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Brendan Smith and Zan Romanoff's Posts


Farming the urban sea

Ron Gautreau
Aquaculture projects in Long Island Sound, like the one run by the author (pictured above), are growing seaweed, mussels, and scallops stacked above oysters and clams.

They're back: Blue mussels and menhaden have returned to Long Island Sound this year in huge numbers. On this 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, many of us are celebrating their homecoming as a sign of the progress made reviving the sound. More needs to be done, but this welcome news of cleaner waters opens the opportunity to begin farming the urban sea.

Aquaculture has rightly earned a reputation for growing low-quality seafood at the expense of the environment, but a new form of ocean-friendly farming has emerged right outside of New York City. These small-scale vertical farms -- some of the first in the country -- are designed to grow multiple species of seaweed and shellfish, have small footprints, and provide an array of environmental benefits. Picture them as three-dimensional gardens, where seaweed, mussels, and scallops grow at the top of the water column, stacked above oysters and clams below. (Full disclosure: One of the authors of this article runs such a farm. There are also several others currently in
the permitting process.)

Eating local seaweed may seem exotic, but it’s coming to a plate near you.

Read more: Food


Four new ways climate activists can organize in an age of extreme weather

Now that's a good idea! (Photo by Shutterstock.)

A new insurgent force has joined the climate wars: planet Earth.

This summer, she's blanketed two-thirds of the country in drought; turned New Mexico and Colorado into blazing infernos; crumbled roads in Alaska and Texas with record-breaking temperatures; and, in biblical fashion, shut down a nuclear plant by clogging cooling pipes with dead fish.

Armed with an arsenal of extreme weather, the earth has taken to the battlefield and single-handedly trounced the climate deniers by convincing an overwhelming number of Americans that climate change is a real and imminent threat. Texas, the axis of Big Oil, experienced one of the largest opinion shifts in the nation, with belief in climate change climbing 13 percentage points from March to July. Even more stunning, 77 percent of Americans now believe the government should limit the amount of carbon dioxide that businesses can emit.

After decades of climate stalemate, the earth roared and people listened. Of course, Americans are fickle -- concern about climate change will surely wax and wane. But the Earth’s decision to usher in the climate crisis a century ahead of schedule fundamentally changes the dynamics of the climate wars.

If this summer is any indication, it’s looking like we’re heading into an era shaped less by politicians and more by floods, hurricanes, and droughts. In the wake of each extreme weather event, long-standing political frames and alliances will begin to fracture as distraught -- and increasingly angry -- voters across the political spectrum demand action. Calls for smaller government, long the rallying cry of conservatives, will resonate less and less with farmers bankrupted by drought, wealthy voters who lose their homes to fire, and shoreline neighborhoods wiped out by hurricanes. Because bad weather is nonpartisan, the age of small government may be over for whole range of constituencies.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Fossil-fuel subsidies are the real job killers

How many lobbyists does it take to defend billions in subsidies for one of the most profitable industries in the world? 786. That's the size of the army that oil and gas companies maintain in Washington to strong-arm Congress into bankrolling an industry that is cutting jobs and literally fueling the climate crisis. This army is bigger than Congress itself, which has only 535 members.

Last year, Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee decided to investigate Big Oil’s jobs claims -- and it turns out the industry has gone on a firing spree in recent years. They discovered that despite generating $546 billion in profits between 2005 and 2010, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP reduced their U.S. workforce by 11,200 employees over that period. In 2010 alone, the top five oil companies slashed their global workforce by 4,400 employees -- the same year executives paid themselves nearly $220 million. But at least those working in the industry as a whole get paid high wages, right? Turns out that 40 percent of U.S oil-industry jobs consist of minimum-wage work at gas stations.

With job numbers like these, it is no wonder the fossil-fuel industry needs to spend millions ensuring they are not branded as “job killers.”


Keystone XL opponents need a jobs program

Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline are taking a well-deserved victory lap. The Obama administration’s decision to reject TransCanada’s pipeline proposal -- at least for now -- represents an historic win for the environmental movement, and reveals the potency of the emerging alignment between the environmental, anti-corporate, Occupy, and other movements.

Real strides were also made to bridge the divide between environmental groups and unions. While Republicans relentlessly attacked environmentalists as “job killers,” groups like, Sierra Club, and NRDC reached out to unions early and often, and as a result, six labor unions came out in support of President Obama's decision to oppose the permit. Not since the “Battle in Seattle” have we seen such diverse and robust coalitions.

But the Keystone campaign also exposed the perennial Achilles' heel of those who are fighting against climate change: We are often painted by our opponents and perceived by the public as caring more about the environment than about jobs. In a press release titled “U.S. Chamber Calls Politically-Charged Decision to Deny Keystone a Job Killer,” the Chamber of Commerce said President Obama’s denial of the KXL permit was “sacrificing tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs in the short term, and many more than that in the long term.” And its messaging worked, with the media repeating the jobs vs. environment frame again and again. NPR’s headline was typical of many: "Pipeline Decision Pits Jobs Against Environment."


The sustainable seafood myth

One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish: They are all in trouble if global warming continues unabated.Stroll by any Whole Foods seafood counter and you will see color-coded fish: Green for fully sustainable, yellow for partially sustainable, and red for fish threatened by overfishing or grown on polluting fish farms. Buy a "green" fish and you eat guilt free, confident that you are doing your part to save the ocean and its inhabitants. Put down your fork -- Whole Foods is not telling you the whole story. The dirty little secret of their seafood rating system is that it …

Read more: Food, Sustainable Food



Calling all artists: The climate movement needs you!

See related slideshowThroughout history, artists have joined forces with political movements to battle injustice and demand a better and more beautiful world. Picasso's "Guernica" captured the horrors of the German bombing of civilians in 1937. "Solidarity Forever," "We Shall Overcome," and "Give Peace a Chance" expressed the optimism and power of the labor, civil rights, and peace movements. Delacroix's "Liberty Leading the People" embodied the utopian fervor of the French Revolution. Shepard Fairey's Obama "Hope" silkscreen during the 2008 election captured America's yearning for a more visionary politics. Great upheavals demand great art. And now humanity faces the gravest of …