Saturday, January 28, 2012

here comes the end of money!

From Publishers Weekly
Money is a hot topic--Wired magazine contributing editor Wolman observes that it is paradoxically something we think about "always and never." Tangible cash, on the other hand, is something "we think we know." However, Wolman believes that physical cash will soon cease to be. He explores this compelling possibility by talking with a number of fascinating characters, such as Pastor Glenn Guest of Bowman, GA, who, citing the biblical book of Revelation, believes the end of cash is the beginning of the end of the world; convicted counterfeiter Bernard von NotHaus; and Delhiite Sonu Kumar, who uses his cell phone to remotely update his State Bank of India account, a technological advancement that Wolman notes could be "the angel of death" to the paper and coin system. Cash alternatives are already in place, whether we acknowledge or recognize them as such, and Wolman (A Left-Hand Turn Around the World) reviews a few, including Kilowatt Cards and Disney Dollars. Just as interesting is Wolman's discussion of money, culture, and poverty: is cash truly--as Ignacio Mas of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation claims--the "enemy of the poor"? If cash goes away, will that really lead to financial inclusion for the world's poor? Wolman's writing is clear and thoughtful, and his use of characters and places add color and personality to this excellent investigation of a timely topic.

Monday, January 23, 2012

the trash blaster

(My latest for Wired magazine is now live)

From the highway, one of the biggest landfills in the US doesn’t look at all like a dump. It’s more like a misplaced mesa. Only when you drive closer to the center of operations at the 700-acre Columbia Ridge Landfill in Arlington, Oregon, does the function of this place become clear. Some 35,000 tons of mostly household trash arrive here weekly by train from Seattle and by truck from Portland.

Dump trucks inch up the gravel road to the top of the heap, where they tip their cargo of dirty diapers, discarded furniture, lemon rinds, spent lightbulbs, Styrofoam peanuts, and all the rest onto a carefully flattened blanket of dirt. At night, more dump trucks spread another layer of dirt over the day’s deposits, preventing trash from escaping on the breeze.

But as of November, not all the trash arriving at Columbia Ridge has ended up buried. On the southwest side of the landfill, bus-sized containers of gas connect to ribbons of piping, which run into a building that looks like an airplane hangar with a loading dock. Here, dump trucks also offload refuse. This trash, however, is destined for a special kind of treatment—one that could redefine how we think about trash.

In an era when it’s getting more and more confusing to determine where to toss your paper coffee cup—compost? recycle? trash? arrrgh!—and when no one seems to have a viable solution to the problem of humanity’s ever-expanding rubbish pile, this plant represents a step toward radical simplification. It uses plasma gasification, a technology that turns trash into a fuel without producing emissions. In other words: a guilt-free solution to our waste problems. More

Sunday, January 22, 2012

how wall street can save the earth

(My latest for Outside mag.)

IN APRIL 2010, Bud Sturmak, director of the investment-and-consulting firm RLP Capital, was at his Manhattan apartment when he heard something about an explosion on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. It would be weeks before the nation grasped the full magnitude of the Deepwater Horizon spill, but as the nightmare unfolded, Sturmak quickly realized he needed to get on the phone. He had millions of dollars of his clients’ money tied up in so-called socially responsible funds, and, as he recalls, “I wanted to find out which of these funds were invested in BP.”
As hard as it is to believe these days, before Deepwater Horizon happened British Petroleum was in good standing with many moderate environmentalists. The company was pumping millions into biofuel research and solar technologies, and receiving accolades for doing so. BP executives were even speaking up about climate change and pushing the now defunct Beyond Petroleum campaign.
Greenwashing? Sure, but it worked. BP was perceived as greener than other oil behemoths, and that made it a popular pick for socially responsible stock portfolios. When Deepwater Horizon blew, many principled investors were stuck holding a bag full of dead pelicans and aggrieved Gulf Coast fishermen. More

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

eurotrashing design

This image of a euro-mocking mock euro made its way to me via a Facebook Wall post from a friend in Italy. I haven't yet found the person who came up with it. If that's you (and you can prove it), send me a note!