Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Why do enviornmental groups hate desalination?

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

Water is one of the most important resources to society.  The availability of water has dictated the locations of some cities and limited the growth of others.  It is also one of the major necessities for agriculture.

Many areas have limited supplies of water and others are prone to shortages or droughts.  Still others do have sufficient water supplies, but in securing necessary water, huge quantities had to be diverted, resulting in ecological disasters such as the shrinking of the Aral Sea.

kennedyquoteOf course, there is an effectively limitless supply of water in the world’s oceans, and many of the most arid regions are located near the coast.  However, ocean water is far too salty for consumption by humans, for irrigation and for most other uses.   Thus, it is not that the world lacks water – we have plenty of it, but that many areas lack fresh water.

Therefore, assuming it could be made economical, desalination would seem like an ideal solution to this persistent problem.  Desalination is the only source of water that can be considered to be, for all intents and purposes, unlimited.  After all, all nearly all water ends up back in the ocean anyway.  With desalination, there are no concerns over droughts or of overdrawing an aquifer.  There are no seasonal shortages or reduction in the availability of water.

It could also be argued that desalination, in and of itself, has virtually no negative ecological consequences.  The need for water has lead to aquifers being depleted, rivers being diverted, lakes running dry and to the construction of massive dams and canals, sometimes with severe environmental consequences.   Therefore, even in areas where adequate fresh water is available, using desalination for basic water needs could greatly reduce the impacts of water sourced from rivers, lakes and aquifers.

The only negative environmental consequence associated with desalination is the need to dispose of the highly concentrated brine that is produced.  Separating the water from the sale of seawater means that salt must be disposed of.  It is usually in the form of a highly concentrated brine, much more salty than the water that was taken in.  This brine is not itself toxic, but the salinity levels are too high for most marine life.   If it were to be discharged directly into the ocean, it would result in the area around the discharge becoming too salty for most marine life.

This is certainly not an unmanageable problem.  The most obvious solution is to dilute and disperse the waste bring back into the ocean.  This is possible, but it can be a major task for large facilities.  Other options include recycling the brine into a useful product.  For example, it can be used to produce saltcrete.  Or, it can be further concentrated and then dried into salt, which can be sold commercially.

desalplantoperationalwThe one major downside of desalination is that it is energy intensive, far more energy intensive than more conventional means of obtaining freshwater. In addition to energy usage, desalination plants can be complicated, and the handling of saltwater requires the use of corrosion-resistant materials.  The water produced often requires additives for PH adjustment and the addition of trace minerals.  All of this adds to the expense of desalination as a water source.

For this reason, it is not generally used if other alternatives exist.  Many parts of the world, including much of the middle east and numerous islands are dependent on desalination to provide for their basic water needs.  While it does work for this, it remains the option of last resort, due to the economics.

That said, the economics of desalination have been improving steadily over the years.  With increasing demand for water, a great deal has been invested in desalination research and development.  New plants are constantly being built with ever-increasing efficiency and improved economics.  In recent years, major improvements have been made to reverse osmosis-based water desalination systems, which are now being deployed on an industrial scale.  The efficiency of distillation systems have also improved with the introduction of better heat recovery and multiple-effect distillation.

Modern desalination plants can now get a large portion of their energy requirements from the waste heat produced by power generation.  The use of co-generation for desalination further improves economics and reduce energy requirements.  Nuclear desalination is an especially appealing option, since nuclear reactors can produce ample process heat without emissions.  The Soviet Union built a highly successful plant to produce water from the Caspian Sea and today, India and China are exploring the use of nuclear reactors to run large desalination plants.

So, desalination is a good thing and we would like to see it continue to improve and become more economical, so it could be put to greater use….right?


UN Court Orders Japan To Stop Antarctic Whaling

Monday, March 31st, 2014

I have said it before and I will say it again: if you want to persuade Japan to stop whaling, then you must do so through diplomacy and legal methods.  It’s not that I am a huge fan of whaling, but the actions of Sea Shepherd are totally ineffective, counter-productive, extremely dangerous and highly illegal.  They qualify as acts of piracy, as they are a direct attack on the safety of unarmed vessels on the high seas.

For those who actually would like to see Japanese whaling come to an end, there has recently been a major step in that direction.  And no, it did not happen because a group of idiot activists were ramming Japanese vessels.

Via The New York Times:

U.N. Court Orders Japan to Halt Antarctic Whaling

PARIS — The United Nations’ highest court on Monday ordered Japan to halt its annual whaling hunt in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, saying that its present program was not being carried out for scientific purposes, as Japan has claimed.

In a 12-to-4 judgment, the International Court of Justice in The Hague found that Japan was in breach of its international obligations by catching and killing minke whales and issuing permits for hunting humpback and fin whales within the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, established by the International Whaling Commission.

Reading a summary of the judgment, presiding Judge Peter Tomka of Slovakia said that the present “research program,” dating to 2005, has involved the killing of 3,600 minke whales and a number of fin whales, but that its “scientific output to date appears limited.” The ruling suggested instead that Japan’s whaling hunt served political and economic reasons.

Lawyers attending the proceedings said there was a gasp in the audience when Judge Tomka ordered Japan to immediately “revoke all whaling permits” and not issue any new ones under the existing program.

“I rarely heard such an unequivocal, strong ruling at this court,” said a lawyer with long experience at the court who asked not to be named because he is working on a case in progress.

The ruling is binding, and Japan cannot appeal. No immediate reaction from Japan was available, although it has said it would abide by any judgment in the case. But a Japanese delegate said in earlier hearings that Japan might consider withdrawing from the whaling commission, which oversees management of the world’s whale populations.

The court left open the possibility for future whale hunting if Japan redesigned its program. Tokyo has said that it needs data to monitor the impact of whales on its fishing industry and to monitor the whale population’s recovery from overfishing.

Unfortunately, the times article went on to quote a Sea Shepherd representative on the issue, which is a shame, because those idiots should not be regarded as a respectable authority on the issue or even legitimate anti-whaling activists. There are plenty of groups out there who oppose Japanese whaling and do so through legal and sane means.

It’s important to note that while this is a big step, it does not mean that Japan won’t conduct any further whaling or that the issue is closed.   First, this only applies to the Antarctic region.  Although that is the most high profile region of Japanese whaling, the Japanese also conduct whaling in the northern Pacific and that is not affected by the ruling.

Another important consideration is that the decision only reflects Japan’s commitment to the International Whaling Commission treaty.  There is no standing international law against whaling in general.  The only reason Japan is restricted from whaling is that the country signed a treaty to abide by IWC rules.  Those rules include a ban on whaling for all but research purposes.  It should be noted that the research clause was, in part, inserted into the general ban on whaling to appease Japan, who wished to continue whaling activities.  Calling it “research” makes it more politically palatable.

Therefore the court has ruled that Japan must cease whaling because their activities do not quality as “research,” and therefore are not in line with the rules of the treaty.  However, because it’s a voluntary treaty, Japan could potentially respond by simply choosing to withdraw from the IWC.  They have the right to do so.   They just might end up doing that, as they have considered withdrawing before.

As a result of these limits, this ruling should not be regarded as an the ultimate victory in the fight against whaling.  What Japan will do next is unclear.  Though they have stated they will abide by the ruling, they may decide to leave the IWC, thus voiding their treaty obligations, or they may simply shift the focus of their whaling program to other ocean regions.   None the less, this is still a major step toward reducing or eliminating Japanese whaling.   If the effort to do so is successful, it will be through diplomacy, appeals to the Japanese public and legal efforts and not through harassing whaling vessels with dangerous and illegal stunts.

The Truth About NIF

Saturday, March 8th, 2014

Much has been made about the National Ignition Facility – a US Government facility where as massive array of pulsed power lasers is used to irradiate a tiny capsule of deuterium and tritium in order to produce nuclear fusion.  NIF is a truly giant scientific installation, and there’s no disputing its one of the foremost “big science” centers in the world for things like laser optics, pulsed power, plasma physics and nuclear fusion.  The technology is impressive and it will surely produce volumes of important scientific data.

However, there is some confusion, much of it intentional, about the purpose and capabilities of the facility.

It is often portrayed as an experimental prototype for a power-generating fusion reactor.  It’s really not.  The design of the facility precludes it from ever producing useful energy and that’s not the point.  It’s also not the primary objective of NIF to research how nuclear fusion can be harnessed to produce usable energy.  Data to that end may be generated in the process, but the basic design of the facility precludes such a system from being turned into a power plant.

The stated goal of the facility is also often reported inaccurately.  Achieving “ignition” simply means that enough fusion has occurred for additional fusion to be produced without more external power.  In other words, the reaction becomes self-sustaining, if only for a tiny fraction of a second.  Ignition has not yet been achieved, though it is hoped it soon will.  However, it’s less dramatic than it is often described.  The moment when the calculations come back and reveal that the point of ignition has been achieved will not really be that revolutionary.  it won’t mean that suddenly boundless energy is being produced.  After all, nobody doubts that ignition is possible, it is only a question of how much power will need to be concentrated before it actually happens.
Via the Guardian:

Sustainable nuclear fusion breakthrough raises hopes for ultimate green energy
Scientists have moved a step closer to achieving sustainable nuclear fusion and almost limitless clean energy

US researchers have achieved a world first in an ambitious experiment that aims to recreate the conditions at the heart of the sun and pave the way for nuclear fusion reactors.

The scientists generated more energy from fusion reactions than they put into the nuclear fuel, in a small but crucial step along the road to harnessing fusion power. The ultimate goal – to produce more energy than the whole experiment consumes – remains a long way off, but the feat has nonetheless raised hopes that after decades of setbacks, firm progress is finally being made.

Fusion energy has the potential to become a radical alternative power source, with zero carbon emissions during operation and minimal waste, but the technical difficulties in demonstrating fusion in the lab have so far proved overwhelming. While existing nuclear reactors generate energy by splitting atoms into lighter particles, fusion reactors combine light atomic nuclei into heavier particles.

In their experiments, researchers at the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California use a bank of 192 powerful lasers to crush a minuscule amount of fuel so hard and fast that it becomes hotter than the sun.

The process is not straightforward. The lasers are fired into a gold capsule that holds a 2mm-wide spherical pellet. The fuel is coated on the inside of this plastic pellet in a layer as thin as a human hair.

When the laser light enters the gold capsule, it makes the walls of the gold container emit x-rays, which heat the pellet and make it implode with extraordinary ferocity. The fuel, a mixture of hydrogen isotopes called tritium and deuterium, partially fuses under the intense conditions.

No, they didn’t actually get more energy out of the system than was put in. They just got slightly more energy from the reaction than the amount of energy deposited on the fusion fuel capsule to make it happen.   It’s really not getting us any closer to using nuclear fusion as a limitless energy source.  In fact, it should be noted that this is far from the first time humanity managed to get a lot more energy out of a fusion reaction than was used to initiate it.   That happened in 1952 and was significantly larger.

A few facts to put it in context:


Bill Nye Debates Creationist Ken Ham

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

For those who don’t know, science advocate and educator Bill Nye recently debated young earth creationist Ken Ham in a highly publicized internet-broadcast event.

There have been many mixed feelings from the scientific community on the event.  Many of which, I would tend to agree with.  Debating a creationist really won’t do much of anything.  Believers will continue to believe in what they want, regardless of the arguments or evidence.  Those who look at things objectively will have no choice but accept evolution as a well tested and established scientific fact.

Some might say that the debate raises creationism to a level it does not deserve.  It is not a matter of debate for the scientific community; it was closed long ago.  If we were to assume the earth were thousands of years old, biology were the result of a being simply willing it to be so and the bible could guide all scientific thought, we would have to throw away most of the advancements of science.  Evolution is key to our understanding of biology.  We have seen it happen and have fossil evidence of how it has shaped life over the long term.

Some warned that Bill Nye could end up losing the debate, or just come off looking bad, if Ham backed him into a corner using contentions that were too illogical to easily and directly refute or by forcing Nye to waste his time providing a class in biology 101 in order to simply explain where he is coming from.  Given that creationism has no scientific evidence, only religious faith, it seems likely that a creationist would fall back on appealing logical fallacies.   It should be noted that one can be factually correct and still lose a debate if faced with a skilled opponent.

Thankfully, Bill Nye seems to have held his own.  Still, I tend to side with those who think it was unnecessary and generally unproductive to even bother engaging in the debate.   It didn’t change anyone’s mind.

Here’s the video for those interested (Starts at roughly 13:00)

Why I am against labeling GMO

Monday, November 11th, 2013

I have been asked numerous times by e-mail, often being told things like “You don’t have to think GMO’s are bad to give people a choice” or “If you think they are fine, that’s okay, but what about those who don’t?  Don’t they have a right to choose?”

  1. It’s unnecessary – Regulations may be necessary, but all regulations end up costing money, because enforcement is required.   All regulations place some burden on producers and increase costs to consumers.  Hence, regulations that do absolutely nothing worthwhile should not be tolerated.  Since GMO-containing foods are effectively identical to non-GMO foods, there’s no reason to force labeling and incur the expenses on both the enforcement side and for the producers and consumers.
  2. It places an undue burden on certain food producers - Is it hard to label products that contain GMO’s?   It certainly could be, especially for those who have only a limited amount of control of their supply chain, such as small companies.Imagine, for example, you are a company which produces cookies.   You buy your flour from a wholesaler who buys it from a flour mill who buys the wheat from farmers.  You buy your chocolate chips from a company which imports cocoa and sugar from two different sources and combines with other ingredients to make the chips.   Your sugar comes from another wholesaler who buys it from an importer.   How could you possibly know for sure if there is a GMO product in the mix?   You can’t because you don’t have that level of supply chain management.  Some very large food producers do, but a smaller company would not.   It would be a massive burden to track down all the suppliers.In the end, the smaller companies are likely to have to label everything as possibly containing GMO’s because they lack the resources to prove otherwise.  That would put them at a big disadvantage when faced with customers who fear these harmless products.
  3. It’s damn near unenforceable - How do you know if an end product contains GMO ingredients?   It’s not easy.  One way would be to audit the entire supply chain and attempt to trace all ingredients back to their source.   That might not always even be possible, especially if they came from  a farm that has both GMO and non-GMO products.  Either way the process would be long and expensive.   Either taxpayers would need to foot the bill or the food producers would need to be required to pay for verification or record keeping.The only way to know for sure if something is genetically engineered is to test for the modified genes using expensive genetic sequencing.  The cost and time for these tests has improved, but testing all samples of foods would still be extremely costly.  Worse, these tests won’t even work on all foodstuffs.  If the genetic material has been denatured, as would be the case if the food is cooked or processed in other ways, it might be downright impossible to conduct genetic testing.
  4. You can still have your GMO-free food without labeling – I do not want the cost of my food to go up.  I do not want restrictions on small companies making legitimate products.  I do not want my tax dollars going to support something unnecessary and stupid.   But if you want GMO-free food, knock yourself out.  Nobody is saying that those who wish to market a guaranteed gmo-free product can’t do so.   If that’s what you want, feel free to seek out the products that are GMO-free or research the ingredients that go into your foot.  You can even grow your own if you want.  Nobody is going to force you to eat unlabeled stuff if you do not want.
  5. It implies there is a danger when there is none -(Most importantly) There is no evidence that genetically modified foodstuffs are harmful in any way and plenty of scientific evidence that they are not.   They have been on the market for well over a decade and no ill effects have been detected.  They do not harm the environment, cause cancer, make people fat (any more than other foods) and they are not harmful to the environment.

    Putting a government-sanctioned label “warning” that a food contains genetically engineered material implies otherwise. It’s perfectly logical to assume if something is required as disclosure, there must be an important reason why. It perpetuates this stupid myth.

  6. If the government is going to cave to people saying “I want to know if my food contains genetically modified organisms,” they may as well cave to racists who want to know “was my food ever handled by a black person,” or to those who want to know “Was my food frown in a field that was laid out to Feng Sui geometry.”

    They are all equally valid. In other words, not at all.

Gas Pipeline Has Activists In New York Going Nuts

Monday, November 4th, 2013

Click here if your browser does not allow embedded videos

Let me first state, for the record, that I am not a huge fan of the natural gas industry.   As far as fossil fuels go, natural gas is a lot cleaner than coal, but that’s not saying much.   Still, it’s nowhere near as clean or as safe as nuclear fission as an energy source.   Still, gas is certainly a vital part of our current energy mix.  Gas is widely deployed for domestic and commercial heating and hot water and replacing it with cleaner sources would require massive upgrades in electrical or district heating capacity and deployment of new systems.

So, for the time being, gas is a necessity and that gas must come from somewhere and be delivered somehow.  This is what pipelines are for.   Although natural gas is occasionally shipped as a liquid, by tanker, it is most often transported by pipeline, with pipes reaching all the way to the end user.  Yes, there is a natural gas pipe that comes into my home and I’d be pretty cold in the winter without it.

But there is one thing I hate more than the gas industry and that is fear-mongering and outright lying.

I will just make a few points about some of the claims in this video:

  1. Gas pipelines explode.   It happens.  It does not happen very often, but it does happen.   A major leak can send out a massive cloud of gas which then ignites, in effect making it a fuel-air bomb.   However, given the thousands of miles of gas pipeline in North America alone, it’s not a very big danger.   Sure, the safety is not as good as that of a nuclear reactor, but that would be setting the bar unreasonably high.  If you live on a gas pipeline, you should probably be more worried about car accidents or heart disease along with many other things.
  2. Older gas pipelines are at a much greater danger of exploding than newer ones.  Older pipelines may not be built to the same safety standards and are more likely to suffer corrosion or other problems.   New York City already has many old gas pipelines.  If anything, this will improve safety by taking some of the load off of the older infrastructure.  The San Bruno pipeline, which was mentioned, was more than fifty years old when it exploded and had not received any recent maintenance or inspections.
  3. If you don’t like fracking, you had better find another fuel, because that’s where gas comes from these days.  Most gas in North America is the result of fracking to enhance well production.  Although there are environmental issues, they are not nearly as bad as it is often portrayed.  There is still some gas produced by conventional wells.  There’s little solid evidence that this is much better for the environment (all gas production has its issues).   It also does not really matter where it came from, because it’s a commodity that all comes from the same market.  If you buy gas that was not produced from a fracked well, you will just displace gas out of the market and the effect is the same.
  4. The pipeline may well have been approved without most of those in the local community wanting it.  This is known as NIMBY – Not In My Back Yard.  Everyone wants to be able to heat and cook, but they want the infrastructure elsewhere.  New York City really does not have any areas that are not inhabited.  Although, there may be areas that have less vocal hipsters, looking for something to get hot and bothered about.
  5. Natural gas does contain radon when it comes from the well head.  Where it comes from may have some effect on the level of radon, but it’s generally pretty low.  Since radon has a half-life of less than four days, it’s even lower by the time the gas is processed and send to the end user.  Cooking with natural gas does result in some additional exposure to radon and thus radiation dose.  If you are radiophobic, you should probably not cook with gas, although in that case there are many things you should not do (for example, leaving your lead-lined cave.)

    Even if Pennsylvania gas does have higher radon levels as a result of being less distant, the exposure is very small.  It’s much smaller than living in a home with a full basement that was built in an area with uranium-bearing granite.  I should also point out, for the woman who is shocked by the idea of radon in her apartment, that there already is radon in her apartment.  Radon is constantly seeping from the earth and is therefore detectable in the lower atmosphere at all locations.  If she cooks with gas, it is already slightly higher than average.

I do have some sympathies for the idea that natural gas is just not the safest fuel and that a reduction in the use of natural gas would save lives and reduce environmental damage. That is certainly true. Obviously this is impossible unless an other energy source replaces it. Until that happens, and as long as gas remains a major fuel for domestic use, there will be gas pipelines in cities. It’s better to build new ones than just wait for the old ones to blow up.

Absolute Bullshit from VOA on Fukushima

Saturday, October 26th, 2013

VOA or the Voice of America is a US Federal Government-sponsored international broadcasting organization.  It’s intended to provide news and information with an American perspective to the world.  The official mission is “to promote freedom and democracy and to enhance understanding through multimedia communication of accurate, objective, and balanced news, information and other programming about America and the world to audiences overseas.”  To some, it might be considered straight up propaganda, while others might see it as being the US version of the BBC.   In any case, the organization is supposed to provide accurate news.

Yet if they wanted to maintain credibility, this news story and video are not really doing much in that respect:

Under Fire, TEPCO Prepares for Critical Phase of Fukushima Cleanup
TOKYO — Workers at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan are about to embark on one of the most critical aspects of the clean-up: removing the fuel rods from one of the worst-hit reactors. Critics say the plant’s owners, TEPCO, should not be trusted to carry out the operation and warn the consequences of any accident would be unprecedented.

Over 1500 fuel rods sit in a damaged storage pool 30 meters above the ground inside the shell of the reactor 4 building at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Safely removing them is the next big challenge for the plant’s owner, TEPCO.

General Manager Masayuki Ono said the operation has been carefully planned.

He explained that because the entire reactor 4 building was destroyed by a hydrogen explosion, TEPCO had to reinforce the structure. This happened during the first year and that new building is now strong enough to stand another earthquake, he added.

That hydrogen explosion – one of the iconic images of the Fukushima accident – left the inside of the pool littered with debris.

TEPCO’s first task is to remove the debris. And then, one by one, the fuel rods will be removed manually using a crane suspended above the crippled reactor building.

Ono explained that a fuel extraction cover was built over Unit 4 and installed at the fuel handling facility. This structure does not put any weight on the Reactor 4 building, and can be used to remove the fuel without adding any additional weight.

The fuel rods must be kept submerged and must not touch each other or break. Nuclear experts warn any mishaps could cause an explosion many times worse than in March 2011.

Mitsuhei Murata, Japan’s former ambassador to Switzerland and an anti-nuclear campaigner, said a series of incidents over the past 30 months – including radioactive water leaks – have called into question TEPCO’s ability to carry out this critical operation.

“The Unit 4 contains 10 times more Cesium-137 than Chernobyl. So in case the worst occurs, a total withdrawal [from the site] will be imposed, which means this can be considered as the beginning of the ultimate catastrophe of the world and the planet,” said Murata.

Click link for the video of the story

I have a few responses to some of the information, or misinformation in this video:

First, using a well known anti-nuclear activist as the expert for a news report is not exactly good journalism. You can expect the comments of such a person to always be as pessimistic as possible and always with a strong anti-nuclear spin. To say that this could be “the ultimate catastrophe of the world and the planet” is ridiculous.

The fuel rods have cooled for more than a year and are now no longer nearly as difficult to handle as they had been. While it is still best to keep them under water, they do not require the cooling they did right after the reactor went off line. They also no longer contain the most dangerous radioisotopes, such as iodine-131.

The amount of cesium-137 in the totality of fuel rods is really not the important thing. For all that cesium to be released, every one of the fuel rods would have to be vaporized or ground into a powder and blown into the wind. Clearly, even under the worst case accidents, that will not happen.

If the fuel rods were to knock into each other, there would be no catastrophe. In fact, nothing would likely happen. Given the precautions and the state of the fuel, a criticality accident is not a major concern. If part of a fuel rod broke off, it would also not be a catastrophe. It would, however, mean that the fuel rod fragment would have to be fished out of the debris, which would be a pain, but not a massive safety problem

Of course, the refueling operation will be long and expensive, just like every part of this decommissioning is, at least relative to other decomissionings. They are working on a heavily damaged reactor and the circumstances demand precision and caution. Support systems were heavily damaged and the reactor was not shut down in a controlled manner. Still, there’s very little danger of a major mishap and zero danger of a global catastrophe.  There’s no significant danger of explosion.

If you can contribute to a congressional campaign, now would be the time.

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

Do you support nuclear energy? Do you think the US government should not have unlimited powers to spy on its people? Do you think that the rise of biotech and technologies like 3D printers requires revamping of intellectual property laws in a way that avoids being overly restrictive toward end users? Do you want to see the US start funding big science programs again?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, I hope you will consider making a contribution to my campaign for the US Congress.

You must be a US citizen or permanent resident.

Contributions can be made here.


Recently I have received word that another candidate has started fund raising in the district and this makes NOW a very important time.   In the next days and weeks, I will be going to committees and talking to potential big contributors, PAC’s and the media.   The candidate who has the largest number of contributors and the highest amount of money raised will always be regarded as the leader and will have a much easier time getting endorsements and contributions.   In other words, if a candidate fails to get some support at this critical moment, they will fall behind and never be able to catch up.  Conversely, if they get more than the other candidate, they will become the presumptive nominee and it will be easy for them to get more funding in the near future.

Even small contributions help.   Yes, your ten dollars DOES MAKE A DIFFERENCE.  Of course, more makes an even bigger difference.

No, Agent Orange Is Not Being Used On Turkish Protestors

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

Unless you have been living under a rock the past few days, you are probably aware that there have been massive protests in Turkey.  These protests have, unfortunately, turned violent, largely as a result of the government’s actions to try to suppress them.  The protests started over urban development projects but quickly grew into general protests against the government and the current prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is viewed as authoritarian. Police responded with massive amounts of tear gas and anti-riot teams.   Although the protestors have caused damage, including setting cars on fire, the general international response has been to view the Turkish authorities as reacting in a manner that is unnecessarily harsh and violent.

That said, one thing they are not doing is spraying the protestors with agent orange, despite some reports of this happening.

Via the Saint Louis Post Dispatch:

St. Louis, MO – Demonstrators will gather to proclaim their support for the victims of brutality in the protests happening throughout Turkey tomorrow, June 2nd, at 6 pm, at the Gateway Arch.

Protestors are allegedly being attacked with Agent Orange, high pressure hoses, and teargas as they protest the current government’s policies and actions. Amnesty International has condemned the use of “excessive force” against the protesters, and the US State Department offered support of these peaceful protesters.

This is not the only news outlet to report this.   Sadly, it seems reporters are not even willing to hit up Google or Wikipedia before writing something that does not even make any sense.

Agent Orange was one of the “Rainbow Herbicides” used by the US military during the Vietnam War.  It is composed of n-butyl esters and was used for the purpose of defoliating jungle in order to deny enemy forces cover.   Huge volumes were sprayed over Vietnam in order to kill vegetation.  It was later used in a program to destroy food crops that were being used by enemy forces and to try to force local populations to leave rural areas and urbanize.

Agent orange is not itself very toxic to humans or other mammals.   If properly formulated, the mixture is quite safe to handle.  The problem that arose with agent orange is that, as the war dragged on, the military demanded larger and larger volumes of the herbicide, and in order to fill the demand, quality control at the contractors that produced it began to fall. As a result, many of the batches of agent orange were heavily contaminated with 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzodioxin, an especially potent dioxin. Dioxins are a byproduct of producing agent orange, and will not be present in the output stream, if scrupulous quality control measures are followed. Unfortunately, they were not.

The quantity of dioxins in agent orange was normally not enough to cause acute effects, as only massive dioxin doses will do so.   The danger came from chronic exposure.  Dioxin and dioxin like compounds are potent carcinogens and are associated with birth defects.   Studies have shown an increase in the rate of Parkinson’s disease in those exposed, amoung other conditions.

But all these effects happen years, sometimes decades later.  Hosing down protestors with the stuff would do absolutely nothing.   Some of them would get cancer in ten or fifteen years and many of their offspring would have major birth defects.  That hardly seems like a useful way of breaking up a protest.

If that does not make the accusation absurd enough, it’s also worth noting that agent orange has not been manufactured in decades.  It was used primarily in Vietnam, although some agent orange may have been sold or used elsewhere, such as in Brazil.   Regardless of where it may have been used, surplus stockpiles were destroyed by the end of the 1970′s and none is currently in production.

While the Turkish government may be spraying the protestors with some unpleasant substances, rest assured, it’s not agent orange!

Could the Tide Be Turning on Anti-GMO Groups?

Saturday, June 1st, 2013

Genetically Modified Organisms may be one of the greatest single achievements of science of the late 20th century.  In addition to providing better crops, they can produce unlimited amounts of human clotting factor, insulin and other compounds needed by medicine.

As far as food crops go, there is absolutely no reason to think they are dangerous or unhealthy and volumes of scientific data to prove they are perfectly safe.   Like conventional crops, genetically modified food crops are made of the same basic materials: water, salt, cellulose, sugars, proteins etc.   The genes may be slightly different but your body certainly doesn’t care.  And while it is possible that introducing new genes and thus proteins could cause allergic reactions, this has been accounted for in all tests and no reports of mass incidents of allergic reactions have occurred.

Most modern farmers purchase their seeds from seed companies, which provide a more consistent product than producing their own seeds.  Hybridized and specially bred varieties are available and may cost more, but also offer benefits.   Genetically modified seeds fit into this business  model as do any other type of seed.

Despite this, activists have gone nuts over this technology.  Many have demanded that the crops are not fit for human consumption, must be banned and blame them for everything from obesity to cancer, despite lack of evidence.   Fields have been burned or mowed down, protests have been held across the world.  Efforts often center around the company Monsanto, which is he single largest producer of genetically modified products.  Monsanto only accounts for about a quarter of products currently available.   It’s the company everyone seems to love to hate, but that does not make its products unhealthy or unsafe.

The extreme activism and political pressure has resulted in a few jurisdictions severely restricting or banning genetically modified crops.  It has even lead to famine-stricken regions refusing food aid on the basis that it might contain genetically modified material.

Yet the tide now seems to be starting to turn, at least slightly.  A few prominent environmentalists and humanitarians are stepping up to the plate to denounce the knee-jerk fear of genetic engineering.

This article from the Daily Kos has recently been getting a great deal of attention:

GMO Truthers need to be kicked out of the Progressive movement

I consider myself to be part of the “far left.” I also have multiple scientific degrees and work in the health care field. I strongly believe that my science background has resulted in my Progressive ideology. The reason being is Progressivism is a fact and science based ideology, whereas Conservatism is a faith based ideology. Conservatives offer religious, faith based solutions to social problems. Moreover, they rely on faith in the “invisible hand” for solutions to the economy, and any free market outcome – whether good or bad – is a moral outcome regardless of its practicality. Hence, wanting to let the economy hit rock bottom after the financial crisis, because that was the “moral”/free market thing to do.

Why do I bring this up? Because a biologist recently wrote a diary criticizing the far left for being a home for GMO truthers. And, unfortunately, Meteor Blades recently promoted GMO nonsense on the front page.

I would probably say that most progressives don’t know much about GMO at all because this topic – especially the science behind it – is not discussed nearly as much as something like climate change or evolution. And this is perfectly all right! It is impossible to know everything about everything. You know GMO has something to do with big corrupt corporations (i.e. Monsanto) and there are a lot of people and groups you inherently trust who say GMO is bad, so you are naturally inclined to think of GMO as a negative thing.

It’s worth a look and I certainly hope it continues to get attention. The comments are predictable, unfortunately. There are a few who are standing up for reason, but many are still in fear of GMO’s.

Politics aside (and I would not consider myself to be part of the fart political left or modern progressivism in general) it is great to see this major segment starting to show some backlash against the GMO fear-mongers.

Political philosophy, after all, is a matter of value judgements and is not fallible. Everyone is entitled to their opinions and there’s no way to prove whether one ideology is right or wrong. But everyone is not entitled to their facts and the safety of GMO’s is an issue of scientific fact. Either you agree with it or you are wrong.