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.

EPA Removes Everglades Expert From Restoration Project

| Tue Nov. 20, 2007 10:24 AM PST

everglades200.jpgHow do you reward an employee for years of faithful service on a project? A new watch? A raise? At least a pat on the back? Nah. If you're following the lead of the EPA, you remove him from the project.

Richard Harvey has been serving as an EPA representative on the Everglades restoration since it began in 1999. The project has been plagued by environmental problems since the get-go, and Harvey hasn't been shy about pointing them out. When water authorities diverted excess water from polluted Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, Harvey warned that this wasn't a great idea.

The most recent scuffle started last fall, when officials wanted to install an underground pipe to shunt excess water from the lake. A pipeline is not a magician, though, and dirty water has to go somewhere. In this case, Harvey said, the water would flow into Biscayne National Park. Another not-so-great idea. At a meeting, via conference call, he said:

Once again we're routing dirty water....We are extremely concerned because the track record when the district and the corps move dirty water around is some resource gets trashed.

Little did Harvey know, a reporter was also at the meeting, and she quoted him in print. A few months later, Harvey's supervisor removed him from the project.

The restoration is now almost a decade old, and some people seem to think that the park is all better. Last summer, for example, the U.N. World Heritage Committee removed the Everglades from its list of endangered places. But most experts agree with Harvey—the River of Grass still has a long way to go.

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Quarterlife: Angst 2.0

| Mon Nov. 19, 2007 4:30 PM PST

Sure, My So-Called Life was cheesy, but as a 14-year-old, I bought the sixteenth best cult show ever hook line and sinker. I swooned over dreamy Jordan Catalano. Rayanne "I Wear My Slip on the Outside" Graff was my grunge fashion inspiration. When Angela Chase observed, "My parents keep asking how school was. It's like saying, 'How was that drive-by shooting?' You don't care how it was, you're lucky to get out alive," I thought, How true.

So when I heard that the new web series Quarterlife was produced by MSCL masterminds Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, I hoped it would be just like old times. The problem was, it is.

The premise of the show is familiar enough TV territory: Twentysomethings share house, drama, shenanigans (see Three's Company, Friends, How I Met Your Mother, for starters). In each 8-minute episode, the gang does all the things that we've expected modern singles to do ever since, well, Singles: They flop onto their unmade beds. They leave empty beer bottles around their kitchens. They wonder whether to move in with their girlfriends and boyfriends.

The bummer is this:

The USDA's E. coli Loophole

| Mon Nov. 12, 2007 12:54 PM PST

3ec1.jpgWhat do you do with meat that's contaminated with E. coli bacteria? Slap a "cook-only" label on and sell that shit (pun definitely intended), says the USDA.

The Chicago Tribune reports on a little known "E. Coli loophole:" If the deadly bacteria is found in meat during processing, companies can still sell the meat if they label it as "cook-only." The reasoning seems sound, since cooking kills the germs, but inspectors say the practice is more dangerous than it appears:

...some USDA inspectors say the "cook only" practice means that higher-than-appropriate levels of E. coli are tolerated in packing plants, raising the chance that clean meat will become contaminated. They say the "cook only" practice is part of the reason for this year's sudden rise in incidents of E. coli contamination.

E. coli has been making headlines a whole lot lately. First there was the spinach scare; then the Topps recall; and just a few weeks ago, the Cargill recall. There's no evidence that the cook-only loophole has to do with any of this, but it sure doesn't make hamburgers sound any more appetizing.

Columbia Dating Scientists Up the Heeby-Jeeby Factor

| Fri Nov. 9, 2007 2:01 PM PST

dating.jpgNumber one on Slate's "most read" list at the moment is "An Economist Goes to a Bar and Solves the Mysteries of Dating." The name pretty much says it all: A bunch of researchers from the economics department at Columbia ran a speed-dating service for students at a favorite campus watering hole. After each mini-date, participants were asked to rate their partners on variables such as attractiveness, intelligence, and ambition. Their findings were a cliché come true: Men "did put significantly more weight on their assessment of a partner's beauty, when choosing, than women did," and "intelligence ratings were more than twice as important in predicting women's choices as men's." As for ambition, men "avoided women whom they perceived to be smarter than themselves. The same held true for measures of career ambition—a woman could be ambitious, just not more ambitious than the man considering her for a date."

What does it all mean? Simply refer to this neat little paragraph that sums up the researchers' findings:

So, yes, the stereotypes appear to be true: We males are a gender of fragile egos in search of a pretty face and are threatened by brains or success that exceeds our own. Women, on the other hand, care more about how men think and perform, and they don't mind being outdone on those scores.

Never mind the depressing fact that these unimpressive, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus-ish attitudes are present at Columbia, where your typical student is supposed to be busy learning how to "work across disciplines, embrace complexity, and become a fluid, fearless, forward-looking global citizen and scholar." Far more unsettling is the fact that a key point seems to have evaded both the researchers and Slate: Complex and fluid though it may be, Columbia University is most certainly not a microcosm of the larger world. Just because 400 Columbia students (who most likely have a slightly different relationship with the terms "ambition" and "intelligence" from the rest of the population) embraced these unfortunate stereotypes doesn't mean everyone else does.

The researchers' creepiest conclusion by far, though, was that "women got more dates when they won high marks for looks." From whom did the women win these high marks? Not their speed dating partners, but "research assistants, who were hired for the much sought-after position of hanging out in a bar to rate the dater's level of attractiveness on a scale of one to 10." File under: Ewwww!

This all brings us to the ultimate question: Don't Columbia economists have better things to do than scope out co-eds at a campus bar?

No Justice In Climate Change

| Thu Nov. 8, 2007 1:00 PM PST

Global-warming-maps_hi-res-sm.jpgWhen it comes to global warming, discussions tend to get real abstract, real fast. How will climbing temperatures actually affect you? Well, it depends where you live—and how rich you are (or aren't). According to a forthcoming study, climate change will disproportionately impact the world's poor.

Jonathan Patz, a professor of public health and the environment at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is one of the study's lead authors (and also an IPCC author). Patz says it's time for those of us in the gas-guzzling-est of countries to come to terms with the painful (and inconvenient) truth: Our lifestyle is bad news for the developing world—and we've got an ethical problem on our hands. In a UW-Madison press release, Patz says:

If energy demand drives up the price of corn, for example, this can inflict undue burden on poor or malnourished populations or shift agricultural areas away from other traditional food crops.

And then there are the health issues:

There are many serious diseases that are sensitive to climate, and as earth's climate changes, so too can the range and transmission of such diseases....Many of these climate-sensitive diseases, such as malaria, malnutrition, and diarrhea, affect children.

This isn't the first time someone has pointed out the unfairness of climate change. Among others, Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier has noted that her people's carbon output is a tiny fraction of the U.S.'s, yet global warming is already threatening the Inuit way of life. The IPCC has also predicted that poor people—particularly those in Africa—will be hardest hit by climate change.

To read the study, you'll have to wait till next week, when it will be published in the journal EcoHealth, but you can already check out these cool maps—one shows countries' relative carbon outputs, while the other shows their vulnerability to the effects of climate change.

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