January 18, 2013

The CLF Week in Links: Climate Change, Cabinet Change, and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Temperatures in Australia have reached 122 F.

Here are a few of the news items that are getting the most attention at the Center for a Livable Future this week.

News from USDA. We learned this week that Tom Vilsack will continue as the Secretary of Agriculture during President Obama’s second term. He’s got his work cut out for him—this country is experiencing the worst drought we’ve seen since the 1930s, and we urgently need a new farm bill. Also, this week the agency appointed environmentalist and dairy farmer Francis Thicke, PhD, to the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). This is very good news for all of us and a very encouraging appointment by Secretary Vilsack. We’ve had the pleasure of hearing Francis speak about ecological agriculture and his dairy farm in Iowa, and I’m certain he’ll add valuable perspective to this 15-member advisory board. Now all we need is for Secretary Vilsack to stiffen his spine and push back against the political pressures from the agro-industrial complex.

A loss for the Department of the Interior. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar says he’ll leave his cabinet position in March. I understand that he has family obligations pulling him away, and I wish him well. He championed conservation, and he was dedicated to establishing renewable energy production on public lands. He established seven new national parks and ten new wildlife refuges, and he helped to restore bison to tribal lands. Further, he was known to tangle with House Republicans over domestic energy production, and in a speech last year he called them “charter members of the Flat Earth Society” who lived in an imaginary energy world of “fairy tales.” With Lisa Jackson’s departure from the EPA, announced at the turn of the year, and now this, President Obama has some serious recruiting to do. We hope the replacements for both agencies will bear similar profiles in courage.

The New York Times sunsets the environment. The Times will close its environment desk in the next few weeks and assign its seven reporters and two editors to other departments. The positions of environment editor and deputy environment editor are being eliminated. This is hard to fathom in the wake of Sandy and what appears to be a growing awareness among the public of the very real dangers to our environment from climate change, resource depletion, and pollution.

Climate change, Missouri. Last year’s drought and high temperatures increased the spread of a carcinogenic mold called aspergillus, a fungal pathogen that poisons cattle and has infected the 2012 corn crop. Last year it destroyed half of Missouri’s corn. The poison is so deadly that Saddam Hussein confessed to weaponizing the mold spores for use in biological warfare. Another warning sign of the public health consequences of climate change and disruption.

Climate change, Texas. In Texas, legislators are focusing on water in the midst of a two-year drought. The drought has cost farmers billions of dollars and has forced hundreds of communities to limit water use. Eighteen public water systems were projected to run out of water in 180 days or fewer as of Tuesday.

Climate change—nearly hellfire and brimstone. Last Friday, the third National Climate Assessment said there’s “unambiguous evidence” that earth is warming and concludes that climate change is already affecting U.S. residents through heat waves, droughts and other changes, and warns that temperatures could increase as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit if global carbon emissions keep soaring. And in Australia, a heat wave set a new high of almost 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) as authorities warned that large uncontrolled bushfires would continue to threaten the south-east of the country.

Wind turbines in Maryland. Governor Martin O’Malley is preparing once again to introduce a bill aimed at planting mammoth wind turbines off Ocean City—and the measure may finally pass. This will be his third attempt to get this legislation passed.

Big, bad SSBs (sugar-sweetened beverages). Coca-Cola produced a two-minute television ad promoting their smaller-sized soda bottles and their alleged commitment to addressing the obesity crisis. In this blogpost, CLF friend Marion Nestle calls the ad “an astonishing act of chutzpah,” reminding us that the company targets children and low-income minorities, among many other sins.

Antibiotic resistance. Last week, I drew attention to an essay in Food Safety News by Dr. Raymond, who contends that the link between animal drugs and antibiotic resistance is tenuous and overblown. Well, he is certainly getting an earful. The Pew Health Group made an excellent rebuttal, and this week a colleague and I offer another rebuttal. I expect there will be even more to come.

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