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look on the bright side

Advice for a carbon-powered Congress

Inside the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building, Washington, D.C.Photo: O PalssonThe crystal balls of carbon policy are working overtime to interpret the results of the midterm elections. Fossil fuel providers have been gleeful as most soothsayers suggest a cloudy future for clean energy, energy independence, and any progress on reducing carbon pollution. Oil and coal companies helped elect a Congress more hostile to those sustainable energy solutions, but at least three oracles offer a different vision for our carbon-powered Congress to follow that may result in more jobs and a faster economic recovery. First, there are the 10 northeastern …

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Bottoms up

China's top-down energy gigantism and a bottom-up American alternative

James Fallows has a gracious reply to my earlier post on his Atlantic cover story. This is the gist: The basic framing of the article is the same as that of most articles I do, namely: here's something I think most people don't know, and whose importance I'll try to explain. In my experience, "most people" who take climate issues seriously assume that coal is unambiguously the enemy. What I'd learned over these past years in China convinced me that coal is an enemy but an unavoidable one, and that while working on every other front we'll be better off …

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couch potatoes cause global warming too!

Global communications industry has similar global warming effect as aviation

Photo: Ronnie GarciaThere have been a number of studies analyzing the climate change impact of different parts of the global communications industry, from video games, to data centers, and so on. Now, the first comprehensive study of the IT, telecommunication, media, and entertainment sectors has been concluded. The result: It all adds up to three percent of global carbon emissions. That's roughly the contribution of global aviation. The study, done by KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, breaks out the different sub-sectors' contribution to warming, based on 2007 data. Global telecommunications and IT made up 1.3 percent of …

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Shell game

Spill cleanup plans for Arctic ripped as 'thoroughly inadequate'

Oil drilling in Alaskan wilderness is bad enough, but an accident off Alaskan shores could be disastrous. Photo: mecocrusIn case you didn't hear it the first hundred times, Royal Dutch Shell has a message for all of us: "We're not BP." Its engineers made the case once again at the presidential commission hearings on the Gulf spill this week and its marketing team is doing its part with an ad campaign that also rolled out this week.  Bottom line is that Shell, which has already spent more than $3 billion for offshore leases, is desperate to begin drilling off the north …

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Gear down

Annie Leonard's 'Story of Electronics' tells how our gadgets are 'designed for the dump' [VIDEO]

As I admitted a couple of weeks ago, I tend to obsess about where food comes from, but behave as if the electronic gadgets upon which I rely appear fully formed from heaven -- and disappear into the ether when I'm done with them. But the digital economy, in which I earn my keep, has a material basis just as surely as the food economy does. It took a vast global production network to place the laptop I'm typing this on in front of me; and when I'm done with it, it will have to be disposed of somehow and, …

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Back in black

Old King Coal's on a merry old roll

Don't let the coal industry fool you, it's still going strong.To hear people in the industry tell it, coal is on its last legs, about to be wiped out in what one lobbyist has described as a "regulatory jihad." Don't buy it for a minute -- Big Coal is as powerful as ever. The empire strikes back: That's the message from author Jeff Goodell, who points out that consumption of coal keeps rising, new plants keep getting built, and coal boosters and climate change skeptics keep getting elected. He also outlines the industry's roots to the anti-science fervor that's spreading …

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Telling whoppers

The fast-food industry’s $4.2 billion marketing blitz

Photo: Oblivion999Last week, I praised fast food, which has probably been around as long as people have lived in cities. But there's a particular type of fast food that goes back just a half-century, dating to the post-war rise of car-centered cities and suburbs. It relies on regimentation, weird additives, flavor "engineering," super-cheap (but highly subsidized) ingredients, and super-expensive marketing. I won't bore you with why I think this type of fast food sucks; wouldn't want to be labeled a food snob! But let's talk about that marketing. Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity has just put out …

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the sky's the limit

Anti-advertising billboard showcases the clean air around it

Annie Han + Daniel Mihalyo: Lead Pencil Studio, Non-Sign II, 2010Photo: Lead Pencil Studio On the road to Canada through Blaine, Washington, a jumble of stainless steel rods takes the form of a billboard, sharply framing the good job done by the Clean Air Act while also giving instant weather updates. If this ad is a sign of things to come, then sign me up! The art piece offers a breath of fresh air from what would usually ad up to something like, "Fast Food-o-mania off Exit 3!" Seattle art and architecture agency Lead Pencil Studio and this installment, Non-Sign …

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Cheese wiz

The Times exposes the craziness of the junk-food industry/USDA alliance

'Eat the cheese, son, it's mmm, tasty.' 'No, don't, too much will make you fat!: The USDA has split personality when giving nutritional advice. Ace New York Times reporter Michael Moss dropped a bombshell on the front page of Sunday's paper, on how one arm of the USDA teams with the junk/fast-food industry to urge people to eat lots of cheese, even as another arm urges Americans to eat fewer high-calorie foods. Moss's article -- the best piece of investigative food journalism I've seen since his terrific piece on a common hamburger additive known affectionately as "pink slime" -- has …

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Get smart

Why we won't have a green energy revolution without the smart grid

Solar panels waiting to be installed on a warehouse in Ontario, Calif.Photo: Todd WoodyThis is the first installment of a two-part series on the smart grid. You can read part two here. If you want a birds-eye view of the future of power, scramble up to the roof of a 562,089-square-foot warehouse in Ontario, a city that sits in the smoggy heart of Southern California's Inland Empire east of Los Angeles. On a roof the size of several football fields, workers are busy installing 11,591 solar panels that will generate 2.55 megawatts of electricity. Across the street is another massive …