Eco Buzz




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Eco Buzz

    Gristmill: Peep popular bike routes in this hella-detailed national map
    u.s.-bike-routes-strava

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

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

    Downtown Seattle bike routes
    Strava
    Downtown Seattle bike routes.

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

    Where cyclists ride in Kansas City
    Strava
    Where cyclists ride in Kansas City.

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


    Filed under: Cities, Living
    Triple Pundit: Live Chat: Brad Molotsky, Executive Vice President, Brandywine Realty Trust

    Join TriplePundit on Wed. April 30th at 4p PST / 7p EST for a Google Chat interview with one of our America's leaders in sustainable commercial real estate.

    The post Live Chat: Brad Molotsky, Executive Vice President, Brandywine Realty Trust appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Mwahaha! Thief who stole electric bike calls owner for help recharging it
    thief-robber-mask-phone-shutterstock

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

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

    Road.cc has the play-by-play from Jaconelli:

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

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

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

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

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


    Filed under: Cities, Living
    Gristmill: Are you a terrible gardener? This brilliant tool could change your life

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

    animated-new-urbmat-info-graphic
    UrbnEarth

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

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

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

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

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


    Filed under: Article, Food, Living
    Gristmill: Life on a sheet of paper: Tiny house satire is spot-on
    woman-tiny-house-furniture-shutterstock

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

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

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

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

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


    Filed under: Cities, Living
    Gristmill: Can streetcars create shortcuts to better urban transit?
    woman-riding-streetcar-shutterstock

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Filed under: Cities, Living
    eco.psk: Virtual Earth Lets Us See The Consequences Of Climate Change Ahead Of Time
    madingley-model-earth-simulation.jpgNew computer model might be smart enough to predict the future.
    Gristmill: Brazil’s World Cup gets a red card on the environment
    soccer-team-feet-shutterstock

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

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

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

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

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


    Filed under: Living
    eco.psk: Solar Socket Sticks To Any Window For On-The-Go Power
    Port-Solar-Charger-4.jpgThe Port Solar charger harnesses sunlight to charge up devices.
    Gristmill: If oil spills in the Arctic and no one is around to clean it up, does it just stay there?
    polar bears
    Shutterstock
    Who will save them after an oil spill?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Oregon tells rail companies to keep oil deliveries secret
    top secret

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: This artist builds coral reefs by hand

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

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

    Mattison has an Etsy shop and also sells sea-licious art objects from her website. A portion of the profits go toward 350.org and Mission Blue.

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


    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Living
    Gristmill: Ask Umbra: What should I do with used tissues, old mixtapes, and rage against the greens?
    angry-young-man

    Send your question to Umbra!

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

    Bob E.
    Chebeague Island, Maine

    A. Dearest Bob,

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

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

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

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

    Chicken Soupily,
    Umbra

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

    Arlene M.
    New Kensington, Pa.

    A. Dearest Arlene,

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

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

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

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

    Magnetically,
    Umbra

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

    Walter W.
    Hialeah, Fla.

    A. Dearest Walter,

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

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

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

    Optimistically,
    Umbra


    Filed under: Living
    Gristmill: This killer video explains climate change with Tetris

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

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

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


    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Living
    Triple Pundit: Is This a New Golden Age of Innovation?

    Social collaboration gives us nearly instant feedback on the satisfaction of our constituents, paving the way for the tenets of a Golden Age: peace, harmony, stability and prosperity. So, how did we arrive at this technological enlightenment? At some point, technology crossed over and began to influence sociology, but how? Well in a single word: silicon.

    The post Is This a New Golden Age of Innovation? appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: SAP’s ‘Autism at Work’ Initiative: An Insatiable Appetite for Improvement

    In May of last year, SAP announced the launch of Autism at Work -- a unique global initiative to employ people on the autism spectrum. The ultimate goal of the program is to have 1 percent of the company's total work force, or about 650 people in today's numbers, represent people on the spectrum by 2020.

    The post SAP’s ‘Autism at Work’ Initiative: An Insatiable Appetite for Improvement appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Twitter Chat with Heineken: What Does It Mean to Brew a Better Future?

    Join TriplePundit and CSRwire at #BaBF for a live Twitter Chat with HEINEKEN brewing company on April 30, 2014 at 8am PST / 11am EST / 5pm CET.

    The post Twitter Chat with Heineken: What Does It Mean to Brew a Better Future? appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Georgetown University Offers $5 Million Community Energy-Efficiency Prize

    This week Georgetown University announced the launch of the Georgetown University Energy Prize, a $5 million competition that challenges communities to come together, develop and implement a plan to dramatically reduce energy consumption. Fifty communities in 25 states have already signed letters indicating that they intend to compete.

    The post Georgetown University Offers $5 Million Community Energy-Efficiency Prize appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Is Crowdfunding an Answer for Ethical Fashion?

    Consumers of mass fashion aren't yet sold on the need for change. They are hard to reach, and unless you have major name brand appeal, they rarely notice a small, ethical company's existence. Could crowdfunding provide a solution to these and other challenges in the sustainable fashion industry?

    The post Is Crowdfunding an Answer for Ethical Fashion? appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Go on, steal a bike — the San Francisco police dare you
    bike-thief-cutting-bike-lock-shutterstock

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

    bike-bait-ad-craigslist
    Craigslist

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

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

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

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


    Filed under: Cities, Living
    Gristmill: Vermont will label genetically engineered food
    vermont-label

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Filed under: Article, Food, Politics
    Triple Pundit: Women in CSR: KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz, Sustainable Life Media

    KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz, Founder and CEO of Sustainable Life Media/Sustainable Brands, talks about her career, inspiration and recent accomplishments in our Women in CSR series.

    The post Women in CSR: KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz, Sustainable Life Media appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: 6 Ways Tablets Have a Beneficial Impact on Classrooms and the Planet

    Though some worry that the introduction of tablets into the classroom will only increase a student’s digital dependence and cripple them for “real world” experiences, the truth is that the use of tablets introduces a whole new set of tools to the classroom, and can benefit students -- and the environment -- in many ways.

    The post 6 Ways Tablets Have a Beneficial Impact on Classrooms and the Planet appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

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

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

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

    The New York Times reports:

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

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

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

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


    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Food
    Triple Pundit: Climate Change: The Externality That Came in From the Cold

    Companies that emit tons of greenhouse gases (GHG) create externalities that are bounded only by the size of the planet. They get so big, in fact, they aren’t externalities anymore.

    The post Climate Change: The Externality That Came in From the Cold appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Sword & Plough upcycles military fabric into sleek bags
    sword-and-plough-bag-1

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

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

    sword-and-plough-bag-3
    Sword & Plough

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

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

    sword-and-plough-bag-2
    Sword & Plough

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

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

    Rock on. Fewer swords and more ploughshares, plz!


    Filed under: Living
    Gristmill: Sword & Plough upcycles military fabric into sleek bags
    sword-and-plough-bag-1

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

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

    sword-and-plough-bag-3
    Sword & Plough

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

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

    sword-and-plough-bag-2
    Sword & Plough

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

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

    Rock on. Fewer swords and more ploughshares, plz!


    Filed under: Living
    eco.psk: Hacked Google Drive Dashboard Educates NYers On The Quality Of Their Water
    +pool-new-york-river-swimming-pool-3.jpg+POOL's app lets you watch a swimming pool clean New York's H2O supply in real-time.
    eco.psk: E-Commerce Shop Accepts Eco-Friendly Actions As Currency
    Recyclebank-One-Twine-3.jpgOne Twine, funded by Recylcebank, sells sustainable and environment-friendly products.
    eco.psk: Eco-City In Turkey Burns Pistachio Shells For Biogas
    pistachio-load.jpgUp to 60 percent of the city's heat could be provided by leftover nuts.
    Gristmill: How to use the Bible to save the planet
    Two views of what "dominion" means in the Book of Genesis: Noah's (Russell Crowe), and that of Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone).
    Niko Tavernise/Paramount Pictures
    Two views of what “dominion” means in the Book of Genesis: Noah’s (Russell Crowe), and that of Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone).

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

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

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

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

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

    Darren Aronofsky on the set of Noah.
    Niko Tavernise/Paramount
    Darren Aronofsky on the set of Noah.

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

    Whose “dominion?” 

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

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

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

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

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

    Animals herd onto the Ark in Noah.
    Niko Tavernise/Paramount
    Animals herd onto the Ark in Noah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Ark finally finds land.
    Niko Tavernise/Paramount
    The Ark finally finds land.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Living
    Gristmill: How to use the Bible to save the planet
    Two views of what "dominion" means in the Book of Genesis: Noah's (Russell Crowe), and that of Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone).
    Niko Tavernise/Paramount Pictures
    Two views of what “dominion” means in the Book of Genesis: Noah’s (Russell Crowe), and that of Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone).

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

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

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

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

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

    Darren Aronofsky on the set of Noah.
    Niko Tavernise/Paramount
    Darren Aronofsky on the set of Noah.

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

    Whose “dominion?” 

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

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

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

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

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

    Animals herd onto the Ark in Noah.
    Niko Tavernise/Paramount
    Animals herd onto the Ark in Noah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Ark finally finds land.
    Niko Tavernise/Paramount
    The Ark finally finds land.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Living
    Triple Pundit: 3p Interview: Recyclebank Goes Retail With OneTwine

    This week, Recyclebank is taking another step towards its its mission to “realize a world where nothing is wasted,” with the launch of OneTwine, an online retail shop that allows customers to redeem their Recyclebank points, pay cash, or any combination of the two. I spoke with Recyclebank CEO Javier Flaim by phone, a few days before the OneTwine launch announcement.

    The post 3p Interview: Recyclebank Goes Retail With OneTwine appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Forget Ferrari: The hot rides for sports stars are fuel-efficient
    Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints
    Tulane PR
    Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints

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

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

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

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

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


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Living
    Gristmill: Wyoming doesn’t want its kids to learn about climate change
    kids at school
    Shutterstock
    “Wait — so is coal good for the environment?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Living, Politics
    Gristmill: Wyoming doesn’t want its kids to learn about climate change
    kids at school
    Shutterstock
    “Wait — so is coal good for the environment?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Living, Politics
    Gristmill: This DIY solar backpack looks tricky but doable

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

    DIY-solar-backpack-instructables
    Kajnjaps

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

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

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


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Living
    Gristmill: This DIY solar backpack looks tricky but doable

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

    DIY-solar-backpack-instructables
    Kajnjaps

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

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

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


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Living
    Gristmill: When your produce gets wasted, it’s really a cry for help
    veggies

    When Nick Papadopoulos looked at all the veggies that didn’t sell at the farmers market, he felt terrible. Papadopoulos is general manager of Bloomfield Organics, and he’d seen all the sweat, all the nutrients, all the coaxing and coddling that it had taken to persuade the land to produce this bounty. These were beautiful, well-proportioned, organic vegetables! And now they were bound for the compost heap. He sipped his beer and thought, there has to be a better way.

    We end up throwing out a lot of the food we grow. According to an analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council, we’re tossing 40 percent of our food, the equivalent of $165 billion wasted — giant lakes of water, mountains of fertilizer, and megajoules of energy, all squandered.

    If we’re interested in scaling up regional food systems, we’re going to need a lot more reasonably priced, locally grown calories. And one obvious place to go looking for those calories is among those foods valued so low that they rot, rather than selling in a nearby city. The question is, how do you get people to eat those unloved, unwanted veggies? In other words, how do you solve Papadopoulos’ problem?

    Papadopoulos told this story recently at a meeting of the Commonwealth Club, convened by the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture, to discuss the problem of food waste. Attendees noshed on appetizers made from carrot tops and beet stems in miso and ginger. The NRDC’s Dana Gunders, whose report triggered a great deal of interest on the issue, told the audience about a peach grower she’d talked to whose experience was similar to Papadopoulos’. He was leaving thousands of pounds of peaches to rot on the ground even though, as he told Gunders, “I wouldn’t be able to tell what was wrong with eight out of 10 of them.”

    It’s a confounding problem, because it shouldn’t exist at all: There’s food available, and there are people out there who want the food. We just haven’t figured out how to connect the dots between supply and demand.

    But sometimes people like Papadopoulos do figure it out. On that particular day, Papadopoulos simply pulled out his cellphone and posted a plea on Facebook. There was a wave of response, and soon the vegetables had been claimed. Papadopoulos went on to build a web-based service called CropMobster to handle these kinds of transactions. Maybe the key to reducing food waste is simply creating a more efficient marketplace.

    Well, a marketplace is the first step, but even after you’ve made an internet connection and completed an electronic transaction, you still need to find a way, down in the real world, to move the food from seller to buyer. “There’s no system to recover and redistribute edible food,” Dana Frasz said. But her organization, Food Shift, is tackling that problem, helping companies and governments cut down on food waste and showing how to get unused calories into a loving home (or a belly).

    The third step is education: People simply don’t know how to assess the quality of their food, so they instead look for aesthetic perfection. Gunders is working on a book to address that problem, teaching people how to hear the voices of vegetables and interpret the language of legumes: If mushrooms have black spots, do you need to throw them out? How much credence should to you give to the “best-by” date? If people understood these things, they’d be much less likely to throw out good food in their own kitchens.

    No one knows for certain how much of the problem belongs to individual eaters, and how much with farmers, grocers, and restaurateurs. But we do know that household food waste has a much bigger impact, because it’s taken so much energy to move that food to the eater and prepare it.

    Teaching people to eat the food they would otherwise waste doesn’t mean teaching them to lower their standards, said Staffan Terje, the chef and owner of the San Francisco restaurant Perbacco. It simply means teaching people to try new things.

    Terje is fanatical about eliminating food waste in his own kitchen. But he can’t do it by compromising quality or else, as he said, “you won’t come to my restaurant.” So he looks for alternative solutions.

    At the farmers market, for instance, people tend to avoid the apricots that have been out in the heat too long, and have begun to develop little brown spots. Terje will tell the farmer, “Look let’s make a deal. Do you really want to burn more fuel trucking that back to the farm?” He’ll buy the apricots at a discount and turn them into a preserve or chutney, where looks don’t count. As a bonus, these overripe fruit have higher sugar content, making them ideal for this use.

    These three solutions — connecting sellers and buyers, moving the food from the former to the latter, and teaching people to see their food more clearly — could go a long way toward reducing food waste. The United Kingdom was able to drive down household food waste by 19 percent using these kinds of techniques.

    But there’s also a more direct way of solving the problem: Make food more expensive. The ultimate reason we throw food away is that we don’t value it very much. It’s more efficient to leave peaches to rot in the field than to go to the trouble of finding a buyer.

    Papadopoulos jokingly suggested that the government should mandate dumpster diving around the country — but if food costs were more significant, people would be lining up to grab food before it ever got to the dumpster. The average American wastes 10 times more food than the average southeast Asian, because food is a much smaller part of an American’s budget. It’s time to put the emphasis on the production of quality food, rather than the production of cheap food.

    As Gunders pointed out, Americans would hugely exacerbate our obesity problem if we actually ate everything we wasted: “There’s only two things that can happen to all these extra calories,” she said. “Either we’re eating them, or we’re not. Either is bad.”

    The ideal solution would be to produce fewer calories per person and pay a little more for it — enough so eaters will actually value the food they buy, and enough to support strong farming communities. If we start paying farmers a truly fair price for environmentally responsible, high-quality food, we’ll have tons of entrepreneurs working overtime on those other three solutions, and cashing in on waste.


    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Food, Living
    Triple Pundit: Seafood and Impact Investment: Where the Money is Needed and Why It’s Not Flowing

    Despite recent encouraging efforts to spur an impact investing revolution in fisheries, we’re still a long way from a developed investment marketplace that would become a powerful engine for change.

    The post Seafood and Impact Investment: Where the Money is Needed and Why It’s Not Flowing appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Seafood and Impact Investment: Where the Money is Needed and Why It’s Not Flowing

    Despite recent encouraging efforts to spur an impact investing revolution in fisheries, we’re still a long way from a developed investment marketplace that would become a powerful engine for change.

    The post Seafood and Impact Investment: Where the Money is Needed and Why It’s Not Flowing appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Sustainable Textiles: Harnessing a Spark in Customer Engagement

    How do businesses in the apparel industry ensure that their customer base will not only stay, but grow? We talk to two companies and look at recent statistics that suggest the success of a sustainable business starts, like everything else, with the environment.

    The post Sustainable Textiles: Harnessing a Spark in Customer Engagement appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Sustainable Textiles: Harnessing a Spark in Customer Engagement

    How do businesses in the apparel industry ensure that their customer base will not only stay, but grow? We talk to two companies and look at recent statistics that suggest the success of a sustainable business starts, like everything else, with the environment.

    The post Sustainable Textiles: Harnessing a Spark in Customer Engagement appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: From Singapore to Argentina, Cities Get Serious About Local Food

    Urban farming innovations aim for scale as authorities plan for long-term resilience in supply chains.

    The post From Singapore to Argentina, Cities Get Serious About Local Food appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Stopping Keystone XL: The Message is Getting Through

    This past Friday, we received the welcome news from the State Department that the review period for the Keystone XL pipeline would be extended – a decision that offers both an opportunity and an acknowledgment. First and foremost, it’s an opportunity for the State Department to address the inherent flaws in its environmental review by looking at Keystone XL through a simple prism: Is the pipeline truly in America’s national interest?

    The post Stopping Keystone XL: The Message is Getting Through appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Procter & Gamble Provides 7 Billion Liters of Safe Drinking Water Around the World

    Procter and Gamble’s nonprofit Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program (CSDW) recently provided its 7 billionth liter of clean drinking water to a family of four in Brazil.

    The post Procter & Gamble Provides 7 Billion Liters of Safe Drinking Water Around the World appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: SolarCoin: Scaling Up Sunshine-Powered Money

    Any currency has value -- but only if a large community uses and accepts it as payment. For SolarCoin, the new digital currency designed to promote solar electricity production, this need to scale-up is the primary barrier to gaining value as a form of money.

    The post SolarCoin: Scaling Up Sunshine-Powered Money appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Colgate-Palmolive Commits to Recyclable Packaging

    Colgate-Palmolive recently committed to making 100 percent of its packaging fully recyclable for three of four product categories by 2020.

    The post Colgate-Palmolive Commits to Recyclable Packaging appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Apple announces big clean energy progress
    apple store

    Climate change is real and a real problem for the world, Apple said on Monday, announcing its progress on environmental targets ahead of Earth Day.

    The technology company, in a video narrated by CEO Tim Cook on its green initiatives and updated environment webpages, claimed that 94 percent of its corporate facilities and 100 percent of its data centers are now powered by renewable energy sources such as solar power.

    Lisa Jackson, the former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Apple’s vice president for environmental initiatives, wrote in a letter: “We feel the responsibility to consider everything we do in order to reduce our impact on the environment. This means using greener materials and constantly inventing new ways to conserve precious resources.”

    Greenpeace, which has previously been critical of Apple for sourcing energy from fossil fuels, recently praised the company for improving the energy mix powering its data centers, ranking it above other technology giants such as Amazon. Apple’s Maiden data center in North Carolina is powered by a large 20-megawatt solar farm and biogas fuel cells.

    Apple said its carbon footprint in 2013 was 33.8 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2013, or around 5 percent of the U.K.’s annual CO2 emissions for the same year. Around three-quarters of the emissions come from manufacturing. “We believe climate change is real. And that it’s a real problem,” the company’s website now says.

    The company said its new HQ being built in Cupertino, Calif., will use 30 percent less energy than an equivalent building, and will be home to around 7,000 trees. It also highlighted a decrease in the material required to make its products — the new iPad Air uses nearly one-third less material, by weight, than the original iPad.

    All the company’s retail stores will now take back Apple products for recycling, for free; previously customers had to buy a new product to recycle an old one. In the U.K. and U.S., an ongoing scheme offering payments for old iPhones, iPads and Macs also continues.

    The announcement came ahead of today’s 44th anniversary of Earth Day, a day of activism born in the U.S. and designed to raise environmental awareness.

    Cook recently told climate change skeptics that they should ditch Apple shares if they did not like the company’s backing for renewable energy and sustainability, leading Virgin group founder Richard Branson to say he was “enormously impressed” by Cook’s stance and his call for climate change deniers to “get out of the way.”

    Apple has come in for criticism from Friends of the Earth for being slow to admit to using tin in its products sourced from the Indonesian island of Bangka, where mining has caused environmental damage and claimed dozens of lives. Last year, Apple sent a team to investigate conditions on the island and has said it will work to improve them.

    This story first appeared on the Guardian website as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: This app lets you narc on wasted energy
    woman-camera-phone-shutterstock

    There’s no reason for offices to be lit up all night if no one’s around. If seeing a bright skyline pisses you off as much as it inspires awe, LightsOut will help you channel your annoyance.

    The app LightsOut was just born at Boston’s Cleanweb Hackathon earlier this month, where it won the grand prize, so you can’t blame creator Spencer Lawrence for not having a slick, fully functional app yet. (It should be more user-ready in seven months, after help from an accelerator program.) Lawrence, a former energy auditor, and his friend John Massie got plenty of inspiration for LightsOut just by walking around during the hackathon:

    “In about 30 minutes, just walking around the block, we found 70 light fixtures, and we started to snapping photos,” Massie says. They reckon they saw about $400 in potential energy savings during that short time.

    Thirty hours later (drinks included), they had a functional site. It is still “pretty beta,” but the idea seems promising. Massie talks of shining light on a sometimes invisible problem. “It’s about putting power into the hands of people who actually care about this stuff and thus far haven’t really had an avenue to do anything about it,” he says.

    So rather than spewing a frustrated sigh at energy waste, you can take action by snapping a photo, uploading it to LightsOut, and briefly describing the issue. (Well, you might wanna wait til the app’s fully functional.) It’s not just for electricity waste, either — leaky faucets and the like are fair game, too. Maybe as with street harassment reporting app Hollaback, LightsOut will bring attention and change behavior.


    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Living
    Triple Pundit: Twitter Chat Recap: Can Corporate Sustainability & Economic Growth Coexist?

    Last week, CSRWire's Aman Singh and I convened a twitter chat with with SAP's @PeterGGraf, BSR's @AronCramer, CDP's @TopNigel. We discussed the intricacies of pursuing sustainability alongside business growth and social prosperity. It was one of our widest reaching twitter chats yet with 232 contributors, 1,388 tweets & over 9 million impressions.

    The post Twitter Chat Recap: Can Corporate Sustainability & Economic Growth Coexist? appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: It’s virtually certain that the IPCC needs to dump its “very likely” crap
    What is the IPCC saying?

    It’s hard to understand what the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is yammering on about.

    The IPCC — which has released its latest climate assessment in three huge installments — uses confusing language to describe how certain it is about its findings. This could be misleading the public into thinking scientists are less certain than they really are about global warming, according to a new study.

    Consider this statement from the first installment of the IPCC report, which came out in September: “It is very likely that the number of cold days and nights has decreased and the number of warm days and nights has increased on the global scale.”

    By using the phrase “very likely,” the scientists mean that there’s a 90 to 99 percent likelihood that the statement is true. But when normal people read “very likely” in a statement like that, they think the IPCC’s scientists are just 55 to 90 percent confident in it, according to the new study, which was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

    Here are the seven main descriptors that IPCC report authors are told to use, and what percentage of certitude they’re meant to communicate:

    Key to the IPCC
    Nature Climate Change

    The researchers behind the new study showed a series of IPCC statements containing these terms to 1,304 people from 25 different countries. The people were asked to judge the scientists’ confidence levels — and they got it very wrong.

    “In all samples,” the researchers wrote, “people interpreted the probabilistic pronouncements of the IPCC regressively” — meaning they would underestimate high probabilities and overestimate low ones. The biggest misinterpretations came when the word “very” was used.

    The researchers say people would better understand if the IPCC used numbers to express its confidence levels.

    This isn’t the first time that the IPCC’s approach to communicating certainty has been found to be flawed. Similar findings were published in 2009 and in 2011. And an independent review of the IPCC pointed out this problem in 2010. But the IPCC persists in using this misleading gibberish. And if that weren’t bad enough, the panel still doesn’t understand how to effectively use the internet.


    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Apple will now recycle your old products and give you store credit
    old-mac-apple-computer-flickr

    Forget smashing your old iBook Office Space-style. Just send it back to Apple, and if it isn’t ancient, you could get some sweet sweet store credit. Even if it is ancient, Apple will recycle it for you.

    Here are the deets from Apple:

    When you recycle with Apple, your used equipment is disassembled, and key components that can be reused are removed. Glass and metal can be reprocessed for use in new products. A majority of the plastics can be pelletized into a raw secondary material. With materials reprocessing and component reuse, Apple often achieves a 90 percent recovery rate by weight of the original product.

    The new recycling program is a partnership with PowerON, an electronics trade-in company serving Fortune 500 companies. To get your Apple gift card, you input your gadget’s tech specs and see what it’s worth. Then PowerON sends you a prepaid mailing label, and voila!

    Apple will even recycle computers from — GASP — other brands. That program is run by Sims Recycling Solutions, which promises to recycle your busted HP laptop from college at a domestic facility with “a zero-landfill policy and proven sustainability.”

    We’re not crazy about the gift card idea, which seems to just promote speedy, thoughtless consumption of the latest iThings, but if it can help boost electronics recycling from its current 27 percent, so be it!


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Living
    Gristmill: Jon Stewart jokes with the EPA’s Gina McCarthy about Texas, burning trash, and his Hummer
    gina-mccarthy

    “Are we clean yet?” That’s how Jon Stewart got rolling on his interview with EPA head honcho Gina McCarthy last night.

    She called climate change her top priority — “the biggest public health challenge that we face, as well as the biggest economic challenge we face” — and emphasized that the EPA’s proposed rules cracking down on carbon dioxide from power plants will be coming out in June.

    “All these regulations put the mom ‘n’ pop oil companies out of business!” Stewart protested.

    But McCarthy made the point that avoiding environmental apocalypse does not mean causing economic apocalypse. She boasted that the EPA over its 40 years has cut air pollution by 70 percent while the nation’s GDP has doubled.

    Watch the whole segment, including Stewart joking about burning things in his backyard, bragging about his “Hummer within a Hummer within a Hummer,” and taking a jab at Texas:

     


    Filed under: Living
    Gristmill: For cleaner air, plant a tree in your belly button

    Happy Earth Day! Have you planted a seed in your belly button yet? And if not, why not? Let two dudes in crop tops convince you (green stuff starts at 1:35).

    Rhett and Link, seemingly the American Flight of the Conchords, are convinced that “These [trees] are gonna get massive and absorb a lot of greenhouse gases.” Why hug a tree when you could rock it as navel jewelry?

    Then things get weird(er). After realizing “We carbon-offset ourselves!” the guys decide that justifies driving separate Hummers door-to-door selling DIY mini coal plants for children. Bizarre, but we can’t resist outfits so clearly inspired by Mean Girls.

    And you have to admit, planting a maple sapling in your umbilical-hole is less repulsive than using it to store your barbeque sauce.


    Filed under: Living
    Triple Pundit: 3p Interview: A Conversation With an Electric Road Warrior

    Norm Hajjar recently set out to set a new record with a 12,000 road trip in a Tesla Model S, to get off the beaten track once again and see what it would be like to see America “through the windshield of an EV." I caught up with this road warrior to see how his journey is going.

    The post 3p Interview: A Conversation With an Electric Road Warrior appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Department of the Interior Launches Landscape Mitigation Strategy

    Interior Secretary Jewell's launch of a landscape-scale mitigation strategy aims to reconcile the conflicting interests between conservation and development on U.S. public lands. The launch of the new strategy offers a poignant juxtaposition of events and attitudes at a pivotal juncture in the evolution of management and stewardship of U.S. public lands, as it came in the midst of a conflict at the Bundy ranch in Nevada.

    The post Department of the Interior Launches Landscape Mitigation Strategy appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Turkey’s nutty green idea for heating its eco-city? Pistachios
    pistachios-flickr-madlyinlovewithlife

    Pistachios may be a lot of hard work compared to Cheetos, but at least their shells could double as heating fuel. That is, if authorities give the OK for their use in a planned Turkish city.

    The new eco-city will be built in southeast Turkey’s Gaziantep region, with housing for 200,000 people. The heat’s gotta come from somewhere, so why not from nature’s snack wrapper? Writes Gizmodo:

    The region exported 4,000 tons of pistachios last year — just think about how many shells that is. The pistachio shells could be burned for biogas that is then used for heat, providing up to 60 percent of the city’s heating needs.

    Here’s more background from AFP:

    The potential of pistachio shells was first uncovered by French environmental engineering company Burgeap which reported last year that the local variety known as Antep was the most feasible source of energy in the region.

    After Iran and the U.S., Turkey is the third-biggest pistachio producer worldwide, selling $80 billion in the green nuts last year. Using the shells for heating fuel and simultaneously keeping ’em out of the trash sounds like Turkish delight to us!


    Filed under: Food, Living
    Gristmill: Corn waste-based ethanol could be worse for the climate than gasoline
    corn growing in stover
    Ron Nichols, USDA
    Young corn growing in the residue of the previous crop.

    A lot of carbon-rich waste is left behind after a cornfield is stripped of its juicy ears. It used to be that the stalks, leaves, and detrital cobs would be left on fields to prevent soil erosion and to allow the next crop to feast on the organic goodness of its late brethren. Increasingly, though, these leftovers are being sent to cellulosic ethanol biorefineries. Millions of gallons of biofuels are expected to be produced from such waste this year — a figure could rise to more than 10 billion gallons in 2022 to satisfy federal requirements.

    But a new study suggests this approach may be worse for the climate, at least in the short term, than drilling for oil and burning the refined gasoline. The benefits of cellulosic biofuel made from corn waste improve over the longer term, but the study, published online Sunday in Nature Climate Change, suggests that the fuel could never hit the benchmark set in the 2007 U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act, which requires that cellulosic ethanol be 60 percent better for the climate than traditional gasoline.

    The problem is that after corn residue is torn out and hauled away from a farm field, more carbon is lost from the soil. This problem is pervasive throughout the cornbelt, but it’s the most pronounced in Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin, owing in part to the high carbon contents of soils there.

    Researchers used a supercomputer to run models to estimate the effect of removing corn residue from 128 million acres of farmland in 12 corn-farming states. Removing the residue was found to release 50 to 80 grams of carbon dioxide from the exposed soil for every megajoule of biofuel produced. Add to that figure the biofuel’s tailpipe CO2 emissions and, voila, you get an average of 100 grams of CO2 released for every megajoule of power produced — which is 7 percent worse than emissions from regular old gasoline.

    The key findings are shown in the following graph from the paper. The top line shows that soil organic carbon (SOC) is gradually lost over nine years when corn residue is left in place. But when the residue is hauled off to be turned into biofuel, as shown in the dashed lower line, the loss of soil carbon is more rapid. The loss of such soil carbon is a blow for the farm — crops need that material to grow. But it’s also a blow for the climate, because the carbon ends up in the atmosphere as a greenhouse gas.

    Click to embiggen.
    Nature Climate Change
    Click to embiggen.

    The researchers found that the loss of soil carbon is an issue regardless of whether some of the residue is removed from a field or all of it. “If less residue is removed, there is less decrease in soil carbon, but it results in a smaller biofuel energy yield,” said report coauthor Adam Liska, an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

    The research was funded with $500,000 from the federal government — which was quick to pan the results.

    An EPA spokeswoman told the AP that the study “does not provide useful information relevant to the life cycle greenhouse gas emissions from corn stover ethanol.” And the biofuels industry complained that the researchers did not give a good explanation for why their conclusions contradicted other recent studies.

    But the AP has previously exposed gaping holes in the EPA’s own studies, which have concluded that ethanol provides big climate benefits.

    We asked Liska how officials could use his findings to help slow down global warming. He suggested that they start by using their ears (not the corn kind). “If emissions are going to be decreased, the EPA should accept these findings as valid,” he replied.


    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Food
    eco.psk: Environmentalists Report Wasteful Behavior With New App
    LightsOut-app-2.jpgThe LightsOut app lets people report those who do things that harm the environment.
    eco.psk: How To Turn Toilet Flushes Into Energy For Your Home [Video]
    drop-of-water.jpgSouth Korean researchers have developed a way to turn mechanical energy from the motion of water to electrical energy.
    eco.psk: Ocean Trash Gets A Second Life As A Pair Of Shoes [Video]
    everything-is-rubbish-recycled-plastic-shoes.jpgBritish fashion trio create a pair of plastic sneakers from rubbish collected on the beach.
    Gristmill: Street artist Swoon takes on rising sea levels and drowning communities
    swoon

    Brooklyn street artist Swoon creates art that makes you feel like a kid again. She’s wheat-pasted life-sized portraits on the sides of industrial buildings and transformed an abandoned warehouse into a playground for art and community in post-industrial Braddock, Pa., where she lives and works.

    And then there are the rafts, whimsical floating creations that make you want to pull a Peter Pan and hop on board to start your new life as a junk boat sailor. In 2006, Swoon and the adventurous crew of the Miss Rockaway Armada built a raft made entirely from salvaged materials – wood from dumpsters, ropes found on the sidewalk, and a vegetable oil powered engine – and sailed down the Mississippi River from Minneapolis to New Orleans. Since then, she’s made two more boat trips: one with a flotilla of seven rafts and one steam-powered paddleboat down the Hudson River, and another across the Adriatic Sea from Slovenia to Italy for the Venice Biennial with the Swimming Cities of Serenissima.

    Click to embiggen.
    Tod Seelie
    Click to embiggen.

    This time around Swoon’s given the old rafts new life and brought them indoors to the Brooklyn Museum, for a new exhibit that addresses the loss of people’s homelands because of climate change and rising sea levels. She sat down to talk about the inspiration for the exhibit, and the role of the artist in raising awareness about climate change and other environmental issues.

    Q. How did you go from making graffiti art to taking junk rafts out on rivers and seas? And how did these journeys inspire your new exhibit currently up at the Brooklyn Museum?

    Swoon.
    Bryan Welch
    Swoon.

    A. I started off as a classically trained artist, but then I started working outside on the streets and engaging with cities. Within a couple of years, I realized that I still had this kind of wing of my imagination that was about creating entire spaces and worlds.

    So the new exhibit, Submerged Motherlands, is kind of its own world that explores what can happen when people lose their homelands due to rising sea levels. The process of ecological destruction through climate change is just beginning, so I started imagining a fantastical world where bits of cities broke off and developed their own life out at sea and began to navigate their own futures.

    Click to embiggen.
    Brooklyn Museum
    Click to embiggen.

    The exhibit is centered around this monumental tree sculpture that’s based on a Haitian Mapou tree, which is an enormous sacred tree that used to grow all over Haiti. And then, nested into the base of the tree are these two sculptural rafts that about 30 people lived on and built and navigated down rivers in the summer of 2008-2009. I always wanted the rafts to kind of come back from their water life and just have another life as objects and artifacts.

    Q. How did the issues of climate change and rising seas inform your work for Submerged Motherlands?

    A. So when I first created these rafts, I was thinking a lot about climate change and about rising seas, and about cities that were built in these very precarious places, and the way that so many communities around the world are really in the most ecologically vulnerable environment.

    Six years later, here we are, and Hurricane Sandy has struck and now New Yorkers have this kind of visceral feeling of flood, and devastation, and what happens when you are in these really vulnerable communities in this particular place and time.

    Click to embiggen.
    Brooklyn Museum
    Click to embiggen.

    So now I’m thinking about the loss of our homeland, which is something we are just starting to experience. There are portraits of people in the exhibit who are in the process of, or who have already lost, their homeland, like a group of indigenous people in Brazil where the government is trying to build this dam along the Amazon River and its tributaries. It’s a billion-dollar project that’s just being shoved through. And the indigenous people have had some success in stalling it, but it’s just such a fucking gigantic machine to go up against.

    And then I also work in Braddock, Pa., which is a town that has suffered post-industrial collapse and the loss of jobs and industry. And I just started to think about the link between all of these things. This kind of menacing capitalist process that Braddock suffers from is the other side of the same machine that is displacing populations in Brazil.

    Q. What role do you think artists play in raising awareness about climate change and other environmental issues?

    A. I think there’s a twofold role. The most basic role is mental and emotional processing. I feel like artists tend to function as a part of the mechanism of mental and emotional processing for a culture. I think the extent of what we’re going through right now with climate change is so large and in such slow motion that I myself find it totally impossible to grasp. It’s too big and too glacial for us to perceive accurately, to really get it. So how do we translate that into a language we can understand so that we can start to create action around it?

    Click to embiggen.
    Brooklyn Museum
    Click to embiggen.

    The other kind of role that artists can play is by really just plugging into a problem and trying to interact with it concretely. After the earthquake in Haiti I got together there with some people and worked on a rebuilding project. And I learned that small-scale, creative, hands-on solutions are generators for solutions that tackle these problems in a larger way. And so just by using the language of creativity that we as artists are so familiar with, there’s a lot we can do.

    Submerged Motherlands will be showing at the Brooklyn Museum in New York until August 24.


    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Living
    Gristmill: The secret life of Rust Belt beekeepers
    secret_bees-hallie-bateman

    Deep in the defunct industrial zones and backyards of Buffalo, N.Y., there’s a buzz developing – quite literally, in the form of secret beehives. Across the city, a small network of under-the-radar beekeepers has formed. They keep hives in backyards, vacant lots, and even on garage roofs.

    “Two years ago, I was just kind of wandering around one of the smaller, cottage neighborhoods that we have here, and I noticed one woman with all this bee art covering her garage,” says Alexandra Farrington, a beekeeper in Buffalo. “I asked her if she kept bees. First she asked if I was a cop, and then she said, ‘Well, if you promise not to tell … yeah, I’ve got a few hives on the roof of my garage.’”

    While Buffalo has no laws explicitly banning the practice of beekeeping, many neighbors view the critters as a public nuisance. Keepers worry that enough complaints might add up to local legislation that would prohibit beekeeping or severely regulate it. “That’s usually how things go,” Farrington says. “People start to complain, and then the laws are revised and regulations are put into place.”

    Farrington and her fellow Buffalonians aren’t alone. In cities across the United States, more and more urbanites are taking it upon themselves to create habitats for bees. Urban beekeeping is not only a crucial component of a city dweller’s fully functional homestead — offering both fresh honey and crop pollination — it’s also a response to growing concerns over colony collapse (just this month, the New York Times reported that commercial beekeepers are losing roughly a third of their colonies each year). As the urban beekeeping trend grows, so does the rift between well-intentioned, hyperlocal food producers and neighbors who aren’t down with all the buzz.

    “The way that urban beekeeping currently operates is that the beehives are quite hidden. And it’s not because they need to be — it’s just because people are uncomfortable with the idea,” says Noah Wilson-Rich, bee scientist and founder of The Best Bees Company, in a 2012 TEDxBoston talk on bees’ role in urban food systems.

    But as Wilson-Rich notes, “We need bees for the future of our cities and urban living.” Buffalo might seem an unlikely site for a bee renaissance. But the post-industrial city first gained notoriety among apiphiles two years ago, when architecture students from the University of Buffalo received substantial media coverage and international acclaim – including an AZ Award for Design Excellence – for designing and constructing a 22-foot steel structure to house bees. Elevator B, as it’s called, is located in Buffalo’s Silo City. The cluster of abandoned grain silos stand as a testament to the city’s past as a hub for industry and agriculture. Elevator B was opened to much local excitement in May 2012, and the bees were moved in – but not for long.

    Elevator B was constructed in 2011 in Silo City, a cluster of abandoned grain elevators in Buffalo that are now being repurposed.
    Hive City 
    Elevator B was constructed in 2011 in Silo City, a cluster of abandoned grain elevators in Buffalo that are now being repurposed.

    “It’s very beautiful, and really cool,” says Farrington. “But it was created as an architectural project first, and not primarily as a habitat for bees. The bees only lived there for about a year because it wasn’t sealed up properly, and the space was a little too big and drafty for them.”

    The interior of Elevator B.
    Hive City
    The interior of Elevator B.

    Two years after the initial opening, however, Farrington is working with architecture students to make renovations to Elevator B so that it functions as a comfy home for a colony to build comb in peace. Farrington tells me that Elevator B played a significant role in stimulating a city-wide interest in beekeeping, and creating the network of beekeepers that exists today:

    “People would come and visit the [site], and ask, ‘Oh, how can I get a hive at my house?’ or ‘How can I help the bees?’ So I started drawing a lot of connections to who was keeping bees in the city, and how we could form a sort of bee network where we could talk and exchange materials if we needed to, or just knowledge.”

    As a city, Buffalo has some characteristics that are beneficial for undercover beekeeping. It has a wealth of abandoned industrial zones and vacant lots, as well as lower-rent areas where police patrols are noticeably sparse. Farrington also suggests that neighborhoods with large immigrant populations are more accepting of beekeeping, because it’s a more common practice in other countries.

    I ask Farrington what it might look like if backyard beekeeping were scaled up around the city, and she lights up.

    “Oh, I think that would be amazing! I think more and more people are starting to keep small kitchen gardens in their backyards, and are taking more and more responsibility for what they eat and where it comes from,” she says. “And we’ve got more urban farming going on – we’ve got greenhouses all over Buffalo, some that are state-funded. If we could have those pollinated and have them going all year round, it would be pretty amazing what we could actually get just from our local food system.”

    Buffalo might look to Pittsburgh, another Rust Belt beekeeping outpost, for a little advice on scaling up. In 2010, Burgh Bees established a community apiary in the neighborhood of Homewood. I spoke with Steve Repasky, president of Burgh Bees, who tells me that he believes it’s the first one of its kind in the country.

    The Burgh Bees Community Apiary in Pittsburgh, Penn. was established in the neighborhood of Homewood in 2010.
    Burgh Bees
    The Burgh Bees Community Apiary in Pittsburgh, Penn., was established in the neighborhood of Homewood in 2010.

    “So basically it operates on the same format as a community garden, where you have a certain amount of spaces for hives,” Repasky says. “It’s worked out well – people are able to manage their hives, able to get honey, and they’re able to partake in educational opportunities with others interested in the whole beekeeping world.”

    Burgh Bees has trained over 450 beekeepers in the past five years. They host four beekeeping classes a year – three beginners’ classes, one advanced – and they are consistently filled to capacity.

    Burgh Bees has also worked with Pittsburgh’s city government to develop a set of beekeeping laws. The language of the ordinance is written very much in beekeepers’ favor, but the process of obtaining a permit to keep bees on private property presents some obstacles. The application costs $275, and anyone seeking a permit must argue their case for wanting to keep bees to a zoning board. The hearings are public, and anyone has the right to appear and argue against having a hive in the neighborhood. Even if the permit is denied, the cost of the application is non-refundable. This has prevented many people from seeking legal beekeeping permits in the city.

    “The official stance of Burgh Bees at this point is to not apply for the permit, but rather just talk to your neighbors,” Repasky says. “And if your neighbors directly around you are OK with it, then OK, keep bees. But if you get caught, then you have to go through the process.”

    Repasky and the rest of the organization are working to get the permit process revised so that costs aren’t as prohibitive. In the meantime, the community apiary offers a way for Pittsburghers to keep bees without worrying about city regulations.

    The Burgh Bees Community Apiary offers urban beekeepers the opportunity to keep their own bees without having to worry about city regulations.
    Burgh Bees
    The Burgh Bees Community Apiary.

    So what could bring the hives out of hiding in Buffalo? Ideally — as Burgh Bees did — getting some laws on the books that would protect and support beekeepers without enforcing prohibitive regulations. There’s always the possibility, however, that any efforts in that direction would provoke a counter campaign from those who believe that keeping bees in cities is a threat to public health. When one considers the fears of a parent whose child is allergic to bees, for example, that threat isn’t necessarily negligible.

    Having a means to share knowledge and experience is an essential part of maintaining a local network, too. Farrington says beekeeping expertise tends to be found primarily in rural areas. The Western New York Beekeepers’ Association covers a region that includes Buffalo, but meetings are held far outside of the city.

    Farrington is planning on moving a colony of bees back into the renovated Elevator B next month. Even once the bees are back in action, the structure won’t be used for honey harvesting, unless the bees build to the point where they need more space. Its primary purpose will be to serve as a means for the people of Buffalo to learn more about bees, how they work, and why they’re so important to food systems.

    And in Pittsburgh, Burgh Bees is responding to the overwhelming interest in beekeeping by working on opening two more community apiaries in other neighborhoods in the city.

    “[The enthusiasm] is constant,” says Repasky. “We have to keep adding classes because people really want to learn about honeybees and how to keep them. And we’re here to do that. Our mission is to promote beekeeping as a vital part of sustainable agriculture – and we’re actually doing it! That’s what’s so exciting.”


    Filed under: Cities, Food, Living
    Gristmill: Numbers on the board: The Gulf Coast, four years after the BP disaster
    BP-oil-spill

    How could you relate when you ain’t never been great?
    And rely on oil money to keep food up on your plates?
    I might sell a rig on my birthday
    36 years of doing dirt like it’s Earth Day.

    You might recognize those lyrics from the song “Numbers on the Board” from the artist Pusha T., though slightly modified. Those bars are how I imagine someone like BP CEO Robert Dudley might spit them, as he eagerly declares that the Gulf Coast is clear four years after his company’s Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig exploded.

    The date of that disaster happens to coincide with Earth Week, which means millions of faithful environmentalists are at attention — and they want a full accounting of just how clear the coast actually is. Given that most of the nation benefits from the spoils provided by the Gulf — its seafood, storm protection, beaches, vacation resorts, and fuels — that accounting is expected from Americans in general. And what would your favorite shows like “True Blood” and “True Detective” be without the Gulf’s glorious backdrops?

    Last week, I wrote about three victories that have emerged since the BP disaster, but the flip side of that is a host of problems that continue to plague the Gulf, which has suffered a whole string of insults, from Hurricane Katrina to ongoing erosion of its coastlines due to to erosion and fossil fuel extraction. Below is an index of statistics on the Gulf’s health, cobbled together from recent news articles, reports, and datasets documenting damage done to the coast:

    • 30 percent: Portion of the nation’s shrimp supply that comes from the Mississippi River Delta area
    • 900: Bottlenose dolphins found dead or stranded in the oil spill area since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded
    • 500: Sea Turtles found dead or stranded near the oil spill area between 2011 and 2013
    • 20 percent: Portion of the Gulf’s bluefin tuna exposed to oil while in their larval stage
    • 82 percent: Population decline in bluefin tuna since the 1970s due to overfishing
    • 778 miles: Amount of coastline BP says it cleaned before ending “active cleanup”
    • $14 billion: Amount BP says it spent on spill response and cleanup activities
    • $12.9 billion: Amount BP says it paid in claims, advances, civil settlements, and payments for tourism promotion, seafood testing, marketing, and health services
    • $23 billion: BP’s profits in 2013
    • 70 million: Number of personnel hours BP says it used in the cleanup effort
    • 33,000: Number of cleanup workers and coastal residents exposed to BP oil or dispersant who are being tracked in a National Institute for Health study
    • 20 percent: Portion who were out of work when initially contacted for the survey
    • $105 million: Amount BP paid under a partial settlement for the oil spill to fund new healthcare centers and services for the Gulf
    • 17 months: Time period BP was banned from all federal contracts
    • Two weeks: Length of time after that suspension was lifted before BP had another oil spill
    • Five: Number of rigs BP had in the Gulf of Mexico before the spill
    • 10: Number of oil rigs BP currently has in the Gulf
    • 1.3 million: Barrels of oil produced daily in the U.S. Gulf in 2011
    • 2 million: Barrels of oil expected to come from the U.S. Gulf daily by 2020

    Sources:

    The Coastal Index: The Problem and Possibility of Our Coast,” The Data Center
    Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2013 Results (Stock Exchange Announcement),” BP
    Four Years into the Gulf Oil Disaster: Still Waiting for Restoration,” National Wildlife Federation
    Active Shoreline Cleanup Operations from Deepwater Horizon Accident End,” BP
    Four Years Later, a Sharp Divide on Gulf Oil Spill,” National Journal
    The return of deepwater drilling: By the numbers (2012),” The Week
    On 4th anniversary of BP oil spill, questions linger about health impact,” WWLTV


    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy
    Triple Pundit: Why Corporate Philanthropy Is a Key to Employee Engagement

    Companies with engaged employees outperform those without by as much as 200 percent. There are many reasons why a workforce is engaged; one of the key drivers of engagement is pride in their company's values. Corporate philanthropy programs go a long way towards keeping your employees happy.

    The post Why Corporate Philanthropy Is a Key to Employee Engagement appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: China’s Coal Boom is Waning With Ambitious Reductions Targets

    Growing rapidly from 2000 to 2010, China's coal use growth has slowed considerably. Now an ambitious plan is likely to cut China's coal use significantly by 2017.

    The post China’s Coal Boom is Waning With Ambitious Reductions Targets appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: The Link Between Walmart, Food Stamps and CSR

    A recent report from Americans for Tax Fairness estimates that Walmart workers relying on public assistance programs due to low wages cost American taxpayers $6.2 billion a year. Another interesting figure presented in the report was that Walmart has captured 18 percent of the SNAP (food stamps program) market. It got me thinking that if a substantial number of Walmart’s employees in the U.S. (1.3 million in total) receive food stamps, then the company actually profits twice from paying low-wages.

    The post The Link Between Walmart, Food Stamps and CSR appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: When it comes to climate change, don’t think of the children
    sad-kid.jpg

    No one wants their grandkids growing up in an apocalyptic world with soup-thick air and crusty land. Making the abstract idea of climate change more personal and immediate is a good way to make people care … right? But as Greg Lusk argues, the “child trope” — “Let’s leave a safe, clean world for our descendants!” — is flawed and not all that effective.

    For one thing, this “Think of the children!!!!!1” alarmism ignores the fact that kids are part of the problem (see: overpopulation). And for the kidfree, children aren’t exactly a compelling reason to care. Should I ride the bus to lock down a better future for … my cat’s kittens’ kittens? (If she weren’t already spayed, that is.)

    Then there’s the fact that climate change is already happening — shit’s in the present, not the future! As Lusk writes:

    The most vulnerable humans are already being harmed, and the biosphere is already experiencing negative effects. Why are we still talking about abstract non-actualized future individuals?

    As a well-off white person in a developed country, my nonexistent progeny won’t be hit NEARLY as hard by droughts, flooding, and food shortages as people in sub-Saharan Africa. (I guess “Think of the grandkids of some African person you’ve never met!” is not very good cocktail fodder.)

    And wanting the best — the biggest cars, houses, closets — is part of what got us INTO the mess of crazy consumption and burning through our resources. Future generations are gonna have to make sacrifices ESPECIALLY if we don’t slow our roll, not unless we do. Rather than pretending everything is fine and foisting the effects of climate change on imaginary great grandchildren, let’s acknowledge its existing effects on real people today. The future’s already here!


    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Living
    Triple Pundit: Clean Energy Sector In Illinois Continues To Grow, Survey Results Find

    The results of the first comprehensive survey of Illinois’ clean energy sector found that the sector employs 96,875 people throughout the state.

    The post Clean Energy Sector In Illinois Continues To Grow, Survey Results Find appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Big Job: More Than 50 Percent of Worker Safety Inspections Complete in Bangladesh

    In addition to the inspections, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety says that more than 400,000 factory managers and workers have been trained to date, and the intent is to train more than 1 million by July.

    The post Big Job: More Than 50 Percent of Worker Safety Inspections Complete in Bangladesh appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Here’s how the media is getting the story on cities & millennials wrong
    young woman city

    Another day, another article about millennials supposedly flocking to cities, leaving their native suburbs bereft. Last week, the New York Times informed us that there has been a precipitous decline in the number of 25- to 44-year-olds moving into some of the Big Apple’s affluent suburbs in Westchester, Nassau, and Suffolk counties. In classic journalistic trend-story fashion, the Times notes that some wealthy suburbs of Boston, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., are facing similar problems.

    The article considers several possible explanations, including the extravagantly high cost of housing in towns where there are no apartments and houses fetch over $1 million. But the focus is on the younger generation’s desire for cultural amenities. And, the Times reports, some suburbs are trying to give them what they want:

    Some suburbs are working diligently to find ways to hold onto their young. In the past decade, Westbury, N.Y., has built a total of 850 apartments — condos, co-ops and rentals — near the train station, a hefty amount for a village of 15,000 people. Late last year it unveiled a new concert venue, the Space at Westbury, that books performers like Steve Earle, Tracy Morgan and Patti Smith.

    Long Beach, N.Y., with a year-round population of 33,000, has also been refreshing its downtown near the train station over the last couple of decades. The city has provided incentives to spruce up signage and facades, remodeled pavements and crosswalks, and provided more parking. A smorgasbord of ethnic restaurants flowered on Park Avenue, the main street.

    Surely the appeal of arts and ethnic cuisine are one reason young people want to live in cities. And a variety of demographic factors, some of which the Times mentions — like people waiting longer to have kids — are also at play. (The high property taxes in New York’s fancy suburbs might be another consideration, which the article neglects.)

    But fundamentally, there are two problems with the Times story: It overstates the suburbs’ problems, and it misses one of the main causes of the shift toward cities.

    First of all, it’s important to put this urbanization in context. Between the 1950s and the late 20th century, all the cities mentioned in the Times article lost population. White flight and suburban sprawl were rampant in those decades. Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia lost over one-quarter of their populations; Baltimore more than one-third.

    New York, one of the first cities to experience gentrification on a mass scale, started to see its population decline reverse in the 1980s. But that’s not because more people were actually moving to New York than leaving it, just that the net out-migration was low enough to be outweighed by natural population growth from births. New York has only actually started to gain more migrants than it loses in the last three years, and most of New York’s in-migration is from outside the U.S.

    Even where gentrifiers are moving in at a pace sufficient to reverse outmigration, they’re barely making in a dent in reversing the tide. D.C., for example, has become wealthier in the last decade, but its population has increased only slightly and it remains far below its mid-century peak. When you adjust for the fact that the U.S. population has more than doubled since 1950, cities account for a much lower share.

    For all the hype about gentrification, most rich people remain in suburbia, and cities such as D.C. and New York remain poorer than any of their surrounding suburban counties. (You can look up income and population data from the last three decennial censuses on the Census Bureau’s interactive map.)

    All that said, there is a grain of truth to the Times’s observation. A handful of coastal and upper Midwestern cities are attracting more young professionals than before and are retaining them for longer. Some suburban-style Sun Belt cities such as Phoenix, which grew dramatically between 1960 and 2005, have seen their population level off.

    Still, the Times ignores one of the most important reasons: transportation. The article makes no mention of cars, gasoline, or driving. But the aversion to being car-dependent, and the cost of owning, maintaining and gassing up a car, is one of the main factors in millennials’ affection for cities such as San Francisco, Portland, Chicago, or New York. And so, when Long Beach tries to revitalize its downtown, adding parking is probably the wrong way to do it. Young people (along with retirees) are more likely than previous generations to want to live in walkable, transit-accessible environments.

    Ironically, the Times itself ran an op-ed the same day the kids-flocking-to-the-city story noting some of the realities their reported article missed. The author, architect Vishaan Chakrabarti, writes:

    The economic challenges of starting a life in the suburbs have grown. Mortgages and car loans are harder to get for millennials, especially as they deal with onerous college debt. Though rents are increasing, it’s easier to rent an apartment in the city and take a bus or subway to work (millennials are also delaying the decision to have kids, which makes compact urban living easier).

    Environmentally, the traumas of Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon spill, the geopolitics of imported energy and the perils of domestic energy extraction all argue for a lifestyle that is more resource-efficient, particularly for parents focused on teaching their children to be aware of the world around them.

    Chakrabarti argues that the U.S. should stop subsidizing suburban sprawl through the home mortgage interest deduction. He also points out that the gasoline tax does not collect anywhere near enough to compensate society for the pollution and degradation of the urban landscape wrought by cars and highways. That’s why we need to raise the gas tax and spend more of its proceeds on mass transit.

    The Times tells us that, in suburbia, “Demographers and politicians are scratching their heads over the change.” Instead of scratching their heads, they should be putting in sidewalks and improving bus service. They should also change zoning codes to remove minimum parking requirements, compel buildings to engage the street instead of hiding behind a surface parking lot, allow greater density and a mix of uses.

    Many of the urban neighborhoods that are so appealing to young people were developed as suburbs. But if they were built in the late 19th century, they were designed to accommodate bipedal human beings rather than cars. There is no reason that, just because a town is outside a major city’s limits, it cannot be built, or rebuilt, that way today. Maybe then the ‘burbs will be more appealing to young people who don’t want, or just can’t afford, a life tethered to an automobile.


    Filed under: Article, Cities
    Gristmill: “Climate change war” is not a metaphor
    Enduring Freedom

    The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just completed a series of landmark reports that chronicle an update to the current state of consensus science on climate change. In a sentence, here’s what they found: On our current path, climate change could pose an irreversible, existential risk to civilization as we know it – but we can still fix it if we decide to work together.

    But in addition to the call for cooperation, the reports also shared an alarming new trend: Climate change is already destabilizing nations and leading to wars.

    That finding was highlighted in this week’s premiere of Showtime’s new star-studded climate change docu-drama Years of Living Dangerously. In the series’ first episode, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman traveled to Syria to investigate how a long-running drought has contributed to that conflict. Climate change has also been discussed as a “threat multiplier” for recent conflicts in Darfur, Tunisia, Egypt, and future conflicts, too.

    Climate change worsens the divide between haves and have-nots, hitting the poor the hardest. It can also drive up food prices and spawn megadisasters, creating refugees and taxing the resiliency of governments.

    When a threat like that comes along, it’s impossible to ignore. Especially if your job is national security.

    In a recent interview with the blog Responding to Climate Changeretired Army Brig. Gen. Chris King laid out the military’s thinking on climate change:

    “This is like getting embroiled in a war that lasts 100 years. That’s the scariest thing for us,” he told RTCC. “There is no exit strategy that is available for many of the problems. You can see in military history, when they don’t have fixed durations, that’s when you’re most likely to not win.”

    In a similar vein, last month, retired Navy Rear Adm. David Titley co-wrote an op-ed for Fox News:

    The parallels between the political decisions regarding climate change we have made and the decisions that led Europe to World War One are striking – and sobering. The decisions made in 1914 reflected political policies pursued for short-term gains and benefits, coupled with institutional hubris, and a failure to imagine and understand the risks or to learn from recent history.

    In short, climate change could be the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the 21st century.

    Earlier this year, while at the American Meteorological Society annual meeting in Atlanta, I had a chance to sit down with Titley, who is also a meteorologist and now serves on the faculty at Penn State University. He’s also probably one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever spoken with. Check out his TEDxPentagon talk, in which he discusses how he went from “a pretty hard-core skeptic about climate change” to labeling it “one of the pre-eminent challenges of our century.” (This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.)

    Q. You’ve been a leader when it comes to talking about climate change as a national security issue. What’s your take on the connection between war and climate?

    David Titley.
    U.S. Navy
    David Titley.

    A. Climate change did not cause the Arab Spring, but could it have been a contributing factor? I think that seems pretty reasonable. This was a food-importing region, with poor governance. And then the chain of events conspires to have really a bad outcome. You get a spike in food prices, and all of a sudden, nobody’s in control of events.

    I see climate change as one of the driving forces in the 21st century. With modern technology and globalization, we are much more connected than ever before. The world’s warehouses are now container ships. Remember the Icelandic volcano with the unpronounceable name? Now, that’s not a climate change issue, but some of the people hit worst were flower growers in Kenya. In 24 hours, their entire business model disappeared. You can’t eat flowers.

    Q. What’s the worst-case scenario, in your view?

    A. There will be a discrete event or series of events that will change the calculus. I don’t know who, I don’t know how violent. To quote Niels Bohr: Predictions are tough, especially about the future. When it comes, that will be a black swan. The question is then, do we change?

    Let me give you a few examples of how that might play out. You could imagine a scenario in which both Russia and China have prolonged droughts. China decides to exert rights on foreign contracts and gets assertive in Africa. If you start getting instability in large powers with nuclear weapons, that’s not a good day.

    Here’s another one: We basically do nothing on emissions. Sea level keeps rising, three to six feet by the end of the century. Then, you get a series of super-typhoons into Shanghai and millions of people die. Does the population there lose faith in Chinese government? Does China start to fissure? I’d prefer to deal with a rising, dominant China any day.

    Q. That sounds incredibly daunting. How could we head off a threat like that?

    A. I like to think of climate action as a three-legged stool. There’s business saying, “This is a risk factor.” Coca-Cola needs to preserve its water rights, Boeing has their supply change management, Exxon has all but priced carbon in. They have influence in the Republican Party. There’s a growing divestment movement. The big question is, does it get into the California retirement fund, the New York retirement fund, those $100 billion funds that will move markets? Politicians also have responsibility to act if the public opinion changes. Flooding, storms, droughts are all getting people talking about climate change. I wonder if someday Atlanta will run out of water?

    Think back to the Apollo program. President Kennedy motivated us to land a man on the moon. How that will play out exactly this time around, I don’t know. When we talk about climate, we need to do everything we can to set the stage before the actors come on. And they may only have one chance at success. We should keep thinking: How do we maximize that chance of success?

    Climate change isn’t just an environmental issue; it’s a technology, water, food, energy, population issue. None of this happens in a vacuum.

    Q. Despite all the data and debates, the public still isn’t taking that great of an interest in climate change. According to Gallup, the fraction of Americans worrying about climate “a great deal” is still roughly one-third, about the same level as in 1989. Do you think that could ever change?

    A. A lot of people who doubt climate change got co-opted by a libertarian agenda that tried to convince the public the science was uncertain – you know, the Merchants of Doubt. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of people in high places who understand the science but don’t like where the policy leads them: too much government control.

    Where are the free-market, conservative ideas? The science is settled. Instead, we should have a legitimate policy debate between the center-right and the center-left on what to do about climate change. If you’re a conservative – half of America – why would you take yourself out of the debate? C’mon, don’t be stupid. Conservative people want to conserve things. Preserving the climate should be high on that list.

    Q. What could really change in the debate on climate?

    A. We need to start prioritizing people, not polar bears. We’re probably less adaptable than them, anyway. The farther you are from the Beltway, the more you can have a conversation about climate no matter how people vote. I never try to politicize the issue.

    Most people out there are just trying to keep their job and provide for their family. If climate change is now a once-in-a-mortgage problem, and if food prices start to spike, people will pay attention. Factoring in sea-level rise, storms like Hurricane Katrina and Sandy could become not once-in-100-year events, but once-in-a-mortgage events. I lost my house in Waveland, Miss., during Katrina. I’ve experienced what that’s like.

    Q. How quickly could the debate shift? How can we get past the stalemate on climate change and start focusing on what to do about it?

    A. People working on climate change should prepare for catastrophic success. I mean, look at how quickly the gay rights conversation changed in this country. Ten years ago, it was at best a fringe thing. Nowadays, it’s much, much more accepted. Is that possible with climate change? I don’t know, but 10 years ago, if you brought up the possibility we’d have gay marriages in dozens of states in 2014, a friend might have said “Are you on drugs?” When we get focused, we can do amazing things. Unfortunately, it’s usually at the last minute, usually under duress.

    This article is part of Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State University, the New America Foundation, and Slate.

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


    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Minnesota can’t say no to coal power, judge rules
    coal power plant

    Minnesota did something really cool in 2007. As part of its Next Generation Energy Act, which aimed to reduce per capita fossil fuel use 15 percent by 2015, it effectively barred utilities from buying electricity from any fossil fuelburning power plants built after July 2009 — unless the carbon emissions of those purchases were entirely offset.

    In response, North Dakota, which gets a staggering 79 percent of its power from dirty coal, did something decidedly uncool. It sued its neighbor in 2011, claiming the air-cleansing and climate-protecting rule violated federal law because it limited interstate commerce.

    And on Friday, a federal judge ruled in favor of North Dakota. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports:

    U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson enjoined [Minnesota] from enforcing key sections of the law, which North Dakota coal and utility interests said hampered their ability to find buyers for power from existing coal-fired generating plants or to plan for new ones. …

    Under Nelson’s order, Minnesota can’t enforce state restrictions on electricity imports from new power plants that increase greenhouse gases. No Minnesota utility has announced plans to do that. But the order, if upheld, could open the door to Minnesota utilities buying more coal-generated power from other states.

    North Dakota’s attorney general described the ruling as a “complete victory.” Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) was decidedly less chipper — but he vowed to appeal.

    “North Dakota operators propose to build new, coal-fired power-generating plants without offsetting emission reductions,” Dayton said. “Prevailing winds will carry those toxic emissions directly into Minnesota. That shameful practice should not be permitted by either the state or federal government.”


    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Ukraine belatedly seeks renewable energy as weapon against Russia
    Ukraine flag

    It took a military invasion to get Ukrainian leaders to look seriously at renewable energy.

    Ukraine is buying up as much natural gas as it can from Russia before its military tormentors cut off the spigot. Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that his Eastern European neighbor had a month to pay its back bills or be forced to start paying in advance for its gas. Bloomberg analyzed energy data and reported Monday that Ukrainians nearly trebled their daily gas imports following Putin’s statement.

    But the crisis hasn’t just triggered a fossil fuel buying spree. It has prompted Ukrainian officials to reimagine their embattled nation’s very energy future. From a separate Bloomberg article:

    Ukraine is seeking U.S. investment in its biomass, wind and solar power industries. The idea is to use renewable energy to curb its reliance on fuel imports from Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region last month and has troops massed on the border.

    “Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine indeed brought energy security concerns to the fore,” Olexander Motsyk, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., said at a renewable-energy conference at his country’s embassy in Washington yesterday. “I strongly believe the time has come for U.S. investors to discover Ukraine, especially its energy.” …

    [T]he Energy Industry Research Center said Ukraine’s heating supply accounts for about 40 percent of all gas imported from Russia, which could be replaced with renewable energy within three to five years.

    Unfortunately, the Ukrainians are a little late getting started on a green energy blitz. By 2030, hopefully long after military tensions have eased, the country could be getting just 15 percent of its energy supply from renewables, the Energy Industry Research Center estimates — up from a miserable 2 percent today.


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
    eco.psk: Cardboard Wine Bottles Offer A Greener Alternative To Glass [Pics]
    paperboy-wine-1.jpgPaperboy Wine is easier to recycle and 85% lighter than a glass bottle.
    Gristmill: These shoes are completely made out of recycled trash
    recycled-beach-trash-sneakers

    Consumerism constantly promises that THIS ONE THINGIE will make you happy or hot or successful. In that moment of swiping your debit card, it’s hard to imagine ever trashing your new panacea. And yet most things end up in the garbage (even stuff that makes a pit stop at Goodwill).

    That’s the message behind Everything Is Rubbish, a recycling art project by a trio of British guys. Charles Duffy, William Gubbins, and Billy Turvey wanted to make a statement about the millions of pieces of plastic that end up in the ocean every day. They gathered plastic trash on U.K. beaches, disinfected the crap out of it, heated it up, smashed it into sheets, and created shoes out of it. It’s oddly mesmerizing; watch:

    So why shoes?

    The first of our clothing to show signs of damage is footwear. In the eyes of the consumer, a superficial blemish or a shift in the latest trend is all that’s needed to warrant a new purchase.

    Contemporary footwear spends barely a fraction of its life hugging a foot. For the majority of its life it is rubbish. Whether in a landfill or washed up on a shoreline, the synthetics within the shoes — in addition to the plethora of plastic we discard — will take centuries to break down.

    Whoa. Who wants their legacy to be litter? The good news is, it’s not too late to change that. Buy less (the Everything Is Rubbish shoes aren’t for sale), buy quality, and fix what’s broken. Then you’ll leave behind something way better, like the memory of you killing it at karaoke.


    Filed under: Living
    Gristmill: Ask Umbra: How do I fight my city’s terrible litter problem?
    litter volunteer

    Send your question to Umbra!

    Q. My city is littered with litter! It is all over the place. I try to pick up litter whenever I am outside, but I am only one person. What other methods can I employ to clean up my city?

    Blakely S.
    Boston, Mass.

    A. Dearest Blakely,

    Of all the environmental issues out there, you’d think litter would be the one we could all agree to fix. After all, when’s the last time you heard someone argue in favor of greasy potato chip bags in the park or cigarette butts in the harbor? But despite the near-universal distaste for litter, there’s still trash flying around town. Go figure.

    I’m glad to hear you’re concerned. As you may already know, the litter problem does more than make a neighborhood look, well, trashy. Free-range garbage also makes its way into storm drains, and from there, local waterways, where it can end up in the stomachs of turtles and seabirds. It may attract pets and wildlife, which in turn invites the spread of germs. Litter diverts recyclable items from the recycling plant. And in case those reasons don’t move you – personally, you had me at turtles in distress – littering costs businesses and governments billions in cleanup. That’s a high price to pay for the “convenience” of tossing a banana peel out the car window.

    Your solo anti-littering crusade is no doubt a positive step, Blakely, but you can multiply your impact with a little help from your friends. One person picking up litter can haul a few bags away, sure, but one person inspiring others to pick up litter is what really gets things done. My best piece of advice? Start recruiting others to your cause.

    This can be as simple as getting a few friends together, handing out bags, and spending a few hours in the sunshine scooping up trash. You might want to add protective gloves, too, just in case. Earth Day is tomorrow – why not celebrate with a spur-of-the-moment cleanup party?

    If you’re truly moved by this cause, I encourage you to take it a step further and get organized. Community cleanup events that put dozens of locals on the job will have a much bigger impact (and tend to lend a rather festive air to the proceedings to boot). The nonprofit Keep America Beautiful sets up Great American Cleanup events each year, where you can meet like-minded neighbors while hoovering up garbage in your parks, roadways, and community spaces. Connect with your local chapter here.

    And if you don’t find a ready-made anti-litter event nearby, well, why not start your own? Keep America Beautiful supplies a bunch of helpful tips for would-be litter moguls, from setting up an organizing committee to choosing a date (hint: springtime is great) to getting the word out around town. One of the best ways to add manpower and publicity to a project like this is hooking up with other local organizations: Think schools, churches, nonprofits, service clubs, Scouts, 4-H clubs, college environmental organizations — any group with a track record of community service is a good bet. While you’re at it, talk to your local businesses about donating snacks, tools, or even T-shirts to your volunteers.

    Before I get too carried away, let me mention one more step: Have your big cleanup be the kickoff for regular anti-trash events! You and your friends, plus any other groups you recruit, can “adopt” particularly litter-challenged spots and make it your mission to keep them wrapper-free. Not only will you be picking up garbage every month or so, you’ll also be instilling a sense of pride and ownership in your community, which is kind of like mosquito repellent for litterbugs.

    Don’t forget about the power of social media while you’re planning your event, Blakely, whether it’s a simple get-together with friends or a community-wide shindig. Facebook and Twitter can be great ways to spread the word about what you’re up to, and check out what this enterprising man is doing with Instagram. The more people know, the more they’ll be inspired to join your crusade – and the better off your town (and your town’s turtles) will be.

    Beautificationally,
    Umbra


    Filed under: Cities, Living
    Gristmill: Climate change got you down this Earth Day? Time for a badger mask
    dark mountain

    It’s not often that any magazine profiles an environmentalist. So when the New York Times Magazine did just that this week, I got excited. Just in time for Earth Day!

    Setting aside, of course, the uneasiness that I feel about Earth Day. When you are the only habitable planet in the solar system, as well as the large spheroid mass whose rotation around the sun actually makes days happen, arguably all of the days are yours. But Earth Day itself has very sweet and thoughtful origins as an idea, proposed by a Wisconsin senator in 1970, to host teach-ins on ecological issues around the country. The teach-ins became so huge that the momentum from that day of meetings is credited with the creation of the EPA, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act — along with the persistence of Earth Day itself, which very few people seem to get excited about any more, but which hovers in our vision anyway like the afterimage of a camera flash.

    Part of that persistence is a consequence of the news cycle, which requires holidays in order to write about things — civil rights, women, the fact that the only planet we live on seems to be having some tropospheric issues — that we all should be writing about anyway. And so, for its Earth Day story, the Times chose, in something of a punk move, to profile another generator of an unexpectedly viral idea — Paul Kingsnorth.

    Kingsnorth is a British environmentalist and anti-globalization activist who, back in 2009, very publicly lost faith in both struggles. Climate change was not something that could be stopped, he decided. “Sustainability” wasn’t something that was attainable, given the current human population and fondness for things like heat, light, and food. The future did not look good. “Decline, depletion, chaos and hardship” were in store for the lot of us, and the sooner we realized it, the better.

    Many people who come to such conclusions start hoarding a lot of canned goods; Kingsnorth’s response to impending collapse was to found a lavish hardcover literary journal. The journal was called Dark Mountain, as is the group of uncertain size that has organized around it, which Kingsnorth described as “a network of writers, artists and thinkers who have stopped believing the stories our civilization tells itself.” Together, he wrote “we are able to say it loud and clear: we are not going to ‘save the planet’.”

    In 2012, he elaborated further during an email exchange with the writer Wen Stephenson:

     I do think that climate change campaigners like yourself should be more upfront about what you’re trying to ‘save.’ It’s not the world. It’s not humanity either, which I’d bet will survive whatever comes in some form or another, though perhaps with drastically reduced numbers and no broadband connection. No, what you’re trying to save, it seems to me, is the world you have grown used to.

    Dark Mountain, Kingsnorth wrote, would bring about gatherings of “practical people with hands-on ideas for building the post-oil world in a century of chaos.” The festival that Daniel Smith, author on the Times profile, attends, though, has more of a Burning Man vibe:

    A man wearing a stag mask bounded into the clearing and shouted: “Come! Let’s play!” The crowd broke up. Some headed for bed. A majority headed for the woods, to a makeshift stage that had been blocked off with hay bales and covered by an enormous nylon parachute. There they danced, sang, laughed, barked, growled, hooted, mooed, bleated and meowed, forming a kind of atavistic, improvisatory choir. Deep into the night, you could hear them from your tent, shifting every few minutes from sound to sound, animal to animal and mood to mood.

    The next morning over breakfast, Dougie Strang, a Scottish artist and performer who is on Dark Mountain’s steering committee, asked if I’d been there. When he left, at 3 a.m., he said, people were writhing in the mud and singing, in harmony, the children’s song “Teddy Bears’ Picnic.” (“If you go down in the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise.”) “Wasn’t it amazing?” he said, grinning. “It really went mental. I think we actually achieved uncivilization.”

    If this sounds less like an enduring movement with relevance to the environmental movement as a whole than a midlife crisis, you wouldn’t be the first to think so. In the profile, even Kingsnorth says as much:

    “What do you do,” he asked, “when you accept that all of these changes are coming, things that you value are going to be lost, things that make you unhappy are going to happen, things that you wanted to achieve you can’t achieve, but you still have to live with it, and there’s still beauty, and there’s still meaning, and there are still things you can do to make the world less bad? And that’s not a series of questions that have any answers other than people’s personal answers to them. Selfishly it’s just a process I’m going through.” He laughed. “It’s extremely narcissistic of me. Rather than just having a personal crisis, I’ve said: ‘Hey! Come share my crisis with me!’”

    At 41, Kingsnorth is at the age when a lot of people who’ve devoted themselves to a project, whether it’s saving the world or selling inground swimming pools, tend to burn out and wonder what the hell they’re doing with their lives. In declaring the largest problem of our era unfixable, Kingsnorth gave himself — and a few other earnest, idealistic types – the perfect excuse to put on a badger mask and go party in the woods.

    When someone goes and names their organization “Dark Mountain,” that’s a sign of a few things: 1) They’re a little depressed at the moment; and 2) they’re probably on a quest of some sort. For most of us, mountains are pilgrimage sites, not destinations. It’s hard to grow anything on a mountain. The air gets mighty thin.

    There are clues that even Paul Kingsnorth finds it hard to live up to Paul Kingsnorth’s ideals of retreat and preparation for social collapse. He’s spent the last three years organizing to keep a supermarket development out of his rural community, though he uses some bleak poetry to justify it. “I’m increasingly attracted,” he says, in the article, “by the idea that there can be at least small pockets where life and character and beauty and meaning continue. If I could help protect one of those from destruction, maybe that would be enough. Maybe it would be more than most people do.”

    The story of Dark Mountain reminds me of another British phenomenon that poured a lot of hubris and energy into hopelessness: the Sex Pistols. When Johnny Rotten howled “No Future” into a microphone in 1977, he couldn’t, of course, see the actual future, where he would be 58, something of a whale-watching enthusiast and preparing to tour with a production of Jesus Christ, Superstar.

    Another Brit put it better. As Joe Strummer said, “The future is unwritten.”


    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Triple Pundit: Sustainability and Employee Engagement: Don’t Forget the Fun

    The truth is that it can be difficult to get employees to engage with corporate sustainability programs, but it doesn't have to be that way. Described in this post are three successful programs that draw on basic human psychology to achieve their goals.

    The post Sustainability and Employee Engagement: Don’t Forget the Fun appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Pennsylvania Shale Gas Report Finds Little to Complain About

    The 265-page “Shale-Gas Monitoring Report,” is just that: a comprehensive and carefully worded document about the results of the monitoring the state has conducted since 2011, while avoiding the use of the term hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."

    The post Pennsylvania Shale Gas Report Finds Little to Complain About appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Boston Doctors Fight Obesity with Prescribe-a-Bike Program

    In a new move to help reduce obesity in low-income neighborhoods, doctors in Boston are writing bike share prescriptions as an alternative to traditional medication.

    The post Boston Doctors Fight Obesity with Prescribe-a-Bike Program appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Annual 3p Readership Survey Results

    We would like to take a moment to thank those of you who participated in our annual readership survey. Overall, we received a plethora of positive comments and thoughtful insights on what is both enjoyed and desired for the future.

    The post Annual 3p Readership Survey Results appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Is Environmental Entrepreneurship the Key to Solving Climate Change?

    The old form of environmentalism was telling people what not to do. If you cut down trees, pollute streams or throw your trash out the car window, you’re being bad. The new form of environmental entrepreneurship is to give the consumer something so compelling; they adopt it without feeling like it’s a sacrifice.

    The post Is Environmental Entrepreneurship the Key to Solving Climate Change? appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: U.S. Wind Energy Could Double, But It’s Deja-vu All Over Again in Congress

    The U.S. wind energy posted remarkable results in 2013 despite getting off to a rocky start. Though new transmission capacity means U.S. wind energy capacity could double, uncertainty is high, and a sharp slowdown could be in the cards for 2014 as Congress debates renewing the wind energy production tax credit.

    The post U.S. Wind Energy Could Double, But It’s Deja-vu All Over Again in Congress appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Bacardi Makes Energy Efficiency Upgrades to Its Rum Facility in Puerto Rico

    After highlighting significant reductions in water and energy use in its 2013 corporate social responsibility (CSR) report, Bacardi recently announced new energy efficiency measures for its rum facility in Puerto Rico.

    The post Bacardi Makes Energy Efficiency Upgrades to Its Rum Facility in Puerto Rico appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: This Argentinian ranch sticks to the gaucho way of raising beef

    In 2012, Jessica Weiss wrote a story for Grist on factory farms replacing grass-fed beef in Argentina. In Argentina, beef isn’t just a food; it’s a lifestyle. We were inspired to seek out a ranch that’s sticking to traditional methods. Join us as we explore La Dos Hermanas Ranch, where they maintain the tried-and-true ways of raising grass-fed beef in Argentina.


    Filed under: Article, Food, Living
    Gristmill: Wanna know what’s happened to the Gulf Coast since the BP spill? Read this blog, now
    an oil-spattered Gulf Coast
    Danny E Hooks
    The oil-spattered Gulf Coast in 2010. How’s it faring now?

    On the fourth anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, the big question is whether the oil spill recovery is finally over. According to BP, yes it is. Or at least BP is wrapping up “active cleanup” and headed home to get its life back, only further available if the Coast Guard calls it.

    But to many of the people living along the Gulf Coast, who still have to endure the aftereffects of BP’s blunder, hell naw it ain’t over. Given the tarballs and the oil that’s still drawing a ring of eyeliner along the coast, not to mention all the devastated dolphins and oysters, it’s an insult to even suggest it.

    “Today should not have to be about reminding the nation that thousands of Gulf Coast residents continue to be impacted by the environmental and economic damage created by the BP oil disaster,” said Colette Pichon Battle, executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy. “The request by coastal residents four years later is the same as in 2010. Clean up the oil. Pay for the damage. And ensure that this never happens again.”

    There are hundreds of unresolved issues on the Gulf Coast, many of them predating the oil spill. With stories spilling in from all over the place, it’s going to be tough sussing out the true grit from the bullshit. Fortunately the good folks over at the Bridge the Gulf blog got you covered.

    The blog was created in response to the BP oil spill by Gulf Coast residents and activists who have a direct stake in their communities’ recovery. Many of them have struggled under prior Gulf disasters, like hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike, Gustav, and the most recent, Isaac. It’s where you can read about Turkey Creek, Miss., the historically troubled black community that’s the subject of the new documentary Come Hell or High Water. It’s also where you can read about a bunch of other places across the Gulf that have been pricked by storms of both the political and ecological variety.

    Disclaimer: I served as an editor of the blog in 2012, so I’m biased. But as someone who’s a relentless consumer of news from media sources across the Gulf — and who’s written for many of them — I can assure you that you won’t find a grander assembly of authentic voices and primary sources from the Gulf anywhere else on the web. Among the Bridge the Gulf writer corps are people like Kindra Arnesen, who was a first responder when the BP rig initially broke, and also voices from the Gulf’s top community organizations like Gulf Restoration Network, t.e.j.a.s., Women With a Vision, and the New Orleans-based Advocates for Environmental Human Rights.

    Bridge the Gulf just relaunched with a new website design, but with the same strong repertoire of Gulf renewal narratives. Below are a few examples of blog’s best content over the years:

    On the Road With Cherri Foytlin: You may have read about Foytlin in Rolling Stone, where she was named as one of “The New Green Heroes” of the fossil fuel resistance — she’s the “Angry Mom.” She walked from New Orleans to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness about health problems along the Gulf believed to be the result of the BP oil spill. She’s been a contributor to Bridge the Gulf since the beginning, as a writer, photographer, and videographer, but here is a rare glimpse of her in front of the camera.

    Gulf Coast Residents Appalled by Lack of Concern for Safety After EPA Drops BP’s Ban on Federal Contracts: The whole BP Deepwater Horizon saga is summarized in this nugget from long-time Bridge the Gulf contributor Karen Savage: “The EPA banned BP from obtaining new federal contracts and oil leases from November 2012 until the ban was lifted on March 16th. Last year, the oil giant pled guilty to illegal conduct leading to and following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, including 11 counts of felony manslaughter, one count of felony obstruction of US Congress and violations of both the Clean Water Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Acts. Through their guilty plea, BP admitted to obstructing an inquiry by the US Congress, providing ‘false and misleading’ information regarding flow rate and manipulating internal flow-rate estimates.” On Friday, the Public Citizen, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and dozens of other environmental groups demanded that EPA against suspend BP from receiving for federal leases and contracts.

    What you missed last week at the BOEM …: People want to know what the federal government has been doing since the BP oil spill to tighten safety regulations around offshore drilling — especially since it has allowed BP back out to drill in the Gulf. Those safety questions have been handled by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management mainly through a series of nauseatingly boring public meetings. Fortunately, Bridge the Gulf editor Ada McMahon made it unboring for us by attending one and then reporting back in the form of a comic strip:

    comic
    Ada McMahon

    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Now available: 29 flavors of open source seeds, sans patents
    quinoa

    There’s been an argument going on for at least 100 years over seeds. Should they be free? Or should the people who develop them control, and profit from, their use? If they were shared, we’d have a more fluid development of agricultural technology, because all plant breeders could experiment with the best stuff. On the other hand, maybe breeders wouldn’t want to engage in the hard work of experimenting if they couldn’t sell their inventions for lots of money.

    It used to be that those who bred new varieties of plants shared them freely, in part because it was almost impossible to control them: As soon as someone buys one of your new tomato seeds, he can use it to make a hundred more.

    As Irwin Goldman, a vegetable breeder at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, told NPR reporter Dan Charles, plant breeders used to have a code of ethics that mandated sharing:

    “If other breeders asked for our materials, we would send them a packet of seed, and they would do the same for us,” he says. “That was a wonderful way to work, and that way of working is no longer with us.”

    All that changed after seed companies began producing hybrids, which lose their superpowers if you try to grow more of them, and as cash-strapped universities have begun patenting more and more of their seeds. But on Thursday the Open Source Seed Initiative at the University of Wisconsin-Madison released the first set of seeds with an open-source license. It is distributing 29 varieties, including broccoli, celery, kale, and quinoa.

    The license is pretty simple: It’s just a commitment to keep the seeds, and their derivatives, in the public domain. Instead of the pages of small print that comes with most patent use agreements, this is “almost like a haiku,” Goldman said. But, like the software-industry idea it borrows from, it also effectively commits those who use the seeds as raw material for new products to share those innovations under the same open-source terms. In other words, it’s contagious, in a good way.

    Jack Kloppenburg (who I’ve written about here) has been one of the main people pushing open source seeds. And Kloppenburg, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, says this initiative is aimed at a larger problem. As with open-source software, these seeds are meant to encourage innovation and allow researchers to build quirky things for small markets. Bigger companies generally specialize their products for the biggest market. Here’s Dan Charles again:

    [Kloppenburg] says turning seeds into private property has contributed to the rise of big seed companies that in turn promote ever-bigger, more specialized farms. “The problem is concentration, and the narrow set of uses to which the technology and the breeding are being put,” he says.

    Kloppenburg says one important goal for this initiative is simply to get people thinking and talking about how seeds are controlled. “It’s to open people’s minds,” he says. “It’s kind of a biological meme, you might say: Free seed! Seed that can be used by anyone!”

    This doesn’t conclude the argument over seeds, by any means; it actually ups the stakes. Commercial seeds used to be naturally open source, and now they are overwhelmingly privatized. The Open Source Seed Initiative provides the opportunity to make what was an academic debate real again.

    For the moment, university scientists will probably be the main people to benefit from open-source seeds. But if you want some, you will soon be able to buy them from High Mowing Organic Seeds and Wild Garden Seed.


    Filed under: Article, Food
    Gristmill: A surprisingly pleasant song about plastic pollution

    If you’re like the Amazing Mr. Smashing, you’re probably singing and chucking water bottles at sea otters. If so, why don’t you kick some puppies while you’re at it? If not, phew — you’re off the hook.

    Or not. It turns out that most of the junk in the ocean is plastic, and chances are, some of it’s yours. Don’t worry, some of it is mine, too. The stuff just never goes away! Sure, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces over a coupla years, but then fish and barnacles and birds and maybe even weird new microbial ecosystems eat it.

    The video, by illustrator Edward Ward, was produced by Seas at Risk, a Brussels-based group fighting the good fight against ocean trash. This week, the European parliament passed a resolution to reduce single-use plastic bag use by 80 percent in the next five years. (Sorry, American Beauty fans, get your sublime litter fix before it runs out.) It’s not a perfect victory, since problematic “biodegradable” bags get a pass; still, it could save a lot of choked sea turtles in the long run.

    Nice work, Europe. Now you’ll have something to hum while you’re bringing your goldfish home from the pet store in a Klean Kanteen.


    Filed under: Article, Living
    Gristmill: Three Gulf Coast victories scored since the BP spill
    "Save our Gulf" rally

    You will hear a lot of gloomy reports about the state of the Gulf Coast as we approach the fourth-year commemoration of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster on April 20. And that’s fair. BP deserves little cheer in the face of widespread health problems across the Gulf, for both humans and marine animals, and the disappearance of entire fishing communities. Despite what BP is telling us, it ain’t all good. But it ain’t all bad, either.

    Gulf Coast communities from the Florida Panhandle to Texas’s right shoulder had been through a few disaster rodeos before the BP spill. They’ve survived hurricanes named for just about every letter of the alphabet. And they’ve endured careless and reckless decisions from every level of government, way more than one time too many. Given those past experiences, residents and activists along the Gulf corralled together after the BP disaster to make sure their most immediate concerns would be heard this time around. Region-wide networks like the Gulf Future Coalition and the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health were formed immediately after the spill to harness the expertise of Gulf citizens who often historically were excluded from recovery processes. Through guiding documents like the Unified Action Plan for a Healthy Gulf and media projects like Bridge the Gulf, community members were able to voice their concerns and demands, free of bureaucratic or political filters.

    These projects gave Gulf residents the opportunity not only to frame the Gulf recovery narrative, but also to influence government-led recovery plans. The result has been three demonstrable victories:

    1. The Gulf Coast gets to keep the money: The current civil trial against BP to determine how much the company will pay in Clean Water Act fines won’t conclude until next year, but scientists and legal experts expect fines to total upwards of $20 billion, which normally would be great news … for the U.S. Treasury. Under the Oil Spill Liability Act, such fines are directed to a special Treasury account to be used to cope with future oil tragedies. But Gulf Coast communities said, “Wayment, y’alls oil and gas drillers been foulin’ up our waters for decades. We deserve that money for the tragedies y’all been causin’ today.” The community groups wrote up a new law called the RESTORE Act, which would keep 80 percent of the BP fine money right there in the Gulf, and out of reach of D.C.’s balanced-budget stalkers. Inside-the-Beltway conventional wisdom says no one’s been able to get anything passed through Congress the past few years. Well, the RESTORE Act passed, and it’s now law. The Gulf Coast keeps the money. Derrick Evans, director of the Gulf Coast Fund, explains it better in this video.

    2. Gulf Coast residents get some health care (even as they’re denied the full benefits of Obamacare): Unexplained illnesses have become prevalent in the wake of the spill, particularly among those involved in the emergency cleanup response immediately after. Despite an untold number of Gulf residents complaining of respiratory problems, rashes, and nausea, BP stated it would not hear any health-related grievances through its claims process. In fact, BP publicly doubted that any of the reported illnesses were connected to the oil spill. But Gulf advocates did not let BP off that easy. When the company settled part of its civil case with a party of commercial fishermen and oil workers for $7.8 billion in 2012, activists were able to finagle a $105 million carve-out for health centers to be built in every Gulf state. These new health facilities will provide services to all Gulf residents, not just those directly impacted by the oil spill, and also epidemiological training for doctors so they can better monitor for spill-related illnesses as they surface over time. “These communities gave input early on that helped to shape the program that is now coming back to provide health services to them,” says Steve Bradberry, executive director of The Alliance Institute, which helped facilitate the community input. Another silver lining here is that the new health centers, some of which are just now coming online, are being built in states where the governors have turned down federal funding to expand Medicaid.

    3. You don’t have to rely on Anderson Cooper for your Gulf news anymore: When disaster strikes the Gulf, national media forces like CNN and The New York Times drone in to capture the melee, then disperse at the first sign of another news story elsewhere in the world. And then Spike Lee comes and shoots a documentary, and it’s a wrap. But that’s not the whole picture anymore. Gulf residents have taken their stories into their own hands, eyes, and voices, mainly through documentaries. The result is what film scholars will hopefully one day recognize as the definitive canon of cinematic Gulf tales of survival. I’ve written about a couple of them, such as Leah Mahan’s Come Hell or High Water and Nailah Jefferson’s Vanishing Pearls. Add to that list Monique Verdin’s My Louisiana Love and Margaret Brown’s The Great Invisible. Then offscreen there’s Cry You One, a play that takes its audience directly to the bayous and wetlands of Louisiana for its narrative — literally. These stories — along with those told in the hundreds of local blogs, news outlets, and books that have sprouted in the past few years — will give future historians a view from the ground of what restoration looked like, who benefited, and who was excluded.


    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Obama delays Keystone decision — again
    pipeline delayed

    Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before: The Obama administration is delaying a decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

    But this is different from all those past delays. This is a brand new delay — and it might push the final determination past the midterm elections. As Politico notes, “A delay past November would spare Obama a politically difficult choice on whether to approve the pipeline, angering his green base and environmentally minded campaign donors — or reject it, endangering pro-pipeline Democrats such as [Sen. Mary] Landrieu, who represents oil-rich Louisiana.”

    The Washington Post explains the reasoning behind this latest delay:

    The Obama administration has — again — postponed a decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline by giving eight different agencies more time to submit their views on whether the pipeline from Canada’s oil sands to the Texas gulf coast is in the national interest.

    The 90-day period for interagency comments was supposed to end May 7, but the State Department extended that deadline, citing “uncertainty” created by a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling that could lead to changes in the pipeline route.

    The State Department, which must make the final decision on the permit because it crosses an international boundary, said it would use the additional time to consider the “unprecedented number” — 2.5 million — of public comments that were submitted by March 7.

    Queue the predictable outcry from pipeline supporters. That includes not just Republicans (though outcrying is their specialty) but also the 11 Democratic senators from red and swing states who recently wrote Obama a letter calling on him to quickly approve the project. “This decision is irresponsible, unnecessary and unacceptable,” said Landrieu, who organized the letter writers. She vowed to use her new position as chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to force approval. (Good luck with that.)

    Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski from the oil-loving state of Alaska called the delay “a stunning act of political cowardice” and said that “the timing of this announcement — waiting until a Friday afternoon during the holy Passover holiday in the hope that most Americans would be too busy with their families to notice — only adds further insult.”

    Keystone opponents are of two minds. Billionaire climate hawk and campaign funder Tom Steyer called it “good news on Good Friday.” The League of Conservation Voters went further and called it “great news.” The Natural Resources Defense Council seems to agree:

    The State Department is taking the most prudent course of action possible. … Getting this decision right includes being able to evaluate the yet-to-be determined route through Nebraska and continuing to listen to the many voices that have raised concerns about Keystone XL. The newly extended comment period will show what we already know: the more Americans learn about this project, the more they see that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in the national interest.

    But 350.org slammed the administration for its procrastination. “It’s disappointing President Obama doesn’t have the courage to reject Keystone XL right now,” the group said in a release. “It’s as if our leaders simply don’t understand that climate change is happening in real time — that it would require strong, fast action to do anything about it.” Still, the group claimed a partial victory: “this is clearly another win for pipeline opponents.”

    Anti-Keystoners will, of course, keep fighting the proposal. On Earth Day, April 22, they’ll kick off a Reject and Protect protest on the National Mall. “The encampment will feature 15 tipis and a covered wagon, and begins on Tuesday with a 40-person ceremonial horseback ride from the Capitol down the National Mall,” says 350. “Ranchers from Nebraska, tribal leaders from Nebraska, Minnesota and the Dakotas, actor Daryl Hannah, the Indigo Girls, environmental and social justice leaders, and others will take part at the encampment over the week.”

    And Steyer has promised to help fund political candidates who oppose the pipeline. Politico reports that he “pledged Thursday to leverage his largely self-funded super PAC to support members of Congress who come under attack for their opposition to the proposed Canada-to-Texas pipeline.”


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Ex-BP official got rich on Deepwater Horizon spill, gets busted
    Deepwater Horizon

    When Keith Seilhan was called in to coordinate BP’s oil spill cleanup after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, the senior company official and experienced crisis manager looked at the situation and thought, “Fuck this.” He dumped his family’s $1 million worth of BP stock, earning a profit and saving $100,000 in potential losses after the share price tanked even further.

    But Seilhan knew something that other investors did not know when he made that trade. The company was lying to the government and the public about the amount of oil that was leaking from the ruptured well — by a factor of more than ten. And the feds say that doesn’t just make Seilhan an awful person — it means he was engaging in insider trading. Charges and a settlement were announced Thursday.

    “The complaint alleges that within days, Seilhan received nonpublic information on the extent of the evolving disaster, including oil flow estimates and data on the volume of oil floating on the surface of the Gulf,” the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said in its announcement.

    Without admitting or denying guilt, the Texan, who has since left BP, agreed to pay the government a penalty equivalent to double the $105,409 that he allegedly gained through the trade.


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: The week in gifs: Mark Ruffalo edition

    Mark Ruffalo won our “Who’s your fave green celeb” poll, plus we’re way overdue to stare at gifs of him.

    Power plants lost their legal bid to douse you with mercury:

    mark-ruffalo-tongue-13-going-on-30
    Tumblr

    There’s now a gnat named after Bill McKibben:

    thats-dope-mark-ruffalo
    Tumblr

    The IPCC report was censored:

    mark-ruffalo-time-bomb

    Fracking can make you sick in a number of different ways:

    sad-mark-ruffalo
    Tumblr

    Vermont is about to mandate GMO labels on food:

    dancing-mark-ruffalo-sesame-street
    Giphy

    Air pollution disproportionately affects people of color (even though they aren’t causing as much of it):

    mad-hulk-mark-ruffalo
    Tumblr

    Airbnb can make your dreams of running a brothel come true:

    mark-ruffalo-shirtless
    Tumblr

    Thanks for being awesome, Ruff.

    hugging-mark-ruffalo
    Giphy

    Filed under: Living
    Gristmill: Making the road safe for biking’s nervous Nellies
    little-boy-bicyclist.jpg

    I used to bike like everyone was trying to kill me. I was fresh out of college and had moved to San Francisco to seek my fortune, only to discover that the city’s public transit system was more of a simulacrum of a system than something that actually got me reliably on time to my job — or, let’s be honest, jobs. Living in the city required a lot of jobs, and sometimes the bus came and sometimes it didn’t. So I started biking.

    Even if drivers didn’t bear any malice towards me — and almost none of them did — I learned to regard them with caution. They were bored. They were tired. They were steering 3,000+ pounds of metal powered by a combustion engine, but they spent so much time there that they behaved like it was their living room. (I looked over, once, and saw a woman in huge Audrey Hepburn sunglasses, eating corn on the cob and driving with her elbows.)

    It is because of this experience that I view the recent news that California’s Department of Transportation has signed on to the National Association of City Transportation Officials guidelines for street design with unmitigated delight. NACTO is the kind of agency that rarely makes the news — probably because it’s dead boring. But to those interested in the future of our cities, NACTO is also an illustration of how local governments can have much more power than they initially seem to.

    Cities are often more progressive than the states that surround them. And while city governments that set out to plan for a future that will have more bike traffic and public transit and fewer personal automobiles can be jerked around by their states, they can also make inroads against more conservative state and national policy. In the case of NACTO, they accomplish this by working together to form a giant multi-city Voltron.

    In 2007, a traffic engineer in Portland, Ore., named Rob Burchfield set out to design away a particularly common car/bike accident – the one in which a car turns right without noticing the cyclist in the right-hand bike lane coming at it. The fix he developed — brightly marking off a specific box for cyclists that leaves them in front of any car, in the driver’s line of vision — was common in Europe, but not in the U.S. Burchfield encountered some red tape from the Federal Highway Administration for his decision.

    It was the last straw for Burchfield. He’d come up with the designs in response to two fatal accidents that had occurred within a two-week period. So he partnered up with Portland’s former city bike coordinator, Mia Birk, and began compiling a set of street design guidelines that they called Cities for Cycling. Portland was a member of NACTO, and it persuaded the group to adopt the standards for their own.

    Anyone designing roadways is trying to do so with an eye towards avoiding lawsuits or unwanted attention from the Federal Highway Administration for getting too creative. By adopting the Cities for Cycling guidelines, the cities of NACTO saved themselves the hassle of designing their own individual standards for, say, what is the appropriate signage for a contra-flow bike lane. In the process they also created a grassroots urban policy that could someday be adopted by the federal Department of Transportation and become truly national policy — instead of just a set of standards that happens to have “National” in its name.

    When I began biking, San Francisco seemed like a city primed to become the bike capital of the country. It was only seven miles square, it had nice weather, and it was full of both hippies and people who liked to exercise compulsively. (The hills, you say? They added drama. Plus, they were easy to cut around.) But creating bike safety infrastructure, like bike lanes that were separated from car traffic, was a process that took much, much longer than I, in my idealism, ever expected. Often, at the last minute, changes would be overruled. Or they’d have to go through an $900,000 Environmental Impact Review. Or they’d just be taken out altogether, because Caltrans had declared that a road was too critical to car transportation to put in a bike lane.

    According to the categorization developed by the Portland Department of Transportation, I, as a young cyclist in San Francisco, was one of “The Strong and the Fearless.” This sounds like a soap opera, but in reality describes the 0.5 percent of the population who will ride a bike regardless of the dangers of the road they are traveling. As cities have put in more bike lanes, they have brought out onto the road more of the cyclists classified as “The Enthused and Confident” – the 7 percent who are happy to take on the risks of cycling, as long as there’s a bike lane.

    Cities that are serious about making it safer to bike are now going after a tougher crowd: the 60 percent of the population that actually fears death on two wheels. The elderly. Parents with kids. People who haven’t been on a bike since they were kids. To accomplish this, communities face the prospect of going back into the bicycling infrastructure that they’ve already built and changing it even further — taking out street-side parking that can result in cyclists being hit by car doors; adding concrete barriers between car traffic and bike traffic; even making entire streets bicycle-only.

    That’s going to be a massive project. As of this month, San Francisco — and any other city in California — is one step closer to it.


    Filed under: Article, Cities, Living, Politics
    Gristmill: BP claims mission accomplished in Gulf cleanup; Coast Guard begs to differ
    Deepwater Horizon

    BP this week metaphorically hung a “mission accomplished” banner over the Gulf of Mexico ecosystems that it wrecked when the Deepwater Horizon oil well blew up and spewed 200 million gallons of oil in 2010. Funny thing, though: BP isn’t the commander of the cleanup operation. The Coast Guard is. And it’s calling bullshit.

    Here’s what BP said in a press statement on Tuesday, nearly four years after the blowout: “The U.S. Coast Guard today ended patrols and operations on the final three shoreline miles in Louisiana, bringing to a close the extensive four-year active cleanup of the Gulf Coast following the Deepwater Horizon accident. These operations ended in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi in June 2013.”

    Helpful though it may have seemed for BP to speak on behalf of the federal government, the Coast Guard took some umbrage. From The Washington Post:

    Coast Guard Capt. Thomas Sparks, the federal on-scene coordinator of the Deepwater Horizon response, sought to stress that the switch to what he called a “middle response” process “does not end cleanup operations.”

    “Our response posture has evolved to target re-oiling events on coastline segments that were previously cleaned,” said Sparks. “But let me be absolutely clear: This response is not over — not by a long shot.”

    The Gulf Restoration Network tried to explain the semantics behind BP’s deceptive statement. “When oil washes up on shore, BP is no longer automatically obliged to go out there and clean up the mess,” spokesperson Raleigh Hoke said. “Now the onus is on the public, and state and federal governments to find the oil and then call BP in.”

    We get why BP would wish that the cleanup were over. The efforts have already cost $14 billion — a fraction of the $42 billion that the company expects to pay out in fines, compensation claims, and other costs related to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. It’s a nightmare that we all wish were over — but wishes and rhetoric do not remove poisons from an ecosystem.


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Obama makes a push for solar power
    Obama and solar panels

    The White House threw a solar party on Thursday, and the streamers and ticker tape came in the form of millions of dollars of new support for solar projects. The Hill reports:

    The Obama administration on Thursday announced a $15 million program to help state, local and tribal governments build solar panels and other infrastructure to fight climate change.

    Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and White House counselor John Podesta announced the program at what the White House billed as a “solar summit” designed to push governments and private and nonprofit businesses to up their use of solar power.

    Agence France-Presse elaborates:

    Thursday, the White House launched a program to encourage federal agencies, military installations, and publicly-subsidized buildings in the Washington area to install more solar panels on roofs, covered parking garages and open land.

    And, earlier in the week, the Energy Department guaranteed at least $2.5 billion in loans for “innovative” solar projects.

    The Environmental Protection Agency also pledged Thursday to double the use of renewable energy at its network of 1,500 partners organizations — including schools, public buildings, and businesses — within the next 10 years.

    Supporting solar energy isn’t just good for the climate and for air and water quality. It’s good for the economy. A White House fact sheet said the industry employs nearly 143,000 Americans — a number that has grown more than 50 percent since 2010.


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Triple Pundit: General Mills Issues Its 2014 Global Responsibility Report

    General Mills just issued its 2014 Global Responsibility Report. I received an advanced review copy and spoke with Chief Sustainability Officer Jerry Lynch to get his perspective.

    The post General Mills Issues Its 2014 Global Responsibility Report appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: These biologists created a gorgeous film about African glaciers
    Nate&Neil

    Chasing Ice launched a new sub-genre of horror films: Watch big beautiful glaciers melt. OK, that might not sound as date-night friendly as a slasher flick, but, hey, if a kid talking to a wagging finger named Tony can be scary, watching the Arctic melt away is downright terrifying. Filmmakers Neil Losin and Nathan Dappen recently joined the field with Snows of the Nile, a visually stunning documentary about the disappearing glaciers in Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains (you can watch the trailer here).

    Losin and Dappen brought a twist to their ice-gazing short by focusing on glaciers where you might not expect them: the tropics. The emerging filmmakers, who both have PhDs in biology and star in the film, got some financial help from a Dos Equis promotion. Snows follows their journey to the Rwenzori, with prints of its glaciers from a 1906 expedition in hand. And yes, as compared to the original photos, the glaciers have changed. A lot.

    Grist interviewed Losin and Dappen about their respective transitions from young science students to photographers to documentarians — and on beer’s starring role.

    On liquid courage: 

    Losin: I was a fan of [Dos Equis'] page because I loved The Most Interesting Man in the World campaign. And one day this thing about the “Stay Thirsty” grant came across my Facebook feed, and I thought “wow, I could really use that $25,000 – what could we pitch that would cost that much to do.”

    Dappen: We already had this idea of documenting tropical glaciers that are disappearing, since not a lot of attention is given to them. Neil started doing research on the topic and he found the Rwenzori Mountains. And then he discovered there was this expedition there in 1906 that photographed the glaciers. We came up with the idea to replicate the photographs.

    Losin: It turned out when all was said and done, the Rwenzori idea could cost about as much as the Dos Equis grant – or at least enough to get us there so we could get the footage to tell the story.

    On finding science:

    Losin: When I was 8 years old, my grandmother gave me an old bird book and a pair of binoculars that she got at a garage sale. And I was just like immediately hooked. I knew from that point forward that I wanted to do science in some way.

    Dappen: Growing up, I didn’t know that I wanted to be a scientist. But my mom was an agricultural economist working mostly in the third world, and my dad was a doctor and a big adventurer. So I spent a lot of time traveling in kind of exotic locations, like in the new world tropics and in Africa.

    On finding photography:

    Losin: My passion for photography also started out with birds, but there’s sort of a barrier to entry for equipment costs to photograph birds because you need enormous, expensive lenses. But ultimately I was able to invest the money into getting a big telephoto lens, and my bird photographs were like the first images that I actually sold into magazines and books.

    Dappen: I started taking photos in high school – I was really interested in art. I worked a lot in black and white. And then I got a job working in a photo studio and started shooting weddings and stuff like that. During my biology PhD, I still did a lot of that on the side, just because pay is not very high in grad school.

    On forming Day’s Edge, their production company:

    Dappen: We met when we were both in grad school, on an eight-week intensive field biology course for graduate students. We both quickly realized that we had a lot in common and became close friends. We talked a lot about science and photography and communication. At that point in time I think both of us thought we’d go into academia and research, but over the next few years we continued to meet up and go on adventures and talk about using our images to communicate science. And it sort of just evolved to the point where we said, “Hey, maybe we could do more with our sort of visual storytelling skill set in science than by actually doing research.”

    On telling the story of climate change:

    Losin: We really wanted to make Snows of the Nile more experiential than just beating people over the head with the same messages over and over again. So we framed it in terms of us going on a quest to recapture the images from the 1906 expedition, and the conflicts we have fighting against the weather and fighting against the clock, because we didn’t have a lot of time in the mountains to get what we came for. I also think it’s important to see climate change not just in terms of shrinking glaciers, but also in terms of what that’s going to do to human inhabitants. I think the people from the Bakonjo tribe who helped with our trip were such a great embodiment of the human impacts of climate change in the Rwenzori Mountains. To see the surprise in their eyes when we showed them the prints from 1906 – they knew stories of what it used to be like from their great-grandparents, but most of them had never seen images of it before.

    On green guilty pleasures:

    Dappen: Both Neil and I are really big into equipment. When the new camera gear comes out, we’re always excited about buying it, you know?

    And, finally, on dealing with green guilt:

    Dappen: I try to set certain guidelines of how to live and what to buy, but for me it’s not the end of the world. I think everybody just has to change in small ways.

    Losin: There comes a point where it can be your entire life trying to have a lower impact. And I think it’s because there isn’t necessarily an infrastructure to make life easier for people to consume in a way that doesn’t release enormous amounts of CO2. And that’s why I don’t think it should be on every individual’s shoulders – there are things that every individual can do and should do, because it really doesn’t place any undue burden on you, but the most important things might be if we can advocate politically, because then we can make it easier for everyone to live greener. Once we have a certain kind of infrastructure in place, then it doesn’t have to take your entire day to go out of the way and do these things. They become a lot more natural.


    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Living
    Gristmill: How BP turned a whole community into an endangered species
    oystermen on boat
    Shawn Escoffery
    Oystermen of Plaquemines Parish, La.

    Whether you live in Seattle, Baltimore, or Schenectady, N.Y., if you’ve had an oyster dish, chances are the shelled delicacies came from the Gulf of Mexico, most likely off the Louisiana coast, which produces a third of the nation’s oysters. Crabs? Hate to break it to you, but those luscious “Baltimore” crab cakes — yep, those are from Louisiana too.

    This has been a fact for a long time, but it might soon become an artifact. The reason: the BP oil spill disaster of 2010, which dumped over 205 million gallons of oil and another 2 million gallons of possibly toxic dispersants into the Gulf, devastating the area that’s responsible for 40 percent of the seafood sold commercially across the U.S. For the end user, this just means Maryland chefs actually using Maryland crabs again. But on the supply side, this means that whole communities of fishers along the Gulf Coast have been put out of business, their livelihoods ruined.

    Oystermen have fared among the worst in that bunch, notably the African-American oystermen who live and work in Plaquemines Parish, on the lowest end tip of Louisiana. They used to harvest a great deal of the shellfish that eventually adorned our restaurant plates, but the impacts of the BP disaster have proven too difficult to rebound from. They’re now facing “zero population” of oysters, as one seafood distributor put it.

    For too long, these black oystermen have been invisible not only to the nation they serve but also to the state they live in. The new documentary Vanishing Pearls from first-time filmmaker Nailah Jefferson hopes to raise the oystermen’s visibility and also our awareness of their value in our national economy and environment.

    Nailah Jefferson
    Nailah Jefferson

    Jefferson, a New Orleans resident, began making the film shortly after the BP disaster, based off a friend’s tip. She followed that tip down to Pointe à la Hache, on the east bank of the Mississippi River, where a small community of black fishers live and have subsisted off the bays there for decades. (You can read more about them in this story I reported shortly after the spill.) After meeting them, Jefferson immediately concluded that the hardscrabble men and women here deserved more shine, especially in the face of a disaster that threatens to destabilize their lives with little remedy.

    Vanishing Pearls makes its national debut on April 18 in New York and Los Angeles. It’s the culmination of more than three years of work by Jefferson, filming and reporting on the BP disaster’s impacts long after the rest of the media shifted their focus elsewhere. The documentary was featured this January at Slamdance, the Utah-based film festival known for showcasing breakout films that Sundance slept on. Christopher Nolan and Lena Dunham are among the directors discovered at Slamdance.

    Slamdance also helped Jefferson catch the attention of Ava DuVernay, founder of the pioneering film distribution company African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM), and the first African-American woman to win the Sundance Best Director prize for her 2012 film Middle of Nowhere. With DuVernay’s power behind the project, Vanishing Pearls will now throw more shine on the struggling black oystermen than Jefferson originally imagined. Friday’s opening coincides with the four-year commemoration of the BP disaster.

    I was able to catch Jefferson by phone from her home office in New Orleans to discuss her filmmaking experience and the fate of these oystermen.

    Q. So how does it happen that entire communities are just rendered invisible?

    A. Because they don’t matter enough. It’s about the money. Down there in Pointe à la Hache, you have a fishing community that has contributed so much to our state, our identity, and our economy. But what contributes more is oil and gas, and fishing has historically been in the way of the growth of oil and gas. So when up against the industry, they don’t matter. [The oystermen] know that, that the terms are unbalanced in favor of the oil and gas industry, but I don’t think they thought that a natural disaster would come and wipe out entire portions of their livelihood also. We will continue to drill, because it’s just a way of life here, but I think the state needs to work harder to strengthen regulations so that if another disaster occurs, it won’t wipe out the remaining estuaries that are still thriving.

    Q. While your film is about people and communities, you didn’t shy away from breaking down the environmental toll of the BP disaster. Did you personally have much background in the science?

    A. No, it was a steep learning curve. I interviewed Dr. Ed Cake, who’s one of three well-known oyster biologists in the Gulf Coast, because this is absolutely not my field. But I felt that if this was a story I was going to tell, I’d better dive in and figure it out. I didn’t want to bog people down with the science, but if you don’t grasp even a little bit of it, then you won’t get the whole story.

    Q. You show that the oyster beds were exposed to some oil and dispersants. How do you deal then with the question of whether seafood is safe to eat?

    A. The best way I can describe it is the way Dr. Cake explained it to me: Oysters are like the canaries in the coal mine. If they’re able to survive, thrive, and reproduce, then the waters are OK; if they’re not, then the waters are unhealthy. At the time that the spill had occurred, the dispersants had been sprayed, but the full effects hadn’t played out yet. So there were still oysters that could be harvested in that area. The last of that harvest came in late 2011. The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Department put a hold on fishing, closing the public [oyster bed] grounds for a long time, and then when they opened them back up, those guys went out and harvested the last of what survived. There hasn’t been much left.

    Q. The oystermen come across as the real scientists in your film.

    A. I think when people think of fishermen, they think of simple bayou people who aren’t educated. Perhaps they haven’t been in school for the longest time, or they don’t have post-grad degrees, but they are very much knowledgeable about what they do, and it’s something they’ve done for years. I wanted to show that their work is more complicated and harder than people think. You have to have a certain type of intellect to get this work and be successful at it.

    Q. You find many of the oystermen in the film talking about generational instructions on how to harvest oysters sustainably. Did you get the sense they were natural environmentalists?

    A. Yes, it was clear from when I first met them that these are the real environmentalists, because they actually have to live off the land and water. It really is in and of itself a science that’s been passed down to them, and I think it’s their passion for this work that makes them want to remain bayou residents.

    Q. Despite their expertise, they’ve had to play defensive with scientists and environmentalists, notably those who under the Louisiana coastal master plan want to use freshwater diversions to replenish the eroded marshlands, even though this will ruin what’s left of the oyster beds. Did you sense that professional environmentalists respected these fishers’ expertise at all?

    A. There isn’t proof that these freshwater diversions will work or will be as beneficial as stated. People have told them, “Look, you’re going to have to sacrifice for the greater good of the state.” If the diversions were something proven to work, then it probably wouldn’t be such a harsh pill to swallow for them. It’s not that the [environmentalists] know better [than the oystermen], they just understand things differently. We need a more collective approach moving forward.

    Q. What can people do after seeing your film if they want to help?

    A. One reason I signed with AFFRM is that they are very supportive of social advocacy campaigns. We’ve already launched one and hope to do more around supporting efforts to clean up the spill and make sure regulations are tighter so that we don’t have this kind of occurrence again. We have a petition you can sign encouraging EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to support efforts to tighten regulations under the Clean Water Act so that our streams and tributaries going into the Mississippi River won’t be polluted — and also, of course, so those communities who rely on those waters will be able to have healthy water again.

    —–

    Watch the trailer for Vanishing Pearls:


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Living
    Triple Pundit: 3p Weekend Giveaway: Tell Us About Your Favorite B Corp for a Chance to Win $100 at Indigenous

    What's your favorite B Corp? Tell us about it on social media for a chance to win a $100 gift card to Indigenous.

    The post 3p Weekend Giveaway: Tell Us About Your Favorite B Corp for a Chance to Win $100 at Indigenous appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Is Pop-Up Retail the Solution for Sustainable Fashion?

    Could the arrival of Storefront's pop-up shop finally bridge the gap between small brand and conscious consumer?

    The post Is Pop-Up Retail the Solution for Sustainable Fashion? appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Chris Christie is still trying to force a pipeline through the New Jersey Pinelands
    Chris Christie

    In January, on the heels of the embarrassing revelation that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) staffers created a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge to punish an obscure political rival, Christie and his allies were handed a defeat. The New Jersey Pinelands Commission rejected a proposed 22-mile natural-gas pipeline that would go through a national reserve of forests and wetlands. Though Christie went so far as to bully a commissioner who was skeptical of the pipeline into recusing himself from the decision, that wasn’t enough to secure approval.

    But now the pipeline is back. The state’s leading power brokers want the commission to reconsider and are pressuring commissioners to change their votes, working both behind the scenes and through public statements and symbolic votes in county and town legislative bodies. The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported, “A growing number of elected officials from Gov. Christie to lawmakers including Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) have joined county freeholders and township officials in support of the project. They are considering ways of returning the issue to the Pinelands Commission, possibly as a ‘compelling public need’ for energy security and scores of jobs.”

    The promise of merely “scores” of jobs in a state with 8.9 million residents is a clue that job creation is not the real issue. One of Christie’s top cronies is involved in the proposal. The law firm of David Samson, whom Christie appointed as chair of the Port Authority, represents Rockland Capital, owners of the power plant that the Pinelands pipeline would supply with natural gas. As Wayne Barrett noted in the New York Daily News, “Christie … was so eager to help Rockland that his [Department of Environmental Protection] and Board of Public Utilities (BPU) decided to support the pipeline, paid for by rate increases, despite that the fact that … it would run underground through 15 miles of the million-acre Pinelands, the country’s first natural preserve and a United Nations Biosphere Reserve.” (Samson resigned from the Port Authority last month after the Bridgegate debacle and media reports that he is under federal investigation for lobbying for companies with business before the Port Authority.)

    The B.L. England power plant, which would be served by the pipeline, currently burns coal. Christie’s Democratic predecessors had forced it to sign agreements to reduce its pollution or switch to natural gas. The Christie administration gave it a reprieve until 2015.  Switching from coal to gas could be beneficial to the climate — when burned, gas emits roughly half the CO2 that coal does (though that’s not so impressive compared to wind or solar). But in practice, natural gas drilling operations and pipelines often leak methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas, which can neutralize any climate benefit. And beyond climate change, the pipeline would pose obvious threats to the local environment.

    Environmental critics say the proposal has such strong backing because the beneficiaries, such as Samson, are politically connected. “It’s not the jobs, it’s the power,” says Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. Tittel also speculates that Christie, seeking support from anti-environment conservatives in the Republican presidential primary, is trying to bolster his pro–fossil fuel bona fides. “The governor had been pro-wind until he went national,” says Tittel. “This [project] is in the middle of an area that was set aside for big wind farms. Cheap gas power will kill offshore wind.” The Christie administration did not respond to a request for comment.

    Environmentalists and neighbors would like to see the B.L. England plant shut down. Ironically, climate change, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, makes its shoreline location especially precarious. “The power plant is in an area that floods with storm surges,” notes Tittel.

    And the plant is a blight on the shore. “It’s a big ugly smokestack in a scenic area, Ocean City, which is a tourist hub,” Tittel says. If you decommissioned the plant, Tittel argues, you could create more jobs with development of condos, hotels, and restaurants in the area. (Although any development in a future flood plain could be risky, power plants are especially vulnerable to a storm surge, as all of Lower Manhattan learned when it lost power for days after a transformer station on the East River got hit during Superstorm Sandy.)

    Unfortunately, New Jersey politicians are notorious for making these types of decisions on the basis of cronyism rather than empiricism. Christie’s latest heavy-handed tactic was to veto 5 percent raises for the Pinelands Commission staffers.


    Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Triple Pundit: TONIGHT! Stories and Beer: Farm-to-Bottle Entrepreneurship

    Join us at the Impact HUB SF - or online - for “Stories & Beer” on April 17th when Nick Aster will be chatting with Almanac and Headlands Breweries.

    The post TONIGHT! Stories and Beer: Farm-to-Bottle Entrepreneurship appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Women in the Workforce: How Businesses Honor Them in 2014

    Women are making leaps and bounds in the business world and are being honored for their social impact, innovation, and contributions to the workforce. Here are three examples of businesses that are honoring their female employees for all that they do.

    The post Women in the Workforce: How Businesses Honor Them in 2014 appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Interview: Eric Weinheimer Gives His Top Tips at the Social Enterprise Alliance Summit 2014

    A personal interview with Eric Weinheimer after the “State Of The Art on Employment Social Enterprises” session at the Social Enterprise Alliance Summit 2014 in Nashville, Tenn.

    The post Interview: Eric Weinheimer Gives His Top Tips at the Social Enterprise Alliance Summit 2014 appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: EPA Data Shows U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Slightly Decreased in 2012

    The EPA’s recently released inventory shows that greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. decreased by 3.4 percent from 2011 to 2012.

    The post EPA Data Shows U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions Slightly Decreased in 2012 appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Should Citibank Bail Out Citi Bike?

    Citibank's namesake bike-share program is about to hit the skids and is struggling to attract new sponsors. Should the bank pony up some more cash?

    The post Should Citibank Bail Out Citi Bike? appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: ‘Netflix for Legos’ Is More Than Mere Child’s ‘Pley’ in the Sharing Economy

    Toddlers and preschoolers exchanging toys through the sharing economy – no, it’s not a scene from Portlandia’s recent sketch spoofing collaborative consumption, but the idea behind a startup that rents out Lego sets to kids and other fans of the iconic plastic bricks. Billed as a “Netflix for Legos,” Pley ships its members a new-to-them Lego set, lets them play with it as long they like and sends customers another set once the previous toys returned.

    The post ‘Netflix for Legos’ Is More Than Mere Child’s ‘Pley’ in the Sharing Economy appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: People of color contribute least to smog, yet breathe more of it. WTF?
    latina-woman-air-mask-flickr-esparta-palma

    Get a load of this: It’s not poor people whose nostrils get the dirtiest air. It’s people of color — even wealthy ones.

    It’s true, you can’t 1,000 percent separate race and class, but new findings from the University of Minnesota found that race, more than income, determines who smog hurts the most. Writes ThinkProgress:

    When low-income white people were compared to high-income Hispanic people, the latter group experienced higher levels of nitrogen dioxide. Altogether, people of color in the U.S. breathe air with 38 percent more nitrogen dioxide in it than their white counterparts, particularly due to power plants and exhaust from vehicles.

    Unfair, especially because people of color produce less air pollution than white people (African-Americans, for example, emit 20 percent less CO2 than white Americans). So why is this happening? You know, other than racism? Writes Atlantic Cities:

    [T]hat’s still a subject for further investigation; [U-Minnesota Professor Julian] Marshall notes that one theory is that more non-whites tend to live in pollution-rich downtown areas and near freeways.

    The difference isn’t unique to New York and L.A. — it’s true even in the Midwest. The researchers specifically call out Michigan and Wisconsin as places where policymakers should take their findings into account and use air pollution regulations to stem inequality. Lowering people of color’s NO2 exposure to that of white people would prevent 7,000 heart attack deaths every year, the researchers write.

    Since air pollution is the No. 1 environmental health risk around the world, killing 7 million people annually, it’s pretty significant that people of color are disproportionately affected. It’s yet another reminder that our ideal clean-air, clean-water, bike-safe future’s gotta include gender, racial, and class equality. Onward!


    Filed under: Cities, Climate & Energy, Living
    Gristmill: Bill McKibben checks “have species named after me” off to-do list
    billmckibben_gnat2

    If you had the power to name a living creature, would you use that power wisely? Would you name it after one of your heroes? Let’s be real: Beyoncemus knowlesi does have a pretty nice ring to it!

    Peter Kerr, a scientist with the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s State Collection of Arthropods, recently discovered a species of gnat. Through a great feat of willpower, he was able to avoid the temptation of christening it Gnat King Cole, Jr. (There’s a reason that Grist staff members aren’t scientists.) Instead, he decided to name it after foremost green activist, author, and Grist board member Bill McKibben, honoring McKibben’s commitment to protecting the health of the planet and all of its forms of life.

    The Megophthalmidia mckibbeni makes its home in California. It enjoys fungi, forests, and following 350.org on Twitter. Just kidding about the last one – gnats can’t use smartphones, guys!

    We reached out to McKibben to find out how he felt when he learned about his new spirit animal. He was predictably modest:

    “I felt truly honored. I love this planet we got born onto, from the big down to the very small. To be officially connected with its great diversity – well, that means a lot.”

    And as it turns out, McKibben has a lot in common with this insect:

    “I was born in California, and my father was a member of the Sierra Club back when it was mostly a hiking group, spending his weekends in the mountains and forests, so I feel some extra kinship. And I love mushrooms too. I wouldn’t dare try to pick them myself, but I’ve never met one I didn’t find delicious.”

    Sounds like a good match! Well done, Peter Kerr.


    Filed under: Article, Living
    Gristmill: Airbnb can make your dreams of running a brothel come true
    sex-worker-underwear-money-shutterstock

    Thought you were renting your place so an exhausted sightseer could crash? Oh, she’s definitely sleeping … with some horndog and his hundos.

    In an unexpected result of the sharing economy, Airbnb rooms might be replacing NYC hotels as primo sex worker spots. As one anonymous 21-year-old escort told the New York Post:

    It’s more discreet and much cheaper than The Waldorf. Hotels have doormen and cameras. They ask questions. Apartments are usually buzz-in.

    Her escort agency rents apartments for a week at a time through Airbnb, she told the Post, then cycles sex workers and their clients through. The agency avoids detection (or it did til recently) by having the ladies pay for the rooms with their personal plastic. Clever yet illegal!

    Sure, the sharing economy functions under the assumption that others will use your lawnmower, car, or apartment as gently and upstandingly as you do, and one Post report doesn’t mean you necessarily have to sideeye every pillow in your pad. But carnal embraces are bound to take place in rented rooms, hotel or Airbnb, pro bono or on spec. So if you aren’t cool with finding 10 used condoms and baby wipes at your place (or worse), as a New Yorker in the Post story did, maybe don’t put your home on Airbnb.


    Filed under: Cities, Living
    Gristmill: Screw being ladylike on a bike
    woman-female-cyclist-biker-sunset-shutterstock

    Turns out the sexist soap bubble we live in doesn’t pop when you hop on a Surly. If anything, people get MORE judgey: Ladies, you better not get to work sweaty and unpretty! But how dare you ride in a skirt and heels? I half expect some guy with a handlebar mustache to promote riding sidesaddle. (Lest you think we live in a post-gender society, know that women in the U.S. only take 1-in-4 bike trips.)

    Former Grist editor Sarah Goodyear reached out to female cyclists, asking what it means to be feminine on two wheels (if there even IS such a thing). Reading the smattering of responses she got over at Atlantic Cities was both reassuring and eye-opening, reinforcing that there’s no one way to be a woman on a bike, just as — WAIT FOR IT — there’s no one way to be a human on Planet Earth. (Crazy, I know.) Here are a handful of ruminations on cycling, fashion, and gender (all of which you should read, BTW):

    “I like to hope that I’m changing/expanding the perception of what is feminine when I zip around on my bike while wearing a dress.” — Emily

    “It’s not that I want to avoid looking feminine, but that I want to be seen primarily as a cyclist. Yes, I’m a woman who rides, but how often do we talk about masculinity and riding?” –Caitlin Cohn

    “I weird people out when I show up in a public space and take off half my layers. Women are expected to show up to places already presentable.” –Melody Hoffman

    “I was always turned off by the pandering-seeming marketing of ‘feminine’ bike products: cute cruisers, wicker baskets, and that ‘I’m just always constantly biking to some cutesy-picnic-date’ vibe … ‘Feminine’ can be having really strong, shapely legs! ‘Feminine’ can be taking up less physical space, using less fossil fuel, and caring about the environment!” –Ruby Gertz

    “Cycling is one of life’s greatest joys for me. I couldn’t care less what it implies about my femininity.” –Nsedef

    YEAH. So eff gender expectations of being sporty or sexy or both. Wear what you want; just get your feet on the pedals!


    Filed under: Cities, Living
    Gristmill: New hurricane maps will show whether your house could drown
    hurricane-flash-flood.jpg

    The federal government will begin making its hurricane warning maps more colorful this summer, adding a range of hues to represent the danger of looming floods.

    Red, orange, yellow, and blue will mark coastal and near-coastal areas where storm surges are anticipated during a hurricane. The different colors will be used to show the anticipated depth of approaching flash floods.

    Severe flooding that followed Superstorm Sandy helped prompt the change — NOAA says it had a hard time convincing Manhattanites that they faced any real danger from such floods.

    “We are not a storm-surge-savvy nation,” Jamie Rhome, a storm surge specialist with NOAA’s National Hurricane Center, told Reuters. “Yet storm surge is responsible for over half the deaths in hurricanes. So you can see why we’re motivated to try something new.”

    Here’s a hypothetical example of what one such map might look like for Florida. Beware, Ft. Myers!

    Click to embiggen.
    National Hurricane Center
    Click to embiggen.

    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Vermont poised to mandate GMO labels on food
    Vermont store

    Vermont is on the verge of becoming the third American state to require the labeling of foods that contain genetically modified ingredients.

    State senators approved a GMO-labeling bill on Tuesday with a 28-2 vote, sending it back to the House, which approved an earlier version with a 99-42 vote last year. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) has said he’s likely to sign it.

    The bill would require the words “partially produced with genetic engineering” to be stamped on packages of GMO-containing food sold in Vermont. The lists of ingredients would also need to specify which items contain GMOs. It would be illegal to market such foods as  “natural,” “naturally made,” or “naturally grown.”

    Connecticut and Maine have both recently passed similar laws – but those laws will only take effect if enough other states do likewise. The two states don’t want to face the inevitable lawsuits from Big Food on their own.

    Vermont is the first state willing to go it alone. Its bill would take effect in July 2016. State lawmakers say they crafted the language of the bill carefully, hoping it could survive court challenges.

    “It’s quite likely we will be sued,” bill sponsor Sen. David Zuckerman, a member of the Vermont Progressive Party, told Politico. “We have looked at the various court cases out there.”

    The Grocery Manufacturers Association confirmed that it could be a party to a lawsuit against the rules. “We will continue to fight to protect the accuracy and consistency of food labels,” said GMA Vice President Mandy Hagan. Which might sound like a pro-GMO-labeling stance – if only those words had been uttered by somebody else. “If it turns out that litigation is the best way to do that then that is an option we will pursue,” she continued.


    Filed under: Food, Politics
    Gristmill: Ask Umbra: How do I know if my local swimming hole is safe?
    snorkel kids

    Q. Summer is coming, so I wonder if the river near my house (the famous Kamogawa) is safe for my kids to splash in. There is a garbage incinerator upstream, though not directly on the river, and the operators *swear* it does not leak. Is there a water testing kit? What kinds of things would I want to test for? And what kinds of safety limits would I want to look for? It does not have to be drinking-water quality, just safe enough to stick their little feet and hands in.

    Gabi
    Kyoto, Japan

    A. Dearest Gabi,

    You’ve just officially made it Water Week here at Ask Umbra. On Monday, we waded into what kind of substances we can safely put in the water; today, let’s address whether or not we can put ourselves in as well.

    I hope you’ll forgive me for answering your question broadly. I don’t know how clean the Kamogawa is, nor will my expense account cover phone calls to Japan to check. But I can share some information I hope will be useful to you and anyone else longing for a warm-weather dip in a local waterway.

    When water-quality monitors talk about a lake or river being safe for swimming (or splashing), they’re almost always talking about bacteria – whether or not there is any, and in what numbers. Specifically, we’re concerned about the infamous E. coli: Not because it’s dangerous in and of itself (most strains aren’t), but because it’s a good indicator that other, nastier bugs are invisibly doing the backstroke in there. Why? E. coli is commonly found in human and animal poop – so if it’s in the water, then sewage probably is, too.

    This doesn’t necessarily mean the local sewage treatment plant is overflowing into the river (though it might). High E. coli counts also often come from stormwater runoff, which washes pet waste and bird poop, plus oil, fertilizer, trash, and pesticides into streams and lakes. No matter the source, we should be concerned about the presence of bacteria because it can make us sick, and kids are especially at risk. And you don’t have to drink the water to come down with a case of Kamogawa’s revenge: Open cuts can admit nasty bacteria, and just getting the bugs on your skin can eventually transport them into your mouth.

    Many agencies here in the States sample the water regularly, particularly at popular swimming spots, and publish the results. These can usually be found through a town or county environment department; a little Googling should point you in the right direction. Failing that, there are some consumer water-testing kits on the market; the Vermont Health Department sells one, for example, and some labs offer kits online. Becky Hammer, a water attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, tests for E. coli as a volunteer for a water-quality project near her Virginia home, and recommends checking to see if your local authorities have a similar program. Any lab should be able to tell you what the safe limits for bacteria are and whether or not your river exceeds them.

    Industrial and chemical pollution of the sort you might get from a negligent factory upstream is another matter, Gabi. As far as I can tell, detecting this kind of contamination is beyond your typical citizen-scientist. A funky smell, sludgy water, an oil slick, or lots of dead fish can tip you off that something is amiss, but Hammer recommends checking with those local water-quality officials for a more definitive answer.

    If you’ve done your due diligence and decide it’s OK for the kids to wade and splash a bit, following these don’ts won’t hurt, either.

    • Don’t let the kiddos put their heads underwater.
    • Don’t go in after heavy rains, as that’s when stormwater runoff makes high bacterial counts most likely.
    • Don’t swim or wade near or downstream of storm drains.
    • Don’t let the kids get in if they have open wounds or scrapes.
    • Don’t forget to wash their little hands and feet when you’re done.

    Happy researching, Gabi, and I do hope you turn up good news about your lovely river. I hear it gets hot in Kyoto come summertime.

    Horseplayfully,
    Umbra


    Filed under: Living
    Gristmill: Is climate change the new slavery?
    a crowd of poor people

    The latest report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is out, with its layers of deadening bureaucratic prose. Climate watchers have had their latest chance to make out, as best they can, what biblical futures await us on a hotter, drier, stormier planet. Two sentences from the report’s second installment struck me with the force of a storm surge: “Climate change is projected to progressively increase inter-annual variability of crop yields in many regions. These projected impacts will occur in the context of rapidly rising crop demand.” Translation: We’ll have smaller harvests in the future, less food, and 3 billion more mouths to feed.

    The IPCC has done an heroic job of digesting thousands of scientific papers into a bullet-point description of how global warming is shrinking food and water supplies, most drastically for the poorest of Earth’s 7 billion human inhabitants. Being scientists, though, they fail miserably to communicate the gravity of the situation. The IPPC language, at its most vivid, talks of chronic “poverty traps” and “hunger hotspots” as the 21st century unfolds. The report offers not a single graspable image of what our future might actually look like when entire populations of people—not only marginalized sub-groups—face perennial food insecurity and act to save themselves. What decisions do human communities make en masse in the face of total environmental collapse? There are no scientific papers to tell us this, so we must look to history instead for clues to our dystopian future.

    The last global climate crisis for which we have substantial historical records began 199 years ago this month, in April 1815, when the eruption of Mt. Tambora in Indonesia cooled the Earth and triggered drastic disruptions of major weather systems worldwide. Extreme volcanic weather—droughts, floods, storms—gripped the globe for three full years after the eruption.

    In the Tambora period from 1815 to 1818, the global human community consisted mostly of subsistence farmers, who were critically vulnerable to sustained climate deterioration. The occasional crop failure was part of life, but when relentless bad weather ruined harvests for two and then three years running, extraordinary, world-changing things started to happen. The magnitude and variety of human suffering in the years 1815 to 1818 are in one sense incalculable, but three continental-scale consequences stand out amid the misery: slavery, refugeeism, and the failure of states.

    Across what was then the Dutch East Indies, the rice crop failed for multiple years following Tambora’s eruption. In response, the common people did what they always did when faced with starvation: They sold themselves into slavery, by the tens of thousands. In faraway China, desperate parents likewise sold their children in pop-up slave markets.

    Across the globe, starving peasants abandoned their homes, roaming the countryside in search of food, or begging in the market towns. Irish famine refugees, numbering in the tens of thousands, were met by armed militias at the gates of towns whose inhabitants feared a kind of zombie invasion by human skeletons carrying disease. In France, tourists mistook beggars on the road for armies on the march.

    Meanwhile, governments everywhere feared rebellion, so they closed borders and shut down the press. Europe witnessed an upsurge of end-of-the-world cults. In southwest China, Yunnan province suffered total civic breakdown post-Tambora, only to remake itself as a rogue narco-state, new hub of the booming international opium trade.

    These are the sorts of world-altering disaster scenarios the IPCC’s board of scientist-bureaucrats fail to mention in their latest report. But then, climate change has never had its own proper language, a language commensurate with the threat it represents, a language that would forcefully express what it is: the great humanitarian crisis of the 21st century.

    To invent a language for climate change, we might start with the historical analogy of slavery, which flourished during the Tambora climate emergency two centuries ago. Like our future under climate change, slavery was a human-designed global tragedy that lasted centuries, displaced tens of millions of people, and reorganized the wealth and demographics of the planet. Like climate change, slavery institutionalized the suffering of millions of people from the global south so that folks in Europe and North America (and China) might lead more comfortable, fulfilling lives. And like climate change, few people at the time saw slavery as a serious problem. Even those who did believed nothing could be done without bringing about global economic ruin. That exact argument is used today to defend the continuation of our fossil-fuelled societies.

    Some historians have argued that it was the harnessing of carbon energy—not the abolitionists—that truly made an end to slavery possible in the 19th century. But in a dark historical irony, that same carbon energy, as a pollutant altering the chemistry of the atmosphere and oceans, is now ushering in a new era of global slavery. Millions this century, living and yet unborn, face displaced lives without hope or freedom of choice, only desperate hardship, due to haywire changes in weather patterns.

    Does that make climate change the new slavery?  One thing we can say with “high confidence,” to use the lingo of the IPCC, is that even now—as the U.N. panel marks its quarter-century anniversary with its fifth and most dire report—there is no international climate change movement comparable to abolitionism. For one thing, we don’t even have a name for the millions of people across the world who are passionately committed to the cause of averting climate disaster. Even Bill McKibben, probably the most effective climate activist in the United States, when branding his organization, could do no better than a number—350, the parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere we need to return to for climate safety.

    "Am I not a Man and a Brother?"Given that climate activism is faring so badly in the public-relations stakes, perhaps it’s time to brush off the old slogan that worked so famously well for the abolitionists, the rallying cry of the greatest humanitarian victory of all time: “Am I not a Man and a Brother?” And instead of an African in chains above the caption, let’s show a crowd of faces from Africa, Asia, the Pacific, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and the Arctic north—the faces you won’t find in the IPCC’s report, but who are stubbornly real nevertheless, living precariously in their millions on the shifting global frontlines of climate change.


    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: No-till farming’s Johnny Appleseed — in a grimy Prius
    IMG_3574

    Let’s start with Jeff Mitchell’s car. From the outside, it looks like a regular, if slightly dinged-up, white Prius. But inside it’s so messy that it’s hard for me to describe it without sounding like I’m exaggerating.

    When I say the back seat is packed solidly with papers, I mean that literally: It’s as if Mitchell had pulled up alongside a set of filing cabinets and transferred everything that could fit into the back, carefully filling the leg space until it was high enough to be incorporated into the stack on the seats. The papers are wedged solidly together, three-quarters of the way up to the headrests.

    There’s some PVC pipe back there too, some metal tools, a power cord, and some luggage. But that’s just what I could see on the surface. On the front dash there’s another layer of files, and a layer of dirt. And again, when I say dirt, I’m not overstating it. It’s not just a patina of dust; there are big clots of mud clinging to the face of the radio.

    “What can I say?” Mitchell said when I asked about the state of his vehicle. “I’m embarrassed. People say I could just scatter seeds in here and they’d grow.”

    IMG_3581

    I was never able to get a straight answer out of Mitchell as to why his car was so squalid, but it’s easy enough to guess. He has spent years driving up and down California’s long Central Valley, from one field to another, asking farmers to sign up to try new conservation techniques. He estimates that the car has driven 600,000 miles, though he can’t say for sure: The odometer stopped at 299,999. The car really does have to function as a high-speed file cabinet, as well as a mobile tool shed and soil-sample transporter.

    “So, is this basically your life?” I asked, after about an hour driving down highway 99. I was expecting a good-natured gripe about him becoming permanently welded to the driver’s seat. But instead he said:

    “You know, I’ve been truly fortunate. I’ve been doing this long enough that wherever I go I’ll look out and see a field and think, ‘That’s where we did that one trial, how’s that coming along?’ And there have been some big changes. It’s gratifying. There’s a soil scientist at Berkeley, Garrison Sposito, who says it may be just once or twice in a century that agriculture has an opportunity to re-create itself in a revolutionary way. Now, it may sound way over the top, but I think that’s what’s happening with conservation agriculture. It’s energizing for me to wake up to that every day.”

    His official title is Associate Extension Vegetable Crops Specialist, but since the early 1990s Mitchell has really been a Johnny Appleseed for conservation, leading an ever-growing band of farmers toward sustainability. The idea driving Mitchell’s work is to develop farm systems that are closer to proven natural systems. That main idea breaks down into four tenets: Don’t disturb the soil; maximize the diversity of plants, insects, fungi, and microbiota; keep living roots in the soil; and keep the ground covered with plant residues. Since 1999, a team working with Mitchell has been demonstrating that it’s possible to do all that profitably.

    After another hour on the road we reached the University of California West Side Extension and Research Center. Behind a handful of one-story buildings lay a collection of plots that workers have farmed continuously with conservation techniques. Mitchell took me to a field where they had been experimenting with a tomato-and-cotton rotation since 1999: “These beds have not moved, they have not been worked, in 15 years.” This 15-year study suggests that there are real, sustained benefits to the methods that the UC researchers have pioneered.

    IMG_3578

    IMG_3572

    Mitchell waded into the shoulder-high cover crops of one bed. There’s a bed nearby of cleanly plowed soil. The contrast couldn’t be more different. Mitchell knelt in the cover crop, pushing aside the plants. The earth was covered in a layer of duff (dead leaves and twigs). It looked a lot like — well, like any bit of ground that humans haven’t recently scraped.

    “There’s more organic material going into the soil, more carbon and more nitrogen. There’s more capture of water, and the shade and residue reduces soil water evaporation.”

    IMG_3570

    These kind of innovations might seem obvious, but the journey to no-till cotton has been exasperatingly hard. Cotton requires coddling: It has a large seed, but it’s not a vigorous seedling, so often a farmer will knock of a layer of dry soil, drop the seeds onto moist earth, then cover it up. All this requires tilling the field. So Mitchell’s team decided to fine tune a planter to bury the seeds at just the right depth: Too close to the surface and they’d dry out, too deep and they’d never make it up. But when they ran the planter over the field it bounced over dry tomato stalks and dropped seeds higgledy-piggledy.

    That first year the crop came up patchy. So they started trying residue managers, to push debris out of the way of each seed line, then brush it back into place. Mitchell went to Georgia to see what they were using there. They tried different timing and amounts of irrigation. If they tried to plant while the field was too wet the tractor would turn everything into a muddy mess. If they waited until it dried, the seed wouldn’t get enough moisture. If they irrigated after planting, the soil might form a hard crust that the seed couldn’t penetrate. They made pass after pass, making minute adjustments to the equipment until tempers frayed.

    “I’m not an argumentative guy, but some of the things have been so trying,” Mitchell remembered. At the end of one of those days, one of Mitchell’s collaborators threw up his hands and said, “This will never work!” But then, in 2004, after years of disappointments, they finally hit on just the right combination of techniques — specific levels of irrigation, fine-tuned equipment, special disk and finger attachments for the planter — and got a beautiful cotton crop.

    When all the pieces came together, the cotton began producing reliably. And Mitchell also noticed an added benefit: As the years passed, the soil improved, and all this got easier. Instead of the farm equipment needing to break up clots of compacted soil, the researchers found they were planting into soft, fine-grained earth, continuously tilled by worms and roots and microorganisms.

    Mitchell’s work looks like a clear winner on paper: The yields are now the same as in the plowed beds, and the no-till beds take less work, sequester more carbon, suck up less water, and require less tractor fuel. And yet few farmers have taken up these methods.

    “When I had the results showing that you can save 16 percent of irrigation water with residues and no till, I thought it would really change things in the Valley,” Mitchell mused. “But it hasn’t seemed to be that relevant.”

    There are farmers successfully using these methods, but the percentage is still very low. And Mitchell can understand why people are skeptical. The cost savings — for fuel and labor (water prices are too variable to estimate) — are just $70 an acre, which isn’t terribly significant for a cotton farmer. And, as Mitchell knows, there are lots of things that can go wrong when a farmer starts trying new things.

    That reluctance to change doesn’t slow Mitchell down for long. He knows that surmounting the technological challenges is less than half the battle. The bulk of the work is in teaching people how to do the same thing, and — even more importantly — convincing them that it’s worth their time.

    And so he gets in the dirty Prius again, year in and year out, adding mile after uncounted mile, and carrying his Johnny Appleseed act across California.


    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Food
    Triple Pundit: Fighting the Descent Into Oligarchy with Corporate Social Responsibility

    A recent study from political science professors at Princeton and Northwestern concludes that America is, as the incomparable Hamilton Nolan put it, actually more like an oligarchy than a democracy. In other words, it is corporations and wealthy individuals -- not unions, public interest organizations or regular humans -- who control the levers of power in America.

    The post Fighting the Descent Into Oligarchy with Corporate Social Responsibility appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Employee Engagement Key to Sustainability for Tech Networks of Boston

    Susan Labandibar, founder and CEO of Tech Networks of Boston, understood that engaging her employees in the company’s sustainability strategy would be critical.

    The post Employee Engagement Key to Sustainability for Tech Networks of Boston appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Social Enterprise Alliance Summit 2014: Day 1

    The Social Enterprise Alliance Summit is the original and still the most thorough, authoritative and robust conference on the exploding field of social enterprise.

    The post Social Enterprise Alliance Summit 2014: Day 1 appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Insane cycling video will make you hold your breath for two minutes

    Grist cannot be held responsible for the crapping of your pants while watching this helmet-cam of daredevil cyclist Geoff Gulevich going down a mountain:

    The GoPro video of Gulevich’s ride is from the Red Bull Rampage in Virgin, Utah — an exclusive, invite-only mountain bike competition so dangerous it was cancelled for several years — so it’s prrrrrobably not anything you’d encounter in your morning commute.

    Plus, Gulevich is a professional mountain biker, so don’t feel guilty if you’re not as daring on two wheels. After all, YOU risk getting doored and T-boned if you ride in the city, whereas THIS punk only flirted with the edge of a cliff. Pfffft. He’s got nothin’ on rush-hour San Francisco.


    Filed under: Cities, Living
    Triple Pundit: Target’s ‘Made to Matter’ Collection Boasts Expansion of Sustainable Products

    Target recently unveiled its latest move toward expanding sustainable, organic and natural product offerings. Housed under its “Made to Matter—handpicked by Target” program, 120 new organic or natural health, wellness, grocery and beauty products will roll out to all of Target’s 1,754 stores over the next several months.

    The post Target’s ‘Made to Matter’ Collection Boasts Expansion of Sustainable Products appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Coastal Ecosystem Restoration Yields Remarkable Economic Returns

    Returns of $15:1 and more job creation than offshore oil & gas development are among the economic benefits of coastal ecosystem restoration projects, according to a study of projects on three U.S. coasts by the Center for American Progress and Oxfam America.

    The post Coastal Ecosystem Restoration Yields Remarkable Economic Returns appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: This giant vacuum will suck the pollution out of rivers

    Dyson vacuums are legendary; they’re the main reason divorce is so ugly. So imagine what happens when you put that powerful technology to work cleaning rivers instead of rugs.

    Did you picture marine trash getting slurped up into the world’s biggest vacuum bag? Ding ding ding! James Dyson hasn’t actually CREATED his super-sucker yet, but he’s made a design for the M.V. Recyclone boat, a.k.a. the U.S.S. Sucky. Check it:

    ocean-dyson-vacuum-recyclone2
    James Dyson

    The barge would scoop plastic off of a river’s surface before the junk can make it to the ocean, explains Fast Co. Exist:

    The famed designer’s recycling barge, which uses the same cyclone technology as found in Dyson’s vacuum cleaners, has large nets that trap plastic floating on the river’s surface. A suction system then pulls in the waste, where it’s separated and then sent for processing.

    Plastic trash in the Pacific got 100 times worse in just the past four decades. When barnacles and fish snack on plastic, you can bet it’ll sneak upward into the food chain. By sucking a little more, Dyson just might help your fish and chips suck a bit less.


    Filed under: Living
    Gristmill: Here’s what fracking can do to your health
    coughing-mjmaster_0

    If you know one thing about fracking, it might be that the wells have been linked to explosive tap water. Of course, a tendency toward combustion isn’t the biggest problem with gas-infused water; it’s what could happen to you when you drink it.

    Although the natural gas industry is notoriously tight-lipped about the ingredients of the chemical cocktails that get pumped down into wells, by now it’s widely known that the list often includes some pretty scary, dangerous stuff, including hydrochloric acid and ethylene glycol (a.k.a. antifreeze). It’s also no secret that well sites release hazardous gases like methane and benzene (a carcinogen) into the atmosphere.

    So just how dangerous are fracking and other natural gas extraction processes for your health (not counting, for the sake of argument, explosions and earthquakes)? Is it true, as an activist-art campaign by Yoko Ono recently posited, that “fracking kills”?

    The answer to that second question is probably not, especially in the short term and if you don’t work on or live across the street from a frack site (which, of course, some people in fact do). But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to start fracking away next to kindergartens and nursing homes: Gas extraction produces a range of potentially health-endangering pollutants at nearly every stage of the process, according to a new paper by the California nonprofit Physicians Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy, released today in Environmental Health Perspectives, a peer-reviewed journal published by the National Institutes of Health.

    The study compiled existing, peer-reviewed literature on the health risks of shale gas drilling and found that leaks, poor wastewater management, and air emissions have released harmful chemicals into the air and water around fracking sites nationwide.

    “It’s clear that the closer you are, the more elevated your risk,” said lead author Seth Shonkoff, a visiting public health scholar at the University of California-Berkeley. “We can conclude that this process has not been shown to be safe.”

    Shonkoff cautioned that existing research has focused on cataloging risks, rather than linking specific instances of disease to particular drilling operations — primarily because the fracking boom is so new that long-term studies of, say, cancer rates, simply haven’t been done. But as the United States and the world double down on natural gas as a cleaner alternative to coal (as this week’s U.N. climate change solutions report suggests), Shonkoff argues policymakers need to be aware of what a slew of fracked wells could mean for the health of those who live near them.

    Even given the risks involved in producing natural gas, it’s still a much healthier fuel source than coal; particulate pollution from coal plants killed an estimated 13,000 Americans in 2010, while a recent World Health Organization study named air pollution (to which coal burning is a chief contributor) the single deadliest environmental hazard on earth.

    Still, how exactly could gas drilling make you ill? Let us count the ways:

    Air pollution near wells: Near gas wells, studies have found both carcinogenic and other hazardous air pollutants in concentrations above EPA guidelines, with the pollution at its worst within a half-mile radius of the well. In one Colorado study, some of the airborne pollutants were endocrine disrupters, which screw with fetal and early childhood development. Several studies also found precursors to ground-level ozone, which can cause respiratory and cardiovascular disease. Silica sand, which is used to prop open underground cracks and which can cause pulmonary disease and lung cancer, was also found in the air around well sites; one study of 111 well samples found silica concentrations in excess of OSHA guidelines at 51.4 percent of them.

    Recycled frack water: About a third of the water/chemical/sand mixture that gets pumped into wells flows back up, bringing back not just the toxic fracking chemicals but other goodies from deep underground, including heavy metals like lead and arsenic. Some of this wastewater is treated and recycled for irrigation and agriculture or dumped back into lakes and rivers. Multiple studies found that because the menu of chemicals is so diverse, treatment is often incomplete and has the potential to pollute drinking water supplies with chemicals linked to everything from eye irritation to nervous system damage to cancer, as well as the potential to poison fish. Even if wastewater is contained, spills can be a problem: One Colorado study counted 77 fracking wastewater spills that impacted groundwater supplies, of which 90 percent were contaminated with unsafe levels of benzene.

    Broken wells: Drinking water supplies can also be contaminated when the cement casings around wells crack and leak, which studies estimate to happen in anywhere from 2 to 50 percent of all wells (including oil wells, offshore rigs, etc.). Methane getting into drinking water wells from leaky gas wells is the prime suspect in Pennsylvania’s flammable faucets; a study there last year found some methane in 82 percent of water wells sampled but concluded that concentrations were six times higher for water wells within one kilometer of a fracking well. A Texas study found elevated levels of arsenic at water wells within three kilometers of gas wells. (While the Texas study linked the contamination to gas extraction in general, it was unclear what specific part of the process was responsible).

    Many of these issues could be improved with engineering advancements, like gadgets that monitor for leaks and capture gas emissions, or hardier cement. Regulation can also play a role: Just yesterday, the EPA released a series of reports on methane emissions that could eventually inform restrictions on them as part of President Obama’s climate plan.

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


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy
    Triple Pundit: Walmart to Install Energy Efficient LED Light Fixtures in New Stores

    Walmart recently announced that it will buy LED ceiling fan fixtures for new supercenters in the U.S., stores in Asia and Latin America, and Asda locations in the U.K.

    The post Walmart to Install Energy Efficient LED Light Fixtures in New Stores appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Triple Pundit: Energy Efficiency: The Nation’s Cheapest Energy Resource

    What method of electricity generation is cheaper than solar, wind, oil or even coal? Trick question; it’s energy you don’t need to produce in the first place. Energy efficiency programs aimed at reducing energy waste cost utilities only about 3 cents per kilowatt hour, while generating the same amount of electricity from sources such as fossil fuels can cost two to three times more, according to a new report by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

    The post Energy Efficiency: The Nation’s Cheapest Energy Resource appeared first on Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit.

    Gristmill: Mark Ruffalo, you are our chosen green celeb! (We hope you like fruit)
    markruffalo_withbanana

    The people have spoken, and one lucky man in Hollywood will be the happy recipient of a fruit basket.  The entire Grist staff just breathed a collective sigh of relief, because this guy can get pretty riled up when things don’t go his way.

    That’s right, folks – Mark Ruffalo beat out five fellow actors and one supermodel to be crowned as Grist’s greenest celebrity. What about this rugged hunk won the hearts of our green-minded audience? Was it his outspokenness against the natural gas and oil industry? Was it his valiant efforts to protect water resources through his own nonprofit? Was it the ease with which he makes Henry David Thoreau sound incredibly sexy? Let’s just go ahead and circle “all of the above.”

    And Adrian Grenier, if you’re reading this: We’re sorry we don’t have more Entourage fans among our readers. But hey – you know what you can do to change that!

    So, Mark, keep an eye out for a delightful collection of seasonal fruit on your doorstep. And since we hope you actually enjoy eating it, we promise it won’t be from Edible Arrangements.


    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: This velomobile is basically an electric car without the hassle
    velomobile-elf-quest-solar-tricycle

    If the words “recumbent trike” make your lip curl, we understand. Weird bikes often seem to perpetuate the myth that cyclists are fringey oddballs disconnected from reality. But the ELF deserves a second glance:

    A team from Durham, N.C., designed the semi-enclosed, three-wheeled contraption to marry the best aspect of bikes and cars. The result is a low-impact EV that gives you some protection from the elements and plenty of room for groceries. Pedal when you can, but let the solar-powered battery kick in if you’re hauling bags of kitty litter uphill.

    The ELF can go up to 30 mph and carry up to 350 pounds, but doesn’t need any of that pesky car stuff like a license plate, insurance, or actual gasoline. The battery’ll charge in 90 minutes when plugged in, carrying you up to 14 miles — farther if you put your thighs to work.

    The ELF’s main problem is its $5,495 price tag. Then again, if you’re basically getting 1,800 mpg, it could be worth it — more than 300 ELF owners seem to think so. If, like moi, your wimpiness forever prevents you from turning cyclist, velomobiles like the ELF just might be the gateway drug.


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Living
    Gristmill: “Years of Living Dangerously” host on the climate change stories we need to tell

    If you thought the title of Showtime’s new series, Years of Living Dangerously, was just a reference to the perils of climate change, think again: “I almost died on that show,” one of its hosts, M. Sanjayan, told us when he came into the Grist office earlier this month.

    Sanjayan helps tell the story of climate change by journeying to exotic places like the Andes and Christmas Island. But when he’s not swashbuckling around the world in the name of the environment and science, he’s still vouching for it: previously, as the head scientist at the Nature Conservancy, and now as the executive vice president of Conservation International. He also keeps the conversation going through media outlets like the Huffington Post and CBS News.

    We talked with Sanjayan about his brush with death, finding the face of climate change (hint: It’s not a polar bear’s), and coming to grips with the fact that, at this point, we’re going to have to adapt to the hot new conditions we’ve created. And, in our lightning round video at the top of the post, we asked him what we really wanted to know: Neil deGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye?

    Here’s an edited and condensed version of our conversation.

    Q. We wanted to start by asking you about Years of Living Dangerously and any notable, meaningful moments.

    A. I almost died on that show. Yeah. I was actually ready to quit pretty early on – literally almost died.

    Q. Wow – what happened?

    A. They sent me to the Tupungatito glacier in the Andes, on the Chile-Argentine border. It’s a pretty big mountain. And we were going to the top of it and then cresting it and then going into sort of a caldera to look for very old ice, with an ice scientist by the name of Paul Mayewski. He’s a University of Maine professor. The problem is, we were doing this really fast. And so we base-camped at like 10,000 feet and then in a day we went to 20,000. And it’s very steep, it’s very loose, and there were boulders the size of basketballs coming down the mountain.

    We started with a crew of 12 people total. Four of them didn’t summit, which gives you an idea. There was a lot of attrition. The main camera guy we brought from New York got deathly ill on day two. He had to be evacuated out. So we flew in by helicopter a Chilean cameraman to replace him. He got kicked in the head by a horse, so he was out. So the [assistant producer] took the camera and started shooting. The director couldn’t get out on the glacier; she was just sort of throwing up. And I was like, “I’m going to die. I literally could die here.”

    Q. Science!

    A. Exactly. It gave me a real sense that the scientists we were following on the show were going to the ends of the Earth to get data. Quite literally. And they were risking a lot, in very physical terms, to get what they thought was necessary to learn about the future of the planet.

    Another journey I did was to Christmas Island, the Pacific atoll, with a woman named Kim Cobb. Kim studies coral because coral grows in a really unique way that’s very tightly linked to temperature. So you can drill into the coral head and figure out what the ocean temperature was very precisely. I can tell you November 1972, this was the temperature. Really amazing. And then she uses fossilized coral to go back 7,000 years.

    Kim was probably in her late 30s, a mom of three, and she’s underwater with a giant, 100-pound drill, drilling cores out of coral. There’s one flight in every week from Fiji and Hawaii. That’s it.

    M. Sanjayan.
    M. Sanjayan.

    Q. Did you walk away from that project with a different perspective on climate change?

    A. Without a doubt. Look, I’ve gotta tell you, I’ve felt a bit like a fake when I’ve gone out and talked about climate, because I only understood it intellectually. I study it. I read the papers. It was an intellectual argument — it wasn’t a story that I could tell. I didn’t feel it in my bones.

    I went on Lettermen a few years ago, and he hammered me on climate. He’s really passionate about climate, and he just came at it really hard. And I zigged and zagged and parodied and joked, and kind of got myself out of there. But I knew how I dodged it – he was asking me something really serious that I couldn’t talk about in any personal way. It seemed distant.

    And so part of this was actually going out with these guys and seeing it on the ground myself. And I came away with the sense that these stories now are real.

    Q. So would you tell the story of climate change differently now?

    A. Yeah. I mean it’s here, it’s now, it’s us. Michael Mann recently had a great quote: “We are the polar bear.” And he’s right — I think this show shifts the focus squarely on the human faces; a preacher’s daughter in the Southeast, a rancher in Texas, Indonesian foresters. Real people who are dealing with real issues right now.

    Q. It seems like the conversation has really changed recently from mitigating climate change to adapting to it?

    A. I don’t want to give the impression that we’re giving up on mitigation. I think emissions control, a price on carbon, and things like reforestation schemes are all hugely important. But I think focusing on adaptation makes [sense]. It makes the argument much more present. And it’s what people are worrying about — if you’re a Texas rancher, the here and now is way more important to your life than something in the future. And by dealing with the here and now, I think it provides a brilliant entry point to dealing with the long-term challenge.

    Think about what it was like when, during President Garfield’s time, we realized that there were these things called microbes. They were invisible and tiny and they could really fuck you up. And no one would believe you that [they were] there. Lister in Europe had already figured this out, and it was sort of trickling into America, but not really getting accepted. But when Garfield got shot, he died of an infection — not because of the bullet wound, but because doctors didn’t know about [microbes], and they stuck their finger in the wound.

    What’s interesting about that anecdote is we didn’t say we’re going to get rid of microbes. Now that we know they’re there, our goal isn’t to get rid of microbes; it’s adaptation. And that provides a much better entry point to then deal with bigger questions of sanitation and public health.

    You almost see an analogy today with climate change. By focusing on adaptation and here and now, I think it allows you to have the bigger discussion about what’s happening to the planet.

    Q. I think there’s a thirst now for scientists to become communicators. Where in your evolution did you decide, “I’m a scientist but I’m also going to embrace this role as a communicator.”

    A. I grew up in West Africa in a very insulated family very far away from any kind of city. And so as a small family, we told stories. I think the storytelling was always within me. It just got married to my passion of science.

    I think you’re right, though, that more scientists are understanding it. Maybe 10 years ago, 20 years ago, as a scientist your responsibility was to publish a paper. That was it. I think people generally understand now that there’s so many more venues to communicate outside of peer-reviewed publications. And that’s just how the world has evolved. Corporate CEOs are being more communicative now, too, it’s just what it demands.

    I mean Darwin did that, right? Darwin went and did this big experiment and then sat on his work for a decade plus. And then he communicated it. And then he went on the road with it — literally did a road trip.

    Q. Still, there’s so much uncertainty about how climate change is going to play out. We can’t even predict what the weather is going to do tomorrow. That’s hard for people to deal with – even folks who know that climate change is a real threat.

    A. You could look at people and say, “Without a doubt, you’re very likely to die of heart disease. That’s what’s going to kill you.” And they will say, “Great, I understand what you’re saying. I will start my diet tomorrow. I will start exercising this weekend.” Clearly. But I am more optimistic, I think more recently there has been a movement — I do sense that things are changing, and quite dramatically. And this Showtime series will do part of it. I think we’re at a real tipping point, and it kind of depends whether it’s the next two years or the next 10 years. And I’m hoping it’s the next two years.

     


    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: No, the IPCC climate report doesn’t call for a fracking boom
    revolution

    You might have heard that the latest installment of the big new U.N. climate report endorses fracking, urging a “dash for gas” as a bridge fuel to put us on a path to a more renewable energy future. These interpretations of the report are exaggerated, lack context, and are just plain wrong. They appear to have been based on interviews and on a censored summary of the report, which was published two days before the full document became available.

    The energy chapter from the full report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says “near‐term GHG emissions from energy supply can be reduced” by replacing coal-fired power plants with “highly efficient” natural gasburning alternatives — a move that “may play a role as a transition fuel in combination with variable renewable sources.” But that’s only true, the report says, if fugitive emissions of climate-changing methane from drilling and distribution of the gas are “low” — which is far from the case today. Scientists reported Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that methane measurements taken near fracking sites in Pennsylvania suggest such operations leak 100 to 1,000 times more methane than the U.S. EPA has estimated. The IPCC’s energy chapter also notes that fracking for gas has “created concerns about potential risks to local water quality and public health.”

    To protect the climate and save ourselves, the new IPCC report says we must quit fossil fuels. That doesn’t mean switching from coal to natural gas. It means switching from coal and gas to solar and wind, plugging electric vehicles into those renewable sources, and then metaphorically blowing up the fossil-fueled power plants that pock the planet.

    Stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations at “low levels” requires a “fundamental transformation of the energy supply system,” the IPCC says. Overall, its latest report concludes that we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 70 percent by midcentury, and stop producing any such pollution by the turn of the century, if we’re to keeping warming to within 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.7 F. And nothing is more important in meeting those goals than revolutionizing the way we produce electricity. Humanity’s thirst for electricity is the biggest single cause of climate change, with the energy sector fueling a little more than a third of global warming.

    Wind, solar, hydro, and other renewable forms of energy account for a little more than half of all new generating capacity being built around the world, the report says. But that is not enough. The report notes that renewable energy still requires government support, such as renewable portfolio standards and prices and caps on carbon emissions.

    But, as desperately as we need to be curbing fossil-fuel burning, we just keep increasing it instead. Greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector rose 3.1 percent every year from 2001 to 2010. In the 1990s, they rose just 1.7 percent annually. “The main contributors to this trend were a higher energy demand associated with rapid economic growth and an increase of the share of coal in the global fuel mix,” the report states.

    Of course, slaking our thirst for electricity with renewables wouldn’t just be good for the climate. The energy chapter highlights “co-benefits” from the use of renewable energy, “such as a reduction of air pollution, local employment opportunities, few severe accidents compared to some other forms of energy supply, as well as improved energy access and security.”

    A revolution doesn’t sound so scary when you put it that way.


    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy
    eco.psk: Foldaway Wind Turbine Charges Phones Outside [Video]
    Trinity-portable-wind-turbine-1.jpgTrinity can charge a mobile or tablet.
    Gristmill: Power plants lose legal bid to douse you with mercury
    coal power pollution

    When it proposed strict pollution rules in late 2011, the EPA paid no heed to the $9.6 billion worth of costs that coal-burning power plants would have to swallow. Its only concern in drafting the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards was keeping mercury and other poisons out of the environment  and away from Americans  by demanding that power plants use scrubbers and other clean-air technology.

    And on Tuesday, over the legal whimpers of the coal industry, federal judges said that’s just fine.

    Coal power plants are responsible for half of the country’s mercury pollution and two-thirds of its arsenic emissions. By cracking down on this health-harming, brain-damaging, ecosystem-ruining pollution, the EPA has estimated that the standards will prevent 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks — every single year. Thousands of lives will be saved.

    The power plant owners felt it was unfair that the government cared about public health but didn’t care about their bottom lines. More mercury in your air means more money in their pockets. So they sued. And they were joined in their battle by the governments of conservative-led states like Alaska, Kansas, and Michigan.

    On Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected the lawsuit, ruling 2-1 that the Clean Air Act does not require the agency to consider costs to an industry when imposing new pollution rules on it.

    “Basically, the petitioners and our dissenting colleague seek to impose a requirement that Congress did not,” one of the judges wrote in her opinion.


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics
    eco.psk: James Dyson Wants To Clean Our Rivers With A Vacuum Boat
    James-Dyson-Recyclone-barge-2.jpgThe M.V. Recyclone barge is a concept designed to suck up plastic and other trash from rivers and seas.
    Gristmill: Why it matters that Democrat Mary Landrieu is bashing Obama over energy
    Mary Landrieu

    Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) is running against President Obama instead of her likely Republican opponent, Rep. Bill Cassidy. Her first reelection ad of the year compiles clips of her standing up for her state’s oil and gas interests, attacking Obama for policies like the brief moratorium on offshore oil drilling imposed in 2010 after the disastrous BP oil rig explosion. “It’s 300,000 people that go to work every day in this industry,” Landrieu intones. “You can’t just beat up on them.” Implicitly working-class men — they have beards and engineer hats, but they’re too old to be hipsters — look on in solemn assent.

    Landrieu also recently brought together 10 other Democrats from red or swing states to push Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline by the end of May. “It has already taken much longer than anyone can reasonably justify,” they argue in a letter sent to the president last week.

    This is surely a good strategy in Louisiana, a state where Obama lost to Mitt Romney by more than 17 points — and where the oil industry directly employs around 62,000 workers and pays $1.4 billion a year in state taxes.

    And Obama knows it’s in his interest to have Democrats hold onto the Senate. That’s why Paul Waldman of The American Prospect argues that there’s no harm done by Landrieu’s pro-fossil-fuel pandering in her new ad:

    I’m guessing the administration doesn’t mind a bit.

    They know this is all in the game. And you’ll notice that the ad doesn’t actually describe anything in particular Landrieu has done. It’s a bunch of clips of her talking—talking on TV, talking at hearings, and so on. Landrieu is showing voters that she feels what they feel, and is angry on their behalf. If I were the administration, I’d say, “Talk all you want.” This is just posturing, and it doesn’t do any real damage if a southern Democrat postures against the Democratic party or a Democratic president. Because on balance, they’d rather have even a not-particularly-loyal Democrat in that seat than a Republican.

    Now, there are certainly times when posturing turns to action, and real harm can be done. Some conservative Democrats in the past made a great show of being as critical as possible of Democratic goals, forcing the party to cater to them, and then siding with Republicans in the end (former Nebraska senator Ben Nelson comes to mind). But if all you’re doing is striking a pose? Knock yourself out.

    Waldman’s analysis is correct in the abstract, but not totally applicable to Landrieu. Landrieu doesn’t just talk about how she prefers oil industry profits to clean air, clean water, and a stable climate. She acts on it. And her views matter more than those of the average senator, now that she is chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. That’s why her ad brags that she holds “the most powerful position in the Senate for Louisiana.”

    As I noted upon her ascension to the chairmanship, the American Petroleum Institute is quite happy with her taking on that role. She has a lifetime score of just 51 percent from the League of Conservation Voters, the second lowest of any Senate Democrat. Here are some of her career lowlights, from my previous piece:

    In 2011, she voted in favor of an amendment sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to reverse the EPA’s decision to label CO2 a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. … In 2011, she voted against the Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act, introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), which would have done exactly as its name suggests. She voted for an amendment to the 2012 transportation bill that would have opened up vast areas of coastline to offshore drilling, potentially damaging coastal industries and interfering with military activity.

    Landrieu also recently suggested that the U.S. consider lifting the ban on exporting crude oil, which would incentivize more drilling.

    In her new ad, Landrieu boasts of having “forced” the Obama administration to end the offshore drilling moratorium. Surely she exaggerates, but it’s certainly true she did everything in her power to get those oil rigs back up and pumping immediately after one of them despoiled her state’s coast. Here is what The New York Times reported in October 2010, upon the administration’s lifting of the moratorium:

    Senator Mary L. Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat who has been among the most vocal critics, called it “a step in the right direction” but said the administration must speed the granting of permits and offer more clarity about the new rules.

    Ms. Landrieu has single-handedly blocked Mr. Obama’s nomination of Jack Lew as White House budget director to protest the moratorium and said she would not release her hold yet. “When Congress reconvenes for the lame-duck session next month, I will have had several weeks to evaluate if today’s lifting of the moratorium is actually putting people back to work,” she said.

    Robert L. Gibbs, the White House press secretary, called Ms. Landrieu’s continuing hold on Mr. Lew’s nomination “unwarranted” and “outrageous” and called on her to stop playing politics with the nomination.

    Oil and gas companies know who their friends in Congress are, and how to reward them. That’s why they are donating generously to Landrieu’s campaign. If they thought it would be more beneficial to have a Republican in her seat, they wouldn’t support her. It actually helps the industry to have a few Democrats from dirty-energy-producing states who will side with the Republican caucus on energy and climate issues, lending the anti-environment stance a veneer of bipartisanship.

    From an environmental perspective, Landrieu presents an interesting conundrum. Any Republican from Louisiana would be even more disdainful of environmental protection than she is, and if Republicans take over the Senate, the Energy Committee would be chaired by Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who is also more anti-environment than Landrieu. On the other hand, if Landrieu lost reelection while Democrats retained the Senate, she could be replaced as energy chair by a pro-environment Democrat such as Maria Cantwell of Washington. But with Democrats also facing competitive races this year to hold onto seats in states like West Virginia, Alaska, Iowa, Colorado, North Carolina, and New Hampshire, it is unlikely that they could lose Landrieu’s seat without losing the Senate.

    Still, what Louisianans need is not more pandering to their dirty incumbent industries, but real talk about how rising sea levels, extreme weather events, oil spills, and salinization of the Bayou are threatening their land, biodiversity, health, safety, and livelihoods. Unfortunately, they won’t be getting it from Mary Landrieu, or from her Republican opponent. The oil industry still has too tight a hold on Louisiana.


    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Here’s a wind turbine you can toss in your purse
    trinity-portable-wind-turbine2

    Hate it when a strong breeze musses your hair without generating any electricity? Same. So the Trinity portable wind turbine is a welcome invention, in addition of reminding us of The Matrix.

    trinity-portable-wind-turbine
    © Skajaquoda

    Trinity will love he who is The One is only 12 inches tall when collapsed, so it can slip into your bag or backpack. Whip it out and it extends to 23 inches high, with three aluminum legs. Adds Treehugger:

    The device has three wind blades (a Savonius design) that can be folded into the body of the device for transport, and open up when deployed, which spin a 15W generator and charge a 15,000 mAh battery when the wind is blowing.

    It can charge your phone and other gadgets via a USB port, and at four pounds, the thing probably weighs less than your laptop. Donating $249 to the Kickstarter campaign will get you a Trinity of your very own come January, if Minnesota research firm Skajaquoda meets its $50,ooo goal:

    It also has a little hole in each leg for stakes so Trinity won’t, you know, blow away. Speaking of which, does that mean we can make electricity just by blowing really hard? Someone get a Trinity so we can test this out. I, at least, am full of hot air.


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Living
    eco.psk: Bike Turns Plastic Cups Into 3D Printer Ink
    mobile-fab.jpgThe Mobile Fab is a beautiful example of innovative recycling.
    Gristmill: Scientists are using mushrooms to get gold out of your old phone
    mushrooms-field-flickr-shandilee

    The chemicals and heavy metals in our phones are bad news — both for the workers exposed to them during mining and manufacture, and for anyone who lives near the landfill where they offgas. (Although the iPhone’s gotten greener, there’s still a LOT of mercury and chlorine inside that shiny li’l puppy, making for unappetizing drinking water.)

    Even worse, extracting precious metals from old phones is pretty toxic, requiring cyanide and sulfuric acid. Or rather, it was pretty toxic, until scientists figured out you could do it by using ‘shrooms.

    It turns out if you smash a phone into powder and pass it through fungi roots, a.k.a. mycelium, the chemically engineered mycelium will basically be a magnet for the gold. “Heh heh, totally!” explain the scientists. “Hey, is that a dragon eating a rainbow?”

    Not only can ‘shrooms do the job, but they’re about four times as efficient as the old toxic methods, according to Gizmodo:

    The researchers say this process recovers 80 percent of the gold, compared to just 10 or 20 percent in the common but toxic chemical processes.

    We knew ’shrooms were great. Don’t mind us as we lie in this field here for about eight hours. We’re just testing this gold recovery thing.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Here’s what higher lake levels could mean:

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

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

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


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

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

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

    Triple Pundit: Fuzzy Math on Pennsylvania Fracking Jobs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Eco Geek: Ontario Completely Off Coal

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

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

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

    image: CC 2.0 by Kyle MacKenzie

    Hat tip to @TomMatzzie

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

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

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

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

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

    So moody. Thinking of getting its septum pierced.
    Klaus Stiefel
    So moody. Thinking of getting its septum pierced.

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

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

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


    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Food
    Gristmill: Sally Jewell’s frustrating first year in Washington
    Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has faced an uphill battle in Washington as she tries to implement her ambitious agenda. In February, she went snowshoeing on Mount Rainier to see firsthand the effects of climate change.
    Kate Sheppard
    Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has faced an uphill battle in Washington as she tries to implement her ambitious agenda. In February, she went snowshoeing on Mount Rainier to see firsthand the effects of climate change.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    But most say they understand where Jewell is coming from.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Jewell in her element on Mount Rainier.
    Kate Sheppard
    Jewell in her element on Mount Rainier.

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

     

     


    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: Vegan condoms are so passé — socially conscious rubbers are the new hotness
    guy-holding-l-condoms

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

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

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

    L-condoms
    L.

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

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

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

    condom-class-l-international
    L.

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

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

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


    Filed under: Living
    Gristmill: This beer tastes like crap, and that’s a good thing
    sanctification-russian-river-the-great-beer-quest
    The Great Beer Quest

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Filed under: Food, Living
    eco.psk: StairMaster Scooter Is The Fittest Way To Commute
    me-mover-step-machine-bicycle-2.jpgRevamped bicycle combines the additional exercise potential of a step machine.
    Gristmill: U.N. climate report was censored
    blindfolded dangerously

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Filed under: Climate & Energy, Politics
    Gristmill: This guy is taking the world’s longest road trip in an electric car
    Click to largify.
    Norman Hajjar
    Click to embiggen.

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Filed under: Business & Technology, Living
    Gristmill: The tiny house documentary is finally (almost) here! Peek inside the result
    TINY-tiny-house-documentary

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

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

    tiny-house-inside-front
    Ashley Poskin

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

    tiny-house-inside-kitchen-christopher-smith
    Ashley Poskin

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

    tiny-house-upstairs-bed
    Ashley Poskin

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The sex toy found actually caused a major internal flood.

    That’s what she said.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Filed under: Climate & Energy
    Gristmill: Conventional farmers drop their plows in favor of conservation
    Michael and Adam Crowell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Adam: “Burning a lot less fuel.”

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

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

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

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

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

    Adam: “…I’m going to no till.”

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

    Adam: “…stubble.”

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

    We walked out into a field thick with thigh-high mixed grasses. It had rained the day before, and the seed heads glistened with water droplets. Michael sunk a T-shaped soil-profile tester into the earth, leaning on the top of the T and driving the foot down. If the ground was compacted, he would feel it, he explained. And indeed, when I tried putting my weight on the device, it was a smooth ride all the way down. The dirt that came up with the hand tool was loose and sandy. We went down two feet and found roots at that depth.IMG_3549

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    IMG_3555

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


    Filed under: Article, Food
    Gristmill: Montreal, Boston, NYC: Which city has the best bikeshare program?
    city-bike-share-b

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

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

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

    Boston: Hubway

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

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

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

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

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

    Montreal: Bixi

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

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

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

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

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

    New York: CitiBike

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

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

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

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


    Filed under: Article, Cities, Living
    Gristmill: Enviro groups team up on new campaign funding alliance
    money

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics
    Triple Pundit: Go Green or Go Home: Why Being Eco-Friendly is Good for Delivery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Triple Pundit: Boeing: Something Electric in Space

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

    Ecorazzi reports:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

    pley-lego-rental

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

    chicago-transit-map-before-after
    TransitFuture

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

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


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

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

    Roberto A. Ferdman points out the trends on Quartz:

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

    birth-rate-chart-various-ages

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

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

    small-dog-rate

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

    Send your question to Umbra!

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

    Dennis K.
    Sumter, S.C.

    A. Dearest Dennis,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Oxygenatedly,
    Umbra


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

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

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

    Here’s a video that explains how it works:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

    Click to embiggen.
    IPCC
    Click to embiggen.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Triple Pundit: Coal and the Role of Multi-Stakeholderism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

    Eco Geek: CETO Produces Wave Power and Freshwater

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    WINDË coming soon to a utility near you.


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

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

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

    From The New York Times:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

    C. Because he’s from New Orleans.

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

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

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

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

    H. Because Katrina

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

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

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

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

    Wendell Pierce / Bunk

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

    Tweet your support. 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Tweet your support. 


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

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

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

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

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

    Tweet your support.


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

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

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

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

    Tweet your support.


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

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

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

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

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

    Tweet your support. 


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

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

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

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

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

    Tweet your support.


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

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

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

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

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

    Tweet your support.

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Climate Central
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    The researchers listed two main drivers of the trend:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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    Ohio cracked down on pollution from fracking:

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    Reaction Gifs

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

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    Reaction Gifs

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

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    Gif Garage

    Droughts are pushing beef prices to record highs:

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    Giphy

    People are tipping Smart cars over for fun:

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

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    Blogspot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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