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You’ve never seen an LED lamp like this

LED lights often look like glow-in-the-dark Tic Tacs, so this gentle, paperlike design is a much-welcome departure:

dew-drops-light-Ingo-Maurer
Ingo Maurer

Munich-based lighting designer Ingo Maurer created the Dew Drops lamp by integrating a sprinkling of LEDs into a see-through 16.5”x12” plastic sheet. The result is something you might find at IKEA on a good day.

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Supreme Court’s campaign finance ruling: Bad for greens, good for Kochs

Supreme Court building
Shutterstock

You’ve got to feel bad for the Koch brothers. All of their billions of dollars, all of their schemes for world domination, and they’ve been limited to only donating $48,600 to all federal candidates and $74,600 to party committees every two years. They might as well be mere millionaires. Well, you’ll be pleased to know that the Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court has freed the super-wealthy to fully participate in the political process. Score one for democracy!

On Wednesday, in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the court ruled that those spending limits will no longer apply. The current $2,600 limit per candidate is still in place. But the court held that the de facto limitation on the number of candidates you could give to violates the First Amendment. Billionaires who have made their money extracting fossil fuels, cutting down trees, and cooking up dangerous chemicals -- the Koch brothers, for example -- will now be able to give the maximum to every congressional candidate in the country. (Or, to be more precise, every Republican candidate, plus maybe a few Democrats they carry around in their pockets, like Mary Landrieu.) If someone gave the maximum to one candidate in each House and Senate race every two years, it would cost $1,216,800 -- a small price to pay for control over the most powerful country in the world.

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Vermont expands solar net metering, gives finger to ALEC

Solar panels in Vermont
Tim Patterson

Bad news for the polluter-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, but wonderful news for the planet.

In 2012 and 2013, ALEC tried to roll back states' renewable energy standards, and failed. Now it's trying to roll back solar net-metering programs, which let homeowners sell electricity from their rooftop panels into the grid, and that campaign isn't going so well either.

Case in point: In Vermont, Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) just signed a bill that will expand the state's net-metering program, allowing solar panel owners to sell more of their clean electricity into the grid.

The bill will nearly quadruple the size of a cap on the amount of solar power that utilities must be willing to buy from their customers. It also creates pilot projects that could allow for solar projects as large as 5 megawatts to be built under the scheme. The AP reports:

Alternative energy proponents pushed for the increased cap after some Vermont utilities had reached the 4 percent cap and stopped taking new net-metered power.

"Our success exceeded our wildest dreams," Shumlin said before signing the bill into law, noting that since he took office in 2011 the state had quadrupled the amount of solar energy on the state's electric grid.

Vermont's increased use of alternative energy has helped the state to become the nation's per-capita leader in the number of solar energy jobs.

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ExxonMobil: Carbon caps? Fat chance. We’ll just keep on drilling.

protester with "boo Exxon" sign
Shaw Girl

If you thought ExxonMobil might take climate risks seriously, think again.

Last week I explained why sustainability-focused investor advocacy organizations pressured Exxon to release a report on how government regulation of greenhouse gases would affect its bottom line. The hope was that Exxon would admit that if governments get serious about climate change, the company's vast reserves of oil and gas would become unprofitable to exploit. That, in turn, would make it see the light on renewable energy and shift business strategies.

No such luck. Exxon released a report to shareholders on Monday and -- much to the activists’ dismay -- denied that it has a problem. Rather than discussing what would happen to it if governments force the necessary 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from a 1990 baseline, Exxon argues that it won’t happen. So the company will be just fine, thanks.

“Our analysis and those of independent agencies confirms our long-standing view that all viable energy sources will be essential to meet increasing demand growth that accompanies expanding economies and rising living standards,” said William Colton, ExxonMobil’s vice president of corporate strategic planning, upon releasing the report. “All of ExxonMobil’s current hydrocarbon reserves will be needed, along with substantial future industry investments, to address global energy needs.”

That’s corporate code for: “Governments will allow us to keep extracting and burning fossil fuels because the economy.”

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Risk game: What a warmer planet means to the bottom line

Kate Gordon
Photo by Next Generation

Kate Gordon has been described as Tom Steyer’s "secret weapon," but it turns out that finding her is as simple as making a phone call and then riding up the elevator to her office in San Francisco’s Financial District. Here, Gordon is managing Risky Business, an ambitious project that aims to quantify the financial risks that climate change poses to the American economy.

The report, which is slated to be released this June, is headed by Steyer, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and features input from an eclectic Risk Committee of former cabinet members and other political heavy-hitters.

A former housing activist, Gordon has taken an unconventional path to environmentalism. Before she became the vice president and director of the energy and climate program at Next Generation, Steyer's nonprofit policy think tank, Gordon spent a decade drawing up strategies for boosting green jobs and manufacturing, some of which found their way into state and federal policy -- most notably in President Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

I recently met with her in Next Generation's offices to talk about quantifying disaster risk, the fate of the "green jobs" boom, and finding hope in numbers.

Q. The first thing I'm curious about is, what kind of climate change data are out there? What do you have, and what would you like to see more of?

A. The climate risk data just isn’t out there. The reinsurance industry is the big exception. They were doing a lot of work around climate risk because they had to -- they were insuring the insurers.

But most of the reinsurers -- who have been talking about this since the '80s -- are based in Europe. The reason we decided to do this project was to have a very U.S.-focused, business-focused, and investor-focused approach to climate risk, which wasn’t really available outside of some private institutions.

The five sectors we’re looking at are agriculture, public health, energy systems, coastal infrastructure, and then labor productivity -- which isn’t exactly a sector. Of those, the ones that have been most studied from a risk perspective are agriculture and coastal infrastructure, and that’s largely because of private industry.

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Californians to receive $30 to $40 climate credit this month

piggy bank
Shutterstock

A year and a half after California started forcing some big polluters to pay for pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, households in the Golden State are about to start cashing in on the program.

The state's cap-and-trade program has raised nearly $1.7 billion so far. About 40 percent of proceeds are earmarked to be spent on clean energy initiatives, while the rest will be distributed to small utility customers through various programs, helping offset any increase in electricity prices. Residential customers of the state's investor-owned utilities, which together serve more than two-thirds of the state's electricity, will receive the first California Climate Credits on this month's electricity bills, reducing the amount due by roughly $30 to $40. The next residential credits will be paid out in October. Small business customers will receive them monthly.

California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey said the credits will give "millions of Californians a stake in the fight for clean air and a healthy environment." He suggested electricity customers reinvest the money in efficient lightbulbs, smart thermostats, and other energy-saving measures to further reduce costs and to join the fight against climate change.

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Teaching butchers — and brewers, and picklers — to stay out of the red

Food Craft Institute
Food Craft Institute
Gavin Erezuma learning his cuts

About a dozen potential students sat in as many chairs, crowded into a narrow room behind a butcher shop in San Francisco. To the right and left were murals of cattle; ahead, a bovine skull with long horns; and, in front of that, people giving a pitch for a three-week intensive class on the business of butchery.

A man in a plaid shirt near the front raised his hand. “What kind of skills do you need going into this? Have most people had some kind of butchery experience?” People come in at all levels, reassured Marcy Coburn, executive director of the Food Craft Institute. “This isn’t a class for learning how to be a butcher. It’s a class for learning how to efficiently run a business.”

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Here are the fair-trade hipster shoes you’ve been waiting for

oliberte-shoes
Oliberté

Forget giving hipster shoes to people in Africa (cough, TOMS). How about giving them jobs? Oliberté is that shoe company -- with the added perk of giving you a way to buy your chukka boots and flats with less guilt.

oliberte-hipster-fair-trade-shoes-sm
Oliberté

Oliberté bills itself as a fair-trade, sustainable clothing brand based in sub-Saharan Africa, paying its workers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, more than double the minimum wage. The factory is the world’s first to be certified by Fair Trade USA. So in addition to fair pay, workers get benefits like 90-day maternity leave, reasonable work hours, no exposure to certain toxic chemicals, and decisionmaking via employee committee.

Adds Treehugger:

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Here’s a solution to most bikes’ dirty secret

Ever been biking in a park and been dismayed that your shiny metal bike didn’t quite fit in with your earthy, natural surroundings? So has designer Daniel Gestoso -- so he dreamt up the Boske wooden bike.

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Daniel Gestoso

Like its predecessor, the Sandwichbike, the Boske is flat-packed in IKEA fashion; you only need an Allen wrench to put it together. Its frame is a bony figure eight made from laminated, sustainably harvested maple. Recycled pop cans provide the aluminum for the seat base and front fork. “All of this will allow production to stay local, reducing energy usage in transportation and distribution,” Gestoso told Fast Company.

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Float on

This floating electric amphicar could save you from the next tsunami

electric_floating_car
Fomm Concept One

It’s a car! It’s a boat! It’s an electric-powered vehicle that bobs on the water like a jetski!

The Japanese-developed Fomm Concept One uses a water jet generator to propel through water, and has a motorcycle-style handlebar to accelerate and brake. And get this: Its wheels are lightweight, buoyant, and they can operate like fins when in the water.

Pretty neat, eh? Before you take the plunge and pack up the family for a picnic in the lake, remember that this amphicar isn’t meant just for fun. It was designed by a Japanese company to help rescue people from flooding and tsunamis and will only be sold in Thailand, followed by a larger rollout in Southeast Asia. The tiny, 1,000-pound car can only drive about 62 miles before it needs to be recharged, and can only handle one disaster at a time before it needs to be maintained again.