3/25/2008 5:31:05 PM
Government efforts to foster fitness have expanded from passive public service announcements to interventionist urban planning. Spiked finds attempts to create obesity-combating “fit towns” in the United Kingdom downright Orwellian. It concedes that more attractive stairways and improved lighting in parks are sensible steps. But suggest giving pedestrians and cyclists roadway priority, and Spiked grows indignant. UK lawmakers—audaciously!—proposed limiting office parking to cycle-sized spaces. (Spiked’s virulent anti-bicycle commentators might commiserate with U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, who drew a link between bike path funding and Minnesota’s August bridge collapse.) Yet compared to the stupidity Salon chronicled in October of U.S. “parking requirements” that result in overabundant, frequently unoccupied pavement, urban design that encourages outdoor time and self-propelled travel seems downright sensible, not despotic.
3/25/2008 5:11:24 PM
Forget hot wax and nipple clamps. The darkest and most twisted examples of sadomasochism are found under beds and in sock drawers the world over. Consider the phthalates-rich butt plug, whose toxins are slowly poisoning its user’s body via the holiest of holies. Or the discarded rubber dildo, buried in a landfill and contaminating the groundwater. These instruments of pleasure may in fact be causing environmental and biological pain, Molly Freedenberg writes for the San Francisco Bay Guardian. And while their actual impact may be overstated—especially in comparison to other harmful, more widely used items—its not difficult to play it safe and find these same items made from more eco-friendly (but no less user-friendly) materials, like the seaweed-based dildo created by Love Piece. Or get creative and make your own. Just don’t forget the sandpaper.
3/25/2008 4:36:01 PM
“Dr. Vino” Tyler Colman claims to have calculated the carbon footprint of wine and come up with a simple answer: If you live west of the line he’s drawn through the middle of the country, you should buy wine from California, and if you live east of the line, you’re better off buying from East Coast or European wineries. You may have good reason to think twice about his findings, however.
Colman and his partner Pablo Paster use their research paper to unload a metric ton of scientific-sounding chatter, largely regarding variables and calculations that are either undeniable or not on the table, and then use this data to somehow carve out their precise line. Easily digestible, easily reprintable. Colman and Paster’s proscriptions about wine buying have run, seemingly unquestioned, in several places, including a New York Times op-ed and in a non-peer-reviewed section of Science (subscription required).
But their research is suspect. First, they look at just three wineries located in three widely disparate growing regions, Yellow Tail (New South Wales, Australia), Coulee de Serrant (Loire, France), and a hypothetical “cult” winery in California’s Napa Valley. These three wineries ship wine to just one major market, Chicago. (Colman, when he’s not professing at New York University, happens to teach at the University of Chicago.)
Large cargo ships are said to carry the bottles from the Australian and European wineries. These ships dock in the U.S. (Los Angeles for Yellow Tail; New Jersey for Coulee de Serrant) and the wine is then hauled by road or rail to its Chicago destination. By comparison, the imaginary Napa winery (call it L’Strawman) ships exclusively by air overnight express.
Basically, Colman and Paster use lots of fancy footwork (and irrelevant calculations) to say that shipping a bottle of wine via sea and land is more efficient than flying the same bottle in a plane, even for a shorter distance, if you divide the carbon output by the number of bottles each vessel can carry. But they are comparing apples to oranges and vastly oversimplifying the issue. If they compared apples to apples—mass market to mass market (or cult wine to cult wine), normal carriers to normal carriers—it is unlikely that Colman and Paster would get a simple line dividing the country. Or, for that matter, very much attention.
(Thanks to David Egerton, Ph.D. candidate, University of Louisville.)
3/25/2008 3:25:30 PM
The power of architecture as a way to imagine an ideal society is alive in Belgian architect Vincent Callebaut. His most recent project, a pair of proposed Paris buildings dubbed Anti-Smog, is a testament to green design concepts, featuring solar power, wind power, and a “smog eating exterior,” according to Ali Kriscenski of the design blog Inhabitat.
The prototype for the project shows one football-shaped building known as Solar Drop. “The exterior is fitted with 250 square meters of solar photovoltaic panels and coated in titanium dioxide (TiO2),” writes Kriscenski. “The PV system produces on-site electrical energy while the TiO2 coating works with ultraviolet radiation to interact with particulates in the air, break down organics and reduce airborne pollutants and contaminants.”
The second structure, the Wind Tower, harnesses the gusting urban winds for energy.
The buildings are designed to be suspended over a Parisian canal and a defunct railroad track. Anti-Smog would be used as art galleries, public meeting rooms, and gathering spaces. Learn more about the project here.
3/14/2008 4:48:53 PM
There’s an underwater land rush taking place around the globe. Last year, reports Seed, Russia made claims on a resource-rich section of the Arctic. Other nations have followed suit, pushing to extract resources from the area’s ocean waters. Meanwhile, mining concerns are planning to tap dense mineral deposits in hot-water vents, which are teeming with unknown fauna. And while plans for deep-sea extraction often include efforts to minimize environmental impact, Plenty reports online that scientists don’t understand deep-ocean ecosystems well enough to adequately anticipate problems.
All of this, says Seed, has led to increased internal pressure for the United States to join most of the world’s nations by ratifying the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. The 1982 treaty puts the mid-ocean under international jurisdiction, ensuring a more careful approach to deep-sea mining. It also gives each country economic rights to its own continental shelf. Since the U.S. shelf is massive, domestic companies now have even more incentive to lobby for the environmentally friendly treaty, which up until now a few senators have blocked in the name of national sovereignty.
, licensed under
3/14/2008 4:25:10 PM
The Tragedy of the Commons is a theory about how finite resources are affected by the innate competition between a person’s impulse to acquire resources and the societal ambition to preserve the resources for the common good. Ryan Somma explains the theory in the latest issue of The Science Creative Quarterly using the Smurf village as a model for Earth and Smurfs as substitutes for the planet’s finite natural resources.
*Spoiler alert: Using Smurfs to explain this complex theory doesn’t make it any less mindboggling, just more fun.
3/14/2008 2:11:27 PM
A community of architects, designers, and concerned citizens at the website Superuse are taking the mantra of “reduce, reuse, and recycle” to new extremes. Instead of simply buying recycled paper, members practice upcycling, defined in the May-June 2006 issue of Utne Reader as, “the practice of recycling waste materials for use in higher-value products.” The projects on the site range in scale from the small, like using old film canisters for salt and pepper shakers, to the enormous, like creating a house out of an old airplane fuselage.
(Thanks, Very Short List.)
Image by Christmas w/a K, licensed under Creative Commons.
3/11/2008 5:16:51 PM
Hybrid cars be damned. Rather than focusing on making better vehicles, Glenn Lowcock argues in Green Futures that we should lower the speed limit to 35 mph. Everywhere. Going to the grocery store would become astronomically more expensive, since many goods would have to be trucked there at the same speed as the Pony Express. And it would take you longer to get there, too. But Lowcock argues that the hassle would be a good thing:
It would mean fewer people commuting by car (so less congestion for those close enough to do so), and more working from home. We’d get to spend more time where we actually live—rather than trying to get somewhere else. We’d turn again to the local schools, shops and community hospitals that we used to rely on.
3/6/2008 10:23:41 AM
California’s Salton Sea isn’t just a body of water, it’s an epic tale of environmental tinkering gone wrong wrapped up in a storyline that involves real estate fever, massive fish kills, congressman Sonny Bono, and more than a few sunburned eccentrics. High Country News tells part of the strange tale in its March 3 issue. For a cinematic, even weirder take on the sea and its characters, check out the documentary film Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea, now out on DVD, which is reviewed in the March-April Utne Reader.
3/6/2008 10:08:16 AM
Studies have shown that Americans are willing to pay more for energy from renewable sources. Now, the U.S. Department of Energy has made it easy to find green power sources near you. Click on your state to see where you can purchase environmentally responsible electricity, including information on locations, pricing, and certification.
(Thanks, Sierra Club.)
3/6/2008 9:38:16 AM
There’s no surer way to bathe your brain in dopamine than to contemplate buying something. “Retail therapy” isn’t a learned behavior, the Ecologist reports in its February issue (article not available online), it’s the result of evolving from hunter-gatherers.
Our hand-to-mouth ancestors lived in the era of survival of the avaricious. In the Neolithic period, you crafted millions of hand-axes to display “what a high-status, reproductively worthwhile hominid you were.” According to a 2007 Journal of Neuroscience article, “hedonistic hotspots”—mechanisms for feeling desire—outnumber those for feeling pleasure, prodding us to lust over the prospect of more without giving us equal enjoyment upon attainment. Now, thanks to global capitalism, many in the Western world are able to accumulate even more, but with more serious environmental ramifications. Not only are our buying binges a holdover of a physical survival strategy, some scientists posit that we are practicing “terror management,” staving off feelings of mortality with more goods.
Rather than continue to consume and then stress about large-scale damage, the Ecologist advises us to learn to say enough and find a balance that is personally sustainable, not to succumb to the short-lived high of buying. We have to accept that we’re not immortal and that we can’t have it all, even if our brains try to convince us—they’re programmed “to persuade our bodies out of bed on cold mornings.” Making social connections, practicing gratitude, and cooperating are more sustainable ways to feel good.
3/5/2008 10:44:21 AM
February 9 was a historic day in the environmental shaming of the Unites States as Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, broke ground on Masdar City, a $22 billion municipality that will be carless, solar powered, and almost entirely self-contained. Water will come from a seawater desalinization plant, produce will come from surrounding greenhouses, and all waste will be composted or recycled, writes the New York Times.
The groundbreaking came on the heels of a January announcement by the Masdar Initiative, a renewable energy investment company, that the UAE will commit $15 billion dollars for initial research on sustainable programs. This investment represents the biggest government-sponsored renewable energy program in the world, and it comes from a nation that gained much of its wealth through oil and natural gas. This fact has some wondering: Can one grand progressive step erase decades of carbon emissions irresponsibility?
(Thanks, Groovy Green.)
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