Green tipping point: organic foods

Annie’s has grown from one product (organic macaroni and cheese) to 80, fueling a $34 million company. The Organic Trade Association estimates the $12.25 billion organic food market will double by 2008, assuming an 18.4% annual growth rate (WSJ, March 29, 2005). With a $20 million investment from Solera Capital, Annie’s (and others on the same growth curve) can expand exponentially.

mac and cheese box

Green tipping point: celebrity cool

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – February 18, 2005 – Joining the ranks of celebrities choosing to bring an environmental conscience to the Oscars, Leonardo DiCaprio, Charlize Theron, Robin Williams, Orlando Bloom, Salma Hayek, Penelope Cruz, Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins are among those arriving at the 2005 Academy Awards in high-mileage, low emission, Prius hybrids as part of Global Green’s 3rd annual “Red Carpet—Green Stars” campaign.

Green tipping point: business green

GE pledges to invest billions in being green:

Ecomagination is GE’s commitment to address challenges such as the need for cleaner, more efficient sources of energy, reduced emissions and abundant sources of clean water,” Immelt said. “And we plan to make money doing it. Increasingly for business, ‘green’ is green.”

Environment alters DNA

WSJ reports ($) that the effect of a gene depends on the environment it’s exposed to. Several studies have shown, for example, that water-fleas will only grow hard-skull defenses if they are in waters with fish, that oak-tree caterpillars grow to resemble the food they eat, and that men with the “violence gene” only act violent if they were neglected or abused as children. My favorite example:

Last summer, Michael Meaney of McGill University, Montreal, and colleagues reported that a gene that shapes how fearful, jumpy and neurotic a rat is can be altered by how regularly its mother licks and grooms it. Maternal care changes the chemistry of a “neuroticism gene,” and the rat grows up to be mellow and curious. The genetic trait for neuroticism — deemed innate because scientists had found a gene “for” it — is reversible by environment.

I wonder how different working environments interact with our genes?

How good are doctors?

Atul Gawande’s The Bell Curve in last week’s New Yorker

It used to be assumed that differences among hospitals or doctors in a particular specialty were generally insignificant. If you plotted a graph showing the results of all the centers treating cystic fibrosis—or any other disease for that matter—people expected that the curve would look something like a shark fin, with most places clustered around the very best outcomes. But the evidence has begun to indicate otherwise. What you tend to find is a bell curve: a handful of teams with disturbingly poor outcomes for their patients, a handful with remarkably good results, and a great, undistinguished middle.

It’s an excellent look at how honestly hospitals are dealing with their patients. Also of note is Tom Peter’s reaction.

Econ 101

I recently read Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science by Charles Wheelan, a writer for The Economist. He covers many of the more interesting ideas, highlights some underappreciated thinkers, and offers a sound perspective on a field that tries to stay within the boundaries of statistics while undeniably bleeding into politics and sociology. Also see Peterme’s review for more about this.

Here’s some of the concepts he covers, all of which are useful even if you never tread into what is traditionally thought of as economics. Most of the definitions are on the Wikipedia.


  • Creative destruction
  • Prisoners delimma
  • Law of unintended consequences
  • Principal-Agent problem
  • Dead weight loss
  • Progressive and regressive taxes
  • Externality


  • Property rights
  • Rule of law
  • Public goods
  • Supply-side


  • Adverse selection
  • Our skills and health comprise 75% of our wealth as a nation
  • Rule of 72: rate of growth divided by 72 equals how long it takes for a growing quantity to double
  • Interest represented as r, the rental rate on capital
  • We often receive more utility via relative than absolute wealth
  • Catastrophe bonds are a way to spread risk and rewards
  • The Tournament model

The challenge of the 21st century

Forty-nine countries have agreed to participate in a 10-year project to collect and share thousands of measurements of the Earth, ranging from weather to streamflow to ground tremors to air pollution with anticipated benefits ranging from weather forecasts to energy consumption estimates to predictions of disease outbreaks. As usual, it’s not the design of the system that’s the big challenge:

“We have been able to make computers work together. The challenge of the 21st century is to get people to work together… It will not be the technology that limits it, it will be the sociology,” Leavitt [head of the U.S. EPA] added, noting that the problem will be overcoming bureaucracy, politics, turf.

Link courtesy of Brett.

James D. Watson on Happiness

Watson, half of the team that discovered the double-helix structure of DNA, interviewed in a recent issue of the New York Times magazine:

…I have an odd theory on happiness, and it bothers people. My general theory is that happiness is a reward for an animal doing what it should be doing. So if a horse runs, it feels happy. Or if you are too thin you can’t be happy, because evolution wants you to be tense and anxious, trying to wake up in the morning looking for food. So I was just saying that happiness comes only when you are doing things that are good for you….

…The molecule that you make when you are getting sunburned or when you eat a lot of food is part of the same molecule that contains an endorphine or an opiate. No one has ever had a hypothesis about why the two are together. So I came up with one.

And your hypothesis is that sun and food make you happy?

Yes, and running and exercise.

More on his theories, link courtesy of Bill.