Archive for December, 2013

A Thought On New Year’s Resolutions: Maybe It’s Not Just the Food That Makes Us Fat

Mr. Creosote via Wikipedia

Mr. Creosote via Wikipedia

It’s no news that Americans are fat and getting fatter. The rest of the world is packing on the pounds too. Even the French, long admired for their ability to eat fois gras and still look chic, are having to let out their waistbands, especially young French people, the kind who favor Le Big Mac over cassoulet.

Nothing brings out low humor and a general air of superiority like tut-tutting at the obese. The snarky and judgmental among us have parlor games guessing the favorite foods of lumbering passersby. The plus-sized are routinely exhorted to put down the fork and push away from the table.  Bookshelves groan under diet books, late night TV is filled with ads for exercise and weight loss programs. Come January 1, lots of us will be resolving to take off the tonnage we’ve packed on. Just like we did last year, and the year before that. This year, for sure, the pounds are coming off.

But maybe it’s not really all the fault of gluttony and inertia.  Maybe all the self-flagellation and mockery are no more useful for getting us to lose weight than a rabbit’s foot or a four leaf clover. Maybe there’s something else out there quite aside from fatty calories and a lack of exercise that’s making us unrecognizable at our high school reunions. Lots of diets tell us to drink plenty of water. Runners and gym rats tote plastic water bottles with them as they try to work the weight off. Maybe we should be wondering if our plastic water bottle is making us look fat.

The plastic water bottle is a distinctively modern accessory. A decade or two ago, people drank out of water fountains at work. Boy Scouts lugged metal canteens. Now, water bottles are everywhere. One is on my desk right now. Chances are you drank out of one within the last day or so. If you did, you probably got a nice dose of phthalates along with your dihydrogen monoxide.

Phthalates are a chemical used to make plastics flexible, and they’re everywhere. Aside from water bottles, they are found in garden hoses, baby bottles, toys, food storage containers, and flame retardant clothing and furniture. They also find their way into cosmetics, shampoo, and nail polish. They are even added to citrusy fruit drinks in the form of brominated vegetable oil. It’s been known for years that phthalates are hormone disrupters. Children are particularly susceptible to hormonal interference by phthalates, and the chemicals are implicated in causing low birth weight. Ironically, they may also be making us fat. It’s not just the sugar in your pop that makes you plump, it’s the bottle the pop comes in.

And it’s not just humans being affected by all those hormone disrupters in the environment. Animals, too, are bulking up in otherwise inexplicable ways. ProPublica has a nice rundown on how phthalates are ballooning our physiques and those or our animal compatriots as well. Apparently it’s not just that last chocolate mint that is the problem.

The Many Complexities of This, Our World of Food

Photo by Kheel Center. Some rights reserved.

Photo by Kheel Center. Some rights reserved.

People love to argue about food. I know it and you know it. Our diets are also windows into ourselves and our beliefs, and as such we get a little defensive about what to eat and how to eat from time to time. That’s all just on a personal level – when arguments spider out into a global context, things can get particularly dicey. Do humans need to eat more or less meat, and is there even a consistent answer to this question? Is raising livestock on smaller communal farms more or less environmentally harmful than  livestock raised in a larger, industrial farm complex? Is it reasonable to hold the third world up to similar standards for GHG emissions when it comes to food production?

The complications are a little dizzying. A new study released last week by Mario Herrero, the chief research scientist at CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, aims to demystify, or at the very least clarify, some of the factors involved in these discussions and why there often isn’t a cut and dry answer to the question “what is the best and most sustainable diet for all humans?” As the study explains, there are often too many contradictions and complications to determine a “one system” approach that would work for all. Taking some of the questions posed above as an example: While cows raised in smaller farms in the developing world may release substantially more methane per pound of protein their meat provides (due to their being raised as grazing animals, where the grains they are eating are metabolized in a way that produces more methane) than a cow raised in an efficient factory farm (in fact, the grazing cow will release 100 times as much methane than the industrial cow), but then one must also take into account that the whole industrial apparatus surrounding the more “carbon efficient” cow is raised in, the chemicals and pesticides and transportation costs, etc. It becomes a more complicated argument.

On an even more basic level, many reports recently make the claim that humans as a whole need to start eating less meat and animal products. While this may be true for a majority of humans, its not as feasible or even as advisable for poorer countries where meat and dairy make up the bulk of protein consumption, and where removing meat from a diet could cause a wave of malnourishment. The bottom line (if there is one to be found) seems to be this: surprisingly, the U.S. meat industry is perhaps not responsible for nearly as much environmental impact as smaller farms in the developing world, because of sheer numbers. However, the U.S. could stand to cut back on its meat consumption and production considerably, as its those people in poorer countries that are using their animal products in the most nutritionally effective way. “If we account for how much we consume in general terms — and the fact that we are responsible for most of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions — then we should modify our diets and eat fewer animals products, if we can,” says Herrero. “We have a higher responsibility, because we are the ones that can make that choice.”

Last Week in Environmental Impact Statements: Pyramid Way and Antelope Valley

While Federal agencies are required to prepare Environmental Impact Statements in accordance with 40 CFR Part 1502, and to file the EISs with the EPA as specified in 40 CFR 1506.9, the EPA doesn’t yet provide a central repository for filing and viewing EISs electronically. Instead, each week they prepare a digest of the preceding week’s filed EISs, which is published every Friday in the Federal Register under the title, “Notice of Availability” (NOA).

We’ve done the dirty work for you. Below, we’ve located and linked to the EISs referenced in last week’s NOA. Please note that some of these documents can be very large, and may take a while to load.

You can read any available EPA comments on these EISs here.

Starting October 1, 2012, EPA no longer accepts paper copies or CDs of EISs for filing purposes. All submissions on or after October 1, 2012 must be made through e-NEPA. Electronic submission does not change requirements for distribution of EISs for public review and comment. To begin using e-NEPA, you must first register with EPA’s electronic reporting site. An EPA source says that as EISs begin to come in electronically, they will appear alongside EPA comments here.

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EIS No. 20130367, Draft Supplement (Draft Supplement not yet available online – check back here for updates.), USFS, MT, Miller West Fisher Project, Comment Period Ends: 02/03/2014, Contact: Leslie McDougall 406–295–7431. Website.

EIS No. 20130368, Draft Supplement, NRC, MS, Generic—License Renewal of Nuclear Plants Supplement 50, Regarding Grand Gulf Nuclear Station, Unit 1, Comment Period Ends: 02/11/2014, Contact: David Drucker 301–415–6223. Website.

EIS No. 20130369, Final EIS, FHWA, NV, Pyramid Way and McCarran Boulevard Intersection Improvement Project and Record of Decision, Contact: Abdalla Abdelmoez 775–687–1231. Under MAP–21 Section 1319, FHWA has issued a single FEIS and ROD. Therefore, the 30-day wait/review period under NEPA does not apply to this action. Website.

EIS No. 20130370, Revised Draft EIS, USFS, AZ, Coconino National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan, Comment Period Ends: 03/20/2014, Contact: Vernon Keller 928–527–3415. Website.

EIS No. 20130371, Final EIS (Haven’t been able to locate online. Any reader tips?), NMFS, 00, American Lobster Fishery Effort Control Measures, Review Period Ends: 01/21/2014, Contact: Peter Burns 978–281–9144. Website.

EIS No. 20130372, Draft EIS, USFS, CO, Cumbres Vegetation Management Project, Comment Period Ends: 02/03/2014, Contact: Diana McGinn 719–852–6241. Website.

EIS No. 20130373, Draft Supplement, RUS, ND, Antelope Valley Station to Neset Transmission Project, Comment Period Ends: 02/03/2014, Contact: Dennis Rankin 202–720–1953. Website and website.

EIS No. 20130374, Draft EIS, BLM, UT, Monument Butte Oil and Gas Development Project, Comment Period Ends: 02/04/2014, Contact: Stephanie Howard 435–781–4469. Website.

 

Amended Notices

EIS No. 20130261, Draft Supplement, NPS, CA, Golden Gate National Recreation Area Draft Dog Management Plan, Comment Period Ends: 02/18/2014, Contact: Michael B. Edwards 303–969–2694. Revision to FR Notice Published 11/01/2013; Extending Comment Period to from 01/11/2014 to 02/18/2014. Website and website.

EIS No. 20130360, Final EIS, USFS, AZ,  Rosemont Copper Project, Proposed  Mining Operation, Review Period  Ends: 02/14/2014, Contact: Mindy  Vogel 520–388–8300. Revision to FR Notice Published 11/01/2013; Extending Comment Period to from 01/11/2014 to 02/18/2014. Website.

Last Week in Environmental Impact Statements: Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Natural Resources Damage Assessment

While Federal agencies are required to prepare Environmental Impact Statements in accordance with 40 CFR Part 1502, and to file the EISs with the EPA as specified in 40 CFR 1506.9, the EPA doesn’t yet provide a central repository for filing and viewing EISs electronically. Instead, each week they prepare a digest of the preceding week’s filed EISs, which is published every Friday in the Federal Register under the title, “Notice of Availability” (NOA).

We’ve done the dirty work for you. Below, we’ve located and linked to the EISs referenced in last week’s NOA. Please note that some of these documents can be very large, and may take a while to load.

You can read any available EPA comments on these EISs here.

Starting October 1, 2012, EPA no longer accepts paper copies or CDs of EISs for filing purposes. All submissions on or after October 1, 2012 must be made through e-NEPA. Electronic submission does not change requirements for distribution of EISs for public review and comment. To begin using e-NEPA, you must first register with EPA’s electronic reporting site. An EPA source says that as EISs begin to come in electronically, they will appear alongside EPA comments here.

* * *

EIS No. 20130356, Final EIS, FRA, MS, Tupelo Railroad Relocation Planning and Environmental Study, Review Period Ends: 01/13/2014, Contact: John Winkle 202–493–6067. Website.

EIS No. 20130357, Final EIS, FHWA, VA, Interstate 66 Corridor Tier 1 Final Environmental Impact Statement and Tier 1 Record of Decision, Contact: John Simkins 804–775–3347. Under MAP–21 section 1319, FHWA has issued a single FEIS and ROD. Therefore, the 30-day wait/review period under NEPA does not apply to this action. Website.

EIS No. 20130358, Final EIS (Currently only Draft EIS available online. Check back here for updates.), FHWA, VA, Interstate 64 Peninsula, from Interstate 95 in the City of Richmond to Interstate 664, Review Period Ends: 01/27/2014, Contact: John Simkins 804–775–3320. Website.

EIS No. 20130359, Final EIS, AFS, CA, Kelsey Peak Timber Sale and Fuelbreak Project, Review Period Ends: 01/27/2014, Contact: Jeff Jones 707–441–3553. Website.

EIS No. 20130360, Final EIS, USFS, AZ, Rosemont Copper Project, Proposed Mining Operation, Review Period Ends: 01/29/2014, Contact: Mindy Vogel 520–388–8300. Website.

EIS No. 20130361, Draft Supplement, USACE, MN, NorthMet Mining Project and Land Exchange, Comment Period Ends: 03/13/2014, Contact: Douglas Bruner 651–290–5378. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service are joint lead agencies for the above project. Website.

EIS No. 20130362, Final EIS, USFS, MT, Montana Snowbowl Expansion, Review Period Ends: 01/21/2014, Contact: Tami Paulsen 406–329–3731. Website.

EIS No. 20130363, Draft EIS, DOI, 00, PROGRAMMATIC—Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Natural Resources Damage Assessment, Phase III Early Restoration Plan, Comment Period Ends: 02/04/2014, Contact: Nanciann Regalado 678–296–6805. Website.

EIS No. 20130364, Final EIS, USFS, OR, Tollgate Fuels Reduction, Review Period Ends: 01/13/2014, Contact: Kimpton Cooper 509–522–6009. Website.

EIS No. 20130365, Draft EIS, NMFS, CA, Bay Delta Conservation Plan, Comment Period Ends: 04/14/2014, Contact: Ryan Wulff 916–930–3733. The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation and Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Marine Fisheries Service are joint lead agencies for the above project. Website.

EIS No. 20130366, Draft EIS, USACE, LA, PROGRAMMATIC—Southwest Coastal Louisiana Project, Comment Period Ends: 01/27/2014, Contact: Nathan Dayan 504–862–2530. Website.

Air Quality in Urban China Is Often Worse Than Smoking Areas in Airports

Photo by Zhanyanguange. Some rights reserved.

Photo by Zhanyanguange. Some rights reserved.

Here in Seattle, especially around this time of year when snow may be in the mix, a lot of folks will end up checking Cliff Mass’ Weather Blog for laser-accurate and regionally specific updates on the weather of Puget Sound (and beyond). The local weather guru has been at it for years and offers much deeper and more thoughtful insight into weather patterns and trends than your average local news station. In fact, I started checking Cliff Mass’ blog again this week as rumors and whispers of snow have been whipping up over the last week, and it lead me to this disconcerting post.

In short, Mass compares a study done by the CDC last year of nine large US airports to determine what effect a designated smoking area will have on air quality in and surrounding the area itself. It comes as no surprise that airports with smoking areas were found to have worse overall air quality, but what is extremely disconcerting is that Mass then compares the figures from this study with recent air quality data from China’s largest and most industrialized cities. Now, we’ve talked about air quality in China before so we know that the air quality in most Chinese cities is far from ideal. But Mass’ report indicates that many Chinese cities have particulate levels well above what you’d find in a smoking lounge or bar in a U.S. airport. For instance, the air quality rating (by particulates per cubic meter) in Beijing on the day of measurement was 327 micrograms per cubic meter, while Changdou, Suzhou, and Nanjing all reported numbers above 300 micrograms per cubic meter (311, 325, and 351 respectively). Meanwhile, while Shanghai only reported 168 micrograms per cubic meter that day (under the reported average for smoking-permitted areas in airports in that CDC report, which was 276.9), but as Mass points out, Shanghai has reported days in which its total has surpassed 600 micrograms per cubic meter, so it seems Shanghai just got lucky on the date of measurement.

 

Years or Centuries?

Via Wikimedia Commons

Via Wikimedia Commons

We’ve all heard enough predictions about the long-term consequences of global climate change to make us want to cover our ears and run screaming from the room. Most of the warnings (which are issued with depressing regularity) concern effects taking place over many decades, even centuries. In comparison to geological time, we are like mayflies – our human perception of time makes it difficult to extrapolate threats that extend beyond our own lifetimes or that of our children or grandchildren. The time lag laid out in many of the analyses of climate change in is one of the principal challenges in corralling the political will to mitigate humanity’s impact on the environment.

Last week the National Academy of Sciences issued a lengthy report on the changes which may visit us suddenly, in a matter of years. The study, sponsored in part by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. intelligence community, warns of large and abrupt changes in the physical climate system brought on by suddenly and unexpected  tipping points. In addition to gradual, incremental changes in the environment, the report warns against abrupt ecological or socio-economic disruption as environmental conditions accelerate unpredictably. The report notes that we don’t yet know what the thresholds for such rapid changes are, and calls for a kind of early warning system composed of more vigilant monitoring of key species and environments, including the use of satellites, data collection, model testing and improvement, and model predictions that suggest future data needs. Alluding to early maps of the America’s which carried the warning, “Here be dragons”, the report details a number of possible rapidly-escalating threats, and lays out a map of its own showing how to avoid modern day dragons.

One of the studies co-authors, Richard Alley of Pennsylvania State University compared the prospect of abrupt climate change to avoiding the dangers of a drunk driver on the road. “You can’t see it coming, so you can’t prepare for it. The faster it is, the less you see it coming, the more it costs. If you see the drunk driver coming, you can get out of the way.”

The report’s good news, such as it is, is that some potential threats don’t appear to be quite as imminent as once thought, as long as you don’t think 100 years is imminent: the precipitous release of underwater or frozen methane (a potent climate-altering gas) or a shutdown in the Atlantic Ocean circulation patterns (which could plunge Europe into a mini ice age) don’t appear to be in the cards in this century.

You can read the whole report as an interactive PDF here.

Last Week in Environmental Impact Statements: Not Much

While Federal agencies are required to prepare Environmental Impact Statements in accordance with 40 CFR Part 1502, and to file the EISs with the EPA as specified in 40 CFR 1506.9, the EPA doesn’t yet provide a central repository for filing and viewing EISs electronically. Instead, each week they prepare a digest of the preceding week’s filed EISs, which is published every Friday in the Federal Register under the title, “Notice of Availability” (NOA).

We’ve done the dirty work for you. Below, we’ve located and linked to the EISs referenced in last week’s NOA. Please note that some of these documents can be very large, and may take a while to load.

You can read any available EPA comments on these EISs here.

Starting October 1, 2012, EPA no longer accepts paper copies or CDs of EISs for filing purposes. All submissions on or after October 1, 2012 must be made through e-NEPA. Electronic submission does not change requirements for distribution of EISs for public review and comment. To begin using e-NEPA, you must first register with EPA’s electronic reporting site. An EPA source says that as EISs begin to come in electronically, they will appear alongside EPA comments here.

* * *

 EIS No. 20130355, Draft EIS, USFS, UT, ADOPTION—TransWest Express Transmission Project, Comment Period Ends: 01/21/2014, Contact: Kenton Call 435–865–3730. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service has adopted the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Western Area Power Administration’s Draft EIS #20130180, filed 06/19/2013. The U.S. Forest Service was a cooperating agency for the project. Therefore, recirculation of the document is not necessary under Section 1506.3 of the CEQ Regulations. Website and website.

Amended Notices

EIS No. 20130308, Draft EIS, USACE, NC, Morehead City Harbor Integrated Dredged Material Management Plan, Port of Morehead City, Comment Period Ends: 02/03/2014, Contact: Hugh Heine 910–251–4070. Revision to the FR Notice Published 11/01/2013; Extending Comment Period from 12/16/2013 to 02/03/2014. Website.

EIS No. 20130325, Draft EIS, NPS, MO, Ozark National Scenic Riverways Draft General Management Plan, Wilderness Study, Comment Period Ends: 01/08/2014, Contact: William Black 573–323–4236. Revision to the FR Notice Published 11/08/2013; Extending Comment Period from 12/30/2013 to 01/08/2014. Website.

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