In the decades after World War II, a one-eyed Irish missionary-surgeon named Denis Burkitt moved to Uganda, where he noted that the villagers there ate far more fiber than Westerners did. This didn’t just bulk up their stools, Burkitt reasoned; it also explained their low rates of heart disease, colon cancer, and other chronic illnesses. “America is a constipated nation,” he once said. “If you pass small stools, you have big hospitals.”
“Burkitt really nailed it,” says Justin Sonnenburg, a microbiologist at Stanford University. Sure, some of the man’s claims were far-fetched, but he was right about the value of fiber and the consequences of avoiding it. And Sonnenburg thinks he knows why: Fiber doesn't just feed us—it also feeds the trillions of microbes in our guts.
Fiber is a broad term that includes many kinds of plant carbohydrates that we cannot digest. Our microbes can, though, and they break fiber into chemicals that nourish our cells and reduce inflammation. But no single microbe can tackle every kind of fiber. They specialize, just as every antelope in the African savannah munches on its own favored type of grass or shoot. This means that a fiber-rich diet can nourish a wide variety of gut microbes and, conversely, that a low-fiber diet can only sustain a narrower community.
Sonnenburg, his wife Erica, and the graduate student Samuel Smits confirmed this idea in a recent experiment. The researchers started with mice that had been raised in sterile bubbles and then loaded with identical collections of gut microbes. They then fed these mice a high-fiber diet, before randomly switching half of them to low-fiber chow for seven weeks.
Predictably, the fall in fiber caused upheavals in the rodents’ guts. In the low-fiber group, the numbers of 60 percent of the local microbe species fell dramatically, and some remained low even after the mice returned to high-fiber meals. Those seven low-fiber weeks left lingering scars on the animals’ microbiomes.
These scars can cascade through generations. Mice regularly eat each others' poop, and pups often pick up their parents’ microbes in this way. Indeed, when Sonnenburg and Smits bred the mice from their first experiment, they saw that low-fiber parents gave birth to pups with narrower microbiomes, which lacked species present in the progeny of high-fiber parents. And if these bacteria-impoverished pups also ate low-fiber food, they lost even more microbes, especially those from the fiber-busting Bacteroidales group. As four generations ticked by, the rodents’ guts became progressively less diverse, as more and more species blinked out.
It also became increasingly hard to reverse these changes. If the fourth-generation mice switched to high-fiber meals, some of the missing microbes rebounded, but most did not. In other words, these species weren't just lying in wait in small numbers, waiting for the chance to bloom again; they had genuinely vanished. The only way of restoring these missing microbes was through a fecal transplant—loading them with the entire gut microbiomes of rodents that had always eaten a high-fiber diet.
These changes parallel those that have taken place over the course of human history. Many studies have now shown that the gut microbiomes of Western city-dwellers are less diverse than those of rural villagers and hunter-gatherers, who eat more plants and thus more fiber. The Stanford researchers’ experiment hints (but doesn't confirm) that this low diversity could be a lasting legacy of industrialization, in which successive generations of low-fiber meals have led to the loss of old bacterial companions. “The data we present also hint that further deterioration of the Western microbiota is possible,” the team writes.
“Given the infancy of the microbiome field, I think it is difficult to determine what specific impacts the loss of microbiota diversity has on the host,” says Kelly Swanson, a nutritional-science professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “But I think this paper provides even more evidence for including an adequate amount of dietary fiber in the diet.” For context, dietary guidelines recommend that women and men should respectively eat around 25 and 38 grams of fiber per day, but American adults eat just 15 daily grams on average.
This could be problematic for two reasons. First, without fiber, starving microbes often turn their attention to similar molecules, including those in the mucus layer that covers the gut. If they erode this layer sufficiently, they might be able to enter the lining of the gut itself, triggering immune reactions that lead to chronic inflammation.
Second, there’s evidence that a diverse microbiome can better resist invasive species like Salmonella or Clostridium difficile, while low diversity is a common feature of obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, and other conditions.
Still, no one has shown that a less-diverse microbiome is the cause of the health problems associated with low fiber intake.This means that it’s premature to talk about supplementing our microbiomes with those from communities that eat more fiber. Sonnenburg’s team writes, “It is possible that rewilding the modern microbiota with extinct species may be necessary to restore evolutionarily important functionality to our gut.” Sure, but first, they’d need to show if the microbial losses in their experiments matter, and to what degree.
After all, the diversity of the human microbiome has been falling long before industrialization. Even the rich gut communities of hunter-gatherers are a pale reflection of those of chimps and gorillas, whose diets are even richer in plants. The point is that animals tend to end up with the microbiomes they need; as our needs and habits change, so does our pool of partners.
Sonnenburg's concern is that these changes play out over millennia, and hosts and microbes have time to acclimate to their new relationships. By contrast, our modern diets and lifestyles are changing our microbiomes very quickly, leaving us with communities that we haven't adjusted to. “Our human genome is constantly trying to keep up with this moving target of a microbial community,” he says. “If there are times when changes are exceptionally rapid, it might be problematic for host health.”
By now, the idea that gut bacteria affects a person’s health is not revolutionary. Many people know that these microbes influence digestion, allergies, and metabolism. The trend has become almost commonplace: New books appear regularly detailing precisely which diet will lead to optimum bacterial health.
But these microbes’ reach may extend much further, into the human brains. A growing group of researchers around the world are investigating how the microbiome, as this bacterial ecosystem is known, regulates how people think and feel. Scientists have found evidence that this assemblage—about a thousand different species of bacteria, trillions of cells that together weigh between one and three pounds—could play a crucial role in autism, anxiety, depression, and other disorders.
“There’s been an explosion of interest in the connections between the microbiome and the brain,” says Emeran Mayer, a gastroenterologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has been studying the topic for the past five years.
Some of the most intriguing work has been done on autism. For decades, doctors, parents, and researchers have noted that about three-quarters of people with autism also have some gastrointestinal abnormality, like digestive issues, food allergies, or gluten sensitivity. This recognition led scientists to examine potential connections between gut microbes and autism; several recent studies have found that autistic people’s microbiome differs significantly from control groups. The California Institute of Technology microbiologist Sarkis Mazmanian has focused on a common species called Bacteroides fragilis, which is seen in smaller quantities in some children with autism. In a paper published two years ago in the journal Cell, Mazmanian and several colleagues fed B. fragilis from humans to mice with symptoms similar to autism. The treatment altered the makeup of the animals’ microbiome, and more importantly, improved their behavior: They became less anxious, communicated more with other mice, and showed less repetitive behavior.
Exactly how the microbes interact with the illness—whether as a trigger or as a shield—remains mostly a mystery. But Mazmanian and his colleagues have identified one possible link: a chemical called 4-ethylphenylsulphate, or 4EPS, which seems to be produced by gut bacteria. They’ve found that mice with symptoms of autism have blood levels of 4EPS more than 40 times higher than other mice. The link between 4EPS levels and the brain isn’t clear, but when the animals were injected with the compound, they developed autism-like symptoms.
Mazmanian, who in 2012 was awarded a MacArthur grant for his microbiome work, sees this as a “potential breakthrough” in understanding how microbes contribute to autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders. He says the results so far suggest that adjusting gut bacteria could be a viable treatment for the disease, at least in some patients. “We may be able to reverse these ailments,” he says. “If you turn off the faucet that produces this compound, then the symptoms disappear. That’s what we see in the mouse model.”
Scientists have also gathered evidence that gut bacteria can influence anxiety and depression. Stephen Collins, a gastroenterology researcher at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, has found that strains of two bacteria, lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, reduce anxiety-like behavior in mice (scientists don’t call it “anxiety” because you can’t ask a mouse how it’s feeling). Humans also carry strains of these bacteria in their guts. In one study, he and his colleague collected gut bacteria from a strain of mice prone to anxious behavior, and then transplanted these microbes into another strain inclined to be calm. The result: The tranquil animals appeared to become anxious.
Overall, both of these microbes seem to be major players in the gut-brain axis. John Cryan, a neuroscientist at the University College of Cork in Ireland, has examined the effects of both of them on depression in animals. In a 2010 paper published in Neuroscience, he gave mice either bifidobacterium or the antidepressant Lexapro; he then subjected them to a series of stressful situations, including a test which measured how long they continued to swim in a tank of water with no way out. (They were pulled out after a short period of time, before they drowned.) The microbe and the drug were both effective at increasing the animals’ perseverance, and reducing levels of hormones linked to stress. Another experiment, this time using lactobacillus, had similar results. Cryan is launching a study with humans (using measurements other than the forced swim test to gauge subjects’ response).
So far, most microbiome-based brain research has been in mice. But there have already been a few studies involving humans. Last year, for example, Collins transferred gut bacteria from anxious humans into “germ-free” mice—animals that had been raised (very carefully) so their guts contained no bacteria at all. After the transplant, these animals also behaved more anxiously.
Other research has examined entire humans, not just their bugs. A paper published in the May 2015 issue of Psychopharmacology by the Oxford University neurobiologist Phil Burnet looked at whether a prebiotic—a group of carbohydrates that provide sustenance for gut bacteria—affected stress levels among a group of 45 healthy volunteers. Some subjects were fed 5.5 grams of a powdered carbohydrate known as galactooligosaccharide, or GOS, while others were given a placebo. Previous studies in mice by the same scientists had shown that this carb fostered growth of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria; the mice with more of these microbes also had increased levels of several neurotransmitters that affect anxiety, including one called brain-derived neurotrophic factor.
In this experiment, subjects who ingested GOS showed lower levels of a key stress hormone, cortisol, and in a test involving a series of words flashed quickly on a screen, the GOS group also focused more on positive information and less on negative. This test is often used to measure levels of anxiety and depression, since in these conditions anxious and depressed patients often focus inordinately on the threatening or negative stimuli. Burnet and his colleagues note that the results are similar to those seen when subjects take anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications.
Perhaps the most well-known human study was done by Mayer, the UCLA researcher. He recruited 25 subjects, all healthy women; for four weeks, 12 of them ate a cup of commercially available yogurt twice a day, while the rest didn’t. Yogurt is a probiotic, meaning it contains live bacteria, in this case strains of four species, bifidobacterium, streptococcus, lactococcus, and lactobacillus. Before and after the study, subjects were given brain scans to gauge their response to a series of images of facial expressions—happiness, sadness, anger, and so on.
To Mayer’s surprise, the results, which were published in 2013 in the journal Gastroenterology, showed significant differences between the two groups; the yogurt eaters reacted more calmly to the images than the control group. “The contrast was clear,” says Mayer. “This was not what we expected, that eating a yogurt twice a day for a few weeks would do something to your brain.” He thinks the bacteria in the yogurt changed the makeup of the subjects’ gut microbes, and that this led to the production of compounds that modified brain chemistry.
This interconnection of bugs and brain seems credible, too, from an evolutionary perspective. After all, bacteria have lived inside humans for millions of years. Cryan suggests that over time, at least a few microbes have developed ways to shape their hosts’ behavior for their own ends. Modifying mood is a plausible microbial survival strategy, he argues that “happy people tend to be more social. And the more social we are, the more chances the microbes have to exchange and spread.”
As scientists learn more about how the gut-brain microbial network operates, Cryan thinks it could be hacked to treat psychiatric disorders. “These bacteria could eventually be used the way we now use Prozac or Valium,” he says. And because these microbes have eons of experience modifying our brains, they are likely to be more precise and subtle than current pharmacological approaches, which could mean fewer side effects. “I think these microbes will have a real effect on how we treat these disorders,” Cryan says. “This is a whole new way to modulate brain function.”
More than 2,300 photographers entered the sixth annual Audubon Photography Awards competition, submitting images in several categories, including Amateur, Professional, Fine Art, and Youth. Nearly 9,000 images depicting birdlife from around the world were judged and the winners were recently announced. The National Audubon Society was kind enough to share some of this year’s winners and runners-up with us below. To view even more great bird photography, you can also see the top 100 entries at the Audubon website.
Last month, I took a nice, two-week vacation. I was excited, but even shortly into the trip, I was also dreading the awful feeling of coming back. It’s not the best attitude to have, but it’s easy to get anxious when vacations go by so fast. Before you know it, you’re stuck in the same grind you were in before you left. This time, I wanted things to be different.
Imagine meeting your English professor by the trunk of her car for office hours, where she doles out information like a taco vendor in a food truck. Or getting an e-mail error message when you write your former biology professor asking for a recommendation because she is no longer employed at the same college. Or attending an afternoon lecture in which your anthropology professor seems a little distracted because he doesn’t have enough money for bus fare. This is an increasingly widespread reality of college education.
Many students—and parents who foot the bills—may assume that all college professors are adequately compensated professionals with a distinct arrangement in which they have a job for life. In actuality those are just tenured professors, who represent less than a quarter of all college faculty. Odds are that students will be taught by professors with less job security and lower pay than those tenured employees, which research shows results in diminished services for students.
Currently, half of all professors in the country are adjuncts or contingent faculty, according to the American Association of University Professors. They teach all levels within the higher-education system, from remedial writing classes to graduate seminars. Unlike graduate teaching assistants, or TAs, they have the same instructional responsibilities as tenured faculty, including assembling syllabi, ordering textbooks, writing lectures, and grading exams. (The remaining quarter or so of American faculty are professors on temporary contracts who have more regular job arrangements than adjuncts, but are not eligible for tenure.)
Adjunct professors earn a median of $2,700 for a semester-long class, according to a survey of thousands of part-time faculty members. In 2013, NPR reported that the average annual pay for adjuncts is between $20,000 and $25,000, while a March 2015 survey conducted by Pacific Standard among nearly 500 adjuncts found that a majority earn less than $20,000 per year from teaching. Some live on less than that and supplement their income with public assistance: A recent report from UC Berkeley found that nearly a quarter of all adjunct professors receive public assistance, such as Medicaid or food stamps. Indeed, many adjuncts earn less than the federal minimum wage. Unless they work 30 hours or more at one college, they’re not eligible for health insurance from that employer, and like other part-time employees, they do not qualify for other benefits.
A year ago, The Atlanticreported on the poor working conditions faced by adjuncts—who, depending on the needs of the school, are often hired a month before the semester begins—beyond their low salaries. To make ends meet, they may teach courses at multiple colleges; they could teach Milton in the morning on one campus and Shakespeare in the afternoon on another. Moreover, according to the analysis, adjuncts are typically excluded from administrative and departmental meetings, meaning they might not be familiar with school policies or other faculty members. On top of instruction, the article explained, they often have to maintain a research agenda and hunt for jobs at faraway conferences without financial support for the trip from a university.
Over the years, the number of tenured professors has dropped while that of adjunct professors has risen, as colleges attempt to rein in costs. Public colleges in particular rely on adjuncts.
Much of these issues have been widely reported on, but what’s often missing from coverage is the impact that this shift is having on students.
It’s unclear whether the transient status and low salaries for adjuncts results in a lower-quality classroom instruction. One 2013 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that students in introductory classes with adjunct professors were more likely than those taught by tenure-track instructors to take a second course in the discipline (and more likely to earn a better grade in that course). But Maria Maisto, the president and executive director of the New Faculty Majority Foundation, a group that advocates in the interests of adjunct professors, argued that while many adjuncts are effective teachers, the study’s findings, which were featured in a New York Times report, may be flawed.
Indeed, some suggest that many adjuncts are unable to provide students with the same quality instruction as do tenured faculty. Judy Olson, a longtime part-time professor who currently works as an adjunct at California State University, Los Angeles, acknowledged that her financial concerns sometimes detract time from lesson planning. She cited other adjuncts who she said are unable to maintain independent research that could otherwise enrich classroom discussions. When administrators hire adjuncts only days before the class begins, she added, they can’t properly prepare syllabi and order books.
Adjuncts readily admit they cannot support students outside the classroom, such as when students need extra help understanding an assignment, general college advisement, or a letter of recommendation for a graduate program. And even if they had the time to provide these services, many colleges don’t provide their adjuncts with office space, so they meet with their pupils in coffee shops or at library desks. Olson for her part said that in the past she’s had to meet with students by the trunk of her car, where she kept all her books and papers as she commuted between different college campuses. Without formal meeting spaces, students may find it difficult to locate their professors when they need assistance on their classwork.
Meeting space aside, adjuncts often report that they simply cannot answer common questions from the students about the requirements for the major, course sequencing, or related classes at the college; to get this information, students instead have to track down tenured faculty on campus. Same with letters of recommendation for admission to graduate programs or post-college jobs: Some adjunct professors may not be willing to write them because they aren’t paid for the time, or students may find it difficult to locate former teachers who are no longer employed at that college. Even if they are willing, colleges might not provide adjuncts with institutional letterhead for the recommendations.
These issues are described in research from The Faculty Majority, my interviews with adjuncts, and personal essays, among other sources. Other commentary, meanwhile, reveals the shifting teaching culture at colleges. In a recent op-ed for The New York Times,Mark Bauerlein, a tenured English professor at Emory, argued that students do not have enough interaction with their professors. Professors are no longer “a fearsome mind or a moral light,” Bauerlein wrote. Students simply show up for class, he argued, jump through some hoops, and get their As. Professors are simply service providers and accreditors. He attributed the changing relationship to the pressure on faculty to publish their research and that on students to satisfy competing demands—go to the gym, socialize, and rush for Greek Life, for example.
But various obstacles make it difficult for adjuncts to engage in those traditional relationships, too. Outside-the-classroom responsibilities—office hours, advisement, and recommendation letters, for example—are rarely spelled out in their contracts. These tasks are implicit job expectations, according to Maisto.
Students may not be aware of these behind-the-scenes discrepancies. College brochures and course registration websites don’t distinguish between their adjunct and tenured faculty, and popular college guides and rankings fail to provide adjunct data for specific schools. Olson said, “students don’t know the difference. They think if you teach college, then you’re a professor. They think we make a $100,000 per year.” Maisto echoed Olson’s concerns, arguing that parents are focused on “cost and prestige” and aren’t as focused on quality. Some adjuncts are determined to make this information more transparent with public rallies, crowd sourced data, and walkouts. Both Olson and Maisto also urged that it’s up to students and their parents, too, to include the status of adjuncts in their criteria when shopping for colleges.
Brace yourself: The average American worker needs to earn $19.35 an hour to afford rent for a standard two-bedroom apartment. That’s more than two times the current federal minimum wage. Weeping into your laptop yet? I sure am.
A new report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition examines how these opposite trends play out regionally. The work maps how much an American worker needs to earn per hour in each state to rent a two-bedroom apartment. It finds that in no state can a person earning minimum wage afford such an apartment at market rent.
In other words, if you’re a single parent trying to make ends meet, good luck with that. Here’s the average hourly wage needed to rent a two-bedroom by state:
The study also broke down how many hours you’d have to work at a minimum wage rate in order to afford a one-bedroom:
This post was brought to you by Prozac. (I kid, I kid.) But seriously though, anyone want to move to Arkansas with me? I’m going to need some roommates, unless I can rake in almost $13 an hour, that is.
Verlander snapped an 0-for-26 streak with a single up the middle on Saturday night.
Before last night, Justin Verlander's biggest achievement at the plate was a home run over the Green Monster... during batting practice. He topped that feat yesterday with a single against Padres starter Ian Kennedy.
Naturally, the dugout was impressed.
Verlander was all smiles as well.
To add insult to insult (if you're Ian Kennedy), Verlander singled again later on -- though he almost got thrown out from right field.
Each year, meditation becomes more of a trend. Celebrities like Jerry Seinfeld and Goldie Hawn, businessmen like Bill George of Goldman Sachs and Exxon Mobil, and News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch, have publicly discussed practicing it. Techies and others in the corporate world have begun using mindfulness, a type of meditation, to combat the stress and overstimulation of their jobs. Even the Marines have used it to “improve mental performance under the stress and strain from war.”
At the same time, more and more studies are showing direct links between meditation and health benefits. A study led by researchers at John Hopkins found that just eight weeks of meditation training was as effective as medication in treating depression, anxiety, and pain. At Harvard, scientists using neuro-imaging technology showed how meditation positively affected the genes and brain activity of the chronically stressed, a condition that the Benson-Henry Institute reports is related to more than 60 percent of all doctor’s visits.
Schools have also begun experimenting with the practice and discovering that its techniques can help its students. When a school in New Haven, Connecticut, required yoga and meditation classes three times a week for its incoming freshman, studies found that after each class, students had significantly reduced levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in their bodies. In San Francisco, schools that participated in Quiet Time, a Transcendental Meditation program, had twice as many students score proficient in English on the California Achievement Test than in similar schools where the program didn’t exist. Visitacion Valley Middle School specifically reduced suspensions by 45 percent during the program’s first year. Attendance rates climbed to 98 percent, grade point averages improved, and the school recorded the highest happiness levels in San Francisco on the annual California Healthy Kids Survey. Other studies have shown that mindfulness education programs improved students’ self-control, attentiveness and respect for other classmates, enhanced the school climate, and improved teachers’ moods.
These results did not surprise me. As a former teacher who now practices meditation myself, I’ve often wondered how I could have used the practice in my own classroom. The stress level of teaching seemed to bring out my already-existing anxiety in the worst kind of ways. I slept poorly, unable to stop rehearsing my lessons in my head. I got irritable with loved ones. I felt obsessed with saving time when there was so much to do and so much to teach to students who I feared were behind. My students noticed, too. On a survey, one wrote, “It seems like you’re really tense”; another, “You can get easily frustrated with yourself.”
Meanwhile, my students seemed just as anxious as I was. My advisory group complained of the immense pressure of balancing school with their lives at home. Students constantly booked appointments with the school counselor to talk through their personal struggles with a professional. A common response from students on their semester reflections was “I’m overwhelmed.”
Months after leaving the profession (partially due to its stress), I attended a ten-day beginner meditation retreat. It was the first time I ever attempted to learn the practice. I began to understand how powerful meditation could be in confronting the anxiety and insecurity my students felt at school and I felt while teaching, and often throughout most of my life. So when I discovered that some of my former students had participated in a mindfulness education program called Headstand in middle school before they became my high-school students, I was eager to find out its effects.
Headstand’s mission is to “empower at-risk students to combat toxic stress through yoga, mindfulness, and character education.” Harvard's Center for the Developing Child defines toxic stress as “severe, uncontrollable, chronic adversity” and explains that it can disrupt the architecture of the developing brain, often impeding academic learning and creating long-term physical- and mental-health problems.
With almost half of current public school students considered low-income, the issue of “toxic stress” affecting young students has become more relevant. Katherine Priore Ghannam, Headstand’s founder, says, “This is a matter of education reform and public health: Our students desperately need a way to cope with the everyday adversity of living in the conditions that they do. If we know this [stress] exists, I think we have the responsibility to provide such a simple tool to kids who need it the most.”
Ghannam believes her mindfulness program can serve as “an antidote to that stress” and so far, surveys results suggest the program works: 98 percent of students in the program reported feeling “less stressed” and more “ready to learn” after taking Headstand classes.
Ghannam had no exposure to yoga or mindfulness growing up, and at first was skeptical it could work. Yet when the stress level during her first year teaching became overwhelming and made her begin to think her job was unsustainable, a close friend finally convinced her to take a yoga class.
“I had an experience in that very first class,” Ghannam said. “For one of the first times in my life, I understood what it meant to be calm.”
Ghannam believes her yoga practice gave her the skills and strength she needed to not quit teaching during that difficult first year. After practicing yoga, she felt her new sense of calm transferred to the classroom and made the environment more welcoming for her students. Years later, she decided to merge the two areas by creating Headstand.
Ghannam wants to emphasize “smart practice.” When she observed existing programs, she felt they lacked a crucial element: delivery. She saw many yoga instructors, accustomed to teaching in studios with middle-aged participants, not adapting their teaching strategies for children in public schools.
“For teachers with that kind of experience, working with young students is like speaking a foreign language,” Ghannam said, “I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to translate this content to the appropriate level for children. Otherwise, it won’t make sense.”
She wondered how much greater the impact of a yoga program could be if she had academic teachers delivering the content, with a rigorous, professionally designed curriculum that made the content consistent and structured over time.
Headstand employs this philosophy by only hiring yoga teachers who have three years of previous teaching experience. It also aligns its curriculum’s teaching objectives with California state standards for physical education and health. Its curriculum uses the lesson plan structure taught in several teacher training programs. Lessons scaffold skills to gradually build up to the day’s objective, starting with a “Do Now” that gets students reflecting on the day’s topic and ending class with an “exit ticket” that assesses what they learned.
Even though Headstand’s mission and planning impressed me, I was still skeptical that young students could actually take yoga and mindfulness seriously.
Adam Moskowitz, a Headstand teacher, agreed that the practice can be difficult for some kids: “At their age—and in this age—the last thing some of them want to do is sit, with nothing to look at or play,” he says, “In some ways, despite its great challenge, mindfulness is a very simple, repetitive practice. It’s not always easy convincing kids that they’re learning something by doing the same, simple thing again and again.”
I emailed my former students who took Headstand’s classes in middle school to ask them about their impressions of the program. Michael Rivera, now a senior in high school, admitted that at first, he found yoga class “dull.” His next response also seemed very telling: “It wasn’t as active as sports. There wasn’t a lot of movement going on, so it reminded me of a ‘time out,’ like a punishment. We were stuck inside, instead of being outside and having an extra 45 minutes of P.E.”
His response exemplified two common attitudes: a refusal to believe anything but fast-pasted exercise can qualify as “physical education”; and a tendency to equate active movement with productivity, and stillness with wasted time or even, as Michael noticed, “punishment.” To me, this was the most revolutionary aspect of meditation programs: They teach the idea that slowing down is necessary, and that sometimes “not doing” can be just as productive as “doing.”
Headstand’s curriculum aims to promote this idea with its students. In one lesson plan, students brainstorm what they generally associate with the word “slow” and discuss why the word’s connotation is generally negative. Then, they do a yoga sequence paced slowly and quickly at different times, and discuss how moving at each pace affected the tone of the room, and their own frame of mind. They brainstorm situations when acting slowly may be better than acting too quickly, like during an argument or when overwhelmed on a test. While teaching, I was always concerned with “doing,” making sure my students and I constantly worked towards the goals we wanted to achieve. It wasn’t until I practiced meditation that I realized what my schools and professional environment had never taught me: that instead of moving for the sake of moving, what both my students and I may have needed instead was a moment of being still.
“Their minds are busy just like ours,” says Emily Tsay, a Headstand teacher for first and second graders. “But you can see physically how their mood changes when we practice.” She says she starts class by having students rest their minds for just three breaths and then builds up from that. On a chart posted on a wall of her class, she tracks how long they can sit with their eyes closed focusing only on their breath.
Now looking back, Michael agrees that mindfulness practice was useful and appreciates the quiet environment the class provided: “Just having a good 45 minutes to not hear any noise and keep to yourself mentally actually helped me prepare for the next class periods. After yoga class, I would feel pretty rejuvenated.”
Headstand’s curriculum also tries to stay true to the original purpose of yoga and meditation by framing each class around positive character traits, like compassion and gratitude. Recently, some critics have coined the term "McMindfulness" to criticize the mindfulness movement’s tendency to only focus on reducing stress while ignoring the practice’s other key goals of compassion and social awareness. Critics want to ensure that programs emphasize being mindful not only for your own benefit, but for the benefit of others. This makes the character education aspect of Headstand’s curriculum significant. Each unit focuses on a certain trait. A unit on “responsibility” is framed around questions like “What does it mean to accept personal responsibility?”, “How does being irresponsible affect the people around you?” and “How are responsibility and power related?” A unit on gratitude discusses the idea of “taking something for granted.” A unit on “curiosity” asks how curiosity can encourage social justice.
Kelly Knoche, a yoga teacher helping to develop social-emotional curricula in Oakland, thinks this emphasis on character is imperative to providing true education: “We think we’re teaching kids how to thrive by focusing on academics. But we often miss teaching them the skills they need for daily life: how to build relationships with compassion, how to support each other, how to cope with trauma. Those are the kinds of skills that will eventually keep them going.”
Headstand’s emphasis on character education follows a trend that has gained momentum in urban education circles, particularly after the popularity of journalist Paul Tough’s book How Children Succeed, based on his popular New York Times article. After dismal graduation statistics showed only nine percent of low-income students who enter a four-year college actually graduate, Tough’s book theorized that the character traits of college students, even more than their academic skills, could predict whether they succeeded or not. Headstand’s curriculum builds off of the seven traits that Tough argues are crucial for future success: grit, curiosity, self-control, social intelligence, zest, optimism, and gratitude.
Knoche thinks bringing a program like Headstand to her school district would help accomplish this: “Headstand has a beautiful way of redefining what we believe public education should be and blending yoga, mindfulness and character education into those beliefs.”
But with issues like funding, class scheduling, graduation requirements, and other logistics, I wondered whether programs like Headstand and others could ever become a part of our public-education system.
“Headstand has taken a specific model and made it successful within a charter network, which is relatively autonomous and flexible,” Knoche says, “Now the question is, how do we get an entire district on board?”
Parents and administrators have not always embraced these programs right away. Administrators at an Ohio elementary school discontinued the school’s mindfulness program after parents felt uncomfortable with the practice’s roots in Eastern religion and complained that the program did not use class time valuably. Last year, prosecutors in a prominent court case sued California's Encinitas Union school district, arguing that the district’s yoga program indoctrinated students with Hindu beliefs.
“To me, yoga is secular. Everybody breathes, everybody gets stressed, everybody can benefit from the skills we teach,” Tsay says, “But I definitely think there is resistance with people not being aware of what yoga is because they haven’t practiced it themselves.”
In July, the judge in the Encinitas case ruled on the side of the school district, finding that the curriculum had no trace of religion, opening up the possibility of spreading yoga to other public schools in California.
But even disregarding the religious undertones of the practice, I also wondered how public school students, 48 percent of which are considered low-income and more than 40 percent of which are black and Latino, would receive a practice that is often stereotypically associated with a white, upper-class demographic. According to a 2008 study, 85 percent of yoga practitioners are white. More than 30 percent of Yoga Journal magazine’s readership have incomes over $100,000 a year.
Growing up in a Latino middle-class family, I had never known anyone who practiced yoga or meditation. My father adopted “Power Yoga” in his early 60s to improve his flexibility, but he still skips the meditation part at the end of the routine. Seeing how hesitant my family has been, I doubted that students from similar backgrounds would instantly embrace Headstand classes.
When I asked my former students how they perceived the program, the two students who responded—both students of color from lower-middle-class backgrounds—agreed that at first, the ideas of yoga and mindfulness were unfamiliar.
“Before the class, I had never heard about yoga before and did not know what to expect,” Tracy Lord, now a senior in high school, told me. “So most students at first were hesitant to participate and try.”
Michael also felt that teenage insecurities often played a role in students resisting the class: “As a 12-year-old kid, I didn’t always feel comfortable moving my body in such a way.”
Tracy echoed these insecurities: “At first, I kind of rejected the practice because it made me too vulnerable, with its awkward poses and asking me to close my eyes. I didn’t want to look weird.”
Yet both Michael and Tracy eventually found Headstand’s classes beneficial. Tracy thought her teacher helped students overcome their timidity, and “won over” the majority of the class over time. Tracy ended up loving the practice so much that she wrote her college application personal statement on the effect yoga had on her life. In her statement, Tracy described a doctor’s visit where she learned she had issues with her spine that caused her immense back pain and physical disability. She wrote that yoga helped her by not only easing the physical pain, but also teaching her that “My imperfections were what made me unique. Through yoga, I reprogrammed my mind to accept my disabilities and to not be crippled by them. I still have a twisted spine, but I can persevere through it.”
Michael still thinks middle school was too early for him to handle the “embarrassing poses” of yoga class, but also admits that he still found the mindfulness practice useful: “Before taking the yoga class, I used to believe that the only thing I had to work out and take care of was my body, but that isn’t the case. You also have to take care of your mind.”
Now a senior experiencing the stress of the college application process, Michael used the skills from the class again. He noticed how his mood changed and self-confidence dipped when worrying about completing his applications.
“But now I could stop and realize that this stress is all right. I meditated for an hour when I got home and submitted my applications soon after. That one hour period probably saved me another month of stress.”
Ghannam has seen this retrospective appreciation happen before: “It is sometimes the students who hated it who are then the ones writing me emails later telling me how much they have learned to appreciate it,” she says. “Sometimes the kids who are the most resistant at first are the ones who might need that practice the most.”
This school year, Headstand partnered with the University of California San Francisco to provide more concrete data of the program’s effectiveness. However, Ghannam also accepts that her classes, as in Michael’s case, may not necessarily show immediate results. She is more concerned with building consistency and normalizing the practice for students over time.
“It’s the same as a student who may not love math class and may just be going through the motions at first. Over time, as long as they’re practicing with a great teacher, something is going to click and hopefully more meaning is taken on.”
Practicing mindfulness now at 26, I wish I had more exposure to the practice as a student and as a teacher. I wonder whether my moment for it to “click” would have happened earlier if I had persistent classes showing me why it matters. And I wondered if practicing mindfulness as a teacher would have made me more relaxed and happy, and thus more effective. Teachers at Headstand schools seem to agree: When Tsay offered to teach an adapted version of her Headstand class for the teachers at her charter school, 12 of the 13 staff members signed up.
I also wonder what it would have done for my students who also at times struggled with issues of anxiety and self-worth, and often allowed those insecurities to affect how they dealt with the everyday setbacks they encountered.
“The ability to help ease your mind in stressful situations is critical for everybody, because everyone at some point in their life will go through something that will truly knock them down,” Michael wrote. “That’s where yoga/meditation comes in.”
As more research discovers the true effectiveness of these kids of programs, I at least take comfort in the fact that my students had the rare opportunity of learning the importance of mental health and character-building at such a young age. All students could benefit from learning these things early but with students whose backgrounds at times already place them at a disadvantage, these kinds of programs become even more justified. Every student should have access to skills necessary for confronting the anxiety of everyday life. As Tracy wrote to me: "We all deserve peace, and a calm mind."
One of the simplest ways to measure our dependence on cars is to look at the share of commuters in a given city who get to work in a private vehicle. These are the people who rely on automobiles as part of their everyday travel patterns. They’re people who live too far from work to walk there, who may prefer not to take transit, or who simply have no other options. They’re the commuters for whom communities must widen highways for rush-hour capacity and build out parking garages for downtown businesses.
Over the last decade, however, a new report from the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Frontier Group finds that the share of workers who get to work by private car declined in 99 of America’s 100 largest urbanized areas (by the Census Bureau’s definition, this is a densely populated geography often larger than a single city but smaller than a metropolitan area). The lone outlier was New Orleans, which has been an outlier in many ways since Hurricane Katrina.
Benjamin Davis and Phineas Baxandall calculated this using “journey to work” data from the 2007-2011 American Community Survey, comparing it to the year 2000. The results suggest that the biggest declines in car commuters have come in the New York-Newark area; Washington, D.C.; Austin, Texas; and Poughkeepsie-Newburgh, N.Y. In all four urban areas, the share of workers commuting by private vehicle has dropped by 4 percent or more:
A small but significant shift in how Americans get around is apparent across the country by several other metrics the authors examined, using data from the Census Bureau, the Federal Highway Administration, and the Federal Transit Administration. In all cases, data wasn’t available for every urbanized area in the report (and in some cases the data spans 2005-2010, or 2006-2011), but a pattern of changing behavior emerges across the last decade:
This time-span clearly encompasses the recession, an economic jolt that disrupted everything from where Americans live to how much they work (and, likely, how they got there). But Davis and Baxandall have anticipated that argument in comparing driving data against local poverty and unemployment rates:
Variations in the economy do not appear to be responsible for variations in the trends in driving among urbanized areas. In fact, the economies of urbanized areas with large declines in driving have been less affected by the recession according to unemployment and poverty indicators.
New York, Austin, and Washington all seem like obvious examples of places that weathered the recession well, and where commuters could afford to drive less with ample alternative modes of transportation. But some of the other cities highlighted in the report are more surprising.
Between 2006 and 2011, for instance, the largest declines in vehicle miles traveled per capita (excluding some large states where data wasn’t available) took place in New Orleans, Milwaukee, Madison, and Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, Pa.:
Below, also between 2006-2011, are the urban areas with the largest increases in households without a car. The top five places on the list includes several hit hard by the housing bust: Poughkeepsie-Newburgh, N.Y.; New Orleans; Bakersfield, Calif.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; and Las Vegas.
Meanwhile, here is where VMT per capita has increased the most on public transit (from 2005-2010), led by McAllen, Texas; New Orleans; Albuquerque, N.M.; Sarasota-Bradenton, Fla.; and Harrisburg again:
This type of data — as with all data on the decline in driving — will likely offer a clearer picture five or 10 years from now, once we’re further removed from the recession. It’s notable, however, that the fledgling shift appears more pervasive at the city level than a trend in just a few celebrated biking and transit hotspots.
“The second I saw this story I was shocked that I hadn’t seen it on the CO site. [See above. Ed] I’ve been an obsessed follower (according to my husband) for several years! This is a great story with amazing photos of an island off Japan where cats totally rule!” XO Ellen F.
Magnapinna squids are one of the deep-sea more ethereal creatures. Little is known of these squid as very few have ever been captured … They are unusual in both that the fins are up to 90% of the length of the body, i.e. the mantle, and the ridiculously long length of the arms. The squid often will hold some of the arms at a 90˚ angles from the side of the body.
The image above comes from this old video, and what with the jerky camera work, it does feel a little bit like a bad horror movie. Just another reason we should save the oceans: so these things NEVER have an excuse to come take their revenge.
Growing up, I was told this very simple story about where our clothes come from. I was told that they were made in faraway places by these other people. And these people needed the work, and somewhere, someone was taking care of these people, so the best thing we could do was just keep buying more.
There’s just one problem with this story: It’s not true.
Watch it for yourself:
Other mindblowing facts from the teaser: Three of the four worst tragedies in apparel history took place in the last year. And today, a mere 2 percent of clothing sold in America was made here — down sharply from 90 percent in 1960. (As a result, it’s cheaper, and we cram it in our closets as fast as we can, perpetuating the problem.)
Even if the film itself doesn’t get funded (and we hope it does), the teaser alone is a sobering visualization of the very real price others — and the Earth — have to pay for our endless peplum tops and skinny jeans.
If you’ve followed the modern David-and-Goliath battle against Big Oil, you know everyone’s talking about divestment. Online campaigns for divestment focus on members of large institutions convincing leadership to phase out holdings in petroleum companies. But when your college isn’t divesting yet, and your employer doesn’t offer fossil-free retirement plans, it can seem like all an individual can do for the whole divestment movement is sign a petition or participate in the next scheduled protest.
What if you want to root out petroleum investments in your own life? Could you?
Granted, your contribution may be small (as ever), but divestment is picking up steam. It got name checked by the president during his now-legendary Sweaty Forehead Speech, and it’s getting attention from the mainstream media. Here’s The New York Times on Sept. 6:
In the 1980s, it was South Africa. In the 1990s, it was tobacco. Now fossil fuels have become the focus of those who would change the world through the power of investing.
Their laundry list phrasing doesn’t exactly get me fired up, but I find myself using the same terminology to explain divestment to others. “You know in the 1980s, when people boycotted South African stocks because of apartheid?” I asked my dad. “It’s like that.” Judging from the maudlin media coverage of Nelson Mandela’s failing health 27 years later, America must’ve felt involved in ending apartheid.
But it’s about more than just feeling involved. When you have the ear of a wealth manager or banker, you have the opportunity to bend money culture and wisdom. They might ask you why you’re doing this, you can enforce the idea that you’re concerned about your money, given the bleak future of these unsustainable industries. You’re demonstrating to the self-appointed Masters of the Universe that there’s something to be involved in, that the money-havers are involved in it, and — perhaps most importantly to them — there’s money to be made in doing it.
So are you fired up yet? Let’s start with all you HNWIs. (High Net Worth Individuals. They read this site, don’t they?)
“I am filthy rich! What do I tell my financial planner?”
To my surprise, when I began reporting this piece, half of the financial planners I talked to had not heard of this movement. If you’re lucky enough to have a personal investment portfolio and it’s managed by a professional, a good start is to simply call them and ask if they can phase out fossil fuels for you. If this confuses them, tell them there’s a movement afoot to divest these stocks. Now you’re the first person to preach the gospel of divestment to that financial planner.
A (very rough) rule of thumb is that if you have less than half a million dollars to invest, your planner will hem and haw, and maybe not do it for you. If you have millions of dollars invested with them, there’s a good chance they’ll do whatever you say. If you have between $500 thousand and $2 million, you’re in the donut hole: Your planner might go for it, and they might not.
They’ll compare what you’re doing to divesting “sin stocks:” stocks that investors find distasteful and avoid out of principle (or sometimes they find them sexy, and invest in them with gusto).
Even for financial planners who are a part of the movement, listening to their conscience isn’t everything. But listening to your conscience is.
For Mitchell Krauss, of Capital Intelligence Associates, going along with divestment is part of an overall business strategy that can sound a little mercenary. He called divestment “the biggest, hottest topic,” at the moment, but says he just asks every client “Is there anything you want to invest in, and anything you want to exclude?”
“Some of my clients are Catholics who don’t want to do anything that funds abortion,” Krauss said. Regardless of his personal stance, he’ll act on your behalf.
In other words, if you are a 0.1 percenter, your finance person will be willing to invest only in, say, companies with Presbyterian CEOs born in March if that’s what you want. Face it: Whether cause or personal quirk, being loaded offers access.
THIS PART IS REALLY IMPORTANT: When I gave Orange County, Calif., wealth manager Shawn Dewane a hypothetical about getting rid of fossil fuel investments he was dubious. He reasoned that “most clients would be unwilling to pay enough to cover the cost of the research.”
So make the research part easy for them.
Gofossilfree.org points to these specific 200 companies[Excel spreadsheet] as the best targets. Some planners might point out that other companies enable the fossil fuel industry, but if you’re pulled into that debate, acknowledge that it is indeed a messy issue, and just say you feel inclined to stick to the big 200.
“What about middle class people like me?”
If you have a financial planner and sit comfortably in the middle class, most research indicates they’re probably putting your retirement money in mutual funds and ETFs (exchange traded funds). It’s unlikely they’re willing to comb through each one for fossil fuel “positions” and divest those for you. In the likely event that your financial planner doesn’t offer a prepackaged “green portfolio,” or some similar financial product they’ve devised, you’re probably going to have to pull your money out and invest with someone who does.
Luckily, you’ve got options. Here’s Gofossilfree.org’s list of financial planners who want the business of shrewd treehuggers like you:
If your employer manages your retirement investments in a “matched” plan like a 401(k) or a 457(b), it’s even tougher. In a 401(k) you might be able to choose only financial products that are petroleum free (see below). If you have a 457(b), it appears very unlikely that you’ll be able to do any such thing. Perhaps a few dozen retirement plans have gone fossil free, with thousands and thousands left to go. If you want to be free of fossil fuel investments, you might have to opt out of your employer’s plan and manage your own finances.
(Note: I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that in situations like this, you could and should be a squeaky wheel. Organize your coworkers, and push as a group for your employer to obtain fossil-free alternative products for you to invest in. But this guide is essentially intended to prepare you for the more likely situation of going it alone.)
Here are some fossil-free mutual funds (from the list on Greenamerica.org). These are not necessarily just funds full of green tech stocks or sustainable companies; they’re also chock full of the usual Jim Cramer-approved companies:
Sure — but only because we don’t endorse stuffing your life savings in a Serta. You probably have some oil-stained money somewhere in the interest accruing on your savings account.
There’s little doubt that The Big Four banks invest in fossil fuels: Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Chase haven’t shown any signs of shunning, for instance, the fracking-related mergers and acquisitions that made up over $40 billion in deals in 2011. Knowing whose money went into which Wall Street deal would be like working out which Niagara falls water molecule winds up in which toilet, but it would be helpful for the divestment movement if someone would please do the legwork. (A foreign case study is instructive: Australian activists did an amazing job of publicizing which of their biggest banks invested in petroleum and where, and are lobbying them to divest. So someone should totally get on this stateside; I would, but my intern quit.)
Meanwhile, American banks side with whichever kind of energy is winning at the moment. Citigroup is a cheerleader for renewable energy in the long term (previously), but with the cold pragmatism characteristic of bankers, they acknowledge that before renewables take over, fracking is just going to expand for a while. Bank of America’s energy fact sheet calls petroleum “the lifeblood of America’s economy,” but goes onto say that solar might be “competitively priced with other energy sources by 2015.”
If you haven’t already, you could move your money into a credit union and make yourself feel better, but that would just be a good thing to do. The big banks suck. Most credit unions aren’t big enough to give a loan to an oil company (although some are obviously mixed up with the oil industry in other ways). If you want to put your money somewhere where oil companies probably wouldn’t even think of borrowing it, go with a local credit union. Credit unions mostly deal in friendlier, local investments. Mostly: If you pull back enough curtains, though, you’re eventually going to see something you don’t like. All of which means right now, you might be saying:
“That sounds like a lot of effort just to be a part of something.”
That’s kind of the point.
Right now it’s not as simple as just flipping a switch. Those with millions to invest and the inclination to fight climate change don’t have to divest anything. They can just not invest in their eccentric list of “sin stocks,” and the people who broker the trades won’t bat an eye.
But when we go out there with our middle-class savings and bump up against people’s expectations, ignore entreaties not to throw away our money, and explain at every turn that this is a movement, the hope is that they’ll see that we mean business. A mainstream switch to divestment might be a long way off — but we can get the ball rolling if enough people start having more long, awkward conversations with financial planners about it.
The video above comes from the day last July when scientists at CERN made the announcement that they believed they had finally found that particle, the Higgs Boson. At minute 0:50, the camera pans to Peter Higgs, where you can see him tearing up at the news.
I was about to burst into tears. I was knocked over by the wave of the reaction of the audience. Up until then I was holding back emotionally, but when the audience reacted I couldn't hold back any more. That's the only way I can explain it.
Look under your bed. Among the dust bunnies, behind the sleeping bag, next the embarrassing photos from high school, there’s probably a pile of CDs. Some are worn out from use; some are freebies from AOL; some are blank CDs that you planned to burn the best of mixes on.
Let’s be real: You’re not burning any mixes, sport. You’re never going to use these CDs again.
But Din Ping Tsai, a physicist in Taiwan, could. His lab, reports FastCoExist, has developed a technique for purifying water — destroying 95 percent of contaminants — using nano rods, UV lights, and CDs. Watch it in action:
Why CDs? “They spin fast, and are durable and commonly available,” says FastCoExist. And nobody, nobody wants them anymore.
Arthur Morgan doesn’t have time for my shit. He has to pick up 27,000 pounds of watermelons, his phone is ringing off the hook, and those fucking pallets of radishes and green beans aren’t gonna give themselves away, you read? Morgan jumps into the back of his refrigerated truck, shooing me and my reporter’s notebook in the direction of his “articulation guy,” Joe Hamilton.
Hamilton and Morgan belong to a new food recovery organization called Gather Baltimore. Every week — under the direction of the energetic, foul-mouthed Morgan — volunteers collect some 15 tons of fresh produce that would otherwise end up in the compost, or more likely, the landfill. Then they give it away to people who need it. Hamilton, a development director who volunteers with the organization, articulates it thus: “The thing I love is it’s such a simple idea. It’s one of those ideas that when you see it, you think, How is this not happening already? How did we miss it?”
In Gather Baltimore’s case, the food currently comes from several sources, including farmers markets and one of the largest produce distributors in the mid-Atlantic. It started small, as these things do. Morgan is an urban farmer; he noticed that he wasn’t able to sell, or easily give away, all of the food he grew. And manning his stall at the local farmers market, he witnessed the waste produced by large-scale operations. “You talk to most farmers and they’re like, ‘You think you have excess?’” he says.
Morgan started distributing bins for food donations once the market ended each week. He took what was donated to food pantries. Before long, he had to call friends to bring their vehicles to help haul away the donations. Then farmers began inviting him out to glean all the produce that remained in the fields after harvest. Finally, in 2012, Morgan received funding through Open Society Institute-Baltimore and Gather Baltimore was officially born. The organization now has two refrigerated trucks and feeds 200 to 500 families a week.
A visit to a produce distributor that shall remain unnamed indicates the potential of organizations like Gather. We back up to one of the facility’s 26 truck bays and enter a massive refrigerated staging area. The walls are lined with shelving piled some four stories high with mesh bags of onions. Workers on beeping pallet trucks careen to and fro, carrying boxes of tomatoes, arugula, oranges, prickly pears. One helps us load up about 3,000 pounds of unsightly, out-of-date, or overstocked cantaloupes, apples, lettuce, and radishes, a relatively small load. (One weekend, Morgan hauled away 34,000 pounds of acorn squash.) The haul likely represents a fraction of a day’s waste for the facility. But because Gather Baltimore doesn’t yet have a refrigerated storage space, once the two trucks are full, all of the food must be given away before Morgan can return.
In a typical week, Gather Baltimore collects food from facilities like this at least once a week, hosts a volunteer-fueled gleaning day on one of several local farms, and collects numerous bins of leftover produce from the farmers market. Gather gives much of the food away at a weekly farm stand in the struggling East Baltimore neighborhood of Oliver. The farmers and distributors get a tax write-off, Morgan says, and don’t have to deal with disposing of their waste. And needy city residents get healthy food. “It’s a win-win-win for frickin’ everybody,” he says.
On a recent Sunday, the farm stand looked like any other farmers market, with long tables spread with an astonishing variety of produce, from leeks to pineapples to mint. Volunteers worked in the background; a local college basketball team unpacked a truck full of watermelons, tossing them assembly-line style. Hundreds of customers, many in their Sunday best, arrived long before the market opened, armed with cloth bags and wheeled carts. Several brought lawn chairs.
It was Joan Thomas’ third visit. She collects donated food for several elderly neighbors on a fixed income. “Before I found this farm stand, it was a lot of canned goods, processed foods,” she said. “Now one of the ladies says, ‘Joanie, this is like when I was little. I haven’t seen food like this for years.’”
At the end of the day, Gather delivers excess food and some they’ve set aside to local charitable organizations. And then the cycle begins all over again. It’s a staggering amount of work, but Morgan hopes this is just the (slightly blemished) tip of the iceberg lettuce. He says that, with funding for a refrigerated storage space, he could collect and distribute at least two to three times his current average, set up more farm stands, and open a distribution center to supply residents and local charities. “There’s no limit to where this thing can go,” he says.
Unfortunately, the bounty isn’t paying the bills at present. The labor is intensive, the trucks and their refrigeration units guzzle as much as $500 a week in gas, and the services of insurance companies and mechanics can’t be bought with cucumbers. Gather is currently seeking funding through numerous channels — including crowd-sourcing.
But, as a matter of survival, the organization has already settled on one change: Soon, the food they give out won’t be free. The details haven’t been settled, but Morgan says customers will likely pay $5 or $6 for a bag of produce worth $50. He’s gotten some grief about this, he says, but he’s unapologetic. “The whole thing is not to give away free stuff,” he says, “but to make healthy food affordable and accessible.”
But we’re not talking about bankers or CEOs this time. We’re talking about the nearly 1 percent of American power plants — 50 of them, all fueled by coal — that produce 30 percent of the U.S. power sector’s climate-changing pollution.
A new report by Environment America Research & Policy Center says America’s 6,000 power plants, which collectively produce 41 percent of the country’s carbon emissions, are the world’s single greatest contributor to climate change. To address that problem, the authors recommend targeting the dirtiest facilities:
Dirty power plants produce a disproportionate share of the nation’s global warming pollution – especially given the relatively small share of total electricity they produce. For example, despite producing 30 percent of all power-sector carbon dioxide emissions, the 50 dirtiest power plants only produced 16 percent of the nation’s electricity in 2011.
If the 50 most-polluting U.S. power plants were an independent nation, they would be the seventh-largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, behind Germany and ahead of South Korea. These power plants emitted carbon dioxide pollution equivalent to more than half the emissions of all passenger vehicles in the United States in 2010.
The 10 dirtiest plants alone produce 0.5 percent of the worldwide energy industry’s carbon dioxide emissions, the report says:
Still, power plant operators do not face any federal restrictions on their CO2 emissions — although those operating in California and New England participate in regional carbon-trading programs. The Obama administration is working on rules that would impose CO2 limits on power plants, but they’re still years off from implementation — and already under fierce attack from industry.
ExxonMobil subsidiary XTO Energy is being prosecuted for alleged environmental crimes after it spilled fracking wastewater into a Pennsylvania river in 2010.
The company’s response? It claims the criminal charges could harm the environment.
We told you about this spill in July — that’s when the company agreed to pay a $100,000 federal fine for spilling 57,000 gallons of contaminated fluids out of sloppily maintained tanks in Penn Township and into a tributary of the Susquehanna River. It also agreed to spend $20 million to get its frackwater treatment and disposal facilities up to scratch in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Following a grand jury investigation, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s office announced this week that XTO was also being charged with five counts of violating Pennsylvania law:
The grand jury found that XTO hired a company to recycle waste water at the Marquardt site from Nov. 4, 2010 through Nov. 11, 2010. After that one-week period, XTO directed that company to remove their processing equipment from the site and transport it to another XTO well site in West Virginia. However, XTO allegedly continued to transport and store gas well waste water at the Marquardt site despite not having the proper equipment on site to safely store or process it.
Prosecuting fracking companies when they piss their toxic waste all over nature would seem to be a good way of encouraging them to be better environmental stewards. But XTO begs to differ — because every day is opposite day in Frack Land.
“Charging XTO under these circumstances could discourage good environmental practices, such as recycling,” XTO said in a statement responding to the charges.
Oh, do tell us more, XTO. We can’t wait to hear you explain that logic.
“Criminalizing a small recycling spill sends the wrong environmental and legal message,” the company said. “The action tells oil and gas operators that setting up infrastructure to recycle produced water exposes them to the risk of significant legal and financial penalties should a small release occur.”
That snap you just heard was your synapses collapsing in the face of Orwellian gibberish.
Until last week, the days of unbridled fracking in California appeared to be drawing to a close. But then legislation that would require drillers to obtain permits before work could begin was abruptly watered down, potentially handing the oil and gas industry a significant lobbying victory.
Senate Bill 4 passed the state senate last week following its approval by the assembly – but not before its author, a Democrat from Los Angeles, watered down her own legislation. The bill will now head back to the lower house for another vote there.
Last week, after intense backroom lobbying, the powerful oil and gas industry convinced state Senator Fran Pavley of Los Angeles, the sponsor of SB 4, to further weaken her legislation and include poison-pill amendments. If enacted, it promises to do more harm than good.
Under the eleventh-hour changes, SB 4 would require state regulators to green-light all fracking requests by oil and gas companies in California until at least July 1, 2015, when the state is scheduled to complete an environmental review of fracking in California. You read that right. Before the environmental review is complete, the bill says that state regulators “shall” approve all requests to shoot toxic chemicals and water into the earth to release otherwise trapped fossil fuels.
In exchange, oil and gas companies would have to disclose to state regulators what chemicals they’re using in hydraulic fracturing. And while there currently is no specific requirement for such disclosure in California, the trade-off is not worth it for the state. After all, SB 4, as now written, could block state regulators from trying to halt fracking during the next two years, even after they learn what chemicals are being shot into the ground.
The brouhaha that preceded the changes centered around the effects of the California Environmental Quality Act, which is a rigid and perennially controversial law that was signed in 1970 — by Gov. Ronald Reagan, of all people. If drillers are required to obtain permits before they frack (or before they inject acid into the ground to loosen fossil fuel reserves — as horrified Californian lawmakers recently discovered has become a common practice), then CEQA would require them to complete an environmental impact report. And that would require that they propose measures to offset the environmental damage they would cause.
You can imagine how unpopular that idea has been with the gas and oil industry. After their lobbyists’ intervention, the amended legislation would now provide ample ways for drillers to weasel out of normal CEQA requirements. From a press release issued by the Center for Biological Diversity, CREDO, Food & Water Watch, and Friends of the Earth:
New language added to the bill specifies that “no additional review or mitigation shall be required” if the supervisor of the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources “determines” that the proposed fracking activities have met the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act. This provision could be used by DOGGR to bypass CEQA’s bedrock environmental review and mitigation requirements. This language could also prevent air and water boards, local land use jurisdictions and other agencies from carrying out their own CEQA reviews of fracking.
CEQA was defended against ruthless attacks for decades. But then Gov. Jerry Brown (D) came back into power in 2011. Within his first year in office, Brown signed legislation that exempted a football stadium planned in Los Angeles from normal CEQA rules. Last year he said, “I have never seen a CEQA exemption I don’t like.” And this year he led a hitherto failed effort to water down the historic law (although some proposed CEQA reforms are supported by environmentalists).
Brown will presumably have the final say on whether SB 4 becomes law. Time will tell whether he favors the frackers or the environment.
Behind closed doors, textbook reviewers appointed by the Texas State Board of Education are pushing to inject creationism into teaching materials that will be adopted statewide in high schools this year, according to new documents obtained by watchdog groups. Records show that the textbook reviewers made ideological objections to material on evolution and climate change in science textbooks from at least seven publishers, including several of the nation’s largest publishing houses. Failing to obtain a review panel’s top rating can make it harder for publishers to sell their textbooks to school districts, and can even lead the state to reject the books altogether.
“Once again, culture warriors in the state board are putting Texas at risk of becoming a national laughingstock on science education,” said Kathy Miller, the president of the Texas Freedom Network, a nonprofit group that monitors religious extremists and “far-right issues.” TFN and the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) obtained the review panel documents in response to a state open-records request.
What’s more, because Texas has one of the nation’s largest public school systems, publishers tend to tailor their textbooks for that market and then sell the same texts to the rest of America.
Here are five striking examples of comments submitted to publishers by the state review panels urging them to water down scientific teachings.
One reviewer directly implored the textbook companies Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Scientific Minds to teach “creation science”:
I understand the National Academy of Science’s [sic] strong support of the theory of evolution. At the same time, this is a theory. As an educator, parent, and grandparent, I feel very firmly that “creation science” based on Biblical principles should be incorporated into every Biology book that is up for adoption.
Text neglects to tell students that no transitional fossils have been discovered. The fossil record can be interpreted in other ways than evolutionary with equal justification. Text should ask students to analyze and compare alternative theories.
Another reviewer, Ray Bohlin, told the publisher Pearson/Prentice Hall that climate change isn’t real because we “don’t really know that the carbon Cycle [sic] has been altered.” But even if it was, he continued:
In reality we don’t know what climate change will do to species diversity … Question seems to imply that ecosystems will be disrupted which qwe [sic] simply don’t know yet.
In the same review, Bohlin repeatedly promoted Signature in the Cell, a book written by Stephen Meyer — director of science and culture for the creationist Discovery Institute — without disclosing the fact that he is a fellow there:
There is no discussion of the origin of information bearing [sic] molecules which is absolutely essential in any origin of life scenario. Meyer’s Signature in the Cell easily dismisses any RNA first [sic] scenario. The authors need to get caught up.
Reviewers examining the Pearson/Prentice Hall textbook also refer to “THE DISCREDITED PEPPERED MOTH SCENARIO” and “the replacement of discredited ‘Peppered Moth’ misrepresentations.” (Starting during the industrial revolution, populations of peppered moths gradually changed color to match tree bark that had been darkened by soot from local industry — camouflage that made them less vulnerable to predators. After the plants closed and the pollution cleared up, the moths eventually returned to their lighter color. The moth example has been upheld as a classic case of evolution in action.)
Few of the textbook reviewers who were critical of the teaching of evolution and climate change possessed any scientific credentials, according to NCSE. Among those who did, several were active in anti-evolution organizations such as the Discovery Institute.
According to the groups, the Texas Education Agency has declined to release documents showing what changes, if any, the publishers have agreed to make in response to these reviews. A public hearing on the books will take place next week in Austin, followed by a final vote to approve or reject them in November.
Spanish artist Francisco de Pájaro doesn’t see rubbish as an urban blight — for him, it’s a canvas. De Pájaro transforms old cardboard, garbage bags, discarded furniture, and other refuse into weird human forms and fantastical creatures. It’s probably the most beautiful trash you’ll ever see.
De Pájaro is currently exhibiting in London, both inside a gallery and out on the streets. Most of his earlier work is more hurried and slapdash than the curated London pieces, because he had to work fast enough to avoid the cops. But he originally moved into doing trash art specifically to get around street art laws:
Rubbish is the only legal place you can make art on the street. There was a law in 2006 in Barcelona which outlawed painting on the street, suddenly all of the freedom was eliminated – all the best artists from Barcelona left. I couldn’t paint on the floor, on the walls, anywhere, but I had a need to express myself, so where? Three undercover police officers came when they saw me painting on an electricity box, so I started on rubbish, on a chair, on a mattress, little by little, I made little discoveries. First of all I just painted on cans, objects, and then I thought I can put an arm, as a way of getting round not being able to paint on the walls on the floor, I started painting on rubbish. You’ve got to improvise. … The police in Spain they are much stricter, they don’t let you do anything, here [in London] the police are different, they are more tolerant, here they see it and they say: “Hey okay, it’s rubbish, it’s intelligent.”
De Pájaro sees his work as commenting on human monstrousness:
It’s sort of like a portrayal of the monstrous side of humanity in some ways, it’s what hurts me and what affects me. I’m thinking of all the bad aspects of human beings. The bad parts of people I transmit through my art. I do it for a reason I can’t explain.
Certainly if you’re going to portray people as monsters, it makes sense to do it using all the stuff we waste and throw away.
America’s heartland! Place of milk and honey! Where cows frolic happily in fields full of corn, butterflies, and maple syrup (just go with it). Or not? You’re telling me the flatlands are actually covered in festering scabs, thanks to factory farming? OK, maybe YOU aren’t telling me that, but British photographer Mishak Henner is:
Henner didn’t set out to make an artsy statement about the environmental destruction of feedlots. He was initially looking for aerial shots of oil fields when he found the gruesome photography. Fast Company explains:
Massive waste lagoons, which waft up dangerous hydrogen sulfide fumes and can contaminate groundwater with nitrates and antibiotics, first resemble open, infected wounds…
“I came across these really strange-looking structures, like a big lagoon, or all these dots that look like microbes,” Henner says. “We have factory farming in England, but we don’t have it on that scale. I was just absolutely blown away.”
Thankfully, Henner is safe from increasingly popular ag-gag laws preventing feedlot photography, since the photos are open-source imagery from satellites. (He previously showcased open-source aerial shots of military outposts for a 2010 book.)
How many of the frequency tones in this video can you hear? Turns out I'm alive and not hearing-impaired. But that's it. I heard no other frequencies in this video. But at my age, it appears that's normal. They say the memory is the second thing to go …and I guess hearing is the first. -via Viral Viral Videos
Let me rephrase that: can you run a 100 meter dash in under 23.8 seconds? Because that's what Mitsu Morita did, blowing away a previous record of 50.9 seconds for women over 90. Rocket News 24 reports:
As well as her physical fitness, Mitsu certainly doesn’t seem to be lacking in competitiveness and determination. After winning, she said, “It’s a shame because I was down to 21 seconds in practices. Next I want to beat the world record of 23.18 seconds”. What an inspiring woman.
Actually, Mitsu already has a string of world records under her belt. In 2003 she broke the world record for the 200 metres 80-84 category with a time of 40.78 seconds. In 2005 she was in the 85-89 age category, sprinting her way to records in the 100 metres (19.83 seconds) and 200 metres (45.65 seconds). I’m sure she can shave that .62 seconds off her time and take the world record for the 90+ 100 metres too!
Noted logician, theologian, and climate scientist Rush Limbaugh has issued a philosophical treatise on religion and climate change, proving that if you believe in God you cannot believe in anthropogenic global warming. Why? Because John Kerry animal rights activists mice rats barbecue pits SUVs and what about a fetus? QED.
Here, I listened to this stupid noisebox so you don’t have to:
John Kerry, our esteemed secretary of state, said that climate change is our challenge, a challenge to our responsibilities as the safeguarders of God’s creation. The safeguarders — it would obviously be safeguardians. The safeguarders.
Nope, bzzt, wrong, neither of you knows words. It would obviously be SAFEGUARDS, you dumb cluck. I’ll give John Kerry a pass on this one because he’s not turning his nose up at someone else’s word choice while simultaneously being approximately as literate as a Q-tip. (The hygiene item, not the hip hop artist, who I’m sure is worlds more intellectual than Rush Limbaugh.)
So John Kerry says that climate change is a challenge to our responsibility as the safeguarders of God’s creation. What about God’s creation called a fetus, Secretary Kerry, what is your responsibility as a safeguarder there?
Did you get whiplash just then? Well, put some Tiger Balm on it quickish, because he’s about to jerk the wheel again.
See, in my humble opinion, folks, if you believe in God then intellectually you cannot believe in manmade global warming.
OK, the word “intellectually” really does not belong in this discussion.
You must be either agnostic or atheist to believe that man controls something he can’t create.
Like land. God, the immense hubris of believing you can control a piece of the earth, which you did not make! From now on, only agnostics and atheists get to own property. Religious folks must take up a lantern and wander the earth as God intended. (Please be sure to make your own lantern.)
It’s always in fact been one of the reasons for my anti-manmade global warming stance. The vanity of these people — on the one hand, we’re no different than a mouse or a rat, if you listen to the animal rights activists.
Rush, they weren’t talking about the whole human race with that “no different from a rat” thing. They were only talking about you.
We are pollutants of this planet. If it weren’t for humanity, the militant environmentalist wackos, if it weren’t for humanity the earth would be pristine and wonderful and beautiful and nobody would see it. According to them, we’re different, we are not as entitled to life on this planet as other creatures because we destroy it. But how can we destroy it when we’re no different than the lowest lifeforms?
<cut to Rush holding two Barbies wearing blouses with “MILITANT ENVIRONMENTALIST” on them>
“I’m just like a rat or mouse or other low lifeform!” “Oh yeah? Well you’re different from all other life on this planet!” “Well how can I be different when I’m just like a mouse or a rat?” <dolls make out>
<radio intern enters>
“Mr. Limbaugh, have you …”
“WHAT DID YOU SEE?”
“Nothing, sir! I didn’t see you playing with your dolls again!”
And then on the other hand the vanity and the arrogance — we are so powerful and we are so impotent, uh, omnipotent
Just gonna leave this here.
that we can destroy… we can’t even stop a rainshower but we can destroy the climate.
It’s absurd! It’s like saying someone who can’t even take apart a carburetor can still wreck a car.
And how? With barbecue pits and automobiles, particularly SUVs. It’s absurd.
Barbecue pits: definitely the main concern of the modern environmental movement.
But nevertheless the esteemed secretary running around saying that climate change is our responsibility as the safeguarders of God’s creation.
I do thank Rush for evoking the image of John Kerry “running around,” which of course puts me in mind of this photo:
I will never stop laughing at that photo.
Just ask him, what about God’s creation called a fetus?
Yes, Rush, I think you made that point admirably.
Anyway, there you have it, folks. If you believe in God, you can’t believe in global warming, because I’ve seen mice and rats, Mr. Secretary, and you’re no fetus. Tune in next week, when Rush explains why people who love their mothers can’t support gay marriage because we didn’t come from monkeys and make me a sandwich.
MonkeyLectric is a company that makes lights for bike wheels. But not just any lights for bike wheels. These are the best lights for bike wheels ever created.
It’s a fairly simple product, actually. You get a unit that fits onto your wheel. The unit has four bars of LED lights. Then you upload graphics or animations. And then you just pedal — pretty fast — and the lights turn on and the motion of the bike wheel turns them into animations and you’ve got the coolest thing going on the road. Cars will definitely, definitely see you.
But it’s, uh, pricey, at $660 for one unit (i.e., if you want both your wheels tricked out like this, you’re out more than $1,300). Still, you could have bike wheels with an animation of you riding a bike on them. Think about it.
With his recent post The Ultimate Catwalk, John confirmed that it's a cat's world, we just live in it. The post inspired us to compile more examples of awesome cat towers/condos, cat climbing structures, and cat houses that we can find on the great wide Web.
Cat lover Diane Less Baird and dog lover Polly Wardle started a pet project called Angels for Animals out of their homes before they bought an abandoned slaughter house and converted it into a sanctuary for animals.
Inside the massive building is this gigantic "Tree of Marie" cat tree - a 24 foot high, $100,000 cat tree with 36 branches named after donor Marie Stillings. At each branches' ends are resting pods covered with green carpet that let cats lounge in style. It's currently the world's largest cat tree.
The Tower of Rufus
Everyone knows that cats love to play with a box. And you know what's better than a box? Forty boxes - just like this Tower of Rufus, built by Billy Browne for his cat.
Willy and MC of Brooklyn, New York, built this custom made staircase and platform called the "Kitty Loft" for their pets Miles and Atila.
Cat Cottage Triplex
Outdoor cat house? This Cat Cottage Triplex by Blythe Wood Works is "the cat's meow." The structure comfortably house three to six cats, complete with heated pads for the ultimate in outdoor comfort for your cats.
Schuyler Samperton's Cat Shelves and Stairs
California-based designer Schuyler Samperton designed this fantastic cat shelves and stairs for a house in Hancock Park, Los Angeles.
Cats have been a big part of Bob Walker and wife Frances Mooney's life. So when they settled down, the couple decided to build a scratching post for their cats. Next, they built a little cat ramp and before you know it, twenty years later, they've built 140 foot elevated cat "highway" that run from the living room to the bedroom!
Chapel Rock is an unusual rock formation in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, a national preserve and recreation area in the United States on Lake Superior. A single tree stands on the rock. How does it survive? Its roots reach across the gap to soil on the mainland.
A water fight in Shanghai on July 21st, near the beginning of a record heat wave in China. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)
It's been hot in China. Really, really hot. For the last 24 days the temperature in Shanghai, for instance, hasn't dropped below 95. This isn't a dry heat, either: think Atlanta, not Phoenix. The current heat wave -- which is expected to continue into the first part of August -- has already claimed 11 lives in the city and has had an effect on business.
In a crowded country where many homes lack air conditioning, China's people have to get creative in order to escape the heat. One option is public pools -- but these can get a little crowded. How crowded? Consider this image, from an artificial pool in Suining, Sichuan Province, which looks like it could have come from Where's Waldo.
A school gym in Wuhan, like Shanghai one of China's famously hot "furnance cities", doubled as an impromptu dormitory for dozens of students:
Then, in Shanghai, there are the nicely air-conditioned subway stations:
One group that has not kept its sense of humor about the heat is the Shanghai Meteorological Bureau. Annoyed at myriad reports exaggerating the temperature (which, they dutifully reminded us, never exceeded a still-completely-ridiculous 106 degrees), the Bureau has begun fining citizens for promoting and spreading "unauthorized weather reports."