Pray for Us

Are you happy now, 
      secure in your warm houses and cars  
As the rain falls and the grass 
      grows  in what ought to be cold December? 
May our children forgive us 
      our complacency and our pride 
As we ignore the changing climate 
      for our convenience. 

As the rain falls and the grass 
      grows  in what ought to be cold December, 
Say a prayer for the polar bear 
      ice crumbling under her feet 
As we ignore the changing climate 
      for our convenience, 
For the sake of our laziness, 
      in the name of saving time. 

Say a prayer for the polar bear 
      ice crumbling under her feet 
Say a prayer for the coral reef 
      bleaching and dying in warming, acidic water 
For the sake of our laziness, 
      in the name of saving time 
We destroy the world. 

Say a prayer for the coral reef 
      bleaching and dying in warming, acidic water 
Are you happy now? 
May our children forgive us 
      our complacency and our pride 
We are destroying the world.
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Giants of the Earth #poetry

Giants there were in the earth in those days
Striding across the hills, walking the land
Giants roamed along all the world-ways
Monsters, phantasms, vanished from their advance

They warmed their cold hands with enormous fires
Giants there were in the earth in those days
Flying across the sky, fast as a blink
The whole world was like their back lawn

Giants roamed along all the world-ways
Sea animals grew deaf, and land animals trembled
In the age of the thundering giants.
Giants there were in the earth in those days.

Much was lost and forgotten — a butterfly’s kiss,
The wind’s buffet, and snow softly falling
Giants roamed along all the world-ways
Rising ever higher yet forgetting

Their roots — who they are and where they came from.
Giants there were in the earth in those days,
Giants roamed along all the world-ways.

We are the giants.

Mini Movie Review: Bidder 70 #climatechange

Had an interesting evening — I went to the local film watching group, Film for Thought, and saw Bidder 70, about Tim DeChristopher, who spoiled the BLM’s auction of oil and gas fields in Utah a few years ago.

Excellent, thought-provoking movie. I was really struck by how DeChristopher becomes a prophet for the anti-climate-change activists and how they rally around him and create a movement in support of him.

I highly recommend the movie.

Book Review: Dolphin Diaries

I absolutely loved Dolphin Diaries: My 25 Years with Spotted Dolphins in the Bahamas by Dr. Denise L. Herzing. Dr. Herzing has spent every summer since 1985 swimming with and researching spotted dolphins in the Bahamas. Her work with the same groups of dolphins every year has allowed her to gain the dolphins’ trust and be allowed to see the intimate details of their lives.

Dr. Herzing writes with love and affection for the beautiful, intelligent animals. Before reading this book, I knew that dolphins were intelligent, but I had no idea just how smart they are.

Unfortunately, the dolphin communities Dr. Herzing works with were decimated by the hurricanes of 2008 (a devastating season that included Hurricane Katrina). She is still working and studying in the Bahamas, but some of her work has changed since 2008 in light of the terrible losses the dolphin communities sustained.

In the final chapter of the book, Dr. Herzing draws the reader’s attention to the many dangers faced by dolphins worldwide, almost all at the hands of humans. Did you know that almost all dolphins in captivity, especially those in shows, were captured in the wild — ripped away from their families for the pleasure of humans? Dr. Herzing’s words are biting on the topic of captive dolphins, particularly those for shows and human therapy.

If you read only one chapter in the Dolphin Diaries, read the last one.

Four out of five stars.

Newspaper Column: Smart Meters and Wiretapping

Older US residential electric meter location, ...

Image via Wikipedia

The Central Committee of the Bonneville Republican Party has lately become concerned with, and passed a resolution against, smart meter installation by Idaho Falls Power. Their concerns have been dismissed both by this newspaper and by Jackie Flowers, head of Idaho Falls Power.

I believe that their concerns about privacy and wiretapping are not overblown. It is possible to tell what someone is doing in their house, even down to which television show they are watching (according to a study by the Münster University of Applied Sciences http://tinyurl.com/smartmeters-tv or http://tinyurl.com/smartmeters-german for the original German), with smart meters.

I do not believe that Idaho Falls Power is deliberately installing smart meters in people’s homes to spy on them. However, I also do not believe that Idaho Falls Power is doing enough to reassure customers that the smart meter data will not be misused.

When I spoke to an Idaho Falls Power employee, Mark Reed, in 2009, about smart meters, he was quite reassuring that the utility would never misuse the data from the smart meters. However, one aspect that we did not discuss, because I had not thought about it enough, was that the smart meter data is radio-transmitted and can theoretically be read by anyone with a receiver to receive that frequency. I have since learned that smart meters usually have little or no security for their data transmissions, so it’s easy for others to obtain.

Many people dismiss concerns about smart meter privacy by saying there is no conspiracy among utilities and city government or police to find out what citizens are doing in their homes. I would agree, but without proper security for the radio transmissions, anyone with the proper (easily obtainable) equipment can read them. Do you want your neighbor to know which TV shows you watch? I start seedlings for my garden with a heat mat – what if a busybody concluded the spike in my electrical consumption combined with purchases of potting soil meant I was growing marijuana?

Smart meters are probably the wave of the future, but we do not have to blindly accept them without safeguards. Why is Idaho Falls Power so secretive about the security levels of the smart meters? Until they can clearly explain why my personal data is not at risk with a smart meter, I for one don’t want a smart meter.

This column originally appeared in the (Idaho Falls) Post Register on December 14, 2011.

———————————

Since I wrote this column, it has come to my attention that some people have serious concerns about the health risks of smart meters. In California, they have organized a group called Stop Smart Meters. Here is an article about them in the San Francisco Chronicle: PG&E SmartMeter draws customer rebellion.

 

We are changing the Earth … but should we?

English: Ice age Earth at glacial maximum. Bas...

Image by alpoma via Flickr

We have entered the Anthropocene, the age of humans manipulating the Earth so much that we are altering its very geology and nutrient cycles, such as the nitrogen and carbon dioxide cycles.

But just because we can manipulate it, doesn’t mean we should. Stop mountaintop coal mining today. The human and environmental toll is simply too high. From entire towns relocated, to valleys filled with coal slurry, to dead children killed by dislodged boulders, to  disappearing mountains and men dead of cancer at 22, the toll is simply too high. What right do we have to demand people’s lives to answer our greed for energy to fuel our lifestyles?

Would you give up your plastic?

Plastic piping and firestops being installed i...

Image via Wikipedia

We all know that plastic is made from oil, and peak oil is either here or coming soon. Plastic is ubiquitous, and some of it isn’t very good for you, like BPA.

Today, I have used plastic on or in:

  • breakfast rice milk
  • breakfast cereal — in a plastic bag originally and stored in plastic here
  • drinking glasses
  • lunch (packaging for bread & cheese)
  • plates
  • dessert (packaging for cake mix and icing)
  • hygiene (body wash, plastic pumps for hand soap, shampoo)
  • water (reused bottle)
  • and much, much more

Some people are willing to give up almost all plastic. Do you think giving up plastic will improve your health? What about the health of the planet? Or is it a feel-good, useless frill improving the psychological well-being of environmentalists?

Will You Turn Out Your Lights?

Earth Hour 2008 - Sydney, Australia cc-by- Eri...

Image via Wikipedia

In half an hour (my local time), Earth Hour begins. All across the world today, at 8:30 pm local time, the lights are going out to draw attention to human resource use and the impact it has on our planet.

Some people think it is a useless demonstration, others think that it makes a real point and a real difference?

What do you think?

Want your daily dose of BPA?

Become a cashier in a store that uses receipts printed on thermal paper. A new article in Science News, Receipts are a Large — and Largely Ignored — Source of BPA, claims that the average receipt on thermal paper contains 2.5 percent of a person’s daily dose of BPA. This probably isn’t a problem for the average consumer, but cashiers, particularly if pregnant, could conceivably be getting their daily dose or more by handling the receipt paper.

BPA is used in plastics production and is a hormone mimic and

has been tied to health risks from behavior problems to obesity and heart ailments.

There is tentative evidence that not only does the BPA easily transfer from paper to skin, but that it may be absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream. Certainly it would be a good idea not to touch your face after handling receipts, as mucous membranes (think of your eyes, and the inside of your nose and mouth) are very good at absorbing things into your bloodstream, much better than your skin.

Cashiers might be tempted to wear gloves, but according to another article in Science News, Cashiers may face special risks from BPA, that is a bad idea. Gloves are often a poor barrier to small molecules like BPA. The BPA will most likely permeate the glove and then be trapped next to the skin, making it more likely to be absorbed into the skin.

Children also should not be handling receipts, in my opinion. I will describe how to calculate the probable amount of BPA in a receipt (using numbers from the article), and compare that to the daily dosage of 50 micrograms per kilogram of body weight thought by U.S. and European agencies to be tolerable (also in the article).

How to calculate BPA in a receipt and compare to (probably tolerable) daily dosage level:

  1. Estimate weight of receipt. Probably .1 gram (I’m sorry I can’t be more precise, my postal scale won’t go so low)
  2. Multiply by 1 million to convert grams to micrograms = 100,000 micrograms receipt
  3. Each receipt has 1.09 to 1.70 percent BPA by mass (Warner). We’ll use 1.70 to get the high estimate (worst case scenario). Multiply 100,000 by .017 = 1700 micrograms BPA in the receipt.
  4. Weigh yourself. I’m in the U.S., so let’s take 150 lbs as our example (no, it’s not my weight, I have to put something here :) ). If you’re in the U.S. like me, divide the weight in pounds by 2 to estimate weight in kilograms. Skip this step if you live anywhere else. :)  So for U.S. readers, divide 150 by 2 to get 75 kilograms.
  5. Now, this is the complicated bit (because I have to type it out in this blog instead of just writing the equation out). We want to divide the micrograms of BPA in the receipt by kilograms of body weight to get the dosage of micrograms of BPA per kilogram body weight. Divide 1700 by 75 = 22.67 micrograms per kilogram of body weight.

Okay, that’s well within tolerable limits for the average adult woman. No worries there. But, that’s just one receipt. What if the woman is a cashier and handles receipts and the rolls of paper they are printed on all day? She might be getting worrisome dosage levels.

BPA affects development, so children and babies can be especially affected. Let’s take a 30 pound child, a typical weight for a 2 or 3 year old. After we do all the math, the toddler will get 133.33 micrograms BPA per kilogram of body weight. That is well beyond the safe range with just one receipt. Don’t let your children play with your store receipts.

On July 15, the (U.S.) Environmental Protection Agency launched a BPA Alternatives in Thermal Paper Partnership. The program is recruiting paper companies, receipt-paper retailers, environmental groups, chemical companies and trade organizations to brainstorm ways to move “towards safer alternatives.”

I hope they come up with something, and there are some safer alternatives, one of which is used by Appleton Papers, the largest thermal paper producer in the U.S., but for now, there is no way for cashiers and consumers to tell which kind of paper they are using.

It never ends

If it’s not one thing, it’s another, for humanity. Wheat rust, the former fungal scourge of wheat, is back. Defeated by the discovery of a gene that conferred immunity to the wheat carrying it (that also increased yields and ushered in the Green Revolution), wheat rust survived in a remote corner of Africa. It has spent the past forty years evolving the ability to infect wheat with the immunity gene.

Eleven years ago, researchers confirmed the existence of the new strain of wheat rust. It has now spread across eastern Africa, to South Africa and Yemen with seven different varieties. It spreads via the air, and is poised to enter Punjab and Australia, both huge wheat growing areas.

Scientists from several countries and organizations have now found several genes that, working together, will again confer immunity. But unlike last time, when the new seeds were also higher-yielding, the new seeds this time will reduce yields slightly. It is unlikely farmers will want to plant them. If they wait until their harvest is destroyed by rust, it will be too late.

There are places where famine has never gone away. But for most of the world, famine is a distant memory, carried away on an over-abundance of food. If the new varieties of seeds don’t work, or aren’t planted, famine will stalk the land again.

I read about this in the July 3rd edition of The Economist. I highly encourage you to read the entire article.

I am very discouraged by this article. Every time I think there might be news that means humanity just might survive the next century or so without reverting to Stone Age technology, then here comes more news that says, no, we’re out of luck (wheat rust, Asia urbanizing in a way that maximizes energy use and carbon dioxide emissions).

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