Sustainability & Environment Headlines - 20 July, 2005
Solutions and Sustainability
Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon, The Tyee
[In the interest of preserving the environment, the authors are on a '100-Mile Diet'. They have vowed to eat nothing originating more than 100 miles from their home in Vancouver. This is the second in series.]
Does vegetarianism make ecological sense? For more than 15 years, the answer, for us, has been yes. We accepted the now-familiar sustainability formula: on any given tract of agricultural land, it is almost always possible to produce more vegetable foods than animals to eat. Add in the question of cruelty (which seems to increase with every "efficiency" added to animal husbandry), and for us the issue was no contest.
These days, however, we’re asking a new question. Does vegetarianism fit into a local, sustainable diet?
(13 July 2005)
Thoughtful, non-dogmatic series about eating locally. Peak oil is mentioned in the comments.
Jan Lundberg, Culture Change #104
The determination to explore and act on the impacts of peak oil and climate change is a big start toward lessening damage to countless lives and our fragile ecosystem. There are some key areas to concentrate on, notably food supply and transport. But one mustn't think this is all up to government officials. Individuals and households, and then neighborhood communities, need to take matters into their hands now to prepare for major upheaval ahead and to build a sustainable society.
...It is too late for minor reforms that have paradoxically ended up adding to growth in consumption because of the effects of efficiencies broadly applied. Most peak oil analysts worth their salt hope that the "technofix" is getting to be a less and less populated refuge for those who think about what might replace petroleum.
...there is no point imagining a high-tech tomorrow where modern living becomes somehow refined by new ways of exploiting resources. Rather, it is time to deal with the here and now before the present becomes no more than a past serving as a stone around our necks. And why not start building better lives now?
(8 July 2005)
Elisabeth Rosenthal, International Herald Tribune via NY Times
AMSTERDAM - When Mariane Polfliet discovered she had an emergency meeting in a hard to reach suburb of Amsterdam recently, there was no need for panic: within minutes, she had used her computer-coded key to drive away in one of the hundreds of shared cars that are now scattered around the quaint canals of this city's center.
There was something incongruous about the package: Ms. Polfliet, dressed for a Mercedes in an elegant tan suit with her lawyerly leather briefcase, driving the small bright red Peugeot with neon green wheels and "Greenwheels" stenciled amid swirls on the door.
But for thousands of people in the Netherlands, and hundreds of thousands worldwide, car-sharing groups like Greenwheels have filled the gap between private car ownership and public transportation. For cities where it has taken hold, the concept is helping to relieve traffic and reduce pollution, studies have found.
(14 July 2005)
Felicity Lawrence, The Guardian
Food "miles" have risen dramatically over the past 10 years, are still rising, and have a significant impact on climate change, traffic congestion, accidents and pollution, according to a report published by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) yesterday.
Food miles increased by 15% in the 10 years to 2002. The average distance we now drive to shop for food each year is 898 miles, compared with 747 miles a decade ago. Food transport accounts for 25% of all the miles driven by heavy goods vehicles on our roads. The use of HGVs to transport food has doubled since 1974.
The dramatic increase has resulted in a rise in the amount of CO2 emitted by food transport: 19m tonnes of carbon dioxide were emitted in 2002 in the course of getting our food to us, a 12% increase on 1992, the report says. Airfreight, the most polluting form of food transport, is growing fastest
(15 July 2005)
The Guardian has a leader (editorial): Hard to Digest.
Jan Lundberg, Culture Change #103
This could be America's last Fourth of July. Are you ready for system-breakdown and deep cultural change? It's true there's oil shock maximus ahead, with many obstacles to survival for a huge petro-addicted population. But don't forget that the upheaval and corrections are going to be in the context of a cultural revolution.
The coming cultural revolution will feature awakening with new awareness, and part of that will be the redefining of relationships in one's more intense, immediate world. There are positive aspects to petrocollapse if it can be overcome by letting go of techno-addiction, hierarchical regimentation and destroying the ecosystem.
A cultural revolution could even mean having a good time and being your higher, sensuous self, as in the 1960s revolution. Who knows? "Back to the land" is one thing the '60s Revolution offered, and it has been practiced down to this day. Higher consciousness was another legacy from the '60s Revolution, but it was too exclusive. This time around, after petrocollapse almost all of us will be sharing a common consciousness: trying to survive in a severely limited socioeconomic and ecological environment. There will not be car culture this time around. Very little electric power, right? And civilization will be seen as breaking down for good. Hey, I'm not causing it, so don't get mad at me.
(4 July 2005)
New subheading intended to take in new, improved or generally more 'peak compatible' technology developments
Steve Rose, Guardian Newspaper (UK)
Think of wind power and the first image to spring to mind is most likely a giant, three-bladed propeller spinning atop a slim tower, probably in a rural area. Chances are that's actually the only image that springs to mind - and that's a problem. To renewable-energy supporters, the wind turbine symbolises the hope of a green, clean future, but to opponents, they might as well be Martian tripods from War of the Worlds, advancing inexorably across our precious countryside.
The debate is clearly as much about the aesthetics of wind power as the politics and practicalities but, at present, wind turbines barely rank above electricity pylons in terms of aesthetic consideration. Members of the design community are beginning to rise to the challenge, however, either by finding better places to put wind turbines or by making them better looking. ...
Beyond making better-looking wind farms, there is also potential for integrating turbines directly into buildings. After all, if nobody wants wind turbines in the countryside, why not put them in the cities? ...
"I know there's an economic case for it," he [Guy Battle] says. "The technology is well understood, it's robust and safe, and given the right location, wind energy has very good payback periods. If you go up in height, wind power output increases exponentially, so if you double the wind speed, you'll get eight times the power. There are massive gains to be had." ...
(18 July 2005)
Christian Wienberg, Associated Pressvia YahooNews
Danish scientists said Friday they have built a new type of plastic solar cell that lasts significantly longer than previous versions and could pave the wave for cheaper solar power.
Plastic cells cost only a fraction of the more common silicon cells used in solar-powered products, such as calculators. But plastic cells typically are fragile and only last for a few days. "Our new cell has a life span of 2 1/2 years, which must be a world record for plastic cells," said Frederik Krebs, senior scientist with the state-owned Risoe national laboratory, which presented its research Friday. ...
The market price for a silicon cell is up to 5,000 kroner (US$800, euro675) per square meter, while a plastic cell of the same size costs less than 100 kroner (US$15, euro13), they said. However, plastic cells have relatively low efficiency as they only exploit 0.2 percent-5 percent of the sun's energy, compared with 12 percent-15 percent for silicon cells. "We have focused on durability and succeeded, now we will make it more efficient," Krebs said. ...
Tom Markvart, head scientist at the solar research group at the University of Southampton called the new research "a major development," but emphasized there were still many hurdles before plastic solar cells would become available on the market. ...
(15 July 2005)
Energetech plc. Press Release (Aus)
[The Energetech website provides admirable detail on their (so far as we know) unique technology, which uses a parabolic walled funnel to move ocean wave energy into an airflow thats drives a variable turbine.]
Energetech plc. Port Kembla Project Results: The Energetech wave energy device was installed and operated at Port Kembla during a planned test period in June. Tests were run and valuable data was logged, indicating the primary system works as designed. While the incident waves during the deployment period were low, there was clear confirmation of the amplification of the waves due to the parabolic wall.
The air velocities past the turbine and the overall system efficiency indicators exceeded expectations. Peak power production estimates during the tests show that many homes could have been supported by the small waves powering the system. During further testing, the wave energy unit regenerated power into the local grid. Final installation in the near future will now incorporate the technical improvements defined during this initial test phase.
Nick Bunkley, Detroit News (US)
AUBURN HILLS -- United Solar Ovonic is doubling its production capacity to keep up with demand for its lightweight, flexible solar panels.
To ease a six-month backlog on orders, Uni-Solar broke ground Thursday on an $80 million plant that will essentially be a clone of its existing facility in Auburn Hills and within sight of it. The project, aided by state and local tax incentives, will create 200 jobs when finished next May.
The expansion will raise capacity to 50 megawatts, and inventor Stanford Ovshinsky, who founded Uni-Solar parent Energy Conversion Devices in 1960, expects it won't be long before even that's not enough. Capacity refers to the maximum amount of power that could be generated by all the panels produced at the plant.
Uni-Solar's sales have doubled in the past year and quadrupled since 2002. Meanwhile, the cost of oil and other forms of energy have soared, heightening demand for economical, alternative sources.
"In the future, there are going to be thousands of plants needed," Ovshinsky said, "so we can have energy freedom from the geographic locations that are causing us so much trouble now."
Uni-Solar makes thin, rugged solar panels by running huge rolls of stainless steel through a machine the length of a football field that applies nine layers of individual atoms. ...
(15 July 2005)
Natalie Dolce, Commercial Property News
Most multi-family developers have shied away from the green building concept, believing the environmentally friendly projects are not worth the extra green. However, with the low-income housing tax credit providing financial incentives and the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design certification program picking up steam, developers are starting to take notice. ...
In New York City, numerous governmental agencies have embraced green building concepts, including The Battery Park City Authority, which has mandated that all commercial and residential building construction in the area must be green. ...
In addition, Related Capital Co. recently opened the solar energy-powered Vista Montana apartment community in Watsonville, Calif., estimated to reduce energy bills by as much as 90 percent. State proponents for green building include California, Illinois and Massachusetts, which all award points or tax credits for developments that utilize alternative energy sources such as geothermal heating or solar panels, according to the National Multi-Housing Council. At least nine states award extra points to developers that use water-conserving fixtures and appliances.
And contrary to what many developers believe, green buildings can cost as little as 2 percent more than the construction of standard buildings. "The initial cost is more than a conventional building," Lippe said, "but it has decreased and is not as high as people perceive
(16 July 2005)
With a record number of dead seabirds washing up on West Coast beaches from Central California to British Columbia, marine biologists are raising the alarm about rising ocean temperatures and dwindling plankton populations. "Something big is going on out there," said Julia Parrish, an associate professor in the School of Aquatic Fisheries and Sciences at the University of Washington. "I'm left with no obvious smoking gun, but birds are a good signal because they feed high up on the food chain."
Coastal ocean temperatures are 2 to 5 degrees above normal, which may be related to a lack of updwelling, in which cold, nutrient-rich water is brought to the surface. Updwelling is fueled by northerly winds that sweep out near-shore waters and bring cold water to the surface. The process starts the marine food chain, fueling algae and shrimplike krill populations that feed small fish, which then provide a source of food for a variety of sea life from salmon to sea birds and marine mammals. ...
This spring's cool, wet weather brought southwesterly wind to coastal areas and very little northerly wind, said Nathan Mantua, a research scientist with the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington. Without northerly winds, there is no updwelling and plankton stay at lower depths.
"In 50 years, this has never happened," said Bill Peterson, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Newport, Ore. "If this continues, we will have a food chain that is basically impoverished from the very lowest levels." ...
Scientists tracking anomolies along Washington's coast reported the appearance of warm-water plankton species and scores of jellyfish piling up on beaches. A Guadalupe fur seal, native to South America, was found dead in Ocean Shores. ...
(14 July 2005)
Maggie Fox, Reuters
WASHINGTON - Unborn U.S. babies are soaking in a stew of chemicals, including mercury, gasoline byproducts and pesticides, according to a report to be released Thursday. ...
"If ever we had proof that our nation's pollution laws aren't working, it's reading the list of industrial chemicals in the bodies of babies who have not yet lived outside the womb," Slaughter, a Democrat, said. ...
"Of the 287 chemicals we detected in umbilical cord blood, we know that 180 cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests," the report said. ...
"Today, chemicals are being used to make baby bottles, food packaging and other products that have never been fully evaluated for their health effects on children -- and some of these chemicals are turning up in our blood," said New Jersey Democrat Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who plans to co-sponsor a bill to require more testing of toxic chemicals.
Pollutants and other chemicals are believed to cause a range of illnesses. But scientists agree the only way to really sort out the effects is to measure how much gets into people and then see what happens to their health.
(14 July 2005)
Tim Radford, The Guardian
Leading botanist Peter Raven calculates that species crucial to the survival of the human race are in steep decline. Tim Radford meets a man dubbed a 'hero of the planet'
Peter Raven is a botanist. He knows about photosynthesis, primary productivity and sustainable growth. He knows that all flesh is grass; that the richest humans and the hungriest alike depend ultimately on plants for food, fuel, clothing, medicines and shelter, and that all of these come from the kiss of the sun on warm moist soils, to quicken growth and ripen grain.
So botanists such as Raven begin with the big picture of sustainable growth and can calculate to the nearest planet how much land and sea it would take to sustain the population of the world if everybody lived as comfortably as the Americans, British or French. The answer is three planets.
As he keeps pointing out, the human species is living as if it had more than one planet to occupy. Forty years ago, at Stanford, he and colleagues tried to calculate the economic cost of exporting humans to a star system likely to be orbited by habitable planets. They worked out that it would cost the entire gross economic product of the planet to ship just 12 people a year to Proxima Centauri or beyond. His message for the planet is, "Think, look at the big picture, and think again".
"If both the population and standards increase, then obviously you come up with an impossible picture, which is a clear signal that we must [change]. It is not a matter of choice, it is not a matter of social justice alone, it is not a matter of morality, it is not a matter of creating a sustainable world so that industrialised countries can benefit from it.
"We must reach a sustainable population level, sustainable levels of affluence or consumption, and we must find technologies that replace the ones we are using now."
(14 July 2005)
Amanda Griscom Little, Grist
Salt Lake City played host to mayors getting up to speed on climate issues.
City leaders from around the U.S. were treated to a rare bird's-eye view of the environment earlier this week at the Sundance Summit, a three-day mayors' retreat on climate change hosted by Robert Redford in Salt Lake City and at his 6,000-acre resort nestled beneath Utah's Mount Timpanogos, near Park City. In between briefings on "The State of the Science" and "Why You Should Care," and tutorials on emissions-trading programs and retrofitting public transport, a bipartisan troupe of 46 mayors representing nearly 10 million U.S. citizens slathered on sunscreen, grabbed bag lunches, and glided up the Sundance chairlift over miles of tumbling creeks, quivering aspens, and ponderosa pines.
"Oh, I'm just lovin' mayor camp!" said Melvin "Kip" Holden (D), mayor of Baton Rouge, La., as he dismounted the lift and headed back to the conference center. "I feel like I'm back in college -- it's just that excitement of learning, that bigger-than-you feeling of wanting to make change."
That's precisely what Redford and his co-hosts -- Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson (D) and the nonprofit ICLEI/Local Governments for Sustainability -- had in mind when they organized the all-expenses-paid gathering, funded in part by Pew Charitable Trusts and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. "The whole idea was to bring leaders together in a magical place where the monumental implications of climate change and a passion for solutions could really take hold," Anderson told Muckraker.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D), who served as energy secretary under President Clinton, kicked off the retreat with a feisty call to arms: "Let's face it, if we wait around for the federal government to act, we aren't going to see anything happen," he said.
(14 July 2005)
A continuing theme in the US -- city goverments going forward, federal government going back.
Texas Republican Rep. Joe Barton, powerful chair of the House
Energy and Commerce Committee, has created a stir among many of
the nation's leading climate scientists over what they call an
"unprecedented" inquiry into their research.
In late June, Barton sent a letter to three scientists whose
findings show that global temperatures have increased
dramatically since 1900.  The letter calls on them to provide
all the raw data that contributed to their research. Barton has
also called on the National Science Foundation for a list of
"all grants and other funding" given for climate research.
Critics within the scientific community assert that Barton's
request is a blatant political maneuver to discourage scientists
from pursuing studies that might verify the link between global
warming and human activity.
(13 July 2005)