Tag Archives: Monsanto

Friday Linkage 5/15/2015

Where did May go? I know that I have a similar sentiment a lot of months, but May really got to the halfway mark pretty fast without me noticing. Here is to hoping that summer can be a slower and lazier season than spring has been thus far.

On to the links…

Iowa Landowner Claims he was Offered Prostitute by Oil Pipeline Rep—This story is getting a lot of play here in eastern Iowa as the debate over a proposed Bakken oil pipeline is really heating up. If anyone is surprised that an oil company would act like this does not know oil companies. Seriously, read about oil company hospitality suites in the 1980s.

Renewables = 84% of New Electricity Generation Capacity in 1st Quarter of 2015—Yes, 84% of the electrical generation capability added in the first quarter of 2015 in the United States came from renewables. For the first time utility scale solar tipped over 1% of the total U.S. generation capacity. Dig it.

Tesla’s Powerwall Home Battery is already Sold Out through 2016—If you wanted to get a Powerwall home battery you are out of luck until sometime after we choose a new president.

MIT Report: Today’s Solar Panels Fine For Tomorrow’s Needs—We have the technical tools right now to supply the world with clean and green power from the sun. Any further efficiencies will only make the economics better in the long term.

Coal Investments are Increasingly Risky, says Bank of America—The real war on coal is occurring between coal companies and the investment community, which sees the industry as an increasingly riskier place to put their money to use. This is truly the death knell because modern corporations run on debt and financing. It is the lifeblood of large scale economic activity.

Oil And Gas Wells Are Leaking Huge Amounts Of Methane, And It’s Costing Taxpayers Millions—Basically, oil and gas exploration companies are allowing a lot of methane to leak out of wells drilled on public lands. Remember that these are the same oil and gas companies that pay lower than market rates for the right to drill on public lands. What a scam.

In Wyoming, Taking A Photo Of A Polluted Stream Could Land You In Jail—Like “ag gag” laws this law is just waiting for court case to blow open the cozy relationship between lawmakers, polluters, and the chilling effect such a relationships have on free speech. Isn’t it amazing how right wingers love the second amendment, talk about freedom constantly, and are the first in line to trample any freedom that does not involve a firearm?

Is Corn Ethanol Breaking The Law?—Uh oh. Inevitably, farm state lawmakers will pass a correction to this little piece of legislation that will remove the illegality.

Buh-Bye, Corn Ethanol: Joule Makes The Same Thing From Recycled CO2—I would love to fill my truck on ethanol derived in this manner.

First Large-Scale Hemp Processing Plant begins in Colorado—One of the overlooked part of the marijuana legalization in Colorado was the concurrent legalization of industrial hemp. Hemp will not be an instant agricultural miracle, but it could become part of a broader portfolio of options for farmers.

Who Controls California’s Water?—The story is a little more complex than Chinatown makes it out to be, but the problems can be traced to policies that can be changed. Maybe.

Monsanto Bets $45 Billion on a Pesticide-Soaked Future—You can buy organic all day long, but the big companies pushing pesticides and herbicides are betting big on a future where we continue to soak our fields in their deadly chemicals. Who do you think will win?

Sri Lanka First Nation to Protect all Mangrove Forests—Mangrove forests are those great unsung ecosystems. Threatened, like swamps, because they seem like a hindrance to development but the value is not realized until the ecosystem is gone.

M&Ms Candy Maker says, “Don’t eat too many”—Sugar is the equivalent of a drug. It’s addictive and it causes health problems. Now, the pushers are telling consumers that it is a bad idea to eat too much of their own product.

The Brutal Reality of Life in China’s Most Polluted Cities—You do not need to spend $10 and see the new Mad Max movie to witness what a scarred hellscape would be like in the future because China has done all the work for you without the explosions or insane cars.

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Friday Linkage 4/25/2014

I think that I hate Earth Day. I do not hate the fact that for at least one day people might pay attention to the environment. I hate the fact that it is usually observed in the most superficial ways. Look, I recycled my plastic water bottle. Big whoop, you shouldn’t be using a single use water bottle in the first place. Ugh.

On to the links…

11 Wins For The Environment Since Last Year’s Earth Day—Too often we focus on the bad things going on in the environment or to the environment. Sometimes we need to reflect on the good things.

America’s Urban Future—It would seem odd to anyone who was awake during the 1980s that America’s future might be in its cities. Just the pop culture references alone elicit memories of failing cities, corrupt governments, and general decay. Now it is where the most dynamic communities exist. Interesting.

A Polluted Superfund Site Is Now Home To 36,000 Solar Panels—Every time that I see a solar project go up in a green field development I want to puke. There are so many brown fields and other sites that could be utilized. Just look out the window on a flight near any major airport and look at the expanses of roofs that could be covered in solar panels. Just look at the video of this landing at LAX. At about the 2:15 mark you really see a lot of roofs that would be perfect.

Solar Roadways Puts up a Parking Lot, Launches Indiegogo Campaign—I want this product on my driveway right now. Think about all of the driveways in the U.S. that could be utilized to produce power. Or parking lots.

Wanna’ Know What Happened to the Gulf Coast Since the BP Spill? Read this Blog—BP may have recently declared cleanup efforts complete, but residents of the region know that it is a much different story. The recovery will play out over decades.

Monsanto GM Soy Is Scarier Than You Think—Basically, GMO soybeans appear to be carrying more chemical residue and are less nutritious. Next.

Swim to Sea? These Salmon Are Catching a Lift—Persistent drought and the modification of river flows, e.g. dams, have led to the requirement for herculean efforts on the part of wildlife management authorities to get salmon to spawning grounds. Isn’t there a better long term solution?

Unsustainable Seafood: A New Crackdown on Illegal Fishing—Apparently, the amount of seafood caught in our oceans is vastly underreported as illegal catches are stripping the seas of fish.

How to Reinvent the School Lunch and Get Kids to Eat Better—I know that there is a lot of attention being focused on the delivery mechanisms and food choices, but I think the number one issue facing the prospect of better school lunches is time. My daughter, who is in kindergarten, gets less than 25 minutes to eat lunch. Who thinks that is a healthy habit?

5 Reasons Why Your Coffee Tastes Bad—Coffee can seem like such a simple beverage, but it is really a complex dance of innumerable variables.

Company Finds New Life for Old Car Batteries—If you have ever replaced a car battery in a car, you know the drill. You have to exchange the battery or pay a fee. Well, here is where batteries go to die in order to be reborn.

Friday Linkage 11/29/2013

I hope that everyone out there had a great Thanksgiving Day holiday and is spending today with family as opposed to braving the post-apocalyptic training ground that is Black Friday shopping.  Seriously, if there is ever a zombie outbreak I am going to ally myself with the people who swarm WalMart for $99 flat screen televisions.  Those people are straight up loco.

On to the links…

Your Shopping Guide To Stores That Won’t Ruin Their Workers’ Thanksgivings—I hope that people respected Thanksgiving and stayed home rather than look for that one great deal.  Moving forward, I hope that people punish these companies for opening on the holiday:

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Why We Don’t Eat Beef for Thanksgiving—For those of you wondering, there is a seasonality to animals just as there is a season for fruits and vegetables.

Amid Canned Food Drives, U.S. Food Banks Take Up Farming—The lowly can of corn or green beans is a symbol of the food drive here in the Midwest.  Children dutifully pack cans onto a table in their classrooms before piling everything onto pallets for donation.  Maybe everyone should just pick up a hoe and get dirty.  Wait a second, that sounded wrong.

Rake the Leaves? Some Towns Say Mow Them—Bagging up your leaves and having someone cart them away is like giving away your soil’s fertility.  For years I have just mowed over them with a standard mulching mower to no ill effect on my yard.  Granted, I do not have towering trees dumping piles of leaves yet.

Tackling the Climate Crisis With the Reality of Renewable Energy—For every person who does not think that renewable energy can be a viable source of baseload power, I give you the state of Iowa.  Currently, we generate approximately 25% of our total power from wind.  This is expected to rise to nearly 35% in the next few years as some massive projects come on line.  If we can do it…

Wind Energy In Iowa Cuts 8.4 Million Tons Of Carbon Pollution Per Year—Oh wait, here’s some numbers on the massive size of Iowa’s wind energy.  Dig it.

A Norwegian Oil Company Will Build Largest Floating Wind Farm Off The Coast Of Scotland—I am really interested to see how this whole floating wind turbine thing plays out.  There is a big test underway off the coast of Fukushima, Japan—yes, the same place with all the nuke troubles—and Europe is really pushing the envelope as well.  As usual, the U.S. is lagging behind but maybe we will get a second mover advantage as the technology matures.

Your New House In Texas Could Come With Free Solar Panels—Now, solar PV is part of the OEM or builder market.  Has solar reached a mainstream tipping point in the U.S.?  Did I mention that these homes are being built in Rick Perry’s Texas?

World’s Largest Landfill Will Soon Be NYC’s Biggest Solar Plant—Forget building giant plants out in the desert, what about all of the brownfields and industrial rooftops in the U.S. that could accommodate solar?  In this case, it’s a freaking landfill that is being turned into a park and solar generating park.  Awesome.

Emissions of Methane in U.S. Exceed Estimates, Study Finds—All was not rosy this week as a study found we may be underestimating our level of methane emissions.  This is bad because methane is about twenty time worse as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.  Happy holidays!

Toxic Flame Retardants may be on the Way Out—Soon, thanks to the efforts of tireless reporters and California’s legislators, your couch may no longer be a soup of toxic nightmares.  Seriously, why did we let this farce about safety continue?

Maui Signs Agreement With Monsanto Regarding Pesticide Use—It’s amazing the resistance that GMOs and the attendant pesticide use is getting on the islands of Hawaii.  Most people are stunned to learn how much GMO testing is done on Hawaii to begin with—just spend some time on the southern shore of Kauai—so this is coming as a shock to those of us on the mainland not familiar with the islands.

Wisconsin has Grown into Hotbed of Organic Farming—On the way to the Wisconsin Dells to meet my brother for our annual pilgrimage to an indoor water park in the depths of winter we drive through the Driftless Region.  Until you actually drive through here you do not get a sense of the pervasiveness of organic farming and its associated social norms.

Peecycling will Fertilize Green Roofs in Amsterdam—Does Amsterdam have some of the best public urinals in the world?  I remember seeing one in the middle of an intersection of about five streets and a pair of streetcar lines.  Talk about stage fright.

Friday Linkage 10/11/2013

Do you ever have weeks go by where you stop. Look up, and wonder, “Where did the last month or so go?”  Yep, I am having one of those periods of time.

On to the links…

The Huge Chill: Why Are American Refrigerators So Big?—I found this exploration into the gargantuan size of American refrigerators fascinating.  Maybe our fascination with giant sized cooling boxes and Costco sized quantities is a bad thing?  Hmmm….

How America Cultivated a Generation of Obesity—The idea of a hamburger’s pickles being considered a vegetable in terms of a serving is just asinine.  But, someone figured out a way for a few parties to make money so it became law.  I do like how the anti-fat crusade of my childhood is getting some of the blame for our current dietary straits.  When I was a kid no one wanted to eat anything with fat.  If a package said “fat free” it was carte blanche to eat.  Too bad all those carbs made us fat.

Unease in Hawaii’s Cornfields—You do not think about Hawaii having corn or soybean fields, but such fields are very common on Kauai.  There is a growing sentiment on the islands that these fields of GMO crops are not welcome visitors from the mainland.

How to Build a Cider Press and Harvest Apple Juice—After reading this I spend my days walking around the area looking at the apple trees dropping fruit no one wants and daydreaming about making gallon upon gallon of fresh pressed cider.  I am also daydreaming about using my homebrew skills to make some homebrew apple hooch.

Just What is in a Chicken Nugget—I am glad that someone asked the question and did the science, but I am now even more disturbed.  Only 40% meat?  Fat, cartilage, and pieces of bone make up the rest?  Reminds me of the classic John Candy movie The Great Outdoors when the he is challenged to eat the Ol’ 96er.  At the end the cook says he needs to eat what’s left on the plate.  But it’s just fat and gristle.  Part of the weight.

All You Can’t Eat, Pigs Will—This is a great story from a while back about a hog farmer that takes the leftovers from Las Vegas buffets and feeds them to his animals.  I wonder if the animals also wake up in a few days sunburned and full of regret.

The Largest Coal-Fired Power Plant In New England Is Shutting Down—It’s not the dirtiest coal plant in New England, but the Brayton Point Power Station is the largest of six coal fired plants in New England and it will be retired in 2017.  Good riddance!

Illustrating How the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline Fails President’s Climate Test—This article is just filled with data and charts that show just how awful the Keystone XL pipeline would be for the environment.  As if most people with half a brain who follow the news did not already know that.  There are three or four such people out there.

New Arizona Solar Plant Uses Salt To Keep Producing Electricity When The Sun Goes Down—It’s electricity derived from solar energy after the sun goes down.  It’s not from a traditional battery, per se, but rather a bank of molten salt that stores heat to create steam to drive turbines later.  Freakin’ cool.

Is Solar Power Facing a Dim Future?—Too often the story about solar power focuses on the panel makers and the trouble that these providers are having.  Panels, however, are turning into a commodity and that business is defined by the race to the bottom in terms of price.  Solar is here to stay!

Could Mexico be at the Start of a Solar Boom—Mexico has some pretty audacious goals.  It wants to generate 35% of its power from renewable sources by 2026, which would be up from ~15% today.  Solar is part of that equation because like the American Southwest a large swath of the country is bathed in excellent solar resources.

How Apps are Helping Us Drive Less—The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG)—an acronym that is almost as convoluted sounding as SHIELD—released a report that finds our mobile technology is helping drive the trend toward less driving.  Anything that gets us out from behind the wheel is a good thing.

Industry Ahead of Schedule on Mileage Goals—According to an official at the EPA, the auto industry is ahead of pace to meet the new mileage goals instituted recently.  It’s amazing how these new targets were going to be catastrophic according to the pundits on the right, but now industry is ahead of the game.  Oh, and how is the auto industry doing right now?  Pretty dang well.

Plastic Waste is Hazardous for Sub-Alpine Lakes as Well—Is there anywhere that our plastic pollution will not soil?  Just asking.

Engine Exhaust May Be Contributing to Bee Colony Collapse—Is there anything that we humans do anymore that is good?  It seems like every action we take has a dark side that harms the environment.  It’s enough to get someone down in the dumps.

Fall of USSR Locked Up World’s Largest Carbon Sink—Apparently, when the USSR fell into disunion millions of acres of farmland went fallow.  Over the years those millions of acres have sucked up carbon to become one of the biggest carbon sinks in the world.

The Scary Truth About Antibiotic Overprescription—Most of the press on this issue relates to the insane amount of antibiotics that we feed farm animals in feedlot operations.  However, humans are over prescribed antibiotics as well.  Great.

Dirtball’s ‘Green’ Jeans Are Made In U.S. From Recycled Water Bottles—It was not the recycled content of the jeans that really caught my eye, but the infographic showing where all of the components were sourced from.  Too often we think of “Made in the USA” to mean assembled here from foreign parts, but the supply chain is critical to creating sustainable industries.

Friday Linkage 5/3/2013

It’s May.  My friends in Minneapolis and Colorado Springs are digging out from snow storms.  I am dealing with temperatures that have dropped almost forty degrees in the span of twenty four hours.  I love spring.

On to the links…

Heavy Use of Herbicide Roundup Could be Linked to Disease—Herbicides that contain glyphosate, like Roundup, are beginning to be shown to have links to a number of diseases in humans.  Really?  It took this long for people to figure out that the stuff was probably bad news for our health?

You Are a Chemical Guinea Pig for Big Business—It is ridiculous the lengths that our corporate owned government will go to protect the interests of big chemical companies over the health and wellness of its citizenry.  People may vote for politicians, but their bread is buttered by big business.

A Hike with Sally Jewell—Think about this for a moment as you watch this video: the Secretary of the Interior used to be the boss at REI.  Can you imagine saying anything like that when George W. Bush was president?  Just saying.

New Report Details How National Parks Are Threatened By Oil And Gas Drilling—Well, if there was ever an issue for the new Secretary of the Interior to take the lead on this would be it.  It’s shameful how oil and gas interests are allowed to despoil any and all land in the name of cheap energy as if that is the sole driving purpose of our time on this planet.  Ugh!

Cost of Solar Heading for Parity with Coal and Gas—What happens when it is cheaper to install solar than it is to deploy coal or natural gas power generation options?  We will find out soon:

cost-of-solar-power-graph-1980-2012_jpg_644x0_q100_crop-smart

70 Percent Of New Global Power Capacity Added Through 2030 Will be Renewable—Basically, every time someone revisits a study on renewable energy the outlook is brighter.  It’s like the baseline needs to be redrawn every year because of fundamental changes to the assumptions in the model.  No wonder government policy seems so slow to respond.

In Two-Way Charging, Electric Cars Begin to Earn Money From the Grid—This sounds like one of those concepts from the mid-2000s when discussion about the “smart grid” were all the rage and then the buzz just died out when reality intruded.  However, actually starting to deploy these type of technologies is a step forward.  Electric vehicles can be much more than a clean transportation option.

A New Solar Dish Delivers Low-Cost Electricity Along With Fresh Water—I love seeing inventions like this that solve multiple problems efficiently.  Access to electricity and fresh water is a problem for millions and millions of people, if not billions.  A deployable solution to both of those problems is a silver bullet in some ways.

Why Your Supermarket Only Sells 5 Kinds of Apples—Go to the grocery store sometime and look at the apple selection.  It blows.  Now, it has gotten better here in eastern Iowa recently with the widespread availability of Honeycrisp, SweetTango, Zestar, and some other University of Minnesota varieties.  In other parts of the country, not so much.

When One Man’s Game Is Also a Marauding Pest—Feral pigs are bad news.  As an invasive species it does not appear that there is any natural limit on this particular nasty animal’s range.  Most of the attention has been spent on feral pigs in Texas, but I know of dairy farmers in Wisconsin who deal with the damage all the time.  On the bright side, feral pig can be tasty when slow roasted or smoked.

How Trees Play Role in Smog Production—My love of trees is well known.  The folks at Peck’s in Cedar Rapids just wait every spring to show me what new trees might be perfect for my yard—I am thinking some semi-dwarf apple trees this year—and my wife wonders if we will be living in a mini-forest when all the trees in the yard mature.  Is there anything about trees that is not great?

Ag-Gag Law Flow Chart

Grist.org put out a flow chart to understand the ins and outs of the various ag-gag laws moving through state legislatures:

newaggagflowchartInstead of actually cleaning up their act, various companies have decided to respond to the spate of video exposes by sponsoring legislation that would make it illegal to make videos like these.  The sponsors of the legislation are couching the support for a restriction of our free speech rights by saying it protects our food supply from terrorism, blah, blah, blah…

In Iowa such a law was passed in March 2012.  I do not know of anyone who has challenged the law’s constitutionality or if anyone has been brought up on charges related to the law.  It’s only a matter of time.

 

You Must Read—Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System

Unless you’re a corporate food executive, the food system isn’t working for you.

-Raj Patel, Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System

Stuffed and Starved CoverIt’s amazing how a 300 page book can be summed up in thirteen words, but the quote at the top of the page succinctly describes what Raj Patel lays out in Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System. 

However, there is a lot of value to be had in not assuming the message of the book is as simple as those three words.  You must read this book because it gives you the context and nuance behind why the food system does not work anymore unless you are an employee of the large industrial agriculture or food companies.  Heck, executives at Monsanto probably get a copy of this book as a detailed list of the things they believe that they did well as a company.

Primarily, this is one of the few books that you will find readily available that puts the food system in a global context.  It’s one thing to write a book about the decline of the family farm in the rural Midwestern United States.  There are sympathetic audiences to that story across the political spectrum from MSNBC to Fox News.  But talk about cotton farmers in rural India or Brazilian farmers trying to work out from under the thumb of the industrial soybean regime and you will find the task increasingly difficult.  Nonetheless, Raj Patel has done a commendable job in describing the global disaster that is our modern food system.

One of the major takeaways, in my opinion, from this book and the many talks that the author gives is that the problem in the modern food system is its “hourglass” shape.  That is to say, on one end you have many producers who funnel the raw ingredients of our food system to a few companies who control production, distribution, and retailing.  These few mega companies, in turn, sell the products to many consumers.  The constriction in the middle is what has allowed the policies that shape our modern food system to become so warped.

This constriction also removes us, as consumers, away from any true understanding of what it means to actually grow food.  The author puts it bluntly:

If we ever think of fields, our thoughts about the countryside are benign, passive, and vapid.  To become and remain idyll, the rural is forgotten, sanitized and shorn of meaning to fit the view from the city.  For our purposes, airbrushing the countryside serves us badly. [Page 299]

It’s Currier and Ives or Norman Rockwell visions of farmers on small homesteads.  Or, if you are in Iowa, Grant Wood’s ideal landscapes of rolling hills and young corn.

If our perceptions of rural landscapes and farmers are deluded, then we should shudder at the delusion we are under when it comes to choice in the supermarket.  The supermarket may be convenient, but the products on the shelves do not represent true or meaningful choice.  It’s the Coke versus Pepsi choice that is artifice embodied as independence.

Do not even think certified organic is somehow freeing you of guilt.  One of Patel’s most stunning indictments is of certified organic:

Think of it as a kind of culinary taxidermy, in which the living social relations are shot, stuffed and mounted on the shelves.  Never having experienced a direct connection to the people who grow our food, we’re tricked by the simulacrum, mistaking the dead green “Certified Organic” packaging for a living connection. [Page 252]

Furthermore, the supermarket is another of the great constrictors because it removes many local producers from being able to access local markets.  It also turns local farmers into racers in a competition to the lowest rung on the ladder of price because the foodstuffs they now produce are commoditized ingredients in processed food.  Speaking of women farmers who wanted to have the capability to grind their own corn for meal rather than selling their whole corn at low prices and buying meal at higher prices, Patel writes:

This way they could be independent of the supermarket, but still profit from the technology that made it convenient.  In other words, the women wanted control of the means of production. [Page 245]

And I thought that Karl Marx’s theories were dead.

I may have made the book sound like Debbie Downer, but the tone is more hopeful than that.  The proponents of the modern food system may be powerful.  These proponents, however, share the fatal flaw in that there policies are killing people on both ends of the hourglass.  Between suicides of farmers and diabetes in consumers there is a growing consensus that something is fundamentally wrong.  The number one rule of marketing should be “Don’t let the consumer know you are killing them.”  How did it work out for the cigarette manufacturers when people found out they had hidden evidence of the harmful effects of smoking for decades?  People were a smidge pissed.

Okay, he is probably not the messiah but he has very profound things to say about the global food system.  If you get a chance, check out his talks at UC Berkeley’s Edible Education course in 2011 and 2012.