Category Archives: Environment

All The Leaves Are Brown And The Sky Is Grey

I looked outside my window yesterday and was greeted by two trees already showing their spectacular yellow color.  Yep, autumn is here already.  It seems a bit early for the colors to change, but I seem to recall thinking in previous years that the leaves were turning later than usual so maybe this is the actual normal.  Remembrances of specific events that happen once a year is a tricky thing to do.  This is partly why it’s so difficult to get people to believe that climate change is happening.  Things happen in gradations instead of all at once.

But that’s not what I want to talk about.  I want to talk about colors!  Or colours for the one person in the U.K. that reads my blog.  Leaves change color in the fall.  Duh.  But why do they change different colors?  The answer is science!

Green – You all know this from your basic biology course, I’m sure, but leaves turn green because they’re filled with chlorophyll (a word that I’m sure has denied many a student a spelling bee championship).  Chlorophyll is what plants use to help them absorb light which they use to perform photosynthesis which converts light to energy.  Yes, plants eat light for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Yum!  But chlorophyll is kind of like a mask that hides the true color of the leaves.  In the fall, as trees prepare to hibernate for the winter, the chlorophyll slowly drains away and the plant’s true colors shine through.

Yellow – The “true” color of most tree leaves. Year round, most trees produce carotenoid which is responsible for the vast array of yellow colors you see in trees during the autumn.  During the spring and summer, the yellow color is just overridden by the green of the chlorophyll.  What color of yellow a leaf appears in the fall is a result of differing amounts of carotenoid in the leaf.

Red – Some of the most beautiful trees are those that turn a brilliant red (or purple) color.  Like chlorophyll, though, the red color is due to a special production of the chemical anthocyanin.  Scientists don’t know for sure why anthocyanin is produced in some trees.  One theory is that anthocyanin is produced in because it helps protect the leaves from the light so they can continue producing food for the plant a little while longer.  Another is that it’s a warning sign for insects to let them know that they probably don’t want to choose this tree to live in for the winter.  Many trees that turn red will turn another color after the anthocyanin production stops.

Orange – If you know your colors, you know what’s coming here.  The orange of leaves is a mix of both anthocyanin and carotenoid.  So when you see an orange leaf, you know that there’s a bit of anthocyanin being produced but not enough to override the yellow of the carotenoid.  As with the red leaves, you will often see orange leaves change to yellow before falling off the tree.

There you have it, science!

Why Are These Criminals Not In Jail?

Most of you have probably forgotten about the Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 oil workers.  If you haven’t forgotten about it, you likely think that it’s a thing of the past.  The oil was cleaned up.  People were paid for their hardship.  The ecosystem has recovered.  Wipe off your hands, pat yourself on the back, get back to business.

Yeah, not so much.

Would it surprise you to know that BP executives lied to Congress about how much oil was spilled from the disaster?  Would it surprise you to know that BP plead guilty to lying to Congress?  Would it surprise you to learn that BP was warned that the dispersants used to hide the oil spill from the public was known to cause serious health issues in humans and BP ignored and hid those warnings?  Would it surprise you to learn that hundreds, if not thousands, of humans who helped in the clean up now suffer major health complications likely caused by the use of the dispersants?

Would it surprise you to learn that no one has gone to jail for these crimes?  Me either.

Sustainable Fishing

This post from Eric Loomis is astounding.  Cod is dead.  North Atlantic cod anyway.  Check out that graph.  Look at how quickly the catch drops off.  This is what happens when you over fish.

Sustainable fishing does exist, though.  And you can do your part to support sustainable fishing.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a handy dandy Seafood Watch Program that allows you to check to see if your favorite fish is sustainably caught.  Only buy fish that is sustainably caught.

This Is Why Environmentalism Is So Important

A recent article from Kevin Drum points to the fact that there is a pretty good causal effect between crime rates and lead poisoning.  Crime rates in the United States are on a sharp decline and the removal of lead from everyday life may be the cause.  How cool is that?

This is why environmental issues are so important and also why people have a hard time seeing environmental issues as needing to be solved.  It can take decades for the effects of what we are doing to the environment to become readily apparent.  Eat lead paint as a toddler today and you kill someone 15 years from now.  Your average person would never make that connection.  There are hidden costs to many of our everyday activities that we would never be willing to pay if the costs were known up front.  Corporations know this.  Science takes decades and there is a lot of money to be made in those ensuing decades before something is considered harmful.

The lead we pump into the atmosphere from factories and coal fired plants costs us more for correctional facilities.  Your tube socks you buy at Wal-Mart cost you much more than what you pay for it because of the welfare support needed for its employees since Wal-Mart refuses to pay a living wage.  The meat you eat costs much more than what you pay for it because of the diseases they cause and the harm the factory farms do to the local environment.  Carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere decades ago is causing global warming now.

Humanity has trouble taking responsibility for things that happened yesterday.  It is no wonder that it is nearly impossible for us to take responsibility for things that happened decades ago.

By The End Of This Book, I Will Be A Vegetarian

Willfully ignorant is not a phrase that anyone would use to describe me.  When it comes to eating meat, however, that is really the only phrase that can apply.  I have known about the horrific state of animal husbandry in the United States for years.  I have heard many stories about the abysmal conditions in which animals are kept in factory farms.  I am aware of the vast ecological destruction that occurs from industrial fishing practices.  I have known that the meat we eat often makes us sick, the people who work in the industry sick, and the people who are unfortunate enough to live nearby a factory farm sick.

These are all facts that have been fed to me little by little over the years.  I have known about them the way I know about the fact that the sun rises in the morning.  Very little thought was put into it.  That has all changed because of a book.

I am currently reading “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer.  I’m about half way through the book and I’m finding that nothing I’m reading is new to me.  There are no new facts and no new conclusions.  What there is is everything I have known as disparate facts all condensed into one book.  And it is devastating.  There really is something incredibly powerful about reading page after page of how awful factory farming is to force you to come to terms with your complicity in perpetuating mass suffering.

99% of all meat and animal byproducts consumed in the United States comes from factory farms.  They live in inhumane conditions from the day they are born to the day they die.  They live in pain from the day they are born to the day they die.  They are killed in ways that are inefficient and often lead to fully conscious animals being skinned and gutted.  And that’s if they live that long.  Male chicks are almost all killed after hatching.  Unhealthy pigs are taken by their hind legs and swung against the ground bashing their heads in.  None of the meat that comes from these animals can be considered healthy because of the conditions in which they are processed.

Terms like “cage free” and “free range” and “grass fed” are merely marketing ploys and are all but meaningless.  “Cage free” can mean that the enclosure the animal is placed in doesn’t meet the definition of a cage even though the animals are packed in just as tightly.  “Free range” can mean that the animal can look through a screen window and see the outdoors.  “Grass fed” can mean that a minimal portion of the animal’s diet is grass.  If you do not have first hand knowledge of the conditions in which the animal was raised, you must assume those terms are a lie.

Seafood, alas, isn’t much better.  One pound of caught shrimp can cause over 20 pounds of bycatch (sea creatures that are not the intended target).  The world average is 6 pounds of bycatch for every pound of shrimp caught.  Almost all this bycatch dies and is thrown overboard.  “Dolphin friendly” tuna is anything but.  All it means is that they don’t specifically target dolphins when looking for tuna.  All tuna fishers end up with dolphin bycatch.

There are much more humane alternatives, but they are difficult to find and require research that is really not possible for big city dwellers.  And even if you can find them, they are only more humane.  There is no such thing as a humane way to kill a living animal.  There is only more humane and less humane methods.  Even the most humane current standard causes suffering.

Despite all that, I still find it really difficult to say that I will give up meat.  It is a completely unnecessary food item to consume in a first world country with a vast agricultural distribution network.  I don’t need meat’s nutritional content and I get plenty of pleasure from other non-meat food items.  There is really only one logical, moral, and ethical choice in the matter, though, and that is to give up eating meat.

Stupid Things Libertarians Say

This episode of Stupid Things Libertarians Say™ is brought to you by Ron Paul’s farewell address.  In it, he says:

Why have we allowed the federal government to regulate commodes in our homes?

Rand Paul must have heard his dad say this thousands of times growing up because he’s repeated it in Energy Committee Hearings:

The scary thing is there are millions of people in the United States that applaud this.  First off, who actually has ever had a toilet that didn’t work?  You do realize that you can hold down the plunger for a little while longer to allow more water to flush your massive dookie, right?  And really, should we be sending people to Congress that don’t know how to use a freaking toilet?

“But none of that matters!”, you say?  “Government shouldn’t be telling me what kind of toilet I should buy!”, you say?  Listen, this is not difficult.  Potable water is a limited natural resource.  It doesn’t obey state boundaries.  It doesn’t obey national boundaries.  It needs to be preserved.  Governmental regulations are all about preserving that water.  That’s it.  Flushing a toilet is an unfortunate, but necessary waste of water.  You shouldn’t be able to decide how much water you waste.  It is too precious.