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U.N. to world: “Eat your insects.”

"Something's different about my Hoppy Meal ... "
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"Something's different about my Hoppy Meal ... "

"Waiter, there's a fly in my soup."

"Terribly sorry, sir. It seems that the kitchen was running a little low on maggots."

If we want to satiate the world population's ever-growing appetite, insect farming should be the next global foodie fad. Or at least that's the gist of a new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The thorough 187-page report [PDF], published Monday, covers everything from different cultures' attitudes towards eating insects to farming methods to tips for using insects as emergency food during disasters.

Benefits of bug munching are manifold: The report points out that farmers can raise insects on human and animal waste, they emit fewer greenhouse gases and produce less pollution than cattle or pigs, and they use substantially less land and water than other livestock.

Read more: Food

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Climate-related disasters cost American taxpayers $96 billion last year

Superstorm Sandy's aftermath.
Shutterstock / Glynnis Jones
Superstorm Sandy's aftermath.

Schools and roads are nice to have. But what American taxpayers are really dropping serious money on, through no direct choice of their own, is cleaning up and helping out after all those climate-related disasters.

A new analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council shows that the federal government dished out $96 billion last year on what the NRDC calls "federal climate disruption costs." That works out to $1,100 per taxpayer, or one-sixth of the government's non-defense related spending. It's more than the feds spent last year on education or on transportation.

The unwelcome spending spree came during the second most expensive year on record for such disasters. Superstorm Sandy hit last year, as did the drought-induced failures of federally insured crops. Floods and forest fires also racked up sizable bills.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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North Pole wanders, thanks to climate change

Time to move the sign again.
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Time to move the sign again.

As if the swelling number of kids in the world isn't enough to keep him busy, Santa Claus is being forced to shift his home eight inches every year to keep up with climate change.

Assuming I'm getting this fable right, the jolly old dude who rose from the dead and ascended to the North Pole to construct a toy-building redoubt and a reindeer-based delivery system could consider himself one of the many refugees of the changing climate.

That's according, more or less, to the findings of a new study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, which used satellite gravity measurements from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment to monitor the recent meanderings of the precise location of the North Pole.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Obama administration gives wind industry a pass for killing birds

A California condor -- is it expendable?
Shutterstock / George Lamson
A California condor -- is it expendable?

Is it OK to slaughter hundreds of thousands of birds every year in the name of clean energy? Is it OK for a luxury home developer to kill California condors in its quest for profits?

The Obama administration seems to think so. It is flexing little to none of the legal muscle needed to encourage wind energy companies to avoid killing eagles, hawks, and other birds that can be fatally drawn into their spinning turbines.

An Associated Press investigation revealed that the administration has never fined or prosecuted a wind farm for killing a bird. Many of the avian victims of the fast-growing wind sector are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and some are protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

An estimated 573,000 birds were killed last year in the U.S. by wind turbines, the AP reported, citing a study published in March in the journal Wildlife Society Bulletin. About 83,000 of those were estimated to have been raptors.

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Kids these days just don’t care about cars

I refuse to conform to your car culture.
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I refuse to conform to your car culture.

At Grist, we’ve been onto the trend of the youngs losing interest in driving for awhile now. And every time a new study or survey comes out to statistically corroborate the anecdotal evidence we see every day, we hear the same responses from skeptics -- it’s just the economy, just a stage of life. Wait til those millennials get real jobs, get married, have families, and move to the suburbs. Then you bet they’ll start driving.

But the latest report on declining driving trends -- released today by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund -- argues that a rejection of car culture is here to stay. “The Driving Boom is over,” it declares. In fact, the report calculates that “If the Millennial-led decline in per-capita driving continues for another dozen years … total vehicle travel in the United States could remain well below its 2007 peak through at least 2040 -- despite a 21 percent increase in population.”

The U.S. PIRG study reveals how, after six decades of steady growth, both total vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and VMT per capita have been falling since 2007. Total VMT is now at 2004 levels, while VMT per capita has fallen to 1996 levels. And once again, it’s those meddling millennials who are reimagining one of the pillars of American culture. Young people ages 16 to 34 drove an average of 23 percent fewer miles in 2009 than they did in 2001, according to the report. If you consider that more than half the people in that age group were old enough to drive in 2001, too, that suggests that even as those at the older end of this generation enter their 30s -- presumably settling into more stable jobs and in some cases starting families -- they’re still not switching over to a car-centric lifestyle at the same rate as generations before them.

Economic factors -- high gas prices, the recession -- obviously motivate people of all ages to drive less. But, as we’ve pointed out before, larger societal shifts lie behind millennials’ generation-wide “meh” attitude toward car ownership. Brian Merchant at Vice summarizes them in two words: Facebook and Brooklyn.

Read more: Cities, Living

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Coal plants could be linked to thousands of North Carolina suicides

Duke Energy may be driving its neighbors to kill themselves when it burns coal at Belews Creek Steam Station in Stokes County, N.C.
Duke Energy
A Duke Energy coal plant bleching pollution in Stokes County, N.C.

North Carolina's numerous coal plants might be driving Tar Heel State residents to kill themselves.

Suicide is a leading killer in America, and links between air pollution and suicide rates have been known for years. Breathing in bad air might drive people to take their own lives by worsening their health problems, affecting their nervous systems, or generally lowering their life satisfaction.

So Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center researcher John Spangler set about trying to understand how polluting coal-fired power plants might affect county-by-county suicide rates in North Carolina, where the statewide rate is higher than the national average [PDF]. What he discovered was an alarming correlation.

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Occupy the Farm movement rises again, hours after being raided

A tractor was used Monday to destroy the unauthorized farm plantation.
Occupy the Farm
On Monday, this tractor plowed over the unauthorized farm.

A guerrilla veggie-growing occupation of university-owned land in Albany, Calif., was busted by cops early Monday and thousands of zucchini, kale, squash, and other newly planted seedlings were plowed over. But the occupiers proved more resilient than a sprawling mint plant, returning Monday to replant the desecrated farm.

More than 100 activists had gathered at Gill Tract, near Berkeley, on Friday and over the weekend, with some staying on site until the Monday morning raid. They pulled weeds, tilled soil, and planted seedlings. Some pitched tents.

The 12-acre site was part of a large tract of land donated to the University of California in the 1920s and was long used for organic farming and research. But much of it is now abandoned land, slated for homebuilding and a new grocery store. Some of the land continues to be used for agricultural research, but much of that research relates to genetic engineering.

Read more: Food, Living

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North Carolina might ban Tesla’s business model

This guy wants to sell you a Tesla.
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This guy wants to sell you a Tesla.

North Carolina lawmakers are rushing to protect the state's car dealers from Tesla's subversive direct-to-consumer business model.

Silicon Valley-based Tesla sells its all-electric roadsters and sedans online and over the phone. It seems to be doing a pretty good job of it so far. It doesn't sell its cars on the concrete lots or in the sterile showrooms of car salesmen, who take commissions that hike prices. The company considers dealerships unnecessary.

And that rubs the powerful North Carolina Automobile Dealers Association the wrong way.

The association wants a piece of the Tesla pie, and it's accustomed to getting its way. State law already bars anybody other than a licensed dealer from selling more than four motor vehicles in a year.

The association has backed Senate Bill 327, sponsored by state Sen. Tom Apodaca (R), which would broaden the scope of that protectionist law to also cover internet and telephone sales.

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Food-safety push in California hurts wildlife — and doesn’t make food safer

spinach field
Rigid rules for leafy greens are taking a toll on wildlife.

A deadly outbreak of E. coli in 2006, traced to a California spinach field, spurred an overhaul of food-safety regulations in the leafy-greens industry -- and that’s got to be a good thing, right? Not so fast, says a study published last week in the journal Nature. Those regulations have contributed to a major loss of ecosystem diversity in California's Salinas Valley, while at the same time doing little to alleviate the risk of food-borne illness.

In an effort to reduce the potential for contamination, the industry put in place standards that, while technically voluntary, quickly became widespread. Big produce buyers, fearing further disease outbreaks and the public-relations disasters they create, only want to do business with farmers conforming to the new guidelines. “Nationwide, U.S. fruit and vegetable farmers report being pressured by commercial produce buyers to engage in land-use practices that are not conducive to wildlife and habitat conservation, in a scientifically questionable attempt to reduce food-borne illness risk,” the study reports.

Scientific American describes what this ends up looking like:

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Pennsylvania’s ag-gag law could protect frackers

film of fracking, being burned
Shutterstock / World Resources
Put that video camera away or else.

Film a fracker, go to jail?

It could become illegal to document many of the fracking operations in Pennsylvania under an ag-gag bill being considered in the state House.

Ag-gag laws have been introduced or passed in more than a dozen states, aiming to prevent animal-welfare activists from documenting systemic abuses at corporate farms and slaughterhouses. They do this in a variety of ways, mostly by making it illegal to film such abuse; by requiring any such footage be handed over immediately to law enforcement officials (thereby hobbling activists' ability to document patterns of abuse, rather than one-off instances); and/or by requiring job applicants to reveal any activist affiliations.

But experts warn that Pennsylvania House Bill 683 would go further by also protecting frackers from unwanted scrutiny when they operate on farmland. A fracking spree is underway in the state, which sits atop the natural-gas-rich Marcellus Shale deposit, and much of the fracking is conducted on agricultural lands.