Q.I always buy organically raised beef, when I do buy beef. I read that ground beef you get is a mixture of beef from different animals. How do I know the beef I am getting is, in fact, organically grown? Could it be mixed with other feedlot beef? Also, when it comes to processing the animal, how are the organically raised cows treated? Any better or different than if they were just regular cows?
Suzy P. Denver, CO
A. Dearest Suzy,
When I got your letter, I imagined you reading it aloud in with a suave accent: “I don’t always eat beef. But when I do, I prefer organic.” And well that you do: There are important differences between the lives -- if not the deaths -- of organically raised cattle and their conventional, feedlot-bound siblings.
One of the simplest ways to measure our dependence on cars is to look at the share of commuters in a given city who get to work in a private vehicle. These are the people who rely on automobiles as part of their everyday travel patterns. They're people who live too far from work to walk there, who may prefer not to take transit, or who simply have no other options. They're the commuters for whom communities must widen highways for rush-hour capacity and build out parking garages for downtown businesses.
Over the last decade, however, a new report from the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Frontier Group finds that the share of workers who get to work by private car declined in 99 of America's 100 largest urbanized areas (by the Census Bureau's definition, this is a densely populated geography often larger than a single city but smaller than a metropolitan area). The lone outlier was New Orleans, which has been an outlier in many ways since Hurricane Katrina.
Benjamin Davis and Phineas Baxandall calculated this using "journey to work" data from the 2007-2011 American Community Survey, comparing it to the year 2000. The results suggest that the biggest declines in car commuters have come in the New York-Newark area; Washington, D.C.; Austin, Texas; and Poughkeepsie-Newburgh, N.Y. In all four urban areas, the share of workers commuting by private vehicle has dropped by 4 percent or more:
Too many climate headlines sound alike: “Polar ice cap melting faster than expected,” “Scientific consensus stronger than ever,” “Pacific island soon to be underwater,” etc. But this recent one stood out: "Just 90 companies caused two-thirds of man-made global warming emissions." That's from a Guardian story about new research in the journal Climatic Change, in which Richard Heede calculated the greenhouse gas contributions of major companies since the Industrial Revolution.
The news excited at least one legal scholar. In a blog post for the Center for Progressive Reform, American University law professor David Hunter calls the study “a potential game-changer” because it could make it easier for climate change’s victims to sue its perpetrators. Hunter writes:
Courts need no longer fear that it would be impossible to untangle the private sector’s historical contributions to climate change or unfair to make oil companies, for example, pay for all climate-related damages. A clear formula now exists for allocating at least a significant percentage of the costs of climate change to those companies that benefited most from the public nuisance created by their emissions. Take, for example, the costs of moving the Inuit village of Kivalina, which attempted to sue several of the top polluters for the anticipated costs of relocating their village as a result of climate change. Those costs could now be allocated to the major fossil fuel companies based on their historical contributions to the problem.
From this you might think that if you and your neighbors are harmed by extreme flooding or forest fires, you could band together and sue the companies responsible for climate change. That is unrealistic.
Generally speaking, anthropogenic climate change doesn't come at us like some Pacific Rim Kaiju monster, leaping suddenly into view from the watery depths. It's slow and confusing and hard to observe on a day-to-day basis. But that doesn’t mean that we don't have some nasty -- and sudden -- surprises in store. A new report by the National Research Council looks at the social and ecological dangers that could lie ahead.
The report has a Hollywood-friendly two-part title: "Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises." And like Hunger Games: Catching Fire, this new release is also a sequel -- to the NRC's 2002 report of the same name, subtitle: "Inevitable Surprises."
And what kinds of inevitable surprises should we be anticipating?
In the "Worry About It Later" column, we have some cinematic scenarios in which the Arctic belches up methane from the massive stores trapped beneath the ocean floor, or the heat circulation in the Atlantic stutters to a halt, soaking us in polar melt. The latter was the premise of the 2004 climatpocalyptic movie The Day After Tomorrow, but the report suggests these ones may be actually be for a few days after tomorrow -- a more serious risk by 2100 -- so we should probably focus on the problems nearer at hand.
That’s right, Grist is going to give five lucky readers a Nest Learning Thermostat.
We know you don’t need anything in return for supporting our indispensable green journalism, but if you donate by Dec. 17 you’ll automatically be entered to win one of these cutting-edge, super-schmancy, energy-saving devices -- a $249 value.
Sure these Nests are deluxe, but don’t worry. We assure you that every penny of your donation will go straight to helping us deliver the best, most current green news of the day.
You may have heard that people-oriented cities are better than car-oriented cities, and Madrid is buying into this idea in a big way. The Spanish capital, which hasn’t previously distinguished itself as an especially awesome city compared to others in Spain or other European capitals, just published a long-term plan that privileges parks, gives planners flexibilities, and basically gives cars the finger.
The plan calls for 24 major Madrid streets to be radically overhauled, with car lanes removed, bike lanes added and trees planted to make them cool and shady. A new hierarchy will be in place: pedestrians come first, then public transport, then bikes, then cars. Overall, 66 percent of the affected street surface will be given over to people on foot. The irony is that before car-friendly policies reshaped central Madrid, many of these streets were just the sort of leafy, broad-sidewalked avenues the city wants, but they were remodeled to add extra motorist lanes. Now chastened by years of fumes and grime, the city is coming full circle back to its old ways.
On the moon, there's little gravity, little air, little water, and a whole lot of radiation and extreme temperature fluctuations. These are not ideal conditions for gardening. But NASA is going to try. It's designed a tiny habitat -- about as large as a coffee canister, according to NPR — that researchers think will allow plants to, if not thrive, at least exist on the moon:
The plant habitat that [plant scientist Bob] Bowman and his colleagues have designed contains seeds, as well as a nutrient-rich paper and enough air and water for the seeds to germinate and grow. The canister also has features that regulate light and temperature, and cameras that the researchers will use to track the plants' progress over five to 10 days.
The idea, of course, is that one day people will be living off-Earth for long enough periods that living off freeze-dried food will be unsustainable (and possibly cause space madness).
Every year, the MTA gets all misty around the holidays and runs a few vintage train cars. This year, the first four Sundays in December, you can ride the "Nostalgia Special" from Lower Manhattan to Queens on the M line.
There is also, this coming Sunday, a vintage subway dance party on the platform of the 2nd Avenue station from 11:45 to 6 p.m. It's organized by enthusiasts of '30s-era dances, like Lindy Hop and Balboa, which, according to Vanity Fair, are cool again. There will be music on the trains and dancing on the platform. The organizers say:
I just love the faces on people boarding what they think are “normal” subway cars, and see the old trains with wicker seats, fans, advertisements and a car full of people in period dress and bands playing great old tunes. (If you don't have anything vintage, just be creative! The photographers come out in force for this! Give them something exciting to look at!)
There will be two to three bands playing on this platform at the same time. Before the train leaves for its round trip to Queens, at least one band will board the train and play for the entire trip. Another band will then take up a spot on the platform. So there will be music on the trains and platform all afternoon!
Ever since the 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen, world leaders have agreed on 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees F) as the maximum acceptable global warming above pre-industrial levels to avert the worst impacts of climate change (today we’re at about 0.8 degrees C). But a new study, led by climatologist James Hansen of Columbia University, argues that pollution plans aimed at that target would still result in “disastrous consequences,” from rampant sea-level rise to widespread extinction.
A major goal of climate scientists since Copenhagen has been to convert the 2 degree limit into something useful for policymakers, namely, a specific total amount of carbon we can “afford” to dump into the atmosphere, mostly from burning fossil fuels in power plants (this is known as a carbon budget). This fall, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change pegged the number at 1 trillion metric tons of carbon, or about twice what we’ve emitted since the late 19th century; if greenhouse gas emissions continue as they have for the last few decades, we’re on track to burn through the remaining budget by the mid-2040s, meaning immediately thereafter we’d have to cease emissions forever to meet the warming target.
The study, which was co-authored by Columbia economist Jeffrey Sachs and published today in the journal PLOS ONE, uses updated climate models to argue that the IPCC’s carbon budget would in fact produce warming up to twice the international limit, and that even the 2-degree limit would likely yield catastrophic impacts well into the next century. In other words, the study says, two of the IPCC’s fundamental figures are wrong.
So Detroit is now allowed to file for bankruptcy. It's the largest city ever to do so in this country, though certainly not the only one. More so than some of our other insolvent municipalities -- like Vacaville, Calif., or Central Falls, R.I. -- it is also a place on which people have pinned a lot of dreams and nightmares.
I grew up just outside Detroit, with its high-quality pierogi and its endless hours spent in the car, feeling the traffic like a salmon trying to work its way upstream. The landmark that most defined my childhood was the Rivera Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The school tours I took must have involved the rest of the museum at some point, but all I remember is a jumble of naked ladies, Madonna and Childs, and fruit. The court, lined with frescoes based on Diego Rivera’s tours of the River Rouge Ford Plant, felt familiar to me. My dad, like all the dads I knew, worked in a tool and die shop, and I loved visiting that, too. The machinery really did look that impressive, the people who worked there really did look that tired and grimy, and there really were sparks everywhere, fanning out like cartoon rainbows.
The agricultural scenes on the eastern wall were familiar, too. My grandparents were farmworkers who moved to Detroit during World War II, and the time my grandfather spent on the assembly line was just a means to an end that he never could have reached if he had stayed where he was born. He wanted to own land and grow as many vegetables on it as the earth could stand, because to do so was true wealth, at least according to the culture he was raised in.
Diego Rivera finished the frescoes in 1933 -- the same year that Detroit’s Mayor Frank Murphy, who had set up soup kitchens and potato gardens all over the city for unemployed auto workers, shepherded Chapter 9 through Congress. Chapter 9 is the law that made it possible for a city to file for bankruptcy -- the law Detroit is now invoking.