Like sparring siblings, China and the United States -- the world’s two biggest carbon dioxide emitters -- keep passing the climate-action buck back and forth: “Why should I cut emissions if they don’t have to?” Well, China is either the more mature of the pair, or just majorly sucking up to Mama Earth. The country is reportedly gearing up to set firm limits on greenhouse-gas emissions, seriously weakening one of the U.S.’s go-to excuses for climate inaction.
China's powerful National Development and Reform Commission has proposed an absolute cap on emissions starting in 2016. The proposal still needs to be accepted by the Chinese cabinet, but experts say the commission’s influence makes it likely to pass. China today also announced the details of trial carbon-trading programs that will roll out in seven regions by 2014. In February, the country had said it would implement a carbon tax, but backed off a few weeks later, saying it will wait until early next year to get started on that.
The commission’s carbon-cap proposal calls for Chinese emissions to peak in 2025, five years earlier than previously planned. RenewEconomy explains:
China has already pledged to cut its emissions intensity – the amount of Co2 it emits per economic unit – by up to 45 per cent by 2020. The significance of an absolute cap is that it promises to rein in emissions even if the economy grows faster than expected.
Garcetti, a Rhodes scholar and L.A.’s first Jewish mayor, has big shoes to fill: Will he carry on current Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s celebrated efforts to combat L.A.’s image as a smog-choked, car-worshipping, freeway-entangled sprawlsville?
So far, the signs point in that direction. Some have criticized Garcetti for being too friendly to business interests, but he sees working with developers as a necessary component of the smart-growth strategy he’s pursued to revitalize once-blighted areas of Hollywood, Echo Park, and Silver Lake, his home turf.
He authored the nation's largest green building ordinance, the nation's largest local clean water initiative, and legislation making L.A. the nation's largest city with a solar feed-in-tariff. He nearly tripled the number of parks in his district by finding innovative ways to create 31 new neighborhood parks. He led the effort to pass the plastic bag ban and Low Impact Development Ordinance.
Canada obviously has a huge stake in the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline. If President Obama fails to approve it -- a decision he recently put off yet again -- the Canadian oil industry will have a tough time getting its abundant tar-sands crude to seaside ports. Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently came to the U.S. to make the case for the pipeline in person, as did Canada's ministers of foreign affairs and natural resources and the premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
And now our neighbor to the north is focusing its powers of persuasion directly on the American people. The country just launched a taxpayer-funded, multimillion-dollar marketing campaign extolling the virtues of tar-sands oil to U.S. citizens. From The Vancouver Observer:
To support the government position and its travelling ministers, Ottawa has launched a $16 million marketing campaign that includes a new website and newspaper advertisements in the US to promote Keystone KL. The thrust of the campaign is the promotion of Canada as a reliable supplier of oil and a “world environmental leader” in the field of oil and gas development.
Smuggled into the bill President Obama signed to avert a government shutdown in March was a sneaky little rider called the “farmer assurance provision.” It’s since come to be known as the Monsanto Protection Act, being very assuring to the biotech giant, if no one else. It allows farmers to plant genetically modified crops before they’ve been declared safe by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in defiance of court orders suspending planting until environmental reviews can be completed.
Once food-advocacy groups and then the general public found out about the quietly passed provision, outcry against it spread, in the form of petitions and even rare displays of bipartisan solidarity. On Monday, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) announced that he’s introducing an amendment to the Senate version of the farm bill that would repeal the Monsanto Protection Act in its entirety.
Salt’s membership in junk food’s holy trinity (along with sugar and fat) means it’s one of the food industry’s essential tools for making its products addictively good. (Journalist Michael Moss reveals this in his eye-opening book Salt Sugar Fat, but if you’ve ever housed a box of Cheez-Its solo, you already knew that.) For decades now, limiting salt intake has been part of the public-health mantra; groups like the American Heart Association vilify salt for its links to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease and recommend that we all aim for no more than 1,500 milligrams a day of salt consumption.
But all of a sudden a new report is causing a stir by saying that recommendation may be meaningless, and that consuming extremely low levels of sodium could actually be harmful.
Far out. Pass the Cheez-Its!
Sadly, it’s not quite that simple. The report, commissioned by the Institute of Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, confuses more than it clarifies. It looks at studies on sodium intake and health outcomes conducted since 2005 — the last time the U.S. issued dietary guidelines on salt. Back then, the USDA recommended that the general population consume 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams a day, and that populations at risk for heart disease and high blood pressure limit intake to 1,500 milligrams. The more recent evidence calls those guidelines into question. The New York Times reports:
“As you go below the 2,300 mark, there is an absence of data in terms of benefit and there begin to be suggestions in subgroup populations about potential harms,” said Dr. Brian L. Strom, chairman of the committee and a professor of public health at the University of Pennsylvania. He explained that the possible harms included increased rates of heart attacks and an increased risk of death. …
There are physiological consequences of consuming little sodium, said Dr. Michael H. Alderman, a dietary sodium expert at Albert Einstein College of Medicine who was not a member of the committee. As sodium levels plunge, triglyceride levels increase, insulin resistance increases, and the activity of the sympathetic nervous system increases. Each of these factors can increase the risk of heart disease.
“Those are all bad things,” Dr. Alderman said. “A health effect can’t be predicted by looking at one physiological consequence. There has to be a net effect.”
Medical and public health experts responded to the new assessment of the evidence with elation or concern, depending on where they stand in the salt debates.
Some experts worry the report will send the wrong message -- that we’re off the hook in terms of watching our salt. A spokesperson for the AHA said the group “remained concerned about the large amount of sodium in processed foods, which makes it almost impossible for most Americans to cut back.”
At Grist, we’ve been onto the trend of the youngs losing interest in driving for awhile now. And every time a new study or survey comes out to statistically corroborate the anecdotal evidence we see every day, we hear the same responses from skeptics -- it’s just the economy, just a stage of life. Wait til those millennials get real jobs, get married, have families, and move to the suburbs. Then you bet they’ll start driving.
But the latest report on declining driving trends -- released today by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund -- argues that a rejection of car culture is here to stay. “The Driving Boom is over,” it declares. In fact, the report calculates that “If the Millennial-led decline in per-capita driving continues for another dozen years … total vehicle travel in the United States could remain well below its 2007 peak through at least 2040 -- despite a 21 percent increase in population.”
The U.S. PIRG study reveals how, after six decades of steady growth, both total vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and VMT per capita have been falling since 2007. Total VMT is now at 2004 levels, while VMT per capita has fallen to 1996 levels. And once again, it’s those meddling millennials who are reimagining one of the pillars of American culture. Young people ages 16 to 34 drove an average of 23 percent fewer miles in 2009 than they did in 2001, according to the report. If you consider that more than half the people in that age group were old enough to drive in 2001, too, that suggests that even as those at the older end of this generation enter their 30s -- presumably settling into more stable jobs and in some cases starting families -- they’re still not switching over to a car-centric lifestyle at the same rate as generations before them.
A deadly outbreak of E. coli in 2006, traced to a California spinach field, spurred an overhaul of food-safety regulations in the leafy-greens industry -- and that’s got to be a good thing, right? Not so fast, says a study published last week in the journal Nature. Those regulations have contributed to a major loss of ecosystem diversity in California's Salinas Valley, while at the same time doing little to alleviate the risk of food-borne illness.
In an effort to reduce the potential for contamination, the industry put in place standards that, while technically voluntary, quickly became widespread. Big produce buyers, fearing further disease outbreaks and the public-relations disasters they create, only want to do business with farmers conforming to the new guidelines. “Nationwide, U.S. fruit and vegetable farmers report being pressured by commercial produce buyers to engage in land-use practices that are not conducive to wildlife and habitat conservation, in a scientifically questionable attempt to reduce food-borne illness risk,” the study reports.
In a blow to opponents of GMOs and Monsanto, the Supreme Court today ruled unanimously that an Indiana soybean farmer violated the company’s patent by saving its trademark Roundup Ready seeds.
Every time a farmer buys seeds from Monsanto, she or he must sign a contract agreeing not to save seeds from the crop. Monsanto’s many vociferous critics condemn this practice for the way it traps farmers in a costly cycle of dependence on the company’s products. The farmer in this case, Vernon Bowman, signed such an agreement when he originally bought Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybeans. But he found a clever way to get around the restrictions. Tom Laskawy explains:
For years, Bowman would grow a first crop of Monsanto seed, which he would purchase legally, and then would buy some commodity seed from his local grain elevator for his second crop. While aware he could not save seeds from the first crop he grew, Bowman would later plant the commodity seeds, spray the plants with Roundup, and was then able to identify which were resistant to the herbicide when they didn’t die. Bowman saved those seeds and saved money, since he had bought the commodity seeds for his second crop at a steep discount without paying Monsanto or signing its licensing agreement.
Farmers can sell saved seed to local grain elevators, which often resell the mixed seed packs for animal feed or industrial uses. In buying these so-called commodity seeds from the grain elevator, Bowman rightly assumed, as The Washington Post explains, that “those beans were mostly Roundup Ready — resistant to the weedkiller glyphosate — because that’s what most of his neighbors grow.” Bowman saved and replanted the Roundup Ready seeds from his second crop for eight years before Monsanto caught on and sued.
Plans for two Oregon coal-export terminals have gone up in smoke in the last two months. That makes for a total of three scrapped terminals in the Pacific Northwest, after a proposed facility in Grays Harbor, Wash., bit the coal dust last year. Three others in the region remain in the works, but they face many of the same challenges -- permitting and zoning issues, stalled negotiations, and delayed environmental reviews, not to mention fierce public opposition.
A spokesperson for Kinder Morgan, which announced Wednesday it was abandoning plans for a coal-export terminal at Oregon's Port of St. Helens, “blamed site logistics for stopping the project, not the intense controversy over exporting coal from the green Northwest,” reports The Oregonian. He said Kinder Morgan would continue to explore options for a West Coast terminal.
The abrupt announcement came barely a month after the Port of Coos Bay ended negotiations with a California company looking to build a terminal there. There's a chance the port could consider coal-export options with other companies, but the expensive rail improvements any project would require make a coal deal unlikely, said David Petrie, founder of Coos Waterkeeper.
“Do coal and diesel trains make for unhealthy air?”
Dan Jaffe, an atmospheric sciences professor at the University of Washington-Bothell, thinks that’s a fair question to consider as Washington state grapples with whether to allow the construction of coal-export terminals that could triple the amount of daily coal-train traffic chugging through the state.
But Jaffe, whose lab has published more than 100 peer-reviewed papers on air pollution, hasn’t been able to scare up funding to research the potential air-quality impacts of those coal trains. In the absence of dollars from the usual government or corporate channels, he has turned to the internet to crowd-fund this vital research. Jaffe started a page on Microryza, a sort of Kickstarter for scientific research (a great idea with a name that unfortunately does not roll off the tongue). He writes: