Cities

Pittsburgh beats out L.A. for sootiest U.S. city

Pittsburgh, Pa., has received the dubious honor of being the U.S. city most well-sooted for short-term particle pollution, topping an annual list put out by the American Lung Association. Los Angeles came in at a surprise second as Pittsburgh became the first non-California city to top an ALA list. “It’s not that Pittsburgh has gotten worse,” says the association’s Janice Nolen. “It’s that Los Angeles has gotten better.” A little better, anyway: L.A. was still deemed the worst city for ground-level ozone and for year-round particle pollution (Pittsburgh was the runner-up on that list). Overall, some 42 percent of the …

The unbearable tightness of oil markets

America is ill equipped to handle expensive oil

The Times‘ Jad Mouawad has written a piece describing the state of the world’s oil market. It is, in a word, tight. Production volumes have been flat at best, and consumption growth has continued. Kevin Drum comments: I imagine that a global economic slowdown will flatten oil consumption a bit over the next year or two, and eventually higher prices will rein in demand more permanently. On the other hand, we’ve seen oil prices double three times in the past eight years without producing so much as a blip in rising demand. So if we’re in a genuine, long-term supply …

Ousted L.A. gardeners continue to farm

In June 2006, a land dispute led to the shutdown of the South Central Community Garden in Los Angeles. Weeks of protest and tree-sitting by celebrities and regular folk proved unfruitful, and the 14-acre garden, tended by 350 low-income families in the middle of one of L.A.’s poorest neighborhoods, was bulldozed. Nearly two years later, with legal wrangling over the land’s ownership ongoing, the gardeners are plotting again in Buttonwillow, Calif., a tiny town west of Bakersfield. With the help of a nonprofit foundation, some farmers have bought 85 acres of land that they hope convert into a working farm …

Architect R.K. Stewart on building the future of sustainable design

If you build it, they will come. But if you build it green, you just may be able to save the planet. R.K. Stewart. Or so says a recent report, which suggests that green building could help cut North America’s greenhouse-gas emissions more quickly and less expensively than any other measure. And word is getting out about the promise of this fast-growing field — some have even called 2008 the official “Year of Green Building.” It’s no wonder the field is building momentum — sustainable design is one of the top priorities for the American Institute of Architects, the leading …

Nothing new under the sun

I lived with a railroad signalman in college and he used to drive a convertible rig -- a heavy truck that could drive either on the streets or on the tracks with retractable steel wheels. Apparently someone noticed that this might be a great idea for lots of applications. Watch:

What is the Vectrix?

Electric bike zips up Berkeley hills with ease

An ex-girlfriend of mine placed great diagnostic weight on the following question: Would you rather have one cookie now or two cookies later? I am generally a two-cookies-later person, and she ... well, now that I think of it, she was more of a two-cookies-now kind of person, which explains ... Photo: Sonietta46 I digress. The point is that if you have been reading all the recent news about the Tesla and the Volt, and now Think is coming to America, and apparently Project Better Place is going hook up everyone in Denmark and Israel -- and you are perhaps pissed at the oil companies, and food riots are scaring the shit out of you, and the rocketing price of gas makes you wonder if the peak oil kids are right -- well, who can blame you for wanting an electric car right now? Unfortunately, you are kind of screwed. I mean, the Zenn is kind of cute, but 35 mph? Tesla takes reservations, but a reservation doesn't really get you to the grocery store, does it?

Generate energy locally; recycle whenever possible

A Pollan-esque energy objective in six words … and then some

Perhaps the single most important thing we can do to drive up our energy efficiency, lower energy costs, and bolster the overall reliability of our energy infrastructure is to overhaul our electric sector's regulatory model to move generation away from big, remote plants and toward local generation. From solar to CHP, we have a panoply of technologies, fuels, and companies who would participate in such a shift. Less understood is that our regulatory model creates obstacles to all of these options, unwittingly causing us to burn too much fossil fuel and pay too much for energy. Back in January, David challenged us all to follow Michael Pollan's lead and summarize our objectives in seven words or less. Here's mine: Generate energy locally. Recycle whenever possible. Like Pollan, it takes a book to explain the detail underlying that summary. This particular explanation is limited to a blog post below the fold.

Who is a farmer?

Linguistic insights into agriculture

One of the problems people have discussing sustainable agriculture is the question of language. I was trained originally in English literature and hold as an article of faith that language matters -- deeply. That is, I believe that we can only come to an honest vision for the future with a shared language that accurately describes our world. Agriculture is in the news, obviously -- and the future of farming is a big question. But we keep running up against the question of what, precisely, a farm is. There's a lot of debate about where our farmers should come from, where they will grow, and who we will count as a farmer. Often, I find, even those who believe in the future of local food systems are talking past each other. That is, when we talk about "farmers," who are we actually talking about? What's "agriculture" and what's "gardening"? Where does "homesteading," "smallholding," "horticulture," and "subsistence farming" fall in the mess? Yesterday's Wall Street Journal article about suburban farmers is inspiring -- and it further enhances the need for a shared public language of agriculture.

If you’re building in L.A., you gotta build green

Los Angeles has become the biggest U.S. city to pass green-building laws. Under the regulations announced Tuesday, new commercial and residential structures of more than 50,000 square feet will have to be LEED certified by the U.S. Green Building Council. The law also applies to major renovations. “We look toward the future through a greener lens,” says Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, “after decades of poor policies that neglected environmental concerns.” Some critics say the L.A. standards lag in comparison to San Francisco, which is considering a proposal that would require LEED Silver certification for buildings of more than 25,000 square feet. …