April 28, 2017

Politics & Environment


There are host of well-known environment groups that an educated individual can support, join and contribute. Political action is always required and is always frustrating. Effective political lobbyists have insights into human nature, communication skills and a good understanding of political processes.  Climate changes require intelligent, responsible politicians to act quickly and decisively to avert looming disasters. They are in short supply.

The University College London established the Policy Commission on the Communication of Climate Science. They wrote:” The Commission explored the role of climate scientists in contributing to public and policy discourse and decision-making on climate change, including how highly complex scientific research which deals with high levels of uncertainty and unpredictability can be effectively engaged with public and policy dialogue. The Commission also examined the insights that scientific research and professional practice provide into how people process and assimilate information and how such knowledge offers pathways for climate scientists to achieve more effective engagement. Finally, the Commission sought to identify the approaches that climate scientists can adopt to effectively communicate their messages and to make clear recommendations to climate scientists and to policy-makers about the most effective ways of communicating climate science.”

Politics is about the strategies of control and leadership of human groups. Humans have a deep tendency to form groups, to develop and defend boundaries and to treat outsiders as enemies. All groups have interests, privileges and costs of membership. All groups have hierarchies and competition for privilege and prestige. The effort to create tolerance and an ideal, egalitarian state counters these deep tendencies and probably will never be stable and enduring. Political groups advance the interests of their members, tending toward ideologies that oversimplify complex issues and average fears and beliefs so that a spectrum of individuals can belong.

Group Dialectics

Politics has revealed basic human tendencies that require understanding. The questions are: Why are their democrats and republicans, liberals and conservatives? Why doesn’t everyone have the same preference and come to the same conclusions, given most of the facts? Why isn't everybody nice? The conventional view of political opinion recognizes a spread of political preference from left to right. This metaphor is misleading at best. Political arguments are about the distribution of wealth and resources, the use of force and the regulation of individual activity. The dialectic can be traced back to root group dynamics and the ever-changing balance between self-interest and group interest, between belligerence and peaceful negotiation. Most scholars investigate local, specific examples of divergent tendencies, but a skilled negotiator must focus on root tendencies and understand political arguments in terms of a range of expressions of innate characteristics. In the simplest case you could argue that some humans are nicer, more generous and more tolerant than others. Some humans are irritable, unstable and belligerent. Some humans are sociopathic.

Failing Democracies

Democracies have carried politics to an advanced level of refinement or absurdity, depending on your point of view. An ideal version of democracy proposes that every citizen can advance his point of view and vested interests in a public forum. The ability to speak well is an essential skill to succeed in a democratic forum. Other essential skills are the ability to understand local issues and the ability to affiliate with and influence others. Politics in the best case is art of gathering information, skill in creating public policy, skill in speaking and having an aptitude for affiliation and negotiation.
As groups grow in size, ideal representative democracy becomes impractical. A few representatives take on the job of speaking, affiliation and negotiation. The transition from individual participation to group representation has numerous problems. Hierarchical organization prevails in human and animal societies. Elected politicians now are preoccupied with manipulating their constituents with all the techniques of propaganda, advertising and public relations.

Battersby reviewed the attempts to study the interactions of governments that hoped to achieve consensus and sustain cooperation. He quoted Hardin: “Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.” It has proved to be a powerful idea.

To Hardin and others, the same grim logic was behind many of our biggest problems. Common resources, such as fisheries, forests, and even the air are threatened by selfish individuals and nations taking what they can, even though they know the resource will be wiped out if everyone does the same. Hardin’s solution was to cede our freedoms to the state, to be bound by “mutual coercion mutually agreed upon”. “`On the global stage, the greatest tragedy of the commons is climate change. Despite knowing of this looming threat, countries have delayed taking real action for decades, quarreling over costs and responsibility, failing to build trust, all the while continuing to pour greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Even in the wake of the Paris Agreement, the 2016 United States election has placed the status of a major player in doubt. Lacking any higher authority to rein in the selfishness of nations, are we doomed? “

“For the past three decades, countries have been trying to forge climate treaties based on voluntary national reductions in greenhouse gas emission. This works much like the classic cows-on-the-commons case that Lloyd described in 1833. The best outcome overall is if everyone cooperates, but each individual can do better for themselves by not joining in: let everyone else do the hard work of emissions reduction while I merrily pollute.

In game theory, this is akin to the prisoner’s dilemma: cooperation would be best overall, but you gain by betraying the other culprit (or resource competitor) no matter what they choose to do. Barrett’s experiments show that when real people communicate, they often start out in a spirit of cooperation, and many will make contributions to cutting emissions. But some opt out. Cooperators see these free-riders as depriving them of economic advantage; those cooperators start to drop out until soon none remain. Could this arrangement work better if we name and shame those who drop out, as the Paris Accord now promises to do via its pledge-and-review system? Dannenberg and Barrett have tested this idea with experiments too. It makes people promise more, but hardly alters their actual contributions. Tinkering with the game doesn’t help. “It was only in the last year that I finally understood the general point. “Countries are good at coordinating and bad at cooperating voluntarily.” 

USA Political Disaster

In 2017, the USA is suffering a political disaster with the election of Donald Trump as president. Mckibben summarized the new administrations anti-environmental stance: 

”President Trump’s environmental onslaught will have immediate, dangerous effects. He has vowed to reopen coal mines and moved to keep the dirtiest power plants open for many years into the future. Dirty air, the kind you get around coal-fired power plants, kills people. It’s much the same as his policies on health care or refugees: Real people (the poorest and most vulnerable people) will be hurt in real time. That’s why the resistance has been so fierce. But there’s an extra dimension to the environmental damage. What Mr. Trump is trying to do to the planet’s climate will play out over geologic time as well. In fact, it’s time itself that he’s stealing from us. What I mean is, we have only a short window to deal with the climate crisis or else we forever lose the chance to thwart truly catastrophic heating.

"Trump is trying to give gas-guzzlers new life and slashing the money to help poor nations move toward clean energy; he and his advisers are even talking about pulling out of the Paris accords. He won’t be able to stop solar and wind power in their tracks, but his policies will slow the pace at which they would otherwise grow. Other presidents and other nations will have spewed more carbon into the atmosphere, but none will have insured, at such a critical moment, that carbon’s reign is extended. The effects will be felt not immediately but over decades and centuries and millenniums. More ice will melt, and that will cut the planet’s reflectivity, amplifying the warming; more permafrost will thaw, and that will push more methane into the atmosphere, trapping yet more heat. The species that go extinct as a result of the warming won’t mostly die in the next four years, but they will die. The nations that will be submerged won’t sink beneath the waves on his watch, but they will sink. No president will be able to claw back this time — crucial time, since we’re right now breaking the back of the climate system. We can hope other world leaders will pick up some of the slack. And we can protest. But even when we vote him out of office, Trumpism will persist, a dark stratum in the planet’s geological history. In some awful sense, his term could last forever."

See The Environment by Stephen Gislason

April 15, 2017

Nuclear Warfare - The Biggest Global Threat

Gigantic threats to human existence are in the form of nuclear warheads attached to short and long range missiles. Confusion is common between the relatively safety and desirability nuclear reactors for energy production and bombs for destruction. It is possible to build safe reactors and dismantle bombs.

All environmental threats become insignificant when you consider the apocalypse that would be created by the use of atomic and hydrogen bombs. In 2017, Helfand et al expressed their increasing concern about the threat of war using nuclear weapons. ” After the end of the Cold War, the intense military rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States/North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was replaced by a much more cooperative relationship, and fears of war between the nuclear superpowers faded. Unfortunately, relations between Russia and the United States/NATO have deteriorated dramatically since then. In the Syrian and Ukrainian wars, the two have supported opposing sides, raising the possibility of open military conflict and fears that such conflict could escalate to nuclear war. Speaking in January, when the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced that its Doomsday Clock would remain at 3 minutes to midnight, former US Secretary of Defense William Perry stated, "The danger of a nuclear catastrophe today, in my judgment, is greater that it was during the Cold War...and yet our policies simply do not reflect those dangers." His assessment was echoed 2 months later by Igor Ivanov, Russian Foreign Minister from 1998 to 2004. Speaking in Brussels on March 18 2016, Ivanov warned that "The risk of confrontation with the use of nuclear weapons in Europe is higher than in the 1980s."


My early life was dominated by three horrific preoccupations; the holocaust, the hydrogen bomb and the destruction of animals and their natural environments all over planet earth. By age ten, I knew in theory how to construct both fission and fusion bombs and knew how destructive they were. I would study civil defense maps showing the extent of destruction from hydrogen bombs of different strengths exploded above Canadian and US cities. Later, I took courses in nuclear physics and the medical management of radiation sickness. For many years, I belonged to organizations that protested the development of more nuclear bombs. If you asked me in 1970, I would have told you that I had little confidence in modern civilization and wanted to live away from urban centers and the madness prevalent in the world. For me, the natural world of coastal British Columbia was sane, rational and enduring. Here, I felt part of an ancient natural order that would continue even if humans departed. I could ignore, at least for awhile, the folly of self-destructive humans.

As a young man I was always reassured to know that Albert Einstein existed and joined millions of educated others in admiration of his intellect. In a review of Einstein's impact on human awareness, Brian Greene wrote:" Albert Einstein once said that there are only two things that might be infinite: the universe and human stupidity. And, he confessed, he wasn't sure about the universe. When we hear that, we chuckle. Or at least we smile. We do not take offense. The reason is that the name “Einstein” conjures an image of a warm-hearted, avuncular sage of an earlier era. We see the good-natured, wild-haired scientific genius whose iconic portraits—riding a bike, sticking out his tongue, staring at us with those penetrating eyes—are emblazoned in our collective cultural memory. Einstein has come to symbolize the purity an power of intellectual exploration."

Einstein revealed the stunning relationship of mass to energy in the famous formula, E=MC². The speed of light, C, is a large number so that a small amount of annihilated mass produces a large amount of energy. This equation explains the prodigious energy production of our sun and other stars. Einstein did not imagine man-made devices that suddenly convert mass to energy, creating gigantic explosions. The discovery of the neutron chain reaction in radioactive materials such as purified uranium suggested the possibility of a nuclear bomb. A physicist friend, Leo Szilard, had patented an atomic bomb design in 1934. He feared that Germany might construct nuclear weapons and encouraged Einstein to sign a letter to US President Roosevelt, warning him.

A second Einstein-Szilard letter was sent in March 1940 and led to the Manhattan Project in 1942, designed to produce nuclear bombs based on the fission of purified, radioactive uranium. Scientists from all over the US were recruited to purify bomb-grade uranium and to work out the details of a denotation system under the direction of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer. The scientists had been highly motivated to end the destruction inflicted on the world by Germany and Japan. Their work lead to the sustained proliferation of nuclear weapons in the US, Russia and six other countries. The US tested at least 1100 nuclear weapons and continues to maintain the second-largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons in the world. Sensible humans were alarmed by the persistent belligerence of the US and the Soviet Union and sought to limit or abolish nuclear weapons. 

I called the blind proliferation of nuclear weapons Nuclear Weapon Insanity and proposed an international institution for the politically insane that could arrest and contain politicians voting for nuclear weapons. In 2017 there is an increasingly urgent need for such an institution.

Plutonium, the second fissile elements used to create nuclear explosives, is not found in significant quantities in nature. The production of plutonium started with the Manhattan Project and accelerated as nuclear reactors were built for weapons production. Plutonium is created in a nuclear reactor by bombarding. Uranium 235 with neutrons to produce the isotope 239 U, which beta decays becoming a neptunium isotope which again beta decays to 239 Plutonium. Uranium and plutonium are radioactive substances that release radiation – electrons, neutrons, alpha particles, X-rays and gamma rays.

When the bomb project began, scientists did not understand the health damaging effects of radiation. In the US, reckless if not cruel experiments were inflicted on naive “volunteers” to determine the effects of radiation on human subjects. Credit goes to the US Department of Energy who established the Office of Human Radiation Experiments in March 1994 to reveal the shocking story of radiation research using human subjects in the US.

The complete detonation of one kilogram of plutonium produces an explosion equal to about 20,000 tons of chemical explosive. Nuclear explosions produce blast effects, thermal radiation, ionizing radiation and delayed effects, such as radioactive fallout that can damage all living creatures hours to years after the blast. When a nuclear bomb is detonated on or near the Earth's surface, the blast destroys everything in a central zone, creating a large crater. A cloud of particles rises into the air and returns to the earth’s surface downwind as radioactive fallout.

An intense burst of thermal and gamma radiation travels at the speed of light in all directions. The flash of light is followed by a blast wave followed by hurricane-like winds. Humans who survive the direct blast can be injured in many ways. For example, gamma radiation exposure causes radiation sickness and death. Thermal radiation and secondary fires will cause burns in many of the blast survivors. Third-degree burns over 24 percent of the body, or second-degree burns over 30 percent of the body, will be fatal unless prompt, specialized medical care is available. Fallout consists of particles made radioactive by the explosion, distributed at varying distances from the site of the blast. The fallout is greater if the burst is close to the surface. The area and intensity of the fallout are determined by local weather conditions. Winds and rain distribute radioactive particles.

Areas receiving contaminated rainfall become "hot spots," with greater radiation intensity than their surroundings. Radioactive isotopes enter the soil, the groundwater and accumulate in rivers and lakes. Lower level radiation exposure received by people hundreds to thousands of miles from the blast center leads to delayed consequences such as cancer many years after exposure.

The ongoing manufacture of plutonium is one of the many features of political processes that ran amok after the Second World War. Sherwin summarized the nuclear insanity:” Armed with tens of thousands of nuclear weapons capable of being launched from land, sea, and air, the United States and the Soviet Union became prisoners of a cold war process that neither controlled. Locked into a nuclear arms race justified by national security, they increased their peril, diminished their economies, and promoted an international atmosphere of impending catastrophe. While each government held the population of the other hostage to annihilation, both engaged in conventional wars on the territories of other nations.

“Occasionally, as in the Berlin crisis of 1961 and the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, they pushed each other to the nuclear brink. Living in the nuclear bull's-eye became a way of life. How to prevent the nuclear system from becoming a way of death was the question that dominated the debate over nuclear weapons from their inception. Most responses to it promoted the nuclear arms race, including the massive retaliation doctrine, limited nuclear war plans, the concept of mutual assured destruction (mad), the Strategic Defense Initiative, and even the salt and start arms control negotiations.”

The scientists that opposed the development of nuclear weapons are examples of smart, pragmatic people who used a variety of strategies to advance human well-being. Einstein is the worlds’ best known scientist. According to Levenson, a producer of NOVA's Einstein Revealed, Einstein was the greatest of the great. In the last ten years of his life, Einstein warned against the extreme dangers of nuclear weapons He advocated nuclear disarmament and international cooperation. He proposed a world government that could enforce disarmament and impose negotiated settlements to disputes among nations.

Einstein joined some of the smartest, nicest humans on the planet in intelligent opposition to nuclear bomb development, tests that contaminate air, soil and water with radioactive materials. He believed that rational thinking could supersede the self-destructive features of human nature. In association with Bertrand Russell, the British mathematician and philosopher, a manifesto of reason was issued that remains a guide for nice and smart people who will continue to seek a peaceful planet. 

From Surviving Human Nature

By Stephen Gislason MD. The books is available as an eBook download. 

April 4, 2017

Cannabis: Expert Report Details Health Effects -- Good and Bad


The growing acceptance, accessibility, and use of cannabis and its derivatives have raised important public health concerns ; 22 million Americans older than 12 years report current cannabis use ― the majority for recreational purposes. Twenty-eight states and Washington, DC, have legalized marijuana for medical use, and eight states and the District of Columbia allow recreational use.

The movement in Canada to legalize both medicinal and recreational use of cannabis was in part an attempt to eliminate the illegal trafficking of the drug. With criminal penalties in place, the police, courts and prisons at great cost were unsuccessful in suppressing the market for the drug. Other arguments for governments gaining the revenue that criminal organizations received were persuasive.

The problem, of course, is that cannabis-using citizens are drugged, dangerous drivers and are compromised in their learning, social interactions and employability. We already have a drugged society with at least half the population under the influence of mind altering drugs. Another group of psychotropic drugs will get lost in the great festival of brain dysfunction.

According to a 2017 report on the benefits and harms of cannabis from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS): their evidence suggests cannabis use is associated with the development of psychoses and schizophrenia, but may have benefits, including alleviating chronic pain and chemotherapy-induced nausea.

Cannabis use before the age of 25 years may impair brain growth and learning. The committee found moderate evidence of increased mania symptoms and hypomania in patients with bipolar disorder who use cannabis regularly, and there was evidence of an increase in the incidence of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts with heavy use. It also reported substantial evidence linking greater frequency of cannabis use and an increased likelihood of developing problem cannabis use, and that initiating cannabis use at a younger age increases the likelihood of problem use. Cannabis may pose risks, including a worsening of respiratory symptoms and more frequent bronchitis with long-term smoking, an increase in motor vehicle accidents, and low birth weight in offspring of maternal smokers. The committee also found an increased risk for cannabis overdose in children in states where the substance is legal. Cannabis may cause respiratory symptoms and more frequent bronchitis, an increase in motor vehicle accidents, and low birth weight in offspring of maternal smokers. The committee also found an increased risk for cannabis overdose in children in states where the substance is legal. (Alicia Ault Medscape January 13, ;2017 )

Researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) are sounding the alarm over a possible increase in unknown cognitive and behavioral harms that widespread cannabis use may unmask. They stated: "Science has shown us that marijuana is not a benign drug. The morbidity and mortality from legal drugs is much greater than that for illegal drugs, not because the drugs are more dangerous but because their legal status makes them more accessible and a larger percentage of the population is exposed to them on a regular basis. The current normalization movement presses on with complete disregard for the evidence of marijuana's negative health consequences, and this bias is likely to erode our prevention efforts by decreasing the perception of harm and increasing use among young people, which is the population most vulnerable to the deleterious effects of regular marijuana use."
A clinical review conducted by NIDA director Nora Volkow, MD, points out that as legalization of the drug for recreational and medical use spreads, vulnerable populations, especially adolescents, are exposed to toxic effects of the drug. Dr Volkow explained that young brains are engaged in a protracted period of "brain programming," in which everything an adolescent does or is exposed to can affect the final architecture and network connectivity of the brain. Drugs are powerful disruptors of brain programming because they can directly interfere with the process of neural pruning and interregional brain connectivity. In the short term this interference can negatively affect academic performance. Long-term use can impair behavioral adaptability, mental health, and life trajectories. Emerging evidence suggests that adolescents may be particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of cannabis use. Several studies, for example, have shown that individuals who use cannabis at an earlier age have greater neuropsychological impairment and that persistent use of cannabis from adolescence was associated with neuropsychological decline from the age of 13 to 38 years. Cannabis use may cause an 'amotivational' state.(JAMA Psychiatry. 2016;73(3):292-297.

  • You can view the Brain Mind Center at Alpha Online. Understanding the human brain is essential to become a well-informed, modern citizen. Stephen Gislason MD, the author of the Human Brain, is a physician-writer who is good at making complex subjects more understandable. This is a book with important ideas, so be prepared to read and then keep the book as reference.

Politics & Environment

Environmentalists There are host of well-known environment groups that an educated individual can support, join and contribute. Politica...