Obama Throws Environmentalists a Bone; Get Ready for 'Agent Orange Corn'

The Washington Post on the president and climate change, The New York Times on 2,4-D and chicken sanctuaries, the Los Angeles Times on making organic farms efficient, and The Guardian on shrinking the world

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The Washington Post on Obama and climate change For those who've complained about President Obama's mum-ness on climate change, the commander-in-chief has broken this silence on the issue, somewhat. The editorial board at The Washington Post discusses comments made by the president to Rolling Stone, in which he said, of the upcoming election, "I will be very clear in voicing my belief that we're going to have to take further steps to deal with climate change in a serious way." The editorial board is pleasantly surprised that Obama will be taking the environment seriously this election. "So far, dealing forthrightly with the world’s rising temperatures has been far down the list of priorities in Washington, and the president has shown little willingness to stick his political neck out on the issue," they write. The board notes that Obama, who spoke out strongly against inaction on climate issues as a senator, has been mainly stifled by Republicans unwilling to adress global warming and that the president has his fair share of environmental achievements.

The New York Times on 2,4-D What is "2,4-D"? As you might suspect with a clunky name like that, it's a herbicide that's not so good for the environment -- and for human health. Which is why some environmentalists, doctors, and farmers oppose a new type of corn genetically engineered by Dow Chemical to be resistent to the chemical, fearing that it's use will become widespread and its hazards manifest. The New York Times' Andrew Pollack describes the concerns: the chemical is associated with "cancer, hormone disruption and other health problems" and could easily vaporize and spread to other farms with crops not resistent to the drug. In turn, Dow offers reassurances that the chemical is not carcinogenic and that it's developing methods for it not to spread by air. But the PR gods may not be on Dow's side. Unfortunately for them, Agent Orange, an herbicide famously used in the Vietnam War, contains 2,4-D. And even though "[m]ost experts agree that the harm from Agent Orange was caused primarily by its other ingredient, 2,4,5-T," that hasn't stopped the inevitable dubbing of the proposed crop as "Agent Orange corn."

The Los Angeles Times on how to make organic efficient Sure, the idea of organic food, grown without man-made chemicals with minimal environmental impact, seems ideal. But grocery-store wisdom dictates that organic food is grown less efficiently and thus is more expensive. But according to new research discussed by Amina Khan at the Los Angeles Times, the efficiency gap between organic and conventional farming can be closed. "Overall, the team found that yields from organic farming in developed countries were 20% lower than when farmers used conventional methods." A 20 percent gap is nothing to sneeze at, but researchers are hopeful that organic farming methods can be made as efficient at traditional ones "considering how much more research has gone into conventional agriculture compared with organic." For some crops, like strawberries and apples, the gap is just 3 percent.

The Guardian on shrinking the world, to save it Not physically shrinking the world, per se, but rather curbing the world's population (humanely) so its resources aren't exhausted. The Guardian's John Vidal interviewed Paul Ehrlich, a professor of population studies at Stanford, who puts a modern figure on an argument as old as Thomas Malthus, in response to a report on overpopulation from the Royal Society in London. "The optimum population of Earth – enough to guarantee the minimal physical ingredients of a decent life to everyone – was 1.5 to 2 billion people rather than the 7 billion who are alive today or the 9 billion expected in 2050," he tells The Guardian. While too many people crowded together can lead to headline-making disasters, like plagues or war, we also have to watch out for more insidious ones. "Some maybe slow motion disasters like people getting more and more hungry, or catastrophic disasters because the more people you have the greater the chance of some weird virus transferring from animal to human populations, there could be a vast die-off."

The New York Times on chicken sanctuaries Reporting for The Times from Portland, Ore. (of course), Lee van der Voo tells us of a burgeoning trend perfectly twee for the city: chicken retirement, for birds no longer able to lay eggs. "While many Portlanders still pluck aging birds for the broiler, others seek a blissful, pastoral end for them," she writes. "Because most chickens lay the majority of eggs early in life, and can live about 10 years, the quest for a place where chickens can live out their sunset years has brought a boom to at least two farm animal sanctuaries." There are plucky volunteers like Pete Porath, who take in older, unwanted chickens. (His wife, not as keen on the keeping the birds: "They want it rehomed here because they have a fantasy of a farm.") And there are others like Russ Finley, who can't bring himself to kill some of his former egg-layers and keeps them himself. (“I know it sounds kind of crazy, but we kiss them.”) Does this all sound familiar? Wasn't there a Portlandia sketch about this? Yes, there is a Portlandia sketch about this.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.