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This gigantic urban “skyfarm” looks like a tree and grows food for the masses

aprilli-design-studio-urban-skyfarm
Aprilli Design Studio

I know what you’re thinking, but Skyfarm is not the latest Tom Cruise sci-fi failure. Skyfarm is one possible solution to a lot of the problems with high-density urban living.

Concieved by the folks at Aprilli Design Studios for Seoul, South Korea, the Skyfarm would be a massive techno tree rising amongst the skyscrapers. The concept would provide arable space to grow crops in a tightly packed city while also providing public green spaces, producing energy, purifying water, and cleaning the air -- and the structure’s great height will get that air cleaning up where it’s needed most.

Stu Roberts at Gizmag has the scoop:

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Inside the huge solar farm that powers Apple’s iCloud

lisa-jackson.jpg
Climate Desk

The article was reported by the Guardian's Suzanne Goldenberg, and the video was produced by Climate Desk's James West.

The skies are threatening to pour on the Apple solar farm but as the woman in charge of the company's environmental initiatives points out: The panels are still putting out some power. Apple is still greening its act.

The company, which once drew fire from campaigners for working conditions in China and heavy reliance on fossil fuels, is now leading other technology companies in controlling its own power supply and expanding its use of renewable energy.

After converting all of its data centers to clean energy, the Guardian understands Apple is poised to use solar power to manufacture sapphire screens for the iPhone 6, at a factory in Arizona.

And in a departure for its reputation for secretiveness, Apple is going out of its way to get credit for its green efforts.

"We know that our customers expect us to do the right thing about these issues," Lisa Jackson, the vice-president of environmental initiatives told the Guardian.

This week, the company invited journalists on a rare tour of its data center in North Carolina to showcase its efforts.

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In Michigan, the drilling wars are infesting the Twitter stream

Michigan from Space
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

I've been in Michigan for the last few days, researching Detroit's water crisis. Yesterday, it became pretty obvious that my phone had figured out that we had arrived in the Mitten State:

energy

Why no, I was not aware that "energy development" contributes $15.8 billion to Michigan's economy each year! It's super thoughtful of you to bring this to my attention, because I often spend my Sunday mornings drinking coffee, doing the crossword, and trying to quantify the exact dollar value that a vague phrase gives to the equally slippery word "economy."

Twitter's pricing structure is a little mysterious, but the cost of a promoted tweet campaign like this is pretty modest -- a small sum debited from a budget each time the message is retweeted or favorited. So imparting this fun fact to me and the few thousand other Michiganders scrolling through our feeds on Sunday to see if any of our friends had more fun than we did last night probably only cost Energy Citizens a few bucks.

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New report expounds on old problem: Lack of diversity in green groups

paper dolls
Shutterstock

President John F. Kennedy once told an audience of American University grads, “We can help make the world safe for diversity. For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air.”

That was 1963. We did not inhale the same oxygen then, and we certainly don’t now. In 2011, scientists found that American counties with the worst levels of ozone had significantly larger African-American populations than counties with less pollution. A recent study from the University of Minnesota found that black and brown Americans are more often trapped in neighborhoods laden with nitrogen dioxide than their white fellow Americans.

And despite civil rights laws, organizations whose mission is to clean the air don’t seem to have grown much more hospitable to people of color. A new report, released today, shows that the staffs of mainstream green groups have been overrepresented with white men despite the groups’ intentions to be more colorful. One of its most damning findings is that “the dominant culture of the organizations is alienating to ethnic minorities, the poor, the LGBTQ community, and others outside the mainstream.”

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Ask Umbra: What’s that stuff dripping out of my neighbor’s air conditioner?

AC_unit
Harsh Patel

Send your question to Umbra!

Q. Is the water dripping from my upstairs neighbor's air conditioner full of chemicals? I often sit out on my fire escape and wonder if I should be concerned about the water dripping not only on me but also on my potted herbs and salad greens (which I eat).

Kate
Jersey City, N.J.

A. Dearest Kate,

Your letter gives me an idea for the next great superhero movie: Our mild-mannered heroine sits out on the fire escape, eating salad while unknowingly absorbing drip after drip of radioactive goo from the upstairs AC unit. The next morning, she wakes up with superpowers and bounds off to battle villains, protect the innocent, and restore peace to Jersey City. Is that blockbuster material or what?

Unfortunately for my prospects of summer-movie success but fortunately for your health, Kate, air-conditioner water will no sooner hurt you or your garden than it will enable you to swing between skyscrapers. The stuff dribbling out of the neighbor’s AC is essentially pure, distilled water, not chemical-ridden toxic waste. That doesn’t mean you can drink it, mind you, but there’s no need for you to rig up an umbrella out back, either.

Read more: Living

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What is climate change doing to our mental health?

drawing of depressed woman
Amelia Bates

About a year ago, I started wondering about the impact of climate change on mental health. After all, depression is already the second leading cause of disability around the world, depression can be kicked off by stress, and watching the ocean inch up to your doorstep or seeing drought destroy your crops and take away your livelihood can be pretty nerve-racking.

I checked the most recent IPCC report. Nothing on mental health. I checked news articles. Nada. I checked the scientific literature, and found a few things, mostly from Australian scientists.

So I headed Down Under, and found a small but dedicated research community. I also found recalcitrant farmers, concerned members of Aboriginal communities, a climate change philosopher, and the beginnings of a new vocabulary.

Research on mental health and climate change in Australia pretty much starts and ends with a very modest and soft-spoken psychiatric epidemiologist, Helen Berry of the University of Canberra. She’s responsible for 27 papers and book chapters published on the subject since 2011. Her studies don’t focus on specific psychiatric diagnoses, but general mental health and well-being. So: How often do you feel distressed? How are you sleeping? Do you talk to others about your distress or do you keep it to yourself?

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Feed lots

Hungry hungry humans: The science (and art) of feeding ourselves

world_hunger_forkhands
Shutterstock

The issue keeps coming up when I write about genetic engineering, or local food systems, or decreased farm yield due to climate change: How do we avoid starvation as populations grow, and how can we allow people to feed themselves equitably and sustainably? The question seems to lurk in the background of every story I do, and this makes me uncomfortable, because I don't know enough to answer. So I'm diving into the debate, blogging as I go.

I recently attended a debate on this topic put on by the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program at UC Berkeley, and it quickly became clear that there are several contentious issues flying crosswise here. We really have a lot of work ahead of us. This was supposed to be a debate over solutions, but there was no agreement over what the problem is.

Read more: Food

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These young people are pioneering Appalachia’s post-coal economy

image (9)
Catherine Moore

In the Hunger Games novels, heroine Katniss Everdeen comes from a coal mining region known as District 12. Her people are poor and looked down upon, but they’re also resourceful and know how to work together. In the end, it’s those skills that allow Katniss and her friend Peeta to win the games against better-trained rivals from the wealthy capital.

The books are fiction, but many readers believe District 12 is set in a futuristic version of Appalachia’s real-life coal country. And, these days, the real Appalachia needs all the resourcefulness and cooperation it can get.

Appalachia tries to make a life after coal
Appalachia tries to make a life after coal

The coal industry, which in many counties has dominated the economy for more than a century, is not providing the jobs it used to. Coal reserves are dwindling, mechanization has made it easier to pay fewer workers to extract more coal, and there’s new competition from cheap natural gas. In Boone County, W. Va., for example, about 40 percent of coal jobs have disappeared since the end of 2011, according to research firm SNL Financial. And the same trend is going on across the region.

You could say Appalachia needs an army of real-life Katnisses -- and, luckily, it’s found them. The Highlander Center, a training center for social movements with deep roots in the South, just launched its "Appalachian Transition Fellowship" -- a program to mentor and support 14 young Appalachians as they work on economic development projects throughout the region. Their goal is to accelerate the creation of a diverse economy by working on projects that create jobs and livelihoods in the wake of coal's decline.

Through this fellowship, Highlander’s fellows will spend a full year working on economic transition projects in Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio, and North Carolina.

I recently had a chance to meet the Appalachian Transition Fellows as they took a kick-off tour through the region. We talked about how they got interested in economic transition and what their fellowships will look like. Here’s what a few of them had to say.

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Appalachia tries to make a life after coal

Mural in Benham.
Catherine Moore / Appalachian Transition Fellows

Benham, Ky., in the heart of Harlan County, is a quiet place with a proud sign that has been amended over time to read, "Benham, the little town that International Harvester, coal miners and their families built."

International Harvester, a farm-equipment conglomerate created by industrial speculator J.P. Morgan, bought up Benham’s land and mineral rights soon after the turn of the century in order to supply Wisconsin steelworks with Appalachia's high-quality coal.

These young people are pioneering Appalachia’s post-coal economy
These young people are pioneering Appalachia’s post-coal economy

All at once, a trappers' and hunters' hamlet became a churning coal-camp town. International Harvester designed the streets, built the houses, attracted the workers, and ran the coal north by rail. Miners were paid good wages when there was work (especially later, when workers were unionized), but most of the workers' cash went straight back to International Harvester -- which owned the two-story department store, the cinema, the hospital, the power company, and every significant business in town.

Half a century later, new machines took miners' jobs and new technology enabled customers to burn cheaper coal. IH started laying off miners and selling its properties, taking its profits with it -- as it had the coal.

Between 1960 and 2012, Harlan County shrank from more than 51,000 residents to fewer than 30,000. Benham's population (now under 500) set about building a new economy.

Today, the former company store houses a mining museum where visitors can crawl about in a mock mineshaft and study detailed dioramas of life during the boom years. The old public school has transformed into a colorful Country Inn, and there's a campaign to switch the town power supply (which the town still controls) from coal to renewables.

Unfortunately for Benham, it's just one of dozens of former coal camps in the area with more coal "heritage" these days than coal. If its population keeps dwindling there won't be a town here for very long. The town of Lynch, created by another J.P. Morgan-created monopoly (U.S. Steel) sits right next door -- with a real mineshaft museum. Similar towns with similar museums exist to the east, in Virginia, and north and south, in Tennessee and West Virginia. The odds of Benham seeing another boom seem stacked against it as steeply as the lush mountains tower over both sides of Main Street.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Gimme 8 percent of your lunch! You’re not going to eat it anyway

When presented with a plate of delicious food, do you eat all of it? Every last bit? Is the plate pristine at the end of your eating session? Yes? Well, OK, you are a liar.

A recent study in the International Journal of Obesity found that, on average, we eat 92 percent of the food on a plate. Good news (or bad, depending on how you look at it): If the food is unhealthy, that figure goes down to 81 percent.

What does 92 percent of a meal look like? The friendly staff at Grist have compiled a very helpful guide using your -- yes, YOUR -- diet as an example!

Read more: Food, Living