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Susie Cagle's Posts


The apocalypse is here: FDA clears way for fast-growing GM monster salmon

The Food and Drug Administration has a special present for you this holiday season: genetically modified salmon that have been developed to grow at twice the usual salmon speed. What, you didn't put that on your list? Well, surprise!

Run, little salmon, the monsters are coming!
Run, little salmon, the monsters are coming!

USA Today reports:

The Food and Drug Administration on Friday released its environmental assessment of the AquaAdvantage salmon, a faster-growing fish which has been subject to a contentious, yearslong debate at the agency. The document concludes that the fish "will not have any significant impacts on the quality of the human environment of the United States." Regulators also said that the fish is unlikely to harm populations of natural salmon, a key concern for environmental activists.

The FDA will take comments from the public on its report for 60 days before making it final ...

Experts view the release of the environmental report as the final step before approval.

The fish was first invented (invented!) in the '90s but has been swimming around in regulatory limbo for the last two years, with some skeptical it would ever see a dinner plate. From Slate:

[W]ithin days of the expected public release of the [environmental assessment] this spring, the application was frozen. The delay, sources within the government say, came after meetings with the White House, which was debating the political implications of approving the GM salmon, a move likely to infuriate a portion of its base ...


Obama doubles size of California marine sanctuary, adorable otters rejoice

President Obama has proposed that more than 2,700 square miles off the coast of Northern California be added to the national marine sanctuary system, which would protect the area from oil and gas drilling permanently. It would be the biggest addition to the 40-year-old system in 20 years, doubling the total protected sanctuary area. The otters are so excited you guys.

mike baird

From the San Jose Mercury News:

"This is a matter of economic common sense. Jobs and livelihoods hang in the balance," [said Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D)]. "No one is going to vacation on the Sonoma coast if they are looking at oil derricks."

I like her logic, even though lots of people vacation along the California coast within view of all kinds of offshore drilling equipment. (Ahem, Santa Barbara.)


U.S. cities are getting denser


The U.S. EPA released a report this week on how our cities are growing. So there's the first good news: They're growing! But you knew that already. Other good news: Nearly 75 percent of major metro areas saw a higher proportion of housing being built in already-developed areas ("infill" in planning jargon) from 2005 to 2009 compared to 2000 to 2004. The bad? From sea to shining sea, we still really love to sprawl. Almost all major metro areas continued to grow outward faster than they grew inward.

Read more: Cities


Keystone blockaders outmaneuvered but not defeated

Following news that TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline construction crew had outflanked the tree-sit blockaders, protesters say they're more resolved to fight on -- and not just in the trees.

Tar Sands Blockade

"We're escalating in very real ways," Tar Sands Blockade campaign spokesperson Kim Huynh told me this afternoon. The group's Jan. 3-8 action camp has 150-200 registered attendees, who will convene in East Texas from across the country for several days of training in community organizing, leadership, and direct action -- skills that they'll then take back to their own hometowns.

"TransCanada and Valero have offices across the country. We've identified certain targets," Huynh said. But: "We're under no illusions that direct action alone will stop this pipeline. We need a real holistic campaign, and a national, transnational movement."


Lions and tigers and bears(!) are moving to the cities


It turns out those scruffy urban coyotes are not alone. From red foxes in London to mountain lions in Los Angeles to bears at Lake Tahoe, more wild carnivores are joining humans in the city. And biologist Stan Gehrt, who studies Chicago's coyotes, thinks we're only going to see more of them.

From Popular Science:

It’s reasonable to assume that these animals are moving to the city because they’re being displaced by climate change and habitat destruction, but that’s only part of the explanation. One of the biggest factors is that there are more large carnivores than there used to be — primarily, Gehrt says, because of successful conservation efforts. As we make our cities greener, they become more attractive to humans and animals alike. Finally, the relationship between humans and large predators is changing. “We’re now seeing generations of certain carnivores that have had fairly light amounts of persecution by people,” Gehrt says. “They may view cities quite a bit differently than their ancestors did 50 years ago. Then, if they saw a human, there was a good chance they were going to get shot.”

Read more: Cities


Controversial California oyster farm fights to stay

It's a salty Christmas miracle for Drakes Bay Oyster Company -- albeit a temporary one.


The bivalve purveyor in Point Reyes, just north of San Francisco, was set to be dissolved at the end of the year: equipment dismantled, employees laid off, land vacated. This was the plan all along for the feds, who had issued a 40-year lease to the company with the intent of its expiration on Jan. 1, 2013, at which time the land would be returned to federal wilderness and cute scampering seals on the Point Reyes National Seashore.

After the Interior Department refused to extend the company's lease for another 10 years, Drakes vowed to fight the decision and filed suit. Now it's reached at least a temporary agreement with Interior. From the Marin Independent Journal:

Under the agreement, the oyster company which has long been a fixture in Point Reyes National Seashore may continue activities involving planting and growing new oysters in the water at Drakes Estero, avoiding layoffs of one-third of its 30 employees right before the holidays ...

Under the agreement, the oyster company has withdrawn its request for a temporary restraining order and instead will file a motion for a preliminary injunction challenging [Interior Secretary Kenneth] Salazar's decision.

A hearing is set for Jan. 25 on the injunction.

Everyone loves them some seals, even in molting season (this is saying a lot, seals), and many environmentalists -- the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, other usual suspects -- support closing the farm, citing the importance of pure wilderness. But many other environmentalists support letting it stay, and their voices have grown stronger over the past couple of weeks. Writes Earth Island Journal editor Jason Marks:


Walmart bribed its way around Mexico’s environmental rules

BREAKING: Walmart did another terrible thing!


The retail giant is not just the biggest employer in the U.S. -- it also dominates Mexico with 2,275 outlets. And it got there by playing very, very dirty. According to the second part of a New York Times investigation, Walmart de Mexico routinely bribed officials not just to get its plans bumped to the top of the pile, but to "subvert democratic governance." This is how the company successfully built a Walmart in a Teotihuacán alfalfa field a mile from ancient pyramids that draw tons of tourists. (Now those tourists get a view of a boxy Walmart supercenter when they climb to the top.) The local leaders said no, so Walmart de Mexico paid a guy $52,000 and redrew the zoning map itself.

Frankly, this is not very surprising. But it's damning as hell. From the Times:

Thanks to eight bribe payments totaling $341,000, for example, Wal-Mart built a Sam’s Club in one of Mexico City’s most densely populated neighborhoods, near the Basílica de Guadalupe, without a construction license, or an environmental permit, or an urban impact assessment, or even a traffic permit. Thanks to nine bribe payments totaling $765,000, Wal-Mart built a vast refrigerated distribution center in an environmentally fragile flood basin north of Mexico City, in an area where electricity was so scarce that many smaller developers were turned away.


TransCanada outmaneuvers Keystone XL pipeline blockaders

A bit of bummer news from East Texas, and this time there's no pepper spray involved. Protesters are still tweeting and blogging per usual, but it appears the Keystone XL pipeline blockade may actually be over. TransCanada apparently realized back in October that while it might not be able to go through the tree-sitters, it could easily go around them.

Tar Sands Blockade

Inside Climate News reports:

TransCanada, the pipeline's builder, acquired an easement in October to build the pipeline slightly west of the tree blockade and the original route. Construction is now nearly finished on the property, and the protesters will soon call it quits.

"It's a sad time at the tree blockade," said Ron Seifert, a spokesperson for the Tar Sands Blockade, the activist group behind the campaign. Seifert said it's probably days before the tree village decamps, though no official decision has been made. ...

"As we speak, the pipeline is being trenched around the western end of the blockaded area," he added with disappointment. The "blockade will essentially become symbolic and come to an end."

Read more: Climate & Energy


Bringing back chestnut trees could fight climate change and give us tasty treats

When Nat King Cole first recorded "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)" in 1946, American giant chestnut trees had been nearly wiped out by a foreign fungus. Billions of native trees were felled by the disease. If you want to roast those sweet babies over an open fire this holiday season, they'll likely be of the imported-from-China variety.


A hundred years ago, it was a very different scene, NPR reports:

The American chestnut was king of the forest. One of every four hardwoods in the eastern woodlands was a chestnut. They grew so tall -- up to 100 feet -- they were called the redwoods of the east.

By the mid-20th century they were "pretty much obliterated," and now the only seasonal street-food treats are those crusty sugared peanuts. An American tragedy.

Efforts to revitalize the country's chestnut stock have been ongoing for decades, but they're not just aimed at holiday treats (because researchers have other crazy priorities).

Why is it so important to bring back the chestnut tree? Advocates say the trees were critical to the economy of rural communities and the ecology of the forests. Some even say chestnuts can help with global warming.

"Some" being scientists, like the ones who penned a 2009 Purdue University study on new hybrid chestnut trees and their carbon-fighting superpowers.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


Traffic deaths are down, but pedestrian and cyclist deaths are up

Fewer people are dying in car accidents in the U.S. (except in California, where it's been raining lately and people have been very confused). Traffic deaths fell 1.9 percent in 2011, hitting their lowest level since 1949.

That's great news for drivers, who haven't been getting a lot of good news in their driver-lives lately. Here's the bad news: Drivers are killing the rest of us. The Los Angeles Times reports on new federal transportation figures:

Federal officials highlighted the overall decrease in [traffic] deaths. But at least one traffic safety group said the figures were alarming, particularly a 3% increase in pedestrian deaths and an 8.7% increase in cyclist fatalities from 2010 to 2011.

"We are still concerned about the numbers of cyclists and pedestrians at risk on our roadways," said Paul Oberhauser, co-chairman of the Chicago-based Traffic Safety Coalition, which is partly funded by the traffic safety camera industry. "This new report is a reminder we still need to be cautious and share the road."

Rory Finneren
Read more: Cities, Living