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Uncovering the Cultural Barriers to Sustainability: a Eulogy for Jim Farrell

I spent the past two weeks saying goodbye to my father, Jim Farrell, so instead of my usual discussion of good policy and practices for distributed renewable energy, I’m taking time to explore how my dad’s work on sustainability fits  with how I approach it in this blog (and elsewhere) in my work for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. My dad was a professor of American History and American Studies at St. Olaf College, in Northfield, MN (where I did my undergraduate work).  He wasn’t a lobbyist for environmental policies or a political activist, but in his courses on “Disney’s America,” …

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Grain Yields Starting to Plateau

By Lester R. Brown From the beginning of agriculture until the mid-twentieth century, growth in the world grain harvest came almost entirely from expanding the cultivated area. Rises in land productivity were too slow to be visible within a single generation. It is only within the last 60 years or so that rising yields have replaced area expansion as the principal source of growth in world grain production. The transition was dramatic. Between 1950 and 1973 the world’s farmers doubled the grain harvest, nearly all of it from raising yields. Stated otherwise, expansion during these 23 years equaled the growth …

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UGA Students, Community Take a Stand Against Campus Coal

Nationwide, college students continue to take the lead on climate action. From leading divestment campaigns, to urging their schools to move beyond dirty fuels, this generation of students is full of truly inspiring leaders. This week was no different down at the University of Georgia, where close to 50 UGA students, alumni, and local community members packed a public hearing on the school's on-campus coal-fired boiler. "For four years, students at UGA have been asking the administration to be a leader in clean energy development and retire the outdated on-campus coal-fired steam boiler that threatens our health," said David Littman, …

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World Solar Power Topped 100,000 Megawatts in 2012

By J. Matthew Roney The world installed 31,100 megawatts of solar photovoltaics (PV) in 2012—an all-time annual high that pushed global PV capacity above 100,000 megawatts. There is now enough PV operating to meet the household electricity needs of nearly 70 million people at the European level of use. While PV production has become increasingly concentrated in one country—China—the number of countries installing PV is growing rapidly. In 2006, only a handful of countries could boast solar capacity of 100 megawatts or more. Now 30 countries are on that list, which the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects will more than …

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Busy beavers building natural carbon storage

Outside of humans, beavers have more impact on landscapes than virtually any other species. Building dams and changing streams, they well deserve their busy reputation. Now a new study reveals those hardworking animals not only build dams but biocarbon storage as well. Ellen Wohl of Colorado State University reports her findings in an article accepted for Geophysical Research Letters, “Landscape-scale carbon storage associated with Beaver Dams.” Laurence Pope of New Scientist summarizes the findings: “Beaver dams cause water to breach riverbanks, creating areas of wetland known as beaver meadows, which contain large amounts of sediment and organic material. If the …

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Walking for Our Grandchildren

From Friday, July 19th to Saturday, July 27th, through high heat, humidity, lightning storms and more, scores of people walked from Camp David to Harpers Ferry to the White House. Some walked the entire route, about 100 miles. This was an historic Walk for Our Grandchildren (http://2013walkforourgrandchildren.org) as part of 350.org's Summer Heat campaign. On the 26th 55 people were arrested inside the corporate office building in downtown DC which houses the office of Environmental Resources Management. ERM is the company which did the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the State Department on the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. …

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Irony and Idiocy

Sometimes I can only shake my head at the irony of our species calling itself Homo Sapiens, meaning “wise man”, given the sheer idiocy of so many of our actions. Fellow Grist contributor John Upton just posted a report on the massive and ongoing tar sands oil spill near Cold Lake Alberta.   Nobody seems to know how to stop it because it is the result of a relatively new process of pressurizing underground oil reserves.  In this process thousands of gallons of superhot, high-pressure steam are injected deep underground.  This liquefies the hard bitumen and creates cracks through which it …

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“Pennies for Wendy’s”

http://youtu.be/KsLXI_2Xypc Wendy's is the biggest holdout among the fast food giants who refuses to pay a penny more per pound of tomatoes on condition that growers treat workers with a minimum of fairness. This , payment to workers at least equal to the minimum wage, time clocks, a third party grievance procedure. By refusing to join Wendy's saves costs of less than a penny per meal. So a group of us collected pennies at a local Olympia festival as charity to Wendy's so they can afford to do the right thing.

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Taking the Scare Out of Scarceonomics

Global population hit 7 billion well ahead of most predictions. The UN now forecasts that we will share the planet -- and its increasingly scarce natural resources -- with about 10 billion fellow humans by 2050. Even more sobering are the numbers of people moving from ultra-low water-food-energy footprints to the middle class in China, India, Africa and South America, setting new records for buying everything from cars and groceries to homes and lawn flamingoes. Welcome to a not-too-distant future of “scarceonomics”. By now we’ve all read reports about fisheries collapsing; predictions that world-wide demand for freshwater will exceed supply …

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The Community Solar ‘Holy Grail’?

Has a Carbondale, CO, company found the 'holy grail' of community renewable energy projects? In this podcast with with Paul Spencer, President and founder of the Clean Energy Collective (CEC) in Carbondale, CO, we explored how CEC is pioneering the process of delivering clean power-generation through medium-scale (mostly solar) facilities that are collectively owned by participating utility customers. Local Energy Rules podcast, Ep. 6: Play in new window | Download | Embed “From the outset, we really strived to find something that was going to be widely applicable,” Paul says in the interview. It’s no easy task. Many other community solar …

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