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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Are we over weight yet? New guidelines aim to reduce obesity stigma in health care

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Sara FL Kirk, Angela Alberga, and Shelly Russell-Mayhew write in The Conversation:

The 2019 report from Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam focused on addressing different forms of stigma. Included in the report was one form of stigma — obesity or weight stigma — that has proven remarkably difficult to overcome. We are hoping to change that.

As a team of researchers from across Canada, we have previously written about the harm that weight bias causes. Now, and for the first time, we are ensuring that the newly updated Canadian Clinical Practice Guidelines for obesity management include explicit guidance to reduce weight bias and obesity stigma among health professionals and policy-makers. The newly released guidelines also provide information for the public on advocating for change.

New guidelines reframe weight debate

With recommendations and key messages aimed at health professionals, policy-makers and people living with obesity, we hope that this guidance will help to reframe the weight debate. Shifting the emphasis from weight to health will help us reduce the prevalence and impact of weight bias and stigma.

The guidance is an important step forward because of the systemic nature of stigma and how different stigmas intersect, as highlighted in Dr. Tam’s report. In the United States, the prevalence of weight-based discrimination has increased by 66 per cent over the past decade, and is comparable to rates of racial discrimination, especially among women.

Our health-disrupting environment

Misrepresentations abound that frame obesity as a problem arising from a lack of willpower, or from laziness or greed. We use the language of war, viewing obesity as a battle, or something that needs to be fought.

The danger with this language is that it demonizes obesity and by extension, those experiencing obesity-related complications. This, in turn, affects their care. The new guidance seeks instead to humanize people with obesity, and ensure that they receive appropriate support.

The thing is, it’s not just about obesity. It is now well established that a complex web of factors affect every single one of us, regardless of weight status. We are all exposed to a health-disrupting environment. This manifests as excess body fatness in some, or as chronic disease markers in others.

None of us is immune to these powerful environmental prompts. Just like Sisyphus in Greek mythology was doomed to keep pushing a rock up a hill, only for it to roll back down again, our health-disrupting environment means that, as individuals, we are constantly pushing a boulder of health hazards up a ramp of social determinants.

It takes an enormous amount of cognitive effort to adopt and maintain healthy behaviours, such as being active or eating healthy foods, when everything around us is modelling the opposite. In essence, healthy behaviours are abnormal behaviours within our modern environment and unhealthy behaviours the default.

Furthermore, body weight and energy regulation are significantly controlled by genetics and neural networks, more so than our personal food and exercise choices.

Supporting health

Rather than focusing on a person’s weight status, we should turn our attention to supporting every individual to achieve their best health.

Health-care providers, and others, need to: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 August 2020 at 7:34 pm

Eight Go Mad in Arizona: How a Lockdown Experiment Went Horribly Wrong

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This article by Steve Rose from the Guardian describes the lessons learned in Biosphere 2. As the article concludes,

. . .  Both Nelson and Leigh would happily volunteer to go back in. Both were transformed by the experience, in a way they wish society as a whole could emulate. “Inside Biosphere 2, everything made sense,” says Nelson. “Everything you did, you could see the impact of it. No anonymous actions. It was like my body suddenly got the message: every time you breathe, these plants are waiting for your CO2. They are your third lung. I thought, ‘My God, this is keeping me alive! I am absolutely metabolically connected to the life here.’”

Even if history does judge Biosphere 2 a failure, is that really so bad? “The media can be very dismissive of people trying new things,” says Wolf. “So much so that people hesitate to try for fear of criticism or failure. If everybody feared failure, they would never try new and ambitious things.”

Written by LeisureGuy

31 July 2020 at 11:52 am

Predictable catastrophe: Mass migration from global warming

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Although everyone can see it will happen, no one seems to be preparing for it. Abrahm Lustgarten reports in ProPublica:

This article, the first in a series on global climate migration, is a partnership between ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine, with support from the Pulitzer CenterRead more about the data project that underlies the reporting.

EARLY IN 2019, a year before the world shut its borders completely, Jorge A. knew he had to get out of Guatemala. The land was turning against him. For five years, it almost never rained. Then it did rain, and Jorge rushed his last seeds into the ground. The corn sprouted into healthy green stalks, and there was hope — until, without warning, the river flooded. Jorge waded chest-deep into his fields searching in vain for cobs he could still eat. Soon he made a last desperate bet, signing away the tin-roof hut where he lived with his wife and three children against a $1,500 advance in okra seed. But after the flood, the rain stopped again, and everything died. Jorge knew then that if he didn’t get out of Guatemala, his family might die, too.

Even as hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans fled north toward the United States in recent years, in Jorge’s region — a state called Alta Verapaz, where precipitous mountains covered in coffee plantations and dense, dry forest give way to broader gentle valleys — the residents have largely stayed. Now, though, under a relentless confluence of drought, flood, bankruptcy and starvation, they, too, have begun to leave. Almost everyone here experiences some degree of uncertainty about where their next meal will come from. Half the children are chronically hungry, and many are short for their age, with weak bones and bloated bellies. Their families are all facing the same excruciating decision that confronted Jorge.

The odd weather phenomenon that many blame for the suffering here — the drought and sudden storm pattern known as El Niño — is expected to become more frequent as the planet warms. Many semiarid parts of Guatemala will soon be more like a desert. Rainfall is expected to decrease by 60% in some parts of the country, and the amount of water replenishing streams and keeping soil moist will drop by as much as 83%. Researchers project that by 2070, yields of some staple crops in the state where Jorge lives will decline by nearly a third.

Scientists have learned to project such changes around the world with surprising precision, but — until recently — little has been known about the human consequences of those changes. As their land fails them, hundreds of millions of people from Central America to Sudan to the Mekong Delta will be forced to choose between flight or death. The result will almost certainly be the greatest wave of global migration the world has seen.

In March, Jorge and his 7-year-old son each packed a pair of pants, three T-shirts, underwear and a toothbrush into a single thin black nylon sack with a drawstring. Jorge’s father had pawned his last four goats for $2,000 to help pay for their transit, another loan the family would have to repay at 100% interest. The coyote called at 10 p.m. — they would go that night. They had no idea then where they would wind up, or what they would do when they got there.

From decision to departure, it was three days. And then they were gone.

FOR MOST OF HUMAN history, people have lived within a surprisingly narrow range of temperatures, in the places where the climate supported abundant food production. But as the planet warms, that band is suddenly shifting north. According to a pathbreaking recent study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the planet could see a greater temperature increase in the next 50 years than it did in the last 6,000 years combined. By 2070, the kind of extremely hot zones, like in the Sahara, that now cover less than 1% of the earth’s land surface could cover nearly a fifth of the land, potentially placing 1 of every 3 people alive outside the climate niche where humans have thrived for thousands of years. Many will dig in, suffering through heat, hunger and political chaos, but others will be forced to move on. A 2017 study in Science Advances found that by 2100, temperatures could rise to the point that just going outside for a few hours in some places, including parts of India and Eastern China, “will result in death even for the fittest of humans.”

People are already beginning to flee. In Southeast Asia, where increasingly unpredictable monsoon rainfall and drought have made farming more difficult, the World Bank points to more than 8 million people who have moved toward the Middle East, Europe and North America. In the African Sahel, millions of rural people have been streaming toward the coasts and the cities amid drought and widespread crop failures. Should the flight away from hot climates reach the scale that current research suggests is likely, it will amount to a vast remapping of the world’s populations.

Migration can bring great opportunity not just to migrants but also to the places they go. As the United States and other parts of the global North face a demographic decline, for instance, an injection of new people into an aging workforce could be to everyone’s benefit. But securing these benefits starts with a choice: Northern nations can relieve pressures on the fastest-warming countries by allowing more migrants to move north across their borders, or they can seal themselves off, trapping hundreds of millions of people in places that are increasingly unlivable. The best outcome requires not only goodwill and the careful management of turbulent political forces; without preparation and planning, the sweeping scale of change could prove wildly destabilizing. The United Nations and others warn that in the worst case, the governments of the nations most affected by climate change could topple as whole regions devolve into war.

The stark policy choices are already becoming apparent. As refugees stream out of the Middle East and North Africa into Europe and from Central America into the United States, an anti-immigrant backlash has propelled nationalist governments into power around the world. The alternative, driven by a better understanding of how and when people will move, is governments that are actively preparing, both materially and politically, for the greater changes to come.

Last summer, I went to Central America to learn how people like Jorge will respond to changes in their climates. I followed the decisions of people in rural Guatemala and their routes to the region’s biggest cities, then north through Mexico to Texas. I found an astonishing need for food and witnessed the ways competition and poverty among the displaced broke down cultural and moral boundaries. But the picture on the ground is scattered. To better understand the forces and scale of climate migration over a broader area, The New York Times Magazine and ProPublica joined with the Pulitzer Center in an effort to model, for the first time, how people will move across borders.

We focused on changes in Central America and used climate and economic-development data to examine a range of scenarios. Our model projects that migration will rise every year regardless of climate, but that the amount of migration increases substantially as the climate changes. In the most extreme climate scenarios, more than 30 million migrants would head toward the U.S. border over the course of the next 30 years.

Migrants move for many reasons, of course. The model helps us see which migrants are driven primarily by climate, finding that they would make up as much as 5% of the total. If governments take modest action to reduce climate emissions, about 680,000 climate migrants might move from Central America and Mexico to the United States between now and 2050. If emissions continue unabated, leading to more extreme warming, that number jumps to more than a million people. (None of these figures include undocumented immigrants, whose numbers could be twice as high.)

The model shows that the political responses to both climate change and migration can lead to drastically different futures. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including informative graphics.

Later in the article:

IN NOVEMBER 2007, Alan B. Krueger, a labor economist known for his statistical work on inequality, walked into the Princeton University offices of Michael Oppenheimer, a leading climate geoscientist, and asked him whether anyone had ever tried to quantify how and where climate change would cause people to move.

Earlier that year, Oppenheimer helped write the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that, for the first time, explored in depth how climate disruption might uproot large segments of the global population. But as groundbreaking as the report was — the U.N. was recognized for its work with a Nobel Peace Prize — the academic disciplines whose work it synthesized were largely siloed from one another. Demographers, agronomists and economists were all doing their work on climate change in isolation, but understanding the question of migration would have to include all of them.

Together, Oppenheimer and Krueger, who died in 2019, began to chip away at the question, asking whether tools typically used by economists might yield insight into the environment’s effects on people’s decision to migrate. They began to examine the statistical relationships — say, between census data and crop yields and historical weather patterns — in Mexico to try to understand how farmers there respond to drought. The data helped them create a mathematical measure of farmers’ sensitivity to environmental change — a factor that Krueger could use the same way he might evaluate fiscal policies, but to model future migration.

Their study, published in 2010 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that Mexican migration to the United States pulsed upward during periods of drought and projected that by 2080, climate change there could drive 6.7 million more people toward the southern U.S. border. “It was,” Oppenheimer said, “one of the first applications of econometric modeling to the climate-migration problem.”

The modeling was a start. But it was hyperlocal instead of global, and it left open huge questions: how cultural differences might change outcomes, for example, or how population shifts might occur across larger regions. It was also controversial, igniting a backlash among climate-change skeptics, who attacked the modeling effort as “guesswork” built on “tenuous assumptions” and argued that a model couldn’t untangle the effect of climate change from all the other complex influences that determine human decision-making and migration. That argument eventually found some traction with migration researchers, many of whom remain reluctant to model precise migration figures.

But to Oppenheimer and Krueger, the risks of putting a specific shape to this well established but amorphous threat seemed worth taking. In the early 1970s, after all, many researchers had made a similar argument against using computer models to forecast climate change, arguing that scientists shouldn’t traffic in predictions. Others ignored that advice, producing some of the earliest projections about the dire impact of climate change, and with them some of the earliest opportunities to try to steer away from that fate. Trying to project the consequences of climate-driven migration, to Oppenheimer, called for similarly provocative efforts. “If others have better ideas for estimating how climate change affects migration,” he wrote in 2010, “they should publish them.”

Since then, Oppenheimer’s approach has become common. Dozens more studies have applied econometric modeling to climate-related problems, seizing on troves of data to better understand how environmental change and conflict each lead to migration and clarify how the cycle works. Climate is rarely the main cause of migration, the studies have generally found, but it is almost always an exacerbating one.

As they have looked more closely, migration researchers have found climate’s subtle fingerprints almost everywhere. Drought helped push many Syrians into cities before the war, worsening tensions and leading to rising discontent; crop losses led to unemployment that stoked Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and Libya; Brexit, even, was arguably a ripple effect of the influx of migrants brought to Europe by the wars that followed. And all those effects were bound up with the movement of just 2 million people. As the mechanisms of climate migration have come into sharper focus — food scarcity, water scarcity and heat — the latent potential for large-scale movement comes to seem astronomically larger.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 July 2020 at 12:43 pm

If you’re going to farm salmon, do it right — like this

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Michael Grunwald reports for Politico:

On a former tomato field near the tip of the Florida peninsula, in a remote expanse of shabby nurseries growing palm trees and garden plants at the edge of the Everglades, there’s an imposing new building that doesn’t seem to belong in an area that doesn’t seem to change. It has clean rectangular lines, fresh white paint and a footprint nearly as large as the downtown Miami Heat arena 40 miles and a world away. It’s the first piece of an industrial complex that—if all goes as planned—will grow 20 times larger over the next decade, and will reshape the future of food.

This so-called Bluehouse is on track to become the world’s biggest land-based fish farm over the next decade, eventually producing a billion meals a year on a campus the size of the Mall of America. And the fish it will start delivering to American customers this summer are as incongruous as the behemoth of a building itself: Atlantic salmon, a cold-water species that has never been found anywhere near Florida and is almost always flown into the United States from the fjords of Norway or the frigid bays of southern Chile. Now the Norwegian firm Atlantic Sapphire has moved its entire river-to-sea life cycle into indoor tanks, aiming to supply nearly half the current U.S. salmon diet from the sweltering subtropics.

The Bluehouse is a high-tech experiment in productivity and sustainability, a supersized aquatic version of greenhouse agriculture that aims to solve a host of environmental problems plaguing conventional salmon farms in coastal waters. Its red-fleshed fish are growing without antibiotics or pesticides, without exposure to seaborne diseases or parasites, without escapes that could allow them to endanger wild fish, and without damage to the overfished and overpolluted oceans. It’s also a well-timed experiment in simplified logistics. At a moment when the coronavirus is exposing the fragility of elaborate global food supply chains—China recently banned salmon imports after false rumors of contagion, while the U.S. meat industry has struggled to keep slaughterhouses open and supermarkets stocked—the Bluehouse is about to start harvesting American-made protein that doesn’t have to be packed in Styrofoam, handled by multiple middlemen, or shipped around the world in carbon-belching cargo planes.

The technical challenges of raising salmon that never see the outdoors are immense. Just this February, a nitrogen-poisoning mishap in a tank at the company’s pilot plant in rural Denmark killed 200,000 fish. It’s easier to manage cages in the sea than to build gigantic tanks on land, and President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order to make it even easier by relaxing environmental protections in marine waters, which could relieve some pressure for eco-friendly innovation in the U.S.

But if it works, Atlantic Sapphire’s push to help feed the world with less impact on the planet could be as transformative as better-publicized efforts by plant-based protein firms like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. Conventionally farmed salmon already produce fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than pork and far fewer than beef, and the Bluehouse’s designers believe they drive even more drastic reductions while leaving the seas alone. Like the fake-meat companies, Atlantic Sapphire will initially charge more than conventional salmon producers, but it’s betting not only that consumers will pay a price premium to try home-grown sustainable fish, but that they’ll make it part of their permanent routine. Investors seem to agree; the company is now worth nearly $1 billion on the Oslo stock exchange.

“You think of potatoes from Idaho, lobsters from Maine, and now you’ll think of fresh salmon from Florida,” says Atlantic Sapphire’s chief financial officer, Jose Prado. “This will be the new thing, because the world needs what we’re doing here.

What the world needs is sustainably grown protein for a steadily increasing population, and the Bluehouse could produce enormous amounts of it. By 2031, Atlantic Sapphire plans to grow 220,000 annual tons of salmon, or 44 percent of current U.S. consumption, on a 160-acre tract that once grew about 5,000 annual tons of tomatoes. As one industry expert quipped to me: That’s a lotta lox. To put it another way, the goal is to produce about 15 percent as many tons of food as Florida’s citrus industry produced last year on about 0.03 percent as much land.

Atlantic Sapphire’s big advantage over its competitors in the protein world will be efficiency; it’s on track to use just 1.05 pounds of feed for every pound of salmon filet, while cows devour more than six pounds of feed for every pound of beef. And while conventional salmon farms are nearly as efficient at converting fish feed into human food, their supply chains are far more complex. Traditional aquaculture operations have to move salmon from land-based hatcheries at the ends of the earth to near-shore “net pens” back to on-shore processing plants, then can take a week shipping filets on trucks to planes to more trucks to reach American groceries and restaurants. Atlantic Sapphire will do it all at the Bluehouse, then put the final product on trucks to be delivered fresh anywhere in the U.S. within a day.

The obvious question is why Florida, and the answer is an almost miraculous quirk of geology. The area’s stratified underground aquifers happen to provide pristine fresh water that can mimic the river stage for young salmon, abundant salt water that can mimic the estuary stage for mature salmon, and a boulder zone where wastewater can be disposed of safely.

The more important question is why grow fish on land in the first place, and that answer boils down to a combination of rising demand and limited supply. The world keeps eating more seafood, and U.S. salmon consumption has been increasing about 9 percent a year. But the wild catch from the oceans has been stagnant for decades, while conventional aquaculture that uses coastal net pens is being constrained by environmental and regulatory problems; the state of Washington actually banned salmon farming in Puget Sound. Since fishermen are struggling to pull more salmon out of the seas, and farmers are struggling to secure permits to grow more salmon in coastal waters, there’s been a frantic search for a new approach.

“This space is changing so fast right now, it’s hard to keep up,” says Halley Froehlich, an aquaculture expert at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

A variety of potential alternatives are racing to the marketplace. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 July 2020 at 9:56 am

Lead Poisoning and Domestic Violence

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At Mother Jones Kevin Drum points out a tragedy of bad technology:

Alex Tabarrok reviews Franklin Zimring’s When Police Kill and notes the following:

A surprising finding:

Crime is a young man’s game in the United States but being killed by a police officer is not.

The main reason for this appears to be that a disproportionate share of police killings come from disturbance calls, domestic and non-domestic about equally represented. A majority of the killings arising from disturbance calls are of people aged forty or more.

I can’t fool you guys. You know what I’m going to say, don’t you? A likely explanation for this is that in 2015, when this data was collected, 20-year-olds were born around 1995 and grew up lead free. This means they were far less likely to act out violently than in the past. Conversely, 40-year-olds were born around 1975, right near the peak of the lead poisoning epidemic. They are part of the most violent, explosive generation in US history.

This is the saddest part of lead poisoning: it scars your brain development as a child and there’s no cure. If you’re affected by it and are more aggressive and violent as a result, you will be that way for the rest of your life.

The biggest villain in the lead-poisoning of a country was leaded gasoline. After it had been phased out, George W. Bush flirted with bringing it back, but fortunately rationality in that case prevailed.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2020 at 11:48 am

Facebook is basically run by scum

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Judd Legum reports at Popular Information:

Facebook is “aiding and abetting the spread of climate misinformation,” said Robert Brulle, an environmental sociologist at Drexel University. “They have become the vehicle for climate misinformation, and thus should be held partially responsible for a lack of action on climate change.”

Brulle was reacting to Facebook’s recent decision, made at the request of climate science deniers, to create a giant loophole in its fact-checking program. Last year, Facebook partnered with an organization, Science Feedback, that would bring in teams of Ph.D. climate scientists to evaluate the accuracy of viral content. It was an important expansion of the company’s third-party fact-checking program.

But now Facebook has reportedly decided to allow its staffers to overrule the climate scientists and make any climate disinformation ineligible for fact-checking by deeming it “opinion.”

The organization that requested the change, the CO2 Coalition, is celebrating, E&E news reported on Monday. The group, which has close ties to the fossil fuel industry, says its views on climate change are increasingly ignored by the mainstream media. Now it plans to use Facebook to aggressively push climate misinformation on the public — without having to worry about fact checks from climate scientists.

How it all started

A column published in the Washington Examiner in August 2019 claimed that “climate models” were a “failure” that predicted exponentially more warming of the earth than has occurred. The piece, co-authored by notorious climate science denier Pat Michaels, was quickly shared more than 2,000 times on Facebook.

There was just one issue: It wasn’t true.

This is exactly the kind of mess that Facebook’s network of independent fact-checkers is supposed to solve. In May 2019, Facebook partnered with Science Feedback, a site dedicated to explaining “why information is or is not consistent with the science.” Science Feedback’s process is extremely rigorous. Each piece has multiple . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2020 at 6:33 pm

From national parks to the deep sea, plastic pollution is showing up wherever scientists look

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Humans have fouled their nest — and they keep doing it. I was thinking of a time-travel approach, but that wouldn’t work. If you could travel back to just prior to the Industrial Revolution and warn of the dangers that fossil fuels (coal and petroleum) pose to the global environment, you would have zero impact. If you could travel back to the 1930s or 1940s and warn about the dangers of plastics to the environment — and, since they are potent endocrine disruptors, to life — no one would listen. By 1967, it would be much too late:

John Metcalfe reports in the Washington Post:

In 2017, Janice Brahney was examining dust that had blown across the wilderness of the Western United States to determine its nutrient composition. She slid her samples under a microscope, expecting to see the usual quartz and feldspar grains, pollen and random bug parts.
Instead, what leaped from the lens were candy-colored shards and spherules — blue, pink and red plastics mixed with the dust like foul confetti.
“I was really taken aback when I saw this,” said Brahney, an assistant professor of biogeochemistry at Utah State University. “I had no idea that our pollution had extended to that level.”
Sensing a potential discovery, Brahney, along with fellow researchers, started monitoring dust deposits in nearly a dozen protected areas in the West — places we tend to think of as relatively pristine, like Joshua Tree National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park and the Grand Canyon.

At each location, they found microplastics blown in on the breeze. In a study released Friday in the journal Science, they reveal just how much plastic is landing on protected areas in the West: more than 1,000 tons each year, equal to 123 million to 300 million pulverized plastic water bottles.
Not many hikers huffing up a mountain trail would realize they might be breathing in components of what used to be somebody’s snazzy nylon pants. Minuscule plastic particles — microplastics made from artificial clothing fibers, broken-down consumer products, beads used in medical and industry applications and other sources — are practically undetectable to the naked eye.
But they’re ubiquitous now, thanks to a world that generates hundreds of millions of tons of plastic every year.
“We are producing something that doesn’t go away, and just because we can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there,” Brahney said.
The study found microplastic particle sizes that ranged between four and 188 microns. The smallest were as tiny as one-tenth the width of a human hair, and the largest were twice the size of fine beach sand. Some of the smaller particles can, if ingested, become lodged in human lungs.
We’ve known for decades that plastics litter the oceans, accumulating in floating garbage patches, piling up like landfills in deep-sea trenches and being eaten by the tiniest organisms in the marine food chain.
But it hasn’t been until recently that scientists realized it was flying above our heads, similar to how dust particles are picked up by the wind. One of the first studies on this phenomenon came out in 2015 — though the precise mechanisms of uptake and deposition and, more importantly, their consequences are still poorly understood.
The discovery of airborne plastic dusting cities and agricultural areas as well as more-remote locations have alarmed the research community that studies such contamination. “Atmospheric transport means our wilderness areas — and thus our safety net of ecosystems, insects, and animals not affected by farming — are not safe,” Steve Allen, a plastics researcher at Scotland’s University of Strathclyde, said via email.

“The effects of microplastic on these areas is still being researched, but it is known that even the physical act of eating it can block the digestive tract of small creatures like worms. That is not even counting the mutagenic, carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting chemicals that plastic carries,” Allen said.
Brahney’s work sheds new light on the atmospheric plastic cycle, revealing the role cities play as generation tanks, how storms can fling plastics many miles away and vast ribbons of lightweight plastic whizzing across vast distances on the power of large-scale atmospheric circulation like the jet stream.
This research “has shown that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2020 at 9:58 am

How many cops does New York City need?

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Kevin Drum has an intriguing post at Mother Jones:

A small fight conversation broke out in my twitter feed yesterday related to my post about the number of cops vs. violent crime rates. For example, in New York City violent crime has declined by nearly 80 percent from its peak in 1990:

Crime had declined by a full third before Rudy Giuliani became mayor. It declined before anyone whispered the words “broken windows.” It declined before Bill Bratton introduced CompStat. It began its decline during a recession; kept declining during the Clinton boom; continued without a hitch during the 2000 recession; and then kept declining during both the Bush recovery and the Great Recession. It’s obvious that both economic conditions and new theories of policing had little to do with it.

So here’s a more detailed look at New York City:

The per capita number of police officers increased by about 10 percent through 2000 and then declined by about 20 percent through 2018. That’s nearly flat over the entire period. Violent crime, by contrast, plummeted 60 percent from its peak in 1990 through 2000 and then declined another 40 percent through 2018. That’s a total decrease of nearly 80 percent between 1990 and 2018.

So this provokes a big question: Why did crime go down so much? One possibility is that it’s because New York kept its number of police officers high and trained them better with tools like CompStat and community policing. Or maybe it was aggressive use of stop-and-frisk? If those are the answers, then you want to stick with a policy that’s working.

But if crime went down because the blood lead levels in kids went down, it means that teenagers today are inherently less violent than they were 30 years ago. If you ease up on the number of cops and the stop-and-frisk and so forth, crime will remain low because kids these days simply nicer and more self-controlled than they used to be.

As it happens, the evidence is massively on the side of . . .

Continue reading for the surprising explanation and links to good explanatory articles.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 June 2020 at 2:49 pm

Cooking in cast-iron, stainless steel, and Teflon

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I got rid of all my Teflon pans some time ago. I now cook mostly in cast-iron and otherwise in stainless steel (the latter for cooking, say, beans and grains). The contamination of seafood is interesting (and depressing):

Written by LeisureGuy

25 May 2020 at 10:03 am

Check out the documentary “Meat the Future”

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Use JustWatch.com to find where you can see it on-line: real meat without killing animals and without the environmental cost. Fascinating: Meat the Future.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 May 2020 at 8:36 pm

The Cassandra of coronavirus

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Frank Bruni has an interesting column in the NY Times:

I told Laurie Garrett that she might as well change her name to Cassandra. Everyone is calling her that anyway.

She and I were Zooming — that’s a verb now, right? — and she pulled out a 2017 book, “Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes.” It notes that Garrett, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, was prescient not only about the impact of H.I.V. but also about the emergence and global spread of more contagious pathogens.

“I’m a double Cassandra,” Garrett said.

She’s also prominently mentioned in a recent Vanity Fair article by David Ewing Duncan about “the Coronavirus Cassandras.”

Cassandra, of course, was the Greek prophetess doomed to issue unheeded warnings. What Garrett has been warning most direly about — in her 1994 best seller, “The Coming Plague,” and in subsequent books and speeches, including TED Talks — is a pandemic like the current one.

She saw it coming. So a big part of what I wanted to ask her about was what she sees coming next. Steady yourself. Her crystal ball is dark.

Despite the stock market’s swoon for it, remdesivir probably isn’t our ticket out, she told me. “It’s not curative,” she said, pointing out that the strongest claims so far are that it merely shortens the recovery of Covid-19 patients. “We need either a cure or a vaccine.”

But she can’t envision that vaccine anytime in the next year, while Covid-19 will remain a crisis much longer than that.

“I’ve been telling everybody that my event horizon is about 36 months, and that’s my best-case scenario,” she said.

“I’m quite certain that this is going to go in waves,” she added. “It won’t be a tsunami that comes across America all at once and then retreats all at once. It will be micro-waves that shoot up in Des Moines and then in New Orleans and then in Houston and so on, and it’s going to affect how people think about all kinds of things.”

They’ll re-evaluate the importance of travel. They’ll reassess their use of mass transit. They’ll revisit the need for face-to-face business meetings. They’ll reappraise having their kids go to college out of state.

So, I asked, is “back to normal,” a phrase that so many people cling to, a fantasy?

“This is history right in front of us,” Garrett said. “Did we go ‘back to normal’ after 9/11? No. We created a whole new normal. We securitized the United States. We turned into an antiterror state. And it affected everything. We couldn’t go into a building without showing ID and walking through a metal detector, and couldn’t get on airplanes the same way ever again. That’s what’s going to happen with this.”

Not the metal detectors, but a seismic shift in what we expect, in what we endure, in how we adapt.

Maybe in political engagement, too, Garrett said.

If America enters the next wave of coronavirus infections “with the wealthy having gotten somehow wealthier off this pandemic by hedging, by shorting, by doing all the nasty things that they do, and we come out of our rabbit holes and realize, ‘Oh, my God, it’s not just that everyone I love is unemployed or underemployed and can’t make their maintenance or their mortgage payments or their rent payments, but now all of a sudden those jerks that were flying around in private helicopters are now flying on private personal jets and they own an island that they go to and they don’t care whether or not our streets are safe,’ then I think we could have massive political disruption.”

“Just as we come out of our holes and see what 25 percent unemployment looks like,” she said, “we may also see what collective rage looks like.”

Garrett has been on my radar since the early 1990s, when she worked for Newsday and did some of the best reporting anywhere on AIDS. Her Pulitzer, in 1996, was for coverage of Ebola in Zaire. She has been a fellow at Harvard’s School of Public Health, was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and consulted on the 2011 movie “Contagion.”

Her expertise, in other words, has long been in demand. But not like now.

Each morning when she opens her email, “there’s the Argentina request, Hong Kong request, Taiwan request, South Africa request, Morocco, Turkey,” she told me. “Not to mention all of the American requests.” It made me feel bad about taking more than an hour of her time on Monday. But not so bad that I didn’t cadge another 30 minutes on Thursday.

She said she wasn’t surprised that a coronavirus wrought this devastation, that China minimized what was going on or that the response in many places was sloppy and sluggish. She’s Cassandra, after all.

But there is one part of the story she couldn’t have predicted: that the paragon of sloppiness and sluggishness would be the United States.

“I never imagined that,” she said. “Ever.”

The highlights — or, rather, lowlights — include President Trump’s initial acceptance of the assurances by President Xi Jinping of China that all would be well, his scandalous complacency from late January through early March, his cheerleading for unproven treatments, his musings about cockamamie ones, his abdication of muscular federal guidance for the states and his failure, even now, to sketch out a detailed long-range strategy for containing the coronavirus.

Having long followed Garrett’s work, I can attest that it’s not driven by partisanship. She praised George W. Bush for fighting H.I.V. in Africa.

But she called Trump “the most incompetent, foolhardy buffoon imaginable.”

And she’s shocked that America isn’t in a position to lead the global response to this crisis, in part because science and scientists have been so degraded under Trump.

Referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and its analogues abroad, she told me: “I’ve heard from every C.D.C. in the world — the European C.D.C., the African C.D.C., China C.D.C. — and they say, ‘Normally our first call is to Atlanta, but we ain’t hearing back.’ There’s nothing going on down there. They’ve gutted that place. They’ve gagged that place. I can’t get calls returned anymore. Nobody down there is feeling like it’s safe to talk. Have you even seen anything important and vital coming out of the C.D.C.?”

The problem, Garrett added, is bigger than Trump and older than his presidency. America has never been sufficiently invested in public health. The riches and renown go mostly to physicians who find new and better ways to treat heart disease, cancer and the like. The big political conversation is about individuals’ access to health care.

But what about the work to keep our air and water safe for everyone, to design policies and systems for quickly detecting outbreaks, containing them and protecting entire populations? Where are the rewards for the architects of that?

Garrett recounted her time at Harvard. “The medical school is all marble, with these grand columns,” she said. “The school of public health is this funky building, the ugliest possible architecture, with the ceilings falling in.”

“That’s America?” I asked.

“That’s America,” she said.

And what America needs most right now, she said, isn’t this drumbeat of testing, testing, testing, because there will never be enough superfast, super-reliable tests to determine on the spot who can safely enter a crowded workplace or venue, which is the scenario that some people seem to have in mind. America needs good information, from many rigorously designed studies, about the prevalence and deadliness of coronavirus infections in given subsets of people, so that governors and mayors can develop rules for social distancing and reopening that are sensible, sustainable and tailored to the situation at hand.

America needs a federal government that assertively promotes and helps to coordinate that, not one in which experts like Tony Fauci and Deborah Birx tiptoe around a president’s tender ego.

“I can sit here with you for three hours listing — boom, boom, boom — what good leadership would look like and how many more lives would be saved if we followed that path, and it’s just incredibly upsetting.” Garrett said. “I feel like I’m just coming out of maybe three weeks of being in a funk because of the profound disappointment that there’s not a whisper of it.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 May 2020 at 6:16 am

The planet has the climate equivalent of a serious infection

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From the newsletter Exponential View, by Azeem Azhar:

Each week, we’re going to remind you of the CO2 levels in the atmosphere and the number of days until reaching the 450ppm threshold.

The latest measurement (as of April 2): 415.41ppm; April 1, 2019: 411.69ppm; 25 years ago: 360ppm; 250 years ago, est: 250ppm. Share this reminder with your community by forwarding this email or tweeting this.

Carbon output could drop 5% this year, nearly four times further than it did after the global financial crisis. (I reckon it might be higher because I am more bearish on the depth of the plunge. The airline industry might be furloughed for half-a-year or more and it, alone, contributed 2% of annual emissions.)

🔝 The largest impact of renewable hydrogen could be in decarbonising heavy-duty industries, such as steel and aluminium-making, glass, or cement.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2020 at 2:53 pm

Beer bottles designed to be recycled as building blocks

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Nifty idea that has not yet taken off. Yuka Yoneda writes in habitat:

Upcycling is a 21st century term, coined by Cradle to Cradle authors William McDonough and Michael Braungart, but the idea of turning waste into useful products came to life brilliantly in 1963 with the Heineken WOBO (world bottle). Envisioned by beer brewer Alfred Heineken and designed by Dutch architect John Habraken, the “brick that holds beer” was ahead of its ecodesign time, letting beer lovers and builders alike drink and design all in one sitting.

Mr. Heineken’s idea came after a visit to the Caribbean where he saw two problems: beaches littered with bottles and a lack of affordable building materials. The WOBO became his vision to solve both the recycling and housing challenges that he had witnessed on the islands.

The final WOBO design came in two sizes – 350 and 500 mm versions that were meant to lay horizontally, interlock and layout in the same manner as ‘brick and mortar’ construction. One production run in 1963 yielded 100,000 bottles some of which were used to build a small shed on Mr. Heineken’s estate in Noordwijk, Netherlands. One of the construction challenges “was to find a way in which corners and openings could be made without cutting bottles,” said Mr. Habraken.

Despite the success of the first “world bottle” project, the  . . .

Continue reading.

It’s clever marketing because it encourages repeat business: “I have almost enough to finish the garden fence, then I’m going to start saving up for the shed…”

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2020 at 8:03 am

EPA suspends enforcement of environmental laws amid coronavirus

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Rebecca Beitsch reports in The Hill:

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a sweeping suspension of its enforcement of environmental laws Thursday, telling companies they would not need to meet environmental standards during the coronavirus outbreak.

The temporary policy, for which the EPA has set no end date, would allow any number of industries to skirt environmental laws, with the agency saying it will not “seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting obligations.”

Cynthia Giles, who headed the EPA’s Office of Enforcement during the Obama administration, called it a moratorium on enforcing the nation’s environmental laws and an abdication of the agency’s duty.

“This EPA statement is essentially a nationwide waiver of environmental rules for the indefinite future. It tells companies across the country that they will not face enforcement even if they emit unlawful air and water pollution in violation of environmental laws, so long as they claim that those failures are in some way ’caused’ by the virus pandemic. And it allows them an out on monitoring too, so we may never know how bad the violating pollution was,” she wrote in a statement to The Hill.

The EPA has been under pressure from a number of industries, including the oil industry, to suspend enforcement of a number of environmental regulations due to the pandemic.

“EPA is committed to protecting human health and the environment, but . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 March 2020 at 2:06 pm

Human crap

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Gabrielle Hecht, Frank Stanton Foundation Professor of Nuclear Security at Stanford Universityand affiliated with the Center for International Security and Cooperation, the Department of History and the Department of Anthropology, writes in Aeon:

We are turning the world inside-out. Massive mining operations rip into rock, unearthing lithium, coltan and hundreds of other minerals to feed our gargantuan appetite for electronic stuff. Sand dredged from riverbeds and ocean floors becomes concrete; so far, there’s enough to cover the globe in a 2mm-thick shell. Oil sucked up from the seabed powers locomotion and manufacturing, and serves as the chemical base for our plasticised lives. We could easily wrap our concrete replica in plastic wrap.

Inverting the planet is messy. Retrieving all those minerals requires boring through tonnes of what the mining industry refers to as ‘sterile material’ – a revealing term for matter it perceives as purely obstructive, without use, infertile in every way. A typical 14 karat gold chain leaves one tonne of waste rock in South Africa. Obtaining the lithium that fuels cellphones and Teslas means drilling through fragile beds of salt, magnesium and potassium high in the Chilean Andes, producing piles and pools of discarded materials. More than 12,000 oil spills have defiled the Niger Delta. All this and more, so much more, from extraction alone.

Earth-systems scientists portray these processes with hockey-stick curves. Starting in the second half of the 20th century, their disturbing asymptotic graphs show a ‘great acceleration’ in the squandering of planetary materials. Some exponential increases can be measured directly, such as those for carbon dioxide or methane; others require extrapolation, like what’s left behind by dam building or motorised transport. Either way, the result is clear. Materials and molecules discarded in the course of planetary inversion do not disappear – instead, they move around, rising into the atmosphere, spreading out across once-fertile soils, seeping into waterways. We are worlding our waste.

Humans have always produced discards. But discards become waste only if they aren’t metabolised in a meaningful way. Consider the stuff emitted by our bodies on a more or less daily basis: pee and poop. Many societies have thrived by deploying, rather than discarding, human faeces. Pre-industrial Japan monetised excreta; as the historian Susan Hanley writes, in Osaka, ‘the rights to faecal matter … belonged to the owner of the building, whereas the urine belonged to the tenants’. For 4,000 years, China sustained an agricultural system using human stool as fertiliser. In the early 20th century, more than 180 million tonnes of human manure were collected annually in the Far East, according to estimates made in 1911 by the soil scientist F H King – amounting to 450 kilos per person per year, and enriching the soil with more than 1 million tonnes of nitrogen, 376,000 tonnes of potassium and 150,000 tonnes of phosphorus.

Admittedly, King might have overestimated: those figures equate to 1.2 kilos (2.6 pounds) of poop per person per day, which seems like a lot. Nevertheless, it’s hard to dismiss his subsequent comment:

Man [by which King meant white settler American men] is the most extravagant accelerator of waste the world has ever endured. His withering blight has fallen upon every living thing within his reach, himself not excepted; and his besom of destruction in the uncontrolled hands of a generation has swept into the sea soil fertility which only centuries of life could accumulate …

That was just over 100 years ago. Prophetic? Not really: King drew his conclusions from observations. Better to read this as yet another ‘Don’t say I didn’t warn you’ from a scientist.

Yet pooping can be pleasurable as well as practical. The 16th-century French author François Rabelais wrote not just about the gluttonous delights of food ingestion, but also of the ecstasy of its evacuation. Responding to his father’s question about how he stayed clean, the five-year old Gargantua of Rabelais’s fiction offered up a long list of options he’d tried, ranging from neckerchiefs to nettles. None could compare to his top choice, though:

I say and maintain that of all torcheculs, arsewisps, bumfodders, tail-napkins, bunghole cleansers and wipe-breeches, there is none in this world comparable to the neck of a goose, that is well downed, if you hold her head betwixt your legs … You will thereby feel in your nockhole a most wonderful pleasure, both in regard of the softness of the said down, and of the temperate heat of the goose, which is easily communicated to the bum-gut and the rest of the inwards … even to the regions of the heart and brains … The felicity of the heroes and demigods in the Elysian fields, consisteth [n]either in their AsphodelAmbrosia, or Nectar, but in this: … that they wipe their tails with the necks of a goose.

A startling image, very much of its time. Today, we might take it as an allegory for the relentless pursuit of comfort and pleasure, weirdly resonant with the contemporary affordances of modern middle-class existence. Three-ply ultra-soft toilet paper offers a facsimile of this Rabelaisian downiness, while capitalist infrastructures enable poopers to treat all of it – faeces and wipes alike – as disposable. Just flush it all away. Don’t think about where it goes. No need to wash the goose.

Disposing of dung is historically and culturally contingent. For a time, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2020 at 3:24 pm

Posted in Daily life, Environment, Science

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A Rapid End Strikes the Dinosaur Extinction Debate

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Joshua Sokol writes in Quanta:

The last time the world was ending, two cataclysms aligned. On one side of the planet, a wayward asteroid dropped like a cartoon anvil, punching through the edge of the Yucatan Peninsula and penetrating deep into Earth’s crust. Around the same time — 66 million years ago — a million cubic kilometers of lava were in the process of bubbling up to the surface, releasing climate-altering carbon dioxide and sulfur into the atmosphere and forming what would become the Deccan Traps of modern-day India.

Rock layers around the world show what happened next. No dinosaurs besides the birds made it out. Neither did the squidlike ammonites that curled like rams’ horns, or marine reptiles including the plesiosaurs (Loch Ness conspiracies notwithstanding). But because of the close timing of the asteroid and the volcanism, geologists have spent years staking out increasingly acrimonious positions on which one deserves the blame for the ensuing carnage. In 2018, The Atlantic called the debate “The Nastiest Feud in Science.”

Until recently, Pincelli Hull kept out of the fray. In her subfield, marine plankton fossils, the impact was considered the obvious sole cause of what’s called the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction. Instead, she focused on understanding how life bounced back, not on what had almost snuffed it out. “There was a lot to be done without really ruffling any feathers,” said Hull, a paleontologist at Yale University.

That changed over time. First, a paleontologist friend who worked on other time periods argued that of course both the asteroid and volcanism were responsible. “I remember feeling so irritated,” Hull said. “This isn’t your topic of study; how do you have an opinion on this?”

But once she realized that researchers looking at other records of the extinction considered the volcanism theory an open question, not just a minority view, Hull started reaching out to them. Many of these scientists were working on more accurate ways to date when exactly the Deccan Traps erupted, and she wanted to understand their emerging evidence.

Researchers had long known that the Deccan Traps erupted within a few million years of the asteroid strike. But in 2015, a group based at Princeton University significantly narrowed the timing. They found that the lava began squishing out of the earth only 250,000 years before the impact and continued for 500,000 years afterward. Then last year, they estimated that a major pulse of lava erupted just tens of thousands of years before the strike. (At the same time, a Berkeley group argued instead that a big pulse began right after.)

It may seem like an obscure chronological feud, but this one matters: If the Deccan Traps released lava and gas just before the asteroid fell, at least some of the subsequent carnage could be attributed to climate change from the volcanoes. “It made me start to think, ‘OK, this is an open question,’” Hull said.

She didn’t think that for long. Hull went on to lead a global collaboration that, early this year, published a definitive timeline of how the mayhem played out in small ocean fossils. The team tracked changes in global temperature over time. The planet did warm up before the impact, Hull found, but then cooled back down before the asteroid arrived. And while that warming event didn’t seem to correlate to marine extinctions, over 90% of plankton species abruptly vanished after the impact. The study suggests that the major influence of the Deccan Traps was to guide the post-apocalyptic evolution of surviving species — not to drive the extinction itself.

Quanta spoke with Hull about that cataclysm — often abbreviated as the K-T extinction — her deep love of planktonic creatures, and the ways in which the K-T extinction resembles what’s going on today. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Do you remember first learning about the extinction of the dinosaurs? In my own childhood, it was always blamed on the asteroid impact.

I have to admit that as a child, I wasn’t obsessed with dinosaurs at all. I came into all of this pretty backward. I’m from Ohio, and I grew up without ever seeing the ocean. I remember the first time I saw the ocean and I looked at plankton, at the stuff in the water, under magnification. I was enamored of their strangeness; they’re just crazy weird. So I went off to grad school to study modern ocean ecosystems, and it was only there that I came into studying mass extinctions, essentially from the present back.

You’ve also mentioned in talks that you left high school early to go sailing.

The root of that story is that I am a chronic procrastinator. When I should have been doing my high school project, I was online looking at how I could go sailing around the world. And then I left halfway through my senior year and went to the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole and did some training in oceanography, maritime history and literature. I headed out on an oceanographic vessel and I liked it so much that I didn’t want to go to college. My parents were like, could you please try college out for a semester? I was like, no, I’d rather be a deckhand. But I tried college out for a semester and decided to stick it out.

You started your career trying to understand modern-day ecosystems, only to jump to the extinction that killed the dinosaurs. Is that a logical place to leap, 66 million years back?

People have been wondering whether or not we’re in the middle of a mass extinction right now. The most recent big mass extinction is the K-T mass extinction, and its influence is so big that you actually see it profoundly. Another reason why it’s helpful to study the most recent big mass extinction is that as you go further back in time, you have exponentially fewer fossil archives, because the whole world is basically a gigantic rock recycling factory.

Does that mean it’s rare to drill a seafloor sample that spans even this extinction?

Yeah, I’m a biologist, and when the cores are coming up, it’s sort of intriguing, but in the way that staring at clouds is intriguing. Usually you’re like, oh, there’s another tube of brown mud. There’s another tube of grayish-blue mud. But when you come across a boundary like the K-T boundary, it’s blaring. It’s awesome.

For your new paper, do you remember getting those specific cores? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 March 2020 at 9:02 pm

Turning Up the Heat on Thermal Paper Receipts

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Bisphenol-A, like Teflon, is a contaminant humans have introduced and continue to put into the environment. Joe Schwartz writes at McGill Office of Science and Society:

When you are spending money at a store, the cost may be more than the amount shown on the cash register receipt. According to some researchers, there is a cost to health. That’s because handling the receipt transfers a chemical known to have hormone-disruptive properties to the skin from where it can migrate into the bloodstream. That chemical is bisphenol A, commonly abbreviated as BPA. This is a multi-functional substance that is a component of polycarbonate plastic as well as the epoxy resin that lines food cans. In the case of receipts, it is coated onto the paper to the extent of about 20 mg/g and acts to develop the image when heat is applied. There is some fascinating chemistry involved here. “Leuco” dyes are chemicals that can exist in a colourless or coloured form depending on temperature and acidity. In this case, the paper is treated with the colourless form. When heat is applied, as directed by a printer head, the colorless form combines with BPA, here acting as an acid, to form the coloured image.

A number of studies have shown that BPA can be transferred to the skin from thermal paper. This is done by having subjects handle the paper and then extracting their skin with a solvent such as ethanol and then testing the ethanol for bisphenol A content. Such studies have clearly shown that some of the chemical is transferred and that the transfer is significantly enhanced if previously a sanitizer or moisturizing cream had been applied to the hands. Following the handling of receipts, the concentration of bisphenol A in the blood and urine can also be measured. Indeed, some researchers believe that for most people, cash register receipts represent the most significant exposure to BPA.

The amount of BPA that shows up in the blood after handling receipts has been found to be more than if a comparable amount were consumed. That’s because orally ingested BPA travels through the liver where it is metabolized with the remnants being excreted in the urine. By contrast, transdermal passage does not lead to quick detoxication by the liver. There is also the issue that when BPA is transferred to the fingers, it can further contaminate other substances that are handled, such as food. In one study, eating French fries after handling cash receipt paper resulted in higher blood levels of BPA than after eating the fries with hands that had not touched such paper.

Of course, one cannot equate the mere finding of a chemical in the blood or the urine with the presence of risk. Indeed, high urinary levels may mean that the chemical is being efficiently excreted. However, some researchers maintain that the levels found after handling thermal paper, around 20 nanograms per mL, are comparable to those that in epidemiological studies have been associated with health effects such as obesity, miscarriage, reduced libido, impaired sperm quality and altered immune, liver, thyroid and kidney function. These studies, though, are just associations and cannot prove a cause and effect relationship. For example, diet can influence both the amount of BPA ingested, since it is found in many canned foods, as well as the rate at which it is excreted in the urine. So a higher urinary level of BPA in the urine may just be a marker for a different diet or a different level of hygiene, both of which rather than BPA may account for the health effects.

Nevertheless, . . .

Continue reading. Emphasis added.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 February 2020 at 12:48 pm

Disease: The revenge of domesticated animals — Michael Greger

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This is a fascinating video from seven years ago, when Dr. Greger was seriously overweight. It’s particularly interesting right now as we face an incipient pandemic of coronavirus. Thanks to JvR for pointing it out (again):

 

Be sure to watch this, and take note of the resources he mentions — for example, the CDC site on pandemic flu preparation.

Candidly, I don’t think any serious steps will be taken. We will treat it much as we treat climate: we now what the problem is, but we take no serious steps to address it because that would require substantive change.

Note that this talk was deliver seven years ago. And nothing really has been done — and we now have the coronavirus moving toward pandemic status.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 February 2020 at 7:08 pm

‘We Knew They Had Cooked the Books’

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Robinson Meyer has in the Atlantic an article worth reading. It was referenced by Jonathan Chait in a post I blogged yesterday, but Meyer’s entire article is worth reading. It begins:

On a drizzly day in January 2018, Jeff Alson, an engineer at the Environmental Protection Agency’s motor-vehicles office, gathered with his colleagues to make a video call to Washington, D.C.

They had made the same call dozens of times before. For nearly a decade, the EPA team had worked closely with another group of engineers in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA, pronounced nits-uh) to write the federal tailpipe-pollution standards, one of the most consequential climate protections in American history. The two teams had done virtually all the technical research—testing engines in a lab, interviewing scientists and automakers, and overseeing complex economic simulations—underpinning the rules, which have applied to every new car and light truck, including SUVs and vans, sold in the United States since 2012.

Their collaboration was historic. Even as SUVs, crossovers, and pickups have gobbled up the new-car market, the rules have pushed the average fuel economy—the distance a vehicle can travel per gallon of gas—to record highs. They have saved Americans $500 billion at the pump, according to the nonpartisan Consumer Federation of America, and kept hundreds of millions of tons of carbon pollution out of the air. So as the call connected, Alson and the other EPA engineers thought it was time to get back to work. Donald Trump had recently ordered a review of the rules.

Speaking from Washington, James Tamm, the NHTSA fuel-economy chief, greeted the EPA team, then put a spreadsheet on-screen. It showed an analysis of the tailpipe rules’ estimated costs and benefits. Alson had worked on this kind of study so many times that he could recall some of the key numbers “by heart,” he later told me.

Yet as Alson looked closer, he realized that this study was like none he had seen before. For years, both NHTSA and the EPA had found that the tailpipe rules saved lives during car accidents because they reduced the weight—and, with it, the lethality—of the heaviest SUVs. In 2015, an outside panel of experts concurred with them.

But this new study asserted the opposite: The Obama-era rules, it claimed, killed almost 1,000 people a year.

“Oh my God,” Alson said upon seeing the numbers. The other EPA engineers in the room gasped and started to point out other shocking claims on Tamm’s slide. (Their line was muted.) It seemed as if every estimated cost had ballooned, while every estimated benefit had shrunk. Something in the study had gone deeply wrong.

It was the beginning of a fiasco that could soon have global consequences. The Trump administration has since proposed to roll back the tailpipe rules nationwide, a move that, according to one estimate, could add nearly 1 billion tons of carbon pollution to the atmosphere. Officials have justified this sweeping change by claiming that the new rules will save hundreds of lives a year. They are so sure of those benefits that they have decided to call the policy the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles Rule—or SAFE, for short.

SNAFU may be a better moniker. To change a federal rule, the executive branch must do its homework and publish an economic study arguing why the update is necessary. But Trump’s official justification for SAFE is honeycombed with errors. The most dramatic is that NHTSA’s model mixed up supply and demand: The agency calculated that as cars got more expensive, millions more people would drive them, and the number of traffic accidents would increase, my reporting shows. This error—later dubbed the “phantom vehicles” problem—accounted for the majority of incorrect costs in the SAFE study that the Trump administration released in 2018. It is what made SAFE look safe.

Once this and other major mistakes are fixed, all of SAFE’s safety benefits vanish, according to a recent peer-reviewed analysis in Science. If SAFE is adopted into law, American traffic deaths could actually increase, carbon pollution would soar, and global warming would speed up.

In other words, SAFE isn’t actually safe—and the Trump administration based its rollback on flawed math.

Extensive interviews with key participants and a review of emails and documents reveal how this happened: The Trump administration kept the government’s top tailpipe-pollution experts from working on the tailpipe-pollution rule. For two years, rival bureaucrats at NHTSA and overworked Trump political appointees stonewalled the EPA team, blocked it from learning of the rollback, and prevented it from seeing analysis of the new rule. When the EPA engineers finally saw the flawed study and identified some of its worst errors, the same Trump officials ignored them.

This may have been a series of legally fatal blunders. The EPA team identified the phantom-vehicles problem early in the process. Within weeks of SAFE’s publication in August 2018, analyses from outside economists and the Honda Motor Company vindicated the EPA team’s assessment. Those groups found that the SAFE study was a turducken of falsehoods: it cited incorrect data and made calculation errors, on top of bungling the basics of supply and demand. Not since 1999—when NASA engineers accidentally confused metric and imperial units when building and navigating the Mars Climate Orbiter, leading to the spacecraft’s eventual destruction—have federal employees messed up a calculation so publicly, and at such expense and scale. And the EPA team saw it coming.

My reporting directly contradicts what EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told members of Congress last year. In a June letter to House Republicans, Wheeler said it was “false” that “EPA professional staff were cut out” of the rollback’s development.

In a statement, an EPA spokesman did not directly deny my reporting. “As we’ve stated multiple times before, career and professional staff within EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation were involved in the development of this proposal and continue to be involved in the final stages as we work with NHTSA to finalize this rule,” said Michael Abboud, the agency spokesman. He added that the old rule was “unworkable” and rushed into law at the end of the Obama administration.

A NHTSA spokesman declined to comment because the proposed regulation is under agency review. He referred me to older statements that said the EPA and NHTSA had reviewed “hundreds of thousands of public comments” and undertaken “extensive scientific and economic analyses” in the course of reworking the SAFE rule. A final version of the rule is expected in the next several weeks. But that new version of the SAFE study recognizes that the benefits of the rollback do not exceed its costs, according to a letter from Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, obtained by The Washington Post.

If Carper’s allegation is true, that could doom the proposal in court. In fact, several legal issues could hinder SAFE. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Air Act “requires” the EPA to regulate carbon pollution “from new motor vehicles.” But my reporting has found that NHTSA employees—and not EPA staff—actually wrote the first version of the rollback, raising questions about whether the rule is legally valid.

Either way, the SAFE rollback has already caused chaos. Major automakers—some of which once begged Trump to weaken the rules—now despise SAFE, according to reporting in The Wall Street Journal. When Ford, Volkswagen, BMW, and Honda began negotiating a compromise version of the standard with California last year, the Trump administration smacked them with an antitrust investigation. (It dropped the probe last week.) A fifth automaker, Mercedes-Benz, also considered joining the truce with California, The New York Times reported over the summer. (Mercedes did not respond to a request for comment.)

That chaos might have comforted Alson, who retired in 2018, and the other EPA engineers two years ago, as they sat slack-jawed in their conference room in Ann Arbor. Soon after unveiling the analysis, Tamm asked if anyone had questions. No one spoke. The meeting, originally scheduled to last an hour, adjourned after 30 minutes.

“We couldn’t even bring ourselves to try to engage,” Alson told me. “We knew they had cooked the books so bad that there wasn’t any reason to talk about it.”

Republicans will often claim that one federal rule or another meddles with an essential part of the economy. The tailpipe-pollution rules live up to the hype. They govern the place where the auto industry and the oil industry—two massive, planet-spanning businesses that together make up about 11 percent of American GDP—most often meet: the humble car engine.

There’s no way around this. In recent years, nearly one-fifth of the country’s climate-warming carbon pollution has come from cars and light-duty trucks, according to the EPA. It’s inevitable: If you burn gasoline in an internal-combustion engine, you release carbon dioxide; if you want to release less carbon, you must burn less gasoline. Some car regulations—such as those addressing traffic-safety issues—require only that some new technology, such as an airbag or backup camera, simply be affixed to a car’s frame. But any carbon-pollution rule must go to the heart of a motor vehicle: the engine, power train, and air conditioner.

Yet for decades, NHTSA—the traffic-safety arm of the Department of Transportation—set the nation’s fuel-economy rules. It was given that power for “purely political” reasons, says Lee Vinsel, a professor at Virginia Tech who studies American car regulation. “It had nothing to do with expertise.”

Congress first established the fuel-economy standards during the 1970s oil embargo as a “panic mode” policy that would reduce cars’ use of fuel and, by extension, American dependence on foreign oil, Vinsel told me. But lawmakers split on which agency should set the rules.

The EPA, then a young office, had already started measuring fuel efficiency as part of a broader campaign to defend the new Clean Air Act. Yet neither the EPA nor the other agencies in contention, the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Commerce, won the support of Representative John Dingell, a powerful New Deal Democrat from Detroit. Although Dingell was an environmental champion who helped write the Endangered Species Act, his Michigan ties meant that he was “rabidly anti-regulation of the automobile,” Vinsel said. If fuel-economy rules had to pass, Dingell wanted to keep an eye on them. And he could do that through the Department of Transportation, whose purse strings he held via his seat on the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce (which he later renamed the Energy and Commerce Committee).

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Written by LeisureGuy

15 February 2020 at 12:01 pm

Good news via bad news: Obama Auto Standards May Survive Because Trump Staff Can’t Do Math

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Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

One of the Obama administration’s most effective climate initiatives was tightened regulations of auto emissions, which will reduce carbon emissions by billions of tons. Trump, of course, is trying to roll it back. The good news is that he is almost certainly too incompetent to pull it off in his first term.

When regulatory agencies write new rules, they have to follow some fairly complicated legal procedures, which often have to hold up under judicial scrutiny. Historically, agencies win about 80 percent of the time against legal challenges. But Trump’s regulations lose about 90 percent of the time, because his administration is staffed with incompetent hacks.

The courts will soon be fighting over Trump’s plan to weaken auto-emission standards. Trump is highly likely to lose, because, as two new reports show, the incompetence of his regulators reached almost mind-boggling proportions.

The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer has a deep dive into how Trump’s political appointees circumvented all the nonpolitical experts and tried to come up with cost-benefit studies justifying their decision. Meyer’s account of the bureaucratic car wreck should be read in whole, but here are a few highlights. They mixed up supply and demand, assuming higher prices would cause more cars to be driven:

The agency calculated that as cars got more expensive, millions more people would drive them, and the number of traffic accidents would increase, my reporting shows. This error—later dubbed the “phantom vehicles” problem—accounted for the majority of incorrect costs in the SAFE study that the Trump administration released in 2018. It is what made SAFE look safe.

Their own roster of economists dismissed their numbers:

In December 2018, 11 economists—including some whose research was cited by NHTSA in its flawed study—published a scathing assessment of the NHTSA-led analysis in Science. “The 2018 analysis has fundamental flaws and inconsistencies, is at odds with basic economic theory and empirical studies, is misleading, and does not improve estimates of costs and benefits of fuel economy standards,” they wrote.

They even failed arithmetic. (“At one point, the NHTSA team forgot to divide by four.”) Oof.

The New York Times’ Coral Davenport adds even more detail. Any new policy that affects the environment needs an environmental impact study, but “no such document has been completed or sent to the White House,” she reports. The document is “sprinkled with glaring numerical and spelling errors (such as ‘Massachusettes’), with 111 sections marked ‘text forthcoming.’”

The main problem, in a nutshell, is that regulations have to show they pass some rational cost-benefit analysis. Trump’s actual goals — humiliating Obama, increasing short-term employment in the auto sector — can’t actually be included in the analysis. So they’re left trying to fudge the numbers to make it look like Americans win by buying less-efficient cars that spew more pollution into the atmosphere. It’s a hard case to make even if you’re good at spelling words and adding correctly, which Trump’s political staffers clearly are not.

However, if Trump wins a second term,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2020 at 6:31 pm

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