Tim McDonnell joined the Climate Desk after stints at Mother Jones and Sierra magazine, where he nurtured his interest in environmental journalism. Originally from Tucson, Tim loves tortillas and epic walks.
In 2008, Maggie Anderson was doing pretty well. She had a successful career in business consulting, a loving husband and two lovely daughters, a nice house in a trendy Chicago suburb, and attended the same church as the Obamas*. But looking around at her mostly white neighbors, she couldn't shake the guilty feeling that she'd left the black community behind. A simple solution, she decided, would be to spend more money in the impoverished neighborhoods on Chicago's West Side. "The whole point," she said, "was, 'You know what, we care about the West Side. We need to help those people, those are our people, and we need to do what we can to make a difference there.' So we thought, instead of buying groceries here in Oak Park we could go buy groceries on the West Side. And it was not that simple at all."
The problem, Anderson realized, was that most businesses in predominantly black neighborhoods weren't owned by African Americans; most of the money spent in those concerns would leave the community come closing time. So she persuaded her family to embark on a far more challenging mission: For a full year, they would attempt to spend their cash exclusively at black-owned businesses.
The ensuing adventure, dubbed The Empowerment Experiment and chronicled in Anderson's book Our Black Year (coauthored by Chicago Tribune reporter Ted Gregory), took them from gritty corner stores at the epicenter of urban decay to Texas megachurches to the boardrooms of the nation's most powerful trade organizations. By the end, the Andersons emerged from the maw of racial-economic inequality with powerful insights into how black Americans might better wield their collective $913 billion buying power to improve their communities. I spoke with Anderson, whose book comes out this week, about the backlash she encountered, economic segregation in the black community, and the near-impossibility of finding black-made products at Walmart.
During the 1990s, according to the National Housing Institute, less than two cents of every dollar spent by African Americans was going to black-owned businesses. Troubled by this and other stats demonstrating stark economic disparities, Maggie Anderson's family, a well-to-do bunch who attended the Obamas' Chicago church, decided to patronize only black-owned businesses for a year. In the process, they had to put up with gangsta wannabes, racism allegations, and the difficulty—shared by many a low-income urbanite—of finding a decent grocery store. But they emerged with an appreciation for how African Americans' collective $913 billion buying power, wielded with due care, might bring a little prosperity to the hood.
Be sure and read our interview with the author here.
Oliver Wood, left, got his younger brother Chris, right, started on bass.
Chris and Oliver Wood hadn't played music together since childhood, but that all changed one night in 2004. Oliver's funky rock band King Johnson had opened a gig in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for his kid brother Chris' far-out fusion trio Medeski Martin & Wood. At some point during the headlining act, as Chris plucked lustily at his upright bass, Oliver carried his guitar onstage, plugged in, and melted into the sound.
Despite the brothers having spent years in the musical trenches, it had taken this long for them to strike a chord as professionals. But they share the sort of uncanny chemistry usually only found between veteran bandmates: John and Paul, Miles and Coltrane, Simon and Garfunkel, and now Chris and Oliver. "It was like watching myself play," Chris said at the time. Oliver calls it "a certain telepathy…a supernatural, psychic kind of thing."
Fast forward to last Saturday night at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, and it's clear there's still no static in that psychic connection. After the Winston-Salem show, the brothers whipped up a demo of Oliver's soul-saturated roots-folk songs, sent it off to Blue Note Records, and the Wood Brothers were born. Their 2006 debut album, Ways Not To Lose, was an invigorating reminder of the understated power of the duo; NPR called it one of the year's top "overlooked" albums. Last week, the brothers kicked off a national tour in support of their most recent album, August's Smoke Ring Halo. Along for the ride is another sibling duet, Winnipeg's Sarah and Christian Dugas, a howling chanteuse with a dark blue melodic sensibility and her rhythm guitar-picking brother.
Jeremy Jones on Feather Peak outside Bishop, Calif., last January.
A few years ago, Jeremy Jones was cutting up one of his favorite runs down a glacier in Chamonix, the legendary French ski area high in the Aiguilles Rouges mountains. Jones has been a regular at this spot for the last 15 years, coming for a few weeks every winter to hone the skills that have made him one of the world's leading big mountain snowboarders. But on this occasion, he did something he doesn't often do: stop short. The glacier, he said, had receded a few hundred yards up the valley, effectively chopping off the end of his run. "That's kind of a drastic deal," he told me, and not because he was bummed about losing the powder: "Glaciers aren't supposed to move that fast."
The experience was representative of something Jones, 36, said he's been noticing more and more on his globe-crossing expeditions to the world's sweetest slopes: warmer winters, less snow, and generally lame ski conditions. The culprit, he says, is climate change, and it's not just impacting skiers and snowboarders: The $67 billion snow sport industry includes businesses near ski spots and the locals who run them, and their survival depends on robust winters. Just ask ski-area business owners from Vermont to California, who are still slogging through a major bummer of a winter this season. Climate scientists agree that global warming, unsurprisingly, is bad news for snowpack.
To fight back, in 2007 Jones created Protect Our Winters, a nonprofit alliance of snow athletes that raises money and lobbies politicians to pass legislation limiting greenhouse gas emissions and supporting clean energy. This fall, Jones, along with a team of scientists and other snow athletes, traveled to Washington, DC, (where the battle over climate change is "gnarly," he said) to meet with lawmakers from snowy states, including Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). I called Jones to talk about the link between snowboarding and climate change, and the experience of swapping beanies and down jackets for a suit and tie.
A Universe From Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing
By Lawrence M. Krauss
For particle physicist Lawrence Krauss, the revelation that the universe is expanding ever more rapidly reinforced a more basic question: How did it first come into being? Here he seeks clues on scales impossibly small (the insides of protons) and unimaginably large (the shape of the heavens). With its mind-bending mechanics, Krauss argues, our universe may indeed have appeared from nowhere, rather than at the hands of a divine creator. There's some intellectual heavy lifting here—Einstein is the main character, after all—but the concepts are articulated clearly, and the thrill of discovery is contagious. "We are like the early terrestrial mapmakers," Krauss writes, puzzling out what was once solely the province of our imaginations.