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L.A. and California lawmakers move to impose fracking moratoriums

Hollywood sign
Matt' Johnson

Leaders in Los Angeles seem to have been paying attention to Hollywood. A little more than a year after the release of Promised Land, a movie about the dangers of fracking starring Matt Damon, members of L.A. City Council are trying to ban hydraulic fracturing.

"Fracking and other unconventional drilling is happening here in Los Angeles, and without the oversight and review to keep our neighborhoods safe," Councilman Mike Bonin said during a committee hearing on Tuesday. Here's more from the L.A. Times:


Carbon dioxide pollution just killed 10 million scallops

scallops with chili

Scallops go well with loads of chili and an after-dinner dose of antacid. It's just too bad we can't share our post-gluttony medicine with the oceans that produce our mollusk feasts.

A scallops producer on Vancouver Island in British Columbia just lost three years' worth of product to high acidity levels. The disaster, which cost the company $10 million and could lead to its closure, is the latest vicious reminder of the submarine impacts of our fossil fuel–heavy energy appetites. As carbon dioxide is soaked up by the oceans, it reacts with water to produce bicarbonate and carbonic acid, increasing ocean acidity. 

The Parksville Qualicum Beach News has the latest shellfish-shriveling scoop:


These photos give a glimpse of the forbidden urban underground

Logan Hicks, "3D New York, NY", 30in x 48in. Courtesy of the artist.

You know the archetypal “bad kids” who hang out at abandoned construction sites at night (maybe with skateboards, possibly turned into aliens)? Logan Hicks is that kid, all grown up -- and armed with a DSLR. He sneaks underground so you don’t have to, taking eerie shots of abandoned subway tunnels from Detroit to Paris:

Logan Hicks, "3 Way Split, Paris, France", 30in x 48in. Courtesy of the artist.
Read more: Cities, Living


American aqueduct: The great California water saga

The San Luis Reservoir in the center of California is a key link between the State Water Project and the federally funded Central Valley Project.
Alexis Madrigal
The San Luis Reservoir in the center of California is a key link between the State Water Project and the federally funded Central Valley Project.

Hood, Calif., is a farming town of 200 souls, crammed up against a levee that protects it from the Sacramento River. The eastern approach from I-5 and the Sacramento suburb of Elk Grove is bucolic. Cows graze. An abandoned railroad track sits atop a narrow embankment. Cross it, and the town comes into view: a fire station, five streets, a tiny park. The last three utility poles on Hood-Franklin Road before it dead-ends into town bear American flags.

b82dcc12aI've come here because this little patch of land is the key location in Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed $25 billion plan to fix California's troubled water transport system. Hood sits at the northern tip of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a network of human-made islands and channels constructed on the ruins of the largest estuary from Patagonia to Alaska. Since the 1950s, the Delta has served as the great hydraulic tie between northern and southern California: a network of rivers, tributaries, and canals deliver runoff from the Sierra Mountain Range's snowpack to massive pumps at the southern end of the Delta. From there, the water travels through aqueducts to the great farms of the San Joaquin Valley and to the massive coastal cities. The Delta, then, is not only a 700,000-acre place where people live and work, but some of the most important plumbing in the world. Without this crucial nexus point, the current level of agricultural production in the southern San Joaquin Valley could not be sustained, and many cities, including the three largest on the West Coast -- Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose -- would have to come up with radical new water-supply solutions.


Rice is the new cocaine for European drug dealers

IRRI Images

It’s hard out here for a food eater! Between the rapid desiccation of some of the United States’ most productive farmland, cannibalism and disease on meat farms, and organized criminals in Europe selling long-grain rice as fraudulent basmati, the struggle is real. That last one is not a euphemism.

Departments of Interpol and Europol are beginning to crack down on gangs profiting off of a fairly new form of illegal activity: food fraud. Former drug dealers have hung up their dime bags and moved into the food counterfeiting game because, as it’s still in its nascent stages, legal consequences are almost negligible. The payoff for substituting cheap, low-quality, and often dangerous ingredients for certain in-demand foods and beverages far outweighs the risk -- because that makes sense! Welcome to the modern food system; you must be new here.


GMO, yeah? 5 surprises from an otherwise boring look at genetically modified crops

GMO tomato, anybody?

Researchers at the USDA’s Economic Research Service have stepped back to look at the effect of genetically engineered crops since they were introduced in the U.S. It’s a pretty dry and unsurprising document, but when read carefully a few interesting things jump out. Here’s five.

1. How many GMO trials are there? Tons

Read more: Food


Lady justice: Clarice Gaylord led the EPA’s fight for communities of color


In 1992, Clarice Gaylord was working in the human resources office at the Environmental Protection Agency when she got the call to head the agency’s newly minted Office of Environmental Equity -- later named the Office of Environmental Justice. The office, created by President George H. W. Bush’s EPA chief, Bill Reilly, was the federal government’s first serious attempt at addressing the problem of pollution falling most harshly on communities of color and low income.

Gaylord, who holds a PhD in zoology, had worked throughout the 1980s as a health science administrator at the National Cancer Institute, the National Institutes of Health, and then as director of the EPA’s research grants program before she wound up in the agency’s human resources office. The HR post was somewhat of a demotion, she said, that happened due to racism. But it proved fortuitous for her: When she became director of the environmental justice office, she used those personnel skills to expand the diversity of EPA’s staff, even as she helped develop mechanisms for how the EPA could better protect communities of color.

She did this primarily by connecting residents of overburdened communities directly with science and public health officials in the federal government. Gaylord also established the first National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, which brought grassroots activists together from around the nation to coach the agency on how to integrate environmental justice (EJ) into its policies and thinking. She was the director of the Office of Environmental Justice for five years, ending with an office made stronger when President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 12898, requiring all federal agencies to incorporate EJ strategies into their plans.

I spoke with Gaylord recently from her home in California about how she was able to develop an office that by many measures was destined to fail, given the low support for social justice matters within the EPA at the time.


Bicycle pizza cutter lets you bring your love of bikes to the table


Doiy Design’s Fixie pizza cutter lets you combine your two main loves: bikes and pizza. (We assume these are your two main loves because we assume nobody's preferences have changed since third grade.)


Read more: Living


Frack-happy Colorado clamps down on methane pollution

Smoggy Denver
Rick Kimpel
Cutting back on methane leaks could help reduce Denver's infamous smog.

Frackers and other companies that handle natural gas will have to start being at least a little bit neighborly in Colorado, where new rules will force them to clamp down on methane leaks from wells, tanks, and pipelines.

When methane (natural gas is pretty much just methane) escapes during drilling and transportation, it fuels ozone pollution and global warming. Methane concentrations in the atmosphere are rising, and methane leaks are a major problem in the U.S. By one recent estimate, the U.S. EPA has understated the problem by a half.

To start trying to tackle the problem, Colorado's air quality commission voted 8-1 on Sunday to adopt the nation's first state regulations dealing with methane leaks -- regulations that the Natural Resources Defense Council had previously described as "common-sense measures to reduce harmful pollution." Volatile organic compounds will also be regulated under the new rules. Reuters explains:


Moss can power a radio, and could eventually charge your phone

Tony Frates

A team of scientists over in Europe have decided to take the idea of “green” power very, very literally: They have developed a system to harness the energy generated by moss.

Modern Farmer:

Along with two scientists from the University of Cambridge, Felder developed a way to use moss as a “biological solar panel.” Put simply, moss creates surplus electrons during photosynthesis. Felder’s collaborators have tapped into this electricity on a small scale -- they’ve built a functional, moss-powered radio. ...

The radio only runs for a couple minutes at a time. ... But it’s early yet -- the scientists have only figured how to harness about 0.1% of moss’s energy.

So maybe a future where all our gadgets run on moss is still kind of pie in the sky. But hey, as long as we’re dreaming, we’d like a pony and moss-powered phone chargers that could save scads of energy:

Read more: Living