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New York developer tears down a huge, productive community garden in the middle of the night

Boardwalk Community Garden, Coney Island, Brooklyn
Chris Kreussling

The Boardwalk Garden in Coney Island started operating in the 1980s, and it was huge -- 70,00 square feet that contained 40 different plots, where locals grew tomatoes and cabbage and zucchini and kept chickens.

Over the weekend, in the middle of the night, a developer came with bulldozers and razed the whole thing. (The chickens they left in pet carriers on the sidewalk, the New York Post reports.)

Read more: Living


These piglets glow in the dark

Maybe Dr. Seuss was trying to tell us something. Chickens aren’t laying green eggs yet, but green ham is here: Scientists in China have taken the bit of jellyfish DNA that makes them glow in the dark, and transferred it into piglets. So when you put the piglets under a black light, they glow green. Check it out:

The University of Hawaii, whose research was used in the pig-glowing process, says that the piglets are squealing in response to the lights being turned off and being held in the container, not anything more sinister.

Read more: Living


Now you can plant your garden by firing a shotgun into the ground

If you're anything like us, you've often thought that gardening just isn’t violent enough. Using your hands or even a spade to dig up dirt and plant seeds is too peaceful and boring. That’s why Flower Shell wants to introduce you to a 12-gauge shotgun that shoots flower seeds! Perfect, right? (Plus, your neighbors will love the noise!)

Flower Shell

Flower Shell is billed as “the shotgun shell that brings life.” (Unfortunately the military wasn’t into it.) Watch and wince at the just-plain-wrongness of it:

Read more: Living


Maybe your 2014 New Year’s resolution should be eating vegan mayo

Follow Your Heart

Why eat Vegenaise if you aren’t a vegan? Mayo can be enough of a culinary risk of its own (we try not to think about it too much). Well, apparently Vegenaise is AWESOME. So swears Slate writer Katherine Goldstein in the slightly hyperbolically titled “The Most Incredible Condiment You Probably Aren’t Using”:

The flavor was much lighter than regular mayo, and had a pleasing balance of flavors that made regular Hellmann’s taste both too sweet and too sour by comparison. Vegenaise’s texture is pleasantly smooth and airy, and much less goopy than store-bought mayo.

Did we mention that it's made with solar power and is totally GMO-free? And it comes in fancy flavors like pesto, roasted garlic, and BBQ? OK, this is sounding pretty good ...

Read more: Food, Living


Whole new crystal ball game: What does 2014 hold for rabble-rousers?

crystal ball future fortune

Predicting the future is a tricky business. In 1873, the Decatur Republican predicted that we would all be frozen to death by the year 2011. In 1906, the New Zealand Star wrote that in 2006, "people will be so avid of every moment of life, life will be so full of busy delight, that ... we shall be impatient of the minor tasks of every day. The bath of the next century will lave the body speedily with oxgenated water, delivered with a force that will render rubbing unnecessary." I grew up around  people who were convinced that the world would end in the year 2000. Some of them have never fully recovered from that tremendous disappointment.

So what's the point of recapping the climate change movement in 2013 for you? You read about it already, back when it happened, and it went something like this: divestment, pipelines, Climate Action Plan, divestment, protesters arrested, Keystone, climate talks in Warsaw, divestment, protesters protesting, divestment, TPP, Obama.

What does the future hold for the climate change movement in 2014? These are my guesses, and I'm curious what yours are. If you have a better (or just different) one, add it in the comments.

“Save the Planet” becomes just another way to say “Join my socialist revolution”

Read more: Climate & Energy


Ask Umbra: Could you settle the debate over dishwashers vs. hand-washing?


Send your question to Umbra!

Q. I'd like to see fairer comparison of handwashing dishes vs. using a dishwasher. I calculated how much water I use washing dishes by hand efficiently (with a tub, not running water) and my highest use (by day) was the same as an efficient dishwasher. Most days, I use less. Also, I don't run on electricity.

Saying that dishwashers always save water is misleading and only true in the circumstances most favorable for dishwashers and least favorable for hand-washers. Please revisit. I can't be the only reader who knows they use far less water washing dishes by hand.  

Beth R.
Sharon, Mass.

A. Dearest Beth,

Indeed, you are not the only astute reader who wrote in after my recent column on disposable vs. reusable dinnerware. And you’re right: Though the average washer of dishes will use far more water when scrubbing up by hand than when loading the dishwasher, I should have known my readers are far from average.

Let’s back up and take a look at the numbers: According to a widely cited European study, hand-cleaning 12 place settings guzzles, on average, 27 gallons of water. Compare that to a load in a new, Energy Star-certified dishwasher: All machines must use less than 5.8 gallons per cycle, and the best of the bunch sips just 1.95 gallons. The difference sounds stark, but that’s not the whole story.

Read more: Living


13 major clean energy breakthroughs of 2013

Dennis Schroeder/NREL

While the news about climate change seems to get worse every day, the rapidly improving technology, declining costs, and increasing accessibility of clean energy is the true bright spot in the march toward a zero-carbon future. 2013 had more clean energy milestones than we could fit on one page, but here are 13 of the key breakthroughs that happened this year.

1. Using salt to keep producing solar power even when the sun goes down. Helped along by the Department of Energy’s loan program, Solana’s massive 280 megawatt (MW) solar plant came online in Arizona this October, with one unique distinction: the plant will use a ‘salt battery’ that will allow it to keep generating electricity even when the sun isn’t shining. Not only is this a first for the United States in terms of thermal energy storage, the Solana plant is also the largest in the world to use to use parabolic trough mirrors to concentrate solar energy.


Thanks to Congress, 2014 will bring uncertainty for the wind industry

Wind turbines -- made in America

The U.S. House of Representatives has already gone on vacation back to their districts and the Senate effectively adjourned for 2013 last Friday, meaning that the one-year extension of the Wind Production Tax Credit (PTC) will expire on Jan. 1, 2014.

The PTC is a $0.022 per kilowatt-hour tax credit on the power that new wind farms in the United States generate for the first 10 years of their operation. These farms have to be “under construction” in 2013 to receive the credit, which is different than how it worked over the law’s prior 20-year history.

In January of 2013, with the legislative fix to the “fiscal cliff,” Congress changed this language from “in production” to “under construction” -- meaning that there is a lot less a farm has to do to qualify for that tax credit. It does not have to be producing power yet, it merely has to have started physical construction or committed 5 percent of the project’s costs by the end of the year to be eligible for the credit. If that change had not been made at the beginning of 2013, a very small number of wind projects would have actually gotten underway, because it takes 18 to 24 months to develop and manufacture most wind energy projects. If Congress had not changed the language in its extension in January 2013, most investors would not have even tried to get projects under way in less than a year.

With the change, though, the industry kept moving. “There’s a race to the start line as opposed to the finish line this time around,” said Mark Albenze, CEO of Wind Americas at Siemens Energy.


Powder River Basin: Coal on the move

Gary Braasch The broad high prairie of eastern Wyoming and southern Montana was once the bottom of a shallow sea, a rich subtropical swampland for millions of years. Layers of plants began forming peat beds 60 million years ago, later to be buried and compressed into bituminous coal strata. The Missouri River became the dominant stream as the Northern Rockies formed, with tributaries like the Yellowstone, Powder, and Cheyenne rivers running north and east to meet it. Their erosion eventually left coal seams only a few feet beneath the land surface of what today is called the Powder River Basin. …

Read more: Climate & Energy


The top 13 green stories of 2013: The good, the bad, and the muddled

Tesla/Boston Catholic/Shutterstock/Fortune Live Media

The environmental news this year was full of ups and downs, twists and turns, and deeply conflicted protagonists.

The good

1. Obama shows he cares about the climate 

President Barack Obama unveiled an actual, coherent climate plan in June, full of steps he can take without cooperation from Congress. The centerpiece is regulations cracking down on coal-burning power plants in the U.S. The plan also entails ending U.S. support for most coal plants abroad. And it calls for boosting renewables and energy efficiency, cutting fossil fuel subsidies, preparing for climate change that's already inevitable, and lots of other good stuff. To the surprise of almost everyone, Obama also said he wouldn't approve the Keystone XL pipeline if it were determined that it would “significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution." Of course, there's lots of debate over that question. (And the Obama news wasn't all rosy; see No. 6 below.)

2. Activists ramp up fight against oil pipelines, fracking, and coal exports

Many Americans are refusing to stand idly by while fossil-fuel interests run rampant, and these activists made more noise than ever in 2013. A marathon of protests against Keystone XL have helped stymie federal approval, at least so far, and other pipeline projects have come under fire as well. Anti-fracking activism has kicked into high gear around the country. Residents of four Colorado cities passed bans or moratoriums on fracking in November, as did voters in Oberlin, Ohio. Fractivists have pushed Massachusetts to move toward banning fracking, and New York to keep a fracking moratorium in place while a study of health and environmental impacts plods forward. Meanwhile, residents of the Pacific Northwest are waging battle against plans for new and expanded coal export terminals. And the divestment movement is convincing a growing number of institutions to dump their investments in fossil fuels.

3. Greens get a billionaire backer of their own