These four tiger cubs are only 10 days old, the youngest ones ever filmed in the wild -- and they're clearly a pain in their mom's majestic ass. They wander off and tumble down rocks while she attempts to fetch them all back, eventually getting fed up and hauling one home by the leg. (By the time she gets done with that, the first one has probably toddled off again.)
Everyone is excited about rumors that President Obama will name Ernest Moniz to run the Department of Energy. Reactions range from "Who is Ernest Moniz?" to "What happened to the other guy?" to "Who was the other guy?"
Well, we are here to answer those questions! (The first one, anyway; we've answered the other two before.) Since you live a fast-paced lifestyle, always on the go, we've broken it up into bite-sized pieces, one bit of info at a time. You are welcome in advance.
Who is Ernest Moniz?
Well, he might be the next secretary of energy -- if Obama nominates him and if the Senate approves him. It is possible that in two months time he will be of very little interest to you, having not been confirmed. Or he will be of very little interest to you because he was confirmed, but you, like most Americans, are fairly indifferent to the office of secretary of energy.
But you knew that. So here's who he is, as articulated by Reuters, which appears to have been first with rumors of his imminent nomination.
Moniz, a former undersecretary of energy during the Clinton administration, is director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Energy Initiative, a research group that gets funding from industry heavyweights including BP, Chevron, and Saudi Aramco for academic work on projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gases.
Ha ha. Sounds great! We will come back to this part, obviously.
At MIT, Moniz led intensive studies about the future of coal, nuclear energy and natural gas, and he helped attract funding and research momentum to energy projects on campus.
People familiar with Moniz's work said, if chosen, he would bring his own energy and pragmatism to the job. …
Moniz earned kudos for a pragmatic approach toward using research to find ways to reduce carbon pollution from fossil fuels and transition to cleaner forms of energy.
We'll come back to this, too.
What does he look like?
Well, he looks like this:
But more evocatively, he kind of looks like a Founding Father who teaches high-school English in New Hampshire.
I've been writing a lot about the activist campaign to block the Keystone XL pipeline. Much of that writing has been devoted to pushing back against the squadron of Very Serious People who want to pooh-pooh the campaign as mistargeted, misguided, and futile.
But whether you like the campaign or not, it's too late for second-guessing at this point. The fight is underway; it's already freighted with symbolism. Within the next few months, the Keystone decision will be made, for good or ill. Then the question arises: What's next for the climate movement?
This is an opportunity to take a step back and think carefully about the effort to address climate change and the role activism plays in it. I'll probably do several posts on this -- it's a rich subject -- and I hope others will join in the discussion too.
I want to kick things off by discussing one important distinction that has lurked beneath a lot of the conflict over Keystone:
Supply vs. demand
One of the recurring critiques of the Keystone campaign goes like this:
What if the agricultural revolution has already happened and we didn’t realize it? Essentially, that’s the idea in this report from the Guardian about a group of poverty-stricken Indian rice and potato farmers who harvested confirmed world-record yields of rice and potatoes. Best of all: They did it completely sans-GMOs or even chemicals of any kind.
[Sumant] Kumar, a shy young farmer in Nalanda district of India's poorest state Bihar, had -- using only farmyard manure and without any herbicides -- grown an astonishing 22.4 tonnes of rice on one hectare [~2.5 acres] of land. This was a world record and with rice the staple food of more than half the world's population of seven billion, big news.
It beat not just the 19.4 tonnes achieved by the "father of rice", the Chinese agricultural scientist Yuan Longping, but the World Bank-funded scientists at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines, and anything achieved by the biggest European and American seed and GM companies. And it was not just Sumant Kumar. Krishna, Nitish, Sanjay and Bijay, his friends and rivals in Darveshpura, all recorded over 17 tonnes, and many others in the villages around claimed to have more than doubled their usual yields.
Another Bihar farmer broke India’s wheat-growing record the same year. They accomplished all this without GMOs or advanced seed hybrids, artificial fertilizer or herbicide. Instead, they used a technique called System of Rice [or root] Intensification (SRI). It’s a technique developed in Madagascar in the 1980s by a French Jesuit and then identified and promulgated by Cornell political scientist and international development specialist Norman Uphoff.
SRI for rice involves starting with fewer, more widely spaced plants; using less water; actively aerating the soil; and applying lots of organic fertilizer. According to Uphoff’s SRI Institute website [PDF], the farmers who use synthetic fertilizer with the technique get lower yields than those who farm organically. How’s that for pleasant irony?
The breadth of the results in Bihar have gotten international attention. The Guardian reports that economist Joseph Stieglitz, a Nobel laureate and international development aficionado, visited the area last month. After seeing their amazing results, he declared the farmers “better than scientists.”
High praise aside, the technique is not without its detractors.
Early on a Thursday morning, six days after a giant feathery serpent failed to consume the planet as the Mayan calendar ended and the world didn’t, I left Louisville looking for answers. It looked to be a long day -- I had a two-hour drive ahead of me and I wanted to spend as much time as possible at the Creation Museum, a state-of-the-art, Bible-based “science” museum in Petersburg, Ky. One thinly understood ancient text had failed to tell me when the world was going to end, but maybe another could tell me how it started.
The Creation Museum opened to long lines and international attention in May of 2007. The 70,000-square-foot, $27 million facility sits on 49 sprawling acres just 10 minutes from the Cincinnati airport -- putting it “within one hour's flight of 69 percent of America's population," according to Ken Ham, president of both the museum and its parent organization, Answers In Genesis.
While the location might make geographic sense, Kentucky’s topography makes it an odd fit. Most of the state is lumpy, like a great earthen bed sheet rumpled by the crashing of continental plates -- and that Kentucky earth is full of dinosaurs. One would think it would be hard to reconcile all those lumps and fossils with a worldview that smashes the entire history of the universe into 6,000 years -- but the museum promises to do just that, explaining away millions of years of plate tectonics with the wrathful fist of an angry God cracking Earth’s crust with a heavenly haymaker at the start of the flood that sent Noah scurrying to fill his ark with aardvarks, ostriches, antelopes, and, yes, dinosaurs. In fact, like the ark, the Creation Museum is rumored to be chock full of the thunder lizards.
I’m going to be honest here. It all seemed a mite tough to swallow, but I’m a sucker for dinosaurs, and I’d been looking forward to visiting the museum for months. Still, as I pulled onto the grounds through a pair of stone gates topped with wrought-iron stegosauruses, I began to feel a lead pit in my stomach. I felt like a dirty double agent. I like to think I’m open-minded -- it’s a basic tenet of the scientific method that nothing is ever truly certain and that evidence trumps all -- but I couldn't imagine this place changing minds.
The piece, adapted from Michael Moss' forthcoming book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, is well worth devouring. In it, Moss tracks the development of consumer-friendly products such as Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper and Lunchables from research and development in the late '80s to the obesity epidemic of our modern times. Moss writes:
So why are the diabetes and obesity and hypertension numbers still spiraling out of control? It’s not just a matter of poor willpower on the part of the consumer and a give-the-people-what-they-want attitude on the part of the food manufacturers. What I found, over four years of research and reporting, was a conscious effort — taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles — to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive. I talked to more than 300 people in or formerly employed by the processed-food industry, from scientists to marketers to C.E.O.’s. Some were willing whistle-blowers, while others spoke reluctantly when presented with some of the thousands of pages of secret memos that I obtained from inside the food industry’s operations. What follows is a series of small case studies of a handful of characters whose work then, and perspective now, sheds light on how the foods are created and sold to people who, while not powerless, are extremely vulnerable to the intensity of these companies’ industrial formulations and selling campaigns.
Does it surprise you that food giants Kraft, Pepsi, and General Mills use extensive research-and-development processes designed to find a consumer's ideal "bliss point"? Does it surprise you that said "bliss point" is a combination of way more sugar, salt, and fat than any of us would load up on a plate otherwise? Does it surprise you that this makes those corporate food giants a huge ton of cash?
None of these things surprised me. Moss' piece is scary, and these corporations' tactics are extraordinary, but they seem right in line with the marketing ploys that have shaped our well-padded American lives for the last three decades. What did surprise me was the story of Jeffrey Dunn.
Farmers markets sometimes get a bad rap for catering to the moneyed set, as though only the well-to-do like to buy their produce in a pleasant, social, outdoor environment, direct from the source.
It turns out that's all a bunch of compost. Low-income shoppers are actually the real farmers-market power users, buying bigger shares of their groceries at the markets than at other stores compared to middle- and high-income shoppers, according to a new report from the Project for Public Spaces.
The bald eagle has been the national bird and national emblem of the United States of America since 1782. We Americans encounter it on the Great Seal from a such an early age -- and we encounter so few real bald eagles -- that our brains are probably wired to render as symbolic any eagle that pops into our consciousness.
Please don't do that symbolizing thing to this week's Eagle In The News: He is a simply a beautiful, noble, eight-foot-wingspanned, government-protected bird that was hit by a car Wednesday afternoon on I-84 in Portland, Ore., while roadside dining, and is critically injured. He has a broken leg, possible paralysis, and is being watched closely at the Audubon Society to see if he will survive into today. Two lanes of traffic were shut down, for 20 minutes, to save him. Rescuers had to creep up from behind to capture and treat the guy.
Encana executives, therefore, will be forgiven for feeling a little frustrated. They're just trying to drill up oil and gas and sell it at a profit while letting your lungs and the atmosphere incur the cost of the pollution, is that so wrong? So when a reporter asked executives a question they found insulting, one responded more colorfully than would be generally recommended. From Reuters:
Encana Corp, Canada's largest natural gas producer, apologized on Thursday because one of its executives cursed after an analyst asked about whether new Canadian investment rules would prohibit its takeover by foreign state-owned entities.
When asked the question by Canaccord Genuity analyst Phil Skolnick, interim CEO Clayton Woitas said: "The answer would be no." Then, in a whispered comment that was clearly audible on a replay of the call, someone can be heard saying, "fucking asshole."
Pirate fishing is an entertainingly named but actually terrible scourge of the oceans.
"It leaves communities without much needed food and income and the marine environment smashed and empty," according to Greenpeace, which has estimated that there are upwards of 1,000 illegal industrial-scale fishing ships at sea. "Pirate fishing compounds the global environmental damage from other destructive fisheries. Because they operate, quite literally, off the radar of any enforcement, the fishing techniques they use are destroying ocean life." The practice is rampant in Central America and parts of Europe and Africa.
But now the super-intimidating international policing ubergroup INTERPOL is convening for the first time ever to talk about policing these pirates at next week's International Fisheries Enforcement Conference in Lyon, France. "High-level Chiefs in the field of fisheries law enforcement are invited to join together with the aim of sharing expertise and strategies to prevent and combat fisheries crime," says INTERPOL.