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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Are trendy homesteaders clueless about class differences?

Organic gardens! Canning! Sewing clothes! All the chickens! The modern rise of homesteading (of the hipster variety) has gripped the nation's urban centers. It's been kind of like this:

Self-sufficiency can't be bad, though, right? At least when we're aware of our motivations. Today at Bitch (based in Portland! hm!), Marianne Kirby takes a long look at modern homesteading through the lens of class. She pulls together the history of the 1862 Homestead Act, slave and victory gardens, and '70s recession efforts at surviving tough times, providing context for how the lifestyle has been newly embraced by the petit bourgeoisie.

"For large portions of the poor and immigrant classes, homesteading skills are still survival skills," she writes. "Can you really have a rebirth of something that never actually died out in the first place?"

Kirby calls out "capitalistic homesteading" and product branding. But this isn't just about shopping and culture.

[I]t’s also about policy. My central Florida town recently implemented an urban-chicken pilot program due to a clamor of interest from young, middle-class community members. The program allows people to keep hens, but no roosters. Participants are allowed to raise chickens for eggs, but not for meat. This means urban homesteaders who want to raise eggs in fancy coops have won out — but anyone who needs to raise chickens for subsistence reasons suffers, and is subject to fines and seizure if they get caught.

Governmental limitation of the “wrong” kind of homesteading can be seen elsewhere. In 2011, Denise Morrison’s garden was chopped down by Tulsa, Oklahoma, officials who claimed it violated city ordinances. Morrison grew more than 100 edible and medicinal plants in her yard. Subsistence gardens are more about function than design; they aren’t always pretty, and Morrison wasn’t raising organic fruit and vegetables in neat rows of raised beds. Despite a stay issued by local courts, officials removed every last one of her plants. Unemployed and without health insurance, Morrison had relied on her garden for food and medicine. “They basically took away my livelihood,” she told Tulsa’s KOTV.

Read more: Food, Living


AAA, EPA, GM trade barbs over ethanol

Maybe it's holiday stress, maybe it's seasonal affective disorder, or maybe it's just that the American Automobile Association is still really bitter that it lost on this issue in court in August.

AAA released a statement today calling for federal regulators to stop the sale of fuel that contains more than 10 percent ethanol. EPA-approved E15 -- a mix of 85 percent gasoline and 15 percent ethanol -- is supposed to only be used in vehicles made after 2000, but AAA says that it might still cause damage that warranties won't cover, and that 95 percent of people don't even know what E15 is.

The EPA was all, We're trying! We're making stickers!


General Motors called the EPA "irresponsible" (hee) and AAA "eloquent" (haa).

Then the Renewable Fuels Association was all:


Prominent fundamentalist: God gets sad when we don’t use the oil He gave us

Bryan Fischer, ranting about something
43rd State Blues
Bryan Fischer, ranting about something.

Bryan Fischer runs the American Family Association. He is … a piece of work. He spends most of his time bashing homosexuals, but is not afraid to dip a poison-soaked toe into the broader waters of far-right conservatism. Some tweets of his, to set context:

Charming. That last one, though, gets to the point of this story, why we're bothering to write anything about him. Fischer is also a climate change denier. And on his radio show today (he has a radio show, apparently), he suggested that failing to use fossil fuels was an insult to God.


Hundreds of cyclists demand safer Austin streets

On Thursday night, Austin, Texas, was like a microcosm of modern urban American cycling. Downtown, people gathered at benefit concerts to raise money for the mounting medical bills of a local man struck and critically injured by a drunk driver in October.


Meanwhile, nearly 1,200 cyclists biked to the state capitol in a really, really sad kind of Critical Mass, with one cargo bike toting a large banner that read: "No More Deaths." The event was sponsored by the group Please Be Kind to Cyclists, which is about as passive as you can get when it comes to life-or-death street safety issues.

Read more: Cities, Living


Too much carbon dioxide can have a negative effect on some crops

Here is a thing dumb people say about carbon dioxide pollution:

lol carbon dioxide isn't bad for you I totally exhale it and stuff. Also, plants need it to eat I read somewhere, and I hypocritically rely on that bit of science as a counterpoint to your asking that I stop burning tires in my toilet

Here is something you can say in response to such people, if you want to keep talking to them, which you should not: Too much carbon dioxide is bad for plants, too.

From the Max Planck Institute:

[T]he more carbon dioxide the better? The equation is unfortunately not as simple as that. The plants, which ensure our basic food supply today, have not been bred for vertical growth but for short stalks and high grain yields. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology and the University of Potsdam have now discovered that an increase in carbon dioxide levels could cancel out the beneficial effects of dwarf varieties.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


Mexican environmentalist murdered by drug gangs

For years, Juventina Villa Mojica worked to preserve the virgin forest surrounding her small Mexican town. Drug traffickers wanted to strip the forest to expand the area in which they could grow poppies and marijuana, but Villa Mojica and her husband led an effort to organize farmers in opposition to the gangs. Last year, her husband and two of her children were murdered. On Wednesday, she and her 10-year-old son met the same fate.

From the Washington Post:

A band of gunmen killed an environmental activist who had received death threats for standing up to drug gangs and had a police guard when she was ambushed in southern Mexico, authorities said Thursday. …

Villa and her children had ridden in an all-terrain vehicle near the top of a mountain where she could get a cellphone signal since there are no telephones in the village. They were ambushed despite the presence of 10 state police officers who were protecting them, state prosecutors said in a statement.

Five of the officers were in a patrol car ahead of Villa and her children and the other five where on foot behind them, the statement said. Villa got ahead of the officers on foot and that’s when the assailants fired their weapons, it said.

Mexican authorities prepare to destroy seized drugs.
Mexican authorities prepare to destroy seized drugs.

The Post notes that Villa Mojica had been uncommonly lucky; more than 20 members of her and her husband's families had been killed by drug gangs in the past year.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Controversial California oyster farm returned to wilderness

How sustainable are California oysters? Trick question: not sustainable enough, apparently.


A years-long battle over an oyster farm at Point Reyes National Seashore north of San Francisco ended this week in the farm's definite closure. The 70-plus-year-old Drakes Bay Oyster Company will be forced to vacate the area before year's end, turning it over in full to a colony of seals, who are adorable but kind of indifferent to all the people losing their jobs before the holidays.

The seashore area was added to the national parks system in 1962. Ten years later, a 40-year lease was granted to the oyster farm, with the understanding that it would then be returned from “potential wilderness” to the actual kind. The farm had been seeking a 10-year extension of its lease, but the feds decided to stick to the original plan.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the decision yesterday. The Marin Independent Journal reports on reactions:

"This is going to be devastating to our families, our community and our county," [oyster farm owner Kevin] Lunny said. "This is wrong beyond words in our opinion." ...

The oyster farm has outspoken supporters, Sen. Dianne Feinstein among them.

"I am extremely disappointed that Secretary Salazar chose not to renew the operating permit for the Drakes Bay Oyster Co.," Feinstein said. ...

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune lauded the decision.

"We're thrilled that after three decades this amazing piece of Point Reyes National Seashore will finally receive the protections it deserves," he said. "Once the oyster factory operations are removed, as originally promised ... this estuary will quickly regain its wilderness characteristics and become a safe haven for marine mammals, birds and other sea life."

Read more: Food


Climate negotiators are betting on improbably deep emissions cuts


It's the strategy of every bad gambler: If you just keep betting more than you lost, you'll eventually come out ahead. Lose $10, bet $20. Lose that, bet $30. In a rigged game, though, a game where the odds are tilted however slightly against you, eventually you'll go broke, making one or two huge bets that don't pay off.

Which is the situation the U.N. finds itself in during its current climate negotiations in Qatar. When it comes to the carbon dioxide levels we need to maintain in order to avoid catastrophic temperature rises of 2 degrees C, we're deep in debt, meaning that we'd need steeper and steeper bets in order to win.

From Reuters:

"The possibility of keeping warming to below 2 degrees has almost vanished," Pep Canadell, head of the Global Carbon Project at Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization, told Reuters. ...

Global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas, have risen 50 percent since 1990 and the pace of growth has picked up since 2000, Canadell said. In the past decade, emissions have grown about 3 percent a year despite an economic slowdown, up from 1 percent during the 1990s.

Based on current emissions growth and rapid industrial expansion in developing nations, emissions are expected to keep growing by about 3 percent a year over the next decade.

For the talks to have any chance of success in the long run, emissions must quickly stop rising and then begin to fall. Temperatures have already risen by 0.8 C (1.4 F) since pre-industrial times.

If we can just slash emissions by 3 percent, by 5 percent, by whatever percent next year, we can avoid disaster. Avoid coming up broke.


Shell VP: Yeah, we’re gonna spill some oil in the Arctic

Your quote of the day comes from the BBC.

There's no sugar-coating this, I imagine there would be spills, and no spill is OK. But will there be a spill large enough to impact people's subsistence? My view is no, I don't believe that would happen.

That's Shell's Alaska vice president, Pete Slaiby, discussing the company's new, fraught drilling operations off the North Slope of Alaska. During the summer, the company had a near-daily series of screw-ups that did little to inspire confidence in its ability to successfully extract oil from the ocean floor without spilling it all over themselves and the ocean and the animals in the ocean and probably you, too, somehow. So I'm not sure if Slaiby's admission is a refreshing demonstration of realism or a heart-attack-inducing statement of indifference.

The Arctic Ocean, where drilling is probs no big deal.
artic pj
The Arctic Ocean, where drilling is probs no big deal.

I do however love his statement that, yeah, there'll be spills, but, don't worry: minor ones. How … does that work? The entire context for the BBC article is that Native populations in Alaska are nervous about the prospect of drilling and a spill.


Another miner death at a mine linked to Massey Energy

hand-holding-lump-of-coalA miner in West Virginia was killed last night.

From Ken Ward, Jr., at the Charleston Gazette:

The accident occurred at about 1:30 a.m. today at White Buck Coal Co.’s Pocahontas Mine near Rupert. This is a former Massey Energy operation now controlled by Alpha Natural Resources.

According to state officials, the miner was caught between a scoop and the continuous mining machine -- a type of accident that is becoming all too common in the coal-mining industry [PDF]. Unfortunately, we’re still waiting for the Obama administration to move on two regulatory proposals that would help prevent these sorts of fatal accidents.

State officials have identified the miner who was killed as Steve Odell of Mt. Nebo. He had three years of mining experience and was a certified electricial.

As Ward also notes, the White Buck mine was once run by David Craig Hughart, who this week pled guilty to two counts of conspiracy including one related to violations of health and safety standards.