Blue Marble

Purina Pet Food Is So Much More Disgusting Than We Even Knew

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 8:16 PM EST
Nestlé's Fancy Feast cat food, with a "fish and shrimp feast" flavor, is a product of Thailand.

If you've ever purchased seafood or pet food from Nestlé, you may have unwittingly contributed to the abuse of migrant workers in Southeast Asia.

Burmese and Cambodian workers are tricked into laboring on Thai fishing boats after fleeing persecution and poverty at home.

On Monday, Nestlé admitted that it had found indications of forced labor, human trafficking, and child labor in its supply chain in Thailand, where the Switzerland-based company sources some of the seafood that it sells in supermarkets around the world, including in the United States. The findings came after an internal investigation that was launched by Nestlé in December last year, following reports by media and NGOs that linked the company's shrimp, prawns, and Purina brand pet foods with abusive working conditions.

Many of the workers in question are migrants from Thailand's less developed neighbors, Burma and Cambodia, who are tricked into laboring on fishing boats after fleeing persecution and poverty at home, according to the Massachusetts-based nonprofit Verité, which at Nestlé's request interviewed workers at six of the company's production sites in Thailand. Workers "had been subjected to deceptive recruitment practices that started in their home countries, transported to Thailand under inhumane conditions, charged with excessive fees leading to debt bondage in some cases, exposed to exploitative and hazardous working conditions, and, at the time of assessment, were living under sub-par to degrading conditions," Verité wrote in its report.

But Nestlé isn't the only one with a tainted supply chain: The mistreatment of migrants is systematic in Thailand's fishing sector, Verité found, meaning that other American and European companies that buy seafood from the country are likely complicit in similar labor abuses. These abuses have been highlighted by the US State Department, which last year downgraded Thailand to the lowest level in its annual report on human trafficking, and they underpin several lawsuits that have been filed recently against retailers including Nestlé and Costco Wholesale Corp. Steve Berman, managing partner of the law firm Hagens Berman, which in August filed a class-action lawsuit against Nestlé, told the New York Times that the company's report on Monday was "a step in the right direction," but added that "our litigation will go forward because Nestlé Purina still fails to disclose on its products, as is required by law, that slave labor was used in its making."

For its part, Nestlé has vowed to publish a strategy to protect workers in Thailand, including by bringing in outside auditors and training boat owners about human rights. "This will be neither a quick nor an easy endeavour, but we look forward to making significant progress in the months ahead," Magdi Batato, Nestlé’s executive vice president in charge of operations, said in a statement.

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China Is Absolutely Destroying the US on Clean Energy

| Tue Nov. 24, 2015 4:13 PM EST
A worker installs solar panels on November 17 in Yantai, Shandong Province, in China.

When world leaders convene on Monday in Paris for two weeks of high-stakes climate negotiations, one of the top items on the agenda will be how developing nations should prepare for and help to slow global warming. Opponents to President Barack Obama's climate agenda, such as GOP presidential contender Marco Rubio, like to argue that anything the United States does to curb greenhouse gas emissions will be pointless because countries like India and China aren't doing the same.

But new data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance shows that this argument is just hot air: For the first time ever, over the last year the majority of global investment in clean energy projects was spent in developing countries. In fact, clean energy investment in China alone outpaced that in the United States, the United Kingdom, and France combined, BNEF found. Across 55 major non-OECD countries, including India, Brazil, China, and Kenya, clean energy investment reached $126 billion in 2014, a record high and 39 percent higher than 2013 levels. 

The chart below shows how that level of investment is opening up a market for wind, solar, and other clean energy projects in non-OECD countries that is now larger than the market in the traditional strongholds of the United States and Europe. In other words, the very countries Rubio likes to malign as laggards are actually leading the charge.


That trend is likely to continue for decades to come, BNEF found. Check out their projection for growth through 2040:


These numbers add up to a big deal for the climate, because they show that countries in Africa and Southeast Asia that still lack reliable electricity for millions of people are solving that problem, and growing their economies, without relying on dirty fossil fuels. China, to be clear, is still the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and it doesn't plan to peak its emissions until 2030. But its early commitment to clean energy means it can continue its rapid rate of growth with far less pollution than it would produce otherwise.

The BNEF report is just the most recent good sign for the clean energy business. Big corporations in the United States are signing contracts for a record amount of clean energy for their data centers, warehouses, and other facilities. And the Paris talks are likely to send a jolt through the industry, as countries around the world redouble their commitments to get more of their power from renewable sources.

Stay tuned for more news on this front as the talks unfold over the coming weeks.

This Jeff Goldblum Video Isn't Really That Funny, But I Give Him Credit for Trying

| Thu Nov. 19, 2015 1:41 PM EST

It's pretty hard to be funny about climate change. Not just because the subject tends to be grim, but also because the solutions tend to be technical, wonky, and interesting mostly just to nerds.

The video above, released today by Funny or Die in affiliation with the League of Conservation Voters, makes a valiant effort. It features Jeff Goldblum explaining the Obama administration's plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a boardroom full of cartoonishly evil fossil fuel executives. I won't spoil what he says, since it's the punchline (such as it is). Suffice to say the execs don't like it…and something about Miami Vice star Don Johnson.

I also won't go on record vouching for the jokes in this. I chuckled a few times. I will say that Goldblum—or rather his character, the mysterious "Fixer"—nails his description of the Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon dioxide pollution from the power sector by about a third by 2030, and which will form the backbone of Obama's contribution to the upcoming global climate talks in Paris. The framing of the video is also spot-on: The plan is indeed facing stiff opposition from coal companies and the industry's allies in statehouses and in Congress

The Clean Power Plan is admittedly kind of boring to most people, despite being a groundbreaking policy achievement and an important step toward saving the planet from global warming. So if it takes Jeff Goldblum to get people interested, I've got no problem with that. Enjoy!

France Scrambles to Secure Upcoming Climate Talks After Deadly Attacks

| Mon Nov. 16, 2015 1:32 PM EST
Security was heightened across Paris following Friday's deadly attacks. A major international climate summit is due to start there in two weeks.

On Saturday, just a day after terrorist attacks in Paris left at least 129 people dead and hundreds more injured, the French government vowed to forge ahead with a long-scheduled international summit on climate change.

The summit, which is scheduled to start in just two weeks, will take place at an airport in the northern suburbs of Paris, not far from the stadium that was the site of multiple bombings on Friday. There, world leaders plan to hash out final details of the most wide-reaching international agreement ever to combat climate change. White House officials confirmed to Politico that President Barack Obama still intends to attend the talks, as scheduled prior to the attacks. Dozens of other heads of state are expected to be there as well.

"[The summit] will go ahead with reinforced security measures," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said. "This is an absolutely necessary step in the battle against climate change and of course it will take place."

Christiana Figueres, who chairs the UN agency overseeing the talks, released a similar statement on Twitter:

Even prior to the attacks, 30,000 French police officers were scheduled to secure the event, according to Radio France International. More than 10,000 diplomats, non-governmental organization employees, and journalists are expected to attend the summit. Specific new security measures have not yet been made public, but Politico quoted an unnamed French official who said participants should expect "extremely tightened security" following the attacks.

Paul Bledsoe, a former climate advisor to President Bill Clinton, also told Politico that the attacks could actually improve the odds that the talks reach a successful outcome.

"The resolve of world leaders is going to be redoubled to gain an agreement and show that they can deliver for populations around the world. The likelihood for a successful agreement has only increased because of these attacks," Bledsoe said.

On Thursday, just a day before the attacks, Secretary of State John Kerry appeared to butt heads with his French counterpart over what the exact legal status of the agreement will be. Other questions remain as well, such as how wealthy, heavily polluting countries such as the United States will help developing nations pay for climate change adaptation. But overall, the Paris talks are expected to yield a better outcome than the last major climate summit, in Copenhagen in 2009, which failed to produce any meaningful action to curb greenhouse gas emissions or prepare for the impacts of global warming.

Meanwhile, on Monday French officials said they would block a series of rallies and side events that were scheduled to take place outside the main negotiations. Environmental groups are scrambling to work out how to change their plans following the attack. Several groups involved in organizing protests and rallies that were intended to coicide with the Paris talks confirmed to Mother Jones that a hastily arranged meeting to hash out a plan will take place on Monday evening, Paris time. Will Davies, a spokesman for Avaaz, one of the main advocacy groups involved, said that despite the flurry of activity, plans for global marches in cities other than Paris were still going ahead as scheduled.

Stay tuned for more updates on this story.

This Chart Shows Which Countries Are the Most Screwed by Climate Change

| Fri Nov. 13, 2015 2:33 PM EST
Verisk Maplecroft

One of the cruel ironies of climate change is that its impacts tend to fall hardest on the countries least equipped to manage them.

When drought or sea level rise strike the United States, communities at least have access to federal aid, top scientific expertise, public investment in expensive climate-ready infrastructure, and the like. But some of the most extreme effects of global warming are headed for developing countries—drought wiping out crops in East Africa, or catastrophic hurricanes pounding Southeast Asia—that don't have access to those resources.

New research from Maplecroft, a UK-based risk consultancy, paints a pictures of where vulnerability to climate change is most pressing. Their analysis drew on three criteria: exposure to extreme events, based on the latest meteorological science; sensitivity to impacts (i.e., does a country have other sources of income and food supply if agriculture takes a hit?); and adaptive capacity—are the country's government and social institutions prepared to work under adverse climate conditions and help citizens adapt to them?

Unsurprisingly, Africa and Southeast Asia ranked the lowest, while Scandinavian countries ranked the highest. (While definitely at risk from sea level rise, countries such as Norway and Sweden have rich, highly functional governments to manage adaptation.) The major global climate talks in Paris are coming up in just a couple weeks; the chart above makes it clear why it's so important for big players like the US and China to work closely with delegations from developing countries on solutions that will provide immediate support and relief.

This Is How Much Sugar You Should Eat, According to the FDA's New Guidelines

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 3:36 PM EST
Sugar is the devil.

The Food and Drug Administration is releasing new guidelines regarding how much sugar Americans should consume, reports NYT:

The goal is for Americans to limit added sugar to no more than 10 percent of daily calories, according to the proposed guidelines. For someone older than 3, that means eating no more than 12.5 teaspoons, or 50 grams, of it a day.

Big Sugar and a bunch of food-makers are going to freak out about this, but the truth is the new FDA recommendation is actually only half as severe as the World Health Organization's guideline, which calls for people to limit themselves to 25 grams—or six teaspoons—of sugar a day. 

By some estimates, Americans right now eat as much as 30 teaspoons of sugar a day. That is bonkers. Sugar is bad. Big Sugar spent decades—and millions of dollars—trying to conceal that fact. Added sugar has been linked to a whole slew of health issues from diabetes to cardiovascular disease. Sugar consumption is a health crisis in America and while today's move is the most severe step the FDA has taken to curtail it, it is not the first. Earlier this year the agency moved to require manufacturers to require betters sugar information on food labels

These charts show what 25 grams of sugar—which, again, is the WHO suggested maximum daily dose—really looks like:

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2 GOP Candidates Have Reasonable Positions on Climate Change. They Won’t Be in Tonight’s Debate.

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 12:54 PM EST
Workers stand in at the candidates' podiums in preparation for Tuesday's Republican debate in Milwaukee.

If you were hoping for a reasonable discussion about science during Tuesday night's Republican presidential debates, you're probably going to be sorely disappointed. That's because the only two candidates with serious positions climate change have been excluded from the event.

Last month, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and former New York Gov. George Pataki made news when they called out their own party for rejecting the science behind climate change. "I've talked to the climatologists of the world, and 90 percent of them are telling me the greenhouse gas effect is real, that we're heating up the planet," said Graham during CNBC's Republican "undercard" debate—the early-evening consolation prize for candidates who aren't polling high enough to land a spot in prime time. "It's…not appropriate to think that human activity, putting CO2 into the atmosphere, doesn't make the Earth warmer," added Pataki. "It does. It's uncontroverted."

Out of all the candidates in the crowded GOP field, Graham and Pataki also have the strongest track records when it comes to actually fighting climate change. In the Senate, Graham once sponsored a cap-and-trade bill intended to reign-in greenhouse gas emissions. As governor, Pataki helped create a regional cap-and-trade program in the Northeast. So I was excited to hear what they would have say on the issue during the debates that will air Tuesday on the Fox Business Network. Like its sister network Fox News, Fox Business is a major epicenter of climate science denial.

Unfortunately for science, Graham and Pataki won't be on stage Tuesday. Neither of them are averaging anywhere close to 2.5 percent in the polls—the threshold Fox established for the main debate. They aren't even managing the 1 percent required to participate in the undercard debate.

Instead, viewers will hear from an array of global warming deniers. Ted Cruz believes that climate change is a "pseudoscientific theory"; Donald Trump calls it a "hoax"; and Ben Carson insists there's "no overwhelming science" that it's caused by humans. Viewers will also hear from candidates like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (who was recently demoted to the undercard stage). Christie acknowledges that climate change is real but seems to oppose any realistic plan to deal with it.

Then there are the folks who will be asking the questions. Last year, Fox Business managing editor Neil Cavuto—one of the moderators for Tuesday's main debate—explained how he first became a climate change "doubter":

Here's what Trish Regan, one of the moderators for Tuesday's undercard matchup, had to say when Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) called climate change the country's top national security threat during a Democratic debate earlier this year:

So since you're not likely to hear this tonight, here's Pataki explaining why you really should believe what climate scientists are saying—and why you should vaccinate your kids, too:

I Can’t Stop Smiling Because of This Adorable Baby Goat Video

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 11:31 AM EST

So your morning train was packed with halitosis-breathing psychos. You stepped over (human?) poo on the way to work. The weather is bad: Winter Is Coming. Your boss—a prick at the best of times—is breathing down your neck about this or that and just won't shut up, even though you've already done the task and it's been sitting in his inbox for a week. That Tinder date you worked yourself up about last weekend won't text back. (He said he got a new phone? But it's been days!) And now you're refusing to "take a hint." But what if you run into him at that gig next week? Listen to me. Whatever's going on right now, screw it, because the video that just came up in my Facebook feed will make you laugh and forget all the jerks:

Can't stop watching this video looool

Posted by Jeremy de Koste on Wednesday, January 21, 2015

h/t "Little Things"/Huffington Post

SeaWorld Is Ending Its Killer Whale Show

| Mon Nov. 9, 2015 2:39 PM EST

SeaWorld will shut down the killer whale exhibition at its flagship San Diego location by next year, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune:

In its place would be a new orca experience debuting in 2017, described as "informative" and designed to take place in a more natural setting that would carry a "conservation message inspiring people to act."...The plan to gradually phase out the Shamu show comes amid efforts at both the state and federal level to clamp down on SeaWorld by ending the captive breeding of orcas, which would effectively bring to an end the parks' theatrical shows.

It's unclear whether the new "experience" will feature live orcas, and whether the decision will apply to any of the company's other locations in San Antonio and Orlando. A SeaWorld spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

SeaWorld has faced broad public criticism—and a tanking share price—since the 2013 documentary Blackfish accused the company of keeping killer whales in inhumane conditions. The company has maintained that the whales serve a valuable scientific purpose, although many scientists disagree. The announcement also comes just days after a Congressional representative from California introduced legislation to ban the breeding of captive orcas and their capture from the wild.   

Everyone In California Is Freaking the Hell Out About a UFO

| Sat Nov. 7, 2015 11:11 PM EST

The government says it was a missile launch. That hasn't stopped people from freaking out.