By Stefanie SpearClimate
Bill Nye: 'There's Enough Wind and Solar' to Power the World

If you're wondering if the epic flooding in Louisiana is related to climate change, CNN has your answer.

Bill Nye the Science Guy was on CNN's New Day Tuesday to talk about the flooding in Louisiana, where at least 13 people have been killed and 60,000 homes damaged.

"For us, on my side of this, this is a result of climate change," Nye told CNN's Chris Cuomo. "It's only going to get worse."

"As the ocean gets warmer, which it is getting, it expands," he continued. "Molecules spread apart and then as the sea surface is warmer more water evaporates. And so it's very reasonable that these storms are connected to these big effects."

In addition to discussing impacts of climate change, Nye shared what he believes is a solution to the problem of a warming planet.

"The big unexploited renewable resource on the East Coast of the United States, and Canada and Mexico, is wind," Nye said. "So, I encourage you, I am not a member of this, but I encourage everybody to check out The Solutions Project, a bunch of civil engineers who have done an analysis that you could power the United States, you could power most of the world, renewably if you just decided to do it, right now. There's enough wind and solar resources, a little bit of tidal and some geothermal, to run the whole place."

Nye did not just leave the conversation about climate change and renewables, he also called out CNN for having "essentially a climate change denier meteorologist."

Nye didn't mention any names, but, according to Huffington Post, he appeared to be referring to CNN meteorologist Chad Myers, who has a track record of making comments on climate change that run counter to established science.

"You know, to think that we could affect weather all that much is pretty arrogant," Myers said in 2008.

However, on Twitter, Myers said that he has since come around:

He followed up that tweet with this one:

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By Carl PopeClimate
Big Oil’s Nightmare Comes True

"This was retail politics and oil lost," was how Adrienne Alvord of Union of Concerned Scientists summed up the stunning environmental victory Tuesday in the California legislature, a victory which cemented the state's commitment to a 40 percent reduction in climate pollution by 2030.

It's not accidental that states providing climate leadership are the states with the biggest clean energy sectors, including California.

Only a few weeks ago there was a strong consensus that the oil industry, by spending millions of dollars on behalf of a cadre of moderate Democrats in the Assembly, had blocked just such a doubling down on the state's existing 2020 goals. For the oil industry, victory was an existential necessity. Only by holding future climate commitments hostage could the industry hope to get Gov. Brown to abandon the state's existing mandate that by 2020 the carbon content of fuels be cut by 10 percent. As a practical matter, the requirement means roughly 20 percent of California's more vehicles will be driving on something other than oil—electricity, natural gas or biofuels.

And oil knows it cannot withstand a competitive transportation fuels market. Once California creates such a market and builds businesses that can produce low carbon fuels at scale, fuels competition will go global and oil's empire will wither. But it looked like oil had survived to fight another day. Gov. Brown had signaled his next move by forming a ballot committee for a (high-risk) initiative for the fall of 2018. But a small group of climate and environmental justice advocates refused to let the Assembly moderates off the hook. Demanding a vote, they re-energized their broad coalition of main-line businesses, EJ advocates, labor, climate greens, the faith community, clean tech and clean fuels businesses, local government and public health advocates.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon told them he would give them a vote once they had the votes—and on Tuesday he pulled the trigger, giving the oil industry, which thought it had won, only 24 hours to regroup. It wasn't enough and the Assembly passed SB32 by 47 votes, a six vote margin over the 41 needed. The California Nurses Association was heard from, but so was Ebay. Gov. Brown and the White House weighed in, but a lone Republican, Assemblywoman Catherine Baker joined them in supporting progress. Wednesday the Senate concurred and the bill, linked to an environmental justice focused companion bill, went to the governor for his signature.

Why the victory? Quite simply, retail politics. Clean energy now provides far more stimulus and creates far more jobs than fossil fuels. Clean power is seen by the public as the linch-pin of the state's economic future. Jobs on the ground trump oil industry ads on the screen. It's not accidental that states providing climate leadership are the states with the biggest clean energy sectors—California, Washington, Nevada, Oregon—and Iowa, with its nation leading wind sector and a public utility, Mid-America, that is planning to shortly hit 85 percent renewables and go on to 100 percent.

And it's cheaper.

The oil industry is in a state of shock. Their press release bizarrely asserted that Rendon had scheduled the vote to "cover up" the fact that the state's latest auction for carbon emission permits had attracted few buyers—a result oil called "terrible." The auction simply reflected the fact that emitters, uncertain if the law would be extended past 2020, did not know how many permits they needed to buy. The oil industry conceded as much, saying "Today's miserable auction result reflects the market's lack of certainty." But it is revealing that oil called it "terrible" and "miserable" that the cost of carbon permits was low—demonstrating again that what they fear is not that decarbonizing will cost too much and hurt the economy, but that it will prove irresistibly cheap and strand them. Also revealing—SB32 was written precisely to provide the certainty whose absence the oil industry allegedly deplores!

(In fact, the legislature is going home next week and Rendon had to bring the bill up more or less when he did. The short notice was tactical—but hardly conspiratorial).

Ideological, right-wing opponents of climate progress and clean energy stayed more on message, releasing a poll purporting to show that the public, all the other evidence to the contrary, didn't really favor tougher clean-up of carbon pollution or California climate leadership after all.

Read carefully, however, the poll says something quite different. It confirms that most Californians want to move forward on clean energy and climate, believe that such progress is good for California even if others do not lead and want action. Even California Republicans are part of this consensus. Sixty-two percent of California Republican voters think that climate change is either a very serious or somewhat serious threat to the state. Again, of Republicans, 67 percent expect the changes resulting from global warming to occur in their lifetimes. A majority favor the state's current climate goals and a plurality favor the longer-term, more ambitious goals just passed.

It is true that, if nudged to believe that after such action, "hundreds of local manufacturing facilities would be shut down and thousands of middle-class jobs would be lost in California" large majorities of Republicans, and Democrats and Independents, lose their appetite. But if you said to the same sample that ambitious climate progress would mean "continued economic growth, an end to air pollution, cheaper gas and billions of dollars of new exports for California industries" the supportive numbers among Republicans would probably jump from a plurality to a super-majority. The latter statement is the true one, it turns out—and, more or less, it is what most California voters are experiencing—which explains why, un-manipulated, even Republicans are happy that the state continues to move forward.

But California is not the only arena where oil's long regime is coming to an end. Investors are watching warily as the majors—Chevron, Exxon, BP and Shell have now accumulated an unprecedented $184 billion in debt, fallen far short ($40 billion short in the first half of 2016) of their promised goals of paying their dividends from profits, not borrowing. Shell, Chevron, Exxon and BP have all seen their previous platinum grade credit ratings cut a notch. To placate investors, the majors pledge that they have new (but far from transparent) business plans to someday make money again—if only oil will stay at some magic level. For BP it's $50-55/barrel. Unfortunately, it has not been in that range since 2014.

Many of the independent oil producers, of course, have gone bankrupt. Oil remains stubbornly below $50. Most independent analysts believe that for the oil majors, prices in the $75 range are required to compete with Persian Gulf and other OPEC members in the long term. And those prices, unequivocally, require one thing: a continuation of oil's monopoly in transportation fuel.

California this week called the question. That monopoly is going away. Oil has lost before, but never because the retail politics of its competitors proved more compelling. This was no decisive battle. There may be none, just as there is no moment when the fate of the Roman Empire was sealed.

But the sands of time are running. Oil's empire is in its decline and fall.

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By EWContributorScience
97% of Most Species-Rich Places on Earth Have Been Seriously Altered by Humans

By James Cook University

James Cook University's Prof. Bill Laurance has taken part in a study to map the ecological effect of people on the planet. He said the news isn't great.

"The most species-rich parts of the planet—especially including the tropical rainforests—have been hit hardest. In total, around 97 percent of Earth's biologically richest real estate has been seriously altered by humans," he said.


The scientists found environmental pressures are widespread, with only a few very remote areas escaping damage.

"Humans are the most voracious consumers planet Earth has ever seen. With our land-use, hunting and other exploitative activities, we are now directly impacting three-quarters of the Earth's land surface," said Laurance.

Researchers combined data garnered from unprecedented advances in remote sensing with information collected via surveys on the ground.

They compared data from the first survey in 1993 to the last available information set from 2009.

Laurance said that 71 percent of global ecoregions saw a marked increase in their human footprints.

But he said the news was not all bad.

Maps showing the current state and recent change in the global human footprint.

"While the global human footprint expanded by nine percent from 1993 to 2009, it didn't increase as fast as the human population—which rose by a quarter—or economic growth—which exploded by over 150 percent—during the same period."

Laurance said wealthy nations and those with strong control of corruption showed some signs of improvement.

"In broad terms, industrial nations and those with lower corruption appear to be doing a better job of slowing the expansion of their human footprint than poorer countries with weak governance. But the wealthy countries have a much higher per-capita footprint, so each person there is consuming a lot more than those in poorer nations."

Laurance said the suitability of lands for agriculture appears to be a major determinant in where ecological pressures appeared around the globe.

"The bottom line is that we need to slow rampant population growth, especially in Africa and parts of Asia and demand that people in wealthy nations consume less," he said.

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21 Best Vegan Cookbooks of 2016

This is #TheYearOfVegan and the proof is in the vegan pudding. Vegan food blogs are everything, new restaurants are opening left and right, and chain restaurants are offering more vegan options. Equally important is the fact that more and more people are enthusiastically partaking of this vegan explosion.

Recently, we've seen the release of many vegan cookbooks. This is super-exciting, because sometimes it's nice to peruse an actual book (not the Internet) while looking for a recipe and be untethered from the computer while preparing a scrumptious meal.

Here are our favorite cookbooks from this year so far:

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By Dan ZukowskiClimate
Mount Everest Climbers May One Day Climb Ice-Free

The Himalayan Mountains and Tibetan Plateau, dubbed the "Third Pole" for having the largest ice mass on Earth after the polar regions, are rapidly losing their glaciers. Eighteen percent of China's glaciers have vanished in the past 50 years according to the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Air pollution and rising air temperatures are combining to increase glacial melt, threatening water supplies for one billion people.

Mount Everest is Earth's highest mountain.

Glacial surfaces are vulnerable to the effects of black carbon. What, exactly, is black carbon? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines it as "the most strongly light-absorbing component of particulate matter (PM), and is formed by the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels and biomass." Airborne black carbon absorbs sunlight, creating local atmospheric warming. Deposited on glaciers, it darkens the surface, allowing the sun to warm the snow and ice just as wearing dark clothing on a summer day can make you feel the heat.

Source: Nature Communications

It's not just China's famous pollution or fossil fuel burning that's to blame. It's also yak dung.

Traditional Tibetan use of biomass such as animal dung for cooking and heating, along with open burning of garbage and crop waste, was found to be a greater contributor to the creation of black carbon in certain areas of the Himalaya-Hindu-Kush and Tibetan Plateau than burning of fossil fuels. A new study published this week in Nature Communications concludes that "the results of this extensive observation-based source-diagnostic study provide strong isotope-based evidence that biomass-sourced BC [black carbon] plays a quantitatively more important role in TP [Tibetan Plateau] glacier melting than fossil fuel-sourced BC, especially in the inland TP, and presumably arises mainly from domestic sources." The research was conducted by the Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The mineral-rich lands of Tibet are a source of diamonds, gold, uranium and copper, bringing extractive industries to the region. China is the world's fourth largest lithium producer, most of it coming from the Chang Tang plain in Western Tibet.The Tibet Express stated, "Glacier-water mining has major environmental costs in terms of biodiversity loss, impairment of some ecosystem services due to insufficient runoff water, and potential depletion or degradation of glacial springs."

Degrading glaciers threatens a critical Asian water source.

China, India and other countries surrounding the Tibetan Plateau have looked to it to supply growing water needs as populations increase and fresh-water sources suffer from industrial and human-waste pollution. China is also tapping the glaciers of the Himalaya's to support its bottled-water market, the world largest. At least 30 companies have been granted licenses to tap Tibetan glaciers.

Fossil fuels are by no means blameless in the degradation of the Himalayan glaciers. In the Himalayas, the Chinese study found fossil fuels accounted for 46 percent of black carbon versus 54 percent for biomass burning. Fossil fuel sources ranged as high as 70 percent in the Langtang and Mustang Valleys, largely from sources in Kathmandu and Northern India. The study also saw seasonal variations. Biomass-sourced black carbon decreased during monsoon season, presumably because these particles are more efficiently flushed out by precipitation.

Most of the 5,500 glaciers in the Himalaya-Hindu-Kush region—home of Mount Everest—may vanish by the end of this century. The long history of climbing through the Khumbu Icefall and up the Lhotse Face may become a rock scramble instead.

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By Climate NexusClimate
Obama to Create World’s Largest Marine Reserve in Hawaii

Citing the danger that climate change poses to the oceans, President Obama will establish the largest marine reserve in the world today, protecting nearly 600,000 square miles off the coast of Hawaii.

Commercial fishing, mining and extraction are prohibited in the expanded Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, though subsistence fishing and scientific research will be allowed.

"The oceans are the untold story when it comes to climate change and we have to feel a sense of urgency when it comes to protecting the ocean that sustains us," said Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii. George W. Bush originally established the reserve a decade ago, protecting 140,000 square miles.


"President Obama's expansion of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National makes it the largest sanctuary for ocean life in the world," Greenpeace oceans campaign director John Hocevar said.

"This is a bold decision that will have lasting benefits for Hawaii's unique ecosystem. Networks of sanctuaries have proven to be powerful tools to ensure the health of our oceans. Setting aside areas closed to fishing, drilling and other extractive uses is the best way to protect biodiversity, rebuild depleted fish populations, and increase the resilience of marine ecosystems so they can better withstand the impacts of climate change.

"Bolder steps are still needed. Less than two percent of the world's oceans are protected from fishing, and many scientists suggest a target of 40 percent. It is vital that we take steps like President Obama did in Hawaii to prevent future expansion of industrial fisheries, but we also need to look at areas closer to our population centers. Most of the world's coastal fisheries have been severely depleted. With few limitations on fishing in these areas, recovery is slow. Our coasts are dotted with former fishing communities that are no longer able to find enough fish to sustain their livelihoods.

"Setting aside 40 percent of our marine ecosystems—in remote areas as well as those closer to home—will help preserve the health of our oceans and our communities."

For a deeper dive:

News: Washington Post, New York Times, Buzzfeed, Reuters, AP, IB Times, USA Today, National Geographic, The Hill, Discover

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for daily Hot News.

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By Jax JacobsenClimate
Biofuels Worse for Climate Than Gasoline, New Study Finds

A new study released by the University of Michigan in the Aug. 25 journal of Climate Change is causing a ripple through the fuel industry, as it contends that more carbon dioxide is actually released through biofuels than gasoline.

Biofuels were always pegged as being more environmentally friendly because it was assumed they emitted little to no carbon when being grown. The study challenges this assumption.

"To verify the extent to which that assumption is true, you really need to analyze what's going on on the farmland, where the biofuels are being grown," University of Michigan Energy Institute research professor and study author John DeCicco told The Detroit Free Press.

"People haven't done that in the past—they felt like they didn't need to."

The study incorporates tailpipe emissions and crop growth—which are instrumental in the growing of crops used for biofuels—and found that carbon emissions during that period actually only absorbed 37 percent of biofuel production from 2005 to 2013, directly contradicting previous studies that claimed that using biofuels emitted less carbon than using gasoline.

Promotion of biofuel use is based on what's known as the lifecycle analysis, which contends that CO2 released when the fuel is burned originates from carbon dioxide that biofuels removed from the atmosphere during the photosynthetic process.

"When you look at what's actually happening on the land, you find that not enough carbon is being removed from the atmosphere to balance what's coming out of the tailpipe," DeCicco said. "[Biofuels] is unambiguously worse than petroleum gasoline," he added.

To calculate carbon emissions, DeCicco employed his Annual Basis Carbon method, which counts carbon emissions using chemistry of the location where it is generated. It differs from the lifecycle analysis in that it incorporates the stock-and-flow nature of the carbon cycle.

The use of biofuel and other products, including ethanol, tripled from 4.2 billion gallons in 2005 to 14.6 billion gallons in 2013, supported by the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard and California's Low-Carbon Fuel Standard to promote these types of fuels for transportation purposes. Biofuels, usually consisting of corn or soybeans, accounted for approximately 6 percent of all fuel sources in the U.S. in 2013.

Emily Cassidy, a research analyst with the Environmental Working Group, welcomed the report, saying the Renewable Fuel Standard needs to be looked at more closely.

"There is mounting evidence that the Renewable Fuel Standard has been bad for the environment and the climate, and this paper is a new take on that," she told The Detroit Free Press.

Other scientists are taking issue with the study, pointing out that it was funded by the American Petroleum Institute.

DeCicco said the API was the only group willing to finance the study, and emphasized that the report is peer-reviewed.

Others are critiquing the study's short-sightedness. Harvard University geologist Daniel Schrag told Climate Central that eight years is not sufficient to measure bioenergy's ultimate contribution to improving the climate.

"In the long run, there's no question that biofuels replacing petroleum is a benefit," he said.

Choosing a timeline on which to measure biofuels' impact is one of the key difficulties in determining the actual benefit of using biofuels, and is the subject of continuing debate at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The University of Michigan report only focused on the eight years in question. However, other scientists contend that the benefit to biofuel use is that the increased number of crops will suck in excess carbon dioxide emitted by biofuel production.

Another biofuel supporter, Jim Zook, contends that other studies have decisively shown that biofuels substantially lower greenhouse emissions, compared to gasoline. Zook is the executive director of the Corn Marketing Program of Michigan and Michigan Corn Growers Association.

To Zook, biofuels have an added advantage: they produce a byproduct which can then be used for a high-protein livestock feed.

"We are actually getting more products by going through the ethanol process, and being better stewards of our resources by doing that," Zook told the Detroit Free Press.

Princeton University researcher Timothy Searchinger has long criticized biofuels as a less than ideal solution to curb increasing carbon emissions.

"The U.S. is not coming close to offsetting the carbon released by burning biofuels through additional crop growth," Searchinger told Climate Central.

The controversial study was published shortly after Reuters reported that the EPA has not issued a report to Congress on the environmental impact of the Renewable Fuel Standard since 2011. Federal law mandates the EPA provide a report every three years.

The EPA said it will complete a report by the end of next year. The reports are used to set the amounts of biofuels that must be incorporated into American diesel and gasoline supplies each year.

...
By The Ring of FireHealth
Did Johnson & Johnson's Talcum Powder Cause Ovarian Cancer?

Baby powder is one of the most commonly-used household products in America—but could it be a major cause of ovarian cancer? Earlier this year, a jury in Missouri ordered Johnson and Johnson to fork over $72 million to the family of a woman who claimed to develop ovarian cancer after using its branded baby powder. Hundreds of other women are making the same claim.

Watch as Ring of Fire's Mike Papantonio and Sam Seder discuss this issue:

Transcript from the video:

Seder: Pap, this week there was a huge award ordered by a state jury in Missouri against Johnson & Johnson for the company's, I guess, knowledge that the talcum based baby powder in Shower to Shower that they were selling for years had the ability to cause cancer in some…

Papantonio: Yeah, Ovarian cancer. They said more than that, Sam. The attorney that handled this is a friend and he's a great lawyer. Jere Beasley. The reason we're involved in this case, the reason I'm handling this case also, is because I really want women to understand that why would you possibly take a risk of using this Shower to Shower or Johnson's Baby Powder when there's any risk of Ovarian cancer? The studies right now, actually as early as the 1980s, the studies started showing there's a connection between the minerals that are found in this powder. Because it's mined. It's mined from the ground. This talcum is mined from the ground, but there's minerals that cause inflammation in the organ systems. Anytime you have inflammation that sometimes leads to scar-based cancers and what's happening Sam, is that they're finding the minerals that they can trace back to the powder in the tumors that are found in these women.

The question then becomes … You had the International Journal of Gynecological Cancer come out just … They did a study and they said, "Look. A woman who uses this on a regular basis has a 30 to 60 percent increase of Ovarian cancer." It's not a … That's not a coincidence. Harvard did a study. They said … It was even more compelling. They said a women doesn't even have to use it regularly. She puts herself at risk every time she uses it, because once that talcum … Once the minerals from the talcum powder absorb into the body they then become an … They create an inflammatory process. The Journal of National Cancer Institute talked about the use of talc in Ovarian cancer in 2014. They weren't equivocal about their findings.

The interesting thing about this case is that this is information that Johnson & Johnson knew since the 1980s. The documents in this case are … They're awful when you start determining what did they know. That's what the jury reacted to. This wasn't just … The question, Sam, was not only were they negligent. They obviously were negligent. The question was also, "Did they show reckless disregard for human life?" and the jury came back and said, "Yeah, they did." Sometimes if … Sam, if this were a medicine, if this were something that maybe was a life-saving medicine you had to take it, there'd be some risk-benefit analysis. There is risk-benefit analysis here. This is just absolutely no benefit.

Seder: My understanding is that there was a sense within Johnson & Johnson that they knew that these … The reporting of these links was going to drive down their sales and so they re-oriented who they were going to try and sell this to. My understanding is too is that they had been basically aware they were going to have to pay the piper at one point and have been preparing for this litigation in some way for maybe decades.

Papantonio: Yeah, they have. Matter of fact what they is they went out and hired what I call "biostitutes." Those are … You find 'em at places like Yale and Princeton. They're these scientists or these professor types that will say anything for the right amount of money. What they did is they went out and they phonied up some epidemiology. The epidemiology they tried to show that it's impossible for this to cause Ovarian cancer even though you're finding … You're tracing the minerals right to the ovary. The problem is when you have a company like this that has this much head-start they get to change the epidemiology, because they secretly pay for the epidemiology to make it look like there's no connection. That's what they did here. That's why Jere did such a wonderful job in this case. Actually working his way through that and showing that that's a fraud. That you can go hire a "biostitute," which is nothing more than a scientific whore, for the right money and they're going to say whatever you want 'em to say. That's what Johnson & Johnson did here in this case.

Seder: Pap, just tell us, in a case like this there are a lot of potential plaintiffs out there, so what happens next? You've had this … You have this award. I assume Johnson & Johnson tries to appeal. What … Walk us through what happens next.

Papantonio: What's going to happen next is this. First of all you're going to have lawyers that have virtually zero experience thinking, "I can go handle these cases." They can't. A guy like Beasley does the same thing we do. We specialize in these cases. This is what we do ... (laughs). What ends up happening is very often you'll have some lawyer go grab a bunch of these cases for people that need to have good representation and they'll end up making bad law in jurisdictions. This is what my prediction is on this case. You're going to … It's going to be like the scene in Jaws where the characters in the little rowboats, "I'm going to go catch the big white shark," but what ends up happening is they do so much harm to the project itself.

What I always try to tell people is know who you're hiring on something like this, because it can go bad for a lot of women. A lot of women are suffering from Ovarian cancer directly related to this talc and so the question then becomes … You have to … Simply because somebody advertises and says, "I handle these cases," you need to find out who they are, because I say that not just for … I say that, because they can upset the entire process and a lot of people can be left out in the dark, because some lawyer who knew … Had no clue on what they were doing tried to handle this case against Johnson & Johnson, blew it and made bad law that affects women all over the country. That the first thing I always talk about.

The second thing is that this case will continue … We're going to continue … There's going to be documents that keep showing up. The documents that Jere Beasley put in front of the jury are really bad. They showed really reckless disregard, terrible conduct by Johnson & Johnson and that's why the jury came back like they did. My prediction is those documents will even get worse as this case goes forward.

Seder: Wow. Really just amazing. I have to say that in the 10, now gosh 12 years that I have known you and I hear these stories from you that you deal with on a day to day basis, when you find these documents in these corporations and I am … I still have the ability to be amazed at the callousness and just the sheer sense that these folks, because they're making a dollar, owe nothing to the general public or their customers. It is shocking to me. Pap, it's always a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you much.

Papantonio: Thank you, Sam.

Learn more about the relationship between Talcum Powder use and Ovarian Cancer.

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By Dr. Mark HymanHealth
Is Butter Really Back?

"Dr. Hyman, I have been so confused about saturated fat," writes this week's house call. "The government still says to limit saturated fat, yet I read in the news how maybe it's not really connected to heart disease? Is butter really back?"

I understand why there is so much confusion around butter and saturated fat. The diet debates have America spinning. Some advocate for putting dollops of butter in coffee, while others shun avocados and nuts as harmful, heart-disease-promoting and fattening foods. What's the average eater to do?

Is butter really back?Shutterstock

Three recent studies add to an increasing body of evidence that saturated fat is not the evil, heart-disease-producing substance we once thought. A recent large review of the research found that the higher the saturated fat intake in the population, the lower the risk of stroke.

Another study of 3,333 people over 15 years led by Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian of Tufts, examined not dietary history but actual blood levels of fats and found that those with the highest level of dairy fat (essentially, butter in the blood) had up to a 44 percent lower risk of developing diabetes compared to those who had the lowest levels of dairy fat in their blood.

And a third study, just published after 40 years, looked at 9,400 people residing in mental hospitals who were fed either butter and saturated fats or corn oil (omega-6 fats). The researchers found surprising results. The corn oil group had a much greater reduction in LDL cholesterol (30 mg/dl vs. 5 mg/dl) but a higher risk of heart attacks than the saturated fat group.

Is butter a health food? Probably not. Should it be shunned? For sure not. A review of the literature and a growing consensus among a large group of leading scientists suggest that we, for far too long, have unfairly maligned butter and saturated fats.

America first went low-fat in earnest in 1980, when our government told us to cut the fat. That message was then reinforced with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) infamous food pyramid, which encouraged us to eat 6 to 11 servings of bread, rice, cereal and pasta a day.

Eleven servings of bread a day? That sounds a little crazy now. But back then, most Americans took that advice. As a result, we are now fatter and sicker than ever, with nearly 70 percent of us overweight and one in two with pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes. And while death rates from heart disease are declining due to better treatments, the percent of the population developing heart disease is increasing significantly.

What happened to our diet over the last century? According U.S. Department of Agriculture records, our intake of saturated fats, eggs and meat decreased—butter from 9 to 4.6 pounds, lard and tallow from 10.5 to 6.0 pounds, red meat 71 to 60 pounds per person, per year. Egg consumption dropped from 374 to 250 per year. But our intake of refined vegetable oils increased from 9.8 to 35.2 pounds per person, per year, chicken by 57 percent, sugar by 39 percent and grains by 45 percent.

While our total calorie consumption has increased (we eat more of everything), our fat consumption has decreased from 40 to 30 percent of our diet and our sugar and carbohydrate consumption has increased dramatically. And yet, obesity, diabetes and the incidents of heart disease are all increasing.

Today, we know some things we didn't know back when we originally received all that low-fat dietary counsel. First, review after review after independent review of the research shows that there seems to be very little link between saturated fats and heart disease. In the absence of refined (starchy) carbs and sugars, and in the presence of adequate omega-3 fats, saturated fat itself is in no way linked to heart disease.

So why all the mixed messages? Well, the fact is, dietary saturated fat raises total and LDL cholesterol. But not all cholesterol is created equal. In fact, saturated fat improves the quality of the LDL cholesterol by increasing the less harmful large fluffy LDL particles, while also lowering triglycerides and raising your levels of good HDL cholesterol. A low-fat, high-carb diet, meanwhile, makes cholesterol quality worse.

Total cholesterol, and especially LDL-C cholesterol, is not the best predictor of heart disease risk. What matters is the total-cholesterol-to-HDL ratio and the LDL particle number and size. These are the factors that are the most predictive of heart disease. Eating more fat (except trans fats) and lowering sugar and refined carbs is one of the best ways (in addition to eating more non-starchy vegetables) to improve the quality of your cholesterol.

In fact, small LDL particles (from low-fat, high-carb diets) are associated with three times the risk of heart attacks compared to total LDL cholesterol. Saturated fat and fat in the context of a lower sugar and refined carbohydrate diet increases the LDL particle size (which is a good thing). Evidence also suggests that a bigger predictor of the extent of cardiac disease is the triglyceride-to-HDL ratio, not total or LDL cholesterol. That ratio is also improved by a higher total and saturated-fat diet and worsened by refined carbs and sugars. The evidence tying higher-fat diets to greater weight loss and improvements in cardiovascular risk factors has been repeated in many other studies.

What about all the calories in fat (gram for gram, it has more than twice as many calories as carbs and proteins)? Shouldn't we cut out fat to lose weight? While a shrinking number of health professionals still suggest that low-fat diets are best for weight loss, the overwhelming scientific consensus no longer supports the conclusion that total fat causes obesity.

In a recent review of 53 high-quality, randomized, controlled trials, comprising research that compared low-fat to high-fat diets, lasting at least a year, researchers found that in more than 68,128 people, the high-fat diets led to greater weight loss than the low-fat diets. The researchers included only the best quality studies (53 out of 3,517 studies).

This is why the 2015 Dietary Guidelines removed its previous limits on total dietary fat. They also removed the previous limits on dietary cholesterol, saying it was "no longer a nutrient of concern." After reviewing the evidence, the USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee concluded: "Reducing total fat (replacing total fat with overall carbohydrates) does not lower CVD [cardiovascular disease] risk … Dietary advice should put the emphasis on optimizing types of dietary fat and not reducing total fat."

So is butter really back? In a word. Yes.

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By Wenonah HauterEnergy
Health Dangers of Fracking Revealed in Johns Hopkins Study

A new study out today from Johns Hopkins in Environmental Health Perspectives revealed associations between fracking and various health symptoms including nasal and sinus problems, migraines and fatigue in Pennsylvanians living near areas of natural gas development. The study suggests that residents with the highest exposure to active fracking wells are nearly twice as likely to suffer from the symptoms.

A natural gas rig side by side with homes in Washington County, Pennsylvania. B. Mark Schmerling

This is the third study released by Hopkins in the past year that connects proximity to fracking sites with adverse health outcomes. Last fall, researchers found an association between fracking and premature births and high-risk pregnancies, and last month, found ties between fracking and asthma.

What's more, a 2014 investigation revealed how health workers in Pennsylvania were silenced by the state Department of Health (DOH) and told not to respond to health inquiries that used certain fracking "buzzwords." Documents obtained by Food & Water Watch last year indicate the DOH was inundated with fracking-related health concerns ranging from shortness of breath and skin problems to asthma, nose and throat irritation, which were ignored or pushed aside.

While the industry will no doubt continue to refute the expanding science about the dangers of fracking, we can't afford to ignore it. The public health and climate impacts of extreme fossil fuel extraction requires bold leadership to keep fossil fuels in the ground and transition swiftly to renewable energy.

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