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It takes no tillage

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.”

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Share and share a bike

Montreal, Boston, NYC: Which city has the best bikeshare program?

city-bike-share-b
Peter Kudlacz | mvcav | and Bex Walton

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.

Read more: Cities, Living

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Fighting dirty money with clean

Enviro groups team up on new campaign funding alliance

money
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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:

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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.

Read more: Cities, Living

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Top Five Earth Day Presents

What do you get Mother Earth on her big day (reminder: it’s April 22nd!)? She’s just so hard to shop for and, after all, she already has everything. She might appreciate one of those self-help books, although few moms want a gift that implies they are fat or “polluted”, but aren’t her kids the reason she might be feeling worn out and depleted in the first place? Well, here are the Top Five Tips to help you pick out something in her size and color that might just brighten her coming year: 5. A new U.S. Congress. OK, so you’ll …

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A Big Question for ‘Solar Choice’

future of solar policy ILSR 2014-0409 copy

Two weeks ago, Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission ratified the first-ever statewide policy for setting a fair and transparent price on solar energy. This week, a coalition of companies that provide leasing contracts for solar to home and business customers declared war on this “value of solar” policy, and pretty much every financial model for compensating solar energy producers that isn’t net metering. As I’ll outline below, this position by “The Alliance for Solar Choice (a.k.a. solar leasing companies like SolarCity)” leaves one enormous unanswered question. What’s Happening Right Now Distributed solar power production is under fire. In nearly 1 of …

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Burn Baby Burn

The four fossil fuel stockpiles that could toast the world

global warming
Shutterstock

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.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Climate clicktivism for the rich, famous, and connected

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.

What do the NBA, Mark Ruffalo, Al Gore, and Guns 'N 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:

Read more: Climate & Energy

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More GIFs, please

U.S. urges IPCC to be less boring, try this whole “online” thing

IPCC makes you yawn
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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.

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I don't think you're ready for this jellyfish

Diapers and tampons could soon be made from jellyfish

jellyfish_sprengben1
Spreng Ben

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.

Read more: Living