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Water Woes

The country could supply all of California with water if we fixed our leaky pipes


As if California didn’t already have enough water issues to worry about right now, last week Los Angeles lost more than 20 million gallons – a day’s worth for at least 100,000 people – when a pipe that was installed a century ago finally broke. But it turns out geriatric pipes aren’t just a problem for the City of Angels. Aging infrastructure means that nationwide, pipes hemorrhage seven billion gallons of treated drinking water each day; enough to meet the daily water needs of the entire state of California.

From ABC News:

Much of the piping that carries drinking water in the country dates to the first half of the 20th century, with some installed before Theodore Roosevelt was in the White House.

Age inevitably takes a toll. There are 240,000 breaks a year, according to the National Association of Water Companies, a problem compounded by stress from an increasing population and budget crunches that slow the pace of replacement.

Read more: Cities, Living


Straussed out? Listen to wind turbine version of Blue Danube


We'd like to hear Big Oil try this. It would probably go something like "spill spill spilll spilll spillll FRACK FRACK, FRACK FRACK."

Siemens commissioned musician Will Bates to record the windy version of Blue Danube Waltz to celebrate the 448-turbine wind farm it's building in Iowa. The results are much classier than that other windy version of the song.


More people drive to work if you give them free parking and transit passes

woman parking car

Somewhere between getting a paycheck and free coffee, commuter benefits are often a nice perk to being employed. But, like I finally realized after a week of downing cup after cup of joe (why? Because I can!), sometimes fringe benefits have some jittery downsides. And commuter packages are no exception: Ones that offer drivers free parking end up hurting the planet. A new analysis of commuter benefits from Virginia Tech reports that when employees are offered free parking, they’re much more likely to drive to work -- even if they’re also offered free public transit. Which means more traffic and carbon emissions for …

Read more: Cities, Living


Class Dismissed

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse schools climate deniers in Senate, drops mic

champions sheldon whitehouse

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Sen. James Inhofe (R.-Okla.) are practically like Batman and Joker around here (I'll let you decide who is who depending on whether you have a brain or not). Inhofe continued the epic struggle by blocking a resolution that formally acknowledged the reality of climate change and carbon pollution's role in it. Inhofe says he based his decision on a petition signed by 9,000 American people — though some of the signatures listed belonged to The Spice Girls (not American) and MASH's Maj. Frank Burns (not a person).


As residents leave this Detroit street, it sprouts art

Heather Smith

I stopped by the Heidelberg Project on my last day in Detroit. I had read about it for years -- the travails of the artist Tyree Guyton who, as the houses in his neighborhood began to empty out and fall apart in the '80s, turned them into exuberant, almost hallucinatory works of art. As I interviewed people about the situation in Detroit -- the housing, the water, the transportation -- a particular rumor kept coming up: Someone was trying to burn down the Heidelberg Project. There had been nine fires since last spring, and several of the most famous houses, …

Read more: Cities


Plant Suits

Patagonia makes waves with plant-based wetsuits and obligatory weed jokes


Patagonia, the outdoor clothing outfitter, has figured out what gets surfers’ attention -- and it’s something more blunt than big breaks. Yep, the company plans to bring them in with the promise of weed.

In a new print ad Patagonia declares, “We have the best weed in town (and we’re giving it away)":

Patagonia's ad will show up in print publications this fall. Click to embiggen.
Patagonia's ad will show up in print publications this fall. Click to embiggen.

No, don’t be silly, not that sort of weed! In most states that’s still illegal. What Patagonia's got on offer isn't actually a weed at all: The ad refers to guayule, a desert shrub native to the Southwestern U.S. that's being baked into wetsuits instead of brownies. Priced between $529 and $549, the company's hardly giving the suits away -- but it's decided to make the new biorubber, made by Yulex, available to the rest of the surf industry.

Why? It's not just out to leave you duped. The brand believes that open sourcing a rubber made from greener alternatives will give the surf industry a break from non-biodegradable, resource-intensive neoprene.


Green house

Using Airbnb is greener than staying in hotels


Airbnb recently scored surprise props from Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson, a hotel-industry competitor. And news today about the environmental benefits of staying in shared homes versus hotels might add up to yet another W for the growing vacation-rental juggernaut.

According to a study conducted by Airbnb and Cleantech Group, travelers who stay in Airbnb properties tend to eat up less energy than traditional hotel guests. In a press release, Airbnb chief product officer and cofounder Joe Gebbia says, "In North America alone, Airbnb guests use 63 percent less energy than hotel guests -- that's enough energy to power 19,000 homes for one year." The study also suggests that both Airbnb hosts and guests tend to be greener consumers.

Some other highlights from the study:


Cargill promises to get right with palm oil

palm oil fruit

Back on National Doughnut Day (the holiday we all know and love), I mentioned that there were three major-company holdouts -- Cargill, IOI Loders Croklaan, and Bunge -- that were still buying palm oil from people cutting down rainforests.

Now Cargill has come around, committing to insure that its palm oil supply chain is traceable, transparent, and not causing deforestation.

There's real momentum here -- Cargill is a major player. And it's just the latest to join this parade. In June, I quoted Glenn Hurowitz, chair of the Forest Heroes Campaign:

The vegetable oil industry is in the midst of a revolution away from deforestation. Last December, the Asian agribusiness giant Wilmar International instituted a no deforestation policy, and since then there’s similar commitments coming in from companies every couple of weeks," said Hurowitz.

Of course this doesn't mean that deforestation and agricultural expansion is just vanishing. But if we want to save forests, it's exactly this kind of steady, measured pressure that can actually work. If eaters show that they are serious about the environment, and are willing to pay to protect it, producers and farmers will find it's in their interest to become stewards.

Read more: Food


Under water

The EPA’s struggle to combat water pollution

The San Pedro River, an intermittent stream.
William Herron

For years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been frustrated in its efforts to pursue hundreds of cases of water pollution -- repeatedly tied up in legal fights about exactly what bodies of water it has the authority to monitor and protect. Efforts in Congress to clarify the EPA's powers have been defeated. And two Supreme Court decisions have done little to decide the question.

Most recently, in April, the EPA itself declared what waters were subject to its oversight -- developing a joint rule with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that sought to end the debate and empower the EPA to press hundreds of enforcements actions against alleged polluters across the country.

The new rule, for instance, explicitly defines several terms -- tributary, floodplain, and wetland -- and makes clear that those waters are subject to its authority.

But the EPA's effort has been met with immense opposition from farmers who say the agency is overreaching. An expansive online campaign organized and financed by the American Farm Bureau Federation has asserted that the new rule will give the EPA jurisdiction over farmers' irrigation ditches, watering ponds, and even puddles of rain.

Read more: Politics


Are there two different versions of environmentalism, one “white,” one “black”?


Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers
The mountains and the endless plain --
All, all the stretch of these great green states --
And make America again!
- Langston Hughes, 1938

I really didn’t want to have to address this. While reading through University of Michigan professor Dorceta Taylor’s latest report, “The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations,” and thinking about what I would write about it, I had hoped to focus on the solutions. Those solutions -- confronting unconscious and subconscious bias and other subtle forms of discrimination -- are the parts I had hoped environmentalists would be eager to unpack.

I thought they’d read about the “green ceiling,” where mainstream green NGOs have failed to create a workforce where even two out of 10 of their staffers are people of color, and ask themselves what could they do differently. I thought, naively, that this vast report, complete with reams of data and information on the diversity problem, would actually stir some environmentalists to challenge some of their own assumptions about their black and brown fellow citizens.

I was wrong.