Infographics: Emergency alternatives to formula

I’m afraid I have to admit – the novel I’m working on seems to be draining all of my creative energy. It’s like my brain switched tracks, and now it can’t think about nonfiction. It’s taken me a while to get into a groove with the blog, and now this novel just slammed into my brain out of nowhere. I think I was as ready for that as I was ever going to be, but it means that I’ve got to figure out a new way to go about things. Hopefully I’ll get that dealt with sooner rather than later, but for now I think this is useful information for people to have, in light of the U.S. baby formula shortage.

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New research shows climate action will save lives in the short term. Our leaders will not care.

A new study has found that decarbonizing the U.S. energy system would save tens of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars every year, and this will do nothing to make those in power move any faster.

A new study adds to the case for urgent decarbonization of the U.S. energy system, finding that slashing air pollution emissions from energy-related sources would bring near-term public health gains including preventing over 50,000 premature deaths and save $608 billion in associated benefits annually.

I’m going to make a brief aside here. At this point I have no faith that anyone with the power to make a difference on climate change will actually do so any time soon. Those empowered by our system have made it clear, through decades of inaction, that they have no interest in doing anything to prevent that system from destroying us all.

It’s also worth noting that the ideas of saving lives and money don’t actually hold any value to the people running our world. That number of premature deaths isn’t far off from the number killed by the US for-profit healthcare system, but because that system makes a few people very rich, it’s protected by both major parties. It doesn’t matter that a universal system would save money and lives, because that’s not the point. Likewise, the folks running the U.S. government are perfectly fine pouring trillions of dollars into endless war all over the planet. They do not care about lives lost or money wasted, as long as they get some personal benefit in the process.

That said, I like research like this. I think this kind of thing is useful in making the case that there are far fewer downsides to climate action than some would have us believe. It’s also useful for making the case that those who claim to care about life, money, or climate change are just lying for votes, for as long as they’re not doing everything they can for real climate action. When it’s clear that the truth is not enough to move the powerful to action, we need to consider how research like this can be used.

Published Monday in the journal GeoHealth, the analysis by Mailloux and fellow UW-Madison researchers focuses on emissions of fine particulate matter, referred to as PM2.5, and of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from the electric power, transportation, building, and industrial sectors.

Those sectors account for 90% of U.S. CO2-equivalent greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the paper notes. The bulk of the emissions from the sectors comes from fossil fuel use, though the study points to “a substantial portion” of particulate pollution stemming from wood and bark burning and “a small portion” resulting from non-combustion sources.

“Many of the same activities and processes that emit planet-warming GHGs also release health-harming air pollutant emissions; the current air quality-related health burden associated with fossil fuels is substantial,” the analysis states.

The study also notes that “the current pace of decarbonization in the U.S. is still incompatible with a world in which global warming is limited to 1.5°C or 2°C above pre-industrial levels,” and that “deep and rapid cuts in GHG emissions are needed in all energy-related sectors—including electric power, transportation, buildings, and industry—if states and the country as a whole are to achieve reductions consistent with avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.”

The researchers measured the potential benefits of the removal of the air pollution, ranging from all-cause mortality to non-fatal heart attacks and respiratory-related hospital admissions, using the Environmental Protection Agency’s CO-Benefits Risk Assessment tool.

They also looked at the impacts of both U.S.-wide and regional action on the reductions; they found that nationwide actions delivered the biggest benefits, though “all regions can prevent hundreds or thousands of deaths by eliminating energy-related emissions sources within the region, which shows the local benefits of local action to mitigate air quality issues.”

According to the analysis, the pollution reductions would save 53,200 premature deaths and provide $608 billion in annual benefits. The avoided deaths account for 98% of the monetary benefits. But apart from avoidance of human lives lost, the particulate matter reductions offer further benefits including up to 25,600 avoided non-fatal heart attacks, as well as preventing 5,000 asthma-related emergency room visits and avoiding 3.68 million days of work lost.

I know the tone of this post has been gloomy. It might be possible for me to not be consumed by frustration at the state of things, but if so, I’ve yet to figure out how. That said, it is good to know that the right choice will have benefits beyond “merely” keeping the planet hospitable to human life. As much as I’m afraid I’ll be saying this until I die of old age, it’s good that the only real obstacles to a better world are political. It means that we know we can do things differently, and make a better world in the process.

I think it’s also worth pointing out that the lives saved by taking these measures would be disproportionately poor and non-white. I’m in favor of real, targeted reparations, but the reality is that most actions we take to benefit all of humanity will benefit all humanity, if we actually do the work right. It should come as no surprise that those people most subjected to the ravages of pollution are also those with the least social and political power.

This study will do no more to move our so-called leaders than have the studies that came before it, but as with those prior studies, it makes it clear that we need to take matters into our own hands. Those who we’ve foolishly empowered to solve problems for us will not act until it is far too late. Sometimes that knowledge makes me despair, but then I remember that if we can figure out how to actually take the steps, a better world is within reach.


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Tegan Tuesday: Scientists solve one part of the SIDS puzzle

I was probably around 5 when I first learned about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). A friend of the family, one year younger than I, had unusual sleep habits and I brought my new-found knowledge of him to my mother. I almost certainly wanted confirmation that I was the more-grown up with better habits than this friend, as I have been known to be petty and selfish, especially as a kid. My friend lived down the street with his family. Our moms were friends, and my sister and I often played with the three kids, so we naturally competed in a lot of ways. My mom instead told me how this friend, my sister’s playmate, was actually the fourth child born to his family, that the children had lost an older brother, the second child, before he turned one. That because of this mysterious, untreatable, unknowable disease that kills babies was now known to be part of this family, their mom had to fight to keep this youngest child alive. The third child was not affected by SIDS, but the youngest nearly died dozens if not hundreds of times, but was on monitors that would wake his mother up to save his life.

I remember it being one of the scariest things I had ever heard about. My great-grandmother lost a child to cradle death – as it was called in the 1930s – and according to family history, she blamed herself for what she might have done better until the day she died. I know that my mother’s friend, the mother of my friends, still feels guilt and shame for having saved one child but not two from this syndrome in 1985. And my mom told me how, because it comes to sleeping children under a certain age, there are a lot of recommendations about how to hopefully prevent such deaths. Limited blankets, pillows, or stuffed animals in the crib; no soft mattresses; only letting babies sleep on their back. I developed a horror of having my face covered during this time period, because what if I fell asleep and died? I still am uncomfortable sleeping without my nose breathing air beyond the covers, even though I am well beyond the range of SIDS! The Mayo Clinic still lists the sleeping guidelines I learned in the early 1990s as the recommended preventative for SIDS. With the syndrome being sudden and unexplained, there was very little conclusive research expanding beyond the knowledge of the ’80s and ’90s. In 1994, the US ran an education campaign called “Back to Sleep” that did successfully raise awareness of safe sleep practices and SIDS cases dropped by 53%. Even with this wide-spread knowledge, however, SIDS remains the leading cause of mortality for infants under 12 months in age, at a rate of approximately 1 in 1000 births per year. That was the state of things. Research continued, but it seemed like everyone was coming up empty, at least when it came to figuring out either causes or new preventative measures.

At least, it seemed like everyone was coming up empty until this year. An Australian research team (Carmel Harrington, Naz Al Hafid, and Karen Waters, of the SIDS and Sleep Apnoea Research Group of The Children’s Hospital in Westmead, New South Wales) was one of many that were frustrated with the limited information and comfort modern medicine could offer parents.

But many children whose parents took every precaution still died from SIDS. These parents were left with immense guilt, wondering if they could have prevented their baby’s death.

Dr. Carmel Harrington, the lead researcher for the study, was one of these parents. Her son unexpectedly and suddenly died as an infant 29 years ago. In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Harrington explained what she was told about the cause of her child’s death.

“Nobody could tell me. They just said it’s a tragedy. But it was a tragedy that didn’t sit well with my scientific brain.”

Since then, she’s worked to find the cause of SIDS, both for herself and for the medical community as a whole. She went on to explain why this discovery is so important for parents whose babies suffered from SIDS.

“These families can now live with the knowledge that this was not their fault,” she said.

It was already known that there were three factors that caused SIDS: a) environmental (such as the bedding); b) age (between 1 and 12 months of age); and c) biological susceptibility (yet to be determined, but suspected to relate to the body’s ability to wake). The new study, officially published in this June’s Lancet, demonstrates that they have started to crack the code finding a bio marker for those in danger of SIDS. Butyrylcholinesterase (BChE) is an enzyme that appears to be one part of the complex system that is autonomic function, specifically related to waking a sleeping body. In particular, it is one of the enzymes that hydrolyzes Acetylcholine (ACh), the primary neurotransmitter of the parasympathetic nervous system. In testing blood samples from 722 live births collected from 2016-2020 with 67 dead (26 SIDS and 41 non-SIDS), the research indicated that those infants who perished of SIDS showed lowered levels of BChE, while the non-SIDS deaths remained at the same levels as the control group. The blood samples were from the routine “heel prick” or Guthrie Test for a handful of dangerous diseases such as cystic fibrosis and phenylketonuria (PKU). As there is more than one enzyme regulating the ability to wake up, the researchers initially tested for both Acetylcholinesterase (AChE) and BChE, but the storage of samples denatured AChE beyond current ability to test.

Currently, this is as far as this new research has gone. The next stage in SIDS research around the globe will be to develop reliable tests to assess the risk to newborns before children have to die. In the meantime, it’s important to keep following safe sleeping practices for infants who’re at risk. Hopefully in the next decade, SIDS will be join the list of concerns tested with the heel prick!


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Tucker Carlson is a stochastic terrorist.

I don’t have a lot of energy today. Tegan came down with the same stomach bug as me, one day after, so while we both seem to be better, neither of us has gotten enough sleep. That means, of course, that today’s “content” is a video. In this case, it’s from David Doel at The Rational National:

Carlson has been increasingly blatant in pushing fascist propaganda, both the white supremacist “great replacement” bile mentioned in the video, and also the old-school tactic of making psuedo-leftist criticisms of capitalism, and then instead of real solutions, offering nationalism and bigotry as the answer. We know what follows from rhetoric like this, and I’m willing to bet Carlson knows it too. Just as I think his fascist content is made very deliberately, I also think he knows that his content will result in attacks like this, just as Bill O’Reilly knew the consequences of constantly calling George Tiller “the baby killer”. At this point, I think Occam’s Razor cuts in favor of malice as the explanation, rather than ignorance or incompetence.

Everything I’ve seen makes me think that this is the kind of result Carlson is looking for.

Edit: Just wanted to add this:

When I was one year old, the government of Philadelphia firebombed its own people

The United States is a country that was founded on white supremacy, and that has yet to actually address the myriad of atrocities and injustices that followed from that aspect of the nation’s founding. The current “CRT” panic from the right wing is a not-so-subtle effort to prevent the teaching of any history that might undermine fanatical patriotism, particularly among white students. From what I can tell, the conservative movement is horrified that people have been learning about things like the 1921 pogrom in Tulsa Oklahoma. Personally, I love to see it. Lately I’ve heard a lot of fascists online talking about their belief that history is cyclical, and that “their time” is coming, especially with the recent backlash against social progress. There’s a degree to which belief in such cycles can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you have hugely popular people like Joe Rogan spreading a mix of fatalism, bigotry, and machismo, and talking about ancient prophecies, I think there’s a real danger of people trying to create hard times, or at minimum shrugging off dangerous trends in society.

So I think it’s worth remembering both the kinds of things that can come from a racist law enforcement system, and remembering that this stuff is not remotely cyclical. Even a cursory glance at history shows “hard times” happening all over the world on any given date. Sadly, state violence against black neighborhoods didn’t end in the 1920s. On May 13th 1985, the Philedelphia Police Department firebombed a neighborhood:

In case it wasn’t clear, officials made the decision to let the fire spread:

In May 1985, after attempts to evict the group from its home in West Philadelphia, the city flew a helicopter over it and dropped a bomb. The explosives resulted in a raging fire, which the fire department refused to control. Various accounts suggest that police began shooting at members attempting to flee. Only two people escaped, and six adults and five children died in the blaze.

This is all bad enough, but because the U.S. is what it is, it gets worse. See – ordinarily when people die, regardless of the circumstances, their remains are treated according to the wishes of loved ones. It’s generally considered bad form to just… keep the remains without permission.

A forensic pathologist produced reports on the human remains found in the debris, including two sets of bones identified as belonging to Tree Africa, 14, and Delisha Africa, 12.

Mike Africa Jr., a current MOVE member who spent his childhood with the group, remembered Tree as fearless, someone who would find the tallest tree in the park and race to its peak. “No one could climb higher than she could,” he said in an interview this month. “She never feared the way up.” Delisha, he said, was always right behind her.

After an investigation into the bombing,the remains were given to anthropologist Alan Mann by the city Medical Examiner’s Office, according to the MOVE Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission letters, for further analysis. At the time, he worked at the University of Pennsylvania. When Mann transferred to Princeton University in 2001, he reportedly took the bones with him.

Researchers connected to the schools also used the girls’ bones in an online forensic anthropology teaching video, without permission of the relatives’ families.

That the MOVE bones were still being held by the universities was not widely known before revelations published this week by online news site Billy Penn. It has led to public outrage as controversy builds over American museums’ display and study of human remains. Just last week, the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology pledged to repatriate another group of problematic human remains known as the Morton Collection.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said Thursday that he was “extremely disturbed” by the mishandling of the girls’ remains and that the city is reviewing its internal records from the time of the bombing.

On Thursday, MOVE member Pam Africa told The RemiX Morning Show her organization had never been contacted about the remains.

“None of these monsters have called one MOVE person,” Africa said. “Tree has a mother, Consuela Africa, who did 16 years in jail.”

Fortunately, last year the remains were found after Philadelphia’s health commissioner Thomas Farley was found to have ordered their destruction without notifying anyone – let alone the family. This stuff isn’t ancient history. I was a year old when this happened, and Farley’s attempt to destroy the remains was in 2017. White supremacy is still very much the default in how a lot of the United States operates. Black Americans have been saying this for decades, it has become pretty fucking clear in recent years just how right they were.

Right now the country is in the grips of a massive, well-funded effort to roll back as many civil rights as possible. Whatever you may have been told, the “moral arc of the universe” is a comforting fiction. There is no inevitable good outcome for us. If we want the world to get better, we have to understand what it was, what it is, and we have to work to make it into something that it never has been before.


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Are the rich safe from climate breakdown? Yes, and we should do something about that

Peter Kalmus is a climate scientist, and a climate activist. He’s doing work that’s desperately needed, and deserves our support. That said, I’m not sure whether I agree with how he framed a wildfire in California. The fire destroyed several multimillion dollar mansions near Laguna Beach on May 12th, prompting Kalmus to point out that the rich aren’t safe from Earth breakdown.

This feels like one of those times when something is technically correct – no human is safe from climate breakdown – but maybe less correct from both a practical and a tactical perspective. I admit that this may be a bit of a petty hair to split, but for some reason my brain hasn’t been cooperating today, but it’s happy to provide whatever this post is. I want to say again, because the internet seems to thrive on bullshit controversy, that I’m not “attacking” Peter Kalmus. If you want to categorize this post, you can view it as a well-meaning propagandist musing aloud about his craft. Ok? Ok.

There are three reasons why I think this post may be a little misguided. The first is that in practical terms, the rich are safe from climate breakdown. They’re safe from it in their heads, and their wealth will protect them from it for a long time. I think it’s fair to assume that everyone who owned those mansions had good insurance plans for them. Maybe there are some people with houses like that who would be ruined by the loss, but my impression is that for the most part, people with homes like that tend to have other homes in other locations. They can relocate without much difficulty. They might lose things of sentimental value, and they might even become slightly less wealthy, but that’s not the same as what happens when a normal person’s home burns.

The amount of safety will depend on how obscenely rich they are, but for the people at the top – the ones who could make a real difference on the climate issue if they cared to – it could well be more than a lifetime before their wealth runs out, if we don’t change how the world works, and take it away from them.

My second quibble is with what seems like an appeal to the wealthy. I see the value in trying to get those with power to do something, but I don’t think this accounts for who they really are – they’re people whose lives have demonstrated to them that they really can spend their way out of any problem. They are also people whose power and wealth came from having the means to make the world better, and choosing to enrich themselves instead. My impression of history is that they won’t learn the error of their ways until they are forced to by circumstance. If climate change is that circumstance, then it may be too late for the rest of us by then – it will take time for the wealthy to exhaust their resources.

Remember – these are people who can just buy themselves a state-of-the-art bunker on a whim, and stock it with a decade’s worth of food and water, without even considering where that money’s going to come from. They will try to create a neo-feudal climate hellscape with order enforced by paramilitaries fitted with shock collars, and by the time that fully falls apart on them, everything will be much, much worse. I don’t think they believe that they’re not safe, and I don’t think we can afford to wait for them to find out.

Finally, I worry that appeals like this perpetuate the idea that we have to ask our rulers to save the world. To quote Frederick Douglass, power concedes nothing without a demand, and I think the whole world will be far better off if we get our acts together and make that demand as soon as possible. The alternative is waiting until climate change scours away all of their power, and if that’s the path we take, they’ll use as many of us as human shields as possible to protect themselves. How many people will die by then? How much of our dwindling hope will be gone?

We should proceed as though the wealthy are safe from this global catastrophe, at least in the time frames that really matter right now. They’re safe for the same reason everyone else is not, and that should make us angry. They’re safe from climate change, and as long as that’s the case, humanity itself will continue to be in danger.


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Trees and grasslands are great and all, but wetlands are how the cool kids capture carbon!

I’ve made no secret of my belief that our best bet for carbon capture and storage is to use plants. They’ve got an efficient system for pulling carbon dioxide out of the air, and they turn it into cellulose, which can be used or stored in a variety of ways. It’s not that I oppose the more high-tech solutions, just that as it stands, we very much need to be using the tools we already have.

The most popular candidate for plant-based carbon capture tends to be trees, and it’s not hard to see why. With a tree, you can really believe that it’s storing a huge amount of carbon. It’s this big, heavy, solid thing that can sometimes last for centuries. It’s also not hard to believe that something that size would have a lot of mass underground to keep it upright. The runner-up in popularity is grasslands, which store pretty much all of their carbon underground, and seem to actually be a better ecosystem for carbon capture.

Now a new contestant has entered the race. Wetlands – long understood to be vitally important ecosystems, and dangerously under-valued –  appear to be even better for carbon capture than grasslands!

DURHAM, N.C. – Human activities such as marsh draining for agriculture and logging are increasingly eating away at saltwater and freshwater wetlands that cover only 1% of Earth’s surface but store more than 20% of all the climate-warming carbon dioxide absorbed by ecosystems worldwide.

A new study published May 5 in Science by a team of Dutch, American and German scientists shows that it’s not too late to reverse the losses.

The key to success, the paper’s authors say, is using innovative restoration practices — identified in the new paper — that replicate natural landscape-building processes and enhance the restored wetlands’ carbon-storing potential.

And doing it on a large scale.

“About 1 percent of the world’s wetlands are being lost each year to pollution or marsh draining for agriculture, development and other human activities,” said Brian R. Silliman, Rachel Carson Distinguished Professor of Marine Conservation Biology at Duke University, who coauthored the study.

“Once disturbed, these wetlands release enormous amounts of CO2 from their soils, accounting for about 5 percent of global CO2 emissions annually,” Silliman said. “Hundreds, even thousands of years of stored carbon are exposed to air and start to rapidly decompose and release greenhouse gases. The result is an invisible reverse waterfall of CO2  draining into the atmosphere. The wetlands switch from being carbon sinks to sources.”

“The good news is, we now know how to restore these wetlands at a scale that was never before possible and in a way that both stops this release of carbon and re-establishes the wetland’s carbon storing capacity,” he said.

What makes most wetlands so effective at carbon storage is that they are formed and held together by plants that grow close to each other, Silliman explained. Their dense above- and below-ground mats of stems and roots trap nutrient-rich debris and defend the soil against erosion or drying out — all of which helps the plants to grow better and the soil layer to build up, locking in a lot more CO2 in the process.

In the case of raised peat bogs, the process works a little differently, Silliman noted. Layers of living peat moss on the surface act as sponges, holding enormous amounts of rainwater that sustain its own growth and keeps a much thicker layer of dead peat moss below it permanently under water. This prevents the lower layer of peat, which can measure up to 10 meters thick, from drying out, decomposing, and releasing its stored carbon back into the atmosphere. As the living mosses gradually build up, the amount of carbon stored below ground continually grows.

Successful restorations must replicate these processes, he said.

“More than half of all wetland restorations fail because the landscape-forming properties of the plants are insufficiently taken into account,” said study coauthor Tjisse van der Heide of the Royal Institute for Sea Research and the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. Planting seedlings and plugs in orderly rows equidistant from each other may seem logical, but it’s counter-productive, he said.

“Restoration is much more successful when the plants are placed in large dense clumps, when their landscape-forming properties are mimicked, or simply when very large areas are restored in one go,” van der Heide said.

“Following this guidance will allow us to restore lost wetlands at a much larger scale and increase the odds that they will thrive and continue to store carbon and perform other vital ecosystem services for years to come,” Silliman said. “The plants win, the planet wins, we all win.”

Silliman and van der Heide conducted the new study with scientists from the Netherlands’ Royal Institute for Sea Research, Utrecht University, Radboud University, the University of Groningen, the University of Florida, Duke University, and Greifswald University.

By synthesizing data on carbon capture from recent scientific studies, they found that oceans and forests hold the most CO2 globally, followed by wetlands.

“But when we looked at the amount of CO2 stored per square meter, it turned out that wetlands store about five times more CO2 than forests and as much as 500 times more than oceans,” says Ralph Temmink, a researcher at Utrecht University, who was first author on the study.

Humanity has a complicated relationship with wetlands. They’re not very compatible with how we’ve been doing things recently, and they tend to produce vast amounts of biting insects. Whether or not you think it’s a good thing, filling in wetlands in the United States is part of why cities like Boston and New York City don’t have to struggle with the burdens of endemic malaria (mass insecticide use is probably a bigger reason, especially in the south).

That said, it makes sense that marshes would do well for carbon capture, since water isn’t a limitation on photosynthesis in that kind of environment. As part of reshaping how we interact with the ecosystems around us, I think we would do very well to find a better way to live with wetlands. What’s more, much of the world has access to another “natural tool” for creating wetlands!

When I put up that beaver video the other day, I mentioned on twitter that I think we should form a cooperative relationship with beavers the way we have with dogs. I was mostly joking, but the reality is that they are phenomenal at creating wetland ecosystems, when humans don’t mess with their water supply or kill them. Simply restoring them to their historic range – especially in Eurasia – would probably pay dividends in ecosystem health and carbon capture down the road.

At the same time, we can work with sea level rise to set ourselves up for better carbon capture in the decades to come. Part of re-locating low-lying coastal communities should be de-developing those areas on our way out. Pull out as much as possible in the way of reusable materials, and pollutants, and then look into reshaping the land and planting vegetation to encourage salt marshes to grow as the water rises.

As I keep saying, we have the resources and understanding to actually deal with climate change. That doesn’t mean it’ll be easy, even if we manage to overcome the political obstacles, but the possibilities presented by everything we know are vast. The odds are not in our favor, but I believe that far from settling for bare survival, we can still make a better world.


If you like the content of this blog, please share it around. If you like the blog and you have the means, please consider joining my lovely patrons in paying for the work that goes into it. Due to my immigration status, I’m currently prohibited from conventional wage labor, so for the next couple years at least this is going to be my only source of income. You can sign up for as little as $1 per month (though more is obviously welcome), to help us make ends meet – every little bit counts!