Sunday, January 20, 2013

Some Updates

In an earlier post about how we are now beginning to understand the role environmental pollution from lead played in rising crime rates, I wondered what other maladies that we are desperately tryng to solve through "innovation" are caused by the toxins introduced into our environment by previous innovations. Today, the New York Times has a couple of stories on that theme:

Warning From a Flabby Mouse

Eat Like A Mennonite

How much of the obesity crisis is caused by endocrine disruptors? Lead had been used for some four thousand years before we knew what that did to us.

I also wrote about the many innovations in concrete design: Self-healing concrete, air-purifying concrete, cement insuation. Now they have a developed a special type of "biological concrete" to create moss-covered green walls:
Scientists at a Spanish university are developing a new type of concrete that captures rainwater to create living walls of moss and fungi.

Unlike existing vertical garden systems which require complex supporting structures, the new "biological concrete" supports the growth of organisms on its own surface, according to researchers from Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya in Barcelona.

The concrete contains a biological layer that collects and stores rainwater, providing a moist growing environment where microalgae, fungi, lichens and mosses can thrive, they explain in a report.

A waterproof layer separates the organisms from the inner structural part of the concrete, while an outer layer acts in reverse, allowing rainwater in and preventing it from escaping.

The concrete also absorbs carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and acts as an insulating material and a thermal regulator, say the researchers, who are currently in the process of patenting the material.

The next step is to accelerate the process so that the mossy surface develops in under a year, they add.
Researchers Develop "Biological Concrete" For Moss-Covered Walls (Dezeen)

Here's the story of one "bright green" environmentalist: Enviro Crusader Turns Pro-GMO, Anti-Organic—And Anti-Logic (Mother Jones). I guess he would disagree with this: Scientific Paper Argues Against Factory Farms “Feeding the World” (Natural Society)

Earlier I wondered if city living takes a toll on mental health. See this: Is Living In a City Making You Crazy? (Treehugger). And here's Lloyd Alter with some more data on how much of the food we produce is wasted: 50% of All Food Produced Is Wasted (Treehugger). Lloyd states, "The real point is that we don't have a food production crisis, we have a storage and transportation crisis and a consumption crisis." One qibble: we have both. He quotes from the report: "Controlling and reducing the level of wastage is frequently beyond the capability of the individual farmer, distributor or consumer, since it depends on market philosophies, security of energy supply, quality of roads and the presence of transport hubs. These are all related more to societal, political and economic norms, as well as better-engineered infrastructure, rather than to agriculture." That makes me wonder how the every-man-for-himself, anti-government, free-market libertarianism so popular today is going to solve this. The sad thing is, decreasing energy will make both yields and the infrastructure needed to reduce waste harder to implement at the same time.

Meanwhile, in Greece:
These days, plumes of smoke hover over Athens and other Greek cities, and citizens are complaining about sore throats and teary eyes, Der Spiegel reports.

It's one more consequence of the country's broken economy.

Heating oil is super expensive in Greece, for a few reasons. Taxes on oil went up last year as part of the country's austerity measures. On top of that, Greece has laws that protect the country's two refining companies and prevent competition, driving up prices, Bloomberg News recently pointed out.

"The Greek political system works for the insiders," one expert told Bloomberg. "If you're an insider, there will be an attempt to protect you. If you're a poor person ... you are on your own."

Yesterday, a group of doctors warned the Greek government that air pollution was at dangerous levels, according to Der Spiegel. Those most at risk were young children and the chronically ill.
Smoke Signal From A Broken Economy (NPR). Something to think about when someone says that "austerity" is environmentally friendly. And corrupt oligarchies seem to be synonymous with "democracy" almost everywhere you car to look:
Yes, in Greece we have a dysfunctional public sector; for the past 40 years the ruling parties handed out government jobs to their supporters, regardless of their qualifications.

But the real problem with the public sector is the tiny elite of business people who live off the Greek state while passing themselves off as “entrepreneurs.” They bribe politicians to get fat government contracts, usually at inflated prices. They also own many of the country’s media outlets, and thus manage to ensure that their actions are clothed in silence. Sometimes they’ll even buy a soccer team in order to drum up popular support and shield their crimes behind popular protection, as the drug lord Pablo Escobar did in Colombia, and as the paramilitary leader Arkan did in Serbia.

In 2011, Evangelos Venizelos, who was then the finance minister and is now the leader of the socialist party, Pasok, instituted a new property-tax law. But for properties larger than 2,000 square meters — about 21,000 square feet — the tax was reduced by 60 percent. Mr. Venizelos thus carved out a big exemption for the only people who could afford to pay the tax: the rich. (Mr. Venizelos is also the man responsible for a law granting broad immunity to government ministers.)
Such shenanigans have gone on for decades. The public is deprived of real information, as television stations, newspapers and online news sites are controlled by the economic and political elite.
Greece's Rotten Oligarchy (New York Times). The rich exempting themselves from taxes (because it's they who make the rules) was also a contributor to Rome's fall.

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