Skip to content Skip to site navigation



Water Woes

The country could supply all of California with water if we fixed our leaky pipes


As if California didn’t already have enough water issues to worry about right now, last week Los Angeles lost more than 20 million gallons – a day’s worth for at least 100,000 people – when a pipe that was installed a century ago finally broke. But it turns out geriatric pipes aren’t just a problem for the City of Angels. Aging infrastructure means that nationwide, pipes hemorrhage seven billion gallons of treated drinking water each day; enough to meet the daily water needs of the entire state of California.

From ABC News:

Much of the piping that carries drinking water in the country dates to the first half of the 20th century, with some installed before Theodore Roosevelt was in the White House.

Age inevitably takes a toll. There are 240,000 breaks a year, according to the National Association of Water Companies, a problem compounded by stress from an increasing population and budget crunches that slow the pace of replacement.

Read more: Cities, Living


Straussed out? Listen to wind turbine version of Blue Danube


We'd like to hear Big Oil try this. It would probably go something like "spill spill spilll spilll spillll FRACK FRACK, FRACK FRACK."

Siemens commissioned musician Will Bates to record the windy version of Blue Danube Waltz to celebrate the 448-turbine wind farm it's building in Iowa. The results are much classier than that other windy version of the song.


More people drive to work if you give them free parking and transit passes

woman parking car

Somewhere between getting a paycheck and free coffee, commuter benefits are often a nice perk to being employed. But, like I finally realized after a week of downing cup after cup of joe (why? Because I can!), sometimes fringe benefits have some jittery downsides. And commuter packages are no exception: Ones that offer drivers free parking end up hurting the planet. A new analysis of commuter benefits from Virginia Tech reports that when employees are offered free parking, they’re much more likely to drive to work -- even if they’re also offered free public transit. Which means more traffic and carbon emissions for …

Read more: Cities, Living


Plant Suits

Patagonia makes waves with plant-based wetsuits and obligatory weed jokes


Patagonia, the outdoor clothing outfitter, has figured out what gets surfers’ attention -- and it’s something more blunt than big breaks. Yep, the company plans to bring them in with the promise of weed.

In a new print ad Patagonia declares, “We have the best weed in town (and we’re giving it away)":

Patagonia's ad will show up in print publications this fall. Click to embiggen.
Patagonia's ad will show up in print publications this fall. Click to embiggen.

No, don’t be silly, not that sort of weed! In most states that’s still illegal. What Patagonia's got on offer isn't actually a weed at all: The ad refers to guayule, a desert shrub native to the Southwestern U.S. that's being baked into wetsuits instead of brownies. Priced between $529 and $549, the company's hardly giving the suits away -- but it's decided to make the new biorubber, made by Yulex, available to the rest of the surf industry.

Why? It's not just out to leave you duped. The brand believes that open sourcing a rubber made from greener alternatives will give the surf industry a break from non-biodegradable, resource-intensive neoprene.


Green house

Using Airbnb is greener than staying in hotels


Airbnb recently scored surprise props from Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson, a hotel-industry competitor. And news today about the environmental benefits of staying in shared homes versus hotels might add up to yet another W for the growing vacation-rental juggernaut.

According to a study conducted by Airbnb and Cleantech Group, travelers who stay in Airbnb properties tend to eat up less energy than traditional hotel guests. In a press release, Airbnb chief product officer and cofounder Joe Gebbia says, "In North America alone, Airbnb guests use 63 percent less energy than hotel guests -- that's enough energy to power 19,000 homes for one year." The study also suggests that both Airbnb hosts and guests tend to be greener consumers.

Some other highlights from the study:


Ask Umbra: What’s the most eco-friendly way to get rid of this sexy stubble?


Send your question to Umbra!

Q. What's the most sustainable way to shave my man-scruff so I don't look like such a dirty hippie? I know, I know, not shaving at all is the way to go, but damn if it doesn't start itching too bad.

Seattle, Wash.

Q. What is the most environmentally friendly/responsible hair removal method for women (legs and underarms)? Shaving, waxing, laser removal, something else I've never heard of? (I realize the most environmentally responsible way might be to not remove the hair at all, but I've decided not to take that route at this point.)

Derry, N.H.

A. Dearest Wade and Caitlin,

My, society is a funny beast. Thousands of years of evolution have come up with a highly successful model for the human body – all that leg, face, and underarm hair included – and what do we do but work ourselves into a tizzy over how to get rid of it. I appreciate your sheepish acknowledgment of that fact, you two, but worry not. You’ll hear no rants in favor of au natural grooming from me today.

What you will hear, however, is a gentle reminder to keep things in perspective. Individual choices do matter, and we should always strive to do the best we can. But the carbon emissions associated with razor blades versus electric razors versus waxing, etc., pale in comparison to bigger-ticket choices like transportation, home energy, and diet. So let’s get into some recommendations here, then transfer that care and energy elsewhere.

Read more: Living


Are there two different versions of environmentalism, one “white,” one “black”?


Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers
The mountains and the endless plain --
All, all the stretch of these great green states --
And make America again!
- Langston Hughes, 1938

I really didn’t want to have to address this. While reading through University of Michigan professor Dorceta Taylor’s latest report, “The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations,” and thinking about what I would write about it, I had hoped to focus on the solutions. Those solutions -- confronting unconscious and subconscious bias and other subtle forms of discrimination -- are the parts I had hoped environmentalists would be eager to unpack.

I thought they’d read about the “green ceiling,” where mainstream green NGOs have failed to create a workforce where even two out of 10 of their staffers are people of color, and ask themselves what could they do differently. I thought, naively, that this vast report, complete with reams of data and information on the diversity problem, would actually stir some environmentalists to challenge some of their own assumptions about their black and brown fellow citizens.

I was wrong.


Dogg Eat Dogg world

Allow Snoop Dogg to show you the horrifying wonders of Plizzanet Earth


While we love the honeyed tones of one Sir David Attenborough in Planet Earth, sometimes the natural world calls for a little less calm bemusement and a little more "Damn, he didn't even chew BLEEEEEP he just swallowed. That's coldblooded, man." To that end, we welcome Snoop Dogg's spirited redubbing of the landmark BBC series.

The great white shark segment is his second Plizzanet Earth; below, he kicks off the segment on the Jimmy Kimmel Live. Sample quote: "I never understood rams. Why do they do this shit? What do they get out of this?" Enjoy:

Read more: Living


Booze clues

Watch this adorable climate scientist explain sea-level rise with a gin & tonic

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 10.40.32 AM

A stranger at a bar challenged scientist Adam Levy on climate change. In a video response, Levy uses a classic cocktail to show how rising temperatures affect sea-level rise. Climate science, booze, and adorable Commonwealth accents? Count us in.

Remember: Do not try this at home (adding salt to a beautiful gin & tonic, that is).

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


More Like Pacific Northworst


chris tarnawski

Many Seattle residents revere Cliff Mass as the Yoda of weather in the Northwest. On his blog and through spots in local media, this professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington helps us process our snowpocalypses and measure out Lexapro for 10 months of the year. Now he's turning his big-weather brain to something regularly on our minds here at Grist: "As global warming takes hold later in the century, where will be the best place in the lower 48 states to escape its worst effects?"

Here's the short answer from Cliff: 

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living