Human Consumption and our Planet’s Future

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Pixabay: Peter H

Human consumption is not just about food. It’s about clean water, clean air, energy sources, minerals, rock, sand, lithium, rubber, wood, all the ingredients that provide us with our homes, furniture, cars, clothing, tech devices, electricity, heating and cooling our homes, means of running our cars, sports equipment, entertainment, and other creature comforts. The increase in population and need for homes mean more natural land is being paved over for homes and agriculture.


To take one example, we are buying more clothing and discarding it sooner. The clothing industry accounts for 20% of our water pollution and remains only behind the fossil fuel industry in that regard. Every year the world consumes over 80 billion clothing items. In 2013 over 15 million tons of textile waste was produced according to the EPA. When clothing ends up in landfills. chemicals, such as dye, leach into the ground. When unsold clothes are burned, CO2 escapes—as much as 1.2 billion tons per a World Resources Institute report.


Amazon trees are being felled to make way for agriculture, reducing oxygen produced by them, and an environment for wild life. We buy knick-knacks, souvenirs, toys galore, decor for every holiday, political swag, gadgets for special uses or plain silliness—remember that awful fish on a board to hang on your wall that wagged its tail and talked or sang. When the last parent passes on, their belongings don’t. They are hauled to the dump by the truckloads.(Advice to the elderly is to clean out the attic so your loved ones are spared such trips.)


Plastic has been my bugaboo as it takes eons to degrade and is killing ocean life including the plankton that produce more oxygen than the Amazon forest. Containers for goods are next to unavoidable. We once used glass, but glass requires sand, of which there is not an infinite amount, and too much removal from some sites have had a negative impact. Cardboard originates from trees. Face it, we’re consuming at a faster rate than Mama Nature can provide.

I’m as guilty as the next person, seeking the perfect lemon squeezer, the foam pillow designed to prop my ipad in bed, plastic storage boxes to park stuff in my attic. Now, I’m determined to turn over a new leaf. I’m saving plastic containers and bags for reuse rather than buying those convenient seal plastic bags. I reuse unsoiled tinfoil. My hubby thinks I’m nuts but gets in trouble when he balls it up, thinking it’s fun. I’m encouraged by efforts to manufacture a biodegradable plastic or plastic-like material to use in containers, millennials who are eschewing abundant wardrobes. Like most of us I’ve spent most of my life accumulating. Now it’s time to stop and begin shedding. Unfortunately, most of the young don’t want our family heirlooms of china, crystal, and silver.

As a footnote, I highly recommend David Attenborough’s A Life on Our Planet on Netflix. In fact, it should be required in our schools and for adlults to be allowed to vote. I plan to devote my next blog to its message. The documentary not only is a stark commentary on human’s impact on the planet, it includes ways we can avoid disaster.

Can We Brave Our New World?

Given this year’s fires, smoke, floods, hurricanes, and drought, there can be little doubt that we are suffering under the effects of climate change. In fact, we’ve reached a point of no return according to climate scientists in terms of melting ice in our poles. To wit, we could stop using all fossil fuels, and the ice would continue to melt. The question is now how bad things will get. Since we cannot turn off the fossil fuel switch overnight, scientists and others are turning more attention to the question of how to mitigate the damage. They are stepping up such efforts, which previously were not advertised lest people become complacent about the need to stop spewing greenhouse gases. Here are some hopeful ideas.

Carbon Capture,which may involve storage or utilization,

Plant life consumes carbon dioxide, but once it dies the CO2 is released into the atmosphere. Biologists are working on creating plants that store the carbon dioxide in the roots, which will remain sequestered in the ground. This is only one of many efforts to capture carbon and store it.

Some companies that create carbon dioxide in manufacturing processes capture and utilize in more products; such as plastics, concrete or biofuel; while retaining the carbon neutrality of the production processes. (Don’t get me started on plastics, however.)

Severe climate events not only destroy many homes annually, but create power outages that harm and threaten lives. Putting transmission lines underground is the ultimate solution, and PG&E recently announced plans to put 10,000 miles underground over several years. Presumably, areas at most risk for fires will be targeted. The process is expensive, and one company is working on lines above ground supported by structures that collapse without creating a domino effect. While power will still be interrupted, it will be restored much more quickly because of fewer collapses, diminishing the effect on the dangerous disruption to families and loss of food.

In South Korea solar panels shade bicycle paths between highway lanes. A win-win: it gets people out of their cars and provides solar energy.

These are the kinds of efforts that must be stepped up in order to protect quality of life while we battle to live in a way the preserves our planet’s sustainablity .

And here are a couple of visual unrelated amazing video treats:

Check out these clever bees: https://twitter.com/i/status/1435362486811861005 and

a seal hugging a diver: https://twitter.com/i/status/1435408292872740867

Use Hydrogen for Energy? Not so fast!

Should we use hydrogen for energy given that it burns clean. It depends on the color!

Green Hydrogen: Yes, it is produced by using energy from renewable sources.

Brown Hydrogen: Hell no! It’s made by gasifcation from coal releasing carbon dioxide along with the hydrogen, and there is pollution from the mining of coal.

Gray Hydrogen: No! It’s made by reforming methane in natural gas with high carbon dioxide emissions, and of course, natural gas is a fossil fuel whose extraction risks polluting the atmosphere

Blue Hydrogen: Still no! it’s made like gray hydrogen with carbon capture but doesn’t prevent unburned fugitive methane from escaping.

The latter three sources seem convoluted to me. What’s the point of turning fossil fuel energy into a different kind of energy? Granted the burning of hydrogen in our cars means less carbon down our canyons of freeways, but creates new low income areas with undesirable air quality where the hydrogen is produced.

The reason this is of interest is that the sorely needed pending one trillion dollar infrastructure bill includes several billion for hydrogen research. I’m campaigning that in the implementation, the research is for green hydrogen. The best way for that to happen is for the word green be inserted as an amendment.

Climate Preservation Heros & Heroines

It is heartening to see that the younger generation is fighting to save our planet from dire consequences.

Radhika Lalit (32) invented air conditioners 4 times as efficient as durrently available. On market by 2025.

Gene Berdichevsky (37) is revolutionizing battery technology for automobiles with batteries that can store 40% more energy and cost up to 40% less!

Etosha Cave (34) started a company that enables industries to recycle carbon dioxide to make fuel, plastics, and household cleaners. This is the one that excites me most.

Benji Backer (23) is a political conservative who attempts to convince his political allies that conservation is what conservatives should be about.

Alexandra Grayson (20) is another advocate of tackling climate change and has founded a chapter of Defend Our Future—an affiliate of the Environmental Defense Fund, an organization that sponsors Climate Science education, promotes environmental protection legislation, and assists companies in going green.

Geeta Persad (33)  researches global impact of local environmental pollutants. With a rotating Earth, pollutants emitted can fly around the world.

Damage Environment Destruction Pollution Earth

Alexandr Criscuolo (31) helps fledgling companies using Kickstarter with strategies that reduce environmental impacts such as minimizing packaging and building sustainability into products

Matt Panopio (29) analyzed Lyfts’ carbon footprint and designed a plan to reach zero carbon. He is working as a manager at Amazon to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040.

To learn more about these pioneers go to:https://www.edf.org/sites/default/files/documents/solutions-Summer2021.pdf

EDF, Environmental Defense Fund is just one of numerous environmental organizations fighting to save us from more and more climate disasters. EDF has been criticized for working with industry to reduce their carbon footprint out of fear that industry will spank its hands and declare they have done all that’s needed. More aggressive organizations like Sea Shepherd Conservation Society deliberately interfere with illegal operations on our oceans. I’m glad to see many approaches as that’s what it may take to slow our damage to our Earth home.

Can keystone species help save our planet?

Many ecosystems contain species that are called keystone because without them the system would collapse into barrenness. I don’t know if every ecosystem contains a keystone, but there are many examples. I would have guessed the keystones would be the creatures at the bottom of an ecosystem’s food chain, but it turns out there are examples with keystones at the top, namely the predators.

In the 1960s, marine biologist, Bob Paine conjectured that there were predator keystone species, but testing required controlled environments. He chose tide pools as one of the easiest. Starfish prey on mussels using  their succored legs to open them. Paine removed starfish by hand from a chosen pool, tossing them into an adjacent one over a long period. After months there were more mussels but less of everything else. Years later only mussels remained. Well, since mussels eat by filtering plankton from the sea water, plankton must have been there, but not easy to detect as they appear as mere specks.

After this breakthrough discovery, more predators were discovered to be keystone, but not all keystone are predators. Keystones include:

 African elephants tramp down trees and provide corridors that contain fire. They excrete seeds that maintains grassland. Grizzly bears toss their salmon bones, which fertilize the soil. Sharks eat dead diseased fish, curbing pandemics Sea otters control the sea urchin opulation, which destroy kelp. Krill feed whales, seals, penguins, squid, and fish Beavers build dams that provide habitats for salmon and other creatures.  Bees, Hummingbirds and Honey possums are absolutely critical pollinators to our food supply. Parrotfish are the janitors of coral reefs. Prairie dogs are gardeners of the prairies, positively impacting water supply. African termites fertilize the land and provide small homes. Woodpeckers also provide space for nests. Saguaro cactus are condos for birds and small animals, They provide fruit in season.

Given the importance of keystone species, efforts are being made to restore areas of our planet that have suffered. Wolves have been reintroduced into Yosemite. By keeping the deer population down, the variety and quantity of vegetation has increased followed by streams and other animals who now thrive. Dwindling wild dog populations in Africa have been boosted by World Wild Life funds with a similar benefit.

Wildebeests have restored the Serengeti. They eat grass that burns easily, and without fires trees recovered supporting elephants, giraffes, birds, and other species including predators like lions.

Bass are keystone in our rivers.

Wild dogs photo:  https://www.maxpixel.net/ph

Red Alert!

There are geologists who believe our planet would be better named Ocean rather than Earth. 71% is water, a fact that astronauts have visually appreciated. Life of all kinds no matter what we call our home, is critically dependent on the health of our oceans, lakes, and rivers. Oceans provide 50 to 80% of our oxygen via the plankton that dwell there according to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)**  Rain can also be traced back to evaporated water from Earth. The inhabitants of many countries would not survive without fish.

Usually, we cannot see the damage to oceans, lakes, and rivers caused by climate change. The trash on beaches is disgusting, but can be picked up before it contaminates the ocean . However, those who follow the News have been alerted about the Red Tide of algae killing 15 tons of dead fish that recently washed up on Tampa Bay with more to come. This time the ocean has fought back. I can’t imagine the stench. This tragedy echoes 2018 when 20 tons of dead sea life washed ashore. Ancient sea turtles, manatees, dolphins, and more lost their lives. Humans living nearby suffer from respiratory illness. Businesses depending on tourism are suffering economically.

The main culprit is fertilizer that has washed into waterways and ultimately the ocean. In addition, the rises in temperature in air and water contribute to the growth of the red algae. The only potentially positive aspect of these disasters is their high visibility. Plankton are also dying off at a rate alarming to marine scientists, but most of us don’t notice. Plankton not only provide oxygen, they absorb carbon, and are at the bottom of the ocean’s food chain.

With heat waves on the west coast and severe flooding in Europe, I am heartened that more politicians are no longer ignoring the dangers of global warming, but I won’t celebrate until aggressive plans are in place to save our planet. Protestors point out that there is no planet B. I am also heartened that scientists and activists are working hard on solutions so much so that all that is needed now is the public will to get our government to act.

**I saw the head of NOAA appear on PBS’s Climate One hosted by Greg Dalton. She described appearing before a Congressional committee in charge of funding. When she mentioned the critical role of NOAA in tracking the weather, one committee member replied that if he wants to know about the weather, he just turns on TV. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I wonder how she was able to contain her poise in explaining to the unidentified gentleman where TV gets their weather information.

Science Curiosities

Trees have Moms!

Suzanne Simard, a forest ecologist has studied how trees nurture each other. Logging companies who clear cut but replant often find the seedlings don’t survive. However, preserving and planting them near the oldest largest trees— the mother trees vastly improved the survival rate. Some time ago I recall basing a blog on how plant roots recognize each other. Plants often compete for water, but interestingly if they recognize their own, they share but slurp up what they can from competitors.

Cells that compose embryos can turn on the fountain of youth

Many women today are postponing having children. It turns out that they need not worry that the age of the cells in their ova will be passed onto their embryos and ultimately children. At one time, developmental biologists thought germline cells were immune to aging somehow. (If true, it would be likely that human eggs would be harvested to create an antiaging pill.) Now, it is believed that the embryo somehow resets the biological clock to zero. The hypothesis has been supported by results from studies of mice embryos. If scientists can discover how it works, they may be able  to develop treatments for age-related diseases.

Bats or Lab-leak responsible for Covid? It could be both.

A sociologist in an article in the NYTimes has investigated laboratories that study infectious diseases and has made some interesting speculations about labs that study bats as carriers. She suggests that in some cases insufficient care might have been taken in the handling of the bats. A lab at UNC Chapel Hill discovered evidence that a SARS-like bat coronavirus could directly infect human airway cells. No intermediate animal needed. She also reports traits of the H1N1 influenza pandemic of 1977-78, which affected people in their mid 20s or younger, were nearly identical to a strain from the 1950s. Because  viruses would have normally mutated over the time gap, scientists speculate it came from samples frozen in the 50s.  She speculates that labs designed to prevent disease instead contributed  to its spread.

There are brick-sized robots that are searching for survivors of the building collapse in Florida

These small robots must have been around for years to use to search earthquake rubble, but it’s the first I’ve heard of them. They are equipped with cameras and can be thrown into spaces too small to otherwise investigate for human life.

Hey Moms, your offspring changed you before birth.

I’m reading a fascinating book called Mom Genes. It describes scientific evidence that the cells from a fetus can escape into an expectant mother’s body including her brain. Slivers of mice mom brains were compared with slivers of virgin mice. Among humans, experiment after experiment compared and found differences between Mom reactions and reactions of non-mothers.

Why do scientists always pick on mice? Mice share 80% of their gene structure with us, and share hormones, immunities, etc. Their genome has been completely sequenced.

What is Science, Anyway?

Add replication to the quality petal!

During a conversation with a sister, I discovered we viewed the definition of Science differently. I see Science as a careful, prescribed process of discovery, while she saw it as the results themselves. It seems both definitions are used.

Oxford: * the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour (British spelling, of course) of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment

*a systematically organized body of knowledge on a particular subject. “the science of criminology” 

I doubt the basic qualitative requirements for Scientific studies will ever change, although new research tools may come with their own specifications for rigorous use. In terms of evolution of knowledge, most is in terms of learning something new about our world, but some results contradict long held principles. An example of the latter kind of evolution is related to a recent blog of mine about muons shaking up the world of nuclear physics— the area of Science I believe most filled with unanswered questions. Since the unexpected level of magnetism of these muons contradicts theory whose roots go back to Einstein this could be a revolution rather than evolution. Scientists await further independent verification, but I’m betting many are looking for corrections in the understanding of nuclear physics.

This is good place to warn the reader about bad Science. An unfortunate circumstance related to media’s love of what’s sensational results in undue publicity to unreplicated studies contradicting accepted norms or fun results like one glass of red wine is worth an hour of exercise. Beware of “Studies show …” without reference to a reliable source as preached in a previous blog.

Mathematics is the tool of Science—sometimes called the Queen of Science. Some is heavy duty advanced mathematics as in quantum mechanics, but most common is elementary statistics. Replication increases the probability of the accuracy of preliminary results. Not only is the media guilty of jumping the gun on a single study, unscrupulous or unschooled researchers seek random correlations by studying many attributes of a sizable sample of say, people. Probability predicts that two or more attributes will coincidently appear correlated. (It is a fact that in a group of 35 people or more, the odds are that two or more have the same birthday. To get the probability that it doesn’t happen one multiplies 35 or more numbers less than one. Then it’s just arithmetic that the product will be small.) Similarly, some correlation of attributes is expected in a fishing expedition with lots of fish, making it illogical to make any conclusion about the discovery of the apparently correlated without replication. The mistake of concluding correlated qualities involve cause and effect is even a more common error in popular communication of scientific studies.

The advertisements of many health supplements use language crafted to sound scientific. Sometimes unjustified claims are scientifically studied and debunked for the sake of the public. This naturally adds to the sense that Science is in flux.

Is Scientific Avoidance of Unexplainable Phenomena Ending?

The above photo was leaked from NASA, It’s not the one in the news. For some time, people who claim to have seen UFOs have been discredited as nut cases. So much so, that many who experience unknown phenomena have failed to report them for fear of ridicule.

Now, the pentagon is about to do a report on the small percentage of events that are not explainable by known ordinary occurrences or at least on one singular event that has been sighted for years by military pilots. It is anticipated that the report will neither confirm nor deny that the strange behavior of this flying object including exuding no visible exhaust, unusual speed, and spinning is extraterrestrial. However, the fact that the object of interest is being taken seriously is remarkable.

So many natural things have taken human beings centuries to explain that it seems odd not to research unexplainable flying objects. For example, I’m not sure we completely understand how generations of butterflies return to the same exact locations year after year or birds to their winter and summer homes, but the fact they do is well established so it’s not treated as astounding as it is. It is believed the critters are sensitive to the earth’s magnetism. Ditto for animal behavior before earthquakes.

I recall hearing a researcher on NPR years ago lament he could not get results published on the possible transmission of information among a single species. He had taught some kind of rodent to accomplish some kind of task, neither of which I remember. He then discovered that the same kind of rodent living across the ocean learned the task much more quickly. Dee de dee dee. Dee de dee dee. Other scientists have tested people for ESP, finding a few individuals who performed well above average over periods of time. Little attempt to replicate these studies have been made to my knowledge. However, that’s what science normally does to confirm what may be new discoveries.

The fact that some Defense Department projects are hidden from the public has added to the confusion over UFOs as in the Roswell mystery. The lie that the debris found was from a weather balloon was not credible. The foil-like material was different than any substance ever seen. Indeed the material was secretly developed and is in use today. At our visit to the Roswell center we ecnountered a group of teenagers with tinfoil hats preceding us into the museum, but accounts that hung on the walls were quite convincing that the weather balloon explanation lacked the credibility that the discoverers displayed. Years later the Defense Department revealed that the debris came from the secret Project Mogul.  Then there are other countries such as Russia secretly spying on us, who might be the source of the debris. Other elements of the Roswell story—namely that some eyewitnesses claimed that there were alien bodies taken from the site—were explained as fallen parachute-test dummies in a more extensive follow-up report.

At any rate, I herald this day if it means sensible people won’t be dismissed out of hand for reporting unusual events.  

The Science of Truth and Belief

Throughout human history, there have been those who promote falsehoods for various reasons: flawed logic, religious beliefs, superstition, and for financial or political gain. However, the challenge of discerning the truth has become greater than in the past because of social media and other online information flooding our brains, decreasing our ability to keep up. A recent article discusses the consequences to our capability to discern the truth. In an attempt at efficiency, humans have historically used simple rules to choose quickly what to believe. Because in the past, most of what we heard was true, we frequently erred on the side of belief. Research supports that we attend to information that is new, exciting, and supports what we already believe. This describes much of the messaging that bombard us online. The more often one hears a false claim, the more believable it becomes as many charlatan politicians and news reporters well know.

A computational social scientist, Jevin West, cowrote Calling Bullshit: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World. In addition to the difficutly of discerning truth, he advises: “We’re also contending with a platform, and with algorithms and bots that know how to pierce into our cognitive frailties.” (I frequently boast that I grew up on a farm and am familiar with the smell of BS.) According to West, times of uncertainty like that caused by Covid prompts more dangerous speculation.

Further, social media uses means to hook us into frequent use by tempting us to get more likes, retweets, etc, which encourages us to share more, particularly unusual posts. Information scientist, Sinan Aral of MIT and author of the 2020 book The Hype Machine: How Social Media Disrupts Our Elections, Our Economy, and Our Health — And How We Must Adapt argues   “Novelty has an advantage in the information economy in terms of spreading farther, faster, deeper.”

Many universities require a course in “critical thinking” as part of their general education requirements. I consider critical thinking as one of the best consequences of a college education. Classes have tips such as considering the source of information, how to recognize flawed arguments labeled : straw dog or straw man device (substitute a similar but easily refuted claim instead of the one in question,) topic avoidance via vague and unrelated generalities, wrong attribution to a respected figure, cherry picking, poor analogies, overgeneralization, quoting out of context, and more.

Will Organ Donation Some Day Become Obsolete?

I’ve always been dumbfounded about 3-D printing. I’m old enough to have taken typing before the invention of word processing, which I took in stride as progress. However, 3-D printing amazes me as nothing short of miraculous. A recent articlecompounds my wonder. Progress has been made on 3-D printing human organs, blood vessels and all. 3-D printed meat and houses have already been accomplished. (I don’t consider guns as progress, but that’s been done..) The new method, stereolithography, uses jelly-like materials known as hydrogels.

Imagine, people who need transplants not having to wait for a suitable donor.

On an unrelated matter, here’s my daughter’s photo of the recent “pink moon.” It wasn’t named pink for the color of the moon but for the color of phlox, which blooms in April. So this pink moon obliged its name.

I also read an article about ways to circumvent Physics Uncertainty Principle. Does that mean that the Uncertainty Principle. isn’t certain. Perhaps my next blog.