Fish has been part of the human diet and culture since the beginning of time. It seems almost inconceivable that it could suddenly stop being available. But we’re headed for a cliff if we don’t improve sustainable fishing worldwide.
Last year I found myself sputtering in disbelief when the waitress told me lake perch sliders were no longer available at my favorite local bar and grill. That same week a local fast food place that had always offered a lake perch sandwich switched to a generic fried “fish” sandwich. Along the Michigan coast of Lake Michigan, yellow perch has long been traditional and ubiquitous fare. But numerous factors including severely limited commercial fishing and a precipitous drop in Lake Michigan perch populations has eroded availability of this cultural staple.
This is a microcosm of an even larger issue. The world’s oceans are in decline. Ocean catch reached its highest point, “peak fish,” back in the 1990s. It’s been declining fairly steadily since then. We’re taking more fish from the ocean in unsustainable ways than the ocean can provide. As of 2010 fishing operations harvested over 80 million metric tons of wild caught fish worldwide. That doesn’t even include the bycatch — the undesired marine life caught while harvesting a desired species. Bycatch, estimated to be between 7 million and 38 million metric tons globally, can sometimes dwarf the desired harvest for a given species. In one extreme example, wild shrimp can come at a cost of 62 pounds of bycatch per pound of shrimp. So when we talk about the depletion of ocean wildlife, it goes beyond what we see on our plates.
It seems to be just a matter of time. Marijuana legalization is moving across the country. Today, 20 states already allow medical cannabis. On Wednesday, the Washington, D.C. City Council voted almost unanimously to decriminalize marijuana in small amounts, while Colorado and Washington state have legalized the stuff. It’s flowing into daily lives, and now we’re seeing the first network television commercial for medical marijuana–just playing right there on the TV like they’re selling Tylenol or Hot Pockets.
Airing on national networks in the state of New Jersey–networks like A&E, Fox, CNN, Comedy Central, Food Network and the History Channel–a company called Marijuana Doctors is making the case for buying the product from trusted clinical sources.
The television ad features a slick talking, back alley sushi-pusher selling tuna and sashimi from the inside of his leather jacket. The commercial ends saying, “You wouldn’t buy your sushi from this guy, so why would you buy your marijuana from him?” The message here, in form and choice of medium, seems to be right in line with MarijuanaDoctors.com’s mission of “legitimizing the process for the booking and selection of medical marijuana doctors.” Major network television is just about as normalizing and arguably legitimizing as it comes. And it’s telling that the networks agreed to air the ad. Sure, money talks. But so does viewer outrage. Apparently the networks didn’t think that would be an issue.
If your business is selling electricity, then a new analysis by the American Council for an Energy-Efficiency Economy showing flatlining or even falling demand is not encouraging news.
In June 2013 Ron Binz spoke about disruptive forces facing the utility industry. He was Obama’s nominee for head of the Energy Regulatory Commission until Mr. Binz dropped out in the face of pretty intense industry pressure. One of the main disruptions leading to troubles for utilities is waning sales growth in the electricity sector. It’s a problem. Last year in Ann Arbor, Binz showed a chart depicting less than 2 percent growth in energy demand going forward. However, a new report shows an even worse picture for the traditional purveyors of electricity. Use has actually been falling since 2007 and continues to do so.
Ironically, the importance and tight demand for high-tech human resources may have lead Silicon Valley companies to engage in practices that actually reduced their wages.
A class action wage theft lawsuit is implicating numerous tech companies in Silicon Valley for taking organized actions to suppress wages. In one instance, legal documents reveal that Steve Jobs threatened the CEO of Palm Inc. with legal harassment in an attempt to make a potentially illegal wage suppression deal. At issue, Mr. Jobs was annoyed with Edward Collagan of Palm for poaching workers from Apple and attempted to strike a deal where the two companies would agree not to hire each others employees. It’s an agreement that amounts to wage suppression since employers can’t use higher wages to hire employees away from another company.
Here’s an interesting point about corporate social responsibility: Major companies can choose to lead the charge, or if they neglect to do so for too long, the democratic process may step in and do so for them on terms the companies may not particularly like. Right or wrong, this is the situation faced by many low-wage employers in the U.S. following President Barack Obama’s call to raise the minimum wage.
There are, however, examples of fast food and retail companies out there that strive to pay a fair wage. And they show that companies can indeed pay more and do well. In-N-Out Burger, a fast food chain in California and the Southwest, starts its employees off at a wage of $10.50 an hour. Moo Cluck Moo, a small fast food chain based in Canton, Mich., starts employees out at $12 an hour and ratchets up the pay to $15 an hour after 60 days. So what about McDonald’s? Or Burger King? Or Long John Silver’s for that matter?
Labor Secretary Thomas Perez makes a good point. If In-N-Out Burger can do it–remain profitable and still provide what has arguably been deemed a superior product–why can’t McDonald’s? Say’s Perez, “I find it a remarkable notion that McDonald’s can’t afford to pay an increase in the minimum wage but In-N-Out Burger can.”
Thanks to a new Long John Silver’s ad campaign and its upcoming elimination of trans fats, one of my guilty pleasures could soon feel a bit less guilty.
A new set of ads raise the Jolly Roger in honor of sustainable food and more environmentally sound eating, citing the benefits of fish from fewer methane emissions when compared to livestock, and real free-range food from “the final frontier,” otherwise known as the North Pacific.
It’s no accident this brand change is coming at the breakwater of Lent, when millions of consumers switch their diets and many fast food restaurants start promoting their fish sandwiches. Judging from the networks on which the new campaign will premier–Discovery Channel, the Weather Channel, HGTV, ESPN2 and TNT–Long John Silver’s is arguably targeting an environmentally conscious and educated audience.
Of course there’s always the potential for greenwashing here. According to Long John Silver’s, the fish it uses for its “core” products is wild caught. Those delicious crunchy white meat fish fillets and the crunchy, yummy bits of batter around it. Environmental groups warn about the disatrous practice of overfishing. According to Overfishing.org, at least 25 percent of fish stocks around the world are over-exploited or depleted, while 52 percent are already fully exploited.
As solar photovoltaic technology sees greater efficiency and declining levelized costs, rivaling coal, demand for solar is rising and so are the jobs. Solar industry jobs are surging throughout the United States, according to the independent nonprofit research and educational organization the Solar Foundation (TSF). Record job growth in the industry over the last year is putting people to work in communities in every region, including some unexpected ones, depending on what one expects.
For example, in the Midwest, a place some folks might believe to be too cold and cloudy for solar, the industry has seen a doubling of solar jobs since TSF last reported its numbers. Heck, the solar panel I have on my garage in Michigan puts out more wattage than it’s rated for on a sunny winter day due to increased efficiency in colder weather. There’s enormous solar potential in the Midwest, rivaling Germany in the availability of good sun…yet Germany leads the world in solar investment.
Also, Georgia, Texas, North Carolina and Louisiana combined, which some folks may consider politically hostile to renewable energy, account for nearly a quarter of solar industry job creation nationwide. If it’s a good investment, and it is, practicality tends to speak louder than philosophy.
Maybe you remember way back in 2010 when the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) put out silly commercials and tried to get the FDA to let them rebrand corn syrup as “corn sugar.”
If that CRA bid to rebrand high fructose corn syrup as “corn sugar” and “natural” seemed a bit Orwellian to you, as Dr. Andrew Weil described it, you’re in good company. New documents show the Corn Refiners Association thought it was a bit of a stretch, too, with David Weintraub – the spokesman for corn syrup producer Archer Daniels Midland – describing the name change as “dishonest and sneaky.”
It’s good to see there are voices of conscience and reason in these corporate entities, but distressing that their voices don’t rise to the top.
In the midst of an international trade dispute over solar components and threats of Chinese tariffs, Michigan-based Hemlock Semiconductors permanently laid off 400 workers in Michigan and Tennessee last March. The company makes polysilicon, the main material for producing photovoltaic solar cells. Sure, a huge percentage of solar panels have been coming from China. But U.S. companies manufactured a significant portion of the polysilicon that went into those panels. The polysilicon was made here, sent to China, assembled into solar panels, and sent back here. The supply chain, being what it is, still benefited U.S. companies and workers, and Chinese companies and workers I might add, as solar use grew. Everybody wins. Economics at its best.
But on Monday, those tariffs became a reality. China, arguably the U.S. and Europe’s largest rival in renewable energy manufacturing, announced tariffs of up to 57 percent against polysilicon imports coming from the United States. Polysilicon imports from, for example, Hemlock Semiconductors in Hemlock, Michigan, produced by hundreds of men and women in Michigan and Tennessee.
These international trade disputes can seem somewhat academic until you can point to an actual family kicked to the curb because mom or dad lost a job. Or a whole community losing millions in economic activity. Then the cold, distant world of trade disputes hits way too close to home in a very real way.
We all knew it, didn’t we? That the world’s salvation might at least partially be found in that most ancient and beloved of humanity’s discoveries: beer and fermentation. Ever since President Carter deregulated the U.S. beer market in 1979, a great and largely unsung accomplishment in this writer’s opinion, the U.S. has burst into a beer renaissance. Those small breweries are helping to revitalize communities. They’re giving us new places to fraternize with friends and family, and a sense of town pride. And many craft breweries are becoming early adopters of cutting edge, clean technology, putting clean tech into real world use.
For example, Bear Republic Brewing Company in Cloverdale, California, population 8,618, has become the world’s first industrial scale adopter of a bioelectrtic wastewater treatment and reuse system created by Cambrian Innovation in Boston. The system, dubbed EcoVolt, is about the size of a cargo shipping container and is kept on the brewery’s premises. The containers are modular, so a company can add more units as its water treatment and electricity needs grow. The EcoVolt takes waste water in, processes it using bioelectric microbes (or what I like to call “critters”), and pumps clean water and methane out. I’m sure the good folks at the MIT spinoff company, Cambrian Innovation, have a more detailed explanation of the process. It’s only super-science at its best.
At least the U.S. doesn’t hold a monopoly on climate change denialists in public office.
The Australian government, under Prime Minister Tony Abbott, seems committed to exacerbating its nation’s climate woes. Even as his Environmental Minister approved a vast coal mine that will produce 40 million tons of CO2-emitting coal per year, Abbott is calling Australia’s strong renewable energy sector into question.
He’s cutting funding for renewables, threatening to remove the 20 percent renewable energy standard and even falling back on the old and largely debunked criticism that wind power has negative impacts on human health. Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council looked into the issue in 2010 and again in 2012. And now Abbott is calling for another review. Because, why not?
And just for good measure, he’s also dismantling Australia’s well-regarded plans for curbing carbon emissions and jettisoning the nation’s goals for carbon reductions.
Good news for those living at the intersection of manufacturing and environmentalism. Here in the U.S., sales of plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles almost doubled between 2012 and 2013 with an 84 percent jump to 96,600 of the vehicles sold. That’s 49,000 plug-in hybrids (like the Volt) and 47,600 pure battery powered plug-in vehicles sold.
As a resident of Michigan and a guy concerned with environmental and sustainability issues, I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the auto industry. On one hand, auto emissions are a main source of greenhouse gasses and the international thirst for oil, as gasoline production accounts for almost half of our oil use. On the other hand, friends, family, neighbors and the community depend very notably on income from the auto manufacturing sector.
If it was anybody else I might take the objection more seriously, but when an oil lobbying group sues the EPA over the renewable fuel standard, it kind of takes the edge off. The American Petroleum Institute (API) is raising a legal stink over new rules requiring that biofuels be mixed with good old fashioned unleaded all American gasoline. Incidentally, the API is among many groups that funneled thousands of dollars to Koch backed conservative think tanks.
Dismantling renewable energy standards nationwide has been a high priority for the Koch Brother’s machine, lately. Specifically through the conservative group ALEC.
At least 77 (ALEC) bills to oppose renewable energy standards, support fracking, the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, and otherwise undermine environmental laws were introduced in 34 states in 2013
Viewed as a one-off dispute between the API and biofuels standards, the lawsuit against the EPA could seem unremarkable. Maybe even borne of legitimate concerns. But when viewed as just one more part of a larger nationwide effort of Koch friendly hyper-conseravtives to roll back all renewable energy progress in the U.S. in favor of a fossil fuel based agenda, one can be excused a certain amount of cynicism regarding the API’s lawsuit. Even if one isn’t entirely sold on biofuels.
Hold on, I need to look at my list here. I need to buy some Swedish meatballs, a couple chairs, some new food containers (I can never keep those lids around), and of course, solar panels. Can’t forget the solar panels.
By the summer of 2014, British residential customers will be able to march right into one the country’s 17 Ikea locations and buy thin film solar panels at the same place they’d buy their reasonably priced, designer home furnishings. Ikea made the move based on a pilot program at one of its stores which sold one solar setup per day. With new national subsidies and a minimum cost of £5,700 ($9,212), a buyer’s solar setup is estimated to pay for itself in seven years.
Most can’t even say that about a car purchase. The cost of solar panels includes in-store consultation, installation and maintenance. So I’m going to assume that you won’t be getting the standard Ikea allan wrench for this purchase.
Internships are important. They’re a longstanding and respectable way for new workers to cut their teeth on a trade, gaining real world contacts and work experience. But lately there’s been an overindulgence in the internship economy with class action lawsuits flying around against companies that took undue advantage of cheap labor. Some responsible organizations like CBS and Viacom are trying to get out ahead of the controversy, signing on to an Intern Bill of Rights crafted by internmatch.com.
The bill of rights outlines a clear set of expectations for employers and the rights interns should expect, things like:
- “All interns should be provided an offer document, recognizing their role within a company.”
- “The word intern should only be applied to opportunities that involve substantial training, mentoring, and getting to know a line of work.”
Internmatch.com is a self-described “online ecosystem” focused on helping students find internships. They provide resources, intern matches, and help students find socially responsible positions. The organization crafted the Intern Bill of Rights to bring a bit more justice to the internship process.