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Not just bad for bees: Neonic pesticides could damage babies’ brains

A pregnant lady with broccoli

The fruit and vegetables that Americans bring home and cook up for their families are often laced with pest-killing chemicals known as acetamiprid and imidacloprid, members of the neonicotinoid class.

That sounds gross. Even grosser than these nearly unpronounceable chemical names are new findings out of Europe that the compounds may stunt the development of brains in fetuses and young children.

The discovery, by scientists working with rats for the European Food Safety Authority, has led to calls in Europe to further restrict the use of the neonic pesticides. From a press release put out by the authority:

The [Plant Protection Products and their Residues] Panel found that acetamiprid and imidacloprid may adversely affect the development of neurons and brain structures associated with functions such as learning and memory. It concluded that some current guidance levels for acceptable exposure to acetamiprid and imidacloprid may not be protective enough to safeguard against developmental neurotoxicity and should be reduced.

We say "further restrict" because the use of imidacloprid is already severely restricted in Europe, barred for two years from being used on flowering crops and plants because it kills bees and other pollinators.


This air-powered car is made out of half a million LEGOs

Josh Rowe

Steve Sammartino (who describes himself as a "Melbourne entrepreneur and marketing guy") and Raul Oaida ("a 20-year-old self-taught technology genius from Romania who Steve met on the internet") have made something really, really fun. It's a car. Usually we are not so excited about cars. But this one is made out of four rubber wheels, "some load bearing elements," and more than 500,000 LEGO pieces.

The seats are made of LEGOs. The hubcaps are made of LEGOs. The engine is made of LEGOs.

Oh, and it runs on air.


Read more: Living


Michael Pollan says gardening makes you a better writer

Kris Krug

The Atlantic recently compiled a year’s worth of writing advice from authors like Amy Tan, Michael Pollan, and Stephen King, all condensed into one tidy article. Notably, Pollan credits digging around in the dirt with helping him solidify the ideas in his books. Cool, right? Here are some of his tidbits:

I kept reading, and I kept gardening ... I'd learned a set of values from Thoreau in the library, but it was only when I tested them -- in the crucible of an actual garden with actual pests on an actual patch of land -- that I was able to form my values more fully.

Pollan made the link from plate to farm to oil fields when reading Wendell Berry. Realizing that “eating is an agricultural act,” as Berry wrote, dramatically changed Pollan’s perspective -- and gave him something to write about:

Read more: Living


This prizewinning shot of a carnivorous plant’s jaws looks like something out of an alien world

Have you heard of the humped bladderwort? (Snort!) Ahem. It’s sort of an aquatic version of the venus flytrap, sucking in unlucky prey after they brush past it. It’s also REALLY cool looking:

© Igor Siwanowicz

Explains Wired:

Read more: Living


Block party: Are activists thwarting GMO innovation?

Rosalee Yagihara

When I point out to a genetic-engineering enthusiast that the technology hasn’t lived up to its hype, I often hear the same rejoinder: “We’d have all sorts of amazing transgenics out there if it weren’t for the bans and oppressive regulations.”

So I set out to determine if this was true. Is there evidence that groups fighting against GMOs have thwarted good technologies that would otherwise make agriculture more sustainable? I asked several plant scientists if there were actual examples of projects that had been abandoned.

Kevin Folta, a plant scientist at the University of Florida, emailed to tell me about the BS2 tomato. It has a gene that protects it from bacteria of the genus Xanthomonas. Here’s a lovely animation by Duc Phan Tran, explaining how Xanthomonas attacks a plant, and how resistance works:

By using the BS2 tomato, farmers could avoid spraying their fields with antimicrobial heavy metals. And, Folta said, the plants are shovel-ready. “BS2 tomato is alive and well at UF” Folta said.

But there’s no reason to try to get this tomato into the hands of farmers, Folta said.

“It costs too much -- [getting through the regulatory process would cost] $5-10 million on the cheap side,  takes too long, and then you just have the products smeared by activists that threaten whole industries if they consider adopting transgenic approaches.”

Read more: Food


Ask Umbra: Is my artisanal whipped cream a climate menace?


Send your question to Umbra!

Q. The holidays are coming, and with them, lots of pies. Pies that go better with whipped cream. I use a foamer bottle to make whipped cream, quickly, easily, and with far less mess than doing it by hand or with a stand mixer. But I just realized: The cartridges I use are CO2! So I'm using a greenhouse gas just to make whipped cream! I'm feeling ridiculously guilty. Is it really all that much? How much CO2 would be released generating the electricity to power a mixer to do the same thing?

Steve, a.k.a. Grossly Conflicted about a Minuscule Part of My Life!

A. Dearest Steve,

Welcome. You’re among friends here. I wouldn’t have a column if not for people grossly conflicted about minuscule parts of their lives.

I must start by breaking the news that the situation is worse than you think: The cartridges (also called chargers) you’re using in your whipped-cream foamer are most likely filled with nitrous oxide, not carbon dioxide.

Read more: Food, Living


Water & oil: How natives & neighbors of the Sacred Headwaters battled drillers and won

Something does not belong here: Shell's original test well in the Sacred Headwaters.
Karen Tam Wu

Editor's note: This is part 1 of Grist's series on the Sacred Headwaters. Read part 2 here and part 3 here.  

I’m helicoptering over a thousand-mile mess of dirt-dusted glaciers, spongy tundra, and bristling forest in the far north of British Columbia. My gut wobbles as we drop past mountain ridges toward our destination: a soupy, pea-green bog dotted with a handful of black ponds. Fed by whitewater trickles draining the peaks around us, it’s a sucking, primordial muck reminiscent of an antiquated dinosaur mural, or a day-glo panel from Swamp Thing’s origin issue. And sure enough, it’s the birthplace of something big, ancient, and slippery: the Skeena, Nass, and Stikine -- three of the largest salmon rivers on the West Coast, all born here or near here in the Sacred Headwaters.

But the Sacred Headwaters doesn’t owe its growing fame to the chinook, coho, and silver salmon races that have been flapping up these rivers since before the Bering Strait opened to pedestrians. For that, we ultimately must thank what lies buried directly 2,000 feet below: 8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas trapped inside vast beds of coal.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Rebel smell: In the Deep South, dirty energy and disenfranchisement go hand in hand


The southeastern U.S. is pre-1990s South Africa, and the brand of apartheid practiced here is of the energy variety. This is how environmental justice scholar Robert Bullard called it two years ago, and a report released yesterday from the NAACP pretty much confirms it.

Clocking in at over 500 pages, the civil rights organization’s new report, “Just Energy Policies: Reducing Pollution and Creating Jobs,” reads like an update of Van Jones’s 2008 book, The Green Collar Economy, showing how far the nation has come, and not come, in advancing clean energy.

The NAACP’s report hinges on the idea that the more that states invest in clean energy and implement diverse and localized hiring practices, the more people of color will benefit in terms of income, employment, and health. Clean energy, in other words, can help create a more just society.

You’re not tracking? Consider that, according to the American Association of Blacks in Energy, African Americans spent $41 billion on energy in 2009, but they only held 1.1 percent of the energy jobs and gained .01 percent of energy sector profits. Meanwhile, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says there will be 661,000 green construction jobs at the end of this year, and an additional 7.9 million jobs created in other professions supported by green industries.

Perhaps this is why Jacqueline Patterson, the NAACP's climate justice director and lead author of the new report, said on a conference call yesterday that the “production of energy is a clear civil rights issue.”


There’s a new island in Japan

New Japan island
Japan Coast Guard

Last month, this newborn island emerged from the sea like Venus rising from the waves, if Venus had been produced by volcanic activity. Sometimes these baby volcanic islands just disappear again as the ocean washes loose material away, but this one is growing -- it's up to 13.8 acres, about the same footprint as the Great Pyramid of Giza. 

Read more: Living


Maine city gives tar-sands oil the finger

No tar sands oil
Rainforest Action Network

Remember how voters in South Portland, Maine, narrowly rejected a ballot measure last month that would have prevented the city's port from piping in tar-sands oil? Here's the thing about that election result: It's looking like it might not matter. The city council is now taking up the anti-tar-sands campaign anyway.

With a 6-1 vote Monday night, the council put in place a six-month moratorium on shipping tar-sands oil through its port. From the Portland Press Herald: