Because there's so much bad news, and most of the trendlines are going the wrong direction, it's important remind ourselves of the fundamentals that support us, and to celebrate and build on successes. The best way to feel better is to do something such as creating art, (a special kind of art plus action and often humor is Culture Jamming), making something, saying something. Humor helps. See also [
New and Cool page is often encouraging.
Altruism vs reductionist Darwinism. (audio)
What the World Could Be shows that our daunting challenges can be countered by simple decisions by all of us.
Denmark Is the Happiest Country on Earth! You'll Never Guess Why.
Wise words on activism as the best antidote to denial and despair.
Marty Kaplan: (video) I have children. I have to be an optimist. The globe has children. We have to be optimists. There is no choice. What is the alternative? If you are a pessimist, well, the most you can do, I suppose, is medicate yourself with the latest blockbuster and some sugar, salt, and fat that's being marketed to you. The only responsible thing that you can do is say that individuals can make a difference and I will try, we will try, to make that. See Activism.
Good News Network has stories like this one about rescuing deer.
World map of visionary projects that provide hope (From Discovery and Amex)
PBS Global Focus special segment on Denmark, which bought wind energy industry the US abandoned and is now the world leader. Includes segment on Samso Island, which is now carbon neutral after ten year effort.
Doctors Without Borders has a new secret weapon against malnutrition, peanut butter!
Tipping Point: sometimes change can come very quickly in unpredictable ways and from very small beginnings.
Flying Balloon House inspired by the movie Up.
Acts of Hope: Challenging Empire on the World Stage by Rebecca Solnit (see also her "explaining trilogy" and books below).Rebecca Solnit's “Acts of Hope,” was expanded into her book Hope in the Dark. It was written to welcome that “darkness” which seemed already to be enveloping us. It was written with a sense of how the expectable unravels, of how the future surprises us, often enough with offerings not of horror but of hope. New installment: What Comes After Hope 5/13.Bigger Than That (The Difficulty of) Looking at Climate Change 11/13. The Arc of Justice and the Long Run: Hope, History, and Unpredictability 12/13.
All That We Share: A Field Guide to the Commons shows how communities are reclaiming shared spaces and resources to better the economy and the environment.
Burning Riversis about four urban-industrial rivers in North America that were so polluted they have in the past actually caught fire. Their condition then is described, as is the work taken to restore them, an encouraging and instructive account of how man's destructive effect on the environment can be overcome.
A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution makes two basic arguments in their book, which they summarize as follows: First, people cooperate not only for self-interested reasons but also because they are genuinely concerned about the well-being of others, try to uphold social norms, and value behaving ethically for its own sake. People punish those who exploit the cooperative behavior of others for the same reasons. Contributing to the success of a joint project for the benefit of one’s group, even at a personal cost, evokes feelings of satisfaction, pride, even elation. Failing to do so is often a source of shame or guilt.
Second, we came to have these “moral sentiments” because our ancestors lived in environments, both natural and socially constructed, in which groups of individuals who were predisposed to cooperate and uphold ethical norms tended to survive and expand relative to other groups, therefore allowing these prosocial motivations to proliferate.
Altruism vs reductionist Darwinism. audio
Age of Empathy Is it human nature to be greedy and selfish? Primatologist Frans de Waal doesn't think so. In his new book "The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons For a Kinder Society" de Waal says empathy and solidarity are our primate heritage. Audio interview.
Dr. Laurie Santos is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Yale University whose research proves people are hard-wired to cooperate (video). Ecological Intelligence by Daniel Goleman link makes a similar argument.
Related: Keltner maps the physiology of kindness at the Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley, California, exploring the ways we are wired to feel compassion, love, empathy, and gratitude. “We are very cynical about the better inclinations of human beings,” Keltner says of the dim view that posits human beings as inherently selfish, individualistic, and competitive. “But that is half the story.” As Keltner writes in Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life (Norton, January 2009), studying positive emotions like gratitude, amusement, awe, and embarrassment reveals a more optimistic picture of human nature. Google HQ talk.
Hope Walks into a Bar Looking for Change is a fast-moving tale on the open road that attempts to learn if hope can emerge from change. In the summer of 2009, I took a twenty-year-old Jetta christened the Little Red Engine that Could on a fossil fuel free trip around the United States. She ran on biodiesel and I ran on greasy gas station potato chips with occasional bean dip for protein's sake. Kelly Calvert will speak at TEDx.
Progress Paradox Greg Easterbrook (Google book online)
Mark Hertsgaard spoke at College Eight about the difference between hope and optimism. It's hard to be optimistic when the data trends in the environment are nearly always going the wrong way. Hope is the province of the heart, and it often comes from seeing what we have accomplished when the chips are down, and from seeing what amazing individuals and small groups can do, often with very few resources. We'll collect those here. Send your nominations! mailto:email@example.com
Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit (who also recommends twelve other books that can change the world. Her new book, A Paradise Built in Hell excerpt, argues that natural and man-made disasters can be utopias that showcase human solidarity and point the way to a freer society, according this stimulating contrarian study. Democracy Now interview on book
Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World by Alan Weisman.
Paul Hawken has created a searchable database of many thousands of organizations who are working on social and environmental justice, as well as related concerns (this short video explains this). He thinks these constitute a new kind of unstoppable social movement. The book Blessed Unrest is the result. Introduction "Emerson's Savants" explores connections between Emerson, Thoreau and Gandhi.
In The Social Conquest of Earth, biologist and naturalist Edward O. Wilson writes of how humans and insects conquered the Earth by forming complex societies based on group cooperation, and he discusses the evolutionary struggle between our altruistic and selfish natures. aidio interview 4/12.
Portugal filmmaker Gonçalo Tocha produced the inspiring short film The Trail of a Tale, which is a monologue of a letter from the future written to our recent past, telling us that the world, “It turned out right.” ***
U2 head man Bono on ending poverty has good news, including on Sub-Saharan Africa. G2 phones fighting corruption.
Dr. Laurie Santos is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Yale University whose research proves people are hard-wired to cooperate (video). Ecological Intelligence by Daniel Goleman link makes a similar argument.
A Thousand Suns tells the story of the Gamo Highlands of the African Rift Valley, one of the most densely populated rural regions of Africa yet its people have been farming sustainably for 10,000 years. The film explores the modern world's untenable sense of separation from and superiority over nature and how the interconnected worldview of the Gamo people is fundamental in achieving long-term sustainability, both in the region and beyond.
A Fish Love Story TEDtalk video
How Poachers became Caretakers TEDtalk video
Envisiongood.com has video interviews with a collection of people with interesting ideas.
Book Burro! In rural Colombia, a man is bringing knowledge to hundreds of farm children on the back of a burro. A librarian, he travels far and wide to hand out books.
Engineer Michael Pritchard invented the portable Lifesaver filter, which can make the most revolting water drinkable in seconds. An amazing demo from TEDGlobal 2009.
Larry Brilliant on social entrepreneurs.
The Big Picture, why complexity matters. Rees TEDtalk
Robert Wright: How cooperation (eventually) trumps conflict. Tedtalk
Willie Smits: A 20-year tale of hope: How we re-grew a rainforest. TEDTalk video.
Altruism vs reductionist Darwinism. Radiolab
Farmers in Burkina Fosa are fighting global warming (audio with Mark Hertsgaard).
Greg Mortenson, Co-founder, Central Asia Institute; Co-author, Three Cups of Tea; Author, Stones in Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Local radio interview. Interview on PBS 1/10 (with video).
Cleaning Up the Ghost Fleet. For decades, dozens of retired Navy and merchant ships have been slowly decaying in Suisun Bay, leaking pollution into the waters northeast of San Francisco. After years of trying to get the federal government to address the situation, environmental groups sued in 2007, and yesterday they announced a settlement NPR CA Report. 4/10
New Record-Breaking Solar Device Could Be Game-Changer for Powering Homes: Australian researchers have set a new world-record 22 percent conversion efficiency for artificial photosynthesis (hydrogen).
Amazing New Process Treats Wastewater, Captures Carbon and Makes Renewable Energy: An electrochemical reaction that absorbs more CO2 than it releases while creating renewable energy could transform emission-heavy industries. 8/15.
Coal is no longer king in America. That’s the latest findings from the U.S. Energy Information Administration; it lost its number one spot as the nation’s top electricity source for the first time on record this April. See Fossil Fuels 7/15.
Ford Motor Co. will soon unveil a sun-powered vehicle. The C-MAX Solar Energi Concept is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle with solar panels on the roof that allow the car to recharge itself. The vehicle’s total range is 620 miles, and it can travel 21 miles using only electric power from the sun. “By tapping renewable solar energy with a rooftop solar panel system, C-MAX Solar Energi Concept is not dependent on the traditional electric grid for its battery power" 3/15.
Certified Naturally Grown: A New Way to Identify Pesticide-Free, Non-GMO Food: Naturally grown farming, considered to be the grassroots alternative to certified organic agriculture, requires a national certification by the CNG. The CNG conducts rigorous oversight to assure that all food labeled Certified Naturally Grown is grown without the use of synthetic chemicals or GMOs, being used by a growing number of small farmers who cannot afford the expense of getting an organic certification from the USDA. 3/15.
Food Forest is pretty much what it sounds like: “A woodland ecosystem that you can eat,”mimics how a wild forest works, but swaps in species that are edible or otherwise useful to humans and other animals. 3/15 surplus given away.
China Suspends Ivory Imports, But African Elephants Still In Danger Of Extinction 3/15. Ringling bros phase them out too.
How One Community Is Kicking The Koch Brothers' Harmful Black Dust Out Of Their Neighborhood Chicago’s struggling southeast side on the banks of the Calumet River, where the steel plants that used to give residents of a mostly Hispanic neighborhood access to a middle-class lifestyle were replaced, nearly two years ago, with black dust called petroleum coke (“petcoke”) piled five or six stories tall. 2/15. See Fossil Fuels.
Global Divestment Day: A Huge Success with more than 400 events in 48 countries spanning six continents, including UCSC, put on by Fossil Free, a project of 350.org— bringing people together to stop the fossil fuel industry in its tracks.
Biggest ice cream maker Breyers won't use milk with synthetic hormones; the controversial hormone rBST. The artificial growth hormone, which stands for recombinant bovine somatotropin, is a genetically engineered hormone that farmers inject into cows to increase milk production. It’s controversial because it’s been linked to a slew of health problems in cows, and consequently, humans who drink the cows’ milk. 2/15 see GMO.
It's Official: California Bans Plastic Grocery Bags 10/14.California Bans Plastic Bags . The bill, which passed both houses of the California State Legislature now heads to the Governor’s desk. If signed, California will become the first state in the U.S. to ban what advocates call “the most ubiquitous consumer item on the planet.” 9/14 see Plastic.
U.S. Solar Industry Had Record-Shattering Year in 2013 up 41% 3/14.9/14 update see Solar.
How Morro Bay went from a national disaster to a sustainable success story/model for cooperation. 7/14.
How a Solar-Powered Water Wheel Can Clean 50,000 Pounds of Trash Per Day From Baltimore’s Inner Harbor 6/14 see Plastic.
Could whale-watching replace whaling in Japan? The newly created Japan Whale and Dolphin Watching Council will promote marine mammal eco-tourism, offering a lucrative alternative as Japan loses its taste for hunting wild cetaceans. 6/14 see Whales.
Obama proposes vast expansion of Pacific Ocean sanctuaries for marine life (EPA stepped up on coal too, which will reduce acidification and mercury) 6/14 See Ocean.
Hydrogen refueling stations to hit Bay Area by end of 2015. Toyota is in. 5/14. See Hydrogen. includes UCSC cutting edge research on using sun to make it from sewage.
Baykeeper recently helped scuttle proposals by developers for two dangerous new facilities to export dirty coal from the Port of Oakland. Coal breaks apart easily, forming dust that contains mercury, arsenic, uranium, and other toxic substances. Transporting millions of tons of coal in mile-long open car trains to the port, and then loading it onto ships, would send toxic dust into the Bay. It would also further pollute the air of nearby communities already suffering from disproportionate pollution. 3/14.
Energy Game Changer? Scientists Turn Algae into Crude Oil in Less Than an Hour. They have taken 60 minutes to do what Nature does -– at great pressures and temperatures -– over millions of years. see Bio-fuels.
Hole In Ozone Layer Expected To Make Full Recovery By 2070: NASA because of international treaty that could be a model for global warming fight 12/13.
The End of the Conflict-Creating Oil Age Is Coming Into View -- Here's What the Future Looks Like.
For energy efficiency, Americans deserve a big thumbs-up By John Upton. America’s population and economy are both growing, yet its energy appetite is falling. That’s because of substantial energy-efficiency gains made in recent decades. Those gains are helping the country reduce oil imports, save money on power bills, and move toward meeting a goal set by President Obama of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent between 2005 and 2020. The news is laid out in a Natural Resources Defense Council report cheerily titled America’s (Amazingly) Good Energy News.10/13.
GOP EPA administrators William D. Ruckelshaus, Lee M. Thomas, William K. Reilly, and Christine Todd Whitman, call for climate action. 8/13
Biochar, a substance that a small but growing number of scientists and private companies believe could enable extraction of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at a meaningful scale.
California utility customers installed a record-breaking 391 megawatts of solar power systems last year. That was a banner year for the nation’s largest photovoltaic rebate scheme, with installations up 26 percent compared with 2011.
|San Onofre nuclear power plant to be closed permanently|
Southern California Edison announced Friday it is permanently shutting down the troubled San Onofre nuclear plant, ending the region's four-decade venture into nuclear energy production. The decision caps a 16-month debate about San Onofre's future but leaves the utility and state regulators grappling with who will ultimately pay more than $1 billion in costs.
One key question is whether Edison's ratepayers will see their bills increase as a result of either the shutdown or the need to purchase more expensive imported electricity to make up for what was lost from San Onofre. Edison cited the mounting costs of the outage as the driving reason for retiring the plant.
The decision to close the plant for good means state officials must now move ahead with plans for a long-term energy future without the facility that once supplied power to about 1.4 million homes. The shutdown also means that 1,100 workers at the plant will lose their jobs. The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station has been closed for more than a year after a tube in its newly replaced steam generator system leaked a small amount of radioactive steam into the atmosphere. More
|Native People and British Columbia stop big tar-sands pipeline|
|6/3||The Canadian province of British Columbia has come out in formal opposition to a plan for a massive pipeline system that would carry bitumen from Alberta's tar-sands fields to a coastal port, pointing out the significant dangers of oil spills. But we're not talking about the Keystone XL pipeline here. We're talking about Enbridge's Northern Gateway project, a pair of pipelines proposed to carry tar-sands oil west across B.C. to a port in the town of Kitimat -- effectively a backup system in case America rejects Keystone XL. A new shipping terminal in Kitimat would feed oil onto ships headed for Asia.More|
NYC tp get a million trees: According to the Los Angeles-based environmental nonprofit, Tree People, “Neighborhoods and homes that are barren have shown to have a greater incidence of violence in and out of the home than their greener counterparts. Trees and landscaping help to reduce the level of fear.” And they also help the economy by increasing property value by 15-percent, and commerce areas with many trees and landscaping around stores see an increase in business, according to studies. 6/13
|Solar panels could destroy U.S. utilities, according to U.S. utilities|
Solar power and other distributed renewable energy technologies could lay waste to U.S. power utilities and burn the utility business model, which has remained virtually unchanged for a century, to the ground. That is not wild-eyed hippie talk. It is the assessment of the utilities themselves. More
|Whole Foods will grow rooftop greens in a Superfund site|
By Sarah Laskow
The Whole Food site in Gowanus, Brooklyn, doesn't look like much yet. Actually, in general, Gowanus doesn't look like much these days -- it's a once-industrial neighborhood that's increasingly being taken over by pickling factories and music studios. You can walk whole blocks without passing by much except maybe a coffin wholesaler, and then hit upon a corner where there's a pie place, a barbecue joint, and a home-brew shop.
It also smells bad, fairly often. Because this is where the Gowanus Canal is, and that’s still a Superfund site. The city's sewage system still dumps overflow into it during storms. It is actually possible, if you're lucky, to see poop float by.
So, here comes Whole Foods, a company that likes to talk about being local and green, and on top of its new, big store here, it's going to build a rooftop farm. A 20,000-square-foot rooftop farm.More
|Gene discovery could breed veggies for a warmer planet|
By Susie Cagle
The nearly $2 billion lettuce industries of California and Arizona are likely to get mighty wilted as temperatures in those hot states continue to rise. But science is here to save the day -- with GMOs.
A research team with USDA and National Science Foundation funding has identified a lettuce gene and enzyme that make the plants stop germinating when it's too hot -- so now scientists hope to tweak those lettuces to grow even when they naturally wouldn't. Currently growers have to cool soil and seeds with extra cool water, at great expense. The study, published in the journal The Planet Cell, was a collaboration between scientists at India's Ranga Agricultural University, the University of California at Davis, and scientists from Arcadia Biosciences. more
|An urban farming oasis is saved from the bulldozer blade|
By Laura Onstot
There is one thing no gardener wants to hear: “Don’t plant this spring.” But that’s the word Angela Stanbery-Ebner received in February while plotting out the year’s crops at her garden in urban Cincinnati. No tomatoes this year, no chard, no selling at the farmers market, no community-supported agriculture operation run by neighborhood youth for low-income families.
Stanbery-Ebner’s garden, known as the Eco Garden, isn’t your standard backyard fare. It’s an agricultural oasis in a Cincinnati neighborhood better known for its crime than its heirloom carrots. Unfortunately for the Eco Garden, it doesn’t own the land on which it sits, the city does. This year, as part of its initiative to encourage urban development — known as CitiRama — the city started eyeing it for housing.
When the gardeners got the news, “we were basically devastated,” Stanbery-Ebner says. Out went the emails, an online petition, and calls to the city council in an effort to save one of the most vibrant corners of a rough-around-the-edges neighborhood. more
|Dean Kamen's Slingshot Aims To Bring Fresh Water To The World|
A recent invention called the Slingshot could provide freshwater to those with some of the most limited access. Inventor Dean Kamen, best known as the man behind the Segway, has partnered with Coca-Cola to place his machines throughout developing nations in Africa and Central America in hopes of eliminating the millions of deaths each year related to waterborne disease.
More than 783 million people don't have access to clean water and 37 percent don't have access to sanitation facilities, facts highlighted by the UN during World Water Day last week. The device can take any form of potentially contaminated liquid and distill it into something safe to drink -- by evaporating the water and then condensing the steam, leaving pathogens behind. Kamen even joked in a 2008 interview with Steven Colbert that the Slingshot could sanitize a 50-gallon drum of urine. More
|Whole Foods, Trader Joe's And Others Vow Not To Sell GMO Fish|
If it gets final approval from the Food and Drug Administration, the salmon would be the first genetically engineered animal to enter this country's human food supply. The United States already is the world's largest market for foods made with genetically altered plant ingredients. AquaBounty says its "AquAdvantage Salmon" can grow to market size in half the time of conventional salmon, saving time and resources. The fish is essentially Atlantic salmon with a Pacific salmon gene for faster growth and a gene from the eel-like ocean pout that promotes year-round growth.
Critics say such genetically modified products are not sufficiently tested for safety, carry allergy risks and should be labeled. Proponents disagree and say the products are safe.
|Green Job Growth Outpaced All Other Industries 2010-2011|
For people looking to put their finances in the black, a new report suggests they may be wise to look green.
That's according to a report released Tuesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that breaks down employment in green goods and services through 2011. As first pointed out by the LA Times, the report shows "green jobs" growing from 2010 through 2011 at a rate 4 times faster than all other industries combined.
The BLS defines green jobs as those that produce goods or services "that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources," or jobs "in which workers' duties involve making their establishment's production processes more environmentally friendly or use fewer natural resources."
As of 2011, green jobs accounted for 2.6 percent of all jobs in the economy, for a total just north of 3.4 million jobs. Construction lead the charge in the private sector, with an employment increase from 7.0 to 8.9 percent (slightly more than 100,000 jobs) between 2010 and 2011.
|A Green Pope?|
|3/18||VATICAN CITY, March 19 (Reuters) - Pope Francis on Tuesday issued a strong appeal for the protection of the environment and the defence of the weakest members of society, urging the world to shun, "the omens of destruction and death".
"It means respecting each of God's creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about," he said in the homily of his inaugural Mass.
Francis, the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina, took his name in honour of St. Francis of Assisi, a symbol of poverty, charity and love of nature. (Reporting By Philip Pullella and Catherine Hornby)
|Wind power is poised to kick nuclear’s ass|
|3/15||In 2012, wind energy became the fastest-growing source of new electricity generation in the U.S., providing 42 percent of new generation capacity, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Wind power is becoming so cheap and so commonplace that it appears poised to help blow up the country's nuclear power sector, according to a recent Bloomberg article (which you really should read in full). More|
|GMO fail: Monsanto foiled by feds, Supreme Court, and science|
It’s been a good week if you enjoy a little GMO schadenfreude. The FDA has reportedly bowed to public pressure to extend the comment period on its approval of genetically engineered salmon, and Illinois, Maryland, and Iowa are the latest states to buck GMOs by introducing labeling bills into state legislature.
Even the Supreme Court has an opportunity to take Monsanto down a peg. On Feb. 19, the court will hear arguments in a patent infringement case between an Indiana farmer and Monsanto . If Monsanto prevails, it’ll move a few more paces towards agricultural monopoly; if it loses, the company will take a couple steps back. It’s encouraging that the Supreme Court chose to hear the case over the solicitor general’s urging to dismiss it, but Monsanto could have an inside man: As in other Monsanto-related cases, former Monsanto-lawyer-turned-Supreme-Court-Justice Clarence Thomas has no plans to recuse himself. But GMOs took the biggest punch this week from academia: Tom Philpott highlights a USDA-funded study [PDF] by University of Wisconsin scientists who found that several types of GMO seeds (including Monsanto’s RoundUp Ready varieties) actually produce a lower yield than conventional seeds.
|New Global Warming Legislation, CA leads again|
Comprehensive legislation to reverse climate change was introduced in the Senate on Thursday by Sens. Bernie Sanders and CA's Barbara Boxer. She is chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. He sits on that panel and the Senate energy committee. “The leading scientists in the world who study climate change now tell us that their projections in the past were wrong; that, in fact, the crisis facing our planet is much more serious than they had previously believed,” Sanders told a news conference in the environment committee hearing room. Under the legislation, a fee on carbon pollution emissions would fund historic investments in energy efficiency and sustainable energy technologies such as wind, solar, geothermal and biomass. The proposal also would provide rebates to consumers to offset any efforts by oil, coal or gas companies to raise prices.
|As U.S. Carbon Dioxide Footprint Falls, Report Looks at Ways to Continue Emission Decline|
...New data indicates carbon dioxide emissions in the United States in 2012 dropped to their lowest levels since 1994. The report found expansion of renewables, increased efficiency and the increased availability of unconventional natural gas all contributed to the reduction in climate pollution. In fact, by the end of last year carbon dioxide emissions were down about 10.5 percent from 2005 levels. Further progress toward President Obama's goal of cutting emissions 17 percent before 2020 may be attainable without Congress. According to a new report from the World Resources Institute, the U.S. could meet the target by combining actions at the state and federal levels. This includes new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations for limiting carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, with the report recommending the administration use the Clean Air Act to do so. It also points to curbing methane emissions from natural gas operations and improving energy efficiency in home appliances and industry to achieve additional emission reductions.
|12/24||In 2011, the EPA proposed a new standard for the reduction of mercury pollution from power plants. (It is currently under review.) Over the weekend, 140 countries — including the United States — finalized a preliminary agreement to go one step further, proposing to scale back and eliminate a number of uses of mercury, including reductions in emissions from power production. From the United Nations Environment Program:
[The new reductions] range from medical equipment such as thermometers and energy-saving light bulbs to the mining, cement and coal-fired power sectors.
The treaty, which has been four years in negotiation and which will be open for signature at a special meeting in Japan in October, also addresses the direct mining of mercury, export and import of the metal and safe storage of waste mercury. …
Mercury and its various compounds have a range of serious health impacts including brain and neurological damage especially among the young.
|California is turning this industrial town into a car-free oasis|
|12/24||I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Newark, Calif., but it’s not exactly a shining gem in California’s crown. It’s marshy and railroad-yardy and John Steinbeck-y. And usually when they decide to develop a place like that, some jerk just comes in and covers the place with a bunch of cheap freestanding single-family homes where everyone has to drive three miles to do anything and the cycle of wasteful American suburban ennui just continues apace. Well, Newark ain’t going out like that. Newark is going to become a sustainable paradise.|
|Obama doubles size of California marine sanctuary, adorable otters rejoice|
By Susie Cagle
President Obama has proposed that more than 2,700 square miles off the coast of Northern California be added to the national marine sanctuary system, which would protect the area from oil and gas drilling permanently. It would be the biggest addition to the 40-year-old system in 20 years, doubling the total protected sanctuary area. The otters are so excited you guys. More
|For the first time, cities see a drop in childhood obesity|
|12/10|| Good, unexpected news on the childhood obesity front, at long last. From The New York Times:
After decades of rising childhood obesity rates, several American cities are reporting their first declines.
The trend has emerged in big cities like New York and Los Angeles, as well as smaller places like Anchorage, Alaska, and Kearney, Neb. The state of Mississippi has also registered a drop, but only among white students. The drops are small, just 5 percent here in Philadelphia and 3 percent in Los Angeles. But experts say they are significant because they offer the first indication that the obesity epidemic, one of the nation’s most intractable health problems, may actually be reversing course.
Part of the decline is due to children no longer eating massive chunks of cheesePart of the decline is likely due to children no longer eating massive chunks of cheese.
Before you start printing up flyers crediting your co-op and/or chicken coop, know this: It’s not entirely clear why the drop is happening. The first dips — noted in a September report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — were so surprising that some researchers did not believe them. …
Researchers say they are not sure what is behind the declines. They may be an early sign of a national shift that is visible only in cities that routinely measure the height and weight of schoolchildren. The decline in Los Angeles, for instance, was for fifth, seventh and ninth graders — the grades that are measured each year — between 2005 and 2010. Nor is it clear whether the drops have more to do with fewer obese children entering school or currently enrolled children losing weight. But researchers note that declines occurred in cities that have had obesity reduction policies in place for a number of years.
|Nearly 50 percent of new electricity generation capacity added in 2012 was renewable|
|12/7||By Philip Bump
Every month, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission puts out a report called the “Energy Infrastructure Update” [PDF]. It is done in Microsoft Word by someone whose first priority isn’t aesthetics.
But it does contain interesting information! Among which, this time: From January through October, 46.2 percent of new electricity generating capacity added in the U.S. was renewable.
|Oregon wolf in California moves to lower ground|
PORTLAND, Ore.—The Oregon-born wolf looking for a mate in the wilds of Northern California has moved to lower ground as winter approaches.
California Department of Fish and Game program manager Karen Kovacs told The Oregonian (http://bit.ly/XA8mPt) that winter storms lashing the high country south of Lassen Peak have forced deer to lower elevations, and the wolf known as OR-7 has followed. His satellite-tracking collar has shown him in oak-chaparral woodlands east of Red Bluff, Calif. Kovacs said this is his first foray into that kind of habitat.
The wolf gained celebrity after leaving its home ground in northeastern Oregon more than a year ago and journeying hundreds of miles across eastern Oregon, down the Cascade Range to Northern California in search of a mate. Shortly after he left, the state put a death sentence on two members of his pack for killing cattle, but that has been held up by a lawsuit brought by conservation groups. He has managed to stay out of trouble and nearly out of sight. People have spotted him or his tracks only a few times.
|Could clones save California’s endangered redwoods — in Oregon?|
According to new research published in the journal Science, the California redwoods, American pines, Australian mountain ash trees and other living giants are in danger of being lost forever if we don’t change how we treat them. Just as large-bodied animals such as elephants, tigers, and cetaceans have declined drastically in many parts of the world, a growing body of evidence suggests that large old trees could be equally imperiled.
From The Bangkok Post:
The study showed that trees were not only dying en masse in forest fires, but were also perishing at 10 times the normal rate in non-fire years. The study said it appeared to be down to a combination of rapid climate change causing drought and high temperatures, as well as rampant logging and agricultural land clearing. “It is a very, very disturbing trend,” said Bill Laurance of James Cook University...
Large old trees play critical ecological roles, providing nesting or sheltering cavities for up to 30 percent of all birds and animals in some ecosystems. Some people are now taking action to save the remaining redwoods and repopulate West Coast forests with new-old trees. In Santa Cruz, activists are trying to raise millions to purchase a section of old-growth forest. And this week in Oregon, the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive began planting 250 clones from 28 of California’s biggest, oldest redwoods and sequoias on the southern Oregon coast. From the Associated Press:
David Milarch, co-founder of the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive and the Champion Tree Project, hopes the small plantation south of Port Orford, Ore., will give the ancient giants a leg up on moving north to cooler climes as the climate changes and be the start of a campaign to plant some of the world’s fastest-growing trees all around the globe …
|A grocery store for the people planned for West Oakland food desert|
|11/21||Brahm Ahmadi spends a lot of time thinking about something most people take for granted: grocery stores.
But it hasn’t always been this way. As one of the founders of the nonprofit People’s Grocery in West Oakland — the Bay Area’s most notorious food desert — he and his colleagues started out with more affordable, less ambitious projects, like a mobile food delivery service and a local community-supported agriculture (CSA) box. But it quickly became clear — as several grocery chains tried to enter the neighborhood and failed, and residents were left relying on corner stores or taking long trips by public transportation to other neighborhoods — that the area needed a reliable, independent grocery store.
“Residents said, ‘What you’ve brought to the neighborhood is great, but it’s far from a complete solution,’” Ahmadi recalls.
So, he left People’s Grocery, spent time in business school where he became an expert on community grocery stores, and then secured a matching grant from the California FreshWorks Fund for around a third of the funding. Ahmadi then hatched a plan to raise the remaining $1.2 million needed to start the People’s Community Market through what’s called a direct public offering. In other words, he’s inviting California residents to invest in fresh food — literally. For a mere $1,000, anyone in the state can become a shareholder. More
|Hawaii's solar power flare-up: Too much of a good thing?|
By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times WAILUKU, Hawaii — On an island whose stock in trade is sun, and lots of it, Lawrence and Cindy Lee figured they'd be foolish not to join their neighbors and put a few solar panels on the roof.
The Lees called one of the solar contractors racing around Hawaii these days, and put in their order. Eleven months later, in October — after endless consultations, emails and a $3,000 study required by Maui Electric Co. — they were still waiting for a permit.
"Instead of it being like they want to help you get your solar system in," Lawrence Lee said, "it's more like they don't want you to."
Solar power has grown increasingly popular across the U.S. Sun Belt, but hardly anywhere has it taken hold as it has in Hawaii. Friendly tax credits, the highest average electricity rates in the nation and the most aggressive renewable energy program adopted by any state have sent homeowners scrambling to install photovoltaic systems on their roofs.
The number of solar power systems across the island state has doubled every year since 2007, with nearly 20,000 units installed. But with homeowners and businesses now producing nearly 140 megawatts of their own power — the equivalent of a medium-size power plant — and solar tax credits biting seriously into the state budget, Hawaii legislators and electrical utilities are tapping the brakes.
Solar tax credits cost the state $173.8 million this year in foregone revenue, up from $34.7 million in 2010, prompting state tax authorities to announce this month that they will temporarily cut the tax credit in half, effective Jan. 1.
Hawaiian Electric Co. on Oahu, which oversees subsidiary utilities on Maui and the Big Island, has warned that the explosion of do-it-yourself solar could threaten parts of the power grid with the possibility of power fluctuations or sporadic blackouts as the power generated by homeowners — unpredictable and subject to sudden swings — exceeded output from power plants in some areas.
So rapid is the growth that Hawaiian Electric at one point proposed a moratorium on solar installations, a plan that met with immediate outrage and was quickly withdrawn. But utilities are requiring expensive "interconnection" studies, such as the one the Lees had to do, in solar-saturated areas to analyze what impact a new unit is going to have on the utility system before it can connect to the grid.
|A Plan to Go Halfway Around the World, Fueled by Plastic Trash|
By BETTINA WASSENER
HONG KONG — Sometime in the next few months, a single-engine Cessna will fly from Sydney to London. Converted to be able to carry extra amounts of fuel, the small plane will take 10 days for its journey, making 10 or so stops along the way.
What will make this journey special is not the route or the identity of the pilot — a 41-year-old British insurance industry executive who lives in Australia — but the fuel that the aircraft will be using: diesel processed from discarded plastic trash.
“I’m not some larger-than-life character, I’m just a normal bloke,” the pilot, Jeremy Rowsell, said by phone. “It’s not about me — the story is the fuel.”
The fuel in question will come from Cynar, a British company that has developed a technology that makes diesel out of so-called end-of-life plastics — material that cannot be reused and would otherwise end up in landfills.
Batches of the fuel will be prepositioned along the 17,000-kilometer, or 10,500-mile, route.
“The idea is to fly the whole route on plastic fuel alone and to prove that this technology works,” Mr. Rowsell said. “I’m a kind of carrier pigeon, carrying a message.”
The message of the project is twofold: to highlight the issue of plastic pollution and to publicize the possibility of using plastic trash as a valuable fuel resource.
As Mr. Rowsell put it: “We have a whole bunch of waste kicking about. So instead of sending it to the landfill, let’s use it.”
Durable, cheap and lightweight, plastic erupted onto the world stage in the 1950s. Designers and engineers recognized its usefulness for industries as diverse as bottling, construction, aerospace and retailing. Since then, global output of plastic has ballooned, reaching more than 300 million tons last year, according to the trade association PlasticsEurope.
The problem is that the vast majority of plastic — perhaps 85 percent — is not reused or recycled. Most ends up in landfills or, worse, the oceans, where the swelling mass of disintegrating plastic now poses a serious environmental threat. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calls marine debris “one of the most pervasive pollution problems facing the world’s oceans and waterways.”
|Age-Old Fixes for India’s Water|
By CHERYL COLOPY
INDIA’S monsoon rains are retreating this week, a delayed end to a yearly wet season that has become ever more unpredictable as a result of global warming. Of all the challenges that face India, few are more pressing than how it manages water. In vast cities like New Delhi, where showers and flush toilets have become necessities for a rapidly expanding middle class, groundwater has been depleted. New Delhi once had many ponds and an open floodplain to absorb the monsoon and replenish aquifers; now the sprawling city has more concrete and asphalt than it has ponds and fields to absorb water.
India’s capital has come to rely for half its water on dams in the Himalaya range that capture monsoon runoff. But the dams disrupt the ecology of the Himalaya, South Asia’s precious watershed. Much of the waste from New Delhi’s overwhelmed sewage treatment system ends up in the Yamuna River, one of the main tributaries of the Ganges, which winds down from the Himalaya and flows 1,500 miles across India to the Bay of Bengal. Combined with under-regulated industrial effluents, urban waste has turned India’s mythic and misused rivers into cesspools.
In the countryside, where a vast majority of Indians still live, a combination of free electricity and inadequate regulation has led farmers to deplete untold groundwater supplies. In some places the water table is so low it no longer helps sustain roots, so even more water must be pumped up. In addition, soils have been degraded by chemical fertilizers, so they require even more water.
But in some parts of India, communities are turning to “rainwater harvesting,” capturing rainwater in ponds and allowing it to percolate into the ground to feed wells and springs. Such techniques were once commonplace throughout the South Asian subcontinent, where rain falls for only a few months in the summer monsoon, and often not at all for the rest of the year. Now villagers are returning to these ancient methods to secure the future. More
|A Barrier for South Texas Wildlife|
By MELISSA GASKILL
A line of 18-foot-high steel posts spaced four inches apart flank the entrance of part of one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in the United States, and one of the most endangered. Bifurcated by the fence is the Nature Conservancy's Southmost Preserve near Brownsvillle, Tex., whose threatened species include the Southern yellow bat, the Texas tortoise and the ocelot, an endangered cat whose estimated American population is under 50. One of the few remaining stands of native sable palms in the United States grow there as well.
The posts are part of a 70-mile "pedestrian barrier" between Falcon Dam and the Gulf of Mexico that was built to deter illegal immigration and drug trafficking. It lies anywhere from hundreds of yards to several miles north of the border. Before construction started in 2009, experts expressed concern about the effects of the fence on so-called wildlife corridors in the Rio Grande Valley. Now they are taking stock of the impacts.
"All wildlife roam along corridors," said Laura Huffman, director of the Texas branch of the Nature Conservancy. "These are nature's highways. Any time you put an obstacle in a highway, it's going to affect mobility, the ability of animals to move back and forth." At the Southmost Preserve, the bottom of the fence is pierced by 8-by-11-inch openings every 500 feet.These aren't large enough for many animals, biologists say, nor were they positioned on the basis of existing data on wildlife corridors.
"Smaller animals - young coyotes, weasels, jackrabbits - can get through the holes, but larger animals can't," Ms. Huffman said. "The wall seems to have caused changes to movement patterns of many wildlife. We're seeing tracks of deer and javelina where we weren't before. I suspect they are having to follow along the fence to attempt crossings." The federal Fish and Wildlife Service has used cameras and collars to monitor bobcats in the Rio Grande Valley for more than 12 years. So far it has no evidence that bobcats are using the openings.
Ms. Huffman said the wall also seems to have changed some animals' movement patterns. "We're seeing tracks of deer and javelina where we weren't before," she said. "I suspect they are having to follow along the fence to attempt crossings." For the ocelot and the jaguarundi, another small cat, interbreeding between populations on both sides of the Rio Grande river is considered ciritical to maintaining genetic diversity. Officials at the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, which spans 90,000 acres in 115 separate units, have also expressed concern about the barrier's effect on an already fragmented landscape.
|Texas grandmother arrested for trespassing on her own land to protest Keystone XL Pipeline|
By Philip Bump
Daryl Hannah got arrested yesterday while blocking TransCanada’s construction of its Gulf Coast tar-sands pipeline. But the more interesting story is that Eleanor Fairchild was arrested, too. Who’s Eleanor Fairchild? a 78-year-old grandmother and landowner. No one you’ve heard of. The important part isn’t who she is, it’s why she was arrested and where she was when it happened. Fairchild was arrested for trespassing. And when it happened, she was standing on her own property. More
|Out on the Prairie, Moon, Music and Lectures, Too|
By KATHRYN SHATTUCK
SALINA, Kan. — On the final weekend of September, a pregnant moon illuminated the 600 acres of pasture and test plots at the Land Institute on the outskirts of this central Kansas city, just beyond the western fringe of the tall grasses of the Flint Hills. Up from the banks of the Smoky Hill River, a fiddle band sawed into the night as nearly 200 couples do-si-doed and galloped through a wooden barn. At the crest of a nearby hill, still more revelers warmed themselves by a bonfire inside a giant hedge circle as musicians dueled softly at its perimeter. And across the institute’s orchard and prairie hundreds of visitors erected tents, the better to commune with nature’s myriad species...
Each autumn for 34 years, during its annual Prairie Festival, this nonprofit research organization has become a Mecca of sorts for those whose passions run to sustainability, farming and feeding the world....For two days, Friday evening through Sunday afternoon, lectures and walking tours, interspersed with art installations and musical performances, focused on climate change, agricultural practices and what the institute’s president, Wes Jackson, called “getting over the hump” in the use of carbon-based energy sources.
Informal estimates placed this year’s attendance at more than 1,200, an increase of nearly 20 percent over 2011, with participants from as far away as Tokyo. Local participation was strong, too — stronger than in the institute’s early days, when its longhaired devotees unnerved some of the more conservative Kansans with their tendencies to Dumpster dive and feast on roadkill. Mr. Jackson, a plant geneticist who co-founded the institute in 1976, calls the festival “an intellectual hootenanny,” where ideas collide with music, art, food like bison chili, and bread and beer made from Kernza, the institute’s trademarked perennial wheatgrass.
But the democratic casualness of the environment — listeners sprawled on hay bales, children frolicking on the hillside — belied the seriousness of purpose as college hipsters and wizened hippies shared space with revered scientists and conservationists like David Orr, an environmental studies professor at Oberlin; Fred Kirschenmann, a distinguished fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University who is also the president of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, N.Y.; and Douglas Tompkins, who has preserved more than two million acres of wilderness in Chile and Argentina...This year Mr. Jackson paid tribute to his longtime friend and sounding board Wendell Berry, the literary voice of the agrarian community, who philosophized on the 35th anniversary of his seminal book, “The Unsettling of America: Culture & Agriculture,” which addressed rural and small-town landscapes at a time when environmentalism was still focused on the country’s wilderness. more (See also Food)
|Marine Energy Projects Pick Up Momentum|
By BETH GARDINER
LONDON — Hopes of harnessing the churn and flow of the seas to generate power are pushing forward work in the small but growing tidal and wave energy industry. Despite a tough investment climate, proponents expect the technologies to begin contributing significant amounts of clean energy to power grids around the world within a decade.
Tidal energy technology harvests power from the rise and fall of the sea caused by the gravitational forces of the Moon and the Sun and the rotation of the Earth. Wave power systems harness the energy of surface waves.
The immense force of the tides has long tantalized those hoping to harvest energy from them, but although a few small projects are operational, the technical barriers are high. Two distinct technologies exist — traditional dam-based plants and more recent “tidal stream” generators, built like underwater windmills. But tidal dams can be ecologically harmful while in places suitable for tidal stream plants, currents can sometimes be so strong that they risk destroying the generating turbines.
Capturing energy from waves may be even trickier. But proponents say that if wave projects are successful, the energy available for harvest would be even greater than with tidal stream power, which requires particular physical conditions, like a narrows where water runs quickly. While not as predictable as the tides, waves can be anticipated several days in advance as they move across the sea, and they tend to be strong in winter, when demand for electricity is high.
Most tidal stream power projects are still in the testing phase — the first to deliver energy to the U.S. grid went on line last month — and wave energy is even further behind. Costs are far higher than for more-established renewable sources like wind and solar, largely because equipment must be strong enough to withstand the force of the seas, and maintenance workers have to brave tough marine conditions.
But “there is a huge prize, and therefore it is worth going for,” said Tim Yeo, a Conservative lawmaker in the British Parliament who heads the Commons’ Energy and Climate Change Committee.
|F.T.C. Issues Guidelines for ‘Eco-Friendly’ Labels|
By EDWARD WYATT
WASHINGTON — Companies wishing to market their products as “eco-friendly” or good for the environment had better have data to back up the claims, the Federal Trade Commission warned Monday, laying out guidelines for so-called green marketing. The commission said it was updating its environmental marketing guidelines for the first time since 1998 because the number of companies employing them had grown substantially, while the claims themselves had become more ambiguous.
The guidelines are included in the F.T.C.’s Green Guides, which were first issued in 1992 and revised in 1996 and 1998. The commission proposed further revisions in 2010, and those are now final in the 314-page publication released Monday. In surveying consumers, the F.T.C. found that products that were promoted as “environmentally friendly” were perceived by consumers to have “specific and far-reaching” benefits, which, the government says, they often did not have.
“Very few products, if any, have all the attributes consumers seem to perceive from such claims, making these claims nearly impossible to substantiate,” the commission said. Commission officials said they did not intend to discourage companies from emphasizing their legitimate claims to environmental benefits or commitments to sustainable practices. “Most marketers are honest,” Jon Leibowitz, the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, said in a news conference Monday to announce the new guidelines. “They are not in the business of lying to consumers. But what we need is a little more clarity.”
|UCSC awarded $4.5 million NSF grant for renewable energy research|
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a five-year, $4.5 million grant to UC Santa Cruz to fund a cooperative research and education program on renewable energy involving universities in the United States and Denmark. The project addresses the technical, social, and economic aspects of community-scale renewable-energy microgrids.
"The issues of how to integrate renewable energy sources like wind and solar power with the existing electrical grid have not been fully explored. It's not just a technical problem, because the technical issues are coupled with the economics and sociology of how people use energy," said principal investigator Michael Isaacson, the Kapany Professor of electrical engineering in the Baskin School of Engineering at UC Santa Cruz. In addition to UC Santa Cruz, the primary partners in the program are UC Davis and two Danish institutions, Aalborg University and the Technical University of Denmark.More
|Eight People Climb Trees And Start Indefinite Tree Sit to Stop Keystone XL|
|9/13||Eight people climbed 80 feet into trees in the path of Keystone XL construction, and pledged not to come down until the pipeline is stopped for good. Construction cannot proceed until tree-sitters descend and TransCanada clear-cuts through hundreds of trees to make way for the toxic tar sands pipeline.
The blockade is carefully organized to ensure that everyone sitting in the trees can remain safe as long as TransCanada does not attempt to continue clear-cutting the trees. These ardent advocates of landowner’s rights and climate justice have the safety equipment and food supplies to last indefinitely. Their banner: "You shall not pass!"
“Today I climbed a tree in the path of Keystone XL to demand TransCanada stop construction of this dirty and dangerous pipeline. This pipeline is a disaster for everyone it touches, from the cancer tar sands extraction is causing indigenous communities, to the water poisoned by inevitable tar sands spills, to the landowners whose land has been seized, and to everyone that will be affected by climate change,” said Mary Washington, one of the Tar Sands Blockade members sitting in a tree. More
|Shell gives up on Arctic drilling (until next year)|
|9/13||Our story, to this point:
Shell buys the rights to some oil fields in the Arctic. It asks the U.S. government if it can drill there. The government says, Yeah, OK, drill. But: Don't pollute the air while you do it, and you have to make sure you can prevent a spill with a robust prevention device. Oh, and you have to be done by Sept. 24, because that's when the ice comes back. Shell mumbles under its breath and agrees. Shell heads on up to the Arctic, whistling that song from Snow White....(related: Green SF energy) More
|Delhi Plastic Bags Ban Begins Next Week|
NEW DELHI (AP) — The government of India's capital is hoping that a strict ban on plastic bags will help the environment. An engineer with Delhi's government says that starting next week, the manufacture and sale of all types of plastic sheets and bags will be banned in the city, citing their environmental dangers.
B.M.S Reddy said Wednesday that the ban will include shopping bags, garbage bags and all kinds of plastic film and storage packets. Only plastic bags required for medical waste will be exempt. In 2009, Delhi banned the use of plastic shopping bags, but authorities have had little success enforcing the ban. Plastic bags also pose a risk to the thousands of cows that roam the city and end up swallowing them while foraging for food in Delhi's open garbage dumps. Link
|Sea Otters May Be Fighting Climate Change|
Sea otters might be on the frontlines of the fight against global warming, according to a new study showing the fur-coated swimmers keep sea urchin populations in check, which in turn allows carbon dioxide-sucking kelp forests to prosper. Researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz, looked at 40 years of data on otters and kelp blooms from Vancouver Island to the western edge of Alaska's Aleutian Islands. They said they found that sea otters have a positive indirect effect on kelp biomass by preying on sea urchins. The study, published September 7 in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, found kelp forests can absorb 12 times more carbon dioxide with otters around than if the plant were subject to sea urchins...
"Right now, all the climate change models and proposed methods of sequestering carbon ignore animals. But animals the world over, working in different ways to influence the carbon cycle, might actually have a large impact," UC Santa Cruz professor Chris Wilmers, a co-author of the study, said in a statement. "If ecologists can get a better handle on what these impacts are, there might be opportunities for win-win conservation scenarios, whereby animal species are protected or enhanced, and carbon gets sequestered."
|Shark Fining Ban Complete|
Some much-needed good news for sharks has come from Venezuela this week: The South American country announced it is banning shark finning in its waters and has established a new shark sanctuary. The country became the last in the Americas to outlaw the practice of cutting off the fins of live sharks and tossing the animals back into the ocean to slowly die.
The country also has created a sanctuary where several important shark species breed, outlawing commercial shark fishing there. The sanctuary consists of 1,440 square miles (3,730 square kilometers) of the Caribbean Sea surrounding the Los Roques Archipelago, a popular tourist destination with pristine beaches and coral reefs, according to a statement from the Pew Environment group.
|The new new hydropower: Small-scale turbines have big potential|
|6/8||Canals are ecologically barren channels built for the utilitarian purpose of draining rainwater and snowmelt away from rivers and delivering it to farmers, factories, and homes. But something unusual has been lurking in an irrigation canal in rural Washington that promises to turn these concrete water conveyors into climate-friendly power plants.
A bright yellow turbine resembling a 15-foot roll of Scotch tape was dropped into the gushing waterway near Yakima, Wash., in March to generate cheap, renewable electricity while emitting no carbon. More
|New York bans big soda|
|6/1||Well, that didn’t take long. Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced yesterday that NYC would be banning sugary drinks if they came in containers bigger than 16 ounces. And today, the American Beverage Association is pushing back with an ad that says, basically, “Do not believe that science over there! Believe this science that says soda is tooootally fine for you.” Link|
|Hawaii Plastic Bag Ban|
|5/18||While there are plenty of bans on plastic bags at the city level in the US, with the approval of a ban of plastic bags at point of sale in Honolulu county, Hawaii becomes the first state in the nation to have outlawed plastic bags at every locale in the state.
Surfrider is cheering the move, which bans all non-recyclable paper bags and all non-biodegradable plastic bags at store checkout counters, effective July 1, 2015. But based on KHON 2's reporting on what sorts of plastic bags will still be allowed, under exemption, it's not hardly a total ban on plastic bags at all. More
|Coal Use Down|
|5/14|| Here is a bit of energy-use news to feel good about: Americans are using a lot less coal.
In the first quarter of this year, the portion of the country's electricity that came from coal was almost 20 percent less than in the same period last year. And overall, the Energy Information Administration predicts, coal consumption in the electric sector will decrease by 14 percent this year.
Of course, there's a reason for this, as Stephen Lacey explains at Climate Progress, and the reason is natural gas. Natural gas is cheap, cheap, cheap, so now we're burning that instead of coal.More
|Super-polluted city tries to clean itself with smog-eating paint|
Manila is one of the world’s five dirtiest cities, but graffiti? That’s not a problem. It’s not that people don’t paint on the walls in the hyper-polluted Philippines capital, because they do. But they do it with a paint that actually eats smog out of the air.
The catalytic paint, called Boysen KNOxOUT, reacts with light and water vapor to filter out nitrogen oxides. An environmental scientist interviewed in this BBC video says it can scrub out 20 percent of polluting nitrogen.
Manila is deploying the paint in the form of massive murals, which are both beautiful and, because of their size, effective. Eleven square feet of paint-covered surface can absorb as much pollution as a full-grown tree, and these murals are close to 11 THOUSAND square feet. If we could get this stuff into the hands of street artists and taggers, it would be like having an army of energetic teenagers planting trees all over the city all day, every day.
|Born to Bee Wild|
In 2009, lifelong beekeeper Dan Harvey faced an existential crisis when he lost much of his honeybee stock to colony collapse disorder (CCD). So the former Vietnam-era Special Forces veteran did what came naturally: He took to the deep dark woods of the Pacific Northwest, searching for answers to his predicament.
Harvey began by hunting for wild and feral bees living near his home in Port Angeles, Wash. (These bees have escaped from commercial colonies and find refuge in the tall timber and glens enveloping the Olympic Peninsula). For years, he crossbred the feral bees he captured with honeybees in order to produce hybridized hives that would be well-suited to the dank climes of the temperate rainforest region.
Then one day Harvey discovered an isolated hive full of bees he claims are highly resistant to Nosema ceranae, a pathogen and debilitating fungus considered one of the many threats related to CCD.
“The fungus would lodge in their gut, making the digestion of pollen impossible, leading to die-offs,” Harvey explains. But since he’s introduced the wild bees, his colonies have been on the rebound — no small feat in today’s bee climate. Now, three years after the initial crossbreeding took place, the offspring are proving themselves to be survivors.
At a time when honeybee populations are dwindling, and bees continue to abandon doomed hives, and the link to agricultural pesticides is stronger than ever, news of these disease-resistant bees has resulted in local and national media coverage.
According to the Department of Agriculture, CCD has accounted, at least in part, for 30 percent of bee losses annually, since 2007  More
|Modern-day DeLorean? Airplane runs on trash|
|4/27||Adventure-seeker Andy Pag aims to obtain funding and become the first person to fly a trash-fueled plane from one end of the U.K. to the other. His aircraft, a microlight plane, will be powered by gasoline made from un-recyclable plastics like bags and packaging.
The fuel is made by a British company using Fischer–Tropsch synthesis–a process of making synthetic fuel that dates back to before WWII. Pag says the fuel is worth highlighting because it produces limited CO2, and reduces the volume of plastics that otherwise would go to landfills. More
|Wind Turbine makes Water|
If you’ve ever watched water drip out of a window air conditioning unit, you’ve seen the operating principle of Eole Water’s new wind turbine in action. Tests of the turbine in Abu Dhabi have yielded between 500 and 800 liters of water a day, and the company thinks it can get it up to a cool 1,000 liters — not bad for a desert.Eole’s turbine runs a compressor that condenses water from the air, and the 30 kilowatts of power it simultaneously produces allow it to pump that water to a reservoir. More
|Fungi can eat pollution right out of the soil|
|4/2||Fungi are freaking amazing: Give them enough time and they will eat anything, even the toxins spread over polluted sites around the world. Mohamed Hijri, a professor at the University of Montreal, figured — why wait for nature to take its time neutralizing the damage we’ve done to the planet? Why not urge it along? And so he started identifying the fungi and microorganisms that do the best job at cleaning up toxins.
Fast Company explains: Working with a Montreal oil company responsible for several toxic sites, Hijri has collected a biological clean-up team that can turn what’s basically a moonscape into something habitable (at least by some species) over the course of just a few years. First, willow trees are planted in dense stands to soak up the heavy metal contamination and store it in the plant’s cells. Then, each season, the trees’ stems and leaves are burned, creating an ash residue full of heavy metals. Finally, specially selected (but naturally occurring) fungi and bacteria are released to metabolize the petrochemical waste. Even a highly contaminated soil, says Hijri, can be cleaned within a few seasons. And then we can make cars out of them! Truly, it is the circle of life. [Fungi can eat pollution right out of the soil Links]
|Can the University of California make campus food sustainable?|
Fast food joints offer a quick and easy fix for hungry, busy students on college campuses. But at the University of California, they’ve also become a target for student activists intent on shifting their schools’ large dining budgets away from less healthy, industrially produced food and toward more sustainable options.
“Focusing on food is how a lot of students get passionate about issues of sustainability, some of which aren’t that sexy,” says Matt St. Clair, a former student activist who now manages all aspects of sustainability for the UC system (see their comprehensive policy on sustainable practices [PDF]), which spans across 10 campuses and five medical schools. In addition to working on the less sexy aspects of the shift, like energy efficiency and waste reduction, St. Clair has put food at the top of the list. Along with students, staff, and administrators, he is working to prioritize local, organic, and fairly produced food, while creating a policy that could have a huge impact on their burgers, tacos, and stir fry — if it’s executed right.
By 2020, 20 percent of the purchases made in UC dining facilities and fast food franchises on all campuses must meet one or more of 16 sustainable food criteria set by the Real Food Challenge, a national activist network focused on steering American colleges and universities toward sustainability. The Real Food Challenge list includes criteria such as: USDA certified organic, cage-free, grass-fed, fair trade, Marine Stewardship Council, and other third-party sustainable certifications. It also prioritizes “locally grown” — a factor that doesn’t always mean that much on its own in California...
But UC Santa Cruz educator and activist Tim Galarneau, who proposed the sustainable food goals back in 2004, sees the “local” criteria as a good place for conventional suppliers to start to engage larger environmental and labor issues. He believes that St. Clair and the sustainable food steering committee, which is still under development, will then be in a position to inch the bar higher. More
|Consumer Pressure Spurs Campbell's to Announce Phase-Out of BPA|
Succumbing to public pressure to eliminate the use of bisphenol A (BPA) (a suspected endocrine disruptor) found in baby bottles, plastic bottles and in the lining of food containers, Campbell's announced at a February shareholder meeting that it will begin to phase out the use of BPA in its soup can linings.
The phase out is a huge victory for groups such as the Breast Cancer Fund (BCF), Healthy Child Healthy World (HCHW), the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and Consumers Union that have been campaigning to limit the use of BPAs in the United States for many years.
In its 2008 report on "potential human reproductive and developmental effects of bisphenol A," the National Toxicology Program stated, "some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A." More
|Surrogate-mom housecat gives birth to endangered kitten|
|3/2||This kitten,(really cute picture on link) born in 2011, is an endangered black-footed cat, one of the first black-footed kittens born to a surrogate mother, using frozen embryos and in vitro fertilization. Now he and his littermate have a sister, Crystal, with the same genetic parents, but a different surrogate mom — a plain old housecat.
The African black-footed cat is one of the world’s smallest felines, and the cats are tiny but fierce hunters — they can kill hares that outweigh them. They can also range far from water, finding hydration from their prey and dew they lick off of grass. But none of this general feline badassery has kept the species from becoming severely endangered — there are only 40 in captivity worldwide.More
|Grassroots winS in coal|
Update: EPA will regulate Co2 to get rid of new coal plants. Earlier this week, Edison International announced that they would shut down the Fisk and Crawford coal plants -- a victory for the books! After ten years of gritty and determined grassroots work, communities in Chicago triumphed over the corporate polluter in their back yard. On the same day, citizens in Ohio, New Jersey and Pennsylvania celebrated the announcement that Houston-based GenOn would shut an additional 7 plants, including the Portland Generating Station where Greenpeace worked with NJ and PA residents to demand clean air for their community. The Chicago Sun-Times sums up the day brilliantly in their editorial, "Credit grass-roots effort for victory over pollution."
It was encouraging to see Mayor Emanuel step up and engage in negotiations to shut down Fisk and Crawford. Responding to public pressure, he demonstrated leadership that is all too lacking at all levels of government. Corporate polluters have bought their way into the hearts of congressmen and regulators, leaving the task of holding the coal industry accountable to grassroots organizations across the country. But it should not have to take a ten-year campaign to close century-old coal plants. People shouldn't be forced to sacrifice their time and energy -- let alone their health -- to secure clean air and water for their communities. Link
|DOE-funded battery breakthrough to halve cost, triple range|
|2/24||A new breakthrough from California-based Envia Systems will yield lithium-ion batteries that are less than half the cost of current cells, while also having three times the energy density. And guess who funded it? The Department of Energy. That’s right: Sometimes, when the government invests in innovation, it pays off moon launch-big.
Envia’s announcement said that its packs would deliver cell energy of 400 watt-hours per kilogram at a cost of $150 per kilowatt-hour. Though it doesn’t disclose a cost breakdown, Tesla Motors rates the energy density of its Roadster’s pack at 121 watt-hours per kilogram. Envia said its energy-density performance was verified in testing of prototype cells at the Naval Service Warfare Center’s Crane evaluation division.
Envia’s breakthrough happens to match the price/performance point that some analysts consider the “holy grail” of battery characteristics required for mass commercialization. Which means that within a decade or so, cars like the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt could be as popular as iPads. more
|Court holds factory farm accountable for water pollution|
|2/14||The world’s third-largest toy manufacturer is going to be putting “made with wind power” labels on all those boxes of LEGOs, and not just because they bought their power from utilities with wind turbines. Kirkbi A/S, the family holding company that owns LEGO, will be buying actual wind turbines representing fully a third of an offshore wind farm, reports Reuters.
“This investment supports the Lego Group’s ambitious environmental goals,” Kirkbi Chief Executive Soren Thorup Sorensen told Reuters. “This also provides a solid long-term investment for us with a reasonable return.”
LEGO’s share of the 277-megawatt Borkum Riffgrund 1 wind farm, which will be finished in 2015, should provide all the energy the company needs through 2020. Considering that LEGO produces 19 billion bricks every year, that’s a surprisingly efficient use of wind power. More
|A Win against poachers|
|2/24||Authorities in North Sumatra, Indonesia, have sentenced an illegal owner and trader of orangutans to a seven-month prison sentence, the first time an actual prosecution has taken place since orangutans were deemed a protected species in 1924, according to a press release issued today by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
The illegal trader, a man from Mardinding in the province of North Sumatra, was allegedly trying to sell a three-year-old orangutan named Julius, according to the release.
Last July, wildlife rescuers from a number of a conservation organizations teamed up with the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry to conduct a raid on the man's home and confiscate Julius, who is now being cared for at an orangutan quarantine center along with 50 others.
The rescue effort was part of the National Orangutan Conservation Strategy and Action plan, launched in 2007 by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, the majority of Indonesia's illegal pet orangutans were captured after the forests they called home were cleared to make way for palm oil plantations. Others were sold by agriculture workers who caught them raiding crops in areas that had been converted to farmland. More
|Algae whiz: Growing protein with fewer resources|
Protein is directly tied to resource intensity. Vegetarians choose a meatless path to cut down on the vast quantities of land, water, nitrogen, and pesticides required to produce most livestock feed. And many meat eaters are thinking strategically about the greenest sources of animal protein. But what if animals didn’t require pound upon pound of industrially grown corn or soybeans to grow?
One solution might be algae. That’s right -- pond scum has promising potential as a source of animal feed, as well as human feed and fuel link
|Girl Scouts Win U.N. Award For Efforts To Save Orangutans By Eliminating Palm Oil From Cookies|
A pair of renegade girl scouts accepted a prestigious U.N. award in New York Thursday for their work bringing attention to the threat palm oil production poses to orangutans and the rainforest in Malaysia and Indonesia. Nominated for the award by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the U.N. Forest Heroes Award the scouts received is the first of its kind. "It is exceptional to be considered and we're both delighted, thrilled and humbled to win the award," Girl Scout Madison Vorva said in an interview with the Huffington Post.
Back in 2007, Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen started a five-year campaign to get Girl Scouts USA to ditch Southeast Asian palm oil from its girl scout cookie recipe. The ingredient is said to fuel deforestation as trees are clear cut for palm oil production, leaving orangutans with no forest to inhabit. The girls' slick lobbying efforts and social media campaign persuaded Girl Scouts USA and Kellogg to commit to introducing sustainable palm oil by 2015, a policy they announced last fall.
|Government will develop wind energy off the Atlantic coast|
|2/2||The federal government has opted to move forward with wind energy development off the coast of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia, and Virginia’s Republican governor for one could not be happier. Sure, the party line might be that alternative energy is stupid — but when you have the federal government actively hunting down corporate investors for development in your state, it tends to make you pretty optimistic about new technologies.link|
|Major Investors Show the Way on Climate Change|
Anyone who thinks the business world doesn't believe in acting on climate change should check out what's happening at the United Nations today. Some 450 global investors who control tens of trillion in assets are gathering for the Investor Summit on Climate Risk and Energy Solutions. These major financial players see opportunity in clean energy and efficiency. Take it from Alan Salzman, CEO of Silicon Valley-based VantagePoint Capital Partners.
Worldwide, clean energy investment has hit $1 trillion since 2004, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The U.S. solar industry grew more in the third quarter of 2011 than in all of 2009. And top investors are finding ways to price the risks of climate change, while developing financial mechanisms that encourage efficiency.
Investors have helped convince the Securities and Exchange Commission that corporations should disclose material climate-related risks. Last year, they introduced more than 125 shareholder resolutions pushing companies to improve their climate change strategies. And the 2011 Global Investor Statement on Climate Change was signed by the largest group ever to stress the urgent need for governments to scale up low-carbon investment and incentives. Despite these efforts, the global carbon footprint continues to grow. The climate continues to change, and signs of a warming world are everywhere, from rising sea levels to severe weather. More
|Slum residents get a giant escalator for Christmas|
|1/3||If you had $7 million to use on behalf of the residents of your poorest slums, how would you distribute it? For Medellin, Colombia, that’s a no-brainer: Blow the whole wad on a MONSTER ESCALATOR. Wait, wait! It’s actually a good idea.
The giant escalator helps slum residents get to their hillside homes from the city center -- a nonsensically steep climb of more than 1,200 vertical feet. To fully appreciate how radically this thing changes the landscape of the slums, you need to watch the video above -- the BBC reports that the moving stairway turned a more-than-30-minute hike into a “six-minute glide.” It’s essentially vertical public transit; like a train, it improves quality of life and makes commutes less soul-killing. But in Medellin it makes them less quad-killing too. More
|Group purchase gets residential solar to grid parity in Los Angeles|
Back for a second round, the Open Neighborhoods organization in Los Angeles has organized another group purchase of residential and commercial solar PV, bringing the lifetime cost of solar well under the cost of grid electricity even for individual homeowners.
The savings from the group purchase are enormous. With prices are around $4.40 per Watt installed for solar, Open Neighborhoods gets residential solar for $2 cheaper than the average residential-scale solar prices reported by the Solar Energy Industries Association for the second quarter of 2011. That equates to a 6-cents-per-kilowatt-hour savings on solar over 25 years. Even though solar power is typically cheaper in California than elsewhere in the U.S., the group purchase promises savings of as much as 33 percent on a residential solar array. More
|Obama, Clinton To Announce Energy Saving Program|
Enlisting former President Bill Clinton as a partner, President Barack Obama is announcing a $4 billion effort to increase the energy efficiency of government and private sector buildings, aiming for fuel savings and job creation at no cost to taxpayers.
The proposal, to be announced by Obama and Clinton on Friday, would upgrade buildings over the next two years with a goal of improving energy performance by 20 percent by 2020. The federal government would commit $2 billion to the effort and a coalition of corporations, labor unions, universities and local governments would undertake the other half.
The contractors who undertake the work would be paid with realized energy savings, thus requiring no up-front federal expenditure.
"Upgrading the energy efficiency of America's buildings is one of the fastest, easiest and cheapest ways to save money, cut down on harmful pollution and create good jobs right now," Obama said in a statement.More
|Last Ditch Effort to Stop XL Pipeline|
Update: Big protest in DC 11/6 by 350.org. More than 10K people encircled the White House, as President Obama said he will make final decision. WASHINGTON -- Environmentalists, union laborers, farmers and businessmen gathered in the nation's capital on Friday to take part in the State Department's final public hearing on construction of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, more than 1,600 miles to oil refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast.
The issue at hand is whether the project will win the approval of the State Department, which has purview over any infrastructure projects that cross a U.S. border and, having completed its final environmental assessment in August, has sponsored a slew of public hearings in states along the proposed route of the TransCanada pipeline. [This fight is seen as key in fighting global warming; the project will also benefit the Funding Fathers of the Tea Party movement, though they deny it].link
|Segway inventer's inflatble wind turbine|
|10/7||The inventor of the Segway, Dean Kamen (who has also worked on clean water and green energy) has come up with an idea for an inflatable wind turbine.
Its main advantage is that it's mobile: imagine parking your EV and sending your inflatable wind turbine up into the sky to charge it while you're at work. It could be moved to take advantage of the best winds as they shift, and, more to the point, It could also be mounted on top of a building or on the side of the road in order to double as a billboard.
|Germany has so much wind energy, they’ll pay you to take it|
|10/7||How much will switching to renewables raise your utility bill? How about NEGATIVE ALL OF IT? In Germany, wind and solar projects have regularly been generating so much surplus energy that utilities are paying consumers to take it off the grid. High winds -- although not that high, only 15 mph -- led to negative-price wind energy for nine hours on July 24, bringing Germany's total to 31 hours of below-zero-cost energy this year. More|
|Solar Decathlon in DC|
|9/30||...This is the fifth Solar Decathlon, a 10-day event featuring 20 teams of college students who have designed and built solar-powered homes. It's an educational and promotional endeavor, designed both to stoke public interest in solar technology (which, despite recent growth, still accounts for less than 1 percent of U.S electricity production) and prepare American kids for their future jobs laboring in the great clean-energy factories. Previous decathlons were held on the National Mall, where crowds could marvel at the "solar village" of gee-whiz houses temporarily installed in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol.
|Green Jobs exported (but not from CA)|
|7/8||The latest numbers from the Labor Department are out, and the jobs picture is ugly -- the private sector is stagnant, and government is laying off workers in droves. Good thing we've got our Yankee ingenuity and forward-thinking leaders to help us dig out of this hole! Except, oh wait, it appears we're busy exporting jobs in the only industries that are expected to experience significant growth in the 21st century....
more BUT: A new report offers more ammunition in the never-ending debate over green jobs. Next 10, a San Francisco nonprofit, published a survey Wednesday that shows that California's "core green economy" grew more than three times as fast as the state's old brown economy between 2008 and 2009. It's a trend that resembles the boom in software jobs since 2005.
"The green job data is significant because these jobs are growing in every region across the state, outpacing other vital sectors, and generating business across the supply chain," F. Noel Perry, Next 10's founder, said in a statement. "There are very few business sectors in a state as large as California that employ people across every region. The emergence of this vibrant Core Green Economy can be attributed to California's history of innovation, as well as our forward-looking energy and energy efficiency policies." Relying on state employment data, Next 10 calculates that some 174,000 Californians are employed in the core green economy. More
|Google's Clean Energy Report Reveals Innovations And Policy Could Help Economic Goals|
Google’s report, “The Impact of Clean Energy Innovation,” aimed to measure the potential effects of clean energy on both the energy landscape and the U.S. economy. The analysis was conducted by assuming that there were “aggressive hypothetical cost breakthroughs (BT) in clean power generation, grid-storage, electric vehicle, and natural gas technologies and compares them to Business as Usual (BAU) scenarios modeled to 2030 and 2050.”
They found that, when compared to BAU in 2030, aggressive energy innovation alone could grow the U.S. economy by over $155 billion in GDP/year, create over 1.1 million new net jobs, and save U.S. consumers $942/household/year. Not to mention the environmental and security benefits – this model could reduce U.S. oil consumption by over 1.1 billion barrels/year and cut U.S. total greenhouse gas emissions by 13%. In other words, aggressive clean energy innovation would not only help the environment, but also boost U.S. economic and security goals.More
|6/8|| A pioneer in battery research who already successfully launched a $350 million company to supply batteries to the likes of GE and Chrysler has done it again -- only this time, "it" represents the complete reinvention of battery technology as we know it.
This technology is in the research phase, but if it can be cost-effectively brought to market -- and there's every reason to believe that it could be -- it could revolutionize the way we store and transport energy, in the process fully replacing fossil fuels and especially oil.
The key to this new technology is that the metals that would normally be solids in a conventional battery have been broken into nano-size particles that are suspended in a liquid. The batteries, known as "semi-solid flow cells," store their power in a black gunk that looks like motor oil, which has earned it the nickname "Cambridge Crude." Because charge is stored in this liquid, it would be possible to "fuel up" an electric car with charged liquid electrolyte, just like fueling up at a conventional gas pump.More
|Costco to stop selling threatened fish|
It only took eight months for pressure from Greenpeace to make food-hoard purveyor Costco stop selling threatened fish. Twelve species that appear on Greenpeace's "red list" were also appearing on Costco's shelves. Activists finally made the wholesale giant revise its seafood policies, but first they had to open up economy-sized whoop@ss:
Over 100,000 people took action online -- sending messages to Costco's CEO demanding real progress. Thousands of concerned citizens downloaded our activist toolkit and participated in surveying Costco stores across the country. And, that's not all -- hundreds of phone calls were placed to stores, the Greenpeace airship flew over their headquarters and shoppers handed out informational flyers in front of stores on busy days.More
|New Food Pyramid|
|6/1|| Here's the USDA's new food guidelines, in an appropriate graphical form: the plate chart. (A pie chart would have too much refined sugar.) It lacks the mystical and ancient appeal of the food pyramid, but is perhaps more relevant to your daily food-eating life. (But is it kosher or something? Why is the dairy on a separate dish?) [Update: It's a glass of milk! I JUST got that.]
The take-home messages are:
|"Eat this fish to local extinction, please"|
|6/1||It's still hot to be an invasivore, chowing down on invasive species to help balance the ecosystem. Cleveland even had a food festival showcasing ways to prepare the delicious-sounding invasive plant garlic mustard. (This is going out on a limb, but ... maybe use it as a condiment?) But the lionfish is a particularly pesky (and potentially tasty) species, with its own "eat this fish to local extinction, please" campaign from NOAA. More|
Jaguar has announced plans to build a hybrid-electric supercar that goes from 0 to 60 in three seconds -- proving once again that green cars aren't just better for the environment; they're also substantially more bad-ass than the belching, muck-fueled dinosaurs they replace. More
|Nixing pollutants could save $76.6 billion in health care costs|
Between medical costs and lost productivity for parents, environmental illnesses in children cost $76.6 billion annually, says a new study in Health Affairs. That’s the cost of all illnesses that are correlated with exposure to pollutants and toxins. (Some of the associations are better-documented than others, but many -- like lead poisoning, which costs $50.9 billion annually -- are well-established.)Link
|Strawberry grower shows how to make a profit without poisons w/UCSC!|
|4/26||Along California's rugged coastal Highway One, just north of Santa Cruz, a yellow vintage pick-up truck and tidy rows of strawberries mark the entrance to the Swanton Berry Farm. Inside the cheerful farm stand, decorated with old photos of the region and fluttering United Farm Worker flags, locals gather at blue picnic tables, sipping coffee, eating strawberry shortcake, and chatting with Jim Cochran, the owner.
The air is scented with the first berries of the season. They're fresh and sweet, intensely red and fragrant, and firm -- not pumped up with nitrogen like most commercial strawberries. Cochran, 63, a silver-haired man with an easy manner and quietly fierce intelligence, takes evident pride in watching a visitor savor one. He was California's first organic strawberry grower, harvesting his initial crop more than 25 years ago.More
|CFLs are not a significant source of mercury, says EPA|
If you've heard that CFLs are lousy with mercury, you've heard wrong. In the past ten years, "reductions in the most used types of fluorescent lighting have decreased [mercury] content over the last decade by 60 - 80 percent," says Melissa Klein of the EPA.
Plus, Americans are recycling more of them than previously reported. A couple weeks ago we blogged a piece from the San Jose Mercury News declaring that CFL recycling rates in the U.S. were abysmal -- around 2 percent. Turns out that actually, no one knows how often these bulbs are recycled. Your neighbors could be recycling them at their nearest Home Depot or IKEA as you read this. You don't want to be left out, do you? (Check LampRecycle.org for your nearest recycling point.)
What's more, CFLs represent only a tiny fraction of the mercury released into the environment every year. According to Klein, the value is about 0.12 metric tons, total, or "about 0.1% of human-caused air emissions and releases to water." Link
|California solar has a sunny week|
It's only Tuesday but two milestones have been reached this week in the long march toward a carbon-free future. On Monday, BrightSource Energy became the first solar power plant developer to complete the financing of a large-scale project in two decades. The United States Department of Energy finalized a $1.6 billion loan guarantee BrightSource's 370-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System solar thermal power plant now under construction in the Mojave Desert in Southern California. (The feds initially had pledged $1.37 billion but threw in another $230 million Monday.) As the deal closed, Google announced it was investing $168 million in the Ivanpah project. The search giant had been an early investor in BrightSource but dramatically upped its stake with this latest investment.
"We need smart capital to transform our energy sector and build a clean energy future," Rick Needham, Google's director of green business operations, wrote Monday on the official Google blog."This is our largest investment to date, and we've now invested over $250 million in the clean energy sector," he added. "We're excited about Ivanpah because our investment will help deploy a compelling solar energy technology that provides reliable clean energy, with the potential to significantly reduce costs on future projects." ... Now to Tuesday's news. California Gov. Jerry Brown is scheduled to sign into law a requirement that the state's utilities obtain 33 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020...Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger previously had issued an executive ordering mandating that 33 percent standard, and regulators and utilities have been operating under the presumption that the target needed to be met. Still, executive orders are subject to revocation by a governor's successors. Brown's action enshrining the 33 percent standard into law sends a strong signal to investors, renewable energy entrepreneurs, and utilities. More
|Organic farming just as productive as conventional, and better at building soil|
|3/28|| Organic agriculture is a fine luxury for the rich, but it could never feed the world as global population moves to 9 billion. That's what a lot of powerful people -- including the editors of The Economist -- insist. But the truth could well be the opposite: It might be chemical-intensive agriculture that's the frivolous luxury, and organic that offers us the right technologies in a resource-constrained, ever-warmer near future.
That's the conclusion I draw from the latest data of the Pennsylvania-based Rodale Institute's Farming Systems Trial (FST), which Rodale calls "America's longest running, side-by-side comparison of conventional and organic agriculture." Now, Rodale promotes organic ag, so industrial-minded critics will be tempted to dismiss its data. But that would be wrong -- its test plots have an excellent reputation in the ag research community, and the Institute often collaborates with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service. More see how UCSC and California are leading the way.
|Forward-looking power utilities support EPA air toxics rule|
As Grist readers know, EPA recently released its proposed Air Toxics Rule, which would regulate the emission of mercury and other brain-warping, lung-destroying nasties. We're still in the public comment period, so the PR battle is in full swing.
Republicans and dirty utilities have raised Cain over the rule, screeching that it will be too expensive and cause blackouts and raise prices and anyway we don't have the technology to do this! Oh, the vapors.
Most of these objections are unfounded. See, for instance, this post on the reliability canard and this post on the technology canard. One thing the right has done extremely effectively, though, is to frame this as yet another battle of EPA vs. Industry, which is comfortable ground for them. So it's nice to see some companies pushing back.
A coalition of electric power companies -- including some of the nation's largest, representing 170,000 MW of generating capacity, 110,000 of it fossil fuel-based -- released a letter [PDF] today supporting the toxics rule. They say, "we expect compliance with the rule will promote economic growth, innovation, competitiveness, and job creation, all without compromising the reliability of our electric system." More see also free-market green.
|Laws of Nature Repealed|
Ok, not good news, but with sardonic humor, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) mocked today's markup of legislation to overturn the scientific finding that fossil-fuel pollution is causing dangerous climate change. Markey, who championed climate legislation that passed the House of Representatives in 2009, protested the energy subcommittee's consideration of the Upton-Inhofe bill to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency's rules on climate pollution, including its endangerment finding. More. On a more humorous note, Right-wingers are now pro-choice, but only for light bulbs. Here's everyone's favorite talking head, Stephen Colbert, on their move to save what they're now calling "traditional" bulbs (ah, yes, our storied national tradition of inefficient lighting! It's the core of what it means to be an American)video.
|3/3||Even though Libya does not produce that much oil (at least for US) gas prices are surging on worries about instability in the region. The fact that reform is sweeping the area (triggered by the sad suicide of a young man in Tunisia, and fostered through social networks, as well as good-old-fashioned organizing by labor and others) is a positive development, but could be problematic, at least in the short term. However, if it spurs us to kick our addiction to fossil fuels, it could be a real boon.|
|2/23||On Wednesday I joined a cadre of other reporters who had been summoned to the Googleplex in Silicon Valley for what was billed as the launch of a clean tech startup that has developed a revolutionary new technology.
The big reveal came as we sat around a conference table at Google Ventures, the search giant's investment arm: super-efficient power conversion modules. What? You were expecting orbiting solar power plants or something?
But if the Southern California startup, called Transphorm, makes good on its claims, it could have a dramatic impact on efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from electricity production. That's because power conversion modules are embedded in anything that has a motor -- from heavy-duty industrial equipment to hybrid cars -- as well as those ubiquitous laptop and cellphone chargers. In short, any gadget that needs to convert alternating current that comes out of a power outlet into direct current or vice versa.
That means your electric car could travel farther on a single charge by making batteries more efficient or by eliminating weight from the vehicle. Those bulky gadget chargers could disappear as power conversion modules get built into the devices themselves. And solar panels could generate more electricity if the inverters that convert DC to AC become more efficient.
Transphorm chief executive Umesh Mishra, a professor of electric and computer engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara, claims the startup's gallium nitride technology eliminates 90 percent of the energy waste when current is converted from AC to DC and back. Given that 10 percent of the United States' electricity production is lost when converted to different currents, Transphorm's technology could save terawatts of energy if widely adopted.
"Imagine taking the West Coast off the grid," he said, noting that Transphorm could save as much electricity as California and the Pacific Northwest consume. "Transphorm's impact on the planet and the business is real money. The opportunity to save this kind of money is a huge business opportunity."
Current power conversion modules are based on silicon. Transphorm developed a process to grow gallium nitride crystals to create a material that Mishra says holds high voltage charges while minimizing the generation of waste heat.Link
|Japan Suspends Whaling|
|2/21||TOKYO (AP) -- Japan has temporarily suspended its annual Antarctic whaling after repeated harassment by a conservationist group, a government official said Wednesday.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ships have been chasing the Japanese whaling fleet for weeks in the icy seas off Antarctica, trying to block Japan's annual whale hunt, planned for up to 945 whales.
Japan has halted the hunt since Feb. 10 after persistent "violent" disruptions by the anti-whaling protesters, said fisheries agency official Tatsuya Nakaoku.
So far, the attacks have not caused any injuries or major damage to the vessels, he said, but the protesters are throwing rancid butter in bottles and once the protesters got a rope entangled in the propeller on a harpoon vessel, causing it to slow down.
"We have temporarily suspended our research whaling to ensure safety," he said. The fleet plans to resume hunting when conditions are deemed safe, he added, but declined to say how long the suspension is planned for.
The whale hunts, which Japan says are for scientific purposes, are allowed by the International Whaling Commission as an exception to the 1986 ban, but opponents say they are a cover for commercial whaling because whale meat not used for study is sold for consumption in Japan.
The Sea Shepherd group has been shadowing Japan's whaling fleet for several years, and its campaign has drawn high-profile donor support in the United States and elsewhere and spawned the popular Animal Planet series "Whale Wars."
Japan's fisheries agency has called Sea Shepherd a terrorist group for its militant actions. Link
|How the next farm bill could plant a new crop of farmers|
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack recently called for 100,000 new farmers -- a recognition that the U.S. farm population is aging rapidly. To create a revitalized, sustainable, and socially-just food system, we need to cultivate a new generation of farmers -- and quickly. But starting a business takes cash, and a farm is no exception. For beginning farmers, the ability to come up with enough money for things like rent, tools, fencing, animals, and feed is likely to determine whether they'll be in business at all.
In an ongoing survey of young farmers conducted by the National Young Farmers' Coalition, 53 percent of respondents cited lack of capital as the biggest obstacle to starting a farm. A 2008 survey of 706 New York and New England farmers found that 25 percent of farmers were denied financing. In the last farm bill, a new Individual Development Account program was created to help beginning farmers save money, but it has yet to receive any funding of its own. And assuming that the new penny-pinching House won't be of any help, it's probably time to think about alternatives. More
|Bay Area hands out $3 million to install home electric car chargers|
|2/1||The Bay Area Air Management District on Wednesday granted $3.9 million to four companies as part of an effort to roll out electric car charging stations in 2,750 homes, as well as 30 fast-chargers along highways. Depending on the electric car, high-voltage fast chargers can "fill up" a battery in as little as 30 minutes.
"The electric vehicle's time has come, and its effectiveness as a means of improving air quality depends on a robust charging infrastructure," Jack Broadbent, the air district's executive officer, said in a statement. "Investing in infrastructure will help make the electric vehicle a viable option for many Bay Area residents and businesses."
San Francisco's ECOtality was awarded the lion's share of the funds, receiving nearly $2.9 million to install 1,500 of its Blink Home Chargers as well as 20 Blink DC Fast Chargers around the Bay Area. The company is managing the EV Project, a $230 million private-public collaboration to roll out 15,000 charging stations in 17 cities in six states, as well as in Washington, D.C. More
|UC Students are Green Pioneers|
...Students lobbied for green programs and policies at UC long before the term "sustainability" became associated with environmentalism. Some early efforts included an organic farm created at UC Santa Cruz in 1967 and a student-run public bus system started in 1968 at UC Davis.
"We're all young people, and we want this planet to be one that we'd want to live on in the future," said Adam Merberg, a UC Berkeley graduate student in math and a volunteer with the Berkeley Student Food Collective. "It's also about what we can do in our personal lives to minimize the impact we have on the planet."
Promoting sustainability "will improve a lot of problems that we face in world, and that's important to lots of students," said Chelsea McDaniel, who graduated with an environmental studies degree from UC Santa Cruz in 2010 and works as a student coordinator in the Campus Sustainability Office. "We all want clean water, clean air and healthy food. It's important to everyone."
When UC students and the California Student Sustainability Coalition worked with the UC administration to adopt its systemwide policy, the guidelines transformed sustainability from a campus-by-campus effort into one encompassing all of UC. The policy includes mandates for energy efficiency, use of renewable resources, recycling, waste reduction, environmentally friendly construction methods and campus foodservice guidelines.
"In order for change to happen, it needs to come from the top down in terms of policy and regulation, but it also needs to come from the ground up with student energy, passion and ideas," said Roos, who was a founding member of the California Student Sustainability Coalition.
Energy efficiency efforts resulting from the sustainability policy are saving UC approximately $15 million per year. The policy also encouraged the construction or remodeling of UC's 50 LEED green-certified building projects, the most of any university in the country.
UC campuses now are routinely ranked by such organizations as the Sierra Club and Princeton Review for their leadership in sustainability. The environmental group Global Green USA honored the UC system in 2010 with a Millennium Award for the university's commitment to sustainable construction and its number of LEED buildings More. ...Related story: UCSC's PICA Green Kitchen
|Electric Cars Steal The Spotlight At Auto Show|
When the North American International Auto Show opens in Detroit on Friday, there's going to be electricity in the air. That's because electrification is one of this year's hottest trends. The floor is also packed with an assortment of electric things including a bicycle, a moped and even a battery-powered racing car. But the star of the show is the Chevy Volt, the electric car with a backup gas engine. It won the top prize — the 2011 North American Car of the Year. But it's certainly not the only electric car or hybrid in the game or on display at the show. Ford unveiled an electric version of the Focus compact. There's also an assortment of vehicles on display from Tesla Motors. Then, there are the Nissan Leaf, the Smart Car Electric Drive, Mini Cooper's Mini E and the Mercedes SLS E. More
|California Approved Historic Cap and Trade system|
|12/17||Building on the defeat of Prop 23, California maintains its green leadership in US More|
|Feds designate ‘critical’ polar bear habitat in Arctic|
The U.S. government on Wednesday designated "critical habitat" for polar bears who live on Alaska's disappearing sea ice, a move that could affect new oil and gas drilling projects in the Arctic.
The Fish and Wildlife Service set aside 187,000 square miles off Alaska as the threatened bears' habitat, which means any project that could affect the animals' way of life must undergo careful review.
"This critical habitat designation enables us to work with federal partners to ensure their actions within its boundaries do not harm polar bear populations," said Tom Strickland, assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks. "Nevertheless, the greatest threat to the polar bear is the melting of its sea ice habitat caused by human-induced climate change. We will continue to work toward comprehensive strategies for the long-term survival of this iconic species."
The move falls short of barring any drilling or other activity in the area, but "identifies geographic areas containing features considered essential for the conservation of the bear that require special management or protection."
Environmental advocates earlier this month warned that polar bear habitats could be disrupted if oil companies eager to exploit the Arctic for fuel were to experience an accidental spill like the BP gusher in the Gulf of Mexico. More
|Schwarzenegger and James Cameron team up to terminate Prop 23|
|10/28||Note: It looks like it's going to be defeated, but you should still definitely vote, and encourage others to. "Every day seems to be green day for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as his term terminates and he works to cement his environmental legacy. On Wednesday, the governator started his morning in the Mojave Desert at the official groundbreaking for BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah 370-megawatt solar power plant, the first large-scale solar thermal farm to be built in the United States in two decades.
By the afternoon, Schwarzenegger had materialized in Silicon Valley. He joined Avatar director James Cameron for a live webcast from tech company Applied Materials to unveil a new online commercial opposing Proposition 23, the ballot measure that would suspend California's landmark global warming law. The governor considers the climate change law, known as AB 32, to be one of his crowning achievements in office. Watch the commercial More
|U.S. Solar Market Booms, With Utility-Scale Projects Leading the Way|
|10/14||Update: Texas moving on solar and Feds approve big wind see Grist 11/27
America could add 10 gigawatts of solar power every year by 2015, enough to power 2 million new homes annually, industry and market analysts have claimed in a new report. The Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research, a Cambridge, Mass.-based market research firm, said the figures represent a tenfold surge compared to 2010, which is on track to set its own record. A full gigawatt of solar may get installed this year for the first time, the report, U.S. Solar Market Insight [pdf], said — a roughly 150 percent leap from the 441 megawatts added last year. One factor driving the boom is the ramp-up in large utility-scale photovoltaic (PV) setups. "I would say we're going to look back on 2010 as the year that the utility-scale market really emerged," Shayle Kann, a managing director of GTM Research, told reporters in an Oct. 12 telephone press conference. In the first half of 2010, over 23,000 PV systems were added, compared to about 28,000 in all of 2009. This includes an "unprecedented" 22 utility projects, the authors wrote.More
|A small venture that could generate big results|
Imagine a program that turns a relatively small initial investment into billions of dollars of U.S. economic growth, thousands of new Americans jobs, and groundbreaking technologies that change the way we use energy in this country and around the world. It would be a darling of innovators, the private sector, and policymakers. Sounds impossible for such a little program to generate such big results? Just like the little engine in the children's story that pulled the train over the mountain, the U.S. has a small venture that could generate big results. It's called the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy, or simply ARPA-E.
But instead of being hailed, ARPA-E is about to be given the bureaucratic equivalent of a death sentence, and all because Congress has failed to pass a budget for 2011. Instead of a real budget, Congress will direct agencies to continue with the same amount of money they received last year. That means ARPA-E's funding effectively dries up.
ARPA-E was created in 2007 to spur innovation in new groundbreaking technologies to set the United States apart from the rest of the world as a leader in the new clean energy economy. It is modeled after DARPA, the defense research agency responsible for the internet, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), and unmanned aerial vehicles. DARPA did all of this with a small, rotating staff of experts and minimal funding. ARPA-E is assembling a similarly nimble team of scientists, engineers, and innovators to make a big impact with a small budget.
We are competing against the rest of the world for a piece of the $2,000,000,000,000 (yes, that's two trillion dollars) clean energy market. China is investing $738 billion over the next 10 years to beat us to the market with cheap, clean energy technologies. We cannot afford to stand still even in a wretched economy. It's true federal funding is extremely tight but at its initial funding level of $388 million, ARPA-E has the potential to create wealth and prosperity. More
|BP Spill may lead to Wetlands restoration|
The Deepwater Horizon disaster dumped about 210 million gallons of poisonous crude oil just off the Louisiana coast, unleashed economic and social chaos across the region, and leaves a shadow of doubt over the future of fish, wildlife and humans that will linger for decades. But here's a surprise: A coalition of national environmental groups working since 2007 on the effort to restore Louisiana's crumbling coast believes BP's bad behavior may end up saving more of those wetlands than it ever destroyed.
They say three months of daily newscasts have dramatically increased national awareness of the state's real coastal disaster, and the billions in fines BP is expected to pay could bankroll critical projects Congress had refused to fund. The only road block to a happy ending is a political atmosphere in Washington they describe as more toxic than chemical dispersants... Link
|House passes oil-spill response bills|
|7/30|| The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday voted to overhaul offshore-drilling safety rules and protect whistleblowing workers in a sweeping response to the disastrous Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The White House-backed legislation would end a $75 million cap on energy firms' liability for economic damages from oil spills, a controversial provision that has run into stiff opposition in the Senate. The Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act would also impose safety standards like independent certifications of critical equipment, increased inspections, and stiffer penalties for safety violations.
The measure, which passed by a 209-193 margin, would deny new offshore drilling leases for up to seven years to companies, like BP, that have poor safety records. It would also break up the embattled federal Minerals Management Service to separate its inspection mission from its revenue-collection efforts, and aims to end "revolving door" hiring from the oil and gas industry. The measure would also impose a new conservation fee of $2 per barrel of oil and 20 cents per million British thermal units of natural gas for all oil and gas leases on federal onshore and offshore areas.
The Offshore Oil and Gas Worker Whistleblower Protection Act, meanwhile, aims to give offshore oil-firm workers who blow the whistle on health or safety issues their first-ever legal protections from retaliation. The bill, which passed in a 315-93 vote, would extend protections to Outer Continental Shelf workers involved in oil and gas exploration, drilling, production, or cleanup. More
|California, Canada implement Cap and Trade|
|7/29||Despite lack of action on congress, The federal Conservative government says it is pleased to learn Canada’s three largest provinces are working independently with two U.S. states to introduce a cap-and-trade system that would put a price tag on greenhouse-gas emissions. But critics say the government is happy only because the provincial action will reduce the pressure for a national cap-and trade program – something that would not play well in Alberta.
It was announced on Tuesday that Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia will join with California and New Mexico, as part of the Western Climate Initiative, to impose a system of caps on large industrial emitters starting as early as January, 2012. Companies that produce more emissions than allowed would be required to buy credits from companies that emit less. The decision by the three provinces and two states comes a week after a similar plan was abandoned by the U.S. Senate.
|Raising appliance efficiency: A big win for consumers and the climate|
|7/24|| By Lester Brown (eco-hero). There are enormous opportunities to use energy more efficiently. Investing in energy efficiency is often far cheaper than expanding the energy supply to meet growing demand. Efficiency investments typically yield a high rate of return, saving consumers money, and can help fight climate change by avoiding carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from burning additional fossil fuels. Just as compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) offer great electricity savings over incandescent light bulbs, a similar range of efficiencies is available for many household appliances, such as refrigerators and home electronics.
The U.S. Energy Policy Act of 2005 was designed to exploit some of these potential savings. It raises appliance efficiency standards high enough to close 29 power plants that burn coal, the most carbon intensive of the fossil fuels. Other provisions in the act -- such as tax incentives that encourage the adoption of energy-efficient technologies, a shift to more combined heat and power generation, and the adoption of real-time pricing of electricity (a measure to discourage optional electricity use during peak demand periods) -- would cut electricity demand enough to close an additional 37 coal-fired power plants. Appliance efficiency standards and other measures in the bill would also reduce natural gas consumption substantially. All together, these measures are projected to reduce consumer electricity and gas bills in 2020 by more than $20 billion. More
"...the experimental Solar Impulse airplane has completed a 26-hour nonstop flight in Switzerland, without using a drop of gasoline. Obviously this included the nighttime hours too, during which time the plane ran on energy collected from panels on its wings during the daytime and stored in its own batteries.
A charming interview video with the international crew involved with the flight is available at the company's home page. Charming because of the evident -- and justified -- pride; the equally evident adrenaline-offset fatigue from small flight crew and large ground staff who had all been up around the clock; and a few nice cross cultural touches. Eg, a man nicely declining an interview: "Je suis désolé, I am sorry, I speak uniquely French." A wonderful achievement...." More from James Fallows at the Atlantic.
|Gov. Schwarzenegger Signs Landmark Egg Bill|
"I just got the very exciting news from California that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed A.B. 1437, a bill backed by The Humane Society of the United States that requires that starting in 2015 all shell (whole) eggs sold in California must come from hens who were able to stand up, lie down, turn around, and fully extend their limbs without touching one another or the sides of an enclosure. In other words: California will become a cage-free state.
Proposition 2, approved by voters in November 2008, phases out the extreme confinement of laying hens in cages by 2015. A.B. 1437 applies the standards contained within Prop 2 to the sale of shell eggs. With 40 million consumers in California, it would be hard to overestimate the potential of this bill to change the way laying hens are treated throughout the United States.
This victory comes just days after The HSUS brokered a deal with Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and the state's largest agriculture groups to impose a moratorium on new battery cage facilities in Ohio, the nation's second largest egg production state.
Change for animals subjected to intensive confinement is coming, and the victories this week are plain evidence of that.
On the California legislation, many thanks go to bill author Assemblyman Jared Huffman, to all of the other lawmakers who supported the legislation, to Gov. Schwarzenegger, and, most importantly, to the thousands of HSUS supporters who took action and urged elected officials to support this bill. Humane Nation
|New Solar Initiative|
The government is handing out nearly $2 billion for new solar plants that President Barack Obama says will create thousands of jobs and increase the use of renewable energy sources. Obama announced the initiative in his weekly radio and online address Saturday, saying the money is part of his plan to bring new industries to the U.S. "We're going to keep competing aggressively to make sure the jobs and industries of the future are taking root right here in America," Obama said.
The two companies that will receive the money from the president's $862 billion economic stimulus are Abengoa Solar, which will build one of the world's largest solar plants in Arizona, creating 1,600 construction jobs; and Abound Solar Manufacturing, which is building plants in Colorado and Indiana. The Obama administration says those projects will create more than 2,000 construction jobs and 1,500 permanent jobs. AP link. However, there's a glitch
|Supreme Court Rules on GMO's|
|6/19||The sustainable agriculture world is abuzz today with news of the Supreme Court's ruling regarding an earlier lawsuit, brought by alfalfa farmers, that sought to stop any planting of Monsanto's genetically engineered Roundup Ready alfalfa seed. While the press coverage heralds the ruling as a decisive victory for Monsanto, a close reading shows that, in fact, it's a fairly significant win for opponents of biotech crops. Grist|
|California rejects shady Proposition 16|
|6/9|| California voters yesterday swatted down the state's misguided Proposition 16, which is a glimmer of good news for clean-energy expansion.
The proposal was basically a market-share protection plan for the large utility PG&E; it would have made it more difficult for more ambitious, green-minded municipalities to create or expand their own public power services. The private utility PG&E poured a sick $46 million into the campaign (more background), one of the more brazen attempts by a corporation to gain competitive advantage through a ballot initiative. Link
|Coal-fired power was the big loser in the economic downturn|
There's some interesting new data out on recent shifts in electricity demand and consumption, courtesy of the DOE/EIA.
In 2008, total U.S. power generation was 4.1 million GWh. In 2009, that fell by 4 percent, to 3.9 million. That's a 4 percent reduction -- clearly the result of the economic slowdown. Nothing surprising there.
What's interesting, though, is how generation shifted by fuel type. Over the same year, coal-fired power generation fell by 11 percent, from almost 2 million GWh to just under 1.8 million. Link
|Starbucks gets Greener|
|5/17|| By Roger Greenway.
With more than 16,000 retail locations around the world, Starbucks continues to innovate and evolve the customer experience with a new store design approach inspired by Starbucks™ Shared Planet™, their commitment to ethical sourcing, environmental stewardship and community involvement. More from ENN
|US Military shirting its carbon bootprint|
|A Banner Year for CA Solar Power|
Although the United States solar industry's overall growth for all types of solar energy slowed somewhat as the Great Recession reached its nadir in 2009, residential rooftop installers had a record year. Companies like Sungevity installed 156 megawatts of residential solar panels in 2009, up 101 percent from the previous year.
That's an amazing number, considering one could reasonably expect that putting a $25,000 solar array on one's roof would fall to the bottom of the home improvement list during the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression. More
|A Banner Year for Wind Power|
NY Times reports "the American housing market remained in the doldrums in 2009 and automakers sputtered along, but the wind industry continued to boom, according to a report released Thursday.
A record 10,010 megawatts of new wind capacity was installed in the United States last year, accounting for 39 percent of new electrical generation, the American Wind Energy Association said in its annual report.
That raises the nation’s total wind energy capacity to more than 35,000 megawatts, or enough electricity to keep the lights on in 9.7 million homes. “Over the past five years, wind power and other renewable energy technologies, combined with natural gas, have provided over 90 percent of all new generating capacity in the U.S.,” the report’s authors stated..." More
|Big news from DC|
|4/2|| Lots of action on green issues this week (and three great April fool's stories):
New offshore oil drilling. Also "The Obama administration today finalized greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars and light trucks first proposed last May. The practical upshot of the rules is a roughly 40 percent rise in fuel economy, to 35.5 miles per gallon, by 2016. The government said the measures would save owners about $3,000 in fuel over a vehicles lifetime, but add a grand on average to sticker prices...More also mountaintop removal coal-mining
|Tokyo launches Asia’s first carbon emissions trade scheme|
|4/2||The city of Tokyo on Thursday launched Asia's first scheme to trade carbon credits, aiming to lead Japan in the battle against greenhouse gas emissions blamed for climate change.
The mega-city of 13 million mandated that the 1,400 top-polluting factories and office buildings reduce emissions, with the aim of slashing Tokyo's total output of carbon dioxide by 25 percent from 2000 levels by 2020. More from Grist]
|Time to bury cheap coal|
In 2009, nearly 15,000 megawatts of proposed coal fired power plants were canceled. To put that in perspective, that would represent about a third of all electricity generating capacity of a state the size of California.
This is not a consequence of a slow economy alone; eight years ago, 36,000 megawatts of new coal plants were on the drawing boards and a mere 13 percent of those were actually built.
If coal is dying as a source of U.S. power generation, what’s the cause and what will replace it as we power up the reviving American economy? http://www.grist.org/article/2010-03-15-time-to-bury-cheap-coal/ More] from Grist
|New use found for 'world's most useful tree'|
A recipe for using "the world's most useful tree" to purify water is being offered for free download, in the hope that this will help get clean drinking water to billions of poor folk around the world.
The tree in question is the Moringa oleifera ("oily moringa") aka the horseradish or drumstick tree (also "Mother's best friend" in some places). The Moringa is cultivated across the tropical world and furnishes food in the form of apparently highly nutritious* pods, leaves and flowers.
It also yields oil which can be used as lighting or cooking fuel (or to make biogas). You can even make a highly effective crop fertiliser out of the miracle Moringa. Handily, the trusty tree is also drought resistant and tolerant of poor soil.
But that's not all, it turns out. You can also use Moringa products to inexpensively purify dirty drinking water.
“Moringa oleifera is a vegetable tree which is grown in Africa, Central and South America, the Indian subcontinent, and South East Asia. It could be considered to be one of the world’s most useful trees,” says Michael Lea, a Canadian water-purification researcher. “Perhaps most importantly, its seeds can be used to purify drinking water at virtually no cost.”
The method in outline involves crushing the tree's seeds to powder and making a solution with this. When the solution is added to turbid, dirty water it causes the suspended gunge to rapidly stick together into bigger flecks and so sink rapidly. Almost all contamination is thus carried down quite quickly into a sludge at the bottom of the container, allowing nice clear water to be decanted or siphoned off from the top.
|Tech startup’s pollution detector aids enviro justice group|
|3/5|| If you had been driving through North Texas this week you might have seen a white Dodge Sprinter van circling some of the natural gas wells and compression stations that have sprung up around the Barnett Shale belt like boom-time subdivisions.
Drillers tap natural gas by splitting shale through a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that injects fluids laced with chemicals into the rock formations. The proliferation of shale gas drilling northeast of Dallas has ignited an uproar among residents, some of whom fear that fracking could be poisoning ground water and polluting the air with carcinogens. But the industry won’t disclose all the chemicals it uses and Texas environmental authorities won’t compel them to do so.
Which brings us back to our mystery van. Inside was a desktop computer-sized analyzer connected to a translucent tube that snaked out the roof of the van. The analyzer is made by a Silicon Valley company called Picarro and it provides real-time measurements of methane and other greenhouse gas emissions. By correlating the data with wind patterns, Picarro scientists can pinpoint the source of emissions. Oil and gas operations emit methane, which can also indicate the presence of benzene and other carcinogens, according to Picarro scientists. More from Grist
|Making sense of Wal-Mart’s big green announcement|
|2/25||Wal-Mart made big news today with a major commitment to trim its greenhouse-gas emissions.
Here’s the context: Over the past five years the retail giant has taken big, splashy steps to save energy, reduce waste, and sell cleaner products, like compact-fluorescent light bulbs. It’s given less focus to the impact of the factories that churn all over the world to keep the chain’s shelves and display cases full. Today’s announcement—a goal to cut 20 million metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions by the end 2015—focuses on those factories More from Grist.
|Fuel Cell Breakthrough|
|2/26||Green tech had its Google moment this week in Silicon Valley when one of the most secretive and well-funded startups around, Bloom Energy, literally lifted the curtain on what it claims is a breakthrough in fuel cell technology: affordable electricity! Fewer greenhouse gas emissions!. More|
|Good News on Cars|
|The US fleet peaked (US down 4 millio; #1 market is now China, but it is taking the lead on green energy in some respects). Ford hybrid voted Car of the Year. Small, hybrid, and electric cars took center stage at the Detroit Auto Show this week, as automakers adapt to the changing demands of a market ravaged by recession and soaring fuel costs.
A clutch of manufacturers also displayed fuel-efficient cars with designs inspired by Europe, in stark contrast to the traditional gas-guzzling behemoths favored by American motorists in a bygone era of cheap gasoline prices.
Chevrolet unveiled its Aveo “subcompact” and Spark cars, while Ford revealed the much-anticipated update to the Fiesta. Fiat, which took over Chrysler last year, has presented both the standard and hybrid version of its 500, due to arrive in the U.S. market by the end of 2010.
Hyundai USA Vice President David Zuchowski said the trend of smaller cars in Detroit reflected the changing face of the marketplace as tighter federal fuel-efficiency standards loomed ever closer. “The composition of our market is going to change quickly because of the federal mandate,” Zuchowski told AFP. “Our industry is going to become more like the European industry in the next couple of years, with smaller cars, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have to compromise on performance.”More
|U.S. breaks with ‘drill anywhere’ energy policy, Salazar announces|
|The United States is moving away from the “drill anywhere, whatever the cost” energy policy of the previous administration, officials said Wednesday as they announced reforms in the way oil and gas leases are attributed.
“We don’t believe we have to be drilling everywhere and anywhere,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told a news conference where he and other officials announced changes to the way the U.S. government manages onshore oil and gas exploration leases.
“We believe we have to have a balanced, thoughtful approach that allows for the development of oil and gas resources but at the same time protects the treasured landscapes of America,” Salazar said.
The new approach was in line with President Barack Obama’s commitment to develop U.S. gas and oil stocks while also growing the country’s green energy capacity, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Land and Minerals Management Wilma Lewis said. More
|Scientists cautiously optimistic as Doomsday Clock reset|
|The minute hand of the Doomsday Clock was moved back slightly Thursday, indicating the world has inched away from nuclear or environmental catastrophe, but still is not out of danger.
“It is six minutes to midnight,” the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which created the Doomsday Clock in 1947, said in a statement read out as the clock’s countdown to midnight was nudged back by one minute from where it has been since 2007.
“For the first time since atomic bombs were dropped in 1945, leaders of nuclear weapons states are cooperating to vastly reduce their arsenals and secure all nuclear bomb-making material,” read the statement by the panel of international scientists, including 19 Nobel laureates. “For the first time ever, industrialized and developing countries alike are pledging to limit climate-changing gas emissions that could render our planet nearly uninhabitable. These unprecedented steps are signs of a growing political will to tackle the two gravest threats to civilization—the terror of nuclear weapons and runaway climate change,” the statement said. More from Grist
|U.S. breaks with ‘drill anywhere’ energy policy, Salazar announces|
The United States is moving away from the "drill anywhere, whatever the cost" energy policy of the previous administration, officials said Wednesday as they announced reforms in the way oil and gas leases are attributed.Grist link
|U.S. car fleet shrank by four million in 2009|
by Lester Brown
America’s century-old love affair with the automobile may be coming to an end. The U.S. fleet has apparently peaked and started to decline. In 2009, the 14 million cars scrapped exceeded the 10 million new cars sold, shrinking the U.S. fleet by 4 million, or nearly 2 percent in one year. While this is widely associated with the recession, it is in fact caused by several converging forces. Read More In a related story, Think, an electric car maker based in Norway, will assemble its vehicles in the United States next year and hopes to roll out more than 20,000 units a year, the Wall Street Journal said on Tuesday, quoting the group’s chief executive. more from Grist
|In last-minute stunner, Obama changes plans to attend final day of Copenhagen talks|
| On Friday, the Obama administration announced a startling shift in plans: rather than stop by the Copenhagen climate talks on Dec. 9, Obama will be going on the 18th, the final day of the meeting—a notable increase in commitment (and political exposure) from the administration.
The first week of every COP meeting consists of posturing, speeches, protests, and NGO reports. Everything of significance to the treaty is announced late in the meetings, often on the last day, after a flurry of last-minute negotiations. Coming to Copenhagen at the climax of the talks, specifically to push negotiations “over the top,” as the White House statement says, is a risky move for Obama. He’s got skin in the game now; he’ll look foolish if he rides in at the last minute and fails to broker an agreement.
If he’s willing to stick his neck out like this, Obama must be pretty confident that he can get a deal. There have been signs of momentum for weeks now. The much-discussed deal with China was just one in a raft of commitments from the developing countries, including India and Brazil. Movement from the developing world has undercut one of U.S. conservatives’ principal arguments for inaction. Over 65 world leaders have pledged to attend. More
|Coke to use plant-based plastic|
|This winter, though, Coca-Cola is taking a meaningful step toward its goal with the introduction of what it calls a PlantBottle -- a bottle made of PET plastic, 30 percent of which is sourced from Brazilian sugar cane and molasses. More|
|Rumors of Copenhagen’s demise have been greatly exaggerated|
|11/16|| Is Copenhagen really over before it begins? Had I moved to this dark, rainy (but beautiful!) city for no reason? Should we all just pack it up and hope that political declarations will solve it all?
The answer, thankfully, quickly became a resounding “no.” As Grist’s own David Roberts is often the first to point out, the mainstream media clearly got it wrong. There’s still hope—a lot of it, at that.
Let’s start with those headlines. Who are these “world leaders” who agreed to delay? Well, the plural may be accurate, but just barely.
In the 48 hours since initial reports, as Ministers and other government representatives have trickled into Copenhagen for the “pre-COP” preparatory meeting, it’s become clear that while the media reported that all 19 APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) leaders were in agreement on the so-called “one agreement, two steps” approach, that’s not at all the case. More
| Oakland, CA — You don't have to look far to see just how much concrete humans use. Everything from highways to high-rise and bridges to runways around the world are made with the energy-intensive, carbon-spewing material.
Contributing at least 5 percent of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the cement industry is ripe for changes to lower its impact. Cement, the glue that binds concrete, is one of the most carbon-intensive materials out there: It produces one ton of CO2 for every ton of cement made.
A number of companies, looking to cut the global impact of concrete, as well as open up huge markets for greener building blocks, are using a variety of methods like replacing concrete ingredients and adding new materials that make concrete waterproof. More
|Religion gets behind fight against climate change|
PARIS—Leaders from nine major faiths meet at Windsor Castle on Tuesday in an exceptional initiative that supporters predict will harness the power of religion in the fight against climate change.
The ecumenical gathering at the home of Queen Elizabeth II, 22 miles west of London, is being co-staged by the United Nations and Prince Philip’s Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC).
Representatives from Baha’ism, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Shintoism, Sikhism, and Taoism will unveil programs that “could motivate the largest civil society movement the world has ever seen,” said U.N. Assistant Secretary General Olav Kjorven.
U.N. Chief Ban Ki-moon will launch the event under the banner “Faith Commitments for a Living Planet.”
“We expect to send a strong signal from religion to governments that we are extremely committed. It’s about religions mobilizing their followers to act against climate change,” Kjorven told AFP in an interview.
Eighty-five percent of humanity follow a religion, a figure that shows the power of faith to move billions, he pointed out.
In addition, faith-based groups own nearly 8 percent of habitable land on Earth, operate dozens of media groups and more than half the world’s schools, and control 7 percent of financial investments worth trillions, according to ARC. More
|Thousands gather worldwide on day of climate protests|
|10/24||Kicking off with thousands gathering on the steps of Sydney’s iconic Opera House, global warming protests took place around the world Saturday to mark 50 days before the U.N. climate summit.
From Asia to Europe via the Middle East, activists staged lively events addressing world leaders and to mobilize public opinion around climate issues.
Many waved placards bearing the logo 350, referring to 350 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere which scientists say must not be exceeded to avoid runaway global warming.
|Alaska Sea Otters Gain Habitat Protection|
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today designated 5,855 square miles of nearshore waters along the Aleutian Islands, Bering Sea, and Alaska Peninsula as critical habitat for threatened sea otters in southwest Alaska. Today’s action comes under court order resulting from a lawsuit against the Service by the Center for Biological Diversity. Link
|Boxer, Kerry will introduce Senate climate bill next week|
The bill will be backed by a strong and broad coalition, according to Kerry’s message, which Heinz delivered at a pre-G20 party sponsored by the U.S. Climate Action Network, and “will take a more comprehensive approach to dwindling oil reserves than any prior legislation.”
The legislation will be a “thoughtful, innovative, far-reaching solution” in four areas: the nation’s energy foundation; U.S. economic competitiveness; the health of the environment; and national security. 
|Yes Men pranksters make fake New York Post about real climate emergency|
The “culture jamming” prankster troupe The Yes Men contributed to the Climate Week excitement in New York City this morning by distributing fake copies of the New York Post. The illicit special edition of the tabloid warned that climate change could unleash heat waves, flooding, and other disasters over the next decades.
The fake paper (also online) contains actual non-fake information, the group says:
Although the 32-page New York Post is a fake, everything in it is 100% true, with all facts carefully checked by a team of editors and climate change experts.
“This could be, and should be, a real New York Post,” said Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Men. “Climate change is the biggest threat civilization has ever faced, and it should be in the headlines of every paper, every day until we solve the problem.”
The group says nearly a million copies were distributed by more than 2,000 volunteers.Link
|USDA study finds that climate bill will benefit farmers|
The climate and energy legislation that the House passed in June would increase revenues for farmers, according to a preliminary analysis released by the United States Department of Agriculture on Wednesday.
The study contradicts claims from some major agriculture groups that the bill would be economically catastrophic for farmers. Instead, the study predicts that farmers and foresters would benefit directly both from pollution-permit revenues allocated to the sector and from selling offsets to polluters. More at Grist The bill will also help in terms of security
|ExxonMobil invests in algae biofuel project|
|7/14||WASHINGTON, July 14, 2009 (AFP) - Oil giant ExxonMobil announced an alliance Tuesday with biotech firm Synthetic Genomics to make a new biofuel from photosynthetic algae.
The biggest U.S. energy firm said it was partnering with the firm headed by Craig Venter, a researcher who founded Human Genome Sciences and Celera Genomics and has worked on projects to sequence the genomes of humans, fruit flies, and other organisms.
ExxonMobil said it expects to spend more than $600 million if certain milestones are reached to produce the fuel, which does not contribute to greenhouse emissions. More at Grist
|It’s Now Legal to Catch a Raindrop in Colorado|
By KIRK JOHNSON
DURANGO, Colo. — For the first time since territorial days, rain will be free for the catching here, as more and more thirsty states part ways with one of the most entrenched codes of the West.
Precipitation, every last drop or flake, was assigned ownership from the moment it fell in many Western states, making scofflaws of people who scooped rainfall from their own gutters. In some instances, the rights to that water were assigned a century or more ago.
Now two new laws in Colorado will allow many people to collect rainwater legally. The laws are the latest crack in the rainwater edifice, as other states, driven by population growth, drought, or declining groundwater in their aquifers, have already opened the skies or begun actively encouraging people to collect.
“I was so willing to go to jail for catching water on my roof and watering my garden,” said Tom Bartels, a video producer here in southwestern Colorado, who has been illegally watering his vegetables and fruit trees from tanks attached to his gutters. “But now I’m not a criminal.” More from NYT Thx Ronnie
|Historic Climate Change Bill Passed|
The American Clean Energy and Security Act (aka the Waxman-Markey bill) narrowly passed in the House late Friday thanks to eight bold Republicans who hopped the fence. And one of them is Washington state’s very own Dave Reichert of the 8th District (which includes Mercer Island, Bellevue, and surrounding areas).
Some 44 House Democrats, mostly from coal-producing and industrial states, broke party lines by voting “no” on the bill that promises renewable electricity standards, emissions caps, investments in energy technology, and more. That means those eight Republicans who gave a “yay” rather than a “nay” produced the simple majority vote (plus one bonus vote!) that catapulted ACES to the Senate floor.
Why did Reichert decide to break from the Republican pack and support the bill? He remained tight-lipped about the decision until the votes were counted, and then released this statement:
"Energy independence and our national security are critical issues for America. These issues transcend politics. The future of this country is on the line and we can spare no effort when it comes to leading on these issues at a global level.
This bill is not perfect, but it is a vital step toward energy independence. America cannot maintain global leadership without innovation and new ideas, and we cannot lead if we increasingly depend on foreign nations to heat our homes and move people and goods. The price of inaction is too great; America cannot stand on the sidelines while our competitors embrace new energy efficient technologies. It’s also important that we engage in a bipartisan discussion as we move forward – this bill has many other hoops to jump through before it becomes law and I will continue to work with my colleagues across the aisle and in the Senate to gain more tax relief for middle-income families.
Teddy Roosevelt was the true example of a Republican engaged in conserving resources for our children and grandchildren, but he also had the foresight to seek a brighter future for them. Republicans must be at the table as we look for solutions in energy independence and preserving our environment, while also looking at the bigger picture and working with all of our colleagues for a stronger nation." More
|Hidden Whale Culture Could Be Critical to Species Survival|
Scientists are accustomed to thinking of whale populations in terms of genetic diversity. But even when they share the same genes, groups of whales can live in very different ways, raising the possibility that species might be saved even while individual cultures vanish. The tragedy of cultural extinction aside, cultural diversity may sustain the long-term health of Earth’s cetaceans. More
|Cuyahoga River Comeback|
Monday is the 40th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River fire of 1969, when oil-soaked debris floating on the river’s surface was ignited, most likely by sparks from a passing train.
The fire was extinguished in 30 minutes and caused just $50,000 in damage. But it became a galvanizing symbol for the environmental movement, one of a handful of disasters that led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and to the passage of the Clean Water Act.
“The Cuyahoga River fire was a spark plug for environmental reforms around the country,” said Cameron Davis, who was recently appointed to become the special adviser to the E.P.A. on Great Lakes environmental issues.
The fire turned Cleveland into “The Mistake by the Lake,” a national punch line that would endure for decades. Meanwhile, the city worked to reclaim its river.
Today, the Cuyahoga is home to more than 60 species of fish, said Jim White, executive director of the Cuyahoga River Community Planning Organization, a nonprofit group that coordinates cleanup efforts. Beavers, blue herons and bald eagles nest along the river’s banks. Long sections of the Cuyahoga are clean enough that they no longer require aggressive monitoring, regulators said. NYTimes
|Elusive lynx make comeback in Colorado|
State biologists are raising, releasing cats after they went extinct there. Link
|Bush to create huge ocean sanctuary in Pacific|
|1/5|| President George W. Bush is to announce the creation of the world's largest marine protection area spanning some 195,000 square miles (505,000 sq km) in the Pacific Ocean, a spokesman said Monday.
The three areas to be designated as "marine national monuments" include the Mariana Trench and northern Mariana Islands, the Rose Atoll located in American Samoa and a chain of remote islands in the Central Pacific.
Establishing marine national monuments aims to ensure that certain resources are protected, such as rare fish and bird species, coral reefs and underwater active volcanoes, said a top Bush aide on the environment... More
|U.N. talks set programme to a landmark climate pact in '09|
POZNAN, Poland, Dec. 13, 2008 (AFP) -- A planet-wide forum on climate change Saturday hammered out a work schedule designed to end in a treaty for expunging the darkening threat to mankind from greenhouse gases.
In the pre-dawn hours, the 192-member U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Poland set down a programme of work that, it declared, would conclude with a historic pact in Copenhagen next December.
Taking effect after 2012, the deal will set down unprecedented measures for curbing emissions of heat-trapping carbon gases and helping poor countries in the firing line of climate change... Grist link
|Appeals court ruling closes Clean Air Act loophole|
Green groups won an important victory for clean air last week when a federal appeals court ruled that chemical plants, refineries, and other industrial sites are still subject to pollution limits even during equipment malfunctions and when plants start up or shut down. Some refineries and other sites have used the Clean Air Act's start-up, shut-down loophole -- which the Bush administration expanded -- to evade enforcement actions. "For more than a decade, polluters have relied on this loophole at the expense of neighboring communities," said Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew. Grist link
|California unveils comprehensive 'green chemistry' plan|
California unveiled a comprehensive "green chemistry" plan this week that aims to both encourage the development of less-toxic products and compel manufacturers to reveal exactly what's in their products and how dangerous they could be to the public. One part of the plan calls for an online database with info on hundreds of thousands of products, including where they were made and how they were transported. See also Chemical page for more info in audio section Grist link
|The Golden State gets tough on diesel-truck pollution|
California's air regulators cracked down on diesel pollution from heavy-duty trucks on Friday, adopting tough new rules that will require older trucks to be retrofitted or replaced starting in 2011. Diesel trucks are currently responsible for a third of the state's smog. Also: California officials this week committed to a comprehensive plan to cut the state's greenhouse-gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 through regulating GHG emissions from vehicles, investing in energy efficiency, and sourcing one-third of the state's electricity from renewables, among other initiatives. Grist link
|Obama's energy and environment appointments unveiled (Chu-ses UC dude as honcho)|
President-elect Barack Obama has not yet officially announced his choices to fill key environmental posts in his administration, but the word is now out on the street. Transition-team officials say that Lisa Jackson will head the U.S. EPA, Steven Chu (currently head of Livermore Lab, formerly from UC Berzerkeley) will be secretary of energy, Nancy Sutley will head the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Carol Browner will fill a new post that some are calling "energy czar." The secretary of interior position is still up in the air. Obama is expected to formally introduce his environmental team next week. Grist link
|Auto bailout passed by House requires compliance with state emission standards|
The U.S. House on Wednesday approved a $14 billion rescue plan for the domestic auto industry that, among many other things, would force the companies to comply with California's strict emissions requirements for vehicles. However, House Democrats reportedly dropped a requirement from the bill that would have barred the Big Three from using any of the federal money from the bailout to challenge state greenhouse-gas emission limits in court. The bill has not yet been passed in the Senate, where it faces serious opposition. Grist link
|Ford planning shift to small cars, company says|
Ford Motor Co. is planning a significant product shift that will focus on the manufacture of small, fuel-efficient cars in lieu of its largely failed strategy since the 1990s to churn out mostly large vehicles like trucks and SUVs. Ford's plan is meant to woo Congress into granting the Big Three U.S. automakers a much-needed $25 billion loan package. Grist link
|Obama Embraces Green-Collar Stimulus|
|11/28||by Alan Durning
$100 billion for green jobs. Billion!
The Associated Press reports plans for a massive new green-collar federal stimulus package:
Obama has also embraced calls for a "green jobs" program that invests as much as $100 billion in projects to slash harmful emissions. This could include projects such as retrofitting buildings to make them more energy-efficient, upgrading the electrical grid and improving mass transit.
"It turns out that putting money into green technologies ... has a very large positive employment effect relative to tax cuts," said Robert Pollin, a University of Massachusetts-Amherst economist who has written extensively on what he calls the "green recovery."
"It's very efficient in terms of creating jobs for a given amount of spending, and it has the added benefit that the short-term effects are compatible with long-term needs in the economy," Pollin said. Worldchanging link
|IEA forecasts boom in renewables through 2030|
The influential International Energy Agency has released its annual report on world energy demand, predicting that renewables will make big gains worldwide, increasing their overall market share 5 percent to meet 23 percent of the world's total energy needs by 2030. However, coal consumption is also predicted to increase, eventually providing some 44 percent of the world's energy by 2030. Unsurprisingly, the IEA also forecast that the world will have a difficult time combating climate change. link
|Rainforest Fungus Makes Diesel Compounds From Cellulose|
|11/4|| A unique fungus that makes diesel compounds directly from cellulose has been discovered living in trees in the Patagonian rainforest.
"These are the first organisms that have been found that make many of the ingredients of diesel," said Professor Gary Strobel from Montana State University. "This is a major discovery."
The discovery may offer an alternative to fossil fuels, said Strobel, MSU professor of plant sciences and plant pathology, who travels the world looking for exotic plants that may contain beneficial microbes. The find is even bigger, he said, than his 1993 discovery of fungus that contained the anticancer drug taxol. More
|Poultry in Motion|
California OKs measure requiring more humane treatment of farm animals California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 2, which will require that egg-laying hens, calves raised for veal, and pregnant pigs be given enough room to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs, and turn around freely. Get the background on this groundbreaking ballot initiative. Grist link
|Starbucks will double its purchase of fair-trade coffee|
Starbucks will buy 40 million pounds of fair-trade-certified coffee next year, doubling the hill of beans it bought this year and becoming the largest purchaser of fair-trade coffee in the world. The caffeine giant, though struggling financially and recognizing the price premium of sustainable bean-buying, has a goal of selling only "responsibly grown and ethically traded" coffee by 2015. Grist link
|Google unveils plan to move U.S. off fossil fuels by 2030|
Google.org, the philanthropic arm of the search giant, has unveiled a plan to move the U.S. to a clean-energy future. The vision: In 2030, electricity will be generated not from coal or oil but from wind, solar, and geothermal power. Energy demand will be two-thirds what it is now, thanks to stringent energy-efficiency measures. Ninety percent of new vehicle sales will be plug-in hybrids. Carbon dioxide emissions will be down 48 percent. Getting there will cost $4.4 trillion, says the plan -- but will recoup $5.4 trillion in savings. The Clean Energy 2030 plan would require ambitious national policies, a huge boost to renewables, increased transmission capacity, a smart electricity grid, and much higher fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles. But hey, says the report: "With a new administration and Congress -- and multiple energy-related imperatives -- this is an opportune, perhaps unprecedented, moment to move from plan to action." Grist link
|Tree-sitting in Northern Calif. redwoods ends for now|
For over 20 years, tree-sitters in Northern California have taken a stand for ancient redwoods by camping in their branches and acting as physical barriers to logging. But for now at least, the last trees-sitters have all descended from their perches, thanks to a promise from a timber company that owns huge swaths of redwoods in the area. Pacific Lumber, the largest private owner of old-growth redwoods anywhere, had long been a villain to environmentalists since it was acquired by an especially logging-happy investor in 1986 who quickly stepped up logging of old-growth trees. The company has since gone bankrupt and is now under new ownership as Humboldt Redwood Co.; HRC has promised to avoid clear-cutting and to leave any trees standing that are at least four feet in diameter and at least 200 years old. Before the company's change of heart, though, the threat to ancient redwoods drew in forest activists from across the country who staged regular protests and engaged in direct action to block logging roads so the trees would still be standing by the time a deal was reached to save them. [Note: the beggining of this conflict is explored beautifully in the core course book of some years back, David Harris' The Last Stand.Bold text Julia "Butterfly" Hill and "Gypsy" Chain were involved later. Grist link
|U.S. bottled-water guzzling is slowing|
|9/8||Americans' seemingly insatiable thirst for bottled water seems to be slowing, according to new industry stats. Annual U.S. bottled-water consumption shot up nearly 46 percent between 2002 and 2007, to an average 29.3 gallons per person. But the Beverage Marketing Corporation predicts that bottled-water guzzling will grow only 6.7 percent in 2008, the smallest increase this decade. The editor of Beverage Digest isn't concerned: "If the economy improves and consumers begin to feel better, we're going to see at least some increase in the growth rate of bottled water again." Adds an industry spokesperson: "We have enjoyed meteoric growth in the past, but that's bound to level off." But greens laud an effective Think Outside the Bottle campaign, noting that dozens of cities are phasing out the bottled beverage. Says one tap-water promoter, "Instead of being a badge for health and status, bottled water has now become a badge for environmental wastefulness. ... [B]eing charged for water is like being charged for gravity."|
|Tigers and elephants protected by expansion of Sumatra park|
Sumatra's Tesso Nilo National Park will be doubled in size in an effort to help out the endangered elephants and tigers that live there. Riau province, which contains the park, houses some 210 elephants (down from 1,250 just a quarter-century ago) and 192 tigers (down from 650 in that same time period). Sixty to 80 elephants and some 50 tigers are believed to reside in Tesso Nilo. The park also has the most biodiverse highland forest plant life on earth, with some 4,000 recorded unique species. The expansion of the park to 212,500 acres "is a momentous decision that offers hope for some of the planet's most spectacular wildlife and forests," says Carter Roberts of WWF. "There is still much to do, however, as Sumatra's forests continue to disappear to feed the growing global demand for pulp, paper, and palm oil." Riau lost 11 percent of its forest cover in just one year between 2005 and 2006, and has 65 percent less forest cover than it did in the early 1980s. Grist link
|Beijing officials consider extending some clean-air measures beyond Olympics|
|8/25||Beijing's emergency measures to clear its famously polluted air during the Olympic Games have been largely successful, with the city reportedly experiencing the cleanest summer air it's had for over a decade. But now that the Olympics are over, full-time city residents have been pointing out how pleasant breathable air has been and how nice it would be to have it all the time. In response, Chinese officials, who are still under the international spotlight until the close of this month's Paralympic Games, hinted to the media recently that some clean-air measures may stay in place beyond the games' end. Officials have said that plans to reduce construction-site dust will be sped up, some of the city's most-polluting vehicles could be subject to more regulation, and that heavily polluting companies may be required to address their pollution problems in order to resume post-games operations. However, one of the most successful (and popular) measures to curb the city's pollution will not be continued after the games -- the restriction keeping half of the city's cars from operating each day.|
|Electric-car visionary would overhaul the way we get around|
Could the global auto infrastructure be overhauled in a way that's profitable for business, cheap for drivers, and easy on the planet? Meet Better Place's Shai Agassi and his plans for an electric-car future, featured in the latest issue of Wired. In Agassi's vision, gas stations are replaced with omnipresent recharging spots for electric cars. Vehicles are cheap, perhaps even free; money is made off electricity, and renewable energy is incentivized. Drivers purchase electricity on subscription, paying for unlimited miles, a certain number of miles per month, or pay-as-you-go. No time to recharge? Head to your nearest battery exchange station and swap in a fully charged one. An onboard system is energy monitor, GPS unit, help center, and personal assistant in one. Think it could never happen? Think again: 100,000 electric cars will roll out in Israel by the end of 2011, and Denmark will also provide a testing ground. Grist link
|Stockholder Activism on Climate Resolutions Increase|
By TIM HUBER, AP Business Writer Support for climate-change proposals may be growing among investors in big U.S. companies. Shareholder resolutions related to climate change more than doubled over the past five years, according to statistics gathered by a coalition of public interest groups, environmental organizations and pension funds. Moreover, the coalition, Boston-based Ceres, says support for those measures averaged more than 23 percent in 2008, a new high.
While that's not enough to pass a resolution, Ceres contends rising vote totals compel companies to act, like a plan by Ford Motor Co. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2020.
"It's easy to ignore 3 or 5 percent votes, but it's pretty hard to ignore 22 percent votes or 39 percent votes," said Dan Bakal, director of electric power programs for Ceres.
Bakal said shareholder activism led to new reports from Allegheny Energy and other large electricity producers that outline strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The companies faced climate change resolutions this year. The proposals were withdrawn after companies agreed to issue the reports, Bakal said. "It's an indication of movement," he said...
|Court tosses federal rule that limited air-pollution monitoring|
States can enact tougher-than-federal monitoring requirements for air pollution from factories and power plants, after a federal appeals court tossed out a U.S. EPA rule keeping them from doing so. Primary plaintiff Sierra Club celebrated the victory; defendants were the U.S. EPA and the American Petroleum Institute, which should seem like an odd pair, but somehow just doesn't surprise us. The tossed-out rule aimed to "decrease the amount of information available to the public and the amount of information that polluters are going to have to report," says Josh Dorner of the Sierra Club, thus "greatly lowering the likelihood they would be held to account for violating the Clean Air Act or any other environmental laws." But the court's decision, says Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope, "will give states back the tools they need to hold polluters accountable and help ensure that everyone has clean, healthy air to breathe. Grist link
|California Joins Carbon-Trading System|
California, six other Western states and four Canadian provinces launched plans on Wednesday for one of the world's largest carbon-trading systems, a sweeping effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.
The North American program, like a similar market-based system in Europe, focuses on heavy polluters such as electric utilities, oil refineries and large industrial and commercial facilities. link
|'Lost World' of Gorillas Discovered in the Congo|
The discovery of a previously unknown gorilla population in the vast forests of northern Congo brings the total number of animals to a mammoth 125,000 – double that of previous estimates – and should make even the most pessimistic conservation biologist smile.
The numbers of western lowland gorillas living across 47,000 square kilometres of dense forestland were thought to have plummeted from 100,000 to half that number since the 1980s.
Just last year, the threat from the deadly ebola virus and indiscriminate bushmeat hunters prompted the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to add the apes to their critically endangered list. link
|With research breakthrough, solar power could work when the sun don't shine|
Wind and solar energy face a distinct hurdle: sometimes the wind don't blow and the sun don't shine. But new research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests a breakthrough in the intermittency problem. In a study published Friday in Science, researchers demonstrate a photosynthesis-inspired process to use electricity from renewable sources to split regular ol' water into hydrogen and oxygen. The gases can then be stored in a fuel cell that can produce electricity on becalmed, cloudy days. Science wonks who thrill to the words "electrolyzer," "cobalt," and "catalyst" can get the deets in the links below. The rest of us can just get excited that we may be one step closer to a clean energy economy. "Solar power has always been a limited, far-off solution," says MIT researcher Daniel Nocera. "Now we can seriously think about solar power as unlimited and soon." Grist link
|Wind power in China is 'huge, huge, huge'|
|7/25||China, known for its environmental struggles, is looking to have a success story in wind power. "China's wind energy market is unrecognizable from two years ago," says Steve Sawyer of the Global Wind Energy Council. "It is huge, huge, huge. But it is not realized yet in the outside world." China's wind generation has increased by more than 100 percent per year since 2005, and the country may have already beat out the U.S. as the world's biggest turbine manufacturer. Policymakers originally had ambitions of generating 5 gigawatts of wind by 2010, but met that goal in 2007; they've revised the 2010 goal to 10 gigawatts, but very well may hit 20 gigawatts.|
|California Joins Carbon-Trading System|
California, six other Western states and four Canadian provinces launched plans on Wednesday for one of the world's largest carbon-trading systems, a sweeping effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.
The North American program, like a similar market-based system in Europe, focuses on heavy polluters such as electric utilities, oil refineries and large industrial and commercial facilities. link
|First statewide green-building standards adopted by California|
California has adopted the nation's first statewide green-building standards in what is, according to ever-punny Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, "literally a groundbreaking move." The new California Green Buildings Standards Code requires builders to reduce energy use by 15 percent beyond current standards, target a 50 percent reduction in water used for landscaping, and use more recycled materials. The code also identifies site improvements including bicycle storage and designated parking spots for low-emissions vehicles. The standards will become mandatory in 2010 Grist link
|Endangered-species protections reinstated for gray wolves|
A federal judge has ruled that wolves should be returned to the endangered-species list for now, derailing plans for wolf hunts in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. The 2,000 or so gray wolves that inhabit the three states were removed from the endangered list in March; environmentalists sued to get them back on, saying populations were not yet stable. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, over 100 gray wolves have been killed by hunters in the days since they were delisted, a rate of almost a wolf a day. The federal judge will eventually decide if the relisting should be permanent. Meanwhile, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may appeal. Grist link
|Toxic chemical levels dropping in Arctic animals|
After decades of concern about southern pollutants poisoning traditional foods that northern aboriginals depend on, a new government study suggests levels of toxic chemicals in a wide range of animals across the Arctic are finally dropping.
The study, the first large-scale attempt in a decade to measure contaminants in common Arctic food animals, found carcinogens such as PCBs and other toxins derived from pesticides sprayed in the south have largely levelled off or have begun declining.
"Organochlorines, like DDT or chlordane or toxaphene or industrial chemicals like PCB, are declining," said project leader Laurie Chan of the University of Northern British Columbia. "That's good news."
However, the study found that mercury, probably from the increasing use of coal in power generation around the globe, remains stubborn and is even rising in some animals.
Still, Chan said, the falling organochlorine levels are proof that international agreements on limiting the use of toxic chemicals can produce real improvements in food safety.
"It seems that the Stockholm Convention is having some effect," Chan said.
That convention - heavily pushed by Canada - came into effect in 2004 and limited the use of the so-called "dirty dozen" chemicals pushed into the Arctic and concentrated there by global air currents.
At one time, Canada's Inuit had some of the highest PCB levels in the world, up to 10 times the levels found in southern Canada. The chemical was even found in the breast milk of Inuit mothers.
A 2003 study found subtle but statistically significant nervous system and behavioural changes in Inuit babies that may be linked to PCBs. Grist link
|UN agency hails green energy gold rush|
|7/1||by Bogonko Bosire
NAIROBI (AFP) - The world is enjoying a "green energy gold rush", the UN's environmental agency said Tuesday as it published a report outlining a 60 percent hike in investment in renewable energy in 2007. ADVERTISEMENT
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) study, published in Nairobi, said more than 148 billion dollars (93 billion euros) of new funds were ploughed into the quest for cleaner energy last year.
The massive demand for solar, wind and biofuel energy was being powered by prevailing climate change worries, growing support from world governments and rising crude oil prices, the UN agency said. link
|Segway sales at an all-time high|
With gas prices rising, more people are busing, scooting, biking -- and riding the electric scooter we all love to mock. Yes, sales of the nerdarific Segway have risen to an all-time high, as more folks deny transportation fashion in the interest of gas-saving comfort. The two-wheeled, electric scooters get up to 25 miles per charge, have a top speed of about 12.5 miles per hour, and have, just once, caused the Leader of the Free World to take a tumble. Of course, the Segway-owning segment of the population is still extremely small, and with the scooters selling at $5,000 a pop, they're unlikely to become mainstream anytime soon. Grist link
|Honda produces new fuel-cell car|
Honda Motor Co.'s hydrogen-powered FCX Clarity rolled off the line Monday and will be leased to high rollers in California. The Clarity -- an update of Honda's original FCX, a handful of which were leased in 2005 -- runs on hydrogen and electricity, emits only water, and is twice as fuel-efficient as a gas-electric hybrid. Actresses Laura Harris and Jamie Lee Curtis, filmmaker Christopher Guest, and Little Miss Sunshine producer Ron Yerxa will be among those leasing the Clarity this year; Honda hopes to lease 200 of the cars within three years and, if all goes well, have them mass-produced within a decade. All going well will mean a significant uptick in hydrogen-fueling infrastructure: fill-up stations are currently few and far between (if existent at all) in most of the country.
|Cuba's urban farmers produce good food without access to cheap oil.|
|6/2||The story is legendary in peak-oil circles: Twenty years ago, the Soviet Union pulled the plug on Cuba's cheap-energy, cheap-food era. (See Bill McKibben's feature piece on the subject.) No longer would the fading superpower accept the tiny island nation's sugar as payment for crude oil. From then on, only hard currency would do. It also halted food aid. In short order, gas and food prices spiked and people's living standards tumbled. Next, a widespread shift from cars to bikes, and an explosion in community gardening.
Recently, as our own cheap-energy era appears to be lurching toward its end, the mainstream media have caught wind of the Cuban miracle. link
|Vaccine, nut oil may cut cow belching's contribution to climate change|
|6/11||The worldwide race to quell livestock belching is on! Earlier this month, New Zealand researchers came one step closer to developing a vaccine that would reduce the methane emitted from belching livestock. Ruminant livestock burp and fart significant quantities of methane -- a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. "Our agricultural research organization ... was able to map the genome ... that causes methane in ruminant animals and we believe we can vaccinate against [that]," said New Zealand's trade minister. On Tuesday, Japanese scientists said they demonstrated that oil from the shell of the cashew nut may cut by some 90 percent the methane emissions from cattle burps when mixed in with their feed. The cashew-derived cattle-belch suppressant could be on sale within four years. If it takes off, the technology could be a real cashew cow! Ruminants are responsible for about 25 percent of methane emissions in Britain as well as some 90 percent of New Zealand's.|
|Best Buy tests free e-waste recycling program|
Electronics retailer Best Buy announced on Monday that it's testing a free electronic-waste recycling program in 117 of its stores in the Baltimore, Minneapolis, and San Francisco areas, plus a few other select stores in the East and Midwest. Customers can bring in up to two e-waste items per day for free recycling, including TVs, computers, video-game consoles, VCRs, and the like. "We want to take the time to learn if we can handle this before we go any further," said Best Buy spokesperson Kelly Groehler. "We know the need is there and the waste stream is there. We think everyone needs to bear some responsibility for this -- consumers, retailers and manufacturers." If all goes well, Best Buy could expand the program to include its 805 other U.S. stores. link
|5/30||Brimming with lime-hued succulents and a lush collection of agaves, one shooting spiky leaves 10 feet into the air, it's a head-turning garden smack in the middle of Long Beach's asphalt jungle. But the gardener who designed it doesn't want you to know his last name, since his handiwork isn't exactly legit. It's on a traffic island he commandeered.
"The city wasn't doing anything with it, and I had a bunch of extra plants," says Scott, as we tour the garden, cars whooshing by on both sides of Loynes Drive.
Scott is a guerrilla gardener, a member of a burgeoning movement of green enthusiasts who plant without approval on land that's not theirs. In London, Berlin, Miami, San Francisco and Southern California, these free-range tillers are sowing a new kind of flower power. In nighttime planting parties or solo "seed bombing" runs, they aim to turn neglected public space and vacant lots into floral or food outposts.
Part beautification, part eco-activism, part social outlet, the activity has been fueled by Internet gardening blogs and sites such as GuerrillaGardening.org, where before-and-after photos of the latest "troop digs" inspire 45,000 visitors a month to make derelict soil bloom.
"We can make much more out of the land than how it's being used, whether it's about creating food or beautifying it," says the movement's ringleader and GuerrillaGardening.org founder, Richard Reynolds, by phone from his London home. His tribe includes freelance landscapers like Scott, urban farmers, floral fans and artists...
|Study Supports U.S. Wind Expansion|
|5/30||Wind energy can supply 20 percent of U.S. electricity needs by 2030 at a "modest" cost difference, a new U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) report says. The analysis predicts that the 20 percent wind scenario would cost about 2 percent more than sticking with the current energy mix, which relies more heavily on traditional fossil fuels.|
|India Tightens Security to Fight Rhino Poachers|
|5/30||By Biswajyoti Das
KAZIRANGA NATIONAL PARK, India (Reuters) - Authorities in India's remote northeast said they were increasing security in the world's biggest reserve for the endangered great one-horned rhinoceros to save them from poachers.
Poachers have killed at least 10 rhinos in two national parks in Assam state since January, eight of them at the Kaziranga National Park.
"We are increasing the number of guards in Kaziranga because of a recent increase in poaching, and a probe has also been ordered," Rockybul Hussain, Assam's forest minister told Reuters on Wednesday.
Last year, two dozen animals lost their horns to poachers in Assam, for their medicinal value in the international black market.
Horns fetch up to $10,000 (400,000 rupees) and demand is soaring in China and Southeast Asian countries, wildlife experts say.
|House passes clean-energy tax credits, Calif. waiver|
Exciting things going on at the Capitol: The House has passed a bill with tax credits for renewable energy; the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed legislation asking President Bush to grant California the waiver it needs to regulate vehicle greenhouse-gas emissions. See below. Grist link
|Bay Area initiates first-of-its-kind fee on biz greenhouse-gas emissions|
|5/22||Businesses in nine San Francisco Bay Area counties will pay 4.4 cents for every ton of greenhouse gases they spew, after the district air-quality board voted 15-1 Wednesday to approve the fee. Set to take effect July 1, the fee will affect more than 2,500 businesses; the district estimates that perhaps seven power plants and oil refineries will have to pay more than $50,000 a year, but most businesses will pay less than $1. The fee is modest enough that dramatic emissions reductions are unlikely to occur, but proponents laud the precedent. Businesses were, unsurprisingly, less enthusiastic, expressing concerns about the cost of tracking and reporting emissions, duplication of state efforts to address warming, and the authority of an air-pollution board to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions. The fee is expected to generate $1.1 million in the first year, which will help pay for projects aimed at reducing the region's emissions.|
|Nanowires may boost solar cell efficiency, UC San Diego engineers say|
|5/12||University of California, San Diego electrical engineers have created experimental solar cells spiked with nanowires that could lead to highly efficient thin-film solar cells of the future. Indium phosphide (InP) nanowires can serve as electron superhighways that carry electrons kicked loose by photons of light directly to the device’s electron-attracting electrode — and this scenario could boost thin-film solar cell efficiency, according to research recently published in NanoLetters.|
|Small cars gaining popularity in U.S. amid high fuel costs|
High gasoline prices and other economic woes have driven car-buyers in the U.S. to purchase smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles lately. Last month, sales of compact and subcompact cars made up about 20 percent of total sales; in the mid 1990s, small cars accounted for only about one in eight cars sold in the country. Sales of vehicles with four-cylinder engines also outpaced sales of six-cylinder cars. "It’s easily the most dramatic segment shift I have witnessed in the market in my 31 years here," said a Ford sales analyst. Meanwhile, sales of SUVs and trucks are seeing a sharp downward trend this year, with SUV sales plummeting 25 percent so far. Some market watchers are forecasting a continued shift away from big vehicles since gasoline prices are expected to remain high for a long while. "The era of the truck-based large SUVs is over," said the CEO of the biggest auto retailer in the U.S.
|Northwest sea lions granted stay of execution|
Sea lions all set to gobble their last salmon supper at a Northwest dam have been granted a stay of execution by a U.S. appeals court. Judges granted an injunction, requested by the Humane Society, that a lower court had denied last week. It's only a partial victory for the Humane Society, however, as the court did OK the transfer of the whiskery rascals to zoos and aquariums; state officials planned to nab and relocate eight sea lions on Thursday.
|All-electric car coming to the U.S. next year|
|4/22||Reasonably priced, all-electric cars are coming soon to a California near you. (And then to the rest of the U.S. before too long.) Think Global, which was sold by Ford Motor Co. to Norwegian investors in 2003, will partner with two venture capital firms to mass-produce the battery-powered Think City in the U.S., starting next year. About the size of a Mini Cooper, the Think City is a two-seater but has room for two more seats for children. It can drive up to 110 miles on a single charge and has a top speed of around 65 miles per hour. It'll be priced under $25,000, meets European safety standards, and is adorable. Oh, and the Think City is 95 percent recyclable and emission-free, natch.|
|Senate passes one-year extension of renewable-energy tax credit|
|4/10||The U.S. Senate passed an extension of the renewable-energy production tax credit Thursday as part of a bill intended to address the ailing U.S. housing market. The renewable-energy credit provides a per-kilowatt-hour incentive for the first 10 years a renewable-energy project is in operation -- a credit considered to be a vital driver of clean-energy expansion. The credit is worth an estimated $6 billion and will be extended for another year, through 2009, if the legislation makes it past the House of Representatives and President Bush. Homeowners and businesses will also be able to offset up to 30 percent of the cost of solar and fuel-cell equipment under the bill, and homeowners who install efficient insulation, furnaces, and windows will get additional credits. "It would be difficult for taxpayers to find an investment that offers a better return," said Melinda Pierce of the Sierra Club. "This package of incentives will pay us environmental and economic dividends for years to come."|
|Four nations rush to be carbon-neutral first|
|4/3||It's the race for the greenest of the laurels, the contest for the ultimate ecological accolade. Four countries are competing to be the first of the world's 195 nations to go entirely carbon neutral.
They make a disparate line-up of runners, comprising the world's most northerly and southernmost independent countries, its third largest oil exporter, and a state that long ago dispensed with its army.
|Two proposed solar projects to boost California's solar capacity by half|
Two large solar-power projects were proposed in Southern California this week that together could provide up to 500 megawatts of power, just over half the state's current solar capacity and enough to provide electricity to about 300,000 homes. One of the projects, proposed by utility Southern California Edison, aims to put solar panels on 65 million square feet of commercial buildings across Southern California. It's expected to cost $875 million and could be completed in five years, pending approval by the state's utility regulators. The other project, to be sited in the Mojave Desert, is a solar thermal power plant proposed by utility Florida Power and Light; Grist link
|Southern Baptist leaders urge action on climate change|
|3/12||Over 40 prominent Southern Baptist leaders released a statement Monday urging action against climate change, asserting that "the time for timidity regarding God's creation is no more." The declaration is a notable departure from a statement released after the denomination's 2007 annual meeting that questioned human impacts on climate change. "We believe our current denominational engagement with these issues have often been too timid, failing to produce a unified moral voice," the new declaration says. "Our cautious response to these issues in the face of mounting evidence may be seen by the world as uncaring, reckless, and ill-informed. We can do better." The signatories also urged action on other environmental ills and called on churches to preach about caring for the environment. One of the signatories, Jonathan Merritt, stressed why environmental protection is so important. "[W]hen we destroy God's creation, it's similar to ripping pages from the Bible," he said.|
|Startup Company Makes Thin-Film Solar Cells Via New Process|
|3/7||Solar company Konarka has announced that it successfully developed a new process to manufacture solar cells that could lead to a range of new solar-powered products and applications. The solar cells are made without silicon and are manufactured into a thin, light film via an inkjet printer, which means they don't need to be born in a clean room like traditional silicon cells. One drawback to the new cells is their efficiency: while regular silicon solar cells achieve efficiencies of up to 20 percent, the new cells are only 5 percent efficient, but Konarka says they're likely to be less expensive and much more dynamic. They can be incorporated into plastics and come in a range of different colors, including transparent.|
|FWS Drops Plans to Cut Critical Habitat for Marbled Murrelet|
|3/6||In a significant and unexpected victory for environmentalists, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reversed its plans to significantly cut critical habitat for the marbled murrelet. The tiny seabird is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and the FWS had threatened to cut over 90 percent of its critical habitat as part of the Bush administration's plans to increase logging of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. But with the reversal, 3.9 million acres of federal old-growth forests will remain protected. Along with the spotted owl, the fight over murrelet habitat has pitted forest and species advocates against timber interests eager to log federal forests. "This reversal, coupled with a recent court decision throwing out a timber industry attempt to delist the murrelet, should end the timber industry's profit-driven and illegal attack on the coastal forests that murrelets need to survive," said Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles.|
|Federal loan program for coal-fired power plants suspended amid climate, cost concerns|
A federal loan program for coal-fired power plants in rural areas has been suspended due to concerns over climate change and the costs of the program. The Rural Utilities Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, issued $1.3 billion in loans to coal plants since 2001 under the program. However, RUS officials said costs for new coal-fired power plants have been rising at about 30 percent a year. The White House Office of Management and Budget asked for the suspension following congressional inquiries last month. "This is a big decision," said Abigail Dillen of Earthjustice. "It says new coal plants can't go to the federal government for money at least for the next couple years, and these are critical times for companies to get these plants built." At least four coal plants had been lined up for funding at the time of the suspension and now must either wait it out or seek funding from private sources. The RUS coal-plant loans could resume in 2010 after an analysis of the risks. link
|GOP Convention Goes Green Too|
|3/5||Not to be outdone by the Democratic convention, the Republican convention will, indeed, go green. While hosting divisive delegate debates over the best way to address environmental issues from a GOP perspective, the Minneapolis convention hall will boast recycled-fiber carpet, booths and stages constructed of local, sustainably harvested wood, water in petroleum-free bottles, biodegradable plates, composted food, non-plastic banners printed with soy-based inks, energy-efficient lighting, reduced paper, bicycles available for delegates to pedal to and from hotels, and, of course, an intent to make the event carbon neutral. As would only be expected, says the communications director of the GOP Convention Committee on Arrangements: "Republicans, like all Americans, support responsible stewardship of the land."|
|Researchers Develop Energy-Generating Clothing|
|2/15||We like the idea of harvesting energy from our own movement, but wearing a knee brace just sounds too clunky. But now U.S. researchers publishing in Nature have developed a way to generate electricity from nanofibers woven into fabric. If the technology goes mainstream, we'll be able to generate energy just by getting dressed -- which, of course, we do every day. Except after the first rain of the year at UCSC.|
|Panel rejects toll road through San Onofre State Beach|
|2/7||The California Coastal Commission handed environmentalists a major victory and rejected the pleas of motorists Wednesday, voting down plans to build a six-lane toll road through San Onofre State Beach, a popular preserve in north San Diego County known for its scenery and famous surf spots.
Before a boisterous crowd of more than 3,500 people, commissioners decided 8 to 2 that the proposed Foothill South project violates the California Coastal Act, which is designed to regulate development along the state's 1,100-mile shoreline. They reached the conclusion following hours of sometimes heated public testimony that pitted protecting the environment against the need to relieve traffic congestion in south Orange County. link
|Staples cuts off contracts with paper supplier over eco-concerns|
This is spiffy, so allow us to Post-it: Office supply giant Staples has cut off all contracts with gigantic Asia Pulp & Paper, citing concern that APP feeds Indonesian and Chinese rainforest into its pulp mills. In recent years, other businesses including Office Depot have quit dealings with APP over environmental concerns, but Staples had stuck with 'em. Now, though, Staples' Vice President for Environmental Issues Mark Buckley says that staying with APP would be "at great peril to our brand." Kudos to all you office suppliers who talked up rainforest destruction while purchasing your label makers. Grist link
|Diamonds to Rice|
|2/2||A non-governmental organization teams up with Sierra Leonians to rebuild their war torn country - planting rice fields where once lay the raw earth remnants of conflict diamond mining. Audio|
|New Method to Show Food is Organic|
|2/2||As organic farming becomes more common, methods to identify fraud in the industry are increasingly important. In a recent study in Journal of Environmental Quality, scientists successfully use nitrogen isotopic discrimination to determine if non-organic, synthetic fertilizers were used on sweet pepper plants.|
|Congo Wetlands Reserve to be World's Second Largest|
|2/2||World Wildlife Federation has welcomed the World Wetlands Day declaration of the world’s second largest internationally recognized and protected significant wetlands reserve in the Congo as a clear sign of the world’s increasing interest in the green heart of Africa.|
|Wal-Mart CEO outlines lofty green goals|
|1/24||Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott made a big ol' speech yesterday spelling out ambitious social, health, and environmental goals for the retail behemoth. Wal-Mart will work with other retailers to boost industry-wide green standards, said Scott, and, within five years, Wal-Mart suppliers will be required to meet stringent environmental standards -- and may even be paid more to do so. The company wants to double its sales of merchandise that help consumers improve home energy efficiency, is in talks with automakers about selling electric or hybrid cars, and could even set up windmills or solar panels in its parking lots to allow customers to recharge with renewable energy. "It's a good vision," says Gwen Ruta of green group Environmental Defense. "Now we need to make it a reality." To an extent, Wal-Mart already has: It's been aggressively pushing green goals since 2005, has strived to open energy-efficient stores, and has to date sold 145 million compact fluorescent light bulbs.|
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