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Our Daily Planet: Pregnant Women and Air Pollution Risk, Not Ready for Hurricane Season, and the White Shark Cafe
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By: Monica Medina and Miro Korenha

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Wednesday, May 16th, 2018

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 Air

Air Pollution Exposure In Pregnancy Tied To High Blood Pressure in Kids 

According to a new study out on Monday by the American Heart Association found that children of mothers who were exposed in their third trimester to higher levels of fine particulate pollution — the tiny airborne matter that causes haze in many cities around the world — were at a 61 percent higher risk of elevated blood pressure.  One theory for why this is happening is that the tiny particles in PM pollution may cause intrauterine inflammation in the mothers, thus altering fetal growth patterns and “programming a baby to have a higher risk for blood pressure during childhood.” 

There are many studies showing that PM -- particulate matter pollution -- is very bad for your lungs and thus for human health but this is the first focusing on pregnant women.
  • The study was conducted in Boston under relatively normal air pollution conditions - the mothers in the study were not exposed to extremely high levels of particulates. 
  • The highest level of pollution exposure the mothers experienced was 11.8 micrograms per cubic meter or greater, which is just below the EPA’s air-quality standard of 12 micrograms per cubic meter. 
Why This Matters: High blood pressure in kids that is tied to air pollution lasts beyond childhood, according to the study, causing a higher risk of hypertension and heart disease later in life.  The new study provides a rationale for lowering the PM air quality standard to ensure that Americans are breathing healthful air.  Doctors conducting the study recommended that mothers may want to take precautions against pollution during the third trimester, such as exercising indoors if they live in places with high levels of air pollution.  The city of London is so concerned about air pollution, it is considering imposing car-free days in an attempt to tackle the city’s air pollution crisis that experts say is responsible for thousands of early deaths each year.  

Why This Matters More:  This is the very type of study that EPA may now choose to ignore because of its lack of "transparency" about the subjects in the study.  That means we might not know and be able to prevent this type of problem, which of course will only lead to more preventable health crises and higher health care costs.  
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 Land

Great Plains Brace For Drought, Billions in Losses

Farmers in West Texas and other parts of the Great Plains are preparing for the worst this year due to drought.  Only two inches of rain have fallen in West Texas since last October when most years would have seen ten or more inches during the same period of time.  The U.S. government's drought monitor is predicting a drought ranging from “severe” to “exceptional” in the Great Plains of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.  This is the nation's breadbasket -- home to one of the most fertile farming areas in the country.  In Texas alone, agriculture generates about $12 billion in economic activity impacting the agriculture-based economy, from cotton to cattle to farming-equipment sales, the Wall Street Journal reports.  “It’s going to be in the billions in terms of crop loss,” said Darren Hudson, director of the International Center for Agricultural Competitiveness at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

Things were already bad: the drought has dealt a blow to two other major pillars of the region’s ag economy: winter wheat and cattle. An estimated 60% of the 4.7 million acres of winter wheat in Texas as of May 7 was considered “poor to very poor,” and Kansas, the top winter-wheat-producing state, is expected to have its smallest crop in almost 30 years. The complete lack of precipitation is reminiscent of the devastating drought of 2011 when Texas agriculture lost $7.6 billion, the worst losses on record in the state.  The drought has also caused wildfires in Oklahoma and led to the deaths of more than 100 wild horses in early May on the Navajo Nation in Arizona.

Why This Matters:  We have already seen that snowpack in the Colorado system is low and water supplies will be short in the Southwestern U.S.  And now this blow to the Great Plains could cause ripple effects to the U.S. economy, including higher prices for food.  The economy may be booming in other parts of the country, but here it will just be a bust.  
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 Climate Change

2-Week Countdown to Hurricane Season and America is Unprepared

Hurricane season officially begins June 1st and the Hurricane Genesis & Outlook (HUGO) Project at Coastal Carolina University anticipates a “normal to above normal” hurricane season in 2018. The HUGO outlook predicts that there will be a range of 11 to 18 named tropical storms, with from 5 to 9 becoming hurricanes, and 2 to 5 becoming major hurricanes during the 2018 season (which ends Nov. 30). In her piece this week, Emily Atkin, asked disaster preparedness experts and scientists if America was better prepared to face hurricanes this year and the answer was a resounding "no." While humanitarian organizations may be better equipped to distribute aid after disasters strike, our infrastructure is still woefully ill-equipped to handle powerful storms like Harvey, Maria, and Irma

In Puerto Rico, 30,000 people still lack power and little has been done to fortify the electric grid and protect it from another big storm. This is partially due to incompetence on behalf of the Puerto Rican Power Electric Authority but also because of federal government neglect. In March the US Army Corps of Engineers scaled back the number of contractors working on rebuilding the grid while 100,000 people were still without power. In Florida (as reported by the Tampa Bay Times) the legislature “failed to pass many of the bills they identified as essential” to lessening the damage from future storms. Nothing was done to fix Florida's decrepit sewage systems, which saw mass overflows after Hurricane Irma’s flooding—but a bill was passed to allow companies to dump treated sewage into drinking water sources. Similarly, Houston has also been reluctant to spend on flooding mitigation infrastructure. So far the only sign this could change came from a letter signed by Texas Governor, Greg Abbott, signing off on an August emergency special election to approve as much as $2.5B in bonds to finance major flood-control projects

Why This Matters: The Washington Post put it best, we're making hurricanes worse, we're also not preparing for them

Go Deeper: Yesterday's storms in the northeastern US were a scary preview or hurricane season. 
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 People

Graphic: Claudine Hellmuth/E&E News, Photo: MaxPixel
Russian Facebook Ads Push Anti-Environment Agenda 

As E&E News reported, Last May, in the days just before and after a U.S. airstrike in Syria, a Russia-backed agency attempted to push U.S. Facebook users in an anti-interventionist direction, according to new data released by House Democrats. The sponsored posts are part of a trove of some 3,500 Facebook ads released last week by the Democratic minority of the House Intelligence Committee.

From May 15 to 17, 2017, the foreign operatives sponsored an ad decrying a proposed budget increase for the U.S. military. It targeted voting-age U.S. Facebook users who had either "liked" the group Born Liberal or were friends with fans of the page. "For example, such an increase for the Department of Defense means 31% cut in the EPA's budget and a 29% cut in the State Department," said the ad, which featured a cartoon of the Pentagon flushing money down the toilet. "Environment, diplomacy, alternative energy, housing or infrastructure repair? Not today."

Why This Matters: A hostile foreign government tried to capitalize on America's lack of awareness about environmental issues and weaponized that apathy to try and manipulate the outcome of our election. Part of the reason we started ODP in the first place was to combat these false equivalencies that protecting our planet comes at the expense of our national security or the economy. In fact, protecting our planet can only bolster national security. and help keep our economy strong
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 Animals   

Photo: PETA

Please Say No to Roadside Zoos

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is suing Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) for renewing the licenses of five roadside zoos despite the alleged mistreatment of their animals. PETA is arguing that the USDA (who is tasked with overseeing licensed zoos in the country) renewed Animal Welfare Act (AWA) licenses for five applicants that exhibit animals at roadside zoos in Arizona, Maryland, Colorado, Texas, North Carolina and Ohio despite having information showing the applicants chronically subject animals to inhumane care and treatment.

The facilities named in the lawsuit are The Camel Farm in Yuma, Ariz.; Deer Haven Mini Zoo in Keymar, Md.; Laughing Valley Ranch in Idaho Springs, Colo.; Bayou Wildlife Park in Alvin, Texas; and Henry Hampton, who operates the Lazy 5 Ranch in Mooresville, N.C. and The Farm at Walnut Creek in Sugarcreek, Ohio.

Why This Matters: Roadside zoos like the ones listed in the suit are not accredited by the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (the AZA exists to accredit zoos that meet higher standards) and often subject animals to cruelty and inhumane conditions. Even zoos that do receive AWA licenses from the USDA can have repeated violations. As Richard Farinato, former captive wildlife specialist at The Humane Society of the United States and a decades-long advocate who has traveled to zoos around the globe maintains, the federal laws and regulations in this country, including the AWA, are too weak to effectively protect zoo animals. "The real problem is that we don't have federal regulation that has any teeth in it. It is too general - and rarely enforced," he said. 

Go Deeper: Zoos (even the AZA accredited ones) have come under pressure in recent years to make exhibits more humane as science has uncovered that animals are far smarter and more feeling than previously understood, giving new insights into how they may suffer from anxiety and depression when they are removed from nature. Some zoos like the Philadelphia Zoo are building state of the art facilities to implement the Zoo360 concept giving animals more interactive habitats. Many other visitors are still opting to visit wildlife sanctuaries where animals are free to roam vast acreage. If you're thinking of bringing your family to a zoo or aquarium this summer you can find an AZA-accredited one here or find a wildlife sanctuary here, but please, don't visit roadside zoos and support the abuse of animals! 

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 Oceans

One Cool Thing: A Feast at the White Shark Cafe

Biologically significant areas of the high seas are overwhelmingly under-protected.  But a new initiative of the Aspen Institute is aiming to change that.  The key is identifying those areas deserving of protection through cutting-edge science and filmmaking -- which is just what the Aspen Institute intends to do, along with ocean champion Dr. Sylvia Earle and her team of top-notch environmental filmmakers, and other philanthropic organizations.

The first area they have set their sights on is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean -- halfway between Hawaii and Baja California -- known as the "White Shark Cafe" because of the number of great white sharks believed to visit it each year.  Now, thanks to cutting-edge technology, a team of scientists from Stanford University has thousands of hours of data from great whites they previously tagged off California and just retrieved during an expedition to the "Cafe." Using drones and other surveying equipment, what they discovered on the expedition, in addition to the shark tags, is a carbon loaded layer in the ocean starting at about 100 meters down that is full of life -- it had not been visible in satellite imagery -- a perfect place for sharks to "carbo load."

Why This Matters:  Areas like the White Shark Cafe are critically important - but belong to no one, making them hard to protect other than by UN designation as a "World Heritage" site.  The scientists hope to show that protecting areas like this one -- even in the open ocean -- is important to conserving the productivity of the ocean and its greatest and smallest inhabitants.  

To Go Deeper:  Watch the video below and visit the White Shark Cafe website.
Tag Along With Stanford Researchers and Visit the White Shark Cafe Here
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