My Favorite Kinds of Environmental Actions  

 

With Earth’s growing population and finite resources, all of us should be concerned about maintaining the livability of our home planet. However, there is evidence that people who have to struggle daily to put food on the table and live where clean water cannot be taken for granted have little time and ways to contribute. It is difficult to think of concern for Earth’s future as a luxury. Some organizations have found means to address both poverty and the environment.

I was amazed at the Nature Conservancy’s Fall 2019 magazine’s descriptions of projects they are undertaking. They are inventive and long lasting. They’ve been known for buying land for parks and wildlife preserves, but they do much more.

The city of Nairobi only has access to 70% of the water that its residents need. Their water comes from the Tana River, and runoff from the hillside farms along the river make filtering and purifying the water difficult and expensive. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) established a water fund, which helped farmers plant thickets of bamboo along the banks of streams that flow into the Tana, which traps the silt. The fund  also paid for 70% of the cost for water pans farmers could install at the tops of their hills that trapped water during heavy rains for use for irrigation during the dry season. Farmers benefited by being able to raise garden vegetables, which garner higher prices at that time of year. Win-win.

Another of TNC’s projects is called Blue Bonds for Conservation. It involves buying back sovereign debt at a discount and restructuring the debt to save countries money. In return the countries pledge to use at least 30% of their savings on protecting the countries’ marine waters. Seychelles was the first project.  Another win-win.

A third project involves rebuilding a reef near Adelaide, Australia. Overfishing had wiped out a once thriving home for marine life. Oysters filter water, which once made the area desirable for fish. Along with a team of marine biologists TNC replanted oysters on 50 acres and one year into the project, native species are returning to the reef. If this continues, sustainable fishing can boost the local economy.

It appears if we take care of the earth, it will take care of us.

Scientific Progress Raises Ethical Questions

This is not new, but I was provoked by recent positions by advice columnists regarding people deserving to know if they have a half sibling. In the case in question, I read about a person who discovered one set of cousins had a half sibling from DNA testing. The columnist opined that the cousins deserved to know. I’ve had my DNA tested twice. One service identified the countries of origin of my ancestors and health characteristics of people who have similar genes. The other merely identified people I was related to in their database. I know there have been happy reunion stories, but the reunions were instigated by the discoverer. I am bothered by the privacy rights of parents and the pain that revealing family secrets may cause. At minimum, DNA services should request permission to share relationships. In my case I learned of some potential fourth cousins, which was of no interest to me, but I was fascinated to learn my German background came from a part of Germany that was also French.

Many ethics issues are related to medical science such as gene editing to ensure the health of the baby. But this capability could mean designer babies for looks, intelligence, and athletic ability.

Other medical discoveries may lead to cures of diseases that plague humans, but come at enormous cost. Can society afford to spend millions per year for every sufferer or will it become another advantage for the wealthy? In our current health care system, we spend disproportionately on the ends of life while young people die for inability to pay for health care.

Scientists are the first to say that they are not the ones to dictate how their discoveries are used and that discussions are needed by the general public. I wish more such conversations were taking place.

 

 

A New Crater Lake?

 

I’ve had the pleasure of peacefully sitting in a deck chair overlooking the placid blue crater lake in Oregon. I’ve also viewed the spectacular red-hot lava pool deep in Halema‘uma‘u from the summit of Kilauea on the big island of Hawaii. Both are marvels of nature.

A New York Times article suggests a new crater lake may be forming. In May of 2018, Kilauea’s  volcano violently erupted, and the lava pool at the bottom, which had been there for ten years began to drain. Within a week it disappeared. Now three small green pools appear to be growing. Scientists don’t believe it is rainwater, because it is 167 feet below the water table and suspect it’s water seeping in from the sides and bottom of the deep cavern. Unfortunately, fumeroles in the crater make it too hot to get near the bottom of the crater. Scooping some up via helicopter would be tricky, but that’s likely the only way they can test the water to be certain.

It would be neat to replicate Oregon’s crater lake, but scientists believe that if formed it will likely not be permanent as the magma underneath will build up again.

 

Footnote to my last blog: Now scientists believe they’ve found evidence that a tsunami once occurred on Mars.

Our Fascination with Mars

If you haven’t seen news of the recent anniversary of the first man on the moon,you’ve probably been in inensive care. I watched the story of the moon landing on PBS. It was good to review the history of years condensed into a few programs. It was clear that Mars was deemed the next  goal. NASA and the Soviets sent unmanned rockets into space to explore several planets and their moons besides Mars over the years. Such missions almost became routine.

Science fiction creatures from outer space seem inevitably to be Martians. Loss of life probably made NASA more cautious about humans landing on Mars, but the idea lingers. National Geographic ran an excellent series called Mars—a mix of a suspenseful fictional story with a history of efforts to explore Mars. Andy Weir’s novel, The Martian was so popular it was made into a movie. Both the National Geographic series and The Martian gave me a real sense of what the planet must look like.

Elon Musk sent a Tesla roadster to Mars in February 2018. It makes sense since there probably aren’t any gas stations there.

Despite all of what has been said about Mars, I was surprised to watch a Nova program on Mars and learn that scientists think that 4 billion years ago, Mars had tons of water: basins, flowing rivers, a magnificent waterfall, and possibly an ocean. Numerous landings sent back information on the shape of the terrain and the nature of the soil and rocks, providing evidence for water having been there. In fact, it appears that Earth, Mars, and other planets were similarly formed and were much alike originally. Only Earth retained its oceans.

So, what happened to the water on Mars? It turns out that Mars has a thin atmosphere, and is smaller, meaning weaker gravity and magnetic field determined by the size of its  core. Earth’s gravity and magnetic field keep our molecules close to Earth, but Maven, which has orbited Mars in an elliptical orbit so that it varies between 150-6,000 kilometers from Mars, measures the number of molecules in Mars’s atmosphere. It loses two to three kilograms per second.  The water has escaped over time.

If early conditions did match those of Earth, scientists wonder if life also began on Mars. They hope to find out.

An easy way to combat climate change and other fascinating science news

* In general people avoid talking about politics, but it’s only recently that climate change has been considered a hot political potato. It may be in Congress, but studies show that 70% of Americans accept the reality of climate change, and discussion increases awareness among the general public. A Yale social psychologist says such discussion is massively important in increasing awareness, and in turn awareness is critical in getting preventive action. One can begin with talking about the need to keep our air and water free of pollution. Who can disagree with that? Then there’s the tendency to give our friends and some relatives credit for being truthful.

* Artificial intelligence is getting smarter.  Gizmodo taught itself how to solve Rubik’s cube without help from a human, and in fact seems to have discovered a most efficient way given the few number of moves. I am curious about what is meant by no help from a human. I’d like to see the starting directions.  I loved Rubik’s cube and used mathematics to find a solution. I never became a whiz kid. It took me too long to figure out where I wanted what, but it provided a wonderful example for teaching my math classes.

* In addition to the five senses: seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting, some scientists call our awareness of particular body parts a sixth sense—not to be confused with extrasensory perception. At the end of my yoga program lying in samadhi pose I am told to relax my toes, my lower legs, on up to my face. There is no movement, only awareness of that body part. Now neuroscientists believe they’ve located the neurons responsible for that sixth sense by studying fruit flies. Coincidentally, a collection of six neurons act together.

*Einstein called something called quantum entanglement “spooky action at a distance.” It is a pair of particles that share experience and state so that what happens to one happens to the other no matter how far apart they are. Further the matching is instantaneous seemingly defying the speed of light as the upper limit if one particle were sending a message to the other. Spooky, indeed. Now scientists claim to have a picture of a pair of entangled particles. Click here.

Scary Facts About Recycling

 

As someone who checked plastic for the recycle symbol including the # to be certain my collector accepted that particular plastic and washed away food waste, I was dismayed to learn from the latest issue of Sierra Club magazine,  I might have been contributing to plastic being dumped in the ocean. I had blamed cruise ships and careless fishermen. Now I learn with China’s rejection of our products intended for recycling — first by rejecting unclean waste, and now altogether — that they have been routinely dumping the unclean waste into our oceans. We turned to Malaysia, which soon rejected the waste for similar reasons. In fact grocery bags, yogurt containers, Styrofoam, and clamshells are supposed to be recycled, but they almost never are. Plastic bags, soda straws, plastic wrap, and bottle caps are unrecyclable junk. Somewhere I read not to try to recycle anything smaller than a credit card.

Sometimes the ocean rejects what’s dumped into it and spits it back out.

Shredded paper confuses recycling equipment. Further, all undesirable plastic contaminates bales of genuine recyclables. The plastic would have been better off in a landfill. It should be noted that China is now producing more of its own plastic and subsequently trade war or not, they won’t be wanting our waste.

 

 

Fortunately, only the less desirable half of our recycling had been shipped overseas. Edward Humes, the author of the Sierra Club article sees China’s rejection as a wakeup call to an opportunity for our country to do better: improved recycling facilities and factories, more education of the public, clearer directions to the public on what is recyclable in their communities, deposits on plastic bottles, and less use of single use plastic. Places where recyclables are separated before they reach the curb yield the cleanest and most desirable material for recycling. We need to emphasize the first two of the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle, and not depend on others to sort out our “when in doubts.”

Hey readers, I’m participating in Smashwords annual sale on ebooks. In fact, I’m making the following free for the month of July! Just click on the covers.

Some Fun News, Some Good News

Puppy Dog Eyes:  We’ve all seen puppy dogs whose adorable eyes plead for food, a back scratch, or forgiveness. It turns out that dogs have evolved to contain a facial muscle that allows them to raise their inner eyebrow, which makes their eyes look larger and appealing. Wolves have no such muscle.

 

More good news on beating plastic pollution: Seafood shells contain chitin, which can be used to make a plastic-like substance, which is biodegradable. The food industry generates 6 million to 8 million metric tons of crab, shrimp and lobster shell waste every year. Depending on the country, those claws and legs largely get dumped back into the ocean or into landfills. Unfortunately, current methods of extraction of the chitin is impractical and wastes resources. Investigators are optimistic that better methods can be found.

 

Research is also being done on microbes scientists have discovered who dine on plastic in the ocean. Plastic in the ocean doesn’t degrade but breaks up into small particles, which are consumed by fish to their detriment. There is a strain of microbes, on the other hand, which seems to be developing a taste for the plastic. It is hoped that this strain can be developed to help solve the problem in the oceans. I find it unforgivable that plastic makes its way into the oceans. At best it belongs in landfills, and we need tougher punishment of cruise ships and fishing vessels who illegally dump waste into the ocean. One cruise line paid over 40 million dollars in fines for illegal dumping including waste and oil, but didn’t stop its ways.

Not only can your devices synch up, so can bats and mice brains: Even when these creatures are not interacting with each other, when in close proximity the neural activity of their brains have been seen to coordinate. A pushier mouse’s brain has been seen to dominate. Can this explain crowd mentality in humans? Scientists are also studying octopus brains as a part of the octopus brain is very much like a human brain. In particular, the effects of Ecstasy are being studied. In general, it seems that tiny doses of dangerous drugs are being studied as therapeutic for some people.

Listen to your plants: Many people believe that talking to your plants is good for their health and growth. Now scientists are listening to plants grow by recording them, then amplifying and speeding up the sound. It’s suggested plants communicate with each other via sound. Hmm? Where I grew up, we had a saying that an evening was so quiet one could hear the corn grow. Check out the video in the article. This just in: University of Minnesota given grant by Minnesota Corn Growers Assn to study making better plastic from corn. It is biodegradable, but needs to be made more durable. So great to hear about all the efforts to replace plastic.

There’s a new bio-glue that can rapidly repair arterial wounds: Chinese researchers have discovered a bio-glue that is activated by UV light that can seal a bleeding heart in 20 seconds. It has yet to be used on humans, but has been successful on rabbits and pigs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today is Ocean Worlds Day!

Today’s blog is not about how our oceans are in trouble, but about the many wonderful organizations that are working to save them. They range from those that help keep beaches and shorelines clean—today  many will be picking up litter—to those that take aggressive action against polluting and improper fishing practices.

Surfrider strives for accessible  beaches, clean water, protection of our oceans, preservation of our coasts and keeping plastic from polluting our waterways. Take 3‘s title indicates their message to beach goers. Take 3 bits of trash away when you visit a beach.

Blue Frontier is a grassroots organization or as they say, a seaweed organization, calling attention to conserving the oceans. 5gyres is dedicated to ridding our oceans of plastic.

Oceana is the largest international advocacy organization focused solely on ocean conservation via efforts to affect policies that make a difference.

Blue Ocean Institute focuses on the positive, encouraging defending  fish rather than condemning poor fishing practices.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is particularly aggressive in stopping whaling vessels from engaging in species-endangering whaling and fishing practices. Their methods may be controversial, but Sea Shepherd decreases the number of whales killed  and garners  attention for the plight of these beautiful creatures.

Greenpeace is known for a range of environmental activism and is among the most successful organizations working in the area of oceans, whales and seafood. They aim to  to change seafood choices made at a wholesale level, convince governments and the United Nations that marine reserves are critical to our oceans’ future, and fight to close loopholes that enable commercial whaling.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution researches and educates on ocean life, coastal oceans, climate change’s effect on oceans, and deep water exploration. As such they are among the most influential on ocean related issues. Scripps Institute of Oceanography is a second influential  research institute. They run the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation and head the world’s largest privately funded network for observing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Ocean Conservancy helps formulate ocean policy at the federal and state government levels based on peer reviewed science.

Mission Blue was founded by the first female aquanaut and has identified Hope Spots— special places critical to the health of the ocean — Earth’s blue heart. Some are formally protected, while Mission Blue is working to provide protection for the others. San Francisco Bay is one of the Hope Spots.

Deep Sea Conservation Network is an alliance of over 70 organizations including  Greenpeace, Oceana and the Natural Resources Defense Council— an organization defending the entire planet and its life from the ill effects of climate change.

I find these organizations inspiring, but my point is not for readers to relax and think the threat to our oceans is being handled, but to point to organizations that need your support to solve the problems. Other things you can do: eat seafood that is sustainably fished—ask before you buy— minimize plastic use, and help create awareness of the effect of climate change on the oceans. They provide 70% of the world’s oxygen. Our lives depend on healthy oceans.

In honor of World Oceans Day, I’m giving you a coupon to get a free ecopy of Lower World at Smashwords. Simply enter the code: TC75X when you go to pay. Available for a limited time.

Happy World Oceans Day!
Eloise

This Made My Day: Possible Substitutes for Plastic!

I needed some good news on the climate front, and I had been wondering for some time why someone hasn’t found a way to make biodegradable plastic so I decided to search. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that plastic in the ocean is so pervasive it’s been found in sea creatures at the very bottom of the ocean, being consumed by and killing all kinds of sea life threatening the ocean’s ability to continue to produce the 70% of oxygen it provides for land creatures to breathe.

California, having the longest coastline, is very concerned about plastic making its way into the ocean. They banned thin plastic grocery bags, but somehow allowed heavier reusable ones. I fervently hope they are being reused. I like the cloth bags inside their own little bags, which fit in my purse. Trader Joes uses soft thin plastic bags that states they are compostable in industrial sites. I take that to mean I can put them in my compost container.

At any rate, in my search I first came up with an article on the work of a PhD student in Sweden, who had found that something called nanocellulose made from wood byproducts and plants could make superior packaging for food and other uses and is completely biodegradable. The manufacturing would be more expensive than plastic and there were some issues that remained to be resolved. I checked the date at 2017 and wondered if progress had been made.

I tried a search for nanocellulose 2019 and with great delight discovered a press release on May 6th, 2019 on expected huge growth in use of nanocellulose for not only packaging, but as as a low-calorie additive to thicken, flavor, and stabilize food products. The nanocellulose market accounted for 7.5 million dollars in 2016 and is growing rapidly. A number of other sectors have found uses for the product with great potential.

Not all current plastic is recyclable such as the hard plastic used for children’s toys, buckets, containers, etc., and I also found a science alert about a new kind of plastic for these purposes, which can be recycled again and again.

A bit of good news.

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And of course, my research for my books in the Ocean Worlds series has made me extra aware of the threats to our oceans.Try a unique read.

 

Click here to buy Lower World         And here for Lost Sea

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eat your crickets if you want dessert?

I’ve always known that insects are high in protein and that they are diet mainstays in some indigenous cultures. Aboriginal Australians love witchetty grubs. One woman describes them as tasting like almonds when raw and scrambled eggs when cooked. They were not on the menu on our trip to Australia or I would have checked them out.

Mexico is the home of the largest variety of edible insects: gusanos, jumiles, chicatanos, ahuatle, escamoles, cuchamas, chapulines, and alacranes to name a few. I didn’t give their translations as the names sound better without the labels: worms, caterpillars, grasshoppers, and scorpions. There are over 2,000 species of edible insects worldwide.

I’m also aware that many Mexicans have unfortunatley altered their diets to include fewer insects and therefore less protein because of the disdain of peoples from other parts of the world.

Now, Trina Chiasson, a tech from Silicon Valley, has partnered with James Ricci, science officer and Tequila Ray Snorkel, tech officer. Hmm, gusanos are the grubs found in tequila bottles. The trio has purchased an existing cricket farm in Florida. They are working on making the farming more efficient. The Science News article describes the farming as difficult, citing one farmer’s attempt as resulting in a loss of millions of crickets in a matter of days. Other ideas are to use waste to feed the insects. After all, they have to eat too.

Worldwide, insect farming has become a 55 million dollar business. One chef includes them in an eight-course meal with insect bodies mixed with popcorn and chocolate mousse toppedd with wasps. Crickets average $15 per pound, but I imagine one pound contains many of the little critters.

 

Some insects are crunchy and others chewy, two textures I enjoy. However, I’m not ready to have them looking up at me from my plate. However, I do like the idea of them being ground and uses in protein bars or being fed to farmed fish. Hmm, chocolate covered, maybe?

 

If the human population continues to grow as it always has, we will need to look for resources to support them wherever we can.