Deregulation = Poisoned Eagles

Much of president Trump’s success, if you want to call it that, has come from deregulation. Consumer and environmental protections are at the forefront of the race to make a buck at any cost. The attacks on environmental protection are broad and untimely dangerous. Clean air and water, especially if Obama’s name is connected, are under fire.

Gone is the the clean power plan created by Obama, which had the two-fold benefit of reducing releases of greenhouse gasses and lowering our exposure to lung damaging fine particulate matter. Gone is the methane rule which which was designed to prevent fugitive emissions of Methane, a greenhouse gas 22 times more potent than Carbon Dioxide.

Gone is the 2015 Clean Water Rule which clarified just what bodies of water should come under federal regulatory rule. Conservatives saw it as overreach, but then who needs clean water, right? Wetlands protections, Mercury emissions, numerous regulations meant to protect the environment from rapacious fossil fuel extraction, and on and on, gone.

One recent deregulatory step has been to lift the ban on lead used for hunting on wildlife refuges. This increases the the likelihood of poisoning of non-target species that can be poisoned from eating carcasses of unrecovered animals or the entrails of field dressed animals like deer and elk. Among those animals at increased risk is none other than our national symbol, the Bald Eagle. They, other raptors, and vultures can receive lethal doses of lead.

My personal experience is not uncommon. Recently while floating on the Illinois Bayou with friends we stopped on a gravel bar to grab a bite to eat. Not 20 yards from where we stopped was a Bald Eagle near the brush line on the gravel bar! Just sitting there. We assumed it would fly away so we didn’t disturb it. After several minutes it hadn’t moved so we walked closer, within just a few feet of it. It made no attempt to flee. This bird was obviously in very bad shape. We contacted the HAWK center (Helping Arkansas Wild Kritters) and were encouraged to bring him in. Lynne Slater met us at the takeout and took over his care.

A toxicology screen showed a blood lead concentration of 3.6 ppm. Concentrations of lead greater than 0.6 ppm are diagnostic for lead toxicosis. X-ray examination of the eagle show no physical damage or the presence of any lead shot, hence he was poisoned indirectly. After around the clock intensive treatment for almost a week, the eagle died. Essentially this eagle died because someone want ed to save 2 to 5 % on the cost of bullets. Non-lead bullets and shot exist but are ever so slightly more expensive.

Multiple studies show that even when a lead slug passes through an animal, it leaves small, even microscopic bits of lead which contaminate the flesh and entrails. One study found lead fragments in 1/3 of all ground venison packages examined. So not only are the scavengers getting lead from the gut piles, the hunters and their friends and family are similarly exposed.

We have recognized the hazard of and removed lead from our gasoline, paint, plumbing and numerous consumer products. It is high time that we get the lead out of our environment by mandating alternatives to lead in weaponry.

Something Has to Change

Ironically, if we don’t get to the issue of the availability of guns in the wrong hands, we will erode the freedom we are trying to protect. Trying to second guess which person with a gun is likely to do violence to others will require a massive level of surveillance never seen outside the likes of dystopian novels.

Yet more innocent children were mowed down in school last week and again we have thoughts and prayers, gnashing of teeth and pounding of fists. In this case, the friends of the children who were massacred are speaking out and want solutions. What, if anything will we do?

The direct solution is to limit access to certain weapons for people that have no need for them. Military-style semiautomatic carbines with large magazines are killing machines. They are designed to kill people, plain and simple. They have been used over the past few years to kill everybody from young children in schools to attendees at a country music festival. Innocent folks attending both a church and a nightclub were murderously gunned down. If we don’t limit access to this weaponry, other steps will be necessary, and they aren’t pretty.

If we don’t watch (access to) guns, we need to watch the people. The FBI right now is being chided for not pursuing information on the alleged shooter in Florida. We may greatly expand surveillance of the populace at every level from local constables up to and including the FBI. It would require a massive expansion of manpower, and drastically reduce privacy as we know it.

A third avenue would be to act defensively on a large scale. We could turn our schools into something that more resemble fortresses than places of education. Metal detectors at every conceivable entrance, numerous armed guards constantly roaming the halls, even bulletproof shields surrounding playgrounds. We would essentially be sending our children off to prison, not school.

Also, personal protective gear may be necessary. School uniforms could be used that resemble the clothing of SWAT teams because, well, the children need to get from an armed and fortified home to an armed and fortified school. Actually, school backpacks fabricated from Kevlar are already available, but (child size) bulletproof chest protectors, helmets, and leggings would also be needed.

Granted, the last two paragraphs propose rather extreme and very impractical solutions. The real solutions are all around us. Where there are guns there will be gun violence. In the mid-nineties in Dunblane, England, 20 children were slain while at school. The immediate result was legislation banning private possession handguns. Although there is still gun violence in the UK, it is orders of magnitude lower than in the United States. Similarly, a mass shooting in Australia a few years back resulted in a buy-back and ban of military-style weapons. There have been no massacres since.

Without confiscating a single weapon, simple precautions such as registration, licensing, and insurance will go a long way. Something has to change.

Hurrah for Clarksville

Our neighbor to the west just had a ribbon cutting ceremony for their new 6.5 Megawatt solar array. It is visible from Interstate 40 near exit 55. The 20,000 panels will provide enough electricity to power 25 % of Clarksville homes. They also purchase wind-generated power so that nearly half the communities’ needs for power are met by clean and renewable resources.
 
Home solar arrays are being installed at an ever-quickening pace. Here in Arkansas, Entergy is in negotiations to close two large coal-fired plants, and the replacement? Installation of large-scale solar arrays locally and purchase of wind power from abundant sources to our west.
 
The cities of Fayetteville and Little Rock have joined with the Sierra Club in the “Ready for 100” program, a pledge to work towards 100 % sustainable power for their cities. All of this is important because our current administration has completely dropped the ball when it comes to addressing global warming by replacing the use of fossil fuels with clean, sustainable energy sources.
 
Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt has been all over the map when it comes global warming. In his previous position as Attorney General of the State of Oklahoma, he sued the EPA several times. Many of those suits involved actions taken by the EPA to reduce the impacts of global warming and resultant climate change. Pruitt, as Attorney General for Oklahoma was frequently joined by Leslie Rutledge, Attorney General for Arkansas.
 
Apparently, he previously agreed with his current boss who famously claimed that global warming is a Chinese hoax. His position shifted somewhat to maybe but we need more study and it sure isn’t us. By us he means his patron, the fossil fuel industry. Shortly after taking office he stated “I would not agree that it [carbon dioxide] is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” It has been shown and is known around the world that burning fossil fuels release carbon dioxide which leads to global warming.
 
His latest position is – maybe it’s real but not so bad. In a recent interview in Las Vegas, his tune is now ”We know humans have most flourished during times of what, warming trends, So I think there’s assumptions made that because the climate is warming, that that necessarily is a bad thing.”
 
One can only assume that he is referring to a time when humans went about barefooted in the snow, running down Woolly Mammoths. Were a warmer air temperature our only metric, he might have a point. Life is a bit more complicated now. There were no major cities to be flooded due to sea level rise – no Miami, Houston or New Orleans. Besides the obvious issue of sea level rise, the complexity and integration of a global economy are dependent on climatic stability.
 
A warmer climate in a temperate zone for wealthy countries may not have as negative an impact as the direct impact on poor countries in the tropics. Widespread crop failures from heat, drought or flooding could create major economic collapse and out-migration to cooler regions, regardless of these regions ability to support the immigrants. Walls will not stop the starving. Our arrogance to fail to join with the rest of the world in the Paris Agreement to address global warming will come back to us in the future.
 
It’s the (sustainable) economy, stupid.

Permitted Pollution?

The Mt Judea hog factory is going back to court. The factory was first permitted in 2012. The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) granted a Regulation 6 permit for the factory. Trouble followed immediately. Opponents of the factory rightly claimed that little to no public notice was given before the factory was permitted and the Reg 6 permit had no site-specific considerations.

The several thousand hogs produce close to two million gallons of waste per year. This stinky brew of urine and feces is spread on hay fields which drain into Big Creek, about six miles from the Buffalo National River. Environmentalists claim that the nutrient pollution washing from the hay fields pollute the Buffalo and threaten hundreds of jobs and a 60 million dollar annual tourism industry.

In 2016 the Reg 6 permit expired. The factory then sought a Reg 5 permit which if granted continued without requiring renewal. The factory continued to operate while ADEQ examined the new permit request. Last month the ADEQ denied the new permit request which the factory is currently appealing. There should be a decision within a couple of months.

Supporters of the factory claim that the factory is operating within the rules of the ADEQ but the environmentalists claim the factory is polluting Big Creek and the Buffalo. They are both right.

The factory has been inspected on numerous occasions and has operated without a violation. At the same time, there is clear evidence of pollution from the factory. Currently, there is a five-year moratorium, begun in 2015, for any new medium to large Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). The purpose was to allow time for a study to be done evaluating the impact of the factory on the watershed. Governor Beebe funded the Big Creek Research and Extension Team (BCRET) to collect and evaluate the necessary data.

Pollution from the CAFO comes principally from excess nutrients such as nitrate and phosphate. They make their way by washing from the soil into Big Creek and thence the Buffalo. Also, the whole of the Buffalo watershed is underlain by the Boone formation which contains much porous limestone called Karst. This porosity can provide multiple paths for the pollutants to move from the field to underground streams, springs, and wells then into the Buffalo.

Factory proponents want to blame the tourists for nutrient pollution. Granted there will be some, but no way will the million annual visitors leave a couple of gallons each of urine and feces in the watershed.

They also claim that feral hogs in the watershed contribute to the pollution, but the feral hogs are only eating and excreting nutrients already in the watershed – the plants and animals which they eat. On the other hand, the CAFO hogs are eating and excreting nutrients imported into the watershed, an imbalance show by the BCRET data.

Most telling is the data from two gauging stations on Big Creek, one upstream of the spray fields and one downstream. Nitrate measurements downstream average 50 % higher than upstream. The measurements of soluble phosphate show a greater than 100 % increase in concentration downstream compared to upstream. This pollution stimulates algae growth and a subsequent reduction in dissolved Oxygen.

Choking algae blooms and reduced Oxygen negatively affect the numbers and health of fish and other aquatic organisms. Will tourists come to fish for carp in the future? Or will we decide that there are better locales for raising hogs?

Intermittency Need Not Be a Problem

There is no question that the future of power will be from the sun. Wind generation and solar panels are the predominant contenders. The president has wrongheadedly bragged about bringing back coal as an energy source. It hasn’t nor will it happen for simple economic reasons. Natural gas generation of electricity is cheaper and wind and solar are rapidly approaching parity in cost. Burning coal has the additional unaccounted burden of fouling our air and water.

The only advantage that fossil fuels have is that once extracted, they are available for power production near continuously. Sustainable sources such as wind and solar are available only intermittently. The relative availability is referred to capacity factor (CF), the fraction of time when a power source is available. Generally fossil fuel consuming power sources have higher capacity factors than intermittent sustainable sources, but are by no means constant.

The point of this is that all our electric generation sources are intermittent to a degree but power demands are continuous. At times less power is needed such as at night, or during the spring and fall when less heating or cooling is needed. Interconnected grid systems match power production and demand by balancing the various sources. Sustainability experts estimate that we can introduce intermittent power sources into the gird up to about 30 % of our total production without changing anything. After that we will need to add storage or change the way we utilize available intermittent power production.

Most think of batteries when considering electricity storage, but it is not the electricity necessarily that needs to be stored but rather the potential. Pumped storage is an example of the latter. In several locations, excess power at night can be used to pump water up a hill into a storage reservoir. During the day when demand increases water can be released to generate power.

Another strategy is to match jobs and/or lifestyle to the availability of electrical power just like we do for other traditional activities. We don’t grow corn and beans in the winter. We don’t go downhill skiing in the summer. In some locales power consumption is managed on a small scale with time of day pricing of electricity. Generally there is less demand for electricity at night, so power companies lower the price at night. This influences people to shift power consuming activities to later hours.

Larger scale operations could be shifted to times when energy is more available. The upper midwest has abundant wind energy available. It is available intermittently but predictably. Manufacturing schedules could be matched with the availability of lower cost power.

Solar power could easily be matched with power needs which themselves are only intermittent. Huckleberry Creek north of Russellville, Arkansas is a 500 acre man-made impoundment. It provides drinking water and in most years is sufficient. On occasion water is pumped from the Illinois Bayou uphill into the impoundment. Pontoon mounted solar panels could be floated on the lake to provide pumping power. There are a couple additional advantages here. Evaporation would be reduced by panel coverage and the solar panels themselves would be more efficient due to cooling from the water.

Homeopathic Horsefeathers

In 2014 CVS Pharmacy was rightly lauded for its decision to stop selling tobacco products. Recently the president of CVS pharmacy announced that there would be no manipulation of photos used in the marketing and promotion of their house brand of beauty products. Helena Folkes made the announcement at a retailer’s convention. She said “unrealistic body images are a significant driver of health issues…” She will also hold other brands of beauty products sold by CVS to the same standard by 2020.

CVS is one of the largest marketers of beauty products in the country, so this decision will have a far-reaching effect in the industry. Now if they just had the same concern with honesty in drug marketing. Among the brands sold at CVS is Boiron. They are the world’s largest marketer of homeopathic products. Boiron sells dozens of nostrums meant to treat a range of symptoms, including the flu. One product in particular stands as a model for all the others. Oscillococcinum is sold as a treatment for the flu (actual wording: for the treatment of flu-like symptoms.)

This prepartion begins with an extract of a Muscovy Duck liver. This extract is diluted one to ten, 400 times! It is hard to describe just how dilute this is. Imagine taking one ounce of this extract and adding it to 10 ounces of water and mixing thoroughly. Then take one ounce of this solution and add it to 10 ounces of water, and on and on.

Doing this just 25 times produces a solution whose concentration is the same as taking that first ounce of extract and pouring it into the combined oceans of the world. But you’re not done, you have to repeat this dilution process 375 more times. At the end, the probability of finding a single atom from the original preparation is nil.

Homeopathy was created by Samuel Hahnemann in 1796. This medical modality was based on what he called the law of similars. Substances that cause symptoms in “normal doses” can cure those same symptoms when given in infinitesimally small doses. In the age of Hahnemann, a “cure” that had no side effects, or any effect for that matter may have been an improvement over the dangerous medical practices of the time. President George Washington died in 1793 from bleeding to death. Bloodletting was de rigueur.

Back to the foolish dilution scheme. According to Hahnemann, The more dilute the ingredient, the stronger the remedy. So you buy a bottle of homeopathic Arnica, diluted only 60 times for this preparation. That might not be strong enough for you so what to do? Take two pills? Nope, you cut one in half and get twice the strength. Cut it again and then again (etc). The resultant minuscule dose is much more potent than the original pill. Nonsense, pure bunkum. There is no scientific support for this whatsoever. It doesn’t even make sense logically.

Recently the FDA has said it will begin to access the risk but not efficacy of Homeopathic remedies. Every other drug, whether prescription or OTC is regulated by the FDA for both safety and efficacy. Good luck, you’re on your own with homeopathics.

Global Warming – A Brief History

As early as the beginning of the 19th century, over 200 years ago, scientists recognized that the atmosphere may be capable of trapping heat. Joseph Fourier, a French natural philosopher and mathematician hypothesized that there was a link between certain gases and the temperature of the earth, when the concentrations were lower the planet was cooler and when higher, warmer.

He was an avid mountaineer and familiar with glaciers and the scars they left from their grinding away the surface. He was likely the first to speculate that the earth may have been much colder and hence covered with much more ice in the distant past. Simultaneously he posited that earth could likewise be much hotter under other conditions.

In the 1859 an Irish physicist, John Tyndall, was studying invisible “heat rays” now known as infrared radiation. He was the first to recognize that the gases Carbon Dioxide and water vapor in the atmosphere are capable of trapping heat and therefore their presence, even at low concentration, can impact the temperature of the air.

Probably most important in the history of global warming and climate change is the work of Svante Arrhenius, a Swedish chemist . He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 1903. The prize was awarded for his work in understanding certain features of chemical reactions and especially for his mathematical treatment of the rates of reactions. Basically he was the first to quantify the speed of chemical reactions.

Less well known at the time was his work examining the impact of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere and the climate. In 1895, Arrhenius presented a paper to the Stockholm Physical Society titled, “On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground.” His work went beyond that of his predecessors by mathematically modeling the impact of varying amounts Carbon Dioxide and water vapor in the atmosphere.

As crude as his tools of the time were, he did make the connection that more Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere would result in an elevation of the earth’s surface temperature. He also pointed out that burning fossil fuels would serve to raise the concentration of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere.

Flash forward to the 1950s. Professor Charles Keeling began recording the concentration of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere first at Antarctica and then in 1958 at Mona Loa observatory in Hawaii. The data collection continues to this day and is now know as the Keeling curve. The simultaneous observation of rising concentrations of greenhouse gases and rising global temperature began the modern era of the recognition of anthropogenically driven global warming.

We also know that more than the temperature of the planet is at risk. Much of the Carbon Dioxide emitted from burning fossils fuels, about 30 %, does not remain in the atmosphere but is absorbed in the oceans, causing acidification.

The threat of global warming, climate change and ocean acidification have long been known. These threats are not a Chinese hoax but rather an existential threat to much of the life on this planet.

The Size of Trump’s Button – Oh My

One would have to live under a rock or not be plugged into numerous media to not be aware of Trump’s button size. In responding to Kim Jong Un’s comment on having a nuclear button on his desk, Trump tweeted “Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works.”

He brags about the size of his nuclear launch button? This is the behavior of a child, a schoolyard bully, not the president of the most powerful nation on earth. Even without the use of nuclear weapons, hundreds of thousands, even millions of South Koreans are threatened. Seoul South Korea is within artillery range of North Korean forces. And did I mention the hundred thousand American troops and their dependents in South Korea and Japan? They are clearly in harm’s way in the event of a conflict in the region.

So this is where we are, the president of the United States is in a shouting match with a near child dictator of North Korea. It would be laughable were it not that this is a confrontation between nuclear-armed nations. If this argument were to spin out of control it could put millions of folks, worldwide, at risk. Frighteningly, we are depending on a thirty-three-year-old dictator of the most cloistered country on the planet to be the adult in the room, the responsible individual who will act in the best interests of all.

At least the pattern is consistent. Trump couldn’t get past his inauguration without serious puffery. He claimed, and had then spokesperson Sean Spicer repeat, that the crowds at his inauguration were the biggest ever. The National Park Service which oversees these events no longer comments on the size of crowds but even a cursory examination of aerial photos of the event compared to those of previous administrations proves Trump wrong. When Kelly Ann Conway commented on the discrepancy she brought us the phrase “alternative facts” to justify Spicer’s rendition of Trump’s lie.

His buffoonery and bombast seem endless. Although he won the electoral college vote and therefore the presidency, he lost the popular vote by three million votes to Hillary Clinton. Rather than simply accepting the situation that allowed the outcome, he denied that he lost the popular vote, claiming that illegal (popular) votes turned the tide. He even created, since disbanded, a commission to look into illegal voting in the absence of any credible evidence supporting such a claim.

Most troubling is his resolute rejection of reality. He lives in his own world which is completely distinct from average Americans. He began life with a multi-million dollar grubstake and parlayed that into, if you believe him, a billion-dollar real estate empire. He claims to be a populist but his every action as president is to enrich his cronies at the expense of the rest of us. Want just one example? He has instructed the labor department to inform the owners/management of restaurants that it is acceptable to keep the tips given to their wait staff. Really.

Trump’s attack on the Environment

If one sentence could encapsulate the Trump administration’s approach the environment it would be “ Modern air is a little too clean for optimum health.” This is a statement made by Robert Phalen, a Trump appointee to the Science Advisory Board, Environmental Protection Agency. Trump and his minions seem to be working to reverse the work of the previous decades in protecting the environment and the health of the planet.

Although much of his effort has been focused on reversing Obama era regulations, the focus is actually much broader. Fossil fuels producers and various and sundry extractive industries are favored without the burdensome regulations meant to protect our health and the environment.

In 2007 during the Bush presidency, the supreme court ruled that Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is a pollutant and the EPA has the responsibility to regulate it. CO2 is the major greenhouse gas driving climate change. And what is Trump’s response? He appointed Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier, to head the EPA.

Trump withdrew from the Paris Accords, an agreement among every country on the planet that recognizes the reality of anthropogenic global warming. This can’t be overstated. Every single country, besides us, be they capitalist, communist, socialist, monarchy, or whatever agree that actions must be taken to prevent or at least mitigate climate change caused by global warming. Everybody but us. Every scientific body including those in the United States. Friends and enemies alike, every single government, but us.

President Obama created the Clean Power Plan, meant to gradually but substantially wean us off the use of fossil fuels in electrical power generation. In October Trump proposed repealing the clean power plan in favor of increased use of coal. Ironically deregulating the use of coal will most likely have no effect to “bring back coal” because it is economics, not regulations, that has caused such a decline in its use. They will, however, have the effect of delaying the development of sustainable energy production from wind and solar.

Trump has also proposed a repeal of the methane rule. Methane, otherwise known as natural gas is a potent greenhouse gas in its own right. The methane rule was meant to tighten regulations concerning its release to the atmosphere during production and distribution. Sadly, it is cheaper to be sloppy and allow fugitive emissions that contribute to global warming.

In what must be one of the worst-timed deregulatory actions, Trump repealed a construction standard meant to reduce damage from flooding only days before the worst flooding ever in the Huston area. The standard would have added less than 1 % to the costs of construction in flood-prone areas but saved much in the long run.

One accounting suggests the Trump has repealed or rolled back 60 different rules that protect our health and the environment. These actions are out of step with most Americans. Polling consistently shows that three-quarters of the electorate favor increased environmental protection whereas less than a quarter feel the current efforts to protect the environment have gone too far.

Scientific Serendipity

Serendipity is a term for discovery by dumb luck. The word was created by Horace Walpole in 1754 based on a Persian tale about the Three Princes of Serendip, who wandered through life continually stumbling across good luck. Much of scientific discovery has come about through serendipity rather than forethought.

This is not to say that scientific training is immaterial. Noble Prize wining scientist Louis Pasteur, inventor of the eponymous process- pasteurization, said “fortune favors the prepared mind.” Scientific discoveries whether by luck or purpose both require scientific training to ask the right questions, and properly interpret the findings of investigations, especially if the result is unexpected. The following stories are just a few taken from physics, and chemistry, and biology.

The detection of radio waves from space began in the 1930s. Sources of the radio waves (microwaves) varied but was first observed from the Milky Way galaxy. In 1964 two astronomers at Bell Labs were testing a new sensitive radio antenna but could could not find the cause of a constant hum. At one point they thought it was due to a pair of pigeons that had taken up residence in the horn of their antenna. They cleared it out but the hum remained, regardless of where they pointed it. Unbeknownst to them at the time, they had discovered the Cosmic Microwave Background, a form of radiation that provides the best evidence for the creation of our universe 13.8 billion years ago.

In the mid 19th century dyes for fabrics were few and expensive, being obtained from natural sources. Royal Purple, so called as only the royals could afford it, was a dye obtained from a sea snail. A young chemist in England had been charged with developing a synthesis of Quinine, used to treat malaria. He was not able to make Quinine, but during his investigations using coal tar as a starting material, he ended up making the first of what are called aniline dyes. This accidental discovery began a global industry.

In 18th century Italy a physician was performing experiments on frogs. He took a dissected leg which was held to the table with brass clips and began cutting with a steel scalpel. When the steel scalpel accidentally touched a brass clip it caused the frog’s leg to twitch. When dissimilar metals come in contact it can cause a electrical current, essentially a simple battery. The current that induced the twitch in the frog’s leg was the first evidence of an animal’s nervous system.

More modern examples involve a couple of synthetic sweeteners. Aspertame, possibly better know by the trade name Nutrasweet was discovered when a chemist produced it as an intermediate on the way to another more complex compound that was to be used to treat ulcers. When he went to make a notation in his lab book, he licked his finger to turn a page. He noticed the intense sweetness of the compound and a billion dollar industry ensued. Another sweetener, Splenda was also discovered by accident. A graduate student was asked to test a particular chlorinated compound. He misunderstood the instruction and came back to report the he tasted, not tested the compound and found it to be quite sweet.