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Top 10 Green Stories of 2008

Grist looks back on the enviro highlights of the year and maybe even Britney's recovery.


In a sense, there was only one story in 2008, and what a story it was: extraordinary promise, shattered illusions, and ultimately triumph. We're talking, of course, about Britney's recovery.

And then there was that election. What a ride, eh? Packed with more drama than a telenovela, chock-full of rhetoric on energy and the environment, and long enough for all of us to lose our minds a little. Remember the gas-tax-holiday fight? Drill, baby, drill? Or when McCain scoffed over concerns that nuclear power should be "safe or disposable or something like that"? Remember Sarah Palin?

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The Bush administration's recent midnight-regulation bonanza seems the preposterously perfect way to cap eight years of doom and gloom with a sense of ... gloom. If it hadn't been for Stephen Johnson (the headlines! my God the headlines) we might not have made it.

But as we look back at the year's top stories, and ahead to next year, we get a weird little tickle in our guts. People tell us it's called "hope." Is that contagious? Maybe we should get it looked at.

baby bottles

A for effort

Bisphenol A finally gets the bad rep it deserves


It's in your kitchen, and it's also in the doghouse: This year saw increased scrutiny of plastic hardener bisphenol A, which is found in products ranging from baby bottles to soup cans and has been fingered for messing with reproduction, interfering with chemo, and contributing to heart disease and diabetes. In the spring, Canada's health department said it would declare BPA a toxic substance, while U.S. regulators went back and forth on it all year (and continue to do so). Meanwhile, Nalgene pledged to stop using the stuff, while major retailers including Wal-Mart and Toys 'R' Us said they'd quit putting BPA-filled baby bottles on their shelves.


Who you calling chicken?

Californians vote for more-humane farming


After both sides spent big bucks egging voters on, California made history by passing Prop. 2 and thereby giving farm animals the right to ... turn around and lie down in their cages. What's next, hippies hand-feeding them arugula? The new guidelines, which apply to "egg-laying hens, calves raised for veal, and pregnant pigs," inspired pre-election support from the likes of Oprah, The New York Times, and others who hoped a win might provide a national model for more-humane farming. The landslide victory, on the other hand, inspired squawky protests from Big Ag. The rules take effect in 2015.


Worth the price of admission

Student eco-activism takes off


As we reported in a special series this fall, the green-campus movement took off across the country in 2008. From January's Focus the Nation climate teach-in to December's Poznan climate conference, not to mention the powerful role of da yoots in November's election, students are creating -- as USA Today put it -- a "youthquake" of climate activism. They're cramming for eco in less wonky ways, too, through endeavors like green frats and bike-share programs. As one Yale student we interviewed said, "the energy and the passion and the copious amounts of free time ... can all really help."

bottled water

Oh, for PETE's slake

Bottled water loses its luster


This was the year that America's love for bottled water finally began to dry up. Tests conducted by the Environmental Working Group and others found chemicals and other contaminants in leading brands. Thanks in large part to a campaign launched in late 2007 called Think Outside the Bottle, the U.S. Conference of Mayors resolved in June to phase out bottled-water spending. Calls for bottle bans came from college campuses, touring bands, and London Mayor Ken Livingstone. Restaurants organized a tap-instead week to benefit Unicef. And amidst all the H2O-pla, the growth in bottled-water sales dribbled to a fraction of its former self.

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