Later On

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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

A headline that made me laugh: “Monsanto Agrees to Use Gene-Editing Tool CRISPR Responsibly”

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Here’s the article.

From the article:

. . . CRISPR/Cas9 has been taking the world by storm since it was first developed in 2013by researchers at the Broad Institute. The gene-editing technology works by taking advantage of a property of DNA called clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, or small repetitions of DNA base sequences. These sequences produce an enzyme called Cas9, which essentially functions as a pair of genetic scissors which can cut the DNA sequences at certain points to add or remove small DNA segments.

Yet the ease with which researchers and companies like Monsanto could use gene-editing technology to irreversibly fuck with living things like people and plants has also raised concern that the technology might become widely deployed without understanding the consequences. This is why the “responsible use” of CRISPR/Cas9 cited by Rozen is a key stipulation in Monsanto’s latest move to corner the GMO industry (as the most recent acquisition of the chemical company Bayer, Monsanto and its affiliates now control a full 25 percent of the world’s seeds and pesticides).

Monsanto has never been a company that has been particularly lauded for doingresponsible things, and its forays into genetically modified plants have had a number of unintended consequences, such as encouraging pesticide resistant “super bugs” and weeds. In order to ensure more responsible use of this powerful gene-editing tool, the agreement prohibits Monsanto from using CRISPR/Cas9 to promote gene drives (where a genetically modified trait, such as pesticide resistance, is intentionally spread through an entire plant population), the production of sterile “terminator” seeds, or the production of tobacco to be used for smoking.

Gene drives were recently cited as a concern in a National Academy of Sciences reporton the topic since genetically modified plant traits could ravage ecosystems in ways that aren’t yet fully understood. . .

This will not end well.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 September 2016 at 1:54 pm

A Shocking Amount of E-Waste Recycling Is a Complete Sham

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Jason Koebler reports in Motherboard:

Until recently, I had never really thought about what happens to my old electronics. I took them to a community e-waste recycling drive, or dropped my old phone in a box somewhere, and I assumed my stuff was recycled.

An alarming portion of the time this is not actually the case, according to the results of a project that used GPS trackers to follow e-waste over the course of two years. Forty percent of all US electronics recyclers testers included in the study proved to be complete shams, with our e-waste getting shipped wholesale to landfills in Hong Kong, China, and developing nations in Africa and Asia.

The most important thing to know about the e-waste recycling industry is that it is not free to recycle an old computer or an old CRT television. The value of the raw materials in the vast majority of old electronics is worth less than it costs to actually recycle them. While consumers rarely have to pay e-waste recycling companies to take their old electronics (costs are offset by local tax money or manufacturers fronting the bill as part of a legally mandated obligated recycling quota), companies, governments, and organizations do.

Or at least, in a rational market, your office would have to pay an e-waste recycler to take their old stuff. But an astounding amount of US electronics recyclers will take old machines at no cost or for pennies per pound, then sell them wholesale to scrapyards in developing nations that often employ low-salary laborers to dig out the several components that are worth anything.

Based on the results of a new study from industry watchdog Basel Action Network and MIT, industry documents obtained by Motherboard, and interviews with industry insiders, it’s clear that the e-waste recycling industry is filled with sham operations profiting off of shipping toxic waste to developing nations. Here are the major findings of the study and of my interviews and reporting: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 September 2016 at 2:39 pm

The House Science Committee’s anti-science rampage

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Unfortunately a great many in Congress are quite foolish, which doesn’t seem to slow them down a bit as they use their power to muck things up. Lawrence Krauss reports in the New Yorker:

If you know the answers you want in advance, you can always find them by cherry-picking your data. That’s what climate-change deniers have tried to do in recent years in arguing that there’s been a “pause” in the global-warming trend over the past two decades—suggesting, thereby, that global warming is just a temporary anomaly unrelated to human industrial activity. Last year, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration put the “climate change hiatus” myth to bed. They published a paper in Science that showed, using new and more definitive data, that the claimed “pause” hadn’t taken place.

Not long after the paper was published, something odd happened. Kathryn Sullivan, the head of N.O.A.A., received a subpoena. It came from Lamar Smith, the Texas congressman who chairs the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, and it demanded that the N.O.A.A. scientists turn over records and internal communications. They had already turned over their data in response to previous requests but refused to turn over scientists’ correspondence. In a statement, Smith accused the N.O.A.A. scientists of falsifying their data:

It was inconvenient for this administration that climate data has clearly showed no warming for the past two decades. The American people have every right to be suspicious when NOAA alters data to get the politically correct results they want. . . . NOAA needs to come clean about why they altered the data to get the results they needed to advance this administration’s extreme climate change agenda.

From climate change and evolution to sex education and vaccination, there has always been tension between scientists and Congress. But Smith, who has been in Congress since 1987 and assumed the chairmanship of the Science Committee in 2013, has escalated that tension into outright war. Smith has a background in American studies and law, not science. He has, however, received more than six hundred thousand dollars in campaign contributions from the oil-and-gas industry during his time in Congress—more than from any other single industry. With a focus that is unprecedented, he’s now using his position to attack scientists and activists who work on climate change. Under his leadership, the committee has issued more subpoenas than it had during its previous fifty-four-year history.

Smith, a Christian Scientist, has steadfastly campaigned against other scientific findings that cut against his a-priori beliefs—he’s opposed efforts to allow marijuana use for medical purposes, for example, which he has argued do not exist.

Some of his interventions seem to misunderstand the very nature of science. Last year, for example, Smith introduced legislation requiring that all scientists applying for federal grants guarantee, in a special section of their grant applications, that their work is in “the national interest.” It’s hard to know exactly what Smith means by this, but whatever it means it sets a dangerous precedent, because fundamental research should be driven by curiosity—by the simple desire to generate new knowledge—rather than by anyone’s political agenda. The real national interest is always served by the generation of new knowledge; Smith seems to think that only some knowledge is appropriate. The House passed his bill in February.

Throughout the past year, Smith has focused his attentions on a new target: the Union of Concerned Scientists—of which I am a “card-carrying” member. The U.C.S. is not an academic science organization, per se. Instead, it’s an advocacy group. It was established in 1969, during the height of the Vietnam War, by scientists and students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who were concerned about the misuse of science for military purposes. Its founders proposed “to initiate a critical and continuing examination of governmental policy in areas where science and technology are of actual or potential significance” and to create an organization to assist “scientists and engineers so that their desire for a more humane and civilized world can be translated into effective political action.” Since that time, the U.C.S. has become one of the most focussed and highest-profile organizations speaking out in favor of sound science and environmental policies based on empirical evidence.

Around eight years ago, the U.C.S. began an ambitious research project about the fossil-fuel industry. U.C.S. researchers wanted to know how long oil companies had known about climate change. In 2015, the U.C.S. published a report suggesting that, even while it knew about global warming, the fossil-fuel industry had produced public disinformation campaigns about the impact of burning fossil fuels on the climate. Since then, at least two teams of reporters, including a group at Columbia University’s journalism school and another at InsideClimate News, have uncovered evidence that ExxonMobil’s own scientists wrote internal reports warning about the impacts of carbon emissions from fossil fuels on their own business model; during that same period, the company was making the opposite case to the public and to investors. Using material obtained from the ExxonMobil Historical Collection at the University of Texas at Austin, as well as other archives and interviews with former employees, they found evidence that Exxon was monitoring CO2 concentrations as far back as 1978, and, in the nineteen-eighties, hired scientists and mathematicians and worked with outside researchers to confirm models showing that greenhouse gases would result in climate change. As a result of these reports, attorneys general from New York, Massachusetts, and the Virgin Islands have begun investigating ExxonMobil for fraud.

Beginning in May of this year, Smith began what can only be described as a campaign of intimidation against the U.C.S. and other environmental organizations involved in researching Exxon’s actions. He demanded that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 September 2016 at 12:45 pm

Legal Victory Overturns Federal Plan To Open 1 Million Acres Of California Public Land To Drilling, Fracking

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It’s very pleasant to read some good news, but do keep in mind that the memeplex known as a corporation views this only as a setback and will keep up the pressure until it succeeds or dies: the drive to increase profits is fundamental to its life.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 September 2016 at 6:40 pm

Bad cat news: The Killer Cats Are Winning!

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Worth reading, especially for cat lovers.

I will note for the record that our cats (Molly; TYD’s cats; The Eldest’s cats) are all indoor-only cats. They don’t venture outside, as much for their own protection as for the protection of wildlife: they face various outdoor dangers (traffic, other animals, parasites, disease, and so on), and we feel responsible for our cats’ safety, and also don’t want to deal with the outcomes of bad encounters.

But it’s good to know the general problem, and why all cats should stay indoors.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 September 2016 at 12:21 pm

A whistle-blower accuses Koch brothers of “poisoning” an Arkansas town

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Jane Mayer reports in the New Yorker:

In June, Koch Industries, the conglomerate owned by the billionaires Charles and David Koch, launched a new corporate public-relations campaign called “End the Divide,” to advance the notion that Koch Industries is deeply concerned by growing inequality in America. An ad for the campaign urges viewers to “look around,” as an image of an imposing white mansion is replaced by one of blighted urban streets. “America is divided,” an announcer intones, with “government and corporations picking winners and losers, rigging the system against people, creating a two-tiered society with policies that fail our most vulnerable.”

The message was surprising, coming from a company owned by two of the richest men in the world, who have spent millions of dollars pushing political candidates and programs that favor unfettered markets and oppose government intervention on behalf of the poor. But no trouble appeared to have been spared in the commercial’s creation. It features a cast of downtrodden Americans of all colors and creeds. To portray corporate greed, it includes a shot of a Wall Street sign, followed by a smug businessman looking down at the camera, dressed in a flashy suit and tie. But, according to Dickie Guice, who worked as a safety coördinator at a large Koch-owned paper plant in Arkansas, the company need not have gone to such lengths. Instead of scouting America for examples of social neglect, the Kochs could have turned the cameras on their own factory.

This summer, Guice decided to speak out about the paper mill in Crossett, a working-class town of some fifty-two hundred residents ten miles north of the Louisiana border.* The mill is run by the paper giant Georgia-Pacific, which has been owned by Koch Industries since 2005. According to E.P.A. records, it emits more than 1.5 million pounds of toxic chemicals each year, including numerous known carcinogens. Georgia-Pacific says that it has permits to operate the mill as it does, and disputes that it is harming local health and safety. But as far back as the nineteen-nineties, people living near the plant have described noxious odors and corrosive effluents that have forced them to stay indoors, as well as what seems to them unusually high rates of illness and death. Speaking by phone from his home, in Sterlington, Louisiana, Guice pointed the finger directly at the mill’s owners, and described a corporate coverup of air and water pollution that he says is “poisoning” the predominantly African-American community.

Guice made his début as a whistle-blower in a new documentary film, “Company Town,” about the pollution of Crossett, which premièred in June at the L.A. Film Festival. Natalie Kottke-Masocco, the film’s director, and Erica Sardarian, its co-director, spent some five years in Crossett, and over time they coaxed Guice to go on camera. “I was warned that I’d never get hired again,” he told me, when I asked why he was coming forward. “But I thought, What the heck, what are they going to do, kill me? It had to be done.”

As Guice tells it, he started working at the Crossett plant in February, 2011, when Larco Inc., a local heavy-equipment and construction firm, where he worked, was contracted by Georgia-Pacific to handle disposal of the paper plant’s waste. According to Guice, the contract called for his company to spread two hundred thousand cubic yards of “ash” dredged from the Georgia-Pacific paper mill’s sediment ponds across four hundred acres of property that it owned in the town. He says that Georgia-Pacific supervisors told him to spread the waste in layers in pits that were sometimes forty feet deep, and then to cover it with six inches of dirt, “so that it looked like a regular piece of land.” The land often flooded, Guice told me, and runoff would flow into trenches that fed into a local creek, which ran behind a residential area. He said that Georgia-Pacific would also dump “big plastic tanks” of untreated liquid waste. “It looks like brown liquor,” he said. “And steam comes up from it, sometimes all day.” Within a few months of starting at the paper plant, Guice said that he fell ill from exposure to the waste, developing respiratory problems. “My doctor told me to get out of there,” he said. “But I needed that job.”

After a year, Guice, who has a certification from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration in environmental safety, was promoted to the position of safety coördinator, again as a Larco contractor to Georgia-Pacific. In his new post, he was given air-quality monitoring equipment, which he told me showed “deadly levels of hydrogen sulfide,” a foul-smelling, colorless gas that has proven carcinogenic to rats and mice. Guice took measurements in the morning, midday, and evening, and documented them all. When he told the Georgia-Pacific supervisors that he was getting readings so high that they indicated a potential for immediate illness and death, he says the company blamed his equipment. After he protested this, they offered to build a roof over the fields where the waste was being spread, but he told them that this would be like building a toxic gas chamber. “They told me it was my problem. They knew it was dangerous, but their attitude was: keep your mouth shut, do the job, and don’t get in anyone’s business,” according to Guice. Eventually, a company official took her own readings, which he says confirmed his own. At this point, the company decided to build a huge stainless-steel chain-link fence around the perimeter of its property, “so you can’t see where the work is,” he told me. Once he was able to get employment elsewhere, Guice, who had been contacted by the filmmakers behind “Company Town,” decided to blow the whistle.

Reached for comment, Kelly Ferguson, the director of public affairs for Georgia-Pacific, said that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 September 2016 at 9:34 am

The childhood impact of environmental lead lasts one’s entire life.

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The link between childhood exposure to lead in the environment (for example, in the drinking water of many US schools) and violent behavior persists through one’s entire life, as Kevin Drum notes in this post.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 September 2016 at 10:23 am

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