Monday, December 31, 2007

Global Warming and World Instability

While dwindling numbers of deniers continue to minimize the threats of global warming, a group of United States military leaders, including retired four-star General Anthony Zinni, have released a report on the potential impact of climate change on our nation's security. This piece was produced by the Real News.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Vehicle to Grid Power Could Supplement Energy Needs

That 200-horsepower engine propelling your personal road machine could also do its share to help power your home or office. The concept of vehicle-to-grid power hasn't yet advanced from the research labs, but the idea bears serious consideration as a means to deliver power to the grid during peak demand periods. The Univeristy of Delaware describes the technology in these terms:

Electric-drive vehicles, whether powered by batteries, fuel cells, or gasoline hybrids, have within them the energy source and power electronics capable of producing the 60 Hz AC electricity that powers our homes and offices. When connections are added to allow this electricity to flow from cars to power lines, we call it "vehicle to grid" power, or V2G. Cars pack a lot of power. One typical electric-drive vehicle can put out over 10kW, the average draw of 10 houses. The key to realizing economic value from V2G is precise timing of its grid power production to fit within driving requirments while meeting the time-critical power "dispatch" of the electric distribution system.

The Rocky Mountain Institute has been studying this issue (and has launched The Smart Garage initiative). One of their fellows, Bryan Palmintier, recently wrote an article posted on Yahoo Green News, How Your Future Car Could Help Add Power Back to the Grid. He describes the most basic approach to the technology:

The simplest V2G strategy is to charge vehicles at night, when electricity use (and price) is lowest, and then use the batteries to provide power during the peak demand (typically in the afternoon). This way, V2G could replace the so called "peaker" power plants, which run for only a few hours to meet the highest loads, and are typically the least efficient and most polluting.

To be effective however, this peak shifting would require millions of V2G-capable vehicles on the road (or, more precisely, parked in the afternoon), which will take some time to happen. In the short run, the most promising use for V2G is to provide "ancillary services" to help stabilize the grid.

But, another smart way to implement the technology would be as a supplement to renewable sources of power where the levels of energy fluctuate frequently:

Another exciting possibility for V2G is to help compensate for (or "firm") the variable output of intermittent renewables such as wind and solar.

When the wind blows or the sun is out, vehicles could charge their batteries, while still leaving plenty of power to run other loads on the grid. Then when the wind slows, or a cloud covers the sun, power from the vehicles would be used to continue to provide the same level of power to the grid.

Many innovative solutions to our energy problems are within our grasp with a little imagination and the willingness to make some changes to the entrenched infrastructure.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Blending Science, Art, and Climate Change Evangelism

From an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Scientist Shearer Brings Odd Bedfellows Together to Save the Earth, emerges a fascinating portrait of a new media practitioner grounded in science and committed to reducing climate change. The subject of this piece, David Shearer, defies categorization as he combines expertise in a variety of areas to persuade the doubtful, activate markets, and initiate dialogues among unlikely participants.

But, regardless of the backgrounds and sensibilities of his audiences, he sometimes tosses out ideas that challenge conventional thought.

His doctoral degree gave him the intellectual chops to explain the science of climate change, yet friends say his open mind is what allows him to hear new ideas. It is his spiritual side, colleagues say, that really sets him apart from your garden-variety academic.

Like when he talks about exploring a multidimensional world that we cannot see or hear.

"I joke with my friends that I'd like to demonstrate as a scientist that love is a real energy. That love can run a light bulb," the now-divorced Shearer said while sitting in his Financial District office. "And they say to me, 'David, how are you going to do that?' And I say, 'I don't really know, you guys, but as a scientist I need to be open to new ideas, and maybe it resides in one of these other dimensions.'

"Lately, as I talk about climate change, I lay out the picture - this is where we are, this is what the solution packages are - but really what it gets down to is cooperation, conversation and, dare I say, love. It gets down to having dialogues across countries, across societies."

Journalist Joe Garofoli concluded the piece with an appropriately upbeat quote from Shearer.

"While we need to be very sanguine about what the problems are on the planet, we need to create exciting, realistic, solution packages that capture the imagination," he said. "It's just too dire without creating some excitement.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Natalie Portman and This Bulb

It's the millions upon millions of small steps that we all take to reduce energy use that collectively can make a monumental difference worldwide. In this segment produced by National Geographic (heavily laden with the startling imagery and striking visuals for which National Geographic is known), a pantheon of celebrities as well as some average folks make the case for switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs. Catchy and persuasive...

Some people balk at the idea of switching to compact fluorescent bulbs having heard of the mercury dangers. The Union of Concerned Scientists addresses that issue right here.

Wake-up Call on Global Warming

Something remarkable happened at Bali. The delegate from New Guinea stood up to the U.S. and essentially said, "You can lead on this issue or you can get out of the way so the rest of us can make some progress."

The result, documented in this Greenpeace video, which also includes the final version of a video collaboration, Climate Message in a Bottle, may surprise you.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Tom Hanks Electric Car

A quote comes to mind, one that Jim Hightower captured from John Dromgoole, a natural gardener, in his book The Upchuck Rebellion. The quote applies as well to energy and automotive issues as it does to organic gardening:

Those who say it can't be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.

Tom Hanks is doing it, with an electric car that gets 80 or more miles per charge and keeps up with the freeway traffic effortlessly. He talks about it and a conversion company that he is involved with on this Letterman segment:

Tom also has a video on his MySapce page that gives you the opportunity to drive along with him and hear about a more recent electric car's features.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Changing Habits to Fight Global Warming

As discussed in this Boston Globe article, people don't change habits easily when it comes to global warming and energy conservation. A city task force in Keene, NH, is trying to use social pressure to change those daily wasteful habits that impede efforts to cut energy consumption.

The idea is to seed the city with visible green role models and have them reach out to friends, neighbors, and co-workers - essentially using the same type of peer pressure that makes teens want to wear Ugg boots and North Face jackets.

"We want to get people to do the right thing because it's cool to do it," said Mikaela Engert, Keene's city planner. "We're trying to make [environmentalism] part of the fabric of the city."

So far the project has yielded mixed results, but it is revealing for spotlighting the challenges that any community faces when trying to directly confront global warming.

In 2000, Keene became one of the first communities in New England to pledge to combat climate change, eventually agreeing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent below 1995 levels by 2015. Without the effort, emissions were projected to rise 26 percent over that time because of economic and population growth.

As other communities begin to do their part to slow the world's warming, Keene's unfolding story - high on hope and short on money - offers a glimpse into the extraordinary challenge of changing a culture.

The journey of a 1000 miles needs to start quickly and with more than one step.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Obstructionist Tactics at Climate Change Conference in Bali

At the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bali (3 DEC - 14 DEC 07) Canada's new Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, managed to accomplish a near-impossible feat: presenting a more regressive approach to climate change policy than George Bush, who won the Fossil of the Century Award in 2005. The Real News reports:

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bali and Biofuels

Despite urgings from a number of environmental organizations, issues related to biofuels did not get a thorough airing at the recent United Nations climate change conference in Bali, which ran from December 3rd to the 14th. Demand for biofuels has skyrocketed with many nations rethinking fuel sources to help limit greenhouse gas emissions, but the dark side of biofuels, the impact on food sources, deforestation, and land use, was largely missing from conference sessions and discussions.

As reported in an Inter Press Service article, Climate Change: Biofuels Scarce on Bali Menu, agricultural issues associated with biofuels have a significant impact on food availability:

‘’We are concerned about the pressure biofuel production is placing on the world’s food reserves. If you produce biofuel with food crops like corn, you won’t have it to meet food demand,’’ Jeff McNeely, chief scientist of IUCN said in an interview. ‘’The grain reserves of the world today are the lowest they have been in the last 10 to 15 years.’’

Similar views were expressed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in pamphlets made available at the U.N. agency’s display booth in the main conference venue. ‘’Food security (availability and accessibility) of the poor may be compromised by increased demand for energy crops,’’ it cautioned.

Currently, the biofuel industry is fed by corn, wheat, sugarcane and palm oil, among other crops. Close to 5,000 lt of biofuel can be extracted from one hectare of corn, 6,000 lt from a hectare of sugarcane and 4,500 lt from a hectare of palm oil, said Barbara Bramble of the National Wildlife Federation during the IUCN-hosted discussion.

A quote from the Netherlands environment minister provides a succinct summary of the issue:

And the main drivers of this demand, the European Union (EU), has admitted that a more sustainable policy is needed to meet a 2010 target of having 5.7 percent of its transport fuel from green sources. ‘’The negative impacts should be avoided,’’ said the Netherlands' environment minister Jacqueline Cramer. ‘’When we use biofuel for our cars, we might be destroying biodiversity and have negative impacts on food production and social and economic development.’’

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Total Decarbonization

Total decarbonization... That's a catchy phrase. George Monbiot used in in a 4 DEC 07 article in the Guardian Unlimited, This crisis demands a reappraisal of who we are and what progress means.

The crux of the issue of quite simple, though the solution is anything but.

In the new summary published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), you will find a table that links different cuts to likely temperatures. It suggests that to prevent global warming from eventually exceeding 2C, by 2050 the world will need to cut its emissions to roughly 15% of the volume in 2000.

There are more facts and figures, but it boils down to the need for generating a global cut in CO2 emissions of more than 90% by 2050 to avoid dire repercussions of global warming. And to stabilize temperatures globally at a level consistent with the pre-industrial period will require a global cut of nearly 100%.

To most humans, this would be cause for complete despair and inaction, but Monboit is optimistic that there remains a path to circumvent disaster.

But I am not advocating despair. We must confront a challenge that is as great and as pressing as the rise of the Axis powers. Had we thrown up our hands then, as many people are tempted to do today, you would be reading this paper in German. Though the war often seemed impossible to win, when the political will was mobilised strange and implausible things began to happen. The US economy was spun round on a dime in 1942 as civilian manufacturing was switched to military production. The state took on greater powers than it had exercised before. Impossible policies suddenly became achievable.

The real issues in Bali are not technical or economic. The crisis we face demands a profound philosophical discussion, a reappraisal of who we are and what progress means. Debating these matters makes us neither saints nor communists; it shows only that we have understood the science.

Deep ecology is one place to start. Deep Economy (as described in Bill McKibben's recent book) is a way to continue (as are the steps outlined in his more recent book, Fight Global Warming Now). It's time for us collectively as a species to wake up and take action if we want to be around to celebrate the next millennium.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Nuclear Power Information Tracker

The Union of Concerned Scientists, one of the best watchdog and energy advisory group around, offers a comprehensive online guide to the existing reactors in the U.S. The interactive map also provides some startling surprises, such as when you click on the button labeled "Show Inherently Safe Reactors" and get this popup:

An inherently safe reactor, in theory, would be designed, operated, and monitored in such a way that the reactor would never be damaged and, as a result, no radioactivity would ever be released to the environment. No such reactor currently exists. The risk from existing reactors is so real and so large that liability insurance from private companies is financially impossible, thereby requiring federal liability protection

The catalog of reactor problems, near misses, forced shutdowns, and spotty safety records is eye opening and a clear indication of the nature of the beast.

The Wonders of Liquid Coal

Mark Fiore is one of the sharpest political and environmental commentators on the scene, using Flash animation to poke a stick in the eye of the establishment and expose the ongoing foolishness of government and industry. This piece, created for NRDC and just posted on YouTube, extols the virtues of liquid coal. Didn't realize there were virtues? Just click to find out more...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Renewable Energy Bonanza: More Green Jobs

As reported by environmental correspondent Julia Whitty and posted at Grist's The Blue Marble Blog, strong growth in renewable energy projects is accelerating. A study conducted by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute included forecasts and statistics that should encourage individuals and businesses that are renouncing a fossil-fuel future. Among the promising stats:

Energy efficiency now employs 8 million, and renewable energy 450,000, in the U.S. • Renewable energy creates more jobs per megawatt of power installed, unit of energy produced, and dollar invested than fossil energy. • Generating 20 percent of U.S. electricity from new renewable energy by 2020 will add 185,000 new jobs, while cumulatively reducing utility bills $10.5 billion and increasing rural landowner income by $26.5 billion. • A national light vehicle efficiency standard of 35 mpg by 2018 will create 241,000 jobs, including 23,900 in the automotive sector, while saving consumers $37 billion in 2020 alone. • The Massachusetts clean energy sector employs 14,000 and will soon be the state's 10th largest economic sector.

Whitty also points out that renewable energy projects, such as wind farms on pastureland and small-scale methane-generating plants on diary farms, reinvigorate local communities and bring sorely needed revenue into rural areas.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Addressing the Climate Skeptics

The British refer to them as "sceptics" rather than "skeptics", but regardless of their geographic location their sceptical arguments tend to fall into predictible groups, as noted in this BBC News special report, which is prefaced as follows:

What are some of the reasons why "climate sceptics" dispute the evidence that human activities such as industrial emissions of greenhouse gases and deforestation are bringing potentially dangerous changes to the Earth's climate?
As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) finalises its landmark report for 2007, we look at 10 of the arguments most often made against the IPCC consensus, and some of the counter-arguments made by scientists who agree with the IPCC.

In an accompanying piece, BBC environmental correspondent Richard Black queried the 61 "accredited experts in climate and related scientific disciplines" (as they described themselves) who wrote an open letter to Canada's newly elected prime minister, Stephen Harper. The letter essentially implored that the government revisit the current climate change plans and rethink the approach.

Of the respondents, Black summarized their positions in these terms:

So to the results. Ten out of the 14 agreed that the Earth's surface temperature had risen over the last 50 years; three said it had not, with one equivocal response.

Nine agreed that atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide had risen over the last century, with two saying decidedly that levels had not risen. Eight said that human factors were principally driving the rise.

Twelve of the fourteen agreed that in principle, rising greenhouse gas concentrations should increase temperatures.

But eight cited the Sun as the principal factor behind the observed temperature increase.

And nine said the "urban heat island" effect - where progressive urbanisation around weather stations has increased the amount of heat generated locally - had affected the record of historical temperatures.

Eleven believed rising greenhouse gas concentrations would not result in "dangerous" climate change, and 12 said it would be unwise for the global community to restrain production of carbon dioxide and the other relevant gases, with several suggesting that such restraint would bring economic disruption.

Black goes further into the nature of the responses and if you're interested in the varying rationales that climate skeptics employ, this piece is engaging and revealing.

One of the contributors to the Real Climate site (a group of scientists who blog about climate change issues--their tagline: Climate science from climate scientists), NASA climate modeler Gavin A. Schmidt, worked with Black to consolidate the contrarian arguments presented in the article, which he found weak and disappointing on the whole:

Alongside each of these talking points, is a counter-point from the mainstream (full disclosure, I helped Richard edit some of those). In truth though, I was a little disappointed at how lame their 'top 10′ arguments were. In order, they are: false, a cherry pick, a red herring, false, false, false, a red herring, a red herring, false and a strawman. They even used the 'grapes grew in medieval England' meme that you'd think they'd have abandoned already given that more grapes are grown in England now than ever before (see here). Another commonplace untruth is the claim that water vapour is '98% of the greenhouse effect' - it's just not.

So why do the contrarians still use arguments that are blatantly false? I think the most obvious reason is that they are simply not interested (as a whole) in providing a coherent counter story. If science has one overriding principle, it is that you should adjust your thinking in the light of new information and discoveries - the contrarians continued use of old, tired and discredited arguments demonstrates their divorce from the scientific process more clearly than any densely argued rebuttal.

If the few climate skeptics that remain hope to have any influence in governmental or societal changes in the decades ahead, they're going to have to marshall some better arguments--arguments that can't be so easily refuted.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Schizophrenia of Auto Manufacturers

As well documented in Who Killed the Electric Car, auto industry executives and manufacturers' spokespersons often speak out of both sides of their mouths when it comes to greener technologies. An illuminating example is Toyota advertising the benefits of their high-mileage vehicles while joining the Detroit Three in a lawsuit against California's attempt to legislate higher mileage standards for vehicles operated in the state.

In this article from the Minneapolis StarTribune, David Morris tells the story of Ford lobbying against legislative efforts to form a task force with a nefarious goal: investigating the possibility of using the soon-to-close St. Paul Ranger plant to produce plug-in hybrid Rangers.

Morris reports that under new management (Alan Mulally, formerly of Boeing) and under pressure from competitors, Ford is rethinking their attitude toward plug-in hybrids.

GM has announced a major effort to get its new plug-in vehicle, the Volt, on the road in 2010-2012. Several dozen plug-in Priuses are on the roads in Japan, a remarkable turnaround for Toyota, a company that for years used as its tag line in Prius ads: "You never have to plug it in." The company is also developing flexible-fuel technology that could use E85 ethanol for the back-up engine.

These changes can, and should, lead Ford, the UAW and Minnesota to revisit a plan to make the St. Paul plant the basis for a new, green transportation initiative. An electricity-biofueled vehicle makes very good sense. Traveling on electricity costs about a penny a mile, compared with more than 13 cents on gas. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that if every light-duty car and truck in America used plug-in hybrid technology, 75 percent could be plugged in and fueled at night by the electricity grid without the need to construct a single new power plant. Since we use very little oil to generate electricity, electric miles are essentially oil-free miles. If the backup engine were fueled by ethanol or biodiesel, the vehicle could reduce overall petroleum consumption by more than 90 percent.

Morris closes the piece with a tongue-in-cheek mixed metaphor: "The table is set. Will Ford step up to the plate?"

Nanotechnology Meets Solar

The energy world is abuzz with news of an advance that combines nanotechnology (an applied science that controls matter at the levels of molecules and atoms) with the vast potential of solar power. Nanosolar, which is building the world's largest solar cell factory in San Jose, California, also has a 507,000 square foot manufacturing plant close to Berlin, Germany.

One of the factors that has dampened enthusiasm for solar power has been the cost differential between solar and traditional technologies for generating electricity. Nanosolar has devised a technique for roll-printing thin-film solar cells, making it possible to inexpensively produce roof tiles, window coverings, and other surface covering materials that harvest energy from the sun.

Quoting from an article recently posted on CNBC:

"Solar panels have not been very popular to the American people because they've been too expensive. That's what we're changing now," says Martin Roscheisen, another of the company's co-founders.

Nanosolar's secret sauce is just that: a patented glop of metals and nanoparticles that work together once they're exposed to sunlight, absorbing light and then producing energy. The substance is then sprayed on a durable foil by machines that look like giant newspaper printing presses. The process dramatically speeds up the manufacturing process.

"We're trying to achieve fantastic scale," says an early Nanosolar investor, Eric Straser from Mohr Davidow Ventures. "But we're really doing it in a way that achieves a cost breakthrough at the same time."

The transformational possibilities of technologies such as this demonstrate where this country's research and investment dollars should be going, obviating the need to turn to moribund technologies such as nuclear power and liquid coal.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Quelling Consumerism

As Kelle Lasn, founder of Adbusters says, "Driving hybrid cars and limiting industrial emissions is great, but they are band-aid solution if we don't address the core problem: we have to consume less. This is the message of Buy Nothing Day.

Rampant consumerism is as big a threat to the planet as the dirty smokestack industries, exhaust-belching cars, and the globe-circling jetliners. Excess consumption is the Stegasaurus in the living room that most people don't even want to talk about because it cuts too close to habits that are near and dear.

So, celebrate this day in earnest. It's easy. All you have to do is buy nothing...


Thursday, November 22, 2007

If slaughterhouses had glass walls...

As millions of roasted turkey carcasses go on tables around the country, it's worth considering the relationship between the consumption of animal flesh and global warming. Those environmentalists who don't fall among the ranks of vegans or vegetarians (vegans number somewhere around 1 to 2.8 percent of the population by some estimates) have some explaining to do. As Bill Maher said in a recent column posted on Common Dreams:

Former Vice President Al Gore should be the first to take the meat-free Thanksgiving pledge. Since raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined, is it too much ask Mr. Gore to stop gazing at his Oscar and his Nobel Prize long enough to read the United Nations report that calls the meat industry “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global”? has more to say on the topic:
Scientists also warn that global warming threatens the lives of millions of humans and countless other animals. Many conscientious people are trying to help reduce global warming by driving more fuel-efficient cars and using energy-saving light bulbs. Although this helps, science shows that going vegetarian is perhaps the most effective way to fight global warming.

In a groundbreaking 2006 report, the United Nations (U.N.) said that raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined. Senior U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization official Henning Steinfeld reported that the meat industry is “one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems.

As Paul McCartney once commented, "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian." Most people would rather fight off a hungry shark with their bare fists than consider dropping meat products from their diet, but someday maybe the notion will enter the popular consciousness: eating meat dramatically escalates global warming risks.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Our Noocular Future

The AustralianGreens have their say in this nifty sequence that spells out the benefits of Noocular Power in no uncertain terms.

Monday, November 12, 2007

ZAP! Electric Car Showroom Tour

While this video dates back awhile (April 2007), it's still a good opportunity to get a peek at some of the innovative production models being sold by the automotive wizards of ZAP! in Santa Rosa, California.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Untapped Energy Solutions: Co-Generation

With a little ingenuity and some rethinking of the centralized infrastructures that dominate power distribution in the U.S., we could go a long way toward both easing climate change threats and stretching our energy resources. Waste and inefficiency are unforgivable at this stage of our accelerating descent into energy hell. This is the persepctive underlying Bill McKibben's latest article in Orion Magazine, The Unsung Solution, which explores the benefits of tapping waste heat from manufacturing processes to generate power.

McKibben profiles a firm, Recycled Energy Development, quoting one of the principals, Sean Casten, who said:

“Let’s look at Florida. Here’s a Maxwell House coffee roaster in Duval County. They’re roasting beans, so all that heat has to go somewhere. About twelve megawatts’ worth of potential electricity is going up the stack. Basically, there’s a network of tubes with water in them. The heat would hit one side of it, produce steam, and we’d use that to turn a turbine and generate electricity. It’s like any other boiler, just without a flame, because the heat is already there.”

This is not a poorly understood emerging technology that requires vast development resources and risky investment strategies. Co-generation techniques have been in use for decades and are a proven, successful means of making maximum benefit of available power resources. The article continues:

Does that sound suspiciously pie-in-the-sky? Casten can drive a few miles from his Chicago office to an East Chicago plant run by Mittal Steel. A few years ago, a predecessor energy-recycling company installed this kind of equipment on the smokestacks of the plant’s coke ovens. In 2004, this single steel plant generated roughly the same amount of clean energy as was produced by all of the grid-connected solar collectors throughout the world. Casten’s company estimates that recycling waste heat from factories alone could produce 14 percent of the electric power the U.S. now uses. If you took much the same approach to electric generating stations you could, says Casten, conceivably produce the same amount of energy we use now with half the fossil fuel.

Let’s cut the numbers in half to account for corporate enthusiasm. Hell, let’s cut them in half again. You’re still talking about one of the most effective ways to cut carbon emissions that we’ve got, a mature technology ready to go. You’re talking about a recycling project infinitely more important than all that paper we’ve been bundling and glass we’ve been rinsing for the last two decades. Why isn’t it happening everywhere? The first answer, says Casten, is that very few companies spend much time thinking about their waste heat. “How much time do you think about the useful things you could be doing with your urine?” asks Casten. “The guy at the coffee roaster is spending all day focused on roasting coffee beans so they taste good.”

Laws governing the operation of electrical utilities, which in most communities are essentially monopolies, tend to protect the profits of the utilities above all else, McKibben asserts. In such an environment, change is difficult or impossible. Therein lies the rub. Our energy salvation may require restructuring the counter-productive regulations that have gotten us into the predicament we're in today. The solutions are available if we're smart enough to utilize them.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Bonnie Raitt and Others Expose Nuke Provisions

A little-known clause stuck in the pending Energy Bill tries to circumvent the market failures of nuclear power by foisting construction costs on the public. As described in a petition drive started by Working Assets, Act for Change, it's another attempt to derail open government in America, slipping drastic, costly meastures into legislation without public notice or disucssion. Working Assets stated:

The "new generation" nuclear plant now being built in Finland is already 18 months behind schedule and $900 million over budget. This is a design planned for our country. If construction begins here, tax and ratepayers will be stuck with the bill.

The Senate version of the Energy Bill could authorize the Department of Energy to provide virtually unlimited guarantees for backers of new reactors. The industry indicates it wants $25 billion in guarantees for 2008, and another $25 billion for 2009, with untold billions more to come after that.

The industry wants these subsidies because after fifty years, atomic power has been rejected by the marketplace. The first commercial nuclear reactor opened in 1957. But after fifty years of proven failure, Wall Street will not independently invest in more of them, and still no private insurance company will underwrite the possibility of a major reactor disaster.

Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Brown, Graham Nash, and Ben Harper speak out on this issue in the following clip:

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Rocky Mountain Institute Turns 25

This 14-minute video provides a capsule history of the Rocky Mountain Institute and some clear ideas about our energy future and how we should approach it. RMI founder Amory Lovins has much to say throughout...

Friday, September 21, 2007

No Such Thing

In this continuation of the LiberalOasis interview with David Roberts, we hear more about how there is no such thing as a free energy market in oil. Good stuff, well worthing viewing...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Not-So-Free Energy Market

From the LiberalOasis Radio Show, an interview with Grist blooger David Roberts highlights the prevailing myths about our "free energy market" in a lively and solidly grounded discussion.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Solar Tower Supplies Low-Cost Energy

A solar tower in Spain, erected as a pilot project, demonstrates that something as simple as the heating of air can effectively generate electricity at a very low cost.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Smart Car arrives in Bahs-ton

It's 104 inches long and 20,000 people have put deposits on one. An interesting wrinkle in the evolution of the automobile and the changing tastes of the buying public...

Friday, August 10, 2007

Ticking Time Bomb Beneath Arctic Ice

This L.A. Times article, The Crisis Under the Ice, illuminates the risks from "a ticking time bomb", the release of methane from below arctic permafrost. Russians seeking undiscovered oil in Arctic regions have planted a flag made of titanium on the seabed, but a number of scientists are concerned about a more pressing danger than diminishing oil supplies:

But there is an even more dangerous aspect to the unfolding drama in the Arctic. While governments and oil giants are hoping the melting ice will allow them access to the world's last treasure trove of oil and gas, climatologists are deeply worried about something else buried under the ice that, if unearthed, could wreak havoc on the biosphere, with dire consequences for human life.

Much of the Siberian sub-Arctic region, an area the size of France and Germany combined, is a vast, frozen peat bog. Before the most recent Ice Age, the area was mostly grassland, teeming with wildlife. The coming of the glaciers entombed the organic matter below the permafrost, where it has remained ever since. Although the surface of Siberia is largely barren, there is as much organic matter buried underneath the permafrost as there is in all of the world's tropical rain forests.

Now the permafrost is thawing on land and along the seabeds. If it occurs in the presence of oxygen on land, the decomposing of organic matter leads to the production of CO2. If the permafrost thaws along lake shelves, in the absence of oxygen, the decomposing matter releases methane. Methane is the most potent of the greenhouse gases, with a greenhouse effect 23 times that of CO2.

Oil and global warming are inextricably linked in what can only be considered a dance of death as our industrial society inches closer and closer to the tipping point where warming processes can't possibly be reversed.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Eat Less Oil

The amount of oil involved in our globalized agriculture is staggering, as dramatized in this animation.

The solution: eat more local food.

From Oil Kings to Uranium Kings

Whether you have an energy economy geared to oil or hooked on uranium, as in France, as the commodity becomes scarce, the prices rise and fights often break out among those who want the remaining stores. This Le Monde editorial talks about the dynamics involved as France negotiates with Niger to ensure an ongoing supply of "yellow cake" to fuel its reactors.

Mr. Tandja has observed the price takeoff. A pound has gone from ten dollars three years ago to close to one hundred and fifty dollars on the international market (not counting long-term revisable contracts). And the increase should continue as needs grow and tensions over supplies appear. A windfall for Niger, which sees Chinese, Canadians, and Australians flooding in. World reserves are abundant, but exploration only resumed recently after twenty years of under-investment linked to attractive oil prices up to 2003 and to the rejection of nuclear power after the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe. Demand from big American, German, French, Japanese, Chinese, and Russian electricity companies will grow as they build new reactors. With the exhaustion of military (especially Russian) stocks, recycled as fuel since the end of the Cold War to compensate for mining under-production, rationing looms.

Wind, solar, and geothermal are looking better all the time.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Wind Power Alternative from NStar

For a price (about $7.50 to $15.00 a month) customers of the Boston utility NStar can buy electricity from a wind farm in upstate New York. The program still needs approval from state utility officials in Massachusetts, but the prospects look encouraging.

As this article in the Boston Globe indicates, the program has some unique advantages over earlier programs of a similar nature.

The two major differences with NStar's plan is that it will have the direct marketing power of the $3 billion utility behind it, and customers will be paying for electricity from the 195-turbine Maple Ridge wind project near Camp Drum in upstate New York and from a 44-tower wind project now under development at Kibby Mountain in Maine expected to open by 2009.

"We have something real and tangible, and we can take you up there and show you the source of where your power is coming from,'' NStar chief executive Thomas J. May said. NStar is signing 10-year contracts to buy a total of 30 megawatts of power from each installation, in total equal to the electric demand of about 45,000 average homes or small businesses. That's about 2 percent of the utility's average total demand, and May said, "We hope the program is oversubscribed and we have to go back and buy more.''

Alan Nogee of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge, one of several environmental groups that advised NStar on developing the plan, said, "We are very excited by NStar's long-term commitment to wind energy and their green power program. They're helping customers say yes to choosing a responsible energy future and a more stable climate.''

The viability of shaping our energy future around wind and solar becomes more clear with each program like this that is launched.

Monday, August 06, 2007

David Suzuki Talks About Climate Change

This Real News piece dates back a few weeks, but it's worthwhile in that David Suzuki speaks with conviction and passion about climate change and the difficulties in getting the message across to the public.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Benefitting Energy Consumers with RPS

Amidst the schemes and proposals and attempts to resurrect dead technologies (witness the nuclear power boosters practicing their arcane arts), some progress may be near at hand in the form of the renewable energy portfolio (RPS). A standard requiring that utilities produce 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources is in the works, as reported by blogger David Roberts.
A brief excerpt from a reference extract he highlights:
So for those of you who don't want to read the long post that follows, here are some key takeaway points:

Right now there is a patchwork of over 20 state RPSs. Each has slightly different and sometimes incompatible standards and rules, which prevent interstate trading of energy credits. This inhibits the development of renewable energy and presents a "free rider" problem, with power producers in non-RPS states benefiting unjustly. A national RPS is far preferable to today's patchwork of state RPSs.

Electricity consumers in every region of the country would save money under a national RPS -- up to $49 billion nationwide.

A national RPS would create 80% more jobs than comparable investment in fossil fuels -- the greatest number of jobs in the states that have been hardest hit by the loss of manufacturing.

All states have renewable resources that can be developed.

A national RPS would save billions of gallons of water, reduce air pollution, reduce total land occupied by power generation, and lower CO2 emissions.

Solutions are out there if we recognize them and take action.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

When Electric Cars Ruled the Road

Imagine driving down a boulevard in New York City in a clean, quiet electric car. You park in front of your favorite department store and plug in your vehicle to the charging station right at the curb. The air smells sweet, without the oily smell of exhaust, and the thrumming of internal combustion engines is replaced by the gentle whir of electric motors and the swoosh of vehicles gliding by like a soft breeze.

The scene isn't from New York City in 2025, but sometime around 1914, when electric cars shared the roadways with their noisy, stinky, gasoline-powered cousins. In this article from the New York Times (registration required), Back to the Future in a 98-Year Old Elecrric Car, it's clear that the proof of concept for electric vehicles was resolved almost a century ago.

At the turn of the 20th century, quiet, smooth, pollution-free electric cars were a common sight on the streets of major American cities. Women especially favored them over steam- and gasoline-powered cars.

In an era in which gasoline-powered automobiles were noisy, smelly, greasy and problematic to start, electric cars, like Jay Leno’s restored 1909 Baker Electric Coupe, represented a form of women’s liberation. Well-dressed society women could simply drive to lunch, to shop, or to visit friends without fear of soiling their gloves, mussing their hair or setting their highly combustible crinoline dresses on fire.

“These were women’s shopping cars,” said Mr. Leno, who is a serious hands-on collector of autos and motorcycles dating from the 1800s to the present. “There was no gas or oil, no fire, no explosions — you just sort of got in and you went. There were thousands of these in New York, from about 1905 to 1915. There were charging stations all over town, so ladies could recharge their cars while they were in the stores.”

Baker Electrics, Detroit Electrics, Rausch & Langs and other similar electric cars were comparatively reliable and easy to drive. Even the wives of legendary car company owners drove electrics.

Clara Ford, Henry’s wife, drove a 1914 Detroit Electric Brougham until the 1930s, using it to visit friends and make her rounds on the family’s Michigan estate. Helen Joy, wife of Henry Joy, president of the Packard Motor Car Company, drove a 1915 Detroit Electric.

Mr. Leno’s Baker stands — and stands is the correct word — more than 7 feet tall. “It looks like a giant phone booth,” he said. Twelve 6-volt batteries are under the front and rear covers, six under each, to power the car’s 72-volt motor.

Even much of the battery technology was worked out in those early days.

The Edison batteries were the result of a research program the inventor conducted at the turn of the century to create lighter, more powerful batteries that would extend the range and speed of electric cars, just as inventors are trying to do today.

Instead of the lead plates and sulfuric acid used in batteries from the mid-19th century on, the Edison batteries used iron and nickelic oxide electrodes, and an alkaline electrolyte of potassium hydroxide. Early tests were promising, but the first production batteries were prone to leaking and electrode failure. Edison closed the factory in 1905 and reworked the batteries, finally resuming production four years later. The effort was obviously effective.

“I have modern lead-acid batteries in the car now, but I can still run the original Edison batteries,” Mr. Leno said. “You can just rinse them out, replace the electrolyte, and they’re ready to go. They still work fine, after almost a hundred years.”

The car’s electric motor, about the size of a watermelon, is visible under the car, driving the rear wheels via an enclosed-chain reduction system and a now-conventional driveshaft and differential.

Are we going backwards or forwards? Something to consider as electric cars struggle to gain a foothold in an industry dominated by petroleum-powered thinking.

Friday, August 03, 2007

When the Oil is Gone, There is Still Vivoleum

I've read this article about three times now and I still wind up shaking my head in wonderment. It highlights in a nutshell everything that is wrong about our energy policy, as well as our culture, and as the author, Eric Francis Coppolino, points out, while our societal values are being turned inside out, "Hardly anyone is paying attention."

On June 14 of this year in Calgary, Canada, a roomful of oil industry listened with rapt attention to a conference presentation about a promising, sustainable replacement for petroleum: Vivoleum.

The concept was very straightforward:

They proposed that the bodies of climate change victims, who they said now number about 150,000 a year, could be rendered into a burnable product, particularly as combustion of fossil fuels sped up ecological disasters. To demonstrate the efficacy of this, they distributed candles throughout the audience, which were allegedly made of the stuff. The candles were lit, and the oil execs passed the flame from one to another.

The presenters claimed to be top executives from ExxonMobil and the National Petroleum Council. In reality, they were a couple of high-octane hoaxsters, the Yes Men, engaged in a culture-jamming practice they call "identity correction."

The business leaders watched attentively as animations showed how the human flesh would be rendered into fuel. The logic was compelling:

“Vivoleum works in perfect synergy with the continued expansion of fossil fuel production,” said “Florian Osenberg,” claiming to be an ExxonMobil representative. “With more fossil fuels comes a greater chance of disaster, but that means more feedstock for Vivoleum. Fuel will continue to flow for those of us left.”

The presentation continued to unfold smoothly until the level of absurdity finally reached a breaking point:

The two then showed a video tribute to an ExxonMobil janitor, “Reginald Spanglehart Watts,” who had purportedly died of toxic exposure after a chemical incident at a company facility. Before passing away, the kindhearted worker had donated his body to be made into one of the candles, so that he could do some good and be useful to others after he died. “Osenberg” lit the candle made of Watts’s flesh and held it up.
The tear-jerking tribute to “Reggie Watts” (with “You Light Up My Life” sung out of tune by Reggie as its theme song, as he mopped and swept) finally pushed the presenters’ credulity a shade too far. At that point, realizing the presentation was a hoax, Simon Mellor, commercial and business development director for the company putting on the event, walked up and physically forced the two imposters from the podium. The police were called, but the pair could only be charged with trespassing.

Many of the other identity readjustments staged by this group are equal parts funny and disturbing. The worldwide BBC broadcast where one the Yes Men, appearing as a Dow employee, explained how the victims of the Bhopal disaster were finally going to compensated is a genuine eye-opener (as was the response from Dow).

This is journalism at its best, as published by Chronogram. More power to them...

So, we had best not stake our energy futures in Vivoleum. The “o” in the Vivoleum logo was a drop of blood.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Nuke Plants Unable to Compete in the Free Market

Unable to gain financing on their own, power companies pushing nuclear power plants want the government (AKA you and me, unwitting taxpayers) to provide full loan guarantees, as discussed in this N.Y. Times article.

Power companies have tentative plans to put the 28 new reactors at 19 sites around the country. Industry executives insist that banks and Wall Street will not provide the money needed to build new reactors unless the loans are guaranteed in their entirety by the federal government.

Grossly overexpensive, short-lived, unreliable nuclear power plants have no place in the mix of energy options we need to combat global warming. And the safety issue is pretty well summed up by insurance companies, world's greatest assessors of risk, that refuse to insure plants beyond a limited liability cap--the rest of the tab, as might be expected, is dropped in the lap of none other than John Q. Public, thanks to the Price-Anderson Act.

A Look at Some Clean Cars

Roland Hwang, Vehicle Policy Director for NRDC, talks about emerging clean car technologies that are being designed, all of which share one trait in common: no tailpipes.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

World's Third Largest Solar Plant Online

A utility-scale power plant based on concentrating solar power technology is up and running near Boulder City, Nevada. Generating 64 megawatts of power, the Nevada Solar One plant is the largest one built internationally in the last 14 years and the third largest on the planet. Environmental News Service has a good description here and the landmark has also earned an entry in Wikipedia.

Green TV Productions offers the following on-site coverage of Nevada Solar One:

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Changing How People Design Things

More on the Rocky Mountain Institute in this revealing (though slightly smarmy) video clip from a CNN piece...

On Micropower and Other Musings of Amory Lovins

Amory Lovins and the well-respected organization he founded decades ago, the Rocky Mountain Institute, bring clarity and scientific precision to discussions on the pros and cons of alternative energy paths. Lovins favors the soft path, as made clear in this interview with Grist.
Micropower, as pointed out in the following quote, is not a trivial pursuit, but a major part of the energy mix in many forward-looking industrial countries.

We see this now in the electricity business. A fifth of the world's electricity and a quarter of the world's new electricity comes from micropower -- that is, combined heat and power (also called cogeneration) and distributed renewables. Micropower provides anywhere from a sixth to over half of all electricity in most of the industrial countries. This is not a minor activity anymore; it's well over $100 billion a year in assets. And it's essentially all private risk capital.

So in 2005, micropower added 11 times as much capacity and four times as much output as nuclear worldwide, and not a single new nuclear project on the planet is funded by private risk capital. What does this tell you? I think it tells you that nuclear, and indeed other central power stations, have associated costs and financial risks that make them unattractive to private investors. Even when our government approved new subsidies on top of the old ones in August 2005 -- roughly equal to the entire capital costs of the next-gen nuclear plants -- Standard & Poor's reaction in two reports was that it wouldn't materially improve the builders' credit ratings, because the risks private capital markets are concerned about are still there.

So I think even such a massive intervention will give you about the same effect as defibrillating a corpse -- it will jump but it will not revive.

Lovins has the facts, figures, and statistics to back up his claims, and a substantial library of information on the Rocky Mountain Institute site guiding interested truth seekers to the soft energy path.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Democratic Candidates Debate Energy Options

If you were counting on the next U.S. President (who we suspect may come from the Democratic party, if current trends continue) to make the right moves to reverse global warming, the following video from the recent CNN debate may be discouraging. The strongest responses came from Dennis Kucinich, who talked of sweeping new policies throughout America, to emphasize energy efficiency and deploy solar, wind, and geothermal power installations as fast as we can build them. He also rightfully ascribed our current inclination to warmaking, proceeding unabated in Iraq as warships maneuver off the coast of Iran, as one more sign of the perpetuation of the oil economy. Would we be fighting in the region if the major exports were breadfruit and kumquats?

The Kucinich segment starts about one minute into the video (with the question from the snowman).

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Joys of Uranium Mining

If you start at the beginning of the nuclear power fuel cycle--uranium mining--the shining attributes of clean, safe nuclear power become abundantly clear, as starkly illustrated in this Mother Jones article, Crazy for Yellowcake in Paradox, Colorado.
Petra Bartosiewicz paints a vivid picture of the past and potential future damage of mining operations amidst the clouds of radioactive dust:
George Gore, 59, a retired uranium miner and mill worker, grew up in Uravan, where his father worked for 24 years in the Union Carbide mill; he now lives in Grand Junction, Colorado. Gore, whose big white beard makes him look like a weather-beaten Santa, spent 18 years in the mining industry, several of them digging for uranium in the Lazy L Mine outside Uravan. By age 30, he had developed severe lung problems. "In 1977, I was told by a doctor that I'd be dead in two years if I didn't get out of uranium mining," he says. (Government records show that radiation levels at the Lazy L in the 1970s were so high, a worker would hit the maximum exposure to radiation considered safe over a lifetime—or 30 years of work—in just 4 years.) I met Gore when he returned to Nucla with his sister, Gladys, last winter. The siblings visited the local cemetery, its rows of headstones adorned with pickaxes, mining jacks, shovels. They listed off the dead as they walked: their father, from cancer; three brothers, from cancer, one at the age of 24; their uncle, who drove uranium trucks, from emphysema ("Never smoked a day in his life," said Gore); their aunt, from lung cancer; several cousins, from cancer; dozens of schoolmates, from cancer. "Almost all the people I grew up with—all of 'em dead," said Gore. "It's one of the tragedies of the Cold War. And now we want to try it again."

As one of the commenters to this piece noted, the harrowing description doesn't even go into the damage wrought on the Navajo nation in Arizona and New Mexico, where sickness and death followed the frenzy to exploit the considerable volumes of uranium ore located on reservation lands.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

No Future for Nuclear Power

Love him or hate him, Ralph Nader doesn't mince words when it comes to derailing the train of corporate bullshit that dominates the mainstream media outlets. In a CommonDreams post, No Future for Nuclear Power, Nader examines the efforts of the nuclear power industry to foist the costs of building, operating, decommisioning, and cleaning up after accidents on the public. If there was ever an industry that was the antithesis of the so-called free market theory of enterprise, nuclear power is it. It only exists when vast subsidies prop it up and the public bears the burden of serious accidents.

In this hard-hitting article, Nader says:
Do you know any other industry producing electricity that has to have specific evacuation plans for miles around it, is inherently a national security risk, cannot be privately insured without Congress mandating severe limited liability in case of massive casualties and requires massive taxpayer subsidies?

A most concise, authoritative case against the electric atom was recently released titled “Why a Future for the Nuclear Industry is Risky” by a group of environmental health and social investment groups. (See

In the introduction to the report, the case against nuclear energy was summarized this way: “Wind power and other renewable technologies, combined with energy efficiency, conservation and cogeneration can be much more cost effective and can be deployed much sooner than new nuclear power plants.”

Yes indeed, efficiency or conservation, with a national mission, can cut in half the waste of energy, using currently available technology and know-how, before the first privately capitalized nuclear plant opens. One scientist once described the primary output of electric generating plants as “heating the heavens.”

In spite of the utter folly of nuclear power, the disinformation mills churn on, spewing out their own form of radioactive tritium, countless particles of blatant falsehoods.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Between the Fault Lines

As has been the case with virtually every nuclear power plant incident in the last 50 years, the operators at the Tokyo Electric Plant admitted after the fact that damage to the reactor was worse than initially reported last week and, in a small, barely reported side note stated that the earthquake force had exceeded the design limits of the reactors at the site. In a article, Harvey Wasserman surveyed some of the other catastrophes waiting to happen, plants located on or near fault lines, where a severe temblor could contaminate a region the size of a state. In the article summary, Harvey says:
To this list we must now add additional tangible evidence that reactors allegedly built to withstand “worst case” earthquakes in fact cannot. And when they go down, the investment is lost, and power shortages arise (as is now happening in Japan) that are filled by the burning of fossil fuels.

It costs up to ten times as much to produce energy from a nuke as to save it with efficiency. Advances in wind, solar and other green “Solartopian” technologies mean atomic energy simply cannot compete without massive subsidies, loan guarantees and government insurance to protect it from catastrophes to come.

This latest “impossible” earthquake has not merely shattered the alleged safeguards of Japan’s reactor fleet. It has blown apart—yet again—any possible argument for building more reactors anywhere on this beleaguered Earth.

Earthquakes and nuclear reactors are a volatile combination and one we definitely don't need if we want to balance safety and energy efficiency.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Japan Nuclear Plant Shutdown

Reliability has never been a strong suit of nuclear power plant operations, with safety problems, forced shutdowns, and similar difficulties plaguing the technology since its introduction. A recent quake in Japan, as reported by Reuters, put their largest plant out of commission.
And anyone who remembers the 2003 heat wave in Europe that took 35,000 lives might also remember that many of the nuclear power reactors in France went offline during much of that period because of cooling problems (sometimes produced by the rise in temperature of the water sourced for cooling intake). Similar problems occurred in Europe during July 2006.

Is it smart to invest in a technology that relies on absolute precision in controlling operational temperatures during a time when global warming is making that increasingly difficult? As the French reactor operators discovered, the approach doesn't work all that well.

Monday, July 16, 2007

A Nuclear Reactor Outside Fresno?

Like those third-rate horror movie monsters that get killed three or four times and still keep coming back, the nuclear power promoters are working overtime in California to try to get a new reactor constructed just outside Fresno.

To do it, and open the pathway for a business cartel hoping to fund the enterprise, they will first have to overturn a law passed in 1976 that requires an appropriate solution to nuclear waste storage before any new plants are built. Republican state assemblyman Chuck DeVore wants to put the issue to a statewide vote.

In a article, California's New Nukes War, Harvey Wasserman says,
The irony is that we stand at the brink of the greatest technological revolution in human history. But we’re being dragged away from it by Big Money’s push for a technology with fifty years of proven ecological disaster and financial failure.

Green energy is poised to remake our world.

Wind power is the cheapest form of new generation now available. There are sufficient wind resources between the Mississippi and the Rockies to generate, with available technology, 300% of the electricity we use. There’s enough in North Dakota, Kansas and Texas alone to do 100%.

Solar technologies ranging from green architectural design to desert power towers to photovoltaic cells that go on every rooftop are booming toward a multi-billion-dollar mainstay of our electric supply. Bio-fuels based on sustainable, organic practices can transform our transportation sector. Tidal, wave, geothermal, ocean thermal and a wide range of other green production processes stand at the brink of epic profitability.

Meanwhile, increased efficiency and revived mass transit are the cheapest, cleanest ways to salvage the energy we waste. In concert, these revolutionary green technologies are poised to bring us to Solartopia, a post-pollution planet powered totally by energy harvested in harmony with our Mother Earth. They promise an abundance of efficient supply with the power to boom our economies and save our ability to survive on this planet.

But here’s the hitch: renewable energy has the “flaw” of tending toward community control. In the long run, a true Solartopian revolution must involve re-shaping our corporate culture into one based on sustainability, accountability and grassroots democracy. Though some astute corporations are cashing in, in the long run green technologies are the door to decentralization…and economic democracy. A green-powered Solartopia will own its energy supply at the grassroots. Wind, solar, bio-fuels—they hold the keys to community control.

Against all that, new nukes are the ultimate weapon of mass distraction. There have been numerous rationales put forth for building more reactors. Except to an entrenched corporate power elite, none of them make any sense.

The struggle goes on and at times it seems as though the voices for sanity and common sense are winning. But, as soon as the lights go out, that made-up movie beast is at the window, scratching and clawing, looking for some innocent flesh to devour.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

George Monbiot's View of the World

"What will the world look like in 2050?" the interviewer from The Real News asks George Monbiot, author of Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning, and the interview gains steam from there. Part 1 of this 4-part series is a pithy, insightful view of the perils of global warming and a glimpse of the kind of information that our mainstream media should be providing to us.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Skewed Logic: Nuclear Power is the Solution

In an excellent piece in Orion Magazine, Reasons Not to Glow, Rebecca Solnit skewers the nuclear power cheerleaders who defy logic, reason, and common sense with their claims their nuclear power is the way to reverse climate change.
Nuclear power is clean, if you ignore uranium tailings and fuel processing and depleted uranium distributed with abandon in weaponry. Nuclear power is cheap, if you ignore the costs of decommisioning reactors after their 30- to 40-year lifespan and guarding the ruins for the next few centuries, as well as the accrued costs of the inevitable accidents. Nuclear power is the only way out of our situation, if you pretend that we can build them fast enough and that the remaining supplies of high-grade uranium ore won't run out in a couple of decades.
With a pen as sharp as a laser-tooled sword, Rebecca says:

If you’re not, at this point, chasing your poor formerly pronuclear companion down the hallway, mention that every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle is murderously filthy, imparting long-lasting contamination on an epic scale; that a certain degree of radioactive pollution is standard at each of these stages, but the accidents are now so many in number that they have to be factored in as part of the environmental cost; that the plants themselves generate lots of radioactive waste, which we still don’t know what to do with—because the stuff is deadly . . . anywhere . . . and almost forever. And no, tell them, this nuclear colonialism is not an acceptable sacrifice, since it is not one the power consumers themselves are making. It’s a sacrifice they’re imposing on people far away and others not yet born, a debt they’re racking up at the expense of people they will never meet.

Sure, you can say nuclear power is somewhat less carbon-intensive than burning fossil fuels for energy; beating your children to death with a club will prevent them from getting hit by a car. Ravaging the Earth by one irreparable means is not a sensible way to prevent it from being destroyed by another. There are alternatives. We should choose them and use them.

Enjoy the full article here.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Ethanol and Debt Slavery

With every move that inches toward escape from the petroleum-based economy that has gained a death grip on modern society, the dark side in man, like a character in a Cormac McCarthy novel, rises up to squelch optimism. Debt slavery, enjoying a resurgence in Brazil as the the growing popularity of ethanol blurs the focus on labor conditions, reveals the ugly underbelly of a potentially promising offshoot of the energy industry.
In this article in The Independent, Daniel Howden states:
More than 1,000 "enslaved" workers have been released from a sugar cane plantation in the Amazon following a raid that has highlighted the dark side of the current ethanol boom.

Brazilian authorities said that the workers in the northern state of Para were being forced to work 14-hour days in horrendous conditions cutting cane for ethanol production.

Police said the raid was Brazil's biggest to date against debt slavery, a practice reminiscent of indentured labour where poor workers are lured to remote rural areas, then pushed into debt to plantation owners who charge exorbitant prices for everything from food to transportation.

Not that much different than John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath in another time and place.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Up with Pedal Power

As personal income levels rise in Asian countries, so does the increasing reliance on automobiles to move about. The World Health Organization sees bicycle riding and other lifestyle changes as vital to dealing with global climate issues, as well as pollution that is endangering Asia's overall health. Climate change is already having a devastating impact in Asian countries.

Climate change contributes directly or indirectly to about 77,000 deaths per year in the region, according to WHO estimates.

"So far the impact is on the health of the people. If the trend continues, it may have an impact on the economy," said Shigeru Omi, WHO's regional director for the Western Pacific.

"Of course the threat is there. We should not wait for that to happen," he told reporters at the start of a four-day conference on the impact of climate change and health in Southeast and East Asian countries.

Omi said urgent action was needed because Asia's share of the world's greenhouse gas emissions are expected to grow larger with the rapid economic expansion of China and India.

For more details, read the full article, UN calls for pedal power to reduce environmental damage.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Dark Side of Nuclear Power

As a growing army of nuclear power shills keep popping up in the media, like demented marionettes escaped from a dark carnival, it's worth taking a close look at downsides of this dead-end technology. Note that whenever these boosters talk about the technology, they typically preface the term: it's "clean, safe" nuclear power, as if just repeating those magic words over and over will somehow overcome the dirty, unsafe connotations earned over the last half century.

The following short video interview with David Lochbaum of the Union of Concerned Scientists takes a hard look at the dark side of nuclear power: the dangers of terrorist attacks, the cost of cleanup, the close calls near major population centers, the incredible problems of transporting hundreds of tons of contaminating materials when decommissioning plants, and on and on...

Saturday, June 30, 2007

The People versus the Oil Companies

Part Four of an interview with George Monbiot (author of Heat: How to Sop the Planet from Burning) hosted by TheRealNews, lays out some thought-provoking ideas about energy efficiency, hydrogen-fueled vehicles, and the difficulty of overcoming the infrastructure welded in place by the oil companies. Good stuff...

I found this part of the interview especially relevant, but I'd also recommend returning to Part One and watching all the segments.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Grassroots Approach

When dealing with a monumental issue, such as global warming, people have a tendency to throw up their hands and say, "Let the government deal with it!" In our current situation, however, where the U.S. government leadership is more interested in maintaining the status quo and finding inventive ways to pretend that global warming is a delusional myth, lasting change originates from the grassroots. The top-down approach isn't working. All the more reason to embrace the bottom-up approach.

This article from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, People look for ways to cut their carbon footprint, highlights the ways in which people concerned with the global warming problem confront it in highly personal ways.

A brief excerpt from this excellent article by Meg McConahey:

"We're not activists. Just two Santa Rosa parents raising two kids. We didn't ever march in anything," said Lisa Ormond, 44, who also was inspired to go on a low-carbon diet after winning tickets to "An Inconvenient Truth" from a local radio station.

Small steps add up

She began bicycling at least two days a week from her subdivision in Bennett Valley to her marketing job at Santa Rosa Junior College. She car pools with girlfriends to soccer games. Husband Randal, an electrical engineer at Alcatel-Lucent, now incorporates most family errands into his commute home from Petaluma rather than making separate trips. She and her son biked together to an after-school class - all dramatic lifestyle changes made in a single year.

"It started a whole avalanche of alternative thinking about some of these issues," Ormond said, from weighing the economic feasibility of getting solar panels to swapping their Honda for an electric car. "These are little ways I know I'm not putting carbon in the air."

In March, the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy called the shift in public opinion a "sea change." It found 83 percent of Americans now believe global warming is a serious problem, and 75 percent of them believe their own behavior can have an impact on climate change. And about 81 percent said it's their responsibility to alter their energy-wasting behavior.

As the article emphasizes: small steps add up...

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Race to the Bottom

In the spirited race to become number one in carbon emissions, China has surpassed the United States. As reported by the Environment News Service, the widespread adoption of coal-fired power plants and expanded cement production facilities have driven China from two percent lower in CO2 emissions to eight percent higher than the United States.

Other figures, based on a study by a Netherlands agency, the Environmental Assessment Agency, include:
In 2006, the total of China’s CO2 emissions from fossil fuels increased by nine percent.

In the USA in that same year, 2006, emissions decreased by 1.4 percent, compared to 2005.

In the original 15 European Union countries, in that same year, CO2 emissions from fossil fuels remained more or less constant.

In 2005 there was a decrease by 0.8 percent, according to a recent report by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency compiling data from the EU member states.

Globally, in 2006, CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use increased by about 2.6 percent, which is less than the 3.3 percent increase in 2005.

China's unprecedented industrial growth poses multiple challenges as pressure to use dirty fuel sources, further boosting carbon emissions, grows.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A New Class of Refugees

The byproducts of global warming--including floods, rising sea levels, desertification, and deforestation--are expected to create massive populations of refugees, as much as one billion by 2050, according to a Reuters article, Global Warming to Multiply the World's Refugee Burden.
"All around the world, predictable patterns are going to result in very long-term and very immediate changes in the ability of people to earn their livelihoods," said Michele Klein Solomon of the International Organisation of Migration (IOM).

"It's pretty overwhelming to see what we might be facing in the next 50 years," she said. "And it's starting now."

People forced to move by climate change, salination, rising sea levels, deforestation or desertification do not fit the classic definition of refugees -- those who leave their homeland to escape persecution or conflict and who need protection.

But the world's welcome even for these people is wearing thin, just as United Nations figures show that an exodus from Iraq has reversed a five-year decline in overall refugee numbers.

One more angle to consider in a problem that is already extremely complex...

The Solar-Powered Google

With the click of a switch on Sunday, June 17th, Google launched the largest solar installation on a corporate campus in the U.S.--with nearly 9,000 solar panels producing 7,795 kilowatt hours of electricity. The company is also working hard to help commercialize fully electric cars.

"One of's core missions is to address climate change, said Dan Reicher, director of Climate and Energy Initiatives with

Read more at the Environment News Service.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Vanishing Glaciers, Receding Rivers

Global warming is quickly shifting from something that people can pretend isn't happening to something that intrudes dramatically on everyday life. The Himalayan glaciers that are the source of the Ganges River may disappear by 2030, turning the Ganges into a seasonal river.

As reported by Emily Wax in The Washington Post, and reposted at, short-term economic interests are taking precedence over long-term environmental concerns.

"There has never been a greater threat for the Ganges," said Mahesh Mehta, an environmental lawyer who has been filing lawsuits against corporations dumping toxins in the Ganges. He is now redirecting his energies toward the melting glaciers. "If humans don't change their interference, our very religion, our livelihoods are under threat."

Mehta and other environmentalists want to see the Indian government here enforce strict reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, the primary cause of climate change.

But during this month's Group of Eight conference of the major industrialized nations, both India and China, eager to protect their market growth, joined the United States in refusing to support mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions. President Bush has instead pushed a plan for nonbinding goals to reduce emissions.

"It is a fact that more and not less development is the best way for developing countries to address themselves to the issues of preserving the environment," Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a public statement before leaving for the G-8 summit in Germany.

While India is one of the world's top producers of greenhouse gas emissions - along with the United States, China, Russia and Japan - it argues that the United States and other developed countries should reduce their own emissions before expecting developing nations to follow suit.

Short-sighted politicians and unimaginative government officials still don't seem to understand that market growth will be a distant memory if global warming continues to transform the world in powerful ways.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Greatest Gas Guzzler of All

When it comes to burning oil in volumes that stagger the imagination, the United States Pentagon garners top honors, giving new meanings to terms like waste and inefficiency. As reported in, putting a wrapper around the words of Michael Klare, future wars may be fought just to fuel the machines that fight them. A quick excerpt:
Sixteen gallons of oil. That's how much the average American soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan consumes on a daily basis -- either directly, through the use of Humvees, tanks, trucks, and helicopters, or indirectly, by calling in air strikes. Multiply this figure by 162,000 soldiers in Iraq, 24,000 in Afghanistan, and 30,000 in the surrounding region (including sailors aboard U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf) and you arrive at approximately 3.5 million gallons of oil: the daily petroleum tab for U.S. combat operations in the Middle East war zone.

Multiply that daily tab by 365 and you get 1.3 billion gallons: the estimated annual oil expenditure for U.S. combat operations in Southwest Asia. That's greater than the total annual oil usage of Bangladesh, population 150 million -- and yet it's a gross underestimate of the Pentagon's wartime consumption.

It's hard not to grind your molars to dust at the absurdity of this equation.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Nuclear Misinformation

The best insights about the future of nuclear power usually come from those in the thick of the debate. John Abbotts, a research scientist and member of the Hanford Task Force of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility, offered these thoughts in an opinion piece published in the Seattle Times.
As their supporters have noted, atomic energy plants do not directly produce greenhouse gases during their operation. But they do produce prodigious amounts of radioactive waste, along with material that can be fashioned into atomic bombs.

Keeping the radioactive materials under control requires a complicated regulatory infrastructure; thus, it would be at least 10 years before new reactors could be designed, licensed, constructed and begin operation. By then, their capacity and energy demands could be a mismatch.

Not only would reactor plants take too long to have a significant impact on global warming, but they are expensive, multibillion-dollar facilities. It is faster and much more economical to save energy through efficiency improvements than to generate it through new power plants.

It's well worth reading the full column for the additional perspective.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Are You a Solartopian?

If you've spent any time at all cruising the Internet investigating alternative energy options, you've no doubt run across the writings of Harvey Wasserman, one of the most articulate and outspoken advocates of a drastic shift in our energy priorities. See if you agree with his four basic pillars underlying the question, "Are You a Solartopian?"

The essence of the argument is as follows:
In the global campaign to save the Earth, a shared vision is vital.

“Solartopia” foresees a democratic, green-powered 21st Century civilization. Our economic and ecological survival depend on it.

Technologically, the vision rests on four simple pillars:

1. Total renunciation of all fossil and nuclear fuels. In a sustainable, survivable future, they are a 20th Century pox, neither green nor clean.

2. All-out conversion to renewable energy, led by the “Solartopian Trinity” of wind, solar and bio-fuels. Mother Earth gives us the natural power we need.

3. Complete commitment to maximum efficiency, including revived and solarized mass transit and passenger rail systems. Our automotive “love affair” is a hoax.

4. Zero tolerance for production of anything that cannot be re-used or recycled, including chemical-based food. Solartopia is an organic, post-pollution world.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Merits of Carbon Offsets

Are carbon offsets a pointless attempt to justify bad behavior or a legitimate means of neutralizing those bad behaviors that are contributing to the demise of the planet?
In a Mother Jones article, Practical Values: Paying for My Hot Air, Kimberly Lasagor explores the topic and comes to some interesting conclusions.
Still, there's a bigger issue here. The whole idea of atonement by credit card seems counterintuitive. It's as if we're saying polluting is okay, as long as you can afford to pay. But Strasdas says we should think of it as a last resort. Yes, we should all strive to emit less carbon, but some emissions are harder to avoid ("You cannot have planes that are flying on renewable energy, at least not in the foreseeable future," he points out). That's where offsets can help. "This is not the way out. This is a temporary relief of pressure on the earth's atmosphere," Strasdas says. "For the time being I think it's a very good way to bridge the gap."

The full article is worth a read. It brings out a number of points that you've probably thought about yourself.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

How to Stop the Planet from Burning

The title itself is enough to stop most people in their tracks. George Monbiot's book, HEAT: How to Stop the Planet from Burning, published by South End Press, outlines a course from contemplation to direct action to deal with the problem.

From the publisher:

Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning marks an important moment in our civilization’s thinking about global warming. The question is no longer Is climate change actually happening? but What do we do about it? George Monbiot offers an ambitious and far-reaching program to cut our carbon dioxide emissions to the point where the environmental scales start tipping back—away from catastrophe.

Though writing with a "spirit of optimism," Monbiot does not pretend it will be easy. The only way to avoid further devastation, he argues, is a 90% cut in CO2 emissions in the rich nations of the world by 2030. In other words, our response will have to be immediate, and it will have to be decisive.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Growth Industry: Greenhouse Gases

Without some kind of incentives or regulation, we can count on greenhouse gas emissions in the United States rising substantially by 2020, according to a climate report issued by the Bush administration.

As reported by the Environmental News Service:
The latest projections from pre-2004 EU Member States (EU-15) show that greenhouse gas emissions could be brought down to eight percent below 1990 levels by 2010. An October report by the European Environment Agency, EEA, shows that "if all existing and planned domestic policy measures are implemented and Kyoto mechanisms as well as carbon sinks are used, the EU-15 will reach its Kyoto Protocol target."

The next 10 new EU member states also are on track to achieve their individual Kyoto targets, despite rising emissions, largely due to economic restructuring in the 1990s, says the EEA. The two most recent EU member states were not part of the block last October when the report was produced.

President Bush has said that abiding by the Kyoto Protocol would hurt the U.S. economy. He has argued that voluntary emissions reductions and better technology such as clean coal, nuclear power, and energy efficiency would do the job of limiting global warming.

U.S. scientists, businesses and environmental groups say that if irreversible global warming is to be avoided, binding targets even more stringent than those of the Kyoto Protocol should be set.

What will it take to gain enough political momentum to put the brakes on global warming?