This Week in Eco News - December 13, 2013

A Canberra family has reclaimed the Guinness Book record for biggest home Christmas light display - and the local utility is using renewable energy to cover the $2,500 monthly bill. Neil Young's heart of gold is now funding First Nations enviro oilsands activism in Northern Alberta, Canada, and the Endangered Snowman helps explain why Southern Californians were queuing up in drive-thrus for their Starbucks this week. All this, plus climate news and more multimedia. See a story we should share? Drop us a line at [email protected].

Best of the Web Video - Water

Endangered Snowman
Crazy weather we're having, isn't it? Climate change doesn't only result in warmer temperatures in odd places - it also means snowy cold in unlikely places! Watch the Endangered Snowman, courtesy of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council, explain why.
Take Action: Find out what you can do to help fight climate change.


Will Shuanghui Keep the World's Largest Pork Producer Environmentally Clean?
Smithfield Foods claims an environmental benefit to its September sale to Chinese meat processing-giant Shuanghui: that it will inspire more humane, less impactful industrial farming in China. The Waterkeeper Alliance's CAFO campaign in North Carolina remains dubious, concerned that as pork exports ramp up, they'll be stuck with polluted water and air -  contrary to Smithfield's PR. [The Guardian]

US Agriculture Leader Touts Farm Efforts in Bay Cleanup
Farmers have prevented over 15 million tons of sediment from washing into the Chesapeake Bay by participating in voluntary conservation measures. Although region-wide cleanup efforts are lagging, concentrations of ingredients contributing to deadly algae bloom, including nitrogen and sediment, have declined substantially thanks to massive farm-based offsets. [Herald Mail Media]

Fresh Research Finds Organic Milk Packs In Omega-3s
A new study testing milk across the US has determined that organic milk contains 62 percent more omega-3s than milk from conventional dairies. As trends point to more consumption of whole milk, which has more omega-3s, and health recommendations encouraging more omega-3 consumption, this finding is especially pertinent. Now that's something to raise a glass to! [NPR]

Wisconsin's 2013 Manure Spills the Highest in Seven Years Statewide
Wisconsin experienced a particularly heavy rate of manure spills this year, with over 1 million gallons of manure from livestock operations threatening local communities. Regardless of precautions, mishaps in containing manure waste are common. Authorities are still in the process of analyzing spill data, searching for repeat offenders, and some farms face fines for contamination.  [Journal Sentinel]

First-ever Farm to School Census Finds Schools Offering More Locally Grown Produce
The USDA's Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services division conducted its first farm-to-school census this year, revealing US public schools spend about $350 million on farm-to-school programs every year. Schools offering locally-sourced ingredients to their students, especially fruits and vegetables, support communities by spending locally and interesting students in regional agriculture. [Farmington Daily Times]

Meatless Monday

City of South Miami Passes Meatless Monday Resolution
South Miami has followed in the footsteps of locales such as Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Philadelphia, and others that have adopted official resolutions in support of Meatless Mondays. Mayor Phillip K. Stoddard passed the initiative to prompt more community thinking about the overall costs of meat to public health and the environment. "What do I do for a living? I'm an educator," Stoddard says. "I encourage people to think for a living. Think about this. You don't have to do it, but think about it." [Miami New Times]


Raise Water Spending, Get $1 Trillion Benefits, Says UN
What's water worth to the economy? Well, UN researchers found that an annual global investment of about $1 to $1.8 trillion in clean water and drinking water spending could yield an additional $1 trillion in annual economic and health benefits. The other finding was that the positive effects would be muted without corruption being addressed. [Reuters]

Vast Freshwater Reserves Found Beneath the Oceans
Located miles out in continental shelves under the world's seabed, a groundwater research team has discovered an estimated half million cubic kilometers of low-saline water in aquifers. This water volume is "a hundred times greater than the amount we've extracted from the Earth's sub-surface in the past century since 1900," and could even help water-scarce counties in the future. [Science Daily]

Family of Watermen Launches Aquaculture Business and ''The Next Revolution''
Three generations of Chesapeake Bay watermen, the Shockleys, found that dredging for oysters was no longer profitable, so they transformed into an aquaculture operation that farms oysters in tanks. Not only has the family had great success in selling their oysters to high-end restaurants, but in selling their aquaculture system as what they term a "revolution." [The Bay Daily]


New Report Says Solar Will Achieve Near-Global Competitiveness With Natural Gas By 2025
According to a new study, solar power may be cost competitive with natural gas by 2025 across much of the globe. Solar is already about to hit grid parity in some areas, so this study looks at how natural gas availability and price might affect how quickly solar can catch up worldwide. One possibility is that solar and natural gas plants could be installed together to avoid price swings. [Think Progress]

Want Blue Energy? Then Trade Risk for Information
Marine hydrokinetic power - power generated from waves and tides - is a renewable source of energy with great potential, but federal red tape is holding the growing industry back. Makers of "blue" energy are required to study ecological impacts, but aren't credited for potential environmental benefits of new technology that doesn't pollute or generate greenhouse gasses. (Unlike, say, oil and gas.) [Pacific Standard]

Eastern States Press Midwest to Improve Air
Governors of eight Northeastern states signed a petition asking the EPA to enforce tougher air pollution regulations in the Midwest. The governors are increasingly angry that weak regulations in the Midwest allow dirty air from power plants, factories and mines to be carried into the Northeast where the emissions can cause serious health problems. [New York Times]

Heart of Gold: Neil Young Helps Bankroll First Nation's Oilsands Battle
Music legend Neil Young reached out to First Nations in northern Alberta where oil sands development is rapidly encroaching. The musician, shocked by the degradation he witnessed on a recent trip to the region, will help aboriginal groups fight against new energy projects in their traditional territory, starting with a series of benefit concerts. [Edmonton Journal]

US Solar Installations Skyrocket
Over 50 percent more American homes installed solar panels in the third quarter of this year than in the same period last year - the highest quarter of growth ever. There is now enough solar capacity in the US to power 1.7 million average American homes. [E2 Wire]


Five Ways 'Systems Thinking' Can Jumpstart Action
Systems thinking has increasingly been viewed as a necessary requirement for Big Business to operate as the world gets more complex, global consumption rises and resources become scarcer. But as MIT professor John Sterman writes, these nexus concerns (and skills) can't just live the corporate boardroom or political halls, but must spread to the general public. [GreenBiz]

Report: Society's Water Safety Net Is Fraying
A new National Research Council report examines possible "tipping points" that might occur if the rate of groundwater pumping rapidly increases. As surface water-scarce regions get drier amidst climate change, early warning water and drought monitoring systems could be necessary to protect precious resources. [Circle of Blue]


Christmas World Record: Australian Family Rigs 502,165 Christmas Lights
An Australian family broke the Guinness Book of World Records for the most Christmas lights, with 502,165 bulbs strung on their Canberra home. They may have also broken some energy use records, although the local utility is covering the monthly $2,500 bill by using renewable energy. Someone should look into that. Happy holidays! [ITN]

Junkyard Planet: The Leonard Lopate Show
When you drop your Coke can or yesterday's newspaper in the recycling bin, where does it go? Find out in this podcast as Leonard Lopate and Adam Minter--journalist and son of an American junkyard owner--tell us. Minter traced the export of America's recyclables and the massive profits that China and other rising nations earn from it. [WNYC]

Brooklyn Week 2013 : Photographer Finds Surprising Beauty In The Gowanus Canal
In this video, fine art photographer Robert DeRosa, who has found an unusual muse in the Gowanus Canal, takes New York City's local cable news channel NY1 on a very special tour of the waterway and its bridges. There is some beauty in this heavily polluted industrial waterway. [NY1 ]

Study: Global Crop Production Shows Some Signs of Stagnating
This series of maps illustrates data from a new study published in Nature that shows that after decades of rapidly growing global agricultural output, production of four of the world's most important crops could be stagnating or even slowing in some regions. [Washington Post]

Food Eco News contributed by Audrey Jenkins.