No, it’s a weathered, shredded plastic grocery bag.


Inevitably, when I’m out for a walk, I see plastic bags blowing in the wind or snagged by a branch and flapping in the air. Often, I pick the bags up and carry them with me till I get to a store with a recycling barrel. Plastic bags weigh next to nothing., so carrying them for a little while isn’t a big deal.

I realize, of course, that picking up and recycling a bag or two makes approximately zero difference in the grand scheme of things. At the same time, I’m pretty certain that an individual turtle or sea bird or some other marine creature will be spared harm because I took a second to pick up a plastic bag.

What’s happening in the world’s oceans is appalling. If you haven’t read this before, you might think that I’m making it up, but, in fact, there are continent-sized patches of floating garbage in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans.* And most of that garbage is plastic. Consequently, more than half of the Earth’s sea turtles and almost all of its sea birds have ingested plastic.

So if you’re out for a walk and you see a plastic bag blowing by, you can prevent it from landing in a creek or a storm drain and being carried by the current to a river and then to the ocean and then to the stomach of a century-old tortoise by picking the bag up and recycling it. If recycling is too inconvenient, throwing the bag away in a trash can will at least keep it from ending up in the stomach of some marine creature.

If your nerves can stand it, check out one or both of the stories linked below.

By 2050, Our Oceans Will Hold More Plastic Than Fish

By 2050, There Will Be More Plastic Than Fish in the World’s Oceans, Study Says

What the Frack?


Below, I’ve pasted introductory quotes and links to several articles about the environmental impacts of natural-gas production and storage. The first article discusses some of the arguments among environmentalists over the costs and benefits of fracking; the second looks at the impact of fracking on Florida’s drinking water; the third covers fracking-induced earthquakes; the fourth calls the leak from a natural-gas storage facility in Los Angeles “the worst accidental discharge of greenhouse gases in U.S. history”; while the fifth says, hold on a minute, the massive methane leaks from Texas’s fracking sites are worse than California’s.

Between the lines, the articles hint at why fracking is likely to continue despite the high environmental costs.

*       *       *       *       *


Fracking Is Killing Coal. So Why Do So Many Environmentalists Hate It?

By Brad Plumer, April 8, 2015

Few things have inspired angst among green groups and climate advocates like the question of how to deal with fracking…. Here’s a very rough breakdown of the debate: Supporters of fracking point out that the US natural-gas boom, driven by hydraulic fracturing, has actually been one of the big environmental success stories of the past decade. Electric utilities are now using more cheap gas and less dirty coal to generate power. Since gas burns more cleanly, that curbs air pollution…. On the “anti” side, meanwhile, are a large and growing set of environmentalists who now argue that the problems with fracking outweigh the benefits…. They don’t see gas as helping us move away from coal. They see cheap gas as hampering the transition to renewable sources like wind and solar.


Unlikely Battle Over Fracking Intensifies in Florida

By Lizette Alvarez, Feb 23, 2016

With geology akin to a wet sponge and fragile underground aquifers that supply almost all its drinking water, Florida has never been considered part of the agitated battle over fracking as a technology for extracting oil and gas. But that began to change two years ago when a Texas-based oil and gas company was found to have been using hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, and matrix acidizing, a fracking-like method that dissolves rocks with acid instead of fracturing them with pressurized liquid. Neither residents nor local governments knew about it because well stimulation, the catch-all term for both techniques, does not require a separate permit and is not regulated.


Erin Brockovich on Oklahoma Earthquakes: ‘It’s Fracking, Let’s Just be Honest’

By Lorraine Chow, February 24, 2016

Oklahoma experiences more earthquakes than anywhere in the world. Before 2009, Oklahoma had two earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater each year, but now there are two a day…. Despite mounting scientific consensus against the oil and gas sector, certain politicians such as pro-business state Gov. Mary Fallin have been slow to change their tune about the link between fracking wastewater disposal and earthquakes. State scientists and regulators have also been reportedly silenced by industry-linked state officials.


California Gas Leak Was the Worst Man-Made Greenhouse-Gas Disaster in U.S. History, Study Says

By Joby Warrick, February 25, 2016

The massive leak that vented millions of pounds of natural gas from a Los Angeles storage facility now appears to have been the worst accidental discharge of greenhouse gases in U.S. history, scientists concluded in an analysis released Thursday…. “The climate impact is the largest on a record” for any single incident in the United States, said Stephen Conley, an atmospheric scientist at the University of California at Davis and one of six scientists involved in the study.


Massive Methane Leaks From Texas Fracking Sites Even More Significant Than Infamous Porter Ranch Gas Leak

By Claire Bernish,  February 23, 2016

Texas is dealing with a comparable disaster [to the one in L.A.] that has been overlooked by officials and the media, in part, because the state’s methane emanates from a powerful industry’s infrastructure…. “Every hour, natural gas facilities in North Texas’ Barnett Shale region emit thousands of tons of methane—a greenhouse gas at least 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide—and a slate of noxious pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and benzene.The [Los Angeles] leak was big. The Barnett leaks, combined, are even bigger.”



A Fun Stuff Sandwich


Top Bread Layer

When we underfund regulators, making it impossible for them to do their jobs effectively, what we get is a whole lot of Flints.

America Is Flint

By Nicholas Kristof, February 6, 2016


Fun Inside Layer #1

A stunning map shows how living on America’s coasts really is so different

By Ana Swanson, January 12, 2016

Fun Inside Layer #2

12 fascinating optical illusions show how color can trick the eye

December 29, 2015


Bottom Boring Bread Layer

This final article is almost too wonky to share!



Here in the U.S., we’re in the thick of the presidential-primary season, and differences between Democrats and Republicans are stark. During Thursday night’s Democratic debate, for instance, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders praised Barack Obama’s leadership. In last night’s Republican debate, on the other hand, the candidates agreed that Obama is destroying America; they merely disagreed about whether he is destroying the U.S. on purpose or is simply too stupid to realize that’s what he’s doing.

Clearly, conservatives and liberals see things differently. Noting those differences, social scientists have begun asking why. With the aid of high-tech imaging systems, researchers have found actual differences between the brains of liberals and conservatives.

This is just speculation on my part, but maybe both modes of thinking are important to the survival, in a Darwinian sense, of the human species. If so, we would be wise to respectfully consider the insights that the other party offers instead of automatically rejecting it.

Below, I’ve pasted snippets from and links to several articles concerning the differences in the brains of conservatives and liberals.




By Darren Schreiber, et al., February 13, 2013

Liberals and conservatives exhibit different cognitive styles and converging lines of evidence suggest that biology influences differences in their political attitudes and beliefs. In particular, a recent study of young adults suggests that liberals and conservatives have significantly different brain structure, with liberals showing increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, and conservatives showing increased gray matter volume in the in the amygdala.



By Amina Khan, November 3, 2014

Think your political beliefs arise from logic and reason? Think again. A team of scientists who studied the brains of liberal, moderate and conservative people found that … the brains of liberals and conservatives may indeed be wired differently….


UNCONSCIOUS REACTIONS SEPARATE LIBERALS AND CONSERVATIVES: Psychological insights might tone down the bitter feuding between Democrats and Republicans

By Emily Laber-Warren, September 1, 2012

According to the experts who study political leanings, liberals and conservatives do not just see things differently. They are different—in their personalities and even their unconscious reactions to the world around them.



By Jesse Graham, Jonathan Haidt, and Brian A. Nosek

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2009, Vol. 96, No. 5, 1029–1046

Political views are multifaceted, but a single liberal– conservative (or left–right) continuum is a useful approximation that has predictive validity for voting behavior and opinions on a wide range of issues (Jost, 2006). In terms of political philosophy, the essential element of all forms of liberalism is individual liberty (Gutmann, 2001). Liberals have historically taken an optimistic view of human nature and of human perfectibility; they hold what Sowell (2002) calls an “unconstrained vision” in which people should be left as free as possible to pursue their own courses of personal development. Conservatism, in contrast, is best under- stood as a “positional ideology,” a reaction to the challenges to authority and institutions that are so often mounted by liberals (Muller, 1997). Conservatives have traditionally taken a more pessimistic view of human nature, believing that people are inher- ently selfish and imperfectible. They therefore hold what Sowell called a “constrained vision” in which people need the constraints of authority, institutions, and traditions to live civilly with each other.

Click to access GHN2009.pdf

Click to access GHN2009.pdf

Click to access GHN2009.pdf

Click to access GHN2009.pdf