Gene-y In A Bottle


astrology chartHow gullible are consumers? Good marketing seems able to sell us anything, up to and including a president. So, I’d say we’re pretty darn gullible.

The first time I saw commercials for companies that would test people’s DNA … for a hefty price, of course … I laughed out loud. It was clear from the start that this testing was essentially the 21st century equivalent of having your astrological chart done; fun, something to giggle about with friends, a fad that would come and go with varying success over the decades.

I grew up knowing that I’m French and American on my dad’s side, and Irish and British on my mum’s side. My sense of who I am, and who my people are, came from learning the language, foods and customs of these groups, and I have a certain allegiance to all of them. If a DNA test were to show that I’m actually 98% Italian, I’d eat a little more pasta – as if that’s possible! – but it’s not going to change who I am, where I came from, or how I feel about my family. Nurture over nature if you will. I’m gonna dance with the one that brung me.

I’m not saying that DNA testing is a game .. it has it’s place in science, in research, and in the courts. However, attempting to define your place in the world by discovering where your DNA may have been at different moments in time? that’s where the science falls down.

FamilyTreeDNA, 23and Me, Ancestry, MyHeritage… even National Geographic is getting into the act. The trouble is, every company is dependent on the data sets they’re already decided upon, and the algorithms which change based on new information prioritized by the company.

Think of this testing as akin to the blood tests your doctor orders; he decides that the lab will check for certain substances or changes in your blood by asking them to look for those subsets. If he has not asked, for instance, that your blood be checked for anemia, it’s not likely that they’ll either test for that, or find it.

Same with these DNA kits. The companies are looking for certain data subsets of which they are already aware. They are basing what they find on what they have previously found.

So, for instance, if a lot of their customers have a set of genetic markers indicating that their ancestors came from Scandinavian countries, then a lot of the incoming tests will miraculously find a whole lot of distant cousins arriving in the next week’s mail. The companies may be using as few as 115 data sets to define the genetic markers they’re searching for in new samples.

There is no one specific gene that denotes your ancestors exact heritage. It’s all subsets, billions of sets of genetic markers that might indicate where your ancestors were at some point in time. And even within your own biological family, not everyone will have inherited the exact same markers .. which is why testing of identical twins, triplets, etc with identical DNA, may still show different results.

The science is not inherently bad, it’s inherently imperfect. We want to see the testing as a sort of magic, that will tell us where our ancestors came from, and what that means to us in the present. But unfortunately, it’s highly unlikely to bear much resemblance to reality.

My husband thought it would be fun to buy me a kit for my birthday, since I had commented on the commercials that were ubiquitous last year in the months leading up to the holidays. I received it in December, and got my sample result this week.

In order to believe the results they’ve sent me, I’d have to accept that my dad’s mum had a “Bridges of Madison County” encounter prior to his birth, because it seems that the Tellier family’s five hundred year stint in France didn’t make the subset marker cut.

But the data markers used in this testing found that I am 53.5% Irish, Scottish and Welsh, 34.7% Scandinavian, 10.6% Sardinian, and 1.2% Nigerian.

swedish chefThis might explain why I hanker to sing the Swedish Chef blues. Bork Bork Bork!

It’s immaterial, anyway. It’s a fun pastime, something to make you smile, and maybe marvel at the way we’re all interconnected, at least on a genetic level. There was a viral video going around a year or so ago, that showed people of all ages, creeds and colours having their DNA tested, and discovering that they had things in common with people they would never have encountered were it not for the making of the video. Finding out that we have more in common with each other than we know … seems a little sad that some people have to see a DNA test’s results before they can ‘get’ that.

dna testing a racist. jpg

It’s life. It’s all of us being busy spreading our genes all over the planet, every where and all the time. And all of us being, despite how it may appear at the outside, very much the same as each other on the inside.

But there is a good use for DNA testing. DNA tests can be used for testing if you carry certain diseases, especially those that you might not want to unwittingly pass on to your own children.

genetic testingCaveat here, though, is that having a gene marker for a disease does not 100% confirm that you will get that disease, only that you are more likely to do so than others without that marker. You are at risk, but other factors – age, diet, exercise, medications, lifestyle choices – may have a stronger impact on whether or not you’ll succumb to the disease.

I’d feel a lot better if the DNA testing kits on the market which claim to reveal your heritage were labelled truthfully – as entertainment. While they might occasionally hit on a set of data subsets that matches with a customer’s, overall, their ‘science’ is about as scientific as predicting the weather by chicken entrails.

I’m filing my test results with the astrological chart my mum bought for me when I was 12, and my books on numerology and tarot. It’s all fun stuff, but I’m not taking any of it to the bank.

 

Climate Change? What Climate Change? Part Two


politicians denial of climate change

Part One: /https://frustratedboomers.com/2015/08/12/climate-change-what-climate-change-part-one/

Why would politicians continue to argue whether or not a profit motive is bringing us to the brink of extinction? Why would countries continue to invest in corporations hell-bent on raping the planet’s natural resources, with no apparent plan for the future?

Because those who deny reality are actually the most frightened of us of all. There is certainly no way that the President of the United States or the Prime Minister of Canada is unaware of what is known to be fact. And yet, Prime Minister Harper went so far as to fire or muzzle Canadian scientists, so that Canadians would not be privy to environmental information necessary when deciding the economic arc of the coming years.

denialThey didn’t need to manipulate unwelcome news. They just decided not to show it.

In February of this year, Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the Senate’s most vocal critic of the scientific consensus on climate change, and author of The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, tossed a snowball on the Senate floor as part of his case for why global warming is a hoax.

Fun Fact: Jim Inhofe is the chair of the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Governor Rick Scott of Florida, one of the states most likely to be ravaged by climate change in the very near future, has officially banned the Florida Department of Environmental Protection from using the phrases “climate change,” “global warming,” and “sustainability,” since 2011.

ostrich head in sandThis is the political equivalent of an ostrich burying it’s head in the sand in order not to see an enemy coming.

Obama spoke to Floridians on Earth Day 2015, saying, ““We do not have time to deny the effects of climate change. Nowhere is it going to have a bigger impact than here in South Florida. Here in the Everglades you can see the effect of a changing planet.This harms freshwater wildlife. The salt water flows into aquifers that flow into the drinking water of 7 million SoEvergladesuth Floridians.

If we don’t act, there may not be an Everglades as we know it,” he added.

In California, Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought State of Emergency in January 2015 and imposed “strict conservation measures” state-wide. Californians have been suffering drought for four years, yet the actions being taken at citizen level amount to little more than “don’t water your lawn,” and “shower with a friend.” Corporations continue to literally suck the state dry for profit.

Five years after the explosion of the Deep Water Horizon, tar balls still wash to shore. In Oklahoma, the state acknowledged in March 2015 that the earthquakes rocking the state are linked to fracking.

province-wide-fire-banBritish Columbia is already feeling severe effects from climate change. B.C.’s 17,000 glaciers are all melting, which means no late summer water supply, diminished hydro power production, and serious impacts on fisheries and spawning salmon.

Unprecedented damage has been done by wildfires, that started burning early in the year, and could continue burning longer than usual. Greenhouse gas emissions that are released during forest fires are another major concern. “We have the initial CO2 emissions during the fire, but then on that blackened landscape we have continued emissions over time.”

Climate models have indicated that B.C. will have more precipitation this winter, but that more of it will fall as rain rather than snow. That will increase the importance on how fresh water is stored and managed.

prairies drought cattleIn the Prairies, drought is an ongoing issue, which has forced farmers to re-evaluate their cattle. If they sell or slaughter cows which they can’t afford to feed, the impact will have a long term effect on the availability of beef. It’s a one-two punch, with both grain and meat stores becoming sorely depleted.

Non-agricultural regions may welcome the thought of warmer winters, but the reality is that climate change will eventually have an impact on all us, whether through rising food prices, or through the health of children, as increased disease, freshwater shortages, and suffocating smog become commonplace.

Kyoto changeIn 2011, Environment Minister Peter Kent pulled Canada out of the Kyoto Protocol, saying the “incompetent Liberal government” who signed the accord took little action to make the necessary greenhouse gas emission cuts. That, coupled with a failing economy, meant the move was necessary to save the government an estimated $14 billion in penalties.

“The Kyoto Protocol, which expires next year, committed major industrial economies to reducing their annual CO2 emissions to below 1990 levels, while providing financial supports to developing nations to encourage them to follow suit eventually. Canada signed the accord in 1998 and ratified it in 2002 but was not on track to meet its legally binding targets.

eye_chart_divestmentThe Conservatives have committed to 17 per cent cuts from 2005 levels by 2020, a much lower threshold to meet than cutting below 1990 emissions levels.” (CBC News, December 2011.)

During Toronto’s Pan Am Games, more than 300 delegates from 20 countries gathered at the Fairmont Royal York to urge those in power globally to make solid commitments for carbon reductions. In December, the UN Climate Summit will meet in Paris to present the latest facts and figures on this global issue.

Canada greenhouse emissionsEnvironment Canada recently announced that the country’s overall greenhouse gas output climbed 1.5 per cent between 2012 and 2013, continuing a slow, but steady, upward trend since the global recession of 2009.

So again, I ask, why are we not acting? Why must anyone interested in the latest facts on climate change dig deep into the internet, and sift through still dissenting voices shouting disinformation to that small group who refuse to accept human culpability? Why are we being coddled by politicians and a fence straddling media while evidence mounts that our children and grandchildren will pay a horrific price for our lack of planetary conservation?

Quite simply – understanding the extent of the damage, and the near impossibility of turning this sinking boat around, is too terrifying to imagine. 30 plus years of denial, of allowing lobbyists to turn mild disbelief or skepticism into a tug of war over scientific facts, of politicians lying to themselves, and then to us, in order to stay in power, has decimated the time and research that might have slowed, if not halted, our current reality.

A population aware of how dramatically climate change will impact on their daily lives would never elect any politician who’s denied the crisis.

americans votingSo we’ve been sold a different future, a future where someone else will pay the price for our good times. Using the fear of the masses who have no viable ideas of their own of a future where oil is obsolete, politicians have doubled down on denial, stupidity and short term profit.

POTUS2016ClimateRankings1058pxThe attention has instead been focused on issues that appeal to present day thinking. Let’s talk about terrorism, or illegal immigration, or reproduction or gay rights. Let’s let the tension increase on inequality, and sex education and prison reform. A people divided on pressing, but ultimately minor, issues won’t have the resources or unity to rise up against a far more dangerous enemy – their own planet.

Lacking the imagination to picture a time when water will become the new gold standard, they see no other way to prosper through their election cycles than to protect the financial interests of those who profit from corporations allowed to take what they want of dwindling resources, without any compulsion to use environmental responsibility.

When political powers opted to create faux ‘scientific’ studies that didn’t accept science, they also failed to create an environment in which necessary change could flourish. The richest countries opted to continue doing what they knew how to do – capitalize on dwindling natural resources – rather than what they needed to do – encourage energy alternatives. In Canada, there has been no new funding for clean tech innovation since 2011.

silent springThe concept of human impact on the environment is not new. Rachel Carson released her book Silent Spring in 1962. The book introduced the idea of how our abuse of the planet was taking a toll on human life. Chemical companies ridiculed her words, but Americans were alarmed enough to rally for and get, a reversal in national pesticide policy, and a nationwide ban on DDT in 1972.

suzuki on the planetDavid Suzuki, an environmental activist since the mid-1970s, has been well known for criticizing government inaction on protecting the environment. The people valued his input, but didn’t pressure governments to act as vigorously as his words indicated. “In 2004, David Suzuki ranked fifth on the list of final nominees in a CBC Television series that asked viewers to select The Greatest Canadian of all Time. Suzuki was the top finalist still alive.

So – we’ve known for decades that our actions impact upon our environment, and that our environment then impacts on our health. We’ve simply chosen to pusjoe chemoh that knowledge to the back of our minds, aided by politicians eager to appease corporations who have profited handsomely by deregulations and tax incentives further encouraging a rapacious appetite for natural resources and a reckless disregard for the health of the population.

The world’s developed countries agreed in 2010 to mobilize US$100 billion a year by 2020 to help poorer nations adapt to the impacts of climate change and reduce their emissions. Those commitments have fallen short by about US$70 billion, according to the World Bank. Brazil, China, India and South Africa are still waiting, in 2015, for those funds to arrive.

Ironically, while politicians are choosing to ignore or decry climate change, corporations are seizing upon the opportunity to profit from the reality. So while most humans and non-human species face the prospect of mass extinction, corporate interests ramp up activities that will further heighten the effects of climate change.

ocean carbon twitterExxon has partnered with Russia to look for more places to drill for oil in the Arctic seas.

obama-monsantoMining companies are taking advantage of record ice melt in places like Greenland, to dig for rich mineral resources like zinc, iron ore, uranium, copper, and gold. Biotech companies have invested millions in research for new vaccines to combat the diseases brought by heat-loving mosquitoes. Flood disaster planning is currently almost a billion-dollar industry and is expected to double by 2020. Monsanto continues to develop drought resistant GMO crop seeds despite growing protests from countries that have outlawed the use of GMOs.

pope richest effect poorestThe richest countries have created the problem, but it’s the poor nations who are having to deal with the realities.

kiribati-630x420_edit2The wealthy, who understand very well what’s at stake, are fortifying their estates, using green technology, and assuming their money will protect them indefinitely. But no matter how well protected anyone thinks they are, anywhere on the planet, you can’t fight a compounding rush to irreversible environmental disaster that has already seen 52% of non-human species become extinct in just the last 40 years. No matter how high on the hill you’ve built your fortress, you’re still dependent on the ‘little people’ growing your food, and on having uncontaminated water to drink.

The voices of those who understand climate change and it’s effect on humanity are becoming tinged with fright and despair. We are all a part of an environmental cycle; the food chain spares no one. As the glaciers and ice caps melt in the north, the shores of the south are rising.

whale quality of lifeIn the oceans, “Warming temperatures are sucking oxygen out of waters even far out at sea, making enormous stretches of deep ocean hostile to marine life… These are not coastal dead zones, like the one that sprawls across the Gulf of Mexico, but great swaths of deep water that can reach thousands of miles offshore. Already naturally low in oxygen, these regions keep growing, spreading horizontally and vertically. Included are vast portions of the eastern Pacific, almost all of the Bay of Bengal, and an area of the Atlantic off West Africa as broad as the United States.

Globally, these low-oxygen areas have expanded by more than 1.7 million square miles  (4.5 million square kilometers) in the past 50 years.

This phenomenon could transform the seas as much as global warming or ocean acidification will, rearranging where and what creatures eat and altering which species live or die. It already is starting to scramble ocean food chains and threatens to compound almost every other problem in the sea.” (National Geographic, March 2015.)

Climate_Change_WebDrought, ongoing globalization and heightened political instability are having an increasing pressure on the global food system. Each new disaster – drought, hurricane, flood, typhoon – puts more strain on food production. When food and water become scarce, the people will riot. The very instability feared by climate deniers will occur, as panic sets in, followed by mass migration, death, territorial war, and the end of civilization as we know it.

whatIfGetABetterPlanetForNothingStill unsure? Still easily swayed by those who will argue that “climate change is not so bad?”? Here’s a helpful link to how to understand and respond to the most common skeptical arguments on global warming.

http://grist.org/series/skeptics/

To read Part Three; https://frustratedboomers.com/2015/08/20/climate-change-what-climate-change-the-aftermath/