This episode of Inquiring Minds, a podcast hosted by best-selling author Chris Mooney and neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas, also features a discussion about why so many Ph.D.s today are unemployed and the surprising discovery that our brain cells actually have different DNA — different genetic codes within the same brain. To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds via iTunes. You can also follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow and like us on Facebook. Up until fairly recently, scientists, writers and philosophers alike have viewed human babies as little more than primitive adults. …
Environmental organizations -- even big, established ones -- move with the times. Preserving wilderness becomes concern over toxics becomes protecting big-eyed species becomes obsession over the Amazon rainforest. (I'm sure I'm missing a few steps in there.)
Today, they're moving into the next phase -- applying climate change science to the question of how to take care of the landscapes of the future.
Jeff Tittel, the outspoken director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, exemplifies these shifts. In the years he's been director he's worked on water issues, regulation of suburban sprawl, and restrictions on auto emissions. Now he works on flood insurance -- on the grounds that the way things are going, the landscapes we're trying to save aren't likely to stay put.
Q.So you're director of the Sierra Club in New Jersey. Why so interested in flood insurance? It doesn't jibe with my image of what the Sierra Club does.
A. It has to do with New Jersey being clobbered by Hurricane Sandy. Really, we got clobbered. Because of the Stafford Act, we keep on subsidizing building in the wrong places. The Biggert-Waters Act would change that, but it's getting weakened, even by our elected officials who are good on climate change. They're folding under constituent pressure. Our concern is that they're going to block these insurance increases and not make any changes, and that will put even more people in harm's way.
At a very deep level, we would like to think that unpleasantly large and murky political issues can be resolved by a single action or policy -- preferably along the lines of throwing the one magic ring that controls all other magic rings back into Mount Doom from whence it was forged.
Every time I read that article the Atlantic publishes at least once a year about how feminism has failed women because it hasn’t given the author and her friends all the boyfriends, babies, and work/life balance that they want, or how Occupy Wall Street failed America because it failed to solve everyone’s problems, I think: One Ring syndrome. And I am thinking about it now.
Residents of the Gardens, a predominantly African American and Latino neighborhood in Mount Holly, N.J., brought the case against the township's governing officials. Those officials made plans in 2003 to demolish the entire Gardens neighborhood, saying it was too blighted to remain, so that they could build new, expensive housing in its place. They planned this “to save the people from that neighborhood,” as one unnamed former township official told Adam Serwer in his in-depth report on the case for MSNBC. (For a fuller profile of the neighborhood and the dispute, I highly recommend reading his story.)
But while this protracted legal battle started out as a group of residents fighting to save their homes, it has become a referendum on a pivotal legal standard under civil rights law. That legal standard, called “disparate impact,” allows a minority group to sue if it can prove that the effects of plans or policies will result in racial discrimination -- without having to prove that planners or policymakers intentionally set out to discriminate.
This story first appeared on the Slatewebsite and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
In 2004, Lyndon Rive was in an RV on his way to Burning Man when his cousin gave him five words of advice: “You should look into solar.” The way Rive tells it, it sounds a little like Mr. McGuire in The Graduate telling Dustin Hoffman to think about plastics.
Except that Rive’s cousin is Elon Musk. And Musk’s runic advice has led to a $5 billion business that is reshaping how Americans get their electricity.
You’ve read about Chris Christie, subject of two coverprofiles in Time magazine this year -- and there will be lots more media fawning now that he's been reelected as governor of New Jersey and positioned himself as a top contender for the Republican presidential nomination. He’s a bold truth-teller confronting the flat-earthers among his fellow Republicans, goes the narrative, a moderate pragmatist who puts getting things done above partisanship or ideology, especially when dealing with Hurricane Sandy.
Well, none of that is true when it comes to the environment.
Meet the other Chris Christie, right-wing reactionary. This Chris Christie has eviscerated protections for clean water, taken rule-making authority away from nonpartisan civil servants and handed it to his political appointees, and refused to link Sandy to climate change.
“Christie on a lot of environment issues will step right in line with the Tea Party and the Koch brothers,” says Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
China is a country of contradictions borne of its current industrial boom. Walk around Beijing or Shanghai and you see traditional, tightly packed low-rise tenements across the street from gleaming high-rises and massive construction pits. Narrow alleyways feed into wide roadways lined with trees and bike lanes, yet they are often difficult to traverse on foot, thanks to parked cars blocking the sidewalks. China’s cities are crowded, congested, dirty, and the main roads are dangerous to cross, as cars and motorcycles turn without stopping for pedestrians.
Amidst this chaos, one island of cleanliness and order is the trains. Both Beijing and Shanghai have cheap, fast, brand-new subway systems. In contrast to the streets, signage is consistently and clearly provided in the Roman alphabet and often even in English. Walls block anyone from falling off the platform onto the tracks. The subway cars even have televisions playing commercials. And to get from Beijing to Shanghai, you can take a remarkably fast, smooth, high-speed train, which travels at 180 miles per hour.
This might lead you to believe that China is adopting an ecologically friendly, mass transit–oriented approach to urban development. The truth is more complicated. Ride into or out of China’s major cities and you will see mile upon mile of desolate sprawl. It’s especially illogical because it is not as if the reward is a private house with a yard. The development pattern is Le Corbusier’s “towers in a park” model on steroids. All you see is tall, identical residential towers on giant superblocks, far from the nearby city. Typically these housing developments are isolated from services such as shopping, hospitals, and schools. And they're far past the perimeter of the subway system, connected to the main cities only by highway.
It was a textbook example of a corporation looking to buy an election result. After spending $1 million in a failed attempt to stifle local energy freedom in 2011, Xcel Energy poured over $500,000 of ratepayer money into a ballot measure to hamstring Boulder, Colo.'s exploration of a locally owned alternative to the largely fossil-fueled monopoly utility.
On Tuesday, people power buried Xcel. By a margin of 2-to-1, Boulder voters resoundingly rejected Question 310. As Stephen Fenberg of New Era Colorado said late that night, “Go home, Xcel. Your money is no good here.”
At stake was one community’s multi-year effort to power itself in a fashion that is more friendly to the local economy, to the climate, and to local oversight. It had previously culminated in a tough ballot fight in November 2011, when Xcel used ratepayer money to outspend locals 10-to-1 and still lost, as Boulder citizens narrowly granted the city permission to explore a clean-power-focused, city-owned utility.
Since then, the city and its citizen allies have turned traditional thinking on its head, envisioning a city-owned electric utility that maximizes local benefit rather than shareholder returns, that generates power in town rather than importing it, and that maximizes renewable energy instead of clinging to fossil fuels. They have rigorously studied other city-run utilities (29 others in Colorado alone) to learn best practices for running a local electric system. They have shown that switching to a locally owned utility could nearly triple renewable energy, halve greenhouse gas emissions, and compete on price with their current two-faced corporate overlords.
Q.I saved a noticeable amount of energy this summer by hanging out my clothes to dry. Can I continue to do this over the colder months?
Colleen H. Chicago, Ill.
A. Dearest Colleen,
Does anything have a higher reward-to-effort ratio than a clothesline? For the cost of a simple rope and a handful of clothespins, plus a few minutes per laundry load, you get a discount on your electric bill (up to $25 per month, according to advocacy group Project Laundry List), a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (residential dryers are responsible for 32 million metric tons of CO2 per year), and that delightful, fresh-air scent of line-dried skivvies. I don’t blame you for wanting to keep that going as the mercury dips.
Unfortunately, many people equate clotheslines with their white shoes – a summer-only item to be retired after Labor Day. But you don’t have to rely solely on the clothes dryer this winter. Cold-season air-drying takes a little more thought, but it’s definitely possible.