Week’s Top Environment Stories: Food Prices, Chinese Blackouts & More

Extreme Weather Driving up Food Prices
It’s not just gas prices that are skyrocketing – it’s also the cost of food.  The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s World Food

A farmer waters the field on May 9, 2011 in Wuhan, Hubei Province of China.

Price Index, which tracks 55 food-commodity items, rose nine times in the past 10 months. Why? A big reason is the extreme weather we’re seeing around the globe, which scientists have long predicted would be one of the most obvious  consequences of our failure to cut greenhouse gas pollution.  Drought in China has affected 6.5 million hectares of farmland, with potentially devastating impact on the country’s rice production.  In the U.S., floods along the Mississippi River have damaged 3.6 million acres of cropland (mostly wheat).  And it is the poor, of course, who are taking the hit. Since last June, the World Bank estimates that higher food prices have pushed 44 million people into poverty.
Blackouts in China
Coal boosters like to tout coal as cheap and plentiful – well, not anymore.  At least not in China.  Rising coal prices – linked to higher global demand, as well as production problems caused by extreme weather in Australia and other coal-exporting nations – have caused electricity prices in China to skyrocket, putting Chinese power companies in a bind: keep electricity prices low, as the state dictates, and face financial ruin, or raise prices and risk political retribution?  Many companies are simply choosing to shut down their plants, leading to blackouts around the nation.  It could be a long, hot summer in China.
Global Warming Twice as Bad as Forecast
You think the weather is weird now?  Just wait.  A new MIT study, just published in peer-reviewed journal, projects that the earth could see warming of more than 9 degrees F by 2100 – more than twice earlier projections.  Without action, says one of the co-authors of the study, “there is significantly more risk than we previously estimated. This increases the urgency for significant policy action.” Are you listening, President Obama?
Greenhouse Gas Stickers
Is information power?  We’ll see. This week, the EPA unveiled new vehicle window stickers telling consumers how much greenhouse gas pollution their cars, trucks, etc. create.  Some enviros and consumer advocates wish the labels were simpler, but when it comes to raising awareness about individual contributions to climate change, this is certainly a step in the right direction.

Stockholders Revolt Against Massey Deal
Can Massey Energy insiders walk away with millions of dollars and evade financial responsibility for the deaths of 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch mine disaster last year?  That’s one question shareholders are asking as they try to block the $8.5 billion merger between Massey and a rival coal company, Alpha Natural Resources.  They argue that the deal unfairly allows corporate insiders – like former CEO Don Blankenship and his henchmen – to profit, while leaving the vast majority shareholders holding the bag on liability lawsuits over poor management at Upper Big Branch.

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