What if free-range pork, grown without antibiotics, actually posed more of a health risk than pork produced on industrial farms? That’s what James McWilliams suggested last week in an a New York Times op-ed, in which he discusses a study by an Ohio State University researcher who found that pigs raised in free-range, antibiotic-free environments tested positive for three food-borne pathogens—salmonella, toxoplasma, and trichinella—at significantly higher rates than their conventionally raised cousins.
The honeymoon between environmental groups and the Obama Interior Department is now decidedly over, at least when it comes to endangered-species protections. As Daniel Schulman reports over at Mother Jones, the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has decided not to add the yellow-billed loon to the endangered-species list, instead putting it on a waiting list of species to be given official endangered status once the agency can come up with guidelines for their protection.
The microwave oven belongs on the list of consumer innovations—like the TV dinner or the widespread use of polyester in clothing—that seemed really nifty at first but have since fallen somewhat out of style. Sure, a lot of people still own microwaves, but crunchy types tend to dismiss them as symbols of America’s instant-gratification food culture, and scientists have revealed that microwave popcorn—hands down the best use of the appliance—gives off a chemical vapor that causes lung disease.
I don’t want to be accused of seeing the world through overly bright green glasses, but this is shaping up to be a week of decidedly good environmental news. First the EPA announced that it’s getting tough on mountaintop removal mining, and then, yesterday afternoon, the House passed an omnibus lands bill that creates the biggest expansion of the nation’s wilderness-preservation system since 1994. The bill, which has already passed the Senate and which Obama has promised to sign, sets aside 2.1 million acres of new wilderness in nine states.
In terms of sheer environmental destruction per square meter, the mountaintop-removal method of coal mining is pretty tough to beat. A mountain with the unhappy distinction of sitting on a coal seam gets its top dynamited off and bulldozed into oblivion, while nearby valleys end up filled with the leftover rocks and dirt.
The impact of a carbon cap-and-trade system on electricity prices depends on both the stringency of the cap and how easy it is for utilities to shift away from fossil fuels. Under a cap, power prices will rise until electricity demand falls by enough—or a sufficient amount of renewable generation is brought online—that the demand can be met without going over the carbon cap. Whether carbon-emissions permits are auctioned or given away for free has no impact on this market-clearing electricity price.
Is “nuclear waste” an outdated term? That’s what William Tucker, author of Terrestial Energy, argues in a recent Wall Street Journalcolumn titled "There Is No Such Thing As Nuclear Waste." To hear him describe it, the nation's spent nuclear fuel—which will no longer find a permanent resting place at Yucca Mountain—is actually pretty useful stuff.
As we’ve mentioned before, one of the most unfortunate (but also most scientifically interesting) consequences of overfishing is that it can cause fish to shrink. Smaller fish are better able to slip through the holes in fish nets and therefore survive to pass on their genes rather than ending up as fish sticks. As a result, heavily-harvested fish populations—especially in places that have minimum net mesh size requirements designed to let a certain fraction of fish escape—tend to evolve toward smaller average body sizes.
Back in January, I wrote a post about the possibility of replacing the gas tax with a tax on vehicle-miles traveled (VMT), arguing that it was an interesting idea, but not something that made much sense to enact until cars were a lot more fuel-efficient. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood must not have gotten the message, because he proceeded to tell the AP that he’d like to see a VMT tax. Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, quickly dismissed the notion, seemingly putting an end to its consideration for the near future.
Can organic heirloom tomatoes really feed the world? That’s the question Paul Roberts asks in a new article over at Mother Jones on the scalability of organic and local agriculture. Roberts, the author ofThe End Of Food, is no fan of modern industrial agriculture, but he also questions whether small-scale organic farming, as practiced today, will ever be able to replace it. For one thing, organic agriculture requires a lot more labor than conventional farming, which means that it would prove difficult to practice on a large scale while the world’s population continues to urbanize.