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Please don’t be thankful for America’s unsustainable love affair with big-box retail

If you're reading this on your phone from a line outside an electronics store, congratulations -- you're a real American! And you're probably way more excited about the 50th anniversary of big-box retail in this country than the rest of us are.

Fred Watkins

In 1962, when gas cost about 28 cents a gallon and the suburbs were growing faster than you can say "sports utility vehicle," Walmart, Target, and Kmart were all born.

NPR's Morning Edition talked to retail historian Marc Levinson about their rise to prominence and dominance.

One of the prerequisites for the big-box was the car. Everybody had to have a car because the big-box was sitting out in a parking lot somewhere. The big-box made shopping into a family experience. Mom and dad and the kids all piled into the car, they went out to this big store, and they could spend several hours there because there was, by the standards of the day, an enormous amount of merchandise.

Today's stores are about four times the size, but hey, so are our cars!

Since '62, the big boxes, especially Walmart, have grown like an infectious pox upon our nation. Even Friday's planned worker strikes at upwards of 1,000 Walmarts across the country may do nothing to slow the monster's growth. From The Daily Beast:


The 16 scariest maps from the E.U.’s massive new climate change report

Thinking about a Mediterranean vacation? Might want to go sooner rather than later.

The above map shows how the "tourism climate index" -- a calculation of how amenable the climate in a location is to outdoor activity -- will be affected by climate change during the summer in Europe. Blue areas will see climatic improvements; yellow, moderately worse climate; brown, significantly worse climate. So if you want to visit, say, Italy or Spain -- book your flight.

Earlier today, the European Environment Agency walked into the room and, plunk, dropped a 300-page report on the anticipated effects of climate change on the continent. Three hundred pages, chock-a-block with maps far more terrifying than that one up there. It's a road map on minute details of what Europe can expect on temperature, flooding, forest fires, soil quality, sea animals. It's the Grays Sports Almanac of the continent through the year 2100.

Here are some of the more alarming maps and graphs, because terror is a dish best shared. (A blanket note: All images from the full report [PDF]; on most, click to embiggen.)


Fracking updates interspersed with jokes

Fracking in the news! Lots of news about fracking! Step right up, get your fracking news!

New York won't allow fracking this year

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) made it official yesterday: The state's review of the health effects of natural gas drilling won't be ready until next year. According to sources that I have at the highest levels of various fracking companies, the CEOs of said companies said, "Aw, fiddlesticks," and did that thing where you snap your fingers while you swing your hand in front of you. Is there a name for that? I don't know. People don't do that very much anymore, but fracking company CEOs have a median age of 206.

New York City is one of the three largest cities in the state of New York.

The state was supposed to have come to a final decision on fracking rules by the end of the month. From the Associated Press:

The deadline for finalizing regulations is Nov. 29 under the state Administrative Procedures Act, which says a proposed rule expires 365 days after the last public hearing unless it's officially adopted by then. If the regulation isn't finalized by the deadline, the agency has 90 days to submit a new notice of rulemaking, and another 90 days to complete the job. That could potentially delay a final decision for six months. The public would have the opportunity to comment during that time.

A panel of three nationally recognized public health experts was named last week to review the state's health impact study of fracking. Cuomo told a radio interviewer Tuesday he sees no way the panel's work can be completed by the end of next week.


Boston has a few thousand gas leaks it shouldn’t worry about

Just FYI, Bostononianites, there's a natural gas leak under your city. Not a big deal. It's a little one. Little small little natural gas leak.

And a tiny bit of additional bad news -- there are also over 3,300 other such leaks.

From The Boston Globe:

Natural gas is escaping from more than 3,300 leaks in Boston’s underground pipelines, according to a new ­Boston University study that underscores the explosion risk and environmental damage from aging infrastructure ­under city sidewalks and streets.

The vast majority of the leaks are tiny, ­although six locations had gas levels higher than the threshold at which explosions could ­occur. Although there have been no reports of explosions in ­Boston from any of the leaks, the study comes three years ­after a Gloucester house ­exploded probably because of a cracked and corroded gas main dating to 1911.

Happily, no one was killed in that explosion, but the owner of the home suffered burns and lacerations.

The remains of a house explosion, which can also happen in places other than Boston.
Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


Chevron is newly concerned about politicians being influenced by money

You're probably familiar with the longstanding, pedantic dispute over use of the word "irony." Well, a bit of good news for the holiday: We now have an example of irony that will stand the test of time. An example of irony that is so obvious and appreciable that when, several millennia from now, people are arguing about Alanis Morissette, the debate will be curtailed when someone notes this news story.

For you see, Chevron has filed a complaint against the comptroller of New York, suggesting that he was unduly influenced to criticize the company due to campaign contributions he received. Chevron. Complained about how campaign contributions influenced an elected official.

Can. You. Fucking. Imagine.



San Francisco approves micro apartments

Always wanted to live in an adorable Tiny House except, like, without all that nature around you? Well today is your lucky day, urban dwellers! Following the lead of Vancouver and New York, San Francisco has approved legislation that will change the city building code to allow for "micro-unit apartments" that boast only 150 square feet of living space.

San Francisco is the most expensive rental market in the U.S., in part because it's tough to get anything built in the city. About 40 percent of San Francisco residents live solo, and those who work in tech tend to live in their offices anyway, so why not a closet for a condo?

City Supervisor Scott Wiener had pushed the legislation as an "affordable option" for S.F. residents who don't want to pay upwards of $2,000 for the average "large" city studio. (Wiener had said previously that he expected the units to rent for $1,200 to $1,700, so it seems "affordable" is in the eye of the beholder.) “Allowing the construction of these units is one tool to alleviate the pressure that is making vacancies scarce and driving rental prices out of the reach of many who wish to live here," Wiener said in a statement.

From Atlantic Cities:

Read more: Cities, Living


Celebrate Food Workers Week by being uncharacteristically nice at the grocery store

As you're rushing in to grab that last bag of frozen cranberries and a couple wrinkly sweet potatoes, as your impatience balloons while waiting in that endless line for the cash register, and as you're about to rage at the cashier who is out of paper bags, step back, breathe, and remember the human toll of your food choices.

Read more: Food


The WTO may halt Ontario’s clean energy program

Canada loves the planet so much, it put a tree object on its flag.

You may be aware that Canada has a policy under which a certain percentage of music on the radio must be by Canadians. This is not the only reason that Nickelback enjoys undeserved success, but it doesn't help.

The province of Ontario figured that the concept of building in a home-team advantage could work elsewhere. Like, in renewable energy production.

In 2009, Ontario established the Green Energy Act. The bill created demand for green energy by setting a feed-in tariff -- offering long-term contracts to renewable energy producers -- and establishing an initial requirement that 25 percent of wind projects and 50 percent of solar projects be made in Ontario. (Nickelback briefly considered going into solar panel manufacturing, but they were too lazy.)

Japan and the E.U. were understandably not happy about the local production requirements, so they complained to the World Trade Organization. And yesterday, the WTO reportedly ruled against Ontario.


Butterball not answering meaty questions about turkey treatment

Last year, an undercover investigation led to five workers at a Butterball turkey factory farm being charged with criminal cruelty to animals. This year, the world's largest producer of turkey meat is back at it, and just in time for the holidays.


Mercy For Animals recorded the new undercover video in October, documenting:

workers kicking and stomping on birds, dragging them by their fragile wings and necks, and maliciously throwing turkeys onto the ground or on top of other birds; birds suffering from serious untreated illnesses and injuries, including open sores, infections, and broken bones; and workers grabbing birds by their wings or necks and violently slamming them into tiny transport crates with no regard for their welfare.

Local law enforcement is currently investigating the MFA's legal complaint. Butterball's public relations manager told ABC News that the company has a "zero tolerance policy for animal abuse," and that, "Pending the completion of that investigation, Butterball will then make a determination on additional actions including immediate termination for those involved."

Read more: Food


Why are there more traffic deaths in red states?

A weird bit of data came out earlier today from a website called FairWarning. According to the website, red states -- those that voted for Romney -- had more traffic fatalities than blue states.

From the site:

To an extent that mystifies safety experts and other observers, federal statistics show that people in red states are more likely to die in road crashes. The least deadly states -- those with the fewest crash deaths per 100,000 people -- overwhelmingly are blue. …

The 10 states with the highest fatality rates all were red, while all but one of the 10 lowest-fatality states were blue. What’s more, the place with the nation’s lowest fatality rate, while not a state, was the very blue District of Columbia.

And sure enough, there's a correlation. Here's the electoral college map …

Washington Post
Click to embiggen.

… and here's the map of traffic fatalities per 100,000 people.

Click to embiggen.

It's not one-to-one, but it does appear that bluer states are less deadly. But why? Is it a fluke?

Read more: Cities, Living, Politics