The domestic fracking boom has been widely celebrated as a godsend in the fight against climate change. In 2007, cheap natural gas began replacing dirtier coal as the fuel of choice in US power plants. By 2012, the switchover was annually saving an estimated 86 million tons of CO2, the carbon equivalent of taking 21 million cars off the road. That's obviously a huge accomplishment, but it comes with a lesser known catch: All of that coal we're no longer using is still getting dug up, sold off, and spewed into the atmosphere.
The carbon pollution savings from our switch from coal to gas has been more than canceled out by an increase in our coal exports, according to a recent study by Shakeb Afsah of the group CO2 Scorecard. After the domestic market for coal dried up in 2007, US exports of steam coal increased by 83 million tons, resulting in the release of an additional 149 million metric tons of CO2. That's 73 percent more CO2 than Americans have saved so far by ditching the black stuff.
The study is mentioned today in a great story by AP's Dina Cappiello, who looks at whether the coal exports will ultimately increase carbon emissions. Coal companies point to studies suggesting international demand for coal is fairly inelastic, meaning that if US coal exports suddenly disappeared, they would simply be replaced by coal from somewhere else. Yet other studies conclude that the US exports depress prices, driving up demand and delaying a switch to cleaner options.
As I've previously noted, huge new coal export terminals proposed on the West Coast have become the latest flash points in the climate wars. Cappiello points out that a single ship full of Appalachian coal, exported from Virginia to South America, contains enough greenhouse gas to match the annual emissions of a small American power plant.
UPDATE: Cappiello's story has spawned new debate over whether coal exports increase emissions. Andrew Revkin weighs in, and CO2 Scorecard responds.
Twitter today followed in the footsteps of Google, Yahoo, LinkedIn, and Facebook by releasing statistics on the race and gender of its workforce. The company certainly deserves credit for voluntarily making its diversity stats public, unlike, say, Apple. "Like our peers, we have a lot of work to do," Janet Van Huysse, its VP of diversity and inclusion, admits on the company blog. But perhaps that's an understatement; Twitter actually lags far behind its peers on some key measures. For instance, only 1 out of every 10 Twitter tech employees is a woman:
In case you're wondering, other large tech companies have significantly better gender diversity (though it's still abysmal compared to professions such as law or medicine). At Facebook and Yahoo, 15 percent of tech workers are women. At Google and LinkedIn, it's 17 percent. In 2010, Mike Swift of the San Jose Mercury Newsfound that women held 24 percent of computer and mathematics jobs in Silicon Valley and 27 percent of those jobs nationally (though those categories may be broader than how they're defined by leading tech companies, as Tasneem Raja explores in this great piece on America's growing gap in tech literacy).
Unlike its peers, Twitter can't entirely blame its dearth of female coders on the talent pipeline: About 18 percent of computer science graduates are women. Instead, Van Huysse points to a slew of efforts to "move the needle" at Twitter, such as supporting the groups Girls Who Code and sf.girls and hosting "Girl Geek Dinners."
As other reporters have noted, major tech firms started releasing their workforce data shortly after I obtained a batch of Silicon Valley diversity figures from the Labor Department and began asking them for comment. But pressure to release the stats has also come from a campaign by Color of Change and Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Push Coalition, which have demanded the stats during a string of private meetings with Valley execs, and last week launched a Twitter-based campaign to urge Twitter to make its diversity numbers public. Strikingly, only 1 percent of Twitter's tech workforce and 2 percent of its overall workforce is African-American:
Jackson argues that improving Twitter's diversity isn't just the right thing to do; it's also a good business decision. It turns out that "Black Twitter" isn't just a meme. According to a recent Pew survey, 22 percent of African-American internet users are on Twitter, while only 16 percent of White internet users tweet. Meanwhile, usage of Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ is roughly the same between Blacks and Whites.
In short, Twitter might make more money by hiring more people who reflect its audience. "There is no talent deficit, there's an opportunity deficit," Jackson said in a press release responding to Twitter's data. "When everyone is 'in,' everyone wins."
Unlike most male dairy calves, Harry, who was born at the Ahimsa Dairy, won't be turned into veal
If you don't eat beef because you feel sorry for those cows in Chick-fil-A ads, then you probably shouldn't drink milk either. The typical male calf born to a dairy cow becomes veal. The typical female is milked for five years—a quarter of her natural lifetime—then sent to the abattoir to become pet food or low-grade hamburger meat. Elsie the Cow, Borden Dairy Company's famous cartoon logo, is smiling only because she doesn't realize that she's about to get euthanized with a cattle gun.
Yet if you're an ethical vegetarian who still can't bear to give up milk, you now have another option: slaughter-free dairy, which comes from farms where cows never get killed. Since 2011, the UK-based Ahimsa Dairy has offered slaughter free-milk and cheese to customers in London. In February, Pennsylvania's Gita Nagari Creamery, which has supplied no-kill milk to the local Hare Krishna community for many years, began offering it to the public through subscription and mail order—for a whopping $10 a gallon. The price includes a $2.50 cow retirement fee and $1.50 for "boy calf care." Less than half of its 60-head herd gets milked; the rest of the animals pull plows or spend their golden years lackadaisically chomping grass.
"For us, the cows or oxen or bulls are seen as extended family members," says Pari Jata, the co-president of Gita Nagari Creamery. "It's very important for us to protect them in their retirement. We take care of them just as one would take care of elderly parents in their old age."
The slaughter-free milk movement takes its cues from India, where many vegetarian Hindus drink milk but consider cows sacred animals that should never be consumed for meat. Yet increasing numbers of Gita Nagari and Ahimsa customers are Westerners who eschew meat for ethical reasons. Both dairies have considered selling their milk in stores; Ahimsa is in talks with a major retailer.
If all dairies became slaughter-free, they'd add yearly greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to four large coal-fired power plants.
As vegetarianism gains popularity, slaughter-free milk could become a bona fide food trend—but there's a catch: It might take a toll on the environment. Cows are already the nation's single largest source of methane, a greenhouse gas produced by oil extraction, decomposing trash, and the guts of grazing animals that's as much as 105 times more potent than carbon dioxide. A single cow farts and belches enough methane tomatch the carbon equivalent of the average car. According to a 2006 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report, the world's 1.4 billion cows produce 18 percent of the world's greenhouse gases—more than the entire transportation sector. Since the turn of the 19th century, global methane emissions have increased by more than 150 percent, and cows are largely to blame.
If all dairies became slaughter-free, we'd need three to four times as many dairy cows to produce the same amount of milk, which would mean adding at least 27 million additional cows to our herds. Those added cows would each year produce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to four large coal-fired power plants. We'd also need more meat cows to keep up with the demand for products such as veal and dog food. Pasturing all of these cows would displace wildlife or agricultural crops, straining biodiversity and increasing food prices.
Jata knows there's a potential for the slaughter-free milk trend to go bad—just like the craze for tofu and soymilk contributed to the spread of soybean plantations in South America's rainforests, she says (though most soybeans are consumed by livestock). "Where does it end?" she asks. "For us, as a community, we bring it all back to local food sources and local practices that are self-contained but shared, so it doesn't create this mass corporation-style approach to everything."
Small, humane dairies can certainly find other ways to mitigate their environmental impacts. The Gita Nagari and Ahimsa dairies employ cow manure to fertilize their organic vegetables and bull power to plow their fields, avoiding carbon-intensive tractors and chemical fertilizers. And the Gita Nagari dairy uses an anaerobic digester to convert manure into a gas that residents of the dairy use for cooking—but this sort of thing would be hard to implement on a larger scale.
For Nicola Pazdzierska, the co-director of the Ahimsa Dairy Foundation, the price and environmental impact of slaughter-free milk underscores the need to rethink our relationship with dairy products. "We're not saying more cows," she told me. "We're saying possibly even fewer cows, but kept in better circumstances." She went on: "We think milk is a precious foodstuff. If you pay more for it, you value it more. You use it more thoughtfully. It should be treated with respect."
Tent Girl. The Lady of the Dunes. The Head in the Bucket. These are just a few of the nicknames given to America's 40,000 unidentified corpses by amateur web sleuths. For decades, members of this thriving, heroic, and macabre internet subculture have been cracking cold cases that have long stumped law enforcement. But what motivates them to spend countless hours poring over police reports and autopsy photos? Deborah Halber replaces the classic whodunit with what you might call a whosolvesit. She discovers that many web sleuths throw themselves into their dark hobby to escape their own damaged lives. Some find their share of fame and fortune; others, only more demons.
The gender and ethnicity of Google's overall workforce Official Google Blog
After stalling for years, Google finally released data on the diversity of its workforce Wednesday, admitting that the company is "miles from where want to be." Lazlo Bock, Google's senior vice president of people operations, noted that "being totally clear about the extent of the problem is a really important part of the solution," adding that the company is supporting code education among historically underrepresented groups.
But those efforts may not be enough. Exclusive data obtained from the Labor Department by Mother Jones shows that top Silicon Valley tech firms lag far behind the general population in diversity, and that while Google is average in its recruitment of women, it has even fewer African-American and Latino employees than other major tech firms.
Google is far from the only Silicon Valley firm that has been tight-lipped about its demographics. Though large companies are legally obligated to report race and gender stats to the federal government, tech firms such as Google, Apple, and Oracle long ago convinced the Labor Department to treat the data as a "trade secret" and withhold it from the public. Mike Swift of the San Jose Mercury News sued the department to get the numbers. In 2010, following a two-year legal battle, he ultimately settled for stats for a handful of the Valley's largest companies.
Swift's data went through 2005. To get an update, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request a few months ago asking the Labor Department for its latest race and gender data on the top 10 firms. In order of largest to smallest by market capitalization, it now consists of Apple, Google, Oracle, Cisco Systems, Intel, Gilead Sciences, eBay, Facebook, Hewlett-Packard, and VMware. When I reached out for comment, most of these companies didn't get back to me. Google responded that it intended to make its stats public, as it now has. The chart up top shows stats for Google's workforce overall. The nontech workforce is a lot more balanced. But when you look at just the tech jobs, things are far less diverse. For example, 83 percent of the tech jobs are held by men, and 94 percent of those workers are white or Asian.
Google's tech workforce is far less diverse than its overall workforce. Google
The data I obtained shows that Silicon Valley's race and gender disparities also are wider when limited to executives and top managers, and more dramatic when compared to the makeup of the state workforce. Google's stats reflect the same: Its "leadership" is 79 percent male and 72 percent white, which would put it a bit ahead of its peers, except that the report is vague about which specific positions are being included. Here's what things look like for the Valley's Top 10 firms, based on our Labor Department data:
The data obtained by Mother Jones illustrates that "many companies pay lip service to diversity rather than making the real changes," says Telle Whitney, president and CEO of the Anita Borg Institute, a Palo Alto-based nonprofit that promotes the recruitment and retention of women in technology.
Though the technology gender gap originates in college—only about 18 percent of computer science graduates are women—Whitney believes that the imbalance ultimately stems from the failure of Silicon Valley's leaders to groom more women for top positions, which in turn discourages younger women from entering the field. "First it has to be a priority to have a diverse workforce," she says. "And the priority has to come from the top."
Not all of a tech firm's employees work as coders or engineers. But among those people directly employed in technology positions at Bay Area tech firms, Asians have actually surpassed whites as the dominant racial group:
These numbers are driven, in part, by the heavy reliance of tech companies on the H-1B visa program, which allows US firms to import up to 65,000 foreign workers each year to fill jobs that require "specialized knowledge." In 2012, more than 40 percent of the H-1B workers in the United States came from India, China, or South Korea. Many of them earn less money for comparable jobs than their American counterparts, which is perhaps one reason why major tech firms have lobbied furiously in Washington to increase the H-1B visa cap.
But Asian Americans are also represented at a high rate in Silicon Valley, and are overrepresented among high school students taking the AP computer science exam:
Prominent techies like to say that the Valley is a pure meritocracy, but the glaring disparities make that a dubious claim. "In polite company, I would say it's a fallacy," says Laura Weidman Powers, the executive director of Code2040, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that promotes racial diversity in tech hiring. "In impolite company, I would say it's bullshit."
Powers doesn't think tech corporate leaders are discriminating deliberately; the factors working against black and Latino candidates are more subtle and structural. "Referrals are a huge source of inbound talent for these companies, even when you look at a company as large as a Google or a Facebook," Powers notes. Given that most Americans run in the social networks of people who look like them, the system benefits the Valley's dominant groups at the expense of those on the outside.
Code2040 tries to disrupt that dynamic by actively recruiting talented African American and Latino computer science graduates and plugging them into internships at tech companies. But the group still struggles to convince CEOs to make diversity a goal. "For the tech industry, this is newer," she says. "There is a pretty pervasive mindset of 'Oh, we're colorblind. We just see talent.'"
The best case for increasing diversity in Silicon Valley may be financial. Powers' group gets its name from the year 2040, when people of color are expected to make up the majority of the US population. She argues that tech firms need to hire more people who reflect and understand their customer base. "For any company that has a consumer-facing product" a few years from now, she says, "the communities that use that product will look different."
Correction: A previous version of this post included a chart showing diversity at Silicon Valley's top 10 companies in 1999 vs 2012. There was a misinterpretation about one of the datasets used for the chart, so we have since removed it. In addition, the article has been amended to address Google's breakdown according to tech and nontech jobs, and "leadership" positions.