63% of Americans Actively Avoid Drinking Soda


Story at-a-glance

  • Sixty-three percent of Americans actively try to avoid soda, compared to 41 percent in 2002
  • Rates of soda consumption have been dropping for decades, and Americans now consume about the same amount they did back in 1986
  • Coca-Cola is engaging in an intensive marketing ploy to “reintroduce” Coke, using smaller serving sizes and personalized cans to target teens
  • While carbonated soda sales fell 2 percent in 2013, Diet Coke sales dropped 7 percent amidst fears of aspartame’s health risks
  • Adolescent rats fed sugary drinks for one month had both impaired memory and trouble learning

Americans are finally starting to realize the dangers of soda, with nearly two-thirds (63 percent) saying they actively try to avoid soda in their diet, a new Gallup poll revealed.1

This is a significant increase from 2002, when only 41 percent were trying to avoid soda, and a clear sign that, as TIME reported, “the soda craze is going flat.”2

Soda Consumption Falls to Lowest Level in Decades

The soda industry is a $75-billion market,3 an industry that reached its greatest heights in the US during the 1980s and 1990s, when Coca-Cola began pushing larger drink sizes and “upsizing.” Fountain drink sizes grew more than 50 percent by 1990, and in 1994, the 20-ounce plastic bottle was introduced in the US.

As people drank more and more soda, rates of obesity and diabetes soared, and while the soda industry still denies to this day any connection, research suggests otherwise. The “supersized” mentality seems to have backfired for Coca-Cola and other beverage companies, because as the health risks become clear, sales have been on a steady downward spiral.

As Businessweek reported:4

“For decades, soft-drink companies saw consumption rise. During the 1970s, the average person doubled the amount of soda they drank; by the 1980s it had overtaken tap water. In 1998, Americans were downing 56 gallons of the stuff every year—that’s 1.3 oil barrels’ worth of soda for every person in the country.

And then we weren’t as thirsty for soda anymore, and there were so many new drink options that we could easily swap it out for something else. Soft-drink sales stabilized for a few years…

In 2005 they started dropping, and they haven’t stopped. Americans are now drinking about 450 cans of soda a year, according to Beverage Digest, roughly the same amount they did in 1986.”

Coca-Cola Seeks to ‘Reintroduce’ Coke to Teen Market, and in ‘Guilt-Free’ Sizes

Part of Coca-Cola’s plan to bring soda back is, ironically, introducing smaller sizes, a strategy they believe might reposition Coke so “people stop feeling guilty when they drink it, or, ideally come to see a Coke as a treat.”

Smaller, 7.5-ounce minicans and 8-ounce glass bottles have been selling well. Even Sandy Douglas, president of Coca-Cola North America, says he limits himself to one 8-ounce glass bottle of regular Coke in the morning. Any more would be too many calories, he told Businessweek.

Meanwhile, Coca-Cola decided to target the teen market directly this summer. Teens, while notorious for their soft-drink consumption, have been quickly bailing ship and opting for energy drinks instead.

So Coca-Cola printed the 250 most common teen names on Coke bottles, hoping to entice teens with the “personalized” drinks. It worked. Sales increased by 1 percent in North America in the last three months.5

Beverage consultant Mike Weinstein, former president of A&W Brands, even noted that he goes right into high schools to find out whether teens can identify soda company slogans.

Yet, there seems to be a growing realization within the industry that, as American attitudes about diet change, and more people seek to reduce added sugar and sugary drinks in their diets, appealing to the “healthier” side of their image is needed.

And, here, too, Coca-Cola is quick to respond. They’ve invested heavily in small “healthy” beverage companies like Fuze tea, Zico coconut water, and organic Honest Tea. Coca-Cola also owns Odwalla and Simply Orange juices, Glaceau Vitaminwater, and Core Power sports drinks.

Coca-Cola Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Muhtar Kent has no intention of letting Coca-Cola’s brands, and its namesake product Coke, fall by the wayside.

A $1-billion two-year marketing blitz’s sole goal is to drive its “sparkling” division back to its former glory. And in case you were wondering… its healthy-sounding “sparkling” division includes soda, which is completely delusional.

Your Brain on Soda

When you drink soda, numerous changes happen in your body, including in your brain. A new animal study, presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior, found that sugary beverages may be particularly damaging to the brains of adolescents, one of the key age groups soda companies are trying to “court.”

Both adult and adolescent rats were fed sugary beverages for one month. They then were tested for cognitive function and memory.

While the adult rats did okay, the adolescent rats fed sugary drinks had both impaired memory and trouble learning.6 Next, the researchers plan to study whether soda leads to inflammation in the brain’s hippocampus, which is crucial for memory and learning.

Diet Coke Sales Plummet Amidst Aspartame Health Concerns

Diet Coke may not contain sugar, but that certainly doesn’t make it a better choice than regular soda. Here, too, Americans are catching on to the risks involved, especially in regard to the artificial sweetener aspartame. Businessweek, reporting on the decline in Coca-Cola’s sales, noted that while carbonated soda sales fell 2 percent in 2013, Diet Coke sales dropped 7 percent.

This, they said, was “almost entirely the result of the growing unpopularity of aspartame amid persistent rumors that it’s a health risk.”7 Rumors? Far from it. Research continues to pour in revealing proven health dangers to aspartame.

Among them, a recent commentary that reviewed the adequacy of the cancer studies submitted by G.D. Searle in the 1970s to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for market approval.8

Their review of the data found that the studies did not prove aspartame’s safety, while other recent research suggests aspartame has potential carcinogenic effects. The researchers noted:

“Taken together, the studies performed by G.D. Searle in the 1970s and other chronic bioassays do not provide adequate scientific support for APM safety.

In contrast, recent results of life-span carcinogenicity bioassays on rats and mice published in peer-reviewed journals, and a prospective epidemiological study, provide consistent evidence of APM’s carcinogenic potential.

On the basis of the evidence of the potential carcinogenic effects of APM herein reported, a re-evaluation of the current position of international regulatory agencies must be considered an urgent matter of public health.”

You may also be surprised to learn that research has repeatedly shown that artificially sweetened no- or low-calorie drinks and other “diet” foods actually tend to stimulate your appetite, increase cravings for carbs, and stimulate fat storage and weight gain.

A report published in the journal Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism highlighted the fact that diet soda drinkers suffer the same exact health problems as those who opt for regular soda, such as excessive weight gain, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.9 For the record, Coca-Cola maintains aspartame is a “safe, high-quality alternative to sugar.” Clearly they’ve not reviewed the hundreds of studies on this artificial sweetener demonstrating its harmful effects…

What Happens When You Drink Soda?

Soda is on my list of the absolute worst foods and drinks you can consume. Once ingested, your pancreas rapidly begins to create insulin in response to the sugar. A 20-ounce bottle of cola contains the equivalent of 16 teaspoons of sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). In addition to contributing to insulin resistance, the rise in blood sugar is quite rapid. Here’s a play-by-play of what happens in your body upon drinking a can of soda:

  • Within 20 minutes, your blood sugar spikes, and your liver responds to the resulting insulin burst by turning massive amounts of sugar into fat.
  • Within 40 minutes, caffeine absorption is complete; your pupils dilate, your blood pressure rises, and your liver dumps more sugar into your bloodstream.
  • Around 45 minutes, your body increases dopamine production, which stimulates the pleasure centers of your brain – a physically identical response to that of heroin, by the way.
  • After 60 minutes, you’ll start to have a blood sugar crash, and you may be tempted to reach for another sweet snack or beverage.

As I’ve discussed on numerous occasions, chronically elevated insulin levels (which you would definitely have if you regularly drink soda) and the subsequent insulin resistance is a foundational factor of most chronic disease, from diabetes to cancer. Today, while many Americans are cutting back on sugary drinks, soda remains a dietary mainstay for many. Along with energy drinks and sports drinks, soda is among the top 10 sources of calories in the US diet (number four on the list, to be exact),10 and, in 2012, Gallup found that 48 percent of Americans said they drink at least one glass of soda a day,11 with proven detrimental impacts to their health.

Some Advice for Coca-Cola? Get Ready for a Class-Action Suit

Some advice for Coke, plan your budget to include a class-action lawsuit similar to those filed against the tobacco industry. These products are now well linked to the obesity epidemic and chronic disease. Coca-Cola admits to targeting teens (and has previously targeted children through in-school advertising and product placement). Now, they are making attempts to rebrand Coke with a new, healthier image. Their new “Coke Life,” a low-calorie, low-sugar soda in a green can, no less, was designed to “quiet critics,” as it contains less sugar and no aspartame.12 Yet this new green-washed soda is just basically a cigarette with a filter.

Then there is Coca-Cola’s even more insidious side. Investigative journalist Michael Blanding revealed in his book, The Coke Machine — The Dirty Truth Behind the World’s Favorite Soft Drink, that Coca-Cola bottling plants in India have dramatically lowered the water supply, drying up wells for local villagers while also dumping cadmium, chromium, and other carcinogens into the local environment. Similar claims have been made in Mexico. In many third-world countries, they already don’t have access to clean water, making soda their only choice for a non-contaminated beverage. As the demand for soda grows, the bottling plants increase, further taxing the water supplies left, in a vicious and dangerous cycle.

Join the Growing Number of People Saying ‘No’ to Soda

In order to break free of your soda habit, first be sure you address the emotional component of your food cravings using tools such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). More than any traditional or alternative method I have used or researched, EFT works to overcome food cravings and helps you reach dietary success. Be sure to check out Turbo Tapping in particular, which is an extremely effective and simple tool to get rid of your soda addiction in a short amount of time.

If you still have cravings after trying EFT or Turbo Tapping, you may need to make some changes to your diet. My free nutrition plan can help you do this in a step-by-step fashion. Remember, nothing beats pure water when it comes to serving your body’s needs. If you really feel the urge for a carbonated beverage, try sparkling mineral water with a squirt of lime or lemon juice, or sweetened with stevia or Luo Han, both of which are safe natural sweeteners. Remember, if you struggle with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or extra weight, then you have insulin sensitivity issues and would likely benefit from avoiding ALL sweeteners.

Sweetened beverages, whether it’s sweetened with sugar, HFCS, naturally occurring fructose, or artificial sweeteners like aspartame, are among the worst culprits in the fight against obesity and related health problems, including diabetes and heart and liver disease, just to name a few. Ditching ALL of these types of beverages can go a long way toward reducing your risk for chronic health problems and weight gain, not to mention your exposure to potentially cancer-causing additives like caramel coloring and aspartame.

Source:mercola.com

Side Effects of Long-Term Pesticide Exposure



Long-term exposure to pesticides has been linked to infertility, birth defects,1,2endocrine disruption, neurological disorders and cancer, so it’s a common-sense conclusion that fewer pesticides in our food supply would result in improved health among the general population.

In fact, one of the strongest selling points for eating organic food is that it can significantly lower your exposure to pesticides and other harmful chemicals used in conventional agriculture, and this measure in and of itself may help protect your long-term health and/or improve any health conditions you may have.

Since organic standards prohibit the use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides, organic foods are, as a rule, less contaminated, and studies have confirmed that those who eat a primarily organic diet have fewer toxins in their system.

Sadly, the chemical technology industry wields great power — so great that our government has largely turned a blind eye to the obvious, which is that too many toxic chemicals, in too great amounts, are being allowed in the growing of food. As noted in the featured film, “From DDT to Glyphosate:”

“Just as was the case in the 1950s with DDT and tobacco, we are on the brink of disastrous damage to health worldwide. This short film begins to explain why, and what we can do.”

Help Educate Those You Love

“From DDT to Glyphosate” is just half an hour long, yet it’s an excellent introduction to the dangers of pesticides.

Sadly, many are still unaware of just how many pesticides they’re exposed to on a daily basis via their food, so I urge you to help educate those you love by sharing this short film with your social networks.

The ‘Silent Spring’ Continues

In 1962, American biologist Rachel Carson wrote the groundbreaking book “Silent Spring,” in which she warned of the devastating environmental impacts of DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane), suggesting the chemical may also have harmful effects on human health.

She rightfully questioned the logic and sanity of using such vast amounts of a chemical without knowing much about its ecological and human health impact.

Her book triggered a revolution in thinking that gave birth to the modern environmental movement, and the public outcry that resulted from her book eventually led to DDT being banned for agricultural use in the U.S. in 1972.

Unfortunately, DDT was simply replaced with other equally unsafe and untested chemicals. Today, we’re also exposed to even vaster amounts of pesticides, and a wider variety of them, which is why it’s so important to share this film with as many people as possible.

Consider this: the very same companies that developed chemical warfare weapons during World War II simply transitioned into agriculture after the war, and many of the same warfare chemicals are now sprayed on our food.

The notion that these chemicals are good for humans, the environment and the business of agriculture is a fabricated one.

Genetic Engineering Fuels the Chemical Agriculture Engine

As noted in the film, 80 percent of genetically engineered (GE) crops are designed to withstand herbicide application; most often glyphosate-based herbicides, such as Monsanto’s Roundup. As a result, we’re ingesting far greater quantities of pesticides than ever before.

The question is, where’s the breaking point? There’s reason to believe we may have crossed the threshold already. Health statistics suggest the average toxic burden has become too great for children and adults alike, and toxins in our food appear to play a primary role.

According to Dr. Joseph E. Pizzorno,3 founding president of Bastyr University, the first fully accredited multidisciplinary university of natural medicine and the first National Institutes of Health-funded center for alternative medicine research, toxins in the modern food supply are now “a major contributor to, and in some cases the cause of, virtually all chronic diseases.”

A recent report4,5 by the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics6(FIGO), which represents OB-GYNs in 125 countries, warns that chemical exposures, including pesticides, now represent a major threat to human health and reproduction.

Pesticides are also included in a new scientific statement on endocrine-disrupting chemicals by the Endocrine Society Task Force.7,8

This task force warns that the health effects of hormone-disrupting chemicals is such that everyone needs to take proactive steps to avoid them — especially those seeking to get pregnant, pregnant women and young children.

Even extremely low-level pesticide exposure has been found to considerably increase the risk of certain diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease. According to Michael Antoniou, Ph.D., a British geneticist interviewed in the film, “as a cocktail, I believe [pesticides] has converted our food supply into a slow poison.”

Rise in Chronic Disease Parallels Increased Glyphosate Use

The film shows how increases in global glyphosate use closely parallel increases in infertility, thyroid disorders, diabetes, liver and kidney disease, stroke and many other chronic diseases. Alas, the U.S. government does not acknowledge such a connection.

As noted by Claire Robinson, managing editor of GMWatch and author of the excellent book “GMO Myths and Truths,” while we do have a regulatory system, that system is grossly inadequate, as it doesn’t evaluate all the possible health and environmental effects of any given chemical.

The chemical industry also has a very strong lobby, and revolving doors between industry and the regulatory agencies in the U.S. have allowed for industry to largely dictate its own rules. Robinson also correctly notes that it is in fact chemical companies that are producing GE seeds.

This is an important point to remember. They’re not true agricultural firms. They’re chemical companies that have simply found another way to boost sales, and to believe they’re doing it out of altruism would be naïve.

Studies Show Even Ultra-Low Doses of Roundup Cause Harm

Antoniou has conducted tests revealing that ultra-low doses of Roundup administered to rats in drinking water produce liver and kidney damage over the long term. And these doses are thousands of times lower than what regulators say is completely safe for consumption.

Another recent study found Roundup adversely affects the development of female rats’ uteruses, increasing the risk for both infertility and uterine cancer. As reported by The Ecologist:9

“Doctors and scientists have noted high rates of miscarriage — sometimes called ‘spontaneous abortion’ — in women living in regions of Argentina where GM Roundup Ready soy is grown and sprayed with glyphosate herbicides. The new study may shed light on this phenomenon.

The dose of herbicide found to disrupt uterine development in the rats was 2 milligrams per kilogram of bodyweight per day, based on the U.S. ‘reference dose’ of pure glyphosate that regulators deem safe to consume every day of our lives for a lifetime.”

So why is no action taken to protect human health? It really boils down to the fact that without Roundup and other pesticides, the GE seed business would collapse and chemical technology companies, with their vast resources and revolving doors into government regulatory agencies, have managed to deceive everyone into thinking there’s no problem.

Pesticide Use Is Increasing Worldwide

Worldwide, an estimated 7.7 billion pounds (about 3.5 billion kilograms) of pesticides are applied to crops each year, and that number is steadily increasing as developed nations are steadily transitioning over to chemical-based agriculture in a misguided and misinformed effort to increase yield and lower cost.10

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN), Bangladesh and Thailand have quadrupled their pesticide use since the early 1990s. Ghana, Ethiopia and Burkina Faso have increased use by 1,000 percent, and Argentina’s use has risen 815 percent.11,12

The U.S. is still leading the charge when it comes to pesticide use, followed by Brazil, which is a top exporter of soybeans, corn and cotton. More than one-third of the 260 million gallons of pesticides used in Brazil each year is applied to soybeans. Cotton and citrus receive the greatest amounts, however.

But boosting yields with chemicals come at a cost. According to a 2012 analysis of FAO data, each 1 percent increase in crop yield is associated with a 1.8 percent increase in pesticide use.

Logic tells us this is an unsustainable trajectory when you consider the health ramifications associated with pesticide exposure and the environmental effects, which include destruction of soil and non-target plant life, pollution of waterways and the decimation of crucial pollinators like bees and butterflies.

Common Side Effects of Agricultural Chemicals

Depending on the specific chemical being used, agricultural chemicals are typically associated with their own specific side effects:

  • Insecticides primarily produce neurological symptoms, such as headaches
  • Fungicides tend to produce skin-related symptoms
  • Herbicides are associated with digestive and skin problems

Glyphosate, which is one of the most widely used herbicides in the world, was reclassified as a Class 2A “probable carcinogen” just last year by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a division of the World Health Organization (WHO).

While the IARC stopped short of a stronger cancer classification for glyphosate, there’s ample evidence showing it is quite “definitely” carcinogenic.13 A research scientist and consultant who investigates agricultural chemicals in the food supply, Anthony Samsel, Ph.D., even claims to have uncovered evidence showing Monsanto has known glyphosate promotes cancer since 1981.

Glyphosate is most heavily applied on GE corn, soybeans and sugar beets, but it’s also commonly used to desiccate conventional (non-GMO but non-organic) wheat and protect other conventional crops from weeds. Disturbingly, glyphosate and Roundup may actually be even worse than DDT, having been linked to an ever-growing array of health effects, including the following:14,15

Nutritional deficiencies, especially minerals, as glyphosate immobilizes certain nutrients and alters the nutritional composition of the treated crop Disruption of the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids (these are essential amino acids not produced in your body that must be supplied via your diet)
Increased toxin exposure (this includes high levels of glyphosate and formaldehyde in the food itself) Impairment of sulfate transport and sulfur metabolism; sulfate deficiency
Systemic toxicity — a side effect of extreme disruption of microbial function throughout your body; beneficial microbes in particular, allowing for overgrowth of pathogens Gut dysbiosis (imbalances in gut bacteria, inflammation, leaky gut and food allergies such as gluten intolerance)
Enhancement of damaging effects of other foodborne chemical residues and environmental toxins as a result of glyphosate shutting down the function of detoxifying enzymes Creation of ammonia (a byproduct created when certain microbes break down glyphosate), which can lead to brain inflammation associated with autism and Alzheimer’s disease
Increased antibiotic resistance Increased cancer risk.16,17,18,19 Since the IARC’s determination, agricultural personnel have begun suing Monsanto over past glyphosate exposure, claiming it played a role in their bone cancer and leukemia20,21

Buyer Beware: Glyphosate Limits in Food Are Likely Excessive

Some of the studies implicating glyphosate as a serious hazard to animals and humans go back many years, yet in July 2013, right in the midst of mounting questions about glyphosate’s safety, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) went ahead and raised the allowable limits of glyphosate in both food and feed crops.22,23

Allowable levels in oilseed crops such as flax, soybean and canola were doubled, from 20 parts per million (ppm) to 40 ppm — just 10 ppm below the level at which Roundup may cause cell death, according to research24 published in 2011.

Permissible glyphosate levels in many other foods were raised to 15 to 25 times from previous levels. Root and tuber vegetables, with the exception of sugar, got one of the largest boosts, with allowable residue limits being raised from 0.2 ppm to 6.0 ppm. The level for sweet potatoes was raised to 3 ppm.

It’s important to remember that the allowable levels of glyphosate have been significantly raised, because IF the U.S. government does implement glyphosate testing for food, as indicated by the EPA in April 2015,25 then assurances that levels are “within safe limits” may have little to no real value.

Also, while the dangers of glyphosate are becoming more widely recognized, many fail to realize that the Roundup formulation used on crops is even more toxic than glyphosate in isolation. Research reveals the surfactants in the formula synergistically increase glyphosate’s toxicity, even though these ingredients are considered “inert” and therefore of no major consequence.

Recent follow-up research26,27 by Gilles-Éric Séralini, Ph.D. — whose initial lifetime feeding study revealed massive tumor growth and early death — shows that long-term exposure to even ultra-low amounts of Roundup may cause tumors, along with liver and kidney damage in rats.

Can Food System Survive Without Pesticides?

Many have gotten so used to the idea that pesticides are a necessity they give little credence to the idea that chemicals are notactually needed. As reported by Ensia, a magazine showcasing solutions to the Earth’s biggest environmental challenges:28

“‘How much is too much?’ is a question with which Jules Pretty, a professor at the University of Essex in the United Kingdom, is constantly grappling. What’s encouraging is the growing evidence that farmers can lower their dependence on pesticides while maintaining agricultural production, sometimes by employing techniques that date back thousands of years.29

Over the past 25 years, Pretty has been studying sustainable agriculture practices30 around the world. He has shown that there’s growing proof that integrated pest management (IPM) — a strategy that uses alternative, diversified and historic agronomic practices to control pests — can help reduce pesticide use in a variety of farming systems.

In 2015, Pretty and colleagues published a meta-analysis31 of 85 field sites in 24 countries in Asia and Africa that employed IPM techniques and reduced pesticide use while boosting crop yields. Some eliminated pesticides entirely by using techniques such as crop rotation and pheromone traps to capture pests, says Pretty.

‘Thirty percent of the crop systems were able to transition to zero pesticides,’ Pretty says. Not only that, but surprisingly, he says, ‘the innovations around sustainability are happening in the poorer countries: Bangladesh, India and countries in Africa. We really could be holding these up as beacons.'”

According to Pretty, a key strategy to lower dependence on pesticides is “farmer field schools,” which allow farmers to experiment with various techniques and see the results for themselves. This has already proven far more effective than trying to persuade or force farmers to alter their techniques.

Once they’ve seen the results with their own eyes, most are more than willing to implement pesticide-free methods, and to share their experience with others. He’s convinced that “if enough farmers in enough developing countries can become convinced of the benefits of sustainable farming practices like IPM, the world’s reliance on pesticides can be lowered,” Ensia writes.

Which Foods Are the Most Important to Buy Organic?

I encourage you to share “From DDT to Glyphosate” with everyone you know. Post it on Facebook, Twitter or share it via e-mail. It’s really crucial for everyone to understand that a large portion of our poor health is due to toxic exposures via food.

Everyone can be harmed by pesticides, but if you’re a woman of childbearing age or have young children, taking steps to reduce your exposure is especially important. Ideally, all of the food you and your family eat would be organic. That said, not everyone has access to a wide variety of organic produce, and it can sometimes be costlier than buying conventional.

One way to save some money while still lowering your pesticide exposure is to purchase certain organic items, and “settling” for others that are conventionally grown, based on how heavily each given crop is typically treated with pesticides.

Animal products, like meat, butter, milk and eggs are the most important to buy organic, since animal products tend to bioaccumulate toxins from their pesticide-laced feed, concentrating them to far higher concentrations than are typically present in vegetables.

Please bear this in mind, because if the new Roberts-Stabenow bill (S. 2609) for a national GMO labeling standard gets passed, meat, poultry and egg products will be exempt from any GMO disclosure requirements, even if the animals were fed GE feed and/or the product contains other GE ingredients, such as GE high-fructose corn syrup.

So you simply have to remember that in order to avoid GE ingredients and pesticides, you need to purchase organic, 100 percent grass-fed animal products.

Beyond animal foods, the pesticide load of different fruits and vegetables can vary greatly. Last year, Consumer Reports analyzed 12 years of data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Pesticide Data Program to determine the risk categories (from very low to very high) for different types of produce.32

Because children are especially vulnerable to the effects of environmental chemicals, including pesticides, they based the risk assessment on a 3.5-year-old child. They recommend buying organic for any produce that came back in the medium or higher risk categories, which left the following foods as examples of those you should always try to buy organic, due to their elevated pesticide load.

Peaches Carrots
Strawberries Green beans
Sweet bell peppers Hot peppers
Tangerines Nectarines
Cranberries Sweet potatoes

Help Support Organics and the Battle Against GMOs

GMO proponents claim that genetic engineering is “safe and beneficial,” and that it advances the agricultural industry. They also say that GMOs, or genetically “engineered” (GE) foods, help ensure the global food supply and sustainability. But is there any truth to these claims? I believe not. For years, I’ve stated the belief that GMOs pose one of the greatest threats to life on the planet. Genetic engineering is NOT the safe and beneficial technology that it is touted to be.

The FDA cleared the way for GE (Genetically Engineered) Atlantic salmon to be farmed for human consumption. Thanks to added language in the federal spending bill, the product will require special labeling so at least consumers will have the ability to identify the GE salmon in stores. However, it’s imperative ALL GE foods be labeled, which is currently still being denied.

The FDA is threatening the existence of our food supply. We have to start taking action now. I urge you to share this article with friends and family. If we act together, we can make a difference and put an end to the absurdity. Thankfully, we have organizations like the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) to fight back against these corporate giants. So please, fight for your right to know what’s in your food and help support the GMO labeling movement by making a donation today.

Source:mercola.com

 

Fish Factories Are Responsible for Creating Disease


Fish Farm

Story at-a-glance

  • Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI) has been detected in farmed fish in Norway and British Columbia
  • HSMI has been responsible for devastating commercial fish farms in Norway, where it is considered the No. 3 cause of mortality
  • Another disease, piscine reovirus, is associated with HSMI and is found in virtually all farmed fish in British Columbia and may also be affecting wild migrating salmon

Five decades ago, it was reported that humans could essentially catch so many fish that the oceans would become barren. At that time, the annual fish catch had increased from 23 million tons in 1953 to 46 million tons in 1963.1,2

Today fish catches have increased even more, reaching 93 million tons in 2014, according to the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department of the United Nations.3

However, a report published in Nature Communications suggested that such estimates may ignore small-scale fisheries, illegal fisheries and discarded bycatch and thus be an underestimate.

The report suggested fish catches may have peaked at 130 million tons in 2010 and, on a slightly brighter note, may have been on the decline since then.4 What is clear from the numbers, whether they’re an underestimate or not, is that current fishing trends are not sustainable.

Aquaculture or fish farming may therefore seem like the sustainable solution to “farm” fish and protect wild species, but the reality is anything but.

Fish Farms Breed Disease That May Harm Wild Salmon

Fish farms share many similarities with land-based concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and are sometimes referred to as CAFOs of the sea. The fish are crowded in close quarters that allow for the rapid growth of sea lice, bacteria and viruses.

Among them is Heart and Skeletal Muscle Inflammation (HSMI), which as been detected in farmed fish in Norway and British Columbia.

HSMI has been responsible for devastating commercial fish farms in Norway, where it is considered the No. 3 cause of mortality, according to a 2015 annual report by seafood company Marine Harvest.5

It first emerged in Norwegian fish farms in 1999 but was only recently discovered in British Columbia.

Experts such as biologist Alexandra Morton, who has authored more than two dozen papers on the impact of fish farms, believe this and other viruses linked to the fish farms have been plaguing commercial and wild salmon for years.

Piscine reovirus, which is associated with HSMI, for instance, is found in virtually all farmed fish in British Columbia and may also be affecting wild migrating salmon.

In the video above, Twyla Roscovich, filmmaker of the documentary “Salmon Confidential,” expands on concerns surrounding piscine reovirus, which gives salmon a heart attack and prevents them from swimming upriver.

Despite the concerns that fish farms are spreading disease that could decimate wild salmon, the government continues to extend the corporate fish farm leases for years at a clip. News organization The Tyee reported:6

“About 100 salmon fish farms now dot the southern B.C. coast. The majority of these ocean feedlots, which rear as many as a million fish in an area the size of four football fields, are owned by the Japanese Mitsibushi Corporation or the Norwegian firms Marine Harvest and Greig.

The industry employs approximately 5,000 people and exports about 68,000 tonnes of farmed Atlantic salmon, mainly to China and the United States.”

Infectious Salmon Anemia Virus (ISA) Widespread in Salmon

Wild salmon that died before spawning have tested positive for a number of salmon viruses, including the highly lethal infectious salmon anemia (ISA) virus, also known as salmon influenza.

First detected in Norway in 1984, infection spread to other countries via egg imports. In Chile, ISA virus wiped out 70 percent of the country’s salmon industry, at a cost of $2 billion. But Chile has no native salmon to decimate. British Columbia does.

And contrary to Chile, the wild salmon of British Columbia are absolutely critical to the ecosystem and residents of the area. The locals don’t just make money off these fish; it’s a main staple of their diet.

According to Morton, at least 11 species of fish in the Fraser River have been found to be infected with European-strain ISA virus.

Morton tested farmed salmon purchased in various stores and sushi restaurants around British Columbia, and samples tested positive for at least three different salmon viruses, including ISA, piscine reovirus and salmon alphaviruses.

Yet the Canadian food inspection agency has aggressively refuted the findings, and even attacked the credibility of two of the most preeminent experts on ISA testing, who testified that positive results were found to the Cohen Commission.

In fact, everyone who has spoken up about these salmon viruses, which can be traced back to salmon farms, has been shut down in some way or another.

Fish Farm Viruses Could Get Flushed Down Your Drain, Enter Local Waterways

Worse still, Morton and colleagues have also found traces of ISA virus in wild salmon.7 The problem with this, aside from the unknown effects on human health from eating salmon with lethal fish viruses, is that viruses are preserved by cold, and fish are often kept frozen for freshness.

Then, when you wash the fish, the viruses get flushed down the drain and depending on your sewer system, could be introduced into local watersheds. The environmental impact of this viral contamination is unknown, but it’s unlikely to be completely harmless.

“This is why it must become public,” Morton says. She insists that consumers, stores and trading partners must become aware of this problem and be the ones to insist on proper testing and remedial action.

It’s not just about protecting certain species of fish; it’s about the health of the ecosystem as a whole. And, it’s about human health and food safety as well.

Sea Shepherd Society to Raise Awareness About the Environmental Dangers of Fish Farms in British Columbia

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an international non-profit, marine wildlife conservation organization, is perhaps best known for its aggressive tactics aimed at stopping Japanese whaling boats.

However, the society has also teamed up with Morton to send a research vessel to British Columbia to raise awareness about the damage fish farms are causing to wild salmon.

Among their plans is to collect data on the prevalence of piscine reovirus in shellfish (which can serve as biological markers for the spread of disease).

Morton was initially wary of teaming up with the controversial group, but she now believes it may be necessary since the government has turned a blind eye. As reported by The Tyee:8

“‘I shouldn’t have to get on a Sea Shepherd vessel and make a scene when governments have a problem,’ says Morton. But governments increasingly only heed corporate voices, she says.

In approving long-term leases to fish farms ‘with no consultation whatsoever, the federal Liberal government has failed [to] act in good faith by not obtaining the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples,’ adds Morton.

… ‘Four foreign corporations are using our wild Pacific migration routes as their open sewer to raise a foreign species of fish on the territory of First Nations,’ said Morton. ‘It is not a sustainable industry.’

She compares the placement of fish farms on wild fish migration routes to a mother ‘dragging her children through the infectious disease ward of a hospital on their way to school. And the Trudeau government is allowing them to get bigger,’ Morton notes.”

Can Technology Help Save Our Oceans?

Technological advances could increasingly be used to protect and restore wild fish populations. For instance, Morton recommended the British Columbia government use new technology that reads the immune systems of wild fish, which reveals which populations are in need of added support and protections.9

Other advancements are aimed at reducing bycatch, or sea creatures that are mistakenly caught by commercial fishing lines and nets, as well as tracking fish populations in real-time to better target only sustainable fish stocks. This includes the use of:10

Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) that contain echo sounders and sensors that can track and send real-time ocean and fish data back to a central database that can be accessed by fishing fleets

Laser beams to create “virtual nets” that may reduce seabed damage caused by conventional trawling nets (more research is needed on how the lasers may affect marine life)

Autonomous catching devices, which hover above the seabed to reduce seabed damage and harvest live fish

Most Seafood Is Mislabeled

It’s important to know what type of seafood you’re eating, because different varieties vary widely in their level of pollutants and sustainability. Of the seven varieties of tuna sold commercially, for instance, some Bluefin tuna are critically endangered while bigeye and yellowfin tuna are rarely sustainably harvested.

Some tuna are caught using handline or pole-and-line fishing techniques, which are better for the ecosystem. Others are caught using a long line or, even worse, with nets, which may kill other species indiscriminately.

Meanwhile, there’s also the issue of contamination, with many seafood species being too polluted to safely eat, especially for young children and pregnant women. Unfortunately, it can be virtually impossible to know what type of seafood you’re actually eating.

According to a report by oceans advocacy non-profit organization Oceana, 1 in 3 seafood samples tested in the U.S. were mislabeled. Red snapper and tuna were mislabeled most often (87 percent and 59 percent of the time, respectively).11

According to Oceana, more than 90 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported, yet only one percent of imports are inspected for fraud. In the case of red snapper, it was often actually tilefish, which often has high mercury levels and is on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “do not eat” list for pregnant women.

In addition, another Oceana study found 43 percent of U.S. salmon was also mislabeled, with many samples labeled “wild” in restaurants and grocery stores turning out to be farmed.12

Majority of Americans Deficient in Omega-3 Fats

It’s estimated that 70 percent of Americans are deficient in omega-3 fats, with up to 20 percent having levels so low that none of these essential fats can be detected in their bloodstream.13 Your brain, bones, mental health and even your risk of cancer are all impacted by these beneficial fats.

While a helpful form of omega-3 can be found in flaxseed, chia, hemp and a few other foods, the most beneficial form of omega-3 — DHA and EPA, which are essential to fighting and preventing both physical and mental disease — can only be found in fish and krill.

Because nearly all fish, from most all sources, are severely contaminated with environmental pollutants like toxic mercury, and the fact that labeling fraud is rampant in the seafood industry, you have to be very careful about the types of seafood you consume when trying to increase your omega-3 fats.

A general guideline is that the closer to the bottom of the food chain the fish is, the less contamination it will have accumulated. Sardines, in particular, are one of the most concentrated sources of omega-3 fats, with one serving containing more than 50 percent of your recommended daily value.14 Other good options include anchovies, herring and verifiable wild-caught Alaskan salmon.

If you’re looking for a supplement form of animal-based omega-3s, however, consider krill oil over fish oil. The omega-3 in krill is attached to phospholipids that increase its absorption, which means you need less of it, and it won’t cause belching or burping like many other fish oil products.

Additionally, it naturally contains astaxanthin, a potent antioxidant — almost 50 times more than is present in fish oil. This prevents the highly perishable omega-3 fats from oxidizing before you are able to integrate them into your cellular tissue. It’s also the most sustainable form of animal-based omega-3s.

Focus on Finding Sustainable Seafood

No matter what type of fish you’re considering, look for varieties that have received the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification. This certification assures that every component of the manufacturing process — from how the raw materials are harvested to how the product is manufactured — has been scrutinized by MSC and has been independently audited to ensure it meets sustainable standards.

All of my krill products, for example, are MSC certified, allowing you to track where the krill oil came from, as each batch of krill is carefully monitored all the way through, from catch to sale. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program can also guide you in the direction of more sustainable seafood choices. They have a searchable database to find more sustainable seafood options, and they even offer a Sustainable Seafood app for your smartphone.

A Natural Solution to Water Security


New report analyzes 4,000 cities to demonstrate the health, climate and biodiversity benefits of source water protection.

When you turn on the tap in Quito, Ecuador, the water that emerges does so after a long journey. It starts high in the Andes, in springs and streams that merge into rivers, and flows downhill.

There, the water filters through cloud forests and grasslands, picking up more spring water and snowmelt from glaciers, continuing its downstream journey until it eventually reaches Quito’s municipal water system.

The quality of the water entering Quito, and many other cities around the world, is directly dependent on the landscapes through which the water flows. Good land management can promote water filtration, produce more reliable downstream flows, and reduce the amount of sediments and nutrients that can make their way into the rivers, springs and aquifers that feed urban water supplies. The city of Quito and upstream landholders have invested in taking care of their water sources for many years.

 Unfortunately, many of our lands around the world are not always managed well, which leads to impaired downstream water quality and flows. Deforestation, poor agricultural practices and other land uses have led to moderate to high degradation in 40 percent of the world’s urban source watersheds. Water quality and quantity challenges have typically been met with the addition of more gray infrastructure—including aqueducts, reservoirs and treatment plants—to move and treat water for human and industrial purposes.

But the path to water security doesn’t have to be lined exclusively in concrete. Improving the health of the lands around our water sources—a strategy called source water protection—can improve water quality, restore reliable water flows and bring added benefits to local ecosystems and communities.

As cities around the world use nature-based solutions to improve water quality, they are learning that those solutions provide so much more. Photo © Kevin Arnold
As cities around the world use nature-based solutions to improve water quality, they are learning that those solutions provide so much more.
In Bloomington, Illinois, agricultural runoff caused nitrate levels in the water supply to surpass federal standards. But a combination of wetland restoration and improved farming practices has shown to effectively remove inflowing nitrates at a cost-competitive rate. Photo © Cristina Rutter/The Nature Conservancy
In Bloomington, Illinois, agricultural runoff caused nitrate levels in the water supply to surpass federal standards. But a combination of wetland restoration and improved farming practices has shown to effectively remove inflowing nitrates at a cost-competitive rate.
Monterrey, Mexico has experienced flooding and drought during recent years. The city is investing in reforestation and many other activities designed to improve the lands within the watershed. Through this work, the watershed’s capacity to absorb available water could increase by 20 percent. Photo © Alejandro Lopez-Serrano/TNC
Monterrey, Mexico has experienced flooding and drought during recent years. The city is investing in reforestation and many other activities designed to improve the lands within the watershed. Through this work, the watershed’s capacity to absorb available water could increase by 20 percent.
Drought and sedimentation of reservoirs is causing water stress in São Paulo, Brazil. To decrease erosion in the watershed, about 13,000 hectares of land were identified for reforestation. Reforestation can help the city meet carbon storage goals—each hectare can store around 102 metric tonnes of carbon. Photo © Scott Warren
Drought and sedimentation of reservoirs is causing water stress in São Paulo, Brazil. To decrease erosion in the watershed, about 13,000 hectares of land were identified for reforestation. Reforestation can help the city meet carbon storage goals—each hectare can store around 102 metric tonnes of carbon.
Cattle feces contaminated the drinking water source in Pucará, Bolivia. A water fund now rewards ranchers and farmers who protect lands and streams in the watershed with payments, beehives or irrigation system materials. The program improves water quality and local lives. Photo © Nigel Asquith/Natura Bolivia
Cattle feces contaminated the drinking water source in Pucará, Bolivia. A water fund now rewards ranchers and farmers who protect lands and streams in the watershed with payments, beehives or irrigation system materials. The program improves water quality and local lives.
Runoff from bamboo farms polluted Longwu Reservoir, which provides water to 3,000 people in China. A water fund now pays farmers to transition to organic bamboo farming methods. Nutrient pollution has been reduced, and it is hoped that the water fund can be financially supported by the business venture. Photo © Haijiang Zhang/TNC
Runoff from bamboo farms polluted Longwu Reservoir, which provides water to 3,000 people in China. A water fund now pays farmers to transition to organic bamboo farming methods. Nutrient pollution has been reduced, and it is hoped that the water fund can be financially supported by the business venture.
Farming, quarrying and road construction in Nairobi, Kenya’s watershed led to increased sediment in the Tana River. A water fund improves agricultural practices that reduce sedimentation and could deliver a 2-to-1 return on investment. These actions also create pollinator habitat and carbon storage. Photo © Nick Hall
Farming, quarrying and road construction in Nairobi, Kenya’s watershed led to increased sediment in the Tana River. A water fund improves agricultural practices that reduce sedimentation and could deliver a 2-to-1 return on investment. These actions also create pollinator habitat and carbon storage. Photo © Nick Hall

10 Gt/yr

Source water protection could reduce CO2 emissions by 10 gigatonnes annually.


There are many effective source water protection activities, including forest protection, reforestation and improvement of agricultural practices on lands near water sources.

To implement these strategies, The Nature Conservancy is working with cities and water users around the world to create water funds, which enable water users to collectively invest in source water protection activities for the purpose of securing better water quality and improving the health and well-being of local communities. The Conservancy and its partners already have 29 water funds in operation and another 30 in development. The first of these was created more than 15 years ago—in Quito.

“Communities downstream are going to benefit if their water comes when they want it and how they want it,” said Andrea Erickson, managing director for water security at The Nature Conservancy. “Source water protection can provide that connection between downstream users and upstream individuals—the farmers, ranchers and other community members that are a critical part of the solution.”

At a time when there is growing demand for limited water supplies—and when climate change is making availability of water even more uncertain—source water protection is a powerful strategy to not only secure clean water but also mitigate and adapt to climate change, protect biodiversity, and support human health and well-being across watersheds.

Healthy Lands, Healthy Waters

 


What Are the Benefits of Source Water Protection?

Source water protection is first and foremost a strategy for securing clean, reliable natural water sources. The benefits of this approach are documented in “Beyond the Source: the environmental, economic and community benefits of source water protection,” a new report developed by The Nature Conservancy in partnership with the Natural Capital Project, Forest Trends, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Latin American Water Funds Partnership.

This global analysis demonstrates that four out of five of the more than 4,000 cities studied could meaningfully reduce sediment and nutrient pollution in the water they use through three source water protection activities—reforestation of pastureland, forest protection and the planting of cover crops.

In many cases, source water protection can pay for itself through water treatment savings. The Conservancy found that one in six of the cities studied could see a positive return on investment in source water protection through reduced annual treatment costs alone. But even cities that don’t break even on utility costs may realize great value through the other benefits that source water protection offers for people living in and around upstream watersheds and for the natural ecosystems that these watersheds support.

 MITIGATES CARBON EMISSIONS

Restoring and protecting forests, which filter water and help to control runoff, are two of the most effective strategies for ensuring clean water for downstream users. But these practices also have the added benefit of capturing and avoiding the release of carbon into the atmosphere, helping to mitigate climate change. With 64 percent of the total carbon in tropical above-ground biomass located in source watersheds, preserving these ecosystems is a vital part of a comprehensive mitigation strategy.

“Since I have about six hectares of reforestation, when the forest is grown I’ll trap about 600 tons of carbon." - Carlos Alberto Marques. Photo © Devan King/The Nature Conservancy
“Since I have about six hectares of reforestation, when the forest is grown I’ll trap about 600 tons of carbon.”

This is happening in the Guandu watershed in Brazil, which supplies drinking water for 8 million people in Rio de Janeiro. Deforestation in the watershed, driven by farming and ranching, had contributed to a steep decline in water quality. The Guandu Water Producer Project, launched in November 2008, collects fees from downstream users, which are used to compensate farmers and ranchers for reforesting their lands and leaving existing riparian forests standing. The result is both cleaner water in Rio and less carbon released into the atmosphere.

“Since I have about six hectares of reforestation, when the forest is grown I’ll trap about 600 tons of carbon,” says Carlos Alberto Marques, a retired farmer participating in the project. “And I am very small. Now, imagine if all the large landowners in this country did a little bit of what I’m doing here with my partners.”

 ENHANCES CLIMATE RESILIENCE

In addition to mitigating climate change, many source water protection measures can also help communities adapt to climate change impacts today and in the future. Changes in the hydrological cycle driven by climate change have resulted in increased incidences of both drought and flooding. Models predict increased soil erosion in 83 percent of source watersheds by mid-century and increased fire frequency in 24 percent.

It’s a scenario already evident in northern New Mexico, which is experiencing hotter, drier and longer fire seasons. These conditions are particularly dangerous in forests that are overgrown from fire suppression, where a wildfire can all but eviscerate the landscape.

“When these overgrown forests burn, they burn way too hot and destroy the headwater forests that are so critical for downstream users,” says Laura McCarthy, senior policy advisor for forest and fire restoration at The Nature Conservancy.

“When these overgrown forests burn, they burn way too hot and destroy the headwater forests that are so critical for downstream users." - Laura McCarthy. Photo © Alan W. Eckert Photography
“When these overgrown forests burn, they burn way too hot and destroy the headwater forests that are so critical for downstream users.” – Laura McCarthy.

When rains do come, water can more easily rush over the scorched land, which can result in flash floods that inundate the Rio Grande River with sediment, debris and ash—affecting water quality downstream.

In response to this heightened threat, a coalition of land owners, government agencies, nonprofits and private companies have come together to invest in stream restoration, flood control, tree thinning and other wildfire management techniques.

These measures are proving much less expensive than treating water after it’s been polluted, and the fire control measures are reducing risk for nearby communities.

IMPROVES HUMAN HEALTH AND WELL-BEING

A clean water supply is a crucial part of any healthy community, but source water protection also contributes to human well-being in other ways. Some source water protection activities can reduce the transmission of water-borne diseases. They can also protect natural habitat for bees and other pollinating insects, which are crucial for the production of fruit and vegetable crops that deliver essential micronutrients to millions of people around the world.

“They educated us on how the trees aided preservation of water. Avocado trees have been good for the soil, and also to feed ourselves, to sell and to support my family.” - Maria Esmeralda Marcillo. Photo © TNC
“They educated us on how the trees aided preservation of water. Avocado trees have been good for the soil, and also to feed ourselves, to sell and to support my family.” – Maria Esmeralda Marcillo.

More than 28 million farming households around the world could see potential improvements in crop production and increased longevity of their farms if source water protection activities were implemented throughout watersheds.

In Colombia’s Cauca Valley, small landowners are learning to use agroforestry and silvopasture practices, which involve growing crops and grazing livestock in areas interspersed with trees and other vegetation.

The strategy reduces sediment runoff, preserves natural habitat and improves long-term soil health, while also bolstering food security and incomes through increased agricultural output for many families.

Maria Esmeralda Marcillo, a farmer in the Cauca valley, describes her experience: “They educated us on how the trees aided preservation of water. Avocado trees have been good for the soil, and also to feed ourselves, to sell and to support my family.”

SUPPORTS BIODIVERSITY

Source water protection has important benefits for nature, too. More than three-fourths of urban source watersheds are within regions of high species diversity combined with high concentrations of species unique to those regions. But deforestation and other changes in land use are major threats to these ecosystems. In fact, according to WWF, tracked animal species populations in freshwater systems have declined by a staggering 81 percent over the last 40 years. Source water protection can play an important role in protecting habitat for both terrestrial and aquatic plant and animal species.

“Through reforestation, native trees are being planted, which are sources of food for these animals, and they are returning.” - Carlos Marques. Photo © Devan King/The Nature Conservancy
“Through reforestation, native trees are being planted, which are sources of food for these animals, and they are returning.” – Carlos Marques.

The same reforestation projects and changes in farming practices that are improving water quality and storing carbon in Brazil’s Guandu watershed, for example, are also contributing to the conservation of native plant and animal species populations. Both rare and representative species have been found in surveys of areas where habitats are being restored and protected.

Marques describes what he’s seen in the Guandu watershed: “Through reforestation, native trees are being planted, which are sources of food for these animals, and they are returning.”


Water Funds: A Mechanism for Realizing Source Water Protection

A key question, of course, is how to fund source water protection. The Conservancy estimates that an increase in annual global spending on ecosystem service programs between US$42 billion and US$48 billion would be required to achieve a 10 percent reduction in sediment and nutrient pollution in source watersheds worldwide. This level of spending could improve water security for at least 1.4 billion people. However, the question of who should bear that cost remains.

This is where the water fund enters the equation. Water funds provide a mechanism for downstream users to directly or indirectly compensate upstream users for activities that deliver water benefits to the payer.

Public and private water users, including businesses, utilities and local governments, invest collectively in conservation of the watersheds from which they source their water.

In fact, for half of the cities that the Conservancy studied, such a mechanism could fund source water protection activities at a cost of just US$2 or less per person per year.

Nairobi, Kenya, offers a good example. The conversion of forests and wetlands to agricultural uses in the Upper Tana River watershed, which supplies Nairobi’s water, has led to heavy sedimentation in the river—reducing the capacity of reservoirs, impacting the delivery of water to Nairobi water users and limiting hydropower generation during low-flow periods.

Nairobi Water Fund: A First for Africa

A number of water users and conservation groups, including the Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company, The Nature Conservancy and the Kenya Electricity Generating Company, came together to establish the Upper Tana-Nairobi Water Fund, which is currently working with over 15,000 farmers in the watershed, providing funding and training to help farmers improve their land management practices. By planting cover crops and digging trenches that trap soil runoff, farmers are able to improve their crop yields while also reducing sedimentation in the Tana and other rivers.

“We always realized green infrastructure would be a part and parcel of our operation,” says Philip Gichukki, managing director of the Nairobi City Water and Sewer Company. “When the idea of the water fund came about, we were excited because we found it was possible for us to engage with everybody involved in water catchment conservation, and it was possible to pool together the resources of people whose businesses relied on water along with those of us who manage the water.”

An image of an aracari (Pteroglossus) from Brazil. Photo © Shutterstock/Cuson
An image of an aracari (Pteroglossus) from Brazil.

Could see reduced risk of extinction through watershed reforestation.

Bringing Communities and Partners Together for Shared Benefit

Successful source water protection strategies require the cooperation of parties both upstream and downstream, including landowners, governments, corporations, NGOs and many others with seemingly disparate interests. But these strategies are effective precisely because they can generate benefits for all these stakeholders.

“The most important component for a successful water fund is understanding the value of the engagement it provides for people,” Erickson says. “Everyone will come to the table when they understand that they really have something to gain.”

Brooklyn Bridge Park looking towards Manhattan. Photo © Kevin Arnold
Brooklyn Bridge Park looking towards Manhattan.

McCarthy agrees. Source water protection is effective, she says, because “people are ready for big scale solutions that unite everyone in working on a problem together.”

Source water protection shows that even economic development and nature preservation can be achieved together. The Rio Grande Water Fund in New Mexico, which has 53 signatory organizations, has created 70 new jobs in its first year of operation and project managers estimate that 300 to 600 seasonal forest worker jobs will be created annually in the future.

Reforestation work in Brazil’s Guandu watershed has created more than 300 new formal jobs and another 350 informal jobs. Many of the jobs in Guandu are being filled by people who were previously working in illegal logging—a win for the community and for nature.

Achieving these win-win situations is crucial for the next generation, says Debora Dos Santos Leite, principal at the Rio das Pedras Municipal School in Brazil. “Nature is everything to people. It is life. It is the future of the generation that we have here, the very little ones. Everyone is grateful for the work we are doing because, in addition to bringing benefits to the families and to the community, the greatest benefit is to the children.”

Source:global.nature.org

Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis


Executive Summary

“Practices for the management of individual patients in settings with a high tuberculosis burden are not sufficient to prevent the emergence, amplification, and spread of drug-resistant tuberculosis” is one of the key messages from The Lancet Respiratory Medicine Commission, led by Keertan Dheda from the University of Cape Town, South Africa. The Commission focuses on multidrug-resistant, extensively drug-resistant, and incurable tuberculosis, and highlights the growing burden of disease, its implications for patient management, as well as social and legal aspects. The authors also provide practical solutions for tackling emerging resistant cases—an exponentially increasing concern in high-burden countries.

Read more: http://thelancet.com/commissions/drug-resistant-tuberculosis?dgcid=twitter_social_lancet

source: the Lancet

‘Earth is a planet in upheaval’: World Meteorological Organization issues dire climate warning


“Truly uncharted territory”

2016’s record-warming continues in 2017 with Jan-Feb 2017 the second hottest on record after 2016. 

Humanity is “now in truly uncharted territory,” thanks to CO2-driven climate change, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) warnedTuesday.

The WMO’s annual “State of the Global Climate in 2016” paints a dire picture for humanity: record CO2 levels, record warming, record drop in both Arctic and Antarctic sea ice, and record high sea levels. Severe droughts “brought food insecurity to millions in southern and eastern Africa and Central America.”

NOAA reported this month that the record-smashing warming of 2016 continued into 2017. In this country, “there were 11,743 daily warm temperature records broken or tied” in February alone. Globally, it was the second hottest February and January-February on record after 2016.

“Earth is a planet in upheaval due to human-caused changes in the atmosphere,” as University of Arizona glaciologist Jeffrey Kargel explainedto the UK Guardian. “In general, drastically changing conditions do not help civilization, which thrives on stability.”

Climatologist Sir Robert Watson slammed the “Trump administration and senior Republicans in Congress [who] continue to bury their heads in the sand.” The former head of the UN’s climate science panel said our children and grandchildren will some day marvel at such deniers “and ask how they could have sacrificed the planet for the sake of cheap fossil fuel energy, when the cost of inaction exceeds the cost of a transition to a low-carbon economy.”

Source:thinkprogress.org

United Nations Calls for Worldwide Treaty to Phase Out Pesticides and Transition to Sustainable Farming


Story at-a-glance
  • Research has linked long-term pesticide exposure to infertility, birth defects, endocrine disruption and obesity, reduced IQ, neurological diseases, cancer and many other health and environmental problems
  • Two United Nations experts are now calling for a comprehensive global treaty to regulate and phase out toxic pesticides in farming, and to move food production across the world toward more sustainable agricultural practices
  • Another recently released report, “Human Health Implications of Organic Food and Organic Agriculture,” by the European Parliament, details the many benefits of organics

In a 2013 survey, 71 percent of Americans expressed a concern over the number of chemicals and pesticides in their food supply.1 And no wonder — research has linked long-term pesticide exposure to infertility,2 birth defects,3,4 endocrine disruption5 and obesity, reduced IQ,6 neurological diseases7 and cancer.8

It is only a common-sense conclusion that reducing your pesticide exposure would result in improved health.

The amount of pesticides used both commercially and in residential areas has grown immensely since 1945. More than 1 billion pounds are used each year in the U.S. alone. Worldwide, an estimated 7.7 billion pounds of pesticides are applied to crops each year, and that number is steadily increasing.9

According to a 2012 analysis,10 each 1 percent increase in crop yield is associated with a 1.8 percent increase in pesticide use. Logic tells us this is an unsustainable trajectory when you consider the health and environmental ramifications associated with pesticide use and exposure.

As just one example, studies done by the Chinese government show that 20 percent of arable land in China is now unusable due to pesticide contamination!11 Every now and then, though, a ray of hope descends.

Earlier this month, two United Nations (UN) experts called for a comprehensive global treaty to not only regulate but actually phase out toxic pesticides in farming, and to move food production across the world toward more sustainable agricultural practices.

This is a significant change in stance that can — and hopefully will — have far-reaching consequences.

UN Calls for Global Treaty to Promote Sustainable Farming Without Toxic Pesticides

The two experts, Hilal Elver, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to food and Baskut Tuncak, the special rapporteur on toxics, shared research with the Human Rights Council in Geneva showing pesticides are responsible for 200,000 acute poisoning deaths each year.

Chronic exposure has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, hormone disruption, developmental disorders and sterility. As reported by Sustainable Pulse:12

“The experts particularly emphasized the obligation of States to protect the rights of children from hazardous pesticides … The experts warn that certain pesticides can persist in the environment for decades and pose a threat to the entire ecological system on which food production depends …

The experts say the use of neonicotinoid pesticides is particularly worrying because they are accused of being responsible for a systematic collapse in the number of bees around the world. Such a collapse, they say, threatens the very basis of agriculture as 71 percent of crop species are bee-pollinated.

While acknowledging that certain international treaties currently offer protection from the use of a few pesticides, they stressed that a global treaty to regulate the vast majority of them throughout their life cycle does not yet exist, leaving a critical gap in the human rights protection framework.”

The special rapporteurs challenged the pesticide industry’s “systematic denial of harms” and “aggressive, unethical marketing tactics,” noting the industry is spending massive amounts of money to influence policymakers and contest scientific evidence showing their products do in fact cause great harm to human and environmental health.

Toxic Pesticides Are Not an Irreplaceable Farming Necessity

Even more importantly, their report firmly denies the idea that pesticides are essential to ensure sufficient amounts of food for a growing world population, calling the notion “a myth.”13

Not only have decades of heavy pesticide use failed to eliminate global hunger, they said, the same chemicals have now become a troubling food contaminant — contaminants made all the worse by the fact that they cannot be washed off like many older generation pesticides could. According to Elver and Tuncak:14

“The assertion promoted by the agrochemical industry that pesticides are necessary to achieve food security is not only inaccurate, but dangerously misleading.

In principle, there is adequate food to feed the world; inequitable production and distribution systems present major blockages that prevent those in need from accessing it …”

Moreover, the report highlighted developments in sustainable and regenerative farming, where biology can completely replace chemicals, delivering high yields of nutritious food without detriment to the environment.

“It is time to overturn the myth that pesticides are necessary to feed the world and create a global process to transition toward safer and healthier food and agricultural production,” they said.

Which Foods Are the Most Contaminated?

According to the 2017 Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” reports,15,16,17 which rank foods based on highest and lowest pesticide contamination, strawberries still top the list of foods most likely to contain the highest amounts of residues, containing a minimum of 20 pesticides — twice the amount of the second-most contaminated crop — while non-GMO sweet corn has the lowest amounts.

EWG’s Dirty Dozen — Foods containing the highest amounts of pesticide residues and therefore best to purchase organic include:

1. Strawberries 2. Spinach 3. Nectarines
4. Apples 5. Peaches 6. Pears
7. Cherries 8. Grapes 9. Celery
10. Tomatoes 11. Sweet bell peppers 12. Potatoes

EWG’s Clean 15 — Foods containing the lowest amounts of residues, and therefore safer to buy conventional if you cannot afford organic varieties include:

1. Non-GMO sweet corn 2. Avocados 3. Pineapple
4. Cabbage 5. Onions 6. Frozen sweet peas
7. Non-GMO papaya 8. Asparagus 9. Mangos
10. Eggplant 11. Honeydew melon 12. Kiwi
13. Cantaloupe 14. Cauliflower 15. Grapefruit

European Parliament Report Highlights Benefits of Organic Foods

Another favorable piece of news is the recently released report,18 “Human Health Implications of Organic Food and Organic Agriculture,” by the European Parliament, detailing the many benefits of organics. The report is unusually comprehensive in that it reviews a wide range of effects of organics, from nutritional content and the benefits of fewer pesticides to environmental impacts and sustainability.

Its conclusions are based on hundreds of epidemiological and laboratory studies and food analyses. The clearest benefits of organics on human health were found to be related to lowered pesticide, antibiotic and cadmium exposure. As noted by Civil Eats:19

“Most striking in its findings is the evidence suggesting organic food can help protect children from the brain-altering effects of some pesticides. And while there is evidence of greater nutrient content in some organic food — particularly milk and meat — as health benefits, these differences appear to be less significant than organic food’s lack of hazardous chemicals …

The report was prepared for a European audience, but its findings clearly apply to the U.S. ‘They did a really comprehensive job of a global literature search, so I don’t think anything in the report wouldn’t be applicable,’ said Boise State University assistant professor of community and environmental health Cynthia Curl, who researches links between diet and pesticide exposure …

‘As a consequence of reduced pesticide exposure, organic food consequently contributes to the avoidance of health effects and associated costs to society,’ write the authors, noting that research suggests these costs are currently ‘greatly underestimated.’”

Consumer Rights Group Sues EPA Over FOIA Violations

Although the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified glyphosate — the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide — as a probable human carcinogen in 2015,20 the product has not been pulled from the market. Citing this finding and other research, more than 60 cancer patients are coordinating lawsuits against Monsanto.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), contradicted the IARC’s findings when it, in September, 2016, declared glyphosate “not likely to be carcinogenic” to humans21 — a determination that has been met with severe criticism and accusations of violating EPA guidelines22 and protecting Monsanto’s interests23 at the expense of public health.

Now the consumer rights group, U.S. Right to Know (USRTK), has filed a federal lawsuit against the EPA for violating Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provisions. As reported by USRTK:24

“The lawsuit … seeks documents related to EPA’s assessment of … glyphosate … [USRTK] requested the EPA records after the EPA posted an internal memorandum titled “GLYPHOSATE: Report of the Cancer Assessment Review Committee” to the agency’s website on April 29, 2016.

The internal EPA report, known as the CARC report, concluded that glyphosate was “not likely to be carcinogenic to humans.” The EPA then deleted the public posting on May 2, saying that the document was posted inadvertently.

But before it was deleted Monsanto officials copied the document, promoted it on the company website and on social media and made reference to it in a court hearing dealing with lawsuits filed by agricultural workers and others who allege Monsanto’s herbicide gave them cancer.

The May 12, 2016 FOIA request asked for certain records relating to the CARC report on glyphosate as well as records of communications between Monsanto and EPA officials that discussed glyphosate issues. Under FOIA, the EPA had 20 working days to respond to the request, but well over 190 working days have now passed and the EPA has yet to produce any records in response to the request …”

Glyphosate — A Most Troublesome Toxin

Glyphosate is most heavily applied on GE corn, soybeans and sugar beets, but it’s also commonly used to desiccate conventional (non-GMO but non-organic) wheat and protect other conventional crops from weeds. Disturbingly, glyphosate and Roundup may actually be even worse than DDT, having been linked to an ever-growing array of health effects, including but not limited to:25,26

Nutritional deficiencies, especially minerals, as glyphosate immobilizes certain nutrients and alters the nutritional composition of the treated crop Disruption of the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids (these are essential amino acids not produced in your body that must be supplied via your diet)
Increased toxin exposure (this includes high levels of glyphosate and formaldehyde in the food itself) Impairment of sulfate transport and sulfur metabolism; sulfate deficiency
Systemic toxicity — a side effect of extreme disruption of microbial function throughout your body; beneficial microbes in particular, allowing for overgrowth of pathogens Gut dysbiosis (imbalances in gut bacteria, inflammation, leaky gut and food allergies such as gluten intolerance)
Enhancement of damaging effects of other food-borne chemical residues and environmental toxins as a result of glyphosate shutting down the function of detoxifying enzymes Creation of ammonia (a byproduct created when certain microbes break down glyphosate), which can lead to brain inflammation associated with autism and Alzheimer’s disease
Increased antibiotic resistance by priming pathogens to more readily become resistant to antibiotics Increased cancer risk.27,28,29,30 Since the IARC’s determination, agricultural personnel have begun suing Monsanto over past glyphosate exposure, claiming it played a role in their bone cancer and leukemia31,32

The Many Drawbacks of Industrialized Agriculture

The UN’s special report on pesticides and call for a transition toward sustainable agriculture worldwide adds ammunition to an already well-stocked munitions store against conventional agriculture and genetic engineering. I’ve detailed a wide range of drawbacks of chemical-dependent industrial farming in previous articles, including the following:

Degrades and contaminates soil

Grains account for about 70 percent of our daily calories, and grains are grown on about 70 percent of acreage worldwide. The continuous replanting of grain crops each year leads to soil degradation, as land is tilled and sprayed each year, disrupting the balance of microbes in the soil.

Top soil is also lost each year, which means that, eventually, our current modes of operation simply will no longer work. Soil erosion and degradation rates suggest we have less than 60 remaining years of topsoil.33

Forty percent of the world’s agricultural soil is now classified as either degraded or seriously degraded; the latter means that 70 percent of the topsoil is gone. Soil degradation is projected to cause 30 percent loss in food production over the next 20 to 50 years. Meanwhile, our global food demands are expected to increase by 50 percent over this span of time.

As explained in Peter Byck’s short film, “One Hundred Thousand Beating Hearts,” farm animals form symbiotic relationships where one species helps keep parasites from overwhelming another. It is the separation of crops and animals into two distinctly different farming processes that has led to animal waste becoming a massive source of pollution rather than a valuable part of the ecological cycle.

Contaminates water and drains aquifers

Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of our fresh water use. When the soil is unfit, water is wasted. It simply washes right through the soil and past the plant’s root system. We already have a global water shortage that’s projected to worsen over the coming two or three decades, so this is the last thing we need to compound it. On top of that, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are a major water polluter, destroying what precious little water we do have.

The EPA has noted that U.S. states with high congregations of CAFOs report 20 to 30 serious water quality problems each year.34 According to a report35 by Environment America, corporate agribusiness is “one of the biggest threats to America’s waterways.” Tyson Foods Inc. is among the worst, releasing 104.4 million pounds of toxic pollutants into waterways between 2010 and 2014; second only to a steel manufacturing company.

Contributes to greenhouse gas emissions

While fertilizer production produces its share of greenhouse gases, most of the emissions occur upon application. According to the International Panel on Climate Change, 1 out of every 100 kilos of nitrogen fertilizer applied to farm land ends up in the atmosphere as nitrous oxide (N2O), a potent greenhouse gas (300 times more potent than CO2) known to deplete the ozone.36

In 2014, the amount of N2O created by nitrogen fertilizer spread on American farmland was equal to one-third of the N2O released by all cars and trucks in the U.S. More recent research suggests the real number is three to five times higher than that.

Reduces biodiversity

The efficiency model of large-scale industrialized agriculture demanded a reduction in diversity. Hence, we got monoculture: farmers growing all corn, or all soy, for example. Monoculture has significantly contributed to dietary changes that promote ill health. The primary crops grown on industrial farms today — corn, soy, wheat, canola and sugar beets — are the core ingredients in processed foods known to promote obesity, nutritional deficiencies and disease.

According to a report by the Royal Botanic Gardens in the U.K., one-fifth of all plants worldwide are now threatened with extinction, primarily through the expansion of agriculture.37 Ethanol and corn sweetener subsidies have also led to farmers abandoning conservation measures designed to preserve fragile lands and protect biodiversity in the natural landscape.38

Worsens food safety and promotes pandemic disease

Agricultural overuse of drugs, especially antibiotics, has led to the development of drug-resistant disease,39 which has now become a severe health threat. Pandemic outbreaks are also becoming more prevalent in CAFOs, revealing the inherent flaws of industrialized animal farming.

In 2015, an avian flu outbreak spread across 14 states in five months. The year before that, a pig virus outbreak killed off 10 percent of the American pig population. As noted by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy:40 “The rapid spread of new disease strains … is one very visible reason why the expansion of factory-style animal production is viewed as unsustainable.”

Threatens food security by decimating important pollinators such as butterfly and bee populations.41

Promotes nutritional deficiencies and poor nutrition

Industrial farming is set up and subsidized to grow ingredients used in processed foods. This is the cheapest way to feed the masses. However, what people really need more of in order to thrive is fresh produce.

According to research42 presented at the 2016 American Heart Association’s Epidemiology meeting, reducing the price of fruits and vegetables by 30 percent could save nearly 200,000 lives over 15 years by lowering rates of heart disease and stroke.

If people added just one additional serving of fruits and vegetables a day, up to 3.5 million deaths from heart disease could be prevented in just two years. Testing also reveals nutrient content of foods has dramatically declined across the board since the introduction of mechanized farming in 1925. For example:

  • To receive the same amount of iron you used to get from one apple in 1950, by 1998 you had to eat 26 apples; today you have to eat 36
  • Between 1950 and 1999, levels of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin C levels in 43 different vegetables and fruits significantly declined43
  • Analysis of nutrient data from 1975 to 1997 found that, on average, calcium levels in 12 fresh vegetables dropped 27 percent; iron levels dropped 37 percent; vitamin A levels dropped 21 percent; vitamin C levels declined by 30 percent

Healthy soils contain a large diversity of microorganisms, and it is these organisms that are responsible for the plant’s nutrient uptake,44,45 health and the stability of the entire ecosystem. The wide-scale adoption of industrial farming practices has decimated soil microbes responsible for transferring these minerals to the plants.

If we do not change, we will eventually reach a point of no return, where soils will be too depleted and microbially “dead” to grow food. Conventional may be more efficient, and may provide somewhat greater yields in some cases, but in the long term it’s unsustainable.

Necessitates the use of toxins, poisons and harmful mechanical farming methods:

Industrialization led to the separation of crops and livestock farming into two different specialties. That change alone has done tremendous harm, as livestock are actually a core component of regenerative agriculture. As a result, a whole host of land maintenance services that animals serve for free have had to be replaced with chemical and mechanical means — all of which have detrimental effects on human health and the environment.

Is less profitable than organic farming and cannot affordably and sustainably increase production

Research has even shown that conventional farming cannot significantly compete with organic in terms of profitability. At least 1,000 studies have compared organic and conventional farming in terms of productivity, environmental impact, economic viability and social wellbeing.

One such study46,47 found that organic farms are more profitable,48,49 earning farmers anywhere from 22 to 35 percent more than their conventional counterparts. They also produce equally or more nutritious foods with fewer or no pesticide residues. Organic farms also use far less energy, were found to be at a distinct advantage during droughts, and provide unique benefits to the ecosystem, along with social benefits that are hard to put a price tag on. According to one of the authors:

“If I had to put it in one sentence, organic agriculture has been able to provide jobs, be profitable, benefit the soil and environment and support social interactions between farmers and consumers. In some ways, there are practices in organic agriculture that really are ideal blueprints for us to look at feeding the world in the future. Organic may even be our best bet to help feed the world in an increasingly volatile climate.”

Assures decimation of food production should feared climate changes turn into reality

Recent research50,51 indeed confirms that conventional farming methods cannot protect us from a repeat of the devastating conditions experienced during the 1930s “dust bowl,” a time when consecutive droughts decimated food production in the U.S. According to simulations, if the U.S. were to experience the same kind of drought as in 1936, we’d lose 40 percent of our corn and soy, and 30 percent of our wheat.

These losses are very similar to those back in 1936. But when including current climate change trends into their calculations, crop losses increase by 25 percent for each 1-degree increase in temperature. A 4-degree increase in average temperature would reduce crop yields by a staggering 80 percent over the course of a season. As noted by bioethicist George Divorsky:52

“Given recent predictions53 that parts of the U.S. could soon experience “megadroughts” lasting for as long as 35 years (yes, you read that correctly), these results should serve as a serious wakeup call.”

Directly promotes ill health and chronic disease

Health statistics suggest the average toxic burden has become too great for children and adults alike. More than half of all Americans are chronically ill, and toxins in our food appear to play a primary role. According to Dr. Joseph E. Pizzorno,54founding president of Bastyr University, toxins in the modern food supply are now “a major contributor to, and in some cases the cause of, virtually all chronic diseases.”

A recent report55,56 by the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics.57 which represents OB-GYNs in 125 countries, warns that chemical exposures, including pesticides, now represent a major threat to human health and reproduction. Pesticides are also included in a new scientific statement on endocrine-disrupting chemicals by the Endocrine Society task force.58,59

This task force warns that the health effects of hormone-disrupting chemicals is such that everyone needs to take proactive steps to avoid them — especially those seeking to get pregnant, pregnant women, and young children. Even extremely low-level pesticide exposure has been found to considerably increase the risk of certain diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease.

What Can You Do to Protect Your Family Against Pesticides?

In order to reduce your exposure to toxic pesticides, you’d be wise to make some changes in your lifestyle choices. Here are just a few suggestions to help you get started.

  • Eat organic foods. Look for organic produce and grassfed meats and dairy products. Investigate the farmers markets in your area and consider planting your own garden to supply produce through the summer months. Although buying organic foods may be slightly more expensive today, they help to reduce your overall health costs in your future.
  • Go green in your lawn and garden care. You don’t have to give up a green lawn if you want to remove pesticides from your garden. However, it may take a season or two in order to get the growth you’re looking for.
  • Talk with your school board about lawn care at your children’s school. Pesticides sprayed on the school lawn and play areas can increase your child’s exposure. You may be able to change how they care for the lawn when you educate the administration about the risks involved to the children.
  • Play in a healthy environment. Before joining a golf club or playing frequently, talk with the course superintendent about the pesticides they use to control weeds and insects. Bring members together to request cleaner and safer lawn care. Talk to your city administrators about the care given to the lawn in your local parks. Educate them about the risks to adults, children and pets from pesticides.

Watch the video. URL:

Source: mercola.com

Why Young Women All Over the World Are Still Dying in Childbirth


Why Young Women All Over the World Are Still Dying in Childbirth

Almost 800 women die every day while giving birth, and the curse of maternal mortality stretches from Sierra Leone to Myanmar.

By the time the pregnant 17 year old arrives at a hospital in Sierra Leone, it is already too late. Her baby has died—maybe the day before, maybe even longer. She has been left in labor for far too long—approximately 36 hours—waiting for a caesarean section that has been delayed due to an electricity cut. When power resumes, there is no doctor to help her. Now the race is on to save this teenage mother from death as well. Her womb is infected; the tissue falling apart. The doctors try their best to repair it, but her severe infection worsens overnight. The next morning is her last.

“Too much, too late,” writes a Médecins Sans Frontières obstetrics/gynecology registrar, Benjamin Black, on his MSF blog. This girl’s tragedy is shared by thousands more. In 2013, an estimated 289,000 women died during pregnancy or while giving birth. That’s almost 800 women every day. 99 percent of these deaths occur in the developing world.

Nearly all of these deaths and serious injuries are preventable and needless. Very few of them would happen in the west. Reading the statistics, we don’t need the World Health Organization (WHO) to tell us that maternal mortality is “unacceptably high” and that these deaths are a tragedy. The numbers speak for themselves: 800 maternal deaths every day are 800 too many. And yet, despite a 45 percent drop in maternal mortality since 1990, family planning organization Marie Stopes International still reports that the lifetime risk of dying from such complications is one in 22 in sub-Saharan Africa. In some African countries, the rate is as high as one in eight.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), whose work involves improving reproductive health, states on its website that the world has made “significant strides, but not enough.” While some developing countries have seen maternal deaths fall significantly in recent years, sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia are still struggling.

A doctor with a baby Maasai patient in Kenya.

In Europe and North America, it is too easy to assume that death during childbirth is a thing of the past. A sensational plot development on an Edwardian costume drama—Downton Abbey, perhaps—or a Victorian tragedy in a Charles Dickens novel. You may be surprised to find that the five main causes of maternal death are, according to Marie Stopes: Hemorrhage, infection, unsafe abortion, eclampsia (a condition where convulsions occur in a pregnant woman with high blood pressure) and obstructed labor. Surprised—and horrified. Preventable, treatable, and avoidable; yet happening here and now in 2015.

 It’s worth underlining that there has been a significant and steady drop in numbers over the last 25 years. In addition, during the 2010 Millennium Development Goals Summit at the UN, secretary-general Ban Ki-moon unveiled a ‘global strategy for women’s and children’s health’ that aimed to save 16 million women and children over a four-year period. I asked Luc de Bernis, the UNFPA’s senior maternal health advisor in Geneva, if we are doing enough.

“Certainly not, but this is encouraging,” he said. “The challenge now is to maintain this gain in lives saved, and to accelerate the progress towards the goal and targets for 2030. Women’s health, maternal and adolescent health are not receiving enough attention, even if it has been demonstrated that the major part of the maternal and newborn mortality is preventable, even in poor settings.”

A woman had turned up to a hospital clearly needing a caesarean section. But there was no people to work the generator, no electricity, and no light.

“Unfortunately the answer isn’t simple and it’s not a purely medical answer,” said Black, the oby-gyn whose work with Médecins Sans Frontières has taken him to the Central African Republic and Sierra Leone. When it comes to maternal health, there is no “silver bullet,” as he puts it, to remedy this complex issue. “You’ve got to look at the social, political, economic dimensions to the problem,” he explained.

Benjamin talked about “the three delays”: A trio of barriers that too often prevent women from receiving the timely and effective medical attention they need. Delay one: The delay in recognising that something isn’t right. “If you’re a woman in sub-Saharan Africa who is in labor in your local village with your local birth attendant, they may not realize at first signs that there’s a problem. It may take more than a day,” he explained.

The second delay lies in actually getting to a place where you can even receive care. Benjamin recalled working in Sierra Leone, where it can take patients more than a day to reach a hospital because of poor roads, or because patients have no access to transport nor the money to pay for a taxi. Then there’s the third delay: The delay in receiving care once you’re there. Benjamin recalls the time “a woman had turned up to a hospital clearly needing a caesarean section. But there was no people to work the generator, no electricity, and no light.”

I was ‘a child giving birth to a child’ because I was only 14.

There’s another twist in this narrative: Teenagers are most at risk. Marie Stopes International, which provides sexual and reproductive healthcare to women around the world, reported on the case of 16-year-old Mi Aye, who lives in Myanmar. Married at 13 and pregnant at 14, Mi Aye told the organization: “Nobody told me about how you have children or how I could avoid getting pregnant, so of course, I got pregnant. I was ‘a child giving birth to a child’ because I was only 14. And afterwards I was really frightened about getting pregnant again but I didn’t know what to do to stop it.”

 Women aged between 15 and 19 are twice as likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth as women over 20; girls under the age of 15 are five times more likely to perish. Bethan Cobley, senior manager of policy and partnerships at Marie Stopes International explained why teens are most at risk. “Sometimes their bodies are not mature enough for pregnancy and childbirth, but more often it’s because young people are less likely to have access to quality health services, particularly in the developing world.”

Benjamin Black referred to this as an issue of ‘vulnerability.’ “Your vulnerability increases according to the wider socio-economic situation that you’re in,” he said. “For example, if you’re a 15-year-old girl from a poor [and] rural family, your vulnerability to each of those delays is much higher than, for example, a professional woman who’s working in a capital city, even in the same country.”

According to the UNFPA, access to trained midwives could help avert two-thirds of maternal and newborn deaths. According to de Bernis, “midwives can implement more than 85 percent of the recommended essential evidence-based RMNH (Reproductive, Maternal and Newborn Health) interventions”—yet there is so much more than mere medical intervention to tackling these horrifying mortality numbers.

Dr Azhar Abid Raza, a health and immunization specialist with UNICEF in New York, agreed that a holistic approach is “essential” and “is working.” Antenatal care and maternal vaccinations have improved. UNICEF also has programmes targeting child marriage. “In addition, UNICEF, WHO and UNFPA are collaborating to improve the nutritional status of mothers, and in promoting the concept of early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding,” he said.

Access to family planning is equally vital—as is ensuring abortions are a safe option for all women. As it stands, there are 222 million women in the world who would like to use contraception but aren’t able to access it. “An estimated 22 million unsafe abortions are performed each year, resulting in 47,000 deaths and leaving 8 million women with medical complications,” Bethan Cobley of Marie Stopes International told me. “It may sound obvious, but when women have access to contraception, the number of unplanned pregnancies falls dramatically.”

 It’s about the choices girls should be able to make—freely and safely—about their own bodies, without feeling stigmatized or judged.

Family planning and termination of pregnancy is still taboo in many developing countries. As a result, abortion becomes a secret and often deadly operation that can involve ingesting poisonous herbs or using sharp instruments. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these methods often lead to medical complications, infertility, and in the worst cases, death.

So what’s the bottom line? It’s about the choices girls should be able to make—freely and safely—about their own bodies, without feeling stigmatized or judged. When the political will, support and funding is there, women’s lives are saved.

“Where governments have made the decision to fund family planning services and remove policy restrictions, we have seen maternal mortality dramatically fall in a relatively short period of time,” Cobley said. “For example, the Ethiopian government has invested in family planning and as a result maternal mortality in the country has more than halved, falling from 990 deaths in 100,000 live births in 2000 to 440 in 2013.”

Pregnancy shouldn’t be an imposed death sentence for any woman, wherever she lives or whatever her financial circumstance. In 2015, it doesn’t have to be.

Top Environmental Risk Factors for Dementia Identified


dementia risk

Story at-a-glance

  • Alzheimer’s currently affects an estimated 5.4 million Americans. By 2050, Alzheimer’s diagnoses are projected to triple
  • Experts have compiled a list of top environmental risk factors thought to be contributing to the epidemic. Vitamin D deficiency, air pollution and occupational pesticide exposure top this list
  • Alzheimer’s shares many risk factors with heart disease. This includes smoking, alcohol use, diabetes, high fasting blood sugar levels, insulin resistance, obesity and high blood pressure

“Dementia” is an umbrella term covering an array of neurological diseases and conditions that develop when neurons in your brain die or cease to function normally. The death or malfunction of neurons causes changes in memory, behavior and ability to think.

Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most serious form of dementia, eventually leads to the inability to carry out even the most basic of bodily functions, such as swallowing or walking. Alzheimer’s is ultimately fatal, as conventional treatment options are few and limited in effectiveness.

Disturbingly, Alzheimer’s has reached epidemic proportions, currently affecting an estimated 5.4 million Americans.1 In the next 20 years it is projected that Alzheimer’s will affect 1 in 4 Americans, rivaling the current prevalence of obesity and diabetes and by 2050, Alzheimer’s diagnoses are projected to triple.2,3

Already, more than half a million Americans die from the disease each year, making it the third leading cause of death in the U.S., right behind heart disease and cancer.4,5Considering there’s no known cure and so few treatments, prevention is key.

Top Environmental Risk Factors Identified

As with autism, it’s quite reasonable to suspect that a variety of factors are at play, collectively contributing to the rapid rise in Alzheimer’s prevalence.

Experts at the Edinburgh University’s Alzheimer Scotland Dementia Research Centre have now compiled a list of top environmental risk factors thought to be contributing to the epidemic.6,7,8 As reported by BBC News:9

“Dementia is known to be associated with lifestyle factors such as high blood pressure in mid-life, smoking, diabetes, obesity, depression and low educational attainment, as well as genetic factors.

But the Edinburgh researchers said a third of dementia risk was unexplained, and they want to determine whether other issues are at play, including the environment.”

Not surprisingly (if you’ve been paying attention to the research), vitamin D deficiency, air pollution and occupational pesticide exposure top this list. Living close to power lines also has “limited yet robust” evidence suggesting it may influence your susceptibility to dementia.

All Forms of Air Pollution Raise Your Dementia Risk

The risk factor with the most robust body of research behind it is air pollution. In fact, they couldn’t find a single study that didn’t show a link between exposure to air pollution and dementia. Particulate matter, nitric oxides, ozone and carbon monoxide have all been linked to an increased risk.

Aside from raising your risk for dementia, a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report10 on environmentally related deaths claim that 1 in 4 deaths worldwide are now related to living and working in a toxic environment — with air pollution being the greatest contributor to this risk. As noted by WHO Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan:

“A healthy environment underpins a healthy population. If countries do not take actions to make environments where people live and work healthy, millions will continue to become ill and die too young.”

During the World Health Assembly, held in May 2016, WHO vowed it “will propose a roadmap to increase the global response by the health sector to reduce the effects of air pollution.”

Pollution, Diabetes and Dementia

American researchers have also warned that exposure to air pollution for as little as one or two months may be enough to increase your risk of diabetes — especially if you’re obese.11

Diabetes, in turn, is a significant risk factor for Alzheimer’s, doubling your chances of contracting this devastating form of dementia. Alzheimer’s was even tentatively referred to as type 3 diabetes at one time.

Recent research has also confirmed that the greater an individual’s insulin resistance, the less sugar they have in key parts of their brain, and these areas typically correspond to the areas affected by Alzheimer’s.12,13

Needless to say, the most significant contributor to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes is not pollution but rather your diet. More specifically, eating a diet that is excessively high in net carbohydrates (total carbs minus fiber) and too low in healthy fats, which I will discuss further below, can contribute to insulin resistance.

Sensible Sun Exposure Is Important for Brain Health

The Scottish Dementia Research Centre also noted there’s a very clear link between vitamin D deficiency and dementia. Indeed, studies have shown vitamin D plays a critical role in brain health, immune function, gene expression and inflammation — all of which influence Alzheimer’s.

In a 2014 study,14 considered to be the most robust study of its kind at the time, those who were severely deficient in vitamin D had a 125 percent higher risk of developing some form of dementia compared to those with normal levels. According to the authors:

“Our results confirm that vitamin D deficiency is associated with a substantially increased risk of all-cause dementia and Alzheimer disease. This adds to the ongoing debate about the role of vitamin D in nonskeletal conditions.”

The findings also suggest there’s a threshold level of circulating vitamin D, below which your risk for dementia increases. This threshold was found to be right around 20 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) or 50 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L). Please recognize that higher levels are associated with better brain health.

Based on a broader view of the available science, 20 ng/ml is still far too low, as the bulk of the research suggests a healthy range is between 40 to 60 ng/ml, certainly no lower than 40 ng/ml. Sadly, a vast majority of people are severely deficient, in large part because they’ve been fooled into fearing sun exposure.

Researchers have previously estimated that half of the general population is at risk of vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency. Among seniors, that estimate reaches as high as 95 percent. This suggests vitamin D may be a very important factor for successful prevention among the general population.

A wide variety of brain tissue contains vitamin D receptors, and when they’re activated by vitamin D, it facilitates nerve growth in your brain.

Researchers also believe that optimal vitamin D levels boost levels of important brain chemicals, and protect brain cells by increasing the effectiveness of glial cells in nursing damaged neurons back to health.

Vitamin D may also exert some of its beneficial effects on your brain through its anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties, which are well established.

Heart and Brain Health Are Closely Linked

It may be helpful to remember that Alzheimer’s shares many risk factors with heart disease.15 This includes smoking, alcohol use, diabetes, high fasting blood sugar levels, insulin resistance and obesity.16

Arterial stiffness (atherosclerosis) is associated with a hallmark process of Alzheimer’s, namely the buildup of beta-amyloid plaque in your brain.

The American Heart Association (AHA) also warns there’s a strong association between hypertension and brain diseases such as vascular cognitive impairment (loss of brain function caused by impaired blood flow to your brain) and dementia.17

In one clinical trial, test subjects who consumed high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) developed higher risk factors for cardiovascular disease in just two weeks, demonstrating just how influential your diet can be on your heart and brain health in the long term.

Such findings dovetail nicely with the conclusions reached by neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter, author of “Grain Brain,” and “Brain Maker,” who has concluded that anything that promotes insulin resistance will ultimately also raise your risk of Alzheimer’s.

Exercise Is Important for Alzheimer’s Prevention

The good news is that lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise and sleep can have a significant impact on your risk. As previously noted by Dr. Richard Lipton of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine — where they study healthy aging — lifestyle changes “look more promising than the drug studies so far” when it comes to addressing neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s.18

Exercise, for example, has been shown to protect your brain from Alzheimer’s and other dementias, and also improves quality of life if you’ve already been diagnosed.19 In one study,20 patients diagnosed with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s who participated in a four-month-long supervised exercise program had significantly fewer neuropsychiatric symptoms associated with the disease (especially mental speed and attention) than the non-exercising control group.

Other studies21 have shown that aerobic exercise helps reduce tau levels in the brain. (Brain lesions known as tau tangles form when the protein tau collapses into twisted strands that ends up killing your brain cells.) According to co-author Laura Baker:

“These findings are important because they strongly suggest a potent lifestyle intervention such as aerobic exercise can impact Alzheimer’s-related changes in the brain. No currently approved medication can rival these effects.”

Cognitive function and memory22 can also be improved through regular exercise, and this effect is in part related to the effect exercise has on neurogenesis and the regrowth of brain cells. By targeting a gene pathway called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), exercise actually promotes brain cell growth and connectivity.

In one year-long study, elderly individuals who exercised grew and expanded their brain’s memory center by as much as 2 percent per year, where typically that center shrinks with age. It’s also been suggested that exercise can trigger a change in the way the amyloid precursor protein is metabolized,23 thus slowing the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s.

Exercise also increases levels of the protein PGC-1alpha. Research24 has shown that people with Alzheimer’s have less of this protein in their brains, and that cells that contain more of the protein produce less of the toxic amyloid protein associated with Alzheimer’s.

Eating for Brain Health

Reducing your net carbs and increasing healthy fat consumption are another important part of the equation, and my optimized nutrition plan can set you on the right path in that regard.

Research25 from the Mayo Clinic reveals that diets rich in carbohydrates are associated with an 89 percent increased risk for dementia while high-fat diets are associated with a 44 percent reduced risk. Perlmutter places most of his patients on a ketogenic, high-fat and low-net-carb diet that is gluten-free, along with prescribed exercise.

One of the easiest ways to optimize your diet is to make sure you’re only eating real food. Avoid processed foods of all kinds, as they contain a number of ingredients harmful to your brain, including refined sugar, processed fructose, grains (particularly gluten), genetically engineered (GE) ingredients and pesticides like glyphosate (an herbicide thought to be worse than DDT, which has already been linked to Alzheimer’s). Opting for organic produce will help you avoid toxic pesticides.

Also choose organic grass-fed meats and animal products, as animals raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are routinely fed GE grains contaminated with pesticides, along with a variety of drugs. Some researchers have even suggested Alzheimer’s may be a slow-acting form of mad cow disease, acquired by eating contaminated meats. It’s a rather compelling theory, considering mad cow disease originated in the CAFO system, where herbivores are forced to eat animal parts.

To Protect Your Heart and Brain, Trade Sugar for Healthy Fats, and Other Helpful Tips

Ideally, keep your added sugar levels to a minimum and your total fructose below 25 grams per day, or as low as 15 grams per day if you already have insulin/leptin resistance or any related disorders.

Healthy fats to add to your diet include avocados, butter made from raw, grass-fed organic milk, organic pastured egg yolks, MCT oil, coconuts and coconut oil (coconut oil, and to an even greater degree MCT oil, show particular promise against Alzheimer’s) and raw nuts such as pecans and macadamia, both of which have a near-ideal ratio of protein and healthy fats.

Avoid all trans fats or hydrogenated fats that have been modified in such a way to extend their longevity on the grocery store shelf. This includes margarine, vegetable oils and various butter-like spreads. It’s also advisable to:

  • Avoid gluten. Research shows that your blood-brain barrier is negatively affected by gluten. Gluten also makes your gut more permeable, which allows proteins to get into your bloodstream where they sensitize your immune system and promote inflammation and autoimmunity, both of which play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s.
  • Optimize your gut health by avoiding processed foods, antibiotics and antibacterial products, fluoridated and chlorinated water and by regularly eating traditionally fermented and cultured foods, along with a high-quality probiotic if needed.
  • Optimize your vitamin D. This is ideally done through sensible sun exposure, but as a last resort, vitamin D3 supplements are better than nothing. Just make sure you also increase your intake of vitamin K2 if you take an oral vitamin D supplement. As for dosage, the “right” dose is one that will keep your blood level between 40 and 60 ng/ml.
  • Improve your magnesium levels. Not only does magnesium work in tandem with vitamin D and K2, preliminary research also suggests higher levels of magnesium in the brain help decrease Alzheimer symptoms. Magnesium threonate is one of the few magnesium supplements that appears to be able to actually cross the blood brain barrier, making it my first choice.
  • Increase your intake of animal-based omega-3. I prefer krill oil to fish oil here, as krill oil also contains astaxanthin, which appears to be particularly beneficial for brain health.

Other Alzheimer’s Prevention Strategies

Besides exercise and the key dietary instructions just mentioned, the following suggestions may also be helpful for the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease:

Fasting

Ketones are mobilized when you replace nonfiber carbs with healthy fats. Intermittent fasting is a powerful tool to jumpstart your body into remembering how to burn fat and repair the insulin/leptin resistance that is a primary contributing factor for Alzheimer’s.

A folate-rich diet

Vegetables are your best form of folate, and you’d be wise to eat plenty of fresh raw veggies every day. Avoid supplements like folic acid, which is the inferior synthetic version of folate.

If you enjoy black coffee, keep the habit

While I would not encourage you to drink coffee if you’re not already a coffee drinker, if you enjoy it, there’s good news. Caffeine triggers the release of BDNF that activates brain stem cells to convert into new neurons, thereby improving your brain health.

In one study, people with mild cognitive impairment whose blood levels of caffeine were higher (due to coffee consumption) were less likely to progress to full-blown dementia compared to those who did not drink coffee.26 In another study, older women whose coffee consumption was above average had a lower risk of dementia.27

Just make sure your coffee is organic, as coffee tends to be heavily sprayed with pesticides. For more details on making your coffee habit as healthy as possible, please see my previous article, “Black Coffee in the Morning May Provide Valuable Health Benefits.”

Avoid and eliminate mercury from your body

Dental amalgam fillings, which are 50 percent mercury by weight, are one of the major sources of heavy metal toxicity. However, you really should be healthy prior to having them removed. Once you have adjusted to following the diet described in my optimized nutrition plan, you can follow the mercury detox protocol and then find a biological dentist to have your amalgams removed.

Avoid and eliminate aluminum from your body

Sources of aluminum include antiperspirants, non-stick cookware and vaccine adjuvants, just to mention some of the most common ones. For tips on how to detox aluminum, please see my article, “First Case Study to Show Direct Link between Alzheimer’s and Aluminum Toxicity.”

Avoid flu vaccinations

Most flu vaccines contain both mercury and aluminum.

Avoid statins and anticholinergic drugs

Drugs that block acetylcholine, a nervous system neurotransmitter, have been shown to increase your risk of dementia. These drugs include certain nighttime pain relievers, antihistamines, sleep aids, certain antidepressants, medications to control incontinence and certain narcotic pain relievers.

Statin drugs are particularly problematic because they suppress the synthesis of cholesterol, deplete your brain of coenzyme Q10, vitamin K2 and neurotransmitter precursors, and prevent adequate delivery of essential fatty acids and fat-soluble antioxidants to your brain by inhibiting the production of the indispensable carrier biomolecule known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL).

Get plenty of restorative sleep

Sleep is necessary for maintaining metabolic homeostasis in your brain. Wakefulness is associated with mitochondrial stress; without sufficient sleep, neuron degeneration sets in. While sleep problems are common in Alzheimer’s patients, poor sleep may also be contributing to the disease by driving the buildup of amyloid plaques in your brain.

While you sleep, your brain flushes out waste materials, and if you don’t sleep well, this natural detoxification and clean-out process will be severely hampered.

Challenge your mind daily

Mental stimulation, especially learning something new, such as learning to play an instrument or a new language, is associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s. Researchers suspect that mental challenge helps to build up your brain, making it less susceptible to the lesions associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Source:mercola.com

Social Media has Created a Generation of Narcissists


In the opening scene to cult British movie, Trainspotting, the film’s protagonist, Renton (played by Ewan McGregor,) launches straight into a nihilistic, yet perversely uplifting, tirade against the spiritually bankrupt materialism that had triumphed in Britain throughout the Margaret Thatcher years.

“Choose life,” advised the now-famous monologue. “Choose a big fucking television, washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers,” it continued, before descending into a dressing down of the consumerist condition.

It was a perfect diagnosis of the state of the nation as 18 long, brutal years of uninterrupted Conservative Party rule drew to a close, and it would be remembered forever as a pop cultural epitaph for this defining period in British history. Then in January 2017, a full 20 years later, Trainspotting got itself a sequel.

Set two decades after the original, it was accompanied by yet another Renton rant that had been updated for the modern era. “Choose life,” it went. “Choose Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and hope that someone, somewhere cares.

Choose looking up old flames, wishing you’d done it all differently,” then lining up an assortment of other modern malaises. Although it fails to live up to the original, and the social media angle has been dismissed as “superficial” in certain corners of the internet, I can’t think of anything more appropriate for 2017.

A decade since the mass-proliferation of Facebook, I challenge you to name a single development that has shaped mass culture in that period as much as social media.

TriStar Pictures

It has changed the way we communicate, it facilitated the victory of Donald Trump, has separated us into reality-distorting bubbles, elicits an addiction-like response in the human brain, and threatens to destroy the news industry.

Listing all the ways that it has altered our world is a fool’s errand, as is tracing all of its side-effects, but there is an argument that I will make: it has turned an entire generation into vapid narcissists.

From deceptive selfie angles that make average-looking people appear attractive, to curating your Facebook feed so it looks like you’re having more fun than you actually are, social media has taken neoliberalism’s self-centered mantra and pumped it full of cocaine-laced steroids.

While Thatcher and Reagan may have promoted greedy self-interest that Renton lampooned in the original Trainspotting, social media has bloated humanity’s capacity for self-obsession to new extremes.

Silicon Valley tech barons and Snapchat-obsessed teenagers who rarely venture outside of their bedrooms might argue that social media makes the world more interconnected (and no one can deny that it does), yet those connections shouldn’t be mistaken for any sort of collectivism.

Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook

All social media platforms are comprised of a mass of individuals competing against each other for followers, likes, retweets, favorites, and whichever other show of approval exists out there rather than any sort of collective goal.

Sure, this isn’t its only purpose, and plenty of benign interaction occurs without any sort of agenda, but there are masses upon masses of people who utilize it as a means of projecting an idealized version of themselves out into the world – an avatar of the person that they wish they were, rather than who they are in reality.

It’s logical that such an extreme focus on the self has a tendency to spill over into self-obsession, but this goes far beyond people taking too many photos of themselves and treating every action as a hashtagging opportunity. Every life event, however irrelevant to their social media audience, becomes a source of self-promoting content.

Consider the utterly ridiculous phenomenon of people wishing their parent a happy birthday even though that parent isn’t on Facebook.

I doubt that anyone would be able to explain why they do it, because it’s likely a reflexive behavior: they’ve learned that sharing gets them validation, which feels good, so they continue to share. Every like and retweet gives the brain a small rush of dopamine comparable to a tiny hit of coke.

via Dallas News

This is why people pathetically attach #tagsforlikes #likeforlikes and #likes4likes to their Instagram photos. The yearning for validation is so pronounced that it has spawned an entire exchange economy where people pimp themselves out to the world, offering to repay insincere engagement with equally insincere engagement. The sentiment doesn’t matter as long as that little ego-affirming notification bubble pops up on their screens.

The cynicism that social media has fostered is staggering. As you might know, Highsnobiety is based in Berlin. In the December of last year, an Islamic fundamentalist drove a truck through a Christmas market in the west of the city, killing 12 and injuring 56 in the process.

Facebook – with its long, all-reaching finger that’s constantly on the pulse of global events – added a check-in feature that allowed its Berlin-based users to let everyone know that they’re safe, so they don’t have to reply to worried friends or relatives individually. I’m not going to dispute that this was helpful, but it’s what happened after that made me groan.

The more avid social media users in my feed (you know the types, they’re usually the same infantile clowns that use Snapchat’s dog filter) all rushed to give their take on the tragedy, to tell the world how they felt about it.

I struggle to remember everybody who did this and I’m not going to go through the feed of everyone that I know, but I will use the example that sticks out most in my mind. One of my Facebook friends wrote: “I’m okay, but at least nine people aren’t. And that’s not okay.”

despair.com

Yes, mass murder is not OK, just as the snow is cold and the chemical formula for carbon dioxide is CO2. What purpose does this serve apart from confirming to other Facebook users that you’re not a sociopath? The response, of course.

The ego-validating likes. The comments. The attention. There are no doubt people reading this right now who would label me a cynic, but I think the real cynicism is how human tragedies have been converted into content for Facebook and a promotional opportunity for the people using it.

Others would dismiss as normal human behavior what people have always engaged in: conversation, collective mourning, the voicing of opinions. The only thing that separates it from a post-funeral wake, they would have you believe, is the medium.

Superficially, yes, they are correct, but there’s a fundamental difference here: before the digital era these were behaviors we engaged in discretely with people who have direct relevance to our lives. Social media is a very public forum.

The Facebook user who I quoted above wasn’t simply voicing their condolences for the people who died, they were placing themselves within the context of the tragedy. The focus wasn’t solely on the dead, but also their feelings or thoughts on what happened.

The same thing happened after the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, when Facebook enabled users to layer a translucent French flag over their profile pictures.

gottabemobile.com

Its purpose was to send out a hollow show of solidarity with those who died, their families and all the French people that survived either through chance or geography.

I remember getting into an argument with one self-absorbed twat who genuinely believed that his one-click display of empathy could somehow make the next-of-kin feel a tiny bit better after having their loved ones murdered.

As if anyone at any other point in history would have thought to themselves “God this is horrifying, but I would feel a little bit better right now if I knew that millions of people around the world were draping my country’s flag over their faces.” Yes, because the best way to distract from emotional anguish is with unimaginative jingoism.

But is this really any different to the age-old practice of leaving flowers and candles at the scene of a tragedy, as people did here in Berlin after December’s attack? Yes, because that requires physical engagement and quantifiable investment into said tragedy.

There’s almost a religious aspect to the pilgrimage that you have to make to the location, even if it’s just across the street from where you live. There’s a tiny element of sacrifice to buying a candle or a flower that demands more effort than simply typing out a Facebook status or a tweet.

picjumbo.com

It’s an anonymous ritual because no one can tell who left what. It’s the polar opposite of grief on social media, which is vulgar herd behavior that siphons attention away from the dead and redirects it to the “grieving;” behavior that is, as I established earlier, rewarded with the currency of engagement.

Furthermore, old-school, analog grief can’t be monetized by some tax-dodging Silicon Valley conglomerate that created these features not out of sincerity, but because they serve their business model.

Now I don’t want to shame people for what is instinctive, almost unconscious behavior (and if that Facebook friend of mine that I quoted above happens to be reading: nothing personal, you were just the most memorable example) but that’s the point: these tech giants have quietly crept into our minds and rewired our brains.

They have engineered a generation of self-obsessed narcissists – us – while we were distracted by our search for Kony. Registration might be free, but long-term use quite evidently comes at a price.

Source:http://www.highsnobiety.com