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It's alright to be little bitty

How tiny house communities can work for both the haves and the have nots

quixotevillage-re.jpg

Ryan Mitchell lives and breathes tiny houses. He has been running the popular website The Tiny Life for the past five years; is currently planning a tiny house conference for approximately 120 people in Charlotte, N.C., where he lives; and has written a book on tiny living that’s due to be published in July. To top it off, he recently finished construction on a tiny house of his very own. Mitchell’s dream, however, is a community of tiny houses. When asked what that would look like, he describes a grouping of mini-cottages around a large communal structure, which would include …

Read more: Cities, Living

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Why cabs and car-sharing are good for the environment

car with pink mustache
Alfredo Mendez
The pink mustache marks this as a Lyft car.

The urbanist fixation with new car services such as Uber and Lyft can seem paradoxical. Why is it good for the environment and for cities to increase the number of cars for hire on our roads? The same could be asked about regular old taxis, and car-sharing services like Zipcar. Aren’t cars bad for the environment?

For the rare person who already lives car-free in a city such as San Francisco, a cab ride or car rental might actually increase their carbon footprint. But the vast majority of American households do own cars. For any city as a whole, more car-sharing and cab apps will actually mean less driving and lower carbon emissions.

To understand why, you have to consider the role that these alternatives play in a region’s transportation network. Eric Jaffe of Atlantic Cities did a great post on this in 2012, drawing on the work of Columbia University professor David King. King mapped New York City taxi rides on a typical weekday and put together a time-lapse video showing where they began and ended. Here is what he found, via Jaffe:

Read more: Cities, Living

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Pipeline bursts, makes a big mess in Ohio nature preserve

oil spill
Shutterstock

A ruptured oil pipeline has dumped more than 10,000 gallons of crude into a wetland area and nature preserve in southwestern Ohio. How's that for a reminder that pipelines aren't necessarily cleaner than oil trains?

The 1950s-era pipeline, owned by Sunoco Logistics, was sending oil from Texas up to refineries in Michigan. The spill was discovered Monday, but some neighbors reported smelling oil since late February.

Ohio officials are now testing air quality and drinking water, and cleanup workers are using heavy equipment to try to mop up the mess. The oil has pooled in a marsh not far from the Great Miami River. The Oak Glen Nature Preserve -- home to deer, birds, woods, and wildflowers -- has been temporarily closed.

oil spill
EPA via WLWT
Oil spill in Oak Glen Nature Preserve, Ohio.
Read more: Climate & Energy

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Peak Solar

Rockstar climber Alex Honnold scales up solar in Navajo Territory

Update: Honnold and Wright completed their trip in April. Here's a video about it. Sunny, high 50s, and just a light breeze: It's a perfect California December morning for rock climbing at the Owens River Gorge and Alex Honnold has just offered to give me a belay -- meaning, he’s offered to attend to the safety rope for me on a climb. The official reason I'm here is to get the scoop on Honnold’s environmental foundation. But, for a climber, getting belayed by Honnold is probably the closest thing we have to getting thrown a ball by Peyton Manning or LeBron James. Jimmy …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Renewables dominate new U.S. electrical capacity

solar farm in front of trees
Oregon Department of Transportation

First, the good news -- break out the champagne! The overwhelming majority of new U.S. electrical capacity is coming from wind and solar, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC just released its monthly analysis for February, and the Sun Day campaign, a research and advocacy organization promoting sustainable energy, summarizes the findings:

Wind and solar provided 80.9% of new installed U.S. electrical generating capacity for the month of February. ...

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Good news for Seattle: These solar panels work best in overcast weather

organic-photovoltaic-solar-panels

Next time someone snarks, “Too bad solar panels don’t work in when it's overcast,” spike this fact-volleyball into their thoughtmaker: SOME solar panels actually work BETTER when it’s cloudy out. Bam!

British scientists at the National Physical Laboratory this week created organic photovoltaics, which not only sound delicious but perform better in diffuse light. According to PSFK, they’re 13 percent efficient when it’s overcast, compared to 10 percent when it’s sunny. As principal researcher Fernando Castro explained:

It’s not that they are going to produce more power, but they are more efficient at generating power from the light that is available. So they would work better than normal solar cells do in cloud.

Plus, organic solar cells can be 3D printed into various shapes and even dissolved into water. 3Dprint.com estimates organic PV will be widely available by 2019, noting that it’s super-quick to install:

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Now you can get solar panels at Best Buy

Best Buy
Mike Mozart

There was an era when putting solar panels on your roof was a time- and money-sucking hassle on par with remodeling your kitchen. But the cost of going solar has been dropping fast. The latest signal of the industry's move into the mainstream came last week, when San Mateo, Calif.-based SolarCity* announced it would begin to sell solar systems out of Best Buy, alongside big-screen TVs and digital cameras.

"There are a lot of people out there with unshaded roofs, paying high electricity bills, who just don't know this is an option for them," said Jonathan Bass, SolarCity's vice president of communications. The move into Best Buy "gives us a chance to have that conversation with more people."

The company is the biggest installer in the country's biggest solar market, California, a state that earlier this month broke its all-time solar power production record twice on two consecutive days, churning out enough electricity from solar panels to power roughly 3 million homes. Just since last summer, California's solar production has doubled, according to the California Independent System Operator, which manages the state's electric grid. There's a lot more growth where that came from, Bass said.

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Watch this dry riverbed fill up in seconds

Nature’s been watching Michael Bay movies again! A crowd near Israel’s dry, dusty Zin River recently got caught off guard by a flash flood and had to hightail it to avoid getting swept away:

The Negev desert is better known for its arid sun -- and plans to build a giant solar power station -- than abundant rainfall. The Zin River had been dried up for years, so you can’t really blame the onlookers (and eager dog). Heavy rain in nearby mountains was SUPPOSEDLY the culprit, although the Plain of Sodom is nearby, so God might’ve been trying to scare all those teens using the back door.

Read more: Living

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Billions of pounds of sea life die every year to feed our seafood appetite

Entangled ring seal.
NOAA
A ring seal entangled in fishing equipment -- aka bycatch.

For every pound of sashimi, barbecued shrimp, or grilled sea bass that you stuff into your mouth, you're basically spitting four ounces of marine life onto the floor.

The nonprofit Oceana published a detailed report on Thursday cataloguing the egregious problem of bycatch in U.S. fisheries. Bycatch is a word that refers to the sharks, turtles, whales, non-edible fish, and other critters that are inadvertently hauled into fishing boats or caught up in the gear of fishing fleets that are pursuing more palatable and lucrative species.

Read more: Food

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This smart air conditioner could make summer less expensive

Despite 30 Rock’s jokes about GE, the appliance company isn’t completely ass-backwards. Case in point: GE just created an air conditioner that’s pretty, almost affordable ($300), and not a huge energy hog. Oh yeah, and you can control it with your smartphone!

aros-smart-air-conditoner-unit

The smart A/C unit, Aros, is a partnership with Quirky, the site that helps make your harebrained invention ideas come to life. (In this case, former DOE employee Garthen Leslie suggested it.) A quick six months later, Aros is practically ready (it starts shipping in May). Gizmodo has some tech specs:

GE and Quirky have built a conventional in-window a/c that can cool up to 350 square feet with 8,000 BTU. They've added some nice detailing, too, like upward airflow, three cooling and fan modes, insulating fabric panels, and a sleek front-facing paneling.