Sunday, September 24, 2017

Rutgers team wins $1 million 'Nobel Prize for students'

Avalon R. Zoppo writes for

For recent Rutgers graduate Hasan Usmani, the sight of the vast Karachi slum was a shock, despite his family connections and previous visits to Pakistan.

The 8,000-acre Orangi Town, home to 2.5 million people, many of them refugees from Afghanistan and Bangladesh, is barely livable, the 23-year-old said. Lacking adequate sewer lines, its streets are awash in wastewater when it rains. One resident told Usmani her children shower only once a week so the family can afford food.

“I was surprised to see people living in these conditions and surviving,” Usmani said.

He and three other fellow business school students at Rutgers University in New Brunswick — Hanaa Lakhani, Gia Farooqi, and Moneed Mian — had gone there in May with a project in mind to help the slum residents: solar-powered rickshaws. It was a concept that had won a regional competition earlier. When they got to Pakistan, an even better idea emerged: a ride-share program to better connect impoverished residents of the shantytown to rickshaws, an Uber of sorts.

This month, their pilot program, Roshni Rides, snagged first place and $1 million in start-up capital in the prestigious Hult Prize competition, founded by Swedish businessman Bertil Hult and funded by his family. The award has been dubbed the Nobel Prize for students.

Among the runners-up? A team from Harvard.

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Mystery group picking Breitbart apart, tweet by tweet

Paul Farhi reports for The Washington Post:

Hardly anyone paid attention last November when a strangely named Twitter account, Sleeping Giants, sent its first tweet into the digisphere. “Are you aware that you’re advertising on Breitbart, the alt-right’s biggest champion, today?” read the tweet, aimed at a consumer lending outfit called Social Finance. “Are you supporting them publicly?”

Within 30 minutes, Social Finance replied, tweeting that it would stop running ads on Breitbart.

It was, it turns out, the start of an odd, and oddly effective, social media campaign against, the influential conservative news site headed by Stephen Bannon, President Trump’s former campaign chairman and ex-White House chief strategist.

Sleeping Giants is a mysterious group that has no address, no organizational structure and no officers. At least none that are publicly known. All of its leaders are anonymous, and much of what it claims is difficult to independently verify. A spokesman for the group wouldn’t identify himself in interviews for this story.

But the group does have a singular purpose, pursued as relentlessly as Ahab chasing a whale: It aims to drive advertisers away from Breitbart. “We’re trying to defund bigotry,” the spokesman says.

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Saturday, September 23, 2017

Longtime business owners see an upside to gentrification

A&A Bake & Double Shop on Nostrand Avenue

Jeremy Smerd, editor of Crain's, writes:

In the four-plus years I’ve lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, Noel Brown has gone from fearing gentrification to embracing it. That’s because his business is booming. Not only have his old customers not left, but he has also gained new ones. Like me.

I used to pass Brown’s Bake Double Shop daily on my way to the Nostrand Avenue A station. Invariably a line would snake out of the 300-square-foot spot onto the sidewalk as customers waited to pay a couple of bucks for doubles—Trinidadian street food that consists of two fried flatbreads filled with curried chickpeas.

I have since moved to another part of the neighborhood. Soon Brown will be moving too. In the coming weeks he’ll open a 3,000-square-foot restaurant on Fulton Street that will serve lunch and dinner—in addition to his signature doubles. His staff of eight will grow considerably. “I was skeptical,” said Brown, whose small shop has been open for 17 years. “The original people were moving out, and new people were moving in. But my business exceeds the limit I was thinking about by 15%.”

The story of Bed-Stuy is Brown’s writ large. Since he opened his shop, the number of businesses in the neighborhood has grown by 73%, to 1,910, as violent crime fell by 44%, according to a report published last week by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. Employment is at a record high, having increased by 45%, to around 17,000 jobs since the end of the Great Recession.

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Friday, September 22, 2017

Military authorization bill passes Senate with PFC language

Kyle Bagenstoes reports for the Courier-Times:

The U.S. Senate Monday night passed a $700 billion military authorization bill, which includes $7 million for a nationwide health study on communities impacted by perfluorinated compound contamination. Those are chemicals found in firefighting foam, the use of which contaminated the drinking water of tens of thousands of residents and military personnel in Bucks and Montgomery counties.
Both the authorization bill and the health study measure have high hurdles to clear before coming to fruition: They need to survive reconciliation with the House’s authorization bill, as well as a separate military appropriations process later this year.
The National Defense Authorization Act passed Monday is considered a “must pass” bill, as Congress has voted on it each year for more than half a century in order to authorize military operations and spending. It has become a favorite for elected officials looking for a place to win funding for initiatives or enact policies.
Senators with districts impacted by PFC contamination in drinking water, primarily near military bases such as those impacted locally, zeroed in on the bill this year.
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NJ won't reach its 2050 climate goals without changes

New report says state lacks coherent, comprehensive strategy to significantly reduce carbon footprint by midcentury

Tom Johnson reports for NJ Spotlight:

The state is going to require much steeper reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions to reach a goal to lower carbon pollution to 1990 levels by 2050, according to a new report by researchers at the Rutgers Climate Institute.
A decade after New Jersey enacted the Global Warming Response Act, the report found the state lacks a detailed and comprehensive strategy to achieve its goal and warned its emissions trajectory under current policies is inconsistent with the mid-century target.
The 179-page report is likely to provide a blueprint to the next administration on what steps may be needed to curb GHG emissions by 80 percent, which will require a 76 percent reduction from today’s pollution levels.

Smaller carbon footprint

But it stops short of making specific recommendations while examining a range of policies that other states are trying in an effort to reduce their carbon footprints, as well as many strategies frequently debated among New Jersey policymakers.
“The good news in New Jersey is that there’s a lot of existing authority and programs to advance the sort of climate action we need to meet the 2050 limits,’’ said Jeanne Herb, associate director of the Environmental Analysis and Communications Group at Rutgers-New Brunswick’s Bloustein School and one of the report’s authors.
The bad news is some of those policies have been talked about and lobbied at length without ever happening. Among the actions that could be taken with existing authority are steps to develop offshore wind capacity along the Jersey coast; mandates to achieve targeted reductions in energy use; and rejoining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate effort to curb global warming pollution from power plants.

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Cities Cracking Down on Climate Law-Breakers

New York's Hearst Tower was built to use 26 percent less energy than required by code, with an emphasis on natural lighting and temperature controls and sensors to reduce waste. The mayor's proposed energy code updates aim to reduce energy use in more buildings. Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty
To mitigate climate change, cities need to target buildings—the "mother lode" of greenhouse gas emissions, as New York Mayor Bill De Blasio called them last week.
At a news conference, he announced a pathbreaking proposal to set stricter energy efficiency standards in the city's aging buildings—and to fine building owners who don't comply with the codes.
Other cities may need to crack down, too, if they are to meet their climate goals. Across the U.S., cities have pledged to reduce emissions, with some (like New York) aiming ambitiously for 80 percent reductions by 2050.
"If you're a city that's concerned about climate change, you have to focus on buildings, because that's where the carbon is," says Cliff Majersik, executive director of the Institute for Market Transformation, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit focused on climate and energy.
Building energy codes—and the ability to strengthen them—are among the most powerful tools cities have to improve energy efficiency, Majersik says. But even as municipal leaders tout energy efficiency, many aren't doing enough to ensure that their existing energy codes are followed. Cities may need to adopt stronger tactics to translate climate goals into real energy savings and ensure builders aren't gaming the system.
In New York, a quarter of the city's emissions come from 14,500 buildings over 25,000 square feet in size. The city earmarked $2.7 billion in its capital budget to retrofit its own buildings, and more than 1,600 municipal and public housing buildings have been upgraded. Now, the mayor wants to force privately owned buildings to meet the same strict standards with new boilers, windows and insulation. In the long term, such measures save money through lower utility bills, but getting to that point can be a battle.
The city has already had to adopt tougher tactics to make new buildings and renovations comply with its existing codes.
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If your power stays on this winter, thank a zoo giraffe

The Philadelphia Zoo has partnered with PECO to share removed branches for gorillas, giraffes and other herbivores.

Peak Johnson reports for BillyPenn:
                                                                                                                    Photo: Sydney Schaefer/BillyPenn

The zoo has seven gorillas who eat more than 1,800 kilograms of food — that’s more than 4,000 pounds — per year. This August, the zoo and PECO formed a new collaboration called the Philadelphia Zoo Browse Program, through which PECO provides the zoo with weekly deliveries of leaves, twigs and branches, called browse. Asplundh, the tree company contracted with PECO to facilitate the tree cutting and removal, delivers the browse to the zoo.
There are 40 species of animals that have browse put into their diet. Besides primates like the gorillas, other animals — giraffes, gazelles, kangaroos and tortoises — all benefit from browse.
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Thursday, September 21, 2017

NYC mayor fueling up on electric car recharging stations

Michael Gartland writes for the New York Post:

Mayor de Blasio on Wednesday rolled out a $10 million plan to install as many as 1,000 new electric-car charging stations throughout the city by 2020.
The plan, which aims to have one new charging hub in each borough by 2018, is part of a larger effort to have one-fifth of all city vehicles be electric by 2035.
Each new hub will include 20 “fast-charging” stations, which can power up vehicles in 30 minutes, instead of the eight hours it can take on lower-level chargers.
“The easier we make it for electric vehicles, the more manufacturers will build and the more prices will go down,” de Blasio said. “The future is electric.”
The city is also setting aside at least 100 parking spots for slow-charging electric vehicles and is looking to bring in 50 more charging stations exclusively for cabs and other for-hire cars to encourage a switch from gasoline.
There are currently 307 charge sites in the city with 526 low-level chargers and just 16 fast chargers.
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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

House moves to cut millions from Chesapeake Bay funding

Jeremy Cox reports for Delmarvanow:

Since 2010, millions of federal dollars have streamed into the eastern shores of Maryland and Virginia under a revamped effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay, America's largest estuary.

But that flow of money could slow under House of Representatives legislation that calls for cutting about $1 for every $6 currently allotted to the program.

What's more, an amendment to that bill, sponsored by Virginia Republican Rep. Bob Goodlatte, would block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing the plan's cleanup targets.

"Through its implementation, the EPA has basically given every state in the watershed an ultimatum: either the state does exactly what the EPA says, or it faces the threat of an EPA takeover of its water quality programs," Goodlatte told the House last Thursday.

His amendment, he added, "ensures states' rights remain intact and not usurped by the EPA."

More: Harris amendment aims to stop Chesapeake sturgeon effort

The measure passed largely along party lines. But 13 of Goodlatte's fellow Republicans voted against the bill, including Maryland's Andy Harris and Virginia's Robert Wittman, Scott Taylor and Barbara Comstock.

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Puerto Rico entirely without power as Hurricane Maria hammers island with force not seen in ‘modern history’

Samantha Schmidt and Sandhya Somashekhar report for The Washington Post:

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Hurricane Maria raked across Puerto Rico Wednesday as the most powerful storm to strike the island in more than 80 years, ripping roofs off buildings and filling homes with water, and knocking out power to the entire population.
"Definitely Puerto Rico — when we can get outside — we will find our island destroyed," Puerto Rico's emergency management director, Abner Gomez, said at a midday press conference, adding that 100 percent of the island is without electricity. "The information we have received is not encouraging. It's a system that has destroyed everything it has had in its path."
The storm first slammed the coast near Yabucoa at 6:15 a.m. as a Category 4 hurricane with 155 mph winds — the first Category 4 storm to directly strike the island since 1932. By midmorning, Maria had fully engulfed the 100-mile-long island as winds snapped palm trees, peeled off rooftops, sent debris skidding across beaches and roads. By afternoon, the intense gusts had become less frequent and the lashing rains eased, giving residents their first glimpse of the storm's wake.
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