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The future of genetically modified plants could include potatoes with tiny hamburgers in the middle

hamburgato

io9 has a roundup of where genetically modified plants could be going in the next few generations, and it's a heck of a lot weirder than tomatoes with fish genes. Writer Daniel Berleant envisions oak trees that reproduce via spores and wheat that can fix nitrogen in the soil as well as beans, but shit gets really wacky when he starts talking about modifications that would make produce taste better. Here are some of his weirdest visions for the future of food:

Hamburgatoes: If you can make Quorn, a fungus that tastes like chicken, why can't you make carrots that taste like potato chips, or "potatoes with small hamburgers in the middle"? Presumably this means a small amount of potato-based matter that tastes and behaves like hamburger, but I'm preferring to envision cutting open a potato to find a fully dressed burger on a bun.

Read more: Food

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Droughts push beef prices to record highs

veggie grill
Shutterstock
A cost-saving barbecue.

Mo' drought, moo problems. Hamburger and sirloins are becoming more expensive than ever in the wake of drought-driven herd thinning.

Herd thinning isn't a bovine diet and calisthenics regime. It's a euphemism for unplanned cow slaughtering -- though the end result of the unfortunate practice could literally lower your meat and cholesterol intake. The L.A. Times reports that the retail price of choice-grade beef hit a record $5.28 a pound last month, up from $4.91 a year ago:

Soaring beef prices are being blamed on years of drought throughout the western and southern U.S. The dry weather has driven up the price of feed such as corn and hay to record highs, forcing many ranchers to sell off their cattle. That briefly created a glut of beef cows for slaughter that has now run dry.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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This is the sweetest, mushiest bike map you’ve ever seen

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.

Vincent Meertens and his girlfriend Larissa tracked all their bike trips for a year, and the result is a dense, cross-hatched map of their travels as individuals and as a couple. It's like one of those Facebook relationship pages, but centered on biking.

Meertens' routes are picked out in blue and Larissa's in red. The paths mark their solo activities, their favorite haunts, and their adventures together (although Meertens was more zealous about tracking and some of the blue-only routes, like the one around the perimeter of Manhattan, are actually trips they took as a couple). The yellow dots are places where they took photos.

Read more: Cities, Living

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California’s drought plan will screw the environment

The Delta in California
Mike Vondran
California rivers like this one will be allowed to run drier this year than ever before.

California has a radical plan for managing its rivers and reservoirs as drought grips the Golden State for the third consecutive year. It could help the state cling to water that would normally flush through rivers and into the Pacific Ocean -- at the expense of wildlife and fishing folk who rely on the health of those rivers.

The seven-and-a-half-month plan, developed in consultation with federal officials, doesn't increase the amount of water that will be delivered to customers, but it makes major changes to how precious drops remaining in snowpacks, reservoirs, and rivers will be managed. The Sacramento Bee hits on the plan's highlights:

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The brutally dishonest attacks on Showtime’s landmark climate series

"Years of Living Dangerously" screen shot

The good news is the video of episode one of Showtime’s climate series, Years of Living Dangerously, has been getting great reviews in The New York Times and elsewhere.

The bad news is the Times has published an error-riddled hit-job op-ed on the series that is filled with myths at odds with both the climate science and social science literature. For instance, the piece repeats the tired and baseless claim that Al Gore’s 2006 movie An Inconvenient Truth polarized the climate debate, when the peer-reviewed data says the polarization really jumped in 2009, as you can see in this chart from The Sociological Quarterly:

graph
Percent of Americans who believe the effects of global warming have already begun to happen, by political ideology, from Aaron M. McCright and Riley E. Dunlap. Click to embiggen.

As I said, Years of Living Dangerously — the landmark nine-part Showtime docu-series produced by James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jerry Weintraub — has been getting great reviews. Andy Revkin, often a critic of climate messaging, wrote in The New York Times Monday:

… a compellingly fresh approach to showing the importance of climate hazards to human affairs, the role of greenhouse gases in raising the odds of some costly and dangerous outcomes and — perhaps most important — revealing the roots of the polarizing divisions in society over this issue.

George Marshall, “an expert on climate and communication” — who is also often a critic of climate messaging — wrote me:

What impressed me about the two episodes I watched was the respect that it showed to conservatives, evangelicals and ordinary working people. ... it is still the best documentary I have seen.

The New York Times op-ed is from the founders of the Breakthrough Institute (BTI) — the same group where political scientist Roger Pielke Jr. is a senior fellow. It pushes the same argument that Pielke made in his fivethirtyeight.com piece — which was so widely criticized and debunked by climate scientists and others that Nate Silver himself admitted its myriad flaws and ran a response piece by MIT climatologist Kerry Emanuel eviscerating Pielke.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Climate change just reshaped America’s wildfire strategy

Wildfire
EricF2000

Like a tree in a greenhouse, America's forest fire problem is growing ominously. Rising temperatures and declining rain and snowfall are parching fire-prone areas and juicing conflagrations. On Thursday, following years of meetings and scientific reviews, the Obama administration published a 101-page strategy that aims to help meet the country's shifting fire threats.

The National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy divides the nation according to fire risks, and profiles the communities that face those risks. "No one-size-fits-all approach exists to address the challenges facing the Nation," the strategy states.

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Ask Umbra: How do I wipe out a yard full of weeds?

rain-boots-garden-weeds-grass-water-bucket
Shutterstock

Send your question to Umbra!

Q. Weeds have taken over the yard of a house that hasn't been maintained. Can you please recommend an environmentally friendly way to get rid of them?

Adriana F.
San Jose, Calif.

A. Dearest Adriana,

I love gardening questions. They allow me to virtually escape the stacks and spend the day mentally frolicking in a sunny, flower-filled yard. And with spring finally springing in so many places, yours is a timely query indeed.

It sounds like the weeds in question aren’t in your yard, Adriana, but perhaps you’re keen to remove a neighborhood eyesore. (If people actually still live in this house, though, you should probably have a chat before descending on their property with hoes and trowels.) It also sounds like you’re dealing with an advanced infestation. Even so, you probably know what I’m going to say first: The best way to deal with weeds is … weeding!

Read more: Food, Living

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Even “green” K-Cups kinda suck for the environment

ecocup
Mother Parkers

We recently found out that K-Cups, those single-serve thingers you use in your office's Keurig coffeemaker, create so much trash that debris from the ones sold just in the last year would circle the planet almost 11 times. And if that wasn't enough to drive you back to old-school percolators, try this on for size: Even the new "EcoCup," billed as a green K-Cup alternative, is pretty crappy for the environment.

The EcoCup, made by coffee company Mother Parkers, is designed to work with Keurigs and to provide single servings of coffee grounds or tea with a slightly less disastrous environmental footprint. The main innovation? It's recyclable. But, uh, not that recyclable, according to Treehugger:

Read more: Food, Living

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Oil companies would rather let trains explode than cooperate with feds

DOT-111
PHMSA

As federal officials work frantically to reverse an uptick in explosions and oil spills from crude-hauling trains, the companies that are fracking the crude and transporting it by rail are responding with an unhelpful collective shrug.

Lawmakers and regulators want information from the oil companies about their rail shipments. The oil companies initially made helpful-sounding noises and pledged to cooperate. Now, however, it seems they're more worried about keeping corporate secrets than protecting Americans from their explosive loads. From The Hill:

“Just last month before the Commerce Committee, the crude oil industry assured us they were focused on safety and willing to work on this issue," [Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.)] said in a statement. "Since then, I’ve seen nothing to convince me this was more than just lip service."...

Rockefeller said he and other legislators had received assurances from the American Petroleum Institute (API) that the crude industry was on board with the push to increase the safety of oil trains.

But the West Virginia senator said on Monday that Congress was still waiting to see the promised assistance.

Rockefeller's frustrations mirror those of top rail regulators. As Reuters reported last week:

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Can celebrities and prime-time TV make Americans care about climate change?

Years of Living DangerouslyCheadle, Hayhoe, and Andrew Farley. April 13 is the television premiere of the much-anticipated Showtime series on climate change, Years of Living Dangerously. The show features a cast of notable celebrities, who set out with scientists, firefighters and policymakers to explore the front lines of climate change. The show's first episode, already available online, features actor Don Cheadle traveling to Plainview, Texas, where he discusses climate change and drought with Texas Tech University climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe and her husband, an evangelical preacher. It also follows Harrison Ford as he travels to Indonesia to look at deforestation and …

Read more: Climate & Energy