Science & Environmental Briefs | June 2018

In Denmark, people use about four, single-use plastic bags a year. By contrast, Americans use an average of one single-use plastic bag a day. Stores in Denmark do not provide free plastic bags. In 1993, Denmark implemented a tax on plastic bags. Durable, multi-use plastic bags are sold, and many people use a variety of cloth bags and net shopping bags.

Why does it matter how many plastic bags, bottles and containers we use? Check out the June issue of National Geographic, “Planet or Plastic? We Made Plastic. We Depend On It. Now We’re Drowning In It.

California is the first state to mandate solar for all new homes. The requirement goes into effect in two years. The California Energy Commission voted unanimously on the rule. It will add thousands of dollars to construction costs but that cost will be recouped in lower energy bills and less environmental damage. The requirement is expected to add $8,000 to $12,000 to construction of a home but save consumers $80 a month in energy bills and the unquantified cost of reducing the home’s carbon footprint.

Premature birth rates drop after coal and oil plants shut down. Inside Climate News reported on a study that found one year after eight coal and oil fired power plants closed, premature birthrates among mothers living nearby dropped. The impact from closing plants burning fossil fuels is almost immediate, the report found. Premature birth is associated with lifelong health problems.

Lifestyle More Powerful Than Genetics. Dr. Walter Willett wrote an article in Science that genomics research and personalized medicine are the primary focus of the medical profession for advanced treatment of disease, but the most effective treatments to prevent and reverse disease involve lifestyle medicine. Large cohorts have shown genes play a small role in predicting disease but modest changes in lifestyle and diet could prevent 90 percent of type 2 diabetes, 80 percent of coronary heart disease and 70 percent of colon cancer.

Gun Violence Is a Public Health Issue. Gun violence is an epidemic, but the federal government is restricted from conducting comprehensive research because Congress succumbed to pressure from the NRA. A new analysis in the Journal of Urban Health reports 4.6 million children in America live in homes where guns are kept unlocked and loaded. That’s about 7 percent of children, double the estimate from 2002. Another analysis in 2004 found that 65 percent of perpetrators of gun violence in schools used a relative’s gun.

Insect Extracts and Plant-Based Meat. Confined Animal Feeding Operations produce enormous amounts of greenhouse gases, and that has catapulted a new push for plant-based meat products. While some of these products may taste good, many are highly processed with long lists of added ingredients such as pea protein isolate, expelled-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil, maltodextrin, gum arabic, succinic acid, cellulose from bamboo, methylcellulose, leghemoglobin, kojac gum, xanthan gum and the list goes on.

Marion Nestle, leading nutrition scholar and author of Food Politics, writes one problem with plant-based meat is the color. The most frequently used color for red meat-like products is carmine derived from cochineal insects, but that can’t be used in products labeled vegetarian.

Her bottom line: “One of my personal food rules is never to eat anything artificial. These products are off my dietary radar.”

Trump Administration Sides with Big Oil Against Cities & States.

Inside Climate News reports: Over the past few years, two states have launched fraud investigations into Exxon over climate change. Nine cities and counties, from New York to San Francisco, have sued major fossil fuel companies, seeking compensation for climate change damages after revelations that ExxonMobil had long recognized the threat fossil fuels pose to the world.

Just before a critical hearing to determine the fate of a pair of climate lawsuits in California, the United States government has weighed in as a heavyweight ally on the side of the fossil fuel companies.

Lawyers from the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division filed a friend of the court brief last week in support of five of the world’s largest oil and gas companies, which are seeking to have lawsuits by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland dismissed.

Federal lawyers argue in their brief that if the two lawsuits succeed, it could stymie domestic and international energy production.

“The United States has strong economic and national security interests in promoting the development of fossil fuels, among other energy resources,” according to the 24-page brief filed May 10.

The brief cites President Trump’s March 2017 Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth, suggesting the fight being waged by the two cities against the companies runs counter to the administration’s support of unrestricted fossil fuel development.

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