Briefly

Stuff that matters


Less cause for chickens to be chicken

For the first time ever, people have eaten chicken without killing a chicken.

On Tuesday, the startup Memphis Meats served strips of fried chicken and duck à l’orange that it had grown from cells in a tank. How did it compare to the barnyard variety?

“Some who sampled the strip — breaded, deep fried and spongier than a whole chicken breast — said it nearly nailed the flavor of the traditional variety,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “Their verdict: They would eat it again.”

The point is to blow up the meat industry by growing chicken more cheaply, and without the environmental and ethical entanglements of the current industry. There’s a long way to go before this kind of operation beats industrial meat on price, but the cost of production is dropping like crazy. In 2013, Mark Post created a no-slaughter burger at $325,000 per pound, last year Memphis Meats made a meatball at $18,000 per pound, and now it says it can produce a pound of chicken for $9,000.

The expanding demand for food over the next 30 years will be largely driven by humanity’s hunger for meat. If we can find a more efficient way to meet this demand, it would relieve the pressure on the strained systems that support life on earth. And chickens around the world would remember this day … for approximately two seconds, before they get distracted.


white greens

Environmental organizations still have a diversity problem.

A report on the employment practices of green groups finds that the sector, despite its socially progressive reputation, is still overwhelmingly the bastion of white men.

According to the study, released by Green 2.0, roughly 3 out of 10 people at environmental organizations are people of color, but at the senior staff level, the figure drops closer to 1 out of 10. And at all levels, from full-time employees to board members, men make up three-quarters or more of NGO staffs.

Click to embiggen.Green 2.0

The new report, titled “Beyond Diversity: A Roadmap to Building an Inclusive Organization,” relied on more than 85 interviews of executives and HR reps and recruiters at environmental organizations.

Representatives of NGOs and foundations largely agreed on the benefits of having a more diverse workforce, from the added perspectives in addressing environmental problems to a deeper focus on environmental justice to allowing the movement to engage a wider audience.

The most worrisome finding is that fewer than 40 percent of environmental groups even had diversity plans in place to ensure they’re more inclusive. According to the report, “Research shows that diversity plans increases the odds of black men in management positions significantly.”


over the hill

OPEC still just tryin’ to OPEC, but not doing so well at it.

The cartel confirmed at a Thursday meeting in Vienna that it would extend the production cuts announced in December through March 2018 to try to forestall further collapse of oil prices.

However, they’re just fighting the inevitable. Here’s everything working against OPEC:

  1. American-produced shale gas and oil (the kind you get from fracking) continues to be cheap and abundant.
  2. In recent years, investors have poured money into fracking companies, because they’re seen as more reliable than traditional drilling operations — in turn making the former less susceptible to shifts in price and production than the latter. (But bad news, frackers — that funding bubble isn’t expected to last forever.)
  3. Global demand for oil was lower than expected this year, and a recent analysis from consultancy Roland Berger predicts that industrialized nations’ appetite for oil has peaked, The Economist reports.
  4. The growth of the electric car market and increasingly computerized transportation means a push away from oil and gas, according to the New York Times.

To close, a brief list of metaphors used to describe OPEC’s ongoing struggles: relying on “Band-Aids to get through crises,” bringing “a knife to a gunfight,” and, our personal favorite, “U.S. shale’s the wild horse that OPEC just can’t tame.”


study up

Scott Pruitt just got debunked by climate scientists.

They came after EPA Administrator Pruitt in a very sciencey way: by publishing a study that takes down a claim Pruitt made during confirmation questions.

When asked whether he believes there is uncertainty about global warming, Pruitt responded that “over the past two decades, satellite data indicates there has been a leveling off of warming, which some scientists refer to as the ‘hiatus.’”

OK — so it’s been about three months since Pruitt’s confirmation. But science takes time, people!

The study directly refutes Pruitt’s response, calling him out by name. It analyzes satellite data sets and debunks that there has been any sort of pause in warming — a common conservative talking point.

The science is unlikely to bring an about-face from Pruitt, who recently said carbon dioxide is not a main driver of climate change. But scientists are trying.

“When incorrect science is elevated to the level of formal congressional testimony and makes its way into the official congressional record, climate scientists have some responsibility to test specific claims that were made, determine whether those claims are correct or not, and publish their results,” study coauthor Benjamin Santer told the Washington Post.


Grist 50

Meet the fixer: This entrepreneur is making a better burger.

A lot of startups want to make animal flesh obsolete with tastier, more environmentally friendly products: Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, and Mosa Meats, to name a few. If one of these companies can convince Americans that its new product is better than meat, it could put a dent in the livestock industry, which is responsible for roughly 4.2 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

One of the most audacious of those companies is Memphis Meats. Instead of engineering a meat replacement, Uma Valeti’s startup is growing actual meat in a lab. “The products we’re producing are the delicious meat we’ve enjoyed for thousands of years — we’re just changing the process by which it’s produced,” he says.

Valeti isn’t your average Silicon Valley founder — he’s a doctor, a cardiologist to be precise. He previously worked on experiments that used stem cells to regrow damaged heart tissue. If we can grow heart muscle with stem cells, he thought, why can’t we grow meat? With a team of foodies and scientists, he’s doing just that. Last year they fried up and ate their first no-death meatball — the video went viral. Now, they’re working to take their cultured meat to the masses.


Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.


pumping iron down the drain

The new American dream is being woefully anemic WHILE throwing away all your nutrients!

Americans waste between 1,200 and 1,400 calories of food per person everyday, which we can all agree to feel bad about: all that energy- and water- and money-intensive nourishment going straight to the landfill! But in spite of a national love for counting nutrients, we didn’t know how many macros we’ve been chucking out.

A new study courtesy of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future is the first to measure just how much nutrient value is ending up in the bin. The most jarring example: Those 1,400 calories of wasted food per person per day include 48 percent of an average adult’s daily iron intake. Also wasted: 43 percent of the recommended levels of Vitamin C and 29 percent of the calcium.

This is significant, the researchers note, because so many American adults suffer from crucial nutrient deficiencies.

We asked Kevin Klatt, a PhD candidate at the Cornell Division of Nutritional Sciences, if these numbers — they’re so big! — seemed normal. If anything, Klatt said, the percentages seemed slightly conservative, because recommended daily values tend to be higher than what most people need.


big book, tiny hands

The pope’s gift to Trump is the subtlest shade we’ve seen all week.

During his trip to the Vatican this week, President Trump received a thoughtful present from Pope Francis: “Laudato Si,” the encyclical on climate change the pontiff published in 2015.

Francis slipped the slim book in with a few of his other works on peace and economics, real smooth like.

Based on reports of Trump’s disinterest in delving into lengthy material during his intelligence briefings or just reading, it seems unlikely that he’ll keep his promise to get through the entire encyclical. “Laudato Si” has more than 40,000 words and leans on biblical references and emotive language (Mother Earth pops up a couple of times). It also makes grave warnings about climate change and its threat to humankind, a risk that Trump has downplayed and denied.

So how could Pope Francis have encouraged Trump to read his encyclical? A few suggestions:

  1. Replace every mention of seawalls with “Great Great Wall” (full disclosure: the encyclical never actually mentions seawalls).
  1. Put the whole thing in tweet format.
  1. Publish it in Breitbart, or have it read aloud on Fox News.
  1. Put it on the back of the ketchup bottle he squirts on his steak.
  1. Tell him that Barack Obama and Tom Brady were overhead joking that Trump would never read it.

Of course, Pope Francis could have ribbed Trump about being able to hold a book with such tiny hands but the pope seems too classy for that.