Artist Matt Hope calls the concept bicycle he's inventing "a weird provocative object" with a "Chinese fighter pilot breathing thingy." We call it a bike that, as the rider pedals, powers a purifier that feeds the rider more breathable air.
Mark Tercek leads the largest conservation group in the galaxy. As president and CEO of the Nature Conservancy, he oversees a staff of 4,000 people spread around the planet, an annual budget exceeding a half-billion dollars, and land holdings that would fetch billions more if they weren't all locked up for the sake of protecting wild animals. Still, the former Goldman Sachs exec insists that he’s a small-time player in a world where large corporations rule and nature lovers get what they can.
In his recent book, Nature’s Fortune, co-authored by Jonathan Adams, Tercek argues that nature deserves a bigger slice of the pie. He's not looking for handouts (though his organization, like Grist, depends on the generosity of good people like you). Instead, he argues that conservation is good for business -- a message he says is catching on, particularly among corporations and cities.
Witness New York. In the 1990s, faced with the prospect of building a multi-billion-dollar water treatment system, the city instead invested in protecting its watershed in the Catskills, partnering with communities, landowners, and farmers to prevent pollution, rather than paying to clean it up after the fact. As a result, the Big Apple gets clean drinking water at a fraction of what it would cost to build water treatment plants, and the Catskills get an infusion of green -- trees, yes, but also cash. (Tercek and Adams tell that story in the book, in a section that we’ve reprinted here.) The Nature Conservancy is now helping to spread that model to cities all over the world.
Tercek dropped by Grist HQ a few weeks ago for some vegan vittles and a chat with the whole staff. Here are a few of our questions, and snippets of his answers, about how his organization is changing with the times, the challenge of getting city people to care about conservation, and his dealings with the big businesses that make even the Nature Conservancy look small.
Q.Why should we be putting half a billion dollars a year into protecting nature as opposed to say, pushing solar and other renewable energy technology forward?
A. I think we should do both. That new technology should be pursued either by the government doing the right thing because the private sector’s not, or the private sector. Obviously there’s lots of ways to incentivize that private-sector investment -- put a price on carbon. And there are enormous numbers of people who are rich, or powerful and influential, attracted to those initiatives. So they’re going pretty well.
In the meantime, we think the work we do is extraordinarily important. For example, in northwestern Montana, near Glacier National Park, there were 300,000 acres of land made available for purchase by us by Plum Creek. This land, just because of where it’s situated in between other protected areas, was extraordinarily attractive for development -- second homes for well-to-do people. So we bought all that land in one swoop for half a billion dollars.
Now why is that important? Well, all the species that were there when Lewis and Clark were there are still there. So it’s extraordinary wilderness. And if climate change occurs like we expect it will, those grizzlies and lynx, they can migrate north up to B.C. -- we’re doing comparable work right over the border. If we hadn’t done that, this land would have been developed, for sure, and this opportunity would be gone forever.
Eddie & Sam’s Pizza in downtown Tampa, Fla., boasts "Real New York Pizza." The distinguishing characteristic of real New York Pizza? Not the crust, the cheese, the sauce, the toppings, or even the giant, floppy slices. It's the water. Every few months, Eddie & Sam’s brings in 1,000 gallons of water from the same Catskill springs that feed New York City's reservoirs. Another company, the Brooklyn Water Bagel Co., with about 20 locations across the country, has gone even further. Rather than import water from Brooklyn, the company seeks to recreate the precise chemistry of New York water through a patented 14-step filtration process, and only then can the water be used to make their bagels.
All that time, money, and technology to get just the right water for pizza and bagels may seem excessive, but New Yorkers take justifiable pride in their water. Most of New York’s supply never passes through a filter and receives comparatively small doses of chlorine and fluoride.
For their high-quality and lightly-treated water, today’s New Yorkers can thank quite a few forested hillsides and a handful of foresighted city planners. Though they did not put it in these terms, those planners invested in nature, and generations of New Yorkers have reaped the benefits ever since.
The city planners’ investment had particular urgency. Cholera outbreaks that spread through the city’s water in the early 19th century killed thousands of New Yorkers. These epidemics, along with water pollution and a quickly growing population, forced city officials to search the countryside for cleaner and more reliable sources than surface water and local wells. Even in 1837, New York officials, anticipating the city’s growth, invested in a system of aqueducts to bring water from the Croton River, east of the Hudson River and some 25 miles north of the city line.
By the end of the 19th century, population growth outstripped the capacity of the aqueducts from the Croton River. To supplement this supply, officials turned their attention to the Catskills, 2,000 square miles of hills and valleys west of the Hudson and three times as far from the city as the Croton. The region was still almost entirely rural. There were some farms, but forests were largely intact and streams clean-running. Construction of a system of reservoirs, tunnels, and conduits from this ideal water supply began in 1905.
At Grist, we’ve been onto the trend of the youngs losing interest in driving for awhile now. And every time a new study or survey comes out to statistically corroborate the anecdotal evidence we see every day, we hear the same responses from skeptics -- it’s just the economy, just a stage of life. Wait til those millennials get real jobs, get married, have families, and move to the suburbs. Then you bet they’ll start driving.
But the latest report on declining driving trends -- released today by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund -- argues that a rejection of car culture is here to stay. “The Driving Boom is over,” it declares. In fact, the report calculates that “If the Millennial-led decline in per-capita driving continues for another dozen years … total vehicle travel in the United States could remain well below its 2007 peak through at least 2040 -- despite a 21 percent increase in population.”
The U.S. PIRG study reveals how, after six decades of steady growth, both total vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and VMT per capita have been falling since 2007. Total VMT is now at 2004 levels, while VMT per capita has fallen to 1996 levels. And once again, it’s those meddling millennials who are reimagining one of the pillars of American culture. Young people ages 16 to 34 drove an average of 23 percent fewer miles in 2009 than they did in 2001, according to the report. If you consider that more than half the people in that age group were old enough to drive in 2001, too, that suggests that even as those at the older end of this generation enter their 30s -- presumably settling into more stable jobs and in some cases starting families -- they’re still not switching over to a car-centric lifestyle at the same rate as generations before them.
Vineyards won't be the only things flourishing when the sun shines on the fertile city of Sebastopol, Calif., in Sonoma wine country. The liberal stronghold of fewer than 8,000 residents this week became California's second city to require that new homes be outfitted with panels to produce solar energy.
A vote by the City Council on Tuesday evening came less than two months after a similar program was approved in Lancaster, Calif., a conservative desert city with 150,000 residents nearly 400 miles away.
Here's the best way to start a visit to New York City's New Amsterdam Market: a small nibble of a hearty Finnish Ruis bread round, made with rye from Upstate New York and topped with a slice of locally made cheese. From there, you might sample some dishes by a chef promoting his latest cookbook; grab a loaf of “multi-ethnic” bread made by Hot Bread Kitchen, a social enterprise designed to empower its minority and low-income employees; snack on locally made grass-fed beef jerky; and wash it all down with Brooklyn-brewed kombucha.
Since 2005, every Sunday has seen the parking lot of the former Fulton Fish Market site at Lower Manhattan’s South Street Seaport transformed into a bustling agora selling artisanal foods made with locally sourced ingredients from sustainable farms -- all this, beneath the roar of an interborough highway.
Those who come -- a small but dedicated group, about 50,000 annually -- not only love to shop locally and organically, but also appreciate the history of the site. As far back as the late 17th century, the South Street Seaport was a place for Long Island farmers to sell their produce, and over the course of 200 years it became a main port for fish and seafood. The Fulton Fish Market building, now vacant, was built by Mayor LaGuardia in the 1930s.
But now, the New Amsterdam Market is likely facing its last summer at the Seaport. In its place, the Howard Hughes Corporation plans to build a complex of luxury hotels, high-rises, and a concert venue. The city council, which recently voted to approve the company's plan for the Seaport, is calling the development a victory for local food, but while the Hughes Corp has plans for some kind of “food market” that uses local and regional ingredients, the organizer of New Amsterdam will likely not be involved, and it is unclear if any of the current vendors will, either.
Perhaps it’s not news that real estate is king in New York, or that the city’s government will always go with big money and big development over small business. But what’s new here is that the city and its business partner have co-opted the language of the local food movement in promoting their development visions.
At a time when local food boosterism is growing in mayor’s offices across the country (Seattle and L.A. recently passed general local food ordinances, and Chicago is launching an urban ag program), New Amsterdam Market is a lesson that other cities can learn from. If they want to hang on to their foothold in the urban environment, small businesses in the local food world are going to have to cultivate relationships with city governments, and anticipate encroaching development, as part of their business strategy.
In terms of infrastructure, Venice is maybe not a world leader. (Enough with the canals, guys.) But when it comes to efficient green transportation, a human-powered gondola is pretty great. But Venice's historic gondolas are in trouble -- and you can help.
If the definition of insanity is making the same mistakes over and over, then many cities have taken a certifiable approach to securing their water supplies -- and they need some radical therapy before taking the big economic, ecological, and human hits that come with a permanent state of thirst.
That’s the conclusion from a new study in the journal Water Policy, whose authors compared the water supply histories of four cities -- San Diego, Phoenix, San Antonio, and Adelaide, Australia. Among the lessons learned? Urban water conservation, recycling, and desalination aren't silver bullets. In fact, the best solution may lie upstream with farmers -- saving just 5-10 percent of agricultural irrigation in upstream watersheds could satisfy a city’s entire water needs.
But the time to act is now, argues Brian Richter, a senior freshwater scientist at The Nature Conservancy and the study’s lead author -- he says a global urban water crisis is already here. Below, Richter tells us more about what cities need to do to say on the right side of dry.
Q.Many cities take a similar pattern of water development, according to your research -- going from exhausting local surface and groundwater supplies to importing water to implementing water conservation to finally recycling water or desalination. Why is this pattern unsustainable?
A. When we overuse a freshwater source, we set ourselves up for disaster. Each of the cities we reviewed in our study has contributed to the drying of a major river or important groundwater spring. That has obvious ecological impacts and social consequences -- it affects livelihoods and human health by compromising fish production, concentrating pollution, or curtailing recreational activities.
Our research is revealing that water scarcity also causes severe economic losses by limiting or disrupting agricultural, industrial, and energy production. Texas lost nearly $8 billion in agriculture last year due to water shortages; electricity generation from hydropower dams on the Colorado River in 2010 dropped by 20 percent due to water shortages. Some estimates suggest that China may be losing $39 billion each year due to crop damage and lessened industrial production, and hundreds of thousands of people around the globe are being forced to move due to water shortages.
Because these impacts are so pervasive and damaging, we need to begin investing in water supply approaches that don’t just minimize these adverse impacts but instead begin to reverse them.
On Tuesday, voters in Youngstown, Ohio, gave the fracking industry carte blanche to continue pumping chemicals into the ground beneath them and pumping natural gas out.
A city charter amendment that would have outlawed hydraulic fracturing in the city was rejected by voters, with the unofficial final vote tally showing 3,821 votes against and 2,880 in favor. The ballot measure would also have banned new pipelines in the city and prevented oil-field waste from being transported through the city.
Opposition to the ballot measure was spearheaded by a business-backed group calling itself Mahoning Valley Coalition for Job Growth and Investment. That group was formed especially to defeat the ballot measure, and it easily outspent the measure's backers. In campaigning, the business group had described the ballot measure as unconstitutional, far-reaching, and unenforceable, and claimed it would send the wrong kind of message to the business community.
West Side Rag reports that this unfortunate driver tried to get to New Jersey by turning west onto the stairs leading down to Riverside Park. The pedestrian stairs. Because cars can't climb stairs. Which you know, and I know, but apparently this guy and more importantly his GPS did not know.