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Can China Catch a Cool Breeze?

Christian Parenti, The Nation
… This small wind farm represents an alternate future: that of China as a green technology giant.

The People’s Republic of China faces two problems that could be addressed with one solution.

The global economic crisis has hit China hard. The country’s exports and Gross Domestic Product growth have dropped dramatically; over the past year tens of thousands of factories have closed, and an estimated 20 million workers have lost their jobs. Social unrest is growing, and many fear it could spin out of control. In the face of that, China must boost its internal investment and consumption. In other words, China, which exports much of its savings, must absorb more of the surplus it generates–it must stimulate its own economy. The Chinese government’s $585 billion stimulus package, announced in November and dedicated mostly to infrastructure, is an attempt to do just that. A second, equally massive intervention may be on the way soon.

At the same time, China faces an array of interconnected environmental crises. Foremost among them is air pollution caused by heavy use of coal. For the unconditioned foreigner (such as your reporter) who shows up in the leaden, acrid filth of an overcast day in Beijing or Chonqing, the physical effects can be immediate headaches, nausea and disorientation. Even much of rural China is choked by this poisonous, soot-laden air. Coal pollution is estimated to cost China at least 7 percent of its GDP annually in lost productivity. A recent Pew survey in China found that more than 70 percent of respondents said air quality was a serious problem; water quality is seen as equally dire.

Desertification and severe water shortages are beginning and will get worse as Himalayan glaciers disappear and rainfall is disrupted by climate change. Later this century, a rise in sea level is predicted to inundate many coastal cities and much of the country’s industrial base.

The mountainside sprawl, repeated in variations all over China, might work to stimulate the economy. But environmentally it will bring disaster. On the other hand, retooling the energy system–à la the windmills–could solve both problems by radically reducing the country’s carbon emissions while stimulating the economy.

It’s not an overstatement to say that the fate of the world depends on which path China chooses.
(15 April 2009)

Algae Could ‘Supply Entire World with Aviation Fuel’

Spiegel Online (Germany)
Although oil prices have fallen rapidly, the airline industry is still clamouring for alternative fuel sources. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, chief Boeing environmental strategist Billy Glover explains how a giant mass of algae may fuel jets in the future.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Glover, given the current low price of oil, why would airlines still even be interested in biofuels?

Glover: Indeed, the oil price has changed rapidly. But it has done that many times before and it will continue to do so. Even today, the highest operating expense for an airline is fuel. It remains a priority to find a way to mitigate that situation. That is why Boeing is trying to open up this avenue of alternative fuel. It can help that situation while having a better environmental performance at the same time.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: It seems that, after a few test flights last year, not much has happened.

Glover: Oh no, we are moving forward very rapidly! The first test flight was in February 2008. But more recently, in December 2008 and in January 2009, there were three test flights in quick succession with a higher blend of biofuel and better performance. We have already achieved quite a bit in terms of technical understanding and technical qualification.
(15 April 2009)
German version:
“Mit Algen könnte man die Weltluftfahrt versorgen”

My skepticism-meter jumped when reading this. – BA

April 20. EB reader Kassil writes
Personally, I’m all for mass algae farming; there are breeds of it that are highly nutritious, and it is already in use in places to help scrub pollutants and clean wastewater. Combined with wetlands processing, it couldhelp sequester and deal with at least some of the waste spilling into rivers and feeding oceanic dead zones.

But fermenting and burning it just to help throw massive lumps of metal through the sky is a bit ridiculous. If the aviation industry really wants to find a sustainable shape, they should look back at things like massive dirigibles and blimps; slower, but potentially low-emission with the right designs, and often much, much quieter and more pleasant. Kind of the passenger train of the skies against the automobile that is the airplane.

Environment Agency questions green credentials of biomass

New Civil Engineer (UK)
The Environment Agency has backed combined heat and power as the best way to reduce CO2 emissions in a new report, published today.

In their report, ‘Biomass – carbon sink or carbon sinner?’, the Agency says using energy crops or waste materials as fuel for generating electricity and heat could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions if the fuel comes from sustainable sources and is used ‘efficiently’.

For comparison, they say that the best practice could reduce CO2 emissions by 98% compared to coal, but the worst practice could produce more CO2 overall than gas.
(14 April 2009)

Global Palm Oil Demand Fueling Deforestation

Environmental News Network
The benefits of the oil palm are difficult for Indonesia to ignore.

Once planted, the tropical tree can produce fruit for more than 30 years, providing much-needed employment for poor rural communities. And its oil is highly lucrative, due largely to the fact that the plant yields more oil per hectare than any major oilseed crop.

Indonesia is now the leading supplier for a global market that demands more of the tree’s versatile oil for cooking, cosmetics, and biofuel. But palm oil’s appeal comes with significant costs. Oil palm plantations often replace tropical forests, killing endangered species, uprooting local communities, and contributing to the release of climate-warming gases. Due mostly to oil palm production, Indonesia emits more greenhouse gases than any country besides China and the United States.
(13 April 2009)