Environment Global Climate Change Population

Anticipate Industry’s Aid with Global Warming

A friend avoids anything with General Electric’s name on it because he thinks the company is environmentally unfriendly. When our younger son was considering working for GE I tried to persuade Bryan to look elsewhere. Now it appears that GE may actually be wearing a white hat!
The world’s corporations have driven the industrial revolution and economic growth. Without capitalism we might still be back in the dark ages, burning very little fossil fuels. We would still be traveling by horse and buggy, heating with wood and reading by firelight. Not a comfortable thought!

It is shocking to think that the coal and petroleum that we rely on are causing climate change on an enormous scale. Our temperate world with good growing conditions may heat up and dry out. According to some, our home will be transformed into a desert within this century. Certainly we cannot succeed in stopping global climate change without stopping our population growth.
Shortly after Bryan started working for GE he told us about their “Ecomagination” program. We were dubious at first, thinking that this program was probably just “greenwashing”—marketing by an industry that is environmentally unfriendly.
There is strong evidence that GE’s program is serious, however. In 2005 the Ecomagination program had $10 billion in sales. This includes household products such as my favorite energy saver, compact fluorescent bulbs. GE also makes power-saving refrigerators and clothes washers. Their larger ticket items include green electricity generating windmills and solar panels.
Energy saving procedures at GE kept a quarter million tons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere in 2005. The company’s objective is to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 % by 2008—a reduction that is much more stringent than the Kyoto protocol. These are significant achievements and goals.
GE has become aware of the importance of environmentally friendly products. It has realized that it can make money from being “green”. I am also sure that it is preparing for the future when companies that emit excessive greenhouse gases, or make products that do, will be penalized.
Xcel Energy is another company that is turning green. Xcel supplies electricity to over three million customers in eight states, including parts of Colorado. Fifteen percent of their generation is greenhouse gas free; it comes from nuclear reactors, hydro, wind and refuse. But they generate the majority of their power with coal. Not only do coal fired power plants release untold tons of carbon dioxide, but they are responsible for spreading other poisons, including mercury.
Xcel is taking two commendable actions. The first is planning a unique coal fired power plant. Most power plants shove CO2 plus toxics such as mercury, particulates and sulfur dioxide up smokestacks into the air we breathe. Legislation has forced power plants to include scrubbers that remove some of these toxics. Other laws would have required additional measures to remove mercury. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has deferred these rules.

Xcel has committed money to design an Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) generating plant here in Colorado. Not only is this design very efficient, it also allows capture of CO2 before it is emitted into the atmosphere. A portion of the CO2 from this proposed plant will be sequestered—pumped underground into depleted oil wells. This will be the first IGCC plant at high altitude, and the first in the USA to capture carbon.

In 2007 Xcel will build the country’s largest solar power plant in the San Luis Valley. On a more personal level, Xcel will reimburse part of our own home’s photovoltaic system that has been generating electricity since May. Through their Renewable Energy Credit program, they are buying credit for the renewable energy that we produce, as required by Colorado Amendment 37. Harnessing the sun’s energy directly, rather than through fossil fuels, decreases greenhouse gas emissions.

Insurance is the latest industry to combat global warming. Because global warming increases the risks that insurance companies underwrite (such as the damage caused by Katrina), they are taking measures to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, several companies give incentives for ecofriendly cars and buildings by reducing insurance premiums.
It remains to be seen whether industry’s efforts will be sufficient to stave off global climate change. Those who believe this seem to think that improved technology will allow people in developed countries to continue our profligate lifestyle. I find it difficult to believe that the same attitude that is causing global climate change will also save us from global calamity.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2006

Family Planning Medical Population Public Health Women's Issues

Know About Contraception

If you need contraception, use it; if you don’t, be a source of information for other people. For many people, particularly teens, abstinence is the ideal contraception. Since contraception is the best way of decreasing the need for abortion, most people agree that good contraceptive services are beneficial.
We have come a long way in the eighty years since Margaret Sanger started the first family planning clinic in this country. Contraception is legal, we have much more effective methods, and contraception is available from many sources. You don’t have to go to a special clinic any more. Furthermore, people talk about family planning more freely. Do you remember when “rubber” was a dirty word?
There is room for improvement, however. We need new, better methods of family planning. How about a pill for men, for instance? We especially need methods that protect against sexually transmitted diseases (such as AIDS) as well as prevent pregnancy. Most of all, we need less irresponsible sex, both in real life and in the media. In the average year of watching TV an adolescent is exposed to over 12,000 sexual encounters, but only 1 percent mention contraception. Abstinence is still the best way to avoid pregnancy for most teens.
For specific questions about birth control, you should contact your health care provider. The most authoritative source of information on contraception is Contraceptive Technology (Irvington Publishers, New York). My favorite web site is; look under “Health Info”.
Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about contraceptive methods. For instance, some people are afraid to take birth control pills because they think that “the pill” causes cancer. The truth is that birth control pills protect against cancer of the uterus and of the ovary. They also help prevent anemia, ovarian cysts, breast lumps, menstrual cramps and pelvic inflammatory disease. Although they do have some serious side effects, these are amazingly rare with the newer, low dose pills.
The same hormones as in “the pill” also offer protection against pregnancy if a woman takes them after unprotected intercourse. Called emergency contraception pills (ECP’s) or “the morning after pill”, this is one of the best-kept medical secrets. ECP’s are indicated in cases of rape, a condom failure or if a couple fails to use contraception. ECP’s can reduce the proportion of unplanned pregnancies in the USA.
Innovative means of delivering hormonal contraception are available. Some women love the shot that lasts three months, Depo Povera, although it usually causes menstrual irregularity. It often eventually stops all bleeding, which many women like. There is also a monthly shot. Lunelle has the advantage of relatively normal periods. Using it means a trip to the office or clinic every month, but women appreciate its dependability.
Hormone patches have proven popular with menopausal women. Soon a contraceptive patch, Evra, will be available. Each Evra lasts seven days. The first is placed while the user is menstruating, then she replaces it at the end of a week. After the third, she goes patch-free for a week, during which her period will start.
The Nuvaring is a small ring placed in the woman’s vagina for three weeks. It is then removed, and during the week without the ring, her period will start. Neither man nor woman is aware of Nuvaring when it is in place. Both Evra and Nuvaring have been shown to be more effective than birth control pills, although women who cannot take hormones shouldn’t use them.
Barrier methods are designed to prevent sperm and egg from getting together. They include male and female condoms, diaphragm and cervical cap and several different forms of spermacides (foam, creams, gels and film). Some barrier methods are available without prescription, and some provide partial protection against sexually transmitted diseases.
Perhaps the most cost-effective means of family planning is the Intrauterine Device (IUD). Recent studies suggest that it is even safer than previously thought. There are two available in the U.S.A. The Paragard lasts for up to ten years and uses copper to be 99% effective in preventing pregnancy. Mirena is good for up to five years. It is filled with a hormone to make it 99.7% effective while decreasing menstrual bleeding and cramps. Either can be removed in case of problems of if the woman wishes to conceive.
Fortunately, there are many contraceptive methods that are effective, safe, and some even stop the transmission of disease. Hopefully the future will bring even better methods. We should all be well informed about family planning techniques.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2004