The interwebs these days are packed with sites designed to help you get rid of your old couch, offload that pile of scrap lumber from the garage, and otherwise share your stuff with everyone else on the planet. Mr. Rogers would be proud. But do we really need another "sharing" tool?
Adam Werbach thinks so. That’s why the former Sierra Club president and author of Strategy for Sustainability founded yerdle, an online sharing platform that launched in the Bay Area in November and spreads to New York City this month. He and cofounders Andy Ruben and Carl Tashian recognize that we already do an awful lot of sharing. “We just want to help speed it up,” he says. “We set out to make it as easy to share things with friends as it is to buy things.”
Yerdle follows in the footsteps of platforms like NeighborGoods and the now-defunct OhSoWe. But unlike its predecessors, it works through Facebook, connecting users to their “friends” and friends of friends. Dana Frasz, a self-described freegan and an early Bay Area yerdle user, says those fewer degrees of separation set the service apart from established giving-economy platforms like Freecycle. “You’re meeting people who know your people, but you just haven’t been connected yet,” she says.
“It seemed like every single person I met on yerdle was awesome,” Frasz continues. “Instead of just a Freecycle pickup where someone leaves [an item] on their door handle, I’d wind up talking with these people for an hour.”
As we've notedseveraltimes here at Grist, conservatives are going after state renewable energy standards (RES's) across the country. They've prevented a few new ones from passing, but I don't think they've succeeded in persuading any state to roll back an RES already in effect. Yet.
Now they're going after the RES in Kansas. Passed in 2009, it instructs utilities to 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 RES was passed as part of a compromise bill meant to settle the intense controversy over the planned expansion of the enormous Holcomb coal-fired power plant. (That's the one Kathleen Sebelius was battling as governor, before Obama plucked her away to make her secretary of health and human services.) Thing is, the legislature's go-ahead for the coal plant expansion didn't really stick -- it has since been mired in legal challenges, dead in the water.
Republicans, piqued they aren't getting their coal plant, want to delay the renewable-energy targets or scrap the RES entirely. This story about it from Tim Carpenter at the Topeka Capital-Journal contains some delightful flashes of deadpan humor. Consider this bit:
Rep. Dennis Hedke, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Environmental Policy, said lack of progress on the coal plant prompted lawmakers to consider dumping the RPS or delaying targets two or four years. Some House and Senate members want to extract the state from meddling in oil, gas, nuclear, wind and solar businesses, he said.
"We want to do everything we can to allow market forces to dictate any infrastructure build out. We don't want to mandate. We are an all-of-the-above state," said Hedke, a geophysicist consultant for the oil and gas industry.
That last clause! A flick of wrist that throws the preceding paragraphs off balance. Well played.
Far and away the thing that most motivates me to consider staying a vegetarian is that I hate the idea of animals suffering -- not only as they die but also throughout their lives. But five weeks into this experiment as a meat lover testing out vegetarianism, I have to admit: I still want to eat meat.
I can’t do factory-raised, but I’m thinking, hey, farm-raised might be a nice compromise. I wanted to talk to some people who were involved in raising and killing their own animals, and lo and behold, I went to a party last week and happened to meet Josh Kilmer-Purcell and Brett Ridge, the stars of the reality show The Fabulous Beekman Boys, which tells the story of the couple starting a farm in upstate New York.
The show ended, the farm lives on. Kilmer-Purcell and Ridge raise two pigs a year, have them slaughtered on their farm every fall, and then they eat the pigs’ meat. I watched the episode in which their two pigs, Porky and Bess, are slaughtered, and interviewed Kilmer-Purcell about his experience raising, killing, and eating the pigs.
Q. So you had Porky and Bess from very young?
A. Yes, we got them when they were weaned and we raised them for 10 months before we had them slaughtered. That was the first time we raised and slaughtered two pigs, but we've done it twice more since then. We hire someone to come do it. [Laughs.] It is a misconception to think that every farmer can perform every task on a farm. I have slaughtered chickens before, but slaughtering a pig is a pretty special skill. It would be cheaper for us to bring them somewhere else to be slaughtered, but what’s most traumatic for the animal, we’re told, is the transport. We want to make sure we did everything as humanely as possible, and so we never took them out of their homes.
When Glenn Ross was a child, in the early 1960s, he liked to take a shortcut through a field of sunflowers on his way to school. “It was beautiful, all these yellow sunflowers,” Ross recalls. “We’d bring home the seeds and fry ‘em up with butter and salt.”
A charming memory, but for the fact that Ross grew up in an industrial section of East Baltimore and this bucolic scene bordered a steel plant. One day he was at the neighborhood playground when word went around that “men in spacesuits” were collecting the flowers. When he went to investigate, he says he saw workers in Hazmat gear harvesting the plants, having surrounded the area with caution tape. Many years later, Ross learned that sunflowers are used in phytoremediation projects to pull lead from the soil. (Trail mix, anyone?)
These days, the site -- now a vast sorting facility for construction debris -- is one stop on Ross’ Toxic Tour, a rollicking bus ride through the contaminated wonderland that is inner-city Baltimore. A self-described “urban environmentalist,” Ross leads dozens of tours a year, primarily for college students from Johns Hopkins University’s schools of medicine, nursing, and (wait for it) public health, which are located nearby. The tours take in brownfields, rat infestations, truck traffic, illegal dumping sites, vacant buildings, and other environmental hazards in Baltimore’s poor, predominantly black communities.
Ross, who has been leading them for nearly a decade, makes sure the bus windows are open for these warm-weather outings. “I put it right up in their face -- they've got to smell it, taste it, the whole nine yards,” he says. “And at the end of the tour, they get it.”
“It,” says Ross, is nothing less than environmental racism. “These things only happen in poor urban communities, neighborhoods where there’s poor political representation."
Late last month, I wrote a post about an intriguing new solar technology that promised to radically reduce the delivered price of solar electricity. At the top of my post, I included that standard disclaimer, warning people not to get too excited until the product proved itself in the marketplace.
Of course, that disclaimer did not stop the inevitable: Cranky people from all over the internet descended on the comments to explain why the technology is absurd and could never possibly work. This is a familiar cycle to anyone who writes about cleantech.
Robert Styler, the chief marketing officer at V3Solar, contacted me to ask if I would elevate his response to some of the criticisms so that people would be sure to see it. So I'm doing that.
Just to be clear: I have no particular expertise on solar technology. I'm in no position to adjudicate these conflicts. But I do think they're worth hashing out in public. So here are some criticisms from champion skeptic MrSteve007 and some responses from Mr. Styler.
We don't reveal everything about our tech on the internet and that creates some false assumptions. Hopefully this will clear up some of the more common mistakes. In response to the questions by MrSteve007:
1. No matter what angle the sun is shining, 50% of the solar cells are always shaded at one time (except at high noon, at the equator). That dramatically increases cost and inversely lowers efficiency.
Steve, you are looking at this as static rather than dynamic. The inner cone is rapidly spinning in and out of highly concentrated bands of light -- also, the ambient light on the backside of the cone will be captured. PV is a light-sensitive semiconductor. Every other semiconductor works under periodicity, on/off, 1/0, binary code. For the last 30 years, PV has either been ON during the day, or OFF during the night. Moore's law states that the computing power of semiconductors doubles every two years. Why have we not seen a similar dramatic increase in PV?
By creating high-intensity flashes of light, we make the PV respond differently than it does in a static environment, just baking in the sun (see Q-switching and the Avalanche Photodiode effect). Again, we only go into specifics under NDA [non-disclosure agreement] with stakeholders and investors. We all know what we know, but few are open-minded enough to know what we don't know -- and that's the first step of innovation.
There's been enough written about genetically modified organisms and Monsanto that it's easy to lose touch with how they actually impact people's lives. On a recent trip to India, Perennial Plate got a wake-up call from environmental activist Vandana Shiva. Here's our conversation with Shiva on a seed-saving revolution, farmer suicides, and how female farmers are the future of India's agriculture.
It was an urbanist’s nightmare. On Feb. 1, a teenager was shot dead in the middle of a popular art gallery walk and street fair in Oakland, Calif. -- a town that highlights exactly what a city wins and loses when it attracts a huge influx of the vaunted “creative class.”
Kiante Campbell, an 18-year-old Oakland resident, was killed in the shadow of new condominiums, gourmet food trucks, and buffed art galleries selling oil paintings that cost more than a few months’ rent in the ’hood. The festival, Art Murmur, shuts down much of Oakland’s downtown on the first Friday of each month, drawing 20,000 people, including tourists from both San Francisco and the surrounding suburbs. Now its future was called into question.
The shooting highlighted a stark reality: The creative class is remaking Oakland in its own image, but the “urban renaissance” isn’t benefitting everyone. The neighborhood where Campbell was killed has new condos and galleries -- and a median household income of less than $22,000.
By the urbanist creative-class metric, Oakland is winning. It’s a top city for urban farmers, local organic gourmet food snobs (love you, food snobs!), cyclists, and art-lovers. It’s home to a growing number of imported young makers, tech start-ups, and rising artists, in large part because of its close proximity to San Francisco and Silicon Valley. At the same time, about 13 percent of Oakland residents are unemployed, and the city still has one of the highest murder rates in the nation, especially for teens.
For years, Richard Florida and other urban life pundits have espoused the creative class as the secret to city success. When the creative class wins, their logic goes, we all win. Gentrification has essentially become America’s favored urban redevelopment strategy.
Florida has acknowledged that the rise of the creative class can exacerbate urban class divides, but his new research highlights just how big those divides can be.
Presidential decisions often turn out to be far less significant than imagined, but every now and then what a president decides actually determines how the world turns. Such is the case with the Keystone XL pipeline, which, if built, is slated to bring some of the “dirtiest,” carbon-rich oil on the planet from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. In the near future, President Obama is expected to give its construction a definitive thumbs up or thumbs down, and the decision he makes could prove far more important than anyone imagines. It could determine the fate of the Canadian tar-sands industry and, with it, the future well-being of the planet. If that sounds overly dramatic, let me explain.
Sometimes, what starts out as a minor skirmish can wind up determining the outcome of a war -- and that seems to be the case when it comes to the mounting battle over the Keystone XL pipeline. If given the go-ahead by President Obama, it will daily carry more than 700,000 barrels of tar-sands oil to those Gulf Coast refineries, providing a desperately needed boost to the Canadian energy industry. If Obama says no, the Canadians (and their American backers) will encounter possibly insuperable difficulties in exporting their heavy crude oil, discouraging further investment and putting the industry’s future in doubt.
The battle over Keystone XL was initially joined in the summer of 2011, when environmental writer and climate activist Bill McKibben and 350.org, which he helped found, organized a series of non-violent anti-pipeline protests in front of the White House to highlight the links between tar-sands production and the accelerating pace of climate change. At the same time, farmers and politicians in Nebraska, through which the pipeline is set to pass, expressed grave concern about its threat to that state’s crucial aquifers. After all, tar-sands crude is highly corrosive, and leaks are a notable risk.
In mid-January 2012, in response to those concerns, other worries about the pipeline, and perhaps a looming presidential campaign season, Obama postponed a decision on completing the controversial project. (He, not Congress, has the final say, since it will cross an international boundary.) Now, he must decide on a suggested new route that will, supposedly, take Keystone XL around those aquifers and so reduce the threat to Nebraska’s water supplies.
Ever since the president postponed the decision on whether to proceed, powerful forces in the energy industry and government have been mobilizing to press ever harder for its approval. Its supporters argue vociferously that the pipeline will bring jobs to America and enhance the nation’s “energy security” by lessening its reliance on Middle Eastern oil suppliers. Their true aim, however, is far simpler: to save the tar-sands industry (and many billions of dollars in U.S. investments) from possible disaster.
Just how critical the fight over Keystone has become in the eyes of the industry is suggested by a recent pro-pipeline editorial in the trade publication Oil & Gas Journal:
Controversy over the Keystone XL project leaves no room for compromise. Fundamental views about the future of energy are in conflict. Approval of the project would acknowledge the rich potential of the next generation of fossil energy and encourage its development. Rejection would foreclose much of that potential in deference to an energy utopia few Americans support when they learn how much it costs.
Opponents of Keystone XL, who are planning a mass demonstration at the White House on Feb. 17, have also come to view the pipeline battle in epic terms. “Alberta’s tar sands are the continent’s biggest carbon bomb,” McKibben wrote at TomDispatch. “If you could burn all the oil in those tar sands, you’d run the atmosphere’s concentration of carbon dioxide from its current 390 parts per million (enough to cause the climate havoc we’re currently seeing) to nearly 600 parts per million, which would mean if not hell, then at least a world with a similar temperature.” Halting Keystone would not by itself prevent those high concentrations, he argued, but would impede the production of tar sands, stop that “carbon bomb” from further heating the atmosphere, and create space for a transition to renewables. “Stopping Keystone will buy time,” he says, “and hopefully that time will be used for the planet to come to its senses around climate change.”
"You're going to like what you hear," White House aides have told green groups, according to an official at one environmental organization who expects the president to publicly commit to moving forward with EPA climate regulations.
"In past speeches, there was a lot of, 'I call on Congress,'" the official added. "And what I'm expecting to see more of this time is, 'This is what my administration is going to do.'"
If this OOEO (official at one environmental organization) is right, it will be cause for good cheer. But the question remains, even if Barack Obama is pure of heart and dedicated to climate progress, what can he do?
He'll get no help from Congress. Serious climate legislation is off the table as long as Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is in charge of the House but not in charge of his Tea Party faction. So what can be done without Congress?
I thank you for the wisdom your articles have given me. I've been very curious about the health risks imposed by my wife's hair coloring. She uses a common brand, and when she is dyeing her hair it smells horrible, and lingers in the air long after she's finished. The closest thing I could use to describe the smell would be old, rotten, fungus-filled fruit sacks. I am not concerned about being exposed, but my wife's health is extremely important to me. Is it safe for her? If not, do I have an alternative to suggest?
Very Concerned Husband
A. Dearest VCH,
If you are not a writer by trade, you should become one. Your description of “old, rotten, fungus-filled fruit sacks” is impressively detailed, inarguably repulsive, and, I imagine, at least as colorful as your wife’s tresses.
Have you told your wife how you feel about her stinking up Susanville in the name of beauty? Perhaps you could suggest that you’d prefer to see a few gray hairs spring forth than watch her breathe in a cocktail of toxic chemicals. Even better, tell her you adore the gray hair (or whatever she is trying to alter). I bet she would appreciate your candor and, more than that, your unconditional love. Sometimes that’s enough to get one through the day, isn’t it?
You might also gently tell her that hair dye has been fingered in a number of health concerns. We know it contains carcinogenic ingredients -- here’s a handy overview from the Food and Drug Administration -- but when you comb through the data you’ll see that the science is not absolutely sure about all the various connections. Over the years, studies have connected long-term hair dye exposure to increased risks of leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and bladder cancer. Women in their first trimester of pregnancy are encouraged to forgo it, just to be safe. Should we not apply the same precaution in all stages of life? I vote yes.