This Week in Eco News - March 1, 2013

Happy Friday! We're kicking off this week's compilation of Eco News stories with a link to our new Best of the Web Video feature. We'll alternate weekly to share the best in food, water and energy videos from around the web along with the news stories we follow, circulate internally and publish synopses of throughout the week. You can find them all week long — in real time — in the column to the right, just above our Best of the Web Video viewer. You can also sign up to receive Eco News via email each Thursday. If you see a story you think we should include, drop us a line at [email protected].

Best of the Web Video - Food

Growing Enough Food In a Changing Climate
How will climate change affect our food systems and in particular, our ability to grow enough food for everyone? Here, Sir John Beddington, Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government, describes the challenges of meeting global food requirements given the impacts of climate change. [FarmingFirst]


UN, WHO Panel Calls Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals a 'Global Threat'
A new report by an international team of experts has linked hormone-mimicking chemicals like BPA – and others commonly found in pesticides, flame retardants, plastics, cosmetics and canned foods – to human health problems. Scientists believe the evidence is growing stronger, and the use of such chemicals presents a "global threat" that should be addressed. [Environmental Health News]

Quinoa Boom Puts Stress On Bolivian Economics, Environment
Growing global demand for quinoa is not only affecting grain prices and the living standards of Bolivian farmers, it is also prompting them to abandon traditional land management practices, threatening the ecosystem of the arid highlands. [Huffington Post]

Number of US Farms Fell to Six-Year Low in 2012, USDA Says
According to a new USDA report, the number of farms in the US fell 0.5 percent in 2012, reaching the lowest level since 2006. However, net farm income is expected to climb 14% this year. This signifies the consolidation of the agriculture industry, as factory farms and industrial operations continue to put small farms out of business. [Bloomberg]

Survey Finds That Fish Are Often Not What Label Says
As panic over mislabeled beef (actually horse meat) rages on in Europe, here in America we might not be getting the fish we think we're buying. A new study found that about one-third of the 1,215 fish samples bought from 2010 to 2012 were mislabeled. [New York Times]

The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food
Last weekend's Times magazine included an excerpt from the new book Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us which came out this week. Author Michael Moss says, "As a culture, weve become upset by the tobacco companies advertising to children, but we sit idly by while the food companies do the very same thing. And we could make a claim that the toll taken on the public health by a poor diet rivals that taken by tobacco." [New York Times]

Bhutan Set to Plough Lone Furrow as World's First Wholly Organic Country
Bhutan, a tiny Himalayan country known for its "Gross National Happiness" model, is working to become the first 100 percent organic country. Over the next 10 years, Bhutan plans to phase out artificial chemicals in farming and transition to organic, not just to protect the environment but also to train farmers in new methods that will help them grow more food and move the country closer to self-sufficiency. Bhutan is already leading in sustainable development: more than 95% of the population has clean water and electricity, 80% of the country is forested and it is carbon neutral and food secure. [The Guardian]

Alaska House Passes Resolution Opposing "Frankenfish"
Last week the Alaska House of Representatives unanimously approved a resolution urging the FDA to reconsider their preliminary findings that GM salmon, or "Frankenfish," would not significantly impact the environment. The resolution also pushes for labeling if the product is ultimately approved. [KTOO]

"Sh*t, Just Ship It": Felony Prosecution For Salmonella-Peanut Executives
In a landmark decision, a district court in Georgia is indicting former officials of the Peanut Corporation of American (PCA) for fraud and conspiracy for knowingly distributing peanuts contaminated with Salmonella in 2009. The contaminated peanuts caused a nationwide outbreak – hundreds of products were recalled, 714 people were known to have been made sick by it in 46 states, one-fourth of them were hospitalized and nine died. [Wired]

Food Law Society to Host Harvard Law School's Conference on Food Labeling
The Harvard Law School's second food policy conference will focus on food labeling from a legal perspective. Expert panels and lecturers will discuss food labeling - specifically, its affect on consumer knowledge, choice and behavior. The conference will be March 8 – 9 and feature experts from Animal Welfare Approved, Animal Legal Defense Fund & Consumer Reports. For those who can't make it the conference will also be streamed live online. [Harvard Food Law Society]

Ikea Withdraws Meatballs After Horse Meat Is Found
The European horse meat scandal continues to snowball. Swedish furniture giant Ikea withdrew meatballs from sale in 14 European countries on Monday after its own DNA tests detected horse DNA in the product. [New York Times]


$30 Million Treatment Plant Targets Tainted Farm Drainage
California's agricultural Central Valley has experienced many decades of polluted water – much of it naturally occurring salt and selenium – with one measure called the Grassland Bypass Project attempting to drain contamination away from Delta waters. With the Grasslands Project helping (but not ending) pollution, the Federal Bureau of Reclamation is calling for a water treatment plant equipped with reverse osmosis technology. [Fresno Bee]

Growing University Highlights Connecticut's Water Woes
Why reduce water use in water-rich regions? Look no further than a local community's opposition to proposed local reservoir withdrawals by the University of Connecticut. According to former associate director of UConns Water Resources Institute, Pat Bresnahan: "Part of the problem is that we get so much rain, and were perceived as being a very water-rich area, but because of our development patterns, the water isnt always where the development is." [NPR]

Increases in Extreme Rainfall Linked to Global Warming
A team of Australian and Canadian scientists found in data analysis from over 8,000 sites that "rainfall extremes are increasing on average globally. They show that there is a 7% increase in extreme rainfall intensity for every degree increase in global atmospheric temperature." With assumed warming by three to five degree Celsius by the close of this century, more frequent intense precipitation could occur. [Science Daily]

Paying Farmers to Protect Forest Watersheds in Vietnam & China: The Long-term Prognosis
As Vietnam and China move towards more market-based economies, protection of natural lands and waters means more incentives will be directed at local people and communities, which in many cases will likely be payments in cash or in-kind trades that exist in more informal economies. [Center for International Forestry Research]

Water, Energy, Food – Nexus Thinking Explained
Nexus thinking is a new way of thinking that recognises the crucial interdependence of water, energy and food – a relationship that forms the core of the Environment Nexus project. This new IIEA video explores the deep interconnections between the three essential resources and highlights the need for nexus thinking to help meet the worlds needs, as it grows from 7 to 9 billion by 2050. [IIEA]

Climate Contradiction: Less Snow, More Blizzards
Climate change skeptics (deniers) have a gas when big snowstorms hit, saying that such weather events disprove a trend of a generally warming climate. The thing is that two forthcoming studies confirm that a "warmer atmosphere can hold, and dump, more moisture [e.g., snow]," and that "there can be more giant blizzards yet less snow overall each year." [AP]

Carbon Trust Launches Scheme to Tackle Water Waste
The international organization, Carbon Trust, has developed a Water Standard that will "encourage businesses to use water more sustainably" by measuring and then reducing water use year-over-year. Participating companies, at this point, are multinationals with big operations who are concerned with the risk of potentially unavailable freshwater supplies. [BBC]

Key to Cleaner Environment May Be Right Beneath Our Feet
According to hydrology research, about 60 percent of the world's annual precipitation ends up in aquifers, more freshwater than in lakes and rivers. The "Earth's outer layer – from the top vegetation canopy to the strata of soils and layers of underground material – helps soak up and purify water" making good land use and groundwater management a "foundation" of a clean, sustainable environment. [Penn State News]

Kitzhaber, Farmers, Environmentalists Sign Deal to Add More Water for Umatilla Basin Irrigation
To restore irrigation-depleted groundwater to Oregon's agriculture-heavy Umatilla Basin – location of one the world's deepest aquifer drops over the last few decades – a 20-person "solutions taskforce" composed of officials, farmers and environmentalists agreed to a plan that creates new groundwater storage for irrigation and environmental Columbia River water flows. [Oregonian]

Flood Experts Seek to Revamp Federal Coastal Policies After Superstorm Sandy
According to New Jersey flood experts, "The state is emphasizing speed, rather than increased protection against climate change, in its massive rebuilding effort following Superstorm Sandy." The major problem is, rebuilding the coastline amidst likely climate change means rain-enhanced storm surge and a greater frequency of stronger storms. Oh, and more flooding. [E&E News]


Front-Runner to Lead EPA Vows More Action on Climate Change
Gina McCarthy, the expected nominee to replace outgoing EPA chief Lisa Jackson, has touted the public health benefits and effects on tackling climate change through stronger vehicle fuel economy standards, new rules for coal-fired power plants and limits on mercury and other toxic air pollutants. [E2 Wire]

Oil Sands Mining Uses Up Almost as Much Energy as It Produces
It's easy to forget that it takes energy to produce energy, and new research shows that tar sands are barely worth the effort. For every one unit of energy used to extract underground tar sands oil, less than three units of oil-based energy are retrieved. [Inside Climate News]

Iceland Looks to Export Power Bubbling From Below
Iceland's 320,000 people can only use so much of its abundant geothermal power, so what to do with the electricity being produced by a rapidly growing number of power plants? Well, some want to build a nearly 2,000 mile cable stretching from Iceland across frigid seas to 500 million energy-hungry European consumers. [New York Times]

China's New Carbon Tax and the Crumbling Case for Inaction
China's energy policy is frustrating: the country continues its massive expansion of coal power plants as it also invests heavily in renewables. But China's reported interest in adopting a carbon tax could influence the discussion of instituting the same tax in the US. [MediaMatters]

The Next Big Thing in Energy: Decentralization
Just as with the recent decentralization of information, we many all become energy consumers AND producers, but it's going to take time as new technologies emerge and converge, and the monopolies of electric utilities slowly (very slowly) erode. [Grist]

Obama Administration Reaches Out to Local Governments to Spread Its Climate Message
Obama may be too quiet about climate change on the national stage, but federal agencies have been quietly building a grassroots communications strategy by working with cities and states to help them prepare for the impacts of a changing climate. [National Journal]

The Shale Phenomenon: Fabulous Miracle with a Fatal Flaw
No matter how much more drilling we conduct on US soil – ten percent of the Lower 48 is leased by oil companies, more acreage than we plant in corn and wheat – increasing demand from India, China and other developing nations will keep scarcity and prices a constant. "The American future isnt a romance with abundance, its a plea bargain with depletion." [Christian Science Monitor]

Food Production and Energy Usage, Efficiency
Worldwide, 1/3 of all food produced, totaling around $1 trillion, is going to waste. This has big energy waste implications. For example, in the US food waste accounts for 2 percent of annual energy consumption. [Energy Collective]

Long Island's Power Problems Mean Big Paydays for Wall Street
The Long Island Power Authority, a public utility with a checkered and debt-saddled history, is slated to be dismantled and privatized.  That opens the door for Wall Street firms to work on restructuring electricity rates, which in the past has made those firms a lot of money while failing to lower electric bills that are among the highest in the country. [WNYC]

Solar Industry Will Boom Globally and Challenge Cheap Natural Gas - Citigroup
Citigroup is predicting that because residential solar electricity has reached grid parity with average residential electricity prices, our favorite consumer electronic brands are going to enter the solar energy market and fuel a worldwide solar boom that will surpass most expectations. [E&E News]