A recent New York Times op-ed declared that sustainable meat is a “myth.” Whether pastured, small-scale, large-scale, rotationally grazed, locavore, industrialized, etc., all meat is essentially the same and none of it is sustainable. So says author James McWilliams who points, as many have, to the climate impact of livestock production.
I take issue with some of McWilliams’ figures (for example, here’s the Environmental Working Group’s explanation of pastured meat's reduced climate footprint), but by and large I agree! Meat production at its current scale -- and the scale it’s projected to reach as the developing world increases its consumption -- is not sustainable. Period.
I just read an article about the quantity of lead in lipsticks. The obvious question is: Why? We took the lead out of gas and paint, and put it in lipstick. I love my lipstick, but I’m starting to wonder if I should.
Maura D. Turin, Italy
A. Dearest Maura,
Getting all gussied up for the Ask Umbra 10th Anniversary Fiesta next week? You are too sweet, and I can’t wait to exchange virtual air kisses with you. (A special note to my dearest readers in the San Francisco area: Grist is throwing a for-real celebration in your fair city on April 26 -- hope you’ll meet me there!)
Bellissima, your question is fair. Why, indeed, is a pollutant that can cause damage to our brains, nerves, and reproductive systems lurking in a product that is supposed to make people feel pretty? The bare-bones answer is this: Lead is everywhere. It’s in our air, our soil, our water. And as it happens, it’s in the mineral colorants often used in lipstick. Lead is a naturally occurring metal, but much of this ubiquity has to do with, as you note, our earlier predilection for adding it to things like gas, paint, pipes, food cans, and so forth. As a society, we leaded ourselves. Now we can’t get rid of the stuff.
Maura, this lipstick issue is just the tip of a bigger truth: The cosmetics industry is full of ugly secrets. Having said that, however, I don't think evil cosmetics executives are gleefully rubbing their hands together as they pour molten lead into tiny tubes.
What was that? “Frederick Law Olmsted?” You mean the grandfather of landscape architecture, the man who built Central Park? Good. Now name a landscape architect who hasn’t been dead for more than a hundred years.
Hello? Can you tell me who designed the High Line, the most famous urban park in the country right now? You can’t. That’s what I thought. Well, for future reference, it’s this guy, James Corner -- but that, right there, is my point:
The present generation of landscape architects is doing truly groundbreaking work, building parks like the High Line in places nobody expects them. If Olmsted is a classical composer of yore, James Corner and his contemporaries are like Lady Gaga. They’re like Bob Dylan plugging in. They’re the electric guitar after years and years of classical music. BUT YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF THESE PEOPLE!
1. FDA and antibiotics: If you’re confused, it’s not your fault
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the courts have recently told the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) it has to regulate several commonly used antibiotics if they can’t be proven safe. The ruling was the result of a long-running lawsuit by a group of environmental and public health advocates lead by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and gave many in the food movement a reason to feel cautiously optimistic.
Meanwhile, the FDA has been moving at a glacial pace on its expressed intention to put a voluntary control on antibiotics in place. And this week it finally put the rubber to the road, in the form of a major press effort and the release of a new set of guidelines for cooperating companies. (The two events are supposedly unrelated, but it’s not hard to see how FDA may want to distract attention away from a court order that requires it to play the bad cop, if it can play up and formalize its role as good cop.)
The agency’s press release is even called "FDA takes steps to protect public health," and in it the agency promises to “promote the judicious use of medically important antibiotics in food-producing animals” [emphasis mine]. FDA also comes right out and acknowledges that “antimicrobial resistance occurs when bacteria or other microbes develop the ability to resist the effects of a drug. Once this occurs, a drug may no longer be as effective in treating various illnesses or infections.” In other words, the agency is talking. Whether it'll do any walking to go along with it is yet to be seen.
Mike Lydon is a board member of Congress for the New Urbanism in New York and founder of the Miami- and New York City-based planning firm, The Street Plans Collaborative. In 2009 he coauthored, with Andres Duany and Jeff Speck, The Smart Growth Manual, the quintessential textbook for building sustainable projects. Here Lydon talks zoning codes, cycling infrastructure, and why streets should accommodate all forms of transportation, not pit one against the other.
Q.It’s been over two years since The Smart Growth Manual was published. What are some of the more promising developments in urban planning you’ve seen since then?
A. The passing of a citywide form-based code in Miami, Fla., as well as Denver, Colo., are two very exciting things that happened just after that book came out. Smart Growth talks about different scales of development, from the windowpane all the way up to the region. But really, the nuts and bolts of what’s allowed, and how things get built over time via a zoning code, are very important to codifying smart growth. A lot of the time, you’ll find cities that have policies in the direction of walkability, smart growth, infill, density, and all these good buzzwords in the planning field, but their regulations don’t support it. In fact, in a lot of cases, those regulations make it illegal. So it’s very exciting to see cities changing out their zoning codes wholesale to ones that [are] more appropriate for the 21st century.
One century ago this weekend, the great “unsinkable” ship ignored warnings of icebergs in the vicinity, maintained a high speed, hit an iceberg because it couldn’t change course fast enough, and sank. Most passengers died, in large part because there weren’t enough lifeboats.
Director James Cameron offered his own answer this week, in Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron on National Geographic Channel, which I’ve transcribed here. Cameron, who has also released a 3-D version of his epic blockbuster movie on the doomed ship, made the connection between what happened on the Titanic and our climate predicament:
The Pentagon knows it. The world's largest insurers know it. Now, governments may be overthrown because of it. It is climate change, and it is real. According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, last month was the hottest March on record for the United States since 1895, when records were first kept, with average temperatures of 8.6 degrees F above average. More than 15,000 March high-temperature records were broken nationally. Drought, wildfires, tornadoes, and other extreme weather events are already plaguing the country.
Across the world in the Maldives, rising sea levels continue to threaten this Indian Ocean archipelago. It is the world's lowest-lying nation, on average only 4.3 feet above sea level. The plight of the Maldives gained global prominence when its young president, the first ever democratically elected there, Mohamed Nasheed, became one of the world's leading voices against climate change, especially in the lead-up to the 2009 U.N. climate change summit in Copenhagen. Nasheed held a ministerial meeting underwater, with his cabinet in scuba gear, to illustrate the potential disaster.
In February, Nasheed was ousted from his presidency at gunpoint. The Obama administration, through State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland, said of the coup d'etat: "This was handled constitutionally." When I spoke to Nasheed last month, he told me: "It was really shocking and deeply disturbing that the United States government so instantly recognized the former dictatorship coming back again. The European governments have not recognized the new regime in the Maldives." There is a parallel between national positions on climate change and support or opposition to the Maldives coup.
Call me a dreamer. I want to flush with rainwater. Rain barrels already anchor my downspouts. I want to hitch them to my toilet tank. It would save me money and leave my city’s drinking water for better uses.
Yet so far local plumbing rules aren’t helping me, or thousands of others, make the rain-barrel connection. It’s not so much that rules prohibit it, but that even local authorities do not really understand what the rules mean. A little clarification -- and publicity -- would go a long way.
Already, outside my house in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood, I’ve managed to irrigate my Victory Garden all summer from nothing but the 500 gallons of rain I collect in 10 barrels. During the other three seasons, though, the garden doesn’t need extra moisture, so my barrels sit unused and, often, full to the brim.
So I’m flushing my toilet with pure, treated drinking water that’s piped scores of miles from the Cascades while I’ve got hundreds of gallons of free, naturally delivered, and naturally replenished rain stockpiled just outside my bathroom wall. Perhaps you now understand the intensity of my dream? A Rain Water Toilet Flush system (RWTF)!
Compass Green is a mobile greenhouse built into a truck, which runs on vegetable oil (natch). Handsome hipsters Nick Runkle and Justin Cutter retooled the truck, which was already fitted with Plexiglas display panels, to turn it into a biofuel-powered educational farm on wheels.