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Jonathan Hiskes' Posts

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A brief (stylish, animated) history of fossil fuels [VIDEO]

The Post Carbon Institute has a snazzy new video that provides "A Brief History of Fossil Fuels." It fulfills the title's promise, giving a solid overview of our energy history and current predicament in under six minutes. (If you yourself are beyond Energy 101, this would be a good one to pass along to family and friends.) It's done in that trendy style of fluid hand drawings on a white board. (What makes that so appealing? The desire to see a literal human touch on the digital screen?) The conclusion: "Our best goal is resilience: The ability to absorb shocks …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Veterans Day, the new Earth Day?

Photo: U.S. ArmySierra Club chairman Carl Pope* wonders, "Is Veterans Day the new Earth Day?": Did that question get your attention? Thought it might. My answer is "not yet, but maybe soon." One of the realities of American society is that big social change often reaches the tipping point only when it becomes embodied in the military. The idea that farm boys could go to college had been around for a while, but it never really became mainstream until the GI Bill. Color-blind treatment of minorities in our society is still a hugely unfinished national challenge, but the military was …

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Ruin porn, exurban sprawl edition

A while back, Sarah noted the proliferation of Detroit "ruin porn" -- images and films that depict abandoned houses, crumbling factories, and desperately unemployed masses without showing that intelligent life does, in fact, remain in the city. There's something of a parallel trend for sprawl: illustrations of the overbuilt, over-mortgaged empty subdivisions littering exurban America. The implied message is quite often that these places were built carelessly and are unaffordable, unsustainable, damn near unlovable. New York artist Christoph Gielen's aerial photos of subdivisions seem to fit the genre, with the repetitive geometric shapes they find in suburbia. The German-born photographer …

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Christie finds the Right’s kingmakers demand orthodoxy on climate change

Photo: Chuck WalkerIn most of the democratic world, it's possible to be a conservative leader who doesn't completely dismiss climate science. In fact, it's common. The dismissive position of the American Right's elite is unique. This was embarrassingly clear at the recent International Security Forum, where European military leaders urged Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to take seriously the threat of famine, war, and instability driven by global warming. Graham's pathetic reply? He said a forceful national climate bill "just doesn't play with the public anymore." New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie brings the latest evidence that there's …

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Home Energy Score could be a much-needed MPG for houses

Miles-per-gallon ratings provide a quick way to evaluate a vehicle's performance. Walk Score provides a quick way to evaluate a neighborhood's performance. Neither standard is perfect, but both are useful for helping people get their heads around the concepts of fuel efficiency and walkability. Now we've got a comparable tool for sizing up a home's energy performance, the Home Energy Score released today by the Department of Energy (DOE). The score gives a simple 1-10 rating of a dwelling's energy performance and then -- this is the exciting part! -- a higher score owners might achieve if they take recommended …

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Webcast: What is livability anyway?

Photo: because.philips.com"Livability" is the buzzword favored by those seeking a standard of success for communities that's broader than "green," or "prosperous." It's a more holistic term that includes environmental, health, economic, educational, and social successes. How's that for a vague and boring definition? I'm not the only one who struggles for a way to describe livability that isn't lame. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood tried to define it this way: Communities where people have access to many different forms of transportation and affordable housing and the ability to really have access to all of the things that are important to them, …

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The post-election outlook for regional cap-and-trade

When the national climate bill crashed this summer in a flaming streak of senatorial ineptitude, climate hawks could take a little comfort in the progress that continued on the state level. Ten northeastern states have been running an active cap-and-trade program for power plants that has produced modest greenhouse-gas cuts and raised $729 million for clean-energy programs. Two clusters of states in the West and Midwest have been inching toward their own regional cap-and-trade plans. But then the election happened, bringing in a host of new governors and switching control of state legislatures, mostly from Democratic to Republican. What does …

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The cost of smart-growth support for green groups

Under the slightly overblown headline "Smart-Growth Policy Splits Environmentalists," The New York Times gets at the challenge green groups face when they support walkable urban development. The Sierra Club backed a (successful) Berkeley ballot measure for a downtown development plan centered around transit stops. Here's a local chapter chairman: "It's controversial in the club," Mr. Lewandowski said. "We've got longtime club members who see efforts to promote density as colluding with developers. That's not true; we haven't gotten paid a dime. Others are against living in an urban environment." Mr. Lewandowski said that one member, who is upset about the …

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Big exciting news about building codes. No, really

Since nothing much happened this week, I thought I'd write about something really exciting: building codes! Building officials from around the U.S. voted to beef up the energy efficiency standard in the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code by a tidy 30 percent for new homes. It's kind of a big deal. "Most new buildings are built to the code -- no better and no worse," Cliff Majersik of the Institute for Market Transformation, an efficiency policy group, said in a news release. "These changes to the model energy code will slash pollution from power plants and furnaces while saving Americans …

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Fix public housing by reconnecting it to the street grid

Rather than freaking out over poll returns Tuesday evening, I figured I'd go learn something (and then freak out later). So I joined a walking tour of Yesler Terrace, a Seattle public housing project that's slated for an interesting redevelopment. It's a useful counter-example to UniverCity, the pretty urbanism-in-suburbia neighborhood outside of Vancouver that's pretty much unaffordable for anyone who can't make $1,200 rent. Photo: Seattle Housing AuthorityYesler Terrace, by contrast, has rents from around $300, sits in the heart of a city, and hopes to rehab an existing neighborhood -- a far more common task than building whole developments …

Read more: Cities