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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

The consequences of disposable fashion

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Another interesting article in Salon, this one by Sarah Sweeney:

Last January, I met with a friend who volunteered regularly at a clothing donation center. Kari learned the cheap clothing that many people donate – the Forever 21 skirt that cost less than your breakfast, the H&M blouses that never fit quite right, the Zara pants that pilled after one wash – all comes at a devastating cost to the environment. And while you’re clearing out your closet for donation bragging to your friends (and tax accountant) how much you sacrificed for those less fortunate, well, much of that disposable fashion still ends up in a landfill.

“One million tons of clothes are thrown away every year,” says wildculture.com, “with 50% of the total ending up in landfill.” The unsustainable impact of producing such mass quantities of clothing is ravaging the environment. For example, one pair of those cute jeans you only intend to wear a few times requires 1,800 gallons of water to grow enough cotton just to manufacture them. And this trend is all quite recent; disposable fashion as it’s called only began ramping up in the mid-2000s.

Needless to say, learning this did not spark joy. The consequences of disposable fashion now struck me as so obvious, yet societal expectations encourage to buy buy buy! As a bleeding-heart environmentalist, I set out to spend a year without shopping.

The Mission

Spend one full year without purchasing new clothing, shoes, purses, accessories or jewelry.

I’m not much of a clotheshorse, but I’ve met many people who cannot go a single week without buying something new. Seriously, how much closet space do they have? It took all sorts of restraint to withhold my thoughts on how ridiculous I find these people. Biting my tongue in front of their wasteful over-fashioned trying-too-hard faces seemed to be another thing I gave up. Those who say things like “no pain, no gain” as their feet hemorrhage inside of 4-inch heels? No thanks! I set out to prove that retail didn’t own me; that I could spend a year without needing anything. I wanted to discover that quality really is superior to quantity and that I can put together new outfits with my existing wardrobe. That the “basics” are called as such because they go with everything. Oh and money. Saving lots of money.

The Fine Print . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 May 2016 at 2:21 pm

How Neanderthal DNA Helps Humanity

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Emily Singer reports in Quanta:

Eqrly human history was a promiscuous affair. As modern humans began to spread out of Africa roughly 50,000 years ago, they encountered other species that looked remarkably like them — the Neanderthals and Denisovans, two groups of archaic humans that shared an ancestor with us roughly 600,000 years earlier. This motley mix of humans coexisted in Europe for at least 2,500 years, and we now know that they interbred, leaving a lasting legacy in our DNA. The DNA of non-Africans is made up of roughly 1 to 2 percent Neanderthal DNA, and some Asian and Oceanic island populations have as much as 6 percent Denisovan DNA.

Over the last few years, scientists have dug deeper into the Neanderthal and Denisovan sections of our genomes and come to a surprising conclusion. Certain Neanderthal and Denisovan genes seem to have swept through the modern human population — one variant, for example, is present in 70 percent of Europeans — suggesting that these genes brought great advantage to their bearers and spread rapidly.

“In some spots of our genome, we are more Neanderthal than human,” saidJoshua Akey, a geneticist at the University of Washington. “It seems pretty clear that at least some of the sequences we inherited from archaic hominins were adaptive, that they helped us survive and reproduce.”

But what, exactly, do these fragments of Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA do? What survival advantage did they confer on our ancestors? Scientists are starting to pick up hints. Some of these genes are tied to our immune system, to our skin and hair, and perhaps to our metabolism and tolerance for cold weather, all of which might have helped emigrating humans survive in new lands.

“What allowed us to survive came from other species,” said Rasmus Nielsen, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Berkeley. “It’s not just noise, it’s a very important substantial part of who we are.”

The Neanderthal Within

The Tibetan plateau is a vast stretch of high-altitude real estate isolated by massive mountain ranges. The scant oxygen at 14,000 feet — roughly 40 percent lower than the concentrations at sea level — makes it a harsh environment. People who move there suffer higher rates of miscarriage, blood clots and stroke on account of the extra red blood cells their bodies produce to feed oxygen-starved tissue. Native Tibetans, however, manage just fine. Despite the meager air, they don’t make as many red blood cells as the rest of us would at those altitudes, which helps to protect their health.

In 2010, scientists discovered that Tibetans owe their tolerance of low oxygen levels in part to an unusual variant in a gene known as EPAS1. About 90 percent of the Tibetan population and a smattering of Han Chinese (who share a recent ancestor with Tibetans) carry the high-altitude variant. But it’s completely absent from a database of 1,000 human genomes from other populations.

In 2014, Nielsen and colleagues found that Tibetans or their ancestors likely acquired the unusual DNA sequence from Denisovans, a group of early humans first described in 2010 that are more closely related to Neanderthals than to us. The unique gene then flourished in those who lived at high altitudes and faded away in descendants who colonized less harsh environments. “That’s one of the most clear-cut examples of how [interbreeding] can lead to adaptation,” said Sriram Sankararaman, a geneticist and computer scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The idea that closely related species can benefit from interbreeding, known in evolutionary terms as adaptive introgression, is not a new one. As a species expands into a new territory, it grapples with a whole new set of challenges — different climate, food, predators and pathogens. Species can adapt through traditional natural selection, in which spontaneous mutations that happen to be helpful gradually spread through the population. But such mutations strike rarely, making it a very slow process. A more expedient option is to mate with species that have already adapted to the region and co-opt some of their helpful DNA. (Species are traditionally defined by their inability to mate with one another, but closely related species often interbreed.)

This phenomenon has been well documented in a number of species, including mice that adopted other species’ tolerance to pesticides and butterflies that appropriated other species’ wing patterning. But it was difficult to study adaptive introgression in humans until the first Neanderthal genome was sequenced in 2010, providing scientists with hominin DNA to compare to our own.

Neanderthals and Denisovans would have been a good source of helpful DNA for our ancestors. They had lived in Europe and Asia for hundreds of thousands of years — enough time to adjust to the cold climate, weak sun and local microbes. “What better way to quickly adapt than to pick up a gene variant from a population that had probably already been there for 300,000 years?” Akey said. Indeed, the Neanderthal and Denisovan genes with the greatest signs of selection in the modern human genome . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2016 at 10:29 am

Another way a functional Congress would come in handy: Scientists say nuclear fuel pools around the country pose safety and health risks

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Read to see how we seem to be waiting to see what happens when the fuse burns up.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2016 at 12:24 pm

GPS tracking device catches major US recyclers exporting toxic e-waste

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Elizabeth Grossman reports in The Intercept:

A two-yea investigation of electronics recycling using GPS tracking devices has revealed that policies aimed at curtailing the trade in toxic e-waste have been unsuccessful, with nearly one third of the devices being exported to developing countries, where equipment is often dismantled in low-tech workshops — often by children — endangering workers, their families, and contaminating the surrounding environment.

A report from the Basel Action Network (BAN), a Seattle-based non-profit devoted to ending the trade in toxic waste, raises major questions about U.S. government e-waste policies and oversight as well as the voluntary programs the electronics recycling industry relies on to ensure that this equipment is handled responsibly. BAN’s early data has already resulted in one major recycler losing an important certification as a responsible e-waste handler and launched state investigations into possible hazardous waste violations. The data BAN obtained with these tracking devices also shows equipment left at Goodwill, with whom Dell partners for recycling, was also exported.

Knowing that e-waste exports were ongoing and frustrated by recent federal government commissioned reports suggesting that these exports had dropped dramatically, BAN decided to physically track devices sent for recycling. “In our view those reports underestimated the export flows,” said BAN’s executive director Jim Puckett. “So we decided if the government is not going to use tracking devices, we will.”

BAN installed 200 GPS tracking devices into “used, non-functional computer equipment that its research team delivered to publicly accessible e-waste recycling drop-off sites around the U.S.” This equipment was left for recycling in more than a dozen states across the country between July 1, 2014 and December 31, 2015; 149 devices went to recyclers, 49 to thrift stores (mainly Goodwill) and 2 to retailers.

“What we found out is that quite a large percentage of this equipment is flowing offshore,” said Puckett. “These are like little lie detectors that we put out there. They tell their story and they tell it dispassionately.”

As of this month, BAN has found that 65 of all those devices (or 32.5 percent of the equipment tracked) has been exported. Of that equipment, BAN estimates that 62 devices (or 31 percent of all the tracked equipment) were likely to be illegal shipments based on the laws in the countries or regions where the electronics ended up. Of the equipment left with commercial recyclers, 39 percent of the tracked equipment was exported. Of the 46 tracked devices sent to Goodwill stores, 7 (or 15 percent) were exported. This includes 6 (or 21 percent) of the 28 delivered to Dell Reconnect stores.

Most of this equipment went to Hong Kong. But others were tracked to 10 different countries that include . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 May 2016 at 9:55 am

As Flint was slowly poisoned, Snyder’s inner circle failed to act

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Julie Mack, Ron Fonger, and John Counts report for MLive.com:

A year ago, Gov. Rick Snyder was stoking rumors of a presidential bid as a metrics-driven Republican whose ability to run government like a business transformed a troubled state.

But the leadership style so lauded a year ago — the emphasis on problem-solving over politics, the laser-like focus on the bottom line, the reliance on emergency financial managers to whip troubled cities into shape — has proven to be his undoing.

Now, he is viewed as the person ultimately responsible for one of the nation’s biggest public-health disasters in memory — the lead contamination of a water system serving 100,000 people, and a possible link between the water system and an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease that killed 12 people.

Snyder has apologized repeatedly for the crisis and has vowed to fix Flint. But, to this day, he and his administration push a storyline that diminishes their role.

It has never been fully explained how crucial information didn’t reach the governor, or why the Snyder administration allowed the people of Flint to use undrinkable water for so long.

Red flags were being waved furiously for a year before Snyder took action, as Snyder’s top aides — including his chief of staff and his legal counsel — expressed concern to the governor about Flint water quality reports.

“If they weren’t passing along those assessments to the governor, that’s a huge problem,” said Eric Rothstein, a member of the Snyder-appointed Flint Water Advisory Task Force. “But, if they were passing along those assessments and the governor wasn’t taking action, that’s a huge problem, too.”

Snyder declined requests to be interviewed for this story, but his spokesman Ari Adler submitted written answers to questions from MLive.

“The Governor isn’t going to get into playing what-ifs on what staff could have or should have told him,” Adler wrote. “His focus is on fixing the problems in Flint and on changing direction on how we are doing things in state government, all the way up to the Executive Office.”

A team of MLive reporters conducted an investigation reviewing thousands of emails and other documents and interviewing numerous key players in an attempt to get to the bottom of what exactly happened in Flint.

That investigation shows the water crisis was an unintended consequence of the state’s takeover of Flint in 2011, after which a series of four emergency managers were given near-dictatorial powers so they could cut the city’s budget and bring the books in line.

Among the cost-saving measures: Change the city’s water supply and do it on the cheap.

Snyder was aware by fall 2014 that using the Flint River for the city’s water was causing serious water-quality issues. But, for the next 12 months, he and his administration saw fixing Flint’s finances as the higher priority.

In explaining the decision to continue using the Flint River for drinking water until October 2015, the governor said he was relying on DEQ’s false assurances that the water was safe. That was despite growing evidence to the contrary in the months leading up to Snyder’s acknowledgement of widespread lead contamination. . .

Continue reading.

The Governor seems strangely eager to avoid identifying responsibility for the mess and holding people accountable. I can think of one reason for that attitude. And the next sentence of the article:

The MLive investigation also found many of Snyder’s claims downplaying his administration’s role in the crisis are contradicted by the facts.

People who say that there should be no finger-pointing usually say that because they’re aware that the fingers would point at them.

Read the whole thing, an example of excellent US journalism.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 May 2016 at 12:33 pm

Lead Water Pipes in 1900 Caused Higher Crime Rates in 1920

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Kevin Drum has an interesting post at Mother Jones:

Last year I wrote about a paper that looked at the relationship between childhood lead poisoning and violent crime rates in a whole new way. James Feigenbaum and Christopher Muller compared cities from the early 20th century that installed lead water pipes with those that installed iron pipes, and found that cities with lead pipes had higher homicide rates. Today, Josh Marshall alerts me to the fact that Feigenbaum and Muller have now published a final draft of their paper. The basic results are below:

blog_lead_pipes_homicide

As you can see, the effect is consistently positive. “Based on the lowest and highest point estimates,” the authors conclude, “cities that used lead pipes had between 14 and 36 percent higher homicide rates than cities that did not.” They present further versions of this chart with various controls added, but the results are largely the same. Overall, they estimate that cities with lead pipes had homicide rates 24 percent higher than cities with iron pipes.

As a check, they also examine the data to see if lead pipes are associated with higher death rates from cirrhosis and infant diarrhea, both of which have been linked with lead poisoning:

As expected, we observe large, positive, and statistically significant relationships between a city’s use of lead pipes and its rates of death from cirrhosis and infant diarrhea. Unexpectedly, we find that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 May 2016 at 3:32 pm

Corporate ethics: Pretty low

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Two more examples, just in today’s news:

Mitsubishi Admits Cheating on Fuel-Economy Tests

In the latest scandal to hit the automobile industry, Mitsubishi Motors said on Wednesday that it had cheated on fuel-economy tests for an ultrasmall car it produces in Japan, acknowledging its engineers had intentionally manipulated evaluations.

The cheating affected about 620,000 cars sold in the Japanese market starting in 2013, Tetsuro Aikawa, Mitsubishi’s president, said at a news conference.

But the problem could stretch beyond that make of car. Mr. Aikawa said that the same testing method, which was in violation of Japanese standards, was used on other models in the country and that Mitsubishi was investigating whether fuel-economy ratings for other lines had been exaggerated as a result. . .

A Canadian Energy Company Is About to Expose an Inuit Community to Toxic Mercury

It’s a tale as old as time: energy company proposes big project, energy company says it will have no effects on the local population, local population says it’ll actually poison their land, and their people, for decades.

Classic!

The energy company in question here is Nalcor Energy, and the project is the multi-billion dollar Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam in Labrador, Newfoundland, which got the green light from the provincial government in 2012. Flooding the reservoir to build the dam will release toxic methylmercury into the area around nearby Lake Melville, but Nalcor argues that it will be diluted enough to have no effect on the local Inuit population.

But a new study, commissioned by the aboriginal Nunatsiavut Government and completed by scientists from Memorial University, Harvard, and the University of Manitoba, says that the toxic mercury released during the dam’s construction will have highly detrimental effects on the area’s wildlife and the aboriginal people who live off of it.

More than 200 individuals (and their children and grandchildren) could be affected by the toxic mercury, the study’s authors concluded. Additionally, 66 percent of the community in nearby Rigolet will be pushed above acceptable mercury levels, per the most conservative US Environmental Protection Agency guidelines, according to the report. . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

20 April 2016 at 9:33 am

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