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NYC wants to turn an old train track into a park with ziplines and ping pong


Queens residents are lobbying for 3.5 miles of a former train line to get new life as a tricked-out public park, complete with ziplines, ping-pong tables, and "a giant slide that would wrap around an old railway tower." (The former LIRR Rockaway Beach Branch hasn’t been used since 1962; it’s a mess of litter right now.) Calling themselves Friends of the QueensWay, the group led a community workshop this week to share their vision.

A sunken pedestrian path would be flanked with trees, and one entrance would have space for a dog park or community events. Designers also proposed a shopping area, canopy walk, and a kids’ adventure playground. More mundane perks like bike paths would be present too. Friends of the QueensWay says the park would boost local business, improve the quality of life, and connect different cultures. (Presumably, it would connect them with a zipline.)

Not everybody is so jazzed:

Read more: Cities, Living


Congress successfully took the wind out of wind energy’s sails last year

wind energy

America's fossil fuel-smitten Congress helped China blow the U.S. out of the water last year when it came to installing new wind energy farms.

A little more than 16 gigawatts of new wind capacity came online in China in 2013 -- nearly half of the 36 gigawatts installed around the world. Compare that with a little more than 1 gigawatt that was installed in the U.S. -- down alarmingly from 13 gigawatts the year before.

That means American wind installations plummeted in a single year despite the falling price of wind energy, which is becoming lower than the price of electricity produced by burning natural gas in some parts of the country.

Dude, where's our wind? Well, the latest figures were calculated by Navigant Research, and it blamed a "politically divided Congress" in a new paywalled report for the faltering wind growth in the U.S.

Congress allowed wind energy tax credits to blow away at the end of 2013 -- so why would 2013's installation figures be so bleak? According to the report, it was all about uncertainty. Lawmakers "failed to extend tax incentives in time to positively impact the 2013 development and construction cycle."


Ohio lawmakers: All right, folks, we guess it’s OK for you to buy Teslas

Tesla sales center

If you live in Ohio, your lawmakers are poised to allow you to purchase a Tesla from a sales center -- without forcing you to drive outside the borders of the Buckeye State to do your eco-friendly spending.

But legislative efforts to placate the Ohio Automobile Dealers Association will nonetheless cap the number of sales offices Tesla is allowed to operate inside the state at three -- and other auto manufacturers will be barred outright from hawking their wheel-spinning wares direct to buyers. Here's the news, courtesy of NJTV:


These beauty pageant contestants are chickens

Squawk like an Egyptian.
Ernest Goh
Squawk like an Egyptian.

If you think Toddlers and Tiaras is weird, replace Honey Boo-Boo with a chicken and things get even stranger.

Photographer Ernest Goh was in Malaysia for a project when he heard about Ayam Seramas, ornamental chickens bred solely for aesthetics. In Malaysia, the birds are shown off at chicken beauty pageants roughly once a week, Goh says. (Sounds like a blend of cockfight and cat show.) His strange, vibrant photos from the pageants became a book -- called Cocks, of course.

Ernest Goh
Read more: Living


Half of voters have no idea who the Koch brothers are — so here’s a quick and dirty primer

A recent George Washington University battleground poll of 1,000 registered “likely” voters found just over half (52 percent) had never heard of sleazy oil tycoons Charles and David Koch (pronounced “Coke,” guys!). The good news is 1-in-4 voters knew enough to have an “unfavorable” view of the billionaire bros.

And Democrats in particular are wise to the Kochs’ dirty energy-loving 1 percentism, according to Politico:

Among self-identified liberal Democrats, only 43 percent had never heard of the Kochs -- 9 points lower than the general public. And 45 percent had a negative opinion of the two brothers -- 20 points higher than the general public.

Forty-three percent still sounds pretty high at Grist HQ, where we have a framed photo of the Kochs on our Wall of Shame next to Cruella de Vil and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. So here’s a quick rundown of their vital stats (check out this cool infographic too).

The basics: Charles, 78, lives near Koch HQ in Wichita, Kan.; David, 74, lives in New York. They run America’s second-biggest private company, Koch Industries. They’re worth $40.3 billion. EACH.*

Famous for: Inheriting their dad’s company, which owns oil, gas, and other businesses. Throwing money at the Tea Party. Being evil (see below).

Brands they own (so maybe avoid them): Dixie cups, Brawny and Sparkle paper towels, Quilted Northern and Angel Soft toilet paper (all part of Georgia-Pacific); Lycra fiber, Stainmaster carpet.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


This powerful app brings organic farming into the Candy Crush age


Screw FarmVille. REAL farmers use FarmLogs. The app -- which just snagged $4 million from investors -- combines weather data, crop market rates, budgeting tools, and even tractor maintenance reminders into one powerful package. The intense work that is farming can’t be made easy with a few lines of code, obvi, but FarmLogs certainly helps.


Jesse Vollmar, who grew up on a farm, created the app with friend Brad Koch two years ago. (Vollmar was frustrated Big Ag wasn’t doing more to get farming up to speed in the digital age.) Since then, FarmLogs has spread to 130 countries, including 5 percent of American row farmers. Here’s part of Modern Farmer’s interview with Vollmar:

Read more: Food, Living


Farmers and eaters: Why can’t we be friends?


A farmer from Iowa recently told me a story about visiting the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live. He chatted up foodsellers at the Ferry Building farmers market, visited the wine country, and met a lot of nice people. But he also noticed that whenever he told anyone that he was a corn and soybean farmer, the temperature in the room seemed to drop. Oh, that kind of farmer. In the Bay Area, saying "I grow corn and soy" is the real world version of saying Voldemort.

This antipathy runs both ways, of course. Visiting Iowa, I felt a similar chill at times when I revealed that I was a California food writer. Another farmer asked me how I thought we should deal with the problem of people demanding organic foods.

But I truly believe that we’re natural allies. The farmer and the eater should be friends! We all want the same thing: A sustainable system, one that provides fair compensation for food producers and makes the world a more healthy, delicious, and beautiful place with every bite. We should be breaking the path toward this goal together. And yet, instead of mutual respect, there’s acrimony, suspicion, and anger.


Ask Umbra: Should I trade my big home in for a tiny house?

Inhabitat Blog

Send your question to Umbra!

Q. Environmentally speaking, what are the pros and cons of building a tiny house (approximately 300 square feet) vs. living in an older home that is already here (approximately 1,000 square feet)? Is it better for me to move out of my old home into a tiny one to lead a more sustainable lifestyle?

Stoughton, Wis.

A. Dearest Colleen,

When I was 7, I was sent home early from a slumber party for attempting to convert a friend’s Barbie mansion into an energy-efficient, high-density apartment complex. (Do Barbie and Ken really need all that space for just two? Come on!) So I understand your urge to shrink your environmental footprint by way of shrinking square footage. And with tiny homes getting hipper and more architecturally ingenious by the minute, there’s perhaps no better time to think small. But as you suspect, Colleen, there’s more than just sheer size at play here.

Read more: Living


Best tax ever!

Here’s why B.C.’s carbon tax is super popular — and effective

vancouver gas tax
Steven Godfrey

Suppose that you live in Vancouver and you drive a car to work. Naturally, you have to get gas regularly. When you stop at the pump, you may see a notice like the one above, explaining that part of the price you're paying is, in effect, due to the cost of carbon. That's because in 2008, the government of British Columbia decided to impose a tax on greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, enacting what has been called "the most significant carbon tax in the Western Hemisphere by far."

A carbon tax is just what it sounds like: The B.C. government levies a fee, currently 30 Canadian dollars, for every metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions resulting from the burning of various fuels, including gasoline, diesel, natural gas, and, of course, coal. That amount is then included in the price you pay at the pump -- for gasoline, it's 6.67 cents per liter (about 25 cents per gallon) -- or on your home heating bill, or wherever else the tax applies. (Most monetary amounts in this piece will be in Canadian dollars, which are currently worth about 89 American cents.)

If the goal was to reduce global warming pollution, then the B.C. carbon tax totally works. Since its passage, gasoline use in British Columbia has plummeted, declining seven times as much as might be expected from an equivalent rise in the market price of gas, according to a recent study by two researchers at the University of Ottawa. That's apparently because the tax hasn't just had an economic effect: It has also helped change the culture of energy use in B.C. "I think it really increased the awareness about climate change and the need for carbon reduction, just because it was a daily, weekly thing that you saw," says Merran Smith, the head of Clean Energy Canada. "It made climate action real to people."


Toto, our wind turbines are safe for another year!

Peter M2009

As we all know from that fine documentary film, The Wizard of Oz, Kansas has a lot of wind. Even when it isn’t sweeping away sullen little farmgirls into concussion-induced Technicolor allegory, it’s got enough windpower to put it smack dab in the area known as “The Saudi Arabia of Wind” -- that lavender trough of higher wind speed that runs through the middle of the U.S. Department of Energy’s utility-scale wind resource maps.

For this reason, Kansas has become one of the test kitchens experimenting with shifting away from digging stuff out of the ground and burning it, and towards making that wind do something useful for once. In 2007, after a tornado wiped out the farm town of Greensburg, the city was rebuilt, with solar panels and wind turbines within the city proper and a wind farm five miles out of town. The whole setup produces enough power for the entire city and a few neighboring municipalities as well. In 2009, Kansas passed a renewable energy portfolio standard (RPS), which mandates that local utilities get 10 percent of their power generation capacity from renewables from 2011 to 2015, 15 percent from 2016 to 2019, and 20 percent by 2020.

The RPS was passed with bipartisan support as part of a compromise bill -- approved by its opponents in exchange for the expansion of coal-fired power plant in Holcomb, Kan. But even with bipartisan support, the standard caught the attention of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) -- a conservative think tank with close ties to the oil and gas industry that is opposed to just about everything to do with alternative energy.