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From soybeans to solar – a community energy project sprouts from Wisconsin fields

Just north of Delavan, Wisconsin, is Dan Osborne’s nursery farm. Where you once found a bean field now sit 80 solar panels on 100 tracking towers, generating renewable power for over 125 homes. It’s a small, but successful community-owned energy harvest.  The solar farm was developed by Convergence Energy of Lake Geneva, WI and has owners from all around the region. In an interview with John Farrell and Wade Underwood of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Steve Johnson of Convergence explained, “The genesis of the project from the beginning was to try and provide an offsite location for individuals interested …

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Solar grows up — now what?

Almost a decade ago, I was part of a group that lost a standby rate case with a Massachusetts utility, when the utility convinced the commission to approve a rate that would incentivize solar at the expense of combined heat and power (CHP). The package fractured the green coalition we’d assembled and the utility got to greenwash its terrible new rate. Yes, I’m still bitter. When the dust settled, I told friends on the solar side of our group that they shouldn’t celebrate too hard. The message wasn’t that utilities liked solar, but that they liked technologies that didn’t eat …

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Moapa to Lead Powerful, Symbolic Walk from Coal to Clean Energy

The 2012 Moapa Band of Paiutes "Walk from Coal to Clean Energy." Southern Nevada's Moapa Band of Paiutes are organizing a 16-mile "Walk from Coal to Clean Energy" on April 20, 2013 in concert with Earth Day. This walk will celebrate the tribe's efforts to retire the polluting Reid Gardner coal plant that adjoins their tribal lands, and also their success in developing the largest solar project on tribal lands in the nation, which will begin construction later this year. The walk will start at the coal plant and end at the solar site - a powerful symbol of change …

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Hunger Striking for “An Extraordinary Climate Movement”

Hunger Striking for “An Extraordinary Climate Movement” By Ted Glick Brian Eister, 26, is a youthful veteran of 10 years of activism going back to his opposition to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. Since then he has worked with John Kerry’s presidential campaign, the League of Conservation Voters, the Green Party, Public Citizen, Occupy, and other groups. He is now on a hunger strike to urge immediate action to combat the disastrous effects of climate change. Camped out on the sidewalk in front of the American Petroleum Institute in Washington, D.C., he has not taken any food since before …

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Chapter 1. Food: The Weak Link

The world is in transition from an era of food abundance to one of scarcity. Over the last decade, world grain reserves have fallen by one third. World food prices have more than doubled, triggering a worldwide land rush and ushering in a new geopolitics of food. Food is the new oil. Land is the new gold. The abrupt rise in world grain prices between 2007 and 2008 left more people hungry than at any time in history. It also spawned numerous food protests and riots. In Thailand, rice was so valuable that farmers took to guarding their ripened fields …

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Arkansas: Exxon’s latest spill and spin zone

Exxon’s top lobbyist, Ken Cohen, called my colleagues and me liars this weekend. In a post entitled “Five lies they’re telling you about the Mayflower pipeline spill,” he said: “What I thought I’d talk about today are the top five inaccuracies being spread by anti-fossil fuel activists seeking to capitalize on this unfortunate event.” That’s a pretty rich statement coming from a guy who shills for a corporation that spent millions spreading disinformation about climate science, continues to deny and contest payments to victims of the Exxon Valdez spill, has been low-balling estimates of the Arkansas oil spill, and has spent the past …

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Fighting for Environmental Justice in Omaha

Ever since President Obama invited the American public to a national climate conversation, thousands of Americans have taken him up on that offer by participating in town hall meetings held by the Sierra Club and our allies. I'd like to highlight one of these events I found particularly powerful and worthy of more attention. North Omaha, Nebraska, is home to one of the dirtiest coal plants in the nation, the North Omaha coal plant operated by Omaha Public Power District. The NAACP ranked it the 16th worst environmental justice offender in the nation (although with recent coal plant closures and …

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Utility “Gets Ready” for More Local Energy in Hawai’i

Hawai’an solar advocates are celebrating after the island state’s largest utility, Hawai’ian Electric (HECO) filed a plan with the public utility commission to take a “proactive approach” to adding more distributed solar to their grid system. Utilities across the country typically use “conservative blanket limits” on the amount of renewable energy allowed on local circuits (the power lines connecting to homes and businesses), generally 15% of peak load.  In most places, solar energy production falls far below these limits.  But in the few places where it's not, customers wanting to generate their own electricity must pay for a “costly and …

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Why nature happens on the margins in cities — and why that could be a good thing

City Nature MilwaukeeScreenshot of Milwaukee's "greenness" measures vs. average home value by neighborhood. Source: City Nature

The evidence keeps sprouting up like daffodils: Experiencing nature is good for us -- physically, emotionally, cognitively. (Check out this new study on how a walk in the park can reduce brain fatigue.) But as the world becomes ever more urbanized, which urbanites have enough access to nature to reap these benefits … and how can we make that access more equitable?

Enter City Nature -- a new project from Stanford University that maps the “greenness” and “paved-ness” of more than 2,500 neighborhoods in 34 U.S. cities (as determined by the shade of remotely sensed pixels) and then lays over that demographic data such as ethnic diversity and average home value as well as access to parks to produce portraits of American urban nature -- who lacks it, who has it in abundance, and how those disparities match up with individual city plans and visions.

Those disparities are wide, according to Jon Christensen, an environmental historian who is one of City Nature’s two principal investigators and who teaches in UCLA’s History Department and Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. The hope, says Christensen, is that urban planners and activists can use City Nature’s data to eventually pinpoint the neighborhoods that have the greatest “nature need” -- and take action.

But City Nature’s data also holds surprises -- including how much urban nature in the United States has happened in spite of central planning, and how little impact great landscape architects such as Frederick Olmsted have had on that development. I caught up with Christensen to learn more:

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Building Natural Carbon: Five Policy Principles

Driven by the fossil-fueled industrialization of Asia, carbon dioxide levels hit 395 parts per million in 2012, the highest level in four or five million years.  That was an era when sea levels were around 80 feet higher and temperatures up to 10° Fahrenheit hotter.   If we sustain those CO2 levels, or go higher as we are doing, over time a completely different world will emerge. Disruptive climate change is pushing two great carbon-reduction imperatives.  The first is to dramatically reduce emissions of heat-trapping carbon pollution through a clean energy revolution, a rapid transition to non-fossil energy sources such as …

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