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 …

Energizing smart energy behavior

Never mind what people believe — how can we change what they do? A chat with Robert Cialdini

When it comes to energy, policymakers are often confronted with human behavior that seems irrational, unpredictable, or unmanageable. Advocates for energy efficiency in particular are plagued by the gap between what it would make sense for people to do and what they actually do. Efforts to change people’s behavior have a record that can charitably be described as mixed. (See my post, Making buildings more efficient: It helps to understand human behavior.) Many of the experiments that have cast the most light on what does (and doesn’t) drive behavioral shifts around energy have been run by Dr. Robert Cialdini, until …

Mad libs

India, Italy, Brazil can fill America’s blanks

Americans pride themselves on being ________ (fill in the blank with something like “biggest,” “best,” or “first”). Especially in California, we think we lead the world on carbon-reducing advances like ________ (fill in blank with “solar power,” “energy efficiency,” or “suntanned, body-builder, movie star, Austrian-born governors”). Given Obama’s U.N.-busting initiative in Copenhagen last month, our country may soon have more to brag about in the low carbon economy of the future, but for now, we might be smart to follow a few examples from India, Italy, and Brazil. A company in India that once made plastic bags now recycles them …

Renewable energy is in big demand as states try to cut carbon emissions

Everyone Poops – – and a few spin gold

Thanks to the global effort to cut carbon, we could soon be spinning waste of all kinds -- including poop -- into big bucks.

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