In today’s On the News segment: If we want renewable energy to flourish in the US, we need to end the massive subsidies to the fossil fuel industry; climate change will bring new health risks; a newly discovered microbe can break down plastic into molecules that other bacteria can then digest; and more.
Thom Hartmann here — on the best of the rest of Science and Green News …
You need to know this. We’re constantly told that we can’t afford to enact the bold climate solutions necessary to make the switch to 100 percent renewable energy. But the people who say such things often leave out the hefty price that taxpayers are already paying to cover the cost of dirty fossil fuel energy. In addition to the twenty-or-so billion dollars that oil and gas companies receive in direct subsidies from the government, they rake in billions more in bailouts in the form of tax write-offs, subsidized clean up costs and mandated customer fees. Last week alone there were two glaring examples of fossil fuels company bailouts that stuck taxpayers with the bill, even though they never got a vote. First, utility customers in Ohio learned that they would be stuck paying billions in fees to prop up aging coal and nuclear plants in their state. Then, Gulf Coast residents learned that BP will be permitted to write off $15.3 billion of the settlement resulting from the 2010 Gulf oil spill. In both cases, the fossil fuel industry benefited from billions of dollars in subsidies on the front end, only to ask for another hand out when their failure to update plants or install appropriate safety mechanisms got them into trouble. And, they are both perfect examples of why people claim that oil and gas are still cheaper than clean energy. If you never include the external costs or the numerous taxpayer-funded bailouts, it is easy to make fossil fuels appear cheaper than the alternative. If oil and gas actually had to compete on a level playing field, no one would consider pollution, oil spills and fracking earthquakes reasonable side effects of energy production. If we want solar, wind and other renewable sources to flourish in our nation, all we have to do is stop the massive subsidies that perpetuate our addiction to fossil fuels.
You don’t have to be an environmental activist to agree that we have to figure out a solution to our plastic problem. Whether it’s clogging up landfills or killing marine life in our oceans, plastic pollution is destroying our environment. To make matters worse, the fact that plastic is nearly indestructible — which is one of the reasons it’s so useful — means that it doesn’t break down naturally in our environment. But that may all be about to change. According to a new report from Science News magazine, a newly discovered microbe can break down plastic into molecules that other bacteria can then digest. In other words, the microbe chows down on our old water bottles, and leaves the plastic particles in a form that serves as food for other bacteria. Researchers are still working to study the way this microbe works and see how we can deploy it to solve our plastic problem, but it could be a wonderful way to clean up the mountains of pollution littering our land and water.
The threat of global climate change isn’t only a threat about wild weather. According to a new report produced by eight different government agencies, the health risks of climate change should also give us cause for concern. We have known for some time that rising temperatures mean super storms and sea level rise, but now we’re learning how warmer temperatures also mean more chronic respiratory issues, more insect-borne illnesses and more chemical toxins in our food supply. And those health risks will likely have a disproportionate impact on children, elderly, communities of color and pregnant women. EPA Director Gina McCarthy said, “Climate change endangers our health by affecting our food and water sources, the air we breath and the weather we experience. It will exacerbate certain health effects that already exist, and create new ones.” To protect vulnerable people in our nation from these dangerous health issues, we better get busy fighting for more climate solutions.
For decades, medical professionals have documented the beneficial qualities of some parasites. From healthy bacteria to tapeworms, there’s plenty of evidence to support the importance of our relationship with these so-called pests. And now, some wildlife conservationists want to use that knowledge to protect endangered species. According to a recent article in The New York Times, conservation biologists are second guessing the typical practice of “curing” species from every parasite. Hamish Spencer, a geneticist from New Zealand, said that in wild, “Everything has parasites, and usually multiple species of parasites that live in all sorts of places.” Along with other experts, Dr. Spencer argues that by treating animals for those parasites, we may be weakening their immune systems and destroying the beneficial bacteria that help those animals survive. Spencer admits that asking conservationists to experiment with endangered species will be a “hard sell.” But for the sake of those fragile species, he said, “We are arguing against the idea that you just dose the hell out of everything before you put animals back in the wild.” We know that numerous bacteria are beneficial to humans, so it only stands to reason that these experts are on to something when it comes to protecting our wild species.
And finally … Organic food is not just for hippies anymore. That’s the headline of a recent article over at EcoWatch.com, and that’s what organic food producers are saying as they face an ever-increasing demand for their natural products. Right now, organic food makes up about 5 percent of all the food sold in our country, but organic farming only accounts for about 1 percent of all our farmland. In order to deal with that extra demand, in 2014 alone, we imported $35 million in organic corn and another $184 million in organic soybeans. Now, larger companies want a piece of the organic food market, and they’re rapidly putting more resources in to organic areas. Companies like General Mills have announced that they’ve doubled the amount of acreage committed to organic farming, and the government is even getting in on the action. The US Organic Grain Collaboration helps companies like Clif Bar and Annie’s access the organic grains needed for their products, and helps make organic food more affordable for the average American. As we’ve said before, good science is good business, and the organic food boom is proof.
And that’s the way it is for the week of April 11, 2016. I’m Thom Hartmann on Science and Green News.