Neil deGrasse Tyson: Trump’s anti-science budget will make America stupid again

March 21, 2017 by  
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President Donald Trump ’s proposed budget eviscerates government funding for basic scientific research and development, taking a sledge hammer to education, health and environmental protection. In a series of Tweets posted on Sunday, astrophysicist and TV host Neil deGrasse Tyson indirectly took on Trump’s budget , writing that making America great won’t happen until we make America smart again by increasing government funding, not by ignoring the scientific consensus on man-made global warming and slashing financial support for important programs that improve the quality of life for American citizens and ensure a livable world. https://twitter.com/neiltyson/status/843510463392616448 https://twitter.com/neiltyson/status/843513652611231744 https://twitter.com/neiltyson/status/843516171748069376 https://twitter.com/neiltyson/status/843518683053940736 https://twitter.com/neiltyson/status/843521200278069248 https://twitter.com/neiltyson/status/843523716977905664 https://twitter.com/neiltyson/status/843525981570662400 https://twitter.com/neiltyson/status/843530014104592384 Trump’s budget boosts Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs while proposing deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (31.4%), Health and Human Services (16.2%), the State Department (28.7%), Commerce (15.7%), Transportation (12.7%), Labor (20.7%), Education (13.5%), Interior (11.7%), Agriculture (20.7%) and Housing and Urban Development (13.2%). Related: Trump team claims funding climate change is “a waste of your money” The budget would also eliminate or zero out programs including Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which funds clean energy research; Global Climate Change Initiative; Great Lakes Restoration Initiative; Chesapeake Bay funding; National Endowment for the Arts; National Endowment for the Humanities; NASA’s Office of Education; and TIGER transportation grants, a program included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 that funds innovative transit projects. Tyson isn’t the only scientist taking action against Trump’s war on science. The March for Science  is scheduled for Earth Day, April 22nd in Washington, D.C. and cities across the country. The mission statement posted on the March for Science website calls for “robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest.” Via Huffington Post Image 1 , 2 via Wikimedia

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Neil deGrasse Tyson: Trump’s anti-science budget will make America stupid again

Why this city is waging a war on shamrocks

March 17, 2017 by  
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St. Patrick’s day is here, and with the plastic shamrocks popping up in stores everywhere, it got me thinking about the real plant, which grows everywhere around the world, and is under attack with a vengeance by the city government in San Francisco. Oxalis, Sourgrass , Wood Sorrel , Bermuda Buttercup , Shamrock , and False Shamrock – these are just a few names for a genus of wildly prolific edible plants (aka “weeds”) which grow everywhere around the world. Even if you aren’t familiar with the name of this plant, you’ve likely encountered the clover-like leaves and pretty yellow wildflower of oxalis in a lawn before; it infiltrates grassy areas everywhere, street medians and even sidewalk cracks in cities ranging from New York and Cape Town to Sydney and San Francisco. Children love to eat it and play with it, and most school kids are familiar with “sourgrass”. In January and February, entire hillsides in San Francisco burst in vivid yellow bloom with Oxalis flowers . Whether this is a problem or not depends on who you ask. Many San Francisco residents see the hillsides of bright yellow flowers as a beautiful first sign of spring, whereas others, especially those who espouse a nativist point of view, see this plant as an “invader” that must be stopped at all costs – even when that environmental cost includes dousing entire hillsides in dangerous pesticides such as glyphosate and triclopyr . It’s oxalis season in San Francisco right now, which means that many San Francisco gardeners are waging a war against this prolific little weed in their backyards. It also means it is Garlon season for San Francisco’s Park and Rec Department. Garlon (chemical name Triclopyr ) is a broadleaf pesticide weed killer that is used by San Francisco’s Recreation and Parks department mainly for the purposes of killing oxalis. Very little research has been done on this chemical, but it is known to be toxic to mammals and possibly carcinogenic – specifically correlated with breast tumors in rats . Glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup), another popular herbicide for killing oxalis, has been classified by the WHO as a probable carcinogen . In the past few months the city of San Francisco has sprayed Garlon on hillsides in public parks several times to try to eradicate oxalis; below are a few videos of these most recent offensives taped by the San Francisco Forest Alliance: Native plant advocate Jake Sigg (former president of the California Native Plant society and spokesperson for the San Francisco Natural Areas Program) recently spoke at a public hearing on pesticides about how he thinks San Francisco needs to use much more herbicide to try to eradicate oxalis, simply because it is such a challenging task:   “Yellow oxalis is almost unstoppable –you have to kill that corm, that bulb, the only way you can do it is with herbicides. It’s impossible to do it manually. I wished I’d brought pictures of San Bruno Mountain where they sprayed the entire mountainsides of oxalis. That’s the only way they got rid of it there. I hate to hear all this unwarranted fear about herbicides. I was a gardener all my life, and I’ve used herbicides and I’m 88 now. I’ve used a lot of them, and it would seem if they’re really that bad I would have problems by now!”   What Sigg doesn’t mention in this quote is that there are many pollinator species, including honeybees, bumblebees, and other types of butterflies , that forage on oxalis nectar during the winter time of year when no other flowers are blooming, and could be harmed by the herbicides sprayed on these flowers. So, in the interest of trying to protect one butterfly species (the Mission Blue Butterfly ), San Francisco’s Park and Rec department has apparently decided it is an acceptable tradeoff to poison other pollinators that are important to local ecology and human agriculture. In a Bay Nature Magazine article , Doug Johnson, executive director of the California Invasive Plant Council says there is just no point in trying to wage war against oxalis. “It’s not a target for landscape-level eradication because it’s just way too widespread,” he said. photo of a coyote in a field of oxalis in San Francisco, by Janet Kessler   In oxalis’s case, the benefits that would accrue from fighting it on all fronts aren’t quite enough to justify the costs—there’s just not enough time or people to dedicate to the effort. (Not to mention that eliminating oxalis takes a doggedness that even Sigg describes as “fanatic.” He managed to eradicate it from his garden, but it took him five to six years, and he sometimes had to comb through his plants by hand.) Instead, Cal-IPC focuses its efforts on the battles that can be won: new, potentially dangerous weeds that can be stopped, or existing weeds that threaten valuable resources.   I visited some of the areas that had been sprayed with Triclopyr recently and the results were not impressive. The fields of bright yellow flowers were not gone, just missing in little patches here and there. It is easy to see how it will immediately grow back. California native Oxalis Oregana, growing right next to “invasive” yellow oxalis on a San Francisco city street. The question around what is “native” and “non-native” seems like an arbitrary and potentially slippery debate as it often taps into deeply held xenophobic sentiments about what is valuable, and what should be allowed to thrive in a given location. That said, I find the discussion around “native plants” versus “invasive species” to be particularly fascinating and confusing when it comes to oxalis. It is often the claim of native plant advocates in any location, that oxalis is an non-native invader that needs to be eradicated. The truth is that oxalis grows all around the world, and there are many species of oxalis that are native to California, including Oxalis Californica (Yellow Wood Sorrel) , and another forest-dwelling species with whitish lavender flowers called Oxalis Oregana (Redwood Sorrel) . Oxalis has been growing in California for thousands of years, and the original native people of this country – the American Indians – widely ate both its leaves and bulbs . There is a species of oxalis from South Africa (Oxalis Pes Caprae) , which is the invader that native plant advocates will tell you that they are doggedly fighting in San Francisco parks, but to an untrained eye (like mine), this plant looks exactly the same as the native yellow oxalis. When I was living in New York City, we had a yellow flowered oxalis “weed” growing everywhere that looked pretty much the same as both of these other species, but naturalists in that area called it Oxalis Stricta , which is native to North America. Different species of native and non-native oxalis – can you tell the difference? And does it matter? I suppose plant experts can distinguish between these different types of oxalis, but can your average gardener or pesticide applier? And what specifically makes a native plant “a weed”? It seems there is no scientific definition of the word “weed” – it is just a term used to designate prolific plants that reproduce quickly and sprout up in locations where they are not wanted. And in public lands – who determines if a plant is wanted or not? That is the heart of the fierce battle now waging between native-plant advocates and anti-pesticide activists. Oxalis Pes-Caprae (South African Oxalis) reproduces underground with little teardrop shaped bulbs, so just killing one plant doesn’t kill the underground bulb, which just spreads and pops up somewhere else – much to the dismay of gardeners who like to keep their gardens oxalis free . This plant is literally everywhere – including sidewalk cracks and highway medians, so it really is impossible to get rid of. And is that necessarily really a bad thing, I would ask? Wood Sorrel doesn’t just have aesthetic value with its sunny yellow flowers, but is also useful as an edible plant. I first learned about this cute little weed from renowned New York City foraging guide Wildman Steve Brill , and then discovered my kindergartner was picking and eating it every day at school in New York City. “Oh that stuff? We call it sourgrass, mom” he told me. Now that I live out in San Francisco, both of my children are very fond of oxalis and encounter it every day; in our backyard, surrounding sidewalks and parks in our neighborhood, and at their outdoor schools. We see both the native lavender variety (Redwood Sorrel) and the yellow flowers. Both of my kids are in an outdoor forest school in San Francisco’s parks, so they spend their all of their days playing in nature. Kids are naturally drawn to the vivid yellow flower, and I’ve found them making buttercup daisy-chains, using sourgrass as currency in some complicated grade school game, and, of course, chewing on it. I am personally concerned about pesticide use on oxalis, mainly because San Francisco’s “sourgrass” is in my children’s hands and mouths on a daily basis, and I don’t want them ingesting cancer-causing pesticides. As soon as the weather gets warmer than about 70 degrees, which happens by April, the Oxalis withers and dies back until next season. So, what is the point – I would argue – of wasting money, time, and damaging our local ecosystem with poison, in order to wage a futile war against this useful, beautiful and clearly unstoppable plant. What are your thoughts on oxalis? Experience with this plant? I’d love to hear about it in the comments! + Why it’s okay to love oxalis and to stop poisoning it + A history of the little yellow flower that is everywhere

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Beer giant AB InBev’s former water guru offers some advice

March 10, 2017 by  
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Why managing water risks should be approached holistically, yet pragmatically, like managing your health.

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One in 11 US public schools are plagued by toxic air

February 20, 2017 by  
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When parents send their kids off to school, they might worry their child forgot their homework or won’t eat enough lunch. Air quality isn’t usually among their worries. But a joint investigation from The Center for Public Integrity and Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting shows almost 8,000 public schools in the United States are located within 500 feet of highways or roads – that’s one in 11 schools. As vehicles travel those roads, they spew pollutants that may seriously impact children’s health . Around 4.4 million students across all 50 states attend the nearly 8,000 public schools threatened with toxic air – and that’s not even counting private schools and Head Start centers. Many parents and teachers aren’t even aware of the issue, according to the joint investigation, since air pollution isn’t always visible. Related: WHO finds 92% of the world’s population exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution But health issues stemming from air pollution could harm children for a lifetime. According to the joint investigation, pollution near highways can lead to stunted lung growth and asthma attacks . It can increase the risk of cancer or play a role in heart disease. Pollution coming from tailpipes could hinder a child’s ability to learn and even contribute to brain maladies typically found in the elderly. New York University School of Medicine professor George Thurston said, “The expectation of every parent is that they’re sending their child to a safe environment. And with this kind of pollution, they’re not.” As part of the article on the investigation, The Center for Public Integrity included a tool so you can see if your child’s school is close to a road on which 30,000 vehicles or 10,000 vehicles and 500 trucks pass on an average day. What can you do if your child’s school is near such a highway? Parents at El Marino Language School located near Interstate 405 in a Los Angeles suburb pushed for high-grade air filters and pollution-trapping plants . A test run of the filters found they snagged over 90 percent of the unhealthy particles inside. Via The Center for Public Integrity Images via screenshot and Matthias Ripp on Flickr

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One in 11 US public schools are plagued by toxic air

London is charging old, polluting vehicles a 10 fine to drive in the city

February 20, 2017 by  
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A new law will charge old, polluting cars a £10 fee to drive in central London. London’s mayor Sadiq Khan said that the “T-charge” will help quell the massive amounts of pollution in the central city. The fee targets vehicles that don’t meet Euro 4 standards, and it is expected to affect about 10,000 vehicles every week. “It’s staggering that we live in a city where the air is so toxic that many of our children are growing up with lung problems,” Khan told The Guardian . “If we don’t make drastic changes now we won’t be protecting the health of our families in the future. That is why today, on the 14th anniversary of the start of the congestion charge, I’ve confirmed we are pressing ahead with the toughest emission standard of any major city, coming to our streets from 23 October.” Related: London breaks legal limits on air pollution in just five days in 2017 Most of the vehicles affected by the T-charge are petroleum-fueled cars and trucks made before 2006. The new law will kick into action on October 23, 2017 and the city is launching an online service that will tell Londoners if their vehicle is affected. The fee will be in addition to London’s Congestion Charge , and a £11.50 daily charge for driving any vehicle within a certain area of the city during specified times on weekdays. That means a potential cost of £21.50 to some drivers who want to bring their vehicles into the city. If this seems extreme, keep in mind that the Lambeth’s Brixton Road area broke annual air pollution limits over the course of just five days in January of 2017. Diesel vehicles are seen as the single biggest source of the city’s air pollution. Via The Guardian Images via David Holt , Flickr Creative Commons

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London is charging old, polluting vehicles a 10 fine to drive in the city

South Pacific islands introduce ban on western junk food

February 3, 2017 by  
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South Pacific islands are banning western junk food in favor of a more nutritious diet. As the islands can grow organic, local food themselves, leaders in Torba, a Vanuatu province, said they want to ban imported foreign food. Their goal is to be the first organic province in Vanuatu by 2020. Torba is Vanuatu’s most isolated province, according to community leader Father Luc Dini. Around 10,000 people reside in the province; most are subsistence farmers. But Dini said the remote islands are experiencing an intrusion of foreign junk food, the most popular of which have been sweets, biscuits, tinned fish, and rice. In contrast, the islands can yield pineapple, yams, paw paw, shellfish, crabs, and other fish for what Dini sees as a healthier diet. He told The Guardian, “It is easy to boil noodles or rice, but they have almost no nutritional value and there is no need to eat imported food when we have so much local food grown organically on our islands.” Related: Michael Moss Investigates How Junk Food is Engineered to Be Addictive Dini also leads the local tourism council, and starting this week, with the support of other local chiefs, he has ordered tourism bungalows to serve only local, organic food. He aims to introduce legislation in the next two years to wholly ban imports of foreign food. Vanuatu’s central government, in Port Vila, has been supportive, according to Dini. “In other provinces that have adopted western diets you see pretty young girls but when they smile they have rotten teeth, because the sugar has broken down their teeth. We don’t want that to happen here and we don’t want to develop the illnesses that come with a western junk food diet,” he told The Guardian. “If you really want to live on a paradise of your own, then you should make do with what you have and try and live with nature .” Via The Guardian Images via Wikimedia Commons and Harsha K R on Flickr

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South Pacific islands introduce ban on western junk food

Solar-power system could provide clean drinking water in rural India for the first time

February 2, 2017 by  
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A solar-powered purification system could slake the thirsts of rural India with clean drinking water for the first time. This would be no ordinary feat. Tens of millions of people in India lack access to potable water, and roughly 600,000 Indian children die every year from water- and sanitation-related diseases like diarrhea or pneumonia, according to UNICEF . In the country’s most far-flung regions, where 70 percent of India’s population lives, toxic bacteria routinely fouls at least half of the water supply . But while the Indian government has focused its efforts on treating surface water in rivers and streams, researchers from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland want to attack the source of contamination: sewage. They’ve developed a system that uses sunlight to induce high-energy particles within a photocatalytic material, which uses light to generate a chemical reaction. These, in turn, activate molecules of oxygen, mobilizing them to destroy bacteria and other organic matter. Because the materials require no power source, an off-grid system requires little more than attaching the photocatalyst to containers of contaminated water and angling them toward the sun until they’re safe to drink. If necessary, the system could be used in tandem with a filter to catch larger particles. Related: 6 Innovative, Life-Saving Designs for Clean Drinking Water The researchers are now working with the Indian Institute of Science Education & Research to scale up the technologies they honed during a five-month pilot project. “Working closely with our Indian partners, we aim to harness the sun’s energy to tackle a huge problem that affects many people around the world,” Neil Robertson, a professor from the University of Edinburgh’s School of Chemistry, said in a statement. + University of Edinburgh Via FastCo.Exist Photo by Jake Givens

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Solar-power system could provide clean drinking water in rural India for the first time

Scott Pruitt can’t name a single EPA regulation he approves of

January 31, 2017 by  
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Scott Pruitt should send a shiver down your spine, even if your idea of environmentalism is reusing the same cup for your soda refill. At his confirmation hearing for head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency a week and a half ago, Pruitt was unable to name even a single EPA regulation he supported. It showed a breathtaking, if perhaps unsurprising, amount of contempt for not only one of the nation’s most vital offices but also the very post he aspires to hold. During his tenure attorney general of oil- and gas-fueled Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the agency 14 times for anti-pollution regulations that he said were “inconsistent with its constitutional and statutory authority.” Ken Cook, president and co-founder of the Environmental Working Group , said that Pruitt could be the “most hostile EPA administrator toward clean air and safe drinking water in history.” When Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the senior Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee asked Pruitt to name “one Clean Air Act regulation—not a voluntary or grant program—on the books today” that he approved of, Pruitt hedged. “I firmly believe that the EPA plays an important role, especially as it relates to cross-state air and water pollution, but EPA must do so within the bounds of its legal authority as provided by Congress,” he said. “Regulations that are not on solid legal foundation and that cannot survive judicial review will not result in environmental protections.” While Pruitt disagreed with President Donald Trump’s assertion that climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese government, he stopped short of declaring that human activity was to blame. “I do not believe that climate change is a hoax,” Pruitt told Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) at the hearing. Later, when pressed by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to explain his position, Pruitt demurred by calling the issue “subject to continuing debate and dialogue.” In response to a query about whether “removing lead from gasoline was an important and successful EPA rulemaking,” Pruitt tersely said that he had “not evaluated this issue.” Lead cast a particularly large shadow at the hearing. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) asked Pruitt if he believed there was any safe level of lead in the human body, particularly for children and adolescents. “That’s something I have not reviewed nor know about,” Pruitt replied. “I would be very concerned about any level of lead going into the drinking water or obviously human consumption, but I’ve not looked at the scientific research on that.” Related: Trump’s EPA pick put industries before federal environmental policies According to EPA there is “no safe level of exposure to lead,” although an extremely small amount is allowed in pipes and plumbing fixtures. Equally alarming, Pruitt dodged senators’ questions about his ties with energy companies and other potential conflicts of interest by directing them to file open-records requests not once but 18 times. “Pruitt’s directive to senators to file Oklahoma open records requests is the political equivalent of saying ‘go pound sand,'” John Walke, Clean Air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council , said on Thursday. Suffice to say, none of this went down well with the committee. In a follow-up letter , Sanders, Markey, Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) took Pruitt to task for what they dubbed his “troubling evasions.” In addition to calling out Pruitt’s murky public reporting of any political and legal conflicts of interest he may have as EPA administrator, not to mention his history of undermining environmental protections, the senators also condemned his “erroneous statements concerning well-established science.” “You did not know there is a safe level of lead in the human body,” they said. “You refused to repudiate statements you made that question the health impacts of mercury pollution. You refused to acknowledge that carbon pollution from human activities is widely recognized as the largest drive of climate change. These statements raise significant questions about whether instead of embracing science, you will be embracing ‘alternative facts.'” Perhaps most tellingly of all, Charles and David Koch , a.k.a. the Koch Brothers , are backing Pruitt’s power grab. Prognosis? Good for polluters, bad for everyone else.

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Scott Pruitt can’t name a single EPA regulation he approves of

Al Gore will now host the climate change event the CDC canceled

January 30, 2017 by  
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This month the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) called off a Climate and Health Summit – and many suspect it’s because of President Donald Trump’s dubious views on climate change . Fortunately, environmentalist Al Gore stepped in – and he’s planning to lead a one day Climate and Health Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. The new conference will convene the American Public Health Association (APHA), Gore’s Climate Reality Project , Dr. Howard Frumkin , the University of Washington Center for Health and the Global Environment , and the Harvard Global Health Institute . They will only be able to meet for a single day (instead of the CDC’s planned three day event) due to the late notice, but they still feel the vital meeting should occur. Related: Al Gore fights climate change with “An Inconvenient Sequel” Gore said in a statement, “They tried to cancel this conference but it is going forward anyway. Today we face a challenging political climate, but climate shouldn’t be a political issue. Health professionals urgently need the very best science in order to protect the public, and climate science has increasingly critical implications for their day-to-day work. With more and more hot days, which exacerbate the proliferation of the Zika virus and other public health threats, we cannot afford to waste any time.” APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin said climate change is already impacting health, and the meeting would “strengthen the public response to this growing threat.” The meeting will take place on February 16, 2017, and it will retain the focus of the CDC summit: a working session with information from public health professionals. If you want more information you can sign up for updates from the Climate Reality Project here . Via Vox and The Washington Post Images via COP PARIS on Flickr and Al Gore Facebook

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Al Gore will now host the climate change event the CDC canceled

Cutting back sugar in your child’s diet can improve their health dramatically

January 28, 2017 by  
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Last year, a study in the journal Obesity revealed that cutting back on sugar for just 10 days can improve your child’s health. For 10 days, children in the study reduced their sugar intake by 28% without changing anything else in their diet. In just 10 days, diabetes markers, blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides were lowered. The American Heart Association has jumped on that message, recommending that children under 2 not eat any sugar at all and kids above the age of 2 stick to just 2 tablespoons. image via Shutterstock

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