Thursday, January 6, 2011

Cliff Bars Not as Organic as They Seem

If you eat Clif Bars or other energy bars; if you're a vegetarian or eat veggie burgers or other meat substitutes; or if you simply like to know what you're eating, you need to know about hexane. It's a neurotoxic chemical used to process a wide variety of foods. And while it's banned in organics, foods advertised only as containing organic ingredients -- such as Clif Bars -- are allowed to contane hexane-processed ingredients. Clif, based in the Emeryville, was the basis of this story about hexane-extracted soy protein for the East Bay Express.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Emeryville's Amyris Tackles Malaria, Then Petroleum

This story has a lot in common with my piece earlier this year on a summer-school program called ICLEM: Both Amyris and that program are housed in the same building; both are working toward biofuel solutions; both have roots at UC Berkeley; and both figure prominently around UC Berkeley scientist Jay Kiesling. The difference is that one's an educational enterprise for high-school students, and one's a private company with a huge budget, federal buy-in, international reach, and the potential to make serious impacts. Amyris, in fact, hopes to be the first US company to bring a patented renewable fuel to market. They're on my list of green companies to watch (not merely in the East Bay, but the entire country), and should be on yours.

The Electromagnetic Menace

Cell phones and towers and SmartMeters, oh my! They're the new envionmental health cause. Electro-smog is the new pollution. Here's another story on anti-EMF activism, this time centered on the East Bay for the Express.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

East Bay Solar Companies Lead the Nation

My first real foray into the world of solar power was enlightening (some pun intended) and challenging. This 5,000-word cover story focuses on the environmental impacts on desert lands of large-scale solar plants, but could've run to at least twice as long if I'd addressed some of the other components of a very complex topic: namely economics, carbon emissions and global warming, and rooftop solar. The impetus for covering the issue for the Express is the amazing fact that four of the nation's largest solar power companies are based in the East Bay: three in Oakland, one in Richmond. Learning about each of these businesses and their various projects was a challenge in and of itself: They're a bit tight-lipped, wary of sharing proprietary information, and afraid of ceding any competitive edge to the other three local companies. They also house well-oiled PR machines that are hesitant to invite further environmental scrutiny, naturally, which is exactly what I wanted to do. But ultimately it was fun to work with them, to learn about utility-scale solar power, and to tell the story of the desert (and the desert tortoise in particular) in the face of looming development threats from private companies abetted by federal and state governments.

Smart Meters, Bad Idea

If EMFs pose an environmental health risk, then here's an environmental story about Smart Meters. Read it to find why Marin activists believe our health is affected by Smart Meters, and how they're fighting back. It was published this month in a delightful spread in Marin Magazine -- the same month that one of my sources, Katharina Sandizell-Smith, was arrested for blocking a truck that was headed to install Smart Meters in a small West Marin town, after police had ordered protesters to disperse. Even when I spoke with her back in October, she promised "civil disobedience" if PG&E attempted to install Smart Meters in her town of Point Reyes Station. Looks like she kept her word.