Anthropocene Thinking

Do you know the PDF of your shampoo? A ‘PDF’ refers to a “partially diminished fraction of an ecosystem,” and if your shampoo contains palm oil cultivated on clearcut jungle in Borneo, say, that value will be high.

How about your shampoo’s DALY? This measure comes from public health: “disability adjusted life years,” the amount of one’s life that will be lost to a disabling disease because of, say, a liftetime’s cumulative exposure to a given industrial chemical. So if your favorite shampoo contains two common ingredients, the carcinogen 1,4 dioxane, or BHA, an endocrine disrupter, its DALY will be higher.»

Read More

How Market Forces Can Build a Greener World

With climate legislation dead in Congress and the fizzled hopes for a breakthrough in Copenhagen fading into distant memory, the time seems ripe for fresh strategies – especially ones that do not depend on government action.

Here’s a modest proposal: radical transparency, the laying bare of a product’s ecological impacts for all to see.»

Read More

Leading sustainability

Three teen-aged girls are at a shopping mall looking for sunscreen. It’s an impulse purchase, and it has to be an all-natural choice. They think they’ve found what they’re looking for at one store, but on the way to the register one of the girls takes out her phone and swipes it by the barcode of the product they’ve selected. »

Read More

What We Don’t Know About the Toxic Stuff Around Us

Consider a box of microwaveable, butter-flavored popcorn. The label assures buyers it has zero grams of trans-fat and “zero mg cholesterol.” But the ingredients list fails to mention that the savory butter taste and mouth-watering aroma comes courtesy of diacetyl, a flavoring long known by pulmonary specialists to cause “bronchiolitis obliterans,” a disease that causes the small airways in the lungs become to become swollen, scarred and, eventually, obliterated.»

Read More

What Toxicology Won’t Measure – And What To Do

I’ve got some bad news. Toxicology seems to have a blind spot when it comes to the stew of chemicals we breathe, drink or otherwise absorb over the course of life. Currently federal standards for determining toxicity are based on whether single exposures to a specific chemical cause a given medical problem.

But growing bodies of medical evidence suggest that the cumulative tiny doses of chemicals we encounter over our lifetime can add up to disease. For instance, Deborah Cory-Slechta, a toxicologist at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, found that exposing lab animals to two common pesticides, paraquat and maneb, caused degeneration in the dopamine circuits that underlie Parkinson’s disease in humans.»

Read More