Grist List

U.S. roads are built to break

Why do we have to pour so much of our transportation money into highway infrastructure? Well, because 50 years ago, the U.S. decided to structure roads in a way that was cheap to build but expensive and difficult to maintain. It's the infrastructure equivalent of buying a cheap crappy blender and then having to replace it every year. In the early days of the interstate highway system, most freight went by train. Because highways only had to support private vehicles, the priority was quick, cheap construction, not durability. Once shipping companies took to the streets, their trucks quickly made a …

The new fracking battleground: Trenton

There's a new battlefront in the fracking fight: the Delaware River Basin, which provides water to 5 percent of the country's population. And anti-fracking dreamboat Mark Ruffalo is asking for help in fighting against fracking there. You don’t have to take Ruffalo’s word for it — you probably want to fight fracking anyway. When 350.org asked supporters what they should fight for while Obama sits on the Keystone XL decision, twice as many people voted to fight oil and gas fracking than for any other cause. But it's still sort of good that someone as famous and handsome as Ruffalo …

Congress wants to count pizza as a vegetable in school lunches

Parents! You needn't worry about what public schools are feeding your kids, because the USDA is reforming school lunch standards and cutting out things like potatoes and salty foods and … oh wait, that was true. But now Congress has gotten involved. And that means that the government is on track to declare pizza a vegetable. Let's put aside for a second the fact that the soggy, cheesy abomination that's served in cafeterias across the country should barely be called pizza to begin with, much less lumped in with healthy lunch options. Seriously, it’s like a sponge with cheese. But …

Paper wine bottle is classier than a box and just as compostable

Typically, drinking wine from paper vessels doesn't exactly scream "classy." Think about wine from a box … or a Dixie cup … or a paper bag. But the makers of GreenBottle are trying to break that trend with the world's first paper wine bottle. The bottle has a thin layer of plastic on the inside, which is recycled and recyclable. But the bulk of the bottle is paper, which can also be recycled (it can be used for new wine bottles up to seven times) or chucked in the compost bin, where it breaks down within weeks. And it's not …

Mongolia plans to combat warming with giant ice cube

Scientists in Ulan Bator, Mongolia are planning to save energy in summer by cryogenically preserving winter. They want to encourage extremely thick ice to form on the local river, thus storing up cold temperatures that can later be used to cool the city. The scientists are artificially creating "naleds," which are slabs of ice up to 22 feet thick. Naleds occur naturally in northern areas, but the plan is to induce them in Ulan Bator's Tuul river. Because these ice layers are so thick, they'll last all the way into summer. At that point, the melting naleds will reduce temperatures …

U.S. release of British nature doc skips the part about climate change

Global warming is too hot for TV in the U.S., even when the TV is really cold. Frozen Planet, the BBC miniseries about the Arctic and Antarctic, has an episode about climate change impacts — but that episode's not being aired in the United States.  The BBC made seven episodes of Frozen Planet. Six feature breathtaking panoramas of polar vistas and wildlife, and the seventh also deals extensively with how global warming will threaten those animals and habitats. But Discovery, which bought the rights to air the series in the U.S., only scheduled time for six episodes. U.S. viewers get to …

Critical List: Texas’ neverending wildfire season; clean energy investments could double

Texas' wildfire "season" has lasted for more than a year and won't end anytime soon. Obama: "Over the long term, [reducing carbon emissions] is good for our economies." By 2020, investors could be pouring $395 billion a year, double the current total, into clean energy. Only about half of the Department of Energy's spending for running its 16 laboratories goes to actual research. The rest goes to overhead and capital spending. Finally, the department is realizing that this means it should have fewer labs. PETA's going after Thanksgiving turkey AND Super Mario Brothers. If they start picking on sports teams …

High-speed rail that never was: 1910 proposal for S.F. to L.A. in four hours

If you think high-speed rail is some kind of newfangled obsession of liberal elites who would rather not sit in traffic behind SUVs covered in bumper stickers announcing loyalty to their ideological foes, you're only partly right. As early as 1910, inventor Fletcher E. Felts proposed an elevated, high speed railway system to connect Oakland to San Francisco and beyond, all the way to Los Angeles, notes Matt Novak at Paleofuture. The bullet-shaped cars on this suspended railway would have traveled at up to 150 miles per hour, making the trip to L.A. an easy four-hour jaunt. Fletcher's plan never …

Tidal power is now a legit source of renewable energy

Tidal power, produced from the force of our planet's oceans sloshing to and fro, has always seemed like a neat idea. But the challenges of making it work — imagine giant underwater propellers having to withstand strong currents and the unending assault of the sea — made it seem less than realistic. But now manufacturing giant Siemens is throwing its weight behind tidal power startup Marine Current Turbines, which has had a 1.2 megawatt demonstration turbine operating beneath the waves of Northern Ireland's Strangford Lough since 2008. Siemens' interest is simple: Tidal power is super predictable. (Predictable as the tides, …

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