When you last filled up your gas tank, you may have thought about where the oil came from. Today let’s think about where the money you paid went. Some of it, indeed, went to the salary of the trucker who delivered the gasoline, the woman behind the cash register or the steel company that forged the drilling bit. And some of it went to long running ad campaigns like Chevron’s “We Agree” designed to make you feel as good as possible about paying too much for long dead algae. But much of it went less savory places.
The governments of Saudi Arabia, Iran and Russia for example, take a huge cut. Even if your last tank didn’t come from one of those countries, your purchase helped keep the price of global oil high enough that even with the current price slump the Saudis have nothing to worry about. At last year’s prices, 3 percent of global GDP went as unearned rents to the countries (and companies) that own low cost oil reserves—an amount equal to the entire economy of Great Britain.
Those global numbers are really too big to fathom. But locally our gasoline and diesel purchases are the most lethal toxin in American politics. Just a couple of weeks out from the election it’s good to remind ourselves—lots of voters may not think the ballot counts, but big oil knows better.
Just up the road from my San Francisco home, in Richmond, California, (population 107,000 people) for example, Chevron is making sure that democracy doesn’t get too rambunctious in the home town of its biggest refinery. The company, whose revenues amount to $200,000 for every resident of the town, doesn’t like Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, the city’s first Green Party Mayor, for her efforts to restore the city’s shoreline as public open space, and protect its residents from the fires and explosions that have rocked Chevron’s facility. So they are backing an opposing slate. Not content with spending $2.9 million on the election (about $100 per vote cast) Chevron also launched a fake “community” website to carry its point of view, the Richmond Standard. (Your tank of gas may have paid for this doozy).
Moving down the California coast, sparsely populated San Benito County has only half the population of Richmond, and no major refinery or indeed any significant oil industry presence. Farmers, however, were worried about water quality threats from untested oil technologies like acid injection that might be used to try to squeeze heavy oil out of the county’s segment of the Monterey Tar Shale. So they put Measure J on their ballot banning such extreme oil extraction techniques.
Since the oil industry is not currently extracting any significant oil in San Benito County, you might think this would not be a major threat. But so far Chevron and others have poured $2 million into a campaign against Measure J, about $200 per likely vote cast. (To be quite honest, as someone who has run political campaigns, it is difficult to fathom how you could spend $2 million on a campaign in San Benito. The national equivalent would be a presidential campaign that spent $12 billion!)
And even further south, where the first big clash between environmentalism and big oil took place, in Santa Barbara County, a similar ban on extreme oil extraction techniques like acid injection is being fought by the same oil industry coalition, and in larger Santa Barbara they have spent $5 million so far, making this the most expensive local ballot measure in the nation. Here again, the ballot language allows existing oil and gas operations (which are significant in Santa Barbara) to continue, banning only new operations using extreme technology.
But the oil industry’s toxic dollar spigot has been directed outside of California as well. In North Dakota, conservation groups, hunting and fishing interests and recreational advocates have proposed that a tiny 5 percent of the state’s oil and gas revenues be used for long range landscape conservation efforts. Even though the bill raises no taxes and places no burdens on the oil industry, the American Petroleum Institute, alarmed that it might pass, has kicked in $1 million to fight it, and total spending is expected to exceed $2 million on both sides. Why might the industry care? Because, just as in non-oil producing San Benito, any vote that suggests that oil and gas have obligations to the broader public good and limitations on their ability to exploit the land in any way they choose have become, powered by unlimited campaign largesse, more than the industry can accept.
As you read in the media about the huge sums of money that oil and gas interests like the Koch Brothers are pouring into campaigns around the country, remember that Big Oil is not only worrying about the U.S. Senate, the oily sheen of their dollars can be found everywhere and you and I provided them with those funds, because we don’t (mostly) have a way to get around without using their monopoly.
Monopolies create power. “Power corrupts,” Lord Acton said “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The Supreme Court’s recent campaign spending decisions have created such absolute power—a flood of campaign spending by Big Oil that only shows just how right he was. If we don’t break oil’s monopoly at the gas tank, we won’t break their power at the ballot box.
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By Brian Bienkowski
Fish exposed to endocrine-disrupting compounds pass on health problems to future generations, including deformities, reduced survival, and reproductive problems, according to a new study.
Low Levels Lead to Generational Impacts<p>Researchers exposed inland silverside fish to bifenthrin, levonorgestrel, ethinylestradiol, and trenbolone to levels currently found in waterways.</p><p>"Our concentrations were actually on the low end" of what is found in the wild, DeCourten said, adding that it was low amounts of chemicals in parts per trillion.</p><p>Bifenthrin is a pesticide; levonorgestrel and ethinylestradiol are synthetic hormones used in birth controls; and trenbolone is a synthetic steroid often given to cattle to bulk them up.</p><p>Such endocrine-disruptors have already been linked to a variety of health problems in directly exposed fish including altered growth, reduced survival, lowered egg production, skewed sex ratios, and negative impacts to immune systems. But what remains less clear is how the exposure may impact future generations.</p><p>For their study, DeCourten and colleagues started the exposure when the fish were embryos and continued it for 21 days.</p><p>They then tracked effects on the exposed fish, and the next two generations.</p>
Inherited Problems<p>DeCourten said the altered DNA methylation is one of the plausible ways that future generations would experience health impacts from previous generations' exposure. Hormone-disrupting compounds have been shown to impact DNA methylation, which is an important marker of how an organism will develop.</p><p>"Methyl groups are added to specific sites on the genome, [the exposure] is not changing the genome itself, but rather how the genome is expressed," she said. "And that can be inherited throughout generations."</p><p>In addition, Brander said there are essentially different "tags" that exist on DNA molecules, which tell genes how to turn on and off. She said the exposure to different compounds may be "influencing which methyl tags get taken on or off as you proceed through generations."</p><p>The researchers said the study should prompt future toxics testing to consider impacts on future generations.</p><p>"The results … throw a wrench in the current approach to regulating chemicals, where it's often short-term testing looking at simple things like growth, survival, and maybe gene expression," Brander said.</p><p>"These findings are telling us we really at least need to consider" the next two generations, she added.</p>
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By Laura Beil
Consumers have long turned to vitamins and herbs to try to protect themselves from disease. This pandemic is no different — especially with headlines that scream "This supplement could save you from coronavirus."
Vitamin D<p><strong>What it is: </strong>Called "the sunshine vitamin" because the body makes it naturally in the presence of ultraviolet light, <a href="https://www.sciencenews.org/article/vitamin-d-supplements-lose-luster" target="_blank">Vitamin D is one of the most heavily studied</a> supplements (<em>SN: 1/27/19</em>). <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/appendix-12/" target="_blank">Certain foods</a>, including fish and fortified milk products, are also high in the vitamin.</p><p><strong>Why it might help: </strong>Vitamin D is a hormone building block that helps strengthen the immune system.</p><p><strong>How it works for other infections:</strong> In 2017, the <em>British Medical Journal</em> published a meta-analysis that suggested a daily vitamin D supplement <a href="https://www.bmj.com/content/356/bmj.i6583" target="_blank">might help prevent respiratory infections</a>, particularly in people who are deficient in the vitamin.</p><p>But one key word here is <em>deficient. </em>That risk is highest during dark winters at high latitudes and among people with more color in their skin (melanin, a pigment that's higher in darker skin, inhibits the production of vitamin D).</p><p>"If you have enough vitamin D in your body, the evidence doesn't stack up to say that giving you more will make a real difference," says Susan Lanham-New, head of the Nutritional Sciences Department at the University of Surrey in England.</p><p>And taking too much can create new health problems, stressing certain internal organs and leading to a dangerously high calcium buildup in the blood. The recommended daily allowance for adults is 600 to 800 International Units per day, and the upper limit is considered to be 4,000 IUs per day.</p><p><strong>What we know about Vitamin D and COVID-19:</strong> Few studies have looked directly at whether vitamin D makes a difference in COVID.</p>
Zinc<p><strong>What it is: </strong>Zinc, a mineral found in cells all over the body, is found naturally in certain meats, beans and oysters.</p><p><strong>Why it might help: </strong>It plays several supportive roles in the immune system, which is why zinc lozenges are always hot sellers in cold and flu season. Zinc also helps with cell division and growth.</p><p><strong>How it works for other infections: </strong><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6457799/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Studies of using zinc for colds</a> — which are frequently caused by coronaviruses — suggest that using a supplement right after symptoms start might make them go away quicker. That said, a clinical trial from researchers in Finland and the United Kingdom, published in January in <em>BMJ Open</em> <a href="https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/10/1/e031662" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">did not find any value for zinc lozenges</a> for the treatment of colds. Some researchers have theorized that inconsistencies in data for colds may be explained by varying amounts of zinc released in different lozenges.</p><p><strong>What we know about zinc and COVID-19:</strong> The mineral is promising enough that it was added to some early studies of hydroxychloroquine, a drug tested early in the pandemic. (Studies have since shown that <a href="https://www.sciencenews.org/article/covid-19-coronavirus-hydroxychloroquine-no-evidence-treatment" target="_blank">hydroxychloroquine can't prevent or treat COVID-19</a> (<em>SN: 8/2/20</em>).)</p>
Vitamin C<p><strong>What it is: </strong>Also called L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C has a long list of roles in the body. It's found naturally in fruits and vegetables, especially citrus, peppers and tomatoes.</p><p><strong>Why it might help:</strong> It's a potent antioxidant that's important for a healthy immune system and preventing inflammation.</p><p><strong>How it works for other infections: </strong>Thomas cautions that the data on vitamin C are often contradictory. One review from Chinese researchers, published in February in the <em>Journal of Medical Virolog</em>y, looked at <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/jmv.25707" target="_blank">what is already known about vitamin C</a> and other supplements that might have a role in COVID-19 treatment. Among other encouraging signs, human studies find a lower incidence of pneumonia among people taking vitamin C, "suggesting that vitamin C might prevent the susceptibility to lower respiratory tract infections under certain conditions."</p><p>But for preventing colds, a 2013 Cochrane review of 29 studies <a href="https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">didn't support the idea</a> that vitamin C supplements could help in the general population. However, the authors wrote, given that vitamin C is cheap and safe, "it may be worthwhile for common cold patients to test on an individual basis whether therapeutic vitamin C is beneficial."</p><p><strong>What we know about Vitamin C and COVID-19: </strong>About a dozen studies are under way or planned to examine whether vitamin C added to coronavirus treatment helps with symptoms or survival, including Thomas' study at the Cleveland Clinic.</p><p>In a review published online in July in <em>Nutrition</em>, researchers from KU Leuven in Belgium concluded that the <a href="https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4/full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">vitamin may help prevent infection</a> and tamp down the dangerous inflammatory reaction that can cause severe symptoms, based on what is known about how the nutrient works in the body.</p><p>Melissa Badowski, a pharmacist who specializes in viral infections at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy and colleague Sarah Michienzi published an extensive look at all supplements that might be useful in the coronavirus epidemic. There's <a href="https://www.drugsincontext.com/can-vitamins-and-or-supplements-provide-hope-against-coronavirus/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">still not enough evidence to know whether they are helpful</a>, the pair concluded in July in <em>Drugs in Context</em>. "It's not really clear if it's going to benefit patients," Badowski says.</p><p>And while supplements are generally safe, she adds that nothing is risk free. The best way to avoid infection, she says, is still to follow the advice of epidemiologists and public health experts: "Wash your hands, wear a mask, stay six feet apart."</p>
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