Kiera Butler

Kiera Butler

Senior Editor

Kiera answers your green questions every week in her Econundrums column. She was a hypochondriac even before she started researching germ warfare.

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Kiera has written about the environment, arts and culture, and more for Columbia Journalism Review, Orion, Audubon, OnEarth, Plenty, and the Utne Reader. She lives in Berkeley and recently planted 30 onions in her backyard.

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VIDEO: "Farm It Maybe"

| Fri Sep. 21, 2012 2:02 PM EDT

Just when I was about to give Cookie Monster the award for best parody of "Call Me Maybe," this kid comes along:

"Hey, I just milked you. This cow is crazy! But here's her udder. So milk her maybe."

 

Kitties, Rabies, the Plague, and You

| Tue Sep. 18, 2012 4:37 PM EDT

In the neverending war between cat people and bird people, troops on either side gather ammunition in the form of research. Add this one to Team Bird's quiver: a new study that shows how that feral cats carry deadly diseases like rabies, toxoplasmosis, and the plague(!). Published in the journal Zoonoses and Public Health, the study finds that rabies in particular is a much bigger problem among cats than dogs. In 2008, cats had four times the rabies rate of dogs, and in 2010 cats accounted for 62 percent of all rabies cases in domestic animals. 

The study also casts doubt the feral-cat control technique known as Trap-Neuter-Return, or TNR, wherein feral cats are rounded up, fixed, and released back to where they were found. Feral-cat advocates have long favored TNR, claiming it humanely reduces the feral cat population. But the new study suggests it's not effective in stopping cats from spreading rabies. From the abstract:

...some studies have shown that TNR leads to increased immigration of unneutered cats into neutered populations as well as increased kitten survival in neutered groups. These compensatory mechanisms in neutered groups leading to increased kitten survival and immigration would confound rabies vaccination campaigns and produce naïve populations of cats that can serve as source of zoonotic disease agents owing to lack of immunity.

The bird advocacy group American Bird Conservancy crows in a press release:

"This is a significant study that documents serious wildlife and public health issues associated with 125 million outdoor cats in the United States.  Decision-making officials need to start looking at the unintended impacts these animals have on both the environment and human health when they consider arguments to sanction Trap, Neuter, and Return (TNR) cat colonies. These colonies are highly detrimental to cats, wildlife, and people, and only serve to exacerbate the cat overpopulation problem," said Darin Schroeder, Vice President for Conservation Advocacy at American Bird Conservancy.

Oh no they didn't! Team Cat, what have you got?

Gay Marriage Seed Art at the Minnesota State Fair

| Fri Aug. 31, 2012 11:12 AM EDT

There's lots to see and do here at the Minnesota State Fair. And most importantly, eat: It's before noon, and already I've sampled the (allegedly) world's smoothest ice cream, a Norwegian delicacy called potato lefse, and a mini donut. But the coolest thing I've seen so far is tucked away in a small room in the agriculture building: seed art. Minnesotans have painstakingly employed a variety of common seeds—flax, lentils, poppy, adzuki, millet, and sunflower, to name just a few—to create incredibly detailed artistic masterpieces. The themes are many: cute animals, aphorisms, and affirmations of Minnesota pride abound. A bunch have political messages; this November there are two controversial measures on Minnesota's ballot: a gay marriage ban and a voter identification requirement. Here are some of the ways that fair entrants expressed their opinions on these matters:

And here's a detail:

Mood Lighting at Fast Food Joints Makes You Less Fat

| Thu Aug. 30, 2012 2:45 PM EDT

Soft lighting and smooth jazz not only add romance to your fast-food dining experience, they also make you less likely to overeat, says a new study by Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab. Researchers transformed part of a Hardee's in Champaign, Illinois into a swanky fine-dining establishment. They left the rest of the restaurant as it was. The (very breathlessly reported) results:

Researchers hypothesized that participants in the fine-dining part would consume more as the relaxed atmosphere would cause them to linger longer and order more food than those in the fast food environment. Interestingly results showed that even though participants in the fine-dining area ate for longer than those in the main eating area they actually consumed less food! Those in the fine dining area were also no more likely to order extra food. Another surprising result is that even though participants in the fine-dining part ate less food they actually rated the food as more enjoyable, so changing the atmosphere can change food consumption and food satisfaction!

The fancy-pants diners consumed 18 percent less food than their casual counterparts. Classy!

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