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This new contract means the U.S. is finally really getting high-speed rail

Darkroom Daze

Siemens and Cummins, a German engineering conglomerate and American engine manufacturer, want to help you shoot across America on high-speed rail. Beating out U.S. bids from Caterpillar and GE, Siemens won a $226 million contract to deliver 32 diesel-electric trains as soon as autumn 2016.

The trains will be used on routes Amtrak is planning in California, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, and Washington. (Illinois in particular is working on its Chicago­–St. Louis line, with max speeds of 110 mph, according to the AP.) If all goes well, Siemens could build another 225 trains for the U.S.

Siemens bragged about its green cred in a press release:


Chevron creates its own news outlet for a poor city that it pollutes

Richmond protests
Daniel Arauz
Don't expect to hear what these folks think in the pages of the Richmond Standard.

Big Oil's influence on corporate media has American news outlets shamefully shirking climate coverage. But oil companies won't be satisfied by merely controlling the national news. In the poor Californian city of Richmond, where Chevron wants to upgrade a polluting refinery that is wont to explode, the oil giant has started an online newspaper.

The Richmond Standard is a hyperlocal journalism site launched in January with the hallmarks of a typical Patch site (before said service was dumped by AOL): minimally reported stories about local crime, public meetings, and sports, told with the inverted-pyramid style of traditional news writing.

But the Standard is not your typical, well-intentioned but underfunded local reporting initiative; it's a Chevron propaganda rag that's run and written by the company's flacks. The San Francisco Chronicle delves into the ethics of such an initiative:

The idea of the nation’s second-largest oil company funding a local news site harkens back to an era of journalism when business magnates often owned newspapers to promote their personal financial or political agendas. Now that mainstream newspapers are struggling to survive, online news sites are testing ways to fund their operations, said Edward Wasserman, dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

But the idea of a company sponsoring news in a community where it operates still poses problems, he said.

“The tradition of press independence — even though in many times it’s more aspirational than real — is nevertheless a cornerstone principle,” Wasserman said. The Standard “is a different model. It’s clearly meant as a community outreach effort, so it’s born in an ethically challenged area.”


Gardening plots at train stations let you raise veggies while you commute

No one hangs out at a train station for fun. But Tokyo is apparently changing that. With community garden plots atop train stations, the city is solving two seemingly unrelated problems: Transit hubs can be ugly and industrial-looking, and city-dwellers often don’t have space to garden.

Fast Co.
Read more: Cities, Living


Oil, oil everywhere

On Exxon Valdez anniversary, a fresh spill threatens Texas wildlife

Oil spill off Texas
U.S. Coast Guard

The accident-prone oil-transportation sector is commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez grounding in Alaska with a large oil spill on the other side of the country.

An oil barge-versus-ship accident in Texas's Galveston Bay on Saturday triggered the largest Gulf of Mexico oil spill since the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Galveston Bay isn't really a bay; it's one of America's largest and most ecologically productive estuaries, and it's surrounded by wildlife refuges. Oil quickly started coating wildlife at the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary. A Texas wildlife official told the L.A. Times that "hundreds or thousands of birds" are threatened:

Read more: Climate & Energy


Keeling over?

World famous climate project forced to scrounge for funding

It’s a tough world out there for a line chart. But, with big screen appearances in An Inconvenient Truth and PowerPoint presentations in classrooms across America, the Keeling Curve has earned its place as one of climate change's most iconic stars.

The Keeling Curve: up and up and up and -- shit.
Wikipedia Commons
Up and up and up and -- shit.

In 1958, Charles David Keeling started collecting data on how much carbon dioxide was in the atmosphere, taking measurements at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. After he died in 2005, the project -- part of the Scripps CO2 Program -- was taken over by his son, Ralph Keeling. They've recorded relentlessly upward trajectories of atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

Read more: Climate & Energy


SeaWorld celebrates 50 years of non-stop sucking


If 50 is considered over the hill, then here’s hoping SeaWorld will continue rolling down the hill and into the ocean, where it will sink and never be discovered. Oops, was that harsh?

We’re actually psyched that SeaWorld turned 50 on Friday. Thrilled. After all, the timing is perfect for a midlife crisis. SeaWorld could take this landmark birthday as a chance to increase its marine mammal rescue contributions to, who knows, more than 0.0006 percent of its revenue. Perhaps with its newly minted senior discount, SeaWorld can purchase a clue: The people have watched Blackfish, and we are pissed.

Writes Nathan Crabbe of The Gainesville Sun:

Read more: Living


Can’t see Beijing’s tourist sites through the haze? Smog insurance is for you!


“China’s smog is so bad” is basically the new, less-awful “Your mom is so fat” joke, since you can accurately fill in the punchline with everything from “the government can’t spy on people” to “people are cramming cigarette filters up their noses.” Newest in the canon? China’s smog is so bad you can buy “haze insurance” in case pollution messes up your vacation.


Ask Umbra: Are chemicals in my garden hose polluting my veggies?


Send your question to Umbra!

Q. I have heard that there is triclosan in new garden hoses. My old hose is spouting leaks everywhere now, but I cannot find any references as to where I can find a chemical-free garden hose. I grow lots of veggies and don't want our family to be eating toxins. Any idea where I can source one?

Adelaide, Australia

A. Dearest Jacqueline,

The ubiquity of chemicals in our daily lives is rather dispiriting, isn’t it? Here you are engaged in the very healthy, sustainable practice of growing fresh veggies for your family, only to learn your innocent-looking garden hose may be showering tonight’s salad with toxins? Good grief.

Read more: Food, Living


25 years after Exxon Valdez, oil spills ain’t what they used to be

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
Jim Brickett

As I'm sure you've noticed, if you are the sort of person who likes to relax on the weekend by reading about past environmental catastrophes, this Monday is the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Happy anniversary, Exxon Valdez oil spill! If we were married, we would give you silver. But we're not married, except in that way we all are inextricably bound together in a global web of shared ecology. In which case you probably wouldn't want silver anyway, because of the downstream effects, so let's just keep it at congratulations.

So: 25 years after Capt. Joseph J. Hazelwood downed several vodkas and left the Valdez poised to strike Prince William Sound's Bligh Reef at four minutes after midnight, what is the spill's environmental legacy?


ExxonMobil agrees to report on its climate vulnerabilities. Here’s why that’s a good thing.

Exxon website

Here’s a bit of confusing news: Environmentalists have successfully pressured ExxonMobil to publicly report on how much climate regulations might hurt its business. The New York Times reports:

Energy companies have been under increasing pressure from shareholder activists in recent years to warn investors of the risks that stricter limits on carbon emissions would place on their business.

On Thursday, a shareholder group said that it had won its biggest prize yet, when Exxon Mobil became the first oil and gas producer to agree to publish that information by the end of the month.

In return, the shareholders, led by the wealth management firm Arjuna Capital, which focuses on sustainability, and the advocacy group As You Sow, said they had agreed to withdraw a resolution on the issue at Exxon Mobil’s annual meeting.

It is easy to understand why shareholders would want to know how ExxonMobil is planning for a future in which demand for oil is stunted by global climate treaties and a hodgepodge of national and regional carbon caps and carbon taxes. But Arjuna and As You Sow are committed to sustainability, not just the financial interests of shareholders. So why is this good for the environment? You might imagine that if Exxon reports that it will suffer greatly from carbon pricing, that would hurt, not help, the campaign to pass climate legislation. After all, politicians cower in fear of harming their generous allies in the fossil fuel industry, especially politicians from dirty-energy-producing states.