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Court says pipelines — not Exxon — are to blame for a major oil spill.

That’s all kinds of scary. If there’s one place on Earth that would be the worst possible spot for a giant volcanic chain, it’s beneath West Antarctica. Turns out, it’s not a great situation to have a bunch of volcanoes underneath a huge ice sheet.

In a discovery announced earlier this week, a team of researchers discovered dozens of them across a 2,200-mile swath of the frozen continent. Antarctica, if you’re listening, please stop scaring us.

The study that led to the discovery was conceived of by an undergraduate student at the University of Edinburgh, Max Van Wyk de Vries. With a team of researchers, he used radar to look under the ice for evidence of cone-shaped mountains that had disturbed the ice around them. They found 91 previously unknown volcanoes. “We were amazed,” Robert Bingham, one of the study’s authors, told the Guardian.

The worry is that, as in Iceland and Alaska, two regions of active volcanism that were ice-covered until relatively recently, a warming climate could help these Antarctic volcanoes spring to life soon. In a worst-case scenario, the melting ice could release pressure on the volcanoes and trigger eruptions, further destabilizing the ice sheet.

“The big question is: how active are these volcanoes? That is something we need to determine as quickly as possible,” Bingham said.

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Court says pipelines — not Exxon — are to blame for a major oil spill.

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E-Z Anatomy and Physiology – Edward I. Alcamo, PhD.

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E-Z Anatomy and Physiology – Edward I. Alcamo, PhD.

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Scott Pruitt doesn’t want to politicize science.

According to a new study from the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project, the current presidential administration has collected fewer civil penalties and filed fewer environmental enforcement suits against polluting companies than the Obama, Clinton, and George W. Bush administrations did at the same point in office.

The analysis assesses agreements made in the Environmental Protection Agency’s civil enforcement cases. For abuses under laws like the Clean Air Act, the Trump administration has collected just $12 million in civil penalties, a drop of 60 percent from the average of the other administrations. Trump’s EPA has lodged 26 environmental lawsuits compared to 31, 34, and 45 by Bush, Obama, and Clinton, respectively.

The marked decrease in enforcement likely has to do with the EPA’s deregulatory agenda. Since confirmed, administrator Scott Pruitt has systematically tried to knock out key environmental regulations, especially those created during Obama’s tenure.

The Project notes that its assessment is only of a six-month period, so future enforcement could catch Trump up to his predecessors. Or he’ll continue to look the other way.

“I’ve seen the pendulum swing,” said Bruce Buckheit, who worked in EPA enforcement under Clinton and then Bush, “but never as far as what appears to be going on today.”

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Scott Pruitt doesn’t want to politicize science.

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The Impossible Burger wouldn’t be possible without genetic engineering

The Impossible Burger has had a charmed honeymoon period. Crowds of foodies surged into fancy eateries to try it. Environmentalists and animal rights activists swooned. So did investors: Impossible Foods brought in $75 million during its latest investment round.

Now the backlash is here. The activist organizations Friends of the Earth and the ETC Group dug up documents which they claim show that Impossible Foods “ignored FDA warnings about safety” — and they handed them over to the New York Times.

The ensuing story depicted Impossible Foods as a culinary version of Uber — disrupting so rapidly that it’s running “headlong into” government regulators. In reality, Impossible Foods has behaved like a pedestrian food company, working hand in hand with the FDA and following a well-worn path to comply with an arcane set of rules.

So why isn’t this story a nothingburger?

In a word: GMOs. You see, soy leghemoglobin, or SLH, the key ingredient that makes the Impossible Burger uniquely meaty, is churned out by genetically modified yeast. “This is a protein produced with genetic engineering; it’s a new food ingredient,” Dana Perls, senior food and technology campaigner at Friends of the Earth, told me when I asked why they’d singled out Impossible Foods.

The company has never exactly hidden the fact that they used genetic engineering, but they haven’t put it front and center either. You have to dig into their “frequently asked questions” to catch that detail — and that’s a recent edit, according to Perls. “When I first looked at the Impossible Foods website, maybe back in March, there was no mention of genetic engineering,” she said. (An Impossible Foods spokesperson disputed Perls’s claim, saying the FAQ has included references to genetic engineering for at least a year, since before the burger’s launch in restaurants.*)

By tiptoeing around this issue, Impossible Foods set themselves up for a takedown by anti-GMO campaigners. These groups monitor new applications of genetic engineering, watch for potentially incriminating evidence, then work with journalists to publicize it. In 2014, Ecover, a green cleaning company, announced it was using oils made by algae as part of its pledge to remove palm oil — a major driver of deforestation — from its products. When Friends of the Earth and the ETC Group figured out the algae was genetically engineered, they pinged the same Times writer. Ecover quickly went back to palm oil.

When I asked Impossible Foods’ founder Pat Brown about the GMO question, he said he didn’t think that battle was theirs to fight. After all, the SLH may be produced by transgenic yeast, but it isn’t a GMO itself. He also pointed out that this isn’t unusual: nearly all cheese contains a GMO-produced enzyme.

But now, Friends of the Earth and the ETC Group have brought their battle to Impossible Foods’ doorstep. (In a blistering series of responses to the New York Times article, the company charged it “was chock full of factual errors and misrepresentations and was instigated by an extremist anti-science group.”) The FDA documents handed over to the Times include worrying sentences like this one: “FDA stated that the current arguments at hand, individually and collectively, were not enough to establish the safety of SLH for consumption.”

If FDA officials say your company hasn’t done enough to convince them that a new ingredient is safe, aren’t you supposed to pull it off the market?

That’s not how it works, said Gary Yingling, a former FDA official now helping Impossible Foods navigate the bureaucracy. In the United States, it’s up to the companies themselves to determine if an ingredient is safe. Impossible worked with a group of experts at universities who decided that the burger was safe in 2014. SLH, it turns out, grows naturally in the roots of soy plants, and the proteins in the burger look a lot like animal proteins — a good indicator of safety.

Impossible could have stopped there: Companies, however, can ask the government to weigh in on their research. Sometimes, the FDA asks for more information, which is what happened with Impossible Foods. It’s not unusual for the FDA to determine it can’t establish the safety of a new ingredient — it’s happened more than 100 times, with substances like Ginkgo biloba, gum arabic, and Spirulina. The FDA has called for more information in about one in every seven of the ingredients companies have asked it to review.

In the case of SLH, the FDA suggested more tests, including rat-feeding trials. Impossible Foods has finished these tests, and academics who have studied the new data confirmed that it’s “generally recognized as safe.” Next, Impossible Foods will bring the new evidence back to the FDA, Yingling said.

Each new innovation creates the potential for new hazards. We can block some of those hazards by taking precautions. But how high should we put the precautionary bar?

Impossible Burger could indeed pose some unknown hazard. We just have to weigh that against the known hazards of the present — foodborne diseases in meat, greenhouse gases from animal production, the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria in farms, and animal suffering. These are problems which Impossible Foods is trying to solve.

There are other companies trying to solve these problems. (Friends of the Earth notes that “the success of non-animal burgers, like the non-GMO Beyond Burger, demonstrates that plant-based animal substitutes can succeed without resorting to genetic engineering.”) But it’s not yet clear that any of these companies — including Impossible Foods — will be successful in just generating a profit, let alone in replacing the global meat industry. No one knows which startups will pan out. And we’ll probably need to try and discard lots of new things as we shift to a sustainable path.

Trying new things can be risky. Not trying new things — and staying on our current trajectory — is even more risky.

*This story has been updated to include a response from Impossible Foods about when references to genetic engineering first appeared in its FAQ.

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The Impossible Burger wouldn’t be possible without genetic engineering

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Dawn Light: Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day – Diane Ackerman

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Dawn Light: Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day – Diane Ackerman

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An art installation about rising seas sank into a Philly river.

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An art installation about rising seas sank into a Philly river.

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Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn – Amanda Gefter

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Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn
A Father, a Daughter, the Meaning of Nothing, and the Beginning of Everything
Amanda Gefter

Genre: Physics

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: January 14, 2014

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group

Seller: Penguin Random House LLC


NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY  KIRKUS REVIEWS In a memoir of family bonding and cutting-edge physics for readers of Brian Greene’s The Hidden Reality and Jim Holt’s Why Does the World Exist?, Amanda Gefter tells the story of how she conned her way into a career as a science journalist—and wound up hanging out, talking shop, and butting heads with the world’s most brilliant minds.   At a Chinese restaurant outside of Philadelphia, a father asks his fifteen-year-old daughter a deceptively simple question: “How would you define nothing?” With that, the girl who once tried to fail geometry as a conscientious objector starts reading up on general relativity and quantum mechanics, as she and her dad embark on a life-altering quest for the answers to the universe’s greatest mysteries.        Before Amanda Gefter became an accomplished science writer, she was a twenty-one-year-old magazine assistant willing to sneak her and her father, Warren, into a conference devoted to their physics hero, John Wheeler. Posing as journalists, Amanda and Warren met Wheeler, who offered them cryptic clues to the nature of reality: The universe is a self-excited circuit, he said. And, The boundary of a boundary is zero. Baffled, Amanda and Warren vowed to decode the phrases—and with them, the enigmas of existence. When we solve all that, they agreed, we’ll write a book.   Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn is that book, a memoir of the impassioned hunt that takes Amanda and her father from New York to London to Los Alamos. Along the way, they bump up against quirky science and even quirkier personalities, including Leonard Susskind, the former Bronx plumber who invented string theory; Ed Witten, the soft-spoken genius who coined the enigmatic M-theory; even Stephen Hawking.   What they discover is extraordinary: the beginnings of a monumental paradigm shift in cosmology, from a single universe we all share to a splintered reality in which each observer has her own. Reality, the Gefters learn, is radically observer-dependent, far beyond anything of which Einstein or the founders of quantum mechanics ever dreamed—with shattering consequences for our understanding of the universe’s origin. And somehow it all ties back to that conversation, to that Chinese restaurant, and to the true meaning of nothing.   Throughout their journey, Amanda struggles to make sense of her own life—as her journalism career transforms from illusion to reality, as she searches for her voice as a writer, as she steps from a universe shared with her father to at last carve out one of her own. It’s a paradigm shift you might call growing up.   By turns hilarious, moving, irreverent, and profound, Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn weaves together story and science in remarkable ways. By the end, you will never look at the universe the same way again. Praise for Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn   “Nothing quite prepared me for this book. Wow. Reading it, I alternated between depression—how could the rest of us science writers ever match this?—and exhilaration.” — Scientific American   “To Do: Read Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn . Reality doesn’t have to bite.” — New York   “A zany superposition of genres . . . It’s at once a coming-of-age chronicle and a father-daughter road trip to the far reaches of this universe and 10,500 others.” — The Philadelphia Inquirer From the Hardcover edition.

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Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn – Amanda Gefter

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Science in the Soul – Richard Dawkins

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Science in the Soul
Selected Writings of a Passionate Rationalist
Richard Dawkins

Genre: Essays

Price: $13.99

Publish Date: August 8, 2017

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group

Seller: Penguin Random House LLC


The legendary biologist and bestselling author mounts a timely and passionate defense of science and clear thinking with this career-spanning collection of essays, including twenty pieces published in the United States for the first time. For decades, Richard Dawkins has been a brilliant scientific communicator, consistently illuminating the wonders of nature and attacking faulty logic. Science in the Soul brings together forty-two essays, polemics, and paeans—all written with Dawkins’s characteristic erudition, remorseless wit, and unjaded awe of the natural world. Though it spans three decades, this book couldn’t be more timely or more urgent. Elected officials have opened the floodgates to prejudices that have for half a century been unacceptable or at least undercover. In a passionate introduction, Dawkins calls on us to insist that reason take center stage and that gut feelings, even when they don’t represent the stirred dark waters of xenophobia, misogyny, or other blind prejudice, should stay out of the voting booth. And in the essays themselves, newly annotated by the author, he investigates a number of issues, including the importance of empirical evidence, and decries bad science, religion in the schools, and climate-change deniers. Dawkins has equal ardor for “the sacred truth of nature” and renders here with typical virtuosity the glories and complexities of the natural world. Woven into an exploration of the vastness of geological time, for instance, is the peculiar history of the giant tortoises and the sea turtles—whose journeys between water and land tell us a deeper story about evolution. At this moment, when so many highly placed people still question the fact of evolution, Dawkins asks what Darwin would make of his own legacy—“a mixture of exhilaration and exasperation”—and celebrates science as possessing many of religion’s virtues—“explanation, consolation, and uplift”—without its detriments of superstition and prejudice. In a world grown irrational and hostile to facts, Science in the Soul is an essential collection by an indispensable author. Advance praise for Science in the Soul “The illumination of Richard Dawkins’s incisive thinking on the intellectual world extends far beyond biology. What a treat to see so clearly how matter and meaning fit together, from fiction to philosophy to molecular biology, in one unified vision!” —Daniel C. Dennett, author of From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds “I thank Thor and Zeus that in their infinite wisdom they chose to make the great wordsmith of our age a great rationalist, and vice versa.” —Matt Ridley, author of The Evolution of Everything: How New Ideas Emerge “In this golden age of enlightened science writing, it is stunning that no scientist has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. It is time literature’s highest award be granted to a scientist whose writings have changed not just science but society. No living scientist is more deserving of such recognition than Richard Dawkins. . . .  Science in the Soul is the perfect embodiment of Nobel–quality literature.” —Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine, columnist for Scientific American, and author of The Moral Arc: How Science Makes Us Better People “ Science in the Soul is packed with Dr. Dawkins’s philosophy, humor, anger, and quiet wisdom, leading the reader gently but firmly to inevitable conclusions that edify and educate.” —James Randi, author of The Faith Healers

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Science in the Soul – Richard Dawkins

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USDA to employees: Don’t mention climate change.

Apparently, U.S. Department of Agriculture staff are now supposed to say “weather extremes” instead.

In emails obtained by the Guardian from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a unit of the USDA, a department director told employees to make the following phrasing replacements in their work: “reduce greenhouse gases” with “build soil organic matter, increase nutrient efficiency”; “sequester carbon” with “build soil organic matter”; and “climate change adaptation” with “resilience to weather extremes/intense weather events.”

Basically, any reference to climate change or CO2 is a no-no.

Employees were understandably confused, and some were against the change — including one employee who expressed a desire to maintain scientific integrity. But the USDA insisted that it’s not intending to obscure data and studies, and that similar procedures had been executed under other administrations.

Surprise, surprise — these new procedures began days after Trump’s inauguration. The first email obtained by the Guardian, sent by NRCS Deputy Chief for Programs Jimmy Bramblett on Jan. 24, advised of the new administration’s “shift in perspective” with regard to climate change.

That perspective appears to be: Don’t mention it.

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USDA to employees: Don’t mention climate change.

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Toms River – Dan Fagin

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Toms River

A Story of Science and Salvation

Dan Fagin

Genre: History

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: March 19, 2013

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group

Seller: Penguin Random House LLC


WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE •  Winner of The New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award • “A new classic of science reporting.”— The New York Times The riveting true story of a small town ravaged by industrial pollution, Toms River melds hard-hitting investigative reporting, a fascinating scientific detective story, and an unforgettable cast of characters into a sweeping narrative in the tradition of A Civil Action, The Emperor of All Maladies, and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks . One of New Jersey’s seemingly innumerable quiet seaside towns, Toms River became the unlikely setting for a decades-long drama that culminated in 2001 with one of the largest legal settlements in the annals of toxic dumping. A town that would rather have been known for its Little League World Series champions ended up making history for an entirely different reason: a notorious cluster of childhood cancers scientifically linked to local air and water pollution. For years, large chemical companies had been using Toms River as their private dumping ground, burying tens of thousands of leaky drums in open pits and discharging billions of gallons of acid-laced wastewater into the town’s namesake river. In an astonishing feat of investigative reporting, prize-winning journalist Dan Fagin recounts the sixty-year saga of rampant pollution and inadequate oversight that made Toms River a cautionary example for fast-growing industrial towns from South Jersey to South China. He tells the stories of the pioneering scientists and physicians who first identified pollutants as a cause of cancer, and brings to life the everyday heroes in Toms River who struggled for justice: a young boy whose cherubic smile belied the fast-growing tumors that had decimated his body from birth; a nurse who fought to bring the alarming incidence of childhood cancers to the attention of authorities who didn’t want to listen; and a mother whose love for her stricken child transformed her into a tenacious advocate for change. A gripping human drama rooted in a centuries-old scientific quest, Toms River is a tale of dumpers at midnight and deceptions in broad daylight, of corporate avarice and government neglect, and of a few brave individuals who refused to keep silent until the truth was exposed. NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR AND  KIRKUS REVIEWS “A thrilling journey full of twists and turns, Toms River is essential reading for our times. Dan Fagin handles topics of great complexity with the dexterity of a scholar, the honesty of a journalist, and the dramatic skill of a novelist.” —Siddhartha Mukherjee, M.D., author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning The Emperor of All Maladies   “A complex tale of powerful industry, local politics, water rights, epidemiology, public health and cancer in a gripping, page-turning environmental thriller.” —NPR “Unstoppable reading.” — The Philadelphia Inquirer   “Meticulously researched and compellingly recounted . . . It’s every bit as important—and as well-written—as A Civil Action and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks .” — The Star-Ledger   “Fascinating . . . a gripping environmental thriller.” — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)   “An honest, thoroughly researched, intelligently written book.” — Slate   “[A] hard-hitting account . . . a triumph.” — Nature   “Absorbing and thoughtful.” — USA Today From the Hardcover edition.

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Toms River – Dan Fagin

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