Maureen Nandini Mitra

Why It's Morally Wrong to Use Other Sentient Beings for Our Purpose - Whether for Food or Research

At one point in her career, Lori Marino worked with NASA astronauts, studying how they respond to being in zero gravity conditions. While that was somewhat exciting, Marino says she “simply didn’t find humans as interesting as other animals.” So the neuroscientist and behavioral biologist went back to her first love – studying nonhumans. Internationally known for her work on the evolution of the brain and intelligence in dolphins, whales, and primates, Marino is scientist of a rather rare order – one who thinks it’s “morally objectionable” to use other sentient animals for our purposes, whether it be for food, or for captive and invasive research.

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America's Toxic Prisons: The Environmental Injustices of Mass Incarceration

Matthew Morgenstern is convinced his Hodgkin's lymphoma was caused by exposure to toxic coal ash from the massive dump right across the road from SCI Fayette, a maximum-security prison in LaBelle, Pennsylvania, where he is currently serving a 5- to 10-year sentence. "In 2010 and until I left in 2013, the water always had a brown tint to it. Not to mention the dust clouds that used to come off the dump trucks ... which we all breathed in.... Every single day I would wake up and there would be a layer of dust on everything," he writes from inside the prison. When Morgenstern was sent back to SCI Fayette in 2016 after he violated parole, he found that the dust issue had abated a bit -- work at the dump has been stalled for a year due to litigation -- but the water still runs brownish and sometimes has "a funky smell." He says he knows that the environment in and around the prison is still "messed up" and he's concerned that his immune system, already weakened from fighting and overcoming cancer, won't be able to withstand another onslaught of toxic exposure. "I myself have no doubt that if I'm kept here at Fayette, I will once again become sick," he writes.

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High Levels of Toxins Found in Bodies of People Living Near Fracking Sites

Many of the toxic chemicals escaping from fracking and natural gas processing sites and storage facilities may be present in much higher concentrations in the bodies of people living or working near such sites, new research has shown.

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Thousands of Planned Coal Plants, if Built, Could Doom Efforts to Contain Global Warming

I landed in Calcutta (Kolkata, if you are a stickler for official names) on November 30, the day the world leaders, policy makers, and environmental activists gathered in Paris to figure out how to curb climate change. Officially, it’s wintertime in this city of my birth, but the air on Monday night was anything but chilly. Instead, it was uncomfortably muggy. The only sign of winter was the hazy air — a regular year-end feature in this overcrowded, traffic-choked metropolis in eastern India.

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Obama Creates Three New National Monuments Protecting One Million More Acres of Public Lands

Using his authority under the Antiquities Act, President Barack Obama today signed into being three new national monuments in California, Nevada and Texas. Together, the new monuments protect more than one million acres of public lands. National monuments are similar to national parks, except that they can be created from any land owned or controlled by the federal government via a presidential proclamation. With these new designations, Obama will have used the Antiquities Act to establish or expand 19 national monuments in the United States. Altogether, he has protected more than 260 million acres of public lands and waters; more than any other president.

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Serious Question: Should Humans Extend Personhood to Animals?

Roused from his afternoon nap to meet with visitors, Eddie gamely obliged, coming up to the large glass windows to gaze at us. After a while, he pointed an index finger at his caregiver, Margaret Rousser, who was standing beside us, touched his forehead, then his mouth, puckered his lips, and made loud smooching sounds. It was a trick Eddie had been taught during his days as a Hollywood performer. He often uses the signs, which more-or-less mean “I love you,” with the keepers at the Oakland Zoo, where the 24-year-old primate and his brother, Bernie, 20, live along with five other chimpanzees.

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That ‘Natural’ Vanilla in Your Ice Cream May Soon Be Coming from a Biotech Lab

The first time I ever tasted real vanilla was in a scoop of French vanilla ice cream back in 2000 when I was visiting the United States. The ice cream’s smooth, rich flavor was far superior to the artificial, overly-sweet, “vanilla essence” usually used in ice creams and baked desserts in my home country. I’ve been an ardent fan of real vanilla bean products (extract, paste, and the bean itself) ever since. So last month, when a colleague mentioned that a lab-created, synthetic vanilla product might be hitting the US markets as early as this summer and that it would most likely be passed off as “natural,” I simply had to find out more. Here’s what I learned.

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Hawai'i Is the Latest Battleground Over Genetically Modified Crops

As was expected, Big Biotech’s legal juggernaut has rolled into action in Hawai’i. On Friday afternoon, three big agrochemical companies — Pioneer-DuPont, Syngenta, and Agrigenetics Inc (a subsidiary of Dow Chemical) — filed a suit in a federal court in Honolulu seeking to block Kauai County’s new GMO regulatory law. Two other big agribusiness concerns on the island that will be affected by the law — Kauai Coffee and BASF — haven’t joined the suit.

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Three Years After the BP Spill and the Gulf Is Still a Mess

Three years after an explosion at British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers, injured dozens, and set off the worst oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, the waters along Gulf Coast seems almost back to normal. Much of the oil is gone. New Orleans-based photographer Julie Dermansky says there’s still a lot left. The oil, she says, is often hard to locate because it has a tendency to play hide and seek.

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Noise Isn't Just Annoying -- It's Bad for Your Health

When I last visited Kolkata, India, after a long period of living in the relatively quiet hills of Berkeley, CA, my ears were assaulted by the cacophony of traffic noise from the street outside my parents’ apartment. The daily discordant orchestra of blaring horns, squealing brakes, shouting vendors, and loudspeakers blasting religious songs would start in the wee hours of the morning and go late into the night. It felt like torture: I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t concentrate on what I was reading, I couldn’t hold a conversation without raising my voice. The din of my increasingly congested birth city seemed to have risen in volume over the years.

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Raj Patel: Big Ag Can't Feed the World -- Here's Who Can

Raj Patel is no fan of messiahs and iconic leaders. “One bright shining light is dangerous,” says the writer, activist, and academic who was once mistaken as the savior of humankind by an obscure religious group. Still, there’s no denying that Patel – young, charming, and sharp as a tack – does, in fact, shine. With his critically acclaimed books on food systems and capitalism he has distinguished himself as one of the progressive world’s up and coming public intellectuals.

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