Umbra asks: Where has Grist gone?

Dearest Gristmillers, Umbra Fisk here, writing to inquire whether you've seen any of my Grist colleagues. I spent the last few weeks in my usual spot in the basement, working on a series of columns about eco-friendly foodstuffs, pausing only for the occasional bite of locally grown fiddlehead fern. Finished at last, I rushed up the five flights of stairs to turn in the copy. But the place was nearly empty. The people, the computers, the desk, the 2005 and 2006 Best Magazine Webby awards -- all gone. Unaccountably, all that was left was a brand new unicycle. I know it's been tough up there lately: bad news about melting icecaps, Grizzly-Polar-Care Bear hybrids, etc. Also, it's very, very crowded (why do you think I fled to the basement?). Still, I'm not quite sure where they'd go. Let me know if you see them. You'll recognize them by the kenaf notebooks, furrowed brows, and quick wordplay. Also, one of them is carrying a suitcase stuffed with cash -- though apparently not nearly enough. The fundraising guy, Michael, muttered something a few days ago about needing $60,000, having only half of it, and desperate times/measures. I was on deadline, and wasn't paying close attention. Now I wonder. In addition to keeping your eyes open, maybe you could also open your wallet, and relieve some of Grist's financial strain. Send 50 bucks by 11:59 p.m. PDT tomorrow, June 23, and I tell you what: I'll put you in a drawing for this nifty Kris Holm Unicycle. I'm finding it too challenging to both pedal and fork fiddlehead at the same time, so this one-wheeler can be yours. Unbalanced,Umbra P.S. The one nice thing about working in the basement is easy access to the storage closet. And do you know what's in there? A beautiful Calfee Design bike made of gleaming, sustainable bamboo. Send us $100 and I'll put you in a drawing for it. Or send $50, and I'll give you a chance at one of these 24 pairs of Miōn shoes. They're waterproof -- handy as sea levels surge! P.P.S. There is more than one way to give, so pick your pleasure: check, PayPal or credit card.

Gore links

Via an endorsement of Al Gore for president by The New Republic's head honcho Martin Peretz, I found a piece that Gore wrote for TNR way back in 1989 (PDF). Give it a read. It's remarkable for its erudition and foresight. While you read, try to imagine President Bush saying the words. Then weep quietly. An Inconvenient Truth won the Humanitas prize for helping to "liberate, enrich and unify society." It's the first Special Prize given by the organization in ten years. Here's Gore on Keith Olberman's Countdown. Here's Gore on Charlie Rose. In a poll of Daily Kos readers, Al Gore gets the presidential endorsement by a wide margin.


Lou Bendrick -- who occasionally writes for us -- is funny. And she's got a funny piece up on Orion. It's about moms and environmentalism and how easy it is to screen it all out. Let me cultivate my personal female mystique by disclosing that I am the environmental media and I also loathe the environmental media. Just say "photovoltaic" and my eyes start to get heavy; start in about polar bears drowning and I have to go the happy place in my head that involves ponies, chocolate, and George Clooney. Add to this the typical dose of future pessimism found in most environmental reportage (we'll soon be digging for grubs with a stone spear, you just wait and see!) and blame (that un-recycled peanut butter jar just killed a polar bear cub, damn you!), and you'll discover that I'm headed to the grocery store to see who made the worst-dressed list at the Oscars. It's a sentiment that might annoy some hardcore Gristies, but it's obviously pretty widely shared. (She goes on to say nice things about us, so naturally I find the article brilliant.)

File under: WTF

Did you know you can now get organic food on

Investors see green in buildings

Contrary to popular belief, most developers don't bulldoze Bambi solely to satisfy their innate avarice. Instead, they pave the Earth at the bidding of their clients -- by which I mean lenders and investors, not homebuyers, office tenants, or other such "end users." Regardless of how exciting and cool a development proposal is, it just won't happen if some faceless banker doesn't advance a big pile of cash. As rapacious national banks swallow smaller, local competitors by the dozen, these lending decisions have increasingly fallen to bankers blindly applying generic guidelines. The result: a paint-by-numbers landscape of interchangeable (but financially safe) subdivisions, strip malls, and office parks. Any developer who dared to innovate would have to do so on his own dime -- and sure enough, many pioneering examples of New Urbanism have been backed by "nontraditional" investors like old-money families, large corporations (like Microsoft, Disney, EDS, and Ebsco), and even charitable foundations. Despite growing interest in socially responsible investing, few investors have thought of how to clean up the picture in the building industry -- source of, say some, half of America's greenhouse gas emissions.

NY Times headlines Chicago as “green business”

This Sunday, The New York Times ran a package of Business articles focused on "The Business of Green." (If previous packages are any indication, the links will remain active longer than the standard week.) Hearteningly for this Second City resident, Keith Schneider's banner headline -- To Revitalize a City, Try Spreading Some Mulch -- spotlights Mayor Richard M. Daley's efforts to improve the city's quality of life through greening initiatives. While many local wags have ridiculed the Daley as a mere gardener, the article calls new street trees and spiffy parks an "economic development strategy" central to the city's general economic resurgence:

Show me the monkey

An AP article titled "Leaders Want Biodiversity Pay Off" tells us about a five-day conference put together by Conservation International where more than 400 delegates will kick around ideas for using their rich biodiversity to boost local economies. Until the advent of carbon trading, the only real option for doing that was ecotourism. The two ideas can now be combined and may one day prove to be a powerful combination. Forest that is locked away in a legally binding contract to soak up carbon for a century or so may as well be used as an ecotourism destination. Good things are happening. The president of Madagascar intends to add 23,000 square miles of protected territory by 2008. Equatorial Guinea announced plans to create 1.2 million acres of new national forest along with a $15 million conservation trust fund to manage it. Jumping on the bandwagon, the president of Liberia announced that she is going to create a $30 million conservation trust fund to finance the creation and maintenance of new protected areas as well. [update]Following is the text of an e-mail I just received. Here you go, Alphonse and good luck: I was delighted to see your post on Grist Mill titled "Show Me The Monkey" about the Conservation International Global Symposium titled Defying Nature's End: The African Context. I am currently at that event which looks likely to produce a substantive "compact" on how to tie conservation to economic and human development. We are posting news from the conference hourly on the symposium's website and are providing information for the public on our own home page It would be wonderful if you could add these links to your article Thanks Alphonse Alphonse L. MacDonald Senior Director Online Communications Conservation International

The shipping news

How do we reduce long-distance shipping?

Random factoid from a recent New Yorker article (not online, unfortunately) on, among other topics, the international shipping business: For a pair of shoes made in China and sold in this country for fifty dollars, only about seventy-five cents of the retail cost derives from transportation. And the main costs in international shipping come from friction in the pipeline, particularly at the points of ship loading and unloading. [Emphasis added.] Wow: shipping shoes all the way across the Pacific accounts for well under 2 percent of their retail price. And most of the transportation costs cover things other than fuel: labor, capital, financing, etc. So for finished goods shipped over long distances, the fuel costs of transportation are probably not much more than a rounding error.

Gas and Wal-Mart

The big-box plot thickens

Was watching TV last night, and half paying attention during the commercials, when I heard something like this: "High gas prices got you down? Do all your shopping in one place: Wal-Mart." Oh, Wal-Mart. What to make of your ongoing evolution? Way back when, you were an in-town store. Then you became the hated icon of big-box suburbia, and a huge contributor to people driving more as part of their daily routines. Now you're twisting the driving thing to make it seem like a benefit -- but at the same time, you're sending a subtle message to conserve! Which can't be a coincidence, considering the shift to selling organics and such! Is it time to return to your roots, open a few downtown locations, experiment with the notion of community again? Stranger things have happened.