Briefly

Stuff that matters


... Were Y'all Hungry?

Canadians have eaten five tons of GMO salmon.

The news has alarmed anti-GMO groups, who point out that Drake’s people may not have known they were buying genetically engineered fish.

“The company did not disclose where the GM salmon fillets were sold or for what purpose, and we’re shocked to discover that they’ve entered the market at this time,” Lucy Sharratt of Canadian Biotechnology Action Network told the Guardian.

AquAdvantage salmon, which hit the market just this year, has drawn the interest of environmentalists because it requires much less feed than conventional salmon. It’s also raised in tanks on land, which reduces many of the problems with fish farming.

That’s because these fish are bred with a gene from a Chinook salmon and a growth promoter from an ocean pout (which is also a fish, not a seapunk band). The combination of the two allows the fish to grow more than twice as fast as other farmed salmon.

Companies are often scared to label foods with genetically engineered ingredients, but I’ve argued that labeling is in the best interest of both businesses and consumers.

A message from The Wilderness Society:

The Senate is voting on a bill this week that would allow drilling in the Arctic Refuge. Help stop it!


float on

The first floating wind turbines just came online, which is very good news, indeed.

Five giant turbines bobbing in the North Sea, 15 miles off the Scottish coast, are now producing electricity — at peak, enough power for 20,000 homes.

Offshore wind turbines are a key technology for accessing the bulk of the wind energy available on Earth. Earlier this month, researchers calculated that wind could theoretically provide “civilization scale power,” if only we could figure out how to harness the wind whipping at high speed over the oceans.

The Norwegian energy company behind the project, Statoil, may have done that with its new turbines. Each tower rises nearly 600 feet above the water — like a floating Seattle Space Needle — and is chained to three massive upside-down buckets sunk into the sandy bottom, 350 feet below the surface.

The project was expensive, like all initial ventures: It cost $8.8 million per megawatt of generation capacity (versus the going rate of around $4.5 million for conventional offshore turbines). However, Statoil says that it plans to cut that cost in half by 2023, produce electricity as cheaply as onshore wind power by 2030.

Here’s Statoil’s video of the turbines, which, as self-promotions go, is pretty cool. Click for the endearingly earnest Norwegian engineers, and stick around for the jaw-dropping scale:


reverse course

New Mexico: OK, fine, we’ll put science back in science standards.

Last month, the state’s public education agency proposed science standards with a few substantial omissions: human-caused climate change, evolution, and the age of the Earth.

After backlash from state politicians, scientists, teachers, and others, New Mexico’s Public Education Department said it would reverse course and restore some of those references. The new language in the standards will better reflect science, replacing a mention of the “fluctuation” in global temperatures over the past century with the more accurate term “rise.”

The initial New Mexico proposal was based off the Next Generation Science Standards — a well-respected STEM education model — but officials either dropped language about global warming and evolution or replaced it with more evasive, misleading wording. One education department employee who helped develop the standards before quitting the agency told Mother Jones that those edits were made by people who were “really worried about creationists and the oil companies.”

New Mexico hasn’t yet agreed to adopt the language of the Next Generation Science Standards in full. Still, the revisions represent a small victory for science in the larger battle over climate change in American classrooms.


Hurricane Harvey

A town hit hard by Hurricane Harvey may never fully recover.

The mayor of the coastal town of Rockport, Texas, said on Tuesday that the community will likely suffer permanent damage from the Category 4 storm.

It’s been nearly two months since Hurricane Harvey tore through Texas, leaving behind decimated buildings, torn-up infrastructure, and thousands of displaced people. While most national media attention focused on Houston, Rockport, population 10,645, suffered some of the hurricane’s worst wind and storm surge damage.

During a panel discussion in Victoria, Texas, Mayor Charles Wax said that approximately one-third of the town was destroyed in the hurricane, and a significant portion of that will be impossible to rebuild.

Only 300 of Rockport’s 1,300 businesses have reopened since the storm, 856 of Rockport’s 2,400 students have left the school district, and the town lost most of its trees in the storm. Disaster relief crews have cleared almost 800,000 cubic yards of vegetation felled by hurricane winds and rain. 

Wax, along with three other coastal Texas mayors coping with staggering devastation from the hurricane, said he has received more help from the state government than from FEMA. The agency is definitely spread a bit thin, it seems.


oversharing

Half of all rides on Uber and Lyft didn’t have to happen.

Those trips — 49 to 61 percent of all rides in metro areas — would otherwise have been made on foot, bike, or public transit, according to new analysis from UC Davis.

Sustainability-inclined urbanists — including us — often credit car- and ride-sharing services for reducing the overall number of cars in cities. After all, if people know they can get a ride when they need one, they will presumably be less likely to invest in a car of their own.

But the UC Davis study shows that the vast majority of ride-sharing users — 91 percent — have not made a change in their personal vehicle ownership as a result of Uber or Lyft. Meanwhile, these ride-share users took public transit 6 percent less.

That means that ride-hailing services aren’t necessarily taking people out of their cars — they’re taking them off of buses and subways.

There’s still lots of evidence that shows car ownership is an increasingly unappealing prospect for young people in America’s cities (after all, a big chunk of that 91 percent may not own a car in the first place).

Taxi apps may help kill the private car, but they won’t fix all our traffic and transit problems, either. That will take more work.


¿Qué?

Nearly half of the country thinks Donald Trump is handling hurricane season well.

A new poll from CNN shows that public opinion of President Donald Trump’s approach to hurricane recovery has drastically fallen — but still remains pretty high!

After hurricanes Harvey and Irma made their mark on the Gulf Coast in September, 64 percent of the public approved of Trump’s disaster relief efforts. But in light of his response to Hurricane Maria’s devastation in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, that approval rating has dropped to 44 percent.

No wonder: Trump blamed Puerto Rico’s devastation for upsetting the national budget, threw paper towels at a crowd of hurricane victims, and publicly attacked the mayor of San Juan. Throughout it all, he blamed the media for failing to recognize his good deeds.

In that context, 44 percent is still remarkably high. For comparison, 43 percent of Buzzfeed respondents believe that Mariah Carey is the best female vocalist of the ’90s, which is a good and correct opinion.


smoked out

California wildfires could cost ‘wine country’ its immigrant population.

While many homeowners in Sonoma and Napa Counties are returning to pick up the pieces after the deadliest blazes in state history, an estimated 32,000 undocumented immigrants — a majority of workers employed by the wine industry — might not come back.

Fear of deportation has kept immigrant workers and families from seeking shelter in evacuation centers, with some choosing to camp outside or sleep in their cars with their children. Fire officials are still working to stem rumors that immigrants could be detained by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement for seeking refuge.

Undocumented immigrants aren’t eligible for FEMA assistance, unemployment benefits, or welfare. Add to that, housing is already pricey in the region. A two-bedroom apartment rents for $1600 a month. An agricultural worker might earn just $2,400 a month, meaning these laborers might simply move on.

A shortage of immigrant workers in construction is also expected to slow rebuilding, Robbie Hunter of the Building and Construction Trades Council of California told the Sacramento Bee. “There is a shortage of people willing to work for less than minimum wage,” he said. “And that’s the workforce that has largely been building residential projects.”