in the mid-'80s, an atmospheric physicist named Carl N. Hodges predicted that the key to saving the planet was to make the desert bloom—with a spindly saltwater plant known as salicornia, a.k.a. sea asparagus. The idea languished for years, but now scientists, investors, and even celebrities are lining up behind the 71-year-old's vision for feeding the planet, fueling our cars, and reversing rising sea levels. "I don't know if I'm slow or the world is," says Hodges, the founder of the University of Arizona's Environmental Research Laboratory, "but finally it has all come together."
After evaluating more than 700 kinds of salt-tolerant plants, Hodges thinks the lowly coastal succulent (official name: Salicornia bigelovii) is the crop of the future. Sea asparagus can be sautéed (it's salty and crunches like snap peas), crushed into a protein-rich meal (Hodges has made it into cookies), or pressed into oil (it cooks like safflower oil). Hodges says the most likely market for edible salicornia is animal herders looking for cheap feed supplements, and he thinks the oil could catch on in poor countries. Salicornia can also be turned into biofuel—one that can power cars without hogging freshwater or distorting food prices. nasa scientists estimate that growing saltwater plants like salicornia across an area the size of the Sahara could supply more than 90 percent of the world's energy needs.
in the 1960s, landscape architect Karl Linn transformed vacant lots in cities across the nation into "neighborhood commons"—early prototypes of the community garden. Contemporary food activists are defining urban agriculture more broadly, looking for ways to harvest fruits and veggies almost anywhere a seed will take root, from tiny backyards to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Finders Keepers "There is a ton of wild produce out there," says 27-year-old Iso Rabins, founder of ForageSF, a San Francisco-based csa (community supported agriculture) startup whose members will be able to barter whatever they find growing in the city, from blackberries in parks to fennel in empty lots. In a similar vein, Fallen Fruit, a Los Angeles collective, produces maps of fruit trees whose branches overhang streets and sidewalks—"public fruit" ripe for the picking. Cofounder David Burns urges fellow urban gatherers not to get sticky fingers. "This is about making relationships," he says, "not just grocery shopping."
A recent report by International Rivers details a rash of dam building projects in the world's most rugged and scenic mountain range:
Massive plans are underway in Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Bhutan to build several hundred dams in the region, with over 150,000 megawatts of additional capacity proposed in the next 20 years in the four countries. If all the planned capacity expansion materializes, the Himalayan region could possibly have the highest concentration of dams in the world.
It's almost certain that this will happen. Sometimes known as the "Third Pole," the Himalayas contain of 3,700 square kilometers of glacial ice, which is melting due to climate change and gushing down the slopes of the 14 tallest peaks in the world. South Asia's boom in population, economic output (which is surprisingly immune to the global downturn), and Western-funded carbon offset projects virtually insures that the forces of dam building will be almost as powerful as the collision of the Indian and Eurasian plates.
Clearly the dams will export cheap and low-carbon electricity. But they will also displace hundreds of thousands of people, import hordes of culturally disruptive migrant laborers, wreck fisheries, and, maybe worst of all, breach in the likely event of an earthquake or climate-change-induced flood, unleashing a cascade of disasters. Novelist Arundhati Roy has eloquently opined against the Narmada dam project, though to little avail. We can only hope that the scenic Himalayas will fare better in the protective embrace of their poets.
The EPA's criminal investigation division has a website where you can print out wanted posters for environmental criminals who are on the lam. Who knew? Most of these guys look so perfect for Central Casting that you've got to wonder if they were chosen more for their oily hair and trucker glasses than their rap sheets. The website's America's-Most-Wanted feel is reinforced by a big red warning that reads: "Do not attempt to apprehend any of these individuals." What, not even this guy?
In Los Angeles County, cities are buying federal stimulus funds from each other at deep discounts, turning what was supposed to be a targeted infusion of cash into a huge auction.
It all started when the county's Metropolitan Transportation Agency decided to hand out $44 million from the federal stimulus package in the form of $500,000 transportation grants to each of the county's 88 cities. But some cities didn't have any shovel-ready transportation projects. So with MTA's blessing, they're selling the grants to the highest bidder:
La Habra Heights, a city of 6,000, has sold its $500,000 in federal funds to the city of Westlake Village for $310,000 cash. Irwindale, population 1,500, also sold its $500,000 to Westlake Village, for $325,000 cash.
The city of Rolling Hills, population 1,900, sold its $500,000 share to the city of Rancho Palos Verdes for $305,000 cash. The city of Avalon has reached an agreement to swap its $500,000 with L.A. County.
This is Southern California that we're talking about--the land of eternal gridlock. MTA could have redirected the money to a nearly infinite list of other transportation projects. But chief planning officer Carol Inge told the Pasadena Star-News that the agency didn't want to do that because "our board wanted to give every city at least a chance to benefit from the stimulus package."
I'm sure many cities have higher priorities than transportation. And I would have liked to have seen more direct aid to ailing local governments in the stimulus bill. Still, MTA's approach strikes me as a bit too creative. What's next, stimuls money credit default swaps?
UPDATE: After this post appeared, MTA reversed course and invalidated these sales. It now says that the stimulus funds can only be swapped for other county money targeted for transit projects. But this probably won't end the controversy. MTA is still handing out a half million bucks to all 88 cities in the county, including the tiny Irwindale, population 1,446. That's $345 per Irwindalian, just for transportation. With that they could hire a worker to dig through the yellow pages and dial up free limos for everyone. H/T to TotalCapitol in the comments.