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.

Full Bio | Get my RSS |

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.

Oil Spill Questions? Ask PBS' Need to Know

| Thu May. 6, 2010 4:00 AM PDT

PBS' new weekly TV news magazine and website Need To Know is taking your oil spill questions, which reporters will answer during the show's premiere this Friday, May 7. We here at Mother Jones are especially excited about the premiere, since Need To Know is a co-collaborator over at The Climate Desk. In addition to environmental coverage, the show and site will focus on the economy, health, security, and culture. The tone? Not quite The Daily Show, but considerably more irreverent than the Bill Moyers news programs it's replacing: The New York Times reports that co-hosts Alison Stewart and Jon Meacham may occasionally indulge in some banter, and comedian Andy Borowitz will close each program with a segment called "Next Week's News." Promises Borowitz:

Now, before you start comparing me to Andy Rooney, I should say that I will not be behind a desk, nor will I spend the entire segment talking about my stapler.

Amen.

Submit your oil spill questions here, and look up local air times this Friday here. Then check out the rest of Need To Know's site, which currently features stories on the history of the birth control pill, Bollywood's first gay kiss, and El Paso teens dealing with drug violence, among other topics.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Is Steel-Cut Oatmeal Really Better?

| Mon May. 3, 2010 2:30 AM PDT

All of a sudden, steel-cut oatmeal is everywhere. Within blocks of MoJo's San Francisco headquarters, it's sold at upscale touristy cafes and chain places like Starbucks and Jamba Juice. Hard to resist, since I a) am a sucker for fancy toppings (warm apple compote, anyone?) and b) find the texture and flavor of steel-cut oatmeal far superior to that of the boring quick oats I keep at my desk: Steel-cut oatmeal is chewier and, to my taste, slightly toastier than the instant stuff. The problem is that the prepared version is pricey and overpackaged: usually around $3 for a small paper container with a lid. Dry steel-cut oats are cheaper and require less packaging, but they take 20 minutes to cook, which isn't really feasible at the office. Looking for an excuse to indulge in the tasty stuff once in a while, I decided to do some research: Is there any evidence that steel-cut oatmeal is more nutritious and/or better for the planet than instant rolled oatmeal?

Most Pesticide Laden Produce of 2010

| Wed Apr. 28, 2010 10:56 AM PDT

A few months back, we reported on the 12 most pesticide-laden fruits and veggies. Today, Mother Nature Network reports that the Environmental Working Group is about to publish the 2010 version of the list. This year, celery beats out peaches for the number one spot in the "dirty dozen" list. New additions are spinach, potatoes, and blueberries, replacing last year's lettuce, pears, and carrots. In the "Clean 15" list, grapefruit and honeydew melon replace tomato and papaya.

New! Chocolate Toddler Formula

| Tue Apr. 27, 2010 1:20 PM PDT

Worried your 18-month-old might not be getting enough chocolate? Luckily, now there's a solution. Over at Food Politics, Marion Nestle reports on Mead-Johnson's new chocolate and vanilla flavored formulas for toddlers. Nestle lists the main ingredients in the chocolate version:

  • Whole milk
  • Nonfat milk
  • Sugar
  • Cocoa
  • Galactooligosaccharides (prebiotic fiber)
  • High oleic sunflower oil
  • Maltodextrin

So what is toddler formula, anyway? Nutritionally, the unflavored version is pretty similar to whole milk, except with more calcium and phosphorous. There seems to be a consensus that after age one, kids don't really need formula at all, as long as they have a healthy solid-foods diet and are getting plenty of calcium. In 2007, Australian toddler-formula makers came under fire for aggressive marketing, including handing out samples to pregnant women.

The president of the Australian Lactation Consultants Association, Gwen Moody, said food should replace milk as the primary source of energy during a child's second year. "Mothers buy the formula and they also give their child cow's milk … so either the child doesn't eat because they're not hungry, or they do eat, which can lead to weight gain. It is very clever to develop a market for this age when a child should be eating solids."

Even cleverer to make the formula taste like Yoohoo (whose ingredients, by the way, are not all that dissimilar to chocolate toddler formula).

Why Your Allergies Are Getting Worse

| Mon Apr. 26, 2010 2:30 AM PDT

Ah, spring. Flowers! Lawn sports! Baby birds! Lots and lots of snot. Yes folks, this year's pollen counts, especially in the southeast, are through the roof, and as our intrepid reporter Kate Sheppard wrote between sneezing fits last week, a new study from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) suggests allergies will likely become even more fierce if the planet continues to heat up.

Researchers found that not only is spring coming earlier, making for a longer allergy season, but warmer weather allows hickory and oak, two of the most allergenic tree species, to thrive almost everywhere in the US. Another factor: Some plants, such as ragweed, are actually making more pollen as the environment changes. "As trees that use the wind to pollinate undergo stress from heat or lack of water, they begin to produce more pollen to compensate," explained NWF climate scientist Amanda Staudt. Scientists have already observed this phenomenon in cities, where C02 levels are an average of 30 percent higher than in suburbs and rural areas. "Cities are where we’re seeing increased pollen production," explains Demain.

Hayfever's not the only allergic reaction that could worsen with climate change. Sometimes, pollen from certain plants can exacerbate food allergies to related plants, says Jeffrey Demain, director of the Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Center of Alaska. People who are genetically presdisposed to fruit and nut allergies, for example, may find that increased exposure to birch pollen makes their food reactions worse. Similarly, more ragweed pollen could aggravate symptoms in people allergic to melon. Also on the horizon: more aggressive poison ivy. A Duke university study found that poison ivy plants exposed to CO2 produced more potent urushiol, the allergen that causes the famous rash.

So is there any chance we'll adapt by becoming less allergic to all that pollen? Probably not, says Demain. "We don’t become more resistant to allergies with exposure, there's evidence that we actually become more allergic. We've actually seen more and more people with allergies for the past 30 years." So what's the solution? Ultimately, the only way to fix the problem is to cut our greenhouse gas emissions, says Staudt. In the meantime, since I'm not wild about the prospect of staying inside all allergy season long, here are three things we allergic people can do to sneeze less:

  • If you have a garden, choose plants with bright flowers. These are usually pollinated by insects, not the wind, meaning the pollen is generally too big to get into our nasal passages.
  • Urge your city officials to plant female trees, which don't produce pollen.
  • If you live in the city (especially one of those listed below), get out to the country every once in a while. (Some cities, like Albuquerque, New Mexico, have actually enacted ordnances against planting certain kinds of highly allergenic trees, though it's not clear how effective these rules are in lowering the pollen count.)

Each year the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America publishes a list of the most allergenic cities. Here's the top 10 from Spring 2010:

Mon Nov. 11, 2013 4:00 AM PST
Mon Sep. 16, 2013 11:28 AM PDT
Mon Jul. 15, 2013 3:00 AM PDT
Mon May. 13, 2013 3:00 AM PDT
Thu Dec. 27, 2012 9:52 AM PST
Fri Sep. 21, 2012 11:02 AM PDT
Tue Sep. 18, 2012 1:37 PM PDT
Tue Aug. 28, 2012 11:50 AM PDT
Thu Aug. 23, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
Mon Aug. 20, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
Thu Aug. 16, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
Fri Aug. 10, 2012 11:43 AM PDT
Tue Aug. 7, 2012 9:49 AM PDT
Thu Jul. 19, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
Wed May. 16, 2012 12:43 PM PDT
Wed May. 16, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
Tue May. 15, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
Fri May. 11, 2012 12:08 PM PDT
Mon Apr. 2, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
Fri Mar. 16, 2012 11:59 AM PDT
Mon Feb. 27, 2012 4:00 AM PST
Fri Jan. 27, 2012 4:00 AM PST
Fri Jan. 13, 2012 4:00 AM PST
Sun Jan. 1, 2012 4:00 AM PST
Wed Dec. 28, 2011 7:21 AM PST
Tue Dec. 27, 2011 9:26 AM PST
Wed Dec. 14, 2011 4:00 AM PST
Wed Dec. 7, 2011 4:00 AM PST
Tue Nov. 29, 2011 12:23 PM PST