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Articles by Maywa Montenegro

Maywa Montenegro is an editor and writer at Seed magazine, focusing mainly on ecology, bidiversity, agriculture, and sustainable development.

All Articles

  • Gallons per mile: A better way to express fuel efficiency

    Let's say a pollster walks up to you and asks you the following question:

    "A town maintains a fleet of vehicles for town employee use. It has two types of vehicles. Type A gets 15 miles per gallon. Type B gets 34 miles per gallon. The town has 100 Type A vehicles and 100 Type B vehicles. Each car in the fleet is driven 10,000 miles per year." The town wants to replace these vehicles with corresponding hybrid models in order to to reduce gas consumption of the fleet and thereby reduce harmful environmental consequences.

    Should they (1) replace the 100 vehicles that get 15 mpg with vehicles that get 19 mpg , or (2) replace the 100 vehicles that get 34 mpg with vehicles that get 44 mpg?

    If you are like the people who were actually surveyed by Richard Larrick and Jack Soll of Duke University, you chose option two. After all, an increase of 10 mpg clearly sounds better than a measly 4 mpg. And yet, some simple number crunching reveals that the town fuel efficiency is improved more in option one (by 14,035 gallons) than in option two (by 6,684 gallons).

  • Climate action plans for the first 100 days and beyond

    I am blown away by the depth and scope of the nonpartisan Presidential Climate Action Project. Its centerpiece is a first-100-days plan, detailed in a 300-page report, covering issues ranging from energy policy and green collar jobs to the farm bill and ethanol subsidies to the Law of the Sea. My only quibble is the continued support for grain ethanol -- although the project does advocate quick turnover to cellulosic sources -- how quick that evolution will be is a huge outstanding question. Apart from the report, the PCAP website also features a very cool Who's Who in Climate Action, a database of climate professionals and a Contact the Candidates link, where you can submit your own suggestions to the presidential hopefuls (the page needs to be updated; although I'm sure Giuliani would still welcome email about the state of the planet).

    And PCAP isn't the only player in the game. As Elizabeth Kolbert reports, a number of think tanks and coalitions have been cranking out climate recommendations for the next president of the United States. Whoever that turns out to be, the next president's problem won't be a lack of guidelines or expert advice ... if anything, it will be the opposite.

  • Premier episode of a new online film series features Jones and Carl Pope

    A new online film series called This Brave Nation premiered its first episode Sunday night: a conversation between Carl Pope and Van Jones. Both are natives of Frisco and both are equally adamant about environmental stewardship, but they have vastly different approaches. Here they chat about melding those tactics towards a common goal. Later this month, on June 15, Pete Seeger and Majora Carter discuss environmentalism, protest music, civil rights, and urban renewal. Should be interesting.

  • Sustainability a big theme at the World Science Festival

    What do vertical farms, green roofs, soft cars, breathing walls, and Dongtan, China, have in common? They were all subjects of discussion at Friday's Future Cities event in New York City, part of the four-day 2008 World Science Festival.

    To a packed house, Columbia University microbiologist Dickson Despommier described his vision for feeding the planet's burgeoning, and increasingly urban, population. The vertical farm takes agriculture and stacks it into the tiers of a modern skyscraper. Instead of stopping at the corner pizzeria for dinner, Despommier suggested, you could pluck a nice head of lettuce, maybe some corn, and some tomatoes for a big salad, all in your own building, on the way to your apartment. You can't get fresher or more local than that.

    According to Despommier, the farms will be "grown organically: no herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers." (Of course, being indoor, there won't be many insects to spray for.) The farms will also require much less irrigation since all water can be re-circulated, and they'll curb the growing pressure to turn forest into farmland.

    The vertical farm sounds (and looks) pretty amazing, and certainly Despommier deserves much credit for thinking boldly ... but I was left with several questions.