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Updated: 3 hours 21 min ago

Peep popular bike routes in this hella-detailed national map

3 hours 56 min ago

People use Strava to map their jogs, bike rides — even proposals. Now you can check out more than 77 million bike routes around the country.

For instance, according to Strava, Seattleites love cycling downtown and even over to Redmond. And a few brave souls even circled Mount Rainier. Most of Washington hasn’t been biked, at least not using the route-mapping site, so it’s cool to see bright spots near Spokane and Bellingham. (Here’s Manhattan, if that’s more your speed.)

StravaDowntown Seattle bike routes.

One snarky Gizmodo commenter noted, “Nobody exercises in the Midwest.” It’s true that the Dakotas have barely any blue spots indicating bike routes. But we’re betting that’s due to lack of bike paths and ways of baking cyclists into infrastructure, rather than laziness.

StravaWhere cyclists ride in Kansas City.

In fact, it’s cool to zoom in on Kansas City and be reminded that it’s not just Brooklynites noodling around on their fixies.

Filed under: Cities, Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

Mwahaha! Thief who stole electric bike calls owner for help recharging it

6 hours 25 min ago

If your $4,200 electric bike gets stolen, this is pretty much the best outcome you could hope for.

Ben Jaconelli left his electric GoCycle locked up on an East London street, only to find 20 minutes later that it had evaporated. Here’s what makes this awesome: Jaconelli owns a bike shop and operates an electric bike e-commerce site. So when he got a phone call at the shop about how to charge a GoCycle, he knew it was the thief — and he got his bike back. has the play-by-play from Jaconelli:

“I took down as many details for him as possible and then set about tracking him down. One of the guys at our warehouse has an old army truck so we piled in to that and turned up at his house.

“He was out, but his bemused mother was in and she got straight on the phone to her son to demand to know why he wanted an electric bike charger.

“A minute later he called me and asked why I was at his house, and I said ‘you stole my bike.’ He hung up and 20 minutes later the bike arrived at the warehouse in a taxi.”

The cops are investigating the thief’s possible connection to other East London cycle thefts but haven’t arrested anybody yet.

It’s no bait bike, but having a complicated ride is one way to thwart cycle crooks!

Filed under: Cities, Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

Are you a terrible gardener? This brilliant tool could change your life

6 hours 40 min ago

What if I told you there’s a gardening system so simple you didn’t need to worry about buying or planting seeds, figuring out watering logistics, or weeding? Instead, all you’d have to do is take a deep breath and push a starter ball of parsley into its pre-marked slot. The UrbMat wants to make gardening that easy.


The UrbMat is marketed both as a gardening intro for busy people living in small spaces and as a fail-safe learning experience for tiny, clumsy-fingered children. I’m sure toddlers appreciate any excuse to play in the dirt, but I think we all know it’s the dumb-thumbed adults among us who are dropping the wilted lettuce and moldy carrots to do the slow clap. 

The three-by-two foot mat comes with 30 non-GMO, shade-tolerant seeds in starter balls. You just have to provide soil and a planter box as well as water the thing occasionally. Think you can handle that, champ?

Founder Phil Weiner says in an ad for the mat, “It’s a great way to teach the next new generation about how to grow their own food.” Or, you know, this generation.

At $69, the UrbMat isn’t for people who are growing food to save money. But it’s not too high of an entry point for those of us who yearn to garden but are slow learners or too lazy or busy to spend much time with plants. Plus, with every purchase, two meals are donated to low-income U.S. kids through Feeding America and 2 Degrees Food.

If the LEGO approach to urban farming seems like your salvation, we won’t judge you. But if your garden STILL fails to grow, you should probably just go live in the Chef Boyardee aisle of a 7-Eleven.

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

Life on a sheet of paper: Tiny house satire is spot-on

7 hours 58 min ago

In an Onion-worthy piece that’s sheer genius, The New Yorker brings you the tale of an imaginary Austin couple who now live … on a sheet of legal-size paper. Because, really, that’s the logical next step after 89 square feet.

Fictitious Elizabeth Vasquez and Hank Fairman enjoy the kind of multipurpose rooms that are comically crammed into real-life tiny dwellings:

By moving a small wall, a tiny library does quintuple duty as a conservatory, a dark room, a wine cellar, and a lap pool. “I don’t want to toot my own horn, but it really has everything we need, and nothing that we don’t,” Fairman said.

The piece pokes fun at the luxury aspects of some tiny homes, which both serve to distance the owners from actual low-income people in mobile homes and unconsciously contradict the goal of simple living. The Austin couple’s custom one-inch table and three-inch sofa by hoity-toity designers serve as stand-ins for things like luxury sound systems, fancy murphy beds, and high-end appliances.

Even if your stated goal is living simply, it can sometimes look like you’re just squeezing a bunch of expensive, cutting-edge gadgets into your own futuristic postage stamp. At least, unlike Fairman, you’re not working on “a real, functioning aviary, built inside a Judith Leiber handbag.”

Filed under: Cities, Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

Can streetcars create shortcuts to better urban transit?

8 hours 24 min ago

Desire lines: the opposite of stretch marks? Close. Think of the dirt paths college kids wear away on the quad, then picture it on a bigger scale. Desire lines are the imaginary bus routes that go from the subway station to your office. They’re where The People want to go. And according to Gizmodo’s Alissa Walker, they’re the future of urban transit.

But as Chicago is finding out, it’s hard — and seriously expensive — to adapt a city’s ancient transit system to today’s needs. You can expand subway and bus routes, or as Walker notes, you can join cities like NYC and L.A. that are considering streetcars.

Subways and light rail projects are expensive and onerous to take on, requiring not only the heavy construction of tunneling and laying rail, but also the legal implications of navigating preferred routes and right-of-ways.

Streetcars, in contrast, provide a more flexible solution. And in L.A., where they might connect downtown spots like Disney Hall and Staples Center, they’re more appealing to tourists than buses. But streetcars are hardly the only option:

The beauty of desire lines are not only their light touch, but also the unique multimodal options they can introduce to a city: gondolas stringing up hillsides, ferries chugging between two waterfront neighborhoods. Imagine cities shifting away from the bulky pre-determined routes for cars in favor of diagonal bike paths and pedestrian cut-throughs.

We’re getting used to smarter everything: responsive website designs that adapt to our tablets and phones, thermostats that learn when we get home. Why can’t transit learn from citydwellers’ habits too?

Filed under: Cities, Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

Brazil’s World Cup gets a red card on the environment

9 hours 9 min ago

The World Cup is coming up in June! Hooray for those of us who enjoy glistening European thighs, but it’s basically a Ma Nature tit punch. According to The Nation, travel within Brazil alone will leave a carbon footprint equivalent to more than half a million passenger cars driving around for a YEAR. (That’s 2.72 million metric tons of greenhouse gases for those of you keeping score at home.)

Plus, Brazil is spending $325 million to plop a “FIFA-quality stadium” in the heart of the Amazon, which will both damage a fragile ecosystem and leave roads that can enable future disruption. And with a capacity of 42,000 — 42 times the attendance at a recent soccer game — critics wonder if the stadium won’t just sit empty like an abandoned Walmart after the four scheduled World Cup games are over.

But anyone wanting to bring the issue up with Brazil might need shin guards. After all, American corporations are part of the reason the Amazon rainforest has been razed in recent decades. The Nation quotes Brazil’s former President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva:

[T]hose who failed to take care of their own forests, who did not preserve what they had and deforested everything and are responsible for most of the gases poured into the air and for the greenhouse effect, they shouldn’t be sticking their noses into Brazil’s business and giving their two cents’ worth.

Ouch. Point taken, Lula! We can worry about the World Cup, but he’s that right there’s plenty to clean up in our own backyard, too.

Filed under: Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

If oil spills in the Arctic and no one is around to clean it up, does it just stay there?

10 hours 26 min ago
ShutterstockWho will save them after an oil spill?

Oil and shipping companies are salivating as the climate change that they helped cause melts away the ice at the top of the world. Planning and exploration is underway for an Arctic drilling and shipping boom. But what aren’t underway are meaningful preparations for responding to the oil that will inevitably be spilled into the remote and rugged Arctic environment by these accident-prone industries.

The National Research Council has catalogued these hazards in a new report, warning that the lack of Arctic infrastructure would become a “significant liability” should oil be spilled.

“It is unlikely that responders could quickly react to an oil spill unless there were improved port and air access, stronger supply chains, and increased capacity to handle equipment, supplies, and personnel,” wrote the council in a report requested by the American Petroleum Institute and various U.S. agencies. “There is presently no funding mechanism to provide for development, deployment, and maintenance of temporary and permanent infrastructure.”

The report identifies other issues that would hamstring oil spill responses. The U.S. Coast Guard, which coordinates federal responses to most oil spills, has a “low level of presence in the Arctic,” the report notes. “Coast Guard’s efforts to support Arctic oil spill planning and response in the absence of a dedicated and adequate budget are admirable but inadequate.”

It’s particularly challenging to prepare for oil spills in the Arctic. That’s because of the difficult terrain, because the environment is changing so quickly, and because little is known about how spilled oil behaves in such frigid environments.

Even if industry and government do get their acts together and prepare properly for an oil spill, the potential remedies are hideous to even think about. Two of the top responses discussed in the report include using toxic dispersants to dissolve oil and igniting the oil to help it dissipate as air pollution.

But with companies like Shell leading the oil-drilling charge in the Arctic, what could possibly go wrong? Oh, shit …

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

Oregon tells rail companies to keep oil deliveries secret

10 hours 48 min ago

Oregon transportation officials are doing everything in their power to keep the state’s residents in the dark about the movement of crude-filled, explosion-prone rail cars.

The Oregonian won a two-month battle in March when the state Department of Justice ruled that the state Department of Transportation was of course legally required to provide information it receives about the oil shipments to the daily newspaper. Failing to do so “could infringe on the public’s ability to assess the local and statewide risks,” a Justice Department attorney advised.

“Risks shmisks,” the Transportation Department replied. It heavily redacted reports it had received from the rail companies before releasing them to the journalists — and then kicked the intrasigence up a notch. The department told rail companies to stop submitting reports because such reports would become public. (Rail companies have broken promises to share this type of data with the federal government. Oregon transportation officials claim publishing the information is a security risk, despite the fact that oil-laden rail cars are already clearly labeled.) From The Oregonian:

The Oregon Department of Transportation, the state’s rail safety overseer, says it will no longer ask railroads for reports detailing where crude oil moves through the state after The Oregonian successfully sought to have them made public.

Railroads “provided us courtesy copies with the understanding we wouldn’t share it — believing it might be protected,” ODOT spokesman David Thompson said in an email. “We now know that the info is NOT protected; so do the railroads.” …

State law requires railroads to annually submit detailed reports saying what dangerous substances they’ve moved, where and in what volume. They’re due to emergency responders across the state by March 1 of each year. That hasn’t been happening.

The reports have been sent to ODOT instead, which historically acted as a central hub, providing the information on request to firefighters across the state.

ODOT officials say that process needs reform. But as ODOT begins working to change those disclosure rules, its officials say they no longer need any reports.

Keeping this kind of information secret won’t just make it hard for residents to make decisions about where they can live and travel safely. It will make it more difficult for the Transportation Department to do its job. “There’s no other place to get the data,” a retired department rail safety inspector told the paper.

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

This artist builds coral reefs by hand

14 hours 3 min ago

It’s not easy to build a coral reef, which is why it usually takes millions of coral polyps and sponges and other organisms decades to build them up. Artist Courtney Mattison took on the job solo, while she was studying conservation biology in grad school at Brown and moonlighting in ceramics at Rhode Island School of Design. Her thesis project became the first sculpture in a series called Our Changing Seas, which highlights the dangers facing reefs on a massive scale by building them on a (slightly less) massive scale. (We’re talking 15 by 11 feet and not much lighter than a Smart Car.)

Mattison’s newest piece, Our Changing Seas III, depicts a hurricane-spiral of bleached corals coalescing to a bright center. You can read it as a message of hope or one of impending doom, depending on your disposition, but Mattison tries to stay on the cautiously sunny side. “I really hope I’m not building monuments to reefs, memorials of their demise,” she told Grist over the phone. “I would really like these to be celebrations of them — but time will tell.”

Mattison has an Etsy shop and also sells sea-licious art objects from her website. A portion of the profits go toward and Mission Blue.

If you’re near Saratoga Springs, N.Y., you can see Our Changing Seas III at the Tang Museum (Skidmore College, 815 North Broadway) until June 15. On June 14, Courtney Mattison will speak at the closing reception for the show. Our Changing Seas I is on display at the AAAS gallery in Washington, D.C., where Mattison will also be speaking on May 1

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

Ask Umbra: What should I do with used tissues, old mixtapes, and rage against the greens?

15 hours 2 min ago

Send your question to Umbra!

Q. What is the most environmentally friendly way to dispose of used tissues? I usually use a handkerchief, but I’ve had a very bad cold for four weeks. I try to put the tissues in the toilet, but my wife says I should put them in the trash. We have a properly maintained septic system, and the company that pumps it uses the outflow for approved compost on fields elsewhere in Maine. I maintain that they’re better reused as compost, rolling that carbon back into the soil. My wife maintains that it would be better to put them in the landfill, as they are reported in some circles to put undue stress on septic systems.  

Bob E.
Chebeague Island, Maine

A. Dearest Bob,

My, my – a month is a long time to spend nursing a terrible cold. I do hope you’re feeling better, and not only because of the mountain of icky tissues you’ve been creating. You’re right that a reusable, washable handkerchief is the best way to go here, but as you note, sometimes the nose has other plans.

In the interest of domestic tranquility, allow me to propose a third option for you and your wife: Skip the middleman and compost those tissues yourselves. Tissue is paper, after all, which fits nicely into a balanced compost pile’s browns (dry, carbon-rich materials, as opposed to wet, nitrogen-rich greens). And don’t worry about the unsightly deposit contained within – that’s also biodegradable organic material, and the cold virus won’t survive more than a couple of days outside its warm and luxurious host (that’s you, Bob). Note: While nose-blowing tissues get the green light, Leanne Spaulding, director of membership and communications for the U.S Composting Council, told me it’s best to toss any tissues soiled with blood or other potentially disease-carrying bodily secretions. “We haven’t seen any colds transmitted through backyard composting, but for safety’s sake, we encourage people not to go any further,” she says.

Try not to overdo it, though: If you’re generating enough tissues to throw your compost pile’s green-to-brown ratio wildly out of whack, you may want to divert the overflow. And here I’m going to give the edge to your wife and say the trash may be the proper place. Generally, experts don’t recommend flushing facial tissues because they might not break down as quickly as septic-safe toilet paper. Then again, there’s no reason why you couldn’t blow your nose into septic-approved TP. See, you can both be right!

In any case, do your best to reduce the overall amount of paper you’re using – perhaps you can start with your trusty handkerchiefs and bring in tissues to pinch hit when necessary? Go for recycled tissues whenever possible. And think about a visit to the doctor, OK, Bob? I’m a little worried about you.

Chicken Soupily,

Q. What is the best way to dispose of (or recycle) countless old recorded cassette tapes? I also have sets of tapes – inside plastic cases – for language learning taking up space on my bookshelves. I hate to think of all this plastic going to a landfill.

Arlene M.
New Kensington, Pa.

A. Dearest Arlene,

Sounds like your days of recording Portuguese pop music are over (on cassette, anyway). Good news: Those nightmares of plastic-clogged landfills don’t have to come true. There are ways to responsibly rid oneself of old tunes en route to the digital evolution.

As we’ve discussed before, one woman’s trash could be another one’s analog treasure. So I’d start by asking around to see if a local thrift shop, school, library, or old-school mix-tape maker might want them. You might also ply your tapes on Craigslist or Freecycle to see who bites. You never know — I can’t be the only one who still has a ’90s-era vintage boom box.

If that doesn’t work, consider upcycling those cassettes. I’ve seen some crafty types create lamps, wallets, and purses out of old cartridges. Or chairs and chandeliers. Or coat racks and belt buckles …

And if all else fails, there’s always recycling. Not in your curbside bin – cassettes and their cousins, VHS tapes, are too difficult to recycle for that – but by mail to e-waste recycler like GreenDisk (which also accepts cases, by the way). It’ll cost you a small fee to ship them in, but I’ll bet you’ll find it worth the price.


Q. With all the articles that you print, it would be best if we did not wash ourselves or eat any food, stop breathing, and we will save the environment.

Walter W.
Hialeah, Fla.

A. Dearest Walter,

Well, that’s just common sense. Talk about low impact!

But seriously, Walter, of course human life leaves an ecological footprint. We can’t help that. What we can do is think critically about all the choices that make up our lives, from which soap to use to what food to eat, and pick the ones that do the most good (or least damage, if you’re a glass-half-empty type).

Oh, and breathe easy. That’s at least one thing we can do without worrying about wrecking the planet.


Filed under: Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

Here’s a killer video that explains climate change with Tetris

16 hours 2 min ago

If you’re having a hard time wrapping your head around the unsexiness that is climate change — or need a way to break it down for your nephew — take two minutes and 49 seconds for the video above.

In her TED-Ed mini-lesson, Joss Fong compares CO2 emissions to Tetris blocks we’ve gotta get rid of. Burning fossil fuels adds blocks to the atmosphere, she says, and clearcutting forests undermines Earth’s ability to absorb the blocks. “The more blocks pile up, the harder it becomes to restore stability,” she says.

And just like in Tetris, things are speeding up — less ice, for instance, means there’s less surface area to reflect the sun, which is more rapidly heating the ocean. We’ve got to do something before game over! As Fong says, “Unlike in Tetris, we won’t get a chance to start over and try again.”

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

Go on, steal a bike — the San Francisco police dare you

Wed, 2014-04-23 23:34

The bike theft unit of the San Francisco police department took to Craigslist on Tuesday with a post titled, “We Have Our Bait Bikes Out.” Complete with a snazzy decal of a creepy cycling skeleton, the ad warns of GPS-laden bikes that the cops will track. And if you sell a stolen bike, the po-po threaten to toss you in jail and plaster your face “all over social media.” Click to embiggen:


In addition to the Craigslist warning, the SFPD printed out 30,000 stickers that ask, “Is this a bait bike?” You can slap one on your ride to make would-be thieves think twice.

Will the bait bikes actually work? Good question. UW-Madison claims to have cut bike theft by 40 percent the first year it used them. But in Philadelphia Magazine, Christopher Moraff argues that bait bikes entrap opportunistic bike thieves like homeless people, NOT serial bike-nabbers who really need to be shut down:

[I]f you present an absurdly easy opportunity for a petty property crime, you’re probably not going to nab the Al Capone of stolen Schwinns.  You’re going to get the kid on his way home from school, or the unemployed middle-aged janitor, or the homeless drug addict, who heard opportunity knock and decided to listen. A bait bike is to policing as a .38 and a barrel full of trout is to fishing. You may put dinner on the table but you’re not going to make a dent in the lake.

Moraff argues that the money for bait bikes would be better spent teaching cyclists to register and better lock their bikes. What do you think?

Filed under: Cities, Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

Vermont will label genetically engineered food

Wed, 2014-04-23 23:33

Vermont is the first U.S. state to require the mandatory labeling of food produced using genetic engineering. Maybe I shouldn’t get ahead of myself — it’s not official yet, but the state House and Senate passed the bill with overwhelming majorities (114-30 in the House, 28-2 in the Senate), and the governor has said he looks forward to signing it.

The law requires retail products to have a label by July 2016 if they contain genetically engineered ingredients. Enforcement of the law will go through the state attorney general’s office, said Falko Schilling, consumer protection advocate for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, which backed the bill. The bill also prohibits the use of a “natural” label on foods that contain genetically engineered elements. The rule will primarily affect processed foods — such as cereal and bread — where it can be difficult to impossible for the producer to know whether the ingredients, like corn starch and sugar, are GE or not.

This makes things interesting. Several New England states have been tiptoeing around the issue, passing or considering labeling laws that only kick into effect when enough other states join them, so they might collectively defend against food-industry lawsuits. At the same time, the food industry is working on a federal law that would lay out the ground rules for voluntary labeling of GMOs, while also nullifying state labeling rules. Each side has been eyeing the other, and quietly fortifying its position. Now it may get very noisy.

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin elliptically alluded to the fact that the state could be sued over this law. On his Facebook page he wrote: “There is no doubt that there are those who will work to derail this common sense legislation.” Which makes it sound like he’s prepared to defend the law in court.

It also ups the ante on the push for a federal voluntary labeling law. When there were no mandatory labeling laws on the books, it may have been a little easier to talk about the federal effort as a simple measure to insure that we had one standard across the entire U.S.. But now the fact that the legislation would also preempt and invalidate Vermont’s law will have to become part of the conversation.

There’s a whole swarm of issues surrounding genetically engineered food. If you think it’s just about your right to know, or your right to inexpensive food, you might want to read my attempt to cut through the debate. I think there are some good reasons to label GMOs. But if I were in charge, there are plenty of other, more important measures of agricultural and nutritional quality that I’d choose to label first.

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

Tired of milking your cow? There’s a robot for that

Wed, 2014-04-23 23:00

Bursting at the teat, a cow at the Borden family dairy farm ambles over into a big metal cubicle. Like a car in a drive-thru wash, the cow stands still while a rotating brush sweeps under and wipes down her udders. Then the lasers take over, locating the cow’s glands to insert them into plastic tubes, which begin to suck out milk.

This isn’t a scene from a distant, twisted future: Turns out, these milk bots are the next big thing in dairy.

The New York Times reports:

Scores of machines have popped up across New York’s dairy belt and in other states in recent years, changing age-old patterns of daily farm life and reinvigorating the allure of agriculture for a younger, tech-savvy — and manure-averse — generation.

Like Roombas for cattle (Moombas?), robots enable dairy farmers to produce more milk with less labor, and keep their hands cleaner in the process. While automatic milking has actually been used on industrialized farms for quite a while, what’s different about the system used at the Borden farm — the Astronaut A4 — is that it lets the cows set their own schedules. And, apparently, the bovines actually like it; probably because the robots allow the cows to milk themselves more often than a farmer normally would (which makes them feel more comfortable). The Bordens expected it would take a bit for the ruminants to get used to the new approach, but the cows surprised them:

[O]n a recent Friday, the Bordens stood watch as cows lined up in front of the closet-sized devices; each quietly allowed the machine to wash and scan its underbelly with lasers being attached before attaching mechanical milk cups.

And, in a way, it could allow for farmers to actually build a stronger rapport with their herd: “Most milking parlors, you see, you really only see the back end of the cow,” Tom Borden told the Times. “I don’t see that as building up much of a relationship.”

Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Food
Categories: Eco Buzz

Pony up, frackers: Texas family wins $3 million in contamination lawsuit

Wed, 2014-04-23 21:22

What should you do when a fracking company sets up a drilling site right in your backyard? After you stock up on extra-strength Tylenol and Kleenex for the forthcoming chronic headaches and copious nosebleeds, you might want to call a good lawyer.

Yesterday, a jury in a Texas county court issued a landmark ruling against Aruba Petroleum for contaminating a family’s property and making them sick. The company has been ordered to pay $2.925 million in damages to Lisa and Bob Parr of Wise County, Texas.

In March 2011, the Parrs filed a lawsuit against Aruba Petroleum, alleging that air and water contamination from the company’s 22 drilling sites within two miles of their ranch had devastating effects on the family’s property and health.

“My daughter was experiencing nosebleeds, rashes,” said Ms. Parr in a 2011 press conference. “There were mornings she would wake up about 6:00 … covered in blood, screaming, crying.”

Before filing the lawsuit, the Parrs had been forced to sell their ranch and move due to fracking-related contamination to both their land and their animals — oh, and also the small matter of regularly waking up soaked in blood pouring from their nasal cavities.

Parr v. Aruba Petroleum, Inc. is being called the first case in which a jury has awarded compensation for fracking-related contamination. Most such cases are settled out of court. Like the suit filed in 2010 by Stephanie and Rich Hallowich of the ironically named Mount Pleasant, Penn., who were forced to relocate after shale drilling in the area polluted the air and water near their home, resulting in serious health problems. They sued Range Resources and ended up settling their case for $750,000. The terms of the settlement famously included a highly restrictive lifelong gag order that prohibits the Hallowich family, including their children, from ever discussing their case or fracking in general.

The Parrs’ lead attorney, David Matthews, praised the family for persisting in its fight: “It takes guts to say, ‘I’m going to stand here and protect my family from an invasion of our right to enjoy our property.’ It’s not easy to go through a lawsuit and have your personal life uncovered and exposed to the extent this family went through.”

Julia Roberts, are you listening? Erin Brockovich 2: Get Off My Shale is guaranteed box office gold!

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

Sword & Plough upcycles military fabric into sleek bags

Wed, 2014-04-23 19:56

“Quadruple bottom line” is the trendy phrase du jour. In addition to meaning “one more butt,” it adds purpose to people, planet, and profit.

What that actually looks like varies. For bag company Sword & Plough, it means hiring veterans to turn old military fabric into nature-toned bags out of Moonrise Kingdom or L.L. Bean.

Sword & Plough

The company takes its name from a Bible verse about weapons being transformed into peaceful tools: “They shall turn their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into sickles.” Two sisters founded Sword & Plough in 2012, one of whom was a cadet in ROTC while studying at Middlebury College. The dual influences of military and sustainability are clearly reflected in the company. As Emily and Betsy Nunez write on the Sword & Plough site:

By recycling and repurposing military gear with a fashionable touch, and working with veterans, we create sturdy and sophisticated products whose sale will empower veteran employment, reduce waste, and strengthen civil-military understanding.

Sword & Plough

Adam Smiley Poswolsky recently highlighted their massive success in his book The Quarter-Life Breakthrough, noting their Kickstarter campaign raised $312,000, more than 15 times the $20,000 goal. Writes Poswolsky:

To date, the company has supported 35 veteran jobs, recycled over 15,000 pounds of military surplus, and made over 1,700 stylish bags for consumers all over the country.

Rock on. Fewer swords and more ploughshares, plz!

Filed under: Living
Categories: Eco Buzz

How to use the Bible to save the planet

Wed, 2014-04-23 16:55
Niko Tavernise/Paramount PicturesTwo views of what “dominion” means in the Book of Genesis: Noah’s (Russell Crowe), and that of Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone).

For a brief moment in Darren Aronofsky’s hit religious epic film Noah, we see the Great Flood from space. From that vantage point, it looks much like an atmospheric event of the sort that a NASA satellite might photograph, so we can all share it on Facebook. So what does biblical cataclysm look like from orbit? Beautifully, and yet terrifyingly, the entire Earth appears to be draped in a quilt of hurricanes, each cyclone nestled alongside the next.

“There is a huge statement in the film, a strong message about the coming flood from global warming,” Aronofsky told The New Yorker in an extensive profile. The film also contains a depiction of the Big Bang (something doubted by 51 percent of Americans, according to a recent survey), fins-to-limbs evolution, and the very clear implication that the biblical “days” of the creation were only metaphorical days, not literal, 24-hour ones.

In other words, you might say Noah is waving the red cape in front of fundamentalist Christianity. No wonder, as Mother Jones‘ Asawin Suebsaeng puts it, the film has inspired a “flood of religious freak-outs.”

But the freak-outs shouldn’t get all the attention: No matter what the Christian right may say, Noah is a deeply religious and spiritual film containing an authentic moral message. And that message feeds strongly into a vital and growing religious tradition of our time, one that especially appeals to younger believers: faith-based environmentalism, or what is sometimes called “creation care,” which uses biblically based moral imperatives to impel conservation and stewardship. (Aronofsky and his Noah cowriter Ari Handel attended an event at the Center for American Progress to discuss just this aspect of the film. You can watch a replay of the conversation here.)

Certainly, you couldn’t fairly call Noah an irreligious movie. Aronofsky himself, whose notable past films include The Wrestler and Black Swan, is a “not very religious” Jew who has said of his spirituality, “I think it’s always changing. I think I definitely believe.”

Niko Tavernise/ParamountDarren Aronofsky on the set of Noah.

As for the film itself: Aronofsky and Handel relied heavily on not just the text of the Bible (where the story of Noah encompasses roughly four chapters of the book of Genesis), but also Jewish Midrash, ancient explications of religious texts. The result is creative, sometimes idiosyncratic, heavily influenced by Jewish theology, and above all, deeply environmental. In other words, it’s a film that may tick off people who are very rigid in their biblical literalism, but for other believers, it’s an environmental epic that can be resonant indeed.

Whose “dominion?” 

Aronofsky has called Noah the “first environmentalist.” The film goes further: It actively interprets the Bible in favor of those who argue that the book of Genesis requires us all to be good “stewards” of the creation – and in strong opposition to those who read its language about humankind having “dominion … over all the Earth, and over every creeping thing” as mainly implying that all this exists for us. (Who holds such a view? Well, here’s Rick Santorum: “Man is here to use the resources, and use them wisely, to care for the Earth, to be a steward the Earth, but we’re not here to serve the Earth, the Earth is not the objective. Man is the objective.”)

Noah tells us, bluntly, that that’s what the bad guys think. Those bad guys in the film are led by a figure named Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), who very early on declares, “Damned if I don’t take what I want.” Tubal-Cain represents the line of Cain (Adam’s son, who killed his brother Abel) and thus embodies the biblical “wickedness” of humankind just before the Flood; in the film, that wickedness is embodied, in Tolkienlike fashion, as industrialization, environmental despoilment, and pollution. And most of all, the killing and eating of animals: We see Tubal-Cain and his followers do this repeatedly throughout the film.

In the film, Tubal-Cain’s interpretation of dominion is “more of a conquest, take whatever you need for your own pleasure,” explains David Jenkins, an evangelical Christian and the president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, a group that believes that “the true conservative will be a good steward of the natural systems and resources that sustain life on Earth.”

“And that sometimes is the way that people seem to have interpreted the word ‘dominion,’ when actually, if you go back to the Hebrew language, and you understand that in its true context, dominion is basically ‘authority,’” continues Jenkins. “And with any kind of authority … it comes with great responsibility and a sense of stewardship and caring.”

Noah, by contrast, represents the line of Seth (another of Adam’s sons), and their clan’s approach to the environment is vastly different. The key word, as Noah’s father, Lamech, puts it, is “responsibility.” Noah passes that message on to his son Ham: “All of these innocent creatures are in our care,” he tells the boy after Ham wrongly picks a flower. “It’s our job to look after them.”

Niko Tavernise/ParamountAnimals herd onto the Ark in Noah.

Later in the film, in a rather disturbing psychological plot twist, Russell Crowe’s Noah becomes so appalled at the evils of men (after watching a hungry mob tear apart an animal and devour it) that he wrongly interprets God’s will to be that humankind should go extinct, leaving only the “innocent” animals on Earth. This leads to plenty of drama, including Noah briefly threatening to kill his own granddaughters because they might some day bear children and lead to a continuance of humanity. But he isn’t actually up to it, and neither is the film. Noah isn’t anti-human; it’s just very strongly in favor of the idea that humans have serious environmental responsibilities, and that the Bible itself tells them so.

The film thus represents pretty strong reinforcement for a social movement that has gathered increasing momentum in the past half decade or more: the “creation care” movement. For just as the film Noah does, followers of this movement interpret the Bible’s language about “dominion” not to mean domination or simple mastery, but rather, to imply responsibility and the need for environmental stewardship.

One reason this movement has drawn such attention is that in addition to its obvious mainline religious appeal, it seems able to inspire at least some evangelical Christians to go against our expectations about the Christian right, and support solutions to global warming. “I think that’s part of the interest – it’s not part of the evangelical stereotype,” says Katharine Wilkinson, author of the book Between God and Green: How Evangelicals Are Cultivating a Middle Ground on Climate Change.

Granted, the majority of that demographic group remains in denial about climate change. According to a 2013 study of evangelicals’ climate views published in the journal Global Environmental Change, evangelicals were less likely than average Americans to think global warming is happening, to believe that it is caused by humans, and to believe that most scientists think it is happening. Consider: 64 percent of nonevangelicals, but only 44 percent of evangelicals, agree that climate change is “caused mostly by human activities.”

Evangelicals are diverse, however: Those who are female, more egalitarian, and overall less conservative in their values are much more likely to believe climate change is real and to want to do something about it, the study found. And as Wilkinson emphasizes, young evangelicals are particularly likely to accept climate change. “You see kind of a gap between evangelicals and the average American, in terms of their belief [in global warming],” she says, “but you see that gap basically disappear with evangelicals under 30. They don’t look any different from other young Americans.”

Overall, then, you might say that a large and growing minority of evangelicals seem very open to messages about why it is their biblical responsibility to take care of the creation, and also willing to apply this view to the climate issue specifically. “I see more and more evangelicals engaged when we talk about creation care,” says the Rev. Mitchell Hescox, president of the Evangelical Environmental Network. “We’ve gone from 15,000 email people to a quarter of a million people who regularly read our messages.”

Niko Tavernise/ParamountThe Ark finally finds land.

So how will the film speak to this audience? Hescox is skeptical, worrying that “the message of caring for God’s creation got lost in the discussion over the literary license that was taken in creating and producing the story for the film.”

David Jenkins of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship feels differently, however, arguing that the film is “perfectly consistent with the biblical account.”

“That’s the great thing about a movie as a vehicle, for that two hours, you’ve got them sitting there and that’s what they’re engrossed in, no outside influences come in and influence anything,” says Jenkins. “So I think it’s reasonable to assume that if something is well done and it’s consistent with Scripture, it will have an impact.”

And once again, that will probably be most true of the young evangelicals, a large number of whom will surely see the film. “Young people especially, I think, young people don’t have the same commitment to dogma, or biblical literalism that their parents and elders have,” says the Reverend Michael Dowd, a climate change activist. “They’re living in a milieu, living in a culture where it’s not cool to trash the planet, and it’s beginning to become shameful to hold a ‘the end of the world is right around the corner’ worldview, so therefore, we can do whatever we want to the planet.”

The film is already a major success in Hollywood terms. With a budget of $125 million, it has so far brought in over $300 million worldwide, and has been out for less than a month. In other words, Noah is a big enough cultural event that it could substantially move the needle of public opinion, much like another environmental-catastrophe blockbuster, 2004′s The Day After Tomorrow, was later shown to have done. In one study, 83 percent of people who had viewed that film were “somewhat” or “very concerned” about global warming, as opposed to 72 percent of Americans who hadn’t seen it. (The study controlled for a variety of factors, including political ideology.)

At one point in Aronofsky’s film, Noah tells his family, “We have been entrusted with a task much greater than our own desires.” Whatever your faith and, indeed, whether or not you’re religious, a serious look at science and the state of the planet makes that statement inarguable. If Noah helps to further advance that message, then just like the movie’s namesake, it may also help to save us.

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

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

Forget Ferrari: The hot rides for sports stars are fuel-efficient

Wed, 2014-04-23 15:22
Tulane PRDrew Brees of the New Orleans Saints

The Pro Athlete Stereotype™ wouldn’t be complete without ladies, liquor, and luxury cars. But The New York Times says ballas are increasingly opting for eco-friendly rides. What’s next, trading Dom for kombucha?!

NYT reporter Ken Belson has no hard numbers, but he points to Jeremy Guthrie of the Kansas City Royals as one of the sports stars leading the trend. And he mentions a handful of others who are embracing Teslas and Priuses, whether because they’re green, trendy, or high-performance:

It is unclear precisely how many athletes drive electric vehicles or hybrids, but some stars like Steve Nash of the Los Angeles Lakers, Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints, and LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trail Blazers drive or drove Teslas and other high-priced electric vehicles and hybrids.

For Guthrie, who owns a Prius and put down a deposit on a new Tesla X, being green isn’t just about his wheels. He also bikes to work and encourages fellow players to save water and electricity.

And the Blazers (holla!) have encouraged fans and players alike to drive low-emissions cars by installing 28 EV charging stations at or near their arena. That’s a big deal because transportation is responsible for about 70 percent of the stadium’s carbon footprint. Yup — that’s even more than making all of those foam fingers.

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

Wyoming doesn’t want its kids to learn about climate change

Wed, 2014-04-23 11:23
Shutterstock“Wait — so is coal good for the environment?”

Let’s briefly review the science on anthropogenic climate change: 97 percent of articles on the subject published in peer-reviewed scientific journals over two decades have agreed with the consensus that humans are causing global warming. Now, granted, climate change is a theory, in the same way that gravity is a theory: It is the framework that explains indisputable phenomena, in this case the Earth’s warming temperatures since the dawn of the Industrial Age. So it follows that, just as school textbooks teach students about gravity, they should teach them about climate change, right?

Not if you live in Wyoming. Last month Dick Cheney’s home state passed a budget with a footnote that prohibits the use of public funds to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The standards were recently developed by the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in concert with 26 states. They’re intended to replace a hodgepodge of state standards of varying quality, providing a national framework for teaching the most up-to-date science. Naturally, this includes climate change (though the climate sections were watered down).

But Republican State Rep. Matt Teeters, who holds an aptly abbreviated B.S. in political science from the University of Wyoming, knows more than all those experts. Teeters, who sponsored the budget footnote, complained that the standards “handle global warming as settled science.” And why should scientists tell everyone else what constitutes “settled science”? (Teeters did not respond to a call from Grist, which was hoping to ask whether he intends to also remove gravity from the state science curriculum.)

Republican Gov. Matt Mead signed the budget into law, and declined to use his line-item veto to get rid of the anti-NGSS footnote. Mead, who got his bachelor’s degree in “radio/television” from Trinity University in Texas, also knows more about climate science than the NGSS authors. He has previously said, “I am unconvinced that climate change is man-made, but I do recognize we may face challenges presented by those who propose and believe they can change our climate by law with ill-thought-out policy like cap and trade.” In fact, his administration has no shortage of geniuses who know more about science than any scientist. State education board chair Ron Micheli told the Casper Star-Tribune, “I don’t accept, personally, that [climate change] is a fact.” Micheli, a rancher by trade, received a B.S. in animal science from the University of Wyoming. He was voted “Outstanding Animal Science Student” by the agriculture honorary fraternity Alpha Zeta. How many members of the IPCC can say that?

Wyomingites with experience in science education support the NGSS. Before the legislature passed its budget, a state education committee of about 30 experts unanimously recommended adoption of the standards. And earlier this month, a coalition of concerned scientists and educators — including the Wyoming Science Teachers Association, the Wyoming Education Association, the American Meteorological Society, and the Union of Concerned Scientists — sent a letter to the state board of education expressing their disapproval of the anti-NGSS footnote. Since the budget applies to the next fiscal year, starting July 1, they called on the board to implement the new standards right now, before it is prohibited.

Mead’s education policy advisor Mary Kay Hill rejected the request. “Governor Mead has expressed concern with the role that scientists play in coming to political conclusions regarding climate change,” she wrote in a letter in response. Hill added, in a turn of phrase that would make even one of George Orwell’s villains blush, “The state’s science standards should be written to ensure that a science education is free from political influence.”

Wyoming is the first state to outright reject the NGSS. (At least 10 states have officially adopted the standards, and others are in the process of doing so; all in all, more than half of states are expected to come on board.) Some conservative complaints about the science standards have come from religious zealots angry over the teaching of evolution, but that doesn’t seem to have been a decisive factor in Wyoming, which is not an especially religious state. It is extremely conservative, but so are a lot of states.

What makes Wyoming special is its dependence on fossil fuel extraction. Wyoming is the country’s largest producer of coal. In 2012 it accounted for 39.5 percent of the U.S. total, nearly four times the production of second-place West Virginia. Wyoming is the eighth largest producer of oil in the U.S. and the fifth largest producer of natural gas. Wyoming does not have an income tax because it draws so much revenue from taxes on its extractive industries. Another big industry in the state is cattle ranching — beef and veal account for 78 percent of its agricultural revenue — and that too contributes to climate change thanks to farting and belching livestock. Wyoming residents and businesses are also energy hogs. They consume the most energy per capita of any state.

So Wyoming’s politicians worry that if they admit climate change is happening, that implies action should be taken, action that could harm the state’s economy. “There’s all kind of social implications involved in [acknowledging climate change] that I don’t think would be good for Wyoming,” said Teeters. At a board of education meeting on April 11, Micheli said that climate change education “has to be based on the economy of this state.” In case you’re wondering what that means, he was quite clear: “This state’s economy is based on fossil fuels,” so people should “talk about the benefits that accrued to our industrial society because of the institution of fossil fuels.” Still, Micheli insisted that he’s fine with some teaching of climate change — “but don’t offer it as the only alternative that’s there.”

Fossil fuel interests have always been powerful in Wyoming, say political experts. Conservative activists in the state “got really organized this year and filled legislators’ inboxes up with email” opposed to the NGSS, says Dan Neal, director of the Equality State Policy Center, a progressive think tank in Casper, Wyo. “We are a mineral-rich state — it’s the basis of our economy here. What we live with, as a result of that, is those guys have extraordinary power at the legislature.”

Here’s an example of that power in action: In 2012, a sculpture called Carbon Sink, made from wood destroyed by an infestation of pine bark beetles — which has been linked to climate change — was removed from the University of Wyoming campus in Laramie under political pressure. As Slate reported, “After the university announced the installation of Carbon Sink, Marion Loomis, the president of the Wyoming Mining Association, wrote to a university official and asked: ‘What kind of crap is this?‘ Both industry representatives and state legislators weighed in on the sculpture, some threatening the university’s funding in no uncertain terms.” The university’s president caved.

Wyoming is swimming against the tide on this issue. As The New York Times reported on Sunday, “Schools around the world are beginning to tackle the difficult issue of global warming, teaching students how the planet is changing and encouraging them to think about what they can do to help slow that process.”

And, conservative politics or no, many Wyoming residents understand the importance of climate education and don’t want to be on the wrong side of history. Take, for example, the editorial board of the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, which wrote last week: “We might not know the exact extent to which man has affected climate change, but we do know that Wyoming is filled with political cowards.” And it called those cowards out by name: Teeters, Mead, and Micheli.

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

This DIY solar backpack looks tricky but doable

Wed, 2014-04-23 09:20

Whether you hike, camp, or just drunkenly lie in the sun at Coachella, a solar backpack’s an outlet-free way to juice up your gear. But you might not have upwards of $200 lying around. If you ARE rich in time and patience, Treehugger’s got a tutorial via Instructables for wiring up your own solar bag.


Here’s the gist of it: You attach four encapsulated two-volt/200-milliampere solar panels together, fusing their wires with a soldering iron (you have one of those, right?). When you end up with a positive and negative cable, you connect it to a battery box to charge four NiMH batteries. That part looks pretty tricky — please don’t electrocute yourself (or get into a soldering gun battle … that shit burns!).

Once you’ve got the unit of solar panels, the battery box to go inside your bag, and connectors to power your iPhone with the batteries, you’re ready to head outside. Easy peasy, right?

Or not. You could always get a little solar charger like the Solio ($65), the Poweradd ($46), or the Nomad ($80) if you aren’t technologically inclined. Hopefully in the future, solar panels will be increasingly integrated in apparel — and not just on bikinis, either!

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