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March 2012

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Critical List: The gas boom scam; Bieber’s electric car

In Rolling Stone, Jeff Goodell looks at "the scam behind the gas boom.” What really makes money for a natural gas company? "Buying and flipping the land that contains the gas," Goodell reports.

A team of scientists has discovered how to use wastewater's bacteria to create electricity.

For his 18th birthday Justin Bieber received (among many other gifts, we're sure) an electric vehicle -- a $100,000 Fisker Karma.

The Senate transportation bill could include dedicated funding for walking and biking.

Nestlé's products no longer have artificial ingredients in them.

Read more: Uncategorized

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Walmart is no savior: More small businesses = healthier people

One of the new, smaller "neighborhood markets" Walmart has been opening in urban areas.

Reforming our food system is a Herculean task; one that might intimidate Hercules himself. Willie Nelson and Anna Lappe summed up the challenge recently on the Huffington Post:

Of the 40,000 food items in a typical U.S. grocery store, more than half are now brought to us by just 10 corporations. Today, three companies process more than 70 percent of all U.S. beef, Tyson, Cargill and JBS. More than 90 percent of soybean seeds and 80 percent of corn seeds used in the United States are sold by just one company: Monsanto. Four companies are responsible for up to 90 percent of the global trade in grain. And one in four food dollars is spent at Walmart.

Read more: Food

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The littlest farmers taste their first crop [VIDEO]

School garden programs have sprouted up in so many places they're almost commonplace -- but that doesn't make it any less exciting to watch kids learn about where their food comes from. We spent this week's episode with a group of students who were planting, harvesting, and tasting their very first radishes with teacher Ashley Rouse of Georgia Organics. Kids are in a lot of our videos -- after all they're cute and they are the future.

Read more: Food

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Go cargo: Utility bikes take cities by storm

Longtime Washington, D.C., bike messenger "Scrooge" test-driving the author's Dutch Style “bakfiet” cargo bike.

From behind a windshield, my Dutch-style “bakfiet” cargo bike must look like an oddity. My multitalented artist friend Adam Zopf and I built these bikes for ourselves a few winters back. We cut two bikes in half and welded them back together with a long metal bar stretching out the wheelbase. A long steering bar extends from the handlebars all the way to the front fork, allowing the rider to turn the front wheel from the back of the bike. My bakfiet is outfitted with an old wheelbarrow tray acquired through Freecycle, handy for carrying anything too big for a backpack. Adam’s has a “flat bead” for lugging his work gear around that can be mounted with wicker chairs for his wife Regina and their young son Theo. It’s Dutch cycling chic with a little Fat Albert and the Gang twist.

Read more: Biking

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Obama calls to end subsidies for oil and gas

Obama in Nashua in 2007.

With prospective GOP challengers hawking guarantees of Seinfeld-era gas prices, President Obama simultaneously called their bluff on what he called "phony election-year promises" and urged Congress to end $4 billion in subsidies for oil and gas companies. Sure, he's said it before (most recently in his State of the Union address), but at a stop in Nashua Community College in New Hampshire, Obama put some muscle behind it:

“You can either stand up for the oil companies, or you can stand up for the American people,” Mr. Obama said. “You can keep subsidizing a fossil fuel that’s been getting taxpayer dollars for a century, or you can place your bets on a clean-energy future.”

It took GOP bigwigs approximately four nanoseconds to respond that the president's move could make oil costs go even higher, while John Boehner needled him over what he perceived to be a reluctance to open the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (which also might not lower costs or stop our Bubbles-esque problems with oil). White House Press Secretary Jay Carney didn't address whether Obama would tap into the reserve, but affirmed the president was "very concerned" about the pump-fatigued American family.

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Bingaman’s Clean Energy Standard would be nice, but has no shot in hell

Sen. Jeff Bingaman. (Photo by Senator Chris Coons.)

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), the soon-to-retire chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, released his long-awaited proposal for a Clean Energy Standard (CES) today. Here's a two-page summary [PDF].

First thing to note: It's not going to pass. There is no way Republicans are going to allow Obama a policy victory during an election year. So this bill is just a marker, like a message in a bottle to be discovered by some future, sane Congress. It's hard to get too worked up about it.

That said, it looks pretty good to me. Obviously I would prefer ... oh, all sorts of other policies. A price on carbon. Feed-in tariffs. Coherent innovation policy and funding. A renewable energy standard. But as a kind of middle-of-the-road policy that is safe, at least on the merits, from the most common conservative attacks, it's fine.

Read more: Energy Policy, Politics

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Algae damn: Obama’s failed message on climate and energy innovation

Photo by the White House.

Cross-posted from Climate Progress.

When did "innovation" become a dirty word in American politics?

I suppose it was right about the time when college aspirations became snobbish, when electing a presidential candidate could magically reduce the global price of oil, or when environmental protection became a "phony theology."

Welcome to the 2012 campaign circus, arguably the most bizarre in history.

And now, adding to the long list of oddball attacks, Republican politicians and media pundits are launching an assault on President Obama's offer of $14 million for research on algae-based biofuels -- calling for a "pond scum czar" and offering the president "the algae in my fish tank" for this "goofy gas."

Really? Yes, really. A $14 million grant for an innovative, abundant fuel that could potentially displace 17 percent of petroleum use in the country is now the focus of a coordinated political attack. It seems innovation is now becoming a politically untouchable word.

Well, not completely. Innovation just means different things to different people.

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Hot buttered sloths in pajamas

What do you do when orphaned baby sloths are afflicted with mange? Shave them, rub them with lard, and wrap them in sloth pajamas.

Read more: Animals

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Sustainable information: Beyond tofu news and high-fructose media

I started talking about the concept of "sustainable information" here at Grist a couple of months ago, and drew mostly blank stares. It was as if yoking the two words together couldn't possibly make sense.

I didn't mean information about sustainability, valuable though that is.

I didn't mean the sustainable delivery of information -- as in, "think of the trees before you print out this e-mail," or "don't leave your laptop on its charger round the clock."

And -- important though this might be to my own livelihood -- I didn't mean "how do we keep news organizations in business," which is what people in the media often think "sustainable" means.

I was thinking more about what it might mean to apply the ideal of sustainability to the news and information that we produce and consume every day.

Read more: Uncategorized

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Levitating houses stay safe during earthquakes

Image by Chris Van Allsburg from "The Mysteries of Harris Burdick."

A Japanese company called Air Danshin Systems can make houses fly. Not all the time, and not for particularly long. But when it counts -- during an earthquake -- the company's technology can levitate a house more than an inch off its foundation. That means that while the earth shakes, the house stays safe.