Cities

Invested interests

One step ahead of the carbon cops

What was it that Joe Friday in the old radio and TV show “Dragnet” used to say? “Just the facts, ma’am, just the facts.” Facing just the facts last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) ruled that publicly-held companies must disclose their exposure to potential losses from climate change, including carbon emissions that are the subject of growing regulation in the U.S. (and already highly regulated in Europe). Reaction has been both partisan and predictable, but make no mistake — the carbon cops are coming and the SEC is simply pointing out how to stay one step ahead of …

Knockin' the suburbs

Cities vs. suburbs: The next big green battle?

Alex Steffen—futurist, Worldchanging editor, tall person—makes the provocative argument that there’s really no way to make outer-ring suburbs sustainable. He thinks cities vs. suburbs is the political conflict that will define the next decade, a fact that climate-focused groups have been slow to acknowledge. The real potential, he suggests, lies with urban dwellers who don’t identify as activists or environmentalists–people working in architecture, design, planning, community development, housing, building, local energy, local food, alternative transportation, and the like. Some of this is in my piece on activism after Copenhagen. Here’s more: Q. Where do the suburbs fit into the urban …

Keep up the PACE

How innovative financing is changing energy in America

Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, has taken off like wildfire since the concept was first introduced in Berkeley, Calif. in October ’07. PACE allows private property owners to pay for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects through an addition to their property tax bill, overcoming the high upfront costs that prevent most property owners from investing in such retrofits. PACE financing has the capacity to be transformative: property owners realize immediate savings on their utility bills with minimal money down; local green jobs are created through increased demand for retrofitting goods and services; and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are …

My city of ruins

Cities get rebuilt more often than you think

When I hear folks like Alex Steffen talk about “remaking cities,” my gut reaction is that U.S. cities seem mostly permanent, like they’re already built and we’re stuck with them. (Quick reminder: The world’s cities cause 75 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions, according to several measures.) But then there’s this new slideshow at Slate, in which Camilo Jose Vergara photographs the ruins of urban America. Some of the photos portray the same abandoned landscapes just a few years apart. It’s amazing how quickly built structures decay, and how quickly weeds and rot take root. It’s a reminder that cities—especially …

On neighbors & the speed of plasterers

On the wall of many offices of the Fund for Public Interest Research, a spinoff outfit of the state PIRGs which dominates the market for progressive door-to-door and telephone canvasses, there is a framed piece of paper in which I take inordinate pride. It is a blurry copy of a thirty year old mimeographed crew sheet; results of the first day of MASSPIRG’s 1980 summer canvass, the small seed from which the now giant beanstalk–sized Fund has grown. I field managed the crew that day, my first day canvassing. We were in Newton, Massachusetts talking about the Bottle Bill, unknowingly …

The investor game of chicken

Who will make the first move toward a clean energy future?

Last week several hundred investors huddled together at the U.N. with government officials and non-profit groups to discuss one thing — carbon. They heard from U.S. climate change negotiator Todd Stern, international political royalty, and a host of economic prognosticators about topics including the recent talks in Copenhagen, potential Congressional action, and whether new clean tech would set us free from our fossil fuel addiction. And what was the take-away? That everyone expects someone else to make the first move. To put this in perspective, Al Gore spoke about how investors put money to work based on assumptions. In the …

No carbon credit

Why America’s greenest mayor got no love

Seattle Times environmental reporter Craig Welch profiles one of the more puzzling characters in recent urban politics, Seattle’s now-former mayor, Greg Nickels. The piece treads some of the same ground as my profile of Nickels last month: after demonstrating national leadership in rallying mayors on climate change, Nickels received no political credit back home. Seattle, a supposedly green-minded city, tossed him out in a primary race last August and elected regional Sierra Club leader Mike McGinn instead. Welch points out that Nickels’ home record on sustainability included some real accomplishments: He fought sprawl by building up, added more bike lanes …

A Twenty-Something Riffs on GreenBuild

Dispatches from the Phoenix Green Building Conference

Recently, an interior designer and massage therapist named Becky Anderson helped me certify an Aspen Skiing Company building (Sam’s Restaurant) to LEED Gold. As a reward for her remarkable work, we sent her to the U.S. Green Building Council’s enormous, happening-like, and increasingly burning-man scale annual conference, which took place in Phoenix this fall and attracted some 40,000 people into the teeth of a depression. Her dispatch is below. A few notes: on reading this, I worried that my overly-critical and sometimes cynnical take on the green building movement (which played out in Grist over the years) had tarnished Becky’s …

Me, in the New York Times

Taking distributed energy seriously

This week, in The New York Times’ Room for Debate, I was involved in a discussion on the brewing war among environmentalists over building large power plants on sensitive land — specifically, in this case, a solar thermal power plant in the Mojave desert. “Green Civil War: Projects vs. Preservation” saw contributions from: Randy Udall, energy analyst Vaclav Smil, professor, University of Manitoba Daniel M. Kammen, professor of energy, U.C. Berkeley Ileene Anderson, Center for Biological Diversity Winona LaDuke, Honor the Earth Fund And me! Turns out it’s very difficult to make a point in 300 words, at least for …

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