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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Sugary sodas make kids wanna smash

No wonder everyone was so angry about Mayor Michael Bloomberg's soda ban.

In a study of nearly 1,900 Boston teenagers, Harvard researchers found that "heavy" consumers of sugary soft drinks (five or more cans per week) were significantly more likely to engage in violent behavior with peers and carry weapons.

Read more: Food, Living


Help sponsor food justice for only 10 cents a day

A report out today (Food Day!) from the UC Berkeley Food Labor Research Center and Food Chain Workers Alliance challenges the belief that raising the federal minimum wage would increase the cost of food for Americans.

And by challenge, I mean it's a swift kick to critics' guts.

Eating ethically for some comes down to the (collapsing, burning) environment; for others, it's the (adorable, sentient) animals. But far less often do we acknowledge the human labor that's involved in the farm-to-table-to-belly journey.

Especially during an economic crisis in which millions of Americans are struggling to make ends meet, this argument raises very real concerns about working Americans struggling to be able to afford to eat out and at home.

This is how much of America has been handling that crisis.

However! The proposed Miller/Harkin bill that would raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.80, the report states, would really serve to alleviate struggle.

Read more: Food, Politics


Guess where all of our new energy came from last month? (Hint: Not coal)

Last month, the United States added 433 megawatts of new electricity generation. And according to, all 433 of those megawatts came from renewable sources.

Five wind projects totalling 300 megawatts (MW) and 18 solar projects for 133 MW were added, according to the latest "Energy Infrastructure Update" from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's Office of Energy Projects.

And renewables account for almost half (43.8%) of all new capacity that's come online this year so far: 77 wind projects (4,055 MW); 154 solar projects (936 MW); 76 biomass projects (340 MW); 7 geothermal projects (123 MW); 10 water power projects (9 MW); and 1 waste heat project (3 MW).

That's a 29% increase from the first nine months of 2011. Renewable energy sources now account for 14.9% (including hydro) of all installed U.S. electrical generating capacity. Excluding hydro, renewables now supply over 5% of US electricity.
Total generation from all sources. Click to embiggen.
Total generation from renewables. Click to embiggen.


Fertilizer companies and climate change are killing the Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is dying. Confusing, yes, but bear with us. From Bloomberg:

The salty inland lake bordering [Israel and Jordan] dropped a record 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) over the last 12 months because of industry use and evaporation, the Hydrological Service of Israel said. That’s the steepest Dead Sea decline since data-keeping started in the 1950s. Half the drop was caused by Israel Chemicals Ltd. and Jordan’s Arab Potash Co., said Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of the Friends of Earth Middle East. …

About one-third of the Dead Sea’s surface area has disappeared and sinkholes are increasingly common as the waters shrink amid drought, agricultural diversion, largely from the Jordan River, and pumping to extract minerals for fertilizers.

The Dead Sea's receding shoreline.

The Dead Sea's potash, salts that contain water-soluble potassium, is a popular component of fertilizers. As the sea shrinks, fertilizer manufacturers have come into increasing conflict with the resorts and spas that line Israel's most popular leisure destination, where visitors come to float on the salty surface. A shrinking sea means a shrinking shoreline for those spas; its north shore dropped 20 kilometers (12 miles) in length over the past 50 years.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Probably a good idea: Government to study cancer risk of living near nuclear sites

Jeremy Farmer

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Agency is launching a study to assess the cancer risk for people living near six nuclear power facilities. Seems like a good idea, sure.

From the Los Angeles Times:

The commission is acting out of growing concern that using uranium to produce electricity may be dangerous even without accidents at nuclear plants. In addition, recent epidemiological studies in Germany and France suggest that the children living near nuclear reactors are twice as likely to develop leukemia.

The U.S. study will be conducted by the National Academy of Sciences, which will also help the commission determine whether to extend the study to all 65 U.S. nuclear power plants and certain nuclear fuel sites.

The pilot study will investigate cancer rates in each census tract within a 30-mile radius of the nuclear facilities, and assess cancers in children younger than 15 whose mothers lived near a nuclear facility during pregnancy. About 1 million people live within five miles of operating nuclear plants in the United States, and more than 45 million live within 30 miles, nuclear regulatory officials said.
Map of operational nuclear reactors in the U.S.
Read more: Uncategorized


Alternative presidential debate: Some climate, mostly drugs

All four small-party presidential candidates -- Green, Justice, Constitution, and Libertarian -- came out swinging last night at nonprofit Free and Equal's alternative presidential debate in Chicago. "The degradation of our democracy," "police state," and "climate change" were bandied around with passion.

I dunno, Rachel, did you watch last night?

It was an opportunity for a different conversation, but the conversation sounded rather similar to the one we're used to: angry, defensive, and not terribly specific when it comes to policy (except for marijuana; they were very specific on marijuana).

Read more: Politics


Americans spend $4.2 billion a year on gluten-free products

This gluten-free bread looks super good, but probably cost more than $13.50.

There are 311 million people living in the United States right now. Which means that we are spending $13.50 a person per year on gluten-free food and drinks.

From the Los Angeles Times, which features an image of various gluten-free goods that I have never heard of:

The market for gluten-free foods and beverages is booming, with double digit growth over the last four years as more consumers find themselves diagnosed with celiac disease and food allergies.

The market for products without the gluten protein is valued at $4.2 billion, according to a report from Packaged Facts. Since 2008, it has grown at a compound annual rate of 28% each year and is expected to exceed $6.6 billion by 2017.

Gluten-free snacks and granola bars make up the largest chunk of the industry, contributing to 15% of sales, according to the report.

Please note: None of this is due to trendiness, despite this line: "Celebrities such as Miley Cyrus have credited their weight loss to gluten-free eating." Miley Cyrus is making her decisions based on the best-available scientific evidence. Her father, William Ray Cyrus, is a noted researcher for the USDA, focused on heart health.


Judge bans GMOs in national wildlife refuges

The tomato on the left is still OK, for some reason.

U.S. District Judge James Boasberg made what couldn't have been a very tough call yesterday. Until an environmental analysis is done, no one can plant genetically modified crops in National Wildlife Refuges.

From the Associated Press:

A U.S. judge sided on Tuesday with environmental groups that challenged the planting of genetically-modified crops on National Wildlife Refuges in the South. …

"Plaintiffs allege harms that are currently occurring and will continue throughout 2012," wrote Boasberg, an appointee of President Barack Obama. "Waiting for 2013 is not good enough." He set a hearing for Nov. 5 to determine appropriate relief, but also encouraged both sides to meet to see if they could agree on at least some remedies.

In their lawsuit last year, the Center for Food Safety and two other groups argued that the Fish and Wildlife Service violated environmental laws in allowing genetically modified crops in the agency's Southeast Region, which encompasses 10 states. The groups claimed the practice has harmful environmental impacts. The most common genetically-modified crops planted were corn and soybeans resistant to the herbicide Roundup. ...

The environmental groups pursued two similar lawsuits in the state of Delaware, which blocked planting of genetically-engineered crops in two wildlife refuges and, ultimately, resulted in the Fish and Wildlife Service's ending the practice in its 12-state Northeast Region.


Will Sandy destroy the entire East Coast? Probably not.

This isn't the sort of thing you like to read about the weather. From Capital Weather Gang:

Some computer models continue to simulate a crushing storm for early next week near or close to the East Coast. The explosive storm develops as tropical storm (or hurricane) Sandy merges with a powerful cold front charging towards the East Coast late this weekend.

Although a historic storm is a possibility, the storm could deliver just a glancing blow or even miss the East Coast entirely. And for residents of the mid-Atlantic (including Washington, D.C. and points further south), a direct hit is not particularly likely although it cannot be ruled out.

Meet Tropical Storm Sandy.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Solar power saves school music program

Some good news from California's Central Valley: A small rural school district that made the switch to a $5 million solar power system is saving enough green to reinstate the music program it had to cut back in 2009.


From the Fresno Beehive blog:

How did Firebaugh-Las Deltas, a 2,300-student district, swing a deal like this?

The district got help from a consulting firm to figure out if its payments on the loan would be less than the cost of its utility bills.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living