Momentous change doesn’t always leave visual cues. A 2008 Obama looks much the same as a 2012 Obama (minus a few gray hairs and Benghazi wrinkles). In some ways, climate change is similar; we can’t exactly see villainous clouds of CO2 strangling the sky. But when it comes to glaciers, climate change leaves marks that can be seen from space.
Our friends at GlacierWorks hope to document those scars. Respected mountaineer and GlacierWorks Executive Director David Breashears retraced the steps of past photographers from the Royal Geographical Society to reshoot photos of famous Himalayan glaciers affected by climate change. Thanks to their hard work and internet magic, we can now compare the severity of ice recession by combining the historic and modern images.
On the left is a photo taken by Major E. O. Wheeler in 1921 on the North slope of 26,906-foot Cho Oyu; on the right is a photo taken by Breashears from a similar perspective in 2009. Drag the slider to check out the changes China’s Kyetrak Glacier experienced.
Now, compare the Main Rongbuk Glacier (near Mt. Everest) in a 1921 photo by George Mallory to Breashears’ 2007 image:
Finally, here’s the West Rongbuk Glacier past and present. Together, the West, Main, and East branches of the Rongbuk Glacier have all shrunk by nearly 300 vertical feet in the last 80 years.
While stark, bare rock has its merits, it’s pretty undeniable that the Himalaya’s 50,000-plus glaciers add to the scenic appeal. What’s more, a huge chunk of Asia relies on them for water; it’s probably a safe bet that the thirsty multitudes therein will be a bigger problem than a few miffed trekkers.
Yesterday, we brought you our remarkably unscientific (seriously, it was written by this guy) list of the 10 cities most likely to get hammered by climate change. Today, we thought we’d give you the bright side, such as it is: the 10 towns to which we’ll all be flocking as the rest of the world goes to hell. You’re welcome. (Hey, we don’t call Grist “a beacon in the smog” for nothing.)
Seattle, Wash.Eli Duke
Seattleites are already used to everything being wet all the time, so a little flooding shouldn’t be a big deal – and that’s good, because in addition to the rising seas, climate models call for even more rain in Seattle. Higher tides and a redrawn coastline will require coastal cities to adapt, but unlike a lot of U.S. burgs, Seattle is taking it seriously, developing a comprehensive climate action plan and working to bolster food security and general resilience for changing times. Plus, while models foresee flooding, they don’t project the hipster inundation to reach Portlandic levels. And in a worst-case scenario, the Space Needle serves as an escape pod.
Homer, AlaskaKarthick Ramachandran
Any town named after one of the Simpsons could probably stumble through a climate apocalypse on blind luck alone, but when it comes to climate change, Homer has been preparing like a Flanders. The town of 5,000 developed its first climate action plan way back in 2006, and has become a regional leader in renewable energy. It has also drawn the long straw in many climate models, which predict lower levels of sea-level rise and a longer growing season for the Kenai Peninsula. Sounds like a great place to grow Tomacco!
Detroit, Mich.Michigan Municipal League
Lets talk straight for a minute. Detroit has been dealt more than its share of shitty hands, but if it can survive The Motor City Madman, Detroit can handle climate change. The Great Lakes may shrink, and Michigan may be drying out, but things could be looking up for Detroit’s urban farmers, and there are a lot of them. Combine that with a push to grow back the city’s trees, and the decay Detroit has faced could turn into a huge opportunity to reinvent itself in this warm, new world. Detroit also has more robocops per capita than any other major American metropolis, which has got to bode well for The Future.
Lancaster, Pa.Andy Myers
You want to talk low carbon footprint? You wondering who’s ready for a post fossil fuel world? I’ve got one word for you: Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Home of the Amish. The Amish’s small farms provide a model for low-impact agriculture: Livestock feed is grown on site, topsoil is maintained, and crop diversity is encouraged. Dutch Wonderland is also there, and since it’s Dutch and a wonderland, I’m assuming the owners have built plenty of dikes and the place is full of pancakes.
You don’t want to live in Nappanee, I don’t want to live in Nappanee, but Nappanee is the home of Gulf Stream Coach, Inc. — not the Gulfstream that makes private jets, the Gulf Stream that makes trailers for FEMA. The company should do a brisk business in warmer times. After Hurricane Katrina leveled New Orleans, FEMA hurriedly bought 145,000 trailers at no bid prices. Sure, they might have had a slight formaldehyde problem, but nothing is perfect. At least FEMA brought them. It was a little different story after Superstorm Sandy laid waste to Long Island.
Cleveland, OhioDave Polak
Forbes called Cleveland the most miserable city in America. After all, it’s home to one of America’s most flammable rivers and the Browns. But Cleveland may be better able to weather climate change than any other town. It’s got huge agriculture potential, has just developed a climate action plan, and already has some of the best people in the universe (seriously, visit, it’s amazing) and a library covered in tiny adorable bronze people. Plus, the river water really isn’t all that flammable any more – which is not to say you’d want to drink the stuff.
If the climate shit impacts even more vigorously with the change fan than we thought, you’re gonna want to be far above the raging seas. But forget the Mile High City. With an elevation of 10,152 feet, Leadville, the highest incorporated city in the U.S., is almost two miles up! And while Denver faces drought, wildfires, sprawl and, most terrifyingly of all, rabbits, Leadville has a pair of lakes, a subarctic climate, and a total land area of only 1.1 square miles. Residents are also apparently already really into biking. We just have to keep sea-level rise to 10,151 feet or less.
Nashville, Tenn.Molly Peach
Nashville should be sitting pretty. It’s a nice, safe, 597 feet above sea level and a few hundred miles from the coast. It’s got plenty of fresh water and a 47 percent tree canopy (above the 40 percent generally considered healthy). Plus, Al Gore lives there, and he must know something. Nashville also has the Grand Ol’ Opry and if any business is going to thrive in the face of global catastrophe, it’s country music. When a country star’s dog runs away, it’s good for a gold record. How many do you think they’ll sell when that dog bursts into flame? Seriously, Nashville is set.
It won’t be all (moderate) sunshine and (seasonally appropriate) daisies for this New England burg. But Forbes called Vermont the greenest state in the union. Burlington is small and adaptable, the city has a comprehensive climate action plan, and once you get there, there’s plenty to do even if the skiing goes. The only real downside is all the flannel.
San Francisco, Calif.M@
I know what you’re thinking: Wasn’t San Francisco already destroyed by MegaShark? Well, the city survived – barely — and now boasts a climate action plan and a fetish for green tech, and may be one of the most sustainable cities in the world. Yes, it’s on the coast and that means trouble, but San Francsico’s ocean beach master plan acknowledges the inevitability of rising seas and includes a managed retreat from the most threatened areas. Besides, we’re pretty sure even the rising Pacific would run out of steam climbing Nob Hill.
Monsanto’s Bt corn was supposed to reduce pesticide use. The Environmental Protection Agency said as much when the corn, which is genetically modified to resist the crop-ravaging rootworm, debuted in 2003. Sure enough, as more farmers sowed their fields with Bt corn, fewer of them needed to spray pesticides to protect their crops. The share of U.S. corn acreage treated with insecticides fell from 25 percent in 2005 to 9 percent in 2010.
But now, Bt corn has become, basically, too successful: Rootworms are starting to develop immunity to this prevalent crop, driving farmers to return to insecticide use. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Syngenta, one of the world’s largest pesticide makers, reported that sales of its major soil insecticide for corn, which is applied at planting time, more than doubled in 2012. Chief Financial Officer John Ramsay attributed the growth to “increased grower awareness” of rootworm resistance in the U.S. Insecticide sales in the first quarter climbed 5% to $480 million.
The frustrating part is that rootworms’ resistance to the Bt corn gene was entirely predictable — so predictable that some companies seized it as a financial opportunity:
American Vanguard bought a series of insecticide companies and technologies during the past decade, betting that insecticide demand would return as Bt corn started losing its effectiveness. In the past couple of years, that wager has paid off.
The Newport Beach, Calif., company reported that its soil-insecticide revenue jumped 50% in 2012, and company earnings climbed 70% as its stock price doubled. Its insecticide sales rose 41% in the first quarter to $79 million, with gains driven by corn insecticide.
Scientists say that so far, rootworms have only developed resistance to seeds engineered to include just one rootworm trait, and Monsanto says it plans to phase out that seed and replace it with a multiple-trait variety. But the EPA cautions that rootworms resistant to the first seed are more likely to develop resistance to other traits, too. And although Monsanto recommends crop rotation to “break the rootworm cycle,” historically high corn prices are driving more farmers to plant corn every year — and that has also increased the presence of other pests besides rootworm.
So let’s set aside, for the moment, the repetitious debates between pro- and anti-GMO contingents, and consider this simple fact: Bt corn’s success lasted all of seven or eight years before rootworm resistance popped up. The same cycle could easily repeat itself with other rootworm traits or with other pests altogether.
GMOs are supposed to make farmers’ volatile business a little more secure. But when their failure is so predictable that corporations like Vanguard can profitably bet on it, who’s really coming out on top?
Electric utilities! They are to me what sideboobs are to Huffington Post — I just can’t stop writing about them.
A couple of days ago I posted a brief introduction to utilities and the way they currently work. The take-home lesson is that current regulations give utilities every incentive to build more infrastructure and sell more power, but very little incentive to cut costs or innovate.
The situation is no longer working for us. We need rapid, large-scale innovation in low-carbon electricity systems, and we need it now. It’s time to fundamentally rethink the utility business model.
I hope you’ll indulge me just one more scene-setting post before I finally get to the long-awaited post on solutions. Today we’re going to take a look at the way electricity has typically gotten from generator to customer, the electricity “value chain,” so we can better understand which parts need to change. This is a complicated topic, to say the least, but I’ll do my best to break it down in the simplest terms I can, with the proviso that I’m glossing over lots and lots of important details.
The electricity value chain
OK. Think of the electricity value chain as having three basic links:
In the beginning, most utilities, especially investor-owned utilities, were “vertically integrated,” meaning they owned and operated the entire value chain, from the power plant to the meter. At the time, electricity was viewed purely as a commodity; the utility’s sole job was to get as much of it as possible to customers as cheaply as possible. What customers did with it on their side of the meter was of little concern, as long as they kept using more of it.
In the electricity-as-commodity model, it’s all about economies of scale. The bigger you make the power plants, the cheaper the power. That’s why utilities were monopolies: so they could maximize the benefits of scale.
The physical expression of the commodity model is the “hub and spoke” electricity grid, with large centralized power plants sending power out long distances to surrounding customers. It helps to think of it as a hydrological system. Electricity springs from power plants and flows down great rivers of transmission cables into the smaller canals and streams of a distribution system. In this system, power flows only one way, from hubs outward. It’s like gravity pulling water downhill.
Since there is no way to store the power, there must always be enough flowing into the streams to sate customer thirst. When demand surges in certain areas at certain times, grid operators fire up more power plants to supply the extra need. The plants that are always running are “baseload,” usually coal, nuclear, or hydro. The ones that get fired up for the busy daytime hours, the “mid-merit” plants, are typically natural gas combined-cycle plants. And then when demand “peaks” for a few hours, usually in the afternoon and again when people come home in the evening, they fire up the more expensive oil or gas “peaker plants.” There must always be enough power plants online — enough “generation capacity” — to supply well in excess of any expected peak, establishing “reserve margins” of 15 to 20 percent. That’s how reliability is assured: The canals and streams are kept full at all times.
Previous utility reformsyvonne nPrevious utility reforms!? This fennec fox is all ears.
In 1978, seeking to open up the generation side of things to smaller and cleaner power plants, Congress passed the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act, or PURPA. (There’s some talk that it could be used to drive a new wave of distributed renewables, but the details are complicated and not essential to the story I’m telling.)
More significantly, in the 1990s, there was a wave of regulatory restructuring that “unbundled” generation from transmission and distribution. These changes created competitive wholesale and retail power markets on the generation side, but left transmission and distribution — getting power to customers and billing them for it — to regulated utilities.
(This is often referred to as “deregulation,” but I think that’s a misleading term; the whole industry remains regulated from top to bottom.)
Restructuring was proceeding at a brisk clip until California happened in 2000-2001. Remember that? Enron? Maximum fubar? More or less overnight, “deregulation” and “consumers get f*cked” became synonymous in the public mind and restructuring of the utility industry froze in place.
I stole these handy maps from American Electric Power:AEP
The top map shows all the states that were investigating or implementing restructuring in 2001. On the bottom you see the situation in 2010 — only Texas and the Northeast have stuck with restructuring. (Arizona is apparently looking into it.)
So we’re left with a mix of public and investor-owned utilities, some vertically integrated and some with only T&D, and just for fun, some have undergone decoupling (which we’ll talk about in a later post) and some haven’t. All these categories overlap. Oh, and some holding companies own both independent power producers and regulated utilities. It becomes very difficult to make generalizations or simplifying assumptions about utilities — and it also becomes super-boring.
I think I speak for all Americans when I say that contemplating the post-partial-quasi-halfway-restructured U.S. electricity industry gives me an intense, nagging pain just above my left eye socket. This is what happens when you bang into the force field of tedium.
What has changed in electricity
So let’s take a few steps back and think about what’s changed in electricity. The traditional utility model made sense in the context of rapidly rising demand, economies of scale, and blissful climate ignorance. But today, two big counter-trends loom large.Joachim S. Müller“Wake up. He’s not done yet.”
First, climate change has become an urgent priority. U.S. policy may look stuck right now, but action on climate is inevitable, and utilities know it. Doing what really needs to be done on climate would involve an immediate and rapid scaling up of low-carbon power along with aggressive, system-wide pursuit of conservation, energy efficiency, and demand response.
Second, electricity is beginning to behave less like a commodity and more like information. It’s no longer a one-way affair, from generator to meter. Now it’s hundreds of thousands of small, distributed generators (think rooftop solar panels) sharing with each other on local distribution networks. Electricity is increasingly managed: monitored, fine-tuned, time-shifted. Big customers, and increasingly small ones too, want energy services rather than raw kilowatt-hours. They want to know how to tie together solar panels, microturbines, energy management software, smart appliances, electric cars, batteries and other storage, and energy-effective design into smart systems. They want to know how to create microgrids that incorporate electricity generation and management and can “island” off the larger grid in case of emergency or attack. They want all the pieces of the electricity puzzle to fit together in a way that reduces consumption, minimizes waste, and maximizes resilience. Or if they don’t want it yet, they’ll want it soon.
That’s where things are headed: an electricity grid, particularly on the distribution side, that is infused with information technology and looks a lot like the internet. (This is usually referred to as the “smart grid,” though it extends beyond just the grid. Al Gore tried to make “enernet” catch on, but it never really took.)
So, two changes: the low-carbon imperative and the shift from a dumb one-way system to a smart, multi-directional network. Both point above all to the need for innovation, not just in technology but in business practices, financing models, and investment strategies.
The best tool we currently know of for producing rapid innovation, product development, and jobs is a competitive market. That’s what’s missing.
Now, I mentioned before that some markets have restructured to provide for competition on the generation side. I think that’s all to the good, and it should continue. But what’s really needed today is competitive markets on the distribution edge. It makes no sense to have utilities hostile to distributed energy and local energy management. We need entrepreneurs thinking about how to package energy services in new ways for customers, and we need utilities not just to stop impeding them or to get out of their way, but to actively empower them.Joachim S. MüllerGet ready for part 3.
But we still need the reliability and stability with which regulated utilities have traditionally been charged. How can utilities provide that, make sure the grid keeps humming, while also structuring competitive markets on both the generation side and the distribution edge? That’s that knotty subject that we will (finally) tackle in my next post.
One-year-old tabby cat MJ’s bike courier owner considers her an “indoor cat,” but he also considers a mohawk and a handlebar mustache “appropriate head accessories” so he may just be a generally confused person. Because MJ, who rides around Philly on her owner’s shoulder, is clearly at heart an outdoor cat who thrives on feeling the wind in her fur.
MJ’s human, Rudi Saldia, is a little cagey in this interview about whether he deliberately trained the kitty to be a bike fiend, or whether she expressed interest in taking a spin. If he did it on purpose to groom MJ as a conversation starter and YouTube star, we have to admire his savvy, because it worked — MJ and Saldia are now appearing in a commercial for GoPro cameras, which Saldia uses to film himself and his passenger. Saldia claims, though, that he originally made his YouTube videos only to prove to his mom that MJ liked to cruise around on his shoulder.
The town I grew up in had a cat who would ride around on the back of a motorcycle (we called him Motorcat). So this stuff is not new to me. But Motorcat wore a helmet, and I’m a little concerned about MJ. “We’re always safe out there,” Saldia assured the AP, but we think he should look into one of these:
Here, would you like 1,142 calories for about $5, plus the price of a ticket to Japan? For the next little while, in Japan only, McDonald’s is selling an item called the Mega Potato that is “double the size of an order of large fries.” MSN writes:
At 350 grams, it’s more than three-quarters of a pound of fries poured into a Golden Arches-stamped cardboard trough that McDonald’s has advertised as “perfect for sharing.”
This is actually the second coming of the Mega Potato. Back in 2010, McD’s offered it in a slightly smaller iteration — it was the equivalent of two orders of medium fries. But, as Zimmerman’s law of fast food states, gross food can only get grosser and weirder.
Business-oriented MSN is actually totally into this principle: “At some point, maybe McDonald’s will stop placating its critics and start rewarding its loyalists. Yes, they want fries with that.” (Even if “that” is an order of fries, apparently). Just wait three more years, MSN guy, and you’ll be able to get a Mega-Mega Potato which will offer almost zero nutrition and an entire day’s worth of calories at once.
The Night Heron was an invitation-only bar built illegally inside a Chelsea water tower in New York City that was open for just a few weekends this spring. Despite the arcane, timepiece-based invite process, Atlantic Cities and The New York Times both made it there. Here’s how a guest would find her way to this spot, according to Atlantic Cities:
The entrance tickets … are in the form of a pocket watch — which can only be obtained as a gift — with a reservation number and instructions inside advising against high heels and to be ready for a bit of climbing … After squeezing through a trap door, you are welcomed into a candlelit wooden cylinder outfitted with a bar, drink tables, and chandelier, all made from upright piano parts. You sip an aromatic amber concoction made by a dapper proprietor and survey this cedar jewel box, seemingly constructed by a pauper of exquisite taste.
Here’s what that felt like:
All this was possible because, even in a city of gentrifying neighborhoods and investment, there are still building owners who don’t pay much attention to their property.The New York Times reports:
Mr. Austin located a suitable water tower by scouring Buildings Department records for violations with egregious scaffold fines. That can indicate a neglectful landlord, he said, which meant it might be a vacant building ripe for adopting as one’s own.
At Atlantic Cities, Dan Glass suggests that the project shares roots with urban exploration, but N.D. Austin, the organizer, has a different way of describing this project: “transgressive placemaking.” We call it an awesome way to have a few illicit drinks with friends and then break your neck getting back down.
Does your mouth water at the thought of corn that’s engineered to produce a poison that kills insects? If not, Connecticut might be the place for you.
The state’s Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed legislation that would require food manufacturers to label products that contain genetically engineered ingredients such as GM corn. The bill sailed through on a 35-1 vote, and now moves to the state House.
Speaker of the House J. Brendan Sharkey [D] wants to support legislation that would require the labeling of products that contain genetically modified organisms.
But he’s not sure whether the House will approve the version approved in the state Senate late Tuesday night that would depend on three nearby states to approve similar legislation by July of 2015.
Sharkey, in an interview near the House podium around the time the Senate was approving the bill, said his majority caucus met behind closed doors earlier in the day to discuss the controversial measure.
“The caucus confirmed my own sense that obviously we want to do something,” Sharkey said. “My concern all along has been the question of whether Connecticut should put itself out on its own, requiring this labeling and whether that puts us at an economic disadvantage being the first and only state to do this.”
Unlike 64 other countries, the U.S. lacks any labeling laws for GMO food (though Americans who want to avoid it could do so by buying certified organics). Some countries outright ban GMOs — officials in Hungary just burned 1,000 acres of Monsanto’s genetically engineered corn after new crop-testing regulations led to its discovery.
So lawmakers in Connecticut, Vermont, and elsewhere are trying to take matters into their own hands, pushing forward with state-level labeling legislation. Bills in both of those New England states are cautious, setting long timeframes for the start of a ban and including caveats based on whether other states adopt similar laws. That caution is a response to fears of lawsuits from the powerful food and ag industry, which opposes GMO labeling.
“I’m concerned about our state going out on its own on this and the potential economic disadvantage that could cause,” House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said. “I would like to see us be part of a compact with some other states, which would hopefully include one of the bigger states such as New York.” …
Even if the bill passes the House and is signed into law by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy [D], it would not take effect until at least three other states pass similar legislation. GMO labeling legislation is pending in more than a dozen states.
The Center for Food Safety reports that legislation in Maine is also moving forward:
In addition to the Connecticut victory, [on Tuesday] Maine’s GE food labeling bill passed through the state’s Agriculture Committee — a major hurdle — which voted 8-5 in favor of their labeling bill. The bill passed the state Assembly earlier this month.
“Both of these victorious votes show the power of the voice of consumers, who through their vocal and powerful demand for GE food labeling, are finally getting their state lawmakers to listen and take action,” said Rebecca Spector, west coast director of Center for Food Safety.
All of this action has some Monsanto backers nervous. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) recently inserted an amendment into the Farm Bill that would forbid states from requiring labels on GMO foods.
First the bad news: The “safest” herbicide in the history of science may be harming us in ways we’re just beginning to understand. And now for the really bad news: Because too much is never enough, the Environmental Protection Agency just raised the allowable limits for how much of that chemical can remain on the food we eat, and the crops we feed to animals — many of which end up on our plates as well. If you haven’t guessed its identity yet, it’s Monsanto’s Roundup, a powerful weed killer.
The EPA and Monsanto are apparently hoping that no one notices the recent rule change — or, if we do notice, that we respond with a collective shrug. But that, my friends, would be a mistake. While Roundup may truly be the “safest” pesticide ever invented, that isn’t quite the same as “safe.” It just may be that Roundup represents a hitherto unrecognized threat to our health — not because of what it does to our bodies, but because of what it does to our “internal ecology,” a.k.a. our “microbiome.”
As Michael Pollan deftly cataloged in his must-read cover story in the most recent New York Times magazine, scientists are just beginning to explore the inner reaches of our bodies to understand how our microbiome affects our health. Nonetheless, there are some growing signs that Roundup might be the last thing you want in there.
Monsanto would, of course, disagree. The common claim is that Roundup’s active ingredient, glyphosate, is less toxic than aspirin. How can one of the most effective broad-spectrum herbicides in the history of humankind be less toxic than aspirin?
I’m glad you asked. For two reasons. First, because glyphosate isn’t well absorbed by our digestive tract: 98 percent of it passes right through us. And second, because its “mode of action” involves a biochemical process that is specific to plants. (For the budding chemists among you, it disrupts the metabolic process known as “the shikimate pathway,” which humans do not have.)
Now, the actual safety and environmental effects of Roundup are the subject of some dispute. It gets into waterways and may affect aquatic plants. New research has implicated it in the catastrophic loss of amphibians. Even the U.S. Department of Agriculture has evidence, which it downplays, that Roundup may damage soil through its impact on beneficial soil microbes and interfere with the growth of plants, including Roundup Ready varieties that have been genetically engineered to resist the herbicide. And there’s the controversial claim by a Purdue University plant pathologist that Roundup has caused an increase in miscarriage and infertility in livestock.
There are studies that show glyphosate is toxic to human placental cells, but you’re unlikely to run into high enough concentrations to show those effects — unless you’re a farmworker. A study of Berlin residents [PDF], meanwhile, found glyphosate levels in human urine that exceeded Germany’s safe drinking water limits [PDF].
While it’s true that glyphosate the chemical has been the subject of much scientific analysis, it’s also true that farmers don’t use pure glyphosate. They use Roundup on their fields — and Roundup is a product with other “inactive” chemical ingredients. And there is increasing evidence that Roundup as a product is far more toxic than glyphosate on its own because the ingredients interact in troubling ways.
All of which is to say that there’s isn’t really a good health argument in favor of increasing Americans’ exposure to the chemical. There are, however, some pretty compelling reasons not to — and that’s where your microbiome comes into the picture. Even if we aren’t absorbing all the Roundup that’s on the food we eat, we are certainly exposing the residents of our digestive tract to it. And here’s the funny thing. While we don’t have the metabolic process that Roundup disrupts, many microbes do.
So, in short, we may be dousing our interior landscapes with a potent and effective intestinal flora herbicide. Oopsie.
Researchers are only now beginning to explore this idea. There is new research out of Germany that establishes that glyphosate kills many species of beneficial animal gut bacteria while not affecting more harmful gut bacteria, like E. coli and the bacteria that causes botulism, which is apparently at epidemic levels in cattle. And it’s not a stretch to say that it likely has a similar effect on the versions of those bacteria that have colonized us.
And, as Pollan explains, our gut bacteria play a core role in maintaining our health, although in ways that are not at all understood. The research is in its earliest days, but it’s possible that an unhealthy microbiome could contribute to obesity and other diseases, especially those caused by inflammation.
It’s all very speculative, but you can see where this is leading. While we’re just beginning to understand how our microbiome works and how it may prove essential to preventing all sorts of diseases, our governments are increasing the amounts of this anti-microbial herbicide Big Ag is allowed to leave on our food.
This is all happening at a time when we have almost no data on how much we’re exposed to this chemical in the first place. One reason that glyphosate has continued to fly under the mainstream toxic chemical radar is that it’s actually very difficult to test for. There are only a handful of labs that can do it and it’s an expensive process. In fact, the USDA’s pesticide monitoring program only tests a single crop, soybeans, for glyphosate residue. This is true even though it’s used on a huge variety of crops, both directly on the plants, in the case of Roundup Ready, and indirectly, through spraying on fields before planting non-resistant crops.
So why would the EPA allow more of this stuff in our food? The agency didn’t decide to do this entirely on its own, of course. It did so because Monsanto asked.
Here’s the thing: As farmers adopted Monsanto’s genetically modified seeds in droves — the majority of corn, soy, and cotton grown worldwide includes the company’s Roundup Ready trait — there has been an explosion in the use of the pesticide for which the trait is designed: You guessed it, Roundup.
In the U.S. alone, it’s estimated that over 200 million pounds of the stuff are spread on fields and farms every year. That’s almost triple the amount used in 2001. (These numbers, by the way, are all estimates, since the USDA doesn’t precisely track glyphosate use because MONSANTO!)
There’s clearly more and more Roundup getting on our food. What else is Monsanto to do but get governments to bless this development? Both the E.U. and the U.S. have now complied. Stateside, the EPA has approved a significant increase on various grains, fruits, and vegetables, and upped the allowable limit on animal feed by a factor of 100.
Does that sound like a recipe for disaster to you? It probably should. It should also sound like yet another reason to buy organic food and either organic or pastured dairy and meat.
If it feels like Monsanto and its biotech brethren get to call the shots when it comes to toxic chemicals on our food, well, you’re right. On the other hand, the EPA is still accepting comments on these new glyphosate limits. Maybe if consumers make enough noise, the agency might reconsider.
The reports on Apple’s tax avoidance and Cook’s testimony once again brought up the question of tax fairness and what it means nowadays. To further explore this issue from a CSR perspective, we tried to answer some key questions that hopefully shed some light not just on Apple’s behavior, but also on the practice of taking advantage of tax loopholes in general.
The post Do Apple’s Tax Practices Reflect Irresponsible Capitalism? appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.
This week HP released its 2012 sustainability report, which covers the company's work on carbon reporting, social enterprise and supply chain transparency.
For the fourth year in a row, a group of shareholders is pressing oil and gas companies to disclose fracking risks and impacts, calling for material performance data and other quantified reporting.
The post Shareholders Press for More Disclosure from Fracking Companies appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.
The cleanest electricity is no electricity at all — a fact that is not lost on new Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.
During his first speech after being sworn into his new post, Moniz said energy efficiency would be one of his top priorities.
Secretary Moniz spoke to a crowd at the Energy Efficiency Global Forum about his upcoming agenda as secretary.
“Efficiency is going to be a big focus going forward,” he said. “I just don’t see the solutions to our biggest energy and environmental challenges without a very big demand-side response. That’s why it’s important to move this way, way up in our priorities.” The audience applauded.
Moniz’s decision to speak at an energy efficiency conference “speaks volumes about how important efficiency is” to his plans at the Department of Energy, said Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy.
Indeed, Moniz made it very clear that efficiency would be a central priority during his tenure. He backed up President Obama’s call in the State of the Union for doubling U.S. energy productivity by 2030
New Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz vowed Tuesday to help advance a big bipartisan energy efficiency bill that’s moving through Congress and make conservation a major priority using his existing authorities. …
Moniz said he has met with senior leadership in both chambers of Congress about legislation, noting he sees an opening for the measure sponsored by Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and a companion plan in the House.
“There is a ways to go to get it together, but there is clearly an interest in moving this,” he said. “This is the kind of initiative that I think has a real chance to move forward and I certainly will work with Senator Shaheen and others to try and help make it work.”
The Shaheen-Portman plan, which sailed through the Senate’s energy panel with bipartisan support recently, contains an array of provisions to boost efficiency in buildings by improving codes, workforce training and other steps.
It also contains measures to help manufacturing plants become more efficient and boost conservation within the federal government itself.
The Energy Department posted Moniz’s 11-minute speech on YouTube:
It would sure be nice to know what exactly caused a fertilizer plant to explode in Texas last month, killing 14 people — especially given that 800,000 Americans live near similar facilities. But federal investigators are complaining to Congress that their work has been stymied by other government agencies, meaning the mystery might never be solved.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board, in a letter released Tuesday, accused the Texas state fire marshal and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives of hampering its work by blocking access to key witnesses for three weeks after the massive blast — “an unprecedented and harmful delay.”
Board chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso wrote that the “incident site was massively and irreversibly altered under the direction of ATF personnel, who used cranes, bulldozers and other excavation apparatus in an ultimately unsuccessful quest to find a single ignition source for the original fire.” …
The chairman’s letter, dated May 17 and written in response to a request from [Sen. Barbara] Boxer [D-Calif.], is laced with frustration. Moure-Eraso pleads with the senator to intervene to help him and his team gain access to debris and other evidence removed by ATF and the fire marshal, along with West Fertilizer Co. records covering training of employees, chemical inventories and safety records.
“All indications are that the event was an industrial accident” rather than the result of arson, he wrote, questioning the rationale cited by ATF and the fire marshal for tightly controlling access to witnesses and evidence.
He described company documents “blowing around the site and exposed to rain and the elements. The ATF had no apparent interest in the documents.” Yet, he wrote Boxer, ATF agents refused to allow members of the safety board’s 18-person team in West to collect those documents.
Meanwhile, Reuters is reporting that at least 800,000 Americans live near one of hundreds of sites that store large amounts of ammonium nitrate, which investigators believe was the source of last month’s blast:
Reuters’ analysis of hazardous chemical inventories found schools, hospitals and churches within short distances of facilities storing ammonium nitrate, such as an elementary school in Athens, Texas, that is next door to a fertilizer plant. The Hiawatha Community Hospital in Padonia, Kansas, is less than a quarter-mile from one site and three-quarters of a mile from another. …
Some sites are in heavily urbanized areas. Acid Products Co. in Chicago, which reported storing between 10,000 and 99,999 pounds of ammonium nitrate in 2012, is surrounded by about 24,000 people.
The Chemical Safety Board’s report, expected in 12 to 18 months, could provide some answers about the causes of the West explosion — if the ATF folks get out of the way.
Here at Grist, climate change is our bread and melting butter. But this month, we’re feeling especially hot and bothered. As part of our in-depth look at the warming planet, we’ve compiled a list of the U.S. cities that we think will be in the hottest water as the mercury rises — in some cases, up to their foreheads.
A quick note about New Orleans: It’s hard not to include a city that’s already lost so much, but the Big Easy’s new $14.5 billion, state-of-the-art levee system is finally up-and-running just eight short years after Katrina. Some warn that the new system, designed to stop a once-in-a-century storm — the kind that seem to be coming about every other Thursday these days – is already out of date. But it’s better than nothing, especially when compared to the rest of the country, so we’re giving New Orleanians credit as most-improved. That said, here we go!Phoenix, Ariz. maliciousmonkey
The founders of Phoenix spotted a particularly dry stretch of desert and thought, “You know what this place could use? Golf courses.” Unfortunately, this town of 4.5 million has been getting hotter by almost a degree a decade since 1961; in 2011 Phoenix had 33 days over 110. In heat like that, air conditioning is a life-and-death issue, and that A/C runs on America’s electric grid. That’s scary enough, but the power on that grid comes from dams on the Colorado River — the same shrinking river that wets Phoenix’s enormous whistle. Then again, Phoenicians named their town after a bird that periodically bursts into flames, so they must have seen this coming.
Louisville, Ky.Ryan Freitas
The only major American city getting hotter faster than Phoenix is Louisville, where the temperature has risen a sweltering 1.67 degrees per decade since 1961. A big part of Louisville’s problem is the startling lack of trees. Trees shade a mere 10 percent of the urban center, just a quarter of what experts say the town needs. Imagining the Kentucky Derby when it gets too hot for horses is bad enough, but if global warming takes our bourbon, shit gets real.
Honolulu, HawaiiClick to embiggen.Daniel Ramirez
Shocker alert: As sea levels rise around the globe, a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific might not be the ideal place to pitch your beach blanket — and because of the oddities of sea level rise, Honolulu could be looking at even more water than other coastal cities. At least climate models predict fewer typhoons, so that’s good for Honolulu, right? Wrong. The ones that hit will be bigger and last longer (that, I believe, is what she said), and paradise is square in the crosshairs. The only thing hotter than a Hawaiian Tropics sunscreen ad may be the actual Hawaiian Tropics.
Miami, Fla.Click to embiggen.Claudio Lovo / Shutterstock
Like everywhere else on the Atlantic seaboard, Miami faces stronger and more frequent hurricanes, but that’s just the tip of the melting iceberg. If sea levels rise according to projections, Miami’s aging sewage system will be utterly destroyed, and the city’s famous South Beach neighborhood will be underwater in a few short decades. If Miami Vice were set in the year 2050, Crocket and Tubbs wouldn’t be driving a Ferrari down Ocean Ave. — they’d be rowing it through a heaving sea of human poop. For their sake, I just hope cocaine floats.
Barrow, AlaskaClick to embiggen.U.S. Coast Guard
You wanna talk tough? The Inupiat people have been living in Barrow, one of the most unforgiving parts of the planet, for 1,500 years. Have you seen Thirty Days of Night? They fought off a whole army of vampires – and not the pretty-boy Twilight kind. But climate change is a more frightening enemy. The Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the planet: Barrow’s ice is receding so quickly that the Mythical Northwest Passage has dropped the “Mythical” sobriquet, and traditional native foods are disappearing. The only thing thriving? Scientists, who arrive in droves to study the catastrophe. I wonder if climatologists taste like seal?
San Diego, Calif.Click to embiggen.Jeff Rivers
You know that giant statue of the sailor kissing a nurse on the San Diego waterfront? Good thing it’s 50 feet tall: They might be able to keep their heads above sea level. San Diego is a Navy town, but Coronado Island, across the water from downtown, will be underwater in most climate change projections. Die hard San Diegans may stay if Coronado goes, but the Navy may jump ship taking with it the 100,000 sailors and marines based there. Here’s hoping the town fathers have some tricks up their sleeves, because visiting Ron Burgundy reenactors won’t be enough to float that economy.
New York, N.Y.Michael Tapp
In a 1949 Marvel comic, pointy-eared, sometimes-super-villain Submariner flooded the New York City subways, bringing the city to its knees. In 2012, that villain was Superstorm Sandy. Climate models predict larger and more frequent storms pummeling the Eastern Seaboard, and the world’s capital, built in a marsh over a system of thoughtfully placed tubes, makes it a hurricane playground. A proposed state-of-the-art levee system could save the city from future storms, but the price could be as high as $29 billion. Are we really expecting Congress to cough up $29 billion for climate change? More likely, the hipsters in Greenpoint will have to find some retro snorkels, slap on couture hip-waders, and double-wax their handlebar mustaches against a style-crushing tide.
The Entire State of TexasClick to embiggen.agrilifetoday
Devastating droughts caused by rising temperatures have Texans’ ten gallon hats running on just a couple of quarts. Ranchers are struggling statewide, and farmers who once grew melons and cotton are looking to get by on algae. Meanwhile, ever more powerful hurricanes are a growing menace. And then there are the biblical plagues. It’s a veritable perfect storm for perfect storms. Yes, Texas, we know everything is bigger here, but can you build a wall big enough to keep out climate change? Can you shoot a hurricane? If any state could, it would be you, but let’s face it: One way or another, you’re getting messed with, big time.
South Paris, MainePatrickClick to embiggen.
Climate change would seem to be the last thing South Parisians had to worry about — they already live in South Paris, land of the disappointed tourist (“South Paris? I love buttermilk baguettes, Y’all! Wait, Southwest Maine?”). But South Paris is also home of the company that makes Flexible Flier sleds, and sledding sans snow isn’t nearly as much fun as it sounds. South Parisans might not be too worried about climate change, but as in Findlay, Ohio, where they make winter tires, and Batavia, Ill., where they make snow shovels, business-as-usual will cease to exist, and soon.
Park City, UtahMark StevensClick to embiggen.
Visitors to Park City should probably prep for disappointment. Climate models predict the complete loss of Park City’s famous snowpack by 2100 – surely a painful notion for a town that once hosted Winter Olympic events. There is hope, though. Maybe tourists will keep coming for the 3.2 beer, or the odd chance of meeting an Osmond. Runners up for this spot include Vail, Colo., which might lose skiing, but will still have I-70, so people can stop by on their way east to Kansas City; and Columbia Falls, Mont., which may need a new motto, as “Gateway to Glacier National Park” loses its spark without the, y’know, glaciers. How does, “Gateway to Columbia Falls Aluminum Company,” look on a bumper sticker?
Coming next: The 10 cities that will be sitting pretty in a warming world.
I was optimistic when I began reading the Washington Post op-ed on climate change by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), current chairman of the House Science Committee. He began with a plea for a thoughtful and objective discussion of climate science. But like Lucy snatching the football away from Charlie Brown, he quickly dashed my hopes as he proceeded to provide a one-sided view of the state of climate science.
Rep. Smith neglected to acknowledge that the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and 18 U.S. professional scientific societies [PDF] agree that climate change is real and that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases from human activities are now the primary driver of it. He also forgot to mention sea-level rise, which is already increasing the risk from every storm to coastal communities in Massachusetts and around the nation. There was no mention of the shift in rainfall patterns to more extreme downpours, or that the ocean’s chemistry is changing [PDF] as it warms up and absorbs carbon dioxide.
The extreme weather events of the past few years go unmentioned in Rep. Smith’s piece. Americans have watched homes engulfed by wildfires, crops decimated by drought, and infrastructure twisted like a pretzel during Superstorm Sandy. Last week, an analysis estimated that U.S. taxpayers paid a $96 billion bill for cleanup after climate-related disasters in 2012 alone. I recently launched a new House Natural Resources Democrats app that shows the costs of extreme weather, both in terms of dollars spent and lives lost.
Curiously, Rep. Smith’s climate piece ignores the global temperature records of NOAA and NASA that show 2010 as the hottest year on record since 1880, and the decade ending in 2009 as the hottest decade on record. He also ignores the results of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study conducted by independent — and formerly skeptical — scientists who also found that global land temperatures have been increasing and that heat-trapping gases are driving that rise. Instead, he relies on a temperature record produced by U.K. scientists that he [PDF] and other Republicans have previously — falsely, it turns out — accused of conspiring to alter temperature data. Choosing the temperature record that best fits your argument, especially when it is from a group you questioned just a few years ago, hardly seems objective.
I would welcome, as Rep. Smith writes, a “legitimate evaluation of policy options” by Congress for dealing with climate change and its impacts. Indeed, it was my honor to lead then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, where we held more than 80 hearings and a rigorous bipartisan discussion on both climate science and climate solutions. Sadly, when Tea Party Republicans took control of the House in 2010, one of the very first things they did was eliminate the Select Committee.
One thing I learned in hearing after hearing in the Select Committee was how investing in climate solutions will create jobs in America. The public has learned the same lesson. That is why there is such strong support for improving energy efficiency and using more wind, solar, and natural gas, all ways to reduce carbon pollution. Rep. Smith failed to mention any of those technologies. He instead focused on the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry dirty tar sands from Canada to a tax-free haven in the Gulf of Mexico. From there, Canadian oil giant TransCanada may export that oil to other countries. That would leave America with all the environmental risk and little economic reward while increasing emissions of dangerous heat-trapping gases that are warming our planet.
This would be just another cry from the fringes if it weren’t mainstream Republican thought on climate change. It’s a disappointing fall for the party that once saw President Nixon launch the EPA, President George H.W. Bush introduce a cap-and-trade system, and Sen. John McCain write a market-based climate bill.
Yet last Congress was easily the most anti-environmental session in history. House Republicans even put the scientific finding that climate change is real up for a vote, and then voted against reality. So far in 2013, we’ve seen the same story, with Republicans pushing Keystone XL, blocking the EPA nominee, and questioning climate science at every turn.
This cycle of climate-change denial and fossil-fuel boosterism won’t end until Americans demand that it does. Demand action; demand reality; demand it now.
Meet SBIO semi-finalist: LaborVoices, who is utilizing mobile technology to solve human rights issues within global supply chains.
It appears that soft drink giant Coca-Cola is taking the "best defense is a good offense" approach when it comes to thwarting claims and eliminating perceptions that their products contribute to obesity.