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Maywa Montenegro's Posts


Biochemist Oliver Peoples explains how his polymer-producing microbes could transform the plastics i

Over at, I have a brief interview with Oliver Peoples, a biochemist who hopes that his new bio-based plastic will upend the petroleum-based industry—and help clean up oceans and landfills in the process: Seed: So you’re turning corn into plastic in much the same way that the ethanol industry turns it into biofuels. As I’m sure you know, the big criticism of corn ethanol has been that if you account for all of the embedded fossil fuels, it doesn’t wind up being very good for the environment. How does this play out with Mirel? OP: Grain ethanol has been …

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Geopolitics of food

The great wealthy nation land-grab

Land is where the food isGlobally, farmland -- and just as critically, water on that land -- is disappearing at an alarming rate. Approximately 50 million acres vanish each year to urbanization, population growth, and economic and industrial development. So what are countries doing in response? Looking to buy or lease fertile land in parts of the developing world, where property is cheap and governments are eager for foreign investment. For example, Cambodia has entered land-for-oil talks with Kuwait and Qatar, and Laos has signed away 15 percent of its arable land. Yet both Cambodia and Laos have large food-insecure …

Read more: Food


Metro drain

How urban life hurts your brain … and what you can do about it

A fascinating little article in Sunday's Boston Globe Ideas section highlights some recent scientific studies on the psychological effects of city life: Just being in an urban environment, they have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control ... "The mind is a limited machine," says Marc Berman, a psychologist at the University of Michigan and lead author of a new study that measured the cognitive deficits caused by a short urban walk. "And we're beginning to …

Read more: Cities


Climate Central

Scientists and journalists team up to get the climate story straight

What do Weather Channel seductress Heidi Cullen, Steven "wedge" Pacala, former TIME writer Michael Lemonick, soon-to-be NOAA head Jane Lubchenco, and Grist founding board member Ben Strauss have in common? They're all part of an new project called Climate Central. It was mentioned briefly in this recent post about Lubchenco, but it's so interesting and innovative that it merits further digital ink -- which I was going to provide myself, but Curtis Brainard of the Columbia Journalism Review beat me to it. Climate Central is a hybrid team of nearly two dozen journalists and scientists -- spread between a main …

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In defense of difference

How to fend off biological and cultural extinctions

The relationship between our planet's vanishing species, languages, and cultures has long fascinated me, so I was thrilled to write a story on the subject for the current issue of Seed. In the piece, my co-author Terry Glavin and I mention some important legislation being put forth at the annual meeting of the IUCN in Barcelona, Spain. Now that I look at my calendar, I realize the meeting's just now wrapping up ... and it looks like there is some amazing web coverage of the 10-day event. I haven't yet figured out whether the resolution was adopted or not ... …

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Science debate 2008

A presidential pop quiz on energy, water, scientific integrity, oceans, and climate change

Barack Obama's answers to the 14 top science questions facing America. (McCain is still working on his answers.)


More on 'lazy locavorism'

Edible landscapes can outgrow the elite

Monday's New York Times had a great opinion piece about My Farm's Trevor Paque -- the same guy recently profiled in the Times' Style section. In fact, I had to look twice to make sure it was the same T. Paque because the two articles emphasized such different aspects of the urban CSA mission. Kim Severson, in the style piece, describes it thus: Call them the lazy locavores -- city dwellers who insist on eating food grown close to home but have no inclination to get their hands dirty. Mr. Paque is typical of a new breed of business owner …

Read more: Food, Living


The new film <em>Wall-E</em> gets it right

The link between obesity and the environment

Slate's Dan Engber has attempted to take down Wall-E in classic Green Room style with a piece slamming the film's connection between obesity and environmental destruction. Engber's critique is flawed in so many ways that it's hard to know where to begin ... For instance, he doesn't seem to believe that obesity really has much to do with being too sedentary or eating too much. To support this, he cites research saying that 80 percent of the variation in body weight can be explained by DNA. But what the research actually shows (and what his own colleague, William Saletan, has …


The mpg illusion

Gallons per mile: A better way to express fuel efficiency

Let's say a pollster walks up to you and asks you the following question: "A town maintains a fleet of vehicles for town employee use. It has two types of vehicles. Type A gets 15 miles per gallon. Type B gets 34 miles per gallon. The town has 100 Type A vehicles and 100 Type B vehicles. Each car in the fleet is driven 10,000 miles per year." The town wants to replace these vehicles with corresponding hybrid models in order to to reduce gas consumption of the fleet and thereby reduce harmful environmental consequences. Should they (1) replace the …

Read more: Climate & Energy


Manifestos for the next president

Climate action plans for the first 100 days and beyond

I am blown away by the depth and scope of the nonpartisan Presidential Climate Action Project. Its centerpiece is a first-100-days plan, detailed in a 300-page report, covering issues ranging from energy policy and green collar jobs to the farm bill and ethanol subsidies to the Law of the Sea. My only quibble is the continued support for grain ethanol -- although the project does advocate quick turnover to cellulosic sources -- how quick that evolution will be is a huge outstanding question. Apart from the report, the PCAP website also features a very cool Who's Who in Climate Action, …