Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Offshore Oil Drilling

The Obama adminisrtation has recently created a new policy that will allow for offshore oil drilling off the American coastline. This decision comes at a time where we are working towards energy independence as well as a cleaner more stable environment. This policy will affect both of these goals in completly different ways. Allowing for offshore drilling of the Atlantic, Alaskan and Gulf coasts will help temporarily reduce our dependence on foreign oil and increase jobs; however, the amount of resources located off the atlantic coast in particular is of debate and is not enough to create long term sustainability at the current rate of use. This is only a temporary solution and will not change any long term resource problems. Due to this fact and possibility for environmental and economic damage that could be a result of a spill, the negetive externalities far outweigh the economic benefit of drilling. While drilling technologies have improved greatly over the past twenty years, the possibilities for spills and pollution is still a great risk. Not only human error, but storms, technologly failure and installation of platforms will all have the possibility to create environmental problems. The atlantic coast is highly dependent on tourism, recreation and its fisheries for its livelyhood especially on coastal communuties. The impact a spill or disaster would have on these communities would be devastating for the entire coast. The proximity to the coastline of this proposed drilling is also of concern for coastal communities. With a proposed site fifty miles from the coast of Virginia the entire continental shelf will be at risk of oil spills. When one takes into account the amount of ocean species that thrive on the small area of continental shelf versus the opean ocean, the population density of species is over 100 times that of the open ocean in terms of shear volume. As an integral part of the ocean ecosystem and an its influince on the coastal economy the value of the ecosystem of the continental shelf creates this problem of which issue is a more important one and a cost benefit analysis will not take into account all of the externalities of a platform failure of spill.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Casio on the Plastic Beach

On the third day of the third month of 2010, Damon Albarn released his delightfully poppy and hauntingly insightful album "Plastic Beach". The album is unified by a single concept, with several underlying themes. As stated in the title of the album, Albarn imagined an island that was composed nearly entirely of plastic detritus that has washed on shore and accumulated. Albarn began imagining this album after visiting the Mali landfill, and seeing the unimaginable mountains of garbage that has gathered there. To virgin ears, "Plastic Beach" has a similar format to the two previous releases by Albarn, including synthesizer melodies, Jamaican baselines, and appearances by alternative rappers. As you delve deeper into the album, you can observe intriguing social commentary. In the fourth song (Rhinestone Eyes), Albarn states

"Helicopters fly over the beach.

Same time every day, same routine.

Clear target in summer when skies are blue.

It's part of the noise when winter comes,

It reverberates in my lungs.

Nature's corrupted in factories far away."

This lyric identifies the problem associated with the tendency of advanced capitalist societies to outsource environmentally degrading industries, and the deleterious effect this has on developing countries that house these firms. The lyrical content of the sixth song, "Superfast Jellyfish", is also very telling of Albarn's agenda (but in this song he isn't the one singing it). The first verse of the song goes as follows:

"Yo, pretty packages of frosted delights
Look, it comes with a toy hehe, I like that.
I wanna number 4, a number 6, and throw in a plastic doughnut
Just enjoy the gritty crunch, it tastes just like chicken.
Wrappers of many bit sizes
Man, are you freakin blind? That’s a rock.
All mixed in the pot for momma’s homemade from scratch, well, not quite.
Toasted over flames, they be tasting quite right.
All hail king Neptune and his water breathers
No snail thing to quick for his water feeders
Don’t waste time with your net, our net worth is set
Ready, go. Many know others,
but we be the colors of the mad and the wicked
we be bad, we be break it with the 24 hour sign
shower my habits while you dine like rabbits
with the crunchy, crunchy carrots (that’s chicken)
Gotta have it Superfast."

This song describes and pokes fun at the current state of consumerism in America (as well as other advanced capitalist societies). Observations clearly show that people are often willing to sacrifice nutrition (and in my opinion taste) for speed and convenience in regards to food. Although this song is dealing primarily with the desire to have food instantly, it is applicable to most commodified goods. As our society progresses, and we continue to be oversaturated with information our attention spans continue to shrink. By being able to offer consumers products nearly instantly, people no longer need to wait before making a purchase. This strategy employed by firms increases the chance that people will make impulse purchases, thus consuming more. The rest of the album is full of example of social commentary that all seem to point to the same thing: we are becoming a species whose defining characteristic is overconsumption.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Anthropogenic Seal Cancer

Cancer Kills Many Sea Lions, and Its Cause Remains a Mystery

For 14 years, since they first reported that a disturbing proportion of deaths among rescued California sea lions were caused by metastatic cancer, researchers have been trying to pinpoint the source of the illness.

Heidi Schumann for The New York Times

Dr. Frances Gulland and Dr. Bill Van Bonn performing an autopsy on a young sea lion on Feb. 23 at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, Calif.

In 1996, Dr. Frances Gulland, the director of veterinary science at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, and colleagues at the University of California, Davis, found that a striking 18 percent of deaths in stranded adult sea lions were the result of tumors in the reproductive and urinary tracts.

“It’s such an aggressive cancer, and it’s so unusual to see such a high prevalence of cancer in a wild population,” Dr. Gulland said. “That suggests that there’s some carcinogen in the ocean that could be affecting these animals.”

The center has not observed the same syndrome in other seals.

Years of study have led researchers to think the answer lies not with any one culprit, but with several. Their research has added to a body of evidence concerning industrial contaminants in the ocean and their effects on the health of its inhabitants.

Sea lions have had to cope with a variety of challenges lately. There was the animals’ mass exit from Pier 39 in San Francisco late last year, which experts suspect was driven by a hunt for a better food supply. Also in 2009, the Sausalito mammal center had an unusually busy year. It took in a record 1,370 sick and injured California sea lions, and doctors found major problems in many, including malnutrition, parasitic diseases and bacterial kidney infections. Some had brain seizures from a toxic algae poisoning.

But the cancers are what Dr. Gulland found most worrisome.

One day last month, a volunteer rescue crew netted an ailing sea lion stranded on Stinson Beach and drove back to the hospital, which was newly rebuilt and reopened last summer. The thin, lethargic 200-pound young adult male had paralysis in its genital area and in its swollen hind flippers, clear signs of cancer.

“It’s pretty distressing to see,” Dr. Gulland said.

The veterinary team had to euthanize the animal. A post-mortem examination revealed not only cancer in the penis, but also tumors riddling the lymph nodes, lower spine, kidneys, liver and lungs. The disease typically starts around the penis in males and the cervix in females, then spreads. In an average year, the Marine Mammal Center sees 15 to 20 California sea lions with cancer.

The center always performs a post-mortem dissection. That work is “really what tells us about health trends in the ocean,” Dr. Gulland said.

The nonprofit center is one of the two biggest marine mammal rescue-and-rehabilitation facilities in the world — the other is in the Netherlands — dedicated to researching the health troubles of the animals it finds, said Dr. Sylvain De Guise, a veterinary scientist at the University of Connecticut.

Members of the medical staff in Sausalito, Dr. De Guise said, “have been pioneers at going beyond treating one individual at a time and releasing it, and have tried to understand the bigger picture, the causes and consequences.”

Ordinarily, veterinary experts do not see much cancer in wild animals, but there has been little monitoring for the disease. Recently, however, cancer has emerged as a key concern for some endangered species, including green sea turtles, Attwater’s prairie chickens and Tasmanian devils, said Denise McAloose, a veterinary pathologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York City.

In addition, about 18 percent of dead, stranded beluga whales in the St. Lawrence River estuary in Canada were found to have intestinal tumors or other cancers, which have been linked to industrial pollutants.

No one knows how much of the general California sea lion population has tumors, or if the current rate is higher thanbefore. No diagnostic test for the disease exists, said Dr. Robert DeLong, a research biologist at the National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle who has participated in the cancer studies.

In his field observations among a colony of 100,000 animals in the Channel Islands — the birthplace for most California sea lions that travel the state’s coast — Dr. DeLong said he saw two to five sea lions a year with huge advanced tumors.

When Dr. Gulland and Dr. Linda Lowenstine, a veterinary pathologist at the University of California, Davis, began investigating the cancer mystery, the obvious suspect was environmental contaminants. The Channel Islands lie off the Southern California Bight, where, from the late 1940s until the early 1970s, manufacturing companies discharged millions of pounds of DDTs and PCBs into the sea. Cleanup continues, but the chemicals linger.

But if those chemicals are solely to blame, the researchers asked, why was cancer originating mainly in the uro-genital tract, and not in the kidney or liver, as one would expect?

“That didn’t really fit,” Dr. Lowenstine said.

But, in examining sea lion tumor cells with an electron microscope, Dr. Lowenstine noticed what looked like viral particles. And indeed, in a major discovery in 2000, a different team of researchers in Washington, D.C., identified a herpesvirus in the sea lions, a close relative of the human herpesvirus that fosters Kaposi’s skin cancer lesions in AIDS patients. Recent studies by the California researchers have shown that the sea lion virus likes to live in the reproductive tract and, among adults, is twice as common in males — infecting 45 percent of them — as in females.

But environmental contaminants are not off the hook. Because it takes several “hits” of environmental or genetic damage to turn a healthy cell into cancerous one, the researchers speculated that the virus and chemicals could be interacting to trigger tumors.

Sea lions accumulate high concentrations of PCBs and DDTs in their blubber from eating contaminated fish; mothers also pass the compounds to babies. An analysis by the California researchers and experts at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle found that animals with higher blubber PCB concentrations were more likely to have died of cancer.

“PCBs are notorious for two different things,” Dr. Lowenstine said. They can suppress the immune system, which may increase a sea lion’s vulnerability to the herpesvirus infection, but they also have estrogen-like hormonal effects.

In research published last summer, Dr. Lowenstine and Dr. Gulland and their associates began exploring the possibility that the contaminants interact with hormone receptors in the reproductive tract of sea lions to help promote cancer.

Meanwhile, a third piece of the puzzle is genetics. Another study revealed that animals with cancer are more inbred than those without it, so bad genes are probably also at work.

But proving cause and effect in the cancer mystery is difficult, the investigators said, especially given that experiments cannot be done on sea lions, which are federally protected.

“We don’t have all the answers by any means,” Dr. Lowenstine said. But the scientists are now mapping out a large study of 300 sea lions to study which of the three prime suspects — virus, PCBs or genetics — is most strongly tied to cancer.

To the California investigators, sea lion cancer is further evidence that what people do on land directly influences what happens to marine mammals in the ocean. And what makes them sick might affect us, too.

“Sea lions do eat a lot of the same things we do,” Dr. Gulland said. “So we really should start paying attention to what we’re putting into the oceans.”

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Health Care Reform and the Environment

One of the major issues in the U.S. these days is the health care bill that was just passed by congress. But how does the bill affect the environment? Hospitals in America generate 6,600 tons of waste everyday, and the plan will hope to eliminate duplicate files to reduce paper and a centralized database to reduce paperwork (Earth But with increased coverage to more people will come increased waste.
Another issue would be prevention of diseases. The bill does help support preventative programs like Bright Futures which helps guide families to help with physical, societal and environmental factors for their children’s health (Carden Johnston). But does it do enough? If the air quality was better and pollution decreased then many sicknesses could be prevented. Many organic foods are healthier and could keep people out of the hospital while at the same time they are often friendlier to the environment. Would attempts to curtail pollution and encourage healthier lifestyles help with the health care, and what other ways could congress help with prevention of diseases and hospital waste?

Lincoln, Cat. "Health Care Reform, Pollution, and Sustainability." Green Daily. Web Blog, Inc, 22 March 2010. Web. 28 Mar 2010. .
Chen, Katherine. "Health Care Reform's Eco Impact." Earth911. N.p., 22 Feb. 2010. Web. 28 Mar 2010. .
Johnston, Carden. "VIEWPOINTS: Health Care Bill is good for all Children." Alabama Live, 28 March 2010. Web. 28 Mar 2010. .

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Solid Waste

One of the most daunting problems the United States and the world as a whole is facing today is the problem of garbage or municipal solid waste (MSW) and what should be done with it. To some people the solution may seem as easy as recycling; however, that is much easier said than done. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, American’s alone produce over 246 million tons of waste per year, and only recycle about 32.1% of that. This means that nearly 167 million tons of America’s garbage is being put into landfills or burned into our atmosphere each and every year. Not only are we wasting valuable resources that human kind will more than likely need in the future, but we are also using up a lot of usable land that will soon be needed by the ever increasing human population.

As a concerned citizen of the United States of America I purpose that something must be done about our waste in order to protect future generations and our planet as a whole. Whether it be through improving standard recycling techniques of collecting plastics, metals, and paper and turning them into new items, or through more alternative methods such as turning landfill waste into electricity, or converting biomass into an ethanol based fuel; it is our job as the next generation to put a stop to our unnecessary wasting and get our MSW under control.

"Municiple Solid Waste (MSW): Basic Facts." Almanac of Policy Issues. Policy Almanac, 22 Oct. 2002.
Web. 10 Oct. 2009. epa_municipal_solid_waste.shtml>.

"Region 7 Solid Waste." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA, 22 Sept. 2009. Web. 6 Oct. 2009. .

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations


One of the most environmentally degrading and psychologically disturbing industries in the United States, Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s), is consistently ignored by the media, causes extensive environmental degradation, and is wasting millions of government money in subsidies. Factory farming is the process of confining animals in unnatural conditions so as to maximize the amount of meat these industries can produce at the lowest cost. The amount of waste produced by so many animals in such a limited space often causes nearby lakes or rivers to become contaminated from runoff. These feeding operations are also very water intensive themselves, nearly 8% of human water use goes toward animal production. This does not include the amount of water that is needed to produce the crops for animal feed. The incredible amount of manure that so many animals create also emits greenhouse gases, such as methane, which contribute to global warming. The land needed to grow crops to feed these animals also has a huge impact on the environment mainly in the form of soil degradation. Farmers now use genetically modified organisms which can grow on soil that does not need to be replenished by growing different crops every couple of years. This ensures that the nutrients the crops are taking from the soil are not getting replenished and this often leads to soil desertification. These crops, primarily corn and soy beans, are heavily subsidized by the government and wastes millions of dollars annually to support an industry that is inefficient to begin with. The way in which these animals are mass produced is inconsistent with how the environment was structured to create meat and how humans were meant to consume meat. There needs to be an immediate change in the structure of governmental subsidies to encourage growth in industries that have positive impacts on its citizens.

Reference: Singer, Peter, and Jim Mason. The Ethics of What We Eat. Rodale, 2006. Print.