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The Electric Car’s Tipping Point?

Tesla’s making money, sales have doubled, and prices for plug-ins and hybrids are coming down in a big way. Is this the green market’s Model T moment?

“I would build a motorcar for the great multitude.”

Tesla Motors

A Tesla Roadster Sport sits in a Chicago dealership showroom in 2011. (Scott Olson/Getty)

That’s what Henry Ford proclaimed early in his career. Ford, of course, is associated with the democratization of the automobile; the Model T was the first mass-owned car. But Ford started off as a luxury-car maker—making high-tech, impractical, very expensive vehicles for the very rich.


Bike Sharing Works!

New Yorkers can gripe about it all they want, but the city’s new bike system is cheap, easy, and even a little fun.

It works!

New York City’s new bicycle-sharing system, Citi Bike—a.k.a. the Mike Bikes, after Mayor Michael Bloomberg—has been the source of great anticipation, fear, and derision. The rollout was delayed by Hurricane Sandy and software glitches. New Yorkers moaned about the loss of parking spaces as room was made for bike docks. Tabloid reporters eagerly awaited the first thefts, which they duly reported.

Bicycle Share

Dan Gross; Susan Watts/NYDN-Getty

Hard Charging

Shalom, Better Place!

It was Israel’s best-hope electric-car startup, and it just filed for bankruptcy. Daniel Gross on why the land of milk and honey isn’t quite ready for a battery-powered future.

It’s not all coming up green in the electric car industry. Sure, Tesla is making money and just managed to pay back its government loan. But Better Place, the Israel-based startup that raised and spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build an electric car system, has filed for bankruptcy. The brainchild of software entrepreneur Shai Agassi, a former top executive at SAP, Better Place attracted a lot of attention and capital—but not many customers.

Better Place car recharging

An electric car recharges its battery from a stand at the parking of Better Place, in Glilot north of Tel Aviv, Jan. 17, 2011. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty)

It’s a humbling end for a bold project. If ever there was a place where electric cars made sense, it was Israel—a country with a small land mass where most trips are rather short. Israel lacks oil and few of its oil-rich neighbors particularly want to trade with it. So gasoline is very expensive, up to $8 or $9 a gallon. And with its huge new discoveries of natural gas, Israel had a great deal to gain economically for swapping electricity for oil as a transportation fuel. In addition, a big chunk of the new car market consists of companies buying fleets of cars for workers, so there was the potential for bulk sales. Finally, Agassi hoped to tap into the Zionist impulse to get behind grand national projects.


Google’s Wind Power Surge

The search giant has extended its investments in green power by buying a California startup that deploys robot-piloted kites to generate electricity from wind.

Google, going beyond its investments in clean energy, has bought an intriguing wind-power company called Makani Power and brought it into the fold of its mysterious Google X research program. Founded in 2006 by some entrepreneurial kite surfers, Makani makes flying wind turbines. They’re essentially giant robot-piloted kites that fly in circles, collecting energy using wing-mounted turbines and transferring it back to earth using a conductive tether. It’s a clean-energy drone.

Makani Power

Makani Power's robot-piloted kites fly in circles, collecting energy using wing-mounted turbines and transferring it back to earth using a conductive tether. (Makani Power)

Airborne wind power has a couple theoretical advantages over old-fashioned windmills. For one, wind is stronger and more consistent the higher up you go. The tallest windmills are about 600 feet tall, but the first generation of Makani planes will fly at heights between 800 and 1,950 feet.

Green Light

Glow-in-the-Dark Plants

Scientists are raising funds on Kickstarter to develop genetically engineered plants that glow in the dark—thus eliminating the need for lightbulbs.

Sick of replacing broken lightbulbs? How about growing a bush instead? A group of scientists and entrepreneurs are working to engineer bioluminescence-laced indoor plants to take the place of traditional lighting.


Sascha Schuermann/AFP/Getty, file

The New York Times reported earlier this month that the small group of hobbyist scientists working on the project took bioluminescence from jellyfish or fireflies and incorporated it into seed DNA so that plants could glow in the dark. The group’s core team of three and their eight contributors used what is known as synthetic biology to try to create a glowing plant. Scientists are currently working with a flowering plant that is part of the mustard family. The organizers want to move onto a rose next.

The Internationalist

Shining a Light on Poverty

Her name is Luci, and she’s a solar-powered lantern. Janine di Giovanni on an innovative new product that could transform the lives of 1.3 billion people living without electricity.

It’s always disappointing to come across phony do-gooders. And it’s easy to scoff at celebrities working in war zones. But there is hope.

Shining a Light on Poverty

Ashia Mahmoud (right) uses a Luci light as she tells her children stories at the U.N. refugee camp Doro Mabaan in South Sudan. (Sebastian Rich/MPOWERD)

I spend most of my life in areas of conflict, and I meet all kinds of people aside from the victims of war: thrill seekers, soldiers of fortune, nymphomaniacs disguised as activists. One time I even walked into someone’s bombed-out hotel room in Sarajevo, and there was Joan Baez sitting amid the rubble.


What Farm Labor Shortage?


Farmer are pursuing a seemingly radical means of retaining workers. They’re paying more

Farm owners have responded to fears of a labor shortage by actually raising wages by a little bit.


Workers harvest strawberries at a farm March 13, 2013 near Oxnard, California. (Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty)


Tesla Goes to War

Don’t get me wrong: the electric-car startup is a success and has every right to boast. But for all its bravado, Tesla’s still getting plenty of help from Uncle Sam.

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk is felling it. And with good reason. His startup electric-car company reported its first quarterly profit. The stock has gone nuts—in a good way. Tesla just raised $1 billion in new cash, which enabled it to repay, nine years ahead of schedule, the $465 million loan it took from the Department of Energy. Overall, it’s a great success story that has defied the many haters and critics.

Elon Musk

Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks during a June 2012 press conference at his company's factory in Fremont, California. (Paul Sakuma/AP)

On Wednesday Musk, a prototypical 21st-century CEO, took to Twitter to talk a little trash: “Tesla wired the funds to repay the DOE loan today. Only US car company to have fully repaid govt.”


Superbugs Attack Corn

Genetically modified seeds were supposed to liberate corn farmers from using pesticide to combat rootworms. But as the insects adapt, farmers are having to adapt—by spraying their fields with chemicals.

It’s not just the cicadas. The Wall Street Journal reports there’s a more significant insect threat being posed to America: rootworms.

The bugs, which have the capability to decimate corn and grain crops, have become a more manageable problem in recent years. That’s because companies like Monsanto have developed genetically modified seeds that produce rootworm-killing toxins—without harming humans. (Here’s Monsanto’s rootworm page.) Thanks to the widespread adoption of such seeds, farmers have been spraying their crops with insecticide less frequently. “Today, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, two-thirds of all corn grown in the U.S. includes a rootworm-targeting gene known as Bt,” the Journal reports.

Corn rootworm

Corn rootworm. (Getty)

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.

  1. Obama Gets Credit for Stock Market Play

    Obama Gets Credit for Stock Market

  2. Twitter’s IPO: World Reacts Play

    Twitter’s IPO: World Reacts

  3. Phone Throwing App Is Awful Play

    Phone Throwing App Is Awful


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.

Breaking: Trend Stories Are B.S.

Woman Power

Christine Lagarde’s Tightrope Act


The ‘Money Honey’ Moves On

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