Tag: Environment

How bad is the Gulf? How bad is American media?

March 10, 2011 | By | 3 Replies More
How bad is the Gulf? How bad is American media?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has endorsed Arab news organization Al Jazeera as offering “real news”, superior to ersatz U.S. news which is full of commercials, talking-heads and soundbites that are “not particularly informative to us.” Perhaps that explains a part of the reason why U.S. audiences are largely unaware of the continuing ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in the aftermath of BP’s Deepwater Horizon blowout last year.

Al Jazeera, on the other hand, brings us this story of sickness and death on the Gulf Coast.

[caption id="attachment_16980" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Eco-terrorism in Gulf of Mexico. Image via Leoma Lovegrove (creative commons)"][/caption]

“I have critically high levels of chemicals in my body,” 33-year-old Steven Aguinaga of Hazlehurst, Mississippi told Al Jazeera. “Yesterday I went to see another doctor to get my blood test results and the nurse said she didn’t know how I even got there.”

Aguinaga and his close friend Merrick Vallian went swimming at Fort Walton Beach, Florida, in July 2010.

“I swam underwater, then found I had orange slick stuff all over me,” Aguinaga said. “At that time I had no knowledge of what dispersants were, but within a few hours, we were drained of energy and not feeling good. I’ve been extremely sick ever since.”

[More . . . ]

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Sustainability means forever

February 8, 2011 | By | 14 Replies More
Sustainability means forever

There is much talk of “sustainability” these days, but I don’t think very many people have considered what that truly means. “Sustainable” has become synonymous with “green”, which in our hyper-consumerist American society has transformed into “buy something“. Understandable, perhaps, but it’s deadly wrong. The World English dictionary defines “sustainable” as “2. (of economic development, energy sources, etc) capable of being maintained at a steady level without exhausting natural resources or causing severe ecological damage”, which seems to me to be a pretty good definition of what the word really means, as opposed to what people think it means.

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On tipping points and feedback loops

September 8, 2010 | By | 3 Replies More
On tipping points and feedback loops

Malcolm Gladwell popularized the concept of tipping points with his book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Although his book was mainly dealing with pop-psychology, the utility of the term has led to its spread throughout several disciplines. But the arena where it has really come into its own is the environmental movement.

Scientists have struggled to find a way to explain complex environmental changes in ways that will make them comprehensible to the layperson. The concept of tipping points is just such an explanation. Wikipedia gives us an example of how tipping points can simplify the understanding of climate changes:

A climate tipping point is a point when global climate changes from one stable state to another stable state, in a similar manner to a wine glass tipping over. After the tipping point has been passed, a transition to a new state occurs. The tipping event may be irreversible, comparable to wine spilling from the glass—standing up the glass will not put the wine back.

In much the same way as you can gradually tip a wineglass to the side, climactic or ecological changes can accumulate slowly. Once the tipping point is reached however, gravity or some analogous force takes control and the situation can change rapidly.

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It’s lonely at the top

July 27, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More
It’s lonely at the top

Pity Tony Hayward, erstwhile boss of BP. He’s really had it rough. He’s been “demonized and vilified”, to use his own words. The poor CEO was so busy dealing with the massive oil spill perpetrated by his company that he almost missed watching his yacht race in a very important race! Almost, but he was able to watch the race anyway. Because, you know, someone else was probably working on cleaning up the oil fouling the Gulf of Mexico. It’s not really the CEO’s job, you see. It’s more of a job for the “small people” of the world.

“Life isn’t fair. Sometimes you step off the pavement and get hit by a bus,” Hayward said recently. Yes, that’s true. And sometimes, you end up the CEO of one of the most powerful oil companies in the world. A company that has a long history of criminal and ethical violations that should make them unfit to operate a lemonade stand, much less a major multinational corporation with power to contaminate the entire Gulf of Mexico– and perhaps, Beyond!

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Fool me once…

June 17, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More
Fool me once…

The events since the BP well exploded and began spewing oil and gas into the Gulf of Mexico have forced President Obama’s hand. No politician wants to be the one to catch the Peak Oil hot potato, but it looks like it’s landed right in Obama’s lap. In his Oval Office speech the other night, he came the closest any president has yet to frankly discussing the challenges we face (emphasis mine):

So one of the lessons we’ve learned from this spill is that we need better regulations, better safety standards, and better enforcement when it comes to offshore drilling. But a larger lesson is that no matter how much we improve our regulation of the industry, drilling for oil these days entails greater risk. After all, oil is a finite resource. We consume more than 20 percent of the world’s oil, but have less than 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves. And that’s part of the reason oil companies are drilling a mile beneath the surface of the ocean — because we’re running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water.

For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we’ve talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked — not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor.

The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight.

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Deepwater horizon: an event horizon for the oil age?

May 26, 2010 | By | 8 Replies More
Deepwater horizon: an event horizon for the oil age?

In a speech given earlier this year, the Chief Economist for BP made his case that fears about peak oil were overblown.

“One factor is resources. They are limited, and a barrel can only be produced once. But ideas of peak oil supply are not true. Doomsayers have exaggerated the issue. The bell-shaped curve of production over time does not apply to the world’s oil resources,” he told the seminar in Alkhobar city.

“Those who believe in peak oil tend to believe that technology and economics don’t matter, and I think this is false.The application of technology, the innovation of new technology and economic forces especially mean that recoverable oil resources can increase. If there is a peak in oil, it will come from the demand side. There are always fears, but these remain overstated and exaggerated.”

A barrel can only be produced once, this is true. And technology has allowed us to tap into oil reservoirs that were unthinkable a few decades ago. Yet as the catastrophic ongoing oil geyser in the Gulf of Mexico shows us, technology is not the savior the oil majors would have us believe. Advanced technology may allow us to drill for oil a mile under water, but it obviously does not offer any easy solutions when things go horribly awry as they have on the Deepwater Horizon rig, which has been spewing hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for over a month.

[More . . . ]

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What’s behind the rise in ADHD?

May 18, 2010 | By | 8 Replies More
What’s behind the rise in ADHD?

Now a new study published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, links pesticide use with the rise in ADHD disorders among children. The study’s authors examined data on over 1,100 children, and determined that elevated levels of pesticide metabolites in the urine was associated with a diagnosis of ADHD. In fact, children with levels higher than the median of the most commonly detected metabolite (known as dimethyl thiophosphate), were twice as likely to be diagnosed as ADHD compared with children that had undetectable levels of the metabolite. The elevated risk factor remained even after controlling for confounding variables like gender, age, race/ethnicity, poverty/income ratio and others.

The pesticides studied belong to a class of compounds known as organophosphates. Time explains:

[Study author Maryse] Bouchard’s analysis is the first to home in on organophosphate pesticides as a potential contributor to ADHD in young children. But the author stresses that her study uncovers only an association, not a direct causal link between pesticide exposure and the developmental condition. There is evidence, however, that the mechanism of the link may be worth studying further: organophosphates are known to cause damage to the nerve connections in the brain — that’s how they kill agricultural pests, after all. The chemical works by disrupting a specific neurotransmitter, acetylcholinesterase, a defect that has been implicated in children diagnosed with ADHD. In animal models, exposure to the pesticides has resulted in hyperactivity and cognitive deficits as well.

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(Marginally) tougher food safety rules mean (marginally) safer food

May 11, 2010 | By | 8 Replies More
(Marginally) tougher food safety rules mean (marginally) safer food

“There is no more important mission at USDA than ensuring the safety of our food, and we are working every day as part of the President’s Food Safety Working Group to lower the danger of foodborne illness. The new standards announced today mark an important step in our efforts to protect consumers by further reducing the incidence of Salmonella and opening a new front in the fight against Campylobacter,” announced Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on Monday.

Under these new proposed regulations, 7.5% of the chicken at a processing plant may test positive for salmonella. In 2009, average salmonella levels were at 7.1%, so I guess these giant food conglomerates won’t have to stretch too hard to meet the proposed rule. I suppose it’s better than the 20% salmonella contamination that’s allowed under current regulations. But perhaps current regulations are not the best standard with which to judge the new rules, given that they don’t regulate campylobacter at all. Campylobacter causes diarrhea, cramping, fever, and there are no federal standards governing how much of it can be in your food. Under the proposed regulations, companies may not have more than 10% of their carcasses “highly-contaminated” by campylobacter, and no more than 46% may be contaminated at a “low-level.” I feel better, don’t you?

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Building lifeboats

March 3, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More
Building lifeboats

I know that my past few posts have been bleak (see here and here), but now I must temper that sense of despair with some hope. Things are bad, and will probably get worse, but that’s not to say that they will not get better.

But here’s the trick: we all have to stop relying upon someone else for solutions. Forgive me if I sound like a politician for just a moment: we must “be the change” we want to see in the world. I cannot tell you how to solve the peak oil problem, or the unfolding economic collapse, or climate change, or the corruption which has become endemic in our political system– you have to figure it out for yourself. I’m not selling a prepackaged kit which contains all of the answers, and I would probably distrust anyone who was.

But that’s precisely why I still have hope. If we are going to make it through the challenges facing us, we must learn to pull together again as a community and actually attempt to create our own solutions. There can be no more delegation to those in Washington. We cannot afford to wait for decades as they attempt to muster the political will to combat the flood of money which has so damaged our electoral and political processes. We simply don’t have time to fix the system that’s been damaged beyond repair.

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