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Turkey’s nutty green idea for heating its eco-city? Pistachios


Pistachios may be a lot of hard work compared to Cheetos, but at least their shells could double as heating fuel. That is, if authorities give the OK for their use in a planned Turkish city.

The new eco-city will be built in southeast Turkey’s Gaziantep region, with housing for 200,000 people. The heat’s gotta come from somewhere, so why not from nature’s snack wrapper? Writes Gizmodo:

The region exported 4,000 tons of pistachios last year -- just think about how many shells that is. The pistachio shells could be burned for biogas that is then used for heat, providing up to 60 percent of the city's heating needs.

Here's more background from AFP:

Read more: Food, Living


Corn waste-based ethanol could be worse for the climate than gasoline

corn growing in stover
Ron Nichols, USDA
Young corn growing in the residue of the previous crop.

A lot of carbon-rich waste is left behind after a cornfield is stripped of its juicy ears. It used to be that the stalks, leaves, and detrital cobs would be left on fields to prevent soil erosion and to allow the next crop to feast on the organic goodness of its late brethren. Increasingly, though, these leftovers are being sent to cellulosic ethanol biorefineries. Millions of gallons of biofuels are expected to be produced from such waste this year -- a figure could rise to more than 10 billion gallons in 2022 to satisfy federal requirements.

But a new study suggests this approach may be worse for the climate, at least in the short term, than drilling for oil and burning the refined gasoline. The benefits of cellulosic biofuel made from corn waste improve over the longer term, but the study, published online Sunday in Nature Climate Change, suggests that the fuel could never hit the benchmark set in the 2007 U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act, which requires that cellulosic ethanol be 60 percent better for the climate than traditional gasoline.

The problem is that after corn residue is torn out and hauled away from a farm field, more carbon is lost from the soil. This problem is pervasive throughout the cornbelt, but it's the most pronounced in Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin, owing in part to the high carbon contents of soils there.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food



Street artist Swoon takes on rising sea levels and drowning communities

Brooklyn Museum

Brooklyn street artist Swoon creates art that makes you feel like a kid again. She's wheat-pasted life-sized portraits on the sides of industrial buildings and transformed an abandoned warehouse into a playground for art and community in post-industrial Braddock, Pa., where she lives and works.

And then there are the rafts, whimsical floating creations that make you want to pull a Peter Pan and hop on board to start your new life as a junk boat sailor. In 2006, Swoon and the adventurous crew of the Miss Rockaway Armada built a raft made entirely from salvaged materials -- wood from dumpsters, ropes found on the sidewalk, and a vegetable oil powered engine -- and sailed down the Mississippi River from Minneapolis to New Orleans. Since then, she's made two more boat trips: one with a flotilla of seven rafts and one steam-powered paddleboat down the Hudson River, and another across the Adriatic Sea from Slovenia to Italy for the Venice Biennial with the Swimming Cities of Serenissima.

Click to embiggen.
Tod Seelie
Click to embiggen.

This time around Swoon's given the old rafts new life and brought them indoors to the Brooklyn Museum, for a new exhibit that addresses the loss of people's homelands because of climate change and rising sea levels. She sat down to talk about the inspiration for the exhibit, and the role of the artist in raising awareness about climate change and other environmental issues.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


The secret life of Rust Belt beekeepers

Hallie Bateman

Deep in the defunct industrial zones and backyards of Buffalo, N.Y., there’s a buzz developing -- quite literally, in the form of secret beehives. Across the city, a small network of under-the-radar beekeepers has formed. They keep hives in backyards, vacant lots, and even on garage roofs.

“Two years ago, I was just kind of wandering around one of the smaller, cottage neighborhoods that we have here, and I noticed one woman with all this bee art covering her garage,” says Alexandra Farrington, a beekeeper in Buffalo. “I asked her if she kept bees. First she asked if I was a cop, and then she said, ‘Well, if you promise not to tell ... yeah, I’ve got a few hives on the roof of my garage.’”

While Buffalo has no laws explicitly banning the practice of beekeeping, many neighbors view the critters as a public nuisance. Keepers worry that enough complaints might add up to local legislation that would prohibit beekeeping or severely regulate it. “That’s usually how things go,” Farrington says. “People start to complain, and then the laws are revised and regulations are put into place.”

Farrington and her fellow Buffalonians aren't alone. In cities across the United States, more and more urbanites are taking it upon themselves to create habitats for bees. Urban beekeeping is not only a crucial component of a city dweller's fully functional homestead -- offering both fresh honey and crop pollination -- it's also a response to growing concerns over colony collapse (just this month, the New York Times reported that commercial beekeepers are losing roughly a third of their colonies each year). As the urban beekeeping trend grows, so does the rift between well-intentioned, hyperlocal food producers and neighbors who aren't down with all the buzz.

Read more: Cities, Food, Living


Numbers on the board: The Gulf Coast, four years after the BP disaster

Reuters/Lee Celano

How could you relate when you ain’t never been great?
And rely on oil money to keep food up on your plates?
I might sell a rig on my birthday
36 years of doing dirt like it’s Earth Day.

You might recognize those lyrics from the song “Numbers on the Board” from the artist Pusha T., though slightly modified. Those bars are how I imagine someone like BP CEO Robert Dudley might spit them, as he eagerly declares that the Gulf Coast is clear four years after his company’s Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig exploded.

The date of that disaster happens to coincide with Earth Week, which means millions of faithful environmentalists are at attention -- and they want a full accounting of just how clear the coast actually is. Given that most of the nation benefits from the spoils provided by the Gulf -- its seafood, storm protection, beaches, vacation resorts, and fuels -- that accounting is expected from Americans in general. And what would your favorite shows like “True Blood” and “True Detective” be without the Gulf’s glorious backdrops?

Last week, I wrote about three victories that have emerged since the BP disaster, but the flip side of that is a host of problems that continue to plague the Gulf, which has suffered a whole string of insults, from Hurricane Katrina to ongoing erosion of its coastlines due to to erosion and fossil fuel extraction. Below is an index of statistics on the Gulf’s health, cobbled together from recent news articles, reports, and datasets documenting damage done to the coast:

Read more: Climate & Energy


When it comes to climate change, don’t think of the children


No one wants their grandkids growing up in an apocalyptic world with soup-thick air and crusty land. Making the abstract idea of climate change more personal and immediate is a good way to make people care ... right? But as Greg Lusk argues, the “child trope” -- “Let’s leave a safe, clean world for our descendants!” -- is flawed and not all that effective.

For one thing, this “Think of the children!!!!!” alarmism ignores the fact that kids are part of the problem (see: overpopulation). And for the kidfree, children aren’t exactly a compelling reason to care. Should I ride the bus to lock down a better future for ... my cat’s kittens’ kittens? (If she weren’t already spayed, that is.)

Then there’s the fact that climate change is already happening -- shit’s in the present, not the future! As Lusk writes:

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Here’s how the media is getting the story on cities & millennials wrong

young woman city

Another day, another article about millennials supposedly flocking to cities, leaving their native suburbs bereft. Last week, the New York Times informed us that there has been a precipitous decline in the number of 25- to 44-year-olds moving into some of the Big Apple’s affluent suburbs in Westchester, Nassau, and Suffolk counties. In classic journalistic trend-story fashion, the Times notes that some wealthy suburbs of Boston, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., are facing similar problems.

The article considers several possible explanations, including the extravagantly high cost of housing in towns where there are no apartments and houses fetch over $1 million. But the focus is on the younger generation’s desire for cultural amenities. And, the Times reports, some suburbs are trying to give them what they want:

Some suburbs are working diligently to find ways to hold onto their young. In the past decade, Westbury, N.Y., has built a total of 850 apartments — condos, co-ops and rentals — near the train station, a hefty amount for a village of 15,000 people. Late last year it unveiled a new concert venue, the Space at Westbury, that books performers like Steve Earle, Tracy Morgan and Patti Smith.

Long Beach, N.Y., with a year-round population of 33,000, has also been refreshing its downtown near the train station over the last couple of decades. The city has provided incentives to spruce up signage and facades, remodeled pavements and crosswalks, and provided more parking. A smorgasbord of ethnic restaurants flowered on Park Avenue, the main street.

Surely the appeal of arts and ethnic cuisine are one reason young people want to live in cities. And a variety of demographic factors, some of which the Times mentions -- like people waiting longer to have kids -- are also at play. (The high property taxes in New York’s fancy suburbs might be another consideration, which the article neglects.)

But fundamentally, there are two problems with the Times story: It overstates the suburbs’ problems, and it misses one of the main causes of the shift toward cities.

Read more: Cities


“Climate change war” is not a metaphor

Enduring Freedom
Staff Sgt. Jonathan Lovelady / U.S. Air Force

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just completed a series of landmark reports that chronicle an update to the current state of consensus science on climate change. In a sentence, here’s what they found: On our current path, climate change could pose an irreversible, existential risk to civilization as we know it -- but we can still fix it if we decide to work together.

But in addition to the call for cooperation, the reports also shared an alarming new trend: Climate change is already destabilizing nations and leading to wars.

That finding was highlighted in this week’s premiere of Showtime’s new star-studded climate change docu-drama Years of Living Dangerously. In the series’ first episode, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman traveled to Syria to investigate how a long-running drought has contributed to that conflict. Climate change has also been discussed as a “threat multiplier” for recent conflicts in Darfur, Tunisia, Egypt, and future conflicts, too.

Climate change worsens the divide between haves and have-nots, hitting the poor the hardest. It can also drive up food prices and spawn megadisasters, creating refugees and taxing the resiliency of governments.

When a threat like that comes along, it’s impossible to ignore. Especially if your job is national security.

In a recent interview with the blog Responding to Climate Changeretired Army Brig. Gen. Chris King laid out the military’s thinking on climate change:

“This is like getting embroiled in a war that lasts 100 years. That’s the scariest thing for us,” he told RTCC. “There is no exit strategy that is available for many of the problems. You can see in military history, when they don’t have fixed durations, that’s when you’re most likely to not win.”

In a similar vein, last month, retired Navy Rear Adm. David Titley co-wrote an op-ed for Fox News:

The parallels between the political decisions regarding climate change we have made and the decisions that led Europe to World War One are striking -- and sobering. The decisions made in 1914 reflected political policies pursued for short-term gains and benefits, coupled with institutional hubris, and a failure to imagine and understand the risks or to learn from recent history.

In short, climate change could be the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the 21st century.

Earlier this year, while at the American Meteorological Society annual meeting in Atlanta, I had a chance to sit down with Titley, who is also a meteorologist and now serves on the faculty at Penn State University. He’s also probably one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever spoken with. Check out his TEDxPentagon talk, in which he discusses how he went from “a pretty hard-core skeptic about climate change” to labeling it “one of the pre-eminent challenges of our century.” (This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.)

Read more: Climate & Energy


Minnesota can’t say no to coal power, judge rules

coal power plant

Minnesota did something really cool in 2007. As part of its Next Generation Energy Act, which aimed to reduce per capita fossil fuel use 15 percent by 2015, it effectively barred utilities from buying electricity from any fossil fuelburning power plants built after July 2009 -- unless the carbon emissions of those purchases were entirely offset.

In response, North Dakota, which gets a staggering 79 percent of its power from dirty coal, did something decidedly uncool. It sued its neighbor in 2011, claiming the air-cleansing and climate-protecting rule violated federal law because it limited interstate commerce.

And on Friday, a federal judge ruled in favor of North Dakota. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports:


Ukraine belatedly seeks renewable energy as weapon against Russia

Ukraine flag

It took a military invasion to get Ukrainian leaders to look seriously at renewable energy.

Ukraine is buying up as much natural gas as it can from Russia before its military tormentors cut off the spigot. Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that his Eastern European neighbor had a month to pay its back bills or be forced to start paying in advance for its gas. Bloomberg analyzed energy data and reported Monday that Ukrainians nearly trebled their daily gas imports following Putin's statement.

But the crisis hasn't just triggered a fossil fuel buying spree. It has prompted Ukrainian officials to reimagine their embattled nation's very energy future. From a separate Bloomberg article: