News You Can Use

Studies show that living in cities produce a higher risk of mental health issues 

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According to an abstract published by the US National Library of Medicine
National Institutes of Health, the stress of living in cities (which half the population does) results in a higher risk of paranoia, schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression.

It’s not a surprise to anyone who lives in cities. I’m writing this in New York, which is going through a heatwave and smells like pee and my rent is half my income, but it’s okay because there’s a lot of brunch places?

Anyway.

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Studies have shown that the risk for serious mental illness is generally higher in cities compared to rural areas. Epidemiological studies have associated growing up and living in cities with a considerably higher risk for schizophrenia. However, correlation is not causation and living in poverty can both contribute to and result from impairments associated with poor mental health. Social isolation and discrimination as well as poverty in the neighborhood contribute to the mental health burden while little is known about specific interactions between such factors and the built environment.

Cities are rough. They’re a lot of work and if you can’t hack it or you have too many bad breaks then the stress will get you.

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The solution? Connect with the natural world.

Cityscapes can be bleak, so visit a park. Better yet, work to encourage green spaces in the buildings and city blocks so we don’t feel constantly hemmed in by concrete and glass monoliths. Planting significantly more trees will freshen the air and cool the city. Fountains are calming, and cleaner lakes will be of vital aid to people’s mental health.

Wanna save the world? Scientists share where to plant trees and how many are needed 

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Here’s some solid numbers for you; if we plant trees on 2.2 billion acres on different places around the world in areas marked for reforestation, we can capture two-thirds of man-made emissions.

The scientists at the Crowther Lab of ETH Zurich published these findings in a study in the journal Science. According to their research, this step would be the most effective method to combat climate change.

The Crowther Lab at ETH Zurich investigates nature-based solutions to climate change. In their latest study, the researchers showed for the first time where in the world new trees could grow and how much carbon they would store.

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From the GNN article:

The researchers calculated that under the current climate conditions, Earth’s land could support 4.4 billion hectares of continuous tree cover. That is 1.6 billion more than the currently existing 2.8 billion hectares. Of these 1.6 billion hectares, 0.9 billion hectares fulfill the criterion of not being used by humans. This means that there is currently an area of the size of the US available for tree restoration. Once mature, these new forests could store 205 billion tonnes of carbon: about two thirds of the 300 billion tonnes of carbon that has been released into the atmosphere as a result of human activity since the Industrial Revolution.

The study also shows which parts of the world are most suited to forest restoration. The greatest potential can be found in just six countries: Russia (151 million hectares); the US (103 million hectares); Canada (78.4 million hectares); Australia (58 million hectares); Brazil (49.7 million hectares); and China (40.2 million hectares).

Conservationists Purchased Temperate Rain Forest in Canada and Protects 40 At Risk Species 

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The Nature Conservancy of Canada is a large non-profit that focuses on environmental protection efforts within Canada. They have recently achieved success in one of their biggest initiatives: they have secured the safety of a rare temperate rainforest.

The national land trust declared its purchase of the Next Creek Watershed as “filling the hole that has been in the center” of the Darkwoods Conservation Area, the largest private land conservation project ever achieved in Canada. Darkwoods protects the habitats of the only remaining herd of mountain caribou in the region and nearly 40 other confirmed species at-risk, including the grizzly bear, wolverine, peregrine falcon, and others. It’s also the home of a forest ecosystem that holds the highest tree diversity in British Columbia, which would roughly equal to the annual carbon footprint of over 500,000 Canadians.

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Thanks to the financing by the Canadian government, businesses, private citizens, and other conservation groups, the NCC was able to save this area. The Minister of Environment in Canada, Catherine McKenna, congratulated the group for their dedication to expanding and managing the Darkwoods forest tract, saying, “With efforts made by partners like the Nature Conservancy of Canada to preserve our natural heritage, our government is making progress towards doubling the amount of protected nature across Canada’s lands and oceans.”

“The threat of intensified or unsustainable industrial or recreational activity made the acquisition of the Next Creek property NCC’s highest conservation priority in BC,” according to a NCC press release. “With the addition of Next Creek, the network of conservation lands in the South Selkirk Mountains now spans more than 1,100 square kilometers.”

“The threat of intensified or unsustainable industrial or recreational activity made the acquisition of the Next Creek property NCC’s highest conservation priority in BC,” according to a NCC press release. “With the addition of Next Creek, the network of conservation lands in the South Selkirk Mountains now spans more than 1,100 square kilometers.”

EPA Puts Bee-Killing Pesticide Back On The Market 

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President Donald Trump and the Republican administration has effectively gutted the EPA over perceived concerns about over-regulating industries that have an environmental impact. In practice, that means a lot of the EPA’s work defending the environment has been severely damaged.

Bees have been dying in record numbers, especially this past season. Much of this is due to the overuse of pesticides and herbicides in industrial farming and by people tending their lawns. As much of our ecology is dependent upon bee pollination, this is a genuine threat to the environment. Unfortunately, Trump’s EPA has allowed a bee-killing pesticide named sulfoxaflor to return to the market after a lawsuit found that the chemical hadn’t been properly tested in regards to its impact on bee population.

Earthjustice, a Bay Area law firm that focuses specifically on environmental law, covered this story. Greg Loarie, an Earthjustice attorney, released the following statement:

 

“At a time when honeybees and other pollinators are dying in greater numbers than ever before, Trump’s EPA decision to remove restrictions on yet another bee-killing pesticide is nothing short of reckless. Scientists have long said pesticides like sulfoxaflor are the cause of the unprecedented colony collapse. Letting sulfoxaflor back on the market is dangerous for our food system, economy, and environment.”

Here at Inner Splendor Media, we’re very concerned about this problem and have a few suggestions on how to proceed. The obvious stuff is obvious, like don’t use Roundup and other pesticides, which you shouldn’t use anyway because they’re a carcinogen. But they also kill plants that bees need to feed. So maybe don’t use pesticides and don’t be super enthusiastic about weeding. While you’re at it, go buy your honey from local producers. Mass honey farming operations keep the bees in sterile conditions that keep them from positively affecting their environment. Plus local honey will help people with seasonal allergies build up a tolerance!

Better yet, skip the lawn. Lawns require a lot of water to maintain, they tend not to have plants that bees need to survive, and they’re usually a smorgasbord of hostile chemicals. Instead, grow a bunch of sunflowers and maybe have a little water features for the hardworking bumblebees in your neighborhood to get a drink.

So go out there and educate yourselves on the plights of the bees and be a positive change for the environment. There are also some amazing bee documentaries out there. Maybe one day you’ll start a bee colony of your own!

This is very important stuff and activism is absolutely essential to secure the planet’s future. If nothing else, check out this Find Your Representative website so you can get in touch with the people who are supposed to secure our future. For more information, check out the infographic below.

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New York Takes Big Steps to Limit Financing for Private Prisons Across the Country 

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Private prisons are horrifying. Substandard care, overcrowding, and all the typical cost cutting measures associated with normal business practices have created an environment that underserves the prison population and creates a space that is more dangerous to prisoner and guard alike.

Private prisons have a long and uncomfortable history tying it to slavery. In the late 1960s, Terrel Don Hutto ran a cotton plantation the size of Manhattan, which operated predominantly off of unpaid, African-American convict labor. An underpaid convict labor pool has always made private prisons a tremendous possible endeavor. This means that there are there are lots of incentives to impose harsher penalties. A particularly harsh example of this corruption is the recent case of a judge sent to jail for taking bribes to send children into a private juvenile detention facility.

 

The two biggest private prison companies are CoreCivic and GEO Group, which have contracts with 23 states. More notably, the private prison industry is taking over the warehousing of refugees and immigrants taken at the border by the Customs and Border Protection.

Senator Brian Benjamin introducing the bill in front of Bank of America in Harlem.

Senator Brian Benjamin introducing the bill in front of Bank of America in Harlem.

New York state has taken steps to combat the private prison industry. It is illegal for private prisons to operate in these states. More importantly, they just passed Bill S5433 in the State Senate. This bill prohibits NY State-chartered banks from “investing in and providing financing to private prisons.” Private prison lobbyists have spent $25 million dollars trying to influence laws that keep the money flowing in.

Banks and other financiers make tremendous amount of money by financing the private prison industry. However, a major push was made to choke out the financing by this law. According to the New York State Comptroller Scott Stringer, who blasted Bank of America:

“Private prisons built a billion dollar business by capitalizing on human suffering – and Bank of America is complicit. The industry is not just inhumane, it’s a huge risk financially. That’s why we in New York City took a stand and became the first public pension fund in the country to divest from the abhorrent industry. We’ve shown that divesting from private prisons is the right and smart thing to do. Bank of America should follow our lead – now.”

This is great news for people who care about prison reform and justice. For more details, check out the video below.

We lost a record number of honey bee colonies this winter 

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The Bee Informed Partnership, a nonprofit group associated with the University of Maryland has made a troubling announcement: this past winter recorded colony losses of 37.7 percent, which is the highest ever recorded. It’s especially disturbing because winter bees tend to live a lot longer because they cluster together for warmth around the queen.

There were some key factors that affected these numbers, including the California wildfires and the wet winter in the Midwest affecting the crop growth. These circumstances come on top of the harm done by industrial pesticides and the notorious viruses carried by varroa mites.

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From the Washington Post article:

Dennis vanEngelsdorp, a professor of entomology at the University of Maryland and chief scientist for the Bee Informed Partnership, said that while extreme weather has worsened honeybees’ plight, the biggest threat is varroa mites. It has been hard to develop a chemical compound that will kill the mites without killing the bees.

“There have been products that work, some at 95 percent," he said. "But varroa mites are increasingly resistant, and we’re trying to understand that a little better. They are acting differently than they have in the past.”

Management practices can extend the health and life of bees, but vanEngelsdorp said vigilance is essential.

“That’s the message we’re trying to get across," he said. "People can get their mite population down to zero, and then they stop monitoring. This requires constant monitoring.”

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Sounds depressing, doesn’t it? But there are things you can do to help!

The obvious stuff is obvious, like don’t use Roundup and other pesticides, which you shouldn’t use anyway because they’re a carcinogen. But they also kill plants that bees need to feed. So maybe don’t use pesticides and don’t be super enthusiastic about weeding. While you’re at it, go buy your honey from local producers. Mass honey farming operations keep the bees in sterile conditions that keep them from positively affecting their environment. Plus local honey will help people with seasonal allergies build up a tolerance!

Better yet, maybe skip the lawn. Lawns require a lot of water to maintain, they tend not to have plants that bees need to survive, and they’re usually a smorgasbord of hostile chemicals. Instead, grow a bunch of sunflowers and maybe have a little water features for the hardworking bumblebees in your neighborhood to get a drink.

So go out there and educate yourselves on the plights of the bees and be a positive change for the environment. There are also some amazing bee documentaries out there. Maybe one day you’ll start a bee colony of your own!

In a breakthrough for HIV researchers, scientists have eliminated the virus from genomes of living animals 

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29 lab mice were given modified versions of anti-retroviral drugs - the kind similar to the prescriptions that HIV + patients use to restrict their viral levels to near-zero - and were also subjected to new gene-editing techniques that cut away the virus from infected cells.

The result? The teams could not find the virus in 30% of the mice treated. This is a huge advancement in HIV research and the next step, which is to test the same treatment on non-human primates, will hopefully push the science forward even further.

“This observation is the first step toward showing for the first time, to my knowledge, that HIV is a curable disease,” says one of the study’s lead authors, Kamel Khalili, director of the center for neurovirology and the Comprehensive NeuroAIDS Center at Temple University’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine.

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From the Time article:

“Over the years, we have looked at HIV as an infectious disease. But once it gets into the cell, it’s no longer an infectious disease but becomes a genetic disease because the viral genome is incorporated into the host genome,” says Khalili. “In order to cure the disease, we need a genetic strategy. Gene editing gives us the opportunity to eliminate viral DNA from host chromosomes without hurting the host genome.”

The CRISPR-cas9 technology was remarkably accurate and precise in animal tests, splicing out just HIV genes without making unwanted cuts elsewhere in the DNA of the mice, Khalili says. What’s more, the researchers also took immune cells, which HIV tends to target as hosts, from the animals treated with both LASER ART and CRISPR and transferred them to healthy animals to see if they developed HIV infection from any virus that may have remained. None did.

“We’re pretty confident with the outcome and very pleased to see that in small animals, using the technology and method we developed, one can achieve what we call a sterilizing cure, or elimination of the virus,” says Khalili.

Pretty exciting stuff, right? Check out the video below for more information.

Pediatricians release horrifying drawings children made while in captivity at ICE detention facilities 

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As more and more children are detained at the US border by US Customs and Border Protection, the reports coming out of the detention facilities have become more and more disheartening. Overcrowding, substandard facilities, poor medical care, and poor treatment by security officers have lead to deaths of people in detainment. Now pediatricians working at the Catholic Charities Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas have released imaged drawn by children who had just been released by CBP.

"The fact that the drawings are so realistic and horrific gives us a view into what these children have experienced," said Dr. Colleen Kraft, immediate past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "When a child draws this, it's telling us that child felt like he or she was in jail."

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There have been longstanding concerns about health care in these detention facilities, especially after 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo and 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin passed away while in captivity. The chief concern is that the law enforcement are not trained to spot medical care issues. The two children died of the flu and sepsis, conditions that can be easily overlooked. The original plan was to have organizations like American Academy of Pediatrics to train security personnel.

From the CNN article

"We have pediatricians who would volunteer to go to the border tomorrow and work with these children and advise medical personnel and train them," she added. "That's still our ask, but it's gotten nowhere."

A pediatrician caring for migrant children at an El Paso hospital said CBP's screening for children in its custody is "absolutely and unequivocally inadequate."

Dr. Kraft said now the situation has gone "backwards" with the "horrible" conditions where the children are living.

"This is truly a very dark spot in US history," she said. "This will be remembered as a time when the US was cruel to immigrant children. It makes me wonder what kind of country are we that that we would treat children this way."

Farmed Salmon has tremendous health risks for the consumer  

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Fish have been an important part of the human diet since time immemorial, but overfishing has depleted a lot of the most popular fish stocks. There has been attempted to supplement the stocks by fish farming, where the fish are cultivated in carefully managed environments. Unfortunately, the fish grown in these stocks threaten the wild fish with diseases, they pollute the environment, and they create an inferior fish. The fish thrown in these environments because they provide fewer healthy nutrients and store toxins more readily in the fish.

From the Global assessment of organic contaminants in farmed salmon published by National Institute of Health.

The annual global production of farmed salmon has increased by a factor of 40 during the past two decades. Salmon from farms in northern Europe, North America, and Chile are now available widely year-round at relatively low prices. Salmon farms have been criticized for their ecological effects, but the potential human health risks of farmed salmon consumption have not been examined rigorously. Having analyzed over 2 metric tons of farmed and wild salmon from around the world for organochlorine contaminants, we show that concentrations of these contaminants are significantly higher in farmed salmon than in wild. European-raised salmon have significantly greater contaminant loads than those raised in North and South America, indicating the need for further investigation into the sources of contamination. Risk analysis indicates that consumption of farmed Atlantic salmon may pose health risks that detract from the beneficial effects of fish consumption.

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On average, polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) concentrations in farmed salmon was eight times higher than in wild salmon. PCB has been listed as a carcinogen from the EPA. Other tests have shown that the consumption of farmed salmon can lead to insulin resistance and glucose intolerance.

And in a new series of studies, they’re discovering that many farmed salmon contains polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which were a class of chemicals once used as flame retardants before being removed from the marketplace. Health risks associated with these chemicals, include infertility, birth defects, neurodevelopmental delays, and cancer. In fact, flame retardant chemicals have been identified as one of 17 "high priority" chemical groups that should be avoided to reduce breast cancer.

The world needs food, but we need to be more careful on how we fill that need. Unregulated farming produces severe risks to the consumer. As one report stated, you’re essentially better off eating junk food instead of farmed salmon.


The first genetically modified animals have been approved for US consumption 

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There’s a Canadian company called AquaBounty which has produced salmon genetically modified to age faster, so they will be ready for consumption sooner. These fish eggs are now sitting in an aqua farming facility in Indiana, where they’re likely to be on people’s plates by the end of the year.

To produce the fish, AquaBounty injects the salmon with DNA from other fish species, which shrinks their growth time considerably. The resulting fish requires less feed to maintain, which makes them cheaper to get to the marketplace. AquaBounty’s CEO Sylvia Wulf noted its salmon has already been sold in Canada, where disclosure is not required. She said the company believes in transparency but questioned why people would want to know whether the fish are genetically modified.

“It’s identical to Atlantic salmon, with the exception of one gene,” she said.

But here’s the trouble; these fish getting out into the public might mean a big increase in the amount of genetically engineered food that we encounter.

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We all know about the corn and the soy that have been genetically engineered to be more resistant to pests and herbicides, but this past month has seen a further deregulation in the bioengineered food industry. New gene-splicing technology will make further genetic engineering much easier, and earlier this month President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to lower their standards for genetically engineered plants and animals. These new standards mean that the newly produced genetically modified foods will not have to be clearly labeled as bioengineered for the consumer, a practice started in 2015.

This has consumer advocate groups concerned. From an article on MarketWatch:

The disclosure regulation will start being implemented next year, but mandatory compliance doesn’t start until 2022. And under the rules , companies can provide the disclosures through codes people scan with their phones. The disclosure also would note that products have “bioengineered” ingredients, which advocacy groups say could be confusing.

“Nobody uses that term,” said Amy van Saun of the Center for Food Safety, who noted “genetically engineered” or “genetically modified” are more common.

The center is suing over the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of AquaBounty’s salmon, and it is among the groups that asked grocers to pledge they wouldn’t sell the fish.

The disclosure rules also do not apply to restaurants and similar food service establishments. Greg Jaffe of the Center for Science in the Public Interest noted that AquaBounty’s fish will represent a tiny fraction of the U.S. salmon supply, and that many people may not care whether they’re eating genetically modified food. Still, he said restaurants could make the information available to customers who ask about it.

“The information should not be hidden,” Jaffe said.

There are grocery chains like Kroger and Whole Foods which refuse to carry the fish after pressure from consumer advocacy groups. Consumer watchdog groups want to make sure any future genetically engineered foods are thoroughly tested before being sent out into the public.