A Few Earth Day Observations (from eight years ago)

The following post has been briefly edited from its origin eight years ago. It remains pertinent today. Progress has been made, but some progress has been waylaid. We need to move more rapidly than before.

Today is a good day to reflect on what more we can do to protect our planet and make it a life-sustaining environment for eons to come. Below are a few odds and ends for your review as well.

It is all about water and air

These are our dearest resources. We must be vigilant on how we use and impact these resources. I have written recently about “water is the new oil.” We can not only avoid polluting our precious resource, we have to be very thoughtful about its overall supply. Do not let anyone tell you this is not a major issue.

On the air side, we must guard against the emissions that come from the mining, collection, use and disposal of fossils fuels and petro-chemicals. For those who want to protect our kids from future debt problems, this will impact their health and the debt in far greater way, with the high cost of fixing problems and tending to those impacted mentally and physically.

Some skeptics will see the word “mentally” and say that is overblown. Yet, one of the key tenets of Dr. Sandra Steingraber’s books “Living Downstream” and “Raising Elijah” is most environmental models look at the impact of pollution on a 50-year-old man. The models need to look at the impact on children who are of lesser weight, closer to the ground, mouth breathe more, put hand to mouth more, and have developing brains. The data are showing the impact of various chemical pollutants heightens the propensity to certain mental and physical challenges such as autism and its various manifestations, asthma and other breathing disorders and more premature births which creates a vicious cycle for future health issues. Her data are very compelling and her voice needs to be heard.

Global warming will accelerate many bad things

In her books, Dr. Steingraber, who is an ecologist, biologist, and bladder cancer survivor, also notes that a problem we do not talk enough about in the discussion of global warming is its impact on the toxins that are in our air, water and environment. She says it is like a chemical crockpot. As the earth warms, so will these toxins and our ability to reduce them will be challenged. She highlights her bladder cancer as a bellweather cancer, as it is typically caused by environmental issues. She had other relatives nearby who also had bladder cancer – the key is she was adopted, so it was environmental not hereditary.

We are already seeing worse things in the global warming models than forecasted, so as one of the US’s political parties is fiddling, Rome is burning. Last year at this time, I read a report that showed hurricanes will more significantly impact the coastal regions with the higher sea levels. The analogy used is it is easier to dunk a basketball when the court is raised. This was before Hurricane Sandy which many scientists note was heightened by the raised sea levels. In addition to lives, livelihoods, and homes, the cost to fix is at least the $50 billion the federal government provided in January.

The other predictions in the model are heightened forest fire prevalence and intensity, worsened droughts in the drier areas along with more stalled weather systems. So some areas get way too much precipitation, while others get way too little. The human and economic cost of these worsening conditions is huge says Mercer Investment Consulting and major pension trust sponsors around the globe. This study done in 2011 talked of these increasing forest fires, worsening droughts, and intensifying hurricanes, which had already been occurring and are now more prevalent around the globe.

Already too much carbon in the air

People like to talk about global warming as a future event, yet as noted above, it is already impacting our lives. We have too much carbon in the air today and it will only get worse. China is firing up more coal plants and Beijing is coming closer to being an inhabitable city. If you do not believe this, then ask why it is getting harder for companies to get their ex pats to move and stay there.

There are solutions in addition to moving more quickly away from fossil fuels. We need to adopt older ways of grazing cattle that will let the grasslands flourish. We need to plant even more trees than we are doing now and stop taking them down at such an accelerated rate. And, we need to move more food growth and distribution closer to the sale and consumption of food. The greener areas will absorb more carbon at of the atmosphere and coupled with more renewable energy sources, will move us down the right path.

And it is not just humans

Finally, our ability to survive on this planet is not just in human hands. We are seeing the impact of global warming and environmental toxins on animals, fish and insects that matter to us. The honey bee population continues to fall and the culprit is most likely the pesticides sprayed on adjacent crops. These bees cross-pollinate a non-inconsequential percentage of our food and farmers and beekeepers are worried.

Our coral reefs are dying off in greater numbers. The Great Barrier Reef outside of Australia is shrinking for example. This is of vital importance due to the numbers of fish and other species that swim and grow there. And, species we do not eat are eaten by species we do. So, it is a major concern. And, closer to home the populations of cod are much smaller in Cape Cod, so the fishermen have to go further out to sea.  The US Fisheries Department has been tracking the impact of global warming on fish populations for over ten years, while the fiddlers still fiddle.

And, in the animal species, it is not just polar bears who are being impacted. The huge amount of fracking going on in our national parklands is impacting animals there. In Pennsylvania, small animals and birds are impacted by drinking the chemically laden water that cannot be kept out of the water supply. There is a domino effect that will impact us humans at some point, either directly, or through the animals, fish and insects we come in contact with.

Conserve and advocate

Now that I have scared the crap out of you, what can we do? Continue to conserve, compost and reuse. Do small things and big things. I wrote a post on last year’s Earth Day about conservation. But, also advocate. Change the conversation with others and leaders. Write them and be matter of fact. If someone starts a conversation about their doubts over global warming, say “that train has left the station, we need to talk about what to do about it.” If they insist, say “97% of scientists believe it to be so and only 26% of Republican Congresspeople. I choose to believe the 97% of scientists.” My advice is to not to debate the obvious, but discuss what to do about it. It will change the tenor of the conversation to be action-oriented.

And, that is precisely what is needed – action. We really do not have any time or resources to waste. Happy Earth Day.

Internal Bleeding – Be your own Health Care Advocate

The following post was written about nine years ago. Since that time, some of the changes noted below have taken shape, but the message remains important. Be your own health care advocate.

A few years ago, two doctors looking to improve the quality of health care in the US, wrote a book called “Internal Bleeding: The Truth Behind America’s Terrifying Epidemic of Medical Mistakes.” Since Drs. Robert Wachter and Kaveh Shojania wrote their book, improvements have and continue to be made, but with the concern over the US’ 38th position in health care quality, while being the most expensive system in the world (according to the World Health Organization), I think it is appropriate to belabor a few of their key points, in particular, being your own health care advocate.

In today’s world, we must be the navigators of any customer service we receive whether it is at a bank, the driver’s license office or in a retail store. We must be diplomatically relentless in trying to gain the service we expect and need to resolve an issue. Service providers, in particular those in a Call Center, need to stay on script as much as possible. When your problems get them off script, then your navigation diplomacy skills are needed the most.  I mention this as context for what we also must do in gleaning good health care service.

A few years back there was a study conducted by a combined group called the “Leapfrog Group” to improve the quality of health care in hospitals. Leapfrog came up with three major ideas – (1) Electronic orders were a must (poorly written prescription orders were killing people), (2) Intensive Care units need to always have a doctor on site and (3) Medical procedures of import need to be done in centers of excellence, not where a hospital may have done only a handful of surgeries in this area. “Internal Bleeding” echoes many of these same issues, especially the one on electronic order taking. Yet, they also go beyond these Leapfrog issues.

They noted that often times in hospitals, fewer critical questions are asked closer to the time of the procedure. Sometimes, the critical mistake may have occurred very early in the process. They used the analogy of all of the holes in Swiss cheese aligning to allow a mistake to pass all the way through. They used the example at Duke University where a famous heart transplant for a minor child occurred. The doctors at this very fine medical center, one of the best, were so excited when a heart of a young deceased donor became available, that they assumed others had checked that the type of blood of the donor matched the patient. It did not and the patient died. Similar examples occurred when doctors operated on the wrong leg, arm, kidney, lung, etc. The doctors failed to ask the very basic of questions and assumed these issues had been resolved.

In addition to the above and related to the Rx orders, the authors advocate the patient understand fully what is being done to them in the hospital or before they get there. They recommend you introduce yourself to every care giver who comes into the room, ask questions of them relative to medications you are being given and make them fully aware of other medications you are taking. They recommend if you cannot speak for yourself or are uncomfortable in so-doing, to delegate this important role to someone you trust. In other words, they are recommending being your own health care advocate. This will help minimize mistakes.

Health care is both a science and an art. It also is a trial and error business, so the doctors may not know for certain what is wrong with you and have to figure it out. They will do their best, but they do not know you very well or at all. So, you have to play the role of information provider and advocate.  Using the authors’ recommendation supplemented by other sources of information and experience, you must be your own health care advocate and do the following to get the care you expect and need.

– Write as good a summary of your and your family medical history as possible. Make it available to others you trust who may need to speak on your behalf.

– Before you see the doctor, write down your symptoms and questions as you may get stage fright when you see the doctor’s white coat.

– Do not be scared to ask questions, especially if you do not understand the diagnosis or remedy – he or she is there to serve you. I tell my kids you show your intelligence by asking questions, not by failing to ask.

– Get a second opinion on major diagnoses. For example, it takes a lot of practice to read a mammogram correctly and a non-inconsequential percentage of misdiagnoses occur. Using this example, computers cannot take the place of human fingers in doing a self-test. If you feel a lump and the first mammogram shows negative, get a second opinion.

– Make sure you inform your doctors and pharmacists what drugs you are taking. There are a number of drugs that contraempt the drug you need (make its use less effective) and some which are toxic when taken together. I ask my pharmacist questions all the time about some over counter drugs that may be harmful when taken with the prescriptions my family is taking, including me.

– Take your medications as prescribed and through the dosage. Many people stop taking their meds when they start feeling better.

– Be truthful with the doctor about your drinking and extra-curricular drug use. Doctors tend to believe patients understate their drinking, so help them out and tell them the truth. You drink more than you say you do.

– Make sure you get treatment for a major problem at a place that does a lot of what you need – a center of excellence. This is especially true with back or spinal surgeries and surgeries on any major organs. If you are having heart surgery, do you want it done where they have done 25 in the past year or 250, e.g? I have two friends who are having major back complications after spinal surgeries were done poorly.

– Get all the information you can around procedures to make informed decisions. In some cases, living with a mild discomfort with medication may be better than invasive surgery. Ask the doctor what are the options, what are the chances for success and what are the risks. If he/ she doesn’t know, ask him/ her with whom you can speak.

– Be diplomatically relentless with Call Center personnel at insurance companies. Mistakes do occur and sometimes you may be allergic to a substituted generic prescription. So, you can appeal a claim if you feel under-served.

– This one comes courtesy of Dr. Sandra Steingraber, an ecologist, biologist and cancer survivor. Family history needs to recognize your environment as well. She was adopted, but her bladder cancer at the age of 21, also occurred in other family members who lived nearby (as well as other cancers). Bladder cancer is a bell-weather cancer. It is largely caused by environmental toxins. If your family, neighbors or community has some longevity in an area and more than one or two bladder cancers have occurred, start doing some fact-finding. It may be more than a coincidence. Since people move around, showing environmental causes is difficult as the exposure may have occurred years before.

– Finally, take care of yourself in a sustainable way. Walk more. Reduce portions. Eat more slowly and ingest more calories earlier in the day. These measures can be sustained whereas diets cannot.

These are just a few ideas, but the key message is be your own health care advocate as you are the only constant in any equation about your health. If you feel you cannot serve this role well, please take a trusted friend or family member with you. Doctors and nurses are marvelous care givers, but they are not perfect. You have to improve their service by being present in the conversations. It is only your or your children’s lives.

The Frackers – the Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters (a reprise from 2014)

The following piece is a reprise from a post in 2014. It is important to read the concerns of six years ago about this industry. Fortunately, the renewable energy industry continues to make huge strides.

I recently completed a very interesting book written by Gregory Zuckerman, a Wall Street Journal reporter called “The Frackers – the Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters,” published by Portfolio/ Penguin Press in 2013. Zuckerman is also author of “The Greatest Trade Ever.” I highly recommend this book as it is as entertaining as it is informative, in multiple ways. It gives you a clearer picture of the risks and rewards of fracking, but also shows how hard it is to both glean the fossil fuel you are seeking and to be so highly leveraged in debt as you do.

The successful fracking companies, usually bucked the odds and the more measured risk takers in the larger companies who had much more capital to withstand some of the risk. As a result, even the ones who had success, usually failed before, after and sometimes during their success, due to the need to be land rich which came at a highly collaterized cost of debt. When some went public, they also had to contend with impatient shareholders. These wildcat developers made and lost huge sums of money, oftentimes with their egos getting in the way of knowing when to stop.

Zuckerman does an excellent job of telling the story of people like George Mitchell, who has been called the “father of shale fracking,” Aubrey McClendon, Tom Ward, Harold Hamm, Charif Souki, Robert Hauptfurher and Mark Papa, among countless others who were key to the success of gleaning natural gas and oil from places that were perceived too difficult to crack. He also defines why methods and strategies are so secretive, as companies will follow suit to leverage off your success. These men and their companies, Mitchell Energy, Oryx Energy, Chesapeake Energy, Continental Resources, Chenier Energy and EOG Resources, were truly the path finders in this process called fracking. They led the US to become more energy independent, yet in so doing, understated or overlooked the risks that came with those rewards.

As I read this entertaining book, I found myself convinced of a preconceived notion, that the main mission of these guys was to make a lot of money, as well as proving others wrong. Some even took delight that their hypothesis was true, even if they had not benefitted as greatly as the company that bought out their rights. Yet, what I also found this lust for money also was an Achilles Heel, and there seemed to be less consideration of what fracking was doing to the environment. They were more content to let the problems be handled by someone else and often belittled the complaints and complainers.

Zuckerman addresses these concerns from the frackers viewpoint earlier in the book, yet does devote an Afterword to the environmental risks that are real. But, before doing so, he notes that George Mitchell, late in life continued to buck convention. Per Zuckerman, Mitchell “gave millions to research clean energy even as he, along with his son and Joe Greenberg, invested in a new shale formation in Canada.” But the quote that interests me most, is by Mitchell who responds to those who contend how safe fracking is:

“Fracking can be handled if they watch and patrol the wildcat guys. They don’t give a damn about anything; the industry has to band together to stop isolated incidents.”

This dovetails nicely with a well-worn phrase I gleaned early on. Even if fracking were safe, it is only as safe as its worst operator. Mitchell, the father of fracking is more than acknowledging the bad operators. His son Todd, who was also in business with his father, said “his father’s work will have had a negative impact on the world if it forestalls progress on renewable energy, instead of giving innovators time to improve wind, solar and other cleaner energy sources.”

Let me close with an even-handed quote from Zuckerman, which frames the issue, yet also notes a caution. He answers the question “Is fracking as bad as activists say, and what will its impact be as drillers continue to pursue energy from shale and other rock formations?” His conclusion is as follows:

“The short answer: Fracking has created less harm than the most vociferous critics claim, but more damage than the energy industry contends. And, it may be years before the full consequences of the drilling and fracking are clear.”

With my reading I would agree with both of these sentences, yet not place the fulcrum in the middle of the scale. I would be more on the side of vociferous critics as the evidence continues to mount and as non-industry scientists are revealing issues. The massive water usage, the seepage of the poisonous slickwater fracking fluid into the environment, the particles that are blasted into the atmosphere which are causing breathing difficulty, and the degradation to the surrounding environment just to get vehicles and equipment into frack are compelling arguments by themselves.

But, the great caution in his last sentence is where we need to focus. “And, it may be years before the full consequences of the drilling and fracking are clear.”This is the bane of any environmental group fighting for people and the environment. Oftentimes, it takes years for the true damage to be seen and felt. Some show up in shorter order, yet when the companies making the money do not want to stop a mission, they can afford to fight people who cannot clearly make a connection. The developers want to settle with each complaint at minimal outlay and move on. Unfortunately, the people exposed to the problem, remain in harm’s way.

The Precautionary Principle – revisiting a relevant post from 2012

We are at a crossroads in our country and on our planet. We must all become better stewards with the environment and address these issues today and in the future. The business side of energy retrieval and production along side the development of mass-produced products made out of or enhanced by petro-chemicals have placed our planet in a precarious position. For the longest time, these industries have been able to delay addressing issues citing the data is not conclusive or shows causality. Proof or true causality oftentimes takes thirty years or more. In the interim, the data can show a high correlation that an activity is leading to a problem. For those who did not take statistics, correlation means things rise and fall together.

In the US, we place the burden of proof on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and like agencies who govern other areas of commerce. Other countries have a variation of the EPA.  In some countries that burden resides with the developer to show that something is not toxic or harmful to others. Several scientists and concerned citizens got together at Wingspread in Canada to discuss these issues. One of the tenets of that meeting can be summed up by a statement made by Bradford Hill, a medical statistician and inventor of the randomized clinical trial, back in 1965:

“All scientific work is incomplete – whether it be observational or experimental. All scientific work is liable to be upset or modified by advancing knowledge. That does not confer upon us a freedom to ignore the knowledge we already have or postpone the action that it appears to demand at a given time.”

In short, we should not wait to do something later if the evidence is telling us something is amiss now. With toxic chemicals, for example, if you wait to fully prove something is bad, the damage is already done. Especially when you are dealing with children who are still developing and breathe in more than adults.

The group at Wingspread developed the following Precautionary Principle

“When an activity raises threat of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context, the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.”

“The process of applying the Precautionary Principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action,” noted Dr. Sandra Steingraber in her book “Living Downstream – An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment.” In this book and her second book called “Raising Elijah” she notes industry has tended to stiff arm science to continue to conduct practices that are harmful to the environment and people. The democratic process she references is hard to conduct, when so much money is at stake.

If I have not scared you enough, I am reading a book now called “Water – The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power and Civilization” by Steven Solomon. If you like history, you will love this book. I have not finished it, so I don’t know the ultimate punch line. Yet, through history it has been shown that great civilizations have risen and fallen by their ability to manage the water and sewage supply. The data he has shown thus far is very compelling. Water is our dearest resource next to air. Without either, we cannot survive on this planet. If we do not protect what is happening to either we are destined to fail as country, planet and people.

I use fracking as a good case in point. The data is highly correlated that fracking leads to toxins in the water and air of the surrounding area. Yet, I believe and have said this in letters to the editor and to politicians, set that aside for now. Fracking takes a huge amount of water out of the water supply and it cannot go back as it is poisoned with the fracking chemicals. We can ill-afford to waste our water on this environmentally destroying  retrieval process. Water is very dear and the droughts and fights over water supply will continue to show this. The developers say the same things they have said for years on other issues – you cannot prove there is a causal relationship between fracking and the toxins. Yet, we can prove you are taking a lot of drinking, bathing and sewage water away from people. And, the data is very compelling on the toxins as well.

This brings us back to the Precautionary Principle. We should reverse the equation. OK, Mr. Developer, since you want to make a ton of money and pay off people to frack beneath their land, YOU prove that fracking is NOT toxic to people or environment before you dig one hole. You prove that this is the best use of our dear water supply. And, you keep testing after you start digging. I have known many developers in my day and the last thing they want to do is hold off on doing something. They want to make their money and leave the problems for someone else. If we reverse the equation, they will have to do more homework beforehand and throughout. That is a good thing.

The dilemma we face as a planet is there is a lot of money to be had in developing energy and chemical products from fossil fuels. As a result, the industry supports a lot of politicians with a lot of money and lobbying efforts. Yet, we must diminish our reliance on fossil fuels, we must understand the impact of petro-chemicals on our environment and people and we must put the burden of proof that an activity is not harmful on the purveyor of that activity beforehand and throughout. In the meantime, if anyone says we should do away with the EPA, for you, me and our children, tell them that is the dumbest idea you have ever heard and would be poor stewardship of our planet. Please help advocate the Precautionary Principle as well.

Environmental Crisis – Raising all of our Elijahs (a reprise)

The following post was written in 2012, but requires repeating. We have made some progress, but not near enough. The children are starting to pay more attention about the world they are inheriting, as evidenced by Greta Thunberg’s popularity.

Earlier this week, I had the distinct pleasure to hear Dr. Sandra Steingraber speak on the significant environmental crisis that has been with us for some time and the impact past, current and future events will have on the environment and us in the future. I say pleasure, but in fact, she scared the crap out of me and everyone in attendance which was her purpose. Dr. Steingraber is an ecologist, author, cancer survivor* and mother of two. Her most recent book about her son is called “Raising Elijah – Protecting our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis” and it follows her earlier book called “Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer.” She is a frequent public speaker and has testified in front of Congress, the United Nations and the European Parliament to name a few. Her first book has been made into a film by The People’s Picture Company of Toronto.

She tells her stories from each of her lenses, but her most impactful lens is the one told as a mother of two. I am currently reading “Raising Elijah” and would encourage each of you to read it and tell others about it. I will move onto her first book after this one. She attests that when you speak of these issues as a mother (or parent), it resonates with everyone as we all wish for our children to live healthy lives. She notes she has been able to bring pro-life and pro-choice believers together on these issues.

In her mind, there are two types of crises with the environment – the toxic crisis and the climate change crisis. The toxic crisis has been with us for some time and decisions and exposures from many years ago are still affecting people now. The climate change crisis is very real and, in addition, to the other issues it creates, it heightens the impact of the toxic crisis even more. Elevated temperatures and the impact on the ozone will only make current matters worse. From a mother’s perspective, the impact on our children is worse than it is on adults. She notes the obvious, but children are closer to the ground where many of the toxins reside, they have a much higher degree of mouth breathing meaning they will take in more air per pound, they put their hands in their mouth about ten times an hour plus they will be exposed for longer periods due to their age than adults to toxins. A few facts that will heighten the issue

– 1 out of 8 US children are born prematurely which is traceable to the environment; early births mean the lungs are not fully created, so life long breathing issues will result;

– 1 out of 11 US children have asthma (1 out of 4 in Harlem);

– 1 in 10 US children will have a learning disability;

– 1 in 110 US children will have some form of Autism; and

– 1 in 10 US white girls and 1 in 5 US black girls will have breast development before the age of 8, which translates into menopausal and other issues.

I wish to tell you these numbers are made up, but they are well-grounded. And, the higher propensity can be traced to toxins that have been allowed to exist in the air, water and even playgrounds. The latter will make you furious, but the pressurized wood we have in many of our playgrounds is loaded with arsenic, copper and chromium, so our children and adults with our pressurized decks, are exposed to these chemicals. Adding to that, it  is measured that 60% of Americans live in areas where the air is unhealthful. So, from her perspective, “an investment in green energy is also an investment in cancer prevention.”

I went to hear her speak as she is one of the biggest opponents of hydro-fracturing or fracking to release and harvest natural gas. What I expected to hear is the impact fracking has on the nearby water where the chemicals used to fracture the shale gets in the water table. I also expected to hear about the significant increase in earthquakes in areas where fracking is done. These are a problem. Yet her major concern is what is released into the air and its impact on many today and in the future. Air pollution is what is causing the conditions in children and adults.

She notes the US is now doing and promoting Four Extreme Measure of Fossil Fuel Extraction – (1) mountain top removal, (2) tar sands, (3) deep-sea oil drilling and (4) fracking. All of these impact our environment greatly, but fracking gives her the most alarm. She advocates we must have a strategy to cease all new fossil fuel extraction now and invest in renewable forms of energy. Her point is any change will not impact the climate change for about 15 years, so we must divorce ourselves now from new fossil fuels.

What can we do? Reading from “Climate Change and Your Health – Rising Temperatures, Worsening Ozone Pollution,”  by the Union of Concerned Scientists, we should be doing the following (here in 2020, many of these are now being done, but they need to be accelerated):

– investing in more fuel-efficient cars and reducing the miles driven;

– developing fuels that are less carbon-intensive;

– providing good public transit and other commuting/ travel alternatives;

– increasing energy efficiency at industrial and commercial facilities;

– developing and retrofitting homes and buildings to be more efficient;

– using more renewable energy resources – such as wind, solar and geothermal – to generate electricity; (looking from 2020, I would add tidal as well; note wind and solar are now more cost effective than coal)

– ensuring that ozone and carbon-reduction standards are strong enough to be truly protective of public health; and

– working collaboratively with global partners to reduce carbon emissions from other countries.

The issues and solutions require concerted effort and input from all parties. And, once you read Dr. Steingraber’s book I hope you have a better grasp that we need a concerted effort now to save our children – our Elijahs. While other issues are important – none of them will matter if we don’t fix these problems. The human and economic cost will dwarf any of these issues.

*Note: Steingraber is a bladder cancer survivor. Bladder cancer is a bellweather cancer meaning it is most often environmentally caused. She and a few other family and extended family members got bladder and other types of cancer, as they lived between four manufacturing plants. And, as Steingraber notes, she is adopted, so her cancer was not hereditary.

Trump Environmental Protection Agency makes it easier to harm infants

The dramatic headline is designed to get your attention, so please forgive the theatrics. Yet, while the president distracts us with his chaotic, incompetent and untruthful actions and words about more headline issues, his misnamed Environmental Protection Agency has struck again.

Amanda Mills penned the following article on June 23, 2020 in the online publication “Nation of Change,” “Trump’s EPA rolls back regulation of chemical linked to brain damage in infants that can be found in drinking water.” I will include her entire brief article below.

“Last week, Trump’s EPA decided to roll back regulations of a chemical that causes brain damage in infants. This chemical, perchlorate, is found in rocket fuel and can also be found in public drinking water.

Environmental experts and Health professionals have been fighting this deregulation that was created during the Obama Administration.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler claims this move ‘fulfills President Trump’s promise to pare back burdensome ‘one-size-fits-all’ overregulation for the American people.’

According to Associated Press, perchlorate from runoff contaminates the drinking water of as many as 16 million Americans, the Obama administration said in 2011 when it announced the EPA would act to set maximum limits for perchlorate for the first time.

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) senior strategic director for Health Erik D. Olson says this decision is ‘illegal, unscientific, and unconscionable. The Environmental Protection Agency is threatening the health of pregnant moms and young children with toxic chemicals in their drinking water at levels that literally can cause loss of IQ points. Is this what the Environmental Protection Agency has come to?’

According to Common Dreams, the NRDC plans to challenge the order in court, claiming the consent decree did not allow for deregulating the chemical.”

I truly wish I were making these things up and kids will not be harmed by the president, but as evidenced by previous EPA actions and his blatant lack of empathy for COVID-19 victims, this is not really a stretch. As conservative pundit David Brooks has said, the president “lacks a sense of decency or empathy.”

These roll back of environmental regulations have been deliberate efforts to make it easier for industry to not worry about pollution. Environmental protections cost money. Sadly, when industry has not been permitted to get away with harming people, animals and the environment, it becomes a major motion picture as “Dark Waters” was last year or “Erin Brockovich” years before.

And, the troubling part is people who live in more rural or town areas near these facilities are the ones who get screwed or killed. These hard working folks make up some of Trump’s voters. The ecologist and biologist Sandra Steingraber has testified in front of Congress and the European Union parliament. She is has authored several books, her first being “Living Downstream” and her second “Raising Elijah.” In these books, it shows how industry outguns and outspends local people harmed by their pollution. It takes a Herculean effort to fight this injustice, hence the heroic movies when it does happen.

One thing Steingraber points out is our pollution metrics tend to measure the impact of pollution on a 50 year old man. That is the wrong metric. Kids have developing brains and lungs, mouth breathe more than adults, put their hands in their mouths more frequently, play outside more and are lower to the ground. They are more susceptible than adults are to chemical pollution. Plus, pregnant women are caring for two lives (maybe more), so we need to be extra careful with them.

So, this is why the Trump EPA’s decision to permit easier pollution is so over-the-top callous. Please question this move. Make people stand up and explain why this is a good idea. As I have mentioned before, I knew of Trump’s negatives, but what I feared most is what Trump would do to our environment and climate change actions more than anything. This is just one more example.

A few odds and ends

Absent a large theme, let me toss out a few odds and ends for your digestion. In no particular order:

– When the pro-Brexit planners were organizing the vote, they tolerated Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson’s efforts, but did not involve them in the planning process. To see those two once again involved is not encouragjng to any future organized departure.

– There is a reason a certain US President does not want people looking down the Deutsche Bank rabbit hole. Malfeasance abounds with all parties, including the bank itself, which has been required to pay fines for money laundering. When you add to the mix a real estate developer who cannot get a US bank to lend him money and no better to place to launder money than in real estate, and it is not hard to fathom unscrupulous behavior.

– The US leaving three agreements will make the world less safe and prosperous, including the US. The Trans-Pacific Partnership was designed for the eleven participating countries to compete against China; with the US withdrawing, the other ten countries moved ahead, but it lost some clout without the US. Leaving the Iran deal (which they were in compliance with) was unwise. Instead of some stability, we are at risk, as much from Trump as from Iran. And, leaving the Paris Accord on Climate Change made us an outlier at a crucial time for our planet.

– Anti-immigration rhetoric abounds, yet facts are usually casualties in the debate. Rather than have a healthy, data-centric analysis, fear and blame are the selling points. It was succesful in the US, in the UK and in Hungary. People have a right to feel the way they do, but if they heard thoughtful discourse, they may be less zealous with their hatred.

– The ecologist and biologist Sandra Steingraber once wrote environmental impact tests are too geared toward a fifty year-old man, when children are more susceptible being closer to the ground, outdoors more, putting their hands in their mouths and mouth breathing more and without fully developed lungs and brains. I read yesterday, the Trump EPA is defunding tests to perform chemical impact analysis on children. Why? Steingraber, a bladder cancer survivor, notes we do not consider the environment enough as a cause for poor health.

That is enough for now. Let me know your thoughts.

 

We measure environmental impact on adults, not kids

I have written several times about Sandra Steingraber. Who is she, you may ask? She is a biologist, ecologist, author and environmental advocate. Steingraber has spoken in front of the United Nations, the European Parliament and US Congress on the impact of chemicals on our environment and people.

Steingraber is a bladder cancer survivor which led her to her passionate advocacy. Bladder cancer is a bellweather cancer, meaning it is almost always caused by environmental toxins. Her home was in proximity to several chemical plants. In addition, her siblings and nearby cousins also had various cancers, including bladder cancer. A key factoid is she was adopted, so her cancer was not genetic and it came from exposure.

Steingraber has strongly advocated for kids on environmental issues. Her first two books called “Living Downstream” and “Raising Elijah,” using her son’s name, focus on these issues. A huge takeaway from her books and advocacy is we tend to measure the impact of environmental toxins on a fifty year old man, not children.

Why is this statement important? Kids are still developing their brains, so they are more susceptible to environmental toxins. Their lungs take time to fully develop as well. Plus, children are smaller in weight, closer to the ground, breathe more through their mouths and put their hands in their mouths with much greater frequency. If they touch something, it winds up in their mouth (remember the pretreated lumber playgrounds? – arsenic was used in the pretreatment).

Steingraber and other scientists’ analyses reveal toxins from chemical plants can damage us from air particulates as much as from seepage into the water. She notes these toxins settle on playgrounds, fields and trees, but then become airborne when the wind blows again. So, kids will often get exposed from what they touch or breathe in from what they scuff up from the ground.

I have seen her speak and have read both of these books. Her message resonates with parents. With the assault on environmental regulations by the current White House, her message is needed even more. Plus, she has another huge caution for all of us. As the climate warms, the impact of these chemicals will only get worse. She likens the earth to a crock pot that is warming these chemicals.

I encourage you to read her books. Her message is pertinent, loud and clear. It needs to be shouted from the rooftops, but especially from the playgrounds. We owe it to our children.

Innovation is portable (and attractive)

Innovation is portable. This is a quote from David Smick’s book “The World is Curved.” Who is David Smick, you may be asking? He was an economic advisor to Congressman Jack Kemp, President Ronald Reagan and President Bill Clinton, two Republicans and a Democrat. His comment is telling in that he notes if we do not do our best to keep the innovators here, they will go elsewhere. And, when they go elsewhere, manufacturing from the innovation will be based elsewhere.

The US has the world’s best college and university system and it draws people from around the globe and country. So, we should grease the skids to make it easier for them to stay and innovate here post graduation. It would be a shame for the idea creation to start here and migrate to another country. As that will be where the job creation begins.

So, what do we need to do about it? We need to make sure our immigration laws are improved to make it easier to keep talent. Industry has been crying out for this, yet it is held hostage by a political gamesmanship to speak to a strident base. We need to reform our patent laws to make sure “patent trolls” do not interfere and sabotage the innovators. These trolls are extortionists who will use a key word or phrase in an idea by someone else to state that someone is violating a patent they filed (with no product or development behind it). What the troll wants is “go away money” without a court case.

We need to understand the historical marriage and timing of venture capital, government funding and other investor capital. Our nation has been forged on the interplay between these funding sources, as they are needed to perpetuate ideas and implement the initial manufacturing effort. The money is needed at various times in the process, with the government money sometimes in advance of the venture capital, sometimes in tandem with the venture capital and sometimes following it. The need varies based on the what is needed to get stuff off the ground.

There are numerous examples of joint investment. I spoke of one last night about an offshore wind turbine testing facility in Charleston, South Carolina. It is a joint venture between folks like GE and Siemens who make turbines, Clemson University, the City of Charleston, the US Department of Energy and the SC Department of Energy (although it may have a different name). The idea is to improve the efficacy of these offshore wind turbines making them more economical to use here in the states, as they are done elsewhere.

Another good example in Durham, North Carolina is a company called Semprius, which makes the most elegant solar photo-voltaic panel in the world, where 33% of the sun’s energy is convertible to electricity, a huge leap forward. This is a joint venture between Pratt-Whitney Rocketdyne, Siemens and the US Department of Energy. With solar energy taking off everywhere, but especially in North Carolina with about 23,000 jobs which have been growing at a 25% annual rate the last three years, it shows what innovation means to an area. Nationally, at year-end 2014, there are 174,000 solar jobs which have been growing at a double-digit rate over the last five years per annum.

It should be obvious that I picked two renewable energy examples, as these two sources not only have to be a key part of our future energy mix, but they have and will promote jobs as a result. And, not only is innovation portable – it is attractive to new business. So, this is where we need to fund more of our resources. It is good for our environment and it is good for business. And, per Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change which is on point, it is good for God’s creation. Given that the Pope is also a trained scientist with a Masters in Chemistry, as well as a humanitarian, I think the world should listen to what he has to say on these issues. Especially, since he is echoing the findings of so many scientific bodies and panels.

I am a tree hugger and a capitalist

It is not uncommon for me to be called a tree hugger when I am speaking about protecting our environment, addressing man-influenced climate change or the perils of some fossil fuel retrieval processes that can and are wreaking havoc such as fracking or mountain top coal mining. Some who use this term intend to belittle my arguments, as they espouse the belief if you label something with a moniker that has a negative connotation in some circles, it dismisses my arguments as not worth heeding.

Yes, I am a tree hugger, but I am a capitalist as well. I firmly believe we do a disservice to the need to protect our environment without fully addressing the cost/ benefit analysis of fossil fuel retrieval processes or chemical use both within and to protect crops. Often, we do not fully measure the cost impact to net against the revenue impact. If we did more of this, then we may forego some measures as not justifiable from a cost/ benefit comparison. This would go on top of other impacts that may not show up directly in costs.

Here are few examples of what I mean.

– The city of Burlington, VT is now 100% powered by renewable energy including bio-mass, hydropower, wind and solar energy. Per the Burlington Electric Department, they have not had a rate increase since 2009 and their future projections said this package of renewable energy sources was the cheapest and most sustainable model. An environmental scientist with the University of Vermont noted that Burlington is not uniquely situated. The wind does not blow any more than elsewhere and the sun certainly does not shine as often as anyone would like, but their model is based on decisions leaders started making ten years ago.

– The state of North Carolina has spent a lot of time paving the way for fracking in our state trying to make an increasingly apparent unsafe process safer. After spending all this time, there may not be any takers as there is not much natural gas to frack in NC, which they knew beforehand. After the rules were finalized, the committee noted we knew it would be a stretch. Then, with so many problems, why did you go down this path wasting everyone’s time, energy and money on a bad process with little promise?

– The President has said he is OK with the pursuit of offshore drilling off the coast of the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia and Maryland. The two Senators from NC support this as well as our Governor. Yet, NC has a huge tourism business that is in the billions of dollars as well as a huge fishing industry. These folks are not too keen on this exploration given the risk and damage the operations bring. Further, just off the coast of North Carolina, wind energy could power the entire eastern seaboard of the US. And, as opposed to the Horizon oil rig collapse, when a wind mill crashes into the sea, it causes only a splash.

– When we speak of doing more fossil fuel development, we consistently hear jobs are one of the reasons. Yet, this is not an either/ or as there are jobs in the renewable energy industries as well. Just in solar energy, the numbers of jobs tally 174,000 in the US at year-end and more than double the number of coal industry jobs. Plus, the growth rate in solar jobs is double-digit the last five or so years, with 2014 seeing 22% growth. Those 25,000 new permanent jobs added in 2014 almost equal in one year the estimated temporary jobs from the Keystone pipeline. Plus, the sun shines in all states, so jobs can be spread around, especially with the even more compelling cost of solar.

The parts of the cost/ benefit equation that do not get factored in enough are the costs of cleaning up the messes and repairing the road and environmental degradation which is usually left for the state, the cost of healthcare when the environment is trashed or chemicals are used inappropriately or in excess, and the opportunity cost of lost water resources, which is one of our two dearest resources and is called the new oil. These latter two factors are reasons the state of New York said no to fracking.

Being totally frank, it makes economic sense to treat our environment well. It is so important, you can even find bible passages where we are compelled to take care of the environment. So, yes I am a tree hugger. My question is why isn’t everyone?