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http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/17/science/earth/17gas.html?_r=1&ref=waterpollution

After Wednesday’s presentation on fracking this crazy hot button issue has been on my mind. I looked for some more hard numbers on fracking and found this article. It details the findings and consequences of a Congressional investigation of fracking across several states. I noticed that the documentary Gasland, or at least the clips we saw, only took place in Texas. I know Texas has a lot of other drilling going on so that is expected, but I didn’t know that fracking was going on across 13 states. Also astonishing were the numbers the study found. Between the 14 biggest natural gas companies across the nation, 866 million gallons of hydrofracking fluid was used last year, not including water. The House Energy and Commerce Committee also found that a large proportion of this fluid contained anything from unidentified chemicals to known carcinogens to instant coffee (what?).

Okay, so, nothing we haven’t talked about before. But, as I was writing this post I happened upon another NYTimes article about controversy surrounding hydrofracking that provided some more insight. New York state has sued the federal government in an attempt to force an environmental impact statement to be done on a proposed fracking operation in the Delaware River basin. Seems like fracking projects are popping up all over.

The suit was filed by Eric Schneiderman who is quoted saying something I had suspected, but did not know for sure. In short he says that it’s about time the big companies stop drafting their own rules and regulations without a thorough environmental impact statement. Seems like a no brainer to me. With all the publicity and research going into this form of natural gas procurement, I don’t see how this unregulated drilling can continue like it is. There is just so much uncertainty surrounding the process and chemicals involved that I think it definitely warrants a better look by the government. These two articles together sum up my opinions on hydrofracking. Just follow the dollar! The companies making the profits, who are also making the rules, and only thinking about short-term gains. It’s too bad the legal system doesn’t force the companies to not only be more transparent, but to prohibit use of potentially harmful chemicals whose long term effects on the environment and human health. The legal system we operate today has so many loopholes and works so slowly we cannot keep up with sneaky corporations.

PS here’s the link to the second NYTimes article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/01/nyregion/new-york-sues-to-slow-rules-for-new-gas-drilling.html?ref=science

The great Pacific garbage patch was first recorded in a report published in 1988 by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) which discovered high accumulations of marine debris gathering North of  the Hawaiian archipelago in the Pacific Ocean.  The debris was gathering due to a convergence of ocean currents that trapped the debris in what is called the North Pacific Gyre.  Sailors who travelled through this area in the late 1990’s described sailing through a large area of floating marine debris but the area of pollution is much larger because much of the debris has broken down and is invisible to the naked eye.  Although the small debris is hard to investigate, there are larger sized pollutants that can float or remain submerged in the water columns such as discarded fishing gear and plastics that have not yet been broken down.  The best estimates have determined that the polluted area is about twice the size as Texas but the true size of the garbage patch is difficult to determine due to the miniscule size of the pollutants and the varying amounts of them found at different depths. Research at different depths in the ocean shows that most of the pollution concentrates in the upper water column where most marine life exists.   An astounding 80% of the pollution is reported to be from land-based sources while the other 20% is from ships.  The types of pollutants mostly include plastics which take many years to biodegrade.  Instead of biodegrading, the plastics are constantly being broken up into smaller and smaller pieces which then allow ingestion and contamination in marine life.  Other contaminants however, do decompose but also add toxic chemicals to the water column.  The small size of the plastics and the harmful chemicals are able to enter the food chain at all scales.  Larger pieces of garbage are mistaken as food by sea birds and turtles among other larger animals and can act as endocrine disruptors creating defects in reproduction and other biological processes necessary for survival.  Because of the knowledge of bioaccumulation and biomagnification, people are worried how human health may be affected by this pollution.  From what we know about ecology, pollution and health, the toxification of a marine habitat will lead to all scales of marine life becoming contaminated.  With most of the world’s fish already polluted with mercury due to industrial runoff and processes, negative effects on human health seem inevitable when contamination from plastics travels through the food chain and into what humans ingest.  The goal of this paper is to identify some of the most harmful toxins that exist in the North Pacific gyre and identify how bioaccumulation and biomagnification will affect wildlife and eventually humans.

After last week’s presentation on heavy metals and mercury in our food supply, I was reminded of this documentary I watched a few months ago.  The Cove, a documentary produced to shed light on Japan’s blatant illegal dolphin fishery as well as the problems of future health for many of Japan’s youth.  This movie was well produced and the film makers took much risk in getting the shots, sometimes putting themselves in jeopardy  with Japanese jail-time.  The filming location was the Japanese coastal fishing town of Taiji.  Since the Japanese have begun whaling, this has been an important port  for a base of operations and fishery development.  However, recently Taiji has been famous for other aquatic industries.  Many of the dolphins found in aquariums world wide are usually caught from the wild in Taiji.  This occurs in the yearly dolphin hunting drive.  Historically, these drives have been heavily criticized by eco-activists and environmentalists for it’s cruelty to the dolphins.  Many local fishermen intercept and drive dolphins into a bay by use of beating metal pipes on the side of their boat.  This noise somehow drives the dolphins into a cove where they are netted and sorted for prize aquarium dolphins.

But after the buyers go away what do the fishermen do with the hundreds live dolphins left in the net?  This is exactly what the documentary filmmakers hoped to find out.

The results stunned the world as The Cove won best documentary feature during the Academy Awards.  Not only did filmmakers prove that the extra dolphin were being taken to be slaughtered,  but that it was also being illegally being sold as whale meat and even put into the local school lunch program.  Since the release of The Cove, many local’s of Taiji are getting tested for levels of mercury poisoning.  According to the National Institute for Minamata Disease, tests from hail follicles from over 1000 local samples indicate that locals had about five times as much mercury in their blood than an average Japanese person would.

 

 

I watched Gasland several months ago and was extremely displeased with the negative impact hydraulic fracking has on the environment and how it results in the increase of dangerous chemicals in drinking water. The class presentation given on Wednesday about hydraulic fracking reminded me of this unsettling displeasure. Current hydraulic fracturing methods seem to fit right in, in our living in a toxic world course. The numerous amount of harmful chemicals used in fracking today have contributed significantly to the increase in toxicity of US water.

The hydraulic fracking industry is deceiving in that it tells the public that natural gas extraction has been around for decades and has been done safely. However, they fail to mention the fact that past extraction of natural gas did not contain chemicals. Older methods of natural gas extraction was much safer and less toxic than the methods used today. In the past, there was only a small amount of water used in the drilling operation and there was rarely any problems with ruined water wells and poisoned land. The most common problems in past natural gas extraction methods were a large amount of salt in the materials brought up during drilling and the brine that was recovered. This method of natural gas extraction caused very little problems and was definitely not as toxic as the hazardous chemical-based method used today. The current method for natural gas extraction can be seen in Gasland. This documentary made by Josh Fox shows the devastating effects that fracking has on drinking water and the organisms that drink that water. The fracking fluids have many harmful carcinogenic chemicals in them.

It is upsetting to know that there was once a safe method to extract natural gas, and now that people are obsessed with obtaining more and obtaining it at a faster rate that they are not considering the harmful impact that the chemicals used are having on the environment, ecosystems, and organisms (including humans) drinking this polluted, toxic water. If there were once safer methods to extract natural gas, why would we risk polluting the drinking water of millions of people and the ecosystems of an insurmountable number of organisms for a faster more toxic method?

This last post will discuss some local environmental toxins, and ways people have been trying to address them.

This story brings to light some notable toxicity in West Eugene. Relevant snippets of text:

“West Eugene Industrial Corridor…has  numerous industrial companies that produce telephone poles, railroad ties, paint, chemical resins and other substances.”

“97 percent of toxic air pollution in Eugene is emitted in that area.”

“58 percent of those surveyed detected air pollution through smell; 52 percent indicated they had respiratory problems; 12 percent had cardiovascular problems, and 34 percent saw their symptoms get worse when they detected pollution.”

“health problems cited included nausea, headaches, coughing, chest pains, fatigue and irregular heartbeats [and asthma].”

“Approximately 30,000 people live in the area. Many are poor, elderly, disabled or ethnic minorities. Many of the Latino families recently moved to this country and work manual labor jobs. All speak Spanish as a first language; not all could speak English.”

I found the most intriguing part of the article to be that, “34 percent saw their symptoms get worse when they detected pollution.” It repeats the questions we asked about Safe: is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?  Are their symptoms due to physical toxins, or personal interpretation of supposed toxins? I find myself not necessarily caring about the answer, as either way it would be largely solved if the toxic pollution could be reduced to a level that residents wouldn’t get sick over. It’s more important to address the damages we know about than to only act on perfect information, which is a rarity (some might say impossibility).

This website monitors level of pollen in the air; Eugene has reportedly the highest pollen levels in the United States. Pollen is certainly a concern for those who know they have allergies, but it may affect you even if your hometown didn’t. It’s a good idea to check out the symptoms and figure out if your sniffles and itchy eyes are due to pollen. It’s also a good idea to look at this if you have plans to be here for the summer, when the pollen levels should go even higher.

This post discusses some concerns of pesticide drift, which may be a concern for organics. While organics are required to be free of pesticides, if testing agencies are reporting “no exposure occurred,” instead of “[study is] inconclusive,” then even foods deemed safe may actually contain some pesticides.

And finally, links to the organizations that are working to address the problems listed above:

Pitchfork Rebellion

Oregon Toxics Alliance

Centro Latino Americano

I’d be remiss if I didn’t throw in a link to the Climate Justice League, we’re starting new campaigns in the fall. Come to our meetings if you’re interested in getting involved in solution-oriented student campaigns!

Sandra Steingraber’s LivingDownstream is an exploration of historical pollutants and pollutant control acts along with a narrative of stories that explain personal experiences and encounters with pollution and specifically its effects on health.  Steingraber’s own experience with cancer is explored and her thoughts and worries are projected into future generations.  Beginning with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, a shift in the way society views and values the environment has led to an interrogation of human degradation of the environment and ecosystem.  Steingraber’s book takes a critical look at the way society implements and regulates business and how that affects or degrades natural and personal health.  An overwhelming load of health and chemical statistics are presented to drive home the point that cancer rates have increased and yet we still know little to none about the pollutants we are exposing to both our environment and ourselves.    Steingraber’s book discusses the many scales of the pollution and health issue from the small personal choices an individual can make concerning their health to the industrial mechanism that creates emissions over entire communities.

The question of health and pollution is applicable on all scales.  On a personal scale, it is important to know what is going into your body through education and research.  On a community scale, it is important to decide the value of a clean environment.  On an economic scale, there must be a way to make a profit in a process that reduces harmful release of chemicals.  In agriculture, there must be a larger emphasis on health and nutrition instead of simply mass production.  For the government, there must be programs and funds set in place to lower the costs of production for healthy foods in order to allow access to the entire population.  Equity must be applied on all sized scales and interconnections must be identified to truly put together the web that makes up the question of pollution and health.  The precautionary principle is very useful in a complex, multi-scaled issue such as this one.  There is still so much unknown about the specific effects of pollution on health but what we know and what we think we know has led us to an understanding that health issues become much more frequent and complex when pollutants are present.

Steingraber makes suggestions for societal changes which mostly include decision making guidelines.  One is the Principle of Reverse Onus which forces substances to be proven safe within reason by the producers before use.  Another principle is Alternatives Assessment which means using the least harmful form to complete a task.  The final principle is the Precautionary Principle suggesting that it needs to be clear what substances can do to humans and the environment before widespread use.   Steingraber suggests a rethinking in how we view health and our relationship to the environment and its limited resources.

 

After talking about this invisible cycle of oppression manufacturing has developed I wanted to make something a little more visible. When I say the manufacturing cycle of oppression I am referring to all the detrimental and unjust conditions within the whole cycle. For example, from the dirty extraction processes ruining or toxifying people’s homes, to the poor working conditions of production, to the polluting and intensive transportation (to the blind developed countries), and then to the disposal and monstrous waste build up of some peoples trash in other peoples homes! 

 

As a lot of you probably know Nike is a major supporter for the University of Oregon, or some of you may argue for football at least ( I mean they look pretty fly with all the different jerseys). Anyways, I wanted to post some facts about NIke shoes that are mainly produced in Vietnam, China, India and Thailand. 

1. Nike produces 78 million shoes/year in China.

2. The labor cost for one $85 shos is only $2.50.

3. Some workers earn as much as .10/ hour and toiled for up to 17hrs per  day!

– Indonesia= $2.46/day         – Vietnam= $1.60/day     – China= $1.75/day

4. Workers can be fired for refusing over-time.

5. Workers are exposed to toxic chemicals. There has been report of compensation for working with hazardous chemicals.

                                                                          ( http://factsanddetails.com/china.php?itemid=365&catid=9&subcatid=60#08 )

This video shows some of the harmful effects of pesticide when it comes into contact with people. In the video the woman describes a block of her town that has been ravaged by a pesticide that drifted over the town. All in all, on just a single street in her neighborhood, 6-7 people died of various forms of cancer, including all three of her uncles.  This is an obscene amount of death to be caused by a pesticide, and in my opinion it reflects back to relaxed testing standards for chemicals. I mean, of all things, shouldn’t pesticides be thoroughly tested? They’re being sprayed onto our food and are often times being blown by the wind onto people having sometimes devastating, yet relatively invisible effects. The media downplays or doesn’t even bother to cover the incidents and the government denies any major events and considers them rare accidents. How many innocent lives does it take to realize that the usage of toxic chemicals is not a good thing? To what extent do migrant workers and other people in the communities have to suffer the health effects of pesticide drift before the government will actually acknowledge that this is a larger problem than they are framing it to be? The girl in the video has had to watch as people in her neighborhood have gotten sick and died from the chemicals that have drifted away from the crops that they were intended for. I can be realistic and know that the government is not going to stop producing and using chemicals, but something has to be done to rectify this situation. Just because there are undocumented farmers that are facing the brunt of the chemical toxicity doesn’t mean that they should be scared to ask for basic human rights. They can’t go to the doctor because they one, don’t have enough money, and two, they can’t bring attention to themselves without the threat of deportation from the government. I don’t really know how we can fix this situation, but we should start by holding our government accountable. They are the ones who have to approve the pesticides that go into our environment. If the government is elected for the people, by the people in order to protect the people, then why is it that the government is no longer protecting us? Why is it more convenient for them to ignore the issue of pesticide drift and its harmful effects and let people suffer and die then to confront the problem and offer solutions?

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304520804576345300167187410.html

This article describes Sweden’s decision, made today, to decide on an exit strategy to phase out all nuclear power supplying the country, “to ensure a secure and autonomous supply of energy,” says Energy Minister Doris Leuthard. She goes on to say the reason that sparked the decision was security concerns over the meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant. So, only by seeing the risks posed by a nuclear meltdown–after one has already happened–is a decision made that maaaybe nuclear power isn’t the best source of long-term energy generation.

Still, good for Sweden. They currently receive 40% of their energy from five nuclear plants around the country, but promise to begin searching for new renewable, sustainable sources of energy. Since so much of Sweden’s energy is generated with nuclear reactors the government is hoping to be completely independent of nuclear power by the year 2040. Great start, but from today’s date it is hard to see if that goal is attainable.

Sweden’s Energy Minister says that the shift away from nuclear power will require tons of money up front to begin research and development of new energy generation strategies. They plan to start by introducing wind and solar power, increasing hydropower, and even resorting to fossil fuels (temporarily). While all four of these are viable alternatives to nuclear power, they each have environmental problems of their own. I suppose Sweden wishes to minimize its environmental impact while looking forward to long-term solutions. Energy Minister Leuthard says a large investment will need to be put forward initially, possibly including the use of fossil fuels as a band-aid solution until new energy programs get running, but that these are necessary steps in securing sustainable energy for the country in the future.

I agree with the idea of preparing now for the long road ahead no matter how daunting it may seem. Considering the world’s not-so-shiny record maintaining nuclear power plants, it’s amazing how we are just now fed up with nuclear disasters. We’ve detailed a few in class, but it seems the idea that nuclear power isn’t safe as a long term energy source may be catching on. Japan’s recent meltdown has also prompted their Prime Minister to being to look into other energy sources, seeking to increase Japan’s “share of green energy to 20% of total power supply by the early 2020s.” Great move, after the worst possible scenario just played out. Goes to show that until a disaster hits home, it’s hard to start caring about the unknown. Sweden is being proactive on this front, thinking ahead far into the future and protecting its citizens now.

Can a nuclear phase out work in the US? Sweden relies on 40% of energy generated by nuclear power to 20% by the US. Well, the US has a population over 33 times larger than Sweden’s. The problem of sheer scale makes it real hard for Americans to start thinking about wide-spread change. Still, I believe Sweden’s decision sets a precedent for countries relying on nuclear power to shift towards more sustainable forms of energy.

It’s been nine weeks since this course has begun and after countless hours of reading about and discussing the present state of our world, there’s no denying that the world we live in is a toxic one. For the most part we’ve brought this upon ourselves through environmental degradation, overconsumption, pollution, and our general lack of respect for our environment. Many still believe the Earth and its resources to be the property of humans to be extracted and utilized for our own benefit. We haven’t always seen the Earth as simply a resource to be dominated and exploited, however. Years ago, we didn’t have this mechanistic view of our environment. Where did this worldview come from? When did it become commonplace to constantly pour toxins into our environment without a second thought?

I recently read a book called Nature’s Economy in which the author discussed the significant influence religion has had on our attitudes toward the natural environment. Before I get into it though, I just want to say that I don’t necessarily believe in all of this, and if it offends anyone I’m really sorry. I just thought it was an interesting idea and that it would be something to blog about. Historically, Christianity has held an anti-natural stance, and over the years it has maintained an indifferent, if not antagonistic view towards nature. The Christian faith, some scholars argue, has served to emotionally sever man from nature. Before our current mechanistic view of the environment was established, humans lived with an organic worldview of the Earth. In this organic worldview, the Earth was seen as a nurturing female deity that needed to be placated before extracting any of her resources. Guardian spirits were thought be inhabit trees, streams, and hills among other things, and because these deities lived in the material world along with humans, their presence helped humans feel closer to nature and the wilderness.

By overthrowing this pagan animism, in which man and nature had a close bond, Christianity allowed for the creation of a detached, external view of nature and wilderness. Worster, the author of Nature’s Economy posits that to take the place of this animism, the Church created the cult of saints.  The saints did not inhabit natural objects as the spirits did, however, and their rightful place was in heaven. God was also removed from the material world and placed in an intangible space in the sky, which further created a divide between humans and the natural world. By increasingly emphasizing the separation of man from nature, Christianity also amplified the idea that natural world existed to meet man’s needs. Nature became something that needed to be controlled and dominated to become a useful resource for mankind. Some scholars call for a new sort of religion in order to undo the damage that Christianity has apparently caused, but religion was definitely not the only factor in the change in how we viewed the environment, and it definitely cannot be the only solution.

I think a new ecological ethic and a new way to view the environment are needed if any significant change is ever to come about, but I’m starting to doubt it’s ever really going to happen. It’s probably going to be next to impossible to get everyone to accept the idea that humans are not the only species that must be considered when making decisions about the environment, let alone get them to understand that they need to view the Earth in a whole new way than they have been their entire life. Historically, we haven’t been too kind to our environment and haven’t looked upon it with the appropriate attitudes or viewpoints, but hopefully I’ll be wrong and people will start to see that real change is needed and start to alter the way they view the environment.