From the San Francisco Chronicle today comes a great story about how major produce buyers are imposing secret scorched-earth measures on hundreds of thousands of acres where spinach and leafy greens are grown. Trees are being bulldozed, frogs and rodents are being killed, and farmers are creating wide crop buffers of bare dirt, all in a misguided attempt to prevent another outbreak of E. Coli. The changes are taking a heavy toll on the Salinas Valley, the nation's "salad bowl," which is incredibly biodiverse and traditionally a hotbed of sustainable agriculture. By eliminating the natural checks and balances on the agricultural ecosystem, the measures might be doing more harm than good. There has never been an E. Coli outbreak on small-scale farms---farms that are integrated with the local ecosystem and sell to the region's farmers markets.
As my mamma in Texas might say, T. Boone Pickens is trying to throw a wide loop with a short rope. The man who funded the swift-boating of Sen. John Kerry is blogging on the liberal Huffington Post, where he's gone into full folksy mode to urge us "to pull the trigger" on "an energy plan this country needs and deserves" (one that would also line his pockets). The NAT GAS Act, sponsored by Senators Harry Reid (D-NV) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), would provide massive federal subsidies to natural gas vehicles, which Pickens is heavily invested in. Nevermind that those vehicles emit only 10 to 20 percent less greenhouse gas than diesel ones, or that Pickens and company spent more than $3.7 million promoting the same idea in California only to see it mocked and voted down. If only Pickens was as commited to building his vaunted wind farm on the Texas panhandle, which was supposed to be the largest in the world before he abandoned the idea last week. As they also say in Texas, the man is as full of wind as a corn-eating horse.
Charlotte, North Carolina, has found a silver lining in the housing crisis:
Charlotte's Habitat is among the first in the nation to start buying up houses in troubled neighborhoods where up to a third of the homes are vacant due to foreclosure. Average cost: $38,000 to $55,000, less than half the original price.
"We're getting them as low as $30,000, knowing we'll put in $10,000 of repairs," said Meg Robertson, an associate director with Habitat. "To build a new one is over $60,000 … we're $20,000 to $30,000 cheaper per home."
So what about Habitat's commitment to sweat equity? To having energetic volunteers "build houses together in partnership with families in need?" Robertson told the Charlotte Observer that she thought it was more important to house as many people as possible.
Besides, subdivisions built in the boom are already falling apart on their own or at the hands of vandals, so there should be plenty of sweat required to restore and maintain them.
As GM prepares to cut 21 percent of its US jobs and produce smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, it's mulling over changing the color of its logo from blue to green. The AP reports that the switch would be "an effort to show consumers that it is leaner and greener, more focussed on fuel efficiency and better able to make quick decisions."
Depending on your perspective, this is either a brilliant move or a monumental case of chutzpah. It might signal GM's shifting priorities, or it might come off as an effort to put a new coat of green paint on the same grimy clunker. Given how far GM has to go before it's as green as companies like Toyota or Honda, perhaps the strongest message behind the color change would be this: GM is green with envy.
EARLY ONE MORNING in August 2005, a small team of game wardens and deputies climbed through coyote brush and manzanita in the Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve outside San Jose, California, searching for an illegal pot farm. As they crested a ridge, they discovered densely planted rows of cannabis stalks. Suddenly, a high-powered rifle cracked and an officer fell to the ground, shot through both legs. Seconds later, another deputy shot and killed a man wielding a sawed-off shotgun. "It was literally like a jungle firefight," recalls warden John Nores, who fired at the other shooter before he escaped into the woods. Left behind in a meadow just minutes from the heart of Silicon Valley were 22,000 marijuana plants worth some $88 million.
Over the past decade, marijuana patches known as "grows" or "gardens" have sprung up on public lands across the West, including a third of California's national parks and nearly 40 percent of all national forests. Where hippies once grew just enough weed to peace out, traffickers now cultivate more than 100,000 plants at a time on 30-acre terraces irrigated by plastic pipe, laced with illegal pesticides, and guarded by men with MAC-10s and Uzis. Grows have turned up everywhere from the deepest backcountry to the edges of suburban subdivisions. Farming pot on public land can be more profitable than smuggling it across the increasingly militarized border. The 3.1 million pot plants seized in national forests in the year prior to last September had an estimated street value of $12.4 billion.