A fine feature story in Business Week this week -- The Organic Myth, by Diane Brady. "As it goes mass market, the organic food business is failing to stay true to its ideals," the cover proclaims. When I first glanced at the mag, I expected rah-rah boosterism for corporate organics and spite for old-school purists, but the article actually struck me as a pretty fair assessment of the culture clash between the organic ethos and the Big Biz model -- the gist being that the two are remarkably ill-suited. Corporate enthusiasm for organics notwithstanding -- and there's plenty of enthusiasm out there, from Wal-Mart to General Mills to Kellogg and beyond -- these two approaches to comestible commerce look increasingly irreconcilable. None of this is new, of course -- our own Tom P. has written about the issue (and I'm interested to hear his assessment of this story). But this is the first article that's made me think the organic juggernaut is really about to blow up into a big ol' mess. Not just organic getting watered down, as is already happening, but the whole system breaking down, unable to support the new model of globally sourced organic items pouring into processed foods and mega-stores. Demand is outstripping supply by huge margins, corporations are demanding lower prices, production is being offshored to unreliable suppliers, individuals are growing even more confused about what "organic" means.
He was arguably the most powerful man in Washington for more than 18 years, but former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan waited until retirement to finally come out in favor of a gas tax. Writes Daniel Gross in the NYT: As a rule, Mr. Greenspan, a Republican by temperament and background who was reappointed twice by Bill Clinton, adhered closely to Republican orthodoxy on taxes: the lower the better. Mr. Greenspan was hardly a proponent of raising taxes on energy to encourage conservation, a policy prescription generally associated with the politicians and economists of the left. Until now. In late September, as he spoke to a group of business executives in Massachusetts, a question was posed as to whether he'd like to see an increase in the federal gasoline tax, which has stood at 18.4 cents a gallon since 1993. "Yes, I would," Mr. Greenspan responded with atypical clarity. "That's the way to get consumption down. It's a national security issue." Want to bet Ben Bernanke will wait until retirement before he comes to the same sage conclusion?
Here's some big, breaking news. Reports AP: A federal judge on Wednesday reinstated a ban on road construction in nearly a third of national forests, overturning a Bush administration rule that allowed states to decide how to manage individual forests. U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Laporte sided with states and environmental groups that sued the U.S. Forest Service after it reversed President Clinton's 2001 "Roadless Rule" that prohibited logging, mining and other development on 58.5 million acres in 38 states and Puerto Rico. In May last year, the Bush administration replaced the Clinton rule with a process that required governors to petition the federal government to protect national forests in their states. Laporte said the process violated federal law because it didn't require necessary environmental studies. ... "This is fantastic news for millions of Americans who have consistently told the forest service that they wanted these last wild areas of public land protected," said Kristen Boyles, an attorney for Earthjustice, one of the groups that filed the lawsuit in October 2005. Stay tuned for more ...
Today Britain's Independent amps up the rumors about a possible change of course from Bush on climate change, rumors that David first told us about last week. Reports Geoffrey Lean in the Independent: President Bush is preparing an astonishing U-turn on global warming, senior Washington sources say. After years of trying to sabotage agreements to tackle climate change he is drawing up plans to control emissions of carbon dioxide and rapidly boost the use of renewable energy sources. ... Over the past few days rumours swept the capital that the "Toxic Texan" would announce his conversion this week, in an attempt to reduce the impact of a major speech tomorrow by Al Gore on solutions to climate change. The White House denied the timing, but did not deny that a change of policy was on its way. Sources say that the most likely moment is the President's State of the Union address in January.
With British PM Tony Blair on his way out sometime in the next year -- though he won't be pinned down on a date -- Chancellor of the Exchequer (aka Finance Minister) Gordon Brown is poised to assume leadership of the Labour Party and hence the British government. What will this mean for the environment? The British press is starting to assess. Sarah Mukherjee of BBC writes that greens haven't been impressed with Blair's follow-through on efforts to fight climate change, but they're "even more worried about Gordon Brown":
A bang-up reporting job by Ray Ring in the most recent issue of High Country News on a menacing set of property-rights initiatives that will be on the ballot in six states this November: Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Washington. If you thought Oregon's Measure 37 was bad, you ain't seen nothin' yet.
So proclaims the cover of the latest issue of Ms., touting an article by Martha Burk: "Crude Awakening: U.S. Policies in Afghanistan and Iraq Sell Out Women in Favor of Oil." Alas, there's only a teaser online, not the full article. In sum: Whether supporting gender apartheid abroad, or sacrificing feeding programs for U.S. women and children so that ExxonMobil can get a tax break, or simply standing by while the company reaps record profits at the expense of women who must drive to work and heat their houses, U.S. priorities are consistent: Oil wins over women's rights hands down. Appropriately, Burk focuses most of her attention abroad -- from pre-9/11 Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, where the Clinton admin overlooked gross abuses of women's rights as it tried to grease the wheels for a Unocal pipeline, to oppressive Saudi Arabia, to increasingly woman-unfriendly Iraq, back to present-day Afghanistan, where things are looking nearly as grim for women and girls as they did when the Taliban reigned. (The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission reports that more than 300 girls' schools have been burned or bombed in the country in recent years, Burk writes.) Burk doesn't touch on any traditionally "environmental" threads in the piece, but it's an interesting, if cursory, look at how oil politics and gender politics collide.
The MSM is awash with stories hyping the quarter-century milestone, so I figured I'd jump aboard the bandwagon and use it as an opportunity to point out that MTV.com's environment section highlights news from your favorite green mag. (BTW, did you know that Martha Quinn now has a weekly '80s show on Sirius Satellite Radio? Still cute as a button!)
The AP overstated the extent of the climate agreement announced today between British PM Tony Blair and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (and thus Daily Grist overstated it too). Now that the deal's been officially unveiled, a few clarifications: The two didn't agree to launch a new trans-Atlantic carbon-trading market, though they will look into the possibility. Rather, they said the U.K. and California would cooperate on research into cleaner fuels and technologies. Writes the San Francisco Chronicle, "aspects of the agreement include jointly studying the economic impacts of global climate change, collaborating on technology research -- including studying the effects of California's effort to create a 'hydrogen highway' touted by Schwarzenegger -- and establishing regular exchanges between scientists in both places." Not so bold, but a nice symbolic gesture at least.