On the News With Thom Hartmann: Most Americans Don’t Realize How Climate Change Impacts Health, and More

In today’s On the News segment: Most Americans don’t realize the ways that climate change impacts their personal health; scientists have long understood how generations of domestication made animals tamer, but only recently figured out why animals’ appearances changed along with their temperament; the world’s oceans are virtually overflowing with plastic; and more.

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

TRANSCRIPT:

Thom Hartmann here – on the best of the rest of….science & green news…..

You need to know this. Most Americans understand the basic ways that global warming is damaging our planet. They recognize that warmer temperatures mean bigger storms, longer droughts, and higher sea levels, but they don’t realize the ways that climate change impacts their personal health. According to a new study from Yale University, 60 percent of Americans have given “little or no thought” to the health consequences of global warming. EcoWatch.com summarized that recent study, and explained that only one out of every 10 people gave this issue a “great deal” of thought. To make matters worse, the fact that many are not thinking about these issues means that they don’t even know what health impacts are caused or worsened by global warming. Only 14 percent of those surveyed by Yale researchers were able to correctly name asthma as one health problem effected by climate change, and fewer than 5 percent of people were able to name anything else. Most people have no idea that smog and air pollution contributes to lung disease, or that food and water-born illnesses become more common in warmer temperatures. Many Americans are unaware that ticks and other insects spread disease more rapidly in hotter climates, or that heat strokes and injuries become more common with heat waves and super storms. These are only a few of the ways that rising temperatures already impact our health, but too many of us have no idea that these issues are linked to the destruction of our planet. The Yale researchers said, “Public health actions, especially preparedness and prevention, can do much to protect people from some impacts of climate change.” Fighting for our environment isn’t only about saving the future of our species; it’s about protecting our health right now. Perhaps if people understood how they are personally being effected by global warming, they’d be more involved in the fight to protect our planet.

Thousands of years ago, our ancestors began taming wild animals and keeping them as pets. Scientists have long understood how generations of domestication made animals tamer, but it wasn’t until recently that researchers figured out why animals’ appearances changed along with their temperament. A new study by geneticists at Washington University in St. Louis found that the very cells that correspond to tameness also contribute to how some physical features develop. Researchers studied the genes of house cats to determine that these cells, called neural crest cells, effect an animal’s facial structure, pigment, and even their fight-or-flight responses. The scientists are not sure whether early humans selected animals based on tameness, which inadvertently linked to a different appearance. Or, whether our ancestors picked animals with different physical traits, and unintentionally selected tamer creatures. Regardless of why these early animals were selected, it’s interesting to learn that the evolution that made animals act like members of our families also made them look like our beloved pets.

The world’s oceans are virtually overflowing with plastic. According to a new study by the Five Gyres Institute, our oceans contain 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic. That works out to about 700 pieces of plastic for every single person on earth. In order to obtain their measurement, researchers took part in 24 different ocean expeditions and took samples from more than 1,700 different locations. In fact, they said that their estimates are “highly conservative, and may be considered minimum estimates.” That means there may be even more than the 260,000 tons of plastic in our oceans than they calculated. Although much of that plastic may have broken down to the point it’s no longer visible to the naked eye, the Five Gyres Institute explained that it never really disappears. We have dumped so much plastic pollution into our oceans that it can be found in the water table, on the sea floor, and even in the bodies of creatures like birds and sea turtles. And, we’re not doing enough to prevent more pollution or to clean up the plastic that’s contaminating the world’s oceans. If you can’t imagine walking through a pile of 700 pieces of plastic garbage, why should we accept that level of destruction in our oceans?

We all know that exercise makes us healthier, but did you know that getting fit actually changes your DNA? Scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden wanted to study how exercise effects our genes, so they had to come up with an experiment that controlled outside variables. Because so many aspects of our lives, like diet and pollution, can alter our DNA, scientists had subjects exercise only one leg so that each person was their own control group. After a three-month study, researchers found that the DNA in the legs that worked out had significant changes that weren’t found in the legs that stayed dormant. The DNA from the legs that were exercised showed improvements in insulin response, energy metabolism, and inflammation levels. Those changes to the subjects’ DNA were not found in the leg that didn’t get exercised. The study showed that exercising literally changes the way our genes work, and provides benefits far beyond a healthy weight. Getting physically fit makes us healthier all the way down to a molecular level.

And finally… New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says don’t frack with his state. Earlier this month, his administration made the decision to ban hydraulic fracturing in his state because of the health and environmental risks. Back in 2008, former Gov. David Paterson declared a moratorium on fracking in New York state while the practice was being studied. Years later, when those results came in, Gov. Cuomo decided that the safety of his state and his citizens was more important than gas industry profits. He said, “Let the science decide.” More and more lawmakers are recognizing the dangers of hydraulic fracking and doing everything in their power to keep natural gas wells out of their communities. Whether it’s because of earthquakes, air pollution, water contamination, or the toxic waste water that’s left over from the process, fracking should be banned in every state. Hopefully, more lawmakers will take a cue from Gov. Cuomo and help end this destructive practice once and for all.

And that’s the way it is for this holiday week of 2014 – I’m Thom Hartmann, on Science & Green News.