Eco Buzz

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Pylon Sounds - aggregated feeds in category Eco Buzz
Updated: 12 min 38 sec ago

Eco Buzz

    Triple Pundit: Taking Sustainability Beyond the Company Walls
    The difference between SABmiller's approach and other company-centered 'efficiency' efforts is the depth of focus outside the company's own walls.
    Gristmill: Hip Hop is not down with Monsanto

    And you thought rap was all cars, Riff Raff and Gucci Mane. Yeah, there’s plenty of that, but there are also plenty of rappers still dropping knowledge, as was ubiquitous during Hip Hop’s Golden Age –’88  to ’95 — and without a hint of irony or romantic nostalgia. I’m thinking Common, Talib Kweli, who was out there arguing with cops and CNN in Ferguson, and the homey Jasiri X. Despite rap’s reputation for worst behavior, it’s still one of the last, if only, musical genres that counts social studies, history and science as subjects, even if only as electives.

    Hip Hop’s latest course offering: genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. There are plenty of controversial and conspiratorial seeds to spread around with this issue. Indeed, for some rappers, GMOs are part of the larger New World Order agenda for global domination by the deity represented on the back of your dollar bill — Behold Some Pale White Pork. Others have approached the debate with gravitas. I’ll let Grist’s Nathanael Johnson (Who I’ve asked to comment on the songs, below) school you on the real science behind GMOs. Or, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who’s picked it apart between chessboxin’ matches with GZA. I’m personally GMO agnostic. But some of these rappers have given me some food for thought:

    Wise Intelligent of the Golden Age group Poor Righteous Teachers released the song “Illuminati,” in 2011, which was a critique of masonic conspiracy theories. He unpacks a lot in this song, but the third verse is where he hammers away at the issue:

    Before they collapse the market, they’re criminalizing farming/They’re silencing you for talking, while turning us all into peasants/Agricultural patents, ConAgra created the famines/Monsanto’s seeds that terminate the natural birthing action/Controlling the food supply, choosing who should live or die/Confusion rules, you choose the lie...

    (Nathanial, our GMO guru, says the bolded line is a “reference to the genes that prevent GMO reproduction and spread. If you’re worried about GMO contamination it would be a good thing. They never got it to work.”)

    Attempting to outdo Wise Intelligent in song title subtlety comes Immortal Technique, who touches on the subject in his song “Bin Laden” –Apparently GMO food is so bad it’s terrorism. Raps Immortal: They feed us genetically modified garbage, so I repetitively reload the cartridge…

    (Says Nathanael: “I mean, content aside, you got to admire the masterful rhyme — the assonance, the meter…”)

    In 2004, the indispensable MF DOOM delivered one of Hip Hop’s finest dishes, the album Mm…Food, and no rapper has done more with food metaphors since (Sorry, Action Bronson). In 2012, he joined the modified food fight in his collaborative effort with Jneiro Jarel called JJ DOOM where he addresses the issue dead-on in his song, “GMO,” where he ponders, “Will Frankenfoods kill us?” One choice passage:

    Ya partner DOOM is who’ll ride/Or either do or die like farmer suicide/Chew your pride/Might as well start ‘em out in pro boxing/Then force feed them toddler food laced with excitotoxins

    Let’s go ahead and give him props now for being, perhaps, the only musical artist in the world to namedrop excitotoxins, something in our food supply that apparently kills your brain.

    (Meanwhile, says Nathanael: “Farmer suicide is real and it’s terrible, but it’s facile to say it’s caused by GMOs. It just isn’t.”)

    From the more esoteric song title category comes Aesop Rock’s “BMX,” where rhyme partner Blueprint likens fly-by-night pop rap artists to the Astroturf campaigns orchestrated by GMO companies:

    Everybody got inentions that they can’t reveal/Major label acts got to act like they don’t have deals/Claiming grassroots, I’m like, Hell no/Your buzz is as organic as Monsanto/I’m going at your beanstalk, ax in hand…

    (Says Nathanael: “Hell yes.”)

    Sage Francis’s emo-navel-gazery “Over Under” is a break-up song — though I’m not clear if he’s breaking up with a love partner, or with himself. In the second verse he fumes (at someone):

    Oh I’m the pig? You trying to strangle me in a blanket, though/You’re a GMO seed of breed in my organic garden, wanting my resources to make it grow…

    (Says Nathanael: No comment.)

    Filed under: Article, Cities, Food, Living
    Triple Pundit: The Online Artisan Marketplace: A Huge Boost for Handmade Products
    The internet has made it far easier for the online artisan marketplace to thrive, allowing many to sell their handmade goods quickly and easily.
    Gristmill: The cynical money person’s guide to our renewable energy future
    A rising sea of money

    I’ve been covering the carbon divestment movement on and off for Grist since I started here nearly a year ago. Divestment makes unusual waves because it encourages moving money around for reasons of both morality and enlightened self-interest. It also raises a question: If investors are going to divest from the $5 trillion in energy stocks that they currently hold, what should they be investing in instead?

    There are many, many ways to invest responsibly, including a new batch of fossil-free index funds, and that is a beautiful thing. Less beautiful, but maybe more interesting, is exploring what a totally cynical take on investing in renewable energy looks like.

    For this reason, I’ve enjoyed nerding out over white papers on the subject, from Bloomberg’s guide to divestment (divesting from coal is easy; oil and gas, slightly more complicated) to the recent briefing paper released by UBS, the Swiss global financial services company whose assets of $1.5 trillion make it the largest private bank in the world.

    The word “divestment” is never mentioned in the paper. Instead it salivates over companies like Toyota, BMW, Hitachi Chemical, Siemens, and Umicore, who have maneuvered themselves into a situation where they’ll profit if certain renewable technologies become widely adopted. When something like reycling is mentioned, it’s only because someone sees money in it.

    Below, a few highlights.

    Batteries and solar will get way cheaper

    The main focus of the report is the way that batteries and solar, when joined together like Voltron, have the power to reshape our utility markets — or, as Grist’s Amelia Urry put it, “make today’s power plants as extinct as the dinosaurs.” This is something that people have been talking about for a while now (and it’s the reason Tesla Motors is starting to seem like more than just a maker of fancy hippie hot rods).

    By 2020, the cost of high capacity batteries is expected to have dropped so much that the price difference between an electric car and one with a combustion engine will be negligible. If this happens, it will translate into a lot of electric cars sold, since (a) owners won’t have to pay for gas (or not much of it, if they buy a hybrid) and (b) an electric car can serve double-duty as the backup battery storage for a home solar system.

    This will happen more quickly in Europe because gasoline is more expensive there —  the paper says that, by conservative estimate, 10 percent of all new car registrations in Europe will be electric cars by 2025.

    Think of big power plants as quaint old factory mills

    I’ve been traveling around the east coast lately, which means passing through a lot of old mill towns.  These were where the industrial revolution began in the U.S., and they were built on rivers, because that’s where the power was. The same way that the development of the electrical grid freed factories from the need for a river, solar can free it from the need for the hulking power plants that are now a feature of our landscape.

    Writes the report:

    Big, centralised power stations will not fit into the future European electricity system, because they are too large and too inflexible — or at least most of them are. Not all of them will have disappeared by 2025, but we would be bold enough to say that most of those plants retiring in the future will not be replaced.

    It makes me wonder what might happen to the abandoned power plants of this hypothetical future. They’d make for some pretty strange apartments, that’s for sure.

    Clever utilities will figure out how to maneuver into providing access to smart grids, backup power, and value-added services. “These positive drivers should more than offset the gradual extinction of large scale power plants,” writes the report, cheerily, adding that California-based Edison International, in its willingness to spend money building out its electrical grid to accommodate large-scale renewables, is an example of a good utility, and Con Ed in New York, which has done “next to nothing” on solar, will be in trouble.

    The wild card here is politics, not technology

    Fuel cells, batteries, solar, and smart grid technology keep getting less and less expensive to manufacture. As the theory goes, the lower the cost of batteries, the more people will buy electric cars, rather than the combustion engine variety. Selling so many batteries will make them even cheaper to manufacture, as companies develop economies of scale, and so the price will drop further — sort of like what happened with computer processors. Both Umicore and Tesla have said that they have the science behind batteries down —  all that remains is making enough of them so that they can take advantage of economies of scale. Says the UBS paper (with some hubris):

    By 2025, everybody will be able to produce and store power. And it will be green and cost competitive, i.e., not more expensive or even cheaper than buying power from utilities. It is also the most efficient way to produce power where it is consumed, because transmission losses will be minimized.

    The drawback to all of this is that as people start pulling less electricity off the grid, it could mean lower revenues for utilities (and definitely for the companies that supply fuel to those utilities). Utilities are moving to protect their bottom lines by jacking up the basic flat fee that they charge to connect to the electrical grid and by lobbying for legislation that would make solar more difficult to install.

    It’s hard to say how the solar blocking will go. Last year in Washington, fossil fuel interests spent about thirty times as much on political contributions as alternative energy. When it comes to rooftop solar, the rules around zoning and building codes are so complicated that just navigating them can add thousands of dollars to the cost of system. Yet there seems to be as much effort to streamline rules around solar in some places as there is to put up roadblocks in others.

    It’s easier to predict that the rising flat fees are likely to stick around. Writes the paper: “We expect a gradual shift towards flat fee-based grid remuneration, similar to the development seen with broadband internet.” This will strike fear in the heart of any American who has tried to negotiate rates with an internet provider, but less so in the heart of the average European, who has more options when it comes to choosing providers.

    Competition — in Europe at least — is going to be intense, since potentially anyone with a solar and battery system could do the things that a utility now handles, “including equipment providers and big data companies, such as Google.” These new utilities would be likely to manage, maintain, or even own their own solar and battery systems, provide ways to help households manage their own energy consumption, and buy cheap electricity in bulk from a variety of sources and set themselves up as “virtual power plants.”

    European geopolitics are also making oil and gas look less attractive right about now

    We would not see political tensions between fossil fuel producing and consuming countries as a main argument in favor of our projected 2025 electricity system, but clearly the latest developments in Ukraine and Russia are, if anything, intensifying the political support for renewables and a smart, efficient electricity system.

    Is this the future? After I wrote an article about the bidding war over Tesla’s gigafactory, a friend sent me an email about how the fuss over the electric car, in particular, looked like its own bubble — a bid to extend the viability of the private automobile, when the young folks seem to be losing interest in them, entirely, in favor of such retro marvels as that driverless car that is also known as “the bus” or the post-electric green car that we like to call “the bicycle.”

    Seen in that light, getting excited about the electric car is like investing in three-piece suits back in the 1960s, on the assumption that everyone in America was going to keep dressing like the cast of Mad Men. But even if it’s not the future, it’s a future, and worth thinking about.

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
    Triple Pundit: Passive House Standard Results in Energy and Cost Savings
    Some of the most energy-efficient homes on U.S. soil, Belfast Ecovillage homes use 90 percent less energy to heat and cool.
    Triple Pundit: Despite Bully Tactics, We Can’t Stop Using Uber
    Nobody likes a bully. But tell that to Uber, which has made little effort to shroud its back-handed tactics to annihilate its ridesharing competitors, namely Lyft. Leveraging a war chest which now has grown to some $1.5 billion dollars, Uber has done whatever it can to put Lyft down — from gimmicky marketing schemes, attack ads, to even lowering rates. But all of that seems paltry in comparison to Uber’s latest anti-Lyft strategy, which has devolved into outright sabotage.
    Triple Pundit: The Value of Bike Sharing: Looking Beyond Carbon Emissions
    When it comes to how green bike-sharing programs are, the focus should be their well-being impact, not their climate impact.
    Triple Pundit: Green Job Openings More Than Double in the Second Quarter of 2014
    More than 12,500 clean energy and transportation jobs were announced in this year's second quarter (Q2 2014), more than double that of Q1, according to a report from Environmental Entrepreneurs released on the eve of the Labor Day weekend.
    Triple Pundit: Obama to Seek ‘Politically Binding’ Climate Agreement
    With a United Nations summit meeting coming up in Paris next year that will attempt to come up with some kind of meaningful global agreement, the president is determined not to show up empty-handed this time.
    Triple Pundit: A Young African-American Banker with Pride
    Having been called on as a millennial to share my story for this article, I’m a little less suspicious of the label, and a little more interested in exploring what it means to me and what it might mean for the investment community. All of this talk of identity may seem a little sentimental for an investment publication, but I argue that identity will be a critical consideration for the investment community going forward.
    Triple Pundit: Survey: Furniture Companies Dropping Flame Retardants
    It's been a good month for sustainable furniture advocates in California. The state's recent update of TB 117, which in effect allows furniture manufacturers to drop flame retardants from their product ingredients, is having a noticeable effect on the industry, according to the Center for Environmental Health. At the same time, California Senate took another step toward ensuring new flammability standards will be ready to go by Jan. 2015. All of this was bad news for chemical company Chemtura, which filed suit against the state to stop TB 117. A tentative ruling released last week rejected the criteria for the challenge, calling it "absurd."
    Gristmill: Why we really should care about boosting farm yields

    Crystal-ball gazers looking for the future of food often start with this question: How the heck are humans going to grow enough food to feed our teaming masses without wrecking the planet?

    There are two assumptions embedded in that question: first, that we’re going to have trouble growing enough food; and second, that we must race to keep food production up to speed with population growth, rather than reining in population growth. In questioning those assumptions over the last two weeks, my focus has shifted. If we want to prevent famine and ecological collapse, we should be thinking primarily about poverty, not food.

    However, looking for ways to deal with poverty takes us right back around to increasing food production. If we fail to deal with poverty and hunger, Joel Cohen told me, we are (counterintuitively) consigning ourselves to explosive population growth. To make sure everyone gets a healthy portion of the world’s pie, he said, we’ll need a bigger pie (more food), fewer forks (level off population growth), and better manners (share more equitably). And while each of these approaches has its partisans, Cohen thinks we’ll almost certainly need all three.

    As I found previously, if you can help small farmers grow more food, it’s a double whammy: It helps lift them out of poverty (better sharing) and gives us more food (bigger pie).

    That means that we really do need to ask, how the heck we are going to feed ourselves? It’s not the main issue (poverty), but it’s an effective lever to work on that main issue. So we still need a contingent of farmers and scientists working on increasing yields. And that’s a problem, because for years countries around the world have been pulling money out of agricultural research.

    “For almost thirty years, since the early 1980s, neither the private sector nor governments were interested in investing in agriculture,” wrote Olivier De Schutter, who recently concluded his stint as the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food.

    The amount of money that we invested in farming R&D has actually risen a tiny bit every year, but it’s so tiny that the amount has shrunk relative to the size of the farm economy — that is, the size of the investment wasn’t keeping up with the size of the job. Between 1990 and 2000, the world increased agricultural research investment by 1.9 percent a year. That’s about what you’d want for a cost of living increase — it doesn’t leave room for breaking new ground.

    BIC = Brazil, India, China - click to embiggen
    Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators – Global Assessment of Agricultural R&D Spending
    BIC = Brazil, India, China – click to embiggen

    “You need a certain minimum investment in agricultural science that continues year after year, because you don’t answer all the questions the first time, it’s a moving target,” said Melinda Smale, a professor of international development at Michigan State. “You need to invest in scientists, invest in institutions. Things like salaries have a recurring cost.”

    When I suggested to Smale that some argue for spending money on one transformative technology that could be used everywhere, rather than pouring money into local institutions every year, she scoffed: “We should dispel this myth of the silver bullet. That’s just bullshit. What works in one place will not work in another. You cannot export a single uniform model.”

    The Green Revolution — the modernization of agriculture that occurred between the ’40s and ’60s —  is often the poster child for the single uniform model. After all, Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, was able to rapidly spread improved seeds around the world, instead of breeding strains to be adapted to local conditions. But the seeds were only part of the Green Revolution, Smale said. It also relied on tremendous investments from governments around the world to pay for wells, canals, and transportation systems to move harvests and fertilizers.

    To build agricultural systems that are truly adapted to local environmental conditions, we’d need enough investment in agriculture to sustain various types of research, and farmer training institutions in each of those environments. The question of what that money should pay for (agroecology research? fertilizer?) is a contentious one, and I’ll get to that soon. But first: there was an increase in agricultural R&D after 2008, when food price spikes scared a modest amount of money out of leaders around the globe.

    Were those price spikes a sign that we really we’re closer to running out of food than I’ve suggested here so far? I’ll try to answer that next.

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Food
    Gristmill: Will I poison myself if I reuse this plastic water bottle?

    Q. Is it OK to reuse the bottles that bottled water comes in? Sometimes when I am at a conference the bottled water they have is in a really sturdy bottle, and it seems like such a waste for it to be single use. But is it safe to refill it from the tap? My primary concern is BPA leaching into the water, but what about sanitation?

    Rick C.
    York, PA

    A. Dearest Rick,

    Skip it.

    By now, I think the strikes against disposable plastic water bottles are pretty well-established: They’re made from petroleum, require energy to produce and ship, usually end up in the landfill, might leach chemicals into your drink, and can be used to club fuzzy baby seals (okay, I made that last one up). But equally entrenched are the reasons why they’re still so common: Namely, we all forgot our reusable bottles, and we’re thirsty.

    So when we’re left with what looks like a perfectly clean empty bottle, many eco-minded folks think like you do, Rick: Wouldn’t refilling this be better than recycling it and grabbing another? Unfortunately, signs point to no.

    You’re most concerned about BPA, so let’s start there. The story we’ve all heard by now concerns BPA in polycarbonate plastics (the ones with the #7 on the bottom), which are sometimes used in disposable plastic bottles. And there’s solid evidence to back this story up. One study found increased BPA levels in the urine of people who drank out of them for just a week. Another found that heating the bottles – as one would by washing them with hot water – accelerated the leaching. Longer-term use tends to lead to small scratches in the plastic as well, which also frees BPA to mingle in your drink.

    So are you in the clear if the bottles at your conference sport a #1, for PET plastic (polyethylene terephthalate), instead? Not so fast. A 2010 study found that PET (probably the most common plastic used in throwaway bottles) may also leach endocrine-disrupting substances. It gets worse: Still another study discovered that pretty much every kind of plastic tested leached estrogenic chemicals – including the ones trumpeted as BPA-free.

    And even if you didn’t care a whit about BPA, Rick, I’d still point you and your plastic bottle away from the tap. The bottles are moist, enclosed, and getting a lot of full-body contact with your hands and lips: In other words, they’re bacterial breeding grounds. A study of elementary-school kids’ water bottles detected high bug levels in almost two-thirds of samples. The situation gets worse with extended use, as bacteria love to hang out in the same scratches that leach chemicals. You’d need to wash your bottle out with soap (and probably a bottle brush) and air-dry it completely to vanquish the bugs, and we now know what happens when hot water meets plastic.

    Will you face dire bodily consequences if you refill your water bottle once over the course of the day? I’m no doctor, but probably not. You will, however, be consuming a throwaway (recycle-away?) plastic when you could have sipped from a neverending fount of pure refreshment: a reusable bottle made from stainless steel or glass. Following the BYOB (bring your own bottle) philosophy also means you don’t have to worry about estrogenic anything sneaking into your water, which makes the practice pretty darn hard to beat.

    All you have to do is remember to pack it: Store it in your briefcase, set a reminder on your phone, clip it to your pants – whatever it takes to get in the habit. And if you find yourself at another conference sans bottle? You can always get up and go for the fountain. Your legs could probably use a stretch anyway.

    Of course, it would be even better if everyone at your conference did the same (I presume you’re not in the bottled-water business, Rick?). In a perfect world, organizers would plan for plastic-free events by providing glassware, selling reusable bottles on-site, or even soliciting a slew of donated bottles to pass out. You might want to put a bug in the ears of your next conference gurus on this subject. You’d be saving boatloads of plastic, and perhaps preventing a few intestinal infections along the way, too.


    Filed under: Food, Living
    Gristmill: Four reasons that ice bucket challenge went crazy viral
    ice bucket

    At a certain point last week the knowledge that people I knew were dousing themselves with buckets of ice water became inescapable.

    Other things that have gone viral this summer include #yesallwomen, a Kickstarter for potato salad, and a donation fund for a police officer who shot and killed an unarmed teenager. How they’ve done this is mysterious — while there are entire ad agencies devoted to “viral advertising” and you can pay your way into the “trending” section of Twitter these days, all of the above seemed to spread without any Machiavellian strategy behind them.

    What made the ice bucket challenge stick, when so many other fundraisers and attention-getters haven’t?

    A few theories.

    1) Say my name

    It doesn’t just work for Destiny’s Child! The fact that each person who posted an ice bucket video could call on three other people to take up the challenge turned it into, basically, a chain letter.

    Chris Christie challenges Mark Zuckerberg!

    Mark Zuckerberg challenges Bill Gates!

    Bill Gates challenges Elon Musk and Ryan Seacrest!

    And so forth….

    2) Exploit social networks.

    This is also the secret behind Mary Kay, Amway, and nearly every fundraising campaign on earth. We are social creatures, and we’re absolutely more likely to give to or volunteer for organizations that our friends are involved with already.

    The fact that ice bucket challengers could challenge anyone — friend, foe or complete stranger — made it more amusing, but the way the phenomenon spread was through social networks. Facebook’s decision last December to set up video posts so that they played automatically made the whole social aspect of the ice bucket challenge even harder to ignore. Check Facebook and there it was in the background, everywhere — just as hard to ignore as those special people in your life when you encounter them in actual meatspace.

    3) Keep it simple, stupid.

    In general, fads with real sticking power (hula hooping, frisbee) don’t take much skill to master, while the ones that take real dedication (rollerblading, swing dancing) tend to flash and disappear.

    There are very few actions that are more simple than dumping a bucket of ice water over your head. You don’t even have to hold your own bucket. If only the rest of life could be that easy.

    In this sense, the ice bucket challenge has a lot in common with other ease-of-adoption do-gooder measures, like’s International Day of Climate Action (directions: Spell out “350” with something; take a picture of it) and Movember (directions: If you can, grow a mustache).

    4) Allow room to get weird.

    Part of the reason that the ice bucket challenge took off is that it’s already viral — people have been doing variants of this stunt for years, modifying it to suit their own purposes, before it acquired the perfect combination of qualities that made it go big.

    Because it didn’t have a clear, set format, people improvised. Bill Gates designed an ice bucket dumping machine for his. Those concerned about drought turned it into the rice bucket challenge, the dirt bucket challenge, and so forth. Compare this to the very well-intentioned but also very rule-bound video campaign for Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project. I am sure Al’s lawyers made the Climate Reality Project put all that boilerplate in there, but still — it’s like reading a rental car agreement.

    Earlier this month, the ALS Foundation moved to copyright the Ice Bucket Challenge. Whether or not it would have been able to is debatable, but it made the right choice when it ultimately withdrew the effort.  If there’s one thing a virus needs to survive, it’s the ability to keep changing.

    Filed under: Article, Living
    Triple Pundit: Health Care Savings Will More Than Cover the Cost of Reducing Emissions
    A cost-benefit study conducted by a team of MIT researchers and published in the journal Nature Climate Change looked at three different climate intervention scenarios, taking into account the health care cost savings. What they saw was that in one scenario, the health care cost savings achieved were actually ten times greater than the cost of implementing the scenario.
    Gristmill: Do not buy oceanfront property
    beach house screenshot

    The Canadian couple on my television screen tours a small home on the north shore of the Dominican Republic. The couple, on HGTV’s Beachfront Bargain Hunt, are hoping to buy a vacation home for $300,000 or less — something in a secure neighborhood and with an ocean view. This home looks ideal, with a modern kitchen and infinity pool, the back gate just feet from the ocean.

    What’s never mentioned are the piles of sandbags sitting between the back fence and the high-tide line. Does the house flood during storms? During exceptionally high tides? Is the ocean eating away at the land?

    Home and garden shows sell dreams, not reality. According to them, anyone can have that perfect kitchen with granite countertops, an open-plan first floor, a master bathroom bigger than most New York City apartments — or a home just steps from the ocean.

    The first three may empty your bank account, but the fourth is truly dangerous. Sea level is on the rise. What’s oceanfront this year could soon be sitting in the water. The beach is one of the most reckless places to invest in property.

    Despite this, recent home shows have capitalized on people’s fantasies of beach living and encouraged them to buy waterside. They follow the formula of the home-buying genre, in which a couple is shown three or four properties and the drama lies in which one they decide to purchase. The difference is only in location—beach towns in the United States, Caribbean, or sometimes farther afield. Beachfront Bargain Hunt and Buying the Beach are on TV now, and a similar show, Island Hunters, aired over the winter. Like a lot of reality TV, these shows aren’t that realistic. (The archetype of these home-buying shows, House Hunters, certainly isn’t.) And avoiding reality is perilous when it comes to the sea.

    Buying a home on the ocean has always been something of a gamble. Hurricanes have wiped whole towns off the map. Beaches and barrier islands have never been permanent structures; instead, they wax and wane and move over time. Measures to fix the land in place, such as seawalls and jetties, may protect a home or beach for a bit, but usually at the cost of someone else’s property.

    Buying the Beach actually does a decent job of mentioning some of the dangers of coastal living, such as hurricanes, and how to protect waterfront property with features such as sand dunes or stilts. One episode even highlights the moving of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse in response to beach erosion. Incorporating the fact that sea level is rising wouldn’t be out of place.

    But discussing sea-level rise means mentioning climate change.

    Climate change is altering sea level in a couple of ways. As the oceans soak up heat, the water expands. And when glaciers and ice sheets melt, that water drains into the sea.

    Sea levels rose mere inches in the 20th century, but scientists estimate that oceans could rise 2 to 7 feet by 2100. Even 1 foot — possible in some places within the next few decades, or less than the length of a 30-year mortgage — will eat away at beaches and destroy homes. Nuisance flooding has already increased significantly on all U.S. coasts, with no hurricanes or other storms required, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported in July.

    Just play a bit with Climate Central’s Surging Seas sea-level manipulation map and it’s easy to see why coastal areas might be risky places to invest in. Even a tiny increase puts swaths of beach and waterside land at risk of being drowned.

    Many buyers believe that flood insurance will save them from losing on this gamble. On one episode of Buying the Beach, two brothers are looking to purchase a home on the Alabama shore. Daniel wants a place where he can park his boat; Mitch wants one where he can relax on the sand. As they discuss a house on Dauphin Island, Daniel notes that it’s right on the beach. “That’s just another thing that’s got me concerned,” he says, already not happy with the lack of a boat slip. He was right to worry — the barrier island has repeatedly flooded during hurricanes, washing homes out to sea. But Mitch disregards the concern, saying, “Well, that’s what insurance is for.”

    How easily he dismisses the potential loss of everything he owns. He seems to think the Federal Emergency Management Agency will just send him a check the day after a disaster to cover everything he lost. After every storm, homeowners quickly learn that this is not the case and that insurance may cover only a fraction of their losses. That’s aside from the question of whether taxpayers should be subsidizing the rebuilding of homes that have a high chance of being damaged again and again.

    What’s most disturbing about these shows is that they are aimed at people who are least prepared for the financial consequences of losing a home or investment property. The buyers usually aren’t wealthy; they’re just regular people who’ve been diligently saving for their dream. “We’ve been working for several years, just saving up every penny we can, that way we can afford to buy something on the beach,” says Matt, a young buyer from Colorado, on an episode of Beachfront Bargain Hunt.

    Even if their properties don’t end up in the ocean, homeowners may lose money on their investments when enough other people finally begin to comprehend rising sea levels. That could happen within a decade or two, according to some estimates, quickly undermining coastal property values.

    Wealthy people are better prepared to withstand the financial blow of the loss or devaluing of a beach house — and they may also be more likely to get government help to protect their investments. A group of high-end homeowners in South Carolina recently persuaded legislators to change a law that banned seawalls, which will let them rebuild their crumbling protection. And an NBC investigation revealed earlier this year that FEMA had moved the lines on flood maps to the benefit of wealthy oceanside landowners. (The FBI is investigating.)

    Of course, telling people about reality doesn’t ensure they will make good decisions. On Beachfront Bargain Hunt, a woman from Annapolis, Md., considers properties in Kitty Hawk, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Her real estate agent tells her that one property that has no dune between the back door and the ocean is a “nonconforming home.” That means that if storm damage amounted to more than 50 percent of the house’s value, she would not be able to rebuild. “So I could spend $300,000 on a house and not be able to rebuild and have nothing? … That’s very scary.” Yes, it is.

    The agent also notes that the house has been there for 60 years. “It could last another 60 years,” she says. “You never know.” (What the agent doesn’t say is that the water was a lot farther away in the 1960s — the Outer Banks are eroding steadily on the ocean side.)

    When it came to making a final decision, “I’m willing to take the risk with it,” the buyer said. “It was everything I wanted. It was really important to have a house on the beach, toes in the sand.” For now, at least, the house still stands.

    I wasn’t surprised by the decision. People come to the beach on vacation, in lovely weather. They just don’t realize the extent of the bad storms, said Frank Jennings of the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management earlier this year when I was visiting the Outer Banks on a reporting trip with the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources. A nor’easter was parked just offshore, and one night, 50-mile-per-hour winds scoured my face with sand.

    In the past few decades, McMansions have replaced salt-box homes that could have been easily picked up and moved away from the water, Jennings noted. In the past, people “built what you thought you could lose.” That’s not bad advice.

    Even with climate change, the beach will still be a great vacation destination. The sun and sand will still be there. Kids will still play in the waves and make sand castles. And nothing will stand between you and a great tan (except a healthy respect for skin cancer). But if you want to ensure you have a stress-free time — maybe you should rent.

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

    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Living
    Gristmill: Why coal is (still) worse than fracking and cow burps

    Is fracking for natural gas good for the planet?

    To understand the pitched fight over this question, you first need to realize that for many years, we’ve been burning huge volumes of coal to get electricity — and coal produces a ton of carbon dioxide, the chief gas behind global warming. Natural gas, by contrast, produces half as much carbon dioxide when it burns, and thus, the fracking boom has been credited with a decline in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. So far so good, right?

    Umm, maybe. Recently on our Inquiring Minds podcast, we heard from Anthony Ingraffea, a professor of engineering at Cornell University, who contends that it just isn’t that simple. Methane (the main component of natural gas) is also a hard-hitting greenhouse gas, if it somehow finds its way into the atmosphere. And Ingraffea argued that because of high leakage rates of methane from shale gas development, that’s exactly what’s happening. The trouble is that methane has a much greater “global warming potential” than carbon dioxide, meaning that it has a greater “radiative forcing” effect on the climate over a given time period (and especially over shorter time periods). In other words, according to Ingraffea, the CO2 savings from burning natural gas instead of coal is being canceled out by all the methane that leaks into the atmosphere when we’re extracting and transporting that gas. (Escaped methane from natural gas drilling complements other preexisting sources, such as the belching of cows.)

    But not every scientist agrees with Ingraffea’s methane-centered argument. In particular, Raymond Pierrehumbert, a geoscientist at the University of Chicago, has prominently argued that carbon dioxide “is in a class by itself” among greenhouse warming pollutants, because unlike methane, its impacts occur over such a dramatic timescale that they are “essentially irreversible.” That’s because of carbon dioxide’s incredibly long-term effect on the climate: Given a large pulse of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, much of it will still be there 10,000 years later. By contrast, even though methane is much more potent than carbon dioxide over a short timeframe, its atmospheric lifetime is only about 12 years.

    Applied to the debate over natural gas, that could mean that seeing gas displace coal is a good thing in spite of any concerns about methane leaks.

    To hear this counterpoint, we invited Pierrehumbert on Inquiring Minds as well. “You can afford to actually have a little bit of extra warming due to methane if you’re using its a bridge fuel, because the benefit you get from reducing the carbon dioxide emissions stays with you forever, whereas the harm done by methane goes away more or less as soon as you stop using it,” he explained on the show. You can listen to the interview — which is part of a larger show — below, beginning at about 4:40 (or you can leap to it by clicking here):

    Pierrehumbert’s arguments are based on a recent paper that he published in the Annual Reviews of Earth and Planetary Sciences, extensively comparing carbon dioxide with more short-lived climate pollutants, like methane, black carbon, and ozone. The paper basically states that the metric everybody has been using to compare carbon dioxide with methane, the “global warming potential” described by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is deeply misleading.

    The IPCC, in its 2013 report, calls global warming potential the “default metric” for comparing the consequences, over a fixed period of time, of emitting the same volume of two different greenhouse gases. And according to the IPCC, using this approach, methane has 84 times the atmospheric effect that an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide does over a period of 20 years. But, it’s crucial to remember that that’s over 20 years; at the end of the period, the carbon dioxide will still be around and the methane won’t. The metric, writes Humbert, is “completely insensitive” to any damages due to global warming that occur beyond a particular time window, “no matter how catastrophic they may be.” Elsewhere, he calls the approach “crude.”

    To see why, consider this figure from Pierrehumbert’s paper, comparing the steady emission, over 200 years, of two hypothetical greenhouse gases (the solid blue and red lines). One gas lasts in the atmosphere for 1,000 years, and one that lasts only 10 years. Each has the same “global warming potential” at 100 years, but notice how the short-lived gas’ warming effect vanishes almost as soon as the emissions of it end:

    Comparison of two greenhouse gases that have the same "global warming potential" over 100 years but very different lifetimes.
    Comparison of two greenhouse gases that have the same “global warming potential” over 100 years but very different lifetimes.

    The gases in the figure aren’t carbon dioxide and methane, but you get the point. The upshot, Pierrehumbert argues, is that it is almost always a good idea to cut CO2 emissions — even if doing so results in a temporary increase of methane emissions from leaky fracked wells. As he writes:

    … there is little to be gained from early mitigation of the short-lived gas [methane]. In contrast, any delay in mitigation of the long-lived gas ratchets up the warming irreversibly … the situation is rather like saving money for one’s retirement — the earlier one begins saving, the more one’s savings grow by the time of retirement, so the earlier one starts, the easier it is to achieve the goal of a prosperous retirement. Methane mitigation is like trying to stockpile bananas to eat during retirement. Given the short lifetime of bananas, it makes little sense to begin saving them until your retirement date is quite near.

    And that, in turn, implies that any displacing of coal with natural gas is a good thing for the climate. It’s just less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, plain and simple.

    Ingraffea disagrees. By email, he commented that Pierrehumbert “is correct that the long-term risk to climate is from CO2, but he is willing to accept the almost certain short-term consequences which can only be ameliorated by reductions in methane and black carbon.”

    But interestingly, there is one major commonality between Ingraffea’s point of view and that of Pierrehumbert. Namely, both emphasize the importance of getting beyond natural gas, and transitioning to 100 percent clean energy.

    Here’s the logic: Because carbon dioxide is so bad for the climate, the fact that natural gas burning does produce some of it (even if not as much as coal) means that if cheap natural gas discourages the use of carbon-free sources like nuclear, solar, or wind energy, then that’s also a huge climate negative. So just as natural gas is not nearly as bad as coal from a carbon perspective, it is also not nearly as good as renewable energy. And that, in turn, means that while natural gas can play a transitional role toward a clean energy future, that role has to be relatively brief.

    “It’s useful as a bridge fuel,” says Pierrehumbert, “but if using it as a bridge fuel just drives out renewables and other carbon-free sources of energy, it’s really a bridge to nowhere.”

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

    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: This California bill will make electric cars way less pretentious
    Electric car

    Finally, electric cars are for everybody, and not just the snooty, Prius-driving set: California’s legislature has just passed a first-of-its-kind bill that would up the number of electric cars on the state’s roadways by increasing their availability to disadvantaged and low-income drivers.

    The Charge Ahead California Initiative – SB-1275 — sponsored by Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), would put at least a million zero-emission and near-zero-emission cars on California roads by January 2023. Gov. Jerry Brown has until the end of September to sign it.

    If passed, the bill would phase out the state’s current clean-vehicle rebate ($2,500 for an electric car) for people who can probably afford a clean car even without help from the government. More than 72,000 California residents have received electric car rebates so far, amounting to more than $151 million, though about four-fifths of the state’s rebates have gone to households earning more than $100K per year.

    Instead, SB-1275 would help subsidize clean-vehicles for low-income drivers the Los Angeles Times reports:

    A family of four with an annual household income of $53,000 could bundle state incentives toward the purchase of a cleaner vehicle. The family could get $1,500 for retiring a high-polluting vehicle, along with the existing $2,500 rebate for buying an electric car.

    Low-income families also could qualify for an additional $3,000 incentive for a clean-air vehicle. The incentive could be even larger for a buyer who lives in a neighborhood with poor air quality.

    Alternately, residents could retire an older car, without buying a new one, and get $3,000 to pay for public transit passes or a car-sharing program membership.

    Equal access to electric cars? We’re sold.

    Filed under: Cities, Climate & Energy, Living
    Gristmill: Thanks to fracking, there’s something in the water in Pennsylvania

    It’s been a bad, bad summer for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. But arguably, it’s been a much worse summer for the actual citizens of Pennsylvania, because they have been repeatedly and consistently screwed over by an unhappy combination of corporate interests, bureaucratic incompetence, and methane. That’s quite a cocktail of misery — when life gives you a Long Island iced tea, if you will.

    The latest development: The DEP has released a list of 243 reports of drinking water contamination in Pennsylvania since the fracking boom first started in 2008. The DEP originally alluded to these incidents of contamination in January, but its specifics have not released until now.

    From the Associated Press:

    The problems listed in the documents include methane gas contamination, spills of wastewater and other pollutants, and wells that went dry or were otherwise undrinkable. Some of the problems were temporary, but the names of landowners were redacted, so it wasn’t clear if the problems were resolved to their satisfaction. Other complaints are still being investigated.

    The most incidences of contamination occurred in northeastern Pennsylvania, but they’re widespread throughout the state.

    Last month, Pennsylvania’s auditor general issued a report detailing the extent to which the DEP is ill-equipped to properly regulate and monitor the exploding (no pun intended) natural gas industry in the state.

    For the record, finding the actual list of incidents on the DEP website was no easy task. In fact, I ultimately found it through a link from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and then searched backward according to the URL to figure out where it actually was. If you think “Water Supply Determination Letters” is a clear and obvious title for the document containing this list, then you have a subtler mind than I do.

    Now that we have 243 pieces of evidence that fracking is, well, not great for the people who have to live near it, can we stop pretending otherwise? Please? Quite frankly, DEP, you can’t really afford any more embarrassment here.

    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Living
    Gristmill: Why Idaho is doing french fries right

    Blake Lingle
    Boise Fry Company
    Boise, Idaho

    Let’s face it: The Gem State is really the Potato State, and Americans tend to consume their spuds in the form of french fries. Restaurant Boise Fry Company makes its from predominantly organic potatoes.

    Why we chose these fries:

    id_postNinety percent of Boise Fry Company’s potatoes are sourced from within an eight-hour radius of Boise, and 80 percent of their potatoes are organic. Lingle won’t rule out a farmer if he or she lacks the official certification, however: “We usually will try to meet with those farmers to make sure that they’re [growing] the organic way.” Recently, Boise Fry Company started working with ReCab, a local biodiesel-powered cab company, to recycle its french fry oil. The cars bear a “Fueled by Fries” sticker.

    The argument for “fries with a burger”:

    “I’m from Idaho, but when I was living in D.C., it occurred to me that you never really got to choose your fries — they were always kind of thrust upon you,” Lingle says. “I remember just jotting down in a notebook: Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a restaurant where the fries were choice, and the burgers were the side?”

    Check out the full map.
    Click to check out the full map.

    Filed under: Food, Living
    Gristmill: Empty study paves the way for fracking in California
    We're sure these protesters will be appeased.

    Well, there you have it, ladies and gents: Fracking’s just fine! A study found no significant evidence to suggest that fracking and similar extraction techniques are harmful to the environment.

    Energy companies poised to dig into California’s reserves are breathing a sigh of relief. The findings pave the way for the Bureau of Land Management to resume issuing oil and gas leases on federal land in California next year, following a temporary halt to the practice last year and the defeat of an attempted statewide moratorium on fracking this spring.

    But here’s the catch: The study didn’t contain much information.

    From the Los Angeles Times:

    For example, the report found no evidence of water contamination from fracking in California, but the scientist directing the research, Jane Long, said researchers also had no data on the quality of water near fracking sites.

    “We can only tell you what the data we could get says,” said Long, a former director at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “We can’t tell you what we don’t know.”

    Other unresolved issues, besides “the location, depth and quality of groundwater in oil- and gas-producing regions”: Any information about the toxicity of a third of the chemicals involved in fracking and whether or not plants or animals would be harmed by chronic exposure to those chemicals. Scientists behind the study had asked for more time, but the BLM had a seven-month timetable and wouldn’t budge.

    BLM admits that this report doesn’t tell the whole story, and that — don’t worry — there will be more environmental impact studies done. They’ll just be done, you know, “as oil and gas development resumes.” Greeeeeeat.

    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy
    Triple Pundit: 3p Weekend: 6 Ways Eco-Labels Can Help Us Stay Sustainable
    Eco-labels may not sound like the most exciting topic at first. But when you look a bit more closely, it's easy to see that labels and certifications are the backbone of any sustainability claim, whether it's a product or practice. Of course, navigating the wide world of eco-labels can be confusing at times. To clear things up, this week we rounded up six ways eco-labels can help consumers and businesses stay sustainable -- no matter what their interests are.
    Gristmill: Katrina and Sandy cost over 2,000 lives. Will we do better next time?

    Looking back, nine years ago this week, when Hurricane Katrina landed on the Gulf Coast, making a mockery of the federal levees in the process, the looming question is, What did we learn? We want to know the same about Superstorm Sandy, which struck the East Coast two years ago. Fortunately, there are quite a number of films and documentaries that show and tell the lessons from these tragedies, which collectively claimed over 2,000 lives and caused roughly $170 billion in damage.

    Today, you can find the synthesis of those lessons in a new multimedia project called Katrina/Sandy, an interactive web timeline of the disasters. Videos are assembled across a narrative arc that spans from the storms themselves, to the immediate aftermath, through the rebuilding stages, and then landing on questions about the future. It was produced by filmmakers Luisa Dantas, whose Land of Opportunity project has been gathering the stories of New Orleans communities recovering in post-crisis mode over the last eight years; and the Sandy Storyline team of Rachel Falcone and Michael Premo, who’ve both worked with award-winning oral history projects like StoryCorps and EarSay, Inc.

    “After Katrina, the world was shocked by the devastation, the inequity, and the government’s incompetent response,” Dantas says. “As documentary media producers, we wondered what we can learn by placing stories and scholarship from Katrina and Sand side-by-side.”

    Katrina/Sandy also infuses the work of other documentarians such as Leah Mahan, who produced the Gulf disaster documentary Come Hell or High Water, into the timeline. Photographer Nathan Fitch provides his short film, The Darker Side of Dreamland, where he follows an 81-year-old Coney Island native named Adeline as she goes for weeks without heat or electricity after Superstorm Sandy:

    All of the videos focus on people affected in myriad ways by the too-big-to-pass storms, and their struggles in piecing their lives back together.

    At the end of the web timeline, the project’s creators ask visitors to share their vision for the future.

    For Louisiana, that future looks grim. As reported in this joint project between ProPublica and New Orleans investigative news nonprofit The Lens (an organization where I once worked, and helped start), the state is losing its coast at an alarming rate. Its wetlands, which normally would serve as a natural buffer against storms, are eroding away fast and furiously, thanks to the labyrinth of oil and gas pipelines that companies have constructed underneath them. Meanwhile, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimate that Gulf sea levels could rise as much as 4.3 feet by 2100, which could effectively wipe out most of Southeast Louisiana.

    New York City and New Jersey face their own challenges.

    The challenge now is for coastal cities to find ways to take optimum adaptive and protective measures from future hurricanes and climate change impacts, as Grist’s Greg Hanscom has been reporting. The government officials and planners in charge of those processes might be well-served to watch a few of these Katrina/Sandy videos to guide their work.

    Filed under: Article, Cities, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: 5 terrifying facts from the leaked U.N. climate report
    Massive ice island breaks free from the Petermann Glacier in 2012.

    How many synonyms for “grim” can I pack into one article? I had to consult the thesaurus: ghastly, horrid, awful, shocking, grisly, gruesome.

    This week, a big report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was leaked before publication, and it confirmed, yet again, the grim — dire, frightful — reality the we face if we don’t slash our global greenhouse gas emissions, and slash them fast.

    This “Synthesis Report,” to be released in November following a U.N. conference in Copenhagen, is still subject to revision. It is intended to summarize three previous U.N. climate publications and to “provide an integrated view” to the world’s governments of the risks they face from runaway carbon pollution, along with possible policy solutions.

    As expected, the document contains a lot of what had already been reported after the three underpinning reports were released at global summits over the past year. It’s a long list of problems: sea-level rise resulting in coastal flooding, crippling heat waves and multidecade droughts, torrential downpours, widespread food shortages, species extinction, pest outbreaks, economic damage, and exacerbated civil conflicts and poverty.

    But in general, the 127-page leaked report provides starker language than the previous three, framing the crisis as a series of “irreversible” ecological and economic catastrophes that will occur if swift action is not taken.

    Here are five particularly grim — depressing, distressing, upsetting, worrying, unpleasant — takeaways from the report.

    1. Our efforts to combat climate change have been grossly inadequate.

    The report says that anthropogenic (human-made) greenhouse gas emissions continued to increase from 1970 to 2010, at a pace that ramped up especially quickly between 2000 and 2010. That’s despite some regional action that has sought to limit emissions, including carbon-pricing schemes in Europe. We haven’t done enough, the United Nations says, and we’re already seeing the effects of inaction. “Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history,” the report says. “The climate changes that have already occurred have had widespread and consequential impacts on human and natural systems.”

    2. Keeping global warming below the internationally agreed upon 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (above pre-industrial levels) is going to be very hard.

    To keep warming below this limit, our emissions need to be slashed dramatically. But at current rates, we’ll pump enough greenhouse gas into the atmosphere to sail past that critical level within the next 20 to 30 years, according to the report. We need to emit half as much greenhouse gas for the remainder of this century as we’ve already emitted over the past 250 years. Put simply, that’s going to be difficult — especially when you consider the fact that global emissions are growing, not declining, every year. The report says that to keep temperature increases to 3.6 degrees F, deep emissions cuts of between 40 and 70 percent are needed between 2010 and 2050, with emissions “falling towards zero or below” by 2100.

    3. We’ll probably see nearly ice-free summers in the Arctic Ocean before mid-century.

    The report says that in every warming scenario it the scientists considered, we should expect to see year-round reductions in Arctic sea ice. By 2050, that will likely result in strings of years in which there is the near absence of sea ice in the summer, following a well-established trend. And then there’s Greenland, where glaciers have been retreating since the 1960s — increasingly so after 1993 — because of human-made global warming. The report says we may already be facing a situation in which Greenland’s ice sheet will vanish over the next millennium, contributing up to 23 feet of sea-level rise.

    4. Dangerous sea-level rise will very likely impact 70 percent of the world’s coastlines by the end of the century.

    The report finds that by 2100, the devastating effects of sea-level rise — including flooding, infrastructure damage, and coastal erosion — will impact the vast majority of the world’s coastlines. That’s not good: Half the world’s population lives within 37 miles of the sea, and three-quarters of all large cities are located on the coast, according to the United Nations. The sea has already risen significantly: From 1901 to 2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.62 feet.

    5. Even if we act now, there’s a real risk of “abrupt and irreversible” changes.

    The carbon released by burning fossil fuels will stay in the atmosphere and the seas for centuries to come, the report says, even if we completely stop emitting CO2 as soon as possible. That means it’s virtually certain that global mean sea-level rise will continue for many centuries beyond 2100. Without strategies to reduce emissions, the world will see 7.2 degrees F of warming above preindustrial temperatures by the end of the century, condemning us to “substantial species extinction, global and regional food insecurity, [and] consequential constraints on common human activities.”

    What’s more, the report indicates that without action, the effects of climate change could be irreversible: “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

    Grim, indeed.

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

    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Here’s what your Hawaiian vacation will look like in 2050
    Hurricane Iselle Hawaii

    Lots of people go to Hawaii for sparkling beaches and misty waterfalls. Get ready for a lot fewer of them: According to a new report on climate change from the University of Hawaii, some of the islands’ beaches will erode by fifty feet or more and others will disappear completely by the middle of the 21st century.

    There’ll also be fewer cooling trade winds and forest streams, and the weather will be hotter and drier. Rising sea levels, storm surges, ocean acidification, floods, droughts, and all kinds of awful stuff mean that the Hawaii Tourism Authority had better figure out some good alternatives for its future visitors.

    From The Christian Science Monitor:

    Increasingly, Hawaii will be faced with the choice of either armoring its shorelines to protect hotels and other buildings and risk losing even more sandy shorelines, or conducting a managed and potentially costly retreat from the coast to maintain healthy sand beaches.

    Um, yikes. Here’s what that glossy Hawaiian brochure might look like a few decades from now:

    1) Why lounge near the water when you can lounge in the water? Enjoy half-submerged lobbies, floating deck chairs, and a wet bar that’s actually wet. Plus: underwater swimming pool! So meta.

    2) Whale watching is way boring (especially if they’re dead). How about front-row seats to a pod of bulldozers dumping load after load of sand in a desperate attempt to keep Waikiki Beach from eroding?

    3) No! That isn’t a dry waterfall — it’s a brand-new rock climbing route.

    4) Sure, monstrous hurricanes seem dangerous, but they’re also totally hardcore. Surf’s up, dude.

    5) Uh, maybe go to Maine instead? (But don’t count on the lobster.)

    In the meantime, seriously, Hawaii beachcombers, enjoy it while you got it — sounds like those famous white sands are going the way of the Louisiana coast.

    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: David Roberts’ top 10 greatest hits
    10 sign

    Grist climate and energy blogger David Roberts is about to return from a year-long sabbatical. So it’s the perfect time to revisit the top 10 posts from his 10 years of writing for Grist.

    The medium chill. Roberts describes his efforts to step off the “aspirational treadmill” and accept some material constraints in exchange for a life with more free time, relationships, and experiences. This is the post that ultimately led him to take a year off.

    Climate change is simple: We do something or we’re screwed. This is Roberts’ much-loved TEDx talk, with extra insights sprinkled on top.

    • The left’s gone left but the right’s gone nuts: Asymmetrical polarization in action. Political polarization has risen sharply in recent years, Roberts writes, but Republicans have moved further to the right than Democrats have moved to the left.

    Solar panels could destroy U.S. utilities, according to U.S. utilities. This popular post led to a series that’s a lot more exciting than it sounds: Utilities for dummies.

    Climate analysts are from Mars, climate activists are from Venus … but they both live on Earth. Is Keystone XL a smart issue for campaigners to focus on? Roberts weighs in. And he later follows up with: The virtues of being unreasonable on Keystone and What should the climate movement do next?

    Post-truth politics. Republicans have realized that their rhetoric doesn’t have to bear any connection to their policy agenda, Roberts says, and that makes it really hard to have sane conversations about issues, let alone craft good policy.

    Discount rates: A boring thing you should know about (with otters!). A dry, complex topic is explained with help from wet, cute critters.

    Everything you always wanted to know about EPA greenhouse gas regulations, but were afraid to ask. Another dry, complex topic, this time explained with dry, cute critters (bunnies!).

    The brutal logic of climate change. Wherein Roberts lays it out like it is. And don’t miss the follow-ups: The brutal logic of climate change mitigation and ‘Brutal logic’ and climate communications.

    Hope and fellowship. Is there any hope? Or are we just f*cked? Roberts is less cynical and more hopeful than you might think.

    Did we miss your favorite? Call us out for any omissions in comments below.

    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Why Hawaii is doing chocolate right

    Dylan Butterbaugh
    Manoa Chocolate Hawaii
    Kailua, Hawaii

    There’s only one state in the country that can create home-grown, bean-to-bar chocolate, and that’s Hawaii. (Thanks, Eisenhower!) With Manoa Chocolate, Butterbaugh is encouraging the development of a cacao industry in Hawaii.

    Why we chose these treats:

    hi_postButterbaugh sources as many cacao beans — i.e. the seeds used to make chocolate — as he can locally, and most of the farmers Butterbaugh buys from in Hawaii use organic practices. Currently there are not enough cacao producers on Hawaii to meet demand, so Butterbaugh sources supplemental beans from Fair Trade-certified producers overseas — for example, from one in Liberia that’s employing former child soldiers to rehabilitate cacao groves. In time, he sees a future where even more beans are grown locally. “We’re buying everything and farmers are planting more, but we have to wait a few years before [the new] trees are producing cacao,” he says.

    Want to become an expert chocolatier? Just YouTube it!

    Butterbaugh had no experience with chocolate-making before founding Manoa. “I kept learning by trial and error,” he says. “I watched a lot of YouTube videos. There’s a lot of other chocolate makers out there that have little videos posted of their processes, and machines that they designed.”

    Check out the full map.
    Click to check out the full map.

    Filed under: Food, Living
    Gristmill: Girl, let me see that thong (over your mantelpiece)

    A few ideas for things you can do with ugly, unwanted underwear:

    1. Burn them in a voodoo ceremony to banish the ghosts of your past sex life. For the record, this doesn’t work — no matter what kind of incantation you’re using. Trust.
    2. Sell them on Craigslist. WHAT!! Cash is cash!
    3. Turn them into a lovely decorative piece for your parents’ living room.

    Sam Saxby, an enterprising, upcycling-minded woman in the U.K., is actively soliciting all of the 5-for-$15 thongs that you’ve accumulated over the course of your post-Bat Mitzvah (hopefully?) life. Let’s be real — no one is buying those at the Goodwill, and you’re frankly kind of rude if you’re donating them. Saxby points out that while some used undergarments are reconstituted into felt, many of them just end up in the landfill.

    To cut down on landfill-bound waste, Saxby is stringing these thongs together to make 164 feet of bunting. OK! Because nothing says “welcome to my home” like used panties proudly hung over the mantelpiece. She’s asking for both underwear and a relatively small amount of funds to bankroll the project via Kickstarter.

    My only qualm with the whole project is that Saxby refers to thongs as a “’90s fad.” At the risk of oversharing, I refuse to believe that the thong peaked with Sisqo’s infamous ode to it. Have you ever tried to put on a pair of these with some briefs? Please.

    Filed under: Living
    Gristmill: Booze is proof nature wants us to be happy

    Proof Cover - hires

    I’d always thought of booze as something that was trying to kill me in the most unnatural way possible. So reading Adam Rogers’ new book Proof: The Science of Booze was like meeting a bully from high school and finding out that he’s really a sweet, misunderstood guy. Rogers shows, again and again, that booze is actually a high form of cooperation between human technology and nature.

    I asked the author to meet me at one of his favorite bars and explain how drinking connects us to the natural world. He told me to meet him at Handlebar, a place in Berkeley with a massive wooden bar, muted lighting, and tinkling music. (I’ve edited and condensed our talk.)

    Q. I thought I’d just ask you to recommend a drink and tell me all the different ways it links us to the natural world. But you should know: I’ve become a lightweight since I had kids.

    A. Maybe we should drink through the process of production. Here’s what we’re going to do: we’ll get a glass of wine — they don’t have grape juice to start with, which is a shame because it’s a good substrate. But wine, then pisco — which is distilled wine. Then brandy from a distillery called Osocalis in the mountains above Santa Cruz, run by a former scientist, very nice guy. And then an Old Fashioned, which is in some respects a model for the earliest kind of cocktail, because all it is booze, sugar, and bitters.IMG_4028

    Q. Is this a historical progression as well?

    A. There’s the progress of the way human beings learned to make this stuff. And also the process of one thing turning into another. This also became the organizational structure for the book. It walks you through this process and pivots on the moment a bartender puts something like that brandy in front of someone like you. That moment — to be super hyperbolic about it — is when 20 million years of evolution, 10 thousand years of work on fermentation, two thousand years of work on distillation, all come down to whatever is in that glass in front of you.

    When you take a sip, all that history and science and interaction of species gets filtered through your ability to isolate all the other sensory inputs around you and smell and taste and feel what you are drinking. And then, the effect that it has on your body, which is a way we connect to the natural world.

    These things in front of us aren’t all made from the same grape, but they are essentially the same thing. If you start with grape juice, that’s the sugar source. You ferment that, give it to yeast; they eat the sugar, excrete carbon dioxide and ethanol, and you end up with this — wine. And that metabolism is actually much more complicated, it produces a lot of other chemicals, too.

    Q. Which is what makes wine so fabulous.

    A. Exactly. And grapes are eminently suited to that process. There are a lot of molecules in grapes that yeasts are good at putting together. But it’s possible that we just think that because grapes happened to be around in the Fertile Crescent. As one researcher said to me, if we evolved on a Pacific island, it would be coconuts, and grapes would be an afterthought. But grapes are what you get, so you get to taste it. That’s really good.

    Q. That does taste good. Wasn’t one of your points that yeast like to live on grape skins, so if you have grapes, you probably have wine?

    A. Yeah. It’s hard not to have it ferment. Now, if it’s just ambient microbes in the air, it’s probably not going to taste that good. They’re not the ones that have been tuned over thousands of years to make wine. Same issue with some breads, same issue with sausage, any fermented product. 

    Fermentation is a natural process — if a grape falls in a forest and no human is there to drink it, it still turns into ethanol. Distillation is different. Distillation is a human technology. It takes smart monkeys with wrinkled frontal cortexes and opposable thumbs. I try to celebrate that in the book: We bring something new. We make stuff. We work with tools better than any other animal.

    The story that I like says that distilling grows out of the very beginnings of science in ancient Alexandria. The beginnings of when humans were starting to say, we can think about our universe differently — we can say, I want to understand why something happens, and I can apply a method that will give me answers. That’s really kind of wonderfully hubristic — the idea that we can figure something out.

    Q. It’s not just the realm of the gods.

    A. Or, another way to think about it is, we can apprehend the realm of the gods. Sure the gods did it, but we can figure it out. Which is beautiful.

    So you build a still. It takes 900 years before anyone thinks to put wine in a still, in China, or maybe Russia. But you end up with something like pisco. Pisco is distilled wine — it’s an unaged brandy, it originates from South America.

    Q. Hiiiyach! Yow.

    A. Yeah, that’s fiery, and there are going to be things behind this bar with a much higher alcohol content. The thing that’s interesting to me is if you take a sip of wine, then take a sip of pisco, you go, oh, okay, there are some similarities.

    Q. Okay, I have to do this again, because I didn’t get that. It might just be the overwhelming burn.

    A. I think at least in the character of the sweetness.

    Q. Yeah, I taste that. In the pisco the flavors are more like overtones almost.

    A. Pisco is meant to be a pretty rough-hewn spirit. It’s a peasant fire water. And that’s a category of distillates that I love, but they are rough, man. Nobody ever meant them to be sipped, except in a cocktail like the pisco sour.

    So you ferment it, then you distill it. Next, you age it.

    Q. I see: you have nature doing its biology, then humans coming along and applying technology…

    A. …and then an additive technology, that probably comes from just attempting to store it, for trade. You put it in a barrel, and the wood begins to contribute to the flavor. Long about the 1820s, the rules about how much time it needs to stay in a barrel begin to be codified, because there’s a lot of ways to fake that. When cowboys in the old West walked into a bar and ordered a whisky, that was as likely to be a white whisky as it was to have been aged. And the aging just came from the long trip in a barrel from Kentucky to the Nevada Territory.

    Q. And white whisky is the equivalent of pisco?

    A. Right, white whisky is distilled beer. Everything that comes out of a still is clear; none of the pigments make it over the top. And when you put that clear stuff in a barrel, ethanol, which is a very good solvent, extracts that color from the wood. So you go from a pisco to brandy like this Oscallis.

    Ah, it’s really, really nice.

    Q. Brandy is pisco with bits of wood in it?

    A. At a molecular level, yeah. And in addition to the colors, it’s bringing in all kinds of molecules from the wood. Now, barrel making is its own type of technology. Changing the shape of wood is really hard. If you add heat and steam, wood will become thermoplastic — it will bend. And you have to be able to cut the wood with two different bevels, so that when you bend it and bring these staves together they fit into this barrel shape — it’s like unblooming a flower.

    Q. Unblooming — I love that. And it’s watertight.

    A. But only if you cut the wood the right way — if you quarter saw the wood. Otherwise, there are pores. You can imagine the experimentation that had to go into figuring out how to do all that. Typically it’s oak, though some Americans are experimenting with other kinds of wood. Hickory lends a kind of barbeque flavor, maple adds some sweetness.

    Q. There’s a connection to another species there, the tree.

    A. That’s right — and not just the tree, a connection to even more microbes. If you kiln-dry the wood you use to make a barrel, it actually changes the flavor. What wine makers have done for centuries is to use air-dried wood, wood that sits outside and weathers for up to three years. And when that happens, it’s being exposed to a whole suite of other microbes. Nobody has done a lot of good research on what those are. We know you get different flavors, but it’s just a connection to another undiscovered world.

    Q. This, by the way, is amazing brandy.

    A. He is so good at making brandy. And he’ll say that brandies don’t start coming into their own until they’ve been sitting in a barrel for 20 or 30 years. Because there’s an additional chemical process: Besides the extractives that come out of the barrel — the oak lactones that taste like coconut and lend mouth feel, plus a whole bunch of other chemicals that are still being identified — time contributes its own flavors. Oxygen gets added to the molecules; acids and alcohol molecules combine to form esters. There’s a slow, almost ineffable mixing of chemical processes. People talk about smooth drinking: smoothness is what you get from time.

    That brings us to economics. Because, in order to decide to keep a barrel in a warehouse 20 years before selling it, you need credit, and you need real estate, and you need an upper class that can afford it. A whole other kind of civilization has to develop to accommodate a bottle of 18-year old whiskey.

    Q. The kind we like to call “advanced”…

    A. Hah, I don’t know if it’s advanced or even good, but it’s what we have. And all those steps in this process, I would still argue, are all connections to the natural world.

    Sugar is a connection to this particular molecule that nature uses again and again because it’s both structural and contains a lot of energy — an amazing way the universe has organized itself. Yeast is a connection to domesticating the world around us, and how the world around us domesticates us. Distillation is us trying to effect change on that natural world — you have to be able to work with metal, you have to work with heat, you have to understand what steam is — you have to learn a lot about the natural world to make that work. For aging, you have to develop an economy, you have to develop trade, you have to realize that your field full of vines is worth more condensed down to brandy than it is as grapes.

    I don’t know what happened to the Old Fashioned. Perhaps we drank that too? Was that before or after we began talking about and sampling the Chartreuse? Things get hazy here. For any more, you’ll have to read the book.

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Food
    Gristmill: Architecture for the people, by the people

    Kids today — they may not have much in the way of job opportunities, but, as all those resume-padding trips to build Guatemalan orphanages attest, they’ve got plenty of idealism. Still, as architect Steve Badanes points out, it’s all too easy to “walk past a guy living in a box on the way to the airport to save the planet.”

    Enter community architecture, a process designed to connect architecture students with the people and communities around them — and bring good design to problems, people, and places that wouldn’t be able to afford the high-priced field without it.

    Community architecture programs are a variation on the design/build model in which students develop designs in consultation with clients and then provide the hands-on labor to turn their own plans into reality. It’s a notable departure from old-school architectural programs where students spend their lives in studio classrooms drafting and building models, and are evaluated on aesthetics, rather than considerations like livability and sustainability.

    Badanes teaches community architecture at the University of Washington, but programs exist across the country, from Texas to Kansas to Yale. The granddaddy of all design/build programs is the Rural Studio, at Alabama’s Auburn University, where two decades’ worth of undergraduates have built everything from homes to parks to community centers in impoverished Hale County.

    Badanes used to take students to Mexico for projects, but quickly came to realize that staying in Seattle was a much more potent way to connect students with people who needed their help. Many of the interventions Badanes has led are fairly small-scale: Sheds and barns for urban farms, play areas in parks and schools, and the ever-popular bus shelter have all made multiple appearances.

    They may not be providing housing for millions, but such projects have a significant impact on the host communities, most of which can’t afford quality design solutions.

    In one of the Rural Studio’s better-known projects, for example, students built a one-room, non-denominational chapel with an undulating glass skin — made entirely of discarded car windshields. The ingenious design not only repurposes what would otherwise be landfill, but it also gives residents a dignified and beautiful spot to pray and to serve meals to children throughout the summer; the chapel is inside the community center, which also includes a mobile library and a mobile health center.

    Design/build programs also take on questions of sustainability in architecture — and not only in the narrow, environmental sense. As Badanes describes, though his students utilize sustainable materials and technologies like rain catchment, the most crucial step toward truly sustainable work is in the project selection phase — which is to say, it’s important to design something that’s actually needed, rather than something that simply looks cool. Many projects might sound interesting or feasible on paper but lack a coherent plan for maintenance after completion — not a typical architectural consideration, but one that’s necessary for genuine sustainability.

    Andrew Freear, director of the Rural Studio, echoes the point: He believes in remaking existing buildings “to reinforce those buildings’ importance to the collective memory of the community” — using fewer materials and less energy than new construction, certainly, but also strengthening the bonds between people and place, and revitalizing what’s already there, rather than starting from scratch.

    Students, too, come away from their experience with a different notion of community and collaboration than most. Not only do they gain experience in working with classmates as a team, with much more than just a grade on the line, but they also interact with stakeholders ranging from low-income clients to city or county officials and the many local businesses supplying materials or other support to the project.

    Prior to teaching, Badanes was a member of the Jersey Devil architecture group, a “band of gypsies living in trailers” who designed and built avant-garde works for paying clients, and in our interview he was quick to point out that in architectural practice outside of the academy, design/build work “is not necessarily associated with altruistic causes.”

    Even the Rural Studio readily admits that most of its students don’t continue their altruistic trajectory: “The majority of our graduates follow a typical professional path simply because those jobs exist,” Freear told me.

    One organization, San Francisco-based Public Architecture aims to change that. It asks conventional architecture firms to donate one percent of their design services to public-service projects. It’s based on a similar structure in law, wherein major legal firms give one percent of their time to pro bono work.

    Public Architecture has engaged brand-name design practices alongside institutional stakeholders as powerful as the University of Texas in projects ranging from parks to housing to (once again) bus shelters. In San Francisco’s well-trodden Castro district, Public Architecture led the design of a pedestrian plaza which recaptured some of the streetscape for pedestrian use, a move that has proven enormously popular with both tourists and residents, and which the organization sees as part of a larger, nationwide effort to make cityscapes less car-centric and more focused on people.

    John Peterson, founder of Public Architecture, speaks of his efforts as a “multi-generational game” to transform mainstream architectural practice. Previous generations thought of social responsibility as something that “muddied the clarity” of design; architecture was seen as a form of art, not public service, he says.

    Questions of social responsibility in architecture have a long history of dialog and discussion, however — and if professors like Steve Badanes have anything to say about it, Millennial-generation architects just might be the ones to push these ideas out into the world. Students who go through design/build programs enter their careers not just hungry to make a difference, but empowered by their experience of already having done so.

    Filed under: Business & Technology, Cities
    Triple Pundit: How Information Technology Can Help Bridge Gaps in Education
    Fernando Botelho and his organization, F123 have developed low-cost open-source assistive technology for the blind. His initiative is one example of how information and communication technology can help bridge gaps in education.
    Triple Pundit: Sustainable Palm Oil Sales Surge as Demand Meets Supply
    Last week the RSPO announced that the sales of sustainable palm oil are surging as demand outpaces supply for the first time ever.
    Triple Pundit: Six Tips for Improving Your Rank as a Green School
    Sierra Club’s Annual Cool Schools rankings are out. And the winner is … the University of California, Irvine. Congratulations, Anteaters! After assessing the methodology and rankings of the top winners, compared to the others, I offer the following six tips for increasing your ranking as a green school.
    Triple Pundit: Beat the Job-Hunting Blues with an Updated Search Strategy
    If you want to stay ahead of the game and find the best sustainability jobs, learn what recruiters are thinking, what they're looking for, and where.
    Gristmill: This 3,300 foot crack in the Mexican desert is nothing to worry about

    That? Oh, it’s just a spontaneous rift in the surface of our planet. (Déjà vu.) No biggie, right?

    That’s what officials in Sonora, where this 3,300-foot-long 25-foot-deep crack in the earth appeared last week, would have you believe. As one geologist told the Washington Post, it’s probably just a “topographic accident”:

    … the fissure was likely caused by sucking out groundwater for irrigation to the point the surface collapsed.

    “This is no cause for alarm,” Inocente Guadalupe Espinoza Maldonado said. “These are normal manifestations of the destabilization of the ground.”

    To which David Manthos of SkyTruth responded:

    I’m sorry, no. These are not normal manifestations of natural activity, this the result of human activity run amok. Just because Cthulhu isn’t clambering out of the breach to wreak havoc on humankind DOES NOT MEAN we shouldn’t be alarmed by the fact we’ve sucked so much water out of the ground that the surface of the earth is collapsing.

    Lest you think this is only a problem south of the border, consider the nearby Colorado River Basin. Both areas are subject to huge agricultural pressures and in the midst of one of the worst droughts in the region’s recorded history. The Colorado Basin turns out to be short 53 million acre-feet of freshwater, or twice the total capacity of Lake Mead (which is also not doing great). Three-quarters of that absent H2o are estimated to have been drawn from groundwater reserves, which take centuries to build back up. And when the groundwater goes, the ground starts swallowing huge swaths of itself instead.

    Is it bad that part of me was kinda hoping for a Lovecraftian supermonster? I’ve seen Tremors. I know how to handle tentacled beasts of the Netherworld. But human nature? Beats me.

    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Living
    Triple Pundit: Nestle Makes New Animal Welfare Commitments
    Nestle, the global food giant known for its Nestle Crunch Bars, announced its animal welfare program that will eliminate some common but cruel practices from its global food supply chain.Those cruel practices include confining sows in gestation crates, calves in veal crates and egg-laying chickens in cages.
    Triple Pundit: Heritage Preservation Spurs Tourism and Builds Strong Communities
    Heritage conservation not only preserves historical record, it can open up a previously difficult-to-visit location to travelers and give them a whole new view of the region and its culture, while spurring tourism and economic enrichment in nearby communities.
    Gristmill: Renewable energy is up, but renewable investment isn’t
    clean energy trade renewables

    Here’s optimistic news: Last year marked the strongest boom in green energy yet, with 22 percent of the world’s electricity produced by wind, solar, or other renewable energy sources.

    Sure, those figures are promising, but the International Energy Agency, the Paris-based organization behind a new report on the renewable energy market, cautions that some governments are shying away from policies that promote clean energy and that’s discouraging investment in the sector. More than $250 billion was invested in green power last year, but that  figure could drop to $230 billion annually by the end of the decade if policymakers don’t keep encouraging growth.

    The IEA projects that renewables could supply 26 percent of the world’s electricity by 2020, an admirable figure, but not high enough to help the world meet serious climate goals.

    The report is prompting calls in Europe for more ambitious renewable energy targets, The Guardian reports:

    Justin Wilkes, the deputy chief executive of the European Wind Energy Association, said: “The IEA report hits the nail on the head when it comes to ambitious national targets for 2030 … Europe’s heads of state need to agree in October on a binding 30% renewables target if real progress is going to be made to improve Europe’s energy security, competitiveness and climate objectives.”

    Wake up, policy people: Renewables are finally becoming a cost-competitive option in the global energy market. Let’s keep the ball rolling.

    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Why Georgia is doing pecans right

    Robert Maxwell
    Alake’s Pecans
    Savannah, Ga.

    Georgia has long held the crown as the nation’s top pecan producer; in 2012 alone the state cranked out 100 million pounds of the South’s favorite pie ingredient. Maxwell harvests pecans in Savannah’s backyards and sells the nuts at farmers markets and to local restaurants.

    Why we chose these nuts:

    ga_postMaxwell is harnessing and distributing a source of food that might otherwise go to waste. He works with Savannah residents who have pecan trees on their property, offering to extract the nuts for free. “In a large portion of the west side of town, a great deal of the pecan trees weren’t being utilized,” says Maxwell. “[The residents] were allowing the pecans to rot, they were throwing them away.” Maxwell has also planted his own pecan trees in a local orchard.

    In Savannah, money really does grow on trees:

    Says Maxwell: “Almost anywhere you go in Savannah, you’re going to find someone who has a pecan tree in their backyard.”

    Check out the full map.
    Click to check out the full map.

    Filed under: Food, Living
    Triple Pundit: Climate Denial Smokescreen Now Extends to South Asian Food Challenges
    Numerous international aid agencies, as well as ratings services like Standard & Poors, have stated that the areas of South Asia and Southeast Asia are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of global warming. Yet a recent article assures its readers that not only is there nothing to worry about, but things are going to get far better, since the increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is causing a boom in food production.
    Gristmill: Good news — you can now buy makeup that supports gender equity! (Bear with us.)

    Now that we’re well into the 21st century, here’s the status of women in the workplace: way, way better than 50 years ago, but still not great.

    Women still make, on average, 77 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. That gap has been largely attributed to a dropoff in median wages – relative to men’s wages – that women experience once they reach the age of 35, but recent data from Wells Fargo indicates that today, women in their 20s are making as little as 73 percent of male incomes.

    Sexual harassment in the workplace, furthermore, is still pretty rampant. If you’re a woman and have fielded unwanted comments or inappropriate touching at work, raise your hand! (For the record, mine is up, and has been since the first month of my post-college career. What’s up, skeevy lawyer dude!)

    In terms of future wealth and career opportunities for the young women of today, this is all really bad news. And since gender equality is a climate issue, failing to ensure that women and men have equal rights — both in the workplace and out of it — isn’t doing any favors for the planet.

    But if you’re trying to buy from companies that are making a concerted effort to turn this kind of entrenched inequality around, good news! There’s now a product label for that. The Economic Dividends for Gender Equality (EDGE) certification “recognizes … leadership and commitment to create, benchmark and support gender equity throughout the workplace.”

    This week, EDGE certified L’Oréal USA, the first American company to receive the badge of approval. We could go into the irony of a company that makes its money from selling unrealistic beauty standards to women being lauded for promoting gender equality standards, but you know what, let’s just not! The fact that this certification even exists is pretty great!

    Or is it? Joe Pinsker argues in The Atlantic that while we may talk a lot of game when it comes to buying sustainably (“Of course I only buy organic, grass-fed, pastured beef!”) daily purchases do not actually reflect those kinds of choices (“I have no clue where those five Beefy Fritos Burrito wrappers on the floor of my car came from!”). In fact:

    Some researchers have found self-reported beliefs about buying habits to be so unreliable and useless that they decided to stop polling people about them. The authors of one 2005 study wondered what might explain this “attitude-behavior gap,” speculating that many people default to socially desirable responses in survey settings. Even if shoppers don’t pay much attention to a company’s social values, they seem to sense that others believe they should.

    Do I think that sustainability certifications like this risk falling into futility, for the very reasons cited above? Sure! Are they worthless? Nope – but it’s kind of up to consumers to ensure that!

    There’s now a brand of mascara we can all feel alright about buying – even if we’re making that particular purchase to alleviate beauty industry-imposed insecurities about the correct length and thickness of eyelashes. SORRY! Sorry. I know I promised I wouldn’t go there. Baby steps!

    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Living
    Gristmill: Now you can feel guilty about wearing sunscreen at the beach
    boy sunscreen beach

    A confession: I’m a little afraid of the sun. The UV spectrum and I have had some ugly run-ins in the past: Miss Lisa’s pool, 1996, summer camp soccer fields, 1999, and who could forget the Terrible Sun Rash Incident of 2004? There’s a reason I live in Seattle now, where I only need to apply SPF 15 on especially bright rainy mornings instead of the multiple dunkings of 50+ I’d require in a place like California or — shudder — anywhere in the Southwest.

    But I also love to swim in the ocean, which is why a new study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology has me in the throes of a serious moral dilemma: To goop or not to goop?

    It turns out that when all that sunscreen washes off of sun-phobic swimmers such as myself, it can cause serious problems for marine life. And when said marine life is already under attack from everything from overfishing to ocean acidification, do we really need to add to those woes?

    As David Sánchez-Quiles, one of the study’s lead authors, told Treehugger, “Use of sunscreens has proven the most effective method to prevent a great number of skin diseases.” Right, good. But then Sánchez-Quiles went on: “However, due to its chemical composition, it is far from being environmental-friendly. In fact, previous studies have suggested that it should be labelled as an environmental hazard substance.”

    Among the hazardous ingredients are tiny nanoparticles of zinc and titanium oxide, materials that can hang around in seawater long after you’ve crawled out. These particles react with UV rays to form hydrogen peroxide — you know, a common household disinfectant and bleaching substance. It should not surprise you that this is not great for phytoplankton, tiny photosynthesizing microorganisms at the bottom of the food chain. The hydrogen peroxide limits phytoplankton growth, and the shortage ripples all the way up the menu to less-micro organisms ranging from shrimp to fish to whales and dolphins.

    The scientists carried out their research on a beach in Majorca (not bad for a “work trip”) along with some 10,000 greased-up beachgoers. They took water samples and extrapolated from tourism data on the Mediterranean, where 200 million tourists travel every year, to determine that all that SPF is the probable cause of a serious spike in hydrogen peroxide levels during the summer. Around the world, sun-wary swimmers slough off between 4,000 and 6,000 metric tons, or 13,227,736 pounds, of the stuff each year. That’s the equivalent of 75,000 average Americans made entirely out of sunscreen (you know, me on an average summer day).

    Short of replacing our sunblock regimen with a full-body wetsuit, there are some things the more, uh, vampirically inclined among us can do to assuage some guilt here at the end of the beach season. First of all, it’s always a good idea opt for lotions with a minimum of toxic extras (Umbra has some words on this subject, and this list from the Environmental Working Group is a good place to start). Cream-based sunscreens beat spray-on, since these are less water soluble. You could also try to aim for stuff labeled “non-nano,” which might have fewer titanium oxide nanoparticles than others. Let the sunscreen dry before jumping the waves or, even better, hit the beach before or after the sun is at full strength and — gasp, I know — skip the stuff for short dips.

    And in the meantime, science, please find a way that I don’t have to choose between not-killing-myself and not-killing-everything-else.

    Filed under: Living
    Gristmill: Louisiana is drowning, quickly

    In just 80 years, some 2,000 square miles of its coastal landscape have turned to open water, wiping places off maps, bringing the Gulf of Mexico to the back door of New Orleans and posing a lethal threat to an energy and shipping corridor vital to the nation’s economy.

    And it’s going to get worse, even quicker.

    Scientists now say one of the greatest environmental and economic disasters in the nation’s history is rushing toward a catastrophic conclusion over the next 50 years, so far unabated and largely unnoticed.

    At the current rates that the sea is rising and land is sinking, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists say by 2100 the Gulf of Mexico could rise as much as 4.3 feet across this landscape, which has an average elevation of about three feet. If that happens, everything outside the protective levees — most of Southeast Louisiana — would be underwater.

    The effects would be felt far beyond bayou country. The region best known for its self-proclaimed motto “laissez les bons temps rouler” — let the good times roll — is one of the nation’s economic linchpins.

    This land being swallowed by the Gulf is home to half of the country’s oil refineries, a matrix of pipelines that serve 90 percent of the nation’s offshore energy production and 30 percent of its total oil and gas supply, a port vital to 31 states, and 2 million people who would need to find other places to live.

    The landscape on which all that is built is washing away at a rate of a football field every hour, 16 square miles per year.

    For years, most residents didn’t notice because they live inside the levees and seldom travel into the wetlands. But even those who work or play in the marshes were misled for decades by the gradual changes in the landscape. A point of land eroding here, a bayou widening there, a spoil levee sinking a foot over 10 years. In an ecosystem covering thousands of square miles, those losses seemed insignificant. There always seemed to be so much left.

    Now locals are trying to deal with the shock of losing places they had known all their lives — fishing camps, cypress swamps, beachfronts, even cattle pastures and backyards — with more disappearing every day.

    Fishing guide Ryan Lambert is one of them. When he started fishing the wetlands out of Buras 34 years ago, he had to travel through six miles of healthy marshes, swamps and small bays to reach the Gulf of Mexico.

    “Now it’s all open water,” Lambert said. “You can stand on the dock and see the Gulf.”

    Two years ago, NOAA removed 31 bays and other features from the Buras charts. Some had been named by French explorers in the 1700s.

    The people who knew this land when it was rich with wildlife and dotted with Spanish- and French-speaking villages are getting old. They say their grandchildren don’t understand what has been lost.

    “I see what was,” said Lloyd “Wimpy” Serigne, who grew up in the fishing and trapping village of Delacroix, 20 miles southeast of New Orleans. It was once home to 700 people; now there are fewer than 15 permanent residents. “People today — like my nephew, he’s pretty young — he sees what is.”

    If this trend is not reversed, a wetlands ecosystem that took nature 7,000 years to build will be destroyed in a human lifetime.

    The story of how that happened is a tale of levees, oil wells, and canals leading to destruction on a scale almost too big to comprehend — and perhaps too late to rebuild. It includes chapters on ignorance, unintended consequences and disregard for scientific warnings. It’s a story that is still unfolding.

    coast map

    Speck by speck, land built over centuries

    The coastal landscape Europeans found when they arrived at the mouth of the Mississippi River 500 years ago was the Amazon of North America, a wetlands ecosystem of more than 6,000 square miles built by one of the largest rivers in the world.

    For thousands of years, runoff from the vast stretch of the continent between the Rockies and the Appalachians had flowed into the Mississippi valley. Meltwater from retreating glaciers, seasonal snowfall and rain carried topsoil and sand from as far away as the Canadian prairies. The river swelled as it rushed southward on the continent’s downward slope, toward the depression in the planet that would become known as the Gulf of Mexico.

    Down on the flat coastal plain, the giant river slowed. It lost the power to carry those countless tons of sediment, which drifted to the bottom. Over thousands of years, this rain of fine particles gradually built land that would rise above the Gulf.

    It wasn’t just the main stem of the Mississippi doing this work. When the river reached the coastal plain, side channels — smaller rivers and bayous — peeled off. They were called “œdistributaries,” for the job they did spreading that land-building sediment ever farther afield.

    The delta had two other means of staying above the Gulf. The plants and trees growing in its marshes and swamps shed tons of dead parts each year, adding to the soil base. Meanwhile, storms and high tides carried sediment that had been deposited offshore back into the wetlands.

    As long as all this could continue unobstructed, the delta continued to expand. But with any interruption, such as a prolonged drought, the new land began to sink.

    That’s because the sheer weight of hundreds of feet of moist soil is always pushing downward against the bedrock below. Like a sponge pressed against a countertop, the soil compresses as the moisture is squeezed out. Without new layers of sediment, the delta eventually sinks below sea level.

    The best evidence of this dependable rhythm of land building and sinking over seven millennia is underground. Geologists estimate that the deposits were at least 400 feet deep at the mouth of the Mississippi when those first Europeans arrived.

    By the time New Orleans was founded in 1718, the main channel of the river was the beating heart of a system pumping sediment and nutrients through a vast circulatory network that stretched from present-day Baton Rouge south to Grand Isle, west to Texas and east to Mississippi. As late as 1900, new land was pushing out into the Gulf of Mexico.

    A scant 70 years later, that huge, vibrant wetlands ecosystem would be at death’s door. The exquisite natural plumbing that made it all possible had been dismantled, piece by piece, to protect coastal communities and extract oil and gas.

    Edmund D. Fountain, Special to ProPublica/The Lens

    Engineering the river

    For communities along its banks, the Mississippi River has always been an indispensable asset and their gravest threat. The river connected their economies to the rest of the world, but its spring floods periodically breached locally built levees, quickly washing away years of profits and scores of lives. Some towns were so dependent on the river, they simply got used to rebuilding.

    That all changed with the Great Flood of 1927.

    Swollen by months of record rainfall across the watershed, the Mississippi broke through levees in 145 places, flooding the midsection of the country from Illinois to New Orleans. Some 27,000 square miles went under as much as 30 feet of water, destroying 130,000 homes, leaving 600,000 people homeless and killing 500.

    Stunned by what was then the worst natural disaster in U.S. history, Congress passed the Flood Control Act of 1928, which ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prevent such a flood from ever happening again. By the mid-1930s, the corps had done its job, putting the river in a straitjacket of levees.

    But the project that made the river safe for the communities along the river would eventually squeeze the life out of the delta. The mud walls along the river sealed it off from the landscape sustained by its sediment. Without it, the sinking of land that only occurred during dry cycles would start, and never stop.

    If that were all we had done to the delta, scientists have said, the wetlands that existed in the 1930s could largely be intact today. The natural pace of sinking — scientists call it subsidence — would have been mere millimeters per year.

    But we didn’t stop there. Just as those levees were built, a nascent oil and gas industry discovered plentiful reserves below the delta’s marshes, swamps, and ridges.

    At the time, wetlands were widely considered worthless — places that produced only mosquitoes, snakes, and alligators. The marsh was a wilderness where few people could live, or even wanted to.

    There were no laws protecting wetlands. Besides, more than 80 percent of this land was in the hands of private landowners who were happy to earn a fortune from worthless property.

    Free to choose the cheapest, most direct way to reach drilling sites, oil companies dredged canals off natural waterways to transport rigs and work crews. The canals averaged 13 to 16 feet deep and 140 to 150 feet wide — far larger than natural, twisting waterways.

    Edmund D. Fountain, Special to ProPublica/The Lens

    Effects of canals ripple across the wetlands

    Eventually, some 50,000 wells were permitted in the coastal zone. The state estimates that roughly 10,000 miles of canals were dredged to service them, although that only accounts for those covered by permitting systems. The state began to require some permits in the 1950s, but rigorous accounting didn’t begin until the Clean Water Act brought federal agencies into play in 1972.

    Researchers say the total number of miles dredged will never be known because many of those areas are now underwater. Gene Turner, a Louisiana State University professor who has spent years researching the impacts of the canals, said 10,000 miles “would be a conservative estimate.”

    Companies drilled and dredged all over the coast, perhaps nowhere more quickly than the area near Lafitte, which became known as the Texaco Canals.

    This fishing village 15 miles south of New Orleans had been named for the pirate who used these bayous to ferry contraband to the city. For years, the seafood, waterfowl, and furbearers in the surrounding wetlands sustained the community. As New Orleans grew, Lafitte also became a favorite destination for weekend hunters and anglers.

    Today those scenes are only a memory.

    “Once the oil companies come in and started dredging all the canals, everything just started falling apart,” said Joseph Bourgeois, 84, who grew up and still lives in the area.

    From 1930 to 1990, as much as 16 percent of the wetlands was turned to open water as those canals were dredged. But as the U.S. Department of the Interior and many others have reported, the indirect damages far exceeded that:

    • Saltwater creeped in. Canal systems leading to the Gulf allowed saltwater into the heart of freshwater marshes and swamps, killing plants and trees whose roots held the soils together. As a side effect, the annual supply of plant detritus — one way a delta disconnected from its river can maintain its elevation — was seriously reduced.
    • Shorelines crumbled. Without fresh sediment and dead plants, shorelines began to collapse, increasing the size of existing water bodies. Wind gained strength over ever-larger sections of open water, adding to land loss. Fishers and other boaters used canals as shortcuts across the wetlands; their wakes also sped shoreline erosion. In some areas, canals grew twice as wide within five years.
    • Spoil levees buried and trapped wetlands. When companies dredged canals, they dumped the soil they removed alongside, creating “spoil levees” that could rise higher than 10 feet and twice as wide.The weight of the spoil on the soft, moist delta caused the adjacent marshes to sink. In locations of intense dredging, spoil levees impounded acres of wetlands. The levees also impeded the flow of water — and sediments — over wetlands during storm tides. If there were 10,000 miles of canals, there were 20,000 miles of levees. Researchers estimate that canals and levees eliminated or covered 8 million acres of wetlands.

    All this disrupted the delta’s natural hydrology — its circulatory system — and led to the drowning of vast areas. Researchers have shown that land has sunk and wetlands have disappeared the most in areas where canals were concentrated.

    In the 1970s, up to 50 square miles of wetlands were disappearing each year in the areas with heaviest oil and gas drilling and dredging, bringing the Gulf within sight of many communities.

    As the water expanded, people lived and worked on narrower and narrower slivers of land.

    “There’s places where I had cattle pens, and built those pens … with a tractor that weighed 5,000 or 6,000 pounds,” said Earl Armstrong, a cattle rancher who grew on the river nine miles south of the nearest road. “Right now we run through there with airboats.”

    There are other forces at work, including a series of geologic faults in the delta and the rock layers beneath, but a U.S. Department of Interior report says oil and gas canals are ultimately responsible for 30 to 59 percent of coastal land loss. In some areas of Barataria Bay, said Turner at LSU, it’s close to 90 percent.

    Even more damage was to come as the oil and gas industry shifted offshore in the late 1930s, eventually planting about 7,000 wells in the Gulf. To carry that harvest to onshore refineries, companies needed more underwater pipelines. So they dug wider, deeper waterways to accommodate the large ships that served offshore platforms.

    Congress authorized the Corps of Engineers to dredge about 550 miles of navigation channels through the wetlands. The Department of Interior has estimated that those canals, averaging 12 to 15 feet deep and 150 to 500 feet wide, resulted in the loss of an additional 369,000 acres of coastal land.

    Researchers eventually would show that the damage wasn’t due to surface activities alone. When all that oil and gas was removed from below some areas, the layers of earth far below compacted and sank. Studies have shown that coastal subsidence has been highest in some areas with the highest rates of extraction.

    Push to hold industry accountable

    The oil and gas industry, one of the state’s most powerful political forces, has acknowledged some role in the damages, but so far has defeated efforts to force companies to pay for it.

    The most aggressive effort to hold the industry accountable is now underway. In July 2013, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, which maintains levees around New Orleans, filed suit against more than 90 oil, gas, and pipeline companies.

    The lawsuit claims that the industry, by transforming so much of the wetlands to open water, has increased the size of storm surges. It argues this is making it harder to protect the New Orleans area against flooding and will force the levee authority to build bigger levees and floodwalls.

    The lawsuit also claims that the companies did not return the work areas to their original condition, as required by state permits.

    “The oil and gas industry has complied with each permit required by the State of Louisiana and the Corps of Engineers since the permits became law,” said Ragan Dickens, spokesman for the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association.

    State leaders immediately rose to the industry’s defense. Much of the public debate has not been about the merits of the suit; instead, opponents contested the authority’s legal right to file the suit and its contingency fee arrangement with a private law firm.

    “We’re not going to allow a single levee board that has been hijacked by a group of trial lawyers to determine flood protection, coastal restoration, and economic repercussions for the entire State of Louisiana,” said Gov. Bobby Jindal in a news release demanding that the levee authority withdraw its suit.

    “A better approach,” he said in the statement, “to helping restore Louisiana’s coast includes holding the Army Corps of Engineers accountable, pushing for more offshore revenue sharing, and holding BP accountable for the damage their spill is doing to our coast.”

    The industry’s political clout reflects its outsized role in the economy of one of the nation’s poorest states. The industry directly employs 63,000 people in the state, according to the federal Department of Labor.

    Many of those employees live in the coastal parishes that have suffered most from oil and gas activities and face the most severe consequences from the resulting land loss.

    Legislators in those areas helped Jindal pass a law that retroactively sought to remove the levee authority’s standing to file the suit. The constitutionality of that law is now before a federal judge.

    Consequences now clear

    Even as politicians fought the lawsuit, it was hard to deny what was happening on the ground.

    By 2000, coastal roads that had flooded only during major hurricanes were going underwater when high tides coincided with strong southerly winds. Islands and beaches that had been landmarks for lifetimes were gone, lakes had turned into bays, and bays had eaten through their borders to join the Gulf.

    “It happened so fast, I could actually see the difference day to day, month to month,” said Lambert, the fishing guide in Buras.

    Today, in some basins around New Orleans, land is sinking an inch every 30 months. At this pace, by the end of the century this land will sink almost three feet in an area that’s barely above sea level today.

    Meanwhile, global warming is causing seas to rise worldwide. Coastal landscapes everywhere are now facing a serious threat, but none more so than Southeast Louisiana.

    The federal government projects that seas along the U.S. coastline will rise 1.5 to 4.5 feet by 2100. Southeast Louisiana would see “at least” 4 to 5 feet, said NOAA scientist Tim Osborn.

    The difference: This sediment-starved delta is sinking at one of the fastest rates of any large coastal landscape on the planet at the same time the oceans are rising.

    Maps used by researchers to illustrate what the state will look like in 2100 under current projections show the bottom of Louisiana’s “boot” outline largely gone, replaced by a coast running practically straight east to west, starting just south of Baton Rouge. The southeast corner of the state is represented only by two fingers of land — the areas along the Mississippi River and Bayou Lafourche that currently are protected by levees.

    Finally, a plan to rebuild — but not enough money

    Similar predictions had been made for years. But Hurricane Katrina finally galvanized the state legislature, which pushed through a far-reaching coastal restoration plan in 2007.

    The 50-year, $50 billion Master Plan for the Coast (in 2012 dollars) includes projects to build levees, pump sediment into sinking areas, and build massive diversions on the river to reconnect it with the dying delta.

    The state’s computer projections show that by 2060 — if projects are completed on schedule — more land could be built annually than is lost to the Gulf.

    But there are three large caveats.

    • If the plan is to work, sea-level rise can’t be as bad as the worst-case scenario.
    • Building controlled sediment diversions on the river, a key part of the land-building strategy, has never been done before. The predictions, then, are largely hypothetical, although advocates say the concept is being proven by an uncontrolled diversion at West Bay, near the mouth of the river.

    Some of the money will come from an increased share of offshore oil and gas royalties, but many coastal advocates say the industry should pay a larger share.

    In fact, leaders of the regional levee authority have said the purpose of the lawsuit was to make the industry pay for the rebuilding plan, suggesting that state could trade immunity from future suits for bankrolling it.

    That idea is gaining momentum in official circles, despite the industry’s latest win in the state legislature.

    Kyle Graham, executive director of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said recently that the industry understands its liability for the crumbling coast and is discussing some kind of settlement. “It’s very difficult to see a future in which that [such an agreement] isn’t there,” he said.

    Graham has said current funding sources could keep the restoration plan on schedule only through 2019. He was blunt when talking about what would happen if more money doesn’t come through: There will be a smaller coast.

    “There are various sizes of a sustainable coastal Louisiana,” he said. “And that could depend on how much our people are willing to put up for that.”

    Delacroix, La.
    Edmund D. Fountain, Special to ProPublica/The Lens
    Delacroix, La.

    A vanishing culture

    Trying to keep pace with the vanishing pieces of southeast Louisiana today is like chasing the sunset; it’s a race that never ends.

    Lambert said when he’s leading fishing trips, he finds himself explaining to visitors what he means when he says, “This used to be Bay Pomme d’Or” and the growing list of other spots now only on maps.

    Signs of the impending death of this delta are there to see for any visitor.

    Falling tides carry patches of marsh grass that have fallen from the ever-crumbling shorelines.

    Pelicans circle in confusion over nesting islands that have washed away since last spring.

    Pilings that held weekend camps surrounded by thick marshes a decade ago stand in open water, hundreds of yards from the nearest land — mute testimony to a vanishing culture.

    Shrimpers push their wing nets in lagoons that were land five years ago.

    The bare trunks of long-dead oaks rise from the marsh, tombstones marking the drowning of high ridges that were built back when the river pumped life-giving sediment through its delta.

    “If you’re a young person you think this is what it’s supposed to look like,” Lambert said. “Then when you’re old enough to know, it’s too late.”

    For the full interactive experience, check out the story on ProPublica.

    This story was written by Bob Marshall of The Lens. Data reporting, maps and design by Al Shaw of ProPublica and Brian Jacobs of Knight-Mozilla Open News. Photo research and audio production by Della Hasselle. Photography by Ellis Lucia of Knapp+Lucia Photography and Edmund D. Fountain.

    Satellite-imagery training for this project was provided by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School.

    Icons from The Noun Project: Zoom by Ryan Canning, Touch by Jakob Vogel and Map by Jose Moya.

    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: The mystery of huge solar plants and tiny dead birds

    Recent news reports that a giant solar power plant in the Mojave Desert is scorching birds in mid-air spurred a fierce debate over the environmental impacts of renewable energy, and left us all wondering whether we’ll be able to preserve the planet without destroying it in the process.

    The questions come at an important moment, as the Obama administration is ramping up solar energy development on public lands. The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, which the AP story covered, is currently the largest thermal solar energy plant in the world; it uses three roughly 450-foot “power towers” to concentrate the rays of 300,000 mirrors, creating a glaring “solar flux” field that does scorch at least a few birds (and irritate a few pilots).

    The proposed Palen project is even bigger — promising to power over 200,000 homes instead of 140,000 — and will have two 750-foot towers instead of three 450-foot ones. That means its solar flux field will be three times the size of Ivanpah’s. And it’s slated for development just east of Joshua Tree National Park, near several wildlife refuges and along the Pacific Flyway, a key migration route.

    So what do we really know about the impact of these facilities on birds and other wildlife? Fact is, not much.

    Turns out that estimates for bird kills at Ivanpah are mind-bogglingly varied. Bird expert Shawn Smallwood testified before the California Energy Commission that if a two-month death rate, based on data from the spring, “persisted yearlong, then Ivanpah might be killing 28,380 birds” annually. BrightSource, one of the companies behind Ivanpah, claims that number is “science fiction” and is based on a “flawed scale-up approach.” It would prefer to point people to the only documented bird deaths at the facility: 321 in six months.

    Ivanpah solar facility
    Henry Morgan

    Both BrightSource and wildlife conservationists agree that more study is needed. (To that end, a bird and bat monitoring and management program is ongoing at Ivanpah.) While we can certainly feel a whole lot better about solar than, say, coal — even when it comes to bird death — we still know very little about these massive solar installations, the likes of which were unheard of just a few years ago.

    What we can say with some certainty is that massive solar facilities, like wind farms, are probably not a huge threat to birds in general – both windows and housecats are far bigger culprits than renewable energy when it comes to avian deaths nationally.

    Instead, what worries biologists — and the federal wildlife investigators who produced a report on avian mortality at Ivanpah and two other solar facilities this spring — is that building huge power-generating facilities of any kind in the middle of a natural ecosystem could become what they call a “mega-trap,” or a danger to an entire food chain.

    It’s likely that both insects and birds are attracted to these solar arrays, either by the intensely bright light or by thinking that PV panels are lakes or perches. Insects are pollinators; they affect plants and agriculture. If insects are dying, that impacts lizards and other creatures that eat them. Birds, too: Some insect-eating birds that weren’t around before Ivanpah was built are now being found dead there.

    In short, no one can really talk about bird death in a vacuum. “It’s a web of life,” says Ileene Anderson, senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the conservation groups originally opposed to the Ivanpah project. “We start taking pieces out, and it can quickly spiral into a big problem.”

    The Center for Biological Diversity does think it’s a big problem. In 2009, it promised not to sue Ivanpah’s owners as long as they agreed to mitigate the project’s effects on the desert tortoise. Now, it’s threatening to sue the U.S. Department of the Interior over desert solar’s effects on the endangered Yuma clapper rail unless it and the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service all conduct further investigations that yield more definitive results.

    These solar energy plants are huge ecological experiments, says Anderson. “How many experiments do we need before we come to the right conclusions? Let’s be cautious and learn from the one that’s built before we start doing others.”

    That runs pretty directly counter, however, to the Obama administration’s push for solar installations; in February, the administration approved two additional solar facilities near the California-Nevada border. And when it comes to California’s own renewable energy laws — among the strictest in the country — massive sun harvesters like Ivanpah and Palen are a big part of how the state plans to make that happen.

    So what are we to make of the AP article’s claim that “biologists say there is no known feasible way to curb the number of birds killed”?

    “‘No feasible way?’ That doesn’t resonate with me,” says Anderson. “I think we can do better.”

    Ivanpah solar panels
    US FWS Pacific Southwest Region

    Government officials think so, too. That was at least one of the goals of the federal wildlife investigators’ report on avian death at solar plants this spring. (The report’s authors aren’t available for comment, since the document was designed to be internal and was only released to the public thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request.) Ivanpah’s bird and bat management program has a short list of mitigation efforts, too.

    Among federal investigators’ “Avian Mortality Avoidance Measures”:

    1) Break up the pattern on those solar panels. Birds and insects might think the panels are lakes or ponds; retrofitting visual cues by adding “solid, contrasting bands spaced no further than 28cm” on both existing panels and future designs could make them less appealing for landing or egg-laying.

    2) Deter, deter, deter. Place perch and roost deterrents for birds and bats on panels, condenser facilities, everywhere. Cover any actual ponds with nets. Clear the vegetation around the “power towers,” to reduce the area’s attractiveness as a habitat. Ivanpah owners say they plan to use “radar and infrared systems” and even “sonic deterrent methods;” they’re also considering a switch to LED lighting that’d be less attractive to insects.

    3) Suspend operation during peak bird migration times. This could hurt the solar facilities’ energy output (and their owners’ bottom line), so according to California Energy Commission testimony in June, no one’s totally convinced yet; it’d have to be really effective. It’s already happening at wind farms, though — why not solar?

    4)  Install video cameras to get better data. Even the best bird-carcass sleuths can’t catch everything (though they’re planning on using dogs, too). Having more real-time documentation in place will help everyone better understand what’s going on.

    As with the attempts to reduce wind turbines’ impact on wildlife, these fixes seem simple — and plausible. It just remains to be seen how effective they’ll be.

    In the meantime, Anderson says the Center for Biological Diversity wants solar energy developed at the site of consumption — that is, on people’s rooftops — so it wouldn’t disturb open spaces and wouldn’t require all that storage and transport.

    So, Big Solar: bird killer or planet saver? Either way, it’s a tradeoff — the kind we’re going to have to make more and more of in our fast-warming world.

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Why Florida is doing shrimp right

    Wood’s Fisheries
    Port St. Joe, Fla.

    Florida’s Gulf Coast is a major shrimp-fishing area, and the local supply was hit pretty hard by the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Wood’s Fisheries has a game plan to help keep the local shrimp populations healthy and intact.

    Why we chose this shrimp:

    fl_postWith wild shrimp catches, Wood’s fishermen pay special attention to maintenance of both the shrimp stock and habitat. “We really started pushing a lot more with traceability and sustainability … because we want to make sure that we always have shrimp to go out there and catch,” says Antley, the fisheries improvement coordinator. Wood’s has also developed an entirely landlocked shrimp farm that sources from a deep underground saltwater aquifer. It’s isolated from wild shrimp populations, thus carrying no risk of contamination.

    Better practices equals better profits:

    Antley is working with other companies in the Florida shrimp industry to develop a set of sustainable shrimping standards. Planned monitoring tactics include video observation on boats and equipment inspections. “We want to reward the fishermen that are doing it right,” says Antley, “so we’re going to pay a higher amount to these guys.”

    Check out the full map.
    Click to check out the full map.

    Filed under: Food, Living
    Gristmill: What’s better for zipping around town, electric carts or gas?

    Q. My hometown will be contemplating a new ordinance to allow residents to use golf carts on city streets. Which has a smaller carbon footprint, gas or electric?

    Sam S.
    West Columbia, Texas

    A. Dearest Sam,

    Golf carts on the streets? What’s next, teeing off from the city hall front lawn?

    I jest, of course. Plenty of communities allow golf carts and/or their tricked-out cousins, neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs – and more about those in a minute), to cruise on slower roadways. Doing so gives citizens a cheaper, more energy-efficient method for scooting around town to do errands or even commute short distances, and they’re particularly popular in retirement communities and (surprise) golf course developments.

    As you know, Sam, there are two dominant choices in golf carts: gas-powered and electric. Gas carts run on regular old carbon-emitting gasoline, but can boast of better fuel economy than your typical car (around 30 mpg). Electric carts, on the other hand, draw from rechargeable batteries that you plug in overnight, much like a full-size electric car. Those batteries bump these models into the elite category of zero-emissions vehicles, or vehicles that don’t directly spew any pollutants or greenhouse gases. The electric golf cart zooms out to an early lead!

    Of course, the electricity powering those batteries doesn’t come out of thin air. It draws from the power grid, which in turn draws from a variety of different energy sources – from clean ones like solar and hydropower to dirty ones like coal. So an electric golf cart’s true carbon footprint will fluctuate depending on where your region gets its power. (You can get a sense for this from the U.S. Department of Energy’s “Beyond Tailpipe Emissions” calculator, though it doesn’t include golf carts.) When we consider this, can the electric cart hold on to its advantage?

    The answer is yes, by a lot, according to the one study I could find that directly compared the two in terms of impact. A Canadian multiagency environmental group’s 2010 report found that electric golf carts are three times more fuel efficient than, and produce just a quarter of the emissions of, their gas-powered counterparts. It went on to note that if all the golf courses within 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) of Toronto switched to electric carts, they’d save as much carbon as taking 155 mid-size cars off the road.

    The gas-vs-electric golf cart question echoes much of the gas-vs-electric highway car discussion, Sam. And many studies have found that electrics can’t be beat in terms of cradle-to-grave emissions, even considering the impact of building them and their batteries. We may still be working out the kinks with things like range and vehicle cost, but electric cars represent a sparkling opportunity to dramatically lower our collective impact.

    There’s a third option in the golf cart world, by the way – one we don’t have for our full-size people movers (yet): the solar-powered cart. The same 2010 report also evaluated solar carts and found they conferred only a small bump (12 percent) in energy savings over electric carts, but one can hope the technology will keep improving.

    Now, since we’re on the subject of alternative ways to toodle around town, let’s go back to those NEVs, which look a little like golf carts but aren’t quite. Part of the larger category of “low-speed vehicles,” they usually top out around 25 mph and come equipped with features like headlights, turn signals, seatbelts, and the capacity to haul four (sometimes more) people. In the states where they’re cleared to drive (around 40, including Texas), NEVs are legally restricted to streets with 35-mph-or-lower speed limits for obvious safety reasons, and their somewhat limited range makes them best for short trips. Still, signs say we’ll probably be seeing more of them – one report predicts sales will jump 45 percent by 2017 – as more communities, campuses, and city facilities embrace them.

    I think it’s great West Columbia may be one of them, Sam. Sure, it’s ideal to burn nothing more than your breakfast by walking or biking on shorter errands. But as not everyone in town is either physically able or willing to do so, using a zero-emissions electric cart is a marked improvement over your garden-variety gas-guzzler. The more clean transportation options in everyone’s fleet, the better, I say.


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Cities, Living
    Gristmill: Why Republicans won’t back a carbon tax
    popped bubble

    Climate change activists across the political spectrum fantasize about it. No, it’s not another Kanye West video of snowy mountains and a topless Kim Kardashian. It’s a carbon tax.

    Republicans, as everyone knows, hate taxes and don’t accept, much less care about, climate change. But wonks on both sides of the aisle dream that a carbon tax could win bipartisan support as part of a broader tax-reform package. A carbon tax could be revenue neutral, the dreamers point out, and if revenue from the tax is used to cut other taxes, it shouldn’t offend Republicans — in theory.

    And so people who want to bring Republicans into the climate movement like to argue that the GOP could come to embrace a carbon tax. We’ve heard it from former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.), who lost his seat to a Tea Party primary challenger in 2010 after he proposed a revenue-neutral plan to create a carbon tax and cut payroll taxes. We’ve heard it from energy industry bigwigs like Roger Sant, who recently argued the case at the Aspen Ideas Festival. We’ve heard it from GOP think tankers like Eli Lehrer.

    It’s the epitome of centrist wishful thinking. It will not happen.

    Grover Norquist
    Grover Norquist.  (Photo by Gage Skidmore)

    I know because I asked the man most responsible for setting Republican tax policy: Grover Norquist. As head of Americans for Tax Reform, Norquist has gotten 218 House Republicans and 39 Senate Republicans to sign his “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” never to raise taxes. His group has marshaled the Republican base’s zealous anti-tax activists and successfully primaried politicians who violate the pledge, making Norquist a much-feared and much-obeyed player in D.C.  The Boston Globe Magazine went so far as to call him “the most powerful man in America” — at least of the unelected variety.

    First off, Norquist has no interest in a carbon tax because, he told me, there has been no global warming for the last 15 years. That right-wing shibboleth is false, but the point is that if you don’t accept climate science, as Norquist and the Republicans don’t, you’ve got no reason to back a carbon tax.

    Although Norquist conceded that you could theoretically construct a revenue-neutral carbon tax that does not violate his pledge, he would still oppose it, and he said Republicans generally would too. “I would urge people not to [vote for a carbon tax], because the tax burden is a function of how many taxes you have,” Norquist said, noting that higher-tax jurisdictions tend to have more sources of tax revenue. “With one tax, people can see how big it is. Divide it and no one knows.”

    “I don’t see the path to getting a lot of Republican votes,” he concluded. Neither do I.

    It’s useful to look at how Republicans react to other tax-reform ideas: Eliminate the carried-interest loophole that taxes hedge-fund managers at a lower rate than their secretaries? No way! Eliminate deductions for oil and gas companies? Nothing doing.

    The arguments Republicans make about this one tax being unfair or that one stifling economic growth are all just arguments of convenience. Republicans are for taxing the things they don’t care about (poor people’s meager earnings) and against taxing the things they do care about (rich people’s unearned income). So Republicans oppose taxing inheritances and capital gains, but seem not to mind flat taxes on income or sales. That’s why the big tax-reform proposals that insurgent Republican candidates have ridden to prominence — Mike Huckabee’s “Fair Tax,” Herman Cain’s “9-9-9” plan — involve shifting much of the tax burden to a national sales tax: because sales taxes fall disproportionately on poor people. (Poor people have to spend a bigger portion of their income than rich people do just to get by, so sales taxes are regressive.)

    And that’s why offering to cut payroll taxes in exchange for creating a carbon tax won’t win a bunch of Republican votes. First of all, Republicans don’t care about the tax burden on poor people, so the payroll tax deduction is not going to entice them. (In fact, they opposed an extension of President Obama’s payroll-tax holiday.) Meanwhile, they don’t share the premise that fuel consumption and carbon pollution are bad, because they don’t accept climate science. And they don’t want to shift the tax burden to fossil fuel companies, which are huge GOP contributors.

    It’s worth remembering how a carbon tax became the ostensible bipartisan solution to climate change. Back in 2008, both parties’ presidential candidates backed cap-and-trade plans. Obama won and advanced his plan, so Republicans all opposed it. By default, whatever Obama proposes becomes “partisan” and the alternative becomes supposedly the reasonable, non-ideological idea Republicans would have supported. It’s always a lie.

    There are two possible paths to either cap-and-trade or a carbon tax: One, Democrats gain control of both houses of Congress and the White House, and feel more pressure to address climate change than they did in 2010, when they let the opportunity slip away. Or, two, Republicans come to accept climate science and decide they want to save the world from burning. But until Republicans come around to acknowledge the reality of climate change, they’re not going to agree to a carbon tax.

    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Politics
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    Gristmill: Why Delaware is doing climate change mitigation right

    Carl Schmidt
    Adapting Chicken Production to Climate Change Through Breeding
    Newark, Del.

    Delaware’s official state bird is a chicken — the Delaware Blue Hen, to be exact. Dr. Carl Schmidt at the University of Delaware heads a team that’s developing a breed of chicken that will be more resistant to high temperatures, enabling the chicken to survive the almost-guaranteed extreme heat waves of the future.

    Why we chose these super-chickens:

    de_postSchmidt is motivated by a desire to feed a global population in a changing climate. Histeam has been researching breeds of chickens that fare well in hotter climates — for example, the Transylvanian Naked Neck — and is now working to develop its own breed. They aren’t interested in creating a Frankenchicken using genetic engineering. Instead, they are sticking to traditional breeding methods by isolating genetic variants that make chickens less sensitive to heat. The project is in its early stages; Schmidt estimates that it will be another 15 years before they’ve developed a living, breathing prototype.

    On getting a head start:

    Says Schmidt: “My hope is that if 20 years from now, we really need a chicken that can withstand these heat waves, people can look to this work and say, ‘And here is what we need.’”

    Check out the full map.
    Click to check out the full map.

    Filed under: Food, Living
    Gristmill: China scoffs at our puny bikeshare programs
    Wuhan and Hangzhou Public Bicycle programs

    The Chinese have tried every trick in the book to clear up urban smog that, at times, has literally broken the pollutometer. We’ve seen everything from protest art to threats from the government to execute some of the country’s worst polluters.

    But there’s another smog fighting tool hitting the streets now, too: The humble, and once common bicycle.

    According to a 2008 report by the Earth Policy Institute, bicycling in China took a serious dive between 1995 and 2005: The country’s bike fleet declined by 35 percent, while private car ownership doubled.

    Now, according to the Atlantic, bikes are making a comeback, in part because of ubiquitous bikeshare programs. In fact, of the top 30 cities worldwide with more than 5,000 bikes in their systems, 24 of them are in China, Vox reports:

    “…over the last couple of years, China has lapped the field several times over. As its private bicycle fleet has declined — largely because more and more people can afford cars — officials have implemented bike share programs to give residents a transportation option that cuts down on traffic.

    All told, China has eight cities with more bike share bikes than the entire United States does.”

    To compare, France, the country tailing China for second place, has 45,000 bikes making up its bikeshare programs, and the United States rounds out fourth place with close to 20,000 bikes.

    China’s budding bikeshare programs are likely putting only a small dent in a massive pollution problem, as the country still burns loads of coal — and the jury is still out on just how much carbon dioxide these programs prevent from entering the atmosphere.

    But hell, if world’s most populous country has managed to spread bikeshares like fire, who are we to argue?

    Filed under: Business & Technology, Cities, Living
    Gristmill: Obama has a plan for getting around Senate opposition to a climate treaty
    Obama pondering

    The elephant in the room every time Americans talk about international climate agreements is that, unlike in parliamentary democracies, our opposition party gets a veto over treaties. Due to the two-thirds majority needed in the Senate for ratification of international treaties, Senate Republicans can, and will, reject any binding agreement to reduce carbon emissions (joined by some fossil fuel–state Democrats).

    In theory, this means that 34 senators, representing as little as 7.5 percent of the American public if they come from the least populous states, can block any global action on climate change. The U.S. is the world’s biggest economy, and many other big nations won’t join an agreement if we won’t.

    But Obama, as demonstrated by his power plant regulations, is determined to do what he can with the power he has. On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that the Obama administration is planning to go to the big climate talks in Paris next December asking for the strongest possible accord short of a treaty. “President Obama’s climate negotiators are devising what they call a ‘politically binding’ deal that would ‘name and shame’ countries into cutting their emissions,” writes the Times’ Coral Davenport. “Negotiators say it may be the only realistic path.”

    Back in 1992, when Democrats were in the Senate majority and Republicans hadn’t gone off the deep end, the Senate ratified the legally nonbinding United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which sets up the regular meetings known as “protocols” to negotiate actual emissions reductions. The Obama administration would seek to expand the 1992 framework as much as possible, so that any deal reached next year would technically be an update rather than a new treaty, along with some new but mostly voluntary measures.

    That might work as a way of getting around Republican opposition. But unfortunately, Republicans are not the only political obstacle to a new agreement. Throughout the wealthy Anglophone world, conservative parties are backsliding on climate change. And the conservative parties are currently in power in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Australia and Canada are particularly eager to exploit their dirty fuel resources and are doing everything they can to undermine global efforts to stave off climate apocalypse.

    When Australia repealed its carbon tax last month, The Wall Street Journal noted:

    In Europe, Australia’s repeal has hobbled ambitions of linking up similar carbon-emission trading systems around the globe to the EU’s own. …

    In the U.S., Australia’s repeal is providing political fodder for critics of President Barack Obama ‘s climate agenda, feeding into criticism that Mr. Obama is acting alone on a problem that is stubbornly global in nature. …

    Australia’s repeal also helps strengthen the position of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has repeatedly rejected calls from opposition politicians and environmental groups to introduce a carbon levy in Canada …

    Canada formally withdrew from the Kyoto protocol on climate change in 2011, arguing the treaty would prove ineffective because it failed to incorporate major emitters such as the U.S., China and India. Mr. Harper can now point to Australia’s decision as evidence that he isn’t a global outlier, as his critics contend, when it comes to environmental policy.

    Australia and Canada also undermined climate talks in Warsaw last year by refusing to contribute to a climate fund for developing nations. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently reasserted their skepticism of global climate agreements at a joint press conference. Climate change, said Abbott, is “not the only or even the most important problem the world faces.”

    Still, conservatives in other developed countries are not as backward as their American counterparts. Domestic politics compel Abbott and Harper to admit anthropogenic climate change is happening and to at least feign a desire to address it in a way that won’t hobble their economies.

    And so the Obama administration will try to thread a needle in Paris next year: get an accord that is strong enough to appease developing nations, which are calling for rich countries to reduce their emissions and contribute to the Green Climate Fund, but weak enough to appease conservatives in other developed nations.

    The one thing Obama cannot do, however, is appease conservatives at home. Since they do not accept the global scientific consensus on climate change, there is no deal they will ratify. Instead, Obama must make a deal that avoids the need for Senate ratification but still has enough teeth to compel action. That’s a very fine needle to thread.

    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Politics
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    Gristmill: These adorable car ideas from kids will make your day
    Yuki Sasaki, 11, Japan.

    For the Toyota Dream car challenge, Japan’s biggest car company asked kids across the world to design their ideal vehicles. But it only takes a quick scan of the winners to see a few themes emerging. Driving is secondary. Flashy and fast vehicles are out. Instead, cars are literal vehicles meant to solve herculean social and environmental hurdles (and in some cases disperse super-cute rescue squids).

    The adult jury panel selection undoubtably had a lot to do with leaving Transformers-esque submissions on the cutting room floor. The judges waded through 662,898 submissions from 75 countries and regions. The 31 winners attended an awards ceremony held in Tokyo today. Their artworks are so goodhearted and loaded with little-kid weirdness that we can’t help but share a few.

    Below is a handful of our favorites (see the rest of the entries here). Be sure to read the hilarious and heartwarming captions. Adorableness awaits:

    Robo-Squid Hydropower Rescue Car

    Robo-Squid Hydropower Rescue Car
    Nakoto Ichikawa

    “It is constantly being charged up in water by hydropower. When Robo-Squid headquarters receives an SOS of someone in trouble in the water, Squid Juniors go into action to rescue people. When the damage is enormous or a ship is about to sink, Squid Baby’s Egg Trampoline expands and helps the situation by becoming a cushion or coiling around and pulling it up.” — Nakoto Ichikawa, 7, Japan

    Super Crab Car

    Thanh Mai Bui

    “I live in a rural area and my parents are farmers. I wish Toyota could create a car that can recycle straw and rubbish into paper, notebooks and stationery for me and my friends after harvesting rice. If it could do that, it would be so fantastic!” — Thanh Mai Bui, 6, Vietnam

    Environmentally Friendly Toyota Kingdom

    Environmentally Friendly Toyota Kingdom
    Phonepaseuth Sengmanyvong

    “My car cleans and keeps the natural balance and helps protect animals from being hunted.” — Phonepaseuth Sengmanyvong, 14, Laos

    Birds’ Car

    Birds? Car
    Aishwarja Nafisa Noshin Khan

    “This car has been invented for birds. Birds’ necessities will be fulfilled through this car.” — Aishwarja Nafisa Noshin Khan, 7, Bangladesh

    My Dream Car

    My Dream Car
    Luca-Filip Clima

    “This car collects metals to produce engines.” — Luca-Filip Clima, 6, Romania

    Balloon Car

    Balloon Car
    Luo Tong Zoe Sim

    “This is a solar-powered, light balloon car. Accident and pollution free, it is made from recycled materials and can fold up into a bag.” — Luo Tong Zoe Sim, 5, United Kingdom

    Underwater Musical Vehicle

    My Dream Car: Underwater Musical Vehicle
    Evonne Tan Wei Ni

    “An economical and environmentally friendly vehicle, capable of transporting a choir group underwater to perform for the aquatic animals.” — Evonne Tan Wei Ni, 10, Malaysia

    Love Car 

    Toyota Love Car
    Pranali Harish Patel

    “My dream Love Car converts hate and violence into peace and love. It travels all around the world to spread love and encourage people to stop fighting and love each other instead.” — Pranali Harish Patel, 11, Kenya

    Smart Fish Car

    Smart Fish Car
    Mealaksey Pha, Cambodia

    “I love fish so much, that is why I decided to draw a colorful fish, and this fish can be driven like a car. Therefore, everyone who is fond of fish can enjoy driving the fish car that I have drawn at all times.” — Mealaksey Pha, 5, Cambodia

    Hey, I’d take a Smart Fish Car over a Tesla any day, Mealaksey. Our congrats to all of the winners and (hopefully) future car engineers. We realize this is a free good publicity for a gigantic car company, but if you’re in the market for a new vehicle, consider test-driving a Robo-Squid Hydropower Rescue Car today.

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Living
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    Triple Pundit: TODAY: Twitter Chat with Heineken on Local Sourcing: Join #BaBF
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    Gristmill: Invasion of the corn snatchers

    Food has become the domain of all sorts of shady underworld characters. There are drug dealers bootlegging rice through Europe, fraudulent fishmongers fencing fillets in fine restaurants, and mafia capos adulterating olive oil in North America. Now thieves are conducting elaborate heists to fleece farmers of their vegetables.

    According to a story in the New York Times, the crew that hit Whit Betts’ Green Acres farm had the perfect plan:

    The thieves had come at night and left 10 outer rows closest to the road intact so as not to arouse suspicion. They knew what they were doing: They picked cleanly, without wrecking the stalks. And they grabbed plenty of butter-and-sugar corn, a common variety in Connecticut, but left behind the more valuable Kandy corn.

    “I think we’re the only ones to grow that in central Connecticut, so that would have been traceable,” Mr. Betts said.

    The robbers who broke into Anderson Farms, 25 miles to the east, weren’t so careful, and were caught red handed.

    “They had corn tassels in their hair,” Mr. Anderson said. “A dead giveaway.”

    Seriously guys, this isn’t cool. If you all can’t deal with the temptation of beautiful local farms, we’re just going to have to consolidate them all to the remotest midwest and ship all your food to you long distance.

    Filed under: Article, Food
    Gristmill: Hip Hop curbs SUVs, takes Tesla for a spin

    Rappers have been infatuated with cars since the beginning of Hip Hop, with a niche fetish for bulkier models. Early rapper endorsements of Jeeps, Suzuki Sidekicks, and MPVs are arguably what cued the auto industry to expand the SUV market. At one point, you couldn’t find a rap video that didn’t feature a fleet of stretched-out SUVs that probably got about 10 miles off the gallon. The ’98 – ’04 No Limit-Cash Money Records era was when it reached Peak Foolishness, with constant display of Humvees, Escalades, Navigators and other six-to-seven-figure gas guzzlers with shiny hubcaps that did silly, spinny things.

    Things then began to die down, perhaps when rappers saw what little utility those vehicles held in Hurricane Katrina floodwaters, or how expensive it was to maintain them in the recession after. But hybrid cars didn’t quite catch on with the culture. They became joke fodder, as evidenced on Childish Gambino’s “Real Estate” where comedian Tina Fey flips a popular Jeezy line to say “My president’s black, and my Prius is blue, motherfucker.”

    Listen to Fey parody herself, and the Prius, in the video below. (The song, and others in this post, are NSFW. Fey comes in around 5:00.)

    But then that dude Elon Musk came out with the sleek Teslas and now Hip Hop has a non-petro-fried whip it can ride with. Kanye West shouted out Musk at Bonnaroo, and now it looks like Jay Z might have a new “murdered out” Model S. Other rap and trap stars are upgrading their status symbols, replacing the traditional B-list of cars (Beamer, Benz, Bentley, Bugatti) with those of the battery-charged variety.

    In G Unit’s recent comeback attempt, “The Beauty of Independence,” 50 Cent — one of the biggest car whores of all time — raps, “I ain’t a BMW, I’m elecTRICK.” This matters if only because we know his early endorsement of Vitamin Water led to Coca Cola buying the company for a few billion. Now Google Glass is working with him. Could he also help tilt the market toward electric cars?

    We’ve heard a few other rapper’s reference these cars, and not just as ostentatious floss. Here’s Canibus (yes, he’s still rapping. LL did not totally murder him.) recounting a murder mystery in his song “Sinflation”:

    He was driving a Tesla Model S playing loud music/He drove into an EMP storm and got electrocuted/Trust fund lawyers were recruited, lawsuits were instituted/”The electric car killed him!” — prove it/Quantum evolution, quantum conducive/Quantum revolution rap music quantum electrocution…

    Common also uses it in storytelling mode for his song “Hustle Harder,” describing how a nameless female protagonist sizes up her economic prospects:

    Beamer Benz, she got friends with high ends/She know trends, she know when/She go in, like an investor/Yes sir, never get gassed like a Tesla/Ain’t about all that extra…

    Common might have been listening to Cunninlynguists who used a similar simile in their song “Hot”:

    All these girls, man, they just want me to sweat ’til I starve, but I don’t get gassed up like an electric car…

    And then there’s this from producer Alchemist featuring Odd Future’s Domo Genesis and Hodgy Beats, along with Freddie Gibbs, for a rhymefest that makes no mention of the car, though the song is named after it. (It might also be named after Nikola Tesla. As with most Odd Future songs, the lyrics give us no clues.)

    We’ll see where this goes. Hip Hop artists are classic tastemakers, having elevated otherwise obscure or mediocre brands into consumer must-haves. A few more key endorsements and we might be able to get those Teslas produced to the point where regular people can actually afford them.

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Living
    Gristmill: Why Connecticut is doing sushi right

    Bun Lai
    Miya’s Sushi
    New Haven, Conn.

    New Haven is not known for its sushi, and sushi isn’t known for being sustainable. Bun Lai’s joint breaks both of these conventions. The restaurant has even become a destination for discerning New Yorkers.

    Why we chose this sushi:

    ct_postYou can’t count on salmon, tuna, or eel on the menu here. Instead, you might find rockfish, tilapia from a local aquaculture school, and wild, local seaweed. The menu will often include “trash fish,” invasive species such as lionfish, and lots of vegetables. A recent dish even featured dehydrated larvae.

    On educating the next gen of sushi eaters:

    Lai was raised in the Yale community by a scientist father and a chef mother (Yoshiko Lai, who founded Miya’s in 1982). His parents helped him build an appreciation for good food at a young age, and he sees Miya’s as a way to offer the same education. “There are kids who are growing up with Miya’s, and really don’t know any other sushi,” he says. “They’ll go to other restaurants asking questions, like, ‘Why do you do things this way?’”

    Check out the full map.
    Click to check out the full map.

    Filed under: Food, Living
    Gristmill: Musty old weather reports may hold climate change secrets

    Turns out the secret to better climate models could be hiding in the dreaded storage closet of many a weather station around the world.

    Members of the International Environmental Data Rescue Organization (IEDRO) — a nonprofit organization that works with meteorological centers to digitize their climate data — think weather reports of yore could offer crucial glimpses into historical weather patterns, helping scientists to better track climate change.

    They estimate there could be more than 100 million potentially useful records worldwide. But instead of being used to shape the next climate model or helping city planners plan around future climate issues like flooding, many of these records are collecting dust in backrooms and oft-forgotten filing cabinets, waiting to be digitized. The Atlantic’s CityLab reports:

    “There’s data tied up in paper records that goes all the way back to the late 1800s,” says Theodore Allen, a graduate student at the University of Miami and IEDRO volunteer. “So rather than working on observations from 1960 to present, we can work on things from 1880 to present.” With that kind of information, climate scientists can make their models far more reliable. The problem is that nobody wants to spend the time and money it takes to scan and input 100 million pieces of old, musky, often disorganized paper. “You’ll show up to a place and you need dust masks on for days at a time,” says Allen. “You’re crouched over running through dusty, dirty weather records in a damp room. It’s not very glamorous.”

    The paper cut risk sounds daunting enough. If unlocking these weather records could help climate science, though, let’s just hope Band-Aids come with the job.

    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Energy companies in Texas are setting money on fire
    gas flare texas

    To some, like President Obama, natural gas is the “bridge fuel” — a readily available energy source that burns cleaner than coal and that’s cheap enough to put coal out of business while we’re waiting for actually renewable energy sources to come online.

    But what if it’s so cheap it just gets wasted? The bridge just collapses, is what. As an epic series put together by the San Antonio Express News shows, being really, really cheap can also mean “too cheap to sell.”

    The Express News spent a year going over stacks of documents and data obtained from the Texas Railroad Commission, which is responsible for overseeing the oil and gas industry in the state. What the investigation found was that fracking operations in the remote Eagle Ford shale were keeping the more valuable oil they produced while venting the natural gas into the atmosphere. Sometimes they just released it directly into the air, despite its being one of the nastier greenhouse gases out there.  Other times they burned it first, which converted it to carbon dioxide — less climate-change inducing, but not exactly Miss Popularity either. Between 2009 to 2012, they had let go of enough natural gas to keep 335,700 typical Texan households in warm houses and hot dinners for a year.

    The reason for this, according to energy companies, is that it just didn’t make financial sense to do anything else. At a Railroad Commission meeting last October, EF Energy LLC broke it down this way:

    The company said it would cost $1.5 million to build a 5.7-mile pipeline to hook into the nearest available pipeline. With the gas worth an estimated $670,000, the company would lose more than $800,000.

    The U.S. does have a history, however complicated, of using financial and political mechanisms to persuade companies that polluting the air around them is not a great idea, no matter how well that option serves their bottom line. This legacy, however, does not appear to have registered with the Railroad Commission, which decided that since EF energy was already flaring without permission, it might as well just approve the request.

    Are there other options? There are. The Norwegian energy company Statoil manages to operate in the area without burning off gas in flares, but it is able to do so because the company thought ahead. It drills wells in areas that are connected to each other, and it installed infrastructure to capture natural gas before the wells were even operational. Another energy company, Pioneer Natural Resources, built its own natural gas fueling station so that it can use the gas that it finds while fracking to power its drilling rigs. There’s also the possibility that natural gas could be used to power the water treatment facilities designed to clean up up water contaminated with fracking fluid — an approach which has a certain ouroboros-like quality.

    That said, if most companies had to follow regulations that required them to do things like this, there’d be a lot less fracking, in Texas and other places. This is a story that is new to the Eagle Ford shale, but it’s not new to North Dakota, where an estimated $100 million worth of gas a month — a third of what is pulled out of the ground —  is flared off.

    In North Dakota, landowners are actually suing for lost revenue, since they only get compensated for what is sold, not what is thrown away. “It’s not just a waste to the landowner or the tax collector, it’s a waste of the land’s natural product,” a landowner named Tom Wheeler told CNBC. “When I was growing up, we were taught not to waste anything.”

    It does seem un-American to have so much of something so combustible and to not even get to heat a can of beans with it, before its components ascend to wreak havoc in the troposphere. If we’re so into energy independence, why waste so much of what we’ve got?

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Palo Alto’s utility now provides guilt-free electricity

    It’s one thing to own your utility with a commitment to renewable energy, but it’s quite another thing to deliver on it. In 2007, the municipal utility in Palo Alto, Calif., set an ambitious target of achieving 33 percent renewable energy by 2015, and ultimately a carbon neutral electricity supply. Seven years later, they are on track to reach 48 percent renewable power in 2017, and have been meeting their carbon neutral goal since late last year.

    How can a utility be carbon neutral?

    The foundation of Palo Alto’s energy supply is hydro power, making up as much as half of their total electricity generation each year, though it doesn’t technically count as ‘renewable.’ The utility purchased renewable energy credits to offset the other half of its energy supply. So while the carbon neutral target is impressive, it doesn’t mean no fossil fuels are used. Rather, on an annual, net basis, the cities’ electric customers produce no carbon emissions.

    But the utility is moving toward actual long-term contracts with renewable energy projects. Palo Alto plans to get 23 percent of its energy from solar, 11 percent from landfill methane recovery, and 12 percent from wind power in 2017.

    Building on low-cost solar

    The drive toward renewable energy and a carbon neutral energy supply was aided by dramatically falling costs for solar energy. When the utility went out for bids in 2012, it found solar producers willing to sell it power for 7 cents per kWh, a price that’s remained relatively steady since then. Low cost solar energy has meant that the city’s nationally recognized green energy purchasing program, with 20 percent customer participation, eliminated the price premium because clean energy was no more expensive than traditional power.

    Having control matters

    “If you were a customer of an investor-owned utility, you’d be much less likely to see a program like [Palo Alto's] put in place simply because investor-owned utilities have a much more traditional business model focused on profits and the bottom line,” says Palo Alto Utilities’ Jim Stack.

    Local control was a key to the pursuit of a low-carbon energy system in Palo Alto. They aren’t hampered by regulators and the city’s bond rating means the municipal utility can also access lower cost capital than investor-owned utilities.

    Municipal ownership has one big drawback, however, making the transition to renewable energy that much more impressive.  The city can’t access the 30 percent federal tax credit for solar energy projects that private developers can.  While they can still sign contracts with these developers to deliver solar, they miss the economic opportunity of direct ownership.

    Keeping it local

    Palo Alto hasn’t been able to develop as much power in town as it would like, confesses Stack. As a mostly built-up urban environment with high land costs, local solar energy costs nearly twice what it costs to buy from projects nearby. All of their renewable power comes from California, however, within a two-hour drive of the city.

    The city does have programs focused on local distributed generation and energy efficiency. Already, 6.5 MW of solar energy has been installed on local rooftops (serving about 4 percent of peak demand). The utility intends to use its feed-in tariff, community solar, and other initiatives to increase local solar to 23 MW, serving 15 percent of peak energy demand and 4 percent of total sales.

    Can it work for you?

    Stack says there’s nothing stopping other municipal utilities from moving in the same direction. Renewable energy is less expensive than just about anything else and offers long-term price stability.

    For communities without municipal utilities, he suggests lobbying for voluntary green purchase programs, community solar, and working on developing community-based renewable energy projects.

    Listen to the interview with Palo Alto Utilities’ Jim Stack:

    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Palo Alto’s utility now provides guilt-free electricity

    It’s one thing to own your utility with a commitment to renewable energy, but it’s quite another thing to deliver on it. In 2007, the municipal utility in Palo Alto, Calif., set an ambitious target of achieving 33 percent renewable energy by 2015, and ultimately a carbon neutral electricity supply. Seven years later, they are on track to reach 48 percent renewable power in 2017, and have been meeting their carbon neutral goal since late last year.

    How can a utility be carbon neutral?

    The foundation of Palo Alto’s energy supply is hydro power, making up as much as half of their total electricity generation each year, though it doesn’t technically count as ‘renewable.’ The utility purchased renewable energy credits to offset the other half of its energy supply. So while the carbon neutral target is impressive, it doesn’t mean no fossil fuels are used. Rather, on an annual, net basis, the cities’ electric customers produce no carbon emissions.

    But the utility is moving toward actual long-term contracts with renewable energy projects. Palo Alto plans to get 23 percent of its energy from solar, 11 percent from landfill methane recovery, and 12 percent from wind power in 2017.

    Building on low-cost solar

    The drive toward renewable energy and a carbon neutral energy supply was aided by dramatically falling costs for solar energy. When the utility went out for bids in 2012, it found solar producers willing to sell it power for 7 cents per kWh, a price that’s remained relatively steady since then. Low cost solar energy has meant that the city’s nationally recognized green energy purchasing program, with 20 percent customer participation, eliminated the price premium because clean energy was no more expensive than traditional power.

    Having control matters

    “If you were a customer of an investor-owned utility, you’d be much less likely to see a program like [Palo Alto's] put in place simply because investor-owned utilities have a much more traditional business model focused on profits and the bottom line,” says Palo Alto Utilities’ Jim Stack.

    Local control was a key to the pursuit of a low-carbon energy system in Palo Alto. They aren’t hampered by regulators and the city’s bond rating means the municipal utility can also access lower cost capital than investor-owned utilities.

    Municipal ownership has one big drawback, however, making the transition to renewable energy that much more impressive.  The city can’t access the 30 percent federal tax credit for solar energy projects that private developers can.  While they can still sign contracts with these developers to deliver solar, they miss the economic opportunity of direct ownership.

    Keeping it local

    Palo Alto hasn’t been able to develop as much power in town as it would like, confesses Stack. As a mostly built-up urban environment with high land costs, local solar energy costs nearly twice what it costs to buy from projects nearby. All of their renewable power comes from California, however, within a two-hour drive of the city.

    The city does have programs focused on local distributed generation and energy efficiency. Already, 6.5 MW of solar energy has been installed on local rooftops (serving about 4 percent of peak demand). The utility intends to use its feed-in tariff, community solar, and other initiatives to increase local solar to 23 MW, serving 15 percent of peak energy demand and 4 percent of total sales.

    Can it work for you?

    Stack says there’s nothing stopping other municipal utilities from moving in the same direction. Renewable energy is less expensive than just about anything else and offers long-term price stability.

    For communities without municipal utilities, he suggests lobbying for voluntary green purchase programs, community solar, and working on developing community-based renewable energy projects.

    Listen to the interview with Palo Alto Utilities’ Jim Stack:

    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Can’t decide whether to go to the big climate march? This might convince you
    people rallying

    Have you been dithering over whether to make your way to the People’s Climate March in New York City on Sept. 21? Maybe this will inspire you to just book that train, bus, or ride-share spot already:


    It’s the trailer for Disruption, a climate documentary premiering on Sept. 7 — exactly two weeks before the big march in NYC. Even if you can’t make the march, you could host or attend a screening of the movie.

    Stock up on popcorn now — while supplies last.

    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Can’t decide whether to go to the big climate march? This might convince you
    people rallying

    Have you been dithering over whether to make your way to the People’s Climate March in New York City on Sept. 21? Maybe this will inspire you to just book that train, bus, or ride-share spot already:


    It’s the trailer for Disruption, a climate documentary premiering on Sept. 7 — exactly two weeks before the big march in NYC. Even if you can’t make the march, you could host or attend a screening of the movie.

    Stock up on popcorn now — while supplies last.

    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Triple Pundit: Stop Washing Valuable Energy Down the Drain
    For most people, it doesn’t even occur to them that there might be something to do about wasted energy from their morning shower, aside from reducing the amount of water used via a low-flow shower head. But Montreal, Canada-based Ecodrain may have a solution.
    Triple Pundit: Whole Foods’ Sale of Rabbit Meat to Some Is a Big Pet Peeve
    Whole Foods is now selling rabbit meat at a limited number of stores across the United States, and some New Yorkers are very unhappy.
    Triple Pundit: CSR Report Review: and Cloud Computing Sustainability recently released its most recent sustainability report, which covers the company's progress on operational efficiency and green building.
    Triple Pundit: Nobel Economists Gather to Discuss Direction of World Economy
    Last week, a group of Nobel prize-winning economists met, for the fifth time, in the German town of Lindau near the Austrian and Swiss border. This year’s meeting featured a special guest, German chancellor Andrea Merkel. Joining the notables are young economists from 80 countries, hoping to learn, become inspired, and perhaps reflect deeply on what role their science might play in shaping the future.
    Triple Pundit: Validating the Value of Zero Waste
    The race to make defensible zero waste claims is well underway. Some organizations are going beyond public pledges and having their zero waste and waste diversion claims certified by an independent, third-party certification authority like UL Environment.
    Triple Pundit: Kellogg Sets Bold Sustainability Goals for 2020
    Fans of Frosted Flakes and Eggo, two Kellogg Co. brands, who are also champions of sustainability have something to cheer about: Kellogg recently announced new social and environmental commitments.
    Triple Pundit: Dropcountr Launches a New App to Manage Water Usage
    The average Californian estimates they use half the amount of water than they actually do use. People want to do their part, but don't have the tools and direction to make a contribution.
    Triple Pundit: Italian Scientists Work On Bioplastics Made From Food Waste
    A group of scientists at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Genova, Italy are working on ways to create bioplastic from food waste.
    Gristmill: The U.N.’s latest report on climate change is terrifying
    greenland ice

    Yep, we know that greenhouse gas emissions are through the roof, and that climate change is already happening in a big, bad way, and that it’s only getting worse. But did you see the news stories about the latest draft report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)? They are positively horrifying! We are royally f#!@%$#cked, everybody. The key word that the report uses to describe our plight: irreversible.

    From The New York Times:

    The world may already be nearing a temperature at which the loss of the vast ice sheet covering Greenland would become inevitable, the report said. The actual melting would then take centuries, but it would be unstoppable and could result in a sea level rise of 23 feet, with additional increases from other sources like melting Antarctic ice, potentially flooding the world’s major cities.

    The IPCC — a team of scientists and other experts appointed by the United Nations to periodically review the latest research on climate science — has been rolling out its fifth assessment report in four installments, and this draft is the latest.

    While it restates many things included in earlier reports, this time it uses stronger words in hopes that you and I and everyone else will actually freak out the way we should given the circumstances. Grueling heat waves, droughts, floods, and all kinds of extreme weather are likely to continue and intensify. And the IPCC is trying to get the world to do something about it.

    Using blunter, more forceful language than the reports that underpin it, the new draft highlights the urgency of the risks likely to be intensified by continued emissions of heat-trapping gases, primarily carbon dioxide released by the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas.

    And that’s because — despite what we know — we’re not doing better at curbing emissions.

    From 1970 to 2000, global emissions of greenhouse gases grew at 1.3 percent a year. But from 2000 to 2010, that rate jumped to 2.2 percent a year, the report found, and the pace seems to be accelerating further in this decade.

    There is a bit of good news, though: Efforts to curb emissions have been relatively successful at the local and regional levels in many countries, and continuing to lower emissions would at least slow the pace of all this change, if not stop it.

    Anyway, at least this report is a “draft,” right? “It’s not final,” The New York Times notes, and could, theoretically, “change substantially before release,” which is slated for early November in Copenhagen. But even if it does, chances are it’ll still be pretty darn grim.

    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: The U.N.’s latest report on climate change is terrifying
    greenland ice

    Yep, we know that greenhouse gas emissions are through the roof, and that climate change is already happening in a big, bad way, and that it’s only getting worse. But did you see the news stories about the latest draft report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)? They are positively horrifying! We are royally f#!@%$#cked, everybody. The key word that the report uses to describe our plight: irreversible.

    From The New York Times:

    The world may already be nearing a temperature at which the loss of the vast ice sheet covering Greenland would become inevitable, the report said. The actual melting would then take centuries, but it would be unstoppable and could result in a sea level rise of 23 feet, with additional increases from other sources like melting Antarctic ice, potentially flooding the world’s major cities.

    The IPCC — a team of scientists and other experts appointed by the United Nations to periodically review the latest research on climate science — has been rolling out its fifth assessment report in four installments, and this draft is the latest.

    While it restates many things included in earlier reports, this time it uses stronger words in hopes that you and I and everyone else will actually freak out the way we should given the circumstances. Grueling heat waves, droughts, floods, and all kinds of extreme weather are likely to continue and intensify. And the IPCC is trying to get the world to do something about it.

    Using blunter, more forceful language than the reports that underpin it, the new draft highlights the urgency of the risks likely to be intensified by continued emissions of heat-trapping gases, primarily carbon dioxide released by the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas.

    And that’s because — despite what we know — we’re not doing better at curbing emissions.

    From 1970 to 2000, global emissions of greenhouse gases grew at 1.3 percent a year. But from 2000 to 2010, that rate jumped to 2.2 percent a year, the report found, and the pace seems to be accelerating further in this decade.

    There is a bit of good news, though: Efforts to curb emissions have been relatively successful at the local and regional levels in many countries, and continuing to lower emissions would at least slow the pace of all this change, if not stop it.

    Anyway, at least this report is a “draft,” right? “It’s not final,” The New York Times notes, and could, theoretically, “change substantially before release,” which is slated for early November in Copenhagen. But even if it does, chances are it’ll still be pretty darn grim.

    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Europe’s power plants are going the way of the dinosaurs

    Solar power, better batteries, and electric vehicles are the dream team of renewable energy. I mean, they belong up there with famous trios like Pavarotti, Carreras, and Domingo and Kim, Khloe, and Kourtney.

    Now the green energy darlings are banding together for a three-pronged attack on Europe’s traditional large-scale utilities — and, according to a new report by investment bank UBS, it looks like they’re winning.

    By UBS’s calculations, 2020 is the year that home solar and energy storage systems will finally wrest the power of economic incentive from Europe’s consolidated utilities that rely on coal- and natural gas-fired plants.

    “Large-scale power stations could be on a path to extinction,” the report says.

    UBS determined this tipping point based on average “payback time,” the period after which an initial investment begins to pay dividends. By the end of this decade, the average solar system installed in Europe, with a prospective 20-year life span, will pay for itself in six to eight years, according to Renew Economy’s coverage. In other words: buy eight, get 12 free. (Right now, payback time is around 12 years; by 2030 it could be as low as three.)

    Throw in an electric car that charges at night, and household costs get even lower — though UBS admits electric vehicles will take a little longer on their road to world domin- ahem, I mean, ending our reliance on fossil fuels.

    The incentives aligning to give renewables a leg up include carbon regulation and high fuel and electricity costs, but crucially UBS’s forecast did not depend on any government solar subsidies. (Subsidies would just get us there faster.)

    Perhaps the key change will be a 50 percent drop in battery prices by 2020. Better, cheaper batteries mean more people will see the value of home solar and electric vehicles, which means more people will buy them, which means the costs of production will likely drop further. There’s a technical term for this, and one we don’t get to use often here: It’s a virtuous cycle.

    Of course, traditional utilities will not go quietly. But this shift means that any plants retiring after 2025 will probably not be replaced, according to UBS. Utilities can keep some skin in the game by providing smart-grid infrastructure and covering the gaps in the distributed system with small-scale backup power generation. But gone, or going, are the days of traditional utilities’ reign.

    And while UBS doesn’t mention anything about the U.S., this news should send a signal to governments and energy tycoons everywhere that the balance of power is shifting. As a wise man once said, watch the throne!

    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Why Colorado is doing beer right

    Chris Asher
    Asher Brewing Company
    Boulder, Colo.

    Colorado is famous for its beer — and we’re not talking about Coors. The state’s 175 registered craft breweries annually produce nearly 12 gallons of beer for every adult of legal drinking age (not to be consumed in one sitting!). Five years ago, Asher Brewing became Colorado’s first certified organic brewery, and remains the only one in the state today.

    Why we chose this beer:

    co_postIn addition to sourcing its hops, malt, and grain from organic farmers, Asher Brewing offsets its electricity with wind power, and diverts 95 percent of its waste from landfills by composting and giving spent grain to local farmers as animal feed.

    On in-state inspiration:

    “While I was at business school, I did a case study on New Belgium, the brewing company in Fort Collins,” says Asher. “I saw all the sustainable things they were doing and how successful they were. But their decisions weren’t always based on finance — rather, on what they can do being a sustainable company that’s a good example for others.”

    Check out the full map.
    Click to check out the full map.

    Filed under: Food, Living
    Gristmill: Why Colorado is doing beer right

    Chris Asher
    Asher Brewing Company
    Boulder, Colo.

    Colorado is famous for its beer — and we’re not talking about Coors. The state’s 175 registered craft breweries annually produce nearly 12 gallons of beer for every adult of legal drinking age (not to be consumed in one sitting!). Five years ago, Asher Brewing became Colorado’s first certified organic brewery, and remains the only one in the state today.

    Why we chose this beer:

    co_postIn addition to sourcing its hops, malt, and grain from organic farmers, Asher Brewing offsets its electricity with wind power, and diverts 95 percent of its waste from landfills by composting and giving spent grain to local farmers as animal feed.

    On in-state inspiration:

    “While I was at business school, I did a case study on New Belgium, the brewing company in Fort Collins,” says Asher. “I saw all the sustainable things they were doing and how successful they were. But their decisions weren’t always based on finance — rather, on what they can do being a sustainable company that’s a good example for others.”

    Check out the full map.
    Click to check out the full map.

    Filed under: Food, Living
    Gristmill: Forget the climate — cap-and-trade could fix your allergies

    How can we finally get people to care about carbon emissions even a little bit? Focus on how they are directly threatening the amount of time on Earth that we can spend snacking and sexting (clinically proven to be the preferred activities of humans in the 21st century.) Or, as The Atlantic’s James Hamblin puts it:

    Researchers are learning that the most effective way around climate-policy ambivalence is to invoke imminent dangers to human health. “What’s killing me today?” with emphasis on killing and me and today.

    The answer to that question is — you guessed it! — carbon emissions. As Hamblin reports, for allergy and asthma sufferers, increased carbon dioxide levels boost pollen count. One allergist expects pollen levels to double by 2040. Also fun: Fossil fuel combustion creates minuscule particles that hang around in our lungs and bloodstreams and then kill us. Air pollution caused one in eight deaths in 2012, according to the World Health Organization.

    OK – so carbon emissions are threatening lives. But what kind of effect would limiting those emissions have on the economy? Those cap-and-trade programs sure seem costly!

    Well, a recent study by a team of MIT researchers, published in Nature Climate Change, found that a cap on carbon emissions would end up saving $125 billion in human health costs – which would cover the projected costs of widespread emissions capping tenfold. Furthermore:

    [The study’s authors] write that any cost-benefit analysis of climate policy that omits the health effects of regional air pollution “greatly underestimate[s] benefits.”

    “What’s killing me today?” is obviously a far more alarming question than “What’s going to create significant economic costs in the future?” When the answer to both is the same, that could – just a thought! – be cause for action. Something to ponder between snacks and Snapchats.

    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Living
    Gristmill: Forget the climate — cap-and-trade could fix your allergies

    How can we finally get people to care about carbon emissions even a little bit? Focus on how they are directly threatening the amount of time on Earth that we can spend snacking and sexting (clinically proven to be the preferred activities of humans in the 21st century.) Or, as The Atlantic’s James Hamblin puts it:

    Researchers are learning that the most effective way around climate-policy ambivalence is to invoke imminent dangers to human health. “What’s killing me today?” with emphasis on killing and me and today.

    The answer to that question is — you guessed it! — carbon emissions. As Hamblin reports, for allergy and asthma sufferers, increased carbon dioxide levels boost pollen count. One allergist expects pollen levels to double by 2040. Also fun: Fossil fuel combustion creates minuscule particles that hang around in our lungs and bloodstreams and then kill us. Air pollution caused one in eight deaths in 2012, according to the World Health Organization.

    OK – so carbon emissions are threatening lives. But what kind of effect would limiting those emissions have on the economy? Those cap-and-trade programs sure seem costly!

    Well, a recent study by a team of MIT researchers, published in Nature Climate Change, found that a cap on carbon emissions would end up saving $125 billion in human health costs – which would cover the projected costs of widespread emissions capping tenfold. Furthermore:

    [The study’s authors] write that any cost-benefit analysis of climate policy that omits the health effects of regional air pollution “greatly underestimate[s] benefits.”

    “What’s killing me today?” is obviously a far more alarming question than “What’s going to create significant economic costs in the future?” When the answer to both is the same, that could – just a thought! – be cause for action. Something to ponder between snacks and Snapchats.

    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Living
    Gristmill: Scott Brown no longer accepts climate science
    Scott Brown

    With age comes wisdom, supposedly. But not for Scott Brown. As the evidence of human-made climate change accumulates, Brown has decided he no longer accepts it.

    Brown, the former U.S. senator from Massachusetts and current candidate for senator in New Hampshire, used to have a pro-environment record. During his 12 years in the Massachusetts state legislature, from 1998 to 2010, he voted for strong state limits on greenhouse gases and in favor of forming the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a carbon-trading system for Northeast states. In 2007, the Massachusetts Audubon Society gave him a perfect rating on its scorecard.

    After being elected in 2010 as a U.S. senator for Massachusetts, though, Brown became a national Republican star and started stepping into line with his GOP colleagues. He said he regretted his vote for RGGI, and he voted against eliminating billions of dollars in subsidies for oil companies and against higher auto fuel-economy standards. His voting score from the League of Conservation Voters for his U.S. Senate tenure was just 38 percent. In 2012, Brown received $280,000 from fossil fuel companies. In that year’s election, the same environmental groups that once praised Brown backed his Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Warren, who ultimately won.

    Brown managed to say he understood the science of climate change, though. “I do believe man plays a role,” he told The Boston Globe during the 2012 campaign. “That being said, we need to do everything; we need to work together, finding that balance to not only address our climate change problems but also to allow people to work and create jobs.” That view would make him more sane than any of the current Republican presidential contenders whose climate records I recently analyzed. Of the 13 aspirants I looked at, 11 either don’t understand climate science or haven’t addressed the subject. The only two who accept climate science are relatively mainstream politicians from blue and purple states, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. But they both oppose taking action to address the problem, whereas Brown called in 2012 for balancing climate action and economic growth. (In practice, of course, Brown might use that as an excuse to oppose any action, thus rendering his position indistinguishable from Christie’s.)

    But now that Brown is trying to get back to the Senate, he’s fallen completely into lockstep with his science-denying party. At Saturday night’s Republican primary debate in Exeter, N.H., Brown was asked, “Do you believe the theory of man-made climate change has been scientifically proven?” He simply replied, “No.”

    The scientific consensus about anthropogenic climate change has only gotten more robust in the last few years — see, for example, the 2013 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and this year’s National Climate Assessment. So why has Scott Brown changed his mind? Does aging make you less able to understand science?

    No, it’s not that. Either Scott Brown was lying in 2012, or he is lying now, or he doesn’t really believe in anything at all. (I’d put my money on the latter.) As the Republican Party moves further right, and as Brown has moved to more conservative New Hampshire, Brown’s political imperative has changed. He’s not the only one. A couple of potential Republican presidential candidates, Mike Huckabee and Marco Rubio, have abandoned their belief in climate change. Mitt Romney did the same thing in 2012. And John McCain and Lindsey Graham did so back in 2009 and 2010.

    The public is silly on this point as well. Between 2006 and 2009, the percentages of Republican and Democratic citizens who accept climate science dropped by 24 points and 16 points, respectively. By November 2013, the proportions had returned to almost their 2006 levels, according to a Pew poll — 88 percent of Democrats and 50 percent of Republicans believed in climate change at that point, versus 91 percent and 59 percent respectively in 2006. But that trend over the last eight years should be sobering to anyone too encouraged by Robert Jay Lifton’s op-ed in the Sunday New York Times arguing that the public has finally come around to climate change psychologically.

    And still 70 percent of Tea Party Republicans don’t accept climate science. Those hard-core, right-wing Republicans are the ones most likely to donate to candidates, volunteer for campaigns, and vote in primaries. Just ask Eric Cantor. Or Scott Brown. On that point, unlike climate science, Brown’s understanding hasn’t degraded with age at all.

    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Kauai’s on-again, off-again GMO regulations are off again
    Pineapple farms on Hawaii

    A judge has invalidated the local ordinance that Kaui passed to restrict the use of pesticides on genetically engineered crops. As I wrote back in October, when the law passed:

    Hawaii is a key part of the plant-development process for seed companies. Because of the tropical climate, breeders can grow three generations of corn a year on the islands, and this speeds up the work of producing new varieties.

    This bit of the tropics is also important to the industry because it’s within the U.S., free from the uncertainty and complication that comes with developing technology abroad, under a different set of laws.

    The ordinance has already gone through the wringer. Kauai’s mayor vetoed the bill, only to be overruled. Now a judge has ruled that it is preempted by the state law governing pesticide use.

    Supporters of the ordinance vowed to keep fighting — though, perhaps through a new law, rather than appealing this decision. There’s a lot that could be done, even without changing any laws. The main concerns noted by residents have to do with heavy use of pesticides, and there is a lot of insecticide (permethrin and chlorpyrifos) being sprayed. That should really be addressed independently of the GMO issue. Chlorpyrifos is pretty nasty stuff, and the regulation of its use shouldn’t be limited to people spraying it on genetically engineered crops.

    The big island of Hawaii has also has passed an ordinance targeting GMOs, but that law goes further, banning all farming with genetically engineered plants (though existing papaya farms, which depend on disease resistant GMOs, were exempted). That law is also being challenged, and the same judge is handling the case. Maui will vote on a GMO farming ban soon.

    Note that many of my links come from Honolulu Civil Beat. Sophie Cocke and Anita Hofschneider are good reporters to follow if you want to keep up with this story.

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Food, Politics
    Gristmill: Walmart is trying to trick your kids into eating veggies
    extreme carrots

    When it comes to kid-friendly advertising, some brands get a little too friendly. Lucky the Leprechaun claims to want to keep kids away from his dangerously sugary cereal, but we suspect he’s a double-agent whose real goal is to sell children as much high-fructose corn syrup as they can eat. And Frosted Flakes may be grrrreat, but our diets aren’t — most Americans eat only one or two servings of fruits and vegetables a day. (No, fruit roll-ups don’t count.)

    But instead of debunking these marketing gimmicks, how about turning the lunch tables by using junk food’s marketing arsenal to sell actual veggies to impressionable kids? That’s what retailers like Giant Eagle and Walmart will be attempting, by featuring “kid zones” stocked with produce that’s been dressed up to look like it’s way more fun than it really is.

    “Giant Eagle is in the process of installing the go-to kid sections in about 400 stores in the mid-Atlantic and Ohio,” NPR reports. “And Walmart is piloting the concept in 30 stores in California, with plans to roll it out to 1,500 stores later this fall.”

    The stores are taking their cue from Bolthouse Farms, whose successful re-marketing of the bland baby carrot as a hip snack food hinged on selling them with shake-on seasonings in a range of Dorito-esque flavors. Also, whatever this commercial is about:

    Other snacks in these candy-colored displays will include squeezable tubes of fruit puree (à la Go-Gurt), and smoothies made from fruit and vegetable juices. From NPR’s story:

    “I think the kid-friendly snacking stations are an absolutely fascinating concept,” says David Just, a behavioral economist at Cornell University. Telling kids what they should eat is not very effective, he says. “They’re not concerned about beta-carotene, or what diseases they might get when they’re 50. They’re much more in the moment.”

    And what could be more in the moment than surfing down a mountain in a shopping cart under machine-gun barrage of baby carrots?

    I’m all for instilling healthy eating habits early on, so here are some other ideas straight from my childhood vices: A hapless anthropomorphic mascot who hoards a secret stash of antioxidant fruits in some kind of whimsical, low-security secret lair; “gushers” a.k.a cherry tomatoes; zucchini chunks carved into the shapes of Frozen characters; emoji temporary tattoos at the bottom of every package of celery.

    They’ll never know what hit ‘em.

    Filed under: Food, Living
    Gristmill: Why California is doing tofu right

    Matthew Schmit
    Tofu Shop Specialty Foods
    Arcata, Calif.

    Californians may bristle at tofu being representative of their state. To which we say: Get over it! Besides, tofu made its American debut in the Golden State: The first tofu processor in the United States was Wo Sing & Co., which was founded in 1878 in San Francisco. Tofu Shop opened in Arcata in 1980, and continues to make organic tofu for the northern California and Oregon region.

    ca_postWhy we chose this tofu:

    Tofu Shop has used organic soybeans to make its tofu since the very beginning, and all of its additional ingredients — aside from a curdling agent — are organic as well. The company recently launched a line of locally sourced sauerkraut and pickles so that it could work with farmers in Humboldt County in addition to its soy suppliers in the Midwest.

    Making the white stuff by the book:

    Schmit was turned onto tofu by The Book of Tofu, a seminal tofu text published in the 1970s.William Shurtliffe, the author, “talked all about the history of tofu in Japan and Asia, with lots of recipes and instructions on how to make tofu in a small shop,” says Schmit. “After that came out, there were dozens of little tofu shops, inspired by his book, that sprang up all over the country.”

    Check out the full map.
    Click to check out the full map.

    Filed under: Food, Living
    Triple Pundit: What’s the Difference Between Certified B Corps and Benefit Corps?
    Certified B Corporations and benefit corporations are often, and understandably, confused. They share much in common but have a few important differences.
    Triple Pundit: Renewables Generate 100 Percent of New U.S. Energy Capacity in July
    According to the U.S. government agency FERC, renewables generated 100 percent of new U.S. energy capacity in July.
    Triple Pundit: SOCAP 2014: Tweet Jam on Financial Inclusion #3pChat
    Social Capital Markets 2014 is around the corner and what better way to kick it off that a tweet jam on key conference topics, starting with the concept of financial inclusion.
    Gristmill: Green must diversify or die

    Roughly 50 environmentalists of various racial backgrounds — African American, Native American, Latina, and Caribbean — gathered at the National Press Club yesterday with a message for mainstream green institutions: If you are serious about diversity, then put your money where your mouth is or suffer the consequences later.

    The newly launched Diverse Environmental Leaders National Speakers Bureau, or “DEL,” convened yesterday on the 98th birthday of the National Park Service to convey chiefly two things: That environmentalists of color are plentiful and available as employees and leaders, and that environmental groups and government agencies have no legitimate excuses for having predominantly white workforces.

    “We are here, and we have always been here,” said the event’s host, Audrey Peterman, jabbing at the notion that people of color are unbothered with the environment. The display of talent among the attendees — many of them DEL members — further crushed that notion.

    In the house: Yosemite Park Ranger Shelton Johnson, who you might have seen in Ken Burns’ national parks documentary; Berkeley professor Carolyn Finney, author of Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors; and Captain William “Bill” Pinkney, who in 1992 sailed around the globe by himself, using the Southern Route — a passageway so difficult only three other Americans have navigated it. Just to name a few.

    Many of these people have decades of experience working with a range of major institutions, from the corporate America to the president’s cabinet. Peterman, one of DEL’s “visionaries,” has won an Environmental Hero Award from the  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and serves on quite a few major organization boards, including the National Parks Conservation Association. Along with her husband, Frank, who co-hosted the event, she’s co-authored two books on nature discovery and runs the environmental firm Earthwise Productions, Inc., which they started 20 years ago.

    Said Pinkney: “People of color have been involved in every aspect of what makes the world what it is today.”

    But with little recognition or compensation, as the speakers emphasized. “They don’t know we exist,” said Pinkney in his speech. The saddening context of that statement is that here you have a man who has literally been all around the world, but still feels invisible.

    “This is not a group who likes to come together to just complain about stuff,” though, said environmental superstar Majora Carter, name-dropping her “buddy Bill Clinton,” with a smile just as slick. They have an action agenda, with many of its bulleted tasks aimed at the Department of the Interior (which houses the National Park service) and the Department of Agriculture.

    One of DEL’s asks is for each department’s inspector general to “conduct a baseline assessment of diversity initiatives, hiring, public-private partnerships, external outreach, and programming.” Much of this information has already been pulled together by University of Michigan professor Dorceta Taylor in the Green 2.0 report released last month.

    Danielle Deane of The Raben Group, who spoke on behalf of the Green 2.0 working group, pointed to anecdotes published in the report from philanthropists and board members saying they can’t locate qualified candidates of color. Plenty of data exists on the supply of talent, she said, but foundations and executives “still think the supply is the challenge.”

    “To make a serious dent in this diversity challenge, it will take us raising our voices to make them demand our talent,” Deane said.

    A glaring irony at the event was that despite the many academics discussed and represented in the crowd, some of the speakers said that the conservation movement had grown too … academic. One of the barriers to achieving ideal diversity is that employers place too much value in university degrees. African-American and Latinos are underrepresented in higher education, due to failures in the education system, economic inequality, and structural racism.

    Environmentalism doesn’t have to be such an intellectual enterprise, Frank Peterman said: “Two of the greatest conservationists I’ve ever known were my father and grandfather. Neither of them had more than a 6th grade education, but they knew how to protect the Earth.”

    Frank served as the Southeast Regional Director of the Wilderness Society from 2003 to 2010. His chief tasks were working closely with Congress to support forests in his region, and making sure urban communities benefitted from public land systems. He talks with a gentle but commanding voice. I might dare to make a Morgan Freeman comparison, but Frank erects himself in the room like the kind of authority figure that Freeman only plays in movies. He has an easy smile and a perfectly shaped silver Fro that sits relaxed like the birth of cool. He animates when the issue of money or funding comes up.

    Part of what he and DEL are pushing Interior, the USDA, and environmental groups to do is create line items in their budget for enhancing the recruitment and hiring of people of color. “It is a mockery to say you support diversity, but you don’t have a line-item in your budget for it,” Frank said.

    It’s difficult for federal agencies to get a new line item in their budgets for a new pack of pencils these days, thanks to the Tea Party austerity hawks in Congress. I asked Frank about this in an interview after the event. He smiled and said: “One of the skills I have developed over the years from dealing with government and nonprofits is, I stand up and say, ‘Don’t tell me you don’t have the money. You have the money. What you’re telling me is you don’t want to spend it on what I’m talking about.'”

    “It’s an absolute failure to move forward with engaging all the parts of the country,” said Audrey Peterman. “Our entire future depends on the extent to which they engage communities of color.”

    DEL’s challenge, said Frank, is creating a climate where “it is no longer acceptable for [employers] to say, ‘We can’t find [people of color],’ or, ‘We don’t know where they are.’”

    But what if visibility isn’t the only problem? It is possible that employers know where people of color are, but the reason they’re not hiring them is just plain-Jane racism — discrimination of either the conscious or subconscious variety? Frank had a smile and answer for that too.

    “We have to challenge that mentality,” he said. “When it comes to racial issues, the only way we’ve ever made progress is to call it what it is, and then challenge it.”

    Filed under: Article, Cities, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Willie, Neil, we love you — but here’s who we really want to see play a green benefit

    Do you have plans on September 27th? No? Good: There’s a benefit concert to raise money for groups opposing the Keystone XL pipeline — sick, right? Okay, here are the details:

    Location: A farm outside of Neligh, Neb.

    Headliners: Willie Nelson and Neil Younzzzzzzz … shit, sorry! Dozed off there for a second.

    Here’s the thing — Keystone XL, like so many other green issues, is poised to have a huge impact on millions and millions of people. And — again, like so many other green issues — it’s kind of hard to grab the attention of people outside of the enviro choir with a second encore of “After the Gold Rush” performed literally in the middle of a cornfield. (No offense to the hallowed discography of Mr. Young. My friends’ parents love you!)

    Young people carry the potential to have a significant voice in climate decisions going forward. There are more 23-year-olds than any other age in the country right now. To put that in perspective: The majority age group couldn’t legally buy Four Loko when it still had caffeine in it. If you want to have a benefit concert to raise awareness of a big environmental issue, maybe it’s time to think about some artists who don’t have a fan base that shares an average age with the AARP member base.

    Henceforth, some of our recommendations for a green benefit concert we’d actually want to go to — and we hope you would, too!

    1. NIKKI LANE As a major site for Big Oil rigs, fracking developments, and Big Ag alike, America’s heartland is seriously at risk in our climate future. If we’re choosing someone as an ambassador for our heartland (read: country music), we’re going with an outlaw like Nikki Lane. Once the temperature notches up a bit, we don’t think she’d take a little street harassment lightly — and that’s a role model we can get behind.

    2. A$AP FERG Guess what? Fighting corporate interests that threaten natural resources takes work. No one knows about that better than the A$AP Mob:

    Something to ponder: On the “Work” remix, is French Montana’s line “Her ass fat, you can park ten Tahoes on it” subtle commentary on the American inclination to fill up available land with oversized structures and vehicles – “her” being a metaphor for the Earth, obviously? And is Schoolboy Q’s follow-up verse, “I don’t have a car/But I could buy one every week” a declaration against that kind of climate-unfriendly consumerism? For our purposes here: Yes.

    3. PITBULL Who has greater mass appeal than Mr. Worldwide himself? Pitbull’s one-word catchphrase, dale (translation: “let’s go”) has been lauded as a way of life. Can we apply that same spirit to fighting climate change? Honestly, we kind of have to.

    4. ANGEL OLSEN Let’s consider the title of Angel Olsen’s haunting breakout album, Burn Your Fire for No Witness. Is it a metaphor for oil trains exploding into flames in barren winter landscapes? Why the hell not! And in times of bad news heaped upon worse news, we can absolutely get behind the sentiment of its opening track title, “Unfucktheworld.”

    5. CONOR OBERST Nebraska is a pretty crucial battleground for the war on Keystone XL, so why not feature the state’s most famous bag of feelings? Oberst, who’s in the midst of a comeback, is known for lyrics that are equal parts cryptic and overwrought, which makes us wonder: Is “The Calendar Hung Itself” a subliminal message about the newfound unpredictability of seasonal patterns as the planet gets warmer? Your call:

    (DISCLAIMER: If listening to this song induces a relapse into the emotional pit of your sophomore year of high school, our lawyers say we’re not responsible.)

    6. FKA TWIGS Since CFCs have eroded the ozone layer, we have to put up with more intense ultraviolet rays from the sun. (Take it from someone who’s photosensitive, and don’t image search that.) FKA twigs is raising awareness of this important atmospheric transformation. Bonus: She also makes incredible music, if R&B-done-by-wood-nymphs is your thing.

    7. ST. VINCENT “Digital Witness,” off the songstress’ fourth and most recent album, takes some shots at the Twitstabook culture that’s taken such a prominent place in modern-day activism. Also, since Annie Clark is clearly a space angel from Mars, we’re going to need her on our side if we do actually have to abandon Earth and colonize a new planet.

    8. RiFF RAFF Why are we choosing someone who has openly declared he “doesn’t give a fuck” about global warming? Well, first of all, we’re hoping he can be converted. Second of all, Riff Raff is nothing if not a man of contradictions and ever-evolving opinions, so I’m still personally waiting for confirmation that his hit “Lava Glaciers” with Childish Gambino isn’t some sort of (extremely) perplexing commentary on changing ecosystems.

    9. KENDRICK LAMAR If you want to know what it’s like to grow up as a young black man in the inner city, listening to good kid, m.A.A.d city is probably one of the most visceral ways you can do it. Since that’s exactly the demographic that needs to have a greater voice in the country’s environmental decisions, why not give top billing to Kendrick?

    (Plus, he has some pretty interesting ideas for what to do with all of Calfornia’s drought-drained swimming pools.)

    We made a Spotify playlist of our dream set list, so check it out:


    Love this lineup? Hate it? Let us know who you’d rather see.

    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Living
    Gristmill: Is it really OK to pour paint down the drain?
    paint cans

    Q. I’ve been painting the inside of our home and find myself with paintbrushes and rollers filled with latex paint (don’t worry, it’s a zero-VOC paint!). I can either 1) wash out all this paint in the sink, which seems to take forever and makes me worried about the water treatment facility; or 2) throw them away, which, wow, seems horribly wasteful.


    Corvallis, Ore.

    A. Dearest Inara,

    Did Michelangelo toss his brushes after a hard day at the Sistine Chapel? Did da Vinci chuck his bristles once he had Mona Lisa’s smile just so? I confess I don’t know this for sure, but doubt it. They (or, more likely, one of their lackeys) cleaned their brushes for tomorrow’s works of art, and so should you. Proper care and cleaning will keep your tools in masterpiece-ready shape for years, so it would indeed be wasteful to treat them as short-lived disposables.

    Kudos for using zero-VOC (volatile organic compounds) latex paint, Inara: As you already know, latex pain is water-based and therefore not considered toxic, as opposed to oil-based paints. And the zero-VOC side of the equation means it doesn’t spew health-damaging, ozone-creating fumes into your home and the atmosphere, either.

    But we can’t let latex paint completely off the hook – it may still harbor biocides to inhibit mildew, acrylics and vinyls, crystalline silica, and various additives and emulsifiers. That means we cannot pour the paint itself down the drain (head over here for more on how to safely dispose of leftovers) and we should be thoughtful about how we dispose of the water we use to wash our painting tools.

    That wash water is less worrisome than full-strength paint, but that doesn’t mean you can dump the dirty water on the ground, into a septic system, or anywhere it might wash straight into your friendly neighborhood waterways. Here’s where it gets interesting, though: Some wastewater treatment facilities say it’s OK to send the wash water down the drain for treatment (like Grist’s hometown of Seattle). Others are more exacting with their advice.

    A representative from your local Corvallis water treatment facility pointed me to your municipal code, Inara, which prohibits the discharge of anything with dyes or other colors they can’t remove. Paint – basically, a colored dye by nature – falls into this category. So handle it (or at least the first couple of rinses) like you would any other hazardous waste and haul it to your local dropoff center.

    Pull it off with the three-bucket cleanup system: First off, get as much paint off of the tools as possible by wiping brushes on the edge of the paint can, or scraping rollers with a 5-in-1 tool to squeeze out the excess Nantucket Dune Taupe and Salmon Sunset Pink. Then, rather than scrubbing your brushes and rollers under a running faucet, clean them in a bucket filled with a small amount of warm, soapy water. (Think dish detergent or hand soap.) Work the paint out of the bristles, then transfer the brush to a second container of clean rinse water. Swish it around, then complete one more rinse in a third bucket. Finally, cover the buckets and take the water down to your hazardous waste collector.

    What if your town tells you to dump your wash water down the drain? My take is that it’s better to be safe than sorry when we’re dealing with our watersheds. You can always try this trick: Allow the buckets to settle for 24 hours; when you pour the water out, you should be able to reserve the small amount of paint residue left in the bottom. Save the stuff, let it dry (you may need to mix with kitty litter or sand) and toss it in the household trash.

    It’s worth noting, Inara, that oil-based paints require extra solvents to clean. These should always go to the hazardous waste center – not down the drain. When in doubt about what to do, contact your wastewater treatment gurus and ask.

    In sum: Is it easier to toss those paint-soaked brushes out with the rest of your project waste as soon as your new hues start drying? Undoubtedly. But just like clothing, dishes, and pillows, your painting tools are dirty – not done for. You’ll just need to take an extra step to protect all those downstream.


    Filed under: Living
    Triple Pundit: U.K. Standards Group Calls Out Peabody Energy for Misleading ‘Clean Coal’ Claim
    The U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority ruled, in a case brought by the World Wildlife Fund, that Peabody Energy should not use the term “clean coal” to imply that coal is emission-free or “the solution for better, longer and healthier lives.”
    Triple Pundit: Behind the Scenes: A Look at the Creation of Symantec’s Signature CSR Program
    Symantec is using philanthropy dollars to fund STEM education initiatives in the security space. Find out how they got the project off the ground.
    Triple Pundit: Top Energy-Efficient Apps and Devices for Everyday Use
    Saving energy is on most people’s minds these days. Check out these top energy-saving devices, appliances and apps you can use every day.
    Triple Pundit: Sustainability Drives Healthy Results at Longfellow Sports Clubs
    Sustainable business practices produce healthy outcomes at Longfellow Sports Clubs, a cluster of five multi-purpose health and recreation facilities located in Sudbury, Wayland and Natick, Massachusetts.
    Triple Pundit: Verizon Ups Its Green Energy Commitment by Another $40 Million
    With its latest increase of capital for green energy, Verizon is now poised to become the nation's top solar-producing communications company. The latest injection of $40 million will add further installations to green sites in California, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey and New York.
    Triple Pundit: Big ‘Beyond Coal’ Victory for Indianapolis Grassroots Coalition
    Indianapolis Power & Light's decision to stop burning coal at its Harding Street power plant marked a big victory for residents and Power Indy Forward, a grassroots coalition of 55 organizations.
    Gristmill: Done shivering? Now try the rice bucket challenge
    rice in burlap sack

    If you, like the reader who recently wrote to Umbra, are concerned that the massively popular and totally unending ALS Ice Bucket Challenge poses a threat to our precious fresh water sources, never fear! You can always join India and use rice.

    Last week, a journalist from Hyderabad decided that the viral publicity stunt made no sense in a country where access to clean water is not guaranteed. So, she started her own movement, the #RiceBucketChallenge: Cook a bowl of rice or give a bag of the grain to a neighbor in need.

    It’s not quite as exciting as its previous incarnation — people are cooking or donating rice instead of pouring it over their heads (booooooo!) — but it’s already snagged a significant following. The movement’s Facebook page was born on Aug. 23 and it already has over 22,000 fans.

    From City Lab:

    “The idea of dunking oneself in icy cold water, shrieking in horror and then uploading the bizarre video felt preposterous. I wanted to just do something local, meaningful without wasting anything,” says 38-year old Manju Latha Kalanidhi. “So rice replaced water here.” …

    Manju says she chose rice for donation because it rhymes with “ice” and is an integral part of South Indian diet. The challenge doesn’t produce spectacular videos like the ice bucket challenge, but if it catches on, many hungry stomachs will be fed.

    Can’t argue with that. Less hunger, more water. Huzzah!

    Filed under: Article, Food, Living
    Gristmill: Why Arizona is doing low-resource farming right

    Brian Sternberg
    Maggie’s Farm Aquaponics
    Marana, Ariz.

    As we face a warming planet, Arizona’s famed “dry heat” could get a lot drier and a lot hotter. Sternberg has been experimenting with a method of growing fresh greens and herbs that uses far less water.

    az_postWhy we chose this farm:

    Sternberg estimates that his aquaponics system uses about 90 percent less water than conventional farming methods. He grows everything in greenhouses, and uses no pesticides. The system is designed to cultivate tilapia, as well, which he hopes to start doing soon.

    When choosing how to grow food, it’s important to keep the future in mind:

    “As time goes on, I think food is going to be more and more scarce,” he says. “We’re stressing everything out … Eventually, the costs [of our food system] are going to outstrip everything that we do.”

    Check out the full map.
    Click to check out the full map.

    Filed under: Food, Living
    Gristmill: After Ferguson, what next?
    Ferguson Light Brigade

    What happens when your protest is over? Earlier this month, people in Ferguson, Mo., began marching in the streets, asking for answers to three questions: Who from the local police department had shot Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager? Where was the incident report? And why had the case been handled the way that it was?

    These demonstrations sprawled into something larger when the police responded by dragging out an eye-popping quantity of decommissioned military gear, arresting reporters, tear-gassing peaceful protesters, and acting like they were putting on a summer stock theater production of Full Metal Jacket. By the time the chief of police divulged the identity of the police officer, the questions had multiplied. Counter-protestors appeared. The FBI came, and then the U.S. attorney general, and then the National Guard. Even more media arrived. A grand jury was convened.

    After two weeks, the protests began to take on what New York Times reporter Dan Barry called a “Groundhog Day feel”: Aside from sporadic moments of panic, everything had more or less settled into a routine.

    The protesters, the reporters, the yellow-shirted observers from Amnesty International — everyone but the police — walk around and around. They might take a break in a designated area, or pause to study a glowing Anderson Cooper, his black shirt offsetting his shock-white hair, as he delivers his report. But then it’s back to walking the oblong path, like exercisers on a high school track.

    All of this is going to be pretty familiar to anyone who has had to cover a long-running series of protests. To complain about the repetitiveness is beside the point. Protests are theater. Sometimes they are spontaneous; sometimes they are well-rehearsed. Sometimes they are boring as hell. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t have results that can survive long after the protest is over.

    Ferguson was powerful because it wasn’t just about one person’s killing in one suburb. It was also about Ezell Ford, John CrawfordDenzell Curnell, and Dante Parker, all of whom had died earlier this summer under similarly suspicious circumstances. “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” was theater, but it was incredibly powerful theater, because it made the outsized response to the protests seem even more ludicrous.

    What’s always harder to cover, as a reporter, is what happens after a moment like Ferguson, when a previously ignored problem seems to crystallize into view. Real change takes time: It’s fraught with setbacks, and politics, and compromise, and learning new power structures. The most visible aspects of the Occupy movement dispersed in New York but have reappeared in the form of disaster relief organizations, like Occupy Sandy, and in the form of smaller, more nimble organizations like Strike Debt.

    When I lived in San Francisco, I would occasionally see people in the Castro wearing a T-shirt that showed a police car in flames, with the words “No Apologies – May 21, 1979″ on them. The GLBT Historical Society sold them; they were reproductions of an old design commemorating a riot where gay men, angered at the light prison sentence given to the former police officer who had murdered Supervisor Harvey Milk,  ripped up parking meters and used them to smashed out the front windows of City Hall. When the police arrived to stop them, the protesters set fire to the police cars. Not long after, the mayor appointed a new chief of police, and openly gay people began to join the police force.

    You couldn’t say that one was the direct consequence of the other. But protest happened, and then change followed. When I was working as a reporter in San Francisco, I routinely interviewed older gay politicians who described how, in the ’70s, you understood that the San Francisco police cruised the Castro after the bars closed looking for gays to beat up the same way that you understood that rain sometimes fell out of the sky. For all the present-day SFPD’s flaws, that common knowledge is now thankfully uncommon.

    When I started covering environmental activism, people told me that I had to write a story about Richmond, Calif. Something incredible had happened there, they said. It was a legendarily polluted and troubled community, but a group of locals had gradually worked their way up through city government to the point where they could begin to regulate the Chevron refinery that generated most of that pollution.

    I went there, expecting to find some hard-core environmentalists, which the Bay Area has more than its share of. Instead, I found a hard-core clarinetist and political science major who was inspired to get into local politics after a group of local police officers tackled and arrested his family at a Cinco de Mayo party. Once he and his allies had managed to get rid of the local police chief, they felt like they’d gotten the hang of this reform thing and wanted to keep on going.

    Michael Brown’s funeral was today, Monday. News coverage reported that many people in the crowd were wearing “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” T-shirts. It may be years before we see the effects clearly, but voter registration booths have been out at the protest site. Calls are out to compile and otherwise track police behavior — something that people have tried to do for years, but still haven’t been able to do comprehensively. There’s been talk of making police wear body cameras, as they do in places like Rialto, Calif. And there’s been many, many essays expanding the story to a broader context, especially about who has the right to public space.

    The protests may be nearly over but, if history is any judge, the changes are just beginning.

    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Europe is burning our forests for “renewable” energy. Wait, what?

    If you’re driving through the South and you see a denuded field filled with stubby new plantings where lush forest once stood, the blame might lie with an unlikely culprit: the European Union and its well-intentioned clean energy rules.

    In March 2007, the E.U. adopted climate and energy goals for 2010 to 2020. The 27 member countries set a goal of reducing carbon emissions 20 percent by 2020 and increasing renewables to 20 percent of their energy portfolio. Unfortunately, they underestimated the carbon intensity of burning wood (a.k.a. “biomass”) for electricity, and they categorized wood as a renewable fuel.

    The result: E.U. countries with smaller renewable sectors turned to wood to replace coal. Governments provided incentives for energy utilities to make that switch. Now, with a bunch of new European wood-burning power plants having come online, Europeans need wood to feed the beast. But most European countries don’t have a lot of available forest left to cut down. So they’re importing our forests, especially from the South.

    Of course, wood is in some sense renewable: Trees can be regrown. But in other ways it’s more like fossil fuels than it is like solar and wind. After all, the whole obsession with renewables isn’t just because we fear running out of fossil fuels. It’s because burning fossil fuels produces CO2 that causes global warming. The same is true of burning wood, unlike wind or solar.

    Wood accounts for a majority of renewable energy generation in Poland and Finland, and nearly 40 percent in Germany. It is especially appealing to British energy utilities, because the British government offers generous subsidies for renewable energy and its solar industry is not nearly as advanced as Germany’s.

    Drax, a major British utility, announced last year that they will convert three coal-burning plants to wood. This transition will bring the company up to 550 million British pounds per year ($912 million) in government subsidies for renewables.

    The Economist calls this policy “environmental lunacy,” observing dryly: “After years in which European governments have boasted about their high-tech, low-carbon energy revolution, the main beneficiary seems to be the favored fuel of pre-industrial societies.”

    The E.U.’s initial rationale was not totally crazy — it just turned out to be totally wrong. Citing research that suggested that young trees consume more CO2 than older trees, policymakers figured that burning a tree for energy could be carbon neutral if you planted a replacement tree.

    More recent studies, however, have shown that to be much too optimistic. Not all young trees consume more CO2 than older trees — it depends on the species and various other conditions. The process of chopping trees into wood pellets and shipping it across the Atlantic, and the energy involved in burning it all, add to the total carbon intensity.

    “Burning very few wood fuels shows any carbon benefit over coal,” says Scot Quaranda a spokesperson for the Dogwood Alliance, an anti-deforestation group in Asheville, N.C. “In most cases it’s actually worse than coal or natural gas.”

    Dogwood has launched a campaign to pressure American and British energy utilities to stop burning whole trees for electricity. (It says that burning sawdust left over at sawmills is relatively harmless.)

    There are a few crucial variables to consider when weighing the climate impacts of burning wood. One is: What would have happened to the wood if it wasn’t burned? Many logging operations and sawmills burn slash piles, scrap, and sawdust, creating more greenhouse gases than a power plant would generate by burning pellets made from the same “residue,” according to a report issued last month the U.K. Department of Energy and Climate Change. But from a climate perspective, it would be better to leave that residue in the forest to decay, the report says.

    It also depends on how much heat energy is required to dry out the pellets for burning, and how that energy is produced. On average, the report says, “Biomass electricity was found to require greater energy inputs than most other electricity-generating technologies.” Wood shipped to Europe from the West Coast has much higher fuel emissions from transportation than if it is from the East Coast. Then there is the question of what the land would have been used for instead of harvesting wood.

    The bottom line: While in certain scenarios, burning wood pellets can have “very low” greenhouse gas footprint, the report says, “other scenarios can result in [greenhouse gas] intensities greater than electricity from fossil fuels, even after 100 years.” And “in all cases, the energy input required to produce the electricity from North American pellets is greater than electricity from fossil fuels and other renewables (except the most energy-intensive PV systems) and nuclear.”

    Overall, this hardly seems like something we should be subsidizing. Hopefully, European policies will catch up to their own governments’ findings.

    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: There have been 5 — yes, 5! — monster hurricanes in the eastern Pacific this year
    Hurricane Marie at Category 5 strength.

    Right now, swirling south of the Baja California peninsula, is a monster hurricane named Marie. Currently a Category 4 storm with 145 mile per hour maximum sustained winds, yesterday the storm was a full fledged Category 5, with 160 mile per hour winds. That makes Marie the first Category 5 in the Eastern Pacific hurricane basin so far this year — but there have been at least three other Category 4 storms so far, and one Category 3 to boot.

    By any measure, these numbers are pretty striking.

    According to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, the average Eastern Pacific hurricane season runs from May 15 through the end of November, and sees 15.4 total named storms, including 8.4 hurricanes, and 3.9 major hurricanes (Category 3 and greater). This year, by contrast, has already seen 13 storms, including eight hurricanes, and five major hurricanes! And there are still fully three months to go.

    In fact, for 2014, the Climate Prediction Center forecast three to six major hurricanes in the East Pacific. We’re already there, but we’re only halfway through the season! Just for comparison, in the jaw-dropping 2005 Atlantic hurricane season — the season featuring Katrina, Rita, and Wilma — there were a total of seven major hurricanes.

    Moreover, all this activity has been accompanied by numerous hurricane records. Back in May, Category 4 Hurricane Amanda was the strongest May storm ever seen in the basin. And just weeks later, Category 4 Hurricane Cristina set another new record, becoming the “earliest 2nd major hurricane formation” in the basin.

    Now, the National Weather Service office in San Diego adds yet another record for Marie:

    Note, though, that this record would appear to include Category 4 Hurricane Genevieve, which seems questionable. Genevieve was a truly rare storm that started in the Eastern Pacific as a tropical storm, and then tracked all the way across the Pacific from east to west, only attaining Category 4 strength in the Central Pacific region west of Hawaii, before then crossing the international dateline and becoming classified as a typhoon.

    But with or without Genevieve, we’re still talking about a ton of strong hurricane activity. So what’s going on here? Note that even as the Eastern Pacific has been gangbusters, the Atlantic basin, where hurricanes tend to threaten the United States, has been pretty quiet. That’s no coincidence, explains Weather Underground blogger Jeff Masters by email:

    … hurricane activity in the Epac [East Pacific] and the Atlantic are usually anti-correlated — when one is very active, the other is usually quiet. This occurs because when sinking air occurs over one ocean basin, there must be compensating rising air somewhere — typically over the neighboring ocean basin. Large-scale rising air helps encourage thunderstorm updrafts and thus tropical storm formation. Since ocean temperatures are much warmer than average over the Epac and near average over the Atlantic, the atmosphere over the Epac has tended to have more rising air this season than the Atlantic. Warm waters heat the air above it and make the air more buoyant, causing rising motion.

    Right now, there are two major questions: Just how many more records will the 2014 Northeast Pacific Hurricane season set? And will one of those be a new record strongest hurricane ever recorded in the basin?

    The current strongest storm, recorded in 1997, was Category 5 Hurricane Linda, which had maximum sustained winds of 184 miles per hour and a minimum central pressure of 902 millibars.

    As for Marie: While the storm is far out at sea and unlikely to directly threaten any major land areas, it is kicking up huge waves that may be felt as far away as Los Angeles. Eastern Pacific hurricanes occasionally strike Mexico, and on rare occasions travel west far enough to menace the Hawaiian islands.

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

    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Triple Pundit: Food Runners Keeps the Unfortunate Fed in San Francisco
    In 1987, Mary Risley founded Food Runners in San Francisco to pick up uneaten food from local businesses to distribute it to charities.
    Triple Pundit: Solar System Will Power New Dropbox Office
    Dropbox’s new San Francisco office will feature a solar energy system designed by UGE, a global distributed renewable energy company. The 25.2 kilowatt (kW) photovoltaic (PV) system will supply enough energy to produce power to offset the electricity used in the new six-story building designed by William McDonough Partners.
    Gristmill: Why Arkansas is doing CSAs right

    Jennifer Watts
    Cobblestone Farm
    Fayetteville, Ark.

    The Natural State has the second-highest rate of household food insecurity in the country (19.7 percent). Cobblestone Farm provides free fresh produce — and education about sustainable farming and healthy eating — to low-income and homeless residents in northwestern Arkansas. “You see so much about hunger relief in Third World countries without realizing there’s over 2,000 homeless people that live in [this region],” says Watts, the executive director. “And northwest Arkansas is certainly not the only place where this kind of initiative could thrive.”

    Why we chose this farming project:ar_post

    In addition to distributing fresh fruits and vegetables to local food banks, Cobblestone invites families and local students out to the farm to learn about organic growing. The ultimate goal: empower those without easy access to healthy food to grow their own fruits and veggies.

    When Community Supported Agriculture supports the surrounding community:

    The farm is partially funded by proceeds from Farm-to-Harvest shares, Cobblestone’s CSA program. The shares are purchased by families in the Fayetteville area, and half of the cost of the share represents a donation to Cobblestone. Many supporters also pay for shares, and then donate the produce to families in need.

    Check out the full map.
    Click to check out the full map.

    Filed under: Food, Living
    Gristmill: To end population growth, spread the wealth
    harried earthmom

    Zoom out on the graph of human population until it encompasses the entire timeline of our species and you’ll notice something alarming. It looks like a right angle, with one line hovering near zero for millennia, and another, at present day, headed straight up toward the stratosphere.

    Here I sit, on a warm quiet day in my neighborhood, with children playing nearby and a train whistle farther off, living a reasonable, modest life. And yet, at the same time, I, along with you and the rest of us, am plastered against the tip of population rocket powering upward atop megatons of explosive fuel.

    How Many People Can the Earth Support

    That graph comes from Joel Cohen’s 1995 book, How Many People Can the Earth Support? Though it’s now almost 20 years old, it’s still incredibly useful in exploring the conflicting answers to that question, because Cohen never takes sides. He simply (and exhaustively) lays out the arguments, and every shred of data used to support them.

    Cohen is still alarmed by that graph. “We are in a completely unprecedented range of experience,” he said. He has a gentle, grandfatherly manner, and speaks slowly, choosing his words one by one. “Population has tripled in my lifetime. It’s changing the world so fast and in so many dimensions that people aren’t aware of the significance.”

    Then he added, “But I don’t think we are powerless.”

    When I wrote my last piece in this series, several people commented that I was off the mark in cheering rural development and looking for ways to enrich poor farmers. To paraphrase slightly, they asked: Shouldn’t we be fighting against the forces that build roads and electrical lines and bigger houses — rather than applauding them? In fact, isn’t saving poor children and ending hunger only going to make things worse as we ride out this population rocket headed who knows where?

    It makes some intuitive sense to answer those questions with a “yes.” But intuition is a poor guide here. In reality, improving life for the poor is the key to ending population growth. All the evidence points the same way, Cohen said.

    “If you want parents to make the choice to reduce their number of offspring, there’s no better way than making sure those offspring survive,” he said. “There’s no example of decline in fertility that has not been preceded by a decline in child mortality that I know of.”

    The doctor and statistics popularizer Hans Rosling can explain why this is in his usual, wonderful way. (Seriously, if you don’t know him, check out Basically it comes down to this: It makes economic sense to have lots of kids if you are poor. As people have become more prosperous, the population growth rate has been trending steadily downward.

    World population growth rate 1950–2050
    Wikimedia Commons
    World population growth rate 1950–2050.

    Will things level out in time? No one knows. Though Cohen wrote the book on how many people the earth can support, he says, “the more I learned, the less I understood. It sounds like a simple question, but it’s not.”

    But Cohen did come away with a useful way of framing the problem and the choices we can make to solve it. The problem is this: As population grows, and resources grow scarce, how do we divide up the global pie? The solutions we can choose among: bigger pie, fewer forks, and better table manners.

    We can make the pie bigger through scientific advances — increasing farm yields and finding more efficient sources of energy. We can reduce the number of forks with family-planning programs, providing access to contraception and giving women more power over their bodies and finances. We can promote better table manners, that is, more equitable sharing, through, well, either more government or less. “The ‘better manners’ school calls for freer markets or socialism (depending on taste),” Cohen writes.

    There’s tremendous controversy here, obviously, and not just on the last point. There are lots of people arguing that one of these solutions is paramount and the others are secondary. First we need better technology! No, first we need to reduce population! No, first we need revolution! But, Cohen says, “Almost 20 years later, I’m convinced that we cannot exclude any of those factors.”

    After he finished the book, he held it for a year because he didn’t have a single overarching recommendation about what to do, and he felt he should. Then he went ahead and published anyway, without any prescription. A few years later, he had an idea: “Suppose we could educate all the worlds’ children, wouldn’t that help in all three dimensions?”

    Education would allow children all over the world to become better farmers and scientists, and create appropriate technology for their needs. It would lead to lower birthrates, because when people get an education they tend to have smaller families. And an educated populace would be able to demand more from their governments. Cohen wrote two books as he pursued this line of thinking.

    Then he changed his mind: Education alone wouldn’t work. “Educating all the world’s children would be a transformative change in human capacity, but you cannot educate a dead brain,” he said. In places where there is chronic malnutrition, children are stunted both mentally and physically. “It’s not going to happen until those children get fed, and those children aren’t going to get fed until their mothers get fed, because the effects start prenatally.”

    And so he’s come back around to a three-pronged approach that mirrors his pie metaphor: more food for mothers and children, birth control, and education.

    Joel Cohen
    Joel Cohen

    At the end of our conversation, when I asked Cohen if there was anything else he wanted to say, he thought for a moment, then delivered this miniature sermon:

    “At the beginning of the 19th century, slavery was part and parcel of the economic system. Everyone took it for granted except a few nutcases. Today hunger, terrible, destructive hunger, is business as usual as part of the economic system, and it’s taken for granted. Slavery was wrong. Hunger is just as wrong. We have got to get rid of it. We need a change in consciousness so that it is no longer an acceptable part of our economic system. Unless we solve the hunger problem, we cannot solve the population growth problem.”

    Wannabe Loraxes like me try to speak for the trees, which often means pushing back against the demands of humans. But in this case (unless you propose a truly evil route), what’s good for turtles, trees, and the larger ecological commonwealth is also what’s good for the poorest of our own species. If we want to solve this population problem, we need to become humanitarians.

    Hat tip to Glenn Davis Stone, who suggested I read Cohen’s book. Grist has done a lot of good work on population — for more, check out this series.

    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Food
    Triple Pundit: OfficeMax, TerraCycle Launch K-Cup Recycling in Canada
    OfficeMax and TerraCycle have launched a K-Cup recycling program in Canada.
    Triple Pundit: Report: Tech Advances, Policy Changes Drive U.S. Solar Boom
    A new study from the Union of Concerned Scientists Climate and Energy Program reviews the boom in U.S. solar energy and identifies key steps to assure ongoing rapid growth.
    Triple Pundit: Millennials on a Mission with Nexus
    Brian Weinberg describes the global organizing of millennials taking place through Nexus and its focus on bringing young people of wealth and social entrepreneurs together to make a better world.
    Triple Pundit: Dr. Pepper Snapple Group is Serious About Reducing Waste
    Dr. Pepper Snapple Group has surpassed several of its environmental targets, as its latest corporate social responsibility (CSR) report reveals. The company that has over 50 beverage brands is really serious about reducing waste. DPS set a goal of recycling 60 million pounds of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic by 2015, but last year recycled 60.7 million pounds.
    Triple Pundit: The Case for Public Relations
    Edelman had its hand slapped over its refusal to drop unsavory clients, but the final outcome might be a win for the sustainable business community.
    Triple Pundit: For Waste Management, Coal Ash Disposal + Food Waste Recycling = Jobs, Jobs, Jobs
    Waste Management is betting the ranch that new EPA coal ash disposal regulations will provide opportunities to grow its business and create new jobs.
    Gristmill: Amaranth isn’t just another weed — here’s how to cook this prolific leafy green

    Foraged vegetables are always more fun to cook. So our resident forager, Tama Matsuoka Wong, is introducing us to the seasonal wild plants we should be looking for, and the recipes that will make our kitchens feel a little more wild.

    I used to only associate amaranth with its seed, an important staple grain for the ancient Aztec civilizations of central and south America. Rich in amino acids, magnesium, and iron, it’s still cultivated today and can be found in grocery and health food stores, along with amaranth flour, which is gluten-free.

    Tama Matsuoka Wong

    Farmers have always appreciated amaranth’s ability to grow on parched soil. Its resilience also makes it one of the most common summer weeds — it’s among the first to grow between crops, in vegetable gardens, and on fields. Because of its Herculean growth rate, Amaranth is also know as pigweed, or by some agriculturalists, “Enemy of the State.”

    There are many types of amaranth: Some varietals grow seven feet tall and are cultivated primarily for grains, whereas others are more ornamental — like the “Love Lies Bleeding” varietal, which, though edible, is used primarily to make red dye. But, in many places — including China, India, Mexico, Greece, and Africa — amaranth is enjoyed as a leafy green.

    Yossy Arefi

    Many wild varieties grow in North America, as well: palmer, redroot, smooth, and powell, for example. Generally, amaranth leaves are oval, with a rounded tip, and their surface is lined with veins. You’ll also notice that its roots are tinged red, and its densley packed green flowers shoot out from the center of the plant’s highest leaf cluster. For more information about a specific amaranth species, see this guide to identification characteristics.

    Yossy Arefi

    This “weed” has become a good friend of mine. I don’t wait for the seeds (they are the size of mustard seeds and need to be separated from the chaff) — instead, I clip off the tender tops and side shoots of the young plant before the large flower head forms. Amaranth’s taste is nutty and sweet, and its coarse texture holds up well under high heat. I prefer them stuffed in phyllo pastries, tossed in summer pastas, or as an Asian stir-fry, like I did here.

    Yossy Arefi

    Southeast Asian Amaranth Stir-Fry with Ginger
    See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

    6 cups amaranth leaves and stems, clipped from the top 3-inches of the plant
    2 to 3 tablespoons canola oil (or enough to coat the bottom of a wok or pan)
    1 tablespoon sliced ginger
    1 tablespoon fish sauce

    Note: Be careful not to confuse amaranth with Carolina horsenettle (Solanum carolinense), which often grows next to it — it’s is a toxic member of the nightshade family. Its leaves have teeth, a pointy tip, and prickly stems.

    Filed under: Food, Living
    Gristmill: The climate movement is way too focused on market-based solutions
    piles of money in sky

    There was a time when we met overarching challenges with bold public purpose and concerted action as “we the people.”

    When the Depression hit, we created large public works projects, building roads, airports, and power dams.

    When murderous tyranny threatened the world, we became the arsenal of democracy and won World War II.

    When Europe was sinking in post-war turmoil, we staged the Marshall Plan to rebuild the continent.

    When John Kennedy set a target to reach the moon in a decade, we assembled the resources and will and made it happen.

    Then, in the 1980s, something happened. We stopped believing in acting together in the common interest. With Ronald Reagan in the U.S. and Margaret Thatcher in the U.K., we turned to the “magic of the marketplace.” In the public policy arena, market tools were determined to be superior to direct actions by governments. Government was the problem, not the solution, said Ronnie. Bill Clinton echoed him in the 1990s when he said, “The era of big government is over.”

    Marketplace mysticism infused both parties, not to mention the environmental movement, where MAs and PhDs with expertise in “neoclassical economics” were avidly sought to develop market tools that would reflect environmental costs and “right price” everything. Market fundamentalism won the day.

    Thus the climate movement is possessed with near theological discussions about which market tool is better. Is it a straight-up carbon tax, or should we create a carbon cap, auctioning permits to pollute and allowing polluters to buy carbon emissions reductions in a trading marketplace? Ideally seeking the lowest-cost carbon reductions possible.

    What is lost in the discussion is how we actually met big challenges in the past, challenges that require the creation of new technologies and industries. Market fundamentalism conceives new innovations and industries to rise magically out of properly adjusted market systems. Build the incentives and they will come. A study of economic history shows it just ain’t so.

    The digital computing industry did not start with guys in garages in the 1970s, but with huge investments by the military and then the space program from World War II through the Cold War. Long before Bill Gates and Steve Jobs came the Department of War-funded ENIAC, the world’s first digital computer, in 1946 at the University of Pennsylvania. From IBM to the predecessors of today’s microchip industry, government-funded research and contracts founded later commercial success. Military and space purchases of costly integrated circuits paved the way for cheap mass computing.

    Aerospace likewise rose out of concerted public investments driven by national security needs. For instance, Boeing built the Boeing 707 jetliner on an airframe designed as the KC-135 air tanker. Before 1955 the company drew over 99 percent of its income from the U.S. Department of Defense. The telecommunication story is the same, with microwave transmission, communications satellites, and fiberoptics rising out of federal research and investments. Even the fossil-fuel fracking revolution grew out of decades of public R&D funding. Earlier examples of industry creation include the land and cash grants to the first transcontinental rail lines, and the U.S. Navy’s deliberate creation of an American steel industry to build its new steel fleet in the 1880s.

    Public investment is needed to nurture new technologies through early stages, when investments are not likely to produce immediate returns. If one private party takes the R&D risks, others might share the rewards by reverse-engineering new technologies and adopting them as their own. In economics this is known as the free-rider problem. So the public must assume the risks. Then when technologies move from R&D to early production, costs are high until economies of scale and learning curves bring them down. So public support in the form of guaranteed markets for expensive early-stage products is crucial.

    Carbon pricing and caps can be a useful supplement to public investment in creating new technologies and industries. But to win the climate war, we need to recall how we succeeded in other great struggles: by “we the people” acting together in the common good and directly investing in creating the technologies and industries we need to win. We did it in the past. We can do it again.

    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Why Alaska is doing salmon right

    Kirk and Heather Hardcastle
    Taku River Reds
    Juneau, Alaska

    This salmon wholesaler abides by strict standards to ensure that the local fish populations remain intact. After all, 95 percent of the United States’ domestic salmon supply comes from Alaska. For the Hardcastles, maintaining healthy fish populations is a must.

    ak_postWhy we chose this salmon:

    “We fish for the future,” says Kirk. Which means that, during salmon runs, Taku River sends out its boat only three to four days a week to ensure that plenty of salmon can swim upstream and reproduce. The Hardcastles also encourage their staff to engage in salmon-related research and political advocacy — they recently wrapped up a project exploring salmon oil’s potential to be used for biodiesel. “We’re still scientists and nature nerds at heart,” says Kirk. “We’re trying to use the whole fish in every capacity that we can, and every year we try something new.”

    Healthy salmon make for a healthy local economy:

    “In Alaska, our economics are 100 percent tied into the health of our environment,” says Kirk. “Anything we do … should look through the lens of salmon.”

    Check out the full map.
    Click to check out the full map.

    Filed under: Food, Living
    Gristmill: Give up, bike thieves, you can’t steal these wheels

    Bolt cutters are a nightmare for bike owners. Thieves can slice through cables and padlocks in seconds. And forget about only locking the front wheel, too (rookie mistake). Good news for bicyclists who resent carting around heavy U-locks or chains: A new bike design incorporates the lock into the bike itself. And its creators claim it’s unstealable.

    Here’s how locking up the bike works: The down tube — the part of the frame that connects the head tube (up by your handlebars) to the crankset (next to your pedals) folds open. By connecting the two ends of the down tube using your seat post (and a lock with a key), you can effectively wrap your bike around the nearest lamp post or tree. Stealing the bike would have to involve either uprooting said lamp post or tree — or breaking crucial parts of the bike frame, rendering the bicycle useless.

    The prototype is called The Yerka Project and it was designed by college students Andrés Roi, Cristóbal Cabello, and Juan José Monsalve from the University of Adolfo Ibáñez in Chile.

    The students claim they didn’t design the Yerka with dollar-signs in mind — they came up with the idea after Roi had his bike stolen twice. They hope to turn the Yerka into a full-time business after graduation. They are also in the process of designing other models, Monsalve tells Esquire:

    We only have one fully functional prototype at the time, but we want to make various bike models, with speeds, girl models, etc. Currently the frame is made out of steel and our intervention of aluminum. We are raising funds right now make more prototypes and to make a small volume of bikes, which are going to be the first ones to go out to the market. We still don’t have a date, but we think our first small volume will be ready in six to eight months, tops.

    Whether the Yerka really is, as its website touts, the world’s first unstealable bike remains to be seen. But considering that bike theft is so common because it’s easy to pull off, a little deterrent could go a long way. In heavily biked cities like San Francisco, where bike thefts have increased nearly 70 percent from 2006 to 2012 — this new model could be a game changer.

    Filed under: Cities, Living
    Gristmill: Everyone’s talking about the Ferguson looters. Let’s shame the polluters, too
    A demonstrator raises his hands in front of a fog of tear gas hovering over West Florissant during further protests in reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown near Ferguson, Missouri August 18, 2014.

    A lot has been made of the damage done as the result of riots and looting following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. It’s fair to call it “looting” — cameras have captured people busting out of Target with TVs in hand, and there’s no way to intellectualize that. Economists are estimating millions of dollars in damages to businesses. But they’re also saying that most businesses will get that back through insurance.

    As for the people of Ferguson, they will continue living with a different kind of damage for which there is no insurance. That is, the air pollution that’s been clouding the St. Louis metro region for decades. And really, we can include Missouri and the Midwest, given the way wind carries toxic air emissions beyond city and state boundaries.

    Check the lung damage report: The St. Louis metro ranks No. 13 in the nation for ozone, which amplifies asthma, especially in kids — and No. 8 for year-round particulate matter, which can lead to cancer, according to the American Lung Association’s latest “State of the Air” survey. Summer heat only makes these problems worse (as does tear gas), and St. Louis summers are bound to only get hotter. How much hotter? Check out this graphic from Climate Central — just click on St. Louis:

    The reason for this is Missouri’s fossil fuel dependency, particularly coal, which makes up close to 80 percent of the state’s energy mix. Its other two major energy sources are natural gas and nuclear, which are less harmful to the air and lungs, but both of which come with their own toxic waste risks.

    According to a state pollution profile from the White House, Missouri power plants and major industrial facilities pumped out over 87 million tons of carbon pollution in 2012  — the equivalent of 18 million cars. By mid-century, as climate change impacts begin to sink in, “increased heat wave intensity and frequency, increased humidity, degraded air quality, and reduced water quality will increase public health risks.”

    U.S. Energy Information Administration state rankings

    The companies responsible for this pollution in the St. Louis metro region are among the worst in the nation. The largest coal plants in the state are mostly run by three companies: Union Electric, Kansas City Power and Light, and the Associated Electric Coop. Kansas City Power and Light is owned by Great Plains Energy Inc., which is ranked number 25 among the top 100 greenhouse gas emitters in the nation by the Political Economy Research Institute.

    Union Electric is a subsidiary of Ameren Corp., which ranks number six among the top 100 greenhouse gas polluters in the nation. Four of its largest plants for carbon pollution are in or near St. Louis. Its Sioux facility, a coal-fired power plant, in West Alton, 20 miles north of Ferguson, sits among a community that consists of 41.5 percent minority residents and 11.1 percent poor.

    There are many more smaller polluters in the St. Louis region, and these jokers ain’t playing fair. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online report (ECHO) for St. Louis reports 39 facilities in violation of environmental codes and 122 facilities with violations in the past three years. By comparison, Bakersfield, Calif., one of the roughest pollution patches in the nation, has 17 current violations and 37 issued in the last three years. Port Arthur, Texas? 29 current violations, 36 in past three years.

    The Home Depot in Ferguson hired extra security guards to protect it from looters. But what’s protecting Ferguson from the fact that Home Depot has been out of compliance with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (regulating hazardous waste handling) since 2009?

    None of this is new to St. Louis. In 1991, Kevin L. Brown did a study while at Washington University School of Law where he found that toxic waste facilities were disproportionately located in African-American communities, and that, naturally, exposure to toxic air releases were higher in these areas.

    We can talk about looters in Ferguson, but when the lungs of these residents — 67 percent of whom are black, 22 percent of whom live below the poverty line — empty of tear gas, they will go back to their diet of ozone, particulate matter, and all the other toxic emissions in their environment. Where is their insurance? Where are their security guards? When tensions cool down, who will protect them from the extreme sun of upcoming summers, from the heat trapped by the air emissions companies are spewing now?

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Cities, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Why ignoring global warming is like driving across a rickety bridge

    Earlier this week, the nonprofit group WWF-UK sent out this twitpic:

    Like the excellent medical analogy (which compares ignoring global warming to ignoring the risk of smoking; or not listening to your doctor when you’re told to eat healthier and exercise), this image makes perfectly clear just how irresponsible it is to ignore the overwhelming consensus of experts.

    The message also relies on the highly influential “97 percent” study, which found that of scientific papers taking a position on global warming, 97 percent agreed that humans are causing it. There is still some scholarly debate over whether this message is the best one to use to convince those who are in doubt about climate change.

    But there’s no doubt whatsoever that the message can be viral. Not only does this WWF-UK tweet show that; President Obama himself tweeted out the original “97 percent” study.

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

    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Politics
    Triple Pundit: 3p Weekend: 5 Reasons for Companies to Care About Employee Satisfaction
    Employee engagement and satisfaction is a hot topic in the sustainability space right now, but some companies may still find themselves asking: What is a happy employee really worth? Well, quite a bit actually. To prove it, this week we rounded up five reasons for companies to start caring about employee satisfaction. (If you can't keep your eyes off the clock, feel free to 'accidentally' leave this article in the office copy machine.)
    Gristmill: challenges climate activists to stand up for Ferguson

    For Deirdre Smith, the strategic partnership coordinator of the climate activist group, “the connection between militarized state violence, racism, and climate change was common-sense and intuitive.” Smith wrote this in her blog about the unrest over the killing of Michael Brown’s in Ferguson, Mo. It’s probably tougher to connect these dots if you’ve been wedded to climate change as a single issue. I spend much of my time writing about the intersections of climate and social justice, but I have struggled to frame the Ferguson tragedy in ways that don’t take it out of context.

    Brown was not killed by greenhouse gas emissions; he was killed by a cop. Bloggers and pundits will conjecture all night about whether Brown was under the influence of marijuana, or the cop under the influence of racism. But the most salient fact here is that a young man who had a promising future is no longer alive to fulfill the promise. A mother and a father have lost their child. We need to take that seriously before branching off into whatever ideology or worldview we hope to highlight with his death and the aftermath.

    Still, this disaster tests an idea I wrote about two years ago for Bridge the Gulf:

    I’ve seen groups like NAACP, Urban League, League of Young Voters, Color of Change take on climate justice, Keystone XL justice and other environmental campaigns. But I’ve not see much reciprocity — that is, I’ve yet to see a groundswell of environmental advocates take up the cause of Stand Your Ground, juvenile justice, felony disenfranchisement, economic inequality, and other justice programs that primarily target people of color.

    Which is a shame, because those movements could use some of environmentalists’ passion around conservation and the preservation of life. The same people who are concerned about the life of dolphins, bluefin tuna, blue crabs, white sharks, red drum, brown shrimp, and brown pelicans, should also be concerned about the lives of black and brown people, like Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin — or the thousands of people of color trapped in Louisiana’s prison system.

    And then yesterday I received an email from that shows that the group gets this. The message, from Executive Director May Boeve, states that her movement stands in solidarity with Ferguson protesters, and calls on the larger climate movement to do the same. Best of all, Boeve wrote, “We believe unequivocally that working for racial justice is a crucial part of fighting climate change.”

    This is powerful because there are too many people in the climate movement who believe racial justice and climate justice are inequivalent. A lot of those who share this belief likely have the resources, wealth, and racial privilege to do so. When climate-enraged storms and floods start coming, they have the wheels, boats, homes on higher ground, and friends in even higher places to weather them. Those of meager resources and less access to power can’t afford to segregate so easily. Boeve seems to understand that:

    Communities of color and poor communities are hit first and hardest by the impacts of a climate system spiraling out of control. From those impacted by Hurricane Katrina nearly a decade ago, to the New York neighborhoods that bore the brunt of Hurricane Sandy, to whole towns in the Philippines devastated by Typhoon Haiyan just last year — these communities are on the front lines of our fight in a very real way. If their voices are not part of this movement, then this movement will not succeed.

    Movements for justice in the U.S. are often fractured, and powerful interests — like the fossil fuel industry — try their hardest to make those divisions wider. Choosing to stand together is one of the most important choices we can make. In this moment, that means being frank about the ongoing legacy of racial injustice in our country.”

    I’d make just one edit to this otherwise on-point statement: Being frank about ongoing racism and including all voices is not just crucial to the climate change movement — it’s crucial to any movement. It’s crucial just for living.

    Bringing Deirdre Smith back, she writes:

    This is difficult work. Some of it requires listening and working with racial justice organizations, and some of it requires introspection, questioning what we have been taught, and healing from internal oppression. Part of that work involves climate organizers acknowledging and understanding that our fight is not simply with the carbon in the sky, but with the powers on the ground.

    That difficulty is not an overstatement. It’s mainly because of that difficulty that people choose to self-segregate or silo off to issues a la carte. Smith says she believes “the climate movement is up to this necessary challenge.” I’m, frankly, a skeptic. But 350 gives me hope.

    Filed under: Article, Cities, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Why Alabama is doing baby back ribs right

    Nick Pihakis
    Jim ’N Nick’s Community Bar-B-Q
    Birmingham, Ala.

    In the words of poet Jake Adam York: “It’s no wonder that you can find, in Alabama, almost any kind of barbecue. Whether the influence is Cherokee, Appalachian, Georgian, Mississippian, Floridian, Tennessean, Texan, or just plain Alabamian, barbecue springs up everywhere, with significant variation.” Pihakis, founder of Jim ’N Nick’s Community Bar-B-Q restaurants, is on a mission to see that all Alabama barbecue is made from responsibly-raised meat.

    Why we chose this barbecue:

    nickpihakisAfter traveling across the Southeast with California rancher Bill Niman (of Niman Ranch fame) eight years ago, Pihakis realized there was an incredible dearth of farmers raising pigs in humane, environmentally friendly ways. Now, through his Fatback Pig Project, Pihakis incentivizes local farmers to raise healthy, happy hogs for Jim ’N Nick’s — and other restaurants in his hospitality group. “We’ve started a processing plant for these farmers, and put a distribution system and end user in place,” says Pihakis.

    Better meat means better business:

    Pihakis thinks a regional economy for sustainable swine is well within reach. “There’s got to be a breaking point in there where the farmers can make a good living, and we can sell good product [that’s] local, and we know how it’s raised,” he says.

    Check out the full map.
    Click to check out the full map.

    Filed under: Food, Living
    Triple Pundit: The 2015 European Games in Azerbaijan: Human Rights Violations Already
    As oil-rich Azerbaijan prepares to host next year's inaugural 'European Games,' the Azerbaijani government has stepped up its crackdown on activists speaking out against its abysmal human rights record. As of this writing, more than 20 human rights defenders have been detained by the government, including four of the country’s most prominent activists.
    Triple Pundit: Plastics Recycling: You’re Doing it Wrong. And So is Everybody Else!
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    Triple Pundit: NRG Energy Crowdsources Presidential Hunt
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    Gristmill: Could a copy-editing error undermine Obama’s climate rule?

    If you can’t beat ’em, point out their typos.

    That seems to be the lesson of the D.C. Circuit Court’s recent decision in Halbig v. Sebelius, which could render millions of Americans ineligible for health insurance subsidies on the basis of some sloppy syntax in the Affordable Care Act. After surviving more than 50 repeal votes in the House, a Supreme Court challenge to its constitutionality, and a famously rocky online rollout, health-care reform may end up hobbled by a mere drafting error. And the anti-regulatory crowd wasted no time in launching its next AutoCorrect attack: A new suit asks the D.C. Circuit to nix the president’s biggest climate-change initiative—EPA’s “Clean Power Plan”—due to a 25-year-old mistake in the text of the Clean Air Act.

    But don’t panic just yet. As others have pointed out, Halbig is far from a done deal. A different federal appeals court, the Fourth Circuit, upheld the insurance subsidies on the same day the Halbig court invalidated them. If the full D.C. Circuit doesn’t end up reversing its three-judge panel’s initial decision (through a sort of mini-appeal known as en banc review), the Supreme Court will almost certainly step in to resolve the circuit split. In the meantime, no one loses her insurance.

    The prospects for EPA’s climate rule aren’t so bleak either. First of all, the 12 state attorneys general who filed suit were a bit too quick on the spell-check trigger. Federal courts generally limit review of agency decisions to “final actions,” and the Clean Power Plan is still in draft form. As a result, the current case will probably be dismissed as premature. That won’t stop the state AGs from re-filing as soon as EPA does publish a final rule, but even then, their victory will hardly be assured. Here’s why.

    The “Clean Power Plan” is the administration’s catchy(ish) nickname for a set of restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, which generate a full third of the nation’s greenhouse gas pollution. EPA’s authority to regulate these emissions derives from a little-used Clean Air Act provision called Section 111(d). The section has been around since 1970, but when a bipartisan majority of Congress overhauled the Clean Air Act back in 1990, it amended 111(d). Twice. The details are complicated (you can read more about them here), but the upshot is simple: Under the language of an amendment that originated in the Senate, regulating power plants’ carbon emissions is perfectly kosher; under the House’s amendment, not so much.

    Competing House and Senate amendments—doesn’t Congress have an app for that? Yep, even back in the digital dark ages of 1990, there was software designed to identify overlapping or incompatible changes to statutory text. But the conference committee charged with reconciling the House and Senate bills didn’t have time to run it. As a result, both 111(d) amendments ended up in the compromise bill that was passed by both chambers and signed by the first President Bush. Meaning that both versions are, in some sense, the law of the land.

    A self-contradicting statute—doesn’t the judiciary have an app for that? Sort of. Federal courts certainly have an established rule for dealing with vague or ambiguous laws. Under the Chevron doctrine, if a statute does not “speak clearly” with respect to a particular issue, courts will defer to any reasonable interpretation offered by the executive agency charged with implementing the law. In this case, the EPA maintains that the Senate amendment is more consistent with the Clean Air Act’s overall structure and purpose. If Chevron applies, that justification should pass muster.

    The tough question is whether Chevron will apply. It’s hard to see how a court could find that the competing amendments to Section 111(d) “speak clearly.” But are the amendments “ambiguous” in the Chevron sense, or are they something else altogether—say, nonsensical?

    Plenty of legal experts have shared their views, but at the end of the day, the opinions that really matter will be those of nine black-robed individuals in Washington, D.C. Handily enough, five of the Big Nine previewed their positions in a recent, fractured decision about an immigration rule. In Scialabba v. Cuellar De Osorio, the Supreme Court was confronted not with two contradictory versions of a single statutory section, but with a single statutory section that contained two seemingly contradictory instructions. (Cut Congress some slack, you guys. Drafting laws is really hard.) Justice Kagan, writing for herself and Justices Ginsburg and Kennedy, called the statute “Janus-faced,” concluded that its “internal tension ma[de] possible alternative reasonable constructions,” and deferred to the Board of Immigration Appeals’ interpretive choice. Chief Justice Roberts, writing for himself and Justice Scalia, disagreed that the two clauses were truly in conflict but, even more importantly, rejected the idea that Chevron was “a license for an agency to repair a statute that does not make sense.” In Roberts’ view, “Direct conflict is not ambiguity, and the resolution of such a conflict is not statutory construction but legislative choice.

    The other four justices didn’t weigh in on this particular question in Scialabba, so it’s not clear whether Kagan’s or Roberts’ camp will carry a majority if and when litigation over the Clean Power Plan reaches the high court. But it’s also not clear that the vote count will matter, because either way EPA should retain authority to regulate carbon emissions from power plants.

    Come again? First, consider Justice Kagan’s view. If her logic controls, the court will apply Chevron, defer to EPA’s interpretation of Section 111(d), and affirm the agency’s authority to regulate carbon emissions from power plants. A win for EPA and the president.

    Alternatively, assume that Chief Justice Roberts gets the majority. The two amendments to Section 111(d) are almost undoubtedly in “direct conflict,” so, in Roberts’ view, EPA’s interpretation doesn’t warrant deference. Now what? Roberts’ Scialabba opinion doesn’t say what the court should substitute for Chevron in the case of a provision that’s truly at war with itself. But if the chief justice believes that giving effect to only one of the two amendments represents a “legislative choice,” the judicial branch has no more business picking a winner than EPA. (In fact, courts are even less suited than executive agencies to this sort of policy decision. Agencies are, at least, indirectly accountable to the people, because agency leaders serve at the pleasure of a democratically elected president.) If it’s not possible to honor the House and Senate amendments simultaneously, the only remaining option is to throw out both as invalid, in which case Section 111(d) would revert to its pre-1990 form.

    That’s the reason backers of the climate rule shouldn’t panic: Under the earlier version of Section 111(d), EPA would still have authority to regulate carbon emissions from power plants. The agency still wins.

    Oh, and if the current Congress doesn’t like that result? Well, it remains free to share its preferred method for addressing climate change at any time. There’s an app for that, too. It’s called new legislation.

    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: One woman’s odyssey to find Michigan’s anti-fracking movement
    Rattlesnake Gulch

    Until a year ago, Kate Levin was feeling pretty calm. Her friends back in her home state, Pennsylvania, kept talking about this thing called fracking. It was, they said, not great. But Levin lived far away, in Michigan. “I tried not to pay attention to it,” says Levin.

    There wasn’t an obvious tipping point between paying attention and not paying attention — just a gradual and eventually overwhelming sense that not paying attention was, in Levin’s words, stupid. “I am going to find out about this,” she told herself. “I am going to find out if this is happening locally.”

    It was. Michigan was a fairly typical state in that people had been drilling it for oil and gas since the 1880s. But the pickings were slim. it wasn’t that there wasn’t anything there; natural gas in particular was all over the Collingwood/Utica and Antrim shale formations. But it was at least 10,000 feet underground, which meant that getting it out was more expensive than taking it out of, say, an easy peasy rock formation like Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale, which maxes out at 9,000 feet deep.

    Expensive or not, though, claims were being staked. In 2010, Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources auctioned off oil and gas leases for 118,000 acres of state land for a record $178 million. The previous record had been $23.6 million, back in the ’80s. Fracking wells began to appear in residential neighborhoods. Two big energy players in the state, Encana and Chesapeake Energy, were found guilty of colluding with one another so that they could underbid on lease prices.

    Levin began to look around for environmental groups in Michigan that were responding to fracking. She didn’t find much. Prices for natural gas were still so low that Michigan wasn’t exactly becoming a boomtown. Environmental groups in the area weren’t sure how to approach the issue.

    There was time to tighten up environmental regulations around the state, but how would that be done? Because of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, fracking was exempt from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Michigan’s own environmental regulations around oil and gas drilling dated back to the 1930s, and appeared to endorse extracting as much of it as possible:

    It is accordingly the declared policy of the state to protect the interests of its citizens and landowners from unwarranted waste of gas and oil and to foster the development of the industry along the most favorable conditions and with a view to the ultimate recovery of the maximum production of these natural products.

    Levin was not interested in the ultimate recovery of the maximum production of these natural products. She was interested in water — the state is home to over 20 percent of the world’s aboveground freshwater supply, and the Collingwood/Utica Shale lies under the headwaters of the Manistee and Au Sable rivers.

    She met up with several groups and ultimately settled on one called Ban Michigan Fracking, a group with several hundred casual members and a few dozen dedicated volunteers whose views are pretty much summed up by their name.

    Banning fracking is a tricky issue in Michigan. While several cities have passed resolutions supporting a ban, none of them appear to have actually banned it. Some argue that state law supersedes any effort to ban it at the township level, the way that New York has managed to do very successfully. Others argue that it could totally happen, and that precedent has been misread. In any case, it hasn’t been tested in court yet.

    Instead, Ban Michigan Fracking (under the aegis of its partner organization, the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan) is focused on another political tool — the ballot initiative. A ballot measure could be used not only to change the language of the state’s oil and gas regulations, but to make it extremely difficult to modify further.

    Ballot initiatives date back to the Progressive Era a century ago and play a complex role in modern politics. Intended as a tool to help regular citizens override the cronyism and compromises of state government, they’ve come to be used — like most political tools — by a variety of people for a variety of purposes. In Michigan, in particular, they’ve been very popular with anti-abortion groups.

    Getting an initiative on the ballot isn’t easy. The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan will have to find 258,088 people across the state, get them to fill out forms, collect those forms, verify that the people who filled out those forms are real humans, and turn them in to the state. The last time they tried it, they set up tables at events like farmer’s markets and the Mackinac Bridge Walk. They got about 30,000 the first time, and 70,000 the next. They’re trying again in 2015.

    Trying to gather 258,088 signatures is a “huge process,” says LuAnne Kozma, one of Ban Michigan Fracking’s co-founders. But it’s still less daunting than going from town to town helping to pass local legislation, which is what New York and Pennsylvania had to do. If those states had access to ballot initiatives, they might have done things differently. You use the tools you have.

    And the process has other benefits. Michigan is a state of cars and suburbs. There aren’t many opportunities to mingle and share ideas with other people in a public space.  So trying to get something on the ballot is like entering the Olympics of sociability. As a folklorist, Kozma has the advantage of having traveled all over Michigan in search of local history. “I know every part of the state,” she says. “I know it all. I know how to pronounce all the county names. And the great thing is — you’re out there, talking to people.”

    For Levin, it has also meant a lot of interesting moments — like going on a jaunt with her husband to stake out a local dump that is taking deliveries of radioactive fracking waste from out of state. It looked surprisingly nice, she said. Landscaped, even, with a nice grassy hill. Though the hill, she adds, was probably landfill.

    Even if Michigan never has its fracking boom, there’s still work to be done making sure fracking’s effects don’t reach the state in other ways. A few Michiganders are big fans of fracking, says Levin. They’ll tell you right away. But most people in the state aren’t even aware of it yet. When they learn about it though, she says, they get the risks immediately. “We have so much water here. That’s our pride.”

    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Triple Pundit: Human Values and Corporate Social Impact: Fairness in Pay Ratios
    Culture determines the varying boundaries of what constitutes “equal shares.” And who is “equal” in status. In our own society, popular opinion may accept a certain unequal ratio between CEO pay and the average pay of other workers, but not beyond a given point. In the 1970s, management specialist Peter Drucker advised companies to stick to a ratio of 20-to-1 between CEOs and average worker pay, to avoid resentment. The average is currently at 273-to-1.
    Triple Pundit: Could a Carbon Tax Cut Down on Corporate Inversions?
    Marc Hafstead of the nonpartisan think tank Resources for the Future, along with Lawrence Goulder of Stanford University, have come up with an idea that could potentially address two important problems in one broad policy action. The first, which is where they'll likely began, is the problem of corporate inversions. No, that’s not corporations standing on their heads; it’s when they buy another company in a country with a lower tax rate so that they can begin paying taxes there instead of here in the U.S., where they receive the most government services. The other problem is climate change.
    Triple Pundit: Uber Taps Users in Fight Against California Anti-Ridesharing Bill
    Uber stepped up its public affairs game by encouraging users to lobby the California legislature to vote against AB 2293, which could kill ridesharing altogether.
    Triple Pundit: Researchers Tally Up the Ecological Cost of Eating Beef
    Can we afford to eat beef? Supermarket prices may suggest so, but our ecological footprint is another matter, say researchers. And what about raising cows for dairy? It's better, but it still comes with its own costs.
    Gristmill: Grow your own California mountain. Just add drought

    Well here’s something we didn’t see coming: Extreme drought can cause mountains to behave like grow-your-own dinosaurs. But instead of expanding in water, the mountains swell when they dry out, according to a new study published in Science.

    Parts of California’s mountains have risen as much as 15 millimeters in the past 18 months as a result of the state’s ongoing drought, according to the researchers. Land without water causes it to “rise a bit like an uncoiled spring,” explains Bobby Magill of Climate Central. Here’s more:

    The drought that is devastating California and much of the West has dried the region so much that 240 gigatons worth of surface and groundwater have been lost, roughly the equivalent to a 3.9-inch layer of water over the entire West, or the annual loss of mass from the Greenland Ice Sheet, according to the study.

    While some of California’s mountains have risen by about 0.6 inches since early 2013, the West overall has risen by an average of about 0.157 inches.

    “Groundwater is a load on the Earth’s crust,” said Klaus Jacob, a seismologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y., who is unaffiliated with the study. “A load compresses the crust elastically, hence it subsides. When you take that load away (by the drought) the crust decompresses and the surface rises.”

    With the drought still ravaging farmland and cities, let’s hope Californians use only recycled water for their disappointing expanding kitsch.

    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Are you there, God? It’s me, climate scientist
    handwritten letters

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

    climate scientist letter
    Click to embiggen.

    “I feel a maelstrom of emotions

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

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

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

    climate scientist letter 3
    Click to embiggen.

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

    Dear Climate Scientists,

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

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

    Sorry again, and thanks for everything,

    The World

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

    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: How a Koch brother is combating climate change at a coal mine
    launch event for coal mine methane capture project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Vegas tops the list of the country’s worst heat islands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Filed under: Cities, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Dear Blue Apron, you’re just making it worse
    Blue Apron

    So the other night we got a Blue Apron box. Blue Apron is this business that delivers all the ingredients for meals in their own, pre-measured packages so you can just dump and mix like the cooks on TV. Cool idea for low-functioning, sleep-deprived people like me, but I was horrified by the amount of packaging. IMG_4024

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

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


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

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

    Some of the packaging

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

    Yes! I’m psyched. Let’s do this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Filed under: Article, Food, Living
    Gristmill: EPA, community activists put toxic oil refineries in a headlock
    Detroit Marathon Refinery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Cities, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: This is what a more sustainable American food system looks like

    Let’s be real: The American food system today has some pretty daunting issues. We’re saddled with a farming system that, on the whole, releases a massive amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (675 million metric tons annually at the most recent tally, to be exact), sucks nutrients from the soil, and leaches chemicals into the water table. And in regions with some of the richest farmland, historically speaking, you can’t buy a fresh vegetable for love or money — but you can get a two-liter bottle of potable sugar and an endless variety of nutritionally vacant foodstuff approximations at any corner store.

    To that end, we find ourselves in the midst of a dietary and environmental crisis. We could ask, “How did we get here?”, but I’m not trying to answer that question. There are many possible culprits at whom we could point fingers, but what’s much, much more important is how we get ourselves out of this mess.

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

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

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

    (Food illustrations by Amelia Bates)

    Filed under: Cities, Food, Living
    Gristmill: Governors love this pipeline in the Northeast, residents not so much

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: What’s the best way to dispose of an old car battery?

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

    Baltimore, Md.

    A. Dearest Pat,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Living
    Triple Pundit: Nine Finalists Vie for Energy Storage Innovation Awards
    With smart energy storage systems on the rise, industry participants will gather in San Jose next month to recognize innovation and excellence in the field at Energy Storage North America 2014.
    Triple Pundit: Coal Export Terminal Plan Nixed by Oregon Agency
    This is the latest in a series of wins for opponents of coal company plans to move coal through the Pacific Northwest on the way to Asian markets. But two major plans in Washington State, out of six original proposals, are still pending.
    Triple Pundit: Bain Capital Buys 50 Percent Stake in TOMS Shoes
    Bain Capital has agreed to purchase a 50 percent ownership stake of TOMS Shoes--a good thing for the one-for-one business model?
    Triple Pundit: Social Media Bubbles: Are They Holding Us Back?
    Social media sites like Facebook are tailored to help people connect with friends, similar experiences and views. But there's a downside, says the U.S. State Department, when it keeps users from reaching outside their 'bubble' of friends and experiences and actually helps to promote unrest.
    Triple Pundit: Can Detroit Restart Its Engine?
    Detroit is a dichotomy. The city’s innovative spirit that brought us the assembly line and the modern auto industry lives on in wildly successful new enterprises like Quicken Loans. Yet Detroit’s much-publicized poverty has spawned a depressed yet resilient culture that continues to struggle to pull itself out of the gutter.
    Triple Pundit: Stonyfield Collaborates With WikiFoods to Sell Package-Free Yogurt
    There are two companies that have created a way to reduce plastic waste by eliminating packaging: Stonyfield Farm and WikiFoods have collaborated to provide frozen yogurt encased in edible packaging for frozen yogurt made from fruit skin.
    Gristmill: Walk to work — you’ll be happier
    mini commuters and train

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

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

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

    From City Lab:

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

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

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

    Filed under: Article, Cities, Living
    Gristmill: You might think bikeshares cut down on CO2, but the truth is complicated

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

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

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

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

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

    Filed under: Cities, Climate & Energy, Living
    Gristmill: See-through solar cells could turn your windows into power stations
    windows of New York

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

    From Gizmodo:

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

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

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Living
    Triple Pundit: Volkswagen Wins EPA Rain-Catcher Award for Chattanooga Plant
    Cost-effective and sustainable, restoring or mimicking natural ecosystems, such as wetlands, is proving to be an excellent means of water resource management and stewardship. Recognizing excellence in the field, the EPA awarded its first Region 4 Rain Catcher Award, Commercial Category to VW of America.
    Gristmill: Have you noticed our handsome new website?

    Dear Grist Nation,

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Yours from the Grist Mothership,

    Chip Giller

    Founder & CEO

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

    Filed under: Article
    Gristmill: This meat substitute is all-natural and GMO-free — and might be making people sick
    Fungi is often edible

    The Center for Science in the Public Interest is calling on the FDA to pull the meat substitute Quorn from the marketplace. CSPI has assembled a list of more than 2,000 incidents in which people observed adverse affects — including things like nausea, cramps, diarrhea, violent vomiting, and death — shortly after eating Quorn.

    Correlation doesn’t imply causation, but there’s also one report of Quorn sensitivity in the peer-reviewed literature, and there clinicians verified, with a skin prick test, that the victim did have an allergic reaction to the protein.Image (3) quorn_463.jpg for post 33880

    The Washington Post also did a piece on Quorn, making the larger case that the government should do more to regulate new food products.

    I’m all for better oversight. Let’s just keep in mind that we can’t have our faux-meat cake and eat it too. As we aim for more humane and sustainable food, we should welcome people’s experiments with new materials to make meat substitutes that actually taste good and are efficient to produce. (Check out Grist’s review of meatless turkeys, for instance, including Quorn.)

    Quorn is made from the fungus Fusarium venenatum. CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson notes that “‘Venenatum,’ inauspiciously, is Latin for poisonous.”

    In a statement, Quorn Foods told Politico that its product was safe and pointed out that other foods — like nuts — cause much more severe allergic reactions. Quorn says its foods have “always been made from a natural, GMO-free protein ingredient.”

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Food
    Triple Pundit: Israeli Scientists Protect Coral by Taking Rainforests Underwater
    The World Resources Institute reported in 2011 that 75 percent of the world's coral beds were in jeopardy of extinction -- a gloomy prediction for the oceans' essential 'rainforest trees.' Well, Israeli scientists have found an answer by reforesting the coral beds using hand-planted "coral carpets."
    Gristmill: GOP candidate asks residents to mail him their pee

    In the run-up to this fall’s rematch against Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-Ore.), Republican Art Robinson is making an unusual ask.

    “My name is Art Robinson,” read one of the mailers he sent to 500,000 Oregon residents in March. “I am a scientist who has lived and worked in Josephine County for 34 years. My colleagues and I are developing improved methods for the measurement of human health. Please consider giving us a sample of your urine.”

    Robinson is a scientist, and that’s part of the problem. For the last three decades, when he’s not running for office, the Caltech-educated chemist has run a research nonprofit out of a family compound in the mountain town of Cave Junction, near the California border. In a monthly newsletter called Access to Energy, Robinson has used his academic credentials to float theories on everything from AIDS to public schooling to climate change (which he believes is a myth). In perhaps his most famous missive, Robinson once proposed using airplanes to disperse radioactive waste on Oregon homes, in the hopes of building up resistance to degenerative illnesses.

    “All we need do with nuclear waste is dilute it to a low radiation level and sprinkle it over the ocean — or even over America after hormesis is better understood and verified with respect to more diseases,” Robinson wrote in 1997. He added, “If we could use it to enhance our own drinking water here in Oregon, where background radiation is low, it would hormetically enhance our resistance to degenerative diseases. Alas, this would be against the law.” (Robinson has since clarified that such proposals would be politically untenable.)

    In another essay, he called public education “the most widespread and devastating form of child abuse and racism in the United States,” leaving people “so mentally handicapped that they cannot be responsible custodians of the energy technology base or other advanced accomplishments of our civilization.”

    Robinson theorized that the government had overhyped the AIDS epidemic in order to force social engineering experiments on those aforementioned public school students. The truth, he contended, was far more complex:

    There is a possibility that the entire ‘war’ on HIV and AIDS is in error. U.S. government AIDS programs are now receiving $6 billion per year and are based entirely upon the hypothesis that HIV virus causes AIDS. Yet, the articles referenced above and numerous additional publications by scientists who have become involved in this controversy state that: attempts to cause AIDS experimentally with HIV have completely failed; thousands of AIDS victims are HIV-free; and HIV shows none of the classical characteristics of a disease-producing organism. Moreover, AIDS is not a unique disease — it is an increased susceptibility to many ordinary diseases presumably as a result of depressed immune response. This depressed immunity can result from many other factors including those especially prevalent in the AIDS afflicted population — drug abuse and unhygienic exposure to very large numbers of different disease vectors. Moreover, large numbers of HIV carriers who are symptom-free are being treated by powerful life-threatening drugs that kill people in ways very similar to AIDS.

    Those writings have become an albatross in his repeated challenges to DeFazio, who has publicized Robinson’s work. Robinson lost by 10 points in 2010, and then by 20 two years later in a district that had become more Democratic after redistricting. Last year, he entered the GOP primary yet again (on a whim one day while driving past the clerk’s office), and won the nomination by default in May when no other candidates materialized. Adding to the uphill odds is the fact that Robinson now has a second job: Since last August, he’s served as the chair of the Oregon Republican Party.

    As for the urine samples, Robinson told the Roseburg (Ore.) News-Review he received 1,000 in response, which will go toward a study on aging. His campaign might not be worth a bucket of warm piss. But at least he’ll have plenty of it to fall back on.

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

    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Leaving Las Vegas, a city feeling the slow burn of climate change
    las vegas

    This is the final installment in a series of stories about Las Vegas and climate change. Find the whole collection here.

    On my last night in Las Vegas, I finally ventured into the belly of the beast.

    I’d spent a week exploring the Vegas that few people outside the region think about — the sprawling metro area of 2 million people, roughly the size of greater Seattle, that has sprung up on this scorched playa at the edge of the Mojave Desert. It’s where the working stiffs live — the people who wait your tables, mix your drinks, deal your cards, and clean your hotel rooms when you visit. Vegas supports a whole lot of them, and the pay isn’t half bad.

    During my time here, I’d talked to water wonks and climate scientists, economists and community gardeners. I found a place full of surprises — a city that’s fighting to create community and some semblance of stability in a famously gonzo locale. But it’d be be a shame to go home without at least catching the Thunder From Down Under, wouldn’t it?

    No. No, it wouldn’t. But I did want to see what all the fuss was about. After all, the casinos, hotels, and conference centers on the Strip generate roughly two-thirds of the metro area’s economy. Any effort to build a sustainable future for this city will have to grapple with that reality, build another economic engine for this city, or both.

    On the Strip, I figured I’d get a look at the city’s seedy underbelly — a glimpse of where our baser instincts are leading us. But there, too, I was surprised by what I found.

    My tour guide for the evening was my old friend Adam Burke, who is the news director at Nevada Public Radio. First stop: the Chandelier Bar, encased a giant, crystal-studded chandelier in the center of the Cosmopolitan casino, for a cocktail called a Smokey the Bear. Served by a jolly, bearded bartender and featuring a healthy shot of whiskey and a homemade ice cube infused with actual smoke, it was a fitting start to an evening spent in the heart of what Adam calls the “burn” — the massive gathering of people who come from around the globe, with the sole purpose, it seems, of setting every last dollar ablaze.

    From the Chandelier, the evening morphed into a tour of the Strip’s surprisingly subversive public art, much of it in and around the goliath new CityCenter development, a $9 billion “urban complex” that features not only a 4,000-room hotel-casino, but also 2,400 condos and a mall, and has the rather dubious distinction of being one of the largest LEED-certified structures on the planet. (Why even bother making a building that big green, you wonder? As with so many other things in Vegas, to find the answer, you need only to follow the money.)

    "Big Edge," by Nancy Rubins
    Steve Jurvetson
    “Big Edge,” by Nancy Rubins

    Outside CityCenter stands a cactus-like sculpture bristling with — oh damn, those are canoes! The creator, Nancy Rubins, told the Las Vegas Sun that the 200 metal boats are not meant to send any particular message about the city or its dearth of water, but it’s hard not to wonder what the Martian archaeologists are going to make of “Big Edge” when they find it here, in the scorched ruins of the city, many millennia from now.

    In the CityCenter basement, at the valet parking drop-off beneath the Aria hotel-casino, Adam and I sat on a bench and ogled artist Jenny Holzer’s “Vegas” — a shimmering, 18-foot-tall LED installation that scrolls one-liners like, “You must have one grand passion,” “If you live simply, there is nothing to worry about,” and “You are so complex that you don’t always respond to danger.”

    Again, an artist sending a subtle message to the burners in this place? Maybe a little bit, Holzer told the Sun — but she was given remarkably free rein to craft those messages as she pleased.

    We wound through the bowels of the Strip like rats in some neon-lit, subterranean maze, visiting a sculpture that looked like massive marble bones, another that resembled a giant wooden ray gun, and a third that consisted of a series of transparent tubes containing miniature whirlwinds of water that twisted and writhed as we watched.

    As we headed back to Adam’s car, we wound back through the Aria at CityCenter. We made our way to the lobby, and I thought we were headed outside, but Adam stopped short about 20 feet from the front desk. He pointed to a delicate line of silver seemingly etched into the air above the clerk’s heads. It reminded me of a stream of molten metal I once saw in the ashes of a house fire.

    “What’s that?” he asked.

    I looked. “I don’t know.”

    “Look again,” he said.

    I did. Just a jagged line of metal tracing a mountain skyline or … “Oh shit. It’s the Colorado River.”

    Sure enough, it was a gleaming, 87-foot sculpture of the river that feeds this city with 90 percent of its water — a river that is in the midst of an epic, 14-year drought. It was created by architect and sculptor Maya Lin, who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., and who also happens to be a dedicated conservationist.

    "Silver River," by Maya Lin
    Elaine Asal
    “Silver River,” by Maya Lin

    I pulled up a map of the river on my smartphone and we traced its path along the sculpture. On the far right were the headwaters in the Colorado Rockies, and, moving left, west, the bend where the Colorado meets the Gunnison. There was the sprawling mass of Lake Powell, a reservoir created when the Bureau of Reclamation built the Glen Canyon Dam and flooded a whole maze of red rock canyons in southern Utah. Downstream was Lake Mead, behind Hoover Dam, where Vegas draws its water through a giant straw sunk into the bedrock — a lake now famous for the pale “bathtub rings” that reveal just how far the water has dropped.

    From Mead, the river flows down through Lake Havasu and into California, where the All-American Canal siphons off much of what remains of its water for cities and for farmers in the Imperial Valley, who grow 80 percent of the nation’s winter vegetables. Most years, the Colorado peters out not far from there, dying in the desert before it reaches the Gulf of California — but this spring, by some sort of a miracle and years of hard bargaining on the part of conservationists, a pulse of water made it through. The river was whole again, if just for a day.

    There it was, the beleaguered Colorado, shimmering like quicksilver over the heads of the Aria clerks as they tended to customers who’d flown in from all over the world for a few nights of debauchery. “Right in the middle of the fucking bonfire,” Adam said.

    I came to Las Vegas expecting to find a city on the brink — a city so ill-conceived and corrupt that it would be one of the first to fall as we begin to feel climate change’s full force. It may be just that. Balanced precariously atop that thin silver line through the desert — and atop an industry that, no matter how green its buildings, is fueled by gasoline and jet fuel that bring in 40 million visitors each year — Vegas could see a slow, painful decline.

    But compared to a city like Miami, which will likely be blown or flooded right off the map, Vegas faces much slower-moving threats: the gradual rise in temperature, the decades-long decline of the river.

    It might seem like a cliché, but the city of Las Vegas itself is a gamble — and the stakes are incredibly high. The big question is who will win and who will lose, and whether those who have built this bonfire will heed the warnings hidden right here, in the heart of the flames, or continue to burn as long as the fuel holds out.

    Filed under: Cities, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Why Vandana Shiva is so right and yet so wrong

    Romantic environmentalists tend to get the big-picture problems right, while fudging the details. Rationalists nail the details, but sometimes become so immersed in the minutiae that they lose sight of the big picture.

    Michael Specter’s New Yorker profile of Vandana Shiva, the environmentalist and crusader against globalization and Big Agriculture, is a portrait of someone who understands the big-picture concerns of green-inclined young people with great clarity. Specter quotes a few key lines from a speech she gave in Florence, in which she describes two great trends sweeping the world.

    “One: a trend of diversity, democracy, freedom, joy, culture—people celebrating their lives.” She paused to let silence fill the square. “And the other: monocultures, deadness. Everyone depressed. Everyone on Prozac. More and more young people unemployed. We don’t want that world of death.”

    This, to me, seems like a perfect framing of the ultimate preoccupations of many greens, myself included. Even larger than the threat of climate change (or the thing that makes climate change a threat) is the threat of deadening uniformity and the loss of diversity, beauty, and enchantment. These are the same problems of modernity that Allen Ginsberg was grappling with in Howl.

    The problem is that, when Shiva gets to the details (what’s really driving these trends? what are the best solutions?), she frequently gets her facts very wrong. Then she repeats these myths, over and over again. Here are a few that Specter calls out:

    Shiva said last year that Bt-[genetically engineered] cotton-seed costs had risen by eight thousand per cent in India since 2002. In fact, the prices of modified seeds, which are regulated by the government, have fallen steadily.

    Shiva has accused the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation of “attempting to impose ‘food totalitarianism’ on the world.” That’s certainly not the case in the foundation’s current incarnation — I looked closely at this issue here.

    Shiva also says that Monsanto’s patents prevent poor people from saving seeds. That is not the case in India. The Farmers’ Rights Act of 2001 guarantees every person the right to “save, use, sow, resow, exchange, share, or sell’’ his seeds.

    And then, of course, there’s Shiva’s most widespread claim: That farmers are killing themselves because GMO seeds mire them in debt. If this were the case, we’d expect to see an increase in the number of suicides as GMOs were introduced and became widespread. But the suicide rate among farmers in India remained level (here’s where I looked at this before). Check out this graph from Nature:

    Farmer Suicides

    And though most of the public attention has focused on farmer suicides, it’s clear that the suicide problem in India extends far beyond agriculture. When scientists surveyed the problem, in a paper published in The Lancet, they found that “suicide deaths in unemployed individuals and individuals in professions other than agricultural work were, collectively, about three times greater than they were in agricultural workers.”

    There’s a real danger when a big-picture romantic fixates on one particular devil as the root of all problems. Among activists trying to raise awareness about a problem, fudging details is commonplace and, maybe, inevitable. But if you are proposing solutions, it’s important to get the facts right. Is Shiva truly concerned about the suicides, or are the suicides just a handy tool to batter GMOs? If you want people in India to stop killing themselves, you have to pursue any good solution with equal vigor.

    There just isn’t good evidence that GMOs are the cause of the problem, though there is plenty of evidence pointing to other causes. When Specter spoke with small farmers in India they told him the causes of farmer suicide were obvious: lack of crop insurance, lack of social safety nets, and lack of affordable credit.

    Much of the concern over GMOs has to do with the fact that most were designed by companies primarily interested in making money, rather than scientists primarily interested in making the world a better place. As Madeline Ostrander showed in a recent piece in The Nation, many activists have no problem with genetically engineered plants created by public scientists. But Shiva opposes even publicly funded seeds, like disease resistant cassava.

    When I look for leaders, I look for people who are able to keep those soft, big-picture goals squarely in focus while they grapple with the nitty-gritty details. It’s the people with a combination of romantic and rationalist traits — with the heart of a poet and the mind of a mathematician — that make meaningful progress.

    I’d like to think that Shiva could still become one of those people, but at this stage she has invested all her rhetorical capital on demonizing genetic engineering. I still think that Shiva’s big-picture critique is valid, and her work for social justice is valuable. I just wish that she’d accept reasonable evidence to figure out the causes of the problems she’s identified, rather that explaining away evidence by saying that Monsanto now “control[s] the entire scientific literature of the world.”

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Food, Politics
    Gristmill: Meet the climate deniers who want to be president
    elephant with head in sand

    It’s hard to believe, surveying the GOP field of possible presidential nominees, but back in 2008 the parties were not that far apart on climate change. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the Republican nominee, backed cap-and-trade for carbon emissions. After joining his ticket, so did Sarah Palin. But back then, lots of Republicans and conservatives also supported an individual mandate to buy health insurance. The Republican Party of 2008 was a big enough tent to include people who admitted demonstrable problems existed and supported free-market-oriented solutions. Not anymore. The rise of the Tea Party movement and the rightward shift of the Republican base and the politicians who pander to it put an end to all that. Whoever is the Republican nominee for president in 2016, it’s a safe bet that he – and yes, it will be a he, as all the leading contenders are male – will oppose taking any action on climate change. Chances are that he won’t even admit it exists.

    The Republicans basically fall into three categories: (1) Flat-Earthers, who deny the existence of manmade climate change; (2) Born-Again Flat-Earthers, who do the same, but who had admitted climate change exists back before President Obama took office; and (3) the Do-Nothings, who sort of admit the reality of climate change but oppose actually taking any steps to prevent it; and (4) the Dodgers, who have avoided saying whether they believe climate change is happening, and who also don’t want to take any steps to alleviate it. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker fall into the latter category.  The Do-Nothings are blue and purple state governors, Chris Christie of New Jersey and John Kasich of Ohio. In a sign of how far rightward Republicans have moved since 2008, these are actually the guys who are trying to position themselves as relatively moderate and pragmatic. The Born-Agains are Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Both are staunch conservatives but only partial wingnuts. Back when that meant believing in climate change, they did, but they have since followed their base into fantasyland. Everyone else is an outright denier and always has been.

    Here’s our full breakdown of all 13 of the top potential hopefuls, including their lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters if they served in Congress. No, we did not include Donald Trump even though he would probably lead in the polls if he ran. And alas, we cannot predict who might be the next Herman Cain. Maybe Papa John? If he, or any other pizza moguls, run, we’ll add an update.


    Jeb Bush
    Gage Skidmore

    Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida

    Category: Flat-Earther

    While President George W. Bush never did anything about global warming, his brother goes further, by not even admitting it exists. In 2009, Jeb Bush told Esquire, “I’m a skeptic. I’m not a scientist. I think the science has been politicized. I would be very wary of hollowing out our industrial base even further … It may be only partially man-made. It may not be warming by the way. The last six years we’ve actually had mean temperatures that are cooler. I think we need to be very cautious before we dramatically alter who we are as a nation because of it.” Last year, he talked about how generating power with natural gas instead of coal would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but he avoided actually saying the C-word or mentioning why reducing emissions would be a good thing.

    Notable quote: “I think global warming may be real. … It is not unanimous among scientists that it is disproportionately manmade. What I get a little tired of on the left is this idea that somehow science has decided all this so you can’t have a view.” (2011)


    Chris Christie
    Bob Jagendorf

    Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey

    Category: Do-Nothing

    Compared to all of his competitors, Christie’s position on climate change is refreshingly reality-based. In 2011, he said: “There’s undeniable data that CO2 levels and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are increasing. This decade, average temperatures have been rising. Temperature changes are affecting weather patterns and our climate. … when you have over 90 percent of the world’s scientists who have studied this stating that climate change is occurring and that humans play a contributing role, it’s time to defer to the experts.” Other than the fact that he understated the scientific consensus — it’s more like 97 or 98 percent — there isn’t much to find fault with there. But if you think that means Christie will back action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, think again. On the same day he made those comments, he withdrew New Jersey from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program for Northeastern energy utilities, complaining that it was “nothing more than a tax on electricity.” He also rolled back his state’s renewable energy goal, from 30 percent by 2021 to 22.5 percent. And the Christie administration conspicuously does not mention climate change in the context of Sandy recovery.

    Notable quote: “I haven’t been shown any definitive proof yet that [climate change] is what caused [Sandy]. And this is just, listen, this is a distraction. I’ve got a place to rebuild here and people want to talk to me about esoteric theories.” (2013)


    Ted Cruz
    Gage Skidmore

    Ted Cruz, senator from Texas

    Category: Flat-Earther

    Cruz — a high school valedictorian, Princeton alum, and editor of the Harvard Law Review — is supposed to be smart. His grasp of climate science, however, leaves much to be desired. In a February interview with CNN, Cruz deployed classic, bogus GOP talking points about climate change. “The last 15 years, there has been no recorded warming. Contrary to all the theories that they are expounding, there should have been warming over the last 15 years. It hasn’t happened,” said Cruz. “You know, back in the ’70s — I remember the ’70s, we were told there was global cooling. And everyone was told global cooling was a really big problem. And then that faded.” There has, in fact, been global warming in the last 15 years. And it is not true that in the 1970s “everyone was told global cooling was a really big problem.”

    Notable quote: “Climate change, as they have defined it, can never be disproved, because whether it gets hotter or whether it gets colder, whatever happens, they’ll say, well, it’s changing, so it proves our theory.” (2014)

    LCV score: 15 percent


    Mike Huckabee
    Gage Skidmore

    Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas

    Category: Born-Again Flat-Earther

    In 2007, when all the cool kids were for cap-and-trade, so was Huckabee. He said, “One thing that all of us have a responsibility to do is recognize that climate change is here, it’s real. … I also support cap-and-trade of carbon emissions. And I was disappointed that the Senate rejected a carbon counting system to measure the sources of emissions, because that would have been the first and the most important step toward implementing true cap-and-trade.” But Huckabee totally flip-flopped after the rise of the Tea Party and anti-Obamaism reshaped the GOP. In 2010, he even denied that he ever had supported cap-and-trade. “This kind of mandatory energy policy would have a horrible impact on this nation’s job market,” he wrote in a blog post. “I never did support and never would support it — period.” By 2013, he was hosting climate-denier-in-chief Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) on his radio show to spread falsehoods. Among the ones Huck contributed himself: “When I was in college, all the literature at that time from the scientific community said that we were going to freeze to death.”

    Notable quote: “The volcano that erupted over in Northern Europe [in 2010] actually poured more CO2 into the air in that single act of nature than all of humans have in something like the past 100 years.” (2013) Actually, no, it didn’t.)


    Bobby Jindal
    Gage Skidmore

    Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana

    Category: Dodger

    Jindal was supposed to be the great hope of smart Republicans. He majored in biology at Brown, was a Rhodes scholar, and he famously declared, “We’ve got to stop being the stupid party.” But he’s done his fair share of dumbing down the GOP. As Brown biology professor Kenneth R. Miller wrote in Slate, “In [Jindal’s] rise to prominence in Louisiana, he made a bargain with the religious right and compromised science and science education for the children of his state.” He signed into law the Louisiana Science Education Act, which “allows ‘supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials’ to be brought into classrooms to support the ‘open and objective discussion’ of certain ‘scientific theories,'” such as evolution and climate change. In other words, he’s promoting creationism and climate change denialism in public schools. Still, Jindal has never come out and stated whether he accepts climate science.

    Notable quote, on EPA’s proposal to regulate CO2 from power plants: “This is such a dangerous overreach in terms of the potential threat to our economy and our ability to restore those manufacturing jobs, I absolutely do think litigation needs to be on the table.” (2014)

    LCV score: 6 percent


    John Kasich
    Steve Beshear

    John Kasich, governor of Ohio

    Category: Do-Nothing

    In what passes for moderation in today’s GOP, Kasich actually acknowledges the existence of global warming. That doesn’t mean he wants to do much about it. “I happen to believe there is a problem with climate change. I don’t want to overreact to it, I can’t measure it all, but I respect the creation that the Lord has given us and I want to make sure we protect it,” Kasich said in 2012 at an energy conference hosted by The Hill. Ohio is rich in coal and heavily dependent on it for energy, and Kasich pledged to keep it that way, touting the promise of ever-elusive “clean coal.” In comments to reporters after that 2012 event, Kasich said he opposes EPA regulation of coal-fired power plants’ CO2 emissions: “I believe there is something to [climate change], but to be unilaterally doing everything here while China and India are belching and putting us in a noncompetitive position isn’t good.” Still, give him credit for evolving; in 2008, he claimed, “Global warming is cyclical, and the focus of a ferocious debate.”

    Notable quote: “I am just saying that I am concerned about it, but I am not laying awake at night worrying the sky is falling.” (2012)

    LCV score: 27 percent


    Rand Paul
    Gage Skidmore

    Rand Paul, senator from Kentucky

    Category: Flat-Earther

    What makes Paul so scary is that he actually believes the crazy things he says. When your average Republican talks about small government, you know it’s all just code for “protecting the currently wealthy and their businesses.” So, if you could convince most GOP politicians that it’s in their political interest to take action on climate change, they could be moved. Paul isn’t like that. He is actually committed to his far-right, small-government ideology. He doesn’t even think, for example, that the federal government has the power to force businesses to racially integrate. So of course he doesn’t support action to address climate change, and he never will. When he’s trying to sound more mainstream, he says climate science is “not conclusive“; at other times, he caricatures the science of climate change to try to discredit it.

    Notable quote: “If you listen to the hysterics …, you would think that the Statue of Liberty will shortly be under water and the polar bears are all drowning, and that we’re dying from pollution. It’s absolutely and utterly untrue.” (2011)

    LCV score: 11 percent


    Mike Pence
    House GOP

    Mike Pence, governor of Indiana

    Category: Flat-Earther

    Pence is an ultra-conservative who does not much care for environmental regulation. He also remains unconvinced that the Earth is warming. “In the mainstream media, there is a denial of the growing skepticism in the scientific community on global warming,” Pence claimed in a 2009 interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. It is not clear what “growing skepticism” he was referring to. In the same interview, Pence refused to say if he believes in evolution but implied that he does not.

    Notable quote: “I think the science is very mixed on the subject of global warming.” (2009)

    LCV score: 4 percent


    Rick Perry
    Gage Skidmore

    Rick Perry, governor of Texas

    Category: Flat-Earther

    Perry is no one’s idea of a man of science or an intellectual, not even his supporters’. Texas political insiders call him “Bush without the brains.” At Texas A&M, he got mostly Cs and Ds, even in gym, and an F in organic chemistry. When drought parched Texas in 2011, Perry’s solution was to call for three days of prayer for rain. Remarkably enough, that didn’t work. Perry, who is extremely close with polluters who donate to his campaigns, simply invents facts to suit his conviction that climate change isn’t happening. In 2011, he said, “I think we’re seeing it almost weekly or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change.” The Washington Post fact-checker debunked this claim. Perry’s 2012 presidential run was disastrous, in part because he proved himself too dumb even for Republican primary voters, which is sort of like being too white for Iceland. And yet, he is making noises about running again. And since Republican primary voters seem to get dumber with each election cycle, he could be a contender this time.

    Notable quote: “I don’t believe man-made global warming is settled in science enough.” (2011)


    Marco Rubio
    Gage Skidmore

    Marco Rubio, senator from Florida

    Category: Born-Again Flat-Earther

    Like a lot of ambitious Republicans, Rubio tacitly accepted the science of climate change back in 2007. He talked up renewable energy and referred to global warming as one of the reasons to embrace it. By 2009, he had seen the error of his ways, saying, “There’s a significant scientific dispute” about climate change. By 2010, he was using his Republican primary opponent Charlie Crist’s belief in “man-made global warming” as an attack line. In May 2014, Rubio made an inept effort to deny climate science, saying, “Our climate is always changing. And what they have chosen to do is take a handful of decades of research and say that this is now evidence of a longer-term trend that’s directly and almost solely attributable to manmade activities.” Ah, merely “a handful of decades of research.” That’s nothing, right? After getting a lot of blowback for those comments, he tried to clarify and just dug himself in deeper.

    Notable quote: “I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it.” (2014)

    LCV score: 11 percent


    Paul Ryan
    Gage Skidmore

    Paul Ryan, U.S. rep from Wisconsin

    Category: Flat-Earther

    Climate change can be a tough issue for someone who wants to present himself as a wonk, as Ryan so very badly does. To just ignore the science is to risk looking dumb. So, for Ryan, opposition to climate regulation is more about his intense opposition to economic regulation more generally. He constantly asserts that climate regulations, for example, would impose an enormous cost on our economy. Insofar as he discusses the underlying science of climate change, though, he tries to cast doubt on it, using a combination of phony concern for scientific accuracy and an even phonier regular-Midwestern-guy shtick. In a 2009 op-ed, he devoted several paragraphs to the trumped-up scandal at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit and suggested that climate change should be a low priority for Wisconsinites because it snows in their state in the winter, writing: “Unilateral economic restraint in the name of fighting global warming has been a tough sell in our communities, where much of the state is buried under snow.” In July, while refusing to discuss the science of climate change, Ryan asserted that the EPA’s proposed power plant regulations are “obnoxious.” “I think they’re exceeding their authority and I think they kill jobs,” he said.

    Notable quote: “[T]here is growing disagreement among scientists about climate change and its causes.” (2010)

    LCV score: 13 percent


    Rick Santorum
    Gage Skidmore

    Rick Santorum, former senator from Pennsylvania

    Category: Flat-Earther

    As you might expect from a religious extremist who once compared homosexuality to “man on dog,” Santorum’s beliefs on climate change are unapologetically ignorant. At least he can boast of having been consistent. As Politico noted of Santorum in 2011, “Unlike Romney and some of the other GOP presidential candidates, the former senator has never backed cap-and-trade legislation or other mandatory policies to curb greenhouse gases.” Santorum attacked Romney for admitting that climate change was happening, calling it “junk science” that was invented by liberals to gain greater control over the economy. And his May 2014 book calls climate change a “hyped-up crisis.”

    Notable quote: “I for one never bought the hoax. I for one understand just from science that there are one hundred factors that influence the climate. To suggest that one minor factor of which man’s contribution is a minor factor in the minor factor is the determining ingredient in the sauce that affects the entire global warming and cooling is just absurd on its face.” (2012)

    LCV score: 10 percent


    Scott Walker
    Eric Brown

    Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin

    Category: Dodger

    Walker is a favorite of the Koch brothers — he notoriously kissed ass during a call with a prankster pretending to be David Koch. The oil oligarchs like him because he opposes governmental regulations, except for when the regulation stymies clean energy. Walker imposed regulations to keep wind turbines further away from homes and signed a pledge never to pass a carbon tax. He has also raised money for the Heartland Institute, an organization that spreads climate misinformation. But he’s never actually said whether he accepts climate science.

    Notable quote, criticizing his gubernatorial opponent for pushing climate legislation: “Governor [Jim] Doyle [D] has put his trust in international politicians, bureaucrats, celebrities and discredited scientists to replace the real manufacturing jobs Wisconsin is losing every day.” (2009)

    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Triple Pundit: Michael Bloomberg and Genesis Prize Launch $1M Social Entrepreneurship Competition
    The Genesis Generation Challenge aims to identify and provide $1 million in seed money for innovative projects to address the world’s toughest challenges.
    Triple Pundit: Israeli Scientists Develop Means to Slow Coral Reef Extinction
    The World Resources Institute reported in 2011 that 75 percent of the world's coral beds were in jeopardy of extinction -- a gloomy prediction for the oceans' essential 'rainforest trees.' Well, Israeli scientists have found an answer by reforesting the coral beds using hand-planted "coral carpets."
    Triple Pundit: Connecting the Dots: Honey Export Loss Leads Mexico to Dump Monsanto’s GM Soy
    With another school year about to start, it’s a good time to reflect on the basic sciences: physics, chemistry and biology, and how important our understanding of them can be in dealing with what have become substantial threats to our existence.
    Gristmill: People are mistaking strangers’ cars for Ubers

    We’ve all been there before: Accidentally liking an Instagram photo during a bout of late-night stalking (shudder), mistakenly typing our Facebook crush’s name into our status bar instead of the search menu (noooooo), or trying to talk to the men of Tinder about women and climate change. Cringe-worthy faux pas like these are a dime a dozen in the Internet Age, but combine tech with the rise of the sharing economy, and the possibility  for hilariously awkward encounters goes through the roof.

    Call it the Uber effect.

    As more and more folks are reporting on Twitter, needy and distracted passengers are hopping into cars with total rando’s who are trying to park or pulling over on the side of the road.

    From Nitasha Tiku at Gawker:

    “Basically anytime I’m pulled over on the side of the street, someone tries to hail me or just opens my car door,” said tech investor Ashwin Deshmukh, when I asked him about the trend. …

    “If I pull-up at a food truck in Williamsburg, there will be four guys asking, ‘Can you take us to Long Island?'” Deshmukh blames it partly on tooling around in a 2009 SUV and was told the GPS sitting on his dashboard gives the wrong impression. … “The best line so far is, ‘Are you Uber? Well can you just be, can we go?'” he said.

    Word to the wise drivers in cities with Uber: If you see a drunk bro on his phone stumbling toward your car, hit the lock button. Sharing isn’t always caring.

    Filed under: Business & Technology, Cities, Living
    Gristmill: Magical algae turns sewage into biofuel and Dasani
    algae biofuel in beaker

    Making biofuel out of algae has long been a goal of enterprising startups (and even teen prodigies). But the process has been expensive, energy-intensive, and despite all the hype and tax writeoffs, pretty tough to scale up.

    If companies can find ways to multitask, though, maybe they’ll have a better chance of getting off the ground. Algae Systems, a Nevada company, thinks it has found a way to make algae fuel profitable by doing several things at once. Namely, it says it can produce both biofuel and clean drinking water at the same time — using our sewage.

    From the New York Times:

    Algae Systems has a pilot plant in Alabama that, it says, can turn a profit making diesel fuel from algae by simultaneously performing three other tasks: making clean water from municipal sewage (which it uses to fertilize the algae), using the carbon-heavy residue as fertilizer and generating valuable credits for advanced biofuels.

    If it works, the company says, the process will remove more carbon from the atmosphere than is added when the fuel is burned.

    NASA was working on a similar project a few years ago, but this one promises to fund its work through actual wastewater treatment — it’ll transform raw sewage into potable water and charge cities for the service — and through the EPA’s biofuel credits, which force oil companies to prove they’re supporting biofuel production. The plant could also consume pollutants like phosphorus and nitrogen, the two major players in Lake Erie’s toxic algae bloom.

    If it works, this could be a win for the climate and our thirsty cities, too. And anyway, it’s about time we did something with all of our crap.

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
    Triple Pundit: Consumer Brands Face Tax Haven Pressure While B2Bs Get Free Pass
    Corporate responsibility advocates were quick to label the story a win from a stakeholder engagement standpoint, and it surely shows what can happen when consumers take action. But it also begs the question: Why Walgreens?
    Triple Pundit: Poll Clears Up Misconceptions: People of Color Concerned About Climate Change
    Despite the long-standing environmental justice movement, the misconception that people of color don’t care about environmental issues remains. But a new poll commissioned by the nonprofit Green For All reveals what we should have known all along: Communities of color are not only concerned about the environment, but also view climate change as an imminent threat. According to the survey, 68 percent of African American, Latino and Asian likely voters think climate change is an issue that Americans need to be worried about right now – not a problem we can put off in the future.
    Gristmill: South African kids try to reconcile back-to-the-land with big-city dreams

    Going back to the land isn’t strictly an American concept. This beautiful video from the perennial Grist favorite Perennial Plate shows how a new generation of South Africans are trying to make farming fit into a modern lifestyle — and learning where to compromise along the way. Sound familiar? From New Orleans to Baltimore to India, young people are finding their way back to the land, and building better food systems along the way.

    Filed under: Food, Living
    Triple Pundit: Buddy Cianci Pasta Sauce: The Latest Cause Marketing Failure
    The AP investigated the claims of Buddy Cianci that his pasta sauce benefits schoolchildren, and found that for three years, it made a profit of $3.
    Triple Pundit: Why Insecure Data Is Bad for the U.S. Economy
    Recent revelations of NSA spying, laws that prevent IT companies from protecting the confidentiality of customers' information and data hacking are driving clients to move their company data out of the U.S., a step that some experts say will cost the country billions of dollars in the near future.
    Triple Pundit: Zero-Waste-to-Landfill Gets Certified
    U.S. manufacturers large and small are looking for ways to demonstrate their social and environmental responsibility, as well as boost their bottom lines. Zero-waste-to-landfill may be just the ticket.
    Gristmill: Frackers are sending sludge to the Mitten State

    About a week ago, LuAnne Kozma got an email from a friend. “Have you seen this?” the friend wrote. It was the sort of message that usually accompanies, say, an animated GIF of a pug dancing with a vacuum cleaner. But in this case it was an article from the Observer-Reporter, a newspaper in Pennsylvania. “Drilling Sludge to be Shipped to Michigan,” the title read.

    The article was about some leftover fracking sludge that had been hanging out in Pennsylvania. Back in 2002, the state, concerned that people were dumping radioactive medical waste, equipped all the state’s landfills with radiation detectors. Since then, deliveries of sludge and drill cuttings from the Marcellus Shale had been triggering the alarms several hundred times a year.

    While low levels of radiation are common in fracking waste (and in the world at large), the Marcellus Shale does have more radium than your average geological formation. Back in 2011, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) banned wastewater treatment plants from accepting any water used to frack the Marcellus Shale, which the plants routinely did at the time. Months later, the DEQ reported it was still finding elevated radium levels downstream from the plants.

    Now, the radioactive sludge that was being turned away by Pennsylvania was on its way to Michigan, home to 84 percent of the country’s aboveground freshwater supply. LuAnne Kozma began to do some digging. She had begun studying up on and organizing against Michigan’s nascent fracking boom two years ago, after hearing ominous stories from family in New Jersey. This was a new wrinkle.

    The sludge, it turned out, was the property of Range Resources, a company that prided itself on “pioneering the Marcellus Shale play” but that was having trouble getting rid of the byproducts. It had also had shipments blocked in West Virginia. The landfill in Michigan, Wayne Disposal, was one of only two landfills in America that could take waste with that level of radioactivity. (The other one is in Grand View, Idaho.)

    Curious to find out more about what was going to happen to this waste, Kozma called Wayne Disposal. But Wayne Disposal told her it only talked to people with hazardous waste to dispose of — i.e., “clients.” So she called the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, where the man who answered the phone said that he wasn’t aware of any new shipments of radioactive sludge coming in to Wayne Disposal.

    “What do you mean ‘new?'” said Kozma. “How many shipments do you know about?”

    The connection wasn’t great, so she couldn’t tell if he said “a thousand,” or “thousands.”

    Right now, no one in Michigan is exactly sure when the sludge will arrive. If the number of shipments really is in the thousands, pinpointing the moment of precise sludge arrival is kind of irrelevant. After an article published in the Detroit Free Press brought the story to a wider audience, Democrats in the Michigan state senate began circulating a petition asking the governor to ban the sludge.

    Kozma, in the meantime, is part of a network of volunteers who are keeping an eye out for any suspicious shipments headed for Wayne Disposal. “I literally have my car packed and ready to go,” she said, in an interview.

    “Drill cuttings, mud, sludge — we don’t want any of it coming here. I’m not saying that we wish this on other people. Pennsylvania has enough to deal with. My hope is that, if it doesn’t have a place to go, that this will stop.”

    Filed under: Article
    Gristmill: Another coal export terminal bites the dust
    coal port protest

    In a blow to the struggling U.S. coal industry, yet another proposed coal export terminal on the West Coast has been turned down. “Oregon has rejected Ambre Energy’s plan for barging coal down the Columbia River to be exported to China, the fourth Northwest shipment terminal project to bite the dust,” reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “The denial of a dock permit by the Oregon Department of State Lands leaves just two proposals on the table, the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point north of Bellingham, [Wash.,] and the Millennium Terminal at Longview, [Wash.,] on the Columbia River.”

    Domestic coal consumption is declining, but the Obama administration continues to lease federal lands in the Intermountain West for coal mining at below market rates. Eager to dump this product on the global market, coal companies have sought to build terminals in the Pacific Northwest to ship coal to the developing economies in Asia.

    The coal industry is used to dominating the politics of states where coal is mined, such as West Virginia and Kentucky. But it is finding the climate quite different in more liberal West Coast states. Coalitions of Native American tribes, environmentalists, and other concerned citizens have organized to defeat proposed coal terminals, despite the industry’s well-funded campaigns. The Seattle P-I writes:

    What developers did not foresee was emergence of a big popular movement against the proposed coal ports, with worries ranging from transportation tie ups to greenhouse gas emissions in China.

    Nearly 2,500 people showed up in Seattle for a “scoping” hearing on Cherry Point, 90-plus percent opposed to the project. Indian tribes have given a thumbs down. Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has taken an emphatic stand against coal ports.

    The industry’s need to export coal is made more urgent by communities across the U.S. rejecting coal-fired power plants. Responding in part to pressure from local activists and elected officials, supported by the Sierra Club’s national Beyond Coal campaign, utilities have announced the impending retirement of 177 coal-fired power plants, accounting for 500 coal boilers, since 2010. The 500th was just announced in Marion County, Ind. The natural-gas boom has, of course, also been a major factor in coal’s domestic decline, and the industry is feeling pressure from Obama’s proposed tougher regulations on coal-fired power plants.

    The U.S. coal industry is hoping to find salvation in Asian markets, but that continues to look less likely, even aside from problems building coal-export terminals. The Chinese government, responding to its own citizens’ concerns over smog and climate change, announced earlier this month that it will ban all coal use in Beijing by 2020. And in June, just after the Obama administration unveiled its latest power-plant rules, China announced that it plans to impose a cap on greenhouse gas emissions. Even in an authoritarian country where economic growth is a top priority, the coal industry is finding that citizens and their government prefer to be free of the air and climate pollution that coal causes.

    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: This marmot wants to make out with you because of climate change

    Greenpeace was out filming the mini-doc Secretary Sally Jewell: #ParksNotCoal in Glacier National Park when a romantic hoary marmot snuck up on a timelapse sequence to get all Jack-Dawson-smoochy-smoochy with a GoPro. Oh, and first-date rules are out the window: This whistlepig goes all tongue witchu, baby.

    And who can blame it? Rising temperatures imperil his high-altitude habitat, pushing tundra up the mountain until it runs out. Our lardy lothario gotsta move quick — which is why scientists call marmots “nature’s pickup artists.”* Steamy lines from the marmot pickup artist forums:

    • “Hey baby — how’s about we take this face action back to my burrow. It’s dark, it’s dirty, and I’ve got some stockpiled lichens and sedges for when we done. Which is ne-vaaaaaah …”
    • “This kiss is just a prelude. Gonna make you whistle so loud the whole valley will hear. Then I’m gonna whistle back, cuz there’s eagles and shit out there.”
    • “The white tips on my fur make me look grizzled, but that’s just experience.”
    • “After we’re done, I promise you’ll sleep hard … for seven to eight months, until the snow melts.”
    • “OK, maybe I came on too strong. What would you say to some social grooming?”

    Can you resist this sexy, sexy marmot — the new, sexy face of climate change? No, you cannot. But you should try: They’ll bite your face off.)

    *They don’t. 

    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Living