Eco Buzz

Are you there, God? It’s me, climate scientist

Gristmill - Thu, 2014-08-21 21:18

Hey climate scientists, how’re you feeling? Pretty lousy, it seems: This blog collects handwritten letters from scientists who share their heartfelt woes, then juxtaposes them with everyone else’s (#isthishowyoufeel). It’s kind of like public therapy, it’s kind of like reading homesick letters from camp, and — naturally — it’s kind of heartbreaking.

Click to embiggen.

“I feel a maelstrom of emotions

I am exasperated. Exasperated no one is listening.
I am frustrated. Frustrated we are not solving the problem.
I am anxious. Anxious that we start acting now.
I am perplexed. Perplexed that the urgency is not appreciated …”

“I get frustrated a lot; by the knowns, the unknowns, and the lack of action. … I often feel like shouting… But would that really help? I feel like they don’t listen anyway. After all, we’ve been shouting for years.”

“It makes me feel sad. And it scares me. It scares me more than anything else. I see a group of people sitting in a boat, happily waving, taking pictures on the way, not knowing that this boat is floating right into a powerful and deadly waterfall.”

Click to embiggen.

We wish we had something more encouraging to say, but in the meantime:

Dear Climate Scientists,

We’re sorry you feel that way! Don’t worry, it’s not you; it’s us. We haven’t been very good listeners or constructive communicators. In fact, we’ve done a pretty good job of avoiding this conversation altogether for a long, long time. We’ll try to make it up to you. Can we send you guys a care package? It’ll have a bunch of throat lozenges for all the shouting, and a big parachute for that nasty fall off a precipice. It’ll have a flash drive full of cute videos of marmots and ducklings and baby echidnas. And some chocolate, because, well — that might be gone soon, too. 

In the meantime, make sure to do a lot of deep breathing, as long as you’ve got good air to breathe, and drink plenty of water, as long as there’s still some around. And don’t forget to get good rest, if you can sleep through all these fracking-induced earthquakes

Sorry again, and thanks for everything,

The World

If you want to share how you feel, you can do that here, too. Or you can tell us. We’ll try our best to make it better (…gulp).

Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy
Categories: Eco Buzz

Consumer Brands Face Tax Haven Pressure While B2Bs Get Free Pass

Triple Pundit - Thu, 2014-08-21 20:56
Corporate responsibility advocates were quick to label the story a win from a stakeholder engagement standpoint, and it surely shows what can happen when consumers take action. But it also begs the question: Why Walgreens?
Categories: Eco Buzz

How a Koch brother is combating climate change at a coal mine

Gristmill - Thu, 2014-08-21 19:17

What do Bill Koch, the Aspen Skiing Company, and environmentalists all have in common? Nothing, right? Actually, they’re all supporting the deployment of technology that cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions and produces some cheap, relatively clean energy.

Koch owns Oxbow, a coal mining company that operates Elk Creek Mine in Somerset, Colo. SkiCo, as the Aspen Skiing Company is locally known, is an investor in a fossil fuel–burning project at Elk Creek. And here’s the kicker: SkiCo is doing this because it is worried about climate change.

Natural gas tends to escape from coal mines, and most mines just worry about the health and safety risks it poses. Natural gas, which is mostly methane, is highly combustible. The phrase “canary in a coal mine” refers to the bird’s susceptibility to methane poisoning and its usefulness in warning miners of methane leakage. (Methane is odorless in nature. That rotten egg smell is chemically added to alert you to the danger of leaks.) Methane isn’t just dangerous at ground level; it’s also a highly potent greenhouse gas when it escapes into the atmosphere. When burned, though, it’s less of a climate threat, generating just half as much CO2 as burning coal. Coal mining is never good for the environment, but there’s an easy way to make it less bad: capture the natural gas and burn it.

That’s an idea hatched by Tom Vessels, a veteran of the Colorado oil and gas industry. So he partnered with SkiCo, which was looking for ways of investing in cleaner energy, and they brought the proposal to local coal mines. (SkiCo sees climate change as a threat to its business, and so it has a company-wide commitment to help build a clean-energy future.) Most mines were totally uninterested.

Elk Creek Mine, located on a mountain of coal towering over a bend in the North Fork of the Gunnison River, was the first one to bite. Its owner, Bill Koch, is sometimes called the “third Koch brother.” The most politically active Koch brothers are his siblings David and Charles, but Bill is also right-wing. (For a full rundown of the family’s fascinating history, check out Sons of Wichita, the new book by Daniel Schulman of Mother Jones.)

Elk Creek isn’t even currently producing coal. Due to a spontaneous fire last year, it had to shut down mining operations, at least temporarily. But it continues to ship out the coal that’s already been mined, moving it via long conveyer belts from the mountain to the open containers of freight trains on the tracks along the river. From there it goes to Long Beach, Calif., and on to ships bound for Japan and Mexico. Meanwhile, the methane is still seeping up from 1,200 feet below the earth’s surface and will likely continue to for another 15 years, says Auden Schendler, SkiCo’s vice president of sustainability.

For safety reasons, the mine was already capturing the methane in pipes. But then it was just releasing it out into the air. Now, ever since the methane-capture project got off the ground in October 2013, there is machinery attached to the pipes to direct roughly one-sixth of the methane over to a combustor that converts it into electricity — enough to power the adjacent town of 60 homes — and sells it to the grid. It’s essentially a mini power station. The rest of the methane is flared off, so it has no economic value, but at least it causes a lot less climate damage.

The technology here isn’t specialized, unproven, or terribly expensive. The flaring operation just requires a pipe, literally patched with fiberglass in places, leading to a burner that is basically like an oversized version of the base of the gas grill you use to cook hot dogs in the backyard. The electricity generation is only marginally more complicated. Another set of pipes carries gas to a series of turbines in sheds. The turbines suck in air from outside, mix it with the gas, and generate heat, which is turned into electricity and delivered to power lines that were already there to serve the mine. The machinery basically runs itself, just needing one employee to check on it periodically.

Elk Creek Mine is not doing this because it cares about climate change. Jim Kiger, the beefy, goateed mine employee who gave me a tour, sported a political sign on the front of his hard hat: “Stop the War on Coal: FIRE OBAMA.” Kiger shared, unprompted, his skepticism that burning coal contributes to climate change. But he was happy to show off the methane-capturing technology.

That’s because capturing stray methane isn’t just good for the environment. Turning methane into electricity that can be sold to the local power utility is good business. There’s no reason to think Bill Koch cares about climate change any more than his employees do, but he approved the project.

So why doesn’t every coal mine do this? Unfortunately, there isn’t that much money to be made. Elk Creek, for example, was generating $1 million per day from coal, versus a mere $1 million annually from the electric generation of burning methane. And for that $1 million it has to run the risk of violating one of the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s myriad rules. Even Oxbow itself initially rejected the idea of collecting and flaring methane at its mines, citing MSHA rules and the risk of forest fires. And, of course, many mine owners don’t like to do anything that would implicitly admit the reality of climate science.

The federal government should be requiring methane capture at mines, either through legislation or rule-making, but getting any action out of Washington is an enormous challenge. This project, at least, is a good first step, demonstrating that the technology is effective and easy to implement.

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

Vegas tops the list of the country’s worst heat islands

Gristmill - Thu, 2014-08-21 19:15

Las Vegas is toast. Seriously. Thanks to the urban heat island effect, Sin City is 7.3 degrees hotter on average than the surrounding hinterlands. Considering that the hinterlands are the Mojave Desert, where summer temperatures regularly clear 100 degrees, well, I’m sweating just thinking about it. On a real scorcher of a day, the mercury downtown can roar 24 degrees above the temps in the surrounding desert.

These numbers come from the good people at Climate Central, who dug through the temperature records and found that, on average, U.S. cities were 2.4 degrees hotter than the surrounding rural areas during the past 10 summers. Vegas topped the list of the most extreme heat islands, but other cities are feeling the heat, too. Here’s the Top 10:

  1. Las Vegas (7.3°F)
  2. Albuquerque (5.9°F)
  3. Denver (4.9°F)
  4. Portland (4.8°F)
  5. Louisville (4.8°F)
  6. Washington, D.C. (4.7°F)
  7. Kansas City (4.6°F)
  8. Columbus (4.4°F)
  9. Minneapolis (4.3°F)
  10. Seattle (4.1°F)

The urban heat island effect is a totally separate deal from climate change — it’s the result of replacing woods and fields and streams with blacktop and rooftops — but climate change makes it worse by raising summer highs and creating more severe heat waves. The Climate Central study found that three quarters of cities are warming faster than adjacent rural areas.

Here’s a cool (no…) infographic you can use to get the gory details about your hometown:

( function() { var func = function() { var iframe_form = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-form-69e30b5ce27615b60c6e21278e2e3ce9-53fcea5411f8b'); var iframe = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-69e30b5ce27615b60c6e21278e2e3ce9-53fcea5411f8b'); if ( iframe_form && iframe ) { iframe_form.submit(); iframe.onload = function() { iframe.contentWindow.postMessage( { 'msg_type': 'poll_size', 'frame_id': 'wpcom-iframe-69e30b5ce27615b60c6e21278e2e3ce9-53fcea5411f8b' }, window.location.protocol + '//' ); } } // Autosize iframe var funcSizeResponse = function( e ) { var origin = document.createElement( 'a' ); origin.href = e.origin; // Verify message origin if ( '' !== ) return; // Verify message is in a format we expect if ( 'object' !== typeof || undefined === ) return; switch ( ) { case 'poll_size:response': var iframe = document.getElementById( ); if ( iframe && '' === iframe.width ) iframe.width = '100%'; if ( iframe && '' === iframe.height ) iframe.height = parseInt( ); return; default: return; } } if ( 'function' === typeof window.addEventListener ) { window.addEventListener( 'message', funcSizeResponse, false ); } else if ( 'function' === typeof window.attachEvent ) { window.attachEvent( 'onmessage', funcSizeResponse ); } } if (document.readyState === 'complete') { func.apply(); /* compat for infinite scroll */ } else if ( document.addEventListener ) { document.addEventListener( 'DOMContentLoaded', func, false ); } else if ( document.attachEvent ) { document.attachEvent( 'onreadystatechange', func ); } } )();

Higher temperatures also exacerbate ground-level air pollution, so heat islands are a double whammy “which could undermine the hard-won improvements in air quality and public health made over the past few decades,” the study found. Almost no city the study examined was immune.

Happily, there are some things we can do to minimize urban heat island effect — installing reflective cool roofs, for example, and planting trees. But for a city like Las Vegas, the latter just presents another conundrum: Because of its limited water supply, Vegas already has to make tough choices between greenery and human consumption. Las Vegans may have to plant robot trees instead.

The one place Climate Central tripped up was in the statement, “more than 80 percent of Americans live in cities.” That stat actually refers to “urban areas,” which include suburbs that tend to be significantly cooler than the hearts of our concrete jungles. Nitpicking, perhaps, but it’s worth noting, because with urban heat islands, as with so many other environmental ills, it’s the people with the fewest options — that is, residents of our inner cities — who feel the most pain.

Finally, a note to the bartenders in Vegas: Make the next round on the house. Those folks are gonna need another cool one before they venture back out into the heat.

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

Dear Blue Apron, you’re just making it worse

Gristmill - Thu, 2014-08-21 17:46

So the other night we got a Blue Apron box. Blue Apron is this business that delivers all the ingredients for meals in their own, pre-measured packages so you can just dump and mix like the cooks on TV. Cool idea for low-functioning, sleep-deprived people like me, but I was horrified by the amount of packaging.

To give the company credit, these exact portions virtually eliminate food waste from cooking. But, I mean, we are talking about individually bagged celery stalks here. We are talking multiple pounds of frozen gel cooler thingies.

Fortunately, this was printed on the box to ease my green guilt:

OK! But then, when I try to check that out, (A) there’s no obvious links from the website, so you have to remember and type out the URL (which is the modern-day equivalent of putting it in a basement with no lights or stairs and a sign that says “beware of the leopard” over the door). And (B) actually, that web page doesn’t exist. Oh no wait, here it is! It’s “/recycling,” not “/recycle.” Duh, got it.

OK great, so now I’m here and I’m ready to take directions and recycle the whole mess.

“Recycling your Blue Apron box’s packing materials takes under five minutes.”

Yes! I’m psyched. Let’s do this.

“To recycle, first consolidate all the little plastic bags and cups and consolidate them into one big bag, then recycle the whole shebang. Most cities do recycle these, but be sure to check the specific listings where you live.”

OK, hold up. I’m confused about the two consolidations. And the big bag. Can I just skip to the part where I recycle the whole shebang? Wait, how are you even helping?

“Melt our nontoxic ice packs, cut them open, and pour the gel into a plastic bag, which you can then dispose. Recycle the package.”

Let me get this clear: You want me to melt these puppies, cut open the plastic bags, transfer the oobleck therein to another plastic bag, and then “dispose?” OK, sure, that’s reasonable — but how do I do that in under five minutes? Are lasers involved?

“You could also consider keeping the ice packs for future picnics or donating them to local boy scout troops or meal delivery charities.”

That sounds plausible for all the people who are ordering Blue Apron because they can’t figure out how to go to the grocery store. They could also consider molding all that non-toxic gel into a majestic frozen wizard fortress or a trendy ice-box gnome.

“We’ve selected insulated liners that are biodegradable, so you can dispose of them in your trash with minimal environmental impact.”

Oh I get it, dispose of it in the trash! Why didn’t I think of that? To the landfill! Excelsior!

Filed under: Article, Food, Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

Volkswagen Wins EPA Rain-Catcher Award for Chattanooga Plant

Triple Pundit - Thu, 2014-08-21 17:35
Cost-effective and sustainable, restoring or mimicking natural ecosystems, such as wetlands, is proving to be an excellent means of water resource management and stewardship. Recognizing excellence in the field, the EPA awarded its first Region 4 Rain Catcher Award, Commercial Category to VW of America.
Categories: Eco Buzz

EPA, community activists put toxic oil refineries in a headlock

Gristmill - Thu, 2014-08-21 17:35

It’s not just coal that’s been getting the wind kicked out of it. Oil refineries will soon be feeling it as well, thanks to new rules proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency to scale back air pollution.

That’s good news for the climate, and for the people who live next door to these plants. African Americans are roughly twice as likely as the average American to feel the impacts of these refineries’ emissions, according to preliminary analysis from the EPA. Latino Americans and people who earn below the poverty line are also more likely to be exposed to oil pollution than the average American. Plenty of people represented in these groups came out to voice their support for the new rules, if not stronger ones, in recent public hearings.

“Numerous studies, including some of my own, have documented that poor people and people of color in the United States are disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards in their homes, schools, neighborhoods, and workplace,” Robert Bullard, dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University, said at one of the hearings last week (h/t Houston Defender). “Refinery pollution poses special health threats to community residents that generally have higher concentrations of uninsured – heightening their vulnerability.”

The EPA reports that its refined refinery regulations will reduce the toxic stew of  benzene, toluene, and xylene released into the air by 1,800 tons annually. That’s on top of a 19,000-ton annual reduction of volatile organic compounds. It’s also clamping down on “startup-shutdown malfunctions,” or SSM, a decades-old loophole that allows companies to get away with saying, Hey, we can’t do anything about pollution from powering up or breaking down.

The proposed rules also reduce carbon dioxide emissions at these plants by 700,000 metric tons. (More on this in this EPA fact sheet.)

This all comes courtesy of a lawsuit brought by Earthjustice and the grassroots group Community In-Power Development Association, in Port Arthur, Texas, whose, leader, Hilton Kelley, has seen his share of refinery blasts and flare-ups lately. Their lawsuit demanded that EPA firm up its clean air rules to give oil companies less opportunities to wiggle out of compliance with emission standards.

“To its credit, the EPA realized it had a responsibility to people,” said Emma Cheuse, senior associate attorney at Earthjustice. “Some communities are bearing the brunt of pollution more than others, and that burden is falling too much on communities of color, and low-income communities.”

Fossil fuel industry groups such as the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers trade association, are enraged. Tell ‘em why you’re mad, son:

“Unfortunately, we are faced with a rule with significant costs but with little or no health or environmental benefits,” wrote AFPM’s regulatory affairs veep, David Friedman. “EPA estimates that this rule will cost $240 million, but our members estimate that it will cost in excess of a billion dollars. Of even greater concern is that the health benefit gains are insignificant by any measure.”

Insignificant, that is, unless you’re unlucky enough to live near an oil refinery. Residents of fenceline communities will have less risk of developing respiratory problems and cancer thanks to the controlled emissions, according to EPA.

“The industry doesn’t get it,” said Juan Parras, director of the Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services. “All they’re looking at is the cost factor, and they don’t consider the cost factor on health issues related to their exposure to the community. Clean up, that’s all we’re asking.”

The EPA just extended the public comment period on the new air quality regulations for another 60 days. Next after that is finalizing the rules so these communities can finally start breathing more freely.

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

Nine Finalists Vie for Energy Storage Innovation Awards

Triple Pundit - Thu, 2014-08-21 17:27
With smart energy storage systems on the rise, industry participants will gather in San Jose next month to recognize innovation and excellence in the field at Energy Storage North America 2014.
Categories: Eco Buzz

Bain Capital Buys 50 Percent Stake in TOMS Shoes

Triple Pundit - Thu, 2014-08-21 17:21
Bain Capital has agreed to purchase a 50 percent ownership stake of TOMS Shoes--a good thing for the one-for-one business model?
Categories: Eco Buzz

Social Media Bubbles: Are They Holding Us Back?

Triple Pundit - Thu, 2014-08-21 16:57
Social media sites like Facebook are tailored to help people connect with friends, similar experiences and views. But there's a downside, says the U.S. State Department, when it keeps users from reaching outside their 'bubble' of friends and experiences and actually helps to promote unrest.
Categories: Eco Buzz

Why Insecure Data Is Bad for the U.S. Economy

Triple Pundit - Thu, 2014-08-21 16:56
Recent revelations of NSA spying, laws that prevent IT companies from protecting the confidentiality of customers' information and data hacking are driving clients to move their company data out of the U.S., a step that some experts say will cost the country billions of dollars in the near future.
Categories: Eco Buzz

This is what a more sustainable American food system looks like

Gristmill - Thu, 2014-08-21 16:44

The map works best on large screens.You can access each map entry on this page.

( function() { var func = function() { var iframe_form = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-form-080ff82ef4b2a70646fe7f6dc6093489-53fbd153a9413'); var iframe = document.getElementById('wpcom-iframe-080ff82ef4b2a70646fe7f6dc6093489-53fbd153a9413'); if ( iframe_form && iframe ) { iframe_form.submit(); iframe.onload = function() { iframe.contentWindow.postMessage( { 'msg_type': 'poll_size', 'frame_id': 'wpcom-iframe-080ff82ef4b2a70646fe7f6dc6093489-53fbd153a9413' }, window.location.protocol + '//' ); } } // Autosize iframe var funcSizeResponse = function( e ) { var origin = document.createElement( 'a' ); origin.href = e.origin; // Verify message origin if ( '' !== ) return; // Verify message is in a format we expect if ( 'object' !== typeof || undefined === ) return; switch ( ) { case 'poll_size:response': var iframe = document.getElementById( ); if ( iframe && '' === iframe.width ) iframe.width = '100%'; if ( iframe && '' === iframe.height ) iframe.height = parseInt( ); return; default: return; } } if ( 'function' === typeof window.addEventListener ) { window.addEventListener( 'message', funcSizeResponse, false ); } else if ( 'function' === typeof window.attachEvent ) { window.attachEvent( 'onmessage', funcSizeResponse ); } } if (document.readyState === 'complete') { func.apply(); /* compat for infinite scroll */ } else if ( document.addEventListener ) { document.addEventListener( 'DOMContentLoaded', func, false ); } else if ( document.attachEvent ) { document.attachEvent( 'onreadystatechange', func ); } } )();

Let’s be real: The American food system today has some pretty daunting issues. We’re saddled with a farming system that, on the whole, releases a massive amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (675 million metric tons annually at the most recent tally, to be exact), sucks nutrients from the soil, and leaches chemicals into the water table. And in regions with some of the richest farmland, historically speaking, you can’t buy a fresh vegetable for love or money — but you can get a two-liter bottle of potable sugar and an endless variety of nutritionally vacant foodstuff approximations at any corner store.To that end, we find ourselves in the midst of a dietary and environmental crisis. We could ask, “How did we get here?”, but I’m not trying to answer that question. There are many possible culprits at whom we could point fingers, but what’s much, much more important is how we get ourselves out of this mess.

As someone who unironically loves this country, I challenged myself to find someone in every state in the nation who’s breaking the status quo when it comes to production of, access to, and education about food — but in a way that’s characteristic of, or addresses a particular need in, their home state. Spoiler alert: I did!

But what interests me far more are the choices that each of these people are making in terms of how to produce food more sustainably. When there are so many problems, how do you pick which one to tackle first? In these fairly nascent stages of turning around the food system, it’s unfair to say that there’s only one correct solution.

Click on each state (plus Washington, D.C.) above to see 51 answers to the question: How can we build a more sustainable American food system?

(Food illustrations by Amelia Bates)

Filed under: Cities, Food, Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

Governors love this pipeline in the Northeast, residents not so much

Gristmill - Thu, 2014-08-21 12:07

For months now, I’ve been reading about the 180 miles of gas pipeline that energy giant Kinder Morgan is planning on running between Boston and New York state. First called the Tennessee Gas Pipeline (TGP) Northeast Expansion Project, then renamed the TGP Northeast Energy Direct Project, the pipeline was originally touted by New England’s governors as part of the area’s transition to clean energy. They wanted it so much that they proposed passing an extra tax on electricity users to pay for it.

Not everyone was excited, though. People living along the pipeline’s path worried about gas leaks on their property, as one does. Others pointed out that since the gas that would fill the new pipeline originated in the emissions-heavy fracking fields of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia, its claim to being “clean energy” were a little dubious.

Now, reports are that the pipeline is on hold, perhaps permanently.

What happened? The project had a lot of government firepower behind it (all the governors!) and since it wouldn’t cross any international boundaries, all it needed was the approval of the Federal Electrical Regulatory Commission (FERC), which regulates the interstate transmission of oil and gas, and which has a reputation for saying yes to pipelines.

What happened was a lot of little things. Massachusetts, in particular, was shaping up to be the problem child of New England. There were rallies and protests. There were arguments that the pipeline was suspiciously large — 15 times the estimated future capacity of the energy markets that it was passing through. Was it possible that the pipeline was less about lowering energy prices for east coasters, and more about creating a pathway to ship it overseas?

Property owners refused to let Kinder Morgan survey their property. Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren (who has criticized Keystone XL in the past) published an editorial against the project in the Berkshire Eagle. Warren wrote something that other critics of the project had mentioned: that New England should focus on repairing gas leaks in the pipes that it already has, instead of building new ones:

Before we sink more money in gas infrastructure, we have an obligation wherever possible to focus our investments on the clean technologies of the future — not the dirty fuels of the past — and to minimize the environmental impact of all our energy infrastructure projects. We can do better — and we should.

Meanwhile, this June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that FERC had not done a good job assessing the environmental impacts of another Kinder Morgan pipeline. It was an unusual move, and one that could be used as precedent for challenging — or at least slowing down –other FERC approvals.

Kinder Morgan has not given up hope on the TGP Northeast Energy Direct Project. At a public meeting in Northfield, MA this week Kinder Morgan Public Affairs director Allen Fore told the assembled crowd that the company actually had enough money to build the pipeline through Massachusetts even without the tariffs — though Kinder Morgan hadn’t given up hope on that either. “Even though the tariff [tax] isn’t going to happen right now — it could happen next year; five years from now — our project is moving forward,” he said.

Other analyses of the situation were more sanguine. “It’s a big issue and it’s complicated,” Maine Public Utilities Chairman Tom Welch, told the Portland Press Herald about the hold on the pipeline’s plans. “Sometimes the universe shifts a little bit and we have to figure out what to do with the universe as it exists.”

The spread of local resistance to energy infrastructure projects — pipelines, but also coal terminals and fracking — is beginning to resemble the freeway revolts that sprang up across the U.S. in the 1960s and ’70s in cities like BostonSan Francisco, and New York. The freeway revolts aren’t remembered and memorialized the same way that the civil rights movement or the struggle for gay rights are. The closest thing they have to a saga is the battle over Manhattan that went on between Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses — that’s taken a few forms, most recently, an opera.

The freeway revolts aren’t widely remembered because they were, by definition, about neighborhoods rather than the nation.  They were about a thousand tiny victories and setbacks. They were about individuals learning, on the grassroots level, how to use regional politics to their advantage. It’s premature to call what is happening around TGP Northeast Energy Direct a victory, but it is another thread in a larger story.

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

What’s the best way to dispose of an old car battery?

Gristmill - Thu, 2014-08-21 11:02

Q. I had to get a new battery for my car. I asked the guy what they did with the old one and he said they recycled it. I asked where and how and he had no idea. I Googled it when I got home and found out that a lot of old car batteries get sent to Mexico each year, where they do a lousy job of recycling them. Did I just poison the environment and cause lead pollution?

Baltimore, Md.

A. Dearest Pat,

Don’t be so hard on yourself. I wouldn’t say that you poisoned and polluted anything (unless you personally drove that spent battery down to Tijuana). In fact, you went the extra mile by investigating just where the battery would end up – more than many other drivers would do. Still, you’re not totally off the hook: I would say that we are indeed collectively poisoning and polluting certain corners of our environment with our car battery-disposal practices — and there are some things we should do to remedy that.

Most cars use lead-acid batteries, each of which packs about 20 pounds of lead – which, as we’ve all heard, is a potent poison that does particularly worrisome damage to kids’ developing nervous systems. Lead is also quite valuable, as we need it to build wind turbines, cell phone towers, and of course, more car batteries. That value translates to exceptionally high recycling rates: 96 percent for all lead-acid batteries.

In the United States, strict EPA regulations require recycling plants to take careful steps to prevent contaminating their surroundings. This is not the case, however, for the lead recycling plants in developing countries like Mexico. Mexican recycling plants use much cruder techniques to get at the lead – we’re talking guys-smashing-batteries-with-hammers crude. According to investigative work done by the New York Times, these plants’ smokestacks spew lead-infused air into the neighborhood, where the dust settles on everything (including the soil in school playgrounds). Mexican lead-emissions standards are about one-tenth as strict as ours.

And here’s where we get involved in this whole sorry mess: U.S. exports of spent lead-acid batteries (called SLABs in industry parlance) have risen steeply over the last few years. One environmental commission reports that battery exports have jumped 449 to 525 percent from 2004 to 2011, for a total of 857 million pounds of car and truck batteries. All in all, about 20 percent of our SLABs go across the border for shoddy recycling. For a more detailed look into that dirty business, check out this report from the Commission for Environmental Cooperation.

What gives, you might ask? The EPA tightened lead standards in 2008, which had the unfortunate side effect of making it a lot easier and cheaper for our plants to ship SLABs down south for processing rather than complying. If that sounds like blatant disregard for our neighbors as well as our planet, Pat, well…

What can we as dead-battery holders do about all this? Individually, it’s tough to trace what happens to your old battery after you hand it off to the shop or the dealer or your local hazardous-waste disposal team. As you discovered, employees may not have a clue where it will end up; and even if the battery first goes to one of our own recycling facilities, the SLAB may still be shipped on to Mexico.

Many watchdog groups are instead pressing for regulatory action to stem the lead-filled tide flowing south – or to hold Mexican plants to higher standards. If this cause moves you, I encourage you to get in touch with operations like the Commission for Environmental Cooperation and Occupational Knowledge International, both of which make SLAB pollution a major focus. Advocacy group SLAB Watchdog takes a slightly different tack by calling for major retailers like Sam’s Club, Jiffy Lube, and Walmart to make sure all their collected batteries go to high-tech domestic recyclers.

This is a big, dirty problem, and we’re going to need some serious backup to fix it. In the meantime, Pat, we can include “batteries spew lead all over innocent communities” to our list of reasons to cut down on our driving.


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

Coal Export Terminal Plan Nixed by Oregon Agency

Triple Pundit - Thu, 2014-08-21 03:44
This is the latest in a series of wins for opponents of coal company plans to move coal through the Pacific Northwest on the way to Asian markets. But two major plans in Washington State, out of six original proposals, are still pending.
Categories: Eco Buzz

Can Detroit Restart Its Engine?

Triple Pundit - Thu, 2014-08-21 01:30
Detroit is a dichotomy. The city’s innovative spirit that brought us the assembly line and the modern auto industry lives on in wildly successful new enterprises like Quicken Loans. Yet Detroit’s much-publicized poverty has spawned a depressed yet resilient culture that continues to struggle to pull itself out of the gutter.
Categories: Eco Buzz

Walk to work — you’ll be happier

Gristmill - Thu, 2014-08-21 00:59

A recent survey from Montreal’s McGill University suggests that people who walk or take the train to the McGill campus are more satisfied with their daily commutes than those who do anything else.

Makes sense: If you walk or take the train, you’re not a slave to traffic. Ride the train, and you can even use your commute to get work done. That explains why walkers and train riders expressed 85 and 84 percent commute satisfaction, respectively.

But the discrepancies between the other modes of transportation are where things get interesting. Look at cyclists (82 percent satisfaction) and bus riders (75.5 percent), for example.

From City Lab:

Travel time accounts for much of the difference between the two tiers. Longer travel time led to lower satisfaction whatever the mode, but walkers, train riders, and cyclists were the least affected by time variables. … The satisfaction of drivers and bus riders also took a hit with additional “budgeted” trip time, likely on account of unpredictable traffic. …

While cyclists only budgeted 5 extra minutes a day for trip delays, bus riders budgeted 14 minutes. That’s more than an hour a week set aside by bus riders just to be sure they aren’t late for work.

Still, 75.5 percent satisfaction for those bus riders isn’t bad. Who knows, maybe people in Canada are just happier, no matter how they get to work.

Filed under: Article, Cities, Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

You might think bikeshares cut down on CO2, but the truth is complicated

Gristmill - Thu, 2014-08-21 00:19

Nearly 40 bikeshares have popped up across the U.S. since the first program launched in Tulsa in 2007. Yet even after the 23 million rides taken on bikeshares so far — not one fatality has ever been recorded, by the way — no one really knows how much carbon dioxide all these bicyclists have kept out of the atmosphere.

It’s even unclear how effective bikeshares are at reducing car use. Are users actually opting out of driving? Or just avoiding the bus? Some researchers estimate that bikeshares have a 20 percent or less success rate of encouraging users to switch from cars to bikes, while data from bikeshare Denver B-Cycle show that 41 percent of trips made on the program’s bikes have replaced car trips. Climate Central reports on the discrepancy:

Many people using bike-share programs in denser cities are only avoiding public transit rather than avoiding driving a car, muting the CO2 benefits of bike-share programs. Conversely, in less dense cities, bike sharing is used as a way to connect people to public transit, which would enhance the climate benefit, Shaheen said.

This gets at the heart of the problem: Tusla, Okla., is pretty different from New York City. Developing a single model for uniform bikeshare data collection isn’t so easy, as varying factors from city to city like climate, population density, and helmet regulations all affect how many — and why — people hop on a bike.

Still, “each mile someone rides on a bike-share bike instead of driving a car means about 1 pound of carbon dioxide is kept out of the atmosphere,” a transportation researcher told Climate Central. As more bike-sharers nix driving in favor of biking, they’ll fight for better bike lanes and cycling infrastructure, which leads to more bike-sharers in favor of biking … well, you can see where this is going.

Filed under: Cities, Climate & Energy, Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

See-through solar cells could turn your windows into power stations

Gristmill - Wed, 2014-08-20 23:19

And now for the latest in whizzbang solar technology: It’s invisible. Researchers at Michigan State University just developed a new kind of solar cell that’s so crystal clear, even Harry Potter would be impressed. Called the “transparent luminescent solar concentrator,” it uses small organic molecules that absorb invisible wavelengths of sunlight and channel them to strips of photovoltaic cells at the edge of… um, anyway, the point is, its developers think they could use it to create power-producing windows and self-charging smart phones.

From Gizmodo:

Scientists have created partially transparent solar cells in the past, but the existence of crystal clear cells opens up some very exciting new possibilities. “It can be used on tall buildings with lots of windows or any kind of mobile device that demands high aesthetic quality like a phone or e-reader,” says Lunt. “Ultimately we want to make solar harvesting surfaces that you do not even know are there.”

Now if we could just make bathrobes out of this stuff, we’d be that much closer to the invisibility cloak.

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

Have you noticed our handsome new website?

Gristmill - Wed, 2014-08-20 22:00

Dear Grist Nation,

Spoiler alert: We’ve updated our website! OK, anyone with two eyes, at least one finger, and a nose for the best in green news can tell we’ve launched our latest major redesign — and we think it’s our best yet. The photos and videos are bigger and bolder. The text is crisper and larger. The orange is orangier!

Chances are you’ve seen it already: We introduced our sleek, distraction-free new look to mobile and tablet users earlier this year. And now we’ve brought this responsive design to our desktop. Grist looks stellar no matter what size device you view it on.

This gradual extreme makeover reflects how experimentation, constant trial and error, and user experience remain core to our mission of making sure all eyes are on the planet. We asked for your feedback, and when you said, “Get the hell out of the way so I can read,” we did our best to remove all clutter so you can focus on our irreverent blend of in-depth reporting, green advice, and apocalyptic comic relief.

What else is new on the site? Grist now goes to infinity (and beyond). When you reach the end of every thought-provoking or giggle-inducing post, our “infinite scroll” brings the homepage display right to you, showing every recent article we’ve published, as far back as you want to go. Your next favorite story is just a click away. It isn’t magic, but it sure looks like it.

I’d like to take an extra second to thank tech and design wizards Nathan Letsinger, Mignon Khargie, and Ben Shewmaker (and ex-wizard Ben Brooks) for their tireless work and boundless creativity in making this all happen. We’re lucky to have them.

But our work has just begun. We’ve still got a few rough edges to polish (look, there’s one now!), and more new features in the pipeline. Please take our poll and tell us what you think of our redesign, and let us know what more we could do to make Grist even better.

Yours from the Grist Mothership,

Chip Giller

Founder & CEO

P.S. Remember to follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and subscribe to our emails — and tell all your friends to do the same!

Filed under: Article
Categories: Eco Buzz
Syndicate content