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    Gristmill: Why it’s a big deal that half of the Great Lakes are still covered in ice
    largest

    Over the winter, as polar vortices plunged the U.S. Midwest into weeks of unceasing cold, the icy covers of the Great Lakes started to make headlines. With almost 96 percent of Lake Superior’s 32,000 miles encased in ice at the season’s peak, tens of thousands of tourists flocked to the ice caves along the Wisconsin shoreline, suddenly accessible after four years of relatively warmer wintery conditions.

    The thing is, all of that ice takes a long time to melt. As of April 10, 48 percent of the five lakes’ 90,000-plus square miles were still covered in ice, down from a high of 92.2 percent on March 6 (note that constituted the highest levels recorded since 1979, when ice covered 94.7 percent of the lakes). Last year, only 38.4 percent of the lakes froze over, while in 2012 just 12.9 percent did — part of a four-year stint of below-average iciness.

    And as the Great Lakes slowly lose their historically large ice covers over the next few months, the domino effects could include lingering cold water, delayed seasonal shifts, and huge jumps in water levels.

    Already, the impact of this icy blockade can be felt. On March 25, five days after the official beginning of spring, the Soo Locks separating Lake Superior from the lower Great Lakes opened for the season. But after a long and harsh winter, Lake Superior’s nearly 32,000 square miles were still nearly entirely covered in ice. It would be another 11 days before the first commercial vessel fought its way across Lake Superior — with the aid of several dedicated ice breakers — and down through the locks.

    The trip across Lake Superior to the Soo Locks, which usually takes 28 hours, took these first ships of the season nine days. A third ship had to return to Duluth after being damaged by the ice.
    Detroit District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Facebook
    The trip across Lake Superior to the Soo Locks, which usually takes 28 hours, took these first ships of the season nine days. A third ship had to return to Duluth after being damaged by the ice.

    More than 200 million tons of cargo, mostly iron ore, coal, and grain, travel across the Great Lakes throughout the year. Even a little ice can make a big dent on this total. Only three shipments of coal were loaded up during March — 69 percent less, by volume, than last year. Shipments of iron ore from the northern reaches of Minnesota were so low that the U.S. Steel plant in Gary, Ind., had to scale back production significantly in early April.

    A sluggish start to the shipping season is just one of the cascading effects of the Midwest’s cold and icy winter. Some are good, and will allow the region to recover from years of historically low water levels. Others, like this delayed shipping season, less so.

    Like the shipping troubles, some of the more unexpected things the lakes and their ecosystems could face in the next few months are the direct result of the lingering ice and cold:

    • Throughout the winter, huge numbers of ducks that feed by diving below the water for fish ended up starving to death. Connie Adams, a biologist in New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, told the AP that the die-off was “unprecedented.”
    • Next in line for concern are a huge number of the Lakes’ fish species. Warming water temperature often biologically triggers migration to traditional spawning grounds, and experts expect that northern pike, lake sturgeon, steelhead, and rainbow trout could make moves far later this year. As Shedd Aquarium research scientist Solomon David told Michigan Radio, later egg laying could mean younger and far weaker fish come next winter, leading to an even longer impact.

    Other changes will come about long after the ice melts, as water levels are predicted to rebound to levels not seen in the last few years. Seasonal shifts in water levels, with winter lows and summer highs, are normal. “If things stayed in sort of a balance, we would see all the Lakes’ water levels going up and then going down. Every year: up, down; up, down,” says Drew Gronewold, a scientist with NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory. But, “when water levels change a lot over time, something is happening in one of those two parts of the season.”

    Over the last few years, the summer highs and winter lows have both been well below their long-term average, as climate change produced far more rapid rates of evaporation. In December 2012, the Michigan-Huron system set a new low, breaking a record that had stood since the 1960s, according to Keith Kompoltowicz, the chief of watershed hydrology for the Army Corps of Engineers’ Detroit District.

    A three-year look at water levels in Lakes Michigan and Huron, including a six-month forecast, from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District. The solid red line marks recorded levels, the red vertical lines a range of six-month projections, and the blue shows the long-term averages. The black bars indicate record highs and lows.
    A three-year look at water levels in Lakes Michigan and Huron, including a six-month forecast, from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Detroit District. The solid red line marks recorded levels, the red vertical lines a range of six-month projections, and the blue shows the long-term averages. The black bars indicate record highs and lows.

    Though Kompoltowicz says the usual March and April rise in water levels is occurring later than usual this year, already the lakes are seeing water levels that they haven’t had for several years. This past March marked the first time since April of 1998 that Lake Superior had reached its long-term average. And over the next few months, melting snow will feed the lakes and colder water could lower the rates of summer and fall evaporation. The amount of rain could either add to or subtract from this total. The Army Corps of Engineers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration generally forecast water levels six months out, and predicted levels for this September, Kompoltowicz says, range from 10 to 13 inches higher than lake levels were a year ago.

    Here’s what higher lake levels could mean:

    • Shippers may be hurting now, but higher lake levels will allow them to load more cargo per boat later this year, according to the Chicago Tribune. These higher water lines also mean that those who manage the Great Lakes’ harbors won’t have to invest huge sums of money in dredging out the bottom. Ships will carry more, at less of a cost, once the ice melts.
    • Fluctuations in water levels could also help maintain the diversity of plant and animal species along many coastal wetlands, according to Kurt Kowalski, a wetland ecologist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Great Lakes Science Center. Too many years of consistently low water allows certain species, often non-native plants, to take over.
    • And even far less large-scale ripple effects will matter. Scott Stevenson, the executive vice president of the company that manages Chicago’s harbors, told the Tribune that higher water levels will allow them to rent out 100 expensive slips along the lakefront that shallow water took out of commission last year.

    Though water level changes even over a several year period are normal, the rebound from record-low water levels is going to be a relief from the hand-wringing of the last few years. But it will likely be a temporary one. A hot summer with little precipitation could mute the effects of the icy winter. And, even if the lakes have more water this year, 2014 could be nothing more than a blip as climate change continues to wreak havoc. “We don’t know, as this winter really exemplified, what’s going to happen,” Gronewold says. “If we’re going to have three more severe winters, or flip back to three more winters like we’ve had the past few years.”

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


    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Triple Pundit: Shell Joins Pledge For Drastic Cuts In Greenhouse Gases, But…

    Shell signs Trillion Tonne Communiqué pledge to cut greenhouse gases but it looks like an empty promise.

    The post Shell Joins Pledge For Drastic Cuts In Greenhouse Gases, But… appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Fuzzy Math on Pennsylvania Fracking Jobs

    Incumbent Republican Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania has been campaigning for re-election on a platform that touts the 200,000 jobs created through his support for natural gas fracking, but the Pennsylvania fracking boom is not all that it's cracked up to be.

    The post Fuzzy Math on Pennsylvania Fracking Jobs appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Seafood Traceability Makes for Better Products and a Healthy Bottom Line

    The environmental benefits of seafood traceability are obvious: By tracking a fish through the entire supply chain –- from capture to plate –- you can ensure the fish wasn’t caught using illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing practices. But many companies, like Norpac Fisheries Export, are discovering that traceability is also good for their bottom line.

    The post Seafood Traceability Makes for Better Products and a Healthy Bottom Line appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Global Renewable Energy Investment Drops, But Installed Capacity Rises

    2013 global renewable energy investment fell for a second year running, but costs kept falling and renewables' share of power generation kept on growing. In an annual report on renewable energy investment, the FS-UNEP Collaborating Centre and Bloomberg New Energy Finance review 2013 developments and conditions in renewable energy investment worldwide.

    The post Global Renewable Energy Investment Drops, But Installed Capacity Rises appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Look Twice, Buy Once: Sustainability Through Consumer Restraint

    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.

    Triple Pundit: The Quick & Dirty: A CEO. A Leader. Sometimes We Need a Bit of Both.

    Novel idea: To be a thought leader you need a thought -- and you need to lead. A bit of both please.

    The post The Quick & Dirty: A CEO. A Leader. Sometimes We Need a Bit of Both. appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Eco Geek: Ontario Completely Off Coal

    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

    Gristmill: Fearless teenage fish don’t run from climate change, death
    Watch out, these hooligans will win any game of chicken.
    Geir Friestad
    Watch 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.

    So moody. Thinking of getting its septum pierced.
    Klaus Stiefel
    So 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
    Gristmill: Sally Jewell’s frustrating first year in Washington
    Interior 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.
    Kate Sheppard
    Interior 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.

    Jewell 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.
    Kate Sheppard
    Jewell 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.”

    Jewell at a BLM meeting in Oregon, in February 2014.
    U.S. Department of the Interior
    Jewell 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.”

    The 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.
    Kate Sheppard
    The 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.”

    Jewell in her element on Mount Rainier.
    Kate Sheppard
    Jewell 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
    Gristmill: Vegan condoms are so passé — socially conscious rubbers are the new hotness
    guy-holding-l-condoms

    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.

    L-condoms
    L.

    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.

    condom-class-l-international
    L.

    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
    Gristmill: This beer tastes like crap, and that’s a good thing
    sanctification-russian-river-the-great-beer-quest
    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
    eco.psk: StairMaster Scooter Is The Fittest Way To Commute
    me-mover-step-machine-bicycle-2.jpgRevamped bicycle combines the additional exercise potential of a step machine.
    Gristmill: U.N. climate report was censored
    blindfolded dangerously

    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
    Gristmill: This guy is taking the world’s longest road trip in an electric car
    Click to largify.
    Norman Hajjar
    Click 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
    Gristmill: The tiny house documentary is finally (almost) here! Peek inside the result
    TINY-tiny-house-documentary

    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.

    tiny-house-inside-front
    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.

    tiny-house-inside-kitchen-christopher-smith
    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.

    tiny-house-upstairs-bed
    Ashley Poskin

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


    Filed under: Living
    Gristmill: There’s something worse than phosphates in England’s wastewater: A dildo
    dildo-vibrator-flickr-2dogs

    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
    Gristmill: U.N. climate report: We must focus on “decarbonization,” and it won’t wreck the economy
    Rajendra Pauchari, chair of the IPCC, tells us to get a move on.
    Kris Krüg
    Rajendra 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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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
    Gristmill: Conventional farmers drop their plows in favor of conservation
    Michael and Adam Crowell

    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 that 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.IMG_3549

    “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.

    IMG_3555

    “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
    Gristmill: Montreal, Boston, NYC: Which city has the best bikeshare program?
    city-bike-share-b

    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 long 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, where 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
    Gristmill: Enviro groups team up on new campaign funding alliance
    money

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

    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.

    Triple Pundit: SolarCoin: Cyrptocurrency with Value for People and Planet

    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: Cyrptocurrency with Value for People and Planet appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: EPA Port Grants Help Spur Clean Diesel, Sustainable Technologies

    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.

    Triple Pundit: Boeing: Something Electric in Space

    Boeing said it is “on track” to deliver the world's first all-electric xenon-ion propulsion satellites in late 2014 or early 2015. The company has completed static qualification testing, verification and assembly of the primary structures for inaugural customers ABS and Eutelsat, meaning the satellites are well on their way to launch.

    The post Boeing: Something Electric in Space appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Transmission for Renewables: Cheaper and Greener Than Natural Gas Pipelines

    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.

    Triple Pundit: Can Glad Start a National Conversation on Waste?

    How much waste do you throw away every day? That’s the question the Glad Products Co. hopes people will ask themselves after viewing its new “Waste in Focus” photo series that peeked inside the trash, recycling and compost bins of eight families in four cities across the United States for one week.

    The post Can Glad Start a National Conversation on Waste? appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Electricity Prices Fall In Europe As German Renewable Energy Output Increases

    For the fifth consecutive month, electricity prices in countries neighboring Germany have decreased, recently released Platts data reveals, due in large part to increased solar and wind generation in Germany.

    The post Electricity Prices Fall In Europe As German Renewable Energy Output Increases appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Busted ant farm or bikeshare? Watch Citi Bikers swarm NYC streets

    If you live in NYC, you’ve probably seen your fair share of Citi Bikes whiz past. But do you ever wonder where all those riders are actually going? Now that Citi Bike has released a heap of data on who’s been using its system, data visualization buffs have come up with all sorts of ways to answer that question — like a map that correlates weekend data with where to find NYC’s best nightlife, or this project, which sketches out 5.5 million bikeshare trips over eight months, showing the most popular routes.

    But if you really want to trance out, watch this video from Jeff Ferzoco, which traces rides through time as the city morphs from lonely ambling 2 a.m. partiers to the full-fledged ant hive of 8 a.m. commuters to clusterfucks caused by traffic delays — till everyone goes back home, and does it all again.


    Filed under: Article, Cities, Living
    Gristmill: If you were watching “Game of Thrones” last night, you missed Neil Tyson’s solution to global warming
    green_neil_tyson

    Last night’s episode of Fox’s Cosmos series didn’t seem political or controversial, at least on the surface. Rather, it introduced us to the world on the molecular and atomic scale, at one point venturing inside of a dewdrop (packed with extremely cool tiny organisms like tardigrades) and, later, inside of a plant cell. It was kind of reminiscent of what you learned in your ninth grade bio class – albeit much less sleep inducing.

    Yet fresh from ticking off creationists, this time around host Neil deGrasse Tyson managed to work in the science of climate change.

    Plants, after all, are the reigning global masters of clean energy. They use 100-percent solar power: The chloroplast, the so-called “powerhouse” of a plant cell, is a “3-billion-year-old solar energy collector” and a “submicroscopic solar battery,” as Tyson put it. Basically, chloroplasts use sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water to store energy in sugars, and give off oxygen as a byproduct. And without this fundamental green energy technology, life on this planet as we know it wouldn’t exist.

    Cosmos tours the happenings inside a dewdrop, and within the cells of plants.
    Fox
    Cosmos tours the happenings inside a dewdrop, and within the cells of plants.

    That’s where Tyson brought up climate change. Here’s how he put it:

    But if we could figure out the trade secrets of photosynthesis? Every other source of energy we depend on today – coal, oil, natural gas – would become obsolete. Photosynthesis is the ultimate green power. It doesn’t pollute the air, and is in fact carbon neutral. Artificial photosynthesis, on a big enough scale, could reduce the greenhouse effect that’s driving climate change in a dangerous direction.

    Tyson isn’t kidding: The Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, sponsored by the University of California and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is busy at work trying to build “molecular-level energy conversion ‘machines’ that generate fuels directly from sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide.” Just the simple stuff.

    This is at least the second time that Cosmos has brought up the climate issue. It’s enough to make you wonder: Is that where this series is heading? After all, to follow faithfully in the footsteps of Carl Sagan, it isn’t enough to instill in us a sense of wonder about the nature of the cosmos, and the fact that our minds can actually understand it. You have to go further: This cosmic knowledge then feeds back into a terrestrial mission, which is to protect the Earth, the only home we’ve ever known and the launching pad for all intellectual and scientific adventures.

    For Sagan in the 1980s, that meant staving off nuclear war; for us today, it means staving off rising temperatures. So will Cosmos and Tyson go beyond hinting, and say even more about climate change? Stay tuned.

    On our most popular episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast, Neil Tyson explained why he doesn’t debate science deniers, and much more. You can listen here (interview starts around minute 13):

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


    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Donate to the Sharknado sequel and you’ll also be supporting shark conservation
    Sharknado movie

    Let it never be said that the producers of Sharknado 2: Sharknado Harder only care about fictional sharks that are delivered via violent weather system. They also have plenty of love in their hearts for real, living, sea-bound aquatic predators — which is why they’re sending some of the donations they collect for a fan-funded bonus scene to conservation projects.

    Ecorazzi reports:

    The studio reportedly became interested in supporting shark conservation and science after the huge success of “SharkNado,” and is hoping to raise at least $50,000 to pay for the fan-funded bonus scene. The studio has pledged to donate 10 percent of the contributions to the RJD Marine Conservation Program at the University of Miami to further the college’s ongoing shark conservation research.

    There are some good rewards in here too, if you happen to be a Sharknado fan: a $120 donation gets your recorded scream used in the film, and for $5,000 you can get a walk-on role “with either a death scene or a heroic scene, your choice.” Plus, of course, $12 or $500, respectively, for shark conservation.

    I’m pretty amused by the idea of Sharknado, a movie about things that would almost certainly not scientifically happen to sharks, raising money for “shark science.” But this still seems like a win-win proposition — sharks get support, film buffs get a silly thriller to enjoy, and maybe one of you gets your scream on film.


    Filed under: Living
    Gristmill: The four fossil fuel stockpiles that could toast the world
    global warming

    By now it’s old news that the U.S. is in the midst of an oil and gas boom. In fact, with 30.5 billion barrels of untapped crude, our proven oil reserves are higher than they have been since the 1970s. But if that oil doesn’t stay in the ground, along with most U.S. gas and coal reserves, then the planet and all of its inhabitants are in trouble.

    new report from the Sierra Club takes a look at what will happen to the climate if we burn through four of our biggest fossil fuel reserves — and it ain’t pretty. The four stockpiles are Powder River Basin coal in Wyoming and Montana; Green River shale in Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah; oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska; and frackable oil and gas across the U.S. Together these deposits could release 140.5 billion tons of CO2, the report says, enough to get the world a quarter of the way toward a global 2-degree Celsius rise, aka climatological catastrophe.

    While the Sierra Club also reports that, for the first time in 20 years, domestic CO2 emissions are actually decreasing (and the U.S. has lost its place as No. 1 CO2 emitter to China), exploiting our oil, gas, and coal reserves will make it hard to maintain that trend. And, if we’re exporting the fuel, domestic trends don’t tell the whole story. Extracting even a fraction of these fossil fuel deposits would outweigh all of the positive climate steps the Obama administration is taking.

    As Dan Chu, an author of the report, told Grist, “We have more [fossil fuels] than we can afford to burn. Our argument is … unless we are proactively keeping some of those proven reserves in the ground, we will assuredly go over that tipping point.”


    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: With “Netflix for LEGOs,” the sharing economy just went preschool

    pley-lego-rental

    Kids don’t usually like to share, but the founder of Pley is betting she can change that. When an overabundance of toys was “turning [her son] into a little monster,” Elina Furman launched the LEGO-rental company to give all those little plastic bricks new life.

    Once you join Pley, you can choose a monthly subscription of $15, $25, or $39, depending on how fancy and expansive you like your LEGO world. In the same vein as Netflix, your kids (or you — no judgment) get to play with one set at a time, ship it back for free, and then eagerly await the next set in your queue. Both germaphobes and recycling junkies will admire Pley’s cleanliness routine, writes Fast Company:

    Cautious parents need not fear the downside of many tiny, bacteria-laden fingers on the bricks. The company says that 15 million bricks have been washed and dried in Pley’s eco-cleaning solution, a strategy that’s reduced waste by eliminating 90,200 pounds of ABS plastic from our landfills.

    Pley adds that by preventing all that plastic from being made, the company has kept 3.9 million pounds of CO2 out of the atmosphere. And each of its LEGO sets saves a tree, the company claims, although Pley doesn’t explain how, and we suspect its shipping needs might even all this out a bit.

    But on the whole, the company seems awesome. And if you want to pass on your kids’ LEGOs that have lost their novelty, Pley will give you a $5 credit for every pound of bricks you send in. Now we just need to get more toys on the sharing bandwagon. Anyone want my old Jem dolls?


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Living
    Gristmill: Ohio blames frackers for earthquakes
    seismometer

    Ohio officials have linked fracking in the state to an unprecedented swarm of earthquakes that struck last month. Following its investigation, the state is imposing new rules to help reduce frackquake hazards.

    It’s well-known that frackers can cause earthquakes when they shoot their polluted wastewater into so-called injection wells. But a swarm of earthquakes that hit Mahoning County, Ohio, last month was different — it occurred not near an injection well, but near a site where fracking had recently begun. State officials investigated the temblors and concluded that there was a “probable connection” between them and hydraulic fracturing near “a previously unknown microfault.”

    On Friday, following the discovery, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced that frackers will need to comply with new permit regulations. Under the tougher rules, frackers operating within three miles of a known fault or seismically active area will need to deploy sensitive seismic monitors. And if those monitors detect an earthquake, even if the magnitude is as small as 1.0 on the Richter scale, fracking will be suspended while the state investigates.

    Meanwhile, the fracking operation linked to the recent quakes will remain suspended until a plan is developed that could see drilling resumed safely, an official told Reuters.

    “While we can never be 100 percent sure that drilling activities are connected to a seismic event, caution dictates that we take these new steps to protect human health, safety and the environment,” said agency head James Zehringer.

    Leaders in other states, including fracker-friendly California Gov. Jerry Brown (D), might want to pay attention to Ohio’s findings and its sensible new regulations. You may recall that frackers recently called L.A. city council members “appallingly irresponsible” after they asked scientists to investigate whether a swarm of earthquakes in the city was linked to nearby fracking. “Appealingly responsible” might be more apt.


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Smog is linked with higher risk of suicide
    poison-skull-sign-flicker

    Research is piling up that air pollution is correlated with higher suicide rates. (Yet another reason to treat the cause, not just ship in bags of fresh air!)

    John Upton (who also writes for Gristreports in Pacific Standard that smog in Salt Lake County is associated with higher risk of killing yourself, according to a study that looked at 1,500 suicides in the area:

    [Researcher Amanda] Bakian and her colleagues found that the odds of committing suicide in the county spiked 20 percent following three days of high nitrogen dioxide pollution — which is produced when fossil fuels are burned and after fertilizer is applied to fields.

    They also found that Utahans were five percent more likely to kill themselves following three days of breathing in air laced with high levels of fine particulate matter, also known as soot.

    Researchers published similar findings four years ago about air pollution in South Korea and Taiwan, but this is the first time the connection’s been made in the U.S. Another freaky connection: Upton notes that the chair of Utah’s air quality board JUST SO HAPPENS to be an exec at Salt Lake Valley’s biggest air polluter, a Rio Tinto copper mine. (Uncool, Utah. Uncool.)

    University of Utah scientists haven’t published the data yet, but lucky attendees at the undoubtedly chipper American Association of Suicidology conference got to hear it on Friday. One can only assume this preceded a cheery weekend spent shopping for oxygen masks.


    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Living
    Gristmill: This could be the future of Chicago public transportation

    In olden times, back when people wore pocketwatches and used the word “gallimaufry,” Chicago’s transit system was simple. People from the city outskirts took the train downtown for work, then they hopped back on the L and schlepped home.

    Nowadays, shit’s different. People live even farther out than before (sprawl!). New business hubs have sprung up – downtown isn’t the only game in town, you might say. All of this forces people into their cars. (Well, that and the fact that when you’re in a car it’s harder for strangers to judge you while you eat Doritos Locos.)

    So the Center for Neighborhood Technology and the Active Transportation Alliance just proposed a new, expanded transit map to serve the Chicago of today and tomorrow. Here it is, juxtaposed with the existing rail system:

    chicago-transit-map-before-after
    TransitFuture

    The vision includes new routes to help commuters, as well as Bus Rapid Transit running north-south, which would work like a street-level subway that could speed through rush-hour traffic by making traffic lights change. (It’d link five El lines and commuter rail.)

    Granted, this would cost about $20 billion (gulp). But as TransitFuture points out, L.A. raised $40 billion for transit in 2008 by bumping up the county sales tax by only half a cent. Check out TransitFuture’s detailed walkthrough and see if you aren’t persuaded that the town could toddle a little more efficiently.


    Filed under: Cities, Living
    Gristmill: Americans are choosing chihuahuas over children
    dog-in-purse-flickr-michael-bennett

    Since 2007, women haven’t been popping out as many babies (maybe it’s that pesky recession?). But they’ve been enjoying the company of something ELSE cute and tiny and full of shit: small dogs. And that’s better for the population and for resource use overall.

    Roberto A. Ferdman points out the trends on Quartz:

    Birth rates in the US have fallen from nearly 70 per 1,000 women in 2007, to under 63 last year — a 10% tumble. American women birthed almost 400,000 fewer little humans in 2013 than they did six years before. The drop-off has come exclusively among 15- to 29-year-olds.

    birth-rate-chart-various-ages

    Meanwhile, dogs under 20 pounds have doubled in popularity since 1999. They’re now Americans’ most common type of pup. Euromonitor research analyst Damian Shore says it’s not just an interesting correlation; women are totally choosing tail-wagging friends over someone whose college you have to pay for. As he told Quartz:

    There’s definitely some replacement happening there … There are more single and unmarried women in their late 20s and early 30s, which also happens to be the demographic that buys the most small dogs.

    small-dog-rate

    Shore also says mini-pooch popularity is a sign of Americans becoming more urban, because it’s harder to have a dog the size of a bear when you live on a fifth-floor walk-up. So the trends are exciting whether you’re concerned about overpopulation or invested in cities.

    There’s also the fact that most dogs can’t drive, so ole four-legs is a less resource-intensive choice than a small human. Plus, dogs so rarely talk back to you in their teen years. SOLD.


    Filed under: Cities, Living
    Gristmill: NFL player tackles sustainable beef off the field
    photo4-hdr

    From September to December, Will Witherspoon spends his time chasing down quarterbacks and grappling with 300-pound linemen. During the off-season, the St. Louis Rams linebacker spends his free time in the company of heavyweights of a different breed: sustainably raised cattle. Witherspoon owns and operates Shire Gate Farm in Owensville, Mo., and has a passion for meat that’s produced in environmentally conscious and humane ways.

    So how did Witherspoon end up on a different kind of field? He’s a bonafide foodie, and got into the agriculture game to produce his own line of antibiotic-free, organically raised beef. We chatted with Witherspoon about his love for animals, holistic land management, and how he’s spreading the message of sustainable meat to athletes and congressmembers alike.

    Q. Even though you play one of the toughest positions in professional football, we hear you’re a big softy when it comes to animal welfare.

    A. I’ve always been an animal lover. My introduction to life with animals came from my great-grandma’s little farm in Florida. As kids, we could always enjoy this farm life and have a great time. And she used to make these old-school, old-fashioned meals out there for family reunions, that kind of thing. But since my dad was in the military, I spent half my youth in Germany, so it wasn’t exactly a full-time farm life. But I kind of got a good understanding of what I could accomplish as a farmer, and how I could accomplish it.

    In 2007, I bought the first piece of property [for Shire Gate] for my two horses. And since I always thought it would be awesome to raise my own beef, I wanted to buy a couple head of cattle for the property – and ended up coming home with 16. So that ignited the whole question of figuring out how I wanted to raise these animals. After seeing what the commercial beef market was about, and how the animals are treated and everything else, I thought, I wouldn’t do that.

    Q. And how did you first become aware of all the problems in the commercial meat industry?

    A. It all starts with me being an athlete. There’s a little clause in our NFL contracts that says: “You are responsible for everything you put in your body.” Well, we all look at that in the context of, “You are what you eat.” If you’re eating something that’s full of antibiotics, steroids, and everything else – well, you can end up transferring that directly to yourself. So you want to try to ingest the cleanest things you can: the cleanest beef, the cleanest poultry, the best eggs, the best vegetables.

    Q. You’ve been up to Capitol Hill to tackle some less physically intimidating opponents than you’re used to on the issue of antibiotics in meat. Tell us why.

    A. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and Animal Welfare Approved gave me the opportunity to speak to Congress in 2012, to help out with all the great things Slaughter’s been working on. The argument that was brought to the table was: why do these antibiotics need to be taken out of livestock anyway? One huge difference is: You and I can’t go to the store and pick antibiotics off the shelf, right? But as a farmer, I can go straight to the feed store and send in my 9-year-old to pick up a 50-60 pound bag of tetracycline. Think about that! Another thing people don’t understand is that 80 percent of antibiotics that are produced in the U.S. go to livestock, because you have a huge commodity market for factory-farmed beef. These animals are being raised shoulder-to-shoulder in filthy conditions, and the only way they’re being kept alive is with antibiotics. We already create an unnatural environment by feeding these cows as much grain as we do. We need to figure out how to get away from this system.

    Q. Pop quiz: Tell us how much you really know about sustainable farming.

    A. When you talk about the sustainability of cattle, you talk about open pastures, a small herd, and no hormones or antibiotics. You’re also looking at a situation where the animals are rotating on different types of grasses, different fields throughout the property. These animals are naturally improving the quality of the soil by feeding that way, and maintaining a better and healthier lifestyle by being able to move around the property and graze naturally in open pastures. So, you’re looking at just a higher quality product in terms of not just health, but also the environment. If you do things the right way, you can realistically improve the land.

    Animal Welfare Approved has these fantastic guidelines for raising livestock. They come in and they scan my books, they go through the cattle, and they look at the property. That happens every year. And it just makes sense to me that they don’t charge for that, so it’s not an additional cost to the farmer – it’s just, “Follow the rules, and we’ll make sure you use our stamp.”

    I’m actually working on getting certified organic by the USDA next. Everything I do is done organically, but I’ve been waiting to take the time to actually do the certification.

    Q. Time for a little locker room talk: Do you feel a personal responsibility to inform your teammates about the issues surrounding the food system?

    A. Well, yeah, of course. I’m making them aware of the issues. I’m kind of educating the guys as I go – just answering their questions and giving them the knowledge they need to make decisions. A lot of guys are receptive to it, of course – they say, “Man, you know more about where this comes from, how it’s produced, all before it gets to us.” In that situation, you’re looked at [as providing] this expert’s point of view. You’re the person that people rely on. It’s a viewpoint that I’m not sure many people can say they have.

    Q. And have you noticed a trend of other professional athletes getting more interested in sustainable food?

    A. Yeah – we have been talking more along the lines of the health benefits of safer foods, or good holistic practices. And our chef does a great job of bringing quality products in – he’s served Shire Gate beef to the team several times this year alone. These guys want great meals, not garbage, in their bodies. But it’s become more and more about having an understanding of where that food has to come from.

    Q. A little poetic reflection, if we may: Tell us, how does football compare to farming?

    A. To me, they’re both labors of love. They’re both something that you have to enjoy doing to really want to be part of it, and you have to be willing to put the work in to get the results you want.


    Filed under: Food, Living
    Gristmill: Ask Umbra: Is it OK to lather up in the lake with biodegradable soap?
    bathing-in-lake

    Send your question to Umbra!

    Q. I live on a small lake. I have a dock, and a kayak, and a pedal boat for my niece, and hands that get dirty. I’d like to have the safest possible soap to use on the dock to wash hands and boats and furniture, and so on. Based on my own research, it seems to me that Seventh Generation dish soap may actually meet my needs without harming the lake or the critters therein? Do you concur?

    Dennis K.
    Sumter, S.C.

    A. Dearest Dennis,

    I do not. I don’t mean to sound harsh – lots of people mistakenly think that biodegradable soaps are OK to use in the water – but I’ll need to ask you to put down that bottle and back away from the dock.

    “Biodegradable” and “nontoxic” sure sound appealing on a soap label, don’t they? Terms like this may lead us to believe that the contents will break down immediately and harmlessly, causing no damage to the complex ecosystem of plants, fish, bugs, and other tiny aquatic creatures in the lake. Unfortunately, this is not true.

    “Biodegradable” means that the soap will break down in the environment, but it glosses over how long that will take, and what sort of effects the process might have in the meantime. And those effects can be quite detrimental: Phosphorus, a common ingredient in soaps, is like steroids to aquatic plants and algae, leading to overgrown algal blooms and a sharp drop in the oxygen so vital to lake fauna. Soaps can also break the surface tension of water, further lowering oxygen levels. Surfectants in soap can be toxic to lake life, especially tiny invertebrates.

    According to the EPA, an ounce of biodegradable soap needs to be diluted in 20,000 ounces of water to be safe for fish. Now imagine all of your neighbors scrubbing down on their docks, and you can see how the health of your small lake could be significantly compromised.

    I hate to throw cold water all over the lakeside tradition of soaping up on the dock, Dennis, but you’d do well to keep your cleanup on dry land. Most environmental service agencies and kayak manufacturers I surveyed say plain old water and elbow grease should be enough to clean your boats. This task will be easiest if you rinse your vessels with freshwater frequently to prevent any buildup.

    As for your hands, can you wash up in the house? If not, you can set up a simple handwashing station by the dock. Fancier versions consist of a bucket with some kind of pump and faucet, but a single container for soapy wastewater will do – anything that keeps the soap out of the lake and can be dumped down your sink later.

    Now, if the freshwater rinse on that boat just isn’t up to your standards of cleanliness, an occasional scrubdown with biodegradable soap is OK. The best-case scenario here is for you to take the boats to a dedicated washing facility that channels wastewater to a treatment plant, not your lake (available at some marinas). Failing that, pull your boat at least 200 feet from shore and use the sponge-and-bucket technique to clean it: Fill a bucket with water and a little bit of soap, saturate the sponge, scrub, and gather the rinse water as best you can. The same approach ought to work for any furniture that needs cleaning (you’re talking about lawn chairs, not your living-room sofa, right?).

    Biodegradable soap is acceptable on the lawn, by the way, because soil helps filter troublesome pollutants, keep them out of waterways, and eventually break them down. One popular brand spells this out right on the bottle. But in the lake? A Quebec environmental group said it well: “If you wouldn’t drink it, keep it out of our lakes and rivers.” And maybe not even if you would, I venture. Have you seen what goes into a soda these days?

    Oxygenatedly,
    Umbra


    Filed under: Living
    Gristmill: Climate clicktivism for the rich, famous, and connected
    Click to embiggen.
    Click to embiggen.

    What do the NBA, Mark Ruffalo, Al Gore, and Guns and Roses have in common?

    They’ve all signed on to #climate, a new “invite-only” app that connects influencers to climate causes so they can mobilize their large social media followings to sign petitions and organize actions. #climate positions itself as the middle man between the general public and changemaking nonprofits like the Sierra Club, Mosaic, and 350.org.

    Here’s a video that explains how it works:

    The idea came about when founder and internet entrepreneur Josh Felser (of health info site FYI Living and Freestyle, a venture capital firm for internet startups) enlisted his tech buddies to try and figure out a way to bring the discussion about climate change into the mass market.

    According to Felser, #climate can use social capital to connect over 80 million people to nonprofits committed to the climate fight. Their initial goals may be social, but he believes hashtag activism can swell into real-world solutions. “We ultimately want to remove CO2 from the atmosphere,” says Felser.

    That’s a tall order, so the question is: Can clicktivism for the rich, famous, and connected actually initiate realistic change on the climate front? Felser admits it’s no easy task, “but engaging influencers is an important arrow in the quiver to inject climate change into the mainstream conversation and expand the base.” The influencers who are part of #climate, explains Felser, aren’t just celebs, but include tech leaders like Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, GigaOM founder Om Malik, and Evan Williams, creator of Medium and Odeo.

    In any case, having celebrities champion and call attention to climate change can’t really hurt. And if it takes Axl Rose posting about the Amazon to get people to pay attention, so be it.


    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: U.S. urges IPCC to be less boring, try this whole “online” thing
    IPCC makes you yawn

    Thousands of scientists volunteer to review research published by thousands of other scientists – part of an effort to pack all of the latest and best climate science into assessment reports from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But anybody who takes the time to read these reports is in danger of being bored to tears — even before they break down in tears over the scale of the damage that we’re inflicting on humanity and our planet.

    After publishing five mammoth reports during its quarter-century of existence, the IPCC is facing an existential crisis. How can it reinvent its aging self – and its dry scientific reports — to better serve the warming world?

    The U.S. is clear on what the IPCC needs to do: It needs to get with the times.

    Despite the exhaustive amount of work that goes into producing each of the IPCC’s assessment reports, relatively little effort goes into making the information in those reports easily accessible to the public. The IPCC’s main website is ugly and static, mirroring the dry assessment reports to which it links. The IPCC’s online presence seems designed to meet day-to-day demands for climate information by bureaucrats — and nobody else.

    Instead of publishing huge, three-part reports every five to seven years, the U.S. thinks the IPCC’s assessment reports should be divided into two main sections that would be published on staggered timelines — a little bit like how the winter and summer Olympics arrive two years apart. The U.S. is also urging the IPCC to publish “special reports” on emerging topics between its blockbuster assessments. Here are some highlights from the U.S. recommendations to the IPCC about its future:

    Between these regular assessments (which would be easily searchable on a web-based platform), IPCC authors could add relevant publications to the web site to yield a “living document.” … A possible solution could be the kinds of modalities used in various moderated listserves and wikis. …

    Consider taking advantage of the significant advances in information technology by providing the full content of the reports online in an interactive format that hyperlinks in-text citations to the abstracts/articles/reports they reference, as well as links to underlying data and research, where available.

    America’s comments mirror those of other groups and countries. Here, for example, are highlights from the European Union’s recommendations to the IPCC:

    [G]iven the relatively long period between assessment reports (currently seven years) there is a clear need for updates over shorter time-periods, especially when important new elements of information are available and existing pieces of information become outdated. This could be facilitated by a full digitalisation of the reports and complementary use of a web-based ‘wiki-type’ approach, to provide an ‘interim’ (advanced) version of the assessment report.

    The changes that would be needed to get climate science onto smartphones and into living rooms seems like basic stuff in an increasingly internet-savvy world. But it could be challenging to drive such change in a group that’s understandably more interested in climate science than public engagement. To this end, Sweden and other countries have suggested that the IPCC hire professional science writers, while others are urging it to hire multimedia professionals.


    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: U.N. report spells out super-hard things we must do to curb warming
    man pushing Earth up a hill

    Hooboy, it’s gonna get hot. A U.N. climate panel on Sunday painted a sizzling picture of the staggering volume of greenhouse gases we’ve been pumping into the atmosphere — and what will happen to the planet if we keep this shit up.

    By 2100, surface temperatures will be 3.7 to 4.8 degrees C (6.7 to 8.7 F) warmer than prior to the Industrial Revolution. That’s far worse than the goal the international community is aiming for — to keep warming under 2 C (3.7 F). The U.N.’s terrifying projection assumes that we keep on burning fossil fuels as if nothing mattered, like we do now, leading to carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere of between 750 and 1,300 parts per million by 2100. A few centuries ago, CO2 levels were a lovely 280 ppm, and many scientists say we should aim to keep them at 350 ppm, but we’re already above 400.

    These warnings come from the third installment of the latest big report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, compiled by hundreds of climate scientists and experts. (WTF is this IPCC? See our explainer. Feel like you’ve heard this story before? Perhaps you’re thinking of the first installment of the report, which came out last fall, or the second installment, which came out last month. Maybe the IPCC believes that breaking its report into three parts makes it more fun, like the Hobbit movies.)

    Here’s a paragraph and a chart from the 33-page summary of the latest installment that help explain how we reached this precarious point in human history.

    Globally, economic and population growth continue to be the most important drivers of increases in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion. The contribution of population growth between 2000 and 2010 remained roughly identical to the previous three decades, while the contribution of economic growth has risen sharply … Between 2000 and 2010, both drivers outpaced emission reductions from improvements in energy intensity. Increased use of coal relative to other energy sources has reversed the long-standing trend of gradual decarbonization of the world’s energy supply.

    Click to embiggen.
    IPCC
    Click to embiggen.

    Of course, we could change our fossil-fuel-burning, globe-warming ways. It’s too late to avoid climate change — it’s already here — but the scientists who collaborated on the latest IPCC report think they know what it would take to keep warming within 2 degrees. It would require “substantial cuts” in greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century “through large-scale changes in energy systems,” and maybe also changes in how we use land and protect CO2-slurping forests. By 2050, we would need to be pumping far less pollution into the atmosphere than we were in 2010 — perhaps 40 to 70 percent less. And by 2100, we would need to stop polluting the atmosphere entirely.

    Achieving these seemingly impossible but utterly crucial reductions in greenhouse gas pollution will require international agreement, the report notes. The trans-boundary nature of the climate crisis means no one government or group can fix this problem on its own. So come on, everybody — let’s get to it!


    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Triple Pundit: Rio Tinto Pulls Out Of Pebble Mine, Gifts Shares to Nonprofits

    In an extraordinary move, Rio Tinto announced it would divest its 19.1 percent equity stake in Pebble Mine project owner Northern Dynasty Minerals by gifting shares to two local nonprofit organizations. Rio Tinto's divestment casts further doubt on Northern Dynasty's ability to develop the controversial and massive copper-gold project, which sets the value of the world's richest salmon habitat and marine ecosystem on the scales against global demand for copper and gold.

    The post Rio Tinto Pulls Out Of Pebble Mine, Gifts Shares to Nonprofits appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Twitter Chat: General Mills with TriplePundit and CSRwire

    Join TriplePundit & CSRwire at #GenMillsSusty on Apr. 23, 12pm PST / 3pm EST, to discuss General Mills' goals and commitments from its 2014 CSR report.

    The post Twitter Chat: General Mills with TriplePundit and CSRwire appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

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

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

    Triple Pundit: UPS Backs Down—Cancels Move to Fire 250 Drivers

    Teamsters Local 804 announced on its website last week that UPS agreed to abandon plans to pink slip drivers who had walked off the job to protest the firing of an employee, Jairo Reyes -- although the company asserts that the walkout violated the drivers' contract.

    The post UPS Backs Down—Cancels Move to Fire 250 Drivers appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: McDonald’s Recognizes 51 Suppliers With 2014 ‘Best of Sustainable Supply’ Awards

    McDonald's has received its fair share of criticism across numerous fronts. This year's Sustainable Supply awards indicates the fast-food giant is committed to enhancing the overall sustainability of its business, including that of its far-flung network of suppliers.

    The post McDonald’s Recognizes 51 Suppliers With 2014 ‘Best of Sustainable Supply’ Awards appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: SEEED Summit at Brown University: Interview with Ira Magaziner

    Two Brown undergrads sat down to talk with Ira Magaziner, Chief Executive Officer and Vice Chairman of the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) and Chairman of the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI), and hear about his journey as a social entrepreneur and activist. Here is what they learned.

    The post SEEED Summit at Brown University: Interview with Ira Magaziner appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Coal and the Role of Multi-Stakeholderism

    There’s little doubt that multi-stakeholderism is crucial to elements of the business and human rights movement, but is this type of collaboration always the best strategy? Or, more to the point, is it even realistic? A look at the behavior of the major stakeholders in the coal industry is illustrative and sobering.

    The post Coal and the Role of Multi-Stakeholderism appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Report: China Holds a ‘Wide Lead’ in the Clean Energy Investment Race

    As clean energy finance fell in Europe -- most notably Germany and Italy -- it soared in Asia, particularly in Japan and China in 2013, according to a new report from Pew Charitable Trusts.

    The post Report: China Holds a ‘Wide Lead’ in the Clean Energy Investment Race appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Diapers and tampons could soon be made from jellyfish
    jellyfish_sprengben1

    First there was the Diva Cup. Then came the sea pearl. So what’s next for sustainable menstrual solutions? Jellyfish! Uncross your legs, ladies, and get this: Scientists broke down jellyfish flesh and used nanoparticles (for antibacterial purposes) to create a highly absorbent, biodegradable material called “Hydromash.”

    According to Capital Nano, a company raising funds for the product:

    The Hydromash absorbs more than several times its volume and biodegrades in less than 30 days (faster than any other bio-degradable products such as bio-degradable diapers made out of pulp.)

    Take that, Playtex! Hydromash has the potential to be used for almost anything that you use absorbent paper products for — sponges, paper towels, and even diapers.

    Here are two reasons why we hope Hydromash makes it to the mass market.

    First, diapers have a lousy reputation for clogging up landfills: The EPA estimates that about 20 billion disposable diapers are dumped in landfills every year, accounting for more than 3.5 million tons of waste.

    Second, as ocean temperatures warm due to climate change, jellyfish have become the scourge of the seas, invading the waters faster than a San Francisco tech firm can fill up apartments in the Mission District.

    So, for those facts alone, we’re willing to consider getting jellyfish near our tender bits. Cine’al, the company behind Hydromash, is currently in talks with potential partners in South Korea and South Carolina to open up manufacturing facilities near jellyfish collection sites.


    Filed under: Article, Living
    Triple Pundit: All Eyes on the Forests: The New Norm of Zero-Deforestation

    The new norm of zero-deforestation implies we are entering a new phase, transitioning into a modern approach to global forest management and conservation to match recent commitments from industry leaders. So, what does the 21st century model look like?

    The post All Eyes on the Forests: The New Norm of Zero-Deforestation appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Eco Geek: CETO Produces Wave Power and Freshwater

    A new, grid-tied offshore wave energy project called CETO is being readied off the west coast of Australia, near Perth. Carnegie Wave Energy is installing what is called the "first operating wave energy array scheme in the world." The installation will consist of three submerged buoys 11 meters (36 feet) in diameter, which will be anchored offshore. The buoys will create high pressure water which will be pumped to an onshore generating station to produce electricity.

    In addition to producing power, the CETO technology incorporates an interesting synergy - it is also used to provide fresh water. The system provides for more efficient desalination of seawater, since the water is already being pumped onshore from the buoys. Once it has powered the turbines, some of the water can be diverted into conventional desalination equipment. For regions in need of water desalination, the combination is ideal, and additional energy is not required for pumping water in from the sea.

    The submerged operation of the CETO buoys helps provide storm survival capacity for the buoys and keeps the bouys out of view to minimize visual impact.

    In comparison to wind turbines, the CETO system is small-scale. Each buoyant actuator has a rated capacity of 240 kW, so the installation being built will have less than 1 MW of capacity, whereas many current wind turbines have individual capacities of several mwgawatts. Nonetheless, it is another step forward for another energy generating technology. Carnegie hopes to expand commercialization of this technology and is targeting having 1000 MW of capacity installed by 2020.

    Gristmill: IKEA makes big investment in wind energy (some assembly required)
    Let's hope that couch holds up in a stiff breeze.
    Shutterstock
    Let’s hope that couch holds up in a stiff breeze.

    IKEA — though not exactly a friend to forests, and way too fond of dubious meatballs for our taste — still wins greenie points for having a Scandinavian way with alternative energy. Ninety percent of its massive warehouse stores will soon host rooftop solar panels, including sunny south Florida’s largest solar array, and Brits will be able to buy solar panels in U.K. stores starting this summer. On Thursday, the company one-upped its own clean cred by announcing its investment in a giant wind farm in Illinois.

    Hoopeston Wind is the most recent in a series of wind investments by IKEA, including several farms in Canada, where the furniture behemoth is the largest retail wind investor. The Illinois farm will produce 98 megawatts of electricity when it comes online in 2015, or enough to power 34,000 Expedit-enhanced homes. That’s more than twice the electricity that all of IKEA’s U.S. operations consume, and about 18 percent of the company’s global consumption. All of those megawatts will be sold locally, and IKEA will count them toward its overall renewable energy goal: to be totally carbon-free by 2020.

    When it comes to putting up wind power, IKEA is actually lagging. (Maybe they were struggling to read the instructions?) The American Wind Energy Association credits Walmart, of all companies, with kicking off the airy trend when it started buying a lot of energy from a Texas wind farm in 2008. Microsoft and Facebook both made flashy commitments to wind energy last year, while Google has been steadily ratcheting up its wind game for years.

    This wind rush could be about, yes, corporate responsibility and a commitment to a more sustainable world. It’s also about the bottom line. Volatile fuel prices are driving smart companies to make long-term investments in more reliable power — and we’re OK with that, as long as they fix those wasteful bookcases, too.

    Right now, IKEA’s new farm is saddled with the very Midwestern name Hoopeston Wind, but the company already stole our punchline about rebranding it:

    “We haven’t figured out if it will say ‘IKEA’ on the blades,’’ [Rob Olson, chief financial officer of IKEA U.S.,] said. “Or maybe we’ll use the iconic names for our products on the wind turbines? We’re not sure.’’

    WINDË coming soon to a utility near you.


    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Living
    Gristmill: Why you should be skeptical of Walmart’s cheap organic food
    walmart_organics

    Out on the mean streets of the U.S. organic foods industry, Walmart has stepped onto the corner with both guns drawn. On Thursday, the superstore behemoth announced its plan to partner with Wild Oats (which you may recognize as a former subsidiary of Whole Foods) to offer a line of organic goods at unprecedentedly low prices in 2,000 of its U.S. stores. To start, the line will offer primarily canned goods and other pantry staples that will cost up to 25 percent less than those of other organic brands.

    At first blush, this appears to be great news. Cheaper, more accessible organic food – isn’t that one of the prerequisites for the kind of healthy food system we’ve all been waiting for? The New York Times notes that Walmart’s big move could ultimately create a larger supply of organic goods, pushing down organic prices in the long run.

    From The New York Times:

    “We’re removing the premium associated with organic groceries,” said Jack L. Sinclair, executive vice president of Walmart U.S.’s grocery division. The Wild Oats organic products will be priced the same as similar nonorganic brand-name goods.

    If that sounds suspicious to anyone familiar with organic growing practices, it should. For those not as well-versed, we’re here to help! We spoke with Coach Mark Smallwood, executive director of The Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Penn., about how Walmart could manage to offer such low prices, and what that might mean for organic farmers across the country.

    Smallwood explains that the concept of a “premium” associated with organic food is misleading, because the price of an organic good reflects the true cost of its production.

    “The issue is that there aren’t the subsidies available to organic farmers that there are [for conventional farmers.] So there’s a question in my mind about how Walmart is going to pull this off and be able to make profit,” Smallwood said. “And for them to even come out and make that statement before they’ve started is a huge question mark. Somebody’s going to have to pay, and my hope is that it’s not the organic farmer.”

    Smallwood also shared his concern that if Walmart were to incentivize large-scale organic production, industrial organic practices would become more widespread. In this model, farmers adhere to just the bare minimum of organic standards and ultimately end up depleting soil health on a piece of land, abandoning it, and moving on to another.

    “Will a large agricultural operation come in and buy up tens of small family farms and put them all under one name, and then create that slash-and-burn model?” Smallwood said. “That’s what I’m afraid of. That’s the [possible] downside.”

    For the optimists in all of us, let us remember that it’s too soon to know exactly which approach Walmart will take. As Smallwood says: “The potential is there for [organic farmers] to be treated very well, and paid handsomely for the wonderful artisan stewardship of the planet. What is that worth to Walmart? We’re going to find out.”

    We reached out to Walmart specifically to ask if the company was planning to source from small-scale farmers, and where its farmers would be located geographically. This was their response via email:

    Regarding your questions, we are working with our suppliers to create a surety of demand which ultimately helps us pass along savings to our customers. We’re using our scale to deliver quality, organic groceries to our customers for less. When we do this, it’s a win, win, win situation for our customers, our suppliers and our company. Our customers can trust that they will save money at Walmart, our suppliers can count on us for the demand and we are able to offer innovative new products.

    Hey — we didn’t say it was a good response. Since it provides exactly none of the specifics that we sought out, we’ll just have to wait and see, and hope for the best.


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Food
    Gristmill: No Bunk: Wendell Pierce is the greenest celeb in the game

    We’re on a quest to give your favorite celeb a fruit basket for supporting green causes. Here’s why you should vote for Wendell Pierce.

    A: C’mon man, it’s Bunk from The Wire, our favorite detective who kept a cigar in his mouth and a “fuck” in every quote.

    B. Because he said in The Wire, “The Bunk can’t swim. I ain’t too good at floatin’ either.”

    C. Because he’s from New Orleans.

    D. Because he cared so much about the food desert problem in New Orleans that he opened a bunch of grocery stores that sell local, organic produce.

    E. Because those grocery stores deliver (since a huge percentage of New Orleanians don’t have cars, and the city has poor public transit).

    F. Because he’s not used to winning. He recently threw his weight behind a candidate for mayor of New Orleans who came in last place.

    G. BUT! His candidate was the only one who had environment as part of his platform.

    H. Because Katrina

    I. Because he said about Hurricane Katrina: “When the entire world is destroyed, and you realize you’re just a moment away from losing everything, then you see the ugly side of human nature. To say nothing is to be complicit in bullshit.”

    J. Because he hit the streets after Katrina to protest the bulldozing of public housing in New Orleans.

    K. Because he’s been a guest at Obama’s White House six times.

    L. Because you don’t want him to give you this look:

    Wendell Pierce / Bunk

    Quote: “I was working around [New Orleans] on Treme when I realized that one of the great needs was grocery stores. There were large areas that were underserved – food deserts, they’re called – and grocery stores were a way to bring something to the infrastructure of New Orleans. An opportunity to do good and do well. You can have all the community gardens and farmers’ markets in the world, but without that distribution arm, it’s hard to change the paradigm.”

    Tweet your support. 


    Filed under: Article, Living
    Gristmill: Olivia Munn wants you to save elephants (and the planet) — send her mangoes

    We’re on a quest to give your favorite celeb a fruit basket for supporting green causes. Here’s why you should vote for Olivia Munn.

    You may know Olyvia Munn as the brainy economics reporter in The Newsroom. She also worked alongside the Daily Show’s “sexy news bunny,” Samantha Bee, reporting on oil spills and other not-funny disasters. Or perhaps you noticed her in this great photo of a couple of elephants.

    Regardless, you might be surprised to learn that she not only plays a reporter on TV, but she’s playing one in real life, co-hosting the new Showtime documentary The Years of Living Dangerously. The esteemed Columbia Journalism Review calls her “a hidden journalist for a generation wary of reporters.”

    That’s right. She’s bringing the cause to the masses, putting the cool in the fight against coal – and the awesome in renewable energy.

    She took off her pants for elephants. She’s cast her ballot for the planet. Now she needs your vote.

    Quote: “Solar energy equals more jobs equals awesome.”

    Tweet your support. 


    Filed under: Article
    Gristmill: Please give Don Cheadle a fruit basket for being a badass green celeb

    We’re on a quest to give your favorite celeb a fruit basket for supporting green causes. Here’s why you should vote for Don Cheadle.

    The question is really “why wouldn’t you vote for Don?” Besides being Oscar nominated for Hotel Rwanda and kicking ass alongside Iron Man, Cheadle is a U.N. Environmental Program ambassador. He travels the world raising awareness for climate change, and has lent his hosting talents to Showtime’s climate change series, Years of Living Dangerously. If you still have doubts, just rewatch the clip above.

    Quote: “It seems like the same people that don’t want to believe in the science believe in science when they need to take a pill or believe in science when they you know want something to work right in their house that’s attributable to other smart people who put that together, but in this issue it’s gotta be part of something else.” — Years of Living Dangerously

    “Reading is fundamental and shit.” — Out of Sight

    Tweet your support.


    Filed under: Article
    Gristmill: Oscar, schmoscar … Jared Leto deserves a fruit basket

    We’re on a quest to give your favorite celeb a fruit basket for supporting green causes. Here’s why you should vote for Jared Leto.

    What’s not to love about a guy whose first thought upon hearing he’s been nominated for an Oscar is vegan pancakes? Talented, handsome, and hungry: It’s a winning combination. Leto shows his commitment to all things planetary in every way: His band is called 30 Seconds to Mars. He’s expressed emotional feelings for Saturn and Pluto. And on this orb, he’s done everything from partner with NRDC to pester John Kerry about Keystone XL. Plus, you want to talk about low-impact? The guy stopped eating for his Oscar-winning role in Dallas Buyers Club. This man needs a fruit basket, people! Vote Leto … or death!

    Quote: “It’s like, you think … you’re safe or something, cause you can just … walk away, anytime, cause you don’t, like, need her — you don’t need anyone. But the thing you didn’t realize is, you’re wrong.” — Leto as Jordan Catalano, obviously mooning over Mother Earth

    Tweet your support.


    Filed under: Article
    Gristmill: Calling on Adrian Grenier’s entourage: Tell Grist that he’s the greenest of them all

    We’re on a quest to give your favorite celeb a fruit basket for supporting green causes. Here’s why you should vote for Adrian Grenier.

    Grenier’s eyes aren’t the only thing green — or dreamy — about him. The Entourage star is one of the most environmentally dedicated actors in Hollywood. He produced a green TV series called Alter Eco and launched an environmental website called SHFT. The man loves puns and hates climate change. What more could we ask for? Let’s hug it out, bitch.

    Quote: One of the things Peter [Glatzer] and I bonded on was our disgust with doom and gloom, preachy green content that was all around the space.”

    Environmentalism as a separate category doesn’t work. We need to incorporate sustainable choices in our everyday lives.”

    Tweet your support. 


    Filed under: Article
    Gristmill: Mark Ruffalo Hulk-smashes fracking — so give him a fruit basket!
    mark-ruffalo-fracking-press-conference-hulk

    We’re on a quest to give your favorite celeb a fruit basket for supporting green causes. Here’s why you should vote for Mark Ruffalo.

    Mark Ruffalo started a nonprofit, Water Defense, to fight everything from fracking to mountaintop removal to deep-sea drilling. He’s an outspoken, dashingly grizzled opponent of tar sands. And he’s passionate about renewable energy, cofounding an organization to speed the transition to clean energy and calling gas “a bridge to nowhere.”

    Plus, Ruffalo wants any future standalone film about The Hulk to have a theme as green as the character, so the masses start to get the picture about climate. As he told audiences recently at Sundance, “What we have to do as storytellers is to take science and make it relatable.” SWOON.

    Quote: “It has yet to be proven that we can frack without destroying our water and air. If it can be done, why aren’t they doing it?”

    Tweet your support.


    Filed under: Article
    Gristmill: Gisele Bundchen is a model green citizen, and she deserves fruit for it

    We’re on a quest to give your favorite celeb a fruit basket for supporting green causes. Here’s why you should vote for Gisele Bundchen.

    Listen: she’s literally an angel — as her job. As one of the* top-paid supermodels of all time, she makes her three-time Super Bowl-winning husband look like an underachiever. And she doesn’t just use her unreasonably good looks to sell $50 push-up bras — she’s been bringing attention to myriad environmental causes through her work as a United Nations environmental ambassador. As one of the beautiful faces of the Think.Eat.Save campaign, she raised awareness of the worldwide problem of food waste. She’s just joined the Rainforest Alliance Board of Directors, and has joined Al Gore in speaking out on the importance of global sustainable energy. She also stars as leader of The Green Team, a crew of cartoon women who are saving trees in form-fitting outfits.

    But Bundchen is also famously devoted to an entirely organic lifestyle for herself and her genetic powerhouse of a family, and anyone who’s been driven to tears at a Whole Foods (just us?) knows that runs into money — so she really needs that fruit basket to feed her children!

    Quote: “My kids eat what I eat. The first solid food my son had was papaya and then avocado.”

    Tweet your support.

    Correction: While Gisele Bundchen has been the highest paid supermodel in the world for the past 10 years, our staff cannot confirm that she’s the highest paid of all time. This correction is DEFINITELY NOT the result of a physical threat from Naomi Campbell.


    Filed under: Article
    Gristmill: Which green celeb should win our super-delicious fruit basket?
    Grape expectations.

    Let’s hear it for green celebrities: They sneak sea-level rise into talk-show chats. When they get arrested at the White House, the hotness quotient of Keystone XL protesters goes through the roof. They dig deep into the couch cushions and donate to climate causes instead of buying another hydrofoil (call us, Leo!). A few even make the ultimate sacrifice: taking their clothes off for the planet. Bless them and their perfect bodies. 

    So for their continued optimism and can-do spirit in the climate fight, we’d like to show our gratitude and solidarity with the Fruit of the Gloom Award for Exceptional Environmental Service by a Famous Person in 2013 (give or take). The nominees are: Wendell Pierce! Jared Leto! Mark Ruffalo! Olivia Munn! Adrian Grenier! Gisele Bundchen! Don Cheadle!

    But we figure the last thing an eco-conscious star needs is another trophy doorstop (that’s what the People’s Choice Award is for!). What they need is a basket of delicious, organic, local fruit. We can’t help it! The ethnic grandmother in us sees them fading to skin and bones and thinks, “Eat! Eat!”

    But only one famous eco-celeb can walk away with a sumptuous, Grist-approved bounty of organic apples, bananas, and possibly even a kiwi. Help us pick by voting now! Polls close at midnight on April 16.


    Filed under: Article
    Gristmill: At-risk cities hold solutions to climate change
    miami-wave

    It is already taking shape as the 21st century urban nightmare: A big storm hits a city like Shanghai, Mumbai, Miami, or New York, knocking out power supply and waste treatment plants, washing out entire neighborhoods, and marooning the survivors in a toxic and foul-smelling swamp.

    Now the world’s leading scientists are suggesting that those same cities in harm’s way could help drive solutions to climate change.

    A draft report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), obtained by the Guardian, says smart choices in urban planning and investment in public transport could help significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions, especially in developing countries.

    The draft is due for release in Berlin on Sunday, the third and final installment of the IPCC’s authoritative report on climate change.

    “The next two decades present a window of opportunity for urban mitigation as most of the world’s urban areas and their infrastructure have yet to be constructed,” the draft said.

    Around 1 billion people live in cities and coastal areas at risk of sea-level rise and coastal flooding — and those figures are expected to rise in the coming decades.

    Most of the high-risk areas are in Asia, but the U.S. East Coast, where the rate of sea-level rise is three or four times faster than the global average, is also a “hotspot,” with cities, beaches, and wetlands exposed to flooding.

    But those at-risk cities also produce a large and growing share of emissions that cause climate change — which makes them central to its solution.

    “They are at the frontlines of this issue,” said Seth Schultz, research director for the C40 group of mega-cities taking action on climate change. “And on the whole cities have extraordinarily strong power to deliver on these things.”

    Even in America, where Republican governors and members of Congress deny the existence or have rolled back action on climate change, cities are moving ahead.

    Southeast Florida faces a triple threat — flat, built on porous rock, and in line for high sea-level rise. Planners in four southeastern counties are preparing for 24 inches of sea-level rise by 2060 — which could put a large area around Miami underwater.

    Beaches and barrier islands are already starting to disappear. Miami and other towns flood during heavy rain storms and full-moon high tides, and saltwater is already seeping into the network of canals in the Everglades.

    “Sometimes it is tempting to think those impacts just occur in small coastal areas, but they are more extensive than that,” said Jennifer Jurado, director of natural resources for Broward County.

    Her nightmare scenario in a future of rising sea level would be flooding from both directions — the coast and inland — with saltwater contaminating groundwater reserves, and saturating farmland.

    Jurado and officials in three other southeastern counties of Florida have teamed up on a plan to cut emissions and protect populations from future sea-level rise.

    Officials started with computer modelling to draw up detailed plans of what Florida would look like under future sea-level rise.

    Broward County is now restricting development in areas at risk of two feet of sea-level rise. Water districts in Sweetwater and other towns south of Miami are installing pumps at $70 million each to divert storm run-off water and pump it back into the ocean.

    And while Florida’s Republican governor, Rick Scott, has put climate change efforts on hold, Broward County last month committed to getting 20 percent of electricity from renewable sources and increasing energy efficiency by 20 percent. Homeowners are being offered rebates on their property taxes to install solar panels.

    The county has also pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.

    Salt Lake City Skyline
    Dave Gates
    Salt Lake City on a good, not-too-droughty day

    Across the country in another Republican-controlled state, Salt Lake City, Utah, has also been dealing with climate change.

    Salt Lake City, which is at risk of running out of water because of climate change, set ambitious targets to cut emissions, and was the first city in America to commit to offsetting emissions from official travel.

    Meanwhile, Utah’s state legislature this month passed bills offering new financial incentives for solar panels and plug-in vehicles. The bills also require Utah to convert 50 percent of state transport vehicles to alternative fuels or plug-ins by 2018.

    Such initiatives are becoming more common across America as city officials take future climate change into account for planning, zoning, and land use, said Christina DeConcini, director of government affairs for the World Resources Institute.

    “I think there is a growing focus on climate change,” she said. “A lot of cities have sustainability departments and people focusing on it, and more and more of the work they are doing is focused on climate and climate impacts.”

    The reason, she said, was transparent. “Cities that are more at risk are definitely paying more attention.”

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


    Filed under: Article, Cities, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: El Niño could raise meteorological hell this year
    lighthouse

    It’s more likely than not that El Niño will rise from the Pacific Ocean this year — and some scientists are warning that it could grow into a bona fide monster.

    NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center put out a bulletin Thursday saying there’s a greater than 50 percent chance that El Niño will develop later this year. Australian government meteorologists are even more confident — they said earlier this week that there’s a greater than 70 percent chance that El Niño will develop this summer.

    Not totally clear on what this El Niño thing even is? Andrew Freedman explains at Mashable:

    El Niño and La Niña events refer to fluctuations in air and ocean conditions in the tropical Pacific. El Niño events are characterized by warmer than average sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific, and they add heat to the atmosphere, thereby warming global average temperatures. They typically occur once every three to seven years and can also alter weather patterns around the world, causing droughts and floods from the West Coast of the U.S. to Papua New Guinea.

    There was a particularly brutal El Niño from 1997 to 1998, which killed an estimated 23,000 people and caused tens of billions of dollars worth of damage. The looming El Niño could match the intensity of that outburst. More from Mashable:

    Eric Blake, a hurricane specialist at NOAA’s National Hurricane Center in Miami, said conditions are changing rapidly in the Pacific, going from 50/50 odds of an El Niño, to a setup that eerily resembles the circumstances that preceded the monster El Niño of ‘97-’98.

    “It’s something we haven’t really seen since the ’97 El Niño,” Blake said of the westerly wind bursts and ocean observations.

    El Niño events aren’t our fault — they’re just a fact of life on planet Earth, caused by inherent instability in Pacific Ocean weather patterns. But we may be making things worse for ourselves. Scientists reported in July that El Niño is arriving more frequently now than had been the case before we started heavily polluting the skies with greenhouse gases. And in January, a paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change forecast that more El Niños will be of the extreme variety as we continue to warm the globe.


    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: These stylish fair-trade clothes support at-risk women
    Raven + Lily

    Think of Raven + Lily as the anti–Forever 21. Rather than making new gewgaws outta plastic, the sustainable clothing company upcycles materials like bullet casings (!) and silver coins. Plus, it pays a fair wage to HIV-positive women and victims of sex trafficking, abuse, and other trauma. (Its prices also set it apart from Forever 21, although they’re far from Prada-high.)

    And unlike Forever 21, you can actually feel good about wearing things from Raven + Lily, instead of slightly nauseated and wondering if those burned-smelling jeans are making you sick. Raven + Lily offers healthcare along with a safe job so women in Cambodia, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, and the U.S. can get a leg up out of poverty. Its Kenya Collection, for instance:

    Features hand-carved wooden and beaded jewelry that empower women from the Esiteti community to eradicate female genital mutation, as well as to be the first generation to send girls to school.

    Awesome, right? The company is careful to make the best use of local resources, investigating what fabrics and materials local women have access to and where their design skills lie. This video explains more about the bullets-to-beads story and turning conflict into art:

    Raven + Lily also gives its workers a voice by telling their stories on its site. Srey Keo, a seamstress in a Phnom Penh workshop, says it’s better than other local work she’s had:

    I like this job much better than the garment factory. The work environment is good, and I can talk with the other women here … Also, the pay is better here and now I am able to live near my family and see them more. Now I have my own skills and am being trained in how to improve and grow.

    Read more of their stories and take 20 percent off any Raven + Lily purchase on Earth Day with the code EARTH14.


    Filed under: Living
    Triple Pundit: IKEA Invests In 98 Megawatt Wind Farm In Illinois

    IKEA US announced its investment in a 98 megawatt wind farm in Hoopeston, Illinois.

    The post IKEA Invests In 98 Megawatt Wind Farm In Illinois appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Weather-related blackouts in U.S. doubled in 10 years
    storms and the power grid

    The current U.S. electrical grid is a far cry from smart. Climate change and aging infrastructure are leading to an increasing number of blackouts across the country.

    A new analysis by the nonprofit Climate Central found that the number of outages affecting 50,000 or more people for at least an hour doubled during the decade up to 2012.  Most of the blackouts were triggered when extreme weather damaged large transmission lines and substations. Michigan had the most outages, followed by Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

    Click to embiggen.
    Climate Central
    Click to embiggen.

    Severe rainstorms, which are growing more tempestuous as the globe warms, were blamed for the majority of the weather-related outages.

    Click to embiggen.
    Climate Central
    Click to embiggen.

    The researchers listed two main drivers of the trend:

    Climate change is, at most, partially responsible for this recent increase in major power outages, which is a product of an aging grid serving greater electricity demand, and an increase in storms and extreme weather events that damage this system. But a warming planet provides more fuel for increasingly intense and violent storms, heat waves, and wildfires, which in turn will continue to strain, and too often breach, our highly vulnerable electrical infrastructure. …

    Since 1990, heavy downpours and flooding have increased in most parts of the country, and the trend is most dramatic in the Northeast and Midwest. Some of this heavy rain is likely to be associated with high winds and thunderstorm activity. Researchers have found that these regions have already seen a 30 percent increase in heavy downpours compared to the 1901-1960 average.

    Click to embiggen.
    Climate Central
    Click to embiggen.

    Solutions to the problem include more small wind and solar power installations built close to where the electricity is needed — and an overhaul of the country’s overburdened and outmoded grid system.

    This research won’t come as a surprise inside the White House. The Obama administration put out a call for more spending on grid infrastructure last year when it published similar findings in its own report.


    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: The week in GIFs: Raising our eyebrows

    The week’s green news has us skeptical, judgmental, and just plain confused. (Last week: genies, junk, and Mary Jane.)

    Only 28 percent of Fox’s climate segments are accurate:

    judging-you-anderson-cooper
    Tumblr

    Ohio cracked down on pollution from fracking:

    brad-pitt-shit-yeah
    Reaction Gifs

    Oil companies would rather let trains explode than work with regulators:

    obama-b-please
    Reaction Gifs

    EVs are so quiet, they’re sneaking up on cyclists and pedestrians:

    cat-asks-what-surprised
    Gif Garage

    Droughts are pushing beef prices to record highs:

    game-of-thrones-put-fork-down
    Giphy

    People are tipping Smart cars over for fun:

    why-cant-you-just-masturbate
    Tumblr

    Teaching kids to cook is better than … well, whatever THIS is:

    oh-children-its-dinnertime
    Blogspot

    Filed under: Living
    Gristmill: Salamanders are doing their best to stave off climate change
    salamander

    If we can’t get through to Republicans, at least we have one slimy little crawler* that’s helping to mitigate climate change. A new study indicates that woodland salamanders help keep carbon out of the atmosphere, thanks to their diet of insects that feed on dead leaves.

    Here’s how it works: Salamanders eat mostly “shredding invertebrates,” bugs that survive by ripping leaves to pieces and eating them. Shredding the leaves releases their carbon into the atmosphere — but when there are fewer shredding invertebrates, leaves stay on the ground and decompose, with their carbon eventually being absorbed safely into the soil. By eating the shredders, salamanders help carbon be directed into the ground and not into the air.

    Scientists from the U.S. Forest Service and the College of the Redwoods investigated this phenomenon by setting up a series of enclosures, some with salamanders and some without, says the New York Times:

    The presence of salamanders resulted in a significant decrease in shredders: fly and beetle larvae, adult beetles and springtails. In the plots with no salamanders there were more shredders, and they consumed about 13 percent more of the leaf litter. Almost half of that lost weight was carbon, released into the atmosphere.

    These enclosures were only 16 square feet, so it remains to be seen whether this effect persists when you’re looking at a whole forest. But if it does, the tiny salamander is actually doing a lot to help the climate:

    The authors calculate that woodland salamanders at the density in their study would send 179 pounds of carbon per acre of forest down into the soil, rather than up into the atmosphere. Extrapolated to the huge numbers of woodland salamanders and other predators working in the leaf litter of forests around the world, that is enough to affect global climate.

    It’s not going to have a major effect like, say, unhitching ourselves from the oil economy — especially since scientists still disagree on details (like whether the reduction in shredders would still have an effect in dry conditions, when it’s harder for the soil to absorb carbon). But it’s a nice illustration of how important it is to preserve the food chain and protect even the tiniest creatures.

    Now let’s set up a cow vs. salamander death match, for the fate of the planet!

    Correction: It has been pointed out to the author that salamanders aren’t reptiles, they’re amphibians, which SHE TOTALLY KNEW. Whoops. Climate-denying Republicans, however, remain reptiles.


    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: GMO labeling would be outlawed by new bill in Congress
    GMO labeling march

    State-led efforts to mandate GMO labels are blossoming like a field of organic tulips, but members of Congress are trying to mow them down with legislative herbicide.

    Maine and Connecticut recently passed laws that will require foods containing GMO ingredients to be clearly marked as such — after enough other states follow suit. And lawmakers in other states are considering doing the same thing. The trend makes large food producers nervous — nervous enough to spend millions defeating ballot initiatives in California and Washington that also would have mandated such labels. They worry that the labels might scare people off, eating into companies’ sales and profits.

    So a band of corporate-friendly members of Congress has come riding in to try to save the day for their donors. A bipartisan group led by Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) has signed onto legislation introduced Wednesday that would run roughshod over states’ rules on GMO labels. Reuters reports:

    The bill, dubbed the “Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act,” was drafted by U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo from Kansas, and is aimed at overriding bills in roughly two dozen states that would require foods made with genetically engineered crops to be labeled as such.

    The bill specifically prohibits any mandatory labeling of foods developed using bioengineering.

    Large business groups cheered the legislation, which could receive its first hearings in the summer. “The GMO labeling ballot initiatives and legislative efforts that many state lawmakers and voters are facing are geared toward making people wrongly fear what they’re eating and feeding their children,” said the American Farm Bureau Federation’s president.

    But groups that believe Americans have a right to know what they’re eating and which farming technologies they’re supporting are of course opposed, characterizing the bill as a desperate salvo by Big Food in the face of overwhelming support for GMO labels. The opponents have dubbed the bill the Deny Americans the Right to Know Act.

    “If the DARK Act becomes law, a veil of secrecy will cloak ingredients, leaving consumers with no way to know what’s in their food,” said the Environmental Working Group’s Scott Faber. “Consumers in 64 countries, including Saudi Arabia and China, have the right to know if their food contains GMOs. Why shouldn’t Americans have the same right?”

    Whatever you choose to call it, the bill is unlikely to have success beyond the GOP-controlled House.


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Food, Politics
    Triple Pundit: Climate Change Getting You Down? Just Follow the Butterfly

    Last year's predictions of catastrophic losses due to climate change are still around, and still real. But the world's smallest species are teaching us nonetheless, that there are still amazing examples of adaptation to learn from.

    The post Climate Change Getting You Down? Just Follow the Butterfly appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Today: Can Corporate Sustainability & Economic Growth Coexist? A Twitter Chat With SAP, BSR and CDP

    Join TriplePundit and CSRWire for a live Twitter Chat about sustainability and technology with SAP, BSR, and CDP at #SustyBiz on April 11, 2014 at 8am PT/11am ET.

    The post Today: Can Corporate Sustainability & Economic Growth Coexist? A Twitter Chat With SAP, BSR and CDP appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: 3p Weekend: 10 Clever (and Conscious) Ad Campaigns That Won the Internet

    It's tough to deliver a truly great ad campaign these days. In an ever-expanding sea of competition, ads that appeal to social consciousness are cutting through the crowd more than ever. With that in mind, this week we're featuring 10 clever and socially conscious ad campaigns that won the Internet.

    The post 3p Weekend: 10 Clever (and Conscious) Ad Campaigns That Won the Internet appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Clean Solar Initiative II To Add 100 MW of Solar Power on Long Island

    The Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) and PSEG Long Island increasingly see solar and other forms of renewable energy as a flexible, reliable and cost-effective means of electricity generation and sustaining the grid. Bids to install 100 MW of additional solar power on Long Island came in 25 percent below LIPA's first Clean Solar Initiative (CSI) feed-in tariff (FiT) auction.

    The post Clean Solar Initiative II To Add 100 MW of Solar Power on Long Island appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: The Return of the Pink-Mustached Jedi: Lyft Raises $250 Million

    Lyft closed a $250 million Series D round last week, bringing its total funding up to $332 million – several million above Uber’s $307 million.

    The post The Return of the Pink-Mustached Jedi: Lyft Raises $250 Million appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Water-Energy Nexus: Utah Approves Largest Solar Power Park

    Scatec's Red Hills Renewable Energy Park will generate green jobs and revenue for local landowners and the state, as well as 80 megawatts AC of clean, renewable electricity. It will also help conserve freshwater resources in an increasingly water-stressed West.

    The post Water-Energy Nexus: Utah Approves Largest Solar Power Park appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: TerraCycle Wants to Help Businesses Go Zero Waste

    TerraCycle is known for collecting materials that can’t be recycled through traditional curbside recycling programs – like chip bags, water filters and cigarette butts – and turning them into innovative, affordable products. Now with the launch of its Zero Waste Box program, the New Jersey-based company wants to make it easier for businesses to dramatically reduce their waste stream.

    The post TerraCycle Wants to Help Businesses Go Zero Waste appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: The future of genetically modified plants could include potatoes with tiny hamburgers in the middle
    hamburgato

    io9 has a roundup of where genetically modified plants could be going in the next few generations, and it’s a heck of a lot weirder than tomatoes with fish genes. Writer Daniel Berleant envisions oak trees that reproduce via spores and wheat that can fix nitrogen in the soil as well as beans, but shit gets really wacky when he starts talking about modifications that would make produce taste better. Here are some of his weirdest visions for the future of food:

    Hamburgatoes: If you can make Quorn, a fungus that tastes like chicken, why can’t you make carrots that taste like potato chips, or “potatoes with small hamburgers in the middle”? Presumably this means a small amount of potato-based matter that tastes and behaves like hamburger, but I’m preferring to envision cutting open a potato to find a fully dressed burger on a bun.

    Giant sunflower seeds: Sunflower seeds would be more popular — and profitable — with a better shell-to-meat ratio, says Berleant:

    Imagine eating an enormous sunflower seed the size of a small egg … hefting its weight in the palm of your hand … cracking off its shell to reveal the rich, tasty meat within … and finally sinking your teeth in to savor its nutritious and distinctive flavor. A future sunflower could produce just a few seeds like that, instead of dozens and dozens of smaller seeds like the sunflowers they used to grow back around 2020.

    I can barely imagine this, actually, because I don’t think I’ve eaten an in-the-shell sunflower seed since like 1992, but sure. Sounds potentially bad for sunflower reproduction, but maybe they can just make spores.

    Fruits that taste like other fruits for some reason: There seems to be an infinite capacity for genetically modifying fruit to taste like fruit but not the same fruit.

    Consider the following future foods: pearapples (fruit transgenic hybrids that taste like apple and pear at the same time), peacherries, nectarmelons (watermelons that taste like nectarines), bananaberries, and so on. If people would eat them, someone will want to create and sell them. 

    It’s not totally clear why you wouldn’t just eat a nectarine if you wanted to eat something that tasted like a nectarine, but evidently there’s genuinely some call for this; coconuts that taste like pineapples, Berleant points out, are already a thing.

    So there’s your dystopic fruit and vegetable future. Sounds delicious, if also slightly eldritch!


    Filed under: Food
    Gristmill: Droughts push beef prices to record highs
    veggie grill
    Shutterstock
    A cost-saving barbecue.

    Mo’ drought, moo problems. Hamburger and sirloins are becoming more expensive than ever in the wake of drought-driven herd thinning.

    Herd thinning isn’t a bovine diet and calisthenics regime. It’s a euphemism for unplanned cow slaughtering — though the end result of the unfortunate practice could literally lower your meat and cholesterol intake. The L.A. Times reports that the retail price of choice-grade beef hit a record $5.28 a pound last month, up from $4.91 a year ago:

    Soaring beef prices are being blamed on years of drought throughout the western and southern U.S. The dry weather has driven up the price of feed such as corn and hay to record highs, forcing many ranchers to sell off their cattle. That briefly created a glut of beef cows for slaughter that has now run dry.

    The nation’s cattle population has fallen to 87.7 million, the lowest since 1951, when there were 82.1 million on hand, according to the USDA. (The peak was 1975, with 132 million heads of cattle, but the animals then were less meaty and required more feed.)

    “We’re dealing with chronically low herds,” said Richard Volpe, an economist for the USDA. “Beef prices should remain at near-record highs this year and into 2015.”

    Even vegetarians aren’t being spared from repercussions of herd thinning. Cattle munch on tumbleweeds, and Colorado’s dwindling cattle population has contributed to a choking outbreak. The AP reports that the freewheeling weeds are so thick in some places that firefighters had to cut through them to help a pregnant woman reach the hospital.

    “The frustrating part is once you get the first wave beat down, packed down and out of the road, the wind comes up and here comes the next batch,” said county road worker Russell Bennett.


    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Food
    Gristmill: This is the sweetest, mushiest bike map you’ve ever seen
    Click to embiggen.
    Click to embiggen.

    Vincent Meertens and his girlfriend Larissa tracked all their bike trips for a year, and the result is a dense, cross-hatched map of their travels as individuals and as a couple. It’s like one of those Facebook relationship pages, but centered on biking.

    Meertens’ routes are picked out in blue and Larissa’s in red. The paths mark their solo activities, their favorite haunts, and their adventures together (although Meertens was more zealous about tracking and some of the blue-only routes, like the one around the perimeter of Manhattan, are actually trips they took as a couple). The yellow dots are places where they took photos.

    The existence of hundreds of photos we don’t get to see, of course, kind of underscores the point Fast Company makes about how this project leaves observers on the outside:

    Most of what we outsiders can see is too esoteric for us to appreciate. The locations are a shorthand for memories that are not our own. To us, they’re just dots.

    And in that regard, the map is truly the embodiment of the relationship between two people. Because while you may connect the dots from the outside, those dots contain an intimacy we’ll never know.

    At the very least, though, we can learn from this map that it’s possible to bike in New York City — especially if you’re going with a friend.


    Filed under: Cities, Living
    Gristmill: California’s drought plan will screw the environment
    The Delta in California
    Mike Vondran
    California rivers like this one will be allowed to run drier this year than ever before.

    California has a radical plan for managing its rivers and reservoirs as drought grips the Golden State for the third consecutive year. It could help the state cling to water that would normally flush through rivers and into the Pacific Ocean — at the expense of wildlife and fishing folk who rely on the health of those rivers.

    The seven-and-a-half-month plan, developed in consultation with federal officials, doesn’t increase the amount of water that will be delivered to customers, but it makes major changes to how precious drops remaining in snowpacks, reservoirs, and rivers will be managed. The Sacramento Bee hits on the plan’s highlights:

    Among other things, the plan calls for further loosening of water quality rules in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, allowing the agencies to keep river flows low to preserve as much water as possible in upstream reservoirs, especially Shasta Lake. Temporary dams are proposed on three Delta channels to allow the remaining freshwater runoff to more effectively push back saltwater intrusion from San Francisco Bay.

    It also calls for additional hatchery breeding of endangered winter-run Chinook salmon. Normally, those young salmon would be released into the Sacramento River. But because the river could become too warm to sustain them, some of the fish may be relocated into cold-water habitats where they have not existed for decades, such as Battle Creek near Red Bluff.

    Environmentalists are warning that these steps could decimate wildlife populations that rely on Californian rivers for their survival. “It’s a disaster,” sport-fishing advocate Bill Jennings told the Bee. “The storage they’re talking about saving isn’t going to be enough to protect the rivers from high temperatures. It is a complete breach of trust, an almost total rejection of laws and regulations.”

    Meanwhile, experts are warning that there is little relief in sight for California, where 99.81 percent of the state is considered to be in drought. “Climate patterns may be in the early stages of aligning to quench the state’s thirst,” writes Climate Central reporter Andrea Thompson. “[B]ut if that happens — and there are no guarantees — it won’t happen until after the dry season ends, a long six months or more to wait until dwindling reservoirs are replenished.”


    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Politics
    eco.psk: Mushroom Lamp Fertilizes Your Lawn After You’ve Tired Of Its Design
    danielle-trofe-mushlume-mycelium-lamp-2.jpgAttractive home furniture made from fungus and agricultural waste.
    Gristmill: The brutally dishonest attacks on Showtime’s landmark climate series
    "Years of Living Dangerously" screen shot

    The good news is the video of episode one of Showtime’s climate series, Years of Living Dangerously, has been getting great reviews in The New York Times and elsewhere.

    The bad news is the Times has published an error-riddled hit-job op-ed on the series that is filled with myths at odds with both the climate science and social science literature. For instance, the piece repeats the tired and baseless claim that Al Gore’s 2006 movie An Inconvenient Truth polarized the climate debate, when the peer-reviewed data says the polarization really jumped in 2009, as you can see in this chart from The Sociological Quarterly:

    graph
    Percent of Americans who believe the effects of global warming have already begun to happen, by political ideology, from Aaron M. McCright and Riley E. Dunlap. Click to embiggen.

    As I said, Years of Living Dangerously — the landmark nine-part Showtime docu-series produced by the legendary James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jerry Weintraub — has been getting great reviews. Andy Revkin, often a critic of climate messaging, wrote in The New York Times Monday:

    … a compellingly fresh approach to showing the importance of climate hazards to human affairs, the role of greenhouse gases in raising the odds of some costly and dangerous outcomes and — perhaps most important — revealing the roots of the polarizing divisions in society over this issue.

    George Marshall, “an expert on climate and communication” — who is also often a critic of climate messaging — wrote me:

    What impressed me about the two episodes I watched was the respect that it showed to conservatives, evangelicals and ordinary working people. …it is still the best documentary I have seen.

    The New York Times op-ed is from the founders of The Breakthrough Institute (TBI) — the same group where political scientist Roger Pielke Jr. is a senior fellow. It pushes the same argument that Pielke made in his fivethirtyeight.com piece — which was so widely criticized and debunked by climate scientists and others that Nate Silver himself admitted its myriad flaws and ran a response piece by MIT climatologist Kerry Emanuel eviscerating Pielke.

    Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, two widely debunked eco-critics who run TBI, begin by asserting “IF you were looking for ways to increase public skepticism about global warming, you could hardly do better than the forthcoming nine-part series on climate change and natural disasters, starting this Sunday on Showtime.” But they never cite anything other than the trailer in making their case, dismissing the entire enterprise on the basis of two minutes of clips!

    They base their entire argument on a misrepresentation of climate science and a misrepresentation of social science. They assert:

    “But claims linking the latest blizzard, drought or hurricane to global warming simply can’t be supported by the science.”

    I asked one of the country’s top climatologists, Michael Mann, to respond to that, and he replied:

    The statement is disingenuous, very carefully worded to imply doubt where there is none. The term “the latest” is used as a sleight of hand. Of course, we don’t attribute individual meteorological events to climate change in a purely causal manner, because the link is statistical. It is like the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer, or the link between a baseball player taking steroids and the number of home runs he hits in the season. We don’t talk about any one home run being caused by the steroids. Its the wrong question, the wrong framing. We know that statistically, the player hit more home runs because of the steroids. And, analogously, we know that we’re seeing more severe and prolonged heat waves and drought, extreme flooding, and more devastating hurricanes, because of human-caused climate change. Just the opposite of what the authors appear to want you to think.

    We need good faith discussions of climate risks in leading media outlets like the New York Times. To quote Winston Churchill, we’re living in an age of consequences. There is no room for misleading screeds which seem intended at distracting and confusing the public about human-caused climate change at a time when it poses a critical threat to our planet.

    In fact, the show isn’t about “the latest blizzard, drought or hurricane.” It does show the impact of some specific record-breaking extreme weather events that have been documented in the scientific literature to have been worsened by climate change (as I discuss here). These include the Hurricane Sandy storm surge, the record Texas drought and heat wave of 2011, and the drying out of the Mediterranean, particularly Syria.

    TBI’s Nordhaus and Shellenberger assert of human-caused warming, “there is little evidence that this warming is increasing the loss of life or the economic costs of natural disasters.” If that argument sounds both familiar and wrong, that’s because it is. TBI Senior Fellow Roger Pielke Jr. made the same exact argument in his aforementioned piece for Nate Silver’s website fivethirtyeight, which quickly became one of the most debunked posts of the year.

    Why The New York Times would publish an article pushing such a widely debunked scientific thesis is truly inexplicable.

    Then we have the article’s untenable social science. The authors assert that one reason we know that Years of Living Dangerously will fail is:

    Al Gore’s 2006 documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” popularized the idea that today’s natural disasters are increasing in severity and frequency because of human-caused global warming. It also contributed to public backlash and division.

    As an important aside, back in October 2007, the authors took a completely different view of the effect of Gore’s move: “Consider that despite extensive publicity, Al Gore’s movie, ‘An Inconvenient Truth,’ had almost no impact on public opinion.” Seriously.

    TBI bases its claims on a few cherry-picked polling results, which appear to justify whatever conclusions they want to push. Unsurprisingly, the peer-reviewed social science literature concludes differently. The McCright and Dunlap study cited above makes crystal clear that the polarization jumped in 2009, long after Gore’s 2006 movie. If anything, that chart suggests polarization decreased after the movie.

    I asked professor Robert Brulle, whom The New York Times has called “an expert on environmental communications,” about TBI’s assertion. He replied:

    This editorial ignores the peer reviewed analysis of the impact of An Inconvenient Truth. This research clearly shows that polarization in Congress declined and concern about climate change increased during the period surrounding the release of this movie.

    As evidence, Brulle directed me to his detailed 2012 study on the subject (discussed here), which aggregates data from six different polling organizations precisely to avoid the kinds of mistakes so commonly found in hand-waving op-eds.

    The bottom line is that there just is no polling data or social science scholarship to support the charge that Al Gore’s movie began the polarization of the climate debate — and there is much polling data and scholarship to the contrary. I’ve asked many leading experts on social science and public opinion — including Stanford’s Jon Krosnick as well as McCright and Dunlap, authors of “The politicization of climate change and polarization in the American public’s views of global warming, 2001–2010″ — and they all agree the data don’t support this myth. Can we kill it once and for all?

    The rest of TBI’s analysis of what they call “a fear-based approach” to messaging is also flawed. They assert:

    In a controlled laboratory experiment published in Psychological Science in 2010, researchers were able to use “dire messages” about global warming to increase skepticism about the problem.

    As I explained at the time, that study, if it proves anything, finds that the strongest possible science-based messaging is effective. Climate hawks should feel confident explaining to the public as clearly as possible the dire consequences if we fail to take action to reduce emissions together with the myriad cost-effective solutions available today that make averting catastrophe so cheap compared to the alternative.

    TBI also cites a 2009 study in the journal Science Communication as making their case against the nine-part TV series they haven’t seen. Yet that study has this key finding:

    The results demonstrate that communications approaches that take account of individuals’ personal points of reference (e.g., based on an understanding and appreciation of their values, attitudes, beliefs, local environment, and experiences) are more likely to meaningfully engage individuals with climate change.

    I was not one of the producers of the Showtime series, but I have worked with them long enough to know that that sentence sums up their guiding philosophy. George Marshall says Years is the best climate documentary he’s seen in this regard.

    I asked Revkin, who has generally been sympathetic to TBI, whether he stood by his positive review of the show. You can read his full response here. He sums up:

    The bottom line? Episode 1 works. There’s more challenging terrain ahead in the series. I wish you all luck in navigating it and I see your effort as well worth trying.

    The producers behind this series learned their craft at 60 Minutes and have 18 Emmys between them. They are the finest journalists I know, and they know how to tell stories “that take account of individuals’ personal points of reference.”

    I hope that you will withhold judgment until they have had a chance to blow you away with what they have done, starting with Episode 1, which you can watch here.


    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Living
    Triple Pundit: Why Did Indiana Kill Its Successful Energy Efficiency Bill?

    There was some strange news out of Indiana recently. A piece of legislation designed to dismantle the state’s energy efficiency law made its way to the desk of Gov. Mike Pence. The governor neither vetoed nor signed the bill, thus allowing it to become law by default. Why did the state let this happen? Was it simply a matter of politics?

    The post Why Did Indiana Kill Its Successful Energy Efficiency Bill? appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Climate change just reshaped America’s wildfire strategy
    Wildfire

    Like a tree in a greenhouse, America’s forest fire problem is growing ominously. Rising temperatures and declining rain and snowfall are parching fire-prone areas and juicing conflagrations. On Thursday, following years of meetings and scientific reviews, the Obama administration published a 101-page strategy that aims to help meet the country’s shifting fire threats.

    The National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy divides the nation according to fire risks, and profiles the communities that face those risks. “No one-size-fits-all approach exists to address the challenges facing the Nation,” the strategy states.

    Despite covering 70,000 communities and 46 million homes, the strategy can be boiled down to guidelines that aim to do three main things: restore and maintain landscapes that are resilient to fire; brace communities and infrastructure for occasional blazes; and help officials make wise decisions about how and whether flames should be doused. Here’s what that all looks like in flowchart form:

    Click to embiggen.
    Click to embiggen.

    “As climate change spurs extended droughts and longer fire seasons, this collaborative wildfire blueprint will help us restore forests and rangelands to make communities less vulnerable,” said Mike Boots, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.


    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Ask Umbra: How do I wipe out a yard full of weeds?
    rain-boots-garden-weeds-grass-water-bucket

    Send your question to Umbra!

    Q. Weeds have taken over the yard of a house that hasn’t been maintained. Can you please recommend an environmentally friendly way to get rid of them?

    Adriana F.
    San Jose, Calif.

    A. Dearest Adriana,

    I love gardening questions. They allow me to virtually escape the stacks and spend the day mentally frolicking in a sunny, flower-filled yard. And with spring finally springing in so many places, yours is a timely query indeed.

    It sounds like the weeds in question aren’t in your yard, Adriana, but perhaps you’re keen to remove a neighborhood eyesore. (If people actually still live in this house, though, you should probably have a chat before descending on their property with hoes and trowels.) It also sounds like you’re dealing with an advanced infestation. Even so, you probably know what I’m going to say first: The best way to deal with weeds is … weeding!

    Some may consider manual weeding a chore, but I prefer to see it as a chance to enjoy time outdoors, get a little exercise and fresh air, and get my hands dirty. And it’s the certainly the lowest-impact option. Just dig in with a dandelion fork, wide-blade screwdriver, or another handy implement and pull the offending plant, making sure to get its taproot.

    You can make weeding easier by attacking when the plants small and more readily removed. And don’t feel like you have to yank every last dandelion: Monocrop lawns aren’t ecologically healthy, and leaving a little diversity in the yard isn’t a bad thing.

    Since it sounds like you’ve got a big job ahead, I’d try to enlist some help. Are there any local kids you can pay to pull with you? Or perhaps you can buy some snacks and throw a weed party for friends and neighbors? (Be careful how you phrase that invitation, or you might attract a different sort of guest.)

    If hand-weeding just isn’t feasible, there are other chemical-free ways of dealing with this perennial problem. Goats can be hired out for lawn care, and by all accounts they’re quite effective at both mowing down grass and chomping weeds. Another low-impact method you might try is boiling water, which the excellent Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides says can work on dandelions.

    The next rung down on our preferred method ladder would be the application of heat or acidic substances. On the acid side, the least problematic solution is pouring regular household vinegar on the undesired plants. At about 5 percent acetic acid, vinegar poses few risks, but also isn’t as effective as more concentrated forms of the stuff. You can buy much stronger vinegar herbicides (from 8 to more than 20 percent acetic acid) for more tenacious weeds, but take care – these concentrations can cause skin and eye damage, and can adversely affect the pH of your soil for up to a month (not to mention damage other plants). Acids also only work on the exposed parts of the weed and may require several applications to fully kill off the roots.

    If you have some disposable cash and/or slight pyromania, you can also pick up a device that vanquishes weeds through flame or radiant heat. Both types boil the water in the plants’ cells, instantly wilting them. Flame weeders are just what they sound like, which makes them less than ideal for fire-prone areas. Radiant heat weeders can be a better choice in those zones; they can reach temps of 1800 degrees F without an open flame. Both can make much quicker work of the task than hand-pulling, but they’re not perfect: Heat can hurt other nearby plants, too, and even kill off valuable soil bacteria. Plus, these devices run on propane, a cleaner-burning but still carbon-based fuel.

    There are other ways to kill weeds, but these are my favorites for protecting the rest of the lawn and neighborhood ecosystem. Before you get medieval on that yard, though, let’s close with some wisdom from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”

    Vernally,
    Umbra


    Filed under: Food, Living
    Triple Pundit: Apple’s New Headquarters Missing a Major Green Point

    Leadership for the tech giant maintains that the new campus will offer "a serene environment reflecting Apple's values of innovation, ease of use and beauty." However, the simple facts show that many of Apple’s 13,000 employees will now be commuting to an isolated location 45 miles south of San Francisco.

    The post Apple’s New Headquarters Missing a Major Green Point appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Video Interview: Ory Zik, Founder and CEO, Energy Points

    Triple Pundit Founder Nick Aster sat down with Ory Zik, CEO of Energy Points, last week at the WSJ ECO:nomics conference to discuss the company's big data solutions that reduce electricity, water and waste.

    The post Video Interview: Ory Zik, Founder and CEO, Energy Points appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: REI Commits to Solar Energy to Reduce Climate Impact

    REI, the $2 billion national outdoor retailer, is committed to renewable energy. The company has 26 locations with solar power systems in eight states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Georgia).

    The post REI Commits to Solar Energy to Reduce Climate Impact appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Global Companies Call On Governments to Cap Carbon Emissions

    More than 70 major multinational companies signed the Trillion Tonne Communiqué, coordinated by The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group, to limit cumulative carbon emissions to 1 trillion metric tons.

    The post Global Companies Call On Governments to Cap Carbon Emissions appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Beyond Sustainable: A Call for Transparency

    Along with the demand for more green goods and services comes a shift in consumer awareness that will extend to every industry. Business strategist Jeffrey Hollender calls this Radical Transparency and explains how it can be used as a powerful tool to transform ordinary businesses into responsible and profitable entities.

    The post Beyond Sustainable: A Call for Transparency appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Volkswagen Biodiversity Initiative To Establish Nature Corridor in Mexico

    VW is taking its commitment to ecological sustainability a step further with the launch of the "Think Blue. Nature." program in Puebla, Mexico. The pioneering biodiversity and ecological sustainability initiative aims to help establish a biological corridor across five Mexican states, as well as support youth and community conservation education, training, reforestation and other projects.

    The post Volkswagen Biodiversity Initiative To Establish Nature Corridor in Mexico appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Even “green” K-Cups kinda suck for the environment
    ecocup

    We recently found out that K-Cups, those single-serve thingers you use in your office’s Keurig coffeemaker, create so much trash that debris from the ones sold just in the last year would circle the planet almost 11 times. And if that wasn’t enough to drive you back to old-school percolators, try this on for size: Even the new “EcoCup,” billed as a green K-Cup alternative, is pretty crappy for the environment.

    The EcoCup, made by coffee company Mother Parkers, is designed to work with Keurigs and to provide single servings of coffee grounds or tea with a slightly less disastrous environmental footprint. The main innovation? It’s recyclable. But, uh, not that recyclable, according to Treehugger:

    How recyclable is it? Well, the exterior is made from no. 5 plastic, which actually not recyclable in many U.S. municipalities. The lid and filter are not recyclable at all, although the company promises to be working on a “zero waste” solution. The tea leaves and coffee grinds can go in the compost, although it’s unclear how difficult it would be to disassemble the pod.

    Sadly, even if your municipality has the ability to recycle no. 5 plastic, a report released this past summer found that many recycling facilities are unequipped to capture the tiny cups.

    Even when there’s a plan in place for mitigating waste, a system that requires you to throw something out every single time you make a cup of coffee is just never going to be green. And, as we pointed out last time, it’s never going to be cheap:

    If that weren’t bad enough, Keurig taxes you for being bad at math: K-Cups cost you more than twice what a bag of beans does – about $50 a pound. Damn, son!

    Yep, French press it is.


    Filed under: Food, Living
    Gristmill: Oil companies would rather let trains explode than cooperate with feds
    DOT-111

    As federal officials work frantically to reverse an uptick in explosions and oil spills from crude-hauling trains, the companies that are fracking the crude and transporting it by rail are responding with an unhelpful collective shrug.

    Lawmakers and regulators want information from the oil companies about their rail shipments. The oil companies initially made helpful-sounding noises and pledged to cooperate. Now, however, it seems they’re more worried about keeping corporate secrets than protecting Americans from their explosive loads. From The Hill:

    “Just last month before the Commerce Committee, the crude oil industry assured us they were focused on safety and willing to work on this issue,” [Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.)] said in a statement. “Since then, I’ve seen nothing to convince me this was more than just lip service.”…

    Rockefeller said he and other legislators had received assurances from the American Petroleum Institute (API) that the crude industry was on board with the push to increase the safety of oil trains.

    But the West Virginia senator said on Monday that Congress was still waiting to see the promised assistance.

    Rockefeller’s frustrations mirror those of top rail regulators. As Reuters reported last week:

    Cynthia Quarterman, chief of the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, specifically cited the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s top lobbying group, for not keeping its promise to share data about oil-by-rail shipments. …

    “More than two months ago, we received assurances from industry that the safe transport of crude oil across the country was a top priority and, to that end, API would begin sharing important testing data,” she said in a statement.

    “To date, that data has not been shared.”

    The oil industry isn’t keeping its word? We’re shocked, shocked.


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Can celebrities and prime-time TV make Americans care about climate change?
    Cheadle, Hayhoe, and Andrew Farley.
    Years of Living Dangerously
    Cheadle, Hayhoe, and Andrew Farley.

    April 13 is the television premiere of the much-anticipated Showtime series on climate change, Years of Living Dangerously. The show features a cast of notable celebrities, who set out with scientists, firefighters and policymakers to explore the front lines of climate change.

    The show’s first episode, already available online, features actor Don Cheadle traveling to Plainview, Texas, where he discusses climate change and drought with Texas Tech University climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe and her husband, an evangelical preacher. It also follows Harrison Ford as he travels to Indonesia to look at deforestation and climate change, and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman as he visits Syria to look at climate change and conflict. Matt Damon, Jessica Alba, and America Ferrera appear in later installments of the eight-part miniseries, which premieres at 10 p.m. on Sunday.

    The team behind the film is equally impressive, with science advisers and executive producers that include James Cameron, the Hollywood director; Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former California governor; David Gelber and Joel Bach, former 60 Minutes producers; and Dan Abbasi, a cleantech investor whose career has taken him through jobs as an Environmental Protection Agency appointee during the Clinton administration, media strategist at Time Warner, and associate dean of Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

    HuffPost sat down with Abbasi last week to discuss the series and why Years of Living Dangerously producers think Hollywood flair will change the discussion of climate change.

    Q. You’ve spent time in government, business, academia, and media. What made you decide to make this your next project? Were you getting frustrated in trying to attack this issue from other directions?

    A. Definitely, definitely. I think in some ways the environmental community is very hard on itself in saying, “We haven’t solved this yet.” This is massive. You’re talking about a fundamental turnover of the entire industrial ecosystem of the world. So it is not something you do easily in a couple of decades. And the issue has really been on the big agenda since the 1980s. … In that sense, when you think about how far we’ve come, there’s lots of progress. Even in the red states now there’s polling showing a majority of Americans wanting action on climate change. So that’s all to say, yeah, there is more progress than we’ve given ourselves credit for.

    But yeah, I definitely have a frustration that the discourse has been too expert-driven, inside the Beltway, and that we need to give ordinary people a voice and empower them. We have to lead our leaders to do the right thing. The issue is too dangerous at this point to sit by and wait for the leaders. A lot of leaders have abdicated on this. A lot of them have been silent.

    The bottom line is that it’s going to take something that looks like a public movement. I have no belief that all of a sudden we’ll have unanimity in the public. None of us is naïve about the idea that you put on a TV show and the whole world comes around, and that’s really not the kind of show it is. But the hope is you’ll break the inhibitions on talking about it, that people will engage more, that they’ll start expressing themselves more, they’ll use some of the tool kits we provide, and mostly that they’ll put pressure on their elected officials to take concerted policy action.

    Q. You also wrote a book about Americans and climate change that looked at how to “close the gap” between science and action. Do you think this series can start closing that gap?

    A. Yes, I do, because I think emotion is a really big part of this. One of the big things we add to the equation here is emotion. There’s been a lot of cerebral coverage of the issue. I think all of us who are immersed in the issue kind of have this protective layer on, that even we don’t deal daily with the emotional consequence of it. If you did, you’d be all strung out all of the time. If you really understand how serious this is and how strong the inertia is toward this inevitably very tragic outcome for civilization, you have to kind of distance yourself from it.

    I’ve been much more emotional about the issue, being involved in the show. When you look someone in the eye who’s lost their family to the Sandy storm, a family that’s in a dire situation or is relatively poor dealing with the aftermath of the storm, you just feel it in your gut. We need to listen to that emotion much more.

    Q. As a viewer, I wanted to see more scientists and fewer celebrities. What do you think that having celebrities like Harrison Ford involved brings to the series?

    A. This is a genre bender. We’re blending together the storytelling arts with science, and I hope we’ve got that balance right so that we can have the broadest possible audience and have everybody engaged. But to your point, what does Harrison bring? He’s charismatic. He is really intense — in person in our edit room and in the field. I think that intensity is appropriate for this kind of an issue.

    I think he brings genuine, authentic indignation and emotion. And because he’s Harrison Ford -– well, you can argue people like that can simulate it and act it, but in this case it’s genuine. He’s a pretty powerful presence in the show and I don’t think most scientists, most scientists, can pull that off.

    Q. How did you guys decide on which celebrities to include?

    A. We wanted ones who have already done something on the environment in the past, or at least humanitarian issues. Don Cheadle is a U.N. goodwill ambassador. Harrison is vice chair of the board of Conservation International. Matt Damon runs Water.org. So these are people who have an established reputation for connecting to humanitarian issues. The next thing is that they’re all just really, really intelligent. I think the best ones rise for a reason, and part of it is this fierce intelligence that they bring to the study, the craft of acting — understanding the characters and being able to mesmerize audiences by communicating that.

    Q. The last major cinematic take on climate change was An Inconvenient Truth. What do you think series will do differently?

    A. Well for one thing, former Vice President Al Gore went through one of the most polarizing elections in history in 2000. There was very strong sentiment about him in the South and other places. … I don’t want to pick on Al Gore too much, but we’re not tied to any particular individual. It’s because it is an ensemble cast, and I think there is a better chance to reach bigger audiences. You have evangelical scientists like Katharine. You have Republican governors like Arnold Schwarzenegger. You’ve got Bob Inglis, the former South Carolina congressman who really lost his seat in part because he was tea-partied out for his stance on climate change.

    I just think many people across the cultural, political, and ideological spectrum across America will find some voice and some path into the issue here that they might not when it’s Al Gore up there giving what’s still a remarkable film and remarkable accomplishment, a much-needed tutorial about the issue that was vivid and powerful. Nothing in this should take away from the significance of that event, but I do think we’ve gotten to the point where we need a more mainstream vehicle and one that’s not tied to a political angle.

    Q. In the climate denial circles, there is the popularity meme they have that, “Oh climate change is just a bunch of Hollywood liberals that care about that.” So is there concern that this is going to be a series of Hollywood liberals?

    A. There is. I must tell you we tried really hard both in terms of the subjects and the correspondents to reach across the political spectrum. In some cases we had less luck than we would have liked drawing people from all sides of the political spectrum, because it can be disqualifying in some of ways for people on the right to get involved in a project like this. So, we should acknowledge that there were efforts to broaden it even more than we did, and yet I think we succeed. Republicans have a proud tradition of environmentalism in the past, from Nixon in starting the EPA to George H.W. Bush and the Clean Air Act. I think we do want to both cover the politics, but in the end depoliticize the issue a little bit, which is a little bit of a paradox. You want to show that there are political fights out there, which there are, and you want to cover them because that’s part of the issue in America.

    Emotion also has a way of breaking down those ideological filters a little bit as you start connecting as a human being. My hope is that more people will connect as a human being to this, and we will do some good in terms of broadening this. There is nothing you can do besides put out your product and put out the show, talk about it, and hope that people watch and give it a chance.

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


    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: These gorgeous sustainable travel mugs won’t leach harmful chemicals

    Given the recent ruckus about BPA-free plastic being not that safe after all, we get it if you’re resigned to drinking water straight out of clouds. But could there be another option?!

    Hells yes – and it doesn’t involve permanently tilting your neck skyward, either. Dryad Coffee made trees you can drink from … or to be precise, olive wood and white oak travel mugs that are dishwasher safe, minimally porous, and free of the chemicals in plastic and metal cups.

    wooden-mug-kickstarter-dryad
    Dryad

    Dryad is just wrapping up a successful Kickstarter campaign that’ll allow the brand to certify its wooden mugs with the Forest Stewardship Council, so you won’t be hydrating at the expense of old-growth forests. (You have three days left to make a $30 donation for a cup or $40 for a travel mug — or less if you just want good karma.)

    wooden-travel-mug-dryad
    Dryad

    Here’s Dryad’s timeline if you wanna snag a mug of your own:

    Following successful funding through Kickstarter, we will begin production here in Texas. Our first order of wood will arrive in April, while we finish out the workshop. We expect to begin running a regular production schedule in May, with deliveries beginning in June.

    If glass mugs almost audibly beg you to drop them (as they do me), wood can be a stylish, low-guilt alternative. SLURRRP.


    Filed under: Living
    Gristmill: Forget cows — people are now going Smart car tipping
    smart-car-upside-down-flicker
    Fred Scharmen

    Youthful San Francisco hooligans don’t exactly have access to a field of snoozing cows. What CAN they tip? Smart cars. And on Monday, four were flipped over in San Francisco neighborhoods. Reports the Associated Press:

    [Officer Gordon] Shyy said … police were looking for multiple suspects wearing black hooded sweatshirts who were in the area at the time of the destruction.

    You rebellious teens with your hoodies and raging hormones and pent-up aggression! The prank seems merely silly on the surface, but it could actually point to underlying class-based tension in one of America’s most spendy cities.

    Police said they didn’t know whether the attacks were a prank or another episode in escalating tensions among some residents who blame the tech industry for rising rents and cost of living.

    As Shelley Gallivan, who inherited one of the Smart cars when her 70-year-old dad died, told the AP:

    “I’m sure hoping it’s just a prank and not those who are trying to make a bigger statement in regards to the gentrification in the city.”

    Transportation recently became a symbol segregating the haves from the have-nots in San Francisco. Google and Facebook employees are swiftly carried to work on private shuttles while non-techies wait at the same bus stops for more expensive public transit. This very inequality spurred protests earlier this year.

    So we gotta ensure equal access to public transit … or point angsty teens toward a bunch of sleeping cows. One and the same, right?


    Filed under: Cities, Living
    Triple Pundit: 3p Google Chat: Justin Bakule; Exec. Director, Shared Value Initiative

    Join Nick Aster for a live chat with Justin Bakule, Executive Director of the Shared Value Initiative, on Wednesday, April 16th.

    The post 3p Google Chat: Justin Bakule; Exec. Director, Shared Value Initiative appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: 10 places to visit before they’re gone: a bucket list for a warming world
    statue-of-liberty-snorkel-flood-2

    Summer is just around the corner and, after a winter like this one, it’s high time to start making those vacation plans. Of course, our buoyant spirits were somewhat dampened by the latest U.N. climate report. Spoiler alert, it wasn’t real good, well, unless you’re into horrific droughts, monster storms, heat waves, mass extinctions, failing crops, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria, in which case, jackpot!

    Ever the troopers, we here at Grist decided to not let the bad news harsh our fantastic inner mellow and instead to look at this as a crisitunity. Usually picking vacation spots is such a challenge, but by focusing on the best places that may not be places much longer in our warming world, we were able to shorten our list to the top ten do-it-now vacation destinations. So get ahold of your travel agent, load up the family truckster, and set a course for fun!

    1. Ocean City, Md., U.S.A.

    ocean-city-boardwalk-small
    Lissandra Melo / Shutterstock.com

    With its iconic boardwalk littered with enough Candy Kitchen chain stores to ensure you’re never more than 18 feet from a saltwater taffy fix, Ocean City is the quintessential American beach town. Sadly, like the rest of our seaside getaways, Ocean City faces a terrifying threat: frat boys. Oh, and also rising seas. Sea levels in the mid-Atlantic are expected to rise at least 3.5 feet in the next century, which may not sound like a lot if you’re a giraffe or say, Shaq, but Ocean City is just seven feet above sea level. Our coastal resorts, like our man-on-the-street reporters, are living on borrowed time, and without them, where will our children go to drink beer and make terrible decisions?

    2. Great Barrier Reef, Australia

    great-barrier-reef-ocean-fish
    Shutterstock

    If you’re going to visit a barrier reef, why settle for second best? Sure you could go to the Average Barrier Reef, or even the Pretty Good Barrier Reef, but why, when we’ve got the Great one? Plus, the Great Barrier Reef is measured in square hectares, 34 million of them to be specific, and when else do you do anything by the hectare? Never, that’s when. The Great Barrier Reef is visible from space, but best seen close up, and soon. Carbon-driven ocean acidification threatens all the world’s reefs and the largest is hardly immune. High ocean temperatures cause coral bleaching which can hit reefs fast and hard with devastating effects.

    If those global threats to the reef, weren’t enough, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has some interesting ideas on climate change, has approved a massive dredging project to expand a coal port just outside of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park with the silt to be dumped on the fragile coral. Not only will the increased shipping traffic threaten the reef directly, that extra 70 million tons of coal a year belched into the atmosphere probably won’t help the reef much either. Of course there is one hope: a plan to ship uranium across the reef. A well-placed nuclear spill could create a Godzilla like defender of the reef and, for extra points, make night diving even more beautiful than cosmic bowling. Of course, it could just be a disaster.

    3. Death Valley, Calif., U.S.A.

    death-valley-hot-california
    Andy Morris

    OK, so Death Valley may already be a pretty terrible vacation destination. It’s home to the highest temperatures on the planet, flash floods, sand storms – and making matters worse, the valley apparently hired the same PR firm that named neighboring Poison Canyon, Calif. It’s so bad even the rocks are trying to leave. If you’re the type that’s always wanted to boil a chicken in your undershorts perhaps a refreshing dip in Furnace Creek is right for you, but do it now.

    Temperatures in the park are predicted to rise over 8 degrees F in the next century, and 143 degrees sounds unpleasant. Even a slight temperature increase could drive unique Death Valley species to extinction, reduced precipitation (apparently it’s possible), and turn the park’s Lake Badwater to Lake Nowater. Paradoxically, climate change could also whip up more powerful thunderstorms, sparking devastating wildfires. On the bright side, it’ll still have the world’s finest borax museum and if you’re feeling nostalgic, rising temperatures will make Joshua Tree the new Death Valley.

    4. Salzburg, Austria

    salzburg-austria
    Brandon Burns

    We all know the snowcapped mountains are going to be a little less snowcapped as the rain/snow line in the Alps has already climbed 200 feet in the last 50 years, but those beautiful flowering alpine meadows that drove Julie Andrews to song should still be enough to drive the tourist trade. Sadly, climate change could spell their doom. While climate change is lengthening the wildflower season in the Rockies, many plant species are already disappearing from Southern European peaks, and the effects will move north. Austria’s beautiful and fragile high altitude flora, already struggling with the reduced snowpack, now face an invasion of hearty and prolific plants climbing from lower elevations to escape the heat. Here’s hoping the sound of music is enough to make those hills feel alive.

    5. The Statue of Liberty

    statue-of-liberty-new-york-city
    ser_is_snarkish

    Unless you want to see Lady Liberty with her skirts hiked up to avoid the flooding, now is the time to visit. New York is going to have a tough time, with rising temperatures to match the sea levels coming hand-in-hand with insane weather. And the Statue of Liberty stands, nervously, a mile south of Manhattan and right in the path of any future super storm headed for the Big Apple. When Sandy walloped the City that Never Sleeps (possibly because it is afraid of killer storms), nearly all of both Liberty Island and Ellis Island were underwater and the infrastructure was devastated. Even with a massive federal effort, she was closed for over eight months and one study predicts that by 2050, a storm bigger than any we’ve ever seen so far will hit the mid-Atlantic every 10 years! Of course the worst part for Lady Liberty is that she’s so famous, and if disaster movies have taught us anything, calamities aim for famous stuff.

    6. Michoacán, Mexico 

    monarch-butterflies
    Shutterstock

    Forests are nice. So are mountains. Forested mountains are doubly nice. Just ask the billion or so (yes, with a “b”) monarch butterflies that vacation at the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve each winter. The monarchs come to Michoacán from as far as the Canadian border, traveling nearly 2,500 miles. There are so many butterflies, their weight bends the branches of mighty trees. Just imagine every inch of every surface covered in butterflies. Butterflies underfoot. Butterflies fluttering in your hair. Butterflies bouncing off of your face. Accidentally ingesting butterflies. Being relentlessly pursued by butterflies. Having nightmares for months afterwards about butterflies. Living in constant fear of where the Monarch will strike next.

    OK, maybe not all that it’s cracked up to be, but pretty soon, you may have no choice but to imagine it. Monarch populations have been on the decline for 20 years with a record low of just 60 million arriving this winter. Deforestation of their Mexican preserves is a major problem, as is habitat loss and pesticide use in the U.S. To make matters worse, severe weather along their migration route the last two years has hammered the gossamer beasties, and those kinds of events are becoming all too common in this warm new world. And even without the chain saws, the oyamel fir trees that the Monarchs depend on can’t take the heat and are vanishing fast from Mexico’s cloud forests. And if that weren’t enough, it turns out monarchs depend on temperature signals to tell them when to head north again, and as temperatures warm, Monarchs could miss their exit.

    7. Everglades, Fla., U.S.A.

    florida-everglades-heron-sunset
    Shutterstock

    Over a million people a year visit the Everglades National Park in sunny Florida, hoping to meet an alligator, ride an airboat, see one of the ugliest mermaids in the galaxy, and perhaps seeing Florida Man in his natural environment. Stretching across 734 square miles of flooded grassland, cypress swamp, mangroves, pine forest, and tropical hardwoods, and providing clean, naturally filtered water to the third largest reef system in the world, the glades should be on every traveler’s bucket list. Unfortunately, we’ve been draining them for well over a century with canals cut through the wild lands providing fresh water for much of South Florida’s enormous agriculture industry and the aquifers being tapped to quench the thirst of the millions of people now living in South Florida. The glades have shrunk to half their size in just the last 50 years and climate change isn’t going to help.

    Climate models predict less rainfall for the glades and rising temperatures will boil away what water remains making a dire situation somehow worse. As the glades recede, the ocean takes its place, and with sea levels expected to rise 1.5 meters by 2060, the Everglades could dry up on one end and fall into the sea on the other. So get down there and see this global treasure while it and its noble Florida Man are more than just soggy memories.

    8. Bankok, Thailand

    bangkok-thailand-skyline-dusk
    Shutterstock

    According to Time, Bangkok is the world’s No. 1 tourism spot, with close to 16 million visitors in 2013. It’s good they’re acting now, because by 2030, less than 20 year’s time, the massive city of over 8 million could be gone. Like all of Asia’s coastal cities, Bangkok faces more powerful typhoons and rising seas, but it doesn’t help that the city is also sinking. Home to architectural treasures, world class cuisine, legendary nightlife, and the world’s most successful chess based musical, this world capital is already being hammered by frequent, massive floods. At the same time, powerful droughts, once rare, are tag-teaming to empty Asia’s Rice Bowl. So pack your bags now, because in short order, one night in Bangkok will not only make a man humble, it will also make him incredibly damp.

    9. Chicago, Ill.

    chicago-skyline-oceanfront
    Bryce Edwards

    The worsening summers in Chicago are so hot they cook deep-dish pizzas on the sidewalks from the Fourth of July through Labor Day, and the lake effect snows, already bad enough to turn the city into a live action Game of Thrones role playing event through much of January, look to get worse, but the Windy City should still make a solid vacation spot. Instead of artisanal pork, Chicagoans may have to substitute a bit of Soylent Green, but there will still be brats. One thing that will go the way of the dodo, however, is the Heartland Institute, the conservative (non) think tank, and its strident denial of climate change. (It’s all a U.N. plot, don’t ya know?) The group’s willful insanity would almost be adorable if it weren’t so damn evil, but even its well-heeled anonymous benefactor (who I am sure is not either of the Koch brothers) will have to give up when reality hits. So skip Mickey Mouse and head to Chi-Town now and get a picture posing with a genuine climate denier.

    10. The Sheep Heid Inn, Edinburgh, Scotland

    sheep-heid-inn-edinburgh
    @andrewghayes

    If the Sheep Heid Inn isn’t on your travel list, you need to rethink your priorities. The oldest bar in Edinburgh has been selling booze since 1360, which makes it perhaps the best place on the planet to enjoy the greatest thing human hands have ever crafted: scotch whiskey. I hate to be the one to tell you, but scotch is in trouble! Pour yourself a drink while I explain. Climate events have been hammering Scotland’s distilleries in recent years. Winter floods, summer droughts, and even sand storms make barley crops a role of the dice, and limit the clean, abundant water needed for distilling. Unpredictable weather off the coasts can play havoc with the islay distilleries and then there’s the peat problem. Peat only forms in a very narrow climate window and, according to the International Peat Society, demand for new energy sources could drive industry to once again burn peat for power. I mention there’s an International Peat Society? So get your self to the Sheep Heid for a tumbler of the good stuff because we may be forced drink away the apocalypse with – shudder — gin.


    Filed under: Cities, Climate & Energy, Living
    Gristmill: The journal that gave in to climate deniers
    judge gavel computer

    In February 2013, the journal Frontiers in Psychology published a peer-reviewed paper which found that people who reject climate science are more likely to believe in conspiracy theories. Predictably enough, those people didn’t like it.

    The paper, which I helped to peer-review, is called “Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation.” In it, cognitive scientist Stephan Lewandowsky and his colleagues survey and analyze the outcry generated on climate skeptic blogs to their earlier work on climate denial.

    The earlier study had also linked climate denial with conspiracist thinking. And so by reacting with yet more conspiracy theorizing, the bloggers rather proved the researchers’ point.

    Yet soon after Recursive Fury was published, threats of litigation* started to roll in, and the journal took the paper down (it survives on the website of the University of Western Australia, where Lewandowsky carried out the study).

    A lengthy investigation ensued, which eventually found the paper to be scientifically and ethically sound. Yet on March 21 this year, Frontiers retracted the paper because of the legal threats.

    The episode offers some of the clearest evidence yet that threats of libel lawsuits have a chilling effect on scientific research.

    Legal context “insufficiently clear”

    In announcing its retraction, Frontiers made the following statement:

    In the light of a small number of complaints received following publication of the original research article cited above, Frontiers carried out a detailed investigation of the academic, ethical, and legal aspects of the work. This investigation did not identify any issues with the academic and ethical aspects of the study. It did, however, determine that the legal context is insufficiently clear and therefore Frontiers wishes to retract the published article. The authors understand this decision, while they stand by their article and regret the limitations on academic freedom which can be caused by legal factors.

    The retraction of Recursive Fury has attracted sharp criticism from the scientific community.

    In the course of private discussions, I have learned that a number of scientists who had submitted work to Frontiers fired off letters to express their dismay at the retraction and to seek assurances that their studies would not be retracted under similar circumstances.

    Other researchers went public with their remonstrations. One scientist who lists 23 peer-reviewed scientific publications on her Frontiers profile page bluntly challenged the journal’s judgement and commitment to academic freedom in a comment posted under the retraction announcement:

    I am dumbfounded to see a scientific paper retracted by the editor because of threat of libel. The fundamental job description of a science editor should include the defense of academic freedom. I certainly expect my newspapers to defend freedom of the press; do scientific publications now hold themselves to lower standards?

    The inside story

    As one of the peer-reviewers of Lewandowsky’s paper, I am also profoundly disappointed by its retraction. Here, I’ll share my experience with the review, publication, and retraction processes and provide some more context to the story.

    Early last year, I accepted the journal’s invitation to review Recursive Fury, a narrative analysis of blog posts published by climate deniers in response to Lewandowsky’s earlier work in which he and his colleagues showed that endorsement of free-market economics and a propensity for conspiratorial thinking are contributing factors in the rejection of science.

    (A note here on the use of the term “denier.” Denial is defined as “a refusal to accept that something unpleasant or painful is true” — e.g. “The patient is still in denial.” No fewer than 97 percent of climate scientists now endorse the scientific consensus on the reality, causes and significant risks associated with climate change. The term “climate change denier” or “climate denier” describes an individual who rejects the science of climate change and the considerable body of evidence on which it is based. It has no further meaning or connotation beyond this.)

    Recursive Fury was theoretically strong, methodologically sound, and its analysis and conclusions — which reexamined and reaffirmed the link between conspiracist ideation and the rejection of science — were based on clear evidence. Satisfied that the paper was a solid work of scholarship that could advance our understanding of science denial and improve the effectiveness of science communication, I recommended publication. Two other independent reviewers agreed.

    The paper names and quotes several blogs and individuals. Shortly after publication, Frontiers received complaints* from climate deniers who claimed they had been libeled in the paper and threatened to sue the journal unless the paper was retracted.

    After taking the paper down from its website, Frontiers began its investigation and arranged a conference call so that the journal’s manager, legal counsel, editors, and reviewers could discuss how to proceed.

    The journal’s lawyer, who is based in England (as was Lewandowsky by that time), was very concerned about the journal being sued for libel. At that time, British libel laws left scientists, peer-reviewed journals and journalists exposed to potentially ruinous lawsuits for publishing fair criticism of a company, person or product. (Of all the jurisdictions in which academic journals are published, the U.K. has historically been one of the most generous to libel claimants.) That changed on Jan. 1 this year, when Britain’s libel laws were amended to reverse the chilling effect on science and legitimate public debate. Claimants must now show that they have suffered “serious harm” before launching legal action.

    But in February 2013, the journal had no such protection, and the lawyer raised concerns about two sentences in the paper that had been the subject of threats of litigation. By the end of the 20-minute conference call, we had all agreed that, if the authors made minor modifications to these sentences, the content would remain intact and the paper could be re-published without fear of successful legal action.

    Before the call ended, three academics, including me, argued that scientific journals must not be held to ransom every time someone threatens litigation. In response to our concerns, we were assured by the journal’s representatives that the legal matter would be considered settled once the two sentences had been amended as agreed.

    Yet the paper remained in limbo while the journal’s investigation into the academic and ethical aspects of the study dragged on for more than a year. Finally, the journal reached the conclusion that there was no academic or ethical case to answer; in the meantime, Britain’s Defamation Act 2013 had kicked in to provide scientific journals greater protection against threats of litigation, by privileging statements contained in peer-reviewed studies.

    It is hard to imagine a set of outcomes that would have better remedied each issue flagged by Frontiers as a matter of concern. So it came as quite a shock to hear that the journal had decided to retract the paper ostensibly because “the legal context is insufficiently clear.”

    Just how clear would the legal context need to be for Frontiers to stand up to intimidation and defend academic freedom? First, the two sentences discussed in the conference call had been amended as agreed, which satisfied the journal’s lawyer even under the former libel laws. Second, Britain’s new libel laws offer science journals greater protection for precisely this kind of situation.

    In any event, the journal’s management and editors were clearly intimidated by climate deniers who threatened to sue*. So Frontiers bowed to their demands, retracted the paper, damaged its own reputation, and ultimately gave a free kick to aggressive climate deniers.

    I would have expected a scientific journal to have more backbone, certainly when it comes to the crucially important issue of academic freedom.

    Update: Since the original article was published, Frontiers has issued a statement denying that it received “threats,” but acknowledging that it received “complaints,” and reiterating its earlier statement that the paper was retracted for legal reasons. Professor Lewandowsky has responded to the new statement here.The Conversation


    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy
    Triple Pundit: SolarCoin: Digital Money Backed by Solar Power

    SolarCoin is a decentralized digital currency that we can trade person-to-person, with no need for a bank or other intermediary.

    The post SolarCoin: Digital Money Backed by Solar Power appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Video Interview: Suzanne Shelton, President & CEO, Shelton Group

    Suzanne let a lunchtime discussion at WSJ ECO:nomics on the fact that, while companies have come a long way in terms of CSR, engaging the end consumer is still required to really accomplish their goals.  Suzanne was kind enough to sit down with me for a whirlwind conversation on the subject.

    The post Video Interview: Suzanne Shelton, President & CEO, Shelton Group appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: How to Make Corporate Giving a Foundation That Strengthens Your Business

    Like a lot of good deeds, corporate philanthropy doesn’t just benefit the recipients. It also benefits those who are giving. Make corporate giving a foundation of your business, and you’ll find that it can improve the morale of your employees and the health of your company.

    The post How to Make Corporate Giving a Foundation That Strengthens Your Business appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Seafood Traceability: The Business Case for Better Data

    The deep, underlying problems in the seafood supply chain can’t be fixed simply by the decision of a few consumers to “eat local.” We need to rebuild the systems and behaviors of the global interconnected brokers, corporations and governments that touch your food before it hits your plate. Pulling that off will require better data.

    The post Seafood Traceability: The Business Case for Better Data appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Is ‘Made in the USA’ Always the Most Sustainable Choice?

    Seeing how the local movement is so closely associated with sustainability, at least when it comes to food, does that same closer-is-better reasoning hold when it comes to other products, such as clothing?

    The post Is ‘Made in the USA’ Always the Most Sustainable Choice? appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: German Renewable Electricity Consumption Hits Record High 25.4 Percent in 2013

    There's been no shortage of challenges to German Premier Angela Merkel's "Energiewende" -- an all-out transition to a greener, sustainable economy centered on renewable energy and resource efficiency -- but Germany's renewable energy markets and industry are proving resilient, with renewable electricity consumption reaching a record high in 2013.

    The post German Renewable Electricity Consumption Hits Record High 25.4 Percent in 2013 appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Greenpeace Slams Amazon on Dirty Energy Use

    Amazon gets failing grades from Greenpeace on energy transparency; renewable energy commitment and siting policy; and renewable energy deployment and advocacy. The company also received a “D” on energy efficiency and mitigation.

    The post Greenpeace Slams Amazon on Dirty Energy Use appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Watch commuters live your public transit nightmare as they avoid a rat in a subway car

    Everyone in New York has made peace with the idea that there are rats in the subway. But usually there aren’t rats IN the SUBWAY, as in running around inside the cars. When that happens, it’s pretty horrifying:

    Well, half horrifying, half hilarious to watch everyone standing on the seats squealing, with one subway rider executing a deft little jump as the rat comes barreling towards his feet.

    We especially like the fact that the standard “if you see something, say something” announcement is playing at the beginning of this video. Suspicious package indeed.

    Of course, you shouldn’t let this keep you from using public transit, but we’d understand if you avoided open-toed shoes for a while.


    Filed under: Cities
    Gristmill: As if the ozone hole weren’t enough, now there’s a hole in the troposphere
    Click to embiggen.
    Markus Rex, Alfred-Wegener-Institute
    Click to embiggen.

    Everyone knows men shouldn’t wear white dress shirts without undershirts, because then you can see their furry chests and tantalizing man-nipples and sensual sweat stains. But the Earth’s been shopping at the Hanes Outlet again, because ITS white v-neck — a.k.a. the troposphere, the innermost part of the atmosphere — has a hole.

    This hole in the Earth’s first atmospheric layer is letting dangerous, ozone-killing chemicals sneak out like nefarious body odor. Normally the troposphere catches the sweat, if you will, of pollutants and then wrings them out in rainstorms before they can do much harm. But scientists recently discovered a hole over the Western Pacific when weather balloons went poking around.

    It’s nine miles up and several thousand square miles long, according to Wired:

    Because it has only just been discovered, researchers are as yet unsure what causes this hole. But by letting certain chemicals escape into the upper levels of the atmosphere, the OH [hydroxyl] gap could contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer over the polar regions and influence worldwide climate.

    Sulfur dioxide in particular is slithering out the hole, as developing nations in Southeast Asia increasingly industrialize. Basically, we need a sewing kit or a better planetary antiperspirant or both.


    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Living
    Gristmill: EVs are getting fake engine sounds, because they’re so quiet it’s dangerous
    Tesla sales center

    Hybrids can be so quiet you can’t tell if they’re on. Which is bad news for cyclists and pedestrians — especially walkers who are visually impaired. So the European Parliament just decided that EVs and hybrids have to add fake “vroom vroom” noises so drivers quit sneaking up on people, goshdarnit.

    Acoustic vehicle alerting systems (AVAS) mimic traditional engine noise, and auto manufacturers have to add them by 2019. (Sorry, European Prius drivers: You’ll have to start meditating somewhere else.)

    Gizmodo notes the gravity of the situation:

    The fear that a quiet car might kill you is not unfounded: According to one study in 2012, when traveling at speeds under 35 mph, hybrids and electric vehicles are 37 percent more likely to hit walkers and 66 percent more likely to hit cyclists than traditional gas-powered cars.

    The U.S. was also on Team Make-Our-EVs-Noisier, but baseline noise rules proposed last year keep getting pushed back. (Manufacturers complained drivers would be annoyed.) Guess this gives us yet another reason to ride the quietest machine of all: le bike.


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Living
    eco.psk: Nike Cork Air Force 1s Could Be The Next Step In Sustainable Fashion [Pics]
    Nike-Cork-Air-Force-1.jpgEco-friendly material makes its way into the sneaker business.
    Gristmill: Eating road kill: Yuck or yum?
    roadkillrabbit

    Ian Cummings was cycling just outside Cambridge, England, when he noticed the freshly hit rabbit on the side of the road. “I sort of looked at it and looked at it, and then cycled on,” he says. But then, Cummings had a change of heart. He turned his bike around, brought the dead animal home, and cooked it into jugged hare — a traditional British recipe. “And it all kind of started from there.”

    Since that first day when Cummings, a travel photographer based in the village of Wilbraham, wound up with a Goodyear-tenderized hare on his plate, he has gone on to become somewhat of a road-kill aficionado. From venison with cranberries and chestnuts to pappardelle con lepre, over the years his town’s roads have served him up some pretty delectable fares. But Cummings isn’t the only one out foraging the highways. There are plenty of road-kill enthusiasts on this side of the pond, too — enough of them that there has been a trend toward states legalizing the practice, like when Montana made headlines by doing so last year. And now, a push to make road kill easier to take home is on the docket in Michigan.

    Ian Cummings may be excited about cooking up some roadside deer, but his wife seems less enthused.
    Ian Cummings
    Cummings may be excited about cooking up some roadside deer, but his wife seems less enthused.

    Still, road-kill cuisine isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Cummings’ friend Austin Hunt, a doctor who lives in Derriford, England, got some flak after he wrote about the wonders of eating road kill in the The Telegraph; he and others who have spoken up for the practice in the past declined to comment for Grist because of past experiences in which they felt they had been sensationalized.

    “Road kill” does bring plenty of grisly images to mind — from splattered asphalt to bumpers decorated with entrails. But is our revulsion, at least in part, tied to the fact that most of us don’t think about our meat until it’s fork-ready? There will be blood, guts, and marbled bits of fat, whether they come out on a butchering block or your Honda.

    Some argue that salvaging road kill is actually the most ethical and environmentally responsible way to eat meat: It’s a way to maintain carnivorous habits while still opting out of highly questionable conventional means. “The meat industry is pretty extraordinary, particularly things like red meat. It takes something like 27 kilos of CO2 to produce each kilo [of beef],” Cummings says. “I think most people think about [the environmental impact of] jumping in their car, but they might not consider the environmental disaster of beef.”

    Alright, but is it safe? Jackson Landers, an environmentally minded hunter who has also dined on some roadside victuals in his day, says the answer to that question comes down to temperature and time. “The digestive system is full of bacteria, which are normally held in check by the animal’s immune system,” Landers says. Once the animal dies, he says, there’s nothing to hold that bacteria back anymore, and the longer the animal has been out, and the warmer that it is outside, the more that bacteria will take over.

    “My rule now is basically if I have to finish it off myself, it’s OK. I put a rifle in the trunk pretty much all the time when I’m in Virginia. And I would say it’s anywhere from three to half a dozen times a year that I will have to put an animal down on the side of the road where somebody else had hit it.”

    Cummings is a little more lax about what he’ll collect: “Sometimes when I pick something up I do give the cat a little bit first, just in case for some reason, you know, something has happened,” he says. “Maybe slightly Russian roulette with [the cat], but he gets a good load of nice red meat that he doesn’t get otherwise.”

    Ultimately, Landers says it all comes down to experience – and that most of the questions about it being an unsafe practice come from people who don’t have that background. “The nose doesn’t lie,” he says. “If there’s something wrong with the meat, you’re going to be able to tell.”

    All in all, while Cummings still usually finds it a difficult subject to broach (fearing responses like, “The meal you invited us over for came from where?!”), he says the reactions that he’s gotten have been surprisingly positive, especially amongst those who are already inclined to think about the source of their food. “A lot of vegetarian friends have been like, ‘That’s really great to hear, and I really admire you for doing that,’” he says. (They also have a rather convenient excuse to not partake in a Cummings family dinner, though.)

    While Landers says there’s not enough road kill to go around and shake up the meat industry, there is enough for people here and there to occasionally enjoy a feast of salvaged chow. Though, as laws change and the word gets out, that might not always be the case.

    About a year and a half ago, Cummings’ wife excitedly burst through their door. “Quick, get the knife!” she exclaimed. There was a dying muntjac deer a mile down the road. “So I went there, and there was this rather sheepish looking guy standing over the deer with a pair of kitchen scissors in his hands,” Cummings recalls.

    “What are you going to do with that?” Cummings asked. “I’m going to eat it, they’re rather tasty,” the challenger replied. Cummings had lost. “I’m glad you’re a man after my own heart,” the man said. Plunging the scissors through flesh, the man expertly dispatched of his four-legged find: dinner.


    Filed under: Article, Food, Living
    Gristmill: Brits may ban new onshore wind power
    wind power in England

    Britain’s conservative government is preparing to make an unusual pledge — a crackdown on clean energy.

    Prime Minster David Cameron, leader of the bluntly named Conservative Party (aka the Tories), is overseeing the drafting of a “manifesto” ahead of next year’s national election. That manifesto might come dressed up in a stifling windbreaker. The Guardian explains:

    The Guardian understands that Cameron has brokered a compromise between warring Tories by agreeing to include measures in the manifesto for next year’s general election that will in effect rule out the building of onshore windfarms from 2020. …

    The Tories will be working out the details of the pledge, which could involve an absolute cap on the output from onshore turbines. Lesser measures, which would all come into force in 2020, would involve lower subsidies or introducing tighter planning restrictions.

    The senior Conservative said it was important to act because onshore windfarms had become so unpopular.

    But Cameron’s party understands that renewable energy in general is popular in the country, so the manifesto might offset the anti-onshore wind pledge with strong commitments to solar power and offshore wind farms.

    “We are not going to allow the [opposition] to characterize us as anti-clean-energy just because we want to control the number of onshore windfarms,” one party source told the newspaper. “We are mindful that uncontrolled expansion of onshore wind is alienating people from the whole clean energy debate.”


    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Fancy new sustainable cement is made of old busted toilets
    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

    What happens when your crapper becomes a piece of crap? If you’re lucky, it gets turned into sustainable cement. According to Inhabitat, researchers from England, Spain, and Brazil have repurposed broken bathtubs, toilets, and sinks as a cement mixture that’s much greener than normal concrete. And when red bricks are used, the result is even stronger.

    Here’s the nitty gritty:

    To create the cement, scientists first grind up old ceramics and mix them with water and an activator solution, which currently uses sodium hydroxide or sodium silicate. This solution is then poured into a mold and exposed to extreme heat, resulting in a solidified mixture.

    If the activator solution can be replaced with rice husk ash, it would take yet another material out of the waste stream, provide a way for suppliers generate additional income, and create cement made purely from recycled materials.

    Cement production contributes 5 to 6 percent of CO2 emissions worldwide, and according to the New York Times, most of that is from “the chemical reaction that creates it.” So the real key here could be using rice husk ash instead of sodium hydroxide or sodium silicate, methinks.

    But the recycling part is awesome too. Cities constantly need new roads and buildings, so making the process less reliant on new resources will also go a long way.


    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Living
    Gristmill: This beautiful tiny house looks like an orange and was built for less than $9,000

    To be affordable, tiny houses are often all angles, with sharp, modern design. For those of us tired of spare, impersonal homes in drab brown-black, this mango-like dome is a juicy slice of bliss:

    steve-areen-dome-home-thailand
    © Steve Areen via Designboom

    Steve Areen built the orange dome on a Thai mango farm — clearly inspired by the fruit — using blocks of compressed dirt. Treehugger quotes the musician and photographer:

    The cost for the basic structure was under $6,000. It took a few more weeks to add the details, such as doors, screens, pond, upstairs structure, stonework and landscaping. All this, including furnishings, was under $3,000 … Bringing my total cost to about $9,000. Please keep in mind this is in cost-friendly Thailand.

    steve-areen-dome-home-thailand-2
    © Steve Areen via Designboom

    The round windows and doors, together with the warm terra cotta color, make the whole place feel organic and welcoming. Areen adds that the project was unusually low-waste compared to normal homes, and he hid scraps and bricks under his bed frame, rather than add them to the waste stream.

    steve-areen-dome-home-thailand-3
    © Steve Areen via Designboom

    Now he wants to replicate the adorable abode in cooler climates, using sustainable insulation materials. (GOOD. We can’t all move to Thailand and play the guitar in our windowseat!) His dome home would fit in particularly in Florida or the Southwest, but we could picture cooler-hued versions in the Northwest as well. Paradoxically, taking design cues from your landscape helps you stand out and fit in at the same time.

    Check out way more images on Designboom.


    Filed under: Living
    Triple Pundit: What Makes a Civilization Collapse?

    A new study from a cross-disciplinary group at NASA states that in the past a number of highly sophisticated, complex civilizations such as the Roman, Han, Mauryan and Gupta Empires, along with numerous Mesopotamian Empires, have collapsed, and it draws parallels among the conditions that made each of these susceptible. Considering the growing awareness of our own vulnerability due to climate change, we would be well advised to pay attention to these results.

    The post What Makes a Civilization Collapse? appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Blades of gory: Teaching kids to slice and dice
    kid-knives-chopping-cooking.jpg

    Play out this scenario in your head: A writer publishes a cookbook for children, and as part of the book promotion, pens an op-ed in which she advocates handing your kid a gleaming chef’s knife so they can begin working on their high-speed lopping skills.

    As you might expect, when this actually happened, a lot of people got worked up. For a moment there, Sarah Elton, the writer in question, was trending on Twitter in Toronto, where her op-ed ran.

    But here’s what’s surprising about the whole episode: Rather than condemning Elton as a bad mother, practically everyone agreed with her.

    This, I think, signifies a tipping point in American culture. We still may be unreasonably risk-averse, but the fact that Elton wasn’t trolled by protective parents is a promising data point. It suggests that we’re coming around to the realization that the risk of julienning a pinky is far outweighed by the risks that come from failing to teach kids about food.

    OK, there was one slightly cranky letter to the editor, but that was actually just an objection to the conditions in the picture that ran with the story (kids kneeling on a countertop to stir a pot). And even in that case the commenter mentioned that her daughter had been using knives and making her own scrambled eggs from the age of 3. Wait, am I still in the western hemisphere?

    The case Elton makes for teaching cooking to kids is also the case for her new book, Starting from Scratch: What You Should Know about Food and Cooking. It’s dangerous not to teach kids to cook — it’s a basic survival skill.

    It might sound extreme to say it’s imperative to invite your six-year-old to help truss a chicken but the stakes are high. The British organization, Children’s Food Trust, which advocates for kids’ nutrition and works to build a body of evidence-based research, found in a recent study that children who cook before the age of eight are 50 per cent more likely to prepare at least five meals from scratch a week when they grow up. Cooking when young builds skills for later in life – and sets a kid up for making healthier food choices. That’s because when you make food from scratch, you get to decide what goes into your body.

    Perhaps I should add a caveat here: Elton didn’t write this as a provocation, and her modest proposal is, actually, pretty modest. She simply points out that there are other places, namely France, that do things differently.

    In Paris, I visited a cooking school associated with a Michelin-starred chef where they teach kids, as well as adults, to pan-fry fish or prepare escargots. I observed a long row of chef knives on the wall and asked the director if they let the kids use them. He looked at me incredulously. “Of course we do,” he said. “But we wait until they’re old enough. We wait until they are six.”

    A, let's face it, totally gratuitous, but pretty funny picture of a kid with a knife. I dub her Knifegirl.
    Rachel Tayse
    A, let’s face it, totally gratuitous, but pretty funny picture of a kid with a knife. I dub her Knifegirl.

    If you can imagine first-graders cooking escargot it’s not such a leap to suggest that they might actually eat them. And if you can get kids to relish snails, is there any dietary hurdle too high? There’s research showing that children are more likely to eat healthy food if they’re involved in the cooking, and even more so if they are involved in the growing. Which makes perfect sense: I’m not going to try something icky-looking of unknown provenance, but if I’ve labored to make the thing, of course I’m going to eat it. As is so often the case in this long-distance world, the ultimate source of the problem is lack of connection.

    Maybe the letters of protest just haven’t come in yet, but I’m hopeful that we really have reached a turning point. If there’s anything I would have judged more unlikely than teaching American children to eat snails, it’s American parents handing chef’s knives to their kids.


    Filed under: Article, Food, Living
    Gristmill: Climate change: The hottest thing in science fiction
    future sci-fi city

    The world as we knew it is gone.

    Even if nobody is talking explicitly about it, it’s clear that something terrible has happened and in its wake, humanity must once again reset its priorities. Can we, in this resource-scarce new world, fashion some kind of idyllic agrarian commune with shared goods, serene faces, and hemp robes? Or are we doomed to be selfish hoarders, creating even greater scarcity which we can then leverage for our own benefit? Also, is that … is that some kind of genetically modified man-wolfephant?

    Post-apocalyptic science fiction isn’t new. But you may have noticed an uptick in books set in the wake of some kind of major climate disaster. Some call it “cli-fi” — sci-fi infused with the increasingly frightening impacts of climate change. The trope has deep roots, says science fiction scholar Istvan Csicery-Ronay, and plenty of room to grow.

    In fact, of late, cli-fi has been creeping out of the fantasy and science fiction sections of bookstores and libraries and into the mainstream. Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam trilogy, for example, is everywhere. Its simple, cartoon-like, GMO-gone-wrong future isn’t hard to imagine. Once you get past the brand names and animal mashup portmanteaus (pigoons, rakunks, wolvogs), you realize you’re just looking at a version of us, not all that far in the future. It’s relatable, in a woozy way.

    Cli-fi is “getting some interest from folks who are not necessarily interested in science fiction,” says Csicery-Ronay, an English professor at DePauw University in Indiana and co-editor of the journal, Science Fiction Studies. For some people, it may be even be a sort of gateway into science fiction, which has a long and proud history of tearing civilization down and making characters build it back, or deal with the consequences of living in someone else’s rebuilt world.

    The Russians, according to Csicsery-Ronay, were pioneers of the genre. “They had a category, late 19th century, early 20th century, called the ‘If-This-Goes-On Fiction,’ kind of a warning,” he says, “a particular kind of dystopian fiction, that if a certain trend goes on, and we don’t stop, then this is what’s going to happen.”

    An if-this-goes-on moment actually sparked the anticipated next novel from Paolo Bacigalupi, critically acclaimed writer of science fiction novels for young (Ship Breaker, Drowned Cities) and standard (The Windup Girl) adults.

    “This is sort of my fetish,” Bacigalupi says. “Bad decisions made badly by bad people. What happens next?”

    His latest inspiration? Erstwhile Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry. “I was down in Texas when their drought was getting going,” Bacigalupi says. “It was sort of biblical, apocalyptic heat. The cows were being put down because the land can’t support them. All this great systemic collapse stuff percolating around, and at the same time, Rick Perry … is organizing a prayer circle and praying for rain.

    “That was the moment,” Bacigalupi says.

    The result is The Water Knife, a novel set in a near-future, drought-stricken southwestern United States — similar to the one he created in his short story “The Tamarisk Hunter” — and featuring a water war between Phoenix and Las Vegas. The two cities have arrived at this point in the future with different approaches. Good old, cynical Las Vegas recognizes it’s going to have trouble as water becomes more scarce and prepares for battles to come, legal and otherwise. Phoenix takes more of a Rick Perry approach.

    The book, and others like it, could provide a model for scientists and environmentalists who are clamoring for some kind of approachable yet still awesome — in both senses of the word — way of communicating a very real if-this-goes-on message. As in, if this goes on, inland real estate is where it’s at, presuming we don’t revert to a system of bartering or pillaging or maybe just asphyxiating.

    And this is why there may be more at stake with cli-fi than most fiction. For Annalee Newitz, editor-in-chief of science fiction site io9.com, there’s real value in getting climate change right. In a post on that site, she hails Tobias Buckell’s Arctic Rising for the way it “explores how the loss of ice in the Arctic Ocean will change international relations and reverse some countries’ economic fortunes,” and Kim Stanley Robinson’s epic 2312, in which humans have colonized much of the solar system, with a great, moving city that stays on Mercury, but never on the side the sun hits; moving colonies inside asteroids; and, of course, a city of canals in what we know now as New York City. His approach to technology is held in science fiction circles to be both plausible and cynical — cli-fi characteristics, to be sure.

    Others in the science fiction realm with climate themes you might consider, according to Csicsery-Ronay: Robinson’s Forty Signs of Rain trilogy, the aforementioned Atwood Maddaddam trilogy, Ian McDonald’s River of Gods and The Sea and the Summer, also published as The Drowning Towers, by George Turner.

    And there’s more coming soon. After making a deal for Bacigalupi’s Water Knife, due out in spring of next year, an editor at Knopf told the New York Times that he thinks it’ll “attract a crossover audience beyond Mr. Bacigalupi’s core readers.”

    It’s about time for that crossover, too. Climate fiction suggests a few things: First, humans are humans, and we’ll have the same stupid fights on any backdrop spacetime throws at us. Second, that today’s hero, be it a captain of industry, a liberation fighter, or a seemingly clever technology, could well be tomorrow’s villain — a lesson we in the real world tend to learn 30 years too late. And third, that climate change might be awfully scary, especially for those of us who’ve grown accustomed to building sprawling, air-conditioned cities, on inhospitable terrain, with apparent impunity.


    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy
    Triple Pundit: Extreme Action: UPS Fires 250 in New York After 90-Minute Protest

    UPS began firing 250 Teamster drivers in Queens, N.Y. last week after they dared to stage a 90-minute protest of the firing of long-time employee and union activist Jairo Reeves.

    The post Extreme Action: UPS Fires 250 in New York After 90-Minute Protest appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Southeastern Cities Look to Max Out the Triple Bottom Line Returns of Recycling

    Recycling is a growth industry, but rates in the U.S. lag compared to those of other industrialized nations. Under the aegis of the Southeast Recycling Development Council, manufacturers across the Southeast are joining with local governments and NGOs to spread the word and boost recycling rates.

    The post Southeastern Cities Look to Max Out the Triple Bottom Line Returns of Recycling appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Did Hyperbole or Social Responsibility Push Johnson & Johnson to Reformulate Its Baby Products?

    By promising to clean up its products and remove chemicals of concern across all of its baby products by 2015, Johnson & Johnson demonstrated leadership that expertly reinforced commitment to its core values.

    The post Did Hyperbole or Social Responsibility Push Johnson & Johnson to Reformulate Its Baby Products? appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Video Interview: Raj Mamodia, CEO of Brillio

    I had a chance to sit down with Raj Mamodia, Brillo's CEO to learn more about how Brillio will help companies, especially utilities cope with fast changing technology, fast changing customer behavior, and the basics of running complex operations. The goal, from a sustainability perspective, is to greatly increase efficiencies that can save not only money, but many negative externalities that the energy sector faces.

    The post Video Interview: Raj Mamodia, CEO of Brillio appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Air Pollution Now Responsible for 1 in 8 Deaths Worldwide, Study Shows

    Air pollution is now the world’s single greatest environmental health risk, according to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) new findings that show poor air quality is responsible for 7 million deaths a year – one in eight total deaths worldwide. WHO estimates that indoor air pollution caused 4.3 million deaths in 2012 in households that burn wood, coal or biomass as cooking fuel, while outdoor air pollution contributed to 3.7 million deaths the same year.

    The post Air Pollution Now Responsible for 1 in 8 Deaths Worldwide, Study Shows appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Honey Maid Defends Its Ad Featuring ‘Nontraditional’ Families

    In early March, Honey Maid launched its “This Is Wholesome” ad campaign featuring several “unconventional” families – a family with two dads, a mixed-race family, a “rocker” family, a military family and a single dad and his son. The 30-second commercial normalized these “atypical” families – showing them engaging in everyday activities like taking walks, getting dressed in the morning or enjoying Honey Maid’s iconic graham crackers. And – even more revolutionary – the ad made the assertion that these families are just as wholesome as the 1950s stereotypical family: a mom, dad, 2.5 kids and dog -- an archetype that many would argue was actually more uncommon than such “nontraditional” families.

    The post Honey Maid Defends Its Ad Featuring ‘Nontraditional’ Families appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Bird body count still rising following Galveston Bay oil spill
    Galveston Bay cleanup

    There have been so many oil spills lately — from trains, from pipelines, from barges, from a refinery – that it’s easy to forget about the particulars of each one. Unless you’re an unlucky local resident or an emergency responder.

    In Texas, where more than 100,000 gallons of heavy fuel spilled into Galveston Bay two weeks ago following a collision between a barge and a ship, the Coast Guard has recovered more than 300 oiled birds – nearly all of them dead. The Texas Tribune reports:

    While the Houston Ship Channel is open and fishermen have mostly resumed activities in the bay, officials say they are at least several weeks away from fully containing the fuel oil, and its devastating effects on shorebirds are becoming increasingly apparent. The effects of the spill, [said David Newstead, a research scientist at the Corpus Christi-based nonprofit Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program], are particularly troubling in the ecologically sensitive area in which the birds have already been in peril from human activity.

    Newstead and Coast Guard officials said birds affected by the spill include ducks, herrings, herons, brown and white pelicans, sanderlings, loons, willets, black-bellied plover and the piping plover, which is classified as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. …

    Newstead said he has surveyed Mustang Island, about 200 miles southwest of the initial spill site, and observed at least 500 more birds with some traces of oil. The soiled birds came into contact with the contaminated water as it washed ashore.

    Birds and shorelines aren’t the only things being smeared with toxic oil in the wake of the shipping accident. An attorney representing a shrimp boat captain said Friday that his client had pulled up an “entire catch” that was “covered with oil.”


    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: We might get a sequel to An Inconvenient Truth
    al-gore-an-inconvenient-truth-flickr

    Considering Fast and the Furious 18 is now in theaters, it’s almost weird there hasn’t been a sequel to An Inconvenient Truth, the first gobsmackingly successful movie about a slideshow. (Moviegoers around the world gladly parted with almost $50 million to get bummed about climate change!)

    So hearing that the doc’s producer is in talks to make a sequel to the 2006 film elicits a big “FINALLY!” From the Hollywood Reporter:

    “We have had conversations,” producer Lawrence Bender tells THR. “We’ve met; we’ve discussed. If we are going to make a movie, we want it to have an impact.”…

    Environmental activist Laurie David also believes a sequel should be on the agenda. “God, do we need one,” she says. “Everything in that movie has come to pass. At the time we did the movie, there was Hurricane Katrina; now we have extreme weather events every other week. The update has to be incredible and shocking.”

    Bender seemed to tease at a March 21 gala that An Inconvenient Truth: Still Truthy was in the works. Accepting an award at the fundraiser for UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, he said, “Our new inconvenient truth is that not nearly enough concrete action has been taken.” THAT’s for sure.

    MTV has already spitballed some possible sequel titles, including An Inconvenienter Truth, Convenient Lies, and 2 Inconvenient 2 Truth. But why not go even more direct with something like We’re All Gonna Die? (Hey, it’s shorter than Stop Saying I Invented the Internet; Seriously, That’s Getting Old.)


    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Living
    Gristmill: Only 28 percent of Fox News climate segments are accurate
    fox-news-protest.jpg

    According to a Pew study released last year, 38 percent of U.S. adults watch cable news. So if you want to know why so many Americans deny or doubt the established science of climate change, the content they’re receiving on cable news may well point the way.

    According to a new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, misinformation about climate science on cable news channels is pretty common. The study found that last year, 30 percent of CNN’s climate-related segments were misleading, compared with 72 percent for Fox News and just 8 percent for MSNBC. The study methodology was quite strict: Segments that contained “any inaccurate or misleading representations of climate science” were classified as misleading.

    In 2013, 14 Fox News segments referencing climate science were entirely accurate whil 36 continated misleading statements. In 2013, 121 MSNBC segments referencing climate sciene were entirely accurate while 11 contianed misleading statements.
    In 2013, 14 Fox News segments referencing climate science were entirely accurate while 36 contained misleading statements. Meanwhile, 121 MSNBC segments referencing climate science were entirely accurate while 11 contained misleading statements.

    By far the worst performer was Fox (this is hardly the first study to associate this channel with sowing reams of doubt about climate change). Notably, the UCS report found that “more than half” of the channel’s misleading content was due to The Five, a program where the hosts regularly argue against climate science. For instance, Greg Gutfeld, one of the show’s regular co-hosts, charged on Sept. 30 that “experts pondered hiding the news that the Earth hadn’t … warmed in 15 years, despite an increase in emissions. They concluded that the missing heat was trapped in the ocean. It’s like blaming gas on the dog if the ocean was your dog.” (To understand what is actually going on with the alleged global warming “pause,” and why the deep oceans may well explain part of the story, click here.)

    You can watch Gutfeld’s comments here:

    As Gutfeld’s statement suggests, one of the standard Fox practices was sowing doubt about scientists themselves. On Feb. 13, 2013, for instance, Sean Hannity commented, “I don’t believe that this global warming nonsense is real,” and then went on to mention “phony emails” from climate scientists. (If you want to know what was actually up with those emails, read here.)

    Fox’s two most accurate programs with respect to climate science were The O’Reilly Factor and Special Report with Bret Baier. As the UCS study put it, “O’Reilly and Baier’s programs, although also airing a number of segments containing inaccurate statements about climate science, were responsible for nearly all of the network’s accurate coverage.”

    In contrast to Fox, the study found that MSNBC was overwhelmingly accurate in its coverage, and also devoted a great deal of attention to climate change. That was particularly the case for programs hosted by Chris Hayes, whose All In With Chris Hayes featured 30 segments about climate change. When MSNBC did err, the study found, it was because hosts or guests “overstated the effects of climate change, particularly the link between climate change and specific types of extreme weather, such as tornadoes.”

    CNN provides the most interesting case in the analysis. In general, the network was usually accurate; when it erred, however, it tended to be because climate-denying guests had appeared in “debates” the network hosted over the reality of climate change. Take a Jan. 23 debate on Out Front with Erin Burnett, for instance, in which Erick Erickson of RedState (then a CNN contributor) claimed that “the 1950s had more extreme weather than now.”

    Overall, the UCS report calculated that if CNN had not hosted misleading science debates, it would have improved its accuracy rating to 86 percent. “The biggest step that CNN could take to increase the accuracy of the information it provides to its viewers,” the study concluded, “is to stop hosting debates about established climate science and instead host debates and discussions about whether and how to respond to climate change through climate policy.”

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


    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Director Werner Herzog hates chickens but loves KFC
    KFC-kentucky-fried-chicken-bucket-flickr

    Do chickens scare you? Does staring into their beady eyes smack of your own mortality? If so, congrats: You’ve just scored “Werner Herzog” in Buzzfeed’s “Which German director of Grizzly Man are YOU?!” quiz!

    As Modern Farmer recently noted, the filmmaker is bizarrely vocal about his bilious fear of chickens — unless they’re between his teeth. He intones in a 2012 video (which is AMAZING):

    The enormity of their flat brain, the enormity of their stupidity is just overwhelming … It’s very easy to hypnotize a chicken. They’re very prone to hypnosis, and in one or two films, I’ve actually shown that.

    It’s true — the befuddling ending of Herzog’s 1977 film Stroszek includes hypnotized chickens dancing and playing the piano (more or less humane than factory farming? Discuss):

    Roger Ebert thought the hypnotized chickens were a metaphor for us, “dancing for some unknown force until the money runs out,” writes Modern Farmer. (Never thought about McNuggets as a commentary on the futility of life, but now that you mention it …) Herzog’s collaborator Joshua Oppenheimer thinks chickens are an even darker symbol, calling them “living manifestations of death” in a recent Reddit Ask Me Anything since we raise them solely to eat them.

    Which is how Herzog likes them best. “With a chicken leg on your plant, a good stein of beer in your fist, the world starts to look better,” he wrote in the Reddit thread, noting, when asked why he hates chickens, “I like them Kentucky Fried.” A dining choice almost as stupid as chickens themselves.


    Filed under: Food, Living
    Gristmill: Ohio cracks down on methane pollution from fracking
    Criminalize fracking
    Bill Baker
    This guy probably understands that Ohio’s new rules don’t go far enough.

    Drillers in the heavily fracked Buckeye State will now have to do more to find and fix leaks in their systems, part of the latest initiative to crack down on climate-changing methane pollution. The Akron Beacon Journal reports:

    Ohio on Friday tightened its rules on air emissions from natural gas-oil drilling at horizontal wells. …

    Drilling companies now are required to perform regular inspections to pinpoint any equipment leaks and seal them quickly.

    Such leaks can contribute to air pollution with unhealthy ozone, add to global warming and represent lost or wasted energy. Fugitive emissions can account for 1 to 8 percent of methane from an individual well, according to some studies. …

    The revised rules — in development for more than a year — were released by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and go into effect immediately, officials said.

    Environmentalists cheered the new rules, which closely followed a crackdown on fugitive methane emissions in Colorado, and a similar proposal from the Obama administration. And Wyoming recently introduced methane pollution rules for new or expanded fracking and other natural gas-related operations.

    “It’s essential we maintain an unblinking vigilance in driving down harmful emissions,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, which has drawn criticism from other environmental groups in recent years for partnering with fracking companies to study and attempt to address harms associated with the drilling practice.

    “There are parts of the policy we would have written differently,” said EDF’s Matt Watson, “but this unquestionably puts Ohio among the national leaders in tackling fugitive emissions.”


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
    eco.psk: Piers Fawkes: In Praise Of TED
    geena-roceroWhy the five day conference still draws crowds and gives people access to ideas and voices they might not otherwise hear.
    Gristmill: Designed for lone commuters, this three-wheeled car gets 84 mpg
    elio-three-wheeled-car

    Glancing around at nearly empty cars on the freeway, it’s sadly clear that almost 80 percent of commuters drive to and from work alone. Public transit, biking, and carpooling are both much greener, obvi, but in lieu of those, a tiny, fuel-efficient car for one would be a wee step forward.

    With its 84 mpg on the highway (49 mpg in the city) fuel efficiency, The Elio can go 672 freeway miles on a full tank. It’s technically not a car without a fourth wheel, but the mini pod will still get you to the office — at up to 100 mph if you’re REALLY late. Its price tag is equally bite-size: $6,800.

    elio-rear-view

    If this “tiny, three-wheeled car!!!!” thing sounds familiar, it’s because others have tried but made itty-bitty death traps Americans understandably had no interest in buying. With its professed commitment to safety and more than 13,000 people in line, the Elio sounds promisingly different, but former Grister Tyler Falk is wary:

    [W]e’ll hold off declaring the Elio vehicle the next big thing in personal transportation until we see some actual sales numbers. That’s because it’s not clear if a low-cost car, especially one with minimal interior space will really catch on in the United States. One company, Aptera Motors, that tried to bring three-wheeled electric vehicles to the U.S. shut down in 2011.

    If you can handle a bro-y Ken Doll spokesguy, see what you think of the Elio:

    It even has a backseat, if you want to join the 84 Miles (to the Gallon) High Club.


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Living
    Gristmill: This project has rescued more than 800 endangered baby penguins in six months
    rescued-african-penguin-chick

    The Chick Bolstering Project sounds like a GoldieBlox-style girl-empowerment trip, but it actually rescues endangered baby penguins — no Beastie Boys lawsuit necessary!

    The project is a partnership with the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds, the South African government, and others. In the past six months, they’ve rescued more than 800 endangered African penguin chicks from starvation. Does that mean it’s time for a cuddle party?!

    baby-penguin-chick-cared-for
    Francis Louw/Britson Zoo Gardens & The Wild Place Project

    That’s aww-worthy AND a big deal because African penguins are dying off like gangbusters. In the past 80 years, their population has shrunk 97.5 percent, because overfishing has eliminated their food and unusually cold weather puts ’em on ice. (Climate change, you buttface!)

    In this most recent case, parent African penguins were abandoning their little ones because the babies were too small or sick. The Chick Bolstering Project hand-rears the chicks, helps them bulk up a little, and releases them three months later. Whether staffers actually chant, “Go! Have wild unprotected sex to further your species!” into the wind is anyone’s guess.


    Filed under: Living
    Gristmill: In the battle against proposed coal terminals, you are kicking ass
    beating coal

    Companies that want to build hulking coal export terminals in Washington state have put out an industrywide mayday after a string of similar proposed projects were defeated amid fierce local opposition from activists and neighbors.

    Opponents of such projects are worried about climate change and local air pollution and congestion. And now the terminal developers are worried that they are staring down complete and utter defeat. The Missoulian reports on a delightful tidbit from an energy conference last week:

    Developers said Wednesday they are politically outmatched in their battle to build two coal ports in Washington state, and they’re begging for help from Montana industry.

    That means letters, online comments and even trips to hearings in the Pacific Northwest, where regulators are conducting an “unprecedented” environmental review, developers said during Montana Energy 2014 in Billings.

    “Lots and lots of ground-level organizing. And I’ll tell you, the opposition is better at it than we are,” said Wendy Hutchinson of Millennium Bulk Terminals, which is seeking to build the $643 million Longview dock on the Columbia River.

    Coal industry leaders pledged to rush to the defense of their enfeebled would-be port-developing conspirators. If the developers fail to build or expand ports where coal can be loaded onto ships bound for Asia, then coal companies’ fortunes will fall with them. Coal consumption has been declining in the U.S. and producers see exports as their only savior.

    “We either stand alone and fall,” said Bud Clinch, director of the Montana Coal Council. “Or we become a team and help each other.”

    Message to coal export protesters: Don’t let down your guard.


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
    eco.psk: Bio-Robot Lives Off Of Photosynthesis Like A Plant [Video]
    Symbiotic-Machine-Ivan-Henriques-2.jpgThe Symbiotic Machine by Ivan Henriques harvests energy from organisms like algae.
    eco.psk: Briefcase Scooter Is The Ultimate Commuter Tool [Video]
    commute-case-green-energy-motors-2.jpgDual-function case folds away in under 10 seconds.
    Gristmill: Pedestrians used to be America’s sports stars — complete with endorsements and doping scandals

    pedestrianism-by-matthew-algeo-competitive-walking-cr.jpgRather than wearing skintight pants and jogging around a silly diamond, athletes in the 1870s would walk hundreds of miles as a nail-biting, bet-placing American public looked on. That’s right: Pedestrians were the original sports heroes.

    That’s the subject of the new book Pedestrianism: When Watching People Walk Was America’s Favorite Spectator Sport. Author Matthew Algeo dishes about how athletes would walk 500 miles’ worth of loops around what’s now Madison Square Garden, only stopping on Sundays. A cheering crowd would bet on who’d drop out or hit 100 miles first.

    Gizmodo’s Alissa Walker has the dirt:

    Pedestrianism had celebrity athletes and lucrative sponsorship agreements — this is where corporate sponsorship began! — and even doping scandals. Athletes got high on coca leaves and champagne, just like today.

    As Algeo told NPR, competitors were even pressured to fix races. I haven’t read his book yet, but one can only hope there’s a 1874 version of Lance Armstrong making a post-career confession to Old-Timey Oprah about his moral failings as a professional walker. (“Your gummy bracelets mean nothing,” she’ll snarl. “But my thighs were chafing by mile 473!” he’ll say. “I couldn’t think straight!”)

    The halcyon days of sport-walking were curtailed by those spindly two-wheeled demons — BICYCLES. But just for a second, imagine if pedestrianism had lived on.


    Filed under: Living
    Gristmill: States try to block cities’ transit plans
    bus rapid transit sketch
    Will Tennessee’s Republican-controlled state legislature kill this proposed bus rapid transit line in Nashville?

    As more cities come to terms with Americans’ shifting desires to get out of cars and onto mass transit, we are beginning to see bus and rail projects in some unexpected places. Mass transit isn’t just for your Europhile socialist coastal enclaves anymore. Cities in the Midwest and the Sun Belt are trying to develop well-planned transit systems such as light rail and bus rapid transit.

    But there is a hitch: States tend to control both how transportation funds are raised and how they are spent. Even federal transportation dollars are mostly disbursed to states rather than localities. Many states, even liberal California and transit-rich New York, prohibit cities from levying most kinds of taxes without state permission, making it hard for metropolitan areas to raise funds for their own projects.

    And, you’ll be shocked to discover, Republican state legislatures aren’t so keen on mass transit. In Indiana, for example, the counties in the Indianapolis region need state approval just to hold a referendum on whether to fund mass transit projects. And the state legislature would not give them that permission unless they dropped a light rail system from the proposal, and also dropped a corporate tax to pay for it.

    The irony is that the business community itself had lobbied for the mass transit system, since they appreciate its economic value. But God forbid businesses should be asked to contribute to building the public goods they will benefit from! They lobbied against the corporate income tax that would have covered a mere 10 percent of the system’s cost, and it was removed. Conservatives, of course, then attacked the bill for shifting the cost onto taxpayers. But at least it finally passed.

    Nashville may not be so lucky. The city wants to build a bus rapid transit line on one of its major, traffic-clogged corridors. The system would cut commute times, but suburbanites worry that by taking one of their precious car lanes it would cause traffic and safety problems. Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers–funded anti-government advocacy organization, has rallied support for a Tennessee state Senate bill that would prohibit dedicating any lane of traffic to buses, and late last month it passed. The bill’s fate in the state House is unclear.

    Meanwhile, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s effort to rein in dangerous drivers to protect pedestrians and bicyclists may be thwarted by the state government. He needs Albany’s approval to post speeding cameras around the city, and the legislature did not include it in the state budget that just passed. It may be added later.

    To some extent, these pro-car, anti-transit, and anti-pedestrian policies are just the natural byproduct of our bizarre federal system. In European or Asian countries with better subway systems and inter-city rail service, infrastructure policy is nationalized. National governments tend to appreciate cities and their vital economic importance. State politics, on the other hand, can be dominated by reactionary rural or suburban legislators who resent the prominence of their state’s biggest cities.

    But some reforms are possible. Federal transportation dollars, for example, can go more to localities than states. President Obama has started to do this a little bit with his competitive TIGER grants program. And as more Southern and Midwestern cities push for transit, suburban and conservative resistance to it may soften. Until then, there is a lot of work to be done in statehouses.


    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Cities, Politics
    Gristmill: What “kalegate” taught us about New Orleans and food
    kale

    It started with an off-hand snub in a New York Times travel story about New Orleans, and how minor celebrities like Solange Knowles (Beyonce’s younger sister) and the guy from the band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes are moving to the city. Halfway through the story, Dutch actress Tara Elders down-talked the availability of produce in the city. “New Orleans is not cosmopolitan,” she said. “There’s no kale here.”

    Turns out, you can insult New Orleans about its inability to do anything on time, or its culture of indulgence, but if you talk bad about its greens, the locals get up in arms.

    The story ran on March 6. By the end of the day, the local paper, the Times-Picayune, ran a column decrying Elders’ statement and demanding a correction. The next day, Eater New Orleans had built a heat map showing just how many places you could find kale in town. By the weekend, restaurants were running “kalegate” specials, and farmers markets were pushing their greens.

    From there, it got heated. Someone started a @nolakale Twitter account, highlighting kale in the city, but the account was suspended without a clear reason. The #kalegate hashtag exploded across social media, and one enterprising vegetable enthusiast made himself a three-piece suit out of kale.

    The backlash was based on several things, and kale is emblematic of many of them. For starters, food is a big part of what makes New Orleans unique, says Johanna Gilligan, the director and founder of Grow Dat Youth Farm, and that it’s hard for outsiders to understand that: “Food is our culture and our family and our history.”

    Saying that you can’t find kale in New Orleans hit on the sensitive idea that the city is an unsophisticated place – that you can’t find real food there. The comment also inadvertently touched on the lack of access to fresh, healthy food in a city where social and racial inequality has drawn stark dividing lines.

    In other words, it’s not that kale isn’t available, it’s a matter of who it’s available to.

    Grow Dat, which employs local high schoolers, sells kale to Whole Foods. But the farm, which is foremost a youth empowerment program, sends a portion of its food home with the teenage employees, and offers cooking classes to show them how to use unfamiliar foods.

    Gilligan says she and other food activists are trying to destigmatize kale as an uppity rich people vegetable, and make a whole range of greens affordable and available in areas where food access is low. She’s frustrated by how New Orleans was perceived in the story, but she’s hoping that kalegate will give people the opportunity to talk about food access. And actually do something about it.

    “Yes, at the market people were buying kale with a new sense of pride,” Gilligan says. “But how do we take this opportunity to talk about the real issues? How do we work together to build a better system across our diverse community to address the really large problems in our food system?”


    Filed under: Cities, Food
    Gristmill: Ask Umbra: Good gracious, is there lead in my fine china?
    retro-vintage-porcelain-flatware-secret-2-cropped

    Send your question to Umbra!

    Q. My mom passed along the set of dishes that my grandmother hand-carried home from China, back when she and my grandfather were among the very first U.S. tourists to travel there in the early ’70s. And they’re beautiful, with colorful glazed patterns. The trouble is, the glazes all contain lead. (I checked.) I’d rather not just dump them as household hazardous waste, but I certainly don’t want to give them away to someone who might unknowingly use them for food. Any suggestions? I’m not about to take up pique assiette myself, but I suppose I could find someone who does it.

    Diana F.
    Portland, Ore.

    A. Dearest Diana,

    We’ve all heard the saying about gift horses and mouths. In your case, I’d like to propose an addendum: “Unless that horse is china set that could be coated in lead.” You were wise to check into the safety of your inherited dinnerware, and you’re right to be concerned — but I don’t think you necessarily have to kick your lovely heirlooms out of the house.

    As you know, decorated Asian plates – along with traditional Mexican terra cotta, elaborately painted, brightly colored, or handcrafted dinnerware – might harbor lead in their glazes. (Also be on the lookout for crystal, the other major dining-room offender.) Worse news: That lead can leach from the dishes into your food and drink, even if the glaze and the item appear whole and undamaged. Experts think the danger of lead from your tea set pales in comparison to what you might find in paint or contaminated soil, but we’re still dealing with a highly toxic substance here.

    I could tell you that’s especially true for acidic foods such as orange juice or tomatoes, which accelerate leaching. And I could urge you never to heat or store foods in leaded dishes. But really, you only need one rule: Keep anything that’s going into your mouth far, far away from the vintage china.

    By the way, anyone who’s been suddenly seized with panic about his own hand-me-downs or thrift-store scores can buy a lead-testing kit at a home improvement or hardware store. Even without the scientific proof, we can assume that an older plate, especially a decorated and/or imported one, probably contains lead.

    So what to do with the stuff? If the dishes are family treasures – or you just like the look of them – it’s OK to simply display the plates as decoration. Touching lead isn’t the issue so much as swallowing or inhaling it, so as long as you wash your hands after setting up the dishes, you’re in good shape. But if that still makes you uncomfortable – maybe you’re pregnant or will be one of these days, or you have kids around the house – you have my blessing to sell or give them away. Of course, you must disclose the dinnerware’s toxic nature and make sure the new owners understand not to eat off of it. (By all means, go ahead and send them this column!)

    As far as pique assiette goes, Diana, I’m leery of it when it comes to lead plates. Perhaps I’m overcautious, but a significant way lead infiltrates our bodies is through dust. I couldn’t find any evidence that broken china specifically creates troublesome dust, but it seems reasonable that it could. Personally, I’d prefer that lead locked up in glaze for as long as possible.

    Decoratively,
    Umbra


    Filed under: Food, Living
    Gristmill: How to catch a coal ash spill? Send lawyers, boats and airplanes
    Waterkeeper Alliance Coal Ash Dumping

    Peter Harrison has an enviable life: He spends a lot of time in a boat, exploring the waterways of North Carolina. Peter Harrison also has an interesting life: Other boats sometimes follow his, with huge cameras pointed in his direction, shutters clicking away.

    “It’s just intimidation,” Harrison says. The people with cameras tend to be security guards for Duke Energy, the state’s largest electricity provider, and a company that Harrison spends a lot of time investigating.

    Over the past few years, environmental groups like the one that Harrison works for, Waterkeeper Alliance, began to notice that every time they have tried to sue Duke over coal ash dumps that are spilling arsenic and mercury into North Carolina’s drinking water, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) would find a way to block or delay the lawsuit.

    It also did not escape their notice that the state’s governor, Pat McCrory, had worked at Duke for 28 years before running for political office. Or that the Secretary of DENR was a McCrory appointee who described his approach to running the agency as being “a partner” to those it regulates.

    Was Duke in collusion with the agency that was supposed to be monitoring it? Sure looked that way. That’s a problem, since the structure of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) leaves most responsibility for investigating and penalizing polluters to state agencies.

    That’s why Harrison spends so much time on his boat. At Waterkeeper Alliance, his role is staff attorney, and that means he thinks a lot about water law. “It can be a bit nuanced and vary state to state, but water just has this sacred status in the law that goes back to Roman times, where it’s held in public trust.” Which means that, while people who investigate pollution on land can be stymied by fences and private property laws, there is no such thing as a private river.

    And so, even if DENR was corrupt, there was nothing to stop Waterkeeper from stepping in and doing DENR’s work for them.  Harrison describes the operation this way: “We’re doing the government’s job because they’re not. No matter how libertarian or Republican you are, protecting water and air are things we need to be able to trust our government in looking after.”

    On March 10, a Waterkeeper who also happened to be a pilot flew over an abandoned Duke Energy plant and took photos of workers running a hose from a pond of toxic coal ash into an adjacent canal. Local Waterkeepers had been interested in the plant for a long time; the banks of one of the ponds on the site had already collapsed in 1982, and all of the ponds were old and poorly constructed.

    Once they saw the photo, Harrison and a group of other riverkeepers took a boat up the canal to take water samples near where it looked like the dumping was going on. On their way back, they were met by the local deputy sheriff, who had been called by the plant’s security guards. This was not an unusual event; in one case, two Waterkeepers on the factory farm detail were nearly arrested after a farmer saw them sampling a stream and reported them to state police as methamphetamine manufacturers.

    The group showed the sheriff their IDs and let them go with a warning. But the next day the same deputy called Harrison to tell him that Duke Energy was going to arrest him for trespassing if he returned to the canal; the company had reviewed some old maps and believed the canal was private property.  Duke was wrong in their interpretation of state law — as Harrison puts it, “If you can float a boat on it, it’s public” — but it took a politely worded attorney’s letter and a consultation with the county attorney before the sheriff agreed.

    Meanwhile, it turned out that Duke was, indeed, dumping coal ash illegally — 61 million gallons of it. But the video of the boat’s encounter with the sheriff made it onto the Rachel Maddow Show, and arguably got the public more riled up than the spill itself.

    “It’s drawn all kinds of public support,” says Harrison. “The fact that Duke Energy would try to kick us off the water was more upsetting than that they dumped 61 million gallons of highly contaminated coal ash waste water.”

    Harrison, meanwhile, is back in court. DENR is currently under grand jury investigation for failing to actually regulate the Duke Energy, and Waterkeeper, along with three other environmental nonprofits, has successfully managed to involve itself in one of the cases that DENR used to preempt their own. The next step is using that involvement in the case to get access to documents that Duke doesn’t want to release. So far, it seems to be working.

    Harrison hopes to get back out on his boat again soon. “I think that it can be very useful to have a lawyer out on the water,” he says. “There are always a lot of questions about trespassing law, and which kinds of discharges are illegal here, and where stuff should be coming out of some facility into the water. And where it shouldn’t be….” He pauses. “I love my job.”


    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Triple Pundit: Demand for Humane Food is Strong, Study Finds

    Americans are prioritizing animal welfare and consciously-raised foods over price and variety, according to a study.

    The post Demand for Humane Food is Strong, Study Finds appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Wind Power Is Reducing Electricity Rates; Pays Back Tax Credit 17 Times Over

    Wind energy is now the cheapest means of generating electricity in many parts of the U.S., thanks in no small part to the wind energy PTC, which expired Dec. 31. Yet despite the triple bottom line benefits and advantages the industry is bringing to U.S. society, there are those in Congress who not only continue to oppose renewing it, but continue to support subsidies and tax breaks for oil, gas and coal.

    The post Wind Power Is Reducing Electricity Rates; Pays Back Tax Credit 17 Times Over appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Southeast Manufacturers Join to Spur Job Creation Through Recycling

    Recycling is a growth industry, but recycling's beneficial economic impacts in terms of job creation and boosting local economies are underappreciated and undervalued. Short on supplies of recycled materials, manufacturers in the Southeast have joined with local governments and NGOs to spur residents to recycle more.

    The post Southeast Manufacturers Join to Spur Job Creation Through Recycling appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Video Interview: Peter Graf, CSO EVP at SAP

    I had a chance to sit down with Peter and talk about SAP's recently released integrated report, the process for putting it together and how it has benefitted the company. We also talked about some of the company's recent accomplishments in committing to 100% renewable energy and a new foray into free online sustainable business education.

    The post Video Interview: Peter Graf, CSO EVP at SAP appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Lowe’s Settles California Toxic Dumping Suit for $18.1 Million

    California's Department of Toxic Substances Control just spent six years investigating hazardous substance dumping by one very large string of stores -- and it paid off. Last week, Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse was fined a total of $18.1 million for illegally dumping hazardous substances into the landfill -- at more than 100 of its stores.

    The post Lowe’s Settles California Toxic Dumping Suit for $18.1 Million appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Alaska Air Group Sets Aggressive Sustainability Goals

    Alaska Air Group, which operates Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air, has reduced greenhouse gases by 30.4 percent per revenue mile since the 2004 baseline year.

    The post Alaska Air Group Sets Aggressive Sustainability Goals appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Citi takes energy efficiency all the way to the bank
    citibank

    Disclosure: I used to crawl under trailers in poor parts of Western Colorado in a suit made from air-mail envelope material. I wasn’t being a weirdo, at least not intentionally. I had a job as a “weatherization technician,” making these homes more energy efficient, working for the government’s catastrophically acronymed LIHEAP program (for Low Income Household Energy Assistance Program, but still, guys, come on). It was hard work. We had little funding. And the program is now defunct. And yet, that very work is exactly what we ought to be undertaking at huge scale to help solve climate change.

    Well, 20 years after I worked those trenches, I have some good news to deliver. Quietly, in the recesses of the financial machine, we’ve begun to do just that. Few know about it. But you should.

    Before I reveal this great leap forward, let’s take a step back 20-plus years, to the job I had just before “weatherization technician.” Right out of college I started working for a firm, now defunct, called IRT Environment, a spinoff of Rocky Mountain Institute. The vision of IRT was to show companies just how much money they could save by increasing their energy efficiency. When I showed up to work, the boss explained the deal: “You can get 8 percent, 12 percent, sometimes 30 percent guaranteed from energy efficiency retrofits. Where else can you invest your money, without risk, and get that kind of return?”

    I had one thought in response to that statement: “Wow!” Yet as I learned under the trailers and then later from years of hard labor on efficiency, as T.S. Eliot so aptly wrote in The Hollow Men: “Between the idea and the reality … falls the shadow.”

    Even though energy efficiency has radically slowed global greenhouse gas emissions, in my experience, corporate and household efficiency efforts, if they exist at all, are poorly funded and supported, and most of the time capture only a small piece of potential savings. That reality turned me into a kind of Hollow Man, too. But the new development I’m about to reveal snapped me out of it. And that new development came from, of all places, a big bank called Citi.

    In short, Citibank and partners figured out how to take advantage of the huge (and secure) financial returns available through energy efficiency that my boss at IRT was talking about. And in the process of doing that, they are opening the floodgates of funding from the capital markets to scale energy efficiency.

    This is a really big deal. In the past, the amount of money available for household energy efficiency programs from utilities, municipalities, or nonprofits was severely limited. (At LIHEAP, I made $8 an hour with no benefits, and we didn’t get paid for the time we spent driving to the job site in the company van.) Now, the pool of money available is essentially unlimited. Which is good news, because the opportunity to save energy in the U.S. is also essentially unlimited: A 2009 McKinsey study estimated the savings on the table in the U.S. from efficiency at $1 trillion.

    How did Citibank do it? The bank partnered with a company called Kilowatt Financial. Kilowatt helps homeowners save energy by financing energy efficiency retrofits, such as lighting improvements, boiler and window replacements, and insulation. Kilowatt loans people money, the people invest in efficiency, and then pay back the loans over time, eventually saving more money than the cost of the loan.

    As a young startup, Kilowatt didn’t have huge cash reserves of cash to loan, or the credit or collateral to borrow more. To use obscure but sexy banking terminology, the company had no “bridge to the capital markets.” Citibank agreed to build that bridge by purchasing and “warehousing,” or holding on to, the loans made by Kilowatt.

    Now here’s where it gets really cool. Citibank holds the loans in its virtual warehouse until it has enough — $25 million chunks, or ideally more — so that it can bundle the loans into a “financial instrument,” or investment product, that can be sold to pension funds or other institutional investors like insurance companies. Once sold, Citibank can then turn around and finance more, ad infinitum. (If all this sounds familiar, it should. This is the same approach used not-so-successfully with subprime mortgages. But unlike subprime loans, energy efficiency has high likelihood of being paid back, and therefore real value.)

    Citibank initially agreed to warehouse and sell up to $100 million, but that number is irrelevant, since once sold, Citibank can finance another $100 million, and then another. And the money will come: Citibank and Kilowatt have created a new, lucrative way to make money that just happens to help solve climate change. Investors in Citibank’s financial product might be motivated by civic interest, but more likely they’ll be motivated by profit, which, historically, has been a stronger driver of action and change.

    This, friends, is one really important piece of how we solve climate change, a pellet of what Bill McKibben calls the necessary “silver buckshot.” And the good news is that Citibank isn’t the only bank doing this. In February, Deutsche Bank launched a similar program that buys loans made by local governments in California through what are called Property Assessed Clean Energy loans, or PACE. It’s the same idea, but in this case the bank is refreshing government’s ability to issue bonds for energy efficiency. And Citibank has a separate, though similar program called WHEEL, for Warehouse for Energy Efficiency Loans that backs state efficiency loans. (Along with PACE, a way better acronym thank LIHEAP.)  A twist there is that public funds are used to buy down the interest rate on the loans, taking some of the risk off the table for investors, and ultimately helping to reduce the cost of capital for homeowners.

    It’s important to note that Citibank isn’t a white knight when it comes to solving climate change. In fact, the bank is one of the top funders of coal projects worldwide, and Citibank touts its coal work on its website. As a climate hawk, I find this problematic. But as an owner of Citibank stock (I bought it because of the work it’s doing on efficiency), it concerns me as well. The risks associated with coal are so manifestly huge, especially given recent climate reports, that these investments smell a lot like future stranded assets to me.

    Despite this, I still believe Citibank’s efficiency work is a game changer. And it didn’t come easy to Citibank, which could just as well have blown it off. Instead, the bank stretched: creating exceptions on optimum deal size, investing enormous amount of time to create a new product and new asset class, and working with new, and previously unknown clients.

    As a result, household energy efficiency is coming of age, and a monumentally important solution to climate change has been born.


    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: The untold story of deforestation: Slothageddon
    three-toed-sloth-flickr

    When a stretch of forest in Suriname was slatted to be cleared in October 2012, Monique Pool, a known sloth caretaker, was asked if she could take in the 14 displaced sloths. Of course she said yes (or she would have faced the wrath of a jealous internet).

    A machine operator slowly pushed over trees as Pool and a team of volunteers rushed about picking up the sloths that fell out of the canopy. As 14 quickly turned to 200, the sloth lover’s dream come true became the ultimate nightmare: slothageddon (Pool’s word, not mine).

    From BBC News:

    Sloths were hanging everywhere – from the trees in her back garden, from the bars on the living room window, and anything else they would hold on to. “Two female adults sat on the TV stand and the babies would climb up the matriarchs.” One very young sloth, known as Lola, would pop up in the strangest places, like the stove top – though not when the gas was alight, luckily. “She was an amazing little thing,” Pool says. “She didn’t like to sit with the others, she preferred to hang behind the fridge where it’s nice and warm.”

    This scene perfectly encapsulates Pool’s need for her other new word:

     Slothified (adj.)

    1. Overwhelmed by sloths
    2. Overwhelmed by sloth – so tired after catching sloths all day that you don’t want to get out of bed
    3. Overwhelmed by the cuteness of sloths [See Kristen Bell] 
    4. Overwhelmed by sloth lovers [See Kristen Bell, again]

    As of now, all but three young’uns of the 200 sloths have been re-released back to the wild. But that might not be the end of the story. BBC News reports that Pool has learned of a new patch of forest slated to be cleared. “The owner thinks there are 15 sloths, so Pool has calculated there could be as many as 300.”


    Filed under: Article, Living
    Gristmill: FDA tells livestock and dairy farmers: We’re cutting you off — no more beer!
    cows_and_beer

    The United States is about to have a slew of hungry and sober cows on our hands, which, for the record, is not a good combination for any mammal.

    The FDA’s proposed Food Safety Modernization Act guidelines would prohibit breweries from sharing their fermented grains (yum!) with livestock farmers. Farmers have long been using this boozy mash as free feed for their cows, and this relationship has provided an efficient way for both the beer industry to repurpose its waste, and for cows, like so many humans, to possibly enjoy a little buzz with their carb intake.

    From Politico:

    “This is a practice that’s been going on for centuries without any incident or risk to human health,” said Chris Thorne, vice president of communications for the Beer Institute. Thorne said his association is “cautiously optimistic” that the FDA will address the issue and said several lawmakers have been receptive to its concerns.

    Politico reports that 13 senators have moved to block this stipulation of the proposed regulations. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), for example, wrote an open letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg to make his case for preserving the brewer-farmer relationship:

    Regardless of the size of the brewer – whether the operation is small, medium or large the Colorado experience has been that this industry embraces community and prioritizes sustainable practices. Partnership between brewers and farmers is longstanding and it allows for an environmentally responsible way to dispense with an otherwise useless byproduct.

    Udall also argues that decades worth of USDA data on spent brewers’ grains used as livestock feed includes no evidence of compromised food safety. On the citizen front, a petition to change the rules popped up on the White House website.

    So what’s the effect on the farms? We learned about the situation of Krainick Dairy in Enumclaw, Wash., from Kendall Jones at Washington Beer Blog. For those curious as to how many pounds of spent grain one farm can use, Krainick Dairy collects between 3 and 4 million pounds of it from 11 breweries and four distilleries in the Puget Sound region, and uses it to feed 1,000 cows. This includes trub and yeast used in the fermentation process.

    And how much spent grain would have to be thrown away if these regulations were instated? Seattle’s Georgetown Brewing Company told us that they can produce 200,000 pounds of it in one month, all in service of brewing 20,000 gallons of tasty beer. The Colorado-based Brewers Association issued a statement detailing the additional costs of waste management that breweries across the country would face if the proposed regulations go through:

    The proposed FDA rules on animal feed could lead to significantly increased costs and disruption in the handling of spent grain. Brewers of all sizes must either adhere to new processes, testing requirements, recordkeeping and other regulatory requirements or send their spent grain to landfills, wasting a reliable food source for farm animals and triggering a significant economic and environmental cost.

    We spoke with Mike Krainick, the owner of Krainick Dairy, about the proposed FDA legislation. He told us that the legislation has significant potential to harm his business.

    “It could have a dramatic effect on our livelihood. We’ve spent a lot on trailers and infrastructure and support networks on our farm for all of this, and you don’t pay for that overnight — it’s an investment. I count on the breweries as much as they count on me.”

    Let’s review: You have beer and cheese, two wonderful things without which life would be a much more depressing prospect. Their respective methods of production symbiotically support each other. That is a truly beautiful thing – almost as beautiful as beer cheese itself, which is the highest of high praise.


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Food, Living, Politics
    Gristmill: These little hacks make cities more sustainable and fun

    Sometimes all it takes is imagination, some stealth, and a little elbow grease to turn the mundane into something playful. Rotten Apple, an anonymous art project based in New York City, turns ordinary and forgotten city objects into usable, sustainable mini-hacks. Here’s how they describe where they land:

    rotten_apple_PRACTICE_720
    Rotten Apple

    So, how does that look on the ground? They added a seat on a hinge to a bicycle rack for a pop-down chair:

    rottenapple_bikeSEAT4_720
    Rotten Apple

    They turned a forgotten newspaper kiosk into a cold weather clothing bank:

    cold_2
    Rotten Apple

    And they left instructions on how to make a functional composting bin out of wood pallets left lying on the street:

    pallet_2_720
    Rotten Apple

    Although we don’t know who is behind Rotten Apple (the NYPD might not look too kindly upon mini chalkboards in subway stations or chessboards on fire hydrants), they do draw inspiration from eco-designer Victor Papanek, whose quote is included on their website:

    Design, if it is to be ecologically responsible and socially responsive, must be revolutionary and radical in the truest sense. It must dedicate itself to … maximum diversity with minimum inventory … or doing the most with the least.

    Head over to the Rotten Apple site for more inspiration, including traffic cone planters and urban hammocks.


    Filed under: Article, Cities, Living
    Gristmill: The Onion manages to make even extinction funny
    dinosaurs-sunset-flickr-sam-howzit

    Shit’s disappearing, and it’s a bummer. We try to stay upbeat, but sometimes all the news of vanishing ecosystem this and endangered that gets us down. Thankfully, the irrepressible Onion has made even biodiversity loss funny with “EPA Announces New Initiative To Conserve Whatever’s Left.”

    In the Onion‘s alternate reality, the EPA has newly devoted $70 million for halfheartedly saving the few remaining trees, animals, or whatever else happens to be lying around:

    “By working together with scientists, lawmakers, and various conservation groups, we hope to preserve those ecosystems and forms of wildlife that have actually managed to hang in there for this long,” said EPA administrator Gina McCarthy …

    “Basically, whichever organisms are living right now, we’re going try to keep them alive,” she continued. “If that’s still a possibility.”

    Additionally, the agency affirmed its commitment to deploying its personnel nationwide to do “whatever can be done at this point” to safeguard areas that may still contain clean air, clean water, and land that’s not completely covered in refuse and filth …

    “Of course, that’s only until our funding is cut even further,” McCarthy added. “Then, you know, the environment’s pretty much on its own.”

    It’s funny (slash sad) because it’s true! The EPA’s been making some questionable choices lately, from lifting BP’s drilling ban to running a fake clean energy scam. And in light of McCarthy’s comment in September that “Climate change is not about polar bears,” the Onion’s piece doesn’t seem THAT far off.


    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Living
    Triple Pundit: Nest Freezes Sales of Smoke Alarm, Is Sued Over Thermostat’s Energy Savings Claims

    Nest Labs quickly became a darling of both the sustainability and tech worlds for its sleek, Internet-connected thermostat and smoke detector designed to provide customers with energy savings and safety. But has the sheen finally worn off on the Palo-Alto based company, acquired by Google earlier this year? Nest announced yesterday that it is halting sales of its Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detectors due potential safety concerns and will refund customers who want to return their current devices.

    The post Nest Freezes Sales of Smoke Alarm, Is Sued Over Thermostat’s Energy Savings Claims appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: This vegan bakery could be the next Cinnabon
    vegan-cinnabon-cinnaholic
    Cinnaholic

    What is it about Cinnabon? THAT SMELL. The doughy simple sugars spiking straight into your system. The extra little container of frosting you can get. Be right back, we have to run to the mall.

    Anyway, vegan cinnamon roll shop Cinnaholic just started accepting franchise applications, so your town could get a dairy-free version of our favorite unhealthy treat (no offense, gelato and Pirate’s Booty!). Maybe you’ll even be behind the counter?

    Founders Shannon and Florian Radke opened the first Cinnaholic in 2010 in Berkeley (of course). Today, you can pick from almost 30 flavors of frosting and 25 toppings, so if you’ve always wanted a vegan cinnamon roll with pina colada-flavored frosting and cookie dough on top, that clanging you hear is St. Peter throwing open the pearly gates.

    Ecorazzi quotes the couple:

    “We believe that every one of us has the power to make a positive change in this world for the animals, the planet and the people. We start by serving delicious vegan cinnamon rolls,” said the husband and wife team.

    If you’re gonna make an impact, breakfast (or dessert, whatever) seems like a sweet place to start.


    Filed under: Food, Living
    Gristmill: It helps to like your neighbor during a natural disaster
    hurricane-sandy

    “When a storm hits, there are no strangers – only neighbors helping neighbors, communities rallying to rebuild,” says President Obama in a YouTube video, looking out at Americans on the internet. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the White House has gone to some lengths to communicate its long-term strategy on disaster preparedness. You might expect the president to start a speech like this by talking about improving infrastructure, facilitating fast responses from FEMA, or even addressing environmental concerns, but instead, he led with the idea of strong communities. Which raises a question: What does neighborliness have to do with storm preparedness?

    Quite a bit, apparently. A June study from the Associated Press and National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago found that towns and neighborhoods with a strong sense of social connection recovered faster after Hurricane Sandy. People living in the areas that recovered from the storm the fastest were more living to say that others can be trusted (44 vs. 33 percent) and that the disaster brought out the best in their neighbors (81 vs. 63 percent). In areas that have had a harder time bouncing back, more people reported seeing looting (31 vs. 7 percent), vandalism (21 vs. 5 percent), and hoarding of food and water (47 vs. 25 percent).

    To some extent, this is intuitive: If your neighbor brings you a gallon jug of water after a storm, you’re probably more likely to think highly of them and the future of your neighborhood. And if people are stealing stuff in the aftermath of a disaster, it’s understandable that others might feel like those people can’t be trusted. But as a matter of social engineering, it’s a little harder to know what to do with these statistics. Is it possible to force people to like and trust their neighbors?

    Judith Rodin, the head of the Rockefeller Foundation and former president of the University of Pennsylvania, thinks so. “Social cohesion is a critical component of building resilience,” she said during a recent interview with The Atlantic’s Steve Clemons. “You can look at communities that are literally adjacent and see a difference. Resilience is about building these capacities before the storm, before the shocks, before the stresses.”

    Rodin has experience with taking a top-down approach to community building. When she took over from her predecessor at Penn in 1994, the university had a rough relationship with its surrounding neighborhood – during her second month as president, graduate student Al-Moez Alimohamed was killed on a street just a few blocks from campus. The school decided it needed to dedicate money to improving west Philadelphia, building a new public school, awarding contracts to local businesses, and doing major construction to make the campus more physically open to the outside neighborhood. Although the area still has some crime issues, violence decreased significantly from 1994 to 2002, and there were other successes: The school Penn funded is now the third-best in Pennsylvania, and private developers are continuing to invest in the area, Rodin says.

    But the question of social cohesion is a little trickier. In 2000, the Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam published Bowling Alone, which argued that most Americans — even those who live in safe neighborhoods — are spending less time socializing with their neighbors. People aren’t as active in their communities and are less likely to join groups like churches, parent-teacher organizations, or bowling leagues (the example for which the book is named). If people in the safest, wealthiest towns in the United States don’t want to be active in their communities, it’s difficult to see how government agencies and foundations can improve social cohesion in places with lots of crime and poverty, which often get hit hardest by natural disasters.

    Still, the idea of “social resilience” is an interesting twist on conversations that typically focus on the importance of bridges and roads and buildings in helping communities bounce back. When the author Rebecca Solnit published A Paradise Built in Hell in 2009, she observed that communities are often at their best in times of disaster, but the bigger question is how to make them strong the rest of the time. ”It’s tempting to ask why if you fed your neighbors during the time of the earthquake and fire, you didn’t do so before or after,” she wrote.  The less time Americans spend bowling alone during their everyday lives, the less time it will take them to recover from the next superstorm that hits their home.

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


    Filed under: Cities, Climate & Energy
    eco.psk: Honda Unveils A Smart Home That Promises Zero-Carbon Living [Pics]
    honda-smart-home-sustainable-living-2.jpgSmart home produces enough energy to resupply the grid.
    Triple Pundit: Code for America Shows How Empathy and Technology Can Improve Government

    Technology is definitely key in CfA’s work helping government become more engaging, user-friendly and effective, but I believe that there’s also a secret sauce that makes it work – empathy.

    The post Code for America Shows How Empathy and Technology Can Improve Government appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Can you go a day without trash? Try it on April 9

    Two-thirds of our waste doesn’t get recycled or composted. Youth activism nonprofit Global Citizen wants to see if you can get that down to zero on Wednesday, which it’s christened #ADayWithoutWaste.

    double-bagger-day-without-waste

    Can you go one day without creating any garbage — or at least using a travel mug instead of a paper coffee cup? How about a reusable shopping bag instead of a plastic one? (Say it with us now: “No straw in my maw!”)

    Because if not, no pressure, but your relationship is totally doomed. Case in point: This guy trying to celebrate the most important of anniversaries — SEVEN MONTHS! — and being totally foiled by that old supervillain, trash:

    The message there is clearly “Ordering takeout will not get you laid.” (It will if the alternative is my Salmonella Surprise. ZING!)

    On Global Citizen’s site, you can commit to forgoing things like to-go containers, straws, and disposable bags. Each category gets you points you can redeem for tickets to concerts. So on Wednesday, you can TALK trash all you want (that’ll be great for your relationship!). Just don’t create any.


    Filed under: Living
    Gristmill: Europe wimps out again on airlines’ carbon pollution
    China Airlines

    European efforts to force international airlines to pay for their carbon pollution will stay parked on the runway for at least several more years.

    Airlines are covered by the European Union’s Emissions Trading System. Airfares for flights within Europe have included a carbon fee under that system since the beginning of 2012. The plan has been to expand the program to include international flights that begin or end in Europe, but that proposal has been vigorously opposed by China, the U.S., and other countries. China had put a large order for aircraft from Europe-based Airbus on hold over the dispute.

    On Thursday, amid promises that the climate-unfriendly airline industry will soon launch its own climate program, the U.S. and China prevailed, again, clinching a years-long delay. Members of the European Parliament voted 458 to 120 to exempt flights in and out of Europe from the emissions trading program until early 2017. A bid to delay the program until 2020 was rejected by the lawmakers.

    “We have the next International Civil Aviation Organization assembly in 2016,” parliamentarian Peter Liese said. “If it fails to deliver a global [climate] agreement, then nobody could justify our maintaining such an exemption.” But so far the aviation industry’s efforts to develop its own climate plan have been feeble.

    “The [European] Commission would of course have preferred and fought for a higher level of ambition,” E.U. Climate Commissioner
    Connie Hedegaard said
    . “It would’ve been better for Europe’s self-respect and reputation and even more important, for the climate. But we are where we are.”


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Republicans join Democrats in trying to revive wind energy incentives
    Wind energy

    The political winds in the nation’s capitol shifted on Thursday in favor of wind energy.

    A Senate committee passed a bill that would restore two key tax credits for the wind industry. Both credits have helped spur the sector’s rapid growth in recent years, but Congress allowed them to expire at the end of last year. Uncertainty over whether the incentives would be extended into 2014 was blamed for a startling decline in wind farm construction last year, when just 1 gigawatt of capacity was installed — down from 13 gigawatts the year before.

    Thursday’s move by the Senate Finance Committee doesn’t guarantee that the full Senate will support resurrection of the credits, much less the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. But encouraging signs emerged after Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) tried to kill the credits. He argued that restoring them would amount to picking energy-industry winners and losers and forcing taxpayers to “subsidize inefficient, uncompetitive forms of energy.” (Meanwhile, taxpayers continue a century-long tradition of subsidizing fossil fuels.) CleanTechnica reports on the encouraging bipartisan response to Toomey’s effort:

    The PTC [wind energy Production Tax Credit] and the alternate Investment Tax Credit were added overnight to a modified “Chairman’s mark,” after an earlier draft released Monday left them and several other provisions for further negotiation.

    They prevailed on a critical 18-6 vote during the committee markup late Thursday morning, on a motion by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) to strip them out. Five Republicans joined the committee’s Democrats in voting down that amendment: Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), John Thune (R-SD), Rob Portman (R-OH), Mike Crapo (R-ID), and John Cornyn (R-TX).

    A number of Senators on both sides of the aisle highlighted the success of the PTC and ITC. Grassley spoke at length in favor of the tax credits, and called Toomey’s arguments against their extension “intellectually dishonest,” considering billions of dollars a year in permanent incentives for other forms of energy with which renewable energy competes.

    The wind energy industry cheered the development and called on the full Senate and the House to follow suit. “Passage by the full Congress will preserve an essential incentive for private investment that has averaged $15 billion a year into new U.S. wind farms, and create more orders for over 550 American factories in the supply chain,” said Tom Kiernan, chief executive of the American Wind Energy Association.


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: The week in GIFs: Genies, junk, and Mary Jane
    seth-rogan-james-franco-pineapple-express

    There was plenty of odd news this week, even not counting April Fools’ Day. (Last week: all of your favorite vices.)

    Now you can find love on a tiny house dating site:

    itty-bitty-living-space
    Tumblr

    The U.N. climate report was pretty depressing, but it had a few bright spots:

    could-be-worse-brad-pitt
    Tumblr

    Hawaii is in the process of legalizing hemp – for ENVIRONMENTAL reasons:

    smoking-pineapple-express-franco-rogen
    Giphy

    Massaging fish is the key to no-kill caviar:

    fish-friend-hug-noooo
    Tumblr

    Paul Ryan wants to increase pollution, speed global warming, and ruin public lands:

    youre-a-disgrace-30-rock
    Tumblr

    The USDA wants grandparents to teach their grandkids about healthy eating:

    donut-sister-act
    Giphy

    Filed under: Living
    Gristmill: These cute $40 watches can run forever on sunlight
    Tattoos mean they're hipster approved.
    Q&Q
    Tattoos mean they’re hipster approved.

    If you aren’t a tiny doll with a miniature screwdriver, getting a dead watch battery replaced is the worst. Not only do you have to hunt down that little old man in the jewelry store, but you become even later than usual — or is that just me? The hip SmileSolar watch slices through those excuses like a timekeeping Zorro by running completely on the sun:

    solarsmile-solar-powered-watch
    Q&Q

    Citizen Eco-Drive solar watches may be out of your price range (not that you can’t afford a $325 watch, Kanye), but thankfully its more affordable imprint, Q&Q, sells the SmileSolar for only $40. The watches used to only be available in Japan, but as with cat cafés, our patience has been rewarded. ME-OW:

    solarsmile-watch-options
    Q&Q

    Notes Gizmodo:

    All that’s required of you is to set the time, and decide which of the 15 different colors and patterns you want strapped to your wrist. Made from partly recycled materials, the watches are all waterproof to an impressive depth of 164 feet. And after a full charge they’ll keep running for about three and a half months without seeing the sun again.

    Guess I have to own up to my chronic tardiness now. THANKS, SmileSolar.


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Living
    eco.psk: #Climate App Turns Influencers Into Environmental Activists
    envt.jpgCelebs with big fan bases now have an easy way to mobilize their followers to do something about climate change.
    Gristmill: Eat your heart out, Rome: This 3D-printed village was built in a day
    house-3d-printed-shanghai-12

    To review: In the world of sustainable real estate, they’re making hobbit houses out of straw bales, outfitting old shipping containers with green roofs and compostable toilets, and now, using 3D printers to build cottages. It can be hard to keep up, we know.

    In Shanghai, the WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Co created a tiny village using little more than an enormous 3D printer. The printer produced the houses’ walls, roof, and floors, which were then manually assembled. The layers of concrete used to create each component were partially made from recycled construction and industrial waste.

    WinSun claims to have constructed the entire village, which includes 10 houses, in less than a day.

    A hyper-insulated house made through lightning-fast production and with repurposed materials seems like a sustainable housing enthusiast’s wet dream, so what’s the catch? If you’re not partial to a fairly harsh and bare-bones aesthetic, you might not find these little abodes aesthetically appealing. But honestly, at just shy of $5,000 a pop, who cares?

    From the Architect’s Newspaper:

     WinSun estimates that their methods can cut construction costs in half and sees the potential for “affordable and dignified housing” for the impoverished.

    None too soon, either, as a recent report from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors found that BRICs nations are facing a shortage of affordable housing, as incomes fail to keep pace with rising real estate costs.

    Tiny housers, take note: This might be the wave of the future for alternative homes.


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Cities, Living
    Triple Pundit: Sustainable Cities: Vision of Solar-Powered Skyscrapers Nearer Reality

    There are at least a couple of solar start-ups out there pursuing a dream: developing window coatings that could turn skyscrapers into solar energy towers of power. New Energy Technologies recently announced it had produced its largest SolarWindow arrays to date.

    The post Sustainable Cities: Vision of Solar-Powered Skyscrapers Nearer Reality appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Shocker: 89 Percent of Fast Food Workers are Victims of Wage Theft

    As if it's not enough that so many minimum wage workers can't make ends meet on an honest day's work, many also find themselves performing work for free or less than they're due. A new poll conducted by Hart Research Associates shows an overwhelming majority of fast food workers, 89 percent, have experienced wage theft.

    The post Shocker: 89 Percent of Fast Food Workers are Victims of Wage Theft appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Climate Change: Business Must Learn to See Future Uncertainty as Opportunity

    If you think it’s hard to attribute a flood, a drought or a storm to climate change, try a banking crisis, a social movement or even a war.

    The post Climate Change: Business Must Learn to See Future Uncertainty as Opportunity appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: 3p Weekend: 10 Companies You May Be Surprised Still Manufacture in the U.S.

    We can all rattle off a few small, niche companies that manufacture on this side of the pond (and everyone knows those Chryslers are "Imported from Detroit"), but do any other big names manufacture in the U.S. anymore? Surprisingly, yes.

    The post 3p Weekend: 10 Companies You May Be Surprised Still Manufacture in the U.S. appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Obama admin sued for dragging feet on studies of climate impacts
    alarm clock that says "late"

    Just over a year ago, we told you that the Obama administration would soon start requiring federal agencies to consider climate change when analyzing the environmental impacts of major projects that need federal approval. Bloomberg reported in March of last year that the new guidelines would “be issued in the coming weeks.”

    But many weeks have come and gone and the guidelines still haven’t been released, so now activists are suing the administration to hurry things along.

    The lawsuit revolves around the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires federal agencies to study the environmental impacts of projects they oversee and to develop strategies for reducing those impacts. Since passage of the landmark law in 1969, NEPA assessments have covered a variety of potential environmental impacts. In early 2008, major environmental groups petitioned the George W. Bush administration to include climate impacts among them. After Obama came into office, his administration said it would broaden the scope of NEPA studies to cover climate change, and in 2010, it issued draft guidelines to this effect, but they’ve been bottled up at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) ever since.

    This week, frustrated after years of inaction, the Center for Food Safety filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court seeking to force Obama’s CEQ to finalize the new rules. From the lawsuit:

    With the effects of climate change becoming more and more evident, prompt action is necessary to ensure that climate change analysis is integrated into all levels of federal agencies’ planning. Full analysis and meaningful consideration of these impacts before federal government decisions are made will strongly affect the extent to which climate change and its consequential dangers are limited or avoided in the coming century.

    “The Obama Administration has repeatedly promised to take action on climate, but talk is cheap. Its delay here is unlawful, as well as inexplicable and irresponsible,” said George Kimbrell, a senior attorney with the Center for Food Safety. “This unlawful delay is the opposite of the Obama Administration’s repeated promises to address climate change. CEQ action is a perfect example of something the administration can do unilaterally, without requiring congressional efforts. Yet the CEQ process has mysteriously gone into a black hole.”


    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: What’s worse than burning coal? Burning wood
    wood fire

    In its scramble for new and clean energy sources, the U.S. government is failing to see the forest for the burning trees.

    The burning of biomass to produce electricity is marketed as clean and renewable, and promoted by federal policies. But a report published Wednesday concludes that burning wood is more polluting than burning coal.

    More than 70 wood-burning plants are under construction or have been built in the U.S. since 2005, with 75 more planned, according to the analysis by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Integrity.

    For every megawatt-hour of electricity produced, even the “cleanest” of the American biomass plants pump out nearly 50 percent more carbon dioxide than coal-burning plants, PFPI staff researcher Mary Booth, a former Environmental Working Group scientist, concluded after poring over data associated with 88 air emissions permits. The biomass plants also produce more than twice as much nitrogen oxide, soot, carbon monoxide, and volatile organic matter as coal plants.

    The problem is rooted in lax regulations for an industry that’s widely mistaken to be clean. EPA rules allow biomass-burning plants to produce more than twice as much pollution as coal plants.

    Click to embiggen.
    Click to embiggen.

    Worsening the problem, many wood-burning power plants are partly fueled with contaminated waste wood, including paint-coated construction debris. From the report:

    Because of this perfect storm of lax regulation and regulatory rollbacks, biomass power plants marketed as “clean” to host communities are increasingly likely to emit toxic compounds like dioxins; heavy metals including lead, arsenic, and mercury; and even emerging contaminants, like phthalates, which are found in the “waste-derived” fuel products that are being approved under new EPA rules. …

    As such, it is not a stretch to conclude that biomass plants being permitted throughout the country combine some of the worst emissions characteristics of coal-fired power plants and waste incinerators, all the while professing to be clean and green. …

    The air permit for the 70 MW Burgess BioPower plant in Berlin, New Hampshire states it will burn close to a million tons of trees a year, consuming “whole logs” at a rate of 113 tons per hour, the equivalent of clear-cutting more than one acre of New Hampshire’s forests every hour.

    The U.S. government isn’t just tolerating these polluting and deforesting practices — it’s helping to bankroll them with subsidies and tax credits.

    “The American Lung Association has opposed granting renewable energy subsidies for biomass combustion precisely because it is so polluting,” association official Jeff Seyler said. “Why we are using taxpayer dollars to subsidize power plants that are more polluting than coal?”

    It’s sometimes argued that biomass fuel helps the climate, because the trees suck up carbon dioxide as they grow, offsetting the emissions that are released when the fuel is burned. But the report notes that it can take decades for forests to suck up the carbon dioxide that’s released when they are incinerated — and that “carbon offsets are never actually required to be obtained or demonstrated by these plants.”

    The worrisome trend toward subsidized wood-burning plants is not just confined to the U.S. American trees are being cut down and exported to the U.K., where they are being burned to produce electricity and to earn British green energy subsidies.


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: 5 ways Paul Ryan’s budget screws the climate and environment
    Rep. Paul Ryan

    Remember Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the Very Serious Person? Before he was his party’s nominee for vice president, and his extreme ideology became more widely understood, Ryan was the Washington media establishment’s favorite Republican. In 2011, Time magazine named him a runner-up for Person of the Year, crediting his “hard work … and possibly suicidal guts” with making him “the most influential American politician.” Ryan had built up this mythology by releasing his “Roadmap” to a balanced budget, which won accolades for wrestling with projected deficits. In truth, his plan consisted mostly of lazy hand-waving gestures about spending cuts. You can say future Congresses must cut discretionary domestic spending by some huge amount, but you’re not really showing courage unless you’re actually in office when the cuts take place, turning down cries for help from your constituents. Meanwhile, Ryan proposed big regressive tax cuts, and his most concrete proposals to limit spending would do so by ending the healthcare guarantees of Medicare and Medicaid.

    Well, Ryan is still chair of the House Budget Committee, and he is trying to rebuild his brand. Whatever his goal — replace retiring Ways and Means Chair David Camp (R-Mich.), become speaker of the House, or run for president in 2016 — Ryan wants to be considered politically brave and fiscally responsible. Recently he’s even been talking about poverty. But his new “Path to Prosperity” budget blueprint for fiscal year 2015, released on Tuesday, is mostly a rehash of his old ideas. And like every Ryan budget, it’s full of right-wing hobbyhorses that would do untold damage to the environment.

    Here are the five main ways Ryan’s plan would increase pollution, accelerate global warming, despoil public lands, and stymie Americans’ efforts to get out of their cars.

    • Kneecapping environmental regulation. The Path to Prosperity calls for enacting bills to roll back environmental regulatory authority, especially the EPA’s planned regulations of CO2 from coal-fired power plants. The bill’s actual text devotes two of its 100 pages to whining about how President Obama hasn’t been very nice to coal companies. “Unfairly targeting the coal industry with costly and unachievable regulations will increase energy prices, disproportionately disadvantaging energy-intensive industries like manufacturing and construction, and will make life more difficult for millions of low-income and middle class families already struggling to pay their bills,” Ryan asserts. He makes no mention, naturally, of the health effects of coal-burning and extraction on low-income families, nor of the jobs created by renewable energy industries, nor of the climate crisis.
    • Expanding fossil fuel use. Republicans are fond of inserting clauses to promote fossil fuel extraction into unrelated budget bills. Ryan’s budget is no exception. It refers to Republicans’ obsessive crush, Keystone XL, and other dirty energy projects, calling for legislation that “frees the many commonsense energy and water projects currently trapped in complicated bureaucratic approval processes.”
    • Defunding environmental programs. Ryan would drastically cut domestic discretionary spending overall. That would affect environmental spending everywhere from the EPA to national parks and other Interior Department programs. Anything addressing climate change seems to especially irritate Ryan. As The Hill notes, “The blueprint hits spending for ‘government-wide climate-change-related activities,’ mainly through cuts to federal agencies’ funds for overseas climate-change initiatives. It also targets the administration’s clean technology and strategic climate funds, established in 2010, which provide foreign assistance to boost energy-efficient projects aimed at mitigating climate change.” The Wilderness Society complains that Ryan would also cut spending for parks, public lands, and other conservation programs.
    • Reducing investment in transportation and infrastructure. Consider the well-established problem of the Highway Trust Fund shortfall. As Americans drive less and shift to more fuel-efficient cars, gas tax revenues have declined, meaning there’s less money for transportation projects, but authorized transportation spending has not declined, creating a deficit. Any rational observer would describe this as a revenue problem, not a spending problem. A technocrat’s answer would be to raise the gasoline tax, which hasn’t gone up, even to keep pace with inflation, since 1993. Not Paul Ryan. His budget’s “sensible reforms” would cut spending to match declining gas tax receipts. And it would do so with an anti-urban, anti-environment bias. He doesn’t spell out all the specific cuts he would make, but one example he gives is to eliminate all spending on Amtrak.
    • Shoveling money into the pockets of Big Oil. Even as Ryan calls for a simplified tax code, he would keep market-distorting tax breaks for oil companies. The Center for American Progress writes, “His budget would … protect $45 billion in tax subsidies over 10 years to oil companies, the top five of which are already reaping $93 billion in profits from 2013 alone.” In so doing, Ryan has managed to disappoint even experienced observers of environmental politics, who hoped his supposed commitment to free-market principles would at least have an upside. “He doesn’t want to cut subsidies for oil and gas — the low-hanging fruit that we thought everyone should support,” says Athan Manuel, a lobbyist at the Sierra Club. “If you’re going to help Big Oil and not the average American, it just seems like a mean-spirited document.”

    While Ryan’s budget will never pass a Democratic Senate or be signed by a Democratic president, House Republicans have voted overwhelmingly to pass his budgets in the past. It is therefore a sign of what Republicans would do if they controlled the Senate and White House.

    But there is one reason to be reassured: Ryan’s policies would be enormously unpopular if enacted. “You can’t run the basic government people want at these spending levels,” says Scott Slesinger, legislative director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Remember the hysteria over closed national monuments during the federal government shutdown last year? Republicans know cutting spending on national parks wouldn’t be popular. That’s why they tried to blame Obama for the result of their own intransigence during the shutdown. If they were in charge, they’d probably chicken out on a lot of Ryan’s extreme proposals, or face electoral consequences.


    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: California farmers: Drill, baby, drill (for water, that is)
    drought-hose.jpg

    California is locked in an epochal drought – and yet produce aisles nationwide still brim with reasonably prices fruit and vegetables from the Golden State. How does California continue providing half of U.S.-grown vegetables under such parched conditions?

    Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, one of the world’s leading think tanks on water issues, broke it down for me. He says that despite the drought, California farmers will likely idle only about a half million acres this year – less than 10 percent of normal plantings, which are about 8 million acres. And most of the fallowed land will involve “low-value” crops like cotton and alfalfa (used as a feed for the dairy and beef industries) – not the stuff you eat directly, like broccoli, lettuce, and almonds.

    In the Central Valley – California’s most important growing region, which spans 450 miles along the center of the state – the drought is a massive inconvenience, but it hasn’t cut farms off from water. Under ideal conditions, the great bulk of irrigation water flows through an elaborate network of canals and aqueducts that divert water from rivers (largely fed by Sierra Nevada snowmelt) to farms.

    But lately, because of the drought, those diversions have largely stopped. The main system for getting water to the regions farms, known as the Central Valley Project, “allotted farmers only 20 percent of their share last year – and none this year,” the San Jose Mercury News reports.

    Known as “surface water,” because it’s drawn from aboveground sources like rivers and streams, this source of irrigation isn’t without controversy. Even in good precipitation years, California agriculture has gotten so ravenous for water that environmentalists charge that farms aren’t leaving enough to feed coastal ecosystems. The state’s once-prolific salmon run barely persists; the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, a critical engine of biodiversity, stands at the edge of biological collapse.

    But surface water at least represents the annual ebb and flow of water resources. To make up for it in down years, farmers turn to what is essentially a fossil resource: groundwater. This is the stuff that sits under land in aquifers, which store water that has leaked down from the surface for millennia.

    There’s a financial metaphor that works here. To live off surface water is to live off your paycheck. When you get a raise, you can spend more. But when your paycheck drops, you have to cut back, economize. To rely on groundwater, though, is to live off of savings. Every draft you take is one that you won’t be able to replenish, at least not easily.

    And in California, Gleick says, farmers drop wells to draw groundwater from under their land with little or no regulation – some counties have imposed quotas on withdrawals, but there’s no statewide policy. So the drought has sparked a veritable water-drilling frenzy in the Central Valley, especially in the southern part, called the San Joaquin Valley. This excellent San Jose Mercury News article show that in some ag-heavy counties in that region like Tulare and Fresno, the number of well permits granted annually doubled between 2011 and 2013.

    The Mercury News piece shows how drilling begets drilling – a kind of hydrological arms race. When one farm drops a well and begins siphoning water, the water table drops, “forcing neighbors to drill ever deeper or risk going dry.” The piece also reiterates a point I made in my recent post on Wall Street’s push into buying up farmland: It’s not family-scale farms driving the well frenzy. Rather, it’s large companies dropping in monocrops of water-thirsty pistachio and almond groves to cash in on surging demand for nuts in Asia. The Mercury News points to a recent land deal by Trinitas Partners, a Silicon Valley-based private equity firm, to plow up 6,500 acres of “rugged eastern Stanislaus County land from grazing to almonds,” and a push by Paramount Farms, the globe’s largest almond and pistachio producer – owned by the bottled-water (Fiji) and pomegranate (POM Wonderful) magnates Stewart and Lynda Resnick – to convert 15,000 acres in Madera County from row crops to nuts.

    Already, ecological damage is piling up. As I reported before, a 1,200-square-mile swath of the Central Valley – a landmass more than twice as large as Los Angeles – has been sinking by an average of 11 inches per year, a 2013 U.S. Geological Survey found. USGS hydrologist Michelle Sneed told me that and her team were “really shocked” when they realized the extent and scope of the subsidence, which they discovered by chance while they were working on a different project. And other areas of the Central Valley are likely sinking, too, she says. Such rapid sinking damages roads, railroad tracks, bridges, and pipelines, she adds. Then there the irrigation canals that, in good precipitation years, carry surface water to farms, decreasing the need for groundwater pumping. They’re the “most sensitive infrastructure to any elevation changes,” Sneed said, because they’re gravity-driven, engineered to carry water steadily downward, not traverse random ups and downs. And gnarled-up irrigation canals mean more pressure on farmers to revert to groundwater – causing yet more sinkage. Such damage is already happening on the ground – the Mercury News piece quotes a farmer complaining that sinking land is “damaging the irrigation pipes that deliver water to his farm.”

    No one knows how long the region can withstand such massive water losses before its aquifers finally go dry. But they can’t go on forever. Gieick calls unmitigated pumping a “recipe for disaster.” Back in 2011, scientists from NASA and the University of California-Irvine, used satellite images to estimate the rate of withdrawal from the region’s water table. They were alarmed enough to warn of “potentially dire consequences for the economic and food security of the United States.” In February, the team released an update, finding that the withdrawal rate had accelerated dramatically since the previous study – hardly an encouraging sign.

    So that’s how the Central Valley keeps cranking out food amid drought. The big growing region in the southern end of California, the Imperial Valley, is in a kind of permanent drought – that is to say, it’s a desert, Gleick of the Pacific Institute explained to me. It relies on irrigation water diverted from the once-mighty Colorado River, which snakes its way from the Rocky Mountains its namesake state through Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona, and finally to Mexico. Gleick says that the Imperial Valley, source of 80 percent of the winter vegetables consumed in the United States, got its full allotment of water from the Colorado this year – meaning that the drought had zero impact.

    But the river doesn’t just make the California desert bloom to provide your winter salad. It also provides drinking water to 30 million people along its path, and also irrigates cropland in Arizona and Mexico. But that demand, along with a 14-year drought in the broader region, has reduced the river’s flow to a “murky brown trickle” in some places, the New York Times‘ Michael Wines reported in January. And climate change models suggest that the river’s flow will drop by as much as 45 percent by 2050. Because of a 1922 pact, California and its farms will get first dibs on this critical resource, often dubbed the “lifeblood of the Southwest,” as it declines. But even if that arrangement fills your salad bowl for the next few decades, the river’s troubles will trickle to the people and ecosystems that rely on it downstream.

    None of which means you have to worry about where your next peach or kale bunch comes from, at least not anytime soon. Water doesn’t just flow downward; it also flows to powerful interests that have the political heft to command it, as California’s farming sector, increasingly moving under the thumb of large and well-heeled companies, certainly does.

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


    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Food
    Gristmill: 20 percent of the tricolored blackbirds on Earth are in imminent danger — but you can help save them
    Blackbird_tricolored_male_summer_california_monte-m-taylor

    The tricolored blackbird is pretty rare – populations have rebounded since they were first classified as endangered, but there are still fewer than 250,000 of them on the planet (up from 35,000 in the ’90s). Which means it’s really, really serious that a flock of 50,000 tricolored blackbirds is under imminent threat. That’s 20 percent of the extant population.

    The birds are nesting in a private field, which is due to be harvested tomorrow to feed dairy cattle. (Agriculture encroaching on their habitat constitutes the biggest threat to tricolored blackbirds.) Luckily, you can help them. The Audubon Society is trying to raise enough funds by tomorrow to remove the birds from danger, and you can sponsor a bird for a dollar — or five birds for $5, or four-and-twenty blackbirds for four-and-twenty dollars, or 100 tacos for $100. Wait, not that last one.

    5-dollars-5-birds

    If I were the Audubon Society I’d offer some kind of bulk discount, like maybe $1 per bird or $3 for five. Or maybe you could get letters from your bird, or naming rights! But I’ll let it slide because they’re working on a deadline. Donate now — the faster the better — to help save a full fifth of the tricolored blackbirds on Earth.


    Filed under: Living
    Gristmill: This fancy fridge makes your kale even more nutritious
    nutrilight-refrigerator-electrolux

    The NutriLight can’t make your produce last forever, but it’s pretty close. The fridge lighting system, developed by Electrolux, uses “a patented fixed wave treatment that evenly distributes light around the crisper to boost the vitamin content of fruits and vegetables,” according to the company.

    The energy-efficient NutriLight only pours beneficial ray-beams onto your veggies, not UV or ultrared rays that would suck out the vitamins. (Vitamin C and antioxidants dwindle in fruits and vegetables within a few days.) With this fridge, “essentially, synthetic photosynthesis is occurring in your crisper drawer,” as Modern Farmer puts it.

    Leafy greens like spinach and kale see the most benefit, due to their thinness and surface area. (I know, the idea that kale could get any healthier blows our mind too.) Our food system still needs major retooling, but by extending the life of produce, the NutriLight has cool implications for people in food deserts.

    The only downside is that the NutriLight is only available in Asia. That’s because of cultural differences: Shoppers there often get their produce directly from the farmer, so it’s often exposed to the elements and decays faster. Maybe if we all shop more at farmers markets, the NutriLight will come to the U.S. as well. Or maybe I should just start growing stuff in my backyard.


    Filed under: Food, Living
    Gristmill: Pennsylvania officials have no idea how to assess health threats of fracking
    frackwell_marcellusshale

    Could it be that frackers are die-hard Ravens fans? That might explain their cavalier attitude about the health of citizens in Steeler Country.

    Kidding! Money is the motive, yinz – and if Pennsylvanians are exposed to dangerous levels of toxic chemicals in the making of it, who cares?

    An alarming new study by the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, published in the journal Reviews on Environmental Health, finds that current methods and tools used to measure harmful emissions from fracking wells don’t accurately assess health threats – not even close, in fact.

    Federal and state officials tend to measure and report emissions in big-picture terms – tons of methane released per year, for example. Another method is to track hourly emissions over a given day or week. These might not capture rapid and brief increases in chemical exposure, which can cause real harm to bodily systems. SPEHP reports that emissions near drilling sites can fluctuate wildly, and toxic chemical particles can reach high levels of concentration in the air in a very short period of time – as little as a minute or two – and then drop back down. This can occur repeatedly throughout drilling, but might not be captured by the tools or methods customarily used to measure emissions.

    SPEHP researchers collected data on levels of four toxic chemicals in 14 households near fracking sites in southwestern Pennsylvania, and found that contamination was concentrated at peak levels – three times the median level of concentration – about 30 percent of the time, but in spurts. These short blasts of contamination can go undetected by tools customarily used to measure emissions.

    Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene are all toxic substances released into the air from shale drilling. So, what can go wrong if one is exposed to peak levels of these chemicals? Glad you asked! The health effects can include “respiratory, neurologic, and dermal responses as well as vascular bleeding, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.”

    If that weren’t bad enough, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has a flawed system for responding to citizen complaints about emissions, as ProPublica reports:

    [T]he agency’s own manual for dealing with complaints is explicit about what to do if someone reports concerns about a noxious odor, but is not at that very moment experiencing the smell: “DO NOT REGISTER THE COMPLAINT.”

    When a resident does report a real-time alarm about the air quality in or around their home, the agency typically has two weeks to conduct an investigation. If no odor is detected when investigators arrive on the scene, the case is closed.

    In light of the SPEHP findings, this response falls very much short of what would be needed to accurately determine whether there’s a health threat, as it not only fails to address the issue immediately, but also doesn’t account for the intermittency of spikes in exposure.

    ProPublica reports that the DEP has been criticized for bowing to energy company interests rather than serving Pennsylvania citizens.

    Activists and environmental groups have accused the agency of being overly deferential to the gas industry, and defensive and slow moving in its dealings with the public.

    “It was very top down, very secretive and paranoid about who the enemies were,” said [George] Jugovic, [a] former agency official, who left the department when Corbett succeeded Rendell as governor. “The control on information was significant.”

    Gov. Tom Corbett (R) has an impressive history of wooing gas companies to Pennsylvania. Now, these companies have made themselves at home enough to dump all their shit in the air without so much as a “whoops!”, and sure enough, it’s making some of those unlucky enough to live near fracking sites sick. Maybe in between bouts of vomiting, Pennsylvanians can try to enjoy some complimentary pizza.


    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Living, Politics
    Gristmill: Smoggy Chinese city offers residents bags of fresh air
    woman-oxygen-mask-air-breathe-flickr

    In what totally sounds like a Spaceballs-inspired April Fools’ joke, a travel company shipped bags of fresh air to highly polluted Zhengzhou, China, for residents to enjoy. The stunt was promoting tourism to Laojun Mountain, an area 120 miles away that’s full of mushrooms, monkeys, and apparently quite clean air.

    Up to 20 people at a time could slurp the good stuff through oxygen masks for a few minutes before someone else got a turn (the Wall Street Journal has photos). State-run China News Service reported that some people even tried to wring every last breath out of the air-pillows, and a pregnant lady supposedly felt her baby kick when she started breathing the clean stuff.

    The literal breath of fresh air must’ve been a treat for the nostrils, as pollution in Zhengzhou is more than three times as bad as the most polluted American city — a 158 air quality index compared to 45 in Bakersfield, Calif. This isn’t the first instance of commodified air, though. Near Japan’s Mount Fuji, canned air is a wildly popular tourist purchase, and China’s president has even suggested a southwestern province sell the cans.

    Someone tell The Police to change their lyrics to, “Every breath you take, I’ll be advertising a tourist destination to you.” It’s not as catchy … but hey, it’s not as creepy, either.


    Filed under: Cities, Living
    eco.psk: Car-Sharing Service Supplies Vehicles For Uber Drivers
    breeze-car-rental-lyft-uber-toyota-prius-2.jpgBreeze rents out brand new Toyota Priuses so that transport programs can be even more eco-friendly.
    Gristmill: Like some dust bowl with your grain belt?
    grassland

    I once visited one of the last scraps of prairie in Ames, Iowa. It was about the size of a football field, at most, and surrounded by corn in all directions. To me it didn’t look like much. But I had arrived there with a group of entomologists who squealed with delight and immediately scattered into the grasses, emerging periodically to show off the especially fetching bugs they had found.

    This field, we were told, remained grassland for one reason only: No one could grow corn on it. It was too wet, too rocky, too much clay. The agricultural flaws of the prairie were rattled off in a sort of familiar, affectionate way, like it was a sullen teenager with a terrible work ethic. But those flaws were also why it had been left to its own devices in one of the hardest-working agricultural landscapes in the country.

    I thought about that plot when I read Jocelyn Zuckerman’s recent article for The American Prospect on the plowing of the northern U.S. prairie. It’s a long piece, but it can be summarized in two words: Prairie Doom.

    A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year found that between 2006 and 2011, farmers in the western corn belt — Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and the Dakotas — took 1.3 million acres of native grassland, including a Rhode Island’s worth of wetlands, and planted it with corn and soy. It’s the most rapid loss of prairie since the 1920s, and it comes with the usual array of risk factors: erosion, loss of water quality, the release of even more carbon into the atmosphere, bees that make less honey because someone went and replaced their flowers with corn, and a hunting season impoverished by a shortage of ducks and pheasants to shoot.

    The reason this is happening? In the last few years, it’s become unusually profitable to farm on bad land. Even the lousiest farmland isn’t safe. If a gas nebula were to appear in Wisconsin tomorrow, someone would try to farm it.

    How did this come to pass? The Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires oil companies to blend ethanol into the gasoline supply, isn’t helping — ethanol is made from fermented, highly processed corn. The need to meet the Renewable Fuel Standard has kept the cost of corn high, since we’ve added “grow corn for our cars” to “grow corn to feed animals that we would like to eat,” “grow corn to process into sweetener,” and “grow corn so that we may consume it ourselves, without any intermediary.”

    Also not helping: a new type of crop insurance, first rolled out in 2000. While your old-fashioned, stone-age crop insurance just covered the loss of crops — as in, you grew less than you planted because hail flattened your crops, or a horde of locusts showed up and ate them all — revenue insurance created a situation that made bad farming a money-making proposition. Or, as Zuckerman writes:

    Darwyn Bach, a 50-year-old who grows corn and soy on 570 acres in western Minnesota, says that he’s seen how increased insurance subsidies have encouraged careless farming in his own county. People clear and plant in areas where they realize the soil and water conditions are poor, because they know they’ll get payouts anyway. Farmers breaking new land, he explains, often are allowed to base their insurance policies on the historic yields of their established plots.

    “I could rent a sand pile,” Bach says, “and plant it with corn, knowing full well that it won’t likely yield 100 bushels.” Because his insurance policy would be based on his established 190-bushel yield, and having purchased the standard 85 percent policy, he’d be guaranteed 85 percent of 190 bushels regardless. “I guess what people are doing is farming the insurance,” he says with a shrug.

    Crop insurance had once required compliance with various conservation rules, but those requirements were eliminated four years before revenue insurance appeared on the scene. A variation of the requirements had just been reinstated when the farm bill passed in February; but the farm bill also cut so much money from conservation that the whole thing feels like a wash, at best.

    This summer, the Environmental Working Group found that the counties that lost more than 5,000 acres of wetlands received more than four times the amount of crop-insurance payouts that the average farming county did.

    Taxpayers cover 60 percent of the cost of the premiums for crop insurance. It  seems, based on the direness of this story (as well, as  — let’s be honest — the direness of every other story about crop insurance), that what America really needs is a program that encourages farmers to let bad land stay that way (and, ideally, soak up some carbon while they’re at it).

    We had something like this in the early days of the Soil Conservation Service (known today as the Natural Resources Conservation Service) which was created in 1935, after a frenzy of grassland-to-wheatfield conversion in Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, Colorado, and Oklahoma led to the Dust Bowl of 1933.

    But that’s just dream talk, for now. Now that we’ve got this farm bill for the next few years, the most promising thing to pay attention to is the EPA’s new biofuel blending standards for 2014, which should be announced this spring. It looks like there’s a good chance they’ll be quite a bit lower this time around. Watch that dial.


    Filed under: Article, Food
    Triple Pundit: Latest IPCC Report Shows Climate Impacts and Risks Worse Than Expected

    Last week, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPCC) revealed substantial portions of its latest report on the impacts of warming. Observations made in the report constitute a grim list. Sea ice is collapsing; oceans are rising and becoming more acidic as they absorb more CO2. Organic matter, long-buried in Arctic permafrost, is beginning to thaw -- giving off large quantities of methane gas, which further accelerates the warming.

    The post Latest IPCC Report Shows Climate Impacts and Risks Worse Than Expected appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    eco.psk: How Intel Is Transforming Dublin Into An Urban Internet Of Things
    Dublin.jpgThe tech company plans to place Gateway sensors around the city as part of their Smart City project.
    Gristmill: Amazon and Twitter are dirty dirty scoundrels, says Greenpeace
    greenpeace-2014-report-amazon-google

    Digital darlings like Apple, Google, and Facebook have one more thing to brag about: high marks from a new Greenpeace report about clean energy. But on the other end of the spectrum, Amazon and Twitter flunked big time.

    The report — “Your Online World: #ClickClean or Dirty?” — grades some of the web’s biggest sites on four metrics: transparency, policy, energy efficiency, and green advocacy. Amazon and Twitter each got three F’s and one D (see ya in summer school, suckers). Everyone’s fave microblogging site earned these harsh words from Greenpeace:

    Twitter remains at the bottom of the industry for energy transparency, disclosing no information about its energy footprint. Twitter lags behind its competitor in social media, Facebook, which took significant steps to increase transparency and increase its use of clean energy soon after it went public.

    twitter-energy-sources-greenpeace-2014
    Greenpeace

    ZING. And Amazon Web Services (AWS) — which owns your buddies Netflix, Pinterest, and Spotify — got major shade:

    AWS has dropped further and further behind its competitors in building an internet that runs on renewable sources of energy, estimated at only 15%, and is the least transparent of any company we evaluated.

    amazon-energy-sources-greenpeace-2014
    Greenpeace

    Somebody’s got a dirty (energy) secret! Too bad those bloodhounds at Greenpeace sniffed it out. On a more positive note, Greenpeace’s golden children weren’t always so green, so there’s hope. Writes Wired:

    Facebook, Apple, and Google … [have] all made a serious effort to make sure that the energy that they use to run their data centers comes from renewable sources. For example, the three companies have pushed North Carolina’s Duke Energy to give them ways to offset their dirty energy usage by purchasing clean power from outside the state.

    Maybe take a peek at their homework, Twitter and Amazon? Otherwise we’ll see you after class.


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Living
    Gristmill: California’s cap-and-trade program pays loggers to clearcut old-growth forests
    Clearcutting in in Tuolumne County
    Ebbets Pass Forest Watch
    Does this look climate-friendly to you?

    Timber industry lobbyists clinched a nice little victory in Sacramento four years ago, and now forests and the climate are paying the price.

    Under California’s cap-and-trade program, which began in late 2012, timber companies can earn carbon credits by felling forests and chopping down old-growth trees — and then replanting the razed earth with younger trees. Which they will eventually chop down, again, after they have grown. The idea was that the younger trees would suck up a lot of carbon dioxide as they grew. But that flies in the face of scientific findings, published earlier this year in the journal Nature, that older trees are far better than their younger cousins at sucking carbon out of the sky.

    A coalition of environmental groups sent a letter on Tuesday to the California Air Resources Board and Climate Action Reserve, the state’s carbon-offset registry, urging them to reconsider the wrongheaded rules:

    Ignoring objections and calls from nongovernmental organizations like Sierra Club California, Center for Biological Diversity, and others to remove or modify these provisions, the Air Resources Board rubber-stamped the Forest Protocol and incorporated it intact as an integral part of the ARB’s cap and trade rules. We believe these actions by CAR and ARB were misguided policy decisions, and should be reconsidered in light of the new scientific findings.

    In our view, the flawed Forest Protocol undermines the credibility of California’s cap and trade system by incentivizing the destruction of old-growth forests in the state and in North America.

    “It’s time to cut the incentives for clearcutting from the cap and trade program,” said John Trinkl of Ebbets Pass Forest Watch, which works to protect forests from clearcutters, including Sierra Pacific Industries, which lobbied for the logging-friendly provisions. “SPI stands to gain $100 million for selling offset credits from growing tree plantations after clearcutting old growth forests. They should be punished, not rewarded.”


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Triple Pundit: Interview: Brandon Tidwell on Darden Restaurants’ 2013 Citizenship Update

    TriplePundit chats with Brandon Tidwell, manager of sustainability for Darden Restaurants, about the company's 2013 Citizenship Update and where it's headed when it comes to sustainability.

    The post Interview: Brandon Tidwell on Darden Restaurants’ 2013 Citizenship Update appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Biking the Iditarod? Climate change makes for faster times
    5573015514_1489e6c2c6_b

    It takes a special kind of person to want to bike 1,000 miles through the dead of winter in Alaska (being hard as nails, or Iceman, helps). But if you’re going to do it, at least now you’ll get a little boost from global warming. Bicyclists on this year’s Iditarod Invitational – the foot and bike race on the same frigid route as the infamous dog sled event in Alaska (people do the weirdest things in the name of fun) — smashed records. And not because of doping: Less snow just made the course a little easier. Thanks, climate change!

    Some thought it would be pretty much impossible for anyone to break Mike Curiak’s 2000 record of biking the course in 15 days (and not because contestants would suddenly wise up to the fact that biking 1,000 miles through snow is, well, miserable). But this year Jeff Oatley, Aidan Harding, and Phil Hofstetter finished the race in 10, 11, and 12 days, respectively.

    But how? As The New York Times reports:

    In January, when temperatures usually hover in the low 20s Fahrenheit, it topped 60 degrees this year. Sections of trail that have been buried under chest-high snowbanks were entirely bare, making for easier riding. In fact, R J Sauer, who finished the race in 16 days, said that on some days this year, he had more problems with mud and frozen tussocks than with snow.

    Not that weird weather automatically implicates climate change. But Kevin Trenberth, senior climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., told the New York Times that he does think what went down in Alaska this winter is part of a broader climate shift. (A lack of snow also bogged down the canine Iditarod in March.) “It was extremely warm on the North Pole,” Trenberth said. “Alaska is already seeing many signs of climate change and will be profoundly affected.”

    While that’s good news for Iditarod Invitational cyclists, it’s an entirely different story for those who opt to go on foot. Tim Hewitt should know: The 57-year-old lawyer from Pittsburgh, Penn., just  finished his eighth Iditarod Invitational foot race just 1.5 weeks ago. (That’s more times than anyone else has run it. And, oh by the way, he won five of them. Some years he was the only finisher).

    “It was unlike any weather that I’ve seen on the trail this year,” Hewitt told me by phone. There were sections where “we probably pulled our sleds across 40 or 50 miles of just dirt.” While the lack of snow made it easier for cyclists to pedal across, it made it harder for foot-racers to manage their 45-pound sleds: instead of effortlessly gliding (OK, maybe not effortlessly), the sleds would get tangled up in rocks and roots. “It was more like pulling anchors behind you,” Hewitt said. “They didn’t slide. It was very frustrating.”

    Hewitt crossed the finish line after 26 days, and while that wasn’t a personal best, his wife Loreen ran alongside him for the first time. If he returns to the Iditarod Invitational next year (all signs point to yes), he might want to consider swapping his sled for a wagon.


    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Living
    Triple Pundit: Video: The Basics of Palm Oil in Honduras

    How is palm oil made? What is it used for? Where does it come from? Here's a quick video that should get you up to speed from my recent trip to Honduras.

    The post Video: The Basics of Palm Oil in Honduras appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    eco.psk: Floating Wind Turbines Hover Above Areas In Need Of Power [Video]
    altaeros-energies-buoyant-airbourne-wind-turbine-BAT.jpgThe BAT harnesses extreme high-altitude winds to generate sustainable energy.
    Gristmill: This 92-year-old who got arrested for protesting coal is our new hero

    Bill Ryan is a World War II vet, climate activist, and total badass.

    That's him in the green checked shirt.
    Greenpeace/Leard Forest Alliance
    That’s him in the green checked shirt.

    Whitehaven Coal is destroying part of eastern Australia’s Leard State Forest in order to open a $767 million coal mine, which’ll pump out about 13.5 million tons* of coal annually. So the 92-year-old joined 150 others in peacefully protesting the mine, locking themselves to tree-clearing equipment.

    bill-ryan-protesting-coal-mine
    Greenpeace/Leard Forest Alliance

    Several hours later, the cops arrived on the scene and started snapping on the handcuffs. Ryan snagged a trespassing charge, but he was undaunted and wrote a powerful essay in the Guardian about why he protested. You should really just read it all, but here are a few snippets:

    I expected to be arrested … But people have a right to protest injustice, and in this particular case, we were trying to save the Box Gum forest, and the large number of endangered flora and fauna in it.

    What concerns me is that this coal will eventually be burnt and produce carbon dioxide, and add to the global warming we’re experiencing, which scientists say will only get worse. They also say we need to keep 80% of the coal in the ground, otherwise it will be a catastrophe for global warming. The use of fossil fuels must give way to renewable energy.

    The government doesn’t listen to the people, and this mine is a good example. There were over 300 submissions against the mine, and one submission for it. But it was approved.

    I’ve been reading the international scientific reports on the climate, which say there is no future for my grandchildren and great-grandchild[ren] unless there is a reversal in our use of fossil fuels, and a replacement by renewables.

    I’ve only got a few years left, but I feel in my conscience that I have to take this stand … I was willing to put my life on the line in the second world war, so putting my body on the line here is a small inconvenience. [emphasis added]

    May we all be so awesome at 92.

    Correction: The proposed mine will produce 13.5 millions tons of coal, not 15. We regret the error and have sentenced the author to count from 15 to 13 million on an abacus.


    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Living
    Gristmill: How can we deal with ocean acidification? Step one: Study it.
    refreshing lemon splash

    Don’t you love soda makers? You push a bottle of plain ol’ tap water up to a nozzle that spurts CO2 into your water, making it bubbly and delicious. Now picture that happening to the oceans, all day, every day, and the result is distinctly less effervescent: Dissolved CO2 turns into carbonic acid turns into dissolving shellfish, stressed-out fish, fewer clouds, plummeting biodiversity, collapsed ecosystems, total annihilation.

    I may be leaving out a few details with the seltzer metaphor, but it turns out I’m not the only one short on particulars. There are still a lot of unanswered questions when it comes to ocean acidification. Which is why — despite the apparent snoozeworthiness of the words I am about to use — it is important that a group of federal agencies led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have released a new strategic plan to coordinate and expand ocean acidification research.

    Translation: Lots of scientists are already studying ocean acidification, but considering that it’s called “climate change’s evil twin,” we need to team up.

    The concept of ocean acidification isn’t new, but it was only recently that ocean chemistry started to hit closer to home. In 2007, oysters in the Pacific Northwest began to die in droves; the culprit turned out to be an upwelling of acidic water that kept the larval shellfish from building shells. The suddenness of the oyster crash belies the fact that acidification has been and is happening everywhere: The average acidity of the ocean has increased about 30 percent since pre-industrial times.

    In 2009, Congress passed a piece of legislation that you probably napped through, aimed at improving research and monitoring of the ongoing changes in ocean chemistry. This led to NOAA and the National Science Foundation and NASA and the Navy and other bigwig agencies putting their heads together to make a research plan.

    That plan came out last week. It covers everything from the biogeochemical (how fast are we losing important carbonate molecules in the ocean and how does this matter to the organisms that live there?) to the socioeconomic (how are communities who depend on these organisms going to be affected?). Perhaps most importantly, it also includes focus on outreach: How do you get people to care?

    OK, step one, make a plan: check.

    Step two, fund and carry out this research. Libby Jewett, NOAA director of ocean acidification and chair of the interagency group that authored the plan, explains that the research plan will serve as a framework for directing money and time in the future. This will involve looking at specific species and ecosystems, some of which are more vulnerable to changes in ocean chemistry than others. Some ecological effects are more subtle than full-out death; even minor changes in reproduction or behavior could be serious for a species as a whole.

    “Coral reefs are high-priority systems to understand,” Jewett explained. “There’s a potential by 2100, according to some projections, that coral reefs in a lot of the world will not be in conditions that are conducive to calcifying.” No calcifying means no reefs, which is not just important to scuba enthusiasts: Billions of people depend on species that rely on reefs for food and habitat. According to the oceans chapter of the IPCC report released this week, acidic, rising seas are going to take a serious toll on human food security, infrastructure, health, and the ocean ecosystems which underpin all those things.

    Unfortunately, the third logical step after planning and research — actually fixing the problem — is not really in NOAA’s or any single agency’s jurisdiction. We can try to lessen it locally by reducing nutrient runoff or planting seagrass, but short of mass Alka-Seltzer dumps, the global cure for carbonation lies squarely with us up here on dry land.

    “I would have to say that the primary mechanism that we have for mitigating this is to reduce the amount of CO2,” Jewett told Grist. “As depressing as that may be, or as difficult a challenge as that may be, it is a challenge that we need to address. Bottom line is, that’s what’s driving this change.”

    Here’s where I drop the cute seltzer comparison and opt for a runaway train instead. Even if we were to magic our way out of carbon emissions tomorrow, the oceans would continue to pick up more CO2 than it can neutralize, meaning it is going to take somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 years just to get back to the baseline. Like a runaway train, Jewett says, “if you stop it while it’s going slow, it’s still going to take time to stop. But it’s going to take a lot longer to stop it if you wait until speed builds up first.”


    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Food
    Gristmill: Ask Umbra: Is it OK to recycle bottles that have been full of chemicals?
    household-cleaning-bottles-cropped

    Q. Is it safe to recycle plastic jugs that previously held toxic substances? Would the residue from a bottle of automotive antifreeze or household cleaner transfer to next plastic product after recycling? I’ve thought about washing out the bottles before recycling, but I don’t really want to put this into the wastewater system either. Obviously, not using these products is the best way around this problem.

    Jon
    Lincoln, Neb.

    A. Dearest Jon,

    I’m so glad you asked. A well-meaning person who tosses the wrong item into a recycling bin can do more harm than good – especially when the item in question may contain toxic residue that can harm waste managers or contaminate other recyclables.

    Nobody likes the idea of hazardous chemicals around the house, but many of us may end up harboring some anyway, whether it’s antifreeze, lawn pesticides, drain cleaners, or even nail polish. As you note, Jon, the best thing to do is avoid these products altogether, but more on that in a bit. For now, we’ve got a few jugs to deal with.

    Your first order of business is to check the rules with your municipal waste manager. Lincoln, your hometown, just happens to provide a detailed guide for its citizens; browse the handbook to find out exactly how to handle everything from oven cleaner (empty and throw in the garbage) to general household cleaners (rinse and recycle). (If you don’t have the privilege of living in the Star City, your own recycling center and/or hazardous waste facility should provide instructions; if it’s not clear on their website, call and ask.)

    If you’ve received the go-ahead to recycle a container, do make sure it’s empty. Do not achieve this goal by dumping the remaining chemicals on the ground (you’d be surprised how many people don’t know that), into a storm drain, or down the toilet if you have a septic system. Certain products might be able to go down the drain, accompanied by plenty of water and one at a time, but check with your friendly local managers before attempting. Hazardous-waste disposal enthusiasts should also check out this column for more on the subject.

    A note about rinsing: If a product in a recyclable container is OK for a trip down the drain (say, a window cleaner), then go ahead an rinse it before recycling the bottle. But be careful with especially toxic products, such as pesticides. These bottles may be recyclable, but they often require a triple rinse and careful disposal of the rinse water.

    Now that your worrisome jugs have met their fate — thrown away, recycled, or perhaps dropped off at the hazardous waste facility – I advise you to do all you can to avoid this problem in the future. Any product labeled DANGER, CAUTION, or WARNING should set off alarm bells when you’re shopping, as these items are highly toxic, flammable, and/or corrosive; I wouldn’t buy them unless absolutely necessary.

    Fortunately, Jon, there are lots of safer substitutes out there. A plumbing snake declogs just as well as a nasty drain cleaner; vinegar and baking soda work wonders on pretty much anything that needs cleaning around the house; and compost is better for nourishing a garden than chemical fertilizers. The detailed disposal guide from Lincoln I cited above also suggests non- or less-toxic alternatives for all kinds of products (non-Lincolnites, it’s worth a read!), as does this site.

    I’ll close with an old Irish blessing in keeping with last month’s St. Patrick’s Day holiday: May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be at your back, and may your contact with highly toxic, flammable, and corrosive chemicals be kept to an absolute minimum.

    Prophylactically,
    Umbra


    Filed under: Living
    Triple Pundit: Tropical Pacific Ocean Acidification Occuring Much Faster Than Expected, NOAA Finds

    Unprecedented change is taking place in the tropical Pacific Ocean, where NOAA researchers have found that carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations have increased as much as 65 percent faster than atmospheric CO2 since 1998. Rising CO2 concentrations of this magnitude indicate that tropical Pacific waters are acidifying as fast as ocean waters in the polar regions, which may have grave repercussions for marine food webs, biodiversity, fisheries and tourism.

    The post Tropical Pacific Ocean Acidification Occuring Much Faster Than Expected, NOAA Finds appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Students Design Edible, Plastic-Free Water Bottle

    In an ideal, eco-friendly world, disposable plastic water bottles wouldn't exist; everyone would drink their water from a reusable cup or bottle. But in reality, Americans drink more than 73 billion half-liter water bottles each year, according to the nonprofit Environmental Working Group – enough to circle the planet more than 370 times. While single-use plastic water bottles may just be too convenient for our rushed, on-the-go culture to give up entirely, three industrial design students have come up with an innovative, alternative packaging for water that is so biodegradable you can even eat it when you’re done drinking.

    The post Students Design Edible, Plastic-Free Water Bottle appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: U.K. Companies Share Clean Tech Expertise at Globe 2014 in Vancouver

    Last week a delegation of British companies supported by U.K. Trade and Investment attended the sustainable-development advocacy conference Globe 2014, in Vancouver, British Columbia, to showcase the country's expertise in low-carbon solutions and sustainability innovations. I had the opportunity to speak with Mike Rosenfeld, Vice Consul - USA Clean Technology Sector Lead for UKTI, about the strengths of the U.K. clean tech industry and how its businesses are poised to be competitive players on the global stage.

    The post U.K. Companies Share Clean Tech Expertise at Globe 2014 in Vancouver appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Women in CSR: Kathleen Tullie, Reebok International & BOKS

    Kathleen Tullie, Director of Social Responsibility at Reebok International and Co-Founder and Executive Director of BOKS (Build Our Kids’ Success), talks about her career, inspiration and recent accomplishments in our Women in CSR series.

    The post Women in CSR: Kathleen Tullie, Reebok International & BOKS appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Today: A 3p Chat w/ David Gottfried; Founder, USGBC & World Green Building Council

    Join TriplePundit for an exclusive live Google Chat interview with David Gottfried, the father of the global green building movement, on Wed. April 2nd.

    The post Today: A 3p Chat w/ David Gottfried; Founder, USGBC & World Green Building Council appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: You’ve never seen an LED lamp like this

    LED lights often look like glow-in-the-dark Tic Tacs, so this gentle, paperlike design is a much-welcome departure:

    dew-drops-light-Ingo-Maurer
    Ingo Maurer

    Munich-based lighting designer Ingo Maurer created the Dew Drops lamp by integrating a sprinkling of LEDs into a see-through 16.5”x12” plastic sheet. The result is something you might find at IKEA on a good day.

    dew-drops-light-Ingo-Maurer-2
    Ingo Maurer

    For fans of modern design, it’s refreshing to see a gentle, energy-efficient light source that doesn’t resemble a normal bulb. The lighted sheet looks almost like a radiant hammock or a magical page from an unpublished Harry Potter book.

    dew-drops-led-paper-light
    Domus Web

    Gizmodo isn’t sure when the Dew Drops lamp will be on the market, but consider us first in line.


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Living
    Gristmill: London is installing bus sensors to hopefully kill fewer people
    london-double-decker-bus-flickr-aditi-rao

    Nearly two-thirds of the deaths on London’s roads in 2012 were pedestrians or cyclists (as opposed to drivers), and now the city is doing something about that. You know the parking sensors that help people not back into fire hydrants and stray cats? London’s slapping similar technology on 12 buses this May.

    The buses’ sensors will tell the driver when a cyclist, pedestrian, or superhero is getting dangerously close, according to the London Evening Standard. (It’s unclear what proportion of road deaths are caused by buses, but safely steering something as a big as a whale can’t be easy.)

    Buses will also get latest-generation closed-circuit TV monitors. Older technology didn’t successfully filter out stoplights and railings, but a new version eliminates this visual clutter and helps drivers see people walking or cycling more clearly.

    This new bus bling is part of London Mayor Boris Johnson’s Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, in which he aims to cut London road deaths and serious injuries 40 percent in the next six years. (He’s also adding those “Don’t Walk” countdowns at 200 intersections so people know how much time they have to sprint across the street.)

    In the past, Johnson has faced criticism for not doing as much as his predecessor to protect pedestrians. Let’s hope the Pedestrian Safety Action Plan is more than just posturing and helps make roads safer for those who walk and bike.


    Filed under: Cities, Living
    Gristmill: Supreme Court’s campaign finance ruling: Bad for greens, good for Kochs
    Supreme Court building

    You’ve got to feel bad for the Koch brothers. All of their billions of dollars, all of their schemes for world domination, and they’ve been limited to only donating $48,600 to all federal candidates and $74,600 to party committees every two years. They might as well be mere millionaires. Well, you’ll be pleased to know that the Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court has freed the super-wealthy to fully participate in the political process. Score one for democracy!

    On Wednesday, in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the court ruled that those spending limits will no longer apply. The current $2,600 limit per candidate is still in place. But the court held that the de facto limitation on the number of candidates you could give to violates the First Amendment. Billionaires who have made their money extracting fossil fuels, cutting down trees, and cooking up dangerous chemicals — the Koch brothers, for example — will now be able to give the maximum to every congressional candidate in the country. (Or, to be more precise, every Republican candidate, plus maybe a few Democrats they carry around in their pockets, like Mary Landrieu.) If someone gave the maximum to one candidate in each House and Senate race every two years, it would cost $1,216,800 — a small price to pay for control over the most powerful country in the world.

    In theory, of course, this ruling benefits rich environmentalists as much as dirty energy barons. In practice, though, there will always be more of the latter. And they will be especially motivated because they have a financial stake in buying elections. This case itself was brought by Alabama coal magnate and conservative donor Shaun McKutcheon and supported by the Republican National Committee. As Oil Change International’s executive director, Stephen Kretzmann, noted, McKutcheon’s business making electrical equipment for coal mines is directly threatened by EPA regulation of CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants. Not coincidentally, Republicans in Congress are trying to prevent the EPA from regulating CO2.

    This ruling is only the Roberts Court’s latest gift to titans of the fossil fuel industry. In 2010, in the Citizens United decision, it overturned limits on independent campaign spending by corporations and unions. Independent expenditures to political action committees, and their steroidal spawn the Super PACs, has boomed in the years since. The Koch network spent more than $400 million on the 2012 election.

    PACs can be inefficient, though, as they are legally prohibited from coordinating with campaigns. Being able to marshal out-of-state donations directly to candidates from activists across the country — as the Tea Party movement does — has a better track record of actually determining outcomes, at least in Republican primaries. After this ruling, we will see a massive influx of money into House races from rich polluters and right-wing ideologues. That’s why RNC Chair Reince Priebus issued a statement calling the ruling “an important first step toward restoring the voice of candidates and party committees.” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, on the other hand, said it “fundamentally contradicts the values that sustain our democracy.”

    The environmental movement will have to organize itself, EMILY’s List-style, to fight back with direct donations to candidates. Otherwise, the system will be even more rigged in favor of dirty industries and against the public interest.


    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Leaked documents reveal SeaWorld is drugging its orcas
    seaworld-orca-killer-whale-dkodigital

    You know those rumblings about Prozac in our drinking water? That might not be too far off for the animals at SeaWorld.

    BuzzFeed got its sticky mitts on an affidavit that reveals SeaWorld is giving its orcas benzos to make them chill out and stop attacking each other. It’s basically an attempt to use orca Xanax to numb the animals’ aggression and general pissed-off-ness at being snatched from the ocean, plopped into captivity, and forced to perform.

    Writes BuzzFeed’s Justin Carissimo:

    Trainers give their orcas, also known as killer whales, the psychoactive drug benzodiazepine, according to the sworn affidavit filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice … The orcas’ mental health issues, SeaWorld’s critics say, are a direct result of their keeping the mammals in captivity.

    Ingrid Visser of the Orca Research Trust gave the site a few heart-ripping examples of the stressed-out orca behavior SeaWorld is trying to medicate:

    They do not cope with being kept in these tanks … They show stereotypical behaviors that are abnormal … like head bobbing, chewing on concrete, and self mutilation by banging the side of their heads on the side of the tank, and there isn’t a single orca living in captivity where you cannot see one of these behaviors, and in many of them you see multiple examples of these behaviors.

    Some sedation before surgery and the like is normal, and of course SeaWorld says its use of benzodiazepine is “limited and infrequent.” Honk if you believe THAT.


    Filed under: Living
    eco.psk: Find Out The Toxic Ingredients That Are Hiding In Your Makeup
    makeup application app.jpgThe Think Dirty app allows you to scan beauty products for potentially unhealthy chemicals.
    eco.psk: Find Out The Toxic Ingredients That Are Hiding In Your Makeup
    makeup application app.jpgThe Think Dirty app allows you to scan beauty products for potentially unhealthy chemicals.
    Gristmill: Vermont expands solar net metering, gives finger to ALEC
    Solar panels in Vermont

    Bad news for the polluter-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, but wonderful news for the planet.

    In 2012 and 2013, ALEC tried to roll back states’ renewable energy standards, and failed. Now it’s trying to roll back solar net-metering programs, which let homeowners sell electricity from their rooftop panels into the grid, and that campaign isn’t going so well either.

    Case in point: In Vermont, Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) just signed a bill that will expand the state’s net-metering program, allowing solar panel owners to sell more of their clean electricity into the grid.

    The bill will nearly quadruple the size of a cap on the amount of solar power that utilities must be willing to buy from their customers. It also creates pilot projects that could allow for solar projects as large as 5 megawatts to be built under the scheme. The AP reports:

    Alternative energy proponents pushed for the increased cap after some Vermont utilities had reached the 4 percent cap and stopped taking new net-metered power.

    “Our success exceeded our wildest dreams,” Shumlin said before signing the bill into law, noting that since he took office in 2011 the state had quadrupled the amount of solar energy on the state’s electric grid.

    Vermont’s increased use of alternative energy has helped the state to become the nation’s per-capita leader in the number of solar energy jobs.

    The new law is being lauded by renewable energy advocates. “Thousands of Vermonters have already gone solar, and this law will allow thousands more, of all walks of life, to be part of building a clean energy legacy for our state,” the Vermont Public Interest Research Group said in a statement. “While we have more work to do, this law is a good next step.”

    Meanwhile, the solar industry recently helped defeat ALEC-championed efforts in Washington and Utah to wind back the net-metering programs in those states. And we told you in November about a similar success in Arizona.

    “In state after state, overwhelming public support for rooftop solar continues to trump multi-million dollar attacks from utilities … and ALEC,” an exec with solar company Sunrun told CleanTechnica.


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Eco Geek: Nontoxic Flame Retardants from Whey

    Whey is generally a waste byproduct from cheese- and yogurt-making. Producers need to find ways to dispose of it, and often it is discharged into wastewater systems. Research at the Polytechnic University of Turin is being done to explore the use of whey as a replacement for toxic compounds used as flame retardants.

    Treated fabrics are kept from burning as readily because the casein from whey forms a layer of char on the surface when it is exposed to heat, which prevents the fire from spreading as readily. Tests on cotton and polyester materials often self-extinguished, and tests on cotton-polyester were also inhibited and burned more slowly.

    While the tests have been promising, the process is not yet ready for commercialization because "the cheese-treated fabrics stink." But, if the compounds that cause the odor can be removed, this can be a technology to remove more harmful chemicals from common use and make use of a waste product at the same time. And, it could give the word "cheesecloth" a whole new meaning.

    image: CC BY-SA 3.0 by Oscar/Wikimedia Commons

    via: Environmental Building News

    Gristmill: Congress members ask EPA to reopen three fracking investigations
    test water EPA

    A crew of Democratic House members are calling on the EPA to do its damned job — specifically, to investigate potential links between pollution and fracking in three states where groundwater has been mysteriously poisoned.

    Rep. Matt Cartwright’s (D-Pa.) letter, sent Tuesday to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy with signatures from seven other lawmakers, follows the agency’s disturbing decisions to drop three investigations into possible connections between fracking and water contamination.

    In mid-2012, the EPA dropped an investigation into water pollution in Dimock, Pa., despite internal warnings from one of the agency’s scientists that methane levels jumped in aquifers following drilling — “perhaps as a result of fracking.” In early 2013, the agency dropped its investigation into water pollution in Parker County, Texas — despite lacking confidence in the quality of water tests conducted by the frackers themselves. And in the middle of last year, the EPA dropped its investigation into water contamination around Pavilion, Wyo. — despite findings in a draft report that fracking chemicals were likely to blame.

    “Each community was grateful when when the EPA stepped in to help deal with their water contamination issues, and disheartened when the EPA dropped their investigations, leaving them with polluted water and little explanation,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter.

    “We are writing to urge you to take any and all steps within your power to help these communities. … Members of these communities currently do not have safe, clean drinking water and need EPA’s help to address the ongoing water contamination issues in their homes and get EPA assurance once their water is clean and safe.”


    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Politics
    eco.psk: Indoor Greenhouse Creates A Social Network Of Growers [Video]
    MEG-yradia-open-source-greenhouse.jpgHomegrown plants and vegetables made more accessible by MEG.
    eco.psk: Indoor Greenhouse Creates A Social Network Of Growers [Video]
    MEG-yradia-open-source-greenhouse.jpgHomegrown plants and vegetables made more accessible by MEG.
    Gristmill: Light pollution could be contributing to cancer, depression, and obesity
    light-pollution-city-night-flickr

    Air and water pollution are pretty understandable health risks. But light pollution? It sounds a little hokey at first. Tons of streetlights and lit-up office buildings make Earth look freakishly nocturnal from space, sure, but could they actually make us sick?

    Rebecca Boyle says yes. Those of us staring at our phones, laptops, and iPads until bedtime aren’t just inducing insomnia — we could be playing with “the major factor in depression, obesity, and cancer,” she writes in Aeon Magazine.

    That’s because our bodies need darkness to produce the hormone melatonin, and melatonin protects our DNA, ultimately preventing cancer. If left to nature, our bodies would normally start producing melatonin after sunset. But we can’t all wake with the sunrise like Laura Ingalls Wilder, so we’re surrounded by bluish artificial light. Writes Boyle:

    Shift workers, who rise with the night and work awash in blue light, experience not only disrupted circadian rhythms and sleep deprivation, but an increased risk of breast and prostate cancer.

    Thankfully, it’s not too hard to fix:

    When we, in the industrialized world, do manage to turn off the lights, there are measurable, beneficial effects on our circadian rhythms.

    Boyle offers several solutions: reddish rather than blueish light for bedtime reading, downward-facing streetlights to keep cities safe without lighting up the sky as much, and the free app f.lux, which makes your computer or phone’s screen subtly mimic natural light based on the time of day. You could also, I dunno, become a baker. I hear they wake up REALLY early.


    Filed under: Cities, Living