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National Farmworker Awareness Week highlights a dirty labor plight

Hey, remember how God made a farmer?  This week it's time to pay some respect to the folks who actually do most of that farming work.

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The vast majority of our stateside fruits and vegetables are handpicked by more than 3 million migrant and seasonal farmworkers. Without those farmworkers, we'd be very hungry. But as a whole those workers are treated like hell: They're underpaid, underinsured, and undereducated. About half of them are undocumented, and only about a third are U.S. citizens. These workers bear the brunt of our food system with their bodies, but only California requires that they get water and bathroom breaks. On average, one farmworker dies on the job every day in the U.S., and laborers can be as young as 12 -- legally.

Read more: Food

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Local schmocal: Why small-scale solutions won’t save the world

I have a confession: I’m a cynic when it comes to living small. I like to garden and ride bikes; I buy local whenever I can. But I don’t think my personal lifestyle choices are going to save the world -- and neither will yours.

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Susie Cagle

I’m not alone. Just ask Greg Sharzer, a frustrated Marxist activist with a PhD in Political Science from York University who also enjoys cycling and Fair Trade coffee. Sharzer’s book No Local: Why Small-Scale Alternatives Won’t Change the World is a bucket of ice water on fresh-faced progressive localism, and an affront to the concept of micro solutions altogether. Localism is a survival strategy, Sharzer writes, not a movement, and not a solution.

Localism says we can change how we act within capitalism. If consumers don’t like a commodity, they can demonstrate their commitment to a better one. Choose to support ethical, small-scale businesses, and little by little the excesses of economic growth will disappear. Community gardening, farmers’ markets, and biodiesel cooperatives will change the entrenched power of agribusiness, for example.

For Sharzer, progressive localism and small acts come from a place of "deep pessimism," a sense that the problems are just too big to tackle. He criticizes lifestyle localism for seeking to model behavior for others while not confronting the powers that made us all oil-addicts in the first place.

It's not that micro solutions are wrong, per se. It's just that they aren't solutions. Buying local organic veggies -- or better yet, growing your own -- is great, but it's not a replacement for fighting for the rights of the people who pick the fields for 10 cents per head of lettuce.

Read more: Living

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Frackers dodge responsibility for earthquakes, science be damned

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Shutterstock

We've known for a couple of years that fracking for oil and gas has been linked to some sizable earthquakes. The shaking doesn't actually come from the high-pressure fracking itself, but from the injection of tons of post-frack dirty wastewater into disposal wells. Only Ohio requires a risk assessment for quakes around the state's injection wells.

Mother Jones digs into this story, speaking with numerous scientists who agree: Frack the earth and it will frack you back. "There is no shortage of evidence," writes reporter Michael Behar.

Between 1972 and 2008, the USGS recorded just a few earthquakes a year in Oklahoma. In 2008, there were more than a dozen; nearly 50 occurred in 2009. In 2010, the number exploded to more than 1,000. These so-called "earthquake swarms" are occurring in other places where the ground is not supposed to move. There have been abrupt upticks in both the size and frequency of quakes in Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio, and Texas. Scientists investigating these anomalies are coming to the same conclusion: The quakes are linked to injection wells. Into most of them goes wastewater from hydraulic fracking, while some ... are filled with leftover fluid from dewatering operations.

Flatter states are more susceptible to fracking-related quakes -- as MoJo puts it, "a stone makes a bigger splash when it's hurled into a glassy pond than a river of raging whitewater." (But pretty please don't take that as an invitation to drill California to shaky bits.)

The least surprising part of all this? That the industry is reluctant to accept that it might be responsible for tearing peoples' houses down -- or at least that it doesn't want to talk to lefty magazines about it.

Some scientists are concerned that industry and government officials don't want to work with them on the issue.

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Flies that eat organic live longer, make more fly babies

Scientists may be split on whether organic foods are better for human health. But a new study published in PLOS ONE presents evidence that organic foods help you live longer and make more babies -- if you're a fruit fly.

Maybe organic food just puts flies in the mood?
T. Chapman
Maybe organic food just puts flies in the mood?

Researchers at Southern Methodist University fed fruit flies extracts of organic or conventional versions of bananas, potatoes, raisins, or soybeans from a Whole Foods in Texas. (Unlike those organic-loving rats, the flies didn't get to choose their foods.)

Read more: Food

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Climate change is killing the corn cob pipe

Add another item to the list of things climate change will kill! But this one makes me a little gleeful.

NPR reports that "corn cob pipes have made a comeback in recent years" (which, what?), but now higher temperatures and drought are severely cutting into the supply of this "natural product."

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Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Do trees fight crime in Philadelphia?

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htomren

We already know that having more trees around protects our health. Turns out those trees might also protect our wealth and safety, according to a new study from researchers at Temple University, published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning.

Controlling for some socioeconomic factors such as poverty, education, and density, the researchers examined crime and tree data and found that "the presence of grass, trees and shrubs is associated with lower crime rates in Philadelphia, particularly for robberies and assaults."

Here's where things get a little presumptuous. The authors "surmise this deterrent effect is rooted in the fact that maintained greenery encourages social interaction and community supervision of public spaces, as well the calming effect that vegetated landscapes may impart, thus reducing psychological precursors to violent acts," according to a Temple University press release.

A study published in the same journal last year backs up the connection: A 10 percent increase in trees in Baltimore correlated to about a 12 percent decrease in crime. “It’s really pretty striking how strong this relationship is,” said Austin Troy, lead author of that study.

But is it truly a causal relationship?

Read more: Cities, Living

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Protests against tar-sands pipelines heat up in U.S. and Canada

Anti-tar-sands protests escalated last week, aiming to block both the Keystone XL and the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines. In the U.S. and Canada, activists staged more than 50 actions -- raucous marches, another sit-in outside the White House, and a full-on blockade of a refinery, altogether resulting in more than 50 arrests and at least one restraining order. There was even a light brigade in Tampa, Fla.!

And, marking a new front in the war, activists broadened their scope beyond oil and pipeline companies to include firms investing in tar-sands projects, like TD Bank, a major financier of Keystone. “We will demonstrate to companies bankrolling KXL that their investments are as toxic as the tar sands they want to pump through the pipeline,” the Tar Sands Blockade group said in a statement.

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Native American and First Nations leaders also made headlines last week by coming out strongly against tar-sands pipelines. From the Global Post:

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There are even more dead pigs in a Chinese river

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Reuters

In the week and a half since we first brought you the all-important details on those dead pigs filling the Huangpu River in China, officials have raised the body count to more than 16,000.

On Sunday, the government said the pulling-dead-pigs-out-of-the-water operation was "basically finished." Chinese official media reports that some of the dead animals were traced by their ear tags to pig farms in Shaoxing, and their owners have been prosecuted. Farmers in Shaoxing have recently been charged with selling meat from diseased animals.

The New York Times points out the silver lining of the porcine flotilla: At least the diseased pigs aren't ending up on dinner plates. As the government cracks down on contaminated meat, the only place to put them is in the river. Three cheers for food safety!

Read more: Food

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Here are a couple of weather experts who actually believe in climate change

newspaper-clippings-nightmare-weather.jpgThings are weird at the Weather Company, you guys. While a lot of other TV meteorologists are really screwing up the climate change conversation, the Weather Company folks, who run the Weather Channel and Weather Underground, "insert climate into every weather story," says CEO David Kenny. "We’re scientific journalists. We start with science and try to tell scientifically based stories. It’s not a political point of view," Kenny told Fast Co.Exist.

Whaaaat?

More from Fast Co.Exist:

Plenty of people get their weather reports from the Weather Company’s TV shows, apps, and websites. But what about everyone else? TV meterologists have become infamous in recent years for their reticence to discuss climate change -- and in some cases, for their lack of belief in climate change at all. One TV storm tracker in San Diego (who also happens to be a co-founder of the Weather Channel) went so far recently as to say that global warming is a "fictional, manufactured crisis."

In fact, the Weather Company provides weather data to many TV meteorologists. These days, the company is also trying to provide climate change facts. "Most meteorologists, if you actually give them the science, they come around," says Kenny. "Most now believe it, but are afraid to talk about it."

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Can San Jose’s green vision live up to its hype?

Clean technology is being developed in Silicon Valley, but we aren't exactly looking to that low-rise beigey sprawl for leadership when it comes to green urban innovation. But maybe we should? And I don't mean in a let's-build-a-dense-tech-worker-utopia kind of way.

Image (5) san_josesmaller.jpg for post 31443Sprawling San Jose, Calif.

San Jose, Calif., the valley's largest city and the 10th biggest in the country, launched its 15-year green plan in 2007, and so far it's coming along swimmingly. This past October, the first Clean Tech Index named the city No. 1 in the country for its clean green (mean?) innovations. From LED street lights to the soon-to-open CleanTech Demonstration Center to a goal of running entirely on renewable energy (it's at 20 percent now), San Jose is thinking big when it's thinking green, KQED reports.

“[The renewables goal is] going to mean radical changes, but this is a valley that does things in radical ways,” says Carl Guardino, president of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG), which represents hundreds of local businesses.

“Silicon Valley and San Jose Mayor [Chuck] Reed sets audacious goals,” adds Guardino. “If we fall a little short, just think of how far we would have come.”

San Jose has helped change national standards for LED street lights and is now saving thousands of dollars using efficient, dimmable street lights. Yet it’s only replaced 4% of its 62,000 lights.

Read more: Cities