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The Future Is Not Plastics

Letters to the editor: Decompartmentalizing right whales, vinclozolin, bisphenol A, krill and a few other things.

I was outraged to learn from Lindsey McCormack’s article on Christopher Clark (“Slow: Whale Xing,” August 2008) that only 2 percent of the ships potentially killing right whales bother to slow down when informed the whales are near. In such an article, one can learn as much about modern humans — the good and the selfish — as whales.

When we compartmentalize Earth’s crisis into problems such as whales facing extinction from boat collisions or the danger of vinclozolin (I’ll never drink non-organic wine again) as reported by Valerie Brown in “Environment Becomes Heredity” (August), we miss linkages as well as the big picture. In the case of these two articles covering seemingly totally unrelated issues, there is a single tragedy on the loose: the plastic plague.

Krill are outnumbered in huge areas of the northern Pacific Ocean by plastic debris — to the tune of six times. And the plastic bits are eaten by fish and birds, resulting in biomagnification of the toxins that cling to the plastic. The right whales are scooping up a lot of krill, so eating the blubber would be a safe ticket to cancer. Worse is that the animals are sick and toxic, notably in the case of orcas in Puget Sound.

Some plastics are endocrine disrupters. Bisphenol A — what baby bottles and water bottles are frequently made of — is one of those creepy substances that industry denies is unsafe, but solid research shows that 0.1 part per billion switches a gene to cause cancer, diabetes, obesity or birth defects.

It was ironic that, in the Brown article, researcher Michael Skinner was shown with various plastic containers (disposable, of course) right at his elbow. A whale of a mistake, but we haven’t come together as a people or species to deal with our lethal culture of technology gone wild for our individualistic ends.

For more information on the plastic plague’s effect on our oceans and our bodies, see the Web site and view its award-winning DVD Our Synthetic Sea. A future profile of Algalita Marine Research Foundation’s founder, Capt. Charles Moore, would be fascinating for your readers.

Jan Lundberg
Arcata, Calif.

This Opinion Was Paid for By …

Mr. Gibson ignores a huge aspect of judicial elections (“Nastier, Nosier, Costlier — and Better,” August). In Washington in 2006, the builders lobby tried to purchase a state Supreme Court seat. They barely missed. They are trying again this year. It’s not a matter of free speech for judicial candidates; it’s a matter of paid-for opinions once a justice is elected.

Larry Maxcy
Olympia, Wash.

Say, About Those Vast Areas of Agreement …

I am responding to the “Creative Devolution” (portion of August’s Offline Diary). I am a psychology professor at a secular university. I have only received a few issues of Miller-McCune, but I have found it thought provoking. I have also noticed that you seem willing to print letters that disagree with articles, so perhaps you will consider this one.

I would like to see more balanced (and so more accurate) coverage of the theory of evolution. But whatever one’s view on the issue, I invite you to consider three advantages of balanced coverage. First, this would help students develop critical thinking skills as they weigh the evidence and reach an informed conclusion. Is it not more important to know how to think like a scientist than to blindly accept the popular viewpoint?

Second, in this time of ideological divisions, it would be valuable to point out that — contrary to popular belief — there are vast areas of agreement among evolutionists, creationists and advocates of intelligent design. For example, all of these groups agree that natural selection occurs (this is merely selecting from what is already present), that new species can arise (e.g., wolves, coyotes and domestic dogs are different species, but all agree that they had a common ancestor) and that mutations can be beneficial (e.g., bacteria could become resistant to antibiotics by losing genetic information). The main disagreement is whether mutations are capable of creating new genetic information sufficient to turn a bacterium into a human. I am confident that scientists who think differently could collaborate and rarely have a disagreement.

Third, the “my way or the highway” perspective that some evolutionists have may discourage talented students from pursuing a career in science. Recently I conducted a large research project, and I included a few questions on the evolution controversy. The results indicated that students who most favored ID were highest in science knowledge and knew as much about the theory of evolution as other groups. I would never want to see such capable students discouraged from pursuing a career in science.

Douglas S. Krull
Northern Kentucky University
Highland Heights, Ky.

Another Reason to Stop Making SUVs

Your August issue had an article about the ongoing need of the elderly for transportation, even after they stop driving (“Old Without Wheels”). Detroit has been making this job increasingly more difficult by making cars taller. This makes it hard for the elderly to get into and out of them, and it’s harder for caregivers to lift wheelchairs into and out of these tall vehicles.
Since I chauffeur my 89-year-old mother-in-law to doctor’s appointments, the beauty parlor and all her errands, I have to keep repairing my ancient station wagon. There’s nothing for sale to replace it with. She can’t climb up into a truck; nor can she hop up onto a step to get into an SUV. She can, however, easily get into and out of a normal-height car, and I can easily lift a wheelchair or walker into the flat load bed of the station wagon.

I hope that automakers out there read this letter and once again start manufacturing station wagons (not SUVs or trucks!) that can carry people and cargo with the seats at a normal car height for our seniors.

Sue Kayton
Menlo Park, Calif.