In today’s On the News segment: According to the EPA, the tar sands oil that will flow through the Keystone XL pipeline presents a huge risk to our nation and our environment; Facebook knows what you look like; a toxic algae bloom in California has killed at least three dogs, and it doesn’t spell good news for the future; and more.
Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of….science & green news…..
You need to know this. The Environmental Protection Agency does a lot to keep us all safe from pollution. But, one of their recent actions may go down in history as more important than the rest. Last week, the EPA delivered a letter to the State Department, and with it, that agency gave our President the cover to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. According to Cynthia Giles, the top enforcement official at the EPA, the tar sands oil that will flow through that pipeline presents a huge risk to our nation and our environment. Miss Giles explained that these risks include a “significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions,” more potential spills, and a high likelihood that more tar sands oil would get burned. Right now, low oil prices discourage tar sands production, but the Keystone pipeline would make it financially viable to extract this toxic sludge, even at lower prices. Making it easier to extract and refine tar sands means that more of it will be burned, and more of it will contribute to global warming – and that’s the biggest reason why President Obama needs to reject the Keystone XL. Back in 2013, President Obama said, “The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.” If he stands by that statement, this new letter from the EPA should be all he needs to say “no” to TransCanada and their tar sands sludge. As Bill McKibben of 350.org explained, “The President has all the nails he needs to finally close the lid on this particular boondoggle.” Both houses of Congress have passed this controversial bill, so it’s up to President Obama to block Keystone from becoming reality. Hopefully this EPA letter will help him say “no” to this pipeline once and for all.
Facebook knows what you look like. According to a new article in Science Magazine, the social media site has software that “is now as accurate as a human being at a few constrained facial recognition tasks.” The system is called DeepFace, and Facebook claims that they’re using it to protect you – not spy on you. They claim that once the system recognizes your face in any of the 400 million photos that users upload daily, “you will get an alert from Facebook telling you that you appear in the picture.” The computer scientist who directs the program says that “You can then choose to blur out your face from the picture to protect your privacy.” What wasn’t explained, however, was whether or not there will be a digital record of your face in that picture – and what happens when it’s linked to a protest or private event. Although we could try to restrict Facebook from developing or using such software, it would likely just pop up from another developer. Our government has spent a fortune developing similar software, and companies like Google are working on their own versions. This type of software may be here to stay, so we better figure out how to protect what’s left of our privacy.
When our earliest ancestors crawled out of the oceans, they didn’t have fully developed ears. However, science says that they used their lungs to pick up sound in their new, dry environment. According to new research published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society, the very first land animals had ears that were more like the ears of frogs than modern day mammals. The researchers conducted various experiments to determine that fish detect sound through vibrations in their swim bladders, and our early ancestors copied that trait with their newly-developed lungs. Study author Peter Madsen explained that, “Lungs started to appear in fish underwater when they evolved air breathing in response to low oxygen levels in water 350 to 400 million years ago.” Those lungs adapted to feel vibrations in the air and eventually evolved into the middle ear. So, the very same organ that allowed us to breath on land allowed us to hear each other today as well.
A toxic algae bloom in California has killed at least three dogs, and it doesn’t spell good news for the future. The bloom appeared in East Bay Regional Park, which hasn’t seen an algae bloom in 80 years, and certainly hasn’t seen one in the winter. Rising temperatures and prolonged drought have created the perfect conditions for algae growth, and that algae is toxic to pets and wildlife. A spokesperson for the park said, “We are putting up more signs and making them more obvious to keep dogs away from the water.” While that may help protect peoples’ beloved pets, it does little to protect the wildlife that lives in the park and relies on the lake for food and water. This is just one more example of the devastating effects of global warming. Last year it happened in Ohio, now it’s hitting California, and toxic algae could bloom in your local water way next. It’s time to get serious about protecting our planet and prevent more pets – and people – from getting sick from toxic water.
And finally… The safety of our food is currently monitored by three different agencies, but President Obama wants to streamline the process. Right now, the Department of Agriculture inspects meat and eggs, the Food and Drug Administration oversees most other foods, and the CDC alerts consumers when there’s a food safety recall. President Obama says that the “fractured oversight and disparate regulatory approaches” cause confusion. So, he’s proposing that we roll those functions into one new agency, and have it operate under the Department of Health and Human Services. Rather than splitting up the process of monitoring our food, the President says that the agency should fall under HHS because foodborne illness and outbreaks are public health concerns. According to the CDC, there are about 48 million cases of foodborne illness every year, so it’s obvious that we need to improve the way food safety is monitored. Whether that means one agency or three, it’s nice to see that this important issue is being considered by our nation’s highest-ranking official.
And that’s the way it is for the week of February 9, 2015 – I’m Thom Hartmann, on Science & Green News.