A team of scientists at Harvard have discovered how to make crazy, beautiful, very tightly controlled shapes that are so tiny they're invisible to the naked eye. Just by making simple changes in the environment in which salt and silicon crystals grow, they've made gardens of flower-like structures. Wim Noorduin, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University, grew a variety of these "flowers," recently featured in the journal Science.
Don't freak out, but there's a problem with green roofs: They're not necessarily greener than ordinary roofs. Soooooo kind of a major problem. With a little extra effort, though, green roofs can be efficient AND locally sourced -- you just can’t take the easy way out.
[R]ooftop vegetation has to be able to survive the high winds, prolonged UV radiation and unpredictable fluctuations in water availability. To resist these harsh environments, a majority of green roofs are planted with sedum, a non-native species that can survive wind and long periods without rainfall. A roof planted with sedum, however, is no greener, from the standpoint of sustainability, than is ordinary tar or asphalt.
Sedum, it turns out, absorbs sunlight, just like a tar roof would, and isn't particularly good at absorbing water. Planting your green roof with sedum is like hiring employees based on how long they can physically sit in an office chair instead of how good they are at doing the work.
While most of Washington, D.C., is consumed with the faux scandals du jour, in a few corners of Congress, actual work is getting done. A day 329 days late and a dollar $20 billion short, perhaps, the farm bill, an every-five-years legislative train[wreck], lumbers slowly forward.
Both the House and the Senate agriculture committees have just passed their own versions of the massive piece of legislation that controls U.S. agricultural policy as well as the federal nutrition program formerly known as food stamps (now called SNAP). A full House and Senate vote is the next step. Congress tried and failed to pass a farm bill last year. The question now is whether Congress can do it this time.
Actually, the question really is whether Congress will ever pass a farm bill again. For the first time, those close to the legislative process are starting to have their doubts. And that may be a really bad thing.
Bah, humbug, you say! The farm bill is larded with bipartisan subsidies for the largest-scale farmers who grow commodities like corn, soy, and cotton. It’s also the bill that authorizes the federal crop insurance program, which has grown like gangbusters over the last decade. Last year (thanks to the drought) farmers received over $17 billion in insurance payouts -- almost all of which benefited large-scale commodity agriculture. A chicken pox on all their coops!
That not an unreasonable reaction. But also at stake in the farm bill are billions of dollars for conservation programs that help farmers mitigate the environmental effects of their work, and pay them to set aside marginal farmland as wildlife habitat. It also contains millions in federal funds that support organic farmers, help younger and “new” farmers get their start, and prop up local food efforts, organic research, and farmers markets.
The 40-year-old farmer from Springfield, Colo., has been scheming for months. "I believe this is really going to revitalize and strengthen farm communities," Loflin told the Denver Post in April. Now he's leased 60 acres of his father's alfalfa farm to plant and tend the hundreds of hemp starters he's already been grooming.
Hemp, for those who aren't familiar, is a variety of cannabis that -- sorry kids! -- won't get you high. Strong, nutritious, and super sustainable to grow, hemp is used for everything from rope to cereal. It requires few herbicides, and has even been called carbon negative by some boosters. And while it's illegal to grow it in the U.S., it's not illegal to sell. Right now imported hemp -- the only legal kind -- accounts for about $500 million in annual U.S. sales, according to the Hemp Industries Association.
The conflict between electric utilities and distributed energy -- mainly rooftop solar panels -- is heating up. It's heating up so much that people are writing about electric utility regulation, the most tedious, inscrutable subject this side of corporate tax law. The popular scrutiny is long overdue. So buckle up. We're getting into it.
There's a short-term problem and a long-term problem. The former is about how electricity rates are structured, specifically how utilities compensate (or don't) customers who generate power with rooftop solar PV panels. The latter is about developing an entirely new business model for utilities, one that aligns their financial interests with the spread of distributed energy. The danger is that fighting over the former could delay solving the latter.
Today, let's dig into the fight at hand. It's about utility rates, specifically "net metering," yet another nerdy green term no one understands. I will endeavor to make clear what it is and why the fight over it is so damn interesting and exciting. Exciting, I tell you! Wake up!
When shopping in any store that carries national brands, it's virtually impossible to remember which ones you're not supposed to buy for which reasons. This one uses palm oil … or was it this one? This brand is "all-natural" but it sprays evil chemicals all over the world. This company kills panda babies. And so forth. You can either hold out for Sunday's farmers market and not eat in the meantime, or just go ahead and buy the cornmeal from the brand that's probably in bed with Monsanto.
But now a programmer named Ivan Pardo is putting an end to this misery. Scan a product with his app, Buycott, and it analyzes the insane web of corporate ownership in order to tell you exactly what terrible policies you'd be supporting if you bought that cereal.
Is it OK to slaughter hundreds of thousands of birds every year in the name of clean energy? Is it OK for a luxury home developer to kill California condors in its quest for profits?
The Obama administration seems to think so. It is flexing little to none of the legal muscle needed to encourage wind energy companies to avoid killing eagles, hawks, and other birds that can be fatally drawn into their spinning turbines.
An Associated Press investigation revealed that the administration has never fined or prosecuted a wind farm for killing a bird. Many of the avian victims of the fast-growing wind sector are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and some are protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.
North Carolina's numerous coal plants might be driving Tar Heel State residents to kill themselves.
Suicide is a leading killer in America, and links between air pollution and suicide rates have been known for years. Breathing in bad air might drive people to take their own lives by worsening their health problems, affecting their nervous systems, or generally lowering their life satisfaction.
So Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center researcher John Spangler set about trying to understand how polluting coal-fired power plants might affect county-by-county suicide rates in North Carolina, where the statewide rate is higher than the national average [PDF]. What he discovered was an alarming correlation.
The association wants a piece of the Tesla pie, and it's accustomed to getting its way. State law already bars anybody other than a licensed dealer from selling more than four motor vehicles in a year.
The association has backed Senate Bill 327, sponsored by state Sen. Tom Apodaca (R), which would broaden the scope of that protectionist law to also cover internet and telephone sales.
Let’s say I win the lottery, and want to use my $50 million winnings to save the planet. For example, I could fund enviro groups. I could fund political campaigns to defeat Big Oil’s congressmen. Or I could provide subsidies to buyers of electric cars. But where would I find the biggest bang for my big bucks?
Hypothetically yours, Mark M. Athens, Ohio
A. Dearest Mark,
I would suggest you donate it to Grist. As it happens, we’re in the middle of a fundraising campaign, and $50 million would go a long way. (So would $5, come to think of it.) Imagine all the cruelty-free peppermint tea I could buy with that kind of cashola!
Your question is an intriguing one, and I will gladly use it as a break from discussions of dish soap and lightbulbs, not that I don’t love those too. Let’s indulge in a bit of good old-fashioned fantasizing.