When I grow up I want to be a nitrogen farmer. According to Donald Hey of the Loop-based Wetlands Initiative, the most efficient way to control the nitrate pollution that Illinois and other midwestern farm states send to the Gulf of Mexico would be to restore about 24 million acres of wetlands and “farm” them (Restoration Ecology, March). “Nitrogen farming involves flooding land with nutrient-rich water for a period of time sufficient to achieve denitrification–about six to eight days,” during which time “wetland microbes would strip and consume the oxygen atoms from the nitrate molecule, releasing nitrogen gas [harmlessly] to the atmosphere.” The businesses, cities, and corn and soybean farmers who generate nitrate pollution would buy “nitrogen credits” from the nitrogen farmers to pay for the cleanup. “A modicum of government regulation is necessary” to set precise nitrate standards and to establish a credit marketplace, he concludes, but “market forces would define the methods, location, and scale of nitrogen farming.”
“Did Arthur Andersen do consulting in business ethics?” asks Mary Miller in Business Ethics (March/April). “Andersen had set up an ethics consulting practice in the mid-1990s, under Barbara Ley Toffler, formerly of Harvard. But Ethics and Responsible Business Practices Consulting Services closed in 1999 when Toffler resigned, disillusioned with the firm’s practices.” Toffler is now writing a book. Who says ethics won’t make you money?
Roughly one more person a week would have died in Illinois if the state hadn’t passed a law lowering the legal blood-alcohol concentration for drivers from 0.10 to 0.08. That’s the main finding of researchers who evaluated the Illinois law in the Journal of Safety Research (volume 33). They found that the number of drinking drivers involved in fatal crashes in Illinois declined after the law was implemented in 1997–compared with both previous Illinois statistics and with the numbers in the five neighboring states. “The predicted number of deaths in 1998 and 1999, without the .08 law, would have been 981 as opposed to the 876 that actually occurred. Thus, the estimated number of lives saved during the 2 years was 105.”
“Illinois, the state with the highest percentage of uncounted ballots in the country [in the 2000 presidential election], has failed to introduce any comprehensive voter reform legislation,” write Brian LaFratta and Jamie Lake in the Illinois Bar Journal (March). The state hasn’t even enacted “any of the more limited election reform bills that have been introduced.” LaFratta and Lake recommend three measures: optical-scan balloting systems (which have “the lowest rates of unmarked, uncounted, and spoiled ballots of all voting technologies”), error-detection systems that tell the voters if their ballots have been undervoted or overvoted and offer them a chance to change the ballots, and uniform statewide election laws and procedures.
Leap before you look. “While there are risks in technological innovation, there are also risks in technological stagnation,” writes Ronald Bailey in the Heartland Institute’s “Environment & Climate News” (March). “In fact, history clearly shows the balance of risks favors technological innovation over the harm-prevention strategy embodied in the precautionary principle. Since the advent of modern chemicals–and whatever risks they pose–in the 1920s, the average American’s life expectancy has increased by 20 years.”
“The best skill I learned in prison,” a former death-row inmate told a Northwestern University forum on March 13 (Illinois Times, May 9-15), “was… how to shoot cockroaches with rubber bands. I can hit them nine out of ten times.”