Urbanization in the 21st Century

A Double-Edged Sword

In the developing world, large cities are and will continue to be the engines of prosperity and growth. That’s the conclusion of new research by Ed Glaeser and Wentao Xiong. But the benefits of urbanization in emerging economies are not a fait accompli. And even as density, clustering, and agglomeration drive innovation and efficiency, they also concentrate intra-urban inequality and drive sharper divisions between urban and rural populations. How to wield the double-edged sword of urbanization in the 21st century is, as Richard Florida writes in his recent book, “the central crisis of our time.”

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Balancing Clean Energy Costs and Green Jobs

Green Growth Reconsidered

What’s more important—creating jobs in the energy sector or creating jobs in the rest of the economy? In some cases, energy transitions can do both, when new energy technology both results in expanding employment within the energy sector and drives economy-wide job growth as well. But that’s not always the case. In an interesting new post on “green jobs” at the Haas School of Business Energy Institute blog, Andrew Campbell points out that we frequently highlight the jobs created by the growth of clean energy while ignoring those that have been lost.  

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Energy Access or Energy for Development?

Aim Higher

By Emma Brush and Alex Trembath

Obviously, universal energy access is a worthy goal.

But the problem with “energy access” is that, as a problem definition, it elides many of the challenges communities face. About a third of those who subsist on wood and other forms of biomass do in fact have some access to electricity; the far larger problem is that they remain isolated from modern fuels, infrastructure, and economic opportunity.

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Solar in California

Pushing Boundaries and Testing Limits

Solar power in California continues to grow. But as California becomes one of the first regions in the world to get over 10% of its annual electricity from solar, it will also be the first to hit major obstacles to continued growth of solar generation. Utility-level solar, mostly photovoltaic and also some concentrating solar, constituted nearly 10% of raw electricity generation in California in 2016. When distributed solar is taken into account, this figure rises to 13%. This is an impressive achievement for the growing industry, and well above the national average of about 1% solar on the grid.

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The End of the Nuclear Industry as We Know It

Toward a 21st-Century Model of Nuclear Innovation

News last month that Westinghouse is facing crippling losses due to cost overruns and delays at four new nuclear reactors under construction in the US are but the latest evidence that the nuclear power industry in developed economies is in deep trouble. China, South Korea, and Russia continue to build new nuclear plants. But in the United States, Western Europe, and Japan, the nuclear industry, as we have known it for over a half-century, is coming to an end.

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Cities: A Climate Solution?

New Analysis Shows California Can't Meet Climate Goals Without Denser Cities

California cannot meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets without increasing density in already-developed cities, according to a recent analysis by the LA Times, the California Air Resources Board, and BuildZoom.

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Losing Ground in the Amazon

Deforestation uptick raises questions about sustainable intensification

Perhaps the most depressing GIFs I’ve seen are the ones showing the time-lapsed encroachment of deforestation into tropical rainforests. Seen from space, deforestation looks like matte brown polygons marching across a landscape of deep green. On the ground, it looks like farmers chopping down trees, burning them to clear the area, and planting crops like soy to sell for export.

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Another Record Year for Nuclear Power

2016 Adds 9.5 GW of Global Capacity

Last April, Will Boisvert noted that 2015 was a record year for new nuclear power around the world, with more reactors added than in any year since 1990. But 2016 proved to be an even bigger year for nuclear power, with ten reactors coming online around the world, adding 9.5 gigawatts (GW) of capacity. This was the largest annual addition of nuclear power since 1990, and the largest two-year addition of nuclear power since 1989-90.

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Ecomodern Dispatches

“Historically, our fascination with the End has flourished at moments of political insecurity and rapid technological change,” writes Evan Osnos in a recent feature on “elite survivalism” for The New Yorker. We are, it is safe to say, certainly in the midst of all of the above. Not only has the US been downgraded from a full to a “flawed” democracy, but the Doomsday Clock has struck once again, moving us 30 seconds closer to midnight as a result of “humanity’s most pressing threats: nuclear weapons and climate change.”

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How Much Does Material Consumption Matter for the Environment?

Can we reduce environmental impact even as countries grow wealthier? Is consumption inherently tied to impact? These are core environmental questions facing us today, hinging on the notion of “dematerialization,” or the reduction of the amount of raw materials needed to make useful products. If we can dematerialize the economy, the argument goes, we might also be able to mitigate our impact on the environment.

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