By J. Matthew Roney In China, wind power is leaving nuclear behind. Electricity output from China’s wind farms exceeded that from its nuclear plants for the first time in 2012, by a narrow margin. Then in 2013, wind pulled away—outdoing nuclear by 22 percent. The 135 terawatt-hours of Chinese wind-generated electricity in 2013 would be nearly enough to power New York State. Once China’s Renewable Energy Law established the development framework for renewables in 2005, the stage was set for wind’s exponential growth. Wind generating capacity more than doubled each year from 2006 to 2009 and has since increased by …
I’m glad to see that 12 Years a Slave won a few well-deserved Oscars Sunday night, including best picture and best adapted screenplay. Those who’ve been following me know that I used this film as one of the starting points for my blog, and as a lens for examining the intersection between environmentalism and social justice. I’ve been curious if there were others who saw in the movie the same crimes against nature I saw, along with the crimes against black people.
The film includes scenes of enslaved Africans hacking away at dense fields of sugarcane stalks, and chopping away trees in the plush forests of Louisiana, all at whip- and gunpoint, and all in efforts to expand the plantation state. This, to me, made it clear that director Steve McQueen was trying to show not only how slavery exploited and devastated African Americans, but also how it did the same to the American environment. He said as much when describing his cinematic vision: “The story is about the environment, and how individuals have to make sense of it, how we locate the self in events.”
McQueen drew his inspiration from the book on which the film was based: The memoir of Solomon Northup, an African American born free but sold into slavery. And as it turns out, there were many people during Northup’s time who were making the same observations about how slavery was wrecking the nation racially, physically, and biologically. Among them was Henry David Thoreau, the 19th-century naturalist and political philosopher.
Sightline's Clark Williams-Derry has a terrific post on the astounding decline in traffic on the Alaskan Way Viaduct since Seattle's Big Dig II began. Trip volumes are down 40% in just 3 years! Clark analyzes the remarkable trend and concludes: At this point, nobody knows if [tunnel-boring machine] Bertha will ever get moving again, let alone complete her job. But given these figures, maybe it doesn’t matter. Seattle has seamlessly adapted to losing the first 48,000 trips on the Viaduct. No one even noticed. No one even noticed that 40 percent of the Viaduct’s traffic just disappeared! Could accommodating the loss of another …
Bruce Dickinson -- yes, the Bruce Dickinson -- plans to pilot a hybrid airship called The Airlander across the world. At 302 feet, it's the longest aircraft in the world, and it's 70 percent greener than a cargo plane. It lands on water, ice, or any reasonably flat surface. It can fly for days without refueling, promising more efficiency and carbon savings for freight and shipping industries while also being a boon to disaster recovery efforts.
Wait. Stop. What do you mean "who's Bruce Dickinson?"
Despite the pugnacious storms that had California on the ropes this past weekend, the state is still in the middle of a record-making drought. The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains is well under half its usual level for this time of year, and there’s almost certainly no way to catch up this late in the season. Enter the ongoing construction of 17 desalination plants across the state. A $1 billion plant being built in Carlsbad, Calif., expected to be ready by 2016, will pump 50 million gallons of drinkable water out of the ocean daily -- making it the …
Tiny houses have seemingly taken over the landscape of aspirational real estate, and not just for the green-minded. When it comes to choosing a compact cottage of one’s own, tiny house fetishists need only adopt the guiding principle of sage philosopher Ludacris: What’s your fantasy?
Ranging from impossibly twee to space-age minimalist, with rustic cabins in snow-covered woods lying somewhere in between, there’s seemingly no limit of miniature dwellings to fill the Pinterests of a growing audience. The prolific Tiny House Swoon website, for example, offers pages upon pages of shelter porn for those who dream of downsizing: a fairy-tale treehouse in Germany; a stark West Virginia cabin built entirely of recycled materials; and a transparent cube unit in Switzerland that may as well have been abandoned by an extremely adorable Martian.
What's the appeal of a home the size of a toolshed? You can’t scroll through a page of design sites such as Inhabitat and Dwell without hitting at least one. Graham Hill, founder of TreeHugger, launched LifeEdited, an online publication about downsized living inspired by his own 420 square-foot apartment, in 2010. Outside of niche publications, tiny houses been featured in The New York Times, The Independent, and even Fox News-- and that’s just in the past two months. Is all this hype a real push toward more sustainable lifestyles, or is it just a manifestation of widespread preoccupation with cuteness?
Recently a group of researchers, many from the International Institute for Applied Systems in Austria, concluded that we probably shouldn’t be raising the price of meat to discourage people from eating it. Instead, we should be raising animals in more efficient ways so as to make meat available to the poor without pumping out as much greenhouse gas.
On the face of it, this seems to be saying that feedlots are environmentally correct. I have no doubt that some will wield this study as a bludgeon against anyone arguing for grass-fed beef. (“If you don’t like CAFOs, you want the Earth to cook and the poor to starve!”) Before that starts, let’s look at what this analysis actually shows.
Earlier today, we posted a brief item in Grist List about a new study reporting that the herbicide glyphosate has come to permeate air and rainfall in the Mississippi Delta.
That study is alarming in itself, assuming you don't relish having a weed-killer atmosphere. Glyphosate, a.k.a. Roundup, has become a massively used chemical in Big Ag farming, in good part because it's the cornerstone of Monsanto's GMO business. The company's "Roundup ready" crops are designed to take a glyphosate dousing and keep on growing. That works fine for a while -- until glyphosate-resistant weeds start sprouting, at least; but it can also lock farmers into a cycle of dependence, which is why the whole program has been dubbed "agricultural heroin" by some.
Unfortunately, in seeking to explain why we might not welcome our new glyphosate overlords, we went looking for information about glyphosate's toxicity and health risks, and we fell for a bit of junk science that we should have steered clear of. We linked to a paper -- "Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases" -- that has been widely debunked, for instance here. (As that post points out, any paper that uses a phrase like "exogenous semiotic entropy" ought to set off alarm bells.) We should have known better -- particularly since we've recently run some in-depth coverage of glyphosate as part of our Panic-Free GMO series.
We're sorry. The post was up for only a few hours before we corrected it and removed it from our homepage and other listings. We're not taking it down completely; rather than "disappear" the evidence of our goof, we're laying it all out for you. Because that's, you know, the right thing to do.
On Monday morning, the EPA announced the adoption of new rules that will require oil refiners to reduce the amount of sulfur in gasoline.
As The New York Timesexplains, “When burned in gasoline, sulfur blocks pollution-control equipment in vehicle engines, which increases tailpipe emissions linked to lung disease, asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, aggravated heart disease and premature births and deaths. Proponents of the rule say it will be President Obama’s most significant public health achievement in his second term, but opponents, chiefly oil refiners, say it is unnecessarily costly and an unfair burden on them.”
If oil refiners say it's costly and unfair, that's a good sign. If they were not complaining, it would probably mean the rules were too weak. Transferring the public health cost of pollution to the companies that produce it is exactly what EPA rules should do.
Last week, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), head of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, announced that she had some “dramatic new information” to share. The information: Heavy crude from tar sands isn’t just going to bring us back to the hot mess of the Cretaceous, it’s also going to make us sick. Or some of us, anyway.
The information is dramatic, though not new. Every time you’re around crude, heavy or light, it’s not great for you. Anyone who uses the EPA’s website to search for pollution near their zip code is going to find a lot of old gas stations and auto body shops. The health risks Boxer highlighted — asthma, respiratory ailments, increased risks of heart disease and cancer — are ones that community activists near oil refineries, power plants, and drilling operations have been warning about for years. But extraction of heavy crude releases more emissions than extraction of light. And when a pipeline carrying heavy crude ruptures, the resulting spill is much more difficult to clean up, meaning that -- so far, at least -- more of it stays in the ecosystem it spills in, up to and including the people in that ecosystem. So Boxer is not so much making a new argument as reformulating an old one and, in the process, giving anti-Keystone activists another line of attack: human health.