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Solutions & sustainability - Mar 23

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Can a bush solve rural energy needs?

Mark Gregory, BBC World Service
...The initiative is called Desi Power (local power). It aims to provide a model for generating low-cost electricity from renewable resources that can easily be copied elsewhere in the vast swathes of rural India that have no connection to the mains grid.

"This really is a viable solution for remote India", says Dr Arun Kumar, director of the Development Alternatives NGO, which runs the Jhansi project. He goes on to explain that the generator runs on methane created from a widely available local plant that previously had no economic value.

The plant is the ipunia bush, which grows in marshy land not suitable for agriculture. But there is nothing special about ipunia. The generator would work just as well on gas from many other plants.

"There is a huge amount of unused land in remote parts of India, which means biomass is either available or could easily be made available", says Dr Kumar.
(19 March 2006)


Conference on underutilized plants: their role in preventative medicine, nutrition, and sustainability

Center for a Livable Future, Johns Hopkins
CONFERENCE: Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Public health professionals working in some of the most economically challenged areas of the world are also in proximity to a large array of underutilized plants. Traditional knowledge of their medicinal and nutritional uses is being lost at an alarming rate. This loss is accompanied by disappearance of the plant species themselves and of the ecosystems they support. This symposium will increase awareness by highlighting some of these underutilized plant resources and their benefits to local populations.We hope that health professionals, plant researchers and others will attend.
(March 2006)
See the original article for a preliminary program and information on registering (apparently admission is free). The Center for a Livable Future is part of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. It's mission is:

To promote research and to develop and communicate information about the complex interrelationships among diet, food production, environment and human health; to advance an ecological perspective in reducing threats to the health of the public; and to promote policies that protect health, the global environment and the ability to sustain life for future generations.


Classes: prepare yourself and your family for peak oil

Dana Zimmerman, Solar Living Institute (Northern California)

‘Powerdown: The End of Cheap Energy’ (March 23rd, San Francisco; April 20th, Hopland)
Instructor: Richard Heinberg.

Modern industrial societies are built on cheap fossil fuels, but cheap oil and gas will likely soon be things of the past. What will be the impacts — personally and societally? How soon will they arrive? What regions will be most severely affected? And what strategies will work best for families, bioregions, and nations, as we enter the post-carbon era?

‘Organizing Sustainable Communities’ (March 24th, San Francisco; April 21st-22nd, Hopland)
Instructors: Jason Bradford and Brian Weller

How can individuals foster awareness in their community of the need to live sustainably, and what can be done after they understand this need? This workshop draws from the instructors’ experience in Willits, California, where the need to “localize” the economy in terms of food, energy and basic goods production has garnered broad political appeal.

Learn how to frame messages around common values, motivate action based on the tension between fear and desire, and outline the case for “economic localization” as the only logical reaction to overshoot.

To register for these and other classes, please visit the SLI website: store.solarlivingstore.com/2005schedule.html
(21 March 2006)
It would be nice if the syllabus and course outline were put on the Web to help other people developing courses. -BA


Green Blogs: The Green revolution moves online

Gregory Dicum, SF Chronicle
I'd like to think the reason so many people have been asking me if I have a blog is because they love my writing so much they just can't get enough. But it's more likely just another sign of how influential the form is becoming, particularly in the environmental world. Still, it has made me wonder if it's time for me to get on the bandwagon and start blogging.

"Don't do it, man, it's a time suck," David Roberts wrote me in an instant message. Roberts should know: He's the founding editor of Gristmill, one of the most prominent of the emerging green blogs.

With just a couple of years of continuous publication under their belts, the biggest green blogs now routinely attract more readers than most environmentally oriented print magazines. The free-form exchange among these bloggers and their readers has become an important part of the public dialog on environmental matters.

"There's been a little bit of a perfect storm here," says Alex Steffen, founder of Worldchanging, the most widely read green blog. "At the same time that blogging has taken off, we've also had a real zeitgeist shift where suddenly the idea of living in a green and prosperous way is really hot. Climate change has become a big issue. A lot of people are interested in green building, green fashion, green product design."

...If old-media offerings have some claim to authoritativeness -- think of the New York Times' century-old motto "All the News That's Fit to Print" -- blogs are more about process. They put out information and opinions with the goal of generating discussion and providing the space for people to test their own ideas.

Indeed, Roberts says that when he was starting Gristmill he was concerned about the blog's alternative journalistic standards. But he found that readers themselves asked the questions that editors and fact checkers might at a magazine.

"Having thousands of readers bird-dogging you keeps you pretty honest," he IMs, likening green blogging to the pamphleteering tradition of early American journalism 200 years ago. Anyone can say anything, but it has to stand up to the scrutiny of an involved readership to get much traction.
(22 March 2006)


Is Whole Foods wholesome?
The dark secrets of the organic-food movement

Field Maloney, Slate
It's hard to find fault with Whole Foods, the haute-crunchy supermarket chain that has made a fortune by transforming grocery shopping into a bright and shiny, progressive experience. Indeed, the road to wild profits and cultural cachet has been surprisingly smooth for the supermarket chain. It gets mostly sympathetic coverage in the local and national media and red-carpet treatment from the communities it enters. But does Whole Foods have an Achilles' heel? And more important, does the organic movement itself, whose coattails Whole Foods has ridden to such success, have dark secrets of its own?

Granted, there's plenty that's praiseworthy about Whole Foods.

...Which brings us to the newest kid in the organic-food sandbox: Wal-Mart, the world's biggest grocery retailer, has just begun a major program to expand into organic foods. If buying food grown without chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers has been elevated to a status-conscious lifestyle choice, it could also be transformed into a bare-bones commodity purchase.

When the Department of Agriculture established the guidelines for organic food in 1990, it blew a huge opportunity. The USDA—under heavy agribusiness lobbying—adopted an abstract set of restrictions for organic agriculture and left "local" out of the formula. What passes for organic farming today has strayed far from what the shaggy utopians who got the movement going back in the '60s and '70s had in mind. But if these pioneers dreamed of revolutionizing the nation's food supply, they surely didn't intend for organic to become a luxury item, a high-end lifestyle choice.

It's likely that neither Wal-Mart nor Whole Foods will do much to encourage local agriculture or small farming, but in an odd twist, Wal-Mart, with its simple "More for Less" credo, might do far more to democratize the nation's food supply than Whole Foods. The organic-food movement is in danger of exacerbating the growing gap between rich and poor in this country by contributing to a two-tiered national food supply, with healthy food for the rich. Could Wal-Mart's populist strategy prove to be more "sustainable" than Whole Foods? Stranger things have happened.
(17 March 2006)


Green is green

(original: "Resources: The Revolution Begins")
Chip Giller and David Roberts, Fast Company
Businesses large and small are finally seeing the green light. It isn't just conscience--or all those nice young people in Guatemalan sweaters--that's doing the trick. It's the sight of all that money.
--------------
...if the world is to avoid ecological catastrophe over the coming decade (Sorry, did we say "ecological catastrophe"? We meant "multiple, overlapping, mutually reinforcing ecological catastrophes"), it's going to require more than benign furnishings. What we need is nothing less than another industrial revolution--a wholesale conversion of the familiar model of brute-force resource- and waste-intensive industry to a model that mimics nature in its fecundity, flexibility, and efficiency. And quickly, please.

...Perhaps no other area is seeing as great a flurry of development as clean energy. Solar cells are shrinking, wind turbines are getting more efficient, and hydrokinetic energy--from the natural movement of water--is being tapped as never before. Energy company Energetech, for example, is teaming up with desalination company H2AU to develop technology that harnesses wave power and uses it to make ocean water drinkable. A prototype in the waters off of Port Kembla, Australia, last year beat expectations; a full-scale version could power 1,400 homes a year, at a competitive cost, or produce 260 million gallons of potable water--with zero emissions.

There are thousands of others, small firms and startups creating nontoxic, modular, recyclable products; modeling more efficient production; reducing their pollution. As in any new wave of innovation, many--perhaps most--of these companies will fail, but each will add to the expanding store of practical wisdom.

Flushable diapers and fancy chairs notwithstanding, we will never recover the thousands of species lost, the old-growth forests and Appalachian mountaintops leveled, or the lives cut short by poisons and pollution. There is already enough carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to guarantee at least some climatic disruption.

The real engine of environmental progress will turn out to be not government action but imagination and entrepreneurial spirit.

The European Union and U.S. states and cities are picking up some of the legislative and regulatory slack, but at the national level here, action to address these problems has been anemic at best and counterproductive at worst--a collective failure of will that could come back to haunt us. But if McDonough and company are right, the real engine of environmental progress will turn out to be not government action but the imagination and entrepreneurial spirit of thousands of market-savvy, environmentally minded innovators.

As GE CEO and newly minted eco-evangelist Jeffrey Immelt is fond of saying, "Green is green."
Chip Giller is founder and editor of Grist.org, an online environmental magazine. David Roberts is a Grist.org senior writer.
(23 March 2006)


Statue of Liberty to go all 'green' power

Ron Scherer, Christian Science Monitor
By the end of March, all electricity for the Old Lady in the Harbor and Ellis Island will be from wind power.
---------------
NEW YORK – Send us your tired, your poor ... your wind power.

Emma Lazarus didn't exactly pen it that way in 1883 when she wrote her famous poem, now on a plaque at the Statue of Liberty Museum. But today she could.

By the end of this month, 100 percent of the electricity that powers the Old Lady in the Harbor and Ellis Island, where millions of Americans first set foot in America, will be "green power." Windmills in West Virginia and Pennsylvania will supply the electricity that powers up the floodlights that shine on Miss Liberty's torch and the air conditioning that keeps all those immigration records from mildewing.

"It's a powerful public-policy statement to fuel such an important symbol in that way," says Jim Coyne, a renewable energy expert at FTI Consulting in Cambridge, Mass.

In some ways, shifting away from the heavy use of oil and natural gas is part of the US government's energy strategy. President Bush said wind power could provide up to 20 percent of the nation's electricity.

...Alternative sources of energy are still relatively small in the US energy picture, representing only 1 to 2 percent of US electricity use. But the industry is growing quickly: A record 2,400 megawatts were installed in 2005, enough to support the annual consumption of 650,000 homes. This year is expected to top last year, says Mr. Coyne.

The Statue of Liberty won't be directly hooked up to the windmills. The GSA is purchasing a renewable energy credit. The electricity the windmills produce is fed into the nation's electrical grid, offsetting the same amount the government uses. The process reduces the amount of electricity that needs to be produced by the conventional means of oil, gas, or coal. The statue and Ellis Island consume same amount of electricity used by 1,000 homes for a year, according to Pepco Energy Services, which is supplying the power to the statue.
(22 March 2006)
Symbolic of a real trend, or just PR? Or both?

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