For the Conservation Curious

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Job Loss vs. Health – Cigarettes and Coal April 3, 2017

The current president, Republican congressmen, and others bemoan the “death of coal” and the “war on coal”. They talk about how coal’s demise has resulted in job losses for many across Appalachia and beyond. No one can deny that when a coal mine closes, miners and others lose their jobs, and the surrounding communities’ economies suffer. Yet there is a link that I have not seen anyone discuss or write about, and I think it’s high time someone does… the similarities between health impacts from coal and cigarettes and how no one seemed to say the death of “Big Tobacco” was a job killer that should be re-thought.

The Tobacco Industry

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that smoking kills 480,000 people in the United States each year. That is one in every five deaths per day. As mounting evidence of this, as well as the addictive nature of nicotine and the tobacco industry’s cover-up came to light, there was strong pressure to stop the marketing of cigarettes and educate people on the benefits of quitting. More and more people began to quit smoking, which had a major impact on the tobacco industry’s profits.

The CDC says that the number of tobacco farms in the United States is down from a high of nearly 180,000 in the 1980s to less than 10,000 in 2012, although our country is still a leading producer (4th in the world). Think of how many tobacco farmers, cigarette manufacturing employers, distributers, and others who lost their jobs due to the acknowledgement of the health impacts of tobacco. Where was the outcry about those job losses? Perhaps at a southeastern U.S. scale, where most of it is grown, there was more discussion, but at a national level I don’t recall seeing anything of the magnitude we get about coal.

The Coal Industry

Physicians for Social Responsibility says that the burning of coal can cause asthma, lung disease, and lung cancer, and negatively impact lung development in children. For coal miners, black lung disease is a real and under-reported illness, according to an investigative report from NPR this past December. Hundreds of miners and former miners are dying each year in West Virginia alone, according to the report. Hundreds more in other coal mining states are dying as well.

Why the Silence?

Why is no one making a connection between coal mining and its negative impacts to people’s health with the impacts smoking has on health when trying to counter the “job killing” rhetoric of the current administration? Yes, when a coal mine is shut down people lose their jobs. But the same thing happened when cigarette plants and tobacco farms were shut down as people wised-up about smoking’s negative impacts. The people that worked in the tobacco industry had to adapt and find a new job. Those in the coal industry must do the same. And we as a country must help them take this next chapter in their life.

What the Future Holds

I hope that this blog will inspire others with more far-reaching audiences and greater impact to spread the message that the negative health impacts of mining and burning coal far-outweigh any benefits of keeping that industry going, just as the closing of cigarette manufacturing plants and tobacco farms did in the 1990s and beyond. We need to help miners, coal-burning plant technicians, and others transition to safer jobs that will lead the United States back on a path to innovation and prosperity. Whether that’s through alternative energy sources such as solar and wind or some new, untapped technology, it is high-time for us to move forward together. Let’s let coal go the way of cigarettes and snub it out.

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Goods News / Bad News for Species December 23, 2016

Although it’s the holiday season and I should write about cute puppy dogs with bows and ribbons, there were two stories I saw in the last week that I am compelled to write about. One is rather dreary, the other gives me a bit of hope. Since you’re supposed to tell someone two nice things before you break the bad news, I’ll start with the positive story…

Many news outlets discussed the discovery of many new species in the Greater Mekong Area of China. These included a frog that sings like a bird, a blind fish, a walking catfish, and 123 others. So to me, the fact that in 2016 we are still discovering new species is amazing, especially those on land. I’m sure there are thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of new species in the deep sea… but those will be much more difficult to find and catalogue. There are most likely myriad insect species that we don’t know about too, but again, their small size makes them more elusive. The world is still ripe for discovery.

And yet, Nick Cox, manager of the World Wildlife Fund’s Greater Mekong Species Program said, “The good news is new discoveries. The bad news is that it is getting harder and harder in the world of conservation and environmental sustainability.” Just as these species are discovered, they are under threat. That is downer statement number one.

Number two is that scientists are warning that the species extinction crisis is far worse than previously thought. CNN has a great interactive story (videos, charts, etc.) about it here. They discuss the five causes that are speeding up the process: climate change, agriculture, wildlife crime (i.e. poaching), pollution, and disease. That’s a lot to keep you up at night if you care about animals.

However, they offer solutions to help us slow the crisis. And I’d like to offer a thought or two as well.

  • People have the capacity to do great harm to the planet, but we have as equally great a capacity to help and heal the earth.
  • By recognizing the problems, we can develop solutions for them.
  • Iconic species like the rhino and elephant, and even the giraffe, which scientists say are in a downward population spiral, grab people’s attention and pull on their heart strings. By protecting them, we protect other less charismatic species too.
  • No matter how gloomy the news has been this year, and it has indeed been downright apocalyptic at times, we have to keep faith that things change… sometimes at a glacial pace… but they do change. I’ll hope for the best.

(Photo collage from The Telescope)

 

Lyme Disease is on the Rise July 24, 2014

Filed under: Science — newdomino @ 12:45 PM
Tags: , , , , , , ,

In my last post I talked about making wine drinking habits more environmentally-friendly. On a somewhat related note, last night I watched the documentary, “Somm”, about a bunch of guys preparing for the Master Sommelier test. The movie has nothing to do with the environment but I found it fascinating. If you’re into wine, I highly recommend the film. It is amazing the breadth and depth of knowledge they need to have in order to pass.

But now on to the real purpose of today’s blog…

Let’s talk about Lyme disease, a subject possibly near, yet not so dear, to my heart. Two weeks ago I went on a camping/backpacking trip in north-central Pennsylvania. When I got home I pulled three deer ticks and one dog tick off my legs. How nice! This past Sunday I started to feel extremely fatigued and sore. The next day I had a bad fever, chills and achy joints. If this was January I might chock it up to the flu, but I had a flu shot this year and I haven’t had any coughing, runny nose or anything like that. It all seemed so strange. Could it be Lyme disease, I wondered?

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria found in some deer ticks, also known as blacklegged ticks. Other kinds of ticks like dog ticks cannot transmit Lyme disease. Deer ticks are tiny, especially the nymphs (the life stage when they spread the disease most frequently), which are the size of a poppy seed, so finding them on your body, especially if you are particularly freckled, can be difficult. Approximately three percent of tick bites result in Lyme disease. The tick must remain attached to you for at least 36 to 48 hours in order to transmit the bacteria to your blood stream. So if you have been outside lately, it pays to check for ticks and remove them as soon as possible.

Common symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headache, fatigue and a bull’s eye shaped skin rash called erythema migrans. If left untreated, the disease can cause joint pain and arthritis that recurs through the years.

According to the PA Department of Health, there were 5,758 recorded cases of Lyme disease in Pennsylvania in 2013, which is an all-time-high for the state. Pennsylvania is also one of the top states in the country for Lyme disease cases. One reason for these statistics is the state’s high number of white-tailed deer, particularly in suburban areas. Deer ticks spend part of their life on white-footed mice, then graduate to living on much larger mammals, preferably deer, but a passing human can work for the tick in a pinch. If you have mice and deer in the area, chances are good that infected deer ticks live there too. Watch out!

When I stopped by my doctor’s office to have blood drawn for the Lyme disease test, she said that in years past she would only diagnose one person each year with the disease, but that she’s already had four cases this year. Will I be the fifth? I hope not, but then again knowing what ails you is better than being in the dark. If this isn’t Lyme disease what the heck is it?! Wish me luck.

And next time you’re out enjoying a hike, don’t wear shorts like silly, old me. Sure it was hot out, but from now on I’ll take sweating over possibly getting more tick bites. And while I’m not a huge fan of bug spray, especially the pyrethrin that works so well at keeping ticks away, I may be more open to its use from now on. Better a little chemical exposure than having to take 30 days of extremely strong antibiotics that can cause severe allergic reactions to sunlight (this happened to my boss a few years ago – it looked like she has flesh-eating bacteria on her skin!).

Want more information on Lyme disease? The CDC has a very informative page at http://www.cdc.gov/lyme.

 

Know What an Invasive Species is? July 21, 2011

Filed under: Science — newdomino @ 11:33 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

A good portion of my on-the-clock time is spent working on invasive species issues, particularly educating staff and the public on what constitutes an invasive, why they are considered “bad” and how people can help get rid of them.  Staff has taken up the cause with a lot of gusto, or at least with as much effort as they can muster given all the other natural resource management duties that have.  And some portions of the public have jumped right in to pulling invasive plants, monitoring for invasive insects and hunting invasive mammals.  But I still struggle with reaching out to the general public so they know what an invasive species truly is and why they should care about them.

To start from the beginning, let me give you a definition of what an invasive species is; it is a non-native plant, animal or pathogen that causes harm to human health, to the environment or to the economy.  Sometimes an invasive can cause harm to more than one of those segments, too.  Let’s give you some examples:

Garlic mustard grows densely along forest edges. (Photo: Jessica Sprajcar, DCNR)

  • Garlic mustard is a very common invasive plant here in the northeast.  It was brought over by colonists as an herb, it escaped from cultivation and has taken over many a forest edge, backyard and roadside.  The roots release a chemical with allelopathic properties – meaning that the plant alters the soil chemistry to benefit itself and prevent native plants from growing.  If that wasn’t bad enough, the West Virginia white is a butterfly that lays its eggs on native plants related to garlic mustard.  If it lays its eggs on garlic mustard, the eggs cannot hatch.  So garlic mustard is bad for our native plants and insects.

 

 

 

West Nile virus is spread by mosquitos. (Photo: Susan Ellis, http://www.invasive.org)

  • West Nile virus is an invasive pathogen spread by mosquitos.  It was first discovered in the U.S. in 1999 and has spread throughout much of the country since then.  Infected people can have mild symptoms like nausea and headaches or potentially fatal symptoms like encephalitis or meningitis.  While most people survive contracting the virus, roughly 10 percent of severe cases pass away, according to the National Institutes of Health.
     

 

 
 
 
 

Zebra mussels growing on a native mussel. (Photo: Randy Westbrooks, http://www.invasive.org)

 

  • Zebra mussels are tiny mollusks that arrived in the Great Lakes in boat ballast water.  These fingernail-sized critters have since spread to rivers in the northeast and beyond, as boaters take their watercraft to new lakes and rivers in the name of recreation.  Zebra mussels, and their kindred – quagga mussels – have caused at least $5 billion (yes, with a “b”) worth of damage to the Great Lakes area between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.  These invasive mussels also kill our native mussels by smothering them and they are such effective filter feeders that they leave little phytoplankton for other bivalves and young fish.
 

 

 

 

To me, those are all serious impacts to our lives and the health of our environment and seem worthy of some thought.  But I get the sense that still, most people out there have no idea what an invasive species is.  How do I get people to care more about them so that they can identify a few of the more troublesome species and take the effort to try and get rid of them (or at least let an agency like mine know so that we can try to help)? 

I look to you for ideas!