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The Civil Rights Act at 50: Protecting people of color and the environment, too

rosa parks

This week marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act, which made segregation unlawful and ushered stronger constitutional protections for people of color. There are still people who think that social justice and environmental issues are totally separate things, but as I’ve argued before, they’re not — and the Civil Rights Act is a case in point. The climate justice and environment worlds have benefited much from this law, particularly Title VI, which protects people of color from discrimination in any program or activity that receives federal funding.

While Title VI has been a somewhat suboptimal civil rights guardian in the environmental realm, it has had some successes in keeping people of color from suffering disproportionate pollution burdens -- and in ensuring equal access to public transportation. Some of these successes were discussed this week in the webinar "Transportation Equity: A 21st Century Civil Rights Issue,” which was hosted by a coalition of civil rights groups called the Transportation Equity Caucus.

Three presenters each provided examples of how precisely transportation policy meets at the nexus of civil rights and environmental protection. After all, the original 20th century battles leading to the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 were over rail and labor (check the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters) and buses (check the Montgomery Bus Boycott). Civil rights advocates still rely on the law to address transit inequities, and not just in the post-Jim-Crow South.

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Neighbors transform abandoned mall into a giant aquarium

fish
Shutterstock

American malls have been invaded by just about everything -- from Santas to zombies to the fitness-crazed elderly. But this? This is new. When the abandoned New World Mall in Bang Lamphu, Thailand, flooded and became a breeding ground for mosquitos, neighbors had a solution: Fill it with carp.

Supoj Wancharoen with the Bangkok Post has more on this fishy tale:

The history of the fish pond dates back to 1994 when the Supreme Court ordered the demolition of the seven-storey extension of the 11-storey New World. The judges uncovered the fact that the store operators originally asked for permission from the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) to construct a four-storey building.

The seven floors illegally added to New World were then demolished by the BMA. The work left a four-storey structure, with no roof or covering. Over the years … rain turned the waterlogged ground floor into a 500-square-metre pond.

The mostly stagnant pond became a breeding ground for mosquitoes. To fight that dangerous and annoying development, nearby residents bought fish of assorted species to eat the mosquitoes and larvae.

"The fish only came in around 2003-2004 after people around here were affected by the mosquito problems from the water-logging inside the New World building," said Sommai Chuanpak, who owns a coffee stand in front of the mall.

"We even bought carp and raised them. At first there were not many, but the number grew after several years."

The Verge has some amazing photos of the fish mall here.

The giant indoor malls that dot so much of the American landscape are falling out of favor and into decay, and what to do with them has become a hot topic, so let’s get to brainstorming! Some have suggested some “practical” uses, but I think these fish mall folks are on to something.

Read more: Cities

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Public transit still isn’t safe for women — but we can change that

harass transit
Hallie Bateman

The other day, I was talking to my dad on the phone about an essay I wrote about sexual harassment in a warming world.

“Honey,” he said, “I thought it was great – but where did you get the idea to write about something like that?”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “Personal experience, I guess.”

“You mean men say things like that to you? Just walking down the street?”

Well, no -- not just walking down the street, but also on the bus, in parks, and even in the Twittersphere. I suppose no father wants to think of his little girl being talked to that way, but I was shocked that it had never occurred to him because for me and billions of other women all over the world, it’s such a constant reality. I started thinking more about how, as a woman, my right to exist peacefully and safely in public spaces is compromised on a fairly regular basis. And I know that I’m not alone, which is why I’m still writing about it.

Read more: Cities, Living

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Baltimore air polluter fumbles, and kids score one for their hard-hit community

baltimore-yay
United Workers

After close to three years of youth-led organizing against a massive incinerator planned for their South Baltimore Fairfield neighborhood, the young activists got their first taste of victory recently, when the state of Maryland ordered Energy Answers International, the company building the incinerator, to stop construction on the project.

Assistant Attorney General Roberta R. James sent a letter to Energy Answers on June 20 alerting the company that it was in violation of the state’s air pollution control laws and regulations. Specifically, the incinerator company failed to purchase offsets for the hundreds of tons of toxic air pollutants the incinerator will emit when it gets up and running, which many in the Fairfield community hope won’t happen.

The offsets -- a company’s agreement to pay another company to clean up its emissions so that it can keep polluting -- are mandatory under Energy Answers' permit provisions. The company was required to begin buying offsets when it started construction last year.

But Sasol North America, Inc., one of the companies the offsets are banked off of, reported Energy Answers to state authorities when it failed to fulfill its obligations. The state is seeking $25,000 per violation for every day that Energy Answers has been delinquent, which could add up to $8 million, according to Baltimore Brew.

“In the interim, Energy Answers must discontinue all construction operation at the Fairfield site until Energy Answers is able to demonstrate to the Department’s satisfaction that it has replaced all the emissions offsets for which Energy Answers had an option to purchase from Sasol,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Roberta R. James in the letter.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Latest sign that the end is nigh: You can now get a “ride share” in a helicopter

uber-ocalypse

You know how it is -- there you are, standing on the roof of the American embassy during the fall of Saigon and all of the helicopters have their vacancy lights turned off. It’s the worst!

Now, thanks to the ride-share company Uber and its whirly-bird partner, Blade, well, you’d still be screwed. But if you want to get from Manhattan to the Hamptons this Thursday for a little surfing, they’ve got you covered.

Uber, a company that gets its name from a word banned from the German national anthem after World War II, is teaming up for one day with Blade, a company that offers Uber-like services for those in desperate need of a helicopter. Just make sure you get the pilot to crank Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” as you come in low over P-Diddy’s place.

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Hacking the climate

Cool roofs offer a salve for hot cities — and the climate, too

white-roof-1
White Roof Project

From his office in the Berkeley hills, Art Rosenfeld looks out on the heart of California’s Bay Area. The 87-year-old scientist keeps a pencil and a small notebook in his breast pocket, ready to jot down a quick note or make a calculation. With these simple tools he has been able to influence state and national energy policy over the years. But for now they stay tucked away as he enjoys the scenery. “I get a pretty good view of San Francisco,” Rosenfeld says.

While his vantage point has remained unchanged since beginning his career at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 1955, the view outside his window has changed considerably. The buildings are taller and more densely packed in on all sides of the bay. And from Rosenfeld’s bird’s-eye view, he sees that many of these buildings now boast noticeably brighter rooftops than they did even a few years ago.

hacking-climate-logo
Hallie Bateman

This brightening is a direct result of Rosenfeld’s vision. For decades he has promoted “cool” roofs, which are lighter in color than traditional black slabs and therefore reflect more of the sun’s heat. Cool roofs save money by keeping indoor temperatures more comfortable in warm weather and reducing the need for air conditioning. And since smog forms more rapidly at higher temperatures, reducing excess urban heat can also make city air safer to breathe. To top it off, cooler temperatures can make heat waves less hazardous to city-dwellers.

On a larger scale, the impact can be even greater. A global campaign to brighten cities could cancel out some of the warming caused by greenhouse gases. This is because reducing energy absorption at Earth’s surface decreases the amount of heat these gases can trap in the atmosphere. Of this planetary conversion, Rosenfeld says “it’s like taking half of the world’s cars off the road for 20 years.”

With the United States leading the charge, that reality may not be far away. Cities from San Francisco to New York are combating rising temperatures and improving air quality – dampening the effects of climate change in the process – by brightening their roofs. In a way, it’s as though Rosenfeld has taken his pencil to city skylines; instead of shading in the changes he has influenced, though, he uses the other end to erase black roofs.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Love train

This floating magnetic pod is the public transit of the future (we hope)

sky-train.jpg
Skytran

Usually when a defense contractor comes up with a wiz-bang gizmo, it’s the kind of thing that gives us nightmares, not think, “Man, I hope they bring that to my town!” But defense giant Israel Aerospace Industries is teaming up with California-based SkyTran to build a maglev system for its corporate campus in Tel Aviv.

The system uses small, two-person pods hanging from elevated tracks. You can order up a pod from your cellphone. Wired’s Alexander George has more:

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How to not lose your shirt when the climate goes bust

Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer, and Hank Paulson
Jim Gillooly/PEI; Helloaloe/Wikipedia; Fortune Live Media

Much of the computing power that crunches the data for the Bloomberg financial empire lives in a building on Houston and Hudson, in Manhattan. It won't be there for much longer, though. After Hurricane Sandy, having a data center three blocks from the Hudson River no longer feels like a great idea.

"I own my company," former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a press conference Tuesday morning. "I want to sleep at night. I do some things so I can do that."

Bloomberg was there -- along with Tom Steyer, Henry Paulson, and a bipartisan League of Superfriends-style "Risk Committee" of political and financial heavy hitters -- to announce a project called Risky Business. The project, summarized in a report released today, is an ambitious attempt to spell out, in plainspoken, unvarnished business talk, the threat that climate change poses to the serious work of making money.

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MAP TO THE FUTURE

A mapping group at MIT wants to show us the way to greener cities

San Francisco coffee shops. Click to embiggen.
San Francisco coffee shops. Click to embiggen.

Walking down the street, that feeling swells up inside you -- the buildings, the restaurants, the parks, the people: THIS is New York.

Or maybe it’s San Francisco. Or Chicago. Or LA. Whatever your city of choice may be, you love it because it’s just got that je ne sais quoi, unlike any other.

But Sep Kamvar, of the Social Computing Group at the MIT Media Lab, thinks it could be so much more interesting than that. With his You Are Here project, he and his group are on a quest to bring out all those little pieces that come together to make each city what it is, by creating a total of 10,000 data visualization maps of cities across the U.S. By doing so, he hopes that urbanites might recognize the elements that they love, and the ones they don’t, to shape their towns into more efficient, happier, healthier, and greener places.

A map showing greenery on the streets of Cambridge, Mass.
You Are Here
A map showing greenery on the streets of Cambridge, Mass. Click to embiggen.

“Each map gives a different angle of what the city looks like,” Kamvar says. The group does this by collecting data from sources ranging from Google Maps to local police departments, and presenting it into compelling visuals -- which he hopes can expose the things that need to be fixed.

Read more: Cities, Living

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Buying a bike? Now you can use Twitter to find out if it’s stolen property

bike-thief-cutting-bike-lock-shutterstock
Shutterstock

Back in the olden days of 2005, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, bicyclist and web developer Bryan Hance had his bike stolen yet again in Portland, Ore. In response, he did what web developers so often do as a part of their grieving process: He built a website.

Hance wasn't the only person doing this. The rise of bicycling and everyone crowding onto the internet meant that anyone who had their bike stolen found themselves wading through a plethora of bike forums and Google groups dedicated to tracking down bikes and bike thieves. There were plenty of websites, but there wasn't a widely used database for stolen bikes, the way that there was for cars. While there was a national site affiliated with McGruff the Crimefighting Dog, it charged a stiff fee and only let law enforcement run searches through its database.

But Hance's database was particularly popular, even with people outside of Portland. When Hance announced early this week that his site StolenBikeRegistry.com had joined forces with an another bike registry -- a company named BikeIndex.org, which has ambitious plans to register bikes before they even reach their first owners -- it became, arguably, the closest thing we have to a national bicycle registry. From now on, whether you're looking at a bike in a used bike shop, or in someone's suburban garage, you can post the serial number to @isitstolen on Twitter, and a bot will report back to you on whether or not it's been reported stolen. (I just tried it and the bot told me that my bike isn't stolen, but sent me some depressing pictures of stolen bikes that look like mine.)

Read more: Cities, Living