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April 2012

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Turn up the heat: Environmentalists should join Occupy on May Day

Photo by David Shankbone.

For a moment last fall, it felt like the “post-hope” era was coming to an end. Protesters in Egypt and Tunisia had won nonviolent revolutions, Occupy Wall Street offered us our own national rallying cry against the deep structural inequity threatening our democracy, and over 1,200 Americans took part in the biggest act of civil disobedience in the history of environmentalism. Maybe we’d all finally get off the internet and start directly confronting those things we’d been waiting for President Obama to fix for us since January 2009.

But then, as quickly as it began, it started to feel like it was over. Egypt’s revolution turned sour. Obama started waffling on Keystone. Occupy encampments all but disappeared. The Republican primaries came around and we watched in bemused horror as one climate-change-denying corporate stooge after the next pranced and preened for the opportunity to duke it out on live TV with our very own Disappointment in Chief.

Well, here’s the good news. Occupy is trying to make a comeback -- and those of us who are concerned about the climate have an opportunity to push the issue into the spotlight, a chance that we largely missed the last time around.

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Farm-connected CSAs should offer more than just ‘veggie subscriptions’

Photo by Mswine.

I was recently struck by a promotion I saw on the site Local Harvest, which lists organic and locally grown food around the country. The site reads, “Many farms offer subscriptions for weekly baskets of produce, flowers and other farm products. Try a CSA this year!”

“A subscription to local farm products?” I thought. “Is that all community-supported agriculture has become?"

As the local food movement has gone from a trickle to a sweeping current, and sales of local farm products have grown, it seems that many community-supported agriculture (CSA) subscribers may have lost touch with the original intention behind the term. As a farmer, and one who’s researched and written about the history of CSAs in the U.S. and abroad, I find this trend deeply troubling. It seems many urban residents now see the CSA as just another form of “retail farming” rather than a model for civic agriculture, a site-specific form of solidarity, or associative economics that can transform relationships.

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Solar policy can advance (or delay) grid parity by a decade

A version of this post originally appeared on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

In their interactive graphic, Bloomberg Energy Finance calls solar grid parity (when electricity from solar costs less than grid power) the "golden goal."  It's an excellent illustration of how the right energy policy can help a nation go gold on solar or wallow in metallurgical obscurity. In the case of the U.S., it may mean delaying grid parity by eight years.

In the screenshot below, countries in purple have reached the golden goal in 2012 based on the quality of their solar resource and the cost of grid electricity, as well as a 6 percent expected return on investment for solar developers. (Note to Bloomberg graphic designers -- countries meeting the golden goal could be colored gold.)

Read more: Energy Policy

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U.S. coal is on the decline, and utility execs know it

Every week brings a new story about coal's decline in America. Here are two from last week.

One is about American Electric Power, the nation's largest electric utility, based in Ohio but ranging over 11 states in the South and Midwest. AEP is the farthest thing from a good actor in the utility sector. Between 2008 and 2010, the company raised executive compensation by 30 percent, laid off 2,600 workers, spent almost $29 million lobbying the federal government, and paid a tax rate of -9 percent [PDF]. Yes, negative nine. It's that kind of company.

So it's significant that last week, AEP reaffirmed its intention to accelerate a shift away from coal. By 2020, according to CEO Nicholas Akins, coal will fall from 67 percent of AEP's assets to 50 percent.

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This time-lapse video of Yosemite is beyond beautiful

Shawn Reeder, who made this almost mystical work of art, writes:

Yosemite, the High Sierra, and the Eastern Sierra are some of the most beautiful places on earth.  Ever since I serendipitously won a trip to Yosemite when I was 18, the beautiful Range of Light has captured my heart and become my home.  Nothing brings me more joy than to share this life changing beauty with other.

Read more: Living

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Wind farms DO NOT cause climate change

A study that just came out in Nature Climate Change found that wind farms can impact local temperatures, particularly at night. Basically, the turbines mix warmer air from high up with colder air closer to the ground. Hence, warmer air overall, in these very local spots.

So, of course, Fox News is telling people that "New research shows wind farms cause global warming." Not to be out-crazied, the Telegraph is going with "Wind farms can cause climate change." Gizmodo at least uses the word "local" in its headline. But unfortunately such restraint hasn't stopped the internet from deciding, as this apparently very patriotic gentleman on Twitter demonstrates, that "Wind farms = worse for local climate change than 100 years of pollution (0.6 degree F)."

Which, FINE, the scientists report that the temperature changes they've documented, "if spatially large enough, may have noticeable impacts on local to regional weather and climate." That impact, however, is different from what we normally mean by climate change. We're talking about the increase of global average temperatures, which -- funny how averages work -- is a much bigger deal than local temperature increases.

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Budget-friendly hotel chains also have the smallest carbon footprints

When choosing an environmentally friendly hotel chain, the best indicator probably isn't whether the place asks you to hang up your towels if you don't want them replaced each day. According to a new analysis [PDF] by sustainability company Brighter Planet, budget and mid-range hotels tend to produce the least carbon per room.

Topping the list are Vagabond Inn, Red Lion Hotels, and Red Carpet Inns. Travelodge comes in fourth. It's not a hard and fast rule, but if you want to aim for carbon-friendliness, budget chains are likely the best option: The top performer in the high-end range, Four Points Hotels by Sheraton, came in 33rd overall. 

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San Francisco’s urban ag-spansion

Photo by Jeff C.

A version of this post originally appeared in the CUESA Newsletter.

Mary Davis started feeling the squeeze of city life about a year ago. She had grown up gardening and spent a stint working on an organic farm while attending grad school in Missouri. Now an architect living in San Francisco's Mission District, she longed to reconnect with her gardening roots, but her small apartment was lacking in the dirt department. "There was no garden, no outdoors," she says. "I really wanted a place with some soil."

She started looking around her neighborhood and fell in love with the historic Dearborn Community Garden. But when she inquired about getting a plot, she was told there was a 22-year waiting list.

She signed up nonetheless and continued her search, adding her name to the Potrero Hill Community Garden's list as well, which had a comparatively modest seven-year wait. Since then, Davis has moved into a house with a shared backyard garden, but she still longs for a plot of her own.

Davis' experience is not uncommon among would-be gardeners in San Francisco. Most of the city's community gardens have waiting lists of two years or more, according to Public Harvest, a new report by San Francisco Urban Planning + Urban Research Association (SPUR). The most comprehensive report of its kind in recent years, it paints a sweeping portrait of the current urban agriculture landscape and presents a bold agenda to help San Francisco meet the demands of a burgeoning movement.

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Multinational food companies sell everything, from polo shirts to tampons

Imagine that this past weekend, you went out in New York City and bought a new pair of fancy Diesel Jeans. Then, because you were feeling good, you indulged in a KitKat bar. You forgot your reusable water bottle at home, so you bought a bottle of Poland Spring. On the way home, you stopped by the Kiehl's store and picked up some face lotion. Oh, and you were running out of cat food, so you grabbed some Fancy Feast at the bodega around the corner.

All of those purchases would have benefitted the same company -- Nestle.

Nestle doesn't own all of those brands. But it's got a large stake, for instance, in L'Oreal, which owns Diesel. And Nestle's chief executive just joined the L'Oreal board last month.

It's not just Nestle, of course, that dominates the food system, as this map makes clear :

Click for a larger version.
Read more: Food, Living, Pollution

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Critical List: Wind farms cause temperature changes; the problem with sardines

Wind farms can lift local temperatures.

President Obama made a couple of jokes about eating dog meat at the White House Correspondents' Dinner.

Eating sardines may not be the best idea for the environment.

Germany’s clean jobs initiative is flagging.

Cute animal code red! The koala's a threatened species in Australia.

Read more: Uncategorized