What would Gandhi drive?

A tour through Indian energy projects suggests small is beautiful

A local irrigation project in southern India.Courtesy Michael Foley Photography via FlickrGeorge Black has a fascinating story about how India might lift its people out of poverty without torching the environment in the current issue of OnEarth, the magazine run by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Written largely as a travelogue through clean energy innovations in northern India, Black’s narrative considers the three essentials the country aspires to deliver to its billion-plus citizens—water, energy, and mobility. The story includes the requisite bleak facts, like India’s booming population, its over-reliance on coal-fired electricity, the melting Himalayan glaciers that will threaten water …

Point A to Point Whee!

The best U.S. transit systems you never knew existed

When it comes to public transit in the U.S., there are certain predictable all-stars: the Metro in Washington, D.C., is convenient, efficient, and clean. The anthropomorphically nicknamed El and BART in Chicago and San Francisco are legendary. And everyone knows it’s easier to navigate New York City without a car than with one. But what about the rest of the country? As cities big and small rethink how their residents get around, new systems are taking shape — and as gas prices and paychecks fluctuate, riders are responding in droves. While the current economic crunch is forcing many cities to …

Next, In Car Nation

Slideshow: The plug-ins and electric vehicles of 2009

Can’t wait until 2010 for the Chevy Volt (or Coda or Fisker Karma or Chrysler Circuit)? Check out these electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles that are either on the market now or will be by the end of 2009. In slideshow order: Aptera 2e Th!nk City Subaru Stella Toyota Prius extended-range hybrid Mitsubishi i-MiEV smart fortwo electric drive BYD Auto F3DM MINI E Tesla Roadster

Counter coalture

Taking coal back to the garden

“…we can train ourselves to attend to the beautiful things waiting to be noticed. We can become curious and push the perceptions outward towards the surrounding world and society. We can see the miracle of life around us. We can be altered and saved by the situation in which we find ourselves.”  Anne Bogart, Siti Theatre Company A few years ago, when coal miners stumbled onto a 300 million-year-old fossilized rainforest in a mine in eastern Illinois, the nation was reminded of coal’s one-time role in the garden.  In one of the more creative protests against dirty coal this year, …

Radiant Cities: Post-Fab

Recession redirects a green-building pioneer

Back around 2006, when the American Dream of home ownership was still intact and green building was officially transferred from the domain of hippies to yuppies, folks got very excited about prefab. Here in New York City, my friends and I felt our second-home prayers had been answered (not that we could afford a first home): we’d buy a plot of land in the country and plop down a bunch of panelized, pre-fabricated high modern houses for well less than $100,000 each–something stylish and healthy and affordable that would re-create the bungalow colony model. Online message boards like FabPreFab exploded …

Part I (of 100) in the Big Levers to Solve Climate Series

Three crucial steps to fixing climate change in cities

I was just in Boston at the excellent Living Cities Green Boot Camp, which was focused on what it will take to actually start hugely and radically retrofitting existing buildings in cities. Cities are, as you all know, a huge lever in solving climate change. Big cities have big climate footprints, and the bulk of those footprints are typically from buildings. The point of the boot camp was to figure out how to actually start this incredibly difficult process of fixing old buildings. How do you finance it? How do you actually do it? How do you make it happen …

Sexy Retrofits: Catch-Up Edition

Yeah, that’s right, I’ve been to boot camp

A couple of months ago, I promised (threatened?) that I’d be starting a new column called Sexy Retrofits. Now I’m making good on that notion — but so much news has been swirling around on the topic lately that I’m forced to start with a round-up. Now with more bullet points! Yesterday I had the chance to drop by the “Green Boot Camp” held at Harvard by Living Cities, a consortium of foundations and financial institutions looking to give U.S. metro areas a shot in the arm. At the conference, teams of officials from 16 cities spent three intense days …

Talking Trash

‘Garbage Dreams’ explores life in Cairo’s garbage villages

Eighteen million people live in Cairo. They produce 13,000 tons of garbage every day, and they have no waste disposal system. Ew. Mai Iskander presents Al Gore with a drawing made by the children at The Recycling School in Cairo.Courtesy Garbage Dreams via FlickrBut the trash also presents an opportunity. For the past 50 years, one group of people in Cairo has made its living collecting and recycling one- to two-thirds of Cairo’s residential waste. Profiled in Mai Iskander’s new documentary film, “Garbage Dreams,” the Zaballeen — Arabic for garbage collectors — daily whisk trash bags from doorsteps in Cairo’s …

Strengthening the Movement by Shrinking It

An interview with the innovators behind

We’ve all heard that eating locally is one way to reduce your environmental impact. But what about donating locally? In the urban wilds of New York City, a new non-profit is betting that locally based, small-scale giving can have a big eco-impact. Ioby, whose name stands for “in our back yards,” connects people working on neighborhood-level projects with community members who can physically and financially support them. At, launched this month by co-founders Erin Barnes, Cassie Flynn, and Brandon Whitney, individuals or groups post project descriptions and budgets, and interested donors contribute to the project of their choice. Here’s …

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