But what if we used the power of our collective munchies to SOLVE problems, rather than cause them? As NPR reported yesterday, entrepreneurs along Midwestern waterways are trying to turn back the tide of invasive Asian carp by frying them in breadcrumbs -- or at least by convincing someone else to.
Asian carp breed like rabbits and are about as popular on contemporary American dinner plates (though broiling Bugs gets plenty of media coverage, the nation isn't exactly lapin it up). They slipped into our rivers in the '70s and can now be found all along the Mississippi River watershed, throughout a dozen states. In some places, the fish's density is as high as 13 tons per mile. Picture that load of carp.
The World Health Organization's latest advice could be reinterpreted as a cruel oxymoron: Stop breathing, or you'll stop breathing. A tall order, but one in eight deaths in 2012 was caused by air pollution. And more likely than not, that one air-pollution-wrecked body lived its shortened life in a poor or developing country -- probably in Asia.
WHO's latest air-pollution-linked mortality estimates double previous annual figures, due largely to medical discoveries about pollution's poisonous effects. Scientists have been discovering that a shockingly long list of afflictions can be exacerbated or triggered by air pollution -- everything from heart attacks and lung cancer to diabetes and viral infections. The inhalation of tiny particles is now regarded as the world’s largest single environmental health risk -- responsible for an estimated 7 million deaths in 2012.
In the same way that America's fast-food industry fooled us into accepting that a burger must come with a pile of fries and a colossal Coke, the agricultural industry has convinced farmers that seeds must come coated with a side of pesticides.
And research suggests that, just like supersized meals, neonicotinoid seed treatments are a form of dangerous overkill -- harming bees and other wildlife but providing limited agricultural benefits. The routine use of seed treatments is especially useless in fields where pest numbers are low, or where insects, such as soybean aphids, chomp down on the crops after the plant has grown and lost much of its insecticidal potency.
“The environmental and economic costs of pesticide seed treatments are well-known," said Peter Jenkins, one of the authors of a new report that summarizes the findings of 19 peer-reviewed studies dealing with neonic treatments and major crop yields. "What we learned in our thorough analysis of the peer-reviewed science is that their claimed crop yield benefit is largely illusory, making their costs all the more tragic."
The Richmond Standard is a hyperlocal journalism site launched in January with the hallmarks of a typical Patch site (before said service was dumped by AOL): minimally reported stories about local crime, public meetings, and sports, told with the inverted-pyramid style of traditional news writing.
But the Standard is not your typical, well-intentioned but underfunded local reporting initiative; it's a Chevron propaganda rag that's run and written by the company's flacks. The San Francisco Chronicle delves into the ethics of such an initiative:
The idea of the nation’s second-largest oil company funding a local news site harkens back to an era of journalism when business magnates often owned newspapers to promote their personal financial or political agendas. Now that mainstream newspapers are struggling to survive, online news sites are testing ways to fund their operations, said Edward Wasserman, dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.
But the idea of a company sponsoring news in a community where it operates still poses problems, he said.
“The tradition of press independence — even though in many times it’s more aspirational than real — is nevertheless a cornerstone principle,” Wasserman said. The Standard “is a different model. It’s clearly meant as a community outreach effort, so it’s born in an ethically challenged area.”
An oil barge-versus-ship accident in Texas's Galveston Bay on Saturday triggered the largest Gulf of Mexico oil spill since the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Galveston Bay isn't really a bay; it's one of America's largest and most ecologically productive estuaries, and it's surrounded by wildlife refuges. Oil quickly started coating wildlife at the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary. A Texas wildlife official told the L.A. Times that "hundreds or thousands of birds" are threatened:
Few things could be less sustainable than an entertainment mecca in the middle of a desert. But there's more to Nevada than the Vegas Strip, and investors in the Silver State are finding better ways of wagering their money than in slot machines.
On Thursday, leaders from both major parties joined forces to tout Nevada's clean technology sector. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) held a press conference to laud the $5.5 billion that has been invested in the industry in the state since 2010.
The figure was calculated by the Clean Energy Project, a Las Vegas-based advocacy group for the renewables sector. The group credits state tax breaks for growing clean energy investment. From its new report:
Due to Nevada’s vast solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass resources, the state has excelled at meeting demand in and out of its borders leading to significant clean energy capital investments. As of 2014, Nevada has 480 MW of clean energy developed or being developed to meet its energy demand and 985 MW of clean energy exported to other states.
The cumulative capital investments for both in-state and out-of-state clean energy projects, including transmission lines to move the clean electrons, total $5.5 billion since 2010. Nevada’s Investment of $500 million in tax abatements has attracted $5.5 billion of capital investment in clean energy projects to the state.
Nobody wants to be called "appallingly irresponsible," but it's especially galling when the insult comes from the fracking industry.
Members of Los Angeles City Council, which may soon impose a moratorium on fracking, this week proposed that the city work with the U.S. Geological Survey and other scientists to determine whether a 4.4-magnitude quake on Monday was linked to nearby hydraulic fracturing. Fracking practices have been linked to earthquakes in other parts of the country.
"It is crucial to the health and safety of the City's residents to understand the seismic impacts of oil and gas extraction activities in the City," three lawmakers wrote in a motion that they introduced on Tuesday.
Earthquakes happen all the time in California. Monday's temblor was deeper than most fracking industry–induced earthquakes, though it was attention-grabbing because it occurred in an area not normally known for quakes. And it struck mere days after a trio of nonprofits warned in a report that the fracking sector could trigger earthquakes in California.
So it seems reasonable that L.A. lawmakers would want scientists to look into the issue. But frackers are not known to be reasonable people. The Western States Petroleum Association reacted vehemently to the insinuations and to the proposed scientific research. Its president, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, denied any industry links to Monday's earthquake, and decried the council members as "appallingly irresponsible."
UPDATE: It looks like Steve Mufson and Juliet Eilperin, the authors of the Washington Post article upon which this post was based, are backing down on their claims — sort of. The Koch brothers have leases on a confirmed 1.1 million acres of Alberta tar sands, and the article's authors cite unnamed "industry sources we consider highly authoritative" who estimate that amount of land to be closer to two million acres. Mufson and Eilperin claim that if the latter figure is accurate, the Koch brothers are indeed the largest lease-holders in the region. However, Jonathan Adler, a columnist for the Washington …
In his big climate plan released last June, President Obama promised new rules to reduce methane leakage during the production and transport of natural gas. Since then, we've learned that the problem of methane leaks is much larger than the government had estimated.
Now the administration is poised to finally announce those regulations and help prevent the country’s natural gas industry from turning the world into a Dutch oven.
When burned, natural gas produces half as much carbon dioxide as coal. But methane, the main component of natural gas, is a much more potent greenhouse gas when released directly into the atmosphere, 86 times stronger than CO2 over a 20-year time frame.
Obama adviser John Podesta told reporters this week that the White House is "in the throes of finalizing" a government-wide strategy aimed at reducing accidental leaks of methane. The Washington Post reports that the new rules could be announced as soon as this month. They don't require the approval of Congress.
Climate protection is getting down and dirty Down Under.
Soil serves as a great reservoir for carbon, yet it's often overlooked in climate protection efforts. That's changing in Australia, where farmers will soon be able to earn cash for projects that store carbon in the soil -- such as tree plantings, dung beetle releases, and composting. Aussie farmers are already eligible to make money by reducing greenhouse gas pollution from livestock, manure, and rice fields.