Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category
Moises Velasquez-Manoff writes in the NY Times:
Every year, at least 30,000 people — and possibly 10 times that — are infected with the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, most in the Northeast and upper Midwest. Symptoms can include fatigue, joint pain, memory problems and even temporary paralysis. In a small minority of cases, the malaise can persist for many months.
So it’s worrisome that in recent decades, Lyme cases have surged, nearly quadrupling in Michigan and increasing more than tenfold in Virginia. It’s now the “single greatest vector-borne disease in the United States,” Danielle Buttke, an epidemiologist with the National Park Service in Fort Collins, Colo., told me, and it’s “expanding on a really epic scale.”
What’s behind the rise of Lyme? Many wildlife biologists suspect that it is partly driven by an out-of-whack ecosystem.
Lyme disease is transmitted by bites from ticks that carry the Lyme-causing bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi. Ticks get it from the animals they feed on, primarily mice and chipmunks. And rodents thrive in the fragmented, disturbed landscapes that, thanks to human activity, now characterize large sections of the Northeast.
If humans have inadvertently increased the chances of contracting Lyme disease, the good news is that there’s a potential fix: allow large predators, particularly wolves and cougars, to return.
They would help keep down the number of deer, which, although they don’t carry the Lyme-causing bacterium, probably encourage its transmission.
A largely unsung conservation triumph in the Northeast is the regrowth of its forests. New England has more trees than at any time since the Colonial period. But the forests should have a robust understory — grasses, shrubs and other plants. In the Northeast, abundant deer have depleted this ground cover. Taal Levi, a biologist at Oregon State University, speculates that the diminished understory has limited the recovery of some small predators from the weasel family that hunt rodents. Dr. Levi suspects that more deer may have meant fewer rodent hunters, and more rodents.
Wolves and cougars may also control one predator that has settled in the Northeast over the past century — and that counterintuitively may have worsened the Lyme problem. . .
Phil Torres and Peter Boghossan report in Motherboard:
For most people, driving with a seat belt tightly strapped around their bodies is a smart habit. Not only is racing down the highway without it illegal—“click it or ticket,” as the slogan goes—but seat belts also “reduce serious crash-related injuries and deaths by about half.” Yet as we’ve previously estimated, your chances of dying in a car crash are at least 9.5 times lower than dying in a human extinction event.
If this sounds incredible—and admittedly, it does—it’s because the human mind is susceptible to cognitive biases that distort our understanding of reality. Consider the fact that you’re more likely to be killed by a meteorite than a lightning bolt, and your chances of being struck by lightning are about four times greater than dying in a terrorist attack. In other words, you should be more worried about meteorites than the Islamic State or al-Qaeda (at least for now).
The calculation above is based on an assumption made by the influential “Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change,” a report prepared for the UK government that describes climate change as “the greatest and widest-ranging market failure ever seen.” In making its case that climate change should be a top priority, the Stern Review stipulates a 0.1 percent annual probability of human extinction.
This number might appear minuscule at first glance, but over the course of a century it yields a whopping 9.5 percent probability of our species going extinct. Even more, compared to estimates offered by others, it’s actually quite low. For example, a 2008 survey of experts put the probability of human extinction this century at 19 percent. And the co-founder of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, Sir Martin Rees, argues that civilization has a 50:50 chance of making it through the current century—a mere coin toss! . . .
Update: Also in Motherboard, Every Month This Year Has Been the Hottest in Recorded History. And an amazing number of people think that’s nothing to be concerned about. That is whistling into the graveyard, not past it.
Julie Turkewitz reports in the NY Times:
Volk Sanders burst into this world on June 7, a six-pound fuzz-headed ball of joy and his mother’s first child.
Days later, Volk’s mother learned that the well water she had consumed for years had been laced with chemicals that the Environmental Protection Agency associates with low birth weight, cancers, thyroid disease and more.
The aquifer that courses beneath this community in the shadow of five military installations showed traces of perfluorinated chemicals at up to 20 times the levels viewed as safe, environmental authorities said. A sudsy foam used for fighting fires on military bases was probably responsible, according to the Air Force, with the contamination perhaps decades old.
“I’m very angry,” Volk’s mother, Carmen Soto, 20, said at a packed community meeting on July 7. Volk had struggled to gain weight, she said, and she wondered if that was related to the contamination. “They’ve known about this for how long, and they’re just telling us? I drank water throughout my pregnancy. What is that going to do?”
Fountain — named for a creek that once gave life to this southern Colorado town — is now part of a growing list of American communities dealing with elevated levels of perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, in their drinking water. In the last few months, PFC poisoning has upended municipalities around the country, including Hoosick Falls, N.Y., home to a plastics factory, andNorth Bennington, Vt., once home to a chemical plant.
Unlike in many of the other places, the contamination in Fountain and in two nearby communities, Widefield and Security, is not believed to be related to manufacturing. Rather, the authorities suspect that it was caused by Aqueous Film Forming Foam, a firefighting substance used on military bases nationwide.
Defense Department officials initially identified about 700 sites of possible contamination, but that number has surged to at least 2,000, most of them on Air Force bases, said Mark A. Correll, a deputy assistant secretary for environment, safety and infrastructure at the Air Force.
All of the nine bases that the Air Force has examined so far had higher-than-recommended levels of PFCs in the local drinking water. Four bases identified by the Navy were also found to have contaminated water. In some places, the contamination affects one household. In others, it affects thousands of people.
The bases are in Alaska, California, Colorado, Delaware, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
“It’s quite possible it will touch every state,” said Jennifer Field, a professor at Oregon State University and an expert on the chemistry of Aqueous Film Forming Foam. “Every place has a military base, a commercial airport, an oil refinery, a fuel tank farm.”. . .
And despite the title, the threat is to science generally, though this specific case is climate science. Ken Kimmel, president of the Union of Concerned Scientist, writes in the NY Times:
Last week, my organization — the Union of Concerned Scientists — received a subpoena signed by Lamar S. Smith of Texas, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. The subpoena orders me to hand over correspondence between my staff members and state attorneys general, and between my staff members and environmental organizations and funders. This demand impinges on our group’s constitutional rights, and it would set a terrible precedent affecting many other advocacy groups were we to comply with it.
The subpoena concerns our efforts to inform state attorneys general of our research into Exxon Mobil. Our research details, among other things, how much Exxon Mobil knew about the dangers posed to the planet from carbon emissions from its products at the same time it was spending millions to misinform the public about the science of climate change.
Mr. Smith makes no claim that our organization violated any law or regulation; he simply demands to see our correspondence. This is a deeply troubling request. It is, in effect, a bullying tactic that threatens the work that advocacy groups like mine do under the protection of the First Amendment when we “petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Are we to expect a subpoena every time we have a conversation with a public official if some committee chairman dislikes or disagrees with us?
Mr. Smith’s demand also interferes with continuing law enforcement proceedings by New York and Massachusetts state attorneys general who — acting under their own state laws — have commenced investigations into Exxon Mobil’s potentially fraudulent actions. (Mr. Smith has sent similar subpoenas to the other environmental organizations and funders as well as the offices of the attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts.)
The controversy began last summer, when our organization published a report documenting deception about climate science by Exxon Mobil, other leading fossil fuel companies and industry trade groups. Since that time, two teams of investigative reporters have uncovered further corroborating evidence that for decades, Exxon Mobil’s own scientists warned the company of the dangers of carbon emissions at the same time the company was aggressively promoting a very different message in public and to its investors about climate science. As a result of these revelations, the state attorneys general in New York and Massachusetts commenced their investigations into Exxon Mobil.
Mr. Smith, joined by members of Congress, claims that our organization, the other groups and the state attorneys general have engaged in a conspiracy to deprive Exxon Mobil of its First Amendment right to debate the science of climate change and to chill the work of scientists. This is simply nonsense. Exxon Mobil’s scientists are not being targeted for investigation, and no one is intimidating them to keep them from performing their work. Instead, the investigations center on whether Exxon Mobil misled the public and its own investors when it publicly disparaged, played down or even dismissed outright the growing evidence (from its own scientists and others) that burning fossil fuels causes irrevocable harm to the planet.
Disseminating false information to help sell a product finds no protection in the First Amendment. Imagine if it did: Tobacco companies could get away with saying cigarettes are safe; car companies could deny manufacturing defects that endanger drivers; and pharmaceutical companies could mislead consumers about the efficacy of drugs — all by cloaking themselves in the First Amendment. Fortunately, courts have repeatedly rejected such arguments.
Beyond its lack of a factual or legal basis, Mr. Smith’s subpoena sets a dangerous precedent because it violates our constitutional rights. . .