This Week in Eco News

We know it’s been a long, hectic week for many of you. Here is a compilation of some of the stories we followed this week, from Sandy to California’s GMO labeling battle. We circulate these internally and publish synopses throughout the week as News Briefs, which you can find all week long — in real time — in the column to the right. You can also find them at this link, and you can sign up to receive them via email each Thursday. If you see a story you think we should include, drop us a line at [email protected]


Across Corn Belt, Farmland Prices Keep Soaring
Despite this year’s epic drought and skyrocketing prices of corn farmland prices in the Midwest continue to soar. Economists warn that this could lead to a potential bubble and follow a trend we're all too familiar with: the housing frenzy that set off the financial crisis. [New York Times]

Chefs Back Measure on Labeling GMO’s
More than 700 of the nation’s most prominent chefs and foodies including Alice Waters, Bryant Terry and Dan Barber have come out in support of California’s Prop 37 initiative to label genetically modified foods. [New York Times]

Childhood Obesity Declines in Several States, Cities
The efforts of cities and states to make nutritional improvements in foods served at schools are paying off! A summary from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that communities who have made conscious efforts in this direction are seeing a decline in rates of childhood obesity. [USA Today]

GMO Crop Planting In National Wildlife Refuges Rejected By US Judge
A US District Judge has ruled that until an environmental analysis is done, no one can plant genetically modified crops in National Wildlife Refuges. So thankfully animals in those refuges won’t be eating GMO corn – at least until the Fish and Wildlife Service completes its analysis. [Huffington Post]

The One-Two Punch: Big Food Gets Kids Hooked Early and Often
Our nation’s children are suffering from an obesity epidemic, and studies show that it is largely due to the aggressive marketing of Big Food corporations to children. In some cases children can recognize brands, like McDonald’s golden arches, before they can even speak. Even more startling, researchers found that seeing an advertised logo trips the pleasure and reward regions of children’s brains -- areas of the brain that are also implicated in obesity and various types of addiction, including drug abuse. [Huffington Post]

Human Health, Hog Production and Environmental Harm
Epidemiologist Steven Wing of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill has spent the past decade investigating the local health effects of very large swine farms. His newest study has found an association between air pollution and odor in the near vicinity of swine farms and hikes in blood pressure in local residents. [Wired]

LA City Council Unanimously Endorses Yes on 37
The Los Angeles City Council unanimously passed a resolution supporting Proposition 37, the Right to Know ballot measure that would label genetically engineered foods in California. [CA Right To Know]

As California Vote Looms, Scientists Say No To Labeling Genetically Modified Foods
You may have heard of scientists not being in support of Proposition 37 -- but what these critics don’t understand is that the importance of the Right to Know initiative is about transparency, not peril. [NPR]

In Dairy Industry Consolidation, Lush Paydays
The sad and outrageous story of consolidation in the milk industry, a system that enriches one company while simultaneously ruining countless farmers. [New York Times]

Belinda Martineau: A Scientist Says Yes on Prop 37 to Label Genetically Engineered Food
Belinda Martineau is a molecular geneticist who helped commercialize the world’s first genetically engineered whole food -- and in the interest of transparency she "wholeheartedly" supports the labeling of genetically modified foods. [Mercury News]


[National Energy Technology Laboratory] NETL Drastically Reduces Water Use
Do you think metering water to know how much water is being used in a facility (or home, for that matter) doesn’t mean much? Well at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) in Albany, NY they discovered and took care of the water use “heavy hitters” to save 66 percent more water and nearly $30k in charges in only three years. It pays to know. [Albany Democrat Herald]

Parched in the West but Shipping Water to China, Bale by Bale
Is it smart water policy and economics for farmers in the drought-ridden arid and semiarid Western United States to grow the water-intensive crop – alfalfa – and then ship it (along with its large “virtual water” component) off to China for livestock feed? Robert Glennon and Peter Culp have some doubts. [Wall Street Journal]

Water Treatment Technology Reduces Water Usage and Costs for Wisconsin Pizza Plant
No. Way. Here is the ultimate in the food-water-energy nexus news: Industro-Food giant, Nestlé, has a frozen pizza factory in Wisconsin that “has reduced its water usage by 7.4 million gallons per year by increasing the performance and efficiency of its [thermoelectric] cooling towers,” primarily by treating the low quality water with new chemical technology. Bad pizza or not, the nexus is all around us. [WaterWorld]

Green Crude: The Quest to Unlock Algae’s Energy Potential
The commercialization of algal biofuels, that could help reduce the need for fossil fuels, has been on the radar for some time now. The question is whether “green crude” is economically feasible and environmentally viable especially considering its production requires large water volumes of water. [Yale 360 ]

Brewers Helping Farmers Cut Water Use as Shortages Loom
Why is mega-Brewer SABMiller promoting water conservation for non-beer-related field crops in agricultural settings in parts of the developing world? Because farmers in developing countries that use water inefficiently can reduce the water available for beer-related crops, like barley, thus risking business and profitability. [Bloomberg]

New App Lets Users Check Health of Waterways Anywhere in the US
In honor of the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the EPA “launched a new app and website to help people find information on the condition of thousands of lakes, rivers and streams across the United States from their smart phone, tablet or desktop computer.” I guess people were thirstin' for it because the website was shut down for much of the day [EPA]

Welcome to the NHL’s Sustainability Blog
The National Hockey League (NHL) has started a sustainability blog, eh? They cite the fact that frozen water (i.e. ice) – hopefully clean – is what the sport completely relies upon. The second post is on tree-plantings to absorb stormwater retention. [NHL Green Slapshots]

Farm Runoff is Accelerating Demise of Protective Coastal Salt Marshes – Study
Findings from a study in Nature reveal that agricultural pollution of waterways leads more quickly to downstream coastal salt marsh deterioration than previously thought. Not only does nitrogen and phosphorous pollution destroy ecosystems, degrade storm surge buffers, hurt plants and animals, it also ruins the effectiveness of marshlands to act as carbon sinks, an activity in which they are vitally important. [Climatewire]

Businesses and Water
The newly issued Water Disclosure Report 2012 (PDF) reviews the 318 international corporations' water use reports. These voluntarily submitted reports show that 53 percent of companies responding have experienced “detrimental water-related business impacts,” and as Circle of Blue observes, “the Energy sector has recorded the lowest response rate of any sector for the past two years.” [Circle of Blue]

Glacier Retreat Affects Stream Ecology, Water Resources (with Video, Photos)
The most visited glacier in North America, located in Alberta, Canada, has retreated just under a mile (1.5 km) over the past 125 years, which indicates that even the wettest nation on earth might feel freshwater constraints in a warmer future. [Calgary Herald]


From ‘Frontline,' a Look at the Skeptics' Advance
It’s well worth an hour of your time to see the new Frontline episode, “Climate of Doubt,” that documents how ideological climate skeptics have made the issue untouchable. [New York Times]

Utah Oks First US Oil Sands Project
Oil sands: no longer just for Canadians. The Utah water board has voted to approve the first commercial oil sands project in the US. The project is expected to produce 2,000 barrels of petroleum a day by 2013. [Christian Science Monitor]

SoCal Water Treatment Plant Becomes Renewable Energy Source
A wastewater treatment plant in Southern California is about to install the world’s largest carbon-neutral fuel cell power station that will power the plant in Ontario with biogas, cutting its grid energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. [KCET]

Report: Switch From Coal-Fired Power Plants Saves Water
You can say this for natural gas power plants: They use less water than coal plants. A new report says that replacing coal-fired power plants with natural gas-fired ones would save as much as 60 percent of the fresh water used in Texas for power generation based on the lifecycle of both fuels. [Fuel Fix]

After Federal Jolt, Clean Energy Seeks New Spark
Now that the 2009 stimulus package’s $90 billion for energy projects are almost all spent, clean energy companies and innovators are wondering how they can compete with deep-pocketed fossil fuel interests. The answer may lie in a carbon tax – which appears to be gathering some bipartisan support – and local and state government investment. [New York Times]

Your Sandy Symbolism of the Day: An Oil Tanker Stranded on Staten Island
Check out this photo of a large oil hauler that washed up on the shore of Staten Island. As Grist aptly says, the sight of the fossil-fuel delivering ship "left high and dry by the largest hurricane in the recorded history of the Eastern seaboard seems …  symbolic." [Grist]

Hurricane Sandy: Can Smart Grid Limit Power Outages?
Can the smart grid help with power outages due to disasters like Hurricane Sandy? The first tentative steps taken by many utilities will at least help with customer communication, help identify outages more quickly and minimize the spread. But if coast-wide outages continue for very long, there may finally be a call to make major smart grid investments. [GreenTech Media]

NJ DEP Advises Residents to Conserve Water After Hurricane Sandy
In a clear example of how energy and water resources are closely linked, New Jersey officials are advising residents across the state to conserve water in the wake of Hurricane Sandy because many public and private water utilities have had to rely on emergency generators to treat and pump water. Because treating and moving water takes a lot of energy, the less water New Jersey residents use, the less demand on overstretched energy resources.  [The Star-Ledger]

Sandy Raises Concerns About Fracking
Big storms like Sandy could pose a problem for fracking sites, particularly the wastewater pools that could run off into a stream, river or farmland due to gusting winds and torrential downpours. [Times Record News]

Hurricane Sandy Uncovers Strength and Simplicity of Renewable Energy Systems
Why renewable sources like wind and solar can withstand storms better than large power plants: they don’t need additional inputs of energy (coal, gas, uranium) and they mimic nature in design, so they tend to be more resilient and withstand natural disasters better than centralized power plants. [Renewable Energy World]