Cities

Report warns of new security threats from climate change

Climate change will create a range of new security threats, including millions of displaced climate refugees, according to a new report from Britain’s Oxford Research Group. The report forecasts a tumultuous climate-changed future by as early as 2050 where some 200 million climate refugees fleeing environmental disasters in their homelands will try to immigrate to the U.K. and other wealthy nations. To his credit, the report’s author recommends actually tackling climate change now to avoid encountering such a situation instead of beefing up anti-immigration policies and fortifying police and other armed forces. However, given the current pace of action on …

Moving on out

There are limits to the positive environmental change we can expect from high gas prices

You can scarcely pick up a paper or turn on the television these days without hearing the word recession. Leading economic indicators have wiggled in different directions over the past few months, but the general trend appears to be negative. The conventional wisdom points toward an economic downturn of some kind during 2008, and businesses in all sorts of consumer markets are bracing for the inevitable tightening of purse strings. A funny thing happened on the way toward economic slowdown, however. As one might expect, oil prices dropped on expectations of reduced future demand. As one may not have expected, …

The hybrid solar home

An alternative housing concept

Seattle is having a cold snap. It's 25 degrees outside. Our rare freezing winter days correspond with equally rare clear winter skies. Days like this make me wish I had a solar powered home that could harvest and store that free burst of energy for later use. The bottom line is that American homes are just too large to be cost effectively heated with solar energy. The push has been to get the cost of solar panels down. But, what would you get if you crossed an expensive solar heating and cooling system with an optimally sized home? By optimal, I mean not larger than you need. You would get an affordable solar powered home like the one shown above (click here to see the details). By affordable, I mean in the $150-200 thousand range excluding land, sewer, and water systems. Picture the north face with fancy wood and slate trim, a deck off of the loft doubling as a carport, double french doors, and lots and lots of windows (and window plugs). Essentially, this is a well insulated 10 x 40-foot park model trailer stocked with highly energy efficiency dual mode gas/electric appliances, and lots of diode lighting under a standardized solar energy system optimized for a given area of the country. Picture an entire neighborhood (or trailer park or commune) of these all facing south. Ninety percent of the people on this planet would jump at the chance to live in a home like that. Home size is relative, dependent on wealth and how far the "my house is bigger than yours" arms race has progressed. It's all a matter of perception.

Green suburbia bleg

How are you greening your suburban life?

Are you a green-living suburbanite? Do you want to tell your story to a major news organization? Even majorer than Grist? Tell us about your creative green approaches to living in the suburbs. Have you replaced your lawn with switchgrass? Offered to install solar power for everyone in your cul-de-sac? Organized a carpool to a commuter-transit junction? Share your adventures below in comments.

High-speed rail

High-speed rail, already kicking ass (in Europe), is set to kick much more ass (in Europe): Last July seven operators banded together to form Railteam, an alliance that is working to create a seamless, high-speed network across a large swath of Western Europe. Functioning much like an airline alliance, Railteam is setting up a common reservation system that’s set to begin operations in 2009. It is also helping member railways coordinate their schedules to reduce layover times. A frequent-traveler program will even be offered — another page from the airlines’ playbook. For now, Railteam does not include operators in Italy, …

Maldives builds higher-altitude island, can’t attract residents

The tiny island nation of Maldives is at high risk of being swamped in years to come: it rises a mere three feet above sea level. So officials are building Hulhumalé, a human-made island with an altitude of more than six feet, capable of housing as many as 150,000 of the nation’s 369,000 inhabitants. There’s only one problem: Very few people want to move there. In the words of one Maldivian, who lives contentedly in the capital city of Malé with nine relatives in 730 square feet of space: “People are just being shifted from one island to another — …

Mayoral climate-protecting agreement hasn’t necessarily translated into action

Mayors across the country have signed onto the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, a nonbinding initiative encouraging city leaders to meet or beat the greenhouse-gas reductions outlined in the U.S.-shunned Kyoto Protocol. So about that nonbinding part: While some city officials have taken concrete steps to reduce emissions, others haven’t followed through at all. “I remember at the time I thought it was a good idea,” says Vista, Calif., Mayor Morris Vance, who asked city staff to “come back with some recommendations” that have not yet emerged. Jim Janney, mayor of nearby Imperial Beach, says “It’s not like we’ve ignored …

Iditarod sled dog race forced to change starting point

The famous Iditarod sled dog race is undergoing permanent changes as organizers cope with urban sprawl and a warming climate. For the ceremonial start to the competition on Mar. 1, racers will travel 11 miles instead of the traditional 18 miles. The race itself will kick off Mar. 2 from Willow, Alaska, 30 miles north of the traditional starting town of Wasilla. Says Stan Hooley of the Iditarod Trail Committee, “A lot of development in the area makes [Wasilla] less desirable, and there have been less-than-winter conditions.” And that’s no way to race a sled, dawg.

Tata Motors unveils world’s cheapest car in India

Photo: TaTa Motors The world’s cheapest car was unveiled in India today by Tata Motors, which hopes that its new $2,500 subcompact will help make car ownership a reality for tens of millions of people. The Tata Nano gets respectable gas mileage, up to 58.8 miles per gallon, and meets India’s emissions standards, but its introduction was met by protests from greens fearful that more-accessible autos will have a negative effect on the country’s pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions. The auto industry, however, lauds the small five-seater — which has one windshield wiper and no radio, passenger-side mirror, central locking, power …

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