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Susie Cagle's Posts


Read and take over: Occupying urban streets with guerrilla libraries

Whether because of budget cuts or natural disasters, many of our nation's libraries are struggling. But DIY efforts are filling the cracks in a few especially hard-hit communities.

Urban Librarians Unite

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Urban Librarians Unite in New York has set up sidewalk mini libraries outside less-mini libraries that have closed due to storm damage.

These tiny, all weather libraries house about a hundred books at a time and there is no expectation whatsoever that the books will come back. ... The Mini Libraries are a resource for our communities, a chance to experiment in library science, and a reminder to the public that even if the library itself is in ruins the librarians are still thinking of them.

ULU is quick to point out that its orange boxes, while super-awesome, aren't a replacement for real library infrastructure.

Read more: Cities, Living


Are San Francisco oysters a wilderness wrecker or a pollution solution?


The San Francisco Bay Area has been having some mixed feelings about oysters lately: Are they good for the environment, bad for the environment, or just treats for happy-hour drinkers at the downtown Ferry Building?

Just north of San Francisco in Point Reyes, Drakes Bay Oyster Co. has been fighting to keep harvesting oysters on what was set to become protected wilderness land on Jan. 1. Local environmentalists are split on whether fewer oysters will allow the estuary to "quickly regain its wilderness characteristics" or instead/also lead to a big unfiltered load of seal poop in that wilderness. (Wilderness: It's kind of gross!)

Either way, we'll soon find out, as Drakes Bay just lost its federal appeal to stay beyond a Feb. 28 deadline.

Meanwhile, some miles east across the bay on the Point Pinole Regional Shoreline, Christopher Lim and the Watershed Project are bringing oysters back. The bay had a large native oyster habitat that was wiped out by overharvesting and hydraulic mining. From KQED:

Read more: Food


Study questions eco-benefit of vegetarian diet; we question study

I feel like the world is constantly conspiring to get me to eat bacon. That was my first thought when I saw this new study from France claiming that a plant-based diet is not actually the planet-saver we all thought. (My second thought was: WTF, I don't want to eat bacon.)

The study followed nearly 2,000 diners who self-reported their meals to scientists at the National Research Institute of Agronomy in Marseille; the researchers then tried to determine how much greenhouse gas was emitted in production of the most commonly consumed foods. Let the fuzzy math ensue! Reuters reports:

Overall, about 1,600 grams of carbon dioxide were emitted for every 100 grams of meat produced. That's more than 14 times the amount of greenhouse gas emitted during the production of fruit, vegetables and starches. It's also about 2.5 times as much greenhouse gas as that generated by fish, pork, poultry and eggs.

That gap narrowed, however, when the researchers looked at how many grams of carbon dioxide were emitted per 100 kilocalories (kcal) -- a measure of energy in food.

The most greenhouse gas -- 857 grams -- was still emitted to produce 100 kcal of meat, but it was only about three times the emissions from a comparable amount of energy from fruit and vegetables.

Wait wait, hold on, Reuters -- the lede of your article says that a plant-based diet "might not be the greenest in its environmental impact." Now you're telling me it's only three times better? Oh, wait, and now you're telling me it's no better at all?

Read more: Food


Your ‘sustainable’ fish may not actually be sustainable, like, at all

MSC fish label
Here's the Marine Stewardship Council label, FWIW.

Never mind knowing what kind of fish you're eating -- even when you do know, you still probably don't have all the deets on just how green it is.

Nearly 90 percent of the world's fisheries are either overexploited or almost overexploited. At some point this year, we'll eat more farmed fish than wild fish worldwide, a milestone for fish farms and a scary prospect for the food system and eviscerated oceans.

In a recent poll commissioned by NPR, nearly 80 percent of respondents said it's important or very important to them that the seafood they buy is sustainably caught. But how can they really know? There are dozens of different sustainable seafood guides, advisory lists, labels, and certifications.

When McDonald's recently switched to fish products approved by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), it celebrated the change with packaging proclaiming sustainability. But the Alaskan pollock McDonald's is serving isn't considered a best choice by all fish-watch groups, and some environmentalists say the whole MSC rating system isn't all it's cracked up to be. From NPR's three-part series on the topic:

"We're not getting what we think we're getting," says Susanna Fuller, co-director of marine programs at Canada's Ecology Action Centre. She says the consumer, when purchasing seafood with the blue MSC label, is "not buying something that's sustainable now."

If the label were accurate, Fuller says, it would include what she says is troubling fine print: The MSC system has certified most fisheries with "conditions." Those conditions spell out that the fishermen will have to change the way they operate or study how their methods are affecting the environment — or both. But they have years to comply with those conditions after the fisheries have already been certified sustainable.


It’s fast-food fish season — and no, it’s not sustainable

Marine Stewardship Council

McDonald's Filet-O-Fish sandwich was originally introduced in 1962 to appeal particularly to Catholic customers who eschew meat every Friday during Lent, which lasts for about 40 days. This year, McDonald's will have new Fish McBites on hand, too. But it's not just Lent, which begins this Wednesday, that's been a boon for fast-food fish. From Time:

In recent months, fast food establishments have demonstrated a taste for chicken. Poultry has reached a new level of popularity among fast food restaurants and diners alike because it’s a cheaper and healthier alternative to beef (or at least it’s perceived to be so). Chicken is also easily prepared in bite-size portions (nuggets, dippers, McBites, etc.), making it a perfect fit for the rising culture of on-the-go snacking.

If one affordable, quick, and healthy (or at least healthier) snack proves to be a hit with customers, fast food restaurants are sure to see if similar offerings can succeed as well. That’s why we’re seeing a big push for fish lately.

And it's not just McDonald's.


Fallacy of the creative class: Why Richard Florida’s ‘urban renaissance’ won’t save U.S. cities

It was an urbanist’s nightmare. On Feb. 1, a teenager was shot dead in the middle of a popular art gallery walk and street fair in Oakland, Calif. -- a town that highlights exactly what a city wins and loses when it attracts a huge influx of the vaunted “creative class.”

Oakland Art Murmur
John Orvis

Kiante Campbell, an 18-year-old Oakland resident, was killed in the shadow of new condominiums, gourmet food trucks, and buffed art galleries selling oil paintings that cost more than a few months’ rent in the ’hood. The festival, Art Murmur, shuts down much of Oakland’s downtown on the first Friday of each month, drawing 20,000 people, including tourists from both San Francisco and the surrounding suburbs. Now its future was called into question.

The shooting highlighted a stark reality: The creative class is remaking Oakland in its own image, but the “urban renaissance” isn’t benefitting everyone. The neighborhood where Campbell was killed has new condos and galleries -- and a median household income of less than $22,000.

By the urbanist creative-class metric, Oakland is winning. It’s a top city for urban farmers, local organic gourmet food snobs (love you, food snobs!), cyclists, and art-lovers. It’s home to a growing number of imported young makers, tech start-ups, and rising artists, in large part because of its close proximity to San Francisco and Silicon Valley. At the same time, about 13 percent of Oakland residents are unemployed, and the city still has one of the highest murder rates in the nation, especially for teens.

For years, Richard Florida and other urban life pundits have espoused the creative class as the secret to city success. When the creative class wins, their logic goes, we all win. Gentrification has essentially become America’s favored urban redevelopment strategy.

Florida has acknowledged that the rise of the creative class can exacerbate urban class divides, but his new research highlights just how big those divides can be.

Read more: Cities


Congress takes a big hit of hemp-farm legalization


Good news for troubled farmers and stoney bros who like hemp beanies: Yesterday, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2013 was introduced into the U.S. House by Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.). A companion bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate later this month.

Let's be honest here: A Democrat from Oregon seems like an obvious pick to back a hemp bill. But Kentucky's Massie is bucking the pervasive American right-wing perception of hemp as a smokable, dangerous narcotic and not a sustainable industrial material.

“Industrial hemp is a sustainable crop and could be a great economic opportunity for Kentucky farmers,” Massie said in a statement. “My wife and I are raising our children on the tobacco and cattle farm where my wife grew up. Tobacco is no longer a viable crop for many of us in Kentucky, and we understand how hard it is for a family farm to turn a profit these days. Industrial hemp will give small farmers another opportunity to succeed.”

Read more: Politics


Biggest cities with biggest transit systems still face biggest congestion

LA-traffic-jam-carouselCongestion is gross whether it's in your sinuses or your city. Urbanists spend a lot of time complaining about clogged up city roads and all the cars full of only one commuter that contribute to the traffic.

But here's some good news for a change: Public transportation takes a huge chunk out of that congestion in dense cities. Transit saved drivers nearly a billion hours of potential car-driving delay in cities nationwide last year, according to the new annual congestion report from the Texas Transportation Institute.

"The 2012 Urban Mobility Report makes clear that without public transportation services, travelers would have suffered an additional 865 million hours of delay and consumed 450 million more gallons of fuel," the American Public Transportation Association said. "Had there not been public transportation service available in the 498 U.S. urban areas studied, congestion costs for 2011 would have risen by nearly $21 billion from $121 billion to $142 billion."

Read more: Cities


Fish DNA database aims to fight seafood fraud and promote conservation

Matthew Kenrick

Over the past few years, the FDA has been compiling a fish DNA library to help combat seafood fraud. But despite its best efforts, many sushi eaters and other seafood diners are still chowing down on mislabeled and unsustainable fish species on the regular.

Now a Canadian team has gone a step further, compiling a DNA barcoding library of tens of thousands of Atlantic ocean fishes, and making much of it available directly to other research scientists and the public. You can thank Canadian biologist Paul Bentzen and his colleagues at Dalhousie University. Yes, despite the funny name, this is a real university. From

According to Paul Bentzen, Professor in the Department of Biology, "With growing pressures from fisheries, climate change and invasive species, it is more important than ever to monitor and understand biodiversity in the sea, and how it is changing. Our database provides a new tool for species identification that will help us monitor biodiversity. The availability of ever easier to use DNA sequencing technology can make almost anyone 'expert' at identifying species -- and all it takes is a scrap of tissue."


The USDA is gearing up to steal candy from babies

school_lunch11-hpThe USDA seems a little conflicted about what it wants you to eat, kids. A year ago, it put out new rules intended to make school lunches healthier. Then in December, it backed away from restrictions on servings of meat and grains. Now the agency says it wants to crack down on greasy 'n' sweet snacks sold both in vending machines and in school lunches. From the Associated Press:

Under the new rules the Agriculture Department proposed Friday, foods like fatty chips, snack cakes, nachos and mozzarella sticks would be taken out of lunch lines and vending machines. In their place would be foods like baked chips, trail mix, diet sodas, lower-calorie sports drinks and low-fat hamburgers. ...

Under the proposal, the Agriculture Department would set fat, calorie, sugar and sodium limits on almost all foods sold in schools. Current standards already regulate the nutritional content of school breakfasts and lunches that are subsidized by the federal government, but most lunchrooms also have "a la carte" lines that sell other foods. Food sold through vending machines and in other ways outside the lunchroom has never before been federally regulated.

Read more: Food, Politics