Thursday, July 17, 2008
The Chemistry of Trust
To study social interactions, economists, and more recently neuroscientists, take advantage of a simple game played between two people called the “trust game.” (For more on greed and altruism, see this.) In a typical trust game, an investor (Player 1) is faced with a decision to keep a sum of money (say, $10) or share it with a trustee (Player 2). If shared, the investment is tripled ($30) and the trustee now faces the decision to repay the trust by sending back a larger amount of the initial investment (for example, $15 for each participant) or to defect and violate trust by keeping the money. In this game, the investor is therefore left with an important social dilemma: to trust or not to trust. Although it is more profitable to trust, doing so leaves the investor at risk of betrayal.
It has been hypothesized that oxytocin, a hormone recognized for its role in social attachment and facilitation of social interactions, is also important in the formation of trust. For instance, application of oxytocin to “investors” in experimental games increases their tendency to engage in social risks and trust someone else with their money (see this and this). The study by Baumgartner and his colleagues highlights the neural mechanisms through which oxytocin acts to facilitate trust behavior by investigating what happens in the brain when trust breaks down.
When Trust Is Broken
The authors used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to scan 49 participants who were given either placebo or oxytocin via a nasal spray. Participants were instructed to act as investors during multiple rounds of a trust game with different trustees. They were also told that they would engage in a risk game (similar to the trust game in terms of financial risk, but played against a computer instead of another human being). In order to investigate the role of oxytocin following breaches of trust, the experiment was divided into a pre- and post-feedback phase. In between the two phases, participants received feedback information indicating that roughly 50 percent of their decisions (in both trust and risk games) had resulted in poor investments—that is, their trust had been breached (trust game) or their gamble did not pay off (risk game).
Participants who were given a placebo prior to playing the game decreased their rate of trust (that is, how much money they were willing to invest) after they discovered their trust had been violated. Participants who received oxytocin, however, continued to invest at similar rates regardless of whether or not their trusting behavior had been taken advantage of. These behavioral group differences were accompanied by differences in neural responses, as participants in the oxytocin group showed decreases in responses in the amygdala and caudate nucleus. The amygdala is a region of the brain involved in emotion and fear learning, and is rich in oxytocin receptors, whereas the caudate nucleus has been previously linked to reward-related responses and learning to trust . Thus, the authors hypothesized that oxytocin decreases both fear mechanisms associated with a potential aversion of betrayals (via the amygdala) and our reliance on positive feedback that can influence future decisions (via the caudate). This in turn facilitates the expression of trust even after breaches of trust have occurred. Notably, the behavioral and neural results observed were only apparent when participants played the trust game, but not the risk game, suggesting that oxytocin’s effects on trust are exclusive to interactions with real people.
A Science of Social Phobias?
The study demonstrates how oxytocin can facilitate social interactions after trust has been violated, by potentially lowering defense mechanisms associated with social risks and by overcoming negative feedback that is important for adapting behavior in the future. These intriguing results provide an important step in our understanding of mental disorders where deficits in social behavior are observed. Excessive fear of betrayal, for example, could serve as a precursor to social phobia, a disorder characterized by a disabling fear of social interactions. Over the long-term, this lack of social interaction may lead to serious problems in mental and physical well-being. Thus, to continue forming a bridge between basic and clinical research, future studies may focus on the effects of oxytocin during the sort of betrayals that more commonly occur in real life (such as being betrayed by a loved one or a business partner). It will also be interesting to examine how different genders respond to breaches in confidence following oxytocin administration.
Trust is an adaptive mechanism essential to building social relationships, and breaches of trust have a profound impact on social behavior and mental health. Understanding the balance between levels of oxytocin and appropriate levels of trust will be another important step in the future. Lower levels of oxytocin in some situations may certainly be adaptive, as a person will become more wary of possible harm. Higher levels of oxytocin, however, may also be necessary at times to allow an individual to “forgive and forget,” an imperative step in maintaining long-term relationships and mental well-being.
CHICAGO -- One of the largest studies of its kind shows just how sluggish American children become once they hit the teen years: While 90 percent of 9-year-olds get a couple of hours of exercise most days, fewer than 3 percent of 15-year-olds do.
What's more, the study suggests that fewer than a third of teens that age get even the minimum recommended by the government _ an hour of moderate-to-vigorous exercise, like cycling, brisk walking, swimming or jogging.
The sharp drop raises concerns about inactivity continuing into adulthood, which could endanger kids' health throughout their lives, the study authors said.
"People don't recognize this as the crisis that it is," said lead author Dr. Philip Nader, a pediatrician and professor emeritus at the University of California at San Diego.
Inactivity is linked with greater risks for many health problems, including heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.
The new findings come just a week after an influential pediatricians group recommended that more children have their cholesterol checked and that some as young as 8 should be given cholesterol-lowering drugs. That advice was partly out of concern over future levels of heart disease and other ailments linked to rising rates of childhood obesity.
The latest study, appearing in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association, tracked about 1,000 U.S. children at various ages, from 2000 until 2006.
Special gadgets were used to record their activity. Average levels of moderate-to-vigorous activity fell from three hours a day at age 9 to less than an hour at age 15.
Nader said he was "surprised by how dramatic the decline was," and cited schools dropping recess and gym classes and kids' increasing use of video games and computers as possible reasons.
The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development funded the research, calling it one of the largest, most comprehensive studies of its kind to date.
James Griffin, science officer for the study, said that as children mature, "You would expect somewhat of a decline (in activity), but nothing of this magnitude."
He noted that the study coincided with the rise in popularity of video games, DVDs and Internet use _ "all of the types of things that take children from outside and put them on a couch or in front of a computer."
Griffin said the results send a message to parents that it's important to teach their kids to balance computer time with more active pursuits, like walking the dog or shooting some hoops.
Study participants were children involved in agency research on youth development, recruited from 10 hospitals around the country. Family income, race and ethnic background closely matched the U.S. population.
The researchers tracked the children's activity levels starting at age 9, using an accelerometer _ a device about the size of a small belt buckle that attached to a belt around the waist and recorded movement. Activity levels were counted at ages 9, 11, 12 and 15 during the school week and on weekends.
That method isn't foolproof because the device isn't worn during swimming and contact sports. But the researchers said it's unlikely that such activity happened often enough among the children studied to skew the results.
Through age 12, well over half the children got at least the government-recommended amount of activity every day. By age 15, less than one-third were that active on weekdays, and only about 17 percent were on weekends.
Boys were more active than girls at every age. But by age 15, even boys' average activity levels fell short of recommendations, particularly on weekends.
Dr. Samuel Klein, director of Washington University School of Medicine's human nutrition center in St. Louis, said the research provides a more powerful snapshot than previous studies.
The rapid drop-off in exercise by age 15 shows that the preceding years are "really an area we should target," said Klein, who was not involved in the study.
Mary Lee, 13, said the results ring true.
The suburban Cleveland teen said she spends more time on the computer now than she did a few years ago, particularly with online social networking sites. She also didn't have physical education class every day last year, and will only have it for half the upcoming school year in eighth grade.
Lee recently took part in a health program at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland. The classes promote exercise and healthy eating.
She said she stays pretty active with volleyball and track, and has been able to avoid gaining weight with help from the program at the Cleveland hospital.
Making exercise fun is important, because if you do, you won't even realize if you're exercising," she said.
"It really helps and it makes you feel better about yourself," she said.
This year beehives from rural areas were relocated to the top of a large water-treatment facility near Tokyo's international airport, where as many as 4,000 birds known as little terns nest after a long migration from Australia, New Zealand, and Papua New Guinea.
Although they are not endangered internationally, little terns are listed as "vulnerable" in Japan's Red Data Book of threatened species.
That's because the terns' nesting sites in the country are being destroyed by construction work and other human activities, so the birds are considered potentially at risk in the future.
The terns near the airport have long been victims of Tokyo's crows.
In a single prolonged attack five years ago, about 60 crows picked off roughly 300 eggs and 160 young birds, and fewer terns have come to the nesting site since then.
"The young can't defend themselves against the crows, so we tried to find ways to protect them at the nesting site," said Naoya Masuda, a member of the nonprofit Little Tern Project.
"One thing we tried was putting netting in the trees and stringing up fishing lines, but nothing worked."
Then a suggestion from a city water-bureau employee led the tern group to the Ginza Bee Project.
The Tokyo-based nonprofit, launched in March 2006, keeps hives in the upscale Ginza shopping district to educate urbanites about agriculture.
About 150,000 bees living high above the store-studded streets collect pollen from city plants, including from the grounds of the Imperial Palace and nearby Hibiya Park. (See photos of the Imperial Palace.) As part of the project, the group sells about 660 pounds (300 kilograms) of honey each year, invites groups up to visit the hives, and take notes on unusual bee behaviors.
According to group chair Kazuo Takayasu, their observations suggest that using bees to battle crows will turn out to be an effective solution.
"We spoke to an expert and learned that honeybees in the wild have the natural response of attacking a black object that comes near to their hive," Takayasu said.
"There have been tests with black and white balloons, and the bees always attack the black balloon."
It is believed that the bees' reaction is linked to the color of bears' fur. The insects apparently attack dark-colored creatures to protect their hives from plunder.
"We noticed that the bees swarmed around crows that were taking offerings from white plates left on the outdoor altar of a shrine in Ginza," Takayasu added.
(Read related news: "Bee Buzz Scares off African Elephants" [October 9, 2007].)
"After a while the crows stopped coming back, so we thought it was worth trying at the terns' nesting site."
Between July and November of last year, two hives were placed on the roof of the Morigasaki Water Reclamation Plant to protect the birds once they arrived in April, and another hive was added this May.
Around 20,000 honeybees currently patrol the terns' nests, according to Masuda of the Little Tern Project, who added that the two creatures are getting on "like good neighbors."
"It is not 100 percent foolproof yet, because the area is quite large, and there do seem to have been fewer birds here this year so far," he said.
"But we are hopeful that it will prove effective over the long term."
"In one sense we know much less about Earth than we do about Mars. The vast majority of life forms on our planet are still undiscovered, and their significance for our own species remains unknown. This gap in our knowledge is a serious matter: we will never completely understand and preserve the living world around us at our present level of ignorance.
"If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos."
Edward O. Wilson, The world's leading authority on Biodiversity, Emeritus Professor of Biology at Harvard and author of "The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth."
There is little doubt left in the minds of professional biologists that Earth is currently faced with a mounting loss of species that threatens to rival the five great mass extinctions of the geological past, the most devasting being the Third major Extinction (c. 245 mya), the Permian, where 54% of the planet's species families lost. As long ago as 1993, Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson estimated that Earth is currently losing something on the order of 30,000 species per year -- which breaks down to the even more daunting statistic of some three species per hour. Some biologists have begun to feel that this biodiversity crisis -- this "Sixth Extinction" -- is even more severe, and more imminent, than Wilson had supposed.
With the human population expected to reach 9-10 billion by the end of the century and the planet in the middle of its sixth mass extinction — this time due to human activity — the next few years are critical in conserving Earth’s precious biodiversity. The cause of the Sixth Extinction, Homo sapiens, means we can continue on the path to our own extinction, or, preferably, we modify our behavior toward the global ecosystem of which we are still very much a part.
At a casual glance, the physically caused extinction events of the past might seem to have little or nothing to tell us about the current Sixth Extinction, which is a human-caused event. For there is little doubt that humans are the direct cause of ecosystem stress and species destruction in the modern world through transformation of the landscape, overexploitation of species, pollution, and the introduction of alien species
The Sixth Extinction can be characterized as the first recorded global extinction event that has a biotic, rather than a physical, cause, due to massive asteroid impact, volcanic eruptions. Yet, looking deeper, human impact on the planet is a similar to the Cretaceous cometary collision. Sixty-five million years ago that extraterrestrial impact -- through its sheer explosive power, followed immediately by its injections of so much debris into the upper reaches of the atmosphere that global temperatures plummeted and, most critically, photosynthesis was severely inhibited -- wreaked havoc on the living systems of Earth, which is precisely what we are doing to the planet right now.
Phase two of the Sixth Extinction began around 10,000 years ago with the invention of agriculture-perhaps first in the Natufian culture of the Middle East. Agriculture appears to have been invented several different times in various different places, and has, in the intervening years, spread around the entire globe.
Agriculture, which began around 10,000 years ago in the Natufian culture of the Middle East, is a major engine driving the Sixth Extinction, represents the single most profound ecological change in the entire 3.5 billion-year history of life. With its invention humans did not have to interact with other species for survival, and so could manipulate other species for their own use nor did humans have to adhere to the ecosystem's carrying capacity, and so could overpopulate
Homo sapiens became the first species to stop living inside local ecosystems. All other species, including our ancestral hominid ancestors, all pre-agricultural humans, and remnant hunter-gatherer societies still extant exist as semi-isolated populations playing specific roles (i.e., have "niches") in local ecosystems. This is not so with post-agricultural revolution humans, who in effect have stepped outside local ecosystems. Indeed, to develop agriculture is essentially to declare war on ecosystems - converting land to produce one or two food crops, with all other native plant species all now classified as unwanted "weeds" -- and all but a few domesticated species of animals now considered as pests.
Yet, upon further reflection, human impact on the planet is a direct analogue of the Cretaceous cometary collision. Sixty-five million years ago that extraterrestrial impact -- through its sheer explosive power, followed immediately by its injections of so much debris into the upper reaches of the atmosphere that global temperatures plummeted and, most critically, photosynthesis was severely inhibited -- wreaked havoc on the living systems of Earth. That is precisely what human beings are doing to the planet right now: humans are causing vast physical changes on the planet.
"The comparison I make between these big extinction events, prehistoric meteorite-caused or natural event-caused extinctions and the present one," says E.O. Wilson, "is parallel to the difference between a heart attack and cancer. We understand that what we are doing is a slow but insidious, and only can be seen when you lay it out over the whole world over a period of decades. The hopeful thing about it is that this cancer can be treated. A lot of damage has been done, and it can be dangerous to us if we really just go on until half the species of organisms are extinct forever. Or we can halt the hemorrhaging.
"In terms of scale, it’s hard to put a figure on it," Wilson adds: "We’re in a pronounced early stage of an extinction event that would probably be, by the end of this century if human activities continue unabated, right up to the Cretaceous level. We’re part way there. Whether you can say its 10 percent there or 25 percent there, a lot of it depends on the organisms you’re talking about. One estimate has it that, particularly when you throw in the mass extinction of the Pacific Island birds, which are the most vulnerable on Earth, something like 20 percent of bird species has been extinguished by human activities."
Biocide is occurring at an alarming rate. Experts say that at least half of the world’s current species will be completely gone by the end of the century. Wild plant-life is also disappearing. Most biologists say that we are in the midst of an anthropogenic mass extinction. Numerous scientific studies confirm that this phenomenon is real and happening right now. Should anyone really care? Will it impact individuals on a personal level? Scientists say, “Yes!”
Critics argue that species disappear and new ones emerge all the time. That’s true, if you’re speaking in terms of millennia. Scientists acknowledge that species disappear at an estimated rate of one species per million per year, with new species replacing the lost ones at around the same rate. Recently humans have accelerated the extinction rate to where several entire species are annihilated every single day. The death toll artificially caused by humans is mind-boggling. Nature will take millions of years to repair what we destroy in just a few decades.
A recent analysis, published in the journal Nature, shows that it takes 10 million years before biological diversity even begins to approach what existed before a die-off. Over 10,000 scientists in the World Conservation Union have compiled data showing that currently 51 per cent of known reptiles, 52 per cent of known insects, and 73 per cent of known flowering plants are in danger along with many mammals, birds and amphibians. It is likely that some species will become extinct before they are even discovered, before any medicinal use or other important features can be assessed. The cliché movie plot where the cure for cancer is about to be annihilated is more real than anyone would like to imagine.
Research done by the American Museum of Natural History found that the vast majority of biologists believe that mass extinction poses a colossal threat to human existence, and is even more serious of an environmental problem than one of its contributors- global warming. The research also found that the average person woefully underestimates the dangers of mass extinction. Powerful industrial lobbies would like people to believe that we can survive while other species are quickly and quietly dying off. Irresponsible governments and businesses would have people believe that we don’t need a healthy planet to survive- even while human cancer rates are tripling every decade.
A lot of us heard about the recent extinction of the Yangtze river dolphin. It was publicized because dolphins are cute and smart, and we like dolphins. We were sort of sad that we humans were single-handedly responsible for destroying the entire millions-of-years-old species in just a few years through rampant pollution. Unfortunately the real death toll is so much higher than we hear on the news. Only a few endangered “celebrity favorites” get any notice at all.
Since animals and plants exist in symbiotic relationships to one another, extinction of one species is likely to cause ”co-extinctions”. Some species directly affect the health of hundreds of other species. There is always some kind of domino effect. This compounding process occurs with frightening speed. That makes rampant extinction similar too disease in the way that it spreads. Sooner or later- if gone unchecked- humans may catch it too.
Amphibians are a prime example at how tinkering with the environment can cause rapid animal death. For over 300 million years frogs, salamanders, newts and toads were hardy enough to precede and outlive the dinosaurs up until the present time. Now, within just two decades many amphibians are disappearing. Scientists are alarmed at how one seemingly robust species of amphibians will suddenly disappear within a few months.
The causes of biocide are a hodge-podge of human environmental “poisons” which often work synergistically, including a vast array of pollutants, pesticides, a thinning ozone layer which increases ultra-violet radiation, human induced climate change, habitat loss from agriculture and urban sprawl, invasions of exotic species introduced by humans, illegal and legal wildlife trade, light pollution, and man-made borders among other many other causes.
Is there a way out? The answer is yes and no. We’ll never regain the lost biodiversity-at least not within a fathomable time period, but there are ways to prevent a worldwide bio collapse, but they all require immediate action. Wilson, and other scientists point out that the world needs international cooperation in order to sustain ecosystems, since nature is unaware of artificially drawn borders. Humans love to fence off space they’ve claimed as their own. Sadly, a border fence often has terrible ecological consequences. One fence between India and Pakistan cuts off bears and leopards from their feeding habitats, which is causing them to starve to death. Starvation leads to attacks on villagers, and more slaughtering of the animals.
Some of the most endangered wildlife species live right in between the borderland area of the US and Mexico. These indigenous animals don’t know that they now live between two countries. They were here long before the people came and nations divided, but they will not survive if we cut them off from their habitat. The Sky Islands is one of many areas smack in the middle of this boundary where some of North America's most threatened wildlife is found. Jaguars, bison, and Wolves have to cross through international terrain in the course of their life's travels in order to survive. Unfortunately, illegal Mexican workers cross here too. People who know nothing of the wildlife’s biological needs want to create a large fence to keep out Mexicans, regardless of the fact that a fence would devastate these already fragile animal populations.
Wilson says the time has come to start calling the "environmentalist view" the "real-world view". We can’t ignore reality simply because it doesn’t conform nicely within convenient boundaries and moneymaking strategies. What good will all of our money and conveniences do for us, if we collectively destroy the necessities of life?
There is hope, but it requires radical changes. Many organizations are lobbying for that change. One group trying to salvage ecosystems is called The Wildlands Project, a conservation group spearheading the drive to reconnect the remaining wildernesses. The immediate goal is to reconnect wild North America in four broad "mega-linkages". Within each mega-linkage, mosaics of public and private lands, which would provide safe migrations for wildlife, would connect core areas. Broad, vegetated overpasses would link wilderness areas normally split by roads. They will need cooperation from local landowners and government agencies.
It is a radical vision to many people, and the Wildlands Project expects that it will take at least 100 years to complete. Even so, projects like this, on a worldwide basis, may be humanity’s best chance of saving what’s left of the planets eco-system, and the human race along with it.
Posted by Casey Kazan and Rebecca Sato.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced on Tuesday a first draft of a rule that will govern the geologic sequestration of heat-trapping carbon dioxide from power plants. Geologic sequestration of global warming gases, also known as “carbon capture and sequestration” (CCS), is viewed by some as a critical component of a climate change policy portfolio.
According to the EPA, the annual cost associated with the implementation of the rule are estimated to be around $15 million.
“Today’s proposal paves the way for technologies that would protect public health and help reduce the effects of climate change,” said EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson. “With proper site selection and management, geologic sequestration could play a major role in reducing emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.”
EPA’s proposed regulation creates a national framework for the injection of carbon dioxide underground and protection of underground drinking water resources. The agency acted under the Clean Water Act because injecting carbon dioxide could push pollutants into underground drinking water supplies, according to Benjamin H. Grumbles, assistant EPA administrator for water. The rule would create a new class of injection wells under the authority of the Safe Drinking Water Act’s Underground Injection Control (UIC) program.
According to an EPA Factsheet (EPA 816-F-08-031), the new monitoring rule is needed because:
“The relative buoyancy of CO2, its corrosivity in the presence of water, the potential presence of impurities in captured CO2, its mobility within subsurface formations, and large injection volumes anticipated at full scale deployment warrant specific requirements tailored to this new practice.”
The rule, which would apply to well owners and operators, would require monitoring to trace the chemical, squeezed down into liquid form. “A cornerstone of this rule is that the carbon dioxide stays where it is put, and not leak or be released to the surface,” Mr. Grumbles said.
A greener, less expensive method to produce hydrogen for fuel may eventually be possible with the help of water, solar energy and nanotube diodes that use the entire spectrum of the sun's energy, according to Penn State researchers.
"Other researchers have developed ways to produce hydrogen with mind-boggling efficiency, but their approaches are very high cost," says Craig A. Grimes, professor of electrical engineering. "We are working toward something that is cost effective."
Currently, the steam reforming of natural gas produces most of our hydrogen. As a fuel source, this produces two problems. The process uses natural gas and so does not reduce reliance on fossil fuels; and, because one byproduct is carbon dioxide, the process contributes to the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the carbon footprint.
Grimes' process splits water into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, and collects the products separately using commonly available titanium and copper. Splitting water for hydrogen production is an old and proven method, but in its conventional form, it requires previously generated electricity. Photolysis of water solar splitting of water has also been explored, but is not a commercial method yet.
Grimes and his team produce hydrogen from solar energy, using two different groups of nanotubes in a photoelectrochemical diode. They report in the July issue of Nano Letters that using incident sunlight, "such photocorrosion-stable diodes generate a photocurrent of approximately 0.25 milliampere per centimeter square, at a photoconversion efficiency of 0.30 percent."
"It seems that nanotube geometry is the best geometry for production of hydrogen from photolysis of water," says Grimes
In Grimes' photoelectrochemical diode, one side is a nanotube array of electron donor material – n-type material – titanium dioxide, and the other is a nanotube array that has holes that accept electrons - p-type material – cuprous oxide titanium dioxide mixture. P and n-type materials are common in the semiconductor industry. Grimes has been making n-type nanotube arrays from titanium by sputtering titanium onto a surface, anodizing the titanium with electricity to form titanium dioxide and then annealing the material to form the nanotubes used in other solar applications. He makes the cuprous oxide titanium dioxide nanotube array in the same way and can alter the proportions of each metal.
While titanium dioxide is very absorbing in the ultraviolet portion of the sun's spectrum, many p-type materials are unstable in sunlight and damaged by ultraviolet light, they photo-corrode. To solve this problem, the researchers made the titanium dioxide side of the diode transparent to visible light by adding iron and exposed this side of the diode to natural sunlight. The titanium dioxide nanotubes soak up the ultraviolet between 300 and 400 nanometers. The light then passes to the copper titanium side of the diode where visible light from 400 to 885 nanometers is used, covering the light spectrum.
The photoelectrochemical diodes function the same way that green leaves do, only not quite as well. They convert the energy from the sun into electrical energy that then breaks up water molecules. The titanium dioxide side of the diode produces oxygen and the copper titanium side produces hydrogen.
Although 0.30 percent efficiency is low, Grimes notes that this is just a first go and that the device can be readily optimized.
"These devices are inexpensive and because they are photo-stable could last for years," says Grimes. "I believe that efficiencies of 5 to 10 percent are reasonable."
Grimes is now working with an electroplating method of manufacturing the nanotubes, which will be faster and easier.
This story was written by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, Matt Corley, Ali Frick, Benjamin Armbruster, and Brad Johnson.
Yesterday, citing the "squeeze of rising prices at the pump," President Bush rescinded the presidential moratorium on offshore drilling.
The moratorium on lease sales in the Outer Continental Shelf was established in 1990 by his father, George H.W. Bush, in response to the devastating Exxon Valdez oil spill and extended by President Clinton.
Bush's action pressures Congress to follow him in "capitulation to the oil companies" by lifting their moratorium, which must be renewed annually. In response, Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) said at a press conference that Bush "is invoking the specter of another WMD: wells of mass deception."
At the Huffington Post, activist Martin Bosworth wrote, "Americans are smarter than we are often given credit for, and many of us do realize that destroying precious environmental resources and wildlife reserves to allow more domestic drilling is a psychological panacea -- a placebo to make us feel like 'something is being done.'"
However, polls show increasing support for expanded offshore drilling. Conservatives are preying on Americans' concern overskyrocketing gas prices by propagating false myths that drilling for oil off our coasts will allow us to "pay less" at the pump, that it's "environmentally safe," and that drilling is already underway by communist China.
Because "only real beneficiaries will be the oil companies that are trying to lock up every last acre of public land," their political allies must resort to selling falsehoods.
MYTH #1 -- 'DRILL HERE, DRILL NOW, PAY LESS'
Newt Gingrich's 527 organization, American Solutions, is promoting a "Drill Here. Drill Now. Pay Less" campaign, collecting over one million signatures on its petition to Congress to act immediately to lower gasoline prices" by authorizing the exploration of proven energy reserves" off our coasts.
American Solutions is funded by right-wing Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who wants Americans to place another bad bet on oil drilling. As the Energy Information Administration (EIA) has explained, "access to the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf regions would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030."
But because United States demand for oil far outstrips production -- we consume 25 percent of the world's supply but have two percent of the proven reserves -- further exploitation of domestic resources will not have a long-term impact either. After 2030, the EIA found, "any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant."
There are numerous ways to immediately affect prices, from use of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to improved oversight of the oil markets. Over the long term, we must fight global warming and break our addiction to oil through modern technology like plug-in hybrids and smart growth planning.
MYTH #2 -- CHINA ON OUR COASTS
Conservatives from Rudy Giuliani to Dick Cheney have repeatedly claimed that the United States needs to start drilling for off-shore oil because China is taking "American oil" off the coast of Cuba, just "60 miles off the coast of Florida."
Cheney exhorted, "Even the communistshave figured out that a good answer to high prices is more supply." That same day, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO) wrote that Castro was allowing drilling "45 miles from the Florida keys."
Rep. George Radanovich (R-CA) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) have also raised the specter of Chinese drilling just off U.S. shores. However, this modern invocation of the Red Scare the claim is completely false.
As Cheney was forced to acknowledge, "no Chinese firm is drilling" off Cuba's coast. Talking Points Memo has recorded the large number of conservatives hyping the false story.The Washington Post's Ben Pershing said the China/Cuba oil drilling claim is the "myth that keeps on giving," calling it "just too juicy not to repeat."
MYTH #3 -- 'NOT A DROP WAS SPILLED'
Offshore drilling advocates know that the specter of oil-slicked beaches would doom their campaign, so they are desperate to wish its environmental impact away.
Yesterday, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) claimed "not a drop of oil was spilled during Katrina or Rita." This myth has been told again and again by the likes ofGov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA), Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, Mike Huckabee, George Will, and Bill O'Reilly.
There were, in fact, major onshore and offshore spills due to the hurricanes. According to the official Minerals Management Service report, the hurricanes caused 124 offshore spills for a total of 743,700 gallons, six spilling 42,000 gallons or more.
The largest of these spills dropped 152,250 gallons, well over the 100,000 gallon threshhold considered a "major spill." In addition, the hurricanes caused disastrous spills onshore throughout southeast Louisiana and the rest of the Gulf Coast as tanks, pipelines, refineries and other industrial facilities were destroyed, for a total of 595 different oil spills.
The nine million gallons reported spilled were comparable with the Exxon Valdez's 10.8 million gallons, but unlike the Exxon Valdez, they were distributed throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, and other Gulf Coast states, many in residential areas.
A few months ago in a post about A/C alternatives I promised you I’d try some of the gadgets and get back to you. Well, summer has finally hit and in between sweaty drives around town I’ve been doing a little research. Here’s what I’ve learned:
- the A/C shirts, according to some cycling reviews I’ve read, are kind of uncomfortable and don’t last very long. Coupled with the high price, I let this one pass;
- this was the cheapest option, and therefore first on my list, stay tuned for more info;
- seems like it would work better than #1, but again, cost is a factor. I might give this a try later;
- definitely still on the to do list, expect an update on this before I shell out for #3;
- this is definitely next up with the beaded seats already taken of, when I return from HybridFest this is my next mod.
Before thinking about these tricks for alternative A/C, I’d always thought those beaded seat covers were for weirdos. Luckily, the other founder of EcoModder told me that they did a great job of keeping you cool in the summer. I was a little skeptical, but when he showed me his beaded covers and I realized I could get a pair for just $26 dollars (shipping included), I figured it was worth a try.
The Komfort Beads showed up on my doorstep the day after I ordered them, and I went right ahead and threw them on both my passenger and driver’s seats. It wasn’t very hot outside, so I couldn’t tell how they worked during short trips around town, but today they got their first real trial.
When I removed my A/C (most of you will think I’m a fool, but it never worked anyway), I decided that the ultimate replacement would be found when I could go to a date and take a date in my car without showing up a puddle of sweat or reducing her to one. Today I got to put this to the test, as it was extremely sunny and blisteringly hot on the way to an engagement with a lady caller.
I won’t get into the date, but the beads were a success. When I showed up I was a little toasty, but my back felt much nicer than usual and wasn’t a pool of sweat. The seat was still slightly uncomfortable, but it was definitely refreshing to have my back feeling good. When she got into the car, she agreed. I’m sure she’s used to A/C, but I didn’t hear any complaints about the heat. The only negative seemed to be that the beads could tug at longer hair.
Yep, I’m going to call it a success. The beads don’t put you in a 70F paradise, but they greatly improve summer driving and reduce sweat. Especially for just $26 for a pair, this was a great deal. Does anyone have any other beaded seat cover brands they can recommend?
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Creator Nick Bampton is a design student in Middlesex who encourages people to take a closer look at green labels through his project of pairing green and un-green products with graphics that show there is more than meets the eye when it comes to the details of so-called green products. For instance, he shows two MP3 players, one that looks like it has sustainability on the brain, but in actually can’t be recycled, can’t be upgraded, and toxic substances are used in its manufacturing. The other MP3 player looks sleek in a non-sustainable way, but is more durable, can be upgraded, and recycled.
We seriously dig this here at EcoGeek, since one of the greenest things to do is make what you have last as long as possible, and if you have to get rid of it, recycle. Gadgets that are made to be unfixable or disposable – especially when they’re supposedly “green” or from a “green” company – are just completely uncool and are the essence of greenwashing.
Bampton pulls the same comparison trick with a pair of chairs and several other objects. This kind of project is a good reminder that there are a whole slew of factors that go into evaluating the sustainability of products that claim a green lineage.
Buying an eco-friendly car or outfitting your house with solar panels and the latest green tech can be costly and time consuming. Perhaps this is why many are reluctant to go green. However you can be green today with these seven simple ways. Some may seem stupid but they are often overlooked for that reason.
1. Don’t turn your faucet on until you’re ready
This is an interesting habit many of us have. When we want to rinse our toothbrush or fill something with water, we turn on the faucet before the brush or cup is under the water. Think of how many times this is done and how much water is lost over time. It adds up. Hold your cup or toothbrush under the faucet before turning it on and turn off the faucet before moving anything.
2. Take it easy when driving
One of the best ways to save some gas is just to be more relaxed. No tailgating or pushing the petal to the metal. It’ll keep your blood pressure down as well. Also if you’re driving downhill, let your vehicle coast and when you’re coming to a stop don’t slam on your brakes, slowly reduce your speed.
3. Have a dehumidifier? Use the water
It gets very humid in basements during the summer, so you might have a dehumidifier to take the moisture out of the air. Don’t toss the water that fills up the bucket out the window, use it. You can water your flowers and plants. Perhaps you can even use the water to fill a bucket for suds to clean your car.
4. Reuse trash bags
Obviously you can’t do this with your kitchen garbage but you might be able to reuse your bathroom’s trash bag. Most bathrooms have a small can that you throw paper waste in. Well dump that waste into your kitchen garbage and save the smaller bag.
5. Attach funnels to your watering cans
If you’re a gardener, place your watering cans out in the open with some type of funnel in the can’s opening. Then when a rainstorm comes the funnels will catch the raindrops and fill the can.
6. Take the time to start tissue and paper towel rolls
This might seem stupid but when you’re the first one to use a new roll of paper towels or toilet paper, you know what I’m talking about. It always seems impossible to use the first piece of the roll. It always get ripped and shredded, and sometimes if you keep pulling it tears through 5 more sheets. The next time you have to start a roll, relax, breath, and take your time to save that first sheet.
7. Water plant roots, not leaves and flowers
You’d be surprised at how many people don’t understand this. You have to water the plant’s roots, not the leaves and/or flowers. A large percentage of water will evaporate off the leaves and flowers, without the plant getting what it needs. Because of this your plants will probably die. Make sure to water the base of the plant to reduce evaporation.
There are plenty more ways that you can be green. It doesn’t take much and after you practice new ways over and over, they’ll eventually become habits for you.
Ontario’s Boreal Forest absorbs 12.5 million tons of CO2 annually
A huge swath of Canada’s northern Boreal forest will be permanently protected from tree harvesting and mining as part of a plan to combat climate change, the Province of Ontario’s premier Dalton McGuinty announced Monday.
Canada’s Boreal forest forms a band of mostly coniferous trees almost 620 miles wide across the entire country, and has remained mostly undisturbed since the retreat of glaciers 10,000 years ago.
Growing foreign demand for Canada’s natural resources, like timber, wood pulp, hard rock, and fossil fuels, as well as ecological pressures from forest fires and insect infestations, are threatening the health and well-being of Canada’s Boreal forests.
Through this new arrangement, the future of Ontario’s northern Boreal lands and waters will be determined through an innovative land use planning initiative with Canadian First Nations. Under the plan, almost half of Ontario’s Boreal forest, or about 87,000 square miles, an area nearly equal to the entire United Kingdom, would be restricted to eco-tourism and traditional aboriginal uses, such as hunting or fishing.
The portion of the Boreal Forest that is protected, (encompassing nearly 45% of the province of Ontario), is home to billions of migrating birds, threatened species such as Woodland Caribou, Polar Bear and Lake Sturgeon. The massive ecosystem is also one of the globe’s most significant carbon sinks with the Ontario tract absorbing some 12.5 million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, said McGuinty.
Conservation groups hailed the decision, both in terms of the land protection itself, and the land use planning model that was put in place to protect that land. In a statement, Janet Sumner, Executive Director of CPAWS Wildlands League said, “This is a visionary and unprecedented policy. Today’s announcement fulfills the Premier’s promise to protect the Boreal Forest by doing Land Use Planning before large scale industrial development.”
The White House buried a report prepared by US government scientists which detailed a rising death toll from heat waves, fires, disease and smog they predicted would be caused by global warming.
Environmental advocates accused President George W Bush's administration of delaying the release of the 149-page report so that it could avoid regulating greenhouse gases.
It was prepared as part of a response to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling under the Clean Air Act, which found the Environmental Protection Agency must regulate greenhouse gases unless there was a scientific reason not to, but was not made public until Monday.
The report lays out for the first time the scientific case for the grave risks that global warming poses to people, and to the food, energy and water on which society depends.
"Risk (to human health, society and the environment) increases with increases in both the rate and magnitude of climate change," scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency said. Global warming, they wrote, is "unequivocal," and humans are to blame.
It suggests that extreme weather events and diseases carried by ticks and other organisms could kill more people as temperatures rise and allergies could worsen because climate change could produce more pollen. Smog, a leading cause of respiratory illness and lung disease, could become more severe in many parts of the country. At the same time, global warming could mean fewer illnesses and deaths due to cold.
"This document inescapably, unmistakably shows that global warming pollution not only threatens human health and welfare, but it is adversely impacting human health and welfare today," said Vickie Patton, deputy general counsel for the Environmental Defence Fund. "What this document demonstrates is that the imperative for action is now."
While scientists have pointed to a link between public health and climate change, the Bush administration has worked to discourage such a connection, fearing that doing so would compel the government to regulate greenhouse gases.
On Friday, the White House dismissed the scientists' findings, when it said the Clean Air Act was the wrong tool to control global warming pollution and a new law which dealt solely with global warming was needed.
Stephen Johnson, the EPA chief, said through a spokesman that although he knew "the science is clear, and that climate change is a significant issue," he did not want to make a "rash decision under the wrong law".
In a press conference today previewing a House Republican trip to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that’s meant to promote drilling, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) doubted the existence of actual wildlife in the refuge. “We’re going to look at this barren, Arctic desert where I’m hoping to see some wildlife,” said Boehner. “But I understand there’s none there.” Boehner repeated his skepticism during an interview on CNN, telling Wolf Blitzer, “I’ll be looking for all that wildlife.” Ironically, CNN paired Boehner’s interview with b-roll of actual wildlife moving around the refuge. Watch it:
Boehner would likely be less skeptical if he just visited the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s website for the the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which notes that it is “renowned for its wildlife” and is inhabited by 45 species of land and marine mammals, 36 species of fish and 180 species of birds. View photos of some of the wildlife here.
Higher fuel prices and increased carbon emissions have been giving nuclear energy a boost. So far this year, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has received licensing requests for 19 new nuclear power plants. That number could increase exponentially, along with the number of suitable sites for a plant, if the NRC approves a brand-new design for portable modular units developed at Oregon State University.
Interest in minireactors has grown over the past few years, according to Felix Killar at the Nuclear Energy Institute. “They're simple and robust, with safety features to allow a country without nuclear expertise to gradually put in small plants, and get people trained and familiar with them before moving into more complex plants.” But small-scale plants could prove useful in the United States, too, particularly in areas where residents must now rely on diesel generators for electricity. Toshiba is reportedly working on a small-scale design for Galena, Alaska. But NuScale Power, the startup spun from Oregon State, is the first American company to submit plans to the NRC, which regulates all domestic nuclear power plants.
The plant's design is similar to that of a Generation III+ “light water” reactor, but the size is unusual. “The whole thing is 65 ft. long,” explains Jose Reyes, head of the nuclear engineering department at Oregon State and a co-founder of NuScale Power. The reactor unit of NuScale's containment unit is 14 ft., compared to a Westinghouse AP1000, a standard current design, which is about 120 ft. in diameter. It has to be built and serviced on-site, but NuScale's units could be manufactured at the factory, then shipped on a rail car or heavy truck to any location and returned for refueling.
As in modern reactors, the containment shell acts as a heat exchanger, Reyes explains. The water closest to the core is vented into the outer shell as steam, where it condenses and drips into the cooling pool, which is recirculated to cool the core. The whole unit sits below grade, without telltale cooling towers. The reactor doesn't use pumps to circulate the water if the unit overheats, which means it needs no external power to cool down. That's a “passive safety” feature that protects the unit from electrical sabotage.
The new unit can be manufactured cheaply, with standard turbines from General Electric, for example, rather than custom-made parts. Because the steel reactor vessel is only 9 ft. in diameter, it can be made entirely in the U.S., rather than relying on Japan Steel Works, the only manufacturer who can cast today's one-piece, 25-ft.-plus reactor vessels.
Each 45-megawatt electrical unit would generate enough power for about 45,000 homes. By comparison, plants operated today generate 1000 to 1700 megawatts, according to NRC spokesman Scott Burnell. “You can't take an AP1000, a large base-load reactor, and put it down where there's no grid to support it. A smaller design could be useful in a remote setting.”
Large utilities could also use smaller units to their advantage, according to Reyes. Instead of shutting down an entire plant to replace fuel, as happens today, the utility could build a modular plant and then shut down only the unit affected.
NuScale has built and tested a one-third-scale unit that uses electrical heat to simulate a nuclear core. After the design is presented to the NRC on July 24, NuScale will spend the next year and a half testing it. They will then submit a final report to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which can spend two or three years reviewing documentation before approval. If all goes according to schedule, Reyes estimates, the minireactors could start to go on line in 2015.