Business & Technology

Radiant Cities: Living in your car

New breed of houses makes use of carbage

Guess what will save the economy and the environment? Buying a new car! Cadillac ranch? OK, maybe not save — but according to the folks at Oregon-based Miranda Homes, it can help. The automobile industry has lost some half a million jobs and $50 billion in revenue while we hang on to our old jalopies. Miranda owner Rob Boydstun knows that cars hold great potential when reincarnated, and their waste products — let’s call that stuff carbage — can be transformed into cleaner, greener, and cheaper houses, coming soon-ish to a subdivision near you. Salvage is nothing new in the …

Punching in

On-message items from the green jobs front

Every year, renewable energy campaigns seem to converge on a theme. Last year, it was energy independence. This year, the theme is -- you guessed it -- jobs. By cosmic convergence, Tuesday featured three cool new clean-energy-jobs-related items: Clean Edge released a report which projected that solar and wind industry employment will grow from 600,000 jobs in 2008 to 2.7 million by 2018 (if, of course, we get the enabling policies right). SEREF released a mind-blowingly cool Google-earth/job estimator mashup. (More from Google.) And we launched a campaign to highlight the very real job opportunities that solar offers by placing fictitious HELP WANTED ads in Florida, Texas, and Nevada. By bringing levity to this serious issue, we hoped to generate some press for our policy goals. So far, so good; here's the Palm Beach Post's take.

Umbra on catchy Earth Day slogans

Dear Umbra, My work colleagues are trying to think of a catchy slogan to celebrate Earth Day this year. We typically plan a week of activities to educate and increase awareness of the benefits of being green. However, we are having a hard time agreeing on a slogan. Here are some ideas to date: Lean & Green, Go Green Week, Why Be Green Week, Green and Proud, Choose Green, Green: BeCAUSE we can, Money DOES grow on trees!, Green your Routine, Being Green Makes Cents, Green Week, Think Green Week, Green Spirit Week, Green Deal Week, Green Economy Week, Green …

Eco:nomics: Fail

Conference treats press like crap; treats CEOs like butt buddies; doesn't give me a beer

I've been thinking a bit about how to get another post or two out of the Wall Street Journal Eco:nomics conference. But you know what? The Wall Street Journal Eco:nomics conference can blow me. I've never been to a conference where the press was more walled off. And this was a conference by a media company! First off, laptops weren't allowed in the main presentation room -- too "distracting." (Who's distracted by a guy with a laptop in the back of the room?) So there was no way to post real-time updates from the main room. That meant we were stuck down in the press room, watching the conference on TV. To boot, the press wasn't allowed in the lunch roundtables. Or the cocktail reception before dinner. Or the dinner. Or the "cordials" after dinner. Or the breakfast roundtables the following day. Practically speaking, this all but precluded press from having unscripted encounters with conference participants and speakers -- always the best parts of these conferences. We were at least fed dinner, but -- and this was the unkindest cut of all -- no alcohol. You don't deny journalists their booze! You just don't. So basically, press got to watch the thing on TV in a dry basement room. Perhaps if the conference sessions had been scintillating -- or at least as entertaining as last year, when none of these press restrictions were in effect -- it would have been all right. But frankly, the conference was boring, wonky, and flat. Corporate PR was dutifully delivered by folks like Ford CEO Alan Mulally and Duke CEO Jim Rogers, in the face of questioning that could charitably be described as friendly. Gore delivered his usual shtick. Inane cranks like Bjorn Lomborg and Vaclav Klaus delivered their usual shtick. And so on. So I could squeeze another post out if I tried, give the thing a little more publicity, but I never got my beer, so eff it. I already tweeted that b*tch anyway.

Ford inFusion

Ford starts marketing campaign to emphasize fuel economy in new hybrid

During American Idol Tuesday evening, Ford launched the “We Speak Car” marketing campaign to sell the 2010 Fusion and Fusion Hybrid. The ads tout the Fusion Hybrid as “America’s most fuel efficient mid-size sedan,” which is awfully misleading because the 2010 Prius (50 mpg combined) is technically the most fuel efficient mid-size vehicle. It’s just not classified as a sedan. Still, the Fusion Hybrid gets 41 mpg in the city and 36 mpg highway, which is higher than other hybrid sedans in its class like the Toyota Camry Hybrid (33 city/34 highway). Below is the ad, which emphasizes the Fusion …

'We can't do this anymore'

A one-time cheerleader for hyper-consumerism lays down his pom-pom

Thomas Friedman : We have created a system for growth that depended on our building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff made in more and more factories in China, powered by more and more coal that would cause more and more climate change but earn China more and more dollars to buy more and more U.S. T-bills so America would have more and more money to build more and more stores and sell more and more stuff that would employ more and more Chinese ...We can't do this anymore.

Capture the eco flag

The specs and the dish on the 2010 third generation Prius

UPDATE: This story was changed to reflect updated EPA mileage estimates. Photo courtesy of Toyota. Toyota’s newest hybrid is almost here. Last week, the car company invited a group of journalists and bloggers to the third generation Prius preview in Napa, Calif. The deal was we could road test the 2010 model to our heart’s content, but we needed to stay mum about our impressions of the car and mileage readings until the end of March. Sigh. So I have been figuratively bound and gagged, but the Toyota folks did provide more detailed technical specs than those announced in January …

Eco:nomics: green color blindness

In the face of all evidence, some folks just can't see green as anything but a cost

It's always difficult to write (non-boring) posts on conferences. People come on stage, discuss wonky issues, and leave. There's rarely any "news." If people really wanted to hear my running commentary, they would do what With-It People do and follow my tweets. So, just a broad observation on today's events. One of the earliest sessions of the day was Bjorn Lomborg, delivering his increasingly ridiculous message that we have to prioritize social spending (banal) and that spending to avert climate change just doesn't pass the cost-benefit analysis test (absurd). Underlying Lomborg's nonsense is an assumption so common (in some circles) that it scarcely seems worth stating explicitly, much less defending: that reducing emissions is all about immediate economic costs and nebulous, distant social benefits. The question is always, do the nebulous distant benefits justify the immediate economic costs? This mindset informed virtually all the questions the moderators asked (with the exception of Jeffrey Ball, who's very sharp). With every business or policy proposal, it was, what about the cost? Will people pay the cost? Can we afford the cost during a recession? The one-track-mindedness reached comic proportions a few times. Right after Lomborg, architect William McDonough came out, told a few stories of saving companies millions of dollars, then built his way in a poetic reverie on buildings that could be like trees, fecund and regenerative. WSJ's Kimberly Strassel paused, and then, I kid you not: "But what about the cost?" Jaybus. I mean, A, how about having more than one thought, and B, he just told you he saved these companies millions of dollars. S-A-V-E-D. That like ... un-cost. When WSJ's Alan Murray was interviewing Amory Lovins, he just kept repeating incredulously, "but what about the trade-offs?" "Trade-off" is code for the notion that any environmental improvement comes at economic expense. Lovins, meanwhile, was talking about building super-efficient buildings at under average cost. He was repeating, as he has so many times, that saving energy (and cutting emissions) is cheaper than buying it. I don't know why people who were cheerleaders for an utterly pointless $3 trillion war and hundreds of billions of dollars of Wall Street bailouts suddenly become obsessive-compulsive bean counters when it comes to, oh, improving public health or saving our grandchildren from untold misery, but if you're going to count the beans, count the fracking beans. This is the second year I've been at this conference. CEO after CEO talks about making big investments and getting even bigger returns. I have not seen or met a single businessperson who has done this stuff and says anything but, "I'm glad we did it, it paid off bigger than we thought it would, it energized my employees, it absolutely makes business sense." The only people I've seen say anything negative about greening efforts are people like Michael Morris who have resisted making them. Why, in the face of this torrent of evidence, do some folks fail to see the profitable emission reduction strategies in front of them? Lovins later asked Gore, somewhat plaintively, "how can we change the conversation from sacrifices and costs to opportunities, jobs, and savings?" I wish I knew. It's a peculiar sort of malady, like color blindness or something.

Eco:nomics: Mulally tales

Ford Motor Co. CEO says everything's going to be juuust fine

Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally. The kick-off discussion here at Eco:nomics was with Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally. (Which you'd know if you were following my tweeteriffic tweets!) Last year's kick-off session was with GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt, who was 50 percent drunk and 100 percent entertaining -- frank, blunt, and occasionally profane. The contrast this time around could not have been more stark. Mulally, looking like Mr. Rogers in his sleeveless red sweater vest, murmured the corporate line in soothing tones, assuring us all that Ford is great, its new goal is to make great cars that get greater every year, and that the future is great, also filled with greatness. He's got that lilting PR voice that releases your endorphins, but afterwards you can't remember a thing he said, except about how everything is great. For instance, he answered a question about California's fuel efficiency waiver with a torrent of won't-you-be-my-neighbor filler that you had to concentrate on really hard to realize that he, just like the other Big Auto executives, opposes granting it. The answer, basically, was "we don't want to have to make make cars to meet two standards, even though we're already making our cars more fuel efficient every year." Well, why not make them fuel efficient enough to meet the stronger standard? Then you only have to meet one. Nothing Mulally said would begin to explain why Ford's valuation is tanking. Talking about the future, it was clear that although Mulally sees some ethanol and electric cars in the mix, his true love and focus is the internal combustion engine, which he said Ford engineers could improve by 20-30 percent efficiency. He said ICEs will be the dominant vehicle technology for at least the next 10-15 years. Compact disc manufacturers are probably saying the same thing. A couple of notable moments from the audience Q&A: T. Boone Pickens got up and asked him about making cars that run on natural gas -- for "energy independence," you know. Mulally was polite, but basically said, um, no. That's dumb fracking idea and nobody wants those cars. It was pretty hilarious. Another man got up and said that Ford had basically lost his whole generation. Mulally said, "I want to come up to your room later." I know the car companies are desperate, but I didn't know their executive were literally prostituting themselves! Anyway, it was largely a nothingburger with happy talk sauce. Pretty much what you'd expect from an American auto company. Meanwhile, later in the evening I ran into Bill Gross of IdeaLab, who took me out to the parking lot to show me this: That's the Aptera, a safety tested, super streamlined, fully electric two-seater, made entirely of carbon fiber, with a 100-mile range. (Tons more pictures here.) It will soon be available in California for $30,000. It's what car companies make when they're innovating instead of lobbying.

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