Weed growers versus the environment

Michael from Mother Jones writes, "Most people who use marijuana probably don't give much thought to where it comes from. Alas, a huge chunk of it comes from environmentally devastating 'trespass grows' in the national forests, where the growers cut down trees, divert waterways for irrigation, and deploy rodent poison that makes its way into species that are under threat, including birds and weasel-like mammals called fishers. 'I would consider it the No. 1 threat to salmon' in Northern California, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist tells Josh Harkinson, who reported the story for Mother Jones."

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Crowdfunding a smart, open source beehive to monitor hive-collapse

Tristan writes, "The Open Source Beehives project is a partnership between the Open Tech Collaborative and Fab Lab Barcelona crowd-sourcing a solution to the bee colony collapse issue.

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Modeling privacy rules on environmental regulations

Michael Froomkin writes, "My latest privacy paper, Regulating Mass Surveillance as Privacy Pollution: Learning from Environmental Impact Statements, has a new take on how to regulate mass surveillance in the US where the EU privacy model has not taken root, and where the 1st Amendment creates obstacles to stopping some data sharing."

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US Trade Rep can't figure out if Trans-Pacific Partnership will protect the environment


The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a secretly negotiated trade agreement let by the USA. Though the text is secret, enough drafts have leaked to make it clear that one of its goals is to ensure that foreign corporations can sue governments over laws that impact their profits, especially when it comes to the environment.

The US Trade Representative and the Obama administration have asked Congress to "fast track" the treaty, passing it without any debate or revisions. Naturally, Congress wants to know what the treaty is likely to say before they agree to this.

So in a hearing on Jan 28, Rep Mark Pocan (D-WI) asked Michael Froman -- the US Trade Rep running the TPP show -- about the environmental standards in TPP. Froman listed four areas in TPP that were "absolutely non-negotiable from a US standpoint," including "tough new environmental standards."

When the meeting ended, Pocan asked "So does that mean that if we give you fast track, you won't send us a deal that doesn't have that stuff in it?' At which point, we learned that the US Trade Rep uses a highly specialized meaning for the phrase "absolutely non-negotiable," meaning "totally up for grabs," because he immediately said, "I didn't say that."

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Electric Ecology: oil paintings of ewaste


Tim sez, "Our technological lives produce vast numbers of artifacts. Many of which become obsolete in a very short time. All of these relics, once vital to our daily lives, end up in drawers and landfills -- forgotten as soon as their usefulness is eclipsed. Electric Ecology, by Ruth Whiting is a series of oil paintings that investigates a mythical afterlife for the forgotten connective tissue of technology where plugs and cables live on in an imagined realm."

Ruth Whiting — Electric Ecology (Thanks, Tim!)

Interactive map of the world's tree loss

Global Forest Watch maintains a current map of worldwide tree loss and gain, based upon satellite and other mapping imagery provided by Google. The "loss" color seems to obscure the "gain" color at further-out zoom levels, but it's very easy to explore. [via Flowing Data]

Kim Stanley Robinson on science fiction and California: "California is a terraformed space"

In this interview with Boom Magazine, Kim Stanley Robinson discusses the relationship of California to the future. Robinson is a profound ecological thinker, and two of his books in particular, Pacific Edge (the best utopian/optimistic novel I've ever read) and 2312 (a dazzling work of environmentally conscious, wildly imaginative eco-futurism) are both important works for thinking about a way out of our current dire situation.

In this interview, Robinson's analysis is particularly cogent, making a microcosm out of California for the whole world, and making important points about the way that good technology is key to any answer to questions about humanity's future on and off Earth. Especially worth reading are his views on the relationship of science to capitalism:

"Capitalism’s effect on humanity is not at all what science’s effect is on humanity. If you say science is nothing but instrumentality and capitalism’s technical wing, then you’re saying we’re doomed. Those are the two most powerful social forces on the planet, and now it’s come to a situation of science versus capitalism. It’s a titanic battle. One is positive and the other negative. We need to do everything we can to create democratic, environmental, utopian science, because meanwhile there is this economic power structure that benefits the few, not very different from feudalism, while wrecking the biosphere. This is just a folk tale, of course, like a play with sock puppets, like Punch and Judy. But I think it describes the situation fairly well."

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Horrific plague causes starfish to tear themselves to pieces

A mysterious plague has manifested in the world's starfish population, quickly spreading to several regions in which starfish (also called "sea stars") are found. Starfish afflicted with the disease tear themselves to pieces, the arms crawling in opposite directions until the animals are literally torn to pieces. Unlike healthy starfish, the affected animals are not able to regenerate after they are torn apart.

The disease is largely a mystery. Researchers who are studying it are asking beach-walkers to photograph any starfish they see to tweet photos of it with the #sickstarfish tag. Starfish are important marine predators; a serious depletion of their numbers will have far-reaching consequences for marine ecosystems.

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The future of technology might be in Greenland

The rare earth elements that play an important role in everything from electric car batteries, to LED lighting, to surgical lasers, aren't actually rare. The vast majority of them come from China right now, but that's not because China has them and other countries don't. In fact, the US and Australia also have large deposits of rare earths. Instead, rare earth elements come from China because China is willing to cheaply mine and process them, which can be extremely polluting. The more protections against pollution that you put in place, the more expensive the rare earths become, which is how the US got priced out of that game.

All of that is important background information to help you understand why a proposal to mine and process rare earth elements in Greenland is so controversial. On the one hand, it could bring economic and political independence to the country (which still relies heavily on Denmark), and provide jobs in a really rough economyu. On the other hand, actually challenging China's supremacy in this business means cutting costs in ways that would likely have lasting, negative impacts on the land.

Image: Tasiilaq Greenland Marina, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from chrissy575's photostream

Leaked: environmental chapter of the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty

Most of our coverage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership has focused on its Internet-regulating provisions. But the treaty -- which has been negotiated in unprecedented secrecy, with heavy-handed shoves from the US Trade Representative -- also has disturbing implications for the environment. Today, Wikileaks published a leaked consolidated draft of TPP's environment chapter, which sets out the ways in which corporations will be able to prevent countries from passing environmental laws that interfere with profit making.

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Chronology of Canadian Tories' war on science libraries

As I've written, the Canadian Harper government's purge of environmental and scientific libraries has been a horrific shambles, as priceless and irreplaceable books and documents going back centuries were thrown away or even burned. Science librarian John Dupuis has assembled a comprehensive timeline of the disaster, with links to news stories and first-hand accounts that should have warned us something was amiss. Cory 15

Canadian libricide: Tories torch and dump centuries of priceless, irreplaceable environmental archives


Back in 2012, when Canada's Harper government announced that it would close down national archive sites around the country, they promised that anything that was discarded or sold would be digitized first. But only an insignificant fraction of the archives got scanned, and much of it was simply sent to landfill or burned.

Unsurprisingly, given the Canadian Conservatives' war on the environment, the worst-faring archives were those that related to climate research. The legendary environmental research resources of the St. Andrews Biological Station in St. Andrews, New Brunswick are gone. The Freshwater Institute library in Winnipeg and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John's, Newfoundland: gone. Both collections were world-class.

An irreplaceable, 50-volume collection of logs from HMS Challenger's 19th century expedition went to the landfill, taking with them the crucial observations of marine life, fish stocks and fisheries of the age. Update: a copy of these logs survives overseas.

The destruction of these publicly owned collections was undertaken in haste. No records were kept of what was thrown away, what was sold, and what was simply lost. Some of the books were burned.

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The cheesy streets of Milwaukee

Back in September, the city of Milwaukee announced that it would be spreading cheese brine on its streets this winter in a pilot program to see whether the salty liquid could reduce the amount of rock salt necessary to de-ice roads. Now, it looks like the plan is working out well. In fact, there's not even a smell to the streets.

Utility companies go to war against solar


Utility companies across America are fighting solar, imposing high fees on homeowners who install their own solar panels to feed back into the grid. This one was predictable from a long, long way out -- energy companies being that special horror-burrito made from a core of hot, chewy greed wrapped in a fluffy blanket of regulatory protection, fixed in their belief that they have the right to profit from all power used, whether or not their supply it.

Bruce Sterling once proposed that Americans should be encouraged to drive much larger trucks, big enough to house monster fuel-cells that are kept supplied with hydrogen by decentralized windmill and solar installations -- when they are receiving more power than is immediately needed, they use the surplus to electrolyze water and store the hydrogen in any handy nearby monster-trucks' cells. When the wind isn't blowing or the sun isn't shining, you just plug your house into your enormous American-Dream-mobile -- no need for a two-way grid.

This solution wasn't just great because it aligned the core American value of driving really large cars with environmental protection, but also because it was less vulnerable to sabotage from hydrocarbon-addicted energy companies.

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New Yorker on Kim Stanley Robinson: "Our Greatest Political Novelist"


Writing in the New Yorker, Tim Kreider addresses the brilliant science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson as a political novelist. It's keyed to Stan's September novel Shaman: A Novel of the Ice Age, which I haven't yet read, but which I'm taking with on my Christmas holiday. Robinson is one of my favorite writers (and people!), and books like 2312, Forty Signs of Rain, the Mars trilogy, and especially Pacific Edge (which I re-read once a year, or any time I feel hopeless about the future) have made an indelible mark on me.

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