Plastic Straws Going, Going, Gone

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Marriott International became the latest company to announce it will stop using plastic straws, saying it would remove them from its more than 6,500 properties by next July. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

We did not foresee the straw revolution gaining such momentum so quickly. But we are certainly happy to see it going mainstream, going global, going company-wide:

The days of plastic straws are drawing shorter.

Marriott International on Wednesday became the latest big company to announce it will stop using plastic straws, saying it would remove them from its more than 6,500 properties by next July. The giant hotel chain said it will stop offering plastic stirrers, too.

It said the environmentally friendly move could eliminate the use of more than 1 billion plastic straws and about 250 million stirrers per year. Marriott said its hotels will “offer alternative straws upon request.” Continue reading

The Footprint Of Our Data-Driven Lives

New-Dark-Age-1050-5927870a2b206657f6b87133d3f776c4.jpgThanks to John Harris, writing in the Guardian, for “Our phones and gadgets are now endangering the planet,” an opinion essay that doubles as a review of the book to the right:

It was just another moment in this long, increasingly strange summer. I was on a train home from Paddington station, and the carriage’s air-conditioning was just about fighting off the heat outside. Most people seemed to be staring at their phones – in many cases, they were trying to stream a World Cup match, as the 4G signal came and went, and Great Western Railway’s onboard wifi proved to be maddeningly erratic. The trebly chatter of headphone leakage was constant. And thousands of miles and a few time zones away in Loudoun County, Virginia, one of the world’s largest concentrations of computing power was playing its part in keeping everything I saw ticking over, as data from around the world passed back and forth from its vast buildings.

Most of us communicate with this small and wealthy corner of the US every day. Thanks to a combination of factors – its proximity to Washington DC, competitive electricity prices, and its low susceptibility to natural disasters – the county is the home of data centres used by about 3,000 tech companies: huge agglomerations of circuitry, cables and cooling systems that sit in corners of the world most of us rarely see, but that are now at the core of how we live. About 70% of the world’s online traffic is reckoned to pass through Loudoun County. Continue reading

Last Resort Waste Management

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In our sustainable hospitality practice we do from time to time think of incineration as an option worthy of consideration. Especially in India, where waste management is at a completely different stage of development, we thought about it quite seriously. But in the UK, it is clearly not the first best option. If you want to learn a thing or two about waste management, a few minutes with this article will be worth your while:

Waste incineration set to overtake recycling in England, Greens warn

Amount of rubbish burned by local authorities triples while household recycling rates stall

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Full recycling bins on pavement in Bristol. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

England is on the brink of burning more of its rubbish in incinerators than it recycles for the first time, according to a new analysis.

The amount of waste managed by local authorities and sent to incinerators, or energy-from-waste plants, tripled between 2010-11 and 2016-17. By contrast, household recycling rates have stalled since 2013.

If those trends continue, the millions of tonnes of waste incinerated will overtake the amount sent for recycling by the end of the current financial year, a report by the Green party found. Continue reading

Norway’s Plastic Innovation

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Infinitum recycling plant in Fetsund, Norway. Worker Michael Gebrehiwet is sweeping up paper from the bottles. Photo: Elin Høyland Photograph: Elin Høyland for the Guardian

Thanks to Matthew Taylor and colleagues at the Guardian for this news:

Can Norway help us solve the plastic crisis, one bottle at a time?

A bottle deposit hub on the outskirts of Oslo has had a stream of high-level international visitors. Can its success be replicated worldwide?

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Infinitum runs Norway’s deposit return scheme for plastic bottles and cans. Photograph: Elin Høyland for the Guardian

Tens of thousands of brightly coloured plastic drinks bottles tumble from the back of a truck on to a conveyor belt before disappearing slowly inside a warehouse on the outskirts of Oslo.

As a workman picks up a few Coke bottles that have escaped, Kjell Olav Maldum looks on. “It is a system that works,” he says as another truck rumbles past. “It could be used in the UK, I think lots of countries could learn from it.” Continue reading

Strawless Starbucks & A Wonder Of Costa Rica

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Photo: Courtesy of Starbucks

Thanks to Nikita Richardson for posting this news:

Starbucks Says It Will Phase Out Plastic Straws

Just a few weeks after its home city of Seattle banned plastic straws, Starbucks is following suit. On Monday, the coffee company announced plans to go “strawless,” for the most part, by 2020. Doing some serious math, the chain says the move will keep an estimated 1 billion straws out of landfills.

As an alternative, Starbucks will serve its iced coffee, tea, and other sippable drinks in cups with strawless lids, already available in 8,000 locations in the U.S. and Canada, which feature raised plastic openings for sipping drinks. (The chain also said it will introduce alternative-material straws for some beverages.)…

Straw.jpgAs it happens, the same day we saw this news we were also scheduled to visit the Starbucks showcase in Costa Rica, called Hacienda Alsacia. We experienced the tour they offer and then sat with our guide for a sampling of coffees. On the table next to me was a straw, so we used the opportunity as a reality check. Our guide did not miss a beat, very well aware of the newly announced plan to eliminate straws by 2020, and ready with a one-liner about the importance of eliminating plastic straws.

Our guide was a perfect example of Costa Rica’s history of inspiring and educating ambassadors for the country’s core values. Score another point for a company from elsewhere that recognizes and values that talent. The purpose of our visit was in keeping with our current mission of thinking about the dairy farm of the future, and there is another Starbucks story to tell in that vein. But for now, we will savor this other wonder.

Resisting Cruise Ship Pollution

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The MS Allure of the Seas, the largest passenger ship ever constructed, leaves Marseille. Photograph: Gerard Julien/AFP/Getty Images

We thank Angelique Chrisafis, correspondent for the Guardian, for this reminder of an element tarnishing tourism, which can otherwise often be a force for good. Cruise ship tourism pollutes on a grand scale. This particular machinery demonstrates how parts of the tourism machinery can be a force for dark, very dirty impact. It calls for resistance:

‘I don’t want ships to kill me’: Marseille fights cruise liner pollution

Shipping is estimated to account for 10% of city’s air pollution, and campaigners are targeting cruise industry in particular

From his balcony above Marseille’s port, Jean-Pierre Eyraud has a prime view of the giant, luxury cruise liners that dock in the city bringing 1.5 million passengers a year.

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The Old Port area of Marseille. Photograph: Boris Horvat/AFP/Getty Images

But since Eyraud was diagnosed four years ago with throat cancer – a diagnosis several others in his neighbourhood by the port have also had – he watches with a sense of dread as the floating holiday palaces drop off day-trippers.

He and environmental campaigners fear the air pollution caused by cruise ships burning fuel all day at port is choking Marseille’s citizens along the coast.

“The paradox is that in Marseille we love all form of ships – we watch them leave with a kind of longing, they are symbols of freedom with the sea as an infinite expanse,” Eyraud said. “But at the same time, I don’t want ships to kill me.” Continue reading

What Will The Small Family Dairy Of The Future Look Like?

Milk.jpgOur current work, better described as the pleasure of learning, is thinking through how an old fashioned dairy farm retains relevance in Costa Rica in the future. When we saw a book like this one to the left, authored by someone we have linked to plenty, we had to dive in. We listened to the author first and then found this item we had missed in the salt a couple months ago:

NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro sat down with author Mark Kurlansky to discuss his new book, Milk!A 10,000-Year Food Fracas, and unpack some of the controversies surrounding what he calls “the most over-argued food in history.”

Humans, it turns out, are unique in their preference for the dairy drink. “In nature, we aren’t meant to have milk past weaning,” Kurlansky says.

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A man pours milk into a can in India’s Mayong village in 2015. India is the world’s largest producer and consumer of milk.
Anupam Nath/AP

But because of a genetic aberration, many humans can process the sugars found in milk and dairy products well into adulthood.

And while that makes some of us unique among mammals, it doesn’t mean that all humans have those genes. “It’s still only something like 40 percent of the human population that can drink milk past the age of two,” Kurlansky told NPR.

The genetic change is primarily found in white, northern European populations and their descendants. And although it may be Eurocentric to say that all humans can enjoy dairy in the same way, it hasn’t stopped milk from becoming a global industry. Continue reading

Progress Envisioned, Clabbered Cottage Cheese Looks Promising

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Clabbered cottage cheese at Cowgirl Creamery’s Sidekick Cafe at the Ferry Building in San Francisco. Credit Jason Henry for The New York Times

Copenhagenize Your City

3872 (1).jpgWho knew you could do such a thing? When did that become a thing? Nevermind, just read the graphs that accompany this story:

Danish-Canadian urban designer Mikael Colville-Andersen busts some common myths and shows how the bicycle has the potential to transform cities around the world (All images: Copenhagenize Design Company/ Mikael Colville-Andersen)

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Perspective On The Plastic Straw

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A typical Stone straw ad from a newspaper in 1899 (Google Books)

When we arrived in south India mid-2010 our toolkit was full of fifteen years worth of entrepreneurial conservation initiatives, starting in Costa Rica and followed by work in the Galapagos Islands, Chilean Patagonia, Montenegro, Croatia and Siberia. It took us a year to understand all the important ways India differed from everything we knew from elsewhere. Then Amie started targeting the elimination of plastic from our hotel operations, starting with bags in the gift shops. She might have been a latter-day Doña Quixote, tilting at packaged water bottles. All tourists had been instructed by guide books and travel agents to insist on these, and it was not as simple as deciding we knew better.

I might have been a latter-day  Sancho Panza, with a front row seat to the action and as occasional contributor to solution-sourcing. But nevermind the literary allusions. We did eliminate plastic bottles, and then moved on to straws, both in India and back in Costa Rica. We are still working on straws, which oddly enough are more puzzling than disposable water bottles. Alexis Madrigal, as always, has our gratitude for this illuminating history and perspective that helps stoke our motivation:

Disposable America

A history of modern capitalism from the perspective of the straw. Seriously.

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MIRAGEC / GETTY

A straw is a simple thing. It’s a tube, a conveyance mechanism for liquid. The defining characteristic of the straw is the emptiness inside it. This is the stuff of tragedy, and America.

Over the last several months, plastic straws have come under fire from environmental activists who rightly point out that disposable plastics have created a swirling, centuries-long ecological disaster that is brutally difficult to clean up. Bags were first against the wall, but municipalities from Oakland, California, (yup) to Surfside, Florida, (huh!) have started to restrict the use of plastic straws. Of course, now there is a movement afoot among conservatives to keep those plastics flowing for freedom. Meanwhile, disability advocates have pointed out that plastic straws, in particular, are important for people with physical limitations. “To me, it’s just lame liberal activism that in the end is nothing,” one activist told The Toronto Star. “We’re really kind of vilifying people who need straws.” Other environmentalists aren’t sure that banning straws is gonna do much, and point out that banning straws is not an entirely rigorous approach to global systems change, considering that a widely cited estimate for the magnitude of the problem was, umm, created by a smart 9-year-old. Continue reading

Ultra Premium Coffees

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We favor coffee from Costa Rica. Full stop. But we recognize excellence elsewhere. Even selling for $350/pound, this coffee is not at the top of the list, but we must anyway share congratulations with our neighbors to the south, just for making this list:

This coffee has won numerous first place awards in worldwide coffee contests over the past many years. It is cultivated on the sides of Mount Baru in Panama in the shade of guava trees. This rare coffee delicacy offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience for connoisseurs with its fantastic taste and rich flavor. It bagged a whopping $350.25 per pound at a recent auction.

We knew that coffee passing through the civit cat was a thing, but now we learn that coffee passing through an elephant is an even bigger thing (scroll to the end of the list):

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First step in the elaboration process

This coffee is made from Arabica beans by the Black Ivory Coffee Company in Thailand. Similar to civet coffee, it is prepared by elephants that consume the Arabica coffee beans and process them during digestion. Their stomach acid breaks down the bean proteins and provides a characteristic robust flavor to the drink. This coffee is rare and expensive because only a small amount of beans are available at any time. You need to shell out about $50 for a cup of black ivory coffee which makes it currently the most expensive coffee in the world.

 

Plastic Reduction Via Straws Off The Menu

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The switch will affect McDonald’s 1,361 outlets in Britain but not the rest of its 36,000 restaurants worldwide. Photograph: McDonald’s/PA

Most of the stories we link out to are examples of revolution, or at least incremental innovation, by way of market forces. At a time when there appear to be incentives for sliding backwards, it is even more important to highlight the rationality and logic of conservation. One small but important example here on the plastic reduction front, where the clientele of a large company take the lead:

McDonald’s to switch to paper straws in UK after customer campaign

Fast-food chain, which uses 1.8m straws a day, says plastic straws will go by 2019

McDonald’s will end the use of plastic straws in its British restaurants next year, after nearly half a million people called on the company to ditch them.

The decision by the US fast-food chain to switch from plastic to paper straws follows a trial at a number of outlets in the past two months. The firm uses around 1.8m straws a day in the UK.

The switch will affect McDonald’s 1,361 outlets in the UK, but not the rest of its 36,000 restaurants worldwide. Continue reading

Resilience, Greece & Reasonable Questions

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Tourism is Greece’s biggest foreign currency earner. Photograph: Costas Baltas/Reuters

Nearly forty years ago I was in Greece for the second time. I accompanied my mother on a visit to the village where she was born and had lived until her teens. We had spent an extended period in that village ten years earlier, and into my child’s mind it had imprinted vivid memories that, by 1979, were as fresh as the smell of bread baking in the stone oven of that village home. And now, that re-visit with my mother is as vivid as can be, and even has a sound track. That album had just been released and someone in the village had a cassette tape of it, and it played from the sound system of a Volkswagen Beetle, doors open, as we had a meal overlooking the mountains.

I have had one opportunity to bring to Greece the sustainable tourism development tools I have been working with since the mid-1990s. This recent story in the Guardian, too short to truly appreciate the scale of the questions raised, is a welcome reminder to me of the work to be done in a place I care deeply about.

Greece tourism at record high amid alarm over environmental cost

With 32 million visitors expected this year, fears grow that the country cannot cope

Greece is braced for another bumper year. The tourists will not stop coming. For every one of its citizens, three foreign visitors – 32 million in total – will arrive this year, more than at any other time since records began.

It’s an extraordinary feat for a country that has battled with bankruptcy, at times has been better known for its protests and riots and, only three years ago, narrowly escaped euro ejection. Tourism is the heavy industry that has helped keep catastrophe at bay.

But is Greece almost too successful for its own good? Tourist numbers have increased by an additional two million every year for the past three years. Arrivals from China alone have doubled since 2017. But with forecasts predicting record numbers over the next decade, a growing number are asking: can Greece really cope? Continue reading

Reducing Our Intake Is The Only Answer

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Cattle at an illegal settlement in the Jamanxim National Forest, state of Para, northern Brazil, November 29, 2009. With 1,3 million hectares, the Jamanxim National Forest is today a microsm that replicates what happens in the Amazon, where thousands of hectares of land are prey of illegal woodcutters, stock breeders and gold miners. Photograph: Antonio Scorza/AFP/Getty Images

The argument made below by Damian Carrington, the Guardian’s Environment editor, is one nobody can hide from. We are not. Contributors on this platform have been reducing our intake of these forms of calories over the last couple years. We can report on its not being as difficult as it may sound at first to carnivores, ice cream aficionados and milk-drinkers. We are down some 40% and pushing the envelope further as fast as we can. It is not enough, relative to what these numbers say:

Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth

Biggest analysis to date reveals huge footprint of livestock – it provides just 18% of calories but takes up 83% of farmland

Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet. Continue reading

Aspirational Recycling & Bigger Problems

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Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

I recall reading this article by Livia Albeck-Ripka and thinking that I would like to read more from anyone who can write clearly and creatively about topics that are central to our purpose here. And so today, my wish was granted, twice. In this first one, I am introduced to a term, aspirational recycling, that I had not heard until now:

6 Things You’re Recycling Wrong

Can you recycle coffee cups or greasy pizza boxes? If you’re tossing things in the recycling bin out of sheer hope, you might be an “aspirational recycler.”

We have all done it: a greasy pizza box, a disposable coffee cup, the odd plastic bag. Sometimes, we want things to be recyclable, so we put them in the recycling bin.

Waste managers often call this wishful or aspirational recycling. But, unfortunately, putting these objects in with the rest of the recycling can do more harm than good. While rules differ in every municipality (check your local recycling website to find out what’s acceptable), we have picked out some key offenders to keep in mind.

Too many of these items will contaminate a batch of recycling. That means waste managers might not be able to find buyers for the materials — especially now that China, one of the world’s main importers of recyclable waste, has said it will reject shipments that are more than 0.5 percent impure. Contaminated loads could be sent to the landfill instead…

Same day, same publication, same author, an eye-opener for anyone who diligently follows all the rules made plain in the article above:

Your Recycling Gets Recycled, Right? Maybe, or Maybe Not

Plastics and papers from dozens of American cities and towns are being dumped in landfills after China stopped recycling most “foreign garbage.”

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Bales of recyclable waste in Seattle. American waste managers are struggling to find plants to process their recyclables. Credit Wiqan Ang for The New York Times

Oregon is serious about recycling. Its residents are accustomed to dutifully separating milk cartons, yogurt containers, cereal boxes and kombucha bottles from their trash to divert them from the landfill. But this year, because of a far-reaching rule change in China, some of the recyclables are ending up in the local dump anyway. Continue reading

Food For Thought & Thought For Food

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Enzo Pérès-Labourdette

The food for thought is by way of Curt Stager, a professor of natural sciences, who celebrates citizen science in a powerful ominously-titled op-ed:

Why care about this new silence of the bugs? An across-the-board decline in flying insects, if true, means that an entire sector of the animal kingdom is in trouble, representing an immense diversity of life-forms, from butterflies and beetles to hoverflies and damselflies. The eminent biologist Edward O. Wilson, who has spent much of his life studying ants, has warned: “If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.”

And the thought for food is also from an op-ed:

Why You Should Be Drinking Weird Wines

By Jason Wilson

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Alicia Adamerovich

…For years, the global wine industry had been devolving toward a monoculture, with local grape varieties ripped out in favor of more immediately profitable, mass-market types. There are 1,368 known wine grape varieties, but nearly 80 percent of the world’s wine is made from just 20 kinds of grapes. Many of the rest face extinction. Continue reading

Social Media Needs Rethinking

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It is so freshly pressed that there are no reviews to cite yet, but the author himself previewed the ideas here, which I remember reading and thinking that his big, important thoughts would get lost in the momentary hysteria of relatively small potatoes news (Cambridge Analytica) breaking at the time:

Be a pioneer – delete Facebook

Quitting means beating the addiction, making a political statement and redefining social life. Are you ready?

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‘Facebook deleters are indispensable. They should be celebrated. We all benefit from them.’ Photograph: GETTY IMAGES

When I wrote an about-to-be-published book last year about problems with social media, I thought it would be cute to call it Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now. And then the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, motivating a modest but notable wave of Facebook deletions in protest, including by prominent tech figures such as Elon Musk and Brian Acton, the co-founder of WhatsApp.

So much for the novelty of my book title. The biggest surprise was not the movement to delete accounts, but that the deleters have not been received well by pundits and commentators. The response has often been smug, dismissive, even scolding. Deleters are told they are abusing their privilege; that they are leaving behind the less fortunate, who cannot afford to quit. They are said to be abandoning society or distracting from the more important process of petitioning governments to regulate Facebook. They are accused of tilting at windmills

In early 2013 an article in Smithsonian first brought my attention to Jaron Lanier, and since then we have not featured him again on this platform, which is strange. I recall last year reading a short think piece by him, and listening to him, as he promoted an earlier book and finding him very compelling. Just today, he was back in the Guardian with another one-two punch of these ideas, in the effort to promote this new book. The book’s title tells me that even though I am already a convert to the basic principle, I want to know how he explains these ten ideas. And I admit I am susceptible to publishers’ blurbs when written by someone I respect: Continue reading

Make Your Opinion Known About New Labeling For GMOs

 

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The USDA has released several options for what the labels might look like.
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If the questions and concerns surrounding GMOs are of interest to you, then in the next six weeks you have a unique window of opportunity. Until July 3 you are invited to share your opinion with the folks responsible for these label design options to the right. Thanks to our friends at the salt (National Public Radio, USA) for bringing this to our attention:

USDA Unveils Prototypes For GMO Food Labels, And They’re … Confusing

Foods that contains genetically modified ingredients will soon have a special label.

We recently got the first glimpse of what that label might look like, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its proposed guidelines.

This is the product of a decades-long fight between anti-GMO campaigners and Big Agriculture companies, which left neither side completely satisfied, as NPR has reported.

After Congress passed a bill in 2016 requiring labels on foods containing GMO ingredients, the USDA launched a long process to figure out the specifics. When it asked for feedback, it received 112,000 responses from consumers, farmers and manufacturers, among others.

The result? Continue reading

Nonetheless, Arabica

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PHOTO COURTESY OF PRAKASH MATADA

I have spent most of the last year expanding my coffee knowledge. One thing I was already confident about, and remain so, is that arabica is better than robusta on two scales that matter most to me: taste, and environmental impact. From 2010-2017 during our residency in the Western Ghats, we developed and opened a series of properties where both taste and environmental impact were brand signatures formed in Costa Rica.

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 Instituto del Café de Costa Rica

With regard to coffee, I knew there was more than one good reason why Costa Rica only permits arabica coffee to be grown in the country. And we sourced the highest grade arabica coffee produced in the Western Ghats as much as we could.

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A Malabar pied hornbill, one of 204 species of bird found on coffee plantations in a new study, which found that the tree cover from shade-grown coffee farms provides a welcome habitat for all kinds of animal species. Credit Shashank Dalvi

I took to India a conviction that robusta coffee was to be avoided, but a few months ago started learning otherwise. Today I have read an article that reminds me to keep rethinking.

Thanks to Jason Daley in Sierra magazine for this look at the same scientific findings as those I first read in February in the New York Times,  (as I drink an organic arabica that I am sampling from a roaster in Atlanta, and even with this news about robusta I expect to remain committed to arabica for my own consumption, as well as our commercial purposes):

Which Coffee Is Better for Biodiversity?

A new study shows sun-loving robusta coffee doesn’t have to hurt biodiversity

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Alexandrine parakeet | Photo courtesy of Manish Kumarhoto

When coffee consumers think about the most sustainable way to manage their caffeine habit, they normally think about the cup it’s in—is it recyclable? But what about the coffee itself? Some coffee plantations require clear-cutting—will drinking one type of coffee have a bigger impact on the environment than another? Continue reading

What To Say About Amazon?

Click below for the second episode of the podcast I mentioned last week. The answer to the question, whether Facebook is fixable, was a surprise. Although we use that platform, if passively, to promote entrepreneurial conservation in our businesses, I personally chose not to have an account. It was only recently that I began appreciating the value of that decision. Now, something similar with Amazon, for which I have had equal measures of awe and wariness. This episode helps me understand the details that make my instinctive wariness insufficient.

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Some time later this year, Amazon could become the first trillion-dollar company in American history. Its valuation has already doubled in the last 14 months to about $800 billion, and Jeff Bezos, its founder and CEO, is officially the richest man on the planet.

There are ways in which Amazon seems to be the greatest company in American history. It’s revolutionized the global shopping experience and expanded into media and hardware, while operating on razor-thin margins that have astonished critics. But some now consider it the modern incarnation of a railroad monopoly, a logistics behemoth using its scale to destroy competition.

So what is Amazon: brilliant, dangerous, or both?