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Wal-Mart lays out more environmental goals for itself, suppliers

Huge-mongous retailer Wal-Mart is back at its favorite activity of all time (besides counting its money and sprawlin', of course): setting environmental goals for itself and its suppliers. At a company confab in Beijing, Wal-Mart execs promised a host of eco-improvements in the next few years. Soon, they said, suppliers will have to be certified by a third party to ensure they're complying with local environmental and labor laws; suppliers will also have to start providing Wal-Mart with information on where all their products come from. Eventually, suppliers will also have to improve their energy efficiency and, by 2012, 95 …

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Consolidation in the beef industry has gotten too intense even for the Bush DOJ

Way back in March, Brazilian beef-packing behemoth JBS finished an extraordinary lunge into the U.S. market, having snapped up Swift, National Beef Packing, and the beef assets of Smithfield -- the nation's third-, fourth- and fifth-biggest beef packers. If the deals were approved by U.S. antitrust authorities -- and nothing in recent history suggested they wouldn't be -- JBS would own more than a third of the U.S. beef market. And just three firms -- JBS, Tyson, and Cargill -- would slaughter something like 90 percent of beef cows raised in the United States. Well, the unthinkable has happened. The …

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EBay to ban sales of ivory on its website

Online auction giant eBay announced Monday that it will ban sales of ivory via its website starting next year due to concerns that it is helping to fuel poaching of endangered elephants. The announcement was made ahead of a report [PDF] released Tuesday by the International Fund for Animal Welfare that tracked online wildlife-product commerce and concluded that eBay is the venue of choice for most online endangered-wildlife sales. Some 75 percent of online wildlife-product sales that were tracked in the study came from elephants, which prompted eBay's ban announcement. "We feel [a ban] is the best way to protect …

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Washington Post editors join the ranks of the climate confused

The Post ran an editorial, "Cap and Return: Fight the recession or fight global warming? Congress can do both," that is as confused as it is well-meaning. The Post supports strong action now, but they recycle a new inactivist talking point -- we need to modify or weaken our climate strategies because of the recession -- they seem astonishingly unfamiliar with the policies that are currently being discussed, and they embrace a climate proposal that simply won't work. Let's run through it: ... the looming recession will lessen the political will in Washington to pursue policies that would add costs …

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Finance is valuable to the ‘real economy,’ but the system needs to be replaced

Some Grist readers in comments seem to think we should ignore the financial aspects of the crisis to focus on the "real economy." The problem is, finance is part of the real economy. Credit was invented before paper currency; there are records of debt in ancient Babylon. Try and imagine life without currency, or checkbooks, let alone without finance. Finance is a very real thing. It is information, and it is also a form of human cooperation -- a way for people who never meet or know of one another's existence to work together. But that doesn't mean people who …

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Migrating pollock could endanger Alaskan fishery, international relations

Showing a distinct lack of American patriotism, Alaskan pollock are reacting to climate-changed warmer waters by swimming northward into Russian territory -- potentially endangering both the U.S.'s billion-dollar pollock industry and U.S.-Russia relations. Climate-related pollock migration "will be a food security issue and has an enormous potential for political upheaval," warns Andrew Rosenberg, former deputy director of the National Marine Fisheries Service. Salmon, squid, and mackerel are also moving northward, but the certified-sustainable pollock fishery is arguably of most concern. Estimates hold that anywhere between 10 and 30 percent of Alaskan pollock now rear their heads in Russian territory. If …

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What should Google do next?

I was excited to read this L.A. Times piece, which seemed to hold out the prospect of evidence that Google is moving into smart-grid technology. Instead of evidence, though, there was wild and utterly unmotivated speculation. I do enjoy speculating about what Google will do next though. It's so nice to have a company with this kind of cultural cachet involved in energy. Makes energy cool. My vote for the next two Google investment areas: smart grid tech and energy storage. (I've asked Google folks about energy storage several times and they're always quite vague.) What's your vote?

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Electric Mini Cooper coming to the U.S.

What's cute and teeny and charged up? An electric Mini Cooper, which BMW will unveil at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November. Even more exciting -- especially if you are among "select private and corporate customers" -- a 500-vehicle test fleet will be available for lease in California, New Jersey, and New York early next year. While the creatively named Mini E will be manufactured in the United Kingdom and Germany, BMW is still mum on specific plans for a European release. The two-seater Mini E takes about eight hours to fully charge, then can travel 150 miles before …

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Alternative energy takes a hit as economy slumps, oil prices fall

The alternative-energy industry, which enjoyed a boost when oil prices skyrocketed, is seeing its fortunes change. Per-barrel oil prices have halved since July, lessening consumer demand for alternatives. And the credit crunch sure isn't helping, as long-term funding is harder to come by for wind, solar, electric vehicles, cellulosic biofuel, and their ilk. Renewable-energy stocks around the world have dropped some 45 percent in the past three months, according to consultancy New Energy Finance. Some companies are calling off initial public offerings because of poor market conditions; others have no choice but to step them up as bank loans become …

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Hybrid production costs may drop two-thirds within 10 years

Bloomberg reports: Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and other carmakers may cut production costs for hybrid systems by 67 percent over the next decade as shipments rise and companies gain experience, according to JPMorgan Chase & Co. Gasoline-electric systems on average will cost $1,919 each in 2018, compared with an estimated $5,869 this year as the global market grows 16-fold to 9.6 million units over the same period, the bank said in a report released yesterday. This is remarkable news, especially when you consider that gasoline prices are all but certain to rise to $5 a gallon and higher …