On the News With Thom Hartmann: Higher Levels of Carbon Dioxide Impair Cognition, and More

In today’s On the News segment: A recent study shows higher levels of CO2 have a direct and negative impact on our cognition and decision-making; almost every brand of sunscreen used by Americans has been linked to coral destruction; a naturally occurring pesticide used on hops, one of beer’s main ingredients, actually protects bees from dangerous varroa mites; 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. Climate change isn’t only making us warmer. New research suggests that all that extra carbon dioxide in our atmosphere may also be making us dumber. According to a recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health, higher levels of CO2 have a direct and negative impact on our cognition and decision-making. And, we are being routinely exposed to elevated levels of carbon dioxide in our daily lives. At home, work, school and in the car, many of us are exposed to carbon dioxide levels high enough to impair our mental abilities. For this recent study, researchers analyzed how different levels of carbon dioxide affected various cognitive functions. While most subjects performed normally at 500 parts per million, their ability to make decisions, form a strategy and use information appropriately all declined sharply when CO2 levels increased. At 930 parts per million, test subjects showed a remarkably lower cognitive ability, and at 1400 parts per million, they became nearly unable to make decisions. These findings provide another important reason why we must take bold, immediate action on climate change, and they show that we need to take a closer look at indoor air pollution as well. For example, a 2012 study from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that elementary schools in California and Texas had average CO2 levels above 1,000 parts per million. And, some exceeded 3,000 ppm. We’re not only pumping more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, we’re ignoring the dangerous levels that already exist in our daily lives. At the rate we’re going, we won’t be safe from the harmful effects even when we stay indoors. We need to get serious about limiting carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, and we need to take a hard look at the pollution we’re exposed to in everyday life.

It wasn’t that long ago that solar roadways and paths became a reality, and now, Wi-Fi enabled walkways have come to fruition. According to ScienceAlert.com, a new footpath in the United Kingdom provides free Wi-Fi to everyone within 80 meters. The service reaches speeds of more than 160 megabits per second, and it uses manholes and other items on the street to broadcast the signal. For now, this service is only a promotion from Virgin Media, but it’s proving to be an excellent beta test for free, public Wi-Fi. The promotion has been so popular, Virgin Media says that they will use feedback from the trial to help them expand public Wi-Fi in the future. The company’s director Gregor McNeil said, “Not only is this the first time we’ve built metropolitan Wi-Fi directly from our street cabinets, it is also the UK’s first deployment of a Wi-Fi connected pavement.” And, this innovation occurred despite stronger regulations and lower prices, or perhaps because of them. When broadband companies actually have to compete for our business, maybe we’ll finally see amazing technology like this right here at home.

Sunscreen may be vital to protecting ourselves from the sun, but it’s also deadly to the coral reefs struggling to survive in the ocean. According to a new study published in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, almost every brand of sunscreen used by Americans has been linked to coral destruction. Scientists discovered the problem while researching why baby corals have stopped developing in many reefs. They discovered that a chemical called oxybenzone is harming coral and diminishing its ability to recover. Oxybenzone is found in more than 3,500 sunscreen brands worldwide, and that’s bad news for coral for several reasons. The researchers found that oxybenzone actually changes coral DNA, which makes deadly bleaching events more likely. They also found that the chemical disrupts coral endocrine systems, which triggers baby coral to cover itself in its own skeleton and die. Coral reefs are already struggling to survive warmer waters, a strong El Nino season and rising acidification in our oceans. Exposing them to toxic chemicals isn’t going to improve their chances for survival. We have to protect ourselves from skin cancer, but we need to be more aware of how the chemicals we use affect our environment.

Astronomers are calling it “the most interesting star in our galaxy.” And, it isn’t even the star located between the Lyra and Cygnus constellations that has scientists so excited. The Keplar Space Telescope has been pointed at the area for years, but it wasn’t until recently that the science team there announced they had spotted something “interesting” and “bizarre.” With the help of “citizen scientists,” the Keplar team documented a strange mass of matter circling the distant star. Scientists at Yale reviewed possible causes for the strange matter, but most of the theories they came up with didn’t seem to fit the scenario. Jason Wright, an astronomer from Penn State University, will soon publish an alternative paper, which presents a more out-of-this-world answer. He and his co-authors suggest that the unusual pattern is consistent with a “swarm of megastructures” – aka extraterrestrial civilizations. He said, “Aliens should be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build.” We’re a long way off from figuring out exactly what is floating around that distant star, but for now, science can’t rule out the possibility that it was intentionally put there by another species.

And finally … If you want to save the honeybees, perhaps you need to drink more beer. According to new research from the USDA, the naturally-occurring pesticide used on hops, one of beer’s main ingredients, actually protects bees from dangerous varroa mites. Those mites drain circulatory fluid from bees, which weakens them and increases the spread of diseases within the hive. Although there are many factors that are thought to be contributing to the decline of honeybees, eliminating even one of them could be a savior for bee colonies. In the last year alone, beekeepers have lost about 40 percent of their hives, and that’s bad news for our agriculture industry. If this naturally occurring pesticide protects bees and repels other pests, perhaps it’s time to explore this option for other crops. We could save the bees and reduce harmful chemicals in our environment. Our food supply depends on the survival of honeybees, so you better get busy drinking more beer.

And that’s the way it is for the week of November 2, 2015 – I’m Thom Hartmann, on Science and Green News.