Up@dawn 2.0

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Revisiting “Silent Spring”

Fifty-five years ago this week, Rachel Carson published the first part of “Silent Spring” in The New Yorker. Carson exposed, in detail, the dangers of the pesticide DDT; her work jump-started the American environmental movement and helped bring about the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. This week, we’re bringing you “Silent Spring” in its entirety, along with a few recent pieces on the environmental challenges that define our era. Raffi Khatchadourian tells the story of the Deepwater Horizon oil-spill disaster. Elizabeth Kolbert surveys the effects of global warming. And Jane Mayer, in a piece published this week, explains how “a tiny clique of fossil-fuel barons has captured America’s energy and environmental policies,” resulting in Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. These days, we have especially urgent reasons to revisit Carson’s work: the movement that she helped inspire has never been more necessary.

—David Remnick, New Yorker

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Can we slow global warming and still grow?

On March 17th, the International Energy Agency announced that 2016 marked the third year in a row that global carbon emissions had stayed at the same level while the world’s economy grew. This three-time repeat has put to rest any lingering suspicions of gremlins in the data. Something new is happening. The global economy has now grown nearly ten per cent without any increase in the annual CO2 emissions that are the principal human contribution to climate change. In the parlance of sustainability, growth and emissions appear to have “decoupled.”

Nearly as remarkable was the star of the latest announcement: the United States. Long decried as a climate-action laggard, America led the world in reducing carbon pollution in 2016, with a decline of three per cent. More important, this improvement was not tied primarily to the evolution of its economic system. Wealthy nations have long been moving toward economies anchored in finance and services, which produce less pollution, but, by continuing to consume, they effectively outsource carbon pollution from manufacturing to other countries. While the Global Carbon Project estimates that U.S. emissions should still be adjusted upward by about ten per cent to account for products consumed in America but made elsewhere, recent gains within the United States have been achieved by burning less coal and more natural gas, which is a cleaner fuel, and, to a lesser extent, through an increase in renewables. If that’s not news enough, G.C.P. scientists reported, in a paper published in January, that current trends in energy are “broadly consistent” with Paris Agreement targets for 2030, which aim to limit global warming to less than two degrees Celsius.

This is shout-it-from-the-rooftops stuff. Since 1972, and the publication of “The Limits to Growth,” there has been debate over whether economic growth and a sustainable environment are incompatible. Can humans live with the comforts to which we have become accustomed (or aspire to)—air-conditioning, cars, constantly updated wardrobes—without doing environmental harm? “The Limits to Growth” both warned against infinite growth on a finite planet and acknowledged that “it is success in overcoming limits that forms the cultural tradition of many dominant people in today’s world.” That dominant world view has not shifted. Decoupling economic activity from its ecological consequences is central to the goals of international sustainability and development. It’s the foundation of American faith that technology can resolve climate change without the need to substantially change our life styles. It’s the holy grail of “green growth.”

If the I.E.A.’s announcement didn’t quite become a eureka moment, it’s in part because the Drumpf Administration’s plans suggest that current trends are about to shift. On Friday, the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada received a Presidential permit, while a proposed budget released by the White House earlier this month would end spending on federal climate-change research and prevention programs. As Amy Davidson and others have described, the Drumpf Administration is hostile toward efforts to combat climate change, and it has promised that energy and climate policies will focus on reviving the coal industry, reducing carbon-emission standards for vehicles and power plants, and revisiting requirements that climate change be considered, and its costs accounted for, in decisions by federal agencies. Critics have pointed out that at least some of these efforts are unlikely to succeed (the I.E.A. emphasized that America’s 2016 emissions drop was driven by markets and new technologies as much as by policy), but any one of them would increase carbon emissions. A historic advance against climate change is threatened with reversal... (continues)

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Climate Science Meets a Stubborn Obstacle: Students

To Gwen Beatty, a junior at the high school in this proud, struggling, Drumpf-supporting town, the new science teacher’s lessons on climate change seemed explicitly designed to provoke her.

So she provoked him back.

When the teacher, James Sutter, ascribed the recent warming of the Earth to heat-trapping gases released by burning fossil fuels like the coal her father had once mined, she asserted that it could be a result of other, natural causes.

When he described the flooding, droughts and fierce storms that scientists predict within the century if such carbon emissions are not sharply reduced, she challenged him to prove it. “Scientists are wrong all the time,” she said with a shrug, echoing those celebrating President Drumpf’s announcement last week that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

When Mr. Sutter lamented that information about climate change had been removed from the White House website after Mr. Drumpf’s inauguration, she rolled her eyes.

For his part, Mr. Sutter occasionally fell short of his goal of providing Gwen — the most vocal of a raft of student climate skeptics — with calm, evidence-based responses. “Why would I lie to you?” he demanded one morning. “It’s not like I’m making a lot of money here.”

She was, he knew, a straight-A student. She would have had no trouble comprehending the evidence, embedded in ancient tree rings, ice, leaves and shells, as well as sophisticated computer models, that atmospheric carbon dioxide is the chief culprit when it comes to warming the world. Or the graph he showed of how sharply it has spiked since the Industrial Revolution, when humans began pumping vast quantities of it into the air.

Thinking it a useful soothing device, Mr. Sutter assented to Gwen’s request that she be allowed to sand the bark off the sections of wood he used to illustrate tree rings during class. When she did so with an energy that, classmates said, increased during discussion points with which she disagreed, he let it go.

When she insisted that teachers “are supposed to be open to opinions,” however, Mr. Sutter held his ground.

“It’s not about opinions,” he told her. “It’s about the evidence.”

“It’s like you can’t disagree with a scientist or you’re ‘denying science,”’ she sniffed to her friends.

Gwen, 17, could not put her finger on why she found Mr. Sutter, whose biology class she had enjoyed, suddenly so insufferable. Mr. Sutter, sensing that his facts and figures were not helping, was at a loss. And the day she grew so agitated by a documentary he was showing that she bolted out of the school left them both shaken.

“I have a runner,” Mr. Sutter called down to the office, switching off the video.

He had chosen the video, an episode from an Emmy-winning series that featured a Christian climate activist and high production values, as a counterpoint to another of Gwen’s objections, that a belief in climate change does not jibe with Christianity.

“It was just so biased toward saying climate change is real,” she said later, trying to explain her flight. “And that all these people that I pretty much am like are wrong and stupid.”

==

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Drumpf’s Stupid and Reckless Climate Decision

People say, if all you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail. We should be so lucky. President Drumpf has a hammer, but all he’ll use it for is to smash things that others have built, as the world looks on in wonder and in fear. The latest, most troubling example is his decision to obliterate the Paris climate accord: After nearly 200 years of scientific inquiry and over 20 years of patient diplomacy that united every nation save Syria and Nicaragua, we had this afternoon’s big game-show Rose Garden reveal: Count us out.

It’s a stupid and reckless decision — our nation’s dumbest act since launching the war in Iraq. But it’s not stupid and reckless in the normal way. Instead, it amounts to a thorough repudiation of two of the civilizing forces on our planet: diplomacy and science. It undercuts our civilization’s chances of surviving global warming, but it also undercuts our civilization itself, since that civilization rests in large measure on those two forces.

Science first. Since the early 1800s we’ve been slowly but surely figuring out the mystery of how our climate operates — why our planet is warmer than it should be, given its distance from the sun. From Fourier to Foote and Tyndall, from Arrhenius to Revelle and Suess and Keeling, researchers have worked out the role that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases play in regulating temperature. By the 1980s, as supercomputers let us model the climate with ever greater power, we came to understand our possible fate. Those big brains, just in time, gave us the warning we required.

And now, in this millennium, we’ve watched the warning start to play out. We’ve seen 2014 set a new global temperature record, which was smashed in 2015 and smashed again in 2016. We’ve watched Arctic sea ice vanish at a record pace and measured the early disintegration of Antarctica’s great ice sheets. We’ve been able to record alarming increases in drought and flood and wildfire, and we’ve been able to link them directly to the greenhouse gases we’ve poured into the atmosphere. This is the largest-scale example in the planet’s history of the scientific method in operation, the continuing dialectic between hypothesis and skepticism that arrived eventually at a strong consensus about the most critical aspects of our planet’s maintenance. Rational people the world around understand. As Bloomberg Businessweek blazoned across its cover the week after Hurricane Sandy smashed into Wall Street, “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.”

But now President Drumpf (and 22 Republican senators who wrote a letter asking him to take the step) is betting that all of that is wrong. Mr. Drumpf famously called global warming a hoax during the campaign, and with this decision he’s wagering that he was actually right — he’s calling his own bluff. No line of argument in the physical world supports his claim, and no credible authority backs him, not here and not abroad. It’s telling that he simultaneously wants to cut the funding for the satellites and ocean buoys that monitor our degrading climate. Every piece of data they collect makes clear his foolishness. He’s simply insisting that physics isn’t real.

But it’s not just science that he’s blowing up. The Paris accord was a high achievement of the diplomatic art, a process much messier than science, and inevitably involving compromise and unseemly concession. Still, after decades of work, the world’s negotiators managed to bring along virtually every nation: the Saudis and the low-lying Marshall Islanders, the Chinese and the Indians. One hundred and ninety-five nations negotiated the Paris accord, including the United States.

The dysfunctional American political process had already warped the process, of course. The reason Paris is a series of voluntary agreements and not a real treaty is because the world had long since understood that no binding document would ever get two-thirds of the vote in our oil-soaked Senate. And that’s despite the fact that the agreement asks very little of us: President Barack Obama’s mild shift away from coal-fired power and toward higher-mileage cars would have satisfied our obligations.

Those changes, and similar ones agreed to by other nations, would not have ended global warming. They were too small. But the hope of Paris was that the treaty would send such a strong signal to the world’s governments, and its capital markets, that the targets would become a floor and not a ceiling; that shaken into action by the accord, we would start moving much faster toward renewable energy, maybe even fast enough to begin catching up with the physics of global warming. There are signs that this has been happening: The plummeting price of solar energy just this spring persuaded India to forgo a huge planned expansion of coal plants in favor of more solar panel arrays to catch the sun. China is shutting coal mines as fast as it can build wind turbines.274COMMENTS

And that’s precisely the moment President Drumpf chose to make his move, a bid to undercut our best hope for a workable future in a bizarre attempt to restore the past. A few fossil-fuel barons may be pleased (Vladimir Putin likely among them, since his reign rests on the unobstructed development of Russia’s hydrocarbons), but most of the country and the world see this for the disaster it is. Majorities in every single state, red and blue alike, wanted America to stay in the accord.

And so we will resist. As the federal government reneges on its commitments, the rest of us will double down on ours. Already cities and states are committing to 100 percent renewable energy. Atlanta was the latest to take the step. We will make sure that every leader who hesitates and waffles on climate will be seen as another Donald Drumpf, and we will make sure that history will judge that name with the contempt it deserves. Not just because he didn’t take climate change seriously, but also because he didn’t take civilization seriously.

Bill McKibben, nyt
==
Fact-checking President Drumpf’s claims on the Paris climate change deal

In his speech announcing his decision to withdraw from the Paris Accord on climate change, President Drumpf frequently relied on dubious facts and unbalanced claims to make his case that the agreement would hurt the U.S. economy. Notably, he only looked at one side of the scale — claiming the agreement left the United States at a competitive disadvantage, harming U.S. industries. But he often ignored the benefits that could come from tackling climate change, including potential green jobs.

Drumpf also suggested that the United States was treated unfairly under the agreement. But each of the nations signing the agreement agreed to help lower emissions, based on plans they submitted. So the U.S. target was set by the Obama administration.

The plans are not legally binding, but developing and developed countries are treated differently because developed countries, on a per capita basis, often produce more greenhouse gases than developing countries. For instance, on a per capita basis, the United States in 2015 produced more than double the carbon dioxide emissions of China — and eight times more than India.

Here’s a roundup of various statements made by the president during his Rose Garden address. As is our practice, we do not award Pinocchios in roundups of speeches.

“We’re getting out, but we will start to negotiate, and we will see if we can make a deal that’s fair.”

Each country set its own commitments under the Paris Accord, so Drumpf’s comment is puzzling. He could unilaterally change the commitments offered by President Barack Obama, which is technically allowed under the Accord. But there is no appetite to renegotiate the entire agreement, as made clear by various statements from world leaders after his announcement.

“China will be allowed to build hundreds of additional coal plants. So, we can’t build the plants, but they can, according to this agreement. India will be allowed to double its coal production by 2020.”

This is false. The agreement is nonbinding and each nation sets its own targets. There is nothing in the agreement that stops the United States from building coal plants or gives the permission to China or India to build coal plants. In fact, market forces, primarily reduced costs for natural gas, have forced the closure of coal plants. China announced this year that it would cancel plans to build more than 100 coal-fired plants.

Gary Cohn, chairman of Drumpf’s National Economic Council, recently told reporters that “coal doesn’t even make that much sense anymore as a feedstock. Natural gas, which we have become an abundant producer, which we’re going to become a major exporter of, is such a cleaner fuel.”

“Compliance with the terms of the Paris accord and the onerous energy restrictions it has placed on the United States could cost America as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025, according to the National Economic Research Associates. This includes 440,000 fewer manufacturing jobs — not what we need.”

Drumpf cited a slew of statistics from a study that was funded by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Council for Capital Formation, foes of the Paris Accord. So the figures must be viewed with a jaundiced eye. Moreover, the study assumed a scenario that no policy analyst expects — that the United States takes drastic steps to meet the Obama pledge of a 26 to 28 percent reduction in emissions by 2025.

Moreover, the study did not consider possible benefits from reducing climate change. A footnote says: The study “does not take into account potential benefits from avoided emissions. … The model does not take into consideration yet-to-be developed technologies that might influence the long-term cost.”


Drumpf also cited the impact by 2040, including a “cost to the economy” of nearly $3 trillion in lost gross domestic product. But in addition to an unrealistic scenario, that number must be viewed in context over more than two decades, so “$3 trillion” amounts to a reduction of 6 percent. The study concludes coal usage would almost disappear, but innovation in clean energy sources would slow considerably, which also raises the cost of complying with the commitments.

Environmentalists say greater investment in clean energy will lower costs and spur innovation. That may not be correct either, but it demonstrates how the outcomes in models of economic activity decades from now depend on the assumptions.

“Even if the Paris Agreement were implemented in full, with total compliance from all nations, it is estimated it would only produce a two-tenths of one degree — think of that, this much — Celsius reduction in global temperature by the year 2100. Tiny, tiny amount.”

Drumpf is referring to research by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in a 2015 report. Researchers found that proposed emissions cuts in the Paris plan would result in about 0.2 degrees (Celsius) less warming by 2100, if the cuts were not extended further.

John Reilly, lead author of the report, said he “disagrees completely” with Drumpf’s characterization that the 0.2 degree cut is a “tiny, tiny” amount that is not worth pursuing. As a part of the deal, countries reexamine their commitments and can exceed or extend their pledges beyond 2030. The intent of the research was to say the Paris deal was a small step, and that more incremental steps need to be taken in the long run.

“The logic that, ‘This isn’t making much progress on a serious problem, therefore we’re going to do nothing,’ just doesn’t make sense to me. The conclusion should be — and our intended implication for people was — not to overly celebrate Paris, because you still have a long journey in front of you. So carb up for the rest of the trip,” Reilly said.

“The green fund would likely obligate the United States to commit potentially tens of billions of dollars of which the United States has already handed over $1 billion. Nobody else is even close. Most of them haven’t even paid anything — including funds raided out of America’s budget for the war against terrorism. That’s where they came.”

It is incorrect that other countries have not contributed to the Green Climate Fund. In fact, 43 governments have pledged money to the fund, including nine developing countries. The countries have pledged to pay $10.13 billion collectively, and the U.S. share is $3 billion. As of May 2017, the United States has contributed $1 billion of the $3 billion it pledged.

Drumpf implies that the money was taken out of U.S. defense monies. But the U.S. contributions were paid out of the State Department’s Economic Support Fund, one of the foreign assistance programs to promote economic or political stability based on U.S. strategic interests. Republican lawmakers have criticized the use of this fund, saying Congress designated the money to prioritize security, human rights and other efforts unrelated to climate change. However, the payments were made with congressional notification and meetings with congressional staff.

Drumpf also claimed in the speech that the Green Climate Fund “calls for developed countries to send $100 billion to developing countries.” But, as we noted, it’s actually $10 billion.

“China will be able to increase these emissions by a staggering number of years, 13. They can do whatever they want for 13 years. India makes its participation contingent on receiving billions and billions and billions of dollars in foreign aid from developed countries.”

China, in its Paris Accord commitment, said that, compared to 2005 levels, it would seek to cut its carbon emissions by 60 to 65 percent per unit of GDP by 2030. India said it would reduce its emissions per unit of economic output by 33 to 35 percent below 2005 by 2030; the submission does seek foreign aid to meet its goals and mitigate the costs.

Both countries pledge to reach these goals by 2030, meaning they are taking steps now to meet their commitments. India, for instance, seeks to have renewable power make up 40 percent of its power base by 2030, so it is investing heavily in solar energy. The country is now on track to become the world’s third-largest solar power market in 2018, after China and the United States. China is also investing heavily in renewable energy.

“Believe me, we have massive legal liability if we stay in.”

Drumpf is referring to concerns raised by White House counsel Don McGahn that staying in the Paris agreement would bolster legal arguments of climate advocates challenging Drumpf’s decision to roll back the Clean Power Plan.

The Clean Power Plan is a flagship environmental regulatory rule of the Obama administration, and proposes to cut carbon emissions from existing power plants 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. It is crucial to the United States meeting its carbon emissions reductions pledge in the Paris agreement. But it has been placed on hold while under litigation.

According to Politico, McGahn raised concerns that the Paris agreement “could be cited in court challenges to Drumpf’s efforts to kill Obama’s climate rules. McGahn’s comments shocked State Department lawyers, who strongly reject both of those contentions, the sources said.”

“As someone who cares deeply about the environment, which I do, I cannot in good conscience support a deal that punishes the United States, which is what it does.”

For years, Drumpf has touted his strong record on the environment. But the evidence is quite slim. We awarded Four Pinocchios to his claim that he is a “very big person when it comes to the environment,” who has “received awards on the environment.”

Environmentalists have criticized many of Drumpf’s projects, particularly for his plans to build a golf course on protected sand dunes and chopping down hundreds of trees for a golf course renovation. As a businessman, Drumpf or his property did win two environmental awards. In 2007, the Drumpf National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., received an award for “environmental stewardship through golf course maintenance, construction, education and research.” Three years later, the golf course was cited for a series of environmental violations.

In 2007, Drumpf won a “Green Space Award” for donating 435 acres of land to the state of New York. He had purchased the land to build a golf course, but withdrew plans after opposition from local residents and environmental restrictions. The land was never developed into a park, and New York closed it after budget cuts in 2010.

(About our rating scale)

DRUMPF EXITS THE PARIS CLIMATE AGREEMENT


AU REVOIR: DRUMPF EXITS THE PARIS CLIMATE AGREEMENT
By Elizabeth Kolbert

It’s possible that President Drumpf’s decision to withdraw from the Paris accord, while evidently wrongheaded, won’t make all that much difference.PHOTOGRAPH BY ANDREW HARNIK / AP

After milking the fate of the planet for maximum drama, Donald Drumpf announced today that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate accord. To reach this decision, the President had to dismiss decades’ worth of research by the country’s most prestigious scientific organizations. He needed to resist pleas from the U.S.’s staunchest allies; ignore appeals from many of its largest corporations, including ExxonMobil; and disregard the counsel of his Secretary of State. All this for, well, what? To shore up his base on the coal-hugging right?

“Analysis: telling literally every other country in the world to fuck off will probably create problems down the road,” David Roberts, who blogs about climate policy for Vox, tweeted, as the news of the move began to leak out. But, if Drumpf’s decision is evidently wrongheaded, it’s also possible that it won’t make all that much difference. This is in part because the U.S. had already effectively exited the agreement. In part it’s because just about everybody outside the Drumpf Administration seems to understand that the U.S. is making a world-historical mistake.

If Drumpf Dumps the Climate Accord, the U.S. Is the Loser” runs the headline of the cover story of next week’s Bloomberg Businessweek. Among the many reasons that Drumpf’s move makes no sense is that the Paris accord is a fundamentally weak agreement. Designed to avoid the need for approval by the U.S. Senate, it’s not even an official treaty. Under the accord, each country was left to devise its own commitment—or, as it is officially known, “nationally determined contribution.” In March, the Administration made it clear that it had no intention of fulfilling the U.S.’s commitment, which was to reduce the country’s carbon-dioxide emissions by at least twenty-six per cent by 2025 (a figure that relies on a baseline from 2005). The White House did this by rescinding—or, more accurately, indicating its desire to rescind—the two sets of Obama-era regulations upon which the commitment was based: a set of stricter auto-efficiency standards and a series of rules governing emissions from power plants... (continues)

Friday, May 5, 2017

Final Post 2/2: Infertility Treatments

Artificial insemination (AI) is a relatively simple process, one begun by J. Marion Sims in the 1850s, though it was considered highly controversial then. There are currently two methods of AI in employment; the most common method is intrauterine insemination (IUI) and the other is intracervical insemination (ICI), which is also referred to as intravaginal insemination. The first step in the AI process is to select a sperm donor, and then begin the process of taking fertility drugs while being carefully monitored by one’s doctor to ensure conception. This process can take months before the body is ready to accept the donor sperm. Once the time is right, a speculum is inserted into the vagina, as if in a normal pelvic examination. Using a thin catheter and syringe, the donor sperm is then injected into the uterine cavity. If a woman has opted for ICI instead of IUI, a soft catheter is used to inject the sperm into the cervix. After insertion, a sponge cap is placed inside the vagina to keep the sperm inside or near the cervix. AI is typically the method chosen if the male partner is infertile or if he possesses a low sperm count or if the couple is a same-sex female couple.7
The second method of conceiving outside of regular means to overcome infertility is the process of in vitro fertilization. Developed by Robert Edwards and Patrick Steptoe, IVF is a drawn out process, which begins with a woman taking clomiphene citrate, a synthetic hormone during her first menstrual cycle after IVF has begun. The hormones induce the woman to produce many more eggs than would normally be released during a regular ovulation; she can produce up to twenty-two eggs in an IVF cycle. Once released, the eggs are then extracted from the woman in a surgery called laparoscopy, during which the woman is placed under a light anesthesia. The surgeons then make two small incisions to locate the ovaries; once located, the ovaries are held still with forceps and a hollow needle is inserted to extract the eggs. Once extracted, the eggs are placed within a test tube. The male partner of the woman is then asked to give a sperm sample, or, if no partner exists or if the couple is a same-sex one, the donor sperm is added to the test tube containing the eggs. The fertilized eggs are then placed in an incubator. Eighteen hours after fertilization, the egg will have ideally multiplied into a two-celled organism, and the replication process continues from there. In most IVF centers, the embryos are implanted into the woman at the four or eight cell phase. The process of inserting them is the same as the process of AI. A woman lies on her back as for a regular pelvic examination, and a catheter is used to implant the embryo in her uterus.8

Though there is no definitive cure for infertility, treatments such as artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization aid in conception for couples who would otherwise have extreme difficulty producing children 100% naturally. For completely sterile couples, adoption remains the only option as of yet, but there is hope that, in the constantly changing world of medical advancements, a solution will yet be discovered. If Baby Louise Brown could beat the odds and survive the IVF and embryo transfer process, then there is hope for infertility treatments yet. 

Final Post 1/2: Infertility Treatments

On July 25th, 1978, a baby girl named was born in Oldham, England to Lesley and John Brown; who would name the baby Louise. Baby Louise Brown would become known in medical circles the world over as the first child conceived by in vitro fertilization to succeed. Louise’s story, however, is not the beginning of an era, but rather the culmination of one. There are historical tales of members of the nobility of Europe divorcing their first wives, or marrying much younger women, or even fornicating quite freely in order to beget an heir. King Henry VIII married and subsequently divorced, executed, or lost to illness six wives, and Napoleon divorced his wife Josephine when she failed to produce an heir. (Ironically, Josephine went on to become the “mother” to several of Europe’s current royal families.) The inability to conceive, for those who wish to, is a tragic event still today, even as the social stigmatism attached has been removed, and from this tragedy has arisen an entire chapter of medical science and innovation through which previously barren women are now able to conceive.
            Aristotle, not the philosopher but rather a collection of writers, is quoted as having said: “When a young couple is married, they naturally desire children, and therefore use those means that Nature has appointed to that end.” Unfortunately, nature did not always grant these young couples the means to produce children. In colonial times, it was the Lord who could “choose to bless a couple with offspring.” There was not a method of medical examination to determine if a man or woman was sterile. In 1728, Philadelphian Anna Maria Boehm Miller petitioned for a divorce on the grounds that her husband was unable to procreate with her, and thus could not produce a child, as was the point of marriage. Her husband, George Miller, had what is now known as cryptorchidism, meaning he suffered from an undescended testicle, a condition which can cause sterility. Since he could still produce both an erection and semen, Anna Miller’s divorce was not granted, and the lack of children was instead deemed the Lord’s will.1  Anna Miller’s case was one of many in which religion was turned to in place of a lacking medical treatment. With high infant mortality rates, populating the New World was a growing problem. As the century progressed, however, the source of advice began to shift from religious to medical; to be barren became being infertile, an emotionless medical condition which implied possible medical cures and treatments.
Before medical treatments were employed, women turned to close friend and relatives for advice on how to encourage the conception of a much-desired child. Early “cures” were not so much medical ones as they were changes to a lifestyle or marriage. Men were advised to avoid copulating often with their wives as “grass seldom grown in a path that is commonly trodden in.”  Women’s insensibilities or a possible “imbalance of the humors” were also cited as reasons for barrenness.2 The general consensus was, despite any potential deformations of genitalia on the male’s part, if a man was not impotent, then infertility lay firmly with the woman.
As the colonial era progressed, two prominent figures in infertility studies arose. The first was a young doctor named James Graham emigrated from Scotland to the New England area in the early 1770s, bringing with him his fairly radical theory of linking sexual pleasure with electrotherapy as a cure for infertility. He also offered various remedies to be consumed, such as his “never-failing prescription for fertility”, which instructed consumers to “take one handful of red virgin sage leaves; steep them in a bottle of old red port, then drink a glassful every morning repeat it in two or three months” and then combine it with regular exercise, proper hygiene, and keeping regular hours.3 Though there is no scientific evidence that honoring this recipe would actually aid in the conception of offspring, Graham’s prescription of regular exercise and bathing were widely accepted at the time. Though he only had limited success with actually “curing” infertility, Graham did enjoy quite a bit fame and fortune from his “Temple of Health”, which featured lectures on fertility by a member of the same sex as its attendants and Graham’s famed electric baths. On the opposite end of the spectrum was James Walker, a serious young medical student who sought to change his profession’s view on infertility, but instead returned to Virginia and faded into the background of history. The only remainder of Walker was a small book, originally written as a doctoral dissertation, entitled An Inquiry into the Causes of Sterility in Both Sexes. Where Graham adopted a sexual view on sterility, Walker proposed a purely medical one, stating that the infertility of women came from various medical conditions, including blocked fallopian tubes, and not from lack of achieving orgasm.4
In the 1850s and 60s, there arose a new name in medical treatments: J. Marion Sims. He began as a surgeon in Alabama who actively avoided obstetrics until he was called upon to operate upon a number of slave women who had all undergone difficult births and as a result suffered from vesicovaginal fistula. Though it took him years, Sims did solve the problem of operating on and healing the fistula. As a result of this success, he persuaded various well-connected female philanthropists to support him in a venture to create a women’s hospital, a venture in which he was successful; from his work, Sims would be named in history as the Father of Gynecology.5 The arrival of this new field in medicine meant new treatments could be devised to aid the infertile. Sims was also the first to experiment with artificial insemination, using a syringe with a long, dull, and bent at the end needle.
From the time of Sims in the mid-19th century, we now jump to the 20th. Beginning in 1895, and continuing for more than a decade, American surgeon Robert Tuttle Morris practiced ovarian transplantation, a process in which he implanted sectioned parts of ovaries from fertile women into women who were either infertile or had lost their ovaries in surgery, thirty years before the discovery of estrogen or the coining of the term ‘hormone’.6 During this time period, a test was also devised to test if the fallopian tubes were blocked or not, where previously surgery was the only option. From the 20th century came the two largest infertility treatments which still exist today: artificial insemination and the process of in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The future we’ve been warned about

...The future we’ve been warned about is beginning to saturate the present. We tend to imagine climate change as a destroyer. But it also traffics in disruption, disarray: increasingly frequent and more powerful storms and droughts; heightened flooding; expanded ranges of pests turning forests into fuel for wildfires; stretches of inhospitable heat. So many facets of our existence — agriculture, transportation, cities and the architecture they spawned — were designed to suit specific environments. Now they are being slowly transplanted into different, more volatile ones, without ever actually moving... (continues in the NYTimes Magazine "climate issue" Apr 23, 2017)
==
The Planet Can’t Stand This Presidency, by Bill McKibben

Drumpf is in charge at a critical moment for keeping climate change in check. We may never recover.

President Drumpf’s environmental onslaught will have immediate, dangerous effects. He has vowed to reopen coal mines and moved to keep the dirtiest power plants open for many years into the future. Dirty air, the kind you get around coal-fired power plants, kills people.

It’s much the same as his policies on health care or refugees: Real people (the poorest and most vulnerable people) will be hurt in real time. That’s why the resistance has been so fierce.

But there’s an extra dimension to the environmental damage. What Mr. Drumpf is trying to do to the planet’s climate will play out over geologic time as well. In fact, it’s time itself that he’s stealing from us.

What I mean is, we have only a short window to deal with the climate crisis or else we forever lose the chance to thwart truly catastrophic heating... (continues)