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The EPA has attempted to calculate the incalculableness of toxicity using the Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators (RSEI) model. The RSEI is computer-based and is meant to rank certain risks against others to determine what poses the highest risk. On the EPA’s website, they boast that the RSEI is “fast and effective” because it “uses simplifying assumptions to fill data gaps and reduces the complexity of calculations.”

The most important factors to determine the RSEI rating:

  • Amount of chemical released
  • Location of that release
  • Toxicity of the chemical
  • Fate and transport through the environment
  • Route and extent of human exposure
  • Number of people affected

Many of these factors seem difficult to give a rating to, such as route of human exposure or toxicity of the chemical. It seems like this would force the EPA to make impossible decisions, such as what’s worse a chemical exposure of pesticides to 50 people with instant sickness or an exposure of radiation to 100 people with prolonged effects.

Also, I find it interesting that they don’t include age or health of people affected, only the number, which seems to leave a lot of loopholes for companies. Also, this mentality promotes the idea that desert or rural landscapes are the best spots for contamination instead of trying to prevent the contamination in the first place.

The EPA gives a list of common questions they use the RSEI to answer, such as:

  • How do industry sectors compare to one another from a risk-related perspective?
  • What is the relative contribution of chemicals to the RSEI risk score within a given industry sector?
  • What release pathway for a particular chemical poses the greatest potential for risk-related impacts?
  • What states or regions have the greatest potential for risk-related impacts from certain chemicals or industry sectors?
  • What is the trend in potential risk-related impacts for particular chemicals, industry sectors, or regions?

These questions also seem like unanswerable questions. For example, “What release pathway for a particular chemical poses the greatest potential for risk-related impacts?” suggests that aerosol poisoning is different from water contamination, risk-wise. I feel like I would be just as terrified from breathing in poison as I would be drinking poison, but the EPA seems determined to make one seem less dangerous than the other. Sometimes an unquantifiable question needs to be left unmeasured and just avoided entirely. Instead of trying to pick the lesser of two evils, the EPA needs to get rid of the evils altogether!

See the ridiculous RSEI system for yourself at:

I know it’s corny, but it’s dead week and it proves some good points. The story may be familiar to us all, but if not: “The Lorax” is a book written by Dr. Seuss with heavy environmental themes. The lorax, a Seussian creature, who “speaks for the trees” fights the Once-ler who cuts down the Truffula trees to knit Thneeds. The Once-ler argues that all people need a Thneed and it’s much more useful than a tree. The Thneed industry grows and grows into an industrial monster until the environment is completely desecrated with smogulous smoke, gluppity glup, and shloppity shlop killing the swomee swans and the barbaloots. The lorax is ignored at every turn, but he is persistent in trying to speak for the trees. Eventually the scene is apocalyptic where even the lorax flies away and only the Once-ler and a small boy remain. The only hope left remains in the last Truffula tree seed that the boy plants.

This story is obviously against modern society and the idea of progress in the name of progress. It reminds me of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring since it tells the story of environmental damage and how harmful humans can be when seeking a “higher goal,” like making money or changing the environment to suit our needs. While the lorax doesn’t present any scientific facts, it acts as a cultural lesson that is widely known and displayed on tv and is soon to be on the big screen. It has also caused controversy in the schools that use it for reading lessons since parents are concerned about its “skewed perspective.” While the story appears apocalyptic and a depressing tale about an environmentalist ignored and defeated, the ending is somewhat hopeful where even the Once-ler is regretful.

As I mentioned before, the Lorax is being made into a CGI, 3-D film coming out in 2012, feauturing Taylor Swift, Zac Efron, and Danny Devito as the Lorax! While there isn’t much available on the actual plot for the movie, it’s obvious that it will be very different from the original, with a new enemy and main character. I’m hopeful that the movie will still be inspiring for children and could get a positive message across.


Cluster Map

In class, we’ve hinted at the idea of disease clusters and how difficult it is for people, like Sandra Steingraber, to muck through mountains of paperwork to track cancer break outs and other diseases. I stumbled upon this link a few months ago and was shocked to see how there are 42 official disease clusters in 13 states. All of these disease clusters have been attributed to environmental toxins, many with known sources. Every cluster has a short description and links to their corresponding health department refusing to take responsibility. Luckily, Oregon is not on the list, but California boasts three and Washington another three (including Hanford).

These disease clusters are not merely a herpes outbreak here and a flu epidemic there, but childhood leukemia and brain tumors. I don’t understand why these stories are not on the news or making people upset. It seems that the local communities are forced to fend for themselves and start mini-campaigns against huge manufacturing companies and airports. I take this as a sign that it truly is a revolutionary idea to look at the source of the disease instead of just trying to heal the disease. Isn’t it worth it to better regulate airport and manufacturing waste to avoid unnatural cancer and birth defects?

This website has obviously very little information to work with and these are only the clusters that are known, but they are the first to say that more regulation and transparency is needed to uncover the true health costs of industry. Also, an interesting aside, they had Erin Brockovich testify at a Senate Hearing yet there’s still no uproar at a national level.

Check it out!

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl


A first person shooter à la Call of Duty filled with mutants, anomalies (zones where physics break down), radiation, and plenty of violence set in present day Chernobyl following a second explosion. Watch the following video for short glimpses of mushroom clouds, gas masks, mutated boars, and much more…

While I could probably use the entire series of Futurama as an example, I chose the episode “Crimes of the Hot” from the fifth season, because it features none other than Al Gore himself and it is dedicated entirely to global warming/ pollution. It was nominated for an Environmental Media Award but lost to King of the Hill and a clip from this episode was used in The Inconvenient Truth.

The plot is that the future earth is going through  global warming that started in the past/ our present time, but Richard Nixon solved this problem each year by dropping chunks of ice from asteroids into the ocean. In this episode, the asteroid is out of ice and the earth is doomed! Al Gore offers a bag of sapphires to whomever can solve the problem and comedy ensues. Eventually, Dr. Farnsworth comes up with an idea of how to use pollution to solve global warming. He has all the robots stand in the same area and spew out fumes as hard as they can in one direction so that earth is moved farther from the sun. The plan works and the extra week is declared robot party week.

Of course, this is meant to be a lighthearted jab at the environmental movement and perhaps could be interpreted to have a deeper, more cynical meaning. In any case, this episode shows how the issue of global warming is very mainstream and is depicted in silly ways, as well as serious. While I could see some people being offended by the show since it could make the environmental movement seem cheapened, especially with Al Gore’s involvement. Yet, there are still some positive messages, like don’t use band-aid solutions, don’t sacrifice fuel efficiency for bigger robots, Richard Nixon is a bad president, and charismatic megafauna can make normally angry robots care.

I couldn’t find a clip, so I’ll list some quotes and a link to the Wiki:

Civil Defense Van: Thank you all for coming. It is my pleasure to present the host of the Kyoto global warming conference. The inventor of the environment, and first emperor of the moon, Al Gore!
Al Gore: I have ridden the mighty moon worm!
[Crowd cheers]
Fry: Good for him.

Leela: Bender, a turtle isn’t yourself. Why do you care about it?
Bender: Because I also care deeply about things that remind me of myself.
Hermes Conrad: What could you possibly have in common with that walking soup mix?
Bender: For one thing, we both have a tough outer shell but live a rich inner life. And also… well, you know.
Leela: You’re both alcoholic, whore-mongering, chain-smoking gamblers?
Bender: No, it’s just… neither of us can get up when we get knocked on our back.

Wikipedia: Crimes of the Hot

Here’s a clip from another episode to give you a sense of the show if you’re not familiar with it and could also be used as an example of how global warming/mutations are sold to us:

Futurama: Oxygen-Producing Pine Trees

Technology obviously has its drawbacks and obvious risks, but we haven’t spent much time talking about the benefits or potentials of technology. I recently discovered this article “Wii Shall Overcome” in Mother Jones and was surprised to see on their website that it had not fostered much discussion. Jane McGonigal, so-called “guru of gaming,” has written a book Reality is Broken arguing that video games can save the world, including reversing climate change and ending poverty. Her argument is that when we harness video games in a positive manner, we can become more confident and motivated and organize huge numbers of people for grassroots change. Her ideas have garnered attention from TED, The Oprah Magazine, “The Colbert Report,” and her book was a New York Times bestseller.

While I have not read her book, I still feel like she is failing to address some major issues, such as what are the environmental impacts of 3 billion people (as she proposes) with XBOXs and at least 3 games each running on untold amounts of electricity and the true need for games like World of Warcraft to increase people’s confidence. She also does not address the addictive nature of games and the great inefficiency of time. She uses impressive statistics like “humans have spent nearly 6 million cumulative years playing World of Warcraft” to argue that gamers are literally “evolving in real time,” but she does not mention how much of that time is a total waste, like the players trying to level up through mundane tasks, such as mining for gold or senseless fighting to earn exp.

In class, we have mainly discussed technology in the form of nuclear power, television, radio, and the Internet, but video games are another form of media that help to shape our understanding of the world and how we evaluate risk. Games can numb us to reality, especially war, crime, and money (earning and spending). The idea that video games can change the world is novel and thought provoking, but digital change does not necessarily equal actual change. If we begin to believe making a change in a virtual reality causes change in the physical reality, the line between simulacra and reality is lost.


Jane McGonigal on Colbert: