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Green house

Using Airbnb is greener than staying in hotels

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Airbnb recently scored surprise props from Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson, a hotel-industry competitor. And news today about the environmental benefits of staying in shared homes versus hotels might add up to yet another W for the growing vacation-rental juggernaut.

According to a study conducted by Airbnb and Cleantech Group, travelers who stay in Airbnb properties tend to eat up less energy than traditional hotel guests. In a press release, Airbnb chief product officer and cofounder Joe Gebbia says, "In North America alone, Airbnb guests use 63 percent less energy than hotel guests -- that's enough energy to power 19,000 homes for one year." The study also suggests that both Airbnb hosts and guests tend to be greener consumers.

Some other highlights from the study:

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Cargill promises to get right with palm oil

palm oil fruit
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Back on National Doughnut Day (the holiday we all know and love), I mentioned that there were three major-company holdouts -- Cargill, IOI Loders Croklaan, and Bunge -- that were still buying palm oil from people cutting down rainforests.

Now Cargill has come around, committing to insure that its palm oil supply chain is traceable, transparent, and not causing deforestation.

There's real momentum here -- Cargill is a major player. And it's just the latest to join this parade. In June, I quoted Glenn Hurowitz, chair of the Forest Heroes Campaign:

The vegetable oil industry is in the midst of a revolution away from deforestation. Last December, the Asian agribusiness giant Wilmar International instituted a no deforestation policy, and since then there’s similar commitments coming in from companies every couple of weeks," said Hurowitz.

Of course this doesn't mean that deforestation and agricultural expansion is just vanishing. But if we want to save forests, it's exactly this kind of steady, measured pressure that can actually work. If eaters show that they are serious about the environment, and are willing to pay to protect it, producers and farmers will find it's in their interest to become stewards.

Read more: Food

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Under water

The EPA’s struggle to combat water pollution

The San Pedro River, an intermittent stream.
William Herron

For years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been frustrated in its efforts to pursue hundreds of cases of water pollution -- repeatedly tied up in legal fights about exactly what bodies of water it has the authority to monitor and protect. Efforts in Congress to clarify the EPA's powers have been defeated. And two Supreme Court decisions have done little to decide the question.

Most recently, in April, the EPA itself declared what waters were subject to its oversight -- developing a joint rule with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that sought to end the debate and empower the EPA to press hundreds of enforcements actions against alleged polluters across the country.

The new rule, for instance, explicitly defines several terms -- tributary, floodplain, and wetland -- and makes clear that those waters are subject to its authority.

But the EPA's effort has been met with immense opposition from farmers who say the agency is overreaching. An expansive online campaign organized and financed by the American Farm Bureau Federation has asserted that the new rule will give the EPA jurisdiction over farmers' irrigation ditches, watering ponds, and even puddles of rain.

Read more: Politics

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This GOP candidate says he’s cracking down on coal pollution — but green groups say that’s BS

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Mark Peterson

North Carolina Senate candidate Thom Tillis is making an unusual argument -- for a Republican. In recent weeks, he's accused his Democratic opponent, Sen. Kay Hagan, of sabotaging critical environmental regulations because of her "cozy relationship" with a powerful energy company. At the same time, Tillis has trumpeted his own role in fighting for what he claims are tough new rules that will clean up the coal industry.

But North Carolina environmentalists say he's full of it. "That's pretty bold, as a line of attack, considering the environmental record he's got," says DJ Gerken, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The back-and-forth is the latest skirmish in the political war over one of the worst environmental disasters in the state's history. In February, a toxic waste dump at one of Duke Energy's coal-fired power plants ruptured and belched up to 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River. Thousands of people lost access to drinking water, and the river was polluted with toxins like lead and arsenic. In response to the disaster, Tillis -- who leads the state's GOP-controlled House of Representatives -- is pushing legislation that ostensibly tightens regulation of Duke's remaining coal-ash pits. But critics say the bill as written would actually leave North Carolina even more vulnerable to future spills than it already is.

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The U.S. cities with the worst climate change-related flooding

Annapolis, Md.
Amy McGovern

What's the most pernicious climate-change threat facing the U.S. in the years to come? It might not be lung-scorching air pollution, less-nutritious crops, or super-fueled wildfires, but rising sea levels repeatedly swamping coastal cities, according to a new NOAA report.

The number of "nuisance flooding" days in the U.S. has shot up markedly since the middle of last century, by as much as 925 percent in Annapolis and 922 percent in Baltimore. And as the oceans continue to swell -- a byproduct of melting glaciers and the heat expansion of water -- we can expect these waterlogged days to become yet more common, especially on the East Coast, says the report's lead author, William Sweet.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Ask Umbra: What’s the most eco-friendly way to get rid of this sexy stubble?

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Send your question to Umbra!

Q. What's the most sustainable way to shave my man-scruff so I don't look like such a dirty hippie? I know, I know, not shaving at all is the way to go, but damn if it doesn't start itching too bad.

Wade
Seattle, Wash.

Q. What is the most environmentally friendly/responsible hair removal method for women (legs and underarms)? Shaving, waxing, laser removal, something else I've never heard of? (I realize the most environmentally responsible way might be to not remove the hair at all, but I've decided not to take that route at this point.)

Caitlin
Derry, N.H.

A. Dearest Wade and Caitlin,

My, society is a funny beast. Thousands of years of evolution have come up with a highly successful model for the human body – all that leg, face, and underarm hair included – and what do we do but work ourselves into a tizzy over how to get rid of it. I appreciate your sheepish acknowledgment of that fact, you two, but worry not. You’ll hear no rants in favor of au natural grooming from me today.

What you will hear, however, is a gentle reminder to keep things in perspective. Individual choices do matter, and we should always strive to do the best we can. But the carbon emissions associated with razor blades versus electric razors versus waxing, etc., pale in comparison to bigger-ticket choices like transportation, home energy, and diet. So let’s get into some recommendations here, then transfer that care and energy elsewhere.

Read more: Living

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Are there two different versions of environmentalism, one “white,” one “black”?

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Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers
The mountains and the endless plain --
All, all the stretch of these great green states --
And make America again!
- Langston Hughes, 1938

I really didn’t want to have to address this. While reading through University of Michigan professor Dorceta Taylor’s latest report, “The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations,” and thinking about what I would write about it, I had hoped to focus on the solutions. Those solutions -- confronting unconscious and subconscious bias and other subtle forms of discrimination -- are the parts I had hoped environmentalists would be eager to unpack.

I thought they’d read about the “green ceiling,” where mainstream green NGOs have failed to create a workforce where even two out of 10 of their staffers are people of color, and ask themselves what could they do differently. I thought, naively, that this vast report, complete with reams of data and information on the diversity problem, would actually stir some environmentalists to challenge some of their own assumptions about their black and brown fellow citizens.

I was wrong.

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At this year’s big climate rally, most of the people won’t be pale, male, and stale

climate ralliers
People's Climate March

More than 500 organizations are planning a historic event for Sept. 21 in New York City, what they say will be the largest rally for climate action ever. Organizers and ralliers will be calling on world leaders to craft a new international climate treaty, two days before those leaders will convene at a Climate Summit at the United Nations headquarters. Jamie Henn, spokesperson for 350.org, the main convener of the event, declined to offer a precise target for turnout, but the current holder of the largest-climate-rally title, a February 2012 march on the White House, drew around 50,000 people, so organizers are expecting more than that -- possibly significantly more.

However many people show up, though, this march will likely be historic for another reason: its diversity and its focus on climate justice. More than 20 labor unions are among the organizations leading in the planning and turnout efforts. On Wednesday morning, representatives of a handful of them gathered in the Midtown Manhattan office of 1199, the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), for a press conference, and then they were joined in Times Square by more unions for a small pep rally to promote the September event. Other groups present included locals from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Transport Workers Union of Greater New York (TWU), and local social- and environmental-justice organizations such as UPROSE and the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance.

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Tuna-ed Out

Farming bluefin tuna might be out of our depths

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Close your eyes. Think fish. Do you envision half a ton of laminated muscle rocketing through the sea as fast as you drive your automobile? Do you envision a peaceful warrior capable of killing you unintentionally with a whack of its tail? These giant tuna strain the concept of fish.

-- Carl Safina, Song for the Blue Ocean

When most of us think tuna, the image we conjure is more along the lines of a friendly looking tin of Starkist than a voracious top predator. But Atlantic bluefin -- not actually the tuna you'd likely find in a can, but the type that ends up as expensive sushi -- are just that. Because sushimongers' insatiable appetites for bluefin are wiping the fish out of oceans, some scientists hope that aquaculture can relieve the pressure from the wild stocks. Turns out, that's a hard thing to do.

Why? Well, think about it for a second: Would it ever sound like a good idea to farm tigers?

Read more: Food

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Dogg Eat Dogg world

Allow Snoop Dogg to show you the horrifying wonders of Plizzanet Earth

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While we love the honeyed tones of one Sir David Attenborough in Planet Earth, sometimes the natural world calls for a little less calm bemusement and a little more "Damn, he didn't even chew BLEEEEEP he just swallowed. That's coldblooded, man." To that end, we welcome Snoop Dogg's spirited redubbing of the landmark BBC series.

The great white shark segment is his second Plizzanet Earth; below, he kicks off the segment on the Jimmy Kimmel Live. Sample quote: "I never understood rams. Why do they do this shit? What do they get out of this?" Enjoy:

Read more: Living