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Wally Green World?

Putting Wal-Mart’s green moves in context

What journalists and even environmentalists so often fail to do in reporting on Wal-Mart's sustainability announcements is to provide some context. Context is everything. Consider Wal-Mart's latest announcement: It will push some of the factories that supply its stores to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. That's a good thing in and of itself, but what happens when we measure it against Wal-Mart's overall impact on the production of goods? One of the significant consequences of Wal-Mart's rise and radical reshaping of the global economy has been a steep decline in the life span of many products. We wear out clothing, …

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Maybe locavores can save the world after all

Financial blogger Felix Salmon has an essay in Foreign Policy called "How Locavores Can Stop World Hunger." Salmon normally focuses on issues involving economic crises, monetary policy, complex derivatives, macro-economics and governmental oversight of financial markets  -- but here is talking monocultures, sustainable agriculture and GMOs. Tom Philpott has opined on the similarities between financial and food crises, so perhaps it's not too surprising. In this case, Salmon has expanded into a longer essay a blog post he wrote after attending a panel discussion on world hunger at Davos in the company of Blue Hill Farm's Dan Barber. Salmon posted …

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Gasly stuff

The N of an era: America’s nitrogen dilemma — and what we can do about it

There are three things on which the mighty engine of U.S. agriculture depends: water, fuel, and synthetic nitrogen. Like water, nitrogen is elemental to life. It's the essential building block of the plants we eat. Farmers remove it from the soil when they harvest the year's crop, and they must replenish it for the following year's. Compared with water and fuel, nitrogen is actually in one sense quite plentiful: it makes up about 80 percent of the air we breathe. Yet for all that ubiquity, it's also in a sense scarce: its extremely strong chemical bond -- it exists in …

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cutting bait

The bluefin tuna gets a bigtime backer: the U.S. government

The Atlantic bluefin may be down, but it's not out. After delaying a decision, the Obama administration came out today in support of a proposal to declare the bluefin an endangered species and to ban international trade in the threatened fish (via The Washington Post): The U.S. government announced Wednesday that it supports prohibiting international trade of Atlantic bluefin tuna, a move that could lead to the most sweeping trade restrictions ever imposed on the highly prized fish. Sushi aficionados in Japan and elsewhere have consumed bluefin for decades, causing the fish's population to plummet. In less than two weeks, …

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That's just beachy

USDA research chief concerned about ‘safety of organic food’

GUADALAJARA, MEXICO -- In another post, I'll explain why I'm in Mexico for the next two weeks, and how I came to attend a conference sponsored by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, titled "Agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries: Options and opportunities in crops, forestry, livestock, fisheries, and agro-industry to face the challenge of food insecurity and climate change." For now, I want to report on a fascinating interaction I had there with Roger Beachy, director of the USDA's newly formed National Institute of Food and Agriculture.  First, a little context. NIFA, as it is known, is essentially the USDA's …

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Drill baby drill

Garden Girl TV: indoor gardening, part three

In this episode, I show you how to build the shelves for your indoor garden. Mine are up off the floor about 14 inches, which ensure my seedlings get as much direct sunlight as possible. This is a power tool moment, but don't worry. It's easy. I'll show you how.   Can't get enough of Patti Moreno?  We know how you feel.   Get a wealth of advice at Garden Girl TV.

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The terror-ble, horrible, no good, very bad freshwater crisis

Water and the War on Terror

While leaders in Washington have been war-gaming the national security risks of climate change, they've only started to connect the dots to the closely related threats emanating from the growing crisis of global freshwater scarcity. At first blush, water and national security may not seem to be interlinked. But the reality, as narrated in my new book WATER: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization, is that the unfolding global water crisis increasingly influences the outcome of America's two wars, homeland defense against international terrorism, and other key U.S. national-security interests, including the transforming planetary environment and world geopolitical …

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Carb your enthusiasm

Obama’s cholesterol beef isn’t with the burgers, but the buns

(Photo by Vanessa Pike-Russell,  Creative Commons)It must have surprised many that a president as young and vigorous as Barack Obama could be experiencing rising cholesterol, as reported last week. But even more surprising is the misinformation being doled out by the people around him about the likely causes. "Too many burgers," came the ready explanation. More likely, Mr. Obama's beef isn't with the meat he eats or even the fat in it, but with the cushy bun surrounding his burger and his apparent weakness for White House pies. In his most recent physical exam, Obama's cholesterol had spiked. His total cholesterol was up to …

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Sincentives

Study suggests junk food taxes may beat healthy food subsidies

An interesting new study was just published in Psychological Science, about a lab experiment at SUNY Buffalo that suggests junk-food taxes increase the overall nutritional quality of a shopping trip, while subsidies on healthy foods actually decrease the nutritional quality (via Science Daily). [Study author and clinical psychologist Dr. Leonard] Epstein and colleagues simulated a grocery store, "stocked" with images of everything from bananas and whole wheat bread to Dr. Pepper and nachos. A group of volunteers -- all mothers -- were given laboratory "money" to shop for a week's groceries for the family. Each food item was priced the …

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The End is Nitrate

Tracking down the public-health implications of nitrogen pollution

A Tulare County resident with some of the risky water. (Photo by Erin Lubin; courtesy of the Community Water Center.) Nitrate contamination of water supplies is particularly common in agricultural areas, where mountains of livestock manure and synthetic nitrogen-based fertilizer seep through the soil into groundwater. "Half of the fertilizer you're putting on your crops never makes it to the plants you're growing," says Townsend. "It washes out." A study published last summer in the journal Southwest Hydrology estimated that California farmers applied 740,000 tons of nitrogen to 6.7 million acres of irrigated farmland in 2007. Of that, 110 pounds …

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