Umbra on Jell-O shots

Greetings, A very important discussion among my colleagues this week: is it better to purchase reusable, petroleum-based products (plastic) or to use paper disposables? Specifically, we’re talking about Jell-O shot cups. A recent (and brilliant) …

Ethanol and <em>E. coli</em>, part II

Use of distiller grains in livestock rations has exploded

Yesterday, I posted about how feeding cattle distillers grains — the leftover from the corn-based ethanol process — seems to raise the incidence of E. coli 0157. I was a bit vague on precisely how …

The school-lunch dog fight

In the clash over school lunches, who’s watching out for the kids?

The following is a guest essay by Kate Adamick, a New York-based consultant and lecturer on matters relating to school food reform and an advisor to the Orfalea Fund in Santa Barbara, Calif.; and Ann …

Humor fails

Saddening video report on Indonesian palm oil plantations

Here is a short, painful four-minute news report about palm oil plantations -- watch it and weep:

Maybe not such a great idea after all?

Feeding ethanol waste to cows

Perhaps the most persistent debate around corn ethanol involves its “net energy balance” — that is, whether it consumes more energy in production than it delivers as a fuel. Even the studies that credit the …

The gallery of gingerbread photos is up

Click here if you want to see details of the gingerbread eco-house.

Umbra on cooking oil, again

Dear Umbra, You missed a fantastic opportunity to promote biodiesel use of the cooking oil. There are many people collecting frying oil from restaurants and the like, and perhaps the reader could find a person …

The tropical global warming solution

Bali conference could end deforestation overnight

This post was co-written with Dorjee Sun, the head of Carbon Conservation, a company that works to protect forests in Indonesia from destruction. ----- Photo: Bali, Indonesia, is the perfect backdrop for this week's climate summit. No country better embodies the immense peril of inaction -- and the immense opportunity this meeting has to make massive and immediate progress in stemming the climate crisis. Indonesia is the world's third largest global warming polluter, behind the United States and China, and just ahead of Brazil. But in Indonesia, like Brazil and the rest of the tropical world, pollution isn't coming from factories, power plants, or cars like it is in the industrialized world. Instead, almost all of it is coming from the rapid burning of the world's vast tropical forests to make room for timber, agriculture, and especially palm oil plantations. (Despite its green reputation, palm oil is anything but: a recent study in Science found that palm oil, like other biofuels, produces two to nine times more greenhouse gases than regular old crude oil because of the forests and grasslands destroyed for its production.) Companies like Starbucks, Procter & Gamble, Cargill and Seattle's Imperium Renewables are paying top dollar to turn palm oil into food, cosmetics and biodiesel. That global demand has driven the value of a hectare of palms above $1000 (PDF) in some cases -- providing a powerful financial incentive to corporations, investors, and farmers to raze the forests, regardless of the consequences to the climate or to the endangered orangutans, tigers, and rhinoceroses - and indigenous people -- who need them to survive. The Bali conference could immediately eliminate that perverse accounting by making sure forests and other wild lands around the world are financially valued for the carbon they store, and not just their potential as timber or agricultural land. The way to do that is to allow polluters to get credit for protecting forests that they can apply against their pollution reduction obligations, an idea called carbon ranching or avoided deforestation. Polluters would jump at this opportunity. Protecting forests from destruction can cost as little as 75 cents per ton of carbon dioxide - even at higher costs, it's a fraction of the price (PDF) of cleaning up most industrial pollution. In the past, some environmentalists criticized carbon ranching for this very reason: they were concerned that if polluters focused their greenhouse gas reduction efforts on forest conservation, that would divert money from necessary clean-ups in industrial pollution. That's the wrong way to look at it. Because locking up carbon dioxide by protecting forests is so cheap, it means that the world can achieve bigger reductions in global warming pollution faster and for less money. Carbon ranching should be an argument for bigger immediate pollution reductions, from both forests and industry, not a way for polluters to get around their responsibility to clean up their own pollution.

Tasting notes: How to select the best green wine

Tips for low-carbon merrymaking

See that green line on the map? Study it closely, boozehounds. Those of you to the right of it can enjoy a nice French Bordeaux. Those to the left should be getting your Pinot from Napa. So concludes Dr. Vino in his excellent -- and topical! -- study, "Red, White and 'Green': The Cost of Carbon in the Global Wine Trade." The paper is nicely readable in addition to being thorough. Few details go unconsidered. Dr. Vino cares about the CO2 produced from the breakdown of sugar during the fermentation process. He mulls the land-use implications of grape production. He knows his screw caps from his corks. All of these factors (well, not the corks) feed into a model that allows the paper's authors to compute the carbon content of different bottles of wine drunk in various points in the U.S. Some conclusions:

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