Why Natural Gas Is Not a Bridge Fuel

By Zeke Hausfather

For the past century, coal has been king, providing the majority of U.S. energy for electricity generation.

But a combination of new federal and state environmental policies and a glut of cheap natural gas (mostly from hydraulic fracturing or fracking) have led to a dramatic shift during the past decade, with coal dropping from 50 percent to 32 percent of our electricity generation and gas increasing from 18 percent to 33 percent.

Just under a third of existing coal-based power generation in the U.S. has been shut down and the Obama administration has aggressively embraced the replacement of coal with gas as a key part of meeting its 2030 climate targets. We are quickly traveling down a gas bridge away from coal. But will this shift actually be a good thing for the climate?

Slashing Emissions at the Plant

At first glance, replacing coal with natural gas seems like a good (though not great) step in combating climate change.

Overall, carbon dioxide emissions from new gas power plants are as much as 66 percent lower than those of existing coal power plants. About half of this reduction is due to differing carbon intensities of the fuels (natural gas emits 40 percent less carbon than coal per unit of heat). The other half is due to the higher generation efficiency of natural gas (new natural gas plants convert heat to power at upwards of 50 percent efficiency, while typical coal plants only operate at about 33 percent efficiency).

A way to reduce emissions by as much as two thirds while also saving money seems like a no-brainer for climate policy. But natural gas has an Achilles' heel that makes the question much harder to answer.

Direct CO2 emissions from electricity generation in grams per kWh. Based on calculations from Hausfather 2015.

Leaking Gas

Natural gas is predominately composed of methane. When methane is burned to produce electricity or heat, it releases carbon dioxide and water vapor.

But not all natural gas produced is burned. Some of it is leaked at gas wells, in compressor stations, from pipelines or in storage. Methane is a powerful but short-lived greenhouse gas. While it is in the atmosphere, it is around 120 times more powerful than carbon dioxide per ton, but it quickly decomposes through chemical reactions and only about 20 percent of the methane emitted today will remain after 20 years.

Carbon dioxide, on the other hand, has a much longer atmospheric lifetime. About half of the carbon dioxide emitted today will be around in 100 years (and virtually none of the methane will be) and about 15 percent of today's carbon dioxide will still be in the atmosphere in 10,000 years.

This difference in longevity makes a comparison between the two tricky. Essentially, how much methane emissions today matter for the climate depends largely on the timeframe you are considering. If you care about avoiding warming later in the century (as the United Nations does with its 2C warming by 2100 target), there is relatively little problem with short-term methane emissions, as long as they are phased out in the next few decades. If you care about short-term changes, however, methane is a much bigger deal.

How much methane leaks from the natural gas system is very much an open question. For a long time official U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) numbers suggested the emissions were small and falling fast, only amounting to around 1.5 percent of total production.

But dozens of independent academics doing research using aircraft, satellite data and other instruments have consistently found higher emissions than officially reported.

Adam Brandt at Stanford University published a high-profile paper in the journal Science in 2014 summarizing all the research to date. He found that overall emissions were likely between 25 and 75 percent higher than reported by EPA, suggesting that actual natural gas leakage rates are probably somewhere between 2 and 4 percent of gas production. (Some researchers have found leakage as high as 10 percent for individual fields, but there isn't evidence that those findings are characteristic of the sector as a whole).

How Much Do Leaks Matter?

What do these leakage rates mean for the viability of natural gas as a bridge fuel? Again, it comes down to a question of time frame.

Let's look at a simple example of a big coal power plant. One option is to leave it alone for the next 30 years, at which point it will be replaced by renewable energy.

Another option is to replace it with gas today and replace that gas with renewables in 30 years.

The figure below shows the climate impacts over time (measured in units called radiative forcing) of existing coal (the dashed black line), new high-efficient coal plants (the solid black line) and new gas plants (the green line). The potential range of natural gas leakage is expressed by the gray envelope around the green line, with 1 percent leakage at the bottom and 6 percent leakage at the top (the green line itself shows a 3 percent leakage case).

Adapted from Figure 3 of Hausfather 2015.

If leakage is higher than 3 percent, there are some periods in the next 30 years when gas will result in more climate impact than new coal plants. If leakage is higher than 4 percent, there are some periods when gas will be worse for the climate than existing coal plants.

But no matter what the leakage rate is, gas will still cut the climate impact by 50 percent in 2100 compared to new coal and 66 percent compared to existing coal. So whether switching from coal to gas is beneficial in this simple example depends on how you value near-term or longer-term warming.

The importance of near-term warming is tough to assess. Climate models, by and large, don't predict any irreversible changes in periods as short as 30 years and potential tipping points in the climate generally depend more on the peak warming that occurs (which in nearly all foreseeable cases would occur after 2050).

But there is much about the Earth's climate that is still unknown and scientists can't categorically rule out the potential for shorter-term warming to cause unforeseen impacts.

With longer-term warming, the impacts are much more clear (and generally more dire). By the end of the century, we'd expect around 4C warming in a world where we didn't take any action to slow emissions. As the damages of climate change tend to increase exponentially with rising temperatures, many economists argue that the biggest impacts of climate change will occur later in the century and that the main focus should be on reducing longer-term warming.

What About Choosing Neither Coal Nor Natural Gas?

There is yet another wrinkle in the comparison of gas and coal. If they were the only two ways we could generate electricity, the analysis would be fairly straightforward.

But there are many zero or near-zero carbon energy sources that are preferable to both coal and gas, including wind, solar and nuclear power. In a perfect world, we would skip the gas bridge entirely and immediately replace all the coal plants with renewables.

The challenge is that although renewables are increasingly cost competitive with coal in some parts of the country, on average, they are still more expensive. Renewables are also often intermittent, producing less power when the sun doesn't shine or the wind doesn't blow and incurring additional expenses for energy storage technologies to help balance out the grid, at least once renewables reach a high enough percent of generation.

On the other hand, renewables are getting cheaper and although it might not be practical to replace all coal plants with renewables immediately, it's definitely possible to do so in the next decade if renewables continue to fall in price. If we replace coal with gas today, we've sunk costs into new gas infrastructure that we might be loath to replace a few years later with renewables. In this way, a gas bridge could delay the widespread adoption of renewables.

It comes down to this: If we think that coal plants would stick around for 15 years or more in the absence of gas, its probably better to replace them with gas today. If we think we will have the political will to retire gas plants early, we could also potentially benefit from a gas bridge.

But if we end up locking in gas infrastructure that sticks around and delays renewables, we might be better off eschewing a gas bridge even if it means sticking around with coal a bit longer.

It's a tough problem with no simple answers, but the one thing we know for sure is that if natural gas is to serve as a bridge away from coal, it had better be a short one.

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By EWContributorClimate
Michael Mann: How to Identify Trolling Denial vs. Honest Skepticism

By Climate Denier Roundup

In an interesting new paper, two pairs of authors bring their unique viewpoints to bear on a hard to handle subject—how should scientists and the public interact to ensure the accuracy of scientific studies? How can scientists tell the difference between politically motivated trolls (deniers) and genuinely interested non-academics (skeptics)?

A Banksy piece near the Oval bridge in Camden, north London. Martin / Flickr

Two of the authors are well known in climate circles: Dr. Michael Mann and Dr. Stephan Lewandowsky. They're joined by Nicholas J. L. Brown and Dr. Harris Friedman, an outsider and an academic who worked together to upend a once-popular study in behavioral psychology. Together, the group provides a unique take on how to distinguish between the honest skepticism embodied by Brown and Friedman and the denialist abuse regularly hurled at Mann and Lewandowsky.

Skepticism can be distinguished from denial in a few key ways, like denial's reliance on conspiracy theories, its tendency to attack scientists and its lack of peer-review. Skepticism, on the other hand, tends to work within the peer-review system and maintain a cordial relationship with those it questions. The concluding line of the study sums it up well: "Denial is not an 'avenue of last resort' for members of the public who are desperate to contribute to science or even correct it, but a politically-motivated effort to undermine science."

Helpfully, the authors offer scientists and skeptics alike solutions in two appendices that accompany the piece. The first is a set of guidelines for skeptical members of the public who wish to engage with scientists. This is what the group learned from the case study of Nick Brown, who after hearing about a study in a part-time psychology course, sought out Dr. Friedman for help and advice replicating and verifying the findings. The pair then worked together on series of studies, going through scientific channels over a fairly long period of time to respectfully correct the original flawed, but frequently cited, study. This process exemplifies the true skepticism approach.

The second appendix is a set of guidelines for scientists on how to deal with non-scientists (be they skeptics or deniers) who contact them for further information about a study, the unfortunate speciality of Lewandowsky and Mann. They remind readers to be polite and assume inquiries are made in good faith, but also understand that any private correspondence could be made public and be cautious about sock puppets—a lesson Lewandowsky learned the hard way. Data should be freely shared, but sensitive medical or behavioral info requires professional handling to ensure the privacy of subjects isn't violated.

The guidelines warn that repeated requests for private messages, unfinished drafts or raw data for re-analysis are more likely to come from trolls. While data re-analysis is often well meaning, the tobacco industry was fond of applying biased methods to raw data in order to defend itself. And unfortunately, climate deniers seem to have gotten hooked on this nasty habit of Big Tobacco.

One last thing, Nick Brown's blog has a small story well worth reading. With the publication of this paper, he holds the distinction of being the only person on the planet (probably) who has co-authored with both Dr. Michael Mann and the noxious Rush-Limbaugh wanna-be pundit Mann is suing, Mark Steyn.

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By Common DreamsClimate
Louisiana Climate-Deniers Who Refused Sandy Victims Now Want Federal Flood Relief

By Lauren McCauley

As residents of Louisiana this week struggle to recover from "one of the worst floods in modern history," there is a chance that federal aid may not be so forthcoming thanks to a trio of Bayou State Republicans, who back in 2013 voted against helping victims of another storm: Sandy.

Reps. Steve Scalise, Bill Cassidy and Sen. John Fleming all voted against Sandy relief in 2013.Andrew Harnik / Melinda Deslatte/ AP via NY Daily News

House majority whip Rep. Steve Scalise, Rep. John Fleming and Sen. Bill Cassidy all cast their votes against the $50.5 billion relief package because of their dogmatic adherence to austerity economics. At the time, Scalise said, "Paying for disasters and being fiscally responsible are not mutually exclusive."

But, as Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik and others noted this week, that decision may come to haunt them.

"No one is saying that the flood-stricken communities of Louisiana don't deserve all the assistance that the U.S. government can provide them," Hiltzik wrote. "But so did the residents of the Sandy zone. How do the lawmakers' 2013 votes to deny relief to those Northeast communities square with their demand for emergency flood assistance now?"

All three signed onto a letter sent to President Barack Obama earlier this month calling for a disaster declaration and requesting "that vital federal resources be made available in an expedited manner."

Though that aid has already been appropriated, the damages are extensive and will likely require supplemental funding from Congress.

"That extra money is going to be needed to cover costs that aren't met by insurance and to provide for other needs, such as providing vouchers to contractors who can gut houses,"The Advocate's Jeff Adelson reports. "But its availability is dependent on the willingness of lawmakers to go along with the plan, something that's hardly a sure thing."

While it is too early to assess the total damage from the 1,000-year-flood, Nola.com reported Tuesday:

Gov. John Bel Edwards' office has estimated 60,646 houses were damaged and 30,000 people rescued; other people escaped on their own. The [Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)] says 109,398 people or households have applied for housing help and 25,000 National Flood Insurance Program claims have been filed.

In a Tuesday op-ed, Louisiana Public Service commissioner Foster Campbell, who is running to replace Republican Sen. David Vitter, pulled no punches in laying blame on the GOP lawmakers.

"[I]f Congress denies Louisiana the aid funds necessary for recovery, it will be because some of our own congressional delegation turned their backs on the victims of Hurricane Sandy," Campbell said. "Our 'leaders' have forgotten that their actions have consequences beyond election day—they've abandoned common sense priorities for our people to promote the political message of the day."

Not only are Scalise, Fleming and Cassidy purveyors of "extreme, tea party ideology,"—as Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, who lost to Cassidy in 2014, put it at the time—they are also, as Hiltzik wrote

Climate change deniers, a sign that they're unable to process evidence in front of their own eyes. Fleming has claimed that evidence of climate change is the product of a "radical environmental agenda." Scalise has griped that it's an effort by radicals "to prop up wave after wave of job-killing regulations that are leading to skyrocketing food and energy costs." Cassidy in 2014 claimed that global temperatures had not risen in 15 years, which happened to be untrue. Remarkably, both Fleming and Cassidy are medical doctors.

As for how the Republicans reconcile their vote on the Sandy package with their current demands for assistance, T.J. Tatum, a spokesman for Scalise, told Hiltzig that the relief claims amount to "Apples and oranges."

This article was reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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By GreenpeaceFood
5 Ways to Help Stop the Destruction of Our Oceans

By David Pinsky

Every day, roughly half of the money Americans spend on food outside of the home is gobbled up by the U.S. foodservice industry.

© Paul Hilton / Greenpeace

Wait, what's foodservice?

Companies that buy, transport, cook or serve the food you get at Subway, Burger King, a Beyoncé show or the Super Bowl, Walmart corporate cafeterias, the University of Kentucky, Chicago Public Schools, Yosemite National Park, Hilton hotels or even in the U.S. Capitol's cafeterias.

Foodservice is one of the largest industries we frequent often, though many know nothing about.

These companies buy and sell tons of seafood and some of it is destructively caught and potentially connected to forced labor.

So … how do the companies rank that supply and serve up tuna at Subway, fried shrimp at Disney World or a tuna salad sandwich in a cafeteria for Toyota employees.

Glad you asked.

Today, Greenpeace released Sea of Distress, its first seafood sustainability ranking of foodservice companies.

Sodexo, Compass Group and Aramark led the rankings as the only companies that passed—barely—while Sysco and US Foods are among the 12 failing companies.

Many companies are supplied by Thai Union Group, the largest tuna company in the world that owns U.S. brand Chicken of the Sea and supplies supermarkets too, including Walmart and Kroger. Thai Union is notorious for ocean destruction. And some of its seafood supply chains have been linked to human rights abuses, where seafood workers were forced to work under horrendous conditions for months with no escape. From the halls of Congress to your university, favorite restaurant or workplace—you could be eating seafood connected to ocean destruction or even human rights abuses.

You have the power to help transform a global industry ripping up the sea and exploiting workers.

It's time for companies profiting off of ocean destruction and mistreated workers to change. You have the power to tell companies not to destroy ocean life and to protect workers' rights from Southeast Asia to right here in the U.S.

Ready to help? Here's how:

1. Know the facts. Check out Sea of Distress to see which are the best and worst ranked companies.

2. Eat tuna? Tell the foodservice provider of your company, school or favorite restaurant that you want responsibly caught tuna and express your concern if it is coming from suppliers that cannot guarantee sustainable and ethical products, like Chicken of the Sea or Thai Union.

3. Speak your mind. Join Greenpeace Greenwire to connect with volunteers. Together, ask how your foodservice provider is working to stop forced labor, labor abuse, illegal fishing and protect workers' rights. If it's a lousy response, take your business elsewhere.

4. Eat less seafood. Reducing seafood consumption now can help lessen the pressure on our oceans, ensuring fish for the future.

5. Vote with your dollar. If you or someone you know eats seafood, use the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch app. Only buy green-rated "Best Choice" seafood.

David Pinsky authors Greenpeace USA's annual seafood sustainability report for the nation's largest supermarkets, holding major companies accountable and shifting seafood practices that have global impacts on our oceans.

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By Ken RoseboroFood
Illegal Herbicide Use on GMO Crops Causing Massive Damage to Fruit, Vegetable and Soybean Farms

Last year, Kade McBroom launched a non-GMO soybean processing plant in Malden, Missouri, and was optimistic about the potential to serve the fast-growing non-GMO market.

But now McBroom sees a potential threat to his new business from herbicide drift sprayed on genetically modified crops. This past spring, Monsanto Co. started selling GM Roundup Ready Xtend soybean and cotton seeds to farmers in Missouri and several other states. The seeds are genetically engineered to withstand sprays of glyphosate and dicamba herbicides. The problem is that the Xtend dicamba herbicide designed to go with the seeds has not yet been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), leading many farmers to spray their GMO soybeans and cotton with older formulas of dicamba—illegally.

An aerial photo showing drift damage on a non-dicamba resistant soybean field next to a dicamba resistant soybean field.Kade McBroom

May Not Be Able to Grow Non-GMO Soybeans

While Monsanto's GMO crops can tolerate sprays of dicamba, other crops can't. As a result, dicamba, which is known to convert from a liquid to a gas and spread for miles, is damaging tens of thousands of acres of "non-target" crops in southern Missouri and nine other states, mostly in the South. An estimated 200,000 acres are affected in Missouri alone, though the EPA puts that number at 40,000. Non-GMO and even GMO, soybeans that aren't dicamba resistant are damaged as well as peaches, tomatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe and other crops.

"Farmers are so mad," said McBroom, who has spoken with several farmers in his area about the problem. "I'm assuming there will be lawsuits."

Two farmers who grow non-GMO soybeans for Malden Specialty Soy told McBroom that they may be forced to grow dicamba tolerant GMO soybeans to protect their farms from dicamba drift.

Damaged soybean plant leaves.Kade McBroom

"When my suppliers say 'I'm going to have to quit growing non-GMO soybeans and start planting dicamba beans just to protect myself' it becomes an issue," he said. "They don't want to go that route, but they may not have a choice."

For now, McBroom says his business is fine, but warns: "If they don't get this under control it will be a threat."

Peach Producer Lost 30,000 Trees

The dicamba drift problem extends beyond non-GMO soybeans to many other crops. Missouri's southern "Bootheel" region is known for its agricultural diversity. Farmers grow a wide range of crops including cotton, rice, wheat watermelon, tomatoes, cantaloupe, peaches, sweet potatoes, peas, popcorn and peanuts. Many of those crops are threatened by dicamba drift.

"At its core, this is a concern for the diversity in southeast Missouri agriculture," McBroom said. "This is affecting everyone that isn't growing dicamba tolerant crops including non-GMO crops, fruits, vegetables and home gardens."

A damaged peach tree.Kade McBroom

Bader Peaches, Missouri's largest peach producer, is suffering massive losses according to owner Bill Bader. "We will lose 30,000 trees," he said.

Bader, who also grows soybeans on his farm in Campbell, Missouri, estimates his yield loss on the beans may be as much as 40 percent.

Bader estimates that 400-500 farmers in his region have been affected. "If they don't get compensation 60 percent will be out of business in two years," he said.

Who is to blame for the problem? "We need to go after Monsanto. These farmers are being hung out to dry," Bader said.

University of Arkansas weed specialist Bob Scott agrees. "This is a unique situation that Monsanto created," he said in an interview with National Public Radio.

Monsanto responded by saying that they introduced the new GMO seeds because they promised farmers better yields. The company also said that farmers were warned to not use the older dicamba formulations and that their new formula will have lower volatility to reduce the drift threat

GMO-Herbicide Treadmill Continues; Loss of Farmer Choice

Soybean and cotton farmers in the South face significant weed problems, particularly with palmer's amaranth or "pig weed," which has developed resistance to glyphosate, the main ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup herbicide. Monsanto developed the Xtend system with dicamba to address the resistance, allowing the company to continue keeping farmers on a GMO-herbicide treadmill.

But the effectiveness of the dicamba GMO system—like that of the Roundup Ready GMO system—is likely to be short-lived. A University of Arkansas study published earlier this year found that pigweed plants would develop resistance to dicamba in just three generations.

This year farmers grew an estimated 2 million acres of dicamba tolerant GMO soybeans. The biotech giant aims to increase that to 15 million acres, a troubling prospect to Kade McBroom.

"If 2016 is a preview of the dicamba era, anybody not growing dicamba resistant crops is in trouble, plain and simple," he said.

One of the worst parts of this whole debacle is that farmers—by being forced to grow dicamba resistant GMO soybeans—are losing the choice of what they can grow. Ironically, Missouri passed a "Right to Farm" measure in 2014 that protects farmers' right to grow what they want. Now, the rich agricultural diversity of southern Missouri could turn into an industrial monoculture of GMOs and toxic herbicides.

"If this keeps up, 'right to farm' will become more like the right to farm dicamba tolerant crops," McBroom said. "Neighbors are determining what the people around them can and can't grow. When you start taking options away from farmers, you start taking away opportunities."

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By AlterNetFood
Dalai Lama and Jimmy Carter Help Noam Chomsky Uncover Major Risks Humanity Faces From Pesticides

By Alexandra Rosenmann

Did you know that American companies are legally permitted to manufacture dangerous pesticides for export—even after the chemicals have been banned in the U.S.? There are policies that create a "circle of poison"; toxic chemicals traveling around the world, ironically imported back to the U.S. through foodstuffs we eat.

Circle of Poison, a groundbreaking documentary by Nick Capezzera, Evan Mascagni and Shannon Post, unveils the unrelenting corruption of this cycle. The film features interviews with Jimmy Carter, Vandana Shiva, Noam Chomsky, Patrick Leahy and the Dalai Lama, as well as footage from India, Mexico, Argentina, Bhutan and the U.S., in order to illustrate the global impact of the pesticide trade and how communities are fighting back.

"A standard argument against a healthy environment and other regulations in the country or for export is that it's harmful to business, which of course it is," Noam Chomsky said in the film. "If business can kill people freely, it's a lot more profitable than if you have to pay attention to what you're producing and look at the effects on people and so on."

Watch: Exclusive clip from Circle of Poison:

"Major industries in this country ... lead, asbestos, tobacco, have often succeeded for decades poisoning people quite consciously. They knew perfectly well that children are going to die of lead poisoning, but 'you gotta make profit,'" Chomsky continued.

"And they're right. It's a system where you're supposed to make profit ... Like a CEO of a corporation is actually required by law to increase profit so they're doing exactly what they have to do and, well, if the population suffers, that's the cost of doing business. Although, by the time you get to export ... the domestic population has become organized enough and active enough so they're saying 'you can't kill us,'" Chomsky said.

"We sought out to take on a political issue that people from all walks of life, regardless of political affiliation, could agree was an important one and that needs to be addressed," Director Evan Mascagni told AlterNet. "I was blown away by the fact that we would allow companies to continue to manufacture and export products that those companies could not safely and legally sell to customers within the United States."

Circle of Poison will be available for streaming and download this fall.

This article was reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.

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By Climate NexusEnergy
Solar Cost Hits World's New Low, Half the Price of Coal

Chile awarded a contract to sell solar power for $29.10 per megawatt hour (MWh), the lowest ever across the planet.

ACERA

This surpasses the record set in May of a $29.90 per MWh bid in Dubai for an 800 megawatt (MW) solar project.

"This is the lowest price ever seen, for any renewable technology," an analyst told Bloomberg. The low price is possible due to the rapid fall in cost of solar technology and the 12 MW solar plant's location in the ideal conditions of Chile's Atacama Desert.

For a deeper dive:

News: Bloomberg, BusinessGreen, SeeNews Renewables

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for daily Hot News.

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By EWContributorFood
College Student Drops Out After School Denies Request to Opt Out of 'Unhealthy' Meal Plan

By Missy Martin

I wrote the below letter to fight for the right to my health and to act as a voice for all other students who are also required to pay for unhealthy, poor quality food over the course of their college careers. Students should not be required to pay for meal plans that do not support their health and well-being. I believe all students should be eating FLOSN (fresh, local, organic, seasonal and non-GMO) food. Otherwise, they should be given the opportunity to opt out. My hope is that our decision makers realize the impact their choices are having on our minds, bodies and future.

After writing the letter, Belmont University denied my request to opt out of my meal plan. This response tells me that my school values the price of a meal plan over my health. By my school not allowing me to opt out of a meal plan, I am being forced to feed my body with food laden with toxic chemicals. I refuse to put harmful food in my body. Belmont denying my right to health is unacceptable.

As a result of Belmont's response, I decided last week that I am taking a gap year and transferring next year to a school that aligns with my values for human and environmental health, and that will support me in my development as an advocate for environmentally sustainable and socially responsible choices, practices and communities.

I started a petition to show Belmont leadership that this issue matters, and although I will not be attending the school anymore, I still want to continue to be a voice for my Belmont friends and all other students required to have a meal plan because they live on campuses all over our country.

Join me in demanding the #RightToHealth. Sign my petition, and let's continue to voice the right for students to choose what they put in their bodies and the need for healthy, fresh, and affordable food on college campuses.

Below is a shortened version of my letter to Belmont:

Dear Dining Services,

The reason I am writing is to discuss my meal plan. I understand that students are required to have a meal plan, but I am hoping that we can work together and make an exception for my circumstance.

First, I would like to share a little bit about my story. Then, I will discuss how healthy food is a passion in my life both at Belmont University and beyond.

This summer I ate by FLOSN (fresh, local, organic, seasonal and non-GMO) criteria. I noticed that when I eat food with integrity, I feel better in mind, body and spirit. I have more energy to do what I love and to lead with passion and purpose. I have really struggled being on a meal plan the last two years. I am eating food that I don't believe in and that doesn't support human and environmental health. It has contributed to a college experience that, for me, is unhealthy and unhappy. How can I function when I know that each cell in my body is being fed with food laden with toxic chemicals?

Did you know that the average non-organic apple contains 42 pesticide residues (5 known or probable carcinogens, 19 suspected hormone disruptors, 10 neurotoxins and 6 developmental or reproductive toxicants)? The Environmental Working Group listed 12 of the most heavily sprayed food items and many of those listed are what our school refers to as the "healthy" options in Belmont's cafeteria—apples, celery, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, spinach, peppers and greens.

It's not just about organic, but I also stand behind and fully live by a non-GMO lifestyle. Here's why:

This is an excerpt from my letter to 50 senators asking them to oppose the DARK Act:

"One of my main concerns with GMOs is the relationship between GMO crops and agrochemicals. Use of toxic herbicides, like Roundup, have increased 16 times since GMOs were introduced. The active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, was listed as a 'probable human carcinogen' last year by the World Health Organization (WHO), reinforcing the numerous research findings that have proven the detrimental effects of this toxic ingredient."

I want to avoid the foods that contain GMOs and agrochemicals. Protecting the health of my body, my future and our planet is important to me.

How is FLOSN food a part of my future aspirations?

By becoming an environmental lawyer, I hope to reflect change by protecting both human and environmental health from destructive pesticide exposure and GMOs by reforming legislation. I attended the Tennessee Local Food Summit and the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group conferences and by listening to what the farmers in the region have to say, I believe the most pressing issue farmers face is feeling voiceless against big agribusinesses. I want to give them a voice. I want to be a change maker by fighting for funding and sustainable tools and practices for the farmers and their communities. Through informing, inspiring and mobilizing people at the local and national levels to start supporting, growing and buying FLOSN food, I believe food and health systems can be transformed.

Now, I want to address all of the other students required to have a meal plan because they live on campuses all over our country. I believe all students should be eating FLOSN food. Otherwise, they should be given the opportunity to opt out.

We need to care for each other and cultivate a healthier world. Belmont says "Belief in something greater." Well, let's live by that phrase! I have talked to dining services in the past and I want to continue to collaborate with them on how to take steps on doing right. I have experience working with Turning Green's The Conscious Kitchen, a program that created the first FLOSN school district in the country at affordable price points.

By working together, we can shift the paradigm of college dining. Acting with a conscious mindset and thoughtful perspective is critical. We need to assess our surroundings and investigate the impacts of what students are exposed to every day. We need to see ourselves as catalysts for the change our world needs at every level. Will you stand up for students' right to the access of healthy, fresh and affordable food and protecting their health?

I need to opt out of a meal plan because I do not support the food that is currently being served both at the cafeteria and campus stores.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to your response.

With kindness,

Missy Martin

Missy Martin, from Naperville, Illinois, is pursuing a double major in environmental science and social entrepreneurship with a minor in public relations with a concentration in contemporary social issues.

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By Modern FarmerFood
Find Out Why This Guy Is Going to Paddle an 800-Pound Pumpkin for 8 Miles

By Lynne Palazzi

A few weeks from now, on Sept. 3, a massive hollowed-out pumpkin will be lowered via crane into the Taunton River near Dighton, Massachusetts. Local farmer Todd Sandstrum, 43, will climb inside it, then attempt to skipper the squash 8 miles south until he reaches two things: the town of Fall River and a Guinness World Record.

Todd Sandstrum in the Taunton River during last year's pumpkin paddle attempt, during which he traveled 3.5 miles.Todd Sandstrum

Insert your own "out of his gourd" joke here.

In fact, the kooky stunt is part of a deeper mission: Sandstrum is passionate about "getting kids out in the dirt and growing something and to understand where food comes from," he said. The father of two works as a consultant for Crave Food Services, an online marketplace that connects restaurant chefs with local farmers. Five years ago, Sandstrum and his wife, Genevieve, co-founded the South Shore Great Pumpkin Challenge, which distributes pumpkin seeds (the Atlantic Giant variety) to schools throughout Massachusetts. The school that grows the heaviest pumpkin wins a $1,000 grant that must be spent to further agricultural education.

Problem is, a noble mission doesn't always make for a juicy story. Sandstrum was having trouble capturing media attention and decided he needed to stage a spectacle. (Hey, it worked on us!) And while turning giant pumpkins into seaworthy vessels is nothing new, no one had ever attempted a world-record pumpkin sail. The category—"Longest Journey in a Pumpkin Boat (paddling)"—didn't even exist, so Sandstrum lobbied (successfully) the Guinness World Record folks to create it.

So, last September, Sandstrum made his first world-record attempt, but it proved to be riddled with problems. Shallow tide, a foot injury that Sandstrum sustained less than a week before the event and video equipment that crapped out before he did all conspired against him. In the end, he'd traveled 3.5 miles, half the distance he'd aimed for.

"There's actually quite a bit of room inside the pumpkin," says Sandstrum, shown here with his cousin (and right-hand river support man) Jimmy Souza.Todd Sandstrum

The pumpkins were emblazoned, NASCAR-style, with sponsors' logos.Todd Sandstrum

Last year's pumpkin boat, which weighed almost 800 pounds, was lowered into the river via crane.Todd Sandstrum

But last year was a learning curve, Sandstrum said. No more rookie mistakes.

This time, there will be complete and flawless documentation, GPS tracking and the Massachusetts' Assistant Commissioner for Agriculture will be on hand to complete the journal log that Guinness requires. The community has pledged its support, too: A local yacht club offered to serve a breakfast buffet and the harbor master said he'd light the way should night fall before Sandstrum reaches his destination. (Unlikely, since he plans to launch in the morning and wrap it up in three hours, max).

The only thing that's not yet ready? The pumpkin. It's still growing. Sandstrum is following the progress of a few contenders on social media and will choose two winners on Aug. 20 during a weigh-off at the Marshfield Fair in Marshfield, Massachusetts. The largest one will become Sandstrum's ride. "Ideally I want something around 800 pounds because then it becomes like a nice Cadillac," he explained. "I've used pumpkins as small as 400 pounds, but I can't [go eight miles] in that."

Sandstrum says scooping out all the pumpkins' guts only takes about 20 minutes and none of it is wasted.Todd Sandstrum

Hollowing out one of the orange beasts requires a limbing saw, a giant spoon and only about 20 minutes of scooping, Sandstrum said and no part of the pumpkin is wasted: The seeds are saved for next season, chickens feast on the slimy innards (which last year weighed in at about 30 pounds) and the shell eventually hits the compost bin. The second-largest gourd will be reserved for Sandstrum's pal Josh Peach, who'll paddle alongside him "for moral support … and comic relief," he said, "If he falls out, he falls out. I have to actually stay in it and go the distance." For more info on Sandstrum's world-record attempt, head to his website.

This article was reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.

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By Common DreamsClimate
New Study Casts Doubt on the Future of Nuclear Power

By Andrea Germanos

While it's been touted by some energy experts as a so-called "bridge" to help slash carbon emissions, a new study suggests that a commitment to nuclear power may in fact be a path towards climate failure.

For their study, researchers at the University of Sussex and the Vienna School of International Studies grouped European countries by levels of nuclear energy usage and plans, and compared their progress with part of the European Union's 2020 Strategy.

That 10-year strategy, proposed in 2010, calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by least 20 percent compared to 1990 levels and increasing the share of renewable energy in final energy consumption to 20 percent.

The researchers found that "progress in both carbon emissions reduction and in adoption of renewables appears to be inversely related to the strength of continuing nuclear commitments."

For the study, the authors looked at three groupings. First is those with no nuclear energy. Group 1 includes Denmark, Ireland and Portugal. Group 2, which counts Germany and Sweden among its members, includes those with some continuing nuclear commitments, but also with plans to decommission existing nuclear plants. The third group, meanwhile, includes countries like Hungary and the UK which have plans to maintain current nuclear units or even expand nuclear capacity.

"With reference to reductions in carbon emissions and adoption of renewables, clear relationships emerge between patterns of achievement in these 2020 Strategy goals and the different groupings of nuclear use," they wrote.

For non-nuclear Group 1 countries, the average percentage of reduced emissions was 6 percent and they had an average of a 26 percent increase in renewable energy consumption.

Group 2 had the highest average percentage of reduced emissions at 11 percent and they also boosted renewable energy to 19 percent.

Pro-nuclear Group 3, meanwhile, had their emissions on average go up 3 percent and they had the smallest increase in renewable shares—16 percent.

"Looked at on its own, nuclear power is sometimes noisily propounded as an attractive response to climate change," said Andy Stirling, professor of science and technology policy at the University of Sussex, in a media statement. "Yet if alternative options are rigorously compared, questions are raised about cost-effectiveness, timeliness, safety and security."

"Looking in detail at historic trends and current patterns in Europe, this paper substantiates further doubts," he continued. "By suppressing better ways to meet climate goals, evidence suggests entrenched commitments to nuclear power may actually be counterproductive."

The new study focused on Europe and Benjamin Sovacool, professor of energy policy and director of the Sussex Energy Group at the University of Sussex, stated, "If nothing else, our paper casts doubt on the likelihood of a nuclear renaissance in the near-term, at least in Europe."

Yet advocates of clean energy over on the other side of the Atlantic said the recent plan to close the last remaining nuclear power plant in California and replace it with renewable energy marked the "end of an atomic era" and said it could serve as "a clear blueprint for fighting climate change."

Natural Resources Defense Council President Rhea Suh wrote of the proposal: "It proves we can cut our carbon footprint with energy efficiency and renewable power, even as our aging nuclear fleet nears retirement. And it strikes a blow against the central environmental challenge of our time, the climate change that threatens our very future."

The new study was published in the journal Climate Policy.

This article was reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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