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Have fun, stay single — it’s sustainable

"Being alone -- there's a certain dignity to it."
Sem Cimsek
"Being alone -- there's a certain dignity to it."

Good news, single people: Living alone not only gives you the freedom to vacuum in your underwear and leave crusty dishes in the sink; it also has a societal benefit. As a so-called “singleton” or “solo” (barf), you’re helping make your city more sustainable.

That’s what Devajyoti Deka of Rutgers’ Alan M. Vorhees Transportation Center argues. In a study called “The Living, Moving and Travel Behaviour of the Growing American Solo,” Deka found that people who live alone -- about 28 percent of U.S. households, a threefold increase since 1950 -- also live more sustainably, dwelling in apartments instead of single-family homes, commuting shorter distances to work, and owning and using cars at lower rates than couples and families. And solo dwellers tend to prefer living in cities.

Which all makes practical sense, of course. One person needs less space, and the cost of owning and maintaining a car is much more of a burden when not shared. Urban areas present more job opportunities, and solos can pursue them without being held back by a partner’s career or family obligations. (Deka found that solos make at least $5,000 more per year when they live in the city.) Plus, discounting the few misanthropes out there, most people don’t live alone because they want to be alone, and living in a dense city neighborhood offers plenty of social outlets to ward off loneliness.

Catering to a growing solo population means cities also must cater to their more sustainable lifestyles.

Read more: Cities, Living

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E.U. bans another bee-killing insecticide

A bee on a sunflower
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This sort of bee behavior is safer in Europe than it is in America.

Bees of America, please don't take this the wrong way, but it might be time to buzz off to Europe.

The European Union will limit the use of yet another bee-endangering insecticide, part of its efforts to protect pollinators from agricultural poisons.

The use of fipronil, a nerve agent produced by German company BASF and widely applied by farmers to kill insect pests, will be outlawed on corn and sunflower seeds and fields across Europe. From Reuters:

The restrictions take effect from Dec. 31 but seeds which have already been treated can be sown until the end of February 2014.

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Antarctic marine reserve plans scuppered by Russia

Antarctica
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Still open for fishing.

You can't get much farther from Antarctica than Russia. Yet it was Russia that this week sunk American- and New Zealand-led efforts to create sprawling marine reserves around the South Pole.

The multi-nation Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources met in Germany this week to discuss proposals to protect more than 1.5 million square miles from the growing threat of fishing. The meeting was called after the countries that make up the committee failed to reach agreement on the proposals last year. From Nature:

There was widespread hope that new reserves in the Ross Sea and in East Antarctica would be approved this week ...

But [Tuesday] at the meeting the Russian delegation questioned the very authority of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which regulates fishing in Antarctica, to create reserves, several participants said. To establish any reserve requires the agreement of all 25 members.

Read more: Food, Politics

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Keystone XL could hike gas prices as much as 40 cents a gallon

Gas prices will rise if Keystone XL is built
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Going up, up, up ...

If the Keystone XL pipeline is built, Americans could pay as much as 40 cents more per gallon for gasoline in some parts of the country, according to a new report by the nonprofit Consumer Watchdog [PDF].

That's because oil extracted in Canada would start to bypass traditional American markets, traveling through the pipeline to the Gulf Coast and onto tanker ships bound for international markets where oil fetches higher prices.

"The pipeline is being built through America, but not for Americans," Consumer Watchdog researcher Judy Dugan said in a statement. "Keystone XL is not an economic benefit to Americans who will see higher gas prices and bear all the risks of the pipeline." From the report:

The aim of tar sands producers with refining interests on the Gulf Coast -- primarily multinational oil companies -- is to get the oil to their Gulf refineries, which would process additional oil largely for fuel exports to hungry foreign markets. Other oil sands investors, including two major Chinese petrochemical companies and major European oil companies, have an interest in exporting crude oil and/or refined products to their markets. Such exports would drain off what the tar sands producers consider a current oversupply, and help push global oil prices higher. ...

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Climate policy is dominating Australian election

Sydney
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The climate is a hot topic in Australia.

The land down under has its political priorities the right way up.

While Barack Obama and Mitt Romney avoided discussing climate change during the 2012 U.S. presidential race, a federal election campaign in Australia is being dominated by debate over climate policy. From The Australian newspaper:

The 2013 election now may come down to policy differences rather than popularity, or the lack of it. And it seems two of the three issues that have dominated Australian politics for 15 years will once again define this election: climate change and asylum-seekers. ...

[O]n climate change the difference is fundamental. It's the carrot v the stick; paying to encourage emission abatement v charging companies that emit.

The climate debate has blown up in Australia in recent days following news that the governing party plans to change its approach to carbon pricing. The weekend announcement is still dominating headlines and air time. This gets wonky, but it's the wonky nature of the political debate that makes the nation's preoccupation with it so fascinating:

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California cities want paint makers to remove lead from homes

Old paint
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Ten California cities have a message for paint companies that sold lead-tainted products to their residents in decades past: "Get that shit out of our houses."

Local governments filed suit again five paint manufacturers in 2000, and on Monday the trial finally began. Atlantic Richfield, NL Industries, Sherwin-Williams, and two other paint companies are defending themselves against claims that they should have pay to strip poisonous lead plaint out of an estimated 5 million homes, at a cost of about $1 billion. From the San Jose Mercury News:

[T]he industry will fight back hard, arguing that it never deliberately sold a hazardous product and that lead paint is no longer a significant public health threat in California.

But decades after the government banned lead paint because of its health threat to children, the substance remains in many homes built before 1978, particularly in older, low-income neighborhoods where families are considered less likely to be aware of the threat. Lead paint has been linked to a host of maladies in children, from learning disabilities and stunted growth to seizures and even death.

Read more: Cities, Living

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China plans a major solar spree

Solar panel
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It's time to get these out of Chinese warehouses and put to good use.

A solar-panel manufacturing blitz by Chinese companies has left a glut in the market, driving down prices for photovoltaic systems.

And China thinks that's a pretty good excuse to throw itself a huge solar party.

The government has announced plans to add 10 gigawatts of solar capacity each year for three years. That would take advantage of cheap prices and help the country's manufacturers move product in a difficult market. From Reuters:

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Here’s an easy way to protect coastal communities from rising seas and storms

Mangroves in Florida
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Natural protection against rising seas, or development site in waiting?

Protecting nature is the best way of protecting ourselves from rising tides and storm surges, according to new research.

Sand dunes, wetlands, coral reefs, mangroves, oyster beds, and other shoreline habitats that ring America help to protect two-thirds of the coastlines of the continental U.S. from hurricanes and other such hazards.

Developers see these coastal areas and think -- *ding* *ding* *ding* *ding* -- opportunity. They want to replace shoreline habitats with waterfront homes, shipping channels, highways, and other delights of urbanism and commerce, along with hulking concrete structures designed to keep the rising seas at bay.

Or, another idea would be to leave nature intact and let it continue to shelter us.

The latter approach would, according to a study published in Nature Climate Change, be the superior option for protecting lives and property in most of the nation's coastal areas.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Here’s how the Koch brothers retaliate against journalists they don’t like

Charles and David Koch
Beware of Koch-fueled vendettas.

The right-wing, oil-baron Koch brothers haven't yet succeeded in taking over any of our nation's major newspapers, so in the meantime they're trying other tactics to influence news coverage of their activities. The Washington Post has a chilling report:

When environmental journalist David Sassoon began reporting about the billionaire Koch brothers’ interests in the Canadian oil industry last year, he sought information from their privately held conglomerate, Koch Industries. The brothers, who have gained prominence in recent years as supporters of and donors to conservative causes and candidates, weren’t playing. Despite Sassoon’s repeated requests, Koch Industries declined to respond to him or his news site, InsideClimate News.

But Sassoon, who also serves as publisher of the Pulitzer Prize-winning site, heard from the Kochs after his story was posted.

In a rebuttal posted on its Web site, KochFacts.com, the company asserted that Sassoon’s story “deceives readers” by suggesting that Koch Industries stood to benefit from construction of the Keystone XL pipeline — a denial Sassoon included in his story. KochFacts went on to dismiss Sassoon as a “professional eco-activist” and an “agenda-driven activist.”

It didn’t stop there. The company took out ads on Facebook and via Google featuring a photo of Sassoon with the headline, “David Sassoon’s Deceptions.” The ad’s copy read, “Activist/owner of InsideClimate News misleads readers and asserts outright falsehoods about Koch. Get the full facts on KochFacts.com.”

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Positive buzz: One bumblebee species makes a comeback

The Western bumblebee, or Bombus occidentalis.
USGS Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Laboratory
The Western bumblebee, or Bombus occidentalis.

A once-common bumblebee species that all but disappeared over the past 20 years has been glimpsed in Washington state for the first time since the mid-90s, getting local bee fans as excited as if they’d spotted Sasquatch. Though it doesn’t quite make up for the 50,000 bumblebees that met their demise in an Oregon parking lot last month, positive bee news is rare enough these days that we’ll take any excuse to celebrate.

The Western bumblebee, or Bombus occidentalis, an accomplished pollinator of greenhouse tomatoes and cranberries, is distinguishable by its “white butt,” says Will Peterman, a self-described “bee nerd” who caught the elusive insect on camera in a park north of Seattle.

The Seattle Times reports:

The first sighting in more than a decade came from Brier resident Megan O’Donald, who spotted one of the bees in her mother’s garden last summer and reported it to the Xerces Society [for Invertebrate Conservation.]. The insects returned this year, and O’Donald said she saw one Sunday on a goldenrod plant.

When Peterman heard about the earlier sightings, he decided to launch a bee-hunting expedition. Using Google Earth, he identified several patches of likely habitat — mostly small parks or unmown lots. At the fourth site on his list, he got lucky.

The colony, which is located underground, may be shutting down for the season. In late summer, after the broods are raised, the bees that will develop into the next season’s queens start gorging on nectar in preparation for their winter hibernation.

“Probably all we can do now is let the bees continue their cycle and go back next spring,” said UW biology instructor Evan Sugden, who joined the hunt on Sunday.

Read more: Food