Kiera Butler

Kiera Butler

Senior Editor

A senior editor at Mother Jones, Kiera covers health, food, and the environment. She is the author of the new book Raise: What 4-H Teaches 7 Million Kids—and How Its Lessons Could Change Food and Farming Forever (University of California Press).

 

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Wind Power Gets Stimulus Windfall

| Wed Apr. 29, 2009 3:09 PM EDT

The Department of Energy will devote $93 million of stimulus money to wind power technology. Not terribly surprising, considering that wind is all the rage at the moment. To wit: The wind industry now employs more people than the coal industry.

Most of the money will be spent on turbine-related projects (allocation breakdown after the jump). But Cleantech Blog points out that the biggest obstacle facing wind power is actually pipeline problems:

Look at the study “20% Wind Energy by 2030” released in 2008 by the U.S. Department of Energy to envision the implications of supplying 20% of the nation’s electricity needs by 2030 from wind. Oh, there’s plenty of wind to actually supply the electricity, no problem. It’s just that tons of new transmission capacity would be needed.


And there’s the rub. It’s only marginally easier to site and build a new transmission line than a new nuclear powerplant. Transmission lines take many years and sometimes even decades to get done, due to a variety of NIMBY forces and overlapping regulatory regimes at the local, state and federal levels. And, they cost a fortune, easily a million dollars a mile, often considerably more.

So, that “pipeline” from Dakota to Chicago is on the order of a billion dollars of merely enabling infrastructure – and since there are many pinchpoints in the national power grid, that wind power probably couldn’t go much further than the terminating point anyway.

And that NIMBY thing? Still a problem—and one that stimulus money probably won't solve.

According to the DOE, here's where the money will go:

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Tray-Free Campus Dining Halls?

| Wed Apr. 29, 2009 1:40 PM EDT

Bad news for those dudes you remember from your college dining hall who drank eight glasses of milk with every meal: Some college cafeterias are getting rid of trays.

Why abandon this collegiate tradition? According to the NY Times, reasons to hate on trays abound: Washing them requires a lot of water (Williams college has saved 14,000 gallons of water ever year since they shelved trays); they encourage food waste (Rochester Institute of Technology spent 10 percent less on food without trays); and they're ugly.

Some have also speculated that sans trays, students might be too lazy to make multiple trips to the pasta bar (Penne Station, anyone?). But that's really giving college kids the short shrift:

“I like not having to carry a tray around,” said Peter McInerney, a freshman here at Skidmore College, as he grabbed a midafternoon snack of an egg sandwich, pancakes and apple juice.

Glad to see the freshman fifteen thriving in these trayless times.

Lily Allen, Lumberjacks, and the Lottery: What's New in Book, Film and Music Reviews

| Tue Apr. 21, 2009 11:59 AM EDT

Looking for a distraction? Here's a quick guide to what we read, watched, and listened to in our March/April 2009 issue:

In this age of Google maps (Street View, Earth, et al), it's easy to think that we live in a transparent world. Not quite: In Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon's Secret World, geographer Trevor Paglen exposes the secret airstrips, extralegal prisons, and bases that the government claims don't exist. Moving from the world of stuff the government doesn't want you to see to stuff you don't want to see, there's the documentary Food, Inc., an eye-opening tour of all the myriad gross things that could happen to your meat—from farm (chickens with breasts so big their legs can't support them) to slaughterhouse (sick cows being tortured before slaughter) to meatpacking plant (a variety of stomach-churning germs)—before it gets to your plate.

Once you've learned about the backstory of your food, check out Brush Cat: On Trees, the Wood Economy, and the Most Dangerous Job in America for the inside scoop on the dying breed of lumberjacks who bring you your furniture, books, Starbucks cup, and even your McDonald's milkshake (for reals).

 

Spam's CO2 Emissions

| Wed Apr. 15, 2009 3:42 PM EDT

In addition to being a giant waste of your time, spam emails are also a colossal waste of electricity, according to a recent study commissioned by the research division of McAfee (a company with, just so you know, a vested interest in convincing you that spam is evil).

Some fun little statistical nuggets from the study:

 

• Globally, annual spam energy use totals 33  billion kilowatt-hours (KWh), or 33 terawatt hours (TWh). That’s equivalent to the electricity used in 2.4 million homes in the United States, with the same GHG emissions as 3.1 million passenger cars using two billion United States gallons of gasoline
• The average GHG emission associated with a single spam message is 0.3 grams of CO2. That’s like driving three feet (one meter) in equivalent emissions, but when multiplied by the annual volume of spam, it’s like driving around the  Earth 1.6 million times.

HT New Scientist and Rebecca Skloot, via Twitter.

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