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Electric Cars Catch On

The numbers are tiny, and it remains very much a niche market, but April’s sales figures suggest electric cars are beginning to catch on.

Electric cars have long been criticized for not being sufficiently mainstream to find a large audience in the U.S. And it’s true that the typical suburbanite family may not be ready for a short-range car powered by electrons instead of gasoline. But the April car sales data, reported Wednesday, suggest that electric cars are beginning to carve out a niche. The all-electric Nissan Leaf notched its second-best monthly sales total and surpassed the volume of its plug-in hybrid competitor, the Chevy Volt.

Nissan Leaf

PRNewsFoto/Los Angeles Auto Show

Both launched in December 2010, the Leaf and the Volt were created to appeal to the niche market of new technology and electric-car lovers. The Volt, a plug-in hybrid, was expected to be the easier sell, since it also uses gas and has a range of several hundred models. Nissan instead targeted an even smaller clientele with its all-electric model. But so far this year, the Leaf is proving to the buyers’ preferred.

You won't be flying in any of these bad boys any time soon, but "solar powered drones that can fly for days at a time" has a great ring to it, no?

[W]hen a propane shortage nearly ended his record-setting ride in 1999, he began dreaming of a way to fly day and night without fuel, an idea that has reached fruition in a featherweight solar airplane set for an initial voyage across the United States starting on Friday, weather permitting. His brainchild, the Solar Impulse, will not be the first sun-powered plane to fly; its chief distinction is its ability to go through the night.

Garbage In, Power Out

Oslo burns garbage to produce energy. But with Norwegians producing less trash, the city is now importing junk.

One man's trash is another man's treasure, and in Norway, that’s literally the case. But Oslo, the capital city, seems to be running out of this vital commodity.

Oslo, Norway

In Oslo, heat is generated from burning waste. (Richard Elliott/Getty)

The New York Times reported Monday that Oslo, which has long burned waste to heat half of the city and almost all its schools, is lacking the materials need for fuel: household trash, commercial and industrial waste, and even hazardous junk from hospitals. With the rise of recyclable and reusable products, Oslo’s volume of trash just isn’t what it used to be. The city, which often accepts or at times buys garbage from other European countries, is seeing a similar scenario elsewhere.

Questions linger in the wake of the Bangladeshi disaster

Matt Yglesias took a lot of flak last week for responding to an Erik Loomis post about the tragic collapse of a Bangladeshi garment factory by saying:

It's very plausible that one reason American workplaces have gotten safer over the decades is that we now tend to outsource a lot of factory-explosion-risk to places like Bangladesh where 87 people just died in a building collapse.* This kind of consideration leads Erik Loomis to the conclusion that we need a unified global standard for safety, by which he does not mean that Bangladeshi levels of workplace safety should be implemented in the United States.

I think that's wrong. Bangladesh may or may not need tougher workplace safety rules, but it's entirely appropriate for Bangladesh to have different—and, indeed, lower—workplace safety standards than the United States.

Omnivore

Cook to Survive

Why re-imagining the way we cook is the only way we’ll survive, says Michael Pollan. He talks to Rachel Khong about our unsustainable diets and how food went wrong. An excerpt from Lucky Peach magazine’s “Apocalypse” issue.

Is the way we’re eating going to bring about end of the world?

The way we eat now is having a profound effect on climate change, which certainly threatens to bring about the end of the world as we’ve known it.

PD

Michael Pollan at Toronto's Live Organic Food Bar in February 2008. (Keith Beaty)

Organic

Big Idea: Farming Treats Cancer?

You know labels like ‘organic,’ ‘free range,’ or ‘non GMO,’ but what exactly do they mean? Physician Daphne Miller, who teaches family medicine at UC San Francisco, sought to learn more about where our food is grown in ‘Farmacology,’ and finds that innovative farming can teach us new lessons about our health—a vineyard’s pest management strategy, for instance, offers a new take on cancer care.

What is your big idea?

We are more connected to the farm than we think.

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A local Vermont worker, Brad Peacock, picks organically grown romaine lettuce at the Clear Brook Farm July 24, 2012 in Shaftsbury, Vermont. (Robert Nickelsberg/Getty)

NO BOUNDARIES

North Dakota’s Reckless Oil Boom

North Dakota’s recent oil discovery has brought jobs and prosperity to the state. But Winthrop Roosevelt asks at what price.

My great-great-grandfather Theodore Roosevelt has the accurate reputation of being one of our country's greatest conservationists. Images of TR embracing the great American outdoors by roping cattle on his ranch, hunting buffalo on the plains, and standing next to the Grand Canyon are just as ubiquitous in American history as the images of him working behind his desk in the Oval Office. His love for the natural world became one of his crowning policy achievements as president. To put it in context, the U.S. Forest Service once calculated that he preserved 230 million acres of land, or 84,000 acres for each day he was president.

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North Dakota, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, View From Scoria Point Overlook. (David Underwood/Getty)

TR seems to have been drawn to the natural world almost from birth, but it took the Badlands of North Dakota where he lived from 1884 to 1886 to finalize his transformation from a sickly child born into urban wealth into a hardy individual with a lifelong passion for conservation. As he put it: “I have always said I would not have been president had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.”

Economic Engine

Detroit’s Green Leap Forward

Can efficiency drive U.S. automakers back to the top? Watch out, Prius. A look at the Big Three’s impressive lineup of new fuel-sipping models shows the innovations pushing the comeback.

On the dashboard of the Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid, there’s a screen that shows a vine with a bunch of leaves on it. Punch the accelerator too aggressively, or slam on the brakes too rapidly, and the leaves began to fall off—an almost poetic admonition that you’re not driving in a very ecological manner.

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The Toyota Highlander is introduced during a media conference at the New York International Auto show March 27, 2013 in New York. (Don Emmert/AFP/Getty)

By the time I arrived at my destination, after a half hour of aggressive Manhattan driving, the vines began to look as if they had been sprayed with too much pesticide. But the results were nonetheless pleasing: I had traveled about 13 miles on electricity alone.

After Fukushima

Japan Goes Nuclear

Fukushima who? Only two years after the devastating nuclear meltdown, Japan is set to reopen idled reactors. Lennox Samuels on why nobody seems to mind.

Last July about 170,000 people thronged an anti-nuke rally in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park to demand that Japan spurn nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima meltdown. This year, in the two days leading up to the second anniversary of the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami that triggered the accident, demonstrations averaged perhaps one tenth that number. Ongoing weekly protests top out at 5,000 or so, with some events drawing only a few hundred protesters.

JapanAnti-Nuclear Protest

Christopher Jue/Landov

It’s not as if anyone has shrugged off “3/11.” The 2013 anniversary was marked by numerous remembrances of those killed in the catastrophe, and stories about the homelessness limbo many of the displaced still occupy. Anti-nuke activists, who include composer-musician Ryuichi Sakamoto (Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence), manga artist Yoshinori Kobayashi, and novelist Kenzaburo Oe, are still very committed. And they still have a sizable public following. But nowadays, the clamor for moving away from nuclear power has softened.

While thousands converged on Washington to rally for climate change, the U.S. government was building a levee to protect the National Mall against Katrina-like flooding. Whether we like it or not, we’re going to have to adapt while also averting total disaster, writes Mark Hertsgaard.

Braving frigid cold, at least 35,000 demonstrators gathered in Washington on Sunday for the largest climate change rally in history. With a second climate and clean energy rally planned for Earth Day on April 22, Sunday’s demonstration had the feel of a first act, an opening statement of what the burgeoning U.S. climate movement is demanding from a government that for decades has denied and delayed action on the most urgent problem of our age.

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Phetmano Phannavong

The primary aim of the demonstrators was to press President Obama to make good on his pledge in the State of the Union address to “do more to combat climate change.” Above all, they urged him to say no to the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport carbon-heavy tar sands oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Building that pipeline would be like lighting a fuse to the second-largest pool of carbon on earth, according to writer Bill McKibben, whose 350.org group co-sponsored the rally with the Sierra Club, America’s oldest and largest grassroots environmental group.

Shame on You, Walmart!

With an Ohio Walmart hosting a holiday food drive for its own workers, The Daily Beast's Michael Tomasky criticizes the notoriously stingy company for not paying them more.

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Congress: Hail Our Media Overlords

Congress: Hail Our Media Overlords

Forget Comcast being on the ropes over its proposed multibillion-dollar merger with Time Warner Cable. It smoothly overrode concerns at a Senate hearing Wednesday.

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