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Employers scramble to make commutes less costly

Recognizing the very real possibility of losing quality employees to jobs with shorter, cheaper commutes, employers across the country are scrambling to help their workers save on gas. Many companies have started to strongly encourage telecommuting, even paying for at-home workers' laptops, Blackberrys, and/or wireless connections. Microsoft has leased extra office space miles from its Washington State headquarters, closer to where many employees live. Other businesses are trying out four-day work weeks, organizing vanpools, or doling out gas cards, bus passes, raises, and even bicycles. "We had 14 calls last week and nine of those named high gas prices as …

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The shape of the oil crisis

This is the first in a series on how we can build an energy future based on our best science and no longer critically dependent upon exhaustible and polluting fossil fuels. Lines formed at gas stations during the 1973 OPEC oil embargo. Too often, discussions of our future energy system simply reflect the current array of political forces in Washington or the novelty-hungry attention of the media and not the long-term viability of technologies and proposed solutions. As the price of oil is the most pressing issue from a short-term perspective, I am starting this series of policy briefs with …

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Big Auto backs off support for tighter fuel-economy standards

New fuel-economy rules coming down the pike are likely to displease pretty much everyone, if a public hearing held Monday is any indication. In the current proposal from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, auto manufacturers must achieve a fleet-wide average fuel economy of at least 31.6 miles per gallon by 2015 -- a jump from 25 mpg today, and a step toward Congress' target of at least 35 mpg by 2020. But Big Auto, shaken by the shaky economy, has backed off its previous support for the standards. Ford's CEO laments a lack of "adequate resources or lead time"; …

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The beginnings of a continentalized global economy

Your faithful blogger was surprised to find himself representing part of the environmental blogosphere in a New York Times article on Sunday, "Shipping Costs Start to Crimp Globalization." It's very much worth reading, and prior to writing the article the reporter, Larry Rohter, talked with me about my first installment in this series, "Globalization death watch, Part I." In his article, after noting the recent collapse of global trade talks, Rohter writes: Some critics of globalization are encouraged by those developments, which they see as a welcome check on the process. On environmentalist blogs, some are even gleefully promoting a …

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Whole Foods tries to shake its elitist reputation

Whole Foods Market, with its gleaming displays of organic produce, antibiotic-free meat, and vegan baked goods, has long branded itself as a high-quality grocery retailer -- thus earning the nickname Whole Paycheck and a reputation for elitism. But with the economy sagging -- bringing with it, according to some analysts, consumer interest in organic food -- Whole Foods is aiming to tout itself as affordable. The store is promoting discounts, adding lower-priced generic brands, focusing its advertising to the budget-conscious, and taking customers on value-focused store tours where they're whisked past the $39.99 triple-cream goat cheese to the $1.50 tofu. …

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New pedal from Nissan pushes back against excessive acceleration

Want to be an eco-driver but can't seem to keep the pedal off the metal? Meet Nissan Motor Co.'s ECO pedal, which pushes back against excess foot pressure to encourage fuel-efficient driving. The ECO accelerator will be installed in some Nissan cars starting next year and be accompanied by a real-time dashboard display of fuel consumption. Nissan says the gadget could increase fuel efficiency 5 to 10 percent, and the device can easily be switched off by those who don't like Big Brother watching their lead foot. But the initial response from car enthusiasts is skepticism. "This may be one …

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High fuel prices causing globalization to lose momentum

It was unthinkable mere years ago, but globalization is starting to lose momentum. High and holding fuel prices -- shipping a 40-foot container from Shanghai to the U.S. will cost ya $5,000 more today than a decade ago -- are making global supply chains look far less attractive. Goods headed for the maw of the world's largest consumer are now increasingly being made in-house: Swedish manufacturer IKEA just opened its first U.S. factory; Tesla Motors is assembling its luxury roadsters in California; China's steel exports are falling rapidly, while American steel production is rising. Local-economy boosters are delighted, but many …

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Notable quotable

"The military-industrial complex needs enemies." -- Brian Williams, news anchor of NBC, on The Daily Show with John Stewart, July 31, 2008.

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China’s renewables sector booming, study says

China's renewable-energy sector is growing substantially despite the simultaneous growth of its famous dirty-energy sector, according to a study by nonprofit The Climate Group. While China recently took the lead as the world's largest carbon emitter and continues building roughly one coal-fired power plant a week on average, the country's renewables industry is also setting records. In 2007, China's $12 billion investment in renewables was second only to Germany's; by 2009, China's renewables-investment is expected to be the world's largest. According to the report, China already has the world's largest installed capacity for renewables generation, due in large part to …

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ExxonMobil rakes in record cash, spends only 1 percent on alternative energy

ExxonMobil broke its own record for the highest quarterly earnings in U.S. history, reporting $11.7 billion in profits for the second quarter. And as ABC reports, the company spent only 1 percent of its profits last year on alternative energy sources. "They're probably spending more on the advertising than they're actually spending on the actual [alternative-energy] research," says Bernard Picchi, an economist with Wall Street Access. (h/t: Think Progress)