Skip to content Skip to site navigation

The Basics

We've got some explaining to do
Smart explanations on a variety of green topics from biking basics to sea-level rise.


Hurricane enable: How climate change is mixing up bigger, badder storms


Global warming and hurricanes are like Bourbon Street and Hurricanes: The farther down the road you go, the more intense they get.


Buy your Hurricanes at the Hard Rock Café, and you can probably make it through a third before you’ve dimmed enough to believe the Republican talking points on climate change. But by the time you get to The Marigny, they’re making those things with three kinds of rum, a half-gallon of rocket fuel, and the soul of an angry leprechaun.

Most climate models predict the same thing with storms: The more we stray from the climate norm, the stronger the hurricanes become. Which makes a lot of sense when you look at how these tempests work.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Biking basics for folks who’ve always wanted to ride, but didn’t dare [VIDEO]

The BasicsYou say you want to get around the city without spending the $9,000 to maintain and operate a car each year, and maybe get some exercise while you're at it? You don’t have that kind of cash. And you know, the planet. But those bike lanes can look pretty intimidating, with all the mustachioed hipsters on their superbad fixies, the spandex-clad adrenaline junkies, and the cars whizzing by.

What you need is a video that squeezes basic bicycle skills into four action-packed minutes, replete with a sick sound track and just maybe a crazy stunt or two.

Well, you’re in luck:


Island in the sun: Why are our cities heating up faster than everywhere else?

Urban heat

There are hot islands, there are really hot islands, and then there are urban heat islands [PDF] -- cities that are hotter, often considerably, than their more rural surrounds. Sound a little strange? Well, you can tell your foil hat-wearing, climate-denying friends it’s nothing new, having been documented as far back as 1810. Simply put, cutting down all the trees, paving over every inch of earth, burying streams in storm drains, and building enormous structures warms things up a bit.

Hot and Bothered - small x  200
Susie Cagle

Some may like it hot, but the good folks of Louisville, Ky., will tell you that it’s not always a good thing. Cursed with often stagnant wind conditions, a dense urban center, and fewer trees than Paul Bunyan’s backyard, Louisville has seen temperatures rise 1.67 degrees F every decade since 1961. If the pattern holds, by the year 2112, we’ll be able to cook lentils in the average tumbler of bourbon.

And what’s worse than one urban heat island? (You’re going to kick yourself when you see the answer.) Two urban heat islands!

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy



Surf’s way, way up: Sea-level rise, explained


Close your eyes and imagine yourself at your favorite beach. Swells rise around your tanned hips. A bottle of beer and a joint are held safe and dry above your head. You’re sporting a revealing little bathing suit over a younger version of your hot self, airbrushed to perfection using the power of imagination. And there are no cops around to spoil the fun.

Now imagine what that beach would look like if the water was 15 feet higher. Your beer and your ganja are now full of saltwater, and you’re struggling just to keep your head above the waves. Unless your favorite beach is at the bottom of a cliff, nearby buildings are under water, taken over by invasive communities of pineapple-dwelling, square pants-wearing sponges.

That’s not some outrageous scenario dreamed up by liberal scientists with global warming agendas. (The sponge bit was admittedly outrageous, but you can blame me, not the scientists, for it.) No, it’s where sea levels were 120,000 years ago: 15 feet higher than they are today.

Fast forward to 20,000 years ago, when the world was nearing the end of an ice age. Vast stretches of today’s oceans were ice cubes, and as a result, sea levels were 400 feet lower than they are today. What now are tropical near-shore islands back then were frigid hills.

The seas rose again between 20,000 and 6,000 years ago. Then they started rising again early in the 19th century. (Whatever else was happening during the early 19th century, hmmm? A little polluting something called the Industrial Revolution, perhaps?) The seas have been rising ever since, and as a result, land is losing territory to the seas, which are eight inches higher now than they were in 1870.

Scientists can’t be sure how quickly or how badly the world is going to flood, but they have published a variety of estimates based on the amount of pollution we pump into the atmosphere in the coming years. All the scenarios are pretty apocalyptic, though we've factored out the possibility if sudden ice cap collapse, which would create an even more dramatic deluge. So what the hell: Have a little fun on the way down and choose your own adventure!

Read more: Climate & Energy


How to make gasoline from tar sands, in six simple steps

fotohunter / Shutterstock

Ever wonder about the future of energy? Will it be wind? Solar? Geothermal? No wait, I got it, tar sands! (Let’s try that again -- tar sands!) They've got everything oil does, but they’re harder to get, crappier when you get them, and leave a much bigger mark on the climate. Sounds like a winner. Let's look a little closer, shall we?

First off, what are tar sands? Tar sands are deposits of about 90 percent sand or sandstone, water, and clay mixed with only about 10 percent high-sulfur bitumen, a viscous black petroleum sludge rich in hydrocarbons, also known as “natural asphalt.”

The Athabasca reserves, in Alberta, Canada, estimated to hold about 170 billion barrels, are the site of the only commercial tar-sands operation in the world. (Though, spoiler alert, that’s about to change.) It’s one of the largest industrial programs on the planet and could eventually cover an area larger than the state of Florida -- and it’s sprouting an enormous oily ganglion known as the Keystone XL pipeline, which, if completed, would pump 1.1 million barrels of bitumen sludge a day, crisscrossing much of the continent’s freshwater supply, all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Sound like a complicated way to create oil, gasoline, and diesel? Naw. Ain’t no thing. Just follow these simple instructions:

Read more: Climate & Energy


The sharing economy, from soup to nuts


You learned it in preschool, and now it’s back in a more grown-up way. From cars to kids’ clothes to cold hard cash, sharing is caring more than ever before. The sharing economy builds and leverages social bonds, creates a more democratic marketplace, reduces the sheer amount of stuff we need to buy, and creates more resilient communities in the process. It’s the bastard child of market disruption that began on the web decades ago (Napster, anyone?), but it's a child with a conscience.


The kind of "collaborative consumption" we see in services like Zipcar and Airbnb has the potential to revolutionize the way we live our lives. But it's not all bartered canning equipment and blissful couchsurfing, folks -- the sharing economy is a serious moneymaker for individuals and companies who “share” their stuff for a price. Investors, who prefer the wonktastic phrase "underused asset utilization" to "sharing economy," say the market amounts to $100 billion to $500 billion worldwide, and it’s growing fast.

Here’s a breakdown of the various sharing philosophies, a few of the reasons that sharing is blowing up right now, and some ways that you can get in on the action. Just drag your pointer over the pictures for more info.



Geoengineering: A mad scientist’s guide to fixing the planet

Illustration by Val B. Mina
Val B. Mina

Every morning, I wake up and dump three cups of Quaker brand instant oatmeal into my fish tank. It’s a lifestyle I’m comfortable with, but it turns out oatmeal does terrible things to water clarity and African cichlids positively hate it.

Now a sane person might decide, “You know, maybe I should stop dumping all this oatmeal into my fish tank.” But I am not a sane person. I am a geoengineer, and I can think of far better solutions.

So I’ve built a pump and a series of injectors to fire delicious cinnamon into my fish tank in the hopes that it will bond with the oatmeal molecules and make the whole concoction more appealing to ferrets. I’ve also purchased a skindiving ferret who I’ll introduce to the aquarium ecosystem. I’ve run the numbers on my Commodore VIC 20, and the models all point to a healthy, happy, largely oatmeal-free fish tank in under a fortnight!

I’ve solved everything. Geoengineering, HUZZAH!!!

Geoengineering, for the uninitiated, is “the deliberate large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment to counteract anthropogenic climate change.” (This, directly from the Royal Society). Thus far, it breaks down into two main categories, solar radiation management and carbon dioxide removal. It’s all highly sciumtifical, so let me explain.


Bad acid trip: A beach bum’s guide to ocean acidification

You've heard the term "ocean acidification," and I know what you've been thinking: "It can't be as bad as they say. I remember the ’90s. I made it to a few Phish shows. I've seen what goes on in the parking lots, and there's nothing wrong with a little 'acidification.' So the Ocean drops out of Brown for a semester and stares at its belly button. The Ocean's belly button has the Great Barrier Reef in it. The Ocean will enjoy that."

But there is a lot more at stake than the Ocean dropping out of school to make burritos and follow a jam band. Ocean acidification is known as "climate change's evil twin," and considering what a swell fella climate change is, this should give you an idea of just how dangerous ocean acidification may be.

Read more: Climate & Energy