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GOP lawmakers scramble to court Tesla

tesla cars factory
Tesla Motor Events

Electric vehicle sales in New Jersey ran out of batteries earlier this month, when the Chris Christie administration voted to ban car manufacturers from selling directly to drivers. The companies must now use third-party dealers. The ban applies to all car manufacturers, but seemed particularly aimed at Tesla, which had been in negotiations with the administration for months to sell electric cars straight from its own storefronts in the state.

The move was a win for the state's surprisingly powerful auto dealer lobby and a loss for one of the country's biggest electric car makers. But it also cemented New Jersey's place as a non-contender for the real prize: a $5 billion battery "gigafactory" that Tesla plans to begin construction on later this year. With an estimated 6,500 employees, the factory will likely become a keystone of the United State's clean energy industry and an economic boon for its host state. Now, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and Nevada are scrambling to get picked, and last week Republican legislators in Arizona began to try pushing their state to the top of the pile.

It's the latest sign that, at least at the state level, the clean energy industry's best friend might be the GOP. Newt Gingrich quickly pounced on Christie after the direct sales ban for "artificially" insulating car dealers, just weeks after calling for John Kerry to resign after Kerry named climate change as a principle challenge of the generation. On Tuesday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry called his state's direct sales ban "antiquated" nearly a year after a Democrat-backed bill to change the policy was killed.

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Science alone can’t save us, says famous climate scientist (gulp)

heyhoe-katharine

Last week, I sounded off in response to a new climate change report released by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The New York Times called the report a “sharper, clearer, and more accessible” explanation of climate change “than perhaps anything the scientific community has put out to date.” To me, and many others, it read like a rehash of the dynasty of reports we’ve already read about the scientific consensus that human-caused climate change is real. I found few traces of urgency, but rather an appeal that lets most people and fossil fuel companies off the hook by assuming that the problem is that scientists simply haven’t articulated their case clearly enough.

In other words, it’s the kind of document the artist Basquiat would’ve slapped a fat "SAMO©" on.

Those scientists deserve the chance to respond. I reached out to one of the authors of the report, Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University, the wife of an evangelical Christian minister and one scientist who’s been particularly effective in communicating climate change fuckery (that would be my word, not hers) beyond the science-geekspeak.

In our conversation, I learned, among other things, why the AAAS committee chose that particular focus for the report (hint: it used science!). Here are some snippets:

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A high seas fishing ban scorecard: (Almost) everybody wins

tuna
Shutterstock

When it comes to fishing, most of the ocean is lawless. Fish in the high seas -- the half of the world's oceans that fall under the control of no single nation, because they're more than 200 miles from a coastline -- are being plundered with aplomb by fishing fleets that observe virtually no fish conservation rules.

Some very smart people think that might be a very stupid way of managing the world's fisheries. They say it's time for the world to ban fishing on the high seas.

Many of the world's brawniest fish and shark species migrate through these open waters, where they are being targeted and overfished. Bluefin tuna are becoming so rare that a single fish sold last year for $1.8 million.

Last month, McKinsey & Company director Martin Stuchtey suggested during an ocean summit that banning fishing on the high seas would cause an economic loss of about $2 for every person on the planet. But he said the benefits of more sustainable fisheries, if such a ban was imposed, would be worth about $4 per person, creating a net benefit of $2 apiece. From Business Insider:

Hard numbers reveal that today's fishing industry is not profitable, and as fleets work harder chasing fewer fish, the losses grow and stocks are further depleted in "a race to the bottom," the economist explained.

Stuchtey's numbers were approximations. But the results of a study published in the journal PLOS Biology this week put some flesh on the economist's back-of-the-envelope calculations. An economist and a biologist, both from California, modeled the effects of such a ban and concluded that the move could double the profitability of the world's fishing industries -- and boost overall fishing yields by 30 percent. It would also boost fish stock conservation and improve the sustainability of seafood supplies.

Read more: Food

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This jellylike blob is actually a gross yet edible water bottle

ooho-edible-water-bottle-blob

What if you could have a water bottle without the wasteful, toxic plastic? (And a water fountain doesn’t count. Not consumer-y enough, Buddha.) Three British design students wanted to answer that question, seeing as we’re basically drowning in plastic. Their Lexus Design Award-winning solution is the portable, edible, and weird-looking Ooho: an edible water “bottle” that resembles alien sweat. (We kickbox with a lot of aliens, OK?)

To drink the Ooho, you gently bite its gelatinous membrane until the water runs into your mouth and all over your clothes, ideally making it look like you peed yourself. As a bonus, if you don’t eat the outside, you’re basically left with a used condom:

edible-water-bottle-used-condom

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States struggling to understand frackquakes

earthquake
Shutterstock

Frackers have been triggering earthquakes across the country by injecting their wastewater at high pressure into disposal wells.

That much is certain. The U.S. Geological Survey has linked the practice to a sixfold increase in earthquakes in the central U.S. from 2001 to 2011. It's also possible that the very act of fracking has been causing some temblors.

What isn't certain, though, is what governments can do about it. Bloomberg reports on a new initiative that aims to manage some of those earth-shaking dangers:

Read more: Climate & Energy

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This necklace tells you when your cows are horny

Farming apps are the new bubble, my friend (a Tinker Bell-sized bubble, but still). Not only can you track your yield, find commodity prices, and chart rainfall, but now you can keep tabs on when your dairy cows are feeling frisky.

silent-herdsman-cow-necklace
NMR

The key to the latter is a British innovation called the Silent Herdsman, which cows wear like a high-tech necklace. (It's more of a Tamagotchi than an iPhone app.) The sensor monitors cattle's temperature and wirelessly alerts the farmer via computer when they're in heat -- otherwise, somebody would have to be constantly elbow-deep in bovine hoo-ha.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, farmers are constantly looking for a way to avoid these more hands-on methods -- the Silent Herdsman isn't even the first estrus-monitoring tool we've reported on. A Swiss device sends texts when a cow is in heat, but it involves implanting a transmitter in the genitals -- a leeeeetle more invasive.

Read more: Living

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If we want people to drive less, we have to end sexism

woman-riding-bus-public-transportation-flickr
Mislav Marohnić

At Atlantic Cities, Ann Friedman has a stellar post about how gender inequality affects public transit ridership. Most transit riders are low-income, she writes, and guess who earns less than men? (BINGO.) Research backs her up: A 2013 study by the AASHTO found 114 women ride public transportation for every 100 guys.

"Women overall are more dependent on transit than men, for low-income households in particular," says Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, an urban planning professor at UCLA. "If there is one car, it's most often the man who drives the car."

And yet women are disproportionately the victims of harassment on public transit. Friedman cites a 2007 survey of NYC subway riders that says of those who witnessed sexual assault or harassment, 93 percent said the victim was a woman.

In the simple act of trying to get home from work, ladies have to worry about strangers’ indecent exposure, groping, and even rape -- and on top of that, the bus driver might not care (or, worse, might be the aggressor). Reporting the crimes is tricky; as the NYT points out, some cultures don’t trust the police enough to get them involved.

As just one example of way too many, L.A. resident Julie Asperger told LAist she’s gotten so much sexual harassment on the Metro, she avoids it at all costs:

Read more: Cities, Living

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Nancy Drew and the mystery of the secret oil spill

Sort of like this, but covered in oil.
Penny Meyer
Sort of like this, but covered in oil.

When oil spills across a national monument, and no one is there to see it, does it still leave a mark?

Apparently a really big one, but one that still takes a while to find. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Utah's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) just discovered four miles of oil damage in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument -- thanks to some thoughtful hikers who stumbled onto the scene and photographed the evidence.

Normally, the monument looks like the backdrop of a motivational calendar, but the area the hikers found was black and streaky. There were black bathtub rings around trees and rocks at the level of the spill's highest reach. The overall effect was like that of  a really poorly executed Andy Goldsworthy installation, or the mess left in the wake of the Cat in the Hat, if the Cat in the Hat were a wildcatter.

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Want to attract a new generation to the national parks? Find a few new rangers.

national-park-black-kids-binoculars
National Park Service

Come 2016, the National Park Service will turn 100 years old. In anticipation of the centennial milestone, the agency announced this week a new public engagement campaign to “reintroduce the national parks … to a new generation of Americans.”

This is the federal agency responsible for not just Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, but also the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and Governor’s Island in New York City, which holds the Statue of Liberty. Still, it is having a hell of a time attracting young people to the parks, particularly people of color.

Shelton Johnson, an African American ranger at Yosemite National Park in California, talked about the challenge of getting black youth into the great outdoors in Ken Burns’ 2009 PBS documentary, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. “How do I get them here?” Johnson asked. “How do I let them know about the buffalo soldier history, to let them know that we, too, have a place here? How do I make that bridge, and make it shorter and stronger? Every time I go to work and put the uniform on, I think about them."

Part of the problem is that, despite the mosaic of nationalities of people who’ve frequented the parks, there’s not a lot of people like Johnson putting that uniform on. The staffing at the Park Service has remained perpetually and overbearingly white throughout its century-long history.

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The Villages People

Oil workers and Jewish grandmas driving American metropolitan growth

metro_growth
Shutterstock

Looking for the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the United States? Follow the fracking -- or, alternatively, search for the top-rated golf club brunches on Yelp. The most recent U.S. census data, measuring urban growth between July 1, 2012 and July 1, 2013, showed that oil boomtowns and Southern retirement communities now get to sit at the popular table. The irony here, of course, is that there were never more unlikely candidates for said table than The Villages, Fla., or Fargo, N.D. This list paints a pretty bizarre picture of America's future, but at least it's interesting.

A couple of cities on this list -- Austin, for example -- actually seem like fun places to live for young people, but what’s most striking is that with the exception of The Villages, all of the top spots are filled by oil towns. That’s no coincidence. Last July, the New York Times published a study examining social mobility in metro areas across the United States. The places of greatest economic opportunity, according to the results, were concentrated in oil-rich regions: North Dakota, eastern Montana, western Texas.

Here’s a list of the top 10 fastest-growing metro areas, with the most likely reasons for their growth: