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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Can fed-up Oregon organic farmers get a GMO ban on the ballot?

Image (2) hill-crops_tall.jpg for post 13741Petitioners in Southern Oregon's Jackson County are pushing a measure onto the ballot that would outlaw the farming of genetically modified crops in the region.

Recently Jackson County organic farmers found genetically modified sugar beet crops planted by the Swiss corporation Syngenta AG as close as one-eighth of a mile from their farms. Until last year, any GMO crop planted within four miles of an organic farm would've been against Department of Agriculture rules. But since then, it's been a farming free-for-all.

From the Mail Tribune:

Ashland seed farmer Chuck Burr said he has a personal reason to support a proposed ban on genetically modified organisms in Jackson County.

He had to throw away $4,700 in chard seed after learning it might have been contaminated with pollen from nearby GMO fields.

"I'm up against it here," said Burr, the owner of the 10-acre Restoration Farm on Old Siskiyou Highway. "I have to make a living, and I have an absolutely constitutional right to engage in commerce.

"And if another company comes in from outside the area and prevents me from doing it, then my rights trump theirs."

Read more: Food


Silicon Valley’s ‘unbuilt Manhattan’ is best left unbuilt

Over the past two decades, an influx of tech money has sent rents in San Francisco skyward. It's the fastest growing rental market in the country, with the East Bay's Oakland coming in second. Last year, landlords in San Francisco used the "Ellis Act" to evict three times as many tenants as they had in 2011, in order to circumvent rent control.

Image (2) san-franciscosmaller.jpg for post 31443

Ken Layne at The Awl harkens back to a simpler time when you could rent a studio in SF for less than $2,400, and compares that to now:

In 2013, the bigger tech companies are still in Silicon Valley, but the people working there—from Mark Zuckerberg to the newest $100K hires straight out of college—want to be in San Francisco. Zuckerberg is a part-timer, with a fancy apartment in the Mission. The rest are part-timers in Silicon Valley, commuting to and from work on immense luxury buses run by Google, Apple, EA, Yahoo and the rest. This has caused problems, notably for San Francisco residents unlucky enough to survive on less than a hundred-grand starting salary. Talk of raising the city's skyline is met with anger. People argue endlessly over the appropriate comparisons to New York. Is Oakland the Brooklyn to SF? What about Berkeley, or Marin, or the Outer Sunset? And what does that make Bayview or Burlingame?

All of this assumes that urban San Francisco equals Manhattan. It does not. San Francisco, with its leafy parks and charming row houses and distinct villages and locavore restaurants and commuters fleeing every morning to work, is the Brooklyn to an as-yet-unbuilt Manhattan.

To some extent, this is true. Many parts of San Francisco have become bedroom communities for tech workers who take company-sponsored shuttles or hellish Caltrain routes to work many miles south, to a place where rents are cheaper, but the living is decidedly suburban. The youngs making six figures at start-ups seem to prefer the hell of Caltrain to the hell of Silicon Valley suburbia.

Nobody wants to move to the Bay Area for work and then discover they actually have to live in a completely different climate an hour's drive (without traffic) from the actual bay. The magical part of the Bay Area is really confined to the Bay Area, with its relatively green hills and foggy mornings and cool ocean air.

So Layne proposes building dense, walkable, appealing neighborhoods in the bleak, sprawling stretch between San Francisco and Silicon Valley some 40 miles to the south. "[I]n the post-automobile era, where else would you look to expand your metropolitan area other than the underused sections in the middle of your metropolitan area?"

Read more: Cities


Rum promoter won’t be allowed to hold shark-killing tournament

A tame shark in the Dominican
A tame shark in the Dominican Republic.

From the Associated Press:

A popular rum promoter is drawing the ire of environmentalists for his plan to hold a shark-hunting tournament in the Dominican Republic similar to one he organized after the release of the movie “Jaws.” …

The newspaper Listin Diario recently quoted [promoter Newton] Rodriguez as saying that the country’s tourism industry suffered and people grew afraid of sharks after the blockbuster hit “Jaws” was released in 1975, leading him to organize a shark hunt a year later.

Well, idiot, first of all they already killed that shark in Jaws (via explosion) so you don't need to worry about that. Second, a number of shark species are already endangered. Third, some 73 million sharks a year are slaughtered, many to fuel the sketchy trade in shark fins as phony medicinal treatment.

Read more: Living


House Republican politicking is obviously more fun than supporting Sandy victims

According to House Speaker John Boehner's master plan, the House will next week consider the other $51 billion in Sandy relief funding that it punted on earlier this month.

House Republicans will absolutely not approve all of it. The question is how much they'll sign off on. With a coda for pessimists: if any.


Advertising distribution mechanism outlines how the vote is expected to go.

First, the House plans to call up a bill by Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) that totals $27 billion in relief. Then, it will immediately amend the bill to deduct the $9.7 billion in flood relief passed before Congress recessed -- bringing the bill's total to $17 billion.

Amendments will be allowed -- including spending reduction amendments -- and then the House will vote on passage of the Rogers amendment. This would set up $17 billion to be sent to the Senate.

But then leadership will allow Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) to offer an amendment that offers an additional $33 billion. Republicans think this can pass as well.

But efforts by Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), who abstained from voting for John Boehner for speaker, could change the equation.

The South Carolinian has already offered multiple amendments seeking spending offsets, which if made in order could seriously complicate the pledge of Majority Leader Eric Cantor to move the legislation quickly.

Smart precedent by a representative of a state whose most tourist-friendly city lies right on the Atlantic Ocean.


Chevron is pleased with how much money it made last year, which is nice

Hey, hey! Happy times at Chevron headquarters, located at 10 Satan Street in a secret city that hovers out of sight behind storm clouds. The company's fourth quarter profits will be "notably higher" than third quarter profits! (Third quarter revenues for the company were only $56 billion. Sad face.)

Chevron headquarters, somewhat obscured
Bruna Costa
Chevron headquarters, somewhat obscured

From Bloomberg:

The outline given by the second-largest U.S. oil producer by market value hints at a bright succession of earnings reports when the world’s biggest publicly traded energy producers begin releasing results in coming weeks, said Brian Youngberg, an analyst at Edward Jones & Co. in St. Louis.

“Chevron’s results certainly provide an optimistic preview of what its peers in the integrated energy sector have in store,” Youngberg said in a telephone interview yesterday.

Hooray! Optimism in these dark times. Refreshing.


Happy 25th anniversary, San Jose’s useless light rail!

For part of the time that I lived in San Jose, Calif., my apartment was downtown, across the street from a light rail station. I used to take the train to work, which was great for the first 80 percent of the ride: The car was almost always near-empty as it chugged along down the middle of streets, passing dozens of automobiles at each stop light. When I reached the stop closest to my office, I'd get off -- and start the 20-minute walk in, having to either walk well out of my way or, if I was in a hurry, dash across a busy highway with no crosswalk. It was an hour's journey, easily, for a trip that took 10 minutes by car without traffic.

My friend Michael and I took to calling the light rail "the Buzz," both because it sounded confusingly like "the bus," which amused us, and because it implied a speedy, futuristic system, which the light rail very much is not. A guy I knew who worked with the union that represented bus and light rail operators called it the "ghost train," since you'd often see it passing by at night, lit up and empty.

Sprawl on the valley floor
Sprawl in Silicon Valley.

The Atlantic Cities' Eric Jaffe has a good look at the light rail as it celebrates its 25th anniversary. From his article:


The New York Times dissolves its environment desk

new york times

Unsettling news from the New York Times: The paper is dismantling its environment desk. As reported by Inside Climate News:

The New York Times will close its environment desk in the next few weeks and assign its seven reporters and two editors to other departments. The positions of environment editor and deputy environment editor are being eliminated. No decision has been made about the fate of the Green Blog, which is edited from the environment desk. …

[Managing editor Dean] Baquet said the change was prompted by the shifting interdisciplinary landscape of news reporting. When the desk was created in early 2009, the environmental beat was largely seen as "singular and isolated," he said. It was pre-fracking and pre-economic collapse. But today, environmental stories are "partly business, economic, national or local, among other subjects," Baquet said. "They are more complex. We need to have people working on the different desks that can cover different parts of the story."

Baquet added that the Times "[has] not lost any desire for environmental coverage. This is purely a structural matter."


RE-volv is making a community pot of solar gold

What if every dollar you donated to a worthy cause generated two, three, or more dollars? That's the idea behind the RE-volv community solar fund project, currently closing in on the end of its first stage of fundraising.

Like Mosaic, RE-volv is tapping the collective for funding to back solar projects. But instead of individuals investing for their own individual good, RE-volv envisions a big pot-o-gold seed fund that would be invested and reinvested in community solar infrastructure. These are investments in solar's future -- essentially donations to RE-volv's fund. Here's how RE-volv explains it:

The Solar Seed Fund will use the donations to finance solar installations on community-serving organizations such as schools, universities, hospitals, and places of worship. RE-volv recoups the solar installation cost and earns a return on the investment through a 20-year solar lease agreement. The lease payments go back into the Solar Seed Fund allowing the fund to continuously grow, and finance an expanding number of solar installations.

According to the group's numbers, once 14 RE-volv systems are in place, the revenue from those systems will be able to fund another solar-power system of roughly the same cost -- and on, and on.


Colorado to scrutinize oil and gas pollution

Colorado suddenly got pretty cool, guys. I'm not talking about the weed thing; that joke is beyond played out. I'm not even talking about the wind energy thing, although I'm kind of talking about that, in a way.

I’m talking about how the state has decided to do more testing to track pollution from oil and gas drilling. From the Colorado Springs Gazette:

Colorado oil and natural gas regulators on Monday approved rules making the state the first to require energy companies to do groundwater sampling both before and after they drill.

The sampling is meant to show whether supplies of drinking water have been affected by energy development.

Seems like something worth testing, I guess!

Here is Colorado Springs, a city in Colorado, because I wanted to add a picture
Here is Colorado Springs, a city in Colorado, because I wanted to add a picture.


1,500 protesters swarm Albany to call for continued fracking ban in N.Y.

While New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) was inside the Empire State Plaza Convention Center yesterday outlining his plan to make New York the "progressive capital of the nation," 1,500 people were outside with a suggestion about one way he can ensure that happens.

For about a year, Cuomo has been weighing whether to lift the state's ban on hydraulic fracturing. Last summer, it seemed that he was close to allowing fracking in certain regions of the state, but instead he postponed the decision and called for research into possible health effects of the practice. (A leaked report suggesting that there were no negative effects has been widely dismissed as insufficient.)
Opponents of fracking took advantage of Cuomo's speech -- and its attendant cameras -- to ensure that the pressure remains high. From EcoWatch:

More than 1,500 New Yorkers from every corner of the state descended on Albany [Wednesday] to rally against fracking outside of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address. The group delivered a clear message calling for the governor to reject fracking, implement a statewide ban, and be a leader in clean, renewable energy for New York and the nation. ...

“Governor Cuomo, don’t do this,” said Logan Adsit, a resident of Pharsalia in Chenango County, which is located in the Southern Tier that the Cuomo administration has indicated as a target of fracking. “Don’t poison my family. Don’t poison anyone’s family. This state, which my family has called home for generations, should not become your toxic legacy. That’s what I’ve come here to say today.”