Eco Buzz

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Eco Buzz

    Gristmill: Seals discover offshore wind farms are all-you-can-eat seafood buffets

    Looking to catch up with legendary British pop sensation and noted beach ball enthusiast Seal? The “Kiss from a Rose” singer has been soaking in the North Sea sun as he frolics amongst the offshore wind farms. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the four-time Grammy-award-winning, semiterrestrial mammal is drawn by the ample fish provided by these artificial reefs. [Editor’s note: Not Seal, Meyer, seals. Remind me again, how did you get this job?]

    Well that makes a great deal more sense. Let’s let Eva Botkin-Kowacki at the Monitor explain:

    The scientists observed eleven harbor seals outfitted with GPS tracking tags in the North Sea frequenting two active wind farms, Alpha Ventus in Germany and Sheringham Shoal off the southeast coast of the United Kingdom. One seal even visited 13 times, according to a report published this week in the journal Current Biology.

    The wind turbines make up a grid. When foraging for food, the seals moved “systematically from one turbine to the next turbine in a grid pattern, following exactly how the turbines are laid out,” says study author Deborah Russell of the University of St. Andrews. “That was surprising to see how much their behavior was affected by the presence of these artificial structures and how they could actually adapt their behaviors to respond to that.”

    There are possible downsides. The sound of the turbines could damage the seals’ hearing, which would wreak further havoc on their recording careers. The wind farms could also be playing what amounts to an ecological shell game, drawing creatures that would naturally be more widely dispersed to a smaller area without increasing actual numbers. The science is still out, but the farms could actually be increasing habitat for sea animals while providing cleaner power for us landlubbing bipeds.

    Another plus for wind: I’m sure most marine mammals, and even Seal, for that matter, prefer a wind turbine to the oil-spewing equivalent.

    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Norwegian reindeer are enjoying the balmy weather, breeding like bunnies
    reindeer herd

    When you’re planning your next incarnation, consider the majestic Norwegian reindeer. Sure you will have to deal with the draconian labor practices of one Mr. S. Clause and his union-busting elf goons, but on the flip side, job security. Also, it looks like Norwegian reindeer are doing OK with climate change.

    Nature World News has more on the story:

    [A] study … conducted by researchers at the University of Manchester and the Norwegian Arctic University in Tromsø [has] found that contrary to popular belief, warm climate hasn’t reduced populations of reindeers in the high arctic archipelago of Svalbard.

    According to researchers, the number of Svalbard reindeers has jumped by 30 percent in the last year, showing that the animals are thriving under warm climate. …

    Dr Nicholas Tyler of the Norwegian Arctic University and colleagues have kept a record of the reindeer population in the area since 1979. The population of reindeer in Svalbard increased from 600 on an average in the 1980s to about 1,000 today, researchers said.

    Of course there are caveats. Looks like reindeer are a lot like the rest of us: There will be some winners along with a heck of a lot of losers. Reindeer in the high Arctic are thriving, but melting ice and heat are bad news for reindeer populations globally.

    So perhaps we should rein in that first sentence. If you are planning your next incarnation, try to come back as a northern Norwegian reindeer with a good job outside the toy industry.

    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: The NFL’s newest stadium is also one of the greenest
    NRG Solar Terrace (1)

    Traditionally, sports fans have not been the most eco-minded lot. One way pro leagues and team owners can help fans jump on the green bandwagon: LEED by example.

    That’s the promise of the San Francisco 49ers’ new stadium, which on Monday received LEED Gold certification. Levi’s Stadium, set to open next month, is the second NFL arena to earn Gold cred (the Baltimore Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium is the other).

    Here are more details on the Niners’ new digs, from The Sacramento Bee:

    The 49ers’ stadium achieved the certification through a number of means, including water use. About 85 percent of the water used in the stadium is recycled or “gray” water. The type of grass used, Bermuda Bandera, also requires up to 50 percent less water than other types used in the Bay Area. Another major reason for the green designation is Levi’s Stadium’s solar panels, which will sit atop the three bridges that lead to the stadium as well as the roof of the tower suite. The team expects that the power generated from those panels will offset the power used in the 10 NFL games played there each year.

    The major sports are still a long way from becoming carbon neutral. But, with the news of the NHL’s sustainability strategy also dropping this week, we’re happy to see the small Ws starting to pile up.

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Cities
    Gristmill: This little fox loves transit. Should we tell him he just missed his stop?

    The fox was probably on the way to visit the raccoons who are taking over your neighborhood, the wolf-coyote hybrids who are prowling your park, and the deer who are munching on your parsley. Despite the fact that the bus was empty, the fox only took up one seat. If only all encroaching wildlife (including humans) were so polite.

    Have no fear: The fantastic little guy snuck onto the parked bus for a snoozer and left on his own accord (feeling refreshed, we hope, and ready to seize the day — or somebody’s tasty backyard chickens!).

    Filed under: Article, Cities, Living
    Gristmill: In Pennsylvania, Dr. Frack will see you now
    fracking site

    People who live near fracking sites have been complaining for years about headaches, nosebleeds, and birth defects. Now one such population, in Washington County, Penn., is getting some help in the form of free medical consultations — but not from the usual suspects.

    Washington County is a place known for its many picturesque bridges. It’s also known for its “wet gas” — an underground smorgasbord of methane, propane, butane, and ethane that hasn’t seen daylight since the Devonian era. During the drilling process, most of this gas is captured, but a certain amount does leak into the atmosphere.

    There has been some research into the risks of living in a natural gas drilling area, but not the kind of long-term, systematic study that would prove or disprove a connection between the gas and the health issues.

    There are reasons for this. Some of them are political: Back in 2011, Philadelphia’s House of Representatives set aside $2 million to create a public health registry for tracking health complaints related to fracking, but the funding that would have made it happen was cut at the last minute. Any current complaints are referred to the state Bureau of Epidemiology, which keeps those complaints secret, citing patient confidentiality. In 2012, New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation asked the Department of Health for a review of the public health risks associated with fracking, but the commissioner in charge of the report kept stalling, and stepped down from the job this spring without ever finishing it.

    Other reasons are financial. Correlations between environmental pollution and personal health are hard to prove. People aren’t lab rats. They get up to all kinds of variable-confounding mischief, like smoking, or moving, or working in jobs that expose them to a whole new set of environmental risks. Studying humans properly is very, very expensive, and today, most expensive science is funded and guided by the enthusiasms of the very well-to-do.

    The trick, then, is to find a well-to-do person (or foundation) that might be really interested in fracking epidemiology. There aren’t many. But yesterday, Inside Climate News (in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity) profiled one: the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (SWPA-EHP — and yes, that is an unfortunate acronym).

    SWPA-EHP is run by an impressive group of scientists, including a former EPA toxicologist, and it was started with the support of the Heinz Endowments. It is well-placed to do exactly the kind of research into fracking’s health impact that we need. Right now, though, it doesn’t do a lot of research — a state of affairs that SWPA-EHP blames on its limited budget ($750,000 a year) and that its critics blame on a lack of courage.

    Here’s what SWPA-EHP does do: It educates people who live near drilling sites about how to take health precautions. It keeps a nurse-practitioner on staff to answer more detailed questions. And it spins off what information it does find into interesting, but not statistically significant, studies.

    So maybe SWPA-EHP is hoping that if it can first draw attention to a health problem, then research grants will follow. There’s a precedent for this approach in the story of flame retardants. Over the last decade, a small group of scientists — particularly a biochemist named Arlene Blum — managed to mobilize scientific and political interest in what was a little-known subject at the time. Within a few years, solid research began to emerge that flame retardants were more pervasive and more risky than anyone had thought, and a few years after that, some behind-the-scenes political maneuvering managed to change the regulations around their use.

    “Spread the word first, then do the research” can work, at least sometimes. But that doesn’t mean it’s a great way to do science. It ought to be possible to fund and perform important research into public health without having to mount a full-on public relations campaign first.

    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Plants are poison — and that just may be why they keep us healthy

    The health effects of antioxidants came up recently because a study found that organic food has more of them. Now science writer Moises Velasquez-Manoff has a fascinating story on a theory that upends conventional wisdom about antioxidants.

    The original idea was that antioxidants were good because they sopped up molecules called “reactive oxygen species” (ROS) that are released by stress and bounce around cells, wrecking havoc. This new theory suggests that we need the stress, and it’s our bodies’ reaction to that (producing our own internal antioxidants) that really does us good.

    In other words, it’s the whole system that’s important — piling on more antioxidants from outside alone basically accomplishes nothing. Here’s Velasquez-Manoff:

    Exercise accelerates the burning of fuel by your cells. If you peer into muscles after a jog, you’ll see a relative excess of those supposedly dangerous ROS — exhaust spewed from our cellular furnaces, the mitochondria. If you examine the same muscle some time after a run, however, you’ll find those ROS gone. In their place you’ll see an abundance of native antioxidants. That’s because, post-exercise, the muscle cells respond to the oxidative stress by boosting production of native antioxidants. Those antioxidants, amped up to protect against the oxidant threat of yesterday’s exercise, now also protect against other ambient oxidant dangers.

    Contrary to the ROS dogma, [scientist Michael] Ristow realized, the signal of stress conveyed by the ROS during exercise was essential to this call-and-response between mitochondria and the cells that housed them. To improve health, he figured, perhaps we shouldn’t neutralize ROS so much as increase them in a way that mimicked what happened in exercise. That would boost native antioxidants, improve insulin sensitivity, and increase overall resilience.

    But we also see a true health benefit from eating plants. This may be because Fruits and Vegetables Are Trying to Kill You — to quote the title of Velasquez-Manoff’s piece. That is: The toxins produced by veggies stimulate the same kind of stress response as exercise and give your system a work out.

    Obviously it’s still too early to make specific dietary recommendations based on this thinking (though someone will be trying to turn this into a lucrative diet fad in 5, 4, 3 …). I still stick with my don’t worry, be happy, eat veggies theory of nutrition. But check out this fascinating essay, and glory in the weirdness of the notion that we might just need toxins to keep us healthy.

    Filed under: Article, Food
    Gristmill: New rules aim to stop rash of oil train spills and explosions

    Today, the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed new rules for improving safety standards around transporting large quantities of flammable materials by rail. The chief concern here is the movement of crude oil and ethanol, which the federal government has been ramping up through recent decisions to expand the exploration and extraction of domestic oil and gas.

    The new rules, summarized here, focus on upgrades for train tank cars, new speed limits for trains carrying flammable fuels, improved braking operations, and more rigorous testing for the movement of volatile liquids. A recent rash of train crashes and oil spills, notably in North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Alabama, and Lynchburg, Va., prompted the new safety standards.

    In a recent review of data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, Politico found that train wrecks have done more than $10 million in damage as of mid-May this year, which is nearly triple the damage for all of 2013.

    In a press statement, Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx called the proposal “our most significant progress yet in developing and enforcing new rules to ensure that all flammable liquids, including Bakken crude and ethanol, are transported safely.”

    The Bakken oil mention is in reference to the train explosion last year in North Dakota, worsened by the fact that Bakken crude is more flammable than most all other oils. The Transportation department anticipates an increase in the volume of Bakken oil being shipped throughout the U.S., and across longer distances. On average, Bakken crude oil shipments travel over 1,000 miles from point-of-origin to refineries on the coasts.

    According to the department’s website, 9,500 rail-carloads of crude moved through the country in 2008. Last year, there were 415,000 rail-carloads.

    Given that many of those trains pass through or near communities of color and low-income, environmental justice organizations have long been concerned about the movement of goods by rail, especially chemicals and volatile liquids.

    “For African Americans, we’ve gone from the ‘underground railroad’ being a route to freedom, to today’s railway system being a source of pollution and hazard,” said Jacqueline Patterson, director of the NAACP’s Climate Justice Initiative. “Coal trains come through communities of color leaving a trail of coal dust on our cars and in our lungs.”

    The U.S. spilled more oil from trains in 2013  than in the previous four decades combined.

    From McClatchy:

    Including major derailments in Alabama and North Dakota, more than 1.15 million gallons of crude oil was spilled from rail cars in 2013, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

    By comparison, from 1975 to 2012, U.S. railroads spilled a combined 800,000 gallons of crude oil. The spike underscores new concerns about the safety of such shipments as rail has become the preferred mode for oil producers amid a North American energy boom.

    In light of this, “Any effort to regulate one of the threats facing oft-vulnerable communities — in this case trains carrying oil that are like ticking time bombs — is stridently welcomed,” Patterson said.

    The National Environmental Justice Advisory Committee (NEJAC) has advised the federal government on how to improve its “goods movement” infrastructure for years. It released a report offering recommendations on this in 2009. The report focused not just on the goods moved, but also on the impacts of rail and freight transportation itself, as it moves through communities beset by poverty and poor access to quality healthcare. Reads the report:

    [Goods] movement related‐ activities can have negative impacts on air quality and public health. Adjacent communities bear the burden of such activities resulting from the growth and demand for goods. Across the country there are many communities near goods movement infrastructure that consist of large populations of low‐income and minority residents.

    NEJAC recently sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy imploring her to check on whether the other federal cabinet agencies, including the Department of Transportation, are meeting with residents of the communities where trains are moving materials through, and asking for the agencies to create strategies to protect the health of those communities.

    The Transportation department’s proposed rules focus more on the hazardous materials being carried. But they would also require carriers to perform a new analysis for routing trains that would be based on 27 safety and security factors. They would also require existing rail tank cars to be retrofitted to meet new performance requirements; those that can’t be retrofitted would be retired or repurposed.

    The rail industry, of course, is freaking out about the new safety proposals. From Amy Harder at The Wall Street Journal:

    Railroads, oil companies and railcar owners have been expecting new federal rules meant to improve the safety of oil shipments in the wake of several fiery train accidents. The proposed regulation could impact several industries. The railroads have been worried that slower speed limits could cause major gridlock, while oil companies have fretted that new rules about tank car volumes might prevent them from shipping all the crude they wanted.

    I guess, but business as usual could mean more explosions and spills, which communities would pay for with their health and lives. It’s the same bellyaching the oil and gas industry had when the Obama administration imposed new safety regs after the BP oil disaster. These industries have to understand that it’s healthier and less expensive to be safe than it is to be sorry.

    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Triple Pundit: Storing Data in the Cloud: How Safe is It?
    Inherent in corporate social responsibility, data security takes on even greater importance given the profusion of mobile devices and use of cloud services. Though it remains of paramount concern, research indicates cloud security concerns will abate with greater familiarity and usage.
    Gristmill: Even rural America can have good public transportation
    bus in Roaring Fork Valley

    When I travel to a rural area, I assume that renting a car will be a necessity. In fact, I assume it in much of the U.S. Except in a few older coastal or Upper Midwest inner cities, it’s hard to get around in America without driving. So imagine my surprise upon arriving in Aspen, Colo., for a reporting trip and the Aspen Ideas Festival, and finding that a surprisingly good bus system and bike-share program could get me almost everywhere I needed to go. And it didn’t cost an arm and a leg — just an arm. A broken arm. It turns out Aspen is so pro-pedestrian that it can actually create difficulties for visiting cyclists. But that’s not the worst problem to have.

    Aspen and its neighbors along the Roaring Fork River high in the Rocky Mountains, such as Carbondale, are old mining towns. Developed in the late 19th century, they have walkable downtowns. To help residents and visitors get around or between those downtowns, they have a recently expanded bus service. The regional bus stops along Route 82, the road connecting the towns, with parking lots at the outlying stops, like a suburban commuter-rail station.

    Local environmentalists I spoke with raved about the bus system, which may partly reflect the low expectations we’ve all developed for rural mass transit. Still, there were 4.1 million rides on Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) buses in 2013, a 4 percent increase over 2012. That’s impressive for a region with only around 32,000 residents (though the seasonal population can increase substantially from tourism). If you’re in a downtown area, there will be a stop walking distance from you. The buses come frequently enough despite the small local population. The system is even integrated with other modes of transit: Many buses are outfitted with a bike rack in front and at certain stops you can load your bike on.

    And it isn’t like in some Sun Belt cities where bus riding is a stigmatized habit of poor people. While the system’s primary purpose is to take service workers from the less expensive towns where they live to their jobs in Aspen, I saw tourists and members of the second-home crowd on the buses. Professionals also often commute by bike or bus. Jamie Cundiff, the forest program director at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, does both. “My car doesn’t do very well in the snow, so especially in the winter it’s nice not to stress about the snow,” says Cundiff. “If it’s in the summer, I love having the ability to bike one way and bus the other because sometimes the weather is different in the morning than the afternoon.”

    But, like many bus systems, this one is confusing to outsiders. Stops are identified in a local jargony shorthand, like “ABC” for the “Airport Business Center,” and there’s no easy way to find out how the nicknames or acronyms correspond to places in the real world. Buses skip stops if there is no one waiting there and no rider requests the stop, but of course out-of-towners often don’t know when to request the stop they want. Even so, with effort, determination, and a lot of communication with the bus driver, one can save the $100 per day it would cost to rent a car.

    Still, the system is not quite as advanced as the marketing would lead you to believe. The RFTA’s new “Bus Rapid Transit” line is actually nothing of the sort: It’s just express bus service. It makes fewer stops — only nine on its 41-mile route — and it doesn’t wait for other buses to arrive so that riders can seamlessly transfer, as the local buses do. But real BRT has a dedicated lane and a number of design elements that speed the loading of passengers, such as fares paid ahead of time at the stop, instead of on the bus. In a rural area, these differences probably matter a lot less than they do in a big city. The Roaring Fork Valley “BRT” only has a dedicated lane for a small section of its route, but it’s not like I ever got stuck in traffic as a result. Nor is waiting for people to pay on the bus as big a deal when the bus doesn’t have nearly as many riders as, say, Manhattan’s 2nd Avenue line.

    But why call it BRT rather than just an express bus? Because it might make it easier to get funding from local voters and the federal government. Local officials brag that their “VelociRFTA,” which launched in 2013, was the nation’s first rural BRT line. The $46 million cost of the line was paid for partly with federal money and partly by a 0.04 percent sales tax increase in the eight participating jurisdictions, approved by voters in 2008. The proposal was considered politically risky at the time, as the economy was in crisis. Voters, though, were weary of high gas prices and worsening traffic coming in and out of Aspen at rush hour, so 55 percent voted to fund the new line. (RFTA did not respond to a request for comment.)

    The whole question of BRT highlights a larger problem, which is that even express bus service relies on the inefficient mechanism of roads and automobiles. Trains can keep to a schedule with a certainty that buses can’t, unless they are shielded from the vicissitudes of traffic in a dedicated BRT lane. (Every RFTA bus I took was precisely on time, but a road blocked by an accident could easily change that.) And trains, of course, are more energy-efficient than cars and buses. The Roaring Fork Valley actually had trains until they were phased out between the 1960s and ‘90s. It’s too bad they’re now gone, but at least the former tracks have been turned into a lovely biking and walking trail, largely managed by the RFTA.

    I took a bike ride on that stunningly scenic trail, which runs right along the Roaring Fork River, through a valley with mountains on all sides. And thanks to Aspen’s bike-share program, annoyingly called WE-cycle, I also used bikes to zip around town.

    It was great — until I discovered one of the big downsides of the city’s people-centric transportation policies. On my last full day in Aspen, I was biking down a hill when a jaywalking pedestrian waltzed into the middle of the street in front of me. I slammed on the breaks, flew forward off the bike, landed on my wrist, and fractured my elbow. I stood up to find the woman who’d stepped into my path screaming at me, insisting that I was supposed to stop for pedestrians. I thought she was crazy — she wasn’t in a crosswalk, after all — until I asked a local police officer and was told that is indeed the expectation in Aspen. Pedestrians apparently always have the right of way, and cars and bikes are expected to just stop for them. I’m a firm believer that cyclists should follow the same rules as cars and be considerate of pedestrians — I wrote about this at length just a couple of months ago — but it doesn’t make sense in this context. Unlike a car, a bike can’t stop on a dime without sending its driver flying forward.

    So I experienced the good and the bad of the Aspen area’s transportation system. It’s mostly good — cheaper, greener mobility options are helping to maintain the area’s high quality of life. And the bad — well, my arm is still in a sling, three weeks later.

    Filed under: Article, Cities, Living
    Gristmill: People: Stop getting your panties in a wad about ‘fake’ charity clothing bins

    Used clothing bins — those metal boxes where people drop their unwanted or used shirts, jackets, jeans, belts, and the occasional human skull – sure are making people mad these days.

    The problem is in the sales pitch: Some of the sketchier bins on street corners and in parking lots have “DONATION” stenciled on the side. As a result, people think that their old spandex jeggings, those Uggs from last season, and the hot pink Juicy Couture sweatpants that they only wore once, are going to a person in need. In fact, those “donations” are going to textile recyclers who are making billions selling the clothes to companies overseas that grind the clothes into material for industrial uses.

    While it isn’t exactly a news flash that most of the clothes from these bins go to for-profit companies, a recent New York Times article condemned the boxes as public nuisances, calling them magnets for graffiti and crime, and fire hazards. The city of New York has upped its efforts to haul away the bins. One New York state assemblyman has made getting rid of them his cause celebre, and the bins have been causing turf wars in other states.

    It’s certainly one thing if the bins are fabricating falsehoods about charitable intentions, but the sad reality is this:

    - Americans buy 5 times as much clothing as they did in 1980 (that’s a 40 percent increase in textile trash). And with the proliferation of fast, cheap clothing, more and more textiles are ending up in landfills, and more and more charities have to throw these clothes away to because they are unfit to sell.

    - Americans throw away over 25 billion pounds of clothes each year, and most of it ends up in landfills. Only 15 percent of clothes get donated or recycled. According to the EPA, textiles and fabrics have one of the lowest recycling rates for any reusable material.

    - Even legitimate charities like the Goodwill only end up selling about 20 percent of what gets donated in their retail stores anyway. The rest gets sold to — guess who — textile recycling companies that either sell the clothes to overseas markets or pound them down to make industrial rags and carpeting materials.

    The bins are clearly not the problem.

    As Elizabeth Cline, author of Overdressed: The Shockingly high Cost of Cheap Fashion notes in a recent article in the Atlantic’s CityLab, people tend to do what is most convenient for them. If a clothing donation bin is nearby, they will be more likely to throw their used clothes in the bin, rather than a garbage can. And recycling is certainly a better option than piling up in the landfill.

    So stop flipping out about the bins, people. If you really want your old rags to go to someone in need, you can increase the chances by taking them them to Goodwill. But the biggest thing you can do? Stop buying so many cheap clothes!

    Filed under: Article, Living
    Gristmill: How a town in Maine is blocking an Exxon tar-sands pipeline
    tar sands protestors in Maine

    Citizens trying to stop the piping of tar-sands oil through their community wore blue “Clear Skies” shirts at a city council meeting in South Portland, Maine, this week. But they might as well have been wearing boxing gloves. The small city struck a mighty blow against Canadian tar-sands extraction.

    “It’s been a long fight,” said resident Andy Jones after a 6-1 city council vote on Monday to approve the Clear Skies Ordinance, which will block the loading of heavy tar-sands bitumen onto tankers at the city’s port.

    The measure is intended to stop ExxonMobil and partner companies from bringing Albertan tar-sands oil east through an aging pipeline network to the city’s waterfront. Currently, the pipeline transports conventional oil west from Portland to Canada; the companies want to reverse its flow.

    After an intensely debated, year-and-a-half battle, the South Portland City Council on Monday sided with residents like Jones who don’t want their city to end up as a new “international hub” for the export of tar-sands oil.

    South Portland city council meeting
    Dan Wood
    Proponents of the Clear Skies ordinance, wearing blue, packed a South Portland city council meeting on July 9.

    “The message to the tar sands industry is: ‘Don’t be counting your chickens yet,’” said Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “There is a pattern of communities saying ‘no’ to the threat of tar-sands oil.”

    A clear signal

    The ordinance could have global implications. The Canadian government expects the nation’s oil industry to be producing 4 million to 6 million barrels of tar-sands bitumen a day within a few years, and it’s pinning its hopes on somehow getting all that oil to coastal ports, said Richard Kuprewicz, president of Washington-based pipeline safety consulting firm Accufacts Inc. Indeed, a recent report from the International Energy Agency found that the industry needs export pipelines in order for its boom to continue.

    South Portland’s move is just the latest setback for plans to pipe the bitumen out to international markets. Another big hurdle is the long delay over the Keystone XL pipeline. And in Canada, pipeline plans have met with opposition from indigenous peoples (known as First Nations), who are taking the lead to stop projects like the Enbridge Northern Gateway tar-sands pipeline through British Columbia.

    Now, there is a clear signal that communities along the U.S. East Coast will fight tar-sands expansion too.

    “Do not under estimate the power of a local government,” said Kuprewicz.

    “A lot of perseverance”

    In early 2013, residents formed Protect South Portland to try to stop the Portland-Montreal Pipeline reversal. They put an initiative on the November 2013 ballot to block the project, but it lost narrowly at the polls.

    So the city council took up the cause. In December of last year, the council voted to impose a six-month moratorium on shipping tar-sands oil out through its port. Then a council-appointed committee crafted the Clear Skies Ordinance to permanently block tar-sands shipments, which is what the council officially approved this week. The law also changes zoning rules to block the construction of twin smokestacks that would be needed to burn off bitumen-thinning chemicals before the oil could be shipped out.

    Over the past few months, concerned residents met in homes and Protect South Portland grew. Meanwhile, the group Energy Citizens, backed by the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s largest trade group, ran ads that said “It’s just oil. From Canada.” The oil companies hired a number of lawyers and brought public relations firms on board.

    Protect South Portland spokeswoman MJ Ferrier estimates that the grassroots group was outspent by at least 6 to 1.

    So how did residents win over Big Oil? “A lot of perseverance and a lot of community engagement,” Voorhees said.

    After the vote, supporters of the ordinance went to a local bar, and “we raised our glasses,” Jones told Grist.

    Cautious celebration

    But while local activists are celebrating this week’s win, they know “this is not the end,” said Jones.

    South Portland Councilor Tom Blake, who’s been a champion of the effort to protect the city from tar sands, said a legal challenge seems imminent, by either Portland Pipe Line Corp., a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, or by the Canadian government. Blake had this message for the oil company and Canadian officials Monday evening: “This ordinance is the will of the people,” he said. “Do not spend millions of dollars and force the city of South Portland to do the same.”

    But the oil interests are unlikely to heed his warning.

    Tom Hardison, vice president of Portland Pipe Line, told reporters that the city had made a rush decision and bowed to environmental “off-oil extremists.” He added that the zoning changes amounted to a “job-killing ordinance” that prevents the city’s port from adapting to meet the energy needs of North America.

    Matthew Manahan, attorney for Portland Pipe Line, told the city council before the vote that its ordinance is “illegal” and “would clearly be preempted by federal and state law.”

    “The council is ignoring the law” and “ignoring science,” the lawyer added.

    Air and water worries

    Like the process of extracting tar-sands oil, the process of transporting it takes a huge toll on the environment. Before the heavy, almost-solid bitumen can be sent through pipelines, it has to be thinned with a concoction of liquid natural gas and other hydrocarbons. And then before it can be loaded onto ships, that concoction has to be burned off. ExxonMobil currently holds permits to build two smokestacks on South Portland’s waterfront that would do the burning.

    Ferrier, a retired psychologist and a nun, joined Protect South Portland largely out of concern for what the oil companies’ plans would do to air quality in an area that has already received a “C” for ozone pollution from the American Lung Association. The proposed smokestacks would emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs). “We know there is benzene in it, a known carcinogen,” said Ferrier.

    Resident Andrew Parker had similar concerns. “Tonight is about children,” he said at Monday’s city council meeting. “The oil company will put poison in the air, that is a fact.”

    For Mayor Gerard Jalbert, who also sits on the city council and voted in support of the ordinance, it came down to concerns about water quality. The risk of water contamination in the case of a spill far outweighed the nebulous claims about job creation.

    “When I look at the economic benefit, which no seems to be able to detail, the risk seems to outweigh the benefit,” Jalbert told Grist.

    The easternmost 236-mile stretch of pipeline crosses some of the most sensitive ecosystems in Maine, including the Androscoggin River, the pristine Crooked River, and Sebago Lake, which supplies drinking water for 15 percent of the state’s population.

    Blake, the council member, is worried that using old pipes to transport heavy bitumen could lead to a spill like the one that happened in Mayflower, Ark., in March 2013, when an ExxonMobil pipeline built in the 1940s ruptured and spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of tar-sands oil.

    Saying “no” to tar sands is part of a bigger shift to a greener future in South Portland, Blake added. “Being a community that has been heavily dependent on petroleum, this turns a tide,” the councilor said.

    He pointed to a new electric-car charging station at the city’s community center and potential plans to build a solar farm on an old landfill as steps toward a sustainable future. “I think we are starting to walk the talk,” Blake said.

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Triple Pundit: Better Cotton and Ikea Report Shows Less Pesticide and Water Use
    The latest report by the Better Cotton Initiative and Ikea shows less pesticide and water use by participating farmers.
    Triple Pundit: CSR Asia Highlights Inclusive Business Opportunities in Cocoa
    Identifying and implementing inclusive business opportunities can assure sustainability and benefit consumers and participants across the cocoa value chain, according to a CSR Asia case study that focuses on cocoa production and the supply chain in Indonesia and Vietnam.
    Triple Pundit: $10 Million Tribal Climate Resilience Program a Win-Win-Win Situation
    Announced by the president and launched last week, the Tribal Climate Resilience Program should benefit American Indian tribes and the nation economically, socially and environmentally.
    Triple Pundit: Manufacturers Back Bill to Limit Liability for Energy Star Ratings
    The Alliance to Save Energy, an association of lawmakers and manufacturers are promoting a bill that would strip consumers of the right to lodge class action litigation against companies that falsify Energy Star ratings. Consumer advocates and trial lawyers argue however that companies stay honest when they know that there is more to risk than simply having to return a customer's good-faith investment.
    Triple Pundit: Look Deep Into Nature And You Will Find the Answers
    In our desire to understand, define and categorize life, we have tended towards a logic that sets things apart from each other; we create an illusion of separation which pollutes how we attend to ourselves, each other and the wider world.
    Triple Pundit: Houston’s One-Bin Recycling Program: Path to Zero Waste or Environmental Racism?
    When you think of zero waste, you might picture towering compost heaps or overflowing recycling carts – but what about one bin for all your household waste, from carrot peels and chicken bones to junk mail and soda bottles? That’s the idea behind Houston’s “One Bin for All” program, which aims to boost the city’s dismal recycling rate of 19 percent, which falls 15 percent below the average national recycling figure. Public officials predict the initiative will help the city keep 75 percent of its trash from the landfill, but critics of the program, ranging from the Texas Campaign for the Environment to the NAACP, contend that it will actually prevent the city from achieving zero waste and smacks of environmental racism.
    Triple Pundit: Entrepreneurs Transform Urban Farming with High-Tech Solutions
    Surprisingly, high tech urban farms are popping up around the world in every imaginable space from old warehouses in the Netherlands, to semi conductor factories in Japan and even on the roofs of commercial buildings in Brooklyn.
    Gristmill: Will drones save the rhinos? Some conservationists say it’s launch time

    Even as the teensy unarmed planes continue to invade American skies, words like “drones” and “surveillance” tend not to elicit warm and fuzzy feelings. But are there certain cases where being kept under bot watch will be welcomed?

    Because drones are both nimble and thrifty, idealists are launching drones on feel-good missions across the globe. Yesterday, I wrote about the potential for drones to keep us in the know of what goes on with our food. Here are some other projects that aim to use camera-armed drones for the good of the planet — and why skepticism might keep these projects from taking off.

    Drones that spot illegal fishing


    Ocean conservationists may be psyched about Obama’s plan for a supersized marine protected area. But, given that 20 percent of seafood is caught illegally, marine sanctuaries may matter a lot less when the rules aren’t enforced. That’s why the government of Belize is testing the waters with drone surveillance by using them to monitor their Glover’s Reef Marine Reserve.

    From National Geographic:

    Belize has only 70 fisheries enforcement officers to patrol its 240 miles (386 kilometers) of Caribbean coast and more than 200 islands. And with fuel prices rising, the enforcement budget has been shrinking. As a result, fishermen get away with flouting the law, says [Julio Maaz, Wildlife Conservation Society's fisheries coordinator with Belize] – especially crews based in nearby Honduras and Guatemala.

    But now a new weapon is being tested in the fight against pirate fishing: drones.

    The possible pitfall? National Geographic reports that specially marketed anti-drone bullets may hint at conflict to come (though, ahem Nat Geo, I’m pretty sure that was just an April fool’s joke. In reality, any bullet would probably do the trick).

    Drones that take down poachers 


    If you have a heart, you love baby rhinos. And yet rhinos — and other animals, like elephants and tigers – are still being poached. Because even thousands of miles of protected habitat will fall short of keeping them alive if that land isn’t regulated properly. Once again, drones can step in!

    From Smithsonian:

    In the last few years … conservationists have begun to develop [drones] to survey wildlife, monitor deforestation and help park rangers locate poachers before apprehending them on foot. Scientists believe the tool could revolutionize the way conservation is done in many countries, slashing the costs of monitoring large, rugged areas and, ultimately, better protecting wildlife from threats.

    “The pressure on natural resources in almost all conservation spaces on the planet is increasing,” says David Wilkie, director of conservation support for the Wildlife Conservation Society, which is testing drones in Madagascar, Cambodia and Palau, among other places. “How do you move beyond enforcing the law and catching guys with ivory to preventing them from shooting the elephants in the first place? Can we use drones to do that? That gets people’s ears pricked up and they begin to think, oh my gosh, this could really be a game changer.”

    Well, when you call it a game changer, it sure sounds sexy. But The Guardian warns that the new method could backfire, because the rural communities around the parks so strongly associate them with “sinister technologies or surveillance” or “associated with warfare and civilian causalities.”

    “The conservation community needs to consider this carefully because any mistakes could alienate local people and undermine the long-term relationships on which conservation success depends,” The Guardian says.

    Drones that fight China’s rampant pollution

    The Chinese are fed up with pollution
    Shutterstock / Hung Chung Chih
    The Chinese are fed up with pollution.

    Earlier this year, China’s Premier Li Keqiang announced that China is engaging in combat of a different sort: a “war on pollution.” And the country’s Ministry of Environmental Protection is getting drones involved in the battle.

    From Bloomberg Businessweek:

    The unmanned aerial vehicles, which are equipped with infrared cameras, can detect whether factories illegally release emissions at times when inspectors aren’t present, according to the ministry. So far its four drones have flown watchdog missions over Beijing, Hebei, Shanxi, and Inner Mongolia – all heavily polluted regions in coal-reliant northern China.

    As Bloomberg reports, earlier this month the ministry announced that of the 254 factories and businesses the drones observed, 64 were flagged for further investigation.

    Are drones here for good?

    At the very least, these three examples go to show that environmental agencies are getting more creative with their bots. But whether these environmental drones are here to stay may still come down to this big question: when, where, and how much do we think it’s OK to be watched?

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Living
    Gristmill: George Harrison memorial tree falls victim to climate-driven irony

    If you’re wondering what killed the George Harrison memorial tree in L.A.’s Griffith Park, the short answer is irony. I think. I learned about irony from Alanis Morissette, so hopefully I got that right, but I’d better just let Randy Lewis at the Los Angeles Times explain:

    The George Harrison Tree was killed by beetles.

    Thanks, Randy. (Yes, we’re talking about that George Harrison.)

    So that’s the short answer. The long answer, however, could be climate change. The Harrison tree was a Cayman Islands Pine, and bark beetles love pine and bark beetles love it hot. Fewer cold snaps mean fewer beetle die-offs, but even more frighteningly, warmer temperatures may be speeding up the beetles reproductive cycle, triggering a massive increase in the beetle population.

    In climate change’s defense, if bark beetles hadn’t destroyed the tree, Yoko would have.

    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Earth crushes another temperature record; not getting much love from the stands

    The Earth is currently riding a hot streak that would make Barry Bonds blush. This May was the hottest May in history, and, we learned today, it was followed by the hottest June.

    June marked the 352nd consecutive hotter-than-average month, a stretch reaching back to February of 1985, and it doesn’t show any signs of cooling off. So far this year, every month but February has been one of the four hottest on record, and, with an El Niño on deck, 2014 is well on its way to becoming the hottest year in history.

    If you’re suspicious that, with a streak like that, the planet must be juicing, well, you’re not alone. Seth Borenstien of the Associated Press spoke with NOAA’s chief of climate monitoring, Derek Arndt, and it sounds like this is more than a corked climate bat:

    “We are living in the steroid era of the climate system,” Arndt said.

    Arndt said both the June and May records were driven by unusually hot oceans, especially the Pacific and Indian oceans.

    Heat records in June broke on every continent but Antarctica, especially in New Zealand, northern South America, Greenland, central Africa and southern Asia.

    The United States had only its 33rd hottest June.

    All 12 of the world’s monthly heat records have been set after 1997, more than half in the last decade. All the global cold monthly records were set before 1917.

    At this point, denying anthropogenic climate change is akin to believing professional wrestling is real — or, to stick with my original metaphor (something they told us at writer’s school is important), it’s like watching Barry Bonds’ head grow a hat size a season, along with his home run totals, and thinking, “Dang. He must be working out.”

    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Millions alive today would have to die before the paleo diet could take over
    banksy caveman

    The idea of going paleo is attractive to someone like me, who feels he is living in an unhealthy, vapid world of consumerism. The sprawl of modern humanity is clearly unhealthy for earth’s biodiversity and for the stability of our climate. And it makes a lot of sense that our modern lifestyle would prove unhealthy for us: Our bodies were shaped for hundreds of thousands of years to hunt and gather — and yet we insist on sitting down all day while eating things our ancestors would not recognize as food. We keep introducing new things that don’t fit into the natural environment or the environment of our bodies.

    There’s a natural yearning to backtrack — to get back to the garden. But there’s a problem, usually unacknowledged, with the whole paleo phenomenon: Going back to a hunter-gatherer’s meat-heavy diet is impossible unless we cull our population to pre-agricultural levels. There have been no reasonable proposals for achieving quick population reduction. And so we are faced with a sad reality: We can’t ever go home again.

    In this week’s New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert wrote about putting her family on the paleo diet while reviewing “a small library of what might be called paleo literature — how-to books that are mostly how-to-undo books.”

    The proposed “undo” is gobsmackingly gargantuan. It suggests that agriculture, and the civilization built upon farming was, as Jared Diamond put it, “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race.” There is evidence that agriculture was, indeed, a mistake. When people started farming around the world, they became sicker and smaller. And today we are beset by a suite of diseases, from Type 2 diabetes to asthma, that seem to result from the mismatch between our Paleolithic bodies and a world where everything is super-sized, sterilized, deep-fried, ultra-wide Naugahyde. Here’s Kolbert:

    Paleo may look like a food fad, and yet you could argue that it’s really just the reverse. Anatomically modern humans have, after all, been around for about 200,000 years. The genus Homo goes back another two million years or so. On the timescale of evolutionary history, it’s agriculture that’s the fad.

    But agriculture is an unusual sort of fad — a fad our lives depend upon. It’s got its hooks in us. Farming allowed the human population to exceed the earth’s previous carrying capacity. The creation of synthetic fertilizers expanded that carrying capacity again. And now, like it or not, we’re stuck.

    A new study, just out from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reaffirms that meat production has an outsized impact on climate change, and that beef is the worst offender. It suggests that, if we want to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, it would be more effective to give up red meat than to stop driving cars. This means that, “from an environmental standpoint, paleo’s ‘Let them eat steak’ approach is a disaster,” Kolbert wrote.

    I expect Kolbert, who wrote Field Notes from a Catastrophe and The Sixth Extinction, would agree that it’s a disaster either way. We’re now in the unfortunate position of choosing the lesser of disasters. And when things look bleak, the idea of pressing the reset button is enthralling. When I was younger I was always hoping for radical revolution, but the more I learned about history the more disappointed I became in revolutions. When you wipe the slate clean and kick out the bastards, a new set of bastards always take over. The deep structural problems that were there from the beginning always reemerge. I eventually came around to thinking that it’s almost always better to tinker with a broken system than to burn everything down and start from scratch.

    Our bodies have already started tinkering, finding ways to make do in an imperfect environment. My DNA, for example, contains a mutation that allows me to digest milk for my entire life rather than just my infant nursing days. This was a swift adaptation to the partnership between humans and cattle. Another mutation allows the production of an enzyme in saliva that breaks down starches from grains. Our bodies aren’t completely Paleolithic. Another New Yorker contributor, the doctor Jerome Groopman, has written about the wealth of evidence suggesting that, overall, humans have gotten healthier since the advent of agriculture. Yes, we got shorter and sicker immediately after we started farming, but since then we’ve become taller and healthier than ever before. It’s true that that positive trend has stalled out in the U.S. since the 1950s, but it hasn’t stalled uniformly: The rich seem to be taller and longer-lived than ever; it’s the poor who are taking a beating.

    Groopman writes:

    The average height of native-born American males has not significantly changed since the middle of the twentieth century. This plateau contrasts with the trends in Europe, where growth increases have continued, dramatically in countries like the Netherlands, which now has on average the tallest European men. Factors that have been considered by way of explanation of static American growth are social inequality, an inferior health care system, and fewer welfare safety nets compared to western and northern Europe, despite our high per capita income.

    As usual, the real problem is political, not biological.

    There’s a lot of good coming from the paleo movement. The ability to take the evolutionary perspective on human health has already led to breakthroughs (like this), and more will follow.

    But watch out for the ideology that often goes with paleo purists — the assumption that the only way forward is to find our way back to Eden. Neither humans, nor the earth’s ecosystems, are fragile. We are dynamic, always changing and adapting. This doesn’t excuse our staggering recklessness, but it does suggest that we shouldn’t aim for a static vision of the past. The world has changed inalterably. Ignoring that fact leads us to focus on things like Vibram FiveFingers and steak tartare, rather than more important issues. If we really care about human health, and the health of the earth, we need to focus on inequality and poverty. Paleo is just a trendy distraction.

    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Food
    Gristmill: Good news: Mother jailed for sending daughter to playground is freed. Bad news: McDonald’s fires her

    If there weren’t enough reasons to protest McDonald’s, here’s another: Remember Debra Harrell, the mother who went to jail for sending her daughter to the playground? Well, McDonald’s, her employer at the time, fired her.

    Bryce Covert reports for Think Progress:

    While Robert Phillips, the attorney representing her pro bono at McGowan, Hood & Felder, said that she was released from jail the day after she was arrested on bond, he confirmed that she had been let go from her job. He didn’t have any information as to why. A spokesperson for McDonald’s declined to comment, saying it is inappropriate to discuss a human resources issue. She also said the company is cooperating with local police in their investigation of the situation.

    It is believed that Harrell let her daughter go to the playground alone because she couldn’t afford childcare. But daycare will be even farther out of reach without a job.

    Fortunately for her family, almost $27,000 has been raised online for her troubles. She’s also been reunited with her daughter, who was in the state’s custody while Harrell was in jail.

    But the message this sends to other mothers similarly situated, who lack childcare options, is chilling. And those chills will especially be felt at that playground. Imagine the eyes and gazes that will be set on black children in this community now, from people looking for more parents like Harrell to report.

    It just might be enough to keep some black kids from playing outside without a parent close-by, and African Americans don’t need more reasons to avoid the outdoors.

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Food
    Gristmill: The strange relationship between global warming denial and … speaking English
    sticking head sand

    Here in the United States, we fret a lot about global warming denial. Not only is it a dangerous delusion, it’s an incredibly prevalent one. Depending on your survey instrument of choice, we regularly learn that substantial minorities of Americans deny, or are skeptical of, the science of climate change.

    The global picture, however, is quite different. For instance, recently the U.K.-based market research firm Ipsos MORI released its “Global Trends 2014” report, which included a number of survey questions on the environment asked across 20 countries. (h/t Leo Hickman). And when it came to climate change, the result was very telling:

    Ipsos MORI Global Trends, 2014

    Note that these results are not perfectly comparable across countries, because the data were gathered online, and Ipsos MORI cautions that for developing countries like India and China, “the results should be viewed as representative of a more affluent and ‘connected’ population.”

    Nonetheless, some pretty significant patterns are apparent. Perhaps most notably: Not only is the United States clearly the worst in its climate denial, but Great Britain and Australia are second and third worst, respectively. Canada, meanwhile, is the seventh worst.

    What do these four nations have in common? They all speak the language of Shakespeare.

    Why would that be? After all, presumably there is nothing about English, in and of itself, that predisposes you to climate change denial. Words and phrases like “doubt,” “natural causes,” “climate models,” and other skeptic mots are readily available in other languages. So what’s the real cause?

    One possible answer is that it’s all about the political ideologies prevalent in these four countries.

    “I do not find these results surprising,” says Riley Dunlap, a sociologist at Oklahoma State University who has extensively studied the climate denial movement. “It’s the countries where neo-liberalism is most hegemonic and with strong neo-liberal regimes (both in power and lurking on the sidelines to retake power) that have bred the most active denial campaigns – U.S., U.K., Australia, and now Canada. And the messages employed by these campaigns filter via the media and political elites to the public, especially the ideologically receptive portions.” (Neoliberalism is an economic philosophy centered on the importance of free markets and broadly opposed to big government interventions.)

    Indeed, the English language media in three of these four countries are linked together by a single individual: Rupert Murdoch. An apparent climate skeptic or lukewarmer, Murdoch is the chair of News Corp and 21st Century Fox. (You can watch him express his climate views here.) Some of the media outlets subsumed by the two conglomerates that he heads are responsible for quite a lot of English language climate skepticism and denial.

    In the U.S., Fox News and The Wall Street Journal lead the way; research shows that Fox watching increases distrust of climate scientists. (You can also catch Fox News in Canada.) In Australia, a recent study found that slightly under a third of climate-related articles in 10 top Australian newspapers “did not accept” the scientific consensus on climate change, and that News Corp papers – The Australian, The Herald Sun, and The Daily Telegraph – were particular hotbeds of skepticism. “The Australian represents climate science as matter of opinion or debate rather than as a field for inquiry and investigation like all scientific fields,” noted the study.

    And then there’s the U.K. A 2010 academic study found that while News Corp outlets in this country from 1997 to 2007 did not produce as much strident climate skepticism as did their counterparts in the U.S. and Australia, “the Sun newspaper offered a place for scornful sceptics on its opinion pages as did The Times and Sunday Times to a lesser extent.” (There are also other outlets in the U.K., such as the Daily Mail, that feature plenty of skepticism but aren’t owned by News Corp.)

    Thus, while there may not be anything inherent to the English language that impels climate denial, the fact that English language media are such a major source of that denial may in effect create a language barrier.

    And media aren’t the only reason that denialist arguments are more readily available in the English language. There’s also the Anglophone nations’ concentration of climate “skeptic” think tanks, which provide the arguments and rationalizations necessary to feed this anti-science position. According to a study in Climatic Change earlier this year, the U.S. is home to 91 different organizations (think tanks, advocacy groups, and trade associations) that collectively comprise a “climate change counter-movement.” The annual funding of these organizations, collectively, is “just over $900 million.” That is a truly massive amount of English-speaking climate “skeptic” activity, and while the study was limited to the U.S., it is hard to imagine that anything comparable exists in non-English speaking countries.

    Ben Page, the chief executive of Ipsos MORI (which released the data) adds another possible causative factor behind the survey’s results, noting that environmental concern is very high in China today, due to the omnipresent conditions of environmental pollution. By contrast, that’s not a part of your everyday experience in England or Australia. “In many surveys in China, environment is the top concern,” Page comments. “In contrast, in the west, it’s a long way down the list behind the economy and crime.”

    Whatever the precise concatenation of causes, the evidence seems clear. We English speakers have a special problem when it comes to understanding and accepting climate science. In language, we’re Anglophones; but in climate science, we’re a bunch of Anglophonies.

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

    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: The NHL is out to punch climate change in the mouth

    If there are two things that hockey players hate, the first is obviously teeth, and the second is apparently climate change.

    According to the National Hockey League’s 2014 Sustainability report, each NHL game produces 408 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. With 1,230 regular season games and another 95 playoff games in 2013, that worked out to a lung collapsing 540,600 tons of C02, and that’s without factoring in the energy spent by fans getting to the games. Maybe up in Canada fans arrive through some sort of Harry Potter teleportation, but at the last Caps game I attended, the garage was pretty full.

    But more than any other major professional sport, hockey relies on clean water and cold winters. The legendary Bobby Orr, probably the second greatest player ever to strap on the skates, summed it up most eloquently: “The routine of my daily life as a kid was pretty simple. One way or another, it always seemed to lead me in the direction of a body of water, regardless of the time of year. The only question was whether the water would be frozen solid for hockey or open and flowing for fish.”

    Sure, there are NHL teams in Anaheim and Arizona, but the league’s push south has mostly been a failure, and even on those remaining warm weather teams, the players are coming from up North. Without those clean, frozen ponds where the Gretzky’s and Lemieuxs fall in love with the game, there is no hockey, and the NHL knows it has a role in saving those ponds.

    Here’s more, straight from the horse’s toothless mouth:

    Perhaps more than any other sport, hockey is impacted by environmental issues, particularly climate change and freshwater scarcity. The ability to skate and play hockey outdoors is a critical component of the League’s history and culture. Many of the NHL’s players, both past and present, learned to skate outside on frozen lakes, ponds and backyard rinks. The game of hockey is adversely affected if this opportunity becomes unavailable to future generations.

    With this 2014 NHL SUSTAINABILITY REPORT, the first of its kind for the League, we address head-on the connection between hockey and the environment, and the impact we have on our planet. It is in our best interest to confront this challenge, to be transparent with our impacts and to discuss and explore with all of our stakeholders a strategy for long-term environmental sustainability. …

    Sadly, you can’t actually punch global warming in the mouth or pull climate change’s sweater over its head, so how does the NHL plan to fight rising temperatures? According to the league’s study, nearly three-quarters of its emissions stem from electricity consumption, and the NHL hopes to tackle the issue team by team.

    The Montreal Canadians have already made the switch to LED lighting in their arena; the Anaheim Ducks are moving to an on-site oxide fuel cell that will use some biogas and produce 51 percent of the Arena’s annual energy; and the Winnipeg Jets are recovering heat from their ice making machines and using it to boil water for ice resurfacing. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Arizona Coyotes have launched programs to make their existing arenas greener, with the Coyotes hoping to reduce their carbon footprint by a laudable 80 percent. New arenas for the New York Islanders and, ironically, the Edmonton Oilers are set to meet LEED Silver certification.

    While these steps may not be enough to make hockey green, it’s a start — and the marketing power of a sport that claims to have 50 million fans is a real boon to climate awareness. So raise your novelty Stanley Cup to the good people at the NHL for getting the puck sliding in the right direction.

    Of course, they really didn’t have much of a choice. It was either green up their game or start playing in a lot less clothes.

    Also, ZAMBONI! (Hey, they’re even electric now …)

    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Living
    Gristmill: D.C. scraps climate art installation, says it sends the wrong message

    Artist Mia Feuer’s planned “ANTEDILUVIAN” art installation — a gas station mostly submerged underwater in Washington, D.C., as a statement on climate change and rising sea levels — is officially cancelled completely. Months of anticipation for Feuer’s proposed project were dashed last Friday when the D.C. Commission for the Arts and Humanities announced that ANTEDILUVIAN couldn’t be installed in Kingman Lake, by the Anacostia River, where Feuer had initially hoped to place it.

    “After further consultation with the District’s Department of the Environment regarding the city’s on-going efforts to clean up the Anacostia River, DCCAH is working to relocate the temporary project outside of the Anacostia River and vicinity,” a spokesperson for the Arts Commission said.

    But Feuer wrote on her Indiegogo blog this morning that her installation won’t be relocated anywhere, and that it was permanently banned from happening. It was supposed to be part of DC’s 5×5 Festival, a program the city’s arts commission is kicking off this fall with five noted curators picking 25 artists to feature public arts projects around the District – similar to Art Basel in Miami or Prospect in New Orleans.

    But Feuer told me today that the arts commission had dropped ANTEDILUVIAN completely, even though hers was one of the highest profiled projects in the festival.

    Almost from the moment Feuer made her plan public it had garnered media attention from plenty of outlets, notably The Atlantic’s City Lab. But all of that media spotlight might have been what led to it getting scrapped. Feuer told me that her plans had not been finalized for the project when word started to spread. When a number of organizations that work with the river and the neighboring southeast D.C. Anacostia community caught wind of it, they had some concerns.

    A coalition called United for a Healthy Anacostia River sent a letter to the Arts Commission opposing the project. From the letter:

    Given the many years of community investment and hard work to clean up and change the negative perception of the Anacostia River, this kind of project should never have been approved without broad stakeholder consultation. Moreover, in light of the decades of oil and gas pollution and environmental injustice to which the river and its nearby communities have been subjected, we believe that it is inappropriately heedless to encourage such a representation of oil and gas in the river’s waters.

    In this regard, there could hardly be a worse public message than sinking an entire mock gas station in the Anacostia’s waters. If the public misunderstands the art’s intended message as  permission to put gas or oil in the river, the project could single-handedly set back the river restoration and undo years of effort on the part of the DC, Montgomery County and Prince Georges County governments to convince people to keep oil out of the water.

    Basically, Feuer failed to clear her project with the community, so the community didn’t clear the project. A major reason why it was rejected for the Anacostia River location is that D.C.’s Department of the Environment is taking samples there as part of a remediation program, for the decades of pollution that have assaulted it, as mentioned in the letter. (I also wrote about this for the American Prospect.)

    Feuer told me that she had been in touch with Living Classrooms, an environmental education program for kids that uses Kingman Island near the location where Feuer hoped to place the installation. That was the start of her community outreach, she said, but word of her plans got far ahead of her. This would have been her first public arts project, though she’s done many other art installations.

    In addition to the gas station, the ANTEDILUVIAN proposal included workshops and lectures – held in the water on boats – on climate change impacts, green energy, and environmental awareness. That part of it will still go on, Feuer said. But the installation itself is permanently off the menu, at least for this festival. Feuer said she’s looking for other cities that might welcome the project at another time.

    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Slaughter-free milk is great for cows, but not the environment

    If you don’t eat beef because you feel sorry for those cows in Chick-fil-A ads, then you probably shouldn’t drink milk either. The typical male calf born to a dairy cow becomes veal. The typical female is milked for five years – a quarter of her natural lifetime – then sent to the abattoir to become pet food or low-grade hamburger meat. Elsie the Cow, Borden Dairy Company’s famous cartoon logo, is smiling only because she doesn’t realize that she’s about to get euthanized with a cattle gun.

    Yet if you’re an ethical vegetarian who still can’t bear to give up milk, you now have another option: slaughter-free dairy, which comes from farms where cows never get killed. Since 2011, the U.K.-based Ahimsa Dairy has offered slaughter free-milk and cheese to customers in London. In February, Pennsylvania’s Gita Nagari Creamery, which has supplied no-kill milk to the local Hare Krishna community for many years, began offering it to the public through subscription and mail order – for a whopping $10 a gallon. The price includes a $2.50 cow retirement fee and $1.50 for “boy calf care.” Less than half of its 60-head herd gets milked; the rest of the animals pull plows or spend their golden years lackadaisically chomping grass.

    “For us, the cows or oxen or bulls are seen as extended family members,” says Pari Jata, the co-president of Gita Nagari Creamery. “It’s very important for us to protect them in their retirement. We take care of them just as one would take care of elderly parents in their old age.”

    The slaughter-free milk movement takes its cues from India, where many vegetarian Hindus drink milk but consider cows sacred animals that should never be consumed for meat. Yet increasing numbers of Gita Nagari and Ahimsa customers are westerners who eschew meat for ethical reasons. Both dairies have considered selling their milk in stores; Ahimsa is in talks with a major retailer.

    As vegetarianism gains popularity, slaughter-free milk could become a bona fide food trend – but there’s a catch: It might take a toll on the environment. Cows are already the nation’s single largest source of methane, a greenhouse gas produced by oil extraction, decomposing trash, and the guts of grazing animals that’s as much as 105 times more potent than carbon dioxide. A single cow farts and belches enough methane to match the carbon equivalent of the average car. According to a 2006 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report, the world’s 1.4 billion cows produce 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases – more than the entire transportation sector. Since the turn of the 19th century, global methane emissions have increased by more than 150 percent, and cows are largely to blame.

    If all dairies became slaughter-free, we’d need three to four times as many dairy cows to produce the same amount of milk, which would mean adding at least 27 million additional cows to our herds. Those added cows would each year produce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to four large coal-fired power plants. We’d also need more meat cows to keep up with the demand for products such as veal and dog food. Pasturing all of these cows would displace wildlife or agricultural crops, straining biodiversity and increasing food prices.

    Jata knows there’s a potential for the slaughter-free milk trend to go bad – just like the craze for tofu and soymilk contributed to the spread of soybean plantations in South America’s rainforests. “Where does it end?” she asks. “For us, as a community, we bring it all back to local food sources and local practices that are self-contained but shared, so it doesn’t create this mass corporation-style approach to everything.”

    Small, humane dairies can certainly find other ways to mitigate their environmental impacts. The Gita Nagari and Ahimsa dairies employ cow manure to fertilize their organic vegetables and bull power to plow their fields, avoiding carbon-intensive tractors and chemical fertilizers. And the Gita Nagari dairy uses an anaerobic digester to convert manure into a gas that residents of the dairy use for cooking – but this sort of thing would be hard to implement on a larger scale.

    For Nicola Pazdzierska, the co-director of the Ahimsa Dairy Foundation, the price and environmental impact of slaughter-free milk underscores the need to rethink our relationship with dairy products. “We’re not saying more cows,” she told me. “We’re saying possibly even fewer cows, but kept in better circumstances.” She went on: “We think milk is a precious foodstuff. If you pay more for it, you value it more. You use it more thoughtfully. It should be treated with respect.”

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

    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Food
    Gristmill: For $5 a month, you can put food on a stray climate writer’s plate

    I’ve written recently about the importance of small news websites to cities, especially during and after natural disasters. These sites, which have proliferated like crazy in the past five years, are filling in some of the holes left by dwindling daily newspapers. The trick, of course, is keeping them afloat.

    Well, here’s another approach to funding strong journalism — not publications, per se, but individual writers. It’s called Beacon, and it’s the Adopt-A-Manatee program of the increasingly colorful online news ecosystem.

    I first learned about Beacon via an email from a writer and some-time Grist contributor, Josie Garthwaite, who has joined forces with three other journalists to create Climate Confidential, a “micro publication” that publishes weekly stories about the environment and tech. To get the project off the ground, the four were soliciting subscriptions and sponsorships via Beacon — a combination publishing and fundraising platform that’s billed as a sort of “Netflix for news.”

    Since its launch in Febriary, Climate Confidential has raised $45,775, according to Beacon. And I’m getting emails almost weekly from other journalists (and groups of journalists) who are launching their own projects on Beacon and asking for help.

    There was one from Emma Marris, who is working on a project about wolves in the 21st century, and another from Emily Gertz, who is part of a collective working under the banner of Flux, covering “resilience and weakness in a shifting world.” A quick poke around Beacon turns up Elizabeth Grossman’s investigation of what climate change means for my cheeseburger; Cally Carswell and Sarah Keller’s exploration of what genetics tells us about plants’ and animals’ ability to adapt; and Bob Berwyn’s father-son reporting trip through the Rockies, studying global warming’s impacts on the high country.

    Worthy projects, all. And each comes with a convincing Kickstarter-style video appeal, asking me to chip in, and a list of premiums reminiscent of an NPR pledge drive. (Mugs! Photos! Dinner with the author!)

    Here’s how Beacon works: I can pick my favorite writer, or micro-publication, or even a general topic such as “climate + environment.” I “subscribe” by paying $5 a month, and get access to not just my favorite writer/ micropub, but everything that’s published on Beacon. The writers set their own fundraising goals and get 70 percent of their monthly subscription money. Half of the remaining money goes into a bonus pools for the writers, and the final 15 percent goes to Beacon to cover overhead.

    The key difference between Beacon and crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter and (presently mothballed) is that on Beacon, you pay to support the writers, whereas other sites focus on individual projects. So with the latter, writers pitch how cool a story is up front, whereas the Beacon model lets them say, “I am a talented person with a solid track record, ‘subscribe’ to me and I will produce interesting stuff for you.”

    I like this. I like it because I like journalists (oh right, I am a journalist), and because I want to find creative ways to keep them (us) in work. Magazine and newspaper jobs are hard to come by these days, and making a living as a freelance writer can be bruising. With Beacon, independent journalists might be able to make a decent living without the constant sales and marketing required when pitching stories to publications.

    I also like the idea that writers can strike off on their own, using Twitter, Facebook, and now Beacon to take their readers with them. In an age when many publications measure success on “clickability,” this is a chance to put my money into deep-diving reporting and more thoughtful work.

    The biggest drawback that I see is the same as the site’s biggest draw: It’s not a publication. Publications and media organizations, lumbering and fickle as they may be, do have some advantages. Editors, for example (yes, I’m one of those too). And libel insurance. I’m a little worried that writers could be hung out to dry if one of their sources or subjects decided to sue over something they wrote — or that they might shy away from more controversial topics for fear of same.

    “From the beginning, we’ve said that this is a platform, not a publication,” Beacon’s managing editor, Dan Fletcher, told me. “We’ve been clear with our writers that they lose some of the protections that they would have working with a publication.”

    Fletcher acknowledged that the company has some work to do. “Since we launched Beacon back in September, we’ve been focused on, how do we make enough money to make this a viable option? It’s only recently that we’ve cracked that,” he said. The company will address issues such as libel insurance in the next six months, he says.

    Meanwhile, it’s clear that Beacon’s founders want the site to be more than just a funding platform. For now, writers are free to sell their Beacon-funded work elsewhere, Fletcher says. But ultimately, he says, “We want Beacon to be a destination.”

    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: For $5 a month, you can put food on a stray climate writer’s plate

    I’ve written recently about the importance of small news websites to cities, especially during and after natural disasters. These sites, which have proliferated like crazy in the past five years, are filling in some of the holes left by dwindling daily newspapers. The trick, of course, is keeping them afloat.

    Well, here’s another approach to funding strong journalism — not publications, per se, but individual writers. It’s called Beacon, and it’s the Adopt-A-Manatee program of the increasingly colorful online news ecosystem.

    I first learned about Beacon via an email from a writer and some-time Grist contributor, Josie Garthwaite, who has joined forces with three other journalists to create Climate Confidential, a “micro publication” that publishes weekly stories about the environment and tech. To get the project off the ground, the four were soliciting subscriptions and sponsorships via Beacon — a combination publishing and fundraising platform that’s billed as a sort of “Netflix for news.”

    Since its launch in Febriary, Climate Confidential has raised $45,775, according to Beacon. And I’m getting emails almost weekly from other journalists (and groups of journalists) who are launching their own projects on Beacon and asking for help.

    There was one from Emma Marris, who is working on a project about wolves in the 21st century, and another from Emily Gertz, who is part of a collective working under the banner of Flux, covering “resilience and weakness in a shifting world.” A quick poke around Beacon turns up Elizabeth Grossman’s investigation of what climate change means for my cheeseburger; Cally Carswell and Sarah Keller’s exploration of what genetics tells us about plants’ and animals’ ability to adapt; and Bob Berwyn’s father-son reporting trip through the Rockies, studying global warming’s impacts on the high country.

    Worthy projects, all. And each comes with a convincing Kickstarter-style video appeal, asking me to chip in, and a list of premiums reminiscent of an NPR pledge drive. (Mugs! Photos! Dinner with the author!)

    Here’s how Beacon works: I can pick my favorite writer, or micro-publication, or even a general topic such as “climate + environment.” I “subscribe” by paying $5 a month, and get access to not just my favorite writer/ micropub, but everything that’s published on Beacon. The writers set their own fundraising goals and get 70 percent of their monthly subscription money. Half of the remaining money goes into a bonus pools for the writers, and the final 15 percent goes to Beacon to cover overhead.

    The key difference between Beacon and crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter and (presently mothballed) is that on Beacon, you pay to support the writers, whereas other sites focus on individual projects. So with the latter, writers pitch how cool a story is up front, whereas the Beacon model lets them say, “I am a talented person with a solid track record, ‘subscribe’ to me and I will produce interesting stuff for you.”

    I like this. I like it because I like journalists (oh right, I am a journalist), and because I want to find creative ways to keep them (us) in work. Magazine and newspaper jobs are hard to come by these days, and making a living as a freelance writer can be bruising. With Beacon, independent journalists might be able to make a decent living without the constant sales and marketing required when pitching stories to publications.

    I also like the idea that writers can strike off on their own, using Twitter, Facebook, and now Beacon to take their readers with them. In an age when many publications measure success on “clickability,” this is a chance to put my money into deep-diving reporting and more thoughtful work.

    The biggest drawback that I see is the same as the site’s biggest draw: It’s not a publication. Publications and media organizations, lumbering and fickle as they may be, do have some advantages. Editors, for example (yes, I’m one of those too). And libel insurance. I’m a little worried that writers could be hung out to dry if one of their sources or subjects decided to sue over something they wrote — or that they might shy away from more controversial topics for fear of same.

    “From the beginning, we’ve said that this is a platform, not a publication,” Beacon’s managing editor, Dan Fletcher, told me. “We’ve been clear with our writers that they lose some of the protections that they would have working with a publication.”

    Fletcher acknowledged that the company has some work to do. “Since we launched Beacon back in September, we’ve been focused on, how do we make enough money to make this a viable option? It’s only recently that we’ve cracked that,” he said. The company will address issues such as libel insurance in the next six months, he says.

    Meanwhile, it’s clear that Beacon’s founders want the site to be more than just a funding platform. For now, writers are free to sell their Beacon-funded work elsewhere, Fletcher says. But ultimately, he says, “We want Beacon to be a destination.”

    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
    Triple Pundit: British Supermarket Powered By Food Waste
    The British supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s announced that one of its stores will be powered by its food waste. All of the electricity used by the store in Cannock, England will come from what’s called anaerobic digestion, which turns food waste into bio-methane gas that is used to generate electricity.
    Triple Pundit: British Supermarket Powered By Food Waste
    The British supermarket chain, Sainsbury’s announced that one of its stores will be powered by its food waste. All of the electricity used by the store in Cannock, England will come from what’s called anaerobic digestion, which turns food waste into bio-methane gas that is used to generate electricity.
    Triple Pundit: Shared Value: Double the Value?
    While the debate about Porter and Kramer's creating shared value (CSV) concept has lately taken a more critical view, two aspects of the concept have largely been neglected: instrumental versus ethical CSR and the lack of interaction between business and academia.
    Triple Pundit: Shared Value: Double the Value?
    While the debate about Porter and Kramer's creating shared value (CSV) concept has lately taken a more critical view, two aspects of the concept have largely been neglected: instrumental versus ethical CSR and the lack of interaction between business and academia.
    Gristmill: Swedes really are better at everything, including setting their garbage on fire

    Do you have something in your life that’s causing you shame? Here’s an idea from the Swedes: Set it on fire.

    Some helpful examples:

    1. That American Apparel dress that you wore approximately 15 Saturdays in a row during your sophomore year of college. LIGHT THAT SHIT UP.

    2. Your eighth-grade book report on The Scarlet Letter, for which you received an F because you only read the first and last chapters. BURN IT TO THE GROUND.

    3. That guy you met at the bar last weekend who is saved in your phone as “Bucket Hat.” OK – seriously, Grist does not condone murder! Set the phone on fire, you sadist.

    4. The 251 million tons of non-recyclable and -compostable trash that the U.S. produces annually. CREATE THE LARGEST BONFIRE THE WORLD HAS EVER SE — no, wait, that approach seems irresponsible. There has to be a better way.

    There is a better way to burn your garbage, and of course the damn Swedes have already successfully adopted it. (Fact: Anything remotely helpful or interesting that you have ever come up with in your life, a Swedish person has done better and more efficiently for years.) In 2012, Sweden sparked up 2.27 million tons of household waste in its waste-to-energy (WTE) plants, producing 8.5 percent of the national electricity supply. As a result, only 1 percent of Swedish garbage ends up in landfills.

    As Daniel Gross reports for Slate, burning garbage isn’t the cleanest form of energy production. But when offsetting the amount of CO2 it produces by the emissions that would be released from garbage decomposing in a landfill over time, its real carbon impact is about 986 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour. That’s slightly less than the amount of carbon dioxide released from burning natural gas, and less than half the amount ascribed to burning coal. And also, since we can be perversely comforted by the fact that we will always have garbage, it’s a dependable and renewable source of energy.

    Waste-to-energy plants do exist in the United States, so boo-ya, Sweden! We currently burn approximately 35 million tons of waste each year, which is WAY MORE than 2.27 million! Then again, the United States population is about 30 times larger than Sweden’s. Oh.

    In the high school cafeteria that is the world, the Swedes are the Tavi Gevinsons, and will always be prettier and smarter and cooler than the rest of us — we must just accept that and move on.

    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Living
    Triple Pundit: Detroit Suspends Water Shutoffs After Protests and U.N. Condemnation
    Following massive Friday protests that led to nine arrests, the city of Detroit announced on Monday it is suspending its sweeping water shut-offs for 15 days to launch a massive campaign to inform city residents of water assistance.
    Triple Pundit: Kung Fu and the Art of Living in Systems
    There’s conflict within every system, but we can learn to respond with grace and creativity – argues Jeremy Mathieu, a student of the martial arts and sustainability professional.
    Triple Pundit: Kung Fu and the Art of Living in Systems
    There’s conflict within every system, but we can learn to respond with grace and creativity – argues Jeremy Mathieu, a student of the martial arts and sustainability professional.
    Gristmill: Detroit will stop shutting off people’s water — for now

    Monday morning, the Detroit Water and Sewerage District (DWSD) announced that it would stop shutting off people’s water, at least for now. What was it, in this infrastructural showdown I wrote about last week, that caused the change of heart? Was it the condemnation from the U.N.? The protestors blocking utility shut-off trucks? The giant march on Friday, featuring Mark Ruffalo and a megaphone? The children holding signs that read “We need water to brush our teeth”?

    The DWSD isn’t saying. Here’s what it is saying: “We are pausing for 15 days to refocus our efforts on trying to identify people who we have missed in the process who may qualify for the Detroit Residential Water Assistance Program.” That’s according to DWSD spokesperson Bill Johnson in a phone interview this morning.

    The Water Assistance Program is a long-defunct but recently revived program that allows Detroit residents who are below the federal poverty line to keep their water running as long as they agree to pay a fraction of the overall bill each month. The program was suspended in 2012 when all of the people who managed it at the Detroit Department of Human Services were laid off. The program continued to accumulate money, Johnson says, but there was no one around to help pass it out. This June, DWSD signed a contract with THAW — a nonprofit that helps Michigan residents with their heating bills — to restart the Water Assistance Program.

    Detroit’s water crisis has been a long time in the making. Partly it’s due to forces that are affecting many American cities — our infrastructure is aging and we don’t have the resources to maintain it. But DWSD’s issues are larger than that. The utility, like many municipalities and utilities around the country, made some really bad investment decisions in the years leading up to the financial collapse in 2008. DWSD has paid out over $500 million to Wall Street banks as a result.

    Residents have complained that homes and small businesses are being cutoff, while larger clients like golf courses are not. Johnson maintains that many people who are being cut off can afford to pay. “A lot of Detroiters, for a number of reasons, don’t pay their bill. We think mainly because it isn’t a priority. They pay their cable bill or their phone bill, but not their water.” Because DWSD has so many unpaid water bills, Johnson says, Detroit residents saw an 8.7 percent increase in their water rates, compared to the 4.2 percent increase that DWSD passed on to the suburbs.

    During the 15-day pause, says Johnson, DWSD will step up its efforts to find people who are using water illegally: “There are people who follow our crews around, and when we turn off someone’s water, they’ll knock on someone’s door and offer to turn it back on for a fee. Maybe they used to work for DWSD. Maybe they just know how to make the tool. It’s a big problem.”

    Meanwhile, the Water Brigade, a protest group that formed in response to the shut-offs, is pushing for an earlier version of the Water Assistance Program. This one was was developed in 2005 by the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization and a group of other nonprofits, and it would have capped water payments at 2.5 percent of monthly income, which is the rate that the EPA thinks is fair for a middle-class household. At the time, researchers working on the Affordability Plan found that some Detroit residents were paying more than 20 percent. Until that plan is implemented — or until the shut-offs cease for good — the Water Brigade says that it will continue organizing water deliveries to people who have had their water turned off.

    Filed under: Article, Cities, Politics
    Gristmill: It’s time for Obama to stop selling off our land and water to fossil fuel companies
    protest sign: "Obama: This is your crude awakening"

    In its ongoing effort to make life difficult for environment reporters, the Obama administration once again announced major environmental news on a Friday. This time, however, it was not a measure to protect the environment, but to destroy it. The Department of Interior decided to allow seismic testing off the southern Atlantic coast from Delaware to Florida. This is a precursor to possible oil and gas drilling, to determine what fossil fuel resources are there.

    It is an illustration of one of Obama’s biggest failures on climate change. And it points to the direction that environmentalists need to go next: call for a moratorium on all federal leasing for fossil fuel development.

    Green groups and green leaders in Congress attacked Interior’s move. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a top climate hawk, issued a statement saying, “it just doesn’t seem worth putting our oceans and coasts at risk.” The NRDC called the decision “a major assault on our ocean.”

    There are four big reasons to oppose this seismic testing:

    1. Damage to marine life from testing. Seismic testing involves blasting underwater with air guns, creating dramatic sound waves that can travel thousands of miles. As Grist’s John Upton noted in February, when the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released its preliminary report on this plan, 34 marine mammal species that use sound to navigate could be harmed, and many animals could be killed. The government’s own assessment said more than a million bottlenose dolphins could be hurt every year, along with a number of endangered whales.

    2. Damage to marine life, oceans, and coastlines from drilling. If offshore oil and gas drilling does happen in the region, it will cause pollution of the oceans and degradation of fisheries and coastlines, possibly damaging local fishing and tourism industries. Small spills are just business as usual for the oil industry.

    3. Possible disaster. Offshore drilling creates the risk of a big oil spill that could devastate an entire ecosystem. The Obama administration was actually taking steps toward allowing offshore drilling along the Atlantic coast in the spring of 2010, but then the Deepwater Horizon explosion happened in the Gulf of Mexico and plans were put on hold.

    4. And, of course, climate change. Obama has publicly committed to fighting climate change caused by fossil fuels, and yet he approves the extraction of more fossil fuels. By allowing this extraction on public lands and in federally controlled oceans, he is essentially subsidizing fossil fuel consumption and contributing to more climate change.

    “It’s completely inconsistent with this ambitious climate policy they’ve announced to then turn around and say, ‘Well, we might allow drilling,’” says Athan Manuel, director of the Sierra Club lands protection program.

    The huge increase in oil and gas production during Obama’s tenure may make his record on allowing drilling seem worse than it is. Most of the fracking boom is actually occurring on private land. “This president has been pretty good when it comes to leasing public lands for oil and gas in particular,” says Manuel. “But to allow seismic testing is inconsistent with what he’s done in the past.”

    The Interior Department’s latest move is especially bizarre because early in Obama’s first term, when there was still hope for Congress passing climate change legislation, granting offshore drilling leases was supposed to be part of what Obama offered Republicans and conservative Democrats from states like Virginia in exchange for their votes. Now Republicans control the House of Representatives, climate change legislation has no chance, and Obama will get nothing in return for this. The only stakeholders who are pleased by the announcement are industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute, which never have done, and never will do, any favors for Obama.

    And that is why Obama should be rejecting any and all fossil fuel extraction from federal lands and waters. Trading drilling rights for an economy-wide price on carbon would be a deal worth making. But there is no deal to be made right now. And in any potential future deal, the Democrats’ hand would be strengthened by holding exploration and leasing rights as a bargaining chip.

    There has been some debate in recent years over the environmental movement’s priorities. Some center-left pundits, such as New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait, argue that Obama has done just about everything he can do without congressional action to address climate change, and that the focus on the Keystone XL pipeline instead of stronger power plant regulations has been misplaced.

    Well, here is something Obama should be doing differently, something fully within his power to control: stop issuing leases for fossil fuel extraction. It is no less important than Keystone. Indeed, it is absurd that we hand out permission to for-profit companies to despoil our shared lands and waters. The executive branch is charged with managing these areas in the public interest, and the public’s greatest interest — economically as well as environmentally — is in reducing climate change.

    The environmental community should be calling on Obama not to issue a single new lease offshore or on federal land. Environmental activists say this is a great idea, just waiting for a catalyst. “Putting a moratorium in place would be a major step forward on climate. It’s a campaign waiting to happen,” says Jamie Henn, spokesperson for, which has led the fight on Keystone. Henn proposes a sort of middle ground: that Obama could take climate impact into account for all new leasing proposals. “President Obama could start by applying his Keystone XL climate test to any new developments: They can only proceed if they don’t significantly contribute to global warming.”

    That would be a step in the right direction. But, given the local environmental and public health impacts of oil and gas drilling and coal mining, there is good reason prevent it even if the climate impact is relatively minor.

    Could a movement to stop federal fossil fuel leasing become a reality? In 1983, the environmental community successfully lobbied Congress to place a moratorium on offshore Atlantic drilling, which was renewed until 2008. The Sierra Club has considered trying to revive it, but found the enthusiasm among donors to be lacking. While the group has consistently opposed all leasing in recent years, it hasn’t been running a unified campaign for a moratorium. “It’s been harder than you’d think to raise money and build a national coalition,” says Manuel.

    It may be easier to mobilize for such a campaign when there is an anti-environment administration to serve as a villain. “We haven’t been able to raise the money and build a coalition to keep that campaign going. In the ‘80s we were able to, maybe because of James Watt,” says Manuel, referring to Ronald Reagan’s notorious interior secretary. “Maybe that’ll happen eventually.”

    A few years ago, no one would have thought that a mass mobilization against Keystone was likely either. But groups organized, donors got excited, volunteers mobilized, and the rest is history. As on Keystone, Obama won’t do the right thing on leasing unless he is forced to.

    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Triple Pundit: Elon Musk Lays Out Future Plans for Tesla
    In a recent interview with AutoExpress magazine, Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled the company's future plans, which include a lower-priced Model 3 and upgrades to the original Roadster.
    Triple Pundit: Elon Musk Lays Out Future Plans for Tesla
    In a recent interview with AutoExpress magazine, Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled the company's future plans, which include a lower-priced Model 3 and upgrades to the original Roadster.
    Gristmill: Could drones be our secret weapon in the fight against Big Ag?

    If you were privy to everything that went on inside a factory farm, you might never want to eat again. Manure lagoons fester. Animals cram into tiny spaces. Unsanitary conditions abound. Which is exactly why Big Ag would rather you just didn’t know. At least seven states have now made it illegal to use undercover evidence to expose the unsavory practices that take place on factory farms. Award-winning journalist Will Potter thinks drones could be the workaround to these controversial “ag-gag” laws.

    NPR reports that Potter raised $75,000 on Kickstarter to buy drones and other equipment in order to investigate animal agriculture in the U.S.

    “I was primarily motivated by what’s happening outside of those closed doors, but is still invisible and hidden from the public spotlight,” Potter tells NPR. “In particular, I was motivated by seeing these aerial photographs and satellite imagery of farm pollution, of waste lagoons, of sprawling industrial operations.”

    Potter’s taking advantage of the fact that while drones have been a hot news item of late, lawmakers are still figuring out the specifics on if and how to regulate them.

    From NPR:

    Could Potter be prosecuted for flying drones over farms? Clemens Kochinke, a Washington D.C.-based lawyer behind the Drone Law blog, says the law is unclear about monitoring ag businesses. And it takes years to test the laws in court.

    “Aside from the many federal issues involving the [Federal Aviation Administration] and the [Department of] Homeland Security, you have the state, county and municipal rules,” Kochinke says. “An overriding limitation on the restriction of drones may derive from the First Amendment where reporting in the public interest is concerned.”

    Legalities aside, Chuck Jolley, who works in the meat industry, points out another complication that could disrupt Potter’s plans: “Those things better not be coming over during duck season because there are hunters out there that might look up and mistake that drone for a duck.” It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s perhaps our best bet for circumventing ag-gag laws, so long as it doesn’t get shot down?

    Filed under: Business & Technology, Food
    Gristmill: Disney’s “Planes” sequel is an excuse to talk to your kids about climate change

    I saw the Disney film Planes: Fire and Rescue over the weekend with my 11-year-old son Justice. It’s not my favorite animated movie series, but I thought it would be a calmer, more ambient version of the kind of anthropomorphized stories Justice and I have sat earmuffed through at the movies lately, like Transformers and Planet of the Apes.

    I’m not mad we went. It did a better job of explaining the inconsolable wrath of wildfires for us two East Coasters than I could have ever done for my son. And it managed to pack in a subplot about water scarcity.

    Spoiler alert here — and sorry, because I know y’all have been dying to see this sequel.

    Dusty Crophopper, a small-farm, single-propeller cropduster returns from his main character role in the original, where he left the farm to become a Top Gun prize racer. But in Fire & Rescue, we learn that his streak of world championship racing and fancy globetrotting have grinded his gears irreparably, meaning he can no longer race.

    Enraged that he has to hang it up, Dusty accidentally causes a five-alarm blaze at his home hanger that’s not easily put to bed by the old resident fire truck. An ensuing investigation into the conflagration reveals that the hangar is out of compliance with a bunch of safety codes and regulations. It must be shut down unless the local fire unit makes significant upgrades (Big Government ruins the day once again! Thanks, Obama!).

    It’s here that Dusty decides he wants to enlist with an elite squad of planes, trucks, and other motorized, vocalized equipment trained specifically for dealing with the worst of disasters, so he can help save his town. Dusty’s training days involve helping the squad find creative ways to fight a rash of wildfires occurring all over their terrain. We never learn the cause of the fires; they just happen. The story’s major function is to show the audience just how difficult it is to put these forest fires out.

    But the real tension kicks in when a major conflict of agendas breaks out between a national park superintendent and the disaster squad over water usage. The demanding superintendent insists on using the water for the grand opening of a huge tourist lodge resort, built deep in the woods of the national park he oversees. He wants to impress the Secretary of the Interior department, who’s making a guest visit for the opening.

    When yet another forest fire breaks out near the lodge, the disaster unit doesn’t have the water it needs because it’s all been diverted to the resort. This diversion puts the Interior Secretary, along with hundreds of visitors present for opening day at the lodge, in grave danger — saved only, of course, when our hero Dusty finds a way to secure water from the river to help rescue them.

    I imagine Tea Party dads will use this story to drive a point through about the federal government being clueless. The National Park Service gets a good kick in the butt in this film as well. But I think the discussion that Planes surfaces around water resources — who decides how they are used, how and why — are important ones to have, and at an early age. It was the part that got my greatest attention.

    If climate change is a thing in the movie, it serves more as a watermark. As with Snowpiercer, the science behind what’s causing the disasters is never explored; they are just facts of life in the story.

    Some parents will use this as an opening into climate talks with their kids. Some of the Tea Partiers might probably just tell the kids that this is what happens when Smokey Bear goes into the woods to smoke weed with the hippies. But paired with other accessible shows like Showtime’s Years of Living Dangerously or Cosmos, kids can walk away with a good sense of how exactly climate change might impact their own backyards, and the difficult choices we need to make about how to deploy resources both before and when they happen.

    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Living
    Gristmill: These amazing animated maps show cities on the move

    It knows when you are sleeping. It knows when you’re awake. It knows if you’ve been driving, biking, or walking, and it records it, for data’s sake.

    Human is an app that tracks activity with the goal of getting users to exercise at least 30 minutes a day. It uses the M7 motion co-processor, a handy little iPhone microchip with gyroscope, compass, and accelerometer sensors, to track and record your every move – even while your phone is asleep.

    Creepy? Maybe a little. But what with the NSA so busy looking at pictures of you in your underwear, maybe a device that tracks how you get around on a daily basis isn’t all that bad.

    This month, Human’s parent company released a series of neat-o visualizations of walking, biking, running, and driving patterns for 30 cities around the world. Check out the video here:

    According to some ‘plannerds‘ and city traffic engineers, the maps can give a far more nuanced look at travel patterns than traffic engineers have ever been able to cobble together with car and bike counters, census surveys, and other traditional methods.

    It’s possible that one day, the data can help fill in some gaps about everything from public transportation use to bicycling in cities (since the census only counts biking to work, and doesn’t give a complete picture of how people are using bicycles to get around). But the app can’t provide a complete picture yet, because (for now) it doesn’t collect specific demographic information, and because people without iPhones actually walk and ride bikes too.

    Here’s Michael Anderson writing in StreetsBlog:

    Human’s maps are certainly pretty. But for traffic engineers like the City of Austin’s Nathan Wilkes, they’re the tip of the iceberg.

    If the users of apps like Human can provide just a few demographic indicators, Wilkes says, planners would be able to compensate for underrepresented groups and calculate not only how a city’s transportation choices are shifting in real time, but which streets people are choosing.

    “It doesn’t seem like a far stretch to be able to have monthly updates to the heat maps to the point where we could see, ‘Oh, we just installed the cycle track on this facility: This is month one, month two, month three, month four,’” said Wilkes, the city’s lead bikeway planner and designer.

    Until then, the data makes for some fun eye candy — and a cool way to compare activity patterns between cities.

    Here’s a look at bicycle utopia Amsterdam, which, according to Human’s data, leads the way for cycling, and also ranks as and the most active city:

    East Coast cities like Washington, D.C., Boston, and New York topped the charts for walking. Here’s Boston:

    And Los Angeles, man, you gotta get out (of your car) more:

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Cities
    Gristmill: Ask Umbra: What should I do with my nasty old pillows?

    Send your question to Umbra!

    Q. My pillows are getting gross. I’ve thought about washing them, but I can only do two at a time in the washing machine, and I live in Southern California where we’re in the midst of a nasty drought. So, I’ve thought about throwing them away and getting new ones, but I hate the thought of them just sitting in a landfill. Which path to clean pillows is better for the planet? And if you have any recommendations for eco-friendlier pillows in general, I’ll take ‘em!

    Glendale, Calif.

    A. Dearest Amy,

    While I admire your commitment to water conservation, there’s no need to force your pillows into early retirement. Just as you wouldn’t toss your clothes, dishes, or bedsheets after getting a bit grimy (I hope), nor should you contribute to overconsumerism with a new set of pillows, which require raw materials, water, and energy to produce – and that you don’t really need.

    Pillows can be dry-cleaned, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Conventional dry-cleaning is just too toxic, “eco-friendly” cleaners may simply be greenwashing, and the better commercial alternative, “wet cleaning,” still uses water.

    So go ahead and wash your pillows, Amy. As you’ve got capacity issues at home, I’d check out the larger machines found at your local laundromat. Gold stars to you if you patronize a business that offers low-water, energy-efficient washing machines (laundromats don’t always advertise this, but may have a few horizontal-axis, front-loading washers for use – ask around, and go for those).

    Whether you’re coming clean down the street or at home, use a small amount of gentle detergent. To dry, use the low-heat setting on your clothes dryer and include a few tennis balls or clean tennis shoes to help break up the down clumps that tend to form. It won’t hurt to leave the finished pillows out in the sun for a few hours to enhance drying, either.

    You don’t say whether you own an Energy Star washing machine (which uses about 15 gallons of water per load versus 23 gallons for a standard washer, plus less energy to boot), but that’s certainly something to look into for all your laundry going forward. In terms of pillows going forward, look into laying your head on organic cotton, organic wool, hemp, or even buckwheat hulls, all of which can be found stuffing today’s eco-friendly bedding options.

    Oh, and if those pillows are at the end of their useful lives? Read on.


    Q. We have several old down pillows and comforters, and I have not been able to find a place to recycle or donate them. Any suggestions?

    Gretchen H.
    Boise, Idaho

    A. Dearest Gretchen,

    Do I have suggestions? Of course I do! But first, how old are we talking? If your bedding is still in usable condition, you may be able to find someone who’d gratefully take it off your hands. As you may have discovered, secondhand shops can be squeamish about accepting old pillows for reasons involving hygiene and bedbugs. But some local charities may be interested in clean, washed (see above) items; make a few calls to see where your donation can do the most good.

    But if your pillows and comforter have deflated beyond all hope, reusing is your best bet. Do you by any chance have pets, Gretchen? Old pillows and blankets make great beds for our four-legged friends. If not, friends, neighbors, or Freecyle might want your castoffs for this purpose, as would your local vet or animal shelter. A few more ideas: Stash pillows in the car for naps. Use the down as stuffing for new throw pillows, old teddy bears, or draft snakes. Turn your comforter into a picnic or beach blanket. Repurpose the filling as packing material.

    One more option: You may be able to unload some of your bedding directly to textile recyclers, which sell the fibers to be made into things like industrial rags, carpets, and insulation. There just so happens to be one in your area, and yep, it accepts down pillows and comforters. (If you’re not in Boise, check with the company before dropping anything off.)

    I’m sure you’ll find a second life for those tired bedthings, Gretchen. Then sleep easy knowing you’ve kept usable threads out of the landfill.


    Filed under: Living
    Gristmill: Fracking fight headed for the ballot in Colorado
    fist fight

    Colorado voters will likely get a chance to weigh in on fracking in November — and that puts Democrats on the ballot in a tight spot.

    The fracking boom has bolstered Colorado’s economy, and twisted its politics. Even many Democrats advocate for oil and gas interests, including Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Mark Udall, both of whom are up for reelection this year. But many people living near the wells complain of contaminated air and water, noise, health problems, and other adverse effects.

    As Colorado cities have begun trying to ban fracking, the state government has sued them, arguing that only the state has that authority. Rep. Jared Polis (D), whose congressional district includes many of those communities north of Denver, is spending his own money to promote a ballot initiative to outlaw fracking less than 2,000 feet from a residence, up from the currently allowed 500 feet. The gas industry says that would amount to a fracking ban in many areas. Polis is also supporting an initiative that would make more stringent local environmental regulations override conflicting weaker state rules, which could allow communities to outlaw fracking.

    Hickenlooper and other state lawmakers were trying to broker a legislative compromise that would keep the initiatives off the ballot. The governor’s proposal would have placed some additional restrictions on fracking but made it clear that localities couldn’t ban it altogether. But last week, the negotiations fell apart and Hickenlooper announced that there would be no special summer legislative session to pass a fracking bill. Polis then declared that he will move forward with collecting the signatures needed to place his proposals on the ballot.

    Environmental activists expressed relief that no deal was reached in the legislature, saying that the proposal under consideration would not have allowed for enough local control. “I have no idea why Polis thought the proposed legislation was an acceptable ‘compromise,’” says Lauren Swain, a Coloradan who works with the Rocky Mountain chapter of the Sierra Club. “It made all the community rights to self-protection that it granted subject to operational conflict with the state and to the interests of the industry. It gave and it tooketh away, subjecting every local regulation or moratorium to more lawsuits.”

    Perhaps the reason Polis was open to such a bill is because he, like most other Colorado Democrats, supports fracking in principle. In his statement Wednesday, Polis said, “My one goal is to find a solution that will allow my constituents to live safely in their homes, free from the fear of declining property values or unnecessary health risks, but also that will allow our state to continue to benefit from the oil and gas boom that brings jobs and increased energy security.”

    Hickenlooper opposes both initiatives, as does Udall, who issued the following statement: “I oppose these one-size-fits-all restrictions and will continue working with all parties — including property owners, energy producers, and lawmakers — to find common ground.”

    The presence of the initiatives on the ballot is generally seen as disadvantageous for Democrats up for election like Hickenlooper and Udall — not because most Coloradans disagree with the Democrats’ positions on the issue, but because it would spur the oil and gas industries to reach into their deep pockets and run ads to mobilize Republican-leaning, pro–fossil fuel voters. Industry groups could dump $50 million into the state to kill the initiatives.

    Colorado Republicans are also eager to capitalize on fracking as a potential wedge issue. Whereas Hickenlooper and Udall speak of the need for balance between the economic upsides of oil and gas drilling and the environmental and community-level downsides, their Republican opponents are unmitigated fans of fossil fuels. Rep. Cory Gardner, who is challenging Udall for his Senate seat, complains that Udall hasn’t come out for the Keystone XL pipeline. But Udall hasn’t come out against it either — he’s just supported the Obama administration’s process of conducting a thorough review before making a decision, and he voted against a Republican measure to override the president’s authority and force the pipeline’s approval. Since Keystone XL wouldn’t even go through Colorado, it’s an especially odd attack on Udall, but Gardner clearly believes that anything short of a full-throated “Drill, baby, drill!” is a potential liability for Udall.

    If enthusiastic pro-fracking voters do swarm to the polls and help defeat Udall, that could have national repercussions. Democrats are in danger of losing the U.S. Senate, and Udall’s seat is one of 10 most vulnerable Democratic Senate seats up for reelection this year, along with others in red states like West Virginia and Alaska. The Democrats need to limit their losses to five seats to retain control.

    But Colorado politicians and their campaign consultants could be wrong in thinking the initiatives would benefit Republicans. A week ago, The Denver Post published the results of a poll that found the Polis-backed ballot measures would pass easily. Roughly 30,000 Coloradans work in the oil and gas industry, and many more collect royalty checks, but the state’s electorate has long been distinguished by its concern for quality of life. The oil industry’s anti-initiative ads could bring more right-wingers to the polls, but the chance to curb fracking could bring out a lot of liberal-leaning Coloradans.

    It’s not often that a fossil fuel industry with such local economic clout finds itself on the defensive. (Just look at King Coal, which controls the politics in West Virginia.) But this fall, Colorado might be one of the few states to put the fossil fuel industry in check.

    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: California’s next oil rush is tastier than you might expect

    Olives trees have a lot to offer the United States. One of those things is water — and this year, as California dries to a shriveled crisp, water is looking especially important.

    Most olives grown around the world have no irrigation. The trees are built for drought: They have narrow, waxy, abstemious leaves. They’ve evolved biological tricks for going dormant when things get too dry; they hunker down and then spring back when the rains come. These skills are appealing to farmers, especially ones who have recently ripped out a drought-ravaged orchard, thereby walking away from a 20-year investment.

    It’s nearly impossible to say whether California’s drought is linked to climate change. Current models suggest that the state could actually get a little wetter, but they also suggest hotter summers and greater extremes. When the droughts do come, they are going to be serious.

    One projection is clear: There are going to be a lot more people sticking their straws into the communal cup. So, right about now, this tree that’s adapted for California’s Mediterranean climate, survives without irrigation, and produces food at the same time seems pretty cool.

    In the midst of this drought wracking the country’s agricultural powerhouse (don’t forget that California is the biggest ag state), forecasts tend toward the dire. But there is real hope in olives. Done right, olive oil farming could be a boon for nutrition and the environment. And, as a bonus, if we developed a domestic olive oil industry, we’d have access — for the first time — to the good stuff. Right now, just about everything we call olive oil is rancid, or something else entirely.

    “There’s 10 times more California-grown olive oil than we had 10 years ago,” said Dan Flynn, executive director of the UC Davis Olive Center. “And olive oil consumption in the United States has gone up maybe ten fold in the last thirty years.”

    Human health and health of the land

    Dom Sagolla

    Olive oil hasn’t been a major part of American food traditions, but we’ve been incorporating it more and more. The market is growing 10 percent a year. Through all our spastic dietary fads, people have stood firm on one point: Olive oil is good stuff. The carb haters and the fat haters alike consider olive oil virtuous. And the FDA says we should maybe be replacing saturated fat with olive oil.

    Americans currently consume an average of a liter of olive oil a year, but that’s nothing compared to the Spanish (10 liters) or the Italians (15 liters). “There’s a lot of room for growth in the U.S. if it took the space of other fats,” Flynn said.

    It could also be good for the environment if olives took the place of animal fats, or of that other — much thirstier — Mediterranean tree, the almond. I love almonds: they seem to be healthier than meat, and exact less suffering. But almonds do require a lot of water. Even when farmers irrigate olives to insure a large crop, they use half the water that almond trees require.

    The real trick, both for the environment and for human health, is to have olive oil take the place of something else. Americans seem to have a vague additive theory of nutrition: Instead of eating less of anything, we simply eat more of whatever is currently considered healthy — as if the vinaigrette on a salad will somehow cancel out the hamburger that comes next. It’s not entirely our fault: As Marion Nestle has been pointing out for years, government recommendations always tell us what to eat more of but shy away from telling us to eat less of anything.

    The same additive logic goes for farming: So far, olive trees aren’t replacing almond groves or feedlots. A lot of the olives have gone in on marginal land that couldn’t support anything else, Flynn said. If olive oil production is going to be good for the environment, we’ll have to do better across the board.


    Olive grove in Filoli, Calif.
    Jill Clardy
    Olive grove in Filoli, Calif.

    Perhaps the first thing people will notice from the growing domestic olive crop is the taste. Unlike most oils, it actually has a range of powerful flavors: It’s grassy, peppery, slightly astringent.

    Currently, 97 percent of olive oil consumed in the U.S. is imported, and a lot of it is crappy. We get the oil rejected by other countries, and there are chances for fraud at every stop along the journey. When Flynn’s Olive Center tested oils, it found that a lot of the stuff labeled “extra virgin” was rancid.

    The thing is, we Americans don’t know the difference. As Tom Mueller carefully documented in his book, Extra Virginity, the oil suppliers are simply catering to our ignorant taste buds. They know they are dealing with rampant fraud, Mueller writes, but essentially say, “‘Yeah, we know, but it’s cheap, and that’s what our customers want.’”

    Mueller writes, “It’s rare to find authentic extra ExtraVirginityPbkvirgin olive oil in a restaurant in America, even in fine restaurants that ought to know better. It’s nearly impossible in some localities such as southern California, where large-scale counterfeiters pump out blends of low-grade olive oil and soybean oil dyed bright green…”

    All this means that many American have never tasted good olive oil. “For a lot of people, it’s an entirely new flavor and quality experience,” Flynn said.

    If we shortened the supply chain by making olive oil locally, there would be fewer opportunities for fraudsters to adulterate the mix. And a stronger olive industry might campaign for stricter regulation of imports. We have some of the loosest laws, and an even looser inspection regime for food oils. The U.S., Mueller says, “is an oil criminal’s dream.”

    If American eaters stopped accepting the oil con, and started demanding real olive oil, they could support a more resilient crop for the uncertain future. Adapting to change may be hard, but it doesn’t have to leave a bad taste in our mouths.

    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Food
    Triple Pundit: No EV Charging Stations for Your Tesla? Do It Yourself

    Zong needed a way to get his new Tesla home from the dealership; his idea evolved to a “demonstration of the power of Internet-based organizing and a grassroots alternative to government-backed charging-facility projects,” the Caixin report says.

    The post No EV Charging Stations for Your Tesla? Do It Yourself appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Giving a Pass to Corporate Polluters

    Has there ever been a better time to be a corporation? I doubt it. Corporations might disagree, and we’re all familiar with corporate lamentations regarding the increasingly challenging web of federal regulations (Dodd-Frank; the FCPA) they supposedly struggle to navigate. Yet, it’s hard to dispute that these are good times for big business, and “Exhibit A” could easily be the utter dearth of criminal prosecutions for corporations that are guilty of pollution.

    The post Giving a Pass to Corporate Polluters appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: California City Blocks New Power Plant, Cites Climate Change

    Environmentalists have won an unusual victory in the city of Oxnard, Calif. With emotions running high, the city council placed a moratorium on construction of a new power plant that is supposed to replace the behemoth on the city's shoreline. The city's reasons for not updating the existing facility was climate change, which is due to raise ocean levels at least 4 feet. NRG meanwhile isn't listening.

    The post California City Blocks New Power Plant, Cites Climate Change appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Obama: Climate Change Is a Threat to U.S. Infrastructure

    More extreme droughts, floods and wildfires – these are just some of the impacts of climate change that won’t just occur in the distant future to our great-great grandchildren, but are happening now. To address the changing climate’s current effects on communities in the U.S., President Barack Obama announced a plan to strengthen national infrastructure and help cities, states and tribal communities better prepare for and recover from natural disasters.

    The post Obama: Climate Change Is a Threat to U.S. Infrastructure appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Kroger Cuts Energy Use By 35 Percent, Ramps Up Sustainability Efforts

    The Kroger Co. reduced the energy use in its stores by 34.6 percent since 2000, saving more than 2.5 billion kilowatt hours (kWh). That is enough electricity to power every home in Charlotte, North Carolina for a year -- or the equivalent of taking 362,000 cars off the road for a year.

    The post Kroger Cuts Energy Use By 35 Percent, Ramps Up Sustainability Efforts appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Maryland Offshore Wind Auction Date Set, New Jersey Auction Proposed

    Nearly 80,000 of Maryland offshore wind energy development leases are to be auctioned and another of 344,000 acres offshore New Jersey is being proposed. All told, the two Atlantic Ocean parcels could support a massive 4,850 MWs of clean, renewable power, enough for 1.5 million U.S. homes.

    The post Maryland Offshore Wind Auction Date Set, New Jersey Auction Proposed appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: More Millennials Are Living With Their Parents: Is It Hurting the Economy?

    A growing number of millennials are living with their parents. This is good news, right? Millennials seem to adopt a more responsible economic behavior, avoiding the same reckless financial decisions that got so many people in trouble only a few years ago. Well, not so fast. The reports on this trend widely present it as a problem rather than an opportunity. Why? Because by not buying houses, millennials are hurting the real estate recovery and a weak housing market has been a burden on the U.S. economic growth.

    The post More Millennials Are Living With Their Parents: Is It Hurting the Economy? appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Feds move to restrict neonic pesticides — well, one fed at least
    Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge

    So far the EPA has refused to ban use of neonicotinoid insecticides — despite mounting evidence that they kill bees and other wildlife, despite a ban in the European Union, despite a lawsuit filed by activists and beekeepers.

    But if the EPA is somehow still unclear on the dangers posed by neonics, it need only talk to the official who oversees federal wildlife refuges in the Pacific Northwest and Pacific Ocean.

    Kevin Foerster, a regional boss with the National Wildlife Refuge System, directed his staff this month to investigate where neonics are being used in the refuges they manage — and to put an end to their use. Foerster’s office is worried that farming contractors that grow grasses and other forage crops for wildlife and corn and other grains for human consumption on refuge lands are using neonic pesticides and neonic-treated seeds. There are also fears that agency staff are inadvertently using plants treated with the poisons in restoration projects.

    “The Pacific Region will begin a phased approach to eliminate the use of neonicotinoid insecticides (by any method) to grow agricultural crops for wildlife on National Wildlife Refuge System lands, effective immediately,” Forster wrote in a July 9 memo that was obtained and published last week by the nonprofit Center for Food Safety. “Though there will be some flexibility during the transition and we will take into account the availability of non-treated seed, Refuge managers are asked to exhaust all alternatives before allowing the use of neonicotinoids on National Wildlife Refuge System Lands in 2015.”

    An information sheet attached to the memo notes that “severe declines in bee fauna have been a driving force behind the growing concern with neonics,” but that other species are also being affected. The information sheet also warns that pesticide drift, leaching, and water runoff can push neonics into wildlife habitats near farmed lands.

    The use of the pesticides in U.S. wildlife refuges has triggered outcries and lawsuits from groups that include the Center for Food Safety. “Federal wildlife refuges were established to protect natural diversity,” said Paige Tomaselli, an attorney with the center. “Allowing chemical companies to profit by poisoning these important ecosystems violates their fundamental purpose and mission.”

    Foerster’s move will help protect nearly 9,000 acres of refuges in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Hawaii, and the Pacific Islands from ecosystem-ravaging poisons.

    But the memo has significance beyond that. It confirms that wildlife experts within the federal government are acutely aware of the dangers that the poisons pose. Now we just need the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the EPA to talk to each other.

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Politics
    Gristmill: Whole Foods will bring you groceries by bike

    OK, I’ll admit right off the bat that I wasn’t so excited when my editors suggested I write about Whole Foods making deliveries by bike. Now affluent people who can’t be bothered to pick up their own groceries can have a slightly lower carbon impact — I mean, where’s the champagne!

    But after I sat with this for a second, I decided there is reason to celebrate. Cargo-bike deliveries make a lot of sense for companies, even if they don’t care about the environment: They don’t get hung up in traffic, they don’t require parking spaces, they don’t guzzle fuel, they’re cheaper than delivery vans, they are easy to repair … The list could go on. But they are still pretty rare because, basically, change is hard.

    It’s hard to insure bicycles, and worker’s compensation insurance doesn’t come bundled in the package, the way it does if you are insuring a delivery van. As Streetsblog pointed out, you need a critical mass of cargo-bike delivery people to make insurance affordable. And, when something is rare, busy managers just don’t think of it. When you say “delivery,” most people are going to think “van.”

    So cheers to Whole Foods for defying the default, and leading the way toward common sense. Hope it’s a huge success, and widely replicated.

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Food
    Gristmill: Washington state just lopped up to $2,500 off the cost of solar panels. Here’s how.
    solar panel rainbow

    All new technology, no matter how innovative, arrives in a world of pre-existing laws and regulations. But not all technology catches the same breaks. A company like Lyft or Uber can do its thing right out there in the open for a surprisingly long time, despite being — essentially — appified versions of such already-illegal innovations as dollar vans and jitneys.

    By comparison, solar energy, despite having made leaps and bounds both technologically and finance-wise, can’t show up at the block party without bringing down a lawsuit, a law, or some kind of extra fee.

    Yet those impediments, intentional and unintentional, are beginning to remove themselves. A decision this week by the Building Code Council in Washington state is a prime example.

    Until now, the process of legally installing solar panels on a building in Washington has been what it is in most of the U.S.: while there are state and national building codes, each county enforces them differently. What this meant was that the process of putting in solar ranged from the very simple (a solar panel installation was seen as the equivalent of putting on an extra layer of shingles)  to the complicated and prolonged (any installation, no matter how much of a no-brainer, required a full set of plans, signed by a licensed structural engineer, which added between $800-$2,500 to the final bill.) Solar installers were spending a lot of time learning about how permits were handled from county to county, and avoiding some areas altogether because the  process was so daunting.

    Then this April, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee issued an executive order to deal with carbon emissions — and that order paved the way for the standardization and simplification of solar permitting. It was a surprisingly agreeable process, says Mia Devine, a project manager at Northwest Solar Communities, a coalition that helped with the rule changes. “The mandate of the governor’s office really made people pay attention. It actually passed unanimously.”

    This whole “actually making it easy to put in solar” thing is still fairly rare, but the idea of having simpler rules seems like a popular one. In the coming months, expect to see more of these attempts to make rules around solar easier to navigate. It won’t be the wild west of the Silicon Valley startup world, but it’s shaping up to be a lot more open than it is today.

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Florida Gov. Rick Scott is about to sweat through some climate education

    During the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, when Rick Scott was asked if he believed in climate change, his response was, “I have not been convinced.” Since then, he has evolved from denier to evader, and his current position stands at, “I am not a scientist.”

    Luckily for Scott, Florida is full of scientists, and they are happy to pitch in and explain the big words. Ten of them, led by Professor Jeff Chanton, an oceanographer with Florida State University, delivered a letter to the governor’s office this week. “We are scientists,” they wrote. “And we would like the opportunity to explain what is at stake for our state.”

    Turns out the evidence for climate change is so clear and straightforward anyone, even a Republican governor, can understand it. “It’s not rocket science,” Chanton told Mary Ellen Klas at the Tampa Bay Times, “I can explain it. Give me half an hour.”

    Scott initially offered to send someone from his administration to meet with the scientists. (Admittedly, he was busy that week fighting Harry Potter, but it still didn’t look good.) Then, when he heard his Democratic rival in the next gubernatorial election, Charlie Crist, was going to meet with the scientists, Scott cancelled a gig he’d scheduled with his Midnight Oil cover band, and agreed to talk.

    Jeff Spros at ThinkProgress offers a hint of what the conversation might sound like:

    The recently released National Climate Assessment warned that Southeast Florida is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise, and that “just inches of sea level rise will impair the capacity of stormwater drainage systems to empty into the ocean.” A tide gauge in Key West that’s been measuring sea levels since 1913 has detected an eight-inch rise as of 2013, and the World Resources Institute projects another rise of anywhere between nine inches and two feet by 2060. By 2030, the risk of storm surges at the four foot mark is anticipated to double, and the more dire scenarios project a sea level rise of as much as six feet by the end of the century.

    That would do away with both Scott’s own beach-side mansion and the city of Miami. Meanwhile, 75 percent of South Florida’s residents — around 4.12 million people — live along the coast, and 2.4 million of them live within four feet of the tide line.

    Scott’s decision to meet with the scientists is probably a shrewd move, as most Floridians believe climate change is not just real, but anthropogenic in origin — and not just most Floridians, but the most Floridian Floridians. Frankly, the Governor of Florida turning away climatologists is kind of like the mayor of Tokyo being too busy to talk to the Godzilla experts. Here’s hoping they can get the message through his thick and horrifying skull.

    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Punk strife and farm life pair remarkably well

    Here is something you’ve almost definitely never thought about: Rural punks! Punks in the country!

    How does that even work, exactly? Does a shredded Black Flag T-shirt go with a Dodge pickup? Can one maintain a deep-seated rage against pigs (the police) while feeding pigs (the farm animal)? Is piercing your eyebrow with a safety pin in the middle of a cow field more or less transgressive than doing it in the bathroom of whichever shitty warehouse show is happening on a Thursday?

    Thanks to Modern Farmer, we can now ponder these questions throughout the day and for the rest of time. Tyler LeBlanc interviewed the founder of the Grind, a zine for rural punks founded by a woman whose honest-to-God, government name is Gretchen Bonegardener.

    You can read the whole interview here, but we’ve cherry-picked the best excerpt:

    MF: What does the Grind offer a country punk?

    GB: Mostly service stuff, a good chunk are of our articles are how to’s. For example, in the newest issue, we look at things like how to hunt prairie chickens and how to sharpen a chainsaw.

    MF: You’re obviously not a fan of city life, so, what’s your favorite part of living in the country?

    GB: I like the lack of people telling me what I can and cannot do. I can go sit on my front porch and shoot off my gun, and blast music as loud as I can and nobody cares. I mean I don’t do that all the time, but I can, and that’s nice.

    All of a sudden, the rural punk life makes complete sense. We’ll just leave you with this, a soundtrack to your reflections:

    Filed under: Food, Living
    Gristmill: It’s going to take more than swimming lessons to undo the effects of racism

    If you haven’t caught the documentary Free Swim, about the paradox of an island in the Bahamas where the natives don’t know how to swim (you can catch it free on online), it’s worth a look — especially if you’ve followed our own Grist-ian summer coverage of the often painful stories behind American swimming and beaches (found here, here, here, aaand here). That pain comes, in part, from a history of racism that has excluded black people from public swimming areas and taken their land to build beach resorts.

    Free Swim strokes through similar themes. Here’s the trailer:

    The film focuses on the Deep Creek village on the southern end of Eleuthera, a thin sliver of an island in the Bahamas — 110 miles long, but only about a mile wide. We know poverty besets the region because of the shanty shelters, abandoned farms, and the rusts and ghosts of industrial buildings throughout the landscape.

    The children don’t seem “poor” — they dance in the streets, twist braids on the porch, and make music from discarded empty bottles — but they dream of going to big cities like New York and Los Angeles. They think they won’t make it because they are scared of the water they’d need to cross to get there.

    One villager estimates that about half of the people on the island can’t swim, though a survey taken years before the film figures more like 90 percent.

    The filmmaker, Jennifer Galvin, came to the Bahamas straight from the university to explore the relationship between water and public health in the Caribbean. She holds a doctorate and master’s degree in public health from Harvard and Yale respectively, and did her undergraduate work in the field at Brown. She came to this part of the Bahamas when she heard there were two American teens providing swimming lessons to the village children. Part of what kept her there, from 2006 to 2008, was the relationships she built with the islanders, and also her curiosity about how people who live so close to water became afraid of it.

    Much of Free Swim involves the villagers explaining why they can’t or don’t swim, and where they believe their aquaphobias emanate from. Myth and fantasy drench these explanations. Kids are frightened by lore of a big octopus they heard eats people, along with deadly sharks. Another urban legend tells of a “boiling hole” that will cook you to death if you’re caught in it.

    The subplot shows how the two American girls gradually coax the children, and even some of their parents, out of these fears, teaching a bunch of them how to float and swim in the process. The movie is keen to capture the gleeful moments of kids splashing about, invigorated by their new aquatic skills. Their fresh, glistening disposition on water leads to other rewarding moments, like excelling in school, the cinematic tale suggests. That narrative and the doc’s title leads us to believe that the moral here is that swimming helps free the villagers from the oppression of poverty.

    But as the question sampled by Wu-Tang Clan from Gladys Knight goes: Can it be that it was all so simple then?

    There are other issues at play here in Eleuthera  – Greek for “freedom,” which partially inspired the title. Given that these islands were some of the original posts of the Atlantic slave trade, racism and economic exploitation have held black Bahamians back, and not just from ocean-dipping. Viewers are treated to some of that story, though there’s not much room for it in the 50-minute film.

    Eleuthera once had a booming hotel resort market in the 1970s, which was the primary employer of the indigenous population. Part of why many on the island can’t swim is because there was no time to learn. After school, kids didn’t go to the beach or a YMCA for swimming lessons. They went to where their parents were: in the hotels working. This is where kids “learned to be a busboy to start off with,” explains a villager.

    But that tourism economy shifted to Nassau, on another island in the Bahamas, taking the jobs with it. Eleuthera was once populated with farms for dairy and poultry, but they’re mostly closed now courtesy of U.S. imports of those goods. Then there’s that pesky beach privatization problem, which has crept into Eleuthera, creating even more distance between the indigenous folk and their surrounding environment.

    Learning all of that, you get the sense that It’s going to take more than just swimming skills to defeat these socioeconomic leviathans.

    “A white person in a post-colonial society enjoys certain advantages and access,” says Patricia Glinton-Meicholas, a Bahamian historian in the film. “Even though we’ve had majority rule for the past 35 years, there’s a lot of catching up to do when you’ve had a slave past.”

    Glinton-Meicholas says the black islanders suffer from a “psychology of scarcity,” the result of when white people take control of the economy and natural resources of the natives, which is what happened throughout the Caribbean.

    The American teens, Brenda and Sally, come to Eleuthera not to further exploit them. Teaching the island kids how to swim is their way of hopefully undoing some of the oppression. They form the nonprofit Swim to Empower based off of this. But the film doesn’t admit that such swimming empowerment might only be the latest conceit for black freedom.

    You can’t avoid that the teens are white amidst a sea of black villagers. The tone at times feels unflatteringly like a Teach for America project, where people parachute in from worlds of white privilege to teach black youth skills to be more functional in the global market. You can’t help but feel traces of Waiting for Superman, the documentary critics have labeled a propaganda piece for the education reform movement. Is this Waiting for Aquaman?

    Galvin is aware of the perceptions. She told me her intention was not to shoot a PR vehicle for Swim to Empower. And she gets that the racial dimensions of the instructors and students might not be the best contrast.

    “This film was not meant to be a ‘white girl saves the world’ film,” Galvin told me. “I see this [messiah complex] all the time, especially in the Caribbean, especially in Haiti, where people perpetuate this benevolent oppressor action — thinking they are doing good when they are still kinda engaging oppression.”

    The Swim to Empower organization was handed over to Bahamians to run, which is what it was created to do, she tells me. She also discovered in her research that Bahamian laws actually mandate “swimming literacy” as part of its national curriculum. It was just never enforced. She hopes to create a “Free Swim” sequel, or perhaps a mini-series, where she can devote more time to unpacking the issues around race and class.

    “I didn’t want to come at it as an academic film, or just a historical perspective on swimming and race,” said Galvin. “I wanted to make something more poetic and emotional, a launching pad for more conversations”

    There is no narrator in Free Swim. It consists purely of the villagers and their voices, which is the best way to start the conversation.

    Filed under: Living
    Triple Pundit: 3p Weekend: 5 Cities Already Feeling the Effects of Climate Change

    While some still view climate change as some distant or unidentifiable threat (and others simply argue its effects "won't be so bad"), the impacts of rising tides and surging temperatures are already changing lives around the world.

    The post 3p Weekend: 5 Cities Already Feeling the Effects of Climate Change appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Hospital food gets a locavore makeover

    If you’re reading this from a hospital bed, you’ve probably got a lot feel crummy about. And sometimes it seems like hospitals are actually trying to add insult to injury by what they serve up.

    Like this:

    Mark Hillary
    hirotomo t
    Ok, that doesn't even look real. And yet ... it is. Yuck.
    OK, that doesn’t even look real. And yet … it is. Yuck.

    But there’s good news spreading through hospital corridors across America: The promise of a meal that’s actually palatable and good for you — and for the environment. AP reports that a “growing network of companies and organizations is delivering food directly from local farms to major institutions like Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in downtown Philadelphia, eliminating scores of middlemen from farm to fork.”

    From AP:

    Major institutions like Jefferson have long relied on whatever giant food service companies provide, often processed foods that are delivered efficiently and are easy to heat and serve. But with a steady supply of locally grown food from the Common Market food hub, Jefferson now serves vegetables like bok choy and asparagus, creamy yogurts from Amish country and omelets with locally sourced cage-free eggs and spinach.

    The model is simple: Common Market, a nonprofit, picks up food from 75 regional farmers and small food companies and quickly turns it around in its Philadelphia warehouse. The food — everything from vegetables to turkey to tofu — is then sent to 220 city customers along with detailed information about where it was grown or produced. There are about 300 other similar food hubs around the country.

    St. Luke’s University Hospital Network is taking that a step further by growing veggies on site at its new facility in Bethlehem Township, Penn. This year, the five-acre plot is expected to grow 44,000 pounds of organic food like tomatoes, squash, and peppers. St. Luke’s plans to eventually double the size of the farm. Eating produce is very beneficial for patients, St. Luke’s Community Health Medical Director Bonnie Coyle told Lehigh Valley Live. Who woulda thunk!

    Health benefits aside, institutions like hospitals are perfectly poised to give the food movement the kick it needs by making local food available on a bigger scale. Because as fun as it is to casually browse local offerings on a Saturday afternoon, farmers markets can’t change the food system all on their own. I can’t say I hope to get sent to a hospital soon … but if I do, I’ll take a bok choy omelet over those weird brown-grey globs.

    Filed under: Food
    Gristmill: Living next to natural gas wells is no fun
    fracking protestors holding hands

    Driving around the rural back roads of Garfield County, Colo., you don’t see many cars. But one type of vehicle keeps popping up, often the only one you’ll see for hours: the white pickup trucks favored by gas drilling companies. Here in the central western part of the state, the rolling fields of scrubby yellow-green vegetation are frequently punctuated by natural gas wells. Even after a well has stopped producing gas, big cylindrical tanks of waste water and natural gas condensate remain, sitting behind low fences by the roadside. Too often those tanks leak out their contents, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene and toluene.

    Are these ones leaking?
    Are these ones leaking?

    People who live on or near properties with gas wells say they have experienced an array of health effects from exposure to high concentrations of these chemicals. The known immediate effects of exposure to high concentrations of benzene, according to the Centers for Disease Control, include headache and drowsiness. Long-term exposure can cause cancer, as well as fertility problems in women.

    Karen Protz certainly thinks being surrounded by gas wells is at least partially responsible for her overwhelming health problems. In 2005, as the fracking boom brought gas wells closer to her log cabin on a winding mountain road, Protz began to feel sick. “I was walking five miles a day for three years to lose weight,” says Protz. “Then I started not feeling good: tired, lethargic. I’m Italian and I love to eat, and I couldn’t even look at pizza. I started having heart palpitations.”

    Karen Protz
    Karen Protz

    In the years since, her problems have multiplied and worsened. She gets frequent sinus infections, and has had several benign growths on her thyroid. More recently she has suffered from blood clots and a mild stroke for which her lab work can produce no explanation. Protz gets out of breath just from climbing a flight of stairs and is on oxygen at night, though she has never been a smoker. When she goes back to visit family in Delaware, or even just east to Denver, her symptoms subside. But they come back as soon as she returns home. She might move, but her husband works in the area and her grown children live here. Sitting in her living room, under the giant elk and deer heads over the fireplace, Protz tears up as she says, “I just wish I didn’t feel like I was 70 in a 53-year-old body.”

    The gas companies note that no studies have demonstrated that their wells in the area are causing these problems. There’s a dearth of good data on how much VOCs people breathe in due to living near a well. “If people have health concerns we take that seriously, but we have seen no data that there is a direct cause or correlation between symptoms and our operations,” says Doug Hoch, a spokesman for Encana, one of the major gas production companies in the area. Protz and others who are sick counter that this is partly because the high concentrations of VOCs in the air are not being properly measured. Colorado has relatively stringent requirements for air quality reporting, but they rely on companies to do the reporting themselves. There is also the issue of access to the wells, which of course the gas companies do not grant to independent researchers. Nonetheless, a 2012 study by the University of Colorado-Denver School of Public Health found VOCs in Garfield County five times above the EPA’s Hazard Index level.

    Toxic chemicals are not the only air pollutants created by gas and oil drilling. Greenhouse gases are also released, as are the gases that contribute to the formation of ozone, which causes breathing problems. A University of Colorado study from 2013 found that more than half of the ozone pollution in Colorado is caused by oil and gas drilling. Ozone levels in Colorado’s Front Range — the heavily populated spine where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains — have risen in recent years and consistently exceed the levels deemed safe by the federal government.

    Even if it doesn’t make you sick, living next to gas wells can be unpleasant. Residents say drilling makes the wells release a “rotten egg” or “chemical” smell. The gas and the fracking fluid can infiltrate your water supply. None of the residents of Garfield County whom I interviewed drink their tap water. Their dogs won’t drink it due to the smell. Protz and her family have even gotten rashes from using the shower. Protz also says her house has experienced earth tremors because of the seismic testing done by gas companies. “My sister came to visit from Delaware in 2007,” Protz recalls, “And she said, ‘How the hell do you live here?’”

    The process of building and tapping gas wells is loud, and the floodlights involved can make it feel like your window looks out on airport tarmac. These activities often go on in the middle of the night, making a good night’s sleep impossible. (Critics assert that the gas companies deliberately work at night to avoid detection for violations by state authorities, since the inspectors only come during business hours.)

    All these annoyances may adversely affect property values. Mike Smith owns a small horse ranch and heating/air-conditioning business in Rifle, Colo. Across the two-lane road from him is a welcome sign over a neighbor’s driveway reading “My Heaven.” And just a few feet over from that, straight across the road from Smith’s front door, is a gas well owned by the Bill Barrett Corporation, an oil and gas exploration firm based in Denver. Barrett chose to put the wells right next to the road. Smith claims they did this as retribution for his refusal to agree to let them drill on his property. “They told me it was because I’m ‘uncooperative,’” he says. The smells from fracking are so nasty, Smith recalls, that a friend who was helping him put up a fence in his yard vomited. Smith estimates that his land and house have lost about a third of their value due to drilling. (Barrett did not return a request for comment.)

    The view from Mike Smith's house.
    The view from Mike Smith’s house.

    The truck traffic to build and service the wells is another sore point for locals. It interferes with the serenity for which they moved there. One encounters signs with phrases such as “Private Road: No Encana traffic.” And the truck traffic can be worse than merely annoying. A truck carrying fracking fluid flipped over right at the end of Protz’s driveway, spilling the chemicals. The cleanup lasted four months. “It was like something from a space movie, with the white suits,” says Protz.

    Encana says it’s doing what it can to improve its processes. “We understand there are some folks that are not in favor of oil and gas development in the area,” says Hoch, “but we certainly work to minimize the impact.” The company has started piping water to wells to reduce truck traffic, he says.

    Many of the problems neighbors complain about would violate state law, but they don’t get officially reported or verified by inspectors. If you call to report a foul odor, especially on a night or weekend, a state worker will come several days later to test the air quality and often find no problem. And even when violations are noted by the state, the penalties are too small and infrequently imposed, environmental activists say. “Fines are cheaper than doing it properly,” says Tara Meixsell, a local anti-drilling activist and author. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which is responsible for enforcement, is underfunded and incapable of inspecting every well. In 2011, there were 516 known spills but only five assessed fines.

    In an interview with Grist at the Aspen Ideas Festival in June, Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) noted that he has doubled the number of oil and gas inspectors in the state. That’s roughly true —  the number has risen from 15 in 2011 to 27 in 2013 — but considering that there are about 50,000 active oil and gas wells in Colorado, that’s not very impressive. “We’re trying to get a gauge at every wellhead and measure benzene,” he added. Hickenlooper also boasts that his administration earlier this year adopted some of the nation’s strictest rules governing VOC and methane emissions at drilling sites. (Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and methane leakage may wipe out the climate change benefits of natural gas over coal.) Environmentalists, though, argue that the new rules are not strong enough to achieve reductions in total pollution when 2,000 new wells are being drilled in Colorado every year.

    In Colorado, as in many other Western states, there’s a “split estate” approach to land ownership, which means that mineral rights beneath the surface are often bought and sold separately from the surface of the land itself. So people who live on the land can be forced to endure the adverse effects of drilling by the owners of the ground underneath. The divided incentives have had a predictable effect on communities in Colorado, pitting neighbor against neighbor.

    Hickenlooper argues that it wouldn’t be fair to the mineral rights owners to let the residents vote to ban fracking. “Owners of mineral rights have a right to their property,” he says. “Both sides have a legitimate right.”

    And that’s why neither side will give up easily. With state initiatives to limit fracking likely to appear on Colorado ballots this fall, the battle will only get uglier.

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: How Western civilization ended, circa 2014
    Thwaites Glacier of West Antarctica.

    This episode of Inquiring Mindsa podcast hosted by neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas and best-selling author Chris Mooney, also features a discussion of questionable claims about “drinkable” sunscreen, and a new study finding that less than 1 percent of scientists are responsible for a huge bulk of the most influential research.

    To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds via iTunes or RSS. We are also available on Stitcher and on Swell. You can follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow and like us on FacebookInquiring Minds was also recently singled out as one of the “Best of 2013″ on iTunes – you can learn more here.

    You don’t know it yet. There’s no way that you could. But 400 years from now, a historian will write that the time in which you’re now living is the “Penumbral Age” of human history – meaning, the period when a dark shadow began to fall over us all. You’re living at the start of a new dark age, a new counter-Enlightenment. Why? Because too many of us living today, in the years just after the turn of the millennium, deny the science of climate change.

    Such is the premise of a thought-provoking new work of “science-based fiction” by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, two historians of science (Oreskes at Harvard, Conway at Caltech) best known for their classic 2010 book, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global WarmingIn a surprising move, they have now followed up that expose of the roots of modern science denialism with a work of “cli-fi,” or climate science fiction, entitled The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future. [SPOILER ALERT: Much of the plot of this book will be revealed below!] In it, Oreskes and Conway write from the perspective of a historian, living in China (the country that fared the best in facing the ravages of climate change) in the year 2393. The historian seeks to analyze the biggest paradox imaginable: Why humans who saw the climate disaster coming, who were thoroughly and repeatedly warned, did nothing about it.

    So why did two historians turn to sci-fi? On the latest installment of the Inquiring Minds podcast, Oreskes explained that after the extensive research that went into Merchants of Doubt, she and Conway “felt like we really understood the science, but we also felt that the scientific community had really not explained why any of this mattered. And we just kept coming back to this idea of, how do we really talk about why this matters, and not just for polar bears, and not just for people living in far flung places or far into the future, but what’s really at stake.”

    The resulting book, The Collapse of Western Civilization, diverges in many respects from other cli-fi works, such as the novels of Kim Stanley Robinson (who clearly influenced Oreskes and Conway, and who blurbed their new book). Collapse is quite short, and hardly a study in character or plot. It has one narrator, and that narrator is a “scholar,” approaching the topic analytically. The force of the story, then, comes not so much from dramatic elements, but rather, from its simple conceit: How would a fair-minded thinker, living 400 years from now, evaluate us?

    The answer couldn’t be more depressing: We got it all wrong. We sacrificed our birthright. We unleashed ravaging heat waves, destabilized ice sheets, shot chemicals into the skies in a failed attempt to fix our mess, then halted that intervention and made everything still worse. (All of these things unfold in the story.)

    collapse front cover CROPPEDThe consequences were toppled governments, mass migrations, and unimaginable human tragedy from starvation, dehydration, and disease. Finally came the “collapse” itself, not of Western civilization at first, but of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which in the late 21st century rapidly disintegrated, driving up sea levels some five meters. Much of Greenland soon followed.

    “We were trying to sort of play on this two different senses of ‘collapse,’” explained Oreskes on Inquiring Minds. Summarizing the plot of the book, she elaborated as follows: “The West Antarctic Ice Sheet does collapse, causing massive rapid sea-level rise, which then puts into effect a kind of chain of events, which ultimately leads to the collapse of political and cultural institutions as well.”

    This is a worst-case scenario, but it is far from crazy in light of our current trajectory. And we are on this trajectory because we’re ignoring the evidence all around us. “A shadow of ignorance and denial had fallen over people who considered themselves children of the Enlightenment,” writes Oreskes’ and Conway’s historian, explaining why our present era will later be called the “Period of the Penumbra.”

    So why are we currently on course to be remembered for causing humanity’s greatest failure? The historian singles out two causes in particular, the first of which may be surprising.

    First off, the historian argues that our scientists failed us, and in a very particular way: They failed us by being too conservative. Scientists today know full well that the “95 percent confidence limit” (the requirement to statistically establish that there is less than a 1-in-20 chance that a given scientific result is due to chance – or, a 19 in 20 chance that it is real – before it can be accepted) is merely a convention, not a law of the universe. Nonetheless, this convention, the historian suggests, led scientists to be far too cautious, far too easily disrupted by the doubt-mongering of denialists, and far too unwilling to shout from the rooftops what they all knew was happening.

    “We have come to understand the 95 percent confidence limit as a social convention rooted in scientists’ desire to demonstrate their disciplinary severity,” writes the historian. “Western scientists built an intellectual culture based on the premise that it was worse to fool oneself into believing in something that did not exist than not to believe in something that did.” The historian even cites the currently live issue of the relationship between hurricanes and global warming: It is very likely that global warming is changing these storms in some way, but showing that in a way that satisfies all of the relevant experts has proven very difficult.

    Why target scientists in particular in this book? Simply because a distant future historian would too, says Oreskes. “If you think about historians who write about the collapse of the Roman Empire, or the collapse of the Mayans or the Incans, it’s always about trying to understand all of the factors that contributed,” she says. “So we felt that we had to say something about scientists.”

    Naomi Oreskes.
    Andy Tankersley
    Naomi Oreskes.

    And then, there are the ideologues. They are, of course, vastly more culpable than the scientists. Here, The Collapse of Western Civilization picks up a theme from Merchants of Doubt: Free market ideologues, trained on the idea that the Soviet Union was the root of all evil, converted to an economic religion of their own dubbed “neoliberalism,” defined as “the idea that free market systems were the only economic systems that did not threaten individual liberty.” Unfortunately for this worldview, market failures do exist, and climate change is the granddaddy of them all. But too many neoliberal ideologues couldn’t accept that, so they doubled down on fantasy. (These are the climate change denying libertarians that we all know so well.)

    In The Collapse of Western Civilization, neoliberals receive a comeuppance for this that is appropriate in its dramatic irony. The book ends by noting that China, a country not exactly wedded to freedom of thought or free markets, nevertheless survived climate calamity the best, thanks to its ability to exercise the centralized power of the state to force rapid climate adaptation. Eighty percent of Chinese thus survived the climate cataclysm. Other nations soon followed suit, also growing more autocratic.

    Oreskes is not applauding this, of course; rather, she’s suggesting that it could be a very, very painful irony resulting from the behavior of neoliberals. “It could well be the case that the authoritarian nations are actually better situated to deal with climate disruption than the liberal democracies,” says Oreskes. “And we want to suggest that that’s a very worrisome thought.”

    So can we still prevent ourselves from writing the story of The Collapse of Western Civilization – a story in which the historian narrator repeatedly points out missed opportunities, when something could have been done to prevent the disaster that followed? Oreskes thinks the answer is yes.

    “It’s not too late. We do still have opportunities,” she says. “But if we continue the way we’ve been going, and we continue to miss these opportunities, there is going to become a point of no return.”

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

    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Triple Pundit: Smartphones Are Everywhere … But Where Are the Standards?

    Eco labels, certifications and industry standards such as UL Environment's UL 110 are integral to minimizing the environmental impacts of CE devices throughout their life cycles and assuring human and environmental health and safety.

    The post Smartphones Are Everywhere … But Where Are the Standards? appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Stephen Colbert can’t wait to belch exhaust all over bicyclists & hybrid cars

    Greens had Stephen Colbert seeing red, so he was excited to hear about a new anti-environmentalist trend: coal rolling. “Coal rollers modify their diesel pickups to get shittier mileage and belch as much pollution as possible,” explains Jim Meyer. The dirty pranksters then kick up black clouds on bicyclists, pedestrians, and hybrid cars. As Colbert points out, “The only other way to keep a Prius away from you is driving over 45 mph.”

    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Living
    Gristmill: New Jersey reshuffles Sandy relief dollars, admits to numerous mistakes

    Remember Bridgegate? No? You obviously weren’t trying to get across the GW Bridge last Sept 9-13. That’s when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration barricaded several lanes, causing massive traffic jams, in apparent retaliation against Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for not supporting Christie’s reelection bid. (Christie, of course, says he knew nothing about the monkey business.)

    Well, Sokolich wasn’t the only one accusing Christie and Co. of political reprisal last year. Another mayor, Dawn Zimmer (D) of Hoboken, wondered out loud if Christie intentionally sent her a shit sandwich by shortchanging her city on Hurricane Sandy relief money. Sandy flooded half of Hoboken with seawater and closed its main transit terminal for weeks, but the state gave the city only a fraction of the relief money it requested. Zimmer suggested it was because she’d refused to back a development project that was being pushed by one of Christie’s top aides.

    We may never know if there were political motives behind those decisions, but the state later admitted to making numerous errors when it allocated the relief funds, and this week, it released a revised list of awards, shuffling hundreds of thousands of dollars of grants designed to make communities more resilient to storms. The new grants include $250,000 for Hoboken — the maximum amount now available to an individual city.

    It’s a big win for Hoboken, and also for small, community news sites, which, as I wrote last week, are playing an increasingly critical role in the face, and aftermath, of natural disasters.

    The reshuffling comes following an investigation by the news website NJ Spotlight and WNYC/NJ Public Radio. That investigation looked at federal “hazard mitigation grants,” doled out by the state under something called the Energy Allocation Initiative. The $25 million pot of money was to be spent on backup generators and other equipment to help communities weather future storms.

    Hoboken, where damaged equipment during Sandy left the fire chief unable to communicate with his teams in the streets, requested $1.7 million from that fund. It received only $142,000. Other communities that got pounded by the storm, including Atlantic City and Belmar, got nothing at all. Meanwhile, several cities that sustained very little damage, and had little history of flooding, raked in the cash.

    Despite accusations of favoritism, however, media reports found nothing untoward about the way the money was distributed. That is, until reporter Scott Gurian with NJ Spotlight took the time to examine the scorecards the state had used to make its decisions, and found them riddled with errors. Months later, the state has finally announced that it has corrected its mistakes.

    Under the new announcement, Atlantic City will also get the maximum $250,000, after being stiffed the first time around, and Belmar will get $100,000. Mayor Zimmer of Hoboken thanked NJ Spotlight. “The mistakes that were made would never have been rectified if not for the investigative journalism of NJ Spotlight,” she said in a statement.

    “There’s an intense need for information after a natural disaster, and as time goes on, there’s a need for accountability with all the money flowing through the state,” says Molly de Aguiar, director of media and communications for the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

    Dodge, along with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and others, contributed to the New Jersey Recovery Fund, part of which was designed to bolster information and civic engagement after Sandy. NJ Spotlight won one of the grants, which were administered by the Community Foundation of New Jersey.

    In addition to the grant for NJ Spotlight, the community foundation wrote a check to Justin Auciello, an urban planner by day who created a Facebook-based news service called Jersey Shore Hurricane News. Following the storm, the site became a valuable platform for connecting people in need with people who could help.

    “After Sandy hit, his almost exclusive focus was to say, ‘Who needs help? Do you need water? Do you need place to stay? Who out here in my community is willing to lend a hand?,’” de Aguiar says. “I bet he was single-handedly responsible for huge amounts of time and goods being available for people on the Jersey Shore.”

    Another project, a collaboration between WHYY public radio and the Penn Project for Civic Engagement, facilitated public meetings where community members could talk about thorny questions such as whether to rebuild on the Jersey Shore, retreat, or find some middle ground. (Almost without exception, de Aguiar says, people wanted to rebuild.)

    Dodge, Knight, and others are helping to show what small, local media outlets can accomplish, but de Aguiar says convincing other foundations to fund media is still a tough sell. Props to the good people at Dodge for getting it (even if they no longer funds Grist — the dogs!). Here’s hoping that more foundations, as well as local businesses and readers, start supporting this kind of media, too.

    Oh, and wondering what happened to Bridgegate? The U.S. Attorney’s Office and a state legislative committee are both still investigating. NJ Spotlight and WNYC have all the details.

    Correction: This story originally stated that the Dodge Foundation funded NJ Spotlight and Jersey Shore Hurricane News. The Grant actually came via the New Jersey Recovery Fund, which was administered by the Community Foundation of New Jersey. Dodge contributed to the fund.

    Filed under: Cities, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Sierra Club chief weighs in on conservation heroes, green energy, and Thunder Road

    We have a new game we like to play with famous (and infamous) visitors to Grist World HQ. It’s called Vs., and it goes something like this: Famous person sits down. Gristers present visitor with two related words or ideas or songs. Gristers then force visitor to choose one over the other — and explain why he or she chose it. Visitor squirms, Gristers giggle, repeat. It’s fun!

    This time around, our lucky guest was Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. And it turns out this is a game he’s already pretty good at: Not only did he somehow manage to get through our questions without offending anyone (does that mean we lost?), he flipped the table around by saying a few things that got our wheels turning.

    Natural gas vs. nuclear? Pounding the pavement vs. cutting a trail? Thunder Road vs. Ghost of Tom Joad? Watch the video to find out!

    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: This crusty activist gave up on playing by the rules. What are they gonna do, arrest him?
    Alec Johnson

    It’s been over a year since Alec Johnson was arrested for locking himself to an excavator sitting on a pipeline easement in Atoka, Oklahoma. He’s still waiting to go to trial. Rural Oklahoma communities only hold jury trials once or twice a year, and every time a new court date comes up, Johnson gets bumped – priority goes to anyone charged with a felony or presently cooling their heels in jail, which Johnson is not.

    A lot has changed in that year. The protest around U.S. energy policy and climate change has shifted fronts – coal terminals, oil-by-rail, divestment, solar, and a massive climate rally planned for this September. Keystone XL South (now renamed the Gulf Coast pipeline) is up and running and being monitored by an ad hoc group of volunteers. Keystone XL is on hold until after the November U.S. elections — possibly for good, though Johnson has his doubts. “In my experience, the ruling class pretty much gets what they want when they want,” he says.

    Johnson has been arrested seven times, though there’s a gap of several decades in the sequence. The majority of his arrests happened in the mid-’70s, outside of the Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant in Seabrook, New Hampshire. Johnson was a member of a direct-action group called the Clamshell Alliance, and getting arrested was a whole different business then. “I got the shit kicked out of me,” he said. “They had their badge numbers taped over. A lot of white people that doesn’t happen to, but it happened to me.”

    The anti-nuclear movement of the ’70s and ’80s is regarded in some circles as one of the most successful environmental direct-action movements in US history. But Johnson, again, has his doubts. “We still have the Price-Anderson Act, which ensures that we the people pick up their insurance tab. We still have millions in loans for people who want to build them.”

    Johnson credits the anti-nuclear movement’s effectiveness more to disaster than activism. “Three Mile Island went from being a multi-million dollar asset to a multi-million dollar liability in one night.” He pauses. “That said, if I was given a choice between leaving an existing nuclear plant running and building new coal plant, I would leave the nuclear plant running.”

    Johnson grew up in a family that was not particularly environmentalist or activist — but it was extremely interested in science. Johnson’s mother, the author Anne McCaffrey (of Dragonriders of Pern fame), worked hard to use it accurately in her fiction. “Scientists would fall all over themselves trying to help her do something like talk intelligently about how to sight a telescope,” Johnson says, “I saw it happen.”

    Back then, says Johnson, America was in love with scientists. “I remember watching Kennedy, when he said, ‘We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.’ ” But by the time climate change began to be talked about, something had changed. “It’s baffling to me,” says Johnson. “The threat is clear. It’s serious. Scientists have told us that it’s serious, and these are people who tell the truth for a living.”

    After the Clamshell Alliance, Johnson didn’t see much point in getting arrested anymore. He moved to Ireland. He moved back. He got involved in political organizing.

    Keystone XL changed that. In August of 2011, Johnson found himself, along with 1,252 other people, getting arrested in front of the White House for protesting the pipeline.

    A year and a half later, Johnson, sat in on a talk given Lauren Regan, of the Civil Liberties Defense Center. Regan was briefing a group of activists who were marching on the Texas headquarters of pipeline builder TransCanada. Regan did not mince words: if they went inside the headquarters, they would be arrested, and in Texas, that was not going to be fun.

    By the end of the talk, only two people out of the crowd of a hundred still planned on walking into the headquarters proper. Johnson was one of them.

    Unlike Central Booking in Washington D.C., where the White House protesters got sent, the jail in Harris County, Texas, wasn’t so bad. They served grits and eggs with hot sauce for breakfast, and the other inmates named Johnson “School” after his propensity for explaining global warming to everyone. Thirty-six hours later, he was taken to court, where he paid a $300 fine and left.


    Johnson could have pled guilty and paid a fine in this case, too. Instead, he’s hoping that a jury trial could result in a useful precedent. There’s an argument known as the “necessity defense” – basically, that you committed the crime you were arrested for out of necessity, to prevent a larger crime from happening. While it is a defense often used by activists, is is not one that often works. Johnson plans to combine the necessity defense with a heavy dose of public trust doctrine. A ruling in his favor could set a precedent that would help other climate activists down the line.

    On the other hand, a ruling against Johnson could land him in jail for a year or two, which is not a fun prospect for anyone, let alone a 62-year-old. “I can’t say that I’m particularly looking forward to going to jail,” says Johnson. “My lady love wouldn’t like it either. But I’m the father to two daughters and I truly take this seriously. It shouldn’t be this hard to protect the environment.”

    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Triple Pundit: California, Massachusetts Top U.S. Clean Tech Rankings

    California ranked tops in clean tech leadership among U.S. states for the fifth year running, while three California metro areas took the top three spots. Following Massachusetts, Oregon ranked third among U.S. states, with Portland earning fourth place among U.S. metro areas, according to Clean Edge's "2014 Clean Tech Leadership Index."

    The post California, Massachusetts Top U.S. Clean Tech Rankings appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: GE Launches $1 Million Competition to Reduce Emissions in Canada’s Oil Sands

    The race for big oil companies to cut green house gas emissions is fierce. As zero emissions solutions from renewable energies and technologies begin to proliferate and set new expectations for energy production, oil companies are being called to accelerate their environmental efficiencies and more importantly, compete with foreign oil distributors.

    The post GE Launches $1 Million Competition to Reduce Emissions in Canada’s Oil Sands appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: New Carbon Capture Plant Will Use Coal Exhaust to Get Oil From the Ground

    This week, NRG announced the Petra Nova Carbon Capture Project, the world’s largest post-combustion carbon capture power generation plant. This commercial-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) system will utilize existing technology to capture 90 percent of the carbon dioxide (CO2) in the processed flue gas from an existing coal plant in Fort Bend County, southwest of Houston. Construction on the project has already begun.

    The post New Carbon Capture Plant Will Use Coal Exhaust to Get Oil From the Ground appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Nestle Hides Behind a ‘Sovereign Nation’ in Desert Bottled Water Controversy

    Nestle, which sells the most bottled water in the U.S., is attracting controversy for its bottling of water in a region suffering from depleted groundwater.

    The post Nestle Hides Behind a ‘Sovereign Nation’ in Desert Bottled Water Controversy appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: In 10 years, no one in Helsinki is going to own a car

    The future is always changing. Back in the day, they promised a flying car in every garage. Now that the future is almost here, it’s looking like a no-go on the winged Chevy. In fact, in Helsinki, Finland, the future could mean empty garages. Turns out that in an age when we carry the sum of all human knowledge around in our pants pockets, some better ideas come up.

    The Finnish capital is planning a comprehensive and flexible smartphone-enabled travel network that could be online by 2025. The system will combine small buses, self-driving cars, bicycles, and ferries. Users will simply enter their destination into an app and the system will suggest where to transfer from car to bike, for instance, and arrange for the vehicles — and do it all for one easy and inexpensive payment.

    Adam Greenfield at the Guardian has more on the plan:

    Helsinki aims to transcend conventional public transport by allowing people to purchase mobility in real time, straight from their smartphones. The hope is to furnish riders with an array of options so cheap, flexible and well-coordinated that it becomes competitive with private car ownership not merely on cost, but on convenience and ease of use.

    Subscribers would specify an origin and a destination, and perhaps a few preferences. The app would then function as both journey planner and universal payment platform, knitting everything from driverless cars and nimble little buses to shared bikes and ferries into a single, supple mesh of mobility. Imagine the popular transit planner Citymapper fused to a cycle hire service and a taxi app such as Hailo or Uber, with only one payment required, and the whole thing run as a public utility, and you begin to understand the scale of ambition here. …

    All of this seems cannily calculated to serve the mobility needs of a generation that is comprehensively networked, acutely aware of motoring’s ecological footprint, and – if opinion surveys are to be trusted – not particularly interested in the joys of private car ownership to begin with.

    It’s no wonder the Finns are out ahead on this one. Traveling by car in Finland, a land where the roads seemed paved with danger, is a terrifying proposition. There are a staggering 3,000 to 4,000 reindeer-related collisions annually in Northern Finland alone. Compare those frightening figures with L.A., where there hasn’t been a single reindeer related accident in months. Why, even Maija, Finland’s beloved traffic safety reindeer, isn’t safe.

    Helsinki isn’t the only city trying to put personal car ownership in the past. There’s a similar, smaller effort afoot in downtown Las Vegas, of all places. But in compact Helsinki, it’s a system that makes a lot of sense. And now that futurists have given up on the flying car, they can get to work on that practical jetpack they’ve been promising.

    Filed under: Business & Technology, Cities, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Another reason kelp will win over hipsters’ hearts: Craft beer

    Yesterday, I gave you the top reasons why kelp could bump out kale as hipsterdom’s star vegetable — it’s environmentally friendly, nutritious, and delicious (maybe?). If seaweed really wants to reign king, what better way to win cool hearts than becoming an ingredient in craft beer? (There’s no such thing as Kale Light.)

    Turns out, kelp is already a step ahead of me. On July 15, the Marshall Wharf Brewing Co., in Belfast, Maine, began pouring the Sea Belt Scotch Ale. Sugar kelp is a main ingredient.

    Brewery owner David Carlson had reason to believe his experiment would be a success: What gets kids excited these days like weird ingredients, especially if they’re locally sourced? But, as NPR reports, he approached the experiment with reasoned caution:

    [S]ix pounds of dried kelp, the equivalent of 60 pounds of wet seaweed, go into this 200 gallon batch of scotch ale called Sea Belt. Carlson knew he’d get some iodine from the sugar kelp and some salt to counterbalance the Scottish peat-smoked malt in the beer. But he worried that if the kelp introduced too much of a polysaccharide called carrageenan that the beer would end up thick – like a milkshake. And no one is quite sure what the beer will taste like.

    A few weeks later, the first batch is done and it’s time for a taste test. Carlson wants an expert opinion. So he calls another brewer with a reputation for using off-the-wall ingredients, Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Del. Calagione agrees to taste Sea Belt, and Carlson ships him some cans. The men hook up via a conference call.

    The result? “[A] beautiful, russet mahogany,” Carlson says. Malty, earthy, and salty, with caramel notes. To truly lock it in with the cool kids, Marshall Wharf Brewing Co. should wring it out of an artisan beard.

    Filed under: Food, Living
    Gristmill: Wanna see what climate change looks like? Check out the vicious fires in northwest Canada

    Lightning, an intense heat wave, and low rainfall are lighting up northwestern Canada like a bonfire, producing conflagrations that scientists are linking to climate change.

    More than 100 forest fires are burning in Canada’s lightly populated Northwest Territories, east of Alaska. Some residents are being evacuated from their homes; others are being warned to stay inside to avoid inhaling the choking smoke. Take a look at the latest map produced by the region’s fire agency:

    NWT Fire

    “Some attribute that to climate change, and I’m one of those,” Mike Flannigan, a professor of wildland fire at the University of Alberta, told CBC News. “What we are seeing in the Northwest Territories this year is an indicator of what to expect with climate change. Expect more fires, larger fires, more intense fires.”

    Here’s more from Climate Central:

    Boreal forests like those in the Northwest Territories are burning at rates “unprecedented” in the past 10,000 years according to the authors of a study put out last year. The northern reaches of the globe are warming at twice the rate as areas closer to the equator, and those hotter conditions are contributing to more widespread burns.

    Further south, Oregon and Washington state have declared emergencies as the same three forces — lightning, hot weather, and dry conditions – fuel wildfires that have forced evacuations. Elsewhere in the American West, major wildfires are being battled in Nevada and California.

    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: This rogue bicycle pony express delivered mail in 1894

    If any of the cyclists who participated in the great bicycle messenger mail route were still alive to tell the tale, it would make the ultimate “when I was your age story.”

    Picture this: San Francisco, 1894. The Pullman rail strike in Illinois cuts off all rail service west of Detroit, leaving California train-less and thus, mail-less. One “enterprising citizen” and bicycle salesman Arthur C. Banta decides to create a fixie chain gang relay along a 210-mile stretch from San Francisco to California’s Central Valley with eight primary riders. He charges $0.25 for stamps, 10 times the price of standard mail at the time.

    I can just hear the conversation now:

    Old-Timer Cyclist: When I was your age, we didn’t have no Amazon delivery service or fancy-schmancy computers. We wrote letters with pens and paper and put stamps on them. And when the mail system broke down because of a rail strike, we printed up our own stamps and rode our own fixed gear bicycles on unmarked dirt roads in the dark. And if we broke our ankles, we kept going because the darn mail had to be delivered.

    Disinterested Youth: What is paper? [looks at phone] Have you seen the new Iggy Azalea video? It’s awesome.

    Here’s more on the ride from Kai McMurtry at the Mission Bicycle Company:

    The messengers began in Fresno, rode northwest stopping several times along the way to deliver or capture new mail, and on into San Francisco. B.J. Treat owned the first 20 mile leg out of Fresno. W.B. Atwater was charged with summiting Pacheco Pass, a climb of over 1,300 feet, and so had the shortest leg at 15 miles. The trip was completed by C.S. Shaffer who rode 30 miles from Menlo Park into SF, picked up return mail and rode immediately back to Menlo Park for 60 miles round trip. He was regarded as a “particularly good rider.” Except for the relay into and out of San Francisco each rider was to remain at the northern end of his route until receiving mail for the southward run. A rider having an accident or delay was instructed to continue, on foot if necessary. The awaiting rider, after a reasonable delay, was to ride out to meet him.


    The mail route ended “almost as quickly as it began,” writes McMurtry, when the strikes collapsed. To commemorate the 120th anniversary of this epic ride, Mission Bicycle is selling the “Mail By Messenger” patch – a replica of the original stamp for the route, which misspelled San Francisco on its first printing.

    Filed under: Article, Living
    Gristmill: Weed-sniffing dogs join the fight against invasive species
    dog nose

    There aren’t a lot of career options for dogs. Basically they’ve been limited to law enforcement, imperial transport, and designated hitter — until now. A crack team of canines is on the hunt for invasive species.

    The dogs, which are equipped with GPS units because we live in the future, search the countryside looking for invasive weeds, snails, and, for the lucky dogs, scat. Under the auspices of the Montana nonprofit Working Dogs for Conservation, it’s a career that combines two of a dog’s favorite things: wandering about and smelling poop.

    Jodi Helmer at Takepart has the rest of the tail (ahem):

    Seamus was trained to sniff out Dyer’s woad, a noxious weed that takes over rangeland, choking out native plants that are an important source of food and habitat for wildlife.

    The dog often works off-leash, crisscrossing quadrants of the park until he picks up the scent of Dyer’s woad. When he stops, the GPS in his bright orange doggy backpack marks the location of the invasive weed. [His handler, Aimee] Hurt also makes note of the coordinates and will return to spray the plant. …

    A 2010 study published in the journal Invasive Plant Science and Management found that dogs sniffed out twice the number of invasive plants that humans could detect with their eyes.

    The dogs are a great tool in the fight against non-natives, but there are limitations to their work. So far, they are only on the trail of terrestrial invasives, so lionfish and zebra muscles are safe for the moment. But with the right training, who knows?

    Filed under: Article
    Triple Pundit: Coca-Cola’s Last Mile: From Fizzy Drinks to Medical Supplies

    Coca-Cola's Project Last Mile leverages the company's vast distribution network to increase and improve the delivery of medical supplies to 10 African countries by 2019.

    The post Coca-Cola’s Last Mile: From Fizzy Drinks to Medical Supplies appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Scientist: Save Earth by shrinking humans — and making them hate hamburgers

    If the Earth were a potluck, humans would be the guest who shows up empty-handed and already drunk, eats all the dip, knocks over the fish tank, and electrocutes the dog. There’s a reason why there’s a billion trillion planets out there and only one invited us to the party: No matter how many times we offer to fix the coffee table, perhaps with some sort of whacky pseudo-sciency scheme using Duck Tape and a hundred or so tons of iron sulphate, we’re still shitty guests.

    Maybe it’s better to change ourselves — and not just switching from bourbon to beer, but serious change, on the genetic level. At least that’s what Matthew Liao, director of the bioethics program at New York University, is suggesting.

    Frank Swain with the BBC has more:

    “We tried to think outside the box,” says Liao. “What hasn’t been suggested with respect to addressing climate change?”

    The answer they landed on is human engineering: the biomedical modification of human beings to reduce their impact on the environment. The associate professor suggests that by changing our underlying biology – altering our size or diet, for instance – we could create greener humans. …

    “We’re not suggesting that we should mandate these ideas, but it would be good to make them options for people,” says Liao

    What kind of “options” is he talking about? Dr. Liao suggests that we start by making people 15 cm shorter, cutting about a quarter of our body mass and reducing our needs for food, water, and other resources. Such a reduction in height would also make driving obsolete, since no one could reach the pedals.

    But why stop there? Why not shrink people down to, say, the height of three apples, so we could live harmoniously in forests and mushroom fields? Perhaps we could adjust our skin to better survive in harsh sun, or even alter our morphology so we could all wear the same kinds of pants and hats. It would be magical.

    Once he has shrunken us, Dr. Liao suggests giving the tiny people medications to make averse to eating meat. “We can artificially induce intolerance to red meat by stimulating the immune system against common bovine proteins,” he told the BBC.

    Turn the right knobs and dials, and one nip of the stuff could make people violently ill. It’s an off-the-shelf technology Taco Bell has been using for years in their chalupas.

    All this may sound frightening (mostly because it is), but there are so many upsides to GMDs (Genetically Modified Dudes and Duddettes). For instance, we’ll no longer have to do all that icky sex stuff. And maybe having a tiny clone of yourself around will be awesome. Dr. Liao seems to think so.

    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Australia repeals carbon tax, scientists freak out
    Australian outback

    The cartoonish stereotype of Australia of yesteryear featured a rough-headed bloke in an Akubra hat wrangling crocodiles. That image has finally been scrubbed from our collective memories – only to be replaced with something worse. Today, when we read news dispatches from Australia, we’re seeing a dunderheaded prime minister cartoonishly wrangling commonsense, becoming the first leader in the warming world to repeal a price on carbon.

    It’s like George W. Bush, Crocodile Dundee-style.

    Conservative prime minister, climate change denier, and accused misogynist Tony Abbott was elected in September. He started working as the nation’s leader almost immediately, but he had to wait until this month for newly elected senators to take their seats. Abbott’s (conservative) Liberal party still doesn’t control the Senate, but it has found Senate allies in a powerful party that was founded just last year by kooky mining magnate Clive Palmer. Palmer held a press conference with Al Gore last month to announce that he opposed some of Abbott’s climate-wrecking policies, and that he wanted a carbon-trading program to replace the carbon tax. That now seems to have been smokestacks and mirrors. When it came to repealing Australia’s $US23.50 per metric ton carbon tax, the immodestly named Palmer United Party fell into line on Thursday, helping the repeal pass the Senate by a vote of 39 to 32, without demanding the establishment of any alternative.

    The vote came just days after new modeling and research revealed that climate change is worsening drought conditions in Australia. Apparently, the drought is also of the intellectual variety.

    Abbott has proposed replacing the carbon tax with something he calls Direct Action. That would involve handing out billions of dollars to corporations to help them reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. But Direct Action has not been passed by the Senate, and it might never be passed, meaning that one of the worst per-person climate-polluting countries now has no overarching strategy for reducing that pollution.

    “Today’s repeal of laws that price and limit carbon pollution is an historic act of irresponsibility and recklessness,” said John Connor, CEO of The Climate Institute. “Today we lose a credible framework of limiting pollution that was a firm foundation for a fair dinkum Australian contribution to global climate efforts.”

    We could bore you with visceral reactions from politicians Down Under. Instead, here are some reactions to the repeal from Australian scientists and academic analysts:

    Roger Jones, Victoria University: “It’s hard to imagine a more effective combination of poor reasoning and bad policy making. The perfect storm of stupidity. Bad economics and mistrust of market forces.”

    Hugh Outhred, University of New South Wales: “With climate change already underway, repeal of the carbon tax represents dereliction of duty with respect to the rights of young people and future generations. The coalition plan to replace a ‘polluter pays’ policy with a ‘pay the polluter’ policy will exacerbate the budget imbalance while being simply inadequate to the task.”

    Roger Dargaville, University of Melbourne: “The Government’s replacement strategy, Direct Action, will fail to reduce emissions as it fails to penalise the largest emitters. Also, Direct Action risks not gaining approval in the Senate as it is unlikely to get the support of [Palmer United Party] Senators. The repeal of the price on carbon is a backwards step and a sad day for the global climate.”

    Jemma Green, Curtin University: “Without a domestic emissions trading scheme, Australia will probably use international offsetting to meet its commitments. The Renewable Energy Target and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation will play some role in retooling for the low-carbon economy, but other new policies may be required to fully address this need.”

    Peter Rayner, University of Melbourne: “I’m a carbon cycle scientist, my job is to monitor, understand and predict the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As an Australian, I’m proud of how much we have contributed to that understanding, but today I’m embarrassed by how poor we are at putting that understanding into practice.”

    Correction: This post originally stated that The Climate Institute was a former Australian government agency that morphed into a nonprofit after Abbott took power, but in fact it has always been a nonprofit.

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Goodbye, everyone! A massive hole has opened at the End of the World

    Well! It was nice knowing yinz, because Doomsday is upon us. According to Scripture, the first two signs of the apocalypse are:

    1. A goblin of the underworld shalt sign a princess with a voice of gold to his record label, and so the two will beget a heavily Auto-Tuned music video starring a mythical beast.

    2. And lo! For a chasm shalt suddenly appear at the End of the World.

    We’re two for two! Tuesday, The Siberian Times reported that a massive hole measuring 262 feet in diameter suddenly appeared in the Yamal region of Siberia. Gee, what does Yamal mean in the language of the Nenets, the region’s indigenous people? “The end of the world.”

    Oh. (We’ll just wait for you to send the hearts-for-eyes emoji to all of your loved ones.)

    Back to business! What — aside from the work of the devil — could have possibly caused this gaping maw to appear? From The Siberian Times:

    Anna Kurchatova from Sub-Arctic Scientific Research Centre thinks the crater was formed by a water, salt and gas mixture igniting an underground explosion, the result of global warming. She postulates that gas accumulated in ice mixed with sand beneath the surface, and that this was mixed with salt – some 10,000 years ago this area was a sea.

    Global warming, causing an ‘alarming’ melt in the permafrost, released gas causing an effect like the popping of a Champagne bottle cork, she suggests.

    Given the gas pipelines in this region such a happening is potentially dangerous.

    There are a lot of alarming things happening in this excerpt, but let’s focus on the most terrifying: Global warming could be causing enormous chunks of the Earth to pop like champagne bottles.

    There’s also the tiny matter that this hole has appeared roughly 20 miles away from the Bovanenkovo gas field, the largest in the Yamal region. The Yamal peninsula itself is a crucial component of Russia’s oil and natural gas production, which makes up approximately half of the national income. Last spring, Russia’s oil and gas giant Gazprom first started fracking on the peninsula.

    Now, I’m not a religious gal, but if a giant abyss appears near a fracking site on a massive gas reserve, maybe — MAYBE! Just a suggestion! — it’s a sign that there’s something going on there that is not entirely advisable. In the meantime, you can find me programming Google Alerts for Paris Hilton’s musical career and quietly building my storm shelter.

    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Living
    Gristmill: Ask Umbra: Are organic cherries worth the extra expense?

    Q. While I go organic as much as I can, the inability to buy organic cherries is the price I pay for a low-paying job cleaning up our gorgeous environment. Since I cannot bear to live life without a few fresh summer cherries, I buy the regular ones. My mother insists that in this case, using that fruit wash stuff is the way to go. But it’s expensive! Does it REALLY do a good job of getting pesticide residues off of the surface of fruit, or does a good spray of plain old water do just as well?

    North Bend, Wash.

    A. Dearest Karen,

    I wholeheartedly agree: No one should be confined to a life without fresh summer cherries. Or strawberries. Or blueberries. Mmm … Methinks a trip to the farmers market is in order, stat.

    As you note, though, even in-season cherries can be pricey, with organics still more so (and that’s not considering the premium you’ll pay for those tasty kings-among-cherries, Rainiers). We here at Grist love organic produce: It’s free of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, making it healthier for you and the planet. But if your budget can’t swing it – I’m going to go into some tips on that in a moment, mind you – you can still reduce your pesticide exposure from the conventional variety.

    If you and your mom have a bet riding on the fruit wash question, good news, Karen: You win. Studies from the University of Maine and the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station found there’s essentially no difference between cleaning fruits and veggies with plain old water and dedicated produce washes – in terms of both pesticide residue and bacteria. The FDA even advises against using store-bought produce wash.

    But scrubbing up well does take a bit more than a spray from the tap. You’ll want to rub fruits and veggies briskly under running water; if a presoak is in order, do it in a bowl, not the sink, to avoid bacteria around the drain. With cherries and other berries in particular, save the wash until right before you eat them to extend freshness (not that they ever last that long, at least in my house).

    Now, back to the organic-vs-conventional business. The Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce ranks cherries 18th out of 51 tested fruits and veggies for pesticide residue – not quite bad enough to earn a place on the notorious Dirty Dozen, but not exactly squeaky-clean, either. And according to the Pesticide Action Network’s What’s on my Food? guide, cherries harbor residue from as many as 42 different pesticides, including 5 known or probable carcinogens, 20 suspected hormone disruptors, 7 neurotoxins, 8 developmental/reproductive toxins, and 14 honeybee toxins. Not so appetizing, is it? And while washing with water helps, it probably won’t remove all pesticide remnants.

    Only you know your food budget, Karen — but if you’re concerned about chemicals, you may want to think strategically about buying organic. Might you be able to switch to conventional for some items with lower pesticide risk? The EWG ranks these too, as the Clean Fifteen, and they include avocado, kiwi, pineapple, mango, sweet corn, onions, and asparagus. You could then apply the savings toward organic cherries.

    I’d also go hunting at the farmers market. Living as you do in cherry country (Washington, Oregon, and California grow 97 percent of U.S. sweet cherries), I wouldn’t be surprised if you could find local, pesticide-free fruits at a good price. Keep in mind that many smaller farms may grow food organically even if they can’t afford official certification.

    You may also find success with a little budgetary shuffling. Is there anywhere else you can trim a few dollars during cherry season? Perhaps you’d find one or two fewer lattes, movie downloads, or meals out every week a worthy trade for your cherries of choice.

    No matter what you decide, don’t skip out on one summer’s sweetest treasures. Cherries are full of vitamin C and fiber, and besides, after spending your days toiling away for the earth, you deserve it.


    Filed under: Food, Living
    Gristmill: Four things you should know about Detroit’s water crisis

    This May, the Detroit Water and Sewerage District (DWSD) sent out 46,000 shutoff notices to customers who were behind in their water bills. It was the latest calamity to befall a city that had seen its water rates rise 119 percent in the last decade.

    As a city that has lost nearly two-thirds of its population in the last 60 years, Detroit has a lot of water infrastructure to maintain, and not much money to maintain it.

    Since the shutoffs began (about 17,000 households and small businesses have lost service to date), residents have fought back hard. They’ve blocked trucks that are being sent out to shut off water accounts. They’ve called out DWSD for focusing on shutting off water to private homes that don’t even owe that much, while ignoring golf courses that owe amounts in the hundreds of thousands. (DWSD responded that it had focused on residential customers because shutting off water to a large-scale user was more technically complicated than most of its employees can handle.) They’ve accused DWSD of dropping low-income customers as a way of making the system more appealing to potential buyers. (Whether or not that’s true, Detroit emergency manager Kevin Orr has spoken openly about selling DWSD to a private company.) They’ve organized brigades of volunteers to bring water in to people who’ve had their accounts shut off. They even got the United Nations to condemn the way that DWSD is handing the situation.

    But what’s happening in Detroit isn’t just Detroit’s problem. It has larger implications for the rest of us. Here’s what you need to know.

    Water is getting more expensive everywhere.

    This is true both internationally and in the U.S., where the cost of water has been rising faster than the rate of inflation.

    There’s no federal policy to help people deal with the cost of water.

    As Jan Beecher, with the Institute of Public Utilities at Michigan State University, told the Los Angeles Times there are no federal programs to help people pay for the rising cost of water, the way that there are for fuel and electricity (or housing, for that matter).

    “We’ve never really developed a clear public policy toward universal service and water,” Beecher said. “International organizations are concerned with a basic level of service, but with water, the tricky thing is that drinking water would fall into that, but watering the lawn would not be considered a basic human right.”

    That said, until recently, Detroit actually had a program that helped low-income residents pay their water bills.

    It was called the Water Affordability Plan. As Roger Colton, a utilities consultant, told the Los Angeles Times:

    The last time Detroit began shutting off water for unpaid bills a decade ago, Colton worked with the Michigan Poverty Law Program to develop a program that would help the water department collect money while still keeping water affordable. He found that whereas the federal Environmental Protection Agency recommends that families spend no more than 2.5 percent of their pretax income on water and sewer service, some Detroit residents were paying more than 20 percent.

    Colton argues that cities won’t get the money they want by simply shutting off services. Instead, he says, utilities should require residents to pay a percentage of their income to the water department for service.

    “If you give someone a more affordable bill, you end up collecting more of the bills,” he said.

    Taking Colton’s advice into account, Detroit’s water department implemented a program that allowed residents to start making payments on their bills even if they were thousands of dollars behind. But that program was cut during the city’s bankruptcy.

    This year the DWSD says it has a $1 million fund for residents who need help paying their water bills — money raised by voluntary contributions from customers.

    The infrastructure that was designed to keep us all hydrated is in trouble everywhere, not just Detroit.

    Detroit did most of its growing in the 30 years between 1920 and 1950 – the population nearly doubled, from 994,000 to 1,850,000 (It’s now about 685,000). This is the same time window during which much of America’s water infrastructure was being laid out: people were moving from the country to the cities, and there were generous federal subsidies that helped put those pipes in the ground.

    Other cities that put in a lot of water infrastructure during this time, like Los Angeles and Chicago, can expect to see the same problems, since everything built during that 20-year period is going to break more or less all at once. Writes the New York Times:

    The oldest cast-iron pipes, dating to the late 1800s, have an average useful life of about 120 years. For cast-iron pipes installed in the 1920s, that drops to about 100 years. And pipes put in after World War II have an average life of only around 75 years. The upshot is that all three vintages of pipe will need replacement in a short stretch of time.

    The EPA has been writing reports for years about how America’s water infrastructure is old, leaky, and generally unsafe, and how it’s going to take New Deal-style funding to get it back in shape. The bad news is that, as a country, we’re more excited about building new things than fixing old ones.

    But then there’s the good news: With so much water infrastructure across the country in need of repair, there’s real opportunity to design and experiment with systems that are better adapted for drought, heavy rainfall, sea-level rise, and the extreme weather events that climate disruption is already laying on us. While Detroit is dealing with the worst of it, these questions are ones we should all be thinking about.

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Cities, Politics
    Triple Pundit: Safeway Makes Progress Toward Environmental Goals

    Safeway, the second-largest supermarket chain in North America, is making progress toward its environmental goals, according to its sixth annual sustainability report released last week. The Pleasanton, California based chain is working to eliminate paper and plastic bags in its stores by 2015. So far, Safeway has eliminated over 300 million plastic and paper bags.

    The post Safeway Makes Progress Toward Environmental Goals appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Tragedy of the Commons: Once Upon a … Water

    We have reached a tipping point where we need to monetize and assign a dollar value to a natural resource like water -- without which we cannot survive. We live on the water planet: 75 percent of Earth’s surface is covered by water. Yet fresh water is scarce. Aristotle and other philosophers were right on the mark when they said, “What is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it!"

    The post Tragedy of the Commons: Once Upon a … Water appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Southwest Airlines Upcycles 43 Acres of Plane Interior

    Southwest Airlines' latest project-- LUV Seat: Repurpose with Purpose-- is a multi-phase sustainability program that partners with social enterprises in Nairobi, Kenya; the Republic of Malawi and the United States to produce goods that create opportunities for training and employment while preventing additional waste.

    The post Southwest Airlines Upcycles 43 Acres of Plane Interior appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Millennials and the State of Employee Engagement

    In response to employee demand, particularly from millennials, a growing number of employers are adopting an official engagement policy on sustainability. "People are realizing that these are not 'nice-to-have' programs," Susan Hunt Stevens, founder and CEO of WeSpire, told Triple Pundit. "They drive the bottom line and the top line of business."

    The post Millennials and the State of Employee Engagement appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi Weighs In on Work/Life Balance

    Recently PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi gave some frank answers to questions about work/life balance that coincide more with Anne-Marie Slaughter than Sheryl Sandberg. As in, work/life balance? At the c-suite level, there isn't any.

    The post PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi Weighs In on Work/Life Balance appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Now Google Street View is mapping gas pipeline leaks
    Google Street View car

    Some of those Google cars that drive around photographing streetscapes and embarrassing moments have captured something extra — something that should embarrass major utilities. The cars were kitted out by University of Colorado scientists with sensors that sniff out natural gas leaking from underground pipelines. These methane-heavy leaks contribute to global warming, waste money, and can fuel explosions.

    The sensor-equipped cars cruised the streets of Boston, New York’s Staten Island, and Indianapolis. They returned to sites where methane spikes were detected to confirm the presence of a leak. The results were released Wednesday by the Environmental Defense Fund, which coordinated the project, revealing just how leaky old and metallic pipelines can be, such as those used in the East Coast cities studied, particularly when compared with noncorrosive pipes like those beneath Indianapolis.

    About one leak was discovered for each mile driven in Boston, Mass.:

    Boston gas leaks

    The findings were similar in Staten Island, N.Y.:

    Staten Island gas leaks

    In Indianapolis, Ind., by contrast, about one leak was found for every 200 miles that the cars covered:

    Indianapolis gas leaks

    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Mother jailed for letting her daughter run free — at the playground

    Remember Another Bad Creation’s song, “At the Playground”?

    A more recent story that happened at the playground: A mother lets her child go to the playground by herself and goes to jail for it.

    The young girl, just 9 years old, is used to spending hours and days on the internet in McDonald’s, not only because it has free wi-fi, but because it’s where her mother works. It’s summer, and Debra Harrell can’t afford to put her daughter in daycare, because it’s McDonald’s.

    The restaurant is daycare, but on this particular day the girl wants to go to a playground, a little over a mile away. Harrell allows her, and is later charged with “unlawful conduct towards a child” for letting her go unsupervised. Her daughter goes to state custody.

    I’m really glad Jonathan Chait stepped outside of his normal political coverage at New York Magazine to draw attention to this story, which happened earlier this month, in North Augusta, S.C., where apparently it’s a crime for parents to trust their kids and their surrounding environment.

    The additional facts on this story, as presented by Lenore Skenazy over at reason, make it even more heartbreaking. Harrell had saved up to buy her daughter a laptop only for it to be stolen when their house was robbed. It wasn’t the first time her mother let her go to the playground by herself, and she gave her daughter her cellphone before sending her along.

    Chait sums it up well:

    The story is a convergence of helicopter parenting with America’s primitive family policy. Our welfare policy is designed to make everybody, even single mothers, work full-time jobs. The social safety net makes it difficult for low-wage single mothers to obtain adequate child care. And society is seized by bizarre fears that children are routinely snatched up by strangers in public places. The phenomenon is, in fact, nearly as rare as in-person voting fraud.

    I think our raged-but-false security senses and the rarity of child-snatching are worth pointing out, but there are other issues here that involve the criminalization of black women, and the ongoing, unresolved issues of public park space: Who belongs in it and under what terms.

    For the Harrell family, going to the playground is a luxury. The adults who could afford to be there that day assumed that her mother’s choice was irresponsible. Given the girl is black, they may have assumed worse: Mom’s a crackhead? Prostitute? Whatever the case, the child’s answer, that her mother was at work, was not good enough.

    The adult who snitched Harrell out made another assumption: that parenting means around-the-clock supervision of children, and anything less is uncivilized. It’s those kind of gentry values that the creators of city public park systems were trying to avoid. They wanted a safe space accessible to people of all classes and backgrounds to enjoy recreation. Instead, in too many places it’s become a place where black and brown youth are made to feel they don’t belong — and certainly not without supervision.

    But unsupervised play might be exactly what children need. In a society where everyone has cameras on their phones, tablets and computers, no one is ever really unsupervised. But I think Sarah Goodyear hit the right note on this when she discussed unmonitored kid time in the Atlantic’s Citylab:

    Traditional street play is good for kids, and fun for kids, precisely because it allows them to figure out how to use their environment in creative ways on their own, or maybe with the help of adults who are doing their own socializing on the street. Kids call the shots themselves, making a tree first base and a manhole cover second and the streetlamp third. They figure out how to make fair teams, learn which scoring systems work and which don’t. They learn which grown-ups they can count on to retrieve a lost ball, and how to knock an errant football down from the branches of a tree. They get to know each other by creating something together.

    For urban kids, this kind of self-structuring play is vital. They can’t run around in the woods, the way that kids in rural areas can. But they can learn to navigate the environment that they live in, thereby gaining mastery over it and themselves. It’s very different from the league play that has taken over the lives of many urban families in the last 20 years.

    That playground and that community make up the child’s environment, and Harrell has the right to allow her daughter to explore, discover, and make sense of that environment on her own. This is true even given that Harrell had little other option except to let her sit at a McDonald’s booth.

    Now her daughter has a whole other environment to make sense of: South Carolina’s Department of Social Services, which her mother can hopefully help her with when she gets out of jail.

    Filed under: Cities
    Gristmill: Good riddance, ocean, you were terrifying and gross anyway

    When I put a fishy face to the victims of ocean acidification, overfishing, and pollution, my brain usually goes off into Christian Riese Lassen territory. Orcas leap through the ocean at sunset. Coral reefs teem with diversity, each fish more lovely than the next. Sea turtles circling the globe? Why the heck not.

    You know what never made it into the ocean diversity art on my seventh-grade geography folder? This guy:


    Meet Bathynomus giganteus, a giant isopod who splits his time between scavenging the bottom of the ocean and waiting for you at the gates of hell. Lynne Elkins has an excellent essay on The Toast about monsters in the ocean and had this to say:

    [Giant isopods] are not the worst isopods, which honor is reserved for the parasitic isopods. Those are the ones that attach themselves to the tongues of fish, causing the tongue to wither and fall off; they then take up permanent residence in their host fish’s mouth. Some live off whatever food the fish is eating, while others drink the fish’s own blood.

    And that’s not all of the horror the ocean has to offer:

    [T]he extreme deep-sea vampire squid (whose full latin name literally means “vampire squid of Hell”) is blood-red with “limpid, globular eyes,” can release a bioluminescent mucus into the water from its “writhing arms” which blinds opponents in a crazy light show that lasts up to 10 minutes, and can, you know, turn its own body inside out. …

    [T]he spectacular misandrist anglerfish female [is] parasitized by tiny males whose bodies are absorbed onto her side, and who thereafter accesses their gonads as she sees fit. …

    The deep-sea blobfish turns into the quite-famous gooey, creepy monster blob when surfaced. The sheepshead fish has horrible, human-like teeth in its horrible monster mouth.

    Sayonara, sea. Don’t let the Great Pacific Garbage Patch hit you on the way out. What’s that you say? Discounting a critical part of our planet because of a few creepy apples is wrongheaded and silly? You’re right. But forgive me if I picture parasitic isopods instead of fun-lovin’ dolphins the next time we run a story on how bad we’re screwing up the ocean.

    Filed under: Article, Living
    Gristmill: Five reasons why kelp could be the next kale

    Eating kelp sounds gross. But even the mighty kale was once largely regarded as a leathery, bitter garnish. Look how far that leafy green has come now!

    We’re bound to tire of smothering kale in peanut butter and baking it into cookies someday. When that happens, we might turn to the oceans to satisfy our next big veggie craze. In the video above, Bren Smith, the director of Greenwave, explains why he thinks seaweed is poised to invade our plates. Here’s a few reasons:

    1. It requires no fresh water or land to grow. At the rate we’re going, we probably want to be more frugal with both these resources. Smith points out that kelp can be grown in dense sites off our coasts instead of space-hogging, water-sucking fields.

    2. It cleans up the water. Nutrient runoff from farms leads to scary things. Kelp farms can help clean up our messes – especially if they’re integrated with shellfish like mussels or oysters that also slurp up some of that nasty pollution.

    3. It sequesters carbon. Yes, all plants absorb CO2. But kelp grows so fast that scientists say seaweed farms could do a particularly good job of absorbing some of our fossil fuel emissions.

    4. It’s good for you. Vitamins! Calcium! Iodine! Everybody will love kelp once you can call it a “superfood.”

    5. It’s delicious. Or so chef David Santos wants you to believe. In any case, he’s figuring out how to noodle-it, pickle-it, and butter-it in ways that are guaranteed to make your mouth water. Penne con algae, anyone?

    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Food
    Gristmill: Vermont’s dirty secret: Free-ranging cows are crapping in the water supply

    Vermont – mention the state, and people picture the soft-focus Holsteins on Ben & Jerry’s ice cream cartons and postcard pictures of cows grazing in a hilly, pastoral heaven. And for good reason: As New England’s leading milk producer, the Green Mountain State has a huge cultural and financial investment in dairies.

    Amidst all the bovine iconography, however, here’s one image you’ll never see: Bessie pooping in the sparkling waters of Lake Champlain. But increasingly, waste from Vermont’s lightly regulated dairy farms is polluting the lake, the nation’s sixth-largest body of fresh water. It’s undermining Vermont’s tourist economy and jeopardizing drinking water supplies for a third of the state’s population.

    The damage is obvious in the murky gray-brown stains spreading at river mouths, the slimy masses of weeds choking bays, the rotten stench wafting over the sluggish water in late summer when the blue-green algae blooms.

    State officials say the biggest culprit is farm runoff, responsible for 40 percent of the phosphorus pollution in the lake as a whole and up to 70 percent in the worst-polluted sections. The phosphorus feeds out-of-control aquatic weeds and algae; at its worst, the rampant growth can strip the water of oxygen, suffocating all other life and generating toxic cyanobacteria.

    As a result, some Vermonters now say that while the dairy industry is sacrosanct in Vermont, it’s time to corral this sacred cow.

    “Here we are, the Green Mountain State, with this enormous environmental reputation that’s only partially deserved,” said Jon Erickson, interim Dean of the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont. “We haven’t really regulated our own water, one of the most critical resources we have.”

    * * *

    That Vermont would be in such a plight may come as a surprise, given its progressive reputation, from being the first of the United States to launch single-payer health care to its battle to defend the nation’s first GMO-labeling law.

    But Erickson, who produced an award-winning 2010 documentary about Lake Champlain’s woes, says Vermont is on the cutting edge this time, too: It may well become the first state to forfeit its environmental authority to the federal government.

    In 2002, the federal Environmental Protection Agency granted Vermont power to enforce the Clean Water Act within state borders in an agreement that included a pollution-management plan for Lake Champlain. That plan established a “Total Maximum Daily Load” for phosphorus. As the name suggests, a TMDL establishes legal limits on how much of a given pollutant a body of water can safely absorb. But in 2008, the public-interest Conservation Law Foundation sued the EPA, saying the TMDL was far too lenient. In response, in 2010, the EPA invalidated Vermont’s plan, essentially putting the state on probation while it comes up with new pollution-control proposals.

    For now, as federal authorities evaluate whether they need to take over, the state retains its Clean Water Act powers. But Vermont has had a tough time proving it’s serious about a cleanup. In early May, the EPA rejected the state’s proposed strategies to meet minimum Clean Water Act standards.

    Gov. Peter Shumlin tried again, promising in a May 29 letter to the EPA that his administration will make farms cleaner — especially small dairies, which until now have been largely unregulated. Still, Vermont has yet to even bar cows from creeks and rivers, or the lake itself.

    Roger Rainville of the Farmers Watershed Alliance – a leading agricultural spokesman on environmental issues — resists such a ban. “There’s a lot of wildlife in this state, and there’s a lot of things that crap in that water, not just cows,” Rainville said. “The public perception is, ‘I see that cow there. She’s causing problems.’ Well, we have to put our money where it has the biggest impact, and livestock in the water is not the biggest impact.”

    The revised lake cleanup plan accompanying Shumlin’s letter offers “strengthening of the

    livestock exclusion requirements” by early 2016. That word “requirements” is slippery: The plan describes incentive programs, such as helping farmers pay for fencing, but it never mentions any universal ban on cattle in the water. It makes little mention of enforcement on other issues, either, beyond pointing out that there’s little money to pay for it. Small farms wouldn’t have to meet whatever stricter pollution-control rules that may be developed until 2020.

    * * *

    If Vermonters can’t even impose a no-crapping-in-the-water rule, how will they ever get to the rigorous response the crisis requires?

    Chuck Ross, the state’s agriculture secretary, and David Mears, who heads the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said new farm rules aimed at reducing runoff could be modeled in part on proposals by the Conservation Law Foundation. One such recommendation calls for planting a cover crop, like rye, that would remain in the fields after the corn harvest, helping to hold the soil together and reducing erosion. Another would bar farmers from planting crops too close to riverbanks, leaving natural buffers of grass or brush to catch runoff.

    James Maroney has another solution. A New York refugee, Maroney owned Vermont’s largest organic dairy from 1986 to 1995, when a fire leveled his barn. He believes that organic farming is the salvation for Vermont’s waterways and its farmers both. He preaches his message through innumerable appearances before the state legislature, letters, op-eds, YouTube videos, and a self-published book.

    Maroney says only organic, pasture-based farming – which commands higher milk prices — offers an economically viable alternative to the dominant Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) model, which involves ever larger herds, kept in barns and fed on phosphorus-fertilized corn and grain planted on the state’s most highly erodible floodplains or imported from the Midwest.

    James Ehlers, executive director of the environmental nonprofit Lake Champlain International, advocates buying out fields that are pollutant sources and turning them to other uses, possibly agriculture that doesn’t require as much fertilizer, or leave the soil as open to erosion, as corn. He admits it’s “not an easy political sell.”

    Ehlers says there’s already technology to take advantage of the nutrients that are growing toxic algae in Lake Champlain. He cites one company that has developed a “floating island” system, using microfiber mats that can support water-borne meadows. Ehlers wants to find out whether they could be used to grow cattle feed while soaking up phosphorous from the grievously polluted Missisquoi Bay.

    Such plans have no part in Vermont officials’ proposed solutions to the lake’s contamination, however. And as the EPA considers whether to accept the state’s newest proposals, environmentalists and farmers, both, are getting fed up with the bureaucratic back-and-forth.

    Christopher Kilian, the Conservation Law Foundation’s Vermont director, says his group’s proposals for cover crops and stream buffers are only a start, and should have been required 20 years ago. He believes it’s time to impose harsher penalties on polluters.

    “The main way we’ve regulated the dairy industry in this state has been the carrot approach, to give payments for planting trees or changing practices,” Kilian said. “We need a stick.”

    Rainville, the environmentalist farmer, says some clear direction would be a better place tostart. For decades, he says, government advisors pushed nitrogen as the dairies’ best friend. Now, he and his neighbors are trying to comply with new directives like restrictions on spreading manure on fields in the winter when the frozen soil can’t absorb the waste. They’ve already tried CLF’s cover cropping suggestions, with mixed results. Vermont’s growing season is so short, it’s hard for the secondary plantings to take hold, Rainville said.

    “We as farmers are saying, ‘What the hell do you want us to? We’re listening to what you’re telling us. You get it right and we’ll get it right,’” he said.

    Federal regulators are reviewing the governor’s newest proposal. There’s no hard deadline for them to accept or reject it. Meanwhile, the lake’s nutrient counts just keep going up.

    Filed under: Article, Food
    Gristmill: Lay off the almond milk, you ignorant hipsters

    Almonds are a precious foodstuff: a crunchy jolt of complete protein, healthful fats, vitamins and minerals, and deliciousness. Given their rather intense ecological footprint – see here – we should probably consider them a delicacy, a special treat. That’s why I think it’s deeply weird to pulverize away their crunch, drown them in water, and send them out to the world in a gazillion little cartons. What’s the point of almond milk, exactly?

    Evidently, I’m out of step with the times on this one. “Plant-based milk” behemoth White Wave reports that its first-quarter sales of almond milk were up 50 percent from the same period in 2013. In an earnings call with investors in May, reported by FoodNavigator, CEO Greg Engles revealed that almond milk now makes up about two-thirds of the plant-based milk market in the United States, easily trumping soy milk (30 percent) and rice and coconut milks (most of the rest).

    Dairy is still king, of course, comprising 90 percent of the “milk” market. But as our consumption of it dwindles – down from 0.9 cups per person per day in 1970 to about 0.6 in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture – plant-based alternatives are gaining ground. Bloomberg Businessweek reports that sales of alternative milks hit $1.4 billion in 2013 and are expected to hit $1.7 billion by 2016, with almond milk leading that growth.

    Now, I get why people are switching away from dairy milk. Industrial-scale dairy production is a pretty nasty business, and large swaths of adults can’t digest lactose, a sugar found in fresh dairy milk. Meanwhile, milk has become knit into our dietary culture, particularly at breakfast, where we cling to a generations-old tradition of drenching cereal in milk. Almond milk and other substitutes offer a way to maintain this practice while rejecting dairy. (Almond milk has been crushing once-ubiquitous soy milk, perhaps partly because of hotly contested fears that it creates hormonal imbalances.)

    All that aside, almond milk strikes me as an abuse of a great foodstuff. Plain almonds are a nutritional powerhouse. Let’s compare a standard serving (one ounce, about a handful) to the 48-ounce bottle of Califia Farms almond milk that a house guest recently left behind in my fridge.

    Tom Philpott

    A single ounce (28 grams) of almonds – nutrition info here – contains six grams of protein (about an egg’s worth), along with three grams of fiber (a medium banana), and 12 grams of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (half an avocado). According to its label, an eight-ounce serving of Califia almond milk offers just one gram each of protein and fiber, and five grams of fat. A bottle of Califia delivers six eight-ounce servings, meaning that a handful of almonds contains as much protein as the mighty jug of this hot-selling beverage.

    What this tells you is that the almond-milk industry is selling you a jug of filtered water clouded by a handful of ground almonds. Which leads us to the question of price and profit. The almonds in the photo above are organic, and sold in bulk at my local HEB supermarket for $11.99 per pound; this one-ounce serving set me back about 66 cents. I could have bought nonorganic California almonds for $6.49 per pound, about 39 cents per ounce. That container of Califia, which contains roughly the same number of nonorganic almonds, retails for $3.99.

    Click here for more comparisons.
    Mother Jones
    Click here for more comparisons.

    The water-intensive nature of almond milk, of course, is no secret. By law, food manufacturers have to name ingredients in order of their prevalence in the product. For Califia and other almond milk brands, it starts like this: “filtered water, almonds.” Given that it takes 1.1 gallons of water to grow a single almond in California, where 80 percent of the world’s almonds are produced, drenching the finished product in yet more water seems insane.

    Califia does make a couple of splashy nutritional claims: “50% more calcium than milk,” the bottle declares, and “50% RDI of Vitamin E.” Almonds are a great source of these vital nutrients, but not that great. Our ounce of whole almonds contains 74 mg of calcium vs. 290 mg for a cup of whole milk, and seven mg of vitamin E, about 37 percent of the recommended daily intake.

    How does Califia’s beverage manage to outdo straight almonds on calcium and vitamin E when it lags so far behind on protein and fat? Again, the answer lies in the ingredients list, which reveals the addition of a “vitamin/mineral blend.” All fine and well, but if you’re interested in added nutrients, why not just pop a vitamin pill?

    Moreover, almond milk isn’t just a few nuts packaged with lots of water. It often contains additives. For example, in addition to vitamins, the Califia product, like many of its rivals, contains small amounts of carrageenan, a seaweed derivative commonly used as a stabilizer in beverages. Academic scientists in Chicago have raised concerns that it might cause gastrointestinal inflammation.

    I’m not saying your almond milk habit is destroying the planet or ruining your health, or that you should immediately go cold turkey. I just want people to know what they’re paying for when they shell our for it. As for me, when I want something delicious to moisten my granola or add substance to a smoothie, I go for organic kefir, a fermented milk product that’s packed with protein, calcium, and beneficial microbes. Added bonus: According to the label, it’s lactose-free – apparently, the kefir microbes transform the lactose during the fermentation process.

    The industry, meanwhile, aims to take its lucrative almond milk model on the road. FoodNavigator reports that White Wave is setting up a joint venture to market its plant-based milks in almond-crazy China.

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

    Filed under: Business & Technology, Food
    Gristmill: Here’s how Obama is preparing the country for climate change
    Obama in the rain

    The good news is that President Barack Obama wants the nation to do a better job of bracing itself for the wild changes afoot in the weather. The better news it that he realizes that bolstering infrastructure and reimagining how we design our cities and electrical grids are among the best ways of doing that.

    “Working together, we can take some common-sense steps to make sure that America’s infrastructure is safer, stronger and more resilient for future generations,” Obama said on Wednesday. Here are some of the steps his administration is taking:

    • A nearly $1 billion competition, announced last month, will provide funds to help communities recover and rebuild following disasters. Technical details of the competition were outlined on Wednesday, indicating that many of the 67 communities affected by recent disasters could receive funds to support risk assessment and planning efforts. A smaller number of those communities will be selected to receive additional money to design and implement novel ideas for minimizing future risks.
    • The Department of Interior will spend $10 million on a training program that will help tribes prepare for climate change.
    • The Department of Agriculture announced $236 million worth of funding to improve rural electric infrastructure using smart grid technology in eight states.
    • A 3-D mapping program will be developed to help identify and manage risks of flooding, storm surges, landslides, coastal erosion, and water supply shortfalls. The program will be funded with $13.1 million.
    • FEMA has established a task force to figure out ways of better protecting disaster-affected communities from future disasters.
    • FEMA will release guidelines that call on states to consider climate variability in planning efforts.
    • Houston, Colorado, NASA’s Johnson Space Flight Center, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory will work together on pilot projects geared toward preparing for climate change.
    • NOAA is making changes that will require greater consideration of climate change in the management of coastal areas.
    • At least 25 communities will receive EPA funding to help them use urban forests and rooftop gardens to better manage stormwater.
    • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines that will help public health departments assess local health risks associated with climate change.

    Kenneth Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, told The Washington Post that state and local officials are beginning to calculate how much it will cost to prepare for more intense and frequent storms, rising seas, and changing temperatures. “People are scared,” he said. “They’re just starting to put a price tag on how much it costs to adapt, and they’re going to need help from Washington.” At least that help is starting to come.

    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: California farms are sucking up enough groundwater to put Rhode Island 17 feet under

    California, the producer of nearly half of the nation’s fruits, veggies, and nuts, plus export crops – four-fifths of the world’s almonds, for example – is entering its third driest year on record. Nearly 80 percent of the state is experiencing “extreme” or “exceptional” drought. In addition to affecting agricultural production the drought will cost the state billions of dollars, thousands of jobs, and a whole lot of groundwater, according to a new report prepared for the California Department of Food and Agriculture by scientists at UC-Davis. The authors used current water data, agricultural models, satellite data, and other methods to predict the economic and environmental toll of the drought through 2016.

    Here are four key takeaways:

    • The drought will cost the state $2.2 billion this year: Of these losses, $810 million will come from lower crop revenues, $203 million will come from livestock and dairy losses, and $454 million will come from the cost of pumping additional groundwater. Up to 17,100 seasonal and part-time jobs will be lost.
    • California is experiencing the “greatest absolute reduction in water availability” ever seen: In a normal year, about one-third of California’s irrigation water is drawn from wells that tap into the groundwater supply. The rest is “surface water” from streams, rivers, and reservoirs. This year, the state is losing about one-third of its surface water supply. The hardest hit area is the Central Valley, a normally fertile inland region. Because groundwater isn’t as easily pumped in the Valley as it is on the coasts, and the Colorado River supplies aren’t as accessible as they are in the south, the Valley has lost 410,000 acres to fallowing, an area about 10 times the size of Washington, D.C.
    • Farmers are pumping enough groundwater to immerse Rhode Island in 17 feet of it: To make up for the loss of surface water, farmers are pumping 62 percent more groundwater than usual. They are projected to pump 13 million acre-feet this year, enough to put Rhode Island 17 feet under.
    • “We’re acting like the super-rich”: California is technically in its third year of drought, and regardless of the effects of El Niño, 2015 is likely to be a dry year too. As the dry years accumulate, it becomes harder and harder to pump water from the ground, adding to the crop and revenue losses. California is the only western state without groundwater regulation or measurement of major groundwater use. If you can drill down to water, it’s all yours. (Journalist McKenzie Funk describes this arcane system in an excerpt from his fascinating recent book, Windfall.) “A well-managed basin is used like a reserve bank account,” said Richard Howitt, a UC-Davis water scientist and co-author of the report. “We’re acting like the super-rich, who have so much money they don’t need to balance their checkbook.”

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

    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Food
    Gristmill: A Tesla for the rest of us? Elon Musk dishes on the new, cheaper model
    tesla cars factory

    One of the knocks against Tesla (besides the slight chance of the automaker’s cars going up in flames) is that the sexy zero-emission rides are darn expensive. Case in point: The much ballyhooed Model S starts at $69,900.

    But a more affordable Tesla is on the way. CEO Elon Musk recently announced that a new model, called the 3, will start at around $35,000. The 3 is set to be on sale by 2017.

    Here are some additional details, via an exclusive with U.K. car mag Auto Express:

    The new car is rumoured to be about 20% smaller than the Model S and our image shows how it could look. Key to the new model, which Musk said should retail for around $35,000 (likely to equate to around £30,000 in the UK), is cheaper battery technology made possible by Tesla’s forthcoming Gigafactory.

    Yes, $35K is still steep, but a 50 percent price drop from the S to the 3 — in just three years — bodes well for even more cost-friendly iterations down the line.

    Honk if you like that idea.

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology
    Gristmill: Houston’s one-bin-to-rule-them-all recycling plan smells a little like racism

    Integration is a good thing, except when it comes to trash, says Melanie Scruggs, the Houston-based program director for Texas Campaign for the Environment. Scruggs’ organization is part of the Zero Waste Houston Coalition, which is campaigning against the city government’s new “One Bin for All” proposal, which would have residents place their garbage and recyclables in the same trash can for collection, to be separated by workers later.

    This idea, funded with a milli from Bloomberg Philanthropies, is different than your run-of-the-mill recycling separation factories. Those “materials recovery facilities,” as they’re called, separate recyclables from one another — your glass from your plastic, for example — as our columnist, Umbra Fisk, has explained. No, this plan would allow you to toss out the leftover scraps from the hotbar in the same container it came in, along with the snotty tissues, the jammed-up glass, and the nasty plastic altogether, to be unyoked later at facilities that the Zero Waste Coalition call “dirty materials recovery facilities” — or “Dirty MRFs” for short.

    The “One Bin” plan sprang from the city’s Office of Sustainability. Despite declaring itself a green city, Houston’s recycling rates were running around 14 percent; compare that to San Francisco, which has managed to recycle 80 percent of its waste. The One Bin plan aims to bump Houston’s recycling rate up to 75 percent.

    But the plan arises at the same time that Houston Mayor Annise Parker committed last October to expanding recycling bins distribution throughout the city. Before that, fewer than half of the city’s neighborhoods had the bins. That move was applauded by environmentalists around the city. But they’re now scratching their heads about how city-wide recycling bins will co-exist with a one bin fits all strategy, and are doubtful about the landfill diversion goals.

    “No other facility like this has ever achieved anything close to what our recycling goals are in Houston — and most have been outright disasters,” Scruggs said in a press statement earlier this month. “City officials have set a 75 percent recycling goal for this proposal, but when we researched similar facilities, none have ever exceeded 30 percent. It’s been shown over and over that real, successful recycling will never be possible if the city tells residents to mix their garbage with recyclable materials in the same bin.”

    You can read about the coalition’s research in the report “It’s Smarter to Separate” (not to be confused with a Stormfront post). The report not only takes aim at the “one bin” approach, but also another part of the plan, which would incinerate some of the garbage and convert it into fuel. It’s the same “waste-to-energy” experiment that’s been attempted and halted in Baltimore, and cancelled in New Orleans. The coalition also points to an Energy Information Administration report that figures this kind of energy production is more expensive than producing energy from nuclear sources, leading the coalition to the conclusion that “waste to energy is a waste of energy.”

    The coalition also senses a whiff of environmental racism in this deal. The areas slated for Dirty MRFers fall mostly in black or Latino communities — which is a shame, as Houston is one of the most racially diverse cities — and now the city has an environmental justice issue on its hands.

    This is why the Houston branch of the NAACP is involved, as is the pioneering environmental justice scholar Robert Bullard, whose first research study in 1979 was on the siting of waste incinerators and garbage transfer stations in Houston’s black neighborhoods. The study was ammunition for a lawsuit against the city for the permitting of a waste facility in a black community that the residents did not want, and it’s considered a major jump-off point for the environmental justice movement.

    Here they are almost 40 years later still fighting the same battle — against using black and brown neighborhoods as garbage projects.


    “Bad proposals like incinerators and landfills have a way of uniting communities against a known threat to their health and safety, not to mention the safety of the workers in the facility who would be sorting through Houston’s trash,” said Bryan Parras of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (T.E.J.A.S), a member of the Zero Waste Houston coalition.

    The worker issue Parras references is a nasty proposition alone. The report provides a few anecdotes from workers who toil in similar facilities in other cities. This particular one comes from a worker in a Chicago trash separation plant … ugh:

    “There are so many smells that you come across, they make your stomach queasy. Yet before we went to work, they showed us a safety film where all the stuff was really clean… They told us that it was going to be a clean environment. They said fresh air was going to be pumped through there every 15 minutes, so it wouldn’t smell, and stuff like that, but it wasn’t. It was a little different than they had described it. One time they had a dead dog… go through there. There was all garbage, you know (not just recyclables). At first we thought they were only talking about plastic bottles and cans going through there. But that was plain garbage, everything, you know? Dirty diapers, cleaning products, stuff like that.”

    I can’t remind us enough that Martin Luther King’s last campaign was for improving the conditions of sanitation workers in Memphis — a campaign that Bullard says serves as the true genesis of the environmental justice movement.

    Given Houston’s “One Bid” plan is a public-private partnership, it could displace a number of city employees, said Scruggs. Not to mention, the city is offering around $100 million of its own money in tax incentives if it passes (it’s still at the bidding phase and the city council would have to approve the contract). I can only think of the city I grew up in, Harrisburg, Pa., that went bankrupt for wheeling and dealing with a similar incinerator scheme. Detroit, meanwhile, owes much of its bankruptcy to an incinerator project also.

    If that ain’t all bad enough, these plans can be ruinous for climate. The report cites an EPA study stating that “36.7 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions produced in the U.S. are produced by the materials production, consumption, and disposal cycle.”

    There are no easy answers when it comes to our waste disposal. The most ideal is to find ways to consume less, and dispose of less waste, through composting, reuse, recycling, remixing and any other re-[x]-ing you can think of.

    I can see how a one-bin-fits-all plan would appeal to the laziness in us — but Scruggs says she has 20,000 signatures from Houston residents that says otherwise. They want to keep their reusable trash apart from the disposable. I can see how incineration helps solve the landfill problem, but if it worsens the climate and environmental implications of waste management, then it seems like a wash. Justice is not disposable and need not be separated from the equation.

    Filed under: Article, Cities, Climate & Energy, Living
    Triple Pundit: New Trend: Climate Optimists Say Climate Change Won’t Be So Bad

    Accepting that climate change is happening but putting a positive spin on the consequences is a growing view in the climate skeptic camp, Slate reports. And this new “climate optimism” was on full display at the last week’s 9th International Conference on Climate Change, billed as an “International Gathering of Scientists Skeptical of Man-Caused Global Warming.”

    The post New Trend: Climate Optimists Say Climate Change Won’t Be So Bad appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Clean Tech Leadership Index Ranks States and Cities

    This week Clean Edge released its 2014 Clean Tech Leadership Index, which tracks clean technology progress in all 50 states, as well as the top 50 metropolitan areas in the U.S.

    The post Clean Tech Leadership Index Ranks States and Cities appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: In Iowa, solar is fighting back against utilities and winning

    Last week, I wrote about the pushback that solar is getting from utility companies, who fear it will cut into their profits and break their monopolies. (The predictions in certain corners of the business world that solar is coming to “take their lunch” isn’t helping either.)

    But there’s another story – which is that solar is fighting back and winning. The most recent evidence is a decision last week in Iowa’s Supreme Court, that has big implications for solar, both in the Midwest and elsewhere.

    The case started this way: back in the summer of 2011, a company named Eagle Point began installing solar panels on the roof of a municipal services building in Dubuque, Iowa. The two had entered into a deal called a Purchase Power Agreement (PPA), under which Eagle Point would install and maintain the panels in exchange for use of the municipal building’s nice sunny roof and first dibs on the chance to sell any electricity generated by the panels to the building’s occupants.

    As corn has noticed, Iowa is a place that gets a lot of sun, especially in the summertime. The Iowa Environmental Council estimates that the state could supply about 20 percent of its current energy needs through rooftop solar installations.

    PPAs are popular lately because, like leasing solar panels, they require little or no down payment.  Since you’re buying the electricity, though, rather than access to the panels, the PPA installer is responsible for maintaining and fixing them. To a utility, that looks a lot like someone trying to be a utility, whether or not they are calling themselves that, which is where Interstate Power and Light Company (IPL) came in.

    IPL, the local utility, noticed the solar panels going up, and promptly complained to the Dubuque City Council. The local utility board agreed with IPL in March 2012, but Eagle Point appealed, and in April of last year, the Polk County District Court overturned the utility board’s decision, partly because, as the ruling put it, “The customer will still be connected to the grid, will still be an IPL customer, and must continue to purchase energy and capacity from IPL. Eagle Point is neither attempting to replace or sever the link between IPL and the city. it is simply allowing the city to decrease its demand for electricity from the grid.” In other words, the solar panels weren’t any more illegal than an energy-efficient appliance would be.

    This time, IPL appealed. The case went to the Iowa Supreme Court, which ruled on July 11 — 4-2, with one abstention — that Eagle Point, indeed, had the right to install solar panels anywhere it liked in Iowa.

    “There is simply nothing in the record to suggest that Eagle Point is a 600-pound gorilla that has cornered defenseless city leaders in Dubuque,” the ruling read. “Eagle Point is not providing electricity to a grid that all may plug into to power their devices and associated ‘aps’ [sic], or, more prosaically, their ovens, refrigerators, and lights. Eagle Point is providing a customized service to individual customers.”

    IPL was, understandably, bummed. It had, it reported,  lost nearly 600,000 kilowatt hours in sales to Dubuque since the solar panels were turned on in 2012. “We have a financing model that hasn’t changed,” said spokesman Justin Foss, a spokesman for IPC’s parent company, Alliant. “If nobody’s buying energy, in the middle of the night, there’s no one to pay for the power plant.”

    Counting Iowa, that makes 23 states now where PPAs are legal, and the Iowa ruling is strong enough that it’s expected to have an effect on the status of PPAs in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and other sections of the Midwest where they currently operate in a legal gray area.

    It is possible that PPAs will get to the point where they are directly competing with utilities. By their nature, they create an incentive for companies like Eagle Point to seek out anyone with a flat, sunny roof, and strike a deal with them to install panels there — not because it’s inherently noble, but because it’s going to bring them the cheddar.

    But there’s no reason that they couldn’t strike a deal to sell to utilities some day either, the same way that coal, gas, and oil companies do now. The first utilities that figure out how to do business with solar providers, instead of suing them, could be doing pretty well for themselves in the future.

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
    Triple Pundit: Twitter Chat TODAY: Transforming Transportation with GM – #GMCSR

    Please join TriplePundit & CSRWire for an hour long conversation at #GMCSR via Twitter to get to the heart of GM’s latest progress. We will discuss how GM is helping transform transportation in the 21st century.

    The post Twitter Chat TODAY: Transforming Transportation with GM – #GMCSR appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Sustainable Packaging: The New Product Differentiator?

    Sustainable packaging has come a long way over a generation, and is now becoming a product differentiator and means for a company to enhance its brand and reputation.

    The post Sustainable Packaging: The New Product Differentiator? appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Fortune: Female-Led Businesses Beat the Stock Market, But Their Numbers Remain Low

    Companies with female CEOs and/or women on their boards on average consistently outperform companies without women in the c-suite, yet the number of women in these positions remains very low.

    The post Fortune: Female-Led Businesses Beat the Stock Market, But Their Numbers Remain Low appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Wasting water in California will now cost you $500
    water wasting

    Here’s a list of things that could now get you fined up to $500 a day in California, where a multi-year drought is sucking reservoirs and snowpacks dry:

    • Spraying so much water on your lawn or garden that excess water flows onto non-planted areas, walkways, parking lots, or neighboring property.
    • Washing your car with a hose that doesn’t have an automatic shut-off device.
    • Spraying water on a driveway, a sidewalk, asphalt, or any other hard surface.
    • Using fresh water in a water fountain — unless the water recirculates.

    Those stern emergency regulations were adopted Tuesday by a unanimous vote of the State Water Resources Control Board – part of an effort to crack down on the profligate use of water during critically lean times.

    California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) asked the state’s residents to voluntarily conserve water in January, but they didn’t. Rather, as the San Jose Mercury News reports, “a new state survey released Tuesday showed that water use in May rose by 1 percent this year, compared with a 2011-2013 May average.”

    Californians use more water on their gardens and lawns than they use inside their homes, as shown in the following chart from a document prepared for the board members ahead of Tuesday’s vote. So the new rules focus on outdoor use.


    Extreme drought is now affecting 80 percent of the Golden State. Some 400,000 acres of farmland could be fallowed due to water shortages, and water customers in the hardest-hit communities are having their daily water supplies capped at less than 50 gallons per person.

    The California Landscape Contractors Association sees an upside, though. It expects that the threats of fines could convince Californians to hire its members to replace thirsty nonnative plants in their gardens with drought-hardy alternatives. “If the runoff prohibition is enforced at the local level, we expect it to result in a multitude of landscape retrofits in the coming months,” association executive Larry Rohlfes told the water board in a letter dated Monday, one of a large stack of letters sent by various groups and residents in support of the new rules. “The water efficient landscapes that result will help the state’s long-term conservation efforts — in addition to helping the state deal with a hopefully short-term drought emergency.”

    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Living
    Triple Pundit: ‘Give Back Box’ Turns Old Shipping Boxes Into Charitable Donations

    What if you could take your old shipping boxes from online retailers and – instead of tossing them into the recycling or garbage – pack them with clothes and household goods you no longer need, and send them to charities? That’s the idea behind Give Back Box, a startup inspired by a homeless man holding a sign that said, "I need shoes."

    The post ‘Give Back Box’ Turns Old Shipping Boxes Into Charitable Donations appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Eden Foods Endures Customer Backlash for Birth Control Stance

    Eden Foods' owner, Michael Potter, is hoping that the Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court will mean he won't have to pay for contraceptive coverage for his employees. But while he's rallying for change, another battle is taking place in health food stores, where customers are returning his products and pressuring retailers to drop Eden Foods products.

    The post Eden Foods Endures Customer Backlash for Birth Control Stance appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Governor Christie Pulls New Jersey Out of Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative

    RGGI - the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative - is the first market-based regulatory program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The program has proven to be a revenue generator in its first six years, but Gov. Chris Christie seems to have other ideas for New Jersey.

    The post Governor Christie Pulls New Jersey Out of Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Sean Parker backs San Francisco’s “cars first” measure, twirls moustache

    Okay, Sean Parker. I don’t really mind if you have a Live Action Role Playing wedding in the redwoods, since you paid to clean it up. I don’t care if you invest in tobacco marketed to kids. And it’s none of my business which conservative politicians you support. But it does tick me off that you’re putting your shoulder behind this cockamamie ballot measure to make San Francisco more car-friendly.

    Of course it bothers me because, in my experience of San Francisco, making things more car-friendly always means making things less human-friendly. I tend to side with the humans. And on the other side, every time the city has taken freeways or parking lots and instead dedicated them to cyclists, pedestrians, or transit, it has made things easier, faster, and safer.

    We could have a reasonable debate about all that. But the thing that really gets me is that the movement you are supporting is organized around opposition to parking meters. Simply having free parking on streets where there is an overabundance of cars creates a classic tragedy of the commons scenario. San Francisco has been on the cutting edge using technology and the market to find solutions. Ask your conservative friends — it actually works!.

    I thought that’s what you were all about — disrupting stodgy conventions with actual solutions. So I’m bummed that you are acting like an old grump who can’t imagine life without a parking space.

    I do understand that you are defending your ancestral heritage, from those proud days of yore, when the parallel and valet skills of the Parker family were the stuff of legend. But, sad as it may seem, the future will be brighter in cities so walkable that parkers are rendered irrelevant.

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Cities
    Gristmill: Nestlé doesn’t want you to know how much water it’s bottling from the California desert

    Nestlé may bring smiles to the faces of children across America through cookies and chocolate milk. But when it comes to water, the company starts to look a little less wholesome. Amid California’s historically grim drought, Nestlé is sucking up an undisclosed amount of precious groundwater from a desert area near Palm Springs and carting it off in plastic bottles for its Arrowhead and Pure Life brands.

    The Desert Sun reports that because Nestlé’s water plant in Millard Canyon, Calif., is located on the Morongo Band of Mission Indians’ reservation, the company is exempt from reporting things like how much groundwater it’s pumping, or the water levels in its wells.

    From The Desert Sun:

    The plant … has been drawing water from wells alongside a spring in Millard Canyon for more than a decade. But as California’s drought deepens, some people in the area question how much water the plant is bottling and whether it’s right to sell water for profit in a desert region where springs are rare and underground aquifers have been declining.

    “The reason this particular plant is of special concern is precisely because water is so scarce in the basin,” Peter Gleick, who wrote the book on bottled water, told The Desert Sun. “If you had the same bottling plant in a water-rich area, then the amount of water bottled and diverted would be a small fraction of the total water available. But this is a desert ecosystem. Surface water in the desert is exceedingly rare and has a much higher environmental value than the same amount of water somewhere else.”

    Nestlé refused to let The Desert Sun in on any of its data, but defended itself via email: “We proudly conduct our business in an environmentally responsible manner that focuses on water and energy conservation,” the company said. “Our sustainable operations are specifically designed and managed to prevent adverse impacts to local area groundwater resources, particularly in light of California’s drought conditions over the past three years.”

    Well, we all know that bottled water is widely known to be environmentally responsible and sustainable. Oh, wait, did I just say that? Nestlé, you got some ‘splainin’ to do!

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: You know what this threatened Florida forest needs? A Walmart and a Chick-fil-A

    Walmart is all about convenience, which is probably why the company is building its new Miami-Dade store on 125 acres of Florida’s dwindling pine rockland: There are currently about 2,900 acres of pine rockland left outside of the Everglades, and Walmart’s new store will make choosing a home about 5 percent easier for the many imperiled species that live only in these shrinking forests. Thanks, Walmart!

    Jenny Staletovich at the Miami Herald has more on this developing story:

    About 88 acres of rockland, a globally imperiled habitat containing a menagerie of plants, animals and insects found no place else, was sold this month by the University of Miami to a Palm Beach County developer. To secure permission for the 158,000-square-foot box store, plus an LA Fitness center, Chick-fil-A and Chili’s restaurants and about 900 apartments, the university and the developer, Ram, agreed to set aside 40 acres for a preserve.

    Ram also plans to develop 35 adjacent acres still owned by the university.

    But with less than 2 percent of the vast savanna that once covered South Florida’s spiny ridge remaining, the deal has left environmentalists and biologists scratching their heads.

    “You wonder how things end up being endangered? This is how. This is bad policy and bad enforcement. And shame on UM,” said attorney Dennis Olle, a board member of Tropical Audubon and the North American Butterfly Association, who wrote to Florida’s lead federal wildlife agent Friday demanding an investigation.

    Times are tough for Florida wildlife. A 2002 study estimated only about 23 percent of the state’s native plants were safe. Forty plant species grow only in the rockland. The rockland also provides habitat for numerous threatened and endangered animal species, including the indigo snake and Florida bonneted bat.

    But it’s hard to fault the University of Miami for selling the land instead of protecting it. Providing top tier educational opportunities is expensive, and sometimes, if you want to make an education omelet, you’ve got to break a couple of eggs — in this case, soon-to-be-officially-endangered bertram’s hairstreak butterfly eggs.

    Really, it’s kind of an egalitarian move for Walmart. Normally, the company sticks to destroying human culture, history, and economies, so it’s nice of it to branch out from its typical anthropic obliteration and its attempts to kill Tracy Morgan, and eradicate some non-human beings.

    There are still hopes that the land can be preserved, but in the meantime I’ll just let this picture tell you my last 1,000 words.

    Filed under: Business & Technology
    Gristmill: Now that you don’t care about soccer, here’s how you can recycle your World Cup gear

    The World Cup is a wrap, which means it’s that quadrennial time for most of us Americans to stop caring about soccer. But before you ditch your impulse-buy Neymar jersey, peep the above parody video from the UCB comedy troupe. “World Cup Recycling” is a hilarious take on repurposing all the trendy soccer items Americans copped during Cupmania — and probably won’t use again for the foreseeable future.

    And who knows, maybe 2014 will finally be the World Cup that turns more Americans into everyday soccer fans: According to ESPN, U.S. viewership on the sports network doubled between 2006 and 2014.

    Anyone want to kick the brazuca around?

    Filed under: Article, Living
    Gristmill: This cute solar puppy needs a name. Won’t you help?

    Everybody knows solar farms need solar sheep, but did you know solar sheep need solar dogs? And apparently, those solar dogs need solar names. That’s where you come in.

    CPS Energy, the Texas utility that uses sheep to cut the grass on its solar farm so technicians can access the panels, is letting people vote on the name for its latest ecofriendly herding dog. Which makes sense: Since CPS is owned by the city of San Antonio, the pooch kind of belongs to the whole town.

    A list of fine names have been provided, though I’d have trouble voting for Sunny or Crockett if they don’t also include a Tubbs. I suggested Jim Meyer since my wife won’t let me have a junior and the dog kinda has my smile, but you’re free to crush my dreams and write in your own suggestion.

    Follow this link to name the mutt.

    Filed under: Business & Technology
    Gristmill: Corporate polluters are almost never prosecuted for their crimes
    corporate polluter

    If you committed a crime in full view of a police officer, you could expect to be arrested — particularly if you persisted in your criminality after being told to cut it out, and if your crime were hurting the people around you.

    But the same is not true for those other “people” who inhabit the U.S.: corporations. Polluting companies commit their crimes with aplomb. An investigation by the Crime Report, a nonprofit focused on criminal justice issues, has revealed the sickening levels of environmental criminality that BP, Mobil, Tyson Fresh, and other huge companies can sink to without fear of meaningful prosecution:

    More than 64,000 facilities are currently listed in [EPA] databases as being in violation of federal environmental laws, but in most years, fewer than one-half of one percent of violations trigger criminal investigations, according to EPA records. …

    In fiscal year 2013, the EPA’s Criminal Enforcement Division launched 297 investigations. In 2012, 320 investigations were opened; the total has steadily decreased since 2001.

    In response to questions emailed to the EPA, Jennifer Colaizzi, an agency spokesperson, said the decline in cases is due to a decision to focus on “high impact cases,” as well as financial strains.

    “The reality of budget cuts and staffing reductions make hard choices necessary across the board,” Colaizzi said.

    With just 38 prosecutors manning the DOJ’s Environmental Crimes Section and 200 agents in the EPA’s Criminal Enforcement Division, monitoring cases across the country, the federal government has limited capacity to pursue many of America’s worst environmental offenders.

    Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in Appalachia, where a seemingly endless parade of civil settlements and consent decrees has done little to abate a history of environmental malfeasance.

    The group compiled a database and map that let you see what harm polluters are doing in your neighborhood, in full view of authorities. Click here to check it out.

    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: As Arctic sea ice melts, polar bears eat less surf, more turf
    polar bear

    The Polar Press, the leading polar bear paper, recently ran this uplifting headline: “Ice-starved polar bears find finless food far from flows.”

    In related news, the Daily Caribou News Gazette, the paper of record for arctic ungulates, had this tragic headline: “Ice-starved polar bears find finless food far from flows. RUN!”

    Also on arctic news stands this week, the Seal and Sea Lion Standard, the largest weekly news magazine amongst pinnipeds and similar semi-terrestrial sea mammals, led with: “Top 10 recipes for cooking caribou.” It was the most popular cover since last year’s fashion issue, headlined, “Gortex: Inuit. Sealskins: Outuit.”

    Wise-cracking aside, it turns out receding ice may not spell doom for polar bears. Scientists have long thought that the bears spent the summer months living predominantly on fat reserves from the winter seal season, when they hunt on the sea ice. Linda Gormezano, an ecologist with the American Museum of Natural History, has presented new evidence showing polar bears are adapting successfully to longer summers on land by eating caribou, geese, and goose eggs.

    Douglas Fischer, at the human news site, the Daily Climate, has more. (Fischer, incidentally, is capable of typing phrases like, “a closer look at bear scat,” without making any of the thousands of jokes bouncing off of the inside of my skull right now, which is why he’s a real science writer.)

    “Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few decades, you’re aware that Arctic Sea ice is melting, and that this is potentially bad news for polar bears,” [Gormezano] said, adding that until now, the prevailing belief has been that “energy from food on land is largely inconsequential.”

    A closer look at bear scat and the sheer number of calories available to bears on land suggest a different picture: “There is enough food,” Gormezano said. “And they eat it.”

    This news is huge. Previous studies had estimated the extended landlocked season could have meant a loss of 28 percent of the polar bear population. Climate change has already caused a massive reduction in arctic sea ice and, as a result, polar bears are spending about 3 more weeks on land each year than they did in the 1980s. At the speed arctic ice is disappearing, adult male bears could be spending half their year on land by 2050. Now we know that at least they can find food there.

    Gormezano’s good news did come with a caveat, however. Polar bears are extremely skilled and, for lack of a better word, lazy seal hunters: The bears lounge on ice flows waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting seal. They may have to work harder to catch caribou and geese, however. If they expend more energy hunting than they take in with a kill, the news could still be bad for bears.

    We humans have mastered the art/horror of obtaining massive volumes of calories while expending little to no physical energy, so perhaps we could give the bears a tip or two. Adult polar bears who’ve exhausted their fat stores need 4,500 calories a day to survive, which works out to about 10 delicious Fillet O’Fish sandwiches, a large order of fries, and a 16-ounce Coca Cola (which apparently already makes up a significant portion of their diets).

    Of course, as bears wear neither shirts no shoes, they’ll need to use the drive-through, so they’ll probably need to get cars like the rest of us. On the flip side, I’m guessing caribou will be reducing their carbon footprint.

    So possibly good news for polar bears. Sadly, things still look rough for another iconic species caught in the climate change-cross-hairs. How will these lovable critters look on a poster?

    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Triple Pundit: A Look at Local Food and Urban Farming in Two American Cities

    Urban farming may help address inadequate food access by expanding fresh produce options in the inner city, but at the same time it often occurs in violation of standing zoning ordinances and places new pressure on water and sanitation services. In an attempt to promote its benefits and mitigate its drawbacks, cities across the country have created new arenas of governance concerned solely with local food. Take Detroit and Cleveland, for example.

    The post A Look at Local Food and Urban Farming in Two American Cities appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Puerto Rican McDonalds Franchisees Claim HQ Hung Them Out to Dry

    The FTC proceeding could impact the way McDonald’s -- and other multinational franchises -- compete in the Latin American market, and the outcomes deserve attention.

    The post Puerto Rican McDonalds Franchisees Claim HQ Hung Them Out to Dry appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Despite Doubts, Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles Are Breaking Into the EV Market

    Plug Power and Ace Hardware show how fuel cell electric vehicles could break into the open road EV market, through the shipping and handling sector.

    The post Despite Doubts, Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles Are Breaking Into the EV Market appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: The Real Power of Shareholder Advocacy

    Many of those social or environmental governance changes we see companies making these days have a very quiet but thoughtful source: its shareholders. And many own stocks simply for the purpose of improving corporate policies or furthering an altruistic concept. We speak with three of them to find out what shareholder advocacy means in today's business world.

    The post The Real Power of Shareholder Advocacy appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Is organic food healthier? A new analysis adds … a question mark

    A new paper on nutrition in organic foods just came out. It’s a meta-analysis — which means, instead of doing any new measurement or experimentation, it’s simply combining the findings of past studies. According to the report, there are more antioxidants and carbohydrates in organic food, but less protein, pesticide residue, and less cadmium.

    So what does all this mean in terms of health?

    Protein and carbohydrates:

    “Most people in Europe and North America are consuming adequate levels of protein, or even too much,” pointed out Charles Benbrook, one of the co-authors on the study. And the controversy rages over whether it’s good or bad to have more protein or carbs. So this result may be meaningful, but it would mean totally different things to different people.


    The “antioxidant” category contains tons of different chemicals, and it’s pretty unclear what effect any of them has on health. There was one very good nutrition study that suggested that beta-carotene (one antioxidant) might have a modest effect in slowing cognitive decline. Maybe. On the other hand, there are studies suggesting that some antioxidants (including beta-carotene) increase cancer rates. This is a good summary of what we know so far.

    Basically, there’s a whole suite of mysterious compounds in plants, and we don’t know what they do to us. It does make some intuitive sense to me that humans might benefit from some of these chemicals, since evolution shapes everything to make use of our environment.

    Pesticide residue:

    The analysis found that conventional foods were four times more likely to have pesticide residues than organic. However, as the authors put it, “the data available did not allow scientifically robust comparisons of the concentrations of pesticides.” That is, we don’t know if those pesticide residues were in quantities large enough to actually hurt anyone. A different study, by the European Food Safety Authority, had found that a little under 3 percent of the food it tested had pesticide residues that were higher than the maximum levels it had set for health safety. EFSA said there was only a risk if someone happened to gobble down lots of the particular food with residues. If you want to avoid pesticides like organophosphates, and keep farmworkers from being exposed at much higher concentrations, eating organic is an effective way to do that.


    Organic foods had 48 percent less cadmium, on average. Cadmium is really bad news if you get too much of it. However, in all cases we are talking about very low levels of cadmium, and percentages are famously misleading when you are dealing with small amounts. For instance, you are 1,500 percent more likely to die if you fly rather than drive — but in both cases, the likelihood is so low that most people don’t worry about it. The EPA has this to say: “Exposure to cadmium through food is typical for most people but is not a major health concern. This is because the cadmium present in the body from our diet is about 0.0004 mg/kg/day. This figure is about ten times lower than the level of cadmium that causes kidney damage from eating contaminated food.”

    We don’t have the actual values from this study to know if we are getting anywhere near the danger zone, Benbrook said. The people at greatest risk are those who are also exposed to cadmium through cigarette smoke or industrial pollution.

    What does all this mean?

    The New York Times asked Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, to sum up the study:

    “It’s a really hard question to answer.”

    Dr. Nestle said she buys organic foods, because she believes they are better for the environment and wants to avoid pesticides. “If they are also more nutritious, that’s a bonus,” she said. “How significant a bonus? Hard to say.”

    She continued: “There is no reason to think that organic foods would be less nutritious than conventional industrial crops. Some studies in the past have found them to have more of some nutrients. Other studies have not. This one looked at more studies and has better statistics.”

    There are other scientists who disagreed with Nestle’s point on better statistics. Those critics can run their own analysis: The researchers say they will provide open access to the database they built so that others can tweak the model and add new studies as they come along.

    Filed under: Article, Food
    Gristmill: A growing appetite for local food sends us back to our root cellars
    root cellar st philips

    Tucked in a grassy ridge cutting across the Small Family CSA Farm in La Farge, Wis., is a refrigerator so efficient it requires not a single watt of electricity, yet it can keep some crops chilly for months. It’s not some high-tech, Swedish-designed, solar-powered cooling unit. Just a good old-fashioned root cellar, kept cool through the summer months, and above freezing in the winter, by the soil surrounding it.

    Shunning hulking and energy wasting refrigerated cold storage, Jillian and Adam Varney four years ago chose to build this two-room cellar for $10,000. Over time, like solar panels, it will pay for itself in savings – and in revenue for their small, organic farm. The hand-built produce closet, which includes a room kept extra cool with a small air-conditioner, allows them to extend their 220-member community-supported agriculture operation (CSA) into the winter months.

    Root cellars are basically any storage area that operates on the earth’s natural cooling, humidifying, and insulating properties. To work properly, a root cellar must stay between 32 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit and at 85 to 95 percent humidity. The cool temps slow the release of ethylene gas, halting decomposition. High humidity levels prevent evaporation loss, stopping your veggies from shriveling and withering.

    Outmoded with the birth of the refrigerator and the 1950s kitchen, root cellars all but went underground, resurfacing briefly in the ’60s and with survivalists. Now, this tiny house movement for foodstuffs is experiencing a slow but certain renaissance as the local food movement gains momentum.

    Jillian and Adam Varney run the Small Family CSA Farm in La Farge, Wis.
    c/o Jillian and Adam Varney
    Jillian and Adam Varney run the Small Family CSA Farm in La Farge, Wis.

    Jillian Varney explains why people are diggin’ them again:

    “Come November, both rooms are packed full with beets, daikon radish, napa cabbage, parsnips, celeriac root, potatoes, onions, shallots and bins of apples,” she says. “We had 3,000 pounds of carrots that we were able to sell into this March. We can over-winter shallots, putting them in the first CSA boxes of the season. And we can keep our potato seed in the cellar, ready for planting the next year.”

    The Varneys’ bible is Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables. Meanwhile, articles on how to build a root cellar have flooded the internet.

    These things aren’t just for farmers. Institutions of higher ed have added root cellars to house the bounty from campus and neighboring farms, often using stored food for student meals. And some colleges share the space with locals. The University of Montana in Missoula, Rachel Carson’s alma mater, Chatham University in Pittsburgh, Poultney, Vermont’s Green Mountain College, and others all incorporate community root cellars into their sustainability programs.

    EcoVillage Ithaca residents, in cooperation with students from Ithaca College, built an earthbag and rammed earth tire cellar for $6,000 in 2006. The community uses it to store 2,000 pounds of veggies for use during the winter months via a village CSA.

    Community root cellars are handy because not everyone has the yard space to put one in. They also help draw people together, as they cooperate to grow and preserve local foods.

    Old cellars are back in use in Elliston, Newfoundland, a.k.a the Root Cellar Capital f the World.
    Old cellars are back in use in Elliston, Newfoundland, a.k.a. the Root Cellar Capital of the World.

    They’re really taking off north of the border. In Halifax, Nova Scotia, the Ecology Action Center offered funding for three community root cellar programs to local nonprofits, building one in the basement of its own building. Meanwhile, in the fishing village of Elliston, Newfoundland, known as the Root Cellar Capital of the World as it’s home to more than 130 veggie caves, a new generation is taking up farming and making use of cellars built into hillsides by early settlers.

    Even community gardens and urban farms – some fueled by immigrant populations that have long utilized alternative food storage — are creating cellars. Some are simply buried galvanized trash cans or barrels, sunken deep freezers, or shipping containers. In Detroit, growers are utilizing basements in abandoned buildings.

    But it’s farms providing food to local consumers where root cellars are making perhaps their biggest economic impact. Because of the cellar, seasons can be extended, revived, or momentarily recalled, as a farmer retrieves extended back stock not only for families but for chefs and anyone else fueling a locavore movement. The farmer’s root cellar becomes a bit of a prized secret garden, harboring squash, herbs, purple potatoes, or heirloom apples.

    At the Hazzard Free Farm in Pecatonica, Ill., farmer Andy Hazzard says last year, she converted an old 10-foot-deep cistern with a concrete cap into a root cellar where she stored 800 pounds of organic carrots over last winter. Covered with 15 bales of straw and fitted with a light for some warmth, the cellar allowed Hazzard, 39, to supply customers with fresh carrots throughout the winter.

    What led her to create a root cellar? “During the winter In the Midwest, money dries up unless you have a CSA operation or a good line of credit,” Hazzard says. “So to keep it rolling, farmers are creating storage crops such as squash, beets, and turnips. We had lots of carrots and many accounts that wanted them past season. We could have rented a refrigerated semi-trailer for $5,000 or use what was available and worked just as well.”

    Her first year cellar crop brought in $2,000. “But when done properly and grow to fill their space, it could mean tens of thousands for many farmers,” Hazzard adds.

    Clare Hintz, 39, of Elsewhere Farm near Wisconsin’s Lake Superior, converted part of her basement into a root cellar where she also stores a personal stock of pickled eggs and homemade hard cider. And Mary Ann Bellazzini of Campo di Bella in Horeb, Wis., is building a root cellar beneath an existing wine cellar.

    Root cellaring has long been a staple at the Sliwa Meadow Farm in Decorah, Iowa. In the 1980s, Perry-O and David Sliwa bought a patch of land, pursuing their desire to live off-grid, designing and building their simple home to include an underground root cellar. It houses not only vegetables but also Perry-O’s flower bulbs, garlic braids, and canning jars. This patch of Decorah has become an off-the-grid hub where others look to the Sliwa’s for guidance.

    “We have a mission statement of sorts,” Perry-O says. “As a small village we spend time learning together sharing the gentle passing of time. And in that gentle passing, we look to show the next generation a model for intentional living and homemade happiness.”

    In testament to how well the good earth can not only grow food but harbor it, Philip Ackerman-Leist, an environmental studies professor at Green Mountain College, recalls when a very old, local root cellar was found. “They were still pulling vegetables from years and years ago out of the root cellar, and they were perfectly good,” Ackerman says. “So it’s not just a pie-in-the-sky idea. It’s exciting to see their return.”

    Filed under: Article, Food
    Gristmill: What kind of environmentalist are you? This time, you decide
    What is the IPCC saying?

    A couple weeks ago, I put together a highly scientific questionnaire in order to dig into the depths of our readers’ environmental motivations and psyches.

    Ha, no I didn’t. But I did ask a few silly questions and then mercilessly stereotype you all!

    Putting the “What kind of environmentalist are you” quiz together felt like a fun experiment in the ways of the internet, because quizzes are internet crack — and not just for BuzzFeed. The New York Times’ most popular article of last year was a quiz (by a long shot). But I recognize that, to many people, I kind of missed the mark.

    Part of the fun of taking a quiz is recognizing yourself in the results and poking fun at that. The way I saw it, half of the joke was mocking the fact that I even made a quiz — and so most of the answers I provided weren’t actually serious (raise your hand if you actually get around in self-driving cars or communicate with Occupy hand signals). So, probably no one fully recognized themselves in his or her result. But a lot of what I felt I was making fun of were the glimmers of myself I saw in each of the included parodies, and I hoped others could do the same.

    More problematically, a lot people got left out of the joke because all of the parodies featured in the quiz are stereotypically white. As Grist’s environmental justice writer Brentin Mock pointed out to me, the quiz turned out to be a microcosm of the type of exclusion we hope to combat in the real world, and it left out so many of the very people Grist covers and hopes to reach. As unfortunately often happens in the environmental world, we failed to recognize people of color.

    We received more than 19,000 responses to our goofy questions (turns out, most people do go for the answers that are at least somewhat realistic). For the record, I returned a medium-chill result. But then again, I know how to game the system. Here’s how a few of the answers broke down:

    image (1)

    image (2)

    image (8)

    image (4)I do believe that environmentalists increasingly come in all sorts of ages, genders, and colors (even if not all of them identify as one). But if we do want more people to start cultivating their own environmental identity, pigeonholing what an environmentalist is — or isn’t — is not the way to get us there.

    Yes, that sense of validation when you come out of a quiz with an answer you’re pleased with feels pretty nice. But it can also feel alienating to come out with an answer that just doesn’t resonate (like yuppie. Turns out, no one wants to get called one of those). So what kind of environmentalist are you? This time, I’ll let you decide for yourself.

    Filed under: Article, Living
    Gristmill: Can we have our sustainable seafood and eat it too?

    You know the feeling: You’re standing in front of the seafood counter, running down the list of evils you might be supporting when you buy one of those gleaming filets. There’s overfishing, but also pollution from fish farming, not to mention bycatch, marine habitat destruction, illegal fishing … and that’s before getting to the problem of seafood fraud, and the fact that 1 in 3 seafood samples in a massive study by Oceana was served under pseudonym.

    Programs like Monterey Bay’s Seafood Watch and the Safina Center’s Seafood Guide are helpful when it comes to sorting seafood’s angels from its demons, but only if you can be sure the red snapper you’re looking at is actually red snapper (hint: It probably isn’t).

    Meanwhile, third-party certification outfits — the ones that slap their seal of approval on seafood that’s harvested responsibly — are not without their flaws. In fact, the current demand for certified “sustainable” seafood is so high that it’s driving, you guessed it, overfishing. Someone get Poseidon in here because that, my friends, is what the Greeks called a “tragic flaw.”

    Still, these third-party groups may offer the best hope for ocean-loving fish eaters like myself, so it’s worth paying attention to how they operate. And while these certification programs are very much a work in progress, they’re getting better.


    The largest of the third-party labeling groups is the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Born of a partnership between the World Wildlife Fund and Unilever, the MSC was designed to bring market-based solutions to the kinds of environmental problems capitalism usually takes the blame for. It motivates fishermen, grocery chains, and restaurants to care about sustainability — because they can charge more for their product if it has MSC’s approval stamped on it.

    MSC’s certification standards are based on the health of the fish population in question, the wider environmental impacts of fishing for it (such as habitat destruction and bycatch), and the quality of the fishery’s management. If fishermen want their fishery to be certified, they must pay hefty fees to independent assessors, who gather testimony from scientists and stakeholders, then submit a draft report which is peer-reviewed by other scientists, followed by public comments, more revisions (I assume you’ve tuned out by now), and so on — all adding up to an intimidating tangle of checks and balances. (If you like to geek out on this stuff, you can read all the reports of all the committees at every step of the process yourself.)

    Once a fishery is certified, it receives yearly audits for five years, at which point the certification lapses and the whole process starts over again. Somehow, hoops and all, the MSC has managed to certify over 220 fisheries since 1996. According to MSC, its certified fisheries, along with about a hundred currently under review, make up over 10 percent of the global seafood catch, worth around $3 billion. Meanwhile, many companies are getting generous returns on their investment in sustainability: The wholesale value of MSC-labeled products rose 21 percent in 2013 alone.

    But as MSC has grown, it has broken bread with larger and larger partners, whose appetites may outstrip the ability of certified fisheries to sate them. Critics claim MSC has slackened some if its rules to keep up with the demand from retail chains such as Walmart. Al Jazeera reported on the company’s struggle to keep buying Alaskan salmon after the fishery’s MSC approval lapsed:

    Jennifer Jacquet, an environmental studies professor at New York University … said Walmart’s allegiance to MSC put a lot of pressure on the nonprofit to certify more fish.

    “You have two options,” Jacquet said of MSC’s situation. “You can make seafood sustainable or you can redefine the word ‘sustainable’ to match existing resources.”

    Likewise, when McDonald’s pledged to sell only MSC-labeled Alaskan pollock in the U.S., it strained the ability of the fishery — with only a mediocre sustainability score from Seafood Watch — to keep all 14,000 restaurants in Filet-o-Fish sandwiches.

    Furthermore, NPR’s excellent in-depth series on MSC’s sustainability (or not) focused on a few fisheries the group had certified despite less-than-cheery evidence on the ground, er, sea. These included a swordfishery in Canada, where sharks are snagged more often than actual swordfish, over- and illegally fished Chilean sea bass, and volatile sockeye salmon populations in Alaska:

    “Originally I thought [MSC] was a good idea,” says Jim Barnes, director of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, a network of dozens of environmental groups around the world. … [But] the controversy over Canadian swordfish illustrates why the booming demand for sustainable seafood actually threatens to hurt the movement more than help it. “The bottom line is that there are not enough truly sustainable fisheries on the earth to sustain the demand.”

    One result of that skyrocketing demand is that new, less stringent certification programs are popping up. After allowing its MSC’s certification to lapse, a powerful salmon fishery in Alaska persuaded Walmart to make room for a new certification, Responsible Fisheries Management, which puts less emphasis on sustainability and comes with no logo-licensing fees. Walmart still carries some MSC certified goods, but the company reneged on its all-MSC-all-the-time pledge.

    You can imagine how this could quickly become a race to the bottom: If Alaskan pollock stocks continue to decline, the fishery may no longer meet MSC’s standards of sustainability. And if that happens? MSC could drop the pollock fishery and risk losing the McDonald’s account, too. Or it could lower the bar, in hopes of improving fishery practices down the road.

    MSC has insisted that it never loosened its standards, and that those standards and the oversight that comes with them are high enough to guarantee sustainability — although it does offer a provisional certification for fisheries that are working toward sustainability, but aren’t quite there yet.

    When I talked to MSC’s CEO, Rupert Howes, a few months ago, he told me that MSC has taken the global seafood scene a long way: “When MSC started, it really was innovative. There wasn’t really a sustainable seafood movement,” he said. “When you get leadership within the industry and within the market saying, we want sustainable seafood, we care where it comes from, we want to be part of the solution — it really is a huge, powerful force.

    “I hasten to say: MSC is part of the solution,” Howes added. “Overfishing is a huge challenge — you need public policy reform, you need the work of advocacy groups to raise awareness of the issues, and then you need a program like the MSC that’s actually going to empower consumers, you and I, to use our purchasing decisions to make the best environmental choice.”

    And like a good overseer, MSC is turning its eye on itself this year, in a thoroughly documented (naturally) self-review of its “chain of custody” program, which assures that MSC’s fish can be traced through the supply chain, from the water all the way to the seafood counter at the grocery store.


    It’s worth pointing out that none of this controversy is unique to seafood. Other food labels, from USDA’s widely appliedorganic” to “fair-trade” to the virtually useless “all-natural” have at some point come under fire for being less idealistic in practice than they are in theory. The same is true of green building standards. Things get messy as any system gets bigger.

    Of course, with billions of people eating from the sea, any movement toward oversight and accountability is almost certainly better than nothing. At the very least, by making sustainability visible, and desirable, to consumers, MSC has raised the stakes for the supply chains that serve them.

    But what to do if the MSC’s logo isn’t enough for you? Here are a few tips for getting sustainable seafood, certifications be damned: 1) Eat as local as possible and many other concerns become moot; 2) eat low on the food chain, as in, more oysters and, seriously, no more Bluefin tuna; and 3) stick to restaurants or markets whose mission you trust instead of trying to decode the signage at your city’s everything emporium.

    Did I miss anything? Uh, yeah, definitely. This whole labeling thing is a sticky issue, but it only works if producers know what the people want. So, by all means, weigh in.

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Food
    Gristmill: Liz Cheney scorns climate action just as much as her dad
    Liz and Dick Cheney

    Darth Vader and his Sith apprentice — aka Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz — are totally in synch about climate change. Here’s how they responded to a question on the topic during a conversation with Politico’s Mike Allen on Monday:

    Mike Allen: Here’s a question from Felix Dodds. What should the Republican Party do about climate change?

    Dick Cheney: Liz?

    Liz Cheney: Nothing. [Scornful guffaw.] I mean … [Shrug.] Look, I think that what’s happening now with respect to this president and this EPA and using something like climate change as an excuse to kill the coal industry nationwide — and that’s exactly what they’re doing. They’ve been open about it. They even admit that the emissions from coal aren’t actually causing any kind of a heating of the planet. But this is an opportunity to go in, and they’re killing coal. You know, Wyoming is the leading coal-producing state in the nation. But you don’t have to be from Wyoming to understand that your electricity is gonna be directly affected by that. It is bad policy. It’s bad science. We’re seeing increasingly that it’s bad science.

    And a much greater threat to us, frankly, is this massive expansion and growth of the bureaucratic state here in Washington — the EPA, the use of things like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act to go directly at people’s private property rights in a way that clearly, frankly, is unconstitutional and is a real threat to our freedom.

    That Liz is following in her father’s jackbooted footsteps should come as no surprise. She demonstrated her denier cred during a failed bid for the U.S. Senate last year. She told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that “the science is just simply bogus, you know, we know that temperatures have been stable for the last 15 years.” She tweeted that Obama’s climate policy is “using phony science to kill real jobs. This is a war on coal, a war on jobs, a war on American families.” And she tweeted a photo of a snowy scene as though it were a clever rejoinder to the whole body of climate science:

    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Triple Pundit: U.K. Grocer Becomes the First Retailer to Issue a Sustainable Seafood Report

    The British supermarket chain Asda is the first retailer to publish a sustainable seafood report. The report, titled Wild Fisheries Annual Review, lists all of the fisheries used by the supermarket chain between Jan. 1 and Dec. 1, 2013.

    The post U.K. Grocer Becomes the First Retailer to Issue a Sustainable Seafood Report appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Eileen Fisher Leverages Employee Values to Chart Path Toward Long-Term Sustainability

    Eileen Fisher has expertly curated a culture that actively allows employees to be leaders of change internally and in society at large.

    The post Eileen Fisher Leverages Employee Values to Chart Path Toward Long-Term Sustainability appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Alternative Building Method: Aerated Concrete

    Autoclaved aerated concrete has some environmental benefits compared to typical cement, reducing energy use during manufacture and providing some durable features.

    The post Alternative Building Method: Aerated Concrete appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Guess which two words can make your nonpartisan education reforms a hot potato?
    globe in hands

    Depending on who you’re talking to, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)– the first major national recommendations for teaching science to be made since 1996 — either painfully water down the presentation of climate-change information or attempt to brainwash our nation’s youth into believing climate change is real.

    The backlash to the NGSS began last year, but now, we also have the backlash to the backlash — an effort by the Union of Concerned Scientists, and others, to frame science education as a civil rights issue and mobilize a grassroots movement around the idea of a Climate Students Bill of Rights. The idea is to ensure that the new standards actually wind up getting taught.

    If you’re the kind of person who likes geeking out over curricula, you’ll find the NGSS’s website fascinating. How do we teach climate change? It’s such an awkward thing to explain to children, who have not caused the problem and have yet to have a chance to help make it better. Or worse, for that matter.

    The standards spell it out, grade by grade. Kindergartners  will learn that “Things that people do to live comfortably can affect the world around them. But they can make choices that reduce their impacts on the land, water, air, and other living things.” High schoolers will learn that “All forms of energy production and other resource extraction have associated economic, social, environmental, and geopolitical costs and risks as well as benefits. New technologies and social regulations can change the balance of these factors. “

    It’s up to the states to adopt new educational standards like this. When the feds want to get new educational standards approved, they can pressure states into signing by attaching federal funds to the deal. Because the NGSS standards were developed by a smorgasbord of scientific organizations and the states themselves — or 26 of them, anyway — that financial incentive doesn’t exist. Instead, there’s the motivation that comes from so many states having participated in the process, as well as fears of America’s waning scientific standing.

    Attempts to block the NGSS have taken several forms. In Wyoming, state legislators added a last-minute footnote to its state budget that banned the use of any public funds to adopt the new science standards, which effectively removed them from the public school system. In Oklahoma, a group of lawmakers tried to repeal its NGSS-based science standards, but were blocked by the state’s education department, which managed to get the governor to sign off on them.  The NGSS have been adopted by 11 states so far, including California, Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Rhode Island, Vermont, Oregon, Nevada, and Washington, plus the District of Columbia, though Kansas promptly got sued over it.

    I grew up in Michigan, in a suburban community outside of Detroit that was a melting pot of religions, all of which seemed to have objections to scientific education. In general, teachers steered clear of anything more controversial than photosynthesis. Outside of school, I took every chance I could get to (a) read about dinosaurs/space shuttles/stalactites and (b) wish I was a dinosaur/space shuttle/stalactite.

    For all that I loved science, it took me years to learn the really important stuff: how to wade through what people want to believe — and what you want to believe — to figure out what can be empirically proven. Here’s hoping that these new standards will help students get to the same place.

    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: U.S. tariffs on Chinese solar panels break trade rules, WTO says
    solar panels

    When it comes to global trade in solar panels and components, the U.S. trade representative wants to have his suncake and eat it too. Even as the trade rep has been hauling India before the World Trade Organization, complaining that the country’s requirements for domestically produced solar panels violate global trade rules, the U.S. has been imposing new duties on panels imported from China and Taiwan. By some estimates, the U.S. duties could increase solar module costs in the country by 14 percent.

    On Monday, WTO judges who were mulling China’s complaint against the U.S. over its duties on solar panels and steel ruled in favor of — you guessed it — more world trade. Reuters reports:

    In the $7.2 billion Chinese case, the panel found that Washington had overstepped the mark in justifying the so-called countervailing duties it imposed as a response to alleged subsidies to exporting firms by China’s government. …

    And it told the United States it should adapt its measures to bring them into line with the WTO’s agreement on subsidies and countervailing measures.

    The Coalition for Affordable Energy, a trade group, cheered the ruling. It primarily represents solar panel installers, not solar panel manufacturers, so it supports lower-cost panels — regardless of where they are made. “Today’s WTO announcement and the broader trade dispute should prompt the Obama Administration to reconsider the wisdom of additional solar tariffs,” CASE President Jigar Shah said in a press statement.

    Trade Representative Michael Froman’s office said it “will evaluate all options to ensure that U.S. remedies against unfair subsidies remain strong and effective.” In other words, it is likely to appeal the ruling — something that could help keep the tariffs in place for at least another six to 12 months.

    Monday’s ruling was unrelated to the U.S. complaint against domestic manufacturing rules imposed under India’s burgeoning solar panel program – a program that appears set to grow even more under the country’s new leader. Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently announced that taxes on coal would be increased to help fund a clean-energy revolution. But the ruling does not bode well for Indian factories that hope to continue manufacturing the panels that are being used in that revolution.

    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: America’s largest reservoir is hitting new record lows every day
    A low Lake Mead

    The drought that’s afflicting much of the American West has hoovered out a record-breaking amount of water from the reservoir that’s held in place by the Hoover Dam.

    Water levels in Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, have fallen to a point not seen since the reservoir was created during the 1930s to store water from the Colorado River. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that the surface of the reservoir dipped below 1,082 feet above sea level last week:

    The past 15 years have been especially hard on the nation’s largest man-made reservoir. Lake Mead has seen its surface drop by more than 130 feet amid stubborn drought in the mountains that feed the Colorado River. The unusually dry conditions have exacerbated a fundamental math problem for the river, which now sustains 30 million people and several billion dollars worth of farm production across the West but has been over-appropriated since before Hoover Dam was built.

    Andy Ameigeiras and two of his friends spent Wednesday night and Thursday morning hooking carp, catfish and stripers from the rocky shore of Echo Bay. He said the water had “easily” dropped three to five feet since the last time they fished there, just four weeks ago.

    “I walked out there and I wasn’t sure I was in the right spot,” the Las Vegas man said. “It’s definitely startling to see how far it’s dropping.”

    The latest low water mark comes less than four years after the previous record of 1,081.85 was set on Nov. 27, 2010.

    Experts expect the water level to continue to fall during the coming weeks. Because the ways we’re using water in the American West during a widespread drought are simply unsustainable.

    Filed under: Article
    Gristmill: Another court victory for EPA — this time on mountaintop-removal rules
    mountaintop removal rules

    Blowing up mountains so that their coal-filled bellies can be stripped of their climate-changing innards doesn’t just ruin Southern Appalachian forests. It also poisons the region’s streams, as fragments of rock and soil previously known as mountaintops get dumped into valleys. A government-led study published two weeks ago concluded that this pollution is poisoning waterways, leading to “fewer species, lower abundances, and less biomass.”

    Concern about just this kind of water pollution is why the EPA stepped in five years ago using its Clean Water Act mandate to boost environmental oversight of mountaintop-removal mining, creating a joint review process with the Army Corps of Engineers to help that agency assess mining proposals under the Mining Control and Reclamation Act.

    The EPA can’t really do anything these days without the attorneys of polluters and the states that they pollute crying foul in court about “agency overreach.” So it was with the EPA’s 2009 “Enhanced Coordination Process.” The National Mining Association, West Virginia, and Kentucky filed suit, and a federal court sided with them. But on Friday, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reversed that decision, issuing a 3-0 ruling in favor of the EPA. The Charleston Gazette reports:

    In a significant victory for the Obama administration’s coal policies, a federal appeals court on Friday upheld U.S. Environmental Protection Agency initiatives aimed at reducing water pollution from mountaintop removal mining operations. …

    “The EPA did its job when it directed its staff to finally follow the law and science, and start protecting Appalachian waters and communities from mountaintop removal mining, which is associated with higher cancer, birth defects and early death for people living nearby,” said Emma Cheuse, an attorney with Earthjustice, which represented citizen groups who sided with the EPA in the case. “The coal industry continually fights for free rein to blow up mountains and dump waste all over Appalachia, and we’re glad to see clean water and healthy communities triumph today.” …

    Coalfield elected officials responded with statements harshly criticizing the EPA and the court ruling, and promising legislation that would try to block the EPA from more closely scrutinizing mining operations.

    The trade association and states also claimed in their lawsuit that the EPA erred in 2011 when it issued recommendations regarding the need for greater oversight by state and federal staff of mining permits that could affect salinity levels in rivers. The appeals court slapped them down on this point as well.

    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Is it hot in here? Yes, and it’s killing us

    Stop me if you know this feeling: It’s 95 degrees in the shade, with 95 percent humidity. Walking three blocks requires Herculean effort and occasional detours into air-conditioned bodegas. The idea of standing in close proximity to other humans on the subway inspires a sensation of nausea. You think: “If I have to live another hour like this, I might actually die.”

    Here’s some uplifting news: Turns out that today, you actually are more likely to die from a heat wave than at any point in the last 40 years! Happy Monday!

    A new report from the World Meteorological Organization found that the number deaths caused by extreme temperature – primarily heat waves – increased enormously in the first decade of the 21s century. In 2003, a heat wave killed 72,000 people in Europe and in 2010, 55,000 in Russia. Storms – such as Katrina and Sandy – were responsible for the most weather-related deaths in that time period, but heat waves came in at a close second.

    So as our friend Cornell Iral Haynes, Jr. would say, it’s hot in here — and getting hotter. What can we do to deal with it (other than taking off all our clothes, which isn’t always the most realistic option)?

    As Brad Plumer suggests on Vox:

    Scientists have observed that the urban heat island effect tends to exacerbate heat waves. Because of all the buildings and cars and black pavement, cities tend to be even hotter than their surroundings. But there are ways to mitigate that. One study found, for instance, that introducing more green spaces into a city could reduce the need for medical assistance during scorching heat waves by 50 percent.

    Alright: so, greener cities = fewer blue humans. We can think of a few American cities that might want to take that advice to heart.

    Filed under: Cities, Climate & Energy, Living
    Gristmill: Oklahoma hit by eight earthquakes in two days. Is the fracking industry to blame?
    oil drill in Oklahoma

    The eight earthquakes that occurred in Oklahoma over the past couple of days may be yet another side effect the U.S.’s insidious fracking boom.

    The quakes hit between Saturday morning and early Monday morning, most of them small enough that people didn’t realize the ground was shaking beneath them (they ranged from 2.6 to 4.3 on the Richter scale). But they’re part of a broader trend of increased seismic activity in the heartland over the last few years, a trend that correlates with the growth of fracking. As the L.A. Times reports, Oklahoma experienced 109 tremblors measuring 3.0 or greater in 2013, more than 5,000 percent above normal.

    Fracking itself isn’t thought to blame, but the disposal of fracking wastewater might be. Scientists have found that pumping the wastewater from fracking operations into wells likely triggers earthquakes because it messes with ground pressure, especially as those wells become more full. Like the wastewater well in Youngstown, Ohio, that triggered 167 earthquakes during a single year of operation. The biggest one, a sizable 5.7, happened the day after the Ohio Department of Natural Resources finally stepped in to shut the well down.

    Jonathan Hallmark, police chief in Langston, Okla., which was hit by the biggest of this recent batch of quakes, told the L.A. Times that they never use to experience tremblors like these. Unless Oklahoma decides to crack down on fracking, the state’s residents might have to get used to them.

    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: This Texas solar farm uses sheep for its landscaping needs

    Using livestock in the solar power industry is a time-honored practice dating back to at least last Monday. But as handy as it is to have a donkey saddled with solar panels, when the energy requirements grow beyond charging tour laptop, larger and larger solar-animals are required. Eventually, strapping panels to grazing mammals becomes impractical.

    That doesn’t mean that big solar plants don’t have a place for some four-hooved hench-creatures, however.

    Enter the sheep. (Enter the Sheep, by the way, was to be the title of Bruce Lee’s next film). A small solar farm owned by CPS Energy, the municipal power company in San Antonio, Texas, has enlisted the help of the wooly workers to keep its grounds safe and tidy.

    Jim Malewitz has more in the New York Times:

    At the San Antonio plant, which is home to thousands of solar panels, OCI Solar describes its grazing as an experiment that has worked well. The meandering sheep appear to have done their job; patches of grass reach no higher than a foot despite recent heavy rains. The sheep have not chewed on cables or jumped on panels, which goats — their equally hungry cousins — are more apt to do. The lone mishap thus far, Ms. Krueger said, came when one wily sheep sneaked through a gap in a locked gate. OCI Solar teamed with a local police officer and a resident to corral the animal within 30 minutes.

    The sheep receive fresh water on site and can take refuge from the Texas sun beneath the solar panels, which extend several feet off the

    OCI Solar recently unleashed additions to its grazing operation: two herding dogs, both Great Pyrenees mixes, intended to ward off coyotes. On a recent afternoon that topped 90 degrees, one of the high-energy pups spent half an hour bounding alongside a reporter and his hosts, showing more interest in getting belly rubs and finding shade beneath the solar panels than protecting sheep.

    The practice makes a lot of sense. First off, solar energy plants are called farms and what’s a farm without a “baa-baa here” and a “baa-baa there”? Then there’s the fact that the sheep/solar farm provides pasture for local farmers, and the sheep keep the grass around the panels low to provide technicians safe and easy access. Solar farms create tricky terrain for mechanized mowing. Besides, it gives the sheep something else to do besides hanging out at the mall all day.

    I personally think this sheep thing is brilliant. I’ve been using sheep to drive in the HOV lane for years, but now I can see I’ve been thinking too small. There’s a million uses for sheep around Grist World Headquarters, so I’ve just bought a dozen and am sending them to the home office. To my editors: You’re welcome.

    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
    Triple Pundit: Is Uber Exploitative? And What Does It Say About the Sharing Economy?

    Some questions the legitimacy or fairness of Uber’s business tactics, especially given the fact that it operates in many places within a "grey area" of the law. Yet, behind these arguments lie even more fundamental questions: Is Uber still considered part of the sharing economy? Is it exploitative? And if you answer ‘yes’ to both questions, what does it say about the sharing economy?

    The post Is Uber Exploitative? And What Does It Say About the Sharing Economy? appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Thanks to the fracking boom, we’re wasting more money than ever on fossil fuel subsidies

    You probably know that the U.S. government subsidizes fossil fuel production. But here’s something you probably don’t know: Those subsidies have recently increased dramatically. According to a report released last week by Oil Change International, “Federal fossil fuel production and exploration subsidies in the United States have risen by 45 percent since President Obama took office in 2009, from $12.7 billion to a current total of $18.5 billion.” We are, as the report observes, “essentially rewarding companies for accelerating climate change.”

    At first glance, this seems strange. Why would there be such a big increase under a Democratic president who has committed his administration to combatting climate change, and who has even repeatedly called for eliminating exactly these kinds of dirty energy subsidies?

    The short answer: fracking. The fracking boom has led to a surge in oil and natural gas production in recent years: Oil production is up by 35 percent since 2009, and natural gas production is up by 18 percent. With more revenues, expenditures, and profits in the oil and gas industries, the value of the various tax deductions for the oil industry has soared. So, for example, the deduction for “intangible drilling costs” cost taxpayers $1.6 billion in 2009, and $3.5 billion in 2013.

    Oil Change argues that the increase in the size of subsidies is Obama’s fault. The report is even titled “Cashing in on All of the Above: U.S. Fossil Fuel Production Subsidies under Obama.” And it’s true that Obama endorses the farce of “energy independence” and pushes an “all of the above” energy strategy, which includes making public lands and offshore areas available for fossil fuel extraction.

    But it’s a bit unfair to blame Obama, as the recent growth of subsidies has been largely beyond his control. First, that’s because many tax breaks for fossil fuel companies have been on the books for decades and Obama doesn’t have the power to unilaterally do away with them. Second, and more notably, it’s because the fracking boom has primarily been driven by technological advances, not by policy decisions. In fact, the amount of drilling happening on federal lands, where the president has some control over activities, is actually down over the past decade; most of the new drilling is happening on private land, according to a new report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

    Still, the federal government continues to lose lots of money by selling fossil fuel extraction rights on public lands for less than they are worth, as the Government Accountability Office has reported. Here again, more extraction means more lost government revenue. This is true for coal as well as oil and gas. In Wyoming and Montana’s Powder River Basin, where coal mining is booming, Oil Change notes that below-market lease rates are costing the Treasury $1 billion per year.

    One of the biggest ways we continue to subsidize fossil fuels is by making society bear the brunt of the local pollution and climate change caused by fossil fuel extraction, transport, and burning. Calculating that cost is obviously difficult, although the Oil Change report estimates that it’s between $350 million and $501 billion annually. Some would also argue — as Oil Change does — that tens, or even hundreds, of billions of dollars in U.S. military spending in the Middle East each year is a fossil fuel subsidy, essentially spent to secure our oil supply.

    David Turnbull, Oil Change’s campaigns director, says Obama’s pro-oil and -gas rhetoric has helped to encourage the recent boom, as well as decisions made by his Cabinet agencies. The Obama administration has expedited processes for leasing of public land and permitting of drilling and mining, he points out. Also, Turnbull says, “The administration stopping investigations of the impact of fracking on communities is allowing [fracking] to continue. It’s the administration saying, ‘We’re going to let fracking continue without diving into details.’”

    Still, the biggest impediment to reform, by far, is the sway that dirty energy interests hold over Congress. As Oil Change points out, in the 2012 campaign cycle, fossil fuel companies spent $329 million on campaign contributions and lobbying.

    Only a constitutional amendment enabling more aggressive campaign finance reform could begin to fix that problem. As it happens, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed exactly that on Thursday on a party-line 10-8 vote. But it would need two-thirds majorities to pass the full Senate and House of Representatives, even before it went to the states for ratification, and it won’t get support from anywhere near enough Republicans.

    In the meantime, Obama can try to do more to properly regulate fossil fuels through his Cabinet agencies. The EPA, for example, should be regulating methane emissions from natural gas drilling. And he can reject proposals for the Keystone XL pipeline and the exportation of crude oil and natural gas. It would hardly be enough, but it would be a start.

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Eden Foods hit by backlash for fighting Obamacare’s contraception mandate
    empty Eden cans

    We told you recently that Eden Foods, a widely distributed organic brand, has sued the Obama administration over the requirement that companies cover contraception as part of employee health-care plans. As word has spread, outrage has spread.

    More than 112,000 people have a signed a petition organized by progressive group CREDO Action:

    Tell CEO of Eden Foods, Michael Potter:

    “I won’t buy Eden products until you stop playing politics with women’s health and drop your attacks on birth control coverage under the Affordable Care Act.”

    Some are tweeting out Eden-shaming selfies:


    Citizens are also calling on their grocery stores and co-ops to stop stocking Eden’s products:

    More than 14,000 have signed a petition at that asks Whole Foods to stop stocking Eden goods. The initial response from Whole Foods was not promising: “When reviewing products for our shelves, our primary consideration is whether the product’s ingredients meet our Quality Standards,” a company rep said. (Considering that Whole Foods founder and CEO John Mackey is also a libertarian who has whined about Obamacare, I wouldn’t expect any better.) Co-ops in San Francisco and Minneapolis have also refused to drop Eden, at least for now.

    Eden’s CEO and sole shareholder, Michael Potter, is portraying himself as a victim of mean lefty activists, but he’s not backing down. From a statement posted on the company’s website on July 3:

    We realized in making our objection that it would give rise to grotesque mischaracterizations and fallacious arguments. We did not fully anticipate the degree of maliciousness and corruption that would visit us. Nevertheless, we believe we did what we should have.

    When a CNN opinion columnist asked the company what kind of “corruption” it was referring to, it didn’t respond.

    Expect this controversy to stay hot while the Eden Foods lawsuit winds its way through the court system, and maybe long after.

    “It’s very conceivable they could lose business,” Michael Layne, president of PR firm Marx Layne, told USA Today. “And they could lose employees, too.”

    Filed under: Article, Food, Living, Politics
    Triple Pundit: Coming to a Store Near You: Ch-Ch-Ch Chia Seeds!

    Joseph Enterprises, presenter of Chia Pets, has entered the health food business. The company is marketing not just any chia seeds, but Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia Seeds!

    The post Coming to a Store Near You: Ch-Ch-Ch Chia Seeds! appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Hackers hack monster burritos down to sensible size

    “Burrito creep” is the sort of jargon you’re unlikely to hear unless you descend deep into a highly specialized world. In this case, that world is the food company Chipotle, and “burrito creep” is the term of art employees have come up with to describe a seemingly unstoppable phenomenon: No matter what they try, the burritos keep getting bigger. And the bigger they get, the larger the proportion that ends up in the trash.

    Thanks to some creative thinking at the Food+Tech Connect Hack//Dining event in New York, there may be a solution to burrito creep — one that gives eaters an incentive to control portions and cut back on the most carbon-intensive ingredients (like meat).

    The point of these hackathons is to bring clever people together and set them loose on bite-sized food and sustainability problems. “The problems in the food industry are complex, and they aren’t going to be solved in a weekend,” said Danielle Gould, founder of Food+Tech Connect. “The point is to get new ideas into circulation, new people working on this, and to do rapid prototyping — to actually make a real product in a weekend.”

    Alice Yen went alone to the hackathon, where she bumped into a friend from school, Marc Loeffke. Loeffke had come with a colleague, Brian Callaway, and the three recruited a teacher and software developer, Kevin Taniguchi, to form their team.

    Left to right: Kevin Taniguchi, Marc Loeffke, Mariana Cotlear (from Chipotle), Brian Callaway, Alice Yen
    Left to right: Kevin Taniguchi, Marc Loeffke, Mariana Cotlear (from Chipotle), Brian Callaway, Alice Yen.

    Chipotle had asked, “How might we use technology to enable quick-service restaurants to better measure and manage their actions to operate in a more environmentally sustainable way?”

    “The challenge itself was pretty broad and vague,” Yen said. “They were just looking for cool ideas.”

    But as they talked with representatives from Chipotle, they zeroed in on the problem of burrito creep. Chipotle trains workers to scoop out a precise amount of each ingredient. But as customers come through the line, people nudge the servers for more: “Can I have a little extra guac?” No one ever asks for less. Over time, the servers begin to preemptively increase the portions. The burritos creep, they grow, they expand to sizes that menace children and small dogs.

    In a quick survey of people leaving a Chipotle, the team found that nearly 60 percent of the customers hadn’t finished their food.

    The solution is a little app that lets people adjust the amount of each ingredient for themselves. Chipotle already has a smartphone app for ordering, so the hackathon team built an addition that gives people rewards for slimming down their orders. Choose a smaller size, and you earn points that you can redeem for another burrito. The app also awards points for opting out of the more carbon-intensive ingredients — for example, you can reduce the meat portion by pinching down the meat section in a stylized cross-section of the meal.

    Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 4.02.55 PMClick to embiggen.

    The hackathon team also provided an option that allows people to get an even bigger burrito — say you’re an athlete, and you need the calories — but it takes an extra click to do that, so it’s harder to gorge on an impulse.

    Early on, the team wanted to put the entire process on the app: You order online and then just show up and grab your food. But the Chipotle reps nixed this idea – they didn’t want to lose the interaction between customers and employees. So instead, the team tried to find a way to improve the exchange between the customer and employee. You would still order online, but then you walk along the counter as the server makes the burrito.

    Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 4.03.06 PMClick to embiggen.

    The team did a back-of-the-envelope calculation and estimated their app could save Chipotle over $100 million a year and save 115,000 tons of carbon — though Yen admits that the Chipotle representatives politely suggested that these calculations might be significantly off.

    Maybe some permutation of this idea goes on to revolutionize the fast food industry, or maybe this is as far as it will ever get. Regardless, it’s cool to see such a good idea emerge in a single weekend.

    Americans generally don’t feel like they are getting a great deal unless they are served enough food to turn themselves into human foie gras. The most powerful insight from this project, in my opinion, is that it’s possible — and even profitable — to tip the incentives back in the other direction, so that people feel they’re getting a better deal when they pick a smaller size.

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Food
    Gristmill: Ask Umbra: What’s a girl to do with soap that’s full of plastic microbeads?

    Send your question to Umbra!

    Q. Shortly before the reports that described the effect of microbeads on our waterways came out, I was at Costco and bought several bottles of facial scrub on sale. I stopped using it, but still have 2 or 3 bottles here in the house. What’s the best way to dispose of it?

    Dori G.
    Cockeysville, Maryland

    A. Dearest Dori,

    What lamentable luck. Like anyone stuck with a pile of Brazil World Cup Champion T-shirts could tell you, sometimes it backfires to buy in bulk. You may have already purchased the plasticky potions, but I have good news: You can still keep their insidious microbeads out of our waterways.

    But first, in case anyone here has missed the microbead brouhaha of late: Many personal-care products intended to exfoliate the skin, such as face scrubs and body washes, derive their abrasive powers from tiny bits of plastic (a bit nonsensical, really, but there you have it). But researchers have realized the tiny bits of plastic, a.k.a. microbeads, are showing up in our lakes, rivers, and oceans, where they’re attracting pollutants and getting eaten by fish and generally behaving badly. Turns out, water treatment plants can’t filter out these minuscule bits, so they go straight from our sinks and tubs to the sea. (Read more about the problem here.)

    Knowing this, you’re right not to sigh and simply use up the rest of your supply, Dori. I’ve scrubbed up three better solutions for you.

    1. Donate them to science

    Dr. Sherri Mason, a professor of chemistry at SUNY-Fredonia, helped expose the microbead issue in the first place with her research in the Great Lakes. Now, she’s analyzing bead concentrations and characteristics in consumer products, and she’d be happy to accept your unwanted bottles and tubes. Just tape them shut and ship them off to:

    SUNY Fredonia
    Attn: Sherri Mason
    280 Central Ave.
    340 Sciences Complex
    Fredonia, NY 14063

    2. Donate them to art

    The good folks at 5 Gyres, an environmental advocacy group, are continuing to spread the word about plastic pollution in the ocean through several microbead-based art projects. Artist Chris Jordan and the 5 Gyres director of research are both working on pieces designed to raise awareness, and they’d also welcome your castaways to filter for beads. Tape them shut and ship them off to:

    The 5 Gyres Institute
    3131 Olympic Blvd.
    Santa Monica, CA 90404

    3. Filter them

    If you’re short on postage, you can also strain the microbeads out of your remaining scrubs and toss them. “It’s not ideal, but better in the landfill than in the water supply,” says Mason. A coffee filter does the trick: Squeeze the product into a jar or similar container, top with a coffee filter, and strain. If the product is soupy already, such as a body wash or hand soap, you can now use the filtered version guilt-free. To filter something something pasty, like face scrub or toothpaste, you may need to add water, but you can safely pour the remainder down the drain.

    I hope at least one of these ideas works for you, Dori. And from now on, consider exfoliating with something biodegradable: Here are a few more recipes for your cleansing pleasure.


    Filed under: Living
    Triple Pundit: Book Review: Sustainability Careers for MBAs

    Katie Kross provides clarity, tips and resources for navigating paths to green careers in her book, "Profession and Purpose: A Resource Guide for Careers in Sustainability."

    The post Book Review: Sustainability Careers for MBAs appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Case Study: How to Grow Without Compromising Your Mission

    This post by New Resource Bank's Gary Groff is about how smart investment and debt management enables mission-driven companies to scale without compromising their missions.

    The post Case Study: How to Grow Without Compromising Your Mission appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Fortune 500 Companies, NGOs Unite to Address Renewable Energy Demand

    Twelve leading U.S. companies have partnered with the WWF and WRI to overcome unmet renewable energy demand, with the Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principles.

    The post Fortune 500 Companies, NGOs Unite to Address Renewable Energy Demand appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Foster Farms Recalls Chicken, Sues Insurer for Rejecting Claim

    Foster Farms is gearing up for a new battle, this time with its insurance carrier, whose underwriters are refusing to compensate the company for its longstanding problems with salmonella, and it seems, the lack of a USDA recall earlier in the process.

    The post Foster Farms Recalls Chicken, Sues Insurer for Rejecting Claim appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Apple’s Environmental Report Reveals Major Accomplishments, More Work To Be Done

    Apple’s carbon footprint shrank 3 percent from 2012 to 2013. It's a modest decline, but this is the first time the tech giant has seen a year-over-year decrease in greenhouse gas emissions since it started tracking them in 2009. Despite this and other accomplishments detailed in Apple's 2014 Environmental Responsibility Report released this week, the company acknowledged it has a long way to go to reduce its environmental impact, including tackling emissions from its manufacturing partners and addressing its recent increase in water consumption.

    The post Apple’s Environmental Report Reveals Major Accomplishments, More Work To Be Done appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: How Cities and Businesses Are Working Together to Address Climate Change

    A total of 757 public-private carbon reduction drivers from around thr world were cited in a new report released by the Carbon Disclosure Project.

    The post How Cities and Businesses Are Working Together to Address Climate Change appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: With Dov Charney gone, these are the only clothes made by dangerous animals

    When supporters of the Kamine Zoo in Hitachi, Japan, needed to raise money for renovations, they passed on the usual fundraising routes and instead took a leap into the world of high fashion. Rather than recruiting the likes of Jean Paul Gaultier, they decided to go in-house with their design process. Specifically: the lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!) department.

    Tires and rubber balls were wrapped in sheets of denim before being tossed them to the predators. The resulting Zoo Jeans are “the only jeans on earth designed by dangerous animals,” the volunteer group claims.

    Zoo Jeans

    It sure looks like these animals don’t mind adding their creative flair and masticatory talents to the project (apparently the lion-designed jeans have the most holes).

    Zoo Jeans
    Zoo Jeans

    The jeans are currently up for bid on Japan’s Yahoo Auctions. All profits will go to the zoo and the World Wildlife Fund. Here’s a look at the lion-designed pair:


    The high-fashion world is not completely sold on the idea. The rips are “too sporadic,” a denim buyer at Selfridges in London told The Guardian“Men want them on the thigh, the knee, the back pocket. Rips on the calf, as they are here, don’t look natural,” he said.

    Read in tooth and claw, the jeans seem pretty “natural” to us. Semantics aside, we see his point. Would these critters be open to critique on their design instincts? I’m sure as heck not going in there to tell them.

    Filed under: Article, Living
    Gristmill: Inside Yingli, the giant Chinese solar company sponsoring the World Cup

    It takes about two hours by car from the Chinese capital Beijing to get to the smog-blanketed city of Baoding. I don’t mean to be rude, but it’s nothing much to speak of, typical of the Northeast’s expanse of industrial wastelands, threaded together by super-highways.

    So we were surprised to find that Baoding – where air pollution registers at hazardous levels for more than a quarter of the year – was also home to the sprawling campus of the world’s top solar panel manufacturer, Yingli. We had landed, it seemed, in the very epicenter of China’s cleantech revolution. After weeks of negotiations, my colleague Jaeah Lee and I were finally granted access to film this exclusive footage at Yingli’s headquarters in the fall of 2013. What awaited inside blew our socks off: acres of high-tech solar wizardry attended to by an impressive fleet of skilled workers, and an understandably boastful management.

    In the video above, we take you behind-the-scenes of Yingli, and put a face to the name you’ve been seeing in the background of World Cup games: In 2010, Yingli became the first renewable energy company, and the first Chinese company, to partner with the tournament.

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

    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: “Snowpiercer” is cli-fi with no science in it. We need more films like it.

    First of all, you’ll have to get past the title. Yes, Snowpiercer sounds like temperature-play porn or badly translated anime. Moving on.

    The movie is actually a wildly bizarre sci-fi action flick from celebrated Korean director Bong Joon Ho (The Host), based on a French graphic novel. It enjoys an 83-percent rating on Metacritic. Not bad for a movie where all the action is confined to a single train, and soot-dusted extras from Oliver get into bloody axe battles with masked, bondagey bros with night vision. Also, Captain America has a beard in it and he never smiles. (It opened in a few select cities a few weeks ago and expands to 354 theaters  and video-on-demand today.)

    It’s also a movie that wouldn’t exist without climate change. Not that the movie cares to go into it: A planet baking towards catastrophe merely sets up the dystopian playground, while the mechanisms behind it go unexplored. It’s largely employed as fuzzy background dread for the characters’ increasingly dire and twisted arcs — until they have to face a changed climate in literal terms near the film’s end. Lots of other sci-fi films have used climate change as set dressing, but few are this satisfying as thoughtful entertainment. Great cli-fi fiction (in addition to respected nonfiction) is poised to have a moment. With tangible catastrophe at our doorstep, Bong Joon Ho seems to understand we might as well have some fun with it.

    Here’s the high concept: Global warming hits humanity hard, and an attempt to geoengineer our way out of it ends up deep-freezing the planet. We’re told that nothing survives. The scrappy remains of humanity pile into a giant high-speed train that perpetually circles the Earth. In a none-too-subtle indictment of modern class tensions, the grim unfortunates are crammed into the shabby, windowless cabooses, where they pass the time by sleeping in rusty oil drums and choking down gelatinous bricks of “protein” slow-churned from mixed arthropods. Meanwhile, in the front cars the 1 percent dine on fresh sushi from sealed, “sustainable” SeaWorld aquarium cars and rave it up in furs on Gaga-gone-awry discotheques. The rich at least get to stare at the barren, sub-zeroed ruins of civilization from the car windows.

    The haves and have-nots never come into contact. They’re separated by totalitarian, armed thugs and lorded over by a hilariously over-the-top bureaucrat played by Tilda Swinton, wielding a clipboard and Thatcher-era dentition. Naturally, rebellion and bloodshed ensue as the oppressed fight their way to The Engine at the very front, where the mysterious leader and builder of the train Wilford lives.

    [Nerd alert: Spoilers ahead!]

    Snowpiercer gets very weird very fast — and that’s its primary strength. The best friend who usually dies by heroic sacrifice in the third act? Yeah, that guy gets a knife in the back a few minutes in. The turncoat villainess who is the key to success? Let’s just blow her away in a candy-colored elementary school classroom when she gets too insufferable for the protagonist. Bong’s world is inventive, brutal, and hilarious: A graphic axe battle is halted mid-arterial spurt by all parties, so they can celebrate together when the train passes a happy-new-year landmark.

    The film lands glancing blows on all kinds of green issues. Mass transit saves humanity! An all-insect diet keeps poorer humans nourished. Swinton and other characters constantly harp on the “sustainability” of various processes on the train. The perpetual fuel system produces a kind of flammable, caustic marshmallow byproduct that some characters (including a savant scientist and psychic girl) get addicted to. After too many plot reversals and gotcha moments, the movie finally goes literally and metaphorically off the rails in the final 20 minutes, and what remains of humanity walks out onto the ice to be confronted by …. a polar bear, the zoological mascot of the climate movement. Whether it’s supposed to signal the terror of uncertain human survival or the hope that even the most vulnerable biota can survive our climate missteps, the film doesn’t say. For his part, Bong told New York‘s Vulture blog he sees it as hopeful:

    You realize later on that the kids are the ones keeping this engine going, and this machinery intact. The engine is itself is on its way to extinction along with cigarettes, and other goods. Extinction is a repeated word throughout the film. But outside the train, life is actually returning. It’s nature that’s eternal, and not the train or the engine, as you see with the polar bear at the end.

    Snowpiercer requires a Hoover Dam to suspend disbelief at the science that drives the plot, but here is where the film offers an inspired tool for climate awareness: No. science. at. all. Climate change is merely the Big Bad that pushed us into a terrible struggle, like Russians in the ’80s or nuclear weapons in the ’50s (also, Russians in the ’50s). I’d argue compelling stories where catastrophic climate change is a given can do as much or more in the fight to come than any browbeating documentary saddled with burdensome ‘facts’ and sober models. Those already exist in the public discourse and should remain, but the more climate sinks in as a nightmarish inevitability that drives our scariest sci-fi, the more our culture at large can incorporate that into their background thinking.

    From civil rights to bankrupt technology to corporate shenanigans to identity crimes, sci-fi and speculative fiction have always possessed a unique power to give form to amorphous fears — and sometimes even prepped a populace to act. Sure, entertainment and pop culture are perhaps small cogs in the cultural machine. But consider this: Maybe the only reason we haven’t been overrun by omniscient killer robots is because gifted storytellers gave us plenty of advanced warning.

    We’re just getting warmed up on Snowpiercer. Go watch it, and look out for more discussion next week.

    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Living
    Triple Pundit: Twitter Chat with Mars, Inc. on July 24 – #MarsSusty

    On July 24, join Nick Aster of TriplePundit and Aman Singh of CSRwire for a lively Twitter chat with Mars, Inc. about its 2013 "Principles in Action" CSR report.

    The post Twitter Chat with Mars, Inc. on July 24 – #MarsSusty appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Why World Population is a Human Rights Issue

    On World Populations Day, remember there is a vital link between keeping birth rates falling and fighting hunger, poverty and environmental damage.

    The post Why World Population is a Human Rights Issue appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Is the carbon bubble about to bust? One unlikely pundit thinks so

    As Grist readers, I’m sure you’ve heard of the “carbon bubble” — the idea that the oil, gas, and coal industries are overvalued in the market because that value is calculated using energy reserves that they won’t be able to sell in any future that isn’t a climate apocalypse.

    I’ve read a lot of articles about the carbon bubble, but recently I ran across a particularly interesting one, written by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Daily Telegraph — which, as Britain’s Tory paper, isn’t exactly a hotbed of anti-corporate sentiment.

    Evans-Pritchard sees a lot of crazy things going on in the markets right now — China’s construction boom, in particular — but he says that the most disconcerting is the amount of effort that oil and gas companies are spending looking for new resources in areas with such low profit margins. The gradual end of the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing policy in the U.S., and similar monetary tightening elsewhere, may also cause oil and gas prices to fall, turning the infrastructure that has been invested in finding oil and gas and getting it to market into an expensive liability.

    Writes Evans-Pritchard:

    Data from Bank of America show that oil and gas investment in the U.S. has soared to $200 billion a year. It has reached 20 percent of total U.S. private fixed investment, the same share as home building. This has never happened before in U.S. history, even during the Second World War when oil production was a strategic imperative.

    The International Energy Agency (IEA) says global investment in fossil fuel supply doubled in real terms to $900 billion from 2000 to 2008 as the boom gathered pace. It has since stabilized at a very high plateau, near $950 billion last year.

    The cumulative blitz on exploration and production over the past six years has been $5.4 trillion, yet little has come of it. Output from conventional fields peaked in 2005. Not a single large project has come on stream at a break-even cost below $80 a barrel for almost three years.

    “What is shocking is that upstream costs in the oil industry have risen threefold since 2000 but output is up just 14 percent,” said Mark Lewis, from Kepler Cheuvreux. The damage has been masked so far as big oil companies draw down on their cheap legacy reserves.

    Also, later, on Twitter, he added: “Time to shrink oil, gas, coal to much smaller industry, before they waste any more money. Solar will eat their lunch.”

    When I finished reading, my first thought was, “Who the hell is this guy?”  Turns out he’s the Telegraph‘s international business editor, with about 30 years of experience — including a stint in D.C. in the ’90s as part of the posse of conservative journalists who spent years chasing Vincent Foster and Whitewater-related Clinton conspiracy theories.

    That might give him less credibility among the sort of people who already think carbon emissions need to be reduced — but they’re not the problem, are they?

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: New shipping channel will carry natural gas through the Arctic
    sea ice

    Most people think the thinning of the sea ice at the top of the world is a bad thing. But not shipping and fossil fuel interests.

    Shipping companies this week announced that they would use icebreakers to carve a new Arctic shipping route to help them deliver natural gas from a processing plant in western Siberia to customers in Japan and China. The Wall Street Journal reports:

    Once virtually impassable, the Arctic Ocean is now attracting interest as a shipping route because global warming has reduced the ice cover within the Arctic Circle. More ships have been plying the northern route between Europe and Asia, which is roughly 40% shorter than the conventional path through the Suez Canal.

    Last year, 71 ships crossed the Arctic Ocean between Europe and Asia, compared with four in 2010, according to Japan’s transportation ministry.

    Mitsui O.S.K. characterized its planned route as the first regular service linking Europe and Asia via the Arctic, although it will operate the Arctic route only during the warmer months of the year.

    “The shorter distance would be good for buyers, by cutting shipping costs and reducing other risks,” said Yu Nagatomi, an economist at Tokyo’s Institute of Energy Economics.

    A truly less risky approach, of course, would be leaving the fossil fuels in the ground and off the ocean’s surface. But, hey, $.

    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Climate change is flooding out American coastlines
    Storm surge flooding
    U.S. Coast Guard
    Flooding caused by Hurricane Arthur on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

    Hurricane Arthur is no more than a holiday-dampening memory in the minds of many East Coast residents and visitors. But the 4.5-foot storm surge it produced along parts of North Carolina’s shoreline on July 4 was a reminder that such tempests don’t need to tear houses apart to cause damage.

    As seas rise, shoreline development continues, and shoreline ecosystems are destroyed, the hazards posed by storm surges from hurricanes are growing more severe along the Gulf Coast and East Coast.

    Two soggy prognoses for storm-surge vulnerabilities were published on Thursday. A Reuters analysis of 25 million hourly tide-gauge readings highlighted soaring risks in recent decades as sea levels have risen. Meanwhile, a company that analyzes property values warned of the dizzying financial risks that such surges now pose.

    First, here are highlights from the Reuters article:

    During the past four decades, the number of days a year that tidal waters reached or exceeded National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration flood thresholds more than tripled in many places, the analysis found. At flood threshold, water can begin to pool on streets. As it rises farther, it can close roads, damage property and overwhelm drainage systems. …

    The trend roughly tracks the global rise in sea levels. The oceans have risen an average of 8 inches in the past century, according to the 2014 National Climate Assessment. Levels have increased as much as twice that in areas of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts where the ground is sinking because of subsidence – a process whereby natural geological forces or the extraction of underground water, oil or gas cause the ground to sink.

    The most dramatic increases in annual flood-level days occurred at 10 gauges from New York City to the Georgia-South Carolina border, a stretch of coast where subsidence accounts for as much as half the rise in sea level in some locations, according to U.S. Geological Survey studies.

    Also on Thursday, data and analytics firm CoreLogic published its annual storm surge report — a document that’s based on data produced for the insurance company. The firm’s latest analysis concluded that 6.5 million homes are at risk of being damaged by a category 1 hurricane’s storm surge. About 3.8 million of those homes are along the Atlantic Coast and the rest are along the Gulf Coast. Florida and Texas are most at risk. Rebuilding all of those homes would cost an estimated $1.5 trillion, the company’s analysts concluded.

    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Oh, heck yes: Check out these farm tools for women

    When it comes to products designed for women, the field is full of bubblegum-colored toolkits and dainty pens. “Shrink it and pink it” tends to be the default philosophy of the men wearing ties (presumably uttered as they do Mel Gibson impressions around the boardroom table).

    So what happens when the product designers have no Y chromosomes and don gender-neutral polar fleeces instead of suits?

    You get Green Heron Tools and a batch of farming and gardening tools that are actually useful for women. Ann Adams and Liz Brensinger founded the business after farming for 20 years and noticing the tools didn’t quite work for their bodies. Deborah Huso interviewed the pair over at Modern Farmer:

    “At the farmers markets, we got together with other women producers or couples farming, and the topic of tools constantly came up,” says Adams. Women farmers said they felt they were too weak to work with certain tools and regularly expressed frustration with everything from roto-tillers to tractor hitches. But Adams and Brensinger decided weakness wasn’t the problem. “Some of the tools didn’t work because they were designed for men,” Adams adds. “We saw a need for a place where women could go for tools that work for their bodies.”

    With the help of a USDA grant, the pair hired engineers and an occupational therapist to test various farming tools and look at the way women used them. “They discovered women use tools very differently,” writes Huso. “They put shovels into the ground at an angle to take advantage of lower body strength, rather than straight down as men do.” As a result, Green Heron Tools developed the HERS shovel. The handle is designed to better fit female hands and the enlarged blade top with tread makes the most of lower-body strength.

    Other products on the Green Heron Tools site were made by outside companies. But all were tested, approved, and recommended by women — including a tractor hitch you can hook and unhook without leaving your seat (an exciting prospect for farmers of all genders). Next on the in-house agenda? A lightweight roto-tiller that’s easier on the land and the operator than the standard version.

    As Huso points out, the number of women-operated farms in the U.S. have almost tripled in the last 30 years — which means women-friendly farm tools are desperately needed in the market.

    The female farmers around the nation deserve smarter products. Three cheers to Green Heron for getting a head start.

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Food
    Gristmill: Kidney stones: One more thing to look forward to in our climate-changed future

    With the world’s weather warming, you can expect a commensurate rise in the typical summertime body bothers, but what’s the big deal? That’s just the price you pay for modern convenience. Who can’t handle a case of stink-foot, a spot of swamp-butt, pit-stained T-shirts, and stabbing pains in the abdomen and lower back accompanied by excruciating and bloody urination.

    Wait a minute, what was that last one?

    New research from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia suggests that even slight warming causes a marked increase in kidney stones. The study focused on 60,000 patients in five U.S. cities, analyzing the frequency of patients seeking treatment for kidney stones within 20 days of temperatures rising above a pretty mild 50 degrees Fahrenheit. In Philadelphia, when average temperatures rose to 86 degrees, kidney stone cases went up a startling 47 percent.

    While excessive heat was a big factor, rapid changes in temperature were also a big predictor. Atlanta and Los Angeles, for instance, have the same average temperature of 63 degrees, but Atlanta, which is far more prone to temperature extremes than seemingly climate controlled Los Angeles, had twice the reported rate of kidney stones. Sobering, as most climate models predict not only warmer temperatures, but more radically fluctuating weather patterns.

    Sandy Bauers at The Philadelphia Inquirer has more:

    Given the history of climate change science – predictions that, no matter how draconian, are often so vague that the dangers are easily ignored or misinterpreted – the specificity of new research out Thursday from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is intriguing: measurable rises in the number of kidney-stone cases at hospitals and doctors’ offices that can be linked to increases, even small ones, in the average daily temperature.

    Their research suggests that both adults and children could be at a higher risk for the painful condition as the world warms.

    “Kidney-stone prevalence has already been on the rise over the last 30 years,” said Gregory Tasian, a pediatric urologist and epidemiologist at Children’s, and lead author of the new paper. “We can expect this trend to continue, both in greater numbers and over a broader geographic area, as daily temperatures increase.”

    Previous studies have shown that hotter climates in general are associated with a greater prevalence of kidney stones. For instance, the Southeastern United States is known to urologists as the “kidney-stone belt” because of higher case rates. Researchers have also observed that when people relocate from moderate climates to hotter places, their likelihood of developing stones increases.

    You might want to put your computer down, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and try to get the image of “kidney-stone belt” out of your head. And whatever you do, try not to picture the horrifying shoes and handbag you’d need to match it.

    Kidney stones have been on the rise over the last 30 years with the rate nearly doubling from 1 in 20 Americans in 1993 to 1 in 11 in 2013, and while certainly obesity and dietary factors play a part, the rise coincides with climbing temperatures. The study predicts as many as 2 million additional annual cases of kidney stones by 2050 in the U.S. with a healthcare cost of a billion dollars. Also notable: The study only looked at patients with health insurance, and the rate could be even higher for the uninsured, who may have less access to air conditioning.

    So we can act now and curtail the damage or we can keep going and, I guess, just roll with it. Just remember, to beat the heat you’ll need a good pair of odor eating shoe inserts, plenty of antiperspirant, wicking undershorts, and a remarkably high pain threshold to handle the jagged, stoney growth working its way through your urethra.

    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: We officially nominate M. Sanjayan and Neil deGrasse Tyson for the 2015 season of True Detective

    This year’s Primetime Emmy nominations proved that climate change is Having A Moment right now. (Ha! That is clearly a joke. Every moment belongs to climate change, because it is the inescapable fate of the planet.)

    The Showtime series Years of Living Dangerously and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos each garnered Emmy nods for Outstanding Documentary Or Nonfiction Series. Cosmos was nominated in 11 additional categories.

    As you may recall, Tyson took climate deniers to task in an episode of Cosmos, during which he travelled to the major battleground of the climate wars (a.k.a. the Arctic circle). And M. Sanjayan, host of Years of Living Dangerously and executive vice president of Conservation International, traveled the world to show the real-life, on-the-ground consequences of global warming.

    We sat down with Sanjayan in April, and he told us that doing the series had left him with little doubt that climate change is real, happening now, and directly threatens everyone living on Earth: “Part of this was actually going out with these guys and seeing [the effects of climate change] on the ground myself. And I came away with the sense that these stories now are real.” The fact that this message is now on primetime television is a serious step forward.

    We present you, now, with a modest proposal — basically, the only logical next step in bringing the message of climate change mitigation to a broad television audience. That is to cast Sanjayan and Tyson in the starring roles of True Detective 2015. (Tagline: Time is a flat circle, and we are doomed to a new era of mass extinction.)

    WHAT! Sanjayan is totally a Rust Cohle type. And tell me you wouldn’t tune in to see America’s favorite scientists in a shoot-out with meth-snorting, wifebeater-wearing, tattooed oil execs.

    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Living
    Triple Pundit: 3p Weekend: 5 Companies with Exemplary Customer Service

    In a world where automated help lines and terms and conditions pages that read like Russian novels have become commonplace, it's unfortunate that exemplary customer service is more the exception than the rule. This week we're tipping our hats to five companies that prove the stereotype wrong and are rewarded with happy customers and healthy bottom lines.

    The post 3p Weekend: 5 Companies with Exemplary Customer Service appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: LeBron James heads back to Ohio, and perhaps his greatest challenge yet
    lebron james

    LeBron James broke the news today that he is returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the NBA team of his home state that he bolted from in 2010 to join the Miami Heat. His homecoming announcement in Sports Illustrated sends a message that his return is less about bringing the state an NBA championship, and more about creating a better future for the children of Ohio, particularly those of his home city, Akron. Says James:

    But this is not about the roster or the organization. I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.

    It sounds like James is growing less concerned with trophies, and more concerned with quality of life — and that’s applaudable. It not only shows leadership, but also signals a mature understanding about economy that broadens the definition of “winning” from one focused purely on franchise.

    There is plenty of disenfranchisement to go around in Ohio right now, especially in the voting world. But communities get disenfranchised in many ways, and the cities of Cleveland and Akron are unfortunate examples of this. Contrary to James’ statement, there are better places to grow up.

    In a phone call today, Caitlin Johnson, an organizer for the Ohio Organizing Collaborative, detailed some of the problems in Northeast Ohio. The situation there is grim, unfortunately, and a lot of that has to do with the poor air quality there.

    The counties where Akron and Cleveland sit have long been out of compliance with National Ambient Air Quality standards for ground-level ozone and fine particulate matter. Both of these harmful emissions from power plants and industrial facilities lead to asthma and also reproductive problems in pregnant mothers. So it’s not surprising that  Akron happens to have one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country, with black families suffering the worst. From

    According to the Ohio Collaborative to Prevent Infant Mortality, Ohio is ranked 11th in the nation in terms of having the worst infant mortality rate (IMR), which is defined as the number of live-born babies who die within their first year per thousand births. Ohio’s IMR, from 2010 statistics, is 7.7, while the national rate is 6.14. …

    Chief among the concerns of health officials is the disparity in rates when race is considered. … The IMR for non-Hispanic blacks in Summit County is 14.0, while it’s 5.7 for non-Hispanic whites.

    “The racial factor is quite alarming,” said County Councilwoman Tamela Lee (D-District 5), of West Akron. “The African-American rate is more than double. In the central area of the county, in Akron, is the highest incidence of infant mortality, and that happens to be where we have the poorest and largest concentration of minority residents.”

    Ohio began making moves to help clear up the foul air clouding these Rust Belt areas in 2008. The legislature passed a law that year mandating the state purchase 12.5 percent of its energy from renewable sources like solar and wind. That policy was supposed to kick in this year, but Republicans just passed a law, SB 310, that freezes it from happening for another three years. According to Eco Watch, this makes Ohio the first state to roll back its renewable energy mandate.

    The freeze happened as a result of heavy lobbying from Akron-based the fossil-fuel-energy giant First Energy. This is the company that put up $120 million for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns stadium. The energy company has also ponied up to woo state legislators into banking on natural gas, as opposed to wind and solar energy, setting off a wave of fracking operations across the state.

    “They are certainly one of the most powerful corporations in Ohio,” Johnson told me, “and they have poured a lot of money and ads into this. They were the driving force behind dismantling Ohio’s modest, really, renewable energy portfolio.”

    The jury is still out on the health risks and dangers of fracking — in Ohio’s neighboring state of Pennsylvania, health officials recently said they were forbidden from talking about the dangers. The reported water contamination from fracking operations, as shown in documentaries like Gasland, don’t seem to be a good formula for counties where babies are dying prematurely in large numbers.

    This is the Ohio James is returning to, which is not much better off than the one he left in 2010. When James says the community “has struggled so much,” I hope he understands some of this and will be in a position to create somewhat brighter futures for the children there.

    Filed under: Cities
    Gristmill: Rich Republicans are the worst climate deniers
    rich businessman throws money

    We’ve known for some time that as Republicans become more highly educated, or better at general science comprehension, they become stronger in their global warming denial. It’s a phenomenon I’ve called the “smart idiot” effect: Apparently being highly informed or capable interacts with preexisting political biases to make those on the right more likely to be wrong than they would be if they had less education or knowledge.

    Now, a new study in the journal Climatic Change has identified a closely related phenomenon. Call it the “rich idiot” effect: The study finds that among Republicans, as levels of income increase, so does their likelihood of “dismissing the dangers associated with climate change.” But among Democrats and independents, there is little or no change in climate views as levels of income increase or decrease.

    The study, by Jeremiah Bohr of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was based on an analysis of preexisting data from the 2010 installment of the General Social Survey — a leading source of survey information about the U.S. public. In addition to questions about levels of education, income, and political party affiliation, the survey asked the following: “In general, do you think that a rise in the world’s temperature caused by climate change is extremely dangerous for the environment, very dangerous, somewhat dangerous, not very dangerous, or not dangerous at all for the environment?”

    Bohr looked specifically at those individuals who chose the “not very dangerous” or “not dangerous at all” options. And he found that at the lowest income level, the probability that a Republican would give one of these dismissive answers was only 17.7 percent. But at the highest income level, it was 51.2 percent. Here’s a visualization of the chief finding, showing how the likelihood of a Republican giving one of these answers changes in relation to wealth:

    Probability of dismissing climate change risks in relation to political party affiliation and level of income.
    J. Bohr, Climatic Change, July 2014
    Probability of dismissing climate change risks in relation to political party affiliation and level of income.

    This therefore leads to a surprising conclusion: “At the bottom quintile of income, Republicans are not significantly different from either Independents or Democrats” with respect to their denial of climate risks, the study reports. It’s only as income increases that Republicans become so much more likely to be deniers.

    So why does this occur? There are several possibilities discussed in the paper.

    The first is that income is actually a proxy for something else: Namely, being politically aware. It’s possible that being wealthy is related to paying more attention to politics and your political party, and people who do so would be more aware of what those who agree with them on other issues actually think about global warming. (The study controlled for another possible influencing factor, education.)

    The other possibility, though, is that climate denial is a defense of economic interests. “Among individuals with conservative political orientations, there is a correlation between occupying advantageous positions within industrial economic systems and an unwillingness to acknowledge the risks associated with climate change,” Bohr writes. “Perhaps to validate their economic interests, these individuals are more likely to process information on climate science through political filters that result in denying the risks produced by climate change.”

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

    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Living, Politics
    Gristmill: Bike lanes save lives AND money
    cyclists in bike lane

    Next time you hop on your bike, give yourself a pat on the back for being such a model citizen. Not only are you about to get some fresh air and exercise, you are going to save your city some serious dough.

    According to a study from Environmental Health Perspectives, cycling infrastructure is a smart investment for penny-pinching city planners. Taking the city of Auckland in New Zealand as a test case, the researchers looked at simulations of different biking scenarios: a shared-road bike lane network, separated arteries of bike lanes on all main roads, something called “self-explaining roads” with car-slowing design elements, as well as a sweet-spot combination of those separated lanes and self-explaining elements.

    In every scenario, between $6 and $24 were saved for every dollar spent, compared to a business-as-usual baseline. How, you ask? In addition to the pollution, traffic congestion, and sedentary-lifestyle health problems associated with cars, society bears the brunt of our automobile addiction in the form of medical and emergency services. That car crash is, yes, tragic, but it is also expensive.

    Here are five big takeaways from the study:

    1. When more people start to bike, there are fewer cars on the road. So while you are bound to have more bike fatalities by number, the actual rate of injury per biker goes down. Meanwhile, car-related fatalities drop by enough to cancel out the cycling casualties two or three times over.

    As bike injuries increase, total fatalities decrease overall. Click to embiggen.
    Macmillan et al.
    As bike injuries increase, total fatalities decrease overall. Click to embiggen.

    2. It’s cheaper to build bike lanes on top of existing infrastructure, but you get what you pay for. The leanest bike budget could carve some lanes out of existing road surface, but in that scenario, biking’s share of overall trips only increases from 1 to 5 percent, while car trips hold steady – meaning so do all automotive social ills.

    3. If you build it, they will come. Separated bike lanes along all major carways caused cycling traffic to spike to 20 percent. And while it wasn’t the safest option, the rate of injury was still almost half of what it was sans-barrier.

    4. Slowing down cars makes everyone breathe a little easier. The self-explaining roads led to the greatest decrease in air pollution, and the safest situation for bicyclists. The death and injury rate was cut in half, while cars’ share of road trips dropped to 55 percent.

    5. The best of both worlds is usually the best. Traffic-calming road design and separated bike lanes are the peanut butter and chocolate of the urban planning world. Car use dropped to 40 percent of all traffic, while, in karmically perfect sync, biking rose to 40 percent. Meanwhile, there were 4,000 fewer deaths from lack of physical activity — a much greater risk than pedal-pushing.

    Oh yeah. And that last option also had the greatest return on investment of them all: $24 in the bank for every one spent on bikes.

    Filed under: Cities, Living
    Gristmill: This climate-denying rapper is about as dope as you’d expect

    For the past nine years, climate deniers from all over the world have gathered for the International Conference on Climate Change, brought to you by the Heartland Institute (the same folks who deny that tobacco causes lung cancer).

    This year, they’ll do the denying in oven-hot Las Vegas, a city undergoing killer high temps and record-breaking extreme drought. Approximately 600 attendees paid $126 a pop to discuss the hoax of global warming, hear about how awesome fracking is, and gamble in casinos (presumably on our future), all while sweating profusely in 90-plus-degree heat.

    But what to do for entertainment? Since craps tables and the Michael Jackson/Cirque du Soleil show just aren’t enough to wash down hours of hearing about the evils of carbon pricing, the Heartland Institute booked a most fitting performer: a climate-denying rapper.

    Meet Austrian rapper Kilez More (not a call to violence, just a weird childhood nickname). Born in Vienna, Kilez just dropped his latest album, Viva la Rapvolution! More describes himself as a “system enemy“: His song “Klimawandel (Klimalüge, Klimaschwindel)” — translation “Climate Change (Climate Lies, Climate Swindle)” — warns you not to buy into all the fake data and pesky science behind climate change and think for yourself, man.

    Better yet, let’s let Kilez break it down for ya in his own words:

    Climate change was not made by man/No, it’s only to keep the world in fear/NEIN!/All those who are pimpin’ it are being called experts/And the brothers who dis it are being labeled sick.

    According to the song, climate change is normal, it’s always been around!

    “History shows in 1100 the planet was warm/In North England people were growing grapes and makin’ wine/And that wasn’t because factories were run by knights/And the shield industry driving the climate up.”

    In Kilez conspiracy-theory worldview, climate scientists are angling for nothing less than global dominance and genocide: Bolder lyrics include “climate happiness is only possible without children” and “Saving the climate means wiping out all humans.”

    Part of me thinks someone should drop a few rhymes on them based on actual climate science, but after Kilez performance, maybe they’ve suffered enough.

    Filed under: Article
    Gristmill: Cowboys, hunters, and enviros team up to fight natural gas drilling

    If you take off in a plane from the airport in Aspen, Colo., you’ll soon see exactly what natural gas drilling looks like — and exactly why so many residents of the surrounding region, from ranchers to business owners to greens, are fighting to keep it in check.

    Fly north over the Thompson Divide, a region mostly contained within the White River National Forest, and all you see is green, lush mountains and valleys. This is a habitat for migratory species from birds to elk.

    Thompson Divide
    Bruce Gordon / EcoFlight

    Continue on, and tilt a bit west, and you enter the Piceance (pronounced “Pee-once”) Basin. There you see patches of denuded brown dirt with long thin lines leading to them, like the pitcher’s mound on a baseball field. These are some of Colorado’s roughly 30,000 active gas wells, and the roads built to service them. (Many thanks to EcoFlight, a nonprofit environmental education group, for showing me the views.)

    Grassy Mesa
    Bruce Gordon / EcoFlight

    Gradually, over the course of recent years, the drilling has spread eastward, over each successive hill. Now residents in the Thompson Divide area are worried it will come down to their communities and soon their pristine landscape will look like their neighbors’ to the west. The threat has been hanging over them for a decade, but they are now trying to round up the votes in Congress to roll it back.

    In 2003, the Bush administration unexpectedly issued 81 mineral leases in the area covering approximately 105,000 acres. Many sold for the statutory minimum of $2 per acre. President Bush’s subservience to fossil fuel interests is one possible reason for the low price, but it was also because the natural gas in the area is expensive to extract, so companies weren’t willing to pay much for the right to do so. Gas prices still haven’t risen enough to make drilling here economical, so a decade has elapsed without any drilling actually taking place. The leases were for 10 years, but some got an extension from the Bureau of Land Management last year, so now there are 61 active leases.

    The Thompson Divide Coalition, a grassroots organization of local farmers, ranchers, business owners, and environmentalists, is fighting to revoke the remaining leases permanently. The group contends that it makes no economic sense for the government to let gas companies hold on indefinitely to leases they aren’t using. Be that as it may, the coalition’s more compelling argument is that drilling would be devastating to their local environment and economy. The White River National Forest starts right at the top of Aspen Mountain. The area’s main economic activities are tourism, outdoor recreation, and cattle ranching. All would be under threat by gas drilling that could pollute the local air and water and would require building roads and filling them with trucks. Constructing and servicing a well, especially a fracking well, can require dozens of truck trips back and forth per day. No one wants to hunt, hike, fish, or cross-country ski in an area with pungent, loud drilling operations and frequent truck traffic.

    For the owners of adjacent ranches, the impact could be just as immediate. They graze their cattle in the White River National Forest, and they might no longer be able to if the area were drilled. Around the country, cattle have died after drinking water contaminated with fracking fluid.

    Bill Fales, 61, looks like Mad Men’s Roger Sterling would if he went into ranching. Tall, lean, gray-haired, with piercing blue eyes and a lined face under his cowboy hat, Fales runs a 700-acre ranch in Carbondale, Colo., with his wife Marj, who grew up on the land. They now sell their grass-fed beef to Whole Foods. They were among the first organizers of the Thompson Divide Coalition.

    Bill Fales

    “We’re pretty terrified by [drilling],” says Fales. “We’re worried about the quality of our water. Just the perception of contamination kills our grass-fed market.” In New York City, Fales notes, some restaurants stopped buying beef from farms upstate as soon as the threat of fracking nearby materialized. Fales adds that herding his cattle would be difficult if the area were broken up with roads and filled with traffic.

    All of this has brought together a slightly unusual coalition against drilling in the area: hunters and cowboys holding hands with environmental organizations like the Wilderness Workshop, an advocacy group focused on the White River National Forest.

    Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) introduced a bill last year that would protect the Thompson Divide from any future lease sales and set up a process for allowing the community to buy current leases from the gas companies and retire them. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and Sen. Mark Udall (D) have announced their support for the legislation. A similar bill focused on Wyoming land passed and was signed into law in 2009 with Republican support. Still, getting Bennet’s bill through the Senate will be hard: The Energy and Natural Resources Committee is chaired by oil-industry booster Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and includes pro–fossil fuel Democrat Joe Manchin (W.Va.) as well as Republican members. Back-channel negotiations between drilling opponents and gas companies are ongoing, and an agreement that removes industry opposition to Bennet’s bill could round up some support from Republicans and industry-friendly Democrats. But getting anything out of this polarized Congress, and especially the GOP-led House, is never a safe bet.

    So the Thompson Divide Coalition and its allies are pursuing another approach as well: They’re petitioning the BLM to revoke all 61 remaining leases. They argue that the BLM did not perform the legally required environmental reviews back in 2003 and citizens were not given proper warning and an opportunity to comment on the leasing plans. The BLM itself admits that the review process was “deficient,” so in April of last year it suspended the leases for two years while it figures out whether that means the leases should be revoked or extended. Getting the BLM to rule that the leases should never have been granted would force the gas companies to come to the table and negotiate a settlement.

    The Thompson Divide’s defenders are waging a PR battle too. They’re lobbying in Washington, and organizing in Colorado and online. The Thompson Divide Coalition commissioned a study last year that found hunting, fishing, grazing, and recreation in the Thompson Divide create nearly 300 jobs and $30 million a year in economic value. They argue, also, that those industries are more sustainable than natural resource extraction. “People come because it’s so scenic, and they won’t come if it’s been destroyed,” says Fales. “We’re not a boom-and-bust business. Western Colorado has seen a lot of boom-and-bust mineral development.” Indeed, Carbondale has always served as a bedroom community to Aspen. The area was developed in the late 1800s when Aspen had a boom in silver mining and Carbondale was its agricultural breadbasket. Then Carbondale experienced a coal mining boom, which literally exploded with a methane leak that killed 15 miners in 1981. The town suffered after the industry shut down, until Aspen’s tourism economy and the influx of service workers revived it.

    The Thompson Divide’s defenders make arguments about money, because that is what politicians respond to. But the bigger issue is their connection to the land.

    Given the striking views of Mount Sopris from their driveway and their proximity to Aspen, the Fales’s could sell their property for millions of dollars to a developer of luxury vacation homes and get out now, before any potential drilling has started. Instead, they have put a conservation easement on their property and stayed to fight it out with the gas companies. When asked about moving, Fales just shakes his head and says, “This is our home.”


    Watch EcoFlight‘s virtual tour of the Thompson Divide area:

    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Utilities to battery-powered solar: Get off our lawn

    In Wisconsin, utilities are jacking up the price to connect to their electrical grid. In Oklahoma, utilities pushed through a law this spring that allows them to charge the people who own solar panels and wind turbines more to connect to their electrical grid. In Arizona, the state has decided to charge extra property taxes to households that are leasing solar panels.

    Welcome to the solar backlash. In Grist’s “Utilities for Dummies” series last year, David Roberts prophesied that solar and other renewables could “lay waste to U.S. power utilities and burn the utility business model, which has remained virtually unchanged for a century, to the ground.” And lo, it is coming to pass — though not without a fight from the utilities first.

    This May, Barclays downgraded its rating of America’s electricity sector from “market weight” to “underweight.” Its rationale? Solar — or, more specifically, the great leaps that are happening or expected to happen in technology for storing the energy that solar generates. While the solar industry took a roller-coaster ride over the last decade, the R&D that went into electric cars created the killer add-on it was waiting for: really awesome batteries.

    It’s not a coincidence that Tesla formed a sales partnership last year with the solar panel development giant Solar City. The two companies are basically smushing solar panels and fancy electric cars together to create a Transformers-like superhouse that could join with similar houses to form a microgrid, no utility necessary. In their utopia, a house could be powered in the off-hours by the battery from the car parked in the garage. Or, if you’re not car people, you could just buy the battery. Tesla is claiming that the cost of their batteries will drop in half by 2020.

    For this reason, it’s not surprising that some utilities are specifically going after solar arrays with batteries. In California, utilities are demanding that any solar panel installation that features batteries add an extra meter just for the battery (which adds about $1300 to the overall cost of the installation) before it can be allowed to sell electricity back to the grid.

    PG&E, the company that owns California’s biggest utility, refuses outright to buy energy from customers that have both solar panels and batteries, as does San Diego Gas & Electric. The utility companies argue that such storage systems could, in theory, be used fraudulently: Consumers with solar panels could fill their batteries directly with power sourced from the grid during times when the power is cheap and then send it back under a false “clean” label during periods of high demand when it’s worth more. (Although solar suppliers say no one is actually gaming the system this way, the industry admits that the technology has outpaced monitoring policies.)

    It makes sense that utilities are freaking out about the risk of solar. Today, 43 states require utilities to buy electricity from consumer solar installations, typically at the same price that customers pay for power from the grid. Utilities argue that this arrangement is unfair to them, because they have to maintain a ton of infrastructure (power lines, power plants) that a cute house with a solar panel does not. However, utilities have typically had decades of low-cost loans and steady regulated profits, plus some opportunities for crazy price-gouging here and there, precisely because of this infrastructure. In most cases, it has already more than paid for itself.

    If solar achieves anywhere near its projected growth, utilities stand to lose a lot of money. But by working against solar, instead of with it, they risk creating a two-tiered system — one where people who are wealthy or organized enough separate from the grid entirely and link together in little gated communities, and one where people who can’t get it together enough to install a fancy solar array end up paying higher and higher utility prices on a steadily shrinking network — sort of like how poor people get stuck paying higher gas prices because they don’t have the $25,000 to own a Prius, or higher utilities because they can’t afford the outlay for energy-efficient anything.

    Which is to say, there are changes coming, and the next few years will determine the shape of the energy system of the future. Of course, our need to cut carbon emissions is urgent enough that we just might want to say to the utilities: Get out of the way. And if there ever was a time to run for your local public utilities commission, it’s now.

    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy
    Triple Pundit: Are We Really Ready to Divest from Fossil Fuels (and Plastics)?

    Divest from fossil fuels? The climate may be screaming yes, but our mindset, our kitchens and our manufacturing processes are still a long way off from ready.

    The post Are We Really Ready to Divest from Fossil Fuels (and Plastics)? appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Walmart Sees Gold in Small Neighborhood Grocery Stores

    Walmart has announced it will nearly double its number of "small format" stores in unconventional locations -- to the benefit of walkable communities and of those in food deserts where lower-income people suffer limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

    The post Walmart Sees Gold in Small Neighborhood Grocery Stores appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Harnessing Young Talent for the Impact Sector

    Millennials will comprise 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025, and the findings show that they want to work for organizations that make a positive contribution to society by addressing global challenges of resource scarcity, climate change and income equality.

    The post Harnessing Young Talent for the Impact Sector appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Redwood: The Natural Solution to a Man-Made Problem

    At the California Redwood Association, we’ve seen the market come full-circle in terms of understanding the natural solution vs. man-made solutions. More and more homeowners and remodelers are realizing that to be truly green, it’s hard to improve on Mother Nature.

    The post Redwood: The Natural Solution to a Man-Made Problem appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: “Bicycle face” for the modern woman

    This week, Vox published a great piece on a (completely imaginary) 19th century phenomenon called “bicycle face.” In a nutshell: Doctors in the late 1800s invented a velocipedically induced physical condition to dissuade women from riding bikes:

    “Over-exertion, the upright position on the wheel, and the unconscious effort to maintain one’s balance tend to produce a wearied and exhausted ‘bicycle face,’” noted the Literary Digest in 1895. It went on to describe the condition: “usually flushed, but sometimes pale, often with lips more or less drawn, and the beginning of dark shadows under the eyes, and always with an expression of weariness.” Elsewhere, others said the condition was “characterized by a hard, clenched jaw and bulging eyes.”

    Fair enough — keeping one’s balance sure is hard! Especially for those of us with uteri, because of our confused and equilibrium-challenged lady-brains.

    This got me thinking about different conditions that threaten the modern urban woman trying to get from Point A to Point B. Henceforth, a brief catalogue:

    “Cab-Exiting” Face: “I just paid 45 AMERICAN DOLLARS to take a 15-minute taxi ride, and now I have to awkwardly shuffle across this nasty leather seat with my knees clenched together to make sure that none of the 900 strangers on this sidewalk get a view of my vagina. Did I even remember to put on underwear this morning? Fuck.”

    Photo on 7-10-14 at 4.51 PM #2

    “Your Gym Bag Is Taking Up Two Seats On This Packed Subway” Face: “Whoever made these shoes is a certifiable sadist. But hey, my having to stand makes sense — your putrid, enormous Nikes are absolutely more valuable than my feet. I have now lost 80 percent of the feeling in my toes.”

    Photo on 7-10-14 at 5.00 PM

    “Did You Seriously Just Drive RIGHT Past This Designated Bus Stop?” Face: “I have been waiting here for 25 minutes. It is somehow raining and hailing at the same time. I KNOW that you saw me, bus driver, because we made eye contact, but then I think I saw horns magically come out of your head.”

    Photo on 7-10-14 at 4.56 PM

    “My Two Options Right Now Are Uber Surge Pricing Or A Bus That Now Comes Once Every Two Hours” Face: “This is why you should never, ever let anyone convince you to stay out past 2:00 a.m.”

    Photo on 7-10-14 at 5.04 PM

    Keep in mind, ladies — all of these are potentially permanent and therefore detrimental to your physical appearance, which is your single most valuable asset.

    Filed under: Cities, Living
    Gristmill: John Oliver’s Antarctic tourism PSA: “Stick your d*ck in a freezer” instead

    John Oliver understands why 40,000 people visit Antarctica a year. Free snow cones! And, as if that weren’t enough, free penguins! That sounds like my kind of vacation.

    Which is exactly the problem: Tourists bring invasive species along with them, which has some researchers concerned for the future of the frozen continent’s unique ecosystems, some of our last remaining pockets of pristine. So, on Last Week Tonight, Oliver offered up his idea for the Antarctica’s new tourist campaign: “Stop coming here.”

    Sorry, Oliver, too late. When I was lucky enough to go to Antarctica in 2005, I was blown away by the vastness of the place – a feeling that set me on track to give a damn about our planetary woes today. It’s a bit of a conundrum: I’m glad for that perspective but, like almost anything that anyone does, I know it wasn’t free of broader consequence. In any case, we can at least be more thoughtful about how we go about visiting the world’s last wild places — like maybe skip the Neil Armstrong impression on that ancient moss bed.

    Filed under: Article, Living
    Gristmill: Chinese company creamed for GMO corn thievery

    The FBI has captured members of a super-secret Chinese spy ring whose arsenal included false identities, corporate fronts, Cold War anti-surveillance techniques, Subway napkins and, perhaps most cruelly, Orville Redenbacher microwave popcorn boxes. What were they after? Diplomatic communiques? Launch commands? Plans for the Death Star? No.

    They were after corn.

    And to think they used his own popcorn boxes to smuggle corn out of the country. Poor Orville’s bowtie must be spinning in his grave (assuming he was buried with a novelty spinning bowtie and a robust power supply).

    Edvard Pettersson at Bloomberg has cob-bled together the whole seedy tale:

    Three years ago, a security guard working for seed company Pioneer Hi-Bred came across something unusual on a road in Iowa: Just off the pavement, a man was on his knees, digging in a field.

    Challenged by the guard, Mo Hailong claimed to be an employee of the University of Iowa who was traveling to a nearby conference. He jumped back in his car and sped away.

    U.S. authorities would later accuse Mo, and five other Chinese nationals, of stealing corn seeds and attempting to smuggle them back to China.

    A seventh defendant, Mo Yun, was arrested and charged Wednesday with stealing trade secrets for her husband’s seed company — the Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group Company.

    The details of the case, laid out by prosecutors, underscore the difficulty of safeguarding U.S. intellectual property, and the determination of some foreign rivals to acquire technology by illicit means.

    The Chinese company is accused of stealing trade secrets worth an estimated $30-40 million, so you can understand why the feds were all ears. The arrests include that of company president Mo Hailong, better known as the Jason Bourne of Corn. If there’s a kernel of truth to the allegations, he could face up to 10 years in prison and a $5 million fine.

    The thieves were after “inbred seeds,” the building blocks of multi-million-dollar crops patented by DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto. It’s hard to feel bad for Monsanto, a corporation that is essentially the diametric opposite of a baby panda. Baby pandas can seemingly do no wrong, Monsanto has the same problem with right. Heck, when there’s a break in their busy schedule of destroying kidneys and hiring mercenaries, Monsanto’s employees have been known squeeze in a little espionage of their own.

    On the flip side, we’re not talking about Robin Hood, here. Beijing Daeinong Technology Group Company has a moral compass that allows it to use gutter oil in the medicines it manufactures. If you are wondering if that’s bad, reread the last sentence and note that includes the term “gutter oil.”

    No, the guy I feel sorry for is that poor FBI agent who who broke this case. I’ve never been to an FBI cocktail party, but I imagine one agent at the punch bowl telling the story of his decades-long pursuit of a ruthless mob hit man, and the next agent regaling the crowd with the tale of bringing down a Colombian coke cartel from the inside. The guy who popped the corn perps has got to feel a little queasy.

    “Um, well, you see, there were these guys in this cornfield and it turns out they were stealing the corn. I put a stop to that,” he says. “Enjoying those tortilla chips? You’re welcome. You’re God damned welcome.”

    Filed under: Food
    Gristmill: This is what one week of your trash might look like

    Garbage stinks for the planet. Food waste is a prime carbon emitter. Plastic junk ends up in our oceans. Still, even well-intentioned greenies probably drop their trash in the dumpster (after sorting the compost and recyclables, of course) and don’t think much about their rubbish again.

    Photographer Gregg Segal wants to change that. For his ongoing project, “7 Days of Garbage,” Segal shows images of people nestled up to the trash they amassed over a week. Spend a little time with the photographs and it’s hard not to notice the uneaten grub and glut of plastic:

    Gregg Segal
    Gregg Segal

    Here’s a little more about the project from Slate:

    Segal used natural materials to transform his yard into artificial environments, like a forest floor or a sandy beach or a body of water, where he photographed all his subjects. “I shot from above to make it very clinical and clean and graphic. It’s kind of a nest, a bed we’re lying in with all this stuff, forcing us to reconcile what we’re producing, which hopefully causes some people to think a little bit more about what they’re consuming,” he said.

    Garbage selfies, anyone?

    Filed under: Article, Living
    Gristmill: Another climate crackdown from Obama’s EPA

    The Montreal Protocol, arguably the world’s most successful environmental treaty, rapidly reduced CFC use around the globe – and, in doing so, put us on the path to save the ozone layer from threatened annihilation. But the treaty had an unintended consequence. Many manufacturers switched from CFCs to HFCs, which we now know to be especially potent greenhouse gases.

    So now we have to put out that fire. And on Thursday, the EPA took a major step toward doing just that, issuing new draft rules that would limit the use of the chemicals.

    “EPA is proposing to modify the listings from acceptable to unacceptable for certain hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and HFC blends,” the agency wrote in a notice of proposed rulemaking. The rule would affect the manufacture of aerosol cans, fridges, air conditioners used in buildings and in vehicles, and other such devices where lower-risk alternatives are “available or potentially available.”

    David Doniger, director of the Climate and Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, says the move “marks another crucial step” by the Obama administration to curb climate change.

    “With safer coolants and aerosols already on the market, we need to phase out the most damaging HFCs now,” Doniger said. “This will help curb dangerous climate warming, drive innovation in energy efficiency, and help fulfill our obligation to leave a better world for our children.”

    Now, to convince India and other governments to do the same.

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: At Chez Dumpster, every misshapen veggie gets its due
    Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 12.00.38 PM

    An obscene amount of the food we grow gets thrown away. Some of it has to do with tough logistical issues (e.g., how do you make it feasible for a farmer to salvage those overripe plums?).

    But a lot of our food is wasted because, to put it bluntly, we are ignorant and prejudiced. It’s produce profiling: If the fruit or vegetable doesn’t fit the established norm, it freaks us out, even when it’s every bit as healthy and delicious on the inside.

    These prejudices — like most prejudices — are deep, visceral, and totally irrational (experimental psychologist Paul Rozin has done really interesting work on this). So how do you work around them?

    Josh Treuhaft, a graduate student studying Design for Social Innovation at the School of Visual Arts, in New York, had a clever idea. Treuhaft gathered up food that would have otherwise gone to waste and enlisted talented cooks to make it delicious and, crucially, beautiful. Then he served it, with meticulous presentation and linen napkins, inside a dumpster. (Presumably after giving it a good long scrub.)

    Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 12.12.15 PM
    Josh Treuhaft, Salvage Supperclub

    “I’m definitely not as worried any more about getting sick from these foods, especially if they’re a day or two past their prime or expiration date,” one of Treuhaft’s guests told him.

    Food, fun, and conviviality: They’re keys for opening closed minds.

    Filed under: Article, Food
    Gristmill: Join us for a bumpy ride through Uber’s myriad challenges

    Lately, app-based ridesharing company Uber has had a maze of issues to work through. Legal challenges from the taxi industry, disgruntled drivers looking to unionize, and protests in Europe and the U.S. are taking the company, recently valued at $18.2 billion, for a rough ride.

    Will Uber make it through the maze of problems it faces from taxi companies and its own drivers? The company has several fine lines to walk drive.

    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Cities
    Gristmill: How hot will future summers be in your city?
    U.S. map with red dots

    Fancy spending a summer in Kuwait City? That’s what scientists project summers will resemble in Phoenix by the end of the century. And summertime temperatures in Boston are expected to rise 10 degrees by 2100, resembling current mid-year heat in North Miami Beach.

    Thanks to this nifty new tool from Climate Central, you can not only find out what temperatures your city is expected to average by 2100 — you can compare that projected weather to current conditions in other metropolises.

    1,001 Blistering Future Summers map

    The “1,001 Blistering Future Summers” interactive is based on global warming projections that assume the world takes little to no action to slow down climate change. But the nonprofit warns that even if greenhouse gas emissions are substantially reduced, such as through an energy revolution that replaces fossil fuel burning with solar panels and wind turbines, “U.S. cities are already locked into some amount of summer warming through the end of the century.” You might be feeling some of that warming already. Pass the ice cubes!

    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Meet the Andy Griffith who’s going after fracking polluters

    Back when I was a city reporter in San Francisco, one of my jobs was to take the daily crime report and type it up in a friendly, engaging way. The crime report was pretty par for any major metropolitan area: mugged, burgled, occasionally shot, or stabbed. But based on the tips we got from readers, things happened in the neighborhood, all the time, that never made it into the official police document that arrived on our desk.

    Sometimes the reason for the omission was clear: something so unpleasant had just happened the police didn’t want to deal with any publicity from it. Sometimes whatever had happened involved people who weren’t into filling out police reports. And sometimes, I suspect, whoever was typing up the crime report just thought the crime was boring.

    For that reason, I am a fan of the reporting that David Hasemyer has been doing for Inside Climate News — because he’s been covering the kind of crime that a reporter has to go out and look for. Earlier this month, Hasemyer profiled Deputy Sheriff Hector Zertuche of Alice, Texas. Zertuche is a 70-year-old long-timer who was assigned to the “environmental crimes” unit in 2006 — basically, tracking down people who dumped broken-down sofas on back roads. While patrolling the mattress-in-a-ditch beat, Zertuche noticed that people were dumping something else: something black and slippery and awful-smelling. That something turned out to be benzene-laced fracking waste.

    Zertuche tracked down the culprits, and sent samples and detailed reports to the relevant state agency, but the most the agency ever did was issue a letter of reprimand. So, after a little research, Zertuche figured out how to make offenders pay, using state laws that were laid out during Texas’s first oil boom, over a hundred years ago.

    In a better world of news, crimes like the ones Zertuche investigates would get the same kind of attention and level of reporting as — say — bank robberies. But it’s great to see an article like this one — and to also find out, as Hasemyer reported today, that another Texas sheriff, Dwayne Villanueva of Karnes County, is seeking criminal charges against another dumper. Here’s hoping this inspires a few spaghetti westerns — or, at bare minimum, a Miami Vice-style television show.

    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Forget potato salad — fund this science project and help cure the climate
    azolla fern crop

    Azolla, otherwise known as duckweed, is a tiny aquatic fern with a secret superpower: It can turn nitrogen from the air into plant food.

    Actually, azolla can’t do this on its own. It relies on symbiotic bacteria tenants who do the real work of ‘fixing’ the atmospheric nitrogen into a more plant-accessible form. As a result of this tasty talent, azolla can also double its biomass every few days, sequestering large amounts of carbon all the while.

    So no wonder a group of researchers at Duke University want you to pitch in to help them sequence the fern’s genome, as well as the genomes of all the little microbes who give the plant its edge. Understanding the mechanics behind azolla’s magic power may help farmers move away from artificial fertilizers and the pollution associated with them — Asian rice farmers were planting the stuff alongside their crops 1,500 years ago.

    There’s another reason lead researcher Kathleen Pryer thinks you should pony up for a plant: It might be global warming Kryptonite. About 49 million years ago, atmospheric carbon dropped by 80 percent, along with the Earth’s temperatures; the surface temperature in the Arctic went from a balmy 48 degrees F to a mere 8 degrees. Meanwhile, azolla was going gangbusters, sucking up carbon like Daniel Day-Lewis with a straw, then bring its stored hordes to the briny deep when it died.

    Pryer thinks this is more than a coincidence. It’s possible that the little fern could have pulled up enough CO2 in a mere 800,000 years to essentially geoengineer the planet. And while we don’t really have 800,000 years to wait for flora to fix ALL our problems this time around, every little bit helps, right? Good. The funding page is open for just ONE MORE DAY.

    A notch above a swimming pool’s worth of potato salad, yes?

    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Take back the streets, ladies — two wheels at a time

    I don’t bike. There’s no real reason for that beyond the fact that I’m not very coordinated, and I feel like I fall off a bicycle every time I get on one. (Block Island, 2011: Attempted to bike up a minor incline, fell over within two wheel rotations. Mendoza, 2009: Crashed into a ditch on the side of the highway, lost 200 pesos that fell out of my pocket, cried.) Personally, I’ve always felt more comfortable getting around on two feet than two wheels, even if it takes twice — or thrice — as long to get anywhere.

    But in my social circle, I’m absolutely in the minority — in fact, I’m regularly surrounded by (braver) women who love riding bikes for the pure freedom it allows them, and swear that there’s no better way of getting around. Both environmentally and economically speaking, it’s hard to beat — especially for city-dwellers.

    But as with anything that women do in public spaces, the simple act of getting on a bike and pedaling down the street opens us up to unwanted comments, sexual advances, and even violence. Because my own velocipedic career is so pathetically limited, I set out to ask others about their experiences of biking as a woman.

    This response, from Seattle bicyclist Liz Rush, stood out to me: “Biking and sexual harassment has always been a weird space, because cycle men will absolutely deny that it ever happens (yeah, right) and sometimes it’s so graphic I can’t believe it.”

    For anyone who might deny that this kind of harassment exists, here’s what the experience of riding a bike as a woman looks like on a daily basis:

    In New York: “I get comments about my legs and ass and men telling me I should ‘ride’ them instead of my bike or that they like to see me sweat. It’s vile and I shudder to think of what women and girls younger than me — I’m 25 — hear from men like that.”

    In Philadelphia: “I had my ass slapped by someone in a car driving beside me. I broke their side mirror off at the next intersection.”

    In Toronto: “A guy in the passenger seat [of a passing car] grabbed my ass while I was riding my bike. I bet they laughed. I tried to stay on my bike.”

    In Washington, D.C.: “I constantly get hassled while locking up my bike. Men saying ‘Mira, Mami, lemme show you how to lock up your bike,’ while grabbing my bike, then calling me a bitch or worse when I ignore them.”

    However, almost every woman who wrote in to share an anecdote of sexual harassment also said that her bike helped her build a sense of empowerment and autonomy.

    “When it’s late at night or if I’m traveling through an area where I feel less safe, I often choose to ride my bike rather than travel by public transit or on foot,” says Ngani Ndimbie, Pittsburgh bicyclist and communications manager at BikePGH. “The speed at which I travel on my bike emboldens me. I feel more comfortable zooming past cat-callers, leaving them many yards behind in just a few seconds. That said, my feelings of disgust (sometimes fear) usually stay with me for a few more blocks.”

    Like Ndimbie, many women specifically mentioned being able to quickly get away from harassers or attackers as a significant benefit of riding a bike. But — with reason! — they’d also describe how the experience of having to flee from the aggressive men left them shaken and upset. For women who bike, sexual harassment has been normalized as a reality of daily life, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still have the power to frighten or threaten them. Even if it happens every day, coming face to face with a stranger who feels entitled to some level of ownership of your body is terrifying.

    “Fundamentally, this is a transportation justice issue, especially when we’re talking about women’s access to bikes,” says Zosia Sztykowski, director of community outreach for the D.C. organization Collective Action for Safe Spaces. “[Biking] is an inexpensive, environmentally friendly, super-accessible way to get around cities, and the more open we can make that, the better for everyone. But [harassment] really does inhibit the way that women move around the city. A lot of them get on the bike in the first place in order to avoid the harassment that they experience while they’re walking. But the more we work on this issue and the more we ask them to come out and tell their stories, the more we’re realizing that that harassment follows them off of the sidewalk.”

    But listen closely, and you’ll hear the swelling chorus of biking women around the world saying, “Enough of this bullshit.” It’s the sound of women in many different cities banding together and insisting on better treatment at the hands of strange men. And they’re finding that there’s more strength in numbers than in the most muscled paragon of Hummer-driving machismo you’ve ever had the displeasure of meeting.

    Sztykowski has been organizing local workshops for women bikers to empower them to deal with rampant harassment. “In these workshops, we give people some kind of easy tool that they can use when they’re in these situations themselves. We also really emphasize bystander intervention — saying something when you see something happening to another person. And finally, we emphasize working within your community — your friend group, your family, workplace, everywhere — to try to change the culture that makes this behavior okay. Because fundamentally, that is the only approach to stop it.”

    I spoke with Rebecca Susman, membership and outreach director for BikePGH, Pittsburgh’s bike advocacy organization, about why she started the organization’s fairly new Women and Biking program. “The impetus for starting the program was that there’s this question out there a lot: ‘What is the right response for women to have to harassment while riding?’ The discussion should be more about why is this happening in the first place — what makes this culturally acceptable? And there isn’t a simple answer.”

    The program has hosted a forum and several workshops to bring women of all ages and backgrounds together so that they can share their own experiences of being women bikers.

    “I was listening to women tell their stories and just try to grapple with the sexualization of our bodies — how they’re something that other people feel entitled to — and what that means for us,” says Susman of the workshops. “And it was just story after story of harassment and of dealing with it in all different ways. Really, it was very dependent on where they were, and what the situation was, in terms of why they would feel safe or unsafe.”

    When I spoke with Hollaback! co-founder Emily May last week about dealing with sexual harassment on public transit, she emphasized the importance of storytelling in helping women come to terms with their own experiences. In that regard, the Women and Biking program has also started a zine night in partnership with the local Carnegie Library. “All the women who attend these workshops create their own [zine] pages to share their own stories of street harassment, of biking in skirts, of why they love to ride – basically, of their lived experiences in a male-dominated culture.”

    One of the issues of harassment of women on bikes is that beyond the gendered power dynamics at play, there’s also the clear hierarchy of vehicles in traffic. When a car and a bike crash into each other, which one do you think is more likely to come out unscathed?

    “When you really start talking about it, women are still experiencing a different sort of harassment when they’re on their bikes,” says Kate Ziegler, co-director of Hollaback! Boston. “It’s one that has perhaps even a greater physical threat when it’s car vs. bike. We want to look at how that can change the threat that we feel and the transit choices that we make.”

    Like Susman and Sztykowski, Ziegler is in the process of organizing educational and community-building workshops. “We really want to have these workshops to continue and support that kind of conversation in the city over the power dynamics in play, and how those two things are not actually different,” she says. “[We're exploring] how street harassment and harassment on bikes is similar, and especially how the intersection of the two can be really alienating and make people feel really vulnerable on the streets.”

    With so many of these workshops popping up around the country, I had to ask: Are they really having an impact for the women they’re serving?

    “Part of what’s so powerful about bringing women together is realizing that there’s a kind of universal experience that many of us have in riding,” says Susman. “[Organizing our workshops] was a small step in opening the discussion, and a small step towards empowering us to have a voice. That voice needs to be heard in order to create some great change, to create a safe culture for us to be in.”

    “And I was just really thrilled to participate,” she adds. “It was one of the best days of my year.”

    Thank you to all of the women who wrote in to share their experiences.

    Filed under: Cities, Climate & Energy, Living
    Gristmill: Cryptic rapper Lil B drops environmental wisdom. Here are his greatest hits

    You may or may not know who Lil B the Based God is. Or, according to his legend, you can know who Lil B is, but you may never know who the Based God is, or you may not want to know, for your own sanity. Some have tried to explain his mystique, but to little resolution.

    My buddy Eric Tullis, hip hop expert and music contributor for the alt-weekly Indy Week, calls Lil B “an accidental eclectic who’s made a career out of being an idiot savant rapper.” He’s revealed so much on his Myspace, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Youtube pages, and yet we know so little. The little we know:

    • He was or is part of the Bay Area rap group “The Pack,” popularly known for their hip hop ode to Vans footwear.
    • It seems that he has a mouth full of gold teeth.
    • He appears to have a large, faithful following as a solo rapper based purely on social networks.
    • His Youtube music video hits reach into the millions, including this one named after Ellen DeGeneres (4.8 million+ views to date).
    • He’s been in a number of high-profile Twitter feuds with badass rappers like Joe Budden and Joey Bada$$.
    • He’s also involved in a long-standing feud with NBA MVP Kevin Durant (a guide to which you can read about in Grantland.)
    • He’s a motivational speaker who once gave a lecture at NYU.
    • He’s a misogynist.

    And his latest reveal: He’s an environmentalist.

    Yes, if the messages he’s sent out over the last three weeks from his Twitter and Instagram accounts can be believed, he is the next coming of Van Jones. Behold:

    He gets climate change and has probably already saved the polar bears.

    Instagram Photo

    Not only that, but he knows who’s most responsible for climate change and is not afraid to name them.

    Instagram Photo

    He’s anti-oil and an advocate for the victims of environmental injustices.

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    … As are his well-informed followers

    Lil B. - 05oilx

    He understands climate storm mitigation and disaster preparedness.

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    He’s a locavore.

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    He’s also a food justice advocate.

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    He’s a conservationist of food, water, energy and … general things to conserve.

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    He believes in solar power.

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    He probably saw Blackfish.

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    He believes in animal rights, but more importantly, animals believe in him.

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    He defies the stereotype that black people are afraid of the outdoors.

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    Filed under: Cities, Climate & Energy, Living
    Triple Pundit: Bridging the Gap: Connecting Buyers and Sellers of Sustainable Seafood

    Although large retailers have the opportunity to work directly with the environmental community to source sustainable seafood, he explained, local chefs and small- to medium-sized buyers are often left to their own devices -- and can become confused by the vast array of certifications and standards in the market.

    The post Bridging the Gap: Connecting Buyers and Sellers of Sustainable Seafood appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Ask Umbra: Can I survive in the city with just a bike?

    Send your question to Umbra!

    Q. Driving everywhere makes me feel like a cretin. However, I live on a hill in Los Angeles. I’ve considered a bicycle (with some type of engine or motor boost) alternative, but several things stay my hand:

    1. Bike safety.
    2. Hill. Big one. And my job is one where I’m on my feet and moving, so long rides after a hard day don’t sound fun.
    3. Groceries. Tools. My dog. There are certain things I can’t imagine accomplishing with a bike.
    4. No public transport stations within walking distance.
    5. Dear old mom trained her girl to always be wary. There are times when it’s a relief to be able to lock my doors and be in an enclosed car.

    What’s the next most eco-friendly decision for a busy gal in a city of cars? Or are there just more lifestyle changes I could/should make?

    Los Angeles, Calif.

    A. Dearest Remy,

    Your personality-filled letter – which, regrettably, I had to edit for length – neatly identifies the hurdles many of us face when contemplating life without our four-wheeled gas-guzzlers. While the benefits of ditching the car are huge (among them saving tons of cash, no traffic and parking hassles, and more exercise), it can be intimidating to take the leap – especially in a place as stereotypically auto-crazed as L.A. But fear not: With the help of a bicycle, public transit, and perhaps a little technology, you can indeed reduce your reliance on that fossil-fuelmobile. You can even dump it entirely.

    Let’s look at each of your concerns in turn, Remy. I’ve tackled the subject of corporeal safety on a bicycle recently, so I’ll jump straight to No. 2, physical effort. No question, hills can be murder to the uninitiated cyclist. But you’ve already pinpointed one solution to that problem: the electric-assist bike, or e-bike. If you’ve got the spare change for one (and even at a few thousand bucks, they pale in comparison to what a car costs), it could be a good option. If not, and the hill isn’t miles long, there’s no shame in walking the bike. And I’ll bet that after a few weeks of riding, you’ll surprise yourself with your own power.

    On to No. 3, hauling your stuff. A bike can actually do a fine job of this with the help of a basket and/or set of rear panniers to haul food, tools, a change of clothes, birthday cakes. As long as it’s not the size of a mattress, you can probably bike it. Add to that a nice, big commuting backpack and you’ll have capacity to spare. And Fido? There are a boggling number of contraptions designed to make two legs compatible with four, from simple leash attachments to doggie baskets to pet trailers. Anywhere you can go, woman’s best friend can go, too!

    Then there’s the matter of tough-to-access public transit stations. The nearest stop to you may not be within walking distance, but surely it’s within biking distance, Remy? When you add your pedal power to the city’s bus and light rail network, you’ll probably find new worlds will open to you. Savvy transiters will also do well to learn their way around a route-mapping service or two. Google Maps is a classic way to figure out how to connect points A and B via transit, but I also hear good things about RideScout, a real-time app that identifies nearby buses, bike shares, cabs, and car shares to get you where you need to go.

    In addition to your Exploracycle and the LA Metro, these days you can also hop into the world of car sharing. Do as one successfully car-free Angeleno did and avail yourself of services like Zipcar (like a short-term car rental with cars parked all over the city) and Lyft (on-demand rides from vetted private drivers) when you find that you really, really need a car. (Just please, check to be sure that the services you’re considering are legal in your city.) Granted, patching together transportation modes like this takes a little more time and effort, but many urbanites have found that it’s well worth it to rid themselves of the hassle of owning a vehicle.

    And finally, as to your personal safety: Being out in the open on a bike (or bus or train, for that matter) can sometimes make a gal feel vulnerable. Here, I urge you to use good old common sense: Try not to travel through sketchy areas of town at all if you can, but definitely not alone at night. Riding a longer, safer route to your destination is always preferable, I say. On transit, sit or stand up front near the driver and likewise avoid solo late-night rides.

    Feel ready to park those car wheels of yours completely? It’s possible, even in L.A., but I hereby declare you a Non-Cretin even if you hang on your Herbie for now. Just do all you can to minimize its use – often called the car-lite lifestyle – and you’ll still be making great strides.

    And finally, Remy, there are indeed bigger changes you can make to fully embrace the car-free or car-lite movement. Probably the biggest step is moving to a walk-, bike- and transit-friendly neighborhood with lots of amenities and transit stops (here’s what looks good in LA right now). The easier it is to walk to the grocery store or hop on the bus to work, and the cooler the attractions just down the block, the less you’ll miss your old rust bucket.


    Filed under: Article, Cities, Living