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Susie Cagle's Posts


From red to black: How Philly remade its transit system

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority has come a long way, baby. Back in the '90s, it was mired in $75 million in debt and under investigation by the FBI. Now it's being honored [PDF] as one of the top transit agencies in the nation.


The Philadelphia Daily News has the story of how SEPTA was turned around over the last two decades, in large part thanks to board chair Pat Deon. After years of operating in the red, Philly's transit systems added revenue-generating advertisements, balanced its budget, and drove right into the black.

SEPTA's chief financial officer, Richard Burnfield, said the Deon-era board's commitment to running SEPTA like a business with balanced budgets has attracted hundreds of millions of dollars in government funding that riders enjoy through new Silverliner V regional-rail cars ($330 million), 440 new hybrid buses ($232 million) and beautifully rebuilt subway stations such as Spring Garden and Girard ($30 million).

There were also some notable cultural shifts at the agency.

A big accomplishment during Deon's tenure has been the cessation of hostilities between the 15-member board's 13 suburban members and two city members.

Read more: Cities


Global food giants get bad grades on environment and ethics


They may have located our ideal bliss points, but multinational food companies are far from hitting the mark when it comes to treating workers and the environment decently.

A new "Behind the Brands" report from Oxfam rates "10 of the world's most powerful food and beverage companies" on their ethics: Coca-Cola, Mars, Nestle, Kellogg's, General Mills, Associated British Foods, PepsiCo, Unilever, Danone, and Mondelez International (previously known as Kraft). Surprise: They didn't do very well. The highest grade was a 38 out of 70.

From the report:


Climate change could kill big U.S. reservoirs

Western states fighting for each other's water may be missing the big picture. As climate change continues, many regions of the U.S. will get hotter and drier, so much so that some of the nation's most important reservoirs could dry up, according to a new study by researchers at Colorado State University, Princeton, and the U.S. Forest Service. From the study:

Although precipitation is projected to increase in much of the United States with future climate change, in most locations that additional precipitation will merely accommodate rising evapotranspiration demand in response to temperature increases. Where the effect of rising evapotranspiration exceeds the effect of increasing precipitation, and where precipitation actually declines, as is likely in parts of the Southwest, water yields are projected to decline. For the United States as a whole, the declines are substantial, exceeding 30% of current levels by 2080 for some scenarios examined.

The study includes a number of maps showing how water might dry up under different scenarios. Here are ones showing projected changes in water yields in 2020, 2040, 2060, and 2080 under a somewhat middle-of-the-road scenario:


More dramatic scenarios see reservoirs such as Lake Mead and Lake Powell drying up completely.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Can Yahoo be more ‘efficient’ with more workers driving to the office?

Marissa Mayer
Adam Tinworth
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer puts the kibosh on telecommuting.

In a decision that sent the internet into a tizzy today, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer has decided that employees will no longer be allowed to telecommute to work. USA Today reports:

Yahoo's decision is meant to foster collaboration, according to a company memo sent to employees Friday.

Yahoo's head of human resources, Jackie Reses, wrote that communication and collaboration will be important as the company works to be "more productive, efficient and fun." To make that happen, she said, "it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people and impromptu team meetings."

According to Census figures from 2010, about 9.5 percent of the U.S. workforce telecommutes at least one day a week. That's actually not very much, considering telecommuting can be more productive for some workers, not to mention more comfortable. Millions of Americans working from home or local co-working spaces each day save millions of tons in emissions each year, and potentially cut down on traffic deaths.


Notoriously polluting Carnival Cruise Lines faces legal troubles

Sometimes when you float massive (and massively polluting) multimillion-dollar resort hotels on the high seas, you run into problems. As it happens, Carnival Cruise Lines has bumped up against a couple of big problems recently, ones that have migrated from the oceans to the courts.

Roberto Vongher

Passengers stranded on the Carnival cruise ship that was stuck in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this month have filed a lawsuit seeking damages for "mental and emotional anguish" sustained on their ill-fated trip. (Next time, might I humbly recommend a staycation?)


Organic tomatoes are healthier for you, researchers find

They may be smaller but they're also mightier. Organic tomatoes pack in more cancer-fighting phenols and vitamin C than conventionally grown tomatoes, according to research published in the journal PLOS ONE. But the organic tomatoes do tend to be about 40 percent tinier, so make sure your next tomato fight features the conventional kind.


From Mother Jones:

Read more: Food


Southern section of Keystone XL pipeline is already halfway done

President Obama and the State Department haven't approved the northern leg of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that would cart tar-sands oil down from Canada, but the southern leg, which Obama blessed last year, is trucking right along. TransCanada says construction on the southern section, from Oklahoma to the Texas Gulf Coast, is about halfway complete.


From the Associated Press:

Nearly 4,000 workers in Oklahoma and Texas are aligning and welding a 485-mile section, TransCanada spokesman David Dodson told The Associated Press.

“We’re right at peak right now,” he said. “We hope to have it in operation by the end of this year.”

Where there's oil there's money, and where there's money there are job creators, right? At least so says TransCanada -- and in the short term, that's not wrong.


For Open Data Day, green hacks and snacks

Image (1) earth_computer_connected_green.jpg for post 39445Civic-minded hacktivists, you best brush off those keyboards and pick out a cute outfit, because tomorrow is International Open Data Day.

Cities around the world will be hosting hackathons to turn government data dumps into useful interactive applications for citizen engagement. Check the map for info on a 'thon near you.

For this special holiday occasion, San Francisco's Climate Corporation is hosting EcoHack. "EcoHack is about using technology to improve and better understand our natural environment," say the event's organizers. "Based on the hacking model of quick, clever solutions to problems, EcoHack is an opportunity to make a difference while having fun!" Woo, nerds!


Permafrost is even less perma than we thought

Hey, so, about that layer of long-frozen soil covering almost a quarter of the Northern Hemisphere's land surface? You know, the stuff that's started melting and freaking out climate scientists but often isn't calculated into global warming metrics?

Near Alaska, a chunk of permafrost breaks off into the Arctic Ocean
U.N./Christopher Arp
Near Alaska, a chunk of permafrost breaks off into the Arctic Ocean.

Yeah, so, uh, according to a new study published this week in the journal Science, that may be melting way faster than we thought. From Climate Central:

If global average temperature were to rise another 2.5°F (1.5°C), say earth scientist Anton Vaks of Oxford University, and an international team of collaborators, permafrost across much of northern Canada and Siberia could start to weaken and decay. And since climate scientists project at least that much warming by the middle of the 21st century, global warming could begin to accelerate as a result, in what’s known as a feedback mechanism. ...

Read more: Climate & Energy


USDA says crops will do better but food prices will do worse

Maybe not growing crops, but growing in value regardless.It's more cold comfort for drought-stricken farmers this week, and I don't mean the snow.

USDA chief economist Joe Glauber was all sunshine this Thursday in announcing that normal spring weather is expected to improve corn and soybean yields by huge percentages over last year's tiny drought-stricken crops. Bigger yields mean tinier prices -- Glauber said corn would be down about a third from last year, soy would drop more than a quarter, and wheat would be down about 11 percent.

From the South Dakota Argus Leader:

The recovery should send prices for most oilseeds and grains sharply lower, providing a much-needed reprieve for livestock, dairy and poultry producers struggling with high feed costs, and relief down the road for consumers who have paid more for food at their local grocery store. ...

“The critical factor that people will be following is weather,” Glauber said at the department’s annual outlook forum. “While the outlook for 2013 remains bright, there are many uncertainties.”

Way to bury the lede, Glauber. No matter how many times Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says "American agriculture is quite resilient," there still remains the fact that American agriculture is also in crisis, and forecasters are expecting more hot and dry weather this year.

Read more: Food