Welcome to FERN’s Friday Feed (#FFF), where we share the stories from this week that made us stop and think.
“Aristotle thought they were born out of mud. A young Sigmund Freud dedicated himself to finding their testicles (spoiler alert, he failed). And a legendary Danish marine biologist spent 18 years and his wife’s fortune sailing around the Atlantic Ocean in search of their birthplace. The creature that tormented all of them? It was the eel, perhaps the most mysterious fish in the world—and one of the most expensive per pound. So why are tiny, transparent, worm-like baby eels worth so much? Why have eels remained so mysterious, despite scientists’ best efforts? And how has one pioneering farmer in Maine started raising eels sustainably, despite the species’ endangered status?”
“In south-central Utah, up near 9,000 feet on the Colorado Plateau … there stands a peculiar aspen grove. Instead of dozens or even hundreds of clonal trunks, there are 47,000, all connected to a single root structure. Known as Pando—Latin for ‘I spread’—this behemoth stretches across 106 acres, an area twice the size of New York City’s Grand Central Station,” writes Craig Welch. “Each trunk in Pando lives 85 to 130 years, and as each dies, new green shoots arise. But now those shoots are being eaten by grazing mule deer and cattle.”
“[I]sn’t the United States the land of endless possibility? Isn’t a grocery store with 30 different options for tomato paste our God-given right?” writes Ashley Rodriguez. Throughout his 2004 book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, author and psychologist Barry Schwartz “argues that the tie between liberty and choice is one Americans take too literally, and that the overabundance of options—particularly in low-stakes situations—is overwhelming, hinders our ability to make good choices, and makes us sad as we stew in guilt over having made the wrong decision. And where does most of that grief take place? Inside grocery stores. ‘Americans spend more time shopping than the members of any other society . . . when asked to rank the pleasure they get from various activities, grocery shopping ranks next to last.’”
“President Joe Biden and Democrats have pushed through billions of dollars in new funding for rural development to help small communities build everything from hospitals to broadband networks,” writes Ximena Bustillo. And administration officials “have been on a ‘rural infrastructure tour’ this spring to encourage small communities to apply for the funds … But all that outreach obscures the reality that it will be months, or even years, before the vast majority of projects are completed. The timeline means Democrats, already facing political headwinds in rural areas, aren’t likely to see much benefit from their spending push ahead of the November midterm elections.”
“One controversial idea is known as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, or BECCS: You’d grow crops and burn them for energy, then capture the emissions coming out of the facility and pump them underground as liquefied gas,” writes Matt Simon. ‘BECCS is the only technology that removes carbon from the atmosphere that also gives you sort of a free energy source,’ says [Vera] Heck [of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research], who studies the process. It’s essentially a natural version of direct air capture (DAC), which instead uses membranes to absorb CO2 from the air. Only unlike DAC, BECCS requires lots of land and water to grow the requisite crops—on a planet with a ballooning human population that itself needs more food and water.”