Numlock News: March 5, 2021 • Nutria, Antarctica, Kombucha

By Walt Hickey

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Nutria

An infestation of the South American invasive rodent called the nutria in the swamps of Louisiana led to the resurrection last week of the Plaquemines Parish Nutria Rodeo, a two-day event where 200 hunters gathered to try to bag as many of the beasts as possible to curb their explosive growth. Nutria have eaten at least 40 square miles of Louisiana’s coast in the past 20 years, so reducing their numbers is a boon to the ecosystem. The state has set a target of killing 400,000 nutria per year, and recently upped a reward to $6 per tail up from $5 per tail. Organizers reached an arrangement with the Audubon Zoo where they would give them the nutria to feed their alligators. This plan was going perfectly well until the hunters managed to destroy 1,500 nutria, which evidently is far too many swamp rats to give to a zoo. This was a problem, as 1,500 dead rats is really an inconvenience, until a hero showed up: a crabber accepted the entire load to bait crab traps. Ah, the circle of life.

Tristan Baurick, The New Orleans Advocate

Wilderness

Every summer about 4,000 people live in Antarctica, a number that dips to about 1,000 in the winter across the 76 active stations. Vacationers may come visit, but they’re in the tens of thousands. However, despite the lack of inhabitants, there are an increasing number of abandoned or deserted stations scattered around the continent, around 5,000 permanent structures, and 81 percent of them are crammed into the 1 percent of Antarctica that is ice-free. The Madrid Protocol governing the political activity of the continent says that extraneous structures are supposed to be cleaned up and disposed of, but given the difficulties — cold, darkness, a ravenous extraterrestrial shape-shifter killing and then impersonating colleagues, ice — it’s not always done.

Mara Wilson and Leah Feiger, The Atlantic

Treats

A survey of 1,000 pet owners in October by the largest chain of general veterinary hospitals found that 42 percent of respondents said their dogs or cats had gained weight over the course of the pandemic, up from 33 percent in May. The percentage of dogs that the Banfield Pet Hospital diagnosed as overweight was up 2.3 percent from March to December, among the biggest increase in a decade. If you’re curious why, pet treat sales were up 10.6 percent in the past 12 months, and people have been spending a vast amount of time next to those animals, so I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of the issue here.

Anne Tergesen, The Wall Street Journal

Thank You For Vaping

Altria has asked the FDA for the go-ahead to launch a $100 million ad campaign aiming to reduce tobacco use and pitch electronic cigarettes by telling people that nicotine isn’t the dangerous bit in cigarettes. About three in four Americans think nicotine causes cancer, and while it’s not one of at least 60 known carcinogens in cigarette smoke, there is a reason we say “at least” in front of 60. Altria generates 86 percent of its $20.8 billion in annual revenue from cigarettes and cigars, but that market is slowing down as people come around to the fact that those things kill you, so they’re eyeing the vape-shaped lifeboats and trying to do so without getting rid of the addictive material.

Tiffany Kary, Bloomberg

Battery

Energy storage systems surged in the last quarter of 2020, with 2.2 gigawatt-hours worth of systems put into operation. That is up 182 percent from the previous quarter, which itself was record setting, and capped off a year when 3.5 gigawatt-hours total of battery systems were deployed. By comparison, over the course of the previous six years combined, 3.1 gigawatt-hours came online. California was the top market for the systems, and the growth was most explosive in utility systems adding them, but businesses and residential systems also grew.

Corbin Hiar, E&E News

Safety

The United States’ New Car Assessment Program is how the federal government assesses the safety features of new vehicles, and since its introduction in America there are now eight NCAPs worldwide, in Australia, South Asia, China, Europe, Japan, Korea, and Latin America. The European NCAP estimates its program has saved over 78,000 lives. While the U.S. invented NCAPs, the program now lags the global tests, and the standards haven’t been upgraded in a decade. Out of 353 cars tested in the 2020 model year, 73 percent got a perfect five-star rating. But at the same time, the fatality rate has been getting worse: from 2010 to 2018, road fatalities in the U.S. rose 11 percent, while from 2010 to 2019 EU road fatalities decreased 23 percent. One reason is that while the European NCAP has 21 different tests and has been getting progressively tougher, the U.S. test has just five tests, and manufacturers know exactly what has to be done to beat the tests.

Aaron Gordon, Vice

Kombucha

Fermented goods — from kimchi to miso to kombucha — are booming, and are projected to be worth $690 billion by 2023. There’s an incredible amount of money in the business, and it’s only getting bigger; kimchi sales saw a 952 percent year-over-year surge during the pandemic. While many of the foods and beverages are of non-Western origins, the organizations that represent the industry are predominantly white. The Kombucha Brewers International represents about 90 percent of bottled kombucha in stores and on tap — itself a $500 million market in the United States — but a June survey found two-thirds of their membership is white.

Miin Chan, Eater

Last Sunday, I spoke to I spoke to Rebecca Jennings who wrote “Figure skating is on thin ice. Here’s how to fix it” for Vox’s The Goods. It was a really fun interview, talking all about the rise and fall of the sport in the U.S., but also exploring new ways that it’s growing such as TikTok. Rebecca can be found at Vox, on Twitter, and on Instagram.

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