Monday, December 29, 2008

An Unexpected Cure- Anabuse

Jack Dini

(From a series on Unintended Consequences)

Scabies is an itchy condition of the skin caused by tiny mites. The severe scratching brought on by this infection can often trigger infections, which leave scars. Scabies was endemic during World War II in Europe. Swedish researchers discovered that it could be treated by using disulfiram (tetryethylthiuram disulfide), a chemical that had been used in the rubber industry), as an ointment. (1)

In Denmark, Drs. Jens Hald and Erik Jacobsen, were interested in finding a pill that would be effective against intestinal worms. They had reasons to believe that disulfiram might be the solution so decided to run some tests. They first experimented with rabbits. As far as they could tell, rabbits infected with the internal parasite and then fed disulfiram pills showed no adverse reactions and the drug seemed to work.

What to do next? They undertook what is a taboo in medical research—self -experimentation. Lawrence Altman, in his fascinating book on this topic Who Goes First?, says this about Jacobsen, “He lived by a strong moral code. In his work, he believed that pharmacologists should test a drug on themselves before doing so on another human. He practiced what he preached.” (1)

So Jacobsen and Hald began taking disulfiram pills on a daily basis in their different laboratories. Shortly after the experiment began. Jacobsen decided to have a bottle of beer with the sandwich his wife had made for him. By the time lunch was over, Jacobsen felt groggy and nauseated, and his head throbbed. The next day he ate another sandwich and was fine. Then he had lunch with his managing director. During this event they had consumed a glass of aquavit in a friendly gesture of comradery. Once again, the symptoms re-appeared, but then after a while were gone. So he went on about his business. (1)

Later that same week, Jacobsen had a beer with a meatball sandwich his wife had made. Again he had another attack so went home early. He wanted to blame the meatball sandwich but found that the rest of his family had eaten similar sandwiches with no ill effects. The attacks continued but Jacobsen shrugged them off until he met Hald in the corridor at work one day. As Jacobsen related his observations and problems with nausea, etc., Hald said, “That’s funny. I have had the same bug.” (1)

Hald told of a recent visit of one of his friends where they shared some cognac. Hald had become sick and the friend had not. These shared experiences got them both to wondering if there could be some relation between disulfiram and alcohol. They decided to do more tests; avoid both the drug and alcohol, drink alcohol but avoid the drug, take the drug but avoid alcohol, and lastly, have alcohol while on the drug. Bingo! Both had the symptoms return when mixing the drug with alcohol.

Then they repeated the experiment on a fellow laboratory worker. After a few days the same result was obtained. It did appear that for some reason the body needed a few days to trigger the disulfiram-alcohol reaction. As a final test, Jacobsen took some pills before injecting himself with a small amount of alcohol. His blood pressure fell almost to zero and he nearly died. There was no longer any question about a reaction between alcohol and disulfiram. Soon after this, a chemist friend identified the odor on Jacobsen’s breath as acetaldehyde, a toxic product of oxidation of alcohol. (1)

As far a Jacobsen and Hald were concerned there went the grand scheme for the proposed cure for intestinal parasites, and since they felt alcoholism wasn’t an important medical problem in Denmark, they saw no reason to continue with this project. That is, until Jacobsen attended a civic affairs meeting in October 1947. He was asked to fill in for a speaker who cancelled at the last minute and during the course of his talk he mentioned the experiences he and Hald had with disulfiram and how as a result of this neither could stand alcohol while on the pills. John Emsley reports, “A journalist from the Copenhagen newspaper Berlingskee Tidende was present, and reported the story. Alcoholics who read about disulfiram realized that here was a treatment that might wean them off alcohol, and several of them wrote to Jacobsen, asking for disulfiram tablets. Clinical tests on alcoholic volunteers showed that the drug could be used to break the addiction to alcohol. Antabuse, the trade name Jacobsen gave the drug was launched.” (2)

So how does disulfiram (Antabuse) work? It blocks the enzyme that converts acetaldehyde to acetic acid and as the body builds up acetaldehyde, it produces a condition know as acetaldehydemia. This usually results in a very unpleasant reaction. Again from Emsley, “Even a little alcohol taken by someone on Antabuse produces enough acetaldehyde for their body to react unpleasantly to it. They feel very ill because they are in effect experiencing a severe hangover, the symptoms of which are nausea, vomiting, labored breathing, flushing, chest pains, and throbbing headache. The experience is so dreadful that they will usually avoid alcohol while they remain on Antabuse, although it has been found that some people become tolerant of the drug and its effect is diminished. Most people who take Antabuse find it effective, but they must also be alert to the fact that some common household products contain alcohol, such as vanilla extract (35% alcohol), cough medicines (up to 25% alcohol), and mouth washes (around 25% alcohol.)” (2)

Walter Gratzer rightly notes that this is an example of a heroic experiment conducted by doctors on themselves that could never have come about by design. (3) One- they weren’t even looking for a treatment for alcoholism, two- if they hadn’t experimented on themselves they would never have known of the consequences of mixing alcohol with the drug, and 3- if Jacobsen hadn’t been asked to be a substitute speaker at a civic meeting, the results would probably been buried in laboratory notebooks and never revealed to the public.

A final word of caution. Mixing Antabuse and alcohol can be deadly. Joe and Teresa Graedon highlight the fact that ‘in some cases, the reaction could be lethal, so anyone on Antabuse really needs to watch out for alcohol.” (4)


1.Lawrence K. Altman, Who Goes First?, (New York, Random House, 1987), 98-104

2.John Emsley and Peter Fell, Was it something you ate?, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2001), 28

3.Walter Gratzer, Eurekas and Euphorias, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2002), 163

4.Joe Graedon and Teresa Graedon, Deadly Drug Interactions, (New York, St. Martin’s Griffin, 1997), 146

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Religion of Global Warming

Jack Dini
Livermore, CA

(From Hawaii Reporter, 12/1/2008)

Do you want to position yourself as a humanitarian concerned with the grandest issue of the planet’s survival and capture the high ground as a defender of the interests of humanity? If so, embrace global warming. And if you seek even a higher level, allow global warming to be your new religion.

Why? In the words of Dean James P. Morton of the Episcopal Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, “the environment is not just another issue but an inescapable challenge to what it means to be religious.”(1) Global warming provides a cosmic scenario that has found expression in almost all religions of the world, from the Jewish legend of Noah and the Christian vision of the Apocalypse to the world-ending Ragnarok of the Norse sagas and the Teutonic Gotterdammerung, the twilight of the gods,” report Christopher Booker and Richard North. They add, “The appeal of global warming is that it fits so neatly into the plot of a story with which everyone is familiar. Man in his selfish and reckless exploitation of the planet has committed a great and unpardonable sin, if not against God then certainly against Nature. Unless he repents and learns to mend his ways, he and all life on the planet will face unthinkable punishment. The seas will rage, on a scale never before known. Vast tracts of fertile land will be reduced to barren deserts. Nature itself will lie stricken before the onslaught. Billions of human beings will die.”(2)

Many religious leaders have joined the crusade. On June 15, 2001, the nation’s Catholic bishops unanimously approved a statement urging as a ‘moral imperative’ taking action to end global warming. “At its core, global climate change is not about economic theory nor political platforms, nor about partisan advantage or interest group pressures,” said the bishops. “It is about the future of God’s creation, and the one human family.” Several days before, the Greater Boston Coalition on the environment and Jewish Life released a letter signed by 19 local leaders, which said that the Bush administration’s energy plan “does not yet meet biblical standards for stewardship and justice.” It called on Jewish communities to “raise awareness of how fossil fuel use contributes to global warming.” (3, 4)

The religion of global warming is moving much faster than traditional religions. For example, as Ann Coulter observes, “It took the Catholic Church hundreds of years to develop corrupt practices such as papal indulgences. The global warming religion has barely been around for 20 years, and yet its devotees are allowed to pollute by the simple expedient of paying for papal indulgences called ‘carbon offsets.’” (5) As with the system of papal indulgences introduced in the late Middle Ages, anyone with enough money can buy their freedom from damnation by purchasing enough ‘credits.’ This gives them an official license to continue sinning, by emitting excessive amounts of carbon dioxide, regardless of what a corrupt sham the whole system has become.(6) I recently saw a one-act skit in Oakland, CA, highlighting the absurdity of this practice. In the skit, folks who wanted to commit adultery could do so providing they found someone they could pay to agree to not commit the same sin; a perfect analogy with the religion of global warming.

Carrying this a step further, the entire green lobby can be treated as a religion. Particularly in Europe, stories such as the myth of the Fall and the myth of the Apocalypse and the Last Judgment, no longer have the impact they once did. John Kay reports, “Environmentalism now fulfills for many people the widespread longing for simple, all-encompassing narratives. Environmentalism offers an alternative account of the natural world to the religious and an alternative anti-capitalist account of the political world to the Marxist. The rise of environmentalism parallels in time and place the decline of religion and socialism.” (7)

The leader of the movement, the sermonizer supreme, Al Gore, is even adoringly referred to by his flock as The Goracle. (8) And as John Fund observes, “I guess it was inevitable. The global warming hysteria for which Al Gore is the leading rabble-rouser has now taken on all the trappings of a cultish religion. Exhibit A: The Gaia Napa Valley Hotel and Spa in California has a Gideon Bible, Al Gore’s book, and the Buddhist Traveler in each room.”(9)


Tom DeWeese sums it up well. “Global warming has become a new religion. No one is supposed to question whether it is a fact and the faithful have vowed to follow no matter what the true facts may show. Global warming is a theory, nothing more, and large numbers of scientists around the world are beginning to question its validity. There is no consensus of support.” (10) Within the past years, multitudes of peer-reviewed journal articles and at least a dozen books have provided sound evidence of this lack of consensus but you won’t find the books at your local bookstore. Try Amazon instead. Why? These recent books have the temerity to question ‘the doctrine.’ A good example is An Appeal to Reason by Nigel Lawson of the UK. This is his fourth book but he could find no British publisher. He reports, one rejection letter said, “My fear with this cogently argued book is that it flies so much in the face of the prevailing orthodoxy that it would be very difficult to fine a wide market.” (11)

DeWeese concludes, “The truth is there is no man-made global warming. There’s only the scam of an empty global religion designed to condemn human progress and sucker the feeble minded into worldwide human misery.” (10)


1.The Greening of Faith, John E. Carroll, Paul Brockelman, and Mary Westfall, Editors, (Hanover, NH, University Press of New England, 1997), 4
2.Christopher Booker and Richard North, Scared to Death, (New York, Continuum US, 2007), 481
3.Michael Paulson, “Bishops say fighting global warming is a moral duty,” Boston Globe, June 16, 2001, Page A10
4.Bonner Cohen, The Green Wave, (Washington, DC, Capital Research Center, 2006), 161
5.Ann Coulter, “Gore’s Global Warming Religion,”, March 21, 2007
6.Christopher Booker and Richard North, Scared to Death, 402
7.John Kay, “Green lobby must be treated as a religion,” Financial Times, January 9, 2007
8.William Booth, “Al Gore, Rock Star,”, February 25, 2007
9.John H. Fund, “Guru Gore,” The American Spectator, 40, 52, June 2007
10.Tom DeWeese, “The New Religion is Global Warming,” Capital Magazine, February 16, 2005
11.Nigel Lawson, An Appeal to Reason, (New York, Overlook Duckworth, Peter Mayer Publishers, 2008), ix

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fuzzy Math

Jack Dini
Livermore, CA

A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

Almost everyone who reads this question will have an immediate impulse to answer ‘10 cents.’ I surely did. As Dan Gardner says, “It just looks and feels right. And yet it’s wrong. In fact, it’s clearly wrong—if you give it some careful thought—and yet it is perfectly normal to stumble on this test. Almost everyone we ask reports an initial tendency to answer ‘ten cents,’ write psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Shane Frederick. Many people yield to this immediate impulse. People are often content to trust a plausible judgment that quickly comes to mind.”(1)

This type of response shows that we are quite susceptible to numbers thrown at us by the media, groups seeking funding for a specific cause, lawyers trying to convince a jury, or perhaps some recent event that has shaped our thoughts. Lets start with the latter one first.

After 9/11, many people shifted from planes to cars because of fear of flying. This shift lasted for about one year in the United States. Gerd Gigerenzer analyzed automobile fatalities for five years prior to the September 11 attacks and five years after. He found that fatalities soared on American roads after September 2001 and settled back to normal in September 2002. As a result of the surge in traffic patterns, he concluded that an additional 1,595 people died; more than half the death toll from the terrorist attacks.(2)

Dan Gardner reports that air travel is safer than driving even with terrorists. He reports, “The safety gap is so large, in fact, that planes would still be safer than cars even if the threat of terrorism were unimaginably worse than it actually is: An American professor calculated that even if terrorists were hijacking and crashing one passenger jet a week in the United States, a person who took one flight a month for a year would have only a 1-in-135,000 chance of being killed in a hijacking—a trivial risk compared to the annual 1-in-6000 odds of being killed in a car crash.”(2)

The media is notorious for spreading the fear factor. Brent Beckley notes that there are four billboards on the 40 mile drive from Norwich to Binghamton (Upstate New York) that announce, “Every 20 seconds a child is diagnosed with autism.” He says, “I hate these types of ads because I figure there is no way they can be true.” (3) Here’s the math; three kids per minute works out to 1,576,000 children per year. Since there are about 4 million children born every year, this means 3 out of 8 will become autistic. Hard to believe?

Even EPA folks can get carried away by the numbers game. John Brignell observes, “During a speech, Mary Nichols, EPA’s assistant administrator for air and radiation, claimed that the EPA’s proposed air pollution standard for ozone and particulate matter would save (hang on to your hat) 58 million lives. You may wish to be reminded that 2 million Americans die every year from all causes. I stand to be corrected but I think that this qualifies for the Guinness Book of Records.”(4)

Around 1985 saw an explosive awareness about the rapid spread of a deadly new virus. From Dan Gardner, “There was no treatment for AIDS. Get it and you were certain to die a slow, wasting death. And there was a good chance you would get it because a breakthrough into the heterosexual population was inevitable. ‘AIDS has both sexes running scared,’ Oprah Winfrey told her audience in 1987. ‘Research studies now project that one in five heterosexuals could be dead from AIDS at the end of the next three years. That’s by 1990. One in five.’ Surgeon General C. Everett Koop called it ‘The biggest threat to health this nation ever faced.’ Turns out it didn’t work out that way, but we were very, very scared.(5)

What about AIDS in Africa? Based on reports I’ve heard over the years, I expected to see a drop in population in Africa because of this dreaded disease. Yet, since 1985, the population of sub-Saharan Africa has increased by 299 million, a 70 percent increase. This increase is equal to the entire present population of the United States.(6) What gives?

Here are some observations from Michael Fumento, “At least 30 percent of the entire adult population of Central Africa is infected with the AIDS virus, a doctor tells a US newspaper. A high Ugandan official says that within two years his nation will ‘be a desert.’ ABS News Nightline declares that within 12 years, ‘50 million Africans may have died of AIDS.’ Actually, those statements and predictions were all made between 1986 and 1988. Yet since 1985, Central Africa’s population has increased over 70 percent while Uganda’s has nearly doubled. Japan, conversely has close to no AIDS cases yet its population has essentially stopped. According to the UN’s latest estimate, Nightline’s predicted 50 million dead Africans by the year 2000 was actually 20 million head worldwide by the end of last year.”(7)

Epidemics like this and the autism scare mentioned earlier in this article always have and always will refuse to live up to the official predictions for one simple reason: The louder the Klaxon sounds, the more public and private contributions pour in. (7)

Remember the O.J. Simpson trial? How could you not? Leonard Mlodinow reports, “The renowned attorney and Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz employed the prosecutor’s fallacy to help defend O.J. Simpson in his trial for the murder of Simpson’s ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and a male companion.”(8) What is prosecutor’s fallacy? My simplistic definition is the clever use of statistics to make a point, while leaving out other important data.

The police had plenty of evidence against Simpson: a bloody glove at his estate that seemed to match one found at the murder scene; bloodstains matching Nicole’s blood on the gloves in his white Ford Bronco, on a pair of socks in his bedroom, and in his driveway and house. DNA samples taken from blood at the crime scene matched O.J.’s.

The prosecution focused much of its case on O.J.’s propensity to violence, claiming that this alone was a good reason to suspect him of her murder. The defense attorney countered that the evidence that O.J. had battered Nicole on prrevious occasions meant nothing. Here’s why according to Alan Dershowitz; 4 million women were battered annually by their husbands and boyfriends in the United States, yet in 1992, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Reports, a total of 1,432, or 1 in 2,500 were killed by their husbands or boyfriends. Therefore, few men who slap or beat their domestic partners go on to murder them. Mlodinow observes, “True? Yes. Convincing? Yes. Relevant? No. The relevant number is not the probability that a man who batters his wife will go on to kill her (1 in 2,500) but rather the probability that a battered wife who was murdered was murdered by her abuser. According to the Uniform Crime Reports for the United States and Its Possessions in 1993, the probability Dershowirtz (or the prosecution) should have reported was this one: of all the battered women murdered in the United States in 1993, some 90 percent were killed by their abuser. That statistic was not mentioned at the trial.”(8)

Mlodinow adds, “Dershowitz may have felt justified in misleading the jury because in his words, ‘the courtroom oath—to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’—is applicable only to witnesses. Defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges don’t take this oath…indeed, it is fair to say the American justice system is built on a foundation of not telling the whole truth.” (8)

The answer is 5 cents.

1. Dan Gardner, Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear, (Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 2008), 35

2. Dan Gardner, Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear, 4

3. Brent Beckley, private communication, January 24, 2008

4. John Brignell, Sorry Wrong Number! (Great Britain, Brignell Associates, 2000), 217

5. Dan Gardner, Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear, 347

6. Tom Bethell, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, (Washington, DC, Regnery Publishing, 2005), 118

7. Michael Fumento, “AIDS and Fuzzy Math,” Tech Central Station, July 15, 2004

8. Leonard Mlodinow, The Drunkard’s Walk, (New York, Pantheon Books, 2008), 119

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Regulations and Schlimmbesserung

Jack Dini
Livermore, CA

Have you heard of the word schlimmbesserung? It means intended improvements that make things worse. As Robert Matthews states, “This is a word that should be in the lexicon of anyone trying to protect the environment. Federal agencies are often criticized for imposing ineffective, costly regulations on individuals and businesses that do little to improve public health and safety.” Give them the benefit of doubt that they are really trying to make things better but in some cases schlimmbesserung occurs.


Biofuels are a good example of schlimmbesserung. World food prices are being driven upwards largely because of the increasing use of biofuels. Nigel Lawson observes, “Biofuels, such as ethanol, have their own downsides. In the first place, as studies have shown, it is far from clear that ethanol produces significantly more energy than is used in its own production. In the second place, it requires a vast amount of land to produce a relatively small amount of ethanol. This not only antagonizes environmentalists, upset by the destruction of rainforests for this purpose, but also has led to a marked rise in food prices, in particular the price of grain. Indeed in June 2007, the Chinese government suspended its production of ethanol explicitly for this reason.”

The Guardian discusses a report by the World Food Bank which claims that biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75%--far more than previously estimated. This figure noticeably contradicts the US government’s claims that plant-derived fuels contribute less than 3% to food prices. The report also adds, “Rising food prices have pushed 100 million people below the poverty line, and have sparked riots from Bangladesh to Egypt. Government ministers here have described higher food and fuel process as the first real economic crisis of globalization.” In Mexico City last February, some 75,000 people marched in protest at the dramatic rise in the price of tortillas, a corn-based staple of their diet that typically consumes one-third of a poor family’s income. Indonesia, Algeria, and Nigeria have also seen protests.

On another front, switching land use from food crops to biofuels could result in increased emissions of pollutants such as nitrous oxide and ozone and increased net carbon injection into the atmosphere. Research at Stanford University indicates that pollution from ethanol could end up creating a worse health hazard than gasoline, especially for people with asthma and other respiratory diseases.

Victims of the CFCs ban

The federal ban on ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), to conform with the Clean Air Act , is ironically affecting millions of people in the US who suffer from asthma. Emily Harrision reports, “In 1987 Congress signed on to the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer, an international treaty requiring the phasing out of all nonessential uses of CFCs. At that time, medical inhalers were considered an essential use because no viable alternative propellant existed. In 1989, pharmaceutical companies banded together and eventually in 1996, reformulated albuterol with hydrofluoroalkane (HFA), an ozone-safe propellant. After more than one brand of HFA-albuterol became available, the US Food and Drug Administration declared in 2005 that CFC inhalers were no longer essential and must be completely off the shelves by the last day of this year.” Leslie Hendeles says, “In the United States, about 52 million prescriptions for albuterol are filled annually, making it the seventh most commonly prescribed medication in the country.” The ban will have an insignificant effect on ozone since albuterol inhalers contributed less than 0.1 percent of the CFCs released when the treaty was signed. However, the replacement alternatives can be three times as expensive, raising the cost to about $40 per inhaler. Harrison adds, “The issue is even more disconcerting considering that asthma disproportionately affects the poor and that, according to recent surveys, an estimated 20 percent of asthma patients are uninsured.”

Cleaner air and recovery of the ozone hole increase global warming?

Christian Ruckstuhl and his colleagues at the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Switzerland recently reported that the rapid temperature increase of 1 degree C over mainland Europe since 1989 is considerably larger than the temperature rise expected from anthropogenic greenhouse gas increases. Their work led to the conclusion that direct aerosol effect has an approximately five time larger an impact on climate forcing than the indirect aerosol and other cloud effects, or in other words, as Robert Matthews notes, “the clean-up campaigns are another schlimmbesserung, with the airborne gunk actually having a powerful—and beneficial—impact on temperatures, by reflecting the sun’s heat back into space.”

The Montreal Protocol was mentioned earlier. After years of decline, the springtime concentrations of ozone in the atmosphere high over Antarctica have begun to increase, a sign that the ozone hole is recovering. Good news? Well, depends on your point of view. According to some recent research this could mean increasing temperatures in Antarctica. Until now, the interior of Antarctica has not been warming with the rest of the world. The lack of ozone in the lower stratosphere over Antarctica in the springtime caused less absorption of ultraviolet radiation and this leads to cooler temperatures than normal. Recent work postulates this will change as the ozone hole recovers. Seok-Woo San and his colleagues at Columbia University speculated in Science that a full recovery of the ozone hole over Antarctica in the coming years could significantly boost warming of the atmosphere over and around the icy continent. Researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder, confirm these results, reporting that simulated atmospheric temperatures at altitudes between 10 and 20 kilometers would be as much as 9 degrees C warmer after the ozone hole has recovered than they are today. This certainly would mean in increase in warming at ground level in Antarctica.

Planting the wrong trees could also affect global warming

If you’re going to plant a tree to save the Earth, you better make sure to plant the right kind of tree. Trees affect the reflectivity of the Earth and its availability to bounce back some of the sun’s heat into space. Covering large swatches of light ground with dark trees could lead to more heat being absorbed, boosting temperature. Gregory Asner and his colleagues note that only trees planted in equatorial regions are likely to produce a net benefit. Those planted further away—especially in high latitudes where snow is common—are likely to lead to increased global warming. Also, non-native trees invading a rainforest can change its basic ecological structure, rendering it less hospitable to the myriad plant and animal species that depend on its resources.


Robert Matthews sums this up quite well. “The upshot of all this is clear: when it comes to the environment, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. What isn’t at all clear is whether it will ever be possible to have sufficient knowledge to make big environmental policy decisions with any confidence.”

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Toxic, But Important Body Gases

Jack Dini
Livermore, CA

“Gases commonly known for their noxious effects at relatively high concentrations are produced by the body continuously and in minute quantities and are capable of exerting crucial physiological activities.” (1)

Carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, and nitrogen oxides can be toxic, yet it has been recently demonstrated that they are important endogenous (originating within the body) molecules that have profound effects on the human body.

High levels of carbon monoxide interfere with cellular respiration and pollute the environment. Hydrogen sulfide, another chemical asphyxiant, paralyzes the sense of smell and at lower levels produces the rotten-egg stink prized by children using their first chemistry sets. Nitric oxide, the unstable free-radical, is an industrial gas and environmental pollutant found in cigarette smoke and smog. (1)

Over the past 20 years or so, research into the growing array of so-called gasotransmitters has fundamentally altered classic views of intercellular signaling. Gasotransmitters are a family of endogenous molecules of gases or gaseous signaling molecules, including CO, H2S, NO and others. These particular gases share many common features in their production and function but carry on their tasks in unique ways, which differ from classical signaling molecules in the human body. (2)

Mark Greener reports, “They act in systems as varied as gastrointestinal, circulatory, and nervous. Gasotransmitters are not stored in vesicles; rather, exquisitely regulated biosynthetic enzymes are activated when signaling is initiated. Moreover, while the proteins that sense the gases are diverse, the architecture seems highly conserved. The research offers a fresh perspective on processes as diverse as neural control, blood vessel diameter, and embryonic development. It also raises numerous new therapeutic and diagnostic opportunities. In fact, physicians already prescribe drugs modulating gasotransmitters to manage erectile dysfunction and angina.” Greener predicts that the number of gases produced within the body is likely to grow. (1) Recent evidence suggests that ammonia is a vascoconstrictor, possibly by acting through intercellular alkalinization. Sulfur dioxide, produced by bacterial metabolism may also have some value.

Carbon Monoxide

Although carbon monoxide inhalation can be lethal, our bodies make the molecule naturally in small amounts when an enzyme called heme-oxygenase-1 (HO-1) breaks down a portion of the blood protein in hemoglobin. (3) Ventilator-induced lung injury (VILI) is a major cause of morbidity and mortality in intensive care units. The stress-inducible gene product, HO-1 and carbon monoxide, a major by product of the oxygenase catalysis of heme, have been shown to confer potent anti-inflammatory effects in models of tissue and cellular injury. Tomas Dolinay notes, “The data from this work leads to a tempting speculation that inhaled CO might be useful in minimizing VILI.” (4)

Small amounts of carbon monoxide might alleviate symptoms of multiple sclerosis, a study in mice suggests. This finding may offer a treatment for MS, which strikes when a person’s immune system damages the fatty sheaths that protect nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. (3)

Other studies of laboratory animals suggest that carbon monoxide in small doses can prevent injury to blood vessels caused by surgery. In this research, rats that inhaled carbon monoxide-laced air for 1 hour before angioplasty had much less subsequent artery blockage than did rats not receiving the gas. Rats that underwent a vessel transplant also fared significantly better if given carbon monoxide before and after the surgery. (5)

Hydrogen Sulfide

Hydrogen sulfide, the compound that gives rotten eggs their odor, can be lethal at high concentrations. It is not something you would think to pump into sick or injured people, but that’s exactly what some scientists plan to do. Mitch Leslie reports, “The molecule has proven to be an influential physiological signal, with effects on everything from blood flow to hormone secretion. Eager to capitalize on these newfound capabilities, scientists are trying to exploit hydrogen sulfide to tame the side effects of common painkillers.” (6)

Researchers in Seattle reported that exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas can lower the heart rate, metabolism, and body temperature in lab mice. (7) Mice in the study revived and appeared healthy when exposure to the gas ended. This is one step in helping researchers understand about hibernation and torpor in animals. (8)

Why is this of interest? Some animals regularly slow down their metabolic rates, or the speed at which their bodies function. Every day, certain types of hummingbirds go into a state called torpor where their heart rates drop, breathing slows, and body temperature plunges. Bears go into a similar type of hibernation for entire seasons. This type of suspended animation could offer protection for humans after a heart attack or stroke, and it could help people survive battlefield situations. Soldiers with severe blood loss could be treated with an IV of hydrogen sulfide, possibly lowering their need for oxygen until enough blood could be transfused. Jeanne Erdmann notes that this work is in clinical trials in Australia. (9)

Hydrogen sulfide could also help in cases of erectile dysfunction. A study with primates showed that injection of sodium hydrogen sulfide increased penile length and was capable of dilating with blood to bring about the erection of a body part. (10) Studies with nitric oxide, discussed next, led Pfizer to develop Viagra. (11)

Nitrogen Oxides

Nitrogen oxides are major components of air pollution from auto exhaust and industrial combustion. Ground level ozone is formed by a photochemical reaction of nitrogen dioxide to yield nitric oxide and an oxygen atom. The nitrogen oxides also contribute to the formation of acid rain. Obviously, nitric oxide is a part of a family of bad gases. Or is it?

This industrial gas and environmental pollutant was named “Molecule of the Year” by Science magazine in 1992. Editor Daniel Koshland wrote, “In the atmosphere it is a noxious chemical, but in the body in small controlled doses it is extraordinarily beneficial.” (12) In 1998, the Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded for discoveries concerning nitric oxide as a signaling molecule in the cardiovascular system. Tiny puffs of nitric oxide mediate an extraordinary range of biological properties in our bodies, ranging from destruction of tumor cells to the control of blood pressure. It relaxes blood vessels, quells inflammation, nudges the hypothalamus to release hormones, and even transmits signals between the brain’s neurons. (13) There’s also Viagra as mentioned above.


Edward Calabrese of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst is a strong proponent of hormesis, a scientific term that means low doses help and high doses hurt. He’s concerned that if researchers don’t begin regularly probing the effects of agents at very low doses, scientists will continue to miss important health impacts—both good and bad of pollutants, drugs, and other agents. Janet Raloff points out, “Regulatory agencies don’t require scientists to evaluate a poison at exposures below that at which no harm is apparent. This dose is referred to as the NOAEL, for ‘no observable adverse-effects level.” (14)

Two obvious benefits can accrue from testing effects at low doses: 1- medical help might be found from items otherwise known to be toxic and 2- if traces of certain pollutants are not as dangerous as previous estimates had suggested, perhaps some overly stringent regulations could be changed.


1.Mark Greener, “Now You’re Signaling With Gas Gasotransmitters Opens a Window on Biology and Drug Development,” The Scientist, 18, 20, September 13, 2004
2.“Gasotransmitters,” Wikipedia; accessed June 13, 2008
3.Nathan Seppa, “Good Poison?” Science News, 171, 53, January 27, 2007
4.Tamas Dolinay, et al., “Inhaled Carbon Monoxide Confers Anti-inflammatory Effects Against Ventilator-Induced Lung Injury,” American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 171, 1318, 2005
5.Nathan Seppa, “Carbon monoxide may limit vascular damage,” Science News, 163, 126, February 22, 2003
6.Mitch Leslie, “Nothing Rotten About Hydrogen Sulfide’s Medical Promise,” Science, 320, 1155, May 30, 2008
7.Eric Blackstone, Mike Morrison, and Mark B. Roth, “H2S Induces a Suspended Animation-Like State in Mice,” Science, 308, 518, April 22, 2205
8.Ben Harder, “Perchance to Hibernate,” Science News, 171, 56, January 27, 2007
9.Jeanne Erdmann, “Rotten Remedy,” Science News, 173, 152, March 8, 2008
10.B. Srilatha et al, “Possible role for the novel gasotransmitter hydrogen sulfide in erectile dysfunction- a pilot study,” European Journal of Pharmacology, 535, 280, March 27, 2006
11.Anne Kuhlmann Taylor, “Nitric oxide- From pollutant to product,” Chemical Innovation, 30, 41, April 2000
12.Daniel E. Koshland, Jr., “The Molecule of the Year,” Science, 258, 1861, December 18, 1992
13.Carl Djerassi, NO (New York, Penguin Books, 1998), 2
14.Janet Raloff, “Counterintuitive Toxicity,” Science News, 171, 40, January 20, 2007

Monday, August 11, 2008

Major Contributors to Greenhouse Gases- It Isn't Cars

Jack Dini
Livermore, CA

“It’s a silent but deadly source of greenhouse gases that contributes more to global warming than the entire world transportation sector, yet politicians almost never discuss it, and environmental lobbyists and other green activist groups seem unaware of its existence,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “Livestock are a leading source of greenhouse gases. Why isn’t anyone raising a stink.” (1)

In ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow,’ (The Report) released in 2006, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations reported that raising and processing cattle, hogs, poultry and other animals produces 18 percent of greenhouse gases; by comparison 13 percent comes from trucks, cars, and other transportation. And greenhouse gases—those produced directly by animals, and indirectly through the need to transport grain and meat—are only part of the problem. (2)

Carbon dioxide and all the bad things we do with fossil fuels is what we hear about, not that cows and other ruminants, such as sheep and goats, are walking gas factories that take in fodder and besides putting out carbon dioxide also contribute methane and nitrous oxide. The livestock sector generates 65 percent of human-related nitrous oxide , which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of carbon dioxide. Most of this comes from manure. And it accounts for respectively 37 percent of all human-induced methane (23 times as warming as carbon dioxide), which is largely produced by the digestive system of ruminants, and 64 percent of ammonia, which contributes significantly to acid rain. (3)

So what’s a ruminant? Much of the world’s livestock are ruminants—such as sheep, goats, camels, cattle, and buffalo—who have a unique four-chambered stomach. In the primary stomach, called the rumen, bacteria break down food. John Postgate reports, “The rumen is a sort of continuous culture of anaerobic microbes, including protozoa and bacteria, which collectively ferment the starch and cellulose of grass to yield fatty acids, methane and carbon dioxide. Rumen juice is extremely rich in microbes—up to 10 billion organisms/milliliter is commonplace—and they are very active: an ordinary cow produces 150 to 200 liters of gas a day and a large, a well-fed lactating cow is almost a walking gasworks at 500 liters a day. (The gas, by the way emerges from the mouth as a belch, not from the rear end?”(4)

To put this in perspective, on a daily basis, each one of Britain’s 10 million cows pump out the equivalent of up to 4,000 grams of carbon dioxide. This compares with 3,419 grams of carbon dioxide pumped out by a Land Rover Freelander on an average drive of 33 miles. (5)

Livestock now use 30 percent of the earth’s entire land surface, mostly permanent pasture but also including 33 percent of the global arable land used to produce feed for livestock, The Report notes. As forests are cleared to create new pastures, it is a major driver of deforestation, especially in Latin America where, for example, some 70 percent of former forests in the Amazon have been turned over to grazing. (2)

At the same time herds cause wide-scale land degradation, with about 20 percent of pastures considered as degraded through overgrazing, compaction and erosion. This figure is even higher in the drylands where inappropriate policies and inadequate livestock management contribute to advancing desertification.

Yet, as Gelder and Wilcox note in their excellent review of The Report, it also points out that the production of livestock has enormous economic importance. Besides being big business at the industrial level, it is a crucial source of income and a means of survival for vast numbers—nearly a billion—of the world’s poor, for whom it is the only livelihood available. (6)

What To Do?

The Report suggests a number of ways of remedying the situation including programs looking at minimizing land degradation, increasing efficiency of livestock production, improving efficiency of irrigation systems, better ways of treating animal waste, etc. (2)

Researchers are trying to find a diet for cattle to help cut their emissions. One example- giving cows the hormone recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), which boosts their milk production, has been discovered to cut their emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane by 7 percent per liter of milk. Switching a million cows to somatotropin would be equivalent to taking 400,000 family cars off the road. (7)

What can you do as an individual? Become a vegetarian! A University of Chicago study examined the average American diet and found that all the various energy inputs and livestock emissions involved in its production pump an extra 1.5 tons of carbon dioxide into the air over the course of a year, which could be avoided by a vegetarian diet. The researchers found that cutting out meat would do more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than trading in a gas guzzler for a hybrid car. (8)

On this issue, Tony Wardle of the UK says, “This blows a gaping hole in the government’s global warming rhetoric and the action plans of big environmental organizations—even the Green Party. They have known the facts for years but have been terrified of confronting them for fear of losing support. People don’t mind being told to recycle their bottles, use solar panels, cycle to work or switch to a smaller car—but tell them to go vegan…” (9)

Lastly, in a huge document released in July 2008, the EPA lays out the thousand of carbon controls with which they’d like to shackle the whole economy. Although none of it has the force of law yet, the EPA is alarmed by emissions from domestic livestock. A farm with over 25 cows would exceed the EPA’s proposed limits. (10) So if this does become law, the cost of meat will skyrocket. More reason to become a vegetarian.

1.“Killer Cow Emissions,” Los Angeles Times,, October 15, 2007
2.Henning Steinfeld, et al., “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, 2006
3.Christopher Matthews, “Livestock a major threat to environment,” FAONewsroom, November 29, 2006
4.John Postgate, Microbes and Man, 4th Edition, (Cambridge University Press, 2003), 133
5.“How to stop cows burping is the new field work on climate change,”, July 10, 2007
6.Austin Gelder and Lauren Wilcox, “The Carbon Hoofprint,” WORLD ARK, May/June 2008, Page 18
7.“Can cow hormone help battle climate change,?” New Scientist Print Edition, July 2, 2008
8.Gidon Eshel and Pamela A. Martin, “Diet, Energy, and Global Warming,” Earth Interactions, 10, 1, 2006
9.Tony Wardle, “Global Warming-Livestock More Damaging Than Vehicles,” November 20, 2006,
10.“The Lawnmower Men,” The Wall Street Journal, July 19-20, 2008, Page A8

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Aniline Dyes- Unintended Consequences Extraordinaire

Jack Dini
Livermore, CA

(From a series on unintended consequences)

Aniline dyes are perhaps some of the best examples showing how many divergent paths can lead to unintended consequences. Painting a wooden fence with coal tar to keep dogs from a yard led to what was the first of a multitude of unexpected discoveries. In another case, instead of finding quinine, one researcher essentially founded the synthetic dye industry. Another dye, indigo, was synthesized because a thermometer broke and the spilled mercury catalyzed a reaction that caused collapse of the Indian indigo industry. (1) In another example, some dye accidentally spilled on a bacteria culture dish led to the new science of bacteriology. (2) Noting that some dyes killed certain parasites, one scientist developed the concept of chemotherapy. (3) Work on distilling fractions of coal tar also led to the discovery of carbolic acid, used first in antisepsis by surgeons like Lister in Edinburgh, who developed methods of spraying the liquid. (2) The study of dyes also helped launch the “French Impressionist” painting movement.

One could also argue the case that dyes were responsible for Germany developing into a power that could dominate World War I. By the time the war came along, some leading German companies had made such profits from the dye industry that they were able to branch out into pharmaceuticals and explosives. (4) In the United States prior to World War I, job opportunities for chemists were extremely limited since dyes and drugs were imported from Germany. As a result, the typical American research chemist, among the lower paid professions in the country, studied soils for the US Department of Agriculture. (5)

James Burke sums all this up well, “Aniline dyes are a particularly good example of the interactive and unforseen way scientific and technological discovery is triggered.” (2) In this essay we’ll concentrate on the early beginnings of the synthetic dye industry; some others dye-related activities are covered in subsequent articles. First, an answer to the question—what are aniline dyes? They are artificial dyes derived from coal tar, which was the messy residue left after lighting gas from coal or after obtaining coke (for iron making) from coal. Since there was so much of the stuff around, folks were trying to find uses for it. Most likely, the earliest event came when Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge (1794-1867) tried to keep the neighborhood dogs out of his garden. He erected a wooden fence which he painted with coal tar (creosote) as a preservative. As an added inducement to keep the dogs from lifting their legs against his fence he scattered calcium hypochlorite all around to present a chlorine odor. When he inspected the fence the next day there were blue streaks on the white powder, obviously from the trajectories from dog urine jets. Runge discovered that the blue color was the result of oxidation of the hypochlorite by some constituent of the coal tar. He called the blue substance Kymol. Years later, Professor August Wilhelm Hofmann showed that the parent compound in the coal tar was aminobenzene, or aniline, and Kymol was the first synthetic prototype of a dye. (1)

However, the really pioneering event in this field is attributed to William Henry Perkin (1838-1907), a student at the royal College of Chemistry in London. At age seventeen he was trying to derive quinine from coal tar chemicals. The reason for this was that many English in the tropics were dying from malaria and the curative, quinine, wasn’t available in England’s colonies. (2) Perkin’s professor, August Wilhelm Hofmann, a German chemist who came to London at the personal invitation of Queen Victoria (the same Hoffmann mentioned above when discussing Runge), suspected that perhaps quinine could be derived form coal tar. (6)

An ambitious sort, Perkin had his own laboratory at home. During an Easter, break he mixed some aniline with potassium bichromate and ended up with a messy substance. Perkin noted, however, that this material had a purple tinge. He added alcohol to this concoction and a beautiful purple color appeared. It was a synthetic dye. He called it Tyrain purple, later it was called mauve. He realized that this would be a good dye for textiles. (7)

Perkin patented his process for the preparation of the dye and financed by his father, started a dye factory near London. This was the beginning of the synthetic dye industry. It was monumental in that it rescued the poor and middle classes from the age old austerity of hues. For the first time in history, inexpensive dyes became available and people, other than the rich, no longer had to live their lives in untreated drab and dingy fibers. (8) Although the new industry had started in Britain, it operated mainly in Germany up to World War I.

But Perkin did more than just find a synthetic dye. He essentially was responsible for a new way of doing scientific research. Sharon Bertsch McGrayne notes, “Perkin’s mauve spawned the world’s dye and pharmaceutical industries. His synthetic dye was the first in a cascade of colors that institutionalized scientific research, professionalized chemists, changed the economies of vast regions, and helped make turn of the century Germany the world’s leading industrial power. Perkin was an adolescent college dropout, but his work dramatized the technological power of science and ushered in our uniquely science-oriented epoch. The discovery of mauve by Perkin has been credited with starting the tremendous development of organic chemistry in the latter half of the nineteenth century, especially in Germany. With the possible exception of Apple creators Steven Jobs and Steven Wozniak, college dropouts who developed the first ready-made computer in their teens and twenties, it is difficult to imagine a young person’s invention that has started such an enormous revolution.” (9)

There’s more as James Burke notes, “German expertise with color lead to discoveries in apparently unrelated fields, such as that of medicine: the investigation of the chemistry of color led to systematic thinking about the structure and effects of chemicals, and this led directly to drugs like aspirin and to techniques for staining tissue for diagnosis. It was this use of tissue staining to identify potential sufferers from syphilis that led to the disease being treated successfully with the stain chemical itself. The new drug was called Salvarsan.” (10)

While on the subject of color, here’s one last item of note. French chemist M. E. Chevreul, working with dyes, invented an extraordinary new color tool. By taking the three primary colors, red, blue and green and interspersing them with twenty-three color mixtures, he got a chromatic circle of seventy-two colors, his ‘law of simultaneous contrast.’ Then he toned each color by adding a black or white, thereby creating 15,000, the tone-chromatic circle used by all dyers ever since. (11) In addition, as Burke also points out, “Chevreuls’s placement of color for effect did much more then help the textile industry. It also changed the world of art by triggering the French ‘scientific’ impressionist movement. Painters like Seurat, Signac, and Pissaro used Chevreul’s new law of contrast in their work. They placed spots of different colors next to each other to create the impression of a third color, and in doing so achieved the distinctive shimmering effect for which impressionism is famous. (11)

So Perkin, in looking for a cure for quinine, started us down the road to many and varied unintended consequences. And concluding with Perkin, by the age of twenty-three he was rich and famous and by age 35, already a millionaire, he left manufacturing to return to the scientific research he had loved in his youth. In his private laboratory he synthesized coumarin, the first perfume from coal tar, and prepared cinnamic acid by a method so generally useful that it became known as the Perkin reaction. (12)

1.Walter Gratzer, Eurekas and Euphorias, (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2002), 45

2.James Burke and Robert Ornstein, Axemaker’s Gift, (New York, G. P. Putnam’s Son’s, 1995), 197

3.James Burke, The Pinball Effect, (New York, Little, Brown and Company, 1996), 155

4.Stephen Van Dulken, Inventing The 19th Century, (Washington Square, New York, New York University Press, 2000), 188

5.Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, Prometheans in the Lab, (New York, McGraw-Hill, 2001), 111

6.Sharon Bertsch MeGrayne, Prometheans in the Lab, 15

7.Alexander Kohn, Fortune or Failure, (Cambridge, MA, Basil Blackwell, 1989), 46

8.Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, Prometheans in the Lab, 9

9.Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, Prometheans in the Lab, 10

10.James Burke, Connections, (Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 1978), 204

11.James Burke, The Pinball Effect, 93

12.Royston M. Roberts, Serendipity, (New York, John Wiley & Sons, 1989), 70

Pesticides and Fear

Jack Dini
Livermore, CA

“Pesticides have one indisputable effect: they cause emotions to boil over. That’s just what happened when a group of golfers noticed that a chemical sprayer was out on the course as they were completing their round. By the time they got into the clubhouse, several were complaining of headaches, rashes, and general malaise and angrily approached the superintendent to protest what they believed was an irresponsible activity. The golfers linked their symptoms with the chemicals being sprayed on the grounds because they were convinced that the use of pesticides is inherently unsafe.” Joe Schwarcz asks, were they right? (1)

If you believe the health and environmental claims devised by scaremongers you could understand the golfers’ reactions. As Terence Corcoran of Canada notes, “It’s easy to generate a junk science scare. You make stuff up, exaggerate the risks, politicize the subject and spin it into a corporate and ideological battle. And, above all, you ignore the facts. For more than a decades the likes of Greenpeace, the Ontario College of Family Physicians, The Globe and Mail and scores of activists and city politicians have waged a relentless campaign against pesticide use. (2)

Here’s one example. The Audubon Magazine showed a large colored picture of a belching smokestack and reported the following: “Pesticides have become more toxic and their use more widespread. Since 1945 global use of pesticides has risen 50-fold. In the US, more than 220,000 people die each year as a result of pesticide exposure.” (3)

Wow! That’s half as many as the number of deaths from automobile accidents each year. Is there something wrong with this picture? You bet. In the following Audubon issue, a correction was made in an obscure spot not highlighted with a belching smokestack: “In ‘Death by Breath,’ we reported that 220,000 people in the United States die each year as a result of pesticide exposure. In fact, the figure is a worldwide estimate.”

With further digging one finds that more than 90 percent of these deaths are suicides, but this wasn’t reported by Audubon. Joe Schwarcz observes, “Believe it or not, about a million people in the world do away with themselves every year. More than three-quarters of these are in Third World countries, where life can be so miserable that the alternative seems more attractive.” (4) So, yes pesticides can kill, but not at the levels approved for routine usage.

By the way, just what was that dastardly chemical being sprayed on the golf course, the one that caused such severe reactions in the golfers? Good old water! “Fear itself can sometimes be hazardous,” notes Schwarcz. (1)

Now, here’s a story on pesticides that wasn’t picked up by the media. On May 16, 2008Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PEMA) released its final re-evaluation of 2,4-D, the leading pesticide in use in Canada. It was one of the most comprehensive science reviews in Canadian history, carried out exclusively by Health Canada scientists. The conclusion; 2,4-D is safe when used as directed. The decision on 2,4-D was consistent with that of regulators in other Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, including the United States, New Zealand and countries of the European Union, as well as the World Health Organization. (5)

Terence Corcoran notes, “No major media—not one—picked up the story, even though it systematically demolished every health and environmental claim the scaremongers had dumped onto a gullible community of journalists. Almost two weeks later, the Ottawa Citizen’s Dan Gardner wrote a column on how the media missed the story. Still no reaction.” Think of how the reaction would have been if Health Canada had concluded that 2,4-D was harmful. The media and environmentalists would have had a field day. Corcoran adds, “The limited fallout from Mr. Gardner’s report is instructive. A Global News reporter picked it up and raised the Health Canada report with officials in Toronto. Health Canada’s conclusions were dismissed by a city council member, and the views of an activist with the Toronto Environmental Alliance were repeated; ‘Many studies have linked 2,4-D to some serious health concerns such as cancer reproductive developments in our children and even birth defects.’ One of the most comprehensive scientific reviews in Canadian history, carried out exclusively by Health Canada scientists and reviewed by independent government and university researchers trashed in 30 seconds by an activist repeating claims rejected by the review. All that work and the last media report ends with repetition of the junk science Health Canada had spent millions disproving.” (2)

In commenting on why the Health Canada report wasn’t taken up by the media, Dan Gardner states that this is a typical reaction. He notes, “The media routinely gives prominent play to research that comes to very scary conclusions while downplaying or ignoring studies that find there’s nothing to worry about. It’s frightening to watch a major debate involving a scientific question move from stories in newspapers to politicians’ speeches to legislative action—all with little or no connection to the best science as interpreted by the best scientists.” (6)

In another column Garner reported, “Some folks objected to the reports conclusion that 2,4-D is safe ‘when used as directed.’ People may misuse it, they said, and then it would be harmful. That potential is reason enough to ban it. This ignores two things. First, literally any substance is potentially harmful. Oxygen can, in some circumstances, cause blindness. Drink too much water and the body’s sodium and potassium levels will be thrown off, leading to seizures, coma and even death. And don’t get me started on what coffee can do the human body.” He adds, “Of course, we have to drink huge quantities of water to be harmed by it so water is quite safe. Obviously, pesticides—and lots of other substances—are not so safe. But what most people don’t realize is that regulators build a wide safety margin into their standards. In the case of pesticides, the potential level of exposure can be no more than 1/100 of the dose that showed no effect in animals.” (7)

A final note on pesticides. If you worry about these types of things, this will really set you off. We get much more natural pesticides than synthetic pesticides in our diet. Bruce Ames and his colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, report that about 99.99 percent of all pesticides in the human diet are natural pesticides from plants. All plants produce toxins to protect themselves against fungi, insects and animal predators, such as man. Tens of thousands of these natural pesticides have been discovered, and every species of plant contains its own set of different toxins, usually a few dozen. When plants are stressed or damaged (such as during a pest attack), they increase their levels of natural pesticides manifold, occasionally to levels that are acutely toxic to humans. Ames estimates that Americans eat about 1,500 mg per person per day of natural pesticides, which is 10,000 times more than we eat of synthetic pesticides. He also estimates that a person ingests annually about 5,000 to 10,000 different natural pesticides and their breakdown products. (8)


1.Joe Schwarcz, The Fly in the Ointment, (Toronto, Canada, ECW Press, 2004), 39
2.Terence Corcoran, “The pesticide report that nobody read,”, June 16, 2008
3.Gretel H. Schueller, “Death by Breath,” Audubon Magazine, 101, 16, January-February 1999
4.Joe Schwarcz, Let Them Eat Flax, (Toronto, Canada, ECW Press, 2005), 80
5.“Health Canada Releases Final Re-evaluation Decision on 2,4-D,” Pest Management Regulatory Agency Information Note, May 16, 2008
6.Dan Gardner, “On Pesticides, Science and Fear,” The Ottawa Citizen, May 28, 2008
7.Dan Gardner, “The Science of Uncertainty,” The Ottawa Citizen, June 7, 2008
8.B. N. Ames and L. S. Gold, “Paracelsus to parascience: the environmental cancer distraction,” Mutation Research, 447, 3, 2000

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Acetylene- Champion of Unintended Consequences

Jack Dini
Livermore, California

(From a series on Unintended Consequences)

Acetylene could perhaps take the prize for how knowledge, intuitiveness, serendipity, and a mix of unintended consequences all came together in various parts of the world at different times to produce a variety of unexpected materials. In 1892, Canadian researchers Thomas Willson and James Morehead, attempted to produce aluminum in an electric furnace. They started with a mixture of coal tar and lime reasoning that the lime would be converted to calcium which, in turn, would strip the oxide away from aluminum oxide leaving pure aluminum. Upon opening the furnace they saw a dark residue, not the shiny aluminum they were expecting. When the mixture was thrown into a stream near their lab (this was long before the days of environmental concerns and regulations), bubbles formed and a plume of water shot into the air. They had discovered calcium carbide and acetylene. (1) On the other side of the world, Henri Moissan, a Frenchman trying to make artificial diamonds also discovered calcium carbide and acetylene. (2) But these scientists weren’t the first in this area of invention. Friedrich Wohler, a professor of chemistry at the University of Gottingen, had made calcium carbide around 1862 by heating calcium with charcoal to a high temperature. He observed that it formed acetylene when it reacted with water. However, his method of making the materials wasn’t efficient, so the discovery lay dormant until the 1890s, the era of the gaslight. (1) When it was realized that acetylene burned with a far more brilliant flame than kerosene, and efficient ways of making carbide were available, a vast new market opened up. As Joe Schwarcz reports, “By 1895 Thomas Willson had founded the company that eventually became Union Carbide, one of the biggest chemical companies in the world. Soon consumers were able to purchase lamps based on calcium carbide, clever devices in which water dripped into a container of carbide and generated acetylene gas. This gas, in turn, flowed to a nozzle where it could be ignited. A mirrored surface behind the flame increased the intensity of the light.” (3)

Then Thomas Edison came along with his electric light and the bottom dropped out of the acetylene market. Enter Fritz Klatte, working in Stuttgart at Greisham Electron. He was trying to find a material for weatherproofing aircraft wings. Working with a mixture of acetylene, hydrogen chloride, and mercury, he was unsuccessful, and set the mixture on a sunny window sill. Later he noticed that it formed a milky sludge which eventually turned solid. He convinced his firm to file a patent on the mixture and they did, but nothing was done to commercialize the discovery. In 1925 the patent lapsed. (4) It should also be noted, that as with acetylene, PVC had originally been discovered long before Klatte came along. French physicist Henri Victor Regnault was the original discoverer in 1835 but nothing was done with the product.

Back to Klatte. A year after his patent expired (1926), an American chemist, Waldo Semon, working at B. F. Goodrich, independently reinvented PVC. He envisioned that this material would make a perfect shower curtain so he and his colleagues at Goodrich patented the process (Klatte’s team apparently never filed for a patent outside Germany). It turns out PVC was much more than shower curtain material. It became the forerunner of many plastics without which modern industrialized nations could no longer function. (5)

These days PVC is everywhere. It’s one of the most widely used plastics in the world. It is also the cheapest and probably the most versatile plastic. Some uses include pipe and pipe fittings (the largest scale use), floppy computer discs, garden hose, building sidings, wire and cable insulation, food packaging, automobile seat covers, shower curtains, and many other household uses. (6)

Other Uses For Acetylene

In 1895, the same year Willson established his company, French chemist Henry-Louis Chatelier, discovered that when acetylene was burned with an equal volume of oxygen, a flame with a temperature over 3000 C was obtained. This temperature, high enough to melt steel, was much higher than achievable with any other gas and introduced the concept of welding. Oxyacetylene welding was a boon to the construction industry and is widely used today.

Joe Schwarcz adds, “About half of all acetylene produced today goes towards the production of other organic chemicals. Adding hydrogen cyanide to acetylene, for example, yields acrylonitrile, which is used in the production of acrylic fibers. Acetylene can also be converted into vinyl acetylene, which is the raw material needed for the manufacture of neoprene, one of the most useful synthetic rubbers.” (7) But once again, this wasn’t a finding that came easily or was predictable. Wallace Carothers, a chemist at Du Pont challenged one of his assistants, Arnold Collins, to make synthetic rubber. You guessed it—acetylene was the key starting material. Reacting it with hydrochloric acid produced something they called vinylacetylene, and one weekend when a mixture was left setting in a flask, by the following Monday it had turned into a tiny, cauliflower-type mass. Sharon Bertsch McGrayne notes, “Collins stuck a wire into the glass vessel and fished a few cubic centimeters of the substance out. It felt strong, resilient, and elastic, much like vulcanized rubber. Almost without thinking, Collins threw the mass against his laboratory bench. It bounced like a golf ball. Collins had made chloroprene in his test tube, and over the weekend it had spontaneously polymerized into the high-grade synthetic rubber that Du Pont would market as Neoprene.” (8)

DuPont promoted it cleverly as a specialty rubber, more durable than natural rubber and more resistant to oil, gasoline, solvents, sunlight, and heat. Neoprene was also great for making balloons, like the ones used in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. It also gave chemists the impetus to develop other synthetic rubbers. (7)

So from experiments originally intended to produce aluminum in one case and cheap diamonds in another, acetylene, a key player in the plastics, chemistry, and metallurgical industries, was discovered. This then led to PVC and other plastics, many organic chemicals, and oxyacetylene welding. Besides all this, both acetylene and PVC had been discovered a number of times before their value was really known. Is there any doubt why this should not put acetylene at, or near the top of the unintended consequences list?


1.Joe Schwarcz, The Genie in the Bottle, (New York, Henry Holt & Company, 2002), 154

2.James Burke, Connections, (Boston, Little, Brown & Company, 1978), 209

3.Joe Schwarcz, The Genie in the Bottle, 155

4.James Burke, Circles, (New York, Simon & Schuster, 2000), 220

5.“Poly(vinyl chloride),”

6.Royston M. Roberts, Serendipity, (New York, John Wiley & Sons, 1989), 185

7.Joe Schwarcz, The Genie in the Bottle, 156

8.Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, Prometheans in the Lab, (New York, McGraw-Hill, 2001), 131

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Global Warming Goes Round and Round

Jack Dini
Livermore, CA

(From Hawaii Reporter, May 28, 2008)

A very powerful case that the climate trend we’re currently seeing is part of a product of a solar-linked cycle that creates harmless naturally warmer conditions approximately every 1500 years is made in a recent book, Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1500 Years, by S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery. It has 459 references, a glossary and an index. This well written book is arguably the best book to date on the politics and science of global warming. In addition to presenting evidence for the 1,500 year solar cycle, first proposed by European researchers in the mid 1990s, the authors address both the Greenhouse and Solar/Cosmic Ray theories of climate change.(1) Singer and Avery maintain that there are natural cycles of cooling and warming going back at least a million years. These are small excursions of global temperature, much smaller than the ice ages, which is why they haven’t been noticed until the last 25 years or so.

This was reported in 1984 with the first analysis from the Greenland ice cores. Willi Dansgaard and Hans Oescher published their analysis of the oxygen isotopes in the ice cores extracted from Greenland. These cores provided 250,000 years of the Earth’s climate history in one set of ‘documents.’ The scientists compared the ratio of ‘heavy’ oxygen-18 isotopes to the ‘lighter’ oxygen-16 isotopes, which indicated the temperature at the time the snow had fallen. (2) As Singer and Avery report, “They expected to find evidence of the known 90,000 year Ice Ages and the mild interglacial periods recorded in the ice, and they did. However, they did not expect to find anything in between. To their surprise, they found a clear cycle—moderate, albeit abrupt—occurring about every 2,550 years running persistently through both. (This period would soon be reassessed at 1,500 years plus or minus 500 years.)” (3)

Since this early discovery, its fingerprints have been found all over the world, both in ice cores and sediments. (4)
- An ice core from the Antarctic’s Vostok Glacier, at the other end of the world from Greenland, was brought up in 1987 and showed the same 1,500 year climate cycle throughout its 400,000 year length.

- The 1,500 year cycle has been revealed in seabed sediment cores brought up from the floors of such far-flung waters as the North Atlantic Ocean and the Arabian Sea, the Western Pacific, and the Sargasso Sea.

- One seabed core near Iceland goes back a million years, and the 1,500 year cycle runs through the whole million years, roughly 600 of these moderate, natural cycles.

Over the last 1,200 years there has been a “Medieval Warming” (900-1300), when Greenland was green; a “Little Ice Age” (1300-1850), when New York harbor froze and people could walk from Manhattan across the ice to Staten Island a mile away (in 1780); and the current global warming (1850-??). Rather than ‘global warming,’ a better term for this phase of the solar cycle is “Modern Warming.” Since 1850, temperatures have risen 0.8 degrees C, most rapidly in 1850-1870 and 1920-1940. Temperatures in the 1,500 year solar cycle fluctuate within a 4 degree C range—two degrees above and two degrees below the norm. An added important point is that three-fourths of the present warming occurred before 1940, which was before most of the human emitted carbon dioxide we hear so much about these days.

So today’s global warming is part of a natural 1,500-year plus or minus 500-year cycle operating for at least a million years. The Earth’s climate has warmed and cooled nine times in the past 12,000 years in lock step with the waxing and waning of the sun’s magnetic activity. (5) The linkage with the sun has been verified by correlation between the Carbon 14 and Beryllium 10 isotopes in the ice with sunspot numbers.

The modern warming is not confined to this planet. Mars ice caps are melting and Jupiter is developing a second giant red spot, an enormous hurricane-like storm. Jupiter’s original Great Red Spot is 300 years old and twice the size of Earth. The new storm-Red Spot Jr. -is thought to be the result of a sudden warming on our solar system’s largest planet. Some parts of Jupiter are now as much as 6 C warmer than just a few years ago. (6) Neptune’s moon, Triton has heated up significantly since 1989. Parts of its frozen nitrogen surface have begun melting and turning to gas. (7) Even Pluto has warmed slightly in recent years, if you can call -230 C warmer than
-233 C.

All of this prompts Lorne Gunter to ask, “Is there something all these heavenly bodies have in common? Some one thing they all share that could be causing them to warm in unison? Hmmmm, is there some, giant, self-luminous ball of burning gas with a mass more than 300,000 times that of Earth and a core temperature of more than 20 million degrees C, that for the past century or more has been unusually active and powerful? Is there something like that around which they can all revolve that could be causing global warming?” (6)

Singer and Avery also cover a number of other issues:

- A particularly interesting chapter focuses on common sense regarding the extinction of species. The authors explain that most of the world’s animal species evolved 600 million years ago, so we know most of today’s species have successfully dealt with ice ages and global warming periods that have sent temperatures much higher and much lower than today’s temperatures. (8)

- The authors look at history and confirm that the frequency and severity of hurricanes, droughts, thunderstorms, hail and tornadoes have not increased in recent years. (9) John Christy of the University of Alabama at Huntsville, in testimony before Congress noted, ‘that the most significant droughts in the Southwestern United States occurred more than four hundred years ago, before 1600.’ He stated that before 1850, American’s Great Plains were called the ‘Great American Desert,’ and experts at the time said the region couldn’t be farmed. Weather just seems unusual and dangerous these days, said Christy, because of the increased media coverage of major storms.


Jay Lehr sums it up quite well, “Singer and Avery shatter the greenhouse gas theory, making it clear humanity’s modest addition to the atmosphere’s small amount of carbon dioxide does not hold up to a significant alteration in temperature. Obviously, all of this does not square with efforts to get us to reduce our use of cars, air conditioners, and fertilizer in order to reduce carbon in our atmosphere.” (10) So, regardless of what you do to reduce your carbon footprint, Mother Nature really doesn’t care.


1.S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery, Unstoppable Global Warming, (New York, Rowman & Littlefield publishers, 2008), 24

2.W. Dansgaard et al., “North Atlantic Climatic Oscillations Revealed by Deep Greenland Ice Cores,” in Climate Processes and Climate Sensitivity, J. E. Hansen and T. Takahashi, Editors, (Washington, DC, American Geophysical Union, 1984) Geophysical Monograph 29, 288-90

3.S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery, Unstoppable Global Warming, 2

4.S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery, Unstoppable Global Warming, 3

5.Gerard Bond et al., “Persistent Solar Influence on North Atlantic Climate During the Holocene,” Science, 294, 2130, December 10, 2001

6.Lorne Gunter, “Breaking: Warming on Jupiter, Mars, Pluto, Neptune’s Moon & Earth Linked to Increased Solar Activity, Scientists Say,” National Post, March 13, 2007

7.J. L. Elliot, et al., “Global Warming on Triton,” Nature, 393, 765, June 25, 1998

8.S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery, Unstoppable Global Warming, 163

9.S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery, Unstoppable Global Warming, 201

10.Jay Lehr, “Careful Review of Science Refutes Global Warming Myths,” Environment & Climate News, 10, 12, March 2007

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Looking For Germs? Check Your Money.

Jack Dini
Livermore, CA

(From Hawaii Reporter, May 15, 2008)

The legal tender in your pocket or purse definitely carries some germs and most likely also has some cocaine. Researchers at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio collected 68 dollar bills from people at a grocery store and a high-school sporting event. According to Dr. Peter Ender, lead researcher, sixty-four (94%) of the bills were contaminated with bacteria known to cause either serious or mild illness. Five bills (7%) were found to be contaminated with bacteria which can cause infections in healthy people. Those bacteria included Staphylococcus aureus and Klebsiella pneumoniae, both of which can cause pneumonia or blood infections. Fifty-nine bills were contaminated with bacteria that are usually harmless in healthy individuals, but can still trigger serious illness in those with depressed immune systems, such as people undergoing various types of medical treatment or those with HIV. (1) However, Ender stressed that real health risks to the average consumer are pretty low, adding that US dollar bills may be no more or less covered in microbial goo than, say, doorknobs, pens, or computer keyboards. But he points out that US currency, especially ‘finds its way into all areas of the world.’ “With the rapid dissemination of money in the era of drug-resistant bacteria, perhaps a resistance clone could be spread from one geographic location to another,” he concludes. (2)

Philip Turner adds, “Many studies, including two of my own, have shown that money can be effective for germ transaction. ABC’s “20/20” asked me to help them prepare a segment on this issue, and I devised a plan for collecting money from street vendors, shops, restaurants, and other establishments in Chicago, New York City, and Washington, DC. After each transaction, the bills received were put directly into newly purchased wallets, which were then sealed in plastic. The bills were tested and found to be contaminated with germs of fecal, respiratory, and skin origin. Although the risk of contracting a serious infection from dirty money is low, the germ count is high enough to make it easy to contract a cold, a bout of diarrhea, and similar ailments.” (3)

Depending on where you are in the world you might get a different reaction to this issue. Disease experts in northeastern India issued a recent report that said ‘overused and soiled’ currency can transmit tuberculosis, pneumonia and other lung infections. British health authorities and travel guides regularly warn tourists in the region to wash their hand following every financial transaction. (4)

By contrast, Dr. Frank Vriesekoop, from Ballarat University in Australia, reported that there are generally very few pathogenic bacteria on banknotes and coins. He found low levels of common bacteria on the currency that were traded through various food outlets in Australia and New Zealand. He claims that it would be impossible for them to cause diseases like diarrhea, vomiting, or other gastric symptoms as usually believed, as their numbers were so insignificantly small, and that fears about currency hygiene were unwarranted. (5)

So, what can you do? Well, thorough washing of your hands is most important. Or, you could travel to Japan or Australia. In Japan you can go to a ‘clean ATM’ and get your yen pressed between rollers for one-tenth of a second at 392 F, enough to kill many bacteria. (6)

The dirtiness of bills in one reason Australia is leading the charge to use a plastic currency that is supposed to be inhospitable to both germs and counterfeiters and four times as durable as paper notes. Australia introduced the rubber-feeling bills in 1998 and now prints them for 33 other countries, including Romania, Malaysia, and Mexico. (7)

Another option is to launder your money—literally, like the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, which took emergency action in an effort to stop the spread of SARS. They put into effect a policy of holding money for twenty-four hours before re-circulating it—long enough for the germs to die. Money is also sterilized by being placed under ultraviolet light for an hour. (1)

Or, you could just carry coins. Patricia Gadsby reports that anything that is very hard and dry isn’t terribly hospitable to bacteria, and many metals have antibacterial activity. Pennies often are sterile, presumably due to the copper, and most US coins are also about 75 percent copper. (6)

Best recommendation is perhaps from Laura Lee, “Then again, none of these extreme measures is really necessary, say the experts. Although the germs on money have the potential to contaminate people, there are no documented cases that it has. Instead of avoiding or cleaning money, the best protection is to wash your hands regularly.” (1)


“The probability that every single person in the United States is carrying drug-tainted money is almost certain,” says Dr. James Woodford, forensic chemist from Atlanta. Woodford cites a 1989 experiment by Miami toxicologist Dr. William Hearn, who gathered 136 dollar bills from banks in twelve cities. Of these 131 had traces of cocaine.

A study conducted at the Houston Advanced Research Center in Texas and the Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois examined currency (mostly singles, but also fives, tens, and twenties) in Miami, Chicago, and Houston. This project found an overall 70 to 80 percent contamination rate in the three cities, with single dollar bills more commonly contaminated than the higher denominations. Overall, the more worn the bills, the more coke was found on them. In very old bills, the contamination rate was closer to 90 percent. A recent look at money circulating in northern Illinois, found even higher rates: close to 93 percent of the sample, and 100 percent of the $20 bills tested positive for cocaine. “In fact, most Americans handle small amounts of cocaine every day, not as packets sold by drug dealers, but on the dollar bills that line their pockets,” were conclusions from this study. (6)

J. Oyler and colleagues reported that cocaine was present in 79% of currency samples analyzed in amounts above 0.1 microgram and in 54% of the currency in amounts above 1.0 microgram. Contamination was widespread and was found in single dollar bills from a number of US cities. Cocaine amounts were highly variable and ranged from nanogram to milligram amounts. The highest amount of cocaine detected on a single dollar bill was 1327 milligrams. These results indicated that cocaine contamination of currency is widespread throughout the United States. (9) The reason for this contamination relates to the exchange of illicit cocaine for money by drug dealers. During this exchange there is ample opportunity for paper currency to become contaminated.

Should you worry? Not at all. Cocaine on cash is so commonplace that the courts have ruled that police can no longer use a drug-sniffing dog’s signal to nab a suspect or to confiscate money because it’s deemed drug-related. (7)


1.Laura Lee, 100 Most Dangerous Things in Everyday Life, (New York, Broadway Books, 2004), 140
2.“Bacteria Study Gives New Meaning to ‘Dirty Money’”, Reuters, May 23, 2001
3.Philip M. Turner, The Secret Life of Germs, (New York, Pocket Books, 2001), 104
4.Steve Newman, “Currency Health Risk,” San Francisco Chronicle, May 4, 2002, Page C10
5.“Research Shows That Money May Not Harbor Many Pathogenic Bacteria,”, July 13, 2006
6.Patricia Gadsby, “Filthy lucre-money is contaminated with bacteria,” Discover, 19, 76, October 1998
7.Carol X. Vinzant, “The Secret Life of the Dollar,”; accessed January 30, 2008
8.Kathryn Garfield, “Stinking Lucre,” Discover, 28, 15, February 2007
9.J. Oyler, W. D. Darwin, and E. J. Crane, “Cocaine contamination of United States paper currency,” J. Anal. Toxicol., 20, 213, 1996

Monday, April 7, 2008

More Pressing Issues Than Global Warming

Jack Dini
Livermore, CA

(From Hawaii Reporter, April 7, 2008)

“As often happens—especially these days with Web-based media—contentious issues such as global warming become politicized to the point that the discourse trivializes to an alarming extent. Indeed, all one seems to hear about climate change are essentially useless debates between believers and skeptics, along with unrealistic and grotesquely draconian proposals that would force us back into the Stone Age in an effort to mitigate carbon dioxide production,” says Michael Shaw. He adds, “Assertions by zealots and politicians, who should really know better, that climate change is the ‘most important environmental problem facing the world,’ ought to be subjected to the cold light of reason. Before untold resources are spent, shouldn’t we at least compare climate change to other problems facing mankind?” (1)

Let’s look at some of these other problems facing mankind. Ten of the most serious challenges facing the world today include: access to education, climate change, communicable diseases, conflicts, corruption and governance, financial instability, hunger and malnutrition, migration, sanitation and access to clean water, and subsidies and trade barriers. The Copenhagen Consensus explored opportunities for addressing these issues. This group, organized by Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg, is an attempt by leading economists (including three Nobelists) to set priorities for spending using traditional cost-benefit analysis. They were asked to address the challenge areas and to answer the question: ‘What would be the best ways of advancing global welfare, and particularly the welfare of developing countries, supposing that an additional $50 billion of resources were at governments’ disposal?’ Challenge papers, commissioned from acknowledged authorities in each area of policy, set out more than thirty proposals in descending order of desirability. In ordering the proposals the panel was guided predominantly by consideration of economic costs and benefits. (2)

The results? Compared to other issues such as communicable diseases, malnutrition and hunger, sanitation and water, and the rest, climate change ranked last on the list. Vernon Smith, Professor of Economics and Law, George Mason University, provided this summation: “It is clear from both the science and the economics of intervention that those of us who care about the environment are not well advised to favor initiating a costly attempt to reduce greenhouse gases build-up in the atmosphere in the near future based on available information. Although the ultimate dangers may turn out to prompt action, the current evidence indicates that it is much too soon to act relative to the many other important and pressing opportunities that demand immediate attention.”(3) (Smith’s italics, not mine)

Indur M. Goklany, whose resume includes stints with federal and state governments, think tanks, and the private sector for over 30 years, has also analyzed this issue. He examined certain risks to humanity, and compared the contributory effects of climate change to non-climate factors. His most significant conclusion: “Climate change is clearly not the most important environmental, let alone public health problem facing the world today, nor is it likely to be the most important environmental problem confronting human or environmental well-being, at least through the foreseeable future. Hence, the argument that we should shift resources from dealing with the real and urgent problems confronting present generations to solving potential problems of tomorrow’s wealthier and better positioned generations is unpersuasive at best and verging on immoral at worst.” (4)

Goklany provides data from the World Health Organization (WHO). Similar to the conclusions from the Copenhagen Consensus mentioned earlier, climate change doesn’t even make the top ten global health risk factors related to food, nutrition, and environmental occupation exposure. Specifically, the WHO provides the following information:

Malaria (2001) 1.12 million deaths
Malnutrition 3.24 million deaths
Unsafe water, inadequate sanitation,
and hygiene 1.73 million deaths
Indoor air pollution from heating and cooking
with wood, coal, and dung 1.62 million deaths
Urban air pollution 800,000 deaths
Lead exposure 230,000 deaths

How many deaths from climate change? No one knows. However, a review paper published in Nature in 2005 claims that global warming may have been responsible for about 170,000 deaths worldwide in 2000. (5) This estimate is based on an analysis which was put out under the auspices of WHO. However, as Goklany notes, “The 170,000 estimate should be viewed with skepticism since science was admittedly sacrificed in hot pursuit of a predetermined policy objective.” (4)

Let’s look at malaria. Some alarmists promote the idea that tropical diseases like malaria will spread because of global warming. However, the geographical spread of these diseases has very little to do with climate. (6) Throughout the Little Ice Age, malaria was a major epidemic disease in Europe and far into the Arctic Circle. (7) In the nineteenth century, malaria, cholera, and other diarrheal and parasitic diseases were prevalent around the world, including northern Europe. (7) Malaria was endemic in England until the late 1800s and in Finland until after World War II. Malaria in the US was still endemic in 36 states until after World War II. (6) Today this disease is a problem only in countries where the necessary public health measures are unaffordable or have been compromised. Past history reveals that combating malaria is primarily a question of development to ensure efficient monitoring of the disease and resources to secure a strong effort to eradicate the mosquitoes and their breeding grounds. Wealth and a functioning public health system is what matters when it comes to combating tropical diseases. (7)

Malaria is functionally eliminated in a society whose annual per capita income reaches $3,100. Even under the poorest scenario prediction, the average GDP per capita for developing countries is projected to be $11,000. Hence, few, if any countries ought to be below the $3,100 threshold in 2085. (4) According to the UN Millennium project, a 75% reduction in malaria deaths can be achieved for $3 billion/year, with a program focused directly on malaria prevention. Talk about a better bang for your buck! (1)


By focusing our priorities on future generations, we focus less on improving the lives of people who are alive today. These future generations bear no closer relationship to us than those now living in developing countries whose lives we disdain to save. Why are we not feeding people in the world who are hungry? Why are we not giving clean water to the almost one billion people who don’t have clean water? The greatest source of environmental degradation is poverty. Why aren’t we helping eliminate poverty? One answer is that perhaps it is a lot easier worrying about future generations than trying to fix present day problems.

Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the organization which is providing much of the doom and gloom about global warming, raises the flag about future generations. This is the same IPCC whose scenarios predict that by 2100, nations that are poor today will at least by as rich as we are at present, and more likely will be 2 to 4 times more wealthy. The IPCC makes this important point about developing countries: “If we take aggressive action to limit climate change they may regret that we did not use the funds instead to push ahead development in Africa, to better protect species against the next retrovirus, or to dispose of nuclear materials safely…Alternatively, if the developed countries choose to embark on an aggressive control regime now, and if this cuts into their growth rates, the result will shrink export markets for developing countries and thus reduce growth there. In addition, if developed countries view their greenhouse effects as, in effect, aid to developing countries, they may cut back on other programs (sanitation, education for women, etc.) that have a more immediate impact on life expectancy, health and well-being.” (8)

Bjorn Lomborg observes: “Imagine if you were a rich Chinese or a rich Rwandan or a rich Bolivian in 2100, looking back on 2004, saying how odd that people of 2004 were so concerned about helping me a little bit through climate change and so relatively unconcerned about helping my grandfather and my great-grandfather who needed the help much, much more. (9)


1.Michael D. Shaw, “A Rational Look at Climate Change,”, February 10, 2008
2.Global Crises, Global Solutions, Bjorn Lomborg, Editor, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004) 605
3.Global Crises, Global Solutions, Bjorn Lomborg, Editor, 635
4.Indur M. Goklany, “What to do about climate Change,” Policy Analysis No. 609, Cato Institute, February 5, 2008
5.Jonathan A Patz et al., “Impact of Regional Climate Change on Human Health,” Nature, 438, 310 2005
6.Martin Ague, “Is Kyoto a good idea?” in Adapt or Die, Kendra Okonski, Editor, (London, Profile Books Limited, 2003), 77
7.Bjorn Lomborg, The Skeptical Environmentalist, (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2001), 291
8.Wilfred Beckerman, “The precautionary principle and our obligation to future generations,” in Rethinking Risk and the Precautionary Principle, Julian Morris, Editor, (Oxford, Butterworth Heinemann, 2000), 53
9.Marc Morano, “Ignore Global Warming Says Former Greenpeace Member,”, December 14, 2004

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

No Consensus on Global Warming

Jack Dini
Livermore, CA

(From Hawaii Reporter, April 1, 2008)

“Rashomon,” a celebrated Japanese film, presents four witnesses observing a single crime. Each witness perceives the situation so differently that the audience experiences what appears to be four distinct events. Current discourse on climate change, or if you prefer, global warming, raises a “Rashomon-like” specter of competing perceptions. On the one side are those of see the world in a heap of trouble. As Lynn Scarlett notes, “They focus on the moment, see despoliation, and predict doom. They believe we can evade doom, but only through sweeping changes, wrought through single-minded pursuit of an environmental imperative.” (1) They are convinced that mankind is responsible for the earth’s surface warming about 0.7C over the past century. These are the folks in the ‘consensus category’ that Al Gore and the media talk about. According to Gore, “The science is settled on climate change. The planet has a fever and its cause is too many cars, power plants, factories, and other human-related sources putting too many emissions into the atmosphere.” (2)

On the other side are the ‘disbelievers.’ These folks posit that warming is part of Mother Nature’s natural cycle and there isn’t a whole lot we can do about it. Although they are a ‘minority,’ there are many more scientists that fit this category than most people realize. They aren’t given much media attention since the media for the most part belongs too the ‘consensus’ group. After all, you don’t get attention by saying that things are just fine; you need to spruce news up with doom and gloom stories. More than 22,000 scientists signed the dissenting “Petition Project” which urges political leaders to reject the Kyoto Protocol or other similar proposals that would mandate draconian tax and regulatory measures aimed at virtually all human economic activity. The petition states there is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other green house gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate. (3)

According to a January 1, 2007 New York Times article by Andrew Revkin, a new middle stance has emerged in the debate over climate change. Revkin reports that more scientists are distancing themselves from the extreme fear mongering and exaggerated claims of the climate-change alarmists. (4)

Marc Morano notes that after a May 16, 2007 vote in the Senate on global warming, “there is a shift taking place in climate science. Many former believers in catastrophic man-made global warming have recently reversed themselves and are now climate skeptics. The media’s fear factor seemingly grows louder even as the latest science grows less and less alarming by the day. It is also worth noting that the proponents of climate change fears are increasingly attempting to suppress dissent by skeptics.” (5)

In December 2007, over 400 scientists from more than two dozen countries voiced significant objections to major aspects of the so-called ‘consensus’ on man-made global warming. These scientists, many of whom are current and former participants in the UN IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), criticized the climate claims made by the UN IPCC, and Al Gore in a report issued by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The report lists the scientists by name, country of residence, and academic/institutional affiliation. It also provides their own words, biographies, and weblinks to their peer reviewed studies and original source materials as gathered from public statements, various news outlets, and websites in 2007. (6)

And more recently, scientists skeptical of man-made climate fears met at the 2008 International Conference on Climate Change in New York City. The March 2-4 groundbreaking conference featured about 100 speakers with over people in attendance. Key items discussed at the conference included:
- Most of climate change is caused by natural forces.
- The human contribution is not significant.
- Solar activity changes are the main cause of climate change.

William Jasper reports,”The advocates of Kyoto and other schemes to super-regulate the planet frequently try to portray the scientists who dispute their claims of global warming peril as fringies, fogies, and ‘nut cases’ who shouldn’t be taken seriously. However, as brutal scientific facts have poked holes in their hypothetical global-warming models, the Gore camp has become more strident and abusive. Rather than answer the scientific critiques, they have tended simply to accuse opposition scientists of being in the pay of energy companies. Even worse, they have adapted the tactic of labeling scientists who dispute their claims as being ‘climate-change deniers,’ on a par with ‘Holocaust deniers.” The more radical elements of the climate-change alarmist movement have targeted dissenting scientists for vilification and harassment, even trying to deprive them of their jobs, research grants, and tenure. The most virulent ‘Greens’ call for them to be tried as ‘traitors.’ (2)

Many of the scientists feature in the Senate Report issued in December 2007 consistently stated that numerous colleagues shared their views, but they will not speak out publicly for fear of retribution. Atmospheric scientist, Dr. Nathan Paldor, Professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and author of almost 70 peer-reviewed studies, explains how many of his fellow scientists have been intimidated: “Many of my colleagues with whom I spoke share these views and report on their inability to publish their skepticism in the scientific or public media.” (6) Another example is Dr. Robert Giegengack of the University of Pennsylvania, a geologist who studies ancient atmospheres and finds no relationship between global temperatures in the past and carbon dioxide levels. He says other scientists have told him to just stop broadcasting that finding saying, “People come to me and say, ‘Stop talking like this, you’re hurting the cause.’” (7)

Looks like William F. Buckley, Jr., wasn’t far off the mark with his comment: “The heavy condemnatory breathing on the subject of global warming outdoes anything since high moments of the Inquisition.” (8)

Some Final Words

Assertions by zealots and politicians, who should really know better, that climate change is the ‘most important environmental problem facing the world,’ ought to be subjected to the cold light of reason says Michael Shaw. Before untold resources are spent, shouldn’t we at least compare climate change to other problems facing mankind? (9) What about issues like communicable diseases, malnutrition and hunger, sanitation and access to clean water? Many, if not all, of these demand immediate attention and can aid folks in serious need at present, not some future generations, that may or may not be affected by the weather in the 2100s.

Lastly, 30 years ago we were supposedly headed into a cooling cycle akin to the Little Ice Age. (10) Now, it’s an unprecedented heating cycle. If you ask me, that’s an awfully quick time for a flip-flop on the weather. If the 14 billion year cosmic history were scaled to one day, then 100,000 years of human history would be 4 minutes and a 100 year life-span would be 0.2 seconds. (11) So, in less than 0.1 second in cosmic time we’ve switched on climate change. Seems like we need a few more cosmic time seconds to gather more data.


1.Lynn Scarlett, “Clear Thinking About the Earth,” in Environmental Gore, John A. Baden, Editor, (San Francisco, Pacific Research Institute, 1994), 249
2.William F. Jasper, “2008 Climate Debate,” The New American, March 31, 2008
3.William F. Jasper, “Analyzing Global-Warming Science,” The New American, February 18, 2008
4.Andrew C. Revkin, “A New Middle Stance Emerges in Debate Over Climate,” The New York Times, January 1, 2007
5.Marc Morano, “List of global warming activists, now skeptics,” Spero News, May 16, 2007
6.“United States Senate Report: Over 400 Prominent Scientists Disputed Man-Made Global Warming Claims in 2007; Senate Report Debunks ‘Consensus’”, December 20, 2007
7.William J. Broad, “In Ancient Fossils, Seeds of a New Debate on Warming,” in The Best American Science Writing 2007, Gina Kolata, Editor, (New York, Harper Perennial, 2007), 252
8.William F. Buckley, Jr., National Review, March 31, 2007
9.Michael D. Shaw, “A Rational Look at Climate Change,”, February 10, 2008
10.Stephen H. Schneider, The Genesis Strategy, (New York, Plenum Press, 1976), 90
11.Max Tegmark, “We’re Not Insignificant After All,” in What Are You Optimistic About?, John Brockman, Editor, (New York, Harper Perennial, 2007), 4