Green Thing encourages people to walk more, cut back on meat, buy less, turn down the thermostat, waste and fly less, and unplug vampire electronics. So every day until Earth Hour on March 23, the London-based nonprofit is publishing a poster to promote those green habits.
And some big designer names contributed to the project, including Google Creative Director Tom Uglow and London 2012 Olympics logo designer Patrick Cox. Green Thing knows "that a dig, joke, or nudge is way more effective than another weeping seal cub,” Cox said in a press release for the project. Follow the project on Green Thing.
Mrs. Obama -- can I call you Michelle? -- do you have a minute? I know you’re on tour right now, but I think you and I need to have a little chat.
First off, childhood obesity is a major crisis, and your Let’s Move! anti-obesity campaign is an important initiative. The report your Presidential Task Force on Childhood Obesity produced was a landmark document, and you’ve brought new and essential attention to the ways the nation must address the obesity and diabetes epidemic.
But your latest move? Expecting the processed-food companies and retail giants to spearhead the move to healthy eating? It’s just not going to happen. I hope that’s not too harsh, but I wanted to be straight with you after reading your recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, “The Business Case for Healthier Food.” In it, you declare that:
Every day, great American companies are achieving greater and greater success by creating and selling healthy products. In doing so, they are showing that what's good for kids and good for family budgets can also be good for business.
And then you laud Walmart and Walgreens for expanding their selection of fresh fruits and vegetables and Disney for “eliminating ads for junk foods from its children’s programming.”
Kudos to them, but that’s all about “selling.” What about “creating”? You give a nod to restaurants “cutting calories, fat and sodium from menus and offering healthier kids' meals.” Now, that’s not nothing: Americans spend 40 percent of our food budgets eating out. But the rest goes to food we eat at home, and of that, we spend over 20 percent on processed food, and about 8 percent on soda and other sweetened beverages. That’s a big chunk of our daily caloric intake, not to mention our paychecks. And it’s not something you can ignore when you’re talking about any business case involving food.
We need you not just to tweak around the edges, but to entirely rethink the products that you’re offering, the information that you provide about these products, and how you market those products to our children. ...
While decreasing fat is certainly a good thing, replacing it with sugar and salt isn’t. And it doesn’t mean compensating for high amounts of problematic ingredients with small amounts of beneficial ones — for example, adding a little bit of Vitamin C to a product with lots of sugar, or a gram of fiber to a product with tons of fat doesn’t suddenly make those products good for our kids ... This isn’t about finding creative ways to market products as healthy. As you know, it’s about producing products that actually are healthy — products that can help shape the health habits of an entire generation.
Except that was three years ago, and you’ve said not a peep on that subject since then. Instead we get empty platitudes on how healthy food is good for business. Well, the processed-food industry knows that what’s really good for business is engineering food products that hit consumers’ “bliss point” of flavor and texture.
While this is dandy for formal events, if you’re like me, your idea of everyday luxury is a shirt with no visible holes and/or marinara stains. Renting something for daily wear seems far-fetched, obtuse. Not to mention, not-so-sustainable. If you’re so caught up in trends that you need to constantly update your wardrobe, the clothing selection’s rentability will diminish faster than your wallet and green cred.
Two sites that bridge the gap nicely are Mine for Nine for maternity rentals and thredUP for kid’s clothes. While we obviously don’t want y’all getting pregnant just so you can rent some flexi-pants and OshKosh B’goshes, it makes sense to quit buying clothing for rapidly changing bodies.
This week marked the start of the civil trial against BP over its role in the 2010 explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 men and caused the worst spill in U.S. history. District judge Carl Barbier warned of a lengthy trial, one that could last up to three months if a deal isn't reached earlier, and if the first three days of the trial are anything to go by, BP is in for a battery of tough questions about its safety record and procedures. As much as $17.5 billion in damages is hinged on the legal question of whether the company was “grossly negligent” in causing the deaths and the subsequent spill. Climate Desk caught up with Dominic Rushe at partner publication, the Guardian, who has been covering the trial as it unfolds.
Working in clean energy can be frustrating. Tons of exciting things are happening, but elite conventional wisdom isn't keeping pace and nobody listens to bloggers like me shouting about it.
One of the few outlets in the mainstream energy world to consistently stay ahead of the curve is Bloomberg New Energy Finance. (I have interviewed its chief executive, Michael Liebreich, before.) As Exhibit A, I offer this new "VIP brief" written by Liebreich and his able colleague Nathaniel Bullard. It's a big old chunk of brain food, slightly dense and buzzwordy in a few places but chock-full of insight about dynamics of the energy world in the coming decade. Let's take a look, shall we?
Like too few writers and analysts in this area, Liebreich explicitly takes a systems approach:
What happens when you saturate the system with wind or solar depends on what you think is going to happen next with power storage, demand response, electric vehicles, mandated back-up and dozens of other factors. These are all highly dynamic because, of course, they are part of a complex system, and systems exhibit emergent behavior. You can spend a lifetime studying the construction of a single neuron, yet know little of what drives a nematode, let alone a human. Real-life systems exhibit unexpected population surges and crashes, periods of equilibrium punctuated by periods of shattering change, tipping points, phase changes, extinctions.
... The value of a solar rooftop in a world of electric vehicles is very different from the value of the same solar rooftop in a world without. The value of demand response is negligible in a world optimised around "baseload-plus-peak" generating capacity. The value of energy efficiency is negligible in a world of fuel subsidies. And so on.
You will note that this echoes, somewhat eerily, my widgets vs. systems language. Naturally I agree!
Here, in capsule form, is the shift in perspective Liebreich urges for those making decisions in today's energy markets:
Christina Ruiz and Helen Ochoa don't seem to have much in common. Ruiz is a stylish, photogenic fashion school grad who owns and operates TopShelf Boutique, San Francisco's first fashion truck. Ochoa is a single mother of three, an immigrant from Guatemala who lacked a credit score and struggled for years to find a decent apartment for herself and her children. But their differences are not so vast as they seem. Before she opened TopShelf, Ruiz, too, was financially flailing, suffering from a bad credit score that prevented her from financing her mobile shop. Without access to traditional loans or credit, both women turned to the same place to realize their dreams: San Francisco's Mission Asset Fund.
The Mission Asset Fund is like a financial version of a potluck dinner: Everyone contributes something of their own, but each individual also benefits from what everyone else brings to the table. Its most popular financial product, "lending circles," formalize the peer-to-peer lending practices common in low-income and immigrant communities. Members of a lending circle contribute small monthly amounts to a common pot, which is then loaned to a member in need. The borrower makes payments on the loan just like he or she would a bank loan, only there's no interest or fees.
Borrowers are held accountable by the community -- lending circles often include friends and even family members, so the power of peer pressure ensures timely payments. Mission Asset Fund reports the payments to credit bureaus, allowing borrowers to build credit histories and win access to traditional loans. According to the fund, the credit scores of lending circle participants have increased by an average of 49 points through the program.
And if someone doesn't pay it back? Well, it doesn't happen. When a borrower is struggling with payments, Mission Asset Fund sets him or her up with intensive one-on-one financial counseling and resets their payment schedule. So far, the approach has worked every time: Spokesperson Tara Robinson says the lending circles’ repayment rate stands at 100 percent.
The program is similar in philosophy to Bangladesh-based Grameen Bank, founded by Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus and a pioneer of offering microcredit to the poor, as well as recent American peer-to-peer lending programs like Prosper and Lending Club. While the latter two for-profit companies charge interest and require borrowers to meet certain credit standards, the basic goals -- cutting out the Wall Street middlemen and leveraging the power of human interconnectivity to promote broad financial health -- is shared by all.
Moving is so much fun, except for the part where you actually pack all your crap into boxes and move. I’m not sure you can beat its potent combination of stress, mess, and backbreaking toil outside of a prison hard-labor crew, and even those guys can find where they packed their pants at the end of the day.
And then there’s the waste. With all the cardboard boxes, Styrofoam packing peanuts, plastic bags, and transport trips involved, you can certainly add trash-producing and gas-guzzling to moving’s list of charms.
So what’s a green-minded relocator to do? I asked myself this question last week as I stared down the barrel of my impending move across town. My boyfriend, Ted, and I were headed to a nearby apartment (1.5 miles away, to be exact), and we didn't have much time to prep -- just a few weeks, and busy weeks at that. But we wanted to try for the most earth-friendly, least wasteful move possible.
While plotting the move, we identified three major offenders on the green front: packing materials, transport, and unnecessary trash. Then we set goals to attack each one. Here’s our plan -- and how it all went down in reality.
U.S. coal companies claim that exporting low-grade coal from the Powder River Basin through ports in the Pacific Northwest to Asia is big business, a sure thing, easily worth the pollution and disruption the new coal infrastructure would cause. Their case to investors, local communities, and state regulators is based on a simple premise: China's demand for coal is steady and rising. And that does seem to be the conventional wisdom.
But there are reasons to think the premise is false, and that the extraordinary sacrifices being asked of Northwest communities -- dozens of trains a day passing through, spewing dust and noise; gigantic, polluting ports crowding out the cultural amenities in some of America's most bucolic coastal towns -- will lead not to jobs and enduring prosperity, but wasted time, wasted money, and disappointment.
I've been seeing threads of this story here and there for a while. Now Greenpeace USA has done us the service of weaving them all together into a (remarkably brief and readable, as these things go) new report: "The Myth of China's Endless Coal Demand." It acknowledges that China will continue to rely on coal in the short term, but notes that long-term trends are not in coal's favor:
I'm strapped into my backward-facing seat on a COD, or “carrier onboard delivery” plane, the U.S. Navy workhorse that ferries people, supplies, and mail to and from its aircraft carriers at sea. I cinch the four-point harness holding me in place. Then I cinch it some more. When it’s as tight as it can go, an aircrewman walks by and yanks it so hard it squeezes the breath out of me. The hatch closes. Steam rises from the floor. Shit. I've watched the YouTube videos. I know what’s coming. Takeoff, a 30-minute flight, then landing on the USS Nimitz, decks pitching, plane wings waggling, tailhook dangling from the underside of the aircraft to catch one of four arresting cables stretched across the flight deck. Since it’s not hard to miss them all, the pilot will gun the engines at landing to enable an immediate relaunch. Which means that if he succeeds at trapping a cable we’ll decelerate from 180 nautical miles per hour to zero in about one second.
To get to the Nimitz, 100 miles off Honolulu, our turboprop is flying a 50-50 blend of biofuel and standard JP-5 shipboard aviation fuel. The biofuel is made from algae plus waste cooking oil. This makes us part of history, my aircrewman says, players in what the Navy calls the Great Green Fleet demonstration of July 2012. It’s paired with a three-year, $510 million energy reform effort in conjunction with the departments of Agriculture and Energy as part of a larger push to change the way the U.S. military sails, flies, marches, and thinks. “As a nation and as a Navy and Marine Corps, we simply rely too much on a finite and depleting stock of fossil fuels that will most likely continue to rise in cost over the next decades,” announced Navy Secretary Ray Mabus at the launch of the program back in 2009. “This creates an obvious vulnerability to our energy security and to our national security and to our future on this planet.”
The Navy has set five ambitious goals to reduce energy consumption, decrease reliance on foreign oil, and significantly increase the use of alternative energy. Part of one target is to demonstrate a Great Green Fleet by 2012, and that’s what’s sailing this July day in Hawaii’s cobalt-blue waters: a carrier strike group comprising an aircraft carrier, two guided-missile destroyers, a guided-missile cruiser, and an oiler. All are running at least partially on alternatives to fossil fuels: the Nimitz on nuclear power, the other ships on that biofuel-diesel blend. The 71 aircraft aboard -- Super Hornets, Hornets, Prowlers, Growlers, Hawkeyes, Greyhounds, Knighthawks, and Seahawks -- are burning the same cocktail as my COD. All of today’s biofuels are drop-in replacements for marine diesel or aviation fuel and are designed to run without any changes to the existing hardware of ships or planes. “No [nation] can afford to re-engineer their navies to accept a different kind of fuel,” Vice Adm. Philip Cullom, deputy chief of naval operations for fleet readiness and logistics, tells me.
The Great Green Fleet is debuting at the 2012 RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific) exercise, the largest ever international maritime war games, engaging 40 surface ships, six submarines, more than 200 aircraft, and 25,000 personnel from 22 nations. For the first time Russian ships are playing alongside U.S. ships, and naval personnel from India are attending. Many fleets here are sharpening their focus on alternative fuels and working to assure the formulations are co-developed with their allies. “ We've had dialogue with the Australians, the French, the British, other European nations, and many others in the Pacific,” and they all want to take “the petroleum off-ramp,” Cullom tells me. “We don’t want to run out of fuel.”
You can’t live off the land at sea, which is why the Navy has always looked far into the future to fuel its supply lines; the job description of admirals requires them to assess risk and solve intractable problems that stymie the rest of us. Peak oil, foreign oil, greenhouse emissions, climate change? Just another bunch of enemies. So when the Department of Defense set a goal to meet 25 percent of its energy needs with renewables by 2025, the Navy found itself fighting on familiar ground. Four times in history it has overhauled old transportation paradigms -- from sail to coal to gasoline to diesel to nuclear -- carrying commercial shipping with it in the process. “We are a better Navy and a better Marine Corps for innovation,” Mabus says. “We have led the world in the adoption of new energy strategies in the past. This is our legacy.”
It goes beyond supply lines. Rising sea levels lapping at naval bases? A melting and increasingly militarized Arctic? The Navy is tackling problems that freeze Congress solid. What it learns, what it implements, and how it adapts and innovates will drive market changes that could alter the course of the world.
With mounting school loans and the uncertainty of finding a job after graduation, 26-year-old Jenny Monfore decided to leave college early and look for alternative education. At the Driftless Folk School in Wisconsin, the Bozeman, Mont., native and massage therapist studied organic food preparation, blacksmithing, and mushroom identification -- skills she hopes will augment her income and allow her to live a more independent lifestyle.
“We no longer have practical skills, we don’t know how to feed ourselves, and we’ve basically become lost,” Monfore says. “So we’re slowly building new, thoughtful communities.”
Folk school: The phrase calls to mind cloggers, birch bark hats, and strains of “If I Had a Hammer.” But these craft schools of yore are experiencing a resurgence of late, drawing young do-it-yourself homesteaders and restless baby boomers to the woods to learn about everything from organic farming to electric cars.