Monday, November 12, 2018

Forget fast food – air pollution could be causing childhood obesity (?)

Groan!  These stupid studies of roadside pollution never stop coming out.  This latest one ("Longitudinal associations of in utero and early life near-roadway air pollution with trajectories of childhood body mass index") is a wonderful example of sophisticated statistics being wasted on crap data.

The authors went to great trouble to get defensible data but ignored the elephant in the room:  income.  The people who live by busy roads are generally those who can afford no better:  The poor.  So this is a study of poverty.  And that poor people have worse health in all sorts of ways  is probably the most frequent finding in health research.  So their findings are most parsimoniously explained as yet another demonstration that poor people have worse health.  There is no need to invoke nitrogen oxide exposure as an explanation of anything.  Their findings prove NOTHING about NOx exposure. They are just an example of the hoary statistical fallacy that correlation is causation.

Note this recent study: "It’s poverty, not individual choice, that is driving extraordinary obesity levels"

Had they gathered a measure of income for each family they would have been able to use various statistical techniques (I personally like partial correlation) to remove the effect of income and see if there was anything else left to explain.  But they had no measure of income so could not do that.  If they had such data my guess would be that their quite weak effects would have vanished entirely once the effect of poverty was removed.

They did have a measure of education but some well educated people are poor and some poorly educated people are rich.  Bill Gates was a dropout and there are plenty of Ph.D. burger flippers around these days.  So education is not a reliable proxy for income.

The intellectual level of pollution researchers seems to be permanently stuck in the basement.  If a student had handed this in to me for an assignment, I would have failed it

Exposing children to nitrogen dioxide air pollution from vehicles in the early stages of their life could increase the risk of them becoming obese.

The new research, lead by a team from the University of Southern California and published in the Environmental Health journal, studied 2,318 children the region to see whether there was a link.

It found children living on or near busy main roads in the first year of their life were almost a kilogramme heavier by the age of 10 than those with low exposure.

The scientists were not able to examine how the harmful chemicals increased weight gain in the children but said inflammation of the brain could have caused anxiety-induced overeating and changes in fat metabolism..

They said other factors such as gender, ethnicity and parental education are unlikely that variations in diet could explain the strong link found.

A recent report suggested spending a long weekend in some of Europe’s famous cities could have the same health impacts as smoking up to four cigarettes.


Trump Calls Out ‘Gross Mismanagement’ as Cause of Massive California Wildfires

President Donald Trump gave an ultimatum to California early on Saturday morning, following his declaration of a state of emergency for the state ravaged by wildfires.

Trump tweeted that he believed these deadly, and expensive, wildfires are the cause of mismanagement of the forest.

The president also warned that if the West Coast state didn’t get its wildfire problem under control, he wouldn’t be handing out more federal funding.

“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” Trump tweeted early Saturday morning.

“Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”

This message went out just hours after the president signed off on federal assistance for the fire-ravaged areas of California, The Associated Press reported.

The fire in question is making its way across the town of Paradise in Northern California and has killed at least nine people.

As of Saturday morning, 6,700 homes and businesses had been engulfed in the blaze being called the Camp Fire, which makes it the most destructive fire in California’s history, Reuters reported.

“This event was the worst-case scenario. It was the event we have feared for a long time,” Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said at a Friday evening news conference. “Regrettably, not everybody made it out.”

Southern California is also battling fires, including the town of Thousand Oaks, the location of the recent mass shooting.

There have been evacuation orders for more than 200,000 residence, do to the threatening nature of this blaze, Reuters reported.

The reason for the Northern California Fire is still under investigation, but it is believed that the spark might have come from a Pacific Gas & Electric Company electrical line, which experienced a problem near where the fire broke out, according to the AP.

The utility company has already been sued for starting another large fire in California, Mercury News reported.

One of the first firefighters to the scene of the fire on Thursday morning estimated that the fire was about 10 acres large with a “really good wind on it.”

The same first responder warned that when the fire left the “maintained vegetation under the power lines” the fire would quickly accelerate when it hit the brush and timber, according to Mercury News.


A mixed vote on global warming: Ballot measures lose, but Democrats gain power

Environmentalists lost high-profile ballot fights this week to combat climate change and promote conservation. But they took heart that new Democratic control of the U.S. House of Representatives and several governorships could pave the way for future victories against fossil fuels and global warming.

The biggest loss came in Washington state, where a measure to tax carbon dioxide emissions lost 56 percent to 44 percent, despite backing from a broad coalition of Democratic, environmental, union and Native American groups. The measure's lopsided defeat squashed hopes that the tax would become a model for other states to raise the cost, and reduce the desirability, of fuels that produce Earth-warming greenhouse gases.

The environmental movement lost on three other ballot measures Tuesday, but there were victories, too. And Democrats are counting on a decided edge in House and gubernatorial contests to increase the pushback against President Donald Trump’s support of oil, gas and coal interests.

“There was more progress than not,” said National Wildlife Federation President Collin O’Mara. “But it’s still miles to go before we sleep.”

The defeats for environmentalists:

Arizona voters overwhelmingly defeated a measure that would have required the state to get half its power from renewable energy sources like wind and solar power by 2030. That’s a fairly modest goal, in an era when some states have set 100 percent green energy goals. (California’s deadline for that threshold is 2045.) But the campaign against Proposition 127, funded heavily by a major utility company, said it would force up the cost of electricity and prematurely close coal plants and the state’s lone nuclear plant.

Colorado voted 57 percent to 43 percent to reject rules that would have pushed oil and gas drilling substantially farther from homes, businesses, streams and rivers. The “fracking setbacks” measure might have blocked new wells on as much as 95 percent of the land in fossil fuel-rich counties. A major campaign by the industry said it would cost the state jobs and slow the booming economy.

Alaska’s “Stand for Salmon” initiative would have toughened the review of mining, oil and other development to protect the state’s favorite game fish. But Measure 1 lost 64 percent to 36 percent. Proponents said the habitat protection would have had the added benefit of controlling greenhouse gas emissions.

The victories:

Nevada voters approved a measure much like the one Arizona rejected, requiring the state to get 50 percent of its electricity from green sources by 2030. Question 6 got more than 59 percent of the vote, though the measure must be approved again in 2020 to take effect. That double-approval process can be problematic, as proven on Tuesday when the state’s voters reversed their verdict of two years ago and rejected a measure that would have eliminated the monopoly for the state’s lone electric utility, NV Energy.

Georgia passed Amendment 1, to put 90 percent of sales taxes on sporting goods toward conservation efforts. The estimated $200 million collected over a decade would help create parks and protect wildlife habitat.

How Democrats and Republicans won in the midterms

In a phone call Wednesday, a half dozen environmental groups called the midterm election a success, mostly because of the increased focus they expect their issues to get from a House that will now be controlled by Democrats.

They expect the Democrats to hold hearings and potentially subpoena evidence on Trump administration policies — particularly at the Interior Department, Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency — that have encouraged the burning of coal, oil and gas.

“We need intensive oversight,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters. “We have seen the Trump administration try to repeal [President Barack Obama’s] Clean Power Plan, try to repeal the clean car rules... So we need intense oversight of the executive actions at Interior, EPA and other places.”

The green organizations also said they hoped that Congress moves ahead with long-stalled plans to build new infrastructure and that Democrats insist the work include expansion of forests and clean energy facilities. “Any infrastructure package could have a lot of clean energy attached to it. That would have bipartisan legs,” said the wildlife federation’s O’Mara.

Advocates also had high hopes for continued progress on the state and local level. Democrats won seven governor’s races in states where Republicans had been in power, while Republicans gained control only in Alaska. And some Republican elected governors — like Charlie Baker in Massachusetts and Larry Hogan in Maryland — support policies to combat climate change. Baker in August signed a $2.4 billion package of global warming adaptation measures, and Hogan said Maryland would join states supporting the Paris Climate Accord, which Trump said the U.S. would abandon.

Image:Republican Gov. Charlie Baker acknowledges applause from supporters on election night in Boston.Winslow Townson / AP
The election results will accelerate action in the states, said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. Brune said that could mean the shutdown of more coal-fired power plants and tougher regulation of the oil, gas and coal industries. “Governors play a big role in all that,” Brune said.

The environmental leaders said little about the loss of the Washington carbon tax. Two years ago, the last time Washington voted on a carbon tax, proponents tried to lure conservatives and moderates by promising to give the money back to taxpayers by cutting sales and other taxes. This time, they said they would spend the money on environmental cleanup measures. Neither approach worked.

A supporter of the ballot campaign said that, despite the loss, polls still showed that Washingtonians “agree that we must address global warming by weaning our state off of fossil fuels.” Now that campaign will turn to getting 100 percent of the state’s electricity from green sources and “electrifying” cars and trucks, the No. 1 source of global warming pollution, said Bruce Speight, director of Environment Washington, an environmental research and advocacy group.

The head of a pro-fossil fuel group praised voters for rejecting the state ballot measures. Robert Dillon of the American Council for Capital Formation acknowledged in a statement that the Democratic House victories could slow permitting of fossil fuel projects.

But at the state level, he found cause for optimism below the governor’s mansions in the office of attorney general, where four states flipped from Democrat to Republican. Wrote Dillon: “This is positive for the outlook for pipelines and other energy projects.”


UK: Government-subsidised hybrid cars may never have been charged up

Tens of thousands of plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) bought with generous government grants may be burning as much fuel as combustion-engine cars.

​Data compiled for the BBC suggests that such vehicles in corporate fleets averaged just 40 miles per gallon (mpg), when they could have done 130.

Many drivers may never have unwrapped their charging cables, The Miles Consultancy said.

Subsidies for new PHEVs were recently scrapped, after seven years. The plug-in grant was introduced in 2011, gifting buyers up to £4,500 off new cars.

The incentive helped the UK become the biggest market for PHEVs in Europe.

The majority of the tens of thousands of eligible vehicles sold were bought by company fleets, including more than 70% of the 37,000 plug-in hybrids sold so far in 2018.

But data from The Miles Consultancy, a Cheshire firm which advises 300 blue-chip companies on fuel management, reveals that many businesses simply used the grant to save on buying regular cars.

Mileage records from 1,500 models, including Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Volvo vehicles, showed an average real-world mpg of 39.27, against an average manufacturer advertised mpg of 129.68.

Figures for 2,432 hybrids - including non plug-in varieties - showed an average real-world mpg of 49.06, still vastly lower than the potential range.

"There are some examples where employees aren't even charging these vehicles up," said Paul Hollick, The Miles Consultancy's managing director.

"The charge cables are still in the boot, in a cellophane wrapper, while the company and the employee are going in and out of petrol stations, paying for all of this additional fuel.

This practice, he added, was "ridiculous".

The UK government subsidised plug in hybrids for seven years
The British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA), which represents many fleets, said higher taxes on diesel cars incentivised companies to buy plug-ins, even if they had no intention of using their electric capability.

"We unfortunately have got a situation where a poorly designed tax regime is driving some poor behaviours," said Toby Poston, ​the BVRLA's communications director.

"We have got some situations where company drivers are choosing the vehicle based on their tax liability, rather than having the right vehicle for the right job."

Some companies, he explained, were buying PHEVs - which are best suited to local trips - for employees who did a lot of motorway driving.

When presented with The Miles Consultancy's findings, a Department for Transport spokesperson said the government believed plug-in hybrids "bring significant environmental benefits", but would "now focus its support on zero emission models like pure electric and hydrogen fuel cell cars".

Plug-in hybrid vehicles continue to receive some government support, through lower car tax rates, grants for charging infrastructure and, in some local authorities, free parking.


How Australian shark attack prevention technology can stop deaths

Greenies want us to leave the sharks alone so try to obstruct shark control measures

In the past 50 days, Australia’s east coast has witnessed five serious shark attacks, one fatal.

In September, Tasmanian mum Justine Barwick and 12-year-old Victorian Hannah Papps were both attacked in separate incidents in the Whitsunday Islands in Queensland.

A month later, a shark latched onto the arm of a mine worker off a New South Wales nudist beach, north of Newcastle, that resulted in him being admitted to hospital.

Last Monday, Daniel Christidis, a 33-year-old Victorian urologist, was also bitten by a shark in Cid Harbour in the Whitsundays on the first day of a yachting holiday. He didn’t survive the attack.

Three days later, another shark dragged a surfer from his board on NSW’s far north coast and left him with a 20cm bite wound on his calf.

The spate of incidents has sparked an urgent meeting between multiple levels of Queensland government, tourism representatives and marine experts to try and work out how to best prevent swimmers in the future being mauled.

The discussions have spanned everything from culls to better education of tourists and the possible use of a world-first technology designed to replace shark nets and drum lines.

There’s no real answer, yet.

“I don’t think scientists really have the answer at the moment, unfortunately. That’s what has people perplexed,” Perth-based shark biologist Amanda Elizabeth told

So far this year 22 shark attacks have been recorded around Australia, according to data provided to by Taronga Zoo. Ten of those occurred in Western Australia, seven in NSW, four in Queensland and another in Victoria.

How are attacks being prevented?

In Australia, there is a shift away from traditional prevention methods like shark nets and drum line bait traps to new technologies designed to ward the creatures off.

Ocean Guardian is an Australian company that develops the Shark Shield technology – the world’s only electrical deterrent system that emits electromagnetic pulses into water to scare off sharks.

“Sharks have these small little electrical receptors in their snout, they also have sight, smell and hearing, but they use these electrical receptors, the same we use touch,” Mr Lyon said.

“We create a very powerful electrical field, which causes the receptors to spasm, they get oversensitive and it turns the shark away.

According to Mr Lyon, the technology is the way forward, but has only been supported on a government level by Western Australia.

In WA, residents who buy Shark Shield packs for diving or surfing are offered government-backed rebates.

“Australia is known as the shark attack capital of the world and it affects our tourism by one percent - it costs the Australian economy nearly half-a-billion dollars a year.

“Technology is an answer, and it’s been proven to be an answer, so let’s embrace it and move on.




Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here or here


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