The Food & Environment Reporting Network has a nice piece by Elizabeth Royte about farmers opting out of genetically engineered seeds to take advantage of emerging non-GMO markets. I’ve covered this ground myself, and like me, Royte had no problem finding farmers who said they could make more money without transgenics.
One new point of interest: It seems that small seed companies are rising to meet the demand. Royte suggests that the large companies protect their investment in GE seed by charging artificially high prices for their non-GE varieties. And that’s buoying upstarts:
Into this breach, smaller companies that specialize in non-GMO seed have leapt. West Des Moines–based eMerge Genetics has averaged 30 percent growth in each of the last five years. Sales at Spectrum Seed Solutions, based in Linden, Indiana, have doubled every year of the four it’s been in business.
Its president, Scott Odle, believes that non-GMO corn could be 20 percent of the market in five years.
The past week was a topsy-turvy one for the fracking industry in Europe, where leaders and residents are sharply split over whether frackers should be allowed to tap shale reserves for natural gas.
The U.K. government is so anxious to see fracking companies get to work that it confirmed it will offer big tax breaks to help encourage the sector. The country's chief finance minister, George Osborne -- whimsically dubbed the chancellor of the Exchequer -- confirmed during his autumn budget update that the tax breaks would be put in place. He claimed a fracking boom would bring "thousands of jobs" and "billions of pounds of investment." (Memo to the chancellor: Frackers have been known to lie about these things.)
Eddie Stebbings and Bee Bueche are wildlife wardens on Skomer Island, a seal colony and bird sanctuary off the coast of Britain. Mostly, they hang out with the 400-some seals that live there (including 180 new babies). But occasionally, they like to leave the island, and they've got a small rubber dinghy that takes them to the mainland.
One day, in October, a big bull seal -- "about four times my weight, eight foot long and clearly not worried about people coming close to him," Stebbings told the Telegraph — flopped into the boat and would not move. He stayed there for four whole days, leaving the couple no choice but to stick around the island.
The important detail here is that Stebbings and Bueche had just gotten married.
It's never good news to hear that a new breed of cockroaches has invaded your city. And it's even worse when you learn that these cockroaches -- members of a species known for its ability to endure all sorts of privations -- are particularly unkillable.
The High Line, the New York park that turned a dilapidated stretch of elevated railway on Manhattan's West Side into one of the city's newest tourist attractions, may have brought a different kind of visitor: a cockroach never seen before in the US that can withstand the harsh winter cold.
Insect biologists at the city's Rutgers Univeristy, Jessica Ware and Dominic Evangelista, said the species Periplaneta japonica is well-documented in Asia but has never been confirmed in the US – until now.
Most likely, the Guardian says, these cockroaches were living in the soil of an imported, ornamental plant at some nursery, and from there made it to the High Line, the landscape of which was designed "with a focus on native species."
We've written before about Mosaic, the California-based company that acts as a Kickstarter for solar-power projects. They've already raised more $5.6 million for solar projects across the country. But every little bit counts, and the minimum investment in a project is just $25.
Now, just as you’re wracking your brains for what to get your weird hippie uncle, Treehugger reports that that the company's about to start offering "gift cards for the $25 incentive that can be used as stocking stuffers." HINT HINT HINT.
The Supreme Court hears argument Tuesday in EPA v. EME Homer City Generation -- a case that offers everything a Supreme Court junkie could ask for in a potential blockbuster.
An industry challenge to an important Obama administration policy? Check. A decision by conservative judges on the D.C. Circuit striking down that policy? Check. Important stakes for the lives of ordinary Americans? Check. An early gift from Santa for Supreme Court junkies like me? Perhaps.
Let’s begin with the basics. EME Homer involves a challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, a rule designed to address the longstanding problem of interstate air pollution. Simply put, pollution generated by power plants and factories in upwind states inevitably drifts downwind into other states, putting the health of millions of citizens in those states at risk. Congress has been trying to solve this problem for decades and, through the Clean Air Act, has given the EPA authority to address it -- authority that the EPA has used to design the new rule at issue in EME Homer. However, the D.C. Circuit struck down this rule last year in a 2-1 decision [PDF] authored by conservative darling Brett Kavanaugh over a powerful dissent by Judge Judith Rogers.
These background facts alone ought to make EME Homer a case worth watching, but there’s more -- much more. Here are six reasons to keep an eye on EME Homer:
It’s 10 o’clock at night, a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. I’m sitting on the sand in Miami Beach, outside the city proper, eating fish tacos and pondering how it’s come to this.
Overhead, a full moon lights up a swirling nimbus of clouds like one of the hurricanes that occasionally slam into this coastline. At my feet, the surf pounds the shore where the Army Corps of Engineers recently harvested tons of white sand and grafted it onto the shoreline further north, where beach erosion threatened oceanfront condos (total price for the job: $15.8 million).
Suddenly, down the beach, a highrise comes unmoored, calving off of the glittering skyline and sliding into the Atlantic. I leap to my feet, ready to run for high ground, then realize it’s just a massive cruise liner, disembarking from the Port of Miami. My god, those things would make the Pacific Princess look like a glorified canoe.
I may be a little jumpy -- cut me some slack, I’m not much of a beachgoer -- but here on the edge of the continent, it’s easy to feel like things are coming apart. During my time here, I've watched storm drains cough up seawater, looked at climate scientist's projections of huge swaths of South Florida submerged by rising seas, and listened to locals' tales of surviving past storms that have reduced entire neighborhoods to rubble.
Miami Beach, which sits on a barrier island across the narrow Biscayne Bay from Miami proper, is quite literally on the front lines of climate change. In all likelihood, most of this buzzing hive of tourists rocking spray-on tans and swilling Snooki’s favorite drink will be waist-deep in water by the end of the century.
And the city itself isn’t far behind. A story in Rolling Stone this summer called Miami a city “on its way to becoming an American Atlantis” -- a place that will someday be “a popular snorkeling spot where people [can] swim with sharks and sea turtles and explore the wreckage of a great American city.”
But I’m told that the reality here is more interesting than that -- that locals are thinking seriously about how to prepare for the rising seas, that there might be a future here, albeit one where the houses are on stilts and you need a Zodiac to get to the Deco Drive Hookah Lounge. I came to see for myself.
But that enthusiasm has waned in recent years. Oil companies as well as venture capitalists pruned their green-tech portfolios amid the worldwide downturn and the belated realization that some renewable energy technologies were not ready for prime time, while others would require billions of dollars to commercialize. BP -- which had rebranded itself as “Beyond Petroleum” -- shuttered its solar operations in 2011. ExxonMobil earlier this year said it’s reevaluating its investment in algae biofuels after putting $100 million into a company called Synthetic Genomics.
With an endowment larger than all but four of the world's largest hedge funds, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is easily one of the most powerful charities in the world. According to its website, the organization “works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives." So how do the investments of the foundation's $36 billion investing arm, the Gates Foundation Trust, match up to its mission? We dug into the group's recently released 2012 tax returns to find out.
Set aside, for a moment, any questions about how genetically engineered foods affect health or the environment. Set aside all the intellectual property arguments. Let’s ask a more basic question: Is genetic engineering useful? That is, is this technology fruitful enough that it merits further research?
According to the most hyperbolic rhetoric, genetic engineering is going to save the world. This is the technology that is going to liberate us from farms that run on fossil fuels. It will feed more people off fewer acres than ever before. And it will end our reliance on harmful pesticides. I say hyperbolic because no scientist I’ve talked to has ever suggested that genetic engineering is the only solution. But when the rhetoric heats up you’re likely to hear some version of this refrain: We don’t have any choice! We need this technology.
Recently, Jonathan Foley, the director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, made a convincing case that genetic engineering, or any kind of crop improvement actually, isn’t of primary importance. If we really wanted to feed ourselves responsibly, here’s how we'd do it: Reduce food waste, eat less meat, and make fertilizer and irrigation available to the farmers that need it.
Riffing on this reasoning, Doug Gurian-Sherman, at the Union of Concerned Scientists, took it a step further, pointing out that there is an opportunity cost to genetic engineering research. Essentially, public investments in genetic engineering eat up money and energy that we could instead be investing in more effective approaches.
So which is it? Do we have no other choice but to embrace this technology? Or is it basically the 8-track of agriculture? I wish I could argue one extreme or the other here -- it would make this essay more dramatic. But as usual, the answer is: It depends. There are some goals of genetic engineering that are probably a waste of time. And then there are others that will almost certainly bear fruit.