Former Associate editor Margret Aldrich on the hunt for happiness, community, and how humans thrive
Wednesday, June 19, 2013 9:24 AM
The city of San Francisco is tapping into sharing technologies in preparation for storms and rising sea levels.
When climate change unleashes storms and rising seal levels on
the city of San Francisco,
its residents will be ready … to share. Mayor Edwin Lee recently announced a partnership between the city’s
Department of Emergency Management (DEM) and BayShare, a group of stakeholders
in the Bay Area’s sharing economy. The city and its population of tech-savvy,
share-friendly environmentalists already have big ideas for repurposing
existing apps and online services for use when disaster strikes.
Rory Smith of Shareable imagines
it playing out something like this: “think Lyft
drivers transporting maintenance personnel to priority areas, Yerdle users offering basic supplies to those
in need neighborhood by neighborhood, and Airbnb
enabling hosts to provide free accommodation to displaced people.”
Airbnb established a precedent for such use during Hurricane
Sandy, when it helped connect 1400 people with free places to stay, writes
Smith. And the company thinks that number could rise through use of its new “disaster
response mode,” a separate landing page where users can post free rooms without
Airbnb’s typical fees, making it quick and simple to list (and find) emergency lodgings.
While the sharing concept is
exciting, it’s also tempting to approach this new breed of public-private partnership
with suspicion. After all, the “PPP” model has failed the public before, and disaster
relief is no exception. Besides, shouldn’t we be able to count on FEMA and
other government organizations to do the job?
It’s fair to be wary, and we should be able to count on government to
respond—but it doesn’t hurt to create ways for people to help each other out. At
the very least, the San Francisco-BayShare partnership offers an improvement
over the disaster capitalism we saw after emergencies like Katrina. And by
tapping into existing technologies, the city gets a head-start on providing easy-to-use
services that could save lives.
Of course, apps shouldn’t constitute the entire plan. As groups
working under the banner of Occupy Sandy showed, grassroots organizations can do
important relief work, filling in
gaps left by FEMA, the Red Cross, and city restoration centers. But as Occupy
Sandy’s name makes clear, the operation didn’t simply spring up in response to
the storm. It owes much of its success to the organizational groundwork laid by
Occupy Wall Street over the course of the previous year. San Francisco’s DEM seems to have taken
inspiration from Occupy’s bottom-up approach, and is encouraging San
Franciscans to prepare by organizing and sharing in advance. “[P]reparedness is about getting your supplies
together. But it’s also about knowing your neighbors, lending a hand, and
sharing your knowledge,” says the homepage of the city’s new online
venue for disaster communications, SF72. “Here’s
the thing,” the site continues, “actual emergencies look more like people
coming together than cities falling apart. Past disasters—from Sandy
proven that connected communities are more resilient.”
San Francisco’s willingness
to acknowledge and plan for climate change earned it a spot on Grist’s recent unempirical but well-reasoned
rundown of the United States’
best cities for riding out climate change. “Yes, it’s on the coast and that means trouble,” writes Jim Meyer, “but San Francisco’s ocean beach master plan
acknowledges the inevitability of rising seas and includes a managed retreat from the most threatened areas.” Add a
prepared public to that list and the most unfortunate thing about San Francisco’s plan is
that more cities aren’t emulating it.
Image licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, February 29, 2012 3:27 PM
You’ve heard of farm to table. Coming soon: park to table. This spring, in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Seattle, seven acres of underused land will be transformed into the nation’s largest urban “food forest”—a community park planted with a cornucopia of produce that visitors are encouraged to harvest and eat, for free.
According to Crosscut reporter Robert Mellinger, the Beacon Food Forest will be “an urban oasis of public food” offering a variety of edibles: apples and blueberries, herbs and vegetables, chestnuts and walnuts, persimmons and Asian pears.
The sprawling project, while ambitious, draws strength from volunteer groups like Friends of the Beacon Food Forest and from simply letting nature take its course. Built around the concept of permaculture, it will be a perennial, self-sustaining landscape, much like a woodland ecosystem in the wild. Companion plants included for natural soil-enhancement and pest-control will help lower the amount of maintenance needed.
“The idea of planting perennials as part of a self-sustaining, holistic system is old hat to many accomplished gardeners,” writes Claire Thompson for Grist, and groups like San Francisco’s Guerrilla Grafters have already dazzled us with novel ways to promote urban agriculture. “But,” continues Thompson, “creating a system on public land that combines the concepts of urban farms, orchards, and natural forest, and depending on collaborative community effort to keep it going, represents uncharted territory for the now-flourishing urban-farming movement.”
In addition to contributing to your family picnic, the bounteous Beacon Food Forest will feature traditional amenities like playing fields, community gardens, a kids’ area, and public gathering spaces. Check out the full site plan below:
Sources: Crosscut, Grist
Image by Liz West, licensed under Creative Commons.
Margret Aldrich is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter at @mmaldrich.
Friday, July 08, 2011 5:03 PM
Could your dildo be dangerous? Many sex toys contain toxic chemicals, including plasticizers that can lead to infertility, hormone imbalances, and other health problems. In Germany, the Green Party is making moves to clean up the country’s goodie drawers.
The party has reason for concern. “Phthalates and other plasticizers are highly regulated in children’s toys,” reports Jess Zimmerman for Grist, “but adult toys—which are, after all, designed to get all up in your mucus membranes—can have all the plasticizers they want.”
The German Greens demand that their government come up with a plan of action to protect its citizens—20 percent of whom report using sex toys—from the toxic plasticizers in dildos and vibrators, says Spiegel, and they have published a paper called “Sexual Health as a Consumer Protection Issue” to outline the issue. Thus far, the German Ministry for Food, Agriculture, and Consumer Protection has offered few concrete solutions. In fact, it refuses to even use concrete terms like “dildo” or vibrator,” referring only to “erotic items.”
There are a handful of non-toxic, green-focused sex-toy shops in the United States, with the Smitten Kitten—based in Minneapolis, but with a healthy online presence—at the forefront. Owner Jennifer Pritchett is working to make sex toys safe for all. She says:
The Smitten Kitten is proud to say that we pioneered the eco-friendly and non-toxic movement in the adult retail industry. In 2003 we were first ever non-toxic sex-toy shop. Likewise, we founded the first ever community advocacy organization and adult industry education organization, The Coalition Against Toxic Toys. [The Smitten Kitten is] a big part of my life and an ever growing positive influence on the sexual health and vitality of our community as a whole.
So, before you get up close and personal with a new “erotic item,” consider the manufacturing methods and materials used. Go green, then go wild.
Sources: Grist, Spiegel
Image by stagshop, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, April 28, 2011 12:56 PM
With this cool interactive map, you can trace 23 historic journeys, from Amelia Earhart’s attempt to fly around the world to Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test trip.
Do you have writer’s block? Go back to bed, and take your laptop with you.
In the shadow of the lunacy surrounding Obama’s birth certificate, Superman and DC Comics have an announcement of their own regarding the Man of Steel’s citizenship.
Clothes make the dictator.
Should travel writers be held liable for the things stupid tourists do?
The Breakthrough Institute has made a cottage industry of criticizing the green movement. David Roberts at Grist rakes “the bad boys of environmentalism” over the coals.
Bicycle wine rack.
As the world looks on adoringly at the proceedings of the royal wedding, Charlie Harvey at New Internationalist looks thinks the police force “has been turned into an organ of the monarchy’s PR people.”
The attacks of September 11, 2001 are, like the 1960s, becoming a cultural litmus test
Some studies have argued that it takes 10,000 hours to perfect any skill. Dan McLaughlin is up for the challenge, learning golf from the green up—practicing six hours a day, six days a week. It will take him six years.
Ever wonder how to make a magazine? This is sort of how it goes.
The oral history of the pressurized spacesuit.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011 1:28 PM
Equal parts utopianism, dissent, and grassroots activism, “tactical urbanism” is the latest trend in city improvement. Strong Towns Blog calls it “a do-it-yourself mashup of Jane Jacobs thinking and the Sons of Liberty tactics.” Intervention is the name of the game for tactical urbanists. Before federal, state, and municipal budgets are entirely eviscerated, the renegade city-advocates intervene “in their blocks and neighborhoods to experiment in building stronger towns.” Strong Towns Blog’s Charles Marohn elaborates:
While it can be a touch counterculture at times, it is also quite pragmatic. Interventions are typically low scale and low budget, creating a low-stakes model for broader future change. Where local governments embrace the approach, a flood of positive interventions can occur on a limited budget.
Gee-whiz, right? It all sounds perfectly fine and dandy, so it’s good that Planetizen’s Mike Lydon reminds us that change—especially on the city-level—comes slow. “But while progressive planning efforts continue to revive a normative trajectory of city building—one found before the meteoric rise of petroleum-based planning,” Lydon writes, “it’s increasingly obvious that translating great principles, design manuals, built projects, and innovative zoning codes into truly great places is still not done easily.”
Despite activist rhetoric and borderline illegal methods, tactical urbanism initiatives are typically community-oriented. “Most involve partnership with government agencies or local business owners,” writes Sarah Goodyear over at Grist, “but they are almost all things that ordinary folks can initiate.”
I’ve written about one such initiative before: seedbombing, lobbing a ball loaded with wildflower seeds into an abandoned lot like a fertile grenade. Spinning off of that neologism, “chairbombing” is the latest subversive idea to get community members to sit around and, you know, talk to each other. Check out the video below and find out how one group in Brooklyn got their neighbors to shoot the breeze.
DoTank:Brooklyn - Chair bombing at North 5th and Berry from Aurash Khawarzad on Vimeo.
Sources: Grist, Planetizen, Strong Towns Blog
Image by saragoldsmith, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011 12:53 PM
Before the extent of Japan’s nuclear crisis had even become clear—in fact, before the aftershocks had ended—nuclear apologists were rushing forth to point out that the Fukushima incident was no Chernobyl. Some of them were pointing out, correctly, that the two disasters were very different in their particulars—one was caused by human negligence and error, one by a tsunami, the reactor designs are different, etc.—but others were effectively saying, don’t worry, they’re simply not in the same ballpark.
Well, the latter group of prognosticators can eat their words. The Japanese nuclear regulatory agency has revised the severity of the Fukushima accident so that it is now ranked equal to Chernobyl on the International Nuclear and Radiation Event scale. Yes, more people were killed immediately in the Chernobyl meltdown, and in it more radiation was released—if we’re to believe what we’re being told by Japan’s nuclear spokesmen, that is—but under the nuke industry’s own rating system, the two events are now in the same category: The worst.
Grist’s Jess Zimmerman is still intent on delineating the differences between the incidents (even though that’s been done extensively), and unfortunately she does so under the CNN-worthy headline “How much should you panic?”
Well, I’m not panicking: Like many environmentalists, my own skin is not always my foremost concern. But I am worried for the many Japanese people who are and will be affected, for the sea ecosystems that will be polluted, and by the ongoing sense that this tragic story is still unfolding.
Sources: BBC, Grist, Pro Publica
, licensed under
Wednesday, January 19, 2011 2:04 PM
Gays and lesbians are more concerned about environmental issues than other Americans, a new poll finds—and Grist asks just what is going on here. Why is the gay agenda such a green agenda?
Fifty-five percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender (LGBT) people care greatly about the environment, compared to just one-third of heterosexuals, according to a Harris online poll conducted in November and reported on the E2 Wire blog of The Hill. Forty-five of LGBTs say environmental issues are “extremely” or “very” important when they vote, compared to 27 percent for heterosexuals They are also more likely to make voting and purchasing decisions with environmental issues in mind.
Here are some explanations that Grist gathered from editors and writers at various LGBT publications:
• “Gay and lesbian people vote progressively, so it seems natural that they would live progressively,” says The AdvocateSenior Editor Neal Broverman.
• “Growing up gay causes folks to look at the world from the perspective of ... being an outsider. I think that makes people much more aware of how actions ... can affect both other people and, by extension, the environment,” says Michael Jensen, editor of After Elton.
• And here’s Kathleen Connell writing in San Diego Gay & Lesbian News: “The mentality that allows desecration of the ecosystem is the same mindset that continues to allow the second-class citizenship of LGBT people everywhere.”
So greens can take heart that the gay community is on board with their message. Sadly, the same poll brings discouraging news about Americans as a whole, reports the Ecology Today blog:
Just over 1 in 3 U.S. adults (36 percent) say they are concerned about the planet they are leaving behind for future generations, compared to more than 2 in 5 adults (43 percent) who said so in 2009.
Sources: The Hill, Grist, Ecology Today
Wednesday, January 05, 2011 2:52 PM
Judy Bonds, the environmental activist who fought against destructive and toxic coal mining in her native Appalachia and was named an Utne visionary in 2009, has died of cancer.
It’s a huge loss for those who are fighting against mountaintop removal coal mining: Bonds was a brave and defiant front-line combatant in the coal wars, a morale-boosting speaker to fellow activists, and a mentor and teacher to many young environmentalists.
I interviewed Judy Bonds when we chose her as an Utne visionary, and she essentially summed up the reason for her fight in just a few words:
“Basically, I’m a coal miner’s daughter and granddaughter, and I’m an eighth generation resident here in the Coal River Valley. I lived in a little holler in Marfork, and Massey [Energy] moved into my holler and began to mine coal so irresponsibly that it just really smacked me in the face. I realized somebody’s got to do something.”
Bonds did something, all right. She became the codirector of Coal River Mountain Watch and helped raise the profile and tenor of the mountaintop removal debate, turning it an issue that many Americans are now aware of—even if we haven’t collectively figured out how to wean ourselves off dirty coal.
I hope that before Bonds passed, she heard the good news reported in the Washington Post that no new coal plants were built in 2010, with one banker calling coal “a dead man walkin’” in terms of attracting investment.
At Huffington Post, Jeff Biggers rounds up reactions to Judy Bonds’ death from all over the green activism world, and at Grist fellow activist and West Virginian Mary Anne Hitt pens a very personal reminiscence of Bonds’ inspirational qualities.
Judy, we’ll miss you.
Sources: Washington Post,
Image courtesy of Coal River Mountain Watch.
Thursday, October 28, 2010 1:10 PM
Every week we share links to stories, articles, and other interesting things we’ve come across online for you to enjoy over the weekend. It’s the utne.com crockpot; we add the ingredients for a great online meal.
Fun! Get your own miniature copy of Patrick Somerville’s “The Universe in Miniature in Miniature” from featherproof books.
Do you know what a mosquito heart looks like? How about a rat’s retina? There are some truly amazing photos from the winner’s of this year’s Nikon Small World Competition that will blow your mind.
Conservationists have found a new species of monkey that sneezes when it rains, due to its upturned nostrils. These monkeys apparently sit with their heads between their knees when it rains. Awwwwwww.
Check out The Free Verse Project: Picture a Poem.
Conservatives for public transit? We know it sounds as dissonant as liberals for Sarah Palin, but Grist has a provocative interview with the head of a conservative pro-transit group who says better mass transportation—especially rail—is a matter of national security, wise government spending, and racial norms. (Yes, he touches that third rail.)
The New York Observer
educated us about Longreads, an aggregator that brings long-form journalism back to into the lives of commuters who read on mobile devices and use applications like Instapaper. Nate Freeman explains: “Each piece on the Longreads site indicates the number of words and, using the average reading speed, the approximate amount of time it will take to read. For instance, the Vanity Fair piece that went up today about House Republican leader John Boehner contains 4220 words, and will take 17 minutes to read. Sounds like our daily commute on the F train! Perfect!”
Cover Spy secretly tracks down what people are reading in public.
What if they held a meeting to discuss the extinction of many animal species, and no one paid much attention? That unfortunately is what’s happening at the current Convention on Biological Diversity in Japan, which is not registering high on the U.S. mass media radar but whose agenda ought to matter to anyone concerned with the fate of species—our own included. Mongabay has a nice rundown of a massive new study being released at the conference, while E publishes a pithy commentary on what’s at stake, and Boing Boingexplains the meeting using Star Wars references for the sci-geek crowd.
Bill Nye (you know, the science guy) is the recipient of the 2010 Humanist of the Year Award, and The Humanist has adapted parts of his awesome acceptance speech.
This Magazine explores the consequences of Canada slamming the door on Mexico’s drug-war refugees.
Friday, April 30, 2010 5:08 PM
It’s easy to avert your eyes from disasters like the Gulf of Mexico oil rig spill, but for people willing to hold their gaze and witness our oil addiction’s worst side effects, there’s plenty of excellent media coverage of this slowly unfolding tragedy. Among our favorites:
The New York Times published an interactive map detailing the wildlife that could be at risk. Audubon’s blog The Perch also covers the wildlife angle, including not just birds but whales, turtles, and sharks.
Agence France Presse (via Grist) reports that Louisiana shrimpers have filed a lawsuit against rig operator BP, accusing it of negligence, seeking millions of dollars in damages for the catch they’re going to lose.
The Houston Chronicle reports that investigators had been noticing more oil rigs having “blowouts” during a procedure in which they cement the walls of undersea wells.
Grist has ongoing coverage—much from Agence France Presse—and commentary, including a piece by Keith Harrington speculating that the accident may lead to a better climate bill. Harrington points out that before Obama approved new drilling, “10 coastal state senators wrote a letter to their colleagues John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) pressing the trio to keep expanded offshore drilling out of their now floundering climate and energy package.”
At The Atlantic, Andrew Sullivan writes, “If the Democrats do not use this disaster to advance the energy bill ASAP, they may miss a critical moment to escape the oil addiction even George W. Bush acknowledged in his final years.”
Grist’s Jonathan Hiskes thinks Sullivan has it only “half right,” though: “It is a critical moment that Democrats are insane not to use, but the KGL [Kerry-Graham-Lieberman] energy bill isn’t the plan we need—it’s the least-terrible bill that was believed to have a chance of passing in the Senate. Now, with this ongoing crisis changing the political climate, there should be an opening for a better bill.”
Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones noted that political winds were already shifting: “On Friday, environmental groups, many of which had indicated a willingness to accept some offshore drilling in a climate and energy bill in exchange for components like a price on carbon pollution and a renewable energy standard, were rallying in opposition to Obama’s plan. “We were willing to accept some new drilling, but this changes everything,” said Athan Manuel, director of the lands protection program at Sierra Club. “I can’t imagine there’s going to be any offshore drilling in this bill.”
Sources: New York Times, Audubon, Grist, Houston Chronicle, The Atlantic, Mother Jones
Friday, April 02, 2010 9:41 AM
Berkeley, California, is proving that municipal composting of urban food and yard waste is possible—but the city’s program is also experiencing growing pains, according to “Compost Confidential” in the Northern California environmental magazine Terrain:
Good ideas—like enriching the soil of organic farms with compost made from urban food waste—are not necessarily meshing with other good ideas, like using compostable plant-based plastics rather than disposable petroleum-based plastics. Pesticides approved for use on lawns are persisting all the way through the industrial composting process and contaminating the end product, making it unsuitable for organic agriculture. And the development of alternative composting technologies—namely biogas digesters—is provoking a debate over what food and yard waste should be used for.
In other words, large-scale composting is not as simple as it might seem—and it might not always be as grass-roots as some advocates hope. Terrain points out that “composting is an up-and-coming industry” that corporate waste haulers are eager to get into. Texas-based Waste Management Inc. has invested in British Columbia’s Harvest Power, the largest food and yard waste composting facility in North America.
Other cities are getting into the act. Portland, Oregon, plans to start a pilot food-waste program this spring, according to Sustainable Industries, which also reports that Portland, Corvallis, and Salem, Oregon, already have limited commercial food-waste collection.
In related news, Grist reported on April 1 that McDonald’s ditch a planned composting program “after scientists confirmed that no item on the McDonald’s menu is compostable.” Now that smells funny.
Source: Terrain, Sustainable Industries (article not available online), Grist
Image by John Winfield, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, March 18, 2010 12:09 PM
Countries meeting in Qatar this week to discuss endangered species have rejected a ban on international trade in Atlantic bluefin tuna, whose numbers are plummeting toward oblivion. The vote at the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) meeting is a great disappointment for wildlife advocates.
A couple of weeks ago it appeared that Japan was the chief obstructionist on the bluefin issue—but the vote on a trade ban (20 in favor, 68 against) makes it clear that many countries tacitly agree with Japan’s position that a CITES listing is too much, too soon, despite the gravity of the fish’s situation. According to Juliet Eilperin on the Post Carbon blog at the Washington Post:
No one questions that Atlantic bluefin populations—which are prized for their rich, buttery taste—have plummeted in recent years. Over the past half-century, the adult population of eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin tuna has declined 74 percent. Much of the decline has come in the past decade. In the western Atlantic, the population has dropped 82 percent in 40 years. The declines came even as bluefin fishing was being governed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), which sets catch quotas for the fish and is supposed to curtail illegal fishing.
But some countries, including Japan and Libya, argued there was no need to impose an outright trade ban when ICCAT officials have the option of making further cuts in bluefin tuna catch quotas.
What are the chances of that? Tom Laskawy at Grist implies they’re slim to none in a post titled “Nations Now Free to Fish Bluefin Tuna to Extinction”:
Ah, the ICCAT, or as marine biologist Carl Safina likes to call it, the International Conspiracy to Catch All Tunas. The ICCAT has repeatedly overruled its own scientists to set catch quotas far above sustainable levels. In fact, ICCAT’s scientists recently came out in support of the trade ban just rejected at the CITES meeting. The only thing the ICCAT seems able to manage is the Atlantic bluefin’s destruction.
I’m keeping an ear to the ground at the CITES meeting by reading the blog of journalist Charles Clover, whose book and the film it inspired, both titled The End of the Line, powerfully describe the bluefin tuna’s plight. Clover is at the CITES gathering and blogging daily on fishing issues.
(Thanks, Civil Eats.)
Source: Post Carbon, Grist, The End of the Line Newsroom
Image by David Ooms, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, March 12, 2010 4:37 PM
From the lovely people over at Grist, a slideshow of 12 things you should never put in your mouth. “You cannot imagine the stuff that passes for food,” the environmental news outlet reports. Oh, sadly, yes we can: from the “turducken of the candy world” to what is a funyun, seriously—Grist, we feel your indigestion.
Image by adactio, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, February 25, 2010 1:41 PM
In February, Barack Obama signed a memorandum to establish a Task Force on Childhood Obesity , including the launch of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign to address childhood obesity and nutrition. One day earlier, British chef Jamie Oliver won a 2010 TED award , which will help him to launch a cross-industry initiative to fight obesity by educating families about food. This week we will be looking at childhood nutrition by highlighting books and articles that have passed through our library of late. –The Editors
School cafeterias are frightful. Social hierarchies play out at the tables, economic inequality is highlighted in the cashier’s line, and then there is the food. Chef/farmer/blogger Ed Bruske embedded himself in the cafeteria of his daughter’s elementary school and wrote about the experience in a six-part series for Grist. In recent years, H. D. Cooke Elementary (of the D.C. Public School System) has reverted to “fresh cooked” meals:
When I asked to spend time observing the kitchen operation at my daughter’s elementary school, I thought I was going to see people cook. The food service provider for D.C. Public Schools, Chartwell-Thompson, had recently ditched the old method of feeding kids with pre-packaged meals from a food factory and replaced it with something they called “fresh cooked.” Being one of those folks who is trying to return to cooking from scratch with fresh, local ingredients, I was anxious to see how Chartwell’s plan would play out.
Was I ever in for a surprise. As I soon discovered, there wasn’t much “fresh” about the food being served at H.D. Cooke Elementary School. When I passed through the doors of the “Kid’s Stop Cafe,” I walked straight into the maws of the industrial food system, where meals are composed of ingredients out of a food chemist’s lab, where highly processed food is doused with all sorts of additives and preservatives in distant factories, then cooked and shipped frozen so that it can be quickly reheated with minimal skill and placed on a steam table.
Are these really the lessons we want our kids to learn about food?
Read all of the
Cafeteria Chronicles posts
Wednesday, November 11, 2009 11:30 AM
While the FDA holes up and takes a good, hard look at the health effects of the widely used plastic additive bisphenol A, there’s a flurry of news and activity on the BPA front.
Consumer Reports has ginned up considerable media attention with its recent study of BPA in canned food, which found the substance showing up widely in soups, juices, and canned vegetables. Check out coverage at Grist, Civil Eats, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and see the Consumer Reports blogs for coverage of the industry reaction.
A study published days ago in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives found a correlation between aggression in young girls and high BPA exposure during pregnancy by their moms. Read stories about it at E Magazine and Sierra Club Green Home. Another study covered in today's Washington Post found that Chinese men exposed to high BPA levels suffered erectile dysfunction.
And now the mighty Kristof hath taken up the cause with his pen. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof weighed in on Saturday with “Chemicals in Our Food, and Bodies.” Springboarding off the Consumer Reports hullabaloo, he sums up some of the alarming science and pronounces endocrine disruptors—the dangerous class of chemicals to which BPA belongs—scarier than “threats from warlords, bandits, and tarantulas.”
Apparently, he’s not the only one scared by the BPA situation. Business Insurance reports that 25 BPA-related lawsuits that seek class-action status were consolidated last year, seeking damages from companies that include baby-bottle makers Avent, Evenflo, Gerber, and Playtex, as well as the maker of the ubiquitous Nalgene bottles. The most frightening aspect for the corporate defendants is that the strategically worded suits specifically do not allege bodily injury, and thus insurance will likely not cover the companies' court costs. (Instead the suits seek economic and punitive damages.) The story suggests that BPA may be next major cause for plaintiffs’ attorneys.
Finally, there may be broader reform afoot in the area of chemical safety. The Wilmington, Delaware, News Journal reports that “momentum is gathering to strengthen the government’s primary mechanism for banning harmful chemicals or limiting their use in consumer products, the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act.” The story notes that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a September speech that there are “troubling gaps” in the data on many widely used chemicals.
“Many are turning to government for assurance that chemicals have been assessed using the best available science, and that unacceptable risks haven’t been ignored,” Jackson said. “Right now, we are failing to get this job done.”
Sources: Consumer Reports, Grist, Civil Eats, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, E Magazine, Sierra Club Green Home, Washington Post, Business Insurance, Delaware Online
Monday, June 15, 2009 11:05 AM
Climate advocates should quit talking about “global warming” or even “climate change.” The terms are too loaded, too stale, and lack the punch needed to convince skeptics to start respecting the environment. According to the non-profit PR company ecoAmerica, and reported on Grist, eco-evangelists should start using the term “deteriorating atmosphere” instead.
Environmentalists should focus on values, rather than specifics or facts, to get the point across, according to the ecoAmerica study. They should also ditch the term “cap and trade” in favor of “clean energy dividend” or “clean energy cash back.”
The organization has attracted plenty of criticism, as Grist points out. Their approach to PR and the environment was characterized in the New York Times as “cynical and, worse, ineffective.” Criticism aside, according to Grist: “For anyone who communicates about climate and energy, it’s worth reading the whole report.”
Source: Grist, ecoAmerica
Friday, May 15, 2009 12:11 PM
Calling all fellow non-survivalists: if you’re a little curious which goods to stock for doomsday (or flu outbreak), check out the Grist blog, which offers a comprehensive list of essentials—some healthy—to shelve in your pantry or under the bed. My favorite tip: "Don't spend too much time obsessing about flavor."
On a more somber note, Treehugger reports one in three kids fear for an Earth Apocalypse in their lifetime. Stocking the pantry may relieve anxiety, but likely won’t do much in the throes of global warming … I think 2012 is right around the corner.
Sources: Grist, Treehugger
Image by sleepyneko licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, March 09, 2009 10:34 AM
The debate rages on in school cafeterias about what to feed our kids—whether we want over-processed, pre-fab concoctions replaced with organic piles of healthy, or agribusiness monopolizing the National School Lunch Program. This year Congress will review the Child Nutrition and WIC Act, and considering the ever-increasing obesity rates of American children coupled with the rising price of food, lawmakers have a lot on their plates.
An In These Times article addresses a whole different controversy in the school lunch program, and it is costing taxpayers millions. Sodexo, the second-ranking food-service worldwide, with revenues of around 20 billion last year, is accused of taking rebates, or kick-backs, from their suppliers. Take a New England dairy farm, where they charge the milk producer a few extra cents per half-pint of milk and in return, expect a rebate back. This method of give and take has been common in the food industry since the 1950s says an industry consultant, when kickbacks meant cash in an envelope slipped to the chef. This means taxpayers are paying for Sodexo to charge more for their milk, and it adds up, as this company provides food-service to cafeterias, and other facilities for schools, hospitals, universities, government agencies, the military and private companies across the country.
In These Times explains the scheme:
“The rebate system, endemic to the industry, works like this: A food management company like Sodexo signs contracts to run a client’s cafeteria. The company buys supplies from vendors such as Coke, Kellogg’s or Tyson. Then, chosen vendors send the management company rebates based on a percentage of sales.
“There are generally no cost caps, so rebates—which are not deducted from what the food-service company charges clients—mean higher meal prices. They also limit food choice and quality: food-service companies buy products from vendors that pay bigger rebates rather than those that offer cheaper, locally grown, or higher quality food.”
A produce supplier says, “They try to intimidate you. They have such a grasp on the market. They force you to work on low margin, 20 percent. If you give them a 10 percent kickback, you’re pretty much working for nothing. We lost about $30-to-$40,000 a year, which is a lot for a small businessman.”
“The money involved is massive. Charles C. Kirby, former USDA regional director for child nutrition in Atlanta, says he ran a Mississippi Education Department cooperative buying program from 1992 to 2001. He dealt directly with companies such as Heinz and Kellogg’s and received rebates ranging form 10 percent to 50 percent. In the last year, his rebates were $15 million out of $90 million in purchasing”
For more information relating to the National School Lunch Program read, New York Times op-ed piece, "No Lunch Left Behind."
Or watch this American News Project video, "The Food Lobby Goes to School."
(Thanks, Grist, School Nutrition Association.)
Source: In These Times, NYtimes.com, American News Project
Image by dancing_chopsticks licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009 2:33 PM
When it comes to cutting paper consumption, every bit matters, even the facial tissue you choose. Grist has conducted a review of which tissues are the greenest (no pun intended). Of course the most eco-friendly choice is a cloth handkerchief, but if the convenience of disposable tissues is a necessity, you can make choices that clear your nose without clearing the forests at the same time.
Image courtesy of AnA oMeLeTe, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009 2:14 PM
It’s President Obama now. And his cabinet and administration picks have all been rolled out. So how green is Team Obama? The online environmental magazine Grist provides a cheat sheet of an assessment and a look at Obama's treatment of of environmental and energy issues in his inaugural speech. The good people at Grist also take a look back with an interactive time line charting George W. Bush’s environmental legacy.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008 1:28 PM
A new study out of the University of California in Berkeley has good news for the economy and the environment: Between 1972 and 2006, energy efficiency measures undertaken in California have been a boon to the state’s economy, creating approximately 1.5 million jobs and saving consumers $56 billion. “We find, I think demonstrably, that energy efficiency is good for the economy and good for jobs,” study author David Roland-Holst told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Unfortunately, while energy efficiency may be good for the economy, the economy isn’t doing such good things for green energy, according to Grist. They report that “renewable-energy stocks around the world have dropped some 45 percent in the past three months,” due to tightening credit lines and dwindling demand for alternative energy as oil prices fall.
Thursday, October 09, 2008 9:19 AM
In a presidential debate dominated by questions about economic uncertainty and foreign policy, climate change made an appearance in a subtly new way. It was only one question, asked by a 30-year old university student named Ingrid Jackson. But the way she posed it, climate change activist Bill McKibben writes on Gristmill, prompted “as close to a real breakthrough as I've seen.”
After noting that Congress worked pretty quickly to address the financial crisis, Jackson wanted to know what the candidates would do in their first two years in office to take on climate change and other environmental issues.
“After approximately 4 million debates over the past year,” writes McKibben, “someone finally asked the right and real question about climate change.” For McKibben, who has been speaking out against climate change for two decades, this small moment signaled a major shift in the great global warming debate. He says Jackson asked the right question by skipping past tired points of contention like "Is it real?" and "Is it manmade?" opting instead to challenge the candidates with a pressing timetable. He also found it remarkable that “their point of disagreement was over who had fought harder for alternative energy in the Senate.” According to McKibben, “it was a way of saying that all serious folks, even if they disagree on tax policy or the war in Iraq, understand that an adult and mature America must take on global warming.”
Jackson, who spoke with Grist after the debate, was satisfied with some parts of the candidates’ answers, but didn’t feel “either one dealt with the urgency issue.” She said she asked the question because the environment has concerned her for a long time, and it too often places low on political priority lists behind issues like Iraq and the economy. “The only time [candidates] deal with the environment is … well, actually, they don’t seem to be dealing with it at all,” she said.
Monday, September 08, 2008 2:20 PM
With the nation scrambling to learn more about a vice-presidential candidate thrust into the spotlight less than two weeks ago, environmentalists are working to get the word out about Sarah Palin’s environmental record, which could push John McCain’s relatively eco-friendly platform further right.
Grist delves into Palin’s positions on various environmental concerns in an overview called “Palin Around” (see what they did there?) and a more comprehensive article called “Palin Comparison” (and there?). Not surprisingly, Palin leans rightward on most issues, including global warming, where she parts company with her running mate. “I wouldn't call her a climate change denier, but she is extremely close to that position,” says John Toppenberg, director of the Alaska Wildlife Alliance. “She seems to be failing to acknowledge virtually all credible science.”
Alaskans are already familiar with their governor’s attitude toward their ecosystem. Yale Environment 360 tells the story of (the appropriately named?) Bristol Bay, whose headwaters cover a massive deposit of valuable minerals. A ballot initiative to protect the salmon-rich bay from development by Northern Dynasty Minerals was publicly opposed by Gov. Palin, despite a constitutional ban on state officials’ involvement in ballot measures. The initiative was defeated and Northern Dynasty is proceeding in Bristol in the face of widespread opposition from various state groups.
And with Palin pushing for oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, McCain reversing his position on offshore drilling, and various party faithful chanting “drill baby drill!” at the Republican National Convention last week, a curb on national oil consumption and a greener White House don’t seem terribly likely under a McCain-Palin leadership.
Image by bobster1985, licensed by Creative Commons.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008 12:47 PM
Why are some leaders still dragging their feet on climate change? There’s a host of reasons both political and scientific, but one provocative explanation I’ve never heard before was recently floated by Gar Lipow at Gristmill: “Somebody has to be Hitler.”
What Lipow means is that some thinkers—especially politically moderate and conservative ones—never address the threat of climate change because they’re too busy fomenting war against whichever node on the axis of evil is posing the greatest threat. “The year is eternally 1938, and the place eternally Munich. Peace is for dirty hippies. Problems like climate change are always going to have to wait for the current emergency to end, and for one last enemy to be defeated.”
Uttering the H-word is ordinarily the surest way to derail an otherwise legitimate debate—but it’s hard not to see support for Lipow’s theory in our current leadership. The Bush administration’s strategy of fear-based governance has been obsessed with hunting down real or imagined terrorists while conveniently ignoring—or flat-out denying the existence of—climate change and other environmental crises. And as long as this mindset grips those in power, as it has for most of the decade, real change in environmental policy cannot occur.
Friday, June 13, 2008 12:33 PM
Summer hasn’t even officially begun, but we’ve already seen an abundance of freakish weather ranging from the inconvenient (blackouts caused by spring heat waves) to the disastrous (tornados, flash floods, and wildfires). Think Progress’ Wonk Room (thanks to Grist for the link) has assembled a list of the damage done by extreme weather just within the last month. The link between climate change and shifting weather patterns is getting harder to refute, and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 statement (PDF)—asserting that global warming induced by human activity will most likely cause an “increase in the frequency of hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation”—resonates even more strongly amid this spring’s meteorological abnormalities.
, licensed by
Thursday, February 14, 2008 11:16 AM
Would Sen. John McCain be a good environmental president? Don’t bet the planet on it. Joseph Romm at Salon writes that although the Republican nominee-to-be is the only GOP candidate who believes in the science of global warming and who has proposed legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, his green credentials are shaky at best.
“While McCain may understand the scale of the climate problem, he does not appear to understand the scale of the solution,” writes Romm. Unless a President McCain appointed judges and agency heads who would not gut efforts to address climate change—something he’d be unlikely to do—he wouldn’t make much headway. Romm also points out that McCain has backed huge subsidies for nuclear power, yet he “remarkably” told Grist in an interview last October that wind and solar need no such help.
Over at Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington also calls out McCain on his environmental wishy-washiness in “End of a Romance: Why the Media and Independent Voters Need to Break Up With John McCain”:
“The old John McCain talked about trying to do something about global warming and encourage renewable energy. The new John McCain didn’t show up for a vote last week on a bill that included tax incentives for clean energy, even though he was in D.C. And then his staff misled environmentalists who called to protest by telling them that he had voted for it.”
McCain is still getting mileage out of the “maverick” label that no longer applies, Huffington claims. But perhaps he’s still a maverick when compared to green voters: He’s got almost nothing in common with them.
, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, February 06, 2008 5:26 PM
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Sound familiar? Catchy? Both? It’s the mantra of Michael Pollan’s new book, In Defense of Food, which was released last month. In response, Gristmill and the Natural Resources Defense Council blog Switchboard have invited readers to create their own seven-word, two-three-two-structured poems on climate change. Some of the better submissions:
Use energy. Not too much. Mostly renewables.
Drive less. Ride a bike. Every day.
Climate challenge. Our greatest opportunity. Seize it.
Even though it’s hard to squeeze anything very substantial into seven words, the structure is addictive. Check out the websites, and contribute some of your own poems. Or, rather: Dig Pollan. Check it out. Write poetry.
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