Spring officially arrives today, and meteorologists are forecasting heavy rains this season in parts of the Midwest. That sounds lovely -- better than a drought for sure. But those rains will wash fertilizer, animal waste, and other nutrient-rich pollution into Lake Erie, where they are expected to fuel another bumper season of toxic blue-green algae.
As we reported last year, the toxic algae blooms that coated the Great Lakes from the 1950s to the 1970s have returned. Last century's blooms were fed with nutrients from human sewage; the latest iterations are caused by sloppy farming practices. As much as one-sixth of Lake Erie was coated with algae last year, killing wildlife and stinking out homes and holiday destinations.
Across the American heartland, farmland prices are soaring. In places like Waco, Neb., and Chickasaw County, Iowa, where the boom-and-bust cycle of farming reaches deep into the psyche, some families are selling the land that they have worked for generations, to cash in while they can. ...
Sensing opportunity, investment firms are buying, too. David Taylor, of Oskaloosa, Kan., said he was saddened to sell his family’s farm but that the prices were too good to resist. ...
“I bawled like a baby,” Mr. Taylor, 59, said. His crop-producing fields sold for $10,100 an acre.
In Iowa, despite the drought last year, farmland prices have nearly doubled since 2009, to an average $8,296 an acre, far surpassing the last boom’s peak in 1979. In Nebraska, the price of irrigated land has also doubled since 2009.
That's given farmers who've chosen to stay a whole lot of value to borrow against, and borrow they are. Farmers' debt load has risen almost a third since 2007.
Turns out depleted uranium (DU) munitions are a great thing to use when you're going to war, so long as you plan on terrorizing people for generations to come. Military-related pollution is suspected of causing a huge spike in birth defects and all kinds of cancer in Iraq since the start of the Gulf War more than 20 years ago.
"Official Iraqi government statistics show that, prior to the outbreak of the First Gulf War in 1991, the rate of cancer cases in Iraq was 40 out of 100,000 people," Al Jazeera reports. "By 1995, it had increased to 800 out of 100,000 people, and, by 2005, it had doubled to at least 1,600 out of 100,000 people. Current estimates show the increasing trend continuing." That's potentially a more than 4,000 percent increase in the cancer rate, making it more than 500 percent higher than the cancer rate in the U.S.
More from Al Jazeera:
As shocking as these statistics are, due to a lack of adequate documentation, research, and reporting of cases, the actual rate of cancer and other diseases is likely to be much higher than even these figures suggest.
"Cancer statistics are hard to come by, since only 50 per cent of the healthcare in Iraq is public," Dr Salah Haddad of the Iraqi Society for Health Administration and Promotion told Al Jazeera. "The other half of our healthcare is provided by the private sector, and that sector is deficient in their reporting of statistics. Hence, all of our statistics in Iraq must be multiplied by two. Any official numbers are likely only half of the real number."
Dr Haddad believes there is a direct correlation between increasing cancer rates and the amount of bombings carried out by US forces in particular areas.
It's National Agriculture Day! What an appropriate day to celebrate the awesome work of our nation's farmers! The awesome work they are so crappily compensated for, that is.
They may seem to be raking in the cash at all those new local farmers markets, but America's food-growers -- those producing fruits and veg, not soy and corn -- aren't having an easy go of it. NPR's All Things Considered reports:
The market for locally grown food has seen dramatic growth over the last decade. Despite this boost in sales and popularity, evidence suggests that the economics behind the movement still don't favor the farmer. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has new programs to try to prop up small-scale operations, but many local farms only survive because they scrape by on below-market wages, or by doing without things like insurance.
The quenching storms that take the edge off the scorching heat near parts of the U.S.-Mexico border during the hottest months are arriving later than they used to. New research indicates that climate change could push their arrival back nearly until the fall by the end of the century.
That's because it's becoming more difficult for rain-forming clouds to materialize until the atmosphere becomes saturated later in the summer season, when the skies finally explode in rainstorms over parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and northwestern Mexico.
The fallout from a substantially delayed monsoon season, which is predicted in a new study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, could include crop failures and increasingly uncomfortable summers.
An unidentified “liquid natural-gas product” is flowing freely into the shallow ground near a creekside gas processing plant in rural western Colorado. After 11 days of cleanup operations and investigations, the source and precise contents of the toxic spill remain a mystery.
Officials at Williams Energy, the presumed culprit in the spill, have not been able to locate the source of the leak, so they have been unable to staunch the flow of underground pollution that is threatening to contaminate Parachute Creek.
More than 60,000 gallons of hydrocarbon gunk have so far been sucked up using vacuum-equipped trucks. The underground pollution plume is believed to have grown to at least 200 feet by 170 feet and is at least 14 feet deep.
South Australian cattle farmer David Mortimer allowed wind turbines to be built on his property in 2004. Now he says the turbines have made him ill.
"Mostly I've had sleep-related problems," Mortimer told The Guardian. "At night I get a deep rumbling sensation in my head which makes it hard to get to sleep. I also get a pulsing in my heart that does not correlate to my heartbeat. It gives me an acute sense of anxiety and arrhythmia that goes on for days."
Are the wind turbines making Mortimer sick? Or has he been fooled by anti-wind activists into thinking that he is sick?
Simon Chapman, a professor of public health at Sydney University, says it's the latter. He led a team of four scientists that concluded that ailments afflicting some people who live near wind farms -- often described as "wind turbine syndrome" or "vibro-acoustic disease" -- are merely "communicated diseases."
America is full of potholes, slumping levees, and fraying electrical grids. So it may surprise you to learn that the country's physical infrastructure is actually apparently improving.
For the first time in 15 years, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country's infrastructure a higher grade than it did last time. Congrats, America, you've improved from a D to a D+! Soo you'll still have to repeat the class.
Some connected trends have led to the shift, according to the engineering organization. It cited a rise in the private financing of public projects and renewed attention from state and local government to kick-start their own projects, rather than wait for Washington to send money. The jump in private investment was instrumental, for example, in the improved outlook for the nation’s rails, according to the report. That evaluation jumped to a C+ from a C-. The group also cited short-term increases in financing — a reference to President Obama’s economic stimulus package, which focused in part on “shovel-ready” projects like road and bridge repair.
“When investments are made and projects move forward, the grades rise,” the report stated.
Gregory E. DiLoreto, the group’s president, said, “A D+ is simply unacceptable for anyone serious about strengthening our nation’s economy,” but he added that the improvement “shows that this problem can be solved.”
In addition to the overall grade, ASCE handed out individual marks for specific kinds of infrastructure: near-failing D- grades for levees and inland waterways, and D grades for drinking water, hazardous waste, roads, transit, and wastewater, among others.
We'd all like to accelerate cool green tech, but maybe the initial acceleration is less important than the distance traveled.
At least that's what Greenstart, which Grist profiled back in October, seems to be thinking as it retools its business plan: No longer an accelerator, Greenstart will essentially become a venture capital endeavor, with a focus on helping companies through multiple stages of their development instead of just shoving them off a cliff with bags of money.
"This change was 100 percent motivated by listening to our startups," writes founder and managing partner Mitch Lowe in a post today very effectively titled "We Killed Our Accelerator."
This week, Greenstart announced that it’s shutting down its three-month accelerator program -- and morphing into a combination early-stage venture capital firm and design studio. What happened?
"It was simply because entrepreneurs were saying loud and clear that 90 days is nice but we want a partner for the life of our company," says Mitch Lowe, managing partner at Greenstart. "You just get to the good stuff at 90 days. You’re starting to add real value."
Greenstart will now be writing even fatter checks to its portfolio companies, funneling $250,000 to $500,000 into about a dozen startups each year. And those companies won't just be incubated -- Greenstart is in it for the long haul.
We already know that carbon-dioxide-filled, acidic ocean water is no-good, very-bad news for mussels and other underwater shelled creatures, causing their shells to dissolve. But, as these things so often go, it turns out that climate change is even worse for bivalves than we thought: It's unleashing an awkward kind of anti-puberty on them. They're growing smaller and weaker, and now we find out that they're basically losing their hair.
New research published in the journal Nature shows that mussels' proteinaceuous byssal threads -- the little stringy bits that allow them to stick their bodies on stuff -- are particularly susceptible to ocean acidification. The researchers found mussels' little stringy bits were 40 percent weaker when exposed to elevated CO2 levels, even when their shell strength and tissue growth weren't affected.