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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Wal-Mart Rations Rice

| Wed Apr. 23, 2008 1:24 PM EDT

rice100.jpgShoot! You were planning a rice-and-beans dinner party for 100, and you thought for sure your local Wal-Mart would meet all your bulk rice needs.

Think again. Because of rising rice prices around the globe and worries about shortages, the biggest big box has announced that it will ration long grain, jasmine, and basmati rice, allowing customers to purchase only four bags per visit.

Since the beginning of 2008, rice prices have risen 68 percent worldwide. This is one of the main reasons that food riots have broken out recently all over the developing world.

Saint Louis Meriska's children ate two spoonfuls of rice apiece as their only meal recently and then went without any food the following day. His eyes downcast, his own stomach empty, the unemployed father said forlornly, "They look at me and say, 'Papa, I'm hungry,' and I have to look away. It's humiliating and it makes you angry."

In light of this two-spoonfuls anecdote, Wal-Mart's four-bag limit sounds downright decadent, but rice rationing in the U.S. means that whatever is going on with supply and demand trends is not good. Once land-o'-plenty retailers start fretting about global food shortages, you can be sure it's time to worry.

Former Polygamist on Polygamy

| Wed Apr. 9, 2008 5:26 PM EDT

yearning200.jpgIt's been five days since authorities raided the Yearning for Zion Ranch, a compound outside Eldorado, Texas owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Tipped off by a phone call from a 16-year-old girl who said she had been repeatedly "beat and hurt" by her middle-aged husband, the cops stormed Yearning for Zion and took 419 children into custody, accompanied by 139 of their mothers, into custody.

To be sure, Yearning for Zion sounds like a horror show. But is it polygamy's fault? I mean, "the principle" seems to work okay on Big Love, right? I wanted a plural marriage expert to weigh in. After an admittedly quick Internet search, I decided on John Llewellyn, a retired Salt Lake County Sheriff's Lieutenant who has been involved with a bunch of polygamy investigations. Once he started talking, though, it was clear that Llewellyn had some pretty strong opinions about plural marriage, and with good reason: He used to be a polygamist himself.

At the beginning of his career with the Salt Lake City Sheriff's Department, Llewellyn and his young family became active in Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (the Mitt Romney kind of Mormons; they will be the first to tell you that they have noting—they said NOTHING—to do with polygamy). A young single mother asked him to be her children's godfather, and somehow that turned into a request to be his second wife. To Llewellyn's surprise, his first wife acquiesced, and thus began his involvement with the Apostolic United Brethren. He quickly discovered that polygamy wasn't for him—he didn't like how it pitted women against each other. Twenty years later, he left the church with his second wife. (His original wife, he says, chose to be "the fifth wife in a more affluent family.")

Since then, Llewellyn has written several books about life in polygamist communities. These days, he's made it his mission to spread the word about the evils of plural marriage, which he calls "a barbaric custom...to accept it is like going back to the Middle Ages." And he's given up church life, too. "I don't want anything to come between me and God," he says. "If there is a God, I'll handle my own salvation. I don't need a pope or a prophet to come between me and God." I asked Lewellyn a few questions about the Yearning for Zion raid, and, uh, he didn't mince words. Q&A after the jump.

Global Warming for Fun and Profit

| Mon Mar. 24, 2008 5:41 PM EDT

Sick of frittering away your hard-earned wages on March Madness? How about betting on melting ice instead?

An annual contest to guess the exact moment the ice breaks on the River Tanana, 300 miles north of Anchorage, is attracting global interest, both as a chance to win a $300,000 (£151,000) prize and as one of the world's most precise scientific indicators of the effects of global warming.

Betting closes at midnight on April 5, and tickets are sold throughout Alaska.

Drilling Making Alaskans Sick

| Mon Mar. 24, 2008 3:00 PM EDT

offshore200.jpgBy now, most of us have heard about how oil and gas drilling does a number on ecosystems. But it's no good for people, either. By way of the British Columbia online magazine the Tyee comes the story of Nuiqsut, a coastal community of 523 people in northern Alaska, about 100 miles west of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Back in the late '90s, the oil and gas companies wooed the local Inupiat tribe with promises of jobs and minimal environmental impact—just 14 acres of tribal land would be affected by offshore and land drilling, they said. But now, 14 looks more like 500, and the community is a whole lot worse for the wear, says Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, mayor of Nuiqsut and also a health-care worker:

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