There's been enough written about genetically modified organisms and Monsanto that it's easy to lose touch with how they actually impact people's lives. On a recent trip to India, Perennial Plate got a wake-up call from environmental activist Vandana Shiva. Here's our conversation with Shiva on a seed-saving revolution, farmer suicides, and how female farmers are the future of India's agriculture.
It was an urbanist’s nightmare. On Feb. 1, a teenager was shot dead in the middle of a popular art gallery walk and street fair in Oakland, Calif. -- a town that highlights exactly what a city wins and loses when it attracts a huge influx of the vaunted “creative class.”
Kiante Campbell, an 18-year-old Oakland resident, was killed in the shadow of new condominiums, gourmet food trucks, and buffed art galleries selling oil paintings that cost more than a few months’ rent in the ’hood. The festival, Art Murmur, shuts down much of Oakland’s downtown on the first Friday of each month, drawing 20,000 people, including tourists from both San Francisco and the surrounding suburbs. Now its future was called into question.
The shooting highlighted a stark reality: The creative class is remaking Oakland in its own image, but the “urban renaissance” isn’t benefitting everyone. The neighborhood where Campbell was killed has new condos and galleries -- and a median household income of less than $22,000.
By the urbanist creative-class metric, Oakland is winning. It’s a top city for urban farmers, local organic gourmet food snobs (love you, food snobs!), cyclists, and art-lovers. It’s home to a growing number of imported young makers, tech start-ups, and rising artists, in large part because of its close proximity to San Francisco and Silicon Valley. At the same time, about 13 percent of Oakland residents are unemployed, and the city still has one of the highest murder rates in the nation, especially for teens.
For years, Richard Florida and other urban life pundits have espoused the creative class as the secret to city success. When the creative class wins, their logic goes, we all win. Gentrification has essentially become America’s favored urban redevelopment strategy.
Florida has acknowledged that the rise of the creative class can exacerbate urban class divides, but his new research highlights just how big those divides can be.
Some Seattle construction workers were surprised to arrive at work last week to find two raccoons shacked up in a 150-foot tower crane, which was being used to build an apartment building at the corner of 24rd and Market. Experts were called in, but they were not able to catch the raccoons -- they just had to wait for them to leave on their own. Why, you might ask? Well, partly because raccoons can run 15 miles an hour, while construction workers tend to stand in one place going, "Holy shit, raccoons!" And partly because raccoons are sly little bastards. They like to cause problems and run away. Sometimes they bite people. (They run away after that too. They are good at going through garbage and getting rabies and killing cats -- they are not so good at taking responsibility for their actions.)
In an ideal world, we wouldn't need to justify improved biking infrastructure. Biking is fun, and faster than walking, and people should be able to safely bike if they want to. But sometimes we need compelling reasons to convince cities and states to spend money on things, and former Grister Sarah Goodyear has a really, really good one for biking: It could help kids do better in school. She wrote at Atlantic Cities about a Danish study from late last year that shows kids who bike to school also concentrate better.
The survey looked at nearly 20,000 Danish kids between the ages of 5 and 19. It found that kids who cycled or walked to school, rather than traveling by car or public transportation, performed measurably better on tasks demanding concentration, such as solving puzzles, and that the effects lasted for up to four hours after they got to school.
This makes sense on an instinctive level: On the bus or in the car, you're staring out the window, zoning out, avoiding that annoying 3rd grader who won't stop singing. Walking and biking, you're out in the world, looking, processing, understanding, reacting. Your mind's up and running by the time you get to school.
Over the weekend, two very different media outlets ran two very different takes on green jobs.
David Leonhardt, writing for The New York Times, begins with a common critique: Green jobs produce more expensive energy, so they're a net loss for the economy.
Green jobs have long had a whiff of exaggeration to them. The alternative-energy sector may ultimately employ millions of people. But raising the cost of the energy that households and businesses use every day -- a necessary effect of helping the climate -- is not exactly a recipe for an economic boom.
Not when framed like that, certainly. Leonhardt doesn't address the built-in economic advantages fossil fuels enjoy, nor the recent examples of price parity between fossils and solar, for example. He's trying to make a broader point: The climate should be fixed for its own sake, because the economic cost of climate change over the long run will be enormous. The goal is preventing disaster, not worrying about jobs.
After an intense six-week training program, the only thing that stands between Aaron Alton and a $90,000 fracking job is a commercial driver's license. It's August of 2012. The job, at a natural gas drilling company, is Aaron's ticket out of Harrisburg, PA.
Presidential decisions often turn out to be far less significant than imagined, but every now and then what a president decides actually determines how the world turns. Such is the case with the Keystone XL pipeline, which, if built, is slated to bring some of the “dirtiest,” carbon-rich oil on the planet from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. In the near future, President Obama is expected to give its construction a definitive thumbs up or thumbs down, and the decision he makes could prove far more important than anyone imagines. It could determine the fate of the Canadian tar-sands industry and, with it, the future well-being of the planet. If that sounds overly dramatic, let me explain.
Sometimes, what starts out as a minor skirmish can wind up determining the outcome of a war -- and that seems to be the case when it comes to the mounting battle over the Keystone XL pipeline. If given the go-ahead by President Obama, it will daily carry more than 700,000 barrels of tar-sands oil to those Gulf Coast refineries, providing a desperately needed boost to the Canadian energy industry. If Obama says no, the Canadians (and their American backers) will encounter possibly insuperable difficulties in exporting their heavy crude oil, discouraging further investment and putting the industry’s future in doubt.
The battle over Keystone XL was initially joined in the summer of 2011, when environmental writer and climate activist Bill McKibben and 350.org, which he helped found, organized a series of non-violent anti-pipeline protests in front of the White House to highlight the links between tar-sands production and the accelerating pace of climate change. At the same time, farmers and politicians in Nebraska, through which the pipeline is set to pass, expressed grave concern about its threat to that state’s crucial aquifers. After all, tar-sands crude is highly corrosive, and leaks are a notable risk.
In mid-January 2012, in response to those concerns, other worries about the pipeline, and perhaps a looming presidential campaign season, Obama postponed a decision on completing the controversial project. (He, not Congress, has the final say, since it will cross an international boundary.) Now, he must decide on a suggested new route that will, supposedly, take Keystone XL around those aquifers and so reduce the threat to Nebraska’s water supplies.
Ever since the president postponed the decision on whether to proceed, powerful forces in the energy industry and government have been mobilizing to press ever harder for its approval. Its supporters argue vociferously that the pipeline will bring jobs to America and enhance the nation’s “energy security” by lessening its reliance on Middle Eastern oil suppliers. Their true aim, however, is far simpler: to save the tar-sands industry (and many billions of dollars in U.S. investments) from possible disaster.
Just how critical the fight over Keystone has become in the eyes of the industry is suggested by a recent pro-pipeline editorial in the trade publication Oil & Gas Journal:
Controversy over the Keystone XL project leaves no room for compromise. Fundamental views about the future of energy are in conflict. Approval of the project would acknowledge the rich potential of the next generation of fossil energy and encourage its development. Rejection would foreclose much of that potential in deference to an energy utopia few Americans support when they learn how much it costs.
Opponents of Keystone XL, who are planning a mass demonstration at the White House on Feb. 17, have also come to view the pipeline battle in epic terms. “Alberta’s tar sands are the continent’s biggest carbon bomb,” McKibben wrote at TomDispatch. “If you could burn all the oil in those tar sands, you’d run the atmosphere’s concentration of carbon dioxide from its current 390 parts per million (enough to cause the climate havoc we’re currently seeing) to nearly 600 parts per million, which would mean if not hell, then at least a world with a similar temperature.” Halting Keystone would not by itself prevent those high concentrations, he argued, but would impede the production of tar sands, stop that “carbon bomb” from further heating the atmosphere, and create space for a transition to renewables. “Stopping Keystone will buy time,” he says, “and hopefully that time will be used for the planet to come to its senses around climate change.”
"You're going to like what you hear," White House aides have told green groups, according to an official at one environmental organization who expects the president to publicly commit to moving forward with EPA climate regulations.
"In past speeches, there was a lot of, 'I call on Congress,'" the official added. "And what I'm expecting to see more of this time is, 'This is what my administration is going to do.'"
If this OOEO (official at one environmental organization) is right, it will be cause for good cheer. But the question remains, even if Barack Obama is pure of heart and dedicated to climate progress, what can he do?
He'll get no help from Congress. Serious climate legislation is off the table as long as Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is in charge of the House but not in charge of his Tea Party faction. So what can be done without Congress?
The storm was certainly among the top five to affect Southern New England and Maine and for some localities, the worst winter storm on record (going back 300 years since European inhabitants began keeping track of such things). …
It can probably be said that winter storm Nemo was the 2nd most intense winter storm event for Long Island, Connecticut, eastern Massachusetts, and perhaps Rhode Island. For Long Island and Connecticut the Blizzard of 1888 remains unparalleled whereas for Rhode Island and eastern Massachusetts the Blizzard of 1978 remains the top event. For southeastern Maine it would appear that Nemo has been the most extreme snowstorm on record. …
I might add that it is a bit unsettling that two of the most significant storms in the past 300 years to strike the northeastern quadrant of the U.S. have occurred within just four months from one another.
In every respect, the sequester is dumb. If you're only vaguely familiar with the term as it's being used this month: God bless you. But a little background is in order. The recently ended 112th Congress wasn't mature enough to come up with a plan to reduce the deficit (even though it had declared that the deficit was a big priority), so it decided to build a time bomb. "If you don't come up with a budget plan in the spring," it said, "this thing's gonna blow, slicing over a trillion dollars from the budget over the next decade." The 112th Congress then laughed maniacally and did nothing for the rest of the year. Now the 113th Congress is standing around holding this big bomb, sweating nervously, mad at the previous Congress (which was almost entirely the same people).
Oh, you don't care? Good, slash government, you say? Cool attitude. But also: Say goodbye to all of the meat you eat. From Reuters:
The Obama administration warned on Friday that across-the-board spending cuts set to take effect in March may result in furloughing every U.S. meat and poultry inspector for two weeks, causing the meat industry to shut down.
By law, meatpackers and processors are not allowed to ship beef, pork, lamb and poultry meat without the Agriculture Department's inspection seal.
Remember before when you were like, "Who cares about budget cuts?" Now, you do. Ha ha.
This European horse meat scandal just got weirder. Initially, regulators were talking about a few shipments of beef that had maybe 30 percent horse meat in them. The horse meat had shown up in a limited number of grocery store chains. But now, the horse meat is being found many more places -- in Irish Burger King franchises and in France, for instance --and in greater concentrations. (We're talking 100 percent prime horse burger.) And some of the horse meat might actually be donkey meat. And international organized crime groups might be to blame.
The Independentreports that it's clearer now where the horse meat came from:
It came from abattoirs in Romania through a dealer in Cyprus working through another dealer in Holland to a meat plant in the south of France which sold it to a French-owned factory in Luxembourg which made it into frozen meals sold in supermarkets in 16 countries.
The most important bit of this rambling path is where the meat started -- in Romania. The Independent says that the country's suffering from an excess of horse meat. A law recently banned horse-drawn carts from the road, which meant Romania had a lot of horses it need to dispose of. And donkey-drawn carts were also banned, "leading to speculation among food-industry officials in France that some of the 'horse meat' which has turned up on supermarket shelves in Britain, France and Sweden may, in fact, turn out to be donkey meat," the Independent writes.