This Week in Eco News - April 25, 2014

This week in Eco News, rainbow slicks across the Gulf of Mexico revealed more than 10,000 spills annually that go unreported.  Vermont made history as the first state to require GMO labeling. And it turns out that global warming and the icy polar vortex that visited the US last winter are related after all.

Best of the Web Video - Energy

Energy Drips - How To Save Money And Energy In Your Home
Your home may be full of little energy drips - and they can really add up! Here are some simple, practical ways to reduce energy drips in your home and stop paying for energy that you never get to use.

Take Action: Check out GRACE's energy efficiency guide,
Doing More with Less, and get tips to conserve and efficiently use energy around the house and on the road. 


Plant Breeders Release First 'Open Source Seeds'
In an effort to revive the seed sharing culture that once existed within plant development communities, a group of scientists and food activists have released 29 new varieties of crops under an ‘open source’ pledge. All of the seeds developed from those lines will be non-patentable. ‘Open source’ supporters say seed patents stifle research and development, limiting crop improvement. [NPR]

One Fifth of China's Farmlands are Polluted, Government Says
Following growing public outrage over cadmium, a carcinogenic metal, showing up in rice, China has released the results of a soil report revealing that nearly one fifth of the nation’s farmland is highly contaminated with heavy metals like cadmium, nickel and arsenic, among other pollutants. Some regions measured at five times the contamination safety limit. [The Verge]

Vermont is Set to Make History as the First State to Require GMO Labeling
A GMO-labeling bill is set to become law in Vermont following a 28-2 vote in the Senate last week. After approval by the House and the governor, the bill would take effect in July as the first active GMO-labeling law in the US. Connecticut and Maine’s labeling laws will only go into effect once enough neighboring states pass similar legislation. [Salon]

The Dark Truth Behind the Popular Superfood, Quinoa
The story of quinoa is not a clear-cut tale of success or failure – it is an on-going struggle to protect the land and improve the lives affected by the quinoa boom. As with any food, understanding quinoa production is vital to eating it responsibly, but one expert stresses that asking whether to boycott or buy quinoa is a misguided approach. [Alternet]

Food Waste Files: Bluefin Tuna Tossed Overboard in the Gulf
Protections currently in place for the threatened and highly prized Bluefin tuna lead to about 220,000 pounds of Bluefin tossed overboard every year as fishermen discard bycatch. Inadvertent catch accounted for 20 percent of Bluefin death in 2012, prompting new protection efforts, including the call for a ban on certain prevalent fishing practices during Bluefin spawning months. [Civil Eats]

Meatless Monday

Everyone's a Health Nut on Monday
This week, a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found the health and well-being Google searches peak on Monday and Tuesday. The research bolsters the thinking behind the Meatless Monday campaign, which capitalizes on that collective psychology by asking people to skip meat - just on Monday! [The Atlantic]


Brushing Teeth With Sewer Water Next Step as Texas Faces Drought
Drought-stricken Wichita Falls, Texas is tired of contending with water scarcity and, as such, they plan to be the first municipality to treat wastewater to a high quality and send it directly to the drinking water treatment plant for reuse. A sizeable number of city residents are opposed (disgusted) to wastewater reuse and claim they will only drink bottled water. [Bloomberg]

Rising Sea Threatens Wellington, New Zealand’s Tap Water
The coastal city of Wellington, New Zealand faces a future of a salt-contaminated freshwater supply if sea-level rise gets too high, a new study cautions. The problem is that aquifers, from which drinking water supplies are derived, could be infiltrated by salty seawater that seeps into the pumps and makes it unsuitable to drink. []

China Says More than Half of its Groundwater is Polluted
Almost 60 percent of China’s groundwater sites now fall under the poor or extremely poor quality category, say the national authorities. Further, only 3 percent of urban groundwater is “clean” and around 70 percent of the groundwater in the heavily populated northern China plain is “unfit for human touch.” Concern is growing among officials and citizens as the overwhelming costs of water, land and air pollution are felt. [Guardian]


EPA Rule to Limit Fish Kills at Plants Delayed Until May
Yet again the EPA delayed its rule that would require about 600 US power plants to reduce the amount of fish that they kill through their cooling water intakes. The drafts of the rule have been weak, leaving it to state regulators to decide how to handle "the task of stopping the annual slaughter of a trillion aquatic organisms." [Bloomberg]

US Delays Final Call on Keystone XL Pipeline
The US State Department has indefinitely delayed its decision on whether to allow construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline (which would carry tar sands crude oil from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries). Many opponents and supporters say the delay is a political ploy to punt the final call on the project until after the midterm elections in November. [New York Times]

Telltale Rainbow Sheens Show Thousands Of Spills Across The Gulf
There are 54,000 oil wells in and off the Louisiana coast connected by thousands of miles of pipelines, and all vulnerable to leaks. The Gulf Monitoring Consortium has formed a partnership of airplane pilots and satellite photo experts to spot and report the roughly 10,000 spills every year that go unreported or underreported. [NPR]

Eggs Require as Much Energy to Produce as Beef. Can We Make Them From Plants?
Factory-farmed eggs require as much energy to produce as beef, which is more than the energy needed to produce milk and pork combined. Egg production is a resource hog because of the land and petroleum-based fertilizers and water needed to grow chicken feed, so a couple of entrepreneurs are working to create more efficient plant-based egg substitutes. [SmartPlanet]

Millstone 2 May Now Use Warmer Cooling Water
The Millstone nuclear power plant withdraws up to 2 billion gallons of water from Long Island Sound per day for cooling. Two years ago the plant had to shut down for 11 days while the Sound's water temperature exceeded the plant’s permit. Because the Sound's temperature has been steadily increasing, the plant got federal approval to operate with even warmer water temperatures. (Perhaps upgrading its cooling system to be less water-dependent would help?) [The Day]


California Drought/Polar Vortex Jet Stream Pattern Linked to Global Warming
The change in jet stream that caused this winter’s Polar Vortex in the northern US and the ridge of high pressure over California are tied to climate change, shows a new study. As the study says, “there is a traceable anthropogenic warming footprint in the enormous intensity of the anomalous ridge during winter 2013-14, the associated drought and its intensity." [Weather Underground]

Global Demand for Fresh Water Set to Exceed Supply
Who cares about freshwater resources? Apparently banks do, as a new report by Merrill Lynch Global Research indicates. They predict an impending "perfect storm" of global water scarcity because the demands of renewable freshwater will have reached the environmental, physical and economic limits by 2030, and by 2050 posing risks to GDP and plunging up to 50 nations into water conflicts. Grim. [CBS News]


That Time Cleveland Released 1.5 Million Balloons and Chaos Ensued
Balloons! They're fun, delightfully whimsical environmental disasters. And in 1986, a mass balloon release in Cleveland went really, really wrong, when 1.5 million helium-filled floaters were let loose into the sky, got caught in a storm, drifted down to earth, and caused a hell of a lot of problems. You can see photos and a video about the big mess right here. [Gizmodo]

The Top 10 Most Innovative Sustainable Buildings Of 2014
Sustainable architecture is no longer rare, and that’s something that’s happened fairly quickly--from 2005 to 2012, the number of new green building designs jumped up 39%. From a net-zero energy historic courthouse in Colorado to a homeless center in Oregon filled with green space, these days, the best sustainable architecture goes far beyond a few rooftop solar panels as this slide show illustrates. [Fast Company]

Do Your Part To Protect Water Quality
This simple infographic shows the steps you can take at home to help reduce water pollution. It concludes easy things like picking up dog waste and minimizing how much fertilizer and pesticide you use. All of these steps are small and easy but collectively they add up to keeping a lot of pollution out of our waterways. [Earth Gauge]

But Who Picks Those Locally Sourced Beets?
You might think that small local farms embrace fair labor practices and all is rosy down on the farm. Margaret Gray, the author of Labor and the Locavore: The Making of a Comprehensive Food Ethic might disagree with you. Gray argues that the locavore movement needs to take a closer look at those small family farms in this podcast of the Leonard Lopate Show. [WNYC]

Floating Seawer Skyscraper Rids The World’s Oceans Of Plastic While Generating Clean Energy
South Korean designer Sung Jin Cho submitted the Seawer Skyscraper project as his proposal for this year’s eVolo Skyscraper Competition. Seawer is a self-supported hydroelectric power station that can generate electricity using seawater at the same time that it cleans up plastic waste. The huge structure separates plastic particles and fluids, recycles seawater and releases it back into the ocean. The structure receives energy from the sun, ocean and plastics and moves slowly from one polluted area to the next. It sounds like such a good idea. Wonder how it would actually function. [The Mind Unleashed]

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.