With ongoing Mideast unrest and the prospect of $5 gas, and with politicians left and right clamoring for "energy independence," why is the USA still using so much oil? The conventional answer is that fossil fuels are still cheaper than renewables such as wind and solar. But not for much longer. As physicist and futurist Michio Kaku notes, fossil fuels are about to become history:
"At the present time the cost of electricity produced from solar cells is several times the price of electricity produced from coal. But the cost of solar/hydrogen keeps plunging due to steady technological advances, while the cost of fossil fuels continues its slow rise. It is estimated that within ten to fifteen years or so, the two curves will cross. Then market forces will do the rest."
Kaku's optimistic reliance on market forces may understate the grip that dinosaur energy producers have on our economy. But we can break free. Besides practicing conservation and recycling, let's also support public investments in the cleanest, greenest energy choices available.
SOURCE: Physics of the Future, Michio Kaku, Anchor Books, 2012.
Nuclear power is often bandied about as a climate-friendly alternative to fossil fuels, but uranium is a transition fuel at best, and a dangerous bargain to boot.
The world reached a uranium production peak ("peak uranium") in the 1980s, and known uranium reserves may be exhausted within 100 years. A new generation of reactors may delay inevitable depletion, but not forever.
If it weren't for the Price-Anderson Act ratified by Congress, which limits the liability of nuclear power plant owners in the event of catastrophe, nuclear power would simply be unaffordable. Because private insurers are unwilling to indemnify against catastrophic losses, we taxpayers ultimately assume financial risksand health risks, too.
According to disturbing new seismic studies, California's Diablo Canyon power plant could suffer a disaster as horrific as Fukushima.
SOURCES: This Week In Northern California, KQED, 3/11/2011
Make every day Earth Day! More than half a billion planetary citizens have already pledged their act of green, and the goal is to top one billion! Earth Day sponsors suggest biking to work, replacing incandescent light bulbs, circulating an anti-coal petition, ending pesticide use around the home, or planting a garden. You're also encouraged to create your own unique pledge! Read other pledges and post your own at http://act.earthday.org/.
Energy expert Lester Brown reports that carbon emissions in the USA are actually declining as renewable energy keeps growing: "As plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars come to market, electricity will replace gasoline. An analysis by Professor Michael McElroy of Harvard indicates that running a car on wind-generated electricity could cost the equivalent of 80-cent-a-gallon gasoline." Texas, the nation's oil capital, is fast becoming the nation's number one source of wind energy.
SOURCE: Earth Policy Institute, November 2, 2011.
Stay local! Communities that resist economic globalization are happier, as shown in an inspiring documentary, The Economics of Happiness, now available on DVD. The movie features Vandana Shiva, Bill McKibben, David Korten, Juliet Schor, Richard Heinberg, Samdhong Rinpoche, Clive Hamilton, Mohau Pheko, Keibo Oiwa, and more.
In the early 1970s a group of young scientists used computer modeling to see what would happen if the world's population and industrial growth continued unabated. Their findings predicted a boom leading to "overshoot," followed by the collapse of global civilization. These explosive conclusions were published in 1972 in The Limits to Growth, a slim paperback which quickly became a bestseller.
Eco-apocalypse has been late to arrive, partly because primitive 70s computers got it wrong, and partly because proactive environmentalists have modified consumption patterns. Yet the premise of The Limits To Growth has never been refuted.
"The Limits to Growth said that the human ecological footprint cannot continue to grow indefinitely, because planet Earth is physically limited," says Jørgen Randers of the Norwegian School of Management in Oslo, one of the book's original authors. Randers is now editing a book called The Next Forty Years, about what we can do when limits start to bite harder.
Signatures are being collected for legislation which will mandate that genetically modified foods are labeled as such in California. The campaign will collect signatures through April 28. This will change state law if it is passed in November. California is 12% of US GNP, so if California requires labeling, most food manufacturers will have one label for the US. If food is labeled, it gives folks the ability to discriminate against it.
According to a 2011 poll conducted by Harris Interactive:
Add those up and you get 5 percent vegetarian (or, if you take into account the margin of error, 2 to 8 percent).
In addition to the vegetarians, 33 percent of Americans eat meatless meals on a regular basis, the poll found.
Veggie meals are becoming more common even among omnivores, and recent stats are showing declining meat consumption. And more people are trying to eat ethical, eco-friendly meat when they do partake, following the example of food-movement gurus like Michael Pollan and Tom Philpott. As Pollan put it so well, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
On the flip side, 48 percent of poll respondents said they eat meat, poultry, or fish at all meals. Really? Cereal with bacon bits?
Students at Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley, California, got better grades and were also happier about being at school after learning to grow their own vegetables at the school garden.
Protein is the center of the American plate and the central component of many weight-loss diets. Yet according to health editor Christy Harrison, many of us consume too much protein. Often that means we're eating too much meat.
Here's a rough guide: A person who weighs 125 pounds needs 45 to 57 grams of protein in a day; someone who weighs 175 pounds needs 65 to 80 grams.
Non-meat sources of protein can add up quickly: For example, for breakfast you could have a single-serving Greek yogurt (13 g protein); for lunch two egg omelet (14 g) with 2 ounces of soft tofu (2 g); a handful of almonds as a snack (6 g); and for dinner a cup of brown rice (5 g) with half a cup of beans (7 g). That's already 47 g, not even counting the small amounts of protein contained in fruits and vegetables, about one to 2 g per serving.
Of course, meat packs a bigger protein punch than plant sources. A reasonably sized 3-ounce steak (about the size of a deck of cards) has about 21 grams of protein, while the 12-ounce behemoths served at many restaurants contain more protein than most adults need in an entire day. Chicken, pork, and fish all contain roughly the same protein count.
Athletes do utilize more protein but tend to go overboard. A recent study by researchers at Saint Louis University found that two thirds of male collegiate athletes didn't even know how much they should be getting. The makers of protein supplements encourage overconsumption, too. Some protein shakes or drinks contain 60 or 70 g of protein in one serving.
Overconsumption of protein, especially from animal sources, may also increase the risk of heart disease. And too much protein can cause kidney damage in people whose kidneys are already mildly impaired.
Moreover, protein is expensive! Consuming too much protein is not just dangerous to your health; it's also a waste of money and planetary resources.
Spring Planting At The White House
While the projects adopted by First Ladies rarely become controversial, Michelle Obama has drawn fire from fertilizer and pesticide companies, and the far right as well, for promoting organic gardens and suggesting that kids eat more veggies. Yet White House residents have a long tradition healthy eating. Ronald Reagan imported natural beef from his own private stock. Laura Bush was "adamant" about selecting organics. And Bill Clinton adopted a near-vegan diet following heart bypass surgery. What's good for our leaders should be good for the other 99.9 percent, right?
If you suffer from mild to moderate depression, try talk therapy and exercise to alleviate the symptoms. These methods confer the "same benefit" as powerful anti-depressant drugs, and without the side effects, according to noted Harvard Medical School researcher Irving Kirsch. Predictably, drug companies don't want you to hear more about Kirsch's studies, but we'll spill the beans here:
Kirsch's analysis of the effectiveness of antidepressants was an outgrowth of his interest in the placebo effect. His studies in this area are primarily meta-analyses, in which the results of previously conducted clinical trials are aggregated and analyzed statistically. His first meta-analysis was aimed at assessing the size of the placebo effect in the treatment of depression.
The results not only showed a sizable placebo effect, but also indicated that the drug effect was surprisingly small. This led Kirsch to shift his interest to evaluating the antidepressant drug effect. Kirsch's first meta-analysis was limited to published clinical trials. The controversy surrounding this analysis led him to obtain files from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) containing data from trials that had not been published, as well as those from published trials.
Kirsch's analyses of the FDA data showed that the difference between antidepressant drugs and placebos is not clinically significant, according to the criteria used by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), which establishes treatment guidelines for the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom.
Kirsch has since argued that the widely-held theory that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance is wrong.
Bisphenol-A (BPA), the compound used in consumer food storage plastics, has recently been linked to obesity and diabetes.
BPA stimulates the body to store excess fat and puts us at greater risk of becoming obese and developing diabetes. BPA leaches into consumer foods and liquids from plastic food storage containers, tableware, water bottles, and from the internal coating of food cans. When inside the human body, BPA acts as a strong synthetic estrogen (a female sex hormone) and even low doses may cause increased fat storage in humans. Over time BPA becomes a risk factor for obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other metabolic disorders. Health writers Georges Philips and Simon Shawcross recommend several ways to avoid exposure to hormone disrupting doses of BPA:
SOURCE: The ONE Diet, Georges Philips and Simon Shawcross, www.theonediet.com.
Persistent pain causes stress, and stress in turn increases pain. Mehmet C. Oz, MD, and Michael F. Roizen, MD, suggest breaking the pain cycle with these self-calming techniques:
1) Listening really listening to soothing music: If you're tightly wound, listening to music will relax and distract your body and brain, taking attention away from the pain and allowing it to settle down.
2) Mindful meditation: Sit quietly, eyes closed, and focus only on how each breath feels (in, out, in, out). When other thoughts intrude, gently refocus on breathing. After 10 minutes or so, begin to notice your surroundings as you quietly breathe. Go about your day with this feeling of calm awareness and you'll find your joint pain isn't running you over.
3) Movement: Non-strenuous activity can reduce pain sensitivity, be it arthritis or back pain. Water exercises or gentle yoga can help stop your whole body from becoming a pulsing pain generator. Try this chi-gong (qigong) routine to relieve pain.
Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who engaged in moderate-intensity exercise for a mere 75 minutes per week less than 15 minutes day experienced a 14 percent reduction in chronic heart disease risk compared to those who didn't exercise at all. Participants who exercised for 300 minutes (five hours) per week had a 20 percent lower risk of CHD.
Interestingly, the association between the amount of exercise and heart health was greater in women than men. Among the people who exercised 150 minutes per week, the men saw a 9 percent reduction in CHD risk and women had a 20 percent reduction in risk, compared to their sedentary counterparts. And among those who worked out 300 minutes per week, the men saw an 18 percent reduction in risk compared to 28 percent for the women.
The results of this meta-analysis should come as welcome news for those who find it hard to fit exercise into their jam-packed schedules. If you're one of those people, strive to move for 15 minutes most days of the week, and you'll do yourself and your heart a tremendous favor.
If you dread going to the gym or walking on a treadmill, try an exercise DVD, go for a walk or jog around your neighborhood, or try yoga, Pilates, or strength- or circuit-training. Even chores around the house, like vacuuming, scrubbing the shower, and gardening can be turned into a workout if you make them strenuous enough!
It's also important to note that you don't have to do it all at once. Getting four 15-minute mini-workouts can have the same heart-protective benefits as a full hour-long workout.
According to a new smart USA Survey, Americans rank brains far higher than beauty or brawn, and also tend to reject superficial consumerism and celebrity antics. Americans are also deeply concerned with right-sizing their lifestyles and making smart choices at home; "keeping up with the Joneses" seems to be a thing of the past.
The survey, which was conducted online in December among more than 2,000 Americans aged 18 and older, found that:
This survey indicates that American tastes may be evolving, and that quality of life is now being recognized as more important than quantity.
A year ago, Rick Ruzzamenti decided on an impulse to donate his left kidney to a stranger. In February 2011, the desk clerk at Mr. Ruzzamenti's yoga studio told him she had recently donated a kidney to an ailing friend she had bumped into at Target. Mr. Ruzzamenti, 44, had never even donated blood, but the story so captivated him that two days later he called Riverside Community Hospital to ask how he might do the same thing.
Halfway across the country, in Joliet, Ill., Donald C. Terry Jr. needed a kidney in the worst way. Since receiving a diagnosis of diabetes-related renal disease in his mid-40s, he had endured the burning and bloating and dismal tedium of dialysis for nearly a year. With nobody in his family willing or able to give him a kidney, his doctors warned that it might take five years to crawl up the waiting list for an organ from a deceased donor.
As a dawn chill broke over Chicago on Dec. 20, Mr. Terry received a plump pink kidney in a transplant at Loyola University Medical Center. He did not get it from Mr. Ruzzamenti, at least not directly, but the two men will forever share a connection: they were the first and last patients in the longest chain of kidney transplants ever constructed, linking 30 people who were willing to give up an organ with 30 who might have died without one.
What made the domino chain of 60 operations possible was the willingness of a Good Samaritan, Mr. Ruzzamenti, to give the initial kidney, expecting nothing in return. Its momentum was then fueled by a mix of selflessness and self-interest among donors who gave a kidney to a stranger after learning they could not donate to a loved one because of incompatible blood types or antibodies. Their loved ones, in turn, were offered compatible kidneys as part of the exchange.
Chain 124, as it was labeled by the nonprofit National Kidney Registry, required lock-step coordination over four months among 17 hospitals in 11 states. It was born of innovations in computer matching, surgical technique and organ shipping, as well as the determination of a Long Island businessman named Garet Hil, who was inspired by his own daughter's illness to supercharge the notion of "paying it forward."
People who regularly consume red meat have a higher risk of dying from cancer or from a cardiovascular disease, researchers from Harvard School of Public Health reported in Archives of Internal Medicine. The authors added that those who switched over to other sources of protein, such as nuts, soy, poultry, fish, and legumes are likely to lower their risk of mortality. The risk was found to be particularly high among regular processed meat consumers.
Lead author, research fellow at HSPH (Harvard School of Public Health), An Pan, said:
An Pan and team gathered data on 37,698 adult males for a total of 22 years from the Health Professional Follow-up Study, as well as 83,644 adult females from the Nurses' Health Study for up to 28 years. All those observed had no cardiovascular disease or cancer when the study started. They completed questionnaires regarding their dietary habits every four years.
This study is one of many which imply that limiting red meat consumption can extend one's life. For vegetarians the decision to abstain from meat is a no-brainer. But is it all or nothing? We'd like to see further studies comparing hormone-free vs. factory-farmed beef, as well as comparing natural cuts of meat with processed meats with added chemical preservatives and stabilizers.
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