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.

Most Pesticide Laden Produce of 2010

| Wed Apr. 28, 2010 1:56 PM EDT

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.

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New! Chocolate Toddler Formula

| Tue Apr. 27, 2010 4:20 PM EDT

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 5:30 AM EDT

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:

Is Your iPad Making Toilet Paper Scratchier?

| Thu Apr. 22, 2010 4:55 PM EDT

Last year, the New York Times reported on the staggering environmental impact of making super-soft toilet paper from virgin forests. But now, according to this week's cover story in Chemical & Engineering News, it's getting harder to make soft TP out of recycled paper: As consumers ditch magazines, newspapers, and paper bills in favor of the electronic versions, companies that produce recycled paper products are facing a shortage of raw materials.

One major problem is offices are using less white paper—which is coveted by producers of recycled toilet paper because its long fibers make for a softer product. That means manufacturers are now using lower-quality recycled paper, so the fibers are shorter and produce a rougher product—and the more times paper gets recycled, the shorter those fibers become. The challenge, then, is for companies to figure out how to do more with less:

Chemical companies that supply papermakers with bleaching and processing aids are introducing new products to make those fibers go further. The best of them also reduce costs by helping paper mills recycle water and save energy.

The pulp and paper industry is one of the largest consumers of chemicals in North America, according to the market research firm Frost & Sullivan. Every ton of paper and paperboard produced requires 600 lb of basic and specialty chemicals. Most paper chemicals firms offer a wide range of products, from commodities such as hydrogen peroxide to process chemicals including enzymes, biocides, and defoamers to functional aids such as sizing chemicals, coatings, and binders.

So either you destroy virgin forests to make a really soft non-recycled TP, or you pump a ton of chemicals into recycled paper to make the short-fibered stuff easier on our backsides. All of which has me wondering: Could we learn to live with a little scratchiness?

Via fellow MoJo staffer and sometimes Blue Marble contributor Stephanie Volkoff Green.

GRITtv: How're We Doing on Climate?

| Wed Apr. 21, 2010 1:55 PM EDT

The 40th anniversary of Earth Day fast approaches—and what better time to take stock of how we're doing on climate change? This GRITtv segment serves as a great summary of the current climate scene: Watch Mother Jones contributor Mark Hertsgaard and the NRDC's Katherine Kennedy discuss whether cap and trade can work, how to kick our coal habit, and the current climate bill. (And if you're curious about what environmentalists are up against, I strongly reccomend you check out the Sen. James Inhofe clip at 09:03. Wow.)

 

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