Blue Marble

Hot Air: Tracing the Roots of Global Warming Denial

| Thu Apr. 19, 2007 7:11 PM EDT

If you're reading this, chances are you're well-versed in global warming, maybe even "eco-anxious." But to get inside the heads of those still in denial, there's a helpful piece by John Lanchester in the London Review of Books. Since it's an 8,000-word essay, here are some of the most provocative passages:

"It is strange and striking that climate change activists have not committed any acts of terrorism. After all, terrorism is for the individual by far the modern world's most effective form of political action, and climate change is an issue about which people feel just as strongly as about, say, animal rights."

"Unfortunately, the climate debate came along at a time when the Republican Party was wilfully embracing anti-scientific irrationalism. One way of telling this story – adopted by Kim Stanley Robinson in his novel Forty Signs of Rain – begins with the Scientists for Johnson Campaign, run by a group of eminent scientists who were worried about Barry Goldwater's apparent eagerness to wage nuclear war. Their campaign had a considerable impact, and when Richard Nixon got to the White House four years later he was convinced that scientists were a dangerously anti-Republican political lobby. Nixon shut down the Office of Science and Technology, and kicked the presidential science adviser out of the cabinet – an effective and still unreversed removal of science from the policy-making arena in the US."

"I suspect we're reluctant to think about it because we're worried that if we start we will have no choice but to think about nothing else."

He quotes James Lovelock: "I am old enough to notice a marked similarity between attitudes over sixty years ago towards the threat of war and those now towards the threat of global heating. Most of us think that something unpleasant may soon happen, but we are as confused as we were in 1938 over what form it will take and what to do about it. Our response so far is just like that before the Second World War, an attempt to appease. The Kyoto agreement was uncannily like that of Munich, with politicians out to show that they do respond but in reality playing for time."

He very briefly touches on the energy-industry's war on science: "The techniques in play were learned by the tobacco lobby in the course of the fights over smoking and health."

For Mother Jones coverage of global warming denial, read here, here, here, and here.

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Worried About Global Warming? Go See an Eco-Therapist

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 7:38 PM EDT

Are you petrified by the thought of mass extinction, extreme weather, and global warming? If so, you're not alone in your fears, and there's even a word for them: eco-anxiety. It was only a matter of time before the now-trendy prefix was added to the ever-growing list of diagnoses.

According to the Philadelphia Enquirer, you can now see an eco-therapist to address your fears. Melissa Picket in Santa Fe sees between 40 and 80 patients each month suffering from eco-anxiety. For panic attacks and loss of appetite triggered by environmental concerns, she recommends that patients make lifestyle changes and even carry natural objects around.

This treatment might sound a bit less than serious, but there is a real weight to the issue. A growing number of people are concerned about, even petrified by climate change. The Philadelphia Enquirer blames media hype and scientists' poor PR skills for inducing eco-anxiety. Maybe scientists do have trouble communicating with laymen, and maybe there's shock-value in environmental horror stories. But I really doubt that putting a feather in your hat or a rock in your pocket will counteract the doom and gloom of melting polar ice-caps and disappearing bees that we read about every day.

--Rose Miller

Marijuana Cuts Lung Cancer Tumor Growth In Half

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 7:30 PM EDT

The active ingredient in marijuana cuts tumor growth in common lung cancer in half and significantly reduces the ability of the cancer to spread. This according to Harvard University researchers at who tested the chemical in both lab and mouse studies, as reported by the American Association for Cancer Research. The compound Delta-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) inhibits lung cancers that are usually highly aggressive and resistant to chemotherapy. Although the researchers don't know why THC inhibits tumor growth, they say the substance could be activating molecules that arrest the cell cycle. THC may also interfere with processes that promote cancer growth. --Julia Whitty

Breast Cancer Declines along with "Hormone Therapy"

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 7:20 PM EDT

Breast cancer rates dropped immediately after a major study in 2002 cast doubt on the wisdom of hormone supplements for menopause, and prompted millions of women to stop taking them.

"An awful lot of breast cancer was caused by doctors' prescriptions," Larry Norton of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, tells Rob Stein of the Washington Post. "That's a very serious and sobering thought."

Stein writes, "The findings also help explain one of the biggest mysteries about breast cancer -- why the number of cases rose steadily for decades."

"This is colossal," said Rowan Chlebowski of the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, who helped conduct the analysis. "It translates into thousands of fewer breast cancers that have been diagnosed in women in the United States and could be in the future."

Ethanol Vehicles A Threat To Human Health

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 7:09 PM EDT

A new Stanford University study predicts that if every vehicle in the United States ran on fuel made primarily from ethanol the number of respiratory-related deaths and hospitalizations would increase. "Ethanol is being promoted as a clean and renewable fuel that will reduce global warming and air pollution," says atmospheric scientist Mark Z Jacobson, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. "But our results show that a high blend of ethanol poses an equal or greater risk to public health than gasoline, which already causes significant health damage." Jacobson used a computer model to simulate air quality in 2020, when ethanol-fueled vehicles are expected to be widely available.

While E85 vehicles (those running on 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline) reduced two carcinogens, benzene and butadiene, they increased two others, formaldehyde and acetaldehyde. In some parts of the country, E85 also significantly increased ozone, a prime ingredient of smog. The World Health Organization estimates that 800,000 people die each year from smog. Furthermore, the deleterious health effects of E85 will be the same, whether the ethanol is made from corn, switchgrass or other plant products.

"There are alternatives, such as battery-electric, plug-in-hybrid and hydrogen-fuel cell vehicles, whose energy can be derived from wind or solar power," Jacobson says. These vehicles produce virtually no toxic emissions or greenhouse gases and cause very little disruption to the land--unlike ethanol made from corn or switchgrass, which require millions of acres of farmland to mass-produce. "It would seem prudent, therefore, to address climate, health and energy with technologies that have known benefits."

Foresight. Wow. What a notion.--Julia Whitty

Boys Are on the Decline

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 4:27 PM EDT

Seriously. This is scary. From William Saletan: Birth ratios have shifted so much since 1970 that the U.S. and Japan are "missing" about 260,000 men. Researchers say environmental toxins can prevent men from passing on the Y-chromosome. The full report here.

The scariest thing about "endocrine disrupters" are that they too tiny to research. Only in the past few years have we developed machines precise enough to test the presence of some of these chemicals in the body, in parts per million, billion, and even trillion. The machines cost a million dollars. So we can't run test thousands of people and aggregate the statistics.

The most shocking evidence of the effect of pesticides came out of comparing drawings by Mexican children in an agricultural valley to those by children in foothills nearby. Here's the story. And here are their drawings:

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Chimpanzees Are Like People Too

| Tue Apr. 17, 2007 8:24 PM EDT

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Knuckels has cerebral palsy. He's the chimp clowning around in this photo, the one on top. The disability makes him an easy target, but scientists have never seen any fellow apes taking advantage of him. That's pretty humane of them.

Some evolutionary psychologists have sought false connections between apes and human behavior. One psychologist, for example, found "evidence" that female monkeys have a fondness for pots and pans.(Chimps may use stones to crack open nuts, but do they have an innate grasp on the concept of stove-top cooking?) However, this New York Times story points out strikingly humane behavior that primatologists have noticed over the years of close observation:

•Chimps mourn. One chimp mom carried her her young daughter's corpse on her back for a few days.
•After fights between two chimps, scientists have seen other chimps consoling the loser and otherwise trying to restore peace.
•Chimps outperformed humans in some memory tasks.

For more on apes, check out the Great Ape Project, which seeks to extend basic human rights to chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans. That includes "the right to life, the freedom from arbitrary deprivation of liberty, and protection from torture." In their eyes, it may be narrow-minded of me just to call chimpanzees "humane." However provocative, their concept makes more sense now than ever, with some great ape species on the verge of extinction, such as orangutans, known in Southeast Asia as "the people of the forest."

Weird Weather Watch: Massive, Record-Setting Nor'easter

| Tue Apr. 17, 2007 3:44 PM EDT

I'm a little late to the punch on this one, but in case you haven't heard, on Sunday and Monday, most of New England was hit with a powerful storm that dumped 8 inches of rain and battered towns with winds of up to 156 miles an hour.

New York Times has a two-page article on the fallout. But just to make the point that global warming may well be as expensive as a solution for it:

• More than 800 flights were cancelled. Others operated with hours-long delays.

• Power was out at 328,000 homes and businesses in 9 states.

• National Guard troops—as if they don't have enough to handle—were called in to help evacuate homes.

• Commuter rails and scores of major roads were closed.

• At least 9 people died as a result of the storm.

This is just one storm. Think about 3-4 of these every year, year after year. Doesn't looking for a real solution (read: not ethanol) start to sound like the logical thing to do?

Are Cellphones Decimating Bee Colonies?

| Mon Apr. 16, 2007 5:40 PM EDT

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Cell phone radiation may be messing with bees' navigation systems, throwing them off track on their way back to the hive. Via New Scientist, this latest explanation for the decimation of American bee colonies comes from Jochen Khun's team at Landau University in Germany. Bees disoriented by cell phones signals? It makes more sense to me than than an earlier theory reported by the New York Times: "It could just be that the bees are stressed out."

Reptiles Mysteriously Declining Alongside Amphibians

| Mon Apr. 16, 2007 5:36 PM EDT

The catastrophic declines in frog and salamander populations may be spreading to reptiles. New Scientist reports that scientists reviewed data on ground-dwelling reptiles and amphibians collected over the past 35 years at La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica, finding a 75-percent decline in both reptiles and amphibians in native forest since 1970. The numbers of both increased in abandoned cacao plantations, by 4% annually for amphibians, and 2.7% per year for reptiles. Fungal diseases or pesticide contamination, blamed for amphibians' decline elsewhere, are unlikely to be behind the declines at La Selva, since they would affect abandoned plantations as well as native forest. The researchers suggest the cause may be a warmer, wetter climate that stunts tree growth, and reduces the leaf litter, where reptiles and amphibians live. --Julia Whitty