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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October 30, 2014

Filed under: Science — newdomino @ 11:15 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

On October 3 I blogged about going to the Czech Republic. Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend that trip now, but the reason for that is a good one. Starting on November 10, I will begin a new job as Senior Analyst with Marstel Day, an environmental consulting firm headquartered in Virginia. I have a feeling this job will keep me very busy, so my blogging may slow down, at least initially. I just wanted to let you all know that.

In honor of tomorrow being Halloween, I want to blog about bats. Bats are wonderful creatures that are misunderstood and under-appreciated for a variety of reasons. Hopefully I can show you that bats are valuable and important components of the ecosystem, well worth protecting.

In Pennsylvania, there are nine common species of bats. These are: the most common one – the little brown, the big brown, the Eastern pipistrelle, the tri-colored or pygmy, the Northern long-eared, the endangered Indiana, the small-footed, the silver-haired, the red, and the largest one – the hoary bat. According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, one individual bat can consume up to 500 insects per hour or more than 3,000 insects in a single night. Think about that when you’re sitting outside on a hot summer night, fighting off the mosquitos. Bats are a natural mosquito control. Bats also eat those pesky stinkbugs that like to invade your home and eat from your veggie garden. How nice is that?!

Bats fall into two categories, those that overwinter in caves and those that migrate south when it starts to get cold. Big brown bats are the last bats to enter hibernation in caves, buildings, mines and storm sewers. Hoary bats, on the other hand, migrate south for the winter. During nice weather you may find bats roosting under loose tree bark, under house shutters, or in man-made bat boxes. You might also find bats roosting in your attic. If so, do not be alarmed. Look to the Penn State guide, “A Homeowner’s Guide to Northeastern Bats and Bat Problems,” to learn tips about bat-proofing your home. Once all openings are sealed except for one, let the bats escape at night, then seal the final opening. Consider building a bat box near your house to provide them a nice alternative.

Bats are not doing very well throughout the eastern U.S. and Canada, so they could use our help. Cave bats like the endangered Indiana and the little brown are dying out in record numbers due to White Nose Syndrome (WNS), an invasive fungus that weakens the bats and until they die from starvation or predation. This syndrome was first documented in 2006 in New York, showing up in Pennsylvania in 2008. According to the National Wildlife Health Center, they have documented an approximately 80 percent decline in bat populations in the northeastern U.S. since the syndrome was discovered. They go on to say that it is very unlikely that those species of bats affected by WNS will recover quickly because bats have only one pup per year. We can help them out as much as possible by staying out of caves, especially during the winter, and disinfecting your shoes and gear after being in a cave, to limit the spread of the fungus.

Bats are busy little insect-eaters that also help pollinate flowering plants. They may not be adorable like a rabbit or kitten, but they can and should be appreciated for all they do for us and the environment. The next time you freak out about a bat flying overhead, instead think, “Hey, thanks for eating those mosquitos!”

(Photos: USGS)

 

Clear Cuts Can be Clearly Good October 16, 2014

I’ve been working on a few outreach publications related to forestry and timber harvesting lately, and it makes me think about the myriad people who have a negative reaction when they think of cutting trees. Some people are opposed absolutely to any form of timber harvesting, while others are against certain practices like “clear cutting.” I don’t come from a forestry background, so I can sympathize with them. There was a time when I believed all clear cuts were horrible and that too many trees were being cut down, but with a bit of knowledge my opinion has changed. Perhaps I can persuade you to see clear cuts in a different light, as well.

But before I begin on the merits of (some) clear cuts I want to make absolutely clear that there can be very bad clear cuts if they are done improperly or on certain sites. A lot of thought needs to go into any timber cut BEFORE any action is taken on the ground, not during or after. It essential that a properly trained, professional forester does the work. They know that once the trees are removed there will be adequate regeneration of trees from either seeds in the ground or seeds blown in from the surrounding trees. They know that there aren’t too many deer that could impede that regeneration by eating all the saplings, or too many invasive plants that could come into the clear cut and dominate the area. They know how to prevent soil erosion by using proper best management practices for their haul and skid roads and leaving a buffer of trees along streams and rivers. Only then can a clear cut be sustainable.

If a clear cut is done correctly, many good things can come from it. There are a variety of animal species that benefit from the openings made by a clear cut, as well as from the young growth forest that comes up later (more than 200 species, in fact). Endangered golden winged warbler, chestnut sided warbler, grouse, bear, and eastern box turtle are just a small sampling. The abundant sunlight that is created with a clear cut allows sun-loving tree species like pines, aspens, black cherry and sassafras a better chance to grow and thrive. They can’t compete well with tall oaks and maples in a mature, intact forest.


(Photo: Connecticut DEP)

Clear cuts might not be attractive, and certainly, compared to a mature forest in all its fall glory they’re not. But the forest that grows up in its place will be healthier and just as magnificent. All it takes is a bit of patience and understanding to see it for what it is… healthy habitat in the making.

Want to learn more about clear cuts and other silvicultural practices? Just Google the term and look for reputable source from state bureaus of forestry. There’s a wealth of information out there.

 

3D Printers – Will They Help Save the Planet? June 5, 2014

3DPizza_inhabitat
(Photo: Inhabitat.com)

I am fascinated by the idea of 3D printing. I read about it frequently in the online press and see it in action on the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy.” I have seen articles about 3D printed pizza, human tissues, works of art and plastic children’s toys. It seems straight out of a science fiction novel or episode of Star Trek, but 3D printing is a reality today that is poised to become more mainstream over the next few years to a decade.

What is 3D printing and how does it work? According to 3DPrinting.com, it is “a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. The creation of a 3D printed object is achieved using additive processes. In an additive process an object is created by laying down successive layers of material until the entire object is created. Each of these layers can be seen as a thinly sliced horizontal cross-section of the eventual object.” Each 3D printer has a 3D modeling program that takes the digital design and turns it into a real-life object. The applications for 3D printing are nearly limitless. 3D printed objects can fit into the realms of architecture, healthcare, entertainment, manufacturing and so much more.

Of particular interest to me are the conservation and sustainability aspects of 3D printing. According to an article on The Guardian’s website on March 21 by Chat Reynders, 3D printing will lead to great fuel and material waste reductions, not to mention cost savings. In the manufacturing process, typically numerous prototypes are created and shipped overseas before a final product is developed. That takes a lot of time and resources. With 3D printing the printer is usually able to create a perfect final product the first time around, cutting down on not only shipping fuel costs but also reducing material waste, which might otherwise end up in a landfill. Items will be able to be designed and printed closer to the markets that want them, fueling local economies and reducing green house gas emissions.

However, digging deeper I found a study done by researchers at UC Berkeley (http://sustainabilityworkshop.autodesk.com/blog/environmental-impacts-3d-printing) to compare the electricity and material waste generated by two types of 3D printers and traditional manufacturing processes. What they found differed a bit from what was written in The Guardian article. They looked at an “FDM” machine (fused deposition modeling), which is like a 3D version of a hot glue gun, and an inkjet 3D printer, that uses layers of polymeric ink to create objects. The FDM machine proved to be more environmentally-friendly than traditional manufacturing, yet the ink jet printer wasted up to 40% of its ink during printing. However, it all depends on how often the machines are used and if they are left on all day when not in use. The electricity waste of keeping these printers on makes them more environmentally-degrading than traditional manufacturing processes. So in order to maximize the environmental benefits of 3D printing is to use electricity sourced from alternative energy sources like wind and solar, and to maximize efficiencies in the use of the printers.

What about the fact that most 3D printers in use right now use plastic… isn’t plastic bad for the environment? It is true that 3D printers melt plastic down and form it into new shapes. Melting plastic creates fumes that are harmful to people if inhaled. There are greener alternatives, including bio-plastics and wood pulp, and these technologies will be used more often as 3D printing takes off.

3D printing can be a reality for just about anyone. A printer can be purchased for as little as $250. Maybe I’ll pick one up and start printing out some thin crust pizzas. Anyone up for dinner?!

 

Bee Kind to Bees April 23, 2014

Last night at my Rotary club meeting we heard from a fellow club member, who talked about his beekeeping hobby. This is a fascinating occupation and one with a lot of conservation value, so I thought I would blog a bit about it today.

Egyptians may have been the first people to raise their own domesticated bees. Jars of honey were found within Tutankhamun’s tomb, and as stories would have it, the honey was still edible. According to my Rotarian friend, as long as no water gets into the honey, it can stay edible. If water gets in the honey ferments… although to me that sounds like a good problem to have. Mead anyone?!

Anyway, many cultures over the years domesticated bees and created different hive structures. Yet it wasn’t until the 18th century and the creation of the moveable comb hive that made apiculture (i.e. beekeeping) more sustainable. Why is that, you ask? Well the original forms of bee hives had to be destroyed in order to get at the honey, killing the bees in the process. Now you can easily open up the different combs of the hive, taking the honey you want and leaving the rest intact. In fact, I learned last night that there is a queen bee excluder, a metal grate that keeps the queen bee from laying eggs in most of the hive. This keeps the edible honey bee brood-free yet allows her to lay enough eggs in a portion of the hive. I guess I never thought that deeply about honey before, but know I am glad to know about the excluder!

Why is beekeeping important for conservation? There are more than 20,000 species of wild bees out there, but they’re not doing so well. With the way we tend to grow crops in the U.S. and elsewhere – a monoculture of genetically-engineered corn or soy, with lots of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, for example – native bees can’t find enough pollen to bring back to their hives to make honey. No honey, no food for any of the bees, the hive dies. We have also paved and built over a lot of prime bee food habitat – meadows and other grasslands – further reducing their pollen supply.

Colony collapse disorder is a major concern for bee colonies. It was first documented in 2006, according to the USDA, and showed up to 90 percent mortality among affected hives. The population of managed honey bees in the U.S. has declined from five million in the 1940s to less than 2.5 million today. What causes colony collapse disorder? While no one has an exact answer, scientists believe that it is a combination of Varroa mites, fungi and viruses, pesticides, lack of food and other stressors. It may be the perfect storm of problems for honeybees worldwide. And since honeybees and their pollination skills contribute $15 million annually towards the economy, losing the bees will harm us in our stomachs and pocketbooks. Like almonds? Then you should really be concerned… all almonds must be pollinated by bees. No bees, no almonds!

Beekeeping is a challenging hobby, but also very rewarding. Not only do you get tasty honey, but you can help support populations of healthy honeybees for the future. Don’t have the room or desire to have a hive or two of your own? Not to worry… you too can assist native bees by planting native, flowering plants like bee balm, purple coneflower, goldenrods and milkweeds. To learn how to plant a pollinator garden (that will attract butterflies as well as beneficial bees) go to http://beespotter.mste.illinois.edu/topics/beegarden.

Bees are fascinating insects. From the queen to her female worker bees to the male drones, the hierarchy of the hive and the important tasks each bee is born knowing how to do will astound you. I encourage you to learn more about both native and imported bees so that the next time you see one you won’t be so quick to squash it. Instead admire it from a distant and thank it for the great job is does pollinating our flowers and crops. Without that little bee, your dinner wouldn’t be quiet as diverse and tasty.

 

Trees do so Much April 9, 2014

Filed under: Science,Uncategorized — newdomino @ 1:15 PM
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Trees are terrific! Can anyone argue with that? Well, I guess I should add a caveat to my statement, “MOST trees are terrific!” There are invasive tree species out there that are the bane of many people’s existence, including mine, like Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), Norway maple (Acer platanoides), Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin) and Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana), to name just a few. And some trees are more terrific than others. Trees native to your specific area are generally better than non-natives, although if you live in an urban area you may need some non-invasive, non-native trees to withstand road salt, the urban heat island effect and the other tough growing conditions found in urban areas. Trees like Goldenraintree (Koelreuteria paniculata), Japanese tree lilac (Syringa reticulate) and Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova serrate) will grow well under tough conditions, yet not grow uncontrollably like an invasive.

Spring is a great time to plant trees, but you need to make sure you’re planting them in the proper site, with the proper techniques. Check out the TreeVitalize program website to learn all about proper tree selection, siting, installation and maintenance – http://www.treevitalize.net. Plus, if you live in certain parts of Pennsylvania you can download a coupon to save $15 off the purchase of a tree at participating nurseries. Municipalities and non-profits can even apply for grants to help defray costs on bulk tree plantings.

redbud_paul wray
(Photo of Eastern Redbud by Paul Wray, Iowa State U., http://www.forestryimages.org)

I live in a city center, surrounded by a lot of pavement. In such situations adding tree canopy cover is essential. Trees provide us with cleaner air and cleaner water, shade to lower heating bills and make sitting outside on a hot day more enjoyable, and aesthetic beauty. There was already a Japanese maple in my backyard when I purchased my home, but I added a native Eastern redbud tree too. It has grown a lot over the last three years, even given the poor quality city “soil” and is just plain beautiful in the spring with its pinkish-purple flowers. The flowering dogwood in front of my house provides food for the squirrels (they love to eat the fruits, sometimes to my chagrin) and blocks some prying eyes from being able to look into my living room window. Trees do so much for us!

 

Sustainability Makes Sense for All March 12, 2014

Sometimes I am amazed by how controversial a seemingly harmless word can be to certain people. I understand why some people don’t like the terms “climate change” and “global warming” – they have become highly politicized and the actual events behind the terminology threatened people’s comfortable way of life. Even I have become annoyed by the abuse and misuse of those terms in the media. But I cannot fathom why the term “sustainability” has such a negative connotation in various quarters of the population. Lately I have had to defend the importance of this term, so I thought I’d blog about it here.

I first came across the negative perception of sustainability in reference to the Agenda 21 movement. Agenda 21 is itself a non-binding, voluntary action plan of the United Nations in regard to sustainable development. However, groups of right-wing and libertarian organizations have used Agenda 21 as an example of the UN’s desire to take over the world. The Republican National Committee adopted a resolution opposing Agenda 21 and their party has stated that “We strongly reject the UN Agenda 21 as erosive of American sovereignty.” Numerous states have passed (or are drafting) legislation barring government participation in the Agenda. The Tea Party calls Agenda 21 a conspiracy by the UN to deprive people of their property rights.

That’s a lot to put on the imaginary shoulders of a non-binding, voluntary document!

I have only read portions of Agenda 21 so I’m not going to defend the document here. What I will do is discuss why even if someone is opposed to the tenets of that document they can and should support sustainability. A compilation of the definitions for “sustainable” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary equate to something that can be used now but still be around for future generations to enjoy. When we practice sustainability we are ensuring that our future generations are not harmed by our actions of today. To me, that seems like a non-partisan ideal.

Through my job I promote sustainable landscape design and management for anyone who deals with land – municipalities, schools, homeowners, business owners, etc. The goal of the program is to show people how they can save money and improve human health and quality of life by rethinking how they deal with the natural world. You don’t have to be a tree hugger to appreciate saving money. And you don’t have to be a doctor to appreciate better health. Anyone can find benefits from sustainability.

I do believe that there is a limit to growth. If we sacrifice the environment and natural resources for ever-increasing economic growth we will reach a point where it all crashes. I don’t believe anyone would want that or have something to gain from it. So if we start to incorporate sustainability into our daily lives we can continue to have enjoyable experiences without dooming future generations. And in the end we may even save some money to put toward things we’ll really enjoy (like vacations and better benefits for employees) while enhancing the aesthetics of our communities.

So when you think of the term sustainability, think of a town where kids walk to school, getting enough exercise to cut the obesity rate dramatically: a town where small businesses thrive, where tree-lined streets clean our air and shade us during the hot summers. A sustainable community is one that will survive the ups and downs of the market, find new ways to compete in the global marketplace and attract new residents because of its desirable homes and businesses. Sounds like a place I’d like to live in!