrete and designed with turnouts that divert water to flood the field, is the last leg of a state-of-the-art irrigation system here on the Gila River Indian Community, an Indian reservation in southern Arizona. Ancient because Camille is a member of the Akimel O’odham, or River People, also called Pima. For centuries her ancestors practiced irrigated agriculture across this vast desert, digging hundreds of miles of canals that routed water from the Gila and Salt rivers onto planted fields of maize, beans and squash, the “three sisters” that fed a huge swath of prehistoric America.

The sprawling civilization of the canal-building Huhugam—the Pima name for their ancestors, meaning “our people who have come before”—reached its pinnacle in the 15th century. Exactly what happened to it after that, however, is a mystery. Some evidence points to a protracted drought; other data, from the study of geological layers, suggests a series of massive floods destroyed large sections of the canal network. Pima oral tradition holds that a class rebellion overthrew the society’s elite. Whatever the reason, Huhugam culture experienced a precipitous decline, and desert winds eventually covered over their canals with sand, dirt and weeds. Gone, too, were their monumental four-story buildings, ball courts and villages, buried by the very desert soil that once sustained them.

The historic Pima farmed on a smaller scale than their ancestors, but their crops still fed much of what is now southern Arizona. But beginning in the late 19th century, the tribe endured decades of hunger, discrimination and a scourge of homesteaders and profiteers who diverted tribal water to quench the needs of booming new settlements.

Now, after more than a century, water has returned to the reservation. The Pima have gone from water impoverishment to water wealth, and the reservation now has rights to more water than anywhere else in Arizona, despite the region’s worst drought in 1,200 years. This profound change in the Pima’s fortunes represents a long-sought triumph over an ongoing historical injustice.

The Gila River begins as snowmelt in the thickly forested Black Range of western New Mexico. Near the extraordinary Gila Cliff Dwellings, built by the Mogollon people nearly 1,000 years ago, three forks come together to form the river’s main stem, which flows west through 649 miles of cactus-studded mountain desert before emptying into the Colorado River near Yuma, Arizona, just north of the Mexican border.

A flash-flood river, the Gila overflows its banks during wild spring runoffs and summer monsoons, then

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 February 2023 at 4:44 pm

Dow said it was recycling our shoes. We found them at an Indonesian flea market

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Corporations constantly lie because the truth hurts them

Joe Brock, Yuddy Cahya Budiman, and Joseph Campbell report for Reuters:

At a rundown market on the Indonesian island of Batam, a small location tracker was beeping from the back of a crumbling second-hand shoe store. A Reuters reporter followed the high-pitched ping to a mound of old sneakers and began digging through the pile.

There they were: a pair of blue Nike running shoes with a tracking device hidden in one of the soles.

These familiar shoes had traveled by land, then sea and crossed an international border to end up in this heap. They weren’t supposed to be here.

Five months earlier, in July 2022, Reuters had given the shoes to a recycling program spearheaded by the Singapore government and U.S. petrochemicals giant Dow Inc. In media releases and a promotional video posted online, that effort promised to harvest the rubberized soles and midsoles of donated shoes, then grind down the material for use in building new playgrounds and running tracks in Singapore.

Dow, a major producer of chemicals used to make plastics and other synthetic materials, in the past has launched recycling efforts that have fallen short of their stated aims. Reuters wanted to follow a donated shoe from start to finish to see if it did, in fact, end up in new athletic surfaces in Singapore, or at least made it as far as a local recycling facility for shredding.

To that end, the news organization cut a shallow cavity into the interior sole of one of the blue Nikes, placed a Bluetooth tracker inside, then concealed the device by covering it with the insole. The tracker was synched to a smartphone app that showed where the shoe moved in real time.

Within weeks, the blue Nikes had left the prosperous city-state and were moving south by sea across the narrow Singapore Strait to Batam island, the app showed. Reuters decided to put trackers in an additional 10 pairs of donated shoes to see if wayward pair No. 1 had been a fluke.

It wasn’t.

None of the 11 pairs of footwear donated by Reuters were turned into exercise paths or kids’ parks in Singapore.

Instead, nearly all the tagged shoes ended up in the hands of Yok Impex Pte Ltd, a Singaporean second-hand goods exporter, according to the trackers and that exporter’s logistics manager. The manager said his firm had been hired by a waste management company involved in the recycling program to retrieve shoes from the donation bins for delivery to that company’s local warehouse.

But that’s not what happened to the shoes donated by Reuters. Ten pairs moved first from the donation bins to the exporter’s facility, then on to neighboring Indonesia, in some cases traveling hundreds of miles to different corners of the vast archipelago, the location trackers showed.

Using the smartphone app to trace the movement of each shoe, Reuters journalists later traveled by air, land and sea to recover three pairs – including the blue Nikes – from crowded bazaars in Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, and in Batam, which lies 12 miles (19.3 kilometers) south of Singapore. Four pairs ended up in locations in Indonesia that were too remote for Reuters to track down in person. In three other cases the trackers stopped sending a signal after they reached Indonesia.

The 11th pair

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 February 2023 at 3:27 pm

Ecosystem collapse ‘inevitable’ unless wildlife losses reversed

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I wish there were more good news about the future. Damian Carrington writes in the Guardian:

The steady destruction of wildlife can suddenly tip over into total ecosystem collapse, scientists studying the greatest mass extinction in Earth’s history have found.

Many scientists think the huge current losses of biodiversity are the start of a new mass extinction. But the new research shows total ecosystem collapse is “inevitable”, if the losses are not reversed, the scientists said.

The Permian-Triassic extinction event, known as the “Great Dying” occurred 252 million years ago. It was driven by global heating resulting from huge volcanic eruptions and wiped out 95% of life on Earth.

However, species are being lost today even faster than in any of the previous five mass extinctions that have struck the planet. Wildlife is being destroyed via the razing of natural habitats for farming and mining, pollution and overhunting. Humanity relies on healthy global ecosystems for clean air and water, as well as food.

The new research examined in detail marine fossils found in China from before, during and after the Great Dying. Healthy ecosystems rely on the complex interaction of plants, predators and prey, with each group of similar species playing a unique role.

The scientists found half the species went extinct with virtually no change in the overall functioning of the ecosystem, because some creatures still remained in each role. However, once the last species in each role began to go extinct, the ecosystem rapidly collapsed. “Ecosystems were pushed to a tipping point from which they could not recover,” said Dr Yuangeng Huang, at the China University of Geosciences and lead author of the study.

“We are currently losing species at a faster rate than in any of Earth’s past extinction events. It is probable that we are in the first phase of another, more severe mass extinction,” he said. “We cannot predict the tipping point that will send ecosystems into total collapse, but it is an inevitable outcome if we do not reverse biodiversity loss.”

The research, published in the journal Current Biology, examined fossils from south China, which was a shallow sea during the Permian-Triassic mass extinction. The team recreated the ancient marine environment using simulated food webs to represent the ecosystem before, during, and after the extinction event.

The Great Dying was caused by volcanic eruptions that drove up carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, resulting in climate conditions similar to those being caused today by fossil fuel burning, ie global heating, ocean acidification and loss of oxygen in the seas.

In the first phase of the extinction, a sufficient number of species remained to perform essential functions, said Dr Peter Roopnarine at the California Academy of Sciences: “But when environmental disturbances like global warming or ocean acidification occurred later on, ecosystems were missing that reinforced resistance, which led to abrupt ecological collapse. This took place about 60,000 years after the initial biodiversity crash.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 February 2023 at 5:39 pm

Norfolk Southern Boosted Shareholder Payouts 4,500%, Slashed Workforce 33% Prior to Ohio Disaster

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Overhead view of a train wreck with smoke still rising and railway cars in a jumble, lying across the tracks.

Eric Gardner reports at More Perfect Union:

The derailment of a Norfolk Southern train carrying 20 railcars of toxic chemicals in western Ohio has renewed scrutiny on precision scheduled railroading (P.S.R.)–a controversial management approach that prioritizes profit at the expense of all else.

Since its introduction in the early 1990s, the approach became an effortless way for rail executives and shareholders to inflate profits, while limiting the actual effort of management. At its core, P.S.R. mandates trains to transport bigger and heavier loads with fewer workers. 

In practical terms, it means that trains went from 80-90 railcars supported by 5 workers, to 2 workers overseeing 150 railcars or more. This enabled management to effectively invert how much companies spent on workers and how much profit they generated for shareholders. Of course, this came at a cost: safety and reliability. Reports indicate that before it derailed, Norfolk Southern train 32N broke down due to its excessive size

“The root causes of this wreck,” Railroad Workers United said in a statement released days after the derailment, “are the same ones that have been singled out repeatedly, associated with the hedge fund initiated operating model known as “Precision Scheduled Railroading.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

24 February 2023 at 7:13 pm

What do you do when the government promotes cancer? This ‘climate-friendly’ fuel comes with an astronomical cancer risk

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Things are going badly. Sharon Lerner reports in the Guardian:

The Environmental Protection Agency recently gave a Chevron refinery the green light to create fuel from discarded plastics as part of a climate-friendly initiative to boost alternatives to petroleum. But, according to agency records obtained by ProPublica and the Guardian, the production of one of the fuels could emit air pollution that is so toxic, one out of four people exposed to it over a lifetime could get cancer.

“That kind of risk is obscene,” said Linda Birnbaum, former head of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. “You can’t let that get out.”

That risk is 250,000 times greater than the level usually considered acceptable by the EPA division that approves new chemicals. Chevron hasn’t started making this jet fuel yet, the EPA said. When the company does, the cancer burden will disproportionately fall on people who have low incomes and are Black because of the population that lives within three miles of the refinery in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

ProPublica and the Guardian asked Maria Doa, a scientist who worked at the EPA for 30 years, to review the document laying out the risk. Doa, who once ran the division that managed the risks posed by chemicals, was so alarmed by the cancer threat that she initially assumed it was a typographical error. “EPA should not allow these risks in Pascagoula or anywhere,” said Doa, who now is the senior director of chemical policy at Environmental Defense Fund.

In response to questions from ProPublica and the Guardian, an EPA spokesperson wrote that the agency’s lifetime cancer risk calculation is “a very conservative estimate with ‘high uncertainty’”, meaning the government erred on the side of caution in calculating such a high risk.

Under federal law, the EPA can’t approve new chemicals with serious health or environmental risks unless it comes up with ways to minimize the dangers. And if the EPA is unsure, the law allows the agency to order lab testing that would clarify the potential health and environmental harms. In the case of these new plastic-based fuels, the agency didn’t do either of those things. In approving the jet fuel, the EPA didn’t require any lab tests, air monitoring or controls that would reduce the release of the cancer-causing pollutants or people’s exposure to them.

In January 2022, the EPA announced the initiative to streamline the approval of petroleum alternatives in what a press release called “part of the Biden-Harris administration’s actions to confront the climate crisis.” While the program cleared new fuels made from plants, it also signed off on fuels made from plastics even though they themselves are petroleum-based and contribute to the release of planet-warming greenhouse gases.

Although there’s no mention of discarded plastics in the press release or on the EPA website’s description of the program, an agency spokesperson told ProPublica and the Guardian that it allows them because the initiative also covers fuels made from waste. The spokesperson said that 16 of the 34 fuels the program approved so far are made from waste. She would not say how many of those are made from plastic and stated that such information was confidential.

All of the waste-based fuels are the subject of consent orders, documents the EPA issues when it finds that new chemicals or mixtures may pose an “unreasonable risk” to human health or the environment. The documents specify those risks and the agency’s instructions for mitigating them.

But the agency won’t turn over these records or reveal information about the waste-based fuels, even their names and chemical structures. Without those basic details, it’s nearly impossible to . . .

Continue reading.

President Biden’s administration is making an enormous unforced error, and the buck stops with Biden.

Read the whole column to see how bad this is.

Written by Leisureguy

23 February 2023 at 5:30 pm

A Norfolk Southern Policy Lets Officials Order Crews to Ignore Safety Alerts

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Capitalists will fight anything, including safety measures, that threatens to reduce profit.  Topher Sanders and Dan Schwartz report for ProPublica:

In October, months before the East Palestine derailment, the company also directed a train to keep moving with an overheated wheel that caused it to derail miles later in Sandusky, Ohio.

Norfolk Southern allows a monitoring team to instruct crews to ignore alerts from train track sensors designed to flag potential mechanical problems.

ProPublica learned of the policy after reviewing the rules of the company, which is engulfed in controversy after one of its trains derailed this month, releasing toxic flammable gas over East Palestine, Ohio.

The policy applies specifically to the company’s Wayside Detector Help Desk, which monitors data from the track-side sensors. Workers on the desk can tell crews to disregard an alert when “information is available confirming it is safe to proceed” and to continue no faster than 30 miles per hour to the next track-side sensor, which is often miles away. The company’s rulebook did not specify what such information might be, and company officials did not respond to questions about the policy.

The National Transportation Safety Board will be looking into the company’s rules, including whether that specific policy played a role in the Feb. 3 derailment in East Palestine. Thirty-eight cars, some filled with chemicals, left the tracks and caught fire, triggering an evacuation and agonized questions from residents about the implications for their health. The NTSB believes a wheel bearing in a car overheated and failed immediately before the train derailed. It plans to release a preliminary report on the accident Thursday morning.

ProPublica has learned that Norfolk Southern disregarded a similar mechanical problem on another train that months earlier jumped the tracks in Ohio.

In October, that train was en route to Cleveland when dispatchers told the crew to stop it, said Clyde Whitaker, Ohio state legislative director for the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, or SMART. He said the help desk had learned that a wheel was heating up on an engine the train was towing. The company sent a mechanic to the train to diagnose the problem.

Whitaker said that it could not be determined what was causing the wheel to overheat, and that the safest course of action would have been to set the engine aside to be repaired. That would have added about an hour to the journey, Whitaker said.

But Whitaker said the dispatcher told the crew that a supervisor determined that the train should continue on without removing the engine.

Four miles later, the train derailed while traveling about 30 miles per hour and dumped thousands of gallons of molten paraffin wax in the city of Sandusky.

Records from the Federal Railroad Administration, the agency responsible for regulating safety in the railroad industry, show that Norfolk Southern identified the cause of the October derailment as a hot wheel bearing. Whitaker said this bearing was on the same engine that originally drew concerns.

A spokesperson for the FRA said the agency’s investigation into the derailment is ongoing. The agency did not say whether it was examining the role of any Norfolk Southern officials in deciding to keep the damaged engine on the train. It’s still unknown what role, if any, the help desk played in the final decision.

This month, 20 miles before Norfolk Southern’s train spectacularly derailed in East Palestine, the help desk should have also gotten an alert. As the train rolled through Salem, it crossed a track-side sensor. Video footage from a nearby Salem company shows the train traveling with a fiery glow underneath its carriage.

If, like the Sandusky train, this one was dangerously heating up, a key question for investigators will be whether the help desk became aware and alerted the crew, and if it did, why the crew was not instructed to stop. The NTSB told ProPublica it is reviewing data from the Salem detector and those before it on the train’s route.

Continue reading. Modern-day capitalists believe “Profit über alles.”

President Biden should have supported the union. That is what Democrats have stood for, not crushing unions to support capitalists who care nothing about the public or their own workers.

Written by Leisureguy

23 February 2023 at 6:07 am

Ohio’s train derailment — not spy balloons — is the real national security threat

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Brad Martin and Aaron Clark-Ginsberg write in the Los Angeles Times:

Earlier this month, a threat with potentially serious consequences for the long-term national security of the United States presented itself — and not in the form of a high-altitude balloon.

It was a railroad derailment, in East Palestine, Ohio, which resulted in a discharge of vinyl chloride, a cancer-causing substance that response crews burned in order to prevent an explosion. Many organizations, including those responsible for the safety and well-being of the citizens of East Palestine, might not have viewed this incident as a national security issue. But it is, and as such, requires a more vigorous response, and certainly more attention than the spy balloon or balloons.

Consider, for starters, that “national security” encompasses not merely the external defense of the United States, but also the intelligence apparatus that supports its military operations, the defense against terrorist attacks, and the diplomatic efforts to secure allies and communicate with potential adversaries. All these actions and a variety of others are what nations do to protect their citizens. And while these actions are generally viewed apart from the things a nation does to promote prosperity and well-being among its people, they cannot be separated.

National security is about protecting a nation and its people and their well-being. Which means that certain aspects of infrastructure and services are so fundamental to this effort — fundamental to the very functioning of society — that their continued ability to function is also considered a national security issue.

A secure food supply, for example. Or energy supplies, public safety or protection against environmental threats. Yet last week residents of East Palestine were drinking only bottled water; livestock and fish are dying suddenly; the possible health and environmental outcomes, though they remain unknown, are quite possibly dire. . .

Continue reading.

To be clear: Capitalists — the investor class whose wealth comes from owning stocks — do not have the country’s welfare as a goal. Their goal is to increase profit. The government‘s goal is the country’s welfare, but a good part of that government has been subverted by money from capitalists — corporations and wealthy individuals.

And what is Pete Butigieg, Secretary of Transportation, doing? What are his current priorities?

Written by Leisureguy

21 February 2023 at 12:02 pm

You Can See the Future in East Palestine

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Jessica Wildfire writes at OK Doomer:

In my late teens, I read a novel called White Noise.

It changed my life forever.

If you’re unfamiliar, Don DeLillo conducts a relatively savage critique of American values. The stoic, laconic humor just drives the knife deeper. You get the sense that the author doesn’t expect things to change.

Spoiler alert: The main character gets poisoned in a toxic event. It’s not just eerily similar. DeLillo predicts every detail, right down to poetic descriptions of the apocalyptic clouds that fill the sky. For weeks, the rust belt town where the accident occurs experiences hauntingly beautiful sunsets that sound exactly like the rainbow colored water in East Palestine now.

A lot of my friends and professors expressed hesitant admiration for DeLillo. On the one hand, they admired his prose style. A lot of them felt that DeLillo presented caricatures of people, though. There wasn’t much substance to his characters beyond the ideologies they present. Most of them are unlikable.

Now I get it.

They didn’t like DeLillo because he doesn’t indulge their sentimental attitudes about humans, that somehow we’re all good inside. Nope, most people are assholes. DeLillo understood us better than most writers. He simply didn’t paint a flattering portrait of humanity that made readers feel good.

Over the last 20 years, Americans have done nothing but prove DeLillo right over and over again. Now we’ve recreated the exact toxic event that his critics considered implausible, something that would never happen in America. He even predicts the way the news media would cover it, first with dystopian glee, followed by a total apathy toward a town whose only real claim to fame is a Department of Hitler Studies and the Most Photographed Barn in America. The government won’t even tell the main character whether he’s going to be okay, or what he’s been exposed to. He tries to get tested, but it comes back inconclusive.

When you start recreating entire plot lines from satirical dystopian novels, it’s safe to say your society has lost its way.

You see these stories everywhere in East Palestine. I’ve been watching videos and interviews of residents trying to pick up their lives. They complain about headaches, swollen lymph nodes, and burning skin. One man spent thousands of dollars to renovate his house. Now he can’t live in it. He’s not sure he’ll even be able to sell it, certainly not for what it’s worth.

If you want a good breakdown of the crisis, here’s Mitchell Petersen: “Americans had extra-long trains carrying carcinogenic toxins operating with very few engineers who were worked to their physical limits.”

In another article, Same Lacey details how Joe Biden, the avuncular sadist in chief, essentially rubber-stamped an organized campaign among railroad tycoons to maximize profits at the expense of pretty much everything. In particular, precision scheduled railroading is capitalism at its worst. They’re basically cannibalizing railroads until there’s nothing left.

Yep, that sums it up.

There’s no conspiracy here, as some people are speculating as the news media jumps on any and all train derailments, pumping adrenaline rather than putting them into context. As it turns out, trains carrying toxic chemicals actually derail and crash on a pretty regular basis. Isn’t that nice?

The railroad companies knew about all these safety problems long before they became the latest doom fodder, and they did f*ck all about it. If anything, they’re actively lobbying for lower safety standards because it saves them money, and our government is actually thinking about letting that fly. So we can expect more derailments. It’s already a miracle we don’t have an East Palestine every Tuesday. The assholes in charge seem fine with that scenario.

As for the literal fallout, who . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 February 2023 at 3:49 pm

Trump Rolled Back Train-Braking Rule Meant to Keep Oil Tankers from Exploding Near Communities

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Glenn Fleishman’s article appeared in Fortune in September 2018. It begins:

Trains that carry oil and other flammable material won’t have to install electronically controlled brakes that reduce the risk of train derailments and explosions after the reversal by Trump officials of an Obama-era safety rule.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) posted the rule change today at its Web site, arguing that the cost of installing these more sophisticated brakes outweighs the benefit. The reversal was first proposed in December 2017, around the time of a deadly Amtrak derailment in Washington State, and finalized today. The improved brakes had a 2021 deadline for installation until the industry-supported change.

About 20 derailments of trains carrying oil and ethanol that have led to spills, fires, and, in some cases, evacuations have occurred since 2010 in the U.S. and Canada. Riverkeeper, a clean-water advocacy group, compiled video reports from many of the accidents.

U.S. trains rely on pneumatic braking technology first invented in the 1860s, in which continuous air pressure linked from the front of the train keeps a brake from engaging on wheels on each car. When an engineer applies braking, it can take several seconds for pneumatic pressure to drop to the end of a 100-car train, and trains can be longer.

Electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes still use air pressure, but each car has an individual braking control which receives an electronic signal simultaneously, reducing the danger of derailment when cars slam into the preceding ones before braking themselves.

The seconds’ difference between regular and ECP brakes is where the battle lies for this regulations. The railroad industry claims it would cost more than $3 billion to install necessary ECP on trains used for flammable liquids, while the Federal Railroad Administration under President Barack Obama said it would be about half a billion. . .

Continue reading.

Industry won; the public suffers.

Written by Leisureguy

17 February 2023 at 2:43 pm

Dangers of chronic ‘car brain’

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Our daily behavior and habits shape our mind, so that we grow into assumptions that blind us to the existence of alternatives. Indeed, that is more or less what human culture is: the set of views that provide us with “that just the way things are” — the “givens” of our society. Many of these views/assumptions are useful, the distillation of experience and learning that free us to act without some assurance; some were perhaps useful at a time, but now counter-productive or even harmful. Some are useful to a particular group or class, which thus promotes their acceptance.

In Streetsblog Ken Wilson describes some particular habits of mind that are blocking our way to finding better approaches:

People raised in a car-dominated culture are measurably more likely to accept the societal harms and inequities associated with driving than other public health threats, a new study finds — and undoing those powerful double standards will require a profound rewiring of the way we think about … everything.

In a new paper published in the Journal of Environment and Health, a team of U.K.-based researchers asked half of a nationally representative sample of more than 2,000 British adults how strongly they agreed or disagreed with provocative statements aimed at better understanding their attitudes towards driving.

The other half was asked the exact same questions, but with the nouns related to automobiles subbed out for other public health concerns, like smoking, drinking, food sanitation, and workplace safety.

Those statements were:

  • “Risk is a natural part of [driving/working], and anybody [driving/working] has to accept that they could be seriously injured.”
  • “There is no point expecting people to [drive/drink alcohol] less, so society just needs to accept any negative consequences it causes.”
  • “People shouldn’t [drive/smoke] in highly populated areas where other people have to breathe in the [car/cigarette] fumes.”
  • “It’s OK for a [delivery driver/chef] to bend a few health and safety rules in order to keep their business profitable.”

The researchers also included a fifth question that’s less explicitly related to public health, but still demonstrates how wildly different our conversations about justice and public space tend to be when we’re talking about automobiles:

  • “If somebody leaves their [car/belongings] in the street and [it gets/they get] stolen, it’s their own fault for leaving [it/them] there and the police shouldn’t be expected to act.”

The results, as study author and environmental psychologist Ian Walker succinctly put it on Twitter, showed that “‘Car Brain’ — the cultural blind spot that makes people apply double standards when they think about driving — is real, measurable and pervasive.”

For instance, a whopping 61 percent of respondents either “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that safety risks were a natural part of driving, while roughly half as many people (31 percent) thought workplace hazards were to be expected and tolerated — despite the fact that for millions of people who work in transportation, driving is working, and those people need workplace protections, too.

When it came to air pollution, meanwhile, only 17 percent . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 February 2023 at 10:49 am

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