Later On

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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

A Uranium Ghost Town in the Making

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Mark Olalde and Maya Miller report in ProPublica:

The “death map” tells the story of decades of sickness in the small northwest New Mexico communities of Murray Acres and Broadview Acres. Turquoise arrows point to homes where residents had thyroid disease, dark blue arrows mark cases of breast cancer, and yellow arrows mean cancer claimed a life.

Neighbors built the map a decade ago after watching relatives and friends fall ill and die. Dominating the top right corner of the map, less than half a mile from the cluster of colorful arrows, sits what residents believe is the cause of their sickness: 22.2 million tons of uranium waste left over from milling ore to supply power plants and nuclear bombs.

“We were sacrificed a long time ago,” said Candace Head-Dylla, who created the death map with her mother after Head-Dylla had her thyroid removed and her mother developed breast cancer. Research has linked both types of illnesses to uranium exposure.

Beginning in 1958, a uranium mill owned by Homestake Mining Company of California processed and refined ore mined nearby. The waste it left behind leaked uranium and selenium into groundwater and released the cancer-causing gas radon into the air. State and federal regulators knew the mill was polluting groundwater almost immediately after it started operating, but years passed before they informed residents and demanded fixes.

The contamination continued to spread even after the mill closed in 1990.

The failures at Homestake are emblematic of the toxic legacy of the American uranium industry, one that has been well-documented from its boom during the Cold War until falling uranium prices and concerns over the dangers of nuclear power decimated the industry in the 1980s. Uranium mining and milling left a trail of contamination and suffering, from miners who died of lung cancer while the federal government kept the risks secret to the largest radioactive spill in the country’s history.

But for four decades, the management of more than 250 million tons of radioactive uranium mill waste has been largely overlooked, continuing to pose a public health threat.

ProPublica found that regulators have failed to hold companies to account when they missed cleanup targets and accepted incorrect forecasts that pollution wouldn’t spread. The federal government will eventually assume responsibility for the more than 50 defunct mills that generated this waste.

At Homestake, which was among the largest mills, the company is bulldozing a community in order to walk away. Interviews with dozens of residents, along with radon testing and thousands of pages of company and government records, reveal a community sacrificed to build the nation’s nuclear arsenal and atomic energy industry.

Time and again, Homestake and government agencies promised to clean up the area. Time and again, they missed their deadlines while further spreading pollution in the communities. In the 1980s, Homestake promised residents groundwater would be cleaned within a decade, locals told the Environmental Protection Agency and ProPublica. After missing that target, the company told regulators it would complete the job around 2006, then by 2013.

In 2014, an EPA report confirmed the site posed an unacceptable cancer risk and identified radon as the greatest threat to residents’ health. Still, the cleanup target date continued shifting, to 2017, then 2022.

Rather than finish the cleanup, Homestake’s current owner . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 August 2022 at 12:16 pm

5 Foods You Should Always Buy Organic And Why!

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This is definitely worth watching.

Written by Leisureguy

7 August 2022 at 6:08 pm

Stanford Designer is Making Bricks Stronger than Concrete Out of Fast-Growing Mushrooms

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Andy Corbley reports at Good News Network:

While there aren’t any species of mushroom large enough to live in, one Bay-area designer thinks he can make one if he only cranks out enough of his patented “mushroom bricks.”

In fact, he knows he can do it, because he’s already build a showpiece called “Mycotecture”—a 6×6 mushroom brick arch from Ganoderma lucidum or reishi mushrooms.

Phil Ross doesn’t use the mushroom, or fruiting body of the reishi; he uses mycelium, the fast-growing fibrous roots that make up the vast majority of fungus lifeforms.

Mycelium grows fast, and is incredibly durable, waterproof, non-toxic, fire-resistant, and biodegradable.

Ross uses it to build bricks by growing mycelium in bags of delicious (to mushrooms) sawdust, before drying them out and cutting them with extremely heavy-duty steel blades.

This works because mushrooms digest cellulose in the sawdust, converting it into chitin, the same fiber that insect exoskeletons are made from.

“The bricks have the feel of a composite material with a core of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

6 August 2022 at 1:55 pm

“Princess Mononoke”: The masterpiece that flummoxed the US

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Princess Mononoke is currently available via Netflix, and it is certainly worth (re)watching. Stephen Kelly writes for BBC Culture:

In 1997, the British fantasy author Neil Gaiman received a call out of the blue from then-head of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein. “This animated film, Princess Mononoke,” Gaiman recalls him saying, “it’s the biggest thing in Japan right now. So I thought I’ve got to get the best to do it. I called Quentin Tarantino and said, ‘Quentin, will you do the English language script?’ And he said, you don’t want me, you want Gaiman. So, I’m calling you.” Miramax, a then-subsidiary of Disney, had acquired the rights to distribute Princess Mononoke, the newest film from Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli, in the United States, and Weinstein wanted to fly Gaiman to Los Angeles to watch a cut of the movie.

“I had zero plans to do it,” Gaiman tells BBC Culture. “But the moment that changed everything for me was the scene where you’re looking at this large pebble. And then a raindrop hits it. And then another raindrop hits it. And then another raindrop hits it. And now it’s raining and the surface is slippery and wet. And I’m like, ‘I have never seen anything like this. This is real filmmaking. This is David Lean-level filmmaking. This is Akira Kurosawa-level filmmaking. This is the real deal.'”

When Princess Mononoke was first released in Japan on 12 July 1997, 25 years ago this week, it represented something of a departure for master animator and director Hayao Miyazaki. During the late 80s, Miyazaki had built his reputation (along with the success of Studio Ghibli, which he founded with fellow director Isao Takahata) on films like Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbour Totoro; formally ambitious, thematically rich works, but generally affirming in tone and family-friendly in nature. But something changed during the 90s. Firstly, he began to bristle at the popular idea that Studio Ghibli only makes gentle movies about how great nature is. “I begin to hear of Ghibli as ‘sweet’ or ‘healing,'” he grumbles in Princess Mononoke: How the Film Was Conceived, a six-hour documentary about the film’s production, “and I get an urge to destroy it.” Yet even more significant was his growing despair at a world which he had increasingly come to believe was cursed.

“He used to be what he called leftist in sympathy, a believer in people power,” explains Shiro Yoshioka, lecturer in Japanese Studies at Newcastle University. “But for obvious reasons [the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the escalation in ethnic conflicts across Europe], his political beliefs were totally shaken in the early 1990s.”

Japan itself was also going through something of an existential crisis. The country’s bubble period, an economic boom during the late 80s, burst in 1992, stranding Japan in a seemingly endless recession. Three years later, in 1995, the country was hit by the Kobe earthquake, the worst earthquake to hit Japan since 1922. It killed 6,000 people, and destroyed the homes of tens of thousands more. Only two months after that, a terrorist cult by the name of Aum Shinrikyo launched a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo Metro, killing 13 and injuring thousands. Miyazaki, who was sickened by the materialism of the bubble period, was now living in a country traumatised and confused – both by its relationship with nature, and a creeping sense of spiritual emptiness.

“He began to think,” says Yoshioka, “maybe I should not make this entertaining, light-hearted stuff for children. Maybe I should make something substantial.”

A new anger

Set during the 14th Century, the Muromachi period of Japan, Princess Mononoke tells the story of Ashitaka, a young prince cursed by . . .

Continue reading. But perhaps it’s best to read the article after you’ve watched the movie. The article has many spoilers.

Written by Leisureguy

6 August 2022 at 12:56 pm

The audacious PR plot that seeded doubt about climate change

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Dishonesty and bad faith are endemic in business and politics — and doubtless in all large swaths of human relations — and those will be what will destroy us. Ignoring reality is a strategy for failure because reality endures.

Jane McMullen reports for BBC News:

Thirty years ago, a bold plan was cooked up to spread doubt and persuade the public that climate change was not a problem. The little-known meeting – between some of America’s biggest industrial players and a PR genius – forged a devastatingly successful strategy that endured for years, and the consequences of which are all around us.

On an early autumn day in 1992, E Bruce Harrison, a man widely acknowledged as the father of environmental PR, stood up in a room full of business leaders and delivered a pitch like no other.

At stake was a contract worth half a million dollars a year – about £850,000 in today’s money. The prospective client, the Global Climate Coalition (GCC) – which represented the oil, coal, auto, utilities, steel, and rail industries – was looking for a communications partner to change the narrative on climate change.

Don Rheem and Terry Yosie, two of Harrison’s team present that day, are sharing their stories for the first time.

“Everybody wanted to get the Global Climate Coalition account,” says Rheem, “and there I was, smack in the middle of it.”

The GCC had been conceived only three years earlier, as a forum for members to exchange information and lobby policy makers against action to limit fossil fuel emissions.

Though scientists were making rapid progress in understanding climate change, and it was growing in salience as a political issue, in its first years the Coalition saw little cause for alarm. President George HW Bush was a former oilman, and as a senior lobbyist told the BBC in 1990, his message on climate was the GCC’s message.

There would be no mandatory fossil fuel reductions.

But all that changed in 1992. In June, the international community created a framework for climate action, and November’s presidential election brought committed environmentalist Al Gore into the White House as vice-president. It was clear the new administration would try to regulate fossil fuels.

The Coalition recognised that it needed strategic communications help and put out a bid for a public relations contractor.

Though few outside the PR industry might have heard of E Bruce Harrison or the eponymous company he had run since 1973, he had a string of campaigns for some of the US’s biggest polluters under his belt.

He had worked for the chemical industry discrediting research on the toxicity of pesticides; for the tobacco industry, and had recently run a campaign against tougher emissions standards for the big car makers. Harrison had built a firm that was considered one of the very best.

Media historian Melissa Aronczyk, who interviewed Harrison before he died in 2021, says he was a strategic linchpin for his clients, ensuring everyone was on the same page.

“He was a master at what he did,” she says.

Before the pitch, Harrison had assembled a team of both seasoned PR professionals and almost total novices. Among them was Don Rheem, who had no industry credentials. He had studied ecology before becoming an environmental journalist. A chance meeting with Harrison, who must have seen the strategic value of adding Rheem’s environmental and media connections to the team, led to a job offer on the GCC pitch.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this is an opportunity to get a front row seat at probably one of the most pressing science policy and public policy issues that we were facing.’

“It just felt enormously important,” Rheem says.

Terry Yosie – who had recently been recruited from the American Petroleum Institute, becoming a senior vice-president at the firm – remembers that Harrison began the pitch by reminding his audience that he was instrumental in fighting the auto reforms. He had done so, in part, by reframing the issue.

The same tactics would now help beat climate regulation. They would persuade people that the scientific facts weren’t settled, and that alongside the environment, policy makers needed to consider how action on climate change would – in the GCC’s view – negatively affect American jobs, trade and prices.

The strategy would be implemented through an extensive media campaign, everything from placing quotes and pitching opinion pieces (so-called op-eds), to direct contacts with journalists. . .

Continue reading. The report includes a link to a video, which can be viewed only in the UK, that provides more information:

Big Oil v the World

Drawing on thousands of newly discovered documents, this three-part film charts how the oil industry mounted a campaign to sow doubt about the science of climate change, the consequences of which we are living through today.

Watch now on BBC iPlayer (UK Only)

It is thanks to the efforts of such PR professionals and the industries that funded them that we face the climate catastrophe that is our future.

A quotation commonly attributed to Vladimir Lenin (though not found in any of his works): “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which to hang them.” Though Lenin may not have written or said those words, it certainly seems true that capitalists will embrace their own destruction so long as they make money from it. In this, they resemble alcoholics who embraces illness and death so long as they can drink, cigarette smokers who continue smoking even while fighting lung cancer, and gambling addicts who will continue to play until all their money is gone and their credit is exhausted and their lives are ruined. In other words, capitalists are addicts who are willing to destroy anything for their fix, and now they are well on their way to destroying our livable world.

Written by Leisureguy

25 July 2022 at 10:04 am

Our Obsession With Growth Must End

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In the NY Times David Marchese interviews the economist Herman Daly on why never-ending growth is absurd and a harmful idea (gift link, no paywall):

Growth is the be-all and end-all of mainstream economic and political thinking. Without a continually rising G.D.P., we’re told, we risk social instability, declining standards of living and pretty much any hope of progress. But what about the counterintuitive possibility that our current pursuit of growth, rabid as it is and causing such great ecological harm, might be incurring more costs than gains? That possibility — that prioritizing growth is ultimately a losing game — is one that the lauded economist Herman Daly has been exploring for more than 50 years. In so doing, he has developed arguments in favor of a steady-state economy, one that forgoes the insatiable and environmentally destructive hunger for growth, recognizes the physical limitations of our planet and instead seeks a sustainable economic and ecological equilibrium. “Growth is an idol of our present system,” says Daly, emeritus professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, a former senior economist for the World Bank and, along with the likes of Greta Thunberg and Edward Snowden, a recipient of the prestigious Right Livelihood Award (often called the “alternative Nobel”). “Every politician is in favor of growth,” Daly, who is 84, continues, “and no one speaks against growth or in favor of steady state or leveling off. But I think it’s an elementary question to ask: Does growth ever become uneconomic?”

There’s an obvious logic to your fundamental argument in favor of a steady-state economy,1

1 One in which the population and the stock of capital no longer grow but, as John Stuart Mill has put it, “the art of living would continue to improve.”

 which is that the economy, like everything else on the planet, is subject to physical limitations and the laws of thermodynamics and as such can’t be expected to grow forever. What’s less obvious is how our society would function in a world where the economic pie stops growing. I’ve seen people like Peter Thiel, for example, say that without growth we would ultimately descend into violence.2

2 Speaking on the Portal podcast in 2019, the billionaire tech investor and libertarian-leaning conservative power broker said, “But I think a world without growth is either going to be a much more violent or a much more deformed world. . . . Without growth, I think it’s very hard to see how you have a good future.”

 To me that suggests a fairly limited and grim view of human possibility. Is your view of human nature and our willingness to peacefully share the pie just more hopeful than his? First, I’m not against growth of wealth. I think it’s better to be richer than to be poorer. The question is, Does growth, as currently practiced and measured, really increase wealth? Is it making us richer in any aggregate sense, or might it be increasing costs faster than benefits and making us poorer? Mainstream economists don’t have any answer to that. The reason they don’t have any answer to that is that they don’t measure costs. They only measure benefits. That’s what G.D.P. is.3

3 More specifically, it’s the monetary value of the final goods and services produced by a nation.

 There’s nothing subtracted from G.D.P. But the libertarian notion is logical. If you’re going to be a libertarian, then you can’t accept limits to growth. But limits to growth are there. I recall that Kenneth Boulding4

4 An economist, longtime professor at the University of Colorado and former president of the American Economic Association. He died in 1993 at age 83.

 said there are two kinds of ethics. There’s a heroic ethic and then there’s an economic ethic. The economic ethic says: Wait a minute, there’s benefits and costs. Let’s weigh the two. We don’t want to charge right over the cliff. Let’s look at the margin. Are we getting better off or worse? The heroic ethic says: Hang the cost! Full speed ahead! Death or victory right now! Forward into growth! I guess that shows a faith that if we create too many problems in the present, the future will learn how to deal with it.

Do you have that faith? [Laughs.] No, I don’t.

Historically we think that economic growth leads to higher standards of living, lower death rates and so on. So don’t we have a moral obligation to pursue it?  . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2022 at 3:42 pm

A man who planted trees

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Read the full report on this effort.

Hikmet Kaya, retired forest engineer from Turkey, standing in front of a land which he afforested while holding a photograph of it from 41 years ago when he started.

From that report:

Hikmet Kaya has proved that good intentions and hard work can yield big rewards. The retired Turkish forest management chief has posed proudly in front of the barren land that he and his team have transformed into a lush forest. He began his career in the town of Sinop in 1978 and while he retired 19 years later, his legacy has continued to grow—literally.

Working together with his team and villagers, he brought in and planted 30,000,000 saplings over the course of his tenure. Long after his retirement, these trees have continued to grow; and today, this barren stepped land has undergone an incredible transformation. During the 19 years of afforestation efforts, Kaya never stopped working. And 41 years after he first began this ambitious afforestation project, he returned to the now-lush land with a picture of the once-barren environment, highlighting what a huge difference there is in the landscape. Needless to say, he admits he’s very happy with the results.

It’s a wonderful example to set for the rest of the country. According to Global Forest Watch, Turkey has seen a 5.4% decrease in tree cover since 2000. Deforestation was the overriding cause of much of this decrease, so contributing to its reversal is critical.

Combatting deforestation often comes down to governmental policy changes, which makes it important for . . .

Continue reading. The report includes links to stories about individuals who are planting trees.

That brought immediately to mind this short movie:

At one time, it was thought that forests grew where there was water and good rainfall, but as we are incessantly told, correlation is not causation, and in this case the causation is the reverse of what was believed: it is the forest that causes the rainfall and water. In fact, the amount of water that the Amazon forest releases into the atmosphere is greater than the amount of water that flows in the Amazon river. (Of course, we’re putting a stop to that by deforesting the Amazon basin to grow cattle so McDonald’s can make cheap hamburgers.)

Update: And another real-life example:

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2022 at 9:45 am

Geoengineering is humanity’s last hope to combat climate change, but we’re not doing that, either.

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Kevin Drum has a good post that begins:

Last night was dex night, so I spent some time hanging around Twitter. At one point I ended up writing something that I’ve hinted around at here but have never quite come out and said outright. So let’s take care of that.

I’ve been watching the climate change fight for 20 years now, waiting and waiting for evidence that the public takes it seriously enough to do something about it. Not just say it’s important when a pollster calls, but demonstrate a real-world willingness to make lifestyle sacrifices that would make a difference. By chance, Paul Krugman wrote about this today:

It has long been painfully obvious that voters are reluctant to accept even small short-run costs in the interest of averting long-run disaster. This is depressing, but it’s a fact of life, one that no amount of haranguing seems likely to change…. Emission taxes are the Econ 101 solution to pollution, but realistically they just aren’t going to happen in America.

Needless to say, I agree. Two years ago I wrote a long piece for Mother Jones based on exactly this observation, and I’d add that it’s true of other countries as well. Neither Chinese nor Indian voters have any interest in freezing or lowering their standard of living at a quarter of our level just because we happened to get rich first. And it’s hard to blame them. Nevertheless, it just adds to the mountain of evidence—which I outlined in my article—that the public simply can’t be counted on to support any serious action.

Not in time, anyway. A decade ago I wrote in Democracy that by 2024:

The fact of climate change will become undeniable. The effects of global warming, discernible today mostly in scary charts and mathematical models, will start to become obvious enough in the real world that even the rightest of right wingers will be forced to acknowledge what’s happening.

I was only half right. The effects of climate change are becoming undeniable, but it hasn’t made even a lick of difference. The Republican Party remains unanimously opposed to clean energy because they oppose anything that raises the possibility of corporate regulation. This is very unlikely to change by 2024.

At the time I wrote about all this two years ago, my conclusion was . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

19 July 2022 at 1:35 pm

How Much Does It Really Cost to Charge That Electric Vehicle?

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Evan Williams has an informative post at, and though his focus is Canada, I believe his figures would generally apply in the US as well. One acronym that was new to me: PHEV = Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (as distinct from plain old Hybrid, I presume). The article begins:

Update (February 28, 2022): With more EVs on the road in 2022 than in 2017, along with big changes in the cost of energy, we’ve updated this guide for 2022 with new vehicles and updated power and fuel rates.

Just about every article or news piece about an electric car that we do – and there is a lot of EV news lately – gets a comment thread filled with people debating the price of charging an EV. “Hydro rates are so high,” “maybe when electricity is cheaper,” “who can afford to drive one when I can use cheaper gas,” and best of all “filling a tank with fuel is half the price of plugging in a car.”

What we realized is buyers don’t seem to know just how much it costs to charge an EV. I realized I didn’t know how much it would cost to charge an EV either. But I wanted to find out. We all know exactly how much it costs to put gas in the tank – look at the lines if there is a one-cent price jump expected overnight – but electricity is more stable and more predictable. So how much does it cost to “fill up” an electric car?

The Price of Power

The first step is finding the cost of electricity. In most provinces, it’s easy. Most provinces have a set rate and tax. In New Brunswick, for example, power costs $0.1076/kWh and then gets a 15 percent tax. In provinces with a flat service fee, we have ignored that cost. Since you have to pay that anyway, EV or not, we didn’t count it. One province, however, is a little more tricky.

Ontario has not just three time-of-day rates (and a new but little-used tiered system), but a patchwork of electric providers. Each has a different fee to get the power to your door, with some having multiple rates depending on where you live. That makes it difficult to calculate for every person in the province, but we can get an idea of the range for the province using a best case and a worst case. For the worst case, we used rural delivery fees and peak time rates. For the best case, we used nighttime rates with an urban delivery fee rate.

In provinces that use a different rate for your first bundle of kWh, we’ve used that lower rate. Our reasoning is that it’s impossible to say which kilowatts went where and that the differences aren’t significant to our calculations.

EV Charge Cost

The next step is finding out how much electricity a car takes to charge up. Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), the same agency that handles fuel economy ratings, does consumption ratings for electric cars. Part of their estimates is a kWh/100 km rating for all electric cars. We’ll use their city/highway combined rating as the amount of electricity used to drive 100 km.

For our calculations, we’re using two electric vehicles. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

17 July 2022 at 9:05 am

The Aptera resurfaces

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I have blogged about the Aptera 3-wheel electric vehicle multiple times — but those are posts from like 13 years ago. But hope springs eternal, and the Aptera now proclaims that it will roll out pre-production models (costing as low as $26,500) later this year (2022). Kristin Houser writes in Big Think:

  • California startup Aptera has developed a three-wheeled car covered with solar panels.
  • Its lowest range model, which can travel 250 miles, will sell for $25,900.
  • Depending on the weather and season, the car might charge completely without ever being plugged in.

California startup Aptera has purchased a factory for its solar cars — and instead of rolling down an assembly line, the vehicles will be carried from station to station by autonomous robots.

The challenge: In the U.S., transportation pumps more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere than any other sector — even more than industry or electricity. Transitioning away from fossil fuel-powered cars and to electric ones is therefore a key part of combating climate change.

Many people are deterred from buying EVs, though, due to the perceived hassle of charging and affordability — anyone looking to spend less than $30,000 on a new vehicle is going to see far more gas-fueled options than EVs.

The solar carAptera’s solar car is designed to address both of these hurdles.

The vehicle is lightweight, with an aerodynamic body and just three wheels. Those design decisions alone make it incredibly energy efficient, minimizing the frequency at which drivers need to charge the EV.

Some Aptera owners could get away with never plugging in, depending on the weather and season, thanks to the solar panels covering the car. If the vehicle is parked in the sun, the panels can provide 40 miles of range per day — enough to meet most people’s daily driving needs.

A highly efficient solar car is no good if no one can afford to buy it, though, so Aptera plans to sell its lowest range model (250 miles) for just $25,900 — and to ensure it can hit that price point, the startup is bringing its efficiency-first mindset into the factory.

On the line: In 2022, Aptera announced that it would be relying on platform-like robots, built by equipment manufacturer RedViking, in its new factory to move its EVs from one station to another during the assembly process.

“These carts are really adaptable over time,” said CEO Chris Anthony. “It’s not the traditional automotive plant that has overhead gantries that you have to install that cost millions and millions of dollars and aren’t very flexible.”

This approach will make it easier to make changes to the manufacturing process in the future and also deal with any snags in production — if there’s a problem with a car, Aptera can just instruct a robot to move it out of the way for special attention.

“For us, it’s really just changing the programming of the robots and how the robots move through the factory,” said Anthony.

Looking ahead: Aptera has already received 25,000 reservations for its solar car, with each prospective buyer putting down a $100 deposit.

Before the end of 2022, it expects to . . .

Continue reading. At the link is a one-hour video in the designer and other company executives discuss the car and its production.

Written by Leisureguy

14 July 2022 at 5:39 pm

Interesting investigation into a diet consisting wholly or mostly of potatoes

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I find the Slime Mold Time Mold blog fascinating. It recounts an investigation by an interdisciplinary group of scientists and doctors into the causes of the obesity epidemic, and they make a strong case that environmental contaminants are to blame, with the prime suspect being lithium, which enters the environment through various routes, one primary one being its ubiquitous use as a component of lubricants — lithium grease is everywhere, and of course the lithium doesn’t just vanish after use.

You can read their findings and arguments in their blog, but this post is to point out their investigation of a diet consisting of potatoes.

Written by Leisureguy

13 July 2022 at 8:22 pm

Advanced Electric-Vehicle Batteries Move From Labs to Mass Production

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This is great news, though I fear it may be too late. Jack Ewing has a report (gift link, no paywall) in the NY Times:

For years, scientists in laboratories from Silicon Valley to Boston have been searching for an elusive potion of chemicals, minerals and metals that would allow electric vehicles to recharge in minutes and travel hundreds of miles between charges, all for a much lower cost than batteries available now.

Now a few of those scientists and the companies they founded are approaching a milestone. They are building factories to produce next-generation battery cells, allowing carmakers to begin road testing the technologies and determine whether they are safe and reliable.

The factory operations are mostly limited in scale, designed to perfect manufacturing techniques. It will be several years before cars with the high-performance batteries appear in showrooms, and even longer before the batteries are available in moderately priced cars. But the beginning of assembly-line production offers the tantalizing prospect of a revolution in electric mobility.

If the technologies can be mass-produced, electric vehicles could compete with fossil-fuel-powered vehicles for convenience and undercut them on price. Harmful emissions from automobile traffic could be substantially reduced. The inventors of the technologies could easily become billionaires — if they aren’t already.

For the dozens of fledgling companies working on new kinds of batteries and battery materials, the emergence from cloistered laboratories into the harsh conditions of the real world is a moment of truth.

Producing battery cells by the millions in a factory is vastly more difficult than making a few hundred in a clean room — a space designed to minimize contaminants.

“Just because you have a material that has the entitlement to work doesn’t mean that you can make it work,” said Jagdeep Singh, founder and chief executive of QuantumScape, a battery maker in San Jose, Calif., in the heart of Silicon Valley. “You have to figure out how to manufacture it in a way that’s defect-free and has high enough uniformity.”

Adding to the risk, the slump in tech stocks has stripped billions of dollars in value from battery companies that are traded publicly. It will not be as easy for them to raise the cash they need to build manufacturing operations and pay their staff. Most have little or no revenue because they have yet to begin selling a product.

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Later in the article:

After years of experimentation, QuantumScape developed a ceramic material — its exact composition is a secret — that separates the positive and negative ends of the batteries, allowing electrons to flow back and forth while avoiding short circuits. The technology makes it possible to substitute a solid material for the liquid electrolyte that carries energy between the positive and negative poles of a battery, allowing it to pack more energy per pound.

Written by Leisureguy

12 July 2022 at 9:41 am

This can’t be good: Weedkiller ingredient tied to cancer found in 80% of US urine samples

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Many GMO crops have been genetically modified to increase nutritional value (for example, Golden Rice) or to increase insect resistance, and I see such uses as benign. However, genetically modifying crops to enable them to survive being sprayed with toxins strikes me as a bad idea, and that is what Monsanto has focused on: genetically modifying crops to resist the herbicide Roundup. And now we are seeing the effects.

Carey Gillam reports in the Guardian:

More than 80% of urine samples drawn from children and adults in a US health study contained a weedkilling chemical linked to cancer, a finding scientists have called “disturbing” and “concerning”.

The report by a unit of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that out of 2,310 urine samples, taken from a group of Americans intended to be representative of the US population, 1,885 were laced with detectable traces of glyphosate. This is the active ingredient in herbicides sold around the world, including the widely used Roundup brand. Almost a third of the participants were children ranging from six to 18.

Academics and private researchers have been noting high levels of the herbicide glyphosate in analyses of human urine samples for years. But the CDC has only recently started examining the extent of human exposure to glyphosate in the US, and its work comes at a time of mounting concerns and controversy over how pesticides in food and water impact human and environmental health.

“I expect that the realization that most of us have glyphosate in our urine will be disturbing to many people,” said Lianne Sheppard, professor at the University of Washington’s department of environmental and occupational health sciences. Thanks to the new research, “we know that a large fraction of the population has it in urine. Many people will be thinking about whether that includes them.”

Sheppard co-authored a 2019 analysis that found glyphosate exposure increases the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and also co-authored a 2019 scientific paper that reviewed 19 studies documenting glyphosate in human urine.

Both the amount and prevalence of glyphosate found in human urine has been rising steadily since the 1990s when Monsanto Co. introduced genetically engineered crops designed to be sprayed directly with Roundup, according to research published in 2017 by University of California San Diego School of Medicine researchers.

Paul Mills, the lead researcher of that study, said at the time there was “an urgent need” for a thorough examination of the impact on human health from glyphosate in foods people commonly consume.

More than 200 million pounds of glyphosate are used annually by US farmers on their fields. The weedkiller is sprayed directly over genetically engineered crops such as corn and soybeans, and also over non-genetically engineered crops such as wheat and oats as a desiccant to dry crops out prior to harvest. Many farmers also use it on fields before the growing season, including spinach growers and almond producers. It is considered the most widely used herbicide in history.

Residues of glyphosate have been documented in  . . .

Continue reading

I wonder whether glyphosate in the body inhibits the ability to think rationally. Probably not.

Written by Leisureguy

11 July 2022 at 9:50 am

At the shore, learn to spot — and avoid — rip currents

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The above video is from a fascinating and informative article by Chloe Williams that appeared in Hakai Magazine. Her article begins:

On a sweltering day in July 2019, Summer Locknick plodded along Prince Edward Island’s Cavendish Beach among hundreds of people lounging on the red-tinted sand. The air smelled of sunscreen as the visitors worked on their tans, blew up inflatable rafts, and cooled off in the sea. Locknick, however, was not there to relax. With a GPS unit and a tablet in hand, she circulated in the crowd, asking people if they knew about an often-overlooked threat slinking through the surf.

Rip currents are one of the deadliest hazards along the coast, yet beachgoers rarely pause to consider them before heading into the water. “Most people who go to a beach aren’t aware of what a rip current is,” Locknick says. These belts of seawater, often wider than a four-lane highway, cut through the surf and flow away from the shore, pulling unsuspecting bathers beyond their depth. Rips, as they’re known colloquially, can occur on any beach with breaking waves—even on the shores of North America’s Great Lakes—and have been measured to flow as fast as a raging river, including some whitewater sections of the Colorado River. Struggling against a rip current leads to exhaustion for even the strongest swimmers.

Worldwide, rips cause hundreds of drownings and necessitate tens of thousands of rescues every year. In Australia, where 85 percent of the population lives within an hour’s drive of the coast, rips cause more fatalities than floods, cyclones, and shark attacks combined. In 1938, one of the country’s most popular beaches, Sydney’s Bondi Beach, was the site of an infamous rip-current tragedy: within minutes, roughly 200 swimmers were swept away by a rip, leaving 35 people unconscious and five dead. More often, however, rips take one life at a time, garnering little media attention. For many casual beach visitors, the toll of rip currents goes unnoticed.

Locknick had only vaguely heard about rips as an undergraduate student at the University of Windsor in Ontario. During a stint as a research assistant in a coastal geomorphology lab, she grew increasingly intrigued by the currents and the reasons people get caught in them. During her graduate studies in 2019, she surveyed 500 people at Cavendish Beach and nearby Brackley Beach to learn how beachgoers perceive the hazard in Prince Edward Island, a province where rips have caused several drownings in recent years. Although almost three-quarters of beach users said they knew what a rip current is, only 54 percent could correctly define it. In addition, only half of the people she surveyed remembered seeing either the warning signs or the colored flags denoting surf conditions that were posted on or near the main access point to each beach. An even smaller percentage could recall what color the flags had been—green for calm, yellow for moderate, or red for dangerous conditions. “I was genuinely shocked,” Locknick says.

Chris Houser, a professor in the department of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Windsor, who oversaw the work, has seen the same trend throughout his research. Houser started his academic career studying the physical processes that shape the coast but has since branched out to explore the human side of beach safety. While living in the United States in the late 2000s, he began examining public perceptions of rip currents and warning signs, later expanding his work to Australia and Costa Rica, where he has collaborators, and, most recently, to Canada. Many people disregard, misunderstand, or fail to notice warning signs, he says. And sometimes signs are misleading. A major pitfall in many communities’ attempts to save lives from rips is assuming that the warnings work. “You can have the signs, you can have the flags,” Houser says, “but they’re not going to fix the problem.”

Deciding what to put on a sign is not straightforward either: rips are  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 June 2022 at 11:38 am

“The Need to Grow” — free to watch for one more day

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The documentary Free to Grow can be watched for free for one more day, so leap on it. From the link:

“No human being on the planet should miss this film.”
— Society of Voice Arts and Sciences

“Perhaps the best film on sustainability I have ever seen.”
— Teddy Grouya, Founding Director – American Documentary Film Festival

“I loved this movie…it was one of those environmental movies that gave me hope.”
— Todd James, Global News

Thanks to reader JvR for the tip.

NOTE: Once you sign up to watch (which you can do free for one more day), you have three days to actually watch the movie — so you get the weekend to see it if you sign up now.

Written by Leisureguy

17 June 2022 at 10:28 am

Why We Must Cultivate Imagination to Fight the Rise of Fascism

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Dave Troy (his website) is worth listening to. Here’s a recent article he published on Medium:

This week I was in the beautiful city of Brussels, Belgium meeting up with friends and colleagues — many of whom I hadn’t seen in over two years. It was a great opportunity to reset, gain some wisdom, and also learn more about what’s going on in information warfare globally. I attended the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensics Lab 360/Open Summit event, which included a wide range of experts including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Maria Ressa.

I was able to synthesize an assessment of where things might go, in combination with my own views and research, and, well… it’s not pretty. But there are things we can do, and reasons to have hope. Here’s a rough overview of what we might expect:

  • Putin will weaponize food shortages, inflation, fuel prices, and refugee flows. As fuel prices rise, so will food prices. This will cause widespread starvation in Africa, which will launch a flow of refugees from Africa into Europe, similar to what happened in 2015 but at a larger scale. This will trigger all manner of xenophobia in Europe and help weaken resolve. Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, and Hungary are already wobbly with respect to Ukraine support, for a variety of historical reasons. (Remnants of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, Italian north-south rivalries, and a longing for the restoration of the Austro-Hungarian empire loom large, and just beneath the surface). Ukraine and Europe are also running out of ammunition, making the conflict entirely dependent on US supplies against Russia and China supplies.
  • It never was about NATO, and there is no off-ramp. Yesterday, Putin made a speech wherein he likened himself to Peter the Great, and suggested that Russia’s action in Ukraine was merely a case of Russia reclaiming what was rightfully theirs. He is a Tsarist, and aims to recapture or colonize any territory that suits his imagination.
  • The United States may descend into civil unrest, or revolution. Oil and gas cartels may push fuel prices as high as $10 per gallon in the US. This would clearly signify a new high-water mark and could usher in a wave of civil unrest. Biden will be blamed for this, even though fuel prices will rise globally, and it has nothing to do with him. Food prices will likewise go up dramatically, as there is little practical difference between food and fuel (both are energy). Banks are predicting that middle class Americans may have trouble paying for essentials like food and fuel, and are planning for ‘imminent’ and unprecedented civil unrest, according to a report obtained by The Byline Times. Given that this would help fulfill goals of the fascist international, we should expect that Republicans and their allies will be pushing this forward at every opportunity.
  • Ukraine war will become a years-long war of attrition. Putin will use chaos in Europe and the US to undermine support for Ukraine and continue to throw raw resources and personnel, despite lack of training, at wearing down the situation there. A low-yield nuclear strike against targets in Western Ukraine is a distinct possibility — perhaps Lviv, which would limit easterly fallout affecting Russia — and would have the effect of activating “anti-war” activists in Europe and the US. This “Fifth Column” could be very effective given this new demonstration of force (and lack of judgment) in eroding continued support for Ukraine.
  • If Ukraine falls, the Baltics, Poland, and Balkans will be the next targets. Russia can only be stopped if it is unequivocally defeated. If it is not, it will regroup (with its allies China and India) and resume information warfare then kinetic warfare against all its adjacent territories. The Baltics are very clearly in its sights already and will be attacked without question, unless stopped. Poland and much of the Balkan states are not far behind. While this may sound implausible because of how weak Russia seems right now, it is thinking in terms of the ~3 billion people represented by Russia, China, India, Brazil (et al) vs. the ~1 billion people represented by NATO. While that’s an apples to oranges comparison, the overall scales involved make the matching more even than it might seem on the surface.
  • China may become more aggressive as it faces internal threats. China faces a demographic bomb as its population ages. Its single child policy means an elderly population will soon be gone, and it will face a shrinking population. China’s GDP is heavily dependent (around 30%) on overhyped real-estate schemes, many of which will never be occupied. The conflict with Taiwan continues to simmer and will eventually come to a head, creating a strategic threat against global production of integrated circuit chips. China is beginning to become more aggressive with its information warfare, and starting to threaten Australia. The historic Kuomintang network which seems to be associated with Guo Wengui and Steve Bannon is preparing itself as “shock troops” to take over when the CCP falls. While that may be fantasy, the situation definitely has elements of instability that should be closely monitored.
  • Russia is increasing its aggression towards Japan over the Kuril Islands. The islands in Northern Japan, an important fishing ground, have been contested since World War II. Russia is threatening Japan, suggesting that it will return the islands to their control if Tokyo distances itself from the United States and the West. So far, this play has not been working, but they are continuing to become ever more aggressive in pushing Japan in this direction. Aleksandr Dugin sees Japan as part of the Russian sphere of influence and wishes to drive Japan apart from Western influence.
  • We are dealing with a resurgence of individualism and propertarianism. Whether talking about “sovereign citizen” lunacy, or “sovereign individual” bitcoin fantasies, the propertarian legacy of slave ownership, or gold fetishists in Vienna longing for the restoration of the Austro-Hungarian empire, we are dealing with a resurgence of interest in hierarchy and its very close cousins, white supremacy and eugenics. The idea that money confers reproductive fitness is a recurring theme, even as it is nonsense, and we should be prepared, once again, to combat it.
  • In the end, this resolves to one key conflict: carbon fuels. Carbon fuel producers really don’t want to stop producing carbon fuel; they have massive, long term investments they wish to productively amortize over a decades or centuries. Pesky democracies that want to shut down the party now are ultimately a minor annoyance. Converting energy flows into influence — by purchasing politicians, organizations, and capturing government — is straightforward enough, and simply a matter of positioning the right marketing campaigns, politicians, and cults in service of the task. Influence is 20th century technology perfected by the marriage with 21st century finance and technology. And the kicker? The best way to capture a government is to eliminate it. Obviously, the need to address anthropogenic climate change is real, and is impeded by the capture or elimination of government.
  • Some have already decided that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

11 June 2022 at 9:41 am

There’s Something Wrong With Suburbia (The Orange Pill)

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This short film portrays a dystopia, but not a science-fiction dystopia — it’s a non-fiction dystopia, and many spend their lives trapped within it.

Written by Leisureguy

6 June 2022 at 7:02 pm

Interview of the writer of “You eat a credit card’s worth of plastic every week”

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I blogged the article earlier, and now the interview:

Written by Leisureguy

29 May 2022 at 3:53 pm

You Eat a Credit Card’s Worth of Plastic Every Week

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Katharine Gammon writes in Nautilus:

Martin Wagner was annoyed that his colleagues were always talking about microplastics in the ocean. It was 2010 and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch had been headline news. Here was this massive gyre, formed by circular ocean currents in the Pacific Ocean, reportedly brimming with plastic particles, killing sea turtles and seagulls. Wagner, a professor of biology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, whose lab focuses on the impact of plastics on human and ecosystem health, felt like scientists were pointing to marine systems as the main repository of these tiny plastic particles. But wouldn’t it make sense for them to exist in other systems as well? “It was like, wait a second, it must be in freshwater too,” Wagner says today. He set out to search for microplastics elsewhere.

As we know, plastic is omnipresent. Plastic is cheap and easy to make and mold. We use this miracle polymer to store and transport food, make our clothes and cosmetics, cars and boats, detergents and fertilizers, transfuse our blood and floss our teeth. But it also takes between 20 to 500 years to break down a single piece of plastic in a landfill. Those bagged salad containers will be with us for generations to come.

When it comes to the environment, plastic is a scourge. We’ve seen the images of marine animals entangled in fishing lines and six-pack holders, beaches piled with plastic items like shopping bags, water bottles, and old toothbrushes. But it’s microplastics that increasingly have been the focus of environmentalists and scientists. Microplastics are plastic debris less than five millimeters long. They enter the environment from the natural decomposition of plastic or by being shed by the countless products that contain plastic chemicals.

Microplastics have been found in places as remote as Antarctica1 and the summit of Mount Everest,2 in fish guts, and in honeybees.3 Researchers recently found tiny plastic particles in the lungs of surgical patients, the blood of donors, and the placentas of unborn babies.4 We can breathe in polyethylene from our T-shirts because wastewater plants can’t fully filter them out. Microplastics are in our food—carried into the food chain by water or plankton—and in our toothpaste and dental floss.

When it comes to eating microplastics, scientists have documented plastic particles in about 40 percent of the human diet, including beer, honey, salt, and seafood. A graduate student in the United Kingdom collected mussels from different parts of the country and predicted that consumers ingest 70 microplastic particles for each 100 grams of mussels.5 Meanwhile, another study showed beer samples had about 28 particles per serving.6 People may be eating as much as a credit card’s worth of plastic each week7—or more, because scientists still haven’t figured out how to reliably determine microplastic levels in meat, vegetables, grains, or packaged foods, which means we still don’t know how much plastic we actually eat.

Yet despite all the new knowledge about microplastics and the even tinier nanoplastics, smaller than a millimeter, that enter the human body through ingestion or inhalation—available in a dizzying array of sizes, colors, and chemical makeups—there remains a gaping question. What exactly does it mean for human health?

We do know for certain that, in principle, plastics in our system can be bad for us. One of the earliest bodies of research on the impact of plastic particles on humans examined the so-called “flock worker’s lung,” a condition developed by employees of a Rhode Island plant that processed nylon flock, short fibers cut from cables of synthetic monofilaments to produce velvet-like materials used in upholstery, blankets, and clothing.8 The factory had almost no ventilation, and epidemiologists found that workers there had levels of lung cancer that were three times higher than among the people in the area who didn’t work in the factory. At first, they suspected the workers were inhaling chemicals, but when they studied the lungs of some of the workers who had died, they found nylon fibers lodged in the lung tissue. “This was significant,” says Scott Coffin, a research scientist who leads California’s development of regulations for microplastics in drinking water. “It was the late 1990s, and this was the first case that showed microplastics causing cancer in humans.”

The finding was buried in scientific literature for 15 years, Coffin says, mostly because of terminology: The reports used the term “nylon flocking” instead of “microplastics.” Scientists have worked to clarify that kind of distinction. For example, . . .

Continue reading. Humans are ruining their own habitat as rapidly as they can.

Written by Leisureguy

21 May 2022 at 12:43 pm

If everyone observed Meatless Monday, deforestation would be cut by 50%

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That’s according to an article in Nature by Giorgia Guglielmi:

Replacing just 20% of global beef consumption with a meat substitute within the next 30 years could halve deforestation and the carbon emissions associated with it, finds a modelling study.

The findings, published in Nature on 4 May1, come one month after the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that humanity is nowhere near on track to limit global warming to 1.5 ºC above pre-industrial levels.

Beef farming is a top driver of deforestation worldwide, and cattle raised for beef are a major source of methane, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Replacing beef with meat alternatives could reduce some of the food production’s environmental footprint, but it won’t solve the climate crisis, says study lead author Florian Humpenöder, a sustainability scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “It should not be seen as a silver bullet,” he says.

Previous research has shown that replacing beef with a meatless alternative called mycoprotein can have beneficial effects on the environment. Produced in steel tanks by fermenting a soil-dwelling fungus with glucose and other nutrients as a food source, mycoprotein is a meat substitute that made its debut in the United Kingdom in the 1980s under the brand name Quorn and is now readily available in many countries.

Humpenöder and his colleagues are the first to estimate the environmental effects of partially replacing beef with mycoprotein over time, says Franziska Gaupp, who studies food systems at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Previous analyses didn’t take into account changes in population growth, food demand and other socio-economic factors.

The team used a mathematical model that considered . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 May 2022 at 6:49 pm

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