Archive for June 8th, 2011

An ‘All Natural” Diet? There’s No Such Thing, Book Says


An ‘All Natural” Diet? There’s No Such Thing, Book Says

Posted 07 June 2011, by Staff, NewsWise,

Source: Ohio State University

Newswise — COLUMBUS, Ohio – From the paleolithic diet to the raw food diet, many health-conscious Americans now want to eat the way they believe our ancient ancestors ate.

But some of these dietary prescriptions make little sense for modern humans, according to a new book on the evolution of the use of food and eating habits among prehistoric people.

While there is much we can learn from what our ancestors ate, many of our more modern foods and diets were developed for very good reasons, said Kristen Gremillion, associate professor of anthropology at Ohio State University.

Gremillion is author of the new book “Ancestral Appetites: Food in Prehistory” (Cambridge University Press, 2011), which explores how humans have adjusted the food they eat and the way they prepare it in response to new knowledge and new environments.

“Humans are omnivores and we can eat a wide range of things,” Gremillion said.

“Rather than try to base a healthy diet on what we think people used to eat thousands of years ago, it would probably make more sense to look at our nutritional requirements today and find the best way to meet them.”

One issue that Gremillion has with many new diet fads is the claim that they are somehow more “natural” because they focus on a time before modern culture spoiled our eating habits.

“That time never existed,” Gremillion said.

“Human dietary behavior can’t be reduced just to our biology. Culture has always played a part in what we eat and how we eat it. And people have always been innovating, finding new foods to eat and new ways to prepare them. There’s no way to say that there’s only one way we are supposed to eat.”

One popular diet today is the so-called “paleo” or “paleolithic” diet, sometimes also called the caveman diet. This diet is based on what people ate before the introduction of agriculture. There is an emphasis on lean meats and fruits and vegetables, and avoiding processed foods and grains of all kinds.

Gremillion said the paleo diet is scientifically based and a healthy way to eat. But it is not somehow more natural than other diets.

“It’s not unnatural for humans to eat cereals and grains, despite what some people may claim. Humans started agriculture because it was difficult to get enough food through hunting and gathering. Cereal grains provided a stable source of calories,” she said.

Cereal grains can’t be the sole basis of a diet, but they can be part of healthy meals, she said.

While the paleo diet does have a scientific basis, Gremillion said the raw food diet does not. This diet emphasizes getting most calories from uncooked, unprocessed foods.

“There is not really anything to be gained by eating only raw foods. We have been cooking food for hundreds of thousands of years,” she said.

While cooking does remove some nutrients from foods, it also breaks down the compounds in foods to make some nutrients easier for our bodies to extract. In addition, it is much easier on our teeth and jaws than tearing and crushing hard and fibrous foods.

“Cooking caught on for a reason, and there is no real reason to give it up.”

The concern for returning to a more natural state often involves not only what we eat, but how and where we grow foods and domesticate animals.

Much of Gremillion’s own research involves the origins of agriculture in eastern North America, and how the early peoples in North America interacted with the environment.

“There’s been a tendency in American culture to think the pristine wilderness is somehow totally separate from people. But it is a misconception that the landscapes we want to bring back were untouched by people,” she said.

Humans have been managing the environment in North America from the moment they stepped foot on the continent, she said. One of the earliest ways Native Americans managed the environment was through the use of fire to clear areas for their use. Later on, they also adopted small-scale agriculture.

Since their numbers were small, their overall impact on the landscape was limited, according to Gremillion. They probably realized they had to protect the environment to a certain extent, so it would be available to their children and grandchildren.

“But it was not just a spiritual attachment to nature. It was a practical way to live off the land,” she said.

Gremillion said that in everything related to eating – from what foods we eat, to how we grow it to how we prepare it – there is no one natural way.

“Humans are flexible. That’s what we do better than any other animal, and that means we can adapt to conditions, she said.

“There’s not some natural way to eat that we need to get back to. Culture informs everything we do.”

Reclaiming Who We Are


Reclaiming Who We Are


Posted 07 June 2011, by Arthur Rosenfeld, The Huffington Post,

The prehistoric way of life is much in the news these days, what with new studies showing that pre-agricultural people lived long, healthy lives, and with the resultant spate of diet books urging us to return to tribal options. Thinking about how far we’ve come and the strange direction human natural history has taken — overpopulation, global warming, mass extinction, the chronic disease of affluence — it’s tempting to think that the establishment of agriculture represented our first step away from an integrated relationship with our natural world. Indeed when we stopped hunting and gathering we really did lose touch with the forests and the grasslands through which we had previously meandered, and perhaps in doing so we began to lose the ability to sniff a tiger in the glade or a lion closing in on us from the veldt. Out of the forest and into the field, we may also have lost the collective memory of which plants would best stop bleeding, clean a wound, cure a flu, ease the nausea of a rough pregnancy, open lungs in spasm from allergy or asthma.

Still, in all, it wasn’t agriculture that really took us out of the natural world and set us on our present course of disconnection from it. What really did it was language. That’s right, the spoken alphabet is the true culprit, the true force that took us right to a fork in the road and turned us away from representing our environment with gestures, touches, smells and auditory mimicry. Once we began using an alphabet to represent the world, other than a few onomatopoetic words in our spoken language, we no longer referenced it directly. Not referencing it directly, we began to represent it, to build a human castle of ideas in the air, one whose myriad passageways, dark dungeons and airy halls have preoccupied and fascinated us ever since. In his book, “Becoming Animal,” David Abram takes this point further, saying that the internal chatter that meditating Buddhists strive so ardently to quiet really began with the advent of silent reading, a skill developed more recently than written language, which did not initially contain pauses or spaces between words.

Of course our rapidly accelerating trajectory away from nature has greatly outstripped the mere effects of language and cultivation of crops. Once we had begun to sever our ties to the land intellectually and agriculturally, we began to engage technology, pushing back our limitations, redefining the fine physical interface between ourselves and the natural world and increasingly isolating ourselves from nature’s bounty and fury. These days, we no longer pay attention even to so basic a feature of the natural world as the diurnal/nocturnal rhythm of light and darkness, of warmth and cold, of torpor and activity. We work aptly named “graveyard shifts” and eat at any hour. In an endless, futile grasping at what will never truly satisfy us, we stimulate our senses with loud music and flashing lights when nature would have us tucked into our burrows, and we outstrip the pace of natural locomotion with bullet trains, autobahns and jets.

This increasing tendency to look at nature as “other” has led us to think of endangered species as earth citizens who need saving rather than our neighbors and cousins, to talk blithely, in certain esoteric circles anyway, of finding another planet to call home once we’ve “used up” this one, and to insulate ourselves like Russian nesting dolls inside concrete dwellings furnished in plastic that are themselves inside artificial buildings in turn positioned within concrete jungles we call cities. As if that were not alarming enough, our communication more and more frequently takes place not between physical folks, but between online or mobile accounts we access with our devices. Many of us no longer even actually talk to each other, much less smell and sniff and touch and rub each other. Spoken language and “disappearing into a good book” now seem tame stuff in our tendency to disconnect. Some people now spend more time living through their avatars on websites like “Second Life” than they do interacting with flesh-and-blood people.

The natural evolution of our species, you say? A necessary next step in helping God or the universe to become self-aware, you suggest? A necessary and logical step in freeing ourselves from the bonds of the physical mortality and pain? A midpoint in our melding with silicon to create a new, more intelligent and aware form of life? Maybe so, but the signs from our environment are otherwise. Whether we consider the wanton destruction of our home planet to the increasing rates of violence and disease to the rise of intolerant fundamentalism, nature is urging us to shift gears. Deep Ecologists would even say that she is fighting back, trying to preserve the larger organism we call Earth by containing the toxic damage of our cancer-like spread before it is too late.

Insulated, artificial living constrains our senses. It limits us to the tactile feedback of the keyboard and the optical input of the glowing screen. The remainder of our senses, our chemosensory awareness, our sense of smell, our yearning for touch, our response to the play of light on trees, our response to pheromones, the myriad thousands of circulating chemical messengers — not just endorphins — that spray our insides in response to physical movement, the intense emotional responses elicited by the actions of other flesh-and-blood people — all this is being lost. With so much of our brain and so many of our senses out of the loop, we are becoming pale (unfortunately not thin) versions of our aboriginal selves.

The good news is that there is a way to reclaim our wondrous biological heritage, and that way is through mind/body practices. At the same time that the great swath of our society takes refuge in imagined worlds and flees each other’s physical company in droves, interest and participation in mind/body practices is growing explosively. A counterinsurgency appears underway, as yoga studios are packed, and t’ai chi players are proliferating like pigeons. It is actually looking like we might be able to once again become sublime beings of sensory subtly, to once again experience the world in all its fantastic richness, from the tickle of gamma rays to the tiny rising of loam underfoot, to the distant, intelligent chatter of wildlife weaving yarns about us, to the miniscule shifts in barometric pressure that make each second, minute, hour and day unique and special.

Yoga brings us back into touch with the messages from both own body and the subtle energetic universe around us, while t’ai chi does the same, and in addition trains every molecule of the skin to strain for more information, not only from a partner, but also from the wind and ground, from gravity and momentum. Consider incorporating one of these ancient and august practices into your life. You’ll be thrilled by the re-discovery of lost sensory awareness, and at the same time have access to a way of looking at the world and your life that ties the direct experience of living to Eastern philosophies quite different than the one evidenced by our culture of speed, greed, consumption and disconnection from nature.

 Follow Arthur Rosenfeld on Twitter:


Water worries grow on Colorado River

Water worries grow on Colorado River

Posted 06 June 2011, by Mike Lee, Sign On San Diego,

Drought conditions lasting 5 or more years will persist 40 percent of the time over the next five decades on the Colorado River, according to a federal analysis released Monday.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages water flows on the river, issued the first installment of a long-range study about bridging the gap between supply and demand for river water. The next update will deal with water-use projections and ways to address shortages. The final report, with recommendations, is expected in July 2012.

The Colorado River is one of the San Diego region’s two main water sources, along with the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Local officials are trying to develop local sources such as groundwater, reclaimed wastewater and desalinated ocean water.

After a long line of dreary forecasts for the Colorado River Basin, no one expected the bureau’s projections to be rosy — and they weren’t. The study anticipates roughly a 9 percent decrease in flows on the river over the next 50 years, along with increased drought periods. Projections are based on climate models that show decreased precipitation across the Southwest in years to come.

“This is the most comprehensive look at the water supply and water demand picture in the Colorado River Basin,” said Halla Razak, Colorado River program director for the San Diego County Water Authority. “Everybody really believes that this study will give us a pretty good road map to move forward.”

That’s no easy task given that there’s more demand for Colorado River water than it can provide today, let alone with lower flows and higher demands.

Monday’s study said the period from 2000 through 2010 represents the lowest 11-year average natural flow at a given point on the Colorado River in recorded history, approximately 20 percent below the 103-year average. Although an 11-year drought of that magnitude is unprecedented in over 100 years, reconstructions of prehistoric stream flows show that equal or greater droughts have occurred.

On the demand side, the study said that from 1971-1999 water use in the Colorado River Basin increased by about 23 percent.

San Diego County and the rest of the state emerged from a three-year drought and related water-use restrictions after heavy snowfall last winter. Many water experts expect the reprieve to be temporary.

About 15 percent of Colorado River withdrawals are used by the basin’s urban water utilities use that serve more than 30 million people and support hundreds of billions of dollars in economic activity annually. In addition, the Colorado River is a major source of water for agriculture, irrigating nearly 4 million acres of land. The river also is a major source of hydroelectric power.

“While there is no ‘silver bullet’ for managing future supply challenges, there are opportunities for urban, agricultural, and other water users in the basin to collaborate on a balanced, sensible approach for managing future Colorado River supplies and managing potential future shortages while avoiding significant economic and quality of life impacts to the region,” said a statement issued Monday by urban water agencies across the West, including the county water authority.

The conservation group Environmental Defense Fund said it’s pushing the Bureau of Reclamation and state officials to ensure that the federal study identifies solutions to the imbalance between water supply and demand while sustaining healthy river flows.

“Active outdoor recreation in the Colorado River Basin contributes more than $75 billion annually to the region’s economy and supports more than 780,000 jobs,” said Dan Grossman, the group’s director in the Rocky Mountain region. “That’s why we must capitalize on this study by crafting a path forward that protects the health of the Colorado River–and the ecosystems and economies it supports–or we’ll miss a critical opportunity with potentially tragic consequences for the region.

He added: “While the Bureau of Reclamation and Colorado River Basin states have made some progress, they have a lot of work left to do.”

Mike Lee: (619)293-2034; Follow on Twitter @sdutlee.

InterfaceFlor: Business will drive sustainability


InterfaceFlor: Business will drive sustainability

Posted 06 june 2011, by Olivia Solon, Wired UK,

When it comes to becoming more sustainable, it won’t be art or science that leads us there, it will be business, according to Robert Coombs, CEO of InterfaceFlor Asia Pacific, speaking at Creative Sydney.

Coombs described how textiles giant InterfaceFlor has initiated a promise — called Mission Zero — to eliminate any negative impact that the company may have on the environment by the year 2020.

InterfaceFlor is a huge, design-based company operating in the interiors market, which predominantly supplies modular carpeting to offices, schools and other large organisations. With revenues of around $1bn, the textiles company has a significant environmental footprint because it is petrochemical intensive.

Coombs explained: “For the first 25 years we didn’t think a huge amount about environmental impact beyond complying with local regulation.”

But then sixteen years ago, founder Ray Anderson had a “spear-in-the-chest” moment where he realised that the way the company did business was fundamentally out of step with nature. The techniques honed during the industrial revolution were established when resources were plentiful and cheap. Now labour is plentiful but resources are depleted. Furthermore the world does not have the carrying capacity to support the way we consume and produce. Because business is part of the problem it is also accountable to fix it.

As such he laid out a vision for a sustainable company in all of its dimensions, with an aim to eliminate waste, own the entire life cycle of a product, innovate and mimic nature.

Coombs said: “Waste does not appear in nature. Waste from one process is food for the next.” But industry has taken on the “take, make, waste model” whereby we dig substances out of the ground, turn it into products and then put it into landfill.

He added: “We want to close the loop so that the material inputs are actually the waste from the last cycle.”

The company has been aiming to reduce waste by 10 percent every year in every market. This has led to $480m in savings over the years. Furthermore it has employed biomimicry by drawing on the nanostructure of geckos’ feet to find an alternative to carpet glue. The result was Tactiles, small adhesive squares with no Volatile Organic Compounds which stick the carpet tiles to each other and not the floor.

The company argues the business case for sustainability. Being resource efficient reduces cost, lowers waste, lowers energy and input costs, produces better products with better value for money and attracts talent to the business.

Over 16 years, the company has reduced energy consumption by 46 percent and waste and landfill is down by 82 percent. Coombs explained: “We did it through leadership, by putting it on the daily agenda and making sure everyone understood the link between the traditional business imperatives and the new imperatives. We also measure everything and hold people accountable, linking the reward system to that improvement.”

Why don’t we teach environmental justice in the rural West?

Why don’t we teach environmental justice in the rural West?

Posted 07 June 2011, by Michael Harris, High Country News,

I just returned from a three-day trip to the 15th Annual Institute for Natural Resources Law Teachers, held in Stevenson, Wash. along the scenic and culturally rich, Columbia River Gorge.  In addition to learning about the distressing influence that European settlers have had on this part of the planet, and indulging in the fantastic research of my peers, my task at the conference was to convince “a bunch of natural resource law professors to incorporate environmental justice into their classroom curriculum.”  A seemingly overwhelming, but vital, chore.

As an initial matter, the question of whether environmental justice concerns are implicated by natural resources law is not difficult to answer.  Anyone who has read the pages of High Country NewsA Just West understands that environmental injustices are not restricted to the sitting of pollution sources in urban areas.  Environmental discrimination occurs just as often in the context of resource extraction (oil, gas, coal, minerals, etc.) in rural parts of the West.

An obvious, recent example is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision to license more uranium ore mining near Churchrock and Crown Point, N.M.  The Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining have repeatedly pointed out that the project “could contaminate drinking water for 15,000 Navajo residents” and violates their “human rights” as set forth in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.  Just last month, the Navajo took the rare step of filing their complaint against the United States with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.  Their plight is one shared by indigenous and underrepresented communities throughout the world at the hands of resource extraction industries.

Gratefully, none of my peers at the conference argued the point that environmental injustices are a common consequence of natural resource extraction.  This is good, because some of the most prominent natural resources law professors from around the country, including those from law schools in Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Washington and Oregon, attended the Institute.   However, when I asked over 40 of these professors if environmental justice was a component of their class, only a smattering of hands went up.   As it turns out the more difficult question I faced at the conference was not whether environmental justice should be taught, but why it is not already part of every natural resources law course curriculum.*

I am not sure that there is a bona fide answer to why environmental justice is not a topic of teaching natural resources law.  My brief research in preparing for the Institute did not uncover any obvious research on that question.  Still, I think there are three potential culprits for this serious oversight in the context of a very important aspect of legal education in the American West and beyond.

First, non-human environmental impacts associated with resource extraction overshadow environmental justice issues.  During my three days in Washington, for instance, I was told a little about the impact the construction of the Columbia River hydropower system had on Native Americans; but I learned a great deal about the impact of that system on native salmon fisheries.   The same is true throughout the West.  What is most often covered by law professors––who only have so much time in a course to teach any particular topic––is the impact mining and fossil fuel development has on endangered species, ecosystems, and watersheds.  These environmental issues are important and deserve the attention they are given.  But they should not displace a discussion about the environmental injustices these industries also cause in the communities they operate.

Second, to the extent the topic of environmental injustice does arise in the classroom, it is often expressed as a human rights issue.  To some extent this makes sense, and environmental justice advocates welcome the idea of a human right to a livable environment.  But in the classroom, it is an easy way to race around the topic; human rights, it can be said wrongly, are best covered in an international law or indigenous peoples course.

Third, the myth of disaggregation that dominates so many aspects of natural resources law is a barrier to fully examining environmental injustices associated with these industries.  Natural resource industries love to separate out the various aspects of the extraction, production, delivery, and use of their products.  Natural resource lawyers talk about upstream, midstream, and downstream operations.  In doing so, they seek to shield their client’s many operations from excessive liability, and distort the big picture impacts the use natural resources have on the environment and humans alike.  Thus, it is effortless to leave out of the discussion on natural resources law the impact the use of these products will have on the communities in which they are ultimately used far “downstream” from their extraction. Communities that are predominately disadvantaged politically, whether urban or rural.

I am not sure whether I convinced any of my peers to incorporate EJ into their classes.  But as professors we must fully embrace the importance of a discussion with students––whether in law school, business school, or pursuing a degree in geology–about the true impacts associated with our overreliance on natural resources.  Whether downstream, midstream, or upstream those who will be making decisions associated with natural resources tomorrow need to better understand today the impact such decisions will have on both people and ecosystems.  Maybe just one of those students will someday reach a decision that makes our world a better place.


*If the topic of environmental justice is discussed at all in law schools, it is usually done so in an environmental law class that focus on the regulation of pollution sources, or in a stand alone EJ seminar, like that taught by Professor Eileen Gauna from the University of New Mexico.

Essays in the Just West blog are not written by the High Country News. The authors are solely responsible for the content.

Michael is an Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, where he directs the school’s environmental law clinic.  He can be reached at

Saving Blair Mountain: Hundreds March in West Virginia


Saving Blair Mountain: Hundreds March in West Virginia


Posted 07 June 2011, by Mark Johanson, International Business Times,

This week, environmentalists, historic preservationists and others are retracing the steps of miners who battled police and armed guards on Blair Mountain back in 1921.  The conflict was the largest armed uprising since the Civil War and it only ended when federal troops intervened.

The protesters hope to tell the story of the 10,000 unionizing coal miners who fought for principles that would help shape today’s U.S. labor laws.  Additionally, they hope to keep Blair Mountain from becoming yet another barren, flat-topped strip mine.

According to the Appalachia Rising: March on Blair Mountain’s website, the march is “a peaceful, unifying event involving environmental justice organizations, union workers, scholars, artists, and other citizen groups.”

They argue, “Today, Blair Mountain, like dozens of other historic mountains throughout the region, is being threatened by mountaintop removal and it is here that a new generation of Appalachians takes a stand. By working to preserve this mountain we are demanding an end to the destructive practices of MTR that threatens to strip Central Appalachia of its history, its economic potential and its health.”

Mountaintop removal mining is the practice of blasting off the tops of mountains so machines called draglines can mine coal deposits.  The mountaintops are then dumped into nearby valleys and streams to create “valley fills,” converting mountain landscapes covered in hardwood forest into fields of grass.

Opponents of the practice argue that over 1,000 miles of streams have been buried by strip mine waste in Appalachia.  In West Virginia alone, 75 percent of the streams and rivers are polluted by mining and other industries.

The reality is, well over 50 percent of U.S. energy is powered by coal and West Virginia alone has an estimated 4 percent of the world’s total stock of this non-renewable resource.

The march to Blair Mountain is just as much a referendum on the environmental impact of this practice as it is a fight to preserve a slice of American history.  Participants in this week’s 5-day march seek to protect the historic battlefield by putting it on the National Register of Historic Places.  Such a designation would not automatically stop mining, but it would certainly hinder and slow it down during the review process.

Surprisingly, the battlefield on Blair Mountain was once briefly on the National Register of Historic Places.  It was later removed by a federal law that bars sites from inclusion if the majority of the landowners object.  After a review of the dissenters, state and federal agencies reviewing the case ruled that the opponents dominated.

The 2011 memorial march began on Monday in Marmet and will continue over 50 miles and 5 days, traversing narrow country roads where the coal trucks are an everyday reminder of the conflict at hand.  Today’s marchers have with them a slew of support vehicles including a trailer with portable toilets and others loaded with food, water, backpacks, and sleeping bags.

The route is the same one the miners took in the summer of 1921.

At the heart of the conflict back in in the early ’20s, the miners asked for the right to be paid by the hour and not by the ton.  They wanted a week that lasted 5 days and not 7.  And, they wanted black miners and white miners to be paid the same.

At least 16 men perished in the event before the miners surrendered to federal troops on September 5, 1921.

If you’d like to learn more about the march go to

Making light work of it: The world’s first solar power station that generates electricity at NIGHT


Making light work of it: The world’s first solar power station that generates electricity at NIGHT

Posted 03 June 2011, by Daily Mail Reporter, Daily Mail,

It looks like a giant art project. But this symmetrical, circular pattern of mirrored panels is the world’s first solar power station that generates electricity at night.

The Gemasolar Power Plant near Seville in southern Spain consists of an incredible 2,650 panels spread across 185 hectares of rural land.

The mirrors – known as heliostats – focus 95 per cent of the sun’s radiation onto a giant receiver at the centre of the plant.

Heat of up to 900C is used to warm molten salt tanks, which create steam to power the £260million station’s turbines.

But, unlike all other solar power stations, the heat stored in these tanks can be released for up to 15 hours overnight, or during periods without sunlight.

The regular sunshine in southern Spain means the facility can therefore operate through most nights, guaranteeing electrical production for a minimum of 270 days per year, up to three times more than other renewable energies.

The project, a joint venture between Abu Dhabu energy company Masdar and Spanish engineering firm SENER called Torresol Energy, took two years to construct at a cost of £260million.

It is expected to produce 110 GWh/year – enough to power 25,000 homes in the Andalucia region.

Miguel Domingo, spokesman for SENER, said: ‘The on-schedule and on-budget completion of the construction and commissioning of the Gemasolar plant is a milestone for SENER.

‘Currently, SENER is the only company in the world that has developed and built a commercial plant with central tower molten salt receiver technology that has already started operation.’

Enrique Sendagorta, the chairman of Torresol Energy, added: ‘The standardisation of this new technology will mean a real reduction in the investment costs for solar plants.

‘The commercial operation of this plant will lead the way for other central tower plants with molten salt receiver technology, an efficient system that improves the dispatchability of electric power from renewable sources.’