Sunday, May 26, 2013

Losing my nutrition

I knew that our modern grocery stores featured many less varieties of fruits and vegetables than it once did, but I didn't realize that the impact is that we have a lot less "anthocyanins" and other nutrients in our diet. Pretty interesting.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

COOL rules advancing

While regulations on seafood have long required sellers to note the country of origin of their products, that hasn't been the case for beef- until recently. Now, in response to WTO sanction, new rules are taking effect. I first saw this on Google News, which linked to this editorial at that contradicts itself by arguing that the labels don't matter since people don't care when they shop, but then goes on to talk about $1 billion of lost sales. To be fair, part of the lost sales are due to higher prices: when products need to be more carefully tracked, that's expensive, and those higher prices will go on to the consumer. It's easy to say that it'd be nice to know where products come from, but how much is that information worth? Not too much to me....

Monday, May 20, 2013

Water matters, yo

Often students in my class who are from the area are confused by the focus on water. Why worry about something that's all around? Here's the answer: it's not all around, and as we lose it there are going to be all kinds of repercussions, starting with more expensive food and extending to profound environmental changes.

Monday, May 13, 2013

GMOs win & lose

The Supreme Court ruled today that agricultural company Monsanto has the rights to seed they have engineered regardless of whether it's sold as Monsanto seed, regardless of where it is procured, and for many generations afterwards. This case has been working through the system for many years, and today the Court finally ruled against farmer Vernon Bowman. I don't have time to get into all of the ramifications right now, but there will be many.

At the same time, several students (including Kasey & Lauren) pointed out that the USDA has postponed approval of new herbicide tolerant GMO crops. Meanwhile in Europe, neonicotinoids have been banned in the short term due to fears that they may be contributing to the collapse of bee colonies (thanks Malshauna & Kasey).

How to balance the economic benefit of these technologies with their environmental costs is always tricky, but doing so when costs are totally unknown is virtually impossible. Is it better to protect the environment at any cost, protect the economy until harms or apparent, or something in between? No easy solutions here.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Fear the Stinkbug

     The stinkbugs were thought to first arrive in the United States sometime in the late 1990’s or early 2000’s in a shipment of product from Asia, their country of origin. Experts first spotted the intruders near Allenstown, Pennsylvania. Now brown marmorated Stinkbugs can found in thirty nine different states across the United States, appearing to be particularly bad in the states of Maryland and Virginia. These nuisances have become extremely bothersome to farmers. The stinkbugs appear to have a particular fondness for apples, grapes, peaches, peppers, soybeans, and tomatoes but will attack and destroy just about any crop that they come across. In 2010, it was reported that stinkbugs caused $37 million in damages to the apple crop of the mid-Atlantic alone. Thankfully, research shows the cows that eat crops infested by stinkbugs will not pass the odor on or have any other effects on the animal’s product. Homeowners are also having stinkbug woes. Stinkbugs prefer to overwinter in attics and other warm areas in homes, emerging in the spring. Hundreds upon hundreds on them emerge at the same time, covering the insides and outsides of homes.
     Eradicating the pests has become quiet the challenge for researchers who have been studying the bugs since their arrival in the United States. Squashing a stinkbug causes them to emit an unpleasant odor. Native birds or other animals do not recognize them as prey, and insecticides wouldn’t appear to work because of how widespread the invaders have become. Traps are being implemented, but only with limited success. Scientists are now turning towards introducing a species of wasp, native to the stinkbug’s home range, which could potentially keep the stinkbug population in check. The tiny wasp lays her eggs inside the eggs of the stinkbug. As the larval wasp grows it feeds off the eggs of the stinkbug. Scientists worry however, that they could release the wrong species of wasp that could affect native populations or people, and much deliberation has to occur to pick the right one. 2010 was reported as the worst year for stinkbugs in the United States, and unfortunately for us, 2013 is shaping up to be just as bad.
    Having lived in Maryland my entire life, I can reassure everyone that the stinkbugs are getting worse. Seeing one every once in a while wasn’t so bad. But last year, my entire house was covered. My girlfriend screamed every time one flew into her hair, and worse yet they were getting into my food. There are a lot of farms in the area I live in, quite possibly adding to the burden I am faced with. We bought some traps from Lowe’s home improvement store but were unsatisfied with the results they produced. It would be easy for someone to get rich quick if they could figure out something that would help reduce the bug’s massive numbers. I am all for introducing a native predator to help stop them. Known as biological pest control, we have seen this method work before. It was implemented against the cottony cushion scale, a pest of the California citrus trade, which was controlled by the introduction of the vedalia beetle in the late 19th century.
--Justin Lemly

Water conflict & Al Qaeda

Bit of a bombshell over at the NYT where Thomas Friedman, talking about the water shortage in Yemen, links the lack of water to Al Qaeda. Talk about a good reason to manage your resources well!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Underground Water Storage

    This article discusses the building of underground reservoirs to combat the difficulties associated with aboveground water storage.
    Advantages listed with underground storage are firstly cost related; underground reservoir technology proves to be cheaper. Countries already using under-ground reservoir technology include the United States, others such as Belgium and Netherlands already developed “storage systems in sand dunes” (Galbraith, 2013). The process of an “aquifer storage system” is firstly injecting water into an aquifer, store it, and then when needed, recover for disinfection and subsequent use (Galbraith, 2013). Other advantages include having a larger “subsurface” without a need to “build walls” and elimination of inefficient use of “acres of cropland” (Galbraith, 2013).
    Disadvantages are still there. Florida where the technology has been in use for a while faced an early struggle of “arsenic in the water”. There is also fitting the “aquifers with the technology” and occasional clogging of wells. Legal issues included are for example the “rule of capture” in Texas where anyone has the right to recover water that is under their land. The article identifies “Education” as the main reason for not much use of the technology. Utilities are unaware that this system has been tested and is ready to be used. People are still being “risk-averse” (Galbraith, 2013)
    Galbraith was very informative on the advantages however did not really expand enough on disadvantages. She mentions how not every “aquifer is suited to the technology” however doesn’t go deeper into discussing what is being done about this. Also, “education” was rightly identified, however who exactly should this responsibility fall on is left unanswered. What type of role should government play in this and why is it that the obviously cheaper option doesn’t seem to be used more? I believe this technology would be beneficial to the Middle East just as this article discusses.
--Zeitun Tifow

Monday, May 6, 2013

Champagne from... England?

    In the past English wine was considered a joke, but recently the winemaking industry has become a growing market. A boom in British winemaking has been attributed to climate change. Average temperatures in Southern England have increased by at least 3°F since 1961.  The similar soil complexion and now warmer temperatures provide a climate similar to France’s world famous wine country.  The influence of climate change has fueled an economy that was once non-existent for England.
    England now has over 400 commercial vineyards. The sparkling wine production went from 300 thousand bottles in 2007 to 2 million bottles by 2011. Cultivated acres of land in England used for wine growing have grown 73% since 2007. This demonstrates a huge jump in the wine industry from the effects of regional climatic changes. England has even developed market for exporting wine to countries including Japan, Hong Kong, USA, and Australia.
    The climate changes have not only improved English winemaking, but also negatively influenced other regions of the world. For example, warmer temperatures have shifted grape harvests from late October to the beginning of September in France. Additionally, continued increased average temperatures could shrink Northern California’s vineyards by half.  The overall suitable winemaking bands are expected to shift 170 to 340 miles toward either pole in the next 100 years. It is anticipated that some regions that were once known for their wines will become inhospitable for winemaking, while new areas will become harvestable.
In my opinion the introduction of a new market from the results of climate change should be taken advantage, while it is available. I believe fighting further human induced climate change is a very important, but reversal of the current impacts is unlikely for many generations. If we have better growing conditions for any given crop, we should adapt as a society to earn economic benefits. It is likely that the climate will continue to change due to human-induced impacts, but while a harvestable resource is usable there may as well create jobs and support local economies.
    I believe there are probably many other similar markets that have been or will be dramatically influenced by changes in climate. These changes will need to be adapted to in order for more developed countries to economically flourish, while less developed countries work their way toward becoming developed.
--Holly Burkhardt

Could an online order of your groceries be better for the environment?

     A lot of the time, when it comes to trying to be greener, people have to inconvenience themselves to make an environmental difference. With grocery shopping this no longer has to be the case. At the University of Washington, studies have shown that it is better for the environment to order your weekly grocery needs online than actually driving in to the market yourself. The study revealed that carbon emission from delivery trucks actually produce 20 to 75 percent less carbon dioxide than the corresponding personal vehicle driven to and from the supermarket. On top of that, when the delivery routes are clustered together, up to 90 percent less carbon dioxide is produced. The study also revealed that emission reductions were recorded from the densest part of Seattle to the more suburban areas as well. In an article by TIME, the author explains how his time in big cities around the world have limited his ability to own a car and pick up groceries. With this delivery service, through companies like FreshDirect, he was able to get everything he needed right at his doorstep. He stated, “I can order groceries online, and FreshDirect will deliver to my door for free.”
    This idea of driving a truck to people’s houses for grocery delivery, and in doing so also cutting back on emissions, sounds like a paradox to me. These trucks, as stated before, produce less emissions than at least a fifth of the cars on the road in Washington. Does this mean these trucks are the average between a Prius and an old truck? Is this study telling us that averaged out among all the cars that these trucks doing multiple routes is better? [Pretty sure it's the latter.--JM] I fully support this transportation of groceries when the routes are clustered together because that makes sense to me that it would save on emissions. The problems that arise in my mind is that not everybody in an area will use this option, therefore not being clustered. Also, even though the businesses will be saving money on operating costs, like fuel, and therefore cutting back emissions, what about the human element in the stores? The flashy advertisements in the store no longer have any appeal to the buyer if they are on their computer and not physically in the store. Could this counteract the savings made on the operating costs? The idea that something is easy and green seems a little shady too. Although with advancements in technology I suppose we could already be where green and easy can be used to explain one and another. This delivery system seems to work in the United Kingdom so I suppose it could work here too.
--Kellen Lamp

Wind energy vs. bald eagles

    Wind power is becoming increasingly popular on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. There has been an estimated 60 new wind turbines built in Somerset County. However, with the growing bald eagle population that has also been occurring on the Eastern Shore, there have been setbacks for the construction of the wind turbines. After being removed from the endangered species list in 2007, bald eagles still have a relatively low population size. According to the Committee on Natural Resources, about 1.54 billion dollars has been given by Congress to the US Fish and Wildlife Serve to protect endangered species. Since bald eagles were once on the endangered species list, the money that went to preserving the population will be wasted due to the new wind turbines that are being constructed. The wind turbines in Somerset County have been projected to kill up to 43 bald eagles a year, which is very damaging to the mid-Atlantic coast population of just 400 bald eagles. The loss of bald eagles could be very damaging because some towns depend on the existence of bald eagles in order to bring in revenue. Small towns, such as Sauke Prairie, bring in approximately 1.2 million dollars when the season for bald eagle watching is at its peak due to the tourists that come for bird watching. Although bald eagles are an important aspect to the economy and the ecosystem, the wind turbines also provide a lot of benefits to our economy as well. Wind turbines have the potential to generate 2-3 million dollars a year after investing the initial 200 million dollars.
    Personally, I can see both sides on this subject. Wind turbines are beneficial for the environment, provide a healthier source of energy, and generate income for the economy. On the other hand, bald eagles are a vital part of the ecosystem, draw in revenue, and should be able to coexist with humans. It is that unfair humans can be a major influence on whether a species gets to continue surviving or not. Even though I see both sides, I am leaning more toward the bald eagles protection, since they are a part of the environment. Humans shouldn’t give themselves the right to take away their existence. Humans take advantage of the resources that the Earth provides for their own gain. Along with that statement, humans are the only species in the world that impacts the environment in such a detrimental way that it influences the existence of a large number of species, not just the bald eagles. There are ways that the bald eagle’s existence can benefit humans. As stated previously, many towns in the United States benefit from the eagle’s survival. Bald eagles are a national symbol and we should be trying our hardest to protect them.
--Megan Cleaver

Mother Earth

The theme of Climate Change, which came up in class on Friday, inspired Maggie to send along this funny:

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Boston, home of the blue crab?

Washington Post, quoting the new Pew report on fisheries:

The “domestic harvest, export, distribution, and retailing of seafood in America . . . generates more than $116 billion in sales and employs more than 1 million people,” according to the report. “Recreational fishing adds nearly $50 billion and more than 327,000 jobs to that total.”

Apparently there is a conference happening this week in DC on the subject of fisheries, since Congress is considering re-authorizing the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. While that statistic is the money shot, one other line in the newspaper ought to make Marylanders' blood run cold:

"Off the coast of Maine, lobsters are molting six weeks to two months earlier than normal, and blue crabs, a Mid-Atlantic shellfish, have been found in New England waters as they and other sea life move toward Earth’s poles to escape warmer seas, Crockett said."

I wonder what it would take to move the crabs that far north? Thankfully, unless climate change happens faster than anyone expects, I won't be here to see that!