Left In Lowell

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January 5, 2013

Thoughts on the Senate Special Election

by at 11:35 am.

I know, I know, can’t we at least enjoy a few days off between major statewide elections, right? But too bad. Dems, are you ready? I think I am.

The sort-of crowning of Rep. Ed Markey has irked not a few grassroots types, I’m sure. Personally, I’d like a half-decent primary too, it does some good things, like increase the scope of the debate, but especially, gets the grassroots woken up and organized early enough to do some good - since a special election has such a short timeframe. One would hope that the engine that elected Elizabeth Warren (like, perhaps, Elizabeth herself) comes forth to inspire us to pick up the work again, once we’ve gone through the primary (hint, hint, Senator Warren!). And I’m always looking to repeat the MA-05 special election primary to replace Meehan, which is my gold standard for a great, feisty, interesting primary, but which lacks the circular firing squad we sometimes see (*coughChrisDohertycough*).

I’ll be honest, there are probably candidates I could love more than Ed Markey, just on the grassroots-outsider-tough fighter sort of feel. But. But. I love Ed Markey’s environmental record, and his roughing up of the oil companies, especially BP after the horrific oil spill. I feel like everyone else sort of have given them a pass, though given the ferocity of their continuing feel-good marketing campaign I think they still feel damaged (good. and you aren’t convincing ME). He has fought hard to try and get a carbon tax on oil/coal/gas, one key component holding renewable energy back (since it has to compete with a giant, subsidized, established industry).

If there is a more important issue than our economy and the flagrancy of the financial sector which Elizabeth Warren has spent so long fighting against, it’s the environment. Specifically, global climate change. Every decade has been warmer than the last, and we’re no longer talking about trying to avoid the tipping point. We’re talking about just how far past the tipping point we’re going to go. This is disaster. This is destruction of our entire human civilization. And without addressing both the inevitable (now) outcomes of climate change, and finding a way SOON to cease making it worse, the financial meltdown is gonna look like a boom economy compared to where we will end up.

The conservatives love to say, but the earth has fluctuated climate in the past. Yes. It has. Usually a lot more minor and a lot more slower, but it has cooled/warmed in a cycle going back to the dinosaurs. But also, giant empires have fallen because of much smaller climate change. (Hell, the dinosaurs died out due to climate change.) Picture a world in which half its population has to flee into other half’s populated areas to survive terrible weather extremes or the inability to grow crops where once crops flourished, or the masses who have always lived on the coast having to flee inland. Do you think we could take in a good portion of the Mexican population and keep our country intact? Do you think we can let half of Mexico’s population starve to death and keep our country intact? Can Canada double its population with environmental refugees from the US and remain a prosperous country? This is what we are facing if we don’t turn back now. I’m not exaggerating, that’s actually the middle-level scenario science models are displaying. The worst case is…you don’t want to know.

There are consequences in turning our planet’s climate back millions of years to much higher average temperatures. By burning the carbon locked in the earth at the time of dinosaurs, that’s exactly what we’re doing. Except instead of taking millions or tens of millions of years to do it, we’re doing it in a couple hundred. Trees can’t migrate in a decade or two. Populations of animals and, yes, people, can’t just pick up that quickly and rebalance the ecology in what amounts to seconds in the geological scale.

If Ed Markey becomes our standard bearer, either before the primary or after it, I think I’d be fine with that. In fact I’d be more than fine with it. I’d be pretty damn happy, and ready to get to work.

October 18, 2012

Wherefor Art Thou Climate Change?

by at 9:45 am.

Whatever your political stripe, if you are an environmentalist you are probably disappointed in this year’s presidential and downticket races. Of course, it’s natural that the economy would be high up on the radar for the candidates, but for there to be zero talk about the environment, not to mention global climate change, the biggest national security risk of our time? It is, to make an understatement, utterly incomprehensible.

I am definitely going to watch this Frontline next Tuesday, “Climate of Doubt.” In it, they will examine the reasons why this topic has become persona non grata. Where once we as a nation were starting to agree that climate change was happening and that we needed to address it, there is doubt being raised by the extremely profitable industries that benefit from the status quo.



Watch Climate of Doubt on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

(more…)

April 26, 2011

Cell Towers: Alarmism, and NIMBY

by at 9:58 pm.

Both were on show tonight with the rather strongly worded public comment of a citizen over an item on tonight’s agenda, “C. Caulfield-Req. Mgr. report on Health Effects (if any) from Cell Towers on City Structures.”

I don’t blame Caulfield for bringing up a citizen’s concerns, particularly when I suspect without some major research, he wouldn’t have had any idea how to evaluate her claims about the health effects (hint: she believes there definitely are some! no really!! think of the childrens!!)

But her speech really sounded familiar. It reminded me powerfully of the people who claim there’s evidence that vaccines given to children causes autism. Immediately, my science bullshit meter went off.

The woman (sorry, I didn’t catch her name) mentioned some study claiming “double the rates of leukemia near cell towers.” If that were true, I don’t think there’d be any Big Giant Conspiracy™ in the world that would stop scientists from further studying the effects of cell towers.

This site cites a couple of studies (including the leukemia claim) regarding rates of cancer and cell towers, but for instance, one thorough vetting of the most “alarming” of the studies, that “a study by Dr. Bruce Hocking in Australia found that children living near Cell Phone Towers in Sydney had more than twice the rate of childhood leukemia than children living more than seven miles away” - turns out, there’s some caveats, and also, it appears that this study is from 1996.

The first caveat is that the study does not refer to cell towers. It refers to TV towers, which, as pointed out by this paper, are 15,000 times more powerful.

TV towers have a much higher power rating-and thus give out more intense radiation- than mobile phone towers. For example, the TV transmitter on top of Black Mountain, Canberra, is rated at 300 kilowatts. A typical mobile phone tower is emitting only about 20 watts, i.e. 15 000 times weaker. …

[…]

In comparison with the Australian Standard(3) (200 microwatts/square cm), a power density level of 6 microwatt/square cm from a mobile phone tower (said to be a maximum value) represents only 3% of the value of the maximum allowable power density. A more typical figure of 0.1 microwatt/square cm is only 0.05% of the standard.

Turning to larger TV broadcast towers, a person standing one kilometre away would expect to be exposed to a power density of 5-10 microwatts/square cm of radiation. At two kilometres this reduces greatly to about 0.5 microwatt/square cm. These figures are still far less than the prescribed limit of 200 microwatts/square cm.

But you cannot talk about RF (cell phone) radiation with discussing the actual radiation itself. From the same paper:

A significant division within the EMR spectrum is the frequency at about 10 million gigahertz above which waves become ionising in nature, i.e. they are capable of knocking electrons out of atoms to form ions. Thus ultraviolet rays, X-rays and gamma radiation are ionising because they are of greater frequency than 10 million gigahertz. When directed at the body, such radiation is known to be capable of initiating cancer through damage to genetic material (DNA). Too much sunlight, too many X-rays or too much exposure to the gamma-radiating isotope cobalt-60 can cause cancer.

That part of the EMR spectrum of concern in this paper is non-ionising and is known as radiofrequency/microwave radiation (RF radiation for short). […] The radiofrequency spectrum includes, in increasing order of energy, waves from AM radio, FM radio, TV (very high and ultra high frequency), mobile phones, police radar, microwave ovens and satellite stations.

[…]

Intense waves in the radiofrequency spectrum are readily able to raise the temperature of, say, a culture of cells brought near the source of radiation (the principle of the microwave oven) as wave energy is converted to heat energy on contact with the cells. This is known as a thermal effect. However, because the radiation is non-ionising there is no electron stripping of cellular DNA and therefore no direct initiation of cancer. Radiofrequency standards to protect health are totally based on avoiding thermal effects (see below).

Your microwave works on this principle - it can heat molecules, but it can’t mess with your DNA.

Also, cell towers point their radiation out into the air - horizontal to the ground at the level they are at. This is so their signals can reach further. So most of the radiation, even at the low range for cell towers, doesn’t even hit the ground around the tower itself, except, perhaps, at its base (you know, where they put a fence up to keep you out).

It’s easy to see why someone doing research would get concerned - the number of alarmist websites out there appear to outnumber real outlets of science and health organizations in the top rankings of the world wide internets. However, reading through some of these to get to a kernel of understanding, what you discover is that with RF and other low-spectrum energy waves, the worst thing you can do is crawl into your microwave because it can cook you - not turn your DNA into spaghetti. The studies that claim big negative effects from RF due to cell phones or cell phone towers apparently are not reproducible (a must if you’re going to get scientific acceptance). But the studies showing no correlation seem to be piling up year after year.

The World Health Organization has a great factsheet.

Finally, if you are so concerned about RF radiation, I suggest that you and your kids should stop watching the TV, using the computer, the microwave, or anything with wireless communication like your network or baby monitors. They all emit low-spectrum radiation including RF. Do you kids like to sit within feet of the TV? Do you have your wifi box near your home desk where you sit at the computer? Yup. All non-ionizing radiation, my friend.

It seems like being alarmist about health effects is itself a disease these days. It’s also good for selling snake oil protection charms as well. My google searches landed me at the same alarmist site I started with - trying to sell me a cheap-looking ceramic doodad to supposedly stop the big bad radiation.

Hey, health alarmism sells! Who wants to leave science to the scientists??

Don’t forget to vaccinate your kids.

October 8, 2010

Rapid Ascension

by at 3:00 pm.

This has got to be one of the coolest ways to get your kid into engineering and science. Props.

Homemade Spacecraft from Luke Geissbuhler on Vimeo.

[Via a friend’s facebook link to Unreasonable Faith.]

April 14, 2009

Tilapia - It, and You, Are What It Eats

by at 10:33 am.

I was googling about tilapia after a friend warned me he’d heard they are chock full of the wrong kind of fats and pose a health risk, not a health benefit. Basically, there’s a study which looked at the fish, which is rapidly becoming the seafood of choice in the US, and found it wanting, rich in bad omega-6’s and not so much in omega-3’s.

I’ve attached a podcast. below, from NPR’s Living On Earth show about the issue. It’s worth a listen.

Guess what? Most of the imported tilapia isn’t fed its natural diet, but a corn-based one. The expert interviewed on Living On Earth says wild tilapia is very healthy, it’s the farm-raised fillets that are the problem. LoE also interviewed American Tilapia Association president Bill Varano, who says US-raised tilapia is fed and cared for better, and produces fish that are nutritionally sound.

So there’s your health tip of the day…buy American-farmed tilapia, and you can still enjoy this popular fish. The trouble is finding it.

(You can find the podcast here (direct link to the MP3), I tried embedding it, but its audio settings don’t work with this podplayer.)

February 9, 2009

File This Under “Are You Freakin’ Kidding Me??”

by at 11:03 am.

Only. 14. Percent. Only 14% of Americans believe in evolution, specifically, that “man evolved over millions of years.” And that’s up from 9% in 1982!

Are you people NUTS?? Seriously. I’m asking. I’d like to know if I live in a nation of totally flipping insane people, except for less than a fifth of you.

January 15, 2009

Seasonal Methane on Mars a Sign of Life?

by at 12:48 pm.

Oh, so very awesomely cool

NASA and Science magazine will announce Thursday afternoon that large amounts of methane have been found on the Red Planet, which could be a sign of biological activity.

“The most obvious source of methane is organisms,” planetary scientist Colin Pillinger told London’s Sun tabloid. “So if you find methane in an atmosphere, you can suspect there is life. It’s not proof, but it makes it worth a much closer look.”

On Earth, methane comes mainly from belching animals such as cows and rotting organic matter such as dead leaves. But it’s also pumped out by volcanoes.

The catch is that it breaks down quickly in the atmosphere due to reactions with sunlight, and there haven’t been any active volcanoes on Mars for millions of years.

The article cites that scientists don’t know if this is just a byproduct of a Martian planetary process we’ve yet to understand, but this ups the chances that there might be life on Mars - existing right now, as opposed to long gone! And if there’s life on Mars, however primitive or arrested due to its atmospheric loss, it means that developing life, as it happened on Earth, is not unique, and is in fact potentially common throughout the universe and its planetary systems.

Take that, creationists!

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