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April 2012

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New SUV sales technique: Add a little Posh Spice

In this age of high gas prices, auto executives have caught on that the only way to sell people on a gas-guzzling SUV is … hey, look over there! It's a Spice Girl!

That, in a nutshell, is Land Rover's strategy for marketing the Range Rover Evoque. Victoria Beckham, née Posh Spice, "co-designed and gives her name" to the special version of the vehicle, USA TODAY reports:

"Both Land Rover and Victoria Beckham are British luxury brands with credibility and global appeal," [Land Rover design chief Gerry] McGovern says in a statement. "This dual 'Britishness' makes the collaboration even more exciting especially when considering the huge audience for bespoke products around the world, particularly in China, Russia and Brazil where Land Rover is growing."

Read more: Living

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Top 10 U.S. cities with the worst air pollution

There’s good news and bad news about U.S. air pollution. We’ll hit you with the good news first.

The American Lung Association released its State of the Air 2012 report today, and the study shows some improvement in the nation’s air quality (huzzah!).

The volunteer health organization examined 2008-2010 ozone levels, the main ingredient of smog air pollution, and air-particle pollution at official measuring sites across the U.S.

Out of the 25 cities with the most ozone pollution, 22 saw improvements in air quality over last year's report. Similar advancements were seen among cities with the most year-round particle pollution.

And now for the bad news: Despite the progress, the country’s air is still woefully polluted. About 127 million Americans -- a whopping 41 percent of us -- still endure pollution levels that make it dangerous to breathe. Check out the top 10 regions with the dubious distinction of having the most year-round particle pollution. (Spoiler alert: If you’re from several parts of California, you may want to consider relocating).

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Ex-BP employee deleted 300 texts about oil spill’s true size

Ever since the massive oil spill at the Deepwater Horizon well two years ago, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has been investigating the spill. And the feds have finally filed the first criminal charges, for obstruction of justice, against an engineer named Kurt Mix who worked on the oil spill. Mix, it turns out, deleted 300 text messages that contained sensitive information about the extent of the spill, just before lawyers were going to collect that sort of information from him.

The DOJ's case focuses on two incidents. In the first, "after Mix learned that his electronic files were to be collected by vendor working for BP's lawyers," he allegedly deleted a string of 200 text messages from his iPhone, the DOJ says. Those messages "included sensitive internal BP information collected in real-time as the Top Kill operation was occurring, which indicated that Top Kill was failing."

In the second, a couple of weeks later, after Mix found out his iPhone was going to be imaged, he deleted another string of texts, this one 100 long, about how much oil was coming from the well.

Read more: Oil

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Nature trail rigged with terrifying booby trap

On a nature hike, as a rule, the dangers you want to guard against are dehydration, getting lost, and bears. But of all of nature's creatures, the most terrifying might be a duo of teenage boys without much to do. In Utah, two such young men were arrested on suspicion of setting up trap that consisted of "a 20-pound spiked boulder … rigged to swing at head-level with just a trip of a thin wire -- a military-like booby trap set on a popular canyon trail," according to the Associated Press.

Read more: Living

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TP execs: Americans don’t create enough waste in the bathroom

It takes tens of thousands of trees to create the amount of toilet paper that's used every single day. But in the minds of corporate executives, Americans, at least, aren't using enough paper during their bathroom routine. In particular, we're not using enough Cottonelle Fresh Care -- "the leading flushable wipe."

These executives, being corporate executives, know that if they could just convince us that we need dry and wet paper to clean our bums, they could sell sooooo much more product. Right now, ashamed of the wipes, people are hiding them under the sink. But people who keep the wipes out in the open use twice as many, and as the Cottonelle execs told The New York Times:

"We know from our user data that the growth is 100 percent incremental,” said Mr. Simon of Cottonelle. “If you used six squares of dry toilet paper before, you’d still use six squares, and one or two flushable wipes.”

Read more: Living

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Critical List: Mad cow disease in California; first arrest in BP oil spill investigation

The USDA found a case of mad cow disease in California.

Federal prosecutors charged a former BP engineer with deleting text messages in order to keep information about the true size of the Deepwater Horizon spill from investigators.

The three cities with the most air pollution in the country are all in California, but L.A. only comes in third. A couple of inland metro areas come in first and second.

Read more: Uncategorized

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Wendell Berry: This old farmer is still full of piss and vinegar

Cross-posted from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

In a time when we’ve seen global economic crisis, societal unrest, and ecological deterioration, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) could not have picked a more potent speaker than Wendell Berry for this year's Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities. In his remarks in Washington, D.C., on Monday, the essayist, novelist, and poet -- a Kentuckian long known for his advocacy for family farming, community relationships, and sustainability -- delivered a characteristically eloquent yet scathing critique of the industrial economy and its toll on humanity.

"The two great aims of industrialism -- replacement of people by technology and concentration of wealth into the hands of a small plutocracy -- seem close to fulfillment," Berry told the crowd at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. "At the same time, the failures of industrialism have become too great and too dangerous to deny. Corporate industrialism itself has exposed the falsehood that it ever was inevitable or that it ever has given precedence to the common good."

The Jefferson Lecture "is the most prestigious honor the federal government bestows for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities," according to the NEH, which sponsors it every year.

Before the speech, Berry wryly commended the NEH's courage in inviting him without first reading his remarks. At the end of the event, NEH Chair Jim Leach humorously added: "The views of the speaker do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States government."

Berry's reputation and strident prose must have promised fireworks: An official with the NEH said that Berry's lecture was sold out three days after it was announced (although some seats were unclaimed on a cold, rainy night in Washington). Samuel Alito, the conservative Supreme Court justice, was rumored to be there.

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The 10 weirdest eco-questions on the planet

Editor's note: This week Grist is celebrating the 10th anniversary of our Ask Umbra advice column. Today, we look at a few of the perplexingest questions our readers have ever sent. Losing sleep over a green conundrum? Ask Umbra.

10. How can I recycle my pencil stubs? In which Umbra suggests erase to the finish.

9. Does licking my dinner plate keep waste out of the landfill? If the stew fits.

8. Are condoms recyclable? At last, a tip we can get behind.

7. Can I recycle a beer bottle with a lime wedge in it? Your glass is totally smashed.

6. What’s the greenest method of disposing of a corpse? We’d reference Weekend at Bernie’s, but we don’t want to date ourselves.

5. Do hot air balloons hurt the environment? This one’s a real basket case.

4. Is chewing gum biodegradable? Ease your bubble troubles.

3. What is the half-life of glitter? For all you shiny, happy people.

2. Can a bird really burst into flames? Does a kangaroo have three vaginas? (Hint: You betcha.)

1. What are the average emissions from flatulence? Depends how many plates you lick.

Read more: Green Living Tips

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ALEC is plotting to take down state renewable energy targets

Cross-posted from Climate Progress.

Two leading conservative political organizations say they are stepping up coordinated efforts to repeal state-level renewable energy targets.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) -- a “stealth business lobbyist” that works with corporate interests to help them write and implement “model” legislation -- says it may soon start crafting laws designed to kill or weaken state targets for renewable electricity, heating, and fuels.

ALEC has come under fire in recent weeks for its support of voter ID laws and the controversial "Stand Your Ground" law that opponents blame for the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin. After progressive groups began an aggressive campaign to educate the public about ALEC, 13 companies pulled their membership from the organization.

Last July, Bloomberg News acquired tax documents showing that Koch Industries, Exxon Mobil, and other energy companies paid membership fees to ALEC in order to help write legislation repealing carbon pollution reduction programs in states around country.

Bloomberg now reports that ALEC is looking to take aim at renewable energy programs in states:

Read more: Energy Policy, Politics

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Jungle gym urbanism: Help this guy turn a vacant house into a bouncy-ball pit

Cross-posted from Next American City.

Guerilla urbanism can take many forms, as there are myriad ways to reactivate an abandoned public space or vacant building. Art exhibitions, temporary shops, ad hoc concerts -- different approaches work for different properties, and it really depends on the space, neighborhood, and city in question.

It’s either fitting or frivolous, then, that one New Orleans resident seems to have turned to Chuck E. Cheese’s for inspiration.

Josh Ente, who works at the New Orleans-based filmmaking company Court 13 (you might know them for this Sundance winner or this music video), recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to help him turn a crumbling house into giant ball pit. Imagine neighborhood kids, their parents, and young-at-heart adults gathering at an outdoor community pool filled with bouncy balls, and you get a close approximation to what Ente envisions. (See it in the video accompanying Ente’s proposal below.)

Read more: Cities, Urbanism