Burning Less Coal = 19% Less Mercury in the Tuna You Eat
I couldn't, post-election, muster a plausibly big enough piece of good news to warrant a Thanksgiving blog—but then this morning one arrived. In an astonishingly short eight years, as a result of tougher emission rules on power plants and a declining use of coal, concentrations of mercury in Atlantic Bluefin tuna, the sushi sort, dropped by 19 percent.
There are similar findings for bluefish, but tuna are much longer lived, so the results are extremely surprising—concentrations of mercury in even much older tuna fell at the same or faster rate as mercury concentrations in sea water, suggesting that fisheries contamination can be reversed far more quickly than anyone had dreamed.
Bluefin tuna are still not healthy for women of child-bearing age—and most of the tuna which had led more than 10 percent of U.S. women having unhealthy mercury in their blood is not from the Atlantic ocean, which is healing, but from the Pacific, where coal consumption and mercury loading remains unabated.
Mercury contamination is a serious public health issue. In the U.S. alone, hundreds of thousands of newborns are at risk of lower IQ's from the mercury burden they are born with. Concentrations of mercury have been coming down as a result of broad public education and advisories on which fish to avoid. Overall, mercury emissions in the U.S. have declined sharply as a result of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulation.
.@RobertKennedyJr: Alarming Levels of #Mercury Contamination Found Across Western North America https://t.co/XIHxoDnZCH @autismspeaks @ewg— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1474396877.0
Now the news from the North Atlantic suggests that globally the epidemic of mercury poisoning can be reversed far more rapidly than scientists had imagined. Requiring the clean up of coal power plant emissions in Asia, the globe's largest remaining source of mercury pollution, will begin to allow Pacific ocean fisheries to recover as well. It's important that countries considering the economics of building coal factor in the almost certain necessity to control for mercury—and when they do, they are likely to find that coal power is no longer economically competitive, so that not only will current plants reduce their emissions, but fewer new ones will make any kind of economic sense—which will be wonderful news for the communities where coal is mined and burned, as well as the climate.
More fundamentally, the North Atlantic story goes at the heart of the popular version of climate denialism—which is the initially plausible notion that the world is so large and each human so small, that it's just not likely that anything each of us does can really change the climate—or poison the oceans. And if we have, it's so terrifying that we really don't believe we can do anything about it. Isn't it too late?
What the declining mercury level in Bluefin tuna shows is that we can—and have—had enormous impacts on the natural world, but that we can, and are, reversing those impacts. Nature, if we stop abusing her, can heal herself not in centuries or even decades, but mere years—even the length of the U.S. president's term.
This is a good news story we need to tell everyone.
Earth's ice is melting 57 percent faster than in the 1990s and the world has lost more than 28 trillion tons of ice since 1994, research published Monday in The Cryosphere shows.
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On Jan. 24 the White House welcomed two new residents: Champ and Major, the newly minted first dogs of the United States. The first dogs are poised to offer special benefits to workers in the White House.
Promoting Well-Being<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUzNjM4OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3NDQxNTg1MX0.3wAaMwHIdVaRh9cIyfTesDpQMK0Pwg9nyUNCtfuTuCU/img.jpg?width=980" id="443d8" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4cb3d440ff15ab78cd8309e1ca58050f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1120" data-height="746" />
Presidential pup Major Biden stretches his legs on the White House lawn. Adam Schultz / Official White House photo<p>These benefits explain why many workplaces – from <a href="https://thebark.com/content/barks-directory-best-dog-friendly-companies" target="_blank">Amazon to Zygna</a> – have begun welcoming dogs into their offices. Recent research suggests that dogs in the workplace can lead to <a href="http://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2019.00138" target="_blank">increased worker engagement, lower employee turnover</a>, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/0021943605277399" target="_blank">greater work satisfaction</a> and even enhanced employee <a href="https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11010089" target="_blank">cohesion and communication</a>.</p><p><span></span>The Oval Office, the site of momentous decisions, enormous stress and complex social dynamics, may benefit from dogs even more than typical workplaces. After all, stress can compromise <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2012.02.003" target="_blank">decision-making</a> and <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/11/051117174336.htm" target="_blank">problem-solving abilities</a>. Pets can alleviate stress, however, dampening these effects and leading to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1161/hyp.38.4.815" target="_blank">improved performance on difficult tasks</a>.</p><p>Not only do people <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/08927936.2019.1550280" target="_blank">report feeling less workplace stress around dogs</a>, but their very bodies tend to support this claim. A growing area of research suggests human <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-013-9546-1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heart rates slow, levels of the stress hormone cortisol shrink</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.5694/j.1326-5377.1992.tb137178.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">blood pressure decreases</a> when people hang out with dogs. Interestingly, the positive effects of pups on stress levels exceed that of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1097/01.psy.0000024236.11538.41" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">even a close friend or family member</a>: A dog will reduce your stress more than your spouse or best friend will. After all, dogs are <a href="https://theconversation.com/your-dogs-nose-knows-no-bounds-and-neither-does-its-love-for-you-148484" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">naturally inclined to love you unconditionally</a> and will never find fault with the way you slurp your soup.</p><p>Dogs may reduce stress because they <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-right-balance/201804/how-dogs-drive-emotional-well-being" target="_blank">provide social support</a>. You may feel supported by your pooch, in part, because of the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1261022" target="_blank">oxytocin feedback loop between humans and dogs</a>. Oxytocin, a hormone involved in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0079-6123(08)00427-5" target="_blank">promoting social bonds</a>, is released in both dogs and humans when <a href="https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/dog-gazes-hijack-brains-maternal-bonding-system-180955019" target="_blank">gazing into each other's eyes</a>.</p><p>People report <a href="https://doi.org/10.2752/089279306785593928" target="_blank">improved mood</a>, <a href="https://news.ubc.ca/2018/03/12/sit-stay-heal-study-finds-therapy-dogs-help-stressed-university-students/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">increased happiness and greater energy levels</a> around dogs. And, on the flip side, they enjoy reduced feelings of <a href="https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/February-2018/How-Dogs-Can-Help-with-Depression" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">depression</a>, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jamda.2007.11.007" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">loneliness</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/a0024506" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">negativity</a> when dogs are present.</p>
Creating Connection<p>Given dogs' skill at providing these supports and boosting mood, it may not surprise you to learn they work their magic not only one on one, but also in group settings. In the presence of a dog, people in groups have <a href="https://doi.org/10.2752/089279304785643203" target="_blank">better social interactions, engage in more conversations</a> and are more likely to form <a href="http://doi.org/10.1163/156853007X169333" target="_blank">long-term friendships</a> with one another.</p>
President Clinton and President Chirac of France showing Buddy some love in 1999. National Archives and Records Administration<p>The effects of dogs as social lubricants can go further: Dogs even foster development of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1348/000712600161673" target="_blank">social support networks</a> among their humans, leading to a sense of community, and more social interactions between people in their vicinity. These engagements offer opportunities for even more social support in high-stress environments. And perhaps most importantly, <a href="https://doi.org/10.2752/175303708X371564" target="_blank">people are more likely to offer help</a> when a dog is present.</p><p>Having Champ and Major in the White House may help President Biden and his staff navigate the stresses and tensions of the current political landscape. Beyond "indogurations," tweets and cute photo ops, Champ and Major will offer physical, psychological and social benefits in the Oval Office.</p><p>In short, pets (<a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-being-cat-lover" target="_blank">yes, cats too!</a>) improve the quality of life in almost every context – including presidential ones. Perhaps they can, even in a small way, play a role in uniting a divided country. After all, personal politics aside, isn't it comforting to know there will be paws pattering around the White House again?</p><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/ellen-furlong-1165354" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ellen Furlong</a> is an associate professor of Psychology at Illinois Wesleyan University.</em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Ellen Furlong has written for Audible / The Great Courses. She has received funding from The National Institute of Health. She is a member of The Animal Behavior Society, The Comparative Cognition Society, The American Psychological Association, and The Society for Teaching of Psychology.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/how-bidens-dogs-could-make-the-oval-office-a-workplace-with-less-stress-and-better-decision-making-153406" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Conversation</a>.</em></p>
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