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Attn. babies: Don’t be born poor and black in North Carolina

Julio Martínez

In North Carolina, scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency have found a "stable and negative association" between poor birth outcomes among women and their exposure to air pollution. That's pretty much common knowledge, if not common sense, no matter what state or country you look at. But the EPA scientists also noted that "more socially disadvantaged populations are at a greater risk," even when subjected to the same levels of air pollutants.

Translation: If you have the misfortune of being born poor and black in North Carolina, you’re more likely to arrive in this world underweight and undernourished, on top of being underprivileged. Polluted air only makes your situation worse.

Read more: Cities


Want everyone else to buy into environmentalism? Never say “Earth”


For over three decades, David Fenton has played an unusual role in the environmental movement: marketing it. The company he founded, Fenton Communications, has worked with everyone from Nelson Mandela to It recently managed an anti-fracking campaign for Yoko Ono (fracking, it promised, would ruin New York’s groundwater, and therefore its bagels and pizza).

David Fenton
David Fenton.

To many environmentalists, what Fenton does -- with all the celebrity chefs and celebrities, period -- is ... a little bit simplistic. To his opponents, he’s the Great Satan. If you find an article about him online, it’s probably a hit piece.

“People working in the nonprofit world sometimes have trouble adopting a marketing mindset,” Fenton Communications wrote in a 2009 report.  “But in the end, the goal is for people to 'buy' our ideas -- ideas for a better world.”

Fenton recently talked with me over the phone about why he avoids the words "planet" and "Earth," why millennials are perfectly justified in abandoning the word "environmentalist," and more.

Q. So you started out as a photographer, and later as a PR person for Rolling Stone. What was your first environmental campaign?

A. The No Nukes concert in 1979 with Bruce Springsteen. Thirty-five years ago. Five nights of concerts in Madison Square Garden, plus an album and a motion picture. It definitely helped mobilize popular culture against nuclear power in that era.

That’s one thing the environmental movement still doesn’t do -- use popular culture. There are moments, but systematically, the environmental movement tends to be at the institutional level -- academics and lawyers and scientists and policy people. Popular culture as a means of communication is not in their DNA.

Really, communications, period, is not in their DNA. If you look at the budgets of environmental groups, only teeny tiny portions are spent on communications. And if you remove the portions spent on building membership and fundraising, it’s even less. It’s better than it was. When I started, environmental groups barely had press secretaries. They certainly have that now.


Don’t worry: Your rail trail is (probably) safe

rails-to-trails trail
Ed Brownson

Rail trails -- the biking and walking paths that have sprouted up on disused railroad lines over the last couple of decades -- can be beautiful and popular public spaces. The Capital Crescent Trail on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., for example, passes scenic waterfronts and is packed on sunny weekend afternoons. As cars and trucks displaced passenger and freight rail in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, abandoned rail lines fell into disrepair and became an eyesore. In 1983, Congress passed the “Rails-to-Trails Act.” Since then, the federal government has worked with rail companies and the communities traversed by tracks to reclaim these spaces for the public. Some 20,000 miles of rail trails have been established, with more constantly in development.

So it was alarming news for trail advocates when the Supreme Court ruled 8-to-1 on Monday in favor of a private property owner, and against the federal government, on the question of who owns the rail-line right-of-way on his property. The media headlines made it sound like a dramatic defeat: “U.S. justices deliver blow to 'rails-to-trails' policy,” from Reuters, was typical.

It was indeed a bad ruling for rail trail enthusiasts. But relax! The effect will be very limited.

Read more: Cities, Politics


San Francisco moves to ban plastic water bottles, scoffs at every other sad city


Two big pieces of news out of San Francisco this week: Barry Bonds started a brief stint coaching for the Giants, and the city made significant progress toward outlawing plastic water bottles. As a result, the average level of self-satisfaction exhibited by San Franciscans increased by a factor of three.

And that's just from Bonds' ego! Did you really think we were going to shame a city for striving to be more environmentally conscious? Not that we’re ruling out that San Francisco might have done it just a little bit to make every other American city look even worse. (Oh, come on! You were thinking it too!) Still, this is downright cheery news.


Talk talk: Political junkies discuss Senate chat on climate

When the Senate pulls an all-nighter, the world listens. Or do they? Grist's Ben Adler joined HuffPost Live Host Alyona Minkovski, along with Neil Bhatiya of The Century Foundation and's Jamie Henn, to talk about whether the congressional confab was just a publicity stunt -- or if it could lead to some meaningful action. Watch here:

Also: Check out the best one-liners from the Senate sleepover.


This invasive worm could wipe out escargot

Hold on for one more day.
Philippe Gillotte
Hold on for one more day.

A slimy worm has invaded France from Southeast Asia, and it has a taste for snails. Merde! Experts are warning that if the invasive New Guinea flatworm (Platydemus manokwari) isn’t stopped, escargot could go extinct pretty quickly. This sucker is so lethal, it’s basically on the animal version of America’s Most Wanted, making the top 100 most dangerous invasive species worldwide. The fate of hoity-toity appetizers is at stake here, people!

Read more: Food, Living


This depressing animated map shows Walmart taking over America

Here’s an unsettling look at the Walmart-ification of the U.S., starting in Arkansas in 1962 and ending with total domination more than 3,000 stores across the country. First the chain spreads throughout the state, then the Southeast. Then Walmart crawls north and west, looking for all the world like an invasive species:

Daniel Ferry
Read more: Cities, Food, Living


An annoyed Tesla employee created this coloring book about electric cars

Ayumi Kim works for Tesla and got tired of explaining to potential EV owners that yes, if you hit a wombat, your car will probably be fine, and no, you can’t plug a chainsaw into the cigarette lighter. “I'm not even joking -- this really happened,” Kim swears. “The same guy asked if he could ‘plug the car into itself to charge.’” Ohhhh boy.

Kim has taken the wacky real-life questions she’s fielded on the job and dreamt up what promises to be an unpretentious, fact-filled electric vehicle coloring book. (Seriously. “Unpretentious” is in the title, perhaps to balance out the hipster lumberjack on the cover.) Kim’s friend Sarah W-R is illustrating the 12-page book. It’s not in any way associated with Tesla, which is why the pair have launched a Kickstarter campaign (a $15 donation gets you the book).


Who had the best one-liners at the Senate’s climate slumber party?

pillow fight
Sens. Brian Schatz and Maria Cantwell share a light moment during the all-night talkathon. OK, not really.

Thirty U.S. senators pulled an all-nighter on Monday. They did not, sadly, wear PJs, paint toenails, or fight with pillows.

Instead, they talked about climate change -- and talked and talked and talked. They cited studies and stats. They showed photos and graphs. They warned about climate impacts in their home states. They promoted the economic benefits of clean energy and the job-creating potential of innovation. They made strained analogies about baseball and the rise of the Nazi regime. Altogether, they talked for nearly 15 hours, right through to 8:55 a.m. Tuesday morning.

There aren't enough votes in Congress right now to pass strong climate legislation, or any climate legislation (though an energy-efficiency bill might squeeze through). But at least nearly a third of senators care enough about the problem to stage the 35th all-nighter in Senate history.


Abandoned boats get new life as gorgeous winery buildings

claudia turrent + alejandro d’acosta arquitectos

Boats make excellent (and unexpected) roofs -- they’re sturdy and waterproof by definition. And in Baja’s Guadalupe Valley, one of Mexico’s major wine regions, they shelter Vena Cava Winery.

claudia turrent + alejandro d’acosta arquitectos

The winery is the creation of married architects Alejandro D'Acosta and Claudia Turrent, who run a design studio in Baja. Explains Gizmodo:

[The couple is] known for their inventive approach to reuse, which includes everything from rammed earth to reclaimed trash. At Vena Cava, the duo salvaged a handful of discarded boats from a nearby port and turned them into vaulted ceilings for the winery's essential functions.

Read more: Living