Skip to content Skip to site navigation

More Articles


Big corporations are getting ready for carbon taxes, even if we’re not

Carbon Tax

When a promising cap-and-trade bill failed in the Senate in 2010, oil and coal companies everywhere must have breathed a sigh of relief, then probably wiped the sheen from their collective brow with a spare Benjamin and got back to work. It now looks like some of that work involved planning for a time when they would actually lose the battle over their climate sins. In a report [PDF] released by the UK-based Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), 29 companies -- including the five biggest oil-producers, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, BP, and Shell (not that we’re keeping track) -- report that they …

Read more: Climate & Energy


Low wages and cheap food: Separated at birth

Annette Bernhardt

As fast food workers go on a one-day strike for higher wages across the U.S., it’s a good moment to reflect on what we are buying when we pay for cheap food.

The strength of the fast-food business model is that it is accessible to all: It’s so cheap that even the poorest people in America eat at McDonald's. And in some cases it’s not just cheap, it’s the cheapest. If you don’t have time to cook dinner, or the means to buy unprocessed food in bulk, it makes perfect economic sense to dine out at the closest greasy spork. And so there’s an argument to be made that the poor actually need more fast food, or at least Wal-Mart-style cheap food.

But that argument fails to consider the trade-offs these companies are making to deliver those low prices. One of the biggies: Cheap food depends on low wages. This is a circular argument: You need cheap food to feed the underpaid. And you need low pay to keep prices down. As Michael Pollan put it, it is:


Triple threat: Obama orders federal agencies to boost clean energy use threefold

Obama and solar panels
Nellis Air Force Base

Two bills in the Senate would require the country to get at least 25 percent renewable electricity by 2025, but neither has a chance in hell of making it to Obama's desk. Thanks, Republicans! So the president is doing what he can without approval from Congress: requiring the federal government to get more of its power from renewable sources.

From NPR

Read more: Uncategorized


“Let them eat coal”: Why cheap, dirty fuels aren’t a meal ticket for developing countries


Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish provocateur who loves to pick fights with the climate movement, argues in the New York Times this week that what people in developing nations -- or as he called them, “the poor” -- really want is cheap, dirty, fossil fuels to help them reach prosperity. Poor folks, he says, could get rich off of coal if the West would just get out the way. It's part of an ongoing conversation that has stymied international climate talks, about how wealthy countries have gotten rich on fossil fuels, and now want poor countries to help clean up the mess.

Lomborg uses South Africa as his test:

The last time the World Bank agreed to help finance construction of a coal-fired power plant, in South Africa in 2010, the United States abstained from a vote approving the deal. The Obama administration expressed concerns that the project would “produce significant greenhouse gas emissions.” But as South Africa’s finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, explained at the time in The Washington Post, “To sustain the growth rates we need to create jobs, we have no choice but to build new generating capacity — relying on what, for now, remains our most abundant and affordable energy source: coal.”

We’ll put aside the fact that the last time, or rather the first time the Dutch came up with a prosperity scheme for Africa it involved a vicious slave trade that put the continent on a path to poverty it’s yet to fully recover from. Africans, not Lomborg, are the people to determine what Africans need. And while Gordhan, speaking for finance, may have said his country needed coal in 2010, the following year during the COP 17 climate negotiations in Durban, faith leaders came together declaring that [PDF]  “South Africa must stand with Africa -- not big polluters."


We can’t stop watching these emus freak out about a ball

emu 1

The makers of this video seem to think they needed to improve on reality by intimating that the emu was dancing the tango with this battery-powered ball. But it’s not necessary to pretend that. It’s amusing enough to watch the emus go: Ball. Ball? Ball! Ball? OMG ball!


Read more: Living


This trash can is designed to give animals your leftovers

Wasted food is a serious problem, inspiring everything from apps to find your leftovers a home to restaurants that frankenstein your meal from expired ingredients. A new solution, the Animal-Friendly Trash Can, tackles food waste and hungry strays at the same time (with cute cat ears, no less!):


Most of the inner chamber is your typical trash can, but there’s a separate space at the bottom with a pull-out tray for any edible trash. (The tray makes it both easier for cleaning and for you to dispose of your lunch remains.) The can's designers, Professor Bao Haimo and a team of four students, won an honorable mention in 2013’s Red Dot Design contest for their creation. The designers provide some context:


Man arrested for charging his EV with 5 cents’ worth of electricity

Tom Raftery

Watch where you put that power cord, because you could get cuffed for charging your EV in public. That’s what happened to Georgia dad Kaveh Kamooneh, who plugged in his Nissan Leaf for 20 minutes at Chamblee Middle School. A local cop showed up during this egregious city robbery and told Kamooneh he’d get arrested for electrical theft.

Kamooneh ended up spending 15 hours in jail for the crime of using 5 cents’ worth of electricity “without consent.” We get that most areas don’t have the infrastructure yet for widespread EV adoption, but seriously?!

Ars Technica writes:

Kamooneh said that the car, when plugged into a 110-volt outlet, draws a kilowatt an hour. "Over an hour, that's maybe eight or nine cents" worth of electricity, he said, depending on the rates. He was plugged in for less than 20 minutes, so he estimated the amount of power he drew from the school at less than 5 cents...


Ask Umbra: Can I rest easy eating organic beef?


Send your question to Umbra!

Q. I always buy organically raised beef, when I do buy beef. I read that ground beef you get is a mixture of beef from different animals. How do I know the beef I am getting is, in fact, organically grown? Could it be mixed with other feedlot beef? Also, when it comes to processing the animal, how are the organically raised cows treated? Any better or different than if they were just regular cows?

Suzy P.
Denver, CO

A. Dearest Suzy,

When I got your letter, I imagined you reading it aloud in with a suave accent: “I don’t always eat beef. But when I do, I prefer organic.” And well that you do: There are important differences between the lives -- if not the deaths -- of organically raised cattle and their conventional, feedlot-bound siblings.

Read more: Food, Living


The U.S. cities leading the decline in driving

Austin, Texas.
Austin, Texas.

One of the simplest ways to measure our dependence on cars is to look at the share of commuters in a given city who get to work in a private vehicle. These are the people who rely on automobiles as part of their everyday travel patterns. They're people who live too far from work to walk there, who may prefer not to take transit, or who simply have no other options. They're the commuters for whom communities must widen highways for rush-hour capacity and build out parking garages for downtown businesses.

Over the last decade, however, a new report from the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Frontier Group finds that the share of workers who get to work by private car declined in 99 of America's 100 largest urbanized areas (by the Census Bureau's definition, this is a densely populated geography often larger than a single city but smaller than a metropolitan area). The lone outlier was New Orleans, which has been an outlier in many ways since Hurricane Katrina.

Benjamin Davis and Phineas Baxandall calculated this using "journey to work" data from the 2007-2011 American Community Survey, comparing it to the year 2000. The results suggest that the biggest declines in car commuters have come in the New York-Newark area; Washington, D.C.; Austin, Texas; and Poughkeepsie-Newburgh, N.Y. In all four urban areas, the share of workers commuting by private vehicle has dropped by 4 percent or more:


Could you sue Chevron or Exxon for screwing up the climate?

Chevron protest sign
Rainforest Action Network

Too many climate headlines sound alike: “Polar ice cap melting faster than expected,” “Scientific consensus stronger than ever,” “Pacific island soon to be underwater,” etc. But this recent one stood out: "Just 90 companies caused two-thirds of man-made global warming emissions." That's from a Guardian story about new research in the journal Climatic Change, in which Richard Heede calculated the greenhouse gas contributions of major companies since the Industrial Revolution.

The news excited at least one legal scholar. In a blog post for the Center for Progressive Reform, American University law professor David Hunter calls the study “a potential game-changer” because it could make it easier for climate change’s victims to sue its perpetrators. Hunter writes:

Courts need no longer fear that it would be impossible to untangle the private sector’s historical contributions to climate change or unfair to make oil companies, for example, pay for all climate-related damages. A clear formula now exists for allocating at least a significant percentage of the costs of climate change to those companies that benefited most from the public nuisance created by their emissions. Take, for example, the costs of moving the Inuit village of Kivalina, which attempted to sue several of the top polluters for the anticipated costs of relocating their village as a result of climate change. Those costs could now be allocated to the major fossil fuel companies based on their historical contributions to the problem.

From this you might think that if you and your neighbors are harmed by extreme flooding or forest fires, you could band together and sue the companies responsible for climate change. That is unrealistic.