This Week in Eco News - May 2, 2014


High efficiency washing machine

This week brings bad news for coffee, apples and genetically engineered soy, but good news on farm-to-school programs, water regulations and coal rules. We are also reading about the latest oil train derailment in Virginia - see these stories, along with the latest Ecocentric blog posts, climate news and multimedia.

Best of the Web Video - Water

The Food Energy Water Nexus in South Africa
The food, water and energy nexus is key to the sustainable future of South Africa and all countries. One of the most pressing concerns is feeding growing populations when all available water is already allocated. This means producing more food with less water. Increased food production requires a water-use balance; otherwise, all systems could become destabilized.

Take Action: Discover how to make sustainable choices that are water-friendly and in balance with the nexus.


Monsanto GM Soy is Scarier than You Think
Prevalent in US diets, mostly indirectly as cooking oil and in other food products, genetically modified (GM) soy contains higher levels of herbicide residues and less nutrition than both conventionally and organically grown non-GM soy, according to a new study. Experts worry that public exposure to herbicides in food is compounded by environmental contamination already associated with GM production. [Mother Jones]

The Coffee Industry is Worse than Ever for the Environment
It's time to wake up about coffee. As demand for coffee soars, a record amount of joe is grown in direct sunlight, away from the traditional shade of tree canopies which provides habitats for native wildlife, protects soil health and offers benefits to local farmers. This move devalues the local forests and degrades the environment and local communities. [Huffington Post]

EPA Asked to Halt Pesticide Use on Apples Until New Safety Studies are Done
Advocates are calling on the EPA to block applications of DPA, a pesticide commonly applied to conventionally grown apples in the US. DPA is banned in Europe following concern that manufactures lack sufficient safety data on this potentially carcinogenic chemical, yet the EPA seemed unaware of concerns even as 82.7 percent of raw, conventional apples test positive for DPA. [Food Safety News]

USDA Pilots New Farm-To-School Programs
Up to eight USDA farm-to-school pilot programs will get off the ground next school year thanks to this year's farm bill. While citizen and state-run programs have encouraged local sourcing in schools for years, these will be the first federally funded programs aimed at bringing local food into schools. Local food sourcing can both stimulate local economies and improve food education. [Civil Eats]

For Weed Control, Farmers Widen Their Arsenal of Herbicides
A record $13.7 billion was spent on agricultural chemicals in 2012 in the fight against herbicide resistant weeds in the US. As weed resistance to Monsanto's ever popular glyphosate rises, conventional farmers are resorting to older, more destructive chemicals to battle weed growth, and some are even having to hoe their fields after chemical applications fail to clear unwanted vegetation. [Wall Street Journal]


Who's Protecting Minnesota's Rural Rivers?
An Environmental Working Group report found that 80 percent of southern Minnesota's farmland doesn't have the required levels of natural buffer areas (trees and grasses) around local waterways, which help prevent polluting runoff. Some farmers choose to avoid full regulatory compliance because buffer zones take land from corn and soybean plantings just as those crops' prices are soaring. [Star Tribune]

Water Wars? Think Again: Conflict Over Freshwater Structural Rather Than Strategic
After the last IPCC report spurred talk of water wars—again. This post highlights that cooperation over shared water sources is much more likely than conflict and that a country’s structural problems, like poor governance and poverty, might lead to smaller water crises rather than all-out war. Countries that have valued investment in “ecological infrastructure” to the same extent as built infrastructure better avoid crises. [New Security Beat]

1.6 Million Americans Don’t Have Indoor Plumbing - Here’s Where They Live
Why drop the “Do you have indoor plumbing?” question from the Census Bureau survey when it’s useful to know that 630,000 households and up to 1.6 million people lack one or more of a toilet, bathtub or shower or running water? Impoverished areas are more likely to be without like parts of Native American reservations, Appalachia, south Texas and Alaska, although some might forgo plumbing by choice. [Washington Post]

Feds Take Steps To Regulate Water For Food
The US FDA will soon propose food safety rules that govern water use by food growers and processors for monitoring of surface and groundwater quality and the cleanliness of pumps, which will have the greatest impact on produce. The impending rules are generally considered good for consumer safety, but small farms and businesses are afraid that compliance costs will hurt economically.

Thirsty Beijing to Raise Water Prices in Conservation Push
Almost all of Beijing’s residential households will see only a slight rise in their water bills while prices will skyrocket for the city’s heavy industrial users as a tiered pricing system is put into effect. The goal for the water-scarce city is to save water by motivating big consumers to upgrade to water-efficient and water-reusing equipment and to employ conservation practices throughout facilities. [Reuters]


In Victory for Obama, Court Backs Rules for Coal Pollution
A big victory for the Obama Administration’s efforts to reign in coal pollution: The Supreme Court upheld the EPA’s authority to regulate coal plant pollution that wafts across state lines and damaging the environment and public health in downwind states. [New York Times]

Top 10 Clean-Powered US Companies
The US EPA released its annual Top 100 Green Power Rankings of companies that consume energy from any combination of solar, wind, geothermal, biogas, eligible biomass and low-impact small hydroelectric. Once again, Intel leads the pack, followed by Kohl’s, Microsoft, Whole Foods and Google. [SmartPlanet]

Good News/Bad News for US Air Quality
Almost 150 million people live in areas where air pollution levels are unhealthy to breathe, an increase from a previous American Lung Association report. [USA Today]

CSX Train Carrying Oil Derails in Virginia in Fiery Blast
A CSX Corp train carrying crude oil derailed and burst into flames in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia on Wednesday, spilling oil into the James River and forcing hundreds to evacuate.[Reuters]

Climate Change

No Magic Fix for Carbon
Carbon capture and storage projects promise to make a dent in global emissions — but only as part of a broader programme of technology deployment and economic incentives. [Nature]

Audio Slide Show: The City and the Sea
Two years after Hurricane Sandy, New York City residents are back on their feet and thinking hard about an urban future in a changing climate. In this audio slideshow, Journalist Meera Subramanian tells the surprising stories of how sand dunes, wetlands, and oyster beds are bringing storm and flood resilience back to a forgotten landscape. [Orion Magazine]


The Future Of Clean, Green Fish Farming Could Be Indoor Factories
What if there were a way to make fish farms totally clean and green? Several entrepreneurs say they're doing it, building fish factories on land, releasing almost no pollution — vastly less, in fact, than the fish farms from which we routinely buy seafood currently. They're working to overcome two different kinds of barriers: technological and economic. Listen in on this podcast to learn more. [NPR]

Rise of the Milkbots
At a farm near Albany, NY, robots milk the cows. Dairy operations across New York have been leading the country’s charge into a brave new world of automated milking systems. As this video shows, it’s only a little bit weird, but the cows get a reward for going into the milking barns and are allowed to enter at their own pace. [New York Times]

The Future of Food: How To Feed Our Growing Planet
NatGeo has dedicated a whole issue and new multimedia page to food, with stories ranging from rooftop farms in Brooklyn to a Peruvian potato harvest. They ask readers to ponder the question: How will we feed nine billion people on this planet? [NatGeo]

What Happens When There are 9 Billion Mouths to Feed
Kai Ryssdal interviews Jonathan Foley, who co-wrote the recent NatGeo issue about food, in an effort to answer the titular question. Don’t forget to check out the great photo set while you’re listening to the podcast. [Marketplace]

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.