As if it's not enough that bees provide honey, wax, ecosystem balance, and tragic endings to Macaulay Culkin movies, researchers in Croatia are using the insects to locate the unexploded landmines that litter the Balkan landscape. They don't call it a "hive mind" for nothing.
SideCar Technologies, a donation-based rideshare start-up, ceased its New York business after a judge said even free rides from the company would violate the city's laws governing cars-for-hire, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Then last week, RelayRides, which allows car owners to rent out their vehicles, came under fire from the state Financial Services Department for what officials called "repeated false advertising and violations of insurance law, which are putting the public at risk." Basically: RelayRides told car owners that the company's insurance policy covered them 100 percent in the case of a car renter, say, mowing down a pedestrian, but the car owners could actually be found liable.
But the issue really came to a head this week, when a New York judge deemed vacation rental middle-people Airbnb illegal in New York City and New York state. Airbnb's services violate laws against underground and underregulated hotels, as well as a state-wide ban on short-term rentals enacted in 2011. Airbnb is now lobbying in Albany to change the law, but the East Village host who rented out his apartment for a few days and was made an example of got slapped with a $2,400 fine.
Last year, California cracked down on ridesharing and car-hire start-ups. The state hasn't shut them down -- it's looking for a way to regulate them within the current system -- but it's asking a lot of the same questions about insurance and liability that are vexing New York.
Whatever oil and gas true believers want to think, the world is doing this solar power thing. It's getting cheaper and cheaper to make solar panels, and the panels are getting more and more effective. For example: A team in Australia just built a gigantic printer that spits out solar cells at a rate, Gizmodo reports, of about 33 feet every minute.
It's not even particularly complicated technology, according to the researchers. Gizmodo writes:
[The printer system] utilizes only existing printer technology to embed polymer solar cells (also known as organic or plastic solar cells) in thin sheets of plastic or steel at a rate of ten meters per minute. "We're using the same techniques that you would use if you were screen printing an image on to a T-Shirt," project coordinator and University of Melbourne researcher Dr David Jones said in a press release.
Bad news, Fage fans and Chobani lovers (we're gonna call you "Chobuccaneers"). All that Greek yogurt you're eating is creating a toxic byproduct: gallons upon gallons upon gallons of acid whey.
This is the same whey that Miss Muffett so enjoyed. Apparently she was a fish-hating sociopath in addition to being an arachnophobe. Modern Farmer reports:
It’s a thin, runny waste product that can’t simply be dumped. Not only would that be illegal, but whey decomposition is toxic to the natural environment, robbing oxygen from streams and rivers. That could turn a waterway into what one expert calls a "dead sea," destroying aquatic life over potentially large areas. Spills of cheese whey, a cousin of Greek yogurt whey, have killed tens of thousands of fish around the country in recent years.
Solar Impulse, the world's most advanced solar aircraft, is trekking across the United States. It's already made it from the Bay Area to Phoenix, Ariz. Check out photos from its U.S. flights, and read more about the all-solar plane's journey.
Standing beside Solar Impulse -- the world’s most advanced solar aircraft -- in a hangar at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on a recent afternoon, Bertrand Piccard attempted to diagnose humankind’s biggest problem.
We are being bored to death, he opined.
“People talk about protecting the environment and it’s boring,” the 53-year-old Swiss aviator/psychiatrist said. Discussions about climate change are even worse. "Those," he added, "are boring and depressing."
Piccard’s prescription: Make environmentalism inspiring, exciting, and sexy. Not coincidentally, those adjectives are frequently used to describe Solar Impulse itself, the aircraft Piccard piloted 650 miles, from Mountain View, Calif., to Phoenix, Ariz., on May 3, the first of five legs in a coast-to-coast voyage.
“We want to motivate people to be pioneers,” said Piccard, stressing the syllable with the intensity of a hypnotist (which he is). “We want to show solutions. To show hopes. We want to show what is possible.”
Farragut Square is a classic, austere Washington, D.C., park with much landscaping and statuary but few amenities for actual people. It does at least have a lot of benches, which come in handy during the typical weekday. Come noontime, hundreds of local office workers swarm, blinking, into the sunlight, desperate for sustenance, and run headlong into bounteous providence: a veritable armada of food trucks.
It varies by the day, but Farragut typically has among the densest truck congregations in the city. When I visited last, in the space of 50 feet I could choose between a half-dozen curries, steak sandwiches, tacos, Korean barbecue -- and kebabs, lots of kebabs.
But these trucks may not be here for long. The D.C. City Council is currently considering new regulations that would curtail, potentially drastically, the number of trucks allowed in much of the district.
It’s a familiar story. Similar fights have unfolded in severalothercities. But this time some Big Name Conservatives have spied an opportunity to get young, urban voters onto the anti-government bandwagon. (Mitt Romney losing 18- to 29-year-old voters by 24 points would tend to focus the mind.) As they see it, these humble taco-delivery systems are just the thing to demonstrate the tyrannical, hungering grasp of Big Government.
“What they need is for people to see this and say, 'I’m on the side of the people that the government is messing with,'" none other than Grover Drown-The-Government-In-The-Bathtub Norquist told National Journal.
Canada obviously has a huge stake in the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline. If President Obama fails to approve it -- a decision he recently put off yet again -- the Canadian oil industry will have a tough time getting its abundant tar-sands crude to seaside ports. Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently came to the U.S. to make the case for the pipeline in person, as did Canada's ministers of foreign affairs and natural resources and the premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
And now our neighbor to the north is focusing its powers of persuasion directly on the American people. The country just launched a taxpayer-funded, multimillion-dollar marketing campaign extolling the virtues of tar-sands oil to U.S. citizens. From The Vancouver Observer:
To support the government position and its travelling ministers, Ottawa has launched a $16 million marketing campaign that includes a new website and newspaper advertisements in the US to promote Keystone KL. The thrust of the campaign is the promotion of Canada as a reliable supplier of oil and a “world environmental leader” in the field of oil and gas development.
Based on the average US household size, this means that over a quarter million people are now being exposed regularly to the benefits of electric transportation. The vehicles themselves are reaching an even greater number of people simply by being on the road -- perhaps as many as 1 million or more people per day. While much work remains to be done, 100,000 vehicles means that we are ever closer to the tipping point for electric transportation.
Last week, I posted on the fight between electric utilities and solar advocates over rooftop solar power. Today, I want to pull back the lens and begin to tackle the bigger question: How should utilities work? What's the right way to provision and manage electricity in the 21st century?
There's very little public discussion of utilities or utility regulations, especially relative to sexier topics like fracking or electric cars. That's mainly because the subject is excruciatingly boring, a thicket of obscure institutions and processes, opaque jargon, and acronyms out the wazoo. Whether PURPA allows IOUs to customize RFPs for low-carbon QFs is actually quite important, but you, dear reader, don't know it, because you fell asleep halfway through this sentence. Utilities are shielded by a force field of tedium.
It's is an unfortunate state of affairs, because this is going to be the century of electricity. Everything that can be electrified will be. (This point calls for its own post, but mark my words: transportation, heat, even lots of industrial work is going to shift to electricity.) So the question of how best to manage electricity is key to both economic competitiveness and ecological sustainability.
It's time to start talking about utilities. I, your courageous blogger and servant, am going to attempt to lay out, at a high level, how utilities work and why, the challenges facing them, and what a utility more suited to the 21st century might look like. It's a complicated problem, but I think the basics are approachable by ordinary citizens, who very much need to get involved and speak up on these issues. Occupy PUCs! (You'll get that joke after you read my next few posts.)