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Christine MacDonald

Journalist, author

Share Madness

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Can renting cars by the hour and crashing in strangers’ spare bedrooms really change the economy?

capbikeshare

 

My latest cover story in the Washington City Paper allowed me to call on a couple of years of personal experiences as a “collaborative consumer.” I also got to talk to other people using D.C.’s car and bike shares, Airbnb and eatFeastly hosts, as well as a bunch of pundits who say the burgeoning “sharing economy” is ushering in big changes in the way we live.

 

Here’s an excerpt from the story:

Sharing enthusiasts see a future with less pollution, inefficiency, and injustice—not to mention fewer cars. But sharing services aren’t always green (you can, after all, share a private jet). They seem more likely—not less—to accentuate class differences and perpetuate the same bad behavior on commercial, labor, and environmental fronts that everything that came before them did. And while sharing depends on high-tech social media and smartphone apps, in many ways the collaborative world harkens back to the past: to barter systems; the hyper-localism of preautomobile societies; and the almost small-town importance of reputation, which will increasingly follow us around as “data exhaust” that could replace the credit rating. Still, the changes afoot are propelled by decidedly 21st century realities: population growth, booming cities, rising costs, and shrinking personal space.

READ THE STORY

 

Environment + Culture: More closely tied then you’d think?

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If I hadn’t become a journalist, I may have taken up sociology.  I’m fascinated about what makes society work; how people think and why; and how different cultures can come to very different views — or sometimes very similar ones — through different — or remarkably the same — experiences and approaches.

At the beginning of my career, I had the good fortune to spend six years in Mexico writing about everything from Mexican cinema to the country’s political elections and economic development for the Dallas Morning News and other newspapers.

This year, I’ve had a chance to reconnect with this interest in “the general assignment,” as in general assignment reporting. As the managing editor of the new Latino cultural site, Hola Cultura, I spend part of every day now focused on the arts and humanities.  Besides becoming more fluent in online video and other forms of multimedia communication, which are most certainly the future of journalism, the work has reconnected me to a past love: reporting on Hispanic culture.

While running holacultura.com is a blast, I haven’t lost interest in stories about environmental issues and their connections to most aspects of life — a web of relationships often reflected upon in art. Since it’s been awhile since I updated this site, here’s a roundup of environmental stories I’ve published in recent months:

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Zero Waste revolution?

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"Empire of Dirt" By niXerKG. Creative Commons license.

After reading one too many reports that corporations were going “zero waste,” I began to wonder what this means for landfills. Could we really be headed toward a world without trash dumps and Superfund sites?

Considering that there’s possibly as much as 30 tons of industrial trash for every ton of municipal solid waste, we are talking a lot of trash; though corporations have even trashed the word and now consider their castoffs the fodder of new “profit centers.” But what happens to these newly branded “resources” after they’ve been “reduced, reused or recycled”? I learned the answer is far from straightforward. Read the story on Alternet.org.

Climate change fueling extreme weather?

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Earlier this year I had an assignment investigating the links between climate change and weather. In the course of the reporting I talked to a Yale pollster who says last year’s extraordinary weather — dry and drought-like or rainy and flooded  in most places — has done more to convince people that the climate is indeed changing than any number of increasingly urgent reports like this one from the OECD.

For the story, I spoke with climate scientists too, and learned about efforts to better pinpoint when rising global temperatures play a role in a particular extreme of weather. It’s a still evolving area of science. Controversy rages.  Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, has perhaps most riled his colleagues — not to mention climate change contrarians and non-believers — by suggesting that today global warming should be considered a factor in all weather.  Not all climate scientists agree — one even called it a “crap idea” in a major UK newspaper! But Trenberth hasn’t backed off. He elaborates on the idea in a new article due out this spring.

You can read all about this (and much more!) in my just published cover story in E Magazine. There’s also a sidebar on the impact to harvests and water supplies if the world remains on its current trajectory toward 10+ degrees Fahrenheit of warming.

If you still have time, check out my piece on Italy’s growing woes with the “ecomafia.”

 

This year’s Solar Decathlon featured green homes for less green

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Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, creative commons license

In this year’s Solar Decathlon  wrapped up earlier this month with 19 homes – more than half of which cost less than $300,000 to build. Affordability was one of the 10 categories on which the homes are judged this year in the biannual competition pitting universities from around the United States and a few foreign countries. The new cost/affordability bar, which replaced the lighting contest, inspired the student designers to drive down the cost considerably. According to the event’s sponsor, U.S. Department of Energy, this year’s houses were about 33 percent cheaper this year than those that competed two years ago.  “Solar for less” was just one of the industry trends reflected in this year’s entries.

Read my story in Architecture Week.

© 2009 Christine MacDonald. All Rights Reserved.

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