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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Kerry’s new gig weighing in on Keystone means giving up Keystone-related stocks

Remember when Susan Rice, the likely nominee for secretary of state, had those investments in fossil fuel companies -- including companies linked to Keystone XL? This was considered hugely problematic, given that the State Department is responsible for final approval of the pipeline. But Obama didn't nominate Rice.

John Kerry points at a pile of stock
spirit of america
John Kerry points at a pile of stock.

Meet John Kerry, nominee for secretary of state, who has investments in fossil fuel companies -- including companies linked to Keystone XL. For now. From The Boston Globe:

Within 90 days of becoming Secretary of State, Senator John F. Kerry and his wife have agreed to divest nearly 100 separate investments in the United States and abroad -- ranging from oil companies to weapons makers and a Chinese food company -- in an effort to avoid conflicts of interest, according to a copy of his so-called ethics agreement. …

The divestitures of Kerry and Teresa Heinz Kerry, the heir to the Heinz ketchup fortune, include Cenovus Energy Inc., the Canadian company that would benefit from the proposed Keystone XL pipeline; Waltham-based Raytheon Co.; Exxon Mobil Corp.; drug maker Pfizer; communications giant Qualcomm Inc. and AT&T; American Express; Microsoft; a number of international private equity firms; and dozens of others.


Manhattan micro apartments will come at a high price

Are you sick of micro apartments yet? Well, too bad. Yesterday New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the winner of a competition to design teensy live-in closets for an East Side apartment complex of 55 units. Here are drawings of the winning design, showing how an apartment might be adapted throughout the day:

adAPT NYC micro-unit design
From the Associated Press:

To make up for the shoe-box dimensions, the building will offer residents common spaces like a rooftop garden and lounge area on nearly every floor. The aim is to offer more such tiny apartments throughout the city as affordable options for the young singles, cash-poor and empty nesters who are increasingly edged out of the nation's most expensive real-estate market...

If the pilot program is successful, New York could ultimately overturn a requirement established in 1987 that all new apartments be at least 400 square feet.

A third of Manhattan residents live alone, and apparently hate the idea of communal housing, so Bloomberg says the city needs these units to "keep us strong in the 21st Century" with "new ideas" and the young gentry that hatch them. Young gentry like Manhattan resident Sam Neuman, who loves his tiny apartment, but not in a super-healthy way:

"I've developed this weird Stockholm Syndrome, which you identify with your captors," said the 31-year-old publicist. "When I go to other people's apartments, I think, 'Why do they need more than one bedroom?' I'm really very happy here. There's not really time to let things accumulate because ... where would I put them?"

Read more: Cities, Living


Sierra Club OKs law-breaking in battle against Keystone

The Sierra Club seems like the kind of folks who button the top button, not the ones who hang out on the barricades. Until now.

For the first time in the hallowed green group's 120-year history, it will be engaging in civil disobedience at the Feb. 17 Washington, D.C., rally against the Keystone XL pipeline. Is the Sierra Club really getting wild? Well, probably not. The group won’t say what the civil disobedience will be exactly, but it will be invite-only (!), it's been approved by the board of directors, and it’s a one-time-only event.

A 2011 Keystone XL protest at the White House
A 2011 Keystone XL protest at the White House.

From the Club's Executive Director Michael Brune:

Next month, the Sierra Club will officially participate in an act of peaceful civil resistance. We’ll be following in the hallowed footsteps of Thoreau, who first articulated the principles of civil disobedience 44 years before John Muir founded the Sierra Club.

Some of you might wonder what took us so long. Others might wonder whether John Muir is sitting up in his grave. In fact, John Muir had both a deep appreciation for Thoreau and a powerful sense of right and wrong. And it’s the issue of right versus wrong that has brought the Sierra Club to this unprecedented decision. ...


Baseball person Derek Jeter to world leaders: Climate change is a thing

Here's how you know that the World Economic Forum's annual gathering in Davos, Switzerland, attracts all of the world's best and brightest: This morning, an audience heard from Derek Jeter.

If you don't know who Derek Jeter is, allow me to explain. Imagine a group of pirates, a vile, filthy band of lawbreakers and miscreants. Now imagine this group had a captain who seemed perfectly nice and was very good at being a captain, but he's spent his life in service to an evil, repulsive entity. That's Derek Jeter. He's the captain and star of the New York Yankees.

Jeter yells at someone, probably not about the climate
Jeter yells at someone, probably not about the climate.

But living in New York (until recently, in a $15.5 million apartment atop Trump World Tower) means that Jeter (despite his deep and abiding flaws) saw firsthand the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. From the Columbus Dispatch:

"It's just something that's gotten so much attention," Jeter said of climate change. "Regardless of how you feel about it, it's something that needs to be addressed because we're seeing more and more natural disasters each year, it seems like. Something has to be causing it."

But Jeter, himself a global icon as the captain of one of the most recognizable and successful sports franchises in the world, said he doesn't try to interject into politics.

"I know my place," Jeter said.

Jeter's place is clearly among amoral, hypercompetitive overachievers.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


TransCanada accidentally emails its internal media information to reporters

TransCanada, the company that would like to build a large pipeline carrying toxic oil from the Canadian border to Texas, got pretty excited yesterday when the governor of Nebraska removed a key obstacle to the project. Very excited. So excited that the public relations team forgot how to use email.

Hopefully this pipeline worker is better at using that backhoe then TransCanada's PR guy is at email
Hopefully this pipeline worker is better at using a backhoe than TransCanada's PR guy is at email.

Yesterday afternoon, TransCanada’s Shawn Howard inadvertently emailed a number of journalists an internal report on how the media had covered the news about Nebraska's governor. The report notes the areas in which TransCanada feels it has been most effective, the questions it gets frequently, and the company’s go-to message points to be used when responding. Argus Leader reporter Cody Winchester posted the email on his blog. Excerpts:

Earlier today, Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman sent a letter to President Obama, indicating that the State had now approved the re-route of Keystone XL through the state. Shortly after the announcement, External Communications provided more than 55 reporters with quotes from [TransCanada CEO] Russ Girling on the announcement. Following that, TransCanada issued its own news release with more detailed information (based on content drafted prior to and after Christmas). …

The main range of topics included: eminent domain in Nebraska, if we expect President Obama to approve KXL (juxtaposed against his comments in his Inaguaral Speech on climate change), what steps come next in the process, how quickly we could begin construction if we receive a Presidential Permit and the importance of the route approval through Nebraska. ...

As of now, there have been more than 440 media hits on this story and many have taken directly from our news release and background information on our website. …

Many of our supporters were active online in their support for today’s Nebraska announcement. Those tweets and social media postings will be re-tweeted by TransCanada tomorrow and included in our next Media Today report.


Somehow, the renewable sector in Sicily was infiltrated by the mob

If you look at it in one way, this is pretty good news. After all, if renewable energy weren't a growing market with potential for profit, why would the mob have any interest in it? From the Washington Post:

The still-emerging links of the mafia to the once-booming wind and solar sector here are raising fresh questions about the use of government subsidies to fuel a shift toward cleaner energies, with critics claiming huge state incentives created excessive profits for companies and a market bubble ripe for fraud. China-based Suntech, the world’s largest solar panel maker, last month said it would need to restate more than two years of financial results because of allegedly fake capital put up to finance new plants in Italy. The discoveries here also follow so-called “eco-corruption” cases in Spain, where a number of companies stand accused of illegally tapping state aid.

Because it receives more sun and wind than any other part of Italy, Sicily became one of Europe’s most obvious hotbeds for renewable energies over the past decade. As the Italian government began offering billions of euros annually in subsidies for wind and solar development, the potential profitability of such projects also soared -- a fact that did not go unnoticed by Sicily’s infamous crime families.

Would you buy a solar installation from this man?
Would you buy a solar installation from this man?

Unsurprisingly, the discovery of deep Mafia infiltration in a heavily subsidized industry prompted the government to step in.


How to respond to people who say the cold weather disproves global warming

Prepare to get hit with the truth
Prepare to get hit with the truth.

Those of you on the East Coast or who have access to the internet are likely aware that a severe cold snap has hit the region. It is affecting me personally, both because it is cold in my apartment and because my Twitter stream is now doubling as a real-time thermometer (with cursing).

What this means is that the opportunity is ripe for people who like to deny the existence of climate change to make stupid jokes. Some of these people will pull goofy stunts like building igloos, stunts which will land them a place in infamy among future generations. Other, lower-profile idiots will stop by your desk at work or email you or (God forbid) reach out on Facebook, saying something like "LOL what happenid to global warmeng??????" They will also mention Al Gore. Some will suggest you visit a thing called "Drudge Report"; do not do this.

As a general rule, it is not wise to engage with these people. They have already demonstrated that rationality is not a strong suit, so attempting to reason with them will only bring stress and pain to you both. But if you do want to engage with them -- you have eight hours to kill; you are a masochist -- we put together this handy, step-by-step guide for you to do so. Remember: speak slowly and, if necessary, draw pictures. The task before you makes Anne Sullivan's look trivial.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


U.N. launches new fight against food waste

No one can agree on just how much food we're wasting. But it is so, so much.

Image (1) foodwaste_flickr_sporkist_640.jpg for post 40081

The United Nations and its Food and Agriculture Organization say it's a third of all food produced, while other studies say it's closer to 40 or 50 percent. After it leaves the farm, a lot of food is chucked because it's not pretty, or it's past its expiration date, or it simply falls through the cracks. According to the EPA, food waste makes up 21 percent of the garbage bound for landfills in the U.S.

This is not news -- we've known for a while that our modern foodprint is massive. What's noteworthy is that people are actually maybe kind of starting to do something about it.

Today the United Nations launched a campaign to reduce global food waste, which it estimates at 1.3 billion tons a year.

"In a world of 7 billion people, set to grow to 9 billion by 2050, wasting food makes no sense -- economically, environmentally, and ethically," said U.N. Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

The campaign, "Think-Eat-Save," calls on eaters to take some logical steps -- steps so seemingly obvious that it's sad we need a campaign to promote them. E.g. make a shopping list and avoid impulse buys and "marketing tricks." Also: Freeze leftovers, donate to food banks, and don't be afraid to buy "funny" looking fruit and veg (if they even make it to the store shelves, that is).

Read more: Food


Holy mackerel: Tiny fishes no longer sustainable in E.U.

Sustainable, healthy, cheap, and definitely not overfished! That's what we've been hearing about small, oily mackerel for years. Four varieties of mackerel have been listed as "best choices" on the Seafood Watch eating guide, and a fifth made the "good alternatives" list. Even Mark Bittman and Tom Philpott agreed on the virtues of mackerel over other less sustainable fishes back in 2009.

Please don't eat us!
Please don't eat us!

But all that popularity hasn't been so great for the poor little mackerels in the Atlantic. Due to overfishing, they were just knocked off the U.K.'s Marine Conservation Society (MCS) list of best fish to eat. From The Guardian:

There has been an increasingly bitter three-year dispute between Iceland and the EU -- mainly the UK -- over who has the right to land the once-plentiful fish.

Conservationists fear stocks could be at risk after Iceland and the Faroe Islands dramatically increased their quotas in recent years. In 2011, 930,000 tonnes of mackerel were fished from the north-east Atlantic, but scientists claim the maximum that should be caught is 542,000 tonnes. ...

Read more: Food


A be-nice, don’t-hog-the-road guide for cyclists

Pro tip: Here is how not to ride your bike in a city unless you want people to think you are a total dick.

To that end, Transportation Alternatives has a new Street Code for Cyclists handbook. It's specific to New York City's rules of the road, but a lot of what's in here is basic common sense for bicycling commuters.

Sarah Becan

The No. 1 message: Biking may in fact rule, but pedestrians are the real road royalty.

We know -- and studies show -- that more bicyclists make cycling safer and safer cycling will encourage more people to get out and ride. This is a virtuous cycle that we can work together to continue. In this effort the public’s perception of cyclists matters as much as, if not more than, any new bike lane or scores of new riders. ...

Here’s a simple proposition: always yield to pedestrians. ...

Read more: Cities, Living