Later On

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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Why fossil fuel subsidies are so hard to kill

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Government subsidies for fossil fuels are the epitome of perverse incentives, particularly when those same governments proclaim that they are taking action against climate change. Jocelyn Timperley writes in Nature:

Fossil-fuel subsidies are one of the biggest financial barriers hampering the world’s shift to renewable energy sources. Each year, governments around the world pour around half a trillion dollars into artificially lowering the price of fossil fuels — more than triple what renewables receive. This is despite repeated pledges by politicians to end this kind of support, including statements from the G7 and G20 groups of nations.

“I think everyone seems to be basically on the same page that something needs to be done about fossil-fuel subsidies,” says Harro van Asselt, a specialist in climate law and policy at the University of Eastern Finland in Joensuu. “It’s the discrepancy between the rhetoric and the reality that is starting to bite a little bit. We’re figuring out that it’s incredibly challenging to actually make it happen.”

Change is possible. At least 53 countries reformed their fossil-fuel subsidies between 2015 and 2020, according to the Global Subsidies Initiative (GSI), a research group in Geneva, Switzerland. And US President Joe Biden is the latest high-profile politician to vow to eliminate them. But much more needs to be done. “In the next few years, all governments need to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies,” the International Energy Agency (IEA) says in a 2021 report1 laying out a road map to a world with net-zero carbon emissions.

How are fossil fuels subsidized?

Fossil-fuel subsidies generally take two forms. Production subsidies are tax breaks or direct payments that reduce the cost of producing coal, oil or gas. These are common in Western countries and are often influential in locking in infrastructure such as oil pipelines and gas fields, says Bronwen Tucker, an analyst in Edmonton, Canada, at Oil Change International, a non-profit research organization headquartered in Washington DC that works to reveal the costs of fossil fuels.

Continue reading. There’s more, including an interesting chart.

Written by Leisureguy

22 October 2021 at 4:45 pm

Factory farms of disease: How industrial chicken production is breeding the next pandemic

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John Vidal reports in the Guardian:

One day last December, 101,000 chickens at a gigantic farm near the city of Astrakhan in southern Russia started to collapse and die. Tests by the state research centre showed that a relatively new strain of lethal avian flu known as H5N8 was circulating, and within days 900,000 birds at the Vladimirskaya plant were hurriedly slaughtered to prevent an epidemic.

Avian flu is the world’s other ongoing pandemic and H5N8 is just one strain that has torn through thousands of chicken, duck and turkey flocks across nearly 50 countries including Britain in recent years and shows no sign of stopping.

But the Astrakhan incident was different. When 150 workers at the farm were tested, five women and two men were found to have the disease, albeit mildly. It was the first time that H5N8 had been known to jump from birds to humans.

The World Health Organization (WHO) was alerted but, this being at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, little attention was paid even when Anna Popova, chief consumer adviser to the Russian Federation, went on TV to warn “with a degree of probability” that human-to-human transmission of H5N8 would evolve soon and that work should start immediately on developing a vaccine.

Global attention is fixed on the origins of Covid-19, either in nature or from a laboratory, but eight or more variants of avian flu, all of which are able to infect and kill humans and are potentially more severe than Covid-19, now regularly rattle around the world’s factory farms barely noticed by governments.

There have been no further reports of human H5N8 infections in 2021, but concern last week turned to China, where another type of avian flu known as H5N6 has infected 48 people since it was first identified in 2014. Most cases have been linked to people working with farmed birds, but there has been a spike in recent weeks and more than half of all the people infected have died, suggesting that H5N6 is gathering pace, mutating and extremely dangerous.

WHO and Chinese virologists have been worried enough to call on governments to increase their vigilance. “The likelihood of human-to-human spread is low [but] wider geographical surveillance in the China affected areas and nearby areas is urgently required to better understand the risk and the recent increase of spillover to humans,” said a WHO Pacific-region spokesperson in a statement.

Earlier this month, China’s Centre for Disease Control [CDC] identified several mutations in two recent H5N6 cases. The spread of the H5N6 virus is now a “serious threat” to the poultry industry and human health, said Gao Fu, CDC director, and Shi Weifeng, dean of public health at Shandong First Medical University.

“The zoonotic potential of AIVs [avian influenza viruses] warrants continuous, vigilant monitoring to avert further spillovers that could result in disastrous pandemics,” they say.

Factory farming and disease

The WHO suspects, but has no proof, that Covid-19 is linked to the intensive breeding of animals in south-east Asia’s many barely regulated wildlife farms. Major outbreaks over the past 30 years including Q fever in the Netherlands and highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreaks have been linked with intensive livestock farming.

Governments and the £150bn-a-year poultry and livestock industries emphasise how intensive farming is generally extremely safe and now essential for providing fast-growing populations with protein [though in fact plant-based foods are more efficient and safer – LG], but scientific evidence shows that stressful, crowded conditions drive the emergence and spread of many infectious diseases, and act as an “epidemiological bridge” between wildlife and human infections.

UN bodies, academics and epidemiologists recognise the link between the emergence of highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses and increasingly intensive poultry farming.

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): “Avian influenza viruses are evolving into a large, diverse virus gene pool … A pathogen may turn into a hyper-virulent disease agent; in monocultures involving mass rearing of genetically identical animals that are selected for high feed conversion, an emerging hyper-virulent pathogen will rapidly spread within a flock or herd.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and it’s disturbing.

Also, I highly recommend watching this video of a presentation by Dr. Michael Greger. He describes in the video how factory farms are ideal incubators for new diseases. It’s a talk worth watching, and as you watch keep in mind that the talk was given in 2008. Excluding animal-based foods is good for your health both directly — in terms of what the food does to your body — and indirectly — in terms of what raising does to create new diseases.

Written by Leisureguy

20 October 2021 at 9:30 am

A River Reawakened: Ten Years of Rewilding the Elwha Watershed

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Courtesy of USGS

Jessica Plumb writes in Orion:

IN SEPTEMBER 2011, I stood on a river overlook with children from my daughter’s elementary school, all of us transfixed by a giant jackhammer pounding cement to rubble. Below us, a waterfall raged through the first notch carved in the Lower Elwha Dam, as dust rose in the September sunshine, drifting over Douglas fir and cedar crowns. Trees were the only spectators old enough to remember when the Elwha River ran free, a century earlier. The rest of us stood in awe, watching the world’s largest dam removal to date, feeling time start to spin in reverse.

I’ve spent a decade bearing witness to an unprecedented restoration experiment in Washington State. That September day committed me to unraveling the river’s story, while dam removal raised enough questions to keep scientists engaged for years to come.

The Elwha River begins in the Olympic Mountains, a rugged range encircled by ocean on three sides. Rivers radiate from the center of the Olympic Peninsula, short and steep, born from deep snowpack at the heart of the range. The Elwha River tumbles over four thousand feet in forty-five miles, from alpine meadows into rock canyons and flood plains, until it meets the sea in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

When the first dam rose in 1911, it blocked the river just five miles upstream from the ocean. A second dam, constructed in Glines Canyon shortly before the creation of Olympic National Park, would operate within park boundaries for more than seven decades.

The beauty and diversity of Olympic National Park draws visitors from around the world. Many come to experience its “ancient groves” of old-growth forest. To me, this familiar landscape does not feel ancient. I imagine this is what the world was like when it was young. Freshly scrubbed by glaciers, with terrain like a restless teenager, prone to earthquakes and pulsing with life. The first time I took my daughter to a salmon creek during a fall run, we heard fish long before we could see them, splashing and slapping their tails in their raucous run upstream. Next came the stench of carcasses, salmon that had spawned and died, lining the bank. Finally, we caught a glimpse of the creek, where a cloud of pink salmon stirred an azure pool, circling below a stretch of rapids. Pink salmon arrive every other year, odd years only. When they return, they are the wildebeest of the Olympic Peninsula, a migration that once felt uncountable.

Wild salmon weave freshwater and saltwater ecosystems together, and rivers are the threads between those worlds. Impounding a river severs that connection in both directions. When dams were built without fish passage on the Elwha River, the most immediate impact was a barrier for anadromous fish.The river had legendary fish runs, attracting all five species of Pacific salmon, unusual in the region. The most iconic species was chinook, famous for its enormous size. Members of the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe describe hundred-pound salmon, fish so big that children struggled to drag a single one home in a gunnysack.

Continue reading. There’s more.

And see also in this post a photo of two Chinook salmon caught around 1910.

Written by Leisureguy

19 October 2021 at 2:14 pm

Economists to Cattle Ranchers: Stop Being So Emotional About the Monopolies Devouring Your Family Businesses

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

Last week, there was what should have been a historic hearing in the House Agriculture Committee, with the goal of reforming America’s cattle ranching system. The first witness was a Republican Senator trying to persuade the House members to adopt his legislative initiative. “My name is Chuck Grassley,” he said, “And I’m a farmer from Butler County, Iowa.” Grassley’s homespun rhetoric disguised a sophisticated and longstanding campaign to address a crisis in the beef industry, and more broadly, our food system at large.

To consumers, this crisis appears as high meat prices, with costs for beef up 12% this year alone. “I’ve never seen it like this in all the years I’ve been doing this,” said Bob Strupeni, a butcher in San Francisco who has been working in the industry for 44 years. Higher meat prices are responsible for roughly half the annual increase in food prices, and food inflation is not only stretching household budgets, but has created a serious political problem for the White House. In September, the Biden administration attacked the industry over high prices, calling for an end to “pandemic profiteering.”

To cattle ranchers, who actually sell the cows to packers that are turned into beef, the crisis is not high prices, but low prices. They aren’t getting very much for their cattle. This is weird, because, normally, beef and cattle prices move in tandem – the current high beef prices should result in high cattle prices. But since 2015, the ‘meat margin’, or the spread between the prices ranchers get for their cows and the prices consumers pay at the supermarket, has widened dramatically. Despite high consumer prices, independent ranchers are losing money, and going out of business. “If we don’t get some of these problems fixed quickly, we won’t have any independent ranchers in this country,” explained Oklahoma Farmers Union president Scott Blubaugh.

Why are there high prices to consumers and low prices to cattle ranchers? Grassley had an answer. “The four major beef packing companies control 80% of the cattle industry,” he told the House members. And they are what he called “a chokepoint” for the entire sector. In other words, follow the money. In the beef industry, it’s not Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook suppressing business, but “the Big Four” – Tyson’s, JBS, Cargill and National Beef, who control 85% of the market (and more in some regions).

Grassley’s chokepoint comment is right; for every dollar Americans spend on food, only 14.3 cents goes to the farmer. And much of the rest of it goes to the middlemen. JBS, for instance, paid out a record $2.3 billion in dividends in 2020, and plans to increase that by 75% this year, even as cattle producers leave the industry. Here’s a chart showing the meat margin. The split between beef and cattle prices starting in 2015 is very clear.

With such stark disparities, the politics of beef are lined up for major change. Consumers are upset. More importantly, ranchers, who are a fractious bunch, tend to have wealth and connections, and they have for the first time unified around a core agenda of making packers disclose prices paid for cattle. They have also persuaded large numbers of Congressmen to act on their demands. Bitterness between ranchers and packers is so bad that JBS exited the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, a politically powerful trade association. Schisms in industries like this don’t happen often, and when they do, they mean reform is on the table.

How Beef Markets Work

Is there really an emergency in the supply chain, or is this just a fight over money between well-off ranchers and massive multi-nationals? The answer is that there is a serious problem that goes beyond parochial concerns. Back in May, I interviewed independent ranching advocate Bill Bullard to talk about something that hadn’t happened in America since World War II – a beef shortage, along with accompanying high prices. Like a lot of shortages, it’s easy to chalk this one up to Covid. But in fact there was plenty of cattle, it just wasn’t getting to the shelves. So what was happening?

One hint is to look at packing plants. In the late 1970s into the early 1980s, beef packers consolidated as a result of policy. The Reagan administration facilitated a large merger wave, and the courts threw out a consent decree going back to the 1920s that blocked packers from engaging in a variety of anti-competitive practices, such as owning their own feed lots. The result was the re-creation of a new oligopoly that had been taken apart in the 1920s, a set of dominant firms profiled by Upton Sinclair in his 1906 book, The Jungle.

During this consolidation craze, dozens of smaller packers disappeared, either purchased or driven out of business. Entering the market as an independent packer no longer made sense, because an existing packer could simply drive you out of business through things like below cost pricing, or making your products not viable by intentionally losing money to drive you out of business. Or they could sign exclusive distribution agreements with supermarkets or significant buyers, meaning that you would no longer be able to have access to potential customers. In addition, packers began mass imports from Mexico starting in 2009, using a loophole to label such beef as “product of U.S.A.,” meaning it was harder and harder to compete.

It’s fairly clear there would be new packers if it weren’t for anti-competitive tactics. Indeed, Walmart, which doesn’t fear retaliation as it is itself a large beef retailer, looked at this situation, and realized that it makes more sense to become a meatpacker itself than to buy from the middlemen who inflate costs. The retail giant got into the packing business in 2020. Walmart is not good for independent ranchers, but that the chain entered packing is an illustration of how bloated the cost structure is of existing players.

Along with the consolidation came plant closures. From 1977 to 2014, . . .

Continue reading.  There’s more.

Of course, it would probably be a good thing if consumers did drastically curtail their consumption of beef:

Do read the rest of the original article. It’s interesting how the meat-packers screwed over the cattle ranchers and how economists helped them do it. Later in the article:

How Economists Manipulated the Data to Aid Monopolists

It was a remarkable moment. Clear evidence of market rigging presented to a court, a significantly expanded meat margin, and angry ranchers explaining what was happening, were somehow no match for the economic scientists.

How did Koonz make the case that . . .

Written by Leisureguy

15 October 2021 at 2:28 pm

Pedal-powered school “buses”

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Written by Leisureguy

14 October 2021 at 11:30 am

Renewable energy costs now in the range of fossil fuel costs.

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Both charts here are from EV’s Charts of the Week. And though renewables (Photo-Voltaic (PV), Concentrated Solar Power (CSP), Offshore- and Onshore-Wind) are within fossil-fuel cost range, that’s not likely to stay that way, since fossil-fuel costs are rising. Hydroelectric power is also renewable, and the drought in the Western US has affected that, especially in California.

Soon renewables will be below fossil fuel’s cost range. For example:

However, the US in particular must upgrade its electric grid to carry this power — and the US does not like to invest in social goods such as infrastructure, education, public health, and so on. Will Englund has an excellent report on this in the Washington Post. (Link is a gift link: no paywall.) His report begins:

On a good day, a fair wind blows off Lake Ontario, the long-distance transmission lines of New York state are not clogged up and yet another heat wave hasn’t pushed the urban utilities to their limits. On such a day, power from the two big wind turbines in Vaughn Moser’s hayfield in this little village join the great flow of electricity from upstate as it courses through the bottleneck west of Albany and then heads south, where some portion of it feeds what is currently the country’s largest electric vehicle charging station, on the edge of Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood.

There, at an installation opened earlier this year by a car-sharing company called Revel, on the site of the old Pfizer pharmaceutical headquarters, this carbon-free power can help juice up a whole fleet of sleek vehicles that aim to leave the internal combustion engine behind.

But that’s on a good day. Even now — before this state and the country’s grand ambitions for an electric future are fully in motion — there are too many bad ones.

Seventy-four times last year, the wind across Upstate New York dropped so low that for stretches of eight hours or more barely any electricity was produced. Nearly half the year, the main transmission line feeding the metropolitan area was at full capacity, so that no more power could be fed into it. Congestion struck other, smaller lines, too, and when that happened some of the wind turbine blades upstate fell still.

And in New York City this summer, the utility Con Edison appealed to customers to cut back on their electricity usage during the strain of five separate heat waves, while Tropical Storms Elsa, Henri and Ida cut power to thousands.

Converting the nation’s fleet of automobiles and trucks to electric power is a critical piece of the battle against climate change. The Biden administration wants to see them account for half of all sales by 2030, and New York state has enacted a ban on the sale of internal combustion cars and trucks starting in 2035.

But making America’s cars go electric is no longer primarily a story about building the cars. Against this ambitious backdrop, America’s electric grid will be sorely challenged by the need to deliver clean power to those cars. Today, though, it barely functions in times of ordinary stress, and fails altogether too often for comfort, as widespread blackouts in California, Texas, Louisiana and elsewhere have shown.

“We got to talk about the grid,” said Gil Quiniones, head of a state agency called the New York Power Authority. “Otherwise we’ll be caught flat-footed.”

The grid’s big looming problem: Getting power to where it’s needed

By 2030, according to one study, the nation will need to invest as much as $125 billion in the grid to allow it to handle electric vehicles. The current infrastructure bill before Congress puts about $5 billion toward transmission line construction and upgrades.

Even in this progressive, wealthy state, where policymakers are spending billions on climate change initiatives and the governor has announced plans for two big new transmission lines feeding the New York metropolitan area, the challenge is enormous. By 2050, the state projects, electric cars, trucks and buses will use 14 percent of New York’s total output. That’s equivalent to half of all the electricity used in New York City in 2019 — so it’s like powering a new city of four million people. Overall demand could grow by as much as 50 percent. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and no paywall.

Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2021 at 12:46 pm

Possible culprit in the obesity epidemic

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A Chemical Hunger is a literature review of obesity studies in a search for why obesity suddenly started becoming a problem around 1980 — not just in humans, but also among domesticated animals. The site consists of multiple sections, one webpage per section, and section 7, “Lithium,” has just been posted.

It’s worth reading. It begins:

Lithium is the third element on the periodic table, the lightest metal, a hit Nirvana single, and a mood-stabilizing drug often used to treat bipolar disorder.

Lithium isn’t synthetic, of course, but it can still be an environmental contaminant. While it occurs naturally in small concentrations in groundwater, human activity might have led to serious increases over the past few decades.

Unlike the other contaminants we’ve reviewed, we don’t need to spend any time convincing you that lithium makes people gain weight: it does. Almost everyone who takes lithium at therapeutic levels gains some weight. About half of them report serious weight gain, on average 22 lbs (10kg), and about 20% of patients gain more than that. Weight gained is correlated (r = .44, p < .001) with dosage. Unsurprisingly, weight gain on lithium is related to an increase in leptin levels.

We’d love to tell you whether lithium concentrations in groundwater have increased over time. But while lithium is easy to detect, assessing lithium levels is not a part of the standard analysis of drinking water, so we don’t have reliable historical data to work with. There aren’t even EPA standards for lithium levels in drinking water.

We’d also like to tell you about how much lithium people are exposed to, and whether that has increased over the past several decades. Measuring serum lithium is relatively easy, and people who are starting lithium treatment get checked frequently to make sure that their blood levels aren’t too high. Despite this, there doesn’t seem to be any data on serum lithium levels in the general population. The NHANES data has records of how much uranium there was in your urine every year from 2000-2016, but not a single measure related to lithium. Great job, guys.

We can’t talk about trends in the groundwater or in people’s bodies directly. But what we can do is look at other trends that we would expect to be related. For example, this figure shows a graph of USGS-reported records for global lithium production since 1900:

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

11 October 2021 at 5:58 pm

The Myth of Regenerative Ranching

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Jan Dutkiewicz and Gabriel N. Rosenberg report in The New Republic:

When foodies sink their teeth into a slab of cheese from one of the historic dairy farms in Point Reyes, California, their minds probably run to grass-fed cows ranging free on the lush green oceanside hills of Marin County. Over 5,000 dairy cows and beef cattle roam the Point Reyes National Seashore National Park in full view of visiting tourists. Unlike the many dairy and meat companies that slap happy animals on their labels while sourcing their product from hellish factory farms, the dairy and beef farms at Point Reyes represent an agrarian ideal of ecologically and ethically sustainable animal agriculture.

“Pasture-raised” and “extensive” or “regenerative” grazing have been watchwords in the American foodie community since at least the 2000s, when celebrated food writer Michael Pollan presented sustainable, nonindustrial practices as a way out of the ethical morass of the American food system in his award-winning bestseller The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Everyone from progressive agrarians to libertarian ranchers to multinational food companies, and even conservation NGOs such as the Audubon Society, has thrown their weight behind the idea of replacing mass-produced meat, from chickens to ungulates, with a holistically raised alternative. While some environmentalists reject beef altogether for its contribution to climate changepollution, and deforestation, proponents of free-ranging beef have rallied under the motto, “It’s not the cow; it’s the how.” They argue that, done properly, pasture-raised cattle can replace the ecological functions of wild ruminants like elk and bison, produce food on “marginal” land that would otherwise be wasted, and eliminate beef’s carbon hoofprint (since well-grazed land can sequester atmospheric carbon dioxide). This would mean consumers could stick it to Big Ag, fight climate change, and help imperiled animals and ecosystems without actually changing their diets too much; they’d just need to eat a bit less meat and pay a bit more for the grass-fed option.

Whether these promises hold up under scrutiny is a subject of fierce debate. And in recent years, a series of lawsuits have argued the opposite thesis: that even “regenerative” cattle imperil the very ecosystems proponents claim they will “regenerate.”

This past June, the Harvard Animal Law and Policy Clinic, on behalf of the Animal Legal Defense Fund and a number of individual plaintiffs, filed suit against the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service, which manages Point Reyes National Park, alleging that cattle ranching is endangering the iconic tule elk.* It’s not the first such lawsuit that has been filed over the past decade against the NPS to stop alleged environmental damage from Point Reyes cows.

The National Park Service leases parkland to a number of “historic” cattle and dairy farms, which it has done since the park’s creation in 1962. The elk, native to the region but driven to near-extinction by hunting and human activities such as ranching, are protected by a 1976 federal conservation law and were reintroduced to the park in 1978. But to keep the elk from competing with cattle for forage and water, the NPS erected fences that confine the elk to select corners of the park with limited water and forage. This confinement has proved fatal during droughts. Drought in 2013–2014 led to 254 elk deaths. A current drought has already killed over 150 elk, a third of the once 445-strong herd that inhabits Tomales Point, all just a stone’s throw away from thriving commodity cows. Ranchers have even pushed for the right to cull elk outright to keep their populations in check, in part because they have also killed off the natural predators that would do so in a healthy ecosystem. The Harvard suit alleges that “the Tule elk are continuing to die horrific and preventable deaths” in clear violation of federal law.

Prior to the twentieth century, the tule elk were an important part of the Pacific coastal ecosystem and a major component of the diet of the Coast Miwok tribe, the native peoples who lived there. In fact, the NPS concedes that the region’s characteristic hilly grasslands were “the byproduct of burning, weeding, pruning and harvesting for at least two millennia by Coast Miwok and their antecedents.” These grasslands made a juicy target for white settlers arriving in the middle of the nineteenth century. They brought cattle with them, plundered the Coast Miwok lands, hunted large predators and elk to near-extinction, and then grazed their cattle on the hills instead. The intertwined processes of colonial and ecological displacement have continued into the twenty-first century: In 2015, the NPS balked at a proposed “Indigenous Archaeological District” that would have protected Coast Miwok heritage sites from damage from ranching. Even as it did so, it quickly approved a “Historic Dairy Ranching District,” over and against Miwok protests. Today, many Coast Miwok are opposed to the rancher-backed plan to fence and further cull the elk. “The Park Service proposal to shoot indigenous tule elk and promote ranching that harms wildlife, water and habitat is a travesty and contrary to the traditions of our ancestors,” Jason Deschler, dance captain and headman with the Coast Miwok Tribal Council of Marin, wrote this summer in a statement opposing the cull.

The cows at Point Reyes don’t just compete with the elk. They also defecate about 130 million pounds of nitrogen-rich manure a year, which leaches into the soil and streams and ponds of the area. An NPS-funded study suggested that removal of the cows would benefit numerous native species, including butterflies, seabirds, frogs, and salmon. And yet the same study recommended the expansion of ranching. As a damning investigative report into the issue in the Marin County Pacific Sun suggests, the ranchers and dairy farmers have urged pliant politicians, including Senator Dianne Feinstein, to “pressur[e] the Park Service to prioritize the preservation of private ranching profits over environmental concerns.”

Point Reyes is a microcosm of a much broader anti-wildlife bent in American ranching, regenerative and otherwise. To protect their cows from predators and disease, or simply to ensure that they have access to food and water, ranchers across the country have supported wolf huntsvulture and wild horse culls, and the deployment of cyanide bombs. It is difficult to count the number of wild animals killed in the service of ranching interests by government bodies like the Agriculture Department’s secretive Wildlife Services, the Bureau of Land Management, and various state-level farm bureaus, but about a million animals per year is the federal government’s own estimate.

Unlike wild animals such as elk, ranched cattle are commodities in a global market. And the goals of commodity production run directly counter to those of a functional ecosystem. In the wild, . . ..

Continue reading. There’s more.

Humans know what should be done but refuse to do it — cf. climate change. I hold little hope for the species.

Written by Leisureguy

6 October 2021 at 12:12 pm

Environmental contaminants: Maybe the effects go beyond obesity

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It just occurred to me: the obesity map in this post roughly matches the Red state/Trump map, and thus it may be that the effects of environmental contamination (discussed in the post) include not only obesity but also alterations in cognitive ability. I’m serious. The point made in that post is that such contaminant affect the brain (thus resulting in obesity, like drugs that affect the brain), and some of the arguments and positions taken by Trump supporters are remarkable for their display of cognitive disfunction. Maybe it’s not their fault, much as obesity triggered by environmental contaminants is not the fault of the obese.

Read the whole series of posts, starting here.

Written by Leisureguy

1 October 2021 at 7:55 pm

Slime Mold Time Mold on the obesity epidemic

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The Browser interviews Slime Mold Time Mold:

Uri Bram: Today I’m delighted to welcome Slime Mold Time Mold, the authors of a fascinating new series about the obesity epidemic — could you start by introducing that series to our audience please?

Slime Mold Time Mold: Sure! Each of us had been separately following the literature on obesity for a couple years. It was clear that most of the theories that seemed promising in the 1990s and 2000s were falling apart. Even experts have felt this way for almost a decade now, maybe especially experts, since they’re the ones following the literature most closely.

On a long car ride we discussed that some of the mysteries that seem hard to explain otherwise would make sense if obesity were caused by environmental contaminants, so we decided to take a closer look. We started writing and looking into this idea, and the evidence ended up being much stronger than we expected.

Now we’re here. 🙂

Uri Bram: That’s awesome. Before we dig in further to the specifics about obesity, I actually have a meta question for you: how do you evaluate whether a massive social trend is monocausal or multi-causal? Does the pattern around obesity make it seem more likely that the rise is caused by “just one thing”, or a bunch of different factors coming together?

One Cause or Many Causes?

Slime Mold Time Mold: This is a really great question. Unfortunately we don’t think there’s an easy rule of thumb! We might say generally, you should assume a multicausal explanation until someone can make a monocausal case, because most things are complicated. Obesity looks kinda monocausal because there’s such an abrupt shift around 1980. But a lot of things changed around 1980 so it could go either way.

It’s good to keep your options open epistemically. Right now we think there is a good case for just a few contaminants. But we keep an open mind about there being more causes, so we’re still looking into others — for example, we recently took a look at glyphosate (the main ingredient in Roundup), and we feel good about that even though we ended up concluding that glyphosate doesn’t seem to cause obesity.

Uri Bram: Ok great! I don’t want to make you repeat too much from your series — to everyone reading this I really recommend checking it out starting here, it’s just a phenomenally engrossing read and it’s definitely started a lot of conversations – but I’m just going to ask some questions that came to mind for me while reading.

Slime Mold Time Mold: Sure! Just to clarify, it’s not over yet!

The obesity you don’t see

Uri Bram: Ahahah, for sure. So: one question is about the relationship between obesity and either wealth or socioeconomic class. Anecdotally, just from everyday life, it seems that there’s a strong relationship there — I don’t think you see a lot of obesity among the “elite” professional class or on fancy college campuses. But you have some counterintuitive findings around that, so I wanted to ask you to speak a little about how the environmental contaminant model could be compatible with the relationship between socioeconomics and obesity.

Slime Mold Time Mold: So first of all, it’s totally compatible with contaminants. Poor people are more likely to have jobs like janitor, coal miner, or factory worker, where they get direct contact with lots of different contaminants. The president of 3M gets a lot less exposure to pretty much everything than his workers do. Same thing for college campuses. And there’s a general environmental justice issue here — poor people are more likely to live next to a factory or downstream from a coal mine. See Flint, MI.

But also, we’ve taken a look and just don’t think there is much of a relationship between poverty and obesity! If there is an effect, it’s pretty small. This seems pretty well-supported and we’ve done a review of the literature in a recent post.

Uri Bram: That’s pretty surprising for people, isn’t it?

Slime Mold Time Mold: Yeah, like many things in this area it’s very counter-intuitive!

Uri Bram: Suppose that someone said to you, though, that they look at their social circle and don’t see a lot of obesity. What would you say to that? Is this a misunderstanding of what “obese” looks like in practice?

Slime Mold Time Mold: It . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2021 at 2:08 pm

Greenland’s effects on South Carolina flooding

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The above video, of the largest calving event caught as it happened, was linked in a report in the Post and Courier in Charleston SC. The paper sent a reporter, Tony Barleme, to Greenland to take a look at the effects of global warming, which is affecting South Carolina (and Charleston is right on the coast). He reports:

1. Gravity

So many things in Greenland are gigantic. Greenland is five times the size of California, and roughly 80 percent is covered with ice. Greenland’s ice sheet is a mile deep on average, but near the center of the country it rises 10,000 feet into the sky. Greenland’s ice sheet is so thick and heavy that it makes the Earth wobble a bit as it spins, like an unbalanced top. When the ice sheet meets the ocean, the ice sometimes cracks and falls with the force of atomic bombs. Even Greenland’s language, Greenlandic, has huge words — one is 153 letters long.

Greenland’s ice is melting in a big way, too. This summer, so much melted in one week that you could flood the entire state of South Carolina with 2 feet of water. The ice sheet normally melts in the summer, but it’s melting faster now than it has in 12,000 years.

All this melting ice raised sea levels across the globe, just as dropping ice cubes into a whisky drink eventually makes a mess. Except some ice cubes in Greenland can be half the size of Manhattan.

There’s more: The Greenland ice sheet is so massive that it generates its own gravity. It pulls the Atlantic Ocean toward it like someone tugging a blanket. South Carolina is at the other end of this blanket, which means that Greenland pulls water away from our coast, lowering our sea level. But as the ice melts, its gravity disperses and its grip loosens. Seas at the far end of the ice’s power slosh back.

That’s one reason sea levels in South Carolina have risen faster than many other places around the globe.

Greenland is 3,000 miles north of Charleston, but this distant land of ice, polar bears and reindeer already has reshaped our coastline. It has made Charleston’s tides higher, our flooding worse. And what happens in Greenland in the future will largely determine the Lowcountry’s fate.

These forces come with overwhelming numbers, so it’s best to start smaller. Perhaps by flying in a 78-year-old plane over the world’s fastest-moving glacier.

With an Elvis impersonator on board.

2. The ice has left the building

It was the middle of August, and the afternoon temperature was in the low 60s, speeding up the summer melt. Above western Greenland, Josh Willis crouched in the back of a World War II-era DC-3.

He wore a blue NASA jumpsuit and cradled a 3-foot-long metal tube. He peeled off a sticker that said “REMOVE BEFORE LAUNCHING.” Setting the tube down, he opened a round metal hatch in the floor. Through the hole, you could see the Ilulissat Icefjord below.

Willis has a cherubic face and those long Elvis sideburns. Mention that he looks like Elvis and he lowers his voice and answers with the King’s trademark, “Thank you very much.” He’s a graduate of Second City’s comedy school in Los Angeles and has done shows on Hollywood Boulevard. His performances are a bit of oil and water — climate science and comedy. But he thinks that scientists could do a better job talking about their discoveries, and humor helps. For a science communication contest a few years ago, he and friends did a music video called the Climate Rock. In it, an 11-year-old asks, “What is climate?” Willis, in a 1970s Elvis jumpsuit, sings:

“You take a bunch of weather and you average it together and you’re doing the Climate Rock!”

Climate Elvis was born.

Willis has a more serious day job: climate scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. He leads the agency’s OMG project, which does not stand for “Oh My God,” though Willis does find himself saying that when he looks below and sees Greenland’s cathedrals of ice. It stands for Oceans Melting Greenland, a title he cooked up a decade ago as a catchy way to describe the project’s central question: Do warming oceans affect Greenland’s ice sheet?

Which is how he ended up throwing things out of airplanes.


The Ilulissat Glacier is a key OMG target and one the most important glaciers you’ve probably never heard of. It pours into a large valley near the town of Ilulissat, which is pronounced illoo-lih-sat and means “icebergs” in Greenlandic. The glacier also goes by other names: Jakobshavn, after a Danish merchant, and still used by many scientists; and the Greenlandic name “Sermeq Kujalleq,” or south glacier. But given all the giant icebergs, Ilulissat fits best.

About 40 miles from the sea, the Ilulissat Glacier forms an 8-mile wall called a calving front. Here, ice moves toward the ocean at 150 feet per day — a pace that tripled during the 1990s and 2000s. As it moves, it creates a great white shelf over the water that breaks off, often violently.

On warm days, the ice cracks like cubes after they’ve been dropped in a warm drink, except these cracks sound like thunderclaps and shake your ribs. Chunks as large as skyscrapers crash into the water, launching ice shards and spray. Some fractures release so much energy that geologists call them glacial quakes. Earthquake instruments across the world detect the biggest calving events. In 2008, a crew for the documentary “Chasing Ice” watched part of the ice wall collapse in a roar of thunder and white. The chunk was larger than 3,000 Egyptian pyramids.

All this falling ice flows down a fjord that’s 2,500 feet deep. But near the fjord’s mouth, the biggest icebergs hit an underwater speed bump — a sudden rise in the seabed that’s still about 800 feet deep. This bump creates the world’s most beautiful traffic jam.

Icebergs with giant arches crowd ones that look like snow cones, alligator heads and cowboy hats. Blue meltwater rivers speed down shimmering white slopes. Humpback whales swim between iceberg cliffs. Water streams off the cliffs, sounding like a steady rain. Some icebergs lose their balance as they melt. Without warning, they do summersaults, even ones as large as aircraft carriers. This can swamp fishing boats and smear the water with white ice bits for miles.

Over time, ice melts below the big icebergs, enough to clear that 800-foot-deep speed bump. Freed from the fjord, they float into the open ocean, propelled now by powerful currents.

But this traffic jam had long given OMG fits. The NASA crew needed space in the water to drop their probes, and sometimes the bergs were bumper to bumper. A few days before, they’d found an opening to drop a probe. But it didn’t broadcast any data. Now they were back for another try.

And Willis badly wanted the measurements, in part because of what they’d discovered a few years before. . . 

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

28 September 2021 at 12:46 pm

Rice feeds half the world. Climate change’s droughts and floods put it at risk

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In a severe drought, rice farmers in California’s Sacramento Valley have to leave some of their fields unplanted (upper left).CALIFORNIA RICE COMMISSION, BRIAN BAER

I have mentioned in several previous posts that two major catastrophes that climate change will bring are food wars (due to crop failures and low yields) and mass migration (due to droughts, flooding, and sea-level rise). We already see the beginnings, and we’re still in early days of climate change when (for example) one major political party in the US can still deny that it’s happening. 

Nikk Ogasa writes in Science News:

Under a midday summer sun in California’s Sacramento Valley, rice farmer Peter Rystrom walks across a dusty, barren plot of land, parched soil crunching beneath each step.

In a typical year, he’d be sloshing through inches of water amid lush, green rice plants. But today the soil lies naked and baking in the 35˚ Celsius (95˚ Fahrenheit) heat during a devastating drought that has hit most of the western United States. The drought started in early 2020, and conditions have become progressively drier.

Low water levels in reservoirs and rivers have forced farmers like Rystrom, whose family has been growing rice on this land for four generations, to slash their water use.

Rystrom stops and looks around. “We’ve had to cut back between 25 and 50 percent.” He’s relatively lucky. In some parts of the Sacramento Valley, depending on water rights, he says, farmers received no water this season.

California is the second-largest U.S. producer of rice, after Arkansas, and over 95 percent of California’s rice is grown within about 160 kilometers of Sacramento. To the city’s east rise the peaks of the Sierra Nevada, which means “snowy mountains” in Spanish. Rice growers in the valley below count on the range to live up to its name each winter. In spring, melting snowpack flows into rivers and reservoirs, and then through an intricate network of canals and drainages to rice fields that farmers irrigate in a shallow inundation from April or May to September or October.

If too little snow falls in those mountains, farmers like Rystrom are forced to leave fields unplanted. On April 1 this year, the date when California’s snowpack is usually at its deepest, it held about 40 percent less water than average, according to the California Department of Water Resources. On August 4, Lake Oroville, which supplies Rystrom and other local rice farmers with irrigation water, was at its lowest level on record.

Not too long ago, the opposite — too much rain — stopped Rystrom and others from planting. “In 2017 and 2019, we were leaving ground out because of flood. We couldn’t plant,” he says. Tractors couldn’t move through the muddy, clay-rich soil to prepare the fields for seeding.

Climate change is expected to worsen the state’s extreme swings in precipitation, researchers reported in 2018 in Nature Climate Change. This “climate whiplash” looms over Rystrom and the other 2,500 or so rice producers in the Golden State. “They’re talking about less and less snowpack, and more concentrated bursts of rain,” Rystrom says. “It’s really concerning.”

Farmers in China, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam — the biggest rice-growing countries — as well as in Nigeria, Africa’s largest rice producer — also worry about the damage climate change will do to rice production. More than 3.5 billion people get 20 percent or more of their calories from the fluffy grains. And demand is increasing in Asia, Latin America and especially in Africa.

To save and even boost production, rice growers, engineers and researchers have turned to water-saving irrigation routines and rice gene banks that store hundreds of thousands of varieties ready to be distributed or bred into new, climate-resilient forms. With climate change accelerating, and researchers raising the alarm about related threats, such as arsenic contamination and bacterial diseases, the demand for innovation grows.

“If we lose our rice crop, we’re not going to be eating,” says plant geneticist Pamela Ronald of the University of California, Davis. Climate change is already threatening rice-growing regions around the world, says Ronald, who identifies genes in rice that help the plant withstand disease and floods. “This is not a future problem. This is happening now.”

Saltwater woes

Most rice plants are grown in fields, or paddies, that are typically filled with around 10 centimeters of water. This constant, shallow inundation helps stave off weeds and pests. But if water levels suddenly get too high, such as during a flash flood, the rice plants can die.

Striking the right balance between too much and too little water can be a struggle for many rice farmers, especially in Asia, where over 90 percent of the world’s rice is produced. Large river deltas in South and Southeast Asia, such as the Mekong River Delta in Vietnam, offer flat, fertile land that is ideal for farming rice. But these low-lying areas are sensitive to swings in the water cycle. And because deltas sit on the coast, drought brings another threat: salt.

Salt’s impact is glaringly apparent in the Mekong River Delta. When the river runs low, saltwater from the South China Sea encroaches upstream into the delta, where it can creep into the soils and irrigation canals of the delta’s rice fields. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

26 September 2021 at 10:00 am

All the Biomass of Earth, in One Graphic

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At Visual Capitalist Iman Ghosh writes about an infographic created by Mark Belan:

All the Biomass of Earth, in One Graphic

Our planet supports approximately 8.7 million species, of which over a quarter live in water.

But humans can have a hard time comprehending numbers this big, so it can be difficult to really appreciate the breadth of this incredible diversity of life on Earth.

In order to fully grasp this scale, we draw from research by Bar-On et al. to break down the total composition of the living world, in terms of its biomass, and where we fit into this picture.

Why Carbon?

A “carbon-based life form” might sound like something out of science fiction, but that’s what we and all other living things are.

Carbon is used in complex molecules and compounds—making it an essential part of our biology. That’s why biomass, or the mass of organisms, is typically measured in terms of carbon makeup.

In our visualization, one cube represents 1 million metric tons of carbon, and every thousand of these cubes is equal to 1 Gigaton (Gt C).

Here’s how the numbers stack up in terms of biomass of life on Earth: . . .

There’s more, and here’s the infographic (click to see in new tab, and click that to enlarge the image): Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

22 September 2021 at 10:26 am

How Farming with Horses Makes Better Wine

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Sophia McDonald writes in SevenFifty Daily:

As a child growing up in Champagne, Christophe Baron would ride his bike down a dirt road to visit his grandparents and pass a lush green field where a woman regularly rode a large white horse. That animal made a big impression on a small boy, and he vowed that someday, he would live and work with animals, too.

Baron went on to found Cayuse Vineyards in Washington’s Walla Walla Valley, followed by a project he calls Horsepower Vineyards, where much of the vineyard work is done with teams of Percheron and Belgian draft horses. After harvest, the horses pull the cultivators that cover the vines’ crowns with soil to keep them warm. In the spring, they power the plows that pull the soil back, aerate the ground, and cut down weeds.

Using horses at his biodynamic vineyard produces higher-quality wines, Baron believes, and he’s not the only one. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti recently reintroduced horses at its vineyards to help decrease soil compaction as well.

Beyond the practical reasons for driving horse teams through vineyards, there is also a desire among some to keep the craft and tradition of horse viticulture alive. “There’s something irreplaceable and really authentic about using horses,” says Horsepower’s equine and vineyard manager Joel Sokoloff. “We do it because it’s a choice to farm in a much more artisanal and ancestral way.”

Working with animals instead of machines means treading more gently on the earth and farming at a less frenetic, more traditional pace. “We live in a world where everything is the same, where everything goes fast,” Baron says. “It’s always more, more, more.”

But farming with horses is not just slower—it’s more time-consuming and expensive. “It makes no economic sense to farm with horses,” says Charline Drappier, the deputy director of Champagne Drappier, whose family started using Ardennais horses on its 71-acre organic vineyard to till, remove weeds, and aerate the soil about 15 years ago. “It’s a real investment, but it’s pure investment for very little productivity.”

Horses can also be a dangerous liability to owners who don’t understand how to work them. “Sometimes people see this very romantic picture of horses as gentle giants,” says Stephen Hagen, the owner of Antiquum Farm at the southern end of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, who previously farmed his vineyards with horses for several years and has been working with them since he was a teenager. “The truth is there’s nothing more dangerous you can do—besides maybe bull riding—than hooking farming implements to the back of two 2,000-pound horses and farming with them. That’s especially true when you’re working horses in the physical constraints of a vineyard. There’s a high degree of caution and skill that’s necessary.”

What Horses Do that Machines Can’t

Cultivators drawn by four-legged critters rather than steel-and-rubber farm equipment make for a much more tactile, gentle experience for the ground and the vine, says Sokoloff. “You can feel through your hands and through the cultivator every stone you hit and every soil change.” If a tractor snags a vine, the driver will never feel it. Someone driving a team of horses is more likely to, and can stop before they tear the plant from the ground.

Even passing through the vineyard 14 times a year, horses put less . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 September 2021 at 11:05 am

New Evidence of Corruption at Epa Chemicals Division

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Sharon Lerner reports in the Intercept:

Scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency have provided The Intercept with new information showing that senior staff have made chemicals appear safer — sometimes dodging restrictions on their use — by minimizing the estimates of how much is released into the environment.

The EPA gauges the potential risk posed by a chemical using two measures: how toxic the agency considers it and how much of the substance the public will likely be exposed to. Whistleblowers from the EPA’s New Chemicals Division have already provided The Intercept with evidence that managers and other officials were pressuring them to assess chemicals to be less toxic than they actually are — and sometimes removing references to their harms from chemical assessments.

Now new documents, including meeting summaries, internal emails, and screenshots from the EPA’s computer system, along with interviews with whistleblowers and other EPA scientists, show that the agency’s New Chemicals Division has avoided calculating the exposure to — and thus the risk posed by — hundreds of chemicals and have repeatedly resisted calls to change that policy even after scientists have shown that it puts the public at risk.

Call It “Negligible”

Since 1995, the EPA has operated under the assumption that chemicals emitted below certain cutoff levels are safe. Whether a toxic chemical is emitted through the smokestacks of an industrial plant, via leaks in its machinery, or from a leaky landfill into groundwater, the agency requires scientists to quantify the precise risk posed by the chemical only if the release (and thus likely human exposure) reaches certain thresholds. If the releases from both smokestacks and leaks are below the thresholds, the chemical is given a pass. In recent years, however, scientists have shown that some of the chemicals allowed onto the market using this loophole do in fact present a danger, particularly to the people living in “fence-line communities” near industrial plants.

In 2018, several EPA scientists became worried that the use of these exposure thresholds could leave the public vulnerable to health risks. Their concern was heightened by an email that a manager in the Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics sent in October of that year, instructing the scientists to change the language they used to classify chemicals that were exempted from risk calculation because they were deemed to have low exposure levels. Up to that point, they had described them in reports as “below modeling thresholds.” From then on, the manager explained, the scientists were to include the words “expects to be negligible” — a phrase that implies there’s no reason for concern.

Several scientists who worked on calculating chemical risks believed that there was in fact reason for concern and that the use of the thresholds leaves the public vulnerable to health effects, including cancer. And after being instructed to refer to exposures they hadn’t actually measured or modeled as “negligible,” the scientists proposed dropping or lowering the cutoffs and running the calculations for each individual chemical — a task that would add only minutes to the assessment process. But the managers refused to heed their request, which would have not only changed how chemicals were assessed moving forward but would have also had implications for hundreds of assessments in the past.

“They told us that the use of the thresholds was a policy decision and, as such, we could not simply stop applying them,” one of the scientists who worked in the office explained to The Intercept.

The issue resurfaced in May 2020 when a scientist presented the case of a single chemical the agency was then considering allowing onto the market. Although it fell into the “negligible” category using the cutoffs that had been set decades previously, when the scientists calculated the exposure levels using an alternate EPA model, which is designed to gauge the risk of airborne chemicals, it became clear that the chemical did pose a risk of damaging the human nervous system. The chemical is still going through the approval process.

In February, a small group of scientists reviewed the safety thresholds set by the EPA for all of the 368 new chemicals submitted to the agency in 2020. They found that more than half could pose risks even in cases in which the agency had already described exposure as “negligible” and thus had not calculated specific risk. Again, the scientists brought the exposure threshold issue to the attention of managers in the New Chemicals Division, briefing them on their analysis and requesting that the use of the outdated cutoffs be stopped. But they received no response to their proposal. Seven months later, the thresholds remain in use and the risk posed by chemicals deemed to have low exposure levels is still not being calculated and included in chemical assessments, according to EPA scientists who spoke with The Intercept.

The internal struggles over exposure present yet another example of managers and senior staff working to undermine the agency’s mission, according to the EPA scientists. “Our work on new chemicals often felt like an exercise in finding ways to approve new chemicals rather than reviewing them for approval,” said one of two scientists who filed new disclosures to the EPA inspector general on August 31 about the issue. The detailed account of corruption within the New Chemicals Division that four whistleblowers previously submitted to members of Congress, the EPA inspector general, and The Intercept also included information on the ongoing problems caused by the use of the exposure thresholds.”

“It all comes down to money,” said Kyla Bennett, director of science policy for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, the organization representing the whistleblowers, who pointed out that risk values above the agency’s accepted cutoffs require the EPA to impose limits that may make a chemical harder to use — and sell. “Companies don’t want warning labels, they don’t want restrictions.”

It’s unclear why some senior staff and managers within the EPA’s New Chemicals Division seem to feel an obligation not to burden the companies they regulate with restrictions. “That’s the $64,000 question,” said Bennett, who pointed out that EPA staffers may enhance their post-agency job prospects within the industry if they stay in the good graces of chemical companies. She also noted that managers’ performance within the division is assessed partly based on how many chemicals they approve. “The bean counting is driving their actions,” said Bennett. “The performance metrics should be, how many chemicals did you prevent from going onto the market, rather than how many did you get onto the market.”

In response to questions about this story, the EPA  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and no paywall.

Written by Leisureguy

19 September 2021 at 4:42 pm

Food fraud and counterfeit cotton: The detectives untangling the global supply chain

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Samanth Subramanian reports in the Guardian:

Five years ago, the textile giant Welspun found itself mired in a scandal that hinged on a single word: “Egyptian”. At the time, Welspun was manufacturing more than 45m metres of cotton sheets every year – enough to tie a ribbon around the Earth and still have fabric left over for a giant bow. It supplied acres of bed linen to the likes of Walmart and Target, and among the most expensive were those advertised as “100% Egyptian cotton”. For decades, cotton from Egypt has claimed a reputation for being the world’s finest, its fibres so long and silky that it can be spun into soft, luxurious cloth. In Welpsun’s label, the word “Egyptian” was a boast and a promise.

But the label couldn’t always be trusted, it turned out. In 2016, Target carried out an internal investigation that led to a startling discovery: roughly 750,000 of its Welspun “Egyptian cotton” sheets and pillowcases were made with an inferior kind of cotton that didn’t come from Egypt at all. After Target offered its customers refunds and ended its relationship with Welspun, the effects rippled through the industry. Other retailers, checking their bed linen, also found Welspun sheets falsely claiming to be Egyptian cotton. Walmart, which was sued by shoppers who had bought Welspun’s “Egyptian cotton” products, refused to stock Welspun sheets any more. A week after Target made its discoveries public, Welspun had lost more than $700m from its market value. It was cataclysmic for the company.

Blindsided, Welspun struggled to understand what had gone wrong, but working that out wasn’t easy. The cotton business is labyrinthine, and the supply chains of products – running from the source farm to the shop shelf – have grown increasingly complex. A T-shirt sold in New Delhi might be made of cotton grown in India, blended with other cotton from Australia, spun into yarn in Vietnam, woven into cloth in Turkey, sown and cut in Portugal, bought by a Norwegian company and shipped back to India – and that’s a relatively simple supply chain. For years, Welspun had been buying raw cotton, yarn and whole cloth, all claiming to be of Egyptian origin, from dozens of vendors. The source of the fiasco might have been a mistake – a mislabelled shipment of cotton yarn, perhaps – or it might have been deliberate fraud by some remote supplier. Either way, it was lost in the maze.

In the thick of its crisis, Welspun sought out a company named Oritain. Founded in 2008, in the town of Dunedin in New Zealand, Oritain is a kind of forensic detective agency – a supply-chain CSI. Its work, which takes us into the heart of modern commerce, depends upon a basic truth about our planet. The Earth is so geologically diverse that, in a location’s soil or water, the precise concentrations of elements often turns out to be unique to that region. That singular mix of elements works its way into the crops from the region as well, so that cotton grown in the south of the US has a different combination of elements compared to cotton from Egypt – each combination distinct, like a signature.

Prof Russell Frew, the geochemist who co-founded Oritain, had been studying element analysis at the University of Otago when he recognised how his research could address a major commercial problem. Fraudulent products sit on shop shelves everywhere. When they’re detected, they trigger fierce controversies, like the time in 2013, when British and Irish authorities found horse meat liberally mixed into “beef” patties. But for every headline-grabbing deception, there are countless unnoticed ones. Sugar syrup is blended into organic honey. “New Zealand lamb chops” come from Chinese feedlot animals; extra virgin olive oil is cut with cheap, inferior oil; T-shirts are stitched out of cotton grown on forced-labour farms. Labels often lie. The counterfeit food game alone is worth $49bn a year.

These deceits, Frew realised, could be sniffed out by element analysis: hence Oritain. The company’s clients include well known brands such as Primark, but also industry bodies such as Cotton USA and Meat Promotion Wales. All of them are keen to avoid nasty surprises of the kind that Welspun experienced, the kind that can burn up the bottom line or sink a range of products – the low-quality supermarket steak masquerading as prime Welsh beef, say, or the pair of socks that turns out to be made with cotton from Xinjiang, in China, where factories are suspected of using captive labour.

Oritain promises to determine with 95% accuracy if a coffee bean or a cut of meat is really from the source advertised on its label. Some items are easier to analyse than others. “Tea is a . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

18 September 2021 at 11:57 am

When Wall Street came to coal country: how a big-money gamble scarred Appalachia

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Mountaintop-removal coal mining in West Virginia

Evan Osnos reports in the Guardian:

Once or twice a generation, Americans rediscover Appalachia. Sometimes, they come to it through caricature – the cartoon strip Li’l Abner or the child beauty pageant star Honey Boo Boo or, more recently, Buckwild, a reality show about West Virginia teenagers, which MTV broadcast with subtitles. Occasionally, the encounter is more compassionate. In 1962, the social critic Michael Harrington published The Other America, which called attention to what he described as a “vicious circle of poverty” that “twists and deforms the spirit”.

Around the turn of this century, hedge funds in New York and its environs took a growing interest in coalmines. Coal never had huge appeal to Wall Street investors – mines were dirty, old-fashioned and bound up by union contracts that made them difficult to buy and sell. But in the late 1990s, the growing economies of Asia began to consume more and more energy, which investors predicted would drive up demand halfway around the world, in Appalachia. In 1997, the Hobet mine, a 25-year-old operation in rural West Virginia, was acquired for the first time by a public company, Arch Coal. It embarked on a major expansion, dynamiting mountaintops and dumping the debris into rivers and streams. As the Hobet mine grew, it consumed the ridges and communities around it. Seen from the air, the mine came to resemble a giant grey amoeba – 22 miles from end to end – eating its way across the mountains.

Up close, the effects were far more intimate. When Wall Street came to coal country, it triggered a cascade of repercussions that were largely invisible to the outside world but of existential importance to people nearby.

Down a hillside from the Hobet mine, the Caudill family had lived and hunted and farmed for a century. Their homeplace, as they called it, was 30 hectares (75 acres) of woods and water. The Caudills were hardly critics of mining; many were miners themselves. John Caudill was an explosives expert until one day, in the 30s, a blast went off early and left him blind. His mining days were over, but his land was abundant, and John and his wife went on to have 10 children. They grew potatoes, corn, lettuce, tomatoes, beets and beans; they hunted game in the forests and foraged for berries and ginseng. Behind the house, a hill was dense with hemlocks, ferns and peach trees.

One by one, the Caudill kids grew up and left for school and work. They settled into the surrounding towns, but stayed close enough to return to the homeplace on weekends. John’s grandson, Jerry Thompson, grew up a half-hour down a dirt road. “I could probably count on one hand the number of Sundays I missed,” he said. His grandmother’s menu never changed: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn and cake. “You’d just wander the property for hours. I would have a lot of cousins there, and we would ramble through the barns and climb up the mountains and wade in the creek and hunt for crawdads.”

Before long, the Hobet mine surrounded the land on three sides, and Arch Coal wanted to buy the Caudills out. Some were eager to sell. “We’re not wealthy people, and some of us are better off than others,” Thompson said. One cousin told him, “I’ve got two boys I got to put through college. I can’t pass this up because I’ll never see $50,000 again.” He thought, “He’s right; it was a good decision for him.”

In the end, nine family members agreed to sell, but six refused, and Jerry was one of them. Arch sued all of them, arguing that storing coalmine debris constituted, in legal terms, “the highest and best use of the property”. The case reached the West Virginia supreme court, where a justice asked, sceptically, “The highest and best use of the land is dumping?”

Phil Melick, a lawyer for the company, replied: “It has become that.” He added: “The use of land changes over time. The value of land changes over time.”

Surely, the justice said, the family’s value of the property was not simply economic? It was, Melick maintained. “It has to be measured economically,” he said, “or it can’t be measured at all.”

To their surprise, the Caudills won their case, after a fashion. They could keep 10 hectares – but the victory was fleeting. Beneath their feet, the land was becoming unrecognisable. Chemicals produced by the mountaintop mine were redrawing the landscape in a bizarre tableau. In streams, the leaves and sticks developed a thick copper crust from the buildup of carbonate, and rocks turned an inky black from deposits of manganese. In the Mud River, which ran beside the Caudills’ property, a US Forest Service biologist collected fish larvae with two eyes on one side of the head. He traced the disfigurements to selenium, a byproduct of mining, and warned, in a report, of an ecosystem “on the brink of a major toxic event”. (In 2010, the journal Science published a study of 78 West Virginia streams near mountaintop-removal mines, which found that nearly all of them had elevated levels of selenium.)

This was more than just the usual tradeoff between profit and pollution, another turn in the cycle of industry and cleanup. Mountaintop removal was, fundamentally, a more destructive realm of technology. It had barely existed until the 90s, and it took some time before scientists could measure the effects on the land and the people. For ecologists, the southern Appalachians was a singular domain – one of the most productive, diverse temperate hardwood forests on the planet. For aeons, the hills had contained more species of salamander than anywhere else, and a lush canopy that attracts neotropical migratory birds across thousands of miles to hatch their next generation. But a mountaintop mine altered the land from top to bottom: after blasting off the peaks – which miners call the “overburden” – bulldozers pushed the debris down the hillsides, where it blanketed the streams and rivers. Rainwater filtered down through a strange human-made stew of metal, pyrite, sulphur, silica, salts and coal, exposed to the air for the first time. The rain mingled with the chemicals and percolated down the hills, funnelling into the brooks and streams and, finally, into the rivers on the valley floor, which sustained the people of southern West Virginia. 

Emily Bernhardt, a Duke University biologist, who spent years tracking the effects of the Hobet mine, told me: “The aquatic insects coming out of these streams are loaded with selenium, and then the spiders that are eating them become loaded with selenium, and it causes deformities in fish and birds.” The effects distorted the food chain. Normally, tiny insects hatched in the water would fly into the woods, sustaining toads, turtles and birds. But downstream, scientists discovered that some species had been replaced by flies usually found in wastewater treatment plants. By 2009, the damage was impossible to ignore. In a typical study, biologists tracking a migratory bird called the cerulean warbler found that its population had fallen by 82% in 40 years. The 2010 report in Science concluded that the impacts of mountaintop-removal mining on water, biodiversity and forest productivity were “pervasive and irreversible”. Mountaintop mines had buried more than 1,000 miles of streams across Appalachia, and, according to the EPA, altered 2,200 sq miles of land – an area bigger than Delaware.

Before long, scientists discovered impacts on the people, too. Each explosion at the top of a mountain released elements usually kept underground – lead, arsenic, selenium, manganese. The dust floated down on to the drinking water, the back-yard furniture, and through the open windows. Researchers led by Michael Hendryx, a professor of public health at West Virginia University, published startling links between mountaintop mines and health problems of those in proximity to it, including cancer, cardiovascular disease and birth defects. Between 1979 and 2005, the 70 Appalachian counties that relied most on mining had recorded, on average, more than 2,000 excess deaths each year. Viewed one way, those deaths were the cost of progress, the price of prosperity that coal could bring. But Hendryx also debunked that argument: the deaths cost $41bn a year in expenses and lost income, which was $18bn more than coal had earned the counties in salaries, tax revenue and other economic benefits. Even in the pure economic terms that the companies used, Hendryx observed, mountaintop mining had been a terrible deal for the people who lived there.

ne afternoon, I hiked up through the woods behind the Caudills’ house to see the changes in the land. By law, mines are required to “remediate” their terrain, returning it to an approximation of its former condition. But, far from the public eye, the standards can be comically lax. After climbing through the trees for a while, I emerged into a sun-drenched bowl of . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

18 September 2021 at 11:26 am

No wish to disturb, but civilization will crumble within a generation: Not a single G20 country is in line with the Paris Agreement on climate

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It’s very much as if large organizations — governments and major corporations — are not concerned that climate change is going to decimate the civilized world. And the reason is pretty clear: they don’t care. Note that I am not saying that the persons do not care. It’s the organizations that do not care. Organizations are memeplexes — complex structures made of memes, with their own imperatives and goals, independent of the collection of hosts (human persons) whose minds together make up the meme structure.

3M is a very old company (founded 119 years ago), and it has an distinct culture. That company and culture has persisted/lived through several generations of managers and employees because — just as “you” exist independent of the cells in your body, which are live, die, and are replaced as years go by — the organization exists independent of the specific personnel in it at any particular time. Memes (and memplexes) have their own drives and directions, and those are not always beneficial to their human hosts.

So it seems to be with climate change: we humans will suffer greatly, but we seem powerless to change the direction of the memes that have evolved in human culture. (A good read in this connection is Susan Blackmore’s talk “Dangerous Memes; or, What the Pandorans let loose.”)

Ivana Kottasová reports for CNN:

None of the world’s major economies — including the entire G20 — have a climate plan that meets their obligations under the 2015 Paris Agreement, according to an analysis published Wednesday, despite scientists’ warning that deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions are needed now.

The watchdog Climate Action Tracker (CAT) analyzed the policies of 36 countries, as well as the 27-nation European Union, and found that all major economies were off track to contain global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The countries together make up 80% of the world’s emissions.

The analysis also included some low-emissions countries, and found that the Gambia was the only nation among all 37 to be “1.5 compatible.” As the study only included a few smaller emitters, it’s possible there are other developing countries in the world on track as well.

Under the 2015 Paris accord, more than 190 countries agreed to limit the increase in global temperatures to well below 2 degrees above pre-industrial temperatures — ideally to 1.5 degrees. Scientists have said 2 degrees is a critical threshold for some of the Earth’s ecosystems, and is one that would also trigger more catastrophic extreme weather events.

The report comes less than two months ahead of UN-brokered international climate talks in Glasgow, known as COP26. The event’s president, British MP Alok Sharma, has said he hopes to “keep 1.5 alive” as a global warming limit.

CAT reported that progress had stalled after dozens of world leaders made ambitious new pledges to slash greenhouse gas emissions during the US President Joe Biden’s Climate Leaders’ Summit in April.
“In May, after the Climate Leaders’ Summit and the Petersburg dialogue, we reported that there appeared to be good momentum with new climate action commitments,” said Niklas Höhne, a founding partner of the NewClimate Institute, a CAT partner.

“But since then, there has been little to no improvement: nothing is moving,” he said. “Anyone would think they have all the time in the world, when in fact the opposite is the case.”

Six countries, including the UK, have an overall climate policy that is “nearly sufficient,” according to the report, meaning they are not yet consistent with 1.5-degree alignment but could be with small improvements. The UK’s targets are in line with 1.5 degrees, but its policies in practice don’t meet the benchmark.
The overall climate plans of the US, European Union and Japan are not sufficient to reach the 1.5-degree goal, the analysis found, saying that while their domestic targets are relatively close to where they need to be, their international policies are not.

CAT had previously categorized the US as “critically insufficient” — the worst category — under former President Donald Trump, who formally withdrew the country from the Paris Agreement shortly before the end of his term.
The United States’ domestic emission-cutting target has since been upgraded to “almost sufficient.” However, the US is still insufficient in CAT’s “fair share” target rating, which takes into account the country’s “responsibility and capability.” . . .

Continue reading, though it’s depressing. There’s quite a bit more.

See also “Global Update: Climate target updates slow as science demands action,” which offers technical detail of our approaching doom.

Written by Leisureguy

15 September 2021 at 4:57 pm

How indoor air quality affects human health and cognition

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Douglas Starr writes in Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS):

Joseph Allen runs a major public health research project at Harvard University, probing how indoor air quality affects human health and cognition. He consults with companies on ventilation and air filtration, and during the pandemic he became a prominent voice on public health, writing dozens of op-eds criticizing early guidance from health authorities and debunking misconceptions about how the virus spreads. But none of it would have happened if he hadn’t washed out as an FBI recruit.

The son of a New York City homicide detective who opened his own investigative agency, Allen spent his teens and 20s helping with the family business. He did surveillance, undercover work, computer forensics, and skiptrace—tracking down people who left town to avoid alimony. Eventually he took over the agency, leading investigations and supervising eight agents.

“I enjoyed the work and thought it was challenging,” Allen recalls. But part of him always wanted to be a scientist. He majored in environmental science at Boston College, and in his late 20s, still torn, he began to apply to graduate school even as he started the process to become an FBI agent. After 2 years of interviews and testing, the last step was a routine polygraph test. He failed the first round—the trick questions he was asked were so obvious that he could not take them seriously. So FBI flew in one of its toughest examiners from Iraq—a hulking, jackbooted guy who got right in Allen’s face, screaming that he knew he was lying. But Allen kept cool, and after a while, the interrogator stormed out and slammed the door.

“I thought he would come back in the room and say, ‘Congratulations,’ cause I’m thinking I’m crushing it,” Allen recalls. “But they failed me because they said I employed countermeasures.” FBI apparently didn’t want an agent who couldn’t be unnerved by a polygraph test. And that solved Allen’s career dilemma. “I guarantee I’m the only public health student ever to fail an FBI lie detector polygraph in the morning and start graduate school a few hours later,” Allen says. But his investigative instincts never left him.

A tall, athletic-looking man with a bald head and stylish stubble, Allen directs the Healthy Buildings Program at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, where he studies the effects of toxic gases emitted from furniture, carpets, and paints; stale air; and high levels of carbon dioxide. Years of studies by Allen and others have shown poorly circulated air in buildings impairs our ability to think clearly and creatively. Considering that we spend more than 90% of our lifetimes indoors, those findings have implications for personal well-being—and for businesses concerned about their bottom line.

“Joe has always had a unique understanding of this range of domains—from how buildings work, to environmental exposure assessment, to making connections with health outcomes,” says Brent Stephens, chair of the Department of Civil, Architectural, and Environmental Engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology. “There’s not a tremendous number of people in this world that have worked on that whole spectrum.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, the previously esoteric field of indoor air quality suddenly became the focus of widespread concern. Like many of his colleagues, Allen jumped into the fray, advising school systems, police departments, entertainment companies, the Boston Symphony, and a host of other entities on how to make their indoor air healthier, during the pandemic and afterward.

“COVID really changed the conversation,” says Matt Murray, vice president of leasing at Boston Properties, the largest publicly traded developer in the United States and one of Allen’s consulting clients. Before the pandemic, the company would have to explain to bored executives why they should pay attention to indoor air. “Now, the CEOs are all saying, ‘What filters do you use? How you process the air you bring into the workspace?’” Murray says. “And we’re ready for those conversations because we’ve been working with Joe.”

AFTER HE FAILED his FBI exam, Allen became a different kind of sleuth. For his doctoral thesis at the Boston University School of Public Health, he investigated toxic flame-retardant chemicals released into the air by furniture, and found they were nearly ubiquitous. (The chemicals were later banned.) After graduation he got a job with a consulting firm, where he investigated problems such as toxic emissions from drywall and outbreaks of Legionnaires’ disease, which is caused by bacteria that grow in plumbing and become aerosolized by ventilation systems, showers, or even flushed toilets. Those investigations introduced him to “sick building syndrome,” a problem first identified in the 1970s in which the occupants experience fatigue, itchy eyes, headaches, and other symptoms. Exactly what causes these ailments isn’t clear, but exposure to contaminated air is a likely culprit. Allen became convinced that the building you work in can have more impact on your health than your doctor.

In 2014, Allen accepted a position at Harvard, where he soon turned his attention to how the indoor environment can affect people’s cognitive abilities. Many of us have struggled to pay attention during a long staff meeting in a stuffy conference room. Research by Allen and others suggests that lassitude may not be due solely to boredom, but also to the carbon dioxide (CO2)-rich conference room air.

Ever since the energy shocks of the 1970s, buildings in the United States have been made as airtight and energy-efficient as possible. The result was a buildup of toxic volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and exhaled CO2. “Green building standards” introduced in the late ’90s focused on reducing toxic materials and making buildings healthier as well as more sustainable, but they didn’t prioritize indoor air quality and ultimately did little to improve it.

In a multiyear series of experiments, Allen and his team have investigated the consequences. In the first study, published in 2015, they had 24 white-collar volunteers spend six working days in environmentally controlled office spaces at Syracuse University’s Total Indoor Environmental Quality Laboratory. On various days the experimenters would alter ventilation rates and levels of CO2 and VOCs. Each afternoon the volunteers were tested on their ability to think analytically and react to a crisis. (One test, for example put the volunteer in the role of a small-town mayor trying to react to an emergency.) All tests were double-blind: Neither the volunteers nor the study personnel knew that day’s environmental conditions.

The results were dramatic. When  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more — and it’s important.

The Clean Air Act should be extended to indoor air quality in businesses — and in some instances, OSHA also should be involved. Or, of course, we could just trust businesses to take seriously the health and well-being of their employees and customers. (Just joking — good one, eh?)

Written by Leisureguy

15 September 2021 at 11:15 am

How the energy industry tricked Americans into loving a dangerous appliance.

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Rebecca Leber has a long article in Mother Jones that’s well worth reading. It begins:

Early last year in the Fox Hills neighborhood of Culver City, California, a man named Wilson Truong posted an item on the Nextdoor social media platform—where users can interact with their neighbors—warning that city leaders were considering stronger building codes that would discourage the use of natural gas in new homes and businesses. In a message titled “Culver City banning gas stoves?” he wrote, “First time I heard about it I thought it was bogus, but I received a newsletter from the city about public hearings to discuss it…Will it pass???!!! I used an electric stove but it never cooked as well as a gas stove so I ended up switching back.”

Truong’s post ignited a debate. One neighbor, Chris, defended electric induction stoves. “Easy to clean,” he wrote of these glass stovetops, which use a magnetic field to heat pans. [Induction is definitely best of all. – LG] Another neighbor, Laura, expressed skepticism. “No way,” she wrote. “I am staying with gas. I hope you can too.”

Unbeknownst to both, Truong wasn’t their neighbor at all, but an account manager for Imprenta Communications Group. Among the public relations firm’s clients was Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions, a front for the nation’s largest gas utility, SoCalGas, which aims to thwart state and local initiatives restricting the use of fossil fuels in new buildings. c4bes had tasked Imprenta with exploring how platforms such as Nextdoor could be used to engineer community support for natural gas. Imprenta assured me that Truong’s post was an isolated affair, but c4bes displays it alongside two other anonymous Nextdoor comments on its website as evidence of its advocacy in action.

Microtargeting Nextdoor groups is part of the newest front in the gas industry’s war to bolster public support for its product. For decades the American public was largely sold on the notion that “natural” gas was relatively clean, and when used in the kitchen, even classy. But that was before climate change moved from distant worry to proximate danger. Burning natural gas in commercial and residential buildings accounts for more than 10 percent of US emissions, so moving toward homes and apartments powered by wind and solar electricity instead could make a real dent. Gas stoves and ovens also produce far worse indoor air pollution than most people realize; running a gas stove and oven for just an hour can produce unsafe pollutant levels throughout your house all day. These concerns have prompted moves by 42 municipalities to phase out gas in new buildings. Washington state lawmakers intend to end all use of natural gas by 2050. California has passed aggressive standards, including a plan to reduce commercial and residential emissions to 60 percent of 1990 levels by 2030. During his campaign, President Biden called for stricter standards for appliances and new construction. Were more stringent federal rules to come to pass, it could motivate builders to ditch gas hookups for good.

Gas utilities have responded to this existential threat to their livelihood by launching local anti-electrification campaigns. To ward off a municipal vote in San Luis Obispo, California, a union representing gas utility workers threatened to bus in “hundreds” of protesters during the pandemic with “no social distancing in place.” In Santa Barbara, residents have received robotexts warning that a gas ban would dramatically increase their bills. The Pacific Northwest group Partnership for Energy Progress, funded in part by Washington state’s largest gas utility, Puget Sound Energy, has spent at least $1 million opposing electrification mandates in Bellingham and Seattle, including $91,000 on bus ads showing a happy family cooking with gas next to the slogan “Reliable. Affordable. Natural Gas. Here for You.”

The industry group American Gas Association has a website dedicated to promoting cooking with gas.

The gas industry also has worked aggressively with legislatures in seven states to enact laws—at least 14 more have bills—that would prevent cities from passing cleaner building codes. This past spring, according to a HuffPost investigation, gas and construction interests managed to block cities from pushing for the stricter energy efficiency codes favored by local officials. In a potential blow to the Biden administration’s climate ambitions, two big trade groups convinced the International Code Council—the notoriously industry-friendly gatekeeper of default construction codes—to cut local officials out of the decision-making process entirely.

Beyond applying political pressure, the gas industry has identified a clever way to capture the public imagination. Surveys showed that most people had no preference for gas water heaters and furnaces over electric ones. So the gas companies found a different appliance to focus on. For decades, sleek industry campaigns have portrayed gas stoves—like granite countertops, farm sinks, and stainless-steel refrigerators—as a coveted symbol of class and sophistication, not to mention a selling point for builders and real estate agents.

The strategy has been remarkably successful in boosting sales of natural gas, but as the tides turn against fossil fuels, defending gas stoves has become a rear guard action. While stoves were once crucial to expanding the industry’s empire, now they are a last-ditch attempt to defend its shrinking borders.

Over the last hundred years, gas companies have engaged an all-out campaign to convince Americans that cooking with a gas flame is superior to using electric heat. At the same time, they’ve urged us not to think too hard—if at all—about what it means to combust a fossil fuel in our homes.

In the 1930s, the industry embraced the term “natural gas,” which gave the impression that its product was cleaner than any other fossil fuel: “The discovery of Natural Gas brought to man the greater and most efficient heating fuel which the world has ever known,” bragged one 1934 ad. “Justly is it called—nature’s perfect fuel.”

It was also during the 1930s that the industry first adopted the slogan “cooking with gas”; a gas executive saw to it that the phrase worked its way into Bob Hope bits and Disney cartoons. By the 1950s the industry was targeting housewives with star-studded commercials that featured matinee idols scheming about how to get their husbands to renovate their kitchens. In one 1964 newspaper advertisement from the Pennsylvania People’s Natural Gas Company, the star Marlene Dietrich professed, “Every recipe I give is closely related to cooking with gas. If forced, I can cook on an electric stove but it is not a happy union.” (Around the same time, General Electric waged an advertising campaign starring Ronald Reagan that depicted an all-electric house as a Jetsons-like future.) During the 1980s, the gas industry debuted a cringeworthy rap: “I cook with gas cause the cost is much less / Than ’lectricity. Do you want to take a guess?” and “I cook with gas cause broiling’s so clean / The flame consumes the smoke and grease.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including serious and fact-based arguments against using gas ranges. No paywall.

Later in the article:

Beginning in the 1990s, the industry faced a new challenge: mounting evidence that burning gas indoors can contribute to serious health problems. Gas stoves emit a host of dangerous pollutants, including particulate matter, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen oxides. One 2014 simulation by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that cooking with gas for one hour without ventilation adds up to 3,000 parts per billion of carbon monoxide to the air—raising indoor concentrations by up to 30 percent in the average home. Carbon monoxide can kill; it binds tightly to the hemoglobin molecules in your blood so they can no longer carry oxygen. What’s more, new research shows that the typical home carbon monoxide alarms often fail to detect potentially dangerous levels of the gas. Nitrogen oxides, which are not regulated indoors, have been linked to an increased risk of heart attack, along with asthma and other respiratory diseases. Homes with gas stoves have anywhere between 50 and 400 percent higher concentrations of nitrogen dioxide than homes without, according to EPA research. Children are at especially high risk from nitrogen oxides, according to a study by UCLA Fielding School of Public Health commissioned by the Sierra Club. The paper included a meta-analysis of existing epidemiological studies, one of which estimated that kids in homes with gas stoves are 42 percent more likely to have asthma than children whose families use electric.

From my own direct experience I know that cooking on an induction burner is by far the best — I’ve cooked with gas and with electric coil burners, and induction beats them hands down.

Written by Leisureguy

12 September 2021 at 9:26 am

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