Erica Gies

Erica Gies is a freelance environmental writer who lives in San Francisco, Calif.

Goldman Environmental Prize winners give the rest of us a kick in the pants

It’s like the Oscars for the Patagonia set. Every April, just before Earth Day, San Francisco’s environmental community comes together at the city’s Opera House to laud six grassroots activists from around the globe, whose stories enrage and inspire. The prize offers recipients $150,000 to use as they see fit and international recognition that confers respect on their endeavors, pressures their local governments to act, and even bolsters their personal safety. This year’s ceremony was particularly poignant as it was the first without prize founder Richard Goldman, who died last fall at age 90. Goldman and his wife Rhoda founded …

Clean Energy: It’s Complicated

“American ingenuity” is the key to developing renewable energy resources, said President Obama last week, in his address on energy policy. That is surely true, and here in San Francisco, there are many examples of ingenuity being deployed to good effect. But ingenuity alone is not enough. Our electricity regulatory system is in need of widespread reforms to allow the fruits of ingenuity access to the grid. Fortunately, the Federal Electricity Regulatory Commission is on the move, under the leadership of Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, a lawyer from Nevada with a deep background in renewable energy and ratepayer advocacy. This morning …

Money for Nuthin'?

Offsets remain off-putting to many experts intent on curbing CO2 emissions

The massive climate and energy bill now working its way through Congress would create a multi-billion-dollar market in carbon offsets, giving owners of agricultural and forest land the opportunity to profit as companies seek to offset their carbon emissions. Offset quality — ensuring that an offset represents a genuine reduction in greenhouse gases — has been a lightning rod issue in the voluntary market that emerged in the United States over the past decade. The eventual settling upon multiple standards — while somewhat reasonable — has not helped to ease concerns. Even though some of the standards for evaluating offset …

A win for the farm team

Offsets and Big Ag: Does the climate bill give away too much to the farm sector?

Special Series: What’s the deal with offsets?Photo illustration by Tom Twigg / GristThe compliance market for offsets proposed under the House’s American Clean Energy and Security Act would not just mean more opportunity for companies already in the business of selling carbon offsets. It would also result in a major realignment in the types of offsets offered, shifting away from renewable energy to offsets derived largely from land use, land use change, and forestry projects (otherwise referred to by the clunky acronym LULUCF). That’s because Waxman-Markey, as the House bill is known, excludes all forms of energy production, including renewable …

Cap and Carp

Key to climate bill, offsets have plenty of critics

America’s first major stab at tackling global climate change comes in the form of the American Clean Energy Security Act, a massive piece of legislation that would touch nearly every corner of the U.S. economy. The bill, often referred to as “Waxman-Markey” after its principal sponsors in the House of Representatives, contains provisions for clean energy technology, energy efficiency, green building codes, green jobs, and adaptation measures to help ease people into a new world order. But its most talked about feature is the regulation arm, “cap and trade”: limit pollution to a finite amount, lower the allowable amount each …

So Long, Saturn

I sold my car, and I couldn’t be happier … I think

It’s all yours.iStockI recently committed a subversive act: I sold my car, and I’m not buying a new one. I’d thought that I’d feel virtuous and free — and I do — but it’s turned out to be a bit more complicated than that. Never too attached to my particular car, I considered it transportation, not a reflection of who I am. My job as an environmental reporter has taught me about the hazards of car ownership, from pollution and materials waste to sprawling, disconnected communities to oil politics — even obesity. Yet in spite of living for 14 years …

A journey on China’s controversial new train to Tibet

Each night, the Qinghai-Tibet train leaves Beijing at 9:30. A mere 48 hours later, it rolls into Lhasa, 2,525 miles away. Waiting to depart from Beijing. Photos: Erica Gies Shortly after 9 p.m. one warm night last fall, my travel companion and I raced through the sprawling West Beijing train station, weaving our way through a crush of humanity sitting on newspapers and bits of cardboard, eating cups of noodles while waiting for their own journeys. Winded, we boarded our soft sleeper car on Train 27 and made our way to our compartment — only to find it overflowing with …

A guide to offsetting your carbon emissions

Taking a vacation to the other side of the planet is the ultimate luxury, but it’s one laced with guilt. On top of developed-country remorse, a new form of shame is beginning to stalk those of us taking “unnecessary” airplane rides: What about all that carbon dioxide spewing into the friendly but beleaguered skies? That’s where the nascent carbon-offset market comes in, allowing individuals and companies to compensate for their emissions by investing in projects that reduce carbon in the atmosphere. Whether you’re flying across the world … Photos: iStockphoto When I returned from a trip to India last January, …

What the West’s only communist nation has done right

Reports that Fidel Castro turned over power to his brother Raul last week because of surgery for intestinal bleeding have brought a flashback to the Cold War, with reporters rushing to doodle prematurely on his grave and interview the vociferous hard-right Miami expat constituency that has helped dictate U.S.-Cuba policy for the last 47 years. But they’re missing a vital part of the story. In Cuba, buying local is the only choice. Photos: Erica Gies Tired of my government’s hyperbole on the subject, I visited Cuba not long ago. I wanted to see it for myself and draw my own …

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