Business & Technology

Superego v. Id

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. takes on mountaintop-mining magnate Don Blankenship

On Thursday the University of Charleston in West Virginia hosted a debate between Don Blankenship, CEO of mountaintop-removal mining firm Massey Energy Co., and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., environmental lawyer and founder of the Waterkeeper Alliance. I kept up a running play-by-play that can be accessed by scrolling back through my Twitter feed, but I didn’t take notes, so this is from memory and I won’t be using direct quotes. The mystery to me going in was why Blankenship agreed to it. What possible incentive is there for a corporate CEO to put himself in a risky situation, publicly defending …

Low carb diet

U.S. feeds one quarter of its grain to cars while hunger is on the rise

The 107 million tons of grain that went to U.S. ethanol distilleries in 2009 was enough to feed 330 million people for one year at average world consumption levels. More than a quarter of the total U.S. grain crop was turned into ethanol to fuel cars last year. With 200 ethanol distilleries in the country set up to transform food into fuel, the amount of grain processed has tripled since 2004. The United States looms large in the world food economy: it is far and away the world’s leading grain exporter, exporting more than Argentina, Australia, Canada, and Russia combined. …

The investor game of chicken

Who will make the first move toward a clean energy future?

Last week several hundred investors huddled together at the U.N. with government officials and non-profit groups to discuss one thing — carbon. They heard from U.S. climate change negotiator Todd Stern, international political royalty, and a host of economic prognosticators about topics including the recent talks in Copenhagen, potential Congressional action, and whether new clean tech would set us free from our fossil fuel addiction. And what was the take-away? That everyone expects someone else to make the first move. To put this in perspective, Al Gore spoke about how investors put money to work based on assumptions. In the …

making his mark

When it comes to energy, Mark Jacobson thinks big

Mark Z. Jacobson, director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program at Stanford University, is an unusual figure in the field of climate change. He literally wrote the book on computer modeling for atmospheric changes, and he is a respected expert in the impacts of energy production and use. But what truly sets Jacobson apart is his vision. He’s a “Big Picture” kind of thinker, focused on finding large scale, but practical, solutions to the problems of climate change. For example: a few months ago, Jacobson co-authored a cover-story in Scientific American sub-titled, “Wind, water and solar technologies can provide 100 percent of …

putting the lab in labyrinthine

FDA on BPA: Our hands are tied

The FDA finally released its report on Bisphenol A. The good news is that the FDA now admits that BPA — the endocrine-disrupting, heart disease–causing ingredient in plastic food packaging and can linings — isn’t entirely safe (contradicting the agency’s statement from 2008 that it was), particularly for infants and children. The bad news? There’s not much the agency can do about it. Here are the immediate, limited steps the FDA feels it can take “to reduce human exposure to BPA in the food supply”: support the industry’s actions to stop producing BPA-containing baby bottles and infant feeding cups for …

Being and nothingness

Raj Patel on Colbert

Raj Patel, author of the food-politics tome Stuffed and Starved, has a new book out on the failure of neoliberal economics. It’s called The Value of Nothing, after the immortal Oscar Wilde quote about how “nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” A couple of nights ago (above), Raj got the Colbert treatment, and handled himself pretty well. And from the Grist artchives, here’s Patel (more than) holding his own against another wacky interviewer (me).

Choice nuggets

From dominant Monsanto to ‘innovative Med-American,’ tasty morsels from around the web

When my info-larder gets too packed, it’s time to serve up some choice nuggets from around the Web. —————- Get ‘em while they’re hot.  • NPR delivers a blunt report on Monsanto’s dominant position in the seed industry, complete with farmers complaining about monopoly pricing. With this sort of straight talk in mainstream media, one wonders if the Justice Department might really pursue an antitrust case against the monopolistic giant. • This Wall Street Journal infographic paints a devastating picture of the U.S. job market (the headline on the accompanying article says it all: “Even in a Recovery, Some Jobs …

Milking the Farmers

Can a new USDA advisory committee make the dairy industry less pathetic?

Much as I’ve long been taken with the romanticism of dairy farming and the visions of grazing cows and nurturing fresh milk it conjures up, I tune out when the talk turns to “the dairy industry.” That subject stimulates images of commodity trading, price controls, feed lots, and perhaps most onerous– a rigged system akin to slavery in which the owners of small dairies nearly always lose. They have been losing for so many years the number of farms with dairy cows fell an astounding 88 percent, from 648,000 to 75,000 between 1960 and 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture …

More solar gen in two thousand and ten

2010 outlook for solar in California

Felix Kramer of Calcars thinks 2010 will be the year of the plug-in car. He’s got a good case: after years of advocacy and technology development, 2010 is the year that major manufacturers will finally make plug-ins broadly available, and rapidly decreasing battery costs are helping the conversion industry reach new customers and help retrofit the existing fleet at scale. After years of work and promise, 2010 is the payoff year. I see a similar trend in solar in California, where years of policy and business development are all coming together to make 2010 an extraordinary year for solar development. …