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Sierra Club chief weighs in on conservation heroes, green energy, & Bruce Springsteen

michael-brune
Sierra Club

We have a new game we like to play with famous (and infamous) visitors to Grist World HQ. It's called Vs., and it goes something like this: Famous person sits down. Gristers present visitor with two related words or ideas or songs. Gristers then force visitor to choose one over the other -- and explain why he or she chose it. Visitor squirms, Gristers giggle, repeat. It's fun!

This time around, our lucky guest was Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. And it turns out this is a game he's already pretty good at: Not only did he somehow manage to get through our questions without offending anyone (does that mean we lost?), he flipped the table around by saying a few things that got our wheels turning.

Natural gas vs. nuclear? Pounding the pavement vs. cutting a trail? Thunder Road vs. Ghost of Tom Joad? Watch the video to find out!

Read more: Climate & Energy

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This crusty activist gave up on playing by the rules. What are they gonna do, arrest him?

Alec Johnson
Tar Sands Blockade

It’s been over a year since Alec Johnson was arrested for locking himself to an excavator sitting on a pipeline easement in Atoka, Oklahoma. He’s still waiting to go to trial. Rural Oklahoma communities only hold jury trials once or twice a year, and every time a new court date comes up, Johnson gets bumped – priority goes to anyone charged with a felony or presently cooling their heels in jail, which Johnson is not.

A lot has changed in that year. The protest around U.S. energy policy and climate change has shifted fronts – coal terminals, oil-by-rail, divestment, solar, and a massive climate rally planned for this September. Keystone XL South (now renamed the Gulf Coast pipeline) is up and running and being monitored by an ad hoc group of volunteers. Keystone XL is on hold until after the November U.S. elections -- possibly for good, though Johnson has his doubts. “In my experience, the ruling class pretty much gets what they want when they want,” he says.

Johnson has been arrested seven times, though there’s a gap of several decades in the sequence. The majority of his arrests happened in the mid-'70s, outside of the Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant in Seabrook, New Hampshire. Johnson was a member of a direct-action group called the Clamshell Alliance, and getting arrested was a whole different business then. “I got the shit kicked out of me,” he said. “They had their badge numbers taped over. A lot of white people that doesn’t happen to, but it happened to me.”

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In 10 years, no one in Helsinki is going to own a car

Helsinki
iStock

The future is always changing. Back in the day, they promised a flying car in every garage. Now that the future is almost here, it’s looking like a no-go on the winged Chevy. In fact, in Helsinki, Finland, the future could mean empty garages. Turns out that in an age when we carry the sum of all human knowledge around in our pants pockets, some better ideas come up.

The Finnish capital is planning a comprehensive and flexible smartphone-enabled travel network that could be online by 2025. The system will combine small buses, self-driving cars, bicycles, and ferries. Users will simply enter their destination into an app and the system will suggest where to transfer from car to bike, for instance, and arrange for the vehicles -- and do it all for one easy and inexpensive payment.

Adam Greenfield at the Guardian has more on the plan:

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Algal Pints

Another reason kelp will win over hipsters’ hearts: craft beer

beer
Valentyn Volkov

Yesterday, I gave you the top reasons why kelp could bump out kale as hipsterdom's star vegetable -- it's environmentally friendly, nutritious, and delicious (maybe?). If seaweed really wants to reign king, what better way to win cool hearts than becoming an ingredient in craft beer? (There's no such thing as Kale Light.)

Turns out, kelp is already a step ahead of me. On July 15, the Marshall Wharf Brewing Co., in Belfast, Maine, began pouring the Sea Belt Scotch Ale. Sugar kelp is a main ingredient.

Brewery owner David Carlson had reason to believe his experiment would be a success: What gets kids excited these days like weird ingredients, especially if they're locally sourced? But, as NPR reports, he approached the experiment with reasoned caution:

Read more: Food, Living

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hot at the top

Wanna see what climate change looks like? Check out the vicious fires in northwest Canada

canadian-fire.jpg
NWT Fire

Lightning, an intense heat wave, and low rainfall are lighting up northwestern Canada like a bonfire, producing conflagrations that scientists are linking to climate change.

More than 100 forest fires are burning in Canada's lightly populated Northwest Territories, east of Alaska. Some residents are being evacuated from their homes; others are being warned to stay inside to avoid inhaling the choking smoke. Take a look at the latest map produced by the region's fire agency:

canada-fires
NWT Fire

“Some attribute that to climate change, and I’m one of those," Mike Flannigan, a professor of wildland fire at the University of Alberta, told CBC News. “What we are seeing in the Northwest Territories this year is an indicator of what to expect with climate change. Expect more fires, larger fires, more intense fires.”

Here's more from Climate Central:

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Mailed it

This rogue bicycle pony express delivered mail in 1894

If any of the cyclists who participated in the great bicycle messenger mail route were still alive to tell the tale, it would make the ultimate "when I was your age story."

Picture this: San Francisco, 1894. The Pullman rail strike in Illinois cuts off all rail service west of Detroit, leaving California train-less and thus, mail-less. One "enterprising citizen" and bicycle salesman Arthur C. Banta decides to create a fixie chain gang relay along a 210-mile stretch from San Francisco to California's Central Valley with eight primary riders. He charges $0.25 for stamps, 10 times the price of standard mail at the time.

I can just hear the conversation now:

Read more: Living

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dog snoops

Weed-sniffing dogs join the fight against invasive species

dog nose
Shutterstock

There aren’t a lot of career options for dogs. Basically they’ve been limited to law enforcement, imperial transport, and designated hitter -- until now. A crack team of canines is on the hunt for invasive species.

The dogs, which are equipped with GPS units because we live in the future, search the countryside looking for invasive weeds, snails, and, for the lucky dogs, scat. Under the auspices of the Montana nonprofit Working Dogs for Conservation, it’s a career that combines two of a dog's favorite things: wandering about and smelling poop.

Jodi Helmer at Takepart has the rest of the tail (ahem):

Read more: Uncategorized

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Scientist: Save Earth by shrinking humans — and making them hate hamburgers

mad-scientist
Edward Fielding

If the Earth were a potluck, humans would be the guest who shows up empty-handed and already drunk, eats all the dip, knocks over the fish tank, and electrocutes the dog. There’s a reason why there’s a billion trillion planets out there and only one invited us to the party: No matter how many times we offer to fix the coffee table, perhaps with some sort of whacky pseudo-sciency scheme using Duck Tape and a hundred or so tons of iron sulphate, we’re still shitty guests.

Maybe it’s better to change ourselves -- and not just switching from bourbon to beer, but serious change, on the genetic level. At least that’s what Matthew Liao, director of the bioethics program at New York University, is suggesting.

Frank Swain with the BBC has more:

“We tried to think outside the box,” says Liao. “What hasn’t been suggested with respect to addressing climate change?”

The answer they landed on is human engineering: the biomedical modification of human beings to reduce their impact on the environment. The associate professor suggests that by changing our underlying biology – altering our size or diet, for instance – we could create greener humans. ...

“We’re not suggesting that we should mandate these ideas, but it would be good to make them options for people,” says Liao

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crikey

Australia repeals carbon tax, scientists freak out

Australian outback
Shutterstock

The cartoonish stereotype of Australia of yesteryear featured a rough-headed bloke in an Akubra hat wrangling crocodiles. That image has finally been scrubbed from our collective memories -- only to be replaced with something worse. Today, when we read news dispatches from Australia, we're seeing a dunderheaded prime minister cartoonishly wrangling commonsense, becoming the first leader in the warming world to repeal a price on carbon.

It's like George W. Bush, Crocodile Dundee-style.

Conservative prime minister, climate change denier, and accused misogynist Tony Abbott was elected in September. He started working as the nation's leader almost immediately, but he had to wait until this month for newly elected senators to take their seats. Abbott's (conservative) Liberal party still doesn't control the Senate, but it has found Senate allies in a powerful party that was founded just last year by kooky mining magnate Clive Palmer. Palmer held a press conference with Al Gore last month to announce that he opposed some of Abbott's climate-wrecking policies, and that he wanted a carbon-trading program to replace the carbon tax. That now seems to have been smokestacks and mirrors. When it came to repealing Australia's $US23.50 per metric ton carbon tax, the immodestly named Palmer United Party fell into line on Thursday, helping the repeal pass the Senate by a vote of 39 to 32, without demanding the establishment of any alternative.

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Goodbye, everyone! A massive hole has opened at the End of the World

yamal_holeattheendoftheworld
Bulka

Well! It was nice knowing yinz, because Doomsday is upon us. According to Scripture, the first two signs of the apocalypse are:

1. A goblin of the underworld shalt sign a princess with a voice of gold to his record label, and so the two will beget a heavily Auto-Tuned music video starring a mythical beast.

2. And lo! For a chasm shalt suddenly appear at the End of the World.

We’re two for two! Tuesday, The Siberian Times reported that a massive hole measuring 262 feet in diameter suddenly appeared in the Yamal region of Siberia. Gee, what does Yamal mean in the language of the Nenets, the region’s indigenous people? “The end of the world.”