Bear DNA study is GOOD SCIENCE

September 27, 2008

Dear John McCain,

Please stop using the $3 million study of Montana bear DNA to illustrate out-of-control government spending. Didn’t you claim to support basic research? And not only was the bear study good science, but the scientist running it (a former cheerleader, incidentally) can kick Sarah Palin’s moose-hunting patooty.

Miriam and Eric

You know prospects are grim when…

July 8, 2008

…you ask a spokesperson for Qualcomm whether a particular product is being produced in sustainable fashion and she says: “Oh yes, we’re in Best Buy, it’s selling in Korea. This product is very sustainable.”


Don’t Bushes need the sun to grow? Why does Bush hate the sun?

June 27, 2008

Despite the enormous flow of money into new solar projects (the free market, trying to work), this has been a rotten 12 months for solar energy. Last year California Sen. Dianne Feinstein led the effort to increase fuel efficiency standards to 35 mpg by 2020, and in the process she dropped provisions that would have extended  tax breaks for solar and wind power development. Still, as the manager of millions of acres of desert land, companies flooded the BLM with applications to construct big solar power projects that could potentially provide enormous quantities of clean electricity for electricity-sucking SoCal, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and the rest of the region.

But today we learn that the Bush administration has placed a moratorium on all new large solar projects on Bureau of Land Management property, which, of course, means millions of acres of desert in the southwest which happen to, you know, get a lot of sunlight. They argue that they need to do an environmental assessment of the impact of large solar projects, which could take up to two years. I can’t be alone when I lean my head out the window and belt out a hearty, “AAARGH!”

Read the rest of this entry »

What we don’t know about chemicals in the environment could fill the North Pacific Gyre

May 11, 2008

Everyone knows about the whole Nalgene Bottles of Death, right? The Federal government came out with a report saying that a chemical from the bottles, called bisphenal A (BPA) could be harmful to babies and maybe, possibly, adults. People flipped out, bottles were pulled off the shelves, and I had to spend 18 seconds of my day to decide that I am not an infant (physically), and I shall continue to drink out of my favorite Nalgene bottle. But the furor isn’t what’s interesting about all this to me. It’s that Nalgene has been making these bottles for decades! And *now* we figure out they might be bad for us? What’s going on? Well I’ll tell you what’s going on. We don’t know squat about how plastic affects our health in this country, or really about much of anything else that we make out of chemicals. The University of California Centers for Occupational and Environmental Health recently published a report that outlines the dire state of our knowledge of chemical effects on people and the environment, and it advocates for policy solutions to fix the problem.

Some choice quotes:

Tracking data on chemical use in California is also lacking: there is no state-wide information on the volume or location of chemicals or products produced or imported, no catalogue of their commercial and consumer uses, and virtually no record of their ultimate disposal or environmental fate.

Look, I’m a reporter by trade. I’m pretty aware of how much the government doesn’t know. But seriously, we still in the midst of a nation-wide mass freakout about securing our towns and cities from the ravages of terrorists, but we don’t track the vats of chemicals that slosh around American factories and trucks? Really?

Public agencies have insufficient information to identify chemical hazards of highest priority for human health and the environment.

I thought that was what public agencies got paid to do.

Producers are not currently required to assume full responsibility for the health effects and environmental consequences that can occur over the lifecycle of their products. As a result, there is little impetus to minimize the potential hazards associated with the manufacture, use or disposal of chemicals and products.

There’s nothing new about producers not having to pay for the external costs of their products (like disposal), but I like seeing it laid out like that.

With the exception of pesticides and pharmaceuticals, laws governing chemicals in the U.S. and California generally require public agencies, not producers, to carry the burden of proof that a chemical or product causes unreasonable harm to human health or the environment before the agency can implement protective measures.

And the kicker to that last item: “the standard of evidence exceeds agency resources.” So, to sum up, we have no idea where the chemicals are, we have no idea whether chemicals are or are not safe, when we think something might not be safe, it’s up to us to prove their not safe, and finally, we can’t afford to gather the evidence to prove it.

I could go on a whole policy rant about taxes and “Starve the beast” mentalities, but that’s not really science, technology, or oysters gone wild.

The report advocates a host of policy goals, including mandatory hazard and tracking data provided by the producers, a government run green labeling program, and tax incentives for using chemicals known to be safe for people, animals, water, and the environment. Let’s hope this report gets into the right hands.

[Thanks Blogfish for pointing us to the report.]

The New York Times reads Buffy, and it’s shocked, shocked!

March 7, 2008

Buffy the Vampire Slayer has made some mainstream news (spoilers in the link) with the latest volume of Buffy: Season 8. Since the whole silly to-do relies on spoilers, I’m not going to launch into it until after the jump. Since I need to fill some space for layout reasons, I’ll take this moment to inform the Whedon loving geek cosmos that Joss will begin filming the pilot of his next show, Dollhouse, on April 23.

Read the rest of this entry »

Democratic chorus sings “Here Comes the Sun”, but Republicans off-key

February 28, 2008

Yesterday, Congress decided that as long as the oil companies are making a gazillion dollars in profits these days, they don’t really need tax payer support. So, legislators said, let’s get rid of the oil subsidies, worth $1.8 billion over ten years, and re-fund tax breaks for solar and wind and other renewable technologies. The House passed the bill 236-182.

Unfortunately, the passage of this bill doesn’t exactly set my heart aflutter, since there’s almost no chance it will survive a filibuster in the Senate, and President Bush has already said he’d veto it. I do wish Democrats hadn’t given away the tax breaks when they negotiated the increase in mileage standards a while back. They should keep trying, though, because the current subsidies for renewables will die at the end of this year (which is a correction to my earlier post, when I thought they ended on 1/1/2008.), a month before a possibly Democratic president would be sworn in.  Republicans, of course, wax wroth on anything that burdens oil companies, but the Washington Post casually lets drop the fact that the money represents a 2% dent in oil company profits, or an extra penny a gallon for a consumers. Excuse me, but I believe I hear the sound of the world’s smallest violin playing Mozart’s renowned Oil Company Lament.

Well, I can’t close on that depressing note. In other news, the National Science Foundation gave $100,000 to the solar tech company Bloo Solar (which is a neat name) to develop its solar film. The product uses millions of tiny nano-bristles to massively increase the amount of solar energy the cell can convert to electricity. The company won’t release actual efficiency figures, but they claim to have broken the world record for light capture. They have records for that sort of thing? I must dig up my Guinness Book.

Even my turkey isn’t a whole food

February 19, 2008

Why is my ground up turkey “infused with spice extract”? You can’t read it from the tiny image at right, but the text below “Ground Turkey” reads “infused with natural spice extract”. Why? Foster Farms supplies decent turkey: no hormones, no steroids, no artificial enhancers. But I just don’t trust this “spice extract” business. And unfortunately, the other ground turkey in the store, Shady Brook Farms, also has spice extract. Do I really need to shop at Whole Foods Market just to get plain old ground turkey?  Sigh.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.