Gardening, walking, gas: Update roundup

Michelle Obama poses for a photo at the White House garden harvest. (via Huffington Post)

Here are some new developments in stories you may have read about previously here at Earth to Philly - each one not worth a standalone post of its own, perhaps, but certainly worth keeping track of.

You'll recall that when the idea of a White House garden was proposed, at first jokingly it seemed, Earth to Philly was one of the biggest cheerleaders. Well, the garden was planted and worked throughout the summer and now has been harvested with the help of local students. As the Huffington Post reported, Michelle Obama "asked the students how much they thought it cost to plant the garden. They guessed $300, $800, $1000 and $6000 as Michelle acted as auctioneer. She then revealed the answer: 'Over 740 pounds of food have come out of this little piece of land..... It [cost] about $180.'" Wow, that's some math we can all get behind!

More recently, we told you about a conference on cohousing, a system where neighbors plan their own neighborhoods around ideals of sustainability and walkability. That latter quality is now being quantified in an interactive tool from Philly's own Avencia. Their Walkshed scores neighborhoods based on your priorities for how close different amenities are - and closeness is in terms of actual walking distance, rather than "as the crow flies." Your walkability score is "based on the actual walking distance to each amenity, accounting for street connectivity and barriers such as highways and rivers."

The site explains how the score is weighted by personal preference:

Walkability means different things to different people. The empty nesters in Center City may enjoy a wide variety of restaurants. Families in Mount Airy might prefer easy access to Fairmount Park. Young professionals in Manayunk may like the nightlife of Main Street. All of these people love and value walkability, but they all have different preferences that shape it.

Using Avencia’s DecisionTree calculation engine, Walkshed is able to dynamically account for each person’s preferences by giving relative weights to each factor before combining the data.

And even more recently, we tipped you to a new report from the Worldwatch Institute stating that the greenhouse-gas contribution of livestock had been dramatically undercounted. A separate study a couple days ago by the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studieshas lent credence to that claim in its finding that methane, famously produced by one end of a cow, has been underestimated in the proportion of global warming it causes.

In the journal Science, a team led by Drew Shindell of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York finds that chemical interactions between greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide cause more global warming than previously estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other efforts.

"The total amount of warming doesn't change, just the balance of gasses behind it," Shindell says.
Methane played a bigger role than expected, suggesting that climate treaties such as the 1997 Kyoto Protocol need to consider it more carefully, the study says.

Animal agriculture is, of course, not the only anthropogenic source of methane, but it's a big one, and given its many other envioronmental and social liabilities (including yet another mysteriously late beef recall for E.Coli that's now killing people) it's something we might "consider more carefully" in general.