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Environment & Sustainability Headlines - 27 June

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Environment

Take the flood tide now
Britain's top climatologist says a G8 fudge on global warming could be disastrous

John Houghton, Independent
Every year, by burning fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas, we add over 7 billion tons of carbon (as carbon dioxide) to the atmosphere. It is changing our climate, and disastrously. The more the world heats up, the more frequent and intense will be the disasters that follow. Floods, droughts and storm surges on top of rising sea levels are bad news for all of us, but particularly for the world's poorer countries, which are the most vulnerable and least well equipped to cope.
(26 June 2005)


'Earthy evangelist' changes US climate

Alec Russell, Telegraph
Europe's environmental activists are not renowned for their faith in the power of prayer. But in the run-up to the G8 summit they should put their hands together for the Rev Richard Cizik.

One of America's senior evangelical leaders, the lanky Virginian preacher is an unlikely ally of the Greens given the Christian Right's reputation for being in lockstep with the White House.

The Bush administration is famously sceptical over global warming and greenhouse gas emissions and notoriously cosy with big business, especially the oil companies.

Mr Cizik is, however, in the vanguard of a striking new movement: evangelicals prodding President George W Bush to take action on global warming. And his stance cannot easily be dismissed as radical nonsense, as the Green cause is traditionally mocked by the Right.
(23 June 2005)


Climate Shock

Editorial, NY Times
The Senate has now completed work on an energy bill that might actually do some good. But that was not the only surprising news from the Senate floor last week: despite ferocious White House opposition, the Senate went on record as favoring a program of mandatory controls of emissions of the gases that contribute to global warming.

It did so in a "sense of the Senate" resolution whose nonbinding nature allowed opponents of aggressive action to dismiss it as meaningless.

The resolution was anything but meaningless. It represents a major turnaround in attitudes, especially among prominent Republicans who only a few years ago doubted a problem even existed. It is something to build on: Pete Domenici, the most influential Senate Republican on energy matters and a recent convert to the global warming cause, has already scheduled hearings to see what sort of legislation can be devised down the road.

And it terrifies the White House because it is further proof that the administration's efforts to minimize the warming threat have failed and that President Bush's voluntary approach to the problem is no longer taken seriously.
(27 June 2005)


Wilted Europe eyes global warming (and air conditioners)

Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor
A searing heat wave closes stores, opens windows, and gives new life to perceptions that America is inattentive to global warming
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...With the press, radio, and TV here full of reports about the dire impact of this year's heat, one might fairly ask, "Is Brussels burning?" and the answer would have to be yes. Pictures of miserable cows and crispy cornfields top newspaper articles about a menacing drought.

On Wednesday, sweaty-browed officials of both the Belgian and French governments unveiled their heat-wave plans of action. With temperatures expected to dip by next week, the plans for added surveillance of at-risk population groups (like the elderly) and additional staff at heat-wave call-in centers might seem like overkill - that is, until one remembers the deadly summer of 2003, when 1,300 Belgians and more than 15,000 French citizens perished of heat-related causes.

"That was a disaster and an embarrassment, and the government doesn't want to see that happen again," says a Brussels merchant, fanning himself with a section of newspaper - with a screaming headline about the heat, of course.

...The arrival of what seems on the verge of becoming the annual summer heat wave might help explain why Europeans generally are more worried about global warming than Americans. The Dutch, who inhabit a country largely built on land reclaimed from the Atlantic Ocean, may be more preoccupied with projections of rising sea levels. But for most Europeans, the link between hotter summers and global warming seems too obvious to doubt.

The heat here and the widespread acceptance that it is one effect of global warming may also play a subtle role in the generally low esteem that America suffers in much of Western Europe. The war in Iraq and "the arrogance of the world's only superpower" may be higher on Europeans' list of why the US is not always well viewed, but keep probing and the Bush administration's rejection of the Kyoto treaty on global warming is bound to come up.

I caught a glimpse of this in February, while in Brussels for Bush's fence- mending trip to Europe. The European Union had a large outdoor exhibit on the growing challenge of global warming on the plaza of one of its administrative buildings. (Prominent therein was a large graph trumpeting the American energy gluttony mentioned above).

As I perused the display, a young woman and EU employee remarked, "We Europeans don't think you Americans care about this stuff. We know your president doesn't."
(27 June 2005)


Solutions and Sustainability

Alternate Power: A Change Is In The Wind

John Carey, Justin Hibbard, and Ronald Grover; Business Week via Yahoo!News
...The new dawn isn't limited to solar power. An array of alternative-energy, energy-efficiency, and other green technologies -- together known as "cleantech" -- are beginning to boom. A host of forces is responsible for the trend: high prices for oil, gas, and coal; expanded government incentives and mandates; advances in technology that are reducing costs; concern over global warming; and investors looking for the Next Big Thing. "What has changed dramatically is the number of mainstream institutions that have decided they can make money in this area," says Dan Reicher, president of New Energy Capital Corp. and a former top Energy Dept. official. "Who would have thought two years ago that Goldman Sachs would be investing in wind and solar power?"
(24 June 2005)


Hemp for Victory

Ralph Nader, Common Dreams
Congressman Ron Paul, a libertarian from Texas and an obstetrician who has delivered over 6000 babies, is trying to deliver our farmers from a bureaucratic medievalism in Washington that keeps saying "No" to growing industrial hemp.

Many farmers want to grow this 5000 year old long fiber plant that has been turned into thousands of products since being domesticated by the ancient Chinese. That is their heresy. The enforcer is the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in Washington, DC, which has placed industrial hemp on its proscribed list next to marijuana.

...There are those like former CIA chief, James Woolsey, who support growing hemp to reduce our reliance on imported oil. More broadly, industrial hemp advances the growth of a carbohydrate-based economy instead of a hydrocarbon-based economy.
(25 June 2005)


Fire up the new green fuel: wood

Rob Edwards, Sunday Herald
AS many as one in 10 of Scotland’s homes could be heated by a humble new fuel that is renewable, affordable and could dramatically cut pollution – wood.

That is the conclusion of a new report by government advisors due to be published tomorrow . It calls on ministers to invest in supporting the growth of an indigenous wood fuels industry, which could provide much-needed jobs in rural areas.

The report is from the Sustainable Development Commission in Scotland, set up to encourage ministers to adopt more environmentally friendly policies. It estimates that replacing oil, coal and liquified petroleum gas (LPG) with wood would cut carbon dioxide emissions by 80% or more.

Burning wood chips, pellets or logs in boilers is regarded as “carbon neutral” because it only releases the carbon absorbed when the trees were growing. Wood-fired central heating schemes would be most competitive in the northwest, where there is no access to the natural gas grid.
(26 June 2005)


The Week in Sustainable Vehicles

Mike Millikin, WorldChanging
Every Sunday, Green Car Congress' Mike Millikin gives us an update on the week's sustainable mobility news, looking at the ongoing evolution of personal transportation.
(26 June 2005)
Nice news roundup.


UC scientist says ethanol uses more energy than it makes

Elizabeth Svoboda, SF Chronicle
Ethanol, touted as an alternative fuel of the future, may eat up far more energy during its creation than it winds up giving back, according to research by a UC Berkeley scientist that raises questions about the nation's move toward its widespread use.

A clean-burning fuel produced from renewable crops like corn and sugarcane, ethanol has long been a cornerstone of some national lawmakers' efforts to clear the air and curb dependence on foreign oil. California residents use close to a billion gallons of the alcohol-based fuel per year.

But in a recent issue of the journal Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences, UC Berkeley geoengineering professor Tad Patzek argued that up to six times more energy is used to make ethanol than the finished fuel actually contains.

The fossil energy expended during production alone, he concluded, easily outweighs the consumable energy in the end product. As a result, Patzek believes that those who think using the "green" fuel will reduce fossil fuel consumption are deluding themselves -- and the federal government's practice of subsidizing ethanol by offering tax exemptions to oil refiners who buy it is a waste of money.

"People tend to think of ethanol and see an endless cycle: corn is used to produce ethanol, ethanol is burned and gives off carbon dioxide, and corn uses the carbon dioxide as it grows," he said. "But that isn't the case. Fossil fuel actually drives the whole cycle."
(27 June 2005)
The article goes on to give the point of view of ethanol defenders.


How to brighten solar power's future

Editorial, SF Chronicle
Throughout the energy crisis of 2000 and 2001, as a confluence of political ineptitude and corporate greed led to rolling blackouts and breathtaking price spikes in electricity, the sun never stopped shining in California.

It's time to connect the dots.

Solar energy has the potential to help this state buffer the demand for new power plants that consume natural gas -- and leave Californians vulnerable to the types of wild price fluctuations that sent public utilities into bankruptcy and forced Gov. Gray Davis to grope for desperate financing schemes just to keep the lights on.

One of the many lessons of the energy crisis was that California needed to develop a more diverse and reliable supply of electricity
(26 June 2005)


Hungry for an alternative

The Independent
Tewolde Berhan believes that organic farming is the only real solution to famine in Africa.Sally J Hall meets the quiet but formidable Ethiopian who has become a thorn in the side of the GM foods lobby
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Organic farming is a slow-to-grow, low-yield industry favoured by middle-class parents who have the time and money to meander the overpriced aisles of Waitrose, deliberating over wild rocket or white asparagus. Right?

Wrong, says Tewolde Berhan. He thinks organic farming could be the solution to Ethiopia's famines. The chief of the country's Environment Agency has worked his way through academia and government to become one of the world's most influential voices in the biotechnology field. Berhan believes that, properly applied, his approach could save the lives of many of the thousands of Africans who die every day as a result of hunger and poverty.

He maintains that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) remove control from local farmers. He speaks for a growing number who believe that Africa should return to natural, sustainable methods of agriculture better suited to its people and environment.
(27 June 2005)


Colleges Compete to Shrink Their Mark On the Environment

Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post
BEREA, Ky. -- Professor Richard K. Olson's voice swelled with pride as he reached the final stop -- the bathroom -- on a tour of Berea College's newest student housing.

"The throne!" he declared, displaying a massive, cream-colored composting toilet.

With its state-of-the-art wastewater treatment system, recycled wood cabinets and low-energy fluorescent lighting, Berea's $10 million "Ecological Village" represents the cutting edge of environmental architecture. And while this small southern Appalachian college still consumes plenty of natural resources, it has spent several years trying to preserve its surroundings by conserving energy and shifting to recycling.

While Berea has gone further than most, it is hardly alone.
(26 June 2005)


Factories turning corn into plastics

Stephanie Simon, Los Angeles Times
BLAIR, Neb. — He operates 90,000 feet of hissing pipes and dozens of enormous churning vats, an industrial jungle with a single, remarkable purpose: "Essentially," plant manager Bill Suehr says, "we've got corn coming in at one end and plastic coming out the other."

In a hot, noisy factory that smells of Frosted Flakes, yeast and wet farm animals, agribusiness giant Cargill has set out to lead a new industrial revolution, one fed by the green fields of the Midwest rather than the oil fields of the Middle East.

Sprawled across a square mile of prairie, a series of automated assembly lines turns raw corn kernels first into sugary syrup and then into white pellets that can be spun into silky fabric or molded into clear, tough plastic.

The end products — which include T-shirts, forks and coffins — look, feel and perform like traditional polyester and plastic made from a petroleum base. But the manufacturing process consumes 50 percent less fossil fuel, even after accounting for the fuel needed to plant and harvest the corn.

...some critics view all the hoopla as an agribusiness con, more about selling corn than saving the Earth.

"The main motivation is there is only so much high-fructose corn syrup you can pack into sodas. This is another way to turn corn into products people will buy," said Tillman Gerngross, an associate professor of engineering at Dartmouth College who specializes in biotechnology.
(25 June 2005)
Also at: To Replace Oil, U.S. Experts See Amber Waves of Plastic.

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