On the News With Thom Hartmann: Bananas May Go Extinct, and More

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In today’s On the News segment: New research shows that the famous and iconic banana may be under threat of extinction; a new type of plastic is 100 percent reusable, petroleum-free and able to be broken down by living organisms; Thom Hartmann gives his assessment of the Paris climate change agreement; and more.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.


Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of Science and Green news …

You need to know this. On Sunday, more than 190 countries agreed to a deal to limit the rise in global temperatures to “well below” a 2 degrees Celsius increase over preindustrial levels. The agreement comes after two weeks of intense negotiations in Paris. President Obama hailed the deal as historic, and the pact is the first to commit all countries – including developing nations – to cut carbon emissions. The deal is partly legally binding and partly voluntary, and it includes several important measures that will help the international community tackle the problem of climate change. Key measures in the agreement include a goal to peak greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and to achieve a balance between greenhouse gas emissions and sinks by the second half of this century. The new climate deal also encourages the international community to aim for efforts that will limit a global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. And getting the international community to agree to the new goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius is a big win for coastal regions and low-lying island states across the planet. President Obama said that the plan is not perfect – but that it is “the best chance to save the one planet we have.” The climate pact may still need more work, but the Paris agreement on climate is a big step forward for global efforts to combat the worst effects of man-made climate change.

Bananas – they’re a favorite snack around the world. But new research shows that the famous and iconic banana may be under threat of going extinct. The yellow and easy to open banana that we all know and love is actually a product of humans breeding the bananas over time. The banana that we see all over the United States is called a “Cavendish banana” – and over the last 50 years these bananas have become the only types of bananas that hit global markets. And that’s because breeding using tissue cultures has allowed for the rapid roll-out of genetically identical plants. The fact that most bananas that hit the market today are genetically identical has its perks – and consumers always know what to expect from their bananas. But because of the spread of a soil-borne fungus known as “Foc” – the “Cavendish banana” is becoming more and more vulnerable. That fungus threatens banana cultures around the world and is currently threatening up to 100,000 hectares in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Jordan, Pakistan and even nations as far as Mozambique. According to the report, we need to make drastic changes in how we grow our bananas. And this is a perfect example of why it’s important to avoid monocultures and to encourage genetic variation in nature. Thanks to artificial selection – it might not be long before the banana we know and love is a thing of the past.

We all know – or should know – that driving while texting or talking on the phone is distracting and dangerous. Most states have even made it a crime to text and drive. But according to a new study from researchers at Stony Brook University, we’re not just bad at driving while using a phone, we’re actually bad at even walking while using our phones. That study found that so-called “distracted walkers” veer of course by as much as 61 percent while texting and walking. In fact, visits to emergency rooms for injuries involving distracted walkers have more than doubled between 2004 and 2010 – which only makes sense considering the fact that nearly everyone has a cell phone these days. Another study showed that millenials aged 18 to 34 are the most common “distracted walkers” – but that women 55 and older are the most likely to suffer serious injures such as broken bones as a result of “distracted walking.” Distracted walking accidents can be as serious as being hit by a vehicle – falling down a flight of stairs – tripping over a curb – or walking into a glass door – not to mention the risk that distracted walkers pose to others. And much like the old statistics about most car accidents happening close to home – the National Safety Council found that 52 percent of distracted walking episodes occur in the home. The problem is so bad that a number of medical and safety organizations have released a PSA called “Digital Deadwalkers” to raise awareness over the holiday season.

But it’s not just texting that can distract us from our surroundings and make us a hazard to ourselves and the world around us. New research from University College London shows how that humans are pretty bad at multitasking in general. According to the research – concentrating attention on a visual task can make a person momentarily “deaf” to sounds at normal levels. The effect – called “inattentional deafness” is pretty familiar to everyone – but this research is the first to use real-time MEG imaging to show that “inattentional deafness” is caused by parts of the brain that are very early in our hearing processes. The research suggest that the effect happens because our visual and auditory pathways share similar resources in the brain. If that’s the case – then it might not just be time to put the phone away until you’re seated – it might also be time to turn off the music and take off the headphones until you’ve gotten to where you’re going.

And finally … Scientists have discovered a new type of plastic that is 100 percent reusable, petroleum-free and able to be broken down by living organisms. Researchers at Colorado State University developed the new polymer from a molecule called GBL that is found in superglue removers and cleaning solutions. The polymer – called “poly-GBL” only needs heated at 200 degrees Celsius for an hour – and it converts back to plain old GBL – meaning that it’s incredibly easy and cheap to recycle. Researchers say that poly-GBL could soon replace current bioplastics – and could even replace traditional petroleum-based plastics. And doing away with petroleum based plastics is a must if we’re going to meet our new international climate goals.

And that’s the way it is for the week of December 14, 2015. I’m Thom Hartmann on Science and Green News.