Duo-cephalic monster: not a good thing

DOWNEY - "Duo-cephalic" is not a term normally used in everyday conversation. If you're in the medical field, you probably know what it means, and if you're up to speed with your Greek-Latin lexicon, its meaning may also be obvious, but the word is pretty obscure to most of us. In its simplest meaning "duo-cephalic" means "two-headed," and it mostly conjures up ancient monsters and dragons, as would the term "poly-cephalic," also characterizing some of the many-headed monsters in those ancient myths.Nevertheless, the term was permanently etched into my memory when my freshman English professor graded down one of my earliest college papers because, as he said, it was "duo-cephalic"--namely, dealing with two separate topics. Well I managed to graduate from college anyway, and, with all due respect to my English prof, I'm going to address two separate topics today. I maintain, however, that the connection is appropriate, because, like those ancient duo-cephalic dragons, this two-headed monster is also scary, and not good news. The first dragonhead is follow-up, as promised, on our "Plastic Ocean" discussion of the last few weeks, which quoted "Plastic Ocean" author, Captain Charles Moore, on the predominance of plastic battle caps in the stomachs of dead Laysan albatross chicks. Here's the background: the Laysan albatross is a magnificent ocean bird which gets all its food from ocean surface and sub-surface waters. Albatrosses mate for life and raise their young in island colonies, where all the chicks' food supply is flown in by mama or papa after days at sea, and then regurgitated into the chick's gullet. Unfortunately, adult albatrosses have neither the time nor the ability to distinguish between small fish and other genuine food supply in contrast to floating bottle caps, cigarette lighters, or other plastic debris that floats at or near the surface. They're simply attracted to the bright color. So Mom and Dad inevitably bring home discarded plastic in baby's dinner. This is not speculation. One of the main Pacific albatross breeding grounds is Midway Atoll, about 1,000 miles northwest of Hawaii in the direction of Japan. It lives up to its name, because, roughly speaking, it's midway between Japan and the U.S. There is no human habitation on Midway Atoll. The closest humans live 1,000 miles away in Hawaii. Yet the entire island is littered with the carcasses of dead albatross chicks, thousands per year. And in the center of every carcass, every dead chick ended its life with a stomach full of plastic. This is equally true of autopsies done on other infant albatross remains. All the babies have plastic. Not a percentage: EVERY ONE OF THEM. And, predictably, many of these infants are thought to have died of starvation or choking, not to speak of the toxicity attached to their plastic-laden diets. Keep in mind that this pollution and these animal deaths take place about 2,000 miles from either of the nearest two continents. Our human garbage has infested the uttermost reaches of the globe. The second dragonhead is currently in the news, though not as much as it probably should be. Surely you've heard of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which will send tar sands oil from Canada through the U.S. to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana. This is a controversial political topic, which, like most other such topics these days, tends to break down along partisan lines. At issue are the potential environmental dangers of sending this dirty petroleum through countrysides and watersheds in the American heartland versus its potential as a new source of domestically produced oil, along with the possibility of what is argued to be a significant source of employment. One of the biggest environmental criticisms regarding the proposed pipeline is the danger of oil spills that would contaminate groundwater supplies as well as arable land. You'd think, with that kind of fear fueling the political debate, that the pipeline's proponents, including Exxon-Mobil, would try very hard to mind their p's and q's until a skeptical public was relieved of some of these fears. Yet, less than a week ago, a pipeline break in Mayflower, Arkansas, spilled thousands of gallons of oil into a local community. Early estimates, provided by Exxon-Mobil, put the spill at 84,000 gallons. The EPA has since revised its official estimates upwards, and some estimates put the spill at as much as 300,000 gallons. Think of the damage that much oil would do flowing through the streets and homes of Downey. There is more to both of these topics. But for now, there you have it, your duo-cephalic environmental monster of the week. Two dragonheads tied together by petroleum, demonstrating that Planet Earth is in a heap o' trouble.

********** Published: April 11, 2013 - Volume 11 - Issue 52