Monday, September 24, 2012

How Burning Coal Harms Human Health

Coal kills. That's the message of "The Silent Epidemic: Coal and the Hidden Threat to Health" by Alan H. Lockwood, MD, University at Buffalo emeritus professor of neurology.

Lockwood says "Coal is a major contributing factor to the top four causes of death in the U.S.: cancer, heart disease, respiratory disease and stroke, but I think people are completely unaware that pollution from coal is responsible for huge numbers of deaths." 

The book examines how coal is a factor in each of these diseases. Additional chapters examine the science, politics and economics of coal burning and global warming.

Dr. Lockwood discusses his new book in the brief video below:

Burning coal provides the energy to generate nearly half of the electricity in the nation. "The worst health effects of coal are felt by residents of states in the Northeastern U.S., east of the Mississippi, where most coal is burned and where the power plants are the oldest," says Lockwood.

Coal burning causes disease through two main mechanisms, Lockwood explains: through the inflammatory response that inhaled particulate matter triggers in the body and through the penetration into the brain of inhaled particulate matter. 

The press release from the University at Buffalo is here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

SUNY Trustees Require Investigation of UB Shale Institute

Board concerned about formation and funding of Institute, errors in its first report, and misrepresentation that it was peer reviewed

~ By David Kowalski and Jim Holstun ~

The SUNY Board of Trustees met in New York City on Wednesday, September 12, 2012. 

We wondered whether the Trustees would discuss the controversial Shale Resources and Society Institute (a.k.a., UB Shale Institute) created under the aegis of the University at Buffalo. Recently, 83 UB faculty and professional staff sent a letter to the university administration seeking  transparency on the Shale Institute. They urged the administration to make public all the documents that bear upon the founding, funding, staffing, operation and governance of the institute. Additionally, the New Yorkers Against Fracking announced a protest to be held outside the Board of Trustees meeting to push SUNY to stop supporting the industry-friendly Institute.

Live Webcasts of several different committee meetings were available online. We watched the meeting of the Research and Economic Development Committee.

Dr. Tim Killeen, the new President of the SUNY Research Foundation and former Assistant Director of Geosciences at the National Science Foundation, gave a presentation to the committee entitled "Advancing the SUNY Innovation Ecosystem." He indicated that there is great potential in collaborating with industry in New York. Killeen said that stimulating collaborative partnerships with industry is very important. He added that it has to be two-way, and has to be done with full integrity and ethical commitments.

Following a discussion of the presentation, Marshall Lichtman, acting chair of the committee, moved on to other business. Although the UB Shale Institute was not listed on the agenda, the discussion turned out to be devoted entirely to the Shale Institute and the University at Buffalo.

Below are excerpts from the committee's discussion:

Trustee Ronald G. Ehrenberg said "the whole issue of fracking research at Buffalo has sort of led to concerns about what policies we have in place regarding accountability and conflict of interest and conflict of commitment in terms of research." He added "Economists got into a lot of problems because a lot of people testifying or writing papers on financial regulation turned out were paid consultants to companies, and they never released that." He recommended convening the vice presidents for research at the different campuses and discussing the issues.

Trustee Joseph W. Belluck, speaking to Dr. Killeen, said "what happened in Buffalo threatens to undermine everything in your presentation, every single last bit of it." Belluck said "And what happened, and it was laid out very clearly in an NPR story that you can get on Google, is that there was a conference at Buffalo, and following the conference, an employee of a natural gas company sat down with people at the University at Buffalo and suggested to them that they set up an institute to research fracking, suggested to them that they hire a colleague of his who is a consultant to the energy industry, someone with very little academic credentials, if any, and suggested to them if they put out an article that was favorable, that they would attract additional resources from the gas industry."

"They then put out a report. They misrepresented that it was peer reviewed. As you and I have discussed, it’s the core principle of academic research, peer review. They misrepresented that. It was not peer reviewed. They misrepresented that reviewers who had read it supported the conclusions. And the Chancellor went on a television, a radio program, and asked UB to respond, and to explain what went on, take responsibility for it. And they really haven’t."

Speaking forcefully, Belluck continued "But this thing at UB, in my view, it has to be shut down. And I would like to bring a motion to the Board today that we call on Buffalo to shut this institute down. Because I don’t think that this is an academic institute. The faculty at Buffalo are upset about it because it was not set up with the rigors that an academic institute was set up for. We now have protestors coming today. It’s all over Google News. And I think it threatens to undermine us as a first-class research institute."

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Environmental Protection and Economic Growth

We can reduce pollution, protect health, create jobs and grow our economy

If there's one issue that hasn't been talked about enough in this election, it's the environment.

Yet the difference between the parties is stark: Republicans want to cut the EPA and weaken vital environmental protections like the Clean Air and Clean Water Act, laws that ensure millions of Americans can safely breath our air and drink our water.

But the parties were not always so polarized on environmental issues. What's behind the push to
weaken environmental protections? Watch the video to see. 

Video: Those interviewed include WNY native Jason Kowalski, Policy Director at in Washington DC; David Doniger from the Natural Resources Defense Council; Joe Mendelson, director of global warming policy at the National Wildlife Federation; and Rep. Raul Grijalva (AZ-7).

Thursday, September 6, 2012

UB Must Investigate Its Shale Institute

Letter to the Editor of The Buffalo News - August 30, 2012 ~
By David Kowalski ~

University administrators, the press and the public are being duped by industry-backed studies masquerading as objective academic research. Specific examples involve studies released by the University at Buffalo Shale Resources and Society Institute, University of Texas and Penn State University. At all three public universities, authors of studies on the impacts of shale-gas extraction by fracking did not disclose gas industry ties, which were discovered only after their industry-biased conclusions were reported. The lead UB author also failed to disclose industry ties in a Penn State study that was later retracted by the university. The University of Texas is investigating its study's principle author. The absence of an investigation of the UB study damages the university's credibility and erodes public trust.

Publication of academic research in science requires disclosure of industry affiliations and funding sources to avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest. Also required is anonymous peer review mediated by a journal editor, which generally results in revision and resubmission, and ultimately, in acceptance or rejection for publication. University studies resulting from industry-affiliated research should likewise undergo rigorous peer review and be published in a journal prior to their release to the press.

The UB press release contained authors' conclusions that were not peer-reviewed, not supported by the data and were biased in favor of the gas industry. At this critical time in determining policies on shale-gas fracking, it is outrageous that invalid conclusions in the UB press release were made public and promptly cited as an authoritative source in Congress in order to influence policy makers.

The lack of transparency and academic rigor is appalling and intolerable. The UB administration should uphold academic standards and initiate an industry-independent investigation of the Shale Resources and Society Institute and its research findings. 
Editorial Cartoon by Adam Zyglis in The Buffalo News - August 14, 2012

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

IMPORTANT UPDATE on 2012 Buffalo Niagara Green Expo

We on the BNGE steering committee need to make you aware of some important updates regarding this year’s event. After much consideration and reflection, we have decided to postpone the 2012 Buffalo Niagara Green Expo indefinitely. After three successful years promoting the local green/sustainable community and bringing green organizations together, we have decided that our mission may be best served by modifying our future strategy.

Monday, September 3, 2012

EVENT: CITY of NIGHT - Saturday, Sept. 8, 4pm-2am

For details on activities at the CITY of NIGHT event, Click Here.
Does anyone recall a song that mentions "City of Night"? It also mentions "City of Light." The song has nothing to do with the City of Night Event in Buffalo (The City of Light), but here is part of one verse:

"Are you a lucky little lady in the city of light?
Or just another lost angel, city of night, city of night,
City of night, city of night, whoa, come on!"

Click here for the answer and turn up the sound volume.