Eco Buzz

Look Twice, Buy Once: Sustainability Through Consumer Restraint

Triple Pundit - Wed, 2014-04-16 03:56

Even in the world of sustainable fashion, a fundamental issue has to be addressed: Overconsumption of organic/recycled, fair-trade clothing is still overconsumption. Ultimately, we must all learn to buy fewer things, repair them as we can, and recycle, upcycle or compost them when we are finished.

The post Look Twice, Buy Once: Sustainability Through Consumer Restraint appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

Categories: Eco Buzz

Ontario Completely Off Coal

Eco Geek - Wed, 2014-04-16 03:06

The Canadian province of Ontario has officially shut down its last coal burning power plant.

Power for the province now comes from "emission-free electricity sources like wind, solar, nuclear and hydropower, along with lower-emission electricity sources like natural gas and biomass." The province had set a target of the end of 2014 to end its use of coal to generate electricity.

The Thunder Bay Generating Station was the last coal fueled power plant in the province. Now that it has burned the last of its coal supply, the plant will be converted to a biomass-fueled power plant.

image: CC 2.0 by Kyle MacKenzie

Hat tip to @TomMatzzie

Categories: Eco Buzz

Fearless teenage fish don’t run from climate change, death

Gristmill - Tue, 2014-04-15 22:49
Geir FriestadWatch out, these hooligans will win a game of chicken or literally die trying.

When we were teens, we rebelled by stealing printer paper from the school library and staying out 15 minutes past curfew. Damselfish, however, really take that burn-the-world attitude to the next level.

A new study out this week in Nature Climate Change suggests that instead of making the fish scared for their very lives, ocean acidification lulls the little buggers into a false sense of security. Rather than being frightened by the smell of predators, the juvenile damselfish subjects of the experiment were more likely to be attracted, leading researchers to say: Dang it, teenagers! Didn’t we warn you about the lionfish in the cool leather jacket?

Researchers gathered fish from sites near seafloor CO2 vents off of Papua New Guinea, where the water is already more acidic than the rest of the ocean — though the researchers predict that the rest of the ocean could hit similar levels by 2100. The four species studied, common varieties of reef-dwelling damselfish and cardinalfish, were placed in tanks that were filled with various streams of water, some straight seawater, others conditioned to smell like predators.

Instead of being damselfish in distress, the CO2-habituated fish spent up to 90 percent of their time in the predator-stinking stream. In contrast, the control fish pretty much only hung out in the undoctored water like little goody-two-shoes. Other experiments involved chasing the fish around with a pencil, then seeing how quickly they emerged from a safe hiding spot; again, most of the acid-head fish just rolled their eyes.

Klaus StiefelSo moody. Thinking of getting its septum pierced.

Basically, scientists think the increased CO2 is messing with the fish neurotransmitters needed to make sound decisions. If the same effect is present in other juvenile fish, the problem could quickly compound: Increased fearlessness may lead to increased predation of different species, which could take a real toll on future fish populations throughout the ecosystem. From The Economist:

Experimental studies have previously shown that carbon dioxide-induced behavior increases mortality in fish newly settled at a reef by fivefold. As the three sites studied were small, Dr Munday and his team believe that fish who were casualties of their own rash behavior could have been easily replaced. … But as ocean acidification increases, reefs will not be able to recruit new inhabitants from unaffected areas so easily.

Great. Adding dumb teenage fish to the list of ways climate change and its evil twin ocean acidification are messing up the ocean: Fish anxiety, blindness, and bodily dissolution, plus possible total ecosystem collapse. Just no one give those fish a Twitter account, or they’ll probably start sending terrorist threats to airlines.

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

Sally Jewell’s frustrating first year in Washington

Gristmill - Tue, 2014-04-15 19:28
Kate SheppardInterior Secretary Sally Jewell has faced an uphill battle in Washington as she tries to implement her ambitious agenda. In February, she went snowshoeing on Mount Rainier to see firsthand the effects of climate change.

On a brisk Monday afternoon in February, with the sun finally peeking out from behind the clouds after a passing snow squall, a group of researchers and park rangers strapped on snowshoes and hiked about half a mile to an overlook facing the Nisqually Glacier in Mount Rainier National Park. Scientists have been monitoring the surface elevation of the Nisqually since the 1930s, tracking the peaks and dips in the ice as the glacier moves down the valley. It is the longest record of this type of measurement for any glacier in the western hemisphere — and, in recent years, a key piece of evidence of the devastating effects of climate change in this iconic park.

Dressed in a pale blue snow jacket and purple beanie, Sally Jewell listened intently as the scientists described the years of research dedicated to the park’s glaciers. The secretary of the Interior eyed a graph charting changes in the Nisqually’s elevation and noted the drop-off between 2002 and 2011. Yes, the scientists confirmed, that’s one sign of how climate change is impacting the glaciers. As the climate has warmed, the Nisqually has also retreated. It once plunged down the valley, running just behind the Paradise Visitor Center. But now, even in the dead of winter, its tail end is barely visible, peeking out ever so slightly in the distance. The glacier’s retreat has been dramatic: More than a mile since the early records. Scientists have documented more than 700 feet of retreat since 2003 alone.

President Barack Obama has given climate change a prominent place on the agenda for his second term, and Jewell has been one of the administration’s primary emissaries on the issue. She has spent much of the past year traveling the country to hear from scientists like the team at Rainier, to raise awareness of their work and to tout new wind and solar projects on public lands.

“I don’t have all the answers in this job, but I do have a big megaphone,” she told a group of scientists and officials gathered for a meeting on climate change at the University of Washington the day after her Rainier visit. “And the guy I work for has an even bigger megaphone.”

Addressing climate change is just part of Jewell’s ambitious agenda. She took office in April 2013 pledging to invest more in the future of the country’s national parks, and to engage a new generation of Americans — one more concerned with Grand Theft Auto than the Grand Canyon — in the great outdoors. Obama hailed her as “an expert on the energy and climate issues that are going to shape our future,” and charged her with finding a balance between the oft-competing environmental and economic potential of the country’s public lands.

But much of her first year has been spent dealing with more basic problems — like how to pay for these ambitious projects. Asked what the biggest challenge of her new job has been so far, Jewell doesn’t hesitate. “The budget,” she said. “Navigating through a three-week shutdown, navigating through sequestration, furloughs, and being in the forever business.”

“The forever business” is a term Jewell employs frequently to refer to Interior’s responsibility for overseeing 640 million acres of public lands — a full 28 percent of the total U.S. landmass — which includes 401 National Park Service sites, as well as vast tracts of the West used for grazing and energy development.

“People expect us to do things for the long term,” she explained. “This is the longest-term focused job that I’ve had, and yet it’s the shortest-term focused budget that I’ve ever operated under. That makes no sense.”

Congressional funding for the National Park Service, which will celebrate its centennial in 2016, has declined in recent years, even as the parks themselves face mounting costs for routine maintenance, as well as new infrastructure challenges related to climate impacts. Moreover, the past year’s budget battles have hurt employee morale and sent scientists scrambling to preserve key programs.

“It’s been very difficult for staff to know whether they have a job or not, whether they continue their research or not,” Jewell said.

Indeed, at Mount Rainier, the disappearing glacier isn’t the only source of worry for Jewell and the scientists. Funding for the program that monitors Nisqually’s elevation changes was cut last year, and the geologist who was supposed to collect the data has been put on long-term furlough, jeopardizing the entire project.

“We can’t let it go,” said Paul Kennard, a geomorphologist with the National Park Service. Somehow, the team said, they hoped to figure out a solution to keep the research going.

The budget situation is just the most obvious challenge Jewell has faced in her first year at Interior, an anniversary she’ll mark on April 12. Other challenges, such as the struggle to get the Senate to confirm her deputies and a House effort to cut off the administration’s best tool for granting new protections for public lands, have been less visible, but no less significant.

Together, they have at times made Jewell’s first year in Washington one of frustration.

Kate SheppardJewell listens to Mount Rainier park rangers and scientists describe the park’s long-term glacier monitoring program. Funding for one type of glacier monitoring in the park was cut last year.

“I‘ve never been in a job before where, no matter what I do, somebody is unhappy with me,” Jewell told HuffPost. “I have found that just about every decision I make gets sued,” she added.

This is especially true when it comes to decisions about how public lands are used. The agency must balance competing priorities when it does or does not lease public lands for oil and gas development, or decides what should be preserved for its environmental and recreational values. One way Jewell has tried to bring equilibrium is by developing new “master leasing plans” for vast regions of Wyoming, Utah, Montana, and Colorado.

The plans seek to identify areas of high value for oil and gas development, as well as areas with significant ecological value, and leave the most precious areas undeveloped. For areas with both identified values, the plan would institute tougher rules on development.

Industry groups don’t love the new approach, but Jewell believes it will help “de-conflict” the issue and fend off the fights between environmentalists and the oil and gas industry that have become utterly predictable in every major leasing decision.

“If there’s one thing we will all benefit from, it’s spending less time in the courtroom and more time actually crafting a future that understands the complexity of our landscapes, and works together collectively to shape them in a sustainable way for the future,” said Jewell.

To that end, Interior announced a new strategy on Thursday morning for mitigating the impacts of development on public lands, one that looks at ecological issues across the entire landscape, rather than individual leases.

“This job is full of difficult choices,” she said. “You’ve got some folks that want no regulation and others that want lots of regulation, so if you’re walking a fine line trying to say what is the appropriate amount of regulation necessary to protect the environment, or generate an appropriate return for the taxpayer, or whatever that might be, you’re not going to make both sides happy.” She’s taken a similar approach to endangered species, an issue that often pits western state governments and ranchers against conservation groups.

“You can’t make everybody happy all the time, but I think understanding where they’re coming from is important,” she said.

Environmentalists generally cheered Jewell’s appointment last year. Obama plucked Jewell from the retail giant Recreation Equipment Inc. (REI), where she had served as CEO since 2005. Jewell is a lifetime Pacific Northwesterner. Her family moved to Seattle from England when she was 3 years old, and she studied mechanical engineering at the University of Washington. She met her husband, Warren, also an engineer, while in college. After school, the pair worked for Mobil Oil in Oklahoma and Colorado, and Jewell has bragged about fracking wells during her three years with the company. She returned to Washington in 1981 and spent 19 years in commercial banking before moving to REI in 2000 to serve first as its chief operating officer, and then as CEO five years later.

Environmental advocates loved that she brought to her role as Interior secretary an unabashed appreciation for the outdoors and tested business acumen, if minimal political experience. With her more than eight years on the board of directors of the National Parks Conservation Association, they saw her as one of their own.

Republicans in the Senate were less enthusiastic. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the top Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called Jewell’s long history of working on conservation issues “unsettling” during her confirmation hearing.

Jewell’s allies, however, have found that they aren’t necessarily going to get their way. For example, she’s supportive of hydraulic fracturing on public lands, as long as it is regulated — a position that has created tension with some in the environmental community.

But most say they understand where Jewell is coming from.

“I applaud her for the way she’s reached out to the diverse stakeholders that have an interest in public lands, trying to find balanced solutions,” said Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society. “My impression is that she’s very interested in hearing everyone’s perspective.”

Williams also credited Jewell, who unlike most previous secretaries came to the job with no prior political experience, with “bringing a fresh business perspective that’s focused on getting things done.”

Others, however, say her first year has been challenging for largely the same reason.

“She clearly doesn’t seem to understand how Washington works,” said one D.C.-based environmentalist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak more openly about Jewell’s first year. “You need to work with other people, bring in coalitions — stuff that is second nature to someone that has been elected to office before. You have to get people to like you. I think she hasn’t figured that out yet. … Politicians know how to do that, because they know how to get elected.”

The environmentalist said that during the Interior Department holiday party last year, Jewell looked uncomfortable and ready to leave. Her predecessor, Ken Salazar, who had served as a U.S. senator and Colorado attorney general before taking over Interior, “knew how to hang out, work the room, be friendly, be magnanimous,” the person said. “She seems to not have figured that out yet.”

U.S. Department of the InteriorJewell at a BLM meeting in Oregon, in February 2014.

If Jewell expected to come to Washington and start running Interior with the decisive authority of a corporate executive, congressional Republicans quickly disabused her of that notion. Conservative lawmakers have blocked the confirmation of most of Jewell’s deputies, a situation, she says, that keeps her up at night.

“Frankly, the games that are played in the confirmation process are frustrating,” said Jewell. “That was a surprise. I wasn’t expecting that.”

On Feb. 27, the Senate finally confirmed Michael Conner to serve as deputy interior secretary, seven months after he was first nominated. On April 8, the Senate confirmed Neil Kornze as director of the Bureau of Land Management, a confirmation that’s been pending since last November. Six more nominees, including the head of the U.S. Geological Survey, the director of the Bureau of Reclamation, and the assistant secretary for land and minerals management are all still waiting on the Senate to act.

Obama nominated Rhea Suh to serve as assistant secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, last October. Suh had already served at Interior as assistant secretary for Policy, Management, and Budget since May 2009. But her nomination to the new post stalled in the Senate for months. She was finally approved in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee on March 27, on a party-line vote. Republicans on the committee blocked her in protest of what they saw as her “opposition to natural gas development.” Suh is still awaiting confirmation by the full Senate.

Jewell said that the delays have made it harder to accomplish her agenda. “I’ve got several people in flux, lots of people in acting positions,” said Jewell. “I want to get that done so we can really work to support the mission of the Department of Interior and what the career staff expects us to do, in terms of providing support. So that’s something that has been a bit frustrating.”

Environmentalists, too, hope the confirmation of those deputies will make it possible for Jewell to take more aggressive action. “I think it’s taken her a little longer to get started than we all thought,” said one conservation advocate, who requested anonymity to speak freely.

“She’s prioritized what we see as the low-hanging fruit,” said the advocate. “We’d like her to see her make some serious progress on the more challenging issues.”

As the most public face of the administration’s work on climate, Jewell has kept up a vigorous travel schedule. She appeared on MSNBC on April 1 to discuss a recent submarine trip to the Arctic Circle, where she saw firsthand the thinning ice. “The impact of climate change is everywhere,” she told host Andrea Mitchell. Jewell sees that advocacy for the government’s efforts as one of her central roles.

“I think one of the things that I can do is raise awareness, particularly among our elected officials, of the important work that’s going on here that I don’t think that they’re aware of. Part of that’s on our back,” said Jewell. “We have to do a better job of helping the American public know what’s happening and what our colleagues in the federal family are doing, why it matters to them.”

On Oct. 31, 2013, she gave a rabble-rousing speech at the National Press Club, where she outlined the administration’s second-term policy goals and castigated the budget fights in Washington as the “nuttiest thing a business person has ever heard of.”

“Do we want a legacy of short-sighted funding and partisan gridlock? I don’t think so,” she said to the crowd. “The real test of whether you support conservation is not whether you say it in a press conference. It’s whether you fight for it in a budget conference.”

Kate SheppardThe view from a park road facing Mount Rainier’s Nisqually Glacier. Climate change has caused the glacier to retreat dramatically in recent years, scientists have documented.

Jewell’s signature issue so far is perhaps her effort to get more young people interested in the great outdoors. That initiative, known as the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, was formulated under her predecessor Salazar in 2011, but it was Jewell who signed the secretarial order on March 20 that lays out the program’s goals.

Jewell’s vision for the program is to create partnerships in 50 cities that will get 10 million more children and teens involved in outdoor education and service, and engage more young adults and veterans in job training for conservation. The president’s 2015 budget request calls for $50.6 million for this type of youth-oriented programming, a 37 percent increase from the 2014 budget.

But given the never-ending budget crisis in Washington, Jewell isn’t betting on Congress alone. She’s also seeking $20 million in private and philanthropic funding for the initiative. “In a time of constrained resources, we should be looking for innovative ways to achieve the same margin of excellence,” Jewell said in a statement announcing the plan.

Jewell is seeking alternatives to the congressional stalemate to address other problems as well. She has taken a tough stance on protecting new lands under the Antiquities Act, the 1906 law that allows the president to designate new national monuments. In her National Press Club speech last October, Jewell was firm. “Congress needs to get moving to pass dozens of locally supported bills,” she said. “If Congress doesn’t step up to act to protect some of these areas that have been brought forward by communities, then the president will act.” Obama himself alluded to increasing such designations in his most recent State of the Union address.

Since then, Congress has moved to designate one new wilderness area, Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes, the first it’s approved in five years. And the administration has designated one national monument so far this year, a 1,665-acre expansion of the California Coastal National Monument on the Mendocino coast.

But that move prompted outrage from the Republican-controlled House, which responded in March by passing a law to curb the president’s authority to designate further monuments. The bill’s author, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), called the California designation “purely political” and argued that it “undermines sincere efforts to reach consensus on questions of conservation.”

In an interview, Jewell defended the administration’s use of the law. “It’s been used by 16 presidents, Republican and Democrat,” said Jewell. “I think that it’s a very important tool that should be used thoughtfully.”

Many of Jewell’s toughest challenges are still ahead. There are still open questions about how the administration will address emissions related to oil, gas, and coal development on public lands.

On March 28, the White House released an inter-agency strategy for cutting methane emissions from oil and gas operations, coal mining and agriculture. The strategy calls for BLM to establish new rules for capturing emissions from coal mining, and to update standards for emissions from venting and flaring in oil and gas operations on public lands. But at this point, the strategy is a directive, not an actual change in policy. It will be up to the Interior Department, and Jewell, to determine how tough those rules will actually be.

While environmental groups say the methane plan will help meet climate goals, they also want Interior to take steps to reduce the development of fossil fuels on public lands. Currently in the U.S., 42 percent of coal, 26 percent of oil, and 18 percent of natural gas are extracted from public lands. While the administration has talked a lot about curbing climate change, slowing development on public lands hasn’t really been on the table.

One way the administration could affect extraction rates would be to raise the royalties paid by companies to develop fossil fuels on public lands. In December, the Government Accountability Office dinged Interior for not instituting procedures to update onshore oil and gas royalty policies, which have remained unchanged for more than 25 years.

As for coal, the biggest source on public lands lies in the Powder River Basin of northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana. It is the largest coal-producing region in the continental U.S., and 40 percent of U.S. coal is mined there. But a GAO report issued in February found that the coal leasing program was not competitive enough, and was low-balling the amount coal companies pay to the federal government for leases. In response to that report, DOI has said it is “fully committed to ensuring that taxpayers receive a fair return” on coal development on public lands, and is “actively strengthening” BLM’s coal leasing program.

“It would be great if DOI could be really active in pushing back on climate change,” said Athan Manuel, director of the lands protection program at Sierra Club. “The best way to start on that would be to keep oil, gas, and coal in the ground on public lands.”

When Obama announced Jewell’s nomination last year, he referenced her active lifestyle, noting that, “For Sally, the toughest part of this job will probably be sitting behind a desk.”

Snowshoeing Mount Rainier in February, her love for the outdoors was clear. Rainier is practically her backyard — just 54 miles southeast of Seattle, where it’s visible in the distance on a clear day. She has summited Rainier seven times, out of 10 attempts, and fondly recalls trips as a child to the mountain and environs.

“As a Northwesterner, it’s such an iconic spot on the landscape, and I’ve just had so much enjoyment from coming here with family and friends, and having so many experiences that are memorable,” Jewell said after her day on the mountain. “It’s true with the other national parks in the area, and even around the country, but this is close to home and very visible and special.”

Jewell seemed very happy to be back in the Pacific Northwest, away from the other Washington. She watched the hometown Seahawks defeat the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl with her two adult children, and she slept in her own bed in Seattle.

The morning after the hike, she crammed in a trip to her downtown Seattle gym and a haircut with her favorite stylist, all before an 8:30 a.m. rendezvous with her security detail to head to another event. It was good to be home. She showed up to her Tuesday meeting dressed in a purple wool pullover and hiking pants, and bragged to her security detail that she’d taken the bus downtown — something she definitely would not be allowed to do back in D.C.

Still, despite the frustrations of her time in the capital, Jewell says she has no second thoughts about taking the job. “No,” she said. “You sign up, and you’re all in. No regrets.”

Kate SheppardJewell in her element on Mount Rainier.

This story was produced by The Huffington Post as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.



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

Vegan condoms are so passé — socially conscious rubbers are the new hotness

Gristmill - Tue, 2014-04-15 19:23

At this point, it’s hard to keep track of all the vegan, eco-friendly condoms. Sir Richard’s makes vegan sausage sheaths and donates one to a developing country when you buy one. Sustain Condoms are fair trade and nontoxic, if slightly insulting (uh, not all women are afraid to purchase prophylactics). And of course there’s Glyde, the grandpappy of vegan, ethical, fair-trade condoms.

That’s even without the funny ones: Oil Spill Condoms clean up the Gulf AND jizz, and Endangered Species Condoms remind you that overpopulation threatens the critters with slogans like, “In the sack? Save the leatherback [sea turtle]!”

So forgive some green raincoat fatigue when I heard about L. International. “Yet another slickly designed, one-for-one, ‘TOMS of condoms,’” I thought, dozing off. Then I realized L. was actually kinda cool.


Its silly ad didn’t hurt (puppies! Swearing!):

L. seems like part of a trend (albeit in the New York Times style section way) of condom companies appealing to your conscience in a holistic way, rather than just trumpeting “No animal products!” The company really pushes that it’s trying to help women in HIV-stricken parts of Africa, where condoms are prohibitively expensive.

Say what you will about buying condoms — it’s awkward; there are too many choices; what’s with the weird ribbing?! — but they’ve never been so pricey that I thought, “Screw it; let’s get herpes.” It’s sobering that some women don’t have that choice.


Not only does L. distribute condoms in these “high-impact areas,” impoverished places rife with AIDS and lacking condoms, but the company supports programs that train women as health workers and pay them to distribute condoms. L. also supports sex ed and condom access for students in sub-Saharan Africa.

There are some pretty sweet benefits for you, the safe-sex-haver, too. L. condoms are glycerin- and paraben-free, made of purified, “sustainably tapped” natural latex. (They’re also billed as vegan-friendly, so we’re guessing they contain no milk casein.) Plus, L. offers one-hour delivery by bike in San Francisco and L.A., so you REALLY have no excuse to bone bareback.

The green condom market’s feeling a little turgid, but we’re glad L. slipped in. Now you can sustainably tap that ass.

Filed under: Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

This beer tastes like crap, and that’s a good thing

Gristmill - Tue, 2014-04-15 17:39
The Great Beer Quest

If you’ve had a French, barrel-aged red wine, you’re familiar with the earthy (some say shitty) taste of Brettanomyces. Now the strain of wild yeast is slipping into craft beer.

Brettanomyces, or Brett for short, has a distinct “barnyard” flavor that reflects the soil it’s from. So Brett in beer could be a cool way of tasting the brew’s connection with the earth. It’s even central to some lambics and saisons. Santa Rosa, Calif., brewery Russian River makes a 100-percent Brett beer, “Sanctification.” (Forgive us, St. Brett, for the PBR we have imbibed!)

UC Davis viticulture professor Linda Bisson is one fan of the funk, according to Modern Farmer:

It can give you a nice spiciness, sometimes a clove character. To me there’s a little bit of leather — new leather, not sweaty leather.

Mmm, right — if I’m eating leather, I like to know it’s fresh. (I had some for lunch and I gotta ask, whose boots were those?! Great top notes of athlete’s foot.)

Others say Brett tastes like ass. “Phonebooth” and “horse blanket” are other not-so-kind descriptors. Seems like par for the course to us: If you’re connecting with the dirt whence your food came, it’s gonna be a little … pungent. Clearly the haters should stick to drinking Mudslides.

Filed under: Food, Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

StairMaster Scooter Is The Fittest Way To Commute

eco.psk - Tue, 2014-04-15 17:31
Revamped bicycle combines the additional exercise potential of a step machine.
Categories: Eco Buzz

SolarCoin: Cryptocurrency with Value for People and Planet

Triple Pundit - Tue, 2014-04-15 16:26

SolarCoin is a decentralized digital currency that has inherent value in trust and goodness. It facilitates transactional trust between strangers, rewards producers of clean energy and frees everyday exchanges from the banking system.

The post SolarCoin: Cryptocurrency with Value for People and Planet appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

Categories: Eco Buzz

Transmission for Renewables: Cheaper and Greener Than Natural Gas Pipelines

Triple Pundit - Tue, 2014-04-15 16:21

Keystone XL is just one of numerous natural gas pipelines being built around the US as a result of the boom in shale "fracking," but building renewable energy transmission would be cheaper, greener and afford the US a bigger bang for its energy buck.

The post Transmission for Renewables: Cheaper and Greener Than Natural Gas Pipelines appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

Categories: Eco Buzz

U.N. climate report was censored

Gristmill - Tue, 2014-04-15 15:53

Keep walking past the earthly conflagration, folks. There’s nothing to see here.

When the latest installment of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report landed over the weekend, only a 33-page summary was published. The full report, which details the radical steps we need to take to reduce greenhouse gas pollution if we are to succeed in capping warming at 2 degrees Celsius, wasn’t published until this morning. So that summary was the basis for hundreds of media reports beamed and printed all around the world.

And it turns out the summary was watered down — diluted from an acid reflux–inducing stew of unpalatable science into a more appetizing consommé of half-truth. The Sydney Morning Herald has the details:

A major climate report presented to the world was censored by the very governments who requested it, frustrating and angering some of its lead authors. …

[E]ntire paragraphs, plus graphs showing where carbon emissions have been increasing the fastest, were deleted from the summary during a week’s debate prior to its release. Other sections had their meaning and purpose significantly diluted. They were victims of a bruising skirmish between governments in the developed and developing world over who should shoulder the blame for, and the responsibility for fixing, climate change.

One report author joked that he felt like a “pawn” who had been sacrificed in a game. Several others told Fairfax [Media Limited] the rancour was much greater than in previous IPCC meetings.

The encounter was a prelude to what promises to be a bitter battle in Paris next year, where countries are intended to sign a new binding treaty on radical action against global warming. Countries including — but not limited to — the United States, Brazil, China and Saudi Arabia fought to ensure the summary could not be used as a weapon against them in pre-Paris negotiations.

This sad story has precedence. The previous installment of the report, which dealt with climate adaptation, stated that poor countries need $100 billion a year to help them cope with climatic changes – but that dollar figure was yanked from the report’s summary by rich governments at the last moment.

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

This guy is taking the world’s longest road trip in an electric car

Gristmill - Tue, 2014-04-15 15:44
Norman HajjarClick to embiggen.

Have you ever driven cross-country? What about twice, AND down both coasts? That’s what Normal Hajjar is doing in a Tesla Model S: covering almost 12,000 miles in an EV, just to prove it can be done.

You’d think it’d be a pain, what with charging it all the time, but he told Fast Co. Exist the infrastructure is there:

“The reality is that it’s not difficult at all, other than the whole ordeal of driving which is the same with any gasoline vehicle. The key to this is fast-charging infrastructure.”

But the varying availability of permits, land, and electricity means charging stations are often located conveniently for the automaker, rather than strategically based on potential drivers’ routes. Tesla is one company Hajjar thinks is doing it right:

“I think Tesla has an enlightened approach to it. They see, correctly, that the infrastructure is part of the vehicle. It’s every bit as much a part of the vehicle as the nuts and bolts and the steering wheel.”

The Epic Electric American Roadtrip is taking Hajjar — the research director for Recargo, which makes an app to locate charging stations — from the Pacific Northwest to Maine, then down to Florida (where he arrived on April 13), then back across the country to L.A. You can follow the rest of the journey on Twitter and PlugShare’s site.

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

The tiny house documentary is finally (almost) here! Peek inside the result

Gristmill - Tue, 2014-04-15 14:31

Christopher Smith had never built anything before, so he figured documenting the process of building a tiny house would be interesting at the very least. The resulting film, TINY, was supposed to come out two years ago, and now it’s finally almost here. You can bring TINY to a local indie theater or wait til early summer to snag a DVD — OR you could peek inside the house right now! [Claps eagerly like a deranged seal]

Apartment Therapy recently ran a house tour of the 127-foot space, which Smith and his partner Merete Mueller built without a plan (GUTSY!). They used recycled materials from thrift stores and junkyards, as well as supplies from hardware stores and IKEA.

Ashley Poskin

Mueller says her biggest embarrassment was accidentally buying horizontal windows from a salvage lot, thinking they were vertical. (Not totally her fault — one of the employees led her astray!) After she realized they’d leak when used vertically, she and Smith had to run to Lowes for new windows and insert an odd triangular window by the kitchen.

Ashley Poskin

The couple drew inspiration from the Colorado landscape, where the tiny house is now — specifically Hartsel, 100 miles southwest of Denver. It’s beautiful but seems a bit isolated, pointing to the ongoing tiny house dilemma: Land in a dense urban area is pricey, but the open range doesn’t look like it offers much by way of community. As tiny houses (and regulations for them) continue to catch on, we’re hoping that’ll change.

Ashley Poskin

Go check out the complete house tour on Apartment Therapy, and look for TINY soon!

Filed under: Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

There’s something worse than phosphates in England’s wastewater: A dildo

Gristmill - Tue, 2014-04-15 13:45

There’s actually something worse than phosphates, antidepressants, or birth control in the wastewater: your old dildo. We’re not sure why someone flushed an unidentified sex toy down the sewers of Devon, England, but it sure made a mess.

According to the Exeter Express and Echo, a sewage company in southwest England has found some pretty crazy items in the waste system, beyond the usual cotton balls and condoms clogging things up:

Some of the more unusual items that have been found by our network crews include false teeth, mobile phones, plastic toilet freshener hangers, underwear, a 12-inch kitchen knife, and sex toys.

REALLY, people?! Have you not heard of Goodwill?

Other items found down the drains by technicians have included steel rods, children’s toys including bicycles, a dismantled greenhouse, and a dead sheep …

That phrasing implies that children in Devon play with dismantled greenhouses and dead sheep, so maybe it’s not so surprising that they grow up to stick dildos down the loo. And here’s the kicker:

The sex toy found actually caused a major internal flood.

That’s what she said.

But seriously, don’t flush your sex toys. Fish don’t know what to do with them.

Filed under: Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

U.N. climate report: We must focus on “decarbonization,” and it won’t wreck the economy

Gristmill - Tue, 2014-04-15 10:11
Kris KrügRajendra Pauchari, chair of the IPCC, tells us to get a move on.

So far, climate change is following the plot of an epic disaster movie.

In the last few years, giant megafires have burned out of control, we’ve been hit with superstorms, our fields have wilted, and there’s barely any ice left at the North Pole. Despite all we think we’ve done so far to change course, emissions are still increasing.

We’ve now advanced to the part when the world’s best scientists emerge from their conclave to announce a range of possible plans that could save us from going over the climate cliff.

On Sunday, they made their announcement, calling for a “fundamental decarbonization” of the world economy. Sounds daunting, but overwhelmingly the message from scientists to the world was one of hope.

"Climate policy is not a free lunch - but it might be a lunch worthwhile buying": #IPCC_wg3 co-chair Edenhofer

Potsdam Institute (@PIK_Climate) April 13, 2014

Unlike so many previous climate change reports, this time there’s significant good news: The world doesn’t need to sacrifice economic growth to get the job done. The task can largely be achieved with existing technology. And hey, we’ll end up with a better planet at the end, too.

Now, we just need to take action. World, this is our Ben Affleck moment.

The leading United Nations climate science body has just completed a seven-year-long update on the problem of and possible solutions to climate change. The first report in this series said that on our current path, climate change would soon become irreversible. The second report, earlier this month, said those changes are already destabilizing human society.

The latest in a series of reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, out Sunday, tells us how to get the planet back on track. The report, assembled by scientists and political representatives from nearly 200 countries, is the most comprehensive and influential summary ever created of how the world can stop climate change.

The basic message is simple: We share a planet. Let’s start acting like it.

Climate change is what economists call a global commons problem. We’ve solved them before (acid rain, the ozone hole) but none on this scale. In the report’s words, “effective mitigation will not be achieved if individual agents advance their own interests independently.” By working together, individual people, cities, and countries can be much more effective in transitioning to a world without fossil fuels.

“There is a clear message from science: To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual,” said Ottmar Edenhofer of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, a co-chair of the report.

The report notes where “business as usual” has gotten us so far, led mainly by growth in population and the economy:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions from 2000 to 2010 were the highest in human history.
  • Half of all emissions between 1750 and 2010 occurred in the last 40 years.
  • Recently, increased reliance on coal “has reversed the long‐standing trend of gradual decarbonization of the world’s energy supply.”

In other words, despite all our efforts to make it better, we’re actually making it worse. Our emissions are accelerating.

Instead, what’s needed is a decoupling of economic growth and climate-crippling fossil fuel energy sources. The report goes on to crunch the numbers of how much it will cost to turn our civilization around.

Edenhofer on costs of mitigation, when asked to put in plain language: "It does not cost the world to save the planet" #ipcc

Leo Hickman (@LeoHickman) April 13, 2014

Turns out, it’s cheap. To create a scenario where global temperatures are “likely” to remain less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (the globally agreed-upon threshold after which “dangerous” climate change is apt to begin), we’d need to have around one-quarter of our energy mix from low-carbon sources by the year 2030. That fraction increases to about 60 percent by 2050.

Pachauri: "The high speed mitigation train would need to leave the station very soon, and all of global society would need to get on board."

Sophie Yeo (@rtcc_sophie) April 13, 2014

According to an economic analysis within Sunday’s report, an investment to stop climate change will only knock 0.06 percentage points off the world’s annualized economic growth rate from now till the end of the century. Assuming annualized growth of about 3 percent, full-scale motivation on climate change would reduce that to about 2.94 percent. Not bad. Side effects that weren’t factored in to that calculation may include: more efficient and productive food systems, human health improvements, biodiversity protection, poverty reduction — in general, making things better.

Or we can continue on the business-as usual-path and see how that goes.

The IPCC is restricted from making any specific policy recommendations. Instead, its job is to figure out what our options are.

The new report lays out a litany of tradeoffs, cost-benefit analyses, and other wonkery designed to guide global action on climate change. The goal is to be “policy relevant, but not policy prescriptive,” especially in anticipation for the international climate treaty that’s scheduled to be hashed out in Paris next year.

As the report explains, a full-scale phase out of fossil fuels needs to be well underway within the next 15 years. After that point, costs increase and options diminish significantly. Motivating collective action on the scale necessary to transform our economy in that short time frame is the hard part.

Some of the possible solutions the report proposes are familiar, like more efficient modes of transportation and the development of more compact cities that encourage public transportation, bicycling, and walking, especially in the rapidly urbanizing parts of the world.

But the report also emphasizes that there are things we take for granted today that will need to change for an aggressive phase-out of fossil fuels to become reality. Reliance on short-haul air travel could be winnowed by investment in high-speed rail. New industrial processes may need to be invented, like alternatives to cement, whose production is especially carbon intensive.

#IPCC WG3 Co-chair R. Pichs-Madruga: "This report shows importance of changes in behaviour; technology will not suffice" #climatesolutions

JPascal van Ypersele (@JPvanYpersele) April 13, 2014

Even then, the world may have to invest in sci-fi technologies like atmospheric carbon dioxide removal to keep greenhouse gases at safe levels. The report stresses these sort of last-ditch technologies “carry side effects and long-term consequences on a global scale.”

Delaying action past 2030 will necessarily require a larger reliance on unproven technologies and forces a much quicker ramp up of clean energy after that point.

In fact, among the 900 scenarios the report authors examined, if greenhouse gas concentrations remain above current levels in 2030, “many models … could not produce scenarios reaching atmospheric concentration levels that make it as likely as not that temperature change will remain below 2 degrees C relative to pre‐industrial levels.” That means, there’d be no realistic pathway remaining to avoid dangerous climate change.

In the end, the report’s theme is that the most cost-effective way for systemic change to occur is by coordinating action on the global scale. If we don’t work together, the price of action will increase on the whole, action could be delayed or counter-productive, and the economy could needlessly suffer.

The report essentially puts a nail in the coffin to the idea of European-style cap-and-trade, saying existing policies of that sort “have not proved to be constraining to carbon emissions” due to a variety of factors. Instead, countries considering climate policies should consider reducing subsidies for continued fossil fuel production, low-carbon consumer labeling like the U.S. government’s Energy Star, and revenue-neutral tax-based policies like the one in British Columbia.

Much of the report is focused on the actions of governments and other large-scale bodies. So what can individuals do? The report could provide a bump of support to the growing divestment movement. It states, simply: “[M]itigation policy could devalue fossil fuel assets, and reduce revenues for fossil fuel exporters.” In other words, it’s not a great time to be a coal tycoon.

Desmond Tutu calls for anti-apartheid style boycott of fossil fuel industry via @guardian

Suzanne Goldenberg (@suzyji) April 10, 2014

In a major speech last summer, President Obama effectively endorsed this movement.

Divestment is a way that individual institutions can motivate a change on a systemic scale. It’s a way that bottom-up solutions could drive global debate. It’s a way to turn hope into action.

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University.

This story was produced by Slate as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Filed under: Climate & Energy
Categories: Eco Buzz

Conventional farmers drop their plows in favor of conservation

Gristmill - Tue, 2014-04-15 09:16

The Michael and Adam Crowell duo works this way: Michael handles the crops, and Adam handles the dairy cows; Michael is the colorful wisecracker, and Adam is the straight man; Michael casts about for a word when his tongue outpaces his memory, and Adam fills it in; Michael is the father, and Adam is the son.

I visited their dairy farm near Turlock, in California’s Central Valley, to get a look at the growing trend of conventional farmers adopting ecologically friendly techniques. In the Midwest, where farmers grow a small number of grain crops, this transformation has led to a new normal, with the majority of farmland under some form of conservation management.

Farmers in California’s Central Valley, by contrast, grow more than 200 different crops, and as a result there’s a greater challenge to figure out techniques that work for all this diversity. On the other hand, if the diverse Central Valley farmers can figure out how to grow their food while working in greater synchronicity with natural systems, then it means that people growing just about anything can do it.

The primary innovation that Michael and Adam Crowell have adopted is to simply stop plowing their fields. They grow a mix of grasses for the cows in the winter, then cut that hay and plant corn directly into the sod in the summer. When I asked the Crowells what had convinced them to experiment with these newfangled conservation techniques, Michael gave me a one-word answer: “economics.”

That is, the real reason the Crowells have changed their approach is that it’s allowed them to make more money.

“I used to have three big, 300-horsepower …” Micheal said, trailing off.

Adam completed the thought: “The big, eight-wheeled, articulated tractors.”

Michael: “And all sorts of tillage equipment — rippers, big stubble discs — I don’t have those any more. Tractorwise, I now have one 85-horsepower tractor, and I’m doing most of the work with that.”

Adam: “Burning a lot less fuel.”

Michael: “The more equipment you have, the more fuel, and maintenance, and manpower it takes.”

“Economics” isn’t the first word I would have thought of here. I might have picked “stewardship,” or “environment,” or “conservation” first. But if you look at the root meaning of “conservation,” it’s basically “to keep together.” The point of conservation agriculture is to preserve the integrity of your soil, sure, but also, at least as importantly, the integrity of your bank account. The same etymology is shared by the word “conservative,” of course, and it’s that convergence that makes this particular environmental strategy so successful: It’s one of the few places in green politics where conservatives and liberals have found common cause.

California farmers who have stopped plowing, or radically reduced their tillage regime, report a savings of between 30 and 40 percent of their operation costs. But these are the farmers who have figured out how to make it work; plenty of others tried a no-till test plot or two and then bailed out.

Adam: “A lot of guys have tried it and failed. They’ll say it doesn’t work. But we’ve made it work.”

Michael: “You can’t just go out there and throw the seed in the ground and say …”

Adam: “… I’m going to no till.”

Michael: “It’s trickier — let’s face it — it’s easier to plant into a prepared seedbed than into …”

Adam: “… stubble.”

And there’s the rub. By plowing a field, farmers gain control. They can create perfectly flat beds and loosen the soil. It’s a lot easier for a mechanical planter to drop (say) precisely two seeds, at precisely one-foot intervals, and cover them with precisely three inches of dirt. You could say that the entire point of modern agriculture is to replace mysterious, riotous nature with a controlled, predictable, radically simplified system. No-till farmers give up some of that control and consistency, but there are benefits to embracing unknowable complexity, too.

We walked out into a field thick with thigh-high mixed grasses. It had rained the day before, and the seed heads glistened with water droplets. Michael sunk a T-shaped soil-profile tester into the earth, leaning on the top of the T and driving the foot down. If the ground was compacted, he would feel it, he explained. And indeed, when I tried putting my weight on the device, it was a smooth ride all the way down. The dirt that came up with the hand tool was loose and sandy. We went down two feet and found roots at that depth.

“Look at the humus here,” Michael said, pointing to the dark inch at the top of the soil profile. “That is going to turn into plant food. And all these roots will eventually decompose. Once they’re digested by microoganisms, all those root systems are available as channels — the ground becomes more porous.”

As they do so, they’ll be sequestering carbon. It makes intuitive sense: The less farmers plow, the less likely they are to release the greenhouse gases in their soil.

Michael straightened. “You asked me before what the argument was for no-till farming. It’s economics, and there’s an environmental component that I take a lot of pride in. We’ve had times where, all around us, it’s blowing like a sandstorm.”

“Absolutely,” Adam chimed in. “And here it will be absolutely clear.”

“The soil doesn’t blow away when you have plants holding it by the roots,” Michael concluded. “But as a farmer, the real argument beyond the money and the environment is just the beauty of this soil. It’s just so completely loose and earthy.”

Adam: “And even as wet as it’s been, it’s not completely …”

M: “… mucky. Tillage covers up a multitude of sins. You mechanically open up the soil rather than balancing the chemicals and nutrients, and working with the microbes.”

No one knows exactly what it means to be working with microbes. The vast invisible communities beneath the soil are far too complex for our current level of scientific mastery to chart and control. At some level, it’s still a mystery, but it’s a mystery that provides consistent results.

The Crowells probably don’t have a lot in common with most organic farmers, but they do share a capacity to embrace the unknown. Still, the degree to which the Crowells work with natural systems is limited. A more natural system would put the cows directly on the grass, rather than growing it in a field and then delivering it to a livestock enclosure, as the Crowells do. But in maintaining this separation between animals and grass, they can precisely control the feed the cows eat (which is crucial for maximizing milk production), and apply manure to the fields exactly when and where they want. They use insecticides and herbicides to wrangle some control from the natural uncertainty, which also sets them apart from organic farmers.

But that’s no reason to write off the Cowells’ efforts, Michael said: “I was using herbicides prior to going into no till, and I’m using them now. I wouldn’t say I’m using any more. So I don’t see no difference there that amounts to a hoot.”

In some ways no-till farming is the missing half of organic farming: Organic farmers rely on natural systems for pest control, but use big tractors to plow up the soil. No till-farmers rely on pesticides, but use natural systems to replace their tillage. There are just a few, cutting-edge farmers who have had some success at combining the two (stay tuned for that piece when I get a chance).

Organic farmers might take umbrage at being compared to farmers pursuing conventional conservation ag, and vice versa. But by working with nature’s complexity, they are developing some common ground. At one point Adam turned up a spade-full of dirt and exposed a big earthworm. In many conventional fields, it’s nearly impossible to find worms, and Michael began to wax lyrical in a way that sounded an awful lot like an organic farmer.

“Look at that beautiful worm,” Michael said. “Look at that hole he’s making.” He picked the worm out of the dirt and it coiled around his finger. “I love him.”

Filed under: Article, Food
Categories: Eco Buzz

Montreal, Boston, NYC: Which city has the best bikeshare program?

Gristmill - Tue, 2014-04-15 08:47

My life as a bikeshare tourist began three years ago. Before, whenever I visited a new city, I felt like it was hard to get a sense of the local geography. Traveling by subway was fast and provided an excellent opportunity to check out what other people were reading. But the experience of going down into the subway and reappearing in a different location was disconcerting. I felt like I was teleporting, or a prairie dog.

When it works, bikeshare is like the Sesame Street of urban cycling: The bikes are big and cartoonish and comfortable. Cars seem to give you more space on the road, possibly because you look like a total n00b and they don’t trust you to know what you’re doing. And moving from neighborhood to neighborhood gives you a sense of how the city fits together.

I’ve only used bikeshare in three cities, but hope to use more. (Cleveland, I’m looking forward to it. San Francisco, can’t wait ’til you’ve got enough of a network to bike to more than just the shopping malls downtown.) Here, I give you: what I’ve learned so far.

Boston: Hubway

The first time I used a bikeshare was at a conference in Boston. At the end of the day there, I felt as though I had spent hours paddling a tiny boat through a howling vortex of schmooze, unsure of where or how I might come ashore.

I stepped outside the hotel to get some air, and then I saw it: a row of silver bicycles attached to a solar charging station. It was Boston’s Hubway system, installed July 2011, only a few months before.

Fortunately, I had a credit card on me. While earlier bikeshare networks were hampered by the way that bikes kept disappearing, modern bikeshare networks depend on credit cards to make sure the bikes are actually returned: Hefty fees are incurred if they aren’t. My past, youthful self, who refused to use credit cards way longer than was practical out of punk/DIY idealism, would not have been able to check out a bike, and neither would anyone else who is outside of the banking system, either voluntarily or involuntarily. The dependence on credit cards also means that the bar to use a public transit system like a bikeshare is higher. Hubway needs access to your bank account, but anyone with $2 can ride the bus.

I used my card to check out a bike and pedaled in the direction of the Charles River. I had to return the bike to one of the stations around the city in half an hour to avoid a penalty, but I wasn’t sure where I was going to return it: The station didn’t have any paper maps of where other stations in the city were, and I didn’t have the kind of phone that could download one. The late fee, though, was minor — about $6. I could pay $6. I biked around the city for hours.

Hubway is not my favorite system. I wish it had more stations, especially near the bike paths along the Charles River. I wish that the bicycles didn’t get packed away in the winter. I almost always use it when I come to Boston, though. It’s easier and faster than figuring out the bus system, especially late at night, and it feels safer to be riding a bike at 2 a.m. than to be hanging out outside the bus shelter.

Montreal: Bixi

Bixi is an earlier rollout of the same system as Hubway – same bikes, same terminals, same interface to check out a bike. By the time I visited Montreal last fall I had Spotcycle on my phone, so finding terminals wasn’t a problem. Worrying about the usage fees that my phone company was going to hit me with for using my American phone on Canadian soil was a problem, and made the whole rental experience more expensive. It also made me miss maps — nice, sturdy paper maps, that never charge you roaming fees or run out of electricity.

That said, Bixi was my favorite bikeshare of them all. Stations were everywhere, so I was always able to return a bike before the late fees kicked in. My friends and I had a car that we could have used, but we never drove it — partly because Montreal was full of Bixi boosters, who talked about the system with the kind of enthusiasm that most cities reserve for their local sports team. “Just Bix it over!” someone said, when they invited us to a party and we mused about how to get there. Then, when we arrived, “Did you Bix it?” usually with some kind of high-five component.

“How does this system make any money?” I wondered out loud, as we biked back to the apartment we were staying at. We had been using Bixi for three solid days, and all we had paid was $15 apiece for a 72-hour pass, or about the cost of one very fancy sandwich. A more conventional bike rental would have been about $40 a day.

“Maybe not everything has to make money, Heather,” one of my friends said.

Bixi, indeed, does not make money, which has its drawbacks. In 2011, the company was bailed out to the tune of $108 million in loans by the city of Montreal. This January, the city stepped in and took over the operation entirely, so that it could be managed as a nonprofit, instead of a company in need of repeated cash infusions.

New York: CitiBike

I’ve seen more people on bikeshare bikes in New York than in any other city with a program. This is despite the fact that, in Manhattan, the major bike lanes have been appropriated by everyone: pedestrians, people pushing overloaded garment racks, people pushing catering carts, people pushing recycling carts.

Still, I avoid using CitiBike in New York, because the interface to check out a bike is horrible. It can take as many as 20 minutes of typing, failed card readings, and being sent back to the main menu without any warning before a bike is finally yours to check out. There’s a reason for this: New York’s bikeshare has a different software system managing it, because of a quarrel between the hardware and software manufacturers of the older systems.

New York is also frustrating because the area where a bike share would be most useful to me is in the underserved-by-transit areas of Brooklyn, while CitiBike has yet to move south of Fulton. In the Big Apple, I’ve been sticking with my old bikeshare routine: Borrow A Friend’s Ill-Fitting Bike.

The success of bikeshare systems in the U.S. (and Canada) is amazing. I worry, sometimes, that it’s a civic fad — as when cities got really excited about building zoos, or aquariums, or velodromes. I certainly hope not; I want to continue being a bikeshare tourist.

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

Enviro groups team up on new campaign funding alliance

Gristmill - Tue, 2014-04-15 05:04

Since 2008, two major shifts have occurred in American politics: The amount of money being spent to influence elections has boomed, and Republicans have stopped believing in climate change. While we can’t blame the former entirely for the latter — after all, Republicans oppose anything President Obama supports — it would be naive to think these two developments are purely coincidental. Fossil fuel industry magnates donate heavily to Republicans and to political action committees spending on their behalf. More of that money means more incentive for Republicans to ignore the scientific consensus on climate change.

Between 2008 and 2012, independent expenditures — meaning money spent on campaigns by outside groups, which can get unlimited donations — for House and Senate races increased tenfold, from $46 million to $445 million. For that you can thank the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which removed limits on corporate expenditures to influence elections.

Big donors who have strong opinions about climate and energy issues tend to want less regulation and less environmental protection. Think oil, gas, and coal companies and their executives. The Koch brothers alone directed some $400 million to affect the 2012 election. (This figure includes presidential, congressional, state, and local races, plus money spent by Koch-sponsored groups, not just the Kochs’ personal and corporate contributions.) The oil and gas industries keep pouring more and more money into elections. In 2012, they gave $73.1 million, including $16.5 million in outside expenditures, up from $39 million in 2008.

This spending dwarfs that of clean energy advocates and climate hawks. In September of 2012, The New York Times estimated that “spending on television ads promoting coal and more oil and gas drilling or criticizing clean energy has exceeded $153 million this year … nearly four times the $41 million spent by clean-energy advocates, the Obama campaign and Democratic groups to defend the president’s energy record or raise concerns about global warming and air pollution.”

Now environmental groups are beginning to push back. The Washington Post reports on their latest effort:

The League of Conservation Voters and the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund are starting LeadingGreen, a collaboration that will steer donations to federal candidates and enlist the help of major donors in lobbying elected officials. …

LCV’s political action committee raised and contributed $2 million to candidates during the last election cycle; NRDC Action Fund primarily operated by encouraging its donors to donate directly to candidates or environmental advocacy groups, and it established a political action committee just last year. The new initiative aims to raise and contribute $5 million directly to candidates this year, according to officials, separate from its independent expenditure spending activities.

This is a drop in the bucket compared to the kind of money that billionaire dirty energy barons can direct. But that doesn’t mean it won’t help. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled that federal limits on total donations to congressional candidates are now unconstitutional. So there will be no limit to the number of congressional candidates the Kochs can donate the maximum to directly. While LeadingGreen is not set up to match the fossil fuel industries or right-wing billionaires in outside expenditures, it will help channel environmentalists’ donations in increments of several thousand dollars to the most deserving House and Senate candidates. And since there are still limits on how much an individual can directly donate to a single campaign — for now — that means pro-environment candidates will at least be able to raise some money to try to keep pace with the dirty energy donations going to their opponents.

As for outside spending on behalf of green causes, it’ll be up to a handful of super-rich donors such as Tom Steyer, who’s aiming to raise $100 million to help climate-friendly candidates this year. Steyer and his ilk won’t beat polluters at this corrupt game. But if enviros do their best and run enough good campaigns, maybe a better Supreme Court in the future will reverse some of the bad campaign-finance decisions of the recent past.

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

Policy Points: Cut Pollution, Move to Safer Chemicals and Keep Our Water Clean

Triple Pundit - Tue, 2014-04-15 04:32

As business leaders, we can and must support policy changes to help make the economy more sustainable. Here are three important policies that will help – and specific actions you can take.

The post Policy Points: Cut Pollution, Move to Safer Chemicals and Keep Our Water Clean appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

Categories: Eco Buzz

Go Green or Go Home: Why Being Eco-Friendly is Good for Delivery

Triple Pundit - Tue, 2014-04-15 04:31

It turns out that what’s good for the earth is also good for your business and its employees, especially if you offer delivery services. Additionally, you can save on expenses by offering environmentally friendly options.

The post Go Green or Go Home: Why Being Eco-Friendly is Good for Delivery appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

Categories: Eco Buzz

EPA Port Grants Help Spur Clean Diesel, Sustainable Technologies

Triple Pundit - Tue, 2014-04-15 04:29

The inaugural “Advancing Sustainable Ports” summit last week in Baltimore recognized ports that are trying to be good environmental stewards and also doled out $4.2 million in grant funding for clean diesel projects at six U.S. ports.

The post EPA Port Grants Help Spur Clean Diesel, Sustainable Technologies appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

Categories: Eco Buzz
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