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Solutions and Sustainability

The rise of the eco-city

Fiona Harvey, Financial Times via Yahoo!News
In the midst of the Arizona desert in the US stands a half-built town that has attracted architects from around the world for the past 35 years. Arcosanti is an experiment in ecological city design. There are no cars since the space is planned for pedestrians, and there are large, compact living structures built next to huge solar-heated greenhouses where the residents’ food is grown. Electricity comes from wind and solar plants, and the water from the nearby river is carefully husbanded. Only 60 to 100 people live there now, well below the 5,000 that Paolo Soleri, the architect who founded Arcosanti, envisions. But since the project launched in 1970, 6,000 architectural students have come to help with the building and learn about its design, and the site attracts 50,000 visitors every year.

The aim of the town is to emphasise the benefits of city life and provide a contrast to endless sprawling suburbs built on the environmentally unfriendly model of “the American dream of single families with a car or two cars”, explains Mary Hoadley, Arcosanti’s site coordinator, who, with her husband and now her daughter, has lived there from the outset.

Gathering a greater density of people to live and work in one place not only benefits the environment, by requiring less expenditure of energy for things like heating and travel, but also allows people to feel part of a community. “The word civilisation comes from the same root as city,” Hoadley explains. And “living here is fantastic. We started with the energy of the 1960s but this is something that has stayed the course.”
(14 October 2005)

Unexpected Downside of Wind Power

Will Wade, Wired News
Thousands of aging turbines stud the brown rolling hills of the Altamont Pass on I-580 east of San Francisco Bay, a testament to one of the nation’s oldest and best-known experiments in green energy.

Next month, hundreds of those blades will spin to a stop, in what appears to be a wind-energy first: Facing legal threats from environmentalists, the operators of the Altamont wind farm have agreed to shut down half of their windmills for two months starting Nov. 1; in January, they will be restarted and the other half will be shut down for two months.

Though the Altamont Pass is known for its strong winds, it also lies on an important bird-migration route, and its grass-covered hills provide food for several types of raptors. “It’s the worst possible place to put a wind farm,” said Jeff Miller, a wildlife advocate at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s responsible for an astronomical level of bird kills.”

The dispute at Altamont Pass marks the highest-profile confrontation yet in an unlikely clash between wind-power proponents and environmental activists opposed to noncritical wind-farm development.
(14 October 2005)

Green goal met: A billion gallons of gasoline saved

Scott Harper, Virginian-Pilot
NORFOLK — At press conferences across the country, including one in Norfolk, an environmental milestone was celebrated Friday: After years of struggling to reach the mainstream, alternative-energy vehicles have officially saved 1 billion gallons of gasoline.

Mayor Paul D. Fraim commemorated the high plateau by pumping a symbolic 1 billionth gallon of clean-burning fuel – specifically, compressed natural gas – into a specially designed pickup owned by the Norfolk school system.

…It has been anything but easy in oil-infatuated America for alternatives such as ethanol, bio-diesel and natural gas to catch on. And while slow progress has been made since the U.S. Department of Energy launched Clean Cities coalitions in more than 80 regions a decade ago , green fuel remains something of a novelty.

High costs, suspicious consumers, lax government mandates and scant fuel-delivery systems have conspired against alternative energy for cars, trucks and buses. But wars in the Middle East and record-high gas prices are beginning to turn the tide.
(15 October 2005)

Heeding the Law of the Land

Kenny Ausubel, AlterNet
“We are living on the cusp of either an Age of Extinctions or an Age of Restoration.”
A friend of mine in Texas had a hobby of doing grave rubbings. She favored old, out-of-the-way cemeteries, the final resting places of the notably not rich and famous. She would place a large piece of thin paper over the tombstone and rub it with charcoal to take an impression. My favorite was one that was roughly chiseled, obviously home made. The epitaph said simply, “I told you I was sick.”

That’s what the Earth is telling us.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita may have finally sounded alarms loud enough for the country to hear. The message is crystal clear. When we fight nature, we lose. The disconnect between the state of nature and the nature of the state is producing a state of emergency. The first homeland security comes from environmental security. The law of the land must become the law of our land.

Katrina also unmasked the corrosive injustice that poisons us as surely as the pollution unleashed by the storm. It’s an open secret that poor people and people of color are consigned to live amid the worst environmental hazards of industrial civilization. As E.L. Doctorow said, “We have two types of citizenship in the United States: common and preferred.”

While an inept, cynical government staged damage-control press conferences, a new Underground Railroad provided real damage control. A fiercely compassionate person-to-person daisy chain surged with the loving determination of friends and relations, and the kindness of strangers. It’s largely the American people and local heroes who salvaged the disastrous government response from utter disaster.

This extraordinary public response signified a larger trend. Even as our institutions are failing, people of good will everywhere are rising in waves of caring, conscience and kindness. Our true social security is woven in community.

But the choice we face is stark: an Age of Extinctions or an Age of Restoration. Which do we choose?

…Imagine creating a Green Deal, a green public works program to jump-start the restoration. We can launch it just by shifting the current existing subsidies to speed the transition to renewable energy, ecological agriculture, and a robust public health system based on wellness, disease prevention and the restoration of the ecosystems on which all health depends.

With a Green Deal, we can reboot a flawed domestic economy that the IMF now warns is heading for a “wrenching correction.” We can reverse what Warren Buffet calls our “sharecropper society.” We can attend immediately to our crumbling, misbegotten infrastructure, to which the American Society of Civil Engineers just gave a near failing grade of “D.”

By doing all this, we will dramatically enhance our national and environmental security. We will catalyze a vast jobs-creation program of meaningful, living-wage work. We will spur countless new businesses and technological innovations that can be disseminated worldwide to spread the wealth.

These kinds of favorable government policies have made Germany and Japan the world leaders in wind and solar energy. Toyota and Nissan are posting huge profits while Ford and GM credit ratings have sunk to junk-bond status. Global business is already moving steadily into clean technology investments, which are expanding exponentially.

[This is the opening speech of the 16th annual Bioneers Conference, taking place this weekend in San Rafael, Calif. and 16 remote locations across the continent.]
(14 October 2005)
Recommended by Big Gav in a post on his Peak Energy (Australia)

The Best of Treehugger

Gizmodo (“the gadgets weblog”)
This week at Treehugger: The ‘huggers shine a light on a Do-It-Yourself wind-up charger for your iPod; a college student also goes the DIY route, converting his dorm into a solar power station; maybe he could also power up the Canadian built, electric-assist Volta bicycle; or we should leave that to the very curious electricity producing XsunX windows? And just for fun, they dress up with a pair of LED cufflinks.
(13 October 2005)
Recommended by Big Gav in a post on his Peak Energy (Australia)

My clouds could beat global warming, says pioneer

Allan Laing, The Herald
FIRST he pioneered wave power. Then he came up with a plan to make rain fall on the desert. Now Stephen Salter, an Edinburgh University professor, believes he can help save the planet from global warming by spraying water into the sky to form clouds.

The idea is to increase the whiteness of low-altitude clouds so that they reflect sunlight back into space and counter rising temperatures caused by greenhouse gases.
In a report to be presented to a climate change conference in Edinburgh, Professor Salter proposes the construction of massive chimneys mounted on a flotilla of 500 unmanned sprayer yachts.

…Professor Salter claims that, by increasing the reflectivity of a third of clouds by 4%, he could offset global warming.

“I put everything I have into renewable energy but I don’t believe it is going to be enough,” he said.
(13 October 2005)

Philippines: Wait For Ruin Or Embrace Opportunity

Red Constantino, Manilla Times via Znet
…Less than 0.2 percent of the installed power capacity in the Philippines — around 15,000-MW — comes from new renewable energy sources such as wind power, solar and modern biomass. On the other hand, the Philippines seems bent on constructing and expanding a plague of coal plants all over the country in the next few years. If national security is indeed high on the agenda of the Philippine government, this spectacular imbalance has to change and soon.

There is no denying that countries such as the US and Australia — world class polluters both — are responsible for a gargantuan chunk of the problem. But far too easy is it to keep on blaming others for the climate crisis threatening our shores. That we, too, must do our share is an understatement. The self-interest of the Philippines demands it. The abundance of renewable energy resources in the country warrants it. The future of the entire planet requires it.

It is high time for the Philippine government to set clear, time-bound targets if it wants to genuinely secure our nation’s security. By the year 2010, ten percent of our power must come from the sun, the wind and modern biomass.
(13 October 2005)