This Week in Eco News - January 24, 2014

Hogs in winter at Sawkill Farm. Photo by Jen Bunin.

Questions continued this week about the origins of West Virginia's coal chemical spill (and what will be done to better regulate chemical storage in the future). See how different a US divided by watersheds, not state boundaries, would look; check out a handy infographic to help you manage those expiration dates and avoid wasting food. See a story we should share? Drop us a line at [email protected]

Best of the Web Video - Energy

Exclusive Video Exposes Problems of Oil Spill Cleanup in Alabama
Public Herald is embarking on a new series to investigate the environmental legacy of fossil fuel in America, starting with Aliceville, Alabama. Ongoing efforts to clean up an oil spill in Aliceville are under scrutiny after a train carrying 2.7 million gallons of North Dakota Bakken crude oil exploded, spilling into wetlands just outside of town.

Take Action: Check out Public Herald's website to learn more about fossil fuels, climate change and corporate responsibility.


Friends of the Earth: Meat Industry Needs Radical Rethink
With its new report "Meat Atlas," Friends of the Earth warns that our current level of meat consumption needs to end. Because the meat industry uses huge amounts of resources, like land and water, and produces tons of waste threatening our global ecosystem, the report says eating meat is a political choice and advocates eating higher quality meat at low frequency. [Food Navigator]

Walmart Joins CIW's Fair Food Program!
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers' Fair Food Program gained a serious ally last week when Walmart signed an agreement to bring immediate and concrete benefits to tens of thousands of farmworkers in the Florida tomato industry and help expand the program beyond Florida's borders. Walmart's move will undoubtedly pressure other retailers to join socially responsible initiatives around the country. [Coalition of Immokalee Workers]

Amidst Severe Winter Drought, California Farmers Ask: Is This the New Normal?
While the east coast shivers and shovels, California has been experiencing its worst drought in nearly four decades. California farmers, already subject to water rationing this season, foresee a brutal year ahead exacerbated by scars left last year during the state's driest season on record. California is revamping its Climate Adaptation Strategy now, anticipating worsening climate conditions in the future. [Civil Eats]

200+ Groups Call on President Obama to Keep Campaign Pledge to Label GMOs
Not ceding their fight for state-level GMO-labeling laws, over 200 organizations and businesses are now also pressuring President Obama to instate a federal labeling law to uphold his 2007 campaign promise. Some of these groups asked for similar legislation in 2011, but so far labeling remains voluntary, even though the FDA has required labeling for over 3,000 other ingredients. [Food Democracy NOW!]

GMA 'Fed Up' by Sundance Documentary
The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) struck back after the documentary 'Fed Up' accused the food industry of greed contributing to rising incidences of obesity among children. GMA retorted that consumer interests and wellbeing are always amongst their constituents' priorities - for instance, they support the First Lady's fight against obesity. We wonder, however, what is their top priority? [Food Production Daily]

Meatless Monday

Going Meatless on Mondays
Whether you're doing so to improve your health or to soften your environmental imprint, quitting or cutting back on eating meat can be tough. Here’s a suggestion: How about just skipping meat on Mondays? From celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Gwyneth Paltrow to campuses and restaurants, Meatless Mondays have taken off among individuals and organizations in San Diego. [San Diego Union-Tribune]


Dry Fields, Dirty Water
American exceptionalism takes a hit when the Circle of Blue "Choke Point: Index" reports that US agricultural regions face the same freshwater problems as does the rest of the food-producing world. US ag regions experience greater water scarcity from irrigation overuse and climate shifts, as well as deteriorating water quality due to heavy pesticide and fertilizer use (among other pollutants). [Circle of Blue]

Five Big Questions About the Massive Chemical Spill in West Virginia
Questions regarding the West Virginia chemical leak that fouled many peoples' drinking water include: Why are most of the 84,000 man-made chemicals in the US not tested or regulated for safety? ("Haven't hurt anyone so far"...) Are patchwork chemical regulations adequate? (No, although new federal laws are proposed.) Has this happened in WV before? (Yes, fifth time in five years [not good]). [Washington Post]

More Cities Bring Buried Streams Back To Life
From Cincinnati to Seattle to Yonkers to Kalamazoo, Michigan, streams and waterways that have been paved over and buried for 100 years are now seeing the light of day, offering both environmental and economic benefits to those municipalities. [NPR]

Has Cleantech Crash Spurred Need for BlueTech Innovation?
Looking beyond the provocative title and debatable premise that unconventional fossil fuels (read: shale gas and oil) have pushed a future of low-carbon energy systems back 50 years, here's an interesting kernel. Iinvestments converting waste and wastewater to energy through nutrient and effluent recovery and wastewater reuse might prove attractive even as climate change solutions remain controversial. [BlueTech Research]


Mapping California's Oil-Water Risks
California's already limited water supply will likely be stretched even further as oil trapped in rocks belowground can now be fracked just like natural gas. The processes involved in the new oil extraction method demand significant amounts of water and pose contamination risks - call it the oil-water nexus. [Carnegie Endowment]

China's Exports Linked to Western US Air Pollution
Outsourcing the energy-intensive manufacturing of 'stuff' - be it consumer or industrial products - to China may have lowered air pollution in the US overall, but air quality on the West Coast has suffered because pollution from China's coal-powered economy is wafting over the Pacific. [CNN]

We Can't Expect a Reliable Energy Future Without Talking Water
Some may complain that renewables aren't reliable (if the sun doesn't shine or the wind doesn't blow), but fossil fuel power plants are increasingly vulnerable to strained water supplies. In fact renewable energy is more reliable than conventional power sources because they require almost no water at all. [EDF Voices]

Texas Company, Alone in US, Cashes In on Nuclear Waste
Space inside a low-level nuclear waste storage pit in Andrews, TX goes for $10,000 a cubic foot, thanks largely to the fact that nowhere else in the country will allow disposal of that waste. While some watchdog groups are impressed with the design of the dump site, others express concern that maps of an aquifer that once existed under the site have been redrawn with the aquifer erased. [New York Times]

Climate Change

Far West Got Drier Last Year, Data Shows
Although 2013 was slightly wetter in the US overall, drought has intensified in the westernmost states, especially California, according to federal government data. Because of paltry mountain snowpacks that feed Western water supplies, fears are that regional water demand can't be met. Precipitation continues to be sparse because of a stubborn high pressure system hanging over California that scientists don't understand. [New York Times]

Earth Under Water - Worldwide Flooding Caused by Sea Level Rise
Miami, New Orleans and New York City completely under water? It's a very real possibility if sea levels continue to rise. In this video, leading experts forecast how humans will be impacted if global warming continues. The science behind the predictions is broken down and methods of adaptation are explored, including engineering vast dams near San Francisco, or building floating cities outside of New York. [National Geographic]


American Pollution: Made in China
A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says some of that bad air people breathe in the American West is imported from factories in eastern China that make goods later purchased by Americans. In this podcast, Marketplace ponders questions about who is really to blame for the bad air. [Marketplace]

How Mass-Produced Meat Turned Phosphorus Into Pollution
In its drive to become ever more efficient, since the advent of inorganic fertilizers, Big Ag has used more and more phosphorous. In the process, they severely polluted waterways, causing ecological disasters across the country. The cost of properly managing fertilizer waste could significantly raise the price of meat - but will Americans be willing to pay? Find out in this podcast. [NPR]

The Shelf Life of Food
Here's a handy infographic you can print and hang on your fridge. Ever wondered how long you can keep chicken in your fridge, grapes on your counter and fish in your freezer? You can find out the answer for a long list of foods and avoid wasting food when you throw it away unnecessarily. [Kitchn]

Map: The United States of Watersheds
Who knows how the state boundaries were originally determined? Geography? Politics? Natural resource availability? In the west it looks like they got lazy and just lumped in large swaths of land. Honestly, it would make much better sense if boundaries were based on watersheds, because it would make it so much easier to manage resources. Find out what that would look like in this awesome US map, redrawn to reflect watersheds. [The Washington Post]

Food Eco News contributed by Audrey Jenkins; Water Eco News by Kai Olson-Sawyer; Energy Eco News by Peter Hanlon and Multimedia content by Robin Madel.