Sprawling homes susceptible to flames in California

The impact of the still-raging California fires on humans and their homes is tragic and lamentable — but far from unexpected, thanks to homeowners’ tendency to sprawl out and nestle right up to the fire line. Some two-thirds of new building in southern California in the past decade was on tinder-dry, fire-susceptible land, says historian Mike Davis. “You might as well be building next to leaking gasoline cans,” he says. Many homeowners are not deterred. “We’ll stay,” says Richard Sanders of Escondido from a fast-food restaurant, awaiting news of how his house fared. “We like the community, we like the …

Along the Mississippi: Ponyshoe edition

$5 could be yours

It’s morning in St Louis, and we’re getting ready to talk with some of the movers and shakers in the world of riverfront greenways. While preparing, we ate at a greasy spoon where Jimmy Kimmel was on the teevee talking about his daily cross-country flights for this week’s double-hosting duty. Yikes. On a side note, this meal was my third in a row involving white food products slathered in butter — I’ve gotta be careful about that. But my health loss is your gain: I will send $5 to the first person who can correctly guess the four ingredients in …

Along the Mississippi: So long, Dubuque ...

… we’re off to St. Louis

Despite the whirlwindiness of our visit to Dubuque, Sarah and I feel like we got a good picture of the work that’s going on there. It helped to have a view from the country’s shortest, steepest railroad: We’ll write about all of this in more detail later in the fall. But for now, it’s off to the glories of St. Louis … bigger city, same river. Stay tuned.

Along the Mississippi: Driving Miss Doris

Exploring Dubuque by boat

What floats our boat? Um, we’re not quite sure, but that didn’t stop us from taking the helm like two river rats making our way downstream. Thanks to the (very Dubuque) hospitality of Trish McDonald and her "chick boat" Doris Day, we were fortunate enough to spend the day out on the Mississippi River. Trish took us on the grand tour as we sped down to the locks and dam, meandered through Ice Harbor, and puttered past ginormous barges waiting to fill up with corn, soy, and coal. She was even gracious (or crazy) enough to let us take a …

Brit's Eye View: The future becomes us

Envisioning possible green futures helps create a greener future

Peter Madden, chief executive of Forum for the Future, writes a monthly column for Gristmill on sustainability in the U.K. and Europe. There has been much discussion lately of the need to turn the green agenda from a negative to a positive one. I think that an important part of this is developing some more positive visions of what living in a sustainable future might be like. My organization, Forum for the Future, has set itself this task. Partly because we think the green movement needs more credible and aspirational stories of the future if we are to take people with us. And partly because we become the future that we imagine -- it is to an extent a self-fulfilling prophecy. So, we are trying to take different parts of the future and imagine what they might look like. We now have a series of projects looking at different aspects of future living. Our recent report, "Low Carbon Living 2022," asks how might our lives be better if we get the response to climate change right. A low-carbon Britain doesn't have to mean cutbacks and sacrifice. Low Carbon Living 2022 looks forward 15 years and shows ways in which a low-carbon future could deliver: stronger communities, a cleaner local environment, more money, better transport, a healthier lifestyle, and a thriving economy.

Along the Mississippi: Quote of the day

Granted, it’s early yet

Just met with Laura Carstens, planning services manager for Dubuque. The money quote: “For years, we turned our back on the river. Now we’re making it our front door.” Later today, Sarah and I will get out on the river for the first time. The tourist riverboat stopped running this weekend because the weather turned, but yesterday one of our sources called a friend with a boat. The friend agreed to pick us up this morning and take us for a ride. And that right there tells you plenty about Dubuque.

Along the Mississippi: We're not in Seattle anymore

… or Kansas, for that matter

Here’s what the sign says on the back of the bathroom door in our hotel: Hotel Laws of Iowa Fixing, Limiting, and Determining the Liability of Keepers of Hotels, Inns, Eating-Houses, and Steamboat Owners to Inmates Thereof. Sorry, was that … steamboat owners? Holy crap.

Along the Mississippi: America's river

Exploring Dubuque’s riverwalk, tourist-style

While Katharine spent the day getting free lunch and talking to city planners, I spent my day exploring what, exactly, all those city planners have spent all their time planning. Namely, the America’s River project I mentioned earlier today. I toured the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium with Teri Goodmann, the director of national advancement for the museum and, as it happens, a fairly knowledgeable Mississippi River fish enthusiast. (Did you know there are hugemongous catfish and sturgeon lurking in the muddy waters of the Mississip?) Then, I climbed aboard the William M. Black, a 1934 steamboat that’s nearly …

Along the Mississippi: SDAT thing you do

A meeting of the minds in the Masterpiece on the Mississippi

There’s no free lunch — unless you happen to be a Grist reporter crashing a sustainability conference in Dubuque. I showed up, hungry, for a 12 p.m. presentation by City Manager Mike Van Milligen that was kicking off a three-day Sustainable Design Assessment Team visit. I was rewarded not only with more inspiring examples of this city’s initiatives, but with a sandwich. Let me back up a little. Dubuque — which, as Sarah said, is turning out to be a more progressive place than either of us realized — was chosen this year as one of six cities to receive …

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