Sarah Laskow

Sarah Laskow is a reporter based in New York City who covers environment, energy, and sustainability issues, among other things.

How do you calculate your plastic footprint?

Companies are on board with reporting their carbon usage, but what about the amount of plastic they produce? It's a different sort of problem than carbon emissions, but although the negative impacts of humanity's plastic habit have been known for years, the amount being used is only increasing. This fall, the Hong Kong-based Ocean Recovery Alliance is moving forward with its Plastic Disclosure Project, which will ask companies to calculate and disclose their "plastic footprints," just as they report their carbon footprints.

Critical List: Shell spills oil in the Arctic; the Northwest Passage opens

A Shell oil platform in the Arctic is leaking oil. The company won't say how much but will say that the spill is under control. The Interior Department is looking into treatment of Arctic scientist Charles Monnett, who is under investigation for his work on polar bears. Why real world fuel efficiency is so much lower than fuel efficiency standards.

Border fence doesn’t stop humans, just endangered species

The 600 or so miles of fence splitting the U.S. from Mexico hasn't stopped immigrants from moving northward, but the fence has kept a few (non-human) endangered species from crossing the border. According to a new study, some species have had their range cut by 75 percent. But the affected species, which include the Arroyo toad, California red-legged frog, black-spotted newt, and Pacific pond turtle, aren't the type that tend to incite widespread indignation on their behalf — that is, they’re reptiles and amphibians, which usually aren’t considered cute enough to worry about.

Critical List: Bachmann goes after Pawlenty on cap-and-trade; a bubble shield for wind turbines

At last night's Republican debate, Michelle Bachmann tried to stake Tim Pawlenty on his support for cap-and-trade. The EPA wised up and banned DuPont from selling Imprelis, the herbicide that was killing trees. San Francisco could require businesses to let bikers bring their ride inside.

Congress doesn't believe global warming is a security threat

Climate change will shift the equation of global power and craziness, and the intelligence community is trying to place for those situations. But Congress isn't interested in that. Mother Jones' Kate Sheppard gives this example: In 2008, [Thomas] Fingar, [former chairman of the National Intelligence Council] now a fellow at Stanford University, took the lead in drafting the first national intelligence assessment on the security challenges presented by climate change. It found that global warming will further destabilize already-volatile parts of the world and should be considered in national security planning. But congressional Republicans dismissed the report as "a waste of resources."

Critical List: Energy panel supports fracking disclosure; Walmart's move to wind power

An Energy Department panel wants to require natural gas companies to disclose what chemicals they're using in hydrofracking projects. Green groups have an idea for how to cut the country's debt: stop subsidies to oil and gas companies. But (of course!) most of the members of the Super Congress are opposed to regulating greenhouse-gas emissions.

Coal-fired power plants close down rather than clean up their emissions

As a result of the EPA's new rules mandating lower toxic emissions, coal-fired power plants are closing their doors. The coal industry is complaining that the new rules are too expensive, will hike electricity rates, and cost jobs. The EPA has these facts on its side, though, according to Business Insider:

Japan’s government allowed evacuations into radiation plume’s path

In the aftermath of Fukushima, Japanese people are registering less trust in their government, and stories like this one are the reason why. The entire community of Namie evacuated out of the area surrounding Fukushima to a safe haven, only to find later that they were still in the path of radiation, and the government had tools that indicated as much. When a large plume of something nasty — chemicals, biological hazards, or radiation — is released into the air, it doesn't stay in one place. It's not always obvious where it will go, though. Winds and air pressure systems shift. Obstacles like tall buildings, forests, and mountains can have an impact. Predicting a plume's path is sort of like predicting the path of a nasty storm, only the consequences of being wrong are a little more dire than a few wet people who didn't bring an umbrella to the office.

Critical List: Shipping industry objects to E.U. emissions scheme; when horses act like squirrels

Like the airline industry, the shipping industry objects to the E.U.'s decisions to include it in a emissions trading system. Will the federal government be spending less on disaster response in the future? Somehow “let ‘em drown” doesn’t seem like the best possible debt reduction plan. Australia's carbon tax, which was so hotly disputed that people were sending climate scientists death threats, would apply to just 400 of the country's top polluters. Hydro turbines are going into the Puget Sound by late summer 2013.