Surferbird News-links, 61st Edition
What's new with the ozone layer, pollution from electric vehicles, how aerosols slow planet warming, the roles of fear and hope in solving climate change, transparent solar panels, women who code, pesticide drift, bacteria in kitchen sponges, beyond organic sheets, backyard wind farms and more: These are some of the featured stories in today's edition of Surferbird News-links.
There wasn't anything funny at all about the incident in Charlottesville, Virginia. My youngster, however, came up with an interesting solution to the poisonous thinking that permeates part of our culture, which I'll share with you below.
But first, I digress. Many of you know I recently moved, and we've already christened our new plunger. In fact, I'm quite the toilet slayer. I fought the beast and I prevailed! Perhaps, I need a costume.
But my son thought of an entirely different job for plungers. "Why don't we use them to extract hateful thoughts from white supremacists' brains?" We had a good laugh over this cartoon-like image. But, then, it occurred to me: We choose peace and tolerance; we cultivate and renew these values every day. And it is the choosing that makes all the difference.
Welcome to today's edition of Surferbird News-links. We have a lot of ground to cover, so let's get to it!
News from my wood
It's good to be reporting from my new, undisclosed location, 75 miles east of San Francisco and 15 miles west of Sacramento. Have you pulled up a map of California yet? My youngster says I shouldn't tell you the name of the city we moved to, but I just came close to doing that!
I changed woods. And one of my favorite things about this new environment is the speed limit. It's so slow that I have to concentrate really hard on the relationship between my foot, the gas pedal and the speedometer to avoid a speeding ticket. That says a lot for a slow moving owl! I'm loving it. When my oldest son attended college here, the police ticketed him for running a stop sign at 3 a.m—on his bike. Traffic violations are a serious matter in these parts.
One last piece of news I'd like to share is that only Surferbird News-links will go out through emails. As new followers sign up for notifications, I'm aware that not everyone wants to know about my latest haiku (see below!) or natural hair care solution. Because of this, I'll alert you to all new posts in each edition of Surferbird News-links so you can choose what to read. Your trust is important to me, so I don't want to send you posts on topics that you don't care about.
It's all Davy D's fault that I started writing poetry, and I'm forever grateful to him for planting that seed. So, if you're curious, take a look these haiku I wrote about mysterious giants, sleepless nights and a fading rose gone mad—although I haven't gone completely mad, yet. But I wonder: Will someone solve the mystery of the giants?
This image in Pacific Standard of Samburu (National Geographic) men watching over the Namunyak Wildlife Conservancy (tusk.org) in Kenya transports the viewer to a surreal landscape that time forgot. The Samburu help protect the area from elephant poachers. I enjoyed learning about this tribe, along with the wildlife conservancy, through the links, above. With their lean silhouettes and striking head pieces—set against an ochre sky—these Samburu men pose as brave guardians.
Electric vehicles and particle pollution, (theguardian.com)
It's well established that modern cars contribute to air pollution. But according to this article, there's more to solving the problem than switching to electric cars. Beyond the obvious need to decarbonize the grid—which powers electric cars—wear from brakes and tires releases more particulate matter into the air than gas-powered vehicles. Part of this is because the batteries in electric cars add extra weight. Also, we'll need to do something about our old friend Diesel. For short distances, the author suggests walking or cycling.
Controversy and challenges regarding the ozone layer, (e360.yale.edu)
Despite having banned ozone-depleting chemicals, such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the1987 Montreal Protocol, the size of the ozone hole over Antarctica hasn't changed much. Part of this is due to loopholes in the law. But an additional factor is the discovery of chemicals not covered under the Montreal Protocol that also damage the ozone layer. This includes dichloromethane (DCM), which is considered an ozone-sparing CFC alternative. Scientists used to think that DCM was too short lived to damage the ozone layer. But recently, they learned that that's not true.
Also, it's important to note that planet warming makes protecting Earth's ozone layer even more challenging. Learn more about the ozone layer in this excellent article published through the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
The meaning of optimism in the face of climate change, (greenbiz.com)
Did you read the apocalyptic climate change piece in New York magazine by David Wallace-Wells? Many people felt it went too far in describing what could happen if we don't address increasing carbon dioxide levels and rising temperatures. But in my opinion, James Murray, editor-in-chief of BusinessGreen, responds appropriately by asking us to embrace both fear and hope. And it would behoove us to do that because without change, an apocalyptic Earth is a possibility. He defines optimism, however, as pulling out all the stops—applying our collective knowledge to mitigate a worst-case scenario. In other words, we need to do it all; this is no time for either-or. If you've ever wondered how I feel about climate change, this essay sums it up.
In search of a new vocabulary to describe nature and the state of our planet, (theguardian.com)
Should we let poets name the natural world instead of scientists? The author of this article, George Monbiot, isn't suggesting we go that far. But at least the names we give to Earth's wondrous plants, animals and spaces wouldn't sound so sterile. I thoroughly appreciated his perspective: Language says a lot about our relationship with nature.
How tiny particles of air pollutants slow planet warming, (jpl.nasa.gov)
Even though it's not healthy for us to breathe airborne aerosols, they can keep temperatures cooler by reducing the intensity of sunlight hitting the Earth and by increasing cloud coverage. Scientists have hypothesized that his may be why some regions, such as the southeast, haven't shown the same average temperature increase as others. But as air quality in these areas improved through more stringent laws, temperatures began to increase at a rate more in line with global averages. If this is true, it will be interesting to follow what happens to temperatures in heavily polluted countries, such as China and India, when they also significantly reduce air pollution.
Food and farming
Two companies operating farms in the Central Valley and Southern California were fined for pesticides drifting into neighboring fields. One of the companies, Sun Pacific, supplies retail stores with the Cuties brand of mandarins and clementines. As a point of interest, one of the pesticides contained chlorpyrifos (npr.org), a hotly-debated chemical banned by the Obama administration. Out of 37 farm workers who became ill, five requested medical help. Also, if you're interested in the political details behind revocation of the chlorpyrifos ban, check out this article in The New York Times.
Moving forward, however, drones and electrostatic spraying could significantly reduce pesticide drift (modernfarmer.com), which could also help protect organic farms from pesticide drift. For now, though, placing vortex generators on crop duster wings has been shown in some studies to reduce pesticide drift by "40 to 45 percent."
When choosing tuna, it's all about location., (npr.org)
But with current labeling requirements, you won't know where that location is. At present, stores are only required to provide country of origin on seafood labels. And amounts of pollutants in yellowfin tuna differ widely, depending on where the tuna are caught.
For example, yellowfin caught in the northeast Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico contained enough pollutants to trigger health warnings for certain vulnerable populations, such as pregnant and breastfeeding women. On the other hand, yellowfin caught farther away from industrialized areas, such as in the Western Pacific Ocean, contained much lower levels of pollutants.
Because yellowfin tuna most often remain in one area, unlike bluefin tuna, scientists learned that location matters in determining toxin levels. The article, above, provides more information along with a list of contaminants found in a variety of yellowfin tuna samples.
The author of this new book thinks you should increase your salt intake., (theguardian.com)
Really? I thrive on these nutritional controversies. Remember, though, I'm not suggesting that you increase your salt intake. In fact, if you're part of the 20 percent category, those who don't do well on salt, increasing your salt levels could be dangerous. But, still, it will be interesting to watch this debate unfold!
Health and home
Two bills that would require labeling of salon and personal care products for toxic chemicals, (sfchronicle.com)
The author of this piece, David Kline, a resident ob-gyn physician at UCSF, reminds us of why we need better product labeling in the salon industry. And this holds true for other personal care products, too. David gives a description of some of the worst offenders, including BPA and similar chemicals that replaced it. From nail polish to hair care products, toothpaste and many other products, consumers deserve better labeling so they can make informed choices.
Beyond organic cotton sheets, (fastcompany.com)
In the organic cotton industry, sustainable standards aren't necessarily applied across the entire supply chain. For example, last year I ordered fair trade, organic socks and underwear. But as soon as I opened the packaging, I noted a strong chemical smell. There's nothing complicated or smelly about Blaynk sheets, though. And unlike conventional sheets and most organic cotton sheets, these are made with cotton, rainwater and wind power. That's it. But one additional benefit to purchasing Blaynk sheets is that they'll recycle your old sheets—postage paid.
Kitchen sponges and bacteria, (food52.com)
Kitchen sponges harbor a lot of bacteria. And according to this article in Food52, which links to several studies, most of the germs survive common sanitizing techniques. But I just bought a mess of compostable sponges for my new kitchen! What to do? For starters, use my dishwasher.
But you can also take additional steps that might provide an extra layer of safety. As the Food52 article suggests, don't use a dirty sponge or dishrag (webmd.com) on kitchen counters because they spread germs. Grab a fresh one. And it's also important to replace them often. I'm most comfortable using a fresh sponge or dishrag each day. Then, I followup with one of these USDA approved sanitizing methods, although I don't use bleach. In addition, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, you can also launder dish sponges (eatright.org) in hot water or use a dish brush, instead. But please note: These methods don't take into account the studies presented in the Food52 piece.
Yet, a sensible approach (forbes.com) might be acceptable because germs are everywhere: Scientists have found some of the most notorious ones on cell phones, computer mice, at workstations and even on our—ahem—partners. The article in Forbes, above, provides links to some interesting studies. Happy cleaning!
Science and green technology
Windows as solar panels, (popularmechanics.com)
Even though this technology needs further development to generate enough electricity for practical use, using windows as solar panels might help solve future energy needs. This short video explains how they work. And they won't obstruct your view at all!
What happened to the solar roadway experiment in Idaho?, (wirelessdesignmag.com)
I don't like reporting bad news, but the solar-powered roadway project in Idaho failed—big time. From broken solar panels to faulty design, this first round didn't cut it. And once the project was up and running, it only generated enough electricity to power a microwave. But the author of the article doesn't disparage the technology. It's all part of the learning curve. I look forward to following future stories about solar-powered roadways.
Backyard wind farms—really! (anthropocenemagazine.org)
When I first wrote about Arcadia Power, I joked about not wanting people to hurt themselves installing windmills in their backyards. Well, the joke is on me, now, because backyard wind power has become a real thing! When these smaller, cylindrical turbines are optimally arranged, not only do they compete with fossil fuels for energy production, but at one experimental site, they also reduced electricity costs by 10 percent. For more information, Sierra Magazine also published an excellent article on home wind energy, here.
The simultaneous rise of phosphates and algae, (theatlantic.com)
After reading and writing about the end-Permian extinction in the last edition of Surferbird News-links, my interest in geological time-frames peaked. And I don't remember much about geology from school. Do you? The main idea presented in this piece is that Earth's cyclical freezing and thawing events over millions of years increased phosphate levels, which allowed algae to fill a niche in the food web that bacteria previously dominated. This is important because it affected the evolution of plants and animals. According to the article, "If the Age of Algae had never dawned, we wouldn't be here," says Jochen Brocks, scientist at Australian National University. That's remarkable.
An enlightened perspective regarding the Google memo, (theguardian.com)
Are there fewer women in tech because of biological differences? If that were true, why do coding classes in India, Malaysia and Nigeria contain more than 50 percent girls? This article dispels numerous myths about women's abilities in the tech industry. Seth Godin shares additional insights about the relationship between DNA and ability (sethgodin.typepad.com) on his blog: "It's culture that pushes us to level up, to dig deeper, to push us to do things we might not otherwise do." According to Seth, using DNA to justify our beliefs is sloppy science.
One of the reasons I moved is so I wouldn't have to count the headlights on the highway—one of my favorite songs of all time, "Tiny Dancer." If you would like to know what the lyrics mean, there's an excellent article about that, here (americansongwriter.com).