Blue Marble

Are Non-Stick Chemicals And Aging Dads More Dangerous To Babies Than Cocaine?

| Tue Feb. 10, 2009 8:21 PM EST
Last week the New York Times printed good news about a worrisome issue in childhood development. As it turns out, children whose mothers used cocaine during pregnancy have only slightly lower IQ scores than children whose mothers didn't use. The difference between the children's scores was so low it was deemed "scientifically insignificant." In fact, the effect of alcohol on the fetus is more detrimental than cocaine's, while tobacco's is about the same. But potential parents have some other science to consider this week. In the latest issue of Human Reproduction scientists found that women with higher levels of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs, or the chemicals that make products "non-stick") in their blood had more trouble getting pregnant. Women with higher levels of the two main chemicals—PFOA and PFOS—were up to 154 percent more likely to be infertile. Exposure is a particular problem for developed countries like the US, where eight percent of women of childbearing age have consulted a doctor about infertility. And, like we've said before, Teflon is forever.

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Men's Health Worst Foods: Healthy List or Sneaky Ad?

| Tue Feb. 10, 2009 7:16 PM EST
Image by flickr user Matt NichollsFrom Men's Health magazine comes a list of the worst foods in America of 2009. By "worst" Men's Health means worst for your body; by "food" the magazine means products or menu items. The list is basically a catalog of the fattest prepared foods in America.

Topping said list is Baskin Robbins' infamous Large Chocolate Oreo Shake, which with 2,600 calories (about 400 more calories than I consume in a day) and 263 grams of sugar (that's equal to about 18 cupcakes), is essentially a heart attack in a disposable cup. Ian Froeb at the St. Louis Riverfront Times tried the Oreo Shake last month and found the taste and color somewhat wanting:

Eleven States Enter New Abortion Debate

| Tue Feb. 10, 2009 5:24 PM EST | Scheduled to publish Mon Feb. 9, 2009 5:34 PM EST

President Obama thinks that "legislation to expand access to contraception [and] health information...[will] help reduce unintended pregnancies." But this month pro-life legislators have taken a more underhanded approach.

Eleven states are currently considering bills that would require women to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion. Sixteen states already have laws that require doctors to offer women the option to have an ultrasound. Oklahoma's proposed law goes even farther, and would force women to view ultrasounds and require doctors to verbally describe the images. Many legislators say the efforts are not political, but rather about providing "information to a mother who is in a desperate situation," says Senator Tony Fulton (R-NE), "information about what she's about to choose; information about the reality inside her womb..."

Earthquake in China Caused by Dam After All?

| Sat Feb. 7, 2009 5:10 PM EST | Scheduled to publish Fri Feb. 6, 2009 1:16 AM EST
In September I questioned the theory going around that the devastating  Sichuan province earthquake in May was caused by the Three Gorges Dam. The idea was inspired by research out of the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska in 1999 (long before Three Gorges was built) that said that the weight of the water held back by the dam could cause "reservoir-induced seismicity." The problem with Probe International's charge was that the fact that Three Gorges happens to be 400 miles from the epicenter. But now scientists have found that a closer dam might have contributed to tectonic shifts of the 7.9 variety, that its several hundred million tons of water would have put "25 times" the stress of natural tectonic movements on the fault line.

That the dam involved is not the controversial Three Gorges doesn't lessen the consequence here: an earthquake caused by a man-made dam means the government has to answer, at least in part, for 80,000 deaths.

Does the EPA Know Which Industry is America's Dirtiest?

| Fri Feb. 6, 2009 1:57 PM EST | Scheduled to publish Fri Feb. 6, 2009 1:57 PM EST

Today the EPA filed a laudable lawsuit against Kansas-based Westar Energy for violating the New Source Review provision of the Clean Air Act. Laxly enforced by the Bush Administration, the rule requires power plants to install more advanced pollution-control technologies when they perform upgrades. The EPA action is part of what it bills "a national initiative to stop illegal pollution from coal-fired power plants." Sounds good to me, but unfortunately the EPA gets a bit carried away in its press release, which says: "Coal-fired power plants collectively produce more pollution than any other industry in the United States."

Weighing the Climate Impact of the Stimulus Bill

| Thu Feb. 5, 2009 2:16 PM EST | Scheduled to publish Thu Feb. 5, 2009 2:16 PM EST

Today Greenpeace released a report indicating that the House's $819 billion stimulus bill is a net environmental gain by a longshot. The bill's energy efficiency and conservation provisions alone could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 61 million metric tons annually, the equivalent of electricity use in 7.9 million American homes. Meanwhile, the worst-case-scenario for the bill's transportation provisions would reduce the overall carbon benefits by only 5 million tons annually. The report, which was written by the respected energy consulting firm ICF International, apparently didn't examine other provisions in the bill, but given that transportation is by far the biggest environmental white elephant, the overall package looks surprisingly eco-friendly. Ironically, the real downside won't kick in unless the stimulus succeeds in reviving the economy, causing consumption to rise. Yet if the bill starts rebuilding the economic system into something sustainable, we'll be better off than where we started.

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The Real Problem With the Digital TV Switchover

| Tue Feb. 3, 2009 1:14 PM EST

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On February 17th, the government-mandated switchover from analog to digital television broadcasting is expected to spur a rush on electronics stores, as thousands of clueless Americans suddenly realize that their old TVs will no longer work. Worried that too many people aren't ready for the change, Congressional Democrats tried and failed to delay the switchover another four months. But their fear that Joe Sixpack might miss a few episodes of CSI is misplaced. The bigger concern should be what we'll do with millions of obsolete boob tubes with innards full of toxic heavy metals. Although electronics stores and manufacturers have started take-back programs, the only real way to keep TVs out of landfills and environmentally devastating Chinese scrap yards is to make it illegal to put them there. And unfortunately, only six states (California, Iowa, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Maine) enforce laws governing environmentally-responsible disposal of electronic waste. Long before making the TV switch, Congress should have passed a national electronics recycling law. But I guess they were too busy doing other things. Like watching CSI.

The Groundhog Who Bit Bloomberg Got It Wrong

| Mon Feb. 2, 2009 6:52 PM EST

Writing on this blog, Josh Harkinson has fun at the expense of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose hand was bitten by a Staten Island groundhog:

Maybe biting the hand of a New York billionaire was [the groundhog's] way of saying that spring won't come until someone smacks down the plutocrats on Wall Street. Too bad this isn't Bill Murray's Groundhog Day. If it was, Bloomberg could relive the pain each day until he saves the world.

Actually, Bloomberg, who made his fortune not by swindling anyone but by providing a media service for which there was much demand, has done more to save the world than your average, TARP-sucking plutocrat. From a recent The New York Times story:

New York City Mayor Bitten by Groundhog

| Mon Feb. 2, 2009 3:47 PM EST

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Today Staten Island's famous groundhog emerged from his hole and bit New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in the hand, drawing blood. How to divine the meaning? Three more months of winter, or imminent spring? My guess is that the groundhog, like the rest of us, has been more preoccupied with the long economic winter. Perhaps he didn't receive a fat bonus this year. Or maybe biting the hand of a New York billionaire was his way of saying that spring won't come until someone smacks down the plutocrats on Wall Street. Too bad this isn't Bill Murray's Groundhog Day. If it was, Bloomberg could relive the pain each day until he saves the world.

UPDATE: In response to David Corn's post, I'd like to clarify that I don't equate Bloomberg with the average "TARP-sucking plutocrat." He has been a good mayor overall, and is responding to the meltdown in brave ways, like calling for higher taxes. But as the founder of the Bloomberg news service, he created a corps of financial reporters who blew the biggest story on their beat. If they'd all been more like the rebellious groundhog and done some digging, or some Wall Street hand-biting (would Bloomberg have let them?), we might not be in this mess.

Image used with a Creative Commons license from israellycool.com

Upshot of Boy Scouts' Anti-Gay Policy: Logging Their Forests

| Fri Jan. 30, 2009 1:57 PM EST

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From the San Francisco Chronicle:

"The Boy Scouts had to suffer the consequences for sticking by their moral values," said Eugene Grant, president of the Portland, Ore., Cascade Pacific Council's board of directors. "There's no question" that the Scouts' anti-gay, anti-atheist stance has cost the organization money, he said. As a result, he said, "every council has looked at ways to generate funds. . .and logging is one of them."

According to an investigation by the Chronicle and four other Hearst papers:

  • Scout councils have ordered the logging of more than 34,000 acres of forests--perhaps far more as forestry records nationwide are incomplete.
  • More than 100 scout groups--one third of all Boy Scouts councils nationwide--have conducted timber harvests.
  • Councils logged in or near protected wildlife habitat at least 53 times.
  • Councils have authorized at least 60 clear-cutting operations and 35 salvage harvests, logging practices that some experts say harm the environment but maximize profits.

I was a Scout as a kid, and this is not the Boy Scouts that I used to know. It's sad that an obsession with what should be an irrelevant social issue has sabotaged their core principles. We've seen the same thing happen with other organs of the Religious Right as churches that should be doing good works have become obsessed with gay marriage and abortion. But while many evangelicals have begun moving back toward the center--look at Creation Care--the Boy Scouts are inexplicably going the other way. Let's just hope their vast land holdings aren't destroyed as they they slowly implode.