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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


LEDs will soon light your home

Looks like a regular old lightbulb
Looks like a regular old lightbulb, but doesn't suck energy like one.

Forget mercury-laden compact fluorescents. The efficient homes of tomorrow will be lit with LEDs.

Or so say executives at Cree, a lighting company that has started selling affordable LED lightbulbs that outwardly resemble the traditional, energy-hogging incandescent bulbs of old. The company claims that its new 60 watt-equivalent LED bulb, which costs $13 or $14 depending on which variety you buy, lasts 25 times longer and uses 84 percent less juice than does a traditional lightbulb.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Fort Collins, Colo., passes fracking ban; state and gas industry threaten to sue

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper says mining companies have every right to frack in this city, despite a ban adopted Tuesday by Fort Collins City Council
Shutterstock / Barbara Tripp
Lovely Fort Collins, where frackers are not welcome.

The city council of Fort Collins, Colo., voted Tuesday to ban fracking within city limits. The move has strong support from residents, but it makes the city the target of lawsuits from the state government and the oil and gas industry.

The new regulations [PDF] will block gas and oil exploration and ban the storage of hazardous fracking chemicals within the city, which is 65 miles north of Denver and home to 150,000 people.


WA state legislator doesn’t understand CO2, transportation, science

Ed Orcutt
Ed Orcutt is confused.

Ed Orcutt is a Republican state representative in Washington, and he appears to be confused. As a member of the House Transportation Committee, Orcutt had a somewhat testy email exchange recently with a bike shop owner about a proposed bike fee. Reuters reports:

"You claim that it is environmentally friendly to ride a bike," Orcutt wrote to Dale Carlson, the owner of three bicycle shops in the Tacoma and Olympia areas who voiced concern that a proposed $25 fee on bicycle sales of $500 or more could hurt his business.

"But if I am not mistaken, a cyclists has an increased heart rate and respiration ... Since CO2 is deemed a greenhouse gas and a pollutant, bicyclist [sic] are actually polluting when they ride," Orcutt wrote late last month.

Carlson thought Orcutt "was being sarcastic or something." That wasn't the case, but Orcutt soon felt compelled to apologize.

Read more: Cities, Politics


Proposed CA law: Bike at your own risk

urban-cyclist-carouselBusted streets + incompetent city employees + you + bike = potential lawsuit! At least for now.

In most cities, if you injure yourself because of a neglected or damaged sidewalk or street, you can file a "trip and fall" lawsuit and claim damages. But California may soon change that for bicycle riders.

Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, (R-Dana Point) has proposed a law that would provide total immunity for governments and their employees in the event of a bike accident caused by faulty city infrastructure. Public agencies already have "design immunity" under state law (i.e. you can't sue because of the poor layout of a road or bike lane), but this bill would broadly extend that immunity:

Read more: Cities


Volcanoes are keeping the planet from boiling over — for now

Smoke from volcanoes helps cool the planet
Smoke from volcanoes helps cool the planet.

While we've been pumping the atmosphere full of heat-trapping gases, Mother Earth has been belching sulfur pollution through volcanoes and slowing down global warming.

That's the conclusion of a new study that's helping to explain why the globe warmed less during the first 10 years of this century than climate models suggest it should have. If volcanic activity calms down and sulfur pollution levels fall away again, runaway global warming could ensue.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Public surprisingly OK with government policies that push healthy eating

Eat this!

Subsidize green veggies, slaughter big sodas, and steal candy from babies? These kinds of government policies intended to promote healthy eating are A-OK with most of the American public, it turns out. A new poll from Harvard's School of Public Health found that people "were surprisingly positive about these new public health laws," as NPR reports, with big percentages in favor of encouraging exercise, making fruits and veg affordable, pushing for healthier restaurant choices, and banning use of food stamps to buy unhealthy foods.

From NPR's The Salt blog:

"We clearly saw that the more coercion was involved, the more people you lost," says Michelle Mello, a professor of law and public health at the Harvard School of Public Health, who was a co-author of the study. It was published in the March Health Affairs.

The researchers were surprised to find that people with health problems like obesity and diabetes didn't object to new laws targeting them.

"We thought that people who felt like targets would be much less likely to support them," says Stephanie Morain, a graduate student in ethics who co-authored the study. "That wasn't true." ...

Read more: Food


Is McDonald’s coffee really going greener?


Over the past few years, McDonald's has grown its subsidiary coffeehouse brand McCafe like a juiced-up Starbucks -- there are now 1,300 Mc-coffee shops worldwide. That's a lot of coffee! And now the company says it wants that coffee to be greener.

Over the next five years, McDonald's plans to invest $6.5 million to help about 13,000 Guatamalan coffee growers produce fancier, more sustainable beans, to be used in a proprietary arabica blend. The company says it aims "to promote the environmental, ethical and economic long-term sustainability of coffee supplies." From Bloomberg:

“Investing in both certification and sustainable agriculture training addresses the immediate need to assist farmers today, expands capacity for greater sustainable coffee production in the future and helps assure our customers we will continue to provide the taste profile they have grown to love and expect from McDonald’s,” Susan Forsell, the vice president of sustainability, said in the statement.


Australia officially blames climate change for ‘angry summer’

The Angry Summer
Australian Climate Commission
Click to embiggen.

Australia's government has officially blamed climate change for the bushfires, heatwaves, and floods that ravaged the continent these past few months, during the southern hemisphere's summer. And it gave an official name to the merciless season sent from the pits of hell: The Angry Summer.

The country set 123 weather records during what was the hottest summer on record, according to a report published this week by the federal government's Climate Commission. Those records included the country's hottest day, when the maximum temperature across the vast land mass on Jan. 7 averaged 104.5 degrees F. And the extreme rainfall that hit areas along the border of the states of Queensland and New South Wales in late January, when they received more than 27 inches of rain within 24 hours. And the record number of bushfires -- up to 40 -- that ignited on the island state of Tasmania on Jan. 4.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Pesticides are killing our sperm

Killing bugs and sperm
Killing bugs and sperm at the same time.

Pesticides, which are well known to have caused spectacular declines the world over in bees, birds, and other wildlife, are also taking a heavy toll on the virility of men.

A new study found that the agricultural poisons are reducing the quality and quantity of sperm in men all over the globe, with farm workers bearing the brunt of the sexual desecration. George Washington University researchers pored over 17 scientific studies that were published between 2007 and 2012 and reported in the journal Toxicology that 15 of them found "significant associations between exposure to pesticides and semen quality indicators."

Read more: Food


New York subway riders swipe back at fare hikes

Today, the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority boosted subway and bus fares by another quarter, making it $2.50 per ride in the Big Apple (which is about equivalent to four actual apples).

In response to the hikes, some citizens are taking matters and MetroCards into their own hands with a "Swipe Back!" campaign. It's simple enough: 18 minutes after you use your unlimited card (which now costs $30 per week or $112 per month), you can swipe someone else in for a ride. Says Swipe Back!: "Since you’re giving the swipe away, not selling it, this is perfectly legal."

A less legal form of swiping back against fare hikes.
agent j loves nyc
A less legal form of swiping back against fare hikes.

The MTA tells Gothamist that fares are up to compensate for "costs for employee healthcare, pension contributions, mandatory paratransit service, energy and other costs out of our control." No mention of a shit-ton of debt service. Here's journalist and activist Jesse Myerson to explain how those debts work:

Read more: Cities