On blueberries, zucchini, and dragon slime

A few years ago, a friend served me some blueberry-studded gingerbread that she had bought at a local bakery. It was fine, but the spices …

World's first carbon (and car) free city planned

Can it happen here?

From It may seem strange that the emirate of Abu Dhabi, one of the planet's largest suppliers of oil, is planning to build the world's first carbon-neutral city. But in fact, it makes a lot of financial sense. The 3.7-square-mile city, called Masdar, will cut its electricity bill by harnessing wind, solar, and geothermal energy, while a total ban on cars within city walls should reduce the long-term health costs associated with smog. Masdar will be filled with shaded streets to encourage walking. A solar-powered transit system will take you to the airport. Masdar is still on the drawing board -- construction begins in January, with a very tentative completion date of 2009 -- but the result will be watched closely around the world. Maybe they read Car Free Cities by J.H. Crawford.

Encouraging better choices: What works

Here comes the science!

Interesting piece on how to get folks to make choices that are better for the environment:


The next generation of riding transit

Riding transit just got way, way, easier. A new website called SpotBus is wildly better than existing online trip planners. For one thing, you can enter destinations like a normal person -- "Ballard," or "Ikea," or "ferry," or whatever -- not some arcane intersection. It's so much faster and more intuitive that it feels like giving up your old gimcrack five-disc CD changer for an iPod. It only works in the Puget Sound area, but there's no reason something similar couldn't be devised for other regions.

No child left inside

Prying kids away from TV and video games costs … $100 million?

Here's a quote from one of today's electronic-gadget-loving kids: "The reason I prefer playing indoors is because that's where all the electrical outlets are." That was shared by Richard Louv (Grist interview here), author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, during a conference call I hosted recently for the Orion Grassroots Network, to catch us up on what's new in the "getting kids back into nature" movement (full audio here). Turns out there's a lot. The book documents how outdoor, unstructured play is critical to child development -- and is a bestseller, now in its 14th printing in five languages. But the amazing thing about this issue is that it really has legs, even with the notoriously finicky news media. Major outlets have printed multiple stories on the "indoor kids crisis" in the two years since the book came out. Even the 700 Club's Christian Broadcasting Network is concerned. Why? Louv has a couple thoughts about that.

Burning too much energy at the gym?

New York Sports Club kicks in to conserve

The other day at the gym I was engaging in classic attention-deficient media trawling -- attempting to read my magazine, watch the morning newscast, and work up a sweat all at the same time. So it didn't bother me too much when the TV kept shutting off. The equipment at these high-traffic fitness clubs is renowned for breaking down, so I chalked it up to an electrical glitch. Today I learned that in late July, the New York Sports Clubs reprogrammed their televisions to automatically turn off when not in use (this doesn't account, I guess, for those who want to watch without listening, but you can always plug in your headphones without putting them on). When one person makes an effort to conserve energy, it's a good thing; when a facility with as much daily energy consumption as the NYSC network tries to conserve, it's great. Hat tip to the sports clubs for a simple and effective step in the right direction.

Do 'green' appliances live up to their promises?

The WSJ asks and answers

As home-appliance technology continues to move toward the energy-efficient (and brightly colored), more and more consumers are looking to replace their old appliances. But is …

New food book

Where your dinner is mined

A friend sent me Tyler Cowen's thoughts on a new food book from Steve Ettlinger. I don't know who Tyler Cowen is, but he made me want to read the book: There are entire companies which do nothing but break eggs open for other companies; the largest such egg-breaking company is based in Elizabeth, New Jersey. That is from Twinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated Into What America Eats, by Steve Ettlinger. So far this is my pick for the best food book of the year. I also learned that a Twinkie is about half sugar, sulfuric acid is the most produced chemical in the world, sugar is used to clean out cement mixers, phosphate rock and limestone make Twinkies light and airy, Twinkies' butter flavor is created out of gas, Twinkies contain only one preservative (sorbic acid), and the original 1930 Twinkies were filled with banana flavor, not vanilla.

Umbra on salt

Dear Umbra, What’s up with salt, environmentally speaking? Is it good for the Dead Sea if I buy Dead Sea salt (but then it travels …