The Dangers of Ignoring our Scientists

Follow the Leaders – Isaac Cordal

The tobacco industry paved the way for ignoring our scientists. Unable to deny their product was both addictive and harmful, they casted doubt, ridiculing doctors and scientists who spoke out. In1998, they admitted they had lied and paid billions in law suits, miniscule considering their addicted customers and ongoing profits. Now they are casting doubt on the dangers of second hand smoke. Again doctors are speaking up; this time the majority is no longer gullible. Now 34 US states have state-wide 100% smoke-free indoor air laws for worksites and 33 communities in Missouri have enacted comprehensive smoke-free ordinances. Such ordinances result in reduced cigarette sales and healthier communities. Now the cigarette state excise tax median is $1.53, ranging from $4.35 to the lowest rate in the nation, Missouri’s seventeen cents. As for heeding the warnings our doctors, unfortunately Missouri and our local Boonville City Council aren’t pursuing a smoke-free ordinance.

Other industries saw the power of dismissing our scientists and casting doubt. Now documents confirm as early as the seventies the oil industry knew their product was harming our environment.  Initially, politicians across both party lines united, ready to take on this challenge. Not to be bothered, the oil industry chose to cast doubt, bringing all progress to a halt. For years the industry has been bullying the public and politicians. They now fuel doubt with fear, claiming reducing carbons will impede progress.  Sadly, our Environment, once revered and shared by all, has now become a partisan issue. Ignoring our scientist’s warnings, politicians continually attempt to weaken our Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and overthrow the environmental laws put in place to protect us, a dangerous practice indeed.

In stark contrast, other countries value and benefit from their scientists. Last year all the world leaders united and developed the Paris Agreement. All agreed, Climate Change is a world-wide problem and ambitious goals and immediate actions are needed to minimize further damage and suffering. Glacier melt, rising oceans and erratic weather patterns make it hard to ignore. Staunch deniers are slowly admitting Climate Change is real but maintain humans aren’t the cause; those scientists have a sinister agenda! If we had simply followed our scientist’s advice over 45 years ago, not only would we have prevented great human suffering and environmental damage world-wide, we would now be thriving with a healthy robust clean renewables economy meeting all our energy needs. Instead we are left with an escalating problem difficult to reverse.

Meanwhile a small Central American nation, Costa Rica, takes the lead generating 99% of their electricity from renewables in 2015; 100% so far this year. These visionaries are clearly on target to meet their goal to be free of fossil fuels in just five years. More reasons to embrace our scientists next week.

Many industries have enjoyed great influence and profits by following the tobacco and oil industries lead. It has now become common practice for many to value industry’s opinions over our scientists.  In the seventies, the chemical, plastic and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) industries all exploded with very little oversight. While our lifespan was increasing due to new medical advances, sadly that is now no longer true. In the 1900s, the top causes of death were pneumonia or flu, tuberculosis and gastrointestinal infections; now 50% of our deaths are due to heart disease, cancer, and respiratory diseases.

Scientists and doctors warn us about exposure to thousands of chemicals, cigarettes, GMO products, high fructose corn syrup, refined sugar, and processed foods. Yet when the overwhelming majority requested transparent GMO labeling laws, our Congress chose to cater to the GMO industry, dismissing our scientists and the public majority. Our leaders remain complacent accepting health compromising chemicals and products as a given, favoring treatment research over prevention.

The environmental scientists warn us about our over-consumptive habits. They say we are putting future generations at risk dipping into resources they will sorely need. They cry we are polluting our soils, air, waterways and food with too many chemicals, and plastics. They tell us chemicals are killing our much needed pollinators (Monarch butterflies and bees); soaking our crops, seeds, yards and gardens with dangerous pesticides and herbicides like neonics and glyphosate (e.g. Round Up) are causing great harm. They warn us industry is compromising our aquifers and waterways with sloppy extraction/production, and reoccurring oil/fracking/chemical leaks and spills. They caution us we are generating and improperly disposing a wide array of hazardous waste. Then say ever prevalent toxic Styrofoam is compromising our soil, waterways, and wildlife, and overflowing our landfills.  Scientific warnings are dismissed. Scientists have developed innovative “Zero Waste” strategies, solutions widely ignored in the United States. While industry could eliminate toxins, and financially benefit by reducing and reusing their waste, they don’t bother. As long as industry isn’t held accountable for their waste, they will continue to vie for more lax environmental laws.  Meanwhile, their pollution becomes our problem as the general public.

Fortunately, scientists aren’t only warning us, they continue their research and offer alternatives. To benefit from our scientists – we need to listen and value their opinions. With change comes opportunity. In the same way I trust my doctor, I always choose to believe our scientists.  Out of great reverence for our beautiful Earth, nature and the people around me, I’m glad we have our scientist watch-dogs. If we don’t heed their advice, I fear we and future generations are doomed! It’s time for a revolution!






Yucatan Sightings

Always with my environmental hat in tow, we explored the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico’s last spring. As in past years, there was litter strewn about throughout; although the touristy Playa del Carmen did have a few “litter crews” grooming the beaches and parks, making them much more pleasing. I’m guessing all that retrieved litter is a combination of surf offerings and sloppy beach loungers.

Playa del Carmen beach, Mexico

While visiting Progreso, a more obscure beach town frequented by Mexicans, litter crews didn’t exist, so we picked up along a mile stretch of the beach. This was obviously not typical of tourists as we received varied responses – stares, thank yous, and a couple children even helped us! Although a valiant effort, we eventually just concentrated on the worst offenders – all things plastic – straws, bottle caps, 6-pack rings, forks, and plastic bags. At least for a period of time, those birds won’t mistake plastic as food along that stretch!

Progreso, Mexico

Some of the more touristy cities offered public recycling; otherwise, it appeared recycling opportunities were limited.  Although, recycling appears to be happening, as it was common to see older women or men digging through the trash harvesting recyclables. Drinking tap water is questionable, so we always buy bottled water in Mexico. Given the dearth of recycling opportunities, at least while we traveled by car we toted along a returnable 5 gallon container of water, filling our smaller bottles. We also noticed, when beer bottles weren’t twist-offs, those bottles were returned and refilled.

As for wildlife, while it was quite different to not see squirrels, rabbits or deer, other animals filled the void.  We saw our first coatis from the raccoon family, camouflaged iguanas throughout, and many colorful birds. One highlight was boating through the mangroves along the protected bio-reserves where we saw flocks of Caribbean Pink Flamingos – thousands of them! They were even more mesmerizing when I relinquished the camera! We embarked on this amazing experience from Rio Lagartos where many guides await to fill their boats with nature enthusiasts every morning.

Caribbean Pink Flamingos near Rio Lagartos, Mexico

The bio-reserves boat trip included a chance to experience a Mayan mud bath.  Of course, I was all in.  First we floated a bit in a salty water reserve to open our pours, then we lathered ourselves with mud, and garnished the look with a mud crown and mangrove leaves. I was promised I would then look much younger!!

Mayan Mud Bath, Yucatan, Mexico

We enjoyed a vast variety of colorful fish along with beautiful sponges, corals and fan while snorkeling off a beach in Cozumel; experiencing the second largest barrier reef system in the world. The Meso-American reef system spans between the Gulf of Mexico and Honduras – almost 175 miles. As for beach walking, the white powdery sand and the clear turquoise waters went on for miles!

Beach on the East side of Cozumel, Mexico
Wonderful snorkeling off of the beach at Sky Reef, Cozumel, Mexico

Interestingly, there are no above ground rivers on the Yucatan peninsula since the upper layer is soft limestone.  Instead there is a large web of fresh underground rivers forming caves and cenotes, natural pits or sinkholes formed when the limestone bedrock collapses, making for great swimming holes. Mexico is filled with amazing Maya archaeological sites. While there are many amazing Yucatan archaeological ruins, most notable the largest Chichen Itzas and the beautiful coastal ruin of Tulum, we had already seen them so this year we just visited a small ruin we happened upon the way – Xcambo, a major salt provider for the Mayan Empire.

Xcambo Ruins, Yucatan, Mexico

While traveling around Mexico, we typically travel by public bus with the locals, but this year we rented a car for a spell so we could take a closer look at the coastline, countryside and colonial villages. Mexican villages always have a local gathering point in the middle of town – the central plaza bordered by a block-long massive ancient church on one side and their municipality building on another. During the evenings, the plaza always buzzes with activity; people watching at it’s finest.

As always, we enjoy sampling local culinary fare. We enjoyed pescado (fish) almost daily, fresh squeezed orange juice, avocados, mangos, lime peanuts, and Mexican pastries.  We always visit the local Central Mercado overflowing with fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, seeds, spices, cornmeal, and everything imaginable. While big box stores are slowing gaining a foot-hold throughout Mexico, there are always ample shoppers swarming the Central Mercados and small Tiendas (small corner stores) about. Sadly, once quite common panaderias, neighborhood bakeries, are becoming harder to find. Central plazas and beaches are generally filled with merchants selling a wide variety of food and such. Some balance a tray of goods on their head, while others have carts propelled by muscle power or a small motor. It appears the economy is doing much better as we notice nicer cars and now it’s less common to see small children sell Chiclets for a few Pecos.

Although we enjoy eating outside, at times we retreated inside for air conditioning.  We are thrilled smoke-free dining is becoming common-place all throughout Mexico. While visiting Holbox Island, we thanked a cigarette butt picker-upper, diligently digging through the sand capturing those toxic butts. He proudly, and sadly, showed us several two-liter bottles filled with butts. As it turned out, he had a small restaurant, as in a small shack and modest outside grill, where he whipped up one of our tastiest meals of the trip!

Wonderful grilled pescado dinner, creation of the chef in the next picture!
El Changarrito, right on the beach, Holbox Island, Mexico. We saw this guy picking up cigarette butts and enjoyed his wonderful grilled pescado – Give him a visit and thank him!

While Mexico is trying desperately to protect their heritage, corn, there is much pressure to accept GMO corn. Mexico has much to lose as corn originated in Mexico and the Mesoamerican region. At risk is their biodiversity and cross contamination, more than 60 indigenous varieties. Corn is central to Mexican culture; corn tortillas or chips are served with every meal. After two years of 93 appeals from the Biotech Industry, Mexico’s 2013 ruling banning GMO corn was sadly overturned last fall, now in the appeal process. Opponents have many concerns – loss of biodiversity, culture, and health concerns due to pesticide exposure in their air, food and waterways.

Pemex gas stations dot the landscape, Mexico’s state-owned energy provider. While Pemex has been the only company allowed to develop their oil and gas for years, just recently this industry has opened up to private sector investors. Mexico’s goal is to generate 35 percent of their total electricity from clean sources by 2025. Roof-top black passive solar water tanks are quite common, but we didn’t see any windmills and only an occasional solar panel. Perhaps they are conflicted, as I have read Pemex provides one-third of their federal funds.  Given Mexico’s apparent abundance of wind, solar and geothermal potential, renewables could be a boon for the economy, environment and people alike.