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Friday, 02 September 2016 07:18

Diversity Is Key to a Healthy Planet

DR. DAVID SUZUKI OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Diversity 0902wrp opt(Photo: EcoWatch)It's been shocking to watch news of the Brexit vote in Britain, Donald Trump's promise to build a wall between Mexico and the U.S. and the ongoing threats and violence against ethnic minorities in many parts of the world. I'm not a political or social scientist, but my training as a biologist gives me some insight.

When I began my career as a scientist, geneticists were starting to analyze the molecular properties of single genes within a species. When we started looking at highly evolved species such as fruit flies, we thought we would find that their genes had been honed through selection over time, so they would be relatively homogeneous within single species. Examining one kind of protein controlled by a specific gene, we expected to find them all pretty much the same. Instead, we learned there was a great deal of heterogeneity or diversity. A gene specifying a protein could exist in a number of different states.

This is now called "genetic polymorphism" and is considered to be the very measure of a species' health. Inbreeding or reduction of a species to a small number reduces genetic polymorphism and exposes harmful genes, thereby rendering the species more susceptible to sudden change. In other words, genetic polymorphism confers resilience by providing greater possibilities as conditions shift.

Within ecosystems, species diversity provides greater flexibility to adjust to disturbances. Around the planet, ecosystem diversity has enabled life to flourish under different conditions. Like nested Russian dolls, life seems to have been built on diversity within diversity of genes, species and ecosystems.

2016.1.9 BF Katz(Photo: Skeeze / Pixabay)JACKSON KATZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Gender norms influence not just what we think, but how. Consider the pervasive presence of sports metaphors in contemporary American politics. Metaphors are not merely figures of speech. According to the cognitive scientists and philosophers George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1980), human thought processes themselves are largely metaphorical.

Metaphors from sports such as basketball and baseball regularly surface in political speech. But arguably the two most metaphorically influential sports in presidential campaign rhetoric are boxing and football. Not coincidentally, they are both violent sports that attract a disproportionate percentage of male participants and fans. It is only possible to speculate about how much of the white male vote is determined by impressions about the relative "manliness" or "toughness" of candidates or political parties. But there is no doubt that for several decades, violence -- both our individual and collective vulnerability to it, and questions about when and how to use the violent power of the state to protect the "national interest" -- has been an ominous and omnipresent factor in numerous foreign policy and domestic political issues (e.g. the Cold War, Vietnam, the "War on Terror," the invasion of Iraq, the emergence of ISIS, gun control, and executive, legislative, and judicial responses to violent crime). The frequent use of boxing and football metaphors in political discourse did not cause violence to become such an important force in our politics, but this usage is one measure of how presidential campaigns can be less about policy differences and complex political agendas than they can be about the selling of a certain kind of executive masculinity, embodied in a particular man whom the public comes to know largely through television and other technologies of mass communication.

Boxing metaphors play a crucial role in defining presidential campaigns as the ultimate arena for masculine competition. Boxing is a prototypical working-class or poor man's (or, more recently, woman's) sport that strips the notion of physical combat to its barest essence: man against man in a fight to the finish.

2016.1.9 BF Kennedy2(Photo: BeforeItStarts)ROBERT F. KENNEDY, JR. OF ECOWATCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

Earlier this month, my 15-year-old son, Aidan, and I joined a group of environmental activists on a six day float down Utah's Green River. In rafts and kayaks, we paddled Desolation and Gray canyons almost to the Colorado River confluence.

It was my second trip down the Green. In April 1966, I ran the prime white water stretches of the Yampa and Green through western Colorado and eastern Utah near Dinosaur National Park with my father and mother, U.S. Interior Secretary Stuart Udall and five of my 11 siblings. My father's friend, mountaineer Jim Whitaker, had organized that trip. Whittaker also accompanied my family on a Colorado River trip in 1964, down the Middle Fork of the Salmon in the summer of 1965 and on a kayak run on the upper Hudson's wild white water during a blizzard in May 1965. My father's purpose for the latter trip was to block an industry proposal to dam the Hudson River Gorge.

On each of those western trips, my father took us to nearby Navajo, Hopi and Ute reservations where we visited schools and health clinics and saw the despair among America's first nations mired in poverty, racism, oppression and hopelessness. My father taught us the history of the early American explorers, John Wesley Powell, John Charles Freemont, and Lewis and Clarke.

Following his brother, John Kennedy's assassination in 1963, he increasingly found spiritual renewal in wilderness which he considered "the undiluted work of the Creator." He saw white water as a way to struggle with nature without subduing it and he hoped that all that climbing, paddling and privation would imbue his children with the kind of beef jerky toughness he associated with the American character.

JIM HIGHTOWER ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Handshake 0930wrp opt(Photo: Rufino)Instead of griping about the greedheads of Wall Street and the rip-off financial system they've hung around our necks — why don't we "Take On Wall Street"?

You don't have to be in "Who's Who" to know what's what. For example, if tiny groups of Wall Street bankers, billionaires and their political puppets are allowed to write the rules that govern our economy and elections, guess what? Only bankers, billionaires and puppets will profit from those rules.

That's exactly why our Land of Opportunity has become today's Land of Inequality. Corporate elites have bought their way into the policy-making backrooms of Washington, where they've rigged the rules to let them feast freely on our jobs, devour our country's wealth and impoverish the middle class.

"Take On Wall Street" is both the name and the feisty attitude of a nationwide campaign that a coalition of grassroots groups has launched to do just that: Take on Wall Street. The coalition, spearheaded by the Communication Workers of America, points out that there is nothing natural or sacred about today's money-grabbing financial complex. Far from sacrosanct, the system of finance that now rules over us has been designed by and for Wall Street speculators, money managers, and big bank flim flammers. So — big surprise — rather than serving our common good, the system is corrupt, routinely serving their uncommon greed at everyone else's expense.

BILL BERKOWITZ FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Pills 0830wrp opt(Photo: Slashme)Given the cable news network’s obsession with the presidential race, with an occasional break for stories about damage caused by late-summer flooding in Louisiana, tornadoes in the Midwest, and the earthquake in Italy, it is somewhat surprising that news of Mylan Pharmaceuticals’ outrageous price increase of the EpiPen, its lifesaving injection device for those with severe allergies, has received the attention that it has.

According to Paul Keckley, publisher of a weekly newsletter on healthcare issues, Mylan’s EpiPen price increases – 461 percent since 2007 when the EpiPen sold for $100 for a pair – are nothing new, and “are core in their business strategy: this year, it also raised its prices for ursodiol, a generic medicine used to treat gallstones, by 542%, dicyclomine used for irritable bowel syndrome by 400% and metoclopramide, a generic drug that treats gastroesophageal reflux disease by 312%.”

Around the same time news broke of the massive EpiPen price increase, it was also reported that Mylan executives had received a massive salary increase. According to NBC News, “Proxy filings show that from 2007 to 2015, Mylan CEO Heather Bresch's total compensation went from $2,453,456 to $18,931,068, a 671 percent increase.”

Earlier this week, The New York Times reported that Mylan, one of the largest generic drug companies in the world, responded to outrage from patients and health care providers, by announcing that “it would it would introduce a generic version of the product, with a price about half of the existing EpiPen’s.” The new generic EpiPen “would have a wholesale list price of $300 for a pack of two, compared with just above $600 for the existing product.”

JAX JACOBSEN OF ECOWATCH FOR  BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Article Reprinted with Permission of EcoWatch

2016august30 frackingThey're even starting to ban fracking "down under." (Photo: Daniel Lobo)

The state of Victoria in Australia has voted to ban fracking on its territory, further cementing the moratorium first put in place in 2012. It is the first Australian state to impose such a ban.

Premier Daniel Andrews announced Tuesday.

"It is clear that the Victorian community has spoken," the premier's office said in a statement. "They simply don't support fracking. The government's decision is based on the best available evidence and acknowledges that the risks involved outweigh any potential benefits to Australia."

The Victoria government had conducted a parliamentary inquiry into fracking for onshore gas in the state and received more than 1,600 submissions. Most of these were opposed to fracking.

The newly imposed ban will help protect agricultural industries and workers, the government said.

"Our state is the nation's top food and fiber producer with exports worth $11.6 billion," the statement said. "The permanent ban protects our farmers and preserves Victoria's hard-won reputation for producing high quality food."

More than 190,000 people are employed in the agricultural sector in Victoria.

JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

2016august30 smokeLooking north from Jacqueline Marcus's ranch on a day that the San Luis Obispo County fires were not raging. (Photo: Jacqueline Marcus)

Drought and Chimneys of Fire: It’s Abstract Until It Happens in Plain Sight:

San Luis Obispo County's Chimney Fire

For the last few weeks, we’ve been living under a sky of ash and smoke. The air is hazardous to one’s health; at times, it’s hard to breathe much less take my daily dog walks. A brown veil covers a bronze-colored sun. On the central coast of California, fires are raging at Big Sur, a landmark known for its Redwoods, profound cliffs and pristine beaches. South from here, the Rey Fire in Santa Barbara’s county has grown dramatically, east of Lake Cachuma.

Big Sur is also known for the legendary poet, Robinson Jeffers, who made it his home. It’s a good thing he’s dead—because if he were to see how we’ve trashed our earth and ourselves, he’d be horrified. The flames are spreading south near Hearst Castle, just an hour north of us.

We live on a ranch of dry vegetation which is susceptible to fires. All it takes is a spark. When you know the fires are closing in, you have to face the brutal reality of evacuation: you must be prepared for an escape plan, especially if you need to transport horses and animals. You have to assemble at a minimum what you deem valuable because once the winds shift, the fires can spread faster than all the hard-working fire-fighters and planes combined. There are many families that have met a tragic fate of watching their homes (all their sacred belongings) go up in flames.

The silence is haunting. Less than a decade ago, there were thousands of seasonal birds that migrated to the central coast; it served as a wildlife and bird sanctuary. At this time of year, hundreds of redwing blackbirds would gather in the willow forest where we used to have a pond that dried up after 2012 from the drought. Redwing blackbirds are loud, as if each one among the large assembly demanded the final word in their dispute, then suddenly, absolute silence, only for the cacophony to start up again. This enchanting bird-ceremony became a joyful amusement for me; in fact, the redwing blackbirds have entered the pages of my poetry many a time.

DR. DAVID SUZUKI OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

CityFarm 0829wrp optAlong with concerns about climate change and the distances much of our food travels from farm to plate, that's spurred a renewed interest in producing food where people live. Urban agriculture won't resolve all food production and distribution problems, but it could help take pressure off rural land while providing other advantages. From balcony, backyard, rooftop, indoor and community gardens to city beehives and chicken coops to larger urban farms and farmers markets, growing and distributing local food in or near cities is a healthy way to help the environment.

And it's much more. As writer and former Vancouver city councillor Peter Ladner (also a David Suzuki Foundation board member) writes in The Urban Food Revolution: Changing the Way We Feed Cities, "When urban agriculture flourishes, our children are healthier and smarter about what they eat, fewer people are hungry, more local jobs are created, local economies are stronger, our neighborhoods are greener and safer, and our communities are more inclusive."

Local and urban agriculture can also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and recycle nutrient-rich food scraps, plant debris and other "wastes." Because maintaining lawns for little more than aesthetic value requires lots of water, energy for upkeep and often pesticides and fertilizers, converting them to food gardens makes sense.

 

PAUL BUCHHEIT FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Steering 0829wrp opt(Photo: Lukas 3z)We'll have to do something drastically different to employ people in the future. Our jobs are disappearing. The driverless vehicle is here, destined to eliminate millions of transport and taxi-driving positions. Car manufacturing is being done by 3-D printing. An entire building was erected in Dubai with a 3-D printer. Restaurants are being designed with no waitstaff or busboys, hotels with no desk clerks, bellhops, and porters. Robot teachers are interacting with students in Japan and the UK.

There are plenty of naysayers and skeptics, of course. The Atlantic proclaimed, "The job market defied doomsayers in those earlier times, and according to the most frequently reported jobs numbers, it has so far done the same in our own time." But this is a different time, with no guarantees of job revolutions, and in fact a time of unprecedented machine intelligence that threatens the livelihoods even of doctors, teachers, accountants, architects, the clergy, consultants, and lawyers.

Most of our new jobs are in service industries, including retail and personal health care and food service. The only one of the eight fastest-growing occupations that pays over $33,000 per year is nursing -- and even nursing may give way to Robotic Nurse Assistants. The evidence for downsized jobs keeps accumulating. A US Mayors study found that 'recovery' jobs pay 23 percent less than the positions they replaced. The National Employment Law Project estimates that low-wage jobs accounted for 22 percent of job losses but 44 percent of subsequent job gains. Business Insider, Huffington Post, and the Wall Street Journal all concur: the unemployment rate is remaining low because of low-paying jobs.

We're fooling ourselves by believing in a future with satisfying middle-class jobs for millions of Americans. It's becoming clear that income should be guaranteed, so that recipients have the wherewithal and incentive and confidence to find productive ways to serve society.

WENONAH HAUTER OF ECOWATCH ON BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Fracking 0826wrp opt(Photo: Joshua Doubek)A new study out today from Johns Hopkins in Environmental Health Perspectives revealed associations between fracking and various health symptoms including nasal and sinus problems, migraines and fatigue in Pennsylvanians living near areas of natural gas development. The study suggests that residents with the highest exposure to active fracking wells are nearly twice as likely to suffer from the symptoms.

This is the third study released by Hopkins in the past year that connects proximity to fracking sites with adverse health outcomes. Last fall, researchers found an association between fracking and premature births and high-risk pregnancies, and last month, found ties between fracking and asthma.

What's more, a 2014 investigation revealed how health workers in Pennsylvania were silenced by the state Department of Health (DOH) and told not to respond to health inquiries that used certain fracking "buzzwords." Documents obtained by Food & Water Watch last year indicate the DOH was inundated with fracking-related health concerns ranging from shortness of breath and skin problems to asthma, nose and throat irritation, which were ignored or pushed aside.

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