On the News With Thom Hartmann: Walmart Is One of the World’s Biggest Consumers of Coal, and More

In today’s On the News segment: According to a new report from The Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Walmart is one of the world’s biggest consumers of coal; learning a second language is like bodybuilding for your brain; the Food and Drug Administration is tasked with ensuring the safety of what we put into our bodies, but it has no authority over most of the stuff we put on our skin; and more.

TRANSCRIPT:

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

You need to know this. Most of us know that taxpayers subsidize Walmart’s low wages with billions of dollars in Medicaid, food stamps, and other financial assistance for workers. But, did you know that we’re also subsidizing the retail giant by paying the cost of their environmental destruction? According to a new report from The Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Walmart is one of the world’s biggest consumers of coal, which makes them one of the leading carbon polluters. The authors of that study calculated how much electricity the chain uses, how much coal they consume, and the greenhouse gas emitted by every Walmart store and distribution center in our country. The results were “staggering” – showing that Walmart uses 19.5 million megawatt hours of energy – the same amount used by “every industrial facility in New Jersey and West Virginia put together.” That is six times more electricity than the entire U.S. Auto industry uses, and 75 percent of all that energy comes from coal. Walmart isn’t only dodging their responsibility to pay a living wage or contribute to our nation by paying their fair share of taxes. They’re also skipping out on the bill when it comes to society’s cost of cleaning up our environment. Bill McKibben of 350.org said, “It’s unconscionable that the country’s largest employer and the world’s largest company is choosing to hurt our planet and hurt working families with its dirty operations and poverty pay.” He added, “Walmart and the Waltons can help our communities truly live better by switching to clean energy and paying workers a fair wage.” And, McKibben is exactly right. One of the best ways to make that happen is to stop covering the costs of their bad practices. Let’s end the subsidies by making Walmart pay a living wage, and by putting a tax on the tons of carbon that they’re pumping into our atmosphere.

Learning a second language is like bodybuilding for your brain. A new study in the journal “Brain and Language” says that the higher-level brain functions of bilingual people are more efficient than the brain functions of people who speak only one language. In their research, scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging – aka fMRI – to study the brains of 35 people, including 18 who only spoke English, and 17 who spoke English and Spanish. The test subjects were shown a combination of pictures and words, and were given the name of one picture verbally. The volunteers had to pick out the picture that corresponded to the word they were given, and the bilinguals subjects were better at filtering out all of the unrelated content. The scientists explained that bilingual people constantly activate two languages in their brain, and they have to choose which words to use and which to ignore. Because they’re constantly filtering language in their minds, they’re better able to filter out irrelevant information, and focus more on the task at hand. Maybe we all could focus more and increase our brain power by taking up a second language.

The Food and Drug Administration is tasked with ensuring the safety of what we put into our bodies, but they have no authority over most of the stuff we put on our skin. Unlike the medication and meals we consume, the FDA can’t regulate the chemicals in our beauty products. Our soap, toothpaste, lotion, and sunscreen is packed with harmful synthetic chemicals, and most consumers don’t even realize it. According to Harvard’s School of Public Health, “the average person is exposed to more than a hundred chemicals from cosmetics, soaps, and other personal care products before leaving the house in the morning.” Sage McHugh over at Alternet listed a few of the most toxic examples, like the filters in sunscreen which have been linked to reproductive issues, parabens in our deodorant which interfere with hormones, and toluene in nail polish which has been linked to blood cancer. Although organic personal care products are typically safer, they can be more expensive. It’s time for our regulators to step in and protect all consumers from the dangerous chemicals lurking in cosmetic products.

When you think about energy in Texas, you’re probably thinking about oil and gas. So, you may be surprised to learn that wind power provides electricity to more than three million homes in the Lonestar State. According to a new article over at EcoWatch.com, Pew Charitable Trust says that Texas is actually leading our nation in total wind energy capacity, and that they’re quickly expanding their solar energy capacity as well. Tom Swanson, manager of Pew’s clean energy initiative, said, “These technologies can help manufacturers reduce energy consumption, costs, and water use – all of which are critical in Texas given the state’s high electricity prices and chronic droughts.” As much as Texas lawmakers suck up to the Oil and Gas Lobby, private investors in that state recognize that good science is good business. Investors and businesses recognize that they can’t keep buying and burning fossil fuels forever, regardless of whether or not they believe in climate change. Private investment is making Texas a renewable energy leader, now it’s up to legislators to stop dragging their state back to the energy of the last century.

And finally… Kissing a partner is a way to give love and affection, but swapping spit with your loved one shares a whole lot of germs as well. According to a new study out of Amsterdam, every time you kiss someone, you transfer 80 million bacteria to their mouth. The researchers found that couples actually have a lot of similar bacteria, which could be because they kiss often, or because they share similar lifestyles and diets. However, even though couples have similar bacteria, they still exchange any new bacteria that either partner ingests. To verify that theory, the scientists had one partner drink probiotic yogurt, which introduced bacteria that isn’t commonly found in the mouth. Then, the partners were asked to kiss again, and scientists measured how much of that probiotic bacteria was exchanged. Although swapping 80 million bacteria may sound a little icky, scientists explained that our mouths are home to about one billion bacteria. Besides, who ever let a few germs stand in the way of a great kiss?

And that’s the way it is for the week of November 24, 2014 – I’m Thom Hartmann, on Science & Green News.