One of Three Mile Island’s two nuclear reactors melted down in 1979, just three months after going online. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, to obfuscate is to be evasive, unclear or confusing. Other synonyms include cloud, muddy, fog, blur, obscure, divert, complicate, and confound.
On May 26, Voice of OC published an opinion piece from professor emeritus Roger Johnson which explains why California rightfully decided in 1976 to ban construction of new nuclear power plants and why recent calls, to both extend the operating license of Diablo Canyon, the state’s last operating nuclear plant, and to build new ones nationwide, are seriously misguided. His reasoning includes that “nuclear power is the most expensive, the most unreliable, the most dangerous, and the most environmentally unfriendly form of energy production.”
John Dobken is a spokesperson for Southern California Edison, the operator of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station near San Clemente which was shuttered in 2013 following radiation releases caused by steam generator failure. His rebuttal to Johnson, published in the Voice of OC on June 6, is a lesson in the art of obfuscation.
In his opening salvo, Dobken’s examples of “new supporters” for nuclear energy are a Brazilian model, an advocacy group headed by a singer-turned-nuclear-enthusiast, California voters identified in an online poll, and unnamed “various community members who value service through membership in civic groups.” The listing intentionally obscures the fact that no nuclear experts are cited. Omitted, for example, is the blockbuster joint statement issued in January by nuclear authorities from the United States, France, Germany and Great Britain detailing strong opposition to any expansion of nuclear power as a strategy to combat climate change.
Appeared: E-The Environmental Magazine, 10-May, 2022 Irvine Community News & Views, 12-May, 2022 Fullerton Observer, Mid-May, 2022 Times of San Diego, 16-May, 2022 SoCal Water Wars, 13 June, 2022
Former nuclear regulatory top dogs from the United States, France, Germany and Great Britain issued a joint statement in January strenuously opposing any expansion of nuclear power as a strategy to combat climate change. Why? There is not a single good reason to build new nuclear plants. Here are ten solid reasons not to.
Nuclear is too slow to tackle climate change. The new generation of proposed commercial nuclear plants, so called Advanced and Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), are at best decades away in designing and building. The latest report from the International Panel on Climate Change makes clear that limiting global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) means “achieving net zero carbon dioxide emissions globally in the early 2050s.” Wind and solar farms can be up and running in just a few months or years. Renewables can power the world by 2050, according to financial think tank Carbon Tracker.
Nuclear energy is too costly. Renewables like wind and solar are already the world’s cheapest form of energy, and their prices continue to tumble. By 2019, utility-scale renewable energy prices had already fallen to less than half that of nuclear. Together with lower natural gas prices, there’s been little momentum in the United States to construct new nuclear plants for decades. Expanding nuclear power would translate into higher energy costs for consumers.
Nuclear is neither carbon-free nor non-polluting. While it’s true that the electricity produced by an operating nuclear plant doesn’t emit carbon dioxide, mining and enrichment of uranium are carbon intensive and pollute the air with potent greenhouse gases called chlorofluorocarbons. Radioactivity releases into air and water from nuclear plants are routine. And, the United States has already accumulated 85,000 metric tons of highly radioactive commercial spent fuel waste, the most dangerous pollutant known to man.
The problem of permanent disposal of nuclear waste remains technically unsolvable for the short or long term. Though the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 mandated construction of a permanent deep geologic repository to safely isolate nuclear waste for a million+ years, four decades hence there is literally no progress. Consequently, the nation’s commercial nuclear plants are, for the foreseeable future, de facto nuclear waste dumps.
Nuclear is non-renewable. Like coal, oil and natural gas, uranium is a finite resource. The United States imports nearly half its uranium from Russia and its two close allies, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Uranium was not included in the Biden administration’s recent ban on energy imports from Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
Proposals for constructing “temporary” storage solutions—so-called consolidated interim storage sites (CIS)—are a diversion from the fact that a proven geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel doesn’t exist anywhere on earth. Governors of Texas and New Mexico are fighting against CIS facilities in their states for fear of becoming permanent dumps. Moving nuclear waste all across the country to CIS facilities creates risks of radiation accidents along transportation corridors.
The nuclearwaste dry storage canisters used throughout most of the United States are thin-walled (1/2 to 5/8 inch)and unsafe for storage or for off-site transport. They are susceptible to short-term cracking but can’t be inspected for cracks or monitored to prevent radiation releases. Other countries use thick-walled (10 to 19 inch) metal casks which are designed to prevent cracking, can be monitored, and survived the 9.0 Fukushima earthquake.
The nuclear meltdowns at Chernobyl, Fukushima, and Three Mile Island demonstratedthere is no room for human erroror natural disasterswhen it comes to anything nuclear. Moreover, human civilizations come and go: The Roman Empire lasted short of 1,000 years. Humanity can’t guarantee the safety of even our current nuclear reactors let alone ensure that future civilizations will stay clear of nuclear waste dumps for the next million+ years.
Nuclear plants are sitting ducks for terrorist attacks, whether still operating or storing nuclear waste. Dry storage canisters are stored onsite in the wide open in so-called Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installations. Vulnerability to malfeasance was driven home recently by the ease with which Russia captured both the Chernobyl site and the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant early in the invasion of Ukraine.
The idea that Advanced and Small Modular Reactors can save the day is magical thinking, as they’re a completely unproven concept. On the order of ten thousand SMRs would be needed to impact climate change in time. This would create thousands more radioactive dump sites and as many opportunities for both nuclear accidents from human error or natural disasters and weapons proliferation from the plutonium generated by nuclear reactors.
Getting to net zero carbon emissions by the early 2050s requires the greatest reduction in carbon emissions in the shortest time and at the lowest cost. That nuclear can’t deliver on this and should be banned is the outspoken position of the former head of the Nuclear Regulatory commission, Gregory Jazcko.
The “all hands on deck” approach espoused by too many politicians to explain support for new nuclear is blatantly faulty, given that every dollar misspent on new nuclear is a dollar not invested in energy efficiency and faster, cheaper renewables. Expanding nuclear will assuredly retard progress on solving the climate crisis.
Versions appeared: Voice of OC, 01-Feb, 2022 Fullerton Observer, Early Feb Edition (p.20), 2022 Irvine Community News & Views, 28-Jan, 2022 Times of San Diego, 26-Jan, 2022 E-The Environmental Magazine, 24-Jan, 2022
Humans have demonstrated seemingly unlimited capacity for innovation. We’ve mastered flight, mapped our own genome, and invented the telescope and internet. So why are we so lackadaisical, so inept, at tackling the climate crisis, the greatest existential threat we’ve ever faced?
It’s not because we’ve lost the knack for innovation. Clever minds, for example, have recently figured out how to make clothing from cotton engineered to perform like and replace petroleum-derived polyester synthetics which are polluting our air, water, food and bodies with non-biodegrading plastic microfibers.
Nor is it because we don’t know what needs to be done: Stop dumping carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
So, what’s at the root of humanity’s incompetence when it comes to solving the climate crisis?
For a while it was easy to invoke the “slow boil” explanation, that climate change is such a slowly evolving threat that humans behave like the frog thrown into a cool pot of water heated up so gradually the frog doesn’t notice it’s being cooked alive. Certainly, this explanation is no longer credible given that essentially every region of the world is experiencing increasingly frequent, record-shattering climate extremes like wildfires, droughts, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, melting glaciers and rising sea level.
That heads of state, climate experts and climate activists have been convening annually for 26 straight years to address the climate crisis (the so-called Conference of the Parties, or COP) is further evidence that the slow boil hypothesis has worn thin. In fact, COP 26 just concluded in November with the unhappy news that even the unenforceable pledges for cutting greenhouse emissions of the nearly 200 attending countries will fall short of the reductions needed to prevent the worst impacts of global warming.
The fundamental reasons for our failure to tackle climate change are two-fold: unbridled corporate capitalism and the failure of governments to act in the public interest.
Appeared: SoCalWaterWars, Aug 19, 2021 E-The Environmental Magazine, Aug 19, 2021 Irvine Community News & Views, Aug 23, 2021 Times of San Diego, Sept 4, 2021 OB Rag, Sept 8, 2021 Fullerton Observer, Sept 9. 2021 Voice of OC, Sept 16, 2021
Beachfront location of SONGS (Photo: Southern California Edison)
If you live in Orange or San Diego County, hopefully you’re aware of plans to allow San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) to remain a nuclear waste dump for the foreseeable future. Regardless of your global location, you’re wise to be tracking domestic and foreign moves to increase reliance on nuclear energy.
Three quarters of a century ago the United States ushered in the atomic age by dropping a uranium bomb on Hiroshima and a plutonium bomb on Nagasaki. We now have 3.6 million pounds of these and other lethal radioactive elements sitting on the beach at SONGS in temporary canisters, scheduled to remain here indefinitely.
While the world might be waking up to the urgency of the climate crisis, no one has figured out how to safely dispose of deadly nuclear waste. Yet, the United States and the world propose to create more of it by extending the life of nuclear power plants and building new ones. Has the world learned nothing from the catastrophes of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima? Read the rest of this entry »
Microplastics contaminate our tap water. Photo: U.S.E.P.A.
Every one of us, even unborn fetuses, are continually exposed to microplastics which have become such ubiquitous global environmental pollutants that they now contaminate the everyday air, food and water we take in.
Given a growing body of evidence that many chemicals in plastics pose human health risks, Californians should welcome recently passed legislation putting the state on path to be the first to track microplastics in tap water.
Because plastics are highly resistant to biodegradation – fragmenting instead into ever smaller bits eventually reaching micron and nanometer dimensions – they travel unseen in wind and waterways so that even the most remote regions of the globe, like the Arctic seabed and summit of Mount Everest, are contaminated with microplastics.
Many constituents of plastics and the pollutants they pick up from the environment are known to be endocrine disruptors, carcinogens or developmental toxins which pose the greatest threat to developing fetuses. Bisphenol-A (BPA)) for example, a building block of certain plastics, was banned nationwide from use in baby bottles and sippy cups in 2012 because its mimicry of the hormone estrogen tampers with sexual development in both males and females. Fetal exposure to phthalates, chemical additives that render plastics soft and pliable, lowers sperm counts.
The placenta in humans has historically been viewed as a reliable barrier protecting the fetus from potential dangers lurking in the mother’s bloodstream. This fantasy has been shattered by shocking revelations in recent decades, like a 2005 report from Environmental Working Group that umbilical cord blood of U.S. babies contains an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants.
Nuclear safety advocates are right to question SoCal Edison’s decision to remove the cooling pools at the shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.
FACT: Highly radioactive nuclear waste will be stored on-site at San Onofre for several decades or much longer. The thin-walled (5/8 inch) canisters at San Onofre were never designed for more than very short term storage.
FACT: Edison wants to destroy the cooling pools, the only means currently available to transfer the contents of a radiation leaking canister into another container.
FACT: The thin-walled canisters do not meet ASME N3 codes for a nuclear pressure vessel used for storage and transport. They are also vulnerable to stress-corrosion cracking, one cause of which is exposure to a marine environment.
FACT: There is no technology to inspect thin-walled canisters for cracking.
FACT: Edison plans to use untested/unproven nickel spray technology to try to repair partial canister cracks.
FACT: Edison plans to move a failed canister releasing radiation into a thick-walled transport cask that has to be sealed shut, even though it would lose its cooling system and overheat. The NRC has not approved a cask for this purpose. If Edison has applied to the NRC to approve a cask for this purpose, the paperwork should be made public.
FACT: Most of the rest of the world (Europe, Japan, Australia, Russia, Switzerland) use thick-walled (10-19-inch) dry storage casks which meet ASME N3 nuclear pressure vessel codes for storage and transport. They store them in thick concrete buildings for additional environmental and security protection. Many nuclear safety advocates are asking that Edison replace thin-walled canisters with thick-walled casks (with safety features lacking in thin-walled canisters) and follow the Swiss solution for safest available interim storage. For now, this requires maintaining the cooling pools until a dry transfer system (a ”hot cell” facility) is constructed on-site.
FACT: Only thick-walled casks can be inspected inside and out to insure the contents are safe for transport elsewhere if another storage site ever becomes available.
FACT: Edison has the worst safety record in the nation, per data obtained from the NRC regarding safety complaints from employees and contractors at operating nuclear reactor facilities (see graph above).
Thousands of tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste will be stored onsite at San Onofre indefinitely
SoCal Edison’s spokesperson, John Dobken, authored an Oct. 20 editorial touting the dry nuclear waste storage system Edison chose when a radiation leak from steam generator malfunction forced permanent closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) in 2013. Ignoring for the moment the numerous obfuscations and omissions of critical facts, the essence of Dobken’s article is this: Edison wants to divert public attention away from the inadequacies of its dry canister storage system while promising that a deep geological national repository, as mandated in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, will magically materialize before their storage canisters fail.
There’s plenty Dobken did not say that the public needs to know.
First off, we are nearly four decades past passage of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and there is no tangible progress toward creation of a national repository operated by the Department of Energy. The cold hard reality is that no state wants it and, worse still, there is no feasible technology currently available to make a geological repository workable, according to the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board. Plans for a geological repository at Yucca Mountain were rejected by Nevada, and subsequent proposals for “interim” storage sites in Texas and New Mexico are opposed by those states too.
Thus, the dream of a national repository remains in limbo for the foreseeable future, and it’s misleading to suggest otherwise. Also misleading is Dobken’s suggestion that, if needed, a failing canister could be transported to “a centralized Department of Energy facility” for repackaging in the future, as no such facility exists anywhere in the United States for this purpose.
Consequently, the plan throughout the country is to leave highly radioactive nuclear waste onsite indefinitely. The relevant 2014 report from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) openly states that a repository might never become available. Like all other nuclear plant operators in the United States, Edison is saddled with a storage task never originally intended.
For dry storage, Edison chose thin-walled (just 5/8 inch thick), welded-shut stainless steel canisters which contrast sharply with the 10-19 inch thick-walled and bolted-shut casks many nuclear waste safety advocates in Orange, San Diego, and Los Angeles Counties are advocating for. Unlike the thick casks, SONGS’s canisters are vulnerable to stress corrosion cracking from numerous conditions, such as a salty marine environment like San Onofre. A 2019 Department of Energy report assigned “#1 Priority” to the risk of through-wall cracking in welded, stainless steel canisters in a moist salty environment.
In-ground storage pad at San Onofre holds thin-walled canisters at the heart of ongoing controversy over beachfront storage of radioactive nuclear waste
The decommissioning of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) has been riddled with controversies since it was shuttered in 2013, undermining public confidence in Southern California Edison’s management of highly radioactive nuclear waste which will be stored on-site for the foreseeable future.
In 2018 for example, a whistleblower exposed how a 54-ton canister loaded with radioactive waste nearly plummeted 18 feet because of a design flaw and human error, prompting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to cite Edison with the most serious violation ever imposed on a spent fuel licensee.
The most recent dispute centers on the green light the California Coastal Commission gave Edison on July 16 to remove the cooling pools where spent fuel rods were submerged for several years to begin cooling down. Edison argued the pools aren’t needed anymore because the rods have all been transferred into dry storage canisters.
Each of SONGS’s 123 canisters holds roughly the same amount of Cesium-137 as released during the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
At issue is this: If a canister were to begin degrading, creating risk of radiation release, returning it to the cooling pools is the only means whereby the contents could be repackaged into a new canister. Nonetheless, Edison convinced the Coastal Commission that an untested, unapproved nickel “cold spray” overlay technology could be applied to patch degrading canisters, making the cooling pools unnecessary.
NRC spokesperson David McIntyre confirmed that NRC has neither evaluated nor approved any method for fixing a canister. The only sure solution is to replace the canister.
Appeared: E-The Environmental Magazine, 24-Apr, 2020 Fullerton Observer, 25-Apr, 2020 Escondido Grapevine, 29-Apr, 2020 Irvine Community News and Views, 10-May, 2020 Times of San Diego, 11-May, 2020 Voice of OC, 26-May, 2020
Factory farmed animals are a conduit between viruses which arise in wildlife and humans.
I’ve wasted too much time lately combing the news for an answer to a crucial question about pandemics like Covid-19: Are they inevitable?
Newscasters and the scientists, doctors and politicians they interview rarely venture beyond daily counts of the stricken to explain why we have pandemics. I suspect it’s because the answer is harder to stomach than the horror of the pandemic itself.
Animals humans raise for food are typically the intermediary hosts of viruses between the wildlife in which they arise – e.g. bats and wild birds – and humans. Consequently, pandemics are a price we pay for eating animals and otherwise using them.
Comedian and political commentator Bill Maher came close to getting it right during the pithy New Rules segment of his April 10 show when arguing for naming Covid-19 the Chinese virus because it seemingly jumped to humans in China’s “wet markets” where live fish, poultry and mammals – including exotics like bats, raccoon dogs and civet cats – are slaughtered on site to satisfy the palate of some Chinese for fresh and exotic meats.
Maher was correct that Chinese wet markets might be culpable for a number of lethal human virus outbreaks, including SARS coronavirus in 2003 and H7N9 Avian flu in 2013.
However, Maher’s initial foray into the origin of pandemics overlooked the uncomfortable fact that Americans’ insatiable taste for animal meat was at the root of other killer virus outbreaks. The H1N1 swine flu of 2009 emerged from a pig confinement operation in North Carolina and was a mutated descendant of a swine flu virus that sprang from U.S. factory farms in 1998. And, even though Chinese chicken farms are credited with the deadly H5N1 bird flu outbreak of 1997 (which killed 60 percent of infected humans), just five years ago a similar bird flu broke out in U.S farms, prompting the slaughter of tens of millions of chickens and turkeys.
Recall also that the 1918 Spanish flu that killed over 50 million people worldwide sprang from farms in Kansas, possibly via pigs or sheep, before transmitting around the world via WWI U.S. soldiers.
To his credit, Maher subsequently course-corrected in an April 24 New Rules segment, proffering that “factory farming is just as despicable as a wet market and just as problematic for our health” and “torturing animals is what got us into this mess.”
U.S. factory farms provide 99% of Americans’ meat, dairy and eggs and are ideal breeding grounds for infectious diseases because of the crowded (and unspeakably inhumane) conditions in which animals are kept. Hence, an overwhelming preponderance of medically important antimicrobials sold nationally are used in food-producing animals.
A hard to swallow truth: Factory farms are America’s cultural equivalent of China’s wet markets.
Many virus pandemics have much to do with society’s dietary choices. Plants do indeed get viruses, but genetic studies provide no evidence that plant viruses are causative agents of disease in humans. A pandemic from eating lentils and broccoli seems highly unlikely.
Humans readily accept the suffering animals endure to satisfy our appetite for meat, and pandemics are just one of the painful costs to us. Others include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, antibiotic resistance, global warming, rainforest destruction and aquifer depletion.
For those who believe that only meat can provide adequate protein to fuel our brains and bodies, consider that Socrates was vegetarian and Patrik Baboumian, dubbed “strongest man on earth,” is vegan.
An athletics documentary available on Netflix, The Game Changers, is an eye-opening starter for doubters that a plant-based diet can sustain optimal health.
Historically, epidemics and pandemics have led to important advances in public health, like widespread understanding of the germ theory, improved sanitation, penicillin and vaccinations. What will Americans learn from Covid-19?
Will we rethink the decades-long erosion of the social safety net, including lack of universal healthcare and opposition to guaranteeing all workers a living wage? Will we reconsider the true value to society of so-called “unskilled” workers, like supermarket checkers, who put themselves at risk now every time they show up for work? And what does it say about our priorities that meat factories are being forced to continue to operate despite high rates of Covid-19 infections among the workers?
Both history and science tell us that, unless we do something different, the next pandemic is somewhere just around the corner. This is driven home by study findings just published in April of six new coronaviruses discovered in Myanmar bats.
My hope is that the global heartache and societal disruptions from Covid-19 will spur a conversation that reaches deeper than blaming pandemics on wet markets and factory farming, but rather confronts humanity with the very real connection between pandemics and eating animals.
Appeared: E-The Environmental Magazine,24-Jan, 2020 Fullerton Observer, 24-Jan, 2020 Escondido Grapevine, 01-Feb, 2020 Times of San Diego, 10-Feb, 2020
Seafood, bottled water & indoor air are significant sources of microplastics ingestion
You’re likely taking in tiny particles of plastics every time you eat, drink and breathe, according to a growing body of research into the risks to human health from the buildup of plastic debris in the environment. Although scientists haven’t yet delineated the specific harms, there’s reason enough to worry.
Microplastics (MP) result from the breakdown into ever smaller bits of everyday plastic discards, like packaging, children’s toys, and synthetic clothing and carpeting. Despite their small dimension (sometimes invisible), MP are still made of long-chain polymer molecules that make plastics resistant to bio-degradation.
Consequently, MP (both micro-particulates and microfibers) are ubiquitous now in aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems worldwide, and there’s little mystery as to why.
Since the dawn of the Age of Plastics ~1950, humans have enjoyed a love affair with single-use disposables and basically anything that can be formed from cheap polymer feedstocks. In 2018, worldwide plastics production had risen to 359 million tonnes, tripling since just 1990. Despite encouraging signs that people are starting to worry about plastic pollution – over 120 countries have banned plastic bags – global plastic production is still rising.
As of 2015, 60 percent of all plastics ever produced had accumulated in landfills or, courtesy of human negligence, the environment. MP are building up in farmland soils, lakes, oceans, and the air we breathe. Amassing of MP is seen in environs as remote as the Arctic.
It should be no surprise that MP are showing up on our dinner plates and in our poop.
To estimate annual ingestion of MP by typical Americans, Canadian scientists reviewed all studies to date on MP in drinking water (tap and bottled), beer, foods commonly consumed by Americans (sea foods, honey, sugar and table salt) and air (indoor and outdoor). Data on other major food groups were not yet available.
The US’s Global War on Terror has been raging for 18 years and has already racked up costs of $5.9 trillion federal dollars, over 480,000 deaths due to direct war violence, and 21 million war refugees and displaced persons.
War’s toll on the environment is heavy too. As detailed on the Watson Institute at Brown University’s public website Costs of War, the worst environmental impact of the War on Terror is hastening of global warming. Here’s why.
War’s contribution to climate crisis With over 500 military bases worldwide, counter-terrorism operations in more than 80 countries, and an armed force of more than two million people, the US military relies heavily on burning fossil fuels and is the largest institutional producer of greenhouse gases (GHGs) worldwide: If it were a country, the emissions from fuel usage alone would rank it the 47th largest emitter.
Our military’s post-9/11 operations in the major war zones of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria have produced more than 400 million metric tons of GHG emissions (measured in CO2 equivalents), as detailed in a special report from the Watson Institute. This is comparable to the annual emissions of 85 million passenger vehicles.
The Department of Defense (DOD) is already planning for inevitable climate change which it views as a “threat multiplier” of existing security threats. Yet, the DOD turns a blind eye to the military’s hefty contribution to the warming planet.
It’s utterly ironic that, by planning for even greater future reliance on fossil fuels, the military is fomenting the very political unrest that draws the United States into conflicts. Take Syria, for example, where climate change worsened the drought which fostered civil war and mass migration.
Appeared as: Time to reconsider perpetual war in Orange County Register, 15-Sept, 2019 (p. H2) Your tax dollars are being used for perpetual war and human carnage in The Press-Enterprise, 14-Sept, 2019
The United States is well into the 18th year of its Global War on Terror. We’ve heard hope-inspiring names for the military’s operations, like Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Iraqi Freedom, but where are the pride-evoking outcomes?
Given that this is the longest war in US history and that taxpayer dollars pay for every mess kit, rifle, bomb, and airplane, it’s the public’s duty to take a serious look at the price tag and what we’ve bought. The Watson Institute for International Affairs’ public website Costs of War details the economic and human costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and runoff violence in Pakistan and Syria.
What you paid: Military spending is the second largest chunk of the federal budget, after healthcare (Medicare & Medicaid) and accounts for over half of discretionary spending.
Consider 2018. The US allocated $670.6 billion to fund the Department of Defense and its “overseas contingency operations” (currently fighting the Islamic State) plus $186.5 billion for the Veterans Affairs Administration, totaling $857.1 billion in military and war-related spending (excludes Department of Homeland Security’s spending on counter-terrorism). Of the $4.1 trillion in total federal spending in 2018, more than one in five dollars (20.9 percent) went to fund the military & veterans.
In 2018, you personally spent 29.5 cents of every federal tax dollar on military (24 cents) and veteran (5.9 cents) support, according to the National Priorities Project which tracks where tax dollars go.
Escondido Grapevine, 08-Aug, 2019
Fullerton Observer, 08-Aug, 2019
Times of San Diego, 12-Aug, 2019
Voice of OC, 01-Oct, 2019
Beachfront in-ground nuclear waste storage silos at San Onofre
Two recent scandals force the question: Is public safety the top priority of either the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) or SoCal Edison as they lurch forward in removing spent nuclear waste from cooling pools and loading into dry storage at the now shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS)?
In August 2018, a conscience-driven whistle blower exposed how, because of a system design flaw and human error, a 54-ton canister loaded with radioactive spent fuel nearly crashed down 18 feet during a procedure to load it into an in-ground dry storage silo. He also detailed a general atmosphere of neglect for public safety by both the NRC and Edison.
A subsequent Special Inspection led the NRC to conclude that the incident was caused by “inadequate training, inadequate procedures, poor utilization of the corrective action program, and insufficient oversight.” Torgen Johnson, project director at the Samuel Lawrence Foundation who was instrumental in getting SONGS shut down, finds this deceptive because it places all the blame on personnel while ignoring the “defective engineering, design defects, and sloppy fabrication” of the storage system at SONGS.
NRC imposed an $116,000 civil penalty on Edison and cited the incident as a Severity Level II violation, the second most serious possible violation. NRC spokesperson David McIntyre confirmed that no spent fuel licensee has ever received a Level I violation and that Edison is the first to receive a Level II, making it the single most serious violation in the country.
Versions appeared in: Natural Life Magazine, 04-Apr, 2019 E-The Environmental Magazine, 04-Apr, 2019 Fullerton Observer, Mid-Apr, 2019 (p.20) Times of San Diego, 18-Apr, 2019 Escondido Grapevine, 20-Apr, 2019 Irvine Community News & Views, Summer, 2019
The next U.S. presidential election is being transformed because children everywhere, watching in disbelief as grownups fail to address the climate crisis, are launching their own climate movements.
In contrast to the 2016 election – where exactly zero questions about global warming were posed during the general election debates – the lineup of presidential candidates are already being pressured to do something about the climate threat, and it’s our kids doing it.
Of the two largest youth climate movements in the United States, one originated here and one abroad.
The Sunrise Movement is a student-led political organization which sprang up prior to the mid-term elections to advocate for transitioning to renewable energy. Half of the 20 candidates Sunrise supported for refusing to accept fossil fuel money won election.
Now, Sunrise is aggressively promoting the Green New Deal (GND), a congressional resolution outlining an ambitious economic stimulus package to drive down greenhouse gas emissions while creating green jobs and addressing income inequality. It’s nothing short of an economic and social revolution.
That children confronting an elected official for not supporting the GND can deliver a powerful political gut punch was driven home when Senator Diane Feinstein’s condescending response to young activists went viral.
Versions Appeared: E–TheEnvironmental Magazine, 19-Mar, 2019 Escondido Grapevine, 27-Mar, 2019 Times of San Diego, 30-Mar, 2019 Voice of OC, 08-Apr, 2019 Irvine Community News & Views, 08-Apr, 2019
Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act addresses the climate crisis head on.
A bipartisan bill introduced January in the House of Representatives inspires hope that our children and grandchildren can be saved from what scientists tell us is an ongoing and growing climate disaster.
The evidence is incontrovertible that the climate is in crisis and that burning fossil fuels is the primary cause. A recognized global authority on climate change has warned that there is precious little time left, just 12 years, to drastically reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions enough to avert the worst effects of climate change. By putting a price on carbon emissions, TheEnergy Innovation and Carbon DividendAct (H.R.763) shines a spotlight directly on the hidden costs of burning fossil fuels and very swiftly reins in GHG emissions. Here’s how it would work and how it’s a win-win for the public and industry.
A steadily rising price is placed on the carbon content of fossil fuels – coal, oil, and natural gas – when they enter the economy. It starts low ($15/ton of CO2-equivalent emissions) and increases yearly by $10/ton until GHG emissions are reduced by 90 percent. The predictable increases in fossil energy prices stimulate the market-driven innovation needed to transition to renewable energy sources, all without government intervention: no subsidies and no new rules and regulations.
They’re all ways humans are ingesting microplastics
By Sarah (Steve) Mosko
Shorter versions appeared in: Los Angeles Daily News,08-Dec, 2018
Long Beach Press Telegram, 08-Dec, 2018
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, 08-Dec,, 2018 San Bernardino Sun, 08-Dec, 2018
Whittier Daily News, 08-Dec, 2018 Riverside Press-Enterprise, 08-Dec, 2018 Redlands Daily Facts, 08-Dec, 2018 Pasadena Star-News, 08-Dec, 2018 San Gabriel Valley Tribune, 08-Dec, 2018 OC Register, 09-Dec, 2018 (p. H3) Escondido Grapevine, 13-Dec, 2018 San Diego Free Press, 14-Dec, 2018 Natural Life Magazine, 16-Dec, 2018 Times of San Diego, 17-Dec, 2018 E-Magazine, 03-Jan, 2019
It was just two decades ago that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vast circulating accumulation of plastic debris in the North Pacific, was discovered by accident. Since then, plastic pollution has been found to be ubiquitous in natural environments worldwide, including the open waters and sediments of oceans, lakes and rivers and even in soil and air.
It’s no wonder then that the tissues of wildlife as diverse as whales, seabirds, fish and zooplankton, all which ingest plastic debris, are polluted by plastics. Given that, it would be naïve to think that humans, who share the same global environment and eat at the top of the food chain, are somehow spared contamination.
Though no one has yet measured how much plastic pollution humans might be carrying around, there is plenty of evidence we’re taking the stuff in, by eating, drinking and even just breathing. This is frightening to contemplate because plastics carry potential health risks associated with chemicals both manufactured into them and later picked up from the environment.
Plastics for Dinner?
Discovery of seabird and whale carcasses chock full of visible plastic waste sparked concern that sea creatures consumed by humans might be imbibing plastics too. The broad picture emerging from a plethora of research is that plastic debris is being taken up by sea life throughout the ocean food web, including tiny fish that feed on plankton, fish that feed on smaller fish, shellfish, turtles and dolphins.
Appeared: E-The Environmental Magazine, 17-Oct, 2018 San Diego Free Press, 24-Oct, 2018 Natural Life Magazine, 24-Oct, 2018 The Sunbury News, 26-Oct, 2018 Fullerton Observer, Early Nov, 2018 (p.17) Times of San Diego, 04-Nov, 2018 The Escondido Grapevine, 13-Nov, 2018 Voice of OC, 16-Nov, 2018 Irvine Community News & Views, 14-Dec, 2018
Mankind has only 12 years left to make unprecedented cuts in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions if we want to stave off unimaginably catastrophic effects of runaway global warming. This is the warning detailed in October’s report from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the recognized global climate authority which represents the investigations of hundreds of climate scientists and 195 participating nations.
A 2.0 degree Celsius average global temperature rise above pre-industrial levels was previously viewed by the IPCC as the tipping point beyond which global warming would spiral out of control with incomprehensibly negative consequences for humanity and the planet. We are fully half way to this cut-off, but more to the point is the revised projection by the IPCC that the worst effects will emerge with a smaller temperature rise of just 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). Preventing the 1.5 degree rise necessitates, by 2030, a 45 percent reduction in GHG emissions compared to 2010 levels, with “net zero emissions by 2050” which means all emissions need be balanced by removal of an equivalent amount from the air.
If GHG emissions continue instead at the current rate, the 1.5 degree mark will be reached in 2040, producing environmental havoc that effectively ensures the end of civilization as we know it. Picture a future defined by poverty, food shortages, coastal flooding, mass migrations, ferocious storms, bigger and more intense wildfires, plus unrelenting heat that makes parts of the world unlivable.
Hearing this, Americans should be screaming from the rooftops, demanding to know how our government will prevent this very real existential threat to our own and our children’s future.
Appeared in various versions: Times of San Diego, 12-Jul, 2018 San Diego Free Press, 16-Jul, 2018 Natural Life Magazine, 16-Jul, 2018
OB Rag, 18-Jul, 2018 E-The Environmental Magazine, 27-Jul, 2018 Voice of OC, 02-Aug, 2018 Fullerton Observer, Aug, 2018 (p.2)
Photo credit: Sander van der Wel
How often do we talk about climate change to family, friends or coworkers? Probably next to never if we’re like most people.
Yale’s national polling reveals that the majority of Americans accept that global warming is happening (73 percent) and are worried about it (63 percent). Even more want carbon dioxide, or CO2, regulated as a pollutant (81 percent).
Given these stats and the warning of scientists that the time window to prevent the worst impacts of climate change is closing fast, what keeps us from openly discussing it?
The answer is complex. For starters, many of us were raised in a bygone era where talking politics (and religion) was considered simply impolite. That climate change has become such a politically divisive issue adds weight to the interpersonal risk people naturally experience in bringing up any sensitive topic, even with intimates.
There is also the fact that humanity is ill equipped to respond to the kind of threat posed by a warming planet. Addressing climate change demands an approach to problem solving outside our past experience as a species. Humans are quite adept at addressing “here and now” challenges like putting out a forest fire. However, human history has not prepared us to respond to, or even easily comprehend, a long-term global problem like climate change because it unfolds so gradually over time and in the form of exacerbation of happenings not completely new to us.
Appeared: Irvine Community News & Views, July 2018 (p. 9)
California Congressional District 45
The California Primary contest for the “top two” candidates in Congressional District 45 is over. On November 5, incumbent Rep. Mimi Walters will be facing UCI law professor Katie Porter. The City of Irvine lies entirely within District 45, and the fact that Irvine residents comprise 40 percent of the district’s population means Irvine voters are extremely important to determining who will win.
The voters whom both Walters and Porter need to attract are increasingly concerned about climate change. Fully 73 percent of registered voters believe that climate change is happening, and 59 percent believe it is mostly caused by human activities, according to the latest national poll. At the constituent level – even if not in the halls of Congress – climate change has become noticeably less “political.” Belief in human-caused climate change is still strongest among Democrats, but now includes a significant majority of liberal/moderate Republicans as well as voters with no party preference (small “i” independents). “Worry” about climate change has even increased by 7 points among conservative Republicans since just last October.
Mimi Walters serves the 45th Congressional District which includes Irvine, Tustin, North Tustin, Villa Park, Laguna Hills, Laguna Woods, Lake Forest, Rancho Santa Margarita, Mission Viejo, the Canyons and parts of Anaheim Hills, Coto de Caza and Orange.
Appeared: Voice of OC, 27-Mar, 2018 Irvine Community News & Views, Apr, 2018 (p.9)
In November, residents within California’s 45th Congressional District will be deciding whether to entrust Mimi Walters with a 3rd term in the House of Representatives. She is facing a tough reelection battle, so in a race where every vote counts, it’s incumbent upon voters to take a serious look at her performance record before entering the polls.
Because the projected impacts of unchecked global warming are so dire, climate change has become the number one challenge facing humanity. Worsening storms, droughts and wildfires, catastrophic sea level rise, mass species extinction, disrupted food supplies and political and social unrest are all in the offing if we fail to transition from a fossil fuel economy to one based on renewable energy sources.
Though poorer communities and nations will be impacted most, material wealth cannot guarantee that our children and grandchildren will be spared serious consequences.
The years 2016 and 2017 were the first and third hottest on record, respectively. Many residents of Orange County have personal stories of how climate change is already touching their lives.
The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication tracks public opinions on climate change, down to the individual district level. It turns out that California’s 45th is very much in step with the nation as a whole: 71 percent in the district believe climate change is happening, 74 percent want carbon dioxide regulated as a pollutant, and 72 percent believe future generations will be harmed.
As a public servant, Mimi Walters is obligated to represent the views of her constituents, especially on an issue as vital to public security and prosperity as climate change. But, does she?
Appeared: Voice of OC, 01-Jan, 2018 Fullerton Observer, Jan, 2018 San Diego Free Press,03-Jan, 2018 E-Magazine, 05-Jan, 2018 Times of San Diego, 06-Jan, 2018 Escondido Grapevine, 21-Jan, 2018
San Onofre Nuclear Generating Stations (SONGS) abuts I-5 Fwy and ocean. Photo: Jelson25, Wikimedia Commons.
The seaside nuclear reactors at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in San Clemente were permanently shut down in 2013 following steam generator malfunction. What to do with the 3.6 million pounds of highly radioactive waste remains an epic problem, however, pitting concerned citizens against Southern California Edison, the California Coastal Commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Edison operates San Onofre, the Coastal Commission is charged with protecting the coastline, and the NRC is responsible for long-term storage of spent nuclear fuel and protecting the public.
A reactor’s spent nuclear fuel must be stored safely for 250,000 years to allow the radioactivity to dissipate. San Onofre’s nuclear waste has been stored in containers 20 feet under water in cooling pools for at least five years, the standard procedure for on-site temporary storage. Long-term storage necessitates transfer to fortified dry-storage canisters for eventual transportation to a permanent national storage site which, under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, the federal government is under obligation to construct.
However, the plan to build an underground repository at Yucca Mountain in the Nevadan desert was ditched in 2011 out of concern that deep groundwater could destabilize the canisters, leaving the United States with literally no plan on the horizon for permanent storage of nuclear waste from San Onofre or any other of the country’s nuclear power plants. In fact, under the NRC’s newest plan – the so-called Generic Environmental Impact Statement – nuclear power plant waste might be stored on-site forever.
Versions have appeared: Escondido Grapevine, 05-Dec, 2017 Fullerton Observer, Mid-Nov, 2017 (p.17) Algalita Marine Research Foundation Blog, 05-Nov, 2017 Daily Pilot, 03-Nov, 2017 Voice of OC, 02-Nov, 2017 San Diego Free Press, 02-Nov., 2017 Times of San Diego, 31-Oct, 2017 E-The Environmental Magazine, 27-Oct, 2017
Tiny lanternfish is vital to carbon sequestration in ocean.
Though burning fossil fuels is the primary cause of global warming, fossil fuels could also be driving climate change via a completely different mechanism involving ocean plastic debris and tiny, bioluminescent fish living hundreds of meters beneath the ocean’s surface.
Lanternfish (aka myctophids) are only a few inches long typically but so ubiquitous that they account for over half the ocean’s total fish-mass. They are vital to the ocean’s ability to sequester more carbon than all the world’s forests do on land through a daily mass migration that plays out in all seven seas.
By day, lanternfish avoid predators in deep, dimly lit waters, but they ascend nightly to the surface to gorge on carbon-rich plankton before descending back down where they deposit their carbon-rich poop. They also sequester carbon when eaten by larger fish.
Carbon sequestration by lanternfish is central to the overall role of marine environments in reducing human-caused CO2 emissions in the atmosphere – by an estimated 20-35 percent.
Thus, anything harmful to lanternfish could hinder the ocean’s capacity to act as a carbon sink. Alarming evidence that small bits of floating plastic debris resemble the plankton lanternfish feast on could spell trouble for them and, consequently, the climate. Read the rest of this entry »
Appeared: Escondido Grapevine, 05-Sep, 2017
Fullerton Observer,Early Sept, 2017, p.3 Center for Global Development, 31-Aug, 2017 Daily Pilot,31-Aug, 2017 San Diego Free Press, 31-Aug, 2017 Coronado Times,30-Aug, 2017 Times of San Diego, 30-Aug, 2017 EarthTalk, 29-Aug, 2017
Average annual global temperatures since 1880 compared to the average across the last century. Blue years are below the average and red years are above. (Source NOAA)
I fancy myself an environmentalist. I recycle, backyard compost, have rooftop solar, rarely use AC or heat, drive a hybrid, don’t have a lawn and eat vegetarian.
Yet the truth is I am as responsible for climate change as the next guy. Here’s why.
Doing those things definitely makes me feel good about myself, but none of my personal actions move the world measurably closer to solving the climate crisis. My journey to this conclusion started by first looking into my personal carbon footprint using readily available online tools.
The U.S. EPA’s carbon footprint calculator, for example, looks at three sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions: home utilities for heating, cooling and cooking; vehicle fuel efficiency and miles driven; and waste generation. In these areas, my carbon footprint was roughly half that of other people living in my zip code, suggesting my eco-conscious efforts are paying off.
However, it’s eye-opening that roughly two-thirds of Americans’ GHG emissions are embedded in so-called “indirect” emissions released during the production or manufacture of other things we consume, such as food, household supplies, apparel, air travel, and services of all types, according to an in-depth analysis by the Center for Global Development, a non-profit policy research organization. Another way to understand indirect emissions is to think of the money spent on everything not included in the EPA’s more limited carbon footprint calculator.
Various versions have appeared: Irvine Community News & Views, 14-Aug, 2017 Times of San Diego, 04-Aug, 2017 Fullerton Observer, Aug, 2017 (p.2) The Daily Pilot,26-Jul, 2017
Coronado Times, 24-Jul, 2017 Escondido Grapevine, 19-Jul, 2017 San Diego Free Press, 11-Jul, 2017
EarthTalk, 06-Jul, 2017
Though President Trump has withdrawn the U.S. from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, this is no time for the 70 percent of Americans who believe climate change is happening to recoil in defeat. Rather, we should feel empowered that a 2016 post-election poll of registered voters found that majorities of Democrats (86%), Independents (61%) and Republicans (51%) alike wanted the United States to participate in the accord and that two out of three voters said the U.S. should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions regardless of what other countries do.
Thus, it is exactly the time to speak out against the misguided actions of The White House by taking decisive steps well within our reach as individual citizens and communities. After all, the Paris Agreement is only a broad-stroke commitment from participating countries to collectively limit global warming to 1.5 to 2.0 degrees Celsius (°C) compared to preindustrial levels. It has always been true that only Congress and legislative bodies at the state and local level, not the President, can enact laws that can move us from a fossil fuel to a sustainable energy economy.
Here’s what’s happening at various jurisdictions around the nation already.
Irvine led on restoring the ozone layer and should lead now on climate change.
By Sarah “Steve” Mosko
Appeared: Irvine Community News & Views,02-Jun, 2017
Ozone Depletion: The First Global Environmental Crisis
The depletion of the protective ozone layer in the Earth’s atmosphere by man-made chemicals was the global community’s first environmental crisis. Today, climate change, largely attributable to greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, is the second and far more frightening crisis.
The people of Irvine can be proud that actions taken by the City Council in 1989 were instrumental in creating a blueprint at the local level for carrying out the aspirations set forth in the 1987 Montreal protocol, the international agreement to restore the ozone layer. It is widely hailed as the most successful global environmental treaty ever. As the global community today faces the reality that unchecked global warming could unleash catastrophic effects impacting all future generations, Irvine can and should resurrect the same purpose and determination that inspired the City to make a difference back then.
In 1974, scientists at UC Irvine, led by Nobel laureates (1995) F. Sherwood Rowland and Mario J. Molina, predicted that the Earth’s protective ozone layer would be seriously diminished by the rampant use of halogens — chemicals, such as CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and other ozone-depleting compounds then used as refrigerants, spray can propellants, and solvents. The ozone layer acts as a shield, preventing the most harmful ultraviolet radiation in sunlight (UVB) from reaching the Earth’s surface. Excessive exposure to UVB is known to cause not only sunburn, skin cancers and cataracts but also damage to crops and reduction of plankton populations vital to the ocean food web.
It wasn’t until 1985 that the infamous hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica was discovered, as Rowland and Molina predicted. That triggered the international alarm that led to the Montreal Protocol. Because action at the federal level was painfully slow in coming, the Irvine City Council, then led by Mayor Larry Agran and City Councilmember Cameron Cosgrove, boldly passed the most far-reaching, legally enforceable measure anywhere to eliminate CFCs and other ozone-depleting substances. This remarkable ordinance prohibited using CFCs and other targeted halogens in most industrial processes in the City of Irvine.
The City Council, in taking responsible action at the local level, believed that other jurisdictions would be empowered to use Irvine’s ordinance as a model. That is exactly what happened in many cities and counties across America and throughout the world, and today we know that the hole in the ozone layer is shrinking and we have overcome that global environmental crisis. Read the rest of this entry »
Various versions appeared: Dana Point Times, 31-Jul, 2017 Fullerton Observer, Early Apr, 2017, p.12 Escondido Grapevine, 04 Apr, 2017 The Coronado Times, 04 Apr, 2017 San Diego Free Press, 05 Apr, 2017 Times of San Diego, 11-Apr, 2017 EarthTalk.org, 17-Apr, 2017 San Clemente Times, 20-Apr, 2017 Capistrano Dispatch, 24-Apr, 2017
Within moments of Donald Trump’s inauguration, the White House web page on climate change was purged, and on March 28 Trump ordered the dismantling of the Clean Power Plan which was designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Many members of Congress are still openly climate change skeptics or deniers.
In a representative democracy such as ours, one might conclude that most Americans don’t believe in or are unconcerned about climate change. Two recent polls reveal how wrong this is.
Seventy percent of Americans believe global warming is happening, according to the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication which used a national survey of over 18,000 adults spanning 2008 to 2016. Fully 75% favor regulating CO2 as a pollutant.
Consistent with this, 62% of Americans responded “no” when asked if President Trump should “remove specific regulation intended to combat climate change” in a nationwide poll just released on March 8 by Quinnipiac University. Furthermore, a Yale Project post-election poll of Trump voters found that more than six in ten support taxing and/or regulating the pollution that causes global warming.
An obvious next question is whether these national averages are masking major state-to-state variations in public opinion. The answer is no. The Yale Project concluded that in all 50 states a solid majority of the public both believe global warming is happening (between 60% and 78%) and favor regulating CO2 as a pollutant (66%-81%). Majorities in every state also believe global warming will harm future generations.
Appeared: Irvine Community News & Views, Aug, 2017 PopularResistance.org, 10 Apr, 2017 Fullerton Observer, mid Feb, 2017 (p. 20) San Diego Free Press, 03 Feb, 2017
EarthTalk, 02 Feb, 2017
Luckier Americans are insulated from many everyday worries, like struggling to pay the rent or mortgage on time. Some even enjoy life in gated communities, fine dining and first-class travel. But, just as money is no guarantee of happiness, neither is it assurance of protection against all of the frightening impacts of unchecked global warming.
2016 was the third straight year that the Earth’s temperature was the hottest on record. Contrary to what one might hear in politicized discourse, climate scientists are nearly unanimous in concluding climate change is happening and is the result of burning fossil fuels for energy.
The United Nations and scientific organizations worldwide warn that effects of climate change are already being felt and that the Earth is more than half the way to a temperature increase of 2 degrees Celsius, beyond which runaway global warming will produce irreversible, catastrophic effects. Even worse, if global greenhouse gas emissions remain on their current trajectory, children living today can expect to experience the fallouts of a temperature increase topping 4 degrees Celsius by end of this century.
Despite such dire predictions, Americans, rich and poor, overwhelmingly believe climate change is not a threat to them personally. In a nationwide, county-by-county poll conducted in 2015, in not a single county did the majority of respondents believe climate change will affect them personally, though majorities in 99% of counties felt future generations would be.
The difficulty Americans have in understanding their own vulnerability to climate change stems in part from failing to see beyond the direct effects of climate change – heatwaves, droughts, storms and floods – to appreciate all the indirect effects on health and safety from air pollution, spread of infectious diseases, food and water shortages, population migrations and conflicts.
These indirect effects of climate change place everyone at risk.
Appeared: Natural Life Magazine, Oct issue, 2016 San Diego Free Press, 04 Oct, 2016 EarthTalk, 05 Oct, 2016
What typically comes to mind when contemplating our personal environmental footprint is the energy efficiency of the car we drive, how religiously we recycle, and maybe whether or not we have a water thirsty lawn. However, everything we do and own has impacts on the environment, and that includes the choices we make in dressing ourselves.
This point was driven home in a smart little book published in 1997 titled, “Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things,” which describes the planetary impacts of everyday material goods. One chapter details what goes into producing a wardrobe basic, the cotton/polyester blend T-shirt.
A few highlights include the overseas extraction of the crude oil from which polyester is synthesized, the energy and pesticide intensive process of growing and harvesting cotton, and transporting milled fabrics abroad and back again so they can be sewn into T-shirts by cheap foreign labor.
From this T-shirt saga emerges a simple truth: The T-shirts with the least environmental impact are the ones you already own, or maybe ones purchased at a secondhand shop.
Nonetheless, clothes do wear out and wardrobe adjustments become necessary when we take on new jobs or sports, change weight or treat ourselves to the latest fashion. So the question remains how to make apparel selections which better protect both the environment and the people involved in the production process. The good news is that there are already more sustainable clothing options on the market, plus there is game-changing movement within the apparel industry to provide consumers with a point of purchase “index” conveying the environmental footprint of items being offered. Read the rest of this entry »
E-Magazine’s EarthTalk, 09 Jul, 2016 PopularResistance.org, 15 Jul, 2016 San Diego Free Press, 21 Jul, 2016 Natural Life Magazine, 27 Jul, 2016 Life.ca, 27 Jul, 2016
Ian Muttoo, Wikimedia Commons
Flowers add color and gaiety to any special occasion and are a time-honored way to say thank you or beautify living spaces. However, cut flowers have become a multi-billion dollar global trade industry with a not so pretty underbelly rooted in where and how they are grown.
Historically in the U.S., flowers were first grown in greenhouses in Eastern states and later in Western and Southern states when commercial air transportation made preserving freshness possible. In the 1970’s, the U.S. grew more cut flowers than it imported, only a small fraction originated in Colombia.
However, new market forces were unleashed in 1991 when the U.S. suspended import duties on flowers from Colombia to curb growing of coca for cocaine and to bolster the Colombian economy. By 2003, the U.S. was importing more flowers from Colombia than were produced domestically. The combination of cheap unskilled labor (largely female) and ideal, year-round growing conditions created an explosive market for Colombian floriculture.
Published: Algalita Marine Research Institute Blog, 03 May, 2016 San Diego Free Press, 09 May, 2016 EarthTalk, 09 May, 2016 Fullerton Observer, mid-May, 2016, p.8
Global mean surface temperature change from 1880 to 2014, relative to the 1951–1980 mean. Source: NASA GISS.
For more than half a century, cheaply-priced fossil fuels have come to define the American dream. We travel freely in gasoline powered vehicles and rely on coal, oil and natural gas for heating, cooling and operating electrical devices.
In addition, everything possible is now fashioned from plastic polymers derived from petroleum or natural gas. We’ve abandoned the “reuse and repair it” mindset of the pre-WWII era and embraced instead a “throw away” plastic consumer culture.
The most urgent environmental crises today are undeniably global climate change and the buildup of plastic waste in the world’s oceans. Both are harmful externalities of the fossil fuel industry: impacts, like pollution, not reflected in the cost of the products but paid for instead by some third party.
In this case, the third party is the global public that suffers the health and monetary consequences of both climate change and ocean plastic pollution.
Appeared: Fullerton Observer, Mid Mar, 2016, p. 18 EarthTalk, 26 Feb, 2016 PopularResistance.org, 22 Feb, 2016 San Diego Free Press, 19 Feb, 2016 OB Rag, 19 Feb, 2016
Earth’s history recorded in sedimentary stratifications
By mid-twentieth century, humans had altered the Earth to such an extent as to mark the start of a new geologic epoch named the Anthropocene, concluded an international consortium of researchers in a January issue of the preeminent journal Science.
Scientists divide Earth’s 4.5 billion year history into so-called epochs or time units based on major shifts in the composition and state of the planet as recorded in distinct stratifications in rocks, sediments and glacier ice. Previous transitions from one geologic epoch to the next were triggered by either cyclical drivers of climate change, like variations in the Earth’s orbit or solar radiation, or irregular events like volcanic eruptions. The most recent epoch for example, the Holocene, spanned ~12,000 years and was ushered in by a period of interglacial global warming.
Transition to the Anthropocene, in contrast, is driven by an unprecedented rate of change to the global environment caused by a convergence of three human factors: rapid rises in population growth, technological development and resources consumption, starting about 1950. So although Homo sapiens first emerged as a species about 200,000 years ago, it wasn’t until last century that their numbers and impact were sufficient to drive the permanent changes we now see to the Earth’s system.
Appeared: San Diego Free Press, 25-Sep, 2015 E-Magazine’s EarthTalk, 25-Sep, 2015 Val-E-Vents (Sierra Club, San Fernando Valley), Nov, 2015
Halting global warming is the chief environmental challenge of our time.
While heat-trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) is not the only greenhouse gas (GHG), it’s the most abundant and longest-lived in the atmosphere and contributes the most to global warming. In March, atmospheric CO2 content reached a new high of 400 parts per million, already past the 350 limit many scientists believe is a safe level above which we risk triggering irreversible consequences out of human control.
Second only to China as the largest CO2 emitter, it’s incumbent on the United States to lead the world in addressing global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that the window of time to avoid the worst effects is just a few decades. Yet the United States has not adopted even a nationwide strategy.
Neither producers nor consumers of energy from fossil fuels pay for the environmental and social damages wrought. These so-called externalized costs are shouldered by the public through illness, droughts, violent storms, coastal community destruction, international conflicts, etc. Externalizing the costs of fossil fuels keeps their market price low, de-incentivizing society to move to renewable energy sources.
Current strategies to wean off fossil fuels fall into four categories.* Each attempts to internalize the actual costs of burning fossil fuels through incentives to convert to cleaner energy. Read the rest of this entry »
Losing species to climate change By Sarah “Steve” Mosko
Appeared: Southern Sierran, 01-Sept, 2015 E-Magazine’s EarthTalk, 19-Aug, 2015 PopularResistance.org, 17-Aug, 2015 San Diego Free Press, 14-Aug, 2015
Bumblebee is latest species threatened by climate change. Photo: Hummel 2006
It’s common knowledge that polar bears, and their primary prey the ringed seal, might go extinct this century as the Arctic sea ice melts because rising levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHG) are warming the planet.
Hearing this news, many Americans likely felt something akin to, “Gee, that’s a shame,” but the country did little more than shrug its collective shoulders before getting back to business as usual.
But news keeps coming about species threatened by climate change via habitats becoming unlivable or collapsing of food webs. The latest sting came from Canadian researchers at the University of Ottawa who concluded that dozens of bumblebee species in North America and Europe could be headed for extinction because the southern reach of their habitat is becoming too hot. The study appeared in the July 10 issue of Science magazine.
Although no one knows how many different lifeforms could be wiped out if climate change continues unchecked, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) points to studies predicting that 35 percent of species could be “committed to extinction by 2050” if GHG from burning fossil fuels are not reigned in.
Appeared in: Southern Sierran, 21-July, 2015 E-Magazine’s EarthTalk, 09-July, 2015 San Diego Free Press, 14-July, 2015 OB Rag, 15-July, 2015
More and more Americans are taking responsibility for their personal contribution to global climate change by driving fuel efficient cars, insulating their homes and switching to energy efficient lighting and household appliances.
However, even someone that’s gone to the extremes of traveling only on foot or bicycle and forsaking home heating, cooling, lighting, food refrigeration and cooking will likely shrink their carbon footprint by only about a third. That’s because roughly two-thirds of Americans’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are embedded instead in consumption of other goods and services, according to a recent analysis by the Center for Global Development (CGD), a non-profit policy research organization.
Most of us attribute our GHG footprint to the easily discerned energy we consume for personal transportation and home utilities. Yet these so-called “direct” emissions account for just 36% of the average American’s annual GHG emissions which are equivalent to 21.8 tons of CO2.
The remaining 64% of GHG emissions are “indirect” and produced during the manufacture and production of literally everything else we consume, such as food, shelter, clothing, furniture, cars, bicycles, appliances, electronics, pets, toys, tools, cleaning supplies, medications, toiletries, entertainment and air travel. The fact that indirect emissions typically take place somewhere distant and out of our sight, like in a factory overseas and during transport of products to the point of sale, underlies our lack of connection to them.
Appeared: Algalita Marine Research Foundation Blog, 21-June, 2015
Surf City Voice, 11 June, 2015 Fullerton Observer, Early June, 2015 E-Magazine’s EarthTalk, 19-May, 2015 San Diego Free Press, 01-May, 2015 OB Rag, 04-May, 2015
There are signs that the era where plastic microbeads from personal care products pollute bodies of water worldwide and aquatic food chains might be drawing to a close.
Microbeads are miniscule spheres of plastic commonly added as abrasives to personal care products like face scrubs, shower gels and toothpaste. They’re designed to wash down the drain, but because of their small size, they escape sewage treatment plants. Once discharged into oceans, rivers or lakes or onto land, they’re virtually impossible to clean up.
They’re typically made of polyethylene or polypropylene and do not biodegrade within any meaningful human time scale, especially in aquatic environments. And, like other plastics, they attract and accumulate oily toxins commonly found in bodies of water (e.g. DDT, PCBs and flame retardants).
Appeared: San Diego Free Press, 27 Mar, 2015 E-Magazine’s EarthTalk, 28 Mar, 2015 Fullerton Observer, Early Apr, 2015 (p. 10) PopularResistance.Org, 02 Apr, 2015
Source: Wikipedia Commons
Studies abound linking the increase in extreme weather-related catastrophes in recent decades, like droughts, floods, hurricanes and blizzards, to global climate change.
Climate experts stress the urgency of addressing the problem now, predicting cascading economic and political, social and environmental upheavals worldwide if action is delayed. Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, the CO2 content of earth’s atmosphere has shot up from 275 ppm to over 400 ppm, already well above the 350 ppm limit some scientists believe is a safe level above which we risk triggering irreversible consequences out of human control.
Most Americans agree with the climatologists who believe that climate change is happening and likely caused by greenhouse gases produced by the burning of carbon-based fossil fuels. Asked if “the federal government should act to limit the amount of greenhouse gases U.S. businesses put out,” 78% said yes in a national poll which appeared January 20 in The New York Times. This reflects 60% of Republicans and 87% of Democrats polled.
Yet Congress is still home to a cadre of climate change deniers. Even among the majority in Congress that don’t dispute it, previous legislative proposals to price carbon emissions can be counted on two hands and all died in committee, revealing a glaring lack of political will to tackle this perceived global threat. This comes as no surprise given that fossil fuel industry lobbyists are well represented among the paid lobbyists on Capitol Hill which outnumber members of Congress 4-to-1.
Enter the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization populated by volunteer citizens with a single mission: Create the political will in Congress to pass a real solution to climate change, palatable to politicians across the political spectrum.
Appeared: EarthTalk.org, 26 Jan, 2015 San Diego Free Press, 29 Jan, 2015 Fullerton Observer, Mid Mar, 2015 (p. 5)
Photo: Centers for Disease Control
I escort spiders out of my house, use humane traps to relocate attic rats, and save honey bees from drowning in pools. Yet I’ve been known to hunt with a vengeance a mosquito that’s ruining my sleep, repeatedly buzzing in earshot in search of exposed skin. At such moments, I might push a button, if one existed, to rid the world of mosquitos forever.
However, recent press about disastrous blowback when humans target species deemed a nuisance should give pause to impulses to wipe out even the most bothersome of pests. Two examples. First, the 90% decline in the population of the monarch butterfly in the last two decades from spraying herbicide on genetically modified corn and soy in the Midwest, inadvertently destroying the milkweed on which the monarch caterpillar must feed. And second, the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria from rampant misuse of antibiotics, both to treat viruses in humans and to fatten up livestock that aren’t sick. Consequently, people are at risk of picking up antibiotic-resistant superbugs when they’re hospitalized or even from eating meat.
Appeared: Surf City Voice, 26 Oct, 2014 EarthTalk, 01 Nov, 2014 San Diego Free Press, 05 Nov, 2014 Fullerton Observer, Mid Nov, 2014
Photo: Laura Silverstein
I confess, my husband and I both pee in our backyard garden, waiting until nightfall so as not to surprise neighbors.
We’ve always been comfortable relieving ourselves alongside lonely highways, even in daylight when waiting for the next bathroom seems unreasonable. But peeing in our own garden started as something of a lark, a combo of enjoying feeling a little naughty while also stealing a moment to take in the stillness of the night.
However, after a little research into the contents of urine and the ecological footprint of toilet flushing, I’m approaching my nightly garden visitations with a renewed sense of purpose, armed with sound reasons to continue the habit.
#1Urine isa good fertilizer, organic and free
Contrary to popular belief, urine is usually germ-free unless contaminated with feces. It’s also about 95 percent water. The chief dissolved nutrient is urea, a nitrogen (N)-rich waste metabolite of the liver. Consequently, urine is high in N. Synthesized urea, identical to urea in urine, is also the number one ingredient of manufactured urea fertilizers which now dominate farming industry. Furthermore, urine contains lower amounts of the other two main macronutrients needed for healthy plant growth, phosphorous (P) and potassium (K).
Appeared: San Diego Free Press, 02 Aug, 2014 Surf City Voice, 04 Aug, 2014 Algalita Marine Research Blog, 21 Aug, 2014 EarthTalk, 4 Dec, 2014
You’d think that finding far less plastic pollution on the ocean’s surface than scientists expected would be something to cheer about. The reality, however, is that this is likely bad news, for both the ocean food web and humans eating at the top. Ingestion of tiny plastic debris by sea creatures likely explains the plastics’ disappearance and exposes a worrisome entry point for risky chemicals into the food web.
Except for a transient slowdown during the recent economic recession, global plastics consumption has risen steadily since plastic materials were introduced in the 1950s and subsequently incorporated into nearly every facet of modern life. Annual global consumption is already about 300 million tons with no foreseeable leveling off as markets expand in the Asia-Pacific region and new applications are conceived every day.
Land-based sources are responsible for the lion’s share of plastic waste entering the oceans: littering, wind-blown trash escaping from trash cans and landfills, and storm drain runoff when the capacity of water treatment plants is exceeded. Furthermore, recent studies reveal an alarming worldwide marine buildup of microplastics (defined as a millimeter or less) from two other previously unrecognized sources. Spherical plastic microbeads, no more than a half millimeter, are manufactured into skin care products and designed to be washed down the drain but escape water treatment plants not equipped to capture them. Plastic microfibers from laundering polyester fabrics find their way to the ocean via the same route.
Given that plastics do not biodegrade within any meaningful human time-scale, it’s been assumed that the quantity of plastic pollution measured over time on the surface waters of the ocean will mirror global plastics production and hence should be rising. However, regional sampling over time indicates that plastic debris in surface waters has been rather static since the 1980s.
Biodegradable alternatives to plastic micro-beads (Wikimedia Commons)
The beauty industry hits hard on the importance of frequent exfoliation to keep skin looking younger and healthy. Spherical plastic micro-bead scrubbers, no larger than a half millimeter, have been introduced into hundreds of skin care products in recent decades, but scientists are discovering that the ocean food web, and maybe human health, could be imperiled as a result.
As babies, skin cells are replaced every two weeks, but by age 50 the turnover rate has slowed to six weeks or longer, fostering wrinkles and other unwelcome signs of aging. Products containing plastic micro-beads profess to speed up cell rejuvenation, and their popularity signals that consumers have bought into the promise of exfoliating your way to a more youthful look. Whether or not such products deliver on this promise, scientists have discovered that these innocent-looking plastic micro-beads are insidious little transporters of chemical pollutants into lakes, streams and oceans and maybe onto our dinner plates.
Micro-beads are usually made of polyethylene (PE) or polypropylene (PP), and like other plastics, they’re thought to persist in the environment for a hundred years or more. They’re added to facial scrubs, body washes, soap bars, toothpastes and even sunscreens and designed to be washed down the drain. However, micro-beads commonly escape waste treatment plants and pollute bodies of water, because the plants aren’t designed to eliminate them or because wastewater is diverted directly to local waterways in heavier rains.
My journey into the world of dog food ingredients began when my two-year-old mutts, Olive and Dexi, embarked on a hunger strike of sorts. They’d circle around their food bowls a foot away, sniffing all the while, only to walk away in protest before getting close enough to really get a good look. It felt as though they thought I might be trying to poison them, or at least pull a fast one of some sort.
I served what I thought were top-tier kibble and wet foods, never skimping on price and offering plenty of variety to avert boredom. I changed commercial foods numerous times, trying every ilk of so-called natural lines marketed as organic, grain-free and the like, yet still my offerings were snubbed. I’ll never know if they actually conspired to get my attention, but get my attention they did when they’d go two days without eating a bite, ostensibly giving in only when hunger forced them to.
I became convinced Olive and Dexi were rejecting the meals based on odor, inspiring my 3-part investigation into dog foods: first, to understand the canine sense of smell; second, to master commercial dog food labeling; and third, to discern what canine diet might really be best. I’ve concluded that the answer to the latter might not be as simple as one would wish.
Mothers of infants and toddlers can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that BPA (bisphenol-A), an estrogen hormone-mimicking endocrine disruptor, was banned nationwide from baby bottles and sippy cups last year and from infant formula containers just months ago.
For decades, BPA has been a key component of both polycarbonate baby bottles & cups and the resin lining of most canned goods, including infant formula. BPA can migrate from the packaging into the contents. Literally hundreds of studies in lab animals and humans have linked BPA to such diverse medical problems as breast and prostate cancers, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, miscarriage, low birth weight, reproductive and sexual dysfunction, and altered cognitive and behavioral development.
However, fetal exposure to BPA is far from a thing of the past, as pregnant women – and hence their fetuses – are still routinely exposed to BPA from canned foods & beverages and reusable plastic bottles, as well as thermal cash register receipts. Unfortunately, there seems little chance the federal government will step in any time soon to limit pregnant women’s exposure, even though scientists who study the health effects of BPA say there is more than enough scientific evidence to warrant it.
The Breast Cancer Fund (BCF), a non-profit dedicated to eliminating environmental causes of breast cancer, agrees. In a Sept. 2013 report titled “Disrupted Development: the Dangers of Prenatal BPA Exposure,” BCF summarized the latest research showing that exposure to BPA early in development sets the stage for diseases in adulthood. The organization’s “Cans, Not Cancer” campaign is focused on protecting pregnant women by pressuring manufacturers and policy makers to eliminate BPA from all food cans: Dietary intake is thought to be the greatest source of human exposure.
Humans spend roughly a third of their lifetimes in slumber. Studiesabound showing that a good night’s sleep (usually 7-9 hours) promotes a sense of well-being and that sleep loss leaves us feeling exhausted, irritable and easily overwhelmed by the day’s challenges. Not surprisingly, sleep consistently ranks in surveys as one of life’s most pleasurable activities. However, the percentage of both U.S. men and women in all age groups who are chronically sleep-deprived, averaging six hours sleep or less, has risen significantly in recent decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Among the likely causes are societal shifts, like longer work hours, shift work, greater emphasis on getting ahead, and technologies that lure people into staying up late. This trend toward shorter sleep is particularly worrisome given the conclusions from sleep experts in a report titled “Sleep: A Health Imperative” that insufficient or mistimed sleep can contribute to serious health problems like cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, depression and cancer, as well as auto accidents.
Because sleep is right up there with eating as a fundamental biological drive, you’d think that sleeping would be as easy as falling off a log, especially where people are increasingly short on sleep. Yet, the incidence of insomnia – loosely defined as difficulty falling or staying asleep – is about 30 percent of the adult population, and in a recent national survey, one in three adults reported difficulties related to sleep loss, such as trouble concentrating or remembering.
“Sheepish,” as defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, means “resembling a sheep in meekness, stupidity, or timidity.” Society as a whole seems to agree that sheep are none too bright, given the familiar insult that someone is dumb as a sheep.
But what do we really know about what goes on inside a sheep’s brain? And, if they aren’t as dumb as we’ve believed, should attitudes change about eating them, using them for experimentation, or their treatment by the wool industry?
Monkeys are both intelligent and evolutionarily close relatives of humans, the obvious choice perhaps for researching neurological human diseases marked by cognitive decline, like Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s dementia and schizophrenia. However, many people question the morality of using primates for research expressly because of their intelligence, plus primates exhibit complex behaviors which make them difficult to manage in research settings.
Because sheep are docile and easily handled, but also have large mammalian brains with a human-like convoluted cortex, scientists have taken interest recently in their intelligence, considering them a possible model for studying neurological diseases. What they have discovered might surprise you.
Plastic debris from N. Pacific Gyre. (Algalita Marine Research Institute)
Imagine using a thimble to empty a bathtub, with the faucet still running. That’s how experts on ocean plastics pollution generally see schemes focused on extracting the debris from the open ocean instead of strategies to prevent plastic waste from getting there in the first place.
Interest in methods to rid the oceans of plastic debris is motivated by very real threats to the entire ocean food web. The “North Pacific Garbage Patch” is the most studied of the five subtropical gyres, gigantic whirlpools where waste is picked up and concentrated by slow-swirling currents. There, plastic debris already outweighs zooplankton, tiny creatures at the base of the food web, by a factor of 36:1, according to the latest trawls by the Algalita Marine Research Institute in Long Beach, CA.
The 5 subtropical gyres.
Conventional plastics do not biodegrade on land or in water, but become brittle in sunlight and break apart into ever smaller bits of plastic, still containing toxic substances introduced during manufacture – like phthalates, bisphenol-A and flame retardants. Plastics also attract and concentrate persistent oily pollutants present in seawater. So plastic debris not only threatens sea creatures through entanglement or by clogging their digestive tracts, but also introduces dangerous chemicals into the food chain.
Perhaps you already bring your own reusable grocery bags, have kicked the bottled water habit and know better than to microwave in plastics, but still find daily life swimming in plastics and want to use less of it. After recycling, the average American still generates a half pound of plastic refuse daily, a concrete indicator of how deeply entrenched are plastic materials in our 21st century lifestyle (USEPA, 2010).
Rational reasons to cut back on plastics fall into one of two spheres: limiting exposure to hazardous chemicals associated with plastics – like bisphenol-A, phthalates and flame retardants – or reducing the harm to the environment incurred at all stages in plastics’ lifecycle, from extraction of the petroleum needed for manufacturing to disposal of the non-biodegradable finished products.
Short of adopting a Tarzan-like jungle existence, it’s probably impossible to completely eliminate plastics from modern day life, but with a little digging and shopping savvy, you can enlarge that dent in your plastics consumption. Some ideas follow.
Appeared: Algalita Marine Research Blog, 20-Feb, 2013
Common objects contain endocrine disruptors
In pregnant women, exposure today to endocrine-disrupting substances common in everyday plastics might not only be adversely affecting the health of their fetuses, but the health and fertility of their future great grandchildren might also be at risk, according to a laboratory study just published in January. The health risks are not handed down via changes to the genetic DNA code (i.e. gene mutations), but rather through a parallel biological scheme of coding known as “epigenetics.”
Background Traits are passed from one generation to the next through two distinct but interacting vehicles of inheritance. The genes that make up our DNA were once thought to contain the entire blueprint for all inherited traits. For some time, however, scientists have understood the critical role of another coding system that literally sits atop the DNA and instructs genes to turn on or off. Because all cells in a given animal or human have the same DNA sequence as the original fertilized egg and sperm, another mechanism is needed to explain how cell differentiation occurs during development so that a heart cell, for example, ends up so different from, say, a brain or skin cell.
While plastic refuse on land is a familiar eyesore as litter and a burden on our landfills, in the marine environment it can be lethal to sea creatures by way of ingestion or entanglement. Now, an important new study adds to a growing body of evidence that ocean plastic debris is also a threat to humans because plastics are vehicles for introducing toxic chemicals of three sources into the ocean food web.
Background Two of the sources are intrinsic to the plastic material itself, introduced during manufacturing, and have been described in previous studies. The first is the very building blocks of plastic polymers, called monomers, which are linked during polymerization. However, polymerization is never complete, always leaving some monomers unattached and free to migrate out into whatever medium the plastic comes in contact, like foods/beverages or the guts of a sea creature that mistook it for food. Some monomers are known to be inherently toxic, like the carcinogen vinyl chloride that makes up polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics, or the endocrine disruptor bisphenol-A (BPA) that makes up polycarbonate plastics.
Throwaway living debuts after WWII (Photo: Peter Stackpole, 1955)
Bioplastics are simply plastics derived from renewable biomass sources, like plants and microorganisms, whereas conventional plastics are synthesized from non-renewable fossil fuels, either petroleum or natural gas. It’s a common misconception, however, that a bioplastic necessarily breaks down better in the environment than conventional plastics.
Bioplastics are nevertheless marketed as being better for the environment, but how do they really compare?
The Problems with Petroleum-Based Plastics The push to develop bioplastics emerges from alarming realities starting with the staggering quantity of plastics being produced, over 20 pounds a month for every U.S. resident, according to the latest numbers from the American Chemistry Council.
Conventional plastics do not biodegrade (defined below) within any meaningful human timescale – they just break apart into smaller plastic fragments. Also, the overall recycling rates for plastics remain fairly low, eight percent in the United States and 24 percent in the European Union in 2010 for example, in large part because plastic products contain unique proprietary blends of additives which prevent recycling of mixed batches of products back into the original products. So, unlike glass and aluminum which can be recycled in a closed loop, most plastics recycling is considered “down-cycling” into lower quality, hybrid-plastic end-products, like lumber or clothing, which aren’t recycled again. This means that, except for the fraction of plastic that is combusted for energy production, all plastics eventually end up as trash, either in landfills or as litter.
Petroleum and natural gas are actually organic substances, but why plastics synthesized from them do not biodegrade is straightforward. The exceptionally strong carbon-carbon bonds created to form the backbone of plastic polymers do not occur naturally in nature so are foreign to microorganisms which readily eat up other organic materials.
Still disappointingly chubby after cutting back on junk foods and exercising regularly?
Two-thirds of U.S. adults are now either overweight or down right obese. And while an unhealthy diet and sedentary lifestyle can contribute to an expanding waistline, evidence is accumulating that exposure to substances in everyday plastics and other industrial chemicals can fatten you up too.
Doctors gauge fatness by the Body Mass Index (BMI), based on a person’s height and weight. For adults, the cutoffs are 25 for overweight and 30 for obesity.
The average U.S. man or woman now has a BMI of 28.7, according to the Centers for Disease Control. One-third of adults are overweight, and another third are obese. Even those at the lower end of normal are showing an upward trend.
And not just adults are tipping the scales. A national survey of children and teens found that 32 percent are overweight or obese. Even animals seem to be gaining weight, including domestic pets and feral rodents. The ubiquity of the problem has led scientists to suspect environmental influences.
The smiling inverted “Mr. Cart” logo is free to anyone and takes a swipe at consumerism
Thinking of tossing out a brand name shirt, handbag or backpack purchased with zeal last year but now seems so yesterday? Well, don’t. Debrand it instead to give it renewed life and do the environment a favor too.
What better symbols of the culture of consumerism than branding and logos. Marketers use these visuals in relentless campaigns to convince us that their brand of this or that is more desirable than the rest and that we can’t, and shouldn’t, live without it.
Marketers are not much interested, however, in what happens to all the frivolous extras and redundancies we amass once our attention shifts to the next brand or model that catches our fancy.
Older purchases which have lost their allure may collect dust for a while in a closet, or might even be given a second life if donated to charity, but either way likely end up as fodder for landfills.
People’s everyday refuse is classified as municipal solid waste (MSW). Because waste generation parallels consumption, MSW is a fair yardstick of a society’s consumerism. In the United States, per capita MSW generation rose from 2.68 pounds per day in 1960 to 4.43 pounds in 2010, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. About one-third of this waste stream is currently siphoned off through recycling and composting, and another 12 percent is combusted for energy production. Landfills have to absorb the remaining 2.4 pounds per person of daily rubbish.
Although many of us may feel put off by the material excess we see in others, and even in ourselves, we mostly feel powerless to change it. However, a few rebellious heroes have found ingenious ways to fight back at materialism through various forms of “debranding,” playful assaults on the very symbols of consumerism.
BPA Newly Linked to Human Infertility By Sarah (Steve) Mosko, PhD
Appeared in: Algalita Marine Research Blog, 30 Jul ’12
Researchers are finding evidence for the first time that inadvertent exposure to BPA (bisphenol-A) in women of child-bearing age might hinder their fertility, and the levels of BPA involved are similar to that observed in the general U.S. population.The synthetic chemical BPA has earned a solid reputation as an endocrine disruptor based on its estrogen-mimicking properties and documented health effects on lab animals exposed to even low, environmentally-relevant doses. Literally hundreds of animal studies have linked BPA to a wide spectrum of health concerns including obesity, diabetes, breast and prostate cancer, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, low sperm counts and abnormal genital development.
Human exposure to BPA is known to be widespread – over 90 percent of the U.S. population show BPA in their urine – and stems from water bottles and other consumer items made of polycarbonate plastics, the epoxy lining of most food & beverage cans, dental sealants and thermal check register receipts. Ingestion is thought to be the primary route of exposure.
Discerning whether current levels of BPA exposure in humans carry the same health risks seen in animals is intrinsically difficult because of ethical prohibitions on intentionally exposing people to a potentially harmful substance and because of the hodgepodge of other industrial chemicals to which humans are exposed. However, preliminary reports have surfaced linking BPA to human female infertility.
Advertising wooes the typical American to spend an extra $8,659 a year
Here’s an inescapable reality: There are only two ways to be rich – make more or want less. This is known as “Rimo’s Rule,” though that’s beside the point.
Rather, the point here is to recognize, in our consumer-based, advertising-saturated society, how very hard it is to want less materially yet why we must to do so anyway. While it’s intuitive that most people – both the “99 percent” and the “1 percent” – could achieve greater contentment in life by better appreciating the non-material and material riches they already have, there are far-reaching, global consequences of which path to richness a society as a whole chooses.
Consider an often repeated fact, that Americans make up less than five percent of the world’s population but consume 20 to 25 percent of the world’s resources (like food, fresh water, wood, minerals and energy). This means that, on average, Americans consume five to seven times the resources per capita as the rest of humanity combined.
Renowned ecologist and agronomist David Pimentel of Cornell University has calculated that the Earth’s resources could sustain a population of only two billion if everyone had the current average standard of living in the United States. His detailed analysis was published in the journal Human Ecology in 2010.
The world population is already at seven billion, and the latest United Nations projection is that the head count will reach 10 billion well before 2100. For all 10 billion to enjoy the American standard of living, Pimentel’s data imply that it would take four additional Earth planets to supply the necessary natural resources.
Will the ban on plastic bags in L.A. be the tipping point for a statewide ban?
The “City of Angels” just joined a growing web of four dozen California jurisdictions banning single-use, plastic carry-out bags.On May 23, the L.A. City Council cast a near unanimous vote to ban the flimsy “T-shirt” style carry-out bags and to phase in a 10-cent fee on paper bags. An earlier proposal also included a ban on paper bags, but the council decided instead to consider after two years whether a ban on paper was needed depending on whether enough people had switched to reusable bags, the real goal of the plastic ban. A bag ordinance is expected to be enacted before year’s end, and a six-month grace period will follow so consumers can adjust and to allow stockpiles of plastic bags to be used up. The ban will not include the plastic bags used for fresh produce or meats.The L.A. Bureau of Sanitation estimates that the city uses 2.3 billion plastic bags and 400 million paper bags a year and that the bag recycling rate is only 5% for plastic and 21% for paper. The rest end up in landfills or, worse still, as litter.
The “Save the Plastic Bag Coalition,” a group of plastic bag makers and distributors, is putting forth an all-out effort to block the spread of plastic bag bans within the state through legal challenges. In March, L.A. County’s 2010 ordinance banning plastic bags and placing a 10-cent fee on paper bags was upheld in Superior Court. Other California jurisdictions which have enacted similar bans include the cities of San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Palo Alto, Santa Clara and San Jose in the northern region and Long Beach, Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica, Calabasas and Malibu in the south. Many more ban ordinances are in the works across the state, including in Pasadena, Dana Point, Laguna Beach and Huntington Beach, to name a few.
The presidential campaign season is in full swing and, like it or not, most candidates are pretty much in-your-face touting their religious faith as an essential qualification for office.
Though the candidates may spout, unsolicited, how their faith shapes their stances on many political hot potatoes, like women’s reproductive rights, gay marriage and even the economy, there’s nary a one talking about what their religion calls on them to do to fix all the environmental woes the nation and planet are facing: species extinction, toxic chemical pollution, global climate change and deforestation, to name a few.
In fact, candidates are largely steering clear of talking about the environment at all. Does this mean that religious traditions are silent on the responsibility of the faithful to protect the environment? Hardly.
If you are looking for a passionless primer on modern economics spouting platitudes about how western style capitalism, unregulated markets and globalization are fail proof and good for all, this book is not for you.
If, instead, your guts tell you something is seriously amiss when the gulf between the rich and the poor is ever widening and the health of the planet is on a steady decline, then you will find this book vital and loaded with truths.
The authors are a physicist and an economist who joined forces in this exposé on how the predominant economic paradigm driving the world’s economies today is based on less-than-lofty values: greed, competition and accumulation. These values are so universally sanctioned that no apology is deemed necessary even though it can be shown that wealth accumulated through such a system leads to immeasurable human injustices and environmental ills.
The book discusses how this paradigm fosters rapid economic expansion “at any cost” to people or the planet. It is fed by the uncontrolled consumption of fossil fuels and a belief that consumerism is the path to happiness. Furthermore, the paradigm functions to concentrate power and wealth in the hands of a small minority.
Perhaps you round out your child’s lunch with popular, healthy-sounding extras like cereal bars, fruit roll-ups, mixed fruit cups, cheesy snacks and fruit drinks. However, unless you’re in the habit of carefully screening product labels for artificial ingredients, you’re probably unaware that synthetic food dyes are likely packed into that lunchbox too. A single item might contain as many as four or five.
While people have used dyes derived from spices and minerals to enhance the appeal of foods for centuries, most of us don’t know that modern synthetic food dyes (aka artificial food colors) are manmade concoctions from petroleum and that a controversy swirls around their usage because of several studies suggesting they worsen symptoms in at least some children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The connection to ADHD prompted Britain to pressure food companies and restaurants to phase out synthetic dyes by the end of 2009, and the European Union now requires that products containing certain dyes sport a warning label saying the food “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”
Not so in the U.S. where an advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just concluded in April 2011 an inquiry into the safety of synthetic food dyes and decided there was insufficient evidence to warrant tightening of regulations. The inquiry was prompted by a petition from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) to ban all synthetic dyes in foods based on research suggesting they pose risks of cancer and allergic reactions, as well as hyperactivity in children.
A single polyester garment can shed >1900 plastic microfibers per wash
If you have already switched to an eco-friendly laundry detergent, as many people do to contribute less to water pollution, you might be surprised to learn that the pollution you generate on wash day has as much to do with the kind of fabrics your clothes, bedding and towels are made of as the detergent you wash them in. Recent studies have revealed that a single garment made of polyester can shed innumerable tiny fibers into the wash water, and those fibers are finding their way to the ocean. The pollution they cause is worsened by the fact that, like plastic materials in general, polyester attracts oily pollutants in seawater so is a vehicle for the transfer of potentially dangerous chemicals into the food web when the fibers are ingested by sea creatures.
Although we don’t usually think of polyester fabrics as plastic per se, polyester is nonetheless a plastic material synthesized from crude oil and natural gas. And, like other plastics, polyester is a long polymer chain, making it non-biodegradable in any practical human scale of time, especially in the ocean because of the cooler temperatures.
What if chemicals your great-great grandmother was exposed to, or even her diet, could affect your risk of falling victim to cancers, mental illness or Alzheimer’s disease? Sounds far-fetched perhaps, but what we are learning about the new science of epigenetics says it’s very possible and happens without a change to the DNA you inherited from her.
Epigenetics also explains how it is that your brain and toe are made of cells with identical DNA, but look and function so differently, and why identical twins are never exact replicas, though their DNA is.
The basis for all these phenomena lies not in the genome – the DNA sequences which make up our genes – but rather in intricate cell machinery sitting atop the DNA that dictates which genes are turned on or off at any point in the life of both a single cell or an entire organism, like a human being. A good analogy would be the orchestra conductor signaling when each instrument should play and how loudly. The Greek prefix “epi” means “on top of” or “in addition to,” hence the epigenome denotes the apparatus attached to the genome within a cell’s nucleus which enables tissues and even whole organisms with identical DNA to look and function very differently.
It’s long been appreciated that the epigenome is what coordinates the development of a fetus, telling an undifferentiated stem cell, for example, to morph into a heart cell at the right time. Because the epigenome is replicated along with the DNA during cell division, it also provides the “cell memory” needed so the instructions for making heart cells get passed on.
However, what’s new and creating shockwaves in our understanding of human illnesses is that the epigenome is influenced throughout our lifetime by not only normal internal factors, such as hormones, but by external ones too, like diet, drugs, stress and environmental pollutants. An epigenome that can adjust to changes in environmental conditions, like a scarcity of food, is advantageous if the adjustments enable you to adapt better to the environment. However, a non-fixed epigenome also means that conditions you were exposed to early in development which modified the epigenome in unfortunate ways might trigger diseases cropping up even decades later in adulthood.
Moreover, where we used to assume that any acquired epigenetic changes were erased during the type of cell division that produces eggs and sperm, we know now that eggs and sperm can also retain acquired epigenetic markings which, good or bad, can be passed on to your children and your children’s children.
On August 1st, Long Beach became the thirteenth jurisdiction within California to ban single-use plastic carryout bags at supermarkets and large retailers. Huntington Beach (HB) could soon join that list if HB City Council members Connie Boardman, Devin Dwyer and Joe Shaw can convince other council members.
A proposal to develop an ordinance to ban flimsy, disposable plastic carryout bags is on the Monday, August 15 HB City Council meeting agenda.
If a HB ordinance were to be modeled after the Long Beach one, it would also include a 10 cent customer fee for each paper bag dispensed, as the goal is not to convert to disposable paper bags but rather to encourage use of reusable bags which can be used over 100 times.
The Long Beach ban took effect after a pivotal unanimous California Supreme Court decision on July 14 which eases the way for local plastic bag bans by ruling that the City of Manhattan Beach did not have to complete a lengthy study of the environmental impact of disposable paper bags before baring retailers from dispensing plastic ones.
A plant-based diet beats a traditional meat-based one hands down when it comes to trimming one’s contribution to greenhouse gases, but not everyone is willing to plunge head-long into a life of tofu dogs and bean burgers.
No doubt there are even plenty self-proclaimed vegetarians out there who guiltily sneak in some fried chicken, pork chops or a tuna melt from time to time and face self-recriminations afterward for satisfying such cravings at the expense of a warming planet.
The good news for either lapsed vegetarians or meat eaters with an environmental conscience is that meats and dairy products are not all created equal when it comes to the quantity of greenhouse gases (GHG) produced. In fact, a study just released by the non-profit organization Environmental Working Group (EWG) and titled “Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change + Health” reveals that by avoiding just the three worst GHG offenders – lamb, beef and cheese – even hardcore meat eaters can make a sizable dent in their diet’s climate change footprint.
EWG, in partnership with CleanMetrics, an environmental analysis firm, examined the “cradle to grave” lifecycle, from farm to retail to plate to disposal, of 20 popular foods in four categories – meats, fish, dairy and vegetable protein – and compared the GHG produced by each.
If all Californians used clotheslines, one nuclear power plant could be shut down.
During the Leave-It-to Beaver era of the late 1950s, most homes certainly had a clothesline and probably no one thought much about whether it offended their neighbors. It’s a safe assumption that June Cleaver, the perfect homemaker, would have taken issue with anyone even hinting her clothesline was an eyesore.
Then fast forward a half century to the present where the majority of Americans have abandoned the clothesline in favor of electric or gas dryers and homeowners associations (HOAs) routinely prohibit clotheslines or impose such restrictions as to effectively ban them. One can only guess what June would have said to that, even absent her knowing about the threats from global climate change and the pressing need to reduce America’s dependence on fossil fuels.
Few today will dispute that tossing a load of wet clothes into a clothes dryer is more convenient than pinning up clothes, one by one, and surveys confirm that most people living in communities governed by HOAs have no problem abiding by the restrictions on clotheslines from the standpoint of curb appeal or property values.
However, interest in reducing the oversized energy footprint of Americans – twice that of people living in the European Union – has given rise in a handful of states to so-called “right-to-dry” laws that rein in restrictions HOAs or other entities can impose on residents’ freedom to use clotheslines. California is not among them, however, despite its sunny weather and reputation for environmental progressiveness.
Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are synthetic substances known to play havoc with hormone and organ systems in lab animals, and it’s well-documented that the urine of most Americans tests positive for an alarming number of them. EDCs are found in a wide array of everyday consumer products and also find their way into air, dust and even foods.
A new study confirms for the first time that dietary practices – like whether you select fresh versus canned fruits & vegetables, microwave foods in plastics, or drink from plastic bottles – have a rapid and hefty impact on one’s body burden of at least two EDCs known to interfere with normal organ development in animals and maybe humans: bisphenol A (BPA) and di-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP).
People flush the toilet maybe five to 10 times a day. Ever wonder where it all goes?
Los Angeles(LA) is representative of the challenge a large metropolis faces in managing its sewage waste. LA area residents generate roughly 90 gallons per person per day of raw sewage from toilet flushing, bathing, housekeeping and discharging industrial waste into drains.
Most of us care not to think about sewage once it’s out of sight.
However, thinking about sewage is exactly what wastewater treatment facilities do. The Hyperion treatment plant in Playa Del Ray is by far LA’s largest, managing a daily wastewater inflow averaging 330 million gallons generated by over four million people in LA and 29 surrounding cities. That’s enough to fill 500 Olympic-sized pools.
People flush the toilet maybe five to 10 times a day. Ever wonder where it all goes and, once it gets there, what they do with it?
On a per capita basis, Orange County (OC) homes, businesses and industry together generate over 80 gallons each day of raw sewage from toilet flushing, bathing, housekeeping and discharging industrial waste into drains. Most of us care not to think about sewage once it’s out of sight.
However, thinking about sewage, and what best do with it, is exactly what the Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD) does.
OCSD serves 21 cities with a total population of 2.5 million and in 2010 treated an average daily sewage inflow of 208 million gallons, enough to fill Angel stadium nearly three times. Its Biosolids Management Program (BMP), which converts the solid components of sewage into either soil amendments or fuel, has recently won awards for innovation and environmental stewardship but has also elicited opposition from parties claiming it is unsafe for both people and the environment because of the contaminants still present. Read the rest of this entry »
Santa Monica Daily Press as “Soy not so healthy afterall,”07 Apr 2011
Only non-organic soyfoods are processed with hexane
Soy-based foodstuffs like veggie burgers and nutrition bars are a source of protein and generally considered “health foods” often eaten out of a belief they are good for you.
Soyfoods also have a reputation for being produced in a more environmentally friendly or sustainable fashion than animal sources of protein.
However, whether foods containing highly processed forms of soy protein are really good for people or the environment is brought into question by a Nov. 2010 report from the Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based non-profit claiming that non-organic soy protein is commonly extracted from the soybeans by literally bathing the beans in n-hexane, a chemical by-product of petroleum refining.
Even popular brands of nutrition bars, veggie burgers and other meat alternatives marketed as “natural” are often guilty of this practice unless they are specifically “USDA Organic.”
The bad reputation recently earned by BPA or bisphenol A, a chemical constituent of polycarbonate resin plastics, is probably well-deserved because it is an estrogen hormone mimic linked in hundreds of studies to potentially adverse health effects in mammals ranging from cancers and infertility to diabetes and obesity.
Fetal and juvenile mammals are particularly sensitive to exposure to low doses of estrogen mimics, raising particular concerns about BPA-containing plastics that infants and toddlers might encounter. Consequently, some manufacturers of baby bottles, water bottles and other plastic products are now marketing items as “BPA-free.”
Unfortunately, a “BPA-free” label offers no assurance that a product won’t leach chemicals with estrogenic activity (EA), according to a study appearing in the online March 2 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives. In fact, the study measured EA leaching from all sorts of food-contact plastic products made with resins other than polycarbonate.
Attitudes about animal rights and welfare often shape dietary choices.
At one end of the spectrum are strict vegans who eschew foods containing any animal products. At the other end are unapologetic meat-eaters who flinch not even at the prospect of eating veal from calves separated from their mothers at birth, confined for months within tiny crates designed to prevent all exercise and foster tender “gourmet” meat, and fed an iron-deficient milk substitute to induce anemia and pale-looking flesh. In the middle perhaps are ovo-lacto vegetarians who allow eggs, cheese and other milk products, but no meat.
Vegetarianism is on the rise in America. According to a 2008 survey published by Vegetarian Times magazine, 3.2 percent of adults follow a vegetarian diet and another 10 percent follow a vegetarian-inclined diet. Even among meat-eaters, five percent said they were “definitely interested” in switching to a vegetarian diet in the future.
Of the reasons vegetarians gave for their choice of diet, animal welfare was mentioned most often, so it’s a safe assumption that vegetarians are often compelled by a belief that no animals suffered or died for the animal products they consume. But is this really possible?
What’s wrong with this picture? Southern California (SoCal) imports about half of its water from northern California and the Colorado River while flagrantly neglecting to put precious local rainfall to use.
This misguided water policy contributes to the now threatened ecosystems of both those distant water sources as well as global climate change via the enormous energy expended in transporting water over such distances.
What’s more, SoCal manages its rainfall through a storm drain system that directly contributes to ocean pollution.
No wonder northern Californians are reputed to be less than enamored with their neighbors to the south.
The heavy downpours which made December 2010 one of the wettest in SoCal history serve as a reminder that, despite being semi-arid, the region’s rainfall is by no means inconsequential and might be put to better use than overwhelming sewer systems and polluting coastal waters.
It would have been hard to get through 2010 without bumping into some scary information about the plastic ingredient bisphenol A, aka BPA, like the fact it leaches from polycarbonate baby bottles & sports bottles and metal food can linings into the contents or that it is widespread in the dye on thermal cash register receipts and is absorbed through human skin.
Adding to such anxieties about environmental toxins, Japanese researchers have recently honed in on a chemical very similar to BPA dubbed BPAF, or bisphenol AF, that might be even more dangerous than BPA. The “F” stands for fluorine, and the two substances are identical except for the substitution of six fluorine atoms in BPAF for six hydrogens in BPA (see below).
In part, it was knowledge that certain properties of fluorine might intensify the molecule’s reactivity that drew the researchers’ attention to BPAF, as there are additional chemicals out there that resemble BPA too.
The risks of exposure to BPA stem from the fact that it is an endocrine disruptor that mimics the actions of the hormone estrogen. Over 200 laboratory studies have linked low-dose BPA exposure to a host of health effects including reduced sperm production and infertility, cardiovascular diseae, diabetes and derailed development of the brain and prostate gland.
The simple fact that Americans consume 1500 single-serve water bottles per second made of PET plastic has sufficed to make these disposable bottles a target of environmentalists concerned about the impact of so much trash. Until very recently, however, it has been assumed that the PET bottles pose no direct health risk to humans who drink from them.
New evidence that PET drink bottles can leach substances into the contents that mimic the sex hormone estrogen – phthalates and antimony – has put PET bottles in the crosshairs also of scientists worried about their health safety.
Surf City Voice as “How to Shrink America’s Energy Footprint,” 5 Dec 2010
Americans today are generally aware that we consume far more energy per capita than most of the world’s peoples, over four times the world average and double that of regions like Japan and Europe which enjoy a similar standard of living. Most of us reflect on home gas and electric bills plus the fuel pumped into our cars’ gas tanks when judging our personl energy footprints.
But in reality it is all the “stuff” Americans accumulate that contributes most heavily to our total energy consumption. To understand why this is true, it is necessary to first get a handle on the ways societies utilize energy.
By convention, the energy-consuming activities of society are divided into the four sectors described below: residential, commercial, industry and transportation. The pie chart below shows the percentage of total U.S. energy delivered in a year to each sector, according to recent U.S. Energy Information Administration figures. Note that the very same pie chart describes the average per capita energy consumption of Americans in the four sectors.
The residential sector reflects the energy used to run our homes (to power lighting, appliances and heating & cooling systems) and, at 15 percent, it is the next to smallest pie piece. At 40 percent, the transportation sector is largest but includes all energy inputted to move both people and goods about, be it by car, truck, train, plane, boat or pipeline. Given that about half this amount goes into shuttling people, this means that personal transportation and running our homes together account for only about 35 percent of the energy we Americans use.
How much are you willing to pay for access to clean air and drinking water?
What’s a fair price to keep toxic chemicals out of the food supply, to insure the future of ocean and freshwater fish stocks, to keep public parks open, and to stem the melting of the polar ice caps so our coastal cities remain above sea level and polar bears won’t go extinct?
Questions of this sort prompted me to investigate how much the federal government and my home state of California (and ultimately we taxpayers) actually spend on environmental protection. Turns out neither comes close to one thin dime on the dollar.
Federal outlay for environmental protection is one percent Federal environmental spending, like defense spending, comes under discretionary spending which in 2009 amounted to $1.2 trillion or about one-third of the total $3.5 trillion federal outlay. Mandatory spending makes up the remaining two-thirds of the federal budget (nearly $2.3 trillion) and goes to hefty programs like Medicare, Social Security and interest on the national debt.
Discretionary spending is divided into two broad categories, national defense and non-national defense, with defense spending eating up 53 percent of all discretionary dollars in 2009. The government keeps tabs on federal environmental spending in a category called natural resources and environment (NRE) which totaled $35 billion or just 2.8 percent of discretionary spending and a meager one percent of total federal spending.
What this means in dollars and cents spent on behalf of each person in the country is easy to compute using the U.S. Census Bureau estimate that the country’s population in 2009 slightly exceeded 307 million: Per capita federal spending for NRE was just $114.49, dwarfed by the $2,139.24 spent for every man, woman and child on national defense.
That’s just 31 cents per day spent on my (or your) behalf to preserve the environment versus $5.86 spent daily in one’s name for national defense.
Human population is the unspoken elephant in the room driving environmental crises
It is hard to come up with a looming environmental problem not ultimately rooted in human population expansion, be it a local issue like traffic congestion, litter and air & drinking water pollution or more global concerns like ocean fish depletion, deforestation, species extinction and global climate change.
We humans currently number 6.9 billion and continue to swell the planet by nearly 80 million more each year. Almost half of us are under the age of 25, and, if present trends continue, we will double in number before 2060.
The United States does not earn a pass when it comes to population pressures on the environment, in part because our per capita resource consumption and waste production dwarf that of much of the rest of the world. Furthermore, the Central Intelligence Agency tracks birth rates, and although the current U. S. birth rate (13.8 births per 1000 people per year) is roughly one-third that of several African countries, 69 other countries have lower birth rates.
The U.S. population has continued to rise by roughly three million each year over the last two decades with the latest total estimate topping 307 million. By the end of this century, there could well be 570 million of us, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Given these harrowing projections and the monumental environmental dilemmas we face already, you would think that candidly stated strategies to stabilize the population, at home and abroad, would be a priority at every level of government. Not so.
Huntington Beach is recognized by National Resources Defense Council for energy efficiency
Residents of Huntington Beach (HB) can take pride in being the only Orange County city that landed a spot this year on a list of 22 ‘Smarter Cities’ nationwide being recognized by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) for setting good examples for the rest of nation in the areas of green power, energy efficiency and conservation.
The announcement came at the end of July, and Long Beach is the only other city in southern California earning this distinction. The NRDC extended initial consideration to all 655 U.S. municipalities with populations of at least 50,000.
HB and other Orange County cities made an initial cut because the county’s CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, as measured for 2002 by a North American monitoring program called Project Vulcan, averaged 1.8 tons per capita which met the qualifying per capita cut off of less than 2.5 tons. That HB alone made the final list reflects both the city’s record in improving the energy efficiency of its city facilities and its community outreach efforts to empower residents to save energy and money.
Recharge solar lanterns and small electronics with solar rechargers
Does the prospect of spending a weekend away from your favorite e-gadgets (cell phone, laptop, iPod or PDA) stir up separation anxiety? Around our house we’ve dubbed this e-angst, and it can kill enthusiasm for an otherwise welcome family camping vacation.
For teens or adults similarly infected with e-angst, a diversity of devices are on the market which let you bring your e-gadgets along with you camping and also trim your carbon footprint because they utilize only sunshine for power.
Solar chargers An assortment of portable solar-powered chargers is available that adapt to virtually any handheld electronic appliance including digital cameras and GPS units. Most rely on photovoltaic silicon cell technology akin to what is used on rooftop solar panels. Many are small enough to fit in a back pocket or certainly a glove box so can travel with you virtually anywhere. The cost is as little as $15 on up to $150 depending on the capacity. Because rechargeable batteries are incorporated, gadgets can be recharged even after the sun goes down. Small electronics generally charge in 2-4 hours.
There’s no shortage of finger-pointing as the now worst oil spill in U.S. history continues its assault on the Gulf Coast’s ecology and economy.
A USA TODAY/Gallop Poll taken in late May, for example, found that 73 percent of Americans feel that BP (British Petroleum) is doing a ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ job of handling the crisis, and 60 percent evaluated the federal government’s response in the same unfavorable terms.
Confronted with images of birds swathed in crude oil and prognostications that the Gulf region’s fishing and tourism industries might never recover, the urge to form a posse, so to speak, to rout out those responsible and hold them accountable is all too human.
But are we Americans shocked enough yet by the enormity of this calamity to own up to our personal role in it? After all, it’s ultimately our nation’s energy-intense lifestyle and attachment to fossil fuels that gives companies like BP and our government the implicit go-ahead to pursue oil at the risk of the very kind of disaster now ensuing.
Unless you’re a physicist or energy wonk of some sort, hearing that the average yearly per capita energy consumption in the United States in 2008 was 337 million Btu probably tells you little about your energy footprint. Knowing that a Btu is an energy standard equivalent to 252 calories – about what’s contained in a Snickers candy bar – is probably of little help either.
That’s why Professor of Physics Richard Wolfson of Middlebury College has been giving demonstrations for the last decade which impart a real gut-level, hands-on feel for the energy it takes to support the typical American lifestyle.
His demonstration is simple but ingenious. A volunteer is asked to turn a hand crank which, through a geared system, drives an electric generator connected to two 100-watt incandescent light bulbs.
Surf City Voice as What is Organic Food and is it Worth it?‘ May 26, 2010
New organic standards insure greater access to pasture for grazing.
Presented with two equal-priced apples or cheeses – one organic and the other produced with conventional methods – which would you choose? Does upping the price of the organic product by 10-40 percent change your mind?
Will knowing that substituting organic for conventional fruits and vegetables drastically reduces the body’s burden of pesticides alter your choice?
Such decisions have become routine for even mainstream shoppers who’ve never set foot in a specialty health food store, now that Wal-Mart and major supermarket chains are competing with their own organic product lines and corporate giants, such as General Mills and Kraft, have jumped into the organic market under different brand names like Cascadian Farms and Boca.
What consumers believe about the differences between organic and conventional foods, and the value they place on those differences, will obviously drive their choices. However, most people probably have only a rough idea of what an organic label signifies and even sketchier knowledge of how conventional foods are produced, leaving them ill-equipped to make an informed choice.
Americans have grown suspicious of tap water quality, yet it’s doubtful many could name a single contaminant they imagine spewing from their faucets. Blind faith once placed in the public water supply is being transferred to bottled water, even though the average citizen probably knows equally little about pollutants that might lurk there too.
Thanks to the non-profit organization Environmental Working Group (EWG) for creating the largest-ever national drinking water-quality database, most everyone now can read about the levels and health risks of specific pollutants found in their tap water. Unfortunately, the news is not great overall.
EWG’s database covers 48,000 communities in 45 states and catalogues millions of water quality tests performed by water utilities between 2005 and 2009.
Among the nation’s most populous cities, Pensacola, FL, Riverside, CA and Las Vegas, NV were rated the worst for water quality, testing positive for between 33 and 39 different contaminants across five years. Arlington, TX, Providence, RI and Fort Worth, TX ranked best with just four to seven pollutants each. The national average was eight pollutants.
What do breast milk, food cans, microwave popcorn, and fast-food French fry boxes have in common with meat, fish and dairy products? They’re all avenues of human ingestion of potentially harmful chemicals associated with everyday plastics.
Although the jury is still out on what levels of exposure are unsafe, it is indisputable that we are all literally consuming chemicals from plastics daily.
Biomonitoring projects – like the 2005 BodyBurden study of cord blood in neonates and the Mind, Disrupted investigation of blood and urine in adults representing the learning & developmental disabilities community just published in February 2010 – consistently find neurotoxic and endocrine-disrupting chemicals used in common plastics among the substances routinely tainting human tissues. Although diet is not the only route of exposure, it is considered a major one.
Given that developing fetuses and young children are most vulnerable to environmental toxins, understanding how exposure occurs through ordinary diets, and how to avoid it, has become a growing societal concern.
Three constituents of common plastics that find their way into food or drinks are described below, all linked to ill health effects in humans and lab animals. In the Mind, Disrupted study, the subjects universally tested positive for all three: bisphenol-A, brominated flame retardants, and perfluorinated compounds. The variety of avenues into the human diet is surprising.
Which consumes more fossil fuels, lawn maintenance with gas-powered tools or lawn watering? For residents of Southern California, the correct answer is watering because of the energy it takes to transport water to the region.
Southern California (SoCal) is a semi-arid desert. Rainfall averages only 15 inches per year, for example, in the Los Angeles area. Local water sources have fallen far short of meeting the region’s water needs for more than a century.
With 2/3 of the state’s rainfall in Northern California and 2/3 of the water demand in SoCal, the State deals with this imbalance by pumping in half of SoCal’s water supply from sources hundreds of miles away, the Colorado River and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
The Water-Electricity Relationship
Piping water long distances is costly in terms of electricity, especially water imported from the Delta which has to be pumped uphill 2,000 ft to get over the Tehachapi Mountains.
In a first ever analysis of the energy embedded in bringing potable water to residential faucets and hoses in SoCal, a 2005 Calif Energy Commission analysis calculated 11,111 kWh/MG (kilowatt hours per million gallons), three times costlier than in Northern California. Most of the electricity is for water transportation, much less for water treatment and maintaining water pressure. Every 100 gallons of imported water eats up enough electricity to keep a 100 W bulb lit for 11 hours.
This holiday season, parents shopping for children can rest just a tad easier because of a recent California law restricting the use of toxic phthalate plasticizers in toys and childcare products made of plastic. Additional legislative efforts to rein in two other classes of chemicals suspected of posing health risks to youngsters, bisphenol A and halogenated flame retardants, emerged this year in the State Senate, although neither met with success.
But, perhaps the best news is that California has enacted laws establishing a groundbreaking precautionary approach to the oversight of chemicals that should soon make such painstaking chemical-by-chemical regulation a thing of the past.
Peace Lily ranks in the top 10. Photo courtesy of Noodle snacks.
Eliminating indoor air pollution can be as simple as dotting your house or office with potted plants, according to research stretching back as far as the space program of the 1980s.
It’s a widely held misconception that staying indoors avoids exposure to air pollutants. Indoor air quality, in fact, is usually worse because contaminants that emanate from a vast assortment of consumer products add to the pollution that drifts in from the outside.
Given that urban dwellers pass 90% of their time inside, any strategy to improve indoor air quality is of widespread interest, especially one as appealing and environmentally sustainable as adding potted plants to the décor.
Also see an update to this article,Too Fewer Toxins in Toyland, that incorporates stalled legislation in California aimed at protecting young children from risky chemicals.
California has moved to restrict use of toxic phthalate plasticizers in PVC children's toys. Photo courtesy of Center for Environmental Health and Justice.
This holiday season, parents shopping for children can rest a tad easier because of a recent California law restricting the use of toxic phthalate plasticizers in toys and childcare products made of plastic. Additional classes of chemicals suspected of posing health risks to children, bisphenol A and halogenated flame retardants, could be reined in before long too, pending the fate of two struggling state senate bills.
But, perhaps the best news of all is that California has enacted laws establishing a groundbreaking precautionary approach to the oversight of all chemicals that should soon make painstaking chemical-by-chemical regulation a thing of the past.
Suburban Habitat Restoration: One Backyard at a Time by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
Yards certified through the National Wildlife Federation can post this sign.
Whether you fret over dwindling rainforests or attribute disappearance of neighborhood cats to displaced coyotes, most of us recognize loss of wildlife habitats as a growing environmental concern.
As an alternative to hand-wringing, the National Wildlife Federation offers ordinary citizens the means to take action by establishing a Certified Wildlife Habitat in their own backyard. It’s not only enjoyable but very easy. I know because I did it in a matter of weeks despite starting out a gardening illiterate unable to name one in ten plants in my own yard.
Here’s how the program works. A yard has to qualify in all five areas outlined below, but each offers a wide range of options and only one to three is required per category. Then there’s a two-page checklist to fill out – works on the honor system – and a $15 processing fee. That’s it.
San Fernando Valley Sierra Club newsletter, May-June, 2006 & July 2009
So You Like that “New Car Smell?” Think again. (#10 of the Plastic Plague Series)
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
Your car’s interior is a major source of exposure to two classes of toxic chemicals, according to a first-of-its-kind report from the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Titled Toxic At Any Speed, the study measured levels of PBDEs (flame retardants) and phthalates (used to soften plastics) in both interior car dust and windshield film samples from cars made by 11 leading auto manufacturers.
These chemicals exude from seat covers, instrument panels, floor coverings and other plastic parts. Studies in lab animals have linked exposure to a variety of health effects, Read the rest of this entry »
Southern Sierran, Sept. 2009, as Caveat Shopper: You Can’t Always Trust Those Food Labels.
Full disclosure on food labels is more critical as controversial food processing practices become commonplace. Photo courtesy of illuminating9_11 at flickr.com.
As the food supply is increasingly altered by controversial practices like liberal use of antibiotics, genetic engineering and irradiation, food labels take on greater significance as shoppers’ only link to how products are produced. Depending on what issues matters most to consumers, what labels do not say can be more meaningful than what they do.
To get a handle on contentious food processing techniques that food labels don’t disclose, it’s helpful first to understand what is mandated. Oversight is split between the USDA, which enforces labeling on meat, poultry and some egg products, and the FDA, which covers most other foods.
Most foods sold in grocery stores are required to sport an “information panel” that lists:
Nutrition Facts detailing the calories, fats, protein and other nutrients
the manufacturer, packer or distributor.
Major Food Allergens (e.g. peanuts), relevant inspections (like USDA) and special handling instructions (such as “Keep Refrigerated”) must also be declared.
However, providing Nutrition Facts on raw foods, like fruits and vegetables, seafood, meat and poultry, is only voluntary but is often posted anyway on the display case.
Fish labels must also specify whether it is wild-caught or farm-raised and, for the latter, if colorant was added to the feed to turn their naturally gray flesh pink. In California, a previous requirement that canned tuna carry a warning label about the potential dangers from mercury was struck down in the State Superior Court in 2006.
Groundbreaking legislation, which would have made California the first state to prohibit feeding antibiotics to healthy livestock meant for human consumption, was voted down on June 3 (SB 416, Florez). This practice is employed routinely at large-scale industrial cattle, hog and poultry operations to hasten growth and prevent the spread of disease.
San Fernando Valley Sierra Club newsletter, May 2007
What My Solor Roof Taught Me: Knowledge Really Does = Power by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
My solar roof cost $15,000 to install after rebates and tax breaks, but the value of the house increased by $20,000 and the power bills decreased to $0.
I was pretty clueless when I recently installed photovoltaic (solar) panels on the roof of my house. All I knew was that all forms of energy consumption contribute to global warming (not just driving) and that I wanted to be part of the solution. I was nothing short of giddy when the “consumption wheel” on my electricity meter started turning backwards for the first time, veritable proof that I was generating more electricity than I was using. Energy was flowing from my rooftop right onto the grid.
Elation soon gave way to curiosity, however, just like after I had purchased a hybrid Prius and could not help but experiment with ways to maximize my gas mileage. My new passion centered on how to insure an energy surplus on my next electric bill. Switching out the incandescent light bulbs in my house for energy saving compact fluorescent ones was a no brainer. But I also had to get acquainted with my household appliances along a totally new dimension: I needed to know how much energy a given appliance consumes when in use so I could make more informed decisions when contemplating turning it on. Here is what I found out. Read the rest of this entry »
Alarms Sound Over Safety of Nanotechnology
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
Multi-walled carbon nanotubes exhibit unique properties. Photo courtesy of PEN.
For the nine in ten Americans who know next to nothing about nanotechnology (NT), there is little time to waste in getting up to speed because, ready or not, the ‘NT revolution’ is well underway with new nano-engineered consumer products entering the market weekly.
Another reason, as voiced by consumer protection, health, and environmental organizations, is that NT products are being sold without adequate safety testing and government oversight.
The actual number of NT products in commerce is unknown because there is no labeling or reporting requirement. However, over 800 have been tabulated by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN), an online inventory of manufacturer-identified NT goods funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. In 2007, at least $147 billion in global manufactured goods incorporated NT, encompassing such varied products as cosmetics, clothing, food, food packaging, and dietary supplements. PEN estimates that figure will reach $2.6 trillion by 2014.
A Wave of Green Hits Surfing Industry
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
At first glance, surfing might seem like an inherently earth-friendly sport. Surfers paddle out and catch waves by sheer force of will and muscle. No need for fossil fuel-burning speed boats to get around. And, surfers have a reputation for caring about ocean pollution.
But a closer look reveals that, like most human activities, the environmental impact is far from nil and, consequently, there’s a nascent movement within the surfing industry to clean up it its act.
The Essentials The bare necessities of surfing are surfboard, wetsuit, good waves and wheels to and fro. The waves are courtesy of Mother Nature, but the choices surfers make to otherwise outfit themselves determine the toll on the environment.
Vall-E-Vents, newsletter for Sierra Club San Fernando Valley, May 2009.
The Ecology of Loving and Leaving Your Cell Phone Sarah S. Mosko Ph.D.
Given all the environmental costs of cell phones, certainly the most eco-friendly cell is the one you already own.
It’s not much of a stretch to liken America’s relationship with cells phones to a once sizzling romance that ends in good bye.
Fated love affairs typically begin with blind infatuation and fiery passion before reality sets in, cooling the embers enough to allow more guarded, sometimes less attractive aspects of the self to surface. Interest wanes until the love object is abandoned or replaced by an alluring new one.
Americans relate to cell phones in much the same way. An old phone, with once novel features that drew fascination, is discarded with hardly a thought when an updated model makes it seem obsolete. That consumers replace cell phones about every two years – with Californians purchasing in a single year nearly one new cell for every two state residents – makes this analogy seem less silly.
Orange Coast Voice newspaper as Gov. Schwarzenegger earns mixed reviews, Jan. 2009, p. 3.
Vall-E-Vents, newsletter for Sierra Club San Fernando Valley, as Gov. Schwarzenegger’s Latest Scorecard on the Environment?, March 2009.
Schwarzenegger’s Latest Scorecard on the Environment?
Mixed as usual
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
Gov. Schwarzenegger hosted a summit on global climate in November, 2008 in Los Angeles.
Throughout his tenure as governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger has earned mixed reviews from the environmental community for his positions on environmental issues. Last September, during the final throes of the 2007-2008 legislative session, reactions again ranged from standing ovations for his signature on groundbreaking new protections against hazardous chemicals to cries of foul play for the veto of legislation to clean up polluted air in the state’s port cities.
The following highlights the fate of several bills impacting California’s environment as they passed through the governor’s desk in the eleventh hour.
Toxic Chemicals Roughly 100,000 chemicals are in use today, most without any environmental or human safety testing under antiquated federal regulation dating back three decades.
An edited version of this post appeared in the Orange Coast Voice newspaper, December 2008, page 11.
Disneyland Boasts Eco-Friendly Policies
But could it be doing more?
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
Walt Disney designed Disneyland Resort for enchantment, an oasis free of cares where everything wondrous seems possible. Worries over the park’s environmental impact were probably not at the forefront of his mind, although he is often quoted for voicing appreciation that natural resources are not inexhaustible and that nature must be preserved for future generations.
But the environment is in a lot more trouble today than it was when Disneyland opened in 1955, so it’s fair to ask, “How green is the Happiest Place on Earth today?”
Disneyland is really akin to a small city, employing 20,000 employees and passing double that many guests through the turnstiles daily. Entertaining, feeding and managing the waste of a mob that size in an environmentally responsible fashion is no easy task.
Evironmentality is the Disney trademark program that aims to keep Walt Disney’s conservation legacy alive through diverse environmental policies, some visible to parkgoers. For example, the lagoon scenes in the recently opened Nemo Submarine Voyage were colored using crushed glass from discarded bottles, and the subs are propelled by an innovative zero-emission magnetic coil system, eliminating the need for hundreds of thousand of gallons of diesel fuel each year.
According to a recent investigation, divorce creates pretty hefty costs to the environment. Courtesy Orange Coast Voice
Stay Married to Stay Green
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
If you are looking for reasons to patch up a rocky marriage, here is one you have probably overlooked – do it for the planet! While it is common knowledge that divorce can be costly to the pocketbook, a recent investigation exposes pretty hefty costs to the environment too.
Divorce is on the rise in the United States as evidenced by an increase in divorced households (households with divorced heads) from 5% to 15% of total households between 1970 and 2000. The proportion of married households (with married heads) sank from 69% to 53% over this same interval.
One spouse typically moves out during a divorce. Michigan State University researchers Eunice Yu and Jianaguo Liu hypothesized that this splitting of families should translate into more but smaller households with loss of resource use efficiency on a per person basis. Their predictions were in fact borne out by tapping into the largest publicly available census based on individual U.S. households – the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series-USA.
Appeared in San Fernando Valley Sierra Club newsletter in September, 2008.
Bureaucratic Red Tape Casts Dark Cloud Over California’s Solar Initiative
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D
Bureaucratic red tape seriously hampered the California Solar Initiative. Illustration by Willis Simms.
California’s Solar Initiative (CSI) went into effect in January 2007, promising to boost solar electric-panel installations on both residential and commercial roofs. Instead, the law has seriously backfired because of bureaucratic red tape.
CSI aimed to put CA at the forefront of solar-generated electricity by offering customers rebates subsidized via the imposition of a surcharge on electricity bills. The plan was that increased demand would drive down costs over time and eventually make the program self-sustaining. However, two fatal flaws in the law have literally boomeranged its stated intent.
Better Food Choices Get Better Results in Global Warming Battle than Food Miles Reduction
By Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
California Certified Farmers' Markets let genuine California farmers sell their fresh-picked crops directly to the public in over 500 communities throughout the state.
“Buying local” has become a mantra of many committed to shrinking their personal climate footprint by limiting the miles their food travels from producer to plate. The increasing globalization of food supplies has served to fan this trend.
However, a new study finds that what you eat has a far greater impact on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than where that food was produced. What’s more, saying no to red meat and dairy products even one day a week matters more than buying local all week long.
Number crunchers Christopher Weber and Scott Matthews at Carnegie Mellon University drew on U.S. government statistics from 1997 to expose the entire life-cycle GHG emissions associated with the diet of the average American household.
Emissions fell into one of four categories, starting with upstream supply chain transportation wherein equipment and supplies are supplied to food producers. Then comes the food production phase, followed by final delivery transportation from point of production to retailer. The latter is synonymous with so-called food-miles that are the focus of advocates of buying local. The fourth source of emissions occurs during wholesaling and retailing and includes store heating and air-conditioning and food refrigeration.
San Fernando Valley Sierra Club newsletter as The Dirt on Laundry Detergents, Nov 2008 & July 2009.
Orange Coast Voice as Dirty Detergent: Your laundry may not be so clean, July 2008, page 11.
The Dirt on Laundry Detergents
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
Not so clean: Human health issues arise because exposure to laundry products is continuous in most households.
As your fluffy, sweet-smelling, spotless laundry comes tumbling out of the dryer, images of oil rigs and synthetic chemical fabric residues probably never cross your mind. But today’s mainstream laundry detergents are heavily laden with man-made petro-chemicals, some representing risks to aquatic life and human health.
Historically, soaps were made by simply heating plant or animal oils with wood ashes, a strong alkali. The result is a two-ended compound called a surfactant that can rout out greasy soils because the oil-loving (lipophylic) end is attracted to oily dirt, budging it out of the fabric, while the water-loving (hydrophilic) end is attracted to the water, keeping the lifted dirt in the wash water.
A scarcity of such oils in WWII fostered the birth of synthetic laundry detergents (LDs) based instead on cheaper, petroleum-based surfactants that now dominate the market. The most common ones today are LAS (linear alkylbenzene sulphonate) and AS (alkyl sulphates).
Southern Sierran, June 2009 as ‘Thinking Outside the Dump: Zero Waste’
Fullerton Observer, Oct. 2009, page 11, as ‘Zero Waste: Thinking Outside the Dump’
Let’s Get Out of This Dump
by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D .
Our throw-away habits are making a dump out of our world.
A fond memory from my childhood is of visiting the neighborhood “dump” with my dad to drop off whatever refuse, like old tires, we could not burn in our backyard incinerator.
Nowadays, the local dump has been supplanted by centralized landfills, and major restrictions have been placed on backyard incineration. Our waste stream has been transformed also since the introduction of petroleum-based plastics, single-use disposables, and packaging excess. Too, products once designed for durability and repair have been replaced with flimsier versions intended to be tossed and replaced.
This article updated August 2009
Appeared in Orange Coast Voice newspaper May 2008, page 11.
Potted Plants Ease Indoor Air Pollution by Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
Australian researchers heeded by Margaret Burchett at the University of Technology have revealed fascinating twists on the potted plant story. Photo courtesy Orange County Voice.
It is a widespread misconception that staying indoors avoids exposure to air pollutants.
Indoor air quality, in fact, is generally worse because contaminants that arise from a vast assortment of consumer products add to the pollution that drifts in from the outside. Given that urban dwellers pass 90% of their time inside, strategies to improve indoor air quality are of interest to nearly everyone.
Indoor Air Chemistry
The chief forms of pollutants generated indoors are known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that off-gas primarily from common petroleum-based products. They are impossible to avoid since the sources are nearly endless: furniture, carpeting, paints, varnishes, paint strippers, synthetic building materials, air fresheners, cleaning solutions, toilet bowl deodorizers, personal care products, tobacco smoke, pesticides, and solvents in inks and adhesives.
The number of VOCs is also long – the U.S. EPA indicated that more than 900 had been identified in indoor air in a 1989 Report of Congress. While some pose no known danger to health, others are Read the rest of this entry »
Southern Sierran as Firefighters Back Ban on Flame Retardants, July 2008, page 2
Orange Coast Voice as Toxic Flame Retardants: Ubiquitious but toxic BFRs are everywhere, even the Artic, April 2008, page 11
Firefighters Back Banning Controversial Flame Retardant
Sarah S. Mosko, Ph.D.
BFRs are so ubiquitous that they are found in remote areas of the Artic and throughout the food chain, from zooplankton to dolphins and polar bears.
Your TV, mattress, couch and computer could be sources of man-made toxic chemicals building up in human tissues, including breast milk. Sounds crazy, but it’s not.
Many consumer products are imbued with a class of flame retardants considered by many to be bad news since they accumulate in fatty tissues, resist breakdown in the environment, and disrupt normal development in lab animals. They are called polybrominated diphenyl ethers or just brominated flame retardants (BFRs).
Introduced in the 1970’s, BFRs have become commonplace in upholstery foam, textiles and electronics because synthetic materials, like petroleum-based plastics, are generally more flammable. BFRs impede the spread of fire bycreating a layer of bromine gas around a heated product, keeping oxygen at bay. They comprise up to 30% of an item’s weight and migrate out over time into air, dust, and soil. Read the rest of this entry »