This Week in Eco News

Happy Friday! Here is a compilation of stories we followed this week. We circulate these internally and publish synopses throughout the week as Eco News, 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].


Rising Number of Soldiers Being Dismissed for Failing Fitness Tests
Obesity is now the leading cause of ineligibility for army volunteers, according to the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center. In 2009 a staggering 75% of the civilians hoping to volunteer were physically ineligible to join, with obesity being the leading cause. In 2010, approximately 1 in 5 troops were diagnosed as overweight or obese. [Washington Post]

Food Safety Group Calls for Court to Limit GMO Seed Patents
The Center for Food Safety has filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court to support legislation that would limit patent protection for GMO seeds in order to protect farmers from litigation from Monsanto, who regularly litigates against farmers for unauthorized use of seeds. [Reuters]

Obesity in Young Is Seen as Falling in Several Cities
After decades of skyrocketing childhood obesity rates, several larger American cities are reporting drops which may indicate that the epidemic may be reversing course. While researchers aren’t totally sure of what is causing the decline, but many point to the fact that these cities all have instated obesity reduction programs in schools. [NY Times]

Building Bigger Cattle: An Industry Overdose
A yearlong investigation by The Kansas City Star found a multimillion-dollar-a-year pharmaceutical arms race in the beef industry is not just about curing sick cows. The industry is using these drugs to fatten cattle cheaply and quickly, and with antibiotic-resistant infections on the rise it is a frightening example of the human cost of cheap food. [Kansas City Star]

USDA to Allow More Meat, Grains in School Lunches
Remember those relatively new USDA rules requiring school lunches to be more healthy? Well Republican legislators have complained about them so much that the USDA has chosen to weaken them, lifting the cap on the amount of meat and grains permitted in school meals. [Seattle PI]

Bakken Oil Boom and Climate Change Threaten the Future of Pasta
That’s right – we may soon have to imagine a world without spaghetti, penne or even fettuccini. Climate change is threatening wheat, which is a cool-season crop and doesn’t grow well in high temperatures. And this isn’t some wacky apocalyptic prediction – it’s happening now. [The Daily Beast]

Tests Say Mislabeled Fish is a Widespread Problem
According to conservation group Oceana, fish is frequently mislabeled on menus and grocery store counters in New York City, even at expensive restaurants and specialty shops. Much of the mislabeling was by vendors substituting cheaper fish for more expensive species, or to hiding the fact that they were selling certain at risk species. [NY Times]


Western US Governors Say Water Transfers Vital But Need to Protect Rural Economies
The Western Governors’ Association and the Western States Water Council Voluntary produced a report that focuses on voluntary water transfers from agricultural areas to urbanized ones. Besides offering a number of recommendations and policies intended to protect rural communities, the report also identifies the lack of data collection as a major hole in the development of water transfers, a process that’s expected to greatly increase overtime. [Circle of Blue]

Nutrient Trading a Dirty Deal for the [Chesapeake] Bay
Instead of Maryland proceeding with an EPA-proposed nutrient trading program that might not meaningfully reduce the overwhelming amount of nitrogen and phosphorus that enters and has a deleterious effect on Chesapeake Bay health, Dr. Robert Lawrence from the JHU-Center for a Livable Future offers an alternative: stricter regulatory oversight and enforcement, particularly on the agriculture industry (read: CAFOs). [Baltimore Sun]

Water Piped to Denver Could Ease Stress on River
It appears that there will be a future Colorado River water allocation shortfall for the six states (and Mexico) that divvy up the precious river water in the eponymous Compact. What have the Feds dreamed up? Pipe water 600 miles from the Missouri River to Denver to supplement river water. I’m sure those in the Missouri River Basin would strongly recommend practicing water conservation and efficiency first. [NY Times]

Poisoning the Well: How the Feds Let Industry Pollute the Nation’s Underground Water Supply
In the American West, if you are a fossil fuel extraction or mining company, the EPA might just let you play by different rules when it comes to water pollution. These companies can get permission for toxic wastewater dumping into underground wells – called Aquifer Exemptions – even though the activity has proven to contaminate drinking and irrigation water supplies, according to an investigative ProPublica report. [ProPublica]

To Drought-Proof City’s Water Supply, Sydney Proposes a Second Set of Pipes
Sydney, Australia’s largest city and economy, expects water scarcity because of climate change and – get this United States – wants plan ahead. In the works are a decentralized water system and the construction of a “parallel water system” comprised of pipes that carry non-potable water for certain uses alongside pipes that carry high-quality drinking water. [Circle of Blue]

Cleaning Up the Singapore River: A Model for Asia?
As many waterways throughout Asia have increased pollution accompanying improved development, some nations would like to emulate the successful and economically beneficial Singapore River cleanup initiated in 1969. While Singapore’s glittering riverside development might be a good transformative reference point, the caveat is the country’s command-and-control governance is hard to replicate. [OOSKA News]

Major Federal Study Sets Foundation for Colorado River Basin’s Future
Upon a monumental river basin study release, Interior Secretary Salazar announced that the Colorado River and the seven Western US states that rely on its freshwater are on a “troubling trajectory.” When expected growths in population and water demand are coupled with an even drier climate, a water shortfall is anticipated. Instead of proposed desalination and 600-mile pipelines, hopefully water efficiency and conservation are tried first. [Circle of Blue]

The Dust Bowl – Can it Happen Again?
Another Dust Bowl is unlikely because farmers have learned from earlier mistakes regarding the importance of soil and water conservation as well as native plant cultivation. Since droughts will always be present, farmland and urban lands can be planned to be “more resistant [to drought] by taking a sustainable approach to landscaping.” [Water Management]

Grabbing at Solutions: Water for the Hungry First
If developing countries in Africa are offered the opportunity and tools to promote water efficiency and affordable irrigation instead of being presented with land and water “grabs,” then there is “potential to boost food security and incomes for tens of millions of the region’s poorest inhabitants.” (Part of the National Geographic series, Water Grabbers: Global Rush on Freshwater Threatens to Drain the Planet.) [National Geographic]

China’s Water Reserves and World’s Warming Atmosphere Wait For Natural Gas Breakthrough
Eager to exploit its huge shale-gas reserves, China is closely watching the US frack-induced natural gas boom with hopes to emulate US production, what with its claims of energy independence and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. However, a chief concern for China is the large fracking water requirements in a land of limited water resources. [Circle of Blue]


Race Is On to Clean Up Hydraulic Fracturing
You say water contamination from fracking is a risk? Aha, some companies see opportunity! Venture capitalists and large companies alike are developing technologies that they claim will test and clean wastewater created by fracking for natural gas and oil. [NY Times]

The Natural Gas Revolution Reversing LNG Tanker Trade
The international trade in natural gas is upside-down thanks to the US shale gas boom. Where only recently gas terminals were built in the US to take liquid from tankers and warm it into natural gas, now companies are seeking permission to cool and liquefy US natural gas for shipment and sale abroad. [Washington Post]

Solar Energy and Water: Solar Powering Desalination
Saudi Arabia is short on water and long on sunshine, so plans to build three new solar-powered desalination plants in the country make a lot of sense. Now, what to do with all that leftover brine… [Renewable Energy World]

UAE Puts Energy-Water-Food-Climate Nexus On UN Agenda At Ongoing Climate Negotiations
The most recent UN climate change conference (COP18 ) included discussion of the food, water and energy nexus with a particular emphasis on the Middle East and the region’s extreme water scarcity. [Abu Dhabi City Guide]

Proposed Rules on Fracking Gain Cautious Praise
Even the oil and gas drilling heartland of Texas is updating its rules to address the potential threats posed to aquifers by fracking, from the drilling itself to cementing and completing an oil or gas well. [NY Times]

Global Warming Good News for Russian Shipping
In a disturbing preview of an ice-free Arctic, a Russian tanker carrying liquefied natural gas became the first large tanker ship to the make a crossing of the Arctic Ocean. [Marketplace]

US Solar Surges 44% in Third Quarter Driven by Rooftops
US solar installations increased by 684 megawatts during the third quarter, a 44 percent jump compared to the previous year. [Bloomberg]

Pay Dirt: How to Turn Tar Sands into Oil
Check out this eye-opening photo slideshow of the oil sands process in Canada, which requires roughly 12 barrels of water to separate one barrel of the thick tar from sand. [Scientific American]

Pembroke Power Station 'Breaches Environment Laws'
The damage to marine life by coastal power plant cooling systems isn’t just a US phenomenon. A brand new power plant along a British estuary is being blamed for releasing hot water and trapping millions of fish. [BBC]

Princeton’s Nanomesh Nearly Triples Solar Cell Efficiency
Good news for solar: “A research team at Princeton has used nanotechnology to create a mesh that increases efficiency over organic solar cells nearly three-fold. Led by Stephen Chou, the team has made two dramatic improvements: reducing reflectivity, and more effectively capturing the light that isn’t reflected.” [ExtremeTech]