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Smithfield, world’s largest pork producer, could be sold to a Chinese company

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In Smithfield, Va., on Wednesday, locals were shocked to discover that their town’s namesake, Smithfield Foods, founded in 1936 as a single meatpacking plant and now the largest pork producer in the world, is poised to be sold to Chinese meat company Shuanghui International. If approved by federal regulators, the $4.7 billion deal would be the biggest takeover in history of an American company by a Chinese one.

The announcement of the deal immediately provoked skepticism far beyond the town of Smithfield, with a wide range of camps voicing concern about everything from food safety to foreign financial control to increasing corporate consolidation of the food industry. Shuanghui is the biggest meat company in China, and Smithfield already owns more hogs than the next eight largest hog producers combined, according to Food & Water Watch. It’s not necessarily a complete foreign takeover if you consider that Shuanghui is partially owned by Goldman Sachs, but if you’re worried about corporate control of the food system, that’s not exactly cause for comfort.

Why is China interested in owning an American pork behemoth? The New York Times reports:

Smithfield and Shuanghui said that the deal was meant to … increase exports of American products to China, already the nation’s third-largest export market for pork. Meat consumption in China has exploded over the past decade because of a growing middle class and a shift in diet from rice and vegetables to more protein.

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Most Americans don’t give a frack about fracking

A fucking gashole in Pennsylvania
A fucking gashole in Pennsylvania.

You might think fracking is a highly divisive, heatedly contested issue, but most Americans don't give a damn about it either way.

The latest Climate Change in the American Mind survey found that 39 percent of respondents had never heard of fracking, while another 13 percent didn't know whether they had heard of it.

So it's not too much of a surprise, then, to learn that 58 percent of survey respondents held no opinion on whether fracking is a good thing or a bad thing.

Those who did have an opinion were roughly split between supporters and opponents, the survey found. Older conservative men tended to think it's ace. Younger liberal women did not.

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Local elections in Washington state are big deal for coal industry and global climate

Bellingham, Wash., coastline
Matt Ray
Bellingham in Whatcom County, Wash., could soon be seeing a whole lot of coal.

The adage "think global, act local" rings remarkably true in Whatcom County, Wash., a rural area in the northwestern corner of the country.

The seven county council members there will play a big role in deciding how much coal gets dug up in Great Plains states, shipped out of America, and burned by developing countries.

Over the next two years, the council will decide whether to issue two permits needed for the planned $600 million Gateway Pacific Terminal, which would export massive amounts of coal from Wyoming and Montana to Asia. In doing so, these council members will help determine the very future of the world's climate.

So it's a big deal that Whatcom County voters will be electing four council members this November.

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Illegal Monsanto GMO wheat found in Oregon

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A farmer in Oregon found a patch of wheat growing like a weed where it wasn't expected, so the farmer sprayed it with the herbicide Roundup. Surprisingly, some of the wheat survived.

The startled farmer sent samples of the renegade wheat to a laboratory, which confirmed something that should have been impossible: The wheat was a genetically engineered variety that had never been approved to be grown in the U.S., nor anywhere else in the world.

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Bike culture: Not as white as you think

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Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious

Even as it grows in popularity, cycling just can’t shake its reputation as a pastime for spandex- or skinny jean-clad white people. But a new report from the Sierra Club and the League of American Bicyclists challenges that common stereotype, spotlighting a decade of rapid growth in biking among communities of color.

From 2001 to 2009, the percentage of trips taken by bike increased by 50 percent among Latinos, and by 100 percent among African Americans -- compared to only a 22-percent increase among whites. This, the report notes, is in spite of the fact that communities of color often lack the kind of infrastructure that makes biking safer, easier, and more appealing. Twenty-six percent of non-whites said they want to ride more but worry about safety (compared to only 19 percent of whites); 47 percent of non-whites said they’d ride more if they had better access to secure places to park and store their bikes (versus 32 percent of white folks).

These safety concerns aren’t unfounded: The report cites data from the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition indicating that neighborhoods with the largest share of people of color have lower distributions of bike facilities, and that the lowest-income neighborhoods have the most bike and pedestrian crashes. Those neighborhoods have the most to gain from an increase in cycling: The nation’s poorest families spend the biggest chunk of their income on transportation -- 30 percent. The average yearly cost of owning and operating a bike is only $308, compared to $8,220 for an average car.

Simple infrastructure upgrades can have major impacts on riding habits, says the report:

Read more: Cities, Living

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Coal is rebounding, natural gas prices are up, and the world’s oil cartel is quite content

coal
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Back in style?

Times are good for the merchants of fossil fuels.

Coal is making a comeback in the U.S., natural gas prices are rising, and Saudis are living like kings off an oil market that is simply heavenly.

Just last year, demand for coal had dropped deeper than a canary lowered down a mine shaft. Prices had been pushed down by the natural gas fracking boom. But The Washington Post reports that demand and prices for coal have rebounded:

According to the latest data from the Energy Information Administration, coal has been reclaiming some — though not all — of its market share in 2013. ...

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Crappy solar panels threaten industry growth

Crappy solar panels threaten to darken the solar industry's future.
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Faulty solar panels threaten to darken the solar industry's future.

As the solar sector explodes, some of the solar panels it produces are fizzling out.

The New York Times reports on the problem of faulty panels and says nobody knows how pervasive it is because nobody keeps track. Fingers are being pointed at corner cutting by manufacturing firms in China. From the Times article:

Worldwide, testing labs, developers, financiers and insurers are reporting [quality] problems and say the $77 billion solar industry is facing a quality crisis just as solar panels are on the verge of widespread adoption. ...

The quality concerns have emerged just after a surge in solar construction. In the United States, the Solar Energy Industries Association said that solar panel generating capacity exploded from 83 megawatts in 2003 to 7,266 megawatts in 2012, enough to power more than 1.2 million homes. Nearly half that capacity was installed in 2012 alone, meaning any significant problems may not become apparent for years.

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Walmart fined $82 million for dumping poisons

The enchanted interior of a Wal-Mart store.
Shutterstock / vvoe
The enchanted interior of a Walmart store.

Walmart doesn't just scrimp on employee wages. It also scrimps on employee training, and that led to its workers dumping returned pesticides, bleach, and other hazardous products into the trash or sewer systems.

On Tuesday, Walmart pled guilty to violations of federal environmental laws and agreed to pay $81.6 million in fines and penalties for improper hazardous waste disposal.

From an EPA press release:

[U]ntil January 2006, Wal-Mart did not have a program in place and failed to train its employees on proper hazardous waste management and disposal practices at the store level. As a result, hazardous wastes were either discarded improperly at the store level -- including being put into municipal trash bins or, if a liquid, poured into the local sewer system -- or they were improperly transported without proper safety documentation to one of six product return centers located throughout the United States.

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Former EPA chief Lisa Jackson takes a job at Apple

Lisa Jackson
Chesapeake Bay Program
Lisa Jackson has a sweet new job.

Apple, after getting hit with criticism for using dirty energy at its data centers, has been increasingly drawing on green power -- wind, solar, geothermal, and, now, former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.

Apple CEO Tim Cook announced Tuesday that Jackson, who served as Barack Obama's top environmental official during his first term, will join the company as vice president for environmental initiatives.

From The Washington Post:

Cook, who made the announcement at The Wall Street Journal’s D: All Things Digital D11 conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., said Jackson will be reporting directly to him and is “going to be coordinating a lot of this activity across the company.”

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U.S. trees burned in British coal plants count as renewable energy. WTF?

iPhone chargers in waiting.
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iPhone chargers in waiting.

Follow this if you can: Wood from U.S. trees is being shipped over to the U.K., where coal power plants burn it, producing more greenhouse gas emissions than when those same plants generate an equivalent amount of electricity by burning coal.

The weirdest part? This doubly destructive practice is being subsidized in the U.K. to help the country meet its renewable energy targets. WTF?

The BBC explains that when pine trees are grown in America, the best trunks are cut up for wood planks and sold as timber. Much of the rest of the wood is either used for wood pulp or gets chopped up to be used as fuel. Because the wood chips are considered a renewable energy source by the British government, great piles are being shipped over to England to be burned.

Read more: Climate & Energy