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Here’s the Real Problem With Almonds – Tom Philpott and Julia Lurie

April 16, 2015 // 0 Comments

Almonds: crunchy, delicious, and…the center of a nefarious plot to suck California dry? They certainly have used up a lot of ink lately—partly inspired by our reportingover the past year. California’s drought-stricken Central Valley churns out 80 percent of the globe’s almonds, and since each nut takes a gallon of water to produce, they account for close to 10 percent of the state’s annual agricultural water use—or more than what the entire population of Los Angeles and San Francisco use in a year. As Grist’s Nathanael Johnson put it, almonds have become a scapegoat of sorts—”the poster-nut for human wastefulness in California’s drought.” Or, as Alissa Walker put it in Gizmodo, “You know, ALMONDS, THE DEVIL’S NUT.” It’s not surprising that the almond backlash has inspired a backlash of its own. California agriculture is vast and complex, and its water woes can’t hang entirely on any one commodity, not even one as charismatic as the devil’s nut almond. And as many have pointed out, almonds have a lot going for them—they’re nutritious, they taste good, and they’re hugely profitable for California. In 2014, almonds brought in a whopping $11 billion to the state’s economy. Plus, other foods—namely, animal products—use a whole lot more water per ounce than almonds. Read

What is the source of mysterious methane emissions at Four Corners?

April 9, 2015 // 0 Comments

This is a joint release of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) and the Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU-Boulder), NOAA, NASA and the University of Michigan (U-M). A team of scientific investigators is now in the Four Corners region of the U.S. Southwest, aiming to uncover reasons for a mysterious methane hotspot detected from space by a European satellite. The joint project is working to solve the mystery from the air, on the ground, and with mobile laboratories. “If we can verify the methane emissions found by the satellite, and identify the various sources, then decision makers will have critical information for any actions they are considering,” says Gabrielle Pétron, a scientist from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder, working in NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) and one of the mission’s investigators. Part of President Obama’s recent Climate Action Plan calls for reductions in U.S. methane emissions. NOAA is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Read

Russia, US to Jointly Prepare Mars, Moon Flight Road Map

April 6, 2015 // 0 Comments

Space Daily Russia and the United States will work together on a roadmap to send humans to Mars and the Moon, according to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. The Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos and its US counterpart NASA will jointly hammer out a “road map” program on flights to Mars and the Moon, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said on Saturday(March 28th, 2015). Bolden, who is currently on a tour of Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, added that he had discussed joint efforts to send missions to the Red Planet with Roscosmos head Igor Komarov, including time frames and funding. “Our area of cooperation will be Mars. We are discussing how best to use the resources, the finance, we are setting time frames and distributing efforts in order to avoid duplication,” Bolden said. Read More    

California’s Dire Drought Leads to Record Low Snowpack Levels at 6%, Triggers Mandatory Conservation Measures

April 3, 2015 // 0 Comments

California’s dire drought conditions have finally triggered more meaningful action at the state level. Today, Gov. Brown issued an executive order which calls on state and local water agencies “to implement a series of measures to save water, including increased enforcement to prevent wasteful water use, streamline the state’s drought response, and invest in new technologies,” according to California Coastkeeper Alliance. The governor issued the statement today as readings of the April 1 assessment came in, which showed snowpack levels are at their lowest since the state started keeping records (approximately 6 percent of normal levels, compared to 24 percent of normal levels last year). “Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow. This historic drought demands unprecedented action,” said Gov. Brown. “Therefore, I’m issuing an executive order mandating substantial water reductions across our state. As Californians, we must pull together and save water in every way possible.” Sara Aminzadeh, executive director of California Coastkeeper Alliance, agrees. “Over the next several months we will see some communities run out of clean water, and rivers, streams and wetlands dried up, leaving fish and wildlife stranded. We need action at all levels of government that reflects the urgency and severity of this crisis.” The lack of snowpack will result in very little

Without Water We Die

April 3, 2015 // 0 Comments

How long can you go without water? You could probably survive a few weeks without water for cooking. If you stopped washing, the threat to your life might only come from people who can’t stand the smell. But most people won’t live for more than three days without water to drink. It makes sense: our bodies are about 65 percent water. According to the United Nations, about 750 million people lack access to safe water—that’s one in nine! One child dies every minute from a water-related disease and 1.2 billion people, a fifth of the global population, live in areas where water is scarce. And it’s not just in other countries. As of January, at least 1,838 drinking water advisories were in effect in Canada, including 169 in 126 First Nations communities—some ongoing for years. With Canada’s abundant glaciers, lakes, rivers and streams, we often take water for granted. (In my home province, we give it away to large corporations that bottle and sell it back to us at exorbitant prices!) We shouldn’t be so complacent. People in California thought they had enough water to fill swimming pools, water gardens and yards, support a fertile agricultural industry and shoot massive volumes into the ground to fracture shale deposits

Nature Needs a New Pronoun: To Stop the Age of Extinction, Let’s Start by Ditching “It”

April 1, 2015 // 0 Comments

Singing whales, talking trees, dancing bees, birds who make art, fish who navigate, plants who learn and remember. We are surrounded by intelligences other than our own, by feathered people and people with leaves. But we’ve forgotten. There are many forces arrayed to help us forget—even the language we speak. I’m a beginning student of my native Anishinaabe language, trying to reclaim what was washed from the mouths of children in the Indian Boarding Schools. Children like my grandfather. So I’m paying a lot of attention to grammar lately. Grammar is how we chart relationships through language, including our relationship with the Earth. Imagine your grandmother standing at the stove in her apron and someone says, “Look, it is making soup. It has gray hair.” We might snicker at such a mistake; at the same time we recoil. In English, we never refer to a person as “it.” Such a grammatical error would be a profound act of disrespect. “It” robs a person of selfhood and kinship, reducing a person to a thing. Read

Apocalyptic Meltdown: The Nightmare is Underway

March 31, 2015 // 0 Comments

It’s happening! Humanity’s greatest nightmare is already well underway. Wherever ice is found, appreciable melt is deep-seated, out of control, cascading into the seas shore-to-shore all across the planet. It’s all about too much heat! The trend is in place, and it is accelerating. Global warming is very real. Thus, the most pertinent questions going forward are: How fast it occurs, and when will coastal cities start erecting levees? As for erecting levees, the sooner the better in order to keep water out of city streets. How high to build is impossible to answer but most likely, the higher the better. Three feet, five feet, ten feet, twenty feet, thirty feet, who knows? One of those levels might hold (fingers crossed) until the end of this century, assuming fossil fuels are ousted soon, very soon. If not, all bets are likely off. How is it possible to make such cataclysmic statements? The answers are found in peer-review science at Antarctica, at the Arctic, at Greenland, at Patagonia, and at glaciers throughout the world. All of the world’s ice is melting at accelerating rates, too fast for comfort. Ipso facto, seawater levels go up, but unpredictably, and this is why it

New discoveries show that Mars may have once been habitable

March 30, 2015 // 0 Comments

A recent study using data from NASA’s Curiosity rover and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences present data showing the presence of nitrates on Mars. This molecule, composed of one nitrogen and three oxygen atoms, may indicate that there was once a nitrogen cycle on ancient Mars, one of the necessary mechanisms on a planet to sustain terrestrial-like life. The research was undertaken with an international team led by Jennifer Stern using Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite. In earlier studies of Martian soils and rocks at Gale crater, nitrogen was detected in both scooped and drilled sediment samples. However, it was not clear whether the nitrogen detected was from the surrounding atmosphere, indicating molecular nitrogen, or from the rocks themselves, indicating nitrates. Using SAM and subtracting out the known sources of nitrogen within the instrument, Stern’s team was able to show that there were still up to 1100 parts per million (ppm) of nitrogen remaining, depending on the sample analyzed. From this, Stern’s team concluded that the nitrogen originated from the sediments and thus from nitrates. Whether nitrogen is found in the atmosphere or in other forms plays an important role in biochemistry on Earth.

To Solve California’s Water Crisis, We Must Change the Nation’s Food System

March 24, 2015 // 0 Comments

The bold headline of a recent Los Angeles Times editorialby the hydrologist Jay Famiglietti starkly warned: “California has about one year of water left. Will you ration now?” The write-up quickly made the social media rounds, prompting both panic and the usual blame game: It’s because of the meat eatersor the vegan almond-milkdrinkers or the bottled-waterguzzlers or the Southern California lawn soakers. California’s water losshas been terrifying. But people everywhere should be scared, not just Californians, because this story goes far beyond state lines. It is a story of global climate change and industrial agriculture. It is also a saga that began many decades ago—with the early water wars of the 1930s immortalized in the 1974 Roman Polanski film “Chinatown.” When my family first moved to the Los Angeles area, we spent years adjusting our lifestyle to be more in line with our values. Ten years ago, we stopped watering our lawn and eventually replaced the lawn with plants that were drought-tolerant or native to California. Three years ago, we installed solar panels on our roofs. Last year, we diverted our laundry runoff to our vegetable garden and fruit trees through a graywater system. We have replaced all our toilets with dual-flush systems to take advantage of

Is This Ubiquitous Toxic Metal Lowering Men’s Sperm Counts?

March 20, 2015 // 0 Comments

Falling sperm counts and rising infertility are phenomena that have been observed for decades in the developed world. Today, researchers estimate that up to twenty per cent of young men have a low sperm count defined as fewer than 20 million sperm per millilitre and it is the main problem for about one in five couples having trouble conceiving and a contributing factor to an additional one in four cases. Most research has pointed to environmental factors that disrupt hormones such as BPA in plastics and birth control in drinking water as possible causes underlying climbing male infertility. Smoking, pesticides and psychotropic drugs have all been implicated too. But a new study suggests that the ubiquitous household metal aluminum may be a leading culprit for dropping sperm counts. At the Eleventh bi-annual Keele Meeting on aluminium, a gathering of about 75 aluminum researchers from all over the world held in Lille, France this month, French researcher Jean-Philippe Klein presented his findings on the impact of aluminum on sperm, published recently in the journal Reproductive Toxicology. Klein and his colleagues at the University of Lyon and leading British aluminum researcher Christopher Exley at Keele University in England analyzed the aluminum content of semen samples
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