USGS Director to NE Coast: Brace for Impact

Superstorm Sandy not only did this to Fire Island, NY, but made it easier to do again. (Photo: Cheryl Hapke, USGS)

Superstorm Sandy not only did this to Fire Island, NY, but made it easier to do again. (Photo: Cheryl Hapke, USGS)

A week after announcing her retirement, the director of the US Geological Service told a Washington DC conference that Superstorm Sandy fulfilled her worst climate-change nightmare: it blew out the natural defenses against storms along hundreds of miles of the Northeast coastline, leaving them vulnerable to any garden-variety nor’easter that comes along

The USGS is one of the agencies of the US government that tells us the truth, starting with its insistence at the time that the Dust Bowl of the 1930s was a man made disaster, a fact that is not widely enough understood to this day. But it is funded by Congress, and while it has not knuckled under to the knuckle draggers (by, for example, refusing to research global warming issues because many Congress Persons don’t believe in science), neither has it been especially strident about the clear and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, more frequent and more potent storms, etc. Continue reading

Brazil: Another Miracle Falters

Sugar cane, Brazil is discovering, is not the hoped-for panacea for energy independence. Photo credit: Sweeter Alternative

Sugar cane, Brazil is discovering, is not the hoped-for panacea for energy independence. Photo credit: Sweeter Alternative

For years, all the countries that hoped wistfully for  energy independence, or renewable energy, or the oxymoronic “sustainable industry,” have looked to Brazil as a shining country on a hill that did it all, and had it all.  It was inspiring. A typical headline of a few years ago (simply Google “Brazil” to see dozens) appeared in The Daily Texan: “Brazil’s Energy Program Could Teach U.S.” It turns out to have been a perfect example of the mendacity of hope (see my essay About Hope). Continue reading

Ray Anderson, RIP

Ray Anderson addresses the TED conference in 2009. Unlike most, for 25 tears he actually walked the walk of sustainability in industry. (Photo by whiteafrican/Flickr)

The only industrialist I ever met who had a genuine, drop-to-your-knees, road-to-Damascus, life-changing epiphany about the role of industry in destroying the world was Ray Anderson. When I first interviewed him in the 1990s, he was a few years past the experience — he likened it to “a spear in the chest” — triggered by his reading Paul Hawken’s book The Ecology of Commerce.  From that day forward, Anderson had a mission. Continue reading

Gardening a Crime in Oak Park MI

These raised beds for vegetables may put a Michigan mother of six in the slammer for 93 days.

Julie Bass of Oak Park, Michigan figured her lawn was gone anyway — it had been torn up for a sewer repair — so instead of going back to the water-hogging, fertilizer-leaching, pesticide-soaked obscenity that graces everybody’s front yard, she would do a far, far better thing. She put in five raised beds and started growing fresh, organic vegetables for her family. Smart, sustainable, nutritious, and illegal. The city code says if the ground is not paved, it has to be  covered with grass, shrubbery or “suitable” plants. Vegetables, says the city, are not “suitable.” The city prosecutor plans to take “all the way” prosecution of the mother of six children for crimes that could get her 93 days in jail. Seriously.

One Third of World’s Food Destroyed: Culprit Found

The critters that are "stealing" our food, busted at last. (Photo by Chris Huggins/Flickr)

A study done for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, released a week ago, finds that nearly one-third of the world’s food supply — in the United States the figure is 40 per cent — is never consumed because it is wasted. Billions are being spent to develop new chemicals, new genetically altered seeds and new, energy-intensive, unsustainable farming methods that are alleged to increase food production, but the authors of the study expressed surprise that the loss of food, much of which is deliberately thrown away, is drawing no attention. Continue reading

Free the Food: A Tea Party Worth Having

WARNING: Buying this produce from the person who grew it could be extremely beneficial to your health, and illegal. (Photo by pmulloy2112/Flickr)

Here and there around the United States, groups of activists are taking their country back from a tyrannical government and declaring their independence in a critical area of their lives. It’s not the Tea Party, and it’s hardly an Arab Spring, but it could be significant if it takes hold. Three towns in New England and one city in California have acted to pry the government’s cold, dead hands off their food supply. The New England towns have passed what they call a “food freedom” ordinance; and San Francisco had decriminalized urban farming. Continue reading

Black Eye for “Clean” Coal

Power plant

Coal burning power plants, like this New York City veteran, are fast becoming industrial dinosaurs because they do more harm than good. (Photo by futureatlas.com)

Last week, the East Kentucky Power Cooperative abandoned plans to build two coal-burning power plants in Clark County. This major setback for Big Coal in the heart of Big-Coal country, comes just a year after Ohio’s American Municipal Power gave up its attempt to build a coal fired electric plant on the Ohio River near Cleveland. And according to a Sierra Club tally, it brings the number of coal-fired generating plants planned, announced and then abandoned in recent years to over 100. Continue reading

In a Maryland Village, The Street Not Taken

Urban sprawl

Against an ocean of urban and industrial sprawl, a tiny town (not pictured here) offers resistance.

Is it, as the town’s mayor and the Washington Post calls it, “the greenest street on the East Coast?” Or is it a tiny Band-Aid on an enormous, cancerous tumor? We’ll report, you decide.

The street in question, in Edmonston, Maryland (population1500), is three quarters of a mile long. It has just been re-engineered to be “green” with a year-long, 1.3-million-dollar project that was funded with stimulus money. Continue reading

Tower of Power

There it is, in Chicago of all places, the Big Idea that could have saved us, in plain view for everybody to see and not talk about.

After a $350 million renovation the Sears Tower, at 110 stories the tallest skyscraper in the hemisphere, will produce 80 per cent of its own electricity. [Sears Tower to be Revamped to Produce Most of Its Own ElecricityThe New York Times.] That’s a big project, but it’s not the Big Idea. Continue reading

The Dark Twin

The thing we love about the industrialization of everything, the reason we tolerate its destructive rampages, is the notion economy of scale. This is the theory that when you mass-produce something, each something in the mass will cost less. What we need to keep in mind is that economy of scale has a dark twin that is equally powerful and seldom discussed — elevation of risk. Continue reading