By Darlene Cavalier and By Jason Lloyd
A few years ago, residents of Opelika, Alabama, noticed that something was very wrong with the local waterway. The waters of Saugahatchee Creek, which begins near Opelika and traces a winding route into the Alabama River before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico near Mobile, had turned dark and smelled bad. A longtime volunteer from the local water-monitoring group was among the first to alert officials. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management tracked the sludge in the Saugahatchee to breaches in several chemical waste ponds on the grounds of a shuttered textile mill, and it ordered the responsible parties to fix the problem.
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By Carolyn Mattick, Amy Landis and Brad Allenby
The Industrial Revolution is sometimes described as the replacement of animal labor, fueled by agricultural inputs, with machine labor, fueled by industrial energy. In the early 20th century, tractors all but replaced horses and other work animals on American farms, rapidly industrializing food production. This transition reduced the cropland required to feed work animals: In 1913, an estimated 28 percent of all harvested acres were required to feed horses and mules. But it also increased fossil fuel consumption.
In the coming years, we may face a similar shift: Emerging technologies could allow meat to be grown in factories rather than in animals. Conventional wisdom holds that this new process of cultured, or in vitro, meat production will be an environmentally friendly alternative to livestock rearing and will reduce the greenhouse gas emissions, energy consumption, land use, and water use associated with meat production. Some even argue that the shift to in vitro meat could save the planet. Indeed, early research suggested that it could have a smaller environmental footprint than traditional meat. But the reality may turn out to be more complicated. We recently completed a study that suggested swapping out the meat in a hamburger could have mixed environmental effects.
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