Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Lily Primeaux

Lily Primeaux is an intern with StateImpact Texas.

  • Email: l1primea1@stedwards.edu

How America’s Trash Became a Worldwide Problem: An Interview with Garbology Author Edward Humes

Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

Americans produce over seven pounds of trash per day, per person.

Did you know that America’s number one export is … garbage? Edward Humes, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of twelve books (and a former Austinite), examines this and other disquieting facts about American trash culture—literal trash culture, not the other kind—in his new book, Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair With Trash. Americans, while making up only five percent of the world’s population, produce almost a quarter of its garbage, much of which ends up in landfills and the ocean.

Humes took some time to talk to StateImpact Texas about why the United States produces so much waste, and why he thinks it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Q: So how much trash do Americans produce in a given day?

A: Well, it turns out that this is not an easy number to come by. In fact, the “national trash bible” – the publication that the EPA puts out to examine our municipal – is really badly outdated. Research done by Columbia University and a trade journal called BioCycle shows that we produce, per day, 7.1 pounds of trash for every man, woman, and child in the country. And that compares not-favorably with the rest of the world – the average Japanese person produces about 2.5 pounds of trash. But it doesn’t even compare favorably to where we were a few decades ago. It’s about twice as much per capita trash as we produced in 1960. Where is it all coming from? What more do we have now that we didn’t have then? Those are the interesting questions. Are we more prosperous now than we were in 1960? Do we feel more prosperous because we have all this crap we’re throwing away? Continue Reading

In Photos: The Impact of Oil


Oil prices are finally going down (for the moment, anyways) but this year has been pretty painful at the pump. While price is most on our minds, there’s also plenty to think about with the production and impact of oil.

A new art app for the iPad aims to get viewers to think deeper on the subject.

The new app is simply called “Edward Burtynsky: Oil,” and features over a hundred images by the renowned photographer of industry. (Nearly a quarter of the images have counterpart audio-commentary by the artist). The app coincides with exhibitions of the same work at The Photographers’ Gallery in London (there’s video of that on the app, too) and at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno starting June 9. The goal? To get people to think more about the oil industry’s impact.  Continue Reading

Thanks to the Drought, Farmland Values Mostly Flat in Texas

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Image

Juan Rico walks by a barren cotton field July 27, 2011 near Hermleigh, Texas. A severe drought has caused the majority of dry-land (non-irrigated fields) cotton crops to fail in the region.

If you’re a farmer in the Midwest, chances are your land values have gone up recently. A new survey by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Mo. says that irrigated farmland value in those areas grew more than 30 percent over the last year’s first quarter. Factors such as higher crop prices and timely rains have caused demand for cropland to persist.

But if you’re a Texas farmer, you’re not seeing the same growth. The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas’ most recent survey shows that Texas farmland values remain largely unchanged. Irrigated land values rose a little bit – up 9%. But cropland and ranchland values are essentially the same as they were this time last year, while they have gone up between sixteen and thirty percent in the Midwest.

Emily Kerr of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas says that drought is definitely a factor in Texas’ agricultural land value stagnation.  Continue Reading

Misleading Labels and Greenwashing: What’s A Consumer to Do?

Photo by Brent Stirton/Getty Images

FSC sustainable logging being carried out in the natural forest of Cameroon.

Woe is the eco-conscious consumer. Just when they think they’re buying green, something screws it all up. The latest group allegedly mucking things up is the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), which is losing corporate sponsors amid allegations of “green-washing.”

First, some background. SFI officially started as a division of the the industry group American Forest and Paper Association (AF&PA). Although it officially broke away and turned non-profit in 2001, the now-separate organizations remain closely associated. SFI continues to be funded by AF&PA in the form of tax-deductible donations, according to a new report by the watchdog group (and, in a sense, competitors of SFI) ForestEthics. They allege that those timber industry funds given to SFI “support advertising and brand enhancement for the AF&PA-represented paper and timber industry.”

ForestEthics says that “out of 543 audits of SFI-certified companies since 2004, not one acknowledges any major issues—such as soil erosion, clearcutting, water quality, or chemical usage—that are known to be problems with large-scale timber operations.”

While ForestEthics is the leader of this movement, it isn’t alone. Between March and September of last year, several major companies — including Aetna,  Allstate, AT&T, Office Depot, State Farm, and Sprint — publicly announced their intention to remove the SFI label from their products and/or to avoid the use of SFI-labeled products in the future. Just last week, according to ForestEthics, several more big brands — including Philips Van Heusen, Shutterfly, and U.S. Airways — decided to let go of SFI as well.

Continue Reading

How Stressed-Out Plants Are Better Prepared for Drought

Photo courtesy of Center for Plant Science Innovation/UNL

Professor Michael Fromm says plants remember stress, and that can help them weather droughts.

Do you remember the last time you were stressed out? You’re not alone. According to a new study, plants are feeling it, too. The report says that plants have a sort of “stress memory,” and it could help them survive drought.

Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have recently confirmed what gardeners have long claimed: after surviving the stress of a drought, plants are better able to withstand future droughts—in the short-term, at least.

The team worked with Arabidopsis, a member of the mustard family, to compare stressed plants (plants that had been previously dehydrated, like in a drought) to non-stressed plants (plants that had never been dehydrated) in a simulated drought situation. The pre-stressed mustard plants consistently rebounded far more quickly than the non-stressed mustard plants.

Fromm and his team repeated this study with two other species, and the results were the same: plants are smart. Continue Reading

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