Eco Buzz

GE Launches $1 Million Competition to Reduce Emissions in Canada’s Oil Sands

Triple Pundit - Fri, 2014-07-18 02:13
The race for big oil companies to cut green house gas emissions is fierce. As zero emissions solutions from renewable energies and technologies begin to proliferate and set new expectations for energy production, oil companies are being called to accelerate their environmental efficiencies and more importantly, compete with foreign oil distributors.
Categories: Eco Buzz

New Carbon Capture Plant Will Use Coal Exhaust to Get Oil From the Ground

Triple Pundit - Fri, 2014-07-18 02:13
This week, NRG announced the Petra Nova Carbon Capture Project, the world’s largest post-combustion carbon capture power generation plant. This commercial-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) system will utilize existing technology to capture 90 percent of the carbon dioxide (CO2) in the processed flue gas from an existing coal plant in Fort Bend County, southwest of Houston. Construction on the project has already begun.
Categories: Eco Buzz

In 10 years, no one in Helsinki is going to own a car

Gristmill - Thu, 2014-07-17 21:58

The future is always changing. Back in the day, they promised a flying car in every garage. Now that the future is almost here, it’s looking like a no-go on the winged Chevy. In fact, in Helsinki, Finland, the future could mean empty garages. Turns out that in an age when we carry the sum of all human knowledge around in our pants pockets, some better ideas come up.

The Finnish capital is planning a comprehensive and flexible smartphone-enabled travel network that could be online by 2025. The system will combine small buses, self-driving cars, bicycles, and ferries. Users will simply enter their destination into an app and the system will suggest where to transfer from car to bike, for instance, and arrange for the vehicles — and do it all for one easy and inexpensive payment.

Adam Greenfield at the Guardian has more on the plan:

Helsinki aims to transcend conventional public transport by allowing people to purchase mobility in real time, straight from their smartphones. The hope is to furnish riders with an array of options so cheap, flexible and well-coordinated that it becomes competitive with private car ownership not merely on cost, but on convenience and ease of use.

Subscribers would specify an origin and a destination, and perhaps a few preferences. The app would then function as both journey planner and universal payment platform, knitting everything from driverless cars and nimble little buses to shared bikes and ferries into a single, supple mesh of mobility. Imagine the popular transit planner Citymapper fused to a cycle hire service and a taxi app such as Hailo or Uber, with only one payment required, and the whole thing run as a public utility, and you begin to understand the scale of ambition here. …

All of this seems cannily calculated to serve the mobility needs of a generation that is comprehensively networked, acutely aware of motoring’s ecological footprint, and – if opinion surveys are to be trusted – not particularly interested in the joys of private car ownership to begin with.

It’s no wonder the Finns are out ahead on this one. Traveling by car in Finland, a land where the roads seemed paved with danger, is a terrifying proposition. There are a staggering 3,000 to 4,000 reindeer-related collisions annually in Northern Finland alone. Compare those frightening figures with L.A., where there hasn’t been a single reindeer related accident in months. Why, even Maija, Finland’s beloved traffic safety reindeer, isn’t safe.

Helsinki isn’t the only city trying to put personal car ownership in the past. There’s a similar, smaller effort afoot in downtown Las Vegas, of all places. But in compact Helsinki, it’s a system that makes a lot of sense. And now that futurists have given up on the flying car, they can get to work on that practical jetpack they’ve been promising.

Filed under: Business & Technology, Cities, Climate & Energy
Categories: Eco Buzz

Another reason kelp will win over hipsters’ hearts: craft beer

Gristmill - Thu, 2014-07-17 19:44

Yesterday, I gave you the top reasons why kelp could bump out kale as hipsterdom’s star vegetable — it’s environmentally friendly, nutritious, and delicious (maybe?). If seaweed really wants to reign king, what better way to win cool hearts than becoming an ingredient in craft beer? (There’s no such thing as Kale Light.)

Turns out, kelp is already a step ahead of me. On July 15, the Marshall Wharf Brewing Co., in Belfast, Maine, began pouring the Sea Belt Scotch Ale. Sugar kelp is a main ingredient.

Brewery owner David Carlson had reason to believe his experiment would be a success: What gets kids excited these days like weird ingredients, especially if they’re locally sourced? But, as NPR reports, he approached the experiment with reasoned caution:

[S]ix pounds of dried kelp, the equivalent of 60 pounds of wet seaweed, go into this 200 gallon batch of scotch ale called Sea Belt. Carlson knew he’d get some iodine from the sugar kelp and some salt to counterbalance the Scottish peat-smoked malt in the beer. But he worried that if the kelp introduced too much of a polysaccharide called carrageenan that the beer would end up thick – like a milkshake. And no one is quite sure what the beer will taste like.

A few weeks later, the first batch is done and it’s time for a taste test. Carlson wants an expert opinion. So he calls another brewer with a reputation for using off-the-wall ingredients, Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Del. Calagione agrees to taste Sea Belt, and Carlson ships him some cans. The men hook up via a conference call.

The result? “[A] beautiful, russet mahogany,” Carlson says. Malty, earthy, and salty, with caramel notes. To truly lock it in with the cool kids, Marshall Wharf Brewing Co. should wring it out of an artisan beard.

Filed under: Food, Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

Wanna see what climate change looks like? Check out the vicious fires in northwest Canada

Gristmill - Thu, 2014-07-17 18:42

Lightning, an intense heat wave, and low rainfall are lighting up northwestern Canada like a bonfire, producing conflagrations that scientists are linking to climate change.

More than 100 forest fires are burning in Canada’s lightly populated Northwest Territories, east of Alaska. Some residents are being evacuated from their homes; others are being warned to stay inside to avoid inhaling the choking smoke. Take a look at the latest map produced by the region’s fire agency:

NWT Fire

“Some attribute that to climate change, and I’m one of those,” Mike Flannigan, a professor of wildland fire at the University of Alberta, told CBC News. “What we are seeing in the Northwest Territories this year is an indicator of what to expect with climate change. Expect more fires, larger fires, more intense fires.”

Here’s more from Climate Central:

Boreal forests like those in the Northwest Territories are burning at rates “unprecedented” in the past 10,000 years according to the authors of a study put out last year. The northern reaches of the globe are warming at twice the rate as areas closer to the equator, and those hotter conditions are contributing to more widespread burns.

Further south, Oregon and Washington state have declared emergencies as the same three forces — lightning, hot weather, and dry conditions – fuel wildfires that have forced evacuations. Elsewhere in the American West, major wildfires are being battled in Nevada and California.

Filed under: Climate & Energy
Categories: Eco Buzz

This rogue bicycle pony express delivered mail in 1894

Gristmill - Thu, 2014-07-17 18:40

If any of the cyclists who participated in the great bicycle messenger mail route were still alive to tell the tale, it would make the ultimate “when I was your age story.”

Picture this: San Francisco, 1894. The Pullman rail strike in Illinois cuts off all rail service west of Detroit, leaving California train-less and thus, mail-less. One “enterprising citizen” and bicycle salesman Arthur C. Banta decides to create a fixie chain gang relay along a 210-mile stretch from San Francisco to California’s Central Valley with eight primary riders. He charges $0.25 for stamps, 10 times the price of standard mail at the time.

I can just hear the conversation now:

Old-Timer Cyclist: When I was your age, we didn’t have no Amazon delivery service or fancy-schmancy computers. We wrote letters with pens and paper and put stamps on them. And when the mail system broke down because of a rail strike, we printed up our own stamps and rode our own fixed gear bicycles on unmarked dirt roads in the dark. And if we broke our ankles, we kept going because the darn mail had to be delivered.

Disinterested Youth: What is paper? [looks at phone] Have you seen the new Iggy Azalea video? It’s awesome.

Here’s more on the ride from Kai McMurtry at the Mission Bicycle Company:

The messengers began in Fresno, rode northwest stopping several times along the way to deliver or capture new mail, and on into San Francisco. B.J. Treat owned the first 20 mile leg out of Fresno. W.B. Atwater was charged with summiting Pacheco Pass, a climb of over 1,300 feet, and so had the shortest leg at 15 miles. The trip was completed by C.S. Shaffer who rode 30 miles from Menlo Park into SF, picked up return mail and rode immediately back to Menlo Park for 60 miles round trip. He was regarded as a “particularly good rider.” Except for the relay into and out of San Francisco each rider was to remain at the northern end of his route until receiving mail for the southward run. A rider having an accident or delay was instructed to continue, on foot if necessary. The awaiting rider, after a reasonable delay, was to ride out to meet him.

The mail route ended “almost as quickly as it began,” writes McMurtry, when the strikes collapsed. To commemorate the 120th anniversary of this epic ride, Mission Bicycle is selling the “Mail By Messenger” patch – a replica of the original stamp for the route, which misspelled San Francisco on its first printing.

Filed under: Article, Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

Weed-sniffing dogs join the fight against invasive species

Gristmill - Thu, 2014-07-17 18:18

There aren’t a lot of career options for dogs. Basically they’ve been limited to law enforcement, imperial transport, and designated hitter — until now. A crack team of canines is on the hunt for invasive species.

The dogs, which are equipped with GPS units because we live in the future, search the countryside looking for invasive weeds, snails, and, for the lucky dogs, scat. Under the auspices of the Montana nonprofit Working Dogs for Conservation, it’s a career that combines two of a dog’s favorite things: wandering about and smelling poop.

Jodi Helmer at Takepart has the rest of the tail (ahem):

Seamus was trained to sniff out Dyer’s woad, a noxious weed that takes over rangeland, choking out native plants that are an important source of food and habitat for wildlife.

The dog often works off-leash, crisscrossing quadrants of the park until he picks up the scent of Dyer’s woad. When he stops, the GPS in his bright orange doggy backpack marks the location of the invasive weed. [His handler, Aimee] Hurt also makes note of the coordinates and will return to spray the plant. …

A 2010 study published in the journal Invasive Plant Science and Management found that dogs sniffed out twice the number of invasive plants that humans could detect with their eyes.

The dogs are a great tool in the fight against non-natives, but there are limitations to their work. So far, they are only on the trail of terrestrial invasives, so lionfish and zebra muscles are safe for the moment. But with the right training, who knows?

Filed under: Article
Categories: Eco Buzz

Coca-Cola’s Last Mile: From Fizzy Drinks to Medical Supplies

Triple Pundit - Thu, 2014-07-17 18:11
Coca-Cola's Project Last Mile leverages the company's vast distribution network to increase and improve the delivery of medical supplies to 10 African countries by 2019.
Categories: Eco Buzz

Southwest Airlines Upcycles 43 Acres of Plane Interior

Triple Pundit - Thu, 2014-07-17 18:10

Southwest Airlines' latest project-- LUV Seat: Repurpose with Purpose-- is a multi-phase sustainability program that partners with social enterprises in Nairobi, Kenya; the Republic of Malawi and the United States to produce goods that create opportunities for training and employment while preventing additional waste.

The post Southwest Airlines Upcycles 43 Acres of Plane Interior appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

Categories: Eco Buzz

Scientist: Save Earth by shrinking humans — and making them hate hamburgers

Gristmill - Thu, 2014-07-17 17:30

If the Earth were a potluck, humans would be the guest who shows up empty-handed and already drunk, eats all the dip, knocks over the fish tank, and electrocutes the dog. There’s a reason why there’s a billion trillion planets out there and only one invited us to the party: No matter how many times we offer to fix the coffee table, perhaps with some sort of whacky pseudo-sciency scheme using Duck Tape and a hundred or so tons of iron sulphate, we’re still shitty guests.

Maybe it’s better to change ourselves — and not just switching from bourbon to beer, but serious change, on the genetic level. At least that’s what Matthew Liao, director of the bioethics program at New York University, is suggesting.

Frank Swain with the BBC has more:

“We tried to think outside the box,” says Liao. “What hasn’t been suggested with respect to addressing climate change?”

The answer they landed on is human engineering: the biomedical modification of human beings to reduce their impact on the environment. The associate professor suggests that by changing our underlying biology – altering our size or diet, for instance – we could create greener humans. …

“We’re not suggesting that we should mandate these ideas, but it would be good to make them options for people,” says Liao

What kind of “options” is he talking about? Dr. Liao suggests that we start by making people 15 cm shorter, cutting about a quarter of our body mass and reducing our needs for food, water, and other resources. Such a reduction in height would also make driving obsolete, since no one could reach the pedals.

But why stop there? Why not shrink people down to, say, the height of three apples, so we could live harmoniously in forests and mushroom fields? Perhaps we could adjust our skin to better survive in harsh sun, or even alter our morphology so we could all wear the same kinds of pants and hats. It would be magical.

Once he has shrunken us, Dr. Liao suggests giving the tiny people medications to make averse to eating meat. “We can artificially induce intolerance to red meat by stimulating the immune system against common bovine proteins,” he told the BBC.

Turn the right knobs and dials, and one nip of the stuff could make people violently ill. It’s an off-the-shelf technology Taco Bell has been using for years in their chalupas.

All this may sound frightening (mostly because it is), but there are so many upsides to GMDs (Genetically Modified Dudes and Duddettes). For instance, we’ll no longer have to do all that icky sex stuff. And maybe having a tiny clone of yourself around will be awesome. Dr. Liao seems to think so.

Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
Categories: Eco Buzz

Australia repeals carbon tax, scientists freak out

Gristmill - Thu, 2014-07-17 15:36

The cartoonish stereotype of Australia of yesteryear featured a rough-headed bloke in an Akubra hat wrangling crocodiles. That image has finally been scrubbed from our collective memories – only to be replaced with something worse. Today, when we read news dispatches from Australia, we’re seeing a dunderheaded prime minister cartoonishly wrangling commonsense, becoming the first leader in the warming world to repeal a price on carbon.

It’s like George W. Bush, Crocodile Dundee-style.

Conservative prime minister, climate change denier, and accused misogynist Tony Abbott was elected in September. He started working as the nation’s leader almost immediately, but he had to wait until this month for newly elected senators to take their seats. Abbott’s (conservative) Liberal party still doesn’t control the Senate, but it has found Senate allies in a powerful party that was founded just last year by kooky mining magnate Clive Palmer. Palmer held a press conference with Al Gore last month to announce that he opposed some of Abbott’s climate-wrecking policies, and that he wanted a carbon-trading program to replace the carbon tax. That now seems to have been smokestacks and mirrors. When it came to repealing Australia’s $US23.50 per metric ton carbon tax, the immodestly named Palmer United Party fell into line on Thursday, helping the repeal pass the Senate by a vote of 39 to 32, without demanding the establishment of any alternative.

The vote came just days after new modeling and research revealed that climate change is worsening drought conditions in Australia. Apparently, the drought is also of the intellectual variety.

Abbott has proposed replacing the carbon tax with something he calls Direct Action. That would involve handing out billions of dollars to corporations to help them reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. But Direct Action has not been passed by the Senate, and it might never be passed, meaning that one of the worst per-person climate-polluting countries now has no overarching strategy for reducing that pollution.

“Today’s repeal of laws that price and limit carbon pollution is an historic act of irresponsibility and recklessness,” said John Connor, CEO of The Climate Institute. “Today we lose a credible framework of limiting pollution that was a firm foundation for a fair dinkum Australian contribution to global climate efforts.”

We could bore you with visceral reactions from politicians Down Under. Instead, here are some reactions to the repeal from Australian scientists and academic analysts:

Roger Jones, Victoria University: “It’s hard to imagine a more effective combination of poor reasoning and bad policy making. The perfect storm of stupidity. Bad economics and mistrust of market forces.”

Hugh Outhred, University of New South Wales: “With climate change already underway, repeal of the carbon tax represents dereliction of duty with respect to the rights of young people and future generations. The coalition plan to replace a ‘polluter pays’ policy with a ‘pay the polluter’ policy will exacerbate the budget imbalance while being simply inadequate to the task.”

Roger Dargaville, University of Melbourne: “The Government’s replacement strategy, Direct Action, will fail to reduce emissions as it fails to penalise the largest emitters. Also, Direct Action risks not gaining approval in the Senate as it is unlikely to get the support of [Palmer United Party] Senators. The repeal of the price on carbon is a backwards step and a sad day for the global climate.”

Jemma Green, Curtin University: “Without a domestic emissions trading scheme, Australia will probably use international offsetting to meet its commitments. The Renewable Energy Target and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation will play some role in retooling for the low-carbon economy, but other new policies may be required to fully address this need.”

Peter Rayner, University of Melbourne: “I’m a carbon cycle scientist, my job is to monitor, understand and predict the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As an Australian, I’m proud of how much we have contributed to that understanding, but today I’m embarrassed by how poor we are at putting that understanding into practice.”

Correction: This post originally stated that The Climate Institute was a former Australian government agency that morphed into a nonprofit after Abbott took power, but in fact it has always been a nonprofit.

Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
Categories: Eco Buzz

Goodbye, everyone! A massive hole has opened at the End of the World

Gristmill - Thu, 2014-07-17 11:06

Well! It was nice knowing yinz, because Doomsday is upon us. According to Scripture, the first two signs of the apocalypse are:

1. A goblin of the underworld shalt sign a princess with a voice of gold to his record label, and so the two will beget a heavily Auto-Tuned music video starring a mythical beast.

2. And lo! For a chasm shalt suddenly appear at the End of the World.

We’re two for two! Tuesday, The Siberian Times reported that a massive hole measuring 262 feet in diameter suddenly appeared in the Yamal region of Siberia. Gee, what does Yamal mean in the language of the Nenets, the region’s indigenous people? “The end of the world.”

Oh. (We’ll just wait for you to send the hearts-for-eyes emoji to all of your loved ones.)

Back to business! What — aside from the work of the devil — could have possibly caused this gaping maw to appear? From The Siberian Times:

Anna Kurchatova from Sub-Arctic Scientific Research Centre thinks the crater was formed by a water, salt and gas mixture igniting an underground explosion, the result of global warming. She postulates that gas accumulated in ice mixed with sand beneath the surface, and that this was mixed with salt – some 10,000 years ago this area was a sea.

Global warming, causing an ‘alarming’ melt in the permafrost, released gas causing an effect like the popping of a Champagne bottle cork, she suggests.

Given the gas pipelines in this region such a happening is potentially dangerous.

There are a lot of alarming things happening in this excerpt, but let’s focus on the most terrifying: Global warming could be causing enormous chunks of the Earth to pop like champagne bottles.

There’s also the tiny matter that this hole has appeared roughly 20 miles away from the Bovanenkovo gas field, the largest in the Yamal region. The Yamal peninsula itself is a crucial component of Russia’s oil and natural gas production, which makes up approximately half of the national income. Last spring, Russia’s oil and gas giant Gazprom first started fracking on the peninsula.

Now, I’m not a religious gal, but if a giant abyss appears near a fracking site on a massive gas reserve, maybe — MAYBE! Just a suggestion! — it’s a sign that there’s something going on there that is not entirely advisable. In the meantime, you can find me programming Google Alerts for Paris Hilton’s musical career and quietly building my storm shelter.

Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

Ask Umbra: Are organic cherries worth the extra expense?

Gristmill - Thu, 2014-07-17 10:01

Send your question to Umbra!

Q. While I go organic as much as I can, the inability to buy organic cherries is the price I pay for a low-paying job cleaning up our gorgeous environment. Since I cannot bear to live life without a few fresh summer cherries, I buy the regular ones. My mother insists that in this case, using that fruit wash stuff is the way to go. But it’s expensive! Does it REALLY do a good job of getting pesticide residues off of the surface of fruit, or does a good spray of plain old water do just as well?

North Bend, Wash.

A. Dearest Karen,

I wholeheartedly agree: No one should be confined to a life without fresh summer cherries. Or strawberries. Or blueberries. Mmm … Methinks a trip to the farmers market is in order, stat.

As you note, though, even in-season cherries can be pricey, with organics still more so (and that’s not considering the premium you’ll pay for those tasty kings-among-cherries, Rainiers). We here at Grist love organic produce: It’s free of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, making it healthier for you and the planet. But if your budget can’t swing it – I’m going to go into some tips on that in a moment, mind you – you can still reduce your pesticide exposure from the conventional variety.

If you and your mom have a bet riding on the fruit wash question, good news, Karen: You win. Studies from the University of Maine and the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station found there’s essentially no difference between cleaning fruits and veggies with plain old water and dedicated produce washes – in terms of both pesticide residue and bacteria. The FDA even advises against using store-bought produce wash.

But scrubbing up well does take a bit more than a spray from the tap. You’ll want to rub fruits and veggies briskly under running water; if a presoak is in order, do it in a bowl, not the sink, to avoid bacteria around the drain. With cherries and other berries in particular, save the wash until right before you eat them to extend freshness (not that they ever last that long, at least in my house).

Now, back to the organic-vs-conventional business. The Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce ranks cherries 18th out of 51 tested fruits and veggies for pesticide residue – not quite bad enough to earn a place on the notorious Dirty Dozen, but not exactly squeaky-clean, either. And according to the Pesticide Action Network’s What’s on my Food? guide, cherries harbor residue from as many as 42 different pesticides, including 5 known or probable carcinogens, 20 suspected hormone disruptors, 7 neurotoxins, 8 developmental/reproductive toxins, and 14 honeybee toxins. Not so appetizing, is it? And while washing with water helps, it probably won’t remove all pesticide remnants.

Only you know your food budget, Karen — but if you’re concerned about chemicals, you may want to think strategically about buying organic. Might you be able to switch to conventional for some items with lower pesticide risk? The EWG ranks these too, as the Clean Fifteen, and they include avocado, kiwi, pineapple, mango, sweet corn, onions, and asparagus. You could then apply the savings toward organic cherries.

I’d also go hunting at the farmers market. Living as you do in cherry country (Washington, Oregon, and California grow 97 percent of U.S. sweet cherries), I wouldn’t be surprised if you could find local, pesticide-free fruits at a good price. Keep in mind that many smaller farms may grow food organically even if they can’t afford official certification.

You may also find success with a little budgetary shuffling. Is there anywhere else you can trim a few dollars during cherry season? Perhaps you’d find one or two fewer lattes, movie downloads, or meals out every week a worthy trade for your cherries of choice.

No matter what you decide, don’t skip out on one summer’s sweetest treasures. Cherries are full of vitamin C and fiber, and besides, after spending your days toiling away for the earth, you deserve it.


Filed under: Food, Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

Four things you should know about Detroit’s water crisis

Gristmill - Thu, 2014-07-17 09:02

This May, the Detroit Water and Sewerage District (DWSD) sent out 46,000 shutoff notices to customers who were behind in their water bills. It was the latest calamity to befall a city that had seen its water rates rise 119 percent in the last decade.

As a city that has lost nearly two-thirds of its population in the last 60 years, Detroit has a lot of water infrastructure to maintain, and not much money to maintain it.

Since the shutoffs began (about 17,000 households and small businesses have lost service to date), residents have fought back hard. They’ve blocked trucks that are being sent out to shut off water accounts. They’ve called out DWSD for focusing on shutting off water to private homes that don’t even owe that much, while ignoring golf courses that owe amounts in the hundreds of thousands. (DWSD responded that it had focused on residential customers because shutting off water to a large-scale user was more technically complicated than most of its employees can handle.) They’ve accused DWSD of dropping low-income customers as a way of making the system more appealing to potential buyers. (Whether or not that’s true, Detroit emergency manager Kevin Orr has spoken openly about selling DWSD to a private company.) They’ve organized brigades of volunteers to bring water in to people who’ve had their accounts shut off. They even got the United Nations to condemn the way that DWSD is handing the situation.

But what’s happening in Detroit isn’t just Detroit’s problem. It has larger implications for the rest of us. Here’s what you need to know.

Water is getting more expensive everywhere.

This is true both internationally and in the U.S., where the cost of water has been rising faster than the rate of inflation.

There’s no federal policy to help people deal with the cost of water.

As Jan Beecher, with the Institute of Public Utilities at Michigan State University, told the Los Angeles Times there are no federal programs to help people pay for the rising cost of water, the way that there are for fuel and electricity (or housing, for that matter).

“We’ve never really developed a clear public policy toward universal service and water,” Beecher said. “International organizations are concerned with a basic level of service, but with water, the tricky thing is that drinking water would fall into that, but watering the lawn would not be considered a basic human right.”

That said, until recently, Detroit actually had a program that helped low-income residents pay their water bills.

It was called the Water Affordability Plan. As Roger Colton, a utilities consultant, told the Los Angeles Times:

The last time Detroit began shutting off water for unpaid bills a decade ago, Colton worked with the Michigan Poverty Law Program to develop a program that would help the water department collect money while still keeping water affordable. He found that whereas the federal Environmental Protection Agency recommends that families spend no more than 2.5 percent of their pretax income on water and sewer service, some Detroit residents were paying more than 20 percent.

Colton argues that cities won’t get the money they want by simply shutting off services. Instead, he says, utilities should require residents to pay a percentage of their income to the water department for service.

“If you give someone a more affordable bill, you end up collecting more of the bills,” he said.

Taking Colton’s advice into account, Detroit’s water department implemented a program that allowed residents to start making payments on their bills even if they were thousands of dollars behind. But that program was cut during the city’s bankruptcy.

This year the DWSD says it has a $1 million fund for residents who need help paying their water bills — money raised by voluntary contributions from customers.

The infrastructure that was designed to keep us all hydrated is in trouble everywhere, not just Detroit.

Detroit did most of its growing in the 30 years between 1920 and 1950 – the population nearly doubled, from 994,000 to 1,850,000 (It’s now about 685,000). This is the same time window during which much of America’s water infrastructure was being laid out: people were moving from the country to the cities, and there were generous federal subsidies that helped put those pipes in the ground.

Other cities that put in a lot of water infrastructure during this time, like Los Angeles and Chicago, can expect to see the same problems, since everything built during that 20-year period is going to break more or less all at once. Writes the New York Times:

The oldest cast-iron pipes, dating to the late 1800s, have an average useful life of about 120 years. For cast-iron pipes installed in the 1920s, that drops to about 100 years. And pipes put in after World War II have an average life of only around 75 years. The upshot is that all three vintages of pipe will need replacement in a short stretch of time.

The EPA has been writing reports for years about how America’s water infrastructure is old, leaky, and generally unsafe, and how it’s going to take New Deal-style funding to get it back in shape. The bad news is that, as a country, we’re more excited about building new things than fixing old ones.

But then there’s the good news: With so much water infrastructure across the country in need of repair, there’s real opportunity to design and experiment with systems that are better adapted for drought, heavy rainfall, sea-level rise, and the extreme weather events that climate disruption is already laying on us. While Detroit is dealing with the worst of it, these questions are ones we should all be thinking about.

Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Cities, Politics
Categories: Eco Buzz

Tragedy of the Commons: Once Upon a … Water

Triple Pundit - Thu, 2014-07-17 04:59

We have reached a tipping point where we need to monetize and assign a dollar value to a natural resource like water -- without which we cannot survive. We live on the water planet: 75 percent of Earth’s surface is covered by water. Yet fresh water is scarce. Aristotle and other philosophers were right on the mark when they said, “What is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it!"

The post Tragedy of the Commons: Once Upon a … Water appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

Categories: Eco Buzz

Millennials and the State of Employee Engagement

Triple Pundit - Thu, 2014-07-17 04:37

In response to employee demand, particularly from millennials, a growing number of employers are adopting an official engagement policy on sustainability. "People are realizing that these are not 'nice-to-have' programs," Susan Hunt Stevens, founder and CEO of WeSpire, told Triple Pundit. "They drive the bottom line and the top line of business."

The post Millennials and the State of Employee Engagement appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

Categories: Eco Buzz

PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi Weighs In on Work/Life Balance

Triple Pundit - Thu, 2014-07-17 04:29

Recently PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi gave some frank answers to questions about work/life balance that coincide more with Anne-Marie Slaughter than Sheryl Sandberg. As in, work/life balance? At the c-suite level, there isn't any.

The post PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi Weighs In on Work/Life Balance appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

Categories: Eco Buzz

GM Twitter Chat Recap: Transforming Transportation – #GMCSR

Triple Pundit - Thu, 2014-07-17 04:19

On July 16th, TriplePundit & Aman Singh held an hour long conversation via Twitter at #GMCSR to get to the heart of General Motor’s latest sustainability report and progress. We discussed how GM is helping transform transportation in the 21st century.

The post GM Twitter Chat Recap: Transforming Transportation – #GMCSR appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

Categories: Eco Buzz

Now Google Street View is mapping gas pipeline leaks

Gristmill - Wed, 2014-07-16 23:32

Some of those Google cars that drive around photographing streetscapes and embarrassing moments have captured something extra — something that should embarrass major utilities. The cars were kitted out by University of Colorado scientists with sensors that sniff out natural gas leaking from underground pipelines. These methane-heavy leaks contribute to global warming, waste money, and can fuel explosions.

The sensor-equipped cars cruised the streets of Boston, New York’s Staten Island, and Indianapolis. They returned to sites where methane spikes were detected to confirm the presence of a leak. The results were released Wednesday by the Environmental Defense Fund, which coordinated the project, revealing just how leaky old and metallic pipelines can be, such as those used in the East Coast cities studied, particularly when compared with noncorrosive pipes like those beneath Indianapolis.

About one leak was discovered for each mile driven in Boston, Mass.:


The findings were similar in Staten Island, N.Y.:


In Indianapolis, Ind., by contrast, about one leak was found for every 200 miles that the cars covered:

Filed under: Climate & Energy
Categories: Eco Buzz

Mother jailed for letting her daughter run free — at the playground

Gristmill - Wed, 2014-07-16 22:57

Remember Another Bad Creation’s song, “At the Playground”?

A more recent story that happened at the playground: A mother lets her child go to the playground by herself and goes to jail for it.

The young girl, just 9 years old, is used to spending hours and days on the internet in McDonald’s, not only because it has free wi-fi, but because it’s where her mother works. It’s summer, and Debra Harrell can’t afford to put her daughter in daycare, because it’s McDonald’s.

The restaurant is daycare, but on this particular day the girl wants to go to a playground, a little over a mile away. Harrell allows her, and is later charged with “unlawful conduct towards a child” for letting her go unsupervised. Her daughter goes to state custody.

I’m really glad Jonathan Chait stepped outside of his normal political coverage at New York Magazine to draw attention to this story, which happened earlier this month, in North Augusta, S.C., where apparently it’s a crime for parents to trust their kids and their surrounding environment.

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The additional facts on this story, as presented by Lenore Skenazy over at reason, make it even more heartbreaking. Harrell had saved up to buy her daughter a laptop only for it to be stolen when their house was robbed. It wasn’t the first time her mother let her go to the playground by herself, and she gave her daughter her cellphone before sending her along.

Chait sums it up well:

The story is a convergence of helicopter parenting with America’s primitive family policy. Our welfare policy is designed to make everybody, even single mothers, work full-time jobs. The social safety net makes it difficult for low-wage single mothers to obtain adequate child care. And society is seized by bizarre fears that children are routinely snatched up by strangers in public places. The phenomenon is, in fact, nearly as rare as in-person voting fraud.

I think our raged-but-false security senses and the rarity of child-snatching are worth pointing out, but there are other issues here that involve the criminalization of black women, and the ongoing, unresolved issues of public park space: Who belongs in it and under what terms.

For the Harrell family, going to the playground is a luxury. The adults who could afford to be there that day assumed that her mother’s choice was irresponsible. Given the girl is black, they may have assumed worse: Mom’s a crackhead? Prostitute? Whatever the case, the child’s answer, that her mother was at work, was not good enough.

The adult who snitched Harrell out made another assumption: that parenting means around-the-clock supervision of children, and anything less is uncivilized. It’s those kind of gentry values that the creators of city public park systems were trying to avoid. They wanted a safe space accessible to people of all classes and backgrounds to enjoy recreation. Instead, in too many places it’s become a place where black and brown youth are made to feel they don’t belong — and certainly not without supervision.

But unsupervised play might be exactly what children need. In a society where everyone has cameras on their phones, tablets and computers, no one is ever really unsupervised. But I think Sarah Goodyear hit the right note on this when she discussed unmonitored kid time in the Atlantic’s Citylab:

Traditional street play is good for kids, and fun for kids, precisely because it allows them to figure out how to use their environment in creative ways on their own, or maybe with the help of adults who are doing their own socializing on the street. Kids call the shots themselves, making a tree first base and a manhole cover second and the streetlamp third. They figure out how to make fair teams, learn which scoring systems work and which don’t. They learn which grown-ups they can count on to retrieve a lost ball, and how to knock an errant football down from the branches of a tree. They get to know each other by creating something together.

For urban kids, this kind of self-structuring play is vital. They can’t run around in the woods, the way that kids in rural areas can. But they can learn to navigate the environment that they live in, thereby gaining mastery over it and themselves. It’s very different from the league play that has taken over the lives of many urban families in the last 20 years.

That playground and that community make up the child’s environment, and Harrell has the right to allow her daughter to explore, discover, and make sense of that environment on her own. This is true even given that Harrell had little other option except to let her sit at a McDonald’s booth.

Now her daughter has a whole other environment to make sense of: South Carolina’s Department of Social Services, which her mother can hopefully help her with when she gets out of jail.

Filed under: Cities
Categories: Eco Buzz
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