Tag Archives: report

FEMA director calls San Juan mayor’s concerns ‘political noise.’

Sorry to ruin the party, but a report from the Food Climate Research Network casts doubt on recent suggestions that pasture-raised cattle could sequester massive amounts of carbon in the soil.

By nibbling plants and stimulating new root growth, the old argument goes, cows can encourage deeper root networks, which suck up more carbon. Proponents of grass-fed meat have embraced these findings, saying that pasture-raised livestock could mitigate the impact of meat consumption on the environment.

The new report — cleverly titled “Grazed and Confused?” — acknowledges that pastured cattle can be carbon negative, but this depends on the right soil and weather conditions. In most places, according to the report, grazers produce much more greenhouse gas than they add to the ground. It is an “inconvenient truth,” the authors write, that most studies show grass-fed beef has a bigger carbon footprint than feedlot meat. “Increasing grass-fed ruminant numbers is, therefore, a self-defeating climate strategy,” the report concludes.

Fortunately, grass-fed beef is not the only solution being bandied about: Research shows that a small dose of seaweed in livestock feed could drastically reduce methane emissions. And if you really want to reduce your impact on the climate you could, you know, stop eating meat.

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FEMA director calls San Juan mayor’s concerns ‘political noise.’

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California plans to reject a controversial natural gas plant, embracing a cleaner future.

Sorry to ruin the party, but a report from the Food Climate Research Network casts doubt on recent suggestions that pasture-raised cattle could sequester massive amounts of carbon in the soil.

By nibbling plants and stimulating new root growth, the old argument goes, cows can encourage deeper root networks, which suck up more carbon. Proponents of grass-fed meat have embraced these findings, saying that pasture-raised livestock could mitigate the impact of meat consumption on the environment.

The new report — cleverly titled “Grazed and Confused?” — acknowledges that pastured cattle can be carbon negative, but this depends on the right soil and weather conditions. In most places, according to the report, grazers produce much more greenhouse gas than they add to the ground. It is an “inconvenient truth,” the authors write, that most studies show grass-fed beef has a bigger carbon footprint than feedlot meat. “Increasing grass-fed ruminant numbers is, therefore, a self-defeating climate strategy,” the report concludes.

Fortunately, grass-fed beef is not the only solution being bandied about: Research shows that a small dose of seaweed in livestock feed could drastically reduce methane emissions. And if you really want to reduce your impact on the climate you could, you know, stop eating meat.

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California plans to reject a controversial natural gas plant, embracing a cleaner future.

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Elon Musk wants to help Puerto Rico go all-renewable.

Sorry to ruin the party, but a report from the Food Climate Research Network casts doubt on recent suggestions that pasture-raised cattle could sequester massive amounts of carbon in the soil.

By nibbling plants and stimulating new root growth, the old argument goes, cows can encourage deeper root networks, which suck up more carbon. Proponents of grass-fed meat have embraced these findings, saying that pasture-raised livestock could mitigate the impact of meat consumption on the environment.

The new report — cleverly titled “Grazed and Confused?” — acknowledges that pastured cattle can be carbon negative, but this depends on the right soil and weather conditions. In most places, according to the report, grazers produce much more greenhouse gas than they add to the ground. It is an “inconvenient truth,” the authors write, that most studies show grass-fed beef has a bigger carbon footprint than feedlot meat. “Increasing grass-fed ruminant numbers is, therefore, a self-defeating climate strategy,” the report concludes.

Fortunately, grass-fed beef is not the only solution being bandied about: Research shows that a small dose of seaweed in livestock feed could drastically reduce methane emissions. And if you really want to reduce your impact on the climate you could, you know, stop eating meat.

See the article here:

Elon Musk wants to help Puerto Rico go all-renewable.

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Just One Small Problem With This Major Report on GMO Safety

Mother Jones

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About a year ago, the prestigious National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine produced a 584-page report assessing the health, environmental, and agronomic impact of genetically modified crops. The conclusion: GMOs have so far proved to be neither a disaster nor a triumph. They haven’t been shown to pose a threat to human health, as some critics have argued they do; but they also haven’t discernibly raised crop yields, as some boosters insist they have.

Not surprisingly, the report did little to “end the highly polarized dispute over biotech crops,” concluded New York Times reporter Andrew Martin in an article just after the report’s release. He added that both sides of the debate “pointed approvingly to findings that buttressed their viewpoint and criticized those that did not.”

And a new paper, published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS-One, ups the temperature of that long-simmering debate. The authors—Sheldon Krimsky, a professor in the Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts, and Tim Schwab, a researcher at Food & Water Watch—found that 6 of the 20 scientists who contribute to NASEM’s GMO report had ties to the ag-biotech industry that weren’t disclosed in the paper. Five of them “had patents or industry research funding” while they served on the committee, and another one “reported receiving industry research funding” a few years before.

As Krimsky and Schwab note, the NASEM paper states that the GMO assessment, launched only after face-to-face conversations, “determined that no one with an avoidable conflict of interest is serving on the committee.”

They also uncovered another undisclosed potential conflict: The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, a nonprofit institution, has had substantial funding from the very companies whose products were assessed in the report: “The organization’s annual financial reports do not give exact figures but note that three leading agricultural biotechnology companies (Monsanto, DuPont, and Dow) have given up to $5 million dollars each to the NASEM.” The National Academies even hosted a 2015 workshop on communicating the science of GMO crops to the public, funded in part by Monsanto and DuPont.

The PLOS-One findings do not invalidate the findings of the GMO assessment, of course. Having a financial interest in an industry does not automatically make a scientist incapable of commenting honestly on that industry’s products. Fred Gould, professor of entomology at North Carolina State University and the chair of the committee that wrote the report, defended it in an email. “The one implicit rule on our committee was that if you wanted something to go into the report, you had to back it up with evidence that was acceptable to everyone on the committee,” he wrote. “No one person could steer the committee with an opinion. I welcome people to scrutinize the accuracy of our report.” (Gould was not one of the six committee members found by the PlOS authors to have industry ties.)

In a statement, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine denied that members of the committee violated conflict-of-interest disclosure norms. NASEM maintains a “stringent, well-defined, and transparent conflict-of-interest policy, with which all members of this study committee complied,” the statement reads. “It is unfair and disingenuous for the authors of the PLOS article to apply their own perception of conflict of interest to our committee in place of our tested and trusted conflict-of-interest policies.”

However, NASEM’s published policy on the topic mentions “patents, copyrights, and other intellectual property” and “research funding and other forms of research support” as potential conflicts of interest. William Kearney, deputy executive director and director of media relations for NASEM, said the group sees such relationships as conflicts only when they’re worth at least $10,000. By NASEM’s reckoning, none of the committee members violated the group’s disclosure policy.

All of that said, the undisclosed relationships uncovered by Krimsky and Schwab raise questions about the NASEM’s ability to fulfill its mission of providing “nonpartisan, objective guidance for decision makers on pressing issues.” And as Krimsky and Schwab also note, the National Academies’ problem with conflicts of interest is long-standing. Back in 2006, the Center for Science in the Public Interest issued a report finding that nearly a fifth of the scientists appointed to one of the group’s panels over a three-year period had “direct financial ties to companies or industry groups with a direct stake in the outcome of that study.”

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Just One Small Problem With This Major Report on GMO Safety

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ERP Blogstorm Part 1: Income Inequality

Mother Jones

ERP? Yes indeed. That’s what the cool kids call the Economic Report of the President. The 2017 edition is out, so this weekend I’m going to highlight a few of the charts that caught my eye. These are not necessarily the most important topics in the report. They just happened to strike me as interesting and worth sharing more widely. I’m mostly going to present them without much commentary.

In previous times, I would have called this a series of blog posts. Today I suppose I should call it a blogstorm. Gotta keep up with the lingo, after all. Our first topic is income inequality. Here’s the impact of the 2009 stimulus bill and the Making Work Pay tax credit:

And here’s the impact of changes in tax policy (primarily the effects of the “fiscal cliff” negotiations, which renewed the Bush tax cuts for all but high-income taxpayers):

And finally, here it is all put together: stimulus, tax changes, and Obamacare:

The lowest-income folks saw their after-tax income increase by about 18 percent. The after-tax income of the top 1 percent declined by about 5 percent and the top 0.1 percent declined by about 10 percent.

Not bad. Sadly, nothing infuriates Republicans more than reducing income inequality, and they will do everything they can to reverse this and then some over the next four years. The rich can never be too rich and the poor can never be too poor in GOP land.

Continued – 

ERP Blogstorm Part 1: Income Inequality

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Cow burps are a big problem for the climate, but a little change in diet could correct that.

In a report out Thursday, the United Nations Environment Programme says pedestrians, motorcyclists, and cyclists make up nearly half of the 1.3 million people killed worldwide in traffic accidents each year. Even more alarming, it says that about “140 people will die in road accidents while you read this report.”

The fix? The UNEP calls for countries to use at least 20 percent of their transit budgets for bike lanes and safe sidewalks to encourage walking and biking over driving.

Life is especially dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists in countries with weaker economies. Governments in Malawi, Kenya, and South Africa (the most dangerous countries, according to the report) simply have less money to spend on the type of shiny, protected bike lanes you see popping up in Portland, Washington, D.C., and in bike-friendly cities across Europe.

All this suggests some topics for conversation at the upcoming COP22 in Morocco, such as adaptation and how to pay for it. While rich countries like the United States pull out the stops with flashy bike corrals, countries most at risk from climate change don’t necessarily have enough funds to adapt to a warming world.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s 2017 budget is $98.1 billion. Malawi’s total 2016/2017 budget? About $1.65 billion.

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Cow burps are a big problem for the climate, but a little change in diet could correct that.

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We Have Some Heartbreaking News About Leonardo DiCaprio

Mother Jones

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It sounds like a huge, flashy number: $2.6 trillion.

That’s probably why the environmental activist group 350.org used it in a headline for a press release today announcing a report on the growing movement to divest from dirty energy companies: “FOSSIL FUEL DIVESTMENT PLEDGES SURPASS $2.6 TRILLION.”

But the report itself tells a somewhat different story.

Released this morning at a New York press conference, the report tallied commitments—made by a global assortment of universities, local governments, pension funds, charitable foundations, religious institutions, and more—to sell off investments in the fossil fuel industry. The tactic has become popular with climate activists as a way to call attention to the industry’s transgressions against the climate, and maybe even to destabilize its bottom line.

On hand to trumpet the findings: Leonardo DiCaprio, along with the head of the UN climate agency (via video) and a packed room of top brass from environmental groups, clean energy companies, and major foundations. DiCaprio himself joined the list, pledging to divest his personal finances and his foundation’s holdings from fossil fuels.

“To date,” the report reads, “436 institutions and 2,040 individuals across 43 countries and representing $2.6 trillion in assets have committed to divest from fossil fuel companies.”

“That’s real money,” said Ellen Dorsey, director of the Wallace Global Fund, in announcing the number, to much applause.

And it is! Pulling that kind of cash out of the fossil fuel juggernaut could land a true financial blow, a clear victory in the global war to stop climate change.

But there’s a catch. That big number—$2.6 trillion—has nothing to do with the amount of money that is actually being pulled out of fossil fuel stocks. In fact, the investment consultancy behind today’s report has no idea how much money the institutions surveyed have invested in fossil fuels, and thus how much they have pledged to divest.

Instead, that number refers to the total size of all the assets held by those institutions—hence the word “representing” in the quote above from the report. And that’s a huge difference.

Here’s a perfect example: The report lists the University of California system as a prominent new entry into the divestment movement. Earlier this month, the UC’s chief investment officer announced that the system’s endowment would sell off its holdings in coal and tar sands oil. Those holdings were worth about $200 million. An undisclosed amount is still invested in oil and gas. But the report uses the full amount of the university’s total endowment: $98 billion. That’s 490 times higher than the amount of money actually being divested.

So what’s the exact portion of the $2.6 trillion that is being divested from fossil fuels? No one knows. Indeed, Dorsey couldn’t even confirm that all the institutions listed in the report necessarily had any fossil fuel holdings in their portfolios before they decided to divest. As for DiCaprio, when asked by reporters to clarify the exact amount of his personal stake in fossil fuels, he smiled and waved but kept mum.

“Every investment portfolio is different, and some are exceedingly complex,” Dorsey said.

Brad Goz, the director of business development for a New York consultancy that helps institutions figure out how to divest, agreed that it can be difficult to figure out how and where a fund is invested.

“Hedge funds like to keep it opaque,” he said. “But that’s becomes less challenging when CEOs demand the information.”

The best Dorsey could offer was an estimate based on the portion of the value of the S&P 500 that comes from fossil fuel companies: 3 to 7 percent. In other words, that $2.6 trillion statistic is probably much closer to $182 billion—a pretty small piece of the roughly $6 trillion value of the global market for coal, oil, and gas. Dorsey also clarified that the promised divestments are scheduled to take place over the next five years, not overnight.

To be fair, the real divestment figure isn’t nothing, and there’s some evidence that it’s growing: When this same analysis was released last year, the reported figure was just $50 billion (compared with $2.6 trillion this year). Still, it’s not clear whether any of this is enough to actually draw the notice of corporations like Exxon and Shell, and the report offered no evidence that the divestment campaign has had a specific, tangible impact on share prices.

In an interview following the announcement, May Boeve, director of the activist group 350.org, defended the framing of the announcement, saying she doesn’t “think it’s misleading.”

“The purpose of divestment is to make the point that the fossil fuel industry is losing legitimacy,” she said. “It’s about their reputation, which is less quantifiable but equally damaging.”

If she meant that the appearance of a big divestment movement can help promote more divestment, she’s probably right. Expect to see more announcements like this over the next few weeks in advance of the upcoming UN climate talks in Paris. Just make sure to read the fine print.

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We Have Some Heartbreaking News About Leonardo DiCaprio

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Going to Prison Is Really Expensive—for You and Your Family

Mother Jones

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For felons, a stint behind bars is financially costly. But, as a new report suggests, those costs often extend to the families they leave behind.

Roughly two-thirds of families of convicts had trouble meeting their basic needs as a result of their relatives’ time behind bars, according to a new national survey of 1,080 family members and former inmates. The survey was conducted by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, an Oakland-based nonprofit focused on racial and economic justice issues, along with a coalition of advocacy groups.

Incarceration, the report states, “reinforces economic stress on impoverished families and limits the economic mobility of both formerly incarcerated people and their families.”

It turns out that the financial burden of incarceration disproportionately falls on women in the family—from spouses to grandmothers. Nearly half of the people surveyed who went to prison contributed at least half of the total household income before their conviction. What’s more, the report found that household incomes generally didn’t return to their previous levels once the family member returned home. Ex-convicts often have trouble finding work, leaving them to resort to low-paying jobs to support families. At least 60 percent of former inmates remained jobless a year after their release, and 26 percent could not find work five years after their release.

Former inmates often struggle to find housing, since a criminal record bars them from government-subdsidized housing, forcing them to rely on family members. And while 67 percent of former inmates surveyed hoped to return to school after their release, only 27 percent actually did.

The high costs associated with the legal system put a considerable strain on low-income families, especially those of color. Forty-four percent of black women are related to someone in prison, and black men are more than six times as likely as white men to be imprisoned. Families on average spent $13,607 on court-related costs, such as attorney fees and court fees—one-third of the median household income nationwide and just above the poverty line threshold for a single person. That doesn’t account for the costs of maintaining contact with the family members behind bars, whether through phone calls or visits. All told, the report found, these costs helped drive more than one-third of the families surveyed into debt.

Survey respondents also reported experiencing “negative health impacts” because of their family member’s incarceration and described moments of “depression, anxiety, chronic stress, and other chronic health issues,” according to the report.

“One interaction with the criminal justice system can snowball into leaving you in debt that you can’t get out of,” said Azadeh Zohrabi, a national campaigner with the Baker Center. “Everything just keeps adding on and adding on.”

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Going to Prison Is Really Expensive—for You and Your Family

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Do Your State’s Hospitals Serve Big Macs?

Mother Jones

Would you like fries with your hospital stay? If so, you’re in luck: Many hospitals house fast-food restaurants. Some even offer delivery to patient rooms. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) isn’t wild about this phenomenon and made this map, which shows the US hospitals with fast-food chains inside them:

Image by Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Of the 208 hospitals—most of them public—that PCRM investigated in its report, 43 had fast-food chains inside, mostly McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Chick-Fil-A. PCRM staff dietitian Cameron Wells told me that some of the fast-food joints have contracts that require them to give a certain percentage of their profits to their hospitals, “meaning the more unhealthful food the restaurant sells to patients and their families, the richer the hospital gets,” she said.

Six of the fast-food-serving facilities in the report were children’s hospitals. One of those, Children’s Hospital of Georgia, offers delivery service from McDonald’s straight to patients’ beds. “Seeing this in a children’s hospital—that’s the most vulnerable population,” Wells says. “Fast food is not going to help children get better.”

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Do Your State’s Hospitals Serve Big Macs?

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Here Are the Justice Department’s Full Reports on Darren Wilson and the Ferguson Police Department

Mother Jones

On Wednesday, the Justice Department released its highly anticipated report unveiling patterns of racial discrimination among officers and officials from Ferguson, Missouri.

Here is the full report on the police department:

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DOJ Report on Ferguson Police Department (PDF)

DOJ Report on Ferguson Police Department (Text)

The department also chose not to pursue charges against Officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown last August.

Here’s the full report on the Michael Brown shooting investigation:

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DOJ Report on Shooting of Michael Brown (PDF)

DOJ Report on Shooting of Michael Brown (Text)

Read some of our previous coverage here and here.

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Here Are the Justice Department’s Full Reports on Darren Wilson and the Ferguson Police Department

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