Schools Will Now Serve Healthy Food and Drink (But I Haven’t Told My Daughter Yet)

As a parent, there are few thing more fruitless than trying to convince your seven-year-old that she really should avoid the chocolate milk and drink the plain no-fat milk at lunch. Well, I haven’t told her yet, but that’s all going to change.

This week, the USDA announced new rules governing the types of food that schools serve outside of the lunch and breakfast plans. A previous rule addressed the nutritional value of the meals, cutting down on fat and sugar content. But kids could bypass the healthy meals and grab potato chips and a soda instead.

I worked on a successful campaign, producing and placing op-eds in the Sacramento Bee and Savanna Morning Newsthat compelled the USDA to issue the stronger standards.

It’s a solid victory in the fight against childhood obesity, even if my daughter won’t understand it for a few years…

Explosive Agriculture and That Larger April Fireball

Corn tassels. Credit: Huw Williams.

Corn tassels. Credit: Huw Williams.

In mid-April, a humongous explosion rocked the Texas town of West when a fire broke out at an agriculture retail facility storing ammonium nitrate. The blast killed 14 people, injured more than 200, and left a crater 93 feet wide and 10 feet deep. If this and other forms of ammonia are so explosive before being used as fertilizer, what happens when it is used in agriculture? More at National Geographic’s NewsWatch blog, http://on.natgeo.com/10oCQjh.

‘Quick-fix’ development gives away more than it gets back

In April 2013, I produced and placed an opinion piece for Samuel Nguiffo, the Secretary General of the Centre for Environment and Development (CED) in Cameroon. Using his own country as an example, Samuel’s op-ed discussed how the “Land Grab” taking place in Africa was more of a “giveaway” where governments at all levels were providing multinational corporations with their country’s natural resources for very little compensation. Research from Rights and Resources Initiative showed that the communities that live on the land involved in these transactions lost out repeatedly. The opinion piece ran online at http://aje.me/17z1mpk.

Palm Oil, Land Grabs, and the Plight of Communities in Africa (and everywhere else)

Looking out over a new oil palm plantation in Liberia. Credit: Dan Klotz

Looking out over a new oil palm plantation in Liberia. Credit: Dan Klotz

In December, I spent a week in Liberia with an Agence France Presse (AFP) reporter exploring two large-scale land acquisitions in which the Liberian government turned over large swaths of land for oil palm and rubber plantations, ignoring the rights of the communities that live on the land. The trip was part of the outreach work I have been doing for Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI).

Underlining the dire problems confronting these communities, four people with whom we visited were arrested shortly after we left.

After the trip, the AFP reporter filed two feature-length stories detailing the difficulties inherent in these transactions (http://bit.ly/YaJ0G4 and http://f24.my/UhCU62). Last week, my photos from the trip were featured in a slide show on AllAfrica.com (http://j.mp/15CeiZC) that highlighted two new reports from RRI.

The Fight Against Climate Change Needs a Retrofit

Looking south from the Empire State Building. Credit: Dan Klotz

Looking south from the Empire State Building. Credit: Dan Klotz

The New York City apartment building where I grew up was built in the early 1960s. The building’s heating system still has only one thermostat for more than 150 apartments, and that thermostat is usually set in the mid-70s. If it’s too hot, you must manually adjust each radiator in the apartment (and there’s one for each room). Most people simply open a window or two instead, which is not a very climate-smart solution. More at National Geographic’s NewsWatch blog, http://on.natgeo.com/10sNPuz.

Climate Change Wins Big in 2012 Elections

Post-Tropical Sandy rolling inland on Tuesday, October 30 (Credit: NOAA/NASA GOES Project)

Post-Tropical Sandy rolling inland on Tuesday, October 30 (Credit: NOAA/NASA GOES Project)

The 2012 Presidential elections was proceeding as most elections do, with one notable exception: for the first time since 1984, neither candidate mentioned climate change during any of the campaign debates.  Then Hurricane Sandy struck, changing the coastline and the policy landscape.  More at National Geographic’s NewsWatch blog, http://on.natgeo.com/YVHz1o

Can National Happiness Survive on an Organic Diet?

Stepped farming in Paro, Bhutan (Credit: Soham Banerjee)

Stepped farming in Paro, Bhutan (Credit: Soham Banerjee)

The small kingdom of Bhutan is known for establishing the “gross national happiness” tool, a “multidimensional measurement” that looks at its citizens’ quality of life and well-being. Lately, it has been making waves for its government’s ambition to become the first 100% organic country in the world. More on National Geographic’s NewsWatch blog. http://on.natgeo.com/15kgyW0