Last week, the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil from the Albertatar sands to the Gulf of Mexico, hit another snag: The State Department's Office of the Inspector General said that it is investigating a possible conflict-of-interest issue in the project's environmental impact study. The inspector general is probing whether the company that produced the environmental impact study, Environmental Resource Management, failed to disclose its past working relationship with TransCanada, the company building the pipeline. But while Keystone XL languishes, a rival pipeline plan is speeding through the approval process.
One of TransCanada's rivals, Enbridge Inc., has quietly been moving ahead with a slightly smaller pipeline project that could be piping 660,000 barrels of crude per day to the gulf by 2015. (The Keystone line would carry 700,000 barrels per day.) For environmentalists hoping that blocking the Keystone pipeline would choke the carbon-intensive development of the Canadian tar sands, the Enbridge Eastern Gulf pipeline would be a disaster.
If you could create your perfect living situation, what would it look like?
Right now most people's choices are limited to single-family homes, apartments, or condos. But what if the choices weren't limited? What if you could stitch together your ideal scenario?
As a devotee of the medium chill, I think about this a lot. And here's my own personal answer.
I want to live in a dense urban area where groceries, parks, schools, and restaurants are all within walking distance -- where I can live comfortably without a car. I'd like for the district/neighborhood to be structured in such a way as to encourage casual encounters with neighbors. I'd like it to have a robust sense of community.
The building (or buildings) I lived in would be a type of cohousing, which is to say, it would be shared by a group of families who co-owned it. There would be a large common area with a big kitchen, eating space, and lounge, where families could take turns making meals for the whole group. There would be a shared outdoor area with a large garden and stuff for the kids to play on. And each family would have its own (modestly sized) unit, say, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, an office, a kitchen, and a small living room. To reach the individual units, you'd have to pass through the common area, which would encourage spontaneous socializing.
The families who lived in my building would be my friends, basically -- a group of us at similar stages in our lives, with common interests and values. (This would include some childless friends, perhaps some grandparents too, just for a nice age mix.) We would share child care, tools, and time with one another. It would be an intentional community.
The building(s) would be modern in aesthetic and built to passivhaus standards, with tons of insulation, natural light, and fresh air circulation. It would have solar panels, batteries, a natural gas microgenerator, a geothermal heat-exchanger, and smart appliances, all networked together by a smart whole-home energy management system. It would create more energy than it consumes. It would have the ability to island itself from the grid in the case of emergency. And it would be located near a transit hub.
Tesla Motors surprised Wall Street Wednesday afternoon, announcing second-quarter profits [PDF] of $26 million on $405 million in revenue. Since it reported its first modest profit in May, the electric-car company cofounded by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk already had seen its share price more than double, and you can expect it to soar even higher after the markets open. Many analysts, after all, were expecting Tesla to take a hit. But so far, the company's profits have relied on government subsidies and initiatives.
Tesla's own accomplishments are impressive. The company, founded in 2004, is selling its all-electric cars as fast as it can produce them, even though the baseline price for a Model S sedan is nearly $70,000. Car and Driver says the Model S is possibly the best car it has ever tested. Musk has built a successful company after years of scraping by low on funds while sinking money into researching and developing amazing cars.
In January 2010, as Tesla was developing the Model S, it received a $465 million loan from the Department of Energy. That's not to mention other, less direct subsidies, like the millions of dollars in subsidies in Japan that helped Panasonic develop the lithium-ion batteries that are at the heart of every Tesla car. Tesla's modest first-quarter profit relied on $68 million from zero-emission-vehicle (ZEV) credits it sold to other, less environmentally friendly car companies under a California emissions mandate. There's also the $7,500 federal tax break for people who buy electric vehicles, which makes its pricey cars more affordable.
As for today's results. Tesla earned $51 million on ZEV credits, without which it would not have been able to report a profit.
Tesla is a model for how government support can help bring ambitious new technologies to market. But you won't hear Elon Musk saying that. To the contrary, he has tweeted about how he thinks we'd be better off passing a carbon tax instead of the hefty loan that floated Tesla at a key moment. Musk claims the DOE loan was merely an "accelerant" for Tesla. The company was "bailed in, not bailed out," Musk quipped during an interview with Popular Mechanics last year.
Could Tesla have made it this far without government support? And will the company -- not to mention Musk's other enterprises, SpaceX and SolarCity -- stand alone in the future? Let's take a look at Tesla's climb to success.
I admit to being relatively ignorant about the fossil fuel divestment campaign until several months ago, when some of my peers at Northwestern University proposed a resolution establishing Northwestern as a leader in environmental sustainability, a move that pissed off our president and even inspired its own hashtag, #divestNU. For a while after that, I was excited to see college students rallying around something larger than a 40-second keg stand (admittedly impressive). Hey -- at least we know what a smart investment in the future looks like, even if we can't always make one ourselves. But then I educated myself further and I got angry. Here’s why.
Basically, a divestment movement involves students asking their universities to stop investing money in institutions still directly or indirectly supporting archaic, damaging traditions, the theory being that moral pressure from concerned shareholders, as well as financial pressure from the threat of losing major investors, can force change. In the 1980s, the divestment movement targeted companies based in or doing business with apartheid-era South Africa (movement leaders point to the University of California’s $3 billion withdrawal of investments from the country as key to helping end apartheid rule there). Today, the movement takes aim at a few gassy, bloated Fortune 500 companies. If all of humanity were a gas addict named Joe, Fossil Fuel Inc. is the guy keeping his lips on the pipe, and Joe is paying Fossil Fuel Inc. for that service. So we undergrads are intervening to reroute the cash flow away from Fossil Fuel Inc. and toward someone who can help Joe imagine a future beyond the next fix.
Though I love this idea in theory, I'm frustrated with how it's playing out in practice. Despite students at 308 college campuses clamoring for divestment, only six schools have agreed to withdraw their investments from harmful energy companies in full -- and not one of those has an endowment over $1 billion.
“It was a time to socialize and look at the stars,” says 24-year-old Ariel Abrahams, describing a recent camping trip. He talks about “the rush of the water from the creek, the chirping of birds,” and the trees standing close around him.
The hitch? Those natural sights and sounds were only in Abrahams’ imagination. His tent was actually pitched atop a Brooklyn warehouse.
The man behind this “camp out,” conceptual artist Thomas Stevenson, calls his collection of wood-framed, canvas tents Bivouac NYC. Bivouac, a word known better among mountaineers than urban denizens, is a French term for a temporary campsite. Participants -- up to 18 at a time -- sleep for a night or two under the stars, their shelters often tucked amid cone-topped water tanks, in the hopes of experiencing the Great Connect by disconnecting.
Now in its second summer, the urban camping project has caught on, enough so that Stevenson has been asked to bring it to Boston, London, and possibly California.
I know what you’re thinking: Camping, sure -- but in the city?
The appeal, aside from not having to “drop trou” in the woods, is the chance to experience urban environments in a new way, Stevenson says. “Even though you’re in the heart of a city, it’s quiet up on the roofs and suddenly people begin to understand what they might be able to do without.”
Stevenson launched Biouvac in the fall of 2011, only days after the Occupy movement emerged. For many people, the appearance of tents in Zuccotti Park, right in the heart of a city, was startling at first, he says. But their eyes adjusted, and Stevenson’s project began to look a little less outlandish -- even fun.
For the past several years, artists around the world have been designing innovative ways people might camp in inner cities, going so far as to reimagine the tent for more urban surrounds. They’re on one edge of a broader movement that is getting city residents back out into nature -- right in their own front yards (or right on their own rooftops, as the case may be).
About once a month, the residents of Bayou Corne, La., meet at the Assumption Parish library in the early evening to talk about the hole in their lives. "It was just like going through cancer all over again," says one. "You fight and you fight and you fight and you think, 'Doggone it, I've beaten this thing,' and then it's back." Another spent last Thanksgiving at a 24-hour washateria because she and her disabled husband had nowhere else to go. As the box of tissues circulates, a third woman confesses that after 20 years of sobriety she recently testified at a public meeting under the influence.
"The God of my understanding says, 'As you sow, so shall you reap,'" says Kenny Simoneaux, a balding man in a Harley-Davidson T-shirt. He has instructed his grandchildren to lock up the ammunition. "I'm so goddamn mad I could kill somebody."
But the support group isn't for addiction, PTSD, or cancer, though all of these maladies are present. The hole in their lives is a literal one. One night in August 2012, after months of unexplained seismic activity and mysterious bubbling on the bayou, a sinkhole opened up on a plot of land leased by the petrochemical company Texas Brine, forcing an immediate evacuation of Bayou Corne's 350 residents -- an exodus that still has no end in sight. Last week, Louisiana filed a lawsuit against the company and the principal landowner, Occidental Chemical Corporation, for damages stemming from the cavern collapse.
What do you call a festering schoolbus-sized glob of lard? If you answered 'fatberg,' you'd fit right in at the U.K.’s largest water company. Thames Water uses the silly term to describe a serious lump of trouble that was, until recently, lurking in the London sewer system.
The 33,000-pound 'berg came from modest beginnings: flushed wet wipes and food waste created from Brits pouring grease and fatty foods down the drain. "Fatberg creation is a vicious cycle," Thames Water media relations manager Simon Evans told Henry Grabar of Atlantic Cities. “Fat clings to wipes, wipes cling to the fat."
Neither of these substances should be in the sewer. As John Upton wrote last month, wet wipe packaging claims flushability, but wipes don't come apart in sewers like toilet paper. "You can reach into the fat and you can pull out a wet wipe and it will be sturdy," another Thames Water employee told NBC. And it's easy to let a little fish 'n' chips grease slip down the drain when you don't expect it to turn into Flubber's Revenge: Return of the Grease Menace. While this fatberg is of record-breaking, monstrous proportions, average sewer buildup takes its toll, too. Thames Water spends $1.5 million monthly blasting out smaller fatty deposits, wrongful flushes, and other blockages.
Fatberg (yes, we're on a first-name basis) managed to congeal itself until toilets started backing up. Sadly, this blob couldn't just be killed with fire extinguishers: It took a team of eight to blast the monstrosity apart with high-pressure water hoses, and repairs are expected to take six weeks.
With a scent described as “the worst wet dog you can ever think of" and a texture that “feels like wax and smells much worse,” fatberg is a cautionary tale that will ensure years of nightmares for chafed-butt children doing the dishes. Terrifying photo below the fold:
When I first started writing at Grist, in 2004 and 2005, the Bush administration was in charge and Republicans had majorities in both houses of Congress. Every day -- and I mean, really, almost every single day -- brought some new outrage, some bit of mendacity or corruption or plutocratic greed or just terrible policy.
I realized quickly that there's no way for a healthy human being to maintain the level of outrage warranted by the situation. When offenses to decency follow one after another after another after another, it's difficult to pay attention to each one, much less work up righteous umbrage anew each morning. It's mentally and physically exhausting.
I was convinced at the time, and remain convinced, that this was a deliberate strategy on the part of conservatives: flood the zone and overwhelm the ability of the press, public, and political opposition to react. When you have power, use it to help your friends and secure future power; do not hesitate; do not ask permission.
Obama, whatever you think of his strategies or policies, has led a remarkably scandal-free presidency. That's why, when something like the IRS (non-)scandal comes along, everyone jumps on it and it stays in the news for weeks. It's a singular event, a marker, a symbol around which we arrange our perceptions and arguments. Under Bush, the IRS thing would simply have blurred into a parade of far worse transgressions. It's no accident that "cocaine-fueled sex romp" is a mere fourth on our list of Bush Era WTFs. You just couldn't keep up. It was numbing and profoundly disempowering -- which, again, was the point.
2012 was the eighth or ninth warmest year on record, depending on which data set you look at, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's annual State of the Climate report, released Tuesday. That is just one of many extreme statistics identified in the survey, which pulls together the most recent information from hundreds of researchers worldwide on everything from temperature to sea level to Arctic ice. Taken together, the report's authors say, the data paint an unmistakable picture of a warming planet.
"In 2012, certainly not every variable we looked at broke a record," Thomas Karl, the director of NOAA's climate data center, said. "I think what we've learned is one has to take a broad look at the climate system."
This is part 2 of a short series about bicycles in Copenhagen. Read parts 1and 3.
As an American on my first visit to Copenhagen a few weeks back, I was whopperjawed by the bicycle traffic on the “bike tracks” that swallow up a lane on each side of many city streets there.
Particularly mind-blowing was the cavalcade of bicyclists that charged across a certain bridge just a few hundred feet from my hotel -- a bridge that, I later learned from city officials, probably sees more bike traffic than any other in the world. Queen Louise’s Bridge (Dronning Louises Bro to the Danes) carries over 40,000 bicycles each day. For perspective, that’s more than twice as many people as bike to school or work each day in the entire city of Portland, Ore., which is roughly the same size as Copenhagen.
Standing on Queen Louise’s Bridge at rush hour, you watch the crush of bike-riding humanity riding past. The riders queue up at the stoplights at either end of the bridge, and woe be to the pedestrian (or driver, for that matter) who gets in their way when that thing turns green. It's such a spectacle that, since the city widened the bike tracks and sidewalks about five years ago, the bridge has become a popular hangout and people-watching spot for young Copenhageners. Some have taken to calling it the "hipster bridge."
More than a third of the residents of the Copenhagen metro area -- 36 percent, by the city’s count -- bike to school or work each day. That blows away any city in the U.S.: In Portland, top among U.S. cities, only 6 percent of commuters go by bike. And a whopping 75 percent of Copenhagen cyclists ride year-round, despite the fact that the weather in this city, which is at roughly the same latitude as Juneau, Alaska, was described by almost every local I spoke to as flat-out “shitty” (imagine Seattle, only darker in winter).
Copenhageners are proud of their biking habits. “It’s like brushing your teeth -- it’s something everyone does,” says Marie Brøndom Bay, a representative of the city’s bicycling division. But those numbers have been hard-won. And to Brøndom Bay and other city officials charged with minimizing car traffic and air pollution, and promoting public health, even a third of the populace on bikes is not nearly enough.