Business & Technology

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. …

smoking gun: found

Scientists confirm link between BPA and heart disease in humans

The FDA’s new report on the safety of endocrine-disrupting chemical bisphenol A is months overdue and there is still no sign of when or if the agency will release the report. Perhaps they are waiting for that piece of “smoking gun” evidence that BPA represents a clear and present danger to human health? Well, thanks to researchers from Peninsula College of Medicine in Britain, we just may have it. In 2008, the group looked at data from the 2003-2004 US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) which included urinary BPA levels for the first time. The results: [A] quarter …

Salt of the dearth

Food giants pile on salt to tart up flavorless dreck

Piled on my desk on either side of my computer are several packages of convenience foods and one chocolate bar. The foods range from instant macaroni and cheese and cornbread mixes to canned soup, canned tuna, canned beans, and a Styrofoam container of instant, microwaveable macaroni and cheese. Of the eight items, only two – the tuna and the chocolate bar–have sodium levels in the single digits. Of the double-digiters, only two have sodium levels less than 20 percent. I’m looking at sodium content not because I’m watching my salt intake–although that’s hardly a bad idea–but because I wanted to …

Energizing smart energy behavior

Never mind what people believe — how can we change what they do? A chat with Robert Cialdini

When it comes to energy, policymakers are often confronted with human behavior that seems irrational, unpredictable, or unmanageable. Advocates for energy efficiency in particular are plagued by the gap between what it would make sense for people to do and what they actually do. Efforts to change people’s behavior have a record that can charitably be described as mixed. (See my post, Making buildings more efficient: It helps to understand human behavior.) Many of the experiments that have cast the most light on what does (and doesn’t) drive behavioral shifts around energy have been run by Dr. Robert Cialdini, until …

Mad libs

India, Italy, Brazil can fill America’s blanks

Americans pride themselves on being ________ (fill in the blank with something like “biggest,” “best,” or “first”). Especially in California, we think we lead the world on carbon-reducing advances like ________ (fill in blank with “solar power,” “energy efficiency,” or “suntanned, body-builder, movie star, Austrian-born governors”). Given Obama’s U.N.-busting initiative in Copenhagen last month, our country may soon have more to brag about in the low carbon economy of the future, but for now, we might be smart to follow a few examples from India, Italy, and Brazil. A company in India that once made plastic bags now recycles them …

The Good News for 2010

Climate success in 2009 should inspire the new year

Co-written by Doug Kendall, founder and president of the Constitutional Accountability Center. For good reason, many climate activists view 2009 as a disappointing year, filled with bad news coverage and missed opportunities. The Senate seems a long way from passing a clean energy jobs bill, and the long-anticipated U.N. summit in Copenhagen has come and gone, producing only an unambitious, non-binding agreement among world leaders. Moreover, late last year, the climate movement suffered a blow to its image following the “Climategate” hacking scandal and reports that, for the first time in years, a decreasing number of Americans believe in human-made …

driving change?

Ford Fusion Hybrid wins 2010 Car of the Year, no green spin needed

The Ford Fusion Hybrid. Photo courtesy Ford Motor Company via FlickrNo green spin necessary, the Ford Fusion Hybrid sedan was soundly voted the 2010 Car of the Year. While not the first-ever hybrid vehicle to win this award (even for Ford), it is notable that the 2010 North American Car of the Year (NACOTY) was given to a U.S. automaker for a hybrid amidst one of the worst times to be selling any kind of car, much less a hybrid. And yet, the Fusion Hybrid helped Ford set record sales in hybrids in a year when overall industry demand for gas-electric …