USDA Gets Bad News on Superbugs: Shoots Messenger

Confined, crowded and stressed meat animals like these pigs are given 29 million pounds of antibiotics every year in the US, 80 per cent of the available supply, to make sure they grow. As a result, the seven million pounds administered to humans are becoming less effective. (Photo by Victor Sounds/Flickr)

This summer, the US Department of Agriculture received a report it had commissioned on the rise of infectious bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. The report —  not a study, but a survey of existing studies — warned of a “growing public health concern worldwide” as more and more people are sickened and killed by infections against which modern medicines are helpless. (Just one of them, MRSA, now kills more people every year than AIDS.) And it was a powerful indictment of industrial agriculture’s role in creating these so-called “superbugs.” So the USDA did just what you would expect the government regulator of industrial agriculture to do: it buried the report.
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A New Tragedy of the Commons: Water Banks

The tragedy of the commons is that herdsmen will overgraze a common pasture unless constrained. The same, it seems, applies to water. (Photo by Srinivasa Krishna/Flickr)

If you liked what investment bankers and hedge-fund managers did to our economy in recent years, you’re going to love what water banks are doing to our ecosystem. The same, time-tested methods are in play: unleash unrestrained greed on a commodity that everyone needs in order to make obscene profits from it while destroying it. This new chapter in the Tragedy of the Commons sounds perfectly reasonable, with respectable water banks working to smooth out the vagaries of nature. But let’s try calling it by its proper name: hoarding. Continue reading

How the World Ends: Not a Bang, a Brown Lawn

Lake Ray Hubbard, a reservoir of drinking water for the city of Dallas, Texas. Anybody worried yet? (Photo by Terry Shuck/Flickr)

According to last Sunday’s Fort Worth, Texas, Star-Telegram, “Lee Weaver knew he was facing a serious problem when he watched his lawn sprinkler dwindle to a meager squirt at his home south of Fort Worth.” This tells us pretty much all we need to know about Mr. Weaver, who in the midst of one of the worst droughts in the history of Texas was watering his lawn. It tells us a lot about journalism, too, when writers about this frightening, life-threatening and prophetic event think the best way to grab our attention in graf #3 is to highlight the agony of the brown lawn. And that says an awful lot about us.

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Is This a Congress, or a Mob?

Is this what the Founders had in mind when they first assembled Congress?

The bus of state is speeding toward the edge of a very tall cliff  — the unnecessary and politically-motivated default of the US Treasury next Tuesday — and almost all of the people who are wrestling for control of the steering wheel a) do not believe in cliffs, b) do not believe in gravity, and c) would rather be the center of attention than anything. It’s bad enough to realize that these people, despite their ignorance of economics, history, political science and the English language, are strongly affecting the course of our government on behalf of the country’s richest and most powerful people and companies. What is truly terrifying is the fact that they have now slipped the leash of their masters, and are running riot. Continue reading

BP Dumps Solar Panel Business

A rooftop solar installation like this one could power a house or a small business sustainably, relieving stress on the power grid, reducing the burning of fossil fuels and encouraging energy independence. Not interested, says America’s (formerly) largest solar panel manufacturer. (Photo courtesy Wayne Natrional Forest)

British Petroleum — the folks who tried for a while to convince us that their initials stood for “Beyond Petroleum” until it became clear that they really meant “below par”– have done it again. Having shown us how not to drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico, and how not to maintain the Alaska Pipeline, they have now demonstrated how not to use solar power to make a stronger, more sustainable America.  According to Reuters, their BP Solar subsidiary is closing its huge solar-panel manufacturing plant in Frederick, Maryland. Completely. What are they going to do instead? Solar project development. Continue reading

Arizonans Protest Haboob Job

The second haboob in a month rolls over Phoenix, Arizona on July 5. People are angry about it, but not for the reason you might expect.

Twice in a month, Phoenix, Arizona has experienced a rare kind of dust storm so sudden and severe that it caused traffic accidents, disrupted airline operations and generally scared people silly. Not hard to understand: the dust cloud created by the storm surge from a group of  thunderstorms was 3,000 feet high, propelled by 40-mile-per-hour winds, and dropped visibility in moments to mere feet. The Arizona chattering class, predictably, is in an uproar. Continue reading

Zombie Weeds Attack: Desperate Farmers Resort to Hoes

No, the weeds didn’t kill the truck, but they are making the point that they will be there after the truck is gone. Zombie weeds, on the other hand, are making a much more aggressive point. (Photo by Dave 7/Flickr)

Farmers across the Midwest and South — those whose crops are not under water or blowing away in a hot, dry wind — are besieged by an enemy straight out of a stupid horror movie: an army of undead weeds that cannot be killed by chemicals. It’s as if you shot the heart out of an attacking enemy soldier and he just kept on coming. Cotton producers in the South have deployed armies with hoes to chop down weeds with stems up to four inches in diameter that shrug off the best herbicides that money can buy. Continue reading

Go Toward the Light. Not the Bulb, the Light.

Endangered species? The incandescent light bulb is not only still here, but has become the latest side show in an increasingly demented national shriekfest. (Photo by James Bowe/Flickr)

The recent Congressional kerfuffle over light bulbs — please do not refer to it as a “debate” — would have been funny if Jon Stewart had staged it for The Daily Show (“For the latest, here is our Senior Light Bulb Correspondent…”). Instead it was a performance staged by the senior legislators of the United States, a country beset by multiple threats to its continued existence (it’s a long list, to be sure, but light bulbs are not on it), and as such it was simply terrifying. Continue reading

Lights Out All Over the World

The industrial model of the power grid -- massive generating stations, massive distribution lines, is failing all over the world. An option, largely untried: make your energy where you live and work. (Photo by underclassrising.net/flickr)

Much of the world is slowly losing the struggle to supply its people with the electricity required to maintain the industrial lifestyle. Heat waves and droughts — made worse by industry’s profligate burning of fossil fuels — are at the same time increasing demand for air conditioning and reducing the supply of hydro power. Other sources of electricity — fossil-fuel burning and nuclear fission — are afflicted by rising prices and more frequent disasters. Continue reading

Gardening a Crime In Canada, Too

Growing vegetables in this yard, on Canada's Vancouver Island, could get its owners six months in jail. Note the unsightly piles of dirt, and the criminally edible produce.

A couple who live on Vancouver Island (off Canada’s western coast) has been threatened with six months in prison for growing food on their 2.5-acre lot in a semi–rural location. When Dirk Becker bought the property in 1999, the soil had been stripped down to bedrock and sold by the previous owner — that was perfectly legal. Since then, Becker has been slowly and laboriously building soil, in which to grow fruits and vegetables. That is illegal. Continue reading