Largest dead zone ever hits the Gulf of Mexico


Largest dead zone ever hits the Gulf of Mexico

And climate change will only make dead zones worse.

Natasha Geiling       Aug 3, 2017

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

 (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Scientists have measured a dead zone the size of New Jersey in the Gulf of Mexico, making it the largest-ever dead zone recorded in the area, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association.

A dead zone occurs when nutrient pollution — largely from agricultural runoff like fertilizer and manure — makes its way into bodies of water, fueling algal growth. When the algae dies, it decomposes, creating oxygen-free zones that can no longer sustain marine life.

This year’s dead zone measures 8,776 square miles, beating out the previous record of 8,497 square miles set in 2002. For the last 32 years of monitoring, the dead zone in the Gulf has averaged 5,309 square miles.

“The results from this year reflect the nitrate flux into the Gulf, which was high,” says Nancy Rabalais, a research professor at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON), who helped measure the dead zone, told National Geographic. “It’s a matter of addressing the sources of the nitrate—where they first start—which is in a field of agricultural crops.”

Rabalais said that this year’s especially large dead zone is likely a result of heavier stream flows in the spring, which helped carry more nutrient pollution from the agricultural fields of the Midwest down to the Gulf.

But a report by the environmental group Mighty suggests that this year’s extra-large dead zone is a direct result of industrial meat production, which feeds nutrient runoff both through manure produced by the animals and fertilizer used to grow animal feed. The report looks at companies responsible for large amounts of nutrient runoff, and implicates Tyson Foods, the largest meat company in the United States, as a key culprit behind the dead zone. According to the report, Tyson has major processing facilities in every state listed by the United States Geological Survey as states from which nutrient runoff flows to the Gulf.

Another report, released last year by Environment America, found that Tyson dumps more waste into American waterways each year than companies like Exxon or Dow Chemical.

“Americans should not have to choose between producing food and having healthy clean water,” Mighty Earth campaign director Lucia von Reusner said in a statement. “Big meat companies like Tyson have left a trail of pollution across the country, and have a responsibility to their customers and the public to clean it up.”

While this year’s dead zone is record-shattering, it’s likely that these zones will only increase in size in the future, as climate change drives more intense precipitation and, in turn, more nutrient pollution. A recent study in Science found that increased precipitation from climate change would translate to a 19 percent increase in nitrogen — a nutrient found in both manure and agricultural fertilizer — in Americans rivers by the end of the century.

Under the Obama administration, the United States Department of Agriculture had begun to take steps to help farmers reduce their nutrient runoff, from encouraging farmers to use precision agriculture techniques — where fertilizer is applied more sparingly to fields, in precise locations — to investing millions in programs aimed at boosting soil health. The Obama Environmental Protection Agency also provided millions of dollars in grants to states to help target non-source pollution.

That appears to be changing under the Trump administration, however. The Trump administration’s budget zeroes out EPA grants for non-source pollution, arguing that the USDA should be the only agency tackling the program. And Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue owned an inorganic fertilizer company before entering into politics, raising questions about a potential conflict of interest in regulating fertilizer use in agriculture.

These are the greatest fears that people have in the world

Business Insider-World

These are the greatest fears that people have in the world

Rebecca Harrington, Skye Gould, Business Insider, August 3, 2017  

Around the world, ISIS and climate change are neck-and-neck for the leading threats people perceive today.

In the 2017 Pew Research Center security threats survey released this week, nearly 42,000 people in 38 countries ranked eight threats, with the militant group and environmental shift topping the list:

BI Graphics_Greatest fears chart

(Skye Gould/Business Insider)

When you look at the results country by country, however, some interesting nuances emerge.

First, the US, most European countries, and Russia see ISIS as the foremost security concern. This was the case last year, as well.

But a growing number of people, particularly those in Africa and the Americas, are now saying that climate change is a bigger threat to them than terrorism, cyber attacks, the refugee crisis, or the economy.

In countries that are hurting economically, like Venezuela and Greece, survey respondents predictably said the condition of the global economy was their biggest concern.

While many Middle Eastern and European countries are still grappling with the worst refugee crisis since World War II, only Hungary listed it as the top threat.

People in South Korea and Vietnam both listed China’s power and influence as the main security issue facing their nations.

BI Graphics_Greatest fears map

(Skye Gould/Business Insider)

And while it didn’t rank as the top threat for any nation, more people now say they worry about the United States’ power and influence than in previous years before President Donald Trump took office.

Worldwide, only 22% of people said in a separate Pew survey that they have confidence in Trump, compared to 64% when former President Barack Obama was in office. Similarly, 49% now have a favorable view of the US, vs. 64% at the end of Obama’s presidency.



Union, feds at odds on countering surge in coal mine deaths

FILE - In this Jan. 13, 2015 file photo, Joe Main, third from left, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health, and Patricia Silvey, center, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Operations with MSHA, speak with workers at the Gibson North mine, in Princeton, Ind. Deaths in U.S. coal mines this year have surged ahead of last year’s, and federal safety officials say the inexperience of those new to a mine could share the blame. But the nation’s coal miner’s union says the mine safety agency isn’t taking the right approach to fixing the problem. Silvey said eight of the coal miners who died this year had less than a year’s experience at the mine where they worked. "We found from the stats that category of miners were more prone to have an accident,” Silvey said in an interview with The Associated Press before the 10th death occurred at a mine in Pennsylvania on July 25.

FILE – In this Jan. 13, 2015 file photo, Joe Main, third from left, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health, and Patricia Silvey, center, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Operations with MSHA, speak with workers at the Gibson North mine, in Princeton, Ind. Deaths in U.S. coal mines this year have surged ahead of last year’s, and federal safety officials say the inexperience of those new to a mine could share the blame. But the nation’s coal miner’s union says the mine safety agency isn’t taking the right approach to fixing the problem. Silvey said eight of the coal miners who died this year had less than a year’s experience at the mine where they worked. “We found from the stats that category of miners were more prone to have an accident,” Silvey said in an interview with The Associated Press before the 10th death occurred at a mine in Pennsylvania on July 25. Timothy D. Easley, File AP Photo


Louisville, Ky. Deaths in U.S. coal mines this year have surged ahead of last year’s, and federal safety officials say workers who are new to a mine have been especially vulnerable to fatal accidents.

But the nation’s coal miner’s union says the mine safety agency isn’t taking the right approach to fixing the problem.

Ten coal miners have died on the job so far this year, compared to a record low of eight deaths last year.

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration is responding to the uptick in deaths with a summer initiative, sending officials to observe and train miners new to a particular mine on safer working habits. The push comes during a transition for the agency, amid signals from President Donald Trump that he intends to ease the industry’s regulatory burden.

The miner’s union, the United Mine Workers of America, says the agency initiative falls short. It notes federal inspectors who conduct such training visits are barred from punishing the mine if they spot any safety violations.

“To take away the inspector’s right to issue a violation takes away the one and only enforcement power the inspector and the agency has,” union president Cecil Roberts wrote in a recent letter to the federal agency.

Patricia Silvey, a deputy assistant secretary at the Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA, said eight of the coal miners who died this year had less than a year’s experience at the mine where they worked.

“We found from the stats that category of miners were more prone to have an accident,” Silvey said in an interview with The Associated Press before the 10th death occurred at mine in Pennsylvania on July 25.

Silvey pointed to a death last May at West Virginia’s Pinnacle Mine where a miner riding a trolley rose up and struck his head on the mine roof. She said the fatality could have been due to the miner’s unfamiliarity with the mine. The miner had worked there nine weeks, according to an accident report. And in the most recent death, a miner less than two weeks into the job at a mine in eastern Pennsylvania was run over by a bulldozer July 25.

Five of the 10 coal mining deaths this year have occurred in West Virginia, and two more in Kentucky. Alabama, Montana and Pennsylvania each had one coal mining death. Nine of the miners killed this year had several years’ experience working at other mines.

The mine safety agency’s injury numbers show that workers who were new to a mine had more than double the injuries. Going back to October 2015, miners who worked at a specific mine less than a year suffered 903 injuries, compared to 418 for miners working at a mine one to two years.

The mine safety agency says it will visit mines and “offer suggestions” on training miners who have been at a mine less than a year. Silvey said the union is correct that inspectors won’t be writing safety violations, but that the initiative “has in no way undermined our regular inspection program.”

The miner’s union said the federal agency should not expect safety suggestions to carry the same weight as citations and fines.

“To believe that an operator will comply with the law on their own free will is contrary to historical experience and naive on MSHA’s part,” the letter said.

A former MSHA official said the agency would be “tying the hands” of inspectors if they don’t allow them to write citations on the training visits.

“The record low fatal injury rate among coal miners in recent years is because of strong enforcement of the law,” said Celeste Monforton, who served on a governor-appointed panel that investigated West Virginia’s 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 miners. There were 12 coal mining deaths in 2015 and 16 in 2014.

“It would be a disgrace to see that trend reversed,” she said.

Phil Smith, a spokesman for the miner’s union, said the union’s safety department met recently with MSHA on the dispute, but MSHA maintained it has the authority to conduct observation visits without enforcement.

The mine safety agency’s top position has been vacant since former Assistant Secretary of Labor Joe Main left in January. Main, a former miner’s union official, focused on eliminating hazards at troubled mines by increasing aggressive inspections after West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch explosion. Main declined to comment.

Silvey said a vacancy at the mine safety agency’s top position hasn’t hindered their efforts. She said she knew of no timetable for hiring a new assistant secretary of Labor to oversee the mine safety agency.

“I know one thing, it’s a presidential appointment,” she said.

Read more here:

Why drilling for oil in the Arctic is pointless


Why drilling for oil in the Arctic is pointless

Whitfield Bailey Published     July 31, 2017

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

(Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP)

Story Highlights

  • Opinion: Trump’s proposal suggests Arctic National Wildlife Refuge could be opened for oil drilling.
  • Whitfield Bailey resides in Knoxville.

As both a fiscal conservative and someone who cares deeply about protecting our nation’s natural resources, I was appalled to see a certain provision tucked away in President Trump’s budget proposal: an unwarranted sneak attack on one of our nation’s most prized units of public land, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Arctic Refuge in northern Alaska is the crown jewel of America’s National Wildlife Refuge System and is an internationally recognized wildlife haven renowned for its biodiversity. Fifty species of mammals and more than 200 species of migratory birds from all 50 states, like the yellow-rumped warbler, call this refuge home. The refuge remains one of the largest pristine ecosystems in the world.

From a fiscal point of view, the proposal to desecrate the Coastal Plain of the refuge with a web of destructive pipelines and drills makes little sense. Alaska politicians have been pushing this misguided attack on the refuge because they believe that drilling would lead to a windfall for Alaska. But this supposed revenue is highly theoretical, if not downright dubious.

In 1985, Chevron spent $40 million to drill three miles below the refuge to see if there was oil there. The results of this test have been kept secret ever since, suggesting nothing too exciting was found.

In the 1980s, oil prices were skyrocketing and Americans were eager to drill.  But we are in a different position now. Oil and gas prices have been falling for years as the United States moves towards energy independence. New drilling technologies have fueled the Shale Revolution and allowed us to tap into previously inaccessible oil and natural gas fields. Additionally, the renewable energy industry is experiencing a boom in production, intense job growth, and rapid decreases in costs. President Trump’s own budget acknowledges this new state of affairs, since it proposes selling off half of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, further underscoring the fact that the United States is not as reliant on foreign oil today.

If we are willing to sell off half of the SPR, then surely we do not need to drill in the Arctic Refuge.

The environmental value of the refuge is immeasurable, and drilling there would be incompatible with the mission of the refuge to protect wildlife. Proponents of drilling argue that oil companies would only drill in a few square miles of the Coastal Plain.  But this argument is specious, because a drill site that only takes up a few square miles depends on a spider web of pipelines, pads, roads, and other infrastructure – and an oil leak from even a small pipeline can have devastating effects on the fragile ecosystem of the pristine Coastal Plain.

The Coastal Plain is home to grizzlies, muskoxen, wolverines, and arctic foxes, and is an important denning site for polar bears.  It is home to the 180,000-strong Porcupine caribou herd, one of the largest herds in North America.  This herd is especially important for the native Gwich’in people who live in the area.

The Gwich’in rely on the caribou to maintain their centuries-old subsistence way of life and cultural identity. This is the reason the Gwich’in refer to the Coastal Plain as “the sacred place where life begins.” It is not just an economic and environmental issue – it is also a human rights issue.

Congress should reject President Trump’s dangerous budget proposal – for the sake of wildlife, for the Gwich’in people, and for basic economic sense.

Whitfield Bailey resides in Knoxville.

Keystone XL Pipeline in Limbo: Developer May Not Build as Landowners Put Solar Array on Proposed Route


Keystone XL Pipeline in Limbo: Developer May Not Build as Landowners Put Solar Array on Proposed Route

Climate Nexus      July 31, 2017

First “Solar XL” installation of USA-made solar panels in the path of the Keystone XL pipeline. Bold Nebraska / Faceboo


Keystone XL owner TransCanada told investors Friday that the company was still assessing demand for the project with oil companies, increasing speculation that the controversial pipeline may not see the light of day.

On an investor call, a TransCanada executive called for an “open season” on the Keystone project to attract investor bids, and said the company would assess interest and make a decision on the pipeline by November.

As reported by Politico:

“It was the strongest acknowledgment from TransCanada to date that the nearly decade-long Keystone saga may end in failure—despite President Donald Trump’s overwhelming support for the project, which he green-lit as one of his first acts in office.”

TransCanada is also still awaiting approval from Nebraskan regulators to finalize the pipeline’s proposed route through the state. A final Nebraska Public Service Commission hearing on Keystone last week showcased the depth of opposition to the pipeline in the state, while a local farmer has attracted attention for installing American-made solar panels on his land to protest the project.

Jim Carlson said he rejected offers as high as $307,000 from TransCanada Corporation to lay pipe across his land.

“They’ll have to go under it, around it or tear it down to get their dirty oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico,” Carlson told NBC Nebraska.

Carlson is a pipeline fighter with Bold Nebraska, a grassroots organization opposing Keystone XL. Jane Kleeb, the group’s founder, told NTV that they’ve raised more than $40,000 to install solar projects in the path of the proposed pipeline.

“We’re not just out in the streets protesting with signs, but we’re actually building the type of energy we want to see,” Kleeb said.

“With the threat of Keystone XL destroying our water and taking away property rights from farmers, we decided to build solar, directly inside the route where the Keystone XL is proposed to go because the contract says you can’t have anything permanent in the route, so we are building permanent clean energy.”

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for daily Hot News.

Robert Reich: Introducing Donald Trump, The Biggest Loser


Robert Reich: Introducing Donald Trump, The Biggest Loser

Robert Reich, Newsweek      July 31, 2017 

This article first appeared on

The demise of the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act is hardly the end of the story. Donald Trump will not let this loss stand.

Since its inception in 2010, Republicans made the Affordable Care Act into a symbol of Obama-Clinton overreach – part of a supposed plot by liberal elites to expand government, burden the white working class, and transfer benefits to poor blacks and Latinos.

Ever the political opportunist, Trump poured his own poisonous salt into this festering wound. Although he never really understood the Affordable Care Act, he used it to prey upon resentments of class, race, ethnicity, and religiosity that propelled him into the White House.

Repealing “Obamacare” has remained one of Trump’s central rallying cries to his increasingly angry base. “The question for every senator, Democrat or Republican, is whether they will side with Obamacare’s architects, which have been so destructive to our country, or with its forgotten victims,” Trump said last Monday, adding that any senator who failed to vote against it “is telling America that you are fine with the Obamacare nightmare.”

Now, having lost that fight, Trump will try to subvert the Act by delaying subsidies so some insurance companies won’t be able to participate, failing to enforce the individual mandate so funding won’t be adequate, not informing those who are eligible about when to sign up and how to do so, and looking the other way when states don’t comply.

But that’s not all. Trump doesn’t want his base to perceive him as a loser.

So be prepared for scorched-earth politics from the Oval Office, including more savage verbal attacks on Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, more baseless charges of voter fraud in the 2016 election, and further escalation of the culture wars.

Most Americans won’t be swayed by these pyrotechnics because they’ve become inured to our unhinged president.

But that’s not the point. They’ll be intended to shore up Trump’s “base” – the third of the country that supports him, who still believe they’re “victims” of Obamacare, who continue to believe Trump himself is the victim of a liberal conspiracy to unseat him.

Trump wants his base to become increasingly angry and politically mobilized, so they’ll continue to exert an outsized influence on the Republican Party.

There is a deeper danger here. As Harvard political scientist Archon Fung has argued, stable democracies require that citizens be committed to the rule of law even if they fail to achieve their preferred policies.

Settling our differences through ballots and agreed-upon processes rather than through force is what separates democracy from authoritarianism.

But Donald Trump has never been committed to the rule of law. For him, it’s all about winning. If he can’t win through established democratic processes, he’ll mobilize his base to change them.

Trump is already demanding that Mitch McConnell and senate Republicans obliterate the filibuster, thereby allowing anything to be passed with a bare majority.

Last Saturday he tweeted “Republican Senate must get rid of 60 vote NOW!” adding the filibuster “allows 8 Dems to control country,” and “Republicans in the Senate will NEVER win if they don’t go to a 51 vote majority NOW. They look like fools and are just wasting time.”

What’s particularly worrisome about Trump’s attack on the long established processes of our democracy is that his assault comes at a time when the percentage of Americans who regard the other party as a fundamental threat is growing.

In 2014 – even before acrimony of 2016 presidential campaign – 35 percent of Republicans saw the Democratic Party as a “threat to the nation’s well being” and 27 percent of Democrats regarded Republicans the same way, according to the Pew Research Center.

Those percentages are undoubtedly higher today. If Trump succeeds, they’ll be higher still.

Anyone who regards the other party as a threat to the nation’s well being is less apt to accept outcomes in which the other party prevails – whether it’s a decision not to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or even the outcome of a presidential election.

As a practical matter, when large numbers of citizens aren’t willing to accept such outcomes, we’re no longer part of the same democracy.

I fear this is where Trump intends to take his followers, along with much of the Republican Party: Toward a rejection of political outcomes they regard as illegitimate, and therefore a rejection of democracy as we know it.

That way, Trump will always win.

Robert Reich is the chancellor’s professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a senior fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, and Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective Cabinet secretaries of the 20th century. He has written 14 books, including the best-sellers Aftershock, The Work of Nations and Beyond Outrage and, most recently, Saving Capitalism. He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and co-creator of the award-winning documentary Inequality for All.

More from Newsweek

Trump aims at insurers in battle over healthcare subsidies

Reuters Politics

Trump aims at insurers in battle over healthcare subsidies

Susan Heavey and Caroline Humer     July 31, 2017

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump took aim at insurers on Monday in an escalating threat to cut the healthcare subsidy payments that make Obamacare plans affordable, after repeatedly urging Republican senators to keep working to undo his Democratic predecessor’s healthcare law.

“If ObamaCare is hurting people, & it is, why shouldn’t it hurt the insurance companies & why should Congress not be paying what public pays?” Trump, a Republican, wrote on Twitter.

Trump, frustrated that he and Republicans have not been able to keep campaign promises to repeal and replace Obamacare, has threatened to let it implode. So far, the administration has continued to make the monthly subsidy payments, but withholding them would be one way to make good on Trump’s threat.

Republican Senator Rand Paul told reporters on Monday he spoke to Trump by phone and the president was considering taking executive action to address problems with the healthcare system.

Paul said he told Trump he thought he had the authority to create associations that would allow organizations – such as the AARP that represents retirees, or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – to offer group health insurance plans.

The White House declined to comment on matter.

On Capitol Hill, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch said senators were too divided to keep working on healthcare overhaul legislation, and that he and other senior Republicans would take that message to the White House.

“There’s just too much animosity and we’re too divided on healthcare,” Hatch said in an interview. He said lawmakers could return to a healthcare overhaul later but for now should pivot to tax reform.

Some senators were not ready to drop healthcare, however.

Senator Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana, met with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and several Republican state governors at the White House on Monday to discuss a proposal Cassidy and others have made to send federal healthcare funds to the states in grants, Cassidy told reporters.

But Cassidy said he had not discussed bringing his proposal to the Senate floor with Senate leaders. And the third-ranking Republican senator, John Thune, told reporters Monday evening that until there is a proposal that can win a majority of senators’ support, “I think we’ve had our vote and we’re moving onto tax reform.”

Hatch, in the interview with Reuters, also said he thought Congress would have to approve new funds for the government’s cost-sharing reduction subsidies to insurers that Trump had been threatening to end. These subsidies lower the price of health coverage for the poor under the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

Insurers have asked the government to commit to making the $8 billion in payments for 2018, saying they may raise rates or leave the individual insurance marketplace if there is too much uncertainty.

Reporting by Susan Heavey, Caroline Humer, Susan Cornwell and Amanda Becker; Editing by Richard Chang and Tom Brown


Reuters  Politics

Exclusive: Senate too divided to keep up healthcare push – Senator Hatch

Susan Cornwell      July 31, 2017

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch said on Monday that senators for now are too divided to keep working on healthcare overhaul legislation and that he and other senior Republicans will take that message to the White House.

President Donald Trump has been urging lawmakers not to drop the matter, despite a series of failed votes last week. “There’s just too much animosity and we’re too divided on healthcare,” Hatch said in an interview with Reuters.

He said he would prefer Congress not appropriate cost-sharing subsidies that help make Obamacare plans affordable but added, “I think we’re going to have to do that.”

Trump over the weekend urged Republican senators to stick with trying to pass an overhaul of the Affordable Care Act, former President Obama’s signature domestic initiative known as Obamacare.

Trump made replacing Obamacare a key part of his presidential campaign and Republicans have promised for years to repeal or replace the law. The House of Representatives has passed an overhaul but the Senate has been unable to do so despite having worked on it for months. Three Senate Republicans joined Democrats in voting against repealing even part of the law at the end of last week.

“Don’t give up Republican senators, the world is watching: Repeal & Replace …,” Trump tweeted on Sunday while White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said the Senate should stay in session to get something done on healthcare, even if it means postponing votes on other issues.

Hatch said although he understood Mulvaney’s position, he did not think he was right. The senator said he saw no real desire on the part of Democrats to work together on the healthcare issue “and I have to say some Republicans are at fault there, too.”

Hatch said he had not given up on healthcare. “I think we ought to acknowledge that we can come back to healthcare afterwards but we need to move ahead on tax reform,” Hatch said.

Asked who would relay the message to the Trump administration, Hatch laughed and said, “I’m going to be one who does that,” adding that he expected Republican leaders of the House and Senate, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell, would do so, too.

Hatch said lawmakers would need to appropriate the cost-sharing subsidy payments that the administration has been making. Trump has threatened to cut off these subsidies, which help insurers keep deductibles down for low-income people who get health insurance through the Obamacare exchanges.

“I’m for helping the poor, always have been. And I don’t think they should be bereft of healthcare,” Hatch said.

Additional reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Bill Trott

Farm-To-Table May Feel Virtuous, But It’s Food Labor That’s Ripe For Change


The Salt Opinion-What’s On Your Table

Farm-To-Table May Feel Virtuous, But It’s Food Labor That’s Ripe For Change

Andrea Reusing       July 30, 2017

Mexican farmworkers harvest lettuce in a field outside of Brawley, Calif.

Sandy Huffaker/AFP/Getty Images

Novel and thrilling in earlier days, today’s farm-to-table restaurant menus have scaled new heights of supposed transparency. The specificity can be weirdly opaque, much like an actual menu item that recently made the rounds: Quail Egg Coated in the Ashes of Dried Sheep’s S***. Farm-to-table fatigue is most evident in those of us who cook in farm-to-table restaurants — Even We Are Sick of Us.

In the 15 years since Lantern opened, guests at my Asian-influenced farm-to-table restaurant have only rarely asked why a white girl from New Jersey is cooking fried rice in North Carolina alongside a kitchen crew mostly born in Mexico. The food we cook is openly and inherently inauthentic. But guests are sometimes surprised to learn that every single thing we serve isn’t both local and organic, that our relatively expensive menu yields only slim profit or that we can’t afford a group health plan. Diners occasionally comment that our use of Alaskan salmon or California cilantro has detracted from a truly “authentic” farm-to-table experience.

The ubiquity that makes farm-to-table meaningless also gives it its power. It has come to signify authenticity on almost any level, suggesting practices as complicated as adherence to fair labor standards, supply chain transparency or avoidance of GMOs. As farm-to-table has slipped further away from the food movement and into the realms of foodie-ism and corporate marketing, it is increasingly unhitched from the issues it is so often assumed to address.

Farm-to-table’s sincere glow distracts from how the production and processing of even the most pristine ingredients — from field or dock or slaughterhouse to restaurant or school cafeteria — is nearly always configured to rely on cheap labor. Work very often performed by people who are themselves poor and hungry.

Inequality does not affect our food system — our food system is built on inequality and requires it to function. The components of this inequality —racism, lack of access to capital, exploitation, land loss, nutritional and health disparities in communities of color, to name some — are tightly connected. Our nearly 20-year obsession with food and chefs has neither expanded access to high-quality food nor improved nutrition in low-resource neighborhoods.

Only an honest look at how food gets to the table in the U.S. can begin to unwind these connections.

Food workers, as members of both the largest and lowest-paid U.S. workforce, are in a unique position to lead these conversations. Many of us have already helped incubate policy change on wage equality, organic certification and the humane treatment of animals. But a simpler and maybe even more powerful way we can be catalysts for real change in the food system is to simply tell the stories of who we are.

Take immigration. Our current policy renders much of the U.S. workforce completely invisible. This is more true in the food industry than in any other place in American life. There is a widespread disconnect on the critical role recent immigrants play in producing our food and an underlying empathy gap when it comes to the reality of daily life for these low-wage food workers and their families.

The Salt –Cheap Eats, Cheap Labor: The Hidden Human Costs Of Those Lists

Cheap Eats, Cheap Labor: The Hidden Human Costs Of Those Lists

The Salt –Dinner in Appalachia: Finding Common Ground In Trump Country

Dinner in Appalachia: Finding Common Ground In Trump Country

For example, here in North Carolina, over 150,000 immigrant farm and food-processing workers harvest nearly all the local food we eat and export, but their living and working conditions would shock most Americans.

Our state produces half the sweet potatoes grown in the U.S. — 500,000 tons a year — which are all harvested by hand. A worker here has to dig and haul 2 tons to earn about $50. In meatpacking plants, horrific injuries and deaths resulting from unsafe working conditions are widespread. Farmworkers are exposed to far more pesticides than you or I would get on our spinach. Poverty wages allow ripe strawberries to be sold cheaply enough to be displayed un-refrigerated, piled high in produce section towers. Nearly half of immigrant farm workers and their families in North Carolina are food insecure.

When as chefs we wonder whether a pork chop tastes better if the pig ate corn or nuts but we don’t talk about the people who worked in the slaughterhouse where it was processed, we are creating a kind of theater. We encourage our audience to suspend their disbelief.

The theater our audience sees — abundant grocery stores and farmers markets, absurdly cheap fast food and our farm-to-table dining rooms — resembles what Jean Baudrillard famously called the simulacrum, a kind of heightened parallel world that, like Disneyland, is an artifice with no meaningful connection to the real world.

As chefs, we need to talk more about the economic realities of our kitchens and dining rooms and allow eaters to begin to experience them as we do: imperfect places where abundance and hope exist beside scarcity and compromise. Places that are weakened by the same structural inequality that afflicts every aspect of American life.

Roger Ebert described the capacity of movies to be “like a machine that generates empathy.” With more expansive definitions of authenticity and transparency, restaurants can become empathy machines and diners will get a better understanding of the lives of the people who feed us.

Reusing (@AndreaReusing) is the James Beard award-winning chef at Lantern in Chapel Hill, N.C.

About This Essay

This essay was crafted in response to a summit on racism and difference in food, staged at Rivendell Writers Colony by The Southern Foodways Alliance and Soul Summit.

So long Global Warming and thanks for all of the fish


So long Global Warming and thanks for all of the fish

Brian Wang        July 31, 2017

About 37 percent of Earth’s land area is used for agricultural land. About one-third of this area, or 11 percent of Earth’s total land, is used for crops. The balance, roughly one-fourth of Earth’s land area, is pastureland, which includes cultivated or wild forage crops for animals and open land used for grazing.

There is a proposal to use about 9% of the oceans surface for massive kelp farms. The Ocean surface area is about 36 billion hectares. This would offset all CO2 production and provide 0.5 kg of fish and sea vegetables per person per day for 10 billion people as an “incidental” by-product. Nine per cent of the world’s oceans would be equivalent to about four and a half times the area of Australia.

Fiant of the kelp forest grows faster than tropical bamboo—about 10 to 12 inches in the bay and under ideal conditions, giant kelp can grow an astonishing two feet each day.

In the last decade, seaweed cultivation has been expanding rapidly thanks to growing demand for its use in pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals and antimicrobial products, as well as biotechnological applications. Seaweed today is used in some toothpastes, skin care products and cosmetics, paints and several industrial products, including adhesives, dyes and gels. Seaweed is also used in landscaping or to combat beach erosion.

In 2016, seaweed farms produce more than 25 million metric tons annually. The global value of the crop, US$6.4 billion (2014), exceeds that of the world’s lemons and limes.

A 2016 report from the World Bank estimates that the annual global seaweed production could reach 500 million dry tons by 2050 if the market is able to increase its harvest 14% per year. Hitting that 500 million mark would boost the world’s food supply by 10% from the current level, create 50 million direct jobs in the process and, as a biofuel, replace about 1.5% of the fossil fuels used to run vehicles. The Ocean forest plan would be to accelerate growth of seaweed farming to 25-50% per year growth and reach about 20-60 billion tons per year of production. The world currently produces about 4 billion tons per year of agricultural product.

Ocean Afforestation (aka Ocean Macroalgal Afforestation (OMA)), has the potential to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations through expanding natural populations of macroalgae, which absorb carbon dioxide, then are harvested to produce biomethane and biocarbon dioxidevia anaerobic digestion. The plant nutrients remaining after digestion are recycled to expand the algal forest and increase fish populations. A mass balance has been calculated from known data and applied to produce a life cycle assessment and economic analysis. This analysis shows the potential of Ocean Afforestation to produce 12 billion tons per year of biomethane while storing 19 billion tons of CO2 per year directly from biogas production, plus up to 34 billion tons per year from carbon capture of the biomethane combustion exhaust. These rates are based on macro-algae forests covering 9% of the world’s ocean surface, which could produce sufficient biomethane to replace all of today’s needs in fossil fuel energy, while removing 53 billion tons of CO2 per year from the atmosphere, restoring pre-industrial levels. This amount of biomass could also increase sustainable fish production to potentially provide 200 kg/yr/person for 10 billion people. Additional benefits are reduction in ocean acidification and increased ocean primary productivity and biodiversity.

The proposed model includes the materials and energy to use all three of the following mechanisms to ensure maximum local recycling of the plant nutrients:

  1. a) The dissolved nutrients are distributed evenly through a grid of floating hose. Because this is mostly ammonia at perhaps 800 mg/L of nitrogen, it may have to be distributed only during daylight hours when the algae are providing high dissolved oxygen concentrations so that aerobic microbes can quickly convert the ammonia to nitrate.
    b) The undigested solids from digestion float in “tea-bags” through the forest providing a slow-release fertilizer. When the aerobic bacteria of the ocean surface have extracted most of the remaining plant nutrients, the remaining solids would be released to sink.
    c) The nutrients from dying plants that are not harvested are pumped back up from the water or seafloor beneath the forest.

Store the bio-CO2: Ocean Afforestation concentrates CO2 from air that can be then be stored as pure gas or liquid CO2 with a variety of carbon storage technologies:
a) Deep geologic storage where the CO2 is either a gas, a supercritical fluid, or dissolved in saline aquifers several kilometers below the surface of the earth or the seafloor;
b) Shallow sub-seafloor storage, proposed by House, et al. (2006) where the CO2is either a liquid or a hydrate perhaps 100 meters below the seafloor for a combined depth in excess of 3 kilometers;
c) Solid snow, proposed by Agee, et al. (2012) where the CO2is a frozen solid “landfill” in Antarctica;
d) Artificial geologic seafloor storage where the CO2is hydrate or denser-than-seawater liquid embedded in geo-synthetic and other artificial geologic layers; or
e) Other future technology

Replacing fossil fuels will require so many macroalgal forests that the production of fish sufficient to provide 0.5 kg of fish and sea vegetables per person per day for 10 billion people could be almost an “incidental” by-product. In actuality, seafood production is likely to be a higher fraction of OMA products initially because food is generally a higher unit value than renewable energy. However, food uses can remove nutrients from an OMA ecosystem. We project that this would mean less than 2% of the annual forest nutrient requirement, in the 2050 scenario (OMA over 6% of world oceans) actually leaving the forests in the form of fish and other edible food stocks (based on data from Ramseyer, 2002). We have not included fish and other food products in our calculated energy balance. Potential other products include liquid fuels, agar, carrageenans, algin, etc

Ocean forests project proposed taking five years to get initial demonstration 10,000 hectare forest operating economically in a near-shore sheltered water environment (involving an investment of about $20 million). This forest may be located where there are sufficient existing nutrients that nutrient recycling needs would be minimal and inexpensive.

It could take another ten years (to get many sheltered water 10,000-hectare forests operating. Initial forests may be located where there are sufficient existing nutrients that nutrient recycling needs would be minimal and inexpensive. The sheltered water approach could involve as much as 0.3% of the ocean’s surface (1 million km2). In this case, ‘sheltered water’ may be the entire Mediterranean Sea, the Gulf of California, and other such bodies of water where tropical storms are rare or enclosed, perhaps 4 million km2. Sheltered water can be any depth. Occupying a quarter of the available sheltered water may be a challenge, but all the sheltered water operations will put only a small dent in humanity’s CO2 debts. Open ocean operations are needed.

The reason OMA expansion can be so rapid is that the basic technology involves low-tech components, such as harvesting nets, large geo-synthetic (plastic) bags, and pipes, with the methane feeding into existing natural gas and diesel power plants. Also, many sheltered waters suffer from an over-abundance of anthropomorphic nutrients.

The first open-ocean 10,000-hectare forest could be developed with an investment of perhaps $100 million. But it could take another seven years to get many open-ocean 10,000-hectare forests operating.

What might a kelp farming facility of the future look like? Dr Brian von Hertzen of the Climate Foundation has outlined one vision: a frame structure, most likely composed of a carbon polymer, up to a square kilometer in extent and sunk far enough below the surface (about 25 meters) to avoid being a shipping hazard. Planted with kelp, the frame would be interspersed with containers for shellfish and other kinds of fish as well. There would be no netting, but a kind of free-range aquaculture based on providing habitat to keep fish on location. Robotic removal of encrusting organisms would probably also be part of the facility. The marine permaculture would be designed to clip the bottom of the waves during heavy seas. Below it, a pipe reaching down to 200–500 meters would bring cool, nutrient-rich water to the frame, where it would be reticulated over the growing kelp.

Von Herzen’s objective is to create what he calls “permaculture arrays” – marine permaculture at a scale that will have an impact on the climate by growing kelp and bringing cooler ocean water to the surface. His vision also entails providing habitat for fish, generating food, feedstocks for animals, fertilizer and biofuels. He also hopes to help exploited fish populations rebound and to create jobs. “Given the transformative effect that marine permaculture can have on the ocean, there is much reason for hope that permaculture arrays can play a major part in globally balancing carbon,” he says.

The addition of a floating platform supporting solar panels, facilities such as accommodation (if the farms are not fully automated), refrigeration and processing equipment tethered to the floating framework would enhance the efficiency and viability of the permaculture arrays, as well as a dock for ships carrying produce to market.

Given its phenomenal growth rate, the kelp could be cut on a 90-day rotation basis.

The seaweed could be converted to biochar to produce energy and the char pelletized and discarded overboard. Char, having a mineralized carbon structure, is likely to last well on the seafloor. Likewise, shells and any encrusting organisms could be sunk as a carbon store.

Once at the bottom of the sea three or more kilometers below, it’s likely that raw kelp, and possibly even to some extent biochar, would be utilized as a food source by bottom-dwelling bacteria and larger organisms such as sea cucumbers. Provided that the decomposing material did not float, this would not matter, because once sunk below about one kilometer from the surface, the carbon in these materials would effectively be removed from the atmosphere for at least 1,000 years. If present in large volumes, however, decomposing matter may reduce oxygen levels in the surrounding seawater.

Large volumes of kelp already reach the ocean floor. Storms in the North Atlantic may deliver enormous volumes of kelp – by some estimates as much as 7 gigatons at a time – to the 1.8km-deep ocean floor off the Bahamian Shelf.

Trump threatens insurer payments and health care enjoyed by Congress


Trump threatens insurer payments and health care enjoyed by Congress

Lev Facher, STAT News      July 29, 2017

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Saturday indicated he will make good on a months-old threat to destabilize the health insurance market if Senate Republicans cannot repeal and replace major elements of the Affordable Care Act.

Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump….If a new HealthCare Bill is not approved quickly, BAILOUTS for Insurance Companies and BAILOUTS for Members of Congress will end very soon!    July 29, 2017

The first part of the ultimatum likely refers to cost-sharing reduction payments made by the federal government to insurers, which in turn offer discounted plans for many low- or middle-income Americans buying plans through ACA marketplaces.

The second portion, while far narrower in scope, is significant in that it highlights an additional tool at the president’s disposal for acting unilaterally on health policy. Though ACA repeal has been in the spotlight throughout 2017, other rumblings regarding subsidies specific to Congress have been rare.

In January, Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fl.) introduced a bill that would end an exemption enabling members of Congress and Capitol Hill staff to obtain employer contributions from the government to pay for plans on D.C.’s small-business exchange, which the federal Office of Personnel Management in 2013 issued guidance to allow.

Read more: Get ready for the next big health care fight. This one’s all about kids

“By blowing the whistle on this special deal concocted by OPM, we will make members of Congress better understand the burdens of ObamaCare, thereby incentivizing members to get to work on a good repeal and replace plan,” DeSantis wrote then in a statement.

Heather Higgins, CEO of the conservative-leaning advocacy group Independent Women’s Voice, wrote last week in a Wall Street Journal op-ed: “Congress is essentially unaffected by the high costs of the ObamaCare exchanges because of a special exemption crafted under the Obama administration.” Some subsidies obtained via D.C.’s small-business exchange, the op-ed claimed, were worth as much as $12,000 annually.

While Trump’s meaning was not entirely clear, it is possible he could direct OPM to rescind the ruling enabling the exemption, as a coalition of right-wing groups encouraged him to do in a July 21st letter.

The president’s threat regarding cost-sharing reduction payments, however, is more broadly impactful, more familiar, and more widely understood.

It also echoes a warning made by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in the early hours of Friday, just after his chamber’s efforts to pass a narrow compromise bill fell one vote short.

“I bet I’m pretty safe in saying, for most of the people on this side of the aisle, that bailing out insurance companies — bailing out insurance companies with no thought of any kind of reform — is not something I want to be part of,” McConnell said in his speech on the Senate floor.

Trump has made the threat before, indicating he believed ending the payments would leave Democrats with no choice but to negotiate with Republicans on a broader repeal bill. But it takes on added significance in light of GOP senators’ setback.

Insurers have repeatedly indicated that ending CSR payments would throw markets into turmoil and even cause the type of “death spiral” Republicans in Congress have long warned against.

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the payments’ value at $7 billion in 2017, $10 billion in 2018, and $11 billion in 2019.

The Kaiser Family Foundation projects that without CSR payments, the cost of “silver” insurance plans in Medicaid expansion states would increase by 15 percent, and in non-expansion states by 21 percent.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) responded to Trump quickly via the same medium on Saturday:

Chuck Schumer @SenSchumer… If @POTUS  refuses to make CSR payments, every expert agrees that premiums will go up & #healthcare will be more expensive for millions. July 29, 2017