The Big Apple Takes on the Big Gulp
By Kristin Wartman
The controversy surrounding New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s recent plan to ban sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces ranges from praise for taking on “America’s expanding waistline” to deriding him as a “nanny” for infringing on our personal choices and freedoms. But what’s largely missing from the debate is a real critique of the true villain in this battle—Big Food.
Those who favored the decision heralded Bloomberg: The Washington Post, in an editorial, writes, “The country need [sic] innovative leaders with a similar determination to take on America’s expanding waistline.” Frank Bruni writes in The New York Times, “Cry all you want about a nanny state, but as a city and a nation we’ve gorged and guzzled past the point where a gentle nudge toward roughage suffices. We need a weight watcher willing to mete out some stricter discipline.”
Those who feel our ability to buy a 32-ounce container of Coca-Cola has become the stand-in for civil liberties, such as the Center for Consumer Freedom, placed an ad in New York City newspapers, featuring Bloomberg as a “nanny” with a tagline that reads: “You only thought you lived in the land of the free.” Jon Stewart did a bit last Thursday lamenting the fact that he agreed with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, who said Bloomberg was taking away our personal freedoms. And a New York Times editorial claimed the mayor was overreaching, writing: “[T]oo much nannying with a ban might well cause people to tune out.”
In the meantime, Big Food still has free reign to produce and market harmful products with virtually no regulation or oversight. So far, the government has been incredibly weak on regulating food producers and advertisements. Last year, the Obama administration proposed voluntary guidelines for the types of food advertised to children. The guidelines were extremely modest, allowing for two-thirds of processed foods to remain unchanged and placed mostly insignificant caps on the allowance of sugar, fat and sodium in products marketed to kids. Even these voluntary guidelines were called “unworkable and unrealistic” by one prominent industry group.
This is not the case in Europe. In 2007, the French government ordered all food advertisements to carry warning labels telling consumers to stop snacking, exercise and eat more fruits and vegetables. These warning labels are found in advertisements on television, radio, billboards and the Internet for all processed, sweetened or salted food and drinks. Other European countries have taken similar measures. In Sweden and Norway, all food and beverage advertising to children is forbidden. In Ireland, there is a ban on TV ads for candy and fast food and the ban prohibits using celebrities and sports stars to promote junk food to kids. According to Pamela Druckerman, author of Bringing Up Bebe, snacking is generally discouraged in France and children eat three meals a day with one small snack around four in the afternoon.
Regulations like those in Europe are the kind that could help to encourage new cultural norms around food in this country—and they don’t target the consumer by banning or taxing particular foods but rather they force corporations to label their unhealthy products and abide by advertising regulation.
Professor and author of Weighing In, Julie Guthman, had this to say about the ban: “Ultimately, I would prefer to see regulation at the point of production. If we as a polity think that sugary drinks are detrimental to public health, we shouldn’t allow them to be produced,” she said in an e-mail. This would surely be a more radical solution since it would place the burden on the corporations rather than the consumer. Guthman said the ban is a better idea than a soda tax because, “A regressive soda tax punishes those who have the least ability to pay.” But she’s weary of the ban since it still targets consumers and “focuses on the size of the drink which would seem to suggest that individual consumers can’t make good decisions. That is terribly paternalistic,” Guthman said.
The idea of a super-size soda ban is a broader variation of Bloomberg’s proposed plan last year to disallow the purchase of soda with food stamps. Critics of this initiative felt it was also paternalistic and stigmatized the poor who would not be able to shop like other consumers. The difference with the current soda ban is that all New Yorkers would be affected and it is here that the ban may potentially bring benefit by creating new cultural norms around food and beverage choice.
A 2010 study completed by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity found that the barrage of fast food advertising makes kids think processed, junk foods are “normal and expected.” The same can surely be said for the increase in portion sizes. As long it is “normal” and culturally accepted to drink a 20, 32 or 64-ounce soda along with that burger and fries, people will continue to do so.
As Ronald Bayer, a professor at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia put it in The New York Times, “The behaviors that harm our collective health are not, by and large, the result of bad or foolish individual choices. These “bad habits” are shaped by our culture, social arrangements and commercial interests.”
Ultimately, this ban may prove ineffectual since consumers will still be able to buy the equivalent of the larger size sodas in other ways, like buying two bottles or going to restaurants where refills are free. And of course, sodas are not the only problem when it comes to our unhealthful diets.
Mayor Bloomberg is brave to go head-to-head with Big Food by limiting portion size and trying to create a new norm but this tactic might further distract from the underlying problem of our virtually unregulated toxic and super-sized food supply. If nothing else, the proposed ban highlights the deeply complex and troubling conundrum that our current food system presents. Something clearly must be done—it just seems that regulating and curtailing the powers of Big Food would be a better place to focus our attention rather than merely capping the portion size for one of many sugary, addictive, non-nutritious substances at our never-ending disposal.
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If weather is your mood, climate is your personality. That's an analogy some scientists use to help explain the difference between two words people often get mixed up.
Size Matters<p>Climates are a bit like woven tapestries. The big picture is important, no question. But so are all the seemingly minor details found inside the larger whole.</p><p><a href="https://research-information.bris.ac.uk/en/persons/tommaso-jucker" target="_blank">Tommaso Jucker</a> is an environmental scientist at the University of Bristol. In an email, Jucker says he'd define the term microclimate as "the suite of climatic conditions (temperature, rainfall, humidity, solar radiation) measured in localized areas, typically near the ground and at spatial scales that are directly relevant to ecological processes."</p><p>We'll talk about that last bit in a minute. But first, there's another criteria to discuss. According to some researchers, a microclimate — by definition — must differ from the larger area that surrounds it.</p><p><a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/research/paleoecologylab/publications/Davis_et_al_2019_Ecography.pdf" target="_blank">Forests</a> provide us with some great examples. "The climate near the ground in a tropical rainforest is dramatically different from the climate in the canopy 50 meters [164 feet] above," says University of Montana ecologist <a href="https://www.cfc.umt.edu/personnel/details.php?ID=1110" target="_blank">Solomon Dobrowski</a> in an email. "This vertical gradient among other factors allows for the staggering biodiversity we see in the tropics."</p><p>Likewise, scientists observed that a 2015 partial <a href="https://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/bees-stopped-buzzing-during-2017-solar-eclipse.htm" target="_blank">solar eclipse</a> caused the air temperature of an Eastern European meadow to <a href="https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wea.2802" target="_blank">change more dramatically</a> than it did in a nearby forest. That's because trees provide not only shade, but their leaves also reflect solar radiation. At the same time, forests tend to reduce wind speeds.</p><p>All those factors add up. A 2019 review of 98 wooded places — spread out across five continents — found that forests are 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) <a href="https://natureecoevocommunity.nature.com/posts/47363-forests-protect-animals-and-plants-against-warming" target="_blank">cooler on average</a> than the areas outside them.</p><p>Now if you hate the cold, don't worry; there's a cozy exception to the rule. According to that same study, forests are usually 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the external environment during the wintertime. Pretty cool.</p>
A Bug's Life<p>When does a microclimate stop being, well, micro? In other words, is there a maximum size we should be aware of when discussing them?</p><p>Depends on who you ask. "In terms of horizontal scale, some have defined 'microclimate' as anything that is less than 100 meters [328 feet] in range," Jucker says. "I'm personally less prescriptive about this."</p><p>Instead, he says the "scale at which we want to measure [a particular] microclimate" ought to be "dictated" by the questions we're trying to answer.</p><p>"If I want to know how temperature affects the photosynthesis of a leaf, I should be measuring temperature at centimeter scale," Jucker explains. "If I want to know if and how temperature affects the habitat preference of a large, mobile mammal, it's probably more relevant to capture temperature variation across [tens to hundreds] of meters."</p><p>For instance, solitary plants have the power to generate itty-bitty microclimates. Just ask <a href="https://www.colorado.edu/geography/peter-blanken-0" target="_blank">Peter Blanken</a>, a geography professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder and the co-author of the 2016 book, "<a href="https://amzn.to/2XN6FT8" target="_blank">Microclimate and Local Climate</a>."</p>
The urban heat island effect is a good example of how microclimates work. NOAA
Microclimates on a Grand Scale<p>It's no secret that our planet is going through some rough times at the macro level. The global temperature is <a href="https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/global-temperature/" target="_blank">climbing</a>; nine out of the <a href="https://www.noaa.gov/news/2019-was-2nd-hottest-year-on-record-for-earth-say-noaa-nasa" target="_blank">10 hottest years on record</a> have occurred since 2005. And by one recent estimate, roughly 1 million species around the world are <a href="https://ipbes.net/sites/default/files/2020-02/ipbes_global_assessment_report_summary_for_policymakers_en.pdf" target="_blank">facing extinction</a> due to human activities.</p><p>"One of the big questions that ecologists and environmental scientists are trying to answer right now is how will individual species and whole ecosystems respond to rapid climate change and habitat loss," says Jucker. "...To me, [microclimates are] a key component of this research — if we don't measure and understand climate at the appropriate scale, then predicting how things will change in the future becomes a lot harder."</p><p>Developers have long understood the impact small-scale climates have on our daily lives. <a href="https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/urban-heat-island.htm#pt0" target="_blank">Urban heat islands</a> are cities that have higher temperatures than neighboring rural areas.</p><p>Plants release vapors that can moderate local climates. But in cities, natural greenery is often scarce. To make matters worse, plenty of our roads and buildings have a bad habit of absorbing or re-emitting heat from the sun. <a href="https://www.google.com/books/edition/Microclimate_and_Local_Climate/LHUZDAAAQBAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=urban%20heat%20island" target="_blank">Vehicle emissions</a> don't exactly help the situation.</p><p>Still, it's not like Boston or Beijing are thermal monoliths. Sometimes, the documented temperatures <a href="https://e360.yale.edu/features/can-we-turn-down-the-temperature-on-urban-heat-islands" target="_blank">within a single city</a> vary by 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (8.3 to 11.1 degrees Celsius).</p><p>That's where metro parks and city trees come in. They have nice cooling effects on nearby neighborhoods. "Several cities around the world have developed programs to increase urban green spaces," says Blanken. "Tree planting programs and green roof programs, have been shown to lower surface temperatures, decrease air pollution and decrease surface water runoff (urban flash-flooding) in urban areas."</p>
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By Jeff Berardelli
Note: This story was originally published on August 6, 2020
If asked to recall a hurricane, odds are you'd immediately invoke memorable names like Sandy, Katrina or Harvey. You'd probably even remember something specific about the impact of the storm. But if asked to recall a heat wave, a vague recollection that it was hot during your last summer vacation may be about as specific as you can get.
<div id="ecf36" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c2dcc9d48a6cd61f247df1544539a783"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1290959314132361216" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Naming heatwaves is a good idea—making the abstract concrete, the invisible visible. Why should hurricanes and wild… https://t.co/hDWgYb79Ob</div> — Ed Maibach (@Ed Maibach)<a href="https://twitter.com/MaibachEd/statuses/1290959314132361216">1596623660.0</a></blockquote></div>
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One of the challenges of renewable power is how to store clean energy from the sun, wind and geothermal sources. Now, a new study and advances in nanotechnology have found a method that may relieve the burden on supercapacitor storage. This method turns bricks into batteries, meaning that buildings themselves may one day be used to store and generate power, Science Times reported.
Bricks are a preferred building tool for their durability and resilience against heat and frost since they do not shrink, expand or warp in a way that compromises infrastructure. They are also reusable. What was unknown, until now, is that they can be altered to store electrical energy, according to a new study published in Nature Communications.
The scientists behind the study figured out a way to modify bricks in order to use their iconic red hue, which comes from hematite, an iron oxide, to store enough electricity to power devices, Gizmodo reported. To do that, the researchers filled bricks' pores with a nanofiber made from a conducting plastic that can store an electrical charge.
The first bricks they modified stored enough of a charge to power a small light. They can be charged in just 13 minutes and hold 10,000 charges, but the challenge is getting them to hold a much larger charge, making the technology a distant proposition.
If the capacity can be increased, researchers believe bricks can be used as a cheap alternative to lithium ion batteries — the same batteries used in laptops, phones and tablets.
The first power bricks are only one percent of a lithium-ion battery, but storage capacity can be increased tenfold by adding materials like metal oxides, Julio D'Arcy, a researcher at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, who contributed to the paper and was part of the research team, told The Guardian. But only when the storage capacity is scaled up would bricks become commercially viable.
"A solar cell on the roof of your house has to store electricity somewhere and typically we use batteries," D'Arcy told The Guardian. "What we have done is provide a new 'food-for-thought' option, but we're not there yet.
"If [that can happen], this technology is way cheaper than lithium ion batteries," D'Arcy added. "It would be a different world and you would not hear the words 'lithium ion battery' again."
One of the concerns about a warming planet is the feedback loop that will emerge. That is, as the planet warms, it will melt permafrost, which will release trapped carbon and lead to more warming and more melting. Now, a new study has shown that the feedback loop won't only happen in the nether regions of the north and south, but in the tropics as well, according to a new paper in Nature.
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