Thursday, November 30, 2006

Texas toast?

Apparently Texas has plans to open 19 new coal-fired electrical facilities over the next few years.

Just learning that was enough to surprise me.

Ontario is at least trying to phase out coal. The government is having trouble staying on target with the timing they originally (and somewhat uninformedly, according to lots of air quality management people I've spoken to) promised - but they have at least recognized that the health impacts of the pollutants that spew out of the stacks are significant. One plant has been closed already (the Lakeview plant). Five to go.

So I couldn't quite believe that there are still jurisdictions in North America that want to build new coal-fired facilities. The most I can hope for out of this is that this means they're closing some older plants, since the new ones are likely required to meet higher emissions and technology standards than any existing ones.

It might not matter though. A report from last week says that the new plants could cause as many as 240 additional deaths each year and as many as 12,000 over the plants' expected 50-year lifespan.

C'mon Texas. Are you gonna take that?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Just give me a buzz...

I'm one of those annoying people who only has a cellphone. Annoying, because when you try to phone me, it's invariable off, or it's on and I can hear it ringing, but I can't find it.

So I miss a lot of calls. I figure that's OK - I don't want to use my cellphone too much. Aside from the crazy phone bills I get if I'm not careful, there's been some debate about whether having that thing so close to your head for so long could cause brain tumours.

Well, apparently, it's not only my brain I might have to worry about. Cellphone radiation has just been shown to cause major reproductive damage to female fruit flies. Some scientists in Greece exposed fruit flies to radiation from two common types of cellphones for six days ... and thereby induced death of all sorts of cells associated with developing eggs. They figure the radiation caused the DNA in the cells to fragment.

Well, I'm no fruit fly. Aside from assuming that the reproductive system of a fruit fly is probably not like that of a human, I'm guessing the flies reveived full-body exposure to the radiation. And that the radiation wasn't "downsized" to match the size of the bugs.

Overall I can't say that I'm convinced that this is what would happen to me ... even if I placed my cellphone over my ovaries instead of my ear. And plus I wouldn't be able to hear anything that way.

But it's still kind of creepy. Maybe I should get a land line someday...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

We'll be swimming in Estrogen

So hi, I'm back for the second day in a row; downright amazing when you consider my posting track record of late. Part of the reason I've been absent from sushinight (so sad) is that I've been busy teaching a course on the health effects of chemical exposures in the workplace. And some of the material was not, shall we say, intimately known to me before I lectured about it.

One of the main topics I've been talking about in class lately is how some chemicals can mimic the hormones in the human body. And the hormonal system is complicated, let me tell you (and not just during puberty, which we all know is a complicated time directly related to wierd things happening with hormones).

But I digress.

Pesticides are one of the biggest baddest classes of compounds when it comes to disrupting hormonal systems. Lots of them are capable of mimicing estrogen. Now, estrogen regulates all sorts of things but I would be most worried about its effect on the reproductive system. Like, say upsetting the female cycle... or affecting fetuses - causing perhaps feminization of baby boys, or weird reproductive deficits when those babies reach adulthood.

Of course, it's hard to say what the effect of very low-dose exposure to environmental contaminants is. But I was still surprised to hear that the EPA has decided to allow pesticide application over and near bodies of water. Apparently, as long as it's needed to control aquatic weeds, mosquitoes or other pests, it can be applied straight into the water or onto overhanging foliage.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

In the bag

Plastic bags are the scourge of humanity. IMO, anyways. They last forever, they're cheap and globally available, and they are completely disposable. During my travels in developing countries, I see them piled in garbage dumps and and twisted around vegetation at the side of the road. They blow around the streets of even the most advanced cities in the world, and around even the prettiest countrysides. And man are they ugly.

But Ireland has sorted out a solution: they charge the equivalent of about 20-22 cents per plastic bag as a "bag tax". All fund raised go back to the Environment Ministry to be redistributed for funding environmental projects.

And voila! The government managed to cut plastic bag use by over 90% and raise 3.5 million Euros in the first five months. Shoppers use their own reusable bags, and less plastic, and fewer emissions enter the world.

Smart. Easy. Ireland's been doing it since 2002.

Soooooooo.... Apparently Canadians use 10-15 billion plastic bags per year.

Just sayin'.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Canada Plays at Climate Change

You know, I really don't think that Canada will meet its Kyoto targets.

See, to meet its targets, Canada was supposed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 6% below what they were in 1990 by 2010. Too bad our emissions have gone up by 24% since we ratified the protocol.


Besides, the Conservatives keep on saying we won't. And since, uh, they're kind of in charge of deeloping environmental policy right now, that means there's a pretty good chance they're right.

Apparently though, we still haven't told the Kyoto people that we're not going to make it. Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, says that Canada has not formally withdrawn from the protocol.

So maybe I'm being a pessimistic. Yeah that's it, the conservatives DO have a hidden agenda. Secretly they have this amazing plan that will signify dramatic alteration in political attitudes toward the environment and initiate a remarkable change in public behaviour...

Uh, or maybe we're just being kind of lame. I love how one of the quotes in this article is, "Canada has the tradition of being an international player," said Greenpeace Canada's Steven Guilbeault.

I'm thinking, yeah, ... player

Lest We Forget

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Civic Duty

Municipal elections are coming up on Monday and I haven't got a clue. The only thing I know about the candidates in my area is the names of three who have signs sprinkled around the neighborhood. I know nothing about their platforms, ideas, or plans.

So Helen Kennedy, Joseph Tuan, and Adam Vaughn: who are you?!

In a lot of ways it's my fault that I'm not engaged with what's going on here - I haven't picked up eye or NOW in ages, and I don't get the Toronto Star. Those are probably the only papers likely to profile my ward. The only thing I did read about my ward in the Globe was that it's "hotly contested".

Which makes it even wierder that nothing has come through the mail slot: no flyers. No notifications of candidate debates. Nada. Nobody has done anything to try and sway me.

Worse, I haven't got any infromation about where or when I'm supposed to vote, despite the fact that I'm living exactly where I did for the last elections. I'll be able to figure that one out, but what if I was new to the neighborhood? Or didn't get out much?

Geez, as if voter turnout isn't dismal enough.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Peanut allergies?

On the weekend, P and I were unpacking some wedding gifts that friends had very generously bought for us. I felt uneasy about the sheer amount of paper, cardboard, and styrofoam packing that seemed to be involved. I was beginning to feel that all the trees I planted with my years at Wilderness Reforestation could not account for the carbon that was associated with the life cycle of our wedding-gift-related packing materials.

Then Pat said, "these aren't so bad - they're biodegradable, see?!" - and stuck his tongue against one of the squishy white peanut-thingies. And it dissolved. Sort of.

I have to admit that I did a taste-test too. The taste is nothing to write home about. Actually, it's nothing at all. They do kind of 'melt'. I characterize the texture as vaguely distasteful. Especially after it's wet.

Well, then I was sort of wondering what I might have ingested.

Turns out I probably don't have to worry too much - these things are made mostly of starch. Yup, 95% cornstarch and 5% polyacrylonitrile, a synthetic polymer.

No news yet on the side effects of trace exposures to polyacrylonitrile.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Swirling vortex of marine hell

So apparently there's a swirling vortex threatening life as we know it. Marine life, that is.

The swirling mass of plastic toothbrushes, toys, condoms and God-known-what-else-and-just-maybe-I-don't want-to-think-about-it-too-much is located in the Pacific ocean, close to the Northwestern Haawaiian islands. Marine animals are getting tangled in it (not good for obvious reasons of being unable to complete basic physiological functions), eating it (not good since its nutritional value is exactly zero and it's often jammed with toxic chemicals), and riding it around the ocean currents (sounds like fun; however not good since this is how invasive species problems get started).

The swirling vortex is apparently rather dynamic but sometime it gets to be as big as Texas.

I've taken a bus across part of texas. It's a d**n big state.

And this plastic stuff - it should be classified as a state too. A environmental state of emergency.

garbage bag picture by material boy copied under the Share Alike lisence

Friday, November 03, 2006

Aw, Roomba!

I have a robot.

A friend gave us a Roomba for a wedding gift. It's this disc-shaped contraption that travels around your floors, sucking up dirt and cleaning them for you.

I set it going for the first time yesterday. And so, instead of spending my time pushing around a vacuum cleaner, I spent my time sitting in front of the computer... being distracted by Roomba.

It's neat. It seems like the pattern it follows is random, but it eventually covers the whole floor. It disappears under the couch and dresser, but eventually finds its way back out. It explores its way around corners. I think it's more sophisticated than it lets on.

It's like having a little critter around - doing jobs for you. I rescued it when it got caught on the carpet tassel, but it was otherwise totally capable without me. When it was done I looked after its care and grooming needs carefully. I felt sorry for it when I found hairs wound around its brushes (yuck).

I actually sort of ... feel kind of affectionate towards it.

I hope robots never come and take over the world. Apparently all they'll have to do to win me over is a bit of housekeeping.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Days of the dead

Tuesday was Hallowe'en - which was always my favorite holiday of the year.

Technically, Hallowe'en is based on pagan festivals celebrating the one time of the year that the spirits might be able to make contact with the physical the rest of us live in. I guess that's where the emphasis on ghosts, witches, and goblis comes from.

I didn't really get that as a kid - I wasn't scared; I just wanted to have the most original costume of anyone in my school. So, one year I was a toaster. Once I was a turtle. Another year I was a grandfather clock. Bar of Ivory soap. Cupboard.

The common element to my costumes was the cardboard box. Which was dumb, since climbing stairs to front doors around the neighborhood is almost impossible when your knees have a range of about 15 degrees from vertical.

I heard a reference to the "day of the dead" on the radio this morning: it's a very different perspective on the same idea.

Mexicans celebrate the day(s) of the dead between October 31- November 2 as a time to welcome dead relatives back into their homes and remember them.

I kind of like the visual of sitting in my living room with semitransparent versions of the people I miss, all of us drinking cups of tea...

So - while I've given up on wearing cardboard boxes, I guess I'm still not spooked out by this time of year.