Civil Eats TV: Women Brewing Change at Sequoia Sake

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Tuesday, October 4, 2022

This story and video are a co-production of Civil Eats and Edible Communities.  Craft sake making—both in Japan and abroad—is still a very male-dominated world; for now, there are only three women brewers in the U.S., and two of them happen to work at Sequoia Sake in San Francisco. Noriko Kamei, her husband, Jake Myrick, and their daughter Olivia Kamei Myrick, 26, make sake together by hand in the first New World brewery to produce a second-generation heir. Kamei and Myrick share head brewer duties, and Kamei Myrick has already produced several sakes of her own. Instead of feeling outnumbered that two-thirds of his business is made up of women, Myrick says, “I’m proud that both of the women in my life are making sake.” Noriko Kamei, Jake Myrick, and Olivia Kamei Myrick at Sequioa Sake. During the 10 years they lived in Japan as tech entrepreneurs, Myrick and Kamei discovered the unique appeal of nama, or unpasteurized sakes, which tend to be brighter and fresher tasting because of the living microbes they contain. Myrick was fascinated by sake brewers’ ability to produce a wide range of flavor profiles from just rice, water, and yeast. When they returned to the U.S., they missed those fresh sakes and decided to make sake brewing their next start-up business, launching Sequoia in 2014. Sake is the more-than-2,000-year-old national drink of Japan, an agricultural product with roots in mythology and the Japanese Shinto religion. From their 2,500-square-foot brewery in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood, the three make 12 different kinds of sake, most of them unpasteurized and all with organic rice. Kamei handles the most difficult aspect of the work, which is making the koji, the fungus-inoculated steamed rice that is the blueprint for the sake she envisions in her head. The koji spores are added to the yeast starter, or shubo, which touches off the conversion of starch to fermentable sugars. To this base, they add three rounds of steamed rice, water, and yeast then they filter the sake, sometimes pasteurize it, and bottle it. Kamei loves the trial and error aspect of her work, as she spends hours noticing and responding to minute changes in the koji. She compares the careful attention it takes to “watching a newborn baby.” Kamei Myrick considers herself someone who “performs best in jobs that are more physical than mental,” so sake making has been a good match for her. From 2016 to 2018, she spent time in Fukushima Prefecture working as a kurabito, or sake brewery worker, at Miyaizumi Meijo Brewery and Akebono Brewery. As the first female foreign apprentice, and part of a family that runs a brewery in the U.S., she says that the head brewers “did teach me more than they would to some of their own kurabito; they knew I was going back to Sequoia and was committed to making sake.” Kamei Myrick returned to California, where—to encourage her interest—her dad gave her a 500-liter (132-gallon) fermentation tank to experiment with. Though she likes the flexibility of working in a family business, she is also pursuing studies in food science at San Francisco City College, and her future career path is still taking shape. Sake’s Origins Sake is the more-than-2,000-year-old national drink of Japan, an agricultural product with roots in mythology and the Japanese Shinto religion. From about the 10th Century, its brewing was controlled by Buddhist monks; during the Edo Period (1603-1868), production was put in the hands of large landowners and merchant families that served and provided for the ruling Tokugawa clan and its lords. After reaching peak sales in the early 1970s, domestic sake consumption has continually dropped in Japan. Due to government restrictions on sales and the long shutdown of restaurants in Japan, breweries have also suffered during the pandemic. But loss of interest in the drink in its birthplace has been offset by growing global interest. There are more than two dozen craft sake breweries in the U.S., and a half-dozen breweries in California alone. New Global Sake Makers Spur Innovation International sake brewers, unfettered by generations of tradition and societal expectations, are taking sake in new directions. For Kamei Myrick, that means a distinctly San Francisco-leaning direction. In 2020, she created her own sake, Hazy Delight, which is a soft-textured and refreshing usu nigori, or lightly filtered sake. She selected its name due to its slightly cloudy texture, but also to evoke—through the vibrating neon image of a purple daisy on the label—the early cannabis culture of the 1960s Haight-Ashbury district. The nigori’s more-savory-than-usual quality means it pairs well with goat cheese from the Marin Headlands or North Beach pesto pizza. Hazy Delight proved so popular that it has become part of the regular lineup of Sequoia sakes. Now, Kamei Myrick, who loved the developing and marketing aspect of that project, is thinking about two more bottles she can brew to form a trio of San Francisco-themed sakes. One will be a hiyaoroshi summer-aged sake that she hopes will express the cool San Francisco summer through an added savory quality. The other is a more labor-intensive kimoto-style sake, which relies on native yeast and lactic acid. Noriko Kamei sampling a Sequoia Sake. She envisions its high acidity and robust flavor as a good expression of the city’s own fermentation culture, which ranges from sourdough bread to third-wave coffee. “I’m a huge fan of fermentation,” says Kamei Myrick. “It’s really beautiful to live and work with microorganisms to create something like sake that brings people together.” Sake Rice Growing in California, Questions of Sustainability As interest in sake making and drinking in the U.S. has grown, so has the need to source sakamai, or sake rice. Myrick and Kamei work with fifth-generation Sacramento Valley organic rice farmer Michael Van Dyke, who grows five acres of Calrose M105—a hybrid bred both for its early maturing quality and high stable milling rate—for them. Its shorter growing season requires less water, an important quality in a state now suffering its third year of a historic drought. Calrose is a table rice rather than a sakamai, one of 115 or so varieties grown specifically for sake making. This is not necessarily a negative. Even in Japan, more craft brewers are featuring sakes brewed with less expensive table rice as advances in brewing technology and know-how have helped offset differences between the two types of rice. This season, the local irrigation board has limited Van Dyke’s water use to only 600 of his 2,000 acres of rice fields, well below his 50 to 60 percent planting rate per year. “Normally there are ups and downs in the water supply, and if you’re down a year, then you experience two or three good ones. But when you start stacking those [bad years] back to back, it’s tight. You have to look for every opportunity to cut costs,” he says. Although many view rice as one of the worst water guzzling crops the state, Van Dyke notes that this perception—partially formed by the image of flooded rice fields—is not wholly accurate. Jay Lund, professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at U.C. Davis, explains this perception gap. “The soils rice are grown on—very heavy clay soils—in California are not suited to a lot of other crops.” Rice “will rank very high” in water use if only the total amount of applied water is taken into account,” he explains, “but so much of that water is returned to groundwater or streams.” Of 60 inches of water applied to a rice field, the “evapotranspiration,” or total loss of water from land surface to the atmosphere, is 34 inches, which he estimates places the crop in about the middle of California agriculture products ranked by water usage. Van Dyke’s soil is composed of light red clay with a layer of hard pan (compacted sandstone that prevent drainage). Unfit for most other crops because of its poor drainage, hard pan can result in natural water tables well suited to rice farming. Left: Michael Van Dyke, Jake Myrick, and Noriko Kamei inspecting rice; right: finished Calrose rice. Yet some who see flooded rice fields might still wonder whether this is a sustainable crop for a drought-plagued state. Bruce Linquist, a U.C. Davis cooperative extension professor and rice expert, says, “I’m sure that’s on a lot of people’s minds, but there’s not a lot of data supporting this. The soils rice are grown on—very heavy clay soils—in California are not suited to a lot of other crops.” And he points to the valuable ecosystem services the fields provide, most importantly winter habitats for migrating birds. “You need a certain amount of rice land to support that kind of habitat,” Linquist adds. The heavy black adobe clay Linquist is referring to, says Van Dyke, “is technically a better soil [for rice growing],” but he prefers the red clay of his farm because it allows him to practice a drill seeding method that minimizes both water use and topsoil disturbance. Both Van Dyke and Myrick point to the vast tracts of California farmland devoted to nut and pomegranate trees, which they consider far less sustainable than rice. Tree planting “almost always affects the groundwater,” says Van Dyke, because of the trees’ thirsty and deep roots, which tap underground sources of water in addition to benefitting from irrigation from drip lines and micro sprinklers. And they point to the fact that the flooding of rice fields can help replenish groundwater. Myrick adds of nut tree farmers: “They want fields to be dry, and we want them to be wet. Wet is a better ecological environment. Pumping water out changes the ecosystem. Look at Houston, [Texas]; it used to be a big rice producer because the clay soil of those delta wetlands are meant to hold water.” Now drained and converted to housing, the land has lost its ability to act like a sponge and absorb excess storm water, leading to catastrophic flooding and loss of property and life. Although rice may be better for flood mitigation than nut and pomegranate trees, Lund says that in measurements of evapotranspiration, the three crops’ water usage is similar. Sequoia’s legacy may ultimately be cemented by such ground-breaking work, yet Myrick and Kamei still don’t know for sure if their daughter will choose to carry on the family business. Water rights play a role in farm viability during drought, but Van Dyke says it’s not so much an issue for his farm, which does not have access to generous historic water rights, but can use some surface water from the nearby Bear River as well as groundwater. Linquist points out that water rights don’t mean a lot “if you don’t have the water” to dole out. This year, in particular, more than half of California’s rice fields are estimated to be left barren without harvest. In the end, what disturbs Van Dyke’s sleep the most is not drought or climate change, but the encroachment of well-funded developers. Urban development spreading north from Sacramento is “taking us over,” he says. “That’s all high-dollar per acre compared to farming,” he says; that difference in land valuation often results in farmland being paved over. Planning for the Future In the face of an uncertain future for California rice farming as climate change advances, Jake Myrick has been working on what he hopes will be his own legacy, a project with Dr. Thomas Tai, a research geneticist at USDA-ARS Crops Pathology and Genetics Research Unit of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Japanese rice experts from the sprawling Iida Group Holdings conglomerate, which includes a Northern California-based rice milling subsidiary. Their goal: to breed a drought-tolerant, heat-resistant rice, just as agronomists and farmers in Japan are attempting to do. Their efforts center on reviving an older strain of the Wataribune variety that Japanese immigrants brought to California in 1906. Today’s ubiquitous Calrose variety is a descendent of this heirloom Japanese rice, but it has been modified over the years to focus on qualities such as yield and pure white color over flavor. Myrick’s hope is that by recovering an older strain of Wataribune, he’ll be able to bring back some of its lost flavor and aroma. At the same time, Myrick has been working with U.C. Davis to include sake brewing in their master brewing classes. Stalled by the pandemic, he hopes the program will get back on track to create a “cross-pollination, a wine and sake exchange” that could bring more innovation to the U.S. sake-making and -marketing landscape. Sequoia’s legacy may ultimately be cemented by such ground-breaking work, yet Myrick and Kamei still don’t know for sure if their daughter will choose to carry on the family business. Though she watched her parents launch the business as a teenager and began helping out when she was 17, Myrick concedes that making sake is not the most secure vocation to envision for one’s child. Kamei Myrick’s food science studies could end up exerting a bigger pull. Juggling her school work and brewing “has been difficult” for the family, Myrick admits. But he adds, with the hard-won optimism of a parent determined not to curtail their child’s freedom, “I’m loving this while it lasts.” Photos and video credit: Mizzica Films. The post Civil Eats TV: Women Brewing Change at Sequoia Sake appeared first on Civil Eats.

This story and video are a co-production of Civil Eats and Edible Communities.  Noriko Kamei, her husband, Jake Myrick, and their daughter Olivia Kamei Myrick, 26, make sake together by hand in the first New World brewery to produce a second-generation heir. Kamei and Myrick share head brewer duties, and Kamei Myrick has already produced […] The post Civil Eats TV: Women Brewing Change at Sequoia Sake appeared first on Civil Eats.

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DRIED UP: In California, desalination offers only partial solution to growing drought

The American West is experiencing its driest period in human history, a megadrought that threatens health, agriculture and entire ways of life. DRIED UP is examining the dire effects of the drought on the states most affected — as well as the solutions Americans are embracing. As water in the Western U.S. becomes an increasingly...

The American West is experiencing its driest period in human history, a megadrought that threatens health, agriculture and entire ways of life. DRIED UP is examining the dire effects of the drought on the states most affected — as well as the solutions Americans are embracing. As water in the Western U.S. becomes an increasingly rare commodity, the driest states are grasping at solutions for an even drier future — investing heavily in technologies to maximize the conservation, and creation, of the region’s most precious resource. With more than a thousand miles of Pacific Ocean coastline, California appears to have access to a wellspring that other arid states lack. The technology to transform that unlimited sea supply into potable drinking water has existed for decades, through a process called desalination. Yet while two new desalination plants have received approvals in the past couple months, California’s coast isn’t exactly teeming with such facilities. That’s because the technology, which is both expensive and energy intensive, can leave behind a mammoth-sized footprint on both surrounding communities and marine life, even as it helps quench the thirst of a parched citizenry.  One of several necessary strategies With little sign of reprieve for the region’s water woes, experts agree that desalination will continue to play a critical, although partial, solution to a crisis that promises to last. “Our attitude on ocean desal is that it is a tool in the toolbox,” Garry Brown, founder and president of Orange County Coastkeeper, told The Hill in a phone interview this summer. “But it's a tool of last resort — after you have exhausted all your other options,” Brown continued. “Ocean desal, as we've learned it here, has the greatest environmental impacts, the greatest energy requirement and is by far the most expensive.” Desalination is the process of removing excess salt from water, usually by means of a technology called reverse osmosis that separates water molecules from either seawater or salty brackish water found inland. While the process generates potable drinking water, it also produces a high-concentration salt solution called brine that is usually discharged into a receiving body of water. Arid nations such as Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United Arab Emirates have long relied on seawater desalination to make up considerable shares of their drinking water supplies despite its drawbacks. “It’s almost romantic to think, ‘Let's just stick a straw in the ocean and we don't have to worry about water,’” Brown said. “But it's far more.” There are currently 12 desalination facilities in California, according to the State Water Resources Control Board. The biggest to date is the Carlsbad desalination plant, located just north of San Diego. In mid-November, the California Coastal Commission in an 8-2 vote granted conditional approval for another desalination facility in the Monterey County city of Marina — this one hotly contested, CalMatters reported.  The proposed facility would send supplies to richer enclaves adjacent to Marina, which has sufficient water but is also home to lower-income neighborhoods, according to CalMatters. This project, which would still need to obtain a litany of permits, would face restrictions that seek to minimize its environmental and community impact, the state news site reported. 'Much closer to being advisable' Another facility, called the Doheny Ocean Desalination Project, has received much warmer reception from administrators and environmental activists alike — earning unanimous approval from the Coastal Commission in October.  The project, initiated by the South Coast Water District, will be built within 100 yards of existing regional water transmission lines on property that the district already owns, a statement from the agency said.  This $120 million facility will be situated on Doheny State Beach about 30 miles northwest of Carlsbad. The plant will serve customers from the South Coast Water District and southern Orange County — with a capacity of up to 5 million gallons per day, according to the district.  The Doheny project has faced little opposition due to its relatively small environmental footprint and the unique technology it will employ. The facility will be withdrawing seawater from beneath the ocean floor in a way that optimizes the protection of marine life, according to the district. The beach’s geography, as well as the lack of other water in that region, also make the spot much better suited for a desalination plant than other areas, according to Gregory Pierce, the co-director of the Water Resources Group at UCLA. “That one is much closer to being advisable,” he told The Hill over the summer, prior to the plant’s approval. Pierce was comparing the Doheny project to recently rejected plans for a massive plant in Huntington Beach, about 25 miles northwest of Doheny and just southeast of Los Angeles.  The Coastal Commission rejected the $1.4 billion Huntington Beach proposal this past May after two decades of debate — citing obsolete protocols, inadequate risk mitigation strategies and violations of the California Coastal Act in their decision. California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) examines a cup of desalinated water while visiting the construction site of a new desalination plant in Antioch, Calif., Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022. (AP Photo) Jack Ainsworth, executive director of the Coastal Commission, stressed in a statement at the time that the agency would “continue to support” desalination facilities “that comply with the law” and that the technology would remain “part of our current and future water portfolio.” The costs of the project would have been “borne disproportionately by those who are least able to bear it,” Megan Harmon, a coastal commissioner from Santa Barbara, said at the hearing. Stressing that all desalination projects must be cost-efficient and environmentally sound, Harmon said that the technology “must be and will continue to be a fundamental part of our state's water portfolio.” Following the Huntington plant’s rejection, Jessica Jones, director of communications for Poseidon Water, confirmed that Poseidon would not be pursuing anything else at that site. She noted, however, that the company is “in conversations with public partners throughout the state on different water projects.”  Of the three recently debated projects — the rejected Huntington Beach site and the approved Doheny Beach and Monterey facilities — Monterey may be the best indicator of the future of desalination for California, according to Pierce, the UCLA water resources expert.  The Coastal Commission’s decision on Monterey may be “somewhat of a referendum” on how the agency weighs environmental impacts versus near-term costs, Pierce told The Hill in a follow-up email last week.  Water treated by desalination is poured into a glass for Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and other government officials to taste during a visit at the construction site of a new desalination plant in Antioch, Calif. (AP Photo) While all desalination projects have major environmental impacts, Monterey’s design — similar to that of Doheny — seems to fall on the less-damaging end of the spectrum, Pierce explained. At the same time, the cost per gallon of Monterey water is poised to be among the highest proposed thus far, he added. Desalination might not rank among California’s top two or three solutions to the ongoing water crisis, but it will likely remain within the top five or seven, according to Pierce. Conservation remains crucial Preferable to desalination, he said, are tactics such as conservation, wastewater recycling and groundwater replenishment — in which treated wastewater is injected into an underground storage buffer, prior to releasing that water into a municipal system. This practice, also known as “indirect potable reuse,” already occurs regularly throughout the state. A second process called “direct potable reuse” — discharging purified wastewater directly into water systems without an environmental barrier — is awaiting regulatory approval. But as far as desalination is concerned, Pierce stressed that its use should be dependent on a given region’s water supply options. While the technology might be suitable in portions of the Central Coast and San Diego, the same cannot be said for Los Angeles or parts of the Bay Area, which have diversified their water portfolios and ramped up recycling efforts, he said.  Similar logic contributed to the rejection of the massive Huntington Beach facility, which would have been located in Central Orange County — an area “blessed with an enormous underground aquifer,” according to Brown, from Orange County Coastkeeper.  Because that aquifer is almost two and a half times the size of Lake Mead, the biggest reservoir in the Colorado River basin, Brown said there could not have been “a worse place for a desal plant.” Going forward, Pierce said he is optimistic that “the technology will get better for desalination, just like EVs and solar,” referring to electric vehicles and rooftop solar panels. As the technology improves, he explained, the price will become more affordable as a result. The dismissal of the Huntington Beach project was likewise a testament to a case in which the technology simply wasn’t good enough to warrant the investment and potential ecological consequences, experts agreed. Pierce reiterated his belief that the technology will continue to evolve, while emphasizing that desalination is by no means the sole solution to the Western water crisis. “It’s not the only or best answer — period,” he said. Previously in this series: Threats to Colorado snowpack pose risks far downslope Compounding fires and floods in Southwest pose dire threat to drinking water In Utah, drying Great Salt Lake leads to air pollution Texas cities in fear of running out of water Lakes Mead and Powell are at the epicenter of the biggest Western drought in history Seven stats that explain the West’s epic drought Texas cattle industry faces existential crisis from historic drought Why Great Plains agriculture is particularly vulnerable to drought Five reasons extreme weather is bigger in Texas

Thanksgiving Is Trapped In Nostalgia for a Lost Era of Harvest Festivals. It’s Time to Reckon With the Reality of American Farming.

If fall is the season of agricultural cosplaying—apple picking, pumpkin carving, frantically posing in textiles developed before the advent of central heating—then Thanksgiving is the event toward which all the practice of September and October builds. Thanksgiving is many things, after all, but its aesthetic markers scream “harvest festival,” from the table settings to the dessert options. While the United States ditched seasonal eating somewhere around the middle of the twentieth century with the advent of refrigerated transport, seasonality comes roaring back each November in the apple, pecan, pumpkin, and cranberry pies.It’s hard to know how to feel about this ritualistic reminder of the farming year. Some might argue that any reconnection between postindustrial man and the environment is good. But the reality, of course, is that Americans are pretty well checked out of modern agricultural practices, whether or not a decorative gourd adorns their holiday table. While some of the 88 percent who reportedly eat turkey on Thanksgiving may be dimly aware they’re commemorating the consumption of a bird European colonizers quickly extirpated via hunting and deforestation, fewer probably comprehend the dystopian dynamics of the modern turkey industry. Cute autumnal media features like The New York Times’ recent photo-essay on wild turkey mating rituals are unlikely to enlighten them. Zero wild turkey “wingmen,” regrettably, are involved in breeding the birds that wind up on most tables, which overwhelmingly hail from a single breed of unnervingly lopsided turkeys bearing little resemblance to their wild cousins. In addition to the grisly realities of poultry production in general, turkey breeding also relies on artificial insemination, a technology considerably grimmer in the execution than you might imagine from the clinical terminology. These concentrated poultry operations pose a serious threat of water pollution—often to already marginalized communities where the farms are located. They’re increasingly suspected to be a risk factor in emerging (and antibiotic-resistant) diseases. They’re kept afloat by cheap, subsidized, mass-produced American grain, which comes with its own host of environmental and equity problems. And then, of course, almost all meat is on the emissions-heavy side of the spectrum, as compared to plant foods.That last bit is darkly ironic, given that climate change is already threatening the plant portion of the Thanksgiving plate. Erratic temperature patterns make it hard to grow cranberries—with sunscald damaging crops and leading to fruit rot and unusually early blossoms getting killed off by frost. Global warming is turbocharging fire blight, the scourge of apple orchards, pushing the fungal disease further and further north. Pumpkin harvests suffer with global warming’s torrential rains—as happened in 2015.This is a depressing list of problems. But for what it’s worth, I don’t think the answer is to give up on Thanksgiving. Rather, as TNR columnist Liza Featherstone suggested last year, it may be time for Americans to deepen their engagement with the holiday. There’s a radical strain of Thanksgiving celebration that could still be reclaimed—and even serve as an antidote to overconsumption. “Gratitude can feel like a reprieve from all the tiresome aspiration of capitalism; an embrace of what we have,” Liza wrote. “Giving thanks is a respite from the struggle to achieve more.” If you like your radicalism to be more action-oriented, finish your Thanksgiving meal by reading Gabriel Rosenberg and Jan Dutkiewicz’s classic call to “Abolish the Department of Agriculture.” Maybe the best way to celebrate the harvest is to save American farming, remaking it for a more sustainable and equitable future.Good NewsIn a surprising turn of events, rich countries including the U.S. finally gave in and agreed to establish a fund to help poorer and more vulnerable countries deal with the fallout from climate change. Read Kate Aronoff’s piece on the turnaround here.Bad NewsIt’s looking increasingly likely from the lack of emissions-reduction progress at the COP27 climate summit that the world will blow past the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). This week at TNR, Stephen Lezak argues that giving up on 1.5 degrees is “a luxury only the rich can afford.”Elsewhere in the EcosystemClimate Change From A to Z“Despair is unproductive. It is also a sin.” Not all of the entries in Elizabeth Kolbert’s alphabetical guide to climate change are as pithy as the letter Ds, but all transcend what you might otherwise suspect to be a cutesy gimmick. F stands for “Flight,” an entry in which Kolbert takes the reader on a tour of the Alia, an electric plane. K stands for “Kilowatt,” an entry that focuses on America’s outsize per-capita energy consumption. Complete with great illustrations and data visualization, this centerpiece of the magazine’s climate issue is the perfect item to curl up with in a quiet moment this holiday weekend—or discuss at the table. Check out this excerpt from N (“Narratives”):“Narratives are socially constructed ‘stories’ that make sense of events,” thereby lending “direction to human action.” So observes a paper published recently in the journal Climatic Change by a team of European researchers. Climate-change narratives, the team notes, typically foreground “doom and gloom.” … This approach, the researchers argue, can be counterproductive: “Narratives of fear can become self-fulfilling prophecies.” If people believe that things will only get worse, they feel overwhelmed. If they feel overwhelmed, they’re apt to throw up their hands, thus guaranteeing that things will only get worse. A diet of bad news leads to paralysis, which yields yet more bad news.What’s needed instead, the paper goes on, are narratives that “empower people to act.” Such narratives tell a “positive and engaging story.” They “articulate a vision of ‘where we want to go’” and outline steps that could be taken to arrive at this metaphorical destination. Positive stories can also become self-fulfilling. People who believe in a brighter future are more likely to put in the effort required to achieve it. When they put in that effort, they make discoveries that hasten progress. Along the way, they build communities that make positive change possible.Read Elizabeth Kolbert’s article at The New Yorker.This article first appeared in Apocalypse Soon, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Heather Souvaine Horn. Sign up here.

If fall is the season of agricultural cosplaying—apple picking, pumpkin carving, frantically posing in textiles developed before the advent of central heating—then Thanksgiving is the event toward which all the practice of September and October builds. Thanksgiving is many things, after all, but its aesthetic markers scream “harvest festival,” from the table settings to the dessert options. While the United States ditched seasonal eating somewhere around the middle of the twentieth century with the advent of refrigerated transport, seasonality comes roaring back each November in the apple, pecan, pumpkin, and cranberry pies.It’s hard to know how to feel about this ritualistic reminder of the farming year. Some might argue that any reconnection between postindustrial man and the environment is good. But the reality, of course, is that Americans are pretty well checked out of modern agricultural practices, whether or not a decorative gourd adorns their holiday table. While some of the 88 percent who reportedly eat turkey on Thanksgiving may be dimly aware they’re commemorating the consumption of a bird European colonizers quickly extirpated via hunting and deforestation, fewer probably comprehend the dystopian dynamics of the modern turkey industry. Cute autumnal media features like The New York Times’ recent photo-essay on wild turkey mating rituals are unlikely to enlighten them. Zero wild turkey “wingmen,” regrettably, are involved in breeding the birds that wind up on most tables, which overwhelmingly hail from a single breed of unnervingly lopsided turkeys bearing little resemblance to their wild cousins. In addition to the grisly realities of poultry production in general, turkey breeding also relies on artificial insemination, a technology considerably grimmer in the execution than you might imagine from the clinical terminology. These concentrated poultry operations pose a serious threat of water pollution—often to already marginalized communities where the farms are located. They’re increasingly suspected to be a risk factor in emerging (and antibiotic-resistant) diseases. They’re kept afloat by cheap, subsidized, mass-produced American grain, which comes with its own host of environmental and equity problems. And then, of course, almost all meat is on the emissions-heavy side of the spectrum, as compared to plant foods.That last bit is darkly ironic, given that climate change is already threatening the plant portion of the Thanksgiving plate. Erratic temperature patterns make it hard to grow cranberries—with sunscald damaging crops and leading to fruit rot and unusually early blossoms getting killed off by frost. Global warming is turbocharging fire blight, the scourge of apple orchards, pushing the fungal disease further and further north. Pumpkin harvests suffer with global warming’s torrential rains—as happened in 2015.This is a depressing list of problems. But for what it’s worth, I don’t think the answer is to give up on Thanksgiving. Rather, as TNR columnist Liza Featherstone suggested last year, it may be time for Americans to deepen their engagement with the holiday. There’s a radical strain of Thanksgiving celebration that could still be reclaimed—and even serve as an antidote to overconsumption. “Gratitude can feel like a reprieve from all the tiresome aspiration of capitalism; an embrace of what we have,” Liza wrote. “Giving thanks is a respite from the struggle to achieve more.” If you like your radicalism to be more action-oriented, finish your Thanksgiving meal by reading Gabriel Rosenberg and Jan Dutkiewicz’s classic call to “Abolish the Department of Agriculture.” Maybe the best way to celebrate the harvest is to save American farming, remaking it for a more sustainable and equitable future.Good NewsIn a surprising turn of events, rich countries including the U.S. finally gave in and agreed to establish a fund to help poorer and more vulnerable countries deal with the fallout from climate change. Read Kate Aronoff’s piece on the turnaround here.Bad NewsIt’s looking increasingly likely from the lack of emissions-reduction progress at the COP27 climate summit that the world will blow past the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). This week at TNR, Stephen Lezak argues that giving up on 1.5 degrees is “a luxury only the rich can afford.”Elsewhere in the EcosystemClimate Change From A to Z“Despair is unproductive. It is also a sin.” Not all of the entries in Elizabeth Kolbert’s alphabetical guide to climate change are as pithy as the letter Ds, but all transcend what you might otherwise suspect to be a cutesy gimmick. F stands for “Flight,” an entry in which Kolbert takes the reader on a tour of the Alia, an electric plane. K stands for “Kilowatt,” an entry that focuses on America’s outsize per-capita energy consumption. Complete with great illustrations and data visualization, this centerpiece of the magazine’s climate issue is the perfect item to curl up with in a quiet moment this holiday weekend—or discuss at the table. Check out this excerpt from N (“Narratives”):“Narratives are socially constructed ‘stories’ that make sense of events,” thereby lending “direction to human action.” So observes a paper published recently in the journal Climatic Change by a team of European researchers. Climate-change narratives, the team notes, typically foreground “doom and gloom.” … This approach, the researchers argue, can be counterproductive: “Narratives of fear can become self-fulfilling prophecies.” If people believe that things will only get worse, they feel overwhelmed. If they feel overwhelmed, they’re apt to throw up their hands, thus guaranteeing that things will only get worse. A diet of bad news leads to paralysis, which yields yet more bad news.What’s needed instead, the paper goes on, are narratives that “empower people to act.” Such narratives tell a “positive and engaging story.” They “articulate a vision of ‘where we want to go’” and outline steps that could be taken to arrive at this metaphorical destination. Positive stories can also become self-fulfilling. People who believe in a brighter future are more likely to put in the effort required to achieve it. When they put in that effort, they make discoveries that hasten progress. Along the way, they build communities that make positive change possible.Read Elizabeth Kolbert’s article at The New Yorker.This article first appeared in Apocalypse Soon, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Heather Souvaine Horn. Sign up here.

Energy & Environment — Drought costing California agriculture billions

A new study finds that drought is costing California’s agriculture industry billions. Meanwhile, Russian strikes knocked Ukraine’s electricity offline, and the Biden administration approved a new oil export terminal. This is Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. For The Hill, we’re Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk. Sign up...

A new study finds that drought is costing California’s agriculture industry billions. Meanwhile, Russian strikes knocked Ukraine’s electricity offline, and the Biden administration approved a new oil export terminal.  This is Overnight Energy & Environment, your source for the latest news focused on energy, the environment and beyond. For The Hill, we’re Rachel Frazin and Zack Budryk. Sign up below or online here. Programming note: We will be taking a break on Thursday and Friday. We'll be back Monday. Happy Thanksgiving! Close Thank you for signing up! Subscribe to more newsletters here The latest in politics and policy. Direct to your inbox. Sign up for the Energy and Environment newsletter Persistent drought adds to California losses: study As California’s drought stretches into a third straight year, the state’s agriculture industry is incurring billions in related losses, a new study has found.  The report estimates direct impacts on farm activity of $1.2 billion this year — up from $810 million in 2021.But the effects of the drought in 2022 extended far beyond that $1.2 billion sum, according to the report, released by the University of California, Merced’s Water Systems Management Lab.Impacts on food processing industries that depend on farm products were about $845 million in 2022 — up from $590 million last year.  What makes this particularly bad? “California is no stranger to drought, but this current drought has hit really hard in some of the typically water-rich parts of the state that are essential for the broader state water supply,” co-author John Abatzoglou, a professor of climatology at UC Merced, said in a statement.  Altogether, the combined direct and indirect consequences of the drought have reached about $2 billion in value-added losses this year alone, researchers found. By the numbers: These losses amount to a 5.9 percent reduction when compared to those of 2019 and also resulted in 19,420 job cuts, according to the study.  In addition to suffering the impacts of the drought, California’s agricultural economy has also suffered from supply chain disruptions, including the ability to ship crops out of state, the authors explained.  Such delays could result in increased inventory and influence some of California’s specialty crop prices, according to the study.  While acknowledging such negative effects of the drought on agriculture, the researchers found that things could have been worse.  Read more from The Hill’s Sharon Udasin. Officials OK Gulf oil terminal over local opposition Federal regulators this week approved a new oil terminal in the Gulf of Mexico off Texas over the objections of local activists, who argued the move contravenes the Biden administration’s stated climate goals. The Transportation Department’s Maritime Administration formally granted the license Nov. 21, ending a process that began under the Trump administration three years ago.The Sea Port Oil Terminal would be located offshore of Freeport, Texas, with a capacity of 2 million barrels a day.The project would involve two pipelines running through the city of Surfside Beach, where the City Council unanimously voted in opposition to the project in March 2020.  Greenpeace blasted the Biden administration’s approval of the terminal, pointing to an environmental impact statement published in July projecting the terminal would generate 83,000 tons of carbon emissions per year through the construction process alone, with a projected total of 219 million tons a year in downstream refining and combustion emissions.  The environmentalist group also pointed to President Biden’s recent attendance at the COP27 United Nations climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, and the Biden administration’s stated commitment to cutting carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030.  “When we say oil and gas companies are sacrificing communities to make a buck this is exactly what we’re talking about. We have less than a decade to cut emissions by half. Approving new oil and gas projects is not a bridge, it is an on-ramp to planetary collapse,” Destiny Watford, climate campaigner at Greenpeace US, said in a statement. “It is peak hypocrisy for President Biden and [Transportation] Secretary Pete Buttigieg to shorten the fuse on the world’s largest carbon bomb by greenlighting additional oil export terminals right after lecturing the world about increasing climate ambitions at COP27.” Read more about the approval here. Ukraine electricity rocked by Russian strikes Russia launched mass strikes on critical infrastructure in Ukraine on Wednesday, knocking out power across much of the country and causing temporary blackouts at power plants, Ukrainian officials said.  Ukraine’s Energy Ministry said the “vast majority of electricity” for consumers in Ukraine was disrupted after the shelling.Officials also reported a temporary blackout for all nuclear plants and most heating and hydroelectric plants, affecting millions of people.  The details: “There are some emergency outages happening. The lack of electricity can affect the availability of heat and water supply,” the ministry said in a Facebook update. “The power workers are already working and doing their best to restore power as soon as possible. But [given] the scale of the impact, it will take time.”  Russia has launched missile strikes targeting civilian infrastructure and energy grids in Ukraine since October following heavy losses in the war.  The Energy Ministry said despite the widespread blackouts, “Russia will not succeed in intimidating Ukrainians.”  “Ukrainians are not afraid of the cold. Ukrainians are not afraid of the dark. Ukrainians are not afraid of terrorists,” officials wrote in the Facebook post.  Wednesday’s strikes included 70 missiles, about 51 of which were shot down by anti-air defenses, according to a Telegram post from state grid operator Ukrenergo, which is working quickly to repair the damage.  Read more from The Hill’s Brad Dress.  TALES FROM THE CRYPT(O) New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) on Tuesday signed a law temporarily restricting cryptocurrency mining in the state over environmental concerns, making it the first state nationwide to implement such a move. The bill was delivered to the governor on Tuesday after the state legislature passed the measure in June, and The Associated Press reported that Hochul signed the measure.  The restrictions also come after the collapse of cryptocurrency exchange FTX, which has led to growing scrutiny of the industry.  But the New York law instead takes aim at the technology’s environmental impact, establishing a two-year moratorium on permits for fossil fuel plants used for cryptocurrency mining that utilizes “proof-of-work authentication.”  The technology, which is used for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, requires large amounts of energy, and the law’s text suggests its use makes achieving the state’s climate goals more difficult.  Read more from The Hill’s Zach Schonfeld.  ON TAP NEXT WEEK Tuesday The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is slated to vote on advancing nominees including (the many-times-delayed nomination of) Joseph Goffman to lead the EPA’s air and radiation office, Beth Prichard Geer to be a member of the Tennessee Valley Authority and Shailen Bhatt to lead the Federal Highway Administration.  Wednesday The Senate EPW Committee will hold a hearing on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the private sector. Thursday The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on a large slate of energy bills.  WHAT WE'RE READING How China, the world’s top polluter, avoids paying for climate damage (The Washington Post) U.S. aims to sanction Brazil deforesters, adding bite to climate fight (Reuters) How the U.S. Abruptly Shifted Decades of Climate Policy (The New Republic) EPA skips stricter aircraft pollution regs (E&E News)  🦃 Lighter click: Go Turkeys!  That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Energy & Environment page for the latest news and coverage. We’ll see you next week. 

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